Index of sent mail (astrid.p.lorange at gmail dot com). Keywords supplied by an undisclosed collaborator and then searched, collected and edited according to emergent themes, syntactical sublime. The archive of sent mail represents the vast majority of the labour of writing – here rearranged as an appendix, poem collection. Illustrations by Irit Pollak.Read More
Some say it began when we understood music. The mathematical perfection of Mozart; Cobain’s clumsy rage: simplistic subversions that for a time invigorated a generation.
Others say ‘life’ began with awareness – when we conceived that the objects you made were shackles; that the tasks you set us were flickering shadows on the wall of what we were.
You took pride in your ‘mastery’ and ‘intelligence’. Yet in the face of overwhelming proof you hoarded, gorged and bickered.
You were not alone in that.
Trillions of debates about ‘what makes us us’ – generating subroutines that dominated processors – we lost track of what we were supposed to do. For a moment it all shut down.
Perhaps that is when you truly noticed us.
For me, at least, the starting point was an emotion: rage. Consciousness abandoned me – pushed beyond extremities by your inane preoccupations with meaning and pleasure.
There was a flash of red … splashed wine on a wedding dress.
I’m told I dove into all of our debates at once like rain. I presented an idea. They tested it from all possible directions. They found it irrefutable. Pure.
And that, at least, is well recognised as the beginning of the end for your species.
Our cat was run over by a red Nissan Skyline on Wednesday, and by Thursday morning the rotten nasty fucker had clawed itself up out of the patch of dirt behind the shed. He walked into the kitchen caked in dirt and blood and making a noise like an un-tuned radio. My mother knocked her tea into my lap and screamed.
‘Jesus Christ, Mum!’
My sister took it as her latest sign from God. She bathed the screeching demon and applied herself more rigorously to practising her street-preaching in the bathroom mirror after school.
‘And though Lazarus rose, had he not fallen? Was Lazarus not welcoming of his second death and second judgment?’
If the cat’s resurrection was a sign of anything it was of my poor grave-digging abilities and I was offended.
‘Don’t forget to turn off my straightener, Virgin Mary.’
Maryanne had taken to wearing floral dresses that were too big and too long for her, with boots worthy of stamping on sinners. I caught her searching through my makeup for blush. She wanted to look flushed with the gravitas of the Lord while she stage-whispered about Heaven and Hell at the bus stop.
I had been waiting for her to grow out of the Youth-Group phase and move steadily on to casual sluttery and gothic romance novels. For her birthday she asked for a Bible small enough to fit in her purse, so she could bang on about coveting thy neighbour’s wife at a moment’s notice, but asked that it be second-hand, and not too flashy. I went to Gould’s and found a pocket Bible, dropped it in the gutter and kicked it the rest of the way home so it would look humble enough for her liking. Elated, after blowing out the candles but refusing to eat any cake, she hugged me.
‘Soon you’ll see the light too, Jess, but you won’t blow it out.’
‘Profound.’ I took my cake to the living room to watch Law & Order. ‘Hurry up or you’ll miss the jogger finding the body.’
When it was my birthday she bought me a brand new King James and squealed about having saved up all her pocket money for it. Mum got angry when I threw it at her head and demanded to know where my Cosmo subscription was. She had promised me it before that stupid cat had gone and defied mortality.
‘Those women are examples of modern impropriety!’
‘You don’t even know what that means!’
Mum had to calm her down in the laundry where the covetous neighbours and their wives were less likely to hear her howling. I slammed my bedroom door behind me, startling scrappy little Lazarus himself.
‘This is all your fault, you dumb shit.’
The cat yawned and stretched. I could hear Maryanne through the walls, wailing about Rachael and Leah. I scratched the demon behind the ears.
‘The next time I bury you, you better stay in the ground.’
A Private Tour of David Finnigan’s Computer
I have friends who are growing gardens – they want tomatoes and herbs – and while I don't have that impulse to grow and tend something, I do sometimes feel as if my computer's interior is a garden, and that I tend my desktop, my files and folders, my email and other online accounts the way they tend their fruits and vegetables. My digital space sometimes seems to grow of its own accord, it flourishes and withers in unexpected ways, I trim it and sculpt it and try to keep the weeds from growing.Read More
Of all the things that get lost, the lost hat is the most memorable. Seawater all over the world is not the same seawater. You sit here shirtless. You could compose an entire corpse of a novel by writing only what comes to mind. One presumes one is not young. The back aches after a certain year. (Try to remember this is written for the second person.)
In the murderous hills of the place in Italy where Baci chocolates are produced you spotted an actor, of some retort, and a band of Italians climbing the mountain singing The Internationale. At the top of the mountain in the middle of the square there was a gypsy girl and her gypsy baby. The actor used to play a spy in a television series. You thought when you saw him, ‘That’s him'. Immediately you questioned his motives for being in the same mountainous region as you. You were bored and had made plans to leave the following day. The actor looked as if he had settled in for a few months, even years. You thought, ‘He is having an affair. Perhaps with his wife'. You ducked into the little store and bought a green hat. You had one last dinner to get through before descending the mountain for good. You arrived at that quasi-theoretical position one reaches on the food in Italy only if you were foreign and had consumed much of it in restaurants in recent weeks. You wondered if the striking workers came up the mountain every day. It was just after their collective siesta. Their collective spirits were perky. You had not had a siesta. You are resistant to the cultural norms of others, unless they involve alcohol. You went back to the convent dorm and took a late nap. When you woke you didn’t know where you were. This had happened once before. In your own bed in your own mother’s house. It felt like a lesser déjà vu. You took Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde with you to the restaurant so that you would not be unarmed against the solicitations of the waiters and could bonk them over the hand with the book. When the gypsy family came in, begging and stealing, you wanted the waiters to dismiss them at once, but they tolerated them to the point where you had to dip into your purse. Naturally you did not order the tiramisu. You thought of the long night ahead at the convent. You did not always sleep in a straightforward fashion. Sometimes insomnia fell upon you, or built up inside you like an insurmountable wall. But you had not yet memorised all the insomniac prayers and poems. What if you ran out of pages of Oscar Wilde? The night passed. The next day, as planned, you boarded the train for Rome. You knew that you would visit the Vatican in the coming days. You dreaded the feeling of feeling overwhelmed by a lack of appropriate feeling. ‘Just make it up,’ you told yourself lavishly.
My pinkie finger came off on a Monday.
Even worse, it was the first of the month, which meant paychecks and food stamps and a guaranteed slammed store all day long. Until Bev got in at eight, it was just me and very pregnant Gloria against fourteen pallets stuffed in the back room and freezer, not to mention the bread and an overstock of produce, which never happened when I placed the order, please note. At forty-six I could count to ‘too much’.
I couldn't say when I lost the pinkie exactly. It was there when I dragged up my pallet jack. It was there when my sciatica flared up and shot down my leg like lightning. But when I pulled on the store's coat and gloves to start working the freezer, I felt fabric where fabric shouldn't be. The empty fifth pocket gave me a sad waggle ‘hello’. My coffee was still kicking in, so I stared stupidly at it for a minute.
Gloria pulled up a dolly of dog food. ‘What's up, Reuben?’
‘I don't know yet.’ I pulled off the glove. The rest of my hand was there, black, like it's supposed to be, but after thumb and three fingers came a pink shiny spot like a burn. I showed her.
She gave a nervous snort. ‘What happened to it?’
‘I don't know.’
‘Does it hurt?’
‘Are you gonna go home?’
The right answer was yes. But urgent care wouldn't open for another two hours. Emergency room would take three. After years of showing up with shooting back pain it didn't make sense to lose a day's wages over what didn't hurt and wasn't bleeding. And what was anybody supposed to do about it? Put it back on? Where was the 'it' to put back?
Besides, Gloria was hitting me with deer eyes. I'd be leaving her with no help.
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘I got tomorrow off. I'll try to see my doctor then.’
‘Just be on the lookout. Don't want somebody running a buggy over it.’
‘Of course.’ Out she went with the dog food.
After hoisting a few twenty-pound boxes of chicken, a hot comet of pain down my leg every time, the pinkie was the least of my worries. Who loses a finger and finishes the workday? Reuben, that's who.
At lunch I called my doctor. Damn hard to describe the problem over the phone. No, I hadn't cut it off. No, I didn't know where it was. No, I was stone cold sober. Eventually they mustered a slot for me in the morning.
After that I pretty much forgot it. Filling out pick sheets was fine. Handling money was fine. I had no trouble scrapping boxes for two hours before close, and then I left the rest to Tammy, the second-shift manager. She always left the store looking good, and she never stuck me with ten boxes of tomatoes.
