Head & Throat
REMEMBER THAT IOWA BASEBALL movie with Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams? And the tag line, “If you build it, they will come.” I think of that line when I look at Numéro Cinq and see the kind of writer we get crowding the space these days. We built it and great writers are filling the park. I am running out of epithets for the issues. Call this the X issue, the enigma issue, the siren song issue, an imaginary issue built from fumes and fevers of some amazing writers who have come to find a home here for their monthly inspirations. If you build it, they will come. It’s remarkable to see.
This month our new Special Correspondent Julie Trimingham offers a truly brilliant, sexy, eccentric essay on song, sex, holes, bodies, bones, sirens, Sappho, poetry, opera, and the Queen of the Night.
It’s all about holes. Holes through which the world enters, and out of which come babies, words, blood, shit, song.
And it’s about bones, the structure for our living mess.
Or. A bone in the hole. The bone thrust in a hole at the start of a soul. The baby grows amidst a confusion of metaphors and hypotheses and then, when that song has ended, the clatter of bones lowered into a hole.
People expire when they take their last breath.
Inspiration feels like talking to god, being filled with something beyond yourself.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
Another Special Correspondent, Jeff Bursey, is a lonely, hermit who has no other life except to write for Numéro Cinq and has managed to contribute two superb pieces for this issue as well as curating a third (maybe it’s just that he was snowed in the last two months in Prince Edward Island). He contributes an amazing review essay on the fourth volume Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel My Struggle. This review is so smart, the casual asides and minute discriminations had me taking notes as I was editing it.
His reliance on alcohol, from age sixteen to nineteen, to make him at ease in the world, could push him down the road to death his father is already traveling. It’s a coping strategy or inheritance he never explicitly notes, preferring to justify (rationalize doesn’t seem quite the right word) drinking to excess: “I drank though, and the more I drank the more it eased my discomfort.” He recalls one “alcoholic high” as similar to “a cool green river flowing through my veins. Everything was in my power.” The kinship to his father is ignored: “It didn’t matter to me that Dad had clearly split into two different personalities, one when he was drinking and one when he wasn’t… it wasn’t something I gave much thought.”
We also have an excerpt from the novel!
I could hear her laughter, and I smoked and peered up at the stars. Then I heard the deep growl of the bus approaching between the houses, flicked the cigarette into the road, stood up, counted the coins in my pocket, and handed them to the driver when I stepped on board.
Oh, the muted lights in buses at night and the muted sounds. The few passengers, all in their own worlds. The countryside gliding past in the dark- ness. The drone of the engine. Sitting there and thinking about the best that you know, that which is dearest to your heart, wanting only to be there, out of this world, in transit from one place to another, isn’t it only then you are really present in this world? Isn’t it only then you really experience the world?
For this issue, Jeff Bursey also interviewed novelist Sam Savage, a man who became famous for a novel he intended to be Dostoyevskyan but struck readers and critics as endearing and even funny. The interview is lengthy, probing and comprehensive. You come away with a profound sense of Savage’s independence in life and art and his fortitude in overcoming lifelong illness, writing in spite of it. This is one of our best interviews yet.
Maybe being sick—and during the last twenty years quite obviously so—has made me more sensitive to the blitheness with which we normally—and I suppose I can say mercifully—go about the business of living. But there is such a thing as truth in fiction. A novel, if it is any good, ought to let us see the lies we tell ourselves. It is not a novelist’s job to be merciful.
Jowita Bydlowska has already contributed fiction and photographs to the magazine and for this issue she sent us a new short story about bad sex, a story called “Bad Sex” — I dunno, the title is a trigger warning. A story that is astringent, alienated, cruel, and gorgeous.
I’m kind of sensitive so go easy, I said, and he said okay, but then shoved himself deep inside me as if he intended to hurt me.
I had never been in so much discomfort. It was stabbing, over and over, every nerve split and pounded. I tried counting backwards, multiply minutes by seconds, think of what colour to dye my hair… to distract myself but it was impossible to ignore the pain. Eventually, I gave up trying to move from underneath him, trying to slow him down. He pulled my hair hard; he bit my face, my neck. It was like being fucked by a giant cat. I knew that it would have to end at some point; nothing lasts forever, neither good or bad fucks. I simulated an orgasm; I thrashed and moaned. I had a headache. I was sore everywhere. He came inside me with a roar and I felt a sudden urge to laugh…
Tom Faure raises book reviewing to an art form — lush sentences about sentences, lovely writing about writing (If you build it….) — with his take on Atticus Lish’s first novel Preparation for the Next Life, which, during the writing of the review, won the 2015 Pen/Faulkner Award.
