The Imaginative Prose of Peter Fleming

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By Ray Greenblatt

–NEWS FROM TARTARY–

Peter Fleming’s younger brother was Ian Fleming—of James Bond fame—who idolized his older brother. Peter was a journalist for the London Times who had been assigned to investigate events in China in 1936. Information about encroachments by Russia and Japan as well as Communists vs Nationalists in China itself was not forthcoming in the world at large. These world powers would contribute to the explosion in a few scant years that would become Word War Two.

Peter had originally traveled from Moscow to Beijing; covered by his book One’s Company. Now he would continue from Beijing, over the Himalayas, to India in seven months at a distance of three thousand miles. This second book would be called Travels in Tartary; both books were combined under one cover titled News from Tartary. On this second adventure Peter would go with Kini Maillart, a Swiss Olympic ice hockey player, sailor, and skier, who worked for a French newspaper.

Landscape

If you consult a map of China, roughly drawing a diagonal line from Beijing  across the Himalayas to Lahore India, you will realize that Peter Fleming traveled the entire breadth of China.  Terrain, including parts of the Gobi Desert, were difficult, to say the least. “The sun was well up now; the heat seemed to us terrific and was in fact considerable. The world around us jigged liquidly in a haze.” (455) “The valley narrowed, and we found ourselves marching down a gully whose walls were pock-marked with smooth caves like the flanks of a Gruyere cheese.” (452) “A yellow country, streaked here and there with red. Everywhere startlingly terraced hills of loess, grotesquer than the most outlandish ant-hills.” (282) Yet some relief existed: “Everything was deathly still; only a little bird from time to time uttered a short and plaintive song whose sweet notes echoed anomalously under those frowning cliffs.” (453) “The melodramatic mountains and the lake which glittered with a vulgar, picture-postcard blue.” (432)

Night held different fascinations: “Smoke rose with great deliberation in the sparkling air. At night footsteps fell with a curious and sullen emphasis upon the frosty ground.” (266) “The sand was silver, and the dust we breathed hung like an emanation, as of steam, around the caravan.” (370) Then the environment could quickly alter: “The wind was the curse of our life; ubiquitous and inescapable, it played the same part on the Tibetan plateau as insects do in the tropical jungle.” (359) “A dun, vaporous, impalpable wall marched up across the sky and bore slowly down on us from the west. From the dunes pale writhing snakes of sand licked out across the dark grey desert, and almost before we realized what was happening the sand storm was upon us.” (413)

Some man-made creations grounded the travelers. Their tent “looked like an abstruse practical joke.” (332) “We walked behind the lorries over a precarious bridge whose architecture seemed to be an affair of mud and mass-hypnotism.” (291) A monastery: “The maze of buildings whose small trapezoid windows, wider at the top than at the bottom, seemed to frown down on us from under lowering brows.” (325) Some villages functioned: “From behind the mud walls of a farm unseen winnowers threw up a lovely rhythmic series of golden jets which spread into fine golden clouds, then settled slowly.” (257) Others not so: “As we arrived at the inn, the building next to it—an eating-house where we had breakfasted—quietly and rather sadly collapsed, crumbling into rubble in a cloud of dust.” (294) Another town: “An unsightly, unexpected cluster of walls and roofs which grew like a wart in the middle of a vast bare plain. “ (372)

Animals played an important part in their lives. “In our empty world the animals that served us, revealing their characters by tricks of temperament or gait, bulked almost as large as human beings.” (434) “If camels can appear Byronic. Detached and skeptical, he seemed always to be something more than a camel: perhaps a prince unluckily metamorphosed.” (440) “Shining like seals, with thick necks arched heraldically, they towered over us, two splendid Badakshani chargers from Afghanistan.” (460) “There is something about a donkey which keeps your mind and spirits earth-bound. On a horse, on a camel, even on a yak, your imagination soars without much difficulty.” (504) They even meet “ Marmots, their red coats very gay in the sunshine, whistled defiance and perplexity, then scampered into their burrows with a curious flouncing gait.” (441)

