Epic of the Ex-Urbs, by Tomasz Rozycki

All at once, led by a curious intuition, his cousin

began to brake, using not only the pedals but also his feet, his knuckles,

and his facial expression, causing smoke to issue from his Polish-made sneakers

and a strange smell to rise into the air. They came to a halt. But though they had stopped,

within them their stomachs and duodena continued to hurtle onward,

their organs were still rushing ahead and their entire bodily system was still

moving in the direction of their appendix, scattering its concentrated wholeness

in form and state. They had come to a halt; but though they had stopped,

kinetic forces continued to roar within them and exit clamorously

from their anterior orifices and other frontal parts.

They had come to a halt, but the braking had damaged their facial skeletons

in such a way that veins the color of the ocean popped out on their foreheads,

along with multiple boils in volcanic shapes, while their eyes attained their gamma point,

causing significant problems for further conversation.

They had stopped in front of a tiny cottage with an exceedingly low fence

lost in the grass, beyond which grew stunted little trees.

The cousin, declaring that this was the place, jumped nimbly

out of the car, his sneakers still trailing considerable quantities of smoke,

and went up to the gate.

.

Translated by Bill Johnston

Read more in Little Star Weekly

We were amazed by Tomasz Rozycki’s modern-day epic Twelve Stations when we published a great chunk of it in Little Star #4 (2013). (Its book-length entirety is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.) Rozycki managed to sweep into one whole the tiny and domestic (the oddities of contemporary provincial Polish life, with their Soviet and imperial and rustic residues, the sleepy unfolding personalities in a multi-generational family, the wistfulness of the young person lingering over and losing patience with his childhood) and the elegant cadences of epic verse and their larger mythic and historical resonances. Twelve Stations is both fun and an utterly original development of modern verse.

He’ll be reading with us next Friday at our Little Star Poets’ Cafe (RSVP here) with another poet who mixes magic out of contemporary language and classical means, Glyn Maxwell. Both have, coincidentally, written modern-day epics of suburban late adolescence (Maxwell’s being Time’s Fool, in terza rima no less, from 2000).

We at Little Star offer as a next generation of verse magicians—after Heaney, Walcott, Milosz, Paz, Brodsky: Rozycki, Maxwell, and, to our ears, their German counterpart, Durs Grunbein.

Tomasz Rozycki was born in 1970 in the Polish town of Opole. He has published, in Polish, nine books of poetry and a translation of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés. Two volumes of his poems have appeared in English, The Forgotten Keys and The Colonies.

This passage is drawn from his book-length mock-epic poem, Twelve Stations, which received many awards in Poland including the Koscielski Foundation Prize. A long excerpt appeared in Little Star #4.It is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.

Bill Johnston is the translator of many works from the Polish. His translation of Wiesław Mysliwski’s Stone Upon Stone received the 2012 PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award for fiction of that year.

Read another passage from Twelve Stations, a divertimento on pierogis that we published for Thanksgiving, here on Little Star Diary.

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Bronek, by Magdalena Tulli

From the moment my mother came into dementia, time with her ran backwards. First the preceding day vanished from her memory, then the month before. In the outside world the dates followed one another in the usual order, but she paid no attention. In her apartment, late March regained its beginning, and then the page on the calendar had to be turned back again—it was the end of February. Since the regular course of time had been reversed, month by month she was losing years. First she forgot my sons, then she forgot my husband.

“Did you go for a walk with your daughter today?” asked the nurse who visited in the afternoons. “With who?” my mother asked, puzzled. “I never had a daughter.”

So she’d forgotten me as well. Which must mean we’d passed the midpoint of the 1950s. My mother could not stop there. We knew what would come next. Sooner or later we’d fall back to the end of the war. We would see the generals signing their peace treaties, the fireworks, the drunken soldiers.

