Announcing NER 37.2

NER37-2 front coverBuy your copy today!

A sneak peek of our Editor’s Note,
from the just-barely-released NER 37.2:

First publication, which is what you see here, is a moment of capture. It’s the moment the work leaves the writer’s private world and becomes public. The version that appears here may be fixed for NER 37.2—and we believe it’s in its prime—but some works will go on to be part of a book, and then maybe years after that will be revised again for a “new and selected.”  —CK

Read more!

♦ Mary Ebbott on pain’s resistance to language, from Homer to the McGill Pain Questionnaire

♦ Rob Hardy presents the life of an antebellum politician-turned-poet, in an age of hoaxes and counterfeits

♦ Playwright to playwright: Nathaniel G. Nesmith interviews Steve Carter

♦ Ning Ken (trans. by Thomas Moran) calls for a Chinese fiction that contends with contemporary China, where reality exceeds imagination

♦ Eric Severn tallies up the failures so far

♦ John Keats introduces his work

♦ Plus Ian Ganassi’s new translation from Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the Trojans eat their tables and the princess’s hair catches fire

FICTION by Leslie BazzettBen EismanBecky HagenstonKate PetersenAnne Raeff, and Tyler Sage.

POETRY by Cortney Lamar CharlestonMartha CollinsBen JacksonWayne MillerDerek MongMark NeelyMaxine ScatesSafiya SinclairBruce SniderBrian TeareRyan Teitman, and Kara van de Graaf.

Charles Holdefer

Big and Nasty

fiction from NER 37.1 

Leonard_Kogan-10.Mixed_Media_on_paper._Leonard_Kogan._2014They beat us up pretty bad. The check-in, the x-rays, then wandering around in our socks. Now we’re on the runway, waiting to take off. The flight attendants have demonstrated how to buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt. (Now there’s a scary thought: people travel who haven’t mastered this much technology?) I ask the man next to me, “Do you believe in God?”

“Excuse me?” he says.

He’s forty or so, balding, with pinched eyes. He looks like a scared rabbit.

“Just kidding,” I tell him.

He hitches up in his seat, gives a little cough and pulls out his cell phone to confirm that it’s turned off, in keeping with our instructions. He doesn’t speak.

[Read more]


Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has appeared in the North American Review, Los Angeles Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. He has also published four novels, most recently Back in the Game (Permanent Press, 2012). His essay “Orwell’s Hippopotamus, or The Writer as Historical Anachronism” appeared in NER 32.3. 

Bob Hicok


My habit in December is to peel an orange
as I walk—bits of peel in my pockets—
pants that smell of Florida—and sometimes
approach a car at an intersection—
tap on the window—interrupt
the driver’s rapture of watching
for the green light of release—I’m sworn at
by most—flipped-off—or ignored
with the same passion I’m ignored by God—
but she rolled down her window
when I made the motion of a crank

[Read more]


Bob Hicok’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, and American Poetry Review. His books include the forthcoming Sex & Love & (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), This Clumsy Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), which was awarded the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress, and The Legend of Light (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), which was named a “Notable Book of the Year” by Booklist. Hicok has worked as an automotive die designer and a computer system administrator, and is currently an Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Eugene Mirabelli

Oh, My Beautiful Alba

Fiction from NER 37.1


From the novel Renato After Alba

I went to the Daily Grind café and had a cup of coffee at the little table where we often sat, but Alba didn’t turn up, smiling and saying “I thought I’d find you here.”

Because she is dead—I know, I know. What I don’t know is where she went and why she hasn’t come back and is she someplace I can get to without dying, because though I wanted to die and told myself over and over to die, it became clear it wasn’t going to happen right away. I don’t understand why we’re born or why we love or why we bring children into the world if we and everyone we love are going to die.


I was born at my grandfather’s house in Lexington, Massachusetts, in the evening of the last snowfall of March, eighty-three years ago. You could say I was born a few days earlier, but on that snowy evening I was found in a laundry basket on my grandfather’s doorstep, so that’s my true birthday. My grandfather’s big square house was on one side of St. Brigid’s Church, and the small narrow parish house was on the other side. Everyone said I had been brought to the wrong door, but maybe my guardian angel directed the delivery to this address so that a newly married couple at the table that evening could adopt me and be my true parents, as did happen.

