Oct 142010

Fiction breaks barriers people assume are sacrosanct. I was watching Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street the other night, fascinated mostly by the conceit of the world of dream invading the waking world of so-called reality and vice versa. Leon Rooke has a story called “Magi Dogs” in his recent collection The Last Shot in which a real dog walks into a painting.

I had no sooner finished my new painting, White Cottage with Green Shutters, when a dog poked its nose in the door, looked me over with only the mildest interest, then without further ado trotted up the painting’s cottage path, yawned, and at once dropped down asleep by the front steps. I was glad I hadn’t given the cottage an open door or the dog likely would have walked right inside.

The story develops in sections along several armatures but eventually returns to the painting and the dog.

The dog is pacing the cottage path, she turns and looks me over as I enter the studio, I draw fresh water from the tap and place the tin can on the floor, she quickly laps up all the water, wags her tail, then trots up and scratches at the cottage door, these deep whines in her throat. With chalk I throw in a few quick lines to open a makeshift door, the dog pushes through and runs straight to the divan.

For a long time I sit on the model’s hard chair looking at the dog, thinking that if one dog arrives this can only mean others may follow, which leads me to something else I have been frequently mulling over these recent days, Anjou’s insistence that from time to time the mind must be excavated, emptied, so that it may discover a solace fundamental to its journey.

What storytellers know is that grammar has nothing to do with truth, that the throw of grammar leads into the light of the imagination. Dreams can invade reality, dogs can take up residence in paintings (and bring their friends).

As it happens, besides being a great storyteller and novelist, Leon Rooke is a painter of brash, dynamic pictures on display at the Fran Hill Gallery in Toronto. There are homages here (obvious in the title), also bits of narrative, often ironic (also signaled in the titles), exuberant colours and bold eroticism. These pictures are exciting to see and ponder against Rooke’s words, his stories and novels which trend always toward that point where the mind empties and opens itself to “a solace fundamental to its journey.”


The New Quebec, 2010
oil/canvas, 24 x 48 in.
Collection of Sybil & Morris Fine

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Oct 142010

DG NOTE: I ought to have said something at the outset, but the idea of this film-maker’s diary developed gradually. In any case, this is the third installment of Rich Hartshorn’s Film Diary. Rich is a former student, a contributing editor at Numéro Cinq, actor, dramatist, game blogger, screenwriter and teacher. His diary gives NC readers a chance to see inside another art form, an art that is related to writing but slightly different. Nevertheless the process of imagining and assembling scenes, adapting a book to screen, directing actors, editing and so on are all fascinating in themselves and full of parallels in the world of pure writing. Besides that, I am all for people making art, whatever it is, rather than sitting on their butts in the living room. The sheer chutzpah involved in just going out and making your own damn movie is amazing and should be applauded. The world of art is an outlaw world, you can do anything you want.


The film project is currently on its one and only two-week break from photography.  Each of us are using this time for different project-related matters: Jen and I have worked on some new costume material, my brother is continuing work with his fight team, Jack is attending a film-fest (which includes an animated film he created), and I am fine-tuning the script and going over lines with actors who have yet to appear onscreen.  In general news, a Facebook fan page has been created for the film, which quickly rocketed to 33 members.  I’ve never met at least 25 of them.  So much for keeping this project under wraps (story specifics and the cast are still in large part secret, however).

I want to take a moment to talk about the whole “art” process behind this film.  I included a quote from Tolkien last time in which he expressed the desire to see his work interpreted by other minds in the form of paint, music and drama.  I’ll say a bit about music in a future entry, as we’re having original music composed for the film, while taking this time to look at the visual aspect of things.

Jen’s background in cosplay and costume-craft is one of the saving graces of our project (whether or not she’d blush to hear/read that).  However, it’s not a situation where I (as director) say “Here’s someone I know who is good at making costumes – go crazy!”  It’s been a very collaborative process with a high level of communication – I even took scissors to fabric a few times myself.  We’ve been greatly concerned with color, contrast with scenery (forests, lakes, whitewater, wooden walls, concrete fountains, the sun’s reflection on rock, etc) and other parts of a costume (including wigs – currently, six cast members are wearing wigs in the film).  The ideas behind these costumes come greatly from what we know of the characters.  Quite often, Tolkien goes into great detail about appearance, yet sometimes none at all.  How exact do we want the costumes to be?  We came to the conclusion that we need to do what is right for the characters we’re dealing with based on the above factors, as well as what we draw from a character’s personality, while keeping the outfits described in-text within the ballpark.  There’s also a budget to consider, so “a thousand studs of crystal” (from Tolkien’s description of Ecthelion’s shield in Unfinished Tales) may become three or four, or no shield at all if the scene doesn’t call for him to be holding one.

