A head goes missing on Monday. Man #2, second from left, suffered the blow. I stand above him, nursing the cutaway view of his neck. Overnight, the lipstick mark I planted on his neck the day prior had been cut in half. The concrete grain feels like bone.
Just yesterday, Sunday, I posed between him and Man #1. I knelt in Virasana. It was a struggle forming prayer hands behind my back; reverse Atmanjali mudra always hurts shoulders, arms, and wrists. The days of the arrested being handcuffed hands-front are long gone, an aspiring cop once told me; the standard today is behind-the-back, palms faced outward. Bad yoga. I switched to Dhyani mudra, hands visible on lap for the camera. The stranger who took my photo was careless: a campus security guard cheeses at us in the background.
So Monday is sucking. Concrete is supposed to be strong, even on its knees. My morning walk through Pratt is supposed to remind me that life is good. Like a sawed-off index finger, the beheading gives me the urge to vomit up my shitty job, then eat an everything bagel. The E train with my name on it must be in Manhattan by now. Boss will have to swallow my latest excuse: “Man #2 needed a memorial.” I flag down an art student, who takes my picture: me kneeling behind Man #2 so that he bears my head.
“Welcome II” is a “commentary and protest on recent events” by South African sculptor Raphael Zollinger. The work “examines both personal and public representations of social change”. But now the eye has begun the inevitable countdown: four to go. I stay up too late, counting. Checking account balances, my daughter’s math homework, sheep. Insomnia has me munching popcorn tonight, watching “The Battle of Algiers”. Sleep finally comes during Mambo #0, just as the French bar blows up. In the dream I argue with Raphael:
Pérez Prado invented the mambo.
Benny Moré invented the mambo.
No, he didn’t.
Yes, he fucking did.
1010 WINS breaks the loop. Tuesday is staticky. New York’s terrorist alert is “high,” worse than yesterday’s “elevated,” yellow to orange in mambo time. “Let them throw the bomb, already,” growls a woman waiting for the bus near Pratt. I’m also tired of wincing. Yesterday my boss complained about my tardiness to the temp agency. Today I must delay again and check up on the Pratt 5. Hurry never turns out well. So I will delay my delay and get coffee. “They should cut off his hands,” growls the bodega owner. We hope the vandal will get caught soon. His son walks with me to see the carnage at Pratt, breaking some news along the way: “Yo, I got into the Police Academy.” No more bodega counters for him. I’m happy for him, really I am, but I tell him to go ahead and look at the Pratt 5 without me. I stay at the rose garden, where I pick dandelions, smoke a cigarette, finish my coffee. Once the coast is clear, I walk to the Pratt 5 and find that the four remaining lips taste like nickels.
Wednesday morning, Mambo #0: I’m fired. The temp agent’s voice is sunny with the news. I have Man #5 listen to the voicemail. He is stone-faced. I lay on the grass beside him in Shavasana, waiting for the vandal. The dead man’s pose is illuminating. I think of things thought to have never been: Humpty Dumpty was never described as an egg and Marie Antoinette never said, “Let’em eat cake,” and Van Gogh never cut off his whole ear. Let the vandal come now.
The rain is insane on Thursday. I do not have to fax or answer phones or proofread legalese. It’s proper that I do some writing. It’s proper that I stop to notice that one of my goldfish is swimming upside-down: swimbladder disease. It’s proper that I eat red-velvet cake for breakfast at Mike’s. It’s proper that I return books to the library, then take a quick nap over a stack of graphic novels. And after a clap of thunder wakes me up at noon, it’s proper that I pick up my kid at school, earlier than usual. She helps me administer the medicine to our sickly goldfish: feeding it peas gets it swimming right-side-up in no time.
Friday lands on new proofreading gig at Ogilve & Mather. En route to the subway, a sight makes me spill my coffee: the Pratt 5 is whole again. Man #2 has a brand-new head. Seen up close, the change back to normal drains my solar plexus, like the dry-heave withdrawal at the end of a hiccup spell. Had the artist been the vandal all along? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is that Cachao invented the mambo, and whether I would make it to work on time.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by N. Marc Mullin.
