Jan 222016


Saw the play for the last time last night then closed the Epicure with Jonathan Fisher, the excellent Anishinaabe actor who plays Itslk, with audience members coming up to the table and chatting to us. A most pleasant way to pass the time.

Here’s another review, somewhat more thoughtful and appreciative of Severn as an actress.


The virtue of Glover’s novel and of Thompson’s adaptation is its satire.  When Elle is rescued she notes that Portuguese and Basque fishermen have been coming to Canada long before the French “discovered” it and claimed it for their own.  That Elle survives longer in the wilderness than the French government-supported colony is itself a critique of colonists’ inability to adapt and learn from their surroundings.  In its anti-male satire, Elle may call herself “frivolous” but her tennis-playing lover is hopelessly impractical and is the first to die.  In ints religious satire, Elle, once a fervent Catholic, begins praying to both her god and the natives’ and finally to none. 

The role that Elle provides is a juicy one for Thompson and ideally suited to her strengths.  Her wry delivery makes the satire all the more trenchant.  Her ability to convey a character’s strength beneath her own view of herself as vulnerable is perfect for Elle’s situation.  Thompson has always been an insightful interpreter of words, but here she has a chance to display her equally superlative skills at mime and physical theatre.  The Elle she creates changes before us from a self-centred society-oriented aristocrat to simply a lone human being with the one simple wish to survive.  

Jonathan Fisher, who primarily adds live guitar music to Lyon Smith’s highly effective soundscape, is a taciturn, self-contained Itslk, welcome as an unromanticized First Nations character.  His presence in what it otherwise a one-woman show is important for embodying the show’s critique against the European colonization of the New World as if it were not already inhabited.  Physically, the playing area already is inhabited before Elle becomes aware of it. 

Designer Jennifer Goodman has reconfigured Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace into a narrow thrust stage bringing Thompson very close to the audience, the peninsular stage helping to depict both the isolation of the ship and later the isolation of the island.  Goodman’s set is a giant bony structure that looks very much like the skeleton of left hand or left paw threatening those on stage.  Yet, depending on the lighting, it can also look like the inside of the cave where Elle seeks refuge or the ribs of the hut Itslk helps to build.  Brubaker makes very imaginative use of a large piece of cloth that can be a sail, a tent or, most remarkably, the skin of the bear into which Elle transforms herself.

Click here to read the rest at Stage Door.

Jan 212016

doireann imram 2014 3


Thrilled for Doireann Ní Ghríofa who featured in Uimhir a Cúig back in its early days. A bilingual poet, her first English language collection of poetry, Clasp (Dedalus Press), has been shortlisted for the prestigious Irish Times Poetry Now Prize. This year’s shortlist of five includes four women and one man – read more here. The award worth €2,000 recognises the best collection by an Irish poet in the previous year. Doireann is in some mighty company including Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Medbh McGuckian. Previous winners of the prize include Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, Sinéad Morrissey, and Dennis O’Driscoll.


You can read Doireann’s poems (some in both Irish and English) and watch her video collaborations with Peter Madden here.

—Gerard Beirne

Jan 212016


When Severn Thompson read the novel Elle four years ago she had no idea that this story would capture her imagination for years to come. The Governor General’s Award-winning novel written by Douglas Glover is based on the true story of Marguerite de Roberval. Marguerite, along with her lover and nurse, were marooned by her uncle the Sieur de Roberval on the Isle of Demons in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Thompson spent the last three years adapting and workshopping Elle before bringing it to Theatre Passe Muraille. “It struck me as so refreshing to find a female voice from a time I had heard very little about, in the very early days of the explorers in the mid 1500’s,” says Thompson. “I felt very close to her [the character]. The story crossed 500 years very easily for me. It brought the past to the present.”

Read the rest at In the Greenroom.

Jan 212016


Another review that’s positive despite not being able to keep The Revenant out of the lead. Jesus wept. :)


The biggest story in the film world right now includes hypothermia, parenthood, bear attacks and Leonardo DiCaprio’s potential first Oscar win in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant. Who knew its companion piece would be revealed at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, and that Hollywood’s favourite movie would share so many similarities with a story foundational to the creation of Canada.

In Elle, which had its world premiere this week at Passe Muraille directed by Christine Brubaker, writer and actor Severn Thompson adapts Douglas Glover’s 2003 novel of the same name into a mostly solo performance that weaves feminism, survival instincts, colonialism and magic realism together.

Read the rest at The Toronto Star.

Jan 202016


Here’s another review by a man who seems to think everything would be better as a movie and reviews the play as if it were a text and not a series of scenes and tableau-like images that, as the play wears on, remind you more of German Expressionist theatre than what he inappropriately calls “magic realism.” He makes no mention of the theatricality of the play. His descriptive vocabulary is minimal. “Tense” — what does that mean? And he obviously hasn’t read the novel. This is typical of a certain withered Toronto provincialism that equates the Academy Awards with the acme of our culture and thinks that by mentioning them you mark yourself as hip and in the know. :)

What can you expect from a newspaper that so badly read the mood of the country as to endorse Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in the last election? And we all know how that went down.


A white person left for dead in the North American wilderness in the days of conquest and colonization. A highly symbolic encounter with a bear – and local indigenous peoples. An epic journey of survival across a frozen landscape seeking revenge.

No, it’s not The Revenant, the Alejandro Iñárritu film leading this year’s Oscar nominations. It’s Elle, Douglas Glover’s 2003 Governor-General’s Award-winning novel – now transformed into an occasionally tense, but frequently funny play by the actress Severn Thompson.

Read the rest at The Globe and Mail.

Jan 202016

Here’s a review excerpt.

In his program note, Andy McKim, Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, references author Douglas Glover (who wrote the book on which the play is based): “It was remarkable that she (Elle) survived by herself when the large expedition brought to colonize Canada by (her uncle) and Jacques Cartier couldn’t succeed. (Perhaps) her motives were somehow purer, that she was closer in her attitudes to what we might call the forces of life, and this allowed her also to be more open to native culture.” Or it could just simply be that Marguerite de Roberval (Elle) was one resourceful woman who knew how to suck it up, use what was available to her and embrace and respect her surroundings and survive.

Severn Thompson has adapted Douglas Glover’s book so that it lives on the stage. The language is eloquent and poetic. At one point Elle refers to “endless misty vistas.” I certainly don’t mind spending time in a theatre if I can listen to poetic lines like that, delivered with as much passion and life as Severn Thompson imbues in Elle.

Read the rest @The Slotkin Letter

Jan 202016

So, okay, first night. Spectacular, magical. Standing ovation, curtain calls. A transformation of my novel for sure. But Severn Thompson was born to play Elle, the headstrong girl. Funny, passionate, poignant. A bravura performance, a woman holding us mesmerized for 90 minutes. Stunning visual effects, but theatre, cheap computer generated effects. The moment when she falls through the ice, amazing lighting effects, a column of light flickering as if water. Transforming into a bear using a lengthy sheet of gold material pulled against her body, her raised hands clawing against it (just amazing what theatre people can do with a sheet). Terribly poignant opening up of the play with the entrance of Jonathan Fisher as Itslk. Scene after scene, image after image. The scene where the baby Emmanuel dies. OMG. I don’t think many authors get a chance to see someone make another work of art of their own creation. And fewer still can be so pleased and moved and feel that such homage has been paid. I am going to bed now. Tomorrow I will resume my habitual sardonic mask. But tonight I was moved. Go see the play if you can.


Buy tickets here!





Buy tickets here!

Jan 182016

publicity photo

Theatre Passe Muraille Artistic Director Andy McKim is going to do an onstage interview with dg at 6:45 Wednesday night just prior to the play performance at 7:30. This is a regular TPM feature called Eggrolls with Andy. It takes place on the cabaret stage on the balcony (near the bar). We’ll be talking about the novel, my female narrator, colonization, and various issues of indigeneity raised in the book.

Official premiere tomorrow night, January 19.

That’s at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto.

Box Office: 416 504 7529.

Buy tickets here!





Buy tickets here!

Jan 172016


Rob Reid’s an old friend of some newspaper cronies of mine from days gone by. He’s been following and reviewing my work for ages. This piece has the added virtue of presenting some background material on the actress Severn Thompson who adapted my novel for the stage and is playing Elle.


I became a Douglas Glover fan in 1983 after reading Precious while working at the Brantford Expositor. Brantford is not far from where the writer was born in Simcoe, Ont. — I worked at the Simcoe Reformer before The Expositor. He was raised on a tobacco farm outside of nearby Waterford. Since then I have eagerly anticipated each new novel or, later, work of non-fiction. He has become my favourite postmodern, metafictional novelist — to think, our very own homegrown Italo Calvino.

Read the rest at Rob Reid’s Between the Lines: Elle Hitting the Boards.

Buy tickets here!





Buy tickets here!

Jan 142016

SevernSevern Thompson, a.k.a. Elle

Severn emailed me last night after dress rehearsal to say it went really well. Each iteration of the play builds on the rest. Last night was the first time with an audience, small, yes. A dress rehearsal.

Also yesterday Now ran a small piece on Severn and the play. The writer made a nice nod to my joke about Elle’s boyfriend being a tennis pro (in 1542).

