Sitting Still II: The Skeptic Meditates—from Tim Parks

Seeking relief from chronic and debilitating pains that conventional medicine could not cure, critic Tim Parks finds himself, much to his own surprise, attending a meditation retreat that involves sitting in crossed-legged silence for twelve and more hours a day.

Although the retreat takes place in Italy, where Parks lives, the course leader, John Coleman, is an English-speaking former CIA operative who discovered Buddhism in the Far East.  He practices a form of meditation called Vipassana, “seeing things as they really are,”  and communicates with the sixty or so participants through a translator. Parks immediately doubts his decision to embark on this undertaking.

The routine at these retreats is that you eat breakfast at six thirty, after the wonderfully quiet early session, lunch at eleven, then just a piece of fruit late afternoon and nothing till the following morning. “A little hunger in the evening will do no harm,” the overweight Coleman smiled.

Every other afternoon, for an hour, there was a so-called “check-up.” In alphabetical order people were invited, four by four, to bring their cushions to the front, sit before the teacher and report on their progress. On the second day, almost everyone spoke of their pain with the sitting position, their difficulty eliminating their thoughts; many complained of a film playing out before their closed eyes, some old drama rehearsed a thousand times with no solution, as when a ghost appears again and again in the same place in the same clothes – an ex-husband, a dead sister – makes the same gestures and is gone, then back. Never there, never not there.

“I’m in a loop,” one man said. He found it distressing.  “I have a big decision to take when I get home, I just can’t get it out of my mind, I see the conversation over and over.”

People couldn’t identify the place on their lips where breath met skin. When they did identify it, they couldn’t focus their attention there, they lost it. “It must be my moustache,” one man thought. Continue reading »

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Sitting Still I: Paradoxical Relaxation — from Tim Parks

Exhausted by years of fruitless attempts to treat a battery of abdominal pains and urinary disorders with conventional medicine, Tim Parks tries a relaxation cure described in a book discovered on the net. He has the impression he is clutching at straws.

Silence.

More or less.

How strange, I thought, after the fourth or fifth theatrically deep breath, this closing oneself in one’s body, not to sleep or snooze, but to pay attention.

Attention to what? Eyes closed, I felt disorientated.

There was an itch at the corner of my mouth and I scratched it.

You’re not supposed to move, I remembered. Your hands must be still. But where?

Dr. Wise’s book advised spreading ones hands out, palms up, but this felt weird. Anyway, I was on my side of the bed, so one arm hung over the edge. I put them side by side on my abdomen. Continue reading »

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Tim Parks reinvents literary criticism

At Little Star we consider Tim Parks one of the central writers of the age. His novels—Europa, for instance, and Destiny and Cleaver—forge new literary constructions around narrators who are, on the one hand, intelligent and controlling and, on the other, unstable, revelatory, and self-discovering. His criticism for The New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books has been vital to defining a vigorous modernist aesthetic of the present. His occasional writings for the New York Review blog have reinvigorated (with another NYRB blog regular, Charles Simic) the venerable European feuilleton tradition, with its voice of a literary wanderer, opining with deceptive lightness on the matters of the day. And his ground-breaking memoir Teach Us To Sit Still carried literary reflection on the ancient mind-body problem into startling interior territory.

We’ve been fortunate to publish lots of his work in Little Star (see below) and hope we’ll do more, but for now our attention is mobilized by his highly original, stealthily appearing new book, The Novel: A Survivor Skill.  In it he tosses aside the authorial armor once belittled by new critics as the intentional and affective fallacies—the argument that literary meanings transcend human relations between author and reader.  In The Novel Parks defiantly writes that literature absolutely proceeds from specific human beings and is received by other human beings who respond, not only with our critical intelligence but also with emotions, fears, prejudices, needs, yearnings, fantasies, intuitions, affinities. His analysis addresses many of the writers central to our time from the question of how we respond to them as a vital human relation.