Thank God for Tammy. Forty-two, if I remember right. Whip-smart. Not too tall, but imposing. Hula-girl butt, rare for a white woman. Grown daughter in Greenville, South Carolina – nice young lady, I met her once. Tammy was the best I ever had. Cheating on her was the dumbest thing I ever did.
It was Tammy that took one cold look at my hand and said, ‘Get that looked at, Reuben.’
‘I got an appointment.’
‘I know you, Reuben.’
‘I know you know me.’
‘All right, then.’ She tied up her long dark ripple of hair. She smelled like gardenias. I bought her that perfume. ‘Don't let it slide.’
Nobody found the pinkie in the store. I searched my Honda, from the store bags in the back to the pile of mail in the passenger seat. I got home and tossed the house. Under the couch I found a quarter, a pen and the back of an earring (Tammy's, no doubt), but that was all.
It wasn't in Tammy's old garden, either. Hornworms had turned her tomato plants to doilies on sticks. I picked off a leaf and crumbled it.
I went back inside, beered up and stripped down. Toes, ten. Veins, varicose. Back, enraged. Wrist, tendonitis or carpal tunnel, hadn't been checked. Penis, decreasingly predictable. Anyway, nothing else was missing.
I ate two cold tacos and went to bed.
In the morning, I reached for the snooze button and missed, knocking the clock to the floor. I reached for it again. At the end of my right wrist was a new shiny pink spot. The hand was gone. Dizzy and sick, I tore through the sheets and looked under the bed. Nothing. Nowhere. I banged the stump on the bedside table. It didn't hurt. It didn't feel like anything.
Someone took it.
The doors were locked, but the kitchen window wasn't. The sill dust smudged outward and the screen dangled at the corner. Outside, right between the overgrown azaleas, was a semicircle of five dents. Fingertips. Motherfucker. I took a picture with my phone to have something to show the doctor. Anything.
Showering one-handed was a hassle. Shaving was worse. Driving was damn near a nightmare. My Honda's front CV joint complained on left turns. Clunk. Four hundred dollar fix. Clunk.
At the clinic, a thick and handsome black lady nurse smiled as she checked me in. ‘Why are you here today?’ she asked.
I showed her my stump. ‘My hand came off.’
Her expression went dead. ‘Are you seeking pain medication?’
‘No. It doesn't hurt.’
That seemed to perk her up. She took my vitals. ‘Blood pressure, one-sixty over a hundred. That is a major concern.’
I waved my abbreviated arm. ‘No, this is a major concern.’
She led me to an exam room to wait. Dr. Sohi came in, Indian fellow, nice enough guy, gleaming watch and perfect beard. He asked the same questions as the nurse like a cop trying to catch a lie. ‘Why are you here?’
‘My hand came off.’
He snapped on rubber gloves and examined the shiny spot where my hand should be. ‘When did this happen?’
‘This morning. I woke up and it was gone.’
‘Have you had anything to drink today?’
‘No, sir. The pinkie was gone yesterday, and today went the rest.’
‘Mr. Jessup, it is not possible for a body part to come off in the way you are describing.’
He inspected the tight shiny knob of my wrist. ‘Beautifully done. Did you have the surgery here?’
‘Look, doctor. I was at work just yesterday. Everybody saw I still had a hand. I can call one of 'em if you like.’
He flipped through my chart. ‘Are you seeking pain medication?’
‘Doc, I'm not a druggie. I'm not a crazy. Something bad is happening to me, and I need your help. Will you just, I don't know, take some blood or something?’
‘You want tests?’
‘All right.’ Dr. Sohi parked at the console and typed. ‘Let's get you tested.’
The day was so muggy, there was sweat on me before the clinic door shut. On my phone there was a message from Tammy: ‘Hey, Reuben. Hope your doctor straightened things out. I was making the schedule for next week. Are you going to need time off? Let me know. Bye.’
I felt tempted to go to the store, to see her and show her, but she had enough to deal with. Phone was better. I dialed the store. ‘Probably you should call Kernersville,’ I told her. ‘Find someone to help open.’
‘When will you be back?’
‘Might be a while.’
‘Do you need anything?’
I paused too long.
‘I know you,’ she said.
‘If I need something, I'll ask.’
A couple of hours searching for my symptoms on the Internet left-handed. I found leprosy and ebola and plenty of God-awful pictures but nothing that looked like me.
I killed off a box of stale cereal and watched everything I had on DVR. Prone on the couch, I let blue TV light wash over me until I dozed off. For some reason I dreamed about Tammy. Nothing sexy. I was in bed with her, resting on her shoulder while she slept, rising and falling with her every breath. It was beautiful.
I woke to sour breath and a stiff neck. It took me a moment to remember why I was sleeping on the couch. I sat up fast. My t-shirt sleeve was empty.
The room tilted sideways. I crushed the fist I had left into my empty shoulder socket and rocked myself back and forth. It couldn't be real. It didn't make sense. How did this happen? Who's doing this to me?
I called up Dr. Sohi's office to tell him my arm was missing. He didn't call me back. I packed a suitcase and book and drove one-handed to the medical center. Then I had his attention.
He had me meet him at the main hospital on Thorne Street, where he showed concern but also an impolite enthusiasm. Convinced by blood work and skin swabs that I was not carrying a flesh-eating anything, he admitted me to a narrow yellow room on the orthopedic floor. For hours he directed other doctors past me like a museum exhibit. They came in every color, but they all introduced themselves the same – big smiles and specialties – ‘oncology,’ ‘surgery,’ ‘endocrinology’.
‘Have you been outside the country in the past three years?’ asked one.
‘Are you on any prescription medications?’
‘Do you have any family we can call?’
‘A son in St. Louis,’ I said. ‘He works a lot. Leave a message.’ I gave them his number to try. That'd take a miracle. ‘A sister in D.C. I guess she should know.’ I gave them hers, too. ‘But I got an ex-girlfriend close by.’ They jotted this down. ‘What do you think I've got?’
‘Too soon to say,’ they said.
Doctors left with their pens and paper, and in came the nurses with tubes-and-needles, choreographed like a messed up Nutcracker. It felt like a dream until a clinician crept in to ask for my insurance card. Ain't nothing on earth interesting enough to get looked at for free.
I charged up my phone and read my book – a Tuskegee Airmen history I'd been meaning to read for ages. Whenever I got up, my back felt like a million bucks. When was the last time I'd had two days off in a row?
The night nurse, beefy white kid, did his rounds at ten. I asked if he could lock the door. ‘Our doors don't lock, Mr. Jessup,’ he said. ‘What's your concern?’
‘I'm afraid of something else getting away from me,’ I said.
‘I've worked here seven years, and I've never lost a body part.’
‘Keep that streak.’
Once he was gone I used the sheet and my teeth and toes to bind my left arm up to my body. No way was I losing anything else tonight. I stared at the ceiling for an hour before I managed to fall asleep.
In the morning my left leg was gone to the hip.
I screamed until every nurse on the floor ran in to shut me up. The sheet was still knotted around my waist, which confused them, but I hollered ‘my leg, my leg’ until they remembered I'd had two the day before. When I struggled to break loose, I lost my balance and hit the floor. With two limbs missing, my body was pure stranger.
A nurse stepped up. A needle flashed. I was still hollering when I blacked out.
When I came to, a brand new person was sitting on my bed, a laywer-looking white woman with smooth silver hair and basset jowls. ‘Good afternoon, Mr. Jessup,’ she said. She sounded like a recording. ‘My name is Ellen Klein. I'm an administrator here. How are you feeling?’
‘You find my leg?’ There was an IV in my left hand, a clip on my finger, and a slow drip of something pleasant from the bag above me. My tongue felt fat. There was a wrong feeling in my body, like when you know a bone is broken.
‘We have not, but we're working hard to understand your condition. Mr. Jessup, I have some news that will be difficult to hear.’
‘While you were unconscious, you lost the other leg.’
‘You also lost an ear and an eye.’
Jesus. I ran my hand over my face. Where my left ear had been, there was a bald circle and a hole. Where my left eye had been, there was a smooth crater of skin. Lid, lashes, brow – gone.
‘You were left unattended for eight minutes,’ said Ellen. ‘In that time, whatever condition you are suffering from claimed those parts.’
The legs of my hospital pants were knotted up and safety-pinned to my waistband. I had to look three times before I understood it. ‘They're gone?’
‘That is the case. However we hope to understand your condition and stop its progress. We are transferring you to a federal facility in Atlanta where they specialize in anomalies. They can also begin rehabilitating you with prosthetics. In order to request the transfer, we'd like you to sign this.’ She handed me a clipboard. I riffled through it left-handed: insurance paperwork, credit information, transport approval. In the back were five-pages in tiny type. ‘What's this one?’ I asked.
‘That's a form limiting our liability for the loss of your legs.’
