Friday, 21 October 2016
After exploring white middle-aged dystopia with his first novel, The Book of Ash, McCaffrey’s new collection or novel or linked-shorts, Two Syllable Men, has brought us to a more staid environment, where everyday men are confused and dazed by the simple complexities of modern life. They are the button-down dorks, lost to NPR or sports-radio, who absently and unwittingly tail-gate in their minivans or rusting Saturns. They are former Ross Perot supporters and now angst-ridden libertarians who might quietly, secretly smile at Trump’s bluster, but would never vote for the man. They are the lost white man we read so much leading up to the election, but unlike Trump supporters, they are the kind of white men who are neither loud nor aggressive and thus have become more or less invisible. They privately struggle and scramble against the feminization of their lives. They are not afraid of sports. They coddle instead of cling to the specter of male-hood.
Each chapter in Two Syllable Men is named after a different male, each full of doubts, but specifically in their own way. There is Byron, who while hesitating before kissing a girl, thinks about his ex: “His wife, before they split up, often criticized him for being too passive, accusing him of being a counterpuncher in life, someone who reacted rather than initiated. He remembered their first date, when he asked if he could kiss her, and she surprised him with an angry response, explaining that a man never asked to kiss a woman, he just did it.”
In the case of Graham, after many desperate dating attempts, he meets a basketball player, Talia: “She was also an English Major. When I asked her favourite author she didn’t hesitate: ‘Somerset Maugham.’ She spoke for an hour straight about his work. I found her passion erotic and suggested we go somewhere more private to talk. She must have sensed my real purpose because she told me she had a rule never to have sex with a man until he watched her play basketball.”
There’s Herman who “had gout and his doctor recommended hot yoga as a cure.” The story is an exercise in mental contortionism and perseverance as the yoga instructor, Carlos, dishes worthless platitudes like, “You can’t get anywhere in life without starting somewhere,” that leave Herman breathlessly exasperated and women yoga-attendees swooning.
The diffraction of short story collections can often be a struggle if the context and subjects vary. The thread in MacCaffrey’s stories hold, as it winds from one male to another. Although characters' personalities sometimes blur, their collective anxiety comes to a repeated crescendo as if these two syllable men were some consciously connected tribe dancing to a prayer ritual of what social therapists refer to as “precarious manhood.” McCaffrey’s characters are forever in conflict with the impending loss of manhood and it is within that struggle we find a very prescient humanity.
About the reviewer
Erik Raschke is an American author living in Amsterdam for the past seven years. His last novel, The Book of Samuel, was published by St. Martin's Press in 2009 and translated into Italian and nominated for the Printz award. He received an M.A. in Creative Writing from the City College of New York and his short stories have been published in, among others, Guernica, Chelsea, Per Contra, Ararat, Reading Room, Tijdschrift Ei, Carver.nu, Promethean, 5-trope. His essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Hazlitt, Buzzfeed, The Denver Post, Het Parool, De Volkskrant and many others. You can see more of his work at www.erikraschke.com.
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Review by Lerah Mae Barcenilla of "Lost and Found: Stories of Home by Leicestershire Writers," ed. Farhana Shaikh, Beth-Ann Sher and Richard Sheehan
From tales set in Swedish refugee camps, houses filled with history, travelling circuses and even in space, Lost and Found: Stories of Home by Leicestershire Writers (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) captures the diversity of voices that whisper and shout from every corner of Leicester, as they weave the threads to create a tapestry stitched with the meanings of ‘home’.
There are tales that question the essence of home, how homes may differ from one to another, yet despite it all ‘we all go home eventually’ (as in the story 'Zenith') – no matter where that may be. There are powerful stories that tug at our heartstrings, the heartache that gets lodged in our throats, ‘the searing pain of loss’. And it’s there, in the hollowness of words, the gradual healing of cracks as one finds a new home (in the story 'Not Home').
There are tales of maybes, what ifs and of possibilities ('Adrian'). Tales laced with memory. Of something fond, but fuelled by trauma amidst vivid descriptions of football stadiums – beauty in its ‘terrible simplicity’ ('Home Game'). Tales that explore the search for a lost home and its connection with our very identity: ‘I know I’ve become a stranger to them, and to myself’ ('Back Home'). While there is something raw and vulnerable, the honest helplessness in the words ‘I can’t find the way home,’ but also the strange wistfulness in finding home in music ('Zöe K.'). We see a battle between familiarity and unfamiliarity, between staying and moving on. Tales of memory and forgetting; of separation, exploration and travel. Of uncertainty, reassurance and acceptance, ‘This is home now. Just be’ ('Moving the Furniture'). Yet behind the nostalgia and hope lurk something morbid, an unexpected dark turn of events (as in 'Colour').
