Jun 062010
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Bruce Stone as a young man

It’s a great pleasure to introduce my friend Bruce Stone to the pages of Numéro Cinq. Bruce is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, though he was never a student of dg’s and thus does not appear on the Former Student list. He’s making a career for himself writing fiction and criticism and teaching college. He wrote a long paper on dg for the Review of Contemporary Fiction and then pulled together essays from various authors and combined them in a book about dg’s fiction called The Art of Desire. It’s a lovely book, even if dg says so himself, and an example of the opportunities open for young writers on their way up. Readers of Numéro Cinq will be pleased to know that Bruce is a Viktor Shklovsky follower and has written criticism on Vladimir Nabokov–his heart is in the right place. Eons ago, we got to know each other sitting over meals in the Dewey cafeteria during VCFA residencies, talking form, structure, and VS.  Give his story a read.


The Advantages of Living

“Remind me again of the advantages of living?” This I say to my girlfriend Svetlana, who pretends not to hear me at all. She’s far too preoccupied with the task, quite literally, at hand: namely, to bring to some sort of acceptable conclusion the handjob that began under the usual hurried circumstances, in the hall, outside my apartment door. I waited silently, burdened, for Svetlana to work the deadbolt, bracing the trusses of my arms against the groceries, their novel heft, their alien aura, bulging implausibly in polyethylene bags. They swayed and listed above the hardwood like twin worlds, grotesque, misshapen, stalled in a zone of veering space into which, shortly, Svetlana would deposit the keys, my keys, with a noise like breaking glass. As she bent to retrieve them, her shirt ascended and exposed to the air that little sacred band of flesh above her transparent linen pants (she goes around with her ass more or less wrapped in cheesecloth), and then the bags crashed to the floor, ejecting each one of their itemized contents, and I was clawing freely at her shirt. pic for glover.jpg

We negotiated, somehow, the debris field-a shuffling, sloughing dance over tuna cans, yellow onion, solitary units of Jolly Good cream soda, a razor-sharp pineapple with negligible rind-rot-and maneuvered inside where those preliminaries graded into an hour of ineffective coitus on the living room floor (Svetlana’s face gradually taking on that cast of expressive accusation), which then lasted through dinner (I thought she almost had me when she brought out the colander), one and a half games of postprandial chess (I am a sore loser), and the phone call from the unemployment adjudicator who dispassionately informed me that my benefits are running out.

Now it seems we have come full circle.

Anyway, to my knowledge, she doesn’t speak a word of English.

She’s in a crouch, Svetlana, by the lower kitchen cabinets, directing the business end of my flexed equipment toward a saucepan. She does not perform fellatio, and I can’t blame her. From time to time she looks up at me, her face miming what she’s unable to say: “When it finally goes, look out!”

According to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, I have a condition known as priapism, which, I must admit, has a certain old-Greek venerability to it, a bracing air of Trojan grandeur. But sadly, these heroic connotations bear little relation to the sordid facts of the case, the light of which compels me to refer to this predicament for what it really is: i.e., functional impotence. To all outward appearances, the equipment mostly works. I am erect almost constantly. And I go around dragging this piece of lumber, torquing it out of the way (I’m not a maniac) with the waistband of my boxer briefs-the type of undergarment I prefer because, I don’t know, despite everything they still make me feel athletic and capable. As I say, the equipment mostly works, excepting the gonads, of course, which Svetlana now hefts on her outstretched fingers, eyeing them sadly. No, those gonads are without question on the fritz: swollen, unresponsive, definitely not trucking their weight at all.

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Jun 032010

It’s great pleasure to post here a poem by Julie Larios, a generous and playful Numéro Cinquoise and a member of the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. In a way, we already know her and she needs no introduction. But there are links here  to various sources and interviews where you can find the hard data–books, teaching, publications.


On Reading the Poems of Someone Buried in Poet’s Corner

“Dear Lizbie Brown…”
that’s all our hero Hardy needed for a letter.
But he was better at it than the rest of us.
The best that we can do is “Sir or Madam,”
and “Sincerely Yours.”—even when love stirs
the soul and bakes the brain, our best refrains
fill with adolescent templates and clichés,
not Lizbie,
Lizbie Brown.

Even Hardy’s frowns went deeper down than ours—
his stars were brighter, fields greener, cows cleaner,
cream more clotted,  world more Wessex, thrushes darkling,
and his Bettys were all Lizbies,
Lizbie Browns.

