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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Mid-Week Break: Ted Conover Reads at Bread Loaf

Categories: Audio

tedconoverTed Conover, who has told stories for The Moth, brought his storytelling skills to Bread Loaf 2013, reading from his article, “The Way of All Flesh” (Harper’s, May 2013). To research “The Way of All Flesh,” Conover became a USDA meat inspector and worked at a Cargill beef slaughterhouse in Nebraska.

Conover is the author of five books of participatory nonfiction, most recently The Routes of Man, about roads, and Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, an account of ten months he spent working as a corrections officer at Sing Sing Prison. Newjack won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His other books are WhiteoutCoyotes, and Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes.

Conover contributes to the New York Times Magazine,  New Yorker, and Harper’s, and teaches at NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

To listen to the entire reading, or to other readings and lectures from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, visit their iTunesU site.

New Books from NER Authors: Rachel Cantor

Categories: NER Authors' Books, NER Community

“Rife with deadpan humor and memorable characters”

Rachel Cantor’s new novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, has been published by Melville House.

A Highly Unlikely Scenario cover photoFrom the New York Times: “By layering the ridiculous inventions of her mind with the ridiculous facts of the world, Cantor creates a novel about being incredulous and certain at the same time, about listening without judgment, about acting on faith . . . A dystopian satire; a story about ­storytelling, believing and listening—A Highly Unlikely Scenario is ultimately a history of our own strange world.”

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Rife with deadpan humor and memorable characters mixed with time travel and supernatural powers, Cantor suspends disbelief and creates a loony world entirely of her own, which is terrifically funny and effortlessly enjoyable.”

Rachel Cantor’s stories have appeared in Paris ReviewKenyon ReviewFence, and other publications. Her fiction has been featured in several issues of NER (20.4, 23.3, 24.4, and 29.4).

A Highly Unlikely Scenario is available from Melville House and other independent booksellers.

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 DIGITAL | Waiting for Nauman | Michael Coffey

Categories: Confluences, NER Digital

NER Digital is New England Review’s online project dedicated to original creative writing for the web. “Confluences” is a bi-weekly series in which we present a writer’s encounter with a work of art such as a book, play, poem, film, painting, sculpture, or building. We launch our series with Michael Coffey’s “Waiting for Nauman.”

Bruce Nauman, Square Depression Photo by Rebecca Smith

Bruce Nauman, Square Depression
Photo by Rebecca Smith

I never wanted to go to Germany. So much unimaginable blood and death and guilt there. I didn’t need it. But my wife, Becca, is an artist, and we decided to go to Germany for art—to visit the once-every-five years documenta show in Kassel and the once-a-decade Skulptur Projekte in Münster, a lovely Catholic city that had been mercilessly bombed in the war, but which now bristled, shone, and surprised with permanent sculptures added to the cityscape every ten years.

I didn’t like Kassel, our first stop. The art show was spread all over and we went from room to room and building to building and saw the kind of art you can see in trendy Chelsea galleries. Then, a long walk up an absurdly steep hill through a small forest cut by a terraced waterfall to a gaudy palace once inhabited by Kaiser Wilhelm. Dull old masters there, and no fun to look down upon the town from such a redoubt—a view of a quaint city that had once been a local subcamp of Dachau.

Doubtful of what I might find in Deutschland, I’d determined to reread Beckett’s trilogy during the trip—I had a scholarly interest in Beckett’s second stay in Berlin, in 1936, when he was looking at art and hiding out from some legal contretemps and a romantic humiliation back in Dublin. On the train from Kassel to Münster, I was nearing the finish—the end of The Unnamable—which I knew contained a hideous image—a creature of sorts, a single thorax, with vacuoles at either end, one unlidded eye, a large worm with human consciousness—sited in a place that had eluded my ability to envision it.

They look down upon him . . . he’ll have to climb to meet them . . . The slopes are gentle that meet where he lies, they flatten out under him . . . . This grey to begin with . . .  a nice grey, of a kind recommended as going with everything, urinous and warm.

We checked into our hotel and set out to see what we could on our first day. We had a map of art works and locations. Some were bells that chimed at intervals where buildings once stood; one was a recorded chant beneath a bridge. Another was an encampment of objects such as a routed circus troupe might leave, on the side of a hill. Jenny Holzer had a granite bench in a park with an antiwar inscription.

In late afternoon, we rode bikes looking for a Bruce Nauman work. It was supposedly near a small campus on the outskirts of town. After canvassing the site once and finding nothing, we checked the map, and tried again. And there it was, an empty space, a plot of sorts, in the ground: Nauman’s Square Depression—four concrete triangular planes sloping from ground level to a vertex in the center about six feet beneath ground level. The place of the unnamable.

The first light rain all week began to fall. I waited for some visitors to the site to leave, and slowly they did, so I could have Nauman’s work to myself. I walked down his Square Depression. At first, walking toward the center, I felt I was entering a drain or a spill catch. When I arrived at the bottom, however, I looked up, as one will. The sky sat above me, stilted by the four cardinal points. I was in an architecture of both earth and heavens. No longer a sluiceway but a kind of reverse temple, reaching down—a conceptual verso to the sacrificial altar to Zeus. The sky above was gray. Becca stood on the apron at the top; she took my picture. I felt for the moment invisible in Germany but in it, six feet under but alive, hidden from all but my wife and the eye of the sky, just me there. I have the photograph.

