Audible has just (September 13) released the audiobook version of my novel Elle. This audio version is narrated by the replendent Severn Thompson who adapted the novel for the stage last year. Click the image above to go to Amazon and hear a sample of the novel.
Editor-in-chief prepares to leave the building.
Now is the moment for reflection, gratitude, and farewells. Not that I am going away or anyone else connected with the magazine for that matter. It’s just that we won’t appear again in quite this form. (And I am going to sell the white horse, which has started to attract attention.)
The magazine started with a group of friends feeling outsiderish and piratical, and it has persisted in that light, though the names have gradually changed over time. There are 40 people on the masthead today; the list of artists and writers who have appeared in the magazine could fill a small town; and then there are our readers, most of whom we will never know, though some, in keeping with our policy, have become writers for the magazine and friends.
The fact that we got so big and lasted so long (on fumes) is miraculous.
It would be invidious to single out individuals, but there are some who by their intelligence and loyalty have altered my thin view of the human race. And others whose sheer bloody-minded willingness to throw their support behind an upstart magazine and persist have taught me something about the nature of friendship and the value of art. I will never forget the decency, kindness and camaraderie that have characterized NC’s inner workings. You are an astonishing tribe. I am eternally grateful.
My sons grew to adults under the sign of Numéro Cinq (while my dog — the blue dog of NC fame — grew ancient and incontinent). It was ever a topic of dinner table conversation (Mission Control has always been in the bedroom, where my laptop lives). Jonah designed the logo. Jacob still reads with the analytic eye he learned writing reviews for the magazine.
Now the feeling around here is distinctly autumnal, and I am a bit anxious about what I am going to do with myself when I don’t have to get up in the morning and attend to the magazine chores.
As for the site, it will remain live as a monument to us all. All your work, the archives, the special features and anthologies, will be available. Possibly, I will post in the NC Blog now and then on matters relating to the magazine. I’ve been using the “Out & Back” blog category as my personal blog; I might have to sort that out (or not).
There are going to be loose ends. Story of my life.
A few issues back I mentioned a speech from Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander that seemed to capture the feeling. It’s very early in the film. Oscar Ekdahl is making his annual speech to the cast after the Christmas pageant in the little family-owned theatre.
Dear friends, dear fellow workers, dear family! For twenty-two years I have stood here and made a speech. I am not really any good at this sort of thing. My only talent, if you can call it a talent in my case, is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse. And I’m fond of the people who work in this little world. Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds for a moment in reflecting the big world, so that we understand it better. Or is it perhaps that we give the people who come here the chance of forgetting for a while, forgetting for a while the harsh world outside. Our theatre is a small room of orderliness, routine, conscientiousness, and love. I don’t know why I am so awfully moved today of all days. I feel so comically solemn. I can’t explain how I feel. I had better be brief.
(He shakes his head, raises his glass, and looks at the people gathered around him.)
Okay, the scoop. Aidos, a short film by our senior editor R. W. Gray, marks Douglas Glover’s first credited film work (at 3:44). (It is not, however, his first onscreen appearance since he had an uncredited role as an extra in Michael Douglas’s 1979 movie Running; check out the start of the marathon. In terms of an acting career, this early success led nowhere — it is a galling fact of dg’s life that many things have led nowhere, though he remains optimistic.)
R. W. Gray has edited NC at the Movies for years, decades even, it seems. In between times, he’s been writing (his story collection Entropic last year won the $25,000 Thomas Raddall Fiction Award) and making films.
He shot Aidos in the winter-spring of 2014 when he and I were both rooming in Mark Jarman’s house in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Some of the scenes were filmed in Mark’s house or nearby (you can see the old railway bridge through the stained glass window in one scene and the cathedral in the background of another).
The film has traveled the world (Tel Aviv, Romania, Lithuania, and all over the U.S. and Canada) and was programmed in twelve festivals. And now that it has finished its festival run, Rob has posted Aidos on Vimeo where we can all see it.
Aidos is, on the surface, about love and mourning. A young gay man has died, the voice over narration tells is that 21 people avowed their love for him before the end. What follows is 21 different actors saying “I love you” with the sound muted, just the faces, eyes, expressions.
When Rob filmed my bit, he told me nothing of the film’s structure or point. Actually, he told me nothing (I got no contract, no star in my door, we are still in litigation about the star on the door thing). He just wanted to film me saying the words “I love you.” This took a long time because he wanted a spiritual depth, a vulnerability, one is not used to performing in public. One, moi, I am so bloody shy. He coached me. He told me to visualize someone I loved and address that person. I thought of my sons. In my bit, I am thinking of my boys. That in the film this thought is translated into a completely different meaning is a revelation to me, a revelation about the nature of acting, which included, yes, an object lesson in the difference between acting and pretending — I was not pretending, though I was summoning up an image to cue myself. I am still mulling over this experience. I think I learned some, though I am not sure what.
That quality of vulnerability is what Rob was after in the film, I think. The word “aidos” bursts with complex implication, which you must think about as you watch the film. It’s a Greek word that means, as a quality, a mix of reverence, modesty, and shame and is meant to be one of those aspects of personality that restrain us from doing evil.
Here it is personified in Hesiod, where she appears as a goddess, a companion to Nemesis.
And then Aidos and Nemesis, with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.
The shame aspect is interesting because it involves the consciousness of being visible to others, of being seen, not just as a projection but as an emotional, thus vulnerable, self. The words “I love you,” so easily spoken in private, expose this inner self to ridicule (which, in itself, is an element of acting).
So re-watch Rob’s film and pay special attention to the interior contortions embodied in the faces of the actors (and, of course, they are mostly men, so the shyness/modesty quotient is very high — ah, we are a limping gender!): the effort to be real.
With the publication of Paul Lindholdt’s wonderful essay on living in Spokane, we’ve reached the end of the line for our What It’s Like Living Here series. But now you can see the whole series (7 1/2 years worth of essays listed alphabetically by author) on our What It’s Like Living Here page. Now you get an idea of what I envisioned when I started this series. We have some magnificent pieces of writing, great photos, deeply felt connections to place and home. These essays (along with Childhood series, the My First Job series, etc.) were meant to be the human face of the magazine, the place where writing, emotion and sense of self found an aesthetic meeting point.
It’s difficult to make a list of favourites (because I loved them all), but check out Shawn Selway on living in Hamilton, Ontario; Carrie Cogan on Salt Spring Island, Stephen Sparks on San Francisco, and Tiara Winter-Schorr on Manhattan. Also look at Court Merrigan’s essay on Torrington, Wyoming, and Brad Green on Denton, Texas, and Gary Garvin on Cupertino, and John Proctor on New York.
I’ll list them all if I’m not careful.
More retrospection. I almost hate to do this. Many will suggest that I should let sleeping dogs lie. But really, folks, there have been occasions of sublime tomfoolery (and embarrassment) on Numéro Cinq, especially early on when there were fewer people in the community. We used have a lot of fun in the margins. Feisty and irreverent. There has always been a current of that spirit running through the magazine.
“The Lost Poems of Paris Hilton” is a comment conversation (on the NC Blog in April, 2010) that exploded willy-nilly under a post to which it bore only a conjectural connection. Eventually, we extracted the “Lost Poems” conversation and gave it a blog post of its own (hence, the references part way through to a David Helwig photo that is no long attached to the piece). Paris was much in the news at the time. Ivanka Trump also figures in the thread. She is much in the news today. No doubt we’ll be hearing from the Department of Justice later in the day. Of the writers involved, Natalia Sarkissian and Gary Garvin are still on the masthead. Rich Farrell is no longer on the masthead but contributes now and then, most recently a review of a Steven Heighton novel. Steven Axelrod has his own NC Archive Page.
Click on the image or the link above or find the “lost poems” here. The poems are not in the body of the post but in the comment thread below, so you have to click through to the original post and then scroll down. For added entertainment, read the extended URL.
p.s. Try not to judge us harshly.
Tower of Babel (for Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman) – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel, 48 x 38 inches, 2016
This is the Last Call issue because it is the final issue. Numéro Cinq will cease publishing new work when we complete the roll-out in August. The site will remain live forever (or whatever forever amounts to in Internet years). It will also be backed up and archived, so that as long as there is electricity there will be a Numéro Cinq somewhere, a monument to the collective efforts of all our editors, writers, artists, and readers.
I’m stopping the magazine because we are soaring, reputation rising, the quality of new work never better. We have a well-oiled infrastructure in place. The masthead is replete with intelligent, gifted, dedicated people. But, paradoxical as it might seem, this feels like the perfect moment to sign off, mount up, and ride into the sunset.
The magazine is named for an imaginary terrorist organization in one of my short stories. It was born under the flag of the outsider: rumbustious, experimental, anti-capitalist, and defiantly non-institutional. We did it the wrong way on purpose. No submissions, no submission fees, no financing, no donors, no board, no contests to raise money, no grant applications, no splashy design help, no tech experts, no institutional support, no ads. I was thinking of samizdat, underground mags run off on mimeograph machines. I was moreover impatient with what I perceived as a general need for prior approval. (Oh, I’m going to start this project, research that, publish this — as soon as I get a grant.) And I was also reacting to a perceived threat: the advent of electronic publishing, the decline of bookstores. Everything was going to hell in a hand basket. But at Numéro Cinq we opted to embrace the new and see what advantages could be earned. Forget fear, ignore cultural malaise, we thought. Just try a little something and see where it will go. Have fun, be earnest and uncool, exhibit naive bravado, panache.
We also intended above all to honour the writers. One of the chief problems with print magazines is that they disappear shortly after publication. If you’re lucky, you have five copies and can perhaps find one in the stacks at the college library. The analogous problem with online publications is that after the flash of publication, your work disappears into the anarchic bowels of unsearchable archives. I designed NC to avoid these pitfalls. Instead of dumping the entire issue at the beginning of the month, we opted to publish one or two pieces per day so that each author had a day in the sun at the top of the front page. Then I added the RECENT ISSUES section; every writer’s name would be linked on the front page of the magazine for three months. And then I solved the impenetrable archive dilemma by designing multiple transparent search pathways and a logical archive organization: genre contents pages (linked to buttons down the right column but also lined to dropdown menus in the nav bar), issue by issue links under BACK ISSUES (in the nav bar), also special feature pages (linked in the nav bar) and our author archive pages (for authors who have appeared regularly in the magazine). We also opted to pay special attention to translators; we have a translators’ content page (so every translated item is entered in its own genre contents page and again under the translator’s name on the translation page). This mean seem a bit arcane, but it’s important to give a sense of how much care we tried to take with that precious commodity, our writers. (I also ruthlessly deleted any cross-eyed, stupid, ad hominem, unsupported comments that showed up under posts.)
