Aug 282011
 


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Here’s a terse, direct, almost telegraphic tale of South Africa, race, danger, immaculate whiteness and denial. It’s haunting, disturbing—reminiscent of J. M. Coetzee himself. Dawn Promislow is another hugely promising writer dg discovered when he read her fine first collection Jewels (the collection from which this story is taken) while jurying for the 2011 Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Of this book, Jim Bartley wrote in the Globe and Mail:

At their best, the stories have a compression of description and a simplicity of narrative arc that can indeed be jewel-like in lucidity. The real strength of the collection is its success at bridging the polarities of race and class that so distress its liberal white folks, characters whose pained awareness of the brutally enforced otherness of black lives forms the spine of many stories.

Between and within stories, Promislow shifts us repeatedly from white households to the lives of the servants who do their dull and dirty work. We’re admitted to both worlds, yet the essential otherness of the black world remains intact, never allowing us to forget the entrenched privilege distorting the white viewpoint. The deadlocked society of apartheid is strikingly rendered.

Dawn Promislow was born and raised in South Africa, but has lived in Toronto since 1987. Jewels and Other Stories was published by Tsar Books in 2010. One of the collection’s stories was short-listed for UK-based Wasafiri‘s New Writing Prize 2009, while the title story was anthologized in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 5. Jewels and Other Stories will be launched in South Africa next month (September). It has been long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award 2011. You can read an interview with Dawn Promislow here at Open Book Ontario and another one here at Rob McLennan’s Blog. And here is another review of the book.

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Wan

A Short Story by Dawn Promislow

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The grapefruit was sharp in my mouth when I read the report. I was on the terrace, the morning sun filtering through the trees – a hot, still day it would be. It was one of those reports we read all the time, back then. Attempted sabotage of power plant. Et cetera. I got tired of it. I turned to the theatre listings – I was to book tickets for a play.

And then I went in to dress. There was my face, wan in the morning light, I remember it, that day.

My husband mentioned it a few days later. He said there was a colleague’s friend who needed somewhere to stay – a few weeks, that was all. Someone involved in the recent attempt. He’d stay in the garden room, there was a bathroom there, we’d not need to see him. Is this necessary Howard, I said. It’s necessary, yes, he said, you know it’s necessary. We had had someone else like this stay once, in that room. My husband was not afraid; I was not either. He thought the police would never touch him. I told the servants a man from Howard’s work would be in the room for a few weeks. They weren’t much interested, of course. I told them not to bother him, he’d take care of the room himself.

A few days later he came home with my husband. He shook my hand. Thank you, thank you, he said. I’ll be moving on soon. It’ll be alright, my husband said, it’ll be fine. The three of us had a drink. It was a strange time, then.

And then I forgot about it. Or I tried to forget about it. I never saw him. Howard said he had books with him. He was a university professor, before. At night, very late, he had visitors, the servants told me that. The visitors came in cars, headlights pooling in the darkness, they let themselves in at the side gate, I never heard them. My husband assured me, again, he’d be gone soon.

I had my own preoccupations. The children, both, finally away at university. I was free. I was working, then, on my series –  the white series. You’ve seen it. It was before then that I  started it.

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Aug 262011
 

Ben Evans is the executive editor of the arts review Fogged Clarity and a contributing writer for The Huffington Post’s Arts Section. A fascinating real-time study in new media, Fogged Clarity’s editorial vision showcases emotionally forward poetry, fiction, art, music, and interviews to thousands of monthly visitors.

So it’s no surprise that Ben’s own poems scrutinize experience, perception, and consciousness with resonate undertones of vulnerability and the all too human need to seek. There is an omnipresent “now” in his poems, suggestive perhaps of that perpetually slipping vantage point many of us attempt to understand through writing.

Ben’s work has appeared in Sugar House Review, Gargoyle, and Illya’s Honey, among other journals and newspapers.  He is currently studying poetry under Garrett Hongo at the University of Oregon. We are excited to feature his poems here on Numéro Cinq.

—Martin Balgach

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“Couplets (in Meditation of Self-Defeat)” and “Western Tenet”

Poems by Benjamin Evans

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Couplets (in Meditation of Self-Defeat)

A pitch through time zones
this gambit made for a home

that edified panic and hard hours
as some lesson or encased flower

to be smelled on that rare occasion
of freedom, that 10-minute kingdom

I could crack when my mind resigned
its clumsy adherence to myths and signs.

