Oct 212011

Consider the photo of the author skiing in Taos (where she works as a ski instructor when she’s not writing and teaching writing) and then consider the first lines of the first poem—

When we pause at the near edge
of memory or invention and elect
not to venture further, we fail…

—and keep these in mind as you read through this gorgeous selection of poems by an author/skier who, in her maturity, has allowed herself to go over some visionary edge and both lament and glorify the universal desire for being and presence (read “desire” as absence—oh, my goodness, that beautiful lost turquoise metaphor in the first poem and the image later on of the author looking in at the village windows). Leslie Ullman manages to make the cosmic intimate and personal and vice versa.  It’s breathtaking to see a poet writing at this level of daring, elegance, and mastery.



When we pause at the near edge
of memory or invention and elect
not to venture further, we fail
to consider that invisible journeys, too,
leave dried mud and grass on our shoes;
that one can dream of waltzing with
a stranger, following every
subtle lead, and wake up happy

or be consoled by a fragrant loaf
mentioned briefly in a poem.
The vast bowl of the desert once held
an ocean we can borrow any time
we cup our minds around it like hands
around spinning clay. Once, I halted
on a winter street when I noticed the turquoise

stone had slipped from the center of my ring.
I reversed my steps and searched for hours,
peering downward for a  bit of sky,
seeing every crevice in the dark pavement
for the first time, every sodden leaf
and twig. I fingered the empty bezel, sky
filling my mind. Luminous. Parachute of blue.




Not revelation shot from the hip
by Fresh-schooled Mind  practicing its aim
on the future, or  fact Administrative
Mind wields like a mallet, never waiting
to see what wing-fragile contours
it might settle around, never accepting or
offering it like a handful of water that holds
its shape even as some leaks between the fingers

the truth, as incipience,
is rarely allowed to slip into the ear of

someone in the street talking rapidly into
an invisible phone as though talking to himself
or to settle beside him in the airport lounge
as he taps money and one-liners into
his keyboard; is rarely glimpsed sideways by
the young mother rushing in shoes that pinch,
after hours of setting plates before others, through a haze
of fumes towards the aluminum glare of the bus

she may miss; is rarely allowed presence
like a word thought before it is spoken

or a note that is less sound than an exhalation
riding the air from another latitude
long after it has signaled, from a burnished
gong, the end of a ritual meditation

or like the thick fur of an animal almost camouflaged
amid dark trees on a moonless night,
a large animal believed to be dangerous
when removed from his world, or when his world
is altered by our presence in it.



This is what you’ve longed for,
drops tapping the shingles
and the silent flowering of each word
printed on the page before you.
Water pours off the eaves and drips
on the dead leaves outside, and you
are held, held the way wood and glass
were meant to hold you. Keep
the rain. You need the privacy
tomorrow will shred to bits. Blue
rain. Streaked wind. The lamp
pulling the room around it. The book
pulling your life around it. The rain
is trying to tell you a story
of going outside and
coming back in.




—after a line by Ricardo Molinari

Ah, if only the village were so small
and I could look into others’ windows by
looking into my own cupped hands

to see what steams on their
plates, or read the spines of books
on their shelves, all those lives

to open one at a time, I might hold
the history of civilization a little closer
to my own small history—bread
passed down from the centuries, leather boots
on flagstone, couples’ first words

in the morning—not for the privacies
but as proof of the way buildings hold the countless
small movements of words and bodies
through space, and for the feeling

that I, too, am drying the cups and putting them away
or sitting at the tavern, a chessboard
open between me and the oldest inhabitant

or joining a family at their picnic on the green,
unable to distinguish myself from
the murmuring parents and noisy siblings
gathered around the cheese and pears
they have chosen, in a world

of possibilities, to set on the bright cloth.


—Leslie Ullman


Photo Credit: Peter Lamont

Leslie Ullman is a prize-winning poet, friend, colleague (at Vermont College of Fine Arts) and ski instructor (in Taos). Also a graceful, intelligent presence whenever she is around. She is Professor Emerita at University Texas-El Paso, where she taught for 25 years and started the Bilingual MFA Program. She has published three poetry collections: Natural Histories, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1979; Dreams by No One’s Daughter, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987; and Slow Work Through Sand, co-winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, University of Iowa Press, 1998. Individual poems have appeared in numerous magazine, including Poetry Magazine, The New Yorker, Arts & Letters, and Poet Lore. Her essays have been published in Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Denver Quarterly, The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, and Numéro Cinq. (Author skiing photo by Peter Lamont.)