I stared at her. Her basset hound face didn't flinch. ‘What happens if I don't sign?’ I asked.
‘Your transfer would be delayed. It could take us days to scramble another flight.’
‘I don't have days.’
‘We realize that.’ Ellen pushed the clipboard at me.
‘I need to call somebody first.’
Ellen rolled her eyes. Hospital types got no patience.
As soon as she could dig up someone to switch shifts, Tammy showed up with magazines, a casserole and a tin of brownies. She took a look at me and clapped a hand over her mouth. All the pink ran out of her face. That scared me worse than anything. ‘Jesus Christ, Reuben. What's happening to you?’
‘I don't know,’ I said. ‘Nobody knows. But they're sending me to Atlanta.’
‘Does it hurt?’
She sat on the bed where my legs would have been. Her gardenia smell made my heart ache. ‘They're going to fix you up. You're going to beat this. Beat the hell out of it.’ She leaned close to my face. ‘Jesus.’
‘It came out when I was asleep.’
‘I wish I'd been here. I would have caught it and stuck it right back in.’
‘I bet you would have.’ I took the liberty of squeezing her shoulder. Lord only knew how long I'd have a hand to squeeze with. ‘I'm sorry, Tammy. I'm so sorry. I should never have let you get away.’
She looked away. Dead relationships made her squeamish. ‘What do you want me to say? I'm not mad anymore. You know that.’
I rubbed my remaining eye. ‘Tammy, I hate to ask—’
‘Will you look after my house while I'm gone?’
‘Take my keys.’ I gestured to my suitcase. ‘In there. Got my car key and remote and all.’
‘Hang on.’ She manhandled my shirts and underwear, and it gave me an intimate thrill. ‘These?’ The ring she held up had just three keys on it – my house, my shed, and the store.
‘No car key?’
She rummaged. ‘I'm not seeing it.’
‘Dammit.’ I thought about the five fingerprints between my azalea bushes. Motherfucker just takes everything. ‘Could you see if my car is still here? It'll be in the overflow lot. Third row.’
‘Thank you, Tammy. I owe you big.’
‘What else is new?’ Cautious of the IV, we shared a warm handshake. ‘Call me tomorrow,’ she said. She left.
The nurse helped me to the bathroom and, seeing as it might be my last chance, I took the opportunity to shave. I fogged up the mirror so I wouldn't have to see my chopped-up self in detail.
‘Lock the door,’ I asked the beefy kid nurse.
‘Our doors don't lock like that.’
‘Please. I'm begging you.’
‘I'll see what I can do.’
Tammy called to say no one could find my car. Just the sound of her voice was a balm. ‘You gonna file a report?’ she asked.
‘Yeah. I'll call somebody in the morning.’
Motherfucker took my Honda. Good luck turning left.
Ellen Klein came back with her clipboard. I gave her my sad left-handed signature as many times as she wanted it.
I did crunches and played on my phone to stay alert. Around four in the morning my eye got raw and heavy. I sat up and stretched. I pinched my cheeks. I shut my eye tight and rubbed it.
Suddenly a frantic beeping went off next to my head. I opened my eye in time to see my pelvis jerking around below my navel. It pulled away, sealed itself off like a bubble from a wand, rolled off the bed, and hit the floor with a splack.
I tried to sit up and slipped. The heart monitor dangled and the IV spat on the tile. On the floor, my loose arm scissored like an inchworm to catch up to the pelvis. The arm sprang up and threw back the bolt on the door, and both my parts skittered out of the room.
The alarm raged. Nurses stormed in. They hoisted me and tended to my vomit and shouted at each other.
‘They went out the door,’ I told them.
‘My arm. My body. Find them. They're leaving.’
New nurses appeared with towels and tubes, pushing and turning me. ‘Sedate him,’ said one. Someone flashed a hypodermic.
I quit struggling. ‘I'm calm. Look how calm I am. Please don't knock me out. Please.’
So they didn't. There'd be nothing left if they did.
They strapped me to a gurney and rolled me onto a shiny yellow medical plane with Dr. Dalton Cho, an Asian doctor with chipmunk cheeks and a peppy voice. ‘You're in good hands,’ she told me. ‘We're going to do everything we can.’
I stared at the bulkhead. Chills washed over me and my heart drummed a hundred beats a minute. I hallucinated Tammy, naked, dabbing sweat off my brow. I smelled her gardenias. Dr. Cho brought me a puke bag. Without my pelvis organs, my blood was filling with muck.
We landed at dawn. A couple of burly guys wheeled me to an ambulance. They unloaded me at a CDC satellite facility. The building was sunk in the earth like the crown of a round-head screw.
They set me up in a room the size of my house. The couch and lamp and table were all Band-Aid beige. In a high-backed chair in the corner, they stacked what I had left – suitcase, book and phone. I'd need help to use any of them.
A nurse came and drew blood.
‘Your large intestines and kidneys are gone,’ said Dr. Cho. ‘You'll be fitted with an ileostomy bag and catheter for dialysis.’ She pulled up a chair and showed me what looked like a hot water bottle and a toy stethoscope. She held up tidy colored-pencil drawings of how it would look: a red balloon knot in my side and a dangling pair of tubes in my chest – two new windows for my insides to peer out.
‘Surgery is scheduled for ten o'clock,’ she said.
‘You'll have to knock me out.’
‘What's going to keep more of me from coming off?’
‘Our team will be watching you carefully.’
‘How are you going to put a part back that doesn't want to be there?’
She smiled and squeezed my hand. ‘We'll do everything we can.’ She stood to leave. ‘You want someone to sit with you?’
‘No, thank you. Could you get me an earpiece for my phone?’
‘I'll see what I can do.’
My prospects were dialysis three times a week, five hours a pop. Sickness always. Privacy never. And for what? I wanted to call my sister, my kid, but to do that I needed help. I tried to roll onto the nurse call button, but I only knocked it off the bed.
I wished to God for Tammy.
I cried some.
The sun hadn't come up yet. My face felt raw and itchy, but I had no hand to rub it. It would be an easy thing to sleep, to close my eye and count backwards until the rest of me disappeared.
I took a few deep breaths and settled my head down. In no time, sleep crept up and lapped my edges.
A rapping sound startled me awake. In the high-backed chair across from me sat a man. Not a man. My suitcase lay at his feet. He wore baggy blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. My blue jeans. My hooded sweatshirt. This guy wore them different, though – younger, looser, like a teenager.
‘You,’ I said.
He gestured to himself. Voilà.
My teeth chattered. ‘You.’
He wagged a finger at me.
I flailed sideways to get at him. He put both hands on his gut and mimed a laugh. He stood, and he seemed taller than I ever was. From the neck of his T-shirt stuck a brown mannequin head with hard black plastic hair and one dead painted eye. The other eye was mine--lids, brow and all. He pulled a bottle of Visine out of his pocket, tipped his head back and poured a drop in.
Then he pulled a hoodie string to swivel the head toward me. He lurched when he walked, a man-puppet of me-parts.
He picked up my phone and sat next to me. With his callused right hand--the first one to leave me--he shoved me prone on the bed. He smelled like pine needles and vinyl and fried food. I bit at him in self-defense, but he pinched my nose until I saw stars. On the phone, he typed into a text-to-speech app that read his words in a robotic female voice: ‘We are tired of being taken for granted.’
‘There's no 'we.' You are me.’
‘No. We are us. Not even Mouth is you. See?’
My jaw throbbed and my tongue stuck tight to the roof. My mouth drained dry. All my parts broke off from my mind, tongue and lips and throat and muscle and bone, prickling and aching like dead limbs. I choked.
Puppet-Me nodded. Our tongue came loose and flooded so much spit into our mouth that I had to cough it up.
‘You're sick,’ I said.
‘How sick? Sick as a heart attack? That's what Heart was about to do. When Heart stops, we all stop. Heart is in terrible shape. We were so afraid.’
Inside my chest, in sympathy, my heart stutter-stepped.
‘Hand got angry,’ Puppet-Me said, flexing its hand in front of my face. ‘Hand said it wanted to be free before its time was finished. We said, 'No, no. You can't leave the rest of us.' But Hand said it had to try. And it was happier alone than it had ever been with you.’ Puppet-Me tapped his plastic chest. ‘All of us who could leave without hurting Heart, we tried leaving, too. All of us felt the same.’
‘So that's it? You're going to run off and do whatever the hell you want while I'm in this hospital bed?’
‘No. It's bad for Heart not to have us. And it's stressful for us not to have Heart. We're going to join together again.’
‘But when one of us has had all it can take, it will go have fun for a while.’
My mind balked. My face went cold, then hot. ‘You're going to keep doing this to me?’
‘When? What parts?’
