Feb 282015


Top of the Page, that is, featured in the slider at the top of the home page, this month is Patrick J. Keane, a Contributing Editor at Numéro Cinq since 2011 (the February issue) when we published his essay “Convergences: Memories Involving The Waste Land Manuscript.” Pat quickly followed that up with an essay about his cat Rintrah, which, as I recall, was originally going to be an essay about a race horse (the race horse essay has never materialized — note to self). Since then he has been a steady and formidable contributor of essays, reviews, fiction, and memoir, covering everything from John Steinbeck to Nietzsche to Emily Dickinson to Keats to Emerson to Wordsworth and to Yeats. His most recent piece for us was his essay in the February issue just past on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Pope, and Islamic terrorism. His essay on The Grapes of Wrath, movie and novel, is one of the top five most popular texts ever published in the magazine.

In short, it wouldn’t be the magazine it is without Pat Keane. His erudition, his gift of language, his ability as a raconteur, and his astonishing energy are an inspiration to us all.

Note that what I have displayed at the Top of the Page is only a portion of Pat’s prolific output. Take a look at his Archive Page to see everything he has published here.



Patrick J. Keane is Professor Emeritus of Le Moyne College and a Contributing Editor at Numéro Cinq. Though he has written on a wide range of topics, his areas of special interest have been 19th and 20th-century poetry in the Romantic tradition; Irish literature and history; the interactions of literature with philosophic, religious, and political thinking; the impact of Nietzsche on certain 20th century writers; and, most recently, Transatlantic studies, exploring the influence of German Idealist philosophy and British Romanticism on American writers. His books include William Butler Yeats: Contemporary Studies in Literature (1973), A Wild Civility: Interactions in the Poetry and Thought of Robert Graves (1980), Yeats’s Interactions with Tradition (1987), Terrible Beauty: Yeats, Joyce, Ireland and the Myth of the Devouring Female (1988), Coleridge’s Submerged Politics (1994), Emerson, Romanticism, and Intuitive Reason: The Transatlantic “Light of All Our Day” (2003), and Emily Dickinson’s Approving God: Divine Design and the Problem of Suffering (2007).

Feb 282015

 This is hilarious. A clash of cultures and intentions. The New York Times Magazine imports Karl Ove Knausgaard to write about his travels in America (traveling to real and purported Viking sites, I guess). But Karl Ove loses his driving license and is so distracted that when he gets to Newfoundland, the main thing he notices is that the people are fat. This causes much self-righteous harrumphing in Canadian circles.

Below is an excerpt from the National Post article, and here is a link to the actual Karl Ove Knausgaard article called “My Saga.” (Get it. The Norse wrote about their trips to North American in the famous sagas, and Karl Ove is a new Viking.)

If you’ve ever read Evelyn Waugh’s little novel Scoop, about a retiring nature writer mistakenly sent to Ethiopia to cover a colonial war, you’ll have an idea of the comedy of this entire project.

Slate calls Karl Ove the “world’s worst traveler”. But think about it. He contracts to drive across country but doesn’t have a license, then he admits he isn’t going to talk to anyone either, subverting the whole travel writer mystique.

But, yes, it’s important to have a sense of humour about these things.


Sent to Newfoundland by the New York Times Magazine, a famed Norwegian novelist has incensed the Atlantic province by reporting back that everyone was “fat.”

“Everyone in the place, except the waiter, was fat, some of them so fat that I kept having to look at them. I had never seen people that fat before,” wrote Karl Ove Knausgaard of a visit to a Jungle Jim’s restaurant in St. Anthony, Newfoundland.

“The strange thing was that none of them looked as if they were trying to hide their enormous girth; quite the opposite, several people were wearing tight T-shirts with their big bellies sticking out proudly.”

via Famed Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard goes to Newfoundland, calls everybody fat | National Post.

Feb 272015

Missed the Oscar awards (also missed the Super Bowl, am also boycotting AWP — go figure), so I was a little slow in putting two and two together. Wes Anderson’s movie The Grand Hotel Budapest was nominated for Best Picture but only managed to win the Costume Design, Make-Up, Production Design and Music categories. The “only managed to win” is meant ironically because, of course, most of us would imagine life complete with an Oscar in Costume Design (okay, well maybe that’s hyperbole).

In any case, what is cool is that our inimitable movie guy, Rob Gray, did a lovely little piece two years ago on Wes Anderson’s short film “Hotel Chevalier,” which, when you watch the opening, bears an uncanny resemblance to the front desk scenes in The Grand Hotel Budapest. As Rob observed at the time, all Anderson’s films come from the same palate. Fascinating to see and think about.

Wes Anderson’s short film “Hotel Chevalier” is a lean, bruised and naked tale in a Paris hotel room. Anderson shot the short with his own funds (and the actors, Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman, donated their time) two years prior to his feature The Darjeeling Limited but it was often screened at the same time and is referred to by many as a prologue to that feature film that followed it (as mentioned in this previous NC at the Movies entry). The two are aesthetically consistent, but that’s not surprising as most of Anderson’s films belong to the same visual palate and characters seem descended from the same family tree.

Click here to watch the movie and read the rest at NC at the Movies.

