Featuring 11 stories, 17 poems, a look at cover design & an interview with ex-dprk poet laureate Jang Jin-sung
Structo is an independent literary magazine based in the UK. It is published twice a year, operates on a not-for-profit basis and receives no grant funding. Submissions information, as well as subscription and stockist details, can be found at our website. issn: 2044-8244 (print) & 2044-8252 (digital) editor: Euan Monaghan fiction editor: Keir Pratt poetry editor: Matthew Landrum copy editor: Elaine Monaghan proofreader: Heather Stallard editorial team: Will Burns, Dave Schofield, Claire Hunter, Ahmad Makia & Sarah Revivis Smith design: Structo Press Structo is set in Perpetua and is printed with biodegradable inks on fsc paper by Calverts, a worker co-operative based in London. Unless otherwise specified, all content in the magazine is protected by a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence. Nothing in this licence impairs or restricts the individual authorâ€™s moral rights. This issue was powered by the Dredd soundtrack (the one from 2012 starring Karl Urban). Are they making a sequel? They should make a sequel. Our sincere thanks to a recent anonymous donor. You know who you are.
web: structomagazine.co.uk email: firstname.lastname@example.org social media: structomagazine
3 for 2
Explaining Poetry to the Homeless
A Day in the Life of a Modern Man
The Half-Giant of the Coulee Pump ’n’ Munch
What I Learned From Idle Jed
On book cover design
& Not a Drop
Two poems, from the Ancient Greek
translated by Kate Wise
Our Day Begins When Yours Ends
Structo talks to Jang Jin-sung
Two poems, from the Spanish
translated by Holly Pike
In Tides, from the Slovak
translated by Juana Adcock
All the Rest is Silence
Daughter in a Plastic Dinghy
ur call for submissions of short stories and poetry was a little different for this issue. We asked everyone who sent in writing to attach proof that they’d bought a literary magazine—any literary magazine—recently. Proof in the form of a photo. Following the closure of The Alarmist and PANK we wanted to make the point that, while magazines folding and new ones emerging is a (healthy) part of literary life, writers should support the ones they really like. We were unsure whether the experiment would work, and so we padded out our usual schedule so that we would have time to do a regular call if it failed. We needn’t have worried. The submissions began to flow in, slowly at first, and then faster and faster. By the second week it was on par with a regular call and, by the end of the submission window, there were more stories and poems in front of us than ever before. The photos we received ranged from simple shots of an issue to selfies and photos of offspring, pets and household plants arranged next to and/or on top of piles of literary magazines. It was exciting to see what was coming in, and to see which magazines were being read by those who chose to send us work in turn. We were introduced to a number of literary magazines we didn’t know before, and were delighted to see notes like this one, from a writer who appears in this issue: Also I should say, thank you for opening my eyes to the sheer scope of wonderful literary magazines. I managed to order Gutter, from my native Scotland, just in time for the deadline and it is a treat.
You can find the photo gallery on the website if you’re interested to see for yourself. But all that aside, the quality of the writing which came in was what made us happiest. The system we use to manage submissions has never seen so many green ticks. We had to discount some pieces with almost unanimous approval just to create the shortlist.
PANK has since reappeared under new management—fingers crossed it keeps the spirit of the original
Lots of Popshot and Ambit it turns out, also plenty of Gutter, Rialto and Mslexia
Are we going to do this for future issues? I’m not sure. We don’t want to create arbitrary barriers between quality work and the reader, especially as we’re not yet a paying market, but it sure is tempting. Before I finally stop wittering and let you get on with reading the damn thing, I want to take a moment to thank Christine Stroik Stocke, Matt Cook and Stephen Beechinor for all their work on the magazine, and to wish them all the best with their respective families/novels, and in turn to welcome Ahmad Makia and Sarah Revivis Smith to the editorial team. Here’s to the next chapter. — Euan Monaghan
his New Year, I’m taking stock and notice how distracted I’ve been since I made the switch to a smartphone last June. Now I receive pings, buzzes, beeps and chirps with every piece of breaking news, every post I’m tagged in, every tweet I’m mentioned in. All of it beckons me out of the here and now. So I’m making a resolution to read more poetry. Poetry is the perfect antidote to our age of distraction. It requires showing up—both the writer and then the reader have to be present. Poetry is about attention to detail and this attention is evident throughout this issue in lines like white trumpets of bindweed flaring in the back alley and dogs rule the days in this town: / lying placid in the morning sun / or trailing each other in packs / low moans and snuffled howls / their discrete communication. Siobhan Harvey writes, sometimes a poem is just an idea, welcome / as – caesura – a journey to a better place, welcome / as white powder, delirium, sleeping bag or dream. And it is a journey to a better place, a place of slow presence and attention, an island of quiet in a sea of noise. — Matthew Landrum
Barrelhouse editor Dave Housley sent a hilarious run of tweets on this topic. A couple of personal favourites: “Should lit mags require writers to prove their Windows computers are updated with the latest version of Java just to read their work?” and “Should lit mags require submitters to dress in business casual at the time of submission?”
Paula Hunter 3 for 2 The screaming has been going on for about a minute, shrill, rhythmic, determined. You approach the pharmacy till cautiously, making minimal eye contact, keeping your head down, speaking clearly so as to be understood first time. You do not want another interaction. The voice of the assistant is calm, soothing and she is talking to the children. They are all looking at her and the baby has stopped screaming. You feel suddenly rude in the face of someone else’s humanity. So you look up, meaning just to acknowledge her but she doesn’t look away and she is smiling. Maybe she is charmed by the children; maybe she is remembering her own. It is a proper smile and it feels as if she is reaching out to tell you, you are not alone. Some days you can smile back, make a wry remark and she will laugh and it helps to know someone else understands. This is not one of those days. “The shampoo is on a 3 for 2 offer. Do you want to go get another one?” “Oh no thanks,” you say, pulling the baby back from the counter where he has knocked over the box of sweets. He is heavy now, leaning with his full weight away from you and it is like wrestling a small tiger. “Are you sure?” she asks, blinking. She is staring at you as though you have rejected a winning lottery ticket. “Yes, thanks.” “I’m happy to wait for you to run back.” How can you make her understand that another shampoo is just not worth dragging them all back through the shop, past the toy aisle, when you have managed to find the wipes and the Calpol and the nappy rash cream and you can see the door? “No really. Thanks.” She rolls her eyes as she swipes your card. You feel the weight of her stare as you type the pin. You strap the baby into the pram, transfer the boys’ grip to the handle and corral them towards the door. And you are alone. Your husband works long hours and is often away but he earns enough so you mustn’t complain. You’re just tired. You pull a child in from the edge of the kerb as a sports car screams by. The baby throws his dummy out of the pram; it lands on the ground. You
pick it up, sook it and pop it back into his little red face, as a businessman walks by. “That’s disgusting,” he says. You are tempted to respond – “rape, torture and war are disgusting. This is a child’s soother,” – but you don’t. What does he know? But you are sick of making excuses for other people’s ignorance. No one makes excuses for you. You breathe. You are not oppressed by a dictator or forced into prostitution to feed your children or stuck in a refugee camp. One of the boys steps in front of the pram and the wheel catches his heel. He shrieks. The other holds onto the pram handle and leans back, looking blithely around him, doubling the weight of the pram. You break into a fresh sweat. It starts to rain. You pull the rain-cover over the pram and the baby who yells in protest and fights you. The Velcro straps are not long enough to attach it unless you get it to fit exactly. No one at the manufacturer did a live test on this, with a kicking infant in the seat. By the time you are finished the boys are wrestling against the hedge and one has the other in a headlock. “Stop fighting!” you say, as firmly as you can. They ignore you. You say it again, louder each time. Next you will start making threats. Why does it always come to that? This is bad parenting. You have forgotten to get down onto their level and speak into their faces. Super Nanny is never there when you need her. They move on, jostling each other across your path. They’re not bad boys you think, this is normal boy behaviour. They just have to learn to contain their energy until they are in places which are safe, for them and for others. They do understand they have to respect other people’s space. But all their other thoughts get in the way. There is a pain in your stomach. It has been there for days. You are probably drinking too much. Coffee. The boys are laughing and chasing ahead again, unbothered by the rain. You sigh. They feel so free, though they are not. Their light-heartedness makes you miss your own. You have reached the street lights. One has pressed the button after a quick battle and the other is balancing on the kerb, arms splayed out in the path of the traffic about to pass. “Come back,” you yell, hoping not to startle him onto the road. He steps back. The other one smiles cheekily. They are healthy and lively and intelligent. They are very lucky children and you are a very lucky parent. There is a moment of calm while you all stand together waiting for the green man. “What lovely boys!” says a voice. You turn. A small, jolly woman is waiting there beside you.
They look up at her, blinking. “So handsome and well-behaved.” They look up at you, startled, wondering perhaps how mad she is. She winks. Next, you go into the supermarket. As soon as you get to the fruit and veg section, with three in the trolley, you realise your mistake. You have forgotten the list and can’t think what was on it. You grab milk and bread and wander the aisles in the hope you will see what you need. You are alone and lost in a fog of indecision, pulled into conflicts with yourself or the kids every few minutes. This is your default state of mind recently. You are torn between wanting them to be free to be who they are and the need to guide them into civilised behaviour. For they are not civilised. That is your job, to make them so. That is what the books and the newspapers and the parenting magazines all say. You must be strong and resourceful, creative and positive, motivated and imaginative from 6 am till 8 pm. It is up to you to lead them in games, get them engaged then step back and allow them freedom to play. At the same time, they must be trained to behave well, especially in public places, not to shout loudly, run round or interrupt adults as they go about their lawful business. Over-exuberance in particular meets with a poor response. You wonder about why this should be, that of all things about them, it is the excessive happiness of children that is least acceptable. You must discipline them, but not physically, nor can you resort to shaming them or sarcasm because that teaches them violence and self-hate. You must keep control purely by the power of your own inspiring personality. Ahead of you in the till queue is a woman you used to be friendly with at work – she is back full-time now after two kids. “I wish I could’ve stayed home, I loved my maternity leave,” she says, “hanging out in cafés all day.” She went back to work before the children were old enough to interrupt this. “But we just can’t afford it.” This last is said with a little clip at the end, a flash of something in her eyes. You look at her smart suit, her scuffless shoes. The last time you tried to take the kids to a café there was a near scalding and one of them ran out the door. You cannot think of anything to say to her. Her eyes glaze over. You feel her thinking that you are stupid and lazy. She might be right. “It’s hard sometimes,” you say. “I don’t know if I’m…” Her eyes dart. “You could still come back to work. Though it’s not any easier.” You nod slowly, though you know you can’t afford it. The childcare would
wipe out your salary and then some. And you didn’t love your job so much that you want to do it for a net loss. Her shopping is bagged and paid for. “Well, I better get on,” she says, “nice to see you.” She does not meet your eyes. It seems like she is no surer than you are, that she made the right decision for the kids or for herself. But it divides you anyway. The baby is screaming again and the boys are wrestling in the trolley. You talk in a soothing voice to them and they ignore you. You are not really up to the job. You know it. The boys know it. And today everyone in the supermarket knows it too. All the time when you are niggling and micro-managing, you fear that you are passing onto your kids the sort of neurosis you are suffering from. You want your kids above all else to be happy. And your biggest fear is that you are preventing it. You don’t want them to feel like this as adults and yet you are seeding their self-doubt with every snap. Every time you yell at them, you know they dislike you a little bit more and with you, themselves. Crossing the car park, the kids squabble and tickle and laugh and wrestle. Fit, able-bodied people walk blindly across your path as though you are not there, cars cut past you too close on their way to do something more important than what you are doing, people look blankly at you when you don’t move out of the way fast enough. “Watch out, it’s a car park,” you say, for the fifth time, as you pull the two parts of the baby seat belt across the baby, his bottle and a mashed up raisin. Another sweat starts on your back as the belt clip refuses to engage. Someone starts wailing behind you and as you turn round, the other gets an elbow in the eye. You should have put the two boys in the car first, where they would have been safe, while you dealt with the belt. They stagger backwards into the road, grappling with each other and narrowly avoiding an old man and his trolley. He stops in his tracks and glances round for traffic. You lift them into the car and shut the door. And you lose it. The small space amplifies the sound and you are glad of it. You are aware that people may be watching but you are past caring. You have to get through to them somehow. They know you love them and they love you back, whatever. But your love is not good enough to stop you yelling, to be firm and controlled instead. Your love is not strong enough to make you the parent they deserve. And if you say you love them, your behaviour towards them is the definition of love. Live up to that, why don’t you? When they are fastened into their seats, their heads down and little eyes
watchful, you get out and start loading the shopping into the boot. At the next car, a man and woman are neatly stacking their vegetables, house plants and wine. She makes a remark to him and they sneer over. You encounter this sort of thing a lot. They are healthily retired, no doubt model citizens and have forgotten what it is to feel weak, inadequate and afraid. Genuinely old people are the kindest of all, like the old man who comes past again with his empty trolley, knocks on the car window and pulls a funny face at the boys. They pull faces back at him with delighted squeals, quick to recognise someone who likes them. He smiles with real humour at them. It looks like a meeting of minds. He walks round the car, slowly, and pats your arm. “Dinae fash yoursel’ hen. They’ll be grown and gone before you know it.” And you are undone. You nod and nod at him as the tears roll and he stands there patting your arm. Eventually you croak “Thank you” and he limps off towards his car. You smile after him and know that you are not alone. Not that it matters. Neither of you can help the other. Your eldest son comes up the stairs in the middle of the night. He hasn’t done this for a long time. You hear him throwing his leg over the stair gate at the top of the stairs, agile as an athlete, even at 1 am. He pads into the bedroom and climbs over you. You should tell him to go back to his own bed for a better sleep but you don’t want to. You put your book down and turn over to see his face opposite yours, already asleep. His beauty is like sunlight on your face. He glows with youth, pink with potential, his brow flat with trust. You are there. You are enough.
Timothy Otte weatherlurker
You said There’s a storm raging in my body like a damaged animal my mind is an atmosphere rippling
Behind your eyes all I could see was a forest green and brown flecked with light and shade But wind cut through you like a scythe
I feel like weather.
I thought about trees the way roots in the ground mirror branches in the air and we are unanchored between
Siobhan Harvey explaining poetry to the homeless The body tipped in labour from the warm home of the womb, this is a poem. Lines deconstructing the disorder of the past, like disturbing foundations set in such concrete words as ‘arrears’ and ‘eviction’, these too are a poem. The restless pulse at the heart of the nomad also beats in verse; and the desire to question the status quo. Placard bearers performing protests, The Big Issue vendors, poetic change begged for by empty hats, these are poems seeking a different kind of refuge. Arrive at a poem, as if at a window, and see reflected back the addiction, fervour, disturbance, loss, neglect, violence or whateveritis that compels the soul to choose a cardboard box, clothes bin or abandoned subway. Amongst the ghosts of Avinguda de la Llum or cloaked streets of bankrupt nations, poems roam. They resist removal when the Olympics and world leaders come to town. They are the Occupy movement. Wherever they exist, the reader is exile and familiar, the lives left behind closed doors are thrown open, and the limitations of locks, alarms and sole possession are exposed. Sometimes
a poem stretches us like the land like the sea. And sometimes a poem is just an idea, welcome as – caesura – a journey to a better place, welcome as white powder, delirium, sleeping bag or dream.
Stephen Durkan a day in the life of a modern man Maybe my favourite part of the day is when I wake up a little too early thus getting to lie in a utopian sleep–awake state for a while? Do you know I only remember the dreams that are lucidly horrifying? Do you realise that someday everyone you know will die? Did you know that I find that fact comforting? Maybe it’s the only truly democratic institution? Do you know that when it happens to you, that the majority of 8 billion won’t give a damn and if that upsets you, have you any idea how self-aggrandizingly, selfcentredly, self-obsessed that is? Where are my pants? What country are my trousers made in? What material? Are they made ethically? Are they made by underpaid Bangladeshi workers toiling in horrific conditions? If they were, how would I know? Am I able to live my comfortable life because people are forced to sell their labour for pennies? Is that worth it? What if I feel utterly encased in my self? What else should I care about? Did I leave the door unlocked? Did I take the bins out? Did I read the news to learn about the world or to get my fill of righteous indignation? Am I supposed to vote for a candidate who I have never spoken to in my entire life? Is it wrong that I have never spoken to them? Why did my teacher never suggest a career in politics for me? Have I ever spoken to anyone on my daily walk to work? Why not? Maybe it’s because I am scared of them? Why is everybody so scared all the time? Is it easier to sell things to frightened people? Dear Pseudo Are you an armchair activist? Is clicking a mouse enough? Is typing your thoughts on an issue contributing to ‘the debate’? Do you know all the statistics regarding benefit claimants, student loans, house prices, interest rates and so on? Do you know all the intricacies of the dsge models? Of Pareto optimality? Of the deficit? Are you familiar with the Austrian school literature? The classical tradition? Have you ever stared up at the Sistine Chapel and looked at the ceiling? Did you know Michelangelo got paid? John Lennon got paid. Did you know he recorded the line ‘Imagine no possessions’ in a mansion? What makes one song better than another?