Oct 202011
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“The Story of Panshin Beka” is a short film by Jan Kounen, made as part of the “8” project which challenged 8 directors from around the world to embody or express the 8 Millennium Development Goals adopted by 191 governments at the Millennium Summit in September 2000.

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Oct 192011

Donald Breckenridge has a story to tell you: He’s a failed-actor-turned-fiction-writer, playwright, literary activist/editor, and wine-seller who’s carving out a life for himself in New York City. Though I’ve never met Donald Breckenridge in the flesh, he’s the guy I’d like to meet for a beer. After reading his brand new novel, This Young Girl Passing (imminent from Autonomedia—see the Publishers Weekly review here; read an excerpt on NC here), it was clear to me that Breckenridge has a self-consciously intentional approach to crafting fiction, and this interview/conversation reiterates the thoughtfulness behind his work. If you haven’t met Donald Breckenridge already, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to him and his work in some small way.

Donald Breckenridge is the author of more than a dozen plays as well as the novella Rockaway Wherein (Red dust, 1998) and the novels 6/2/95 and You Are Here (Starcherone Books, 2009). In addition, he is the fiction editor of The Brooklyn Rail, co-editor of the InTranslation website and editor of the The Brooklyn Rail Fiction Anthology (Hanging Loose Press, 2006). He is working on his fourth novel.

Here is what NC Editor Douglas Glover wrote about This Young Girl Passing:

This Young Girl Passing is a deceptively short, dense, ferociously poignant novel of sexual betrayal and despair set in impoverished upstate New York, a Raymond Carver-ish milieu of never-weres and left-behinds. Breckenridge is a pointillist, constructing scene after scene with precise details of dialogue and gesture, each tiny in itself but accumulating astonishing power and bleak complexity. The novel’s triumph though is in its architecture, its skillfully fractured chronology and the deft back and forth between the two main plot lines, two desperate, sad affairs twenty years apart and the hollow echoes in the blast zone of life around them.

—Mary Stein


Our Endless Past: An Interview with Donald Breckenridge

By Mary Stein



MCS: Why don’t we start off with a little personal backstory: from thought to fruition, could you describe the gestation period of writing This Young Girl Passing? How did it compare with some of your other works?

DB: I discovered the article that this book is based on in March of ’00. It was a Saturday and I was waiting on the downtown platform at the 77st 6 train station. It was early afternoon and I was going home from my part-time wine shop job in Yorkville. I didn’t have a novel with me and there was a day-old copy of the Times on the bench. I was skimming through the NY section and I was taken immediately. The actual article is only four brief paragraphs but I knew right away that I wanted to write about it.

At the time I was writing my first novel, 6/2/95, which was a year away from being finished, so I cut out the article and put it in a drawer. I thought at the time I would turn it into a play but that didn’t happen for a host of reasons. After finishing, 6/2/95, I took a few months, March of ’01 till July of ’01, approximately, to work myself into an place that I thought would be a good beginning. I really wanted to write a book about child abuse that wasn’t autobiographical, so that’s where I began with Sarah, from her reaction to a shitty home life which is my how and why she became involved with Bill. I have never been even remotely interested in telling the real story of the actual participants in the article, that is absolutely none of my business, the truth really only belongs to the people involved. The article in the Times was simply a sketch and I let my imagination roll out from that point of departure. I began writing the first chapter that August, while my now wife, Johannah Rodgers, and I were staying in Door County, Wisconsin. We were there for 7 weeks and I’d wake up early every morning and work on this conversation that Sarah was having with Robert in the woods and in his father’s car.

All of my books begin in dialog, with a simple conversation between two people, and once that is recorded all the other information, vital or otherwise, is piled on top of that dialog. The novels all begin with dialog and all of them incorporate found news items. The gestation here was very deliberate, in that I wasn’t telling a story that was autobiographical, so I was separating myself from the story while at the same time grounding what was to become Sarah in this wounded and romantic landscape.

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