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Posts from — October 2012

Tice Lerner / Photographer Interview

©2012  Tice Lerner

 From the series, Ever Onward


“Ever Onward,”

and then some…

With Mike Foldes

Tice Lerner is studying engineering in upstate New York, but his interest in photography is in his DNA. Lerner’s ability to capture and present the “body and soul” of  friends and acquaintances on the streets of Binghamton (his home town), reach far beyond the rolling hills of this once-thriving industrial community now painfully on the mend.  His first show, at Anthony Brunelli Gallery, made it immediately apparent Tice Lerner has something powerful to share.

Q)  It says in your bio that your father worked in the press room at Newsday and was himself an amateur photographer. Did you spend time with him in the darkroom, and did he teach you any of the techniques you use in your work, or about his work in the newspaper business?

A) Unfortunately my father passed away when I was three so my knowledge of his time working in the press room and taking photographs remain within stories and negatives. I remember as a child sifting through countless boxes full of negatives studying each image. Even though my father was gone, those images were a way for me to know him. I also spent many hours reading large archival books full of newspapers. The papers were from the WW2 era taken from the Times (both my father and grandfather worked there prior to Newsday). I would stare at the photographs in those papers for hours forming all types of stories.

Q) What was your first camera, and do you remember the subjects you took as a child photographer?

A) The first camera I used was one of my fathers old cameras, the Pentax ES II with a Takumar 50mm f1.4. Early on, I didn’t have any particular subjects that I focused on. I would just photograph anything that I liked. It wasn’t until much later that I started to explore specific genres.

Q) Where did you go to college and did your studies include any visual arts or photography courses?

A) I went to Binghamton University, but never took any visual arts or photography courses.

Q) What did you study, and did or does that have an affect on your work?

A) My academic studies are in engineering and there are definitely some crossovers. When I first started doing serious photography my primary focus was in high magnification insect photography. I love solving the complex technical problems that arise from working at that magnification. I can artistically capture a scale which people walk by every day and teach them a bit about our natural world. A fusion of art and science. My street photography is something very different. It balances me back to the  humanities, allowing me to seek a wider social perspective.

Q) Other than your father’s, whose work do you relate to most? Do you have any “favorite” photographers or artists?

A) Three photographers that have really captivated and driven my work are Lennart Nilsson, Shelby Lee Adams, and James Nachtwey. Nilsson was someone that inspired me early on having a diverse background as a Swedish photojournalist and renowned for his scientific imaging. He captured the first image of an HIV virus with a SEM (scanning electron microscope) and is known for achieving SEM images with artistic composition behind them. Shelby Lee Adams does documentary photography with a 4×5 Linhoff view camera in the Appalachia region of Kentucky. His portraits of the Napier family never cease to move me. James Nachtwey I think most people know as one of the most decorated war photographers capturing human sorrow like no other. Adams and Nachtwey cover two very different subjects but share a common link which puts them on top of my list. Their kinship with their subjects. It’s easy doing this work to remove yourself and to pretend you are uninvolved. To take the time to talk to a person, get to know them, and at least attempt to understand them is something I admire and personally strive for.

Q) The Brunelli Gallery show last spring put a face on you as a photographer, as well as on your subjects. How did you come to make the size and type of prints that make your work stand out?

A) The style of colorized black and white developed over time. I tried to find a balance between traditional BW photography and the life which I see in color photography . My intention is to give the viewer an experience that makes them feel like they could walk through the image on to the street. The printing method I chose is something I’ve used for a long time and remains to be an easy choice for me. The process allows my digital files to be printed as true c-prints and much sharper than enlargers allow.

John Brunelli and I collaborated very closely with the sizing and framing/mounting. For a few months I proofed numerous prints at different scales and we would review test strips. The day I brought a 20×30 and 40×60 to the gallery, we both looked at them and knew instantly that was it. We just felt drawn into the photographs. Even with a great print and scale the framing can make or break the presentation. The final choice was to float the smaller prints behind museum glass and the diasec process for the larger prints to really hold the clarity and contrast.

Q) What kinds of cameras or lighting equipment do you use? Are you equipped to make your own prints? If not, where are they done?

A) My two primary cameras are Canon DSLRs with a 24mm lens. I shoot under natural light with a wide aperture lens so additional equipment isn’t needed. Unfortunately, the printer used for laser developed c-prints is prohibitively expensive to own so I work closely with a print house in Colorado.


Tice Lerner / Ever Onward

There are people we see every day but never greet. Streets we pass but would not walk on. My impetus is to walk on those streets and interact with such individuals. Street photography is not watching a crowd, it’s becoming part of the crowd. I don’t think there is a better way to truly appreciate the people I photograph until I have walked on the same pavement that they have. Each photograph is a glimpse of my personal experience with my subjects – up-close and candid, for better or worse.
My photographs are from an on-going series, EVER ONWARD, that chronicles my up-close and personal encounters with the inhabitants of Binghamton, NY. This area, once well-off manufacturing town for defense during the cold war and founding city of IBM, has long been economically depressed. It was well known that in the heyday of Binghamton IBM had some of their largest factories nearby. In that bygone era, large companies were cradle to grave multigenerational employers that were more like countries than corporations.
Binghamton “IBMers” would show their pride by singing their corporate anthems daily—one of which was called “Ever Onward.” IBM, like the rest of these large companies, has long left Binghamton, leaving behind chemical spills and economic disparities.

Photographer’s statement

“There are people we see every day but never greet. Streets we pass but would not walk on. My impetus is to walk on those streets and interact with such individuals. Street photography is not watching a crowd, it’s becoming part of the crowd. I don’t think there is a better way to truly appreciate the people I photograph until I have walked on the same pavement that they have. Each photograph is a glimpse of my personal experience with my subjects – up-close and candid, for better or worse.”



Q) You moved from St. James to Binghamton when you were 5, around 1990. Much of the deconstruction of the old City of Binghamton had taken place by then, and the county seat was left, you might say, a shadow of its former self. Since that time, much has been tried to revive the city center, but the poor economy and shifting population trends often impeded progress. Your photographs reflect the suffering and struggle that afflicts — has afflicted — the community at large. Do you see things “getting better” for this once powerful fertile crescent of technology, and if so, what will you be looking for — or do you expect to see — in future photographs?

A) There are certainly improvements but a lot of it revolves around Binghamton as a college town rather than focused on any specific industry. This can potentially limit the type of businesses that wish to operate locally. Binghamton houses many multi-generatonal families, many which are part of the afflicted. In addition there is a constant flow of new residents seeking low income housing from various locations up and downstate. Broome County has done very well to accommodate those in need offering many options for food and housing. This is something I like to capture in my photographs as it represents a very unique mixing pot not normally associated with the “rust belt.” Natural gas, whether we are for or against it, also appears to be an inevitable industry around here. This will bring in a brand new sector of jobs and workers. Many of these work sites, housing units for employees, etc. are certainly something I would look to start a future photo essay on.

Q) Can you see taking up photography full-time, or are there other avenues you intend to pursue?

A) I have no plans to abandon engineering but for now I am focusing primarily on my photography and fine art endeavors.

Q) Do you have any other shows in the works, and if so, where will they be?

A) In 2012 there will be additional showings of my current work. September 20-23 I will have work in Art Greenwich aboard the Seafair yacht. In November I will have work in an exhibition at Lightwork which is for the grant I won this past May. Lightwork is a non-profit photo organization located in Syracuse. The opening will be November 8. I will also have a single piece at the Know Theatre for the 9th Annual Playwrights And Artist Festival. My piece was one of three artworks selected for playwrights to interpret and submit a short play. These plays will be performed on November 16th, 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, and 25th. The 2013 lineup I haven’t set up yet as I will be spending this fall/early winter season processing and proofing my next series, but expect much more soon!


About the interview:

This interview was conducted by e-mail. You can read more about the interviewer on the “About Us” page in Ragazine.CC.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Tice Lerner / Photographer Interview

Stephanie Rond / Artist-Interview


Handcut stencil, spray paint patterned paper on canvas

 48″ x 60″ |   2012 



“It’s for and about the people”

With Mike Foldes

Columbus, Ohio-based artist Roger Williams suggested we consider a feature on friend and fellow artist Stephanie Rond. Once we saw her work, there was no question. Through the transition from a Dick and Jane illustrated world of the mid-20th Century to a fin de siecle 21st Century situational analysis of contemporary conditions, Rond delights with a revealing mix of irony, satire and barbed commentary.

Stephanie Rond

In Rond’s own words: “Stephanie Rond was born in Columbus Ohio.  She attended Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School and went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University in 1997.  Her work deals with human nature, animal instinct, gender, and the culture of graffiti and street art. She is a 2011-2012 artist in residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts in the Pages program as well as a recipient of the 2010 Ohio State University Emerging Artist Fellowship.  Stephanie has had solo and group shows in Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Atlanta and has exhibited in many juried shows including “Art at the X” in Cincinnati in which she won first prize. In addition, Stephanie is director of the Carnegie Gallery at Main Library and S.Dot Gallery.  She is co-founder of Creative Arts of Women (CAW) and is part of the art collective, Cowtown Lowbrow. When she grows up she would like to be a crossword puzzle guru and domestic cat herder.”

Q) When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

A) I’ve known since I was old enough to hold a crayon and make a voice for myself. Being an artist is my “calling.” I have to make things and I have to express my vision of the world. It’s what I’m supposed to do.

Q) Did your parents influence in any particular direction as far as art or other ‘career choices’ are concerned? Are they involved with the arts?

A) My parents are both very creative thinkers, but did not have involvement with the arts. I think they were a bit hesitant about me going into the arts as a vocation because they knew the hardships involved. But they also realized how stubborn and determined I am. They never discouraged me from following my dreams.


Handcut stencil, spray paint on paper, wheat paste,  April 2012


Q) You seem to have grown up in a Dick-and-Jane world… who/what artist would you say has had the greatest influence on your work….?

A) Hmmm, I would say that some of my themes touch on that, but I grew up in a world opposite of Dick and Jane. I grew up with all the battles that a lower income family has in addition to being a survivor of sexual abuse. These experiences have made me the strong person that I am today.

As far as influences, they have really run the gamut. Early on it was the teachers that nurtured my own voice. In high school I met one of my most cherished mentors Teresa Weidenbusch, she introduced me to the world of feminism. Influences on my work are the Guerilla Girls, Judy Chicago and Barbara Kruger. I’ve been known to ogle over Warhol and Rauschenberg too. Most recently Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Swoon.

Q) What is your preferred medium?

A) Recently my medium is hand-cut stencils and spray paint.

Q) Were there any notable artistic influences at Ohio State that shaped the direction of your work?

A) I attended the Ohio State University and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in painting and a minor in Sculpture. I wouldn’t say there was one person or thing that influenced me in college, but rather the well-rounded education that I received. I wasn’t interested in attending an art school because I wanted to study all kinds of things that would effect my creative thinking, such as entomology, psychology, women’s studies, etc.

Q) Can you tell us a bit about Cowtown Lowbrow?

A) Cowtown Lowbrow (aka Cowbrow) is an artist collective that was established by Dan Gerdeman in 2007. We consist of a group of artists of all ages, genders and backgrounds that are influenced by comic books, sci-fi, pop culture, video games, graffiti and the flavor of the moment. We put on one to two themed shows a year with the goal of challenging each other to become better visual artists. In the words of our fearless leader, “the work straddles both sweet and sour, accessible and in your face.” This collective has grown into a family of support and love and a place to celebrate each other’s successes.

A dollhouse transformed into a gallery with Rond’s scaled-down work.


Q) And the s.Dot gallery?

A) S.Dot Gallery is a dollhouse size gallery that I have been running for the last year and a half. In 2011 I was in a four woman show at the Walleye Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio, called “Playing House.” For that show, I transformed a dollhouse into a gallery for my own work. There was so much excitement over it I began asking other artists to exhibit.

When I debuted it on Facebook, people thought it was a life size gallery. It’s so popular, that now I have artists from outside my Columbus community proposing shows. Over 20 artists have participated. The gallery is now booked thru 2014. In addition I established the dollhouse size Rigsby Contemporary Museum and will be unveiling a Feminist Museum, Art Barn and Residency program in 2013. These small spaces challenge not only myself but other artists to problem solve, by creating an entire body of work within the confines of scale. The exhibits end up being larger than life!

Q) Who are the other co-founders of CAW, and how did that come about?

A) Helma Groot and I co-founded the art collective Creative Arts of Women (CAW). Helma has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me over the years. In 2009 we saw the need to start the group because female artists face different challenges than their male colleagues. We wanted a safe forum to discuss those issues as well as create a professional support system. We have over 60 members and the collective is now run by a steering committee of eight members. CAW includes visual artists, performance artists, art enthusiasts and arts administrators. We meet every two months and discuss how best to serve our community.


Stephanie Rond Artist


 Q) You were born in and grew up in Columbus, and you’re back living there now. How do you perceive the art scene there, and the general creative ambiance?

A) In the past decade, the DIY arts culture in Columbus has grown and thrived “underground.” In recent years, city leadership recognized the magic of this art culture, embraced it and are now working hard to make it one of the cornerstones of our city’s identity. Art is exploding everywhere in our city and opportunities abound for beginners to the well known. Within the arts community, we have learned that the best way to succeed is to work collectively in order to lift us all up. It makes me proud to be part of a large artist community that values collaboration and mutual success over competition. I’m particularly grateful to have mentors such as Helma Groot, Dan Gerdeman, Roger Williams and Jami Goldstein.

Q) How would you compare it to Chicago, LA, NY? Can you?

A) In my travels to other cities, I’ve found that artists in these communities have the same concerns that artists in Columbus have. The Internet has done a huge service in joining us together. The street art community is a great example. Street Art is what I’m most invested in because it’s for and about the people. We no longer need to concern ourselves with where we live, but how we as a group can make an impact.

Q) You’ve told us what you do as curator of the S.Dot Gallery; what do you do at Carnegie Gallery at the Main Library?

A) The Carnegie Gallery is apart of the Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Library in Downtown Columbus.  The gallery was started by myself and the Arts and Media Manager of the Main Library, Chuck Cody.  We believe in helping other non-profits by giving them satellite space as well as exposure for their artists/non-profit that they may not have been reaching. We believe that art should be easily accessible to everyone and are proud to bring exhibitions to people that may not step into galleries or museums. We believe that visual literacy is just as important as textural literacy.

Q) What was it like being an artist in residence at the Wexner Center?