Feb 252015

NC Logo

Just a quick note. Last month we opened up for submissions on a limited basis, looking for essays for our Childhood and What It’s Like Living Here series. Happy to say, we’ve already accepted two Childhood essays, the first, by Senka Eriksen, will appear in the March issue. This is quite wonderful. We’re not overwhelmed with submissions (yet) and we’ve already discovered new good writers. (And the people we have had to reject have been nice and respectful about it.)

Three observations on submissions so far:

1) Some people rushed their submissions because we used the phrase “on a trial basis.” This made some think there was a limited window. There isn’t a limited window. We’re just watching how the process goes, seeing if it is productive for the magazine. So far it seems to be working fine and we’re not thinking of closing the window.

2) It seems like some people took the opportunity to send old work, pieces written before their authors read the guidelines and essays in the series. This pretty much guarantees rejection. Some people even sent submissions without photos (see the guidelines).

3) And some people sent workshoppy cnf pieces, vague, impressionistic, narrowly subjective, etc. We read essays that couldn’t be pinned down to a particular place or time. If you read the guidelines carefully, you’ll see that the essays we want put a premium on concrete and specific descriptions.

Submissions page and links to guidelines are here.


Feb 252015

George Szirtes is a prolific poet and translator, a prize-winning poet, also a wit and a deft hand at Twitter. Born in Hungary, he moved to England in 1956, after the uprising in Budapest (probably not something many of you remember, though when I was growing up and going to university in Canada, I knew several Hungarians in diaspora dating from 1956).

We have some of his poems coming in the April issue, a truly special event. But I wanted to whet your appetites and also display this lovely essay he published in Poetry. It’s a defense of rhyme, an apologia for form, not a rant, not a call to arms, but a gentle and passionate reminder of the beauty of traditional rhythms and the human touch. Very smart, and applies to more than just poetry, if you extrapolate.

Rhyme can be unexpected salvation, the paper nurse that somehow, against all the odds, helps us stick the world together while all the time drawing attention to its own fabricated nature. Knowing that rhyme might become part of the field of poetic expectation, we strive to make its arrival as unexpected and therefore as angelic as possible, and, in so doing, we discover more than we knew. Rhyme can be an aid to invention rather than a bar to it. It is an aid because it forces us into corners where we have to act and take the best available course out. In the process of seeking it, we bump up against possibilities we would not have chosen were we in control of the process.

via Formal Wear: Notes on Rhyme, Meter, Stanza & Pattern by George Szirtes.

Feb 222015

bag air strikeBaghdad under attack at night

It the March issue. The shock & awe issue. Gorgeous, provocative, full of wit and intelligence and fine writing. From Diane Williams to Tom McCarthy, sightseeing in the French marches to growing up poor on a reserve in western Canada, a new Childhood piece, incisive reviews, art, you name it, we got it.

But it’s the shock & awe issue because we have this month an amazingly thoughtful short story by Gary Garvin (a will o’ the wisp author who appeared early in NC, then disappeared for ages, now is back). The image above, the night-bombing of Baghdad is at the heart of the story, though the story itself begins with a meditation on T. S. Eliot and then a Silicon Valley garden and only by degrees turns to its hidden agenda and the arch parallels that drive its meaning. What this story signals is that after the first wave of political commentary and battle memoirs, the Iraq war has now begun to thread its way into the upper reaches of high art, from journalism it has begun to be turned into literature.

The deadline approaches for invasion, 9:00 here, noon in Wash­ington, some other time in the Gulf, soon to pass. Rumors of last min­ute nego­tia­tions. Nothing will come of either. Bush won’t give this war up—he needs it. But he won’t commit troops as long as he can keep up the aerial attacks. And it has been a clean, pretty war for us, the U.S., from what we see on the tube. Vast stretches of desert sands, the floral splendor of night raids over Baghdad—the bombing will continue. We will keep bombing until there isn’t anything left.

diane-williamsDiane Williams

Our new special correspondent Jason Lucarelli (new to the masthead, not new to the magazine, where he has published some of our most thoughtful essays on the art of writing) interviews the great Diane Williams, a lengthy detailed interview, bold and illuminating.

What obstacles are in my way as a writer? That’s easy to answer. Everything that has ever stood in my way still stands there—insufficient character, confidence, intellect, ingenuity. (Diane Williams)

Petro-PA209870Grave marker art by Pamela Petro

From JC Olsthoorn, we have a sumptuous art, video and interview post about/with the Massachusetts artist Pamela Petro whose thoughts often cohere around the strange, nearly untranslatable Welsh word hiraeth.

Hiraeth refers to the “presence of absence.” Call it a yearning for something or someone irretrievable, beyond place or time, lost to the wars we can never win: the ones against time, mortality, and injustice. It is what we seek in the past, yearn for in the future, and invent in the present to placate our absences. (Pamela Petro)

Pamela PetroPamela Petro

senkaMSenka Eriksen

Senka Eriksen’s “Childhood” is the first essay accepted through our new submissions procedure (click here to  read about it), a first, and a splendid addition to the genre. Eriksen grew up devastatingly poor in a native community on Canada’s west coast. This will chill you, then fill you with admiration.

