Posts from — August 2011
“A Spark to Do Something …”
An Interview with Eleanor Goldfield:
Singer, Songwriter, Urbane Guerrilla
By Jim Palombo, Politics Editor
As various articles in the past editions of Ragazine have demonstrated, we receive a number of emails, both positive and negative, from those interested in what we are saying in our Politics section. It was in this context that this month’s piece unfolded.
I received a note from Eleanor Goldfield indicating that, via her band, the Rooftop Revolutionaries, she was involved with music and politics in a way that seemed consistent with what we put out at Ragazine. As she was interested in integrating her musical efforts with other forms of art, she was making contact with Ragazine accordingly. In following up on her suggestion that we talk more, we did just that via e-mail, and eventually we met in New York City to chat face to face. The interview that follows is a result of that meeting.
But before you read on, there are a few things I would like to say. We are in dire need in the U.S. of energy and commitment pointed at sorting through the difficult problems that confront us all. In that context, I trust that you, like me, will find the young woman you are about to meet most impressive – in design, in creativity and in her concern about the political, economic and social future of our country. The fact that she has integrated all this into the musical group, Rooftop Revolutionaries, accompanied by their theme to “Do Something” under the banner of “Art Killing Apathy”, with a business model (and portfolio) that states that this is “a way to combine the culture of hard rock and the culture of political and social activism into a revolutionary business” speaks volumes to the socially motivated character and initiative that are much needed in today’s world. These traits are difficult to locate in Ms. Goldfield’s generation, and unfortunately the same holds true for mine.
As one who shares similar concerns about the future of our country (among others, see the previous Ragazine article “Where Ignorance is Not Bliss” and our Campaign for an Informed Citizenry website noted within: www.cicorg.com) I am extremely happy to have met-up with Ms. Goldfield – she is indeed someone who is actively and with great intensity “doing something.” And on this point, I sincerely hope that we will be working together with projects in the future, projects that will have the future of America clearly in mind.
With all this being said, I believe you will find the interview more than of passing interest. I also anticipate that you will come away with a sense of having met a person who you will be hearing more about. And as we always encourage here at Ragazine, please feel free to respond with whatever thoughts your feelings may prompt – certainly what Ms. Goldfield offers will prompt some. Hopefully, and consistent with the Rooftop Revolutionary message, they will be ones that suggest you “doing something” as well. (I would encourage you to visit the band’s website – rooftoprevolutionaries.com, and also Eleanor Goldfield’s blog – rooftoprevolutionaries.blogspot.com – especially her 4th of July piece.)
– Jim Palombo, Politics Editor
* * * * *
Jim Palombo: How do you respond to the notion that you might be trying to ‘capitalize’ on the apathy that is present — turning it into a marketable product(s) that really will be no different than any other commodity out there, with no appreciable results in terms of “making a difference” but making you famous with some money in your pocket along the way?
Eleanor Goldfield: I have nothing against making money — hell I have to make money and enjoy spending it on things I love. I’ve been homeless, don’t like it. I’m still poor, don’t like that either. Money is not the root of all evil. Plastic packaging is.
Looking at my music, many think I hate corporations. That’s true and false. I don’t have a problem with corporations as an entity. Way back when, corporations were only allowed to exist on a charter — and that charter had to provide some kind of public service. Once that had been completed, they were for the most part, dissolved. The growth into the ‘corpotacracy’ we experience today has been a long road of failed legislation and un-informed voter decisions. And that’s what I have a problem with: corporations being the template for our government. A government should not exist to make money, plain and simple. Bottom line is that bottom lines should not be the focal point of a government. When corporations are in charge of governing a nation, the thought and care of the people becomes far secondary to the amount of money available through various business ventures — namely war, conquest, privatization and free markets. We can see the effect of this today, a home-based lab we tested extensively in South America, Asia, and recently the Middle East. But I digress…
Back to me — I would like to make money. I would like to not have to fiscally debate the cup of coffee I get on my way to the bus. But it is not my primary concern. I am not entirely philanthropic — I believe in helping people to a point, but that the only way to truly help someone is to allow them to learn and find their own strength — else you will have a country of sheep, just an ideological flop from what we have now. I think I can already say that I am not like any other commodity, having mixed the business of music with the business of political activism into, not just a band, but a movement. And, in reality, the only real way to make a difference is to get out there and become known — not necessarily “famous,” but known. Just as people in the music industry tell the kids coming up, if you’re doing this for money, there’s the door — you’re in the wrong business. Revolutionary thinking and acting is not known for its glamorous lifestyle. You don’t fall into it, you blaze into it, knowing you want to do it. I am not driven by greed, just the will to change things, and to allow people the ability to again, Think. React. Do Something.
A: Think I need more space for this one 🙂 It’s hard to describe myself, I must say. Without inching too far into the abstract, I am a culmination of all that has happened to me, that which I consciously recall and unconsciously, perhaps more the latter. I am a product of the space and time in which I find myself. The music is the same idea. Although couched under the umbrella of hard rock or alt. metal, the band is a culmination of our history, our thoughts, our experiences, the music we listened to, the art we grasped, and how all this has allowed us to see the world, the wrongs, the ills, the thrills and joys. How being a musician and writing about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in today’s world is a disservice to the art form (as in, you are not creating new art, just regurgitating old themes in mostly a cookie cutter, uninteresting, formulated medium) and to the people who consume it. Something Brian (my business partner) and I consciously decided at the beginning was that we did not want to fit into the confines of any one genre. We both had songs and melodies, lyrics and ideas that had previously “not fit” other bands. Well fuck that! That’s us — that’s our creative being — the idea of just chucking it aside because it’s not this or that became ludicrous. And we stand by that today. If it sounds good, it is good, as Duke Ellington once said.
Like the band, I do not rebel to rebel. I probably did when I was younger, but doesn’t every teenager? Now, there is so much thought behind each word, each action. And that is how it must be. I used to preach, now I teach. I used to fight everyone who disagreed. Now I discuss, I learn, I grow, I continue, forwards. Progress comes as much from realizing your own strength as accepting humility and owning your falls, and wrongdoings. The two play off each other and bolster the other. In that same breath, I have always made it a point to rebel when necessary. I got into fights, standing up for bullied kids. I stood up on a soap box even when there wasn’t one to stand on. The art of picking fights is something I have learned over the years — living in North Carolina, I picked too many for my own good, at times. But there is too much going on to be complacent, there is too much wrong to sit idly by and not rebel against. Now, not all people have the personality to stand up or pick fights. That’s OK. But we all have the ability to add our energy, add our thoughts, our names to a movement. Not all black people went out into the streets. Maybe they put on events at local churches, offered food or moral support. A movement, much like a band, is not just what you see. The people behind the scenes have just as much to do with the outcome as those in the spotlight. Regardless of where you want to be, everyone can rebel without being loud and ready to fight. Rebellion against dwindling rights, falling economies, sagging infrastructures, and blood soaked soil begins with a thought — an idea, which will lead to more. Without that, you can be as loud as you want without actually saying anything.
A: Ah, deep questions… I’m not even sure what makes me who I am. I feel that life is a constant journey to understand oneself, not to mention the world and others around you. There are caverns of my mind and soul that I know I will never uncover. And progressively, I am becoming OK with that. What I find exciting is the quest for knowledge and knowing that no matter how much you know, there is always so much that you don’t, and will never know, before you die. It’s intriguing with a subtle spice of solemnity. Momento Mori as the slave would tell the Caesar. Beyond those philosophical musings, what makes me who I am is where I’ve been, where I am, the people around me — past and present, my mom’s egg and my dad’s sperm 🙂
As far as motivation, that is the one part where I don’t have to work. Motivation comes to me every time I read the news and well, exist. Every morning I wake up and have about 10 news sources and outlets that I scan for news, including foreign publications. The information I find there is enough to push me forward — to keep fighting, to keep writing, thinking, acting and creating. It is where I hope others will find motivation — in knowledge. Nothing makes you hunger for knowledge like knowledge — nothing makes you want to create, to change, to do, like thinking — fueled by even a subtle fact, a random tid bit in the newspaper — you never know. Motivation can be found in so many places — you don’t even necessarily have to look for it, you just have to allow yourself to see it when it passes by.
Q: Given this, what are some of the difficulties you face — personally as well as in the music business?
A: The difficulty usually comes when this type of information becomes overwhelming. There is so much wrong in the world and obviously news outlets capitalize on this information, that it is often times quite difficult for me to continuously seek and fill my mind and soul with it. The music part is never perceived to me as difficult. I love it. Singing is without a doubt an outlet, as is writing. The one flows seamlessly into the other. If it weren’t for my ability to write and to sing, to find a medium for this information and the associated frustration, I would probably already be in a padded room.
In terms of the music industry, it is a very interesting and unique time. Never before has the music industry been in such a flux. It refused to hop on the internet train and is now desperately trying to stay afloat, clinging to cookie cutter bands and popular music with atrocious deals and contracts — hence why our group and movement seeks investors, not record labels. I want my band and I to be in the sole position of deciding a creative direction, particularly since we have such a specific, creative message. Furthermore, I don’t want to be indebted to ‘the bigs’ for the rest of my days, shelving projects that I worked my ass off on simply because they don’t think they’re marketable in today’s industry. I pride myself on not being marketable by industry standards. I don’t wear fishnets on stage, I don’t wear makeup, I don’t sing about kissing boys, girls, sunny days and noodle salad. I feel there are more important things to discuss and I will no doubt make many more enemies than friends with that viewpoint, but so be it.
In that mayhem, there is also excitement. Bands don’t have a blueprint — it’s not as it was: get good, get signed, get famous, die. Today, bands are forced to be creative business minded entities. From marketing to merchandising, tour dates and locations, niches, all these things are vital aspects that end up being a full time job. I don’t tell people I have a band. I have a start up business.
In terms of other frustrations, though you didn’t ask about the political frustration, I will impart my opinion anyway 🙂 Being an artist and political automatically plants the assumption that you’re a liberal. I’m not. I’m not on either side. I’m a centrist. I think both parties are equally full of shit and up to their necks in corporate blood money. Frustration comes when people so indoctrinated in the two-party system feel that in order for change to be realized, you must hop on the left or the right. No. Come back to no-man’s land and make a stand. All the most significant legislation in this country’s history has been made from the center. If we are ever to move forward, we have to stop pushing left and right and find our center.
Q: Is there some type of movement afoot? Are there others that you feel some type of connection to? What about the older guard — say Bono, Springsteen, (and newer ‘older’ like Rage Against the Machine)?