A) During my residency at the Wexner Center, I worked in the Arts Education Department. Through a yearlong program called Pages, I worked with eight local area high schools. The students attended visual, performance and media arts events at the center. We used these experiences to talk about writing as a creative problem solving skill as well as how text and visual literacy go hand and hand. At the end of the school year we created an exhibit at the Carnegie Gallery in the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The exhibit included visual arts, poetry and performances. I loved being a part of these student’s lives as well as learning about education in the arts.

Q) Are you presently affiliated with a dealer-gallery in Columbus, or elsewhere, other than S.Dot?  

A) I choose not to have gallery representation in my hometown as it limits where and with whom I can show. I would be open to working with a Columbus dealer as long as they wouldn’t place limits on what I do on my home turf. I have a gallery that I work with in Atlanta called 2 Rules Fine Art.  Although we don’t have a written contract, I consider myself loyal to being affiliated with them in Atlanta and I’ve exhibited my work there regularly.  I also show regularly with Ray’s Living Room Gallery in Columbus. In 2013, I hope to branch out to other cities and foster more working relationships.


Stephanie Rond Street Art


Q) Long-term, what influence do you hope to have through your art?

A) As an artist, I believe I have a responsibility to society to help people reflect on the human experience. I don’t believe I hold the answers. My intent is to cultivate questions. I want my work to serve as a springboard for meaningful conversation. Many of the themes of my art address the issue of gender equality. If there were a single point of influence I would hope to achieve long term, it would be in this realm. But I do have other goals with my work such as fighting advertising and consumerism. I hope that I can make art that is accessible to all, and allows people to slow down, think, and in turn have a more enjoyable life.

Q) Do you see yourself still living in Columbus in five years? Or, do you think you’ll be spending time in New York or another city?

A) I really enjoy living in Columbus and it would be hard to move away from my family. I am loyal to Columbus, but if the right opportunities for both my husband and I arose I wouldn’t rule out relocation. One of the great things about living in Columbus is where it’s located. I can easily drive to every major art city east of the Mississippi river in one day. I have many friends in NYC and I go there whenever I can. I’m all for traveling!

Q) Where can people see your work online? Would you like us to list your sites AND your e-mail?

A) Oh yes please! The best place to see my work is on my website at and my email is


About the interview:

This interview was conducted by e-mail. You can read more about the interviewer in “About Us.”

For more about Roger Williams, please see:



October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Stephanie Rond / Artist-Interview

Lilvia Soto/Latin in America

After the Banquet…

An Invitation to Aristocracy

 (ed. note: The following speech by Lilvia Soto, as she writes in her prelude, was presented to a Latino audience on a U.S. college campus in 2009, but its messages apply to all humanity.  We trust you’ll reflect on it as a forward-looking call to responsible global citizenship as it was meant to be for the young people to whom it was presented three years ago.)

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of La Casa Latina: The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Hispanic Excellence, on Friday, September 25, 2009

In August 2004, I went to live in Mexico, the country of my birth. When I moved there, I was afraid. Afraid that they would say to me: “Gringa, go home.” After all, I had left when I was 15, had gone back only for short vacations, and everybody I had known while growing up had died. But, nobody asked to see my birth certificate. No one asked me to prove that I am Mexican. They welcomed me with open arms. They opened their homes, their families, and their literary circles and invited me in. Mexico has one of the busiest, most vibrant literary scenes in the world, and I have been welcomed into it.[1]

With distance, one gains perspective. Living in another culture during the last five years  has allowed me to do a comparative analysis of this one. In spite of the poverty, the drug violence, and the corruption, I have found Mexican society more peaceful than this one. Mexico has not started a war of choice or invaded another country. The average Mexican, the man with a 5th grade education, who never reads a book, is smarter than the average American. If you ask this typical man, a hard-hat worker in a maquila making 500 pesos a week, or a ranch hand who can barely sign his name, about the United States, he will tell you that this country is ruled by corporations and that it invaded Iraq for oil. This average José is not fooled about Mexican society either. He is aware of social injustice and corruption in government. Mexicans are by nature skeptical. They don’t believe the myths about their history or the hype about their superiority. And they don’t devote their energy to hating others. They don’t hate immigrants. There are many American expatriates, some working illegally, living in Mexico, but nobody is racially profiling them, hunting them down, or building private, for-profit prisons to hold them. Whenever I come back to the United States, and turn on the TV, I have to turn it off immediately. The noise, the name-calling, the demands for revenge or punitive measures, the fear of gays, immigrants, the old, the uninsured, the ones who wear turbans, or tunics, or a beard, seem to come right through the screen. The hatred is deafening. I wish I could tell you a fairy tale, but I cannot. I believe you are inheriting a very sick society. I believe with Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Morris Berman, Chris Hedges, and others, that we are living through the final phase of the American Empire. It makes me sad, especially for you, the young. But having said all of this, I also say that giving up is not an option, and that you have a vital role to play in this final phase–the role of the conscientious objector, the objector to endless war, foreign invasions, torture-dispensing American-run black-hole prisons in foreign lands, run-away greed, pollution, hunger, lack of medical insurance, watered-down education, mindless entertainment, racial profiling, hate crimes, and cruelty of any kind.

On September 1st 2009, The New York Times published The University’s Crisis of Purpose by Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard and former professor of history and Director of the Women’s Studies Program here at Penn. It was published in “Crossroads,” a series of essays that is trying to examine changes in the collective American experience.

According to Dr. Faust, modern universities are faced with almost irreconcilable demands. They must be practical and at the same time, transcendent. They must assist in the solving of immediate national needs and simultaneously pursue knowledge for its own sake. They must add value, and question values. Dr. Faust asks us to remember that universities should be about more than prosperity. Human beings need more than jobs. They need a historical sense and the freedom and imagination to search for meaning for their individual lives and for the life of their society. Unlike other institutions in the world, universities should embrace and nurture the critical perspectives that look beyond the present. They should be society’s critic and conscience. They should produce doubt that is often inconvenient, as well as knowledge. They should raise the questions that are necessary to a healthy society. If they are to fulfill their transcendent mission, universities should have breadth and depth of vision, and they should be messy and creative places, filled with a polyphony of voices.

I hope that when Dr. Faust talks about the need people have to search for meaning for the life of their society, she means more than their local or national society. I hope she means that people have the need to search for meaning for human society. There are artists and cultural critics today who, like Morris Berman (Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire) believe that America is entering a dark age and its final phase as an empire. If it was never smart to have an ethnocentric view of the world, and if we accept that that limited view is partially responsible for the twilight of this culture, then it makes sense to say that today, more than myopic, it would be suicidal to hold American society as our only horizon.


“You carry all of civilization in your veins, and it is important that everybody learn and that you never forget that you are not new-comers to the American continent, to history, or to the realms of art, culture, and ideas. You have countless treasures hanging from the branches of the tree that grows in the garden of your multicultural house.”


My mission is to remind you that you, as Latinos, own some of the most important voices of the polyphony of this and any university, of this country, of the world, because as the heirs of many ancient civilizations, you are in a unique position to offer perspectives that go beyond the limited frontiers of this time and this place. Your ancestors are the Celts, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Hebrews, the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Moors that for centuries intermarried in the Iberian Peninsula and produced the 15th Century explorers who came to this continent and married the Yoruba and the Mandingo from Africa, the Tainos and the Caribes from the Caribbean, the Incas from Peru and Bolivia, the Toltecs and the Aztecs from Mexico, the Mayans from Yucatan, Guatemala and Honduras, to produce the Latin American mestizos who came North and married each other or the English-Americans, the Italian-Americans, the Irish-Americans, the Polish-Americans, the African-Americans, and the native Americans to produce you–the Latinos of the United States. Each of these old, inseparable, indistinguishable strands has come together to produce each of you–a unique and very special genetic and cultural mix. You carry all of civilization in your veins, and it is important that everybody learn and that you never forget that you are not new-comers to the American continent, to history, or to the realms of art, culture, and ideas. You have countless treasures hanging from the branches of the tree that grows in the garden of your multicultural house.

You belong here. You are entitled to sit at the table and partake of the banquet of modern civilization. Some of its most succulent dishes were prepared by your ancestors. And don’t forget that everybody sits around the circumference, for there are no more centers. Unfortunately, you are also going to have to partake of the bitter leftovers of the banquet of the civilization that turned, while we were fighting over the crumbs, post-modern.

As Latinos, you have in front of you dazzling opportunities and daunting challenges. I want to remind you that every privilege implies an obligation. You have the opportunity to influence the world by getting a world-class education. You have the obligation to accept the challenge, to strive for excellence in everything you do, to be role models for your brothers and sisters, for all the Latinos who are not going to have the same opportunities. But beware. It can be tempting for anybody, especially for members of a minority group, to accept appointments into the halls of power, where they will be expected to serve the unbridled ambitions of others and to follow unethical orders. You have the obligation to become role models in the manner of César Chávez or Sonia Sotomayor. In the worst-case scenario, she will write many minority opinions, and if one or two more judges retire, then her vote can have a real impact on the future. If not, her only constituent is her own conscience, and her only obligation, to leave a record of those conscience-guided decisions for posterity. Do not become role models in the manner of Alberto González or General Ricardo Sánchez of Abu Ghraib infamy. Latinos have no need of  that kind of notoriety. Do not be seduced by evil that poses as official power. Your obligation as Latinos is to become thoughtful, principled, visionary, often obscure, leaders–a civilizing force for an age that is entering darkness. Strive not for economic, political, or military power, but for moral authority.

Because you carry in your genes such a rich mixture of ancient civilizations, you have the obligation to make your voices heard in the polyphony of this university, of this country, of the world. You must use your distinctive voices with their deep historical sense to question the assumptions of American society. You must use your critical perspectives to be this country’s conscience, to raise the questions that are necessary for a peaceful humanity and a healthy planet. You must speak, and you must remember that, as Martin Luther King said, “the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

As multicultural human beings, you, more than others, have the possibility of having your views of the world transcend your indigenous cultures, to develop habits of critical thought about received opinion and a questioning attitude about all assumptions, and to have an attitude of humility, for you know that human culture is non-hierarchical, that it is a culture of interdependent cultures and a tradition of cross-fertilizing traditions, and that the weave of your own cultural heritage is made up of many strands. As you gain in your appreciation of the depth, complexity, and richness of other ways of thinking and being, you begin to realize that the other is not your enemy, that she is your interlocutor, your complement, and your memory, for without her you would suffer from amnesia and self-mutilation. As multicultural human beings you know that you must love, filled with wonder, what you don’t know, that you must recognize yourselves in the difference, and feel reverence for all life.

As the group of young people closest to my heart, I want you to remember that reality is multiple; the universe, a constant flux; education, a life-long process; imagination, the twin of intelligence, and that to live an ethical and meaningful life means to live with ambiguity and contradictions, to strive for interdependence, to arrive at synergistic solutions, and to embrace the other. Above all, to embrace the other, always learning from her, enlarging the human possibility. As the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe says: “Whatever you are is never enough. You must find a way to accept something, however small, from the other to make you whole and to save you from the mortal sin of righteousness and extremism” (Anthills of the Savannah).

Finally, I want to encourage you to be aristocrats. For this, I follow the definition of E. M. Forster, the British novelist, who in his 1939 essay “What I Believe,” (Two Cheers for Democracy) says:

   I believe in aristocracy, . . .  Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

[ . . . . ]

On they go – an invincible army, yet not a victorious one. The aristocrats, the elect, the chosen, the Best People – all the words that describe them are false, and all attempts to organize them fail. Again and again Authority, seeing their value, has tried to net them and to utilize them as the Egyptian Priesthood or the Christian Church or the Chinese Civil Service or the Group Movement, or some other worthy stunt. But they slip through the net and are gone; when the door is shut, they are no longer in the room; their temple, as one of them remarked, is the holiness of the Heart’s affections, and their kingdom, though they never possess it, is the wide-open world.

So, my dear, dear, Latino students, be aristocrats. Be aristocrats of the spirit. Be sensitive, considerate, and plucky, and slip through the net. Your kingdom is the wide-open world.

[1] In 2010 I moved back to Arizona. I still receive invitations to participate in poetry festivals all over the country, and they still publish me in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies.


About the author:

Lilvia Soto.  Chihuahua, México, 1939. Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literature from Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. She has taught Latin American and Latino literatura at Harvard and other American universities. She was the co-founder and first director of La Casa Latina: the University of Pennsylvania Center for Hispanic Excellence. She was the Resident Director of a Study Abroad Program for students from Cornell, Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania in Sevilla, Spain. She has participated in numerous international literary conventions and festivals in Spain, Mexico, and the United States. She has published poetry, short fiction, literary criticism, and literary translations in journals and anthologies in the United States, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela. She has an English-language manuscript of poems about the American Iraq wars and another English-language collection of poems that dialogue with Iraqi poems. She has also completed an English-Spanish collection about language and her experience living in Spain. She is currently working on a bilingual collection about her return to Mexico in 2004, where she lived for six years, and the recovery of cultural and familial roots. She has published essays and given lectures on Spanish, Spanish-American, and Chicano writers (Leopoldo Alas [Clarín], Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, José Emilio Pacheco, Alejo Carpentier, Fernando del Paso, Salvador Elizondo, Guadalupe Villaseñor, Laura Esquivel, Lucha Corpi), as well as on the history of the U.S.-Mexico border, the culture of Hispanics in the U.S., and the poetry of Chicana writers. As a consultant she offers Spanish-English translations and workshops on intercultural communications. Her translation of a poem by the Mexican poet Alberto Blanco appears in this issue of Ragazine.CC. You may contact her at

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Lilvia Soto/Latin in America

Alberto Blanco/Poetry


By Alberto Blanco

Translated by Lilvia Soto

for William Carlos Williams



in El Paso

at dusk

I saw (smelled)

ten thousand undocumented workers.

They came from the Chihuahua desert

to harvest the crops.

They filled the city parks

to sleep.

Their guardian angels,

their wings trembling,


after a rain of insults.

They left the field open

for the agents of the Border Patrol.


(trans. by Lilvia Soto)



Por Alberto Blanco

Traducido por Lilvia Soto

a William Carlos Williams


Una vez

en El Paso,

hacia el atardecer,

vi (olí)

a diez mil indocumentados.

Venían del desierto de Chihuahua

a trabajar en la pizca.

Llenaron los parques

de la ciudad para dormir.

Sus ángeles guardianes,

las alas temblándoles,


tras una lluvia de improperios.

Les dejaron libre el terreno

a los agentes de la patrulla fronteriza.



