May 062015


This is the end of the world writ small. No ultimate global destiny is described here. Instead Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World explores the fate of a young woman as her world is changed when she experiences firsthand the journey many of her compatriots have taken to the “other side,” to the nation of anglos, the place that changes everyone, because it robs them of their mother tongue and skins them of their identity and power. A slim novel with a narrative large in scope, it refreshes the immigrant’s crossing with a tale worthy of our time, one simple in its telling, but complex in its rendering. With themes touching on economics, power, gender, sexuality, language, and cultural differences—along with vivid metaphors and ancestral allusions—Herrera has written a novel that connects the contemporary with the timeless…. —Jason DeYoung

Read the rest at 3AM Magazine here.

Jason DeYoung

Jason DeYoung


May 062015

R W Gray

Numéro Cinq‘s Senior Editor R. W. Gray (filmmaker, screenwriter, short story writer extraordinaire, also editor of our amazing, unique NC at the Movies series) has just published his second short story collection, Entropic (NeWest, May 2015). Of which I wrote:

“R. W. Gray writes like nobody else; risky, edgy, erotic, subversive, even macabre short stories, very contemporary, coded with solitude, but reaching for myth, always beautiful and astonishing.” —Douglas Glover

You can read the title story — “Crisp” — of his first collection here to get a taste.



Apr 302015


Congratulations to Doireann Ní Ghríofa on the publication of her first English language collection of poems, Clasp (Dedalus Press). Doireann, of course, featured early on in Uimhir a Cúig (in collaboration with Peter Madden). At the time, I spoke of the cognitive impact of bilingualism upon the creative process: “Although the written poems appear on the page in a single language, the thought processes to create them are borne of a far more complex interplay. I like to think of this interplay occurring in a type of cognitive marshlands, a ghostly transition zone between water and land with its own unique emotional ecosystem…”

In her recent article, Writing Through Windows (published on,) Doireann speaks of another transitional zone, the place that a window separates: “Writing given me this strange quirk, of discovering potential windows framing everything I see. These windows and the process of gazing through them is what gifts me my poems. When I sit down to write, I rest my head on the sill, I get so, so close to the glass that I can see the song my breath sings there, and I peer at the poem that lies beyond the window. Through looking at what lies beyond the glass, I create a poem from what is hidden within.

In writing my newly-published book, Clasp, I peer through a multitude of windows in an attempt to explore a multitude of absences. In these poems, I was interested to see whether I could speak about an absence by describing what remains. It’s a strange paradox, but similar to the idea of trying to describe a silence using words, in order to create a sense of absence, one must sketch all the things that remain, the edges that define the hole, if you will. By seeing what’s through the window, you can also see what is not.

doireann imram 2014 3

Doireann’s book, not surprisingly, has been receiving great attention:

In Southward (New Writing From Ireland): Clíona Ní Riordáin reviews Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s newest poetry collection (… be sure also to enjoy the whole online issue and explore Southward’s archives too!)

On RTE’s Arena (April 10) listen to Kathy D’Arcy’s review

Read Doireann’s article from The Irish Times “…on writing Clasp and what became of Airt Uí Laoghaire’s horse”

Or listen to Doireann on  The Poetry Programme (April 25) speak about and read from her collection

You know what they say, you can’t get too much of a good thing!

—Gerard Beirne

Apr 302015

Genese GrillPhoto by Rebecca Mack

Top of the Page for the month of May: Genese Grill, our resident Musil, Proust, and Modernism expert, currently riding a wave of publishing success with her translation of Robert Musil essays Thought Flights (Contra Mundum Press) to be launched May 10 in New York. Click her name here and check out her NC Archive Page. Not to be missed are her essays on Proust and Musil, Musil and Wittgenstein, and Modernism/Primitivism. She’s been a wonderful addition to our farflung masthead.

Apr 302015


Numéro Cinq contributors get their own NC Archive Page after they pass the magic statistical threshold (click on their names in the Masthead). Now, especially since Genese Grill has her new collection of Robert Musil translations coming out, it’s time for her to ascend to the gods. Also we have a new Rebecca Mack author photo to go with the new page.

The Genese Grill NC Archive Page is here.


Apr 302015

Genese GrillPhoto by Rebecca Mack

Last September Genese Grill published two short Robert Musil essays she had translated here at NC — Robert Musil: Speed is Witchy! & Intensivism — Translated by Genese Grill. That led to a book offer from Contra Mundum Press. And, Lo! the book is out or nearly out. It’s called Thought Flights. Launch party and reading are in New York at the Zinc Bar May 10, 5pm. Save the date. Book your flights. It’s a big event in Musil-Land, and NC readers were there at the beginning. A great honour for us to have Genese on the masthead.