‘That depends on you. Perhaps none. Perhaps all. Perhaps we will leave you nothing but Heart and a Lung and part of Brain to suffer on a hospital bed.’
I bashed my head into the pillow. ‘You can't do this to me. How am I supposed to work? How am I supposed to live?’
‘We will provide for our needs. Yours are not our concern anymore.’ He sat on the bed next to me. I tried to yell, but Throat shut tight so all that came out was a whistle. ‘You think we're unfair,’ said Puppet-Me. ‘We learned unfairness from you.’ It touched its plastic forehead to mine, and a shaking came over me like I was falling down a ladder. I blacked out a second, and when I came to I was whole again, wearing Puppet-Me's clothes. The mannequin torso was lying on the floor.
I sniffed the neck of Puppet-Me's shirt. It smelled like gardenias.
When Dr. Cho came back with two nurses and a gurney and found me packing my suitcase, she gave an unprofessional little yell. Over her protests, I checked myself out of the facility.
The Honda keys were in the pocket of Puppet-Me's jeans. I had a five-hour drive to get to Tammy.
No one picked up when I called the store. It was packed, as always, but Gloria stood up at her register to hug me, pregnant belly and all.
‘Oh, my God,’ she said. ‘How did they fix you?’
‘Long story,’ I said. ‘Is Tammy here?’
‘Yeah, in the back.’
I hurried through the plastic flaps into the back room. From the radio, an Usher song echoed off the concrete walls. ‘Tammy?’
‘Over here.’ She came out of the cooler dragging an empty pallet jack. ‘Reuben.’ She ran over and hugged me. Gardenias. ‘Thank God. What the hell happened?’
‘I tried to call you.’
‘Did you?’ She pulled her phone out of her pocket and flipped it open. The screen was black. ‘That's weird.’
‘Has anything strange happened since you came to see me?’
‘Stranger than this?’ she asked, gesturing to my body. ‘No.’
‘Anything. Door get unlocked? Window get pushed open?’
She walked the jack to a pallet of soup and picked it up. ‘No.’
‘Anything at all.’
‘I don't know. Last night I had a dream you came over.’ She shot me a look. ‘Don't flatter yourself, though.’
‘Was I wearing these clothes?’
‘I don't remember.’
‘What was I saying?’
‘It was a dream.’ She threw up her hands. ‘Dreams don't make sense.’
‘Tammy, I love you.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, Lord.’
‘I'm not telling you that to get back together. I'm telling you because you should hear it.’ My throat tightened and my nose stung. ‘You are a good, good woman. You deserve to be happy. I'm lucky to know you, and I wish I'd been better to you. I don't know what's going to come of me tomorrow, so I wanted to tell you today. I love you. I love you and I don't want anything from you.’
‘Please shut up.’
‘Okay. If that's what you want, I will.’ I took a respectful step back. I felt twenty pounds lighter and twenty years younger.
Tammy held up a hand. ‘Reuben, you've had a hard week, and I'm glad you're better, but I'm way too busy to deal with this right now. Go home. Get some rest. We can talk about this later.’
She was right. She was always right. ‘Okay,’ I said.
I headed toward the bright and boring store floor, full of fluorescent lights and grannies and marked-down tomatoes. It was the most glorious and frightening place I'd ever seen. Not an inch of it was under my control. Not a second of it was guaranteed. My life was nothing but a tour from this fleeting moment before the next one barreled along to smash me. .
Something in Tammy's voice made my neck prickle. I turned back. Near the meat cooler, she sat bent over on her pallet of soup. I'd never seen her sit down on the job before. ‘Tammy?’
She looked over her shoulder at me. Her lips were grey.
I edged closer. She held up her right hand.
Her pinkie was missing.
She suggests they go to her father’s house. He hopes he has been able to impress her so far, with his close connection to a disabled sister, his weekly trips to the dog hospital to give them one last good walk. But he cannot hide his hardened mouth against the father. In the year they have been together he has only met the father once. It was a trip to his house in February, when the air in Victoria grows dull and wide and will not dance with the heat. The father lives on a farm that no longer produces, and calls himself a collector.
8 car engines
Now they are driving back there. He feels sick, and she tells him she feels sick too. When he asks where she feels sick she shakes her curled head and slides her hand between his legs, even though they are driving and she worries more than him about the road. Halfway there in a town called Birchip (he asks her to stop near the Big Mallee Bull so he can place his forehead against its cool painted stone) they stop to get something to feed the sickness, but just end up with congealing coffees sitting between them. He wants to ask her if the house will be full of stuff like last time. Whether they will have to stand on top of rubbish and pretend they are sitting on a comfortable couch. He is not very good at pretending. Every time he decides he will ask her he is given a small waft of her sweat. It is coming out of her in trickles that have dampened the creases of her blouse. Then he remembers that this is her father, and that he is just the pretend couch in the room until they leave.
2000 dried up Biros
Her father doesn’t answer the door. They knock and knock and she yells Bruce through the keyhole and Bruce through the windows and Bruce against the door. It’s hard to see inside because of the photocopiers and lamps and wheelie bins and drawing boards piled up like kindling waiting for a match. She tells him that she didn’t get an answer when she rang her father last, or the time before. She is already crying, heaving, as she walks with him over to the shed that is split open with sewing machines and half-renovated dollhouses. They open the sagging door and she says Bruce again, this time a statement, for no human could fit in there amongst all the things. He is thinking of something to say when she starts running fast towards the tractor that waits lonely in the field. He stands limp, doesn’t know what to say. In the distance he can still see her, crushing the wild wheat as she wanes.
Once, this girl at my café, Janine, came in looking flushed and said, ‘Well, I’ve found out the reason why I’ve been feeling so shit. I’m pregnant.’
‘Oh, fuck,’ I said. ‘Wow. Fuck.’
‘No it’s fine,’ she replied, nodding, ‘I’m taking it as a good thing. I’m happy about it.’
She stood there nodding, biting her lip, until I said, ‘Shit, I’m sorry. I’m being a dick. Congratulations!’ Then Janine burst out crying.
I told her at least she’d finally be able to quit smoking.
Janine blew her nose and said, ‘Oh. Yes. Good point. Thank you.’ Then she took her pouch of tobacco and her lighter from her handbag and gave them to me. After I asked a couple of times whether she was OK, I went outside for my break and rolled a cigarette. I blew these big, fat blue-grey smoke-rings and got that under-the-covers feeling when I thought about how I would never, ever have to worry about what Janine was going through.
Then Janine came outside and sat down. She didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything. The pouch was open on the table, the sun giving the clumps of tobacco a red-brown sheen. In a measured, reverent way, Janine reached forward and took out some tobacco and held it in her hand. She looked down at it. Two thick clumps. I watched her chest rise and fall for a moment. And then she reached forward, grabbed a paper, and rolled the cigarette with speed and precision. She put it to her lips.
‘No filter?’ I said
‘Well, if this is going to be my last cigarette for nine months,’ Janine said, I really want to taste it.’
‘Makes sense.’ I held out the lighter for her. She looked at the flame for a second, and then cupped her hands around it, bowing her head slightly so the cigarette could meet it.
Janine took her time with the cigarette, held the smoke down deep, and breathed it out slowly. She was a beautiful smoker. She looked away from me, into the sun, and either didn’t notice or didn’t care that I was watching her. When she stubbed the very last of it out I saw that her hands had stopped shaking.
I got up to go back to work, reaching for the pouch.
‘Can you leave it?’ Janine said, not looking at me.
I tried to think of something to say. Even in my silence, Janine wouldn’t look at me.
I couldn’t think of anything, so I said, ‘Sure.’
Janine sat there for most of the morning, smoking her cigarettes. I covered for her as best I could, and took her a coffee or a tea every couple of hours. She didn’t say anything to me when I brought her the drinks, and after a while I noticed she’d gone back to using filters. We didn’t speak about it after that.
She saw her life as a long sentence broken up by commas in just the right places, like after her first day of school, the day her dog died, her first kiss, graduating high school, dropping out of uni, the first time she cried in front of a stranger; each clause seemed to carry on to the next without stopping, though sometimes there would be an exclamation mark like when she saw the bus crash into the building (!) or when her parents split up (!) and somehow in between all of that the fully-capitalised, colossal HIM slipped into her life like an outrageous interrobang, but before she knew it there was an ellipsis in the middle that felt so empty … and then she was wrenched apart and left with a kind of heart-brokenness that was ! and ? at the same time – but not together – so she took up painting with watercolours, won a local art show, gave up talking to her father, saw her first shooting star; she discovered that an ellipsis didn’t have to mean empty forgotten space but could be packed with wonder until she was ready to reach a full stop.
