By g emil reutter
We are introduced to Big Headed Anna at birth. Her child mother, boy bodied suffers in child birth. Her baby’s head so big that Anna’s feet were roped to free her from the womb, upon looking at her the young mother fled. Anna took to a cow when left for dead, survived to go on. Or so it is imagined by Anna.
Dickinson has crafted a series of flash fictions that chart the adventures of Big Headed Anna through time and space, of viewing the living and dead, of the life of an outcast from birth who encounters a wide array of characters. Imagined or real? For many who take the time to read this vivid collection, who have suffered from the cruelty of human kind there will be no doubt that the life of Anna could be real. Dickinson’s use of flash fiction to tell the story is simply brilliant as are the images and metaphor that populate this collection.
From Big-Headed Anna Believes Herself as a Strange, Beautiful Name:
“I am eleven years old today and hungry since I ran away from the other place. If I cut my eyelashes there would be no feeling. I would have to move my ear lobe between the grist’s flint or the tip of my nose to understand about touch. To show you how orchids thrive in snow and spongy soil, an earthworm loses its head and grows another. Tallow, bone flesh. My neck thinks of me as its lily. Wandering toward the French Quarter under talon of moon, I sing in a beautiful whisper. Hush little brittlestar who lives underewater. My big head hides under my bigger hat. I shiver listening to the river, the cotton barges.”
Big Headed Anna suffers the indignity and violence of rape, unable to see her attacker, a bag covering her head. And when she gives birth, her child stolen from her, carried away her only comfort is knowing the child has a normal head. Many of the flash describe her efforts to find her child.
From Big Headed Anna Listens to the Last Sound in the Grass:
“I am braised with malaria and yellow fever, and I sink deeper into the bittersweet. I am haul and lumber. An unmarked grave on Rampart Street where traveling workers make prayers has seen my child alive. A raven brings them bread and flesh. The lost Creole spirits sheltering them on houseboats tell me to lift the tablecloth where oysters are set down with comets.”
Dickenson has weaved these stories together as a master quilter, each strand interwoven, each resulting image full of color and metaphor. The stories take place between 1900 and 1933, a harsh time in America, a harsh time for those who appear a bit different from the majority, a harsh time for the poor during a time of exurbanite wealth and decline. Although dream like in its presentation the supporting characters are developed with words and images reflecting a beauty and realism to this work. Yet like a master quilter, Dickinson has created a body of work in this collection always with an underlying love for its central character.
You can find Big Headed Anna Imagines Herself here: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Headed-Imagines-Herself-Stephanie-Dickinson/dp/108723655X/ref=sr_1_1?qid=1572125064&refinements=p_27%3AStephanie+E+Dickinson&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Stephanie+E+Dickinson
g emil reutter can be found here: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
By Charles Rammelkamp
The characters in Edward J. Delaney’s stories are all trying to figure out who they are, how they fit in. “Writer Party,” an amusing story about self-absorbed writers hobnobbing at a cocktail gathering, begins, “I’m not really a writer; it’s just that I write.” And again, in the chapter of the novella, The Big Impossible, called “Buried Men,” the narrator, who more than once observes, “I was used to being invisible,” recounts a conversation with another itinerant worker. “We know you,” the man says, “The tall guy. The one who used to work with is. The one with the leather jacket,” each statement underscoring the ultimate unknowability of any of us. Home after the cocktail party, the narrator of “Writer Party” observes in conclusion: “I keep trying to convince myself that I’m not actually a writer.”
And more often than not, at the heart of the question, who am I? is a sense of guilt. In the first story, “Clean,” narrated in the second person, the protagonist spends his whole life with the secret that he killed another boy when he was sixteen locked in his skull. How often has he wanted to confess? After years, when it looks like his companion might tell the truth, “you were giddy that the secret might come out.” As the former munchkin from The Wizard of Oz, whom the protagonist of The Big Impossible encounters in a motel in Kansas, observes, “Living like you’re comfortable with what life deals you, that’s the big impossible sometimes.”
Indeed, the protagonist of “Street View” is very uncomfortable with his origins; possibly ashamed of his social status as a child, from a broken home, he collects academic degrees and becomes a hot shot professor at Harvard, puts distance between who he is now and who he was then. He is thrown off his game by a girlfriend he meets at UCLA, Estelle, who seems to intuit his origins. When he dumps her, “Not unexpected” she said. “Because you know that I know.” Spooked, he asks her what it is she knows, and her reply: “”You know that, too.”
David, the protagonist of the story by the same name, a school shooter, always picked on by the popular kids, likewise feels “invisible,” evaluates other kids as characters in a video game. Only at the end, when he acts out with a gun at school, is arrested and put in prison, does he see that he is “not invisible any longer.” But he has been “reduced to being a single entity, the least of what he was.” He feels he’s more than the freak people take him to be, but the story ends, “he tried to imagine who he might have thought he actually was.”