Here’s the invite and address:

Please join us for a book launch party and reading of my new translation of Robert Musil’s small prose, Thought Flights (Contra Mundum Press, April, 2015) at the glamorous Zinc Bar, at 82 West Third Street, New York, on Sunday, May 10th, at 5 p.m., accompanied by Stephen Callahan reading from Seities, his collection of prose pieces in progress.

—Genese Grill

And check out Genese Grill’s NC Archive Page for all her contributions to the magazine.


Apr 272015

pilgrim epigraph page

Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, once said that she didn’t know how anyone could read without a pencil in his hands; Anna Maria Johnson doesn’t just use a pencil, she uses lines, paint, a self-created concordance and icons to mark the patterns when she is reading. Johnson is an artist-writer-reader who has an uncanny instinct for making visual and synchronic what in a text seems abstract and sequential. After she is done with a paragraph, a page, a sequence of pages, you suddenly SEE the text come alive as a trembling matrix of vectors, internal references, and visual rhythms; reading, Anna Maria Johnson, renders text into a startling work of visual art. This is a wonderful ability and not just a parlor trick; reading for pattern is a key element in understanding authorial intention. Repetition is the heart of art. Too many readers skim a work once and never get to appreciate the tactile, erotic quality of great prose, the physical impulses of tension, insistence and resolution that form its inner structure. Anna Maria Johnson’s “reading” of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a delightful and astonishing work of hybrid art in itself, but it’s also a terrific lesson in HOW TO READ.


Read the entire essay at A Visual Approach to Syntactical and Image Patterns in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Essay & Images — Anna Maria Johnson » Numéro Cinq.

Anna Maria and the box turtle

Anna Maria Johnson

Apr 262015

Illustration of Yudhishtira and is companions by Maharaja Mahatab Chand Bahadur (1820 – 1879) – via Wikipedia

This morning, after reading the Towers of Silence piece from yesterday, in which mythic dogs came into the picture, A. Anumpama wrote and said, “Do you know the story about Yudhishtira’s dog and the mountain of death at the end of the Mahabharata?” Of course, I didn’t, but I do now. How could I resist an invitation with the words “dog” and “mountain of death?”

The story is in the Mahaprasthanika parva, the seventeenth of the eighteen books of the Mahabharata. Yudhishtira has come to the end of his string and he and his companions set off on their last journey toward death in the mountains accompanied by a dog. The companions fall away (die) one by one until only the righteous Yudhishtira reaches the high pass at the top amid the snow and wind. Arjuna meets him there and tells him to hop into the chariot for the last leg of his journey to Heaven. Yudhishtira calls up his dog, but Arjuna says he can’t take the dog to Heaven. Yudhishtira is mystified, but in the end he steps down from the chariot, saying he must be true to his good and faithful companion even if it means giving up on the joys of Heaven. As I read this (via the link Anu sent me) my aged dog was hunkered up against me, her head under my elbow. So we had a mythic moment together.

The story goes on. As soon as Yudhishtira makes his choice to stay with the dog, the dog turns into a god and rewards Yudhishtira by taking him straight to Heaven. But it’s a strange sort of Heaven, and the good people Yudhishtira remembers aren’t there. I’ll let you read the rest. It’s a great story.


via Wikipedia

You can find many versions, translations or reconstituted, on the web. Here is a bit of the one Anu sent me.

And suddenly, there was Indra, in his chariot, offering Yudhishtira a hand up.

“Welcome, Yudhishtira, hero. You have won to my heaven. Come aboard and I will take you there.”

Yudhishtira whistled for his dog.

“Hold on.” Indra smiled fondly at Yudhishtira and wagged his finger. “No dogs in heaven.”

“He is a faithful and true companion,” said Yudhishtira.

“Sorry, old chap. Just gods and human heros in my heaven.”

“If he cannot come with me, then I will stay with him.” And Yudhishtira stepped down from Indra’s chariot.

“But, Yudhishtira, old warrior, great king. You are the great hero of a great story. Your place is in my heaven.”

“My place is where dharma is constant. This dog has been companion, protector, friend. I will stay near him.”

“Yudhishtira,” said the dog as he transformed into the embodied form of god Dharma. “My son, I have been with you through your long sad journey, and I am well pleased with your devotion. Draupadi and your brothers await you in Indra’s heaven; they have all left their bodies behind. You alone, great king, alone in all the ages, will enter Indra’s heaven in this body.”

But Indra’s heaven was not quite what Yudhishtira had expected. Duryodhana was there, for one thing, in a place of prominence and honor, surrounded by luxury. And there was Duhsasana, along with the 98 other sons of King Dhritarashtra, and the deceitful Sakuni, all in noble places, partaking of Indra’s glory. Karna was not there, nor Dhritarashtra, nor Drona; there was no one to be seen who had held Yudhishtira’s love and admiration on earth.

“Where are my brothers,” demanded Yudhishtira. “Where is the sinless Draupadi?”

