Nov 302016


NC is a feudal meritocracy (or something like that). People with energy and the ability to multitask and contribute in different ways get noticed very quickly, and then we demand more of them (we’re a little insidious that way) until nothing is left but a dry husk (this is a joke, btw).

Deirdre thumbnail

Deirdre Baker came on as production editor, and then she became a production manager, basically what, at the Montreal Star, we used to call a copy boss. She is also codifying house style, creating poetry templates, creating image links resources, and doing a lot of production work besides. So now we’re raising her from production manager to managing editor (which means, you know, a crushing, never-ending workload, sleepless nights of worry, and finally a resort to drugs and alcohol — this is all in the job description). This means she handles all the production side of things except for the book reviews, which are Jason DeYoung’s responsibility. Of course, it’s the nature of the magazine that everyone pitches in, and some contributors actually upload and format their own work. Deirdre will watch over all of this with an IRON FIST.


Also Melissa Beck, after a short stint as a production editor, is rising to special correspondent to take in the fact that she now also writes reviews for the magazine and has been inviting and curating some translation posts (inviting, packaging, editing). She’s a brilliant reviewer. Everything she does enhances the magazine. And her energy and enthusiasm are boundless (so helpful on Facebook and Twitter). It behooves me to take advantage of her while I can. And, of course, I have it written in blood, that she will continue in her role on the production side of things. So, though it looks like we are losing another production editor, we’re not.


Nov 302016

piratesSome of NC’s staff seven years ago, l-r Jason DeYoung, dg, Natalia Sarkissian, & Rob Gray.

Jonah put this song in my mind; now it won’t go away. Recalls to me the piratical impulse that led us to start the magazine in the first place. And then, yes, after seven years — a broken, lonely man on a Halifax pier. Ah me.

Maybe it’s not that bad.

With this in mind, knowing full well the catastrophe that awaits you, I want to remind one and all that we still need production editors. We found one very competent person (soon to be announced) last week, but we’d be more comfortable with another (spreads the work around and provides reserves).

Here is the HELP WANTED PAGE. Please take a look and throw your bodies onto the pyre.

Also let it be noted that the SUBMISSIONS PAGE for Childhood, My First Job, and What It’s Like Living Here essays has been reopened for a while. We got a gorgeous Childhood piece this morning from County Mayo in Ireland.


Nov 262016

Michaelangelo torment-of-st-anthonyMichelangelo, The Torment of St. Anthony (via Wikimedia Commons)


The last issue of Volume 7, the end of the 7th year — we’re calling it the Hallucination Edition because, well, you’ll see; it’s a bit twisty, startling, destabilizing and hallucinatory. I’ve always been interested in the madness/mysticism nexus (R. D. Laing and Carlos Castaneda were my spirit guides). It pops up in my novels especially: Hendrick N.’s mad conversation with his Iroquois torturer in The Life and Times of Captain N. (“Becoming a savage is like entering a swarming madness. But it might redeem you.”) and the heroine’s mysterious and alarming (hallucinatory) transformation into a bear in Elle. And I was dipping into The Cloud of Unknowing the other day when I happened to discover the brilliant scholar and writer Nicola Masciandaro. I read some of his things on Academia, then contacted him, and Lo!, he had a piece on madness, mystical knowledge, and The Cloud of Unknowing pristine and unpublished. If this was not the Forces of the Universe aligning, I don’t know what is. But it’s also one of those dreamy confluences, hallucinatory in itself. Like the world and my mind are talking with my knowing it.

The necessity of being at one’s wits’ end is a pure necessity, a necessity without object, and thus a necessity that only frees one more and more from being a subject of needs. Near-madness is the only alternative for staying close to being what one must. —Nicola Masciandaro

nicola-masciandaroNicola Masciandaro

hallucineJ. Karl Bogartte: Movement Is The Antechamber Of Hallucination 32” x 40” 28.3.2016

Also we have these images and texts, both swirling and surreal, one of the images actually called The Antechamber of Hallucination, from J. Karl Bogartte, lunar, lapidary, and loony (surrealism marks the line between madness, art and wisdom).

An intimacy of longing dwells in us like words that have no meaning, but animal cries, torn linen, a loving defiance… —J. Karl Bogartte

elbogoJ. Karl Bogartte

Chrostowska_s_d_retouched_scaled_croppedS. D. Chrostowska

S. D. Chrostowska returns to our pages with a story called “Opferlingen” — a nightmare otherworldy vision of obscene rites of kingship and power.