A: The movement is more of a stagger at the moment. Again, as I said above, people and organizations feel like they have to latch on to one side of the political foray to get anywhere, The Tea Party, for example. The original idea of not wanting to bail out banks was fine. The execution — what the fuck? That’s the problem here. People are not teaching or being taught, they are preaching or being preached at. A country of left and right sheep doesn’t make a movement. An educated, informed, engaged public does. That’s what I’m after.
In terms of connection, I look to Rage, System of a Down, Springsteen, Bono — I admire what they’ve done and appreciate their efforts. As much as I admire them, they all miss a key ingredient in their message: action. Today, it is not enough to showcase the issues, as we did in Vietnam. Today, we have to call people to act, we have to call people to educate themselves. The closest I can think of would be Serj Tankian and Tom Morello. They are two people who have really worked hard on the political stage as well as musical. But again, there isn’t enough — there isn’t enough movement or suggestion. My goal is not just to give people information, but to give people a spark for that information — a spark to Do Something.
Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
A: I see myself touring, not just the U.S., but the world. I recently met a man from Jordan who said it would be interesting to arrange a few shows over there. Their view of Americans contrasted with the band and the message would be a happy contradiction — one I hope to see more of. This country gives itself a bad name by allowing the stupid and the blood thirsty to be the loudest. Raise your voice and you will hear the world respond in kind.
And to elaborate on what I mean by touring, I don’t just mean, play a show, get in the bus and fuck off to the next city. I’d like to organize protests, marches, rallies — I’d like to organize meet-ups where professors and intellectuals get a share of the mic before we play — where people feel the rush of the music as well as the rush of pride, dignity and duty for being American.
Q: How about our country? Are you two connected?
A: As a citizen, I can’t NOT be connected. The fate of this country is my fate too. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it is true. The choices made (or at this point, not made) every day by our “representatives” and the powers-that-be affect us beyond that day, that week, that month. This country is nearing, if not already standing at, a precipice. We like to hearken back to the good old days, but we can’t really go back there. We fear the future — the rising power of foreign nations. We tend not to live in the present — we push away vital decisions and shun problems. But they will be dealt with — either after the fact or preferably before. As I write this, we are less than a month away from defaulting on our debts. What happens if we do? Who cares? Around the world, this year has seen significant uprisings from people in situations not so different than our own: young unemployed masses aggravated at lack of jobs, lack of opportunity, lowered standards of living and higher price tags. What spurred them? What will spur us? At what point do you take the bitching at the bar over a beer to the streets? It will be interesting to see, and I intend to remain highly connected and engaged throughout this nutty experiment.
Q: You being one of only a few women doing what you are doing — what does this fact make you think/feel? Who are your role models? And somewhat related, what do you suppose the public perception of you might be?
A: I think it’s a factor of our surroundings, our cushy, or at least perceived to be cushy, environment. I’d like to point out that there are many women, braver than me, fighting for freedom and rights in places like the Middle East where education is not an option, not even a bad one, where faces are heretical and simple acts such as driving are considered revolutionary. I consider them my role model but I’d also like to add the disclaimer that having a vagina has very little to do with my activism. I’m not a feminist, at least not in the present paradigm. I don’t think that women should be above men, I don’t think men should suffer for trespasses done towards women in the past. Equal rights are based upon equality… shocking thought, I know. There’s no such thing as reverse sexism — it’s just sexism, any way you slice it. I think women are too quick to fall back on the fact that they are women, when in fact sometimes they just aren’t up to the task. If the best person for the job is an Aryan man, so be it. If it’s a black female, that’s great too. Dropping our prejudices does not mean reversing them. We can only move forward successfully if we allow all questions of race and gender fall to the inner workings of mind and soul.
As far as other role models, anyone who thinks freely and acts upon those thoughts — the ones who appreciate their strength, not their god given strength either. Believe what you will but do not hand over your failures and triumphs to God(s) — they are what make you strong, unique and irreplaceable. People far overestimate the power of false deities and hugely underestimate their own strengths. We the people can, as my slogan likes to suggest, Think. React. Do Something.
The question of public perception is tricky. Even in my 24 years, I have experienced a wide range of reactions to my reactionary nature. I’ve been threatened, hit on, hit, harassed, cheered, booed, congratulated and much more. Public perception mirrors the current zeitgeist of this country: many extreme views pushing away from the center and few moving forward in the center. I have far right bigots and chauvinists sending highly sexualized, inappropriate threats and propositions, I have far right house wives saying I’m a disgrace to the American woman. I have far left women saying I’m a disgrace to the forward thinking woman, old environmentalist friends chastising me for not focusing solely on the plight of mother earth, and then the rare few who push away the cobwebbed fray and support and inspire me to continue moving forward, not left and right. I’m sure as my journey continues, these experiences will be ever magnetized — it’s a good thing I have a drummer the size of a barn door and a dear friend who works as a bodyguard.
Now, and I hope in the future, I will have the ability to see past the mindless criticism to the source of these harsh words — much of it, is ignorance and arrogance, an extremist platform incapable of allowing outside thought. It is important that while we learn, while we move forward, we remember to stay humble, to constantly question our own stance and opinions against new facts. That is the only way that we can grow.
— 30 —
The Rooftop Revolutionaries: Eleanor Goldfield/vocals; Brian Marshak/lead guitar; Karim Elghobasi/bass; Lamar Little/drums. See/hear more at:
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Goldfield’s words, like her music, speak for themselves – powerful and provocative stuff that very well supports her call to action. I want to add only that they also evidence something that should present a sincere worry to the older generations. In short, it could be easily argued that we have left Eleanor and her contemporaries in a very precarious situation – one that provides myriad complex problems with limited avenues from which to legitimately address them. It is only natural, then, that an atmosphere of resentment, confusion, untrustworthiness and uncertainty has resulted. And among other things, this has pushed the anger, disenchantment and cynicism that become evident when talking with young people these days. Said another way, and if for no other reasons than our integrity and responsibility, we should not be willing to let this be our legacy, especially in light of what many of us have been afforded. Our mandate, our own call to action, so to speak, should be clear: to get involved with the matters at hand in ways that matter − to delve into what we don’t know as much as what we claim to know – to be willing to go beyond thinking and doing what is best for just our individual selves and not for all of us. This is a tall order, in very difficult times. Yet to do anything less would be, well, it would simply be less.
Palombo’s interview with Eleanor Goldfield was conducted via an e-mail exchange after a meeting in New York City in July 2011.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Rooftop Revolutionaries/Politics
© Adrian Davis
Across the Golden Gate
Shooting Outside the Box
Image Capture is just the first step …
Davis on Davis
I like to think of myself as a photographer and printmaker, with the latter being where most of my creative energy lies. Capturing a moment in time with the camera is simply the first step in making a photograph for me. I’d say this takes me out of the “documentary” class of photographers, and places me in the “art” category. From the very moment I begin to compose an image, I am already thinking about how the print will look on paper, and what post processing steps I might take to reach the image in my mind.
My preference has always been monochrome and I give all my work a slight sepia/warm tone. The first warm-toned silver gelatin print I made, back in 1989, instantly caught my eye and left me feeling content. I always felt something was missing from my neutral toned B&W prints. Now working with a digital process, for capture and print output, I tone my monochrome images using Channel Mixer and the Colorize mode in Photoshop CS3. The printing paper of choice is Hahnemuhle Torchon, which is a highly textured surface that I love for my work. I often refer to my photographs as “Neo-Vintage”, as they can appear dated/antique but are prepared using a modern, digital process. I’ve been asked several times by viewers if my images are Platinum, which I get a big kick out of!
Over 23 years of pursuing photographic processes has led me to the style I have now, and I don’t plan on any changes, anytime soon. Photographs are presented in a square format as pigment inkjet on textured watercolor papers in warm tone. Sizes offered are 12×12″, 16×16″ and a few images at 30×30″ with a maximum edition of 40, all sizes inclusive.
In terms of image capture and style, I favor the minimalist statement and often use long exposures to render clouds and moving water with a more “painterly” effect. The contrast of tones and soft/sharp areas are what I seek to present in the final print.
— Adrian Davis
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
The Gift That Kept on Giving
Adrian was given a Nikkormat 35mm for his 16th birthday and began hand developing his own film at 17 in the family’s darkroom. Today, his work can be found in both private and professional collections. A passion for photography, instilled in him from an early age by his parents, both amateur black and white photographers who printed their own work, led him to take college courses in large format photography and advanced printing. A scholarship soon followed which allowed him to continue his dedicated coursework.
A series of apprenticeships, most notably as a Staff Photographer at the world famous Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite, CA, enabled him to further explore the craft of landscape photography and printing techniques. Throughout the 1990s, Adrian experimented with different film formats and printing techniques mainly shooting 4×5 negative films. It was during his tenure at the Ansel Adam’s gallery that he was introduced to newly developed methods of printing and shooting digitally.
From 2000 to 2006 he shot medium format with transparency films and scanned his films for digital chromogenic printing. In 2007, he began shooting exclusively with digital cameras in the 35mm format. It was at that time he fell in love with, and adopted the inkjet process for his work. Adrian prints his own work exclusively on Hahnemuhle Torchon watercolor paper, a highly textured print surface that enables him to create the warm vintage look he has become so well known for.
He is currently based in Colorado where, in addition to his personal photography, he offers digital printing and book publishing services to other artists.
To see more of Adrian’s work, visit his website at: www.adriandavisphotography.com
Gallery representatives: Susan Spiritus Gallery, Newport Beach, CA
Open Shutter Gallery, Durango, CO
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Adrian Roland Davis | Photographer
Energy for Sale
You have so much inertia,
father said, my first thought
would be to save some – don’t
waste all of it on yourself –
then find a way to bottle it,
and finally sell it. But then
I realized, who would want it?
Only a lazy person – and he
wouldn’t be around but hiding
in his room, like you. Now, if
you had enough energy left over
to sell, that would be a different story =
people would knock on your door
to buy it wholesale. You could
charge whatever you wanted.
And I bet I couldn’t walk down
this street without someone asking,
“Where could I buy a little energy?”
“From my son,” I’d proudly answer.
“But don’t buy all of it. He needs some
in reserve to battle his old case of inertia.”
The Snake’s Neck Is for Holding
It’s easy to immobilize
a snake, father said – just
grab it by the neck
and hold on for dear life.
Just because a snake doesn’t
have a distinguishable face,
like you and me, doesn’t
mean it doesn’t have a neck.
