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NER CLASSICS | Not Renata | Dwight Allen

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

. . . he’d come into my head, unbidden, unconjured,
the way long-ago boyfriends will do . . .


Dwight Allen’s story, “Not Renata,” appeared in NER 21.2.

Now and then, he’d come into my head, unbidden, unconjured, the way long-ago boyfriends will do, if you aren’t careful. I’d be chewing on my pencil or a fingernail, say, or looking at the blue California sky while pumping gas into my car, and there he’d be, lying on a three-legged, rummage-sale couch in our graduate school apartment of twenty years before. (The fourth leg was a cookbook my mother had given me. ”Hope this will inspire you,” she said.) In this picture he’s as still as a painter’s model, cigarette smoke veiling him like stage fog. I peer at him, this secretive, cowardly boy I once loved, and then the picture dissolves and I’m inhaling gasoline fumes or listening to Mrs. Ramirez or Mr. Kuhn or someone else at the senior center tell me a story. I work with the elderly. With the crabby and unpopular Mr. Kuhn, I sometimes play checkers, waiting for the moment he says “King me!” and stirs me from my daydreams. The last time my former boyfriend appeared before me, I was in the dentist’s chair.

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NER CLASSICS | Updike’s Way | William H. Pritchard

Categories: NER Classics

“Wallace took a similar line in more abusive terms, declaring that readers under age forty—particularly female ones—had no time for what he termed the G.M.N.s (Great Male Novelists) and disliked Updike in particular . . .”

William H. Pritchard’s “Updike’s Way,” appeared in NER 21.3:

356px-Study_for_the_Oath_of_the_Horatii_the_elder_HoratiusIn the fall of 1997, at the time John Updike’s novel Toward the End of Time was published, the New York Observer featured a page headlined “Twilight of the Phallocrats, “consisting of pieces by the critic Sven Birkerts and the novelist David Foster Wallace about the current state of American fiction. That state was not good insofar as it concerned what Birkerts called “our giants, our arts-bemedaled senior male novelists.” He was referring to Updike, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and Saul Bellow, whose recent novels were “manifestly second-rate,”yet who were not “getting called onto the carpet for it.” Birkerts suggested that these eminent writers would be well advised to yield their crowns to a younger generation of “brothers,” novelists such as Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Stone, and John Edgar Wideman, who had their eyes on politics and society, the “larger world” Updike and his contemporaries, in their obsessive preoccupation with the self, were neglecting. Wallace took a similar line in more abusive terms, declaring that readers under age forty—particularly female ones—had no time for what he termed the G.M.N.s (Great Male Novelists) and disliked Updike in particular. Toward the End of Time was a prime example of what these novelists shared—”their radical self-absorption and their uncritical celebration of this self-absorption both in themselves and in their characters.” 

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NER CLASSICS | Sadness | Aliki Barnstone

Categories: NER Classics, Poetry


Aliki Barnstone’s poem, “Sadness,” appeared in NER 21.2:

Rilke says sadness is the moment the future enters us
By surprise and pushes us into the unknown
The handsome bartender says,”Your drinks are on me”
—And leans across the counter—”What’ll it be?”
Alcohol is heat in my ears as I catch my reflection
In the mirror, happy flirting without forethought.
But days later alone the question comes back:
What will it be?
                           and I remember moments with you
When time raced quickly around us like a romping young dog
And we were amused. Today time reminds me of the hound
Knowingly guarding the underworld. Sadness slips in,
Doesn’t it? even in the gentle pleasures of the body
Which pass too and remind us of loss. 