We feature a dip into The Novel in Little Star Weekly this week. Its introduction, in which we imagine real-life encounters with Joyce, Dickens, Hardy, and Lawrence, appeared on The New Yorker web site last month.

And if this leaves you wanting more, here is other work by Tim Parks from Little Star, some of which we’ll open up as a weekly special as the week unfolds.

From Teach Us To Sit Still (2010):
Sitting Still I: Paradoxical Reflection
Sitting Still II: The Skeptic Meditates
About Teach Us To Sit Still

From Sex is Forbidden (novel)(2012)
In the Dasgupta Institute, Part I
In the Dasgupta Institute, Part II
In the Dasgupta Institute, Part III

From Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan (2013)
Italian Ways, Part I
Italian Ways, Part II
Italian Ways, Part III

“The Day Is Coming,” Part I (story)(2014)
“The Day Is Coming,” Part II
“The Day Is Coming,” Part III

“Brotherly Love” and “Mrs. P” (linked stories) (Little Star #6, 2015)
Read two more stories in the series in The New Yorker: “Vespa” and “Reverand

From The Novel: A Survival Skill (2015)
The Novel As Survival Skill

 

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A Poets’ Correspondence (I–V): Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Glyn Maxwell

This summer in our digital edition, Little Star Weekly, inaugurated an occasional series, a correspondence on poetic means in the English of here and there (England and the UK) by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Glyn Maxwell

Read Glyn’s first installment in Little Star Weekly here, ensuing correspondence below.

Dear Glyn,

I’m in New York. And now that I’ve made you jealous I can strike that off of my bucket list. Wish you were here. Anyway, your sitting up in your hotel king-size in Boston wading in the undulating thick of this ocean-wide question [do American and English poets read each other?] reminds me of Walcott in his poem, dedicated to Michael S. Harper, “The Arkansas Testament”—the eponymous poem of a book that, I’m just recalling now, I bought while IFC9780374168520 was at Oxford. Coincidence. We don’t have to talk about that poem now but it is a great poem for thinking through this as a situation of poetry. Going back to my thought … We’re constituted by and constituents of our coincidences. And it may be at this point but mere coincidence that American and UK poets share a language. I like to think not––I’m a strident optimist, after all––but the esprit de corps of the two, their very sense of purpose and being, feels to me so distinct. But why? My family is from a former British colony, Antigua, and I was the first in my family born here (by “here” I mean New York). That was 1974. I recall asking my parents once why they moved to New York instead of London, which seemed the more familiar tether, and they answered, “Well, we remembered the people who had moved to New York sent back envelopes with money, while people who moved to London sent back envelopes asking for money.” And just like that: simple epigrammatic remembrance, and I’m a different poet. If I grew up in London what type of poet would I be now? What percentage of my reading would have been different? I’m comfortable in English going back to Chaucer. Some of that is from my training. Much of it is from my mother. Regardless, the difference in my American self and my UK self I imagine would have come with the nineteenth century (registers of Whitman, Dickinson, and the spirituals) and then into what was an incredibly loud and at times very cool twentieth century. Glyn, in the grand scheme of things—seven centuries in our language alone—

FC9780374520991the difference we’re then talking about just isn’t that much. But it’s a loud difference, is it not. And yet it certainly feels like much because we’re not yet our history. This no matter how much contemporary canonization attempts to goad you into thinking otherwise. I want to second everything you’ve said except for your feeling nerves at potentially saying whom you like. I, too, avoid this as much as I can but I push out with it instead of feeling any internal anxiety about it. It’s so rare to come across a really great poem; one you don’t love but rather—let’s be honest about this—one you envy. I’m grateful for them and grateful even more when I’m surprised to find them. What I’m saying is that we can over-articulate what we see ourselves as being part of–these are my contemporaries, I’m coming out of this tradition, I’m sticking it to that tradition—and so, until I feel otherwise, I prefer to shut up about it. The worst thing that can happen to a poet is to have the voice leveraged. Poetic relations aren’t a game of tag, poetic relations are strange. I hear a little bit of Stevens in what I just wrote and what better moment to bring this up: Stevens’ collected poems was published in the UK in 2006. Two thousand and six! To put this in perspective, Antigua had been independent from England for twenty-four years before Stevens’ collected poems were published in the UK. Hurrah for de-colonialization coming before Stevens, but there’s really little chance of UK poets finding a common ground to stand on with American poets without a sustained and varied look at Stevens, who was so much greater than Harmonium America

