Tag Archives: Rosebud magazine

Attractions of Barbarity: New/Forthcoming Publications and an Award

Old Palermo, Buenos Aires, 2015

Old Palermo, Buenos Aires, 2005

Update: the new issue of JewishFiction.net is up! (9/2/15, 3:00 Central)

When Roderick Clark phoned me up this afternoon, he told me that he had some good news and some bad news. Rod is the editor of Rosebud (“The Biggest Little Magazine in the World”), and while we have developed a warm professional relationship over the years, we had previously only spoken by phone when he wanted to publish one of my translations. So I suspected that the news couldn’t be so bad; and almost certainly had something to do with the essay I had sent in a while back for the X. J. Kennedy Award for Non-Fiction.

And indeed, the bad news was that I didn’t win the top prize, but on the other hand (good news!) it might have been a really close call: it was, if not “the winner,” one of five finalists (out of hundreds of submissions) and as such still worthy of a modest cash award and publication. It will appear, with the other runners-up and winner, in issue #60 which is due out by the end of the year.

Naturally, I felt rather satisfied with that mixed report, which was essentially music to my ears. Sure, to win the top prize and the extra cash would have been fabulous, but what are the odds of that? When I put the essay in the mail I did believe that, at the least, it was not un-deserving of an award, perhaps even the first. But such competitions are inevitably tough, extremely tough, so I can only be immensely pleased with this result. And to think I almost hadn’t entered!

Lucio V. Mansilla as a young man

Lucio V. Mansilla as a young man

“Attractions of Barbarity” is the essay’s title, anyway. It relates the central narrative of my yet unpublished book-length memoir Journeys and Digressions and is based on my 2005 return trip to Argentina. I was invited, specifically, to read from the Spanish-language translation of my historical/literary novella A Bride Called Freedom (2003) at a conference on the historical figures of Eduarda and her brother Lucio Mansilla. Lucio is a character in my novella, and at the time I was also working on the translation of a novel by María Rosa Lojo (Passionate Nomads, 2011) in which – escaped from a questionable Paradise and transported to 1990s-era Buenos Aires – he is the star. Readers of Rosebud may remember Mansilla as “The Gentleman in the Willow” (issue #51), a short excerpt from that novel.

Mansilla’s primary claim to fame is having written a seminal account of his 1870 excursion into the lands of the Ranquel Indians, with the ostensible purpose of achieving a treaty between those Indians and the Argentine government. But the book became much more than a frontier military commander’s report and travelogue. Its lasting value, aside from the writing itself, lies in the remarkably comprehensive and comprehending view he brought us of those people, whom nearly everyone else dismissed as savages. Mansilla, instead, turns the whole concept of civilization and barbarity on its head, revealing to us the humanity of a people who, like our own Indians up here in the North, were being hounded into near extinction.

images[6]The immediate impetus for this long-contemplated essay, the turn of fate that compelled me at last to get to it, was a chance mass mailing from editor Clark reminding contributors and subscribers like me of the contest deadline and encouraging further submissions. What I had to do, then, was extract from the larger memoir the parts that spoke most directly to the particular literary journey at center and re-mold them into a more compressed format. Then trim it down to size; and while doing so preserve the most significant and memorable evidences of the original’s deceptively simple, leisurely, digressive style – which deliberately reflects Mansilla’s own epistolary style.

I owe some thanks to my friends from the Southern Indiana Writers – I am a recent new member of the group – for helpful criticism and suggestions after a read-through of the first draft.

A reminder, too, for those who may be interested: excerpts from both A Bride Called Freedom and Passionate Nomads can be found on this Website under Publishing History.

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In other news, a couple of recent publications and one forthcoming:

1) In the Spring 2015 edition of the Cosumnes River Journal (Vol. 9), a single prose poem/mini-fiction from María Rosa’s Stories from Heaven, as yet unpublished in English translation. This modest but attractive journal from Cosumnes River College (part of the Los Rios Community College District) in Sacramento, California offers a nice range of writing and art from the undergraduate level to professional work by the likes of American Book Award winner Maria Espinosa.

2) A set of poems from that same collection in The Cincinnati Review’s incredible Summer 2015 edition. Thanks to an NEA grant, the editors have been able to concentrate on longer forms of fiction and poetry as well as additional translation. In this case that translates to more than 300 pages of remarkable fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Regular features include a selection of work (in color) by an artist, a short music feature (a previous contributor’s poetry set to music), and book reviews. In an original twist, one book (This Is the Water, by Yannick Murphy) is reviewed, from different angles, by three separate reviewers.