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NER Classics | The Long March of “Orientalism”

Categories: NER Classics, Nonfiction

The Long March of ‘Orientalism’: Western Travelers in Modern China,”
Nicholas R. Clifford’s report from abroad, appeared in NER 22.2:

Graves, graves, graves, countless ancestral graves in countless ancestral fields! Always the presence of death! A few naked trees along the railwayembankment . . . now and then the dark crenellated walls of some ancient city . . . (Agnes Smedley, 1943) . . .442px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Chinese_Ship_(Tosen_Zu)_with_Listing_of_the_Sea_Route_from_China_to_Japan-2

They are drawn conventionally enough, these pictures. Travelers finding in a foreign land—here, the China of fifty or sixty years ago—a waste of unchanging hopelessness: a land perceived as corrupt, superstitious, and burdened by a conservatism so rigid it might be taken for stupidity. The images themselves betray a frustration, a kind of fed-upness by the observer with the observed. In no sense are they original, for their pedigree reaches back a century and more, each succeeding generation adding its own detail and coloration to the features conjured up by Western fancies of the country.

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NER Classics | The Fickle Gods | Robert Cohen

Categories: NER Classics

Robert Cohen’s “The Fickle Gods,” appeared in NER 21.4.

“Christ knew, she was in need of some grace today . . .”

580px-Michelangelo_Merisi_da_Caravaggio_-_St_Jerome_(detail)_-_WGA04159Though she was running almost ridiculously early for her doctor’s appointment that morning, Bonnie didn’t mind. She liked going to doctors. She had a pretty fair tolerance for dentists, accountants, and lawyers too. It was a professional age. She delivered herself with gratitude to their buzzing offices, sought out their informed opinions, their brisk, impersonal evaluations. They made her feel located; they made her feel known. After nine-odd years of graduate school—the last five spent crawling through the tunnel of her dissertation—people who not only talked about things but actually went around doing them were like evidence to her of some casual secular miracle. In their presence she became calm and penitent, open to the ministrations of grace.

Christ knew, she was in need of some grace today. In addition to her usual strenuous bout of pre-dawn vomiting, there had been at breakfast a rather nasty and gratuitous argument with her kids which had left her utterly depleted. It was almost as if they knew what was up. But how could they? She herself didn’t know. Not officially. Not clinically. Which was why she had made her appointment with Dr. Siraj.

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NER Classics | Pimone Triplett

Categories: NER Classics, NER Community

Pimone Triplett’s poem, “Bird of Paradise Aubade
With Bangkok Etching Over the Bed,” appeared in NER 22.2.

“. . . your body’s parse of sweat and salt . . .”

               Woke to hear you refuse
to stop working in heavy rain, shoveling the mud
that beggars our part
                             of the yard. After a while, I heard the rasp of iron’s
rake on gravel, wet earth, your bending for the gaps
to get the seedlings right. Then for hours from the window

               I watched all your muscles connecting up, your body’s parse
of sweat and salt, hollows
between the ribs appearing, then not, around your
                              breath’s steady reed and thrum. Watched,
you see, until I knew, for once, I wouldn’t try to leave.
Though I did want to walk out and say something else 

              about moving through the myth
of ask and answer once. 

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“Well, what do you expect with a name like that?” | Eric Darton

Categories: Fiction, NER Classics

Eric Darton’s story, “Certain Amazing Adventures of Mr. Hoel” appeared in NER 22.2:

798px-Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_(British_-_Van_Tromp,_Going_About_to_Please_His_Masters_-_Google_Art_ProjectWell, what do you expect with a name like that? Call him Lars, call him Claes, call him Cowerie, Pure Act, Oecumene, or Segundo Punt. Or Mignon the vinegar- swill. He don’t mind. Hoel knows what’s his.

Now let me draw you back to Hoel’s naissance in the city with the second tallest spires and the vast majority of cows. Let us meander along the rutted bywaysof his colonial youth, and, at length—the salt scent bursting in wafts more pronounced—out onto the corniche where no matter how implacable the drubbing blows of Brother Sun, Hoel could always ride his bicycle a meter in from the seawall, for it was there that the breakers delivered up their tenderest after-orgasms of cooling foam. Then lean the cycle in the shaded L where tower and wall abut and up the spiralsteps of the citadel, proof too from sun-fire by virtue of its inconceivable thickness, and peer through the topmost slit, out over the star defenses, beyond the breakers with their toppled columns rolling nowhere but to and fro, and parts of ships and men dashed everywhere among them.

