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Since Solstice, here in the North, we’ve gained a few precious minutes of daily light. Some days it’s hard to tell. It’s colder now, so the warmth of the sun can feel far away. And yet, as certain as the earth’s path through the solar system, the light is returning.
This issue, we are thankful to our consulting editor, Lori Roadhouse, for our theme of Writing Towards the Light. In a season where hope feels all too needed, watching for even these few extra minutes, as they accumulate towards spring, is a balm.
For writers, the literal light can be especially helpful, dispelling some of the inner darknesses that we use to ink our pens. And so, towards that, I’m going to turn over the rest of my space here to our regular book reviewer, Gordon Phinn, who offered us the following thoughts on writing and the light.
Writing Towards The Light
When, as creators, engaged in that endeavor, writing towards the light, our attempts can be envisaged in a number of ways:
(1) We are writing ourselves out of the darkness of doubt, despair or depression, by evoking a more salubrious state, one perhaps charmed by dashing chipmunks, hovering hummingbirds, shows of spring flowers, the giggly dance of sugar-maddened children.
(2) We are aiming to be our own ambulance out of anger, our own arrow flight to the empyrean where we might live for a few precious and careless moments before falling back to the anxieties of Earth that are all too easy to remember.
(3) We are providing roadmaps to others we assume or suspect are in need of such assistance. The artist as inspirer or miniature messiah, a domesticated shaman showing the way. But the way to where exactly? The carefree? The couldn’t-care-less? The haughty castle of contempt? The humble cabin of contemplation? The merry carnival of convenience?
As wordsmiths we are often drawn to describing wounds, the ways out of injury into the story of submission and serene acceptance, the escape route out of vengeance and the righteousness of retribution, all so we might repair to that simple gleam of understanding, and knowing how we arrived there, dripping with luggage, and how we let it go and ran through the sand to the lapping waters, to splash and squeal like the little ones around us.
Sure it’s a story, telling and retelling itself to all those who would be activators, audience or armchair critics, the circle completed and begun once again.
Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter
The theme for this end of year and beginning of next was Into the Light, which seven fictions approach in very different ways.
We begin with “This Christmas” by Marzia Rahmanin, a flash fiction with the year in review, yet containing an element of hope.
Then we have an atmospheric story by Nightingale Jennings entitled “Before the Seagulls” which also points to the light despite a most disconcerting past.
Then follows Dave Kavanagh´s Irish “Wedding Gift” in which both the giver and receiver experience happiness.
Next is “1992” by DC Diamondopolous which has a political edge and shows how an act of bravery brings two very different people together.
Another story with a political edge is Mansour Noorbakhsh’s story “And Still Burning” in which a clash of ideologies is finally seen through the light of streetlamps in the pelting rain.
Then we have “Carol” by Julia Abelsohn which is about letting go and told from various perspectives.
And finally, we have Pat Jourdan with “Sister Thresa’s Acting Class” which unexpectedly prepares pupils for “the real thing”.
This year, Christmas will come quietly, unceremoniously. There won’t be any Christmas party this time. Santa will come, wearing a mask, riding a chariot but he will avoid the crowd.
April is the cruelest month—T. S. Eliot once wrote in his epic poem, The Waste Land—Ryan, a young Bulgarian poet in his early twenties, wonders why? December seems to be the hardest. Eating a slice of blueberry cheesecake on a Christmas night, alone, he checks up the pictures of his former girlfriend in Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg tweeted he is excited to roll out the new real-time stream home page to Facebook.
Rahim, a little boy in Nepal, has never heard of Mark Zuckerberg; he doesn’t like chewing hard roti and cries for cake or pastry. He lives with her mother, two young siblings and a very old grandmother in a slum which reeks of rotten fish and urine. His sixty-years old grandmother pretends to be blind when she goes out to beg in the morning.
In a condominium in Singapore, a young woman lights a scented candle in a late afternoon and looks out of the window.
An empty road, deserted. A cat sits close to a water fountain, licking its leg.
Before the Seagulls
Ruby was noticeable in a crowd thanks to her jet-black hair and upright posture. At age 12, people referred to her as the girl with waist-long hair. Her hair had never grown below just a drop down from shoulder-length. Ruby tried, but it didn’t help to argue even when she was able to prove herself right. She looked at herself in a mirror, found her looks and figure nothing more than standard, and tried to see the attraction to her hair. Although she couldn’t see through the fuss, she thought better of complaining and gracefully accepted the special treatment people so willingly offered. It came with a price until she was fully groomed into a lady of social calibre, just the way her friends and family wanted to see her.