Severn is quoted as saying:

“The book brought to life an early chapter of Canadian history. From the start I saw it as a staged piece, since the character expresses herself in a contemporary way that I could relate to,” Thompson says. “She might not be much more than a sidebar in history, but in this story she’s constantly saying, ‘Look at me, be aware that I exist.’

Yes, that was the point. Severn has consistently been one of my best readers.

Read the rest of the interview @Now.









Buy tickets here!

Elle by Douglas Glover

Jan 142016


Electrocution, suicide, heart attack, murder. All things actor / producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt, singer Joseph Ruddleston, and a rowdy bar of folks can sing along to in the music video for “Adieu.” This animated video brings together death, joy, and raucous bar singing, all while meditating on the impermanence of life, love, and other people. Drinking with strangers with accordions helps take the sting off all this mortality, a little sweet for the bitter. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.56.33 PM

“Adieu” is the product of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “open collaborative production company” hitRECord, a unique project, crowdsourcing talent and extras and clips to make a collaborative finished product. According to the stats at the start of this film, “Adieu” is the product of many submissions: 15 video, 1896 images, 1 test, 6 audio records out of 2557 contributions. Here, for example, you can see how Joseph Gordon-Levitt solicited the necessary deaths.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.49.49 PM

To get a real sense of what these collaborations accomplish, first check out Ruddleston’s (username JoeRud on hitRECord) original track, sans harmonies, other instruments, and the various animations that compose the video for the song. More than once Gordon-Levitt uses the word “whimsy” to describe the sorts of death scenes he wished to crowd source from hitRECord contributors. If you visit the collaborative site you can see the pieces that didn’t quite make the cut.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.50.00 PM

The collage of animations here adds to the whimsy of the song, the various animations (rotoscoping, claymation, etc)  throwing us into a more emotional and psychological register here. If all these death scenes were left depicted with the realistic video footage submitted, the tone of the piece would be a lot more dark and painful – we would not be allowed a distance in which to feel whimsy and would be less able to make light of death.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.50.13 PM

The montage structure also helps this: we see death after death of characters we have not met until the moment of their (often comical) demise and this prevents us from over identifying or caring too deeply. The point here, too, is the sheer number of deaths; dying is the most natural thing in this short film. Drinking and singing loudly in French along with (or in the face of) those deaths becomes second nature. “La la la” here is more than a drinking song, it’s the call of strangers across the bar, across the ether, people disconnected connecting over social media and youtube to create a bittersweet chorus.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.50.29 PM

The singer songwriter behind the song, Ruddleston, describes himself on his site as “an Indie Folk singer-songwriter, creating songs of heart-breaking humility. His music is the belief that honesty and vulnerability is what it takes to connect with people.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.49.46 PM

That vulnerability is infectious: it found Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord, found the online collaborative world of people who would embrace the vulnerability, contribute art, lend harmonies, feign death, and sing at the top of their lungs. Sing together to say goodbye.

— R. W. Gray


Jan 132016

Jacket Photo 2015

White Brothers Dairy Farm

White Brothers Dairy Farm


Drought field of Iowa cornDrought-stricken field of Iowa corn


Every Sunday during Mass, our priest prays for rain. He prays for the health of Pope John Paul II, he prays for peace with Russia, and he prays for the sick to be healed.

His last prayer on the list: we pray for rain for the farmers.

The congregation answers in unison: Lord, hear our prayer.

It is the summer of 1983, and St. Mary Magdalene’s Church is in the small town of Bloomfield in southeastern Iowa, a few miles from the Missouri border, an area hard hit by a drought called the worst in a half-century.

Father Wilkening’s prayer for rain goes on for weeks.

During the Universal Prayer, I sit in the hard wooden front pew, my mother’s unfailingly devout seating choice, squeezed between my older sister and brother. Each time Father Wilkening begins the series, I close my eyes and press my palms together beneath my chin, and pray. But in my selfish little eight-year-old heart, I don’t care about the Pope. I don’t care about peace with Russia. I don’t care about the sick.

I care about the rain.

Farm Crisis Manual

I pray for the rain when I’m in church. I pray for the rain at night in my bed before I go to sleep. I pray for the rain when I play outside beneath the broiling hot Midwestern sky. I pray for the rain when I walk across the dry, brown soil that turns to powder beneath my bare feet. This is the dirt of my father’s and my uncle’s farm, my grandfather’s farm before it was theirs.

Sometimes, I see my father’s ruddy face, creased, worried, as he stands in the yard and studies his cornfields that have become a mass of stunted brown and yellow stalks with nubby, kernel-less cobs. I shade my eyes with my dirty farm kid hands and study the fields with him. I turn to the clear blue west where I know clouds are supposed to form, and I pray, Please bring rain. Please water the corn. Please refill the creeks and ponds. Please save us.

But the clouds do not form. The rain does not come.

This goes on for months.

Finally, a small afternoon storm arrives with a steady downpour, a few cracks of thunder and splinters of lightning. I splash barefoot in the puddles, letting the raindrops beat the top of my head and soften my curls to silk. My hand-me-down T-Shirt and cutoff jeans become soaked and stick to my skin as I dance and play in the water and catch more raindrops on my tongue. It is rain, at last.

But then, my father’s face. Still creased. Still worried.

It’s not enough, he says, shaking his head.

I don’t understand. It’s rain, I say.

One little storm, it’s not enough, he repeats.

Kali's First Communion, age 8Kali’s First Communion



That fall, Father Wilkening continues to pray for rain. Our tiny parish of barely twenty-five families—few of them farmers—don’t care about the rain as much as I do, I’m sure of it. All they worry about are their dead, crunchy lawns or the low, brackish lake where they want swim. My mother unfailing writes a check every week to put in the church collection plate, and I pray twice as hard to equally do my part.

Soon, farmers around us quit farming. Sometimes there are auctions and crowds and the families cry when their tractors and wagons are driven away, their tools picked over. Sometimes the farmers just leave. One day a kid is at school in the desk next to me, the next day he is gone. I don’t know where they go.

I hear my father and my uncle speak in numbers and vocabulary I don’t yet understand. Twenty-five to thirty-five bushels an acre for harvest compared to a normal yield of one-hundred and twenty five. Land values down four percent. Cattle prices down. Milk prices down. Bankruptcies and tax delinquencies up. Five hundred public farm auctions a month.

The Channel 5 news anchor talks about the Caterpillar Tractor Company plant in Burlington, Iowa shutting down. He talks about 20,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the eastern half of the state. He talks about John Deere laying off workers by the thousands. My best friend’s father works for John Deere.

The nightly news terrifies me.

I double my prayer efforts.

In September, a bank in town closes. The 112-year-old, three-story brick Exchange Bank on the northeast corner of the square with the plush red carpet and sparkly chandelier in the lobby. One day without warning the green blinds are drawn over the tall windows of the ground floor, and there is a hasty, hand-written “out-of-order” sign hanging on the night depository chute. Customers wander by the “closed” sign taped to the front door. Farmers pull on the brass handle only to find it locked. They try to peek through the covered windows before giving up and wandering a few doors down to a café, confused, disbelieving. They order a cup of coffee at the counter and sit because they don’t know where else to go.

Bloomfield Exchange BankBloomfield Exchange Bank

No one realized it wasn’t insured, I hear my parents say, and I don’t know what that means.

We’re not depositors at The Exchange Bank, though. Our money is in the other bank across town and I am so grateful that I say a prayer of thanks our bank belongs to something I hear about for the first time, the FDIC, whatever that is.

I hear the names of families who lost money in the Exchange Bank. I know their kids. We go to school together. Sometimes I steal glances at their faces in class and wonder, did you pray enough for your bank when you were in church on Sunday? And I feel smug, because I prayed, and my bank had the FDIC.

I get my third grade school picture taken but my mother does not order copies to save money. Two months later, my teacher old Mrs. Judd hands me a packet of printed pictures anyway. I don’t know why. We didn’t pay for them. The bank closing, it seems, has confused everything.



Our little town is on the local news. Then the national news. The New York Times writes about us. I listen with my father to Peter Jennings on ABC, on our Channel 5 that is always snowy. He reports that there are 424 uninsured banks in the United States. Four are in Iowa. One, is in my town. And it is already closed.

At church, Father Wilkening prays for rain, and now for the families who had money in the Exchange Bank.

After the bank closes, the brick building sits empty. After a while, it becomes a sandwich shop, then a pizza joint, and other businesses I can’t remember because they come and go so fast. The popular bank president leaves town with his wife and two handsome teenage boys. My sister had a crush on the younger one. They never come back. I don’t know where they go.

Diamondz PizzaThe exchange bank turned into Diamondz Pizza

In the winter of 1984, the Davis County High School boys’ varsity basketball team has a winning season and makes it to the state tournament. Our town finally has some good news. Something to celebrate. The boys on the team are heroes and there is a city-wide pep rally. Father Wilkening prays on Sunday for the boys to have a safe trip to Des Moines, and for a win. The school prints T-shirts that say “Davis County Too Tough To Die” like The Ramone’s album, though I don’t know who The Ramones are. My mother buys shirts for me and my sister and brother. They have gold sleeves and maroon lettering and our galloping mustang mascot on the chest. Giant “Too Tough To Die” billboards are erected on Highway 2 and Highway 63, greeting motorists as they come and go from our town.

