November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Posts from — April 2014

Chuck Haupt / Eye on London



A British soldier on sentry duty within the precincts of Windsor Castle, an official residence of The Queen.


London & Beyond


Spending a few months across the pond, being based in London, I am rediscovering this wonderful city and the countryside.  One can never get tired of London. As the English writer, Samuel Johnson said in 1777, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of Life.” This holds true today, as London is ever growing and changing.

– Chuck Haupt


Photography / London & Beyond

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Reminders are everywhere to look right, look left, look right again and again.
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Raindrops cover the window on one of London's double-decker buses.
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A former lumber merchant’s building along Hoxton Street in the East End of London. An art critic for The Guardian calls the working-class neighborhood “the insane mixture of grooviness and urban blight.”
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Camden Town
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<br />Over 1/2 million bicycles are used daily and can be found parked anywhere.
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Golden Jubilee Bridge
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Graffiti along Clipstone St., Westminster, London.
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National Portrait Gallery
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There is a protest about every day somewhere in London.
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<br />A jet flies over London where on a good day 44 flights arrives each hour at Heathrow.
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Regent Canal
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Sculling on the Thames
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Trafalgar Square
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Tree shadow
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The Tulip Sraircase in the Queen's House, Greenwich, built in the 1600's.
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London Underground, also known as The Tube.
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Exmouth Market
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London is full of graphic elements with all the signage vying for one’s attention.


Chuck is Photo Editor for Ragazine.  To see other photos from London visit here.


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on Chuck Haupt / Eye on London

From Kumaon, With Love

Kumaoni bridge



 by Jonathan Evans

From the very start, the trip is tinged with death. I am in India with my wife Beth and my oldest friend Charles to tie up all the loose ends of my twenty-year life in the Himalayan foothills of the Kumaon. The Kumaon is one of the two regions of Uttarakhand, a mountainous state in Northern India.  It is bordered on the north by Tibet, on the east by Nepal, on the south by the state of Uttar Pradesh and on the west by the Garhwal region. This state includes the highest mountains in India and the local language is Kumaoni. The local people are famed for their strong independence and bravery.

On the day that we all arrive in Delhi, I receive an email from my sister Kate in England that my younger brother Philip has been found dead at his flat in Hastings. I have been expecting such a call for years; he is an alcoholic and has abused his body terribly for years. We have had very little contact lately but a brother is always a brother and it is nevertheless a shock. Far from the UK or from my home in America, it is news that is hard to really understand or process.

Furthermore, when we arrive two days later at Tara’s Guesthouse above Almora, the Kumaoni hill station, we find the whole family in heavy mourning as Tara’s aunt has just died.  The three Tewari brothers have shaved their heads; Tara, the eldest son, is dressed in white dhotis, the whole family is fasting and going to the temple every day for mourning poojas.  Death involves an elaborate ritual in these parts and inevitably causes me to dwell on my own loss which I still have not got my head around.

I first came to India in the mid-‘80s and twenty years ago paid for a seventy-year lease on a traditional Kumaoni stone house in a tiny rural village called Ayarpani on the side of Binsar Mountain. For the most part, it has been a happy and magical experience but after meeting Beth and then rediscovering America and relocating to Colorado, I have spent less and less time at the house, our last visit being five years ago. I have had continual troubles with my landlord Than Singh, an old soldier with a great love of rum, and to cap it all, there was a particularly heavy monsoon three years ago when the land above the village, long deforested by the locals in search of firewood, was washed away and much of the village was engulfed in mud slides. My house was damaged and as a precaution, I arranged for my friend Tara to move everything out of the house and into storage at his guesthouse. All my possessions have sat there ever since and the main task of this visit is to sort through them all and to save and ship back anything irreplaceable.  It is a sad and rather daunting task and feels like the end of an important chapter in my life. But I have moved on and, in any case, rarely look backwards and have been through this process many times before in a life of constant travel.  It is a job that has to be done and I shall feel freer and more complete when it is finished.

So we are staying at Tara’s Guesthouse on Crank’s Ridge, a hill just above Almora. There is a temple at the top and the place got its name in the Sixties when the area became a stop-off point on the Hippie Trail. From Kasar Devi, there is an astounding view of Trishul, Nanda Devi and NandaKotMountains delineating the Tibetan border, some fifty miles up the road and there is a story that there is a hole in the Van Allen Belt above the ridge so that cosmic rays bombard the area. I don’t know about that but Kasar Devi has long been a drug culture destination due to the large amounts of ganja that are cultivated up there. The ridge was a regular haunt for artists, writers and spiritual seekers in the Twenties and Thirties when Tibetan Buddhists like Evans-Wentz (who translated the Tibetan Book of the Dead up there) and Lama Govinda lived on the ridge. Later, the Danish mystic Alfred Sorenson came up to visit the Nehru estate, Kali, on BinsarMountain and then settled on Kasar Devi. Other famous visitors were Bob Dylan and Cat Stephens as well as Allen Ginsberg and his entourage in search of spiritual enlightenment, followed by luminaries like Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and the psychiatrist RD Laing, whose daughter Natascha I have known for years and who came with her father as a child.  Backpackers followed and in the past twenty or thirty years, hordes of travelers of all kinds came to visit or live up here as well as party-loving Israelis eager to let off steam after their military service. Water is an acute problem and the community there has long threatened to outgrow the resources of the area so that the area probably could never rival Manali in its popularity. Nevertheless, there has been a string of chai shops and small guesthouses catering to these visitors for decades. This was the first place I ever came to in India and a place that I kept coming back to over the years. The view of the Tibetan snow peaks has always exerted some strange power over me; they float like immense icy white sailing boats in an unearthly sky-blue void. Once seen, the mountains are never forgotten.



Jonathan & Beth Evans revisit their former home in the Himalayas

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First view of the Himalayas
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Kumaoni bridge
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Chota bazaar
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Jonathan Evans
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Beth on Binsar Mountain
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Simtola eco park
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Beth Evans and Charles in Simtola Eco Park
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Jonathan and Charles at Simtola
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Himalayan magpie
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Danu and his memsahib on their cell phones
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Holi celebrations
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Holi celebration
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Ayarpani woman
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Jonathan in front of the old studio
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Indian truck
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Jonathan and Tara at Ialis guesthouse
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Khims guesthouse
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Mohans Binsar retreat
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View from Taras guesthouse
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View from Taras guesthouse
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Evanses' old house
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Langour on our roof
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Local villagers
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Another view of the house
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Path up the mountain at Ayarpani
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Nanda Devi, highest mountain in India
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Nanda Devi
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Traditional Kumaoni house
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Red temple
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Shiva temple
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Shivashankar temple
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Yoni and Lingam
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Villager walking by the water
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The last sunset

It is spring in the Kumaon and the weather is still unsettled. It rains for two days and we are stuck in our rooms, waiting for it to stop. We are happy to rest up a little after our long trip from Colorado and an uncomfortable car ride up from Delhi. Charles has a bad back and it is good for him to lie around and read. Each night we play Scrabble and each night he loses but, I have to say, takes it with very good grace.  But then the rain stops and the sun comes out and it becomes a beautiful hot day.  We decide to go out and visit our old friend, Alan.  He lives well off the road in a house that he has spent the last twenty years building. We walk up the hill towards the Ridge and then take the short and sharp scramble down to his house. And we are surprised to see that there is a brand new road all the way down to his house now.  We find Alan at his house; he is older, thinner and a little frail these days. A Brit who first came here in 1978, he is my age but looks older. We admire his fantastic, still unfinished, house, the great aesthetics of every single detail and its lush surroundings and garden.  We sit outside on a rug and look at the mountains, drink chai and, as old friends do, talk of the old times, of people who are still around or dead or gone, of the changing face of the Kumaon that we have known so long.  The times have changed, the economy has changed and we have changed.  Alan, who is married to an Indian, has a long term resident PIO visa but struggles to get a new British passport.  He brings the conversation around to health and aging often and seems lonely and perhaps more morose than he used to be.  He lives in Paradise but I feel sorry for him in some ways. The world is moving on around him and it is driving him into isolation.  He complains, as he has complained for years, about the standard of work from the Indians and the lack of love and care they put into the details of his house construction.  It has been a long uphill struggle to build his house just as he wants it.       Perhaps the experience has made him an embittered man.

We decide to take him for lunch and walk up the new road slowly to the main road and then jump on a passing bus to Mohan’s café, now “Mohan’s Binsar Retreat, an off-beat Himalayan Destination”, the sign reads. Mohan is there, welcoming, positive and a lot heavier than the last time that I saw him. The last time I was here, his café was full of dreadlocked Israelis smoking big joints and chillums and although he had built a fine new spotless kitchen, his vision for the future was still a tiny gleam in his eye. The infamous and ubiquitous banana pancakes were still on the menu although his cook had already started to bake chocolate cakes, as if anticipating the next trend. Today, his menu is enormous, we are the only customers and his new veranda is beautifully laid out with exotic plants of all kinds and there is even a small pool. Below are two new houses, solar-powered and with luxury rooms to rent. They cost around 5000 rupees a night while we are used to paying less than a tenth of that price.  It is peaceful here with nobody around and we eat good food and drink excellent coffee and look at the endless view.  I comment on the hypnotic Tibetan music that he is playing and he burns me a copy of it.  The bill is high but well worth it.  Alan has trouble walking very far or fast and we take a taxi back down to Tara’s. I feel that Alan, with his old style values, is being left behind but also realize that this is what he has chosen. The times they are a’changin’ on Cranks Ridge and Alan has become an anomaly, a dying breed.  In another ten years, there will probably be no one like him — or indeed like me — left. It is the way of the world, a constant cycle of change; one generation is passing on and another starting to make waves.