There were limits to keeping out of trouble at such an early age. Hair was not at all the foremost interest in her mind. Ruby’s carefully guarded thoughts were deeper and darker. She knew many truths were naturally best left unspoken. For example, she’d be caught dead before she dared say anything about Great Aunt’s incredibly bad breath, or the kindly neighbour’s clammy hands which absolutely made her shudder. There were more tangible problems she was curious about. Like the pistol Aunt Z kept in her purse. Why did she have it?
Mum’s response was never accommodating. “Stop being inquisitive, it’s not safe for you to know so much.”
A Wedding Gift
Dublin wept like a moody middle-aged woman, her tears cascading in a saccharin sleet of cherry blossom, the park littered with their detritus. Spring is so untidy.
Despite the sunshine, a breeze cut in directly across the Mourne Mountains with fingers of Baltic ice that quickly made my skin feel raw. I pulled my scarf across my veined cheeks and whiskey red nose.
I was returning home from a morning of tormenting staff and stockholders. It was early and the city still lay in the daze of a somnambulant Saturday morning. The streets were quiet, with only an occasional dazed fellow or a stumbling couple, all making their way back to cots in which they would waste the freedom of a weekend morning on sleep and rutting. Spring Goddamn it!
From Stephen’s Green to the canal, I walked along the tangle of green were the moderately wealthy and the senior staff of various foreign embassies lived. My own residence was a mile or so further on.
I considered hailing a cab, but I hadn’t a mind to listen to a halfwit driver. I yearned for the days when drivers sat atop hansom cars with a pair of ponies in harness thus leaving the passengers to their rest and leisure.
A black cloud of smoke near the intersection of Florence and Normandie drifted toward Mrs. Kim’s California Dry Cleaning store in South Central Los Angeles. She turned the sign to closed and locked the door. Her husband phoned telling her to come home. The jury had acquitted the four white police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Trouble had begun.
She’d seen the video of the policemen clubbing the man when he was down. Didn’t seem right.
The Kims, in their 50s, socialized with and hired only other Koreans. With their two daughters, they lived the American Dream in a Korean cocoon.
A year before, Soon Ja Du shot Latasha Harlins, a black teenager, in the back of the head in Du’s convenience store and spent no time in jail. Since then, Mrs. Kim’s black customers would grab their clothes and leave without saying good-bye. She didn’t kill the girl, but she felt guilty.
Mrs. Kim hurried as she took the money out of the cash register and put it in a bag with the day’s receipts. She wanted to leave before Mrs. Johnson came for her 6:00 Wednesday pick-up. She was a good customer, and they used to make friendly chitchat about their children. But an awkwardness had grown between her and the tall black woman with dark-red hair and pretty fingernails.
And Still Burning
We — my colleague, and I —were in Rome, Italy, in the mid 90s. We had travelled there as the engineering team of an Iranian project to work with the vendor. The Iran-Iraq war had ended and some industrial projects had been re-started in Iran. As soon as we arrived and were settled in our hotel, my colleague, whom I would call Hypocrite, started talking to me about his dreams of drinking and seeking enjoyment during our short period working in Rome. Although he was acting ridiculously composed when we were in front of our bosses or other coworkers, you probably know what I mean….
One Friday evening when we were back at the hotel, he started saying: “It’s our weekend, let’s go to a bar and a beautiful cabaret, it’s our free time, why not?”
He knew that I drank occasionally. Eventually, we went to a bar close to our hotel. After some drinks he insisted on finding other places. I tried to tease him, and said we should go to Campo de’ Fiori.
“Where is it?” Hypocrite asked.
“That’s a very beautiful place and it is the place where Giordano Bruno was burnt alive,” I said, but Hypocrite didn’t believe me and assumed I was joking. Then I started to explain about Giordano Bruno and the Dark Ages. I said: “Such people were sacrificed to teach us how to think.”