Personalities

Fleming learned many Chinese character traits: “I knew how swiftly the beanstalk of procrastination grows in the soil of Asia, and how easily another day, or two or three more days, could lose themselves in the intricate Chinese labyrinth of delay.” (290) “Harrows were being dragged along with a man standing on them like a chariot-driver.” (310) “The women hobble round the puddles on bound feet, their sleek heads shining like the shards of beetles.” (301) On public conveyances: “It had struck me as odd that a large crowd had gathered to see us off. I now realized that they were not seeing us off; they were coming too.” (296) “Making one cubic foot into two and turning the Black Hole of Calcutta into an only slightly over-crowded debating hall. Sixty-eight of the seventy-two people present were impervious to the lack of elbow-room, and except in our corner the intricate pattern of humanity had a surface as smooth and harmonious as a completed jigsaw puzzle.” (283)

Our journalist observes individuals in unique ways: “One was an oldish man with a fierce dignity and an abstracted manner which cloaked, at first, his ineffectualness.” (430)  “He wore a black three-cornered hat and a rusty bottle-green coat tied round the waist with a scarf which might have been a dirty tricolour; thus clad, he looked, as he slouched along, like a minor and unsympathetic character in a play about the French Revolution.” (492) “A crude young man with a pock-marked face, whose ungovernable passion for song found expression in a deplorably limited repertoire.” (494) “He used to eke out his meaning by closing his eyes, thrusting forward his face, and waving it blindly to and fro, like a snake in a glass case. It was impossible not to like the gawkish and pathetic dolt.” (521)

People came from faraway places:  “The assistant was a raffish but charming Afghan who, with his Homburg hat tilted wildly, his defiantly folded arms, and his over-truculent stance, looked exactly like a wag in a house-party snapshot.” (508) “A Russian ‘adviser’–-dressed for the backblocks but not in uniform, admirably mounted-–trotted down the street; the bulge in his pocket, his penetrating but evasive stare, his air of furtive consequence conformed splendidly to the standards of discreet melodrama.” (543)

Tibetans were especially interesting to Fleming. “Both races dressed in the Tibetan style. Huge sheepskin robes, worn with the wool inside, were gathered round the waist by a sash, above which, and concealing it, capacious folds overhung , making  a kind of pocket in which all personal possessions, from the inevitable wooden bowl to a litter of mastiff puppies were carried.” (316) “The women’s plaits of hair were burdened with superfluous silverware like a Victorian sideboard.” (368) Two priests: “The chief lama was a fat, merry man; he had rolling eyes and a little moustache and looked exactly like a Frenchman in a farce.  The other was much thinner—a jerky cadaverous creature who hooded himself with his robe against the sun and corresponded very closely to my idea of a Martian.” (387)

“We crawled down that endless valley, a string of small, jaded automata under  the dwarfing hills.” (444) “Presently the caravan arrived, long and deliberate, eating up distance as a caterpillar eats a leaf.” (367) The people who aided Fleming and Maillart the most were Christian missionaries from all over Europe. ”The Catholic Fathers gave us a riotous reception. They were nine enormous Spaniards, of whom the younger ones looked, in their large new beards and medieval habit, like supers in a Shakespeare production. They gave us cakes and chocolate and roared with laughter at everything we said.” (295)

Style

Peter Fleming recounts quite an adventure, but his vivid style brings all elements to life. We have been witness to a number of his writing techniques; now we shall try to define them. Word choice is often striking: “He had with him a white and equally venerable pony, and on its back, wrapped in a tattered greatcoat, he rode hunched in a coma, protecting us.” (323) Describing an ancient man in an ancient region, you would never expect a relatively modern psychological word like ‘coma.’ It also stresses the irony that this feeble man could protect them? Here is a more direct look at irony. As the group of travelers was descending a dangerously steep ‘S’ turn, the Chinese road sign was unusual: “As we hurtled downwards the recurrent ‘!’ atoned for its inadequacy as a warning by its charming aptness as a comment.” (297) Understatement is closely linked to irony: “Sitting in a small ornate room containing no fewer than eight far from unanimous clocks.” (329)