The first place I lived in was my maternal grandmother’s house. I heard her (and my mother’s) memories so often I feel them deep in my bones. My grandmother was from northern Jutland, Denmark. She was one of about 10 or 11 siblings, all raised in abject poverty on a desolate farm near the North Sea. She once said she never felt love from her mother, except for the time she was kicked in the head by a mule.

perecGeorges Perec

Jeff Bursey reviews Georges Perec’s first novel, newly translated by David Bellos.

Meaningless, nothingness, lack of understanding, and events sans repercussions. As translator David Bellos makes clear, this novel captures more than a taste for graphic death. It reflects a substantial debate, summed up in a work on authenticity and inauthenticity by Jean-Paul Sartre titled (in English) Anti-Semite and Jew.

il condottiere

r f langley 2 copyPoet R. F Langley, profiled by Julie Larios

Julie Larios, who has almost single-handedly thumped, NC’s poetry arm into respectable shape, offers another of her tour-de-force Undersung profiles, this time R. F. Langley, a new discovery of her own, a British poet who didn’t start writing fulltime till he retired at 61, whose output is sparse but glorious.

By the end of my time spent with Langley’s work that afternoon in the library, I was smitten. Here was a poet whose poems combined so many of the qualities I search for: precise attention to details of the physical world, control of rhythm, love of language, large-heartedness, confidant risk-taking, and an ability to balance ideas with images and sounds. Contemplative, yes, but not confessional. Both serious and seriously playful. Neither undemanding nor obtuse. Big plus: a modern, original, identifiable voice.

Tom McCarthy, The GuardianTom McCarthy

Our new contributor, Frank Richardson, reviews a new novel by the hot British experimental author and theorist Tom McCarthy.

McCarthy leaves us, not with a confession, manifesto, treatise, or essay, but “a novel.” He might equally have borrowed another line from Mallarmé’s poem and called this peak behind the curtain “a choir of pages.”


Julie2 (1) - Version 2Julie Reverb

Also of the British avant-garde, Julie Reverb writes a brisk, twisty, astonishing story that torques the usual Irish immigrant saga. This one has a dog and a dead rabbit as accessories to the act of sex (equally predatory, yes).

“Oh god, oh god, ohhhhh I’m sorry I can’t help it.” He groaned again then inspected the condom, offering its contents to the last of the light. “Sorry that was a bit fast. The old chap had one too many whiskies.” “It’s fine”, she said, pulling her knickers out of her stockings, looking for the dog outside. “Did you?’ “Yep.” “I can never tell with you, Brend.”

tunnelwebSightseeing in France

Longtime contributor Natalia Sarkissian recalls a comical and instructive sightseeing trip in France with her teenage son. A droll text, stern photographs.

Wake your son. Don’t tell him about the history trip ahead. You know he’s always hated history—facts have always proved slippery, elusive, dull. Instead, tell him you want to take him to France for a crêpe. When he hops out of bed without a complaint, hand him an espresso. While he’s in the shower, charge your camera batteries. Pack chocolate.

Smile when your husband says, surprised, “That was easy.”

And there is more!

A new Numéro Cinq at the Movies from the peripatetic R. W. Gray (who last submitted from a Chromebook in a Bangkok hotel but soon will be living in Uruguay); a new Uimhir a Cúig (means Number Five in Irish) from Gerard Beirne; the indefatigable Robert Day has another of those fey Chance Encounters of a Literary Kind, this time with the poet Bill Stafford; and Jason DeYoung reviews the latest book by Édouard Levé.


Feb 212015

1-Salgado-Preparations-underway-for-Storytelling-Preparations under way for STORYTELLING

The video documentary on UK-based Canadian painter Andrew Salgado is now on Vimeo. During the same time frame it was being filmed (June-October 2014), I had the honour and pleasure to interview Andrew for Numéro Cinq magazine. My curated NC interview of Salgado compliments quite nicely what you see and hear of him in the film, all in his own words. Both pieces together help provide a deeper understanding of and insight into this fabulous artist, his creative thoughts and artistic processes.

Trailer of documentary on Salgado during STORYTELLING preparations.

You can view the 42 minute documentary film directed by Adam Fletcher and Cassidy Uggla here:
The password is “ripplesinapond”


—JC Olsthoorn

Feb 192015


Numéro Cinq Contributor Tom Faure published an essay/short story double-whammy last week in Waxwing, a magazine that focuses on non-traditional narratives and writers. Faure’s essay, “Virgil is Fan Fiction: a Defense of Pastiche,” examines the uses and merits of the fairy tale, a long-derided form. Faure discusses the structure of revisionist fiction and promotes the cause of experimental literature in general, echoing Cynthia Reeves’ excellent defense of nontraditional literature that appeared in Waxwing‘s previous issue.

