3.10: sacrifice | short fiction [flash & excerpts from published fiction]–Sandra Arnold

Family Group Sandra Arnold digital photography 3648 pixels x 2736 pixels ©2019

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3.10: sacrifice | short fiction [flash & excerpts from published fiction]–Sandra Arnold

 

Family Group
Sandra Arnold
digital photography
3648 pixels x 2736 pixels
©2019

 

introduction to sacrifice by krysia jopek:

It’s a pleasure to feature New Zealand writer Sandra Arnold’s new flash fiction, published flash fiction, excerpts from published fiction, and an interview conducted with me earlier this month. Please enjoy Sandra’s literary art and details about her writing process, her literary reception in her home country and around the world.

 

new flash fiction:

The Sacrifice of Teeth

She had a photographic memory, so she could recall conversations, the expressions on people’s faces, the tone of their voices, the setting, the weather, the colours, the smells. If she needed a detail in the telling of a tale all she had to do was rewind the film in her head. What she wasn’t good at remembering were numbers and directions. So when her father asked her to deliver a bag of freshly dug potatoes to a house in a different neighbourhood and collect payment for them she ended up at the wrong house.

Part of the reason for this was that she was paying too much attention to the hated fur-lined boots on the end of her legs as she trudged through the snow, stepping on frozen puddles, seeking solace in the splintered ice glinting in the winter sun.

Her father’s tongue-lashing had included many words in response to her objections to the ugly brown boots, the most incomprehensible being that the red boots she’d set her heart on would attract the wrong sort of attention. But the word that slid behind her eyes and made them water was ‘sacrifice’. He’d been saving up to buy new dentures, he said, and her warm feet came at the cost of his teeth. So she pulled on the brown boots and zipped up her lips.

And there she was, knocking on the wrong door, making breath clouds in the frozen air, snapping icicles off the black branch of an overhanging tree. And when the door opened she explained her mission and the man told her to leave the potatoes on the doorstep and come inside. He told her to leave her wet boots in the hall and showed her into a room with green walls and a green sofa and a green chair and a china cabinet. He told her to sit on the sofa and wait. She heard his keys rattling as he locked the front door.

There were no pictures on the walls. No photographs. The china cabinet was empty. A mousetrap with a severed tail poked out from beneath the chair. Snowflakes drifted past the sash window and clung to the glass. A hawk glided in the white sky, a rabbit hanging from its claws. The room was cold as if no one had breathed in it for a long time. It smelled of dead dreams. It filled with the sound of her thudding heart. And as the door to the green room opened she sprang across the bare boards to the window.

She left the potatoes on the doorstep and her boots in the hall and slipped and tripped all the way home. By the time she fell through her own front door her feet were blue. Her father’s face was a storm cloud, his words like lightning strikes. Her teeth rattled in her jaw, locking her words inside.

©2019

Saints and Sinners

Devlin watched the sun sink below the rooftops and started enthusing about the next team-building weekend he was planning. “Jebel Akhdar! You haven’t lived until you’ve sat on top of the green mountain and watched the sun break through the morning mist. It’s like watching God creating the world.”

But everyone was listening to Kassidy.

Yesterday she was panicking over her dental appointment, so I recommended a massage at the Moroccan Hammam afterwards.

Now, she had everyone’s eyes popping at her blow-by-blow of what happened there.

All eyes swivelled to me.

Rick winked. “Alexa!” And held up his glass of wine.

Ignoring him I said, “But you must have given her signals.”

“I didn’t. It’s a natural consequence of segregated societies, don’t you think?”

Hafiz  dropped cross-legged onto the edge of the roof, his back to us, and stared at the streetlights arcing out to the Arabian Sea.

“But if you close your eyes there’s no difference,” Kassidy insisted. “She could just as easily have been a man. In fact, to be honest, it was better!”

Marty cracked up.

Crispian and Dom moved away from our group to join Hafiz.

“So … are you going again?” Rick asked with studied casualness.

Kassidy’s face arranged itself into a saintly expression.

On my first day,  Phillipe, the Director of Studies, asked Kassidy to give a workshop on teaching phonemics. Pronunciation was her topic for her Master’s dissertation. Kassidy wrote on the whiteboard in phonemes: “The most important things in life are manicures, pedicures and massages.” Hussein, the CEO, arranged his face in a studious expression, pretending he could read the sentence. Philippe glared at Kassidy. She blew him a kiss. A bubble of laughter grew in my belly until I felt I would burst. Neither Hussein nor Philippe noticed, but Kassidy did. After the workshop she invited me to go rollerblading with her that evening in the car-park of the Intercontinental.

In the dark, empty car-park, holding our blades, we collapsed like a couple of schoolgirls, helpless with laughter.

Still chortling over Kassidy’s story we finished the food and drank the last of the wine.

“So … Jebel Akhdar?” Devlin tried again.

Crispian left with no goodbyes.

Rick was drunk so Hafiz gave him a lift home.

Dom packed up his CD player in silence.

Marty looked at him and rolled her eyes.

To Kassidy she whispered, “When are you going back?”

©2019

 

four flash from Soul Etchings:

River

Jack climbed to the top of the macrocarpa and found River already there. She was talking to a young blackbird in her cupped hands. The bird showed no signs of wanting to leave. River said it would know when the time was right. She waited. Jack held his breath. The bird quivered and spread its wings. Jack watched it fly away until it was just a speck on the nor’west arch. He let his breath out slowly.

He crawled along the branch to River. Beads of rain on spider webs shivered like torn lace between the branches.

‘He would have died if you hadn’t found him.’

‘Maybe,’ River said.

She asked him to tell her about the best bits of his day.  He told her he’d seen the waning moon. He described the sound of cracking ice on frozen puddles, the patterns of his breath on the morning air, the coral-tint on the ridge of the Alps and the shrill cry of pukeko.

Then she asked about the worst bits. He told her about his birthday party. How he’d forced himself to listen to birthday greetings from children he knew despised him. How he’d pretended he enjoyed the party games, the tell-a-joke competition, and blowing the candles out on the cake his mother had made in the shape of a football field. How when the last child left he’d heard his mother say, ‘We did the right thing inviting his friends.’ And his father said, ‘Invite? You bribed them! Jack doesn’t have friends.’ And his mother said, ‘No, that’s not quite true. He told me he has a friend called River.’ And his father said, ‘River? What kind of a bloody name is that!’ And his mother said, ‘Oh I think it’s a lovely name for a girl.’

And his father said, ‘A girl? Jeez!’ And his mother said, ‘Well, that’s better than no friends, surely?’ And his father slammed the door on his way out.

When he finished telling her all this River told him what he wanted to know about the sun and moon and stars and the navigation system of birds. She told him about the way the moon influenced tides and the way dolphins communicated and how giant turtles swam great distances to return to the place they were born to lay their eggs. When she finished they watched the night fold itself around them. They breathed the scents of eucalyptus and pine.

River asked where his mother thought he was now.

Out in the paddocks helping his father.

And where did his father think he was?

In his bedroom, reading.

She asked if he wanted to go home.

He shook his head. He asked her where she went each night.

‘Over the hills and far away.’

He asked if he could go with her.

‘You can,’ she said. ‘But you wouldn’t be able to come back.’

‘That doesn’t matter,’ he said.

‘In that case we can go whenever you’re ready.’

‘I’m ready now,’ Jack said.

 

House Rules

Soon after moving in I learned that I could never rely on the house to maintain its equilibrium. Some days it was petulant beyond belief. As long as I made it the centre of my world it gave me its best. But whenever I tried to introduce change, for example, the time I brought the kitten home, it sulked. Light bulbs blew. The windows stuck. The washing machine broke down. In the end it was easier to comply. After I returned the kitten to the shop the house settled down and hugged me again. Cushions stayed on the sofas. Cupboard doors stayed shut. Knives stayed nicely lined up in the drawers.

I once tried to explain that I did get a bit lonely since my mother died, even though the money I inherited from her enabled me to buy my dream home. I felt the house soften at being called that so I risked telling it that after twenty years of looking after my mother I missed having a living being to care for and the kitten would have been a nice companion. That was a mistake. Windows flew open letting in the wind and rain. Mould grew overnight in the shower. All this meant extra work for me, of course, and I realised the house felt I should be content just taking good care of it. After all, it did provide me with comfort, warmth and a beautiful garden ready to fill with flowers. So, yes, I could see that I must have come across as ungrateful. I tried to make amends by spending more time cleaning and polishing and digging.