Everything is permitted. There are no rules, no stroke is too indecent. All of it is equally obscene. The Opferlingen are unusually strict in everyday sexual mores. To me the prince might be a living relic, a martyr worthy of public veneration, but he is subject to treatment normally beneath the dignity of his “subjects.” Let me be clear: this is no carnival, with merriment and overturned hierarchies, presided over by the Prince of Fools. They are acting out the lowest human urges—possibly to exorcize them, but without a doubt to make a political point that still remains obscure. — S. D. Chrostowska

Dawn PromislowDawn Promislow

Dawn Promislow’s story “Cat” — all too brief — gives us a vision of Florence, an intensely concentrated sculptor working over his metal, striking sparks, and a gray cat winding through the shadows.

And everywhere you look there are black and grey metal forms that are sculptures, on old wooden tables and on worn wooden shelves, at every height and covering every piece of wall and space. Some are just shapes: spirals and curves, or angular and sharp. But some are animals, or people, metalled. They’ve been melted and smelted and reworked, forged and reforged, into these metalled, living creatures. —Dawn Promislow

David Smooke with a tiny birdcageComposer David Smooke

Our intrepid contributor Carolyn Ogburn interviews composer David Smooke, the man famous for performing his own works for the miniature piano.

I mean, I grew up a punk and goth, right? So…yeah…Just so you know, I’m kind of looking that way because have a toy piano sitting right there, and I keep looking at it…—David Smooke

karen-mulhallen-wearing-indian-dress-1996Karen Mulhallen

Karen Mulhallen grew up in a brilliant, artistic, cultured, writerly family in Woodstock, Ontario, a gilded place. But her mother taught her to make her own stylish clothes; she grew up with a sense of style, taste, and fashion at her fingertips. In this issue, we have a hybrid essay, part memoir, part catalogue, and part exploration of fashion in fiction (there is also a great collection of personal photos).

But when I got my first real job, as a teacher in a university, my mother spent months with me going to the fabric mills, just east of Kitchener-Waterloo, and then making me suits and dresses, some from elaborate Vogue patterns. Was this because I was gainfully employed and needed to present a professional appearance, or was it because I became beautiful for the first time since I was a little girl? Now I could be a brooch on my mother’s lapel. Or, as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own remarked, women are the looking glasses who enlarge men at twice their size. —Karen Mulhallen

elsa-crossElsa Cross

In Numero Cinco, our Mexician lit series, we’re featuring poems by the brilliant Elsa Cross, translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano. Not only that, but our Mexico contributor, Dylan Brennan, conducts a wide-ranging interview with the translator.

They are a white shadow
innocence in the yellow phrases
…………..…………..…………..……….of a dying man
the catastrophe of the voice

—Elsa Cross, translated Anamaría Crowe Serrano

john_kaagJohn Kaag

Our splendid new production editor Melissa Considine Beck has transferred her prodigious talents to book reviewing, this time giving us the lowdown on John Kaag’s philosophical memoir, his encounter with an almost forgotten library, 10.000 books in an unheated New England stone house.

Kaag stumbles upon an opportunity to heal his soul in the form of West Wood’s stone library which, upon entering, he discovers is home to more than 10,000 books. The books that Kaag finds inside this unlocked and unheated building, especially the number of first editions, are the stuff of dreams for any bibliophile. Among the rodent droppings, porcupines, termites, various other bugs and dust Kaag finds Decartes’ Discourse on Method–first edition from 1649, Thomas Hobbes’s Levithan-first edition from 1651, the complete, leather-bound volumes of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, John Locke’s Two Treatise on Government from 1690, Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft from 1781, Emerson’s Letters and Social Aims–first edition, 1875 and on and on. To think that this horde of precious and irreplaceable books was sitting in the woods less than 2 hours away from my home in New England sends chills down my spine. —Melissa Considine Beck


wiinkler-picDonald Winkler

Donald Winkler has translated a fascinating historical poem by the great French-Canadian poet, Pierre Nepveu, three-time winner of the Governor-General’s Award for poetry and nonfiction.