FC9780679726692didn’t have to wait long at all for Larkin or a number of his contemporaries who were not his equal. And while I do not mean at all to imply that understanding Stevens is understanding American poetry now, I no doubt do mean to imply that when two generations pass after the death of Stevens before his complete poems come to press in the UK we poets are not in a rush to understand one another. And must we be? Honestly, I find the finding, the discoveries, quite fun. And sharing our appreciation is a simple letter or email away. Some of the presumption of the problem is that as nearly everything else now is about our accessibility, our poetic relationships (workshops, readings, conferences) should be increasingly more so as as well. But a little bit of difficulty doesn’t hurt, does it? And accessibility is a terrible object for poetry.

Warmly,

RrP

Rowan salut,

Blimey, I didn’t know that about Stevens. Two generations. The absurdity of the delay! I felt the FC9780374533496converse, though, in the nineties. I had trouble finding Louis MacNeice or Edward Thomas in the Frost Library at Amherst. The Frost Library! Bob’s best friend Thomas! And at the time—and still, though I study the situation less than I used to—I felt that they were the two strongest British Isles poets that American poetry (well, young American poets, which was my business at the time) could learn from. This isn’t postcolonial mind-frame bullshit—Stevens mirrors that, Hart Crane seemed unknown to us and we’ve nothing like Whitman. Can’t fit them lines in our country. Anyway, I thought (and still think) that Thomas had a conscientiousness towards breath, and the relationship between light, breath, and thought, that surpassed even Frost’s. Frost is a genius, but he always will be learning me something, while Thomas can sound a mind simply moving through the air taking in oxygen who knows why. That’s not a better poetry, but it’s distinct. And of course America

FC9780141393193isn’t missing Frost, even if so many cluelessly use him as a road not to be taken. I taught an MA student lately; he’d spent two terms immersed in the postmodern and was pretty much unreachable. I told him what I think about (I mean can hear in) “Acquainted With The Night.” He gave me this basilisk stare and said: “Oh you’re making that up.” I was trying to show him what meter does, vowels, rhymes, punctuation, how things actually affect the body. Nah, just making it up. Clearly I had no game, no key, no system, no wink or shrug. Anyway, our Thomas is distinct from your Frost and I still think poets need both.

MacNeice is distinct from Auden—by light years—yet he labors in Auden’s shadow. While Auden muses from above, MacNeice endures the mess below, the chaos, the detail, but you can hear him strolling,

FC9781930630635swaggering, stumbling through it (that’s the “rough” jazzy meter and rhyme working), so it’s not the inanimate clutter of so much “free” American work. [Editor’s note: read Auden on MacNeice in Little Star Weekly here] “Free” verse is always saying “look at me, I’m a different new animal, oxygen schmoxygen!” So let’s see how much of that survives. T=H=E=Y S=A=I=D W=H=A=T??? Literary Enron, the infinite hedge. There go fifty more campuses I’ll never see…

But I don’t care for most new poems I read because I want to hear how time feels to a living thing, and a living thing breathes in and out, walks up and down, the pupils change size, the bones start to creak. Old forms are that: natural realities made into writing. I love intelligent repetition in poetry. You do it in The GroundThe ludicrously overlooked wonder Schnackenberg does it, working away at an implacable form because the form is a form of grief. Alice

FC9780393347272FC9780374533045Oswald does it on our shores, astoundingly, in MemorialRuns it by us again like bulletins, the terrible things run by us again like bulletins. I can only believe in a patterned discourse of that kind if I know—if I can hear—that the poet would give it to me straight if s/he could—but either beauty or terror bars the way, chokes the voice, sea-changes it.