If a glass of wine has a neck –
wouldn’t a snake have one?
Let me put it another way –
if it has a mouth, it should
contain a neck. The hard part
is differentiating one end
of the snake from the other.
Don’t grab the tail, because
The snake is flexible enough
to whip around and bite you. It
ingests from one end – eliminates
from the other. If you’re
still confused about which end
is which, then poke the snake
away with a stick. It may not have
as dramatic a presentation for
a woman – she won’t be quite
as impressed – but it will do.
About the poet:
Hal Sirowitz has had poems published in Ragazine. He’s the author of four books of poetry, with a fifth one forthcoming from Backwaters Press in Nebraska.
Perspective of One Tree
Off the coast of Maine, there is a series of three small islands simply called Brothers, with only one tree among them. That tree, a spruce, never seems to get any bigger, I assume due to the weather conditions. It has been photographed and painted by artists for decades. Every year, upon returning to the coast, I scan the horizon to hopefully find that the tree survived another year.
Chuck Haupt is photo editor of Ragazine. You can visit his blog at www.chuckhaupt.com/blog.
For thePHOTOGRAPHYspot submissions, please see guidelines at ragazine.cc/submissions/
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Hal Sirowitz/Poetry
and the Hughes-Plath
By John E. Smelcer
My friendship with Ted Hughes began unexpectedly in the fall of 1997. I had been invited to read my poetry at the Guildford Literary Festival in England. As a life-long Alaskan, many of the poems were about Raven. Afterward, an iron-gray-haired gentleman asked me to join him for pints at a pub just down the street from the Electric Theatre.
I have to admit that at the time I didn’t know he was the Poet Laureate of England and Sylvia Plath’s ex-husband. Needless to say, because free beer was involved, I accepted the invitation. Neither Ted nor I could have known the enduring consequences of that encounter and how I would become intricately bound to his legacy and history.
With similar interests in anthropology, mythology, and poetry, we had an enjoyable and lively conversation, which lasted right up until, as Eliot once wrote, the barkeep’s last Hurry up, please! It’s time. At some point, we began to co-write a poem about how Raven-Crow created Grendel in Beowulf, taking turns writing alternating lines, drunkenly hoisting Guinness to our poetic genius in between. I offer the poem for the first time.
Raven wanted a pet
so he slogged into a fen
fashioned a fanglorious beast
from filth and slime and muck
named it Grendel
stropped its wicked claws and teeth
stroked its mudruckled fur
then pointed at Hrothgar’s unwary keep
& the gorged and grisly creature
with a heap of bones
Within a week, Ted created a limited edition broadside of the poem, to which we both lent our signatures. Over the next couple of months, we corresponded about Raven Speaks, a slender booklet of my poetry Hughes was to publish from his home in Devon. Ted encouraged me to keep writing Raven poems for a future full-length volume akin to his Crow. Shortly after producing the chapbook, Ted was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away less than a year later from complications. Raven Speaks was among his last literary projects.
Six years later, in 2004, I was again in England, this time studying Shakespeare at Cambridge. I lived in Caius College, one of the oldest of the ancient colleges. Almost daily I walked past the house where Ted and Sylvia had once lived. One sunny afternoon I bought a used copy of Hughes’s Crow at an open-air market just across from King’s College, where dozens of stalls were set up around the cobblestone square – vendors selling everything from T-shirts to jewelry, from bread and pastries to fresh vegetables, local artwork to used books. I think I paid two pounds for it. Re-reading the book for the first time since Ted’s death, my interest was rekindled in a way that I can only call consuming. I immediately set out to write the full-length Native American cousin to Crow. The poems came out of me as fast as I could write them. I’ve never experienced such intense poetry writing like it since. I swear, at times I could barely breathe. In one memorable day alone, I wrote five of the poems! On the long trans-Atlantic flight home I wrote another three or four. Raven is finally complete and ready to take its rightful place alongside its older brother.
In 2006, I learned that Ted’s son, Nick, lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I grew up and attended elementary school, junior and senior high school, and university. At the time, I was living outside Anchorage. I introduced myself to Nick as a friend and disciple of his father. Nick and I were about the same age. Like me, Nick loved to fish. In the following two summers, we fished together for grayling on the upper Chena and Chatanika Rivers near Fairbanks. I even took him fishing near my cabin at Tazlina Village. I remember one day while fishing on the Chatanika, I caught a foot-long grayling. Just as I was about to lift it into the boat, the biggest pike we ever saw in our lives violently snatched the grayling off my line. It must have been four feet long and as thick around as a man’s thigh. We spent the rest of the day trying to catch that monster, but we never saw it again. On another fishing trip, Nick caught a salmon while standing on a steep bank. The fish literally yanked him off the slippery bank into the icy river. True fisherman as he was, when Nick re-emerged, he still had the salmon hooked. We grilled it for dinner that evening, complemented by a good bottle of wine.
For our last fishing expedition in the summer of 2008, I took Nick on a canoe trip down the Gulkana River. We used Nick’s orange, fifteen foot, plastic Coleman canoe, “putting in” at the headwaters at the south end of Paxon Lake. On the second day we hit a bad stretch of rapids. Our canoe got wedged sideways against a boulder and the raging water pressure crushed it. We swam safely to shore, but we lost everything. We followed the river for a while until I decided the best thing for us to do was to cut up the step valley and hike east until we hit the Richardson Highway, which parallels the river for maybe forty miles. Lucky for us, a passing tourist in a motorhome gave us a ride back to our vehicle. Coincidentally, the husband was a retired high school English teacher who flipped when he learned that Nick was Sylvia Plath’s son. I don’t recall the conversation entirely, but it went something like this:
“So, what ya’ fellas doin’ this far from any town?” asked the driver in an unmistakable Maine accent. “I haven’t even passed a gas station in about a hundred miles.”
“See that river in the valley down there?” I said, pointing out the left side window. “Yesterday, our canoe hit a boulder and went under with everything in it.”
“I’ve been admiring that river for some time,” replied the astonished driver. “You’re lucky to be alive in this country!”
We thanked him for picking us up and asked his name. He said it was Henderson or Hendrickson, said he was a retired high school English teacher from northern Maine.
Then he asked us our names. When Nick announced his the driver looked at him through the rearview mirror.
“Your accent sounds British.”
“Yep,” said Nick.
I could almost see the retired teacher’s brain thinking.
“Hughes . . . Hughes. You say you’re from England?”
“How old are you?”
“Forty-six,” replied Nick, who was a year older than I was.
The driver glanced at Nick again through the rearview mirror.
“Ever heard of Ted Hughes? He was Poet Laureate of England about a decade ago. Maybe longer. Used to be married to Sylvia Plath. Had a kid about your age.”
I remember Nick smiled at me.
“That was my mother and father,” he replied.
The astonished driver looked up again, driving into the oncoming lane.
“Holy smokes!” he exclaimed, slapping his knee with his right hand while gripping the steering wheel with the other. “I’ve used your mother’s The Bell Jar in my senior honors class for twenty-some-odd-years. What a coincidence, picking you up on the side of the road in the middle of Nowhere, Alaska and you being Sylvia Plath’s son!”
For the next twenty miles, Henderson-Hendrickson talked about how his students loved the novel, particularly the teenage girls.
“It’s still as poignant today as it was the day she wrote it,” he boasted, as if he had written it himself.
I think Nick liked hearing praise about the mother he never knew.
During my many visits to his home on the outskirts of Fairbanks, Nick would read my Raven poems and give his earnest feedback. Although a marine and fisheries biologist by training, I think Nick was happy to be connected to his father’s literary life through the book that Ted and I had begun together. We never really talked about his parents’ relationship. To be sure, I don’t think Nick had many memories of his mother. He was an infant when she died in 1963. But he did say on numerous occasions that deep down inside he believed he understood his mother’s sadness and despair. Many times, he said that he was worried that his mother’s depression was hereditary and that he’d end up like her. Two of his most common morose sayings were, “Nothing matters anymore” and, “I just don’t care about anything.” Naturally, I was alarmed, but Nick never made any specific references to self-harm. Besides, he promised to get counseling. The few times he ever talked about his parents, Nick complained about all the people who, over the years, had asked him for interviews about his mother or his father. I think Nick moved to Fairbanks – to the far most northern edge of the world – in an attempt to escape the limelight.
Unfortunately, like his mother, Nick was chronically depressed. From about December 2006 until August 2008, I drove up to Fairbanks every couple of months to spend a few days with Nick to cheer him up. He needed someone to talk to. At the time, in the middle of my equally devastating depression from a heart-wrenching divorce, I think I needed him, too. Our occasional visits heartened us both, temporarily. Every time I visited, we’d sit and watch Under the Tuscan Sun. We both loved its hopeful message that a new and happy life awaited on the other side of despair.
I left Alaska a week or so later to move to upstate New York to complete a Ph.D. in English and creative writing at Binghamton University. Nick and I communicated a few times after that. Six months later, on March 16, 2009, Nick hanged himself. I still feel that he might have lived had I stayed in Alaska. Maybe not. I’ll never know. I felt dreadfully guilty for so long that it was months before I wrote to his sister, Frieda, telling her how sorry I was and also that I, too, had lost a brother, just as she had, to suicide. I’m always saddened when I think about how intimately connected my life has been to the loss of the Hughes-Plath family tree.
About the Author:
John Smelcer is the author of over 40 books, including Beautiful Words: The Complete Ahtna Poems (foreword by Noam Chomsky) and his short story collection, ALASKAN, edited in part by J. D. Salinger, John Updike, and Norman Mailer. Educated at Oxford and Cambridge, two of his novels have been selected for England’s National Literary Trust’s Young Reader’s Recommended Booklist, and last year, The Independent named his novel Edge of Nowhere as one of the “Best Teen Books of 2010” while The Guardian listed it as “Recommended Summer Reading for Young Adults.” John’s poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in over 400 magazines worldwide, including previous issues of Ragazine. He is poetry editor at Rosebud magazine. Learn more about him at www.johnsmelcer.com.
August 31, 2011 1 Comment
The Drawing Room Revisited
Walter Gurbo − painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist, set designer, set-painter and most recently filmmaker, known to reshape and transform any medium he can get his hands on. Gurbo is probably best known for his 12 years of weekly surrealistic drawings known as the “Drawing Room” on the back cover of NYC’s TheVillage Voice. Along with this, Gurbo continued to exhibit in NY Galleries and had shows at area colleges.