In stark contrast, Amrita, another old friend, arrives when we are back at Tara’s, sitting out on the balcony and looking at the view.  She doesn’t stay long but is wildly enthusiastic about her factory where she grows, processes and sells tulsi tea and various creams and soaps.  A rich, high echelon soldier’s daughter, she has never worked in her life until four years ago.  I fondly remember her telling me years ago that she wanted to write a book about the area’s natural beauty. I would take photos of views and things that she would point out and dictate to me the text that I would write down.  This was a book that obviously never got written!  But Amrita is glowing as she talks about the tulsi tea business and how much her sense of self-worth and happiness has grown since she has actually started to work. Of course the Kumaon is changing but that is the nature of life, isn’t it, she says and that is so wonderful.  We both agree that the endless crazy traffic is ruining life on the ridge and that the only place to live is well off the main road these days.  Amrita laughs and smiles continuously and is happier than I have ever seen her. She invites us to see the factory and to eat with her next week. We walk over Simtola to Chittai one day the following week and see her factory and have a great lunch with her.

Above our room at Tara’s, Binks and Cathy are staying.  They are an old English couple who have visited the area for years and are constantly complaining about the changes. The good people are gone, the prices are becoming exorbitant and worst of all, the BBC World Service has stopped its broadcasts and they cannot use their shortwave radio. I agree that it is sad but that the Internet can always provide good impartial world news coverage.  But they are luddites and proud of it and refuse to touch any computer. I feel that they are strongly limiting themselves and must feel very isolated from the rest of the human race.  They are currently unable to renew their passports in person at any British embassy and are only able to renew on-line. Unwilling or unable to do this, they are forced to go back to the UK to do the renewal. I see that they are losing out at all ends.  The Kumaon is changing rapidly and leaving them excluded, whether they like it or not. And outside in the real world, they are always going to feel a sense of disconnection as technology plays a bigger and bigger part in our lives.  They are like someone who refuses to put a letter into a letterbox, afraid that it will be swallowed or lost and stand there, letter in hand, waiting for a carrier pigeon or a Pony Express rider or even a native runner with a forked stick to come along and deliver the letter for them. It may be a long wait.

I get news too of our old friends, Don and Helena, a Canadian and an Australian respectively, who have been coming to the Ridge for years. Their world has changed far less than for some of us. They bounce between their two native countries but spend as much time as possible up high  in the mountains, in a tiny village called Kati where they live part of every year quietly, going out for treks and keeping themselves to themselves. They are a tough pair, live a very simple lifestyle and will stay up in the mountains until Monsoon. I envy their unwavering faith in nature and their uncompromising attitude towards the world.

All you can carry

Finally, we spend a day dealing with a room stacked high with metal trunks filled with our possessions.  It is less traumatic than I expected but still leaves me physically drained and exhausted.  We are obviously limited in what we can take and so the house’s three wood stoves are to be abandoned and will no doubt be put to good use by Tara and his family. No problems there. All the kitchen stuff — we had had a well-appointed kitchen — likewise is donated to Tara with the request that he spread around what he couldn’t use.   Beth and I go through several boxes of clothes and take anything that we were especially fond of, an old beloved leather jacket, some shoes and boots and our backpacks. I choose ten irreplaceable CDs from a huge collection of music and a few books that I am attached to. We take a round Indian brass table top, an antique kerosene lamp, a few small rugs, some paintings and papers — and that is it. Soon, the few salvageable contents of a large house are piled up against the wall of our hotel room and will be packed up to go down to Delhi with us and shipped to Colorado at the end of the trip. It really feels like a chapter in my life is ended but I am happy that it is done. I have a sense of final closure with my Indian past and it is time to really move on. Things change and that is about the only thing you can count on.  And anyway I tell myself, as soon as you let go of stuff, it all comes back to you in some mysterious way.

Holi, the Hindu spring festival, also known as the festival of colours and love, comes and goes. On the final day, when people dress up in white and throw dyes and water at each other, we sit safely up on the roof terrace at Tara’s and watch a crowd of drunken men play like children together in the road below.  It is a time for conformism to be put aside and for Indians to dance, drink and let off steam.  In India, some things never change.

One morning, down in Tara’s internet room, sitting in near darkness, I read my dead brother Philip’s obituary on Facebook.  An old journalist friend and ex-colleague is posting announcements about Philip on his page and is getting a good response from friends who knew him from the old days when he still lived and worked in London.  For many years, he was at the centre of the working class struggle in Britain and it was only in the last twenty years when he moved down to Hastings and lost the plot that he stopped being an effective journalist and cartoonist.  I add my two cents worth and say that Phil had continued to fight the good fight in the cause of the Socialist Left when the battle was lost and everyone else had given up. His cause was magnificently suicidal, terribly inflexible and probably doomed from the start.  My brother was fabulously old school with an enormous sense of humour.  When he was young, I remember him laughing all the time.  He drew for or wrote sixteen books, he once told me, and his Seventies’ comic strip “Our Norman” in the Socialist Worker newspaper was much loved.  But now he is gone and his ilk is dying out.  His generation of activists, one of the best, has moved on, compromised or sold out; those that did not were mostly left stranded on the beach of the times after the advent of Thatcherism.  A few adapted and are still out there running, knowing what they are running from but perhaps not where they are going.  I don’t believe that the current youth has as much integrity, energy or vision as young Phillip always had.  RIP Philip, brother of mine.

One morning, we climb up Simtola Hill in front of Tara’s Guesthouse. Simtola used to be a leisurely steep climb with, at the top, an unfinished temple and the remains of what must have been once a splendid bungalow and spectacular gardens, long abandoned and left to almost disappear into the pine tree forest.  It was always a slightly nostalgic walk for me and a reminder that all things must pass in the end.  But today, walking up the hill with Tara, we see that the whole hill has been closed off with barbed wire and round a corner to be confronted by a high gate and signs that we are entering Simtola Eco-Park and must pay ten rupees to enter.  We do so and follow a path further up the hill, pass a small concession booth and chai shop and benches. There are cute signs everywhere like “Hug a Tree” and “Love is the Answer” and the park does not escape a slightly institutionalized air.  At the top, the old football field has been turned into a kids’ playground with swings and beyond that, the Shiva temple has been finished finally. It is a sparsely furbished eight-sided building with a couple of small Shiva sculptures and a rather more impressive walkway in.

There are more pleasantly wooded paths to follow and we walk around for an hour before going back down.  I cannot escape the feeling that a bit more of the Kumaon has gone — or rather changed forever.  And there is no doubt now that this is the way forward for the Kumaon of the future. The old days of the budget backpackers are gone and they will move onto new scenes. Soon they will find the Ridge too expensive for a long stay and the walks and treks too organized for them. As the Indian middle class grows, more and more city dwellers will escape to the mountains and they are not generally looking for a real adventure or primitive conditions at their guesthouses.  They are going to come up to look at the incredible views and to take car rides to look at the ancient temples of Jageshwar or the honeymoon lake at Nainital.  Almora will soon lose its spiritual connotations and its permanently stoned inhabitants.  Services will become more institutionalized and expensive — and with a sense of regret, I have to say “Good luck to the Kumaonis”.  Some of the increased middle class wealth will start to trickle down to the very poor locals.  And in the end, it will destroy their ancient lifestyles and they will be faced with the 21st century issues and problems like pollution and poor lifestyle that we are facing and dealing with so badly in the west.  By that time, I shall be dead and gone so that I shall not care. But for now, there is a certain poignancy about the changes taking place.  In the end, all that will be left of this magical corner of the world will be memories and when we all pass on, even they will die.

Visit to the Old House

We save our last day in the Kumaon, before we head back down to Delhi, for a trip out to Ayarpani to see the old house and our friends and neighbours in the little village.  Arriving there and getting out of our taxi, I find it all terribly familiar and also strange. My house is taken over by Virinder, Than Singh’s wastrel son, and his family. It looks run down already and has a blotchy paint job.  Than Singh is off in Almora for the day, picking up his monthly old soldier’s rum ration and Virinder, who had broken into the house and stolen anything that he could lay his hands on years before, stays out of sight which I am happy about. I am too tired and old for confrontation of any sort.  Memsahib Than Singh, our great ally in the household, has died the year before, we are told.