Pointless saying I miss New York—take that as read, Rowan—but let’s make a date to watch Arsenal on some midtown big-screen next time I’m over. We now have eleven of the world’s silkiest midfielders, even in goal—why don’t we win everything? … Oh, I see.

All best,

Glyn

 

Dear Glyn;

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I’m slow, so so slow, to respond for lack of a moment to think aside from my having made a mental note to remember to say, “You’re right, Glyn.” You’re right, Glyn. (You’re certainly right about Schnackenberg and Oswald [see letter #3]: beyond recommended reading). You’re right about everything here except for the part about cutting off fifty more campuses due to your ideological trespasses: academic programs love being told they’re doing it all wrong; especially when it’s delivered wrapped in an accent. (I know, I know … Who’s got the accent? But I digress.)

You have nothing like Whitman, true, but you have Blake. And Blake was multifoliate, more varied in his vision than Whitman, who bounced up and down on top over the same ideas until they heated up and reached critical mass. Whitman was also an editor of himself like few before or after. American renewal, parthenogenesis, etc. But come to think of it, American poetry seems to work via explosions; someone bursts onto the scene. Their British counterparts seem in their branching out more filial and organic (with apologizes to Byron who, as we all know, one day woke up famous). But British and American poetry seem, in general terms, to share a tendency toward appropriation and a subsequent retroactive search for the source—our poetry rarely finds itself in the sun of its source. Whether the English ballads (where did those come from again?), ghazals or free verse (a.k.a. vers libre), the egg tends to get lost in the omelette. Which makes sense since the English language is like that, too. Poetry is the creative elaboration of a syllable, set to syllables—it is an idea set to an idea of music. And when a poet maintains in the vowels, rhythms, phrases, and punctuation something that feels feral and utterly necessary, I feel pushed back toward a first idea even as my mind hurtles toward the future implications to which the poem’s presence in and of itself alludes. I was about to bring up Dylan Thomas here and in particular how I can read “Fern Hill” every day all day, because it always feels to me like it’s making new space for its language in the ways I’ve just described. But maybe that’s too willful a turn; it seems so.

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Non-sequitur #1: I’ve enjoyed watching from a distance as The London Review of Books published August Kleinzahler seemingly poetry issue after issue. The LRB is the LRB and Kleinzahler’s poetry is so puckishly, robustly American; even his two home towns, Jersey City and now San Francisco, practically bookend the continental US.

Not quite non-sequitur #2: It is always pointless to say that you miss New York, but never pointless to say that you plan to come find me to take in a game. I’m always up for a game.

Not at all non-sequitur #3: The repetitions in The Ground are all intentional. I’m fascinated by the differences between

FC9780871406798repetition and accretion: the work as a whole hoped to contain as much of the latter as the former.

Non-sequitur #4: Auden awarded Robert Hayden the Hopwood Prize at the University of Michigan in 1941. This gets no mileage anywhere, but the idea of the 1941 Auden reading the 1941 Hayden is a great allegory for the synergies between British and American poetry that hibernate between all of this hoo.

Warmly,

Rowan

 

Rowan, I gaze west and you east and what we see is almost infinite air and water and stars, perhaps it’s no web-WGC-books-1925-1-11wonder we range so widely and homelessly about—maybe poets are all like the birds sent out from the ark, finding either nothing or the twig that means the World! Or we wash up on the same imaginary islands with which our dreams have dotted the North Atlantic. Let’s keep mooring among those islands, after Little Star and the NSA have stopped listening. And now you’ve mentioned Blake and it’s the middle of the night here, so my world spins down to a single day in a village with an east side and a west side. My native town was built in 1920 in empty fields either side of a railway; it was the dream of more or less

a single pioneer. He was an idealistic socialist who thought life could be lived decently and kindly in a green place that was sort of city, sort of countryside. How’s that for a metaphor: as I get older it means more and more to me that my gate into this life was the dream of that single hopeful soul, Mr. Ebenezer Howard. He emigrated to Nebraska, tried to farm, failed, came back bursting with ideas about urban planning. He died on Mayday 1928, the day my father was born. It doesn’t take much fate to give an agnostic a Holy Ghost! [editor’s note: Maxwell’s radio play about the founding of his native town aired on BBC Radio last fall.]