About Alberto Blanco: 

Alberto Blanco photo by Juan José Díaz InfanteAlberto Blanco
, in addition to being one of the most recognized  contemporary Latin American poets, is also an essayist, translator, musician, and visual artist. Born in Mexico City in 1951, he studied chemistry and philosophy at Universidad Ibero Americana and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and he worked on a Master’s degree in Asian Studies, specializing in China, at the Colegio de México. His first published work was in 1970 — the same year as his first music band — and his first art exhibit took place in 1981. He was co-editor and designer of the poetry journal, El Zaguán (1975-1977), and was awarded grants from the Centro Mexicano de Escritores (1977), from Insituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1980, from Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, in 1990, the Fulbright Foundation in 1991 and the Rockefeller Foundation in 1992). In 1994, he was accepted into the Sistema Nacional de Creadores in México, and in 2001, he received the Octavio Paz Poetry Award. In 2008, he was awarded a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. Blanco’s literary work is varied and abundant. He has published twenty-six books of poetry in Mexico and another eight in other countries. Also, ten books of his translations of the work of other poets and some favorites for children which have been illustrated —most of them— with his wife, Patricia Revah’s, textiles. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

To date, Blanco has published more than sixty books and another twenty books of translations, anthologies, and illustrated books — as well as eight hundred articles and shorter publications. In Mexico and in other countries, more than two hundred essays, reviews, and commentaries have been published about his work, as well as fifty interviews. His poems are included in at least eight anthologies, and they have also been the subject of several master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. Furthermore, they are included in a dozen dictionaries and textbooks. This is to say that his publications number twelve hundred or more.

Photo by Juan José Díaz Infante.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Alberto Blanco/Poetry

Karen Miranda / Photography-Interview

©2012 Karen Miranda


The Ethnographic “I”

Interview by Mike Foldes

Karen Miranda studied photography at the Danish School of Journalism, in Arhus, Denmark. She received a BA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and a degree in philosophy and theology at Stony Brook. Her work combines the core values and insights of these studies to provide an intimate protrait of the people closest to her in life, and of those she’s reached out to, to understand better. This interview, begun last spring, was interrupted by Miranda’s summer session in New Mexico, and then her preparation for a show in September. We are pleased to present her work in Ragazine.CC.


Q) Karen, your Other Stories/Historias Bravas are captivating portraits of common people in everyday situations. Mostly, they are women, and the men appear to be almost incidental. Is that part of the culture of the area where Other Stories I takes place?

A) It is the absence of men that make them so present in these portraits. My work is not really about “women.” I photograph what is close to me, both physically and emotionally and it happens that at that time of my life, the females in my family played a huge role in my understanding of the world and my identity. As we recreated these memories, the images became the ground in which we reflected how we were, what we were going through and more often than not, wondering where my father and brother were at that time.


Karen Miranda Other Stories


Q) You have a bi-cultural heritage. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

A) My father was a businessman, he traveled all over the country buying and selling hardware. We, my mom and I, traveled a lot with him and sometimes we would do it on our own. I don’t consider myself from one city, I would say that I grew up in Ecuador and was born in NYC.

Q) You took up photojournalism in 2006, and have already produced a body of work any ethnologist would be proud of. Have you done the same kind of work outside of the Americas?

A) I have worked with the Mandaeans from Iraq and Iran living in Sweden and Detroit, and for a brief period with the Mam in Guatemala.

Q) You live in Queens, New York. Have you done much work recording the lives of people in your neighborhood, as you’ve done in other places?

A) Yes, on the series “Bliss St.” However, it wasn’t so much about my neighborhood but more about a home with a peculiar dynamic that happened to be in Queens.


Karen Miranda Bliss Street


Q)  How did “Bliss” begin and evolve? Do you have a plan in your head in advance of shooting a series, or does a series come about incidentally?

A) Bliss St. began with a very receptive state of mind. I had just moved to NY, at that time, I was studying at SVA (School of Visual Arts), and within the “Arts” there were so many majors one could choose, photography was never central in my work, but it was always the medium I liked to come back to when I was getting frustrated with painting or drawing, and Bliss, well it was there, it was impossible not to look.

Q) In both of your series , “Bliss Street” and “Other Stories,” you are a part of the photographs, starting back when you were quite young. How did these photographs came about? 

A) It may look like it has been very long, but actually I began “Other Stories” in 2008 and “Bliss St.” since 2001 (before I considered myself a photographer).

I think I have some type of “chameleon ” look. I may appear young but I was 26 when I posed as my teen and/or child self. At the end it is all about the expression and what the image conveys. “Bliss St.” was straight documentary.

©2012 Karen Miranda

One of Miranda’s new works from New Mexico.

Q) What are you working on now, and what is the motivation for the latest project?

A) I am in New Mexico at the moment, the landscape, the contrast, the space between our private world and our communal world, inspires me. Not sure what will come out but I am working on it.

Q) What subjects would you like to cover in your next couple of projects? Do you think that far ahead, or do you try to finish one project before letting another take it’s place at the head of the line?

A) It’s natural for me to bounce through ideas and visualize different projects at the same time, whether long or short term.  At the moment I am trying to do the very opposite; focus on one thing at a time. I let the other ideas float around “not minding them.” I think that if they stick  for days and weeks, then they are important to pay attention. Its easy to multitask, its more of a challenge to do one thing perfectly right.


Artist’s Statement:

 “Since 2006, I have been working on projects that deal with identity and intimacy. I have been collaborating with native communities and my relatives as subjects for various photo-based projects.  I have worked with the Mam (an indigenous group close to the border with Mexico) in Guatemala, with the Mandaeans (an ethnic group in the south of Iraq and west of Iran) living in Sweden, and with the Waoranis in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and lately in the Andean Mountains. Through the experiences of living and working with indigenous and/or minorities, my current body (of work) deals with personal journeys and heritage – one that I invite the viewers to travel in.”



Q) I see a lot of photography that appears sterile – nothing is happening emotionally that would make the viewer stop and think about what they are looking at. What is the most important thing that you seek to capture or define in your photographs?

A) I cannot say that my photography is sterile, that’s up to the viewers, I search to express ideas, then I direct my attention into finding the best way to manifest them. My work tends to be reflective, and yes about stopping, looking, questioning, wondering, searching. I find that those questions only arise in moments of stillness, thus, what I try to convey, if you call it sterile, I call it stillness.

Q) Your work doesn’t appear to have a lot of commercial value, by which I mean, can you make a living doing the kind of work you do, or is your work underwritten by grants? How does a person doing fundamental, creative ethnographic-journalistic photography make a living?

A) Well one thing I’ve learned is never to think for the viewer, you may be a viewer, but not all the viewers and that is a lot of different perspectives. [To my] surprise, some of my prints are part of private or museum collections, it all becomes relative. The way I deal with the logistics, I support my work through grants, commercial/editorial work and teaching. There is no one way to “make a living,” I stay open to all the possibilities.

Q) Do you – or have you – spent much time in a darkroom, or are your images all digital?

A) All my work is shot on film, I don’t process it myself, so depending on the time and other variables I choose between going to the color darkroom or scanning the film but at the end I do both.

Q) What kind of equipment do you use?  Film or digital?

A)  What I use always varies, from large format to digital, but overall, I would say that my Mamiya 7 has been largely part of most of my trips and the Canon 5d is slowly (very slowly) catching up.

Ragazine: Thank you, Karen.


About the interview:

This interview was conducted  via e-mail. You can read more about the interviewer in “About Us.”  




October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Karen Miranda / Photography-Interview

Jack Zipes on Fairy Tales / Interview


The Storytelling Instinct

or, Why Fairy Tales Stick

 By John Smelcer

Jack Zipes is arguably the world’s foremost scholar of the fairy tale. The body of his writings in the field over 40 years is astounding. He began his interest as a boy in 1946 after an encounter with none other than Albert Einstein, who told him that if he wanted to do well in life, he needed to study fairy tales. When the smartest man in the world gives you advice, take it. John Smelcer, Ragazine’s contributing editor, himself a folklorist who got his start after a similar encounter with Joseph Campbell, is currently at work re-visioning one of the world’s most beloved fairy tales. The author of two dictionaries of endangered Alaska Native languages (with forewords by Noam Chomsky, Stephen Pinker, and the Dalai Lama) and numerous books on Native American folktales, and with training in anthropology, linguistics, comparative literature, and the fairy tale, it was only fitting that the two should meet for this interview.

JS:       Today, perhaps as much or more than ever, fairy tales permeate our culture in literature, music, art, and especially cinema (consider the success of Disney and Shrek). And while we generally think of fairy tales as the realm of children, much of these mediums are for adults (consider Wicked). The question arises, with all our modernity and science and technology, why do fairy tales persist? I realize this is precisely the title of one of your recent books, Why Fairy Tales Stick (Routledge, 2006).

JZ:       If anybody asks me why fairy tales stick, I always respond with a question: Why do we breathe? We don’t know exactly how long human beings have told fairy tales, but we do know more or less that people began telling stories as soon as they were able to speak. They probably communicated with gestures, dancing, painting, and other artifacts even before they could speak. What kinds of tales did they tell? Clearly, they communicated warnings, instructions, explanations, and anything that helped them adapt to their environments and to survive. They also communicated with metaphors. Gradually, they embroidered and embellished their communications with descriptions and learned to construct their stories artfully to entertain, amuse, and instruct listeners. The more artful they became, the more the stories resonated, and since the early humans did not know how to write, they stored relevant stories in their brains. And, just as it was then, so it is now.

JS:       Your comment reminds me of something J. R. R. Tolkien, himself a linguist and scholar of the myth and fairy tale, wrote in Tree and Leaf, “Speaking of the history of stories and especially fairy-stories, we may say that the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story, has always been boiling.” I agree that language is among our most important survival mechanisms. Noam Chomsky with his Minimalist Program and Steven Pinker in books like his The Language Instinct argue that we humans have not simply a propensity to acquire language, but an instinct to do so. They argue that our brains are genetically hard-wired for language. Like you, I have always conjectured that people began telling stories as soon as they were able to speak. It seems to be rational that our storytelling instinct coincides with and is sustained and transmitted by our language instinct (as far as I know, every culture on earth has a language and a corpus of stories, including myths, legends, and fairy tales—many of which, especially the more ancient ones, I dare say, find their way into the fabric of religion). At this point, it may be necessary to make a clarification. We’ve interchanged words like story, fairy tale, and myth. For this discussion, can we assume that we are broadly referring to the tradition that is storytelling, in whatever its form, realizing that each of these terms has its own definition?

Little Red Riding HoodJZ:       Yes, I agree, and as our capacity to speak and reason has developed, we have sorted the tales in our minds and tended to define them by the way we have employed them in socio-cultural contexts. Over hundreds of years, the sorting has led to the developments of genres of storytelling. In the process we have stored tales in our brains when they have been important for us to adapt to our environments. I have recently hypothesized that the most important stories in a culture become memes. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins proposed in his book The Selfish Gene (1976) that human beings are not only wired by their genes but also by their memes. Dawkins maintains that there is one fundamental law of life that he believes is undeniable: “the law that all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. The gene, the DNA molecule, happens to be the replicating entity that prevails on our own planet. There may be others. If there are, provided certain other conditions are met, they will almost inevitably tend to become the basis for an evolutionary planet.”[i] Indeed, Dawkins argues that there is another new replicator that he calls a meme, a unit of cultural transmission. “Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, and ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. . . . memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking; the meme for, say, ‘belief in life after death’ is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.” [ii]

JS:       I would add billions of times over. I recall reading The Selfish Gene as a high school student only a few years after its initial publication. I met Dawkins many years ago. He and I both studied at Oxford (though decades apart). I would support that this memetic mechanism may also influence the language instinct; indeed, it may be the language instinct. The ability to communicate ideas—warnings, instructions, and to coordinate warfare, hunting, or farming — would be so advantageous among groups as to necessitate transmission from generation to generation.

JZ:       Much to Dawkins’ surprise, his speculative remarks in the last chapter of The Selfish Gene has led to the flowering of memetics, which has become one of the more controversial scientific theories in the twenty-first century.[iii] The theory of memetics generally maintains that a meme is an informational pattern contained in a human brain (or in artifacts such as books or pictures) and stored in its memory, capable of being copied to another individual’s brain that will store it and replicate it. Susan Blackmore contends that a meme’s major trait is its capacity to be imitated and to replicate itself, and it is also what makes human beings different from all other animals. We copy and change all the time, and we are disposed to copying memes that want to be copied. “Memes spread themselves around indiscriminately without regard to whether they are useful, neutral, or positively harmful to us.”[iv] The memes battle each other for a secure place in the brain, and in order to survive, they must exhibit three major characteristics: fidelity, fecundity, and longevity. A meme must be able to be copied only somewhat in a faithful way; it must be shaped or formed in such a way that many copies can be made; it must be able to survive a long time so that many copies will be disseminated. In time some memes form a memeplex, which is a group of memes that facilitate replication and can be likened to a genre. According to Blackmore, memes co-evolve with genes, often influencing them, or becoming influenced by them. The dynamics will depend on the social and cultural environment.

JS:       I remember speaking to Dawkins about how Darwinian principles might be extended to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena, and specifically discussing his continued theory of replicators in his The Extended Phenotype (1982). At Oxford, Dawkins studied under Nobelist Nikolaas Tinbergen, whose own research interests lay in animal behavior, particularly instincts. Tinbergen was asking important questions such as why should animals have instincts and we have none? How are these instincts transmitted? Memes sound like the correct biological mechanism. About the notion that culture can influence genes/evolution, I recall one of the last episodes of Cosmos in which my friend Carl Sagan successfully illustrated how culture can influence genetics. As a model, he showed how Japanese fishermen inadvertently influenced (artificial) natural selection of the Heiki crab (Heikea japonica).

JZ:        Though memetics remains a hypothetical, if not speculative science, it seems to me that it offers a viable way to explore how the brains of humans function to store and disseminate tales, and among the tales we tell that deal with profound human and social problems are fairy tales which deal with sibling rivalry, jealousy, rape, violence, incest, infertility, reproduction, abuse, etc. The fairy tale is a hybrid genre that has evolved over thousands of years, and it offers a unique narrative mode that has developed and expanded with new means of technology. Today, certain fairy tales can be found throughout the world in startlingly different variants that bear resemblances to one another.

JS:       I certainly agree. Consider the ubiquitous flood myths or Alan Dundes’ (et al) worldwide mapping of the “Cinderella” story and its variations among diverse cultures and languages.