Early morning, scarred fire, noble bones, woodland song, men’s and women’s voices among the trees. I am the dust of ages, whirlwind of the deeps, escapee from the first caves. I tremble at being what I am, do you hear me, woman of the woods, of wool woven under the lampshade and the trellis of blood that shivers in the window? —Pierre Nepveu, translated by Donald Winkler

nepveu-picPierre Nepveu


bennets1Rauan Klassnik & Russell Bennetts

This is an amazing first: dual or dueling poets, collaborative or conspiratorial poems, mad, surreal, comical, by Rauan Klassnik and Russell Bennetts.

salted chocolate
orange  tea, i ha sailed
the trembling, blow-meat seas. And I have blue trousers sports ones on
last night’s pizza scattered for my mouse

—Klassnik & Bennetts

ducornet01_bodyRikki Ducornet

Rikki Ducornet wrote me shortly after the news came out that Leonard Cohen had died. She said she’d written a poem “as big as a small truck” that seemed to have echoes and rumours of Cohen through it, as if she were dreaming out her mourning onto the page. I wrote back: “Send small truck.” (This is how the editorial work at NC gets done.)

They come together
in the sudden rain
beneath a sky unhinged.
Their losses sweeping down
veiling, unveiling their faces.

She says:  I come to you
as my father leans into his departure.
We have a hour.  An hour, only.

—Rikki Ducornet

cassidy-mcfadzeanCassidy McFadzean

Cassidy McFadzean is a Canadian poet, discovered and solicited for us by our new poetry co-editor Susan Gillis.

A woven chain around

his neck, secures the unicorn
to a wooden pen, seated therein
amidst white irises and Madonna

lilies, carnations and clove,
orchids and bistorts, dragonflies
dashing over the wallflowers

and white thistle, the cipher’s
tasseled cord hanging from a tree,
bearing its riddle mysteriously.

—Cassidy McFadzean

eamonn-sheehy-use-on-top-450pxEamonn Sheehy

Eamonn Sheehy I met on Twitter. I am increasingly surprised at how much you can intuit from a couple of 140-character texts. You can guess tilt, torque, and taste. We moved from tweeting, to DMs, to emails, and suddenly I had these excerpts from his memoir-in-progress for our Irish series Uimhir a Cúig.

The ferret – the hot steel of nature. Jumping from his master’s hand onto the grass with a bounce, he is off at speed towards the rabbit burrows. A high pitched curling. An unnatural sound. It was the first time I heard a rabbit scream. —Eamonn Sheehy

hilda-raz2-500pxHilda Raz

And from Susan Aizenberg, the American side of out dual or dueling poetry editors (collaborative and conspiratorial), poems from Hilda Raz.

Age is an evolution – or devolution – of lust.
To be lost in revolt, as one must be growing up
invites erotics into the palace of the family.
Air spiked with ecstasy. We all know it.
So voluble in bed might signify lust
or politics, depending on whether
you live in a hovel, where the velocity
of wildlife, certainly a mouse, about its vital business
shadows the movements of governments…

—Hilda Raz


henry-greenHenry Green

We have a new reviewer starting out this issue (well, two, counting Melissa Considine Beck).  Dorian Stuber was suggested by Joe Schreiber, and we are very glad he spoke up. This is a terrific read and a great introduction to the work of Henry Green.

Young Henry was fascinated by Poole, even though the man did not like Green’s mother and spoke badly about her to the boy. (The family legend is that he never forgave her for making him bowl sugar beets across the lawn for her to shoot at.) Green, who adored his mother though he seldom saw her, was torn apart by these calumnies yet unwilling to repudiate the one who made them. —Dorian Stuber


ratika-kapurRatika Kapur

And from Natalia Sarkissian, somewhere in Italy, we have a review of Ratika Kapur’s trans-cultural novel The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma.

One of her tools toward creating Mrs. Sharma’s particular, vivid voice, is to flavor Mrs. Sharma’s speech with genteel titles—bhaisahib, mummyji, papaji, Vineetji—drawing the reader into an intimate space. Another is to refer to places and things with acronyms without giving explanations—SDA, IIT, BeD—treating the reader as an insider, a friend, a confessor. But it is the style of the sentences themselves—the breathy, delicious sentences, the declarations that the reader knows are rationalizations—that render Kapur’s The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma with its unreliable narrator truly memorable. —Natalia Sarkissian


And there is, gasp! MORE! (At my wit’s end. I dunno, being the editor here really is hallucinatory, schizoid, and surreal, also kind of fun.)


Nov 242016


The scale of Étienne-Louis Boullée’s cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton is enormous. The sphere alone has a diameter of 500 feet. Cypress trees, symbols of mourning, circle the monument on three levels, tightly spaced. A cenotaph is a monument honoring a person whose remains lie elsewhere.