Good Morning America hears about our uninsured bank that closed, and about our basketball ball team going to the state tournament, about our T-Shirts and billboards, and they come to our little town because we’re suddenly interesting.

They film kids wearing the T-shirts in front of the west side of county courthouse—a beautiful gothic building in the center of the town square that makes a perfect backdrop for the camera shot. I am there wearing my gold and maroon T-shirt, and my neighbor Jessica hoists me up for the camera because I am too short and lost in the crowd. On three, we all shout “Davis County! Too tough to die!” and cheer while the camera rolls. Joan Lunden tells the story of Bloomfield and our bank and our basketball team, and I get up early to watch, before the bus comes to take me to school. For the first time in my life I see myself on television, a tiny speck in my neighbor Jessica’s arms. I’m smiling and look happy.

Joan talks about us for only a few minutes, and then we go back to the forgotten middle of nowhere. Our boys don’t win the state basketball tournament.

Seasons pass. Harvests. Calvings. Powdery earth still beneath my feet.

Depositors at the Exchange Bank never get their money back. The drought persists. More farmers leave. A few, I overhear in terrifying whispers, go out into their barns and shoot themselves.

A protest group comes to our little town. They assemble white wooden crosses and plant them in the yard of the courthouse, the exact same spot where I smiled and cheered for Good Morning America. One cross for every farm foreclosed in our county. There are dozens and dozens of the haunting white ghosts.

White Crosses on Courthouse LawnsWhite crosses on the courthouse lawn.

West Side of the Davis County CourthouseDavis County Courthouse

Nothing, it occurs to me, has changed. I’m sorry that I smiled and cheered for Good Morning America.

Father Wilkening leaves and we get a new priest. Father Gottemaller. He also prays for rain. My mother gets a part time job at the liquor store on the square to help make extra money. She still writes a check to the church every Sunday.

Only now, the checks make me angry. I don’t trust money anymore.



At last, a spring planting season brings rain. Not just one isolated rain shower, but weeks and weeks of rain, and the ponds and lakes refill, the grass turns green, the creeks swell, and I dance barefoot in the puddles and cry Hallelujah! My family’s farm is saved.

Flooded creek and fileds on my dad's farmFlooded creek on my father’s farm

But then, my father’s face. Still creased. Still worried.

It’s too much, he says, shaking his head.

I don’t ask him what he means, because this time I understand. This is how it will always be. Too much. Not enough. Too tough to die.

The next Sunday, Father Gottemaller prays for the rain to stop, for the flooded creeks to subside, and for the swamped fields to dry out so the farmers can plant their crops.

My mom writes her check. But I don’t pray.

I am a farm crisis kid now.

I don’t trust money. I don’t trust the sky.

—Kali VanBaale


Kali 3rd Grade School Picture

Kali VanBaale’s debut novel, The Space Between earned an American Book Award, the Independent Publisher’s silver medal for fiction, and the Fred Bonnie Memorial First Novel Award. Her second novel, The Good Divide, is forthcoming June 2016. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Milo Review, Northwind Literary, The Writer and several anthologies. Kali holds an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives outside Des Moines with her husband and three children.


Jan 122016


Here’s an image the director Christine Brubaker posted on her Twitter feed earlier this afternoon. Just amazing to see my words made into a physical thing. And so beautiful.

Previews start Thursday, January 14. The official premiere is January 19, but, as I said, earlier that’s sold out.

I’ll be doing an onstage interview before the January 20th performance.

This is at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto.

Buy tickets HERE.



Jan 122016



Severn Thompson’s adaptation of my novel Elle goes up at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille this week, preview performances start Thursday. The official world premiere is January 19, already sold out. I’ll be there. And then I will participate in an onstage interview the second night, January 20.

Severn is a wonderful, magical actress. Two years ago she did a trial performance from the opening of the novel in a bare room above a bar in Toronto. Jonah and I were there. It was entrancing. Jonah kept punching me in the shoulder, whispering, “You wrote that!” Severn was doing a monologue in period costume, no other decor but for a straight backed chair, which she was having sex with (some of you will remember that opening scene).

I’ve been watching the script develop. After getting over the initial shock of seeing my 180 pages  shrunk to about 45 pages, I’ve been fascinated, enthralled. The novel to stage adaptation process is not easy AT ALL. But Severn has found her own rhythm and line and the last draft gave me a thrill. Something really happening there. And with her charm and skill as an actress, not to mention the stage effects they have been working on, this should be an extravagant delight.

Watch the Theatre Passe Muraille Facebook page here. Twitter hashtag #ElleTO.




Buy tickets here!

Elle by Douglas Glover

Jan 122016
Version 2

Tomoé Hill


MOST FIRST MEMORIES of perfume for girls come from female relations—mothers, grandmothers, aunts. The cluster of bottles on the vanity, a drop on the back of the hand, or the cloud of scent that was the final touch of magical adult rite of getting dressed up to go somewhere fancy. Mine came solely from my father. My mother, who is Japanese and doesn’t like what she considers ‘loud’ scents, never showed anything but polite interest. To her, loud was anything but the scent of one’s own skin and soap, although later she professed a nostalgic love for L’air du Temps soap—a soft aldehydic floral—something one of her older sisters in Japan would occasionally buy for her. This polite interest extended to occasional gifts bestowed on her by my father or myself and my sister: an expensive bottle of Guerlain’s famous oriental, Shalimar; a less expensive bottle of Revlon’s aldehydic floral Charlie; and Bluebell by Victoria’s Secret. Instead, I became the one who found myself in love with scents, thanks to my father. One of my first memories was of him getting ready in the morning: like a magician’s trick, I never actually saw the process, only the before and after. I would watch him enter the bathroom tired and emerge sometime later from a cloud of steam, awake and smelling of old-fashioned shaving soap, Listerine and cologne. Observing his life through scent made me interested in the real and made up stories behind them; the ritual of buying, giving and wearing it; and later, how personal chemistry and scent are so entwined in the magic of attraction.

I would sit across from my father at the square oak kitchen table and watch him quietly as he added dried and fresh lavender and sandalwood to an alcohol mixture, steeping them for days, maybe even weeks before straining out the original ingredients and transferring the liquid by way of a small silver funnel into old crystal stopper bottles he would find at antique stores. He was no perfumer, but he was curious about everything and possessed a fantastic talent to create; if something captured his imagination, he would want to try and duplicate it. So besides bottles of handmade cologne, he made a beautiful working harp for my sister, and a large teak draughtman’s board for me, as well as numerous elaborately carved walking sticks for himself and jewellery for all of us—he wore a carved red coral hand on a silver chain for years; it was only when I was almost thirty that I discovered there was an original, when I was in the Residenz museum in Munich. Aside from curiosity, a lot of this was born from not having much money; so the beautiful things he wanted for himself or for us, he made, as even good materials were cheap enough to come by as scrap back in the 80s.

But my love of scent then was not just from those memories; it also came from his small row of bottles that lined a glass shelf in the bathroom. When he had some money to spare, there was Puig’s mossy-leather Quorum; Geoffrey Beene’s green floral Grey Flannel; or Lagerfeld Classic, an oriental-tobacco. When he didn’t, there was Florida Water—the stuff Scarlett O’Hara washes her mouth out with to cover the scent of brandy in Gone With the Wind. They all smelled mysterious and elaborate in their own way, and he would teach me to pick out individual ‘notes’ and commit them to memory, so I could always identify them: lavender, violet, Mysore sandalwood (sadly now almost non-existent in perfumery—scarcity due to overuse) and bergamot, among many others. He would tell me about colognes he had owned in the past with fondness, thinking them gone forever. Just based on notes and some bottle descriptions, I would later use the internet and the knowledge I accumulated through my own experience to find them and surprise him with them as Christmas gifts: Guerlain’s Eau Impériale, a floral citrus cologne created for Empress Eugénie, and Puig’s Agua Lavanda, a lavender-rosemary cologne supposedly used by Frank Sinatra.

His joy was so great that I would seek out scents I thought he would like: soon his bathroom cabinet (now that my sister and I had moved out and left it full of space) was stocked with more bottles than any Old Hollywood starlet’s vanity. When I discovered Crown Perfumery, brought back to life temporarily by the Clive Christian brand, I bought bottles of Sandringham, a floral-woody scent and Sumare, a mossy-leather as well as Eau de Quinine, Spiced Limes, and Eau de Russe—all variations on the traditional eau de cologne. Eau de Russe he objected to at first due to its sweet, powdery heliotrope. Thanking me on the phone, he said: “but kid, how can I go around smelling like a sugar cookie?” To which I told him: let the note evolve, think of it in the larger context of the scent in order to appreciate it. Very soon he grew to love it. He also found he loved a slightly bitter orange, so I bought him Creed Orange Spice, an orange-ambergris scent and L’Aromarine Orange Santal et Petitgrain. When he died we buried him with a bottle of Eau Impériale, and after he was gone, the one thing my mother couldn’t do was get rid of his scents; they still sit on the shelves and she sniffs them on the days she misses him more than she can bear.

All these scents were a bit exotic and perhaps a bit too elegant for our small Midwestern city. In these parts men wore Coty Stetson, Faberge Brut, Dana English Leather, and of course, Old Spice.