Then there are stories that hit too close to home. Stories reminiscing about the curiosity that comes with the first year of university, and the melancholy that the final year brings. The uncertainty and fear that haunts the future, that prowls what comes after ('Home From Home'). And lastly, there are tales painted with the inevitable passing of time, and a homesickness for something lost. The story where one forgets and another remembers, and I’m not quite sure what’s worse (as in 'Shelter').
But, perhaps, it’s just like as Hermann Hesse wrote: 'every path leads home'. In this collection of short stories, we are given the privilege to peer into the lives of others, to glimpse, even for a moment, what ‘home’ means to them. And, maybe, in doing so, we’ll discover what ‘home’ means to us.
About the reviewer
Born in Manila, Philippines, Lerah Mae Barcenilla is currently a third year English undergraduate at the University of Leicester. Her writing has been published in The Student Wordsmith, The Purple Breakfast Review, PETRie Inventory and Culturefly. In her spare time, you can find her highly-caffeinated self idly scribbling on a notebook trying to write her two-somethings every day or taking photographs of cherry blossoms. You can find more of her writing and photography at https://leionai.wordpress.com/
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Written by Malka Al-Haddad, this article was first published in Alhadath International Agency, and was translated from Arabic by Malka Al-Haddad and Alexandros Plasatis
Iraqi culture and arts in Leicester: Everybody’s Reading Festival
The 7th Everybody’s Reading Festival took place across many cultural centres in the city of Leicester, from 1-9 October 2016. There was an Iraqi representation at the festival from its opening day, as postcards with poems, including the Children of War by the Iraqi Malka Al-Haddad, had been given out by poets at Leicester Railway Station. That was part of the event “Journeys: pop up poem library”, which run throughout the festival. On every postcard there was a poem taken by the book Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge, an anthology of poems edited by K. Bell, E. Lee and S. Logan, and published by Five Leaves.
The Railway Station was chosen as the setting for this event, as organisers wanted to inspire the commuters with a different journey, that of immigrants and refugees, suffering on their journey across counties, the sea and the forests, putting their lives in danger to reach safety and live a peaceful life, fleeing from wars and sectarian conflict that forced them on risky and daring trips.
The event was a success and the postcards run out long before the end of the festival.
During the festival’s seventh day, the African Caribbean Centre hosted the launch of an anthology of poetry entitled Welcome to Leicester, edited by Emma Lee and Ambrose Musiyiwa, and published by Dahlia Press. The subject of this book is to show how this city welcomes all people and especially refugees and immigrants. About 50 poets from Britain have contributed to this anthology, which features two poems by Malka Al-Haddad who represented the Union of Iraqi Writers. Malka’s poems describe the aspects of the lives of immigrants and refugees: their suffering in their homeland, and their grief when finding themselves in the new country mixed with love and hope to make this new country their homeland, as the old country was shattered, destroyed by war, discrimination and conflict.
On the ninth day of this festival, there was a strong presence of Iraqi culture in an event called “Walls”, organised by the People’s Art Collective and hosted by New Walk Museum and Art Gallery – one of the first public museums in the UK, opened in 1849. Malka Al-Haddad was involved in three parts of this event.
Firstly, in a documentary film about Iraq, Noble Najaf, which was screened in The Lord Mayor’s Room. Directed by the French filmmaker Morgan Railane, produced by Al Hikmat Foundation in Iraq, it was translated from French to Arabic by Dr Mohamed Alkaraishi. The film focused on the city of Najaf, Cultural Capital of Islam for 2012, and the holiest city of Shia Islam as well as the centre of Shia political power in Iraq. The film unveils historical, political, religious and cultural aspects of Najaf City. It shows how the city was rebuilt and restructured after being bombed during the American invasion in 2003 and how the Mehdi Army fought the Americans in order to get them out of Iraq and gain independence, and how, later, the city sent ambassadors to European countries for cultural exchanges and introducing Najaf as the capital of Islamic culture and the holy centre of the Shia faith, where the Libraries still hold ancient manuscripts. It showed how the clerics hold high and powerful positions in Iraq and how all people in the city follow and obey them, how they influence the decision-making of the Iraqi government, and even how they guide ordinary people in aspects of their everyday life. Finally, the film shows Najaf’s arts and culture and how NGO charities attempted to develop women’s rights.