Faure first analyzes works by modern fabulists like Angela Carter and Robert Coover. Speaking of Carter’s Pinocchio-inspired Lady Purple, he writes:

The female character’s new, empowering functions enact the actualization of Lady Purple’s independence from men: “she was not a true prostitute for she was the object on which men prostituted themselves.” In Propp’s terms, Pinocchio was the hero; upon approaching Lady Purple, we might presuppose she will follow the gendered Damsel role. Soon we recognize she might be a Hero. Then, soon after, we might wonder if she is in fact the Villain. That is the nature of the uncanny — and the nature of the political, too. Given the historical patriarchy of the West and despite the variations in feminist theory on this particular subject, for most readers the villainous girl is probably, by the end, the sad hero. One might argue that a problem exists here, with the simplified femme fatale type, because her narrative still depends upon a male victim. But I think that, by imbuing her stories with additional elements of irrealism, Carter counter-intuitively avoids such a problem. It is not a female reversing her role in a typical world. It’s a different, Wonderland-like world. The parody is thus more effective. Jameson would approve.

Faure then opens the discussion to the political relevancy of pastiche, arguing that the revision of fables, tales, and myths is as traditional as it is post-modern:

Pastiche is more necessary than ever. Whether by playing with the form, twisting traditional characters, or by altering the world the fable inhabits, we can bathe in the comforting familiarity of sacred narratives while, through parody, scrutinizing and critiquing the problematic structures of our own inherited world.

Faure practices what he preaches in his accompanying hybrid story “When the Lava Breaks” (Don’t tell Robert Plant). The story mixes pop music, Kafka, Twitter, and Hurricane Katrina with a nod to Heraclitus:

She’d woken up before her alarm could go off. That never happens. She rolled out of bed and felt a sharp pain under her foot. A crucifix lay embedded in the shaggy carpet, long end pointing up. Marie had recently taken up religion, because she needed someone new to be angry with. Being angry with God is easy and alleviates the need to curse at one’s family or significant other. Her significant other, a hapless environmentalist named Bernice, would probably have something bitchy to say about this volcano, about how man shouldn’t mess with nature.

You never step in the same river twice — especially if it’s made of lava. Marie put on coffee and fed the dog, a shaggy pacifist named Mike. Mike had whined and pawed about all night, disturbing her rest. She was a naturally deep sleeper so, while the dog’s protests had dipped into her dreams, she had not fully risen out of slumber to register the volcanic eruption five miles to the west.

Marie opened the window and poked her head out. The lava was mesmerizing — a living, bleeding stream of the red, orange, yellow, and some brown. The brown surprised her.

Read the essay and the story @Waxwing.

Feb 182015


Another in a long list of zombie book reviews revived from my old days when you could actually make a little extra money writing reviews (and learn a lot about writing on the side). This one appeared in a magazine called Books in Canada in 1990. I quite like it because I managed, despite my tender years and experience, not to be awed by the aura of greatness. For example:

His long-awaited new novel, Vineland, his first since Gravity`s Rainbow (a book about V-2 rockets and coprophilia, I think) in 1973, reads like the mutant offspring of Henry James-turned-northern-California-mall-rat and Marshall McLuhan in the paranoid grip of a bad acid trip, with a little Joseph Campbellish mytho-delirium thrown in for colour.


Thomas Pynchon
Little, Brown (1990)


THOMAS PYNCHON IS a mysterious and reclusive cult figure in the United States, a kind of highbrow J. D. Salinger, a grey eminence of the American Post Mod movement, and one of the four horsemen of the New Writing of the `60s and `70s, along with John Barth, Robert Coover, and William Gass. His long-awaited new novel, Vineland, his first since Gravity`s Rainbow (a book about V-2 rockets and coprophilia, I think) in 1973, reads like the mutant offspring of Henry James-turned-northern-California-mall-rat and Marshall McLuhan in the paranoid grip of a bad acid trip, with a little Joseph Campbellish mytho-delirium thrown in for colour. Part political allegory and part metaphysical fantasy, Vineland seeks to answer those perennial questions: What happened to the `60s? Who betrayed the Woodstock nation? It`s also about TV, the trivialization of violence, and America`s loss of innocence (yes, yes, that again —America, the eternal virgin) during the Nixon-Reagan presidencies.

Pynchon puts the blame for the steamrolling of Hippiedom squarely on the Tube, the Man (DOJ, DEA, FBI, CIA), and certain dark forces — “… the unrelenting forces that leaned ever after … into Time`s wind, impassive in pursuit, usually gaining, the faceless predators… [which] had simply persisted, stone-humourless, beyond cause and effect, rejecting all attempts to bargain and accommodate, following through pools of night where nothing else moved wrongs forgotten by all but the direly possessed, continuing as a body to refuse to be bought off for any but the full price, which they had never named.”

Bleak? Heck, yes. But Pynchon tempers his bleakness with a stoned sense of burnout that runs the gamut from sly literary in-jokes — e.g. a “Carpenter Gothic outhouse” — to full-scale satirical set pieces and running gags. A character named Zoyd Wheeler lives on government disability cheques he earns by jumping through plate-glass windows once a year in front of a battery of Live Action Cams and TV reporters. Zoyd`s daughter, Prairie, makes a hit as a cook at an Esalen-like martial-arts retreat serving up such yummy items as baked Spam with grape jam garnish, which she discovered on the recipe page of the local TV magazine section. Zoyd`s nemesis, Detective Hector Zuniga, is being treated for “tubal abuse” and tries to have his ex-wife charged with murder for shooting the family television set.