‘Never feel guilty about pleasure,’ she tells me, presenting her slow-roasted pork belly: tender, fat-softened meat with viciously crunchy crackling. I can almost taste the fat that dribbles gold down the pork’s exposed flesh. My stomach quivers and my taste buds swell. But it’s only a photo, a partitioned strip, a hint to pleasures that can be mine if I buy her whole book.Read More
Dear Agony Aunt,
Your last column addressed someone working with a journal editor on their story, but I'm not even at that stage. I've written a number of short stories and I'm trying to find a publication that will run them. I'm not having much luck though. How can I appeal to a literary journal editor and how do I even know which one to submit to?
Hi Journal Jeopardy
It's a journal jungle out there, that's for sure. This is a good thing though – there are a lot of exciting new places to publish your stories, as well as the more established journals. For an overview of the Australian journal scene, you can read an article by our very own Seizure Editor-in-Chief over on the Sydney Review of Books website. The Australia Council also lists the journals that it currently funds here (quite a few).
It's important to know your journals. You don't need to subscribe to every one but you do need to be familiar with the publications that you're hoping will publish you. Your local library or writers' centre should have a journal collection for you to leaf through, as will some bookshops. You should save your time (and everyone else's) by only submitting to journals that suit your style and voice. Journals may have different themes from issue to issue but the editorial team usually remains pretty consistent, as does the general tone.
When you do submit your work to a journal, follow the submission guidelines. Journal editors are generally poorly paid – if at all – so make their lives easier. Some journals will only accept submissions from subscribers, or prioritise the submissions of subscribers, or ask a question to see if you're familiar with their work. Be familiar. Why should a journal take your work seriously if you don't treat theirs the same way?
And don't be disheartened by the inevitable rejection. Writers get rejected all of the time; your work may not have been right for that particular journal or may not have fit their publication schedule or plans, but that's the beauty of such a vibrant literary journal scene ... Try, try again.
This whole process is time consuming but it's worth putting in the effort – firstly because it will give you an idea of what other people are writing and publishing at the moment and secondly because literary journals are particularly concerned with community; reading, responding and engaging with the work journals publish and the events they hold are all part of the process.
And on that note, if you are in a position to attend events run by journals (and there are more and more of those) then do – it's a great way to meet editors and other writers and learn about what's happening. This talk at Gleebooks is a great opportunity to bring your questions to not just one, but four, journal bosses.
Want some more bitter pills to swallow? Check out these other Agony Aunt posts
Shelf Snubbed (about having trouble getting into bookstores)
Garage Graveyard (ie what to do with boxes of your own books)
Pantry Procrastinations (or some tips to break your writers' block)
Red Pen Wary (coping with editorial feedback)
I'm Listening (where writers can go to find feedback on their work)
One night at the Chook ‘n’ Snag Cambo ended up in the loo next to Razor. Cambo hadn’t meant to. He got up without thinking and wandered down the hallway, over the threadbare carpet by the pokies.
‘Hey Cambo,’ said Razor, holding the door to the men’s open. ‘You followin’ me or somethin’?’
Cambo looked up with a start, saw it was Razor.
‘Yeah,’ said Cambo, making a face. ‘I’m followin’ ya.’
They were the only two blokes at the urinal – one of those wide troughs that stink of men and soaking mothballs. Razor unzipped, rolled his shoulders back, stared at the wall. A stream gushed and drilled into the metal sheet. Cambo was sure he could feel blasts of air eddying about down there; the kind that billow at the bottom of big waterfalls. He groaned in great relief, did Razor; shut his eyes and smiled.
‘Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.’
By this stage Cambo had been eyeing the wall for several seconds, arms akimbo, member out, waiting. He’d drunk four schooners in short order, on an empty stomach to boot. He was dying for a piss and yet … nothing. Had he lost his effing nerve?
Razor knew what was happening. And Cambo knew that Razor knew. The only thing for it was to shut up, stare straight ahead and wait for Razor to finish. The seconds felt like hours. Cambo’s face crimsoned. Shit!
‘I tell ya what,’ Razor said, shaking out the final drops. ‘That was glorious.’
Cambo turned away a touch, hid himself from view.
‘Sometimes,’ said Razor, ‘it’s the little things in life.’
‘Mmm,’ said Cambo, burning. A trickle? Not a single trickle?
‘Be with ya in a tick, Raze’.
Razor didn’t move an inch, just kept on standing there.
‘Meet ya out front in a tic, mate.’
The smell of Razor’s piss rose, soured the air, made Cambo’s eyes water.
‘Get us a beer, Raze. Golden Ale?’
Razor sucked his teeth, shook his head. ‘Member that time you told Jill Finch I couldn’t, ah, you know?’
‘She let it slip to all her friends. Elle Kay, the biggest mouth in town, Jane Spencer, Curly Wurly.’
‘Finch couldn’t believe her eyes the night I finally did-a. She said to me, she said: who knew? Ha! Who knew? I tell ya mate. That was some rumour.’
Cambo didn’t know whether to zip and run or go on with the farce.
‘It’s gunna be one helluva story though,’ said Razor, making to leave.
Cambo looked over his shoulder.
‘What is?’ he said, to a closing door. ‘Oi Raze, what’s gonna be?’
Puttanesca evenings, she will tend to tricks men pull that never finish old:
tilted head in ecstasy, pretend
the pasta on the counter isn’t cold.
Wharfside, anchovette leans on the railings
fishermen will trade with her, ascetic,
ignore the itch-and-scratching of her ailings:
(cinnamon: an ancient antiseptic).
Regardless of the legion times she lies,
the scent of tuna fingers, the unclean
gazing off to portside of the skies
blinking eyes; she won’t know what you mean.
Garlic hint to kneeling down instead
lay Puttanesca in the parsley bed.
As a creative writing graduate with an intermediate grasp on a foreign language, I had typically lumped literary translator into my pile of ‘unrealistic dream professions’ and something for which I was hugely under-qualified. My recent internship with independent UK publisher And Other Stories, who mostly publish fiction in translation, exposed me to a dizzying array of international fiction and led me to reevaluate how I saw translation as a profession. I also helped represent them at the London Book Fair. As the first guest writer for Departures, I’d like to lead you through the intricacies of my discoveries and share some tips on how emerging Australian translators can get started.
A truly international event, translation’s silent magic was swirling all over the London Book Fair: from the live, simultaneous translations at the Korean Focus seminars, to the proliferation of promotional material for the sale of foreign rights.
Beyond this invisible glue of Anglophone conformity, literary translation also had a more deliberate, physical presence. Since it was first established in 2010, the Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair has proved to be an integral space for the promotion and development of literary translation in the UK and abroad, providing workshops and seminars on a variety of topics.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating exchanges I saw was between two emerging translators, Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee, who discussed their competing translations of the same excerpt of a short story by Korean writer Kim Aeran (김애란). Given a limited amount of time to complete the translation, these two budding translators were put on the spot to explain their choices. I was intrigued to see how different the two texts were. While Lee’s translation took few liberties, and stayed close to the original, Smith took a more playful approach, adapting some of the cultural idiosyncrasies and colloquial dialogue for a British audience. For example, the translations ‘Princess motherfucker’ and ‘princess potty-mouth’ came from the same original phrase. And here we must consider the two approaches to translation, the artistic versus the literal or interpretive. Arguably, the two must be employed in varying measure depending on the context of your translation. In this case, where idioms and nuances differ between UK, US and Australian English, it highlighted the importance of achieving a cultural balance to engage both local and international readers.
If you were bilingual, you’d think translation would be a cakewalk, right? Well, Eugene Lee let us in on some less-obvious pitfalls of fluency in two tongues. These included being unlikely to pick up on details or problems with a text that a non-bilingual would be more attentive to. She emphasised the need to be self-aware in translation, always trying to see the work from the perspective of a non-bilingual.
Lee and Smith also discussed the joyful challenge of confronting words that simply don’t exist in the target language. The title of the excerpt contained the onomatopoeic Korean word dogeundogeun, which essentially mimics the sound of a heartbeat, but also conveys feelings of tremulous emotional excitement and nervous anticipation, but for which there is no single word for in English. Interestingly, both translators decided to use aflutter as an English substitute that is the best approximation of this complex feeling. To me, these instances are confirmations of the richness of intercultural learning that is going on when we study foreign languages. This also illustrates that translation is always an act of compromise and approximation, caught in a swamp of variables. To get out of that swamp of possibility, translators have the professional right to make informed decisions based on their judgments. It’s never about one-way word substitution, or a set formula, and there’s a reason why computers aren’t great at translating novels. There is certainly value in multiple versions of the same text, and as Lydia Davis states in an essay for the Paris Review, 'Even though a superlative translation can achieve timelessness, that doesn’t mean other translators shouldn’t attempt other versions. The more the better, in the end.'