There’s no easy way to say this – I think I’m dead. I know I tend to be a pessimist – glass half empty or whatever – but I do believe that I’ve passed on to the other side. It’s because I’m having trouble moving my legs. I’m trying to move my left leg and then my right leg, but nothing doing – just not happening. Then again, maybe I’m just paralyzed – that’s seeing the glass half full, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m morphing into becoming an optimist. That would be a switch after my 50 plus years on the planet. They say that you come into the world with specific attributes, characteristics, things that make you uniquely you. There are theories about that, nature or nurture, but I’m firmly of the opinion that I came into this world like this.
I was always the last one to dip my toe into the water at the beach and the last one to get out of the water when Muzzy called us in for lunch. I wasn’t the smartest one in my class and not the prettiest, but I always got okay grades and had a couple of close friends that I could always count on. Of course, being the middle child had its challenges, like when my older brother George tried to stretch me with one of his buddies using a technique that I believe they call the modified rack, an instrument of medieval torture, now banned for obvious reasons. Or when my sister Cath could devour a double fudge sundae with Oreo cookie sprinkles on top without even thinking about the calories and never even got one zit afterwards. Sure, that hurt, but mostly my sibs and I get along pretty well.
And now I’m having trouble moving my left arm. It’s just pretty much lying there like a loaf of day-old bread on the shelf that nobody wants. Speaking of which, my bread-making skills have really taken off. I think my sourdough starter is strong now, and my Banneton bread-proofing baskets have given my loaves a very professional look.
Sister Thresa’s Acting Class
A card on the school noticeboard announced that any girl wishing to join Sister Theresa’s Acting Class should go to the hall in the lower corridor after school on Tuesdays.
At four p.m. exactly, with all our homework packed into bags and briefcases, eight of us showed up. The first evening was a warm-up session. We learned about breathing. Counting up to three, holding it and then semi-whistling it out brought us, at first, to something like complete breathlessness. Pauline Murray started to go red in the face and was obviously doing it wrongly.
In no time, Sister Theresa moved us on to laughter. We were asked to giggle, then to laugh politely, then to screech, and then to hold onto our ribs with laughter. This actually happened, it got out of control, as, just like sneezing, it became infectious. Margaret O’Sullivan collapsed on a chair with tears running down her face, while even Sister herself had to use a large white handkerchief to camouflage gulps of laughter. We finished the evening by going through The Train by W.H. Auden and wandered home, very pleased with ourselves.
Next week was even more dramatic – we had to shout after someone, to project our voice, louder and louder and we tried out anger.
Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
Theodor Adorno famously declared that “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” One might just as well observe that to paint sunflowers after Van Gogh is arrogant. But how can anyone fascinated by colour not attempt this most charismatic of blossoms? For Van Gogh himself, they invited an almost scientific investigation of chromatic possibility using newly-invented yellow pigments. He made two series of sunflower paintings; the first, in Paris in 1887, consisted of five studies of the flowers lying on the ground; the second series of seven, painted in Arles in 1888, depicted them standing upright in a vase. They remain among his most beloved and iconic works.
In a letter he sent from Arles to fellow artist Arnold Hendrik Koning (1860-1945) on 22 January 1889, Van Gogh notes that he had recently painted “two flower-pieces with nothing but Sunflowers in a yellow earthenware pot. Painted with the three chrome yellows, yellow ochre and Veronese green and nothing else.” In a letter to his brother Theo, dated 11 April 1888, he had specified that the three chrome yellows are “orange, yellow and lemon.” These happen to be the same colours I used, instinctively, in my own painting, but I also added a little Cadmium red and even Alizarin crimson. I was not trying to evoke Van Gogh but rather to get out from under his looming shadow. Still, a sunflower is a sunflower, and must therefore be sunny! (As for “Veronese” green, that is usually called “Viridian”; I used a similar pigment—Phthalo green, blue shade—sometimes tinting it with lemon yellow, other times with white).
Memoir of a Boyhood in Cameroon and Nigeria
“A man can only tell where it started raining on him, but not where he’ll get dry.”
Chapter 1. Mbenge Mboka
We lived in many houses in the years of my boyhood, but the plank house on the street of Mbenge Mboka, in Mbonge, located in Southern Cameroons, in the Republic of Cameroon, is the most memorable to me. The slim chopped planks of the house, or karabot as it is locally called in the town of Mbonge, tugged on one another with termite-infested ribs. It was a big house, with rough lumps of earth that clumped in every nook and cranny, like mottled tree bark, or the swellings in the stomach of a sickle cell victim. They were hardened by the fire rack — located at the far left corner of the house when one entered through the front door — such that each time I hit my toe against any of the lumps, it bled with red open flesh that was peppery.