There was an embarrassed silence. Then Indra spoke. “They are elsewhere, Yudhishtira. Now you must try to be friends with Duryodhana, and put the past behind you.”

“Take me to my brothers.”

Read the rest here.

And here is a picture of my dog, for the sake of context. Clearly, she is of the gods.

Lucy dubious


Apr 252015


A Parsi friend of mine was talking about a recent death in the family and casually mentioned something about the custom of boxing up bodies and flying them back to Mumbai for exposure in the Tower of Silence. My ears pricked up instantaneously at the phrase Tower of Silence, which seemed at once poetic, terrible, awe-inspiring, mysterious and uncanny. It seemed like a phrase out of fairy tales, not something you hear in a phone conversation with a friend on an April afternoon in 2015. It seemed I had rocketed back into ancient things, when the world was magic and the great god Pan was not dead, or, as Isak Dinesen once wrote, when we lived on an the earth not yet “abandoned by angels.”

Tower of Silence2

So I did the usual reading tour of the Internet. The Parsi are Indian descendents of the once great Zoroastrian religion centred in what is now Iran. There are Towers of Silence in Iran as well as India. Funerary customs are as diverse as the human race. At some point, the Zoroastrians began the practice of exposing their dead to vultures and the elements in circular towers built on hills in lonely desert places. A particular design and rituals evolved around these structures, based on the poetic idea that death was a triumph of evil over good, a rushing in of the death demons that made the body ritually unclean. It had to be got rid of as quickly as possible and not touched except by ritual bearers. The practice of using Towers of Silence has died out in Iran but still exists in India, though modern chemical use in agriculture has almost cleaned out the vulture population. Vultures used to be able to pick a corpse to the bones in a couple of hours.

tower of silence 13

Funerary customs are fascinating and excarnation is not an uncommon. Tibetan Buddhists are famous for their Sky Burials. The North American Comanche used to expose their dead on platforms. Several Native American cultures I am aware of practiced some form of let-rot-and-clean-the-bones ritual, with reinterment after in a charnel house (Natchez) or ossuary (Huron). And our own practice of cleaning out the body, infusing it with preservatives, dressing it in nice clothes, and burying it in a box can seem, in some views, pretty icky. (Let us not mention the contemporary industrial solution: cremation in a furnace.) Face it: Many contemporary cultures have lost the ability to make dramatic symbolic gestures toward the cosmic mysteries that enclose us.

The Wikipedia article on Towers of Silence is full of poetry, words in languages I do not know but wish I did: dakhma, cheel ghar, astodan, doongerwadi. It leads to a great 1928 article “The Funeral Ceremonies of the Parsees: Their origin and explanation” by Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, wherein he writes things like  (this is in the footnotes — I am a footnote fetishist: the poetry is in the footnotes — also I am aware that dogs  are tangential to the subject at hand, excarnation customs among the Parsi, but the words are beautiful and there is mention of a spotted dog):

It appears from the customs of several ancient nations that the “dog” played a prominent part in the funeral ceremonies of many ancient nations.

(a) As said above, as in the Avesta so in the Vedas, we have a mention of two four-eyed dogs guarding the way to the abode of Yama, the ruler of the spirits of the dead. (b) Among the ancient Romans the Lares of the departed virtuous were represented in pictures with a dog tied to their legs. This was intended to show that as the dogs watched faithfully at the door of their masters, so the Lares watched the interests of the family to which they belonged. (c) The people of the West Indies have a notion among them of the dogs accompanying the departed dead. Compare the following lines of Pope:–

“Even the poor Indian whose untutored mind
Sees God in clouds or hears him in the wind

* * * * * *

thinks, admitted to you equal sky
His faithful dog shall bear him company.”

As to the purpose, why the “sagdid” is performed, several reasons are assigned: (a) Some say that the spotted dog was a species of dog that possessed the characteristic of staring steadily at a body, if life was altogether extinct, and of not looking to him at all, if life was not altogether extinct. Thus the old Persians ascertained by the “sagdid”, if the life was really extinct. (b) Others, as Dr. Haug says, attributed the “sagdid” to some magnetic influence in the eyes of the dog. (c) Others again connected the “Sag-did” of a dog, which, of all animals, is the most faithful to his master, with the idea of loyalty and gratitude that must exist between the living and deceased departed ones. (d) Others considered a dog to be symbolical of the destruction of moral passions. Death put an end to all moral passions so the presence of a dog near the dead body emphasized that idea. Cf. Dante’s Divine Comedy (Hell. C.I. 94-102. Dr. Plumpter.)

“For that fell beast whose Spite thou wailest o’er,
Lets no man onward pass along her way.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many the creatures are that with her wed,
And will be more until the Greyhound come,
Who with sharp agony shall smite her dead.”