Speaking of languages, I’d like to clarify that while current theories on language acquisition support a universal propensity for all humans to learn languages, the theories are clear to note that this propensity is not toward any particular language. That is, a baby born in France is not programmed to learn French any more than she could learn Swahili or Mandarin or Ahtna (my second language). An interesting, yet highly unethical human subject test, would be to isolate a newborn, provide it with only basic nourishment and shelter, provide no communications of any kind, and see if the child would develop its own language and instinctually reinvent “Hansel and Gretel” or “Cinderella” or a storytelling tradition at all. I suspect that you would agree that fairy tales are not memetically replicated and transmitted in toto, but it is the idea of the tale, its essential archetypal message or symbol, which is replicated and transmitted? It seems to me that such a memetic process would support Jung’s “collective unconscious,” the idea that we share specific cultural memories (the way animals are born with certain instinctual knowledge). In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and The Occurrence in Dreams of Material from Fairy Tales (1913), Freud found fairy tales useful in illustrating his theories of symbols as expressing unresolved conflicts, anxieties, repressions and frustrations, attempting to discern the universal psychology of human behavior and culture. Even Joseph Campbell talked about “Deep Myths,” those stories or story motifs that are so old so as to have become universal archetypal symbols, disseminated over large geographic regions as humanity populated the planet. Perhaps, unbeknownst to Freud, Jung, and Campbell, those symbols they sought to interpret were indeed the memes of embedded cultural information exchange. To be sure, in my own research, I once documented an Eskimo myth from Alaska that appears to be from so deep in human history, that the only rationale for its existence is that its transmission must be memetic in nature.

JZ:       I certainly agree that fairy tales and other cultural artifacts, which may be referred to as memes, are not stored in toto in the brain. Nor are they disseminated with fidelity because we keep changing memetic tales just as we keep changing ourselves as we adapt to our environments. I would also argue that tales as memes are culturally determined and do not always endure if they lose their relevance in a particular society. Some evolutionary anthropologists such as Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson, Luigi Luca, Cavalli Sforza, and Dan Sperber have preferred to use terms such as cultural adapter, mental/public representation, or cultural character instead of meme to describe a particular cultural artifact that is processed in our brains and is disseminated to provide relevant information, important for the continual formation and transformation of a culture. Their works are grounded in the exploration of cognitive psychology, linguistics, anthropology, and the science of the brain. I am very wary of Jungian and Freudian psychology and don’t believe that they offer fundamental explanations of how tales, especially fairy tales, originate and are disseminated. I don’t use such terms as collective unconscious or archetype because they tend to be too universal and abstract. Tales emanate from concrete experience that stimulates the mind and imagination. They are historically specific articulations of shared experiences that have very different meanings for people in their particular societies. The fact that there are amazing similarities in tale types throughout the world has less to do with a collective unconscious or archetypes in our imagination than with natural and culturally defined human responses and reactions to similar manifestations in environments.

JS:       I’ve always said this about myths, in particular. To me, the reason why there are so many flood myths is because floods happen pretty much everywhere. People tend to settle along rivers and at the confluences of rivers. From a certain perception, a hundred-year flood appears to affect the world (at least a group’s notion of the world based on known geographic boundaries).

JZ:       The exciting thing about tales and storytelling is that they tell us how different we are from one another and how much we are alike at the same time. By tracing their socio-historical origins and studying the cultural patterns they create, we can learn how otherness is very much a part of us and how difference is to be respected. Much of the conflicts and disasters in our world today have arisen because we have tried to efface peculiar and strange differences in the name of rational cultural homogenization. My hope is that our tales and storytellers will continue to leave their imprint on the world by bearing in mind the socio-historical evolution of tales and compelling us to see the uniqueness of all cultural articulations whether they be fairy tales, myths, or legends.


Aaron Bennet



[i] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976): 192.

[ii] Ibid., 192.

[iii] For some of the more significant books on this topic, see Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (London: Penguin 1995); Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme (Seattle: Integral Press, 1996);  Aaron Lynch, Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads through Society (New York: Basic Books, 1996); Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Robert Aunger, ed. Darwinizing Culture: The Status of  Memetics as a Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) and The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think (New York: Free Press, 2002). There is also an electronic journal, Journal of Memetics,, and numerous websites with important information and essays such as “Papers on Memetics,”

[iv] Blackmore, The Meme Machine, 7.

Dundes, Alan. Cinderella: A Casebook. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

Smelcer, John E. The Raven and the Totem (Anchorage: Salmon Run Press, 1992): 75-76.

Tolkien, J. R. R. Tree and Leaf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965): 26.


About the interviewer:

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. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

October 28, 2012   1 Comment

Steve Bromberg’s China

©2012 Steve Bromberg

Changing faces of China: Empty apartments buildings, top, are dwarfed by the new high rises on the edges of Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou, China’s third largest city.  Villages are being emptied then eventually leveled to make way for new construction.  A street scene, bottom, from an empty village outside of Guangzhou.


“Ghost City”

Change For Better and For Worse 

Photos and essay by Steve Bromberg         

 At ten p.m. on November 4th 2009 I arrived at the PuDong International Airport in Shanghai to begin my adventure in China. I stepped out of the airport into yellow green night skies and I realized for the first time I really knew nothing about  this country, not the people, the culture, not even the language. I was awestruck at my naive behavior. I couldn’t ask for a cab and I didn’t know where I was going. I knew nothing. Humor is always best at moments of panic and I laughed, nervously. Jet lagged and exhausted from the flight, I found a taxi and after a lot of sign language, map pointing, and gesturing at an address, I was able to communicate where I needed to go. Construction sites along the road created a surreal feeling like being in a Mario Brothers game. My hotel was buried inside a construction site. It took the taxi driver an hour of driving around in circles through street barriers and pot holed roads to find it. We passed by it a half dozen times. It was midnight by the time he finally recognized the hotel. My hotel room was cramped, Chinese business style. The bed was wall to wall, small, and hard as a rock. The shower was cold and the water smelled. I thought, what have I done?

I have been in China now for almost three years. I came here to reinvent myself and my work. During this time I have learned a lot. Western perceptions of China don’t even begin to scratch the surface of this incredibly complex region. There are over fifty ethnic peoples and regions that speak their own languages. Mandarin has become the default language of China, though most people prefer their own to it. It is a second language taught in schools. English is now the third language by default in China. Except for the Chinese who grew up with Mandarin, no one knows how to speak either very well. However, that has not stopped China from having an economic explosion on a scale of unprecedented scope. You cannot go anywhere in China and not see the marks of progress.

When I first arrived here I was fascinated and amazed at all the construction taking place. Huge construction cranes filled the skies of every city I went to. It was a wow moment for me to see this country going up like an erector set. I became fascinated with the idea of a country in the throes of change. This appealed to me. I could identify with it. I photographed every new construction site and shiny new building I could find. Yet something was lacking in all this. Shooting pretty buildings became a “so what” moment. My interest shifted, from skyscraper to village, when I started noticing whole villages being leveled everywhere I went. I walked and rode buses for hours watching large swaths of farm land transformed into thirty-story apartment buildings, huge fifty -story office complexes,  or the most up to date bright shiny malls that consumes vast areas of land. Around the school I was teaching at in Wuxi was a village of several thousand people. Most of the people were farmers who sold their products in the local open market in the middle of the village. The village sat right on the edge of Tai Lake wetlands. A beautiful place to spend time in.  A year before I arrived, a developer had purchased half the village to the west and tore the village out in order to build a gated condo complex. There are now several hundred units sitting on the wetlands and only a few have been sold. The rest are empty. They are too expensive for the displaced villagers to buy. The villagers had to find other places to live. This was their home. What was once vibrant community is now someone’s investment. People sold their stability and family ties to line a few people’s pockets.


Steve Bromberg / China's Ghost City



When I left Wuxi that summer and moved to Guangzhou, half of the village was still standing. When I visited a year later that was gone too, along with the people I used talk to and do business with. Everything was leveled. Not a trace of the village existed except for the odd piece of clothing smashed between broken pieces of brick and scattered piles of rubble.

We were sipping tea with Vinci’s aunt and other villagers in a courtyard that once stood in front of the village hospital, now a six meter high mound of rubble. I was shooting  portraits.  Vinci was explaining that when the developers came in, the first thing they did was destroy the market, the school, and the hospital. Turning around, all I saw was a huge mound of twisted rebar several meters high. Someone got the word from someone else that the police were on their way. We needed to leave.   Quickly we thanked everyone for their time and said goodbye. We disappeared into the rubble behind us running at full tilt. Her aunt ran through the darkened empty buildings like a rat with a cat in pursuit. We followed. I was in the back. Once, while turning a corner I almost lost them. Vinci came back for me and told me to hurry up. The police were closing in. Gliding against the walls of an empty apartment Vinci’s aunt stopped. Shhhhhh. She looked left, right, she told Vinci to stay here. She left. We waited. Vinci and I waited a few seconds then we went. Around this corner, then that, then this, ….. a door opened and we slipped in. Her mother had been waiting for us. She shut the door behind us and led us up stairs to the eating room. It was lunch time.

I discovered Xian Cun while driving over a bridge four months ago on my way to Pangyu.  From the outside it looked abandoned. The construction company walled the entire village off.  On closer inspection guards were posted at every entrance and people were coming and going, in and out of the village.

The first time I went in, I had an eerie feeling about the place. I had been to Science City and walked through the empty houses there and felt emptiness. Here, I had a very uncomfortable feeling like someone was watching me. I took a few images and left. When I got home I looked at what I shot and though,t wow, I was blown away at the ghostly feeling they gave me. I went back. The second time I went with my friend who translated for me. She had read about Xian Cun and thought the place evil. She went only to make sure I was safe. We meandered through the streets but noticed brown-shirt rent-a-cops patrolling the streets. We spent an hour there. Stopped to talk to some villagers who told us they were being watched. We didn’t say much. We nodded to the villagers and left. Leaving the village we were stopped by the brownshirts and were  told, in a polite way, not to take photos. Fair enough.

There are deeper issues underneath China’s rise to become an economic superpower. I am touching on only one aspect of a very complex social issue and obviously I have not been able to explain everything. However, what Xian Cun represents to me is the loss of familial identity and a connection to “place.”  It is what makes China, China.  When I walk the streets of a village the spirit is vibrant and lively. When I walk through the malls and the apartment complexes I find the corporate replacements dull and empty. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think so.


About the author:

Steve Bromberg’s work appeared previously in a Ragazine.CC PhotographySpot, January-February, 2012, and with Elizabeth Cohen’s poetry:

You can see more of his work at



October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Steve Bromberg’s China

Feminist Art of the Middle East

Shirin Neshat, Rebellious SilenceFig. 1 | Shirin Neshat, Rebellious Silence


Politics, Society and Sexuality

in Middle Eastern Feminist Art:

Learning from Three Fertile Crescent Exhibitions

By Virginia Fabbri Butera, Ph.D.

Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin, co-directors of the cross-disciplinary project, The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society,[1] are to be congratulated for organizing a magnificent, multi-partite and multi-site series of events which focuses on the artistic contributions of contemporary women born, raised, and/or living in or having heritage from the Middle East. Seven core art exhibitions and eight complementary art exhibitions plus a multitude of films, concerts, lectures, symposia and conversations were and still are scheduled in and around New Brunswick and Princeton, New Jersey through January 13, 2013. The project’s website: provides a listing of all the events and artists. The website, the well- illustrated, written and organized catalogue, plus the exhibitions and events themselves, serve as a wonderful introduction and model for those new to this expansive topic as well as for those of us who think, write, curate and organize with broad cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary goals in other arenas.

One Saturday in September, I visited three art exhibitions in and around Princeton that were presented by different organizations but under The Fertile Crescent umbrella. Princeton University is the host to two of the shows that I saw: one was in the main first floor gallery of the Princeton University Art Museum and the other in the Bernstein Gallery in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The third exhibition, Memory of Here, Memory of There: Fertile Crescent Dialogues, was close by at the West Windsor Arts Council.

Six years ago, Brodsky and Olin, co-directors of the Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art, were inspired to delve deeply into what it means to be a woman artist of Middle Eastern background. Brodsky and Olin identified several crucial themes many artists were exploring that revolved around concepts of gender; politics; societal, sexual and religious restrictions and rebellion; violence; dislocation and precarity.[2] They wisely developed their project to include creations by mature as well as younger artists of varied ethnic, national and religious backgrounds.

That day, my introduction to this multi-layered topic began at the Princeton University Art Museum. Complemented by an excellent installation and in-depth labels, the works on view began to reveal a complexity of messages and meanings. The show begins with Iranian-born Shirin Neshat’s stark and compelling 1994 black and white photograph and ink piece, Rebellious Silence (fig. 1). In a self-portrait, the artist shows herself, from the waist up, covered in a black cloak or chador.[3] Vertically bisecting her face and the image as a whole is the barrel of a rifle. One of the eleven parts of Neshat’s series, Women of Allah (1993-97), Rebellious Silence, a confrontational icon, could be a call to arms for Iranian women or a warning to westerners who dare to intrude. However, based on the title, it is Neshat’s response to an Iran that she did not recognize when she returned in 1990 after a 16 year absence and 11 years after the Islamist revolution there.[4] Pushed into the foreground, onto the surface of the picture plane and staring straight out at us, her image is stolid, monolithic and impenetrable. But according to the museum label, she inscribed her forehead and cheeks with readable Farsi texts by two of the contemporary Iranian feminist poets who “had written on the subject of martyrdom and the role of women in the Revolution.”[5] While initially looking like a defender of the revolution, even the knowledge of the presence of dissident text makes us question what was and is a woman’s role in the Iranian revolution and society. Through this lyrical visual disruption of calligraphic words, Neshat subversively indicates that there was also a revolution by some women during and after the Revolution once the conduct of their lives had changed so radically from Western-style modernism to Islamist modesty. Who then are these women? What options do they have now? Is the gun to kill the viewer, herself or the attitudes that keep her a prisoner? Because it is not clear for a Westerner from the image alone, the title is crucial. It also would have helped to have a translation of the poetry inscribed across her face like an immense battle tattoo/mask.

How else can we interpret this work? The eyes are confrontational, but sad. There is a hint of resignation to a fate not under the woman’s control, and yet, since it is a self-portrait of the artist, who was and is based in New York City, it must also be a reflection of the insubordination she felt and saw in the faces of some of the Iranian women. She puts herself in their place, makes herself a stand-in for the Iranian women who protest this political/societal shift, but who remain silenced. The eyes are unwavering, but do not indicate impending aggressive action — only the gun might suggest that. Its presence underscores the violent and precarious nature of female life in Iran. If/when Iran develops nuclear bomb capability, would the rifle continue to have any meaning?