Is Capitalism the only option? Maybe I’ll phone her again, or would that seem too desperate? If I had gone into a different bar on a different night, would my life be completely different now? Does my life hang on such random chance? Am I just hurtling downhill being diverted this way and that by encounters, emails and elections? Has anything important actually happened in these last two months? Why am I living each day like I’m in a queue at a supermarket? Why am I living each day with a sigh in-between? Was it ever any different? Do you really think it would be awful if I called her again? Is it lunchtime yet? Do I dare drink a decaffeinated coffee? Do I want the thing without the actual thing? Will I get cancer? Liver disease? Diabetes? Is there sugar in every single supermarket product I eat? Am I getting enough indole-3-carbinol? What about calcium? Is milk good or bad for you? Is my life really just maintaining a decaying machine? Would a caveman eat something if he didn’t know exactly what it was? Will I grow fat and wearisome? Will people stop liking me when I’m fat? Do people like me now or do they just say they do? Why is she on the front cover? Why is his band playing at the festival? Why not my band? Why wasn’t I born into a bohemian family that encouraged me to act? To sculpt? To write? Are these things that come from within? How much money do you have? Why do you have so much and others so little? Do you even think of the amount of paperwork the Prime Minister has to do? How many speeches he needs to give? How many statistics he needs to learn? Is that a good use of the so-called cream after it has risen to the top? Is there anyone left who truly believes we live in a meritocracy? Will I speak to you at lunch next week? Do I enjoy my work? Does anyone enjoy their work? If you gave somebody 8 months’ wages up front and told them they didn’t have to turn up, would they turn up? Would they come in and turn tables, measure hydrogen levels or analyse balance sheets if they didn’t have to? Have I ever had a meaningful conversation with my co-worker who is currently staring at me at a 45 degree angle? Is it only 2 o’clock? Wait, why are they staring? Should I ask? What could my boss want at this time of the day? Why is this room mainly oak panelled? Why does his face wear a heavy expression? What the hell am I going to do now? Do I really need a job? Could I survive on the street? Is the hobo I pass every morning happy? Am I? What about all the people who don’t answer the survey? What about those who aren’t looking for a job? What about those who are forced to do a job to survive? Isn’t that everyone? Will I be able to
survive yet another 6 months without a job? Is this my life now – working temporary jobs that I hate because they threaten to take my benefits away if I don’t do them? And then after months of mind-numbing degradation they toss me aside and say ‘We don’t need you anymore’? Is that it? Maybe they don’t need us anymore? Were they staring? How many people thought I looked strange on the subway today? Does anyone look at the advertisements? Does a child look at the huge voluptuous woman on that billboard? What does a child think of that? Do people notice the products at the corners of the screen that are tailored specifically for them? Are millions being pumped into an industry that has no effect on people anymore? Aren’t other industries propped up by this phantom structure? Will I walk down this narrow alley-type street and be brutally attacked one day? If I saw that happening to someone else, would I intervene? Do people hurt people for no reason? Why are those two men just standing beneath that lamppost talking? Who does that? Is jail necessary? Does private property create crime? Are people naturally co-operative? Haven’t we needed to be, in order to survive? Aren’t we selfish as well though? Isn’t the only reason I do anything because it will benefit me in some way? How will I tell my parents that I’ve been sacked? Will the war ever end? Is A’s interpretation of the conflict more true than B’s? How do I decide without going to the hellish torn landscapes? Is everyone corrupted by their own cognitive bias and doublethink? Is the establishment right wing or left wing? Is that even a helpful distinction? Are they liberal political correctivists? Is this the best of all possible worlds? Mum, promise you won’t be mad? Will I stare at my laptop from 7 till 11 then go to bed or will I actually do something productive? How many of these people are actually my friends? How many of these people would do so much as raise an eyebrow if they found out I was dead? Why are we going down this slippery slope again? Why has she still not called me? Do I take in any of the endless fragments of information that flicker in front of my eyes, day in, day out, scrolling down, follow link for more, rinse repeat? How many of my ‘friends’ are staring at the screen right now? All of them? Are we the most unproductive generation in human history? Or is that just my inherent negativity speaking? Does it colour my world? Why did she call and say nothing of any weight? As if nothing happened? Did anything happen or was it all concocted in my mind? Millions of flesh and bone coming up with elaborate theories to justify their own base neurological activity, dopamine and serotonin, cells working to
justify themselves, competing views of reality in a multiverse of thought. Our Universe is where the powerful always impose their version of reality on the many. Will I sleep tonight? Please let me sleep.
Christopher Vondracek the half-giant of the coulee pump ’n’ munch A half-giant runs the convenience store in the Coulee. Children know this. As do adults. Gas, cigs, Complete Farmer’s Almanac. It’s a completely normal gas station, save the half-giant filling the cashier corral. And there’s curiosity about these things, as the half-giant came without a name and doesn’t wear a tag. But there he is, anyway. Lotto scratch-offs to his right. Microphone to his left (“Yep, go ahead there on six.”). A tiny computer at his belly. His chubby fingers daintily press the laminated keyboard, computing profits. He’s there 7 to 7. And at night, when a chill blows through still pines on the bluffs, the tiny bell rings above the door as the half-giant exits. He squeezes his immensity between the vinyl siding frame wearing a tan fedora, pulling tight his camel hair coat, stepping into an ’85 Econoline parked against the ice-cabinets. Then he drives home. Most residents know he lives up on Brady’s Pass—the vehicle’s headlights revolve like a lighthouse while he navigates the roads shaped like pigtails up to his cozy cabin. Outside his home, protected from the road by a stand of eastern white pine, apple orchard cider boils in a tin kettle. A furry Bernese with tongue lagging pulverizes fallen pinecones with his clumsy paws. He’ll pad his way down the stream and come up into my yard, where I leave out apples, the occasional slab of meat, and I’ll pet his mangy head with both hands—holding it like a giant beach ball—before he turns and sprints back up the bluff. A loud “harg-harg-harg” echoes down into the valley from the hammock wide as a tennis net hanging between sturdy trunks. And that’s the half-giant. No one worries. No one calls the cops. No one alerts Channel 9 from River City 30 miles over. Our town is safe with him. We all have a place. That is until last Tuesday. Now it’s all gone. Because last Tuesday night, the residents gathered at the bar watching the static-y television screen in Pete’s River Stop heard the anchor call our half-giant “a surprising oversight officials don’t hear too
much about anymore.” But we knew the truth. We looked around at each other between peeled peanuts and warm mugs of beer. Someone talked. Someone got jealous. Someone knew. And probably someone new. Agnes, who lives with her son who sells earthworms at the Pump ’n’ Munch, said “Hasn’t been the same since the school closed down.” And that was true, a few of us nodded. And not. Ralph O’Holloran—who never married—speculated it was the dentist who comes twice a month from River City. But rank guesses. Always someone else. Lillian went outside with me to smoke and coughed, “It’s probably someone in there.” She dabbed at her eyes, blaming the cold. Alonzo stood beside us, and his mind was made up (and told us so) on the new family who had their kids on that online high school and probably felt uncomfortable sending them down to the Coulee Pump ’n’ Munch to fill up gasoline canisters because they didn’t see the Giant and the Bernese selling apples out of his truck before football games. Maybe. But, regardless, we used to have a half-giant running the gas station in town. But now we don’t. There’s your headline. Don’t bury the lead. On Tuesday that news van arrived, followed by the officials in duck trousers, and by 2 p.m. they were pulling the half-giant out with strings; and a man none of us recognized, a man—wearing those duck trousers—with a bullhorn was yelling, “Don’t be so selfish!” and then they shoved him into one of those “beware wide load” trucks that you think are new houses or maybe massive yachts transporting to the marina but now you’ll know are probably half-giants in captivity. In transit. The last sound we heard was the sirens. And that was by 5:30 p.m. No one manned the station the last 90 minutes. By 10 we were at the bar. And Wednesday morning, Corporate sent in a cashier. She called herself “Brynn” and had graduated from Olive three years ago and had a kid and had a no-nonsense style that those wifi-scholars probably appreciated. That afternoon they sent over a truck from River City to replace the broken glass, wash with a mop the blood stains on the pavement, and replace the shingles torn when the half-giant had thrown off the cuffs. And things were back to normal. Except they weren’t. We didn’t think it would change things that much. But that was weeks, maybe months ago, and now the village sulks, sunken back into itself. At night no one drives home
with the radio on. The pop machine spitting out change is the only sound in town. The football team, Jesus, do we even have a football team? And I kick off my shoes. Because you know what? We had a gentle half-giant, who never upsold you muffins, or asked about a fuel saver card but rather just chatted about the turning of the leaves from maple to crimson. Some towns are allowed skyscrapers. Some towns have good school systems. Others are allotted half-giants running their gas stations. But we had to go and blow it. That’s what Ralph said. And Ralph’s not a sentimental type at all, like he only used to moan about the half-giant keeping his cigarette prices high, but one night at the bar, Ralph stood up and announced this to everyone. “Are you happy?! Whoever it was. Happeeee?!” When I walk home at night, under the street-lamps, the shadows from the billboards cover my face, and I think about the half-giant, and what he gave us, in a way, that we didn’t have before, and you want to think that what you lose will be replaced by something you gain, that life more or less stays equal, but based upon our half-giant leaving that’s not true. The children now, and those children to come, will not have any memory of the giant, and you can just see the town turning into one of those places where people wonder why it has a name at all, raising all kinds of questions of efficacy. Anxiety runs deep in the trees, riddled and tight, frigid, losing needles, breathing deep in the land a kind of worry that doesn’t go away easily, in the postman sweeping birch leaves, in the river quieter than usual, and people wondering about the children. Except they forgot his Bernese. Yep, as true as the pigs down by Sully’s patch eat the beer cans tossed in ditches by kids on weekend nights, they in the duck trousers forgot his Bernese, and that’s a good luck kind of math, how they say a number will get closer and closer to zero but never actually reach it (always a sliver remaining, that will be proportional, sufficient), that’s the Bernese, the half-giant’s own. He’s as big as a porch, eating from a dish the size of a Volvo’s tires, and I don’t know if the authorities forgot about him, or didn’t know he existed, or didn’t know to have a big enough kennel, but he plopped down out on my front lawn a few weeks after the half-giant was taken from us, his beach ball head on his paws and chestnut eyes staring up at me, and I wondered where he’d been in the hiatus because I could feel his ribcage when I petted him, like he hadn’t been eating, but he has sense left, because where else would he go, dancing every night as he does in the moonlight? And that’s how I know, or at least think, things will be okay, less than before, but still
okay, because in those vapors that come up from Sully’s patch in the night hours, if any child wakes, or has stayed awake, and presses a wet nose against windowpanes, hearing about the half-giant and rumors of his big dog, they get to judge for themselves—no matter what parents say—shadows which should not be moving so swiftly like that in between the trees.
Sarah Evans full disclosure You realise that you’re the only one still eating – talking too much – and you swallow down a sharp mouthful before winding up on your laborious account of what you do. Well, she did ask. Lynne smiles, lines creasing round her mouth, and says, ‘I’m sure it must be very interesting,’ but the main thing she’ll have established is just how solidly you belong amidst the welleducated, lucratively employed middle-class. You shrug and glance at Tessa, but she’s busy chatting to her dad, her voice lyrical and light and it sounds a better option than this one-to-one with her mother. Your fork plays with the remains of tomato and oil-slicked spaghetti, hunger not quite satisfied, though it seems too much hassle to finish. Instead, you reach for your glass, a slow sip – tannin and oak – sitting back in the pause to look around. You rest an arm along the slate-topped wall which keeps the swirl of the Cherwell at bay. Trees line the bank, trunks angling over the water and tangled roots clinging on precariously. A rickety bridge humps over from one side to the other, the wood flaking and boards missing, clearly not in use. ‘It’s a fabulous location for a pub,’ you say. ‘Isn’t it?’ Lynne has the same self-satisfied look as when earlier you complimented her cottage garden with its colour co-ordinated flowers. ‘You’re not familiar with Oxford?’ ‘No.’ You feel it then, under the skin, the electric buzz that’s been with you all day. Not that you’re lying, not exactly, though it would be just like Tessa to butt in and contradict. Living nearby all those years ago leaves no sense of familiarity or ownership; east-side, industrial suburbs hardly count as Oxford anyway. ‘We’ll have to give you the grand tour tomorrow.’ By which she means the ancient architecture in the centre. ‘That would be great.’ You catch Tessa’s eye this time, the suggestion of an eye-roll, and you’re thinking on ahead, the two of you entwined in her girlhood bed, and remind yourself how all this polite stranger-conversation will be worth it. The warmth of the day is dissipated, the sun dipped towards the horizon and the longer wavelengths, oranges and reds, reflect back selectively; the
dimming light shimmers off the rushing water, bathing everything in a saffron hue. ‘Did people want dessert?’ Lynne asks, then rubs her bare, fleshy arms. ‘Or perhaps we could have it indoors.’ Over her shoulder, you see how the pub is heaving, and it seems unlikely the four of you will find a table. The accumulated tiredness of the day hits. You and Tessa woke late morning, a tangle of sweaty limbs and sheets on the futon that almost touches both walls in her house-share, attic room. The night before was a hangover haze of heavy clubbing. You dragged yourselves to the nearest caffeine point before facing the hassle of slow-moving traffic and, amongst the stop-start, you wondered which surprised you most, Tessa’s invitation or your acceptance of it. ‘My parents will love you,’ Tessa assured you, mouth forming a comic moue, making it clear that parental approval isn’t a plus-point. ‘We’re fine out here,’ Tessa says, pointedly opposing her mother. Earlier, she had nicked the jumper you brought along just in case. The waitress turns up, gathering plates in a gravity-defying structure and handing out menus on which everything sounds gunky-sweet. ‘And what about your parents?’ Lynne asks, a follow on from several lines back. ‘Where do they live?’ The buzz intensifies. You’re prepared for this, of course, only that never entirely helps. ‘Milton Keynes,’ you say evenly. ‘It’s where I grew up.’ Apart from the first seven years of your life, but there’s no need for you to mention that. Lynne smiles widely to cover her distaste. You picture the grey-wash images passing before her eyes. Straight-lined grids of concrete buildings. Endless pedestrian underpasses. Concrete cows. Not quite Lynne’s ivorystoned Oxford. ‘And what do they do?’ Your hands clench and you feel the razor-wire of tension running up your arms, accumulating in your shoulders and neck. You know the ways one question leads to another and although there’s nothing unexpected here, you’ve never mastered the art of smoothly navigating the bifurcations of this particular conversation. ‘Dad’s in the building trade,’ you say. ‘Installing kitchens mostly.’ ‘Interesting,’ Lynne says, her smile faltering. With your law degree and associate partnership with a consultancy that specialises in mergers and acquisitions, she’ll have been assuming that your background is as wellheeled as Tessa’s. ‘You’re just what Mum has been looking for,’ Tessa told you, mockingly, in the sticky aftermath, that first night she took you up to her
attic, a long fingernail running down your sweat-drenched chest. Previous boyfriends had aspirations to save the world, to play in rock bands or be the next Jack Kerouac, but no career plan. They had sported long hair and worn clothes from Oxfam stinking of pot. ‘He must be very proud,’ Lynne says. ‘I guess.’ You stifle the snort of derision. Proud? Hardly. You remember the battleground even to stay on for A levels. A complete bloody waste of time; should be out there getting a job, getting paid. It’s several years since you saw one another, something you have no intention of changing. Inwardly, you smile at the irony, how it was your dad’s antagonism to learning that goaded you on at school, while Tessa rebelled in the opposite way. ‘And your mother?’ Lynne continues. Tessa concludes her conversation with a peal of laughter, before getting up, and heading off to the Ladies. Her hips sway gracefully, her long legs clad in fraying, grubby jeans, her contours muffled by the draping cable-knit. ‘My stepmother works in Tesco.’ Working in Tesco being something else beyond the sphere of comprehension for this university lecturer with her research interest in Medieval History. But it won’t be the word Tesco she’ll pick up on. ‘Your stepmother?’ ‘Yes.’ Stepmother always begs the unwanted follow on. Your fingers rub the rough slate and you feel the fine spray from the river on your arm. That first night, Cheryl tried to insist she bathe you. You remember the fireball of hurt inside and the boy who kicked, scratched, splashed and screamed. You’re not my mother. Looking back, you feel both affection and exasperation for that unhappy child. Can see how life might have been easier if you’d played along, accepting the fake motherliness, whilst remaining perversely proud that you had not. With an adult’s perspective you understand how it must have been difficult for Cheryl too – a fucked up, furious seven-year-old not having been part of the original deal. This has never led to any softening towards her. ‘And your mother?’ The sunset colours have faded, but there’s still an afterglow of violet light, high-frequency photons scattered down from the debris of the upper atmosphere. You’re grateful for the semi-dark, the way it reduces people to outlines and conceals expressions. ‘Didn’t work.’ But that isn’t what Lynne is asking. ‘I mean…you didn’t live with her?’ You shake your head – obviously not – wishing you could leave it there. But people always ask and you might as well continue. ‘I lost her. When I was seven.’ Lost being suitably ill-defined. ‘I’m so sorry.’ The rush of concern, the
quick touch to your arm, her easy sympathy at the thought of a motherless child: all of these are teeth-clench irritating. ‘That must have been so hard.’ You shrug. Clearly you have survived. ‘What did she die of?’ Lynne asks, her voice subdued. As if it makes a difference. As if she hopes you’ll now save the conversation by coming up with something brave and touching. Just lie, for fuck’s sake. That was your initial impulse when Tessa asked these same questions on that disaster of a first date, set up by a friend of a friend. ‘An overdose,’ the words were there, a knee-jerk pulse of anger overriding your caution. Screw her and presumptions, her undisguised dismissal of you as Mr Boring-Well-Paid-Lawyer who had always had it easy. That evening had snapped into focus. Tessa’s face changed, the smug condescension slipping and her soft-spoken attention spurring you onwards to offer up your childhood as a form of intimacy. She had return tales of being bullied at school, of parents more interested in academic achievements than in whether she had friends or was happy. Together, you played the strange ritual of seduction, rummaging round in the past as if it held the key to the future. Tessa returns, her hand brushing your shoulder as she sits back down. The light from the pub windows throws her face in shadow, smoothing over the toll of that drug- and alcohol-fuelled revolt, making her look younger, impenetrable, and you don’t know if she’s heard her mother’s question or not. In any case, you can’t directly deny what you told Tessa, so you repeat it. You avoid the word suicide, but you know it’s there, that sharp-edged s and c scything through the cosiness of the evening. The water burbles. Something scuttles in the scrub. In the distance you hear the ringing of bells, the sound following the line of the river, rippling out over the meadows that earlier the four of you strolled around. Lynne breaks the silence and starts talking in a fast and embarrassed way about how sad it is that people do that, and how likely if only someone had found her in time – or the signs had been spotted – she could have got help. You keep your look neutral but inside you seethe and foam with unreserved hatred for all this politically correct talk of mental health problems when the truth is plain and stark: you mother did not want to carry on living. The fact of having a young son was not enough to change that. The full moon lies still and empty above; you feel chilled through, with the dank tang of the river in your lungs and the burn of Tessa’s hand on your upper thigh. You don’t want to look, but your phantom mirror replays the scene from long ago, the five-sense images you can never quite erase. The
sound of Sunday morning bells from the city centre polluting the air all the way out to Cowley. The cold metallic touch of the head-height door handle that was a struggle to twist. The stink of vomit filling not just nose but mouth as well. The sight of Mum, nightclothes rucked up, body luminously pale. She had fallen somehow into the gap, wedged awkwardly between the mattress and wall, her limbs twisted and gnarled. And you share the same knowledge – clear and pure – as that wide-eyed boy: it is all somehow your fault. Lynne is still blustering her way through, some long irrelevant tale of a distant cousin on Prozac. You sense her assessment of you cool. As if a tendency to suicide might be inheritable, or picked up through nurture. Both of which seem eminently plausible. Outdoor floodlights flicker on, casting everyone into sharp relief, capturing winged insects in their glare. ‘Well anyway,’ you say. ‘Were we thinking of ordering dessert?’ But the evening cannot be quite so easily rescued and the four of you agree that you should probably head back. Tessa takes your hand as you weave your way through the packed car park. ‘Sorry,’ she whispers, her thumb caressing your palm. ‘About the interview.’ Later, sex between you feels unusually tender, and the need to be discreet – constraining bed-springs and stifling cries – adds to the intensity. You’re left feeling uncharacteristically exposed and raw. ‘Can you budge,’ Tessa says, and frees her trapped arm. She turns to face the wall, pulling your arm across her and you slot your thighs and knees behind hers, inhaling her scent. ‘It wasn’t so awful, was it?’ Tessa says, voice heavy with sleep. ‘Not awful at all,’ you tease, pulling her closer, deliberately misinterpreting. You feel the openness of this night-time vulnerability and trust into which you might unveil something real. Not so much that you’ve lied, but your omissions. Mum didn’t die. Tessa’s breathing is settling into its rhythm of sleep. You picture her jerking back awake and twisting round, her look of confusion and suspicion. What kind of guy lies about something like that? You’d become subject to yet one more line of spotlit cross-examination. So what did happen? The facts are straightforward enough. You don’t remember that 999 call, but you remember people saying that
you were clever and brave to make it, muddling through in your sevenyear-old way. Perhaps you saved her, perhaps she’d vomited enough back up spontaneously; you’ll never know. Just as you can’t know if she’d wanted to be saved. Shortly afterwards, you returned from a wet and dreary Sunday outing with Dad and his fat new girlfriend – Cheryl – who tried to bribe you with chocolate cake and coke and talked about having a baby sister. Wouldn’t that be nice? The door swung open, the flat empty, a note left on the kitchen table. You listen to the darkness, the catch in Tessa’s breathing, the rumble of traffic, the occasional groan from the large Victorian house. You feel restless, the need to fidget intensified by the constrictions, but the spare bed left at the side seems a dismal option. Tessa stirs, then settles. You do and don’t want her to wake up. You can almost hear her hushed interrogation. And how does that feel? Couldn’t you try to find her? You disengage gently, the air sharp on your skin. You curl up into the hollow of the fold-up bed, the sheets stiff and cold, and you teeter on the edge of plummeting gloom, wondering where – really – this thing with Tessa is going. Whether it wouldn’t be simpler just to leave.