The visual imagery doesn’t end with creating interesting (or accurate) costumes.  For decades, the works of Tolkien have been interpreted into paint and other visual art by everyone from renowned artists such as John Howe and Ted Nasmith to internet painters who still go unnamed and unknown.  While working on my own adaptation, I’ve been considering some of my favorite Tolkien art and allowing it to inspire ideas and landscapes in my own work.  Take a look at this.

The meeting of Tuor and Ulmo is a relatively iconic moment in Tolkien’s mythology.  It’s clearly described: Ulmo is in the water, Tuor is on shore.  In some versions he kneels, in some he doesn’t.  I couldn’t make Ulmo forty feet tall in my adaptation, but I’m not sure I would have wanted to.  Ulmo convinces Tuor to take on a burden through words, not through intimidation.  It serves a film better to have the scene portrayed as two people talking face to face, even if one has a booming voice and infinite power.  Howe’s artwork was one of the main forces behind my ideas for the scene, though I didn’t try to emulate it, per se; Howe’s painting made me feel this scene, and drove me to evoke a similar feeling in my own work.  Unlike Howe, I cannot use one image; I need costumes, camera angles, music, sound, movement and dialogue.

Oddly enough, we created Voronwë’s costume and filmed this scene long before coming across Marya’s artwork (on the internet), so the resulting effect was the opposite.  This being a very clearly described image in the text, it’s easy to see why it would be depicted in a similar way, but these similarities blew me away.  Note the position of V’s left knee and elbow above, then look at Jen’s in our picture.  Chilling.


We are doing visual imagery that is our own, fitting with the directing style/art direction of the film and following a set of image patterns put forth by the specific story material we’re tackling, but with some truly interesting parallels with artwork that is now considered “classic” within the Tolkien realm, as well as concurring with relatively younger fans’ ideas of what these scenes may look like.  There is no clearly-defined balance; most of it is happening almost subconsciously.

I’m enjoying this journey a lot.

—By Richard Hartshorn

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Oct 132010

I wrote here previously about the introduction of characters, a topic that figures prominently in my own writing.  I meet a lot of people.  I’m (gradually) working on a book that involves significant scientific research, travel around the Midwest talking to farmers and land managers, and – just last night – hours in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society poring through 150-year-old land survey notes.  When I sent my first chapter to dg way back in packet #2 (are we almost to #4 already??), he raised the question of sources.

One of my sources (at left): Patrick Ceas of St. Olaf College

To quote briefly from dg’s packet letter:  “This brings up a larger issue nudging away at me as I read through this chapter.  How do you properly credit and integrate primary research and sources? I wonder about this reading Barry Lopez on wolves and John McPhee on shad and Mathiessen on snow leopards. How does one ensure that the descriptions one writes from the research become one’s own words and not just summaries or synopses of other people’s work?”

Hmmm.  Good question.  And I suppose you all know what’s coming next. “This might bear contemplating as a critical essay,” wrote dg.

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Oct 112010

CockatooheadshotHere is a poem by the prolific and amazingly energetic (I tried to count the number of jobs and teaching gigs she has but didn’t have enough fingers) Nickole Brown. Nickole is a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate in fiction (I have been reminded that, in fact, she was in a workshop with me, yea, these many years ago). As a student and a graduate assistant, Nickole was a graceful, kindly presence on campus. I do recall her brightening my day now and then in the lunch line at Dewey. She worked for Sarabande Books for ten years. She’s made her way in publishing, teaching and as a woman-of-letters. She is determined, focused and persistent, qualities I admire. And it’s a great pleasure, after all these years, to still be in touch and to publish her here.