That is what one longs for: bondage?
More headaches unsoothed by coffee mug adages?

Yes. The passion dance shakes curated frailty,
sweet haven of doubt.  Earth, the ailing,

will have.  Fold in on oneself and wait
for sanction. Breathe air of those not sated.

Where the heart is: home.  Take it on the road,
hide it in bars and tins and bottles and float

the same streets you faltered.  Never get up;
never, never get up.  Self-inflict the glorified glut,

that was your first and only haunt.  Chant the doggerels
of life everlasting where want is a tempestuous curl

stretched and springing, always springing, back
to the tight coil of madness—night and its bluest black.

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Western Tenet

Across the echo stretch of Omaha a copper hook
of moon floods the scarce wonder of my middle country.

The absent thrill of periphery, the fusing of pairs
for substance, are things I was never taught.

Close the windows, flick the radio, keep going.
Joni trumpets the pitch, billows in the lyric of night.

Music, its spastic thrall, embers in Wyoming
but the morning has a pale and clinical hum.

I carry quiet in blurred sight, but carry nonetheless,
widowed from phantom and the most harrowing charges.

Sleep is the name that burns white in Cheyenne, but this
is not travel, it is intent—A yawned song so that they may

speak my son’s name.  Lazy turbines churn above small
rivers where I pause to swim in tiny reclamations of

purchase.  Until, finally a desert, where I am
allowed soft thrashes beneath a moon, now whole.

…………………………………***

Hear the tenured moan of the philistine, learning hard amidst
strength and excuse.  Listen to cellos played and cracked clean

on a sore I-80 numbed by twilight—that wraith, that diamond,
that twisting distillation that precedes a cold glean of utterances.

Stitching great gaps in the black line behind, there is nothing left
to be cleansed but the tailor himself.  The frivolous absolution needed to

close the windows, flick the radio, keep going.

—Benjamin Evans

Read an interview with Ben Evans in the Sonora Review

Aug 252011
 

Dan Wilcox is an Albany, New York, poet, photographer and social activist. That’s him in the photo above (with the sign) at a pro-union rally in February. This the second set of author photos Dan Wilcox has published on Numéro Cinq (see the first flight here). The Arts Center of the Capital District will have an exhibit “From the World’s Largest Collection of Photos of Unknown Poets” by Dan Wilcox from September 10 thru October 15. The exhibit, all black & white prints from film, will include photos of Albany poets Tom Nattell, Mary Panza, & others, as well as Allen Ginsberg, William Kennedy, Anne Waldman & Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The Arts Center is at 265 River St. in Troy, NY, should any of you happen to be in the vicinity.

Dan has just released a new chapbook called Poeming the Prompt using poems he wrote last November in response to the Poem-a-Day challenge on Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides Blog. This little book, including his “Top Tips for Anxiety-Free Writing from Prompts,” is published by Dan’s own imprint, A.P.D. (albany’s poetic device, another pleasant day, another poeming day, etc.). He is the host of the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center in Albany and a member of the poetry performance group “3 Guys from Albany.” He has been a featured reader at all the important poetry venues in the Capital District & throughout the Hudson Valley and is an active member of Veterans for Peace. His poems have been published in Out of the Catskills, Post Traumatic Press 2007, Chronogram, Poetica and in numerous small press journals and anthologies, on the internet, as broadsides & in self-published chapbooks.t, A.P.D. (albany’s poetic device, another pleasant day, etc.). .
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Jean Valentine, Jayne Cortez, Gary Soto, Amiri Baraka, Ed Sanders & More

Photos by Dan Wilcox

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Jean Valentine, with Edward Schwarzchild & Tomas Urayoan Noel, New York State Writers Institute, Albany, NY  — November, 2010

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Jayne Cortez with Denardo Coleman, Sanctuary for Independent Media, Troy, NY  — October, 2010

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Aug 242011
 

It’s a pleasure to herald the return to these pages of Julie Larios, a friend and colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts, also part of the NC community from way back (not that NC really goes that far back, of course). These poems have a dark even macabre edge to them; the felicity of  line and phrase creates a tension with the darkness; as in life, the darkness sneaks up on you. The first poem, “A Diminished Thing,” is also a kind of structural pun. Each line “diminishes” the last word in the line above it (recommended, commended, mended, mend, men, me….).  The title is a nod to a phrase in Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird.” This is Julie’s second appearance at Numéro Cinq—see “On Reading the Poems of Someone Buried in Poet’s Corner.