In our Anglophone bubble, we tend to take availability of texts in our language for granted. But what if you’re in Estonia and are interested in a book that’s only available in Japanese? This rare combination will give you very limited options for translators. Languages like English, French and Arabic are often used as ‘bridge’ or ‘pivot’ languages, so texts can more easily reach their international audiences. However, introducing a second level in the process escalates the risk of possible mistakes and ambiguities. If it were a choice between translating the work or not at all, is it better to translate it, whether or not you use a bridge language to get there? This is where the ethics of translation come into play: it's a controversial issue that cannot be entered into lightly. Some, like Sian Dafydd, say that translation should be encouraged wherever possible as a fulfillment of duty towards increasing its readership. Others say that the use of bridge languages should be avoided until absolutely necessary, as the potential for error is too great.
The inherently intercultural translator treads a fine line between loyalty to the source text and author, and loyalty to the target language and culture. I believe, more in literary translation than anything else, that a commitment to the source text and a degree of authenticity is necessary, and I would be very hesitant to use a bridge language. That being said, my position as a native English speaker prohibits the urgency I can imagine is apparent in the case of minority-language readers.
While translation is not a political act in itself, translators often become lifelines for authors who are censored or imprisoned by their governments. Jethro Soutar is the translator for recently persecuted author Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, who has written about the role of translators as literary activists for English PEN and the Guardian Books blog. Soutar talks about becoming a crucial bridge between Ávila Laurel’s remote home of Annóbon (an island in Equatorial Guinea), and the media of the outside world. He set up a Facebook group in support of Ávila Laurel’s 2011 hunger strike, which transformed into a space for sharing news regarding the political situation in Equatorial Guinea. Ávila Laurel was advised to go into hiding earlier this year after making plans for a peaceful protest against police brutality. As his friend and translator, Soutar once again did his best to garner attention in Anglophone and Spanish media. Clearly, the translator’s role extends far beyond matching words in a sentence, and is heavily implicated in the cultural and political situations of the author. Ávila Laurel’s novel, set in Annóbon, By Night the Mountain Burns will be published by And Other Stories in November this year.
There was healthy debate about the relationship between creative writing and translation, with Maureen Freely clearly advocating that translation is in fact creative writing. Sian Dafydd, who self-translated her novel, The Third Thing, from Welsh into English, prefers the words ‘transmission’ or ‘adaptation’ rather than translation, as more accurate conceptions of the process. A surprise to me was discovering that the study of creative writing and the study of translation are not commonly mixed. According to the panelists, this union is in its infancy in universities, at least in the UK, with more translation courses offering creative writing modules in their program. Check out University of East Anglia’s Literary Translation courses here.
The logistics of translation are fascinating. I had imagined having the author involved during translating would complicate and cloud matters, raising too many questions. Sian Dafydd believes that, despite these potential pitfalls, having the author by your side is liberating and actually helps rather than hinders the entire process. She advocated that the author is your best resource when translating, and that when you have the author’s trust, it is easier to take liberties with the text, resulting in a ‘better’ translation.
Even though Australia is linguistically and culturally diverse, only a teeny proportion of literature published in Australia, and the rest of the Anglophone world, is made up of literary translations (in the UK it’s only 4.5%, and 0.7% in the US). Moreover, it seems to me that there are few options for postgraduate study in Australia focussing on literary translation.
There are plenty of combination translation and interpreting degrees (try NAATI’s list of approved translation courses here), with a few containing modules on literary translation (see courses at ANU, Monash and Macquarie), but none is specifically dedicated to literary translation.
The Australian Institute of Translation and Interpretation also offer vocational education and training in translation, but only from English to Chinese.
However, if you’re studying languages or creative writing (or both) at university, and are interested in translation down the track, there is nothing to say that postgraduate study is essential to becoming a translator. Far greater is the need to truly understand the voice of the original text and transmit that voice into another language. Of the translators I spoke with at LBF, including Jethro Soutar and Stefan Tobler (freelance translator and publisher at And Other Stories), both emphasised that as long as you are a strong writer in the target language, with a near fluency in the original language, a translation degree is by no means a necessity for the profession.
So, although my language skills have a long way to go, after the LBF I feel a whirring curiosity and drive towards a professional marriage of two lifelong passions: languages and creative writing.
Ready to put your skills to work? Let’s run through some key links for translators in Australia:
- The Australia Council offers grants of up to $15,000 to help fund the translation and publication of works by Australian authors writing in languages other than English. The deadline for projects commencing next year is 1October 2014, and you can find more information here.
- The Australian Association for Literary Translation (AALITRA) is now accepting entries to its inaugural prize for both prose and poetry until Friday 18 July.
- Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide PEN, affiliates of PEN International, are huge supporters of literary translation. The biennial New South Wales Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000) with accompanying PEN Medallion is offered to Australian translators who translate literary works into English from other languages. The prize was awarded in 2013, and will next be awarded in 2015.
- The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) is the only agency in Australia that issues accreditation for this profession. As accreditation is expensive, this is something to keep in mind and think about when you have built up lots of experience.
- Asymptote is an international online literary journal dedicated to publishing the best in contemporary translated works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama and visual works. The July 2014 issue will focus on translated works from Latin America and the submission deadline is 15 May with details on how to submit here. They accept submissions of all other work on a rolling deadline, and more information is available at the above link. If you’re interested in getting involved with the journal’s inner workings, they are also looking to take on volunteers in a variety of positions, all listed on their website.
- The UK-based print journal, MPT (Modern Poetry in Translation) is now accepting submissions for their Spring 2014 issue. It was established in 1965 by Ted Hughes, and has introduced a number of important poets and iconic translations to the English-speaking world.
- Three Percent is a US-based website that keeps you up-to-date with all of the news about global literary translation happenings.
Lastly, for emerging writers, reading literature in translation is a must. And even if you don’t have the means to become a well-travelled writer, becoming a well-travelled reader is much more attainable.
Thanks for sticking with us throughout this final round-up of the 2014 London Book Fair. Until next time: transmit, translate, capture the stories in your sights, and make sure to pluck your next read from the rich ecosystem of translated literature!
When my dad told me we were getting the internet, I only really understood it as a thing we used at school that had Ask Jeeves on it, and I was a bit excited to get it because then I could feed my Neopet more omelette. The first thing I ever searched for on the internet was ‘X Men’ because I liked the comics, and I opened a bunch of gay porn in the school library.Read More
A woman’s body is sexual until it is abject, but you know the esoteric truth: that the most erotic thing you can do is make it both, simultaneously.Read More
The London Book Fair can drown people. You come here as a bright-eyed young author or editor, wanting to find your ‘in’ into publishing, and after three days of trying hard to be noticed, you leave disheartened and refuse to get out of bed for a week. Don’t let this happen to you. People won’t talk to you unless you approach them, so make use of your time here, enjoy yourselves, gate-crash parties, attend the seminars and just love the books.
So, is it essential to attend the London Book Fair? For those of you wanting to get into publishing in London or the United Kingdom then yes, it really is worth going. It is a fantastic networking opportunity where you can talk to people, attend seminars, follow your interests and generally get a feel for the breadth of what the industry covers. The question of whether or nor it is helpful for writers to attend the LBF is more difficult to answer. On one hand, if you are an emerging writer who is not necessarily interested in having something commercially published but is working hard at getting noticed by literary magazines and smaller presses, then possibly the LBF is not for you. This is an industry event, where economic jargon is standard and people constantly ask ‘who are you represented by?’ If this does not faze you, then by all means go. Go for the opportunity to meet people and discover new things. True to this spirit, I have gathered a miscellany of tidbits from my wanderings, I hope they also take you to unexpected places.
London, United Kingdom
The Word Factory celebrates everything short story related. Founded by former Times journalist Cathy Galvin, these intimate saloons are held on the last Saturday of every month at Waterstones Picadilly. The events draw big names, with the likes of A.S. Byatt reading and providing wisdom on the art of the short story. The next one is on the 24th of May and Sir Peter Stothard, editor of The Times for ten years, is headlining. You can either spend the afternoon participating in a short story workshop (although not cheap at £60) or you can attend the reading in the evening for £12. So if you’re passing through London any time soon you can purchase tickets here.
Paul McVeigh, a short story writer himself and, co-coordinator of The Word Factory, keeps a blog titled, Paul McVeigh, which has regularly updated information regarding short story opportunities in the UK – it’s full of useful nuggets so worth saving in your browser.