We follow the ancient stone path that runs down to the village from the main road and are soon at our old friend Danu’s tiny house.  He is startled to see us but incredibly welcoming and happy to see us and we are soon drinking chais and smoking his awful bidhi cigarettes.  Charles gives him a real cigar which he loves. He and his family are the poorest of the poor around here; his house still has no electricity, the rest of the village having recently been connected to the grid, and his wife and he have nothing. They sleep on a bare mud floor and there is no furniture at all in the house.  Danu worked for me for years and is the sweetest of human beings with not a bad bone in his body.  I slip him some money and make arrangements for him to come down to Tara’s the next day and get bedding, carpets and anything else that he can use in his house.  It is not much to offer but the best I can do.

We have collected a gang of children at this point and we all wind our way back up the path to the road.  There we run into Rani, Virinder’s lovely wife, and her children, now all grown up. A dog starts to bark and for me, the most magical moment of the whole trip happens.  It is Pintoo, Than Singh’s black dog.  Seven years before, when Beth and I spent a whole year at the house, Pintoo had been a neglected, wretched, starving puppy, somehow existing on the occasional chapatti thrown his way and we had taken him in, fed him properly and given him love and attention.  By the time that we had left, Pintoo was in great shape, strong, gleaming and happy. Beth had lectured the family on dog care and had begged them to treat him well and when we had passed through two years after, he was still doing well. And there he is again, five years later, still alive although a weathered old dog now.  He stops barking, curls his mouth back and grins at us! He throws himself on us, absolutely thrilled to see us again after so long.  It is a wonderful moment that I will never forget and will always carry with me. He has never forgotten us and will not leave us alone. I am so moved that I choke up and just hold him in my arms.  Life doesn’t get any more poignant than this.

We drink more chai with Rani and say fond goodbyes, promising to come back before too long.  My last image is of Danu and his wife, standing side by side but faced away from each other, looking at their cell phones.  We take the winding path across the road up BinsarMountain and get a good walk in before we go back down and catch a taxi to Tara’s. The experience leaves me sad and emotional and perhaps I am finally realizing that my old life here is forever over. And at the same time, I feel that I am as well known and well loved here as I am anywhere else in the world. I have had an experience that few others from the West will ever have. I have spent almost a third of my life up here in the Kumaon which is quite extraordinary when I think about it and a part of me will always be there whether we return or not.

The following morning, we are up at five am to drive down the long mountain road to Delhi, the Kumaoni part of our trip over.  I am too tired and emotionally drained to look back.  Beth takes my hand in the back of the car and we get ready for the next part of our Indian trip.  Whatever it is to be — and the future is unknowable — it will not be as sweet as the days we have spent in the mountains. But I know that you can never go home again.


About the author:

Jonathan Evans is a batik artist and writer. He and his wife Beth Evans live in Colorado. Previous contributions to Ragazine.CC include:




April 28, 2014   Comments Off on From Kumaon, With Love

Jeanne Mackin/Author Interview

On Writing Historical Fiction

with Mike Foldes

Q)  Tell me, how did you happen to start writing? Does it run in the family?  Why historical fiction?

A) I’ve been writing since I was about seven.  Turns out my grandfather (I didn’t know him – he died the year I was born) was a poet.  Unsuccessful, commercially.  I have one of his rejection letters from Harper’s, about  1930.  Historical because I love the travel of it, that sense of being in a different time and place.

Q) What did you study in college, and when did you write your first novel? Did it sell, or is that among the undiscovered manuscsripts of J.M.?

A) I studied English lit with minors in art and history.  I finished my first novel in my late thirties… slow bloomer… and yes, it was published:  The Frenchwoman, from St. Martin’s Press.  I did write quite a few short stories before I began working on that novel, and was short-listed for a few contests, but didn’t publish them.  They were kind of like warm ups for me:  my heart is in long fiction.

Q) What is your process for developing a story line? Plot? Character development?

A) I usually begin with an initial image and just follow the story.  Who are the people in that first image?  How did they get to whatever that place is?  What is at stake for them, what are their possibilities?  I like to mix fictional characters with real historical characters, so, for instance in The Beautiful American, the historical figure is photographer Lee Miller; I imagined her, just after World War II, in London, bumping into an old friend outside of Harrods.  What are they doing there?  What are they looking for? The old friend is the fictional character, someone who can follow Lee from childhood on, telling Lee’s story mixed in with her own.

I tend to write chronologically, beginning to end, as if I’m telling myself the story as I’m discovering it. That’s the first draft, of course.  Much, much rewriting follows the first draft.  John Gardner says writers should work as if in a dream state, that a good novel is an uninterrupted dream, and that’s how I like to work: deeply trusting some unknown part of my imagination to supply what I need for the story.

Plot and character can’t, for me, be separated. They come from each other.  The tricky part is not letting my own self seep unnecessarily into the characters. For instance, I have a quick temper. When I’m writing fiction I have to make certain that the trait doesn’t automatically become part of the characters.  When I might slam a door, someone like Lee, as I imagined her, would be more clever, more subtle when angry.  I have to intuit who the characters are, what shapes them, drives them, and then make sure they are very separate from my own psychology.

Q) What was your most useful ‘other’ occupation that helped define your successful career as an author?

A)  Not to be too cynical here, but John Gardner (yes, him again) recommended that writers marry rich spouses so they wouldn’t have to work ‘day’ jobs.  I couldn’t go that far, though I see his point. Instead, I found part time professional work that allowed me a few hours every morning for my fiction.  Those hours were worth their weight in gold.  Successful?  I don’t think of myself that way. I’ve managed to get my novels published.

Q) How much have other types of “writing jobs” influenced your approach to historical fiction?

A) My other writing jobs have been in journalism – print and a little radio,  and I  don’t think they influence my fiction writing, except in very basic ways: they gave me a kind of confidence on the page.  I know my way around a sentence, and I can write to a deadline.  Perhaps they also kept me a little grounded.  My type of fiction is about a two way communication. I don’t write with readers looking over my shoulder, but when I write fiction I feel an obligation to tell a good story for that reader, just as, in journalism, you must be able to anticipate questions a reader would ask if that reader were there with you.

Q) Would you recommend that everyone try out a variety of forms on the way to ‘settling in’? or is that inevitable?

A) Absolutely.  If writing is your choice, your way of experiencing the world, then why not experiment with it?  It should be a bit playful and adventurous.  I write historical fiction, but I’ve also written mysteries under a different name, and lots of journalism.  I’m not a poet, but every once in a while I’ll challenge myself to try some poetry, just to keep some imaginative flexibility. 

Q) When we spoke last year you had a contract for two books. How’s the second one coming along, and are you able to work on two books at a time or do you actively work on them in succession?

A) I’m about a third of my way through the second book in this contract.  I’ve tried working on two books at a time, but I just can’t do it.  When I’m actively writing, that voice ‘telling’ the story is going on in my head whether I’m at my desk or not,  so I can follow only one narrative at a time.  It is kind of like finding yourself in a dream, even when you’re wide awake.

Q) I understand you went to Europe while you were writing The Beautiful American. Do you work well on the road? Was this an investigatory excursion? Did you visit places that were central to Lee’s associations at the time?

A) No, I can’t work on the road at all.  I’m a true creature of habit.  I need my desk, my reference shelf, my pot of tea. The trip was to revisit some of Lee’s old haunts and other locales in the novel, so it was a research trip specifically centered in Nice and Grasse.  There was a huge storm in the upper part of France, and all the trains had been snowed in, so I didn’t make it to Paris, but I already know that city pretty well.

Q) Thank you, Jeanne.  


About the interviewer:

Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”  This interview was conducted via email between January and March 2014.

Also in this issue: A review of The Beautiful American.

April 28, 2014   Comments Off on Jeanne Mackin/Author Interview

The Beautiful American/Book Review



Hitting the Base Notes


“The Beautiful American”
by Jeanne Mackin
NAL Trade Paperback Original
ISBN: 978-0451465825
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Price: $16.00

I first met Jeanne Mackin during a visit with her husband, Steve Poleskie, at their home in Ithaca, New York. I was about to leave when Jeanne showed up and offered to make lunch, which turned out to be turkey and cheese with honey on sourdough bread – with white wine, of course. It was a delightful interlude on a beautiful day when I was in Ithaca on other business and took what I thought would be just a moment to say hello to Steve.

The next time I saw her, last summer, she had just signed a two-book deal and shared her anxiety about being able to finish both on deadline, which did not seem to be too far off. As it is, she finished the first, which is The Beautiful American, a wonderful tale of the interwoven lives of two women, a protagonist whose beauty and fame led her in a direction of lively adventure, a flight from personal sorrow and ultimate but shadowed fame, while the other experienced the fascination of living a dream, seeing it shattered and then literally and figuratively having it reborn. I don’t know anything about the second book, but I trust it will be as engaging as the first.

The Beautiful American, of course, is Lee Miller, a girl from Poughkeepsie, New York, who became a Vogue model, lover, mistress and protogé of the Surrealist photographer and artist Man Ray, friend of Picasso and numerous other Surrealist luminaries living in Paris in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and one of the most influential photographers of World War II. The narrator is Nora, Mackin’s creation, a parallel figure in Miller’s life whose own story carries the reader along through highs and lows of the artistic life, France under fascism into and through World War II,  and briefly into the second half of the Twentieth Century when the women cross paths a final time and their personal triumphs and fortunes are revealed.