Fig. 2 | Shirin Neshat, Offered Eyes

Neshat rivets us with her gaze. But here it is not male scrutiny that dominates and objectifies the female, but rather it is the female gaze and purposely veiled body that is defiant, here controlling the phallic power of the rifle, not being subjugated by it. In another image in the Women of Allah series on view in the Princeton University Art Museum, Neshat’s Offered Eyes (fig. 2) also conjoins Iranian feminist poetry with a view of her own eye/I. The artist’s ocular crevice is controlled by her alone, and is not, for example, the visually plucked and isolated eye of Lee Miller that the American surrealist artist Man Ray used multiple times as a symbol of his desired control over her, his lover and photographic assistant.[6] The art historical and theoretical literature is rife with analyses of the notion and meaning of the male domineering gaze,[7] but Neshat’s total image in Rebellious Silence is vulvar in outline and density. The phallic gun/slit divides the labia-like folds of the chador which often hides Western-style, liberated clothing and thus attitudes. This woman may be verbally silent for the moment, but her mind, eyes, writing and art hold untapped vaginal and feminist power.

Fig. 3 | Parastou Forouhar, Ashura Butterfly

Another Iranian-born artist, Parastou Forouhar, is based in Berlin and effectively uses violence, its threat, effects and implements, to visually and emotionally startle the viewer. In works such as the digital print on photo paper, Ashura Butterfly (fig.3), from the 2010 seven-part series Butterfly, and her 2010 Triptych using the same medium, she contrasts the pink of flesh tones with the horror of killing.[8] Ashura Butterfly invokes the brutal murder of her parents, who fought for democracy in Iran but were killed in 1998 for their stance.[9] Forouhar places bound, wounded and bleeding bodies within a butterfly shape that references her mother’s name, Parvaneh, which means butterfly in Farsi.[10] Triptych (fig. 4), similarly, uses many bodily shapes to form three weapons: a pistol, a grenade and a dagger. Horrifyingly, the bodies themselves are, in turn, constructed by the very images of the now miniaturized weapons that they collectively build. It is a Pilobolus-like, contorted contemporary dance of death, where implements of destruction infiltrate and effect obliteration. Presented on flat moss-green backgrounds, these weapons/souvenirs are perverse trophies.

Fig. 4 |  Parastou Forouha, Triptych

Fig. 5 | Mona Hatoum, Round and round

Each artist and almost every work in the exhibition reinforce the unnerving sense of precarity and insecurity that the project-at-large proposes as a central theme. Mona Hartoum’s 2007 bronze sculpture, Round and round (fig. 5), of toy-size soldiers aiming their rifles at each other in an endless circle of violence, says it all. In 2006, Hatoum created Projection(fig. 6), a textural bas-relief in cotton and abaca, of the Peter’s version of the world map. The Peter’s projection reveals an elongated correction of the continents showing North and South America off to the left, and not centralized and larger than it should be, as it appears in the Western-centric Mercator projection.

Fig. 6 | Mona Hatoum, Projection

Projection is also meant as the great equalizer through another means. In complete opposition to the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti’s woven vibrant maps with national flags and colors defining the borders of countries carved out by men, Hartoum neutralizes all the land masses. No borders are shown. Indeed the light beige continents are physically depressed below the level of the oceans, perhaps a metaphor indicating that the ocean levels have risen or that they may eventually turn to ice, a reminder that we had better find a way to work together because in the end Nature may win, not people through their wars and petty squabbles over land, borders and control.

Fig. 7 | Sigalit Landau, , Dancing for Maya

Israeli-born Sigalit Landau, who lives in Tel Aviv, further illustrates the fallacy of man-made borders, “of drawing lines in the shifting sands,” through her 2005 three-channel video, Dancing for Maya (fig.7). Two women, dressed differently, one darker skinned than the other, dig undulating lines in the sand from two different directions as waves echo and wash over their endless and frustrating mark-making. The women meet at a point and step around each other to close off each other’s track, making a braid-like form or a row of endless eye shapes. Videos tend to fail my quest for understandable and meaningful visual stimuli, but not so here. I watched the 16 minute hypnotic piece all the way through and then in bits and pieces as I circled and re-circled the exhibition trying to understand everything that was being presented and implied. The melting of the woman-made shapes into the tide and the uncertain effects of dedicated effort resonates as a metaphor of uncertainty and contested borders in Landau’s political, ecological and humanitarian film.

Fig. 8 | Samira Abbassy, Compulsive Navigation Disorder

At the more casual venue of the West Windsor Arts Council, in a complementary exhibition, I was fascinated by two of the artists’ works which poignantly echo the themes of the larger project but in completely different ways. Iranian born Samira Abbassy now lives in New York City. Her large oil on gesso panel titled Compulsive Navigation Disorder (fig. 8), is painted purposefully in a slightly flat naïve style. A nearly life-size woman stands looking out at us. The title as well as the figure convey awkwardness, hesitation and displacement. Abbassy surrounds the head of the woman with multiple chador-covered heads as a stand-in for all the women her singular figure represents. Their doll-like features, in contrast to the sophisticated visage of Neshat in Rebellious Silence, underscore the range of imagery open to women attempting to convey the disorientation many feel both within their shifting native culture and/or as an immigrant to another country. In Compulsive Navigation Disorder, immigration and migration are undoubtedly signaled by the black butterfly motifs painted on the woman’s red skirt while a third eye in the center of her chest may signify the importance of remaining open to new possibilities.

Fig. 9 | Milcah Bassel, untitled 3

Untitled #3 (fig.9), one of Milcah Bassel’s installation photographs from the series dwellings, “a performance for lens-based media,” features three nude women, intertwined with chopped up, partially painted and differently sized and shaped sections of planks and posts from a housing project. The women curl, bend and intertwine with each other and the wood so that one understands the concept of dislocation as well as the body as a home, the women together as building a house or creating community, and the various shapes and sections as the attributes we each bring to fill those “constructions.”

Fig. 10 | Negar Ahkami, The Bridge

The opposition of natural versus man-made structures, past versus present culture, is evident in several of the works in The Fertile Crescent exhibition installed in the Bernstein Gallery on the lower level of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. In Negar Ahkami’s 2007 work, The Bridge (fig.10), an acrylic, glitter, and nail polish on gessoed panel painting, the curving organic profile of a mosque’s dome and a muezzin’s exaggerated loudspeaker melt into a waterfall of delicately delineated distorted Persian patterns in shades of blue, green and yellow, weeping into the middle of her 60 x 30 inch image. The bridge on which the artist paints a self-portrait both divides and links Middle Eastern forms from and with the gridded steel and glass buildings of her New York existence. Note, in the right background, New York City’s Chrysler Building and, in the right foreground, the columns and pointed arches of the modernist structure which are reminiscent of those on the fallen World Trade Center buildings. Ahkami’s works continue this juxtaposition and are perhaps less conflicted because she was born in Baltimore and is of Iranian heritage but has not had the direct experience of living in Iran.

Fig. 11 | Laila Shawa, Night and the City

The movement from organic to gridded forms reminded me of the work of Palestinian born Laila Shawa, whose 2008 Night and the City (Fig. 11), acrylic on canvas painting, is on view back in the Princeton University Art Museum. Ironically, “according to the artist, the distortions to which she subjects traditional Islamic forms, particularly mosaics, finds a parallel in the misrepresentation of Arab and Islamic culture in Dubai,”[11] where Dubai is the Western stand-in/sell-out, and the ten-sided Arabic star transforms itself into a chain-link fence.

Fig. 12 | Shadi Ghadirian, From the series Miss Butterfly

For Shadi Ghadirian, born and living in Tehran, a prison fence is represented photographically as a spiderweb. She weaves a poignant Aesop-style tale of Miss Butterfly caught in a spider’s sticky maze (fig. 12).[12] Like women who refuse to sacrifice others to attain their own freedom, Miss Butterfly refuses to put vulnerable insects into the entangling web for the spider’s meals in order that she would be set free. Impressed by her self-sacrifice, the spider lets Miss Butterfly go anyway. The societal and religious parallels are not hard to see; many women are caught in a patriarchal web. The problem, however, is that the patriarchy is not usually kind and sympathetic, willing to release a captive citizenry. Rather, like Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, weaving a tapestry by day and tearing out the rows by night, each woman must stay faithful to her goals. After 20 years of keeping suitors at bay with her strategy, Penelope was released when Odysseus finally came to rescue her. Who and what will rescue the imprisoned Middle Eastern women? Will it be art, the audience or another revolution? Similar to the Iranian women, Egyptian women hoped for greater freedoms and more of a role in government during and after the Arab Spring. It doesn’t seem to be happening…

Fig. 13 | Zeina Barakeh, Scenarios of Return (chapter two)

Other artists in the Woodrow Wilson School exhibition, such as Zeina Barakeh, play with perpetual conflict and shifting alliances. Her photographs of real and fictive passports document the constant change that her Lebanese-Palestinian family has had to endure, while her video animations such as Scenarios of Return (fig. 13), re-propose her as a giant fighting in her father’s city, Jaffa, against the British in order to win and reverse history.

Fig. 14 | Parastou Forouha, Freitag (Friday)

For me, finally, Parastou Forouhar’s photographic “mistresspiece,” Freitag (Friday) (fig. 14), 2003, clutches, in its folds, the passive and aggressive meaning of The Fertile Crescent, as place and as exhibition. According to Baum’s catalogue essay, “Art, Precarity, Biopolitics,” the agriculturally rich region around and between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was an area first referred to as the “fertile crescent” in 1916 by the American Orientalist scholar, James Henry Breasted.[13] Baum also clarifies the compromising role that the ironically named Breasted played as a pawn in the manipulation and exploitation of Middle Eastern affairs in the early twentieth century.[14] By choosing to title their project, The Fertile Crescent, Brodsky and Olin recall the Western driven, male-dominated construction of the Middle East as we now know it. But they also humorously and pointedly reference Middle Eastern women’s creativity in all arenas as well as the vulvar and vaginal metaphors that are raised in certain works. Rebellious Silence demonstrates one modality, while Forouhar’s Freitag (Friday) is even more explicit. The flower-brocaded black material of a chador veils all four panels of this work. On the second panel from the right, a woman’s pink fleshy hand in a pointed arc reaches out of the folds to grab onto the material to cover or reveal more of herself. As the artist remarks, “The unveiled skin of the woman’s fingers is charged with eroticism, contrasting with the cloth of the veil.”[15] The greatest eroticism is created by the juxtaposition of the concealed and revealed. For Middle Eastern women artists in this exhibition who deal with restrictions of power, sexuality, and justice, the ability to control their own artistic fertility is clearly paramount.


 About the author:

Virginia Fabbri Butera, Ph.D., is the Director/Curator of the Therese A. Maloney Art Gallery, a Professor of Art History and the Chairperson of the Art and Music Programs at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. She has been a curator for over thirty years, organizing exhibitions for museums and galleries around the country including The Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati), National Gallery of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery.


More about the images:

Fig. 1               Shirin Neshat, Rebellious Silence, 1994, from the eleven part series Women of Allah, 1993–97, Photo credit: Cynthia Preston, RC black-and-white print and ink, Framed: 52 x 36 1/2 in. (132.1 x 92.7 cm), Courtesy of the Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Fig. 2               Shirin Neshat, Offered Eyes, 1993, from the eleven part series Women of Allah, 1993–97, Photo credit: Plauto, RC black-and-white print and ink, Framed: 52 3/8 x 36 1/4 x 1 1/8 in. (133 x 92.1 x 2.9 cm), Courtesy of the Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Fig. 3               Parastou Forouhar, Ashura Butterfly from the seven-part series Butterfly, 2010, Digital print on photo paper, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in. (100 x 100 cm), Courtesy of the RH Gallery, New York, and the artist

Fig. 4               Parastou Forouhar, Triptych, 2010, Digital prints on photo paper, Left and right: Each 13 3/4 x 27 5/8 in. (35.1 x 70.1 cm); center: 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. (35.1 x 35.1 cm), Courtesy of the RH Gallery, New York, and the artist

Fig. 5               Mona Hatoum, Round and round, 2007, Bronze, 24 x 13 x 13 in. (61 x 33 x 33 cm), Photo credit: Bill Orcutt, Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

Fig. 6               Mona Hatoum, Projection, 2006, Cotton and abaca, 35 x 55 in. (89 140 cm), Photo credit: Ela Bialkowska, Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York

Fig. 7               Sigalit Landau, Dancing for Maya, 2005, Three-channel video, 16:13 minutes, Courtesy of the artist

Fig. 8               Samira Abbassy, Compulsive Navigation Disorder, 2011, Oil on gesso panel, 60 x 34 in., Courtesy of the artist

Fig. 9               Milcah Bassel, untitled #3 from the series dwellings, 2012, frame dimensions: 23 1/2 x 24 in., Courtesy of the artist

Fig. 10             Negar Ahkami, The Bridge, 2007, Acrylic, glitter, and nail polish on gessoed panel, 60 x 36 in. (152.4 x 91.4 cm), Photo credit: Jeff Barnett-Winsby, Courtesy of Fred Perlberg: Leila Heller Gallery, New York; and the artist

Fig. 11             Laila Shawa, Night and the City, from the twenty-nine part series Sarab, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 39 3/8 x 78 3/4 in. (100.1 x 199.9 cm), Photo credit: Joanna Vestey, Courtesy of the artist

Fig. 12             Shadi Ghadirian, From the series Miss Butterfly, 2011, One of fifteen photographs, 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. (70 x 100 cm), Courtesy of the artist

Fig. 13             Zeina Barakeh, Still from Scenarios of Return (chapter two), 2012, from the series And Then…, 2008-ongoing, Video animation, Duration variable, Courtesy of the artist

Fig. 14             Parastou Forouhar, Freitag (Friday), 2003, Aludobond, Four panels, Each 66 7/8 x 33 7/8 in. (170 x 86 cm), Courtesy of the RH Gallery, New York, and the artist

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Feminist Art of the Middle East

Paul West / Essay



By Paul West

He slept all day, if he could, and as much of the night as he could bear to. And Watt was with him, he of the red thatch and long cylindrical green overcoat, the boot on one foot, the shoe on the other, his gull-like eyes overlooking everything. There they sat, goggling, two graduates of the same asylum, the place where they were supposed to feel inviolable. Giggling as the rats ran up and down their trews, happier still when the milk churns clanged, mornings, and later when the mailman spins by, whistling The Roses are Blooming in Picardy.. Ay, but were they blooming in the hills above Avignon, here? They eyed the distant pearly mansion where God had come to rest and Watt once worked as a servant. Mentally both he and Watt were always chasing ambulances.