A Diet Plan That Works

By Nickole Brown


“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
—Virginia Woolf

Do not buy like the nouveau riche: tin of black
caviar, sad plate of parrot fish,
marbled pink slab of exotic
meat served with expensive
and appropriately bitter
wine.  Fill your cart instead with
things to make you feel rich: the oiled flesh
of artichoke hearts, the slippery vowels
of asparagus and arugula and asiago,
bread with an uneven
leaven of holes.  Buy things
still teeming, invisible cultures
swimming in a cup, taut colors
soaked in sun so far from this winter
your palms ache with the bright hot
light of oranges. Display the carrots
with their full peacock
greens on the counter next to cheese
that glistens with a softness of slow
time. This is what you’ve worked for, leaving
behind those dim nights
nuked with infomercials, the florescent
maraschino, the milky dressing’s cheap blue
water. Let go a past of unwieldy portions,
perishables sealed in boxes and cans,
all those puffed, sugared, colored
mornings that tore
your mouth to shreds.

This is what you always wanted: the cool
fruit held to your face,
its sweetness given
to your hunger. Cherish it,
thank it, let your teeth
break the skin with a sound
that reminds you of weeds
pulled from the garden, a pop
that sounds like one sound
but is in fact made of many,
each white strand snapped
from the dark
a sound of letting go, a hundred letting
go’s, a sound of a thing
dying under your grip, yes,
but not unlike the sound
made by that stubborn
horse who refused the trail
for a moment to lean his bridled
head down to this earth to stop,
to chew.

—By Nickole Brown

See more Nickole Brown poems at Reading Between A&B. Read poems and hear Nickole read them at From the Fishouse.

Or watch her read a poem here courtesy of the Collected Poets Series last summer.

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Sep 182010


It’s a pleasure to introduce Stephen Henighan (pictured above in Cairo in August for the feast of Ramadan) to the pages of Numéro Cinq. Stephen is a prolific author, world-traveler, critic, translator and polemicist, a man who lives by his words or in his words. I put him in Best Canadian Stories when I edited that annual anthology. That’s what I think of his writing. Over the years his commentaries on Canadian literature and writers have been acute and revelatory. You should look him up. This story was previously published in the venerable Canadian literary magazine Grain.



By Stephen Henighan

For thirteen hours, from the time the plane lifted off from London, crossed the Atlantic, landed at St. John’s, Antigua, then travelled the final hour over the Lesser Antilles –visible out the window as a trail of dark green bloodspots flowering on the translucent pale-blue slab of the sea–  up to the instant they landed at the little Cuban-built airport with a bump that woke the passengers who had lapsed into an alcoholic stupor, Philip waited for Doreen to speak.  She had uttered her last words in the departure lounge. When a flight attendant brought in the barrell kids –small children going home to visit their families,  their names written on bibs that hung across the fronts of their pink pinafores and white dress shirts–  Doreen exclaimed: “That was me! I grew up travelling like that. Except for me it was between Toronto and Jamaica.”

She remained silent as they picked up their luggage from the carousel and found their way outside where a beaming German couple held up a sign that said Philip & Doreen.  “Mitzi,” said the attractive wife, who looked older than her wiry husband. “This is Fred.” She smiled. “When people book on line, you never know what to expect.”

Doreen met his eyes.

They knew this reaction: the exuberance that camouflaged nervousness when people were uncertain how to respond to an interracial couple. As they climbed into the back seat of Fred and Mitzi’s jeep, Philip sensed Doreen’s disappointment.

The vacation had been her idea. She had persuaded him months ago, when they had realized that their business trips to England would overlap, that they should take advantage of the cheap deals available from London. She had overcome his resistance to package vacations by finding an on-line offer for a remote lodge: three holiday cabins on an isolated point overlooking a tiny bay on the island’s southeast shore.  With the bright-eyed girlishness she revved up whenever she was openly trying to twist his arm, Doreen enumerated the advantages: the private beach;  the outside world accessible only via a forty-five-minute vertical hike up the coastal mountains to the highway; a stash of tinned food strongly recommended; free airport pickup; a low price for a week’s accommodation on the condition that they tell their friends about the place when they got home.

He dozed against the door as warm air flooded the jeep. Fred was driving through deep gulleys where a dozen shades of green vied for the sunlight. Tall, droop-leafed coffee plants grew close to the road. As they climbed, houses on stilts bobbed up above the vegetation at the tops of the ridges like gravity-defying cubicles rising towards heaven.

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