The plot of Vineland is a flimsy, cardboard thing (as you would expect in allegory), a frame for the jazz riffs of Pynchon`s manic-mythic reconstruction of American history. It has something to do with the obsessive, sleazoid relationship between Brock Vond, an evil Department of justice operative intent on subverting everything good in the U.S. of A. from the radical left to marginal marijuana farmers, and Frenesi Gates (blonde, blue eyes, anagram for “sin free”), Zoyd’s wife and the daughter of a couple of pinko Hollywood black listees from the McCarthy era.

At the counter-culture`s apogee, Brock “turns” Frenesi into a snitch and a stool pigeon. She betrays Weed Atman, the Christ-like leader of a rock and roll “republic” on the California coast, then sets him up to be murdered. Frenesi spends the next 14 years in the government`s Witness Protection Program, traveling from one trouble-spot to the next as a freelance traitor. Then in 1984, deficit-driven cutbacks force the WPP to drop Frenesi and her fellow stoolies from the program. She and her file disappear, and Brock goes hunting for her with an army of SWAT teams and black helicopters that pluck people from the ground in a black-comedy version of the “rapture.”

Everyone converges on Vineland, an imaginary county north of San Francisco where the hippies, rad lefties, the Thanatoids (a community of the living dead waiting for “karmic readjustment”), and Zoyd and Prairie have taken refuge from Yuppiedom. At the climactic moment, another round of cutbacks pulls the plug on Brock`s very own program. His choppers grounded, he simply dies away, or at least finds himself being led down an earthen trench to the mythic Yurok underworld where an ancient spirit couple sucks the bones from his body.

What all this seems to mean is that TV has sapped the moral fibre of what Pynchon calls “Midol America,” paving the way for the triumph of the cynical, rich, and sun-tanned retro-fascists of San Clemente and Santa Barbara. Yet, in the long run, these malign forces of modern commercial capitalism will strangle on their own deficits and the ancient Red Indian gods of the North American earth will reassert their hegemony.

This is goofy political day-dreaming and a middle-class, male, whitebread version of American history (what ever happened to women`s lib and the civil rights movement?). This is thinking big on the level of Doonesbury and Oprah Winfrey. Some of the ideas in this book are so downright trite they’re embarrassing (e.g. pistols and stick shifts are penis substitutes). And yet, and yet, beyond the run-on jokes, the jumbled mythologies, the errant orthography, and the relentless folksiness of the dialogue, there is something compelling about Vineland. It’s a book that sticks in your mind, seems increasingly hilarious in retrospect, and fairly seethes with a spooky sort of Quixotic, half-wit wisdom. There is something about the foolishness of it all that may be next door to greatness.

Douglas Glover

(Books in Canada, April, 1990)


Feb 172015

Frank Richardson bio pict 2

Frank Richardson, Houston flâneur, recovering scientist, and nearly a new-minted MFA in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, has wisely joined the NC masthead as a contributor. He first appeared here with an essay called “The Art of the Long Sentence” in the November issue. He has a review of the new Tom McCarthy novel Satin Island coming in the March issue. He’s a terrific addition to our vast and growing (monstrous) masthead.

Frank Richardson lives in Houston and is pursuing his MFA in Fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, The Montucky Review, and Do Not Look At The Sun.

Feb 162015


Jason Lucarelli is a brilliant literary commentator with a special bent toward literary Modernism and, specifically, Gordon Lish, Lishian studies, and Lishian influences. He’s already written two substantial essays and an interview (with Victoria Redel, a Lish protegé early in her career). And he has a lengthy interview with Diane Williams coming out in the March issue. It’s a pleasure to announce that he’s consented to make his relationship with the magazine official, public, and above-board by joining us as a Special Correspondent.


Jason Lucarelli is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Numéro Cinq, The Literarian, 3:AM Magazine, Litro, Squawk Back, and NANO Fiction.

And here is the Jason Lucarelli NC  Archive Page with his previous contributions to the magazine.


Feb 142015

BenhamHans Sebald Beham Engraving “Death and Three Nude Women” circa-1520-50 via Hans Sebald Beham.com

This is the end of the February death issue, but to keep you on your toes (and because I am in that sort of mood) I want to add one parting shot and introduce you to the engravings of Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550) who covered a lot of subjects (look him up), including some lovely 16th century urban-scapes with crowds of people doing 16th century things. But he had an especially delectable inspiration toward luscious nudes and Death figures (so voluptuous women and skeletons) or sexual images and Death, an especially poignant and pointed juxtaposition of the energy (and pleasures) of life and the lugubrious prospect of our common end. Besides the Wikipedia article linked to his name in this paragraph, you can read a good essay about him here.