NC was always meant to be a community, not a distant institution and especially not a submission portal that no one ever read or engaged with. We published mostly be invitation. But if a person engaged intelligently with the community (in comments, on Facebook, on Twitter), that person was apt to get an invitation. Many of or writers started as readers. We also used the set essay series — What It’s Like Living Here, Childhood, My First Job — as entry points for developing writers or gifted amateurs. You may all remember the periodic call for submissions.
In brief, this is what we were, what we tried to be. But it is the fate of revolutions to form governments and transform into the thing they rebelled against. The direction of all is toward entropy and stasis. Now we hope we can avoid that fate by simply stepping aside, assigning ourselves to the evanescent.
That said, the August issue is a revelation. I discreetly put out the word and, Lo! — it was like the housecarls and shield lords (if you can imagine also many female shield lords) gathering to make a last stand for the old cause. Writers leaped at the chance to appear in the last issue. Some put off other deadlines to finish work for NC. Long promised work suddenly materialized. I was touched over and over at the words people wrote to me about what the magazine has meant, how important it has become. (Okay, I have difficulty with praise. People have written things in the past weeks such that I have been unable to reply. You know who you are.)
But the issue. That’s the important thing, what I must focus on. We have writers from around the world — Canada and the U.S. but also Britain, Argentina, Italy, Nigeria, Hungary, Romania, Mexico, Russia, and more. A packed issue. Here’s the rundown.
Wayne Koestenbaum (Credit: Ebru Yildiz)
From Wayne Koestebaum, a writer I’ve know since the mid-1990s when he appeared on the radio show I hosted, we have two stunning “notebooks,” collections of aphorisms, brilliantly witty, mordant and touching (not all at once but delicately threaded).
……………..what is the
Harlequin Romance equivalent of
“friends, Romans, countrymen”?
is an ob word like obscene or
oblate or obsequy—
one’s loins across the public domain—
do shrinks even when off-duty
refuse warmth and ebullience?
or do I specialize
in non-ebullient shrinks?
—Wayne Koestenbaum from “#20 [thick book on mother-shelf pinnacled me o’er Tums]”
From Nigeria, by the young writer Chika Onyenezi, we have a new story in a mode that combines the contemporary with the folkloric.
A man chopped off a young boy’s head. He lured him to the back of his hotel and butchered him. When they found the head, it had tears in the eyes. That shit was all over the television, the saddest thing I had ever seen. They said he wanted to sell the organs to hospitals in Saudi Arabia. He rotted away in prison. He awaited trial until death took him. I swear everyone wanted to see him hang. The man lived ten blocks away from us before the event. A brave citizen alerted the people when the severed head was discovered at the back of his hotel. Everyone woke up and decided that enough was enough. An angry mob burned his house. For two weeks, smoke still escaped from charred remains. For two weeks, it smelled like a burning foam at his house. Whenever I walked past it, I felt sad. A month later, a bee hive formed. Three months later, a mad man moved into the house. A year later, the children of the murderer came back to claim their father’s property. Madness ruled these streets. Charred insanity rained here. I swear, the street ran itself for a long time. No government authority was effective here. Well, not just the street, the country ran itself, too.
—Chika Onyenezi from “There Are Places God Wouldn’t Go.”
Fernando, one of our indefatigable senior editors, long ago promised me a going-home essay. I never thought I’d get a text as astonishing as this. Fernando flies home to Argentina, and intercut with his own narrative is the fictional narrative of a second homecoming, the two trajectories magically coinciding at the close. This memoir has everything: the myth of return, gritty disenchantment, deft self-analysis and revelation, plus the outreach into fiction, resonance and mystery.
Missing Buenos Aires is a daily routine. Some days the longing arrives after a sound — memories are triggered, homesickness kicks in. Other times it happens after a smell, any smell, heavenly or foul. Most times the longing comes after the wanton recollection of this or that corner, any part of Buenos Aires that in my mind looks like Buenos Aires should look. Some days the feeling is overwhelming and I can spend hours wallowing in self pity. Most times the situation is manageable. I am writing this, listening to Astor Piazzolla, because today is one of those days where I can’t handle homesickness very well. And the music helps with the fantasy, it feeds it.
—Fernando Sdrigotti from “Notes Towards a Return.”
Rikki Ducornet — she’s been a comrade and inspiration the past few months. Rikki is one of those too busy to have a piece in the last issue, too burdened with other deadlines. When she told me, I was a tad disappointed. Five days later she sent me a poem, brand new, written for the magazine, a poem with obvious topical resonance framed against the metaphysical, profound with meta-commentary, and yet eruptive, alive.
-One has a tendency to ascribe intention to the Abyss,
……………….even a logical scheme,
although it has been demonstrated, time and time again,
……………….that any given hypothesis, even
“verified” is contingent on provisory facts. As the nursery rhyme asks:
In the mouth of of despot, what is more fickle than facts?
Thus is Philosophy forever seated on the horns of chronic uncertainty.
……………….Science, Her Right Hand,
insists that the First Quality of the Abyss is surprise.
—Rikki Ducornet from “Bees Are The Overseers.”
From Lance Olsen, we have a wonderful section of his novel-in-progress My Red Heaven. In this bit, Walter Benjamin appears seated under a linden tree composing his thoughts toward what will become his epic, unfinished Arcades Project. Readers will want to compare this section with an excerpt we ran earlier from the same novel. The two texts are radically different, and this gives you a sense of the collage structure of the novel as whole. It seems vast and beautiful, gathering the political and philosophical threads of a tortured modernity in early 20th century Europe.
Suppose, he considers, his weak heart twinging, I am falling in love with disjunction. Medieval alleys full of flowers. Suppose I am falling in love with learning to interrupt my —
—Lance Olsen channeling Walter Benjamin, from his novel-in-progress My Red Heaven.
Victoria Best said she didn’t have anything but then added that she had been working on a book of biographical essays about writers in crisis (the crisis forged into art). Would I like to see one of those just in case? Sure. She sent me three. I published her essay on Henry Miller in the July issue and saved the one on Doris Lessing for the final issue. It’s a masterpiece. No need to beat about the bush. It’s breathtaking in its concision, its masterful weaving of life event and shrewd psychological analysis and truly perceptive literary reading. Beautiful through and through. (Victoria makes you wonder why anyone would write a 600-page biography.)
Doris Lessing had taken all the ugly, entrapped, rageful relationships she had experienced – her mother and her father, her mother and herself, old Mrs Mitchell and her son, herself and Frank Wisdom, every relationship she had ever witnessed between a white man and his black slave and had distilled the awful essence from them. What she wrote in The Grass Is Singing was that any relationship based on domination and submission was doomed to disaster for all parties concerned; the dominant had to rule so absolutely, the submissives had to be so crushed, that no full humanity was available to either of them. Instead they were locked in airtight roles, waging a futile war to maintain a status quo that damaged and reduced them both. On one side would be fear and contempt, on the other resentment and bitter self-righteousness. Compassion and sympathy – love itself – had no room to breathe, no space to nurture joy and pleasure.
—Victoria Best from “Mother Tongue.”
Curtis White heard the call and sent me an excerpt from a work-in-progress written “after Rabelais.” It’s a delicious hoot. You can feel the Rabelaisian rhythms in the sentences. The text revels in excess. And the whole thing sizzles with the ironic tension between the flat American idiom and the ebullient Renaissance syntax. I wrote Curtis back, quoting one of my favourite list sentences from Rabelais, which he immediately recognized as one he used to teach his students.
Having decimated the main courses, she retreated to the soups and polished off one pot each of borscht, split pea, and, soup du jour, potato/leek. (“André! Scratch the soups!”) At this point she observed that her napkin was soiled and asked for another. Pitiless, she ate the herbed caviar roulade, the crepes with caviar filling, potatoes with caviar, caviar éclairs, oysters and caviar, and—a coup de main, de resistance, de theatre, d’etat, de grace, and de foudre—a cobbler with knuckle truffles (the low, obsequious sort common to the Aberdeens), creamed clotters, and crushed sweet-rind. (If you’re looking for the recipe, it’s in Mark Bittman’s Cobblers and Gobblers: Cooking with Cottage Clusters and Custard Clotters.)
—Curtis White after Rabelais from “Dining at the Stockyard Trough.”
S. D. Chrostowska
S. D. Chrostowska sent us a mysterious, glittering alternate universe story on the conflict between orality and literacy. The domination of oral cultures by literate cultures is one of my own hobby horses (we’ve both read out McLuhan), so I loved this story. Maybe you’ll want to call it a fable or a parable. But it imagines what would happen if orality were banned entirely.
Of course, much nuance was lost in the process, but it was not mourned for long; the baby, orality, was thrown out with the bathwater of facial expressiveness. Gradually and naturally, even private communication was being conducted exclusively in writing. Writers seen in the act of writing adhered strictly to the no-expression rule, which diverted attention from their face to the text committed on the transparent scroll interposed between interlocutors. Emotional concepts and terms, after a period of proliferation (when they were desperately needed to substitute for previously unconstrained nonverbal expressions), all but vanished as the suppression of expressiveness became normalized. The gestures, habits and practices that underpinned and imbued words like “love” with meaning were gradually lost.
—S. D. Chrostowska from “The Writing on the Wall.”
From Hungary, we have poems by ZsuZsa Takács translated by Erika Mihálycsa. Takács is the doyenne of Hungarian poetry. We’ve had her in NC before, a short story published last October. And Erika has contributed translations as well as her own essays and fiction. She has been a stalwart for the cause.
Where does bargaining begin, the withdrawal
of consent, the defensive fidgeting, the living
for the last moment, the hour stolen
for banqueting, or making love? I might
lapse there as well – our emperor left the decision to us,
but Socrates forbids cowardly action.
ZsuZsa Takács from “Yearning for an ancient cup” translated by Erika Mihálycsa.
Paul Lindholdt submitted a What It’s Like Living Here essay. It was elegant and beautiful. We had a conversation. I said it’s beautiful I’ll publish it but it’s not a WILLH essay because it doesn’t follow the form exactly. He wrote back and said he’d rewrite it. I said don’t you dare rewrite it. He said he wanted it to be a WILLH essay. I said well okay I’ll call it whatever you want as long as I get to publish it. This is where we left things. He’s a tremendous writer.
Col. George Wright hanged members of the Yakama and Spokane tribes. He slaughtered hundreds of their horses to weaken their ability to survive and fight. As a sort of reward his name memorializes a fort, a cemetery and an arterial drive. In turn the most well-known of his victims, Qualchan, lent his name (however ironically) to a real-estate development, a golf course and a footrace.
Onomastics, the study of proper names, has stirred my imagination since I settled here. The name Spokane looks as if it needs to be enunciated like cane at the end. But it has been given a midrange vowel, and so it sounds like can. The creek where Qualchan was hanged appears on state maps as Latah (Salish for fish), but it appears as Hangman on the national records. Federal cartographers seem unwilling to let the state forget its treacherous bit of regional history.
—Paul Lindholdt from his essay “Shrub Steppe, Pothole, Ponderosa Pine.”