Then we walked down toward a body of water; saw a frank Donald Judd piece there—two chest-high, foot-thick concrete rings, one inside the other, set on a gentle slope; and a sublime redwood pier built by Jorge Pardo that angled out from shore to brave the middle of the long, narrow lake. We wandered to the end of the pier and sat down. It was evening. Lights came up in Münster, streetlamps counting off their measures and car lights winding their way along the lake drive into town. I wanted to live right there, on the water, in the words we spoke about what we had seen that particular day—the art, the fourteenth-century Catholic cathedral, half-destroyed by the RAF in 1945, rebuilt with the help of the citizens of Coventry. We felt ourselves very much in a world of history—frozen, broken, yet restored. Something horrific had been pounded out here in Münster, perhaps in all of Germany. The dead souls that flew, that flew above us in the dark I couldn’t see, but I knew they were there. I could imagine them. It was Nauman’s piece that made me look up.

Michael Coffey’s collection of stories, The Business of Naming Things, will be published by Bellevue Literary Press in January 2015. His most recent pieces in NER include “Sons,” in NER 34.1, and “I Thought You Were Dale,” in NER 32.3. 

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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Studies in Composition | Leslie Bazzett

Categories: Fiction

A first look at NER Vol. 34 Nos. 3–4 chapel bells had begun, calling the boys to dinner. From the kitchen veranda Davis watched them shambling through late-summer heat, khaki shorts slung low, loafers mashed at the heels, laughing or occasionally tossing overgrown bangs to the side. In a few minutes the day seemed to have swollen. There was a heavy smell of frying. In the distance the rolling pastures greened and damped, grown dark as moss. The farthest was dotted with horses—the boarding school a working farm also, these hundred years since its founding. Unseen was a river; a dappled wood where on weekends the boys were allowed to hunt, its leafy harbor suggesting other things to Davis. He was an imaginative boy. Handsome and mildly disdainful. When headmaster Givens passed, Davis merely nodded, refraining from the “sir” other boys would have offered.

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“When It Is Over It Will Be Over” | Paisley Rekdal

Categories: Poetry

A first look at NER Vol. 34 Nos. 3–4

after a pen and ink drawing by Troy Passey
of a line by Edna St. Vincent Millay

passey detail

Hurricane of what must be
only feeling, this painting’s 
sentence circling to black

on blank, ever-
tightening spiral
of words collapsing

to their true gesture: meaning
what we read
when not reading,

as the canvas buckles
in the damp: freckled
like the someone

I once left sleeping
in a hotel room to swim
the coast’s cold shoals, fine veils

of sand kicked up by waves where
I found myself enclosed
in light: sudden: bright

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The Image Factory | Rick Barot

Categories: Nonfiction

A first look at NER Vol. 34 Nos. 3–4 was born in the Philippines. When I was ten, my family immigrated to the United States, settling in Oakland. My father worked in a factory that made cardboard boxes, my mother worked at a government office. Between them were over a dozen siblings, scattered throughout California: aunts and uncles who were accountants, nurses, telephone company workers, postal service workers. They had all gone to college, but had the immigrant’s understandably practical view of why you went to school, why you went to work, what things you could get from working. Among these aunts and uncles were readers of books and lovers of jazz and opera, and distantly, in past generations of my father’s side of the family, there had been writers. But otherwise life was family, work, and church. Nothing here was a spur or a hindrance to my becoming a writer, and so I went ahead. Because I had gotten good grades all my life, everyone assumed I knew what I was doing with myself—even if, in the years I’m talking about, I always had my eyes averted, I was always a blur at the edges of gatherings and conversations.

And if I knew at some level that poetry was supposed to encompass the whole of who I was, it would be a very long time before I knew what that whole could include. Poetry was this paradox: it invited a largeness of self even as it foreclosed my ability to see myself as anything beyond the poet I desperately wanted to be. Poetry was emotion, it was intense language. It was a tradition, a canon. Poetry for me was a deeply literary identity before I saw it as a space where sociological, social, political, and other elements of identity also converged. Being an immigrant, being gay, having had an ambitious education, having grown up middle class in a liberal, diverse, culturally abundant part of the country—these were real enough facets in the lived life, the way categories of identity could be checked off on an application form. But in the poems I tried to write, these things were abstract, puzzling, barely available and acknowledged resources. I didn’t know how these things could be expressed in my poems, nor did the poems and poets that I loved at the time give sanction for expressing them in the first place. A time would come when I realized those resources were there; but that was much later.

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Okaloosa | Derrick Austin

Categories: Poetry

From NER Vol. 34 Nos. 3–4


I like the heron best
because it has no song,
flying over the water, its mating
cry mournful, aggressive, and internal.
Seaweed and creamy foam
float on the tide’s restless lapping,
licking my feet like a lost dog.
I am no master.
The Gulf collects its own scraps:
rows of hotels
hollowed out and plastered
ochre by sunsets, knocked down by Ivan
or Dennis—you lose track
after so many seasons.
Mist hangs over shoddy condos.
Beachcombers scan the quartz burrows
of ghost shrimp. A drunken couple
stumbles somewhere. Before they were expelled
Choctaw called this place Okalusa,
“dark water.” 

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