Adam_and_Eve“Adam and Eve” by Hans Sebald Beham – Private collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Death_and_the_Standing_Nude“Death and the Standing Nude” by Hans Sebald Beham – Private collection. Scan by Yellow Lion, 2006.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

HANS SEBALD BEHAM Death and the Indecent Pair 1529 Engraving 150Hans Sebald Beham “Death and the Indecent Pair” Engraving via Frozen Warnings

Death and the Sleeping WomanHans Sebald Beham “Death and the Sleeping Woman” Engraving (1548) via Live Journal

Feb 132015

Savage Love PB cover2 small

Here’s a belated, adulatory little review of my book Savage Love, which came out in the fall of 2013. But in keeping with the buzz about my complete anonymity (“the most eminent unknown Canadian writer alive” — Maclean’s Magazine) the reviewer, a Canadian, only recently heard about me through “an American friend.” What I have come to realize is that a lot of reviewers seek to explain their own inattention (not reading Glover) by a) generalizing the inattention (no one reads Glover) and b) blaming me (Glover is unknown). Reviewers who take this tack mean well. They want to create a narrative that might make more people read me. But at the same time it’s a bit of a tired conceit, and I wish they’d just pay attention to the book.

The reviewer also creates confusion by, I think (though maybe he meant it), mixing up two Spanish words, cojones (balls) and cajones (drawers, as in desk drawers). No doubt, by the time a few of you have read this, the magazine editors will have rushed to fix the error (as I say, if it is an error). But for the moment the reviewer says I have “serious drawers.” It’s so priceless I screenshot it.


I shouldn’t make fun. God knows, at NC we have cheerfully committed some atrocious blunders (if I had a dollar for every time we spelled an author’s name wrong….). It’s a nice review, and I am grateful for a good reader. And one day I will be remembered as “that writer with the two large desk drawers between his legs.”


Savage Love is, in my view (and without hyperbole) a master-class in the short fiction form….Glover’s got serious cajones [sic]. I can’t think of another collection this audacious, this willing to alienate its readership by taking us to the edge of our comfort levels….If Freud’s right and life’s all about eros and thanatos, sex and a lust for death, then Glover’s collection can also be called a master-class in the human condition.

Read the rest at Writings / Reviews: Andrew MacDonald | Maple Tree Literary Supplement – Issue 18.

Feb 102015

Okay, here’s a coincidence that bears telling you all about. Long years ago when I still reviewed books (lots of books), I worked freelance for Larry Kart, then books editor at the Chicago Tribune. In 1995, Larry asked me to be one of the judges for the annual Nelson Algren Short Story Award, which was a very prestigious prize in those days. The other judges were Nicholas Delbanco and Sandra Scofield. The writer we picked for first prize was a 22-year-old Vietnamese immigrant named Dao Strom, who was a student at the Iowa Writers Workshop.

As I say, I had forgotten when I was a judge for the prize and I had forgotten who won (lost in memory — look, a lot happens in life, right?). I do remember the awards ceremony at a very large hotel banquet room in Chicago (I was thinking: What the fuck am I doing here?). I do remember meeting Nicholas because we became friendly acquaintances after that. And at the reception I met Wayne Booth, the eminent author of that great book The Rhetoric of Fiction.

In any case, our new contributing editor Fernando Sdrigotti (in London) put me in touch with Dao Strom (in Portland) a couple of months ago and I invited some work from her. The result is the lovely hybrid memoir we just published today. But it wasn’t till I was noodling around, looking for more biographical details that I noticed she had won the Nelson Algren Award. And then I did remember that the person we gave the prize to was Vietnamese. And then the tumblers began to click, and finally I found an old piece in the Tribune about that particular award, which confirmed what my brain couldn’t.

So after almost 20 years Dao Strom and I meet again through the angelic intervention of Fernando.


Dao Strom managed not only to make the finals the first year she entered the competition, but also to finish in first place. Of three stories she submitted, “Up Over Boulder Hill” was singled out by the judges, Sandra Scofield, Nicholas Delbanco and Douglas Glover, themselves novelists and short-story writers.

via Cradle Of Writers – Chicago Tribune.

Feb 072015

Viriginia Woolf

Robin Oliveira sent me the link to the sound recording of a Virginia Woolf radio broadcast. Amazing, yes, to have her own voice (though she does sound a bit like my great-aunt Alice). But I took the opportunity to noodle around and find some photos and documentaries and put together a little Virginia Woolf archive. Lovely, sad, a world long gone.


And here is a documentary I can’t embed but which you can watch on Youtube.

Feb 062015

 Phillip Lopate

Jennifer Lang drew my attention to this Phillip Lopate essay on reflection and the “double perspective” structure in nonfiction. No doubt you all remember that Lopate edited The Art of the Personal Essay, the standard teaching anthology for the form. Lopate’s essay was originally published in The Fourth Genre (Spring 2005), but it is also available on Lopate’s own site. It addresses a common problem with beginning nonfiction writers who unnecessarily inhibit themselves by borrowing point of view techniques from fiction writing (narrow first person) and that terrible old piece of received wisdom “Show, don’t tell” (have you ever asked yourselves who actually invented that idea?). Writers-in-training using these “rules” produce floaty, impressionistic essays or memoirs that might be called “lyrical” and sometimes are, though I am not sure why. The characters don’t have thoughts, they only observe and react but without actually defining their feelings. We are finding this kind of writing in the first flight of submissions to the NC What It’s Like Living Here series and the Childhood series. I guess some people think it is artful not to tell the reader that the author was a child in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the early 1970s and her parents were x and y and did z and lived in abc neighbourhood. This would be “telling,” right? Because no kid of eight goes around thinking I live in Saratoga Springs and it is 1974 and my parents are… See how the assumption of a strict point of view means that you are writing nonfiction with your hands tied behind our back?