I’ve published Ralph Angel’s poems and his essays before. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I read the line: “For the artist, wasting time, which the French perfected, is called discipline.” Need I say more.
For the artist, giving up thinking is called discipline. Giving up hope, giving up certainty, comparison and judgment is called discipline.
For the artist, wasting time, which the French perfected, is called discipline.
“Those who depend upon the intellect are the many,” wrote the minimalist painter, Agnes Martin. “Those who depend upon perception alone are the few.”
—Ralph Angel from “Influence, a Day in the Life.”
Hungary again! Kinga Fabó has already published poems in the magazine, and she’s been a wise and enthusiastic supporter of the magazine for a long time on Facebook and Twitter. Her work is experimental, wildly exciting, slyly ironic, and suffused with a dark eros. For the last issue, she sent me a short story translated by Paul Olchváry.
A fine orgy flooded through her. Perhaps her overblown need for a personality, her oversize ability to attune, was linked to her singular sensitivity to sounds. Effortlessly she assumed the—rhythm of the—other. Only when turning directly its way. She is in sound and she is so as long as she is—as long as she might be. Yet another orgy flooded through her. She would have broken through her own sounds, but a complete commotion?! May nothing happen! “VIRGINITY IS LUXURY, MY VIRGINITY LOOSE HELP ME,” T-shirts once proclaimed. This (grammatically unsound) call to action, which back then was found also on pins, now came to mind. An aftershock of the beat generation. And yet this—still—isn’t why she vibrated.
—Kinga Fabó from “Two Sound Fetishists” translated by Paul Olchváry.
This is our last Numero Cinco, our Mexican series. Dylan Brennan, our Mexican connections, has curated a powerful activist poem by Maria Rivera called “Los Muertos” and translated for us by Richard Gwyn.
Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,
the woman they gang raped before killing her,
the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,
the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story
comes walking down Broadway,
consoled by the wail of the ambulances,
the hospital doors,
light shining on the waters of the Hudson.
—Maria Rivera, from her poem “Los Muertos” translated by Richard Gwyn.
Our poetry co-editor Susan Aisenberg has brought back H. L. Hix for our last issue. Long time readers will remember he appeared here once before (look at the poetry contents page). Read these: fitting for the end of things.
Or that the something now coming undone,
much bigger than we are, includes all our
trivial undonenesses in its one
vast undoing, entails that we ourselves are
undone already, no matter what we do,
and undone ultimately, through and through?
—H. L. Hix from “That something has to come undone.”
Jowita Bydlowska just had a story we published selected for the 2017 Best Canadian Stories. I thought we could double that triumph by publishing another story, and she accommodated me. Not only that but she sent along a selection of her gloriously disturbing, alienated photographs as well. I met Jowita years ago when we were both touring for a book. I believed in her and her work from the moment she told me the story of coming to Canada as a young adolescent from Poland, lonely and marginal, and how she assuaged her loneliness by hiding out in the Woodstock, Ontario, public library for days on end painstakingly teaching herself to read English. That’s where she made herself as a writer.
“Why not? She’s beautiful,” my husband says.
She is. I would kiss the redheaded bartender. I’d probably do it for five bucks or for free but I like lying to my husband, pretending to be hesitant about it.
I think he lies to me all the time. I have no proof but if you lie you think everybody else is.
—Jowita Bydlowska from her story “Almost dies all the time.”
Ah, the divine Canadian poet Stephanie Bolster who has a talent for opening a chasm in syntax and driving the reader’s car right into it. Brought to us by our poetry co-editor Susan Gillis.
To select different options, click here.
Timed out waiting for a response.
Ten minutes ticking.
If you do not book now, the future into which you would have flown
will be irrevocably erased. No more husband and kiddies
at the park, the little one dangling in the baby swing,
wailing, as big brother tackles the slide for the first time.
Instead you will wait in an airport lounge for a stranger.
You will live on a floodplain and the worst will happen.
A fault will open and your car will plunge.
Earth will fill your mouth.
—Stephanie Bolster from “Midlife.”
Warren Motte, through our interactions over the magazine, has become a friend. We exchange news about our sons, our dogs. I solicit work from him, he solicits work from me. We have developed an amiable camaraderie (as I have with many of the writers and editors involved). Warren is also one of the few contributors who truly gets what an NC author photo should look like. I always say, Send me a photo of yourself, preferably relaxed and informal, with a dog or a child. Hardly anyone take me seriously. Only the chosen few who truly understand. Warren is among them.
Odysseus, Panurge, Eugénie Grandet, Gregor Samsa, Humbert Humbert, Oskar Matzerath, all of them from Ahab to Zeno, mere constructs! And their worlds pure figments: no more flying carpets, no more hansom cabs, no more magic lamps, no more tartar steppes! Such a perspective does not bear contemplation for long. Its very bleakness urges us toward another position, I think. One that we can occupy at our leisure, and wherein we are no longer obliged to choose between subject and object, self and other, inside and out.
—Warren Motte from “Division and Multiplication.”
Grant Maierhofer just arrived at the magazine last month. We published a Germán Sierra interview with him and a short story. He represents the cutting edge of experimental art that is sometimes called Post-Anthropocene, art that literally comes after the world era of human domination, art characterized by a systematic denial of the sentimentalized anthropocentric view of history and culture. Human have destroyed nature. We are in the countdown (Make America Great Again notwithstanding). I had to get him into the last issue if only because I have a tremendous sympathy for his aesthetic.
Walking for me changed when architecture changed, cities or long rural stretches suddenly took on meaning, became signs of something, warped. In Jarett Kobek’s novel of the 9/11 attacks, ATTA, his iteration of Mohammed, Atta, wanders cities hearing voices in their materials. I hadn’t known this prior to reading but Atta was a student of architecture, had written a dissertation in fact regarding the imperialist dominion of metropolitan architecture over the Middle East. The heft of these sentiments is largely unimportant to my purposes here, but I often wonder about the post-9/11 psyche and its relationship to architecture. Like the possibility of burned, sacked, destroyed works of art—either by the hands of their creators or fascists or mere accident—I wonder if anticipation of destruction alters our sense of the landscape in ways it simply couldn’t prior to the explosive power of our present.
—Grant Maierhofer from “Peripatet.”
Boris Dralyuk’s translations of poems by the Russian Alexander Tinyakov come to us via the good offices of Mary Considine Beck to whom we are eternally grateful. And grateful also for these blackly cynical and exuberantly negative poems. Read the teaser quote below. And smile.
Lovely new coffins are headed my way,
full of the finest young men.
Pleasure to see them, simply a joy –
pretty as birches in spring!
—Boris Dralyuk translation, “Joie de Vivre” by Alexander Tinyakov.
A. Anupama comes back one last time with a new selection of classic Tamil poetry, beautiful and mystical in their fusing of the erotic and the divine — read them carefully; they are a combination of sly, sometimes comic love poetry and the self meeting the godhead. Go back through the contents pages and read A. Anupama’s own poems, her earlier translations, and her essays on translation. We have a lovely extended archive of her work.
We live in the same city, but he avoids my street.
When he does come down my street, he doesn’t step in to visit,
and as though he’s strolling past some strangers’ cremation grounds,
he takes an eyeful and keeps walking,
as though he’s not the one who has driven me out of my shyness
and my mind. Such love, like an arrow shot from a bowstring,
soars for only a moment and falls someplace irretrievable, far away.
Pālai Pādiya Perunkadunkō
Kuruntokai, verse 231
—A. Anupama translation, “Poem from avenues lined with ornamental trees”
Patrick J. Keane
It took Pat Keane roughly three hours to get me a new essay when I wrote to him. This time an extended treatment of Mark Twain and T. S. Eliot. Erudite, eloquent, lapel-grabbing, astonishing in his ability to access quotations, Pat Keane is like a glacial eccentric, out there on his own, provenance unknown, no other like him. His contributions to the magazine, from early on, have been an anchor to my editorial heart. As long as Pat Keane trusted his work to me, I knew we were doing a good thing.
This recalcitrance of history is often lost in our tendency—not unlike the American love-affair with the film Casablanca—to lavish affection on a book which for many, especially in the wake of Ernest Hemingway’s encomium in the mid-1930s, is the “great American novel.” Placing Huckleberry Finn in the context of longstanding American cultural debates, historicist critic Jonathan Arac registered the virtues of the novel while also pronouncing it mean-spirited. Writing in 1997, he warned against that overloading of the book with cultural value that had led to feel-good white liberal complacency regarding race. And what he called the “hypercanonization” and “idolatry” of Huckleberry Finn was a flaw-forgiving development contributed to, Arac claimed, by Eliot’s Introduction to the novel.
Four years later, Ann Ryan examined Arac’s view that the now iconic Huckleberry Finn has an undeserved reputation as a novel that somehow resolved the issue of racism. In Ryan’s concise synopsis of Arac’s argument, critics since the 1940s, “self-consciously engaged” in an interpretive process, “equated Huck with tolerance and love, Twain with Huck, and America with Twain.” Reacting to the “self-serving criticism” of the “white literary establishment,” Arac represents Huckleberry Finn, not as healing or resolving, but “as a novel with a mean spirit and Twain as an author with a hard heart.” Countering Arac, Ryan argues that “it is precisely this raw quality, in both the book and its author,” that makes Huckleberry Finn a valuable asset in contemporary discussions of race, in general and in the classroom. She argues persuasively that, while Twain “evades political entanglements,” he “intentionally represents this evasion”; and that while the novel clearly “operates on racist assumptions and privileges,” it “unflinchingly illustrates how both are expressed and defended.”
—Patrick J. Keane from his essay “Of Beginnings and Endings: Huck Finn and Tom Eliot.”
Artist Josh Dorman’s “Tower of Babel” is a gift as cover art for the issue. An updated biblical icon combining a painterly quotation from Breughel the Elder with a Bosch-like menagerie of creatures. I dunno — it does remind me of the magazine in a way. Read the interview and look at other work by Dorman.
I work in a subconscious state. A narrative may assert itself, but more often, multiple narratives and connections emerge. You guessed right when you asked about images that beg to be grouped together. It’s almost as if they’re whispering when the pages turn. It may come from my formalist training or it may be much deeper rooted, but I feel the need to connect forms from different areas of existence. A birdcage and a rib cage. A radiolarian and a diagram of a galaxy. Flower petals and fish scales. Tree branches, nerves, and an aerial map of a river. It’s obviously about shifting scale wildly from inch to inch within the painting. I think the reason I’m a visual artist is because it sounds absurdly simplistic to say in words that all things are connected.
Fernando Sdrigotti, editor-at-large, snagged this wonderful excerpt from Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities. Anderson has long been on my hot list of prospects to invite, so it’s fitting he’s here at the end. Visionary.