A native of the Bronx, N. Marc Mullin drove a taxi and spent years as a sheet metal worker before he became an attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law. His short stories have been published in Storyscape Journal, Hawai’i Pacific Review and are forthcoming in the Willow Review and Superstition Review. He published as a finalist in the Middlesex University (UK) international short story contest and he has published nonfiction, including an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Saramanda Swigart.
Saramanda Swigart is thrilled to be writing fiction almost full time after years of writing ad copy and corporate literature. She has lived and worked in Italy, New York, San Francisco and Dubai. She recently completed an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and a supplementary degree in literary translation. Her short work has appeared in Fogged Clarity, The Literati Quarterly, and Thin Air; and her work has received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train. She is working on her first novel, Meaning Machine, about a family’s incompatible coping strategies in the face of loss.
I had an edgy novel, an award-winning story collection, and movie with Hollywood stars coming out within a six month span.
Then things crumbled.
Three months before the novel’s release, the publisher went bankrupt; the book never saw publication. The story collection’s publisher failed to get the book onto stores; it instantly sank into oblivion. And despite a great cast, the film was met with derision; every major newspaper and magazine panned it.
All right, I told myself. Take the hit and move on. Start fresh. Sit down and write more. Create more. Keep going.
Then my laptop got destroyed, and with it twelve years of writing.
Back up everything is my mantra. In a single place should have been part of it.
Scraps of stories, pages of ideas, novels that had stalled out, and screenplays I’d lost interest in were in emails, on flash drives, or buried in a mess of print outs.
A death of a family member, divorce, and moving to a new place rank as the top three most stressful and depressing events in a person’s life.
Rereading ones own work has to rank number four.
There’s good reason the major of writing never sees the light of day. Most of it’s painfully bad—or at least that’s true of mine. Culling through a decade-plus of writing was crushing. Like a brutal episode of This is Your Life, each page drove me back to the time I’d written it. The hopes and dreams I’d fostered then were eclipsed by the stark reality of now. So much time spent on failure work.
Why did I write in the first place? I’d lost the reason, the “why” of why I wrote.
So I stopped. For two years, I didn’t produce a single story.
The world continued.
Books were be published. Movies got made. Hearts were broken then mended then broke again.
I worked and lived and did all I’d always done—save writing.
Then my father was in a near-fatal car wreck.
I made my way to Memphis from New York City.
After the operation, after three days of grief and worry, after he finally came to and was semi-coherent, he took my hand and said, “So what have you been up to?”
I laughed. He’d endured the worst and was still caring enough to want to know about about me.
I told him of work, my girlfriend, of how things were in Harlem.
He said, “And your stories? Got any new ones?”
“Yeah,” I lied, “I do. A novel.” And then for over an hour, I told him story of a non-existent novel of mine.
Each time I paused in the telling of the tale I was making up on the spot, he’d say, “And then?”
I realized—or re-realized—my “why” for writing.
It was to understand both myself and the world and acknowledge failure and hope and loss and love.
It was complicated. Isn’t it always? I know the daughter (Lynn Emanuel) of the painter (Akiba Emanuel) and I enjoy and admire her poetry. Beyond that I have envied her background because Lynn comes from a family of artists. She’s intense, accomplished and often identified as postmodern. If you know her work you know her images occupy the page with authority and the readers’ minds with staying power.
But when I read Lynn’s book, Then Suddenly, I was most taken by the poems at the center of the book, the poems about her father, Akiba. He died while she was writing Then Suddenly and the poems about his death split the book right down the spine. The forceful emotion those poems are built on – especially in a poet who is so keenly intelligent, so intellectual – provide a powerful base for the rest of the book. They give dimension and force to the postmodern imagery that has so often been called out when writers discuss her work. Because the poems are artful, filled with tour jetes’ and flashes of brilliance that stay with you, I started thinking about art and image against the background of actual life and loss. I wanted to explore what art can and cannot do, and of course, I wanted to know more about Lynn’s dad. Her father, her fellow artist. I decided I should see his work.
It’s not that easy to see Akiba Emanuel’s work. It’s not hanging in my local museum. Emanuel was an artist who did not quite become famous; he lived on the edge of fame. He knew famous artists, he sometimes worked with them and even posed for Matisse. He was in shows with many of them and he lived in New York where he was a contemporary of Rothko et al.