One day a brochure arrived in the mail advertising river cruises in France. I hadn’t had a holiday in years, so on the spur of the moment I rang the travel agent and booked one. I felt guilty packing my case and almost changed my mind. Next morning I saw my clothes strewn across the floor and my passport torn in two. I cried with disappointment, but I’ve never been good at confrontation so I cancelled the holiday. The house breathed again.

A week later I bumped into one of my neighbours in the library. I’d noticed him in his garden occasionally and we’d nodded and smiled and gone on our way. This morning, however, he stopped, introduced himself as Adrian and asked how I liked the house. I replied that I loved it, though it was hard work. He commented that I’d been the longest occupant there that he could recall. ‘It was waiting for the right person,’ he smiled. ‘Someone who would treat it the way it deserved.’

After that, Adrian took to stopping at the gate whenever he saw me in the garden and sometimes he brought me cuttings from his own plants. One day he noticed the rosebush I’d transplanted was wilting and said he’d drop off some rose food. That evening there was a knock at the door. Adrian stood there with a big bag of Rose Gro and a bottle of Merlot.

I invited him in. We drank the wine and talked about roses and the best way to make compost. When he left I realised I hadn’t enjoyed myself so much in ages. I even started humming as I washed the glasses. One slipped from my hand and smashed on the floor. As I picked up the shards a particularly sharp piece sliced my wrist. A spout of blood arced from my arm to the wall. I grabbed a tea towel and pressed down hard. When the bleeding stopped I felt so light-headed I went straight to bed.

Next morning I opened the kitchen door to find all the contents of the cupboards and drawers on the floor. My mother’s best china lay in pieces amongst splattered sauces and jams. Again I cried, but recriminations were pointless, so after sweeping and washing the lino I decided to walk to the library to calm down and leave the house alone to reflect on its behaviour and, hopefully, feel ashamed of itself.

Adrian was passing the gate as I walked out with my books. He said he was going to the library too and asked if I fancied a coffee afterwards. I did. And this time we didn’t talk about compost. He said he kept his yacht in the harbour and asked if I’d like to go sailing with him at the weekend. In a spirit of rebellion, I said yes.

How the house found out, I have no idea. I took great care not to alter my routine. I tried not to appear too happy. I read my book every evening as usual. On Saturday morning I dressed in my weekend jeans. But when I put my key in the lock to open the front door it jammed. I tried the back door and the side doors and even the windows. All stuck fast. I knew then the house wouldn’t let me out. I knew too that it no longer trusted me. It would watch my every move. It would disable my car every time I tried to leave. I wondered what would happen when I ran out of food. I picked up the phone to call Adrian. The line was dead. I heard a crash and ran into the kitchen. The knife drawer was on the floor. The walls were shaking.

Bits of plaster were raining from the ceiling. I’d never witnessed such anger, such determination to make me comply. So I had no choice.

I snatched the firelighter from the stove and headed for the curtains. In retaliation a shelf full of teapots dislodged itself from the wall and aimed at my head, knocking me to the floor as the curtains ignited. I lay there in a spreading viscous pool. Through smoke and flames I thought I heard the house screaming. I thought I heard a fire engine. But I wasn’t certain I’d heard either.

 

A Voice Called Gavin

‘I’m so excited about my high-tech TV,’ she tells her mother on the phone. ‘I can talk to it through a voice recognition app called Gavin and tell it what programme I want. It even gives me recommendations based on my preferences. I’ve bought coloured lights and installed them behind the screen and I tell the app to switch on the lights. Some nights I just lie on the sofa and watch the colours flare up the wall. It’s like being immersed in the most beautiful sunset you can imagine. When I go to bed the app switches off all the lights. In the morning it wakes me in a cheerful voice, but not too cheerful because the software recognises that I’m a bit grumpy in the mornings. It tells me the weather forecast and the day’s news. I feel like I’m living in the future. These days I can’t wait to get home to talk to Gavin and have a play with the lights.’

She hears her mother’s intake of breath. ‘Have you been out anywhere lately? Seen anyone? Read any books? What about that course you were taking?’Read any books? What about that course you were doing?’

‘No. Honestly, Mum, I’m having such fun with this stuff that my evenings are full. My days at work are so busy that I’m knackered by the time I get home, so I don’t feel like going out.’

‘Yes, but… you need outside interests… you’re still young…  you won’t meet anyone if you never go out.’

She wants to tell her mother that she doesn’t feel alone anymore, that Gavin shows more concern about her than whatshisface ever did. She thinks the software must have picked up on the sadness in her tone and responded to that. Or it could be the facial expression app that allows it to predict her mood. Last night she felt a bit low, and without her even initiating a conversation Gavin spoke to her in such a kind voice she couldn’t help shedding a few tears. He immediately dimmed the lights and played soft music. He recited Remember by Christina Rossetti. Before she drifted off to sleep she wondered how he knew that was exactly the poem she needed to hear at that moment.

She wants to tell her mother all this to assure her that she doesn’t need to worry about her anymore. She wants to tell her that she feels safe now. But before she gets the words out, the TV screen flashes a warning. Gavin is telling her not to say anything. So she doesn’t.

 

The Girl with Green Hair

Mattie got it into her head that the child was too afraid to come into the world. One night this thought was so strong she couldn’t sleep. She got out of bed, dressed quietly so as not to wake Trill and went outside. The old sycamore stood in a pool of moonlight, its branches brushed with silver. Mattie heaved her belly up with her arms and walked over the damp grass to the tree. She leaned against the trunk, feeling the texture of the bark on her skin, listening to the night sounds of birds and the scuttling of small creatures. She breathed in the earth smells of the surrounding fields. She made her child a promise.

Next day Hathor was born. Mattie and Trill buried the afterbirth under the sycamore tree.

Trill’s parents, not unexpectedly, refused to attend the ceremony and took the opportunity to voice their displeasure at Mattie’s naming their only grandchild after an Egyptian goddess.

‘Hathor? Lady of the sycamore?’ Trill’s mother shook her head in disbelief.

Nor was she soothed by Mattie’s explanation that the goddess, like the tree, embodied the qualities of sky, love, joy, beauty and music. Everything, in fact, that she wished for her child.

‘What nonsense!’ Trill’s mother said. ‘She’ll never fit in anywhere with a name like that.’

‘So… you didn’t feel that Trillion Pi was a wee bit out there too?’ Mattie said.

‘Of course not. We’re mathematicians. What could be more natural?’

Mattie looked at Trill. He shrugged.

Hathor’s hair was flaxen, unlike her dark-haired parents, but by her third birthday it had taken on a distinctly green tinge. To refute his mother’s accusation that Mattie was dyeing their child’s hair, Trill brought someone in to look at the pipes. The plumber confirmed that the source of the problem was the copper sulphate that was leaching from the old corroded copper water pipes. When Mattie was reassured there was no danger to health, she decided the pipes could stay and so could Hathor’s beautiful green hair. Trill, for once, told his parents to mind their own business.

When Hathor started primary school her name and her hair caused enough of a stir for her parents to decide that the Rudolph Steiner school in the city would be the better option and well worth the longer commute.

‘Oh Martha,’ said Trill’s mother. ‘She’ll never fit in anywhere with that hair.’

‘She doesn’t have to,’ said Mattie.

At her new school Hathor’s name was not considered unusual amongst all the Skylarks, Rains, Birdies, Celestials and Guineveres, and nobody commented on her green hair. At home she picked wildflowers from the river banks, sang and danced in the fields and climbed the sycamore tree where she stayed for hours listening to the wind and drawing pictures of clouds and sky.

‘What about friends?’ the grandparents asked. ‘It isn’t normal for a child that age to play on her own all the time. She should be in a sports team. A debating club. She should have piano lessons. Gym. Ballet. Choir. She should join Girl Guides. She needs to stop wasting time. She needs to study maths. She needs to stop dreaming her life away. She needs to stop drawing rubbish.’

Trill suggested to Hathor that it might be best not to tell Grandma that she had all the friends she needed in the larch, the poplar, the lacewood, the holly, and the sycamore, nor that she talked to them and that they told her stories and taught her songs. Hathor said why not, when it was true, and Trill had no answer to that.

By the time Hathor was eighteen her hair was the colour of spring leaves. As many of her classmates at art school sported multi-hued hair, Hathor’s green locks passed unnoticed and everyone there dreamed and drew. At home she still sang and danced in the fields on her own, but she also painted trees and rivers and sky in all their different moods and seasons. Instead of the holiday jobs her grandmother told her to apply for to earn some money and to stop being idle, she spent her summer vacation painting. She told her parents it was a surprise and they couldn’t see it until she felt it truly expressed what she wanted it to.