I was five years old and always barefooted. I loitered that way in the family compound, and sometimes even followed Grandma on bare feet to the market to sell plantain. Mamma was tired of buying me flip-flops because I always returned home without them, and I couldn’t recall where I left them.
“I won’t buy you any more flip-flops because you always throw them away. Do you think I harvest money from a tree?” Mamma demanded.
I didn’t know what to make of her ranting. It didn’t strike me that I had done something wrong. So I went barefooted, and all my toes had their share of flesh ripped open by the clumps of earth in the house, which left me hopping like a bullfrog each time it happened.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
Andreea Iulia Scridon
Thomas Graves: Getting to the bottom of Ben Mazer’s poetry
“Mazer is good enough not to care for contemporary fashion”
Reading Ben Mazer’s poems one after the other, or in no particular order, gives the reader the impression of what holding a diamond in the palm of one’s hand must be like: one can turn it this way and that to admire its special schiller, enjoying the cool firmness against one’s hot skin.
I find that this is due to Mazer’s technique of tight-roping between searing candour and calculated conceit: or rather it should be further specified that Mazer’s poetry is at the same time highly culled and dizzyingly human. Thomas Graves, the poet and critic who runs Scarriet, has himself riffed on this idea in his book, Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism (Spuyten Duyvil, 2021), an effusive and lively manifesto unlike any other work of criticism I have read as of yet (save, perhaps, for Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry, which too deviates from the traditional academic form). This important point encapsulates within itself two salient aspects of this unusual text: its success in convincing readers of Mazer’s value, and that Graves’ style in itself signals a new, personalized and emotive way of writing and analysing authors.
Literary Spotlight with Sue Burge:
Featuring Helen Dewbery
Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to think about these questions. To begin with, I think maybe people mistakenly think a poetry film is a film in which a poet or an actor reads a poem and this is most definitely not the case. It seems to be a genre in its own right. How would you define a poetry film?
Thank you for inviting me to talk about poetry film. Your question is a good place to start.
The common conventions of any poetry film will be to include all or part of a poem that is combined, in some way, with images and sound. Beyond that, the answer to defining a poetry film may lie in what values one wants to prioritise. Is it a film genre, a poem, an artwork, or some sort of hybrid work? There are poetry films that can be defined within all these categories.
I have been studying and researching poetry film for many years and I have closely followed its development. I have become increasingly convinced by my idea that there’s a formation of words, images and sound that can intrinsically be described as a form of poetry. And in this form of poetry, every poetic and film device can used – rhythm, repetition, metaphor, and so on. Structure and syntax come from words and images. Frames and transitions give space for enjambment. Not all poetry film will fall into this literary definition, but the idea that poetry film might be described as a form of poetry is the area of poetry film that interests me the most.
Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea
December Lights The blinds opened at night let in the moon, who paints the dreams of someone loved. When cars give hasty glances through the windows, the morning sunrays join you for breakfast. An old shop shedding a flood of glass tears reminds you of innocent hands. The hopes glimmering on people’ faces roost in your mind every time you meet someone.
Night and Day We cannot see it Or feel when it arrives Even our ears are helpless In separating this reality From nothingness Except we now learn That it is not a thing Or even a million But the detritus Cast off in waves From the heart Of beating atoms Within a beating heart And becomes A leap of faith When eyes see the light.
Laszlo Aranyi (Frater Azmon)
Lilith The legend says that I’m a witch hunched over seven times. With killer breath, and killer bite. I torment wimps. Embryo pose: lies dormant, then sniffs and slips in sweat. Swinging a snake-headed crutch, lured by the gap-toothed sickle of the waning moon. I’ll contaminate the mercenary, the hangman, the feeble servant. He who executes is as despicable as the tyrant,
that forgotten place Where the grey light meets the green air The hermit's chapel, the pilgrim's prayer - T.S. Eliot, Landscapes III There’s a place that time’s forgotten beyond the hermit’s chapel beyond the pilgrim’s prayer Brooks burble with words of wonder and chirrups fill the air There among larkspur and bluebell a bed of softest moss a symphony of sweet sad strains Desires dance in Celtic knots creatures graze without a care
The Scream You know I could have chuckled into my tea Morning time six thirty-three With a promise of blue sky But rain again Against library skylight. Will it ever stop raining this summer in France? email box gave me a message. Drama queen at best, manic depressive at worst. Never hear. Don’t hold the purse strings. Already I’m thinking, Is it worth writing this? You can’t publish. Too personal. Read it properly and all poetry is too personal. The poet’s soul.