He would sometimes go to Chicago, our nearest large cosmopolitan city, to indulge one of his favourite hobbies: antique shopping (also, it was the only place at the time he could find Muelhens 4711, his preferred cologne). There were quite a few good shops in a large gay neighbourhood near Wrigley Field, and my father, then in his 50s, silver crew cut and moustache, immaculately dressed and always wearing a heavy leather jacket, wafting exquisitely fancy cologne, made not a few men swoon and ask him what he was wearing. He would proudly respond with the name of the scent and tell his admirer ‘my eldest daughter bought it for me’, to which they would swoon again and compliment both of us on our taste. He encouraged my own growing love for perfume, never telling me something was too grown up for me. He would sniff my purchases—our only real source for good perfumes was TJ Maxx, where you could pickup up department store overstock fairly cheaply—and tell me what he liked about them. There isn’t a memory of us being together where I don’t remember what he was wearing. The very last time I saw him was at Heathrow after he came to visit; he wore his beloved 4711 and I wore Trussardi Skin, a fruity-musky wood scent.

I started my own exploration by going to the local drugstore, riding there on my bicycle every week with my allowance to sniff the bottles of Revlon Intimate Musk, the floral-oriental Xia Xiang, Alyssa Ashley Musk and White Musk. Later on when I was allowed to go to the mall with my friends in junior high, I discovered Parfums de Coeur Skin Musk, The Body Shop’s fruity-oriental Ananya and White Musk. Now, white musks are everywhere and tend to smell like fabric softeners, but then, they smelled exotic. These were the height of teenage sex appeal, but not the height of sophistication; that was reserved for the perfumes in ads in Seventeen magazine, all the perfumes that were sold at the brightly lit glass and chrome department store counters where our mothers bought their Estée Lauder and Clinique. This was adult territory, something that held us in awe. My best friend at the time existed on a higher perfume plane than the rest of us: her mother was a perfume fanatic and when she got bored, she would hand them down to her daughters. They quickly accumulated bottles upon bottles of scents like Chanel No. 19, a sharp green leathery floral; Estée Lauder Private Collection, another sharp green floral; Yves Saint Laurent’s famous spicy-oriental Opium, and the rich floral Givenchy Ysatis: undeniably glamorous scents that suggested mystery and intrigue and had us pretending in front of mirrors that we were Jerry Hall, Paulina Porizkova or Carla Bruni.

Seventeen in the 80s contained ads for scents like Prescriptives Calyx, a beautiful tropical green-fruity (guava) scent, slightly bitter, but completely lush—even the ad, simple as it was, was evocative: rich green leaves shadowing a bottle. There was a very high-low mix of advertising: on one page you would find Parfums de Coeur’s ‘Designer Imposters’ sprays in a can—the cheap equivalent of the expensive scents our mothers wore (except mine) with ‘similar’ names: Calvin Klein Obsession was ‘Confess’, Giorgio Beverly Hills was ‘Primo’. We oversprayed in the locker rooms with gleeful abandon—these scents were the female ur-Lynx—although we didn’t attract anyone as much as choke them with clouds of cheap perfume. This ad would then be next to Chanel Coco, when Inès de la Fressange was still a favourite model of Karl Lagerfeld’s—before Vanessa Paradis’ famous bird-in-a-gilded-cage ad campaign—she would be decadently draped in ropes of faux pearls, photographed in profile in black and white. Like Calyx, the simplest of ads, but one that had a huge impact.

I ended up with quite a little collection of my own by the time I was out of high school: Fendi Asja, a rich oriental in a black and gold stripe lacquer style bottle; Calvin Klein Escape, a fruity-ozonic; Dior Poison, a dangerous dark fruit and tuberose scent with an equally mesmerising ad: all dark colours, a woman with closed eyes wrapped like a desert nomad in black and midnight blue proffering a bottle with the tagline “Poison is my potion”; Jean Couturier Coriandre, a herbal-rose chypre (chypre meaning Cyprus, a reference to the great scent Chypre by Coty: chypre scents are usually identified by bergamot/citrus at the top and an oakmoss base—sadly, due to IFRA restrictions, true chypres are almost non-existant and are usually a cleaned up thin patchouli-tree moss base, although Guerlain Mitsouko, another famous chypre, has undergone a very loving reformulation under restrictions); and Chanel Coco, the most beautiful oriental of them all. Thanks to the Inès de la Fressange ads, I pestered my father for some until one Christmas a small, elegant wax-sealed bottle of extrait in a black and gold box appeared under the tree. I broke the seal very carefully and dabbed it on: clove, orange blossom, amber and opoponax; heady and velvety, it made me feel like the most sophisticated of women at 16. My father sniffed and nodded approval, adding with typical understatement: “you smell alright, kid.”

Besides these, there were small bottles of various musk oils to be dabbed on, not sprayed. This was a ritual—musks sometimes came in oil form while most other perfumes did not; Coty Wild Musk, The Body Shop versions, Alyssa Ashley, Parfums de Coeur—all offered tiny 7.5ml or 15ml bottles. There was clearly an unspoken understanding with musk: it was potent, it was animalistic, it was sexy, but it was also a secret. Keep it close to the skin, and whoever was interested in you would have to lean in to catch your scent. One of the reasons Revlon’s Intimate Musk captivated me in the drugstore all those years ago was the packaging illustration: a couple in primary red, entwined in an embrace. Sex was an abstract concept for me at the time, and I as looked at the bottle and smelled the scent of musk on my skin, I could sense something I didn’t quite understand, but liked nevertheless. An 80s ad for Parfums de Coeur Skin Musk had the tagline “Skin on Skin”, the accompanying picture a close-up of a young woman’s face, her body—even though not shown—clearly meant to convey nakedness, as she embraced a faceless man. Recalling it, I found it on the internet and examined it closely. Her face has what can only be described as a damp, post-coital glow: even though her eyes are closed, the look on her face has an ecstasy about it, her full reddened lips parted and the blond tendrils of her hair pressed underneath the man’s hand. You can practically smell the sex. On the advertisement there is an offer for a free poster with purchase—I wonder how many parents tore it off bedroom walls, immediately understanding the blatant suggestiveness with the experience of years their daughters did not have.

Some people stay true to a single perfume for their entire lives; it is a deep emotional attachment as strong as any with a person. Others are completely indifferent to perfume and see it as something that should be put on for a special occasion—as a completion to the outfit, but have no real interest. All perfume is the same to them. Still others change specifically to mark major life moments: marriage, children. And some of us constantly change: we change because memories are too heavy for us to keep wearing a certain scents, because we like having an assortment to choose from; each different mood requiring a different scent, and because we simply are too interested in the various beautiful creations out there. I find that I shift in periods of a few years, with a few favourites out of whatever my collection at the time consists of. In the later 90s, I mainly wore Freesia and also the original Victoria by Victoria’s Secret. The latter was rather description defying, by my standards. It was probably a powdery oriental, but I could never think about it rationally, except in hindsight. In my mind, it was the scent of sex—although that may have had more to do with Stephanie Seymour and Frédérique van der Wal being the eye-popping embodiment of Amazonian femininity in the catalogues. Sometimes I switched over to men’s scents and wore Halston Catalyst, a wood and spice scent in a bottle that looked like a lab flask. A woman wearing a masculine scent appeals to the man in the same way wearing nothing but one of his shirts does: it takes the masculine and imbues it with a hyper-sexuality that comes from feminine possession.

By the time the early 00s came around, I wore Gucci Envy, a sharp metallic lily of the valley scent, icily sexual, CK Be (superior to the more famous CK One), and Guerlain Samsara. I found the latter in one of the many tax-free perfume shops in Guernsey just after Christmas in 1999, when it was still loaded with Mysore sandalwood: heady, hypnotic, and wreaking havoc on my mild asthma, although I stubbornly clung to the bottle for years. Then came the niche perfumes from the independent/small perfumers who created interesting offbeat scents that you couldn’t find in the mainstream. Some of the better known were Philosykos from Diptyque, a dry cedar and fig scent, the fig almost having a coconut aspect to it (my favourite was their Opône, discontinued and brought back to life, although the original was richer: a dark, almost masculine rose and saffron scent), and L’artisan Parfumeur, best known for Mûre et Musc, a light blackberry and musk scent that for anyone who grew up in North America in the 80s, smelled of Strawberry Shortcake doll heads. Most famous of the niche brands is still probably Serge Lutens, an almost mythic character who used to create makeup for Dior and was an art director for Shiseido, producing the most beautiful images of women that looked almost alien—otherworldly, ultra-stylised creatures. There is a legend told by one of his models that they decided to recreate Nero and the burning of Rome, and set the studio on fire in the process. He and Christopher Sheldrake (the latter was the perfumer, the former more the creative director) were responsible for some of the most unique scents in niche: Rahät Loukoum, the scent of Turkish Delight, the almost cherry sweetness of almond and powdered sugar, and Muscs Koublaï Khän, a scent that revolts some and seduces others depending on their tolerance for musk and civet. It is worth noting that musk, civet and castoreum used in perfumery now is all synthetic—or at least in Western perfumery.