Mackin’s ability to craft characters and re-create history, writing stories inside stories to generate a literary DNA, in this case a double helix of main events that drive one another to the end, marks her special talent as novelist and story teller.  Mackin gives us scenes and situations that fit together and come apart like Russian dolls, one by one until the last, with detail that gives perspective to the whole, wherein the construction becomes complete and absolute.

Events recounted from Miller’s life give shape to the kind of woman she understandably could and did become. The influence she had on those around her colors the fabric of the tale. But this story is as much about Nora, childhood friend, confidante, parfumer  extraordinaire, and one of the many people in Miller’s life the goddess purportedly and purposefully betrayed – simply because she could.  We pick up a book to read about the life of a famous American, and end up as interested in the complexities of normality that afflict the fictional narrator. One might ask, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Who is more important? Who is more real, who would we rather be?

From that fragile web and in this book, Mackin weaves together lives hauled up through muddy waters of the past into a kind of light where hardship hardly matters any more. A satisfying resolution to a story of note about two women that just as easily could have ended in despair.


About the reviewer:

Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him on the “About Us” page. 

Also in this issue: Foldes’ interview with Jeanne Mackin

April 28, 2014   Comments Off on The Beautiful American/Book Review

REPORT: European Parliament 2014


The Hemicycle meeting hall for Parliament at headquarters in Strasbourg.

The Final Session

of the European Parliament

Before Elections

News & Photos from the Chamber
by Miklós Horváth

Between 14 and 17 April 2014 the European Parliament (EP) held its last plenary session before May’s European elections. The final parliamentary session of the 7th legislature opened with a minute’s silence marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide and remembering the victims who were murdered in the African country. At the very beginning of the session Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) stressed their dissatisfaction with Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. They restated that Russia’s recent annexation of the territory was against its international commitments as well as international law.

In their arguments, politicians referred to the possible breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances by the Russian Federation as the document had been created to preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of certain countries of the Balkans, including Ukraine, against threats, and was originally signed by the USA, the UK, as well as Russia. Concerning Crimea, EP President Martin Schulz urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and make efforts to safeguard peace in the region. Schulz evoked many resolutions which were voted by the EP in the last few months to support Ukraine in preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He mentioned an EU trade agreement aiming to boost Ukraine’s economic prosperity as well as several financial aid programs. He also voiced his satisfaction with the Ukraine government’s efforts to restore stability and expressed his hope that Ukraine’s upcoming national elections would be free and fair.

On the third day of the plenary session MEPs from different political groups held a debate on Russia’s pressure on the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries and in particular the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine following the Crimean crisis. They discussed their opinions on the situation at hand and those economic sanctions they believed should be taken against Russia to slow down its endeavors to grab territories in Ukraine – the endeavor that might stem from Russia’s great power identity/hegemony and its national interests, which are all applied in conducting its foreign policy objectives in this particular geopolitical space, the so-called “near abroad”. Understanding the situation from the Russian perspective, what Russia does today is sending out a message to the West with regard to what it considers its own sphere of influence as a great power (see: Ria Laenen’s “Russia’s Vital and Exclusive National Interests in the Near Abroad”). While, on the other hand, European leaders continuously express their dissatisfaction, as they would be rather pleased to see Ukraine closer to the EU than to the Russian Federation, being convinced that European values should spread and prevail in the Eastern part of Europe, as well.

Rights & Values

After Stefan Füle’s, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, opening speech MEPs had one to two minutes to share their opinions on the crisis in the chamber. Some paid particular attention to European values and minority rights in Ukraine while others were discussing Russia’s escalations to use of force in the past recalling the Georgian-Russian conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia among many other incidents. As the most proper solution to the Ukraine crisis was not found during the debate, many MEPs expressed their hope that the Geneva meeting of top diplomats on Ukraine, organized in Switzerland right after the Strasbourg plenary sitting, was able to provide better guidelines for an agreement to ease the tensions between the West and Russia.

In the EP chamber, politicians clearly demonstrated their commitments to assist Ukraine with peaceful conflict resolution and to defend human rights, the rule of law and democratic values within its territory. By doing this they undoubtedly reaffirmed the EU’s role as a normative power and a mediator in world politics. This is, of course, very necessary in a time when Europe’s legitimacy of setting regulatory standards as well as the notion of the EU as a value-based community are questioned by the resurgence of manifestations of anti-semitism, xenophobia, discrimination, racism or Euroscepticism as consequences of the economic crisis (and as recently discussed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in a detailed report).

Euro Par V10N3

Miklos Horvath reports on the European Parliament's 2014 session as a representative from Ragazine.CC.

Banking & Finance

The second major topic for discussion at the EP was the setting up of new regulations in the banking sector as well as the enhancement of a banking union. The parliament adopted three measures. Two were dealing with the restructuring of troubled banks requiring financial institutions to have special plans for the worst and unexpected scenarios, while the third was implemented to ensure that banks, not the taxpayers, guaranteed deposits under €100,000 in an event of the risk of failure. The third regulation, namely the deposit guarantee scheme was already in place in some way but was updated to further protect depositors and taxpayers. These measures along with other full-fledged regulations might prepare the EU to strengthen and complement the existing pillars (i.e. the single bank supervision system) of a genuine banking union in the near future.

Lessons of War

The third major issue for debate was the First World War, the lessons to be learned from the devastation and the future of Europe. The debate was opened by EP President Martin Schulz, Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece speaking on behalf of the Council of the European Union (as Greece is currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union up until July 2014) and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. After their speeches, the chairs of the major political groups in the European Parliament discussed what Europe learned or should have learned from WWI.

Many of them expressed that the member states of the EU should continue their co-operation in the future to maintain peace and competitiveness, and to proceed towards a higher level of integration. They called for the curbing of nationalism, creating stronger integration, more common policies and support for the community-based interest – as only a closely integrated community could assume and exercise serious power on the international stage in the 21st century. Contrary to these aspirations, MEPs like Nigel Farage (co-chair of EFD) and Daniël van der Stoep (NI) stressed their convictions that citizens would need stronger nation states rather than a powerful European Union.

Human Rights, Environment

During the plenary, the EP passed three resolutions concerning human rights violations in North Korea, Pakistan and Syria to support the UN to set up special structures for investigation. It decided that certain harmful psychoactive substances should be withdrawn from the EU market to protect the safety of citizens, particularly young people. MEPs also concluded a reform to the fisheries policy, introduced a structural change to the EU aid system to be delivered faster and effectively to disaster-stricken EU or EU candidate countries, adopted measures to stop the spread of invasive alien species and draft rules to reduce the use of the most polluting plastic bags in the community. Other regulations and draft laws concerning food and product safety, investment, environment protection, EU budget, economic development and the freedom of movement were also adopted.

The final parliamentary session was running with a packed agenda as MEPs decided on a considerably large amount of issues directly influencing the everyday life of EU citizens. Even though the EP was very active in adopting regulations in the last 5 years, this EU institution still suffers from a serious democratic deficit due to the fact that citizens are not well-informed about the content of the measures passed in the chamber on a monthly basis. The small amount of information and education provided to citizens leads to the declining of their interest in EU affairs and a low-turnout for EP elections. We might experience this again in May when European elections will take place. The next plenary sitting will be held in July in Strasbourg soon after the members of the new European Parliament have been directly elected by the citizens of the 28 member states of the EU.

From now on, the new parliament will have less MEPs in accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon than it had in the previous years. Considering the power of the EP as one of the EU’s main law-making institutions, along with the Council of the European Union, deciding over the very future of European integration; and the fact that after the 2014 EP elections the President of the European Commission will most probably be coming from the largest European political group enjoying the strongest support of citizens, two things are quite disappointing: one is the decline in participation of EU citizens in European elections [voter turnout decreased from 62% in 1979 (EU9) during the first direct elections to the EP to a record-low of 43% in 2009 (EU27) in the most recent European elections] explaining why EP elections are often characterized as second-order elections subordinate to national elections (the so-called first-order elections). The other alarming trend is the growing support of citizens for Eurosceptic parties.

About the author:

Miklós Horváth is a Master’s student at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven). He was also educated at ELTE Budapest, Tartu, Maastricht and Leiden University. He completed internships at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Portage Rehabilitation Centre in Canada and at the European Parliament’s Directorate General for Communication. He published articles in more than six print journals ranging from literature to politics. His previous contributions to Ragazine.CC include:

Recommended Sources

Newsletter – 14-17 April 2014 – Strasbourg plenary session

Joint statement, Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine:

Report by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Thorbjørn Jagland: “Europe in biggest human rights crisis since Cold War”

Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries and in particular the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, EPTV in full with English translation

100 years on from the First World War: lessons to learn and future of Europe (debate), EPTV in full with English translation

Never again? Debate to mark WW1 centenary

European Parliament elections May 2014

Insecurity, austerity and growing extremism in the EU

The 2009 Elections to the European Parliament Country Reports

Eurobarometer Report: Post-electoral survey 2009

Ria, Laenen (2012). Russia’s Vital and Exclusive National Interests in the Near Abroad, In. Maria Raquel, Freire and Roger E, Kanet (2012). Russia and its Near Neighbors. Palgrave.

