A report on issue #60 of Rosebud, with commentary on X. J. Kennedy Award-winning essays and other matter

issue60[1]At the beginning of September, I announced that my essay “Attractions of Barbarity” had just received one of the prizes in the 2015 X. J. Kennedy Award competition – a prize that, aside from a small monetary award, included publication in the Fall/Winter issue (#60) of Rosebud.

Well, the award issue arrived in my mailbox (USPS, not virtual) almost precisely a month ago. It is a beautiful issue, graced with the whimsical art of Toni Pawlowski and a surfeit of amazing writing, so my essay is in very good company. What follows now, adapted from my personal journal entry of Dec. 13, is my further report on the entire issue:

The winning essay by Chris Ellery, “A Boy of Bethany,” is a poignant narrative and meditation about the situation on the ground for Palestinians along the great Wall that their oppressors have built to keep them out: a situation, according to one former aid worker, “between hopelessness and helplessness” (p. 58) – definitely worthy of the top prize.

Among the other three runners-up, two stand out as my favorites: the first one involving an experience in Spain and the second a trip to Cuba. “Adrián de Sevilla,” by Jennifer Arin, tells the story of her encounter with an elderly flamenco teacher and his wife, both having fled Franco’s Spain for exile in France; I was moved by the personal account, but especially fascinated by what it relates about the Jewish influence on flamenco music – made into such a popular art form by Gypsies.

And then there is Katherine Baker’s “No Gas, No Soap in Cuba” with the extended monologue of an elderly Cuban, whose children and his precious little granddaughter María have gone to Miami; his narrative expresses his mourning over that loss coupled with a hopefulness for her future and a pride in the aims and heroism of Castro’s revolution. (“We raised the literacy rate to 96%. A beautiful thing.” – p. 32)

It is a distinctly international issue, as is made only more clear by the rest of the issue. Among my favorites of the stories is a piece of “medical science fiction” by a Japanese doctor who teaches in the U.S. and whose protagonists are American, though in a desperate quest for a cure for their seven-year-old daughter’s cancer they end up on a Pacific island: that is “The Hope Sea Shore Squirt,” by Dr. Tatsuaki Ishiguro, whose story I found deeply moving and whose work “has been highly praised by Nobel Laureate in Literature Kenzaburo Oe,” according to editor Rod Clark.

Another is Tim Keane’s “The Man with Norwegian Eyes,” told in the linguistically rich voice of an illiterate Irish farmer who gives shelter to a mysterious fellow fleeing the Dutch navy from which he has defected, and who in gratitude leaves him a few lines of poetry; later, when the farmer happens on a priest who can translate it for him, the signature reveals that guest to have been none other than the famous French poet Rimbaud – who seems to me, incidentally, to have had some of the visionary eccentricities (if in a very different manner) of Songs of Innocence and of Experience poet William Blake, whose larger ouvre I had recently been reading.

There is another story by Turkish writer Kaya Genç, set in Istanbul (“The House on Arundel Street”); and yet another, by Shankar Vedantam, set in India at the time of a border war with Pakistan, a tale (“The Scoop”) with a dark, biting, and very instructive irony. And also some wonderful poems by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, almost certainly the last one he wrote (on the day previous to his death in Thailand); by the American avant-gardist Lawrence Ferlinghetti; and by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn.

Merton’s poem, appropriately enough (he’d had a premonition that he would not be returning from that Asian journey), deals with the subject of mortality. He uses the peaceful metaphor of clouds, which may linger for a while in a valley but “‘always / move on,’” concluding beautifully with this solitary line: “‘Soon I will be a cloud’” (p. 21).

Ferlinghetti’s “Poetry as Insurgent Art {I am signaling you through the flames}” poses these questions about our times: “What are poets for, in such an age? / What is the use of poetry?”; and answers: “The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it”; then at last, his aspirational paraphrase of “the pen is mightier than the sword”: “you can conquer the conquerors with words” (p. 43).

Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem “Peace,” written in 1964 “before he escaped Vietnam as the war there escalated,” the editor writes, begins with the paradox of his brother’s death in battle while, at the same time, a rose on its bush slowly uncurls its petals and the poet remains among the living, “still breathing fragrance of roses and dung / eating, praying, and sleeping” – despite his anguish and “the unuttered words that are choking [him]” (p. 99).

In his description of my essay, co-judge Robert Wake calls it “a fiercely literary essay that mixes memoir and socio-political history’; and comments, among other things, on a particular strength: “that readers needn’t be familiar with Mansilla to come away with a truer appreciation for [Argentina’s] literature and past” (p. 6). For a further description of the essay, and to answer the question of Who the devil this Mansilla might be, see my September 1 blog entry.

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As I also elaborate in that journal entry, I am toying with the idea of making another stab at publishing the larger memoir (Journeys and Digressions) from which my essay is adapted. Meanwhile, I have been at work sprucing it up a bit; including the addition of a brief “Author’s Note” at the outset and an “Afterword” to succinctly bring the work (an “epistolary memoir” written from the vantage point of my 2005 journey to Argentina) into the present.

If anyone among my readers knows of someone who might have an interest in publishing such a meditative, leisurely stroll through the mental and physical landscapes of an Argentine journey, with its scattered and sundry digressions, please don’t hesitate to send them my way (brettalansanders@gmail.com; www.brettalansanders.wordpress.com) – or to drop me a line so that I might contact them.

I would also encourage any one of you who is curious about Rosebud: The Biggest Little Literary Magazine in the World to visit their website (www.rsbd.net).

 

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