I’ve bought and sold so many bottles during this time I can’t even count: as I got bored of one I would sell it to fund another. I amassed a collection that I studied, and when I realised that I didn’t wear them so much as analyse them, I sold them all and didn’t buy anything but small sample vials when I wanted to learn about new ones. The fact is, there is so much out there now that I couldn’t keep up unless it was a full-time job. With IFRA regulations and mainstream companies tweaking formulations constantly to keep profits high while they sell more and many niche brands raising prices to new unaffordable levels, a lot of it isn’t as interesting as it used to be. As far as vintage collecting is concerned, not only does it require a huge amount of patience but it’s a huge gamble. You have to be appreciative of the fact that aside from the possibility of people faking/adulterating contents of bottles, natural degradation means often you end up with a bottle where the only really discernible part of the perfume end up being the base (although if you want to study perfumes from the 30s, 40s or 50s this still yields a lot of rewards). Sometimes it’s worth it: struck by an almost aching nostalgia to smell some vintage 80s Colors de Benetton for Women, I hunted down the original black top splash bottle on Ebay. There was a bit of degradation, but not so much that the beautiful rich orange blossom and basil top notes that hit my nose didn’t fill me with a rush of intense satisfaction.

Scent is an incredibly personal, intimate pleasure. We wear it to please ourselves and seduce others. It’s no accident that advertisements always come back to the idea of scent and memory, scent and seduction—they’re all bound to each other. I love it when lovers can only identify a scent with the memory of me, and likewise, there are scents worn by lovers that I will only ever associate with them. The greatest compliment, of course, is for someone to love your own scent—even better when they know the story of chemistry: how the body attracts another, when you inhale someone’s skin-scent and understand the primal compatibility, revel in that particular aspect of animal attraction. But the next best thing is for someone to love the scent you wear, when you see their eyes light up and know that it leads them to you like a path only they can see. There has been only one time in my life when the memory of a person was so painful that it became permanently bound up with a particular scent. That person wore Miller Harris Feuilles de Tabac, which I also happen to own and wore frequently once. I still have the bottle, but every time I take off the cap to spray it, the wood and tobacco scent drifts up and transports me back to last time I saw him—a cool summer evening in London, standing in the shadows of a hotel near King’s Cross as endless buses and taxis drive by, oblivious to us, and he tells me even though he wants a life with me, there is something else that is more important, something he wouldn’t tell me. I not only smell wood and tobacco, but his skin and hair, the London night, my sadness.

To choose a scent is to let go: let go of what people tell you you should wear and what might suit you. Let it sit on your skin and blend with your chemistry. The best ones always feel like you, but they bring out an aspect of your personality — more sexual, more innocent, more powerful: whatever it is you want to feel at the time you wear it. What do I wear now? I must have a tray of a dozen scents or so still; and I do wear every single one of them. Among those, were I forced to narrow down favourites, I would choose Le Labo Ylang 49, an earthy, mossy humid tropical floral that blooms sultrily in the oppressive heat of summer; Le Labo Cedre 11, the scent of pure bonfire (technically not perfume but an ‘ambient’ scent, but with higher quality brands home scents tend to just be weaker concentration perfumes—although there is nothing weak about this); Chanel Bois des Iles, a woody aldehyde: Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house for adults, but not sweet—spice and rich velvety woods; Vero Profumo Rubj, a carnal white floral—the carnality thanks to the blend of fleshy hot tuberose and passion fruit; and finally Nasomatto Black Afgano: the marketing would like to tell you it is based on hashish, but on my skin it is a dark, rich woody musk, seductive and powerful.

I tell people perfumes are a hobby. While that’s true—I’m an amateur in the old sense, a lover— it is much more than that: it is the connection and creation of memories, a way of linking all the beautiful things and places and people I’ve experienced and loved. It doesn’t have to come from a bottle—it can be the process itself, like watching my father at the kitchen table. It can come from place, like the scent of jasmine in the summer taking me back in my head to Menton on the French Riviera, the salt breeze mixing with the indolic, heavy flowers there, and it can even be imaginary, because the imagination of course is a powerful thing: when you create the scent of someone in your head, out of curiosity and longing, and wonder if the reality of their flesh and chemistry will sing to your own.

—Tomoé Hill


Tomoé Hill was born in Wisconsin and after escaping to London, now lives and writes in the South of England. Her pieces have been in The Stockholm Review of Literature, minor literature[s], Open Pen, and LossLit. She is deputy and reviews editor at minor literature[s]. @CuriosoTheGreat.


Jan 112016

presentación jtJavier Taboada


JAVIER TABOADA (Mexico City, 1982) is a translator and poet. He has translated the work of Alcaeus of Mytilene (Alceo, Poemas y Fragmentos, 2010) and Jerome Rothenberg (A Poem of Miracles and A Further Witness, forthcoming in 2016) amongst others. He is the author of a remarkable first collection of poetry, Poemas de Botica (La Cuadrilla de la Langosta, Mexico City, 2014). Dylan Brennan conducted this interview with Javier via email correspondence from October-December 2015.

DB: Tell us a bit about your early life, where you grew up, what you studied, how you first discovered poetry.

JT: I was born in Mexico City and grew up there. I studied at religious schools from primary through secondary before beginning a B.A. in Classical Literature at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where I also completed my M.A.

I suppose that my first contact with poetry was similar to that of most middle class children at that time. What I mean by that is, with rare exceptions, in every house you could find certain books by certain poets such as: Neruda (his 20 poemas de amor almost always featured), León Felipe, Sor Juana, San Juan de la Cruz, Amado Nervo, García Lorca, Jaime Sabines anthologies, amongst others. But there were also plenty of anthologies of what we call poemas de declamación (recital poems): in my house we had the Álbum de Oro del Declamador (The Orator’s Golden Album), I still have it now. It’s a collection of occasional poems, ready to be opened for a mother’s birthday (or for the anniversary of her death), poems that speak of heartbreak, lost loves, poems to scorn vices, to exalt familial and Christian love etc., all tinged with a moral outlook and an unbearable sentimentality. However, in the final section of this book, I found poems like Eliot’s Hollow Men, Lermontov’s The Cross on the Rock, Pasternak’s Night, The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter by Ezra Pound, Quasimodo’s Auschwitz, to mention just a few. The one I liked best from this book was Antonio Plaza’s A una ramera (To a Harlot) because the use of language made me laugh.

The other contact with poetry came from a source less bookish (for want of a better word), I mean popular Mexican music, especially the bolero. Then later, during puberty, rock music.

Beyond what I’ve mentioned, I wasn’t very interested in reading poetry until the age of about 16 or 17. And that had quite a bit to do with the so-called Contemporáneos poets. Xavier Villaurrutia, Salvador Novo, some of Carlos Pellicer’s stuff, José Gorostiza, Jorge Cuesta (his sonnets, of course, not his Canto a un Dios Mineral, which I could only begin to comprehend—years later—via an extraordinary book by Evodio Escalante). They astounded me. After a certain amount of time, I then began to buy poetry books or to read them in the school library, whenever I’d been kicked out of physics or mathematics class. My reading is completely disordered. I’m a trained Hellenist and I haven’t even been able to follow any kind of order with the Ancient Greeks.

DB: I know you translate quite a bit. Tell us about that. Does translation affect how you write, how you read? Do the poets you translate influence you much? Which poets have influenced you? How did you come into contact with them?

JT: Nowadays I read as a translator and this has become beneficial to me. In my current state of disorder I’m reading and translating Rosmarie Waldrop, Federico María Sardelli, Claudia Rankine and John Wilmot. I read them, then I attempt to translate a certain fragment, then I read them again, etc., until the job is done. Whether the translations get published or not, this permits me to be influenced in a way by their work, to assimilate something of their poetics, and, in some way, to redesign my own, to become re-moulded. I am in no way scared of continual influences (I don’t think they ever end) nor of revealing them to others. It is obvious that translation, as reading or as a constant act, not only modifies one’s own voice, but also changes literary traditions. One day, those who study the national poetry of certain regions will pay more attention to the translated works that their poets have read as opposed to the original versions. For example, I read Eliot translated by Ángel Flores and, in my memory, The Waste Land (La Tierra Baldía) is the one that Flores translated.

As I mentioned, I’ve been greatly influenced by the Contemporáneos. My reading of the classics, which I did almost exclusively for a period of about seven or eight years, has also left its mark. Fundamentally, the ancient lyrics: Alcaeus (whose work I translated almost in its entirety in 2010) but also Sappho and Alcman; and also Archilochus and Hipponax. The latter I consider the most modern due to his use of language and humour. His pugilistic poems are raw, his sexual references, explicit. For example, there is one poem in which the “poetic voice” attempts to cure his impotence with the assistance of a Lydian witch. Frankly, it’s hilarious, vulgar and ingenious. Among the Greek Classics I should also mention that I read Euripides and Aristophanes thoroughly.

There are common names such like Pound, Eliot, Wordsworth, Apollinaire, Rimbaud, Pessoa, Hölderlin, Yeats. Of course, they have influenced me. More specifically, I can mention poets like Blake, H.D., Charles Wright, David Meltzer, William Carlos Williams, Lee Masters, Efraín Huerta, Rubén Bonifaz Nuño (I regards his Fuego de Pobres as a gem of Mexican literature) and Nicanor Parra.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the influence of Jerome Rothenberg. This is due, in part, to the fact that, in the last year and a half I have worked a lot with him. I’ve finished translating A Further Witness and A Poem of Miracles, two of his most recent collections. It looks like they’ll be published in bilingual editions this year (2016). I’ve also translated to Spanish and to Ladino (the language of the Sephardic Jews) his poem Cokboy which is, as you may know, written in a mixture of English and made-up Yiddish. This proximity (admirably generous) has transformed my understanding of his poetry. I will remain forever grateful to him.