But before that day came, she turned anxious. She had to go back to Mauthausen for something. For what? For whom, I should rather ask. She wanted to know if I would go there with her. By then I was her second cousin, though I had no idea what my name was. My mother knew my name for sure, but at that time she was not yet aware that I’d died in Auschwitz like the others. And so any question was possible. A journey to Mauthausen was not excluded, though it would probably require unimaginable exertions at the requisite offices with their huge gloomy waiting rooms. We were to search for a child in Mauthausen. But what child? Whose? She wasn’t exactly sure. And before we were ready to set off, she forgot everything. Finally the day of the liberation came and passed unnoticed, grey and cloudy. The generals, the fireworks, the drunken soldiers? We hadn’t seen them. There was nothing to celebrate. When you were traveling backwards in time, liberation led directly to the turmoil of war and occupation …

Translated by William Pierce

Read more in Little Star Weekly this week

Magdalena Tulli has written several novels (four of them available in English) and received a number of literary awards in her native Poland. Most recently, her novel In Red was published in Bill Johnston’s translation by Archipelago Books. She has also translated into Polish the works of Marcel Proust, Italo Calvino, and others. “Bronek” forms part of a volume of autobiographical stories recently published in Poland. William Pierce’s fiction has appeared in Granta, American Literary Review, and elsewhere. He is senior editor of Agni and has recently completed a novel, Heartwrap.

 

 

z12499126Q,Magdalena-TulliPhoto by Maciej Zienkiewicz

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Special Summer Double Issue of Our Mobile App Little Star Weekly!

 

iPhoneshanaThis week we have a more-than-usually big and juicy bite of reading for your long train rides and cicada-filled afternoons on the porch swing.

Our weekly app for iPad and iPhone offers up an extra-big dollop of Little Starrish writing to while away the hours. Our theme, more or less, is the carnal and its aftermath. Poems about Bette Davis and Frankenstein from Judith Berke and James Arthur, small stories from Rav Grewal-Kök, student, and Eliot Weinberger, master of the form. And a big suspenseful piece of serial from NYR blog regular Tim Parks, in honor of his new novel, Painting Death.

Our artist this week: Bushwick-based Shana Sadeghi-Ray. As our summer curator John Zinsser reports, Sadeghi-Ray is an nth-generation feminist polymath—she’s got a zine, A Source Says (available at Printed Matter); a clothing line, SMH Girls; and a body of surrealist-informed pop-culture photo collages. Her work was was recently on view at the Last Brucennial.

Curious about the app? You can take a tour here.

So follow the sign of the floating pancake to Little Star Weekly! Download here. If you have’t read the Weekly before you’ll get our first issue and current one on the house.

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A long short story from Tim Parks

The day is coming, it is not far off now, when I will be overwhelmed by anguish. This premonition has been with me for some time. What do I mean, overwhelmed by anguish? I am not sure. It is a formula I use to describe what is coming. I expect a moment when a balance will be tipped, when things will no longer proceed as they do now. In my head, that is. It is something I cannot imagine. Perhaps I picture a cat tossed into heavy surf, or a rag convulsed in a jet stream. I cannot really understand how these images relate to myself. Sometimes I see needles pushed into the skin above my knuckles. In response to these impressions I murmur the words, overwhelmed by anguish. I feel sure this moment is coming quite soon.

People speak to me in dreams. I remember scraps of conversation. Something portentous was said: “Your failure is twofold.” I cannot remember who said these words. I cannot remember the conversation. It was a dream. The day is coming, I mutter, when I will be overwhelmed by anguish.

Meantime, I function well enough, perhaps rather better than in the past. People around me do not seem aware of any special unease. They are neither demanding nor sympathetic. This creates a further anxiety: How can you imagine you are so ill, when in fact everything is fine? Or again: how can they imagine everything is fine when you are so ill?

A recurrent nightmare is that I murdered someone. It happened long ago. The incident was forgotten. I have been allowed to live my life as if I were not a murderer. But in the now of the nightmare the brutal truth finally comes to light. There are various scenarios. The victim was a girlfriend. I strangled her. Or it was a stranger I killed with the help of a friend. An anonymous man. We buried him at the side of a road in the country. Or it was a man I was paid to kill, a man in a suit and tie. I stabbed him to death. What remains the same in these nightmares is a mixture of self-regard—that I was brave enough to kill—and horror. The horror is the corpse exhumed and the ugliness of my true self revealed. When I wake, I am frightened, but then a sense of well-being relaxes my limbs: You never killed anyone. You never came close. At another level the panic clings.

My daylight life is a simulacrum. I have started using that word when I think about how I live. What I mean is that it is false. I don’t mean hypocritical. I don’t mean that I am living a lie. We are not talking about a situation I could change. My days are a series of routines which, as it were, proceed without me. I am a ghost who appears, struts around the same haunts, at the same times, in the same clothes, making the same gestures. It’s hard to believe there’s a personality. My wife tells her friends I have become absent-minded. Reality, I have started to think, will be the moment when I am overwhelmed by anguish. In a way, I am looking forward to it.