Fleming’s imagery is strong. Here is a reference to chickens not generally known but true: “Sinkiang seemed much farther away even than it had in Peking, and we had already become like a hen with its beak to a chalk line, hypnotized by the next step, blind to all beyond it.”  (288) A more direct use of simile: “The flames licked through the camp as swiftly as a striking snake.” (364) The author has used a snake comparison in different ways throughout the book. Sometimes an entire scene becomes a symbol:  “ A carter who was taking a very elaborately decorated coffin up the road, and for part of the afternoon we travelled behind this gaudy and impressive object, in company with a little boy riding on a donkey and carrying a white rabbit in his arms. It was all like some sort of fable.” (310)

The author’s beginning to a chapter is often powerful: “June opened with a villain’s smile.” (433) His closing is as striking: “It was a good moment: the last of its kind for a long time.” (313) Sounds: “Bugles brayed thinly.” (313) Not only is alliteration strong tying the bugle to its sound; but bugles are often played on the back of donkey or mule. Repetition: “We were sick of suspense, sick of unprofitably collating rumours, sick of the jungle of bureaucracy in which we were benighted.” (322) ‘Sick’ reinforces how difficulties had piled upon them.  And yet, through all these travails Fleming is not without humor.  His traveling clothes are filthy, but he has saved some clothes for visiting. However, the box containing them has fallen into green gutter water: “I had now to decide whether to enter Kashgar disguised as a lettuce, or looking like something that had escaped from Devil’s Island.” (534)

Philosophy

For a young man in mid-twenties, Peter Fleming was not only courageous to take on this assignment but wise beyond his years. Here are some observations he made on a wide variety of topics in his unique manner:

“Here everything that was not of local manufacture had a history behind it, a long itinerary and an outlandish pedigree of owners.” (489)

“We were always hungry all the time.” (367)

“We were on our own; the odds against us had lengthened fantastically, but from now on, every stage, every ruse, every guess that helped us towards the west would be a very personal triumph.” (309)

“A hard journey makes you curiously tender to even your most maddening companions.” (392)

“There had been a long prelude to this comic expedition, but it had yielded a sufficiency of far-fetched generalizations couched in three-pile, fire-proof, Printing House Square prose.” (258)

“To pose rigidly before a faded, tattered, manorial back-cloth on which segments of unimaginable architecture framed startling gouts of boskage.” (318)

“A large crowd, most of whom had for us—I liked to think—the ephemerally proprietorial fondness which menagerie elephants inspire.” (332)

“There are times when this base craft, this pushing of a pencil across a piece of paper, stands suddenly justified.” (336)

“You fell sometimes into a meditation which blotted out a segment of the march, so that when you returned from the far-off things and places that had filled your mind you remembered the country you had passed through hazily.” (360)

“Just outside, our horses munched their barley, making as charming and soporific as the sound of running water or of waves upon a beach.” (363)

“We were both adaptable and fairly phlegmatic; and we were both fatalists, as all travelers, and especially travelers in Asia, ought to be.” (398)

“You knew by now the technique of enduring long marches—how helpful is a train of thought, how it pays to have a half-remembered quotation, a half-worked-out idea, as iron rations for the intellect: something on which the mind can dwell, ignoring the body.” (447)

“They stood for freedom and backblocks; they stood for the luck which had always dogged me while I wore them. And it is not, after all, every pair of boots in which you can travel, sockless, for several months without discomfort.” (589)

“Anglo-India, starched and glossy, stared at us with horror and disgust.” (594)

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/News-Tartary-Journey-Across-Central/dp/1838600345

Peter Fleming (1907-1971) wrote a book, Brazilian Adventure, about exploring Brazil in 1933. He then wrote two books about traversing China in 1936. He went on to fight bravely in World War II as a captain receiving an OBE. In the 1950’s he wrote articles for the Spectator Magazine, collected into four books of essays. All of his writing offers poetic insights into the world at large. Ironically, he died of a heart attack at age sixty-four while hunting in Scotland.