Here the Greyhound is considered as the deliverer of Italy. He is the symbol of the destroyer of the passions of sensual enjoyment, pride and avarice which are represented by the leopard, the lion and the wolf.

tower of silence10

But the best  piece I found was in the amazing Italian-Parisian online architecture and culture magazine Socks, which ran an essay and photos on the Towers of Silence in 2012, upon which I cannot improve in the 20 minutes I have allotted myself for writing this.

Zoroastrianism traditionally conceives death as a temporary triumph of evil over good: rushing into the body, the corpse demon contaminates everything it comes in contact with.

The flesh of a dead body being so unclean it can pollute everything, a set of rules had to be created in order to dispose of the corpse as safely as possible: as the natural elements of earth, air and water are sacred, the corpses were not to be thrown upon the water or interred. Cremation was also forbidden, as fire is the direct -purest- emanation of the divinity.

Hence a complex ritual was developed, in which the corpses would be eventually exposed to birds of prey and thus devoured, in a final act of charity.

After death every division of class and wealth disappeared, for all deceased would be treated equally.

A proper architectural typology was invented solely for the purpose of burial’s ritual: transported in the desert by nasellars (traditional zoroastrian pallbearers), the bodies of the deceased were then carted onto sandstone, forbidding hills, to be eventually disposed on cylindrical constructions called Towers of Silence.

Read the rest at Socks here.


Apr 242015

Chauvet lion

Something stunningly poignant, modern, and significant about the fact that some of the greatest and earliest human art work can only be viewed in the form of a replica. In France, a replica of the Chauvet cave and paintings has been built so people can see what the paintings looked like in situ without destroying the actual art, which has existed for tens of thousands of years in darkness but is threatened by people entering the cave.

In discovery is the beginning of destruction.

The real thing cannot be seen for, in viewing it, we destroy it.

Art that is destroyed by watching.

To know is to demolish.

To experience is to commence the decomposition of reality.

What is true can neither be approached nor referenced except at a sterile distance.

We are not threatened by experience, but what we experience is in deep peril from us.


Consciousness is the production of replicas of the real.

We live in a reproduced universe.

Do you really want to go half-way around the world to look at fake art?

Do you really want to live in a fake world?

Think about it.

—Douglas Glover

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

And here is a clip from Werner Herzog’s film  Cave of Dreams.

YouTube Preview Image


Apr 232015

HeadAndThroatHead & Throat


REMEMBER THAT IOWA BASEBALL movie with Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams? And the tag line, “If you build it, they will come.” I think of that line when I look at Numéro Cinq and see the kind of writer we get crowding the space these days. We built it and great writers are filling the park. I am running out of epithets for the issues. Call this the X issue, the enigma issue, the siren song issue, an imaginary issue built from fumes and fevers of some amazing writers who have come to find a home here for their monthly inspirations. If you build it, they will come. It’s remarkable to see.

IMG_4106 - Version 3Julie Trimingham

This month our new Special Correspondent Julie Trimingham offers a truly brilliant, sexy, eccentric essay on song, sex, holes, bodies, bones, sirens, Sappho, poetry, opera, and the Queen of the Night.

It’s all about holes. Holes through which the world enters, and out of which come babies, words, blood, shit, song.

And it’s about bones, the structure for our living mess.

Or. A bone in the hole. The bone thrust in a hole at the start of a soul.  The baby grows amidst a confusion of metaphors and hypotheses and then, when that song has ended, the clatter of bones lowered into a hole.

People expire when they take their last breath.

Inspiration feels like talking to god, being filled with something beyond yourself.

karl oveKarl Ove Knausgaard

Another Special Correspondent, Jeff Bursey, is a lonely, hermit who has no other life except to write for Numéro Cinq and has managed to contribute two superb pieces for this issue as well as curating a third (maybe it’s just that he was snowed in the last two months in Prince Edward Island). He contributes an amazing review essay on the fourth volume Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel My Struggle. This review is so smart, the casual asides and minute discriminations had me taking notes as I was editing it.

His reliance on alcohol, from age sixteen to nineteen, to make him at ease in the world, could push him down the road to death his father is already traveling. It’s a coping strategy or inheritance he never explicitly notes, preferring to justify (rationalize doesn’t seem quite the right word) drinking to excess: “I drank though, and the more I drank the more it eased my discomfort.” He recalls one “alcoholic high” as similar to “a cool green river flowing through my veins. Everything was in my power.” The kinship to his father is ignored: “It didn’t matter to me that Dad had clearly split into two different personalities, one when he was drinking and one when he wasn’t… it wasn’t something I gave much thought.”


We also have an excerpt from the novel!

I could hear her laughter, and I smoked and peered up at the stars. Then I heard the deep growl of the bus approaching between the houses, flicked the cigarette into the road, stood up, counted the coins in my pocket, and handed them to the driver when I stepped on board.