The future will be old. It may be bright and shiny, terrible and wonderful but, if we are to be certain of anything, it will be old. It will be built from the reconstructed wreckage of the past and the present and the just-about possible. ‘The future is already here’ according to William Gibson, ‘it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ You sit amongst fragments of it now.
—Darran Anderson from Imaginary Cities.
Montague Kobbé uses To Kill a Mocking Bird as a prospecting tool to help unravel the contemporary mysteries of race, terror, diaspora and transculturalism.
Three days after the fortuitous capture of Salah Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted man for four months, the BBC published a profile of his lawyer, Sven Mary. The title of the piece was deliberately incendiary and utterly telling of the sentiment prevalent in Paris, in London, in Brussels, in Europe: “Sven Mary: The Scumbag’s Lawyer.”
Despite his notoriety in Belgium as a high-profile defense attorney, I had never before seen a photograph of Sven Mary – indeed, I hadn’t even heard the name until I clicked on the aforementioned piece. Hence, it’s fair to say that I had never really had much of a chance of building a balanced image of the lawyer in question, my judgment necessarily skewed by the tone of the very first notice I had of the existence of this man. This circumstance immediately made me think of Atticus Finch, the hero in Harper Lee’s cult novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
—Montague Kobbé, from his essay “Of Discrimination, Transculturalism and the Case for Integration.”
Michael Carson has been on the masthead a short time but he’s already contributed lovely reviews and a powerful essay on story plot. Now, at last, we get to see his fiction. Wild, apocalyptic, dystopian, and alive. Note also his cheeky theft of the double amputation from my story “Tristiana.” Mike confessed when he sent me the story. We have had a good chuckle over this. He’s a young writer I believe in.
But first they have to kill us. It is beautiful from the top of a mountain—the killing. The city glows like it never done from inside. Dark shadows, could be talls, could be dwarves, explode like moths flaring up in candles the size of Jesus. Drones dart in and out of the fire, putting it out with more explosions. Camino Real and a few other hotels crumble. Highway 10 breaks in half. Billy Boy says many cities have done the same. No use getting upset. Billy Boy had some friends of his, Indian tribes come down from Ruidoso, take me up to Franklin Mountain to be safer. He says what’s going to go down no place for a pretty dwarf like me. I say it’s my fault. He says it ain’t no one’s fault. Bound to happen eventually. I say I can fight just like the rest of them. He smiles and says Darling, you a lover, not a fighter. I said he the same. That’s why we in love. But he says, no. He don’t believe in love. We just bugs in the end.
—Michael Carson from “El Paso Free Zone”
Paul Pines has contributed visionary and speculative essays and poetry to the magazine, but this time he pens a good old-fashioned memoir that draws on his time running a jazz club in Brooklyn. I adore this essay for its evocation of a place and a time and the music.
My fascination was ignited again during hormonal teenage summers cruising the beach that ran along the southern hem of Brooklyn from the elevated BMT subway stop on Brighton Beach Avenue, all the way to Sea Gate. My crew roamed between the parachute-jump, rising like an Egyptian obelisk from Luna Park, to the fourteen story Half-Moon Hotel. Both loomed like thresholds at the edge of the known world. The haunting quality of the place was especially palpable in the shadow of the Half-Moon Hotel, where Abe Reles, as FBI informant guarded by six detectives, jumped or was pushed out the window on the sixth floor. Reles had already brought down numerous members of Murder Incorporated. His defenestration occurred in 1941, the day before he was scheduled to testify against Albert Anastasia. The hotel’s name echoed that of Henry Hudson’s ship, which had anchored briefly off nearby Gravesend Bay, hoping to find a short cut to Asia. Folded into the sight and smell of warm oiled bodies on the beach and under the boardwalk, past and future pressed hard against the flesh of the present.
—Paul Pines from his memoir “Invisible Ink.”
From Bruce Stone, an excerpt from a work-in-progress, a trenchant, densely-written fiction. Think: dog boy and sperm trafficker, and a vast, spreading darkness.
If there had been a time before the dogs, the kid couldn’t recall it because, far as he was concerned, ma had always been breeding. He’s still not sure whether dad’s untimely exit was cause or consequence of ma’s decision to surround herself with seedstock Dobermans, but he’s seen the nativity photos of the dogs dipping their muzzles like jailbreak felons into the laundry basket, where the kid lay cushioned on beach towels, that placid dazed expression of a baby contemplating umpteen canine teeth and whiskers stiff as brush bristles. Also inexplicable is how the kid survived infancy when the possibilities for carnage were so numerous and imminent, but here he is, lo these dozen years later, still consuming resources and riding upon the Earth’s surface under the lucky Dog star of his birth.
—Bruce Stone, from his work-in-progress “Tokens.”
From Ronna Bloom in Toronto: tender, intimate poems often set in hospitals, thus bodies, separation, and tenuous hope.
In the Giovanni and Paolo hospital
the old wing opens out like fields and windows
in a Van Gogh painting, light penetrating halls
and making space in silence. No one’s there at all,
but—salve, salve, salve, salve.
When I return to my more brutal realms
the word comes with me. I don’t declare it.
How light in my suitcase it is, how old-fashioned
and almost ethereal, but in some lights
real, and close enough—to salvage.
—Ronna Bloom from “Salve.”
Igiaba Scego is Italian of Somali parentage. We’re privileged to be able to publish this excerpt from the translation of her superb novel Adua.
“Ah, we’ve got a rebel here,” the guard said. “If times were different,” he added, “we would have shown you, you piece of shit. In Regina Coeli we don’t like rebels. You’re ticks, useless lice of humanity. In Regina Coeli it’s easy to die of hunger or thirst, learn that. It’s easy to bring down that cocky crest you’ve got. In Regina Coeli it’s a short path to the graveyard. But you’re a damned lucky louse. They told me not to let you die. So I’ll bring you your water. But mind you, I might not be able to kill you, but put you through hell, that I can do.”
—Igiaba Scego from her novel Adua, translated from Italian by Jamie Richards.
And as usual there is more still in production. Actually, some not even seen yet but promised. It’s the last issue after all. So come to the bar, place your last orders, enjoy the last hours of conversation and laughter and delight. And say goodbye.
And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
Franz Marc’s The Large Blue Horses—another work of art that has been with me almost my entire life, a print of which also has hung on a wall for some fifteen years, and I can’t remember when or where I first saw it. My best guess is in the library of elementary school, high up in childhood memory, among other paintings on the walls surrounding the low shelves that held books within reach of our hands and hearts and minds, appropriate for the course our lives were supposed to follow.
The blueness of the horses did not strike me as strange but rather was a given supported by the mass of their collective surge and the energy of the overall composition, their motion made significant by their self-possession, the color itself part of some larger motion I did not question and wouldn’t have grasped if explained. But what I took from it then, I think, is that there could be power in reflection and composure.
And the painting has survived the process of school, its ideas of itself, its upward gradations; and the rising flood of images that followed on screens and in popular print; and, when I studied art in college, the outline taught that put art on an ascending conveyor belt of movements. There is no such thing as progress in art or any permanence in our ideas and distractions.
Events from the last years and changes in my life and recent reading, however, have unsettled the painting and made me question its place now over my hearth.
Marc painted The Large Blue Horses in 1911, for many a time of alienation from and revolt against rapid industrial growth in Germany and the materialist Wilhelmine society it brought, when Nietzsche’s appeals for a return to Dionysian passions flourished, when crisis in the Balkans increased in pitch and European instabilities made global war seem inevitable, a war which many others found attractive, a world whose vast web of motives and intrigues most of us have forgotten, if we ever learned it.
What I’m supposed to say is that Marc was a German Expressionist, who looked not at the facts and impressions of people and nature and society but at subjective realities beneath the surface, at undercurrents of self and culture, and, hopefully, at something beyond and higher. The animals he painted represented human states and a desire to return to uncorrupted nature, nature expressed in ideal landscape. Marc created his own color symbolism, and blue stood for the male principle, serious and spiritual.
All these terms are as intriguing as they are slippery, ultimately meaningless.
Of course the painting is sexual, but that slant obscures as much as it makes clear.
But there is no escaping the sensuous, sinuous, swelling flesh of the horses or the suggestive pull of their movement or the tension of the contrasting colors. The rhythm of their bodies continues into and complements that of the hills and sky, positing larger context. The horses’ blue, a color that optically recedes, is placed in front, while the distant hills are painted the forward red, this atmospheric reversal closing foreground and background and increasing the break from expectations, moving us from the nature we think we know.
Horses themselves give pause—such large animals that are not predators, that possess great strength yet are graceful and reserved. A horse without a rider lifts the burden of possession and use, opening up possibilities and raising questions. With their bowed heads Marc’s blue horses submit to the rhythm and yet push against, parting the distended white trees that divide the canvas.
In 1913, the world closer to war, Marc painted The Tower of Blue Horses, where there are four blue horses now, vertical and rising, open-eyed and agitated, their flesh taking on the angles of Cubism.
A few months later, war still closer, in Fate of the Animals the horses, frenzied and in peril, turn green, blue mixed with yellow, which, Marc tells us, “cannot still the brutality of red,”
in a picture that takes animals and landscape to the point of annihilation by the slashing diagonal lines, red flames, that dominate the canvas and set the fractured composition. An irony here—the painting was actually damaged in a fire and Paul Klee only partially restored the area on the right.
Fate of the Animals recalls Picasso’s Guernica, another painting of wholesale destruction and disruptive composition, his response to Franco’s request to bomb the town, Germany’s tuneup for the next world war. Both have since stood as pictures of the horrors of war in general, of civilization on the brink.
Marc also shows the influence of the dynamism of Futurism, though with inverted intent; Picasso continues his cubist experiments in his synthetic phase, with clearer representation in his angled shapes. These maneuvers are not advances, however, but adjustments to match the subject. But the breakup and rearrangement of parts does not create chaos but rather gives coherence to disorder, and with coherence, the terror of beauty.
Most have taken the bull as the source of the massacre, representing fascist brutality, and the horse stands for the slain innocents, their agony and death. The bull alone is passive, however, with a stilled face that is hard to read, and Picasso used the figure for other representations, including of himself. Guernica is direct in its images and but ambiguous in its meanings, leaving unanswered questions. The bull also leads us to the Minotaur and the labyrinth of mythical meaning. Still, there is the overpowering sense of revulsion at something we have done to ourselves.
But in Fate of the Animals the source of destruction is external, coming from some unseen force above, beyond our agency, entering the canvas in the flames at the upper left and rebounding and continuing their destructive course across the picture plane. It is, in fact, a picture of apocalypse. Frederick Levine, in The Apocalyptic Vision, makes a convincing case, explaining how Marc drew cataclysm from Wagner, from Nordic myth. The long column that slants left against the flames is Yggdrasil, the eternal ash, which shelters the four willowy deer on the right, who alone will survive to start a new race. Apocalypse is not just inevitable, it is desired.