Claire Booker rock beast The caves of Nerja were discovered in 1959 by five Spanish schoolboys. Look up long enough and the cave flips into a Manhattan skyline, date palms dripping fruit, a clipper’s prow bursting out of lumps of calcite. Children on ledges gasp up at the never-ending ribcage, grip rails on arrowed paths, attempt to whoop into the vast suck of it. Their astonished cries roll and fade like bee-hum through the cave’s great maw. This is no time for metaphysical conjecture. At each corner, people snap flying buttresses, organ pipes, the whole gothic shebang, hesitate at the underbelly – its loops of moraine like villi of some monstrous gut slowly digesting itself. Space fills and empties, hauls itself out in long hard cords. Skull-boulders, garlanded with light bulbs, flicker and gurn as they did that first time, when five conquistadores skipped school, struck a match, set blaze new worlds.
racewalker If you skinned him, he’d show a web of bone. No fat, just legs pistoning along the downs. He doesn’t love her, but it’s still eating him up. They’ll tell us soon how long she’s got. Daily, he cracks her breasts in the pan as he fries eggs. Meets her again in the peeler’s rhythmic flick. Cold white potato, incised flesh. Careful – not so near the edge! Chalk has taken a heavy bite of blue. After rain, wind sends great chunks crashing down – blind space always in front of him. She was bad last night. You need your mind to race. This year he came eighth, third the time before. He used to win in Belgium against Europe’s best. Still clocks 12 k a day; twenty the week ahead. Never do the full fifty before a race – you’ll only frighten yourself. Best not to know what you’re up against.
Marie-Andrée Auclair soot What is there to see in the dark but Chinese shadow puppets playing on a screen? Light bright as rust corrodes a temporary edge to sadness a rim of vermillion diluted by tears eyelashes a somber fringe. Darkness, never far, sticky as tar soft as soot, needled by moonlight, sunlight, flares and flashlights flaunting no beauty and no shame heals itself to black.
Michael Metivier luciferin A trope: cloud of luciferin run through with open jam jar in seepy meadow at night, June, but in the morning memento mori: dour child with too-tight lid, lonely sweltering day yawning like a skull in the corner. Light: beloved undoing of us all, can only be kept inside for so long, suddenly the train seems too near and the stars: too far away
Gregory Heath what i learned from idle jed In a little Midwestern town like ours, news travels pretty fast. When I hit thirteen my ole woman got me my first proper fishing rod and reel, ordered in special at the hardware store, and it seemed the whole neighborhood knew what I was getting before I did. I guess my ole woman was pretty proud of herself for rustling up the money. I went down to the creek thinking I might hook me a trout. And that’s when Idle Jed showed up. I recognised him from town but we’d never spoke before. He had a half-empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. He came over to me and said, ‘You’re Steve’s boy, ain’t ya?’ ‘Steve’s gone,’ I said. ‘He’s been gone a long time.’ ‘I know that,’ he said. ‘So,’ I said. ‘I used to drink with him,’ he said. ‘He weren’t a bad guy, your dad.’ ‘That so?’ I said. He gave me a long look, like he was fixing to say something more about the ole fella, then he said, ‘How’s that new tackle workin’ out?’ ‘Alright,’ I said. ‘Haven’t tested it proper yet, though. Caught a little perch is all.’ ‘That’s about as much as you’ll hope for hereabouts,’ he said, glancing downstream, kicking his feet in the dirt. ‘You wanna let me take you somewhere where there’s somethin’ worth catchin’.’ I thought about it for a minute. I knew what the folks in town said about Jed. But he seemed OK to me. He said, ‘Well, do ya wanna?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Ask your ole woman,’ he said, and he wandered off along the bank and disappeared. One day the next week he pulled up at the front porch in his truck and honked his horn and waited for the ole woman to appear at the door. ‘Come to take your boy out,’ he said. ‘Takin’ ’im fishin’.’ The ole woman looked at him sideways a minute and then she said, ‘Yeah.’ I grabbed my stuff and got in the truck but before we pulled off she said, ‘You know what’d happen if
any harm were to come to my boy, don’t ya, Jed?’ Jed nodded at her and off we went. So there I was in Jed’s truck and I was real excited and nervous all at the same time. It was an old Chevy, it smelled of oil and dirt, and there were empty beer cans and whiskey bottles rolling around in the footwell. And I’d got my new rod and reel on my lap and Jed said, ‘Ya won’t be needin’ that, ’cos we’re not really going fishin’.’ He looked at me and I could smell the booze on him. ‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘You’ll see,’ he said. ‘You said you were taking me fishing,’ I said. ‘That’s the whole point.’ ‘The whole point,’ he said, ‘is that you have no idea what the point is. You’re thirteen years old and you don’t know nothin’. But I’m goin’ to teach ya, see? I’m goin’ to do ya the biggest goddam favor anyone will ever do ya.’ I didn’t know what to say then, so I didn’t say anything. Before long we were heading out towards the mountains. Jed opened up a bottle of whiskey and offered me some. I shook my head. ‘Ya don’t want it?’ he said. ‘No.’ ‘Good,’ he said. We were halfway up a little mountain road when Jed pulled up the truck. We got out and sat on a rock. It was a real hot day and the rock was warm under my legs. ‘Think you could remember how to get here?’ Jed said. ‘You been payin’ attention?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Alright,’ he said. He took a swig of the whiskey. ‘Sure you don’t want some?’ he said. ‘I’m sure.’ ‘More for me then,’ he said. ‘Yeah.’ He was staring right off of the mountain and out at the sky. ‘Your dad,’ he said. ‘Steve.’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘He was the only person in all my life I could really talk to.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘Don’t ya think that’s somethin’?’ he said. ‘Just one man in the whole wide
world I ever trusted. What has to happen to a person to make ’em like that, do ya think?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘That’s right. It’s like I said, you don’t know nothin’.’ ‘Why my ole man?’ I said. Jed took another pull at the bottle. He was still looking out at the sky. ‘Because he did know,’ he said. ‘He was the only other one I ever met.’ ‘The only other what?’ I said. He didn’t answer. He stood up and fetched a big canvas sack out of the truck and threw it over his shoulder. ‘Follow me,’ he said. He set off down a dusty little path and I followed him. I don’t know why I did it. I guess it was something to do with what he’d said about my dad. It was a pretty long walk. We went down lots of little paths that looked like they weren’t used by nothing but the animals. After a while the ground started to get a bit less dusty and there were bushes growing in it and up ahead it was thick with trees. Trickling streams started to appear, like little snakes of water making their way down the mountain. I was real thirsty and I asked Jed if the water in the streams was any good to drink. ‘Not as good as this,’ he said, holding up the whiskey. The bottle was almost empty now. I decided to have a drink from one of the streams and Jed waited for me while I got me some. I was knelt down on the ground, bent over, raising the water up to my face in my cupped hands, checking to make sure there were no bits of dirt in it. I could feel him watching me and when I turned round there was a strange smile on his face. ‘You’re a natural,’ he said. ‘You’re gonna do just fine.’ We set off again down another animal path that ran tight between the trees. The trees were so tall and close together they blocked out the sun. Then suddenly we came out of them and we were standing in front of a creek maybe fifty feet across. Jed put the sack on the ground and sat down next to it. He opened it up and brought out another bottle of whiskey. ‘This is it,’ he said. ‘We’re here.’ I sat down a bit away from him. ‘Why do you drink so much?’ I said. ‘Because,’ he said. I was starting to feel real tired. ‘What are we doing here?’ I said. ‘I told ya, I’m doin’ ya a favor. Because of your dad. Don’t you be getting ungrateful now.’ ‘No,’ I said. He looked at me for a long time. Then he said, ‘Your dad screwed up but it weren’t really his fault. I want ya to remember that. Whatever your ole
woman tells ya, and whatever people say in town. OK?’ ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Right then,’ he said, ‘let’s do it.’ And he reached back into the sack. I knew about panning, but I hadn’t ever seen it done. And I didn’t think for a minute that Jed would find any gold. But I was wrong. ‘You watch this good,’ he said, wading into the creek with the pan in his hands, ‘and you listen.’ He went a few feet out into the water, stooped over to scoop up some dirt from the riverbed, then stood back up. ‘So the first thing ya do is shake the pan from side to side,’ he said, ‘to loosen up all that dirt. But ya gotta be gentle now…’ Over the next few hours Jed gave me a masterclass in panning. I learned how to find something precious in the dirt, just by knowing how to uncover it, and how to look. Mostly the gold was in tiny little flakes but there were some bigger pieces. One was the size of a bullet. He put all the pieces into a little leather pouch he fetched out of his pocket. By the end of the afternoon he had enough, he said, to pay his rent and keep him in food for a month. ‘And drink,’ I said. ‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘The fact is,’ he said later, when we were driving back down off the mountain, ‘I’ve gave you a great gift this afternoon.’ He was steering with his left hand, holding the bottle in his right. ‘There’s just two people in this whole world who know about that gold now, and that’s you an’ me. An’ next week I’ll take you into Kings to visit the guy who buys it offa’ me. It’ll be an introduction, so to speak. Then the week after that I’ll show you the other places to pan. Then when I’m nothin’ but dirt in the ground, you’ll pick up where I left off, see?’ I didn’t know what to say. I still didn’t understand it. ‘But you don’t breathe a word to no one,’ he said. ‘Not your ole woman, not no one. There’s been enough for me, an’ there’ll be enough for you, but word gets out and the world an’ his wife’ll be up there. Understand?’ ‘Yeah,’ I said. Three weeks later I was sitting in my room winding some lighter line onto my reel. My ole woman thought I’d been fishing every time I’d been off with Jed but I’d still hardly used the new tackle and I was fixing to do something about it. I heard the sound of a truck outside and I thought it must be Jed turned up so I went out to see him. My ole woman was already out front by the time I got there.
It wasn’t him. It was a big fat guy with a crate of stuff on the back of his pickup. He lifted the crate off and dumped it on the ground. ‘What’s this?’ said the ole woman. ‘A present, you might say,’ said the man. ‘For ya youngster.’ ‘What are you talkin’ about?’ ‘Idle Jed left a note, said to give this stuff to ya boy here. Bequeathed it, you might say.’ ‘Where’s he gone?’ I said. ‘Where’s Jed?’ ‘Shot himself in the head last night,’ said the man. ‘Thought you’d have heard.’ I just stared right at him. ‘Never seen a place in such a mess,’ said the man. ‘Trash and bottles everywhere. A real disgrace. No one’s gonna miss that fella, that’s for sure.’ ‘I’ll miss him,’ I said. ‘He was a drunken bum,’ said the man. ‘It weren’t his fault,’ I said. ‘And how do you work that out?’ he said. ‘I just know.’ He shook his head and pointed at the crate. ‘Anyways, that’s yours,’ he said. My ole woman went back into the house and I watched the fat man drive off. I couldn’t lift the crate while it was still full, so I took as much as I could off the top and carried that in first. It was mostly junk – old canvas bags and a rotted tent and a pair of worn-out jeans that Jed had used to cover up the panning gear. Then I went back and hauled the crate into my room. I listened carefully, making sure that my ole woman weren’t about to come in, then I lifted the pan out and took a proper look at it. The steel was polished so smooth that it caught the light coming in through the window and shone it into my face and blinded me for a minute. I shut my eyes and I could see Jed, panning. He was stood so still in the creek, with the river rushing past him. All of his attention was on the dirt and water swirling around in the pan. It was as if the rest of the world, including me, had just disappeared.