DB: Is there a Mexican poetic tradition? Are there various? With which, if any, do you identify? What about the Mexico City cronistas (non-fiction chroniclers like Carlos Monsiváis or, most recently, Valeria Luiselli)? I ask because your book Poemas de Botica (Apothecary Poems) is very much steeped in the sights, smells, sounds of a particular part of the city.

JT: Everywhere, particularly during these years of globalisation, the borders between “national” literatures have begun to dissolve: they begin to respond to different stimuli and contact with other poetic tasks become more immediate. In Mexico right now I can see a conceptual growth as well as a turn towards new technologies. On the other hand I see an emerging interest in ethnopoetry, ecopoetry and colloquial poetry. Much of this owes to the incorporation of the North American poetic tradition or English language poetry in general.

As a tradition, I would have to mention the baroque. It’s still alive and has continued to adapt (in some instances, in other instances, frankly, it has not) to the times. In its use of language, for example, can be derived part of the metaphysical or mystical poetry that is composed in Mexico.

I don’t know to what extent I can associate myself with any “tradition”. It seems to me that that should be decided by others. I can only recognize some influences that are present in this book, but I cannot talk about belonging. Sophocles says that nobody should consider a person as being “happy” until the moment of his/her death. Other work will come, I hope. Then the time will come for me to cash out. Time will take care of putting everyone in their place. What I mean is, to answer your question, there are a wide variety of poetic traditions in this country. I’m sure there are others which I’ve forgotten, or am yet to have discovered.

Of the cronistas that you mention, I haven’t read Luiselli. I’ve read very little Monsiváis and a bit more of Novo. Honestly, the Mexico City chroniclers had very little influence in Poemas de Botica. I think that a much greater debt is owed to the Lyrical Ballads, to Huerta, Parra, Salvador Novo’s Poemas Proletarios, Fuego de Pobres by Bonifaz and Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. After the collection had been published I was introduced to Chetumal Bay Anthology—a very interesting collection by Luis Miguel Aguilar (winner of the 2014 Ramón López Velarde Prize)—and noted the similarities between my book and his (the focus on just one place, the style of language etc. which in turn is fed by the work of Masters). A fortunate coincidence.

Mexico City has a great deal of problems: brutal inequalities, violence, organized crime (though they claim it’s not there), racism and discrimination, misery belts, inefficient transport, unstoppable pollution etc. On the other hand there are the personal oases, those places that transform the city into your city, though you will always need to pass through chaos to get there. A bit like Milton’s Lucifer. This dichotomy is experienced by anyone who has lived in the D.F. In my case, I couldn’t stand it any more so I left.

DB: Tell us about how you write. Where does it all come from?

JT: I don’t have any particular schedule or discipline for writing. In reality, all my writing springs from obsession. After investigating a certain theme for a while, disposing of material, etc., ideas emerge. And then begins a process that is long. As you well know, there are texts that just jump onto the page and others that take forever. Then, when I believe that a certain text is speaking, I correct it, edit it. I throw away or erase what is no longer of use, without restraint. Usually, what I leave behind is the poem’s skeleton. When I’ve found—sometimes it’s just a few verses—the idea, the tone, the form of what I want to say, I begin to re-write it. In the end, I share it with some writers that I know and trust to be objective. Then, if the text passes this test, I think it’s ready. In general, I mistrust my own opinion. With regard to form, the form is dictated by the contents of the poem.


DB: Poemas de Botica is an admirably solid collection. By that I mean that it possesses a wonderful unity, all the poems revolve around your grandfather’s apothecary and it’s a collection that feels more like a place than a book to me. I mean that in a good way, it’s remarkably vibrant, alive. Where did it come from? Did you always know how it would be structured?

JT: Poemas de Botica emerged from the Guerrero neighbourhood, one of the oldest and dodgiest in the city. But, to be more precise, from the area immediately surrounding the Dr. Medina pharmacy which was the property of my grandfather for almost 65 years. The pharmacy also operated as an old-style apothecary. I had to work there for about 4 or 5 years, selling medicines and mixing remedies (not many, in reality), while I studied at university. The apothecary is still open, even today.

No, actually, it’s strange. Some of those poems (which were then called de Botica in 2003), were more or less finished. But I didn’t know what to do with them. I thought they’d never be published. You know, I didn’t have any more material. There were 4 or 5 poems and that was it. Then, I stopped working there, and I stopped writing poetry and focused on my studies. I submitted, like we all do, to that sterile prose of academia. And, while it gave me other positive things, it dried up my literary work.

I found it really very difficult to start writing again. A few years later, I’d say it was around 2012, I started to re-write those poems, now with the readings I mentioned above in my mind. The key to the collection arrived with the (Homeric) Cantos del Señor Olivares: I glimpsed the possibility of orchestrating the whole book with an array of different voices: the historical voice of the city (Olivares), the lyrical voice (the Apothecary), the testimonial voices of the characters, all mixed up: humour, violence, colloquialisms, music and refrains. In other words, everything that I learned in Guerrero. And then I quickly discovered that the book was finished. Leticia Luna, the editor, insisted that the tone was not lost.

Finally came the business of unifying the collection. All the poems revolve around an apothecary. I understood that it was about the day-to-day running of the business. Working at an apothecary, you end up having to deal with the clients, with yourself, with those who promote the merchandise, with anything that was going on in the barrio. Outside and inside. And almost everything that happened in that small world is portrayed in the book. ‘The world is an apothecary of the depraved’ (El mundo es una botica de viciosos) says the book’s epigraph. The world or purgatory in which we all find ourselves. In fact, the first poem gives the physical location, the address of the pharmacy, but this also functions as a cosmic location of the Counter-Earth, according to an astronomy book by Giorgio Abetti, I think. That’s what the botica was for me.

DB: What do you think of contemporary Mexican poetry?

JT: Honestly, and this has a lot to do with my formative period, I’ve attempted to immerse myself in contemporary Mexican poetry only recently, in the last three or four years. For example, I have discovered fantastic works such as those of Francisco Hernández (Moneda de Tres Caras, La Isla de las Breves Ausencias), Elsa Cross (Bomarzo, Bacantes, Canto Malabar), Myriam Moscona (Negro Marfil and Ansina), Coral Bracho (Si ríe el emperador), José Vicente Anaya (Híkuri), Ernesto Lumbreras (Lo que dijeron las estrellas en el ojo de un sapo), Tedi López Mills (Muerte en la Rúa Augusta and Parafrasear) Gerardo Deniz (who had already passed away but his Cuatronarices was a major discovery for me), Luis Miguel Aguilar, as I already mentioned, the Mazateco poet Juan Gregorio Regino (No es eterna la muerte), Víctor Sosa (Nagasakipanema), amongst others.

There are some writers, a bit younger than the ones I just mentioned—often younger than I am—whose work I admire. Amongst these I can mention Alejandro Tarrab, Hugo García Manríquez, Balam Rodrigo, Inti García Santamaría, Heriberto Yépez, Hernán Bravo, Yuri Herrera, Óscar David López, Sara Uribe, Paula Abramo, Marian Pipitone, Eva Castañeda, Zazil Collins. So far. I know of many other names due to the renown they have earned but I haven’t read them, and that is a source of minor embarrassment. But that work is pending. The list will certainly grow.

DB: Personally, in Mexico, I’ve noticed a fair amount of literary cliques. As if the on-going feuds like the ones documented so memorably by Bolaño in his Savage Detectives are continuing today. Do you notice any of this? Does it hold interest?

JT: Yes, I suppose that, like everywhere else, there are. Regional, local, national, transnational. In general, I have very little time for personal disputes that always seem to mutate into group disputes. I read, ignoring the affiliations or ascriptions of an author. I’m only interested in the text. I can still identify the conflicts generated by the aesthetical (and political) differences between the Stridentists (Estridentistas) and the Contemporáneos or between the Infrarrealistas (the “Visceral Realists” from Bolaño’s Savage Detectives) and group of poets headed by Octavio Paz. Or the ongoing arguments between nationalism (whether that be criollo or mestizo) of Mexican poetry against its francophilia (afrancesamiento as Cuesta called it, extending the term to mean a sort of universalist ambition).

DB: There seems to be plenty of political poetry being written and disseminated in Mexico of late. What do you think of this? Should poetry be political?

JT: Yes, it is normal to see this emergence of political poetry. We live in tragic times. Some of these poems I simply don’t like: particularly those that seek to mythologize or ritualize that which has happened in Mexico. By so doing, they seem to engender a justification (myths and rites that outline a psychic, hegemonic and social mechanism a posteriori) in order to suggest some sense of destiny. Furthermore, I think that political poetry (as always) is at risk of turning into a simple instrument of affiliation, an occasional militancy that is of more benefit to the poet than to society.

A work that stands apart from these is Antígona González by Sara Uribe. Though she recycles the figure of Antigone, she refuses to justify suffering through the notion of myth.