My grandfather’s name was Pacifico Cavallù and there were fifteen people in the house that night. He was at the head of the table, a sturdy man with a short, iron-colored beard, and his wife Marianna sat opposite him, a glorious woman such as you find carved on the prow of an old sailing ship. Their children, handsome and headstrong, were seated on both sides of the long table—Lucia and Marissa and Bianca and Candida and Dante and Sandro and Silvio and Mercurio and Regina, along with Marissa’s husband Nicolo, an aeronautical engineer, and Bianca’s husband Fidèle, a stonecutter. And, of course, there was Carmela the cook and Nora the housemaid. That’s two in the kitchen, thirteen at the table, and me in a laundry basket being set down quietly on the piazza.

Then came that KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, so Pacifico got up from the table, his linen napkin still tucked into the top of his vest, and strolled through the grand front hall and into the vestibule to open the front door. Good God! he cries. At the table they drop their silverware and knock over chairs to come running and I am born.

[Read more]

Eugene Mirabelli was born in 1931 and his first novel was published in 1959. Renato After Alba, excerpted in this issue of NER and forthcoming from McPherson & Company in October, is a follow-up to his novel Renato, the Painter (McPherson, 2012). These are the last two in a series of six novels concerning Renato and the Cavallù clan. Mirabelli has published other novels, including science-fiction and fantasy, and his stories, novels, and essays have been translated into many languages. He writes about politics, economics, and science on his blog, 

Mabel Yu

NER Digital

Laws of Motion

White on WhiteIt was supposed to be part of a revolution, he said. The Suprematists weren’t just looking to create art—they sought a universal connection and a new way of thinking for society. Utopia. Transcendence. To that end, Kazimir Malevich stripped realism from his canvases and instead inserted simple shapes, geometric abstraction meant to undress representation until all that remained was pure feeling. His Suprematist Composition: White on White was a prime example of this concept—a white square tilted on a white background of a slightly warmer tone. An almost monochromatic scene. Almost nothingness.

But what made me look up was when the professor broke from his notes and described the effect that the painting had had on some viewers. After staring at the piece for several minutes, it was not uncommon for museum-goers to begin swaying. Without the traditional depth and perspective that pulled the eye into the painting, the focused viewer could observe the white square dissolving into the surrounding white, which branched into infinite space. The professor smiled as he commented that this untethered visual resulted in viewers wobbling, even occasionally falling. Here was a work that could so move you spiritually that it would move you literally. Something that could so lift your mind from overbearing consciousness that it eschewed gravity for a moment.

It was just what I needed. I was in a rut. An upperclassman at a large state university, I was timid and lonely, smart but naïve, eager to be a legend but lacking know-how, experience, and authority (yes, everything a legend requires). An English major, I cherished my books but feared post-collegiate penury. And I was in love (well, fine. At least in serious, earnest like) with a brooding boy, a classmate, who, if he thought about my existence at all, only did so in a trivially amused manner, the way one might about a clever windup toy. My bus departed from a slightly seedy lot just north of downtown DC. The five hour journey included plenty of time for doubt. What if nothing happened? What if I didn’t have the proper constitution to be moved, if something inside me was anchored to fact rather than belief? Nothing but silence answered. The strangers around me napped and snacked.

It was my first visit to the modernist sanctuary of MOMA, and I indulged in the chairs, the teapots, and the canvases of my favorite artistic period. I took my time, out of both delight and apprehension. No longer relegated to the dull heft of an art history book or the dim screen of a slideshow, Brancusi’s Bird in Space shone before me, and Magritte’s The False Mirror winked. Finally, on the fifth floor, I spotted it.

There weren’t crowds here as there were for the popular post-impressionist paintings or the catchy pop art. I stepped straight in front of White on White, cautiously, carefully, looking at the floor as if it might hint at the optimal viewing distance. Arms limp at my sides, I shut my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and opened.

Seconds passed. A minute. People walked around me, pausing briefly, continuing on. Two minutes. I squinted my eyes and tried to cross them. Three minutes. I tried to focus through the painting instead of staring at its surface, the way you do with a magic eye image. Four minutes. Five. Step forward. Six minutes. I could be moved. I would be moved. Seven minutes. Closer still. Eight. Step backwards, halfway across the room. Stop. Concentrate.