“I sometimes can’t even bring myself to look at a printed jacket closely; I find the fact of its finality to be pretty damning.” —Oliver Munday
On Book Cover Design Featuring an essay by Emma J. Hardy & interviews with some of our favourite cover designers
“A book cover is a distillation. It is a haiku, if you will, of the story.”
ook cover designers sit awkwardly in the creative industry: they are not specifically illustrators, photographers or typographers, but actually all three and sometimes all three at once. To get a cover onto the shelf they have to rummage through a plethora of information coming from the author; from sales, marketing and editorial departments; and sometimes even from the bookshops, about what they want to see. The cover designers themselves are also quite an eccentric bunch, often found stroking books and discussing how much better it would have been if the production team had approved that lovely but expensive uncoated paper. Pick up your favourite book. You see that tiny credit in 6 pt type on the back? Yep, that’s probably all that you’ll ever hear of the cover designer. Don’t see one? They’re probably based in the UK. I’m not complaining (much): I understand that we are a fairly small section of a long list of people that are behind the production of a book, but it has often struck me as odd that cover designers don’t get more media exposure. Until very recently even the wider creative world didn’t pay a huge amount of attention. There are countless competitions and awards for advertising design, and illustration
The Sense of an Ending, 2011 Design by Suzanne Dean
and packaging design, but only a handful for cover design. Chipp Kidd used to be the only well-known book cover designer. He’s a great designer (and a strong speaker too—his words open this piece), but I am very pleased to see that more and more cover designers are cropping up to take their place in the limelight. Julian Barnes publicly thanked his book cover designer, Suzanne Dean, in his Man Booker Prize acceptance speech in 2011. Suzanne popped up again recently on Radio 4 in a segment of Front Row discussing the art of book cover design. Other names are appearing in the media too: Jon Gray, Jamie Keenan, David Pearson, Clare Skeats, Matthew Young—all of whom are fantastic cover designers. Buzzfeed is doing ‘The Ten Most Beautiful Book Covers You’ll See This Year’ style articles and the Design Observer is bringing out a book to complement its annual 50 Books | 50 Covers competition. The world seems to be waking up to book cover design; to its value and artistic merit. I recently set up Spine, a magazine dedicated to book cover design. I believe it to be the first of its kind and I hope that it will continue to raise awareness of this much undervalued discipline. — Emma J. Hardy
Boring Formless Nonsense, 2013 Design by Daniel Benneworth-Gray
Jennifer Carrow, Oliver Munday and Daniel BenneworthGray are three of the most talented book cover designers working today. We talked to them about their process. ď€´ď€°
Meditations, 2004 Design by David Pearson
Against Happiness, 2008 Design by Jennifer Carrow
Negroland, 2015 Design by Oliver Munday
structo: Is there such a thing as a standard approach to book cover design? carrow: Most of the designers and art directors I know start with a cover brief, a manuscript and a few rough ideas. Some projects begin with a very specific idea from editorial or the author and others are a total blank slate. We often work independently and then share near-finished designs in-house. Depending on the publishing house, author and agent approval might trump in-house aesthetics. The standard elements are format (rectangle) and copy (title, author, etc.) but even these can get thrown out the window for a special cover. munday: I believe there is such a thing as a standard approach. If I imagine it in its most banal mode, it involves a photograph (contemporarily speaking) with centred typography, somewhat inoffensively balanced within the ď€´ď€ą
rectangle. These aesthetic decisions signal ‘book cover’, formally speaking, and serve as a default setting for most approaches to designing a book jacket. This lends a healthy amount of anxiety to my personal approach; I am constantly seeking out new ways of making a cover look remarkably unbook cover-like, to varying degrees of success. benneworth-gray: Not in the slightest. You’ve got a little rectangle of space in which to create something that reflects/interprets/packages/sells something else that someone else has created. There are as many ways to go about that as there are books. Or as many as there are designers. Or maybe it’s one multiplied by the other? Whatever it is, it’s a big number. Short answer: no. structo: How much influence does the manuscript have on your process? carrow: The manuscript has a huge influence on my work. With fiction, if the writing is spare, the cover needs to reflect that, and the same goes for text that’s lush and overly descriptive. For non-fiction, it’s just as important to read the manuscript, so your concepts are on target and your imagery reflects what’s inside. The Day of the Locust, 1939 Design by Alvin Lustig
munday: The process is predicated on the text, whether that merely means responding to the book’s title; the two are inextricable. I can’t pretend to read an entire text all the time, or even most of the time, but there is no other place to start; ideas and imagery abound. benneworth-gray: In an ideal world, lots. Thing is, I work on a lot of academic titles, so I rarely get a chance to see the full text. The editor will provide a précis of the book, and I’ll look into similar work on the topic from the same author, but I’m usually working from a pretty abstract starting point. In
some ways this offers me quite a lot of freedom of interpretation, but it can be difficult to know exactly what it is that needs interpreting—especially if the title is already rather abstract. I relish the opportunity to sink my creative teeth into a great big work of fiction that I can read from beginning to end before anyone else. structo: Daniel—do you see much difference between academic and nonacademic publishers when it comes to cover design? benneworth-gray: For one thing, The Flame Alphabet, 2012 academic publishing is slow, and Design by Chipp Kidd publication dates can shift dramatically. I worked on a cover two years ago for a book that’s now scheduled to be published in 2019! It’s always a fascinating area to work in, though, as the books are usually about very specific and peculiar subjects. Lots of opportunity for experimental treatments. structo: Do you have a favourite cover of the ones you’ve done? carrow: I still love my cover for Against Happiness even though it was made seven years ago. It’s the perfect blend of simplicity and wit that I strive for in all of my work. munday: I don’t. It is difficult for me to maintain enthusiasm around any particular cover. Each new glance turns up new flaws. I sometimes can’t even bring myself to look at a printed jacket closely; I find the fact of its finality to be pretty damning. If I had to choose a recent cover, I would say Negroland by Margo Jefferson. benneworth-gray: Boring Formless Nonsense will always have a special
Benneworth-Gray has also worked on academic covers for Bloomsbury
The New York Trilogy, 2010 Design by Gray318
place in my heart. I wasn’t sure if it would go down well at all (I flipped the text ninety degrees, just to make it extra difficult for the reader), but it went down brilliantly with the author, Eldritch Priest. “It evokes halfformed associations of the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks”—entirely unintentional, but that’s still pretty good feedback in my book. structo: Do you think about the eventual ebook version, and all its associated constraints, when you’re working? carrow: With the ebook covers, I often adjust the size of the elements and the contrast so it looks best at 1 inch on websites. I’m excited to see ebook covers expand into animations, a surprise cover or a changing cover as you read the book. Elements could be revealed as the reader progresses with the book. munday: No, but we are forced to consider the e-life of the cover, mainly for the purposes of online vendors, catalogues, etc. The thumbnail-sized jpeg has become an unwelcome constraint. benneworth-gray: To be honest, not really. It may be old-fashioned and backward, but I focus on what will look good on the front of a book. Chasing the digital formats will drive you insane! There are so many different sizes and formats, and the goalposts keep moving. Amazon thumbnail sizes increase over time, ebook standards are all over the place, screen resolutions change. I trust that the bookishness of it will survive translation. I’d hate to find myself designing with “now then, will this cover work on a watch?” at the back of my mind.
structo: What are some of your all-time favourite covers? carrow: Alvin Lustig’s covers still jump off the shelf for me. Most of his work was created 65 years ago! It’s too hard to pick a single favourite contemporary cover, but I’m constantly amazed by the work created by my talented colleagues: Charlotte Strick, Kelly Blair, Helen Yentus, Chris Brand and Rodrigo Corral just to name a few. The covers I want to have in my personal library are not only outstanding designs but also have incredible special effects: a die cut, four different foils, belly band, etc. I’m a sucker for bells and whistles. munday: The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus (Peter Mendelsund), Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (Alvin Lustig), Killing the Buddha by Jeff Sharlet (Paul Sahre) and The Past by Tessa Hadley (Robin Bilardello). benneworth-gray: I fall in love every time I enter a book shop! So much great work out there at the moment. Some current favourites: Jon Gray’s cover for Auster’s The New York Trilogy; every one of David Pearson’s Great Ideas covers for Penguin; Chip Kidd’s Batman Year One. And the Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes cover for Appleby at Allington is pretty much perfect.
Appleby at Allington, 1971 Design by Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes
jennifercarrow.com olivermunday.com danielgray.com
Dan Micklethwaite & not a drop How many months now? The Captain no doubt keeps a log; but he, down here, in tarry dark, in gathered stench, has little recourse to calendars or writing. For a while, he scored a tally in the planking. But his knife broke and his nails, without sufficient fruit or milk, are hardly fit for purpose. Regardless, enough months to know the motion of the ship from inside out and bow to stern. To recognise, by the level of his sickness, the ferocity of storms; to know the strata of the sounds above him, though he’s never ventured up on deck to verify their causes. He’s kept council instead with the barrels, the wormy biscuits, salted pork. Amidst the shadows and the dank, an internalised barnacle. Able to sneak a little way at times and lift a cannon-hatch and spy the surface: an undulating canvas, tinted varnish and bronze. At such times, in the arms of such motion, he recalls why he came: to be free of dry land and all anchors thereon. But there’s no shifting today, and from the stratified tumult the top layer has been stripped. Clambering over barrels, crackers breaking under pruned-up soles, his ears do whatever is their equivalent of squinting. Just to be sure. He won’t risk discovery lightly – not especially keen to be lashed or keel-hauled or tossed overboard. Up creaking steps to the poop-deck, and there are animals, the black sheep and the goats; a chess-set with the chequer-piece turtles rule-blending between them; but no players, and no-one around either to tend to their needs or turn them to food. He leaps from shell to shell ’twixt reeking beasties, reluctant to encounter the slop on the boards. His hands find the netting that ivy-climbs from the hold, and he scales it, tangling and disentangling, and at last pops his head into silence and space. Captain and crew, everyone’s gone.
And, over the side, no more ocean either. He whirls about, imbibes the atmosphere, the air, the sky, drawn close with fog. Yet, motionless fog, as of breath on a glass. There’s not even the ruffle of sails, the shiver of timbers. Parched, he feels salt turning crystal inside him, and his joints crack like Antarctic coasts when he moves. He retreats below for food, for dried meat, but that only makes everything worse. And there is one shrivelled lime which he chomps in half and his face shrivels likewise; St Elmo’s fire climbs the rigging and lights up his brain. Which now rattles. And he lies flat on his back in the heart of the deck, glaring due skywards, unblinking. He hovers like a gull, or an albatross, between being asleep and awake. Coming to, he finds the fog clearing. He looks on as lights and shapes swell to term in the firmament; these constellations clarifying, gradually, into the face of a god. The eyes, wide and interrogatory, distort in the aether; one iris azure, the other aquamarine. Does he recognise this? He feels her name forming like a prayer on his weak, wizened tongue. He reaches out but she reaches back and her hand like a storm-cloud eclipses his view. Glimpse of a fingerprint, with its hurricane whorls. This sea-goddess then, she has come to reclaim him. What shall we do with a drunken sailor? she sings. Other shanties and sea-hymns percuss in his bloodstream, throb in his temples, burn in his lungs. The ship tilts ninety degrees straight up and the atmospheric pressure trebles and it’s all he can do to leap for the bow and wrap his arms round the figurehead’s neck and hang on. Beyond the fingertips, the fog, there are glimmers of a world in flux. Is this what they mean when they say that life flashes? He thinks he knows some of it – a piece of furniture, a picture-frame – but not much.
His blood is still pounding – blow the man down, oh blow the man down– but other than that all is silent and still. There’s just him, with his arms coiled in rope and his legs dangling clear in perpendicular space. Helpless but for the grace of this carved wooden idol. He thinks of the animals, crushed on top of each other at the back of the hold; the turtles, perhaps, the only other creatures surviving. Then the first droplet hits his cheek. Then another on his shoulder. And he realises that the worst of it isn’t yet through. Even the waves aren’t the worst of it. They buffet and roil and spray over the sides; they chill to the bone and they lacerate clothing; they shake him and pummel and he feels he’s got whiplash and a sprain in his wrist. But then they are done. Becalmed. And the ship even settles horizontal again afterwards. Bobs as it used to. He stumbles across deck, taking some time to remember his sea-legs. His tongue is still shrivelled. His brain is still raw. The whole world seems brighter, the skies clear and unfiltered. He reaches the edge, steadies himself, and peers over. The canvas is blank, utterly see-through. None of the varnish. None of the bronze. He looks away, dejected, and sees he isn’t alone. There are a great many vessels, all docked in a line. On some, the furthest off, he can just make out the breaking crews, already hard at their task; relentless with claw-hammer, crowbar and wrench. Above and around them the scavenger herring gulls billow and swoop. Beyond them, her mouth holds the horizon, and her harlequin eyes become the sun and the moon. Does he recognise this? They hold the stare, both of them, and he wants to reach out again, but he doesn’t and then neither does she. How many minutes? He blinks. The light is too strong here. The ocean is nothing. He turns and he scuttles back into the hold.
Stephen Hargadon the mouse ‘Come in here,’ said Maxine, ‘there’s a funny smell.’ ‘Funny? How do you mean?’ I thought it was a set-up. ‘Here,’ she said, beckoning me into the spare room, the one with the awful wallpaper we’d never got round to changing. (Red Regency stripes, put up by the previous tenants, not our style at all.) ‘I don’t know what it is.’ Maxine was frowning. I like it when she frowns. She frowns a lot, even when she’s happy. She’ll take a bite of cake, for instance, and crinkle up her face in what looks like disgust or even pain, and then say the food tastes divine, as if the pleasure’s too much to bear. ‘Must be your new trainers,’ I said. She’d bought these new trainers in a sale, fancy ones for running, although I’d only seen her wear them once, when we went to Spice Shack for a curry. ‘I thought that myself,’ said Maxine. ‘I put them in the bathroom just to make sure, but the smell’s still here.’ I decided not to joke about unsavoury bathroom smells. Maxine keeps most of her clothes in the spare room. I hardly go in there. I can’t stand the sight of that wallpaper for one thing: another job that needs doing. Max tells me she doesn’t have a lot of clothes, not like some women, it’s just that there’s not enough space in our bedroom for her stuff. We used to share the wardrobe in our room but she says my shirts and jackets have pushed her out. So she bought a vintage wardrobe and had put it in the spare room. I suppose I do have more shirts than I need. But I’m at the age now where I go up a size every year or so. It’s the flab, I can’t shift it, no matter how many press-ups I do. So there I was in the room with the naff wallpaper, and I had to admit the smell was bad, a fusty odour that seemed to thicken around you. ‘Queer, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Yes, it’s strange.’ It was strange. Fishy. Rubbery. Rotten. ‘What is it?’ she said. ‘Where’s it coming from? It’s vile.’ ‘I don’t know, Max,’ I said. I picked up a pair of red sandals and sniffed. ‘It’s not going to be them,’ she said. ‘You never know,’ I said, ‘could be something fungal.’ She said she’d fungal me in a minute.
‘It’s been like this for days now,’ said Maxine. ‘It’s getting worse.’ ‘I’ve not noticed anything,’ I said. ‘You never come in here.’ So we set off round the room, trying to locate the smell. We might have been playing hide and seek, pretending not to know the whereabouts of an excited niece or nephew. ‘Oh, Auntie Maxine, where can the young rascal be?’ ‘I don’t know, Uncle David, he’s a crafty little imp, isn’t he?’ There’s a double bed in the middle of the room: that’s where I’m sent if my snoring gets too bad. It’s the only thing that comes between us. If I wake up in the morning looking at red stripes and that muddy painting of Ben Nevis that she bought on our honeymoon, then I know that I should bring Max a conciliatory cup of tea in bed, that’s if she’s not already up and about and high on insomnia. Over by the window – there’s a begonia on the sill, Maxine knows her plants – the smell seemed to peter out. I thought it might be coming from the radiator, a leak or something. I checked under the bed, pulled out boxes of paperwork and saved envelopes and Christmas decorations. Maxine examined the other side of the room, looking in old handbags, opening drawers, even sniffing the night-gowns and scarves hanging from the back of the door. I reached my nose up to the light fitting, resting one knee on the bed: I had a notion that something might be corroding or melting, either the plastic frame of the lightshade or a connection inside the rose. Our electrics are ancient. ‘It’s coming from the floor,’ said Maxine decisively. ‘Did you spill anything recently?’ I couldn’t see a stain on the carpet. ‘Such as?’ She sounded defiant. ‘I don’t know…’ Her brother Geoff had stayed in the room for a couple of nights a month ago. He was up here on business. He’s a freelance something. He looked different with his briefcase and brogues. We hardly saw him – in the evenings he was out with his associates, men with names like Julian and Giles. I suggested to Maxine that her brother might have secreted a sardine somewhere in the room as a practical joke. He’s the sort of man who’d do something like that and think it hilarious. But Maxine was adamant – it wasn’t Geoff’s style, no way. She took it as a personal insult. That’s families for you. Having eliminated the upper regions of the room, Maxine got down on the floor, smelling the carpet. She kept returning to a patch just in front of the wardrobe. I could see the waistband of her knickers above her sweatpants
as she crawled around. ‘I think it’s under the wardrobe,’ said Maxine. ‘Have a smell, see what you think.’ She looked inspired. I got down on my hands and knees. She was right. The smell was definitely coming from under the wardrobe. A vile, sweaty, rancid smell. It reminded me of dustbin dregs or my mother’s feet. ‘It’s got to be the mouse,’ she said. ‘We’ve found him.’ The mouse. Our mouse. We had both seen it, although on separate occasions. I wasn’t convinced of her vision and I believe she doubted mine. But I know for certain that I saw the mouse. I was watching the news at the time. The Home Secretary was on the warpath again. Maxine was only halfwatching. She was emailing a friend on her laptop – she’s good at keeping in touch. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move; it was a mouse, a tiny dot of a thing, no bigger than a matchbox. ‘Look!’ I said, but the mouse had already scurried away before Maxine had time to see it. ‘Are you sure it was a mouse?’ she asked. ‘Of course I’m sure,’ I said: ‘it was there, I saw it with my own eyes.’ I was a bit snappy and I shouldn’t have been. Two weeks later, it was Maxine’s turn to see the mouse. She had gone to the cupboard under the stairs to fetch the ironing board. I heard an almighty clatter, so I rushed out from the lounge, thinking she’d slipped, and there she was, hugging herself and looking pale. The ironing board was on the laminate. She’d seen a mouse. It had raced out of the cupboard, centimetres from her bare feet. That’s when she dropped the board. The mouse, she said, went into the lounge. But I hadn’t seen anything and I’d been on the sofa the whole time. I checked for holes and droppings and gnawed cables but there was no evidence of mice anywhere in the house. We put down traps – humane ones – but never caught so much as a shadow. There were no further visitations. Our mouse became something of a legend. I wondered if I had actually seen it. I wondered if Max had imagined it, too. And then there was this putrid smell in the spare room. Maxine fetched a torch. She shone it under the wardrobe. ‘There’s something there, at the back. Over to the right.’ ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘Can’t see. But there’s definitely something. Christ, it stinks. Must be the mouse.’ The wardrobe is a stout affair from the 1950s – very chic, very heavy – and full of Maxine’s clothes. We couldn’t really shift it without much trouble. We needed a long stick or pole. Maxine came back with a mop handle, a metal ruler, a dustpan and an old newspaper. I poked the handle under the
wardrobe. It was just trial and error really. ‘I think I’ve got it.’ ‘Not too hard,’ said Max, ‘You’ll burst it.’ I tried to hook the handle behind the object and drag it out. The smell was atrocious. I scraped and poked. A tail flicked into view, pinkish-brown and delicate. I let go of the handle. The tail looked as fragile as a clock spring. I thought it moved. I certainly did not want to touch it, not even with newspaper. I tried to dislodge the creature with the metal ruler, but failed, so I asked Max to fetch a pair of pliers. I clamped the pliers on the tail and pulled. I was worried that the tail might rip away from the body, causing a mess, but one sharp tug and the creature was out, dangling from the pliers. It wasn’t quite what I had expected. Despite the foul odour, the animal hadn’t decomposed, at least not on the outside. It was so small. It had a plump little belly and was almost hairless. ‘It’s a baby,’ said Maxine. ‘A tiny baby.’ I held it up with the pliers, carrying the dustpan under it to catch any leakage. The creature disgusted me. It looked like a miniature human baby, with its pudgy face and pink belly, its plump little grasping hands. True, it had a rather pointy nose and big ears and a startling whip of a tail, but aside from all that, you couldn’t really call the thing a mouse. Its eyes were blue. It had lips and fingers. I’d never seen anything like it. ‘I’ll put it in the bin,’ I said. ‘Must be a runt or something.’ ‘Oh, you can’t put it in the bin. What about its poor mother?’ ‘It’s a mouse.’ ‘It’s a baby.’ ‘What sort of mother lets her baby go crawling under wardrobes? What sort of baby has a tail?’ ‘It looks so sad. So cute. It’s even got a belly button.’ ‘It’s going in the bin. It’s filthy. I should burn it. I think I will – to be on the safe side.’ ‘No, no darling. The bin will do. You’re right. I’m being silly.’ That was the last we saw of the baby or mouse or whatever it was. We put down more traps of course, but they remained empty. We heard no scratching, found no droppings. A month later, I was in the spare room. Maxine was out at work. I wanted to measure her favourite cardigan. It was coming up to her birthday and I’d seen a pretty one in Hobbs. I’m wary of shop sizes, they’re so arbitrary: it’s best to measure. In her wardrobe, hidden beneath jumpers and cardies,
I found a small enamel box. I opened it and there was the creature we had thrown in the bin. It was still dead but no longer smelled. It had been stuffed or embalmed, and a kind of varnish covered its body. It was rigid and wearing a tissue nappy. I put the box back with great care and said nothing to Maxine. I couldn’t stop thinking about the box and what was inside. When I looked at it again, perhaps a week or two later, the baby was wearing a sky-blue romper suit. Curls of sandy hair had been painted around its head. Again I kept quiet. Every Tuesday evening Maxine went up to the spare room to phone her sister. I knew that she was tending to the baby – making it new clothes, painting its hair, reading it stories. I began to love opening the box in secret to see how our baby was developing. We never did get round to doing-up the spare room, but it doesn’t matter now. We’re moving out. This place is too small. We’re looking for a bigger house. We’re building a nest.