Tenement house, or conventillo, in early 20th century Buenos Aires

Tenement house, or conventillo, in early 20th century Buenos Aires

3) And finally, forthcoming at almost any moment online at JewishFiction.net, a somewhat abbreviated version of my translation of María Gabriela Mizraje’s rich, multi-layered story “Land of Promise.” Set primarily in the years between the two world wars, it is the generally upbeat story of a Turkish-immigrant family in a poor working-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires. In particular it chronicles the relationship between the charming and hardworking patriarch, Narciso, a shoemender by trade and a champion swimmer in the Old World, and his son, Elías, who works in his father’s shop, plays the piano, and loves to swim through the air (as a parachutist) more than water. As abridged, we do have Elías dreaming of flight, while his father introduces him to the river, but we lose the longer stream-of-consciousness account of his actual jump from a plane. The primary story is there, however, and well worth the read. If you are up for a beautifully nuanced tale, as universal as any of our own American immigration stories, I urge you to visit the site. (I’ll plan to add an update when it’s up.)

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On the “Redlighting” of Our Domestic Economy

A few nights ago I was reading the new issue (#53) of Rosebud; this is the journal that in issue #52 published an excerpt (“The Gentleman and the Willow”) from my translation of María Rosa Lojo’s novel La pasión de los nómades, or in English: Passionate Nomads (www.aliformpublishing.com). It’s a print magazine whose website, at www.rsbd.net, is worth checking out.

Veterans Occupy Washington, 1932

Veterans occupying Washington struggle with police, 1932

Anyway, I read Kitty Baker’s story, an excerpt from her unpublished novel Dandelions of Spring, called “The Occupiers of 1932.” The excerpt centers on the occupation of Washington D.C. by a mass of homeless and hungry veterans, and then-President Hoover’s use of military force to remove them. For a journalistic account of this Occupation see the article “History for Kossacks: The Occupation of Washington, 1932,” published in the Daily Kos on November 6,2011: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/11/06/1033841/-History-for-Kossacks-The-Occupation-of-Washington-1932

Washington Occupation 1932

Veterans bring their grievances to the Congress

The historical events are made all the more poignant by the fictionalized presence of a teenage girl – daughter of a veteran who is there with her, and wishes he could be sure he would ever be able to afford to send her to art school – who is there to observe and draw the scenes around her.

At one point, as the troops have gathered and begun their attack, one of the veterans comes to understand what is happening and says: “We’re the enemy. Once we were heroes!” When the removal was complete, General MacArthur is reported to have said: “The rioters lost heart in the face of a power they could recognize as overwhelming, even though numerically their advantage was some five or six to one.”

This “official story” seems cynical at best, the distorting and biased word “rioters” aiming to de-legitimize the validity of the veterans’ complaint and of their aggrieved humanity; the latter part of the sentence obscuring the fact that this ragtag bunch of protesters had come to petition their government non-violently, and in return faced the overwhelming military might of the very country in whose name they had previously fought in WWI.

"Hooverville" shantytowns burned by MacArthurs's army

“Hooverville” shantytowns burned, veterans evicted

The parallel to the recently squelched “Occupy Wall Street” movement is unmistakable and chilling: the images of police attacking non-violent protestors, burning the books donated to a portable library, etc. It is all the more chilling in this political season of the 99% versus the 47%, when we face the possibility of electing a President who’s avowed agenda (though he pretends the opposite in the campaign’s final weeks) is to dismantle the entire safety net – along with what’s left of a regulatory system of economic and other protections – which has been created in the disastrous wake of the first Gilded Age and subsequent Great Depression.

But rather than descend into a merely political debate, a flurry of claims and counter-claims and questionable statistics, let’s allow the narratives themselves – literary and actual – to influence our affective and reasoned response to the monumental choice that faces us on November 6.

In that spirit let me share the following portion, very slightly adapted, from a 2008 essay posted to my “Arte Retórica” column in the blog “Tertullian’s Corner”, in the online journal Tertulia Magazine which only recently ceased to publish. What I wrote then, in this the essay’s core, strikes me as entirely pertinent to what we face these four years later as we lurch further into a new Gilded Age that may still be reversible.

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The truths that most affect us – and potentially transform us – are sometimes better revealed within the passion and subjectivity of a well-told narrative (whether factual or fictional or even mythical) than in the mere accumulation of data. All utterance is subject to interpretation, after all, and thus to argument. A truly valid rhetorical practice must therefore transcend the mistaken objectivity of mere “facts” (or “factoids”) lined up by polemicists on either side of a political divide.