His most recent series it has been said “reinvents the still life.” All of Gurbo’s work typically has a thought-provoking humor which is evident even in his most abstract work. A just released book titled, “All The Art That’s Fit To Print (& Some That Wasn’t)” by Jerele Kraus (Columbia University Press) includes a drawing series from Walter’s New York Times days where he contributed more than 300 drawings. He also shows extensively in many upstate N.Y. venues. Following the exhibition at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts in July, Gurbo exhibited his recent still-life series at the West Kortright Centre in August 2011.
Walter Gurbo’s most recent monumental project was a commission by August Lodge of Cooperstown to paint all 60 doors of their beautiful new Adirondack Lodge. Given complete freedom, he transformed the entire lodge into something out-of-this-world. Guests wander around gazing at door after door creating an outdoor art gallery. For over 20 years Gurbo has been designing and painting sets for NYC’s “Theatre For The New City.” He is continuing with sets for this summer’s Street Theatre production. Walter recently returned from Japan where he had a very successful one-man exhibition at Hishio Museum in Katsuyama.
Originally from NYC, and a graduate of The High School of Art & Design and Pratt Institute, he has called Upstate N.Y. home for the last 12 years. Living now in a converted factory loft, he has recently established a huge exhibition space, “Art Central New York” in New Berlin, N.Y.
Walter Gurbo/The Drawing Room I
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Walter Gurbo working in his New Berlin, New York studio.
A Room With A View
For over a dozen years, from 1977 to 1989, on the back pages of downtown New York’s former preeminent local crier, The (Village) Voice, was a picture window. An oddity by not any standards today − already then more an atavistic throwback to the underground press of yore − its curious fit within the low-end commercialized zone of this once radical weekly seemed with each passing year ever-more like some out of time eccentricity, a past whimsy that by the grace of its wit somehow continued to survive on amidst pop culture’ pernicious progress.
Thinking back on it now, Walter Gurbo’s Drawing Room was not just a weird hole punched into the wall of babble, but something of lost strand connecting the impoverished means and grand illusions of New York City at its late Seventies economic nadir and creative apogee to the rising bottom lines, escalating cost and rising expectations that have only grown exponentially since then.
directors, photo editors and ad-marketing-sales departments, wiped out illustrations, cartoons and comics off the pages and into the margins.
Walter Gurbo/The Drawing Room II
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More of Gurbo’s work can be seen at www.waltergurbo.com.
Singular animated videos can be viewed on YouTube:
This presentation of Walter Gurbo’s work was assisted by The Anthony Brunelli Gallery, State Street, Binghamton, NY. Gurbo’s work can be purchased through the gallery. Contact: John Brunelli.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Walter Gurbo/The Drawing Room
Castle in Forest, collage, pen-and-ink. 11″x17″
Joseph Bowman Has 9 Lives
Bowman on Bowman:
I begin my work with a large — and growing — pool of black-and-white, freehand illustrations. I photocopy the images needed for any given piece onto art paper, and cut them out in as much detail as possible and in such a way as to minimize visible seams. I then collage these cutouts together to create large-format, richly detailed city- and landscapes ranging in size from 4″ x 6″ to 3′ x 5′, of which I have completed about thirty so far.
Joseph Bowman | freehand illustrations
Downtown<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 18"x24"<br />2011[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_house-on-the-hill.jpg]10
House on Hill<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 10"x7.5"<br />2010[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_clearing.jpg]10
Clearing<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 18"x24"<br />2010[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_indrustrial_district.jpg]10
Industrial District<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 17"x11"<br />2011[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_skyline-3.jpg]10
Skyline 3<br />pen-and-ink. 10"x4"<br />2009[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_skyscape.jpg]10
Skyscape<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 20"x16"<br />2010[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_outhouse.jpg]20
Outhouse<br />pen-and-ink. 5"x6"<br />2011[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_steamboat.jpg]10
Steamboat<br />pen-and-ink. 17"x11"<br />2010[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_big_house_0.jpg]10
Big House<br />pen-and-ink. 9"x6".<br />2011[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_village.jpg]10
Village<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 20"x16"<br />2010[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/joseph-bowman-freehand-illustrations/thumbs/thumbs_vista.jpg]10
Vista<br />collage, pen-and-ink. 18"x14"<br />2011
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I have limited experience showing my work, having participated in a group show at the now-defunct Echo Curio, and with several warehouse art cooperatives in Los Angeles. However, the response I have gotten thus far has been overwhelmingly positive and I am interested to see how it plays with a wider audience. I like to use the following bio (bear in mind that there are a lot of historical Joseph Bowmans):
Joseph Bowman (1752-1779) was an officer in the American Revolutionary War who served in the Illinois campaign. Maj. Bowman participated in the 1778 capture of Fort de Chartres, and remained there for some time as the commander of the newly renamed Fort Bowman. While attending a victory celebration, Maj. Bowman was injured by an accidental gunpowder explosion and later succumbed to his injuries, becoming the only American officer to die in the Illinois campaign. He lives in Los Angeles.
You can see more of Bowman’s work at:
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Joseph Bowman/Art
A white hill rose south of Snyder Road
like a small moon, one spindly tree on top.
The single large leaf left in its crown,
a rough-legged hawk descended from
Arctic tundra to winter on ample mice
and voles in the Alpha Grasslands.
Among a host of Savannah Sparrows,
a Snow Bunting pecked seed in the street.
I stopped, quietly focused, then vanished
between feather and wing.
Blanched, brittle corn stalks pierced
the snow. Quick-stepping in and out
of their broken maze, black-masked
Horned Larks tweaked dried kernels
from rusty cobs with stout beaks.
The exaltation bustled bare pock to pock,
spooked, surfed the frigid air singing,
su-weet, sweet, sweet, su-weet.
I remember when nothing was protected.
Farmer’d come running from his house,
chase cars halfway down the street
cursing birders cruising his roadside fields
for hawks and owls, larks, longspurs, and buntings.
Now the setting sun glares at the grasslands
from tall windows to the east,
and a bulldozer perched on the western ridge
like a hawk eyes the farmlands
as if the acres themselves are plump mice.
Oberly Road 2
From his pickup truck, the farmer waved to me,
idling roadside with my binoculars,
as he passed by the small plot of preserved space.
I may have been just another birder
or he might have recognized my face
or the same red Corolla over the years
has become part of the winter landscape to him,
a cardinal bigger than a cow. I bet he’d laugh at that.
I bet we weep about some of the same things.
Sweeping snowy corn rows
like bronze blades on a shaft of wind,
the harrier’s feathered scythe
severed the last of the light.
It is almost too late to believe
that early in the twenty-first century
I witnessed fifty wild turkeys
flap, rustle, and clunk weary wings
against the frozen limbs
of a stand of quaking aspens along a creek.
They jockeyed for position
to safely roost a windy night in New Jersey,
their dark metronomes
the world was dreaming of snow
and sealed in a sheet of ice
polished with moonlight so sturdy
an old man could walk on it
like a child again.
Dreaming in Pompeii
He was dreaming of her in Pompeii,
his head, a stony egg,
nestled in her lap,
the porous pumice of her hand
at rest on the grey ash of his face.
Time cooled lava into solidified foam.
Their bones, a petrified city.
Two hearts’ ruins entombed.
The entire civilization of their love
buried for centuries
beneath the sleep of stone.
Her hand at rest on his face.
His head, nestled in her lap,
unearthed, but not awakened,
oblivious to whatever
archeologists or tourists—
not to mention poets—
might make of them
or of her hand
at rest on his face,
the way a bird settles on its egg,
waiting for him to awaken
and fly with her
far from the petrified ruins
I Didn’t Go
I didn’t go to Italy,
not a foot inside the big boot,
didn’t tour the pagan capital
or the home of the stone
nor the city made stone
and buried in ash, either,
or the city sinking
into the sea.
I roamed this rim
of the ocean,
to my source.
I am a river
that would be a spring,
of underground rain.
But my love
is a fountain
About the poet:
John Smith lives with his family on the Delaware River in Frenchtown, NJ. His first chapbook, Even That Indigo, will be released this fall.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on John Richard Smith/Poetry
Road Trip Diaries –
Yet Another Visit To Islamabad
By Zaira R. Sheikh
My recent trip to northern Pakistan begs to be shared, but I’ve been terribly stung by writer’s block. Today, I’m gonna give it a shot, no matter what. I am from Karachi, the business hub of Pakistan – an extremely busy city, where life is so damn fast it becomes impossible to escape from it. However, breaks are definitely important and I cherished my week of peace and bliss in the northern areas. It turned out to be a bumpy road trip, but I ended up seeing some awesome places I had never experienced in all these years living in Pakistan.
We were to reach the capital city Islamabad on Day 1. Yet, due to a contingency, we had to alter our route and caught a plane to Lahore. From there, our road trip would begin. We landed in Lahore at midnight and reached Islamabad by 5:30 am. Karachi is called the city of fly-overs and bridges, but I love the motorways in Lahore and Islamabad immensely. The roads are so huge. The traffic system and toll booths are so systematic. It’s absolutely impressive. There are amazing food outlets and recreational stops every few kilometers for travelers to relax before moving along.
Because of the alternate route, we drove into Islamabad by road a little earlier than expected. So, we couldn’t check in to our booked hotel room. We were dead tired and ended up staying at a terrible inn, if we should even call it that. “Terrible” is an understatement here, people. Those few hours after a long night’s travel were dreadful – definitely not the best way to start a trip. If it’d been up to me and we hadn’t been traveling with our mother who needed to relax, I would have preferred sleeping in the car for a few hours. Anyway, as all good and bad things pass, this did too. We did get to our reserved room by 10 a.m., then rested for a few hours in peace before striking out for the capital city.
Most of our trip was by road with a rented car and a chauffeur who knew the route well. Locals are pretty good at driving the hills and mountains, but this isn’t easy for outsiders. By evening, we were fresh and ready to get out. I have a thing for animals. I’ve made a pact with myself to visit zoos and take safaris any place I visit. I feel that the way the animals are treated says a lot about a culture. Also, I love photographing animals. So, our first stop was Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad.
Marghazar Zoo – Islamabad
Marghazar Zoo is smaller than the Karachi Zoo, but has a nicer crowd. Everybody minds their own business, and that’s how I like it. The zoo is right below the Margalla mountains and is a fun place to relax and enjoy. There weren’t too many wild species, but the zoo was clean. There were a lot of bucks, deer, zebras and nilgae. The monkey house was spacious and the vervet
monkeys were agile and funny. I didn’t see any big cats, which was a turn-off for me, since I’m a serious fan of the cat family. There was one Asian elephant who posed with my sister like a real sweety. However, the Asian jackal seemed a bit lost.