But the art world is cut-throat competitive – there’s actual money at stake. People who are most interested in you are usually those who think you can help them. Akiba was ardent about his work, but he probably didn’t qualify as help to other artists. Looking at his painting and reading about him, he seems fully occupied, compelled by both modern life and Jewish history to paint. At any rate, this man began to fascinate me – a puzzle, an enigma. An artist.
Luckily along the way Lynn and I became actual friends. Because that happened I got to see some of Akiba’s paintings in the flesh (the paint.) And they astonished me. Fable-like and furious, angular and gorgeously composed, more than a little disturbing Akiba’s paintings gripped me when I saw them and stayed with me when they were out of sight.
There’s too much variety in Akiba’s work, too much development and range for me to describe it adequately here, but fortunately there is a catalogue of his paintings that you can still get on Amazon (Akiba Emanuel 1912- 1993) – and I did. I got the book.
Right away I noticed that I could not put it down, and yet I could not keep looking at all his paintings. Many of them bother me. And not a little, but a lot.The night train poems I wrote responses to are among the ones that troubled me most. This series of paintings clearly reference the holocaust, but they do it with an abstract edge that creates an illusion of “no emotion.” There are trains, body parts, winter, and mechanical connections that terrify the imaginative. There are cold clocks, colder snow and the occasional distant moon, but mostly there is the hugely disfiguring heartlessness of the events he is portraying. Not the ghastly and horrific nature of the efficient murders the holocaust accomplished, but the mechanical meanness of machines and of people “just doing their jobs” and of others for whom “the jobs” provided an outlet for latent sociopathic impulses.
Akiba achieved this effect by using cranky lines, strange color manipulations, and almost no other editorial comment. He uses kindergarten hues, primary colors with a couple pastels thrown in. Looking at the bright yellows and reds you might think there’s something jolly, or at least jaunty, going on. The result is that these paintings of trains taking Jews and Gypsies to slaughter wake some memory you have in the back of your brain of a toy train set. A toy train set? No, your psyche wants to scream. This has nothing to do with me. But there it is, your half-remembered Christmas present somehow complicit with genocide.
I began my journey into Akiba’s art by looking at the catalogue for short periods of time. It hurt. I built up slowly to where I could spend significant time with some of the less painful paintings (some are simply gorgeous works but even they hold information about his inner thoughts.) I started to feel as if I knew Akiba – I mean, I found myself calling him Akiba. I could feel him trying to reconcile his life in New York or in Denver as a safe artistic Jew, while the disaster that was World War II in Europe played out in his head, as it had in his family. And I had to write about those poems. I had to grapple with Akiba’s demons because they are also mine. And they are also yours.
Consider this: each morning I turn on the computer and try to head safely to Facebook, because the headlines are, well, the headlines. Today “Sochi forces hunt for potential suicide bombers” while “ice storms plague homeless families.” Closer to home a 4 year old girl is shot by her 6 year old brother. This is all happening while I decide if the snow is so bad that the icy streets make a car trip unwise – but my car trip has nothing to do with potential terrorist attacks or gang fights or freezing to death in a storm. My trip is to a local art store so I can buy supplies for a class I’m taking at the local Art Center. This is the crazy world we are all living in – the world of the lucky and the unlucky.
Akiba found himself on the lucky side of the planet, but the grief from the other side bled into his, was also his. He had to paint it. He had to find a way to incorporate it into the western world where his family had taken refuge. – and he did. He found a way to do that. It works. Look at his Night Transport paintings. You are both intrigued and unhappy, aren’t you?
It’s a gift to be drawn this deeply into the art of another person. I have Charles Simic to thank for pointing me in this direction. In his 1992 book “Dimestore Alchemy: the art of Joseph Cornell” Simic makes prose poems in response to Cornell images, and in doing so he increases the magic of both Cornell’s boxes and prose poetry exponentially. Simic’s book is one I re-read regularly. I think about art that, instead of producing criticism and classwork, creates more art. What a good idea.
One day in late August I came home from work, deposited my school bag on the floor in my office, took a look around, and noticed immediately that things were just not right. My daughter’s hand-me-down laptop was on the desk, crowding out my own precious MacBook. A purple pencil topped with a feathery plume lay diagonally across a couple of sheets of half-drawn on printer paper, and there was a discarded branch of grape stems in one corner of the desk.