We know that everything can be destroyed if the germination of a spiritual race does not endure the test of the greed and impurity of the masses. We struggle for pure ideas, for a world in which pure ideas can be thought and can be expressed without becoming impure.
Marc saw the war as the coming apocalypse and volunteered early, before conscription. It was something he had to witness and endure. But the imagined glory of the past that others wanted restored was what he wished to see destroyed. Like them, he had no idea what was to follow.
The combat of the infantrymen which I witnessed yesterday was incredibly hideous, more horrifying than anything I have ever seen. I was totally shaken last night. The courage with which they advance, and the indifference, indeed, the enthusiasm for death and for wounds has something mystical about it. Naturally, it is a mood of reconciliation, the clarification of something that was previously uncertain.
Purity is a trap, a dead end, and this is pathology. Marc, who was given to bouts of depression, has surrendered to his mood and in self-immolation projected it into unnamed abstraction. Spiritual shell shock here as well, as the pathology of the self meets the pathology of the world in a landscape of death and shattered mirrors.
And the apocalypse of Fate is what The Large Blue Horses leads up to, what stirs the trio in their lowered gaze above my mantle. Reading Levine forced reexamination of the painting and led me in downward spiral. My living room deadened in its plane and turned into a no man’s land, a grayness spreading to lifeless winter trees outside my windows, to lifeless streets, and lifelessness beyond, endlessly. Everywhere I went I saw entrenched lives and, on faces, in reports from around the world, the signs of dissolution and breakage. I avoided looking at the painting, then started avoiding the room. I long debated taking it down, not finding resolve.
Nietzsche’s descent into madness, legend goes, began with the sight of a beaten horse.
But psychology is sterile reduction. And to reject myth as superstition is to deny its power and persistence. Some notion of apocalypse has been with us a long time. It may be one of our earliest formations. In Dürer’s gorgeous woodcut the four horses unleashed in Revelation take the riders who scourge the land, necessary preparation for a new heaven and new earth. Destruction precedes renewal—or is it merely the underside of our highest, purist aspirations?
It is impossible to recreate the confusion of thought and emotion of Marc’s time and get a fix, but it is just as impossible to gain footing now in a world certain only of itself, not going anywhere at breakneck speed, where wars are fought by others and victims most often are others and apocalypse has become a casual diversion in movies and video games.
Too often when we read biography into art we only read ourselves. What I most became aware of looking at the Blue Horses was myself, a depression that came from within and radiated out. The signs of breakage were still there outside my windows, however. They are still there. They have always been there. If I hadn’t noticed them before it was because I wasn’t looking.
And I don’t know if a glance towards apocalypse isn’t what drew me to the painting over fifty years ago.
Only by risking everything do we know what anything is worth.
We risk everything because we do not know what else to do.
I have no idea which is true, if either.
I only know the old man will always be with us.
And that if I take the Blue Horses down I will be lost.
Slowly, cautiously, I have returned to their coiling, inward gaze. Color has returned to the room, slowly, cautiously, and leaves have returned to trees, and grasses return to barren fields and softly fill furrows and cover mounds though from which chunks of old concrete still protrude, though a grayish mist lingers over all.
March 4, 1916, near Verdun, Lieutenant Franz Marc rode a chestnut bay out on a reconnaissance mission and did not return. He was killed by shrapnel, French or German, no one knew. Another irony. The world is littered with ironies.
You can be a flâneur on Numéro Cinq, sauntering, loitering, browsing the archives, the contents pages, the back issues page. Now and then, I check the stats. They don’t change a lot at the top for the obvious reason that newer pieces just haven’t had time to catch up. Something published last month won’t be there. But over time, items with a consistently high hit rate rise through the ranks. Recently Anthony Doerr and Paul Curtis moved into the Top Twenty. Also my sons Jonah and Jacob — who’d have thought nepotism would work so well? The vagaries of hit rates and search engine terms are mysterious. I only have the brute stats provided by WordPress to go on. But certain things seem clear. Our What It’s Like Living Here series has always been extremely popular. This is a human thing. We like our nests, we like the local. These are very simple essays but utterly appealing. Pat Keane and Bruce Stone both have two texts in the Top Twenty, which shows that quality and consistency do win out. A. Anupama has a translation and classical Indian poetry constituency that happens to be very large and welcome. And the startling originality and visual panache of Anna Maria Johnson’s essay on Annie Dillard has always pulled in readers.
I am copying a second list below the Top Twenty. It’s the top twenty for the last three months. Interesting to compare.
All Time Top Twenty
- What It’s Like Living Here — Richard Farrell in San Diego
- Translations of Classical Tamil Love Poetry: Essay & Poems — A. Anupama
- The Senses of an Ending: The Grapes of Wrath, Novel and Film — Patrick J. Keane
- A Visual Approach to Syntactical and Image Patterns in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Essay & Images — Anna Maria Johnson
- From “The Deep”: Fiction — Anthony Doerr
- What It’s Like Living Here — From Lisa Roney in Orlando
- What It’s Like Living Here — Wendy Voorsanger in San Mateo
- Nabokov’s Exoneration: The Genesis and Genius of Lolita — Bruce Stone
- 7 Things I Learned from Reading 15 List Essays — John Proctor
- What It’s Like Living Here — Michelle Berry in Peterborough, Ontario
- The Consecution of Gordon Lish: An Essay on Form and Influence — Jason Lucarelli
- Montaigne On Experience & Defecation: Essay — Jacob Glover
- What It’s Like Living Here — Kim Aubrey in Saskatoon
- Translation, Adaptation and Transformation: The Poet as Translator — Richard Jackson
- Revisiting Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet — Paul M. Curtis
- The Formalist Reformation | Review of Viktor Shklovsky’s Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar — Bruce Stone
- What It’s Like Living Here — Gwen Mullins in Chattanooga
- Talking to a 17-Year-Old Girl, When You are a 16-Year-Old Boy: Micro-Memoir — Jonah Glover
- Let Us Be Silent Here: Poems in English and Spanish — John B. Lee/Manuel de Jesus Velázquez Léon
- On Looking Into and Beyond Wordsworth’s Daffodils: An Intrinsic and Contextual Reading | Patrick J. Keane
Last Three Months Top Twenty
- From “The Deep”: Fiction — Anthony Doerr
- Translations of Classical Tamil Love Poetry: Essay & Poems — A. Anupama
- From Roses by Rainer Maria Rilke — Translated by David Need
- Uimhir a Cúig | Dunamon: Poems — Jane Clarke
- I am the big heart | Poems — S. E. Venart
- Revisiting Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet — Paul M. Curtis
- The Senses of an Ending: The Grapes of Wrath, Novel and Film — Patrick J. Keane
- Hot: Short Story — Adrienne Love
- Plot Structure in Three Short Stories | Essay on Conflict and Form — Michael Carson
- Through leaded panes | Memoir — Dawn Promislow
- Research for the Larger Project | Poems — Maggie Smith
- Painter & Poet: Studies in Creativity — Victoria Best with Miranda Boulton & Kaddy Benyon
- Portland | Fiction — Gary Garvin
- What It’s Like Living Here — Michelle Berry in Peterborough, Ontario
- Nabokov’s Exoneration: The Genesis and Genius of Lolita — Bruce Stone
- What It’s Like Living Here — Richard Farrell in San Diego, CA
- Numéro Cinq at the Movies: Tom Tykwer’s “Faubourg Saint-Denis,” Introduced by R. W. Gray
- How Swiss Is It? | Review of Walks with Robert Walser by Carl Seelig — Dorian Stuber
- 7 Things I Learned from Reading 15 List Essays — John Proctor
- Leconte de Lisle’s Les Roses d’Ispahan | Translation & Performance — Marilyn McCabe
Still in my retrospective mood, a mood which prompts me to sift through the archives for little pops of delight, moments of inspiration and, yes, perfect communication. Every once in a while, I would get an email that was a shining thing unto itself. A side effect of being a writer is that sometimes, in a languid moment, you just cannot stop yourself from committing random acts of beauty. When the stars aligned, we published the email. NC has always been able to react instantaneously and intuitively when the opportunity arose. Laura Michele Diener and Jean Marie Saporito were former students of mine when they wrote these pieces. Annie Bleecker was a student at the time, and the two pieces linked here were her cover letters to me.
All five texts went into the magazine pretty much unedited, exuberant bolts of fresh, lovely writing.
I’ve been rereading Jules Laforgue’s Moral Tales, translated by William Jay Smith. In his introduction, Smith wrote: “Laforgue attempted in his Moral Tales to break down all the barriers, to attain the effect of spontaneity, that ‘unwritten’ quality that we associate with his name.” It is precisely this effect of spontaneity, the “unwritten” quality, that is the chief charm of these texts.
In a retrospective mood, I just want to draw your attention the contributions of Brianna Berbenuik, a young contrarian writer who turned out to be one of the sassiest, most surprising discoveries I made while publishing the magazine. Brianna blazed onto our pages with an irreverent and delightfully enthusiastic essay on shooting guns in Las Vegas,
then carved out a niche for herself with an essay on Post Empire and Bret Easton Ellis (which became one of our all time most read texts — Ellis himself commented on Twitter).
And still later she returned to our pages with a startlingly bleak and violent piece of fiction.
This a belated righting of the balance of things. Jonah has been backing me up at NC, year after year, always willing to drop what he’s doing, often more important things, and dive head first in the htaccess file or the databases and bring order out of chaos. We’ve been under malware attack twice in the last six months, and the magazine might have folded without him (an ignominious way to go). So it’s only proper that he be given some presence on the masthead in recognition of long service. The photo above was not taken during an NC staff meeting as some of you might have opined, but you can see that he will fit right into the hard-partying culture at the magazine.
Jonah Glover is a twenty-three-year-old human male. Jonah was hired into a technical role despite a long history of shoving chalk into the Glover family VCR. His tenure as CTO is a brazen act of nepotism by DG, so he says. In truth, he has rescued the magazine from malware attacks and hosting issues over and over again. He works as a software engineer in Seattle and is completing a degree at the University of Waterloo.
Joining the masthead at NC is something like being swept up in the Rapture. One minute you’re an ordinary human being making coffee in a striped shirt and the next you are translated into the realm of the angels (as in, you know, the NC community — rebel angels). Nic Leigh has already been at work in the production trenches, invaluable, indefatigable, on time. It’s always a good day when someone like this decides to join up.
Nic Leigh has had work published in Juked, The Collagist, UNSAID, Atticus Review, Requited, Gobbet, and DIAGRAM. A chapbook, Confidences, won the Cobalt/Thumbnail Flash Fiction contest and is forthcoming from Cobalt Press. Leigh is also a fiction reader for Guernica.
Jowita Bydlowska’s short story “Funny Hat,” published just a year ago in our June issue, has been selected for inclusion in the 2017 edition of Best Canadian Stories (due out this fall with Biblioasis).
Permit me a moment of self-congratulation.