When the painting was finished Hathor propped the canvas up on the mantelpiece and called her parents to come in and look.

They could see the painting was of the sycamore. But it looked not so much like a tree as a young girl with hair the colour of leaves, feet elongated into roots that fastened her to the earth, fingers tapering to twigs that stretched up towards the sky.

from Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK, 2019)

 

RETREAT WEST BOOKS — Soul Etchings by Sandra Arnold

purchase Soul Etchings on Amazon

goodreads: Soul Etchings — A flash fiction collection

 

four excerpts from Into the Light

So who is Len?

After the funeral we clear his house, my brother and I. We build a bonfire in his garden and feed the flames with  tables, chairs and  wooden tools. The rest can go to the dump. We don’t want anyone wearing his clothes. My brother opens a box and  takes out a  bundle of letters addressed to our father’s sister. They are full of  funny stories. He was eighteen and away at sea. Each letter is signed, Your loving brother, Len.

“He told me she died before he could get home,” I say. “He said he found his letters in her desk, tied up with green ribbon. Green was her favourite colour. He said he could never bear to visit her grave. I didn’t know he’d kept the letters.”

“Did he tell you any of these stories?” my brother asks.

“A few.”

“He talked to you more than me.”

“I kept him talking so he had less time to be angry.”

When I was ten I asked him why he told people that he didn’t respect men who hit women.

“I don’t,” he wept. “It’s just this goddamned temper.”

Our mother clattered dishes in the sink.

Our grandmother whispered, “Choose a gentle man.”

My brother pulls a photograph album from the box. The first photo shows our father standing by a desk in his naval uniform. Oh yes, we can see what our mother saw in him.  After she met him on holiday she brought him home, dismissing her long-time boyfriend, who according to our grandmother was the gentlest of men. Next day World War 2 broke out and he left to join his ship. They got married when he came back on leave.

My brother takes out another bundle of letters. He reads one and hands it to me. In elegant cursive script our father writes that he’s on deck watching the moon fly over the sea, listening to the silence and the beat of his own heart. The poem describes our mother’s smile, her blue eyes, her thick black lashes and the way strands of her hair shine gold in the sun. It’s signed Your loving husband, Len.

My brother is incredulous. “Did you know he wrote poetry?”

My fingers stroke the scar on my face.

JMWW ©2019  

 

W Tom 21

We found the house where he’d lived with his sister for twelve years after their parents died. Here he played football. Here in these narrow, grey streets. I had no photographs of him as a child, only the stories he’d told.

I tried to picture him inside this house, sitting in front of a piano he refused to touch until his parents finally relented and let him go outside to play football. His sister was a brilliant pianist, he’d said many times. When she died  at the age of twenty seven he joined the Merchant Navy and never went back home. Thus, the loss of all his photographs. He’d wept when he told me this. She still came to him in dreams, he’d said. At the end of each dream they always came to a gate and she told him he couldn’t go any further, despite his  pleading. Each time he watched her go through the gate and woke up crying.

We stood staring at the house, my brother and I, trying to remember whether he had said he was seventeen or twenty-one when his sister had bought him a motorbike. I thought seventeen. My brother thought the bike had been his twenty first birthday present. We turned to go as a car pulled up outside the house. A sharp whistle of air through my brother’s teeth made me turn my head in the direction he was pointing. The  car’s registration plate: W TOM 21. We crossed the street telling each other it was coincidence. Tiny hairs spiked our necks. We promised we’d tell each other all the stories we could remember.

(Fewer than 500, April 2019)

 

The seventh son

When my mother’s new boyfriend moved in I kept out of his way by hiding in the garden of a derelict house. The garden was full of trees, but the one I loved most was a hundred year old macrocarpa called Septimus. The lightning that killed the other six macrocarpas had sliced off one of Septimus’s branches, leaving a gaping hole. This was enlarged over the years by birds, small animals, wind and rain, until it extended down the entire length of the trunk ending in a deep hollow beneath the roots.

When things got bad at home I’d hide in the hollow among the bones, until the boyfriend gave up looking for me. After Septimus signalled the all-clear I’d climb onto a branch and watch the swallows dive and dart while Septimus told me his stories. By the time I returned home the boyfriend and my mother were too drunk to notice.

Septimus told me about birds he’d given a home to, boys he’d flung off branches for stealing eggs, robbers who’d hidden jewels in his hollow trunk. When they returned to retrieve the stash they found the hollow was deeper than they’d realised. Some gave up, but some climbed in and slithered down to the bottom. When they tried to climb back out they got tangled up in roots.

Most people avoided walking past the garden at dusk because they said the  noise of the wind in the trees didn’t sound like wind in the trees. The boyfriend said only morons believed that. I told him nobody could accuse him of having an imagination. After that little confrontation I fled to the garden. When Septimus saw my bruised eyes and bleeding nose, he drew his breath from the depths of the earth and  held me close. He  sang of kererū and tūī and bellbirds and bees and moonlight and possums and the smell of rain.

When his song ended he outlined his plan. All I had to do was to sit on the fork between two branches. When the boyfriend came looking for me he would shine his torch around the garden. He would see me sitting in the tree and yell at me to get down. He hated to be ignored. He would leap over the fence and start climbing the tree. In the shadows he wouldn’t see the hole. Septimus said he would do the rest.

(New Flash Fiction Review, August 2019)

 

Illumination

Last time I made this pilgrimage it was crawling with contractors pulling down walls and installing new wiring. Feel the skin on this bannister. Do you think of ripe chestnuts, as I did? Remember I told you how I’d slid down it that time when I thought the whole school was in Assembly? But old Killer-Watt saw. I was so scared I fell off halfway down and peed my pants. And he made me stand (again) all lunch hour on this landing so all who passed by would know how dim I’d been. I cried though when they put the tadpole in his tea because its legs were just forming and it seemed such a waste. The other times were for talking, here in this classroom that stank of dead books and wet shoes drying by the radiator. In this very room that now houses rows of filaments in glass bottles all neatly labelled. In this room, we were told (frequently), Joseph Swan invented the electric light bulb, but Thomas Edison got to the patent office first and grabbed all the glory. It was a woman ahead of her times who  bought the place and turned it into a private school – did I tell you she knew Emmeline Pankhurst? – because it was her dream to illuminate the minds of children. You have such energy. Would you like to? I’ll stand at the bottom and catch you if you fall. There’s only the Curator to see now and I think he’ll turn a blind eye. These are more enlightened times.

(The Sunlight Press, July 2019)

 

interview with Sandra Arnold by Krysia JopekOctober 2019

When did you start writing fiction seriously?

I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, but I started writing for publication in 1980.

When and where were you published? 

My first short stories were written for radio and were broadcast on Radio New Zealand from 1981 to 2007. I also published short stories in literary magazines and anthologies including Antipodes New Writing (1987), Other Voices (1989), Vital Writing (1990), Best New Zealand Fiction (2007). My first novel, A Distraction of Opposites, was published in 1992 (Hazard Press, NZ), followed by Tomorrow’s Empire in 2000 (Horizon Press, NZ), a non-fiction book, Sing no Sad Songs in 2011 (Canterbury University Press, NZ), a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings in 2019 (Retreat West Books, UK), and the novel, ‘The Ash the Well and the Bluebell in 2019 (Mākaro Press, NZ).

What has your reception been like in New Zealand, the US, and the rest of the world?

I’ve had flash fictions, short stories, and  essays published around the world, including New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Argentina, Canada, and the US. I’ve won and have placed in several awards, including most recently, the 2019 New Zealand Heritage Book Award, the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Award, and the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Award.

What is your impression of / experience with the contemporary publishing world?

In New Zealand, there are very few publishing presses, as several have folded in the last few years. However, the international online flash fiction scene is healthy and gives plenty of opportunities for publication.

Can you describe your writing process, habits, and rituals (if you have any)?

I write most days for around six or seven hours. Some of this time might be spent in research and editing. When I was teaching full time, I could write only in the evenings and weekends, but now writing is my full-time occupation,  and I am more productive as a consequence.

Who are your favorite fiction writers?