Julie Larios has had poems appear in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, the Georgia Review, Field, and Margie, among others. Her libretto for a penny opera titled All Three Acts of a Sad Play Performed Entirely in Bed was recently performed as part of the VOX series by the New York City Opera. She has published four poetry picture books for children, and she teaches at the Vermont  College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

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“A Diminished Thing” and “Pincushion Doll”

Poems by Julie Larios

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A Diminished Thing

It was easy. Many recommended
me. I was praised, I was commended
for my durability, that is, I mended
fast and often. To mend
is a fine skill, all the broken men
told me.

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Pincushion Doll

That matte skin
is what bothers people most –

she’s like a ghost
with no shine, all bisque,

in need of a brisk walk
to bring the peaches to her cheeks.

But since she has no legs,
that begs the question.

Below the waist
she’s chaste, all ballast,

filled with sawdust, not a model
for anybody’s body.

The striped fan in her hands
meant to be elegant

is simply sad. Half a woman
is a bad idea.

Girl, you better tremble.
You better pray

you’ll find a way to walk,
you better have hip sockets,

knees that bend,
a bottom half at bedtime.

Otherwise, someone
will stick a pin in

and there’ll be nothing.
No cry. You’ll become

a shy lady with buttons
in a basket on your head,

a pocket for a bodkin,
a thimble, scissors,

a spool of dark thread
fastened to your back.

—Julie Larios

Aug 232011
 

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Here’s a fierce and pyrotechnic little diversion on the subjects of capitalism, masculinity, violence, movies, Space Monkeys, Tyler Durden, and Fight Club, movie and novel, from Brianna Berbenuik, a 20-something misanthropist and student of Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Brianna is an avid fan of kitschy pop-culture, terrible Nic Cage movies, the philosophy of Slavoj Zizek, and Freud. You can find her at Love & Darkness & My Side-Arm. She is no mean hand with an AK47, and her last contribution to Numéro Cinq went viral, as they say, when Bret Easton Ellis read it, liked it and tweeted it around the world (it was about, um, Bret Easton Ellis).

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We’re the All-Singing, All-Dancing Crap of the World, or:

You’re Doing It Wrong – The Fight Club Identity Crisis

By Brianna Berbenuik

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Missing the point is pretty standard fare in life. People tend to get so pumped up about Fight Club that they miss a lot about the movie. Mainly that the “Space Monkeys” are the worst fucking part.

(Although I will admit that watching Jared Leto get his face beat to pulp is kind of excellent. Maybe even better than watching Christian Bale axe him to death in the film adaptation of American Psycho.)

Fight Club is one of those movies that pretty much everyone in the Western world has seen, and a novel that most people have read (and claimed to have read prior to the film — PRO TIP: Fight Club the novel is exactly like the movie, except for alterations to like, two scenes. So no, having “read the novel” doesn’t give you any fucking cred).

So most people think that is what is being criticized, and overlook the inherent satire within the bounds of Fight Club and Project Mayhem – it is set up within the film to look like a legitimate alternative to the capitalist machine, but it is being skewered just as much as capitalism is.

Thing is, people get really fixated on the ideology of the movie, and fail to distinguish that there are two separate things going on:

1) The obvious critique and satirization of a Capitalist society, and how it is inherently repressive and one must find solace ‘outside the system’ and

2) The satirization of masculinity, and critique of masculine violence as a “positive” venue or positive manifestation of nihilist philosophy.

There are a lot of people who genuinely believe that starting violent all-male “clubs” and committing acts of terrorism are actually being touted as a solution in the Fight Club world. A hell of a lot of fight clubs began springing up after the release of the movie – a cult phenomenon. Cult is a descriptor here for a reason. The “inside joke” about Fight Club is that if you worship the general philosophy and take it legitimately seriously, you’ve entirely bypassed the point and become exactly what the movie is satirizing. Quoting Fight Club excessively does not make you edgy or intelligent (“Sticking feathers up your ass does not make you a chicken”), it just proves that you’ll fall for anything that seems remotely cool and anti-establishment. Plus, Fight Club quotes are so quippy and simple – they really elucidate nothing deeper. Durden’s one-liners (and they are abundant) are like easy-to-digest commandments that everyone clings to as profound. Funny thing about profound stuff – once it saturates the mainstream, it tends to lose its kick.