And he still played at war, even in the thick of the heat of composition. He put the dynamite next the geranium lest Watt butter it and devour it, lest it blow up the little doomed house. Some of the Maquis led by Monsieur Char the poet killed some Germans come to investigate the bale of tobacco dropped by parachute (it was like the top of the morning falling, Sam said), but nothing happened. They went away. Miss Beamish, he, and Watt then recognized that something final but of indeterminable purport had just taken place.

Now, think, we listened to Jack McGowran’s (rather careless) performance of Text 8 that begins “Only the words break the silence, all other sounds have ceased.” It helps people more to read it aloud to themselves, but the truth of the matter is that the mind’s ear is where these words belong, that being where they start. For similar reasons, this is how Dylan Thomas’s poems are best assimilated. It is noteworthy that Beckett never read his work aloud, refusing to take part in that weird recovery of literary work into the oral tradition, as if a quiet read to oneself were a sacrilege to society. There are some writers you have to be alone with, and Beckett is by far the most disquieting of these because he is the complementary opposite to Nabokov, who believes in the full pagaeant and panoply of life and word, a maximalist author if we ever had one after Shakespeare. Beckett is starchy, astringent, the hunchback closing in ever more tightly on himself while great bells toll. Nabokov is the magician being suckered by the fake eyes of a certain butterfly because they are beautiful fakes. To read these two in conjunction gives anyone a pole and an equator, things worth having when you want to know where, say, Malcolm Lowry and Emily Dickinson belong.

One of the most fascinating components of this book is the Notes on the Texts, which gives the full history of each, chronologically all the way from his first short story, “Assumption,” to the last of “Stirrings Still.” This is how the fluent and elegant “Assumption” begins:

He could have shouted and could not. The buffoon in the loft swung steadily on his stick and the organist sat dreaming with his hands in his pockets. He spoke little, and then almost huskily, with the low-voiced timidity of a man who shrinks from argument, who can reply confidently to Pawn to King’s fourth, but whose faculties are frozen into bewildered suspension by Pawn to Rook’s third, of the unhappy listener who will not face a clash with the vulgar, uncultivated, terribly clear and personal ideas of the unread intelligenzia. He indeed was not such a man, but his voice was of such a man; and occasionally when he chanced to be interested in a discussion whose noisy violence would have been proof against most resonant interruption of the beautifully banal kind, he would exercise his remarkable faculty of whispering the turmoil down. This whispering down, like all explosive feats of the kind, was as the apogee of a Vimy Light’s parabola, commanding undeserved attention because of its sudden brilliance. 

If he had never written better than that, surely he would have made his mark. Something rippling evokes muscle and, as always in Beckett, a better mind than the mind on show makes the whole thing irresistible. The Vimy Light image works better than the Pawn to King’s Fourth, but who cares? This man can write. Look now at how “Stirrings Still 3” ends:

“spite of all the one and if the reverse then of course the other that is stir no more. Such and much more such the hubbub in his mind so-called till nothing left from deep within but only ever fainter oh to end. No matter how no matter where. Time and grief and self so-called. Oh all to end.”

In between these two pieces lies the wasteland summed up elsewhere in the title of an abandoned novel, “Fancy Dying.” The amenities and civilities of conventional discourse have fallen starkly away, and what is left is the stertorous bicker of the ont — the existing creature. Earlier, he has gone deeper and lost more (punctuation, verb, sentence, noun), but he is always attempting a dereliction that tries to say more with less, or rather with fewer traditional constraints, as if, as some have said, his task was to purify the language of the tribe, stripping away its clever inflections, its ways of suppressing ambiguity, its disciplined way of speaking in a two-dimensional silence. So what comes in between the one quotation and the other is not so much a series of break-throughs as the intensification of just a few deficits cultivated not only to make a philosophical point but also to create an unmistakable unique style that doesn’t really thrive in the plays. Barbaric yawp maybe, but also agonistic shorthand. It is his way of “whispering the turmoil down.”

Introducing such a classic should be a work of self-effacing delicacy, as if regrouping someone’s bones, but S.E. Gontrarski, a New Zealander, makes a bad start with an opening sentence that means just too many things: “While short fiction was a major creative outlet for Samuel Beckett, it has heretofore attracted only a minor readership.” Is he talking about Beckett’s short fiction or short fiction in general? If the latter, he’s wrong. The trouble here is that untethered “it.” Does he really mean, as he seems to, that Beckett brought the tradition of short fiction out of the darkness? Beckett would have skewered that incompetent sentence, and rewritten it thus: Although a major creative outlet for Samuel Beckett, his short fiction…. That is Gontrarski’s only gaffe, though he pays far too much court to critics, refers to the novelist John Banville as a literary editor only, and pays the theater too much reverence. He rightly canes William Trevor for omitting Beckett from The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories (1989) because he “conveyed his ideas more skillfully in another medium,” which is a scandalous, dumb thing to say. I wearied of Schopenhauer in Gontrarski’s introducing, but was glad to find him quoting Beckett on the novel Watt: “the unconscious mind! What a subject for the short story…. perhaps deep down in those palaeozoic profounds, midst mammoth Old Red Sandstone phalli and Carboniferous pudenda…into the pre-uterine… the agar-agar impossible to describe.” The scholarly and bibliographical apparatus provided are truly useful and the texts have been corrected from numerous erroneous versions.

About the author:

The author of 50 books, Paul West has received the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1985, a 1993 Lannan Prize for Fiction, and the Grand-Prix Halperine-Kaminsky Prize for the Best Foreign Book in 1993. He has also been named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. The Tent of Orange Mist was runner-up for the 1996 National Book Circle Award in Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature.


October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Paul West / Essay

Alison Meyers / Fiction


©2012 Walter Gurbo

Tennis Mice | Walter Gurbo



Whenever Anika tried to picture the men in their houses doing ordinary, everyday things, she came up blank. In early January, one or two of them might pass around Christmas postcards depicting pale offspring — a boy and a girl apiece. A smiling plump or skinny bottle-blond wife wearing a sweater embellished with a green wreath or red and brown reindeer made of thick yarn posed behind them, hands resting protectively on the children’s scrawny shoulders. Every so often, a blurred Polaroid of a birthday boy pedaling a plastic Big Wheel appeared. Mostly, though, the eight doubles players behaved as if no one had any claims on them. The Fernwood Tennis Club, neglected and under-subscribed, was their castle.

This Tuesday night, as usual, they sprawled on flimsy rattan chairs after finishing their matches, the wide-screen television blaring a basketball game from across the room. After laundering sweaty towels, vacuuming the locker room’s indoor-outdoor carpet and clearing up empty beer cans and crumbled corn chips in the small lounge on dozens of Tuesday nights like this one, Anika had memorized the stink of the men’s socks and the disorder of their gym bags. The eight teammates seemed to her like messy children who, upon discovering that their parents have left town for the weekend, grow giddy with their own freedom to misbehave. It was, she surmised, this single-minded dedication to their own pleasure — loud conversations on which she was forced to eavesdrop and their obliviousness to closing time — that prevented her from seeing them as grownups, capable of dignity or grief.

Tonight the topic of conversation was pest control. The small one with light brown hair feathered around his delicate, pink face announced his successful campaign against ladybugs.  He’d been battling an infestation in his split-level for weeks.

“Killing lady bugs . . . isn’t that supposed to be bad luck, or something?” ventured Brian.  Anika could remember Brian’s name because he was team captain, responsible for calling in the team roster every Friday. Even over the telephone his voice was loud and manly, the enthusiastic bark of a high school quarterback. He also was occasionally helpful, picking up empties and tossing them overhand into the trash. “Slam dunk!” he’d cheer, each time a can ricocheted in the big rubber barrel with a dull thunk. He ignored the recycling bin.

“Yeah, well, maybe if it’s just one lady bug. But hell, there were hundreds of these suckers. And in my house!”

“So, what’d you do?  How’d you get rid of them?”

Feathered Hair paused. “Scorched earth,” he enunciated slowly. He waited, then amplified. “Pure, scorched earth.”

The men tipped back in their chairs. Everything in the room, except the TV, went quiet as they simultaneously took long pulls on their beer and contemplated their companion’s prowess.

“Hey, Larry.”  The one wearing a Red Sox baseball cap with the brim bent down the center broke the reverie. “Remember that super-bad situation you had with those friggin’ squirrels in your attic?”

“Yeah, wasn’t that a bitch?  Talk about scorched earth.” Larry sipped reflectively for a minute.

“Hey, you guys know what my brother-in-law says about squirrels?”


My brother-in-law says…″ he broke off, chuckling, then recovered. “Well, he has a theory. He says, with squirrels, you got to go for the direct hit. Then circle back and hit them again. Possibly a third time. ‘Cause squirrels?  Even when you think they’re dead, even if they probably are dead, they’re so stupid, they don’t know they’re dead. They’re just as likely to get right back up and try crossing the road all over again.”



Around 9:30, after she’d pulled the last load from the dryer and folded the towels neatly into thirds, Anika thought, Maybe I’ll call Phil, or he’ll call me. Talking to Phil broke up the night. By now, everyone except the eight pals had gone home. Customers had stopped calling to reserve playing time or complain about their bills. Anika had finished dragging the great, clay-laden broom across the courts and brushed all the lines. Phil was the one pro at the club she talked to. During the day he’d stop by the counter just to shoot the shit or ask her to tally up his receipts. He stored months of paperwork in a recycled business envelope that had seen better days and kept an impressive roll of tens and twenties in his warm-up pants pocket. His deep voice rumbled out from his chest in a faint sing-song, soothing and dreamlike, even when the topic was as mundane as signing up courts for next week’s tournament. Last week, Anika’d had to stop him from sending $200 in cash through the mail to his daughter who played Number Two for Florida State on a tennis scholarship.

“Don’t you know that postal workers rip open fat, card-shaped envelopes, just looking for money?” she warned him.

“See, that’s why I need you to be my wife,” Phil half-joked. “Someone to look out for me.”


 Tonight was a night that Phil felt like talking.  He didn’t announce himself when Anika picked up the phone after the second ring, simply started the conversation in mid-paragraph, as if expecting her to read his thoughts, know his private grievances by heart. He rehearsed a mythical confrontation with Steve, the club’s absentee owner.

“I’ve got the wrong complexion,” Phil summed up, after running down all the reasons why Steve should fire the head pro and hire him as his replacement, but in the end, would do neither.

“Ha!”  He ended his diatribe with a mirthless sound. Phil, she guessed, had lost more than his share of battles in his 58 years.


 When he gathered up his racquets at the end of the day, Phil sometimes would announce the particulars of his evening meal, saying, “I’m going home to make myself some nice Island food — fried fish, okra, spicy rice.” Anika could picture him in his apartment as daylight faded from the windows. She saw him moving about a compact, tidy kitchen the size of her own, silently preparing a solitary supper. Phil once told her that he collected vanilla candles of different sizes and shapes and lit them in the evening to fill his rooms with a scent of the tropics.

Anika wondered what he was like as a child growing up in Jamaica. She tried to imagine a miniature, innocent version of this self-reliant man. Who took care of little Phil, taught him things?  How did he come to play tennis and believe in it with the fierceness of a revivalist preacher? Anika often would look out the wall-length picture window that separated the lounge from Court One and watch Phil running drills. He’d stand in front of the baseline, methodically hitting balls from his hand to the striving teenagers or earnest middle-aged ladies on the other side of the net.

From a distance, his motions looked cool and languorous, like those of a young man thoughtlessly in love with the infallibility of his own limbs. Up close, two deep lines on either side of his down-turned mouth made his face look weary beneath the dark blue baseball cap he always wore.

One day Anika teased, “Hey Phil, what’s underneath your cap?” and he unexpectedly removed it, running long fingers over a smooth scalp.

“You like bald-headed men?” he asked.

Anika shrugged her shoulders and turned away quickly. “They’re okay.” Now she wanted him to cover up. Exposed like this, Phil was less tennis coach and more man. Seeing his flawless head made her stomach tighten. She did not want this power over him, this easy ability to make him show himself to her.


Tonight’s talk of ladybugs and squirrels put Anika in mind of a science show — Discovery or Nova — she’d watched on TV last week. An expert said that the human race has the intelligence and resources to survive an ice age, but that virtually all other species would perish. The scientist explained that lower species are interdependent; only mankind can live alone. This was how evolution, survival of the fittest, occurred — not gradually or incrementally, but in response to catastrophic extinctions of vast proportions. Cataclysm.

What would this brave new world be like? Anika pictured living inside an immense, climate-controlled plastic bubble, sheltered from wind and the frozen whiteness outside. She imagined waking up to manmade sounds — automobile traffic, clock radios and the first showers of the day. No bird calls, no barking dogs. “I could manage,” she told herself.  “I wouldn’t be lonely.”

Earlier today, she had walked to the park a few blocks from her third-floor efficiency. This was her ritual four or five times a week — circling the paths, clearing her mind before boarding the noon bus out to the end of the city line, a mile’s trek from the tennis club. Usually she carried a walkman in a fanny pack around her waist and listened to Van Morrison or Muddy Waters.

Today, though, she traveled without music, just looked and listened as she strode down sidewalks and crossed three intersections. Her route never varied. It took her past a four-story brick townhouse with a basement apartment. Two front windows looked out onto a postage stamp yard where someone had built a tiny animal sanctuary. Bird feeders and a birdbath anchored in a raised flower bed attracted pigeons and squirrels that competed for seeds and crumbs.

Today she lingered to watch the puff-chested, self-important birds chase skinny squirrels away from their meal. The squirrels pretended to be intimidated, scurrying under a rhododendron or racing up the branches of a catalpa. Within seconds, they were right back, nervously trying to steal a small portion. Was this a game, or the rudiments of survival?  The animals seemed to have reached a kind of understanding, one that eluded her, but was nonetheless entertaining. As she stood watching their antics, she glanced up and saw a white-haired man gazing out over a green banker’s lamp and a computer screen from behind the windows. Briefly, she locked eyes with him. He nodded his head once, acknowledging their shared pleasure.