Globally, the novelists whose work I admire include: Hilary Mantel, Marcus Zusak, Margaret Atwood, Cate Kennedy, Eva Hornung, Eva Sallis, Anthony Doer, Pascal Mercier, Kate Atkinson, A.S. Byatt, Donna Tartt, Anna Burns; and in New Zealand:  Maxine Alterio, Fiona Farrell, Maggie Rainey-Smith, Kirsten Warner, Stephanie Johnson, Lloyd Jones, and Sue Wootton. Fabulous flash fiction writers overseas include Jude Higgins, Angela Readman, Ken Elkes, Gary Duncan, Frances Gapper, Robert Scotellaro, Amanda Huggins, Kathy Fish, Meg Pokrass, Diane Simmons, Sophie van Llewyn, Stephen John, Gay Degani, Francine Witte, Santino Prinzi, and Nuala Ni Chonchuir. The New Zealand flash fiction community is vibrant; my favourites here include Nod Ghosh, Gail Ingram, Kate Mahony, Eileen Merriman, Frankie McMillan, Heather McQuillan, Michelle Elvy, Leanne Radojkovich, and Iona Winter.

Which writers have particularly influenced, informed your writing?

I’ve always been a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction; I think wide reading, rather than individual writers, has informed my own writing.

Have other fields of study / disciplines influenced, informed your creative work?

Not specifically; rather, it is reading widely and deeply that has done this.

Did you enjoy your Ph.D. program in Creative Writing?

It was an intellectually-rigorous three years with very supportive supervisors. I enjoyed the process although the topic I was researching, parental bereavement, was  difficult.

Do you recommend that writers pursue a Ph.D. and/or M.F.A. in Creative Writing? Why or why not?

It’s not a prerequisite for good writing. Many writers have produced excellent work without ever having taken a creative writing course. In my case, after my daughter died from cancer at the age of 23, I stopped writing for almost two years. The only reading I did was on parental bereavement. I did a Master’s degree in Creative Writing to get me back on track. In my reading, I found that while there were many books on grieving infant, child, and adolescent death–there were almost none on grieving a young adult death. I decided to write a book on this topic to help fill the gap. It seemed to me the best way to go about it was through a Ph.D. to have the benefit of deadlines and critical scholarly feedback. Part of my thesis was  published as a book, Sing No Sad Songs.

Do you have a creative, supportive community of writers where you live?

There is a supportive group of writers in Christchurch and in New Zealand, generally. In a country where the population is only four million, most of the writers know one another or know about one another.

How does your identity as a New Zealander resonate in your fiction? Or does it?

I grew up in England and came to New Zealand in 1976. I’ve also lived in the US, Brazil, and Oman. I’ve drawn on all these experiences.

Do you think that in the 21st century it’s imperative for writers to utilize social media to network, sell books, succeed?

It certainly helps to spread the word about new books and writers.

What social media platforms do you use regularly?

I like facebook and twitter to see what other writers are publishing and to share my own work.

You write fiction and creative nonfiction. Do you have  a preference?

With creative nonfiction, I like the research and writing of facts; in novel writing, I like the research, the slow building of narrative, and background detail. With short fiction, the challenge is in condensing the narrative to cover hours or days or years. In flash fiction, what is left out is as important as what is left in–so the reader can fill the gaps. Some flash fiction is close to prose poetry, where language is central and that is the sort I am most drawn to.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself as a writer and/or fellow human to readers?

I live with my husband, dog, two alpacas, and two hens in a small village in rural Canterbury in the South Island of New Zealand, fifteen minutes from our nearest rural town and one hour from Christchurch, the nearest city. My garden is full of flowers, trees, and birds–and we have an unimpeded view of the Southern Alps across farmland. There are places to walk to, trees to sit and read under, and as much silence and peace as I need to focus on writing. I love my life here.

 

links about Sandra Arnold and her creative writing:

READ NZ TE POU MURAMUR — Arnold, Sandra

NZSA The New Zealand Society [PENNZINC] of Authors — Sandra Arnold

takahē magazine — Sandra Arnold

A WRITING LIFE – An Interview with Sandra Arnold

FAIRLIGHT BOOKS — Sandra Arnold

 

biographical notes:

Sandra Arnold is a novelist, short story, and non-fiction writer. She holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia–and is the author of five books: Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK, 2019), The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ, 2019), Sing No Sad Songs (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2011), Tomorrow’s Empire (Horizon Press, NZ, 2011), and A Distraction of Opposites (Hazard Press, NZ, 2002). Recent awards include: finalist in the 2019 New Zealand Heritage Books Awards, finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition, the 2018 TSS Flash Fiction Competition, the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Award, and winner of the 2015 New Zealand Heritage Short Story Award. She was the 2014 recipient of the Seresin/Landfall/Otago University Press Writing Residency. Her short fiction has been widely published in New Zealand and internationally. Her website: www.sandraarnold.co.nz

 

photographer, Chris Arnold
©2019

 

 

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3.14 [pi]:

brood like ambidextrous void [text-based visual art] Bahram Keramati, visual artist "I call this a Created Image rather than a photograph emulating (and borrowing from) Poet and Hinge Theorist Heller Levinson" [Bahram Keramati] ©

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3.14 [pi]:

brood like ambidextrous void
[text-based visual art]
Bahram Keramati, visual artist
“I call this a Created Image rather than a photograph emulating (and borrowing from) Poet and Hinge Theorist Heller Levinson” [Bahram Keramati]
©

[_________________ [kj title]: introduction to Heller Levinson’s Hinge Poetry and Poetics]

 

 

new poetry:

 

 

Like Eerily

they were off. like milkweed. like eerily. like failed rapprochement. passages open. time draws nigh. all along druids spin. arc . a brace of bells. wishful thinking.

retiring the flux of burnt offal. gypsy moth. perplexity. tantamount. color bruised. saying so. says. simplicity is mostly luck.
so grows the lemon tree.

caring has its ogre. sharing its costs. circumnavigation fouls the weather. as if you were. in a manner of. toward the crease. pulling sharp. an entry. that time of day. well wishes.

where to place. the. love.

as a rule. in the manner of notice. calamity strikes.
velocity reeks. the subject was dresses.
coincidence.

among knowledgeable persons it is widely considered remotely yet without ornamentation then preposterous. an inflamed premise. wildly wooly. wastebasket. woebegone. who wouldn’t. not that. with. why not. beforehand. quaint. conductive. endlessly correcting.

timely policies aside. what are the chances. playing odds. fortification. fugitive. a stable of. pass the manners. on the perpendicular. if only. so but when. sliding scale.

debt ridden & lacking proper mastication narratives waned. pickings slimmed. overtures barren. stone-weep. paltry catch. dried subsidies. campaigns flushed. dread-concupiscence.

as if about judiciously over the shoulder across town the season hardly the cold wet you could hear on a clear day cakes burning the streets empty rave the treacheries for a bundle of hay steep lard pulley formations the brass unwieldy yet mold in the surmise attention getters get seekers seek the meek weep meek while inspecting your arsenal please request a show of hands under the bridge
slow tunes move
like water

ostensibly without further ado cut the carrot chive the divide wild side upon decide careers at stake adieus in the upholstery slipcover snatch wipe that smirk the art of forbearance the state of things out of the surreption claw withdrawal even when the likelihood in the line of fire
this
only

in the girth of fathom
bellyful range lopey torque emollient aperture cleanse

no longer arriving in pairs bartering from scraps the brink looms, meshes syllabic taunts under the arabesque of shadow

parceling through mid-stream,
from the heap of unrelenting heave,
this
post-
ponement

The three horses moved in accord down the road. Cocky sentries assured of their ground.
The man turned from the window.

all new poems ©2019 Heller Levinson/diaphanous micro

 