First, it’s a gorgeous, poignant short story, written with Bydlowska’s usual (extraordinary) panache. We have published two other pieces of fiction by her: a novel excerpt “Wolves Evolve” and another story called “Bad Sex.” Also we’ve published her brilliant and disturbing photographs. This is what we like to do: find a writer we love and trust and keep bringing her back, watch her develop.
Second, this is not the first Best Canadian Stories pick for NC. Caroline Adderson’s short story “Your Dog Makes Me Smile” was in the 2014 edition. Which means two stories in Best Canadian Stories in the last four years. Plus I had a story in last year, “Money” — published in The Brooklyn Rail. (I add this because, um, I am the editor and thus have an essential connection with the magazine and its culture.)
That makes Numéro Cinq something of fountainhead of great short story writing, a go-to place not only for craft (see the NC Holy Book of Literary Craft) but for mind-bending, cutting edge fiction.
P.S. Good to mention here that though the editor of Best Canadian Stories remains the inimitable John Metcalf, the annual anthology has moved from its ancient home at Oberon Press to Biblioasis.
At the Top of the Page this month, we’re presenting a retrospective series of touchstone posts, pieces that help define the magazine’s aesthetic, which has always functioned as an ideal, potential if not always actual. The pieces include essay by me (“The Novel is a Poem”), Andrew Gallix (on literary bondage), Jason Lucarelli (on Gordon Lish’s concept of consecution), Bruce Stone (on Viktor Shklovsky and Russian Formalism), Germán Sierra on Deep Media Fiction, and Victoria Best’s epic interview with Gabriel Josipovici. Also a selection of my audio interviews with Robert Coover, Gordon Lish, William Gass, and John Hawkes.
You saw it here on Numéro Cinq first, but now Rikki Ducornet and Margie McDonald are going live with a fantabulous show in Port Townsend all next month. It was just a year ago that we published a brilliant collaboration (click to see the images) between writer/painter/NC contributor Rikki Ducornet and sculptor Margie McDonald. Rikki describes that collaboration as an “ongoing conversation” between Margie’s whimsical refuse sculptures and her own painted scrolls, the former informing the latter.
If you find yourself in Port Townsend, WA in July, it’s worth visiting the Northwind Arts Center to see the resultinginstallation, delightfully named “CRAZY HAPPY.” If you can’t make it, be sure to check out the beautiful, mesmerizing video of their process.
Painted Scrolls by Rikki Ducornet & Sculpture by Margie McDonald
June 29 – July 30, 2017
Art Walk & Reception July 1
Art Talk July 2 | 1pm
Northwind Arts Center | Port Townsend, WA
Rikki Ducornet and Margie McDonald
Dizziness is a psychophysiological state tied to confusion and the mental processes of understanding, with a possible ontological component, if it makes sense to talk about ontology. There are many variations. You have just come to grasp a basic principle, a unity that breaks down barriers between the disparate things before you, and can see it, in the totality of its relevance, racing endlessly to comprehend them. Or you see the unity, but it careens off the walls of all the things it does not comprehend and scatters everywhere beyond them, while the things it does pervade dissolve into endless nothing. Or you only see the principle but sense no walls at all, only the outlines of what you think is there, the boundless extension of their empty possibilities. Or see the mesh of possibilities in things, but not the principle that might align them, only the chance of a principle, ever endless in its evasion. Or see neither the principle nor possible connections, only endless endlessness.
In each there is the same feeling, similar to that of physical dizziness, like an irritation in the ears, a tickling of equilibrium, and it is difficult to tell whether the sensation is one of rising or falling. In each also come feelings of doubt and confidence, of anxiety and elation, but it is not clear that the dread doesn’t belong to the confidence, the transport to the doubt. With these feelings, another emotion impossible to name, diffuse yet more intense, and with its movement, a stillness, a white mist spreading in a blinding sun—
See also “Perspective”
Just been informed that Bernard Hoepffner’s body was identified today, the same day we published his epistolary romance excerpt. I am floored. You read the letters he wrote to Sarah M., and you cannot miss the liveliness, the playfulness, of his mind. And now he’s dead. The contact who put me in touch with had let me know something was up, so I hastened publication of the piece. But the confirmation only just came through. This is very sad.
POLICE have confirmed that the unidentified body washed up on to Meirionnydd’s seashore is that of and internationally acclaimed French translator.
On Friday morning, 9 June, North Wales Police were called to Tywyn after a body was reported on the town’s beach.
The body is now confirmed to be Bernard Hoepffner, from Dieulefit, in Southern France.
Read the rest at the UK Cambrian News.
Daniel Green is a first-rate literary critic and occasional fiction writer with an impressive list of publications. He first popped up on the NC website in February, when we published an excerpt from his recent book Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. This month, he’s written us a shrewd review of Robert Coover’s Huck Out West, and we’re pleased to announce that he’ll be a permanent fixture on the NC masthead as a contributor.
Daniel Green is a writer and literary critic whose essays, reviews, and stories have appeared in a variety of publications. He is the author of Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism (2016).
The legendary Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is launching an Emerging Writers Intensive program this coming October, and I’ve hired on to teach the CNF side of things. It’s a one-week gig, October 2 – 9, and if you want to sign up, you have until July 5 to do so.
On the personal side, I have been to this place before. Once especially. I was maybe 10 or 11, on a family trip, car camping. We had just been to Jasper, where my rambunctious brothers and I chased bear cubs in the woods (now I perceive how eminently stupid this was). We drove into the Banff Centre and walked around and I was bored until my mother led us into a ballet rehearsal studio. I had never seen anything like it in my life (I was raised on a farm). An instructor was teaching young male dancers how to lift young female dancers (you know, just older than me, fairy-tale beings, I could almost see their gossamer wings). The memory still electrifies my imagination (where, yes, I remain twelve forever).
Now that I think of it, I feel a memoir coming on — “My Life in Ballet.”
And here is the faculty:
In the slider at the Top of the Page this month, we pay homage to the work of Contributor Frank Richardson, the Frank Richardson of the modest two-line bio and the comical author photo, the Frank Richardson who since he first appeared on these pages in November 2014 has quietly and modestly made himself nearly indispensable. He is the quintessential Numéro Cinq reviewer, a terrific writer with his own style, an astute reader, and a knowing analyst, able to tease out and explicate the essential innovations of form and technique in any author he turns to. Take some time this month and linger over the slider and read all of Frank’s pieces. There isn’t one that can’t teach you a thing or two. And then go back and read his first contribution to the magazine, that lovely essay “The Art of the Long Sentence” (November, 2014).
I watched Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander the other night and was touched again by the gentle, passionate attachment the family has for its theatre, which is both a central symbol (everyone is an actor) and a thematic sourcebook (Shakespeare and Strindberg). In that wonderful speech backstage after the Christmas pageant, the soon-to-be-dead brother talks about the little room of the theatre where the actors and actresses produce their art. It’s mostly for their own pleasure in a sense, but it will sometimes bring joy to their audience, and sometimes it will even reach beyond, into the larger world.
I think of the magazine that way. It’s first a community of authors, artists, translators and editors, and we do this for ourselves, for our own pleasure. And then there is the extended community of readers and watchers. And beyond that the larger world that sometimes takes notice, is mildly diverted or surprised, perhaps even changed a little. You don’t find beauty and intelligence framed this way in everyday life. It’s a special place, a little room.
We have a sweet, exceptional issue coming out in June, including Victoria Best’s gorgeous double interview (with painter Miranda Boulton and poet Kaddy Benyon) on the nature and progress of creativity, Trinie Dalton’s memoir “Ripper,” a wonderfully realized “Childhood” essay by Mark Foss, an amazingly accomplished short story by a fresh, new writer Tom Howard, and a lovely appreciation by Domenic Stansberry of the Brooklyn novelist Jay Neugeboren. But there is more! — poems by Darren Bifford, Clint McCown, and a young new writer from Arizona, Erin Lillo, and Jane Clarke (Irish, the latest in our Irish lit series). And besides the Miranda Boulton paintings that accompany the Victoria Best interviews, we have a selection of beautiful paintings by the incomparable Katie DeGroot, who has appeared on these pages before. The ambidextrous poet Cynthia Huntington turns her hand to nonfiction, passionate and wild. Russell Working does a little turn as a literary analyst, comparing stories by James Joyce and Alice Munro. And we have a short fiction piece by the Fernando Aramburu translated from Spanish by Brendan Riley (who is by way of being a regular at NC).
Jason DeYoung, our book review editor, has pulled together a cadre of whip-smart reviewers who pick the most incandescent books to write about. This month Daniel Green, new to the magazine, reviews Robert Coover’s Huck Out West; Contributing Editor Jason Lucarelli reviews The Sarah Book by Scott McLanahan; Rohan Maitzen (also a newcomer) reviews Sarah Moss’s Lost Children; Mike Carson reviews Josh Emmon’s A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales (and, Lo!, we have a story from the book to go with the review); Rich Farrell, a former senior editor, returns to review Steven Heighton’s The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep ; and Dorian Stuber reviews Hans Keilson’s 1944 Diary.
And, as usual, there is MORE!
A week or so ago, Curtis White dropped me an email with subject heading “Lamentations of an aging hippie,” which contained a link to the first in a four-part series of cultural/political analyses of the current malaise (not so current since White can find fitting quotes from as far back as Nathanael West) he had written for the MobyLives site at Melville House. The word “lamentations” is Biblical and prophetic. The phrase “aging hippie” is ironic since hippies have long come in for mild derision, if not worse. But an aging hippie is a person who participated in the great era of cultural consciousness-raising, the halcyon moment of America’s affluence, hope and resistance before we began to go down before the forces if neo-liberalism.
Here’s a teaser from the first essay “Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part I)”:
In short, American democracy is at present an exercise in self-destruction. We can’t dismiss that fact with the idea that the election of Donald Trump or of Paul Ryan, for that matter, was somehow a mistake that we won’t repeat. If it is a mistake, it is one that the people living on two-thirds of the landmass of the United States are committed to. This self-defeating commitment is the dark, dark side of Jerry Brown’s indifference to what the rest of the country does. As far as the people of Youngstown, Pennsylvania, are concerned, California has already seceded. For the dispossessed, voting for candidates like Donald Trump offers the illusion of “blowing up” the establishment (or “deconstructing the administrative state,” as Steve Bannon likes to say, trying very hard to sound as addled as some assistant professors of English), but in truth their vote is more like protest through self-immolation.
And it is likely to get worse. As the most ambitious, well-educated, and affluent people flee any Red State vibe and concentrate themselves in metro-Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, the rest of the country will get poorer, more ignorant, and ever more resentful. While the technological wonders of the modern world are displayed all around them, it feels to them as if they are suffering internal exile in some Third World country of the soul. This is not a new experience for the dispossessed of the earth. Nathanael West described their condition lucidly in Day of the Locust (1939):
Scattered among these [wealthy] masqueraders were people of a different type. Their clothing was somber and badly cut, bought from mail-order houses. While the others moved rapidly, darting into stores and cocktail bars, they loitered on the corners or stood with their backs to the shop windows and stared at everyone who passed. When their stare was returned, their eyes filled with hatred.