After the film, Malka Al-Haddad – who appears throughout the film, back when she was the director of Najaf’s Women’s Centre for Culture and Art – explained to the audience how Najaf is at risk from potential future Isis actions and the goal of Isis is to destroy this city and destroy the Islamic culture because the faith of this city is different from the beliefs of Isis.
In another part of the museum there was another event, with poets, musicians, and storytellers, and Malka read her poems and presented some of her artwork.
It was an honour for the Iraqi poet Malka Al-Haddad to represent her culture in such a prestigious place in this city, the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery.
Despite the pain and sadness in Iraq, the voice of the Iraqi people, through culture and the arts, managed to be heard in this European multicultural city. Iraqi culture was the smile of hope for Iraqi people who live in exile and, for Malka Al-Haddad, the experience of taking part in Everybody’s Reading Festival was like listening to Ishtar guitar.
About the writer
Malka Al-Haddad is an Iraqi poet, academic and defender of Human Rights. Registered with Front Line Defenders, she has lived in Britain since 2012. She is member of the Union of Iraqi Writers, Director of the Women’s Centre of Culture & Arts in Iraq, and was one of first delegates to the US for the Iraqi & American reconciliation project. Currently, she is an activist with Leicester City of Sanctuary and Leicester Civil Rights Movement. https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/malka-al-haddad
About the co-translator
Alexandros Plasatis is an ethnographer and writes fiction in English, his second language. Some of his stories have been published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, Unthology, Crystal Voices, blÆkk, and (forthcoming) Total Cant. He has a PhD in Creative Writing and is working on the creative writing project Write Here: Sanctuary with Cities of Santuary and Writing East Midlands, aiming to find and develop new creative talent within the refugee and asylum seeker community in Leicester.
Monday, 17 October 2016
Instructions for Making Me is the intriguing title of Maria Taylor’s pamphlet which has been beautifully published by HappenStance. Her poems skip across times, places, emotions, and the reader is quickly immersed in each one. A few of her poems have a dreamlike quality and give rise to a sense of uncertainty, whilst others have more familiar themes. My particular favourites are ‘Not about Hollywood’, ‘The Pavilion’ and ‘The Vale’.
In ‘Not about Hollywood’ the tension in the waiting room is almost tangible as the focus moves between illness, life savings, and film premieres. There is also a sense of acceptance: ‘ My mother’s seen it all. I was born / into melodrama.’ The reality of the situation reappears as ‘His step falters. We tell him not to worry / as his name flashes in blood-red lights.’
Maria Taylor’s skill in creating an atmosphere in each poem continues in ‘The Pavilion’ where we can watch the bowls ‘bumping politely into another’, and hear ‘the soft ceramic chink’. The poem ends with the poignant image of her widowed grandmother (yiayia) who ‘rounded up chaos like a sheepdog / and raised six children.’
‘The Vale’ evokes teenage memories of feeling invincible with that it’ll-never-happen-to-me naivety until the sudden realisation of vulnerability: ‘It’s always like this, till one day’ even though ‘You’ve done nothing wrong.’ The simplicity of the final lines perfectly captures that breathless blend of fear and relief: ‘and you’re walking / you just keep walking’.
Maria Taylor blogs at http://miskinataylor.blogspot.co.uk/
About the reviewer
Karen Powell lives and works in Leicester. Her poetry has been published in Welcome to Leicester, soundswrite 2015, and various magazines including The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat & Tears and The Lake. http://karenpowellnotebook.wordpress.com/
Tuesday, 11 October 2016
I’m bored of lit events, open mics, spoken word, or whatever they call them. I don’t go any more, or at least I try to avoid them. But for two years or so, back when I was doing my PhD in Creative Writing, I used to go – at the time I thought I should make an effort and get involved. The one event I had almost never missed was called Shindig (with an annoying exclamation mark at the end, omitted here), which took – and still takes place – in a pub in Leicester, off Narborough Road.