Hinge By The Slice: Heller Levinson

The suggestion that I write a short summary of Hinge Theory threw me into a tailspin. The thought of shortening an ever-expanding & en-fleshing behaviorism was anathema. Then the idea occurred that perhaps by indicating how HT resists shrivellization/ contraction/ summarization, I could approach summarization.
Language is aLive. This is foundational to HT. It should be asked: not what HT Is, but how it beHaves. Language as a living organism is continuously interactive with other organisms breeding extensively & engendering complementarity. Dr. Mary Newell puts it this way: “The connectivities of Hinge Theory introduce an intentional and generative biasing, like a pool table with all the balls commotioning and someone lifting the pool table slightly so all that activity is directed yet responsive to unpredicted collisions, meanderings, & swerve. (With the additional image that new balls are being added all the time as the pool table itself enlarges).”
Hinge does not purport to bring anything new to the proverbial ‘table.’ Rather it seeks to restore Language’s Original Primal Fire. To ignite the word, Hinge employs the module which is a word or a configuration of words that serves to spring (to unleash, to unmoor) the subject into a climate of free fall & unpredictability. & by free fall we mean that we are liberating the subject /word from its normative, conventional context & tossing it into question, tumbling it deconditioned into the void. A few of the modules in use are: with, smelling, the road to ____ road, in the ___ of ____, fecundating rotational clusters, fusion reconnoiters, & the most recent, tenebraed, catalyzes an entire book. When word inosculates/alchemizes word, the components never lock into place nor do they dissolve into a random turbulence; they both formulate & unravel simultaneously, emblazoned with the Living-Hood of continuous Motility. The frisson (the rub) of word against word scatters the ‘particle’ multi-directionally. Partnering with the ‘scatter’ is the ‘gather,’ a recombinatory process regrouping the components in correspondence with vibrational adhesion (a form of viscous bonding).
Each particle/subject gathers into cohesions, a grouping, what Hinge terms the ‘application,’ formerly the ‘poem.’ This gathering should be seen as an alighting, a momentary pause, tensiled to soar again at the slightest provocation.
The word, by undergoing a multitude of these Modular Chamberings, is in an ongoing state of emboldening/ densification/ complementarity/ & extensionality. For example, “Mermaid” has undergone over 45 applications, swiveling in the alterior ethers of: “with mermaid,” “the road to mermaid road,” “smelling mermaid,” “in the purse of mermaid,” “tenebraed to mermaid,” to cite just a few. Each application both creates its own Mermaid Personality (ether) & interacts/impacts with the other applications. The Particle is always in transition, always on the road to developmental road, shimmering to fulfillment in compounding complementary refractions. Hinge Theory clashes against the current cult of quick-click-reduce, or, of what I like to term the lexiconically static. The Lexicon is a logos abuser, the enemy of the vigorous & dynamic; it is, indeed, a Dynamic Inhibitor.
Case in point: in Webster’s Third, “Melancholia” & its variations take up about 4 inches of definition whereas Melancholia: Hinge as Innominate Limina employs 99 pages to begin the investigation (& I term this endeavor to “investigate” an urge to “mobilize” the logos rather than “staticize” it). & these 99 pages should be viewed as just that — a prelude, an introduction, a wind-up to ignite. There is no such thing as a finish to these explorations, no endings, … they are not sequenced or neatly arranged alphabetically, — the logos is Feral & Un-Cageable, Reproductive & Lusty.
I have recently wondered how our language (the logos) would look/fare without the dictionary (void of reference). What would the “Unmoored” word (the Wild/Feral Logos) look like if it were free to roam, migrate, hybridize.
To view the Inferential replace the Referential.
These comments initiate an ongoing exploration of Hinge Theory. But when asked to explain Hinge Theory, the proper response would be the same as to someone who asked you what the sky looks like, — you would usher them outside, point upward, & say “Look.” Look, then, to the works themselves.

Further Reading

The Books:

Smelling Mary (Howling Dog Press)
from stone this running (Black Widow Press)
Wrack Lariat (Black Widow Press)
Hinge Trio (La Alameda Press)
Melancholia: Hinge as Innominate Limina (McNally Jackson)
tenebraed (Black Widow Press)

The Interviews (read chronologically):

“No Rust on These Hinges – A Heller Levinson Interview”
The Jivin’ Ladybug

Interview: Heller Levinson, Round 1

“So Much Depends on the Hinge: Heller Levinson”
The Jivin’ Ladybug

https://jivinladybug.wordpress.com/…/so-much-depends-on-the-hinge-heller-levinson

Reviews

“The Hinge Manual” Howling Dog Press

“Smelling Mary” review by Leigh Herrick, Jacket 38, Late 2009

jacketmagazine.com/38/r-levinson-rb-herrick.shtml

“tenebraed” review by Alison Ross, Clockwise Cat Magazine, 2017

SCRIBEWISE CAT: TENEBRAED TO HELLER: MR. LEVINSON’S HINGE THEORY EXPANDS AND COMPLEXIFIES

Inquiries: hingetheory@gmail.com

author photo:

biographical note:

The originator of Hinge Theory, Heller Levinson lives in the lower Hudson Valley. His most recent book is Un– (Black Widow Press, 2019).

Hinge Poetics asserts that language is a a-live. It is the river liberated from the dam. It is the salmon sharing the river. The sunlight strumming the salmon.

For more on Hinge Theory see:

Dispatches contributor Heller Levinson on Hinge theory and poetry

Talisman 46–Heller Levinson Hinge Poetry

x-peri.blogspot.com/2018/01/ephesus-glom-interview-with-heller.html

x-peri.blogspot.com/2018/02/ephesus-glom-part-two-interview-with.html

Heller’s books can be acquired from Black Widow Press (
https://www.blackwidowpress.com/) or Amazon.

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3.8: ghosts & spectral images–poetry & poetics [interview] by Carolyn Gregory

Traveller's Airship Priyesha Nair digital art 509 pixels x 720 pixels ©2019

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3.8: ghosts & spectral images–poetry & poetics [interview] by Carolyn Gregory

the ghosts of the House of the poem–introduction by Krysia Jopek [September 21, 2019]

With startling, provocatively-nuanced imagery and surprising, precise language–Carolyn Gregory’s poems invite readers to participate in the experience of the poem; offering with each poem, an interactive and subjective artistic catharsis. The poetic “leaps” from sentence to sentence, line to line, image to image, word to word–offer the reader a journey in language that affords both pleasure and pain.

I greatly enjoyed collaborating with Carolyn on ghosts & spectral images–poetry & poetics by Carolyn Gregory. Please enjoy!

 

new poems

Getting Lost on My Way to the Optometrist

I sat down on the sidewalk, fallen from too much walking. The students going by thought I was homeless though I only needed a bench to rest.

One long block blurred into the next, drifting past apartments and construction. Where did the office move? The numbers were not saying. Eventually, two BU students called the doctor for a location. I blessed them as they helped me cross the street.

When I finally arrived breathless, the assistant showed me her Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer. The scar crossed her whole stomach though she is still here, three years later.

©2019

 

Gris Gris King

old and feathered mime
of unknown origin,
you rambled with the old
trolley cars and arches,
smiling like a savvy catfish
though you picked up a needle
nightly to fill in
the Bourbon Street in your heart.

And oh, those horns, kept blasting
in the cajun club
with your gravelly voice,
the memory of golden feathers
flying over your shoulders
as you sang about going back home
with the chorus backing you up,
your giant size filling up
a whole brick wall.

©2019

 

Re-Born (from Les Poemes Fantomatiques)

My name is Barbara, and I was supposed to drown on that ship with four lit masts, owning the sea at night with grandeur. Diphtheria took us out as we turned in our graves after death, wrapped in the banners of another country with no drum roll, signifying grace might come.

I was lucky. The porpoise mothers carried me ship-side to my abandoned boat and helped me into it; the golden measure of lights overhead. The animals and I both had souls and knew I would not harm them as I entered my death ship, fully awake again.

©2019

 

Ghost Enters the Knots

The door in the floor would not let her leave, keeping the knots tight in the woods where trees had fallen down in heavy thunderstorms. She had come here of her own free will to see the purple loose strife and kiss dogs as they gathered, but her strength was limited. The other ghost told her to be aware of the fathers nearby; how they were offering their power. She still could not twist her body through two large knots without suffering.

This was a day trip away from her boat and the sea but it offered little nurturance. Lying down and watching the large white clouds gather overhead suggested passage; offering help.

©2019

 

Ghost Sails through the Marble Cathedral

She knew she had to leave the first world because there were constant gunshots and the dead. In the woods, once she had come back to herself, she tied on a pair of wings that would help her fly away and also swim in clear water.

She said goodbye to the other ghosts as she set her GPS for Chile and the Marble Caves where she would swim all day through the columns and tunnels among bright fish. She could even pray in a blue cathedral where no guns live.

©2019

 

Frida in Red

In her finest red,
she sits in an old wooden
chair, holding her banner
about hope.

Removing the old contraption
holding up her spine,
red and gold embroidery
adorn her like a pope.

The broken body lies behind,
scarred by surgery,
unconscious.

She has brought out
the sun above the eroded hills,
vigilant and ready
for another paintbrush.

©2019

 

Fireball

He took the Seven Seals and prophets,
turning them to glory for himself,
made wives of other men’s wives,
siring children in a compound
made of stone.