Oh, the muted lights in buses at night and the muted sounds. The few passengers, all in their own worlds. The countryside gliding past in the dark- ness. The drone of the engine. Sitting there and thinking about the best that you know, that which is dearest to your heart, wanting only to be there, out of this world, in transit from one place to another, isn’t it only then you are really present in this world? Isn’t it only then you really experience the world?

Sam-Savage-author-photo1-923x1024Sam Savage

For this issue, Jeff Bursey also interviewed novelist Sam Savage, a man who became famous for a novel he intended to be Dostoyevskyan but struck readers and critics as endearing and even funny. The interview is lengthy, probing and comprehensive. You come away with a profound sense of Savage’s independence in life and art and his fortitude in overcoming lifelong illness, writing in spite of it. This is one of our best interviews yet.

Maybe being sick—and during the last twenty years quite obviously so—has made me more sensitive to the blitheness with which we normally—and I suppose I can say mercifully—go about the business of living. But there is such a thing as truth in fiction. A novel, if it is any good, ought to let us see the lies we tell ourselves. It is not a novelist’s job to be merciful.

AuthorJowita2014Jowita Bydlowska

Jowita Bydlowska has already contributed fiction and photographs to the magazine and for this issue she sent us a new short story about bad sex, a story called “Bad Sex” — I dunno, the title is a trigger warning. A story that is astringent, alienated, cruel, and gorgeous.

I’m kind of sensitive so go easy, I said, and he said okay, but then shoved himself deep inside me as if he intended to hurt me.

I had never been in so much discomfort. It was stabbing, over and over, every nerve split and pounded. I tried counting backwards, multiply minutes by seconds, think of what colour to dye my hair… to distract myself but it was impossible to ignore the pain. Eventually, I gave up trying to move from underneath him, trying to slow him down. He pulled my hair hard; he bit my face, my neck. It was like being fucked by a giant cat. I knew that it would have to end at some point; nothing lasts forever, neither good or bad fucks. I simulated an orgasm; I thrashed and moaned. I had a headache. I was sore everywhere. He came inside me with a roar and I felt a sudden urge to laugh…


Tom Faure raises book reviewing to an art form — lush sentences about sentences, lovely writing about writing (If you build it….) — with his take on Atticus Lish’s first novel Preparation for the Next Life, which, during the writing of the review, won the 2015 Pen/Faulkner Award.

A typical passage intertwines calm eddies of four- to eight-word sentences driven by rich, concrete verbs, with the occasional hypnotic sentence that stretches into Fitzgerald-like lyricism, employing active participles and gerunds to string images and observations together in a style resembling almost the stream of consciousness—though his prose does not suffer from the hectic spasmodic urgency of Beat sentimentality. Lish’s writing is as composed as a soldier: methodical, precise, on mission.

Madison Smartt BellMadison Smartt Bell

Madison Smartt Bell, fabled author of Waiting for the End of the World, A Year of Silence, Barking Man, and Doctor Sleep, among others, sent us a short story that reads like a delirium dream pitched firmly in some forgotten niche of Americana, almost real.

An owl who cries by day is not an owl, except the screech owl who kept releasing its peculiar ululating trill into the midst of a sunny, snowy morning, perched on a chicken-wire corner of the henhouse roof, eyes squinched as if blind or injured or trapped, although, when we netted it and brought it inside, the owl proved to be none of these things.

We put the owl into a bird cage—an arched, frail and delicate thing, intended for a canary or a parakeet. The white wolf caught field mice for it, bringing them into the house pinched delicately between the tips of the wolf’s front teeth, so no mouse would be torn or punctured, save by the owl’s talons.

 dms 2D. M. Spitzer

David Spitzer sent a second instalment of his biblical epic poem Genealogy of the First Person, which is a most contemporary take on biblical sons, the evolution of the self, and our discourse with God. The first segment we published dealt with Ishmael, this one with Isaac (or isaak, as it appears in the poem). A brilliant open field poem, replete with quotation and allusion, it’s one of the most ambitious projects we ever had the opportunity to host.

isaak is the ego in his aspect of the beating heart upon the ground of the absurd; the object of a divine promise; paradox.  all that is ethical depends on the ego and its preservation, while faith and its unspeakable depth hinges on the will to sacrifice it into the starless void of the eternal:  the very essence of the ego at rest on the knife’s edge.

macdara-woods-in-strokestown-may-20131Macdara Woods

From Ireland this month, we have the poet Macdara Woods, introduced by Senior Editor Gerard Beirne.