But how can I relate to space? America feels like the house next door, and the east side of Welwyn Garden the far side of the earth. The poem “Birthplace” which I put in my last book was all about that, and my shorthand introduction was always “here’s my shot at ‘Fern Hill.’” I’m glad you mentioned D. Thomas, after I’d done my obligatory quiet English bow to the namesake Edward. But they were both Anglo-Welsh, and so am I. Dylan—the Celtic three-fourths of my blood—is out of fashion with those who know only fashion. People who have no ear say “I can’t hear anything.” When someone trashes Dylan Thomas I know I’m in the presence of the ordinary. What saves poetry from time is music. No living poet has written a poem that will outlast “Do not go gentle into that good night,” not one. The deity Time will tell you that, but I’ve turned fifty now so I’m saying it myself.

Because DT knows the vowels and he knows how shapes we make in the gut and throat and jaw directly relate to FC9780811218818signals in the brain. I hope I do this sometimes, I know you do. My whole writing life, people tell me when either they’ve heard me read or they’ve read my work out loud—“oh I totally get it now!” Always, all the time. And I feel like saying “Well,”—and here’s a beautiful American sound we didn’t know we needed—“DUR …”

So I sign off with Arsenal top in England (am I dreaming?), Barcelona top in Spain (no it’s real), the sun coming up, a new play about to open, and I’ll see you before long, either in my heavenly otherworld New York, or that beloved Orc-haunted Hobbiton I know as England.

Glyn x

Read the rest of the correspondence here.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips’ second book of poems, Heaven, appears this month. Glyn Maxwell’s most recent book is Pluto, and his Collected Poems came out in 2011.

 

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Wolfgang Koeppen, Life in the manor’s shadows

I got to know Bismarck early on, he was on the sewing machine or next to the sewing machine, on which my mother was patching the bed linen for one of those Pomeranian nobleman’s estates, Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz, and Bismarck was cast in bronze, he was wearing boots that were one hundred percent bronze, he was holding a bronze saber in his bronze hand, and on his bronze head perched an eagle, also bronze. On his bronze helmet. The figure looked as though it meant to intimidate me. Bismarck weighed a lot, and I wasn’t able to lift him at the time, but if a grown man had got hold of him, then he would have been able to kill another man with him. The lord of Lossin or Wunkenhagen or the lord of Demeritz didn’t do that. He had a shovel that he used to kill people with. But the lords of Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz didn’t use their shovels either. They used their staff. They had always had staffs on Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz, and even after the suspension of feudalism and the abolition of the authority of the lord of the manor, people continued to be born on Lossin or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz or people were brought to those places for the purpose of killing others. That estate called Lossin, or Wunkenhagen or Demeritz, it had belonged to my mother, or to my mother’s mother, I was never quite sure, I had heard it too many times and it was told me or not told me in too many different ways, and it was true that my mother did sewing work on those estates, but she couldn’t sew, even though people seemed to take it for granted that a woman in her position would be able to sew, and so she stitched the sheets of rough peasant linen for a mark a day, and the great perk was that she was able to take me with her. And so I sat under the sewing machine, and watched my mother’s feet as they operated the treadle, and the sheets passed under the needle of the sewing machine, and they rose and fell and rose and fell before my eyes like the curtains of a stage on which Bismarck appeared, or where an actor playing the part of Bismarck stepped forward to thank the audience for their applause. Cast in bronze, and torchlight processions of students passed out of the town to the Bismarck Tower, where they dropped their burning torches at the feet of the monument, and Bismarck, he too in bronze, stood firm-footed on his pedestal, firm-faced, firm-expressioned, firm-fleshed, all bronze, in the flickering torchlight in the darkness, and nothing could go wrong again. At that time, sitting under the sewing machine next to my mother’s feet moving the wheel, it never occurred to me that the bedsheets that rose and fell and flickered before my eyes might have been likened to funeral shrouds or to the white flags of defeat.