Vintage Circus Poster

Vintage circus poster

One such narrative, for me, is the one that Sara Gruen weaves in her novel Water for Elephants (Algonquin, 2006), whose subject, briefly stated, is an old man’s remembrance of his Great Depression-era stint on a circus crew. It is arguably as harrowing in its revelations of humankind’s potential depravity and grandeur as, say, The Kite Runner, whose demons one might carelessly dismiss as merely exotic, or pertinent only to those barbaric lands to which our nation’s best and bravest are presently bringing civilization and democracy.

In Gruen’s novel there is everything: from the most sordid to the most redeeming and love-saturated sex; from soulless violence and cruelty to courage and heroism, to a powerful commitment to the keeping of promises – a simple human endurance, in short, never wholly erased by the humiliating anti-climax of crushing poverty and oppression, or of old age. The particular love story at center is deeply poignant, as is the nuanced characterization of the protagonist as an old man. And from the opening sequence, in which what one thinks has just happened has not happened really (or at least not as imagined), the suspense never wavers.

In short: a fabulous novel, deeply imagined and researched, revealing our not-so-distant national history in ways that our real and imagined progress tends to obscure. The story is firmly rooted in the facts and down-to-earth realities of a cruel era, all of which it transcends. The particular, the immediate, the national and local, is made universal. And closer at hand to Khaled Hosseini’s Afghanistan of fewer decades past than we might have wished to imagine.

New Orleans Ninth District

Ninth Ward seven years after Katrina

For that matter, as I read Lizzy Ratner’s article (in the February 25 [2008] issue of The Nation) about the homeless and maimed in the deepening shadow of New Orleans’s post-Katrina face lift, Gruen’s Depression-era America seems frighteningly current.

“This is a Dickens novel that we’re living in right now,” says one of Ratner’s journalistic protagonists. “It’s like A Tale of Two Cities.”

While Donald Trump’s International Hotel and Tower New Orleans (“number one address for elegant living”) rises heavenward like its mythic Babylonian counterpart, the huddled masses down below are cast out of the housing market, which is being rebuilt for a whole other demographic. In a city whose housing market, pre-Katrina, was over half rental, and in which 52,000 rental units were destroyed in the flood, (not to mention another “4,500 relatively unscathed public housing apartments” bulldozed by HUD), a whopping 85 percent of federal aid has gone to home owners while the fair-market rate for rental properties has soared out of the working class’s means.

“The result,” Ratner reports, “is that the funds allocated by Washington’s recovery gurus to rebuild the Gulf area are expected to restore only 43 percent of Louisiana’s rental apartments – and only 37 percent of the city’s most affordable rental housing, according to PolicyLink, a national advocacy group promoting social and economic justice.”

“Poor people just have not been the priority in this recovery,” says another of Ratner’s sources. “And I think the fact that this situation hasn’t been treated with the urgency it deserves is exactly why we’re seeing these huge homeless camps in New Orleans, why so many people are living in abandoned buildings and why so many people are suffering in Third World conditions in the United States of America two and a half years after Katrina.”

In Gruen’s novel, the most vulnerable members of the circus crew are simply “redlighted,” a euphemism for being thrown off a moving train under cover of night. Isn’t what is happening to the vulnerable in New Orleans (not to mention Mexico’s corn farmers, or countless victims of Bush-Cheney’s “homeowner society” in the present foreclosure crisis) simply a more sophisticated form of the same practice?

“As for local leaders,” Ratner reports, “they have sometimes seemed less interested in resettling the poorest Katrina survivors than in finding ways to keep them out of their neighborhoods. In numerous instances […] elected officials have pushed bans on multifamily apartment complexes – measures that would effectively freeze poor, often African-American renters out of those ZIP codes.”

Woody Guthrie, writing of Mexican Americans’ plight in an era of cheap bracero labor, sang it like this: “Some of us are illegal and some just not wanted.

Unrepaired home in Ninth Ward

A Tale of Two Cities of New Orleans

New Publications: “The Gentleman of the Willow” and “Minimal Autobiography of an ‘Exiled Daughter'”

You’ve heard, I’m sure, the expression “when it rains it pours,” by which usually we mean misfortune fast upon misfortune. But sometimes, too, it pours good fortune; in this instance, publication upon publication. Fast upon the June release of Passionate Nomads (see previous blog), in October both an excerpt from that novel and my translation of an autobiographical essay by its author appeared in print!

Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the AmericasMaría Rosa Lojo’s “Minimal Autobiography of an ‘Exiled Daughter’” appears in Chilean exile, poet, and human rights champion Marjorie Agosín’s anthology Inhabiting Memory: Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the Americas, published by Wings Press of San Antonio, Texas. This project, initially set for publication three or four years ago, was delayed indefinitely by the ravages of the global economic downturn and the literary publishing industry’s consequent agonies. But the final product is well worth the wait, and not just for María Rosa’s essay. The contributions range, geographically, from the United States and its border with Mexico, to Guatemala and El Salvador, and to Chile and Argentina and Uruguay, during and after the “dirty wars” that killed and “disappeared” tens of thousands of those countries’ populations.