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

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Two Poets, Straight and Queer, Find Common Ground in Femme ID and Content

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In this Q&A, poets Susana H. Case, winner of the bronze IPPY in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Drugstore Blue (Five Oaks Press, 2017) and Lynn McGee, whose latest collection is Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019), ask each other about their work, and touch on topics including the tender eroticism of scars, historic fights for gender expression, the death poem as love poem, absorbing the New York City subway into the acceptance of loss, femme identity both queer and straight, and more.   

SC: Death and potential mortality hover over your work—in the poems about your sister in Tracks and in the poems in Sober Cooking about your lover’s transplant. Emily Dickinson wrote she could not stop for death, a death she personified in her poem as a gentleman caller. You have, in a way, stopped for death in your poems, yet death in these is no gentleman caller. Can you talk a little bit about the imagery you’ve used in your writing about death?

LM: My poems about death are love poems. I don’t think we stop interacting with people, once they’re gone, but off course, without their response, we skew the interaction, in a sense, to serve our grief. We commemorate details of the person we’ve lost and spin the significance of those details. I should stop saying “we,” and take responsibility here for myself and my process. In Tracks, many of the poems—my work is image-centric—were triggered by observations I made, on my daily New York City subway commute during a period of sadness and recovery. It can be a meditative time, that communal ride, and privacy, I’ve learned, is a state of mind. Likewise, the content of many of the poems in my first full-length collection, Sober Cooking, was triggered by details of domestic life that grounded me when I was out of my mind with sadness, having been banned from my lover’s hospital room by her family. Also during that time, my father died. Those experiences became portals through which the poems emerged.

SC: If I ask about death, of course I have to ask about sex. Erotic sex is very difficult to write about well and “Scar,” in Sober Cooking, for example, is an extremely erotic poem. I say that as a hetero woman about what I know of course to be a poem about a female partner. That doesn’t seem to make a difference in its erotic character. Should it?

LM: It feels affirming to me, when a heterosexual woman recognizes the eroticism in “Scar,” which is a love poem from one woman to another who has had a mastectomy: “dark track where your breast / once was …” The poem is about intimacy, which of course transcends sexual preference. The speaker in “Scar” is granting another person “all kind of access” to her body—it is a display of trust, and if the reader finds that delivery of trust, that negotiation of power to be erotic, then I think that reader will find “Scar” to be an erotic poem. That said, I write about attraction knowing full well that not all readers share with me, an appreciation for the same signifiers that trigger sexual interest—but they understand the poems through the lens of their own experience. In Tracks, coming from the lens of my own experience, I convey in several poems my attraction to women whose presentation puts them on the “blue” side of the gender-expression wheel. For example, in “Details Heading Downtown,” I write of one woman who has caught my interest on the train: “Straight people would call her / ‘handsome’— / salt-and-pepper sideburns, / button-down shirt … / … wingtip boots / elegant cuffs…” In Sober Cooking, there is actually a poem that serves as a kind of homage to the bedroom closets of my butch lovers, comparing myself in “Pinkish Hue” to the comically picky George Costanza character in the TV show Seinfeldwho insists any woman he dates has “a cheek with a pinkish hue”—my version being, “Does she have a closet of button-down / shirts?She has to have a closet / of button-down shirts.” While gently poking fun at my own quite-specific preference, I’m also acknowledging the universality of preference, and perhaps its arbitrary mysteriousness. I accepted a long time ago, the nature of my attraction to women, and that was a kind of coming out, in and of itself.

Tracks

SC: Tracks is not a collection of poems “about” New York, but the New York City subway system is a unifying device in the manuscript. I know you to have a love-hate relationship with the city. In what ways does that find its way into your poetry, in particular the poems in Tracks?