“Who’s been in my office?” I grouched, sounding just like one of the three bears from Goldilocks. “Someone’s been using my desk!”
I knew who the someone was, of course, even before my husband called back cheerfully from the kitchen that it was my daughter who had been in there earlier in the day. I just knew that the someone had been her.
“It’s my office,” I grumbled to myself in a low voice as I set about tidying up my desk. I was tired—that day had been the first one back after a too-short summer break sandwiched between teaching summer school and a week of mandatory faculty development meetings and soon, too soon, the start of classes. Gone were my gloriously productive mornings when I would get up a little before 7:00 and feed the cat, make myself a cup of tea, and sit at my desk, the promise of two whole uninterrupted hours of writing time spread before me like a flat beach at dawn. Yet as I tidied the desk area I scolded myself for being so melodramatically, disproportionately put out by the violation of my sacred space. It’s just a desk, I told myself. Just a room.
My room. My desk.
Reclaiming home office space as my own after years of not having a room with a desk and a door to call my own had been a major triumph. I had an office at work, of course, but it was shared space—work space, not writing space. I graded papers at the sunny kitchen table, but that wasn’t writing space. Writing space is a different kind of space. How it should look and feel depends on the person who must inhabit it. Like fingerprints, I bet no two writing rooms are alike. I couldn’t ever describe the ideal writing space to another person and come close to capturing just what makes it work for me. I couldn’t ever presume to tell another writer what their ideal space should be; it either works, or it doesn’t. Your space should fit around you, like a hand in your own, or like the way a small child’s body fits yours in all the right places, arms and legs curling against your own curves and edges.
My first “real” writing room was a bright, sunken sunroom in the upstate, New York apartment my husband and I rented for two years, before the landlords raised the rent and drove us to find cheaper digs. I loved that room. It had a heater running along the baseboard and my toes were always warm and cozy during the winter months (if you’ve never tried writing while warm air is blowing onto your toes then you should—it’s blissful!). When I sat at my desk, in front of my little Mac Classic, I could see through the interior window into our large living/dining room. My husband’s office was in the second bedroom—far enough away so he wasn’t a distraction, but close enough that we could shout to each other if we needed to. I shared the space with our aging gray dwarf rabbit and with the cat’s litterbox. I like to think that out of respect for my own creative processes, the cat refrained from using her box when I was working.
When we moved apartments, the cat, rabbit, and I shared a large closet off the corner of our master bedroom. The room was significantly smaller, but I was in front of a window again, and I liked the feeling of being tucked away, surrounded by the smell of wool and leather. The cat would jump onto one of the closet’s sweater shelves and sit there while I worked, surveying (perhaps critiquing) my progress. I took my Ph.D. qualifying exams in that closet office. I wrote essays for class, poems, short stories, letters, tinkered with a novel I had written back in college. When I became pregnant with my first child I kept a journal for him, and wrote the entries at that desk. The first time I felt my son moving inside of me I was in my closet office, gazing out at the dismal early winter landscape, and trying to feel inspired enough to write.
And then, somehow, between the birth of our son, our move from New York down to North Carolina, my new job teaching full-time, the birth of my daughter, I lost my room to write, and my writing self along with it. I was busy: mothering, teaching, still recovering from the shock of our move away from life in a vibrant section of a city to the numbing expanse of the suburban South. I could have fought for the right to have an acceptable room of my own to write but I didn’t. I had my office at work, and how could I have time to write, anyway? We moved first to a rental house, then took the plunge and purchased our first home—a small, one-story ranch with a partially-finished basement. We set up our desk and computer in the unfinished section of the basement, and in my mind I was already transforming the space into a writing nook—it could work, I convinced myself, trying not to look up at the exposed duct work, or down at the flat, bright green outdoor carpet at my feet. In the winter I had to share the nook with large, brown crickets, who popped spastically against my ankles, but still I persevered—until March of that first year, that is. One afternoon I checked the mail and found a letter addressed to a Mr. Beaumont* care of Beaumont’s mortuary—at our very same address. I asked our affable neighbor Mr. Rod if he could shed some light on this mystery and he laughed heartily like it was the best joke he’d heard all year, and told me that Mr. Beaumont used to live in our house, and had run a mortuary service out of the unfinished portion of our basement. Exposed duct work and crickets I could do; former mortuary I could not. If you want to know what does not make for a good writing room, I can tell you that would be a place where dead bodies once were stashed.