I was a witness, but I wasn’t there in person … that was my fortress sure, my camp, my mattressphere. Kitty-cornered was my mother’s bed, it was empty on that evening or at that hour, later on my mother’s bed was always occupied, and then it was always empty, until finally I sold it or it was lost. Then there was the table where we sat when my mother was home and there was something to eat, or where we sat when there was nothing to eat and we just sat, and sometimes we talked to each other and sometimes we didn’t, and we got along or we didn’t. In the cupboard was the bread when we had bread, and my mother kept the cupboard locked when she went out to work, so that I wouldn’t eat up the bread, but I had a nail that I’d bent and managed to flatten, and with that nail I was able to pick the useless lock of the old cupboard, and I took the bread and bit off a piece, and I stuffed myself on the bread, and it choked me because I knew it would make my mother cry. An electric bulb hung from braided wires under the low ceiling, it burned feebly and wasn’t supposed to burn at all, I was supposed to be either asleep or sitting in the dark, if I switched the light on I was wasting it, my mother wasn’t able to cut it off, but then a man came with a bill and he cut it off, and then we both sat in the dark, my mother and me, and a woman who had come to us had called the bulb naked, a naked bulb, and I liked that, a naked bulb, naked light, they put up a tent, outside was the town, the enemy, the enemy in the field, there were wolves and hunters in the forest, and on the ripped wool blanket I wrapped myself in were books from all the libraries of the town and the university, and Pastor Koch, seeing the books, said, you’re not a Bolshevist are you, and I looked at him, and I counted the duelling scars in his feisty red face, and I asked him what’s a Bolshevist, and I looked through him perhaps as far as Russia, and then there were the magazines our town was avid for, and that I delivered for Alt’s bookstore, and they had names like The Bachelor, Color Magazine, and New Life. They could have taught me what life is. I never learned.

Read more in Little Star Weekly
Translated by Michael Hofmann

Wolfgang Koeppen was born in 1906 in the German Baltic town of Griefswald and lived on the Baltic Coast until 1920, when he began many years of travels, finally settling in Munich. He was an outspoken liberal journalist as well as a novelist. These reminiscences form a part of Youth, a volume of autobiographical writings soon to be published by The Dalkey Archive. Koeppen’s novels Death in Rome, The Hothouse, and A Sad Affair were also translated by Michael Hofmann.

Michael Hofmann has published six books of poetry, most recently his selected poems in 2009, and some sixty books in translation from the German. At Little Star we have published his translations of Durs Grunbein and Gottfried Benn. His selected essays will be published by FSG this winter.

 

 

 

 

 

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April Bernard: Ghastly but possibly interesting

Alvin Lightman’s life first touched mine when both of us were staying at Holdon House Facility upstate. Formerly it was Holdon Hospital, before that Holdon Asylum, and called variously by those who have worked and lived there, among other witticisms, Hold It, The Hold, and Hold On I’m Coming.

That I had “committed myself” was a distinction that became meaningless within moments of my arrival. (I had not written anything in three years; eight months earlier I had lost a newborn child, to death; and shortly thereafter a nonhusband, with whom I had lived for a dozen years, to the winds.) I felt cold all over all the time, even in the heat of July, even in the heat rising in silken ripples off the asphalt drive up to Holdon House. I emerged shivering from my taxi and tugged on my luggage. Weak and petulant as well as chilled to the bone, I gave way to babyish whimpers and was glad to let the attendants carry my things up the shallow steps.

Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the “lounge,” his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked “ghastly” but “possibly interesting.”