I got to meet the poets and the prose writers there. Unless their fingers were trembling during their reading or the voice quivering or something similar that showed internal terror, I grew to mistrust them. How can you stand up there, opening up your soul for everyone to see, without feeling like you’re dying? Most of the poets that I’ve met at Shindig were good people, but I had a few dealings with some of the so-called established poets of Leicestershire and I can confirm that they are little dictators who go about pretending that they love art and fairness – bullshit: they are crackpots, full of injustice, whose only need is to try and dominate you with their arty-farty words. The prose writers were more human, although, naturally, they had their issues, and I’ve only met one real bastard.
Anyway, enough of them. My poet isn’t like them, he’s a loner, he belongs to the margins, he’s a man who hasn’t given up. He had appeared as a guest writer at one of those depressing Shindig evenings, years ago. And so, when his name was announced, Robert Richardson dragged over a chair to the mic, left his rucksack on it, and took his time sorting out his stuff. He made his intro with a tiny smirk, which remained on his face throughout his reading. I liked him for that smirk, I hadn’t seen it from any other poet. Maybe he had that smirk because he didn’t do what your usual poet did, he didn’t take himself seriously, he could see the funny side of the whole thing, and that’s why his fingers weren’t trembling.
When he read out his stuff, he had a sharp way of letting the words go, and his pauses between lines were longer than I was used to hear, heavier, calculated but not fake, and that made them powerful. I didn’t have to listen, curiosity led me. Notepads, sheets of papers, magazines came out of his bag as he read one poem after the other, somehow turning the experience, for a change, into pleasure. He seemed to be a man in perpetual motion, he moved a lot during his reading, even his pauses were moving, even when he stood still and silent I could feel a sparkle in the air and the waves of reaction that came from that haunting smirk. At some point he took out a tiny book and read from it:
THE ENGLISH PHILOSOPHER
It’s easy to think
you just think
this could be
either right or wrong,
so I think
I’ll have a cup of tea.
And again, from that same little book:
THE YEAR 2000
I switch on
on ‘The Good Old Days’.
As years passed by I became friends with Bob (who thankfully identifies himself mostly as a photographer). My friend can talk, and so he talks in our rare meetings, he talks lively as I sit back listening and smoking, he’s a man with bright and funny stories, he hasn’t got this boring proper-manners thing where one will do the talking for a while, then it should be the turn of the other person, no, not with Bob, he’s authentic. Although I noticed that he’s like that – that is, being himself – only when he feels comfortable with the other person, and I’m glad to be one of them. And as he talks, he lives the stories he tells me, his hands move here and there, he jumps from his seat as he narrates how this and that happened, he throws his head back and pushes his tongue out and laughs, shoulders shaking. One day, I think it was two years ago, he stopped talking for a few seconds, and I grasped the opportunity to mention that Shindig evening and his English Philosopher. He said it came from a book that is out of print, nowhere to be bought, but he might have a spare copy in his loft, then he went back to telling stories. But he didn’t forget about it, and another day he brought me the book:
A Set of Darts: Epigrams for the Nineties
by Peter Dale, W. S. Milne and Robert Richardson
It was published in 1990, in Grimsby. In the poem-into, Peter Dale gives his definition of the epigram:
The epigram’s a blade of light
a shaft through storm-cloud, flash
of a secluded pool, this bright
flick-knife, the headlights’ clash,
the teeth of laughter, a smile’s sleight,
lightning, shimmer of dream
across the old familiar night,
a knot-hole’s moted beam,
the shiny elbow of commonsense,
gloss of the ominous rook.
It comes and goes like truth – and hence
the darting of this book.
Smashed jars refract along a wall;
the gold nib glitters with the scrawl.
Right, I’m getting bored of writing now, so here are three last epigrams, one by each author, and I wish you all a good evening.
Dying’s like going to the lavatory;
it’s best to do it on your own.
More so of it’s at all cathetery
or you want to grunt and groan.
OUT OF COURT
The House has banned another word.
Along with ‘guttersnipe’, ‘murderer’,
goes ‘fascist’ now. It’s pretty clear
‘truth’ itself will disappear.
[W. S. Milne]
A LESSON IN PATRIOTISM
About the reviewer
Alexandros Plasatis is an ethnographer and writes fiction in English, his second language. Some of his stories have been published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, Unthology, Crystal Voices, blÆkk, and Total Cant (forthcoming). He lives in Leicester.