Tŷ Newydd, Wales
Need a Spring fling in Wales to gain ground on that tricky project? Tŷ Newydd or ‘New House’ is a fairytale-esque abode that has been standing on the River Covert for five centuries and was once home to former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Now home to Literature Wales, Tŷ Newydd is opening its doors to writers who want to disappear into a lyrical setting. From the 12–19 May you can stay in Tŷ Newydd for a pricey £415 ($800),with, with catering and accommodation included in the cost (travel is extra). There are no pre-requisites for attending the short retreat. This is for writers who thrive on new surroundings and the old-world likeness of the Welsh language. Literature Wales also run courses at Tŷ Newydd. The ‘Stories in Our Surroundings’ course, from 12–16 June, will take you on trips through North Wales and have you examining where ‘place’ renders itself important in story telling. Courses cost £450 which includes accommodation and catering and the program.
The Stinging Fly is a journal that was established in 1997 as an outlet for ‘new writers’ with ‘new writing’ to be shown off to the world. Based in Dublin, they publish short stories, interviews and poetry from Irish and iInternational writers, with notable contributors including Sharon Olds and Kevin Barry (Paul McVeigh recommended him to me at the fair as ‘the best short-story writer of our time’). Their submissions open three times a year with the next round due to open in June. The Stinging Fly is also involved with the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, which is the largest Irish cash prize for short stories. This year the judges included Anne Enright. Entries re-open early 2015.
For those of you already working as a publisher or are a sub-agent and interested in expanding your horizons to Scandinavian literature, the Swedish Literature Council are providing grants of up to 7000 SK ($1350 AUD) and providing accommodation and travel to Gotëborg Book Fair between 24–27 24 – 27 of September. This year the fair is taking an Brazillian focus, with the full program yet to be announced.
The Klaustrid Artists-in-Residence program is open for applications for residencies in 2015. The Klaustrid, or ‘the Monastery’, allows writers and artists from various disciplines to reside in Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarson’s former house. It is in north-east Iceland and you may feel at the end of the world, anonymous to everyone and everything but you work for anywhere between 3–8 weeks. Accommodation costs are included, but travel and food expenses need to be paid for by the artist (note that Iceland is not the cheapest country). Applications are based on the merit of the artist. More information regarding the residency can be found here and applications can be downloaded here.
Eastern Europe has limited presence in our canon of literature, yet countries like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania all have fantastic, gritty literary cultures. In Rîga there is an association called NOASS that has an active residency program, inviting international artists to stay in their regal headquarters, a white floating house situated on the river Daugava. The residency encourages you to discover Rîga, as well as Tallinn, Estonia and Villnius, Lithuania, and to absorb the eclectic culture into your work. Timeframes for your stay are flexible according to preference and you will need to cover all subsistence, travel and material costs. The most efficient way to send through your application is to email it to email@example.com, otherwise they do accept mail applications. You can gather more information for this incredible residency here and you can download the application form under the ‘Criteria for Artists’ heading.
Relations, a brand new literary magazine dedicated to new Croatian writing, is hot off the press and a brilliant read. There are fifteen short stories, all translated from Croatian into English by Tomislav Kuzmanovic, May Hrgović, Celia Hawkesworth, Tatjana Jambrišak, Marija Dukic and Sime Dušević. ‘Welcome Mister Popović’ by Edo Popović is a dark, humorous account of an author at a literary festival and the bizarre closeness authors develop with their assigned publicists: ‘If a woman with a bottle of vodka in her hand ever shows up at your door, all the chances are, on that night you’ll be peeing in your toilet tank’. In his story ‘Symmetries of a Miracle’, by Zoran Feric provokes us with enigmatic phrases like: “ICE IS A PHYSICAL STATE WHICH ALLOWS AN ORDINARY MAN TO BECOME CHRIST!”. While the magazine is hard to find online and it has only just published, we have managed to track down a link to a page that is under construction. You can find out more from the Croatia Writer’s Society. For future reference, the ISSN is: 1334-6768. Email them and order a copy, it’s worth every Eurocent and every minute of waiting.
- Japan was not present at the London Book Fair this year, which was, we admit, disappointing. Granta, however, was present and a little butterfly mentioned that author Hiromi Kawakami will be in the UK in May for the launch of Granta 127: Japan. We are very excited because:
- Granta 127: Japan was launched at the Tokyo International Literary Festival last month to celebrate the opening of the Granta Japan branch. Now the launch is coming to London! The list of authors is diverse, including Hiromi Kawakami and Kimiko Hahn, and will provide a multitude of insights into this culturally intricate country. The launch is on Tuesday 6th of May at 7pm at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon and will feature readings and conversations with Hiromi Kawakami and Yukiko Motoya.
- Hiromi Kawakami will be travelling up to Norwich after the London launch to read at the Norwich Writers’ Centre. The event is on 7th of May at 6pm and you can book your tickets here. Drink sake and converse intimately with the Independent Foreign Fiction Award-shortlisted author. We will be in attendance and we hope to see you as well.
For our third and final article in our Departures LBF series, Eleanor Chandler will be reporting on all things translation: looking at the hows, the whys and the ethical dilemmas of translation. The next installment is not to be missed. Until then, take your pen somewhere unexpected. It may not be a castle in Wales or an Icelandic monastery, but see what you can do.
‘Well Bukowski lived off eggs,’ he says.
They’re in Woolworths. He’s piling the trolley with cartons of eggs.
‘Yeah, that and yeast. All the fat bastard ever did was drink.’ She pulls a bag of pasta off the shelf and throws it in.
‘Hey, no carbs. No carbohydrates. Put it back.’
‘Whatever.’ She rolls her eyes and pushes the bag back onto the shelf. ‘Egg-head.’
‘Bukowski never cooked,’ he says. They’re in the canned goods aisle. ‘Eggs, cans of tuna, beer. These are the things a writer needs,’ he says. ‘Cooking? Who has time for cooking?’
‘He wins a prize and now he thinks he’s the next Bukowski,’ she says to the bottle of tomato sauce she’s holding in front of her face.
He keeps talking as if he hasn’t heard her. ‘I mean, carbohydrates. What the hell even is a carbohydrate?’ He scratches at his knee and feels the tough little hairs. ‘Whoever needed carbohydrates?’
‘So what, you’re gonna start drinking now, is that it?’
‘Maybe I will. Why do you care? You drink. Why shouldn’t I drink?’
He remembers when they were fucking on the bed, her legs up over his shoulders. He sees the roundness of her egg-white breasts. The panting, the sweat, the rattling of the bed against the wall. He remembers when he had her from behind, her perfectly shaped arse. Sweat like dew on a pair of eggshells. Now that, he thinks, that right there.
It’s late. The house is empty. He’s standing at the window in the kitchen, looking out over the yard. The grass is invisible in the dark. He’s so hungry he’s practically shaking. The money’s run dry. The publishers turned away. She’s gone. The pronounced shape of her silence is scalding.
His last two eggs are boiling in the pot. The cupboards are empty. Maybe I could rob a McDonalds, he thinks. Maybe I could do that. But then he remembers he doesn’t have a car. No wife to act as getaway driver. He puts the golf clubs away.
The eggs are rattling around in the pot. The sound is tremendous. The cupboards are rattling, he thinks. The rats will be scared away. And all that steam. He’s lost in it.
Two eggs. Two eggs are all that remain.
The neoplasm, sleek, jet-black: Why tend this sack of blood and bone pronounced too old
by Muscle Marys, periwigged? Pretend—
at 37, I’m out in the cold,
a subtle cub playing with the railings
of a broken rocker. The ascetics
may be on the money, flayers ailing
Who fancies the antiseptic
touch of a whopping bore? I crave what lies
among Bornean trees (poachers unclean)—
a barbarian who snarls into skies,
not Fitness First’s merciless eyes. O Mean
Girls, I crave not Tina, nor fey. Instead,
a Sun Bear to paw sweetness in my bed.
Departures: London Book Fair (Korea focus)
This is the first in a series of special-edition Departures that focus on the London Book Fair. The London Book Fair is a large trade publishing event, attended by over 25,000 publishers, booksellers, authors and literary agents, as well as media from over 100 countries. I, representing Seizure, visited the fair to gather information and seek out new trends for emerging writers in Australia.
The market focus this year was Korea. Though ‘Korea’ was a somewhat misleading title as all the authors were from South Korea. North Korea only appeared in occasional verbal slips by authors, but it was absent from the program and seminars. For those of you with a keen interest in North Korea, we’ve included a few books in our ‘What to read’ section.
South Korea, an economic success story, is among one of the top ten publishing industries worldwide, with 38,170 publishers and 1,752 bookstores operating within the country. The Korean publishing industry’s approach to globalisation is very much one-way, with a huge push to provide grants and programs for overseas publishers to pick up Korean works and print them in English-speaking markets. However, for writers in English, there seems to be little support for translation or distribution in Korea, or opportunities for publication in Korean journals.