DB: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

JT: Well this year (2016), as I mentioned, I hope to see the Rothenberg collections published. I also hope to publish Nacencia, a long poem dedicated to my son, which focuses on the processes of translation. It’s about the impossibility of translation. It’s also a unified piece, from the eve of his birth up until an event that seemed astonishing to me, which occurred when he was about four months old. He reached out to touch the shadow of his own hand on the wall. In other words he carried out his own process of translation: in four months he had interpreted the world, his surroundings, passing through a long phase of discovery and an awakening of the senses, until he could see that hand and touch it. From that point, everything became clear, the light of the allegory of Plato’s Cave. Nacencia is a poem that has nothing to do with, with regard to subject matter or form, Poemas de Botica. Which is something that pleases me greatly.

Furthermore, I want to continue with my translations of Claudia Rankine (her multi-prizewinning Citizen) and of Rosmarie Waldrop (The Ambition of Ghosts). I’d also like to keep translating some of Federico Maria Sardelli, who is real character (Vivaldi scholar, director of Modo Antiquo, painter, poet).

—Javier Taboada & Dylan Brennan



From Poemas de Botica (Apothecary Poems)
By Javier Taboada
Selected and translated by Jack Little.



las rameras
……….se canonizan en nueve meses
el diente de oro
es tatuaje de honor por las migajas
y el rito de la madre
es zumbarse al niño
y llevarlo a la escuela
cubriendo el látigo del marido.

Los boticarios
son los nuevos curas
que redimen
por menos del tostón.

La borracha canta
soy la Magdalena
revolcada en mierda
……….hay viejos oraculares
……….héroes y padrotes
y hasta los boxeadores rezan
que con la Virgen basta
y la piedra sosiega.

la camisa de fuerza
espera por la señal de la cruz.



Nadie sabe que soy un súper héroe.

Piensan que estoy loco
pero en las noches vuelo
……….aunque todavía
no aprendo bien
y me azoto en la banqueta.

De día
enjuago los carros
que llevan a los reyes actuales.

Mas luego oscurece
……….y no sé quién
le sube el switch
a mis rosas eléctricas.

Ahí me da por encimarme
……….los calzones
……….la capa
mis botas negras de hule
y entonces VUELO

por la quijada brillante
del burro
la tripa de cristal
que se hace rollo
y se alarga.

Eso que dicen
que es la epilepsia.

Y con mi lengua
en la banqueta
me quedo dormido
……….como una coca de vidrio
vacía de la furia del mar.



Un joven de quince años
pidió un gotero de cristal
para bajarle a su bebé la temperatura.

…………Mejor uno de plástico
…………que el vidrio es peligroso
…………si el niño tiene dientes.

No lo quiebra  no lo rompe.
Y besó una cruz
que hizo con los dedos.

………….Fui por su jarabe
y me dejó hablando solo
con la medicina.

Nunca había visto a un tipo tan flaco.


La piedra
el fumado
…………en papel
…………en lata de refresco
…………o gotero de cristal
es un tizón de sesenta pesos
…………llaga que arde viva
…………entre labios y garganta.

Hay que jalarle duro
…………fumarse hasta las burbujas
…………oír el crac en la piedra
y sentir cómo pega en putiza.


Pasadas las diez de la noche
chupando la mugre de las uñas
…………por si algo sobra
los muchachos del crac
…………ángeles de cera sobre una flama
salen a la calle
con todas las palabras
…………………en la manguera de la lengua
el sexo de fuera y erecto.

El barrio cierra sus ventanas
…………tapia sus puertas
porque los muchachos del crac
y se rascan para quitarse los piojos
…………que inundan su piel
……………….pues es mejor dejarla en carne viva
…………a que se la coman los gusanos.

Los muchachos del crac
…………ejército de cadáveres sin camisa
…………pubertas embarazadas
caminan a ninguna parte
…………juegan volados o rayuela
…………cantan  bajo la pequeña luz del encendedor
y miran de reojo
buscándose el cuchillo.

Luego caen
uno por uno
bajo los dedos del alba.


Al abrirse las puertas del metro
los muchachos yacen en el piso
………………como pan con hongos
……………………..arcada del ebrio
……………………..viejo al que chupó el diablo.

—Javier Taboada



the whores
………….are canonized in nine months
the gold tooth
a tattoo to honour crumbs
and the rite of the mother
is to hit her child
and to take him to school
to cover up her husband’s lash.

The apothecaries
are the new curates
for less than fifty cents.

The drunk lass sings
I am Mary Magdalene
wallowing in shit
…………here old oracles
…………heroes and pimps

and even the boxers pray
that the Virgin alone will suffice
and the crack rock soothes.

the straitjacket
waits for the sign of the cross.



Nobody knows that I am super hero.

They think I’m crazy
but at night I fly
……………even though still
I don’t learn all that well
and crash into the sidewalk.

By day
I wash the cars
that carry today’s kings.

After dark
………….I don’t know who
flicks the switch
on my electric roses.

I turn myself out in
……………the cape
my black rubber boots
and then I FLY
by the brilliant jawbone
of the donkey
the glassy guts
that roll
and lengthen.

That they say
……………is epilepsy.

And with my tongue
on the sidewalk
I sleep
……………like a glass bottle of coke
empty of the fury of the sea.



A fifteen year old guy
asked for a glass dropper
to bring his baby’s temperature down.

……….Better a plastic one
……….glass is dangerous
……….if the kid already has teeth.

He won’t crack it won’t break it
and he kissed a crucifix
made with his fingers.

……….I went for the syrup
and he left me talking alone
with the medicine.

I had never seen such a skinny fella.


The stone
……….on paper
……….in a can of pop
……….or a glass dropper
it’s a three buck ember
……….a sore that burns alive
……….between the lips and throat.

You have to pull hard
……….toke until it bubbles
……….hear the crack in the rock
and feel it like the smack in a brawl.


Past ten at night
sucking the muck on their nails
……….just in case there’s something left
the crack boys
……….wax angels over the flame
go out into the street
with all the words
…………..on the tube of their tongue
sex outside and erect.

The neighborhood closes its doors
……….shuts its windows
because the crack boys
and scratch to get rid of the nits
……….that fill their skin
……………for it’s better to leave it raw
……….than let it be eaten by worms.

The crack boys
……….army of shirtless corpses
……….pregnant adolescents
walk nowhere
……….play coin toss or hopscotch
……….sing under the dim glow of a lighter
and gaze askance
looking for a knife.

Then they fall
one by one
under the fingers of dawn.


As the metro doors are opened
the boys are lying on the floor
………………..like moldy bread
…………………….drunk’s retch
…………………….an old man made rotten by the five-second rule.

—Javier Taboada translated by Jack Little

Javier Taboada (Distrito Federal, 1982) traductor y poeta. Ha traducido a Alceo de Mitilene (Poemas y Fragmentos, 2010) y a Jerome Rothenberg (A Poem of Miracles y A Further Witness, de próxima aparición), entre otros. Es autor de Poemas de Botica (2014).

Jack Little Photo

Jack Little (b. 1987) is a British-Mexican poet, editor and translator based in Mexico City. He is the author of ‘Elsewhere’ (Eyewear, 2015) and the founding editor of The Ofi Press: www.ofipress.com

Dylan Brennan

Dylan Brennan is an Irish writer currently based in Mexico. His poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan


Jan 102016
Portrait of George Herbert in Bemerton by William Dyce

Portrait of George Herbert in Bemerton by William Dyce


Some poems you read once, maybe twice. You like or dislike them, you share them – or you mean to share them but never get around to it. Sooner or later – for me, lately, it’s sooner – you can’t remember much about them. The striking features you were drawn to – the metaphors that stopped you in your tracks, the music of the words, the phrases you never imagined bumping up against each other – fade from your memory, though you know you liked many of them when you first read them. You have only a vague sense of what the poem was about – An animal, I think? A duck? You have only an inkling as to the author. Female poet, early 20th-century…British? Canadian?  Down the line you hear the poet’s name and it sounds familiar to you – I read something by her not too long ago and liked it.  You try to find the poem in a book, but you can’t find it – Maybe it was in a book from the library. Or maybe in the New Yorker? The Threepenny Review? – so you look through old copies of your magazines, you try to track the poem down online, but it’s gone. The poem was liked but, as  the salesman Willy Loman would warn us, it wasn’t well-liked.

Of course, any kind of “liked” is better than “disliked,” but a poem of that kind – forgettable – is not going down on your list of Poems to Memorize In Case of Shipwreck on a Desert Island. Imagine the circumstances of that shipwreck: all you end up with is your body and what rests securely in your mind – no boat, no matches, no clothes, no shelter, no food. no friends, no wireless connection, no social media, no phone, no pen, no paper, and no books to read. What keeps you going? I mean, besides the coconut-laden palm trees and the sun up in the blue sky, the bright turquoise water, the waves breaking on warm, white sand….Sorry, where was I? (I have an excuse – it’s winter in Seattle. Enough said.) Ah, yes. The question is this: What keeps you going?

Well, maybe, like me, you remember a few movies and much of the dialogue in them, so acting them out could keep you going for awhile. I, for one, have seen the six-part BBC production of Pride and Prejudice often enough to let it loop scene-by-scene through my head while I wait to be rescued from my island. Fiction turned into film script turned into a one-woman performance, minus an audience. Ditto quite a few Jerry Seinfeld shows, though those scripts don’t deepen or change on each re-construction.