As usual, Anika arrived at the club ten minutes early; taking the 12:30 bus would make her 20 minutes late. She switched on the display case lights that the first shift had ignored, dumped hours-old coffee and decaf from the carafes, and put on two new pots to brew. She wet a sponge and ran it across the sticky kitchenette counter, picking up spilled grains of sugar and instant cocoa powder from hastily opened foil packets. She restocked the refrigerator with bottles of spring water and yellow and blue Gatorade. Then she stowed her backpack behind the desk and punched in.

“Hey, Tricia,” she greeted the pony tailed teenager who worked the counter on Tuesdays. “Anything I should know?”

“Not really. Oh, yeah, Steve said to make telemarketing calls to new homeowners after six o’clock. You know, the ones in the Yankee Flyer.”  Trish handed her a copy of the local weekly, its ink smeared pages folded back to the real estate section.

Okay, Anika told herself, this still beats being trapped in a glass cubicle, inhaling exhaust fumes all day. She wanted to forget the months she’d worked at Harry’s Fast ‘n’ Good in the bowels of the city’s busiest parking garage. Though she’d never followed through, to console herself, she used to fantasize shouting out to the harried drive-through commuters, “The Belgian waffle mix is made from plastic!”  Or, “That oily corn dog you just ordered is three weeks old!”

“The cash register balance?” she called to Tricia’s back as the girl picked up her gym bag and racquet and headed over to play on the hardtops in Building Two.


“The troops are getting real close to Baghdad,” a player from the Tuesday Night team announced to the room. A bulletin about Operation Iraqi Freedom crawled across the bottom of the basketball game the men were tuned to. Most of them ignored the screen except when the commentator’s voice reached a fever pitch, signaling a stunning move or a controversial foul. Only the dark haired, youngish one in Buddy Holly glasses had turned his chair squarely toward the set. Anika held out some faint hope for Buddy; his thick lenses made him look nerdy and sort of smart.  She wondered what he would say next.

“So what do you guys think about Iraq?” He stopped speaking abruptly, as if holding his breath. He waited for someone else to set the tone.

“Man, I tell you, if Bush liberates Iraq, he’ll go down in history as the president who brought democracy to the Middle East,” Brian volunteered.

Several others nodded sagely, assenting silently. If anyone disagreed with Brian’s pronouncement, he wasn’t saying. Anika bit her lower lip and walked down to Court Two to retrieve forgotten balls and a navy blue sweatshirt left crumpled on a metal folding chair.

As she bent down to pick up a soiled, balled-up Band Aid from the court, Anika thought of her Aunt Dora. She wondered how far she, herself, had come from her great aunt’s life. Dora had landed at Ellis Island alone, a teenage peasant girl who didn’t know a word of English and was barely literate in Yiddish. She found work in a sweatshop in New York’s garment district and boarded in a rooming house. She used to wake herself up before dawn each day, attuned to the shifts in light outside her window. A sudden absence of concentrated illumination when the nearby streetlight went out at 5 a.m. was her alarm clock. Dora worked 14-hour days for months, until one winter morning, her exhausted body refused to acknowledge the street light’s change. When she arrived at work late, breathless and panicked, the boss fired her on the spot. No second chances. There would be an endless stream of young women to take her place at the hat trimming station.

Anika first heard this story as a very little girl, and memorized it as if it were her own. It haunted her to think of her aunt’s terror and loss. Dora had run wildly down the streets, hatless and coatless, after the boss let her go. Kind relatives saw her, gathered her up into their tenement, stripped off her clothes and put her into a tub of warm water. Her life was not over, after all. What about the women and children of Baghdad, Anika wondered. Who would save them?


The men were leaving at last. Through the picture window she saw them shouldering tennis bags and mouthing their goodbyes. She glanced up at the hands of the big school-room clock mounted on the wall by Court One. Good, 10:35. She would have time to cash out and pick up the last of the potato chip bags and empties before locking up and hauling the full garbage bags out to the dumpster. Walking fast, she could just catch the last bus of the night.

As impatient as she’d been for the end of her shift, now that the club was finally emptying, disappointment washed over her. Shadows cast from the lights above Courts One and Two lay like a muddy hand across the dim far courts. Overhead, squeaky fans in need of grease and attention paddled the silent air. Errant puffs of green fuzz from beat-up tennis balls moved lightly in the corners. Anika could smell old sweat and spilled beer.

How is it possible, she wondered, that people look into each other’s eyes every week — transact business, exchange pleasantries — yet seem only to circle each other’s lives. Take Phil, the topic of this week’s scuttlebutt. A newcomer had overstayed his court time. He’d been using the ball machine, and at quarter past the hour, balls lay scattered all around the court. Phil was indignant when he told Anika about the incident the next day.

“I finally walked out onto the court. I told him, ‘Hey, man, you were supposed to be off fifteen minutes ago. I got a lesson to give.’  ”

Now Phil was going to have to start late and collect only half his fee.

“A white guy,” Anika stated flatly when Phil told her what happened next.

“He gives me this ‘Who the hell are you?’ look. Then he tries to hand me the hopper, like I’m supposed to pick up his mess!  Then he starts yelling about how he’s a friend of Steve, and how Steve is going to hear about this.”

No one was surprised when Steve made Phil telephone the next day and apologize. Steve was an asshole. Still, no one—not the Tuesday Night boys, not the Net Profts Ladies Team Phil coached— stuck up for him. Everyone gossiped behind his back while pretending to his face that nothing had happened. In the blink of an eye, Phil had gone from venerable pro to a stranger’s lackey.


Anika made a final sweep through the lounge, straightening chairs and Windexing the glass coffee table. Colin Powell’s face appeared on the TV just as she started to turn it off. He was fielding questions with authority, as if to say, Count on us, the men in power, to conduct the war that nobody asked for, the war that nobody wants. We’ll say who gets to win, who must die.

She switched off the television, walked to the control panel behind the counter and flipped down the light switches. Courts One and Two went black. She took one last look around, assuring herself that everything was in its place for tomorrow’s Early Bird players. Tomorrow, everything would start over again. Anika would fume aloud about Powell’s betrayal of the common people, and Phil would smirk and say, “Why are you surprised? Powell sold out the day he said ‘yes’ to a rich white man who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life.”

“Phil, you are so cynical,” she would answer, knowing he was right, but not wanting to believe that the world was this hard-hearted. They would not talk about what Steve had made Phil do, or that nobody had defended him.

Tomorrow, Anika would note fresh mouse droppings behind the stiff, green vinyl curtains that served as backstops for miss-hit balls. She and Phil would speculate on how many field mice had escaped the cold and come inside to feast on human leftovers during the night—the odd cheese crumb caught in a Nabs cellophane packet, sugary liquid on the top of an open coke can. Anika would leave a block printed note in Steve’s in-basket for the umpteenth time: MICE IN BUILDING.  Nothing would happen. She and Phil would laugh together about how poorly the club’s management provided for its workers, but how handsomely its members provided for the small creatures of the field.


About the author:

Alison Meyers’ poems have appeared in Caduceus, Common Ground Review, Connecticut Review, Freshwater Reviewand Urhalpool. Her work will be included in the forthcoming anthology Blazes All Across the Sky: Writers Respond to the Poetry of Joni Mitchell. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she has served as Executive Director of Cave Canem Foundation, Brooklyn, NY since 2006. Previously, she directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, a multi-faceted program of Hill-Stead Museum, CT, where she concurrently served as Director of Marketing & Communications.

She can be contacted at:



October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Alison Meyers / Fiction

Cecil Jordan/Creative Nonfiction

The Sleep Scale



Sometimes I drool when I sleep, not much, not gallons or puddles, but when I awaken I know I’ve done it. There is a small patch of moisture, smaller than a penny, right where the corner of my slightly opened mouth lay.

The covers are off of me, I kick and thrash, I simply can’t lay still. My body is down but my mind is up, dreaming. If your mind is awake, are you asleep?

Some days I can sleep anywhere, on a lumpy couch or futon, in a kitchen chair, once or twice in class, slumped over my desk, maybe drooling, maybe not. Once I fell asleep standing up.


Upon waking there is always that confusion of where I am, although most often I’m in my own bed, having just slept the night away with Ray Charles playing, usually Georgia On My Mind. I’m alone, almost always, and books are scattered around me. Often I sleep with my homework. Academia is my current lover, past lover, and the only lover I see in sight for the future.

I’m cold and all the covers are on the floor, I’m not really sure how they got there, last night I was tightly bundled in all of them before my last fleeting thought drifted away, into the darkness, not really thought at all.

My eyes have those little, yellow dried chucks of goop in them, my hair is tousled everywhere, even less in control than usual.


Have I mentioned I sleep naked? Sometimes… rarely, usually. So I have to put on some boxers before venturing into the kitchen to make some coffee unless I want to give my housemates a show. The show wouldn’t be pretty, morning isn’t a good time for me.

Coffee, black. That’s what used to get me going in the morning. The sound of it percolating, the smell, slightly herbal and skunky, that was the reason to want to awaken alive every day.

I had to stop drinking coffee because my teeth were getting too yellow. Now I’m lucky to really get up before noon, if I get up any day at all.


I look at myself in the mirror, pick the yellow stuff out of my eyes, brush my teeth, and examine the bags my eyes packed today. In this moment, I need coffee. I’m an addict. I admit it, but I’m nowhere near recovery.

In the shower, the water is hot, unbearably so and I love it. Most of my morning is clearly spent naked. The soapy lather relinquishes its foamy fruity surprise to my slightly numb body as the water reddens my skin. Something about sleeping makes me feel dirty. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s something I don’t do very often.

I get out of the shower to dry off and the mirror is fogged and the room is foggy and I can’t help but remember as a kid being scared of a video game called Silent Hill. These creatures would come out of the white thick fog, seemingly from nowhere and attack the unsuspected fog-goers. I begin to dry my hair only to realize I forgot to wash out the shampoo. Back into the shower I go.


I don’t like to get up early. By now I’m showered so it’s probably at least ten, maybe eleven and I’m still barely awake. My body doesn’t look like it’s asleep anymore, but my mind is still dreaming a little dream of me. Why is it that my mind is awake while I’m asleep and refuses to leave its land of dreams when I need it most?

I walk outside, into the land of The Sun, and squint against its unimaginable power. I feel it’s warmth on my face, and for the first time of the day, I smile.

Walking slowly, still not energized but here, I meander my way to the bus stop, where the waiting that accompanies being awake begins.


On the bus throngs of people crowd on, the bus is almost full but I got on early and managed to secure a seat in the back. A young man stands in front of me, holding onto the handle that graces the top of the bus. As we move, his head nods, slowly, onto his shoulder. Within a couple minutes he is fully asleep, hand gripping the handle, standing up.

An apple and string cheese is my new coffee, I’ve stopped, and an apple is the caffeine I crave with a juicy crunch with an added bonus, it doesn’t stain my teeth. It may also keep the doctor away.

The man who sleeps while standing on the bus begins to drool on his shoulder, not much, just a small string really. Altogether it doesn’t add up to a puddle of moisture bigger than a dime. When the bus stops and people begin to depart, he stirred, wipes his mouth, then sauntered to class.


The day flew by, and I am awake, so very awake. It’s almost two o’ clock in the morning and I have no intentions of sleeping anytime soon. Surges of energy flush my body with tremors of nonsensical excitement.

At three o’ clock I go for a jog. Other night owls walk around, some dazed, some completely in the moment, but all wander around in a light fog that’s enveloped the streets. The streetlamps shine brightly in the fog’s distended moisture that hangs in the air.

I come back, sweaty, and take a shower. It’s almost four. My nights and mornings are overtaken by the fog. In the shower and on the streets, the fog is always there, it seems.


I look at the bed covered in books and I slip in between the sheets to read a few chapters before I go to bed. My energy has mostly dissipated, and I’m satisfied about the outcome of the day. When the book I read begins to bore me, I flick off the light, lay my head down, and prepare for the sandman to take me away.

He’s late, again. Every night, the sandman’s late. I wait and wait but he’s always late. Have I mentioned that I have a fairly severe case of insomnia? On average I get between three and four hours of sleep a night, but often less, oh so much less.

The covers are pulled up tight, the pillows are soft, the room’s the right temperature, but my thoughts race. The last time I remember looking at the clock it’s seven-forty-five. I drift to sleep at last. My alarm goes off at nine.


I seldom sleep any night because most nights the sandman doesn’t come. He leaves my mind tired and saddened, floating in a cerebral haze, much like a fog. My life becomes a dream after a couple days of sleeplessness.

The music is good though, I listen to music, all night long; hoping it will help me drift, drift into sleep. On nights when it doesn’t, which is most nights, I usually learn a new song for two.

I typically shave religiously, I don’t like the scratch of stubble on my face, but I’ve noticed after a particularly difficult fight with insomnia, I usually shave haphazardly, leaving sporadic patches of facial hair, some on my left cheek, some on my chin. I also stop doing my hair up and just spread some gel in it, shake like a dog, and then go for the day.


The bags under my eyes wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment if I was riding a plane.

My thoughts are jumbled masses like a ball of worms trying to pull itself apart but secretly tying itself tighter together.

I don’t even think about the sandman anymore, but when I do, which is often, all the time in fact, I pray to him.


The longest I’ve been without sleep is five days straight, with no sleep, none at all. By the end of those five days I was a wraith, lost in a world of the living, those that sleep restores while it’s abandoned me.

After those five days, I slept for fourteen hours straight and what I remember last about that ordeal is that last thought, the one you don’t think before you sleep, and I think it was about the sandman, finally coming, mouth partway opened, books fill the bed, eyes closed and finally, fully clothed this time, I begin to drool again, just a little. Not enough to worry about.

During that sleep I didn’t dream. My mind entered the fog and stayed there.


About the author:

Cecil Jordan is twenty-two years old and a recent graduate from Radford University, in Radford, Virginia, with a B.A. in English. He is now pursuing his Master’s in English at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York.


About the editor: 

Creative nonfiction editor Leslie Heywood ( is a professor of English & Creative Writing at Binghamton University. She is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. You can read more about her on Ragazine.CC‘s “About Us” page.


Walter Gurbo’s Drawing Room 

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Cecil Jordan/Creative Nonfiction

Phil Boiarski/Poetry

Hungry Man

I confess, I haven’t ever really
gone more than a day or two
without eating, and even then
I drank a lot.  If you can afford
to drink enough, you don’t eat.
You may feel hungry but not really.

If you are on a fad diet,
you don’t really know
what it means to be hungry.
You think you know, and if
you lost weight, you may have
some idea, but willful hunger
is not true, not real hunger.