But these essays are not all or even mostly about horror but about the creative acts of memory that allow a people to witness of those crimes and then shape them into an improved if not utopian future. A particular bonus for me is the fabulous Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s little essay (written at the time of Argentina’s rejection of military dictatorship and embrace of democracy) “A New Praise of Folly,” which updates Erasmus of Rotterdam’s original Praise of Folly which so influenced Miguel de Cervantes in his creation of the character and novel of his “mad” knight and ours, Don Quixote of La Mancha – who, in Walter Starkie’s translation, “had the fortune in his age / to live a fool and die a sage.”

Cortázar  witnesses of the heroic folly of the “mothers and dear grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” who almost single-handedly, by the persistence of their protests over untold disappearances of children and grandchildren, brought an illegitimate military regime to its knees; and to unnamed “people of the pen and of the word, exiles from within and from without,” who have subsequently helped broaden the campaign for greater accountability and revelation of the secrets of State terrorism. “Argentines,” he writes, “let’s continue in our folly: there is no other way to put an end to that reason that vociferates its slogans of order, discipline and patriotism. Let’s continue hurling the doves of the true country into the skies of our motherland and into those of the whole world.”

María Rosa’s essay, touching tangentially on that saga of los desaparecidos of the late 70s and early 80s, focuses more particularly on the legacy of memory bestowed in particular by her father, self-exile from Spain after having fought on the Republican side against the victorious fascist regime of the Generallisimo Francisco Franco. She writes of his memorializing of the now-mythic land of his Spanish Galicia, which it was the duty of the exiled daughter to carry within her being until the time of return. Her parents, by the time of the dictator’s death, were too old and ill to make any such journey, so it was left to her, who eventually did make the symbolic return to that land she had only inhabited in imagination. By then, comfortable within the particularities of a life now rooted on American soil, she only “returned to pay homage to memory, not to stay.” She writes: “I did not renounce any of my lands, any of my histories. I have fully accepted my dual identity, just as I have my dual citizenship. The initial schism, the ambivalence, have been transformed into intricate riches. I can look at Spain from Argentina and at Argentina from Brett with RosebudSpain.”

The past month’s other publication, “The Gentleman of the Willow,” appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Rosebud: The Magazine for People Who Enjoy Good Writing, and is excerpted from Passionate Nomads, my translation of María Rosa’s 1994 novel La pasión de los nómades. This excerpt from her unique and charming historical fantasy contains the unlikely meeting of the water fairy Rosaura dos Carballos, emigrant from Spanish Galicia, and Lucio V. Mansilla, recent escapee from Paradise, 19th-century Argentine jack-of-all-trades and author of a book about his nation’s Ranquel Indians. For a different excerpt from the novel, see last month’s blog.

As for this new publication, let me briefly sing the praises of Rosebud, that distinctive little magazine that could, edited and co-founded by Rod Clark, jewel among literary magazines. Rosebud, no respecter of genres but publisher of lively stories, essays, and poetry from science fiction and fantasy to strictly literary works, all of it richly elegant and accessible, has published poetry from the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Stephen King, and in the present issue a rare piece by General George S. Patton; as well as prose by known entities like Ray Bradbury and a vast array of writers whose names are not well known but perhaps should be. The present issue contains, among its numerous worthy pieces, a second translation, by Thomas Feeny, of a comic story by Italian writer Alfredo Panzini; poetry editor and speculative fiction writer John E. Smelcer’s “The Girl Who Killed Custer”; and a deeply moving, melancholy story with a Spanish title by Margaret Benbow.

It also contains Appendix I and Appendix II from Clark’s science fiction “micro-novel” Redshift: Greenstreem, originally published in 2000 and just re-issued by the Cambridge (WI) Book Review Press. (It is available from the publisher and from amazon.com.) The book is being touted as “a minor cult classic,” and having just purchased and read a copy I can see why. It has much to say about the present economic crisis (about which it is highly prescient) and about the need for something like the Occupy Wall Street movement that is currently sweeping the nation. Say what you will about the merits of these occupations, the need for concern that they highlight – over the wildly increasing gap between rich and poor both at home and abroad – seems hard to seriously question. Maybe, by some creative mix of rhetoric and protest, we can still save our children and grandchildren from the ill fate prophesied in Clark’s dystopian narrative.