Eurobarometer 76: 2011: Level of Information on European Matters: A clear Majority of Respondents still believe that they are ill-informed about European matters

Information about the European Parliament headquarters building in Strasbourg:

CaptureWikipedia diagram, click to enlarge.


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on REPORT: European Parliament 2014

Now and Then/Stephen Poleskie


Steve Poleskie when he still owned two planes.

Do You Know Who’s in Your Cockpit?

by Stephen Poleskie

There is a widely shown TV commercial for a credit card company that begins: “Do you know what’s in your wallet?”  I don’t imagine that we will ever see one for an airline asking: “Do you know who’s in your cockpit?” I think that most of the time they would rather we didn’t know.  You go to the doctor and he has all his degrees framed and hanging on the wall behind him. But your pilots — all you know about them is what they tell you over the intercom: “Hello, this is your captain speaking; our time in route will be. . . .” Is this the little kid trying to grow a mustache that you saw pulling a cart through the terminal? He did have on a blue uniform with three stripes on his sleeve. I hope that he’s not the one who landed at the wrong airport last week.

I had begun writing this before Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 disappeared. Now there is an extensive search going on for the Boeing 777 in the waters of the Indian Ocean. By the time you are reading this the wreckage will probably have been found. It will take much longer to determine what went wrong. I am not going to speculate, unlike the legions of experts called forth on the TV news/entertainment shows. I am only going to relate some of my experiences with airline pilots I have known and the training thereof.

So what do you know about it, you ask? Aren’t you some kind of artist turned fiction writer?

Yes, however, I did earn a pilot’s license, not just a Private, but an Air Transport Pilot’s rating. This is the top, as high as you can go, the Ph.D. of flying. It’s the piece of paper you need to become a captain on an airliner.

So where did I learn to fly — having made my comment above about the training of airline pilots? Well, full disclosure, I must admit that I, like most of the things I have done in my life, taught myself.

You can’t teach yourself to fly, you say.

I was in a flying school at the Tompkins County Airport.  I had read about spins and wanted to do them. My flight instructor told me that the FAA had taken spins out of the curriculum because they were too dangerous. I asked him, how would you get out of a spin then — if you accidently got into one — if you had never practiced spin recovery? He said that the FAA’s emphasis was now on avoiding spin entries. After much urging by me, my instructor did agree to demonstrate a spin, which seemed to terrorize him, but rather fascinated me.

As I was signed off for solo flight, and as straight and level flying never held much interest for me, I would fly out to the practice area and do spins, left and right, sometimes as many as three turns.

Every now and then you had to have a progress check with the chief pilot, who also happened to be the owner of the flying school. As we were taxiing out, Mr. H pointed to the artificial horizon, an instrument used to tell you the attitude of the airplane when flying in the clouds. The instrument was inoperative. He ordered me to taxi back in. I argued that, as it was a perfectly clear day and we would have no need of the instrument there was no reason to postpone my check ride.

He informed me that I was guilty of performing an inaccurate pre-flight inspection and so had failed my check ride. He wondered why the instrument had failed – the gyro tumbled, were his words. I naively ventured that the gyro usually tumbled when I did a spin, but then it always seemed to come back.

“You’ve been spinning my airplanes!” Mr. H said in a fit of anger. “These airplanes are not meant to be spun.  The FAA no longer requires spins on a flight test. You are a menace to yourself, and everyone around you. You have no business being in an airplane!”

And with that he kicked me out of his flying school.

There was a flying club on the other side of the field that also gave lessons; however, I was not a joiner, and had enough of meetings at the university where I taught. So I went out and bought an airplane, a Citabria,  an aerobatic airplane that I could spin all I wanted and do loops and rolls and whatever else.  I got the flight instructor at the field in Pennsylvania to sign me off for solo flight, and could go up in my airplane whenever I wanted, although I couldn’t take any passengers. I flew around for months solo, not only teaching myself how to fly, but also to do stunts.

What does my experience have to do with airline pilots?

Think about it. Thanks to the FAA the average airline pilot has probably never done a spin in an airplane. They may have done spins in a simulator — it’s a bit like shooting Zombies on your X-box — you can always turn the thing off if it gets out of hand. But when the nose of your airplane is pointed straight down, and the world outside the windshield is spinning faster and faster, and you’ve never done this for real before….

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. regional airlines are facing a serious pilot shortage due to the low salaries they want to pay. Starting pilots at the 14 regional carriers average about $22,400 a year, with some paying as low as $15,000, which is about minimum wage. This means that they are hiring just about anybody.

A few years ago my friend Diane Ackerman, who has a pilot’s license, told me, almost in shock, the name of a person she had known as a student pilot who had been one of the pilots on the airliner she had just flown in on from Kennedy.  Why had she found this so hard to believe?

When he was a student, the pilot, who I shall call George, which is not his real name, was sent on a solo cross country flight to Syracuse. Now for those of you not from upstate New York, I will tell you that when you take off from Ithaca on a clear day, which is only when students are allowed to fly, if you look north you can almost see Syracuse. And if your navigation radio fails you can follow Route 81, which will take you there, or Lake Cayuga, that will get you to the NY Thruway, which also leads you to Syracuse.

Somehow George missed all these clues and got lost. Not only did he not get to Syracuse, but he could not find his way home. George continued searching until he ran out of fuel and had to crash land in a farmer’s field. Now with a blot like that on your copy book one would think that there was no way that he would ever become an airline pilot, but there George was.

Back before 9/11, if one had a pilot’s license you could show it to the cabin attendant and ask for a “tour of the cockpit.” Now I thought with the new security rules cockpit visits were all over. But I just saw on the television that the copilot on the missing Malaysia Airline flight had several young ladies up to the cockpit on a previous flight.

Back many years ago I recall being invited up to the cockpit on a British airliner I was on heading for Freetown, Sierra Leone.  The captain sent the flight engineer off and invited me to sit in his chair. And then, producing a bottle from somewhere, the captain asked me to join him in a glass of Sherry.  I was surprised and naively asked him if British pilots were allowed to drink while on duty. He replied that as the co-pilot was flying the airplane he was officially “not on duty.”

We were having a nice chat. I asked him how they were navigating. He replied by reciting a long list of radio navigational facilities that were presently off the air, at the moment they were “dead reckoning,” which means basically heading in the direction that you think you should.

Fortunately, right about then, the copilot who had been sitting there ramrod straight — wearing his peaked cap and inchoate mustache — peering out the window announced, “Captain, the coast of Africa dead ahead, sir.”

The captain pivoted his seat around, and studied the large land mass that was emerging from the ocean in front of us. “Yes,” he said. “It looks like Africa. Take a right turn when you get there.” And with that he swiveled back and offered me another sherry.  I decided it was time to return to the cabin.

* * *

About the author:

Stephen Poleskie is an artist, and writer. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA, and the Metropolitan Museum,  and his writing, fiction, and art criticism has appeared in many journals both here and abroad and in the anthology The Book of Love, (W.W. Norton) and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He has published seven novels and taught at a number of schools, including: The School of Visual Arts, NYC, the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University. Poleskie lives in Ithaca, NY. website:, where you can find the photo above.


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on Now and Then/Stephen Poleskie

High Plains/Russell Streur

Lincoln Highway Memorial


High Plains Postcard

Story and Photographs, Russell Streur

Give the landscape in High Plains Drifter its due, but Clint Eastwood filmed that movie in the California Sierras, hundreds of miles from the real place.

With its sorghum roots threatened by the failing Ogallala Aquifer, the High Plains today rise perilously up from Lubbock north through the short grass prairie and rolling hills past Cheyenne till meeting the Black Hills and the holy country of the Sioux above the Platte.

It’s a considerable country, enough to separate the long, flat horizons of the corn and wheat fields of the American heartland from the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the cool, blue rivers and the forest pines of the Big Sky.

Old and famous trails cross through here, the Bozeman and the Mormon.  In Guernsey, Wyoming, passers-by can still see the ruts of the Oregon Trail, carved four feet deep in sandstone by the iron wheels of the thousands and thousands of wagons that carried the great migration west.

Newer trails cross here, too, the Lincoln Highway and the Union Pacific. There’s a tall and muscular pedestal with Lincoln’s bust on top just this side of Laramie off Interstate 80 marking a waypoint on the nation’s first coast to coast highway. The 16th President looms over a smaller memorial to Henry Bourne Joy, whose brainchild it was to pave a ribbon of concrete across the continent from New York City to San Francisco.


Russell Streur, proprietor of The Camel Saloon, an online literary pub, takes to the High Plains of Wyoming.