For further entertainment, I would have a boatload of songs to sing – Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys, Motown, Aretha Franklin, The Letterman, Tony Bennett. It’s step-by-step on this beach, and with songs I move closer to poetry; lyrics are, after all, a subset of poetry. So sooner or later – definitely sooner – the memorized poems, the well-liked poems, rise to the surface during times of stress (see: shipwreck, above.) They comfort me, make me smile, make me cry, make me wonder.  They connect me with people and places I love, they challenge me to question something, they engage my imagination – and they please me on most days at least as much as fresh coconuts and a blue sky.


Did Crusoe recite poetry to a parrot or two? (illustration: N.C. Wyeth)

Pleasure. That’s what great poetry is all about, isn’t it? Especially if ambiguity resides within the circle of what you find pleasurable. You’ll do well with poetry then, because ambiguity lies at the heart of most great poems. We read and re-read; the poem stays the same, but we change, and we read with those changes exerting their new influence. What puzzles me, though, is not the what, where, when or why of pleasure but the how.  How does a well-loved poem actually work on us?

To help readers answer similar questions, Mark Yakich (editor of The New Orleans Review and Professor of Creative Writing at Loyola) offered up “Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies” in the December issue of The Atlantic. His”guide for the perplexed” addresses anyone struggling to understand where the pleasure in a certain poem resides. Basically, Yakich offers up twenty modest proposals in an attempt to steer poetry-phobes away from panic and toward pleasure, with a “step-by-step guide.”

Mark Yakich

Professor Mark Yakich

His twenty suggestions are good ones: Don’t wait for a poem to change your life, don’t force it to”relate” to your life, but do meet it on its own terms and pay close attention to how it says things; do read poems aloud, do approach them with a Buddha-like patience, don’t try to paraphrase, do look for subtleties, don’t forget the poet is not always the speaker of the poem, don’t avoid marginalia (it’s fun), do try to understand what “irony” means (it doesn’t mean disbelief), and don’t worry if you don’t understand it at first – usually, understanding comes, but reading a poem doesn’t take much time or energy, so little is lost. Meanwhile,  there is potential for growth, for new thoughts or “an old thought seen anew.” In other words, what can it hurt? And it might actually help.

Of the twenty suggestions, I like #12 best: “A poem can feel like a locked safe in which the combination is hidden inside. In other words, it’s okay if you don’t understand a poem. Sometimes it takes dozens of readings to come to the slightest understanding. And sometimes understanding never comes. It’s the same with being alive: Wonder and confusion mostly prevail.”

As an experiment, let’s look at George Herbert’s Love (III) with Yakich’s suggestions in mind.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
……….Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
……….From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
………If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
………Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
………I cannot look on thee.”
.Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
…….“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
………Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
………“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
……….So I did sit and eat.

……………………………………George Herbert (1593-1633)

It’s a poem which pleases me every time I read it. I memorized it years ago, mostly due to the last line – “So I did sit and eat.” That grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go; it has played in my head like birdsong during many odd, sexy, delicate, memorable moments of my life, none of them relating to food, none of them religious, at least, not in the institutional sense.  Ditto the line “Who made the eyes but I?” And that’s what I often want from a poem – to have a line of it come to me under surprising circumstances.  When I first read it at nineteen, I was in love and I liked the sexiness of the poem. Almost fifty years later, I still do. But I’m a little more aware of the pressure Love is putting on her guest.

Look at that Roman numeral in the title – “(III)”. It announces to the world that Herbert has tried before to tackle this topic and never managed to nail it down. But he’s not a quitter. He keeps trying, and don’t we all, or almost all, when it comes to figuring out love? It’s a big topic, a mighty one, so no wonder the poet keeps working at it. Pleasure from a Roman numeral? Yes.

Of course, George Herbert (1593-1633) wrote almost entirely as a religious poet, so a savvy reader might read this poem as one more of the poet’s many examinations of religious devotion. Love (I) can be read either way, and Love (II) can, too. But Love (III) – well, I don’t see or hear God in it. I prefer to think the speaker in the poem turns from Heaven to Home this time (as the Impressionist painters did – from myth to the picnic table, from Venus on a clam shell to the artist’s sister sitting at a window) and he writes a love poem to celebrate the fact that he is welcomed in.

Who does the welcoming in? It’s Love. Is she flirtatious? Gentle? Fierce? Lusty? Passionate? Tremulous? How would she have said the word “Welcome” to him when he appeared at her door? Would it have been throaty? Intimate? Whispered? Is it gestural and unvoiced – a bit of body language? After many readings, I don’t know yet, but when saying the poem aloud I can make her sound any way I imagine, as long as her voice builds up honestly to the adverb “sweetly” in Line 5. So the tone – especially for the modern reader – can be sweetly tongue in cheek, sweetly seductive, sweetly insistent, sweetly tender, sweetly concerned. It can be all of the above.

In any case, the soul of the speaker in the poem draws back from Love, since he is “guilty of dust and sin.” To be guilty of sin, that’s common. But to be “guilty of dust”? I have no real idea what the phrase means – dust as in dust-to-dust, as in mortality, the way “dust” is used in Love (I and II)? Dust as in metaphorical dustiness – age, timidity, priggishness, repression? Not knowing the answer isn’t a problem. I don’t need to understand completely, because I love the mystery of the phrase: guilty of dust.

There is something fluid to how a poem seeps into a reader – and as Yakich says, “wonder and confusion prevail.” To recall being guilty of sin under these circumstances – Love inviting you into her house to eat – certainly hints at a history of physical passion. Lady Love on the other hand is “quick-eyed” and doesn’t miss a thing, not even the fact that the speaker has gone “slack” as he enters in. Am I just imagining how embodied – how physical – this poem is? I don’t think so. Almost like a geisha, Love approaches, raises her eyes,  presses herself up against the speaker – well, that’s my imagination –  and asks whether he needs anything.

Frank Bidart once wrote a poem using the phrase “guilty of dust” as its title; there is no hint of religion in Bidart’s poem either, unless you believe that Fate is an aspect of religious belief. Instead, Bidart addresses a man’s many “baffled infatuations.” The voice in the speaker’s head claims with some certainty that “WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE.” But the speaker considers “the parade of my loves” and thinks of that parade as one full of “PERFORMERS comics actors singers.” The “love and fury and guilt / and sweetness” they produce seems to be in “DIVIDED CEASELESS / REVOLT AGAINST IT.” There’s no doubt Bidart took the phrase from Herbert’s poem, and Bidart is equally nonplussed by the way love insists itself upon the choices we think we make freely.

As I begin with Herbert’s poem, I’m aware there’s a rhyme scheme, I’m aware of the meter, I’m simultaneously thinking about form and content. Those formal elements march along –  left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. My English professor might have asked us to scan the poem metrically and to look up the biblical reference: Luke, Chapter 12, Verse 37: “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” Someone suggests the same approach for teachers at The Poetry Foundation website. So a new reader might be encouraged to read the poem with certain formalities and inspirations in mind. But six lines in to this particular poem, don’t most readers put formalities and sources aside? By the time the eyes are mentioned, aren’t we aware only of the man’s nervous breathing, his protestations about being unworthy, and the woman’s warm invitations?

In the last stanza, I’m not sure why Love asks who bears the blame, nor why the speaker offers at that point to serve.  Does he mean he’ll serve the metaphorical meal? Or does he mean “I will serve,” meaning “I’ll do.” I have to engage my Buddhist-monk patience for those lines. As Yakich says in the Atlantic article, “A poem has no hidden meaning, only ‘meanings’ you’ve not yet realized are right in front of you. Discerning subtleties takes practice.” I am still trying to discern the subtleties of those lines. But then we arrive at the remarkable final couplet, ” ‘You must sit down,’  said Love, ‘and taste my meat.’ / So I did sit and eat.”  Perfect ending. In the penultimate line, the first stress falls on the word “must”  – she insists! – and the final stress of the line on the word “meat.” Love, in other words, is going to get her way. That man is going to sit down. He’s going to eat (the gulf between “my meat” in the biblical Book of Luke and the more suggestive “my meat” for a contemporary reader is wide and deep.)

Bonnard Table

The Checkered Tablecloth by Pierre Bonnard

The poem ends with a thought which allows the iambic pattern of the shorter line to fall apart, just like the man surrenders to Love –  “So I did sit…..[hear the pause?]….and eat.” Following the regular iambic pattern, the line would sound like this: “So I / did SIT / and EAT.”  But doesn’t that “did” beg to receive the stress?  “So I / DID sit…/and EAT.” In that booby trapped space, we fall into the caesura – the long pause between  “sit” and “and eat.” Formalities takes a tumble.  We take a tumble. And Love triumphs.

It’s an exciting poem and, to the ear of a 21st-century reader, undeniably erotic. Whether its author meant it to be – whether his religious nerve endings vibrated to something suggestive or not – is another question, but once the poem comes into me, it belongs to me. “Love (III)”  – third times a charm, George Herbert. I have the poem memorized, just in case Fate takes me to that desert island and I find a parrot or two to share it with.

—Julie Larios


HeadsJulie Larios contributes her Undersung essays to the pages of Numero Cinq, along with an occasional review and poem or two. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and her work has been chosen twice for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. This is her first “Closer Look” essay for NC. A full bio and links to all reviews, poems and essays for Numero Cinq can be seen here. You can find more of her thoughts about poetry (for children and adults) at her blog, The Drift Record.