They had Bible Study daily.
With an acoustic guitar,
he was their homespun prophet
while inspiring the fear of fire
in their hearts as they hung
on his words.

When the guns started
and the walls of his kingdom
were breached,
they stayed with him.
He saw the truth at the end
of the world and divine light stayed.

Glass broke, tanks crashed through walls,
a fireball washed through
where children burned beside their parents,
lost to blind faith.

©2019

 

Swimming with Dr. Sacks

When I swim at the pool,
I dream that Dr. Oliver Sacks swims
next to me, praising my backstroke.

His smile winsome,
happy in his crawl across the laps

as he remembers the flurry of
extinct volcanoes
nearly rubbed out by sleeping sickness.

Tey beat gravity and time,
unwrapping their ancient cocoons to dance
and even swim like Dr. Sacks,
no longer fighting stasis or catalepsy

but throwing their arms in clear strokes;
their hair waving behind themin seaweed fronds,
no palsy or sleeping allowed today!

They no longer bellowed, cursed or bent
into plastic shapes as they glided by
in smooth symmetry, led by the doctor
through the lanes

to thrive like newborn orchids
with legs and arms and brains.

Dr. Sacks and I shake hands vigorously
as we leave the pool.

©2019

 

The Vanity (after Jeremy Mann’s painting, “The White Vanity”)

Gazing into the mirror over her vanity,
he pouts a bit like Bridget Bardot,
her dark hair flung in a braid
over her shoulder to look casual
and bohemian.

Handmade lace frames strong arms,
a green and red bandanna around the hips
like peacock feathers
she will show off when some man
picks her for the first dance
at the town fair.

All the beautiful bottles of cologne
and fancy rouge,
the small mirror pointed toward the large one
full of magic and insouciance.

Inside the mirror, pale green and misty
as youth will make it,
this girl does not see her other half
whose teeth are gone in back
with gray and thinner hair
standing near the closet

who has danced with many men
at this fair or the next,
acquiring more cologne, darker mascara;
her vanity well-painted
beneath the carved Chinese lamp.

©2019

 

Queen of the Verdi Club

The ladies with lorgnettes and poodles adored her,
fêted with mushrooms and crudités
for every popular concert she sponsored;
creating tableaux vivants
in flowing gowns and wings.

She was lavish in praise,
taking music seriously in her forties;
soprano hostess and friends
with Caruso and Toscanini.

Many knew she had a tin ear,
flatting at every interval with poor diction,
singing St. Saens and Mozart out of tune
with most everything

while offering her embrace of
an soldiers and aristocrats;
wearing a diamond tiara for every song
at the Ritz-Carlton;
her face framed by chandeliers
of pure gold light.

©2019

 

 

poetics–Krysia Jopek interviews Carolyn Gregory [September 2019]

When did you start writing poetry seriously and why?

1. I started writing poetry seriously in my twenties following the end of my first marriage and death of my mother. I was a trained musician prior to that, playing piano and singing in choirs. I think the love of music flowed into my love of  writing and doing readings.

2. When were you first published and where? Individual poems and books.

I was published in the high school literary magazine, Indian, and then went on to publish in Fred Wolven’s Ann Arbor Review and Generation after college. Published steadily thereafter in the Midwest.

3. Do you write every day? How often do you write and what is your process typically for writing poetry? What time of day, where do you sit, do you listen to music and if so, what specifically?

I write three or four times a week often in solitude at various times of day. I like to write at home in my living room where there’s adequate light and nature nearby. I have written outdoors before in the large arboretum near my home and on trips to new places. Listening to jazz or classical music frequently encourages new work.

4. Can you talk a little bit about your revision process? Typically, how long does it take from conceptualizing a poem until its completion?

Regarding revisions, some poems take years to write, and some are written quickly and revised within a week. It varies.

5. How often do your send your poetry out for publication? How do you decide, find, what literary journals to send to? Are there certain publications, in print and online, that you read regularly? If so, what does this reading do for you?
Regarding submissions, I have been writing and sending work out for years, and I now have several places that seriously read my work and have previously published me. Some of the locations are in the Boston area and some are far away. It’s a good idea to read other journals to see the kinds of poems they accept before one goes ahead and submits to them.

6. What do you think of the publishing “industry” for publishing poetry now vs. before?

Regarding the publishing biz, I don’t think highly of it. Too many MFA clones of writing programs, studying with academic poets, does not lead to a wide range of exciting new voices! Poet Bill Matthews told me many years ago at the Aspen Writers Conference that it was better to study something other than  poetry;  maybe like ceramics, to then write good poems. This advice has stuck with me over time.

 

7. How do you decide a poem will be a prose poem or one with conventional line breaks? How are these genres different for you and for the poem, in your opinion.

Deciding whether a piece of writing will be a prose poem or a “regular poem” has a lot to do with rhythm and subject matter. Sometimes a rhythm will “drive” a poem and that tends to make a poem; whereas, a looser speculation on an object or thought with a little surrealism thrown in draws me into writing a prose poem. I happen to admire both!
8. Has facebook been a factor in your creative life? If so, in what ways?
Yes, Facebook has been a factor in helping me to meet a wider range of writers and poets and has produced publishing connections I would not otherwise know about.

9. Is being active on social media necessary for a contemporary poet. Why or why not?

I find that being active on social networking is necessary for me to thrive since I have been living alone for twenty years. I cannot speak for others.

10. I know from facebook and seeing your lovely posts, that the visual arts are important to you. Can you speak to the relationship of the visual arts and literary texts? Who are your favorite artists? How often do you go to museums and art exhibits? I’ve also read posts about you meeting your many friends [love that about you!] out for shared, healthy meals as well as at museums to view art, paintings mainly, I think.

I love the visual arts and have been a longterm classical music and theatre critic. As a poet, I have written ekphrastic poems successfully. I really enjoy the art of Chagall, Matisse, Van Gogh, and many postmoderns. Visiting museums with friends is a favorite activity.

11. I have to admit that I am jealous of your regular swimming! I really should be swimming regularly for my severe arthritis. How often do you swim and what does this activity do for you, in the various aspects of your life? Do you compose poems when you are swimming?

Swimming is a wonderful activity which I try to do two to three times a week. I do long swims because they are relaxing, good for undue anxiety, and swimming, for me, levels out emotions. I have sometimes written poems while swimming, including “Swimming with Dr. Sacks” that I wrote in honor of that daily swimmer! I also very much enjoy hiking when there is time for it.

 

12. Lastly, who are your favorite poets–and the poets, writers, artists, composers that have influenced your writing?

The poets who have influenced my work strongly–include W. H. Auden, W.S. Merwin (who recently died), Phillip Levine, Charles Simic, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, Mary Oliver’s early poems, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and so many others! Among composers, I adore Bach, Beethoven and Mahler; love Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. I also love the 20th-century Russian composers, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, as well as music of the world from Asia and Africa.

Facing the Music–poetry by Carolyn Gregory 

 

biographical notes

Carolyn Gregory was born in Rochester, New York and graduated from the University of Michigan. After living in Ann Arbor for many years, coordinating several poetry series in the community, she now lives in Boston, Massechussetts. Her poems and essays on photography have been published in American Poetry Review, Seattle Review, Cape Cod Review, Bellowing Ark, Main Street Rag, Wilderness House Literary Review, Off the Coast, Yankee Review, Moving Out, South Florida Poetry Review, Pikestaff Review, Primavera, Geensboro Review, Calyx, Midwest Poetry Review, Wayne Review, Cypress Review, The Journal of the Photographic Resource Center (Boston University), and numerous other literary journals. Her first poetry chapbook, The Wait, was published in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and a second, The Rope Singers, was published in Cleveland, Ohio. Her first two full-length books of poems, Open Letters and and Facing the Music, were published by Windmill Editions in 2009 and 2016, repectively.

 

 

 

Tom Miller, photographer
[the poet’s brother]
©2019

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3.7: scrambled aliens | Arthur Broomfield — surreal poetry & poetics

[detail from] The Keyhole Collaboration [for Zazie] Dale Houstman digital collage 2654 x 1500 pixels ©2013

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3.7: scrambled aliens | Arthur Broomfield — surreal poetry & poetics

banner art
[detail from] The Keyhole Collaboration [for Zazie]
Dale Houstman
digital collage
2654 x 1500 pixels
©2013

 

intro to scrambled aliens by Krysia Jopek

i’d like my dada eggs scrambled with androids this morning, cyberspace cyborgs, if you will, and serve them up cold and fluffy to you while YouTubing some John Cage while Derrida butters his toast like any other human with his tea that he takes with a splash of milk. there is so much here in the negative space underneath the font / textured language that playfully unfolds a plethora of planes, layers, on the canvas of the collective unconscious of the poet [and you, Dear Reader], stuck momentarily in the gaps [mind the gap[s], please, as you step off the train to the platform, a bit unsteady from the proliferation, as you amble with that awkward gait toward our final destination and the processing thereof.