One arch of my foot to another, slowly, almost imperceptibly, left to right and back, I could have begun to shift my weight. I could tell you, with the confidence of someone decoding messages from a Ouija board, that I glimpsed the infinite. That my body broke from the ground, and as Malevich intended, I floated, soaring into a liberated space of higher feeling, leaving behind the earthly concern of my body. Of my life.

But no.

In truth, I stood there, stock still, all weight and no wonder, dumbstruck, forlorn, my feet heavy on the hardwood, and seeming, to the museum patrons that passed by me, to be staring at nothing. Deflated, I made my way downstairs.

The Suprematist movement was eradicated after Stalin and his Soviet government took hold. Creativity, much less abstraction, was forced out to make room for representational art depicting the “common people”—happy, robust workers and schoolchildren, dedicated to the revolutionary romanticism. Malevich was arrested and questioned about his art. Later, denied permission to go abroad and seek medical treatment, Malevich died of cancer in 1935 in Leningrad. His grave is marked by a white cube, on which is painted a large black square.

Back on the streets of midtown, cold air sheared my cheeks and cacophonous traffic assaulted my ears. No longer restricted by the museum’s stringent order and hushed rooms, I was relieved to be part of the discord of the every day. Joining the pedestrians, I moved with the crowd, a small dot on the city’s extensive grid.

Small, but moving.



Mabel Yu is a writer and editor in the Washington, DC area.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings. To submit an essay to our series, please read our guidelines.

Monday, March 14 at 7pm

NER Vermont Reading Series: Jennifer Grotz, Sydney Lea, and Janice Obuchowski

Monday, March 14, 7 pm
51 Main at the Bridge
51 Main Street, Middlebury, VT

The NER Vermont Reading Series presents poets Jennifer Grotz and Sydney Lea and fiction writer Janice Obuchowski, who will read from their recent work at 51 Main at the Bridge in Middlebury, VT. This reading is co-sponsored by the Vermont Book Shop and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Light refreshments will be served. Books, cocktails, and other beverages will be available to purchase. The event is free and open to the public.

Jennifer Grotz’s new collection of poetry, Window Left Open, was just released from Graywolf Press. Her previous collections are The Needle and Cusp. Her poetry has appeared in the New Republic, the New Yorker, and Best American Poetry. She teaches at the University of Rochester and in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College, and is the assistant director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.


sydney leaSydney Lea is the author of a dozen poetry collections, with No Doubt the Nameless just out this spring from Four Way Books. He has also published a novel, a collection of literary criticism, and four volumes of personal essays, most recently What’s the Story? Reflections on a Life Grown Long. He was founder and longtime editor of New England Review, and he currently lives in northern Vermont.


Janice Obuchowski has her MFA in fiction from the University of California, Irvine.  She’s served on the admissions board for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and has been a lecturer at the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.  A fiction editor at the New England Review, she has published stories in Gettysburg Review, Passages North, Slice, and Seattle Review. She has also recently completed a novel.




Alex McElroy

NER Digital

Try Going Home Unchanged by This Painting

TitiansCrowning_1Ivan taught me how to look at paintings. We met in line at the Louvre. It was my final day in Paris, my final city, concluding thirty days traveling alone. When the man who turned out to be Ivan touched my shoulder I softened, relieved by an unthreatening hand, expecting to turn and find someone I knew. But there was Ivan, a stranger, chubby and balding, his olive shirt unbuttoned to the fur on his chest. “I need to get in front of you,” he said, his English knotted by a Romanian accent. “I have someone important to see.”

I let him cut. The people before me did not. Ivan and I spoke to each other, hasty and vacant at first, until he asked what I had come to the museum to see. Titian. “Give me,” he said, meaning my map. He penned a route right to the Salle des Etats, the room Titian shared with that “most overrated attraction,” the Mona Lisa. He advised me to give it a glance—only a glance. Then he flashed a card at the ticket window and dashed into a crowd of flashbulbs and faces.