Boullée was the son of an architect, a brilliant student who went on to teach and become a first-class member of Royal Academy of Architecture in Paris. It is late eighteenth century. Neoclassicism was in full bloom and ideas of the Enlightenment were in the air.

Holes are cut in the exterior to simulate inside the points of light of stars in the universe, the interior otherwise black:


At night a central hanging light illumines:


O Newton! With the range of your intelligence and the sublime nature of your Genius, you have defined the shape of the earth; I have conceived the idea of enveloping you with your discovery. That is as it were to envelop you in your own self.

Boullée says about his monument in a treatise.

The cenotaph rests on a solid foundation, a belief in reason and basic truths and the truth of basic forms, in an orderly fitting together of parts, the power of architecture to reform. It was never built, however, because practically it was unfeasible. Boullée was a visionary.

The French Revolution was around the corner.

Postmodernists took a liking, for a while.


Almost no one was there the day we went, so we had it to ourselves. We climbed the broad stairs and entered through a round opening, large yet still dwarfed by the sphere. Then we walked through a long tunnel that took us to the interior, to the center, where rested the empty sarcophagus. We glanced at the sarcophagus, then looked up at the stars.

Newtonian physics still works well enough for us, day to day. Of course the universe is expanding, of course it is made of stuff we only somewhat understand, but we were content to see it fixed on the ceiling and we spent the rest of the day enveloping ourselves in ourselves and each other, reaching out into a space that seemed endless.

Night, when the light went on, we were blinded.

Gary Garvin

Nov 212016


The masthead is always in a state of mild flux, and though we recently hired on some excellent new production people, we also lost one. (To graduate school — imagine! There’s a life beyond NC?) So we’re back on the market for someone with solid WordPress skills and the ability to copyedit.

NC is a community, more like a village, once you’re inside, than a rigid hierarchy. So if you’re energetic and skillful, it’s the usual thing to branch out from production. Kathy Para interviewed her favourite poet. Deirdre Baker started out as a production editor and now manages post production for everything except the book reviews. Melissa Beck hired on as a production editor and now also writes reviews and solicits translations.

Or you can just keep doing production. An integral part of the magazine.

The work isn’t onerous because everyone pitches in, and you get to be part of this marvelous crowd of writers.

Send applications to

p.s. Check out our Help Wanted page for other opportunities.

Nov 212016

Dylan Brennan is a peripatetic Irishman living in Mexico City. He’s been curating posts for our Numero Cinco (Mexican Lit.) feature. So it’s a great pleasure to announce that he is ascending to the gods, er, joining the masthead as a regular contributor. The NC Regimental Drum and Bugle Corps would have performed a fanfare but refused to leave barracks this morning on account of snow. The rest of you can raise a glass.


Currently based in Mexico City, Dylan Brennan writes poetry, essays and memoirs. His debut collection, Blood Oranges, for which he won The Patrick Kavanagh Award runner-up prize, was published by The Dreadful Press in 2014. His co-edited volume of academic essays Rethinking Juan Rulfo’s Creative World: Prose, Photography, Film is available now from Legenda Books (2016). In addition to his work as Mexico Curator for Numéro Cinq, he regularly contributes to the online Mexican literary site Portal de Letras. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan

Nov 202016

CaptureSevern Thompson as Elle in the original Theatre Passe Muraille production.

More exciting news about Elle, the play (based in my novel Elle). If you have been tracking this you are aware that Severn Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille are taking the play on tour this winter (tour details here). But it’s just been announced that this tour will actually start with performances in my home town of Waterford, Ontario, at the Old Town Hall Theatre, under the aegis of the most charming artistic director ever, Claire Senko (passionate, fierce, scarily competent, friend of Fred Eaglesmith).

I went over to meet Claire Friday afternoon and wander around the place. All strangely familiar because I grew up just outside of town, and once even strummed a guitar with my brother’s band during a rehearsal on the theatre stage in the early 70s.

There will be performances on January 26, 27, 28 and 29, and on February 2, 3, and 4.

There will be an opening night champagne gala and a talkback session with the playwright and actress Severn Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille’s artistic director Andy McKim (who fed me incredibly intelligent questions about the novel and play when we did an onstage interview together last January).

And closing night (February 5, Saturday) there will be ANOTHER! champagne gala and a talkback session with me after the show. (Amber Homeniuk will be the facilitator, as they call it.)