Still travelling
………………..To places all unseen
Invisible to those with open eyes
It needs a certain antic 20 20 vision
To housepaint in the dark
As we have done. And plastered walls
Without a light in Fontainebleau
Not cowboys then or now
Just battling with addictions

walterScreenwriter Walter Bernstein

As part of his ongoing Chance Encounters of a Literary Kind series, Robert Day wrote a little memoir about his friendship with the great Hollywood screenwriter Walter Bernstein (Fail Safe, The Molly McGuires). Especially delicious is Day’s description of meeting up with Bernstein at the MacDowell Colony and helping with the horse-facts while he was writing The Electric Horseman. (BTW, Day’s series of essays for NC will be coming out in book form when he finishes the series later this year. If you build it…)

As to Walter’ script, at first I found myself so mesmerized by the form that at first I didn’t read it with care the way Walter wanted me to: But yes, there was confusion about horses, sometimes they were horses, then they were stallions, then they were mares (when in fact they were probably all geldings).  I had to untangle bridles from halters; I had to take horns off cows, and change cows to steers (with or without horns, but I thought unless they were Texas Longhorns for show instead of ranch cattle, they had probably been de-horned.)

But that’s not all, there’s more. Paddy O’Reilly has penned a smart, dense review of Alice Fulton’s brilliant new poetry collection, her first in ten years, called Barely Composed. We have a stunning essay from Jeremy Brunger on the failure of the Enlightenment, the betrayal of liberalism, and the delusions of market philosophy. We have a poignant, deeply felt eulogy, yes, a eulogy by Patrick J. Keane on the life and death of his beloved friend Jimmy Cerasoli. We also have a new NC at the Movies and resuscitation from Julie Larios of the poet John Malcolm Brinnin, now most famous for his biography of Dylan Thomas, but a major poet in his own right.

And there may be more!

If you build it….

Apr 202015

Anthony Doerr

Just announced. Anthony Doerr has won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See. Once again the editors at NC were prescient. Here you can read Richard Farrell’s delightful 2012 interview with Doerr.

My earliest influence was maybe C.S. Lewis. I remember my mother reading The Chronicles of Narnia to me and my brothers; I was probably eight. And I remember asking her: “How did they make this book? How did they invent Narnia?” And she’d always say, “It was just one person who wrote these books. And he’s dead now.”

Dead! What? Dead people could tell stories that still held power over the living? I had always had a sense that books were like oranges on a tree, that they pre-existed in the world, and humans came along and plucked them. But now my mother was saying people made them. One person, one book at a time. That was a revelation: One weird old guy could use language, the cheapest of materials, and conjure whole worlds with it? Then he could die and those worlds could still hold sway?

via Manufacturing Dreams: An Interview with Anthony Doerr — Richard Farrell » Numéro Cinq.

Apr 192015

Images from the farm on Ontario, just these past few days. Lucy at the beginning, Jean at the end (93). In between, well, I got a bit obsessed with the clash of the industrial and the natural, which is modern agriculture. So I have three images of a Norway spruce windbreak, clouds spiraling up beyond them and a jet contrail. Then a series of images of tractor ruts in a rye field. I fell in love with the annual manure pile, never has a manure pile seemed so, well, epic. And finally we’re mounding the fields in preparation for planting. This is done with a machine, of course, that creates lovely symmetrical rectangular slices in the soil. The images are all variations. I like that, the repetition of the image with some slight variation.

The last time on the farm (Christmas) I had to dig out the risers to the septic tank to release the guard grid that had been improperly installed so that I could get at the plastic filter and clean it. This time a new experience: The tenant house has been without water since early March, frozen pipes we thought. I got the pipes to the garden hydrant turned on last week and then with the help and guidance of a neighbour ran a hose from the garden hydrant to the tenant house and attached it to the outside tap on the house wall, turned on the outside tap and ran water from the garden hydrant into the tenant house. I didn’t invent this, did not believe it would work, but it did. Low pressure but it works. Next we have to dig up the pipe to the house, which is clearly not frozen but blocked irretrievably.

I also spent a lot of time lying in the mud and ice on my stomach jamming a log up the irrigation pond overflow culvert, which has been partly blocked for a couple of years. This is a pilgrimage I make every trip to the farm. I have my own special log and I walk back to the pond, looking for arrowheads along a knoll where Early Woodland natives used to camp, and lie down with my face almost in the pond and run the log into the culvert. It is a zen thing to do and never works (also has a certain sub-erotic overtone, which I don’t really want to get into). Then Lucy goes for a swim, whimpering for me to throw a stick. This year there was still ice along the margins of the pond, but she still went in. We share this tendency to self-destructive obsession.




Apr 182015

Ray A Youngbear and son

Taiaiake Alfred just wrote to say he’d discovered by chance that I had written a review of one of his favourite novels, Black Eagle Child by Ray A. Youngbear. Taiaiake sent me the link, which I had lost track of, which gave me a chance to waste half-an-hour adding the review to NC. This review is important in my own development as a writer. It appeared in April 1992 in the Los Angeles Times. I was working out the aesthetic and form for my novel The Life and Times of Captain N. So there was a crucial influence, a cross-pollination. Black Eagle Child itself was absolutely fascinating and mysterious.