In black and white, the photo,
the child has eyes the size of
hard boiled eggs, a face like
a leather-covered skull. Those eyes
stare at the camera, blank, empty
too dry for tears, feeding flies.
I hunger for words to say more.


Miles Frickin’ Davis, Man

1959, outside Birdland, NYC, white chick with thin black cat, smoke
cigarettes together. Her skin, perfect, glowing, alabaster, porcelain.
Miles, so stick-thin, he disappears sideways; horn on stage. So black,
obsidian blue-black, solidified lava in the midnight white street light,
glowing ashes.  After “Kind of Blue,”playing with Trane, a sound so pure
and airy, the woman tries to pick him up, the two, taking a smoke break
bony black cat with a white bird.  NY’s finest racist, ironically blue
man, comes up and hassles Miles, “What chew doin’ here, nigga?” Miles,
ever the minimalist, his thumb points back to the club, “I gotta gig
inside, I’m Miles Davis. “

The cop laughs, “Miles Frickin’ Davis,” he says, swinging his black club
and knocking Miles down. Then the bird sings, “Leave him alone, you
bastard.” And the cop goes crazy, beating Miles like a drum, the strange
archaic tribal rhythm of the arm and club, because, he has to know
what it means, what it means when someone won’t take
no disrespect. This is beaten in, down deep as a rhythm can go
into Miles Davis’ marrow. Then Miles is arrested.  After that,
he tries for a while to sue, but he sees how it is. His
European tour triumphant, Miles moves to Frickin’ Paris.


Nota Bene

“Unto what may the fetus, it its mother’s womb be likened?
Unto a notebook that is folded up.  Its hands rest on its temples,
elbows on thighs, heels against buttocks, its head lies between its knees.
Its mouth is closed and its navel is open…when it comes forth into the
air of the world, what is closed opens and what is open closes.”

               From the Babylonian Talumud,  Chapter 3, folio 30a

The notebook opens and the furious scribbling begins,
All small things get noticed, violet, Japanese beetle,
Wind when it caresses, coupled dragonflies hovering.
Many notes fill each page, all the minutiae from the crack
In the sidewalk to lightning leaping across the night sky.

Each chapter is there dissolved in time, a crystal of stimulus
And it will be recalled, a page turned back to reread again.
But the writing must continue, furious and focused.  Each
Insignificant detail must be recorded by the eye and ear.

Nothing gets past us.  We may not even be aware of the
Record but it is there, waiting to be misplaced or revived.
At last the notebook full, the ending weakens.  The cliché
Of Death like finis at the end of the movie.  As if one
Had not taken one last note of approaching emptiness.

About the poet: 

Phil Boiarski has been writing and publishing for more than forty years.  His work has appeared a number of times in The Paris Review, The California Quarterly, The Rocky Mountain Review, The Ohio Journal, Aspen  Anthology, Indiana Writes, Handbook, Green House and numerous other publications. Recently, his poems were translated and published in Nowa Okolica Poetow, a Polish literary journal, OFF_ Antologia, a bi-lingual literary magazine published in London & Warsaw; Private Photo Review, an Italian poetry/photo magazine, and The Tangled Bank, an Australian anthology celebrating Darwin’s bi-centennial.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Phil Boiarski/Poetry

Nicholas Wilsey/Poetry

Walking Under the Crematorium Sprinklers

Walking under the crematorium sprinklers, I see a ghost catch on fire
at the last second, before the engulfment of breath. He says:

“When I am gone, throw water on me. Put me out.”

It is important we take death seriously. God isn’t joking around
when he says to me, in the corn maze, in the floor tiles,


I will know I am there when the spaceship comes, does a sketch
in the field. People will come from miles around

to see the portrait of Earth. A guy in a red suit

stands at the exit with a tip jar.
I tell him, “Take off your suit,”

pull the fire alarm, and fly out the door.

It’s raining. The rain is people’s voices reborn as white noise.
Heaven all around me, I step into a puddle and feel my foot sink,

feel myself get closer to this place.

The police cars shriek in an extravagant chase
through the lines on the palm of my hand

as my peripheral vision burns from both ends

and I see a tunnel that leads to where I have been.
I step in. I hear the angels tapping on the ceiling.

Everything has something to say to everything.

But I am busy.
I know where I’m going.

At the end of the tunnel is a fireplace.


My Father the Singer

My father can talk circles around a swimmer.
He can talk you down, talk your head off, talk you dead.
My father can talk a hyperventilator out of a paper bag.
Try to get in
a word
and he’ll talk
you out of it.
Talk is cheap
and he can afford it.
My father can talk the talk
and doggy paddle to stay afloat.
Waves whisper warnings he can’t hear
as he talks to himself. I see his mouth
filling up with water, hear a gargling sound.
He’s getting ready to say
tomorrow’s song.


About the poet:

Nicholas Wilsey grew up in Schuylerville, New York. He DJs the poetry-focused radio show “The Eggshell Parade” and is editor of Phoenix in the Jacuzzi Journal. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Right Hand Pointing and Paddlefish.



October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Nicholas Wilsey/Poetry

Devin McMicken/Poetry

“Freedom” as a word I cannot define

Yesterday I paused
and saw that Lady Liberty
is an old woman. I want
to feel sad. She is
the same pallid blue
my grandmother was laid in the ground,
her hand tired of holding the torch.

I cannot blame her.
Now with fingers folded
I want to say
labored with resolve
she prays the way I used to
still believing every word.

With ancient incense
she would whisper to God
in sacrosanct silence.
She would work her hands rough
saying she could stitch the sky
connecting disparate seas
if only she tried.

I want to know how
to free her flame,
aperture her conflagration
and stand in the inferno
a new colossus,
the ashes of freedom my ink,
faith just a word,
writing willfully, not wearily,
to live my life unpunctuated.


Brother in Arms

I was nine and we
waged 32-bit warfare
on that gray PSone,
the last thing dad gave us
with a disc marked: Medal of Honor.

We were men.
You were Jimmy Patterson,
I was William Shakespeare.
We thought that was a funny cheat because
“Isn’t the pen mightier than the sword” I said
and “Wasn’t war the coolest thing” you said?

I was twelve when Han Solo
said “I love you” with “I know.”
Nothing could be more manly,
more aloof, more accurate.
We knew it.

I was thirteen when Homer,
thinking he was dying,
taught Bart and me how to shave
and I took your razor. I thought
you would strangle me
you were so angry.

I was fourteen when grandpa
took us hunting and we both agreed
that though a deer was beautiful, there was
nothing graceful or lovely about
watching it fall—it just happens.

I was fifteen when you traded
your gray controller for a steel rifle
and you became Jimmy Patterson,
only the PSone was pixelated and obsolete.
Everything seemed a little more real.

I was twenty-one when you said
“Men drop like deer when you shoot them.”
I saw you choke and spit out
your cigarette, and as you heaved your tears
fell into your whiskey,
swirling undulations of the most stunning
32-bit colors I have ever seen.

Not knowing what to do, I echoed
Solo, “I know.”
When we got back home we
turned on the TV because noise
is better than nothing.

We sat in silence,
watched American Dad as mom fell asleep
between us. I watched you slip back inside
yourself and I—loving you and not knowing—
I wondered and I wept.

I wished I had words.
I wished that you were William Shakespeare.


voices around

I. I have hit a wall

I am the generation of
Whispered voices
of digital representation.
I only pretend
to know what that means:

I like to think
I am more than an echo
kaleidoscoping other echoes
through an ancient algorithm
of inconsistent composition,
but then again I don’t—
know what I’m saying?

No, reader, you are a pronoun
awaiting edification
which is how I have made you
only for this moment
so you can feel as I feel
(you can’t):
an extension of crafted confusion.

I want to tell you
that I know what I’m doing,
but I need to be honest:
I am trying
to reassemble echoes
through a mechanism
I do not fully comprehend.

We exist in the age of
understood misunderstanding
and call it home.
It is the 21st century
and yes. This is a poem.
I’m laughing, too.
Don’t be afraid.
Maybe we should be here now.

II. I am trying to go outside myself

Yes, people are now screaming
catastrophe skyward to a god

killed before their time.
I have silhouetted them

precisely in periphery
where they exist

in small screens. Turn them off,
they are safe in your pocket.

Plastic palm trees
hold snow with leaves

as children drink cancer
from flaming faucets.

We all thirst for something
to keep us warm,

which is a justification
I blanket myself in

surrounded by echoes
here in this now.

October 28, 2012   Comments Off on Devin McMicken/Poetry

MUSIC Review/Tempest

No longer a person, but a myth?

By Jeff Katz
Music Editor

We live in a world where Bob Dylan can do no wrong. The Dylan who was the “spokesman of his generation” in the 1960s, whose lyrics were scrutinized for meaning and guidance, and whose garbage was incessantly searched by certain writers looking for clues, went dormant, critically speaking, for about two decades, from 1978-1997. That was the year Time Out of Mind was released to great acclaim and the present golden era began.

Since then, he’s been on an unparalleled roll – Academy Award winner, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, Presidential Medal of Freedom wearer – and a gaggle of slavishly adoring books and reviews have followed albums of consistent excellence. Now comes Tempest and the reviews are of the 5-star, classic, all-time great sort.

I’m mostly on board. It’s a great album overall, with a couple of clinkers. Not quite as good as Time Out of Mind or Love and Theft or Modern Times; better than Together Through Life. The record starts with the deceptively jaunty “Duquesne Whistle,” which finally presents Dylan as the “song and dance man” he mockingly referred to himself as in his famous 1965 San Francisco press conference.

Tracks 2 through 9 contain a healthy amount of blood and gore, murder and mayhem. Much has been made of the carnage strewn throughout. There’s something else happening here and I think I do know what it is. Back in ’78, in an interview in Rolling Stone (or was it Playboy? I don’t remember.), while promoting Street Legal, Dylan laced his answers with religious overtones and when I read those answers years later, it was quite obvious that the vengeful Christian of Slow Train Coming was coming.

God permeates Tempest, from the “mother of our Lord” in the opener to the “angels and weary souls” of “Narrow Way” to the torn hem on the garment in “Scarlet Town;” a religious Dylan has returned. Bob croaking, “I’m searching for phrases, to sing your praises,” would not be out of place on Saved, his 1980 uber-religious tract. In a recent Rolling Stone interview with Mikal Gilmore, Dylan spoke often on faith. Clearly, he’s got a lot on his mind.

The album crescendos with a Dylanized take on the history of the Titanic, nearly 14 minutes of mythology and grand story telling. That should’ve been the end of it, the record going down with the ship. Unfortunately, it’s not.

“Roll On John” closes things and this tribute to John Lennon is downright awful. Lennon songs are tough. No one did personal and emotional better than Paul McCartney in “Here Today.” Nobody did sadness and heavy cultural loss better than Paul Simon in “The Late Great Johnny Ace.” George Harrison had the strangely peppy “All Those Years Ago.” Not so good.

Unsurprisingly, Ringo Starr does this kind of honorific the worst. His John song, “Imagine Me There,” has the uninspired inspiration of the cloying Lennon utopian pop hit. Ringo gets particular lousy with his Harrison ode “Never Without You” and Harry Nilsson eulogy “Harry’s Song.” What makes these so bad is that they contain nothing but strung along bits of history and a smattering of song titles or snippets of old tunes in the lyrics.

Dylan’s choices are positively Ringo-esque, with nods to the Quarrymen, Liverpool, “Come Together” and “A Day in the Life.” “Roll On John” has no resonance and not a hint of the personal. Like Bob’s little guitar riff in “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” it’s just something he learned over in England.

But why now, over three decades since Lennon’s murder? My son Joey got me thinking of a similarly weak Dylan celebrity song, “Lenny Bruce,” from 1981’s Shot of Love. A song about the controversial comedian emerging 15 years after his death was also confusingly placed. But Dylan saw himself in his version of Bruce, especially then, two years into the angry born again Christianity that confounded and angered both critics and fans. Like his fictionalized Lenny, Bob was an outlaw, he told the truth, and most surely didn’t play by the rules. And while he had turned on his followers, Dylan hadn’t done anything too bad, he thought; he hadn’t committed any crime or “cut off any baby’s head.” Ol’ Bob was simply a God-fearing Christian, proselytizing to the infidels and the lost.

Does “Roll On John” signal Bob sensing the end of his earthly time? Unlike the unlucky cruise passengers in “Tempest,” Bob is, and has been, nothing if not a survivor. But that can’t last forever. Does Dylan see his obituary a la Lennon’s, a dead man turned myth, whose life is encapsulated in a series of one-liners of trite factual reference and bits of song lyric? Is that how Bob sees himself in these days of hagiography, where he is totally revered, without reservation, where his hiccups are heralded as genius and even his weak work is worshipped? No longer a person, but a myth?

I think so. It’s enough to make a man turn back to the Lord.

 * * * * *

The Once and Future Carpenter

By Jeff Katz

Back in February I wrote in anticipation of what was then a soon to be Spring-released new Avett Brothers album. Since my youngest son took me to see them live, I’ve been hooked. Months went by without the much anticipated new album, but finally in September it came, lost a little in the same day Dylan release. The Avetts’ previous Rick Rubin produced I and Love and You brought the band into the Top 20. Could they do it again? The Once and Future Carpenter proves they can.

The Avett Brothers bring an aching sweetness that walks the line between soulful and maudlin but doesn’t cross over. They are sooo very sincere, and it works. A line like “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die” (from the title track) would usually make me heave. In the Avetts’ capable hands, it doesn’t. It’s all very appealing.

Highlights abound. “Live and Die,” “Pretty Girl from Michigan,” it’s all good fun, but when they burst out with the Beatley, “I Never Knew You,” I nearly passed out from over-smiling. That’s their gift; Seth and Scott have a way of spreading good feeling.

Like Springsteen, The Avetts’ songs feel old even when new. It’s easy to start singing along in mid-song, as if you’d known the words forever. Not many artists pull that off. There’s a new power to the songs, the pop tunes very Fab Fourish, with a dash of Wilco. And the more typical Avett folk picking feels more confident than ever. It makes for a fine mix.

The songs are seemingly of the simplest construction, and that’s the hook: straightforward, catchy, memorable. Having just seen Bon Iver, where not one song stuck in my head past its last note, I marvel at the Avetts’ ability to craft a solid song, built to last, like the craftsman they herald in the title. The Once and Future Carpenter is one of the best albums of the year.


About the reviewer:

You can read more about Jeff Katz, music editor, on Ragazine.CC’s “About Us” page.



October 28, 2012   Comments Off on MUSIC Review/Tempest