Dark armies They have arrived monsters under cover of three pieces including tie and a good old book. A great star of light and life still shines far above the darkening land perhaps it waits to pounce at last. They are closing on to the innocent faces of grins and mocking smiles as they take another step too close. Skins ooze with a stranger perfume bellies swollen by decades of self-satisfaction legs wobble under the ignorant mass. Fist of fat fingers in the air almost unable to close they protest and scream at the living who still believe in loving a neighbor.
House of Glass what in the name of a rose requires a respite from awesomeness and youth is the thing that nags like a disk on replay now and then the daylight of my skin. the first creases, almost invisible. then it gets thicker and deeper like killing ivy. the other day, I saw this teenager with long black hair. Looked like me twenty years ago
Kabedoopong Piddo Ddibe’st
Homecoming And the lost crows return home: No more dead nights but dawn Of new old days brooding crows On spun arms of baobab brows Preaching spiced phrases of days bygone. And they’ve changed shapes: They have undergone plastic surgery And have become sane again For new tricks in the book of pain Yet haven’t left their banging crockery. And they still sing their sweet slogans:
Calendar Cubes We sat together, two numbers facing out, changed each day on that doctor’s desk for years. Remove us from our slanted seat, note we were one of many freebies by a company who manufactures Norpramin® so doctors might write more prescriptions. We, like our siblings, remained on desks and bookshelves, listened to distraught patients of psychiatrists, who begged for relief and had emotions blunted, neutered instead. We heard you when you cried, saw the doctor take notes, scowl, and roll his eyes behind your back while you lay on his leather couch. When he spoke
Elizabeth Cranford Garcia
Inheritance Age four maybe five she opens her mother’s jewelry box to star-fire dispersion, the strange mechanics of lobster claws, chain clasps bracelets broken-jawed, ropes of amber and jade, heavy fruit of gems, of grandmothers she never knew, bulky shanks of pewter, of silver pinked like the sky at dusk—all the ways light can be caught and kept—finds a pouch black velvet, finger-sized, opens it (don’t), inside it a star, a crumb of light, the lowest common denominator between
Lost Stranger Headphones and earring: a model of youth on one pushing into his fourth decade. Prides his hair, all teased spikes and shave grades, with extensive sideburns that defy his jawline. Perhaps that high-pitched giggle from down the alley is at his expense. He’ll never know, beer and ignorance.
EROS Angels and demons aren’t mere folklore and myth; Freud said they are signs of our unfulfilled yearnings. Stories of gods who are wanton or wrathful Recreate our frustrations and deep-seated longings— Discontents that puncture civilizational veneers, Shake the so-called foundations of millennial faiths, And rattle the shackles of psychic wraiths Who pattern and shape our subliminal fears. Either praised or reviled Eros has been Since Helen’s amour was decried as obscene By those dreading excess—theologians, logicians, And, oddly, some addled metaphysicians.
My Heart Hard heart, let me in, please don’t shut me out, I have no home, no family, no love, just you. What will become of me without your pulse? How can I sleep without the embers of your warmth. It is not I you seek to punish, dear heart, I have not betrayed or hurt you. If I have, I was not aware; forgive me, Accept my foolishness and helplessness, I vow to hold and love you, with respect and kindness, Open up my heart, what shall become of us without each other?
Michael Lee Johnson
Poets Die (V2) Why do poets die; linger in youth addicted to death. They create culture but so crippled. They seldom harm except themselves— why not let them live? Their only crime is words they shout them out in anger cry out loud, vulgar in private places like Indiana cornfields. In fall, poets stretch arms out their spines the centerpiece on crosses on scarecrows, they only frighten themselves. They travel in their minds, or watch from condo windows, the mirage, these changing colors, those leaves; they harm no one.