A motley, silent congestion dammed the entrance of the Salle des Etats. Inside, the Mona Lisa hung on an island, roped off and defended by gray-eyed guards cleaning their nails and shaming photographers. I advanced to the back of the room, to Titian’s The Entombment of Christ, where I stood for thirty-five minutes, my arms dutifully crossed.

I had spent the last month in museums, in front of Velásquez, Bosch, Goya, Vermeer, in a state of awe and confusion, but I could not say that I learned more than how to be silent, awaiting aesthetic vibrations. I was twenty-two, working through a thousand dollars of savings, tracing some nebulous path toward becoming an artist. The day I left, my mother wrote and advised me to not be shy. Her message startled me. We were never that close and reading her message I felt humiliated, exposed. Abroad, I did not heed her warnings. And now, near the end of my trip, I saw my shyness as an uncorrectable artistic flaw. How could I create if I could not even talk?

As I stood before The Entombment, a French voice sliced through the reverent hush. Across the room, Ivan discussed Tintoretto with a man in a suit. He led the man into an adjacent room but abandoned him and returned to me, already complaining about the idiocy of his client. “I am the best,” he said, “but sometimes they cannot see, whatever I do, they just cannot see.” Ivan spoke with the confident, knowing rapport of a sibling. His tone comforted me. This was the closest to intimacy I had gotten in months.

“Museum directors pay me to show them their museums,” he boasted. “The director at the Met never knew how to look at her paintings.” He pointed at The Entombment. “Do you see this?” He hovered his finger over Christ’s knee and slid it up to the corner, then the same to Christ’s arm, exposing the obvious parallel. “No, no,” he said, interrupting himself, and dragged me to Tintoretto’s The Coronation of the Virgin, which we studied for two prompt minutes before returning to The Entombment. “Now do you see?” Ivan asked. Color flooded the painting. How had I missed it? The blue glimmer of Mary’s shawl bridged to Nicodemus’s orange tunic by the bone-colored shroud carrying Christ.

Ivan believed one only saw art by returning to art, refreshing the eyes. Docents, historians, the quacks who stood stiff as boards, they tried to gaze their way into paintings, thinking the work might reveal itself with the extra-dimensional flare of a stereogram. He chattered before the paintings, distracting me, guiding my eyes away from the canvas so that I could view it anew. Finally, he led me to “Titian’s finest,” The Crowning with Thorns. The color astounded me. In the painting, Christ stands weak-legged on darkened stone steps, four men binding the crown of thorns to his head. Christ wears a robe cherry in color; the others in golds, sumptuous greens, chainmail armor so finely depicted it practically chings.

“Devastating,” said Ivan. Great art, he proposed, devastates. It destroys the world you thought you knew. “Titian devastates,” he said. He pointed over his shoulder, toward the crowd leaning against a rope, squinting at the Mona Lisa. “That you can look at and return to your life. But try,” he pleaded, “try going home unchanged by this painting.”

We must have stood there for two hours, our voices increasingly animated. Soon there was no one to bother but guards. Ivan gave me his card. He lived in San Francisco—a modest drive from Oregon, where I lived—and suggested I visit for an upcoming Van Gogh exhibit. I promised I would. Ivan departed abruptly.

Back in Oregon, my story of Ivan was met with unflinching cynicism. He was a kook, I was told. An aging romantic. A scam artist. I Googled his name and learned that he typically charged three hundred dollars an hour to lead someone through a museum. For some time, this hurt me. I felt exploited, manipulated. But let’s say Ivan had wanted nothing but money. So what? With him, I learned how to let art manipulate me. If Ivan preyed on my lonely, vulnerable nature, he did what any great work must do. To be affected by art requires we enter the work vulnerable, pliable, ready to let it absorb and change who we are.

This, I think, is what Ivan meant by devastation. The work alone doesn’t devastate. We must approach the work ready to be devastated, the way I finally did that evening in Paris, a young man fragile and quiet, awaiting a hand on my shoulder.


Alex McElroy’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Georgia Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, and Music & Literature. More work can be found at He currently lives in Bulgaria.

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” presents writers’ encounters with works of art such as books, plays, poems, films, paintings, sculptures, or buildings. To submit an essay to our series, please read our guidelines.