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On Restlessness | By Carl Phillips

Categories: NER Classics

Carl Phillips’s reflection “On Restlessness” appeared in NER 30.1:

dauguerrePoetry—the kind that does in fact give us the world as we had not seen it, that makes us question what we had thought we knew (and this is finally the only thing I am willing to call poetry)—poetry is the result of a generative restlessness of imagination. Such an imagination experiences uncertainty not as adversary but as opportunity, not as an object of fear but, for better or worse, an object of an all-but-impossible-to-resist fascination. These uncertainties become obsessions to be wrestled with, and with luck, the result is poetry: the poem as, again, evidence and record of the mind’s approach to, grappling with, and (if only temporarily) mastery of an uncertainty by putting it in a place, a context, for deeper scrutiny. The poems that most persuade me of their authority are those that leave room for further uncertainty once they’re over. The illusion is one of mastery, but somewhere the creative mind recognizes, with time, that absolute mastery of an idea has proved again elusive; we approach the old uncertainty from a new angle, it continues to fascinate by its very resistance to us, and we are on our way to the next poem.

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Fugitive Music | By Joshua Harmon

Categories: NER Classics

Joshua Harmon’s cultural history essay “Fugitive Music” appeared in NER 30.4:

phonographMy earliest home recordings were live, direct-to-tape. In a ritual common to my generation, but which now must seem unfathomably absurd to anyone under the age of thirty, I would hold my portable cassette recorder to the speaker of a portable radio and record the songs the DJ was playing. While some friends captured huge swaths of a DJ’s set, letting the tape run until it was full, I was an editor from the beginning, waiting patiently for a specific song to come on, then hurriedly pressing buttons and hoping the DJ didn’t talk over too much of the song’s introduction or fade its ending into another song’s beginning—especially one I didn’t like, since that combination would now become part of my own version of the song, the same way, hearing a song today that was once recorded for me on a mix-tape, I still hear ghost sequences of songs following it. Fidelity was irrelevant, given the cheapness of both the source and the recording devices, and given the media: FM radio and cassette. As Milner writes of the earliest phonograph Edison created, the uses imagined for this machine “emphasized the act of preserving information, with little regard to how that information actually sounded. Fidelity wasn’t the goal; permanence was.” And certainly what mattered to me as I taped music from the airwaves was what I might learn from those songs—about music as pop-cultural entry point and schoolyard currency, or about myself as auditor.

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Categories: NER Classics

Marc Chagall by Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons

Abigail Ulman’s short story “Chagall’s Wife” appeared in NER 28.4:

“A monogamist.” Mr. Ackerman had come up behind me.

“A pardon?” 

“Chagall. He loved his wife very much.” He leaned in close to the painting. “That’s her up there, see? She’s flying. And there he is, on the ground below, waiting for her to come down. Hoping to catch her. He put her in all his work.”

He walked on to look at the next one and I watched him go. For a science teacher he seemed to know a lot about art. I, on the other hand, didn’t feel like learning schoolish things on the weekend. I dragged myself from painting to painting, ignoring the essay-long inscription next to each one, staring at the colors till they blurred before my eyes. I made inkblot tests of them all. Instead of a tableful of angels I saw a close-up of a mouth with teeth falling out; I turned a juggling bird into a woman belly-dancing; a bunch of doves in a tree became soggy tampons just hanging there. 

But it was true what Mr. Ackerman had said, about the guy’s wife. She was all over the place. First she lay draped naked over a tree of roses. Then she was dressed as a bride with a long veil and holding a baby. And later she wore a housedress and the two of them floated together above the orange floor of their kitchen.

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