LM: I’ve heard people describe New York City as a character in certain movies and I think it is a character in the work of many poets. It certainly looms so at times in Tracks, but serves more as catalyst than focus. Every poem for me starts in the body, and in the environment that holds the body, past and present. I moved to New York in 1986 for graduate school, and left only once, for a couple years when my sister died and my parents were charged with the care of her children. Those two years in Dallas were the most lonely of my life—and it’s not that Dallas doesn’t have its charms, it’s just that I felt like an outsider, despite the demographic sameness I shared with most people I ran into in the university and high school where I taught, and in my parents’ neighborhood. In New York, there is a splendid range of difference among those of us who live here, and yet I feel we are somehow in the same boat, faced with whatever is our version of the struggle to preserve civility, privacy, safety and compassion as we seek housing, jobs, friends—and physically push together to get where we are going, on the train. I hate it and love it, as you said.

Drugstore Blue

LM: One of the things that draw me into Drugstore Blue is your nuanced reimagining of icons like Marilyn Monroe. You identify women who have been relegated, culturally, to a narrative that secures their visibility but erases their individuality—and then you create a glimpse of who that woman might really have been. There’s something liberating to read a poem like that. How does it feel, to write those poems?

SC: I’m focused on the ways in which women are objectified, but, of course, don’t want to write didactic poetry and don’t want all of my poems to focus on the negative consequences of gender inequality. I’m been a bit obsessed with Marilyn, it seems, as I’ve written three poems about her, one of which appears in Drugstore Blue. I was staying at a hotel in DC, which at that time, had that iconic statue of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itchstanding over a subway grate by J. Seward Johnson, her dress lifting up. It was gigantic and a tourist attraction, and I would pass it in the morning when I was disheveled and grumpy and hadn’t yet had coffee. People wanted to be photographed with the sculpture, which didn’t interest me all that much, as, though I try for some glam once I’m awake, I don’t think I can compete with Marilyn, but it got me thinking of her life and identifying with some features of it: how do we persist and how do we get ourselves taken seriously? And then what happens as we age, with all those unforeseen consequences as to visibility and invisibility? I’m keyed into the tragedy in the Marilyn poem, but that’s not always the case. I’ve written a poem about Hedy Lamarr, also in Drugstore Blue, which ends with her running through the woods, nude in her film, Ecstasy. That poem focuses on how bright she was, not on the kind of sadness that was present, of course, in Marilyn Monroe’s life. I’m not all that interested in celebrity, but I am interested in that power imbalance and so I came at the Marilyn poems through that interest. I’m interested in famous people very little, but I am interested in who is really behind an iconic image, the wizard behind the screen. Beauty is fascinating because it’s liberating, but it can also be horribly constricting. Of course, given the choice, who wouldn’t opt for it? But it comes with baggage. I’m more interested in the baggage than in the beauty in my poems. Confronting that baggage is freeing; it suggests a kind of  “fuck you” to those who profit off of someone else’s physical advantage and who want to control it and/or who want to assert their own gender advantage. That experience of others trying to control your narrative is a universal part of experience, but more so for women, as well as other power minorities. I try to come at women’s experience from that direction. Plus, I’m interested in gender as performance. In the academic position I had before I came to the university with which I’m currently affiliated, some of my male colleagues at lunch one day jokingly declared that they were presenting me with an honorary penis, since apparently my behavior was not considered feminine enough. There were some issues, as I recall, concerning who was going to be the first author on a paper. There is pretty much nothing about me that doesn’t scream Feminine with a capital F, and I remained the first author of the paper. I guess that’s not performing gender to everyone’s specifications, but you can see why I’d be conscious of gender inequality. Well, any woman who is conscious, of necessity, has to be.

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LM: In a poem about Juana La Larga of Guatemala, who was subjected to dehumanizing cruelty by doctors for the size of her clitoris, you bring the reader into a quietly defiant moment of acceptance for La Larga and others who have been punished for being different: “Tonight I light a candle to all surprises/of the body…” In my view, this quality of your work equates to powerful consensus building. Do you agree? 