The brown bears looked the saddest, as there was no water to keep them cool in extremely hot weather. (By the way, Islamabad was extremely hot, which I didn’t expect at all. The only difference is that Karachi’s hot climate has a perpetual date with humidity, which is not the case in Islamabad.) The bird collection was decent, though it was painful to see a huge raptor and family in a cage too small for its size. It seems tragic to keep such a soaring bird in captivity at all. My favorite in the zoo was the owl – all wise with a cool attitude.
Shah Faisal Mosque
On departing, we went to Shah Faisal Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the world. It’s named after the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who was a great friend of Pakistan. I visited the mosque nineteen years ago. It’s no exaggeration to say it absolutely sparkled back then. It’s still a magnificent structure with a tent design and pencil-like minarets, but it’s definitely lost panache. The walls, floors and nearly everything look dull now. It has a huge capacity for worshippers, yet I saw nobody praying there. That’s the only thing that hadn’t change in nineteen years. I think Shah Faisal Mosque is more or less a recreational stop for locals and tourists. Few people pray there. It is a huge piece of architecture that is fading away, which was rather shocking because I expected people in the capital to really take care of such cultural monuments.
Dining in Pir Sohawa
For dinner, we went through the mountains to Monal Restaurant in Pir Sohawa. Driving these mountains is scary, but locals do it with ease. Pir Sohawa is basically a beautiful place some 1173 meters above sea level and close to Monal village. The great thing about Pir Sohawa and Monal Restaurant is the amazing view of Islamabad from there. It’s quite a sight. Monal Restaurant is one of the best tourist spots for anyone visiting Islamabad. The huge place has a gigantic seating capacity and a delicious mix of Pakistani and Asian cuisine. You can enjoy the food while listening to live music. You can choose to sit in the open air gallery or the covered galleries, whatever suits you best. All in all, you’ll have a fun time, especially if you are there with good company.
People say a lot of negative stuff about Pakistan, but I have lived here all my life and know different. Sometimes, the media blows things up and the other harm is done by locals themselves in the way they project their image. Needless to say, most things in Pakistan are amazing, but a lot of crap needs to be removed, too. We certainly don’t live in medieval times. We do have internet access and many people learn to speak English well in school. Some change I’ve noticed over the years is that population is rising and the socio-economic gap has increased immensely on the whole. Every city I visit seems crowded. Islamabad is a quieter place to visit and is relatively secure. That’s the beginning of my road trip, but I’ll soon be sharing more incredible places I’ve seen in Pakistan and beyond.
About the author:
Ragazine’s Pakistani correspondent Zaira Rahman Sheikh is the author of “Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are”, available through Amazon.com, and “If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.” Sheikh is a writer, blogger, human & animal rights activist in Karachi, Pakistan.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Islamabad/Travel
No Bones About It
Or the Case of the Too-Right Shoes
There was a word for it he was sure, but he had no head for trivia, and the more he tried to remember some small amusing or interesting factoid, the quicker he forgot it. [What is aphasia, Alex?] His roommate, on the other hand (the largest Korean he had ever known personally), routinely squashed all three contestants on Jeopardy — routinely. He would’ve been a huge hit at parties since trivia excellence — like tournament spelling — is one of the few intellectual pursuits we all unabashedly aspire to. Nam could’ve made millions, but why spoil it? And it would be spoiled, he was sure of that.
It was a fact. That was that and no bones about it. Bones are for graveyards. Bones are for stock. Bones are for poison, for junkyard dogs. You could love bones. But bones were no good for feeding the grinder. That’s how you cracked teeth and choked into your soup.
Maybe the mail would cheer him up. He’d always loved getting the mail. But email had ruined it all — nothing now in the box but bills and junk, an occasional pizza menu and pamphlets about getting into heaven. Email had no meat to it. It didn’t have a delivery time. It didn’t come from anywhere; it didn’t go anywhere —not really.
Opening the apartment door, he heard a thud as if he’d caught someone mid-knock and then scared them off. Nothing was there but a small grocery bag tied to the doorknob. He was pretty sure he hadn’t been in the apartment long enough to make enemies. Maybe it was meant for another apartment? What was it? A bag of bones? A bag of dog shit? It didn’t smell like dog shit, at least not from where he was standing. After all, this was no small town; this was a big city. People were busy here, had lives, had things to do and worry about. That’s why he moved there. No small town boredom turned to stoning: the smaller the town, the larger the stones. It was some kind of inverse proportion thing. [What are flux lines?]
It was just a bag of shoes, nice shoes too, designer brands appropriate for work and play. They weren’t new but obviously not well worn either. No note. No name. Just a bag of shoes. It was one of his Watson moments. He wasn’t skilled at deducing things. Nam was probably like Holmes; he could probably deduce the hell out of this thing. To Jim it was just a bag of shoes . . . size nine and a half. This was his size. Somehow he knew this would be the case. He was tempted to try them on but was afraid he was missing something. And, of course, he was. They were all the same foot. There wasn’t a matching pair in the whole bag — all right feet. The proper thing to do was to leave the bag where it was and call the police, but before he could turn back to his apartment, he realized that this person had to know him. They were the right shoes. Only those closest to him knew that his right foot was in fact larger than his left, a lot larger. If something happened to him, his parents could always identify him — assuming he still had his feet, that is. If this were a movie, he would be the nameless guy who gets killed in the opening sequence — his mark the only thing left for the important characters to identify him with. His left foot was always swimming in its shoe, but it was either that or crushed toes, and who wanted that?
Jim knew instinctively that email would have the answer. Email was always so smug with answers. He hated email even more than usual this morning. There should be a word for that. And, sure enough, in his inbox, nestled in among the junk, the porno solicitations and penis-increasing tonics and creams was a two-week old email for him. He didn’t recognize the address, and there was no actual message. It was all in the subject heading.
Sent: Mon, September 27, 2010 5:05:58 PM
Subject: Jim Tickle, Tickle, Tickle. Are you married, yet? If not, come find me.
If only Nam were here. He wasn’t sure he could do this, and he hated it when people made fun of his name. Everyone always made the same lame joke. It was infuriating.
Clue 1: A mysterious package: the shoes. A possible acquaintance.
Clue 2: An unknown address: “mmagoddess.” A female. Mixed Martial Arts.
Clue 3: A cryptic message. This person was confident that Jim wouldn’t be married and that he would just drop everything and rush to her.
It had to be her. Everyone has a her or him. It was like a natural law or something. She was always onto some damn new thing: parkour, roller derby . . . why not MMA? She used to say she was preparing for the zombie apocalypse or some such thing. He could never tell when she was being serious. He could imagine her in tight spandex rolling around in some sweaty gym with a bunch of equally sweaty guys, wrapping her legs around them, pressing her body against their bodies, mounting them, being mounted. His hypothesis was holding and nauseating.
She was always trying to make things more dramatic. Two years, no contact. There was never any doubt about it. When she left, he knew it was for good, and he knew not to wait for an explanation, so he didn’t wait for one or go looking. He didn’t bother her mother or stalk her girlfriends. That was what was expected. He knew this, but he had no head for following directions. He couldn’t even put together his cheap furniture; Nam did it.
But this time, the answer was obvious before the adventure even got started. Holmes was always so enthusiastic, but Jim could never quite see why since Holmes had already solved the mystery while still sitting in his chair on Baker Street. At most there was a detail or two left to be ironed out. Jim decided it was way better to be Watson. Not knowing was more fun; the answer was almost always disappointing.
She must have raided some poor massage parlor or karate studio or weekend carnival. Those inflatable bouncing castles were easy targets. Any place where it was customary for people to remove their shoes would not be safe. The sad thing was that this was probably the best gift anyone had ever given him. It was stupid, but she really knew him. She saw to it that he would not be without the right shoes. [What is a pun?] He could see all those size nine and a halfs hopscotching home, an afternoon ruined. So, she was in town!
Suddenly, someone grabbed him from behind, an arm across his throat and a pair of legs clamped steel around his waist. As he began to lose his balance, he lunged for the couch so as not to smash face-long into the hardwood floor — standard in all Chicago apartments. He was starting to blackout, and it was exactly like everyone said. He tried in vain to break the grip. Whoever was doing this was very strong and obviously skilled; the choke was being applied to the arteries running along both sides of his neck, and it was restricting the blood flow to his brain. The living room began to phase out. His ears buzzed. Watson would never have found himself in such a position, never would have fallen for such an obvious trap. Perhaps he wasn’t even a Watson. Just as he was about to black out:
“I told you to come find me.”
That was a fact. Jim could only gurgle a response. She felt amazing. At least his conclusion was correct, which was, he had to admit, a relief — not that it took a genius to figure this one out. All of the curves were still there on her little frame as he remembered, but now she was also carved in long muscle that was hanging off a skeleton of rebar instead of bone. Though he could barely breathe, he still felt the fit of her, felt her loosen her grip. Her lips moved against his neck, nape, whatever, and then there was blackness — and the woman was gone. [What is a rear-naked choke?] The game was afoot, and he had his walking shoes, but the amount of meat needed to feed the bird of prey would surely leave him a bag of bones, and that was that!
About the author:
Carlo matos is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. He is the author of two books: A School for Fishermen (BrickHouse Books) and Ibsen’s Foreign Contagion (forthcoming Academica Press, 2012). His poems and stories have appeared in kill author, The Houston Literary Review, The MadHatters Review, DIAGRAM, and 63 Channels, among others. He lives in Chicago, IL where he teaches writing at the City Colleges of Chicago by day and trains in mixed martial arts by night.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Carlo Matos/Fiction
from Love Songs & Confessions (Love Song #2)
For the Sake of Want
“Do you ever have cravings?” she said.
“No.” I said, not thinking that craving meant desire.
I always wanted to be able to invite
a few fashionable rakes to a party.
I want to create experiences,
have parties, hire rancheros.
I won’t mention the children who were
boisterously uncontrollable; at one time
the rampageous blonde in the single
family home was “I.”
I don’t want to give you an anecdote.
I’m worried that everyday will be
like today and that I will never
have anything to say to you.
What did I not do?
Where am I?
Where was I instead of where
I had planned to be?
There were ten places I could
have been which were slowly
passing me by.
But I am here at home
with the baby and the TV,
news in the background.
I call my mother and my mother-in-law.
I call my aunt who is tired.