Lopate does a nice job in his essay of explaining the practice and virtues of the dual perspective structure in nonfiction writing. Simply put, it just means that you TELL the reader what you were thinking (as near as you can remember — always faulty) when you were five and then you TELL the reader what you think now about what you were thinking when you were five. So you get the perspective of the five-year-old and you get the perspective of the adult who has read, experienced, and pondered a good deal more than the five-year-old. You develop a richer, wiser piece of writing. And you don’t leave the reader in the dark. Some of the childhood pieces we’ve received don’t even say when and where they take place.

In writing memoir, the trick, it seems to me, is to establish a double perspective, that will allow the reader to participate vicariously in the experience as it was lived (the confusions and misapprehensions of the child one was, say), while conveying the sophisticated wisdom of one’s current self. This second perspective, the author’s retrospective employment of a more mature intelligence to interpret the past, is not merely an obligation but a privilege, an opportunity. In any autobiographical narrative, whether memoir or personal essay, the heart of the matter often shines through those passages where the writer analyzes the meaning of his or her experience. The quality of thinking, the depth of insight and the willingness to wrest as much understanding as the writer is humanly capable of arriving at—these are guarantees to the reader that a particular author’s sensibility is trustworthy and simpatico. With me, it goes further: I have always been deeply attracted to just those passages where the writing takes an analytical, interpretative turn, and which seem to me the dessert, the reward of prose.

via Reflection and Retrospection: A Pedagogic Mystery Story » Phillip Lopate.

I will add here a link to a little interview Lopate did at Poets &Writers, which further elaborates on the distinction between the essay (as a form with an ancient tradition) and the contemporary creative nonfiction practice, which, as I say, tries to borrow flashy and faddish techniques from fiction (actually, they aren’t fictional techniques but misunderstood techniques borrowed from an extremely narrow range of fiction) and manages to create writers-in-straitjackets.

Time to take a deep breath, relax, and free yourselves from the self-imposed shackles of creative nonfiction. Liberate yourselves from the people who say you can’t do this and you can’t do that. Tell them: Watch me.

Phillip Lopate: Yes. “Creative nonfiction” seems slightly bogus. It’s like patting yourself on the back and saying, “My nonfiction is creative.” Let the reader be the judge of that.

P&W: What about applying that to the term “literary”?

PL: There is a bit of self-congratulations in “literary nonfiction.” One reason I prefer it is because it embeds the work in a tradition and a lineage. Instead of implying this is something new, it says this type of writing has been around for a long, long time. In English literature, there is the great tradition of the English essay, with Samuel Johnson, Hazlitt and Lamb, Robert Louis Stevenson and de Quincey, Matthew Arnold, McCauley, Carlisle, Beerbohm, and on into the twentieth century, with Virginia Woolf and George Orwell. By saying you write literary nonfiction, you’re saying that you’re part of that grand parade.

Creative nonfiction is somewhat distortedly being characterized as nonfiction that reads like fiction. Why can’t nonfiction be nonfiction? Why does it have to tart itself up and be something else? I make no apologies for the essay form, for the memoir form, or for any kind of literary nonfiction. These are genres that have been around for a long time, and we don’t have to apologize for them, or act like they’re new fads when they’re not. A colleague pointed out that James Frey, in his defense, said memoir is a new genre. He said there aren’t as many rules as there were when Hemingway and Fitzgerald were writing fiction. This is total nonsense because, in fact, Hemingway and Fitzgerald both wrote nonfiction as well. Frey showed his ignorance. Nonfiction is a very old genre. Go back to The Confessions of St. Augustine. For so long, individuals have attempted to understand how one lives and what one is to make of one’s life.

P&W: Do you have any rules or guidelines for writing nonfiction? Are they different than Lee Gutkind’s?

PL: Gutkind emphasizes using a lot of scenes, dialogue, and cinematic and sensory detail to increase vividness of writing. That’s fine, but not every piece of nonfiction has to have scenes or dialogue.

There’s a kind of bestseller that’s being written now, true crime nonfiction, which is essentially told through scenes. Perhaps this goes back to Capote’s In Cold Blood, or Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, but the idea is to write a kind of narrative that makes you feel like you’re watching television, so it’s very close to a screen play. That’s okay, but I don’t see any reason to encourage graduate MFA nonfiction students all to write that way.

I am more interested in the display of consciousness on the page. The reason I read nonfiction is to follow an interesting mind. I’ll read an essayist, like E. B. White, who may write about the death of a pig one time, and racial segregation another time. Virginia Woolf may write about going on a walk to find a pencil, which seems like a very trivial subject, or about World War I, or a woman’s need for a room of her own. She has such a fascinating mind that I’m going to follow her, whatever she wants to write about. One of the ploys of the great personal essayists is to take a seemingly trivial or everyday subject and then bring interest to it.

I have no desire to pick a fight with Gutkind. I’m arguing more for reflective nonfiction where thinking and the play of consciousness is the main actor.

via Poets & Writers (read the rest here).