We moved. Our new (and current) house is bigger and better, and—bonus!—came with home office space. Life continued to be extraordinarily busy, in all the marvelous ways it is when you are raising small children, but also in bone-tiring, frightening ways, too. I needed every ounce of my emotional reserves and then some at times. Writing self would have to stay away. I kept the guiding light away from the front windows; barred the door; turned my back. We turned the office space over to our son, since it housed the family computer, and no one else had the time to use it, anyway. He took over the space enthusiastically, and from that point on the desk was always smeared with sticky fingerprints, and littered with half-finished glasses of water and mugs of milk, straws poking out at right angles. As time passed, and I began to feel that familiar tug to write—to write deeply and properly—again, I began to resent his appropriation of the space. I felt a restlessness stirring inside, like someone had reached through my chest and poked a long, hard finger straight into my heart. I wanted that room. I wanted that space. I wanted my writing self back. I missed her, I needed her.
Victory! My new office is a fabulous fusion of those other two beloved, upstate, New York rooms. I still share my space with a cat’s litterbox, and now with two fat guinea pigs, who will sit back on their haunches and place their tiny pink feet on the front bars of the cage and squeal for their salad when they hear my voice. Sometimes I read my writing out loud to them and they seem to listen, their jaws moving back and forth thoughtfully while they munch pellets. I like the smell of their warm, animal bodies, and sweet timothy hay. Sometimes the dog will wander in and plop her old bones down on the carpet with a heavy sigh. If I work too long the cat will walk across my keyboard and butt her head into my own. My window overlooks the screened-in porch. In the summer months, if I look to my right I can sometimes see the hummingbirds dipping into the nectar at the feeder. If I look to my left through the window in the spring I can just see the heavy, red blooms of the large camellia outside the porch.
It’s no wonder I am fiercely possessive of my writing room. My room. My desk. Yet even while I grouched to myself that August afternoon about my daughter’s trespass into my sacred space I realized, quite simply, that she had missed me, that was all. That evening I sat on her bed and told her about a great lady named Virginia Woolf, and about the importance of rooms, and I told her about the rooms I had known, (except I left out the mortuary part), and my search for my writing self. Then, right before I turned out her light, I helped my daughter rearrange her own desk: Purple pencil on the right, lava lamp on the left; framed print of the Wright brothers’ flyer above, sewing boxes below. I watched her try out the space for size. I made a wish: let this be the first space of many for her. Let her always have a place to write, to dream, to draw, to invent, to imagine, to soar.
Narrative Magazine, one of the nation’s most prominent literary venues, is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding. The magazine’s founders note that the years have been but a breath and a heartbeat but also a long sustained burning of midnight oil. So the editors and staff are really looking forward to the anniversary celebrations, to take place in San Francisco in April and in NYC in the autumn. Many good and dedicated people helped create and build Narrative, and the celebrations promise to bring together the magazine’s friends, old and new, to raise a glass to writers and great writing.
When Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks started the magazine in 2003, there were no online or digital platforms for first-rank literary work—The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s, the Paris Review, none of them, nor any other quality publisher of literature, had an online presence. And, according to studies done by the NEA, readers were falling away from literature by the millions, and certainly the rise of technological media was a big part of the shift away from reading. A general sense of depression and indirection was overtaking the literary community, and Edgarian and Jenks wanted to show what quality literature could look like online. They started with six authors and about a thousand readers. (The contents of the first issue are available here.) And the founders recall that when they started the magazine, no one—friends and authors—seemed to understand what an online magazine would be, though observers were all cheerful enough about it, as if to humor Edgarian and Jenks by saying, Sure, why not?