You can buy tickets here.




This video slideshow was produced by an old friend, Alison Bell. (Her brother Ian Bell has appeared in the magazine.)


Nov 172016


Haste hither Eve, and worth thy sight behold
Eastward among those Trees, what glorious shape
Comes this way moving


Ah, why should all mankind
For one mans fault thus guiltless be condemn’d,
If guiltless?


But from mee what can proceed,
But all corrupt, both Mind and Will deprav’d,
Not to do onely, but to will the same
With me?


Either to disinthrone the King of Heav’n
We warr, if Warr be best, or to regain
Our own right lost: him to unthrone we then
May hope when everlasting Fate shall yeild
To fickle Chance, and Chaos judge the strife


High in the midst exalted as a God
Th’ Apostate in his Sun-bright Chariot sate
Idol of Majesty Divine, enclos’d
With Flaming Cherubim, and golden Shields


So under fierie Cope together rush’d
Both Battels maine, with ruinous assault
And inextinguishable rage; all Heav’n
Resounded, and had Earth bin then, all Earth
Had to her Center shook.


The rest in imitation to like Armes
Betook them, and the neighbouring Hills uptore;
So Hills amid the Air encounterd Hills
Hurl’d to and fro with jaculation dire,
That under ground, they fought in dismal shade;
Infernal noise; Warr seem’d a civil Game
To this uproar; horrid confusion heapt
Upon confusion rose: and now all Heav’n
Had gone to wrack, with ruin overspred


Go then thou Mightiest in thy Fathers might,
Ascend my Chariot, guide the rapid Wheeles
That shake Heav’ns basis, bring forth all my Warr,
My Bow and Thunder, my Almightie Arms
Gird on, and Sword upon thy puissant Thigh;
Pursue these sons of Darkness, drive them out
From all Heav’ns bounds into the utter Deep:
There let them learn, as likes them, to despise
God and Messiah his anointed King.


. . . a noble stroke he lifted high,
Which hung not, but so swift with tempest fell
On the proud Crest of Satan, that no sight,
Nor motion of swift thought, less could his Shield
Such ruin intercept: ten paces huge
He back recoild; the tenth on bended knee


Hence then, and evil go with thee along
Thy ofspring, to the place of evil, Hell,
Thou and thy wicked crew; there mingle broiles,
Ere this avenging Sword begin thy doome,
Or som more sudden vengeance wing’d from God
Precipitate thee with augmented paine.


(Paradise Lost text via The John Milton Reading Room, Dartmouth College. All pictures by the author from the 6th Annual Patties Cruise In, a car show and street festival in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Special thanks to the guys at NWA Blue Collar Wrestling.)

(— Gary Garvin)

Nov 152016



DG and his intrepid close relative RG, who has appeared earlier on these pages, went for their usual pre-winter canoe trip on Big Creek (see Google map above: southern Ontario where Long Point juts into Lake Erie). RG fell in first unwisely trying to clear a snag. Then they went to another put in spot and realized they’d left the paddles back at the first put in. RG made DG stay with the canoe in the mud while he drove in his warm car (with heated seats) back for the paddles. DG, the creative mind behind NC, passed the time taking selfies. Then RG rammed DG into a thorn bush and his hand was bleeding. When they got back to the landing DG’s bare feet were so cold he fell over.

Actually, it was quite stunning (aside from the nature and brother-on-brother violence). Immense labyrinthine marshlands, many threatened species holding out there. Fascinating to me because in 1670, on Easter Sunday, two Sulpician priests, François Dollier de Casson and René de Brehant de Galinée, were struggling to cross Big Creek in flood when they heard above them the shrieks of horses, the jangling of harness, war cries and the sounds of battle. According to their journal, they knew exactly what it was, King Arthur’s Hunt. King Arthur’s Hunt is one name/a version of the legend of the Wild Hunt (also Charlemagne’s Hunt), which John Irving used in the short story “The Pension Grillparzer” in the The World According to Garp. Ghostly, wraithlike warriors riding and battling endlessly in the sky. Terrific to be in exactly that spot.

I have an anthology of quotations about Long Point and Norfolk County, including that journal entry, which you can read here.


DG intrepidly negotiating hazard.

RG after his dip.




DG selfie.