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High Plains, Bison, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 1, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 2, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 3, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 4, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 5, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 6, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 7, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 8, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains, Lincoln, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains, Windmill, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming

Not far away is a 60-foot granite pyramid celebrating the life of the brothers Oakes and Oliver Ames, Jr. Once known as The Shovel King, Oakes financed the completion of the Union Pacific in the late 1860s on a shaky house of sweetheart deals and flimsy banknotes common to the era.  Fingered as the central villain in the web of fraud and deceit of the ensuing Credit Mobilier scandal, Oakes died after a stroke, censured by Congress and disgraced, in the spring of 1873.   Ousted as president of the Union Pacific by a rival company faction, Oliver somehow escaped most of the heat from the fallout and passed on a few years later.  In the early 1880s, the railroad commissioned the monument to the two men, placing it at the highest elevation reached by the tracks.

Sometime later, the railroad moved its roadbed, and the Ames Monument now stands in a general nowhere, odd and unattended on a windy hill.

Most people along the trails kept on moving. Not six people per square mile live in Wyoming these days, in attendance to the sheep and hay and cottonwood.  The growing season is a short and dry five months in a generous year.

With all the elbow room, it’s a good place to go looking for God.  He’s everywhere out here.  So is She.

And the buffalo.

Remember this – when you meet your destiny pete1, and your teeth go flying one way, and your ass the other, the buffalo wins.

Then, make the word for medicine with the sign language of the tribes:  hold right hand close to forehead, palm out, index and middle finger separated and pointing to sky, thumb and other fingers closed.  Spiral hand upward, in right to left circles, as in the unknown mystery of it all.

The Great Spirit.  Call that, The Stranger.


 About the author:

Born in Chicago and currently a resident of Johns Creek, Georgia, Russell Streur’s poetry has been published widely in print, on line and in anthologies in the United States and Europe.  He operates the world’s original on-line poetry bar, The Camel Saloon (, is the author of The Muse of Many Names (Poets Democracy, 2011) and Table of Discontents (Ten Pages Press, 2012).  His photography has been featured in Written River and on line at The Blue Hour, Pacific Poetry and other publications.  His works are regularly seen at Atlanta area galleries.  He is a member of the Atlanta Artists Center, the Georgia Poetry Society, and wilderness and conservation organizations.

* * * * *

 1. pte … variation of a Lakota word for buffalo, “pte”.

April 28, 2014   Comments Off on High Plains/Russell Streur

From the Edge/Bill Dixon


Not O-Kay…

Sing Out!

 by Bill Dixon

I’m a guitar guy. Frankly, my guitar playing isn’t very good, but I love the instruments themselves, and I love to sing along with other voices. I bought my first guitar when I was thirteen, with money I earned working part-time in a neighborhood used bookstore, near The Ohio State University. The guitar was a wreck, and I’m sure that the pawn broker was glad to get rid of it for twenty bucks. He offered to sell me a dilapidated case that would fit it, for another five dollars. I told him I didn’t have another five dollars. All I had left was bus fare back to my neighborhood. He looked me over for a minute, and told me the case was on him. Astonished, I thanked him, and put my guitar into the case. Two of the four latches on the case worked, and I secured my prize. Riding home on the bus, I glanced at my fellow passengers periodically, as I proudly held my new guitar on my lap. I tried to look like a musician, but I don’t think anyone actually bought that.

In those distant days, they “taught” music in elementary schools, or at least the one I attended. Music class was once a week, and outside of recess, physical education and lunch, I think it was my favorite class. I saw lunch as a class, by the way. I got to meet, sit with, and talk to kids that lived too far away from my house to easily do so otherwise, and I moved around a lot at lunch, to do just that. In music class, about all we did was sing songs that most of the kids already knew, from exposure to them outside of school, although we also had songbooks we could refer to. We didn’t learn how to read music, or anything about music theory, but we all sang songs together, as a group. I loved singing with the other kids, so that was good enough for me.

As there would be in any group, there was lots of variation in each individual’s ability to carry a tune. Some kids were pretty good at that, but others were just not cut out for singing at all. Everyone eventually learned their musical limitations, without anyone actually having to tell them what those limitations were. That was long before building a student’s self-esteem was more important than teaching them to face harsh reality. As a result, the not-so-hot-singing folks of that era, as adults, only burst into song after having had entirely too much to drink. As I got used to singing in a group, it became apparent that if your voice could handle it, there were plenty of varying ways to sing a song. I experimented a lot with harmony, mostly because it added a degree of depth to the songs we sang, and it was different from what most of the other kids were doing. I prized individuality, and I could freely experiment with options, while I was singing with fifty or so other kids. I’d start out singing at a low volume, to see how my experimental option sounded in my head. If it didn’t turn out to be a successful experiment, I’d try out something else. If that was interesting, dead-on or particularly melodic, I’d increase my volume, and test it in different parts of the song, at volume. I should also point out that I had a big advantage in my musical education over most of the other kids.

At home, we had a huge, old, free-standing, wood-cased, Philco radio, located in my mom’s sewing room. Since she was a seamstress, she spent a lot of time there. So did I, before I was old enough to go to school. After I had started school, I stayed in during spells of bad weather or high pollen counts. I’d stay in the sewing room with my mom, and sing along with the songs on the radio and with her. That was because I was asthmatic as kid, and had to avoid the things I was allergic to, like pollen, so my sing-alongs happened fairly regularly. Mom especially liked The Weavers, and we heard them frequently on our favorite morning radio show in Columbus, Ohio. Those were sing-along songs, absolutely. Many of the songs they sang were originally written and sung by Huddie Ledbetter, more commonly known as “Leadbelly”. Leadbelly died in 1949, but his music lives on today. I especially liked singing along with “Rock Island Line”, ”Good Night Irene”, “Midnight Special” and other Leadbelly songs. The Weavers had a user-friendly harmony going on in their presentation, and it invited participation, as did the Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger songs they also sang. I participated, too. The Weavers’ voices weren’t intimidatingly professional: they sang just like us, and they sang for pleasure, I suspect, more than for money. You could hear that in their singing, even if you were just a kid. Anyway, those experiences helped me enjoy my later music classes. Everyone at my elementary school got a passing grade in music, by the way. In the process, however, you also realized whether or not you could carry a tune. Those group singing experiences hooked me on folk music and sing-alongs, and I’ve never gotten over it. I don’t want to get over it, of course. I enjoy it way too much.

After I got my first guitar, the beat-to-hell old Kay from a Columbus pawn shop, I started playing guitar with a friend, who knew how to tune and play a guitar. Once I gained enough skills to play a few songs, I practiced and practiced, until I could accompany myself. Once my fingertips were calloused enough to not ache or bleed, I started to learn a few additional chord progressions, and added some more songs to my repertoire. Part of the skills advancement process involved sneaking into coffee houses and campus-area bars, to listen to folk singers who were playing there, and learning their songs. You had to be eighteen to be in a bar, and I was two or three years away from that. It was a year or more until I got confident enough, and worked up the courage to start playing and singing on open-mic stages in the two coffee houses across the street from the University. In one of the coffee houses, The Avant Guard, or was it The Sacred Mushroom? I’d made enough surreptitious visits to both, that I became a fairly familiar face to some of the people who showed up regularly. That made it a little easier, but getting up on a stage in front of people and performing for them was a fairly daunting task for me. The crowd consisted mostly of old hippies or Folkie wannabes, equipped with beards, black turtlenecks and Camel cigarettes. They were a pretty easy group to please, comparatively speaking. Maybe they were just being kind to an earnest kid.

About everyone performing there was fairly amateurish, with the exception of Phil Ochs, who was a Journalism student at Ohio State. He was very good indeed. He always seemed to be wearing a mid-length black leather jacket, grubby Levis and be badly in need of a shampoo. He looked the part. As a secret high school student, masquerading as a college boy, I was way too clean-cut looking to pass as a genuine Folkie. Phil was doing some real gigs, where he actually got paid to perform, and he was writing his own songs. It was probably my imagination, but it seemed to me he saw through my thin disguise. He wasn’t a very friendly guy, so outside of a comradely nod of my head, as we saw each other, there was no additional communication. I don’t recall him ever nodding back to me. Actually, I don’t remember him talking to anyone else at the coffee houses either, but he’d thank people as a group, for their applause after each of his beautifully-crafted songs concluded. He always came in just at his scheduled time to sing, and he always left as soon as he finished his last song. It wasn’t too long afterward until I heard that Phil had headed for New York, and I never saw him in person again.

This brings me to what inspired this article. As I said, I’m a guitar guy. I collect guitars, and in the process of buying them, sell or trade the ones I decide I don’t want to keep, to other guitar deviates. I wrote a book about that a few years ago. In a recent pursuit of a cache of stringed instruments I heard about in St Pete, Florida, where I live in the winter, Phil Ochs surfaced again, but not in the flesh. He’d committed suicide years before, sadly. The collection of stringed instruments contained all sorts of things. The former owner had died, and the person liquidating his estate sold me all the stringed instruments and associated items as a lot; guitars, mandolins, ukes, lap steels, accessories, books, and so on. In the load of stuff I ended up with, I found a single copy of “Sing Out,” a magazine devoted to folk music. It was dated March 1965. On the cover was a photo of Leadbelly, clutching his twelve-string Stella guitar, and looking menacing. The lead story in the magazine was about him. Inside, there were lyrics to “Draft Dodger Rag” one of Phil’s songs, copyrighted in 1964, and a couple mentions of Phil in one of the minor articles. In that issue, Bob Dylan quotes, stories and news seem to be widespread in the magazine. It gave me the impression that Phil’s career was already fading in 1965. Hell: he got to New York before Dylan did, and had a much better voice! I then went to U-tube, and listened to Phil sing some of his songs, but those performances were mostly duets done with other folkies. He still needed to wash his hair, in the U-tube photographs and film strips, I noticed. The whole thing made me sad, although I already knew Phil’s story. I really liked his stuff, and I played and sang lots of it, over the years. Here was Phil resurfacing again, in an old magazine, and it brought back memories from a time long gone. As I listened to the music, I closed my eyes, and drifted back to the Avant Guard, and the Sacred Mushroom until the songs were over. So long again, Phil, from the flat-topped, high school kid back in the corner, with the black turtle neck and the raggedy old Kay guitar.