Darling, if we lived in England and you died in time,
before me, I would love you Hardy-style, epistolarically
and lyrically and all seized up by grief and elm trees.
As is it, you’re hale and hearty, and I’m hardly Hardy.
But I’m sincerely yours. Love, Julie,

P.S. I’m sorry but
the toilet’s running
and I tried to fix it
but I can’t. Just thought
you’d like to know.

–Julie Larios

See also “What Bee Did” and “Two Voices in the Pitch Black” not to mention Julie’s entries in the Numéro Cinq Villanelle contest. And here are a couple of interviews with the author: The Miss Rumphius Effect and  Cynsations.

Jun 012010

To continue the Numéro Cinq religious threads, I offer the following.  (An ablution, perhaps?  A burnt offering?)

I used to be an altar boy in Christ the King Catholic Church in Worcester, Mass.  I have no sordid tales of degenerate priests.  The priests I knew were kind, serious men.  They understood rituals and sacred spaces in a way that made church seem magical and removed from the mundanity of life in the working class neighborhoods where I grew up.  My favorite time in church was when I prepared the altar for mass; when the church was empty and quiet, when I lit candles, placed unblessed wine and water aside before the prayerful arrived.  The poet Rodney Jones says that his sense of the religious springs from a recognition that Sundays have a different feel from other days.  In the introduction to his poem, “Life of Sundays” he says the following:

“I’ve written a number of poems at the edge of a long study of religion.  This is probably a poem that comes from my reading of Stevens as much as my understanding of an individual life of a person like myself who’s not a believer and yet who maintains some sort of superstition about Sundays.  I think I could recognize Sundays from any other day if I came back from the planet Mars.”

I have drifted far from the faith of my youth, yet one of my favorite places to go is an empty church.   Jones speaks directly to me about this.

Later in life, at the U.S. Naval Academy, I found a similar sense of the sacred in the military rituals.  Annapolis imposed rigid institutional codes to instill in me a sense of duty, responsibility and service.  We (the midshipmen) were somehow different, somehow set apart from the rest of the world because we believed in those codes.  The inevitable drift towards war seemed, somehow, beside the point.  The rituals of that life informed the decisions we believed in: the honor code, the sense of duty, the pride in service.

Yet in both of these formative experiences, something lacked.  Both (the religious and the militaristic) somehow served only to exclude.  Only those on the inside could be admitted, accepted.  The rituals of church and state demanded an adherence to singular principles.  You believed in Christ.  You believed in Country.  Outside of these narrow confines was the enemy.

Literature (I think, I hope, I pray) offers a broader view of the sacred.  Literature grapples with similar structural concepts, with ritual and meaning, but not towards a single answer.  The artistic search scatters as it meanders toward a destination.

In a very elegant, brief essay, “Degenerates,” (Found in The Best Writing on Writing, Vol. 2, edited by Jack Heffron) the poet (and Benedictine oblate)  Kathleen Norris talks about the connections between monastic life and writing.  Norris lives with monks and talks about how monks and writers (poets) face a similar challenge: to live outside a world devoid of a sense of the sacred.

I told the Trappists that I had come to see both writing and monasticism as vocations that require periods of apprenticeship and formation.  Prodigies are common in mathematics, but extremely rare in literature, and I added, ‘as far as I know, there are no prodigies in monastic life.’  This drew a laugh, as I thought it might.”

Norris goes on to describe her life living with the monks and the similarities to the writer’s life.

I was recognizing the dynamic nature of both disciplines; they are not so much subjects to be mastered as ways of life that require continual conversion.  For example, no matter how much I’ve written or published, I always return to the blank page; and even more importantly, from a monastic point of view, I return to the blankness within, the fears, laziness and cowardice that without fail, will mess up whatever I’m writing and require me to revise it.  The spiritual dimension of this process is humility, not a quality often associated with writers, but lurking there, in our nagging sense of the need to revise.  As I put it to the monks, when you realize that anything good you write comes despite your weaknesses, writing becomes a profoundly humbling activity.”

I take comfort in being an apprentice, that the beatings I’ve endured at the hands of certain elders of the ‘church’ (read: certain, unnamed VCFA advisors) are going to temper my faith.  (Please note a benevolent sarcasm in this.)  Norris puts it this way:

Poets and monks do have a communal role in American culture, although it ignores, romanticizes, and despises them.  In our relentlessly utilitarian society, structuring a life around writing is as crazy as structuring a life around prayer, yet that is what writers and monks do.  Deep down, people seem glad to know that monks are praying, that poets are writing poems.  That is what others expect of us, because if we are doing our job right, we will express things that others may feel, or know, but can’t or won’t say.

-Rich Farrell