These women say things like
“Make a list of ten things
you could do today
and check them off
as you do them.”
…”and then you can feel a
sense of accomplishment
as you do them, like
#1 dusting the bureau.”
Who wouldn’t rather dust a bureau
than drive 25 miles to a
room full of strangers at the
hottest part of the day.”
The trouble is that it
is good for me to be
there and it is also good
for me to be here.
Manners and Customs
Sewing is urgent somewhere
especially to someone from China.
Some mothers were or are superstitious.
Mine never was of has been (that I know of.)
But it is interesting to learn about
someone who was.
I’m more worried about the
pipes and plumbing in our house
than whether or not the moon
is shining on my loved ones.
‘Whiskey’ and ‘whiskers’
are only one letter apart,
or on a good day two.
I wonder if moonshine
has anything to do with
The tall man after he had drunk
some whiskey met the girl who
had to lean up to kiss him.
For her, it was very much
like a fairy tale.
She was breathless.
For him, it was less exciting.
Perhaps she had bad breath.
It was hard to decipher their ages,
though they were not so very young
“nor so very old neither…”
Words of Encouragement to Self
how could I improve my appearance today?
Maybe I should go to the salon;
maybe I should get a perm…
Then at least I did something
I wanted to do as opposed
to something I didn’t want to do.
Why should one do things that don’t
I’m tired of doing things that
don’t make sense—sometimes; on the
other hand, we don’t always
or even ever understand
That is completely rational.
I “shall” try to read these sketches
of others thoughts without
judgmental responses…I will try
to floss my teeth neatly
and come up with gentle
little phrases, quick and neat
like a clean countertop.
Everyone has a routine…”you
have to have a routine,” she says.
I mean she doesn’t buy it—that
a person could be completely routine-less.
About the poet:
Laura Close was born in and lives in Northern Virginia. She received an MFA and MA from George Mason University and a Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins and has been published in Jerry Jazz Musician.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Laura Close/Poetry
6:00 a.m. Miami, Florida
Within the Greek Revival columns
of the Providence Athenaeum,
under the brick reds of the Rare Book room,
I began to hallucinate in front of the books
of wars and wars and wars;
I dream backwards to German soldiers
picking through all these brand new Ravensbrück
clothes, like ghosts perched up without bodies,
shirt, skirt, dress, these ghostly empty coats floating
through blue air,
picking up watches from piles of watches,
combing through wedding rings in pile after pile
of wedding rings,
over there a pile of bracelets,
things belonging to the Jewish blond girls
of Magdeburg, Koblenz, Hamburg;
sometimes you can still hear all those soldiers
oh, it feels better to take the things of the most
pretty ones, feels best to kill them the slowest—
young, fresh-faced, faces minted anew like
bags of bank coins, this kind of beautiful face
that stares out into forever,
the watchmen slowly letting them burn
into this warmth for their hands, their young
cosmic bodies floating up right out into the furnace
of the wintry sun.
Island of Murano, Venice; Murano Vase
The Nine Billion Names For One God
If a man understands a poem,
he shall have troubles.
She enters my head like ten quarter stars, all through
my corporal body, downward, a liquid warm, soothing,
wet like ancient amber, all these sinuous roots bursting
forth from my heart, spinning ‘round, a glowing Ferris
wheel at night, joyful as fireworks, shooting up like
coastal redwoods, Hyperion, Helios, and Icarus;
something I could have never dreamt before,
but now I know it’s true.
Twilight rooftop, The Elms Mansion; Newport, Rhode Island
After a Day of Skiing at Loon Mountain
Your drunken muscles are Paris after all night, tight
after twenty-six runs down Upper Rumrunner and
Face hot, sweat in the small of your back, ears ringing
and half clogged, you wonder why you do this to yourself,
the steam from the shower feeling like little liquid bites,
the rushing water hitting your stomach all buckshot and
later on, the food at the Italian restaurant tastes like it
came straight out of Liguria, the look, smell, and taste of the
wine leaving you translating Akhmatova all night,
outside, each twinkling incision cut into the sky makes you
give praise to God to thank him for how lucky you are,
lying in your warm bed with the heat turned on as high
as it can go, you try to dream of cliff draped islands and
the women of sonnets who may live there,
but you’re asleep faster than you can think of the cliffs,
and in the morning hunger is stronger than any other feeling,
the thought of your days after that like the thought of twilight
right before the setting of the most beautiful, liquid sun
About the poet:
An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul Ferro’s work has appeared on National Public Radio, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and others. He is the author of All The Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009) Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and the recently released Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011). He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Website: www.jeanpaulferro.com * E-mail: email@example.com
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Jéanpaul Ferro/Poetry & Photography
By Jeff Katz
How great is Eilen Jewell? Even Tom Hanks is on this hard-drivin’, genre-bustin’ pixie’s bandwagon, declaring her as one of his summer must-listens. With her new album Queen of the Minor Key just released, and a heavy touring schedule, Jewell is turning the heat up on an already hot season.
Queen runs the gamut of styles; the opening and closing swamp-twang instrumentals surround an abundant sampling of traditional country, rockabilly, honky tonk, forlorn ballads, torch songs and the occasional 1950s’ guttural sax. Jewell embraces it all with style and energy, and, regardless of song type, pure authenticity. Maybe that makes her hard to peg but it’s the key to her wonderfulness. And it’s all delivered with a healthy amount of enjoyment and humor. Each song is a highlight, not a bit of filler in the mix.
Recently caught live at The Oneonta Theatre, Jewell and her band, a band she’s managed to keep together since her 2006 debut (Boundary County), cooked. Sometimes they simmered, sometimes they boiled over. Jason Beek, a solid, powerful drummer, and Johnny Sciasia, doing a fine job of slappin’ the upright bass, provided expert rhythm. But the big star, the main man, was guitarist Jerry Miller. He’s Duane Eddy, Link Wray and James Burton rolled into one. (Note: Eilen Jewell’s Miller is not the same Jerry Miller of Moby Grape, the height of the Haight-Ashbury bands that came out of late 1960s’ San Francisco. Just accept it, Dead fans. Regardless of what you may read on the Internet, it’s not the same guy). His solo during a performance of “Shakin’ All Over” (did I mention Eilen also has a penchant for ‘60s’ British Invasion?) was a mini-history of rock and roll with snatches of “For Your Love” and a long bit of “Paint It Black” thrown in for good measure.
Eilen was an impish vision in black knee length dress, pearls and cowboy boots. Funny and hip, Jewell led the band through her catalog with enthusiasm, taking some detours into her side projects, the Loretta Lynn tribute Butcher Holler and the gospel of The Sacred Shakers (“not commercially viable,” she cracks). Introducing Lynn’s “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” and noting that this was Loretta’s first record AND first hit, Jewell marked that that was “not her path.”
The band revved it up with a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “The Girl That Radiates Charm,” and a hyperspeed psychobilly version of the title track of her new record. Her explanation of the deranged Cupid of “Bang Bang Bang” (also from Queen of the Minor Key) had the audience giggling. After a request time, that ignored most shouts with Eilen claiming the band didn’t know the tune or that they would play something that someone would have requested had they only known (all said with great humor), they ended with the aforementioned “Shakin’ All Over,” more Johnny Kidd & The Pirates than The Who.
Eilen Jewell is a turbocharged kewpie doll. Don’t be fooled by her innocent looks or you’ll be left behind.
August 31, 2011 Comments Off on Eilen Jewell/Music
“The Big Melt”, President of the United Hearts: See www.factoryschool.org. © 2007. A collective poetic slap at the political detritus of our time. Published a few years ago, but you can read it as if it were tomorrow.
“Bring Down the Sky”, Karen Schubert: See www.kattywompuspress.com. © 2011. Comingling of artistic spirits, poet-sculptor-photographer, brought to bear in words. Culminates in a series of powerful poems that imbue the reader with swatches of PTSD.
“Allegorical Beasts”, Leo Schulz: See www.facebook.com/leoschulz. © 2010. I sat to read, soon realizing this was no book to breeze through or cast off. From tangible sonnets at the beginning to prose poems at the end, this episodic manifesto first of sex, then of pain, longing and futility, is a wrenchingly active and beautiful take on man’s struggle to find love and meaning in love and loss. Cruel and gentle as a child. Plan on taking your time.
To Our Readers…
FYI…. Ragazine is expanding its overview to include publications of merit, not just books and book reviews. Feel free to send us abbreviated descriptions of your favorite on-line and/or print publication(s) for consideration, and tell us how/where we can get to see ‘it’ … We’ll try to add at least 1 or 2 each issue …
e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Representation of Subaltern Women in Postcolonial Literature
J. M. Coetzee: Disgrace
By Miklós Horváth
Disgrace is a novel by the Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee, published in 1999; the scene is set in South Africa.
The protagonist of the novel is David Lurie, a South African professor of English. His first ‘lover’ is Soraya who leads a double life, spending her time as a postmodern creature with a split personality. She is, by profession, a prostitute, therefore a subject of the male-dominated society. Soraya is the first woman in the novel whose body is colonized by the scholar.
Lurie gives a lecture on Romanticism at Cape Town University and his favorite poet is, of course, Byron. He appreciates romantic poets because they are less hemmed by convention and more passionate (in subject). Byron is a liberal poet; he went to Italy and experienced the biggest love affair in the last years of his life. Although Byron himself and most of his characters in his poems are often represented as womanizers, it is important to note that in his unfinished satiric poem Don Juan, Byron portrays him not as a womanizer but as someone easily seduced by women. Don Juan is not sexually active, but rather sexually attractive. Lurie does not take into account this passive and innocent hero, therefore he is unable to understand Byron in his complexity. Regardless of his fragmentary understanding of Byron, in chapter seven, Lurie talks about his ambitions to write an opera reflecting on the last years of Byron.
After his affair with Soraya, Lurie does not stop his life as a womanizer. He perceives himself as ’a servant of Eros’ (Coetzee 2000: 52). He is mildly smitten with one of his students, Melanie. When this intimate relationship between a student and her teacher is revealed, Lurie is dismissed from his teaching position. This love becomes his disgrace (Lurie refers to it as his castration) and he is excluded from the stir of society.