BLACK EAGLE CHILD: The Facepaint Narratives
Ray A. Young Bear
First published by University of Iowa Press


Albert E. Stone, in his foreword to “Black Eagle Child,” calls this book an experimental autobiography. But the reader quickly discovers two things: This tale is not factual–it is full of composite characters and fictionalized events–and it is only tangentially about its author, the Mesquakie Indian poet Ray A. Young Bear, who eventually disappears behind a series of changed names, false leads, alter egos, digressions, epi-stories and myths.

Young Bear is a poet who makes his aesthetic home between two worlds, the native and the non-native. He is a dancer at the world’s rim–a fan dancer, for he conceals as much as he reveals of himself and his people. Concealment is a key aesthetic principle, for as Young Bear constantly reiterates, there is a price to be paid for telling tribal secrets to outsiders. In his afterword to “Black Eagle Child,” he recollects how his grandmother taught him that “there were things I could not write about.”

As an Indian who sets himself up as an author in the white sense, Young Bear is freighted with a terrible dual responsibility: to satisfy his readers that he is being truthful and informative, and to satisfy his personal and tribal need for secrecy. He must invent a new form, the nature of which is duality, a form that is never straightforward, yet full of implication. It will be poetic, but it will not fulfill every demand of traditional poetic genre. It will always be surprising; it may not end. A code, in other words, that only the right people can break.

In his first book of poems, “Winter of the Salamander” (1980), a much younger Ray Young Bear gave a hint of forms to come:

What do you do when
there is a man
who represents your dreams
who goes talking and appraising
his deeds
and for no reason he stops
and says something new
there is a chance
for those who want to learn
but not for those who feel it
hard and difficult

For “those who want to learn,” “Black Eagle Child” is a kind of non-autobiographical Zen treasure trove of non-information about Mesquakie Indians and Young Bear. It is ostensibly a poetic Bildungsroman centered around Edgar Bearchild, a Mesquakie boy from the Black Eagle Child Settlement in central Iowa (Young Bear is from the Mesquakie settlement near Tama, Iowa). It begins with Edgar in grade eight in 1965 and follows him through his career as the community’s youngest treatable alcoholic. There’s a brief stint at a prestigious liberal-arts college in California, then back to Iowa, where he becomes a successful poet haunted by UFOs. He lives off grants from the fictional Maecenas Foundation (Young Bear received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1970s).

This process of becoming a writer fascinates Edgar, who sees himself wrapped in a paper cocoon, changing, altering, saving himself from the usual fates of a reservation Indian. Learning to translate between worlds redeems him, though with redemption comes alienation and survivor’s guilt, since he must separate himself from the normal communal life of his people.

Twinned with Edgar (like the twin boys of Indian legend) is the more adventurous and traditional Ted Facepaint, who follows the tenets of the Well-Off Man Church, a fictional Mesquakie affiliate of the mushroom-eating, pan-Indian Native American Church. (This, by the way, is Young Bear being highly elusive. Rather than reveal traditional Mesquakie rites and legends, he describes a modern cultural intrusion in which he has no stake. Here he seems to reveal without revealing anything.)

Like Edgar, Facepaint also heads west to college. He drops out and hitchhikes across America, trying to reach some romanticized accommodation with this alien white country, only to be beaten and robbed along the way. Back in Iowa, he continues his frenetic drinking and eventually dies—metaphorically, at least—stabbed repeatedly with a screwdriver by rogue Mesquakies nicknamed the Hyenas. He is then mystically transported to Orion, the sacred constellation of the Well-Off Man Church. “Black Eagle Child” closes, however, with Facepaint’s resurrection at the hands of Rosie Grassleggings, an immensely obese native healer.

Young Bear knits together these two narrative lines with a complex pattern of imagery. Red-haired and red-hatted people relate to the red-capped hallucinogenic mushrooms, and also to the red-haired man of some native legends. White rabbits recall the Great Hare, Nanebojo, an Algonquin culture hero, who is often paired with Jesus Christ in modern native myth.

This is the bare skeleton of Young Bear’s code, the vastly complex and engaging system the reader has to learn to read. Only superficially chaotic, his narrative bears all the indications of a sophisticated and cunning literary intelligence. Young Bear has a novelist’s eye for precise social and atmospheric detail.

In his afterword, the author himself calls his book a collage, but whatever you call it, “Black Eagle Child” is an example of the new blood flowing back into the hardened arteries of Anglo-American literature from the margins–from the formerly colonized, enslaved and defeated peoples who must, inevitably, change us as we have changed them.

April 12, 1992|Douglas Glover | Glover’s most recent book, “A Guide to Animal Behavior,” was nominated for the 1991 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction, Canada’s highest literary prize.


Apr 172015

Melissa Matthewson

One of Numéro Cinq’s dazzling flock of up-and-coming writers, Melissa Matthewson, has won the Associated Writing Programs Intro Journals Project award for creative nonfiction for an essay called “A Gathering of Then and Now” published in Mid American Review.