Many of these stories take place in New England. The novella House of Sully that makes up the middle section of the book and the bulk of narrative, is a first-person account from the perspective of a teenage boy in a provincial Irish Catholic family in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in the tumultuous year of 1968. Jarred is trying to come to grips with the world. Only a boy of ten when JFK was assassinated, by the time Bobby Kennedy is shot, he’s on the verge of adulthood and coming to terms with politics, Vietnam, the Prague Spring, integration (Dorchester is becoming more black), even fashion. Air-conditioning, credit cards, are new. His parents’ “incorrigible squareness.” The bell-bottom trousers that he covets and which horrify his parents are at the tender heart of this story. His mother, a good Irish housewife, suddenly wants a job of her own and out her marriage with Sully, a self-employed house painter. In August, Jarred and his father “sat down that night to watch the Democratic Convention in a way one might have The Friday Night Fights.” Mayor Daley’s Chicago.
In the midst of these upheavals, Jarred is very much trying to understand who he is and where his destiny lies. Should he drop out of school? He’s suddenly in the minority and what good is “education,” anyway? In a final section set in 2001, when he comes back home to bury his father, the results of his decisions in that critical year are made manifest. And the mystery of the bell-bottom trousers that he was sure his parents had stolen and destroyed is solved!
In contrast to the first two sections, the third section, the novella, The Big Impossible, takes place out west, in the plains states. The protagonist doesn’t seem so much to be trying to understand who he is as trying to forget who he was, to erase his presence, start all over. It’s 1959, and he’s headed west. “I was living my life in small cycles, the way a man crossing a tough river thinks only of the next rock to grab.”
But even he, toward the end of the narrative, in older age, settles down with the single mother of a drunken sluttish girl, with whom he “adopts” the slut’s offspring, a kid named Bitsy. “I’d learned how not to be noticed,” he observes, summing up his life thus far, “how to make myself an ignored man.”
Only, guilt plagues the nameless narrator of this novella in the end, too, inevitable as sunrise.
There is a real depth of feeling in these stories, all of which follow lives from their beginnings to their ends. “And then, in old age, the reckoning,” as he writes in “My Name is Percy Atkins.” These stories resonate with the reader, long after putting the book down.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press.
By Lynette G. Esposito
Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor by Mike James reads like notes to a friend. The sixty-four pages of poems are vignette paragraph stanzas that reveal an analytical mind parading images across the page for the reader to interpret.
Divided into five sections, the tome, published by Blue Horse Press of Redondo, California, covers cross dressing, body types and other observations with dry sardonic wit that pokes at traditional conventions and judgments. On page one, My Wife’s Shoes reveals that the narrator’s wife and he can interchange their foot wear. The poem opens with: Thankfully, my feet are small or hers are large…. The narrator observes that his wife looks like a British banker in my wingtips and he says I clean room after room in her flats. The image of reversing roles is successfully captured in the trading back and forth with the seemingly genderless use of the shoes while their original gender intention is kept in tact.
When one looks at the poem, Wonderland on page seventeen, James explores the metaphor of Alice and the proverbial rabbit hole. Within the seven- line one-stanza poem, the narrator of the poem suggests some rabbit holes are meant to be covered. If all is uncovered, the poem suggests it will be no more magic than the average garbage man out there collecting his stars. The paradox of revealing kills the magic. In Grace Jones on page nineteen, a similar theme is presented. The poem says, Smile at all the secrets you wish to possess.
James accomplishes the views of what is and what is not through his many poems that perceive the world in a realistic way. Why should Frank love children because he loved balloons? Why can’t a husband raid his wife’s shoe closet?
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Jumping-Drawbridges-Technicolor-Mike-James/dp/0578465817
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review, Bindweed Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, That Literary Review, The Remembered Arts Journal, and other literary magazines.
by Byron Beynon
Montpellier is where Paul Gaugin brought Vincent van Gogh in an attempt to cheer-up the fading spirits of the Dutchman. Late in 1888 both men travelled by train from Arles to spend the day in this southern French city, they came especially to see the works of Gustave Courbet and Eugene Delacroix inside the Musée Fabre. Vincent would soon write a letter to his brother Theo about the visit in the second half of December 1888.
“Gaugin and I went yesterday to Montpellier to see the museum there and especially the Brias room. There are a lot of portraits of Brias, by Delacroix, Ricard, Courbet, Cabanel, Couture, Verdier, Tassaert, and others. Then there are pictures by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Paul Potter,
Botticelli, Th. Rousseau, very fine. Brias was a benefactor of artists, I shall say no more to you than that. In the portrait by Delacroix he is a gentleman with red beard and hair, confoundedly like you or me…..” In the same letter he goes on to say that “ Gaugin and I talked a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt etc. Our arguments are terribly electric, we come out of them sometimes with our heads as exhausted as an electric battery after it has run down.”