Plenty of people have suffered worse than I; I knew it but the knowledge did not rouse me from my chilly and haphazard torpor, my thoughts that alit and then slid away from ideas, or names for things, or images. It was difficult to focus on the kindly man, not wearing white thank goodness, who showed me to my room, speaking gently and moving smoothly, as might an expert with wild animals. In my small private room, whose window looked out on a broad sloping lawn interrupted by tall pines, the attendant helped me unpack—that is, he relieved me of my laptop and cell phone and explained that Holdon was firm about these things. Supervised email once a week for each patient; no cell phones; no TV.

Television deprivation might be serious. Recently it had become necessary for me to sit in front of the television set with my eyes averted from the screen, and to sit in this posture for most of the day. Once in a while, I would slide my eyes back to the dazzling pixilated world of cars and pets and investment strategies; of carefully dressed women turned sideways in their chairs to ask slightly younger and more beautiful women about their movie roles; of Rice-A-Roni, which apparently people still ate somewhere; of soothingly incomprehensible yet ostensibly tense discussions between characters from old television shows, cops and doctors and cop-doctors and hookers and dealers and hooker-dealers. For an entire week, a channel that claims to air programs “for women” aired a “reality” series called “Snapped! Women Who Lose It.” Wonderful stories, I thought, if only I could have followed them …

Read more of April Bernard’s story “The Fixed Idea” this week in Little Star Weekly

April Bernard is the author of two novels, most recently Miss Fuller (read some here), four book of poems, and numerous essays and reviews.

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“Awakenings,” by Giedra Radvilavičiūtė

If, before dawn, I open my eyes upon waking, I see my dead mother’s photograph on the wall. That’s why I hung it across from my bed. The photograph was copied and enlarged by a woman artist I don’t even know (and who refused to accept money for it) from a small, completely candid shot. I don’t know the exact occasion of the photograph, but I believe it was somewhere, taken by a male friend of mother’s, on her way to the sanitarium. I was very young at the time, but old enough to hate that man. Only now is it clear to me how much that hate must have hurt my mother at the time: she had gotten divorced three years earlier, found herself someone else, and immediately after fell ill with an incurable disease. (When I think about this, I remember that children frequently meet their ends in the same way as their parents.) In the photograph my mother is sitting lighting a cigarette on a whitewashed cement mileage marker at the side of the road. Wearing a black silk dress sewn (or more accurately, resewn) by my grandmother.

My eyes open, but without getting out of bed, I say:

“Mom … Let’s talk.”

“Well, be quick about it.”

Read more in the current Little Star Weekly!

Translated by Elizabeth Novickas

Giedra Radvilavičiūtė is a Lithuanian journalist and author. She has published two books of autobiographical essays. “Awakenings” will appear in her first book in English, Those Whom I Would Like to Meet Again, being published this summer by Dalkey Archive Press. Elizabeth Novickas has won the St. Jerome Award from the Lithuanian Translators’ Association for her translations of Ričardas Gavelis’s Vilnius Poker and Kazys Boruta’s Whitehorn’s Windmill. She is at work on a translation of Frank Kruk by Petra Cvirka. Read about her here in Three Percent, the excellent University of Rochester blog on literature in translation. (St. Jerome, we learn, is the patron saint of translators, a profession well in need of divine intervention.)

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“Before Arbour Hill,” by Anakana Schofield

Before Arbour Hill there were three of them. There was his mother. A semi-detached, in an unremarkable cul-de-sac, housed them, with souvenirs from a holiday in Portugal on the mantlepiece. Biscuits in the tin, sheets in the hot press, and holy water inside the front door.

They were looking for one suspect in connection with the assault. They worked alone these kinds of suspects, pouncing on their victims, executing unimaginable acts with no one watching them. Yet, they were rarely on their own when rounded up. No, they were picked up in highly populated areas, lurking near a petrol station, caught in the passing sweep of someone’s highlights. Sometimes they were sitting in the living room on the family sofa watching the football results like Dermot.

Malachi preferred Arbour Hill. The hope an accident would befall his brother, while he was on remand, without any real possibility of it happening, existed. Unlike Mountjoy. Things happened in Mountjoy. He worried about things happening and was angry for it.