Sappho Translated from the Ancient Greek by Kate Wise
you burn me The nightingale sings; its words speak of spring – its voice of aching desire. As the mountain wind thrashes the oak trees senseless, love knocked me sideways. Even stars seem pale against the beautiful moon; she steals the limelight. Sweetest apple, so red, so very high – and left? No – unreachable. This wild hyacinth under rough purpled feet is trampled to the ground. The moon and stars sleep; night is dead and time passes. I still lie alone.
Fr. 136: Ἦρος ἄγγελος ἰμερόφωνος ἀήδων
Fr. 47: Ἕροσ δαὖτ᾽ ὲτίναξεν ἔμοι φρένασ, ἄνεμοσ κατ ὄροσ δρύσιν ἐμπέσων
Fr. 34: Αστερεσ μέν ἀμφι κάλαν σελάνναν ἆιψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδοσ, ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπησ ἀργυρια γᾶν
Fr. 105a: Οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρῳ ἐπ᾽ ὔσδῳ ἄκρον ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτῳ λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπνεσ, οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐδύναντ᾽ ἐπίκεσθαι
Fr. 105b: Οἴαν τὰν ὐάκινθον ἐν οὔρεσι ποίμενεσ ἄνδρεσ. πόσσι καταστείβοισι, χαμαι δ᾽ ἐπιπορφύρει ἄνθοσ
Fr. 168: Δέδυκε μεν ἀ σελάννα καὶ Πληΐαδεσ, μέσαι δὲ νύκτεσ πάρα δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα, ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω
r.s.v.p. Picture it: your holy temple here set in the enchanting apple groves – altars shimmering; oil-miraged below the branches the only sound the cool, clear, waters everything cast in rose-shadow a hypnotic trance dropping from light-dappling leaves and from the springflowered paddocks honeyscented breezes rise... Here enter, from Crete, you? There will be wine.
δευρυμ μεκρητας π[
ἄγνον ὄππ[αι ] χάριεν μὲν ἄλσος μαλί[αν], βῶμοι δεμιθυμιάμεωοι [λι]βώντωι ἐν δ’ ὔδωρ ψῦχρον κελάδει δι’ ὔσδων μαλίνων, βρόδοισι δὲ παῖς ὀ χῶρος ἐσκίαστ’, αἰυθσσομένων δὲ φύλλων κῶμα καταγριον ἐν δὲ λείμων ἰππόβοτος τέθαλε τωτ . . .ιριννοις ἄνθεσιν, αἰ δ’ ἄηται μέλλιχα πνέοισιν [ [
ἔνθα δὴ σ]τέμ[ματ’] ἔλοισα Κύπρι χρυσίαισιν ἐν κυλίκεσσι ἄβρως ὀμ[με]μείχμενον θαλίαισι νέκταρ οἰνοχόαισον
Laura Boswell our day begins when yours ends She knew her father was dead as soon as she stepped off the school bus. It was unusually sunny for a Memphis February day, and Sarah recognized the unmarked, dark-windowed cars of law enforcement in her driveway. Four men in suits squinted her way, with her mother Betsy at the forefront. As Sarah approached, the officers—her father’s homicide department friends—seemed to shrink faintly. They were toughened to strangers’ deaths; privately some wore ballcaps reading Homicide: Our Day Begins When Yours Ends. But now they were silent and wary of the skinny girl shouldering a Madonna backpack stuffed with gym clothes and glitter notebooks. Betsy rushed forward and took Sarah by the shoulders with alarming tightness, readying for her to collapse in writhing grief. Half-crying, halfsmiling in a sincere but eerie effort to cushion the blow, Betsy exhaled, then relayed the news very simply. “Sarah, your father is dead.” In a rare slip into her country upbringing, she pronounced the word as two syllables. Day-uhd. “Dead?” Sarah repeated in a high, small voice that did not sound like hers. Her mind itched, cheeks and ears hummed hot as the last millisecond of the life she had known for 12 years flickered, then sputtered out for good. Her surroundings blurred, but odd details floated distinct, three-dimensional in the air—her mother’s smudged mascara, the glint of a badge, a blue jay perched in the dogwood. And then suddenly, like a wave crashing over trampled sand, the water receded, and all was smooth and placid again. “Oh. OK.” By nightfall, the detectives had pieced together what had happened. Sergeant James David Reston, a desperate alcoholic on one last, bottomless binge, had disappeared two nights before, sniffing out the Ford pickup’s spare keys and swerving off into the winter darkness in search of booze. Without any money (always confiscated by Betsy), he’d purchased a Sears color rca on their credit account. He pawned the tv and used the money for the whiskey that would ultimately leave him cold and rigid on the
backseat floor, lying amid flecks of mud and old pennies and dog hair, in a neighborhood where white people didn’t go. Sarah gleaned this from conversations she overheard, despite the dented percolator burping in the kitchen and the doorbell dinging with arrivals of sugary carnations and musky lilies. Worse, though, she heard the whispers. It just hasn’t hit her yet. She’s in shock. She sat on the couch, knees tucked under her chin, making herself small as possible as the adults formed ominous huddles. People who had previously praised her as “mature” now spoke as if she weren’t there. Her own mother questioned her stoicism on the phone to Aunt Mary. Sarah stole outside, jogged down the hill she and James used to sled, and released their frantic black Labrador, Cinder, from the kennel. Sarah sent her off to run the field behind the house, a bounding black flash through the stiff gray winter reeds. She felt eyes in the windows, but stayed out until cold sundown forced her home. Her sister Jennifer had arrived from Memphis State and was reacting much more as a bereaved daughter should, slumped at the foot of her parents’ bed, gripping handfuls of green chintz and bawling against her boyfriend Greg, his red polo shirt soaked maroon with tears and sticky, shining lines of snot. Sarah and Jennifer had always been close—as much as sisters eight years apart could be. Facing their father’s addiction united them. But when Jennifer escaped on a college dance team scholarship, Sarah felt as consequential to her as a stump. She couldn’t remember the last time they had spoken. Now Jennifer looked up at Sarah and sobbed even harder, burying her face in Greg’s chest. Sarah wanted to flee, but was afraid to move, her skin flaming. Only kids were supposed to cry, not adults, and she wasn’t, and she needed Jennifer to stop. Sarah knew she should be more… sad? Angry? Her whole, small life she’d been a parent, a nurse, a maid, a confidant to someone four times her age. Now finally expected to be a child, she froze. And, worse, in the subtle spotlights of needy adult eyes. Dennis Chauncey arrived. Normally Sarah was besotted with Chauncey, with his bushy mustache and never-ending supply of gum. He was James’ partner and best friend. Chauncey immediately seized Sarah up into a lungcrushing hug. But she was stiff, hollow, a dime-store doll. He set her down, and they
stood side by side against the wall nodding, like two farmers outside a feed store. “Yep.” “Yep.” In 1985 homicide departments no one talked about the anxiety, the horrors humans could wreak on one another. There were no amiable, confidential counselors, or paid “sick” time off to find oneself. Instead, they got drunk, then got on with it. But James just got worse. As Sarah reached sixth grade, his binges were outlasting his lucid periods, and intensifying—smashed fenders, ripped clothing, bruised knuckles and scratches he couldn’t remember. In the spring, Sarah had an accident while riding her bike home from school during a barometer-busting storm. Her mother was showing a house, and her father was home, passed out and absent from work, again. The rain dashed down nearly sideways, cold, fat bullets from a charcoal sky that sagged so low Sarah could almost touch it. The sickly green tinge of a tornado licked along the horizon. But she only had six blocks to home. Behind her, a single pair of headlights flickered in the muck, two blurry white circles that, in the deceptive static of raindrops, seemed a safe distance away. Sarah needed to go left; she jammed down on the pedal and swerved across the gushing asphalt. There was a shriek of tires, a thud, and the dizzy, weightless sensation of being airborne. She woke in a gutter, emts checking her vitals. No one’s home, she lied to the police. She’d been temporarily blinded by a concussion. Clumps of wet hair, ripped from her scalp, slithered down through her bloody fingers. But only one thought was clear in her clogged mind: Don’t let them find Daddy. When she and her mother returned home from the hospital that night, Betsy immediately demanded a divorce from James, who lay spread-eagled on the bed in his underwear, a pool of maroon vomit congealing on the pillow. Sarah’s friend Camilla’s parents were divorced. Every summer she bid goodbye to the neighborhood kids and her cat Snowy to go live at her dad’s apartment across town, eating canned spaghetti and adjusting his fuzzy, non-cable tv. The kids there all picked on her. There wasn’t even a pool. Sarah was terrified of divorce. But Betsy was adamant. The police department had also had enough. Captain Lewis came over personally to relieve James of his badge and gun in the dining room. Sarah’s father stooped there quietly in a Red Man Chewing Tobacco
t-shirt, swaying on bare, bony toes. He’d lost 30 pounds; booze was his only food. His once-steely frame was now hunched, the biceps Sarah once did pull-ups from so frail she pitied him. He was ragged, a scarecrow, the wooden supports of his family rotted. And now the last rusty nail, his job, finally gave way. As with every “rock bottom” event, James was shocked into sudden sobriety. But facing both his job loss and, worse, his shame over Sarah’s accident, he slowly, quietly began stitching together dry days into weeks, weeks into months, and became energetic if not altogether happy. The women cautiously hoped his efforts had found a lasting, if delicate, purchase. It did happen, after all, as Sarah was reminded by the wadded pamphlets James would bring home from aa meetings. Those who “followed the 12 Steps” and gave problems to their “Higher Power” could succeed at a sober life! He wasn’t just enduring life anymore, he was enjoying it. He began eating again and lifting weights with a new dumbbell set, Sarah counting out each rep. With an attorney colleague, he opened a private investigation firm and hired Sarah as his secretary, typing letters and stamping envelopes. Her friends were babysitting; she was doing real police work! But James’ partner had an addiction of his own, gambling away money he embezzled from the firm. Frustrated with following philandering husbands and insurance cheats instead of solving murders, James took up drinking again, this time with a dark desperation they had never seen before. By February James was a ghost in the house, the ugly ottoman you keep around because you can’t quite part with it, even though it doesn’t match anything anymore. They pushed him into the corner and went on with their lives, knowing the inevitable was coming. It was just a question of when. Sarah was relieved, even energized, to finally feel some emotion at the visitation the previous night when, in Walgreen’s pantyhose and plastic pearls, she was to see her father’s body for the first time. The enormity, the finality of what was coming suddenly drilled her heels into the carpet. It was fear, not sadness, but it was something. This was it. And as her mother swooned and Jennifer sobbed, Sarah knew someone had to be the calm one. So, when Chauncey nudged her forward, she stepped. The honey-brown casket glistened in an alcove under pale peach and blue lights. It was as long as a canoe, and Sarah found herself surprised and relieved they came in “tall” size. And then there he was. The orange tip of her father’s ample nose just
visible above the white, satiny folds. She paused, then took a step. Then another. His features crested like a slow wave, one by one as she drew closer, the angle of her vision planing down, down. The nose. One cheek. A chin, some hair. Then at last, she was viewing his full upper body all at once. Sarah approached with an alert, tensed distance, as if retrieving a baseball lost beneath a wasp nest. But he was stone still. He looked like her Daddy and not-Daddy at the same time. There were the long eyelashes, the wedding ring, the scar on his chin from one of his wrecks. But his face was rouged. And his hair was parted on the wrong side, a situation that supremely irked Sarah—why hadn’t she been consulted? Suddenly she watched her hand reaching to adjust his hair to what he had liked. But her fingers tangled in his spray-stiffened bangs, which lifted as one unit to reveal a thin silver wire looping through his scalp along the hairline. SOMEONE HAD CUT HER FATHER’S HEAD OPEN! Sarah’s hand snapped back as if jolted by a light socket. Jennifer appeared, pulled her back by her collar. “Don’t do that!” she hissed. Yeah, no shit! Sarah looked to Chauncey for help. He winked and ushered her away, speaking with hand squeezes. You OK? Yes, I’m OK. Sarah’s mother was not the sentimental type. She loved James, despite it all, but she was not one to keep a toothbrush or t-shirts around for the sake of memories. She was ready to turn a new page and needed space to do it. So, a week after the funeral, out it all went. The suits to Goodwill. The guns and hunting gear to James’ friends. The bass boat to someone from a newspaper ad, Sarah supposed—her mother didn’t ask her, Sarah just came home from school one day and it was gone. Sarah’s teachers overlooked any missed homework, and her class presented her with a greeting card and a pot of fat purple African violets. She kept them for years on the kitchen windowsill until they died when she was away at college and Betsy threw them out, too. One night her mother wanted to talk to her about the dog. She made Sarah turn off the tv, and they sat on the couch to discuss the situation. She took a deep breath. “Labs need attention and room to run. You know how Cinder loves to run, right?” “Yes.” “And with all your track practice after school and my sales schedule, it’s not fair to keep her cooped up in the kennel for 12 hours or more every day.” “OK.” Sarah untied and retied her shoe so she wouldn’t have to make
eye contact. Their house was large by middle-class standards, yet she felt cramped whenever her mother was nearby. Which seemed like constantly of late. “Could it be a good choice to find the dog someone who could better care of her, who has more time for her?” “Yes, that makes sense.” Sarah forgot about their conversation almost immediately. Cinder was a loving but useless Lab lump, and who would want that? Tennessee men prided themselves on their hunting dogs. But two Sundays later, a man in a camouflage baseball cap pulled up in a white pickup truck. He was a duck hunter with trained dogs of his own, but they were large, rambunctious males. He wanted a smaller female Lab for his own little girl to care for. Why, she’s just about your age! He painted a pretty picture, so Sarah didn’t feel any misgivings as she helped pack Cinder’s food and toys. She was being mature (see?). This was the best thing for Cinder. Sarah gave Cinder one last hug, and they loaded her into the truck bed. The man shook Betsy’s hand, and then knelt down to shake Sarah’s too. Sarah liked him; he had kind eyes. She knew Cinder would be loved. She watched the truck drive away, Cinder in the back, watching them confusedly, her pink tongue flapping almost comically in the wind. Then Sarah went inside, collapsed on the living room floor and cried like she had never cried before. Gasping, retching sobs, rivers of hot tears. She didn’t even care that her mother saw her. She screamed, burying her face in a throw pillow and rolling from side to side, an anguished animal. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t stand, and her stomach cramped from her heaving. And still the tears kept coming. Watching Cinder pull away flipped some dormant switch that nothing else could. Their house was casting off its inhabitants, first Jennifer, then her father, now Cinder. Sarah was left only with her mother, and she hated her. She hated that little girl. That little girl had a Daddy. And she had Sarah’s dog. Sarah had only had 12 years with a father and now faced decades more without one. Her new and unknown future, without him, without so many things, now had flung itself open like a trenchcoat flasher—wrong, sick, unfair, and terrifying. And she was tired of feeling guilty. She hadn’t really had a father for a long time. For months, she’d hunched on her backpack and dashed wordlessly past him to the bus stop as he trembled on the sofa, whiskey bottle in hand at 7 in the morning.