About a year ago, I began an affair …

Read more in Little Star Weekly, Parks’s long story, “The Day Is Coming” in three parts

Tim Parks recently published his fourteenth novel, Painting Death. He is also the author of a number of nonfiction books and translator of books by Moravia, Calvino, Calasso, Machiavelli, and Leopardi. He writes frequently for the New York Review blog.

 

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Little Star’s comment to the FCC on Net Neutrality

I started a small literary magazine in 2009, on the promise that digital communications had created for minority interests to find their audience and grow together.  I have worked in literary publishing for over thirty years, and in all that time I had been contemplating such a magazine and preparaing for it, but until the dawn of digital communication I had no opportunity to make it a reality.  My magazine has been well received by writers and readers.  It is utterly dependent on a free and open internet to find its audience. It is the quality of my work alone, and not any corporate or financial muscle behind it, that gains it a hearing;  my work wouid quickly be crushed if it were forced down the ladder by the growing publishing monolopies with the cash to buy first place in the internet.

As you know the arts and ideas are threatened on all sides by monopolizing forces that threaten the free exchange of ideas.  Artists, critics, and thinkers, in the digital environment, can no longer count on making a living from their work or on the support of institutions like publishing houses, record companies, movie companies, that opt to put their aesthetic or intellectual values ahead of the bottom line.  Such institutions are being slowly destroyed. All we have going for us now is a free and open internet. Take this from us, and our culture is in the grip of majoritarian corporate interests.  I beg you, in the interests of culture and also of liberty and quality of thought, to protect the internet from going up for sale and to keep it as a vital resource for the people.

For more information: https://www.battleforthenet.com/

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New from Ingrid Winterbach

“For any type of trauma, mental or physical, even if it was incurred a long time ago,” said Basil. “For disorders of the blood, for festering conditions, black-and-blue spots, or a tendency to bleed. To prevent the formation of pus. For evil-smelling secretions. If the muscles are tender and feel bruised. For abscesses that fail to ripen. For the harmful effect of trauma, financial loss, rage, and revenge; for impotence brought on by excessive sexual activity. If a person fears illness, or sudden death, or great crowds, or public places.”

He lifted a small herb from the soil.

“If there is a compelling urge to pick at the scalp, or at the bed, or at the wall. If the head feels hot and the body cold. If the right eye seems larger than the left, if blood oozes from the ears. If there is a sensitivity to high-pitched sounds.”

Karolina squatted next to Basil. He held up the herb for her to see.

“If the skin looks dark and spotty, and the smallest abrasion turns into a bruise. If the person dreams of death and of mutilated bodies, wakes up in a state of terror—all these things indicate the use of the remedy prepared from this herb,” he said.

Karolina studied the herb attentively. She did not know if Basil was making fun of her. He seemed perfectly serious …

Read more this week in Little Star Weekly

Little Star loves Ingrid Winterbach. We featured a large section of her first novel to appear in English, The Book of Happenstance, in our second issue, and her second, To Hell With Cronjé, in our online diary. Her new book, The Elusive Moth shares with The Book of Happenstance a heroine drawn to taxonomy—two women whose strong impulses and appetites are harnessed to a formidable, meticulous intellect. In The Elusive Moth our heroine observers the strange, often violent and inscrutable inhabitants of the little rural town to which she has come to do field work with the same classifying eye as the insects she studies in the veld. Read all Ingrid Winterbach’s books: each is a hard gem, of a different color.

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Welcome John Zinsser!

Welcome to our new summer curator at Little Star Gallery, John Zinsser! Zinsser is a veteran New York painter who has had more than thirty solo exhibitions in the US and Europe. He co-founded Journal of Contemporary Art in 1987. A lecturer on contemporary exhibitions at the New School, he has also been a contributing editor at The Paris Review and The Brooklyn Rail.

Our mobile app Little Star Weekly will feature a painting selected by Zinsser each Friday through the summer. His first installment, his own painting (at our request) is out today! Subscribe here for more.

Meanwhile, have a look at some more of his work:
The Graham Gallery
Kunstgallerie Bonn
Larry Becker Contemporary Art
Philip Slein Gallery

Little Star Weekly is a mobile mini magazine of poetry, prose, art, and occasional music from Little Star.