I guess that my life-long association with folk music and singing along with other like-minded souls is going to stick with me for as long as I’m around. I’m still singing and playing guitar with my friends here in Florida, during the winter, and with my Maine friends in the summer, every chance I get. When my old roomie and singing partner, Bob, makes his way to my door, or I to his, in San Diego, we go right back to the stuff we did all those years ago. We always pretend to argue about whether we called ourselves Bill and Bob, (my recollection), or Bob and Bill, (his). We played in the University area bars, mostly, when we were students, but when we visited one of our other guitar pals in Michigan, we also played in a saloon there, later in life. We only had one constant fan there, a rather peculiar lady, who knitted while she sat in the front row center chair. She never gave any sign that she noticed us, just clicked away with her knitting needles, but she always showed up. She concentrated on her knitting, and never said a word. Still, a fan is a fan, and as such, should be treated as a jewel, resting on the cushion of gratitude.

When I was playing guitar and singing with other people who sang and played along, I was always completely and perfectly happy. In my estimation, singing together as a group is a very intimate experience: much more so than almost anything else. There’s a mutual sense of purpose and communion, and in my case at least, no small amount of joy. There’s no reserve. You give it all you’ve got. Still, there’s no disappointment when you can’t reach a note or flub one, miss a word or even a verse. You’re all in it together, and that’s the real harmony in music. I’m going back to U-tube now, and sing a song with Phil Ochs, again. A little later, maybe I’ll travel, by mental time machine, to the Avant Guard, or the Mushroom, and do the open mic night show. “Thanks for listening, folks”, and I’ll say to the crowd, after my first song, and when it’s my turn to do another, “Now, let’s all sing one together. I’ll bet everyone knows ‘Hard Travelin’, by Woody Guthrie.”

Everyone will know it, and we’ll all sing along…. Together.


About the author:

Bill Dixon is author of Disorderly Conduct, a book about the group he hung with in the 1960s at Ohio State, and Guitar Collecting, a niche book about building a collection with minimal investment. Besides being a writer, his varied background includes artist, bank CEO, teacher, bartender/bouncer, zoo keeper, iron worker, political campaign manager, musician, real estate manager and smuggler of Russian Icons out of Eastern Europe. He spends his time these days pretty much between Maine and Florida. You can contact him at

April 28, 2014   Comments Off on From the Edge/Bill Dixon

A Night at Bar 227 – By Fred Roberts

Local Heroes:

Germany’s Battle of the Bands

by Fred Roberts
Contributing Editor, Music


In January we saw Saskia Maas playing a “fireside concert” at the literary cafe Mathilde in Hamburg: 20-30 people in a cozy room, with a wood furnace emanating its warmth, and Saskia before us, sharing her songs. It was just Saskia, her voice, her guitar and some kind of magic. The encores lasted nearly as long as the original set, and her adaptation of a Hermann Hesse poem to music was impossible to resist. She played that twice. And it made us believers. A few weeks later on the last day of March, Alexandra and I followed Saskia to Bar 227. She appeared there in a qualifying round of the band slam contest “Local Heroes” and there was no question of our showing up to support her.

The Local Heroes event is a yearly band contest throughout Germany, with local chapters in major cities. Bands compete with each other in qualifying rounds, semi-finals and then a finalist event. The rules of the voting are simple. Each visitor is given an official event ballot. After all the bands have played, the ballots are returned, with visitors selecting their two favorite bands. On this night the two bands with the most votes would move into the semi-final event coming up in June.

The host of the event, Bar 227, is a tiny venue with a couple of sofas, a few arm chairs, and standing room. Seat cushions are scattered in an alcove off to the right of the stage. We took two cushions and sat up close to get the best view of the coming events. We ordered a round of fritz-kolas from the bar and snuggled in for the evening along with around 40 other guests.


* * *


Saskia at Bar 227

Saskia Maas

Saskia Maas was up first. I’d found out more about her in the time leading up to the contest. Saskia is a young singer-songwriter finding her way to a powerful voice. Judging by the list of shows at her website, she has taken every opportunity to hone her craft and gain experience, playing extensively around Hamburg in the last two years as well as participating in any kind of contest or slam event. She released a CD in 2012 “Wonderland” with songs mostly in English, but has since increased her repertoire with German texts, her native language. A new CD is scheduled for release in May this year.

Her songs are generally about moments and emotions, snapshots of life that for me bear a direct relation to the lost forms of poetic and allegorical literature in Germany such as Stefan Zweig or Hermann Hesse. As she played her set, we noticed again the remarkable synthesis of text, the warmth and depth of her voice and the harmonic, folk-influenced music. We were entranced from start to finish. A few of the highlights included the Herman Hesse piece “Die Welt unser Traum” (The World of Our Dream) and her song “Wonderland,” a rare example of positive inspiration, in the sense of Steve Wynn’s song “Believe in Yourself.” She closed the eight-song set with the stunning “Für einen Moment,” an embodiment of Erich Fromm’s idea of being and having, a magical moment of experience that she’ll not trade for any money in the world. Applause all around. It was obvious that her songs had connected.


* * *


Lion’s Waltz performs at Bar 227

Lion’s Waltz

The next band was Lion’s Waltz. I did some research beforehand and discovered a heavy metal hardcore noise band founded 2011. The Facebook page had 20 likes and very little activity, even from the band itself. Then again, maybe these are not the kind of fans who hang out in facebook clicking “like.” Google searches found a few scattered references to gigs in Hamburg. There was nothing in Youtube. I had high anticipation for Lion’s Waltz, as hardcore is a genre I know little about, having only heard it occasionally on university stations mixed into alternative sets.

Lion’s Waltz is a four man combo. They arrived with a small circle of fans that must have comprised about a third of the guests. The band was announced and the microphone handed to the lead singer, probably not more than 18 or 19 years old, who introduced the group with the understated words, “We’re Lion’s Waltz”. After a round of applause they broke into their first song. It was hard core, with charm. The lead singer, wearing a woolen cap, growled his vocals directly into the microphone, while pacing up and down in front of the stage, much like a lion in a cage –  the band grinding out a blend of metal riffs, steady rhythm, and noise.

Their fans, of the same age group, were sincerely enthusiastic, and the set had a certain innocence to it, played as if this were the only genre to exist. I have one hardcore track in my collection, a contribution by the Meat Puppets “Hair” on Monitor’s self-titled debut (1980), and that’s what Lion’s Waltz sounded like. Between songs one of the contest hosts kept requesting “Summer of 69” from the band, suggesting some kind of inside joke. The band declined, saying they didn’t play that anymore. They completed their set and enthusiastic applause followed. It looked a lot like first place.


* * *


Äläx at Bar 227



Äläx was the next band up, so-dubbed because the two members of the guitar and drum duo share the first name Alexander. A few days before the concert I had a glance at their Facebook presence to discover a  space-themed band. “Interstellar Explorations” is the title on their page. Scrolling down I saw a photo of the band preparing their self-made concert banner, the band’s logo along with a ringed planet on a black cloth. We watched as they put up the banner, as meaningful and effective as $100,000 stage scenery in setting the scene. Before long they were introduced and began playing. The set was a pleasant surprise, spacious sounds and galactic motifs cruising somewhere between rock and jazz, all instrumentals. “Reise nach Andromeda” (Journey to Andromeda) was a wonderful, nearly ten minute sound excursion.

I used to listen to Chopin on repeat while reading Kafka. Now I could imagine reading my favorite science fiction authors Robert Sheckley or Clifford D. Simak while playing this music on endless cycle. If you ask me, a non-musician, how to capture  a sci-fi mood in an instrumental delivery, I wouldn’t have a clue of how to do it. That’s what made their sound all the more amazing to me, that it so overwhelmingly succeeds. This is indeed the music you’d listen to on the way to a distant galaxy. The audience response was as enthusiastic as by Lion’s Waltz and all the time I wondered why I hadn’t heard of Äläx before.