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Aug 222011
 


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Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg and lives in  Toronto. I discovered her while I was reading books for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award earlier this year, specifically her delightful first story collection Got No Secrets. These two stories are brand new, stories written in a gutsy, head-on, colloquial style about love, sex and mis-connection among the urban 20-somethings she knows so well. Her characters are all compulsively themselves, driven, probably always, to make a mess of things, but vulnerable, full of desire, and often touchingly witty.

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These stories are part of a collection of short stories, with a little poetry included that is called For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known. I had this idea a few years ago to write a collection of stories that focused on the romantic and personal relationships that I, and people I was close to had experienced. I’m only in the process of completing it now, mainly I think because I needed more time to reflect on what I’d been through recently (a divorce, the loss of a friend of many years, a big break up) It’s been genuinely therapeutic to write, and in some ways, more personal than my other two books. I was influenced the most by other short story writers and poets for this collection. Aryn Kyle’s Boys and Girls Like Me and You, Jami Attenberg’s Instant Love, Amy Jones’ What Boys Like, Rebecca Rosenblum’s Once, Lynn Crosbie (I think I reread all of her books) and the South African poet Rene Bohnen (and her book Spoorsny) were probably my biggest influences. I also listened a lot to the singer-songwriters Simon Wilcox and Amy Correia, who describe the ins and outs of relationships in a way that is so very literary and precise. —Danila Botha

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Two Stories Not-Exactly-About Love

By Danila Botha

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The Other Other

I ride the streetcar with my headphones on. I pick the loudest stuff on there: Bikini Kill, Ramones live, Metallica. I silently will the blast in my ears to blunt the thoughts in my brain. I will myself to look like a normal passenger, not some fruitcake on the verge of an anxiety attack. I get off the streetcar and navigate my way through a packed Queen East neighborhood. There’s a sidewalk full of people speaking languages I can’t identify. I make my best guesses: Arabic? Punjabi? Turkish? Cantonese? There’s a high rise apartment building that looks a pile of cement blocks. Wet laundry hangs from the balconies, flowered bed sheets and bathroom towels hang in the windows.  There’s a club with a cherry neon sign that says XXX girls. A sign underneath it in gold script reads, Lap Dances: More Bang For Your Buck. There are tv screen-sized photos of the girls in the glass window of the doorway. I find myself studying them as I stand there having a smoke. Blondes and brunettes, one redhead. Three line bios with their names and origins. Yuki is from Japan. Claudia is from Trinidad. They’re wearing lingerie or bikinis, little triangles of lace or cotton, open legs, eyes on the prize. I look closer and see some cellulite, some stretch marks, on Kelly’s (a blonde from Norway) thighs. Striking but reassuringly not perfect. A more streamlined version of some of the girls I’ve seen at university, the kind with rhinestone playboy bunnies dangling off metal studs in their bellybuttons. These girls are the real deal; sex is just a transaction to them.

There’s a 24-hour McDonald’s and a 7-11. A Coffee Crime with homeless types hanging around outside, spare a quarter, miss? I really can’t, I say, I have to take the subway, and I forgot to get a transfer. Like they care what my reason is.

It hits me like a wave: Get a lap dance, drink a Grape Crush Slurpee. Just be normal and have sex. Just do it already.

An ad for Trojans on the subway says Double Her Ecstasy. I wonder if it’ll be as good as everyone says. I chew my cuticles. In two days I bit my nails down to the quick. I knock my flip-flops together. My knees vibrate involuntarily. I try a panic attack prevention technique my therapist taught me. I look around and focus on an object. I describe it slowly in my head. This is a newspaper. It’s grey and black and white. The headline says War on Terrorism. There is a picture of George Bush, debris where the twin towers once stood. The oxygen flows more smoothly into my lungs again. I uncurl my hands from the fists they have formed.

If I decide finally to have sex today, all this worry will be over.

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