—Photos by dg, rg & google maps

Nov 132016

Working Title/Artist: The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)Department: Am. Paintings / SculptureCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1871 Digital Photo File Name: DT86.tif Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 06/08/15

Max Schmitt and his reflection have been with me some sixty years, almost my entire life. I first saw him as a child, browsing through the only art book we had on the shelves, Modern American Painting, by Peyton Boswell, Jr., published in 1939. My mother’s influence, but perhaps my father’s. Schmitt gazed towards but not directly at me, with a look that wasn’t recognition or identification yet which made contact and left an opening I haven’t yet closed. With the opening, a proposition that I couldn’t understand then but may have felt, or maybe just a simple statement I still don’t wish to refute. I bought a print some fifteen years ago and he has been on a wall as I’ve moved around the last years, a protracted season of dislocation.


The painting is Thomas Eakins’s The Champion Single Sculls, also known as Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, completed in 1871. Click the image above for full enlargement. Schmitt, a friend of the painter, was Philadelphia’s single-scull champion several years. Rowing was popular then, and he was a well-known and well-loved figure in amateur sports across the nation, forgotten now. But I did not know that until much later, nor does Eakins show crowds teeming on the shores cheering him on at the height of victory as he crosses the finish line. He doesn’t even show him demonstrating his strength and skill executing a hard pull on the oars in tense, charged exertion. Rather he presents him dressed in casual gear during a practice session on a crisp autumn day, by himself, in a nearly deserted scene made luminous by a clarifying late-afternoon sun. Schmitt has just made a turn on the Schuylkill River and now relaxes, the wakes from his scull and oars leaving broad trailing curves that take us into the painting and set its composition, giving it its energy. To me, for so many years, he was only a man named Schmitt and he was just there, resting above the still water, looking out, balancing the oars in one hand, which more and more I realize is a marvelous feat.

Working Title/Artist: The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)Department: Am. Paintings / SculptureCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1871 Digital Photo File Name: DT86.tif Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 06/08/15

The bridges are rendered in sharp, accurate perspective—Eakins was a master of the technique—but other painters had already begun to flatten space and dismantle it, taking art in rapid acceleration on an unknown path. And we see on the horizon the developing technology of the time, the train about to cross one bridge, a steam boat to pass under, this when our technology was taking off, with it, our mounting wonder.


Nor does Eakins show influence of the Impressionists, who had already begun exploring the transience of light and stating the primacy of paint, of colors. Above, Claude Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillère, painted in 1869.


There is no evidence Eakins even visited the Salon des Refusés, and he had his chance. He was in Paris at the time, studying under Jean-Léon Gérôme, an academic painter who enjoyed considerable popular and critical success, for example with his Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant (Hail Caesar! We Who Are about to Die Salute You).

Eakins has done nothing to alter the esthetic course of art or change our perceptions. He presents the world as solid, and academic rigor anchors his work. Yet the painting is alive, in the shimmering blur of brush along the shore, the erratic reach of the trees, the brisk scrape of clouds above. It succeeds at what makes any work endure, working within a form and giving it life and expression. I have never tired of looking. Each time it is fresh and vital.

He does make a break, however, and it comes from his subject matter, which was rejected by the official salons of Paris and shocked established Philadelphia. He has given us a common man not posing but relaxing in informal clothes, performing an everyday behavior without ceremony, without appropriation of past claims and pretense, in an ordinary place without hierarchy of space or institution. We have begun to look at ourselves and it is liberating.


Perhaps Schmitt is looking at someone on the shore, perhaps he is taken in a thought, or perhaps he is deflecting one. There’s a severity in his face and he seems to scowl, but he’s only frowning in the glare of the sun. His look did not put me off as a boy and must have instilled this note back then, that whoever, wherever we are, whatever we hope to be, we need to maintain vigilance, skepticism, and a measure of reserve.

Really, Eakins doesn’t give us much to identify him as an individual, but his portrait is made in the whole landscape, of which he is a part but where he keeps his separation. There is light. And there is transcendence, but where it takes us is back to exactly what we see, the clouds, the trees, the brush, the trailing curves in the river, and Max Schmitt resting above still water, looking out, balancing oars in one hand.

I have looked at the painting several times this past week, for confirmation, or reassurance, or to restore a definition, and I realize how the painting has always stood for me, that it shows me what it means to be American, vigorous and assertive yet relaxed and open, and free of historical encumbrance; self-assured but not self-possessed and not afraid.

Failing that, it is a picture of what it means to be alive, to be oneself by oneself, and not be alone.

There’s a kind of idealism in realism, or can be, a belief that the simple fact of our existence is worth stating and preserving.