To see the announcement and a full list of winners go to the AWP: Intro Journals Project website (click the link).

And here are Melissa’s contributions to NC:


Apr 112015

NC Logo

1) I’m experimenting with running a Twitter feed down the right hand side of the page underneath the navigation buttons. I’m using a Jetpack plugin, which doesn’t give a lot of aesthetic options. I can, though, adjust the number of tweets displayed. And you have to refresh the page to refresh the Twitter feed. I have  resisted doing this in the past so as to keep the page clean and free of distractions, so this is just a trial. Let us know what you think.

Right now I am displaying only the Numéro Cinq Twitter feed. But I could add in a selection of NC writers and editors to make for a more wide-ranging feed.

2) I got a very nice note on Facebook earlier this week, complimenting us on our Index (accessed via the dropdown menu on the navigation bar at the top of the page). The writer is a professional indexer and really liked what we have done, wanted to know who had constructed it, etc. Of course, I shot off a lengthy response because this is a subject close to my heart. I’ve built that index up from the very beginning because it’s always been my opinion that most online sites have a serious drawback, a failure to provide readers with a logical and efficient way to access the archives. After the front page, writers and artists disappear into the gaping mouth of the archives rarely to re-emerge. At NC, we keep each piece on the front page for THREE months (current issue and two back issues). And each item is also cross-indexed by category (fiction, nonfiction, reviews, etc.) and by year and issue (under the Back Issues button on the nav bar). People who appear multiple times on NC usually get their very own NC Archive Page as well. And I use the slider at the top of the page to feature work from the archives each month. One of the great things about publishing in NC is that you NEVER DISAPPEAR.

3) You can see I have time on my hands.


Apr 052015

Lise Gaston Lise Gaston

Lise Gaston just got word that her poem “Les Rues: Montreal” published in our December 2014 issue has been picked for inclusion in Best Canadian Poetry 2015. This is the fourth time a poem published on NC has made the anthology (Sharon McCartney got the nod twice and Amanda Jernigan once).

You can read Lise’s poems here:

Grave & Vital Nonsense: Poems — Lise Gaston


Mar 312015


At the Top of the Page this month (April), we feature a selection of the best of Numéro Cinq‘s fast-growing archive of stellar author interviews. There is only room for a few. “Best” is subjective. Some great conversations got didn’t make the cut. So go to the NC Interview page (nav button on the right) and check them out, after you read these interviews with Lydia Davis, Sheila Heti, Diane Williams, David Shields, Dodie Bellamy, Joseph McElroy, David Ferry, and Micheline Aharonian Marcom.

Mar 282015

jeff again (3)

Numéro Cinq Special Correspondent Jeff Bursey has an essay, titled “Cartography Of The Obscene,” in Henry Miller: New Perspectivesa new anthology from Bloomsbury Publishing, edited by James Decker and Indrek Manniste.


Here’s a taste of the essay:

That Tropic of Cancer remains a lightning rod for dissent along predictable lines is not news, but if the lines seem predictable, then why do people go over the same old arguments when the battle was won many years ago? That people carry on as if history didn’t exist and social change has not occurred indicates that present in Miller’s work, generally, are elements that cause controversy in a far more permissive climate (unimaginably so, it might seem, from when he wrote in the 1930s), and where reading seems to take up less of our free time when compared to competing media. Is what was once viewed as obscene what is, now, truly obscene? Not according to the courts; not according to public opinion; and, in comparison to what can be listened to, read, or watched so easily, it is almost laughable to consider this or that word found on any page of Tropic of Cancer or Sexus as potentially more offensive than the average episode of Deadwood or Girls. Perhaps the centre of what is ‘the obscene’ has drifted, thanks to the tides of time and taste, to a new location.

—from “Cartography of the Obscene” by Jeff Bursey in Henry Miller: New Perspectives


Mar 282015

airafoto2_bodyCésar Aira

There is an ongoing joke among Argentine writers: every time César Aira publishes a book the question is never “Is it any good?” but “On which page did he manage to ruin the book this time?” This joke not only accurately captures the rather enviable position Aira occupies in the Argentine literary pantheon but his approach to writing as well. With 80 books on his shoulders, Aira is one of the world’s most prolific writers — he is also one of the most whimsical. Aira writes riding on a line of flight that stops at nothing: he is renowned for aiming methodically towards the book’s end, editing very little, always advancing stubbornly and without giving any thought to realism or coherence (nor for magical realism, thank God). His oeuvre is certainly interesting, at times puzzling, if not disconcerting.

Now Aira has been nominated to the Man Booker International Prize 2015, this is fantastic news for Latin American and Argentine literature.

For those unfamiliar with the man and his work, here at BOMB is a very interesting interview from 2009.

Fernando Sdrigotti