Today, of course, everyone grasps the challenge and opportunity that technology presents for literature, but until Amazon launched Kindle in 2007, the handwriting on the wall wasn’t read by many publishers and litterateurs, who should have been reading it much sooner. Change, especially the kind of radical change that has taken place in publishing, is always met with resistance, and existing book and magazine content was less immediately available to be digitized than were film and music files. Old-line publishers, clinging to print rights, sunk costs, and traditional bona fides (a digital publication was not considered a “real” publication), harbored reluctance and denial, though the shift from bricks-and-mortar to digital was inevitable once the technological revolution started and the Internet caught the collective imagination. In the early stages of this shift, Douglas Coupland observed that the Internet had begun to look like a cross between a shopping mall and a bordello, and today online commercialism remains a big challenge to literary values. Amazon’s “the readers decide” is a great consumer-oriented retail credo, but as a literary value it’s akin to a popularity contest. Narrative began and continues as an example of excellence, combining old-school values with new media technology. Narrative was one of the first two periodicals to release an iPhone/iPad Application (it’s free) and was one of the first periodicals available on Kindle. The magazine has 150,000 readers and publishes several hundred writers and artists each year. Narrative has been much watched and imitated by other periodicals with vastly greater resources, and now in an environment in which technology and business investment seek scalability and ROI above all, Narrative continues to look for ways to co-opt the means of production for the sake of literature. “We can’t take its existence for granted,” Jenks notes, “or think that the free market values it as we do.”
He also notes that the constant readership for good writing forms a small subculture within mass-culture. Sometimes a book or author crosses over from the small world to the large, most often in the case of a film adaptation. Cormac McCarthy’s first five books sold about three thousand copies each. Then came the film version of All the Pretty Horses. There are other examples, but the point is that all who care deeply about literature and its generative effect on society recognize that anything and everything that can be done to encourage good writing and reading needs to be done. Narrative has sought to reach as many readers as possible, to put forth the best work by the best writers, to engender an intelligent and respectful level of discourse, and to further the best of traditional literary values into the new age.
With Narrative the editors offer as transparent a medium as possible to connect readers and writers. The magazine aims to advance no editorial stamp or personality such that anyone might say that a particular work is a “Narrative Magazine” sort of piece; rather, the editors’ interest is in good writing and narratives that are entertaining, unpredictable, and charged with the shock of recognition that occurs when the human significance of the work is made manifest. The editors look for pieces in which the effects of language, situation, and insight are intense and total. Many of the authors featured in Narrative are well-known, but the magazine is also dedicated to presenting new and emerging writers and features many first-time authors.
Asked about the magazine’s name, Edgarian reported, “In 2003, a friend of ours, the essayist Susan L. Feldman, knowing we were preparing to launch a new magazine called Narrative, sent us a one-line quote from a Paul Baumann review of a Thomas Keneally novel. Baumann, the editor of Commonweal, wrote, ‘Only myth, only narrative . . . can capture the mystery of human goodness and evil.’ A few years later, at a Narrative Night event, Robert Stone noted, “Stories are as necessary to us as bread. There is no sense or order to experience outside of narrative. Whether in prose or poetry, writers continually revivify the myths that illuminate our lives as we move from the known into the unknown.”
Looking ahead to what the next 10 years may bring for Narrative, Jenks said, “Ha! Where’s my crystal ball? As a kid growing up in the 1950s and ’60s and hearing about the Soviet Union, the five-year plan always struck me as a good model, provided you didn’t have to adhere to it rigidly. That is, you can chart the future, knowing that as you reach each milestone the landscape looks somewhat different than imagined, and the chart must be adjusted again and again as you go forward. But Narrative’s primary goals remain the same as when we started: Expand the readership for good writing; support writers by paying them as well as possible and by providing keen editorial encouragement; train young publishing professionals in the best traditional values and new practices; help shape the future of literature within the new media.”
The longtime editor also had some advice for writers looking to publish. “About 70 percent of unsolicited manuscripts begin with someone waking up, or with someone taking a drink, or with a phone call. Sometimes all three of these motifs are combined, as in, ‘I woke with a dreadful hangover to the incessant ringing of the phone.’ The clichéd waking beginning tends to be an unconscious metaphor for the dawning consciousness of the writer. I’m not saying not to use a waking beginning, but it’s well to be aware of the odds against it and, if using it, then to do something original and essential with it. The opening of Anna Karenina offers an inspiring example.”