Sarah felt horrible for that. Cruel. She wished she could have at least said goodbye. But he didn’t either. Betsy occasionally brought her water, and eventually ice cream for Sarah’s swollen throat, dinner be damned. Her only words were to tell Sarah she would not have to go to school tomorrow, and she was grateful for that, but mostly for the space her mother was giving her. After a full day and evening curled on the floor, alternately bawling salty, stinging tears, and staring out at Cinder’s empty kennel, it was time for bed. Sarah pulled herself upright, placed the wet pillow back on the couch, and went upstairs to wash her face.
Barbara Renel maypole dancing She opens the door to the library and walks barefoot, following the arrows marking the way; turn right, turn left, straight ahead. Row after row of memories, stacked, classified, catalogued, labelled – shelved. Her fingers, playing moments like a harp, release the fragrance of sweet peas, damask roses. She has brought ribbons with her. She stops, touches an image; a church without an altar, the coldness of stone on her feet, silk on skin: the lord is my shepherd, she sings. She fastens a blue ribbon around the memory and attaches it to a block of flats, twentythree pairs of chromosomes, lessons to be learnt. She walks her heartbeat along the aisles. An orange ribbon for the smell of autumn tied to tomatoes in a greenhouse, eating them with cheese. Purple for strong arms around her: I’d like to take you to a desert island, he says. Her pace quickens, the stone floor cracks. A yellow ribbon for a wheel, dirty white rubber, worn and frayed, a wet pavement busy with shoes: you’re going to run him over! she cries. Now she is running; row after row. Another wheel, no four, a pram: you’re too young, her mother says. Her feet pound up and down the aisles crushing the stone as she weaves, red, blue, over, under: I’m always chasing rainbows, she sings. Yellow, green, under, over. She binds seagulls, sticky hair, salty wind, stinging eyes with a red ribbon: look, she’s turning the taps on again, her father says. Running is difficult, feet sinking in mud. Blue for a stranger in her bed: think of the children, they all say. She turns right, turns left, finds the sickly smell of her dying grandfather’s dressing gown, a green ribbon. She crouches, reaches. A fairground, bright lights, a caravan: alright? he asks – misunderstood words. Up and down the aisles, over, under, outside, inside, forwards. Stop. The totem pole, the war dance: I’m going to keep you like this, he whispers. She is falling. A child’s voice calls out through space-time. She jumps, catches the sound, secures it to herself and lands safely on the ground.
“In North Korea something only becomes realistic through the prism of ideology.”
Structo talks to Jang Jin-sung The man who now goes by the name Jang Jin-sung defected from North Korea in 2004. He worked in the United Front Department of the ruling Workers’ Party, a group responsible for inter-Korean intelligence, policy making and diplomacy, specifically in Section 5 (Literature), Division 19 (Poetry) of Office 101, creating works of literary propaganda for distribution in South Korea. Jang was forced to flee for his life when a friend lost a forbidden book from Jang’s department on the Pyongyang Metro. He now lives and works in Seoul, where he edits New Focus International, a magazine reporting on North Korea. His 2014 memoir Dear Leader is an astonishing account of his life in North Korea and his subsequent and dramatic escape to South Korea. We talked at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Thank you to Prof. Remco Breuker at Leiden University’s School of Asian Studies for arranging the interview, to Aihua Li for translating and to Shirley Lee for providing notes on the text. —Euan Monaghan
jang: What kind of topics do you want to talk about today? structo: I’d love to talk about your poetry. And I’m very interested to know how your poetry has changed since you left North Korea. Obviously the subject matter has changed dramatically, but I’m interested in how you feel about poetry now. jang: The first poetry collection I published after I escaped to South Korea was I Sell My Daughter for 100 Won. In this collection I depicted the situations
I saw around me during the terrible starvation period. This topic occupied my feelings completely and I could not really think about other things. During the ’90s, the whole period of North Korea’s starvation, I wanted to piece together all the facets of the starvation that I had witnessed. After publication it became a best-seller in South Korea. structo: What was your first exposure to poetry? jang: The first time I came in touch with poetry, and was truly touched by it, was when I read the British poet Byron. structo: Byron?! Byron was available in North Korea? jang: Not for the general population. In North Korea, these kinds of books are only for elites, the privileged class. They have a monopoly on culture and when it comes to subversive topics or books. They publish 100 editions and spread them among themselves. And one of them, the collection of Byron’s poems, we had at home to read. structo: Byron… quite a dramatic introduction to poetry. jang: Reading Byron had a huge impact on me. It was a publication through which I learned my own Korean language anew. In North Korea, the totalitarian dictatorship of emotion is really important. Normally in North Korea, even within the use of language, they have a class and a hierarchical linguistic system. A super-honorific system, in a linguistic way. The highest class of honorific words can only be used to address the leaders—Kim’s family. But through Byron’s book, I got to know that these kinds of honorifics or pragmatics can also be used to speak honourably about ordinary people. In North Korea, normally the supreme emotions or feelings you have yourself, like love, you should only reserve these to talk about the Leader. The main character of literature should therefore be the Leader. Or, if you want to make the main character an ordinary person, they should be depicted as being completely devoted to the Leader. But, in Byron’s work, I saw that these human emotions of love were ascribed to a pirate, a bad guy. This was a huge shock to me. structo: The Corsair?
jang: Yes. And these were topics about love. Normal people’s love. So I was surprised. structo: When did you write your first poem? jang: I published my first poem when I was 16—a poem praising Kim Il-sung. The poem was selected for publication and appeared in the Rodong Shinmun. structo: It was a competition? jang: Yes. I was chosen from among all the teenagers in North Korea. Only two people got selected to write poems of praise for Kim Jong-il and my poems appeared in the Rodong Shinmun. structo: The prize was to be published? jang: North Korea has a personality cult and the prize was that the Leader Kim Jong-il himself would give his appraisal to our writing. So it was the highest honour that one could ever get. structo: Do you remember the subject? jang: [Laughs] It was in 1992, it was Kim Jong-il’s 50th birthday. The other university student who got selected and I wrote 25 poems each, so together we wrote 50 poems. The title of the collection was The Sound of the Blessed Generation and it was filled with ‘devotive poems’, meaning poems to flatter, with contents about how loyal the students were to the Leader, etc. We wanted to show our loyalty to Kim Jong-il. structo: Can you talk about the way your poetry changed during your time in North Korea? jang: I think that in my case it changed more dramatically than gradually. Usually changes in one’s understanding happen gradually through the changing times and situations that happen both domestically and abroad. [However,] North Korea is a closed country, so only through the outside
The official newspaper of the Workers’ Party
can one’s consciousness change a little bit. Through domestic influences the society changed slowly, but for me it was different. In the ’90s there was the huge starvation in North Korea and that changed my identity and mind-set as well. After graduation, I worked in the Unification Front Work Department of the party and then I got in touch with a lot of South Korean books. This changed me a lot. structo: Did you change your writing style as well as your thinking? jang: Yes, it changed a lot. In North Korea literature is propaganda. Literature is political there. Now I realise that the truth is literature. structo: Is all literature propaganda in North Korea? jang: Not only literature, but art, movies and music as well. No artists are free to be creative. It’s all under the party organisation’s control. The creation does not come from your own feeling or your own will, but is prescribed from the top-down, from the Leader or from high-up people who order you to compose something on a topic. They also have a censorship apparatus so, after you compose or finish [a piece], it has to pass through that place. structo: Historically literature has been very powerful. Would you know if any writing is being done surreptitiously? Is there any illegal poetry being written and ciculated? jang: There isn’t. Even on gravestones you cannot write what you want, only a name and date of birth; because when over three people are able to read it, it is considered propaganda and it will therefore be subject to censorship. The North Korean regime is not sustained because of the physical dictatorship, but rather the emotional dictatorship. No private or individual literature can be written. structo: When you left, first to China and then to South Korea, how did you begin to express yourself through writing?
The word ‘left’ is a spectacular understatement. The story of Jang’s escape, pursued by the North Korean State Security Department, is recounted in Dear Leader. He is still threatened with assassination and has 24/7 police protection
jang: After I escaped North Korea and registered in South Korea, I worked as a researcher in the Institute for National Security Strategy. I didn’t think about becoming a writer and living off my writings. Maybe I should explain this point some more: I said earlier that through my poetry I showed loyalty to the North Korean regime, but I have also betrayed them through my poetry. At first I did not want to relive the feeling of having written propaganda poems. That’s why, for some time, I did not do anything with literature. Then one day I just happened to have jotted down several poems again, and I gave it to a publisher without any thought. They published it and it became a best-seller. structo: How does it feel writing poetry in South Korea compared to the North? jang: In North Korea, poetry does not come from one’s own feeling or one’s own excitement. It is all forced feeling, and writing what one should write. Of course in South Korea I can write about my own small excitements and the things that move me; it becomes my own personal poem. That is the biggest difference. structo: Did you feel the need to continue writing poetry? jang: Yes, I want to go on writing. structo: It wasn’t spoiled by being forced to write certain subjects? jang: I’m not focussed on readers; it’s more that I want to write. What I write is what I want to write. Especially for South Korean readers, I just let them judge or figure out my work. A North Korean poet and a South Korean one are totally different. structo: How are they different? jang: South Korean poets are a little bit more abstract and hard to understand, and a little bit over-subjective. I think this is influenced by the Japanese colonial period, because during the Japanese imperial period, people could not really write directly or honestly what they thought, out of fear for being arrested. That’s why, from then on, they write indirectly and hide a little bit what they want to say. Even now it’s still
a habit for writers. Meanwhile North Korean literature is more a tool. They use literary works directly for propaganda. Too directly! [Laughs] I experienced the North and now I am experiencing the South. For me the unification of North and South Korea has already happened. From this viewpoint I am writing my poems. structo: Would you say your writing is now Korean? Not North Korean, not South Korean, just Korean? jang: [Laughs] In South Korea, you cannot write in a North Korean way. structo: Why not? jang: [More laughter] North Korean literature deliberately, directly, brainwashed the people. It’s totally different to South Korea. But we cannot say all North Korean literature is bad, because they get influence from Russian literature, [literature] from the former Soviet Union. In Russia they had Realist-Socialism, but in North Korea they say, oppositely, SocialistRealism. So in North Korea something only becomes realistic through the prism of ideology. In South Korea, the poet should try to be completely different from the masses. The literature is not for the whole of humanity, it’s more for the individual poet himself. In North Korea they are more focussed on addressing the masses, the residents of North Korea. Their writing techniques have been very well developed in this regard. I think with the North Korean popular approach and the South Korean character, if you would put these two together, it would create nice works: a more artistic character and a little more popular for among the readers. structo: So, Byron and some Russian authors. What else was available? jang: Much Russian literature. Tolstoy, Pushkin, Mayakovsky and so on, but none of them left as deep an impression on me as Byron did. That was the first masterpiece for me. structo: Why do you think Byron made it into North Korea? jang: The elites like something special that only they are allowed to possess, to feel privileged, so in North Korea they publish only 100 copies of each
edition—like this one—of world-famous masterpieces. Each has a number, and they only give it to members of the elite class as a present. Of course Kim has it, and our family had one of them too. structo: Is that because you were a writer? jang: Normal poets cannot have these books. The privileged and elite want to have their own culture, and they only give it to the elite groups as a prized possession. Not because I was a writer. Other writers do not have this. structo: Who chooses the list of 100 books? jang: Kim Jong-il gave it to the elite group as a present. I think his father was given some [packing] cases and [Kim Jong-il] just found them at home. It’s a present culture. structo: There’s tight control over the available writing. jang: North Korea is an ideological country. In a totalitarian society, the residents’ ideas and feelings, even their facial expressions or their laughter and tears, should all be controlled. The normal idea is that one expresses oneself through one’s facial expressions but, in North Korea, the way you feel and speak and think is controlled by the regime. structo: In the future of North Korea do you think writing and writers and poets will have an influence on the way things will change? jang: I don’t think the North Korean poets or literary works can influence or change the society [as long as they remain under the current regime] because they are dominated by the political literature and the revolutionary culture. structo: It’s a very different world. What do you hope to achieve with your poetry now? Is it purely for expression, or do you hope to change things? jang: I don’t deliberately want to change things by writing, but I am sure that when people read and get to know the truth about North Korea, I am sure they will change their mind. I just want to tell the truth.
Ángeles García-Madrid Translated from the Spanish by Holly Pike
a sea of the dead 4th gallery on the right. Madrid Prison At night, this gallery was filled with the bodies that didn’t fit in the cells A sea of the dead. That’s what this is. A sea of the dead. They feign breath, but they deceive. Here nobody inhales. Nobody exhales. Look closely at them: they form a beach, Without oceans, nor waves, nor ebbing and flowing. They are but packages that once had a soul. One shouts, saying “I’m alive!” But you can see it’s a lie. There are only the dead. Look around you. Tell me, what do you see? Twenty-eight or thirty cell doors resting in a well-nourished birth. They are the mothers of thousands, and they barely guard some at their breast. And the rest lie scattered on the flagstones of the gallery. Take care! Don’t step on them. They’re already quite crushed, those that have been overwhelmed: and, don’t you know, even bundles grow weary of being stepped on.
Where are you going, young lady? Oh, you require the facilities at the end of the cemetery. Ok, but take care. Don’t brush the heads that fell trying to think. Put your foot there…, that’s it, between two heads. And with your other foot, move that arm, That one, covering the patch of tile. That’s it… that’s it… slowly…, very slowly. Don’t let your footsteps awaken the dead. Don’t break this hour that is theirs.
to thirteen fallen flowers In memory of the thirteen young women shot early one morning on 5th August 1939 Thirteen flowers from thirteen green lemon trees growing on the slopes of the valley that dries the wheat. Thirteen nymphs from thirteen flowing springs that meet who cede their song for the goldfinch’s sweet cheeps. Thirteen dreams, fragrant from the rosemary trees that thrive on the hill’s slopes so rocky and steep. Thirteen voices sing to smooth the jagged peak giving passageway to the murmuring streams. Thirteen stars breaking at the iron chains that bind them, prevented from reaching their hopes; and they battle to fell the horror that reigns. Thirteen yearning desires with one aim alone. Thirteen vanquished arpeggios… thirteen pains! Thirteen flowers left scattered and lost below.
translator’s note These two poems, originally published within the collection Al Quiebro de mis Espinas: Poemas Desde la Cárcel [At Breaking Point: Poems from Prison] (1977), explore the daily horror of incarceration in the women’s prison of Ventas during the early years of Spain’s Francoist dictatorship (1939–1975). During this time political imprisonment soared, with inmates numbering 300,000 to 1,000,000, resulting in severe overcrowding and brutal conditions. The reference to ‘thirteen flowers’ in the second poem refers to the case of the ‘Thirteen Roses’, a group of thirteen women aged between 18 and 29 who were detained for inciting political rebellion after the end of the Spanish Civil War. They were sentenced to death and executed by firing squad in the La Almudena cemetery in Madrid on 5th August 1939. Their case stands out as epitomising the horrors of Francoist oppression during this period, most especially because seven of the women were legally deemed minors.