Gary Garvin

Nov 132016



Leslie Ullman is a multiple recidivist at Numéro Cinq, having contributed poems (Consider Desire: Poems) and an  essay (Altitude). And she has new poems in this month’s issue. We love her work.

So it’s delightful to be able to announce a new book, something for poets, poetry apprentices, and readers — Library of Small Happiness: Essays, Poems, and Exercises on the Craft of Poetry (A Taos Press, 2016).

Nov 102016

BGE IBA brand mark CMYK blue 2015

Great to see that a number of Irish writers featured in Numéro Cinq‘s Irish series Uimhir a Cúig have been shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. Patrick Deeley’s memoir, The Hurley Maker’s Son, has been shortlisted for Non-Fiction Book of the Year. I am thrilled to have published an extract from this memoir, A Callow’s Childhood, in March 2015 before it had been accepted for publication. A well-deserved nomination for Patrick. Claire Hennessy (whose short story Screen was published in October 2015) has been shortlisted for Children’s Book of the Year. And in a nice stroke of luck/coincidence/inevitability, both John Connell and I have been shortlisted in Short Story of the Year category. I was pleased to publish an interview with John and an extract from his debut novel, The Ghost Estate, in April 2015. My own shortlisted story, What a River Remembers of its Course, I am proud to say, was published in and nominated by Numéro Cinq for the awards.

At this stage in the process, the winners are chosen from the shortlists by readers themselves. You can vote for the award categories HERE  and have the chance to win one of four prizes of €100 of National Book Tokens. Voting closes at midnight 11th November.

—Gerard Beirne

Nov 032016


Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his. 

The cities in Italo Calvino’s novel are metaphors for cities. And for our experiences, alone and together, within the walls we construct around ourselves, walls being metaphors themselves. And are metaphors for other metaphors. And for much else our walls cannot contain, what escapes our most rigorous designs, what exists within, beneath, and above the surface of our intentions. As Marco Polo tells us,

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

Karina Puente, an architect and urbanist based in Lima, Peru, who has worked on plans for the Lima of the future, has also begun illustrating each of Calvino’s 55 cities. The drawings capture much from the text, but they also have a magic of their own. Her progress can be found at her site here, and you can learn more about Karina and the project in this interview at Kindle.

Above, Isaura, the city of a thousand wells, whose borders are determined by a subterranean lake beneath, its design by all that is needed to extract the water.

Consequently two forms of religion exist in Isaura. The city’s gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that feeds the underground streams. According to others, the gods live in the buckets that rise, suspended from a cable, as they appear over the edge of the wells,

And live in all the other apparatus and construction that brings the water to the top. It is a city “that moves entirely upward.”


Tamara is a city of signs:

You penetrate it along streets thick with signboards jutting from the walls. The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things: pincers point out the tooth-drawer’s house; a tankard, the tavern; halberds, the barracks; scales, the grocer’s. Statues and shields depict lions, dolphins, towers, stars: a sign that something—who knows what?—has as its sign a lion or a dolphin or a tower or a star.

The city explains itself in these signs. Yet:

However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it.


Anastasia has concentric canals and much in it streets that captures our senses and feeds our desires.

The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content.

However for those who work to give shape to these desires

your labor which gives form to desire takes from desire its form

And we end being Anastasia’s slaves.

As for Kublai Khan, as for all of us, the narrator tells us,

In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them.

Gary Garvin

Nov 022016


Still tracking threads from German Sierra’s essay “Deep Media Fiction” I came upon a series of lectures from this symposium on the inhuman. This one was absolutely riveting, not the least because the phrase “pesky women” echoes the “nasty woman” crack in the last presidential debate. Difficult women, women and work, women’s work and the replacement of women by machines. You have to watch this. Helen Hester takes stray trends and lines of thought and makes them fit, makes the world a little bit clearer. Brilliant mind. Just fun to watch her make sense.


Nov 012016


You must read Walter Johnson on slavery, capitalism & American history. Here’s a new essay in Boston Review teased below by way of introduction. But read his books River of Dark Dreams and Soul by Soul. Change your life.



Indeed, the history of capitalism makes no sense separate from the history of the slave trade and its aftermath. There was no such thing as capitalism without slavery: the history of Manchester never happened without the history of Mississippi. In Capitalism and Slavery (1944), Eric Williams gives a detailed account of the supersession of British colonial interests by manufacturing ones and the replacement of cotton with sugar as the foundation of capitalist development. Williams argues that Great Britain freed its slaves, but did not free itself from slavery. British capitalists simply outsourced the production of the raw material upon which they principally depended to the United States. 