And here’s a teaser from the second “Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part II)”:
The danger in a putative “resistance” led in these ways is that—through entirely conventional forms of political activism administered by yet more millionaires, like Trump’s ex-pal Jeffrey Zucker at CNN—we will end up, whether we mean to or not, restoring a neoliberal political establishment whose interest in economic justice is tepid at best. There is something disturbing about the ease with which liberals line up behind MSNBC and Starbucks while voicing contempt for Fox and Cracker Barrel. It is disturbing because there is an unacknowledged element of class bigotry at work. We’re led to think, “Our enemy is white trash America, the poor and the stupid, and they eat at Cracker Barrel and they watch Sean Hannity!”
As James Baldwin could have said of the Democratic Party of the last thirty years, “They have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” They still do not want to know it, even after Hillary Clinton’s unprecedented rejection by the working class of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Keep an eye on the site for the remaining essays in the series.
Also check out Patrick J. Keane’s prescient pre-election essay “Slouching Toward Anarchy,” which appeared here on Numéro Cinq in April a year ago.
Herewith, my introduction to Donald Breckenridge’s extraordinary new novel And Then just out with Black Sparrow, the venerable experimental/indie press now an imprint of David R. Godine in Boston. The introduction is included in the book and is reprinted here by agreement with Breckenridge and Black Sparrow/Godine. This isn’t a review; it’s an elucidation of the genius of form.
“We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed by dim but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast — very distant in the bygone time, and infinitely awful.” Poe, Eureka
Donald Breckenridge is a pointillist, constructing scene after scene with precise details of dialogue and gesture, each tiny in itself, possibly mundane, but accumulating astonishing power and bleak complexity. His language is matter of fact, the unsentimental plain style used subtly and flexibly. The only apparent artfulness is in the unconventional punctuation and, sometimes, the way the dialogue breaks up the narrative sentences. His settings are Carverish, bleak and constrained; his characters are the stubborn, alienated authors of their own melancholy fates; they persist in a panoply of failed habits and attitudes, gestures of a wounded self they refuse to give up because it is their own, a refusal that is by turns defiant, sordid, heroic, grotesque, and tragic.
But this novel’s triumph is in its rich architecture, its surprising splicing of genre and quotation, its skillfully fractured chronology, and the deft juxtaposition of alternating story lines. The result of this combinatorial panache is to create an arena of systemic implication, in which the sum is greater than the parts. Nothing here is what you expect; in fact, some of this text is nearly indescribable in terms of genre and form. What do you call a piece of fiction that is a narrative transcription of a real movie that is itself a fiction? Answer: Don’t even try. It’s a logical wormhole. It will turn your brain inside-out like a sock.
I will elucidate: And Then is, like most novels, a story about a character. Let’s say a nondescript loser robs a mom and pop store in some out of the way town and gives the money to his girlfriend so she can escape the mean and derelict provincial life she is destined for. She heads to New York with the cash, finds an apartment share, and has a love affair with a photographer, but the police (somewhere) are after her, and she falls among bad companions under the sign of hard drugs, who love her for her money. When that stake runs out, so does her string, and she disappears, probably dead, floating in the river.
But Breckenridge, the symphonic composer, takes this narrative theme, his melody, and works magic upon it by adding a half-dozen further elements.
1) A second, parallel plot involving a young male student who, a dozen years later, agrees to cat sit for one of his professors away on sabbatical. In the apartment he discovers the photograph of a beautiful woman, his professor’s mysterious former lover and/or roommate, a woman who simply disappeared. The student obsesses on the woman in the photograph; he becomes a sleuth, collecting stray bits of information about her. He finally tracks down the photographer who took the picture. But no one knows what became of her.
These two plots, the young woman plot and the student plot, leapfrog each other in the text, fragmented and uncanny. At a certain point the young woman, apparently waking from a drug stupor (only she is dead), finds her way back to the apartment, ascending the stairs just as the young student is descending. At the climactic moment, he feels her ghost passing through him.
2) An epigraph from Ionesco’s Present Past Past Present, an important influence for Breckenridge who takes epigraphs for all his novels from this text. The passage presents a character unfree, chained down, but conscious that he has the key to freedom, which he hardly ever uses.
3) An overture, or introductory passage, that consists of a prose transcription/narrative summary of Jean Rouch’s film Gare du Nord (1995, one of six short films by leading New Wave directors under the title Paris Vu Par). The film splits into two parts. The first follows a young married couple quarreling over the dissolution of their relationship; they are fed up with each other, disappointed in their mistakes, tired of their lives. In the second half of the film, the wife meets a handsome, brooding fellow who offers transcendence, offers her the chance to run away to a life of adventure. But she’s too bourgeois, timid, and polite to take him up. His response is to climb the bars of a railway bridge and jump to his death.
But what is going on? A novel disguised as a summary of a film? A quotation, as it were? A meta-commentary, or a work of art based on a work of art or in dialogue with a work of art? And the story itself is iconic, presenting the enormous ennui of modern life in the pressure cooker of a young marriage. But then the young man in the suit offers liberation. Is he a con, is he the devil, is he an angel? And the girl can’t contemplate running away from the life that is grinding her down. She hurries back into the trap. She doesn’t trust freedom — well, who would trust a man you had just met, who talks crazily about adventure, who looks too good in that suit? What is she going to do now? The message loop Breckenridge creates is convoluted and mysterious and yet firmly within a novel-writing tradition starting with Cervantes who, after all, wrote a great novel about a man trying to imitate another book.
4 & 5) The last quarter of the novel text is actually Donald Breckenridge’s brutal, sad memoir of his father dying: stark and beautiful and full of our common humanity; pity, love, kindness, stubbornness, squalor and valor. Here again there are two narratives: one works back and forth over the story of a life, two lives, father and son, and the father’s declining days; the other, more mysterious, follows Breckenridge to a diner, the subway, the train station. We get detailed accounts of conversations with the diner owner. We oscillate between donuts and staph infections, but by the genius of construction and understatement, horror and hopelessness accumulate. The word “love” isn’t thrown around, but the son patiently bandaging and dabbing medication on those awful sores tells you more than words. You are fascinated and cannot turn away.
Curiously, embedded in the memoir we find a scene in which Breckenridge tells his father about the suicide of a woman who lived in an apartment above him and how, he is sure, that one day he encountered her ghost in the stairwell. (The reader himself encounters a frisson of combinatorial delight.)
6) But even more curiously, embedded in the memoir we find also a few paragraphs in italics quoted from Théophile Gautier’s romantic horror story “The Tourist” (originally published as “Arria Marcella: A Souvenir of Pompeii” in 1852), a ghost story of sorts, in which a young traveler becomes obsessed with a woman’s figure preserved in the ash of Pompeii only to find himself translated that night to ancient Pompeii where he falls in love with the very woman. The story has the air of Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” or Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” The young traveler, sent back to his own time without the ghostly lover, never falls in love again, never fully engages with life.
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.
And Then is beautiful, artful, an elaborated system of repetitions, motifs and juxtaposed narratives. Without wishing to be reductive, one can say that the three ghost stories relate to the theme of co-presence of temporal periods signaled in the Ionesco quotation, the way the past haunts existence. And they are balanced with three stories of characters who cannot change their behavior when change is the only way to redeem themselves (the young Parisian woman who cannot leave her job and marriage, the girl who runs away to New York with her stash, and Breckenridge’s father who cannot get himself the treatment that would save his life). And these in turn are refracted in three observer stories: the Brooklyn student who falls in love with photo of a missing woman, the youthful traveler in Gautier’s horror story, and Breckenridge watching his father die.
And Then is a contemporary ghost story, full of horror and unremitting melancholy, heir to the romantics, to Gautier and to Poe (yet also, stubbornly unsentimental in affect, reminiscent of the Nouveau Roman), a vastly literate work, engaged in its own conversation with the bookish past. Everything here is doubled and redoubled, echoed, mirrored, and reflected, and the dead do not die. The dead turn into ghosts or memories or words on the page, all of which are the same perhaps, at least in a book. And the effect in this novel is to create a mysterious intimation of a larger reference, a world beyond the book, a teeming yet insensible world that is yet no consolation.
This month, in the slider at the Top of the Page, we have a bouquet of translation pieces picked from the magazine’s archive by Ben Woodard, our translation editor. We take an internationalist approach at Numéro Cinq, trying not to identify with a single geographical region but a larger country of the imagination. We also make something of a fetish of honouring translators as well as a work’s original author. So that every translation piece is listed by genre (fiction, poetry, nonfiction) under the author’s name and then a second time in the translation table of contents page under the translator’s name.
At the Top of the Page this month: Tamil love poems translated by A. Anupama, Róbert Gál aphorisms translated from Slovak by David Short, a Quim Monzó short story translated from Catalan by Peter Bush, poems by the Nicaraguan writer Blanca Castellón translated by J. P. Dancing Bear, a short story from the Mexican writer Mónica Lavín translated by Patricia Dubrava, a short story from yet another Mexican writer Julián Hebert translated by Brendan Riley, and finally a short story by Zsófia Bán translated from Hungarian by Erika Mihálycsa. There are tons more listed in the translation table of contents. Take a few moments to browse when you get a chance.
I know that many of you envy the life of an internationally obscure writer, but I beg to remind you that sometimes there can be hazardous materials involved. Consequently, today I am modeling some DIY hazmat gear for the budget-minded author. Handy for wearing while reading reviews of your own work. This is not, as some of you might have waggishly opined, an erotic fetish costume, nor am I re-enacting a scene from an early Woody Allen movie. But I am on the farm in Ontario, and there is heroic work to be done. (I think I mentioned to some of you that I got the septic tank cleaned out two days ago — this has nothing to do with that!)
I also went to the grocery store, always a stirring experience, especially at sunset when the dear old Foodland parking lot is bathed in splendour.
Then I went to the woods to hunt for ramps. They are up, but we have so much ramp pesto from last year that it seems a shame to raid the beds again this year. And I forgot to take pictures of them. Anyone who wants to correct my identifications here can leave a comment.
Modern agriculture: You plant rye as a cover crop in the fall. It pops up in the spring. Then you spray a defoliant to kill the rye, disc up the land, and plant something new (the guys were out with the tractors today discing up this field). I took the picture a couple of days ago.
But then there is this.
As you all know, we ordinarily don’t take submissions. The magazine publishes work by invitation only. From time to time, we do open up submissions for our set essay series — My First Job, What It’s Like Living Here, and Childhood. We’ve had some great work come in. You’ll see it in the coming issues. But we’ve decided to close the submissions window, at least temporarily, because of the extra work it occasions.