Jude Cook limehouse blues It’s important to remember things right, and maybe this is a skill we acquire over the years. Recalling things wrongly, incorrectly, is strictly for amateurs. I only knew Ade for a couple of years – the most intense of my twenties as it turned out – but some people stay with you for a lifetime. He was my loyal Personal Assistant and, over time, my close friend. Though I wouldn’t say I knew him well. Or maybe I did. Adrian, like many approachable, dry-witted, capable, knowable people, had myriad layers. He was ultimately unknowable. But then, by the same token, he seemed to be an open book. He also had easy access to my mind, my heart, my mechanism. For a while, we were as inseparable as twins. I was first introduced to Ade on the road: Minnesota, the Midwest. Dusty prairies and Hopperesque gas stations next to cinder-block motels. As a young tenor with the lso, I wasn’t staying in anywhere so low-rent – the band, as classical musicians so comically call their orchestra – was booked into the Sheraton Hilton most of the time. The tour was Verdi’s Aida, and a sell-out success: I was singing Radames, and my ‘Celeste Aida’ would bring the house down every night. I was twenty-four, a rising star, as they say, and in need of someone to manage my day-to-day itinerary. And there was Ade one night, in the lobby of the St Paul Crowne Plaza, standing next to Ingrid, my agent, who had flown in with him from London that very day. He was diffident, almost shy; of slight build; features strongly reminiscent of a Bruegel peasant; and with a baseball cap permanently fixed to his forehead. I liked him immediately. It was his tinder-dry wit that really put me at ease, made me think he was an interesting person, someone I could spend time with. He was steady, wise, easy-rolling; but faceted, like crystal cut-glass. As the lobby filled with tourists, many of whom had seen the performance of Aida that night, he twisted the brim of his cap and grinned, ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’ Or was it, ‘Welcome to the cheap seats?’ As I said, it’s important to remember things correctly, and the distortions of time don’t help when recalling someone you’ve since lost contact with. Touring, as the cliché goes, is a blur: it’s the people that surround you who stay in the mind, not the endless ribbon of road, the faceless lobbies. Adrian was easy company
during those fervid American weeks – corralling journalists to-and-from boxy hotel suites, with their allotted twenty minutes; scoring my favourite chalky claret from Walmart vintners (a miracle in the Midwest); and always there with the towel and a wry smile when I stumbled off stage, every vein electric from the adrenalin of performance. On the soaring flights too, that took us from city to city, coast to coast, he was invaluable. Never having been able to read on planes, I was grateful for his presence. We would sit together and talk, as the eastern or western seaboards tilted in the porthole under skies of cornflower blue: intellectual discussion, mainly (I think Ade’s degree was Philosophy, or it may have been Politics). Five hundred air miles would be eaten up with ease by lively, often ironical debate about the Medicis, Aristotle’s sexuality, Hegelian dialectics. Also trash culture: the latest comedians, reality tv, gross popstars. All of it deconstructed with a knowing glee. The keynote of Ade’s personality was discretion. And a certain peasant grace, a paradoxical nobility. In this, he recalled those Shakespearean courtiers – the benign ones – Enobarbus, Kent, Horatio. There was always a slight embarrassment on my part over his ‘servile’ role – I thought of us as equals, and would squirm when he offered to fetch my dry-cleaning. I didn’t have the ego, the vicious disregard for the human, that makes a big star. At least I thought I didn’t, back then. Ade’s basic trait was reliability. You could trust him with anything, from a dhl package to the deepest confidences of the heart. He was safe. Back in London, I began visiting Ade at his Battersea flat, when not recording at the city’s prestigious studios: Air, Abbey Road, The Townhouse. There he would greet me warmly, baseball cap on at whatever time of day (did he sleep in it?); the smell of superior coffee always pungent in the air. His place was high up, overlooking the park, receiving a windfall of light when the balcony doors were open, which was often, that first summer. We would stand, the venerable wooden flooring creaking under our shoes, espressos in hand, talking endlessly about our lives, art, literature, music. Though knowledgeable about classical music and the opera world, Adrian’s place always boomed and groaned with crackly blues recordings – usually of the darker stripe: Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Blind Willie McTell. I loved those voices. At the time I was undergoing what my vocal coach told me was a common phase: the hatred of my own singing. Everyone went through it, apparently, from Jagger to Pavarotti – a complete failure to understand what made one’s own talent special, why it stood out, why people paid money for it. Also a revulsion at its physical properties – I would hear the sound of nails down a blackboard whenever a high-C was
scaled. The phase always passed (as it did with me), but while trapped in that negative space it’s terrifying: like stage-fright, or paralysis. Thus with Ade I would marvel at Billie Holliday’s smoky tones, her effortless handling of the syntax, her sex-voice. So hard to achieve, but so desirable. ‘So I’m surplus to requirements?’ This was Ade when Ingrid, in her cramped office covered in theatre posters, told him the next tour would be cutting back on ‘luxuries’. ‘It’s more that our budget can’t sustain personal assistants anymore,’ she insisted. ‘For anyone…’ ‘But Adrian is crew!’ I bellowed. ‘He’s a diamond. Indispensable.’ I had fought hard for his inclusion over the past twenty minutes. I knew he needed the money (we had talked often about his dire financial circumstances). ‘I’m sorry, Adrian,’ Ingrid said, her tone sounding final. ‘He’s coming.’ ‘Look,’ and Adrian held up his hands, embarrassed now. ‘I can sit this one out. South London offers much in the way of amusement.’ ‘If Ade’s out – I’m out. Find another tenor.’ I remember the strained silence in the room; the traffic noise from Wardour Street five floors down. Ingrid had been astonished at my loyalty. But by that time, I couldn’t consider a tour without Adrian, especially The Marriage of Figaro, with its cartoon lunacy; its virtuoso stringencies demanded of the lead. More than that, I wanted Ade to keep his retainer. I knew he was barely holding onto his Battersea flat, and didn’t have any money ‘behind him’, as the phrase goes. I can’t remember if I ever went deep about his family or past (a characteristic failure on my part), or if I did, he was slightly evasive. I remember a sister; an upbringing in a European country, which would explain his excellent German, Hungarian, French. A falling out with his father, who may or may not have been dead by the time we met. Yet by and large Ade was a man of mystery, a man apart – without clan or creed or many friends. He certainly had no romantic ties. I occasionally wondered whether Ade was gay, or whether his long absences during or before performances (never after, when much needed to be dealt with) could be explained by his search for rough-trade in some Midwest auto-spares junkyard, but then I would be certain he was straight. It’s just an intuition two men have when long in each other’s company. At least I didn’t think he was gay. When we weren’t discussing Bach, Cervantes, Canaletto, we spent most of our time talking about women. He had some wonderful phrases for summing them up. A
female promoter with no chest and a hard manner became ‘The Surfboard’. Ingrid, the ‘Blank Widow’ – the latter a cruel epithet, as Ingrid had lost her husband a decade before. But then, the funniest jokes always have an edge of cruelty to them; the pitilessness of the world. The first date of Figaro was Paris. It was an evening I will never forget. And not because of the performance. On the way to the venue, the Théâtre du Châtelet, Ade and I were caught in a rainstorm near the Pont Neuf and had to shelter in a doorway. It was spring: late-March, earlyApril – that trembling fulcrum. I remember the moment with startling, almost dreamlike clarity. We had risked the oysters at a café Adrian knew well, and had downed a carafe of vin de table between us. And there, in the portal of a boulangerie, our shoes soused, with Parisians running for cover, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of infinite well-being, of existing at the very epicentre of experience. We both felt it; the rain hurling down in great grey sheets; nostrils alive with the potent fragrance of new life, new experience, adventure. To be twenty-five, in Paris, in spring, at the beginning of an auspicious career! Nothing greater on earth. And the wonderful thing was, neither of us needed to comment on the transcendent moment. We both just knew; intuitively understood. When the shower died down, we moved off wordlessly, tingling with warmth; the sky a sheen of Whistler evening turquoise, Da Ponte’s soggy libretto still in my pocket. Nothing that came after could match it, and we discussed the experience many times as the sleek bus rumbled through the Low Countries, and so onto the Scandinavian leg. Its sheer unrepeatability; its marvellous poise and excitement; as if we had both partaken of an elixir. Those minutes in the rainy doorway seemed, then, to bond us for life. It was only when we returned for the less-than-triumphant run at Covent Garden that things became complicated between me and Ade. I had noticed – as had a few others – that Adrian’s absences before performances had become longer and more frequent. The London run of Figaro had been plagued with illnesses, disasters, requiring many understudies and substitutions. One night, the huge revolving stage-set got stuck, leaving the mezzo-soprano Cherubino singing to the back wall. The reviews had been ‘mixed’, to say the least. We needed Ade more than ever. So where was he disappearing to every night? One evening, after a tense day of rehearsals with a stand-in Count, I decided to follow him. Adrian drove a dilapidated Bedford van at the time, an easy vehicle to spot, so when I silently observed him pull out from his eno parking space on Long Acre, I hailed a black cab and told the driver to ‘follow that wreck’. I felt disloyal, somehow, tailing
him in this fashion, but I just had to discover where he got to every evening. I hoped it wasn’t far, as the curtain was due to rise in a couple of hours. As it turned out, it was far: to the wilds of East London, and I almost missed the show. To my astonishment, Ade’s Bedford van headed south along the Embankment, into the City, and then travelled the whole of Whitechapel Road, until it plunged down to Limehouse. The October day was darkening, a big yellow moon hanging in the sky. After a tense, gridlocked twenty minutes, as the homebound rush-hour traffic funnelled onto the a13, I finally saw Ade pull his van up beneath a flyover. There he jumped out and disappeared quickly into a door set under a shady railway arch. ‘Wait here,’ I told my driver, the meter ticking profligately, and followed Adrian on foot. I approached the seedy door with much trepidation, expecting the entryphone to reveal it was some sort of private massage joint. Instead, there was nothing. Not even a buzzer. Ade must have knocked and been allowed quick admittance. Vacillating, looking over my shoulder at the big black entrance to the Rotherhithe Tunnel – a thunderous confluence of fast-moving carriageways pouring into it – I decided to leave my friend to whatever secret mission he had embarked upon. Then the door suddenly yanked wide and a Chinese man in a vest stood looking up at me. ‘Ya’ wan’ smack, hash, pill…? Good price?’ It was all I needed to hear. I shook my head in the negative and walked back to the waiting cab. The show was a disaster, with an under-rehearsed Count ruining every cue. Though my distraction didn’t help. All I could think of was that line from Dorian Gray: ‘To cure the soul by means of the senses.’ Is this what Adrian had been after, in the badlands of Limehouse? And what did Ade’s soul need curing of? I realised then I didn’t have a clue. He turned up as usual, after the fifth undeserved curtain call, smiling as ever. I looked for signs of inebriation, dissolution, opiate euphoria, but saw none. He, however, saw that something had altered in me. The sense that the game was up continued on the next occasion I spent the morning at his Battersea flat. The balcony doors were closed against the cold, and the lighter music he had selected (Django Reinhardt and Thelonius Monk were tiptoeing over the floorboards) struggled to reduce the weight of the elephant in the room. Even the coffee tasted different. I failed to confront Ade about the night I followed him, and left feeling guilty, as if my subterfuge were a betrayal. It never occurred to me that he might have needed help.
At the end of the London run of Figaro, something that seemed inevitable happened (though looking back on a life, everything seems inevitable. Why is this?). Adrian disappeared for good. He moved out of his flat and told no one – Ingrid, me, the Tour Manager – where he could be contacted. Not a phone number nor a clue. Exhausted by the purportedly ‘effortless comedy’ of the Mozart, I suppose I didn’t make much of an effort. I imagined he would just drift back into my orbit again, as people have a habit of doing. After all, we were bonded for life, or so I thought. But he never did. From the perspective of the present, I realise just how little I knew about Adrian or his life. I wasn’t even sure how old he was. He could have been anything from twentyeight to forty. He had that kind of face. Unknowable. And maybe I was too self-involved (at the age I was) to really notice Ade. Terrible to suddenly see yourself through others’ eyes – like glimpsing a road accident, sometimes. What did he really think of me? Had he hated my voice as much as I had at one point? Did he even like me? He can’t have done – not sufficiently, for him to vanish like that. Was he only playing the factotum for the dough? For smack money? Without ambition himself, maybe he just needed the steady bread. My visit to Limehouse certainly indicated as much. Which brings me on to Adrian’s final mystery: where he disappeared to. In these days of global digital communication, it’s very hard to fall off the face of the earth, but it seems that’s exactly what happened to Ade. To this day, I still Google-search him from time to time to see if anything has turned up, or instruct my chauffeur to pull the sleek Mercedes up below the balcony to his Battersea flat, the place where we spent so many wonderful sunlit mornings. So who lost contact with whom? It’s so easy to say we fell out of touch. But, you always find, there’s a passive agent in the process, an active one too. In my case, I have to say it was Ade who withdrew. Maybe he literally fell off the face of the earth. Why would he have wanted to? Was he secretly suicidal? Or perhaps the answer was more prosaic. Maybe I was paying him too little. Maybe I bugged him. Maybe I was paying too little attention – to everything. But it was definitely that night out east that precipitated his disappearance. Perhaps he saw me there, from a high window, getting into the humming cab, and realised I had found him out. It was that inimical doorway that did it – with the Chinese in his filthy vest soliciting me brazenly. Not the Paris doorway where we stood as the rain came down; with time arrested, that spring-alive moment that meant the world to us both, that reminded us – as we discussed afterwards – so strongly of Caillebotte’s Paris Street: Rainy Day from 1877. More than anything, I hope he’s still around. Ade, if you’re out there somewhere, remember Paris and get in touch.
Marianne Daniels pillow talk We talk in bed. A line I watch from flowers by the window, of hearts and lungs and break of stem. I wish to swear by this my body as we turn and grab, like someone tending her land at dawn with rags over her neck and her hands like hinds, stooping and soothing by the covered tubers, who doesn’t need a torment of words to hang conspicuous over a bed, but whistles and cackles and knows fatly where her man’s love lies.
rabbit There are no more fields, runs of terrible greens, your fragile stomach grazing here – a porcelain bowl that says munch. There are no more blood suns, midges over reeds by the downs, the escape of a dog’s mouth. No lost love at the farm, no dagger cat, no tooth gnawing at rope. No strange friendship with a bird who split his thigh on a bullet. No El-Ahrairah, no Frith, no wanderer with the black moon. There is no more running, no more life to run, Efrafan or thin. The child is here holding leaves, a simple thing with eyes like glass.
Mária Ferenčuhová Translated from the Slovak by Juana Adcock with bridge translations by James Sutherland-Smith
in tides They simply came out of the woods. As a herd, slowly, they made their way to the city, hooves clopping on asphalt. Traffic parted as cars pulled over to the side of the road. Roes and does headed for the suburbs kneeling in front of gates, on lawns. Folding down their bodies on pavements, on roadways, at crossroads. They bleat at us monotonously, but baulk when we reach to stroke their heads.
Every day new and novel species appear, get used to us. They approach us, look us in the eye, lead us out to sea. Without fear together we stop breathing.
Daniel Bennett summer in austerity It’s the elegance of dockyard machinery in the clean white air. It’s rapeseed glowing yellow beyond the train window. It’s the hum of air conditioning in the call centre, cool blossom on the walk in the park. It’s seaweed preserved in the shallows like mint in aspic, cowslip thriving in the gully, heat emanating from new brick. It’s the white trumpets of bindweed flaring in the back alley, and when you pick through it you find broken china from apothecary bottles and a bleached out cigarette card of Augustus John. It’s the gift of a vanilla ice cream on payday, the drive out to the rural weather station, thimblefuls of rainwater brimming greenly in plastic pots. It’s white wine drunk under the cover of the iron bridge, a sudden shower folding over it like the beating of grey wings. It’s a tan line blurring the edges of a bird tattoo, it’s being buzzed by a low flying aircraft, the invasion of the abandoned car dealership, the bass defining the edges of a street. And when someone calls around, bringing tequila and Mexican chocolate, the planes will drift like lazy plankton.
I wonder where you are, if you are happy. As the sea mist smokes up through the treetops, I miss you very much.
chacras de coria Dogs rule the days in this town: lying placid in the morning sun or trailing each other in packs low moans and snuffled howls their discrete communication, outside the fruiteria. They survive on handouts and scraps, the principle of common benevolence extended to these strays. At night, all the children arrive drawn to the lights of the town scions of the winemakers and landowners, released from mansions and gated communities at the heart of the irrigated plains. They have gilt skin and accents from America a pure road lies before them. One boy sits apart, edged out from these evenings of beer and hot dogs the girls lifting hips to the grind of recycled Zeppelin and Stones. He sits under the bloom of a streetlamp, a white bulb simmering in humidity by the closed down pharmacy murmuring the echoed lyrics of sex and infinite youth,
as he tosses pistachio shells into the deserted street picturing solace and ambition in a piece of scooped out melon rind.
Colette Coen all the rest is silence Not talking is easy – all you do is say lots of words that don’t mean anything. Fill the silence with trivial facts; the voids with meaningless sounds. But you want me to explain why I won’t speak, to make your report full and complete. Are you all right Margaret? Can you hear us? Ok, here goes. Firstly I want to say that I am surprised that the social norm is that people communicate verbally, when you consider the number of times you say the wrong thing. The number of times you wish you could swallow your words; pull them back from the air before they reach ears and do damage. So many times I have found that a tone of voice, or an unfinished statement, has led to a quarrel: ‘Was that meant to be funny?’ ‘Would you let me finish.’ ‘I didn’t mean it like that.’ The damage is done. Trying to retract only makes the problem worse. Would it be easier if you wrote things down? I’ll give you some paper. People think that the written word is more damaging because it is more permanent, but if you give me some time I can make sure I am using the exact words and there is no room for you to forget when I apologise or add words to your memories that I didn’t say. Just pick up the pencil, Margaret, please try for me. My mother hated lying; it was forbidden in our house, and I don’t just mean that we couldn’t tell a fib if we had sneaked a biscuit, I mean ‘NO LYING’. I couldn’t blame my brother when the vase on the mantelpiece fell; I couldn’t say I didn’t remember when she asked how my tights got ripped. I had to tell the truth, and bear the consequences of a beaten bottom, or being called a tell-tale at school.
When my teacher gave me Alice in Wonderland my mother nearly had a fit. She cornered the teacher after the bell. ‘What sort of nonsense is this to be filling children’s heads with? Animals that talk and drug-induced hallucinations. It is not appropriate.’ My teacher blushed, unused to her authority being questioned. ‘I thought the children would enjoy it. It is a classic.’ My mother thrust the book into my teacher’s chest. ‘Margaret will not be reading it. She will do practice from books that I deem are suitable.’ So the King James it was. Everything else was made-up; everything else was a lie. ‘Mummy, I had such good fun at Isobel’s house. We had a teddy bears’ picnic – sat on a rug in her bedroom, and used the tea set she got from Santa. Can I have a teddy bears’ picnic?’ ‘I’ve never heard of anything so stupid. Bears kill for food; they don’t sit about sipping tea from china cups. Now go to your room.’ When I came home from school the next day, my teddy bear had disappeared. I’ll sit over here – give you some privacy. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We’ve to write a letter in French telling all about ourselves – ‘Je m’appelle Margaret’, that sort of thing.’ ‘Who are you writing to?’ My mother asked, lifting the jotter off the kitchen table. ‘No one really; just an imaginary person, I’ve called mine Lucille. We don’t get to post them or anything.’ My mother’s face turned quite white, she had always said that a good education was important, but I could see that she was struggling to find the appropriate words. ‘Why on earth would you waste your time writing to someone who doesn’t exist?’ ‘The teacher told us that’s what we’ve to do.’ ‘The teacher told us, is that meant to be an answer?’ ‘We have to write a letter in our exams so we need to practise doing them. You don’t get an actual pen-pal until 4th year; it costs the school too much in postage otherwise.’ She threw the jotter back to me. ‘Go on with then, with your made up Frenchies, see what I care if you burn in hell with all your lying friends.’