Source: To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and Justice | Boston Review

Nov 012016

ariane2Ariane Miyasaki in her studio

Top of the Page this month we have a selection of musical items, essays, interviews, all accompanied by gorgeous music, pop to opera, poetry set to music, and contemporary classics. I’ve long wanted a real Music section with its own table of contents. But it’s only since the arrival here of Carolyn Ogburn, musician and writer, that I have felt confident enough in the continuity of things musical. Yet over time we have accumulated some fascinating stuff. Marilyn McCabe’s beautiful singing (and her translation) of Leconte de Lisle’s “Les Roses d’Ispahan,” Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius’s group Heard and her amazing jazz piano (we’re starting an NC Podcast series and Elizabeth’s music will be featured), Diane Moser’s original jazz compositions, Carolyn Ogburn’s interviews with composers Eric Moe and Nathan Currier, Ian Bell’s charming essay on composing “Signor Farini,” Julie Trimingham’s interview with opera singer Fides Krucker, Patrick J. Keane’s introduction to the amazing voice of Maura Kennedy, the haunting sonic orchestrations of Ariane Miyasaki, and my own sons, Jacob and Jonah, and their bumptious, joyful “French Song.” There is more music on the site. So nice to be able to say that. Check out the contents page via the navigation bar.

Oct 302016


Davidson College is a small school in Davidson, North Carolina, part of suburban Charlotte now but years ago a crossroads town that quickly trailed off into the country. You could see a French professor get his hair cut next to a farmer. All the barbers in town were black, and by convention for many years they served blacks only after hours. But they had a thriving business, which they wanted to protect. One or two years of ROTC was mandatory back then, not an uncommon practice. Also there was a war going on, so even after the requirement was dropped many students still enrolled in ROTC. They all had to get haircuts, and a haircut, like much else then, was simple. Keep it short and straight. It was students who protested the policy and finally got the barbers to change, though not without a fight.

When I attended, however, the Vietnam War was winding down. We let our hair grow. Our basketball team wasn’t very good, but they probably had the longest hair in the NCAA. At least they beat Harvard. The barbers were having a hard time and could be seen standing idly in empty shops.

One day, impossibly maned, I paused at one and debated. Christmas break was coming up and I would soon be going home. I started to turn away when a black hand grabbed me.

“Where you going?” the barber asked.

“I guess I’m going to get a haircut,” I said.

And I did.

I didn’t know what I wanted or what to tell him and he didn’t know what to do with me, but something was managed. He was a good guy, who had kids.

“You are the all-American boy,” he said when he finished and spun me around to look at myself in the mirror.

My philosophy professor said I looked like Prince Valiant, the one in the comics.

Gary Garvin

Oct 282016

The morning started like this: Views from the NC Bunker.




Then I slid my car down the back hill to Barre to get it undercoated at a place called Yipes. Went to Espresso Bueno to write then slipped down Granite Street, over the railway tracks, to visit the Socialist Labor Party Hall (aka the Old Labor Hall). Hallowed ground. Emma Goldman used to live on Granite Street.


Big Bill Haywood who led the IWW spoke at the hall. He’s the big guy below, leading a strike parade in Lowell, MA, in 1912.


Also the legendary Red Flame, Annie Burlak (National Textile Workers Union).

burlakvia Five College Archives

The great Anarchist Luigi Galleani lived a block or two away on Blackwell Street and published his internationally influential newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva (The Chronicle of Subversion). How I love that name, Chronicle of Subversion.

galleanivia Wikipedia

And the young brilliant stone carver Elia Corti was famously shot to death (by another Anarchist) on the front doorstep in 1903.


It did me good walking there. I felt the hairs go up the back of my neck a bit. I was more moved than I care to talk about. I think I fell in love a little with the Red Flame. I could feel the big hall packed with voices.

And yet it’s a functioning community hall and social centre. I went back to Yipes to get my car and the woman at the counter told me how she has a small foster child who had never had a birthday party in his life. So she rented the Socialist Party Labor Hall and threw him the biggest party ever just a few weeks ago.

It did my heart good, as I say, — in the midst of this tawdry election cycle — to find myself suddenly in the presence of such kind, dedicated, hearty people (the current ones and the ghosts).

Nice day.