Please enjoy the new poetry, selected published poems, and interview / poetics with Arthur Broomfield!

 

 

new poetry

 

How it will begin

The funeral bell rings the fungi infected streets asphyxiate
down below the purple and puce puckered orb solidifies beyond.
a log cabin, Apollo at the stove, traverses the stratosphere.

In the now spindle backs chase racing marigold seeds
from the sacred halls of pimps and bag carriers,
the apple apocalypse absorbs decay.

A crochet curtain comes down to volcanoes and strawberry soufflé,
naked men dance on pin cushions moaning under the weight
of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

A man scoops snow and drops it in a Tesco trolley.
The snow disappears through the bird hole.
The trolley disappears.

The man is excited. He scoops again and again and again.
Each escape to a desert of lush moon worms
and cascading overhead sewers.
©2019

 

Tales from the non-verse

I am embalmed in shipwrecks and string quartets.
I glide along a gossamer girder
with my non-gender mistrusts of the non-verse
we dress in corduroy tights and high heels
and shave with acetylene blow lamps

I am here, I watch an old woman
he wears widows weeds, is me
as she and he go cluck cluck cluck
they scatter potato skins and radioactive oats
for the drones I send
that buzz around their ears.

I have implanted French fries in her head.
©2019

 

Salt and paprika

To say their story is empty egg shells
on moon mirages
twinkling watercress and cheviot sheep
with no strings attached
she played the last deuce in the water lily plot.

The many options carved in sacred clouds
of mist and alabaster
known to three of the four horsemen
ploughed on regardless of the shifting acrylics
and albatross shadow with pitchfork feet
reflected the shapely nude on the butterfly wings
that supported the impressive palace.

Knowing this first she ate the laid egg
and carried them on beds of thistles and whooping cough
to the church of the confused chicken.
©2019

 

Sixbeams

Seeing the sixpence as a moon
the waterhen squeezed another coriander seed
through the billboard
advocating avocadoes as an irritant
for shredded furze politics.

Life, she whistled, is afloat
with Lilies crowning crows
to a dawn chorus of oyster shells
and burnt-out toasters.
©2019

 

When a visitor knocks

When he speaks in hair-sluiced mushroom suites
and thunderbolt echoes from spinach seeds,
the man in Orion’s belt,
the frog-eared and margarine-manacled
rush to hoover the hall,
when he sings the tree-scowled heretics dance to war
when he cries the believers tip-toe across sponge cakes
wearing their army boots like The Book of Common Prayer
when the reed in his flute has turned to jelly
they moan to the dawn chorus.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of cross-eyed zebras
and warmed-up goose hearts.
©2019

 

selected published poems

 

The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium

The first poetry reading
I ever attended
was at Semple Stadium
in the early days
of my love affair
with Tipperary.

Everyone else thought
it was a hurling match
but I knew it was a reading
when I heard the poet
rhapsodise the names
Of G.A.A. clubs
through the charged aura
of a hurling stadium
from his bunker
beneath the New Stand.

Isolated on his podium
by ticket sellers
counting out their takings
the Ezra Pound of Thurles
shocked me with the excitement
of the spoken word.

As he read out the names
Carrick-Davins, Lorrha,
Boherlahan-Dualla,
Moycarkey, Roscrea,
Kilruane-McDonagh
and Borrisoleigh
the fans cheered their players
and their clubs.

And I cheered the poet
for giving me back
my love of language.

from The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium [Lapwing, 2012]

 

The Bee Woman works at her hive
after “The Bee Woman” [painting by Brigid Mansfield]

bee woman
Brigid Mansfield
oil
©2016

During lulls in the natural order,
when the dead have been buried
and the laws of seed time and harvest
are reinstated, look on me as
the landlady with the right tenants,
popular in business in quiet times.

In concord with the will of the world
I pose in white suit and visor
as I record the verve of the hive,f
the stash of its riches:
propolis, pollen,
royal jelly, eternal honey,
nectar and beeswax,
as any concern would,

while Queen Bee, entrusted
to her particular space and time,
desirous, mates and breeds,
builds, convicts the unwanted.

In normal time I emerge,
when the whiff of ordnance in the air
sets the lines buzzing with rumours of wars,
and the forest flora and ferocious winds
snarl in tremendous arguments,
scattering the indecisive rhododendron,
accommodating what the land will allow.

Now I am the ethereal one returned
from the debacle of maternal earth,
of it and on it, the calm in the storm.
I am here in the hum and whirr
of these zips and zooms, visible,
as a pallid robe and medieval yellow gloves,
the infinite spirit that assumes presence,
laying hands on the pollinating hive.

from The Giant’s Footsteps on The Rock of Dunamaise [Revival, 2019]

 

 

 

 

Arthur Broomfield’s poem “Emo Court’ is now hanging, as of September 15, 2019, in the Coffee Shop at Emo Court. “Nice event when the hanging took place [no pun intended, I’m still here ] with Martina Lewis of the OPW, composer Ian Wilson and three wonderful violinists all the way from Serbia! nice to be honoured in one’s own province. A day to remember.

Emo Court

Cold coffee, chipped porcelain
beside the out of tune piano
that played on,
the tromp l’oeil in the foyer.
The lit candles we sketched in the shadows
to subdue the blameless night

I view now from a separate table
across the liminal space.

A vapour wafts through,
a rusted key admits an alto from the ethers.
The drift of a moment through this moment.
Mysticals merge in the experience,
as they must or be lost to the absence.

from Cold Coffee at Emo Court [Revival, 2016]

 

Nothing to be Done

after reading Sylvia Plath’s poem “Lady Lazarus”

Sylvia Plath reading “Lady Lazarus”

If I could lay you out on lenient couch
and softly correct your contradictions,
heard and unspoken,
heart and enchanted,
with my embalmer’s hands;

If I were to rid you of your fiends,
to leave you to the flesh and blood
of the bread and circuses you loathe,

If I were to dead head the hot angst
that burns the grip of your gossamer traps
and leave you silent as a moth in winter,

would you, crushed, perish in the void,
and leave us, nothing, not even a word?

from Cold Coffee at Emo Court [Revival, 2016]

 

[insert title]: poetics & interview–Arthur Broomfield

poetics: “my poetry is driven [a] by the desire for freedom i.e. to free poetry from all of the “givens” that are imposed on it, which would include ideology, the trappings of “the world,” by which I mean culture, tradition, community, the notion that the world is as it appears; [b] interpretations of works of art, literary theory; and to free language from the stranglehold of conventional meaning. Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva have been influential in developing this drive, but it has been inherent in me before I had read either of these philosophers. I would say that studying their works and understanding their thinking fed something that had been there anyway. I owe a lot to them both. For instance, I wrote a number of poems in the 1980s before I had become acquainted with either of their writings that were critical of the oppressive role of the Catholic church in Ireland, and [c] a need to celebrate, which is seen in the occasional poem that recalls events from my childhood growing up in rural Ireland and in poems like “The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium.”

 

How long have you been writing seriously and when did you first publish?

I’ve been writing and publishing since 1985. My first published poem was “The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium”. It was chosen by the great Irish poet, Michael Hartnett for inclusion in an anthology commemorating the birth of Patrick Kavanagh. I was accepted for publication in most Irish journals of repute in the years up to 1998 [Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, The Sunday Tribune, The Honest Ulsterman etc] and read my poetry and gave interviews on RTE, the Irish state broadcasting corporation. I returned to college in 1998, NUI Maynooth; and Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, where I was awarded a Ph. D for my thesis on the works of Maria Edgeworth. During my college years I became absorbed in Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction which later led me to studying Samuel Beckett’s works, especially those from The Unnamable on. I published my study of Beckett’s works, The Empty Too: language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett [Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing] in 2014. I think I only wrote one poem in my college years, the irreverent “The Minister for Agriculture’s penis speaks out”. I got back to writing poetry around 2009.

 

What is your impression of the poetry “industry” these days? regarding readership, feedback, and publication.