Feb 032015

john mackennaJoseph-John-MacKenna


I was delighted to include a short story by John MacKenna in the early days of Uimhir A Cúig and wish him every success with his new novel, Joseph (New Island Books), a modern day retelling of Joseph of Nazareth:

“‘It’s been forty years, and memory is the most unreliable of companions, so I can only offer these recollections with the proviso that you take them as the only truth I can call to mind. They’re my truth…’

When his ‘young fellow’ becomes involved in political agitation, and his own marriage begins to fall apart, Joseph of Nazareth must find a way to nurture hope.

The tale of a small-time builder in a small-time town, and his relationship with the charismatic figure he had treated as a son, Joseph humanises an often-overlooked Biblical character, and renders his story one for all time.”

Read an interview with John here discussing the novel (and more) and a recent review here.

—Gerard Beirne

Jan 312015

Nance Van Winckel

Time to consider Nance Van Winckel’s tremendous contributions to Numéro Cinq. Amazingly generous with her time and energy, she has single-handedly defined the magazine as a haven for hybrid art, book art, cross genre art, and off-the-page art. This is what happens here. A person joins the masthead and suddenly his or her part of the magazine expands in the direction of personal interests and taste. Rob Gray became synonymous with NC at the Movies, Julie Larios has her Undersung series, Gerry Beirne became our Irish wing. But there is something especially meaningful about Nance’s pieces because they match the vaguely piratical, genre-bending, and rebellious ethos we began with, a way of thinking embodied in Nance’s neologism pho-toems (photographs + poems). So for the month of February we are featuring some (not all) of Nance Van Winckel’s work on NC.


Nance Van Winckel is the author of six collections of poems, including After A Spell, winner of the 1999 Washington State Governor’s Award for Poetry, and the recently released Pacific Walkers (U. of Washington Press, 2013). She is the recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner. Recent poems appear in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Southern Review, Poetry Northwest, Crazyhorse, Field, and Gettysburg Review. She is also the author of four collections of linked short stories and a recent recipient of a Christopher Isherwood Fiction Fellowship. Boneland, her newest book of fiction, is just out with U. of Oklahoma Press. Her stories have been published in AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, The Sun, and Kenyon Review. Nance’s photo-collage work has appeared in Handsome Journal, The Cincinnati Review, Em, Dark Sky, Diode, Ilk, and Western Humanities Review. New visual work and an essay on poetry and photography appear in Poetry Northwest and excerpts from a collage novel are forthcoming in Hotel Amerika and The Kenyon Review Online. She is Professor Emerita in Eastern Washington University’s graduate creative writing program, as well as a faculty member of Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program. She lives near Spokane, Washington with her husband, the artist Rik Nelson. Her personal web page is here.



Jan 302015

I was just working on an essay (another one) about Alice Munro and came upon this lovely little set of photographs and quotations in the Globe and Mail. Quotations from her stories matched with photographs of the town of Wingham, where she grew up. So just for fun, here it is. Where I come from (Norfolk County, also in southwestern Ontario, but more south) is the same but different; for example, the style of white-brick ornamentation you’ll see is, in my mind, quite distinct to Huron County, not the same in Norfolk County. The land is different, too. Our farm is at the bottom of an ancient seabed. Huron County is higher, rockier countryside, poorer for farming, settled later.



She may have left when she was 18, but Nobel laureate Alice Munro’s native Huron County – she grew up on a farm outside of Wingham – influenced her life’s work, both in setting and sensibility. Photographer Deborah Baic visited the Southwestern Ontario community behind her exceptional writing about the lives of ordinary girls and women.

via A literary tour through Alice Munro’s hometown of Wingham, Ont. – The Globe and Mail.

Jan 282015


I noticed on Twitter that Nicholas Carlson had a piece up about how he wrote his new book Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! in six weeks, 93,000 words in six weeks. His actual discipline is interesting (it’s the brute force method, very useful in times of dire need) but not as grabby to me as the fact that he used the note-taking app Evernote instead of a standard word processor. I’m a bit of a tech geek; I love this nugget of information. I used to use Evernote before it went to the cloud; it was a free note taking and web clipping program at that time. Then I migrated to something called Treepad and lately I have reluctantly started using OneNote. The first love of my life, XYWrite, still lives inside DosBox on my computer, though I can’t figure out how to print out of it (I have to open the files in WordPerfect to print them). I go to XYWrite for deep focus early writing. Anyway, read Carlson’s piece and the smaller one on Evernote which is here. They’ll get you fired up to write.

Aside from the geekery, it’s useful to remember, when you read this, what Zola said about deadlines: “One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.”



I worked in hour-long, concentrated bursts and took frequent breaks. When I got back to my desk about 8:30 or so, I would set a timer for an hour. As soon as the timer started I would force myself to either write or stare at the screen until the hour was over. (I would pause the timer if I needed to make coffee or tea or go to the bathroom.) Then, when the hour was over, I would get up from my desk, go outside and walk around a city block — leaving my iPhone behind. Then I’d come back to my desk and do another hour of writing and staring. Then another walk. Then one more hour.

via How I Wrote A 93,000-Word Book In 6 Weeks | Nicholas Carlson | LinkedIn.