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John Zinsser, Paintings and File Studies.
James Graham and Sons, February 14–March 29, 2014

 

 

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Neighboring World, Yakov Druskin

And there is no end and cannot stop / and everything comes out so that there is no break / and flows like water and finding an obstruction in ice / and the sky is grey / and from here the trams on the bridge go slower / and the bridge itself has lengthened and became boring / and on the bridge a boy goes on the railing and if he falls into the Neva he will smash up on the stone and ice and drown in the water / and the ice goes downstream and ice has hit ice and the ice has broken and on the ice there are stones and bricks and from a stone to a stone and from a brick to a brick an infinity / and more ice went over the ice and the ice went under the ice and went out from under the ice and went on / and the Neva flows and petroleum flows on the Neva: / blue oil and patterns and patches and the head is spinning and it is possible to fall into the Neva head first and smash head upon stone and ice and drown in the water and bricks on the ice and shards of bricks on the ice and from a brick to a brick and from a shard to a shard an infinity and the bridge stretches and it has lengthened and the trams go slower and the granite railings on the Neva and I am lying on the railings it is cold the sky is grey nothing else exists. 

Leningrad, 1927 or 1928
Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky
Read more in Little Star Weekly

Yakov Druskin (1901–1980) was a Russian underground philosopher. He was a friend and supporter of the eclectic group of poets and provocateurs, around Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky, who founded the OBERIU collective in 1928 and managed ten years of mischief (combining readings with elements of theater, circus acts, cabaret, and general mayhem) before being disbanded on charges of confusing the proletariat. Little Star celebrates OBERIU this month on the occasion of a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music based on Kharms’s novella, “The Old Woman,” starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe, directed by Robert Wilson, and using an adaptation by Darryl Pinkney. The poetry and thought of the OBERIU brilliantly challenged conventional ways of imagining and particularly the totalizing aspirations of the ideology that threatened them. Their work, which fully emerged from hiding only in the 1980s, is giving fresh impetus to artists within and beyond their native Russian.

This week we feature Druskin, a school friend of of Vvedensky and the only member of the group to survive the war years. After the siege of Leningrad, his translator Eugene Ostashevsky writes, Druskin “walked across the mutilated city to Kharms’s apartment. Kharms’s wife, Marina Malich, gave Druskin a suitcase with Kharms’s and Vvedensky’s papers. He tied the suitcase to a child’s sled and pulled it back home. This is how the greater part of their surviving work came down to us.” Ostashevsky describes Druskin, “a profoundly original Christian existentialist philosopher,” as “a living window onto an eradicated world” for the young members of the sixties Soviet underground.

The three pieces we feature this week in Little Star (one above and two in our Weekly) reflect on a notion that preoccupied the group, which dabbled in the occult and styled themselves chinari, or “titled ones,” of “neighboring worlds”—worlds that adjoin ours but operate according to different rules—and how to reach them. Messengers? Windows? Kharms’ stories of the old woman also travel in this alternative geography.

Translator Eugene Ostashevsky is a poet and scholar of Russian literature. He is editor, most recently, of Endarkenment: Selected Poems, by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, translated with Lyn Hejinian and others.

 

An OBERIU bookshelf:

Eugene Ostashevsky, editor, OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism

Daniil Kharms, Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, edited and translated by Matvei Yankelevich

Leonid Lipavsky, Conversations with OBERIU, in Little Star #2 (2011), translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

Alexander Vvedensky, An Invitation for Me to Think (poems), edited and translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

Daniil Kharms, It Happened Like This: Stories and Poems, translated by Ian Frazier

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Wendell Berry, a letter to Gary Snyder, thinking about religion

I think we have to acknowledge the possibility that practical experience can be condensed to good purpose into moral law: Do not let the topsoil wash away. That does not have to be stated as a moral law. It’s a “universal.” It could also be stated: “God has forbidden us to let the topsoil wash away” or “Grandpop said don’t plow that hillside.” The point is that if such a limit has no lively existence in the community, then the hillside is not safe from authority—charismatic reformer, visionary leader, progressive institute or whatever—that may say to plow it. Or, without that kind of law, how are people going to tell the difference between a person of authentic spiritual authority and some charismatic son of a bitch who wants the hillside to produce a taxable income or a “surplus” to improve the balance of trade?

So, granting the limits of moral law, I would still disbelieve the authority of any spiritual teacher who encouraged or condoned or ignored the waste of topsoil, or the corruption of community or family life. I think such a teacher would have to meet that kind of test.