For writers thinking about submitting work to Narrative, Jenks said, “You should submit to Narrative only if you have taken the time to read the magazine and to know its cast. If the magazine appeals to you, and if you have assayed your work in relation to the work you see in the magazine, then a submission may be in order. An unfortunate perennial circumstance is that many more people tend to send their work to any magazine than actually trouble to read the magazine with any accurate attention. We give Narrative away for free to encourage reading first.”
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Aaron Fagan.
Aaron Fagan was born in Rochester, New York, in 1973 and was educated at Hampshire College and Syracuse University. He has lived in Chicago and New York City, serving as an Assistant Editor for Poetry Magazine and as a Copy & Research Editor for Scientific American respectively.
He is the author of two poetry collections: Garage (Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2007) and Echo Train (Salt Publishing, London, 2010) and he has recited his work for the Harold Clurman Poetry Reading Series at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting. He lives in Victor, New York. Photo credit: Angela Strassheim.
I had planed to keep a daily journal of my impressions of The Dodge Poetry Festival, but was so tired each night I could hardly keep my eyes open. I don’t know how many people attended this year, though the festival usually draws around 12 to 15 thousand. Thank gawd it’s biennial. I don’t know how they would plan such a massive undertaking without the break of a year between events.
The first time I ever went to the Dodge Poetry Festival I traveled there in a car with my friends, The Grubins: Dave, Joan and their daughter poet Eve Grubin. I was unfamiliar with New York, and so had no idea in what direction we were headed. But soon the city seemed to slip away and when the car stopped and we stepped out, we stood in a dirt parking lot the size of Detroit. I could not believe it. I remember asking Eve, “Every car in this lot is here for poetry?” Yes, she said as she took my astonished hand and lead me to the tents. This was Waterloo: Valhalla for poets. Except we were all alive!
What used to be a circus tent, mud and boots affair, has now moved to the streets of downtown Newark’s Arts District where poetry lovers stroll, fast-walk, or flat out run from one event to another. The day is packed with panels, talks and readings, as well as music and food. Books are for sale by every poet there as well as poets from former festivals. Literally hundreds of thousands of poetry books are stacked in rows 10 deep on the fold out tables, as well as Dodge Fest merch: t-shirts, mugs, baseball hats and jerseys, all with the Dodge logo proudly displayed. One woman I spoke with said that when she filled out her form for the suggestions box, she asked, “Why not scarves?”. It was getting chilly by the end of the fest so I feel sure I would have snagged one.
It’s really too much to take it, or to do justice in so few words. If you are a poet or a reader of poetry, it’s one of those things you must journey to at least once in your life. When I give a poetry reading, I’m still amazed that anyone shows up. Why would you stop watching TV or shut down your computer to go listen to someone read a poem? But they do, in droves. Some buy four-day passes so they won’t miss a word.
The first time I attended the Waterloo Dodge, I was there to listen to poets I revered, like Stanley Kunitz, Lucille Clifton, Gerald Stern, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Stephen Dunn, C.K. Williams, as well as newer poets I’d come to love Li-Young Lee, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Tony Hoagland. Nothing prepared me for the sound of 3000 people settling into folding chairs as Stanely Kunitz began his slow walk across the stage. When he reached the microphone, the sudden quiet was so loud I could hear the tent top high above us billowing in the breeze. And as he spoke, the silence grew around his voice, the poem knitting itself into the air. When it was over, the silence sat a moment longer, still and close, and then the applause rose up to fill the void like sudden light through tall windows.
The other moment among the many moments I’ll never forget was when Marie introduced me to Stanley before the reading. I was shy, worried about what to say. I was shocked that the body that housed this great voice was so thin and fragile, and when he stood up I wanted to say no, don’t. But his eyes shone and he gripped my hand in his and planted a soft sweet kiss on my cheek. I blushed like a girl. For days, I did not wash my face.
In Spaces and Other Places is a recent body of work by Michael Velliquette that marks a new trajectory in his practice, combining his mixed-media drawings with his complex cut paper constructions. Velliquette revisits the vocabulary of symbols and images found in his earlier works, including double-sided profiles, hands, and collectives of faceless figures, which he’s previously set in mythological, scenic narratives. Themes of exploration, alien encounter and transformation are played out in the backdrop of outer space.