A typical passage intertwines calm eddies of four- to eight-word sentences driven by rich, concrete verbs, with the occasional hypnotic sentence that stretches into Fitzgerald-like lyricism, employing active participles and gerunds to string images and observations together in a style resembling almost the stream of consciousness—though his prose does not suffer from the hectic spasmodic urgency of Beat sentimentality. Lish’s writing is as composed as a soldier: methodical, precise, on mission.
Madison Smartt Bell
Madison Smartt Bell, fabled author of Waiting for the End of the World, A Year of Silence, Barking Man, and Doctor Sleep, among others, sent us a short story that reads like a delirium dream pitched firmly in some forgotten niche of Americana, almost real.
An owl who cries by day is not an owl, except the screech owl who kept releasing its peculiar ululating trill into the midst of a sunny, snowy morning, perched on a chicken-wire corner of the henhouse roof, eyes squinched as if blind or injured or trapped, although, when we netted it and brought it inside, the owl proved to be none of these things.
We put the owl into a bird cage—an arched, frail and delicate thing, intended for a canary or a parakeet. The white wolf caught field mice for it, bringing them into the house pinched delicately between the tips of the wolf’s front teeth, so no mouse would be torn or punctured, save by the owl’s talons.
D. M. Spitzer
David Spitzer sent a second instalment of his biblical epic poem Genealogy of the First Person, which is a most contemporary take on biblical sons, the evolution of the self, and our discourse with God. The first segment we published dealt with Ishmael, this one with Isaac (or isaak, as it appears in the poem). A brilliant open field poem, replete with quotation and allusion, it’s one of the most ambitious projects we ever had the opportunity to host.
isaak is the ego in his aspect of the beating heart upon the ground of the absurd; the object of a divine promise; paradox. all that is ethical depends on the ego and its preservation, while faith and its unspeakable depth hinges on the will to sacrifice it into the starless void of the eternal: the very essence of the ego at rest on the knife’s edge.
From Ireland this month, we have the poet Macdara Woods, introduced by Senior Editor Gerard Beirne.
………………..To places all unseen
Invisible to those with open eyes
It needs a certain antic 20 20 vision
To housepaint in the dark
As we have done. And plastered walls
Without a light in Fontainebleau
Not cowboys then or now
Just battling with addictions
Screenwriter Walter Bernstein
As part of his ongoing Chance Encounters of a Literary Kind series, Robert Day wrote a little memoir about his friendship with the great Hollywood screenwriter Walter Bernstein (Fail Safe, The Molly McGuires). Especially delicious is Day’s description of meeting up with Bernstein at the MacDowell Colony and helping with the horse-facts while he was writing The Electric Horseman. (BTW, Day’s series of essays for NC will be coming out in book form when he finishes the series later this year. If you build it…)
As to Walter’ script, at first I found myself so mesmerized by the form that at first I didn’t read it with care the way Walter wanted me to: But yes, there was confusion about horses, sometimes they were horses, then they were stallions, then they were mares (when in fact they were probably all geldings). I had to untangle bridles from halters; I had to take horns off cows, and change cows to steers (with or without horns, but I thought unless they were Texas Longhorns for show instead of ranch cattle, they had probably been de-horned.)
But that’s not all, there’s more. Paddy O’Reilly has penned a smart, dense review of Alice Fulton’s brilliant new poetry collection, her first in ten years, called Barely Composed. We have a stunning essay from Jeremy Brunger on the failure of the Enlightenment, the betrayal of liberalism, and the delusions of market philosophy. We have a poignant, deeply felt eulogy, yes, a eulogy by Patrick J. Keane on the life and death of his beloved friend Jimmy Cerasoli. We also have a new NC at the Movies and resuscitation from Julie Larios of the poet John Malcolm Brinnin, now most famous for his biography of Dylan Thomas, but a major poet in his own right.
And there may be more!
If you build it….