Is that an L, Margaret? She didn’t talk to me for a week after that, passing all the instructions through Robert, who relished telling his big sister what to do. When my father came home she would talk to him incessantly, telling him the minutiae of her day, her words spilling over, flowing out of her mouth, splashing on the floor. My father nodded and smiled and when he sensed the words were nearly done he would reach over and hold her, anchoring her down so she didn’t get washed away. She was wrong about my lying friends, though. My friends didn’t lie; I made sure of that. ‘Sandra was kissing Steve outside the chip shop last night.’ ‘No way!’ ‘Yes way.’ ‘Are you sure?’ I would ask. ‘Yes, Margaret, I saw them myself. I’m not making this up, you know.’ So it was all true. I always got verification before I would tell anyone else, and because it was true, no harm could be done from passing it on. Sometimes I had to check things out for myself, gathering empirical evidence; like whether or not John Marsh really was the best kisser in 3rd year; or if boys respected you more if you said no. I was popular then, with girls and boys alike; my reputation for truth gave me a kind of oracle status. ‘Do you think Josephine will go out with me?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Did Marcia tell you that she thought I was thick?’ ‘No, she said stupid.’ Is that something nice you’re thinking about? I wanted to study science at university, proving theories, making sure that there were no lies in our understanding of the world, but my parents would hear none of it, frightened that I would find lies in our Book of Truth. ‘There is no money for university,’ my mother announced, ‘your father can’t be expected to keep you. You’ll have to find work.’ But two years later I found out there was money for university, she had not told the whole truth. I kept my silence for a week after Robert started his course; my words simmering and reducing in the pit of my stomach until only one
word remained. ‘LIAR.’ She hit me, struck me hard across the face. Spat out a truth that my whole life had been built on one of her lies. ‘Bastard.’ The only weapon left in my arsenal was silence. I met Malcolm not long after. Straightforward, he called me, no messing about with coyness or I can’t meet you, I’ve got to wash my hair. I could talk to him and he listened, letting me tell the stories that welled up inside me for the first time. After we were married he began to set a time limit: ‘Are you finished yet?’ ‘I’ve got to go to work.’ ‘The football’s about to start.’ Try not to get yourself agitated. If you don’t want to write that’s fine. I told them at my interview that I was honest and while my boss said that it was a great asset, he grew to hate it: ‘Why did you tell Mr Fitzwilliam that the order wouldn’t be ready in time? He’s threatening to cancel his business now. Are you stupid woman?’ ‘I was just telling him the truth.’ ‘Well, don’t.’ At least my workmates loved the latest news – I never dealt in gossip – about who was having an affair or borrowing money from the company account, but then they too began to use excuses to cut me short, avoid me even. So don’t rush me now; give me time to choose the exact word. When Malcolm’s mother came to visit we would sit together and work our way through the announcement section of the newspaper. I would take Births: an old schoolmate, a neighbour, a third cousin. At least once a week there would be someone I could make a tenuous connection with. ‘I used to work with Baby David’s aunt. A precious gift – that means ivf. They were trying for years.’ Sue would take over then, normally taking her information from the Deaths section. ‘Andy Armstrong used to live next to my mother. Ninety-seven he was. Can you imagine living to that age? All his kids away before him – they never got their hands on his money, and I doubt there will be anything left with all those care home costs for the grandkids.’ I loved telling Malcolm when he got home at night about all the facts we had gleaned from the paper, but he was never that interested, even when it
was one of his drinking buddies who had finally succumbed to fatherhood. The worst comment was that he already knew and hadn’t been bothered to tell me: ‘Gavin and Michelle are delighted to announce the birth of their son Andrew Maxwell on 27th of March. Many thanks…’ ‘Yes, named it after her father; Gavin’s dad won’t speak to them now.’ Well, two could play that game. My retreat into silence was a slow one. It had to be actioned carefully and with precision, so it did not arouse suspicion. You can’t suddenly stop answering when people speak to you, but you stop being the instigator of conversations. A simple hello will suffice in most situations, followed by a movement: walking on, or picking up the paper. In social situations you just listen and nod, giving only the most minimal responses. It is amazing how few people care. They just hate the silence, and soon begin their own monologue. And gradually you become the person without opinion or a story to tell. I could point at things, or hand them over, I could nod or frown, and on the odd occasion I would allow myself a word or two, like a quitting smoker, having just the odd cigarette. At first I don’t think Malcolm even noticed. He came in from work to his dinner on the table and the newspaper at his place. Then I busied myself about the kitchen for an hour or so until Top Gear came on. When it was time to go to bed, I merely came into the lounge in my dressing gown, gave him a peck on the cheek and left. A whole day without a word. It felt like a triumph and became a habit. You ease back imperceptibly and feel the freedom it brings. There is no more time wasted on worrying if you have said the wrong thing. You find peace and understand the allure of a contemplative life, where you are rewarded for your silence, not imprisoned because of it. Margaret, can you tell us why you think you’re here? I read of my mother’s death in the paper last week. There in black and white: Tragically – that can mean an accident or suicide. I phoned my Dad and then Robert, but neither would talk to me. Robert’s wife came on and a woman I had never met told me my mother’s funeral was to be private and I was not welcome. ‘There’s nothing more to say. I’m sorry.’ Would you like a hankie, Margaret? Here, that’s it, nice and slow breaths. Not talking is easy: you just stop moving your mouth. The words form
endlessly on the tip of your tongue, but you bite them back like bile. My words had become evil: truths flying out of me without any warning. My tongue an axe: splintering and chopping; splitting and dividing; rending people’s lives apart. Not talking is easy: you just close your eyes and jump. Not talking is easy: you just open your mouth and scream.
Claire Dyer picture this The worst winter for sixteen years, Sylvia leaves her two children sleeping, Doctor Who airs for the first time, seventy-thousand dissenters march from Aldermaston to London, Man U beat Leicester City 3–1 in the fa Cup; JFK is shot twice, doesn’t survive, Aldous and Clive Staples pass away the same day, the grassy knoll no Narnia, no Brave New World; twelve-year-old John Kilbride disappears in Ashton-under-Lyne, World in Action starts its thirty-five year run, Harold Wilson (forty-six) takes his party’s helm; The Beatles have a trio of number ones, £2.6 m gets nicked in Ledburn, James Bond is given his tenth licence to kill and, in the garden of 13 Marlyns Drive, Margaret wraps me, her second daughter, in a buttercup yellow shawl for the photograph that sits in my bureau’s fourth drawer with the letters dated seven years later saying how the countless people who knew her are so sorry that she died.
Jacquie Wyatt daughter in a plastic dinghy Face pinned by frown, she negotiates the shift from jetty to dinghy, stops the rocking with a firmly placed oar. Summer frock, best sandals, knitted cardigan white as heat, hair stroked into bunches held by red ribbon bows. Begins her careful paddling from pool edge to edge, precise displacement of water, plastic, wooden oar. Paddles the same stretch, back and forth again. She doesnâ€™t see the gap she leaves behind for just that tiny pause in time before the water heals.
Contributors a– z
Juana Adcock is a poet and translator working in English and Spanish. Her poems and translations have appeared in Gutter, Glasgow Review of Books, Asymptote and Words without Borders. Her first book, Manca, explores the anatomy of violence in Mexico and was named by Reforma’s distinguished critic Sergio González Rodríguez as one of the best poetry books published in 2014. Marie-Andrée Auclair grew up in France and moved to Canada as an adult. Over the past few years her poems have appeared in magazines such as In/Words Magazine, Bywords, The Steel Chisel, Filling Station, First Literary Review-East, The Northern Cardinal Review and The Maynard. Others are forthcoming at Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Contemporary Verse 2. Her first chapbook, Contrails, was released by In/Words Magazine and Press in 2013. She earned a Certificate in Creative Writing (University of Toronto Continuing Studies, December 2014). She is working on her next chapbook. Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire, and lives in London. He is the author of the novel All The Dogs. Recent poems have appeared in Structo 13 and The Stinging Fly. Claire Booker works in London as a medical herbalist and escapes to the South Downs whenever she can. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Magma, the Morning Star, North, Poetry Salzburg, Popshot, Rialto and New Welsh Reader among others. She was nominated for a MacAllan Writer’s Guild of Great Britain award for her play The Devil and Stepashka which broadcast on bbc Radio 4. Her stage plays have been performed in Europe, Australia, America and the UK. She is currently associate writer with Goblin Baby Theatre Company and blogs at bookerplays.wordpress.com. Laura Boswell lives in Arlington, Virginia, where she works in marketing communications. Her essays and reporting have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Post Magazine, and USA Today, and on espn.com,
Travelchannel.com, and Sirius xm Radio’s The Bob Edwards Show. She is an alumna of the 2015 Yale Writers’ Conference. Our Day Begins When Yours Ends is her first published work of fiction. She writes a sports blog, The Ladies Room (ladiesroomsports.com), and recently played a Secret Service agent in House of Cards (and desperately hopes they don’t cut her scenes because she hasn’t shut up about it). A Glasgow University and Faber Academy graduate, Colette Coen has published two books of short stories called The Chocolate Refuge and Five a Day. She has twice won the Eileen Gilmour Award, was shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and in 2013 won the Waterstone’s Crime in the City competition. She has been a librarian and literacy lecturer, but now works in a supermarket to allow time and head-space for writing. She loves Muriel Spark, Margaret Atwood and inxs. She lives in Glasgow with her husband and three kids. She blogs at colettecoen.wordpress.com where she regularly posts new fiction. Jude Cook lives in London and studied English literature at ucl. His first novel, Byron Easy, was published by William Heinemann of Random House in February 2013. His essays and short fiction have appeared in Litro, Long Story Short and Staple magazine. Marianne Daniels lives and works in Manchester. She has an ma in Creative Writing and has been published in several publications, recently being the featured poet in Confingo Magazine. Stephen Durkan is a newly formed writer created in Glasgow and based in Oxford. This is his first published piece of writing although he has read at various literary festivals and was a songwriter in a previous life. He is currently writing a novel about our crazy modern world whilst also living the precarious existence of a 20-something in twenty-first century Austerity Britain. His aspiration is to be the talking head that the bbc calls upon next time the Novel is dying. If you want to ask him something, write to email@example.com. Claire Dyer is a novelist and poet from Reading, Berkshire. Her poetry collection, Eleven Rooms, is published by Two Rivers Press and a further collection is forthcoming in 2016. She is working on a further collection for publication in 2016. Her novels The Moment and The Perfect
Affair, and her short story Falling for Gatsby, are published by Quercus. She has an ma in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, and teaches creative writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College. She also runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service. Her website is clairedyer.com. Sarah Evans has had over a hundred stories published in competition anthologies, magazines and online, including by: the Bridport Prize, Unthank Books, Bloomsbury and Best New Writing. She recently won first prize in competitions run by Fylde Writers’ Circle, Booktown Writers and Stratford Literary Festival. She has also had work performed in London, Hong Kong and New York. Born in Bratislava in 1975, Mária Ferenčuhová is a poet, translator and film theorist. She studied dramaturgy and screenwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, and linguistics at the Ecole Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She has published three collections of poetry, Skryté titulky (Closed Caption), 2003; Princíp neistoty (The Uncertainty Principle), 2008; Ohrozený druh (Endangered Species), 2012; and a study of documentary film Odložený čas (Delay Time), 2009. She is Editor of the film magazine KINO-IKON, translates from French, lectures at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, and lives in Bratislava. Ángeles García-Madrid is a writer and political activist. She was born in Madrid in 1918 where, from an early age, she developed a love for literature and politics. In 1939 she was arrested for her political activities with the Spanish Socialist Party (psoe) and as a result spent three years of a twelve-year sentence enduring the brutal hardships of Francoist incarceration. She has published numerous collections of poetry, including De la memoria y otras cosas (Of Memory and Other Things), Aguas revueltas (Stormy Waters), and Pasos Tranquilos (Gentle Steps), as well as a memoir of her experience of Francoist imprisonment, Requiem por la libertad (Requiem for Freedom). Emma J. Hardy works as a nonfiction book cover designer in London. She’s also studying towards an ma in the History of Books at the University of London and earlier this year she set up Spine, a magazine that aims to uncover and highlight the talented designers working on book covers. Overall, she’s pretty keen on books. More at emmajhardy.co.uk.
Born in east London, Stephen Hargadon lives and works in Manchester. Four of his short stories have appeared in Black Static, one of which, ‘The Visitors’, was described by Nicholas Royle as “subtle, well observed, beautifully nuanced”. LossLit and Popshot magazines have also published his stories, while an essay on secondhand bookshops, ‘Just Browsing’, appeared in Litro. He has read his work at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester and is currently working on a novel. He’s always got a story on the go. Find out more at stephenhargadon.co.uk or on Twitter @HargadonStephen. Siobhan Harvey is the author of Cloudboy (Otago University Press, 2014) and, as co-editor, Essential New Zealand Poems (Penguin Random House NZ, 2014). She is a Lecturer at The Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology. Recently, her work has been published in Asia Literary Review (HK), Griffith Review (Aus), Sobotka (usa) and Stand (UK), amongst others. She has been twice runner-up in the New Zealand International Poetry Competition (2015 and 2014), shortlisted for the 2015 Janet Frame Memorial Award and in 2013 won New Zealand’s richest prize for poetry, the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry. Gregory Heath is widely published as a poet, short story writer and novelist. His most recent novel is Thoughts of Maria (Open Books, 2013). He is currently focussing exclusively on the short story form, with a full collection nearing completion. His website can be found at gregoryheath.weebly.com. Paula Hunter grew up in Glasgow and defected to Edinburgh where she still lives and writes. She has been a lawyer, charity fundraiser, butcher and florist but is usually at home with kids, or up a mountain. She is currently writing her first novel, a thriller about stalking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hillsnspills. Aihua Li is currently studying for a PhD in Asian Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is a fourth generation Chaoxianzu/Chosonjok ethnic Korean from China. Most Chaoxianzu/Chosonjok live on the border with North Korea. Many North Korean refugees seek shelter in this region when they cross into China. Michael Metivier lives in Vermont with his wife and daughters. He is an editor at Chelsea Green Publishing, and managing editor of Whole Terrain, a journal of reflective environmental practice. His poems have been published
in POETRY, Crazyhorse, Washington Square, North American Review, and African American Review, among other journals. Dan Micklethwaite is currently based in West Yorkshire, UK. His short fiction has featured in a range of international publications, including 3:AM, BULL, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Missing Slate, Timeless Tales, and AE Science Fiction. His debut novel, The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote, is forthcoming from Bluemoose Books in early 2016. He can be followed on Twitter @ Dan_M_writer. Timothy Otte’s text has appeared in or is forthcoming from SAND Journal (Berlin), the minnesota review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Poetry City, USA, and Paper Darts, among others. He was a 2014–15 Loft Mentor Series winner and is currently working on his first collection of poems. He is from and lives in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, but keeps a home on the Internet: timothyotte. com. Say his last name like body. Holly Pike is a teaching fellow at the University of Birmingham where she recently completed her PhD on life writing by female political prisoners under Spain’s Franco regime. She is excited by the myriad ways in which women write their lives, experiences, and subjectivities and spends her time pursuing this. In between teaching, translating, and writing, she is trying to master baking bread. Winner of the Literary Kitchen FestFlash (2015) and Borderlines Flash Fiction Competitions (2015), Barbara Renel’s stories have appeared in A3 Review, Scribble and Debut magazines. Her most recent piece, ‘Fire Station Ghosts’, is a collaborative site-specific sound work for White Watch exhibition at The Old Fire Station, Carlisle. She originally trained as a dancer, and has an ma in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and five children. She is working on a new website, postcard-stories.uk, is a member of WigtonWriters and The Patchwork Opera and can be found on Twitter @barbara_renel. Christopher Vondracek taught and lived in rural Winona, Minnesota, before relocating up the Mississippi River to Saint Paul. He teaches at Hamline University and Pine Technical & Community College, passes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s boyhood home on morning runs, and is working to publish his memoir about Lawrence Welk.
Kate Wise read Classics and English at university, and now fits poetry around two children and a career in law. She has been published in various magazines in print and online, including Poems in Which, New Trad Journal, And Other Poems and Proletarian Poetry. She has had small successes in the 2013 Cafe Writers competition, and the 2014 Manchester Cathedral and Ware Poets competitions. Her work has appeared in two Emma Press anthologies in 2015. She tweets @kwise62. A refugee from marketing, Jacquie Wyatt writes poetry, flash fiction and novels. Her poetry has been published in The DawnTreader, Poems for a Liminal Age, Rollick and Gold Dust. Her flash fiction has appeared in the Flash Flood and fiftywordstories and won Write Invite and Hour of Writes.
stories poetry interviews essays & such
this issue for spring & summer 2016 seven pounds
Structo issue 15 features 11 short stories, 17 poems, a feature on cover design & an interview with the ex-poet laureate of North Korea Jang...
Published on Feb 22, 2016
Structo issue 15 features 11 short stories, 17 poems, a feature on cover design & an interview with the ex-poet laureate of North Korea Jang...