Lurie does not fit in this landscape anymore, and goes to his daughter’s farm in the Eastern Cape. First, he meets Bev Shaw, a dumpy, bustling little woman with black freckles. She is, in fact, not a veterinarian, but a priestess trying to lighten the load of Africa’s suffering animals. Shaw’s character may remind readers of the postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea of Aunt Cora who curses an angry servant when he stops the family from entering the carriage, and also of Christophine who is associated with obeah and voodoo. Benita Parry views Christophine as a defiant, native woman who is a powerful presence in Wide Sargasso Sea. Her voice confronts the repressive system without difficulty. Due to her seamless merging of a wide variety of languages, Christophine transcends boundaries and dichotomies: she is both servant and master, native and non-native, voiceless and voiced (Russell 2007: 88).
1.1 Living far from Society
In his memoir Boyhood, Coetzee talks about his belief that farms are the places of freedom. He reveals his attachment to every stone, every bush and bird (Barnard 2003: 200). In his novel, Disgrace, written two years after Boyhood, Coetzee speaks about the same notion that living on a farm gives people a certain freedom. Coetzee says that Lurie recognizes the state of independence in Eastern Cape. The dogs, the gardening, and Lucy’s asexual clothes connect him to a natural, untouched world.
On the one hand, Eastern Cape is the symbol of a natural, untouched world; but on the other, it represents a kind of disorder in a savage society. Although Coetzee seems sanguine regarding the future, he represents a rape with which he destroys the notion of being free in South Africa. Eastern Cape becomes the place of rampant crime. Graham Pechey uses the religious term ‘purgatory’ when he describes Eastern Cape’s and sub-equatorial Africa’s social conditions. He says that Africa is an in-between place, neither infernal nor paradisiacal (2001: 374).
Pechey’s description of South Africa reminds the reader of the double life of the Muslim woman, Soraya. On one side, she has a respectable suburban existence, but on the other, she works for an escort agency once or twice a week. Among many difficulties, this duality represents the difficult enterprise of rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.
After her rape Lucy seemingly talks as a colonizer. She adopts the view of the colonizers, trying to understand why the intruders thought that this type of sexual conduct is reasonable. Her own scrutiny of herself helps her endure the crushing burden of being raped and relieves her suffering. She understands the patriarchal hierarchical society within which she lives, and her role as a subservient woman. She says that there are too many people, but too few things; what there is, must go into circulation, so that everyone may have a chance to be happy for a day (Coetzee 2000: 98). These sentences do not only recall Darwin’s view on the world that there is competition for limited resources, but also echo the very beginning of the book, where Lurie explained to Melanie that women are only the subjects of the desires of men: “A woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it” (Coetzee 2000: 16).
In chapter thirteen, Lurie suggests that Lucy should visit her gynecologist because of the risk of pregnancy, the risk of venereal infection, the risk of HIV. He proposes for her to move to another farm for safety reasons. Lucy does not want to move, but insists on staying and living with the memory of her past. She is aware that the past is undeniable, as it plays a part that is for ever present.
Postcolonial literatures often represent a vigorous connection between present and past. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s postcolonial novel The Namesake, a Bengali couple struggle to make a new life in the United States. While the couple is devoted to creating a new future for themselves, their past is always present, constantly reminding them of who they are and what they could become. According to Ziauddin Sardar, Lahiri seems to be saying that the past is ever present and a viable future depends on recognizing and appreciating this past (2010: 178). Zadie Smith opens her book White Teeth with a quotation from The Tempest which claims that the past is prologue. With this citation from Shakespeare, Zadie Smith asserts that the past continually influences and impregnates the present. The past always de- and reconstructs an understanding of ourselves. It constantly generates new perspectives of the better understanding of our subliminal and gives the sense that something new and entirely different will come.
After his disgrace at Cape Town University and the rape of his daughter, Lurie does not think that women have to share their beauties with men, but compels Lucy to tell the story of her rape to the police. Readers can locate a kind of contradiction in Lurie’s thought. On the one hand Lurie refuses to accept that one’s private life can become a public interest: he claims that nobody has the right to rape a woman, but on the other hand he commands Lucy to share not her body, but her story with others. Lucy refuses a confession and she becomes the symbol of censorship in literary works.
In chapter eighteen Lucy says to her father: “I can’t talk anymore, David. I know I am not being clear. I wish I could explain it but I can’t.” (Coetzee 2000: 155). Although she tries to construct theories about the day of the trauma and analyses the incident (by using ordinary language), the shock simply does not go away. It is what Jean Améry calls the confrontation of intellect and horror after a devastating tragedy (Clarkson 2009: 168). The shock holds Lucy back.
Lucy did not lose her sanity after the tragedy as opposed to Antoinette’s mother in Wide Sargasso Sea. She tries to recover herself in the corrupted Eden by developing and strengthening self-discipline. Self-control is exactly what I call the new dimension to the devastated Garden of Eden and the positive message of the novel. It helps one to become conscious of the self-life-thoughts, eliminates the feeling of helplessness and being dependent on others and rejects negative feelings and thoughts.
In his novel, Coetzee suggests the reconsideration of the role of the women in a patriarchal society and the separation of private and public life in order to create the new Eden of freedom and confidence in Africa. He says that the separation of public and private spheres (but not the entire separation of these categories) would give the sense of safety in one’s life, would reduce the large number of rapes, and would save Lurie from the feeling of disgrace. Rethinking the question of personal and public would open a different dimension in the life of the African people.
Barnard, Rita (2003) J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” and the South African Pastoral, In. Contemporary Literature, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 199—224.
Clarkson, Carrol (2009) J. M. Coetzee: Countervoices, Palgrave Macmillan
Pechey, Graham (2001) Coetzee’s Purgatorial Africa: The Case Of Disgrace, In.
Interventions, 4: 3, 374—383.
Russell, Keith A. (2007) Now every word she said was echoed, echoed loudly in my head:
Christophine’s Language and Refractive Space in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Journal
of Narrative Theory, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2007, pp. 87–-103. Published by
Eastern Michigan University.
Sardar, Ziauddin (2010) The Namesake: Futures; futures studies; futurology; futuristic;
foresight—What’s in a name?, Futures 42 (2010) 177—184.
Pick of the issue/July-August:
Contemporary Literary Horizon/ORIZONT LITERAR CONTEMPORANoffers poetry, short stories, novellas, and other articles of literary merit in both the original language, and in translation to Romanian. Published from Bucharest, Romania.
Another Independent Journal of contemporary culture…
Poetry from Russell Streur, grand poohbah at Camel Saloon, that other online watering hole for the soul … isbn 978-1-937202-00-2, © Russell Streur 2011, Published by Poets Democracy, Perfect Bound Paperback. Available at http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.com/ $11.00. “Cheap at half the price…”
Paul Sohar’s WAYWARD ORCHARD is available now through Wordrunner Electronic Chapbooks. Sohar’s poetry has appeared in the Kenyon
Review, Ragazine.CC, and other journals and zines, and collected in Homing Poems from Iniquity Press. He has translated seven books from Hungarian. His latest work is True Tales of a Fictitious Spy, a creative nonfiction book about the Stalinist prisons.
Sohar’s echapbook can be read at: www.echapbook.com/poems/sohar
Fiction by Neila Mezynski, Price: $12
Shipping: Free (USA only) / $3 (Canada) / $8 (Everywhere else)
5.8″x8.3″ Paperback book, 90 pages
Lidia Yuknavitch, introduction by Chelsea Cain. Hawthorne Books, $15.95, 268 pp, ISBN 978-0-9790188-3-1
Competitive swimmer explores her past, including paternal abuse, birth of a stillborn daughter, drug addiction and failed marriages, before finding herself in the struggle with the written word.
New Release from New York Quarterly Books for May 2011
“Cool Limbo is a series of dazzling portraits that are accessible yet complex, hilarious yet poignant, down-to-earth yet ethereal. Like its cover, which features the title poem’s sexy 70’s chick lounging—stoned—by the pool (as she neglects the water-winged kids she’s supposed to be babysitting), the book is the best kind of party-unofficial, unpretentious, and unabashed. And everyone’s there “on plastic lawn furniture…with six packs and lit cigarettes.” From Liz Taylor, Gertrude Stein, and The Golden Girls, to Orpheus, Vanity Smurf, and Stevie Nicks. Poem after poem, these figures somehow mingle with the poet, in the not-so-still life studies of his boisterous family and friends, building a narrative about the departure from suburbia to the big city (from the ghost of a boy to a realized though sometimes-haunted man)—all while commenting on, as Elaine Equi puts it, the “constantly shifting sexual codes” assigned to men and women alike. Few places can you find a poem about a gay porn star that concerns itself with the meaning of objectivity and art just pages after a charged feminist manifesto called “If Hello Kitty Had a Mouth.” But beyond that colorful variety of subject and theme, not to mention his mastery of dialogue and what Mark Bibbins calls “devious one-liners,” what’s most remarkable about this poet in his debut collection is his ability to confront the serious and painful while never abandoning his sharp sense of humor and playful spirit.”
Forthcoming from NYQ Books in June 2011
In this issue:
The Piano Player, by Elfriede Jelinek
Enigmatic Plot: A Tale Too True, by Kris Saknussem
The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive, By Vanessa Libertad Garcia
The Piano Player
A Destiny Paved with Good Intentions
The novel by Elfriede Jelinek
By Daniel Dragomirescu
Elfriede Jelinek — recipient of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature — is a writer displaying a lucid and ironic spirit, and capable of seizing upon the many flaws that exist in our present world ( automatisms, prejudices, stereotypes). Her prose is highly epical, carefully stylized, lacking any idyllicism or compromise, in the good old central European German literary tradition.
At the center of her novel, The Piano Player — published in Romanian by Polirom Publishing House, translated by Nora Iuga — stands Erika Kohut, a 35-year-old piano teacher, helplessly caught between the love of an authoritarian, oppressive and over-possessive mother, and the love of Walter Klemmer — one of her students — a seemingly naive young man and a novice in the art of love, eager to gain experience as a Don Juan on the back of an older woman (mirroring some characters in Balzac’s or Stendhal’s works). A victim of her mother’s ambition to turn her offspring into a great musician (as suits Mozart’s country), a mother who drove her on a road paved with the best intentions into a sort of existential hell, Erika paradoxically represents a case of depersonalization “in the name of music”, according to a journalist of the French periodical “Le Monde”. And this is to show that depersonalization, failure or defeat in an individual’s existence can also stem from “noble” causes and intentions.
The fact is that those insane maternal ambitions do not stick at all with the true skills and ideals of her daughter; this situation resembles some of Kafka’s prose where the son – Gregor Samsa, Karl Rosman etc. – gets into an insurmountable conflict with the father, a conflict generated by serious clashes of opinions and characters. In this respect, Erika could be said to embody the female version of several Kafkian heroes; the novel unfolds in a world perceived as dillematic-existentialist. Or a world which is still permeated by such echoes.