We’ve taken down the submissions page, and any new submissions will be sent back unread.
Another brilliant issue, an overflowing issue, a monumental issue, the result of immense efforts on my part to shrink the magazine and make things manageable (read with irony). But, yes, brilliant, explosive. We have art work by Bonnie Baker, Denise Blake poems from Ireland, Dylan Brennan interviews Douglas J. Weatherford, translator of Juan Rulfo’s The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings just out with Deep Vellum Publishing, fiction by John Bullock and Madison Smartt Bell, plus a short story by Franci Novak, translated from Slovenian by Olivia Hellewell, also a selection of ghazals by our own A. Anupama, plus poems by Robert Currie and Michael Catherwood, a My First Job essay by Cynthia Holz, Patrick J. Keane on Yeats and Gnosticism, Michael Carson on plot (in short stories), Linda Chown reviews Madison Smartt Bell’s new novel Behind the Moon, Jeff Bursey reviews Steven Moore’s My Back Pages (and we have an excerpt), Dorian Stuber reviews Robert Walser, Frank Richardson reviews Compass by Matthias Énard, Joseph Schreiber reviews João Gilberto Noll’s Atlantic Hotel, Julie Larios reviews Fleda Brown’s new and selected poems, and more! Indeterminate, untold amounts of more. Cataclysmic floods of MORE.
In February’s issue, Sophie Lavoie introduced our readers to Scott Cudmore’s music video for Wintersleep’s song, “Amerika,” and we’ve just learned that the short film is up for a prestigious Prism Prize. From their website:
The Prism Prize is a national, juried award established to recognize the artistry of the modern music video in Canada.
A jury of more than 120 Canadian music and film industry professionals – including members of the print/web media, broadcasting, film, radio, and video art communities – has been selected to nominate the 10 best videos of the year to comprise our shortlist.
These jurors are then charged with the task of crowning one video as the winner of the annual Prism Prize, which carries with it a substantial cash reward.The Prism Prize is awarded based on artistic merit. Jurors are asked to consider the following criteria when selecting the best video of the year: Originality, Creativity, Style, Innovation and Effective Execution.
Sophie wrote the following about the clip:
Grainy video and tinny sound are not what one expects from a professional music video, but the opening to Wintersleep’s video for “Amerika,” the anthem from their most recent album, melds form and content to make for an explosive one-minute prelude. A pale, young, red-headed woman informs us flatly of the apocalyptic decline of the human race, in a clear rejection of humans by nature, animals and trees. Then, an anonymous child’s voice details how members of a family are interconnected even when far apart. These are clearly trying times.
Currently, “Amerika” has made it to the final 10 videos under consideration. Prize night is May 14. Congratulations to both director Cudmore and Wintersleep.
M. is reading a biography of Allen Ginsberg (Dharma Lion by Michael Schumacher), which got us talking about Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. We started watching videos to bring the people to life and see the connections, the tracks between. These threads of personal connection and influence, genre and tradition, are compelling. One startling thread, as I watched this stuff, was the still rich theme of America as a vast open space, the frontier, and the colonization of that space by driving over it (ah, America). Nary a mention of the natives.
This is Kerouac reading from On the Road on the Steve Allen Show. The sound track and clips from this film show up in almost all the other Kerouac videos.
And here is the famous 1968 interview with William F. Buckley. Kerouac is drunk. He died a year later.
And here’s Ginsberg’s gloss on that appearance. Incidentally, this is Ginsberg at his personable best. Amiable and loyal.
And here is some casual footage shot in 1959 in New York with Kerouac, Ginsberg and Lucien Carr and his family. There’s a fascinating story dating back to 1944 and before. William Burroughs’ friend David Kammerer, as I understand it, had a crush on Carr when Carr was twelve and in a Boy Scout troop Kammerer led. Kammerer essentially became a stalker. And in 1944 Carr stabbed him to death in Riverside Park and dumped the body in the river. Then he went to see Burroughs and tell him, and Burroughs said to go to the police, which he did. Carr did some time. Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as accessories after the fact.
All handsome young people, even Ginsberg who looks raffish and brooding.
Time frame: Kerouac wrote an early draft of On the Road in the late 1940s. It was published in 1957.
And here’s a short documentary about Neal Cassady and Kerouac, beginning with an old Ginsberg interviewing Cassady in a bookstore.
And here’s a documentary about Cassady and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Cassady enlisted as the driver of the bus (obviously a bit hair-raising). This was 1964, a second chance at becoming a myth for Cassady, who wanted to be a writer but couldn’t. Fascinating how he became a figure of the imagination for two cultural movements, the Beats and the 60s Hippie movement. This video contains clips of a slightly demonic Hunter Thompson commenting on Cassady’s crystal meth addiction.
As a side note, Gordon Lish was teaching at a school in Burlingame, California, in the early 60s and publishing the experimental magazine Genesis West. Cassady and Kesey, among others, used to come around the the Lish house.
I like this connection because, of course, Lish was my editor for The Life and Times of Captain N. (1993) and my story “Swain Corliss, Hero of Malcolm’s Mills (Now Oakland, Ontario), November 6, 1814”, which appeared in The Quarterly, No. 13, in 1990. I started sending work to Lish as far back as the early 1980s when I was a student at the Iowa Writers Workshop. And, of course, through Lish, we arrive at the 80s, 90s and 2000s, a whole new generation of North American experimental prose. 
Here is Lish on those early relationships from an interview in the Paris Review:
How did you meet Ken Kesey?
Through his old wrestling coach, or English teacher, at Oregon, Philip Temko. We wrestled, Ken and I, out in front of a shack he had on Perry Lane, hard by Stanford, where he was a Stegner Fellow. Frances and I had a little bungalow on Concord Way in Burlingame and fell in with Ken through Temko and my search for Allan Temko, a writer I wanted to attract to the Chrysalis Review, a lit mag I was mounting at the time. So first I meet Kesey in San Jose at a romp Philip Temko was throwing. Met Neal there that night, too. Later on Kesey and I wrestled. He slaughtered me. This seemed to promote a friendship. Too, he was working on Cuckoo’s Nest, so there was the bughouse connection. Indeed, I was incarcerated twice—for two weeks in Florida and, later, for eight months up in White Plains. I could spend forever telling you tales about Kesey and Cassady. At the time I fell all over myself in devotion to Kesey’s writing. Yeah, I loved Kesey and his work. I loved the shit out of him, an utterly alive fellow, as was Cassady. But Cassady was gentle and dear and sensitive and kind. Kesey was anything but. He could be a pretty trying fellow and we became increasingly less palsy. There were all the kids he collected around his place in La Honda, that claque, and by the time Tom Wolfe turned up on the scene, I was plenty absent from it. Went up to Victoria, Canada, then to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then on to New York. I wouldn’t go along on either of the bus trips. Didn’t want to surrender myself to that prankstering bit, had Frances, the children, and a job I was going, presently, not to have. Ken kept saying, Come on, come on, come on, if you want to be my friend, come on, but I wouldn’t go. Yes, we had remarkable times. He died too young. I miss him all the time. Can’t say I didn’t love Ken, but with Neal the affection was far less troubled. No, no trouble at all.
After this, we decided to explore tangentially. We found a couple of documentaries about Black Mountain College (1933-1957), a John Dewey inspired college near Asheville heavily infiltrated by ex-Bauhaus artists and teachers escaping Hitler’s Germany. The connection for me was Charles Olson, whose what we would now call hybrid essays (I am beginning to shudder at the phrase) on history and projective verse also struck me at a vulnerable time, i.e. influenced me (I just checked my copy of the Selected Essays, bought in 1981 in Iowa City).
In this one there are some clips of Ed Sanders, who also appears in the Kerouac-William F. Buckley interview above, with an interesting bit of background in Ginsberg’s commentary following. Sanders is another of those trans-generational characters.
Then we thought to check out Goddard College (it was a night of tangents, all of which made sense at the time), the venerable experimental arts college in Vermont. It turns out that parallel to Black Mountain, the modern incarnation of Goddard was founded by another John Dewey acolyte with a similar vision of the interpenetration of the humanities and arts as an exercise in soul creation and emancipation. Of course, the personal connection here is that Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I have taught on and off for a decade and a half, is an offshoot of Goddard, its egalitarian, counter-culture ethos very much an echo of Dewey and the days of vital experiment. At least these are the things that have always drawn me to the place.
I am writing this at the NC Bunker outside of Plainfield. Goddard College is just three miles down the hill on the other side of the village. Vermont College of Fine Arts is in Montpelier, about ten miles away.
But then we veered back to Charles Olson and started watching this documentary. It’s in six parts. You can just keep watching. Lovely to watch him lumbering about and to hear the legends of his marathon teaching sessions at Black Mountain. Also lovely to see this clips of Robin Blaser talking about him. As it happens, I interviewed Blaser in the early 90s when I had my radio show (another connection/influence — by the time I interviewed him he had long since taken up residence in British Columbia where he helped anchor the powerful Canadian wing of Black Mountain poetry).
This brings me back to the beginning, my note about the theme of America as place, as space, as mythic and local at once. You can hear it in Kerouac and you can hear it in Olson, especially the snippets from his book Call me Ishmael. I’m Canadian and I live here and now, with all its concomitant ironies and subversions, and these naive affirmations of love and ownership for the land, the sense of identity and language embedded in the land, America, make me edgy. They ring hollow, whereas as once they helped propel the careers of these authors, as rebellious and as experimental as they seemed. Perhaps it is this naive affirmation that so many Americans miss nowadays.
- There is a comical connection between Numéro Cinq and Burroughs who once threatened to shoot John Proctor (a boy at the time). John was one of the first group of writers on the masthead and he wrote a knowing little essay about the incident.↵
- We have a serious commitment to all things Lishian at Numéro Cinq: two strong essays on Lish and his school by Jason Lucarelli here and here, photos of Lish by Bill Hayward, and essays, reviews and interviews on/with Lish protégés — Victoria Redel here, here and here; Diane Williams, Greg Mulcahy here and here, and Gary Lutz. I’ll stop — there are more.↵
- Not coincidentally, our Contributing Editor Natalie Helberg won the Robin Blaser Award for Poetry a couple of years ago. There is, in fact, a strong, shared aesthetic at the back of the magazine.↵
Michael Carson, who has a review in this issue, is joining the Numéro Cinq masthead as a contributor. He’ll be doing reviews and essays, including an essay on story structure coming out in the May issue and another book review on the hob for later. Michael is a short story writer and a veteran of the Iraq war, but best of all, he is intelligent, generous, curious, and thinks obsessively about books and writing. Fits right in.
Michael Carson lives on the Gulf Coast. His non-fiction has appeared at The Daily Beast and Salon, and his fiction in the short story anthology, The Road Ahead: Stories of the Forever War. He helps edit the Wrath-Bearing Tree and is currently working towards an MFA in Fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.