What I’m feeling more and more inclined to argue, in other words, is that there’s no “high culture” without low culture. No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul if you can’t keep the topsoil from washing away. No use expecting excellent art if there’s no excellent farming and carpentry. This is hard (and instructive) to deal with because, of course, it means that I’m in the wrong lifetime to expect Port Royal [Kentucky] to produce an excellent poet. I’m in the wrong lifetime to even get a good glimpse of what the excellence of an excellent Port Royal poet might be.

That is so hard for me to think because I came along under the specialist system in the arts, which proposed among other things that diseased society could be ransacked for the “subject matter” of “great poetry”—a notion full of silliness and despair. I think, now, that our work must settle for being, at best, a fragment of a glimpse of a better possibility. Speaking for myself, I’m pleased with that conclusion. I see a lot more hope and satisfaction in that than the possibility of making an “artistic triumph” out of the ruin of the world …

Read more in Little Star Weekly

After nearly fifteen years travelling back and forth between Japan and California, studying Zen Buddhism and writing poetry, Gary Snyder built a house and farmstead in the Sierra foothills in 1971 where he lives to this day. Wendell Berry completed a Stegner Writing Fellowship at Stanford in 1958, travelled to Italy and France with a Guggenheim, and taught English Literature at NYU’s University College in the Bronx, before buying a farm in the vicinity of land his family had farmed for generations in Port Royal, Kentucky, in 1965. He too lives and farms there still. Between them they have written dozens of books of poetry and some of the most essential reflections we have on our relationship to the land. In the early 1970s they began a correspondence about farming, poetry, and much else besides, from which Counterpoint is just now publishing a generous selection edited by Chad Wriglesworth.  A portion of a 1980 letter about religion and the sacred appears in the current issue of Little Star Weekly.

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Copyright ©2014 by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint
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Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, in praise of analepsis

It is the custom of my fellow writers sometimes to go back and leap over a period of time and connect an event that happened before it to an event that happened after it. This is called analepsis (tawriyah), that is, “taking backward” (waraʾ). They may also start by mentioning everything about the protagonist from his first whisperings into his beloved’s ear until his reappearance as a married man. In the course of this, the author will relate such long and tedious matters as how his face paled and his pulse raced when he met her, how he was reduced to a tizzy and felt ill while he waited for her answer, how he sent her an old woman or a missive, how he met with her at such and such a time and place, and how she changed color when he spoke to her of the bed, of drawing her close, of embracing, of leg over leg, of kissing, of kissing tongue to tongue, of intercourse, and the like …  The leap backwards is acceptable, in my opinion, if the author finds himself faced with a block to composition; afterwards, he can return to what he was about. But leading the man to his bride’s bed and then shutting the book on the couple without peeping through the crack in the door to find out how they fared next I cannot accept; I have to know what happened to them after the wedding …

Read more in Little Star Weekly
Translated by Humphrey Davies

One of the most brilliant literary discoveries of recent years, for the English language at least, has been Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s nineteenth-century picaresque, Leg Over Leg, which NYU’s Library of Arabic Literature is just wrapping up in four bilingual volumes. Al-Shadyaq was at once a founder and a bad-boy of modern Arabic literature, impishly creating modern Arabic in his lexigraphic and journalistic work as he produced a subversive, bawdy, digressive, literary oeuvre that was almost immediately censored. Humphrey Davies’s bravura translation of Leg Over Leg renders its festival of wordplay and jokerdom with beguiling ease, enshrining al-Shadyaq with Sterne, Rabelais, and Cervantes among our founding clown-sages. We bring Leg Over Leg to Little Star in three parts.

Shidyaq was born to a Maronite family in Mount Lebanon in 1804. He become (like the hero of Leg Over Leg) a court copyist and from there a printer, journalist, translator, and reformer of the Arabic language, living at different times in Damascus, Cairo, England, France, and Istanbul, where he died in 1887. Although entailed throughout his life in bureaucracies, particularly religious ones, both Christian and Muslim, he became increasingly skeptical of orthodoxies and institutional authority, which are satirized mercilessly in Leg Over Leg.

Humphrey Davies is translator of of Arabic literature, including Yusuf al-Shirbini, Elias Khoury, Alaa Al Aswany, Bahaa Taher, Muhammad Mustagab, Gamal al-Ghitani, Hamdy el-Gazzar, Khaled Al-Berry, and Ahmed Alaidy. He lives in Cairo.

Read about Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq in the LA Review of Books
Read an interview with Humphrey Davies about his work on Leg over Leg in Moby Lives

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