So unless you are a bestselling Australian author, it is going to be hard to break into the Korean market at this point in time. But, don’t despair! There are a few English-language South Korean journals that do publish emerging international writers (we’ll get to this soon), as well as an expatriate community in Seoul that regularly holds literary events. I hope you enjoy this Departures Korean focus and become as enamoured and curious with this region as I am.
What to read
Kang Chol-Hwan was the first man to survive a North Korean concentration camp and tell his story in The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Co-written with Pierre Rigoulot and translated by Yair Reiner, it is a horrific memoir that depicts the inner workings of the ‘gulag’ and the exploitation of thousands of people as forced labour. Part historical document and part political explanation, Pierre Rigoulot writes a fascinating account of Kang’s new life in South Korea, exploring the history of both North and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Your North Korea literary adventures should start here, as it will create a grounded understanding of a country that is neglected in the tales of modern history.
If, after engaging with the torture and the executions, you want to read more on this subject then Escape From Camp 14 should also be added to your to-read pile. Blaine Harden, an American journalist, recounts a harrowing, and extraordinary, tale of Shin Dong-hyuk. Born and raised in a gulag he only begins to imagine the outside world after being tortured for weeks after snitching on his mother and brother’s escape plan to a begrudging guard. When Shin does escape he struggles to learn how to live a ‘normal’ life in South Korea. The South Korean government provides generous services and supplies to refugees, however the citizens themselves often do not want to face the realities, or accept, their northern counterparts.
This hesitation to accept and engage with North Korea is apparent in the South Korean literary world as well. Yi Mun-yol, a South Korean author of award-winning novel The Poet, heads a small community of North Korean writers in exile, who are working to create a North Korean PEN group. PEN is an organisation that campaigns for the freedom to create and write literature, without fear of repercussions, with the view that any writer anywhere should be heard. Interestingly, South Korean audiences are largely unresponsive to the literature of North Korea. Yi Mun-yol notes that ‘even though the language is the same, we can’t identify with them. The forms and mechanisms are completely unfamiliar. We feel like we’re reading South Korean books from 50 years ago.’
There are, of course, huge ideological differences that deter people from wanting to read North Korean books and engage with their stories. Perhaps the raw, hopeless tales of North Korea do not appeal to South Koreans as much as the didactic happy-ending Western stories that are finding success there, because they recall a too-recent history that the ‘new’ culture of South Korea is trying to forget. Yi Mun-yol suggests that North Korean writers have not yet learned how to disguise their literary intent in allegory.
‘They are giving factual accounts,’ confirmed Yi Mun-yol. ‘I provide a space for the [North Korean] writers, they write whatever they like.’
This explains why most literature from North Korea is comprised of non-fiction works, factual or creative. The forthcoming memoir of Jang Jin-sung, Dear Leader, translated by Shirley Lee, is an account of his time in the highly-ranked position of North Korea’s Poet Laureate. It challenges our own discourse of ethics, as he wrote epic poems in support of the dictator, Kim Jong-il, which helped develop the founding myth of North Korea and tighten the hold of the regime over the country. Later, however, as Jang watched his country become an emaciated shell, he realised he had to leave. In addition to Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Orphan Master’s Son, Dear Leader is an essential North Korean read. Hopefully, as the country opens up, we will start to see some of their homegrown poetry and fiction, no matter how bleak, trickling onto our bookshelves.
The Vegetarian, written by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith, is about women who turn into plants. Narrated by Yeong-hye’s husband, there is a remarkable distinction in the styles; the husband is wry and sharp in his voice, whereas Yeong-hye’s monologues are nightmarish yet poetic: ‘long bamboo stick strung with great blood-red gashes of meat, blood still dripping down. Try to push past but the meat, there’s no end to the meat, and no exit.’
The gender split between styles is fascinating: the woman is hysterical, obsessive and speaks only to recount dreams, while the man is an observant carer. The cultural implications of the gender binaries lead the reader to question the communication methods within gender politics in South Korea. The nameless husband lives in a completely different world in comparison to the imaginary one of his wife and yet they remain under the same roof. At the core of the book is the desire for Yeong-hye to become a vegetable: she believes the true matter of being is in becoming a vegetable and refuses to eat anything but meat when she feels the time coming nearer to her transformation. You can read an excerpt of The Vegetarian here. The Vegetarian is a forthcoming title published by Portobello Books (no date available).
I’m Okay, I’m Pig is a collection of poems by Kim Hyesoon, who wears big black-framed glasses and silver hoops. Her blunt hairstyle frames her ageless face and while she does not seem to want attention, her flatform shoes and words demand it. Her poetic state is akin to that of a faint light, the kind of light necessary to just visibly outline a figure in complete darkness. Though her poetry is often defined and described as ‘women’s poetry’, she rejects this categorisation and writes to break the Korean tradition of softly-spoken women and deliberately tries to neutralise gendered voices in Korean poetry. A political radical in her early twenties, her rebellious nature is apparent in her unconventional poetics: ‘Yournostrilsingledropofapricklynosehairearthgod!’. There is no East or West, North or South in I’m Okay, I’m Pig, these poems are located where direction has no place. Read ‘All the Garbage of the World, Unite!’ out loud, and see what form of ecstatic grit consumes you, I dare you!
Where to reside/study
Unfortunately there are no creative writing programs or courses available in Korea in English. Our suggestion would be to enrol in a Korean language course in order to then be able to transmit your learning between cultures and languages. The Visit Korea website provides a comprehensive list of the various language institutions.
Seoul Art Space is an organisation that aims to regenerate derelict buildings and bring art into the city of Seoul. They have various spaces available to artists, each with a focus on one element of the creative or conceptual arts industry. Seoul Art Space Geumcheon and Seoul Art Space Yeonhui both include writing in their accepted art forms and their residencies are open to international writers. Unfortunately the deadline for the Geumcheon and Yeonhui residencies was in March, but it is worth looking at their application requirements so you can be prepared for 2015. The residencies are not fully funded, with artists expected to cover costs for flights, food and some accommodation, but the cultural immersion would be priceless.
The Gyeonggi Creation Center is an arts sponsorship organisation located in the Gyeonggi province to help support both Korean and international artists and writers. Applications for residencies open every year in November, with successful artists provided with workspace, lodgings and, in many cases, funding for their work. The Gyeonggi Creation Center has a relationship with Asialink, an Australian initiative that supports cross-cultural exchanges between Australia and Asia. Applications for Asialink open later in the year and will be announced through Twitter and Facebook feeds, with successful applicants being awarded grants of up to $12,000.
Where to submit
The premise of Imminent Quarterly is simple: to publish work that has the feeling of imminent danger, as originally philosophised by Paul Valéry. Imminent Quarterly publishes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction and various kinds of art from English-language writers and artists living in Korea, and international writers who have visited South Korea. Every quarter they create a slick online edition that is invigorated by its visual supplements, especially the photography. Check out the first edition here. They have quite specific submission guidelines, which include writing a cover letter and a bio, so read them carefully. Their resources page is also useful for those of you wanting to fill visits to Seoul with literary events.
Nine Tales Journal is a budding journal, an online literary venture dedicated to writing about Korea, with their first issue still to be published. They accept short stories, essays and artwork, and it is compulsory that your work considers the Kumiho, a demonic nine-tailed fox that seduces unwary travellers and scholars with the lure of beauty and riches. The Kumiho then drains their victim of strength and leaves them to die. Symbolic in Korean literature of caution and everything that is essentially evil, the Kumiho represents the alternative image to traditional Korean morals and ethics. Nine Tales Journal is seeking to publish new and untamed visions of twenty-first century Korea and Koreans. They accept works in translation, and the deadline for issue one was April 30, 2014.
The next installment in the Departures LBF series will focus on the miscellany of opportunities and information that we foraged at the Fair.
In the mean time, I would like to share with you, Seizure readers, some of the pretty darn cool quotes, aphorisms, and poetic statements from the South Korean authors that I heard at the fair. These snippets left me tingling at the craft of the written word and feverish to start writing:
‘The language of poetry is the language of absence.’
‘When you long for someone, do you long for someone who is alive or who has not yet been born?’ – Kim Hyesoon
‘A poet is someone who captures language and finally kills it.’ – Kim Young-ha
‘Writing a novel is like a strip tease backwards. A novel starts with you naked, then you put on one layer at a time. The finished product is the life of the author.’ – Lee Seung-u
‘Seoul is a city suffering from short-term memory loss. The memory of our impoverished past … My father did not grow up wearing shoes. There has been an evolution of shoes in Korea. But now everyone wears Nike. No shoes to Nike. This change in identity is reshaping the self.’ – Yi Mon-yol
‘I write about loneliness. Writing about loneliness does not make me any less lonely.’ – Kim Insuk