The media were waiting. Malachi was surprised. He hadn’t thought this far ahead. His mam had. She handed his brother sunglasses and a hoodie to cover his head. Keep walking, she urged him. Later at home she would admit she got the idea watching a news story months earlier. That she’d been planning for this moment, that she’d been noticing these stories, Malachi didn’t like that.

Dermot ran ahead and when the journalists realized they’d lost him, they turned on his ma like crows pulling at a brown bag for the trace of crumbs. They crowded in on her with microphones and rapid questions that bounced on and off her. Public safety? Would he reoffend? Was he a danger?

His ma walked on. She whispered with her head lowered: He admitted he’s guilty, he served his time, what more do you want?

They stayed with her the way debris clings to a broom. A sophisticated, young one pursued his ma. Her voice razored, her vowels strangulated.

“How would you feel if it was your daughter?” She jutted a microphone, with the number three emblazoned below its meshy head, up to his ma’s lips repeating again:

“Your daughter, tonight, like, watching this on TV?”

His ma stops. Malachi doesn’t like it. You never stop for a journalist’s question, he thinks. He doesn’t know how he knows this, but he knows it. They have her now, he thinks.

 

Read more this week in Little Star Weekly

Anakana Schofield is the author of the novel Malarky, which recently won Canada’s First Novel Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Read some of Malarky on littlestarjournal.comHear Anakana Schofield read a bit of Malarky.

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Photo by Tim Fraser for the National Post

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“Karel,” from “3 Kinds of Exile,” a new play by John Guare

THE ACTOR appears and talks directly to us:

This is a story that a friend of mine told to me a few years ago. I was sitting in his house in England. I was going through some personal troubles and a solution to them stymied me. I brought my bag of woes to him.

He listened and then said “Let me tell you something that might have relevance to you.” He poured a drink. The afternoon light came in. And this is what he told me.

My friend was in his late twenties in the early 1950s. At that time, my friend found himself covered with a rash that was extraordinarily uncomfortable. It had begun as a small itch as if a gnat had bitten and left its teeth. The itch grew. He thought it must have come from wool in his underpants, his undershirt. He switched to cotton. The itching continued. The itching now a bright red rash spread down his legs and up his chest. At first he felt his body was blushing. He looked down and watched the crimson spread. In some weird variation on Kafka, was he turning into a tomato? He felt like an Easter egg someone had dipped into fuchsia. He felt like a tropical flower out of Gaugin. He felt his body was the red of anger. But anger over what? He had graduated successfully from Oxford. He worked successfully, even happily, for an international manufacturing company. Yes, he was happy. He was healthy. He was successful. The rash now reached the bottom of his feet.

 

Read more in Little Star Weekly

John Guare’s new play, 3 Kinds of Exile, will open at the Atlantic Theater Company on May 15, with the playwright in the role of The Playwright.

Guare’s plays include A Free Man of Color, Lydie Breeze, The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation, Landscape of the Body, and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

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“this has no title,” by James Kelman

Then the man coming along the aisle, a big heavy fellow, he sat down next to me. I knew he would. I had made the space. He noticed I had and nearly smiled, just how he looked around the eyes like it was almost a smile and hoped I would notice it. A recognition of the other’s humanity. There would be this between us. Otherwise he would not have smiled, not as an outer expression; but I was very conscious of his large body, a plumpness, thinking of plumpness. He was a plump man.

Had this been a revolutionary situation.

People dump their bags and their coats on the spare seats to stop folk sitting down next to them. I make space for them. I like to see them there and think alongside with them. They make thoughts go in a different way. So we are in the world together…            Read more in Little Star Weekly

James Kelman will appear with Little Star on Wednesday, May 1, at the St. Mark’s Bookshop. More information here

His new novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky will be published this week. Kelman was born in Glasgow in 1946. He is the author of many novels, short stories, plays, and political essays. His novel How Late It Was How Late won the Booker Prize in 1994.

Writers:

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