 * * *


Photo: Metamorphonia by Sonja Brüning


Metamorphonia is a dark pop singer-songwriter duo of Denis Scheither (piano) and Christiane Schmidt (vocals), as stated on their Youtube channel. I watched one of their videos “Ten Months” before the concert, and it looked promising to me. Now Denis and Christiane opened the set with a medley of two covers: Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Rammstein’s “Sonne.” I thought the vocal part was engaging and Denis’ accompaniment thoughtful. The next song, “Dissonance” began with the words “Why must the flower slowly fade away” and goes on to become even more somber and pessimistic, about the dissonance that develops in a relationship. Next, Alex Dietz replaced Christiane on stage. Alex and Denis played two songs, including a piece Alex had written following the death of his father. To me it was something too precious to share in such a profane setting as a band contest. The three of them then joined for the remaining songs.

Altogether the set did not like me. It was more like three bands instead of one: Christiane and Denis, Alex and Denis, then all three together. Each constellation was a different kind of sound and feeling, with no real chance to catch on. I’m not sure I heard right, but at one point during the set Denis wondered aloud to the audience, “Why does everyone think we play sad songs?” He invited everyone to visit the band’s Facebook page and to write, even if with constructive criticism, so I am hoping that my words here are not too harsh, and maybe somewhat helpful. I think Metamorphonia should decide in which line-up they want to play, and then develop their sound with that in mind. Judging by the applause, the audience seemed not to share my reservations.


The Voting

The emcee announced it was time to vote, thanking the bands in the order they had played. Saskia Maas, Lion’s Waltz, Äläx and Metamorphonia. Saskia’s applause was the least loud of all, but that may have been an effect of being announced first. The second time an audience responds it is usually louder because everyone wants to outdo themselves. Still, it made us nervous as to the outcome. Judging by the levels of applause, it still looked as if Lion’s Waltz had won the evening.

It took a few minutes for everyone to write in their votes. Alexandra and I both voted for Saskia, and we agreed on our second vote as well. I won’t reveal which band it was, but in the end, that second vote appears to have made no difference. When the audience was finished dropping their ballots into the cardboard box on the bar, the contest hosts took the container into the back room to count out the ballots. The two bands with the most votes would go on to the semi-finals. Ten minutes later they returned to announce all the band names again, the same levels of applause as before – not a good sign for Saskia – then called the bands on stage for the announcement of the results.

They drew it out as long as they could, telling us there had been one overwhelming winner. “Not a band, but a project,” as they put it. What could that mean? Finally they told us, it was Äläx. Enthusiastic applause. Now it was time to announce the second band to move on into the semi-finals. But something unusual had happened, they said. A tie for second place. After some consideration, the hosts told us, they had decided that both of these bands would go on to the semi-finals. The first of these, was not a band, but a project, they continued, drawing it out for all it was worth. Lion’s Waltz, they finally revealed. This meant that Äläx and Lion’s Waltz and one other band were still in the contest. That band was…… Saskia Maas. We were happy that she had made it to the next level. In the end, though, I don’t think it is fair to pit such diverse styles against each other. Each band was good in its own way.


Local Heroes contest winner: Äläx


The largest concert I’ve been to was Pink Floyd in Dortmund, in the late 1980s, a mass event in a major arena holding the population of a small town. It was unforgettable. But it is not always the mass events that bring us the most joy or the most vivid memories. These can be found in the small venues with bands as yet unknown to the masses. It is the feelings and the moods that music evokes in us that we remember, intensified by intimate surroundings and reinforced by a far more personal connection to the artists.


If you’re in Hamburg the next weeks and would like to support the bands, the semi-final events are:

June 20th, 7PM, MarX/Markthalle (Äläx, Lion’s Waltz)
July 5th, 7PM,  Marx/Markthalle
July 18th, 7PM, MarX/Markthalle (Saskia Maas)
July 25th, 7PM, MarX/Markthalle

Best of luck to everyone!

Complete line-ups and additional events:


April 28, 2014   2 Comments

Beautiful Rush/Book Review


Cassandra’s Song: Beautiful Rush
by Marc Vincenz
Poetry, 88 pp.
Unlikely Books 2014
ISBN 978-0-9708750-2-0
Winner of the 2013 Unlikely Mississippi Award

by Larissa Shmailo

One day in Hong Kong not so very long ago, a Swiss businessman named Marc Vincenz was hit upside the head by Calliope, Erato, and Polyhymnia all at once. At the muses’ insistence, Vincenz left behind 2,000 employees and the Orient, and surrendered to the life of a poet. Today, as becomes a servant of the muse, he is dutifully prolific, with seven books, and several chaps. A prominent translator of German poets and editor of Madhat and FULCRUM, Vincenz is also the force behind a new nonprofit serving small presses, Evolution Arts.

As might be expected, Vincenz’s poetry is cosmopolitan, wise, and colorful, brimming with the life of the many countries and people he has known. With Beautiful Rush, however, there is an ethereal and transcendent quality to his verse, a subtler and softer beauty to the language. The muses are gentler here, and the poet, although he sings of death and chaos, seems lightly touched by their wings.

This ethereal, otherworldly quality appear even in poems that speak of tuberculosis, gin bottles, guns, or war, and the many miseries, psychic and physical, to which we humans are heir. From the section, “How to Die of Beauty”:

when the sea

shakes the walls

and an infinity

of ghostly shoes lines blue-eyed


where I am not yet dead


I am not quite


— “Simenon’s Speck of Gladness”

There is the feeling that Vincenz is writing the final haiku of a samurai before seppuku who suddenly sees the beauty of the overcast sky. There immediacy to the verse in Beautiful Rush, supported structurally by Vincenz’s choice of short lines and spare stanzas. The white space on the page gives room and air to the poems, so that even its imprisoned denizens can breathe.

True to the poetic traditions of East and West alike, Vincenz’s codas are pregnant with meaning, posing to the reader the accursed questions of human life. From “She, at Heart, a Blue Whale”:

Is this the world that I’ve come to know
on the back of my hand?

The heroine of Beautiful Rush is the doomed Cassandra, who is the voice of several poems in this collection, and who, like the poet, has seen it all. From “Cassandra’s Designated Light”:

Isn’t there potential for chaos
in everything we see or touch?
. . .

Who is the patriarch?
and who the master?
the I in her?
And who the sky
that hangs above,
blue and in its foul temper?

and from “Cassandra Knows How to Die of Beauty”:

The name, love,
is crossed out.

O to write
letter after letter

a fruitless cause.

A letter, of course,
seems like immortality.

The beauty of Beautiful Rush is not innocent beauty, callow and untried. It is a beauty that has been scarred, and yet rises to sing. It is, as the poet says, beauty to die for.


About the author:

Larissa Shmailo’s newest collection of poetry is #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books). Larissa is the editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. 

April 28, 2014   Comments Off on Beautiful Rush/Book Review

Pamela Brown Roberts



Lost and Found

“Like No Other…”

Pamela (Brown) Roberts (1953-1998) became interested in art as a teen-ager, graduating from the highly selective New York City School of Visual Arts.  As she would ruefully later say, she learned a lot about art concepts from her formal studies but not nearly enough about how to draw.  A true polymath, after graduation she sidetracked into the punk music scene, becoming a well-known regular at CBGB’s, the legendary East Village punk music club.  She wrote for Punk magazine.  For a time  she was Joey Ramone’s girlfriend.

She met and married the noted tattoo artist, Bob Roberts, and upon moving to Los Angeles  revived her interest in art.  When her twin sister, Kathy, contracted and then died from breast cancer, Pam’s urge to get back into art became much stronger.   She immersed herself in learning how to draw and trying out different styles, continuing to do so even after getting breast cancer herself.

Working with growing urgency as she fought the disease, Pam became increasingly adept and increasingly original in her paintings. She began to attract attention in L.A.’s “urban outsider” art community. Her eye for color, her fine sense of proportion, her innate sweetness, and her wit and humor pervade her work, infusing them with qualities that make them stand out. She had several gallery showings, and she sold paintings to a number of celebrity art collectors, including Nicolas Cage and Tony Curtis.

In spite of her advancing illness and the challenges of raising her daughter as a single parent, Pam continued to experiment and grow rapidly as an artist in the last few years of her life. The more her cancer advanced, the more warmth and beauty there was in her paintings, as if in defiance of the deadly disease. Pam died in the Spring of 1998 at the age of 45. In a tribute to her in International Tattoo Art magazine (for which she had been a contributing writer), editor Chris Pfouts wrote: “Everyone who knew Pam was richer for it. She changed people’s lives, and always for the better.” Her generosity, her genuine love of people, her kindness, her feeling for beauty and her gentle wit enabled her to defeat time and pain by creating a body of work so full of humanity that it is unforgettable.

Roberts’ work is included as one of the original member artists in POBA, a virtual cultural arts center that celebrates the enduring and transformative creativity of the arts and makes available the works of talented artists who in their lifetimes left remarkable, but as yet unrecognized troves of outstanding creations. POBA was designed by Songmasters at the behest of the James K. Bernard Foundation to offer a collection of galleries in a range of artistic fields as well as archival resources. Serving both the families and estates of talented amateurs and professionals alike, the site, launched in the fall of 2013, will ultimately feature private vaults, public displays, juried exhibitions, writings, spoken and musical performances, film screenings and more.

For more information:

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April 28, 2014   Comments Off on Pamela Brown Roberts