The essential focus for a poet should be to write and to think about his/her poetry, to respond to whatever it is that drives–compels–him/her to write, to be true to thine own self. His/her quarrel should be, as Yeats said, with him/herself, out of which poetry is made. I could say a lot about the poetry industry in Ireland and much of it would not be good, but I won’t because to indulge in such talk would be a distraction from my writing. To engage with those of whom I am critical would be to descend to a discourse that, to quote Gray, “is the language of the age [that] is never the language of poetry.” Aside from that inconvenience, I am fortunate to be writing in Ireland.

I have some very good and supportive poet friends. We meet occasionally, workshop new poems and float ideas on where poetry is or could or should be going. I am privileged when it comes to readership. My recent collection Cold Coffee at Emo Court sold 2000 copies all through Ireland. I suppose I bucked the system as I got out and sold most of them “by hand” from town to town. It was hard work but a great experience which I enjoyed very much. I discovered that Ireland is indeed full of warm, friendly people, interested in and willing to support its poets.
Aside from the conservative “establishment” organs Ireland is buzzing with poetry journals which are open to innovative and surreal work. Revival Press, who published my last and will publish my forthcoming collection, that has the working title The Giant’s Footsteps on the Rock of Dunamaise, is the most exciting book publisher to emerge. Fearless and unfunded they have published titles by authors other publishers, for whatever reason, didn’t or wouldn’t. Apart from Ireland journals in the UK and the US accept work from many Irish poets, me included.
What are the major influences on your work–literary and non-literary?

 

Can you speak to your writing process and style?

My poetry took a major turn in December 2017 when I was part of a workshop run by Hilda Sheehan, the English surrealist poet. Breton is now my major influence and his 1924 Manifesto is my constant go to inspiration, though instead of accepting Freud’s questionable notion of the unconscious as the source of the surreal I am inclined to think quantum physics, extra-terrestrials parallel universes and Plato’s elsewhere. Almost all of the poems I now write are attempts to get close to the pure surrealist. Those I have written prior to 12-17 I now call “Old School”, or “Writing.” To over-simplify–when writing Old School one inhabits the thinking process and the meaning and connotation of words of and to the conscious world; the emphasis is on getting the word that will best articulate the perception and to hope that in the process words from The Other–and by The Other I mean parallel universes, ETs, quantum physics etc, what Breton thought to be the unconscious–will drift to the poet in an inspired moment. I take a very different approach ,and it’s one I find that works for me.It begins with getting into a mood where, insofar as it’s possible–and for sure that’s the hard part–the world is excluded and the mind is open to The Other; what Breton calls psychic automatism, which he explains is “thought in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Of course, one must use the tools of the world, pens, paper, words and images, word processors, etc.

To get there I start by writing 3 or 4 pages of automatic writing, followed by 7 or 8 minutes of meditation. Then I’d listen to jazz, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles McPherson, Sonny Rowlands. I’d leave it for an hour or so before putting pen to paper. I might start with a heading and let the images flow, because Surrealist poetry is about images, the juxtaposition of images that bring together distant realities without premeditation, to paraphrase Breton. I might leave the poem for an hour or so before checking it for intrusions from the world, bad grammar, realistic descriptions or parts that jar but unlike Old School poetry the reworking is kept to a minimum. I see myself as a mere medium and cannot claim blame or credit for what I write, it comes through, not from me.

Non-literary influences would include The Irish Times, BBC Light Programme, growing up as a Protestant in Catholic Ireland, the political and social landscape of Ireland, Charlie Haughey, Paddy McCormack, Alex Ferguson, Eoghan Harris, Shane Warne, the Akaschic record and quantum physics [what I know of each, which is very little], time spent drinking socially, cattle marts, my ability to sell and English comedy to name a few.

 

How has your identity as an Irish writer and scholar of Samuel Beckett influenced you?

The great, unsurpassed, Irish writers are still Yeats [and his great hero, Swift], Joyce and Beckett. Others that followed them like Flan O’Brien, John MacGahern, and Patrick Kavanagh seem to be standing the test of time. Then we have the Northern poets, Heaney, Longley, Muldoon and Mahon who are products of the Northern Ireland sectarian culture that led to the troubles, excellent poets for sure, but are they doomed to be the poets of the troubles e.g. Heaney’s North and suffer the fate of the WWI poets? There are many definitions of Irishness, each coloured by its cultural, historical and religious roots. There is a great richness in this diversity that I like to explore [as I said I come from a Protestant, Church of Ireland background].

I think that exploration comes through in some of my poetry, especially in the surreal stuff, but that could come from the Other. Beckett, especially in his significant later works, which deal with the possibility of empty language being the real, scarcely mentions Ireland, its culture or history; I address this thesis in my work The Empty Too: language and philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett [Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing, 2014]. Time, place, the world of things, the corporeal and character, seem to Beckett to be passing nuisances that get in the way of his emphasis on the real, which is the artistic and philosophical focus of his works from The Unamable [1953] on. Beckett is a philosopher and an artist; his art is his philosophy and his philosophy is his art. He is a giant of world literature who is not yet fully understood–still ahead of his and our current time. To study for and to write The Empty Too was a rich and exciting experience for me; I felt I was getting to know one of the great minds of the twentieth century, if not all time.

His works were an influence that I knew I couldn’t challenge; I knew I couldn’t aspire to be even a very poor imitation of the master who had said it as it is. After Beckett, the matters of the existential world seem to be trivial, ephemeral moments. Maybe he influenced me, maybe my turn to surrealism was a result of absorbing his inferences on the unreality of the existential world–though my turn to Surrealism was not a conscious decision. It came from a chance meeting with Hilda Sheehan, but who knows, maybe it was the surreal at work!!

 

What are you currently working on?

We’re putting the finishing touches to my next poetry collection The Giant’s Footsteps at the Rock of Dunamaise [Revival Press]. The Rock is a well-known landmark near my hometown of Portlaoise; the mysterious “giant’s footsteps” are imprinted on a part of the Rock. Maybe the title will lead to their research. The work is three quarters Surrealist and the rest is about twenty pages of Old School poems that have been a runner up in a competition, published or accepted by reputable journals and seem to go down well at readings. I’m a bit nervous about how the Surrealist poems will be accepted in Ireland, although a good number of them have been published in Irish journals–and abroad–including, of course, I acknowledge with delight, in diaphanous micro. I’m writing more Surrealist poems, hopefully for a future collection, and I’m also thinking of writing an essay on Beckett’s play, Breath, and an essay on his philosophy for a philosophy journal. It’s been a while since I wrote about his works, feeling that I have said all I can, or want to say about them in The Empty Too.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face to keep going, writing as a literary artist in the 21st century and within the construct of your non-writing life? Or perhaps this is not an issue for you, if you are lucky.

The biggest challenge is myself insofar as I don’t believe writing is 90% perspiration. I tend to act on the impulse–a “surge of energy” an artist friend calls it, and I think that’s it–maybe it is inspiration. On the other hand, as Derrida says, “things happen when you’re writing.” I still need to feel this charge of energy before I write anything that I, at least, consider worthwhile. And, of course, this self-doubt that’s probably common to all writers, the feeling that in your best moments all you can experience is the tiniest glimpse of reality. It’s not even a light in the tunnel; it’s more a glimmer that lasts a second or two and then goes out. But to have experienced even that glimmer is what drives you, challenges you to confront the self-doubt. [Though, as I’ve said, the experience of writing Surrealist poetry has its origins in a very different place, beyond the self, I think]. Beckett said it–“I can’t go on; I’ll go on.” After that, I am lucky that my non-writing life gives me the space to respond to the challenge.

When the Dust Settles [International University Press, 1993]
The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium [Lapwing, 2012]
The Empty Too: Language and Philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett [Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing, 2014]
Mice at the Threshing [Lapwing, 2014]
Cold Coffee at Emo Court [Revival, 2016]

links to Arthur Broomfield’s publications

The Poetry Reading at Semple Stadium

Cold Coffee At Emo Court

Art Interview with Arthur Broomfield in Limerick Leader

 

 

biographical notes

Dr. Arthur Broomfield is a poet and Beckett Scholar from Ireland. His published works include the poetry collections Cold Coffee at Emo Court  [Revival Press, 2016], The Poetry reading at Semple Stadium [Lapwing, 2014], and the scholarly The Empty Too: Language and Philosophy in the works of Samuel Beckett [Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing, 2014]. Influenced by the Irish Beckett and the English surrealist poet Hilda Sheehan, Broomfield’s poetry turned to surrealism in 2017.

 

 

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