Alfred Bruyas was indeed a benefactor of the arts and friend to artists, and his narcissism for having dozens of portraits of himself commissioned was defended by Vincent. After the trip, tensions grew between the two artists.
Today visitors still enter the gallery, which houses paintings, drawings, sculptures, video library, and a fine selection of books and magazines. The building is settled near a wide esplanade with plane trees and fountains, in the heart of the city. During the seventeenth century it was a Jesuit college, then a mansion before being enlarged when Francois Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), a former pupil of David, donated in 1825 his collection of paintings to his native city, and by doing so gave his name to this tall, wise building. Inside there are paintings by Rubens, Berthe Morisot, and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), who was born into an affluent Montpellier family of wine-growers, but who was tragically killed in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. He began a career in medicine before turning to painting. He was, by all accounts, very well liked. He helped his impoverished artists friends, and in 1868 Bazille moved to a studio in Paris which he shared with Renoir.
Sadly he was killed during an attack on Beaune-la-Rolande. His father made the journey there to find the body of his son. For ten days he dug in the snow-covered battleground, eventually he found the body and hauled it back to Montpellier himself, on a peasant’s cart.
You can also see the portrait of CharlesBaudelaire painted in 1847 by Courbet, the poet with his black hair cut short, smokes a pipe, concentrating his mind on the pages of a book which rests on a table.
My first visit to France’s seventh largest city was in 1991, the following year I lived there for six months. I arrived by train, on the ultra-rapid TGV, to one of the country’s oldest protected stations,built in 1844. With a cosmopolitan population of over 270,000, a healthy mix of European youth, North African, American (there is an American library), many are students studying at the university, and the faculty of medicine, the oldest stillopen in the world. A papal bull, dated 26th of October 1289, announced the creation of the University of Montpellier, together with the medical, law, and arts faculties. Here the old, historical areas, with their narrow, shaded, antique streets exist in relative harmony with modern developments despite the angry graffiti and polluting traffic.
Since the 1960s which saw an increase in population, the council, led by Georges Freche decided to create a new neighbourhood called l’Antigone, a living area to provide accommodation and housing with relatively low rents for the people, it was the task of the Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill, to extend this area of the city. Close by is the Polygone, a shopping centre with cafés, restaurants, and a plethora of shops.
One view of the city can be taken from the top of the Corum, a complex used for conventions and opera. To the north you can see the cathedral of St.Pierre, its twin, cylindrical towers stand like rockets about to be launched, also the orange-tiled roofs of the old quarter where on summer evenings, a young medical student named Felix Platter used to sit, playing his lute. He once wrote in his diary “I can see the town, spread out, as far as the sea, which I can sometimes hear in the wind”. If the Corum offered me a good view , the most popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike is the Place de la Comédie, with its fountain of the Three Graces. The three smiling girls embrace, gazing at people of all ages, passing by with their thoughts and with purpose.
Montpellier was first mentioned as far back as 985. By the year 1204 the crown of Aragon belonged to the city, eventually it was bought back by the French. It has witnessed the coming of Arab and Jewish scholars, a garrison, the French Revolution, the wine industry, a university, trams, underground parking and the new technology, pharmaceutical and research laboratories.
To get away from the centre I used to walk to the Peyrou with its eighteenth-century water tower, and the St.Clement aquaduct, the Arceaux, which brought water to the city. The cool air is reviving along with the panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea to the south and the mountains of the Pic Saint Loup to the north.
Nearby is the statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, made of bronze it almost sank in Bordeaux harbour before arriving in Montpellier in 1718. There is also a botanical garden within easy walking distance from the Peyrou, created during the reign of Henry IV in 1593, with its exotic, ancient trees and plants. It is an oasis of green in the city. The poet Paul Valéry who had married the niece of the painter Berthe Morisot, enjoyed the peace here and wrote “we are going where you would go, if you were here, to the ancient garden where……all those people who meditate, worry or who talk to themselves go, as water goes to a river, and of course they meet up.”
In these gardens, one October afternoon, I met some students from the Netherlands. They were visiting Montpellier for a couple of weeks in order to improve their French, and were also doing a survey, asking questions about their homeland, the first question they asked me was to name at least one Dutch artist! “Vincent van Gogh “ I answered, “who came here by train with his friend and brother-in-art Paul Gaugin.”
Sources and books for further reading
The Letters of van Gogh edited by Mark Roskill (Fontana edition 1979)
The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe (Chatto&Windus 2006)
Impressionism by Tamsin Pickeral (Flame Tree Publishing 2007)
Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)
Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award in 2015. He’s been active in the small press world for 25 years. He’s recently been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Yoruba, Tagalog, and Esperanto. Catfish McDaris’ most infamous chapbook is Prying with Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski. He’s from Albuquerque and Milwaukee. The photo of me is after my house burned down and my dog died, the cat escaped.