Erika’s life next to her old decrepit mother, the relation between the piano teacher and her student, the heroine’s relationship with the world in general — all these forms of manifestation in a postmodern existence — thoroughly scrutinized by the writer, are utterly and definitely governed by the absurd.
The unwinding romance between the piano player — an old maid who keeps her sadomasochist tendencies to herself — and the young Walter Klemmer, is presented as having an emphatically picturesque nature, thus standing out from the typical, meek patterns of classical love stories. In a grotesquely parodistic style, as well as via the refined use of details, rendered into an exquisite Rabelaisian language emphatically picturesque nature, one of the key features of the novel’s emphatically picturesque nature, we witness the “conquest” of the old maid by her admirer. If in Shakespeare’s work we see Romeo declaring and proclaiming his fatal passion for Juliet in a poetic and seraphic setting (the balcony scene), the Conservatory student confesses his passion for his piano teacher in an utterly prosaic and vile way, in a setting provided by the toilet cabins of the Conservatory he attends. The scene is monumental: “Walter Klemmer takes Erika out of the toilet cabin jerkily. To begin with, he applies a long kiss on her mouth, the expiration date of which is long overdue. He gnaws at her lips, while his tongue probes her throat. After a tiring and long toil, he pulls back his tongue, subsequently uttering her name. He’s investing a lot of work into this piece of a woman. His hand reaches under her skirt and realizes in a flash that he had finally taken the next big step.”
The tangled love affair reaches its peak in the second part of the book when Erika brings the student into the family home, against her mother’s will. At this point the distinguished musician with a penchant for perversity briefly, but minutely instructs the innocent wooer regarding the tortures she wishes to be subject of, unraveling a long list of violent physical acts in the name of the adamant Eros: “Tie my ankles with a tight rope (…) Could you, please, put me on my feet, straight, like a column, in front of you, a gag in my mouth, tied hand and foot. Then I’d thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please, wrap my arms in leather straps…” etc. etc. Shocked by his darling’s demands, the second-hand lover breaks down and bails out. The counterpoint technique, the intertwinement between what happens in Erika’s room and the old woman’s furious reactions (while being locked in the room next to Erika’s), are superbly and perfectly depicted in this episode: “Subsequently, she asks her again: and what do I gain from this? Then she laughs. The TV set is buzzing. The door is closed. Erika is silent. Mother is laughing. Klemmer is scratching. The door is creaking. The TV is off. Erika is.”
Using a style that is both terse and expressive, even aphoristic at times, Elfriede Jelinek captures very convincingly and punctiliously the essence of a character, a situation, states in general. For example, Erika is defined by what differentiates her from the others (but not in a positive way): “Some people want to be the center of attention, whatever the cost, Erika doesn’t. Some gesture. Erika doesn’t. They know what they want. Erika doesn’t.”
Erika’s relation with her aged mother – permanently marked by violent rows, conflicts and frictions – is a living hell, rendered in tragicomic touches. A grand and noble theme of universal literature (motherly love, filial love) is presented in this novel in ironic and skeptical tones. But this is not without grounds. Erika’s case is that of a person who cannot free herself (not even at adulthood) from her mother’s heavy influence.
Very relevant is the intermingling of various narrative voices with an emphatically picturesque nature — the mother’s, the daughter’s, the lover’s, even the narrator’s, which arise in a ceaseless dynamic flow outlining a complex perspective of the epic and the problems adjacent to it. However, the writer’s comments regarding the educational Austrian system ( in music ) are debatable, as the said Austrian system enjoys a very good worldwide reputation. The same goes for the biting irony, of feminist origin, which is used to depict men in general ( ignorant and greedy bipeds ), a view that is present in the interwar novels of Romanian writer, Hortensia Papadat Bengescu, or of renowned British novelists belonging to the XIXth and XXth centuries. Quite inordinate is the way in which the author has denigrated her fellow countrymen, who are maliciously depicted as “a bunch of gluttonous barbarians, belonging to a country where culture is dominated by barbarism.”
However, every writer or artist has the right of refusing to butter up national prides, if he or she deems it worthless. After all, denouncing the vices of one’s nation can be as valid a proof of patriotism as writing poems dedicated to one’s ancestral homeland or pious panegyrics in the memory of the nation’s fathers.
About the author/translator:
Daniel Dragomirescu (born in Bucharest, in 1952) is a Romanian writer, literary critic and journalist. Member of Writers’ Union of Romania (Uniunea Scriitorilor din România, USR). Published books: The Last Minstrel and Other Stories / Cel din urmă rapsod şi alte povestiri (2002); novels: Nothing New Behind the Iron Curtain / Nimic nou după Cortina de Fier (2003), Chronicle of a Lost World /Cronica Teodoreştilor (2008) etc. Published articles and short stories in cultural and literary magazines from Romania and some other countries. Nomination to annual literary prizes of USR Iaşi in 2009 for the novel Chronicle of a Lost World. Editor-in-chief of “Contemporary Literary Horizon”, a multicultural magazine, published in Romanian, English and Spanish languages.
This review appeared originally in Romanian in the July 2009 issue of Contemporary Literary Horizon Magazine. The translation is by Alina-Olimpia Miron, University of Bucharest.
See also: http://contemporaryhorizon.blogspot.com
Jelinek Photo from Jelinek profile page.
Read “Chained by Law,” an excerpt from Dragomiresscu’s novel Chronicle of a Lost World, in “FICTION”.
Kris Saknussemm, Del Rey, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8129-7417-1
Outrageous and baffling, this puzzle-packed yarn seems to fall in the same (non)category as Saknussemm’s Zanesville (2005), combining the fusty diction of Charles Portis and the deadpan weirdness of Thomas Pynchon. Readers meet little Lloyd Meadhorn Sitturd as a young genius who resists the stifling social pressures of antebellum Ohio while creating marvelous, disturbing inventions. When Lloyd and his parents head west in search of better prospects, the boy encounters numerous wonders: a riverboat gambler with a deadly mechanical hand, a 13-year-old escaped slave who becomes Lloyd’s lover, automatons masquerading as people. The setting is convincingly gritty, and the action darts wildly from scene to scene as Lloyd develops a sense of personal responsibility–until an abrupt viewpoint shift throws, literally, everything into doubt. Readers who don’t expect all riddles to have answers will find this surreal adventure delightful. (Apr.)
The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive
Vanessa Libertad Garcia. Fiat Libertad CO. $10.00. (72 pages.) Available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and independent bookstores.
A jaunty walk through the confusing and difficult world of a young gay Latina coming to terms with her sexuality. Highlighted by “anxiety and addiction” frequently reserved for those exploring the narrow apron of social norms, this small cast of characters takes on the challenges of their days and nights with the frequent youthful love affair with sex, drugs, music and alcohol. Acceptance comes from within after the narrator casts a vote in the Presidential elections of 2008. Coming out of the voting booth and coming out as a gay person being coincident with hope and trust, and the epiphany that hope and trust are all, really, that anyone has to go on.
August 30, 2011 Comments Off on Books & Reviews
Random Beatings Not Thing of the Past
By Hala Salah Eldin Hussein
The following e-mail exchange took place over two weeks at the beginning of August 2011 between Hala Salah Eldin Hussein, an Egyptian translator, publisher, journalist and occasional contributor to Ragazine, and Mike Foldes, in response to a casual question about what the “atmosphere” is like on the ground in Egypt these days:
MF: Hi, Hala, how are things in Cairo? Is the political situation getting to be under control? Do you have any questions/doubts about the progress?
HSEH: Dear Mike, I’m sorry I’m late. I was on the road. The situation doesn’t really look good, though I believe it will come around. Military rule is weighing down on those aspiring to establish a civilian society. Months ago a law was enacted to forbid demonstrations and sit-ins, but it was recently implemented. Beatings and arrests, even in Tahrir Square, of activists and unarmed citizens are random. Actually Tahrir Square is now occupied by the military police so nobody will protest there or organize a demonstration. Military trials of civilians are still taking place. An unbelievable number of 11,000 citizens were held before military courts in the past five months. Never happened in Mubarak era! But days when we couldn’t say NO are over, and I do believe we could force the military council, now ruling the country, to hand the country down to a civilian rule. Days ago we have seen the “royal” family of Mubarak, except for the wife, behind bars. They were accused of a number of charges, most importantly giving the order to police forces to kill protesters in the first days of the revolution. I do believe this bumpy period will be over, maybe not soon, but it’s inevitable. Our mistake is that we have allowed a part of the former corrupt regime – the army – to take over the country after toppling Mubarak. We actually had no other option. Our revolution has no leader! On the other hand, Islamists’ voices are more resonant than ever. Their opportunism was stark when they have – and still – gone against the people’s will and unconditionally support the ruling military council. But our eyes are vigilant against their schemes. Well, I must say we are no longer the country before 25 January. We have become more aware of our rights. We have never ruled ourselves before, and we are still growing as a nation, and this gives me hope and courage to say that things will come around. Thanks Mike 🙂
MF: Sorry to take so long getting back to you. Would you mind if we publish your comment? It is filled with the kind of information from ‘real people’ that we do not see/hear in the news in the US. Everything is fed to us from the networks, and it is generally all sound bite from administrators. Your POV is engaging. Of course, keep the faith, as we used to say in the anti-Vietnam day…
HSEH: Please do so. Use it as you wish, though a civilian girl was charged this morning with insulting the Council in a Facebook Status! Seriously. She will be court-martialled in the coming few days!
MF: Hi, please send us an update on what happens to her … does court-martial mean she’ll be shot? jailed? stoned? starved? or simply remonstrated?
HSEH: Military prosecution launched an investigation against Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26-year-old activist accused of insulting the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and calling for armed operations against the military and the judiciary. Of course activists and presidential hopefuls condemned Asmaa Mahfouz arrest. Mahfouz was released on LE20,000 bail! A huge number if I may add. This means that we are all threatened, in one way or another. Declaring what you think via Facebook, or pointing out a flaw in the ruling Council’s performance can get you court-martialed. If convicted, she will face a jail sentence.
About Hala Salah Eldin Hussein:
Born in 1978, Hala Salah Eldin Hussein was raised in Tanta, a city in the middle of the Nile Delta of Egypt. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the Faculty of Arts, Tanta University, 1999. She is the editor of Albawtaka Review, and general manager of Albawtaka Publishing House.
August 15, 2011 Comments Off on News from Egypt