SC: I think we all write from a point of view, and sometimes from a point of view that isn’t our own necessarily—in a persona poem, for example—but I’m hesitant to try to generate support for my point of view. I feel more comfortable just laying it out. If someone feels the same way, fine. That person will identify with the work, relate to the work, etc. If not, I’m not trying to have a conversation geared toward conversion. I may put something out there because I think people may not know—the industrial chemicals that make roses a desirable commodity, but poison the women, and their children, who are involved in the harvest, in “Cayambe Valley Greenhouses,” for example, and in my personal life, people generally know not to buy me cut roses, because sadly I can’t look at them without thinking about birth defects, but otherwise not so much. I’m more into writing about my responses. I like the idea of the body’s surprises, of celebrating difference. Anything else is boring. Yes, Juana La Larga was an actual person, Juana Aguilar, possibly of ambiguous gender, or to phrase it better, somewhere in the middle of our artificial gender dichotomy—it was a long time ago, over two hundred years—but for that she ends up in court? It started out, actually, as a sodomy case, as she was having sex with both men and women. The court thought it important to categorize her definitively as male or female. Interestingly, the defense strategy was to argue that she couldn’t have committed sodomy as sodomy required she be male or female and she was neither, and it was a successful defense. It’s good to have a clever lawyer! For that, a newspaper at the time published stats on what a normal clitoris should look like and how big it should be. What are you supposed to do with that information? What are you supposed to do when you don’t fit? Who gets to decide these things and how do they get away with this? I respect Aguilar’s dignity in the circumstances. But I’m not trying to suggest via my poetry that anyone else feel that way. Well, if it were easy to change minds that way, then okay, sure, I guess I would.

LM: As an older queer woman who came up as a femme lesbian, I feel a kinship with your straight-woman’s nostalgia about “wanting the gaze”; about the allure of drugstore cosmetic displays and yearning to emulate women like fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. I realize this question is worthy of a book-length response, at the very least, but if you feel like tackling it—what are your thoughts on gender, sexuality and the emergence of style? 

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SC: I think I’ve alluded to some of that in responding to the first two questions, but yes, the gaze is important, has been important to me. I don’t see it as some kind of false consciousness. I think it’s both possible and desirable to gaze back. I have always liked men, maybe too much. And I have been fortunate to have met many good ones—though clearly from my poems, which are sometimes semi-autobiographical, not always. Self-expression is important to me. It represents a kind of freedom. I have no interest in negating that freedom to decorate myself however I wish, in the same way that I have an interest in decorating my environment. I don’t consider it frivolous at all, but rather an art form, a choice in how I live my life that I am fortunate to be able to make as an urban middle-class professional in an industrialized country, and I don’t want to be shamed for the makeup, the heels or anything else. I don’t live somewhere where I will likely get beaten or killed for such things, fortunately, and I also don’t consider it a form of tyranny. Life is short—we need as much pleasure in it as we can make for ourselves. And it doesn’t require having to buy expensive clothing. Last time I saw a Vivienne Westwood coat at Century 21 (a clothing discounter), it was tagged at $400, and if you want to throw money at your clothes, there’s one right now on her website for about $1800. I wasn’t interested in buying either—but remember, the speaker in “Bleached Blonde with Spiked Dog Collar,” the poem written for Vivienne Westwood, says at the end that really all she wants is to be able to stop traffic in a latex négligée. She doesn’t need the coat. And I think I need to add that, though it is more discouraged in this culture for men to self-decorate, I think it’s perfectly legitimate and interesting. It’s a form of creative play. We need more play in our lives, particularly as the quality of life goes downhill through external political forces that we can’t fully control. We’re not going to have another chance at it. Well, I think my ability to stop traffic dressed like that has come and gone anyway, but it’s the idea that’s important to me. An actual latex outfit would be way too uncomfortable. It’s a metaphor.

LM: Many of the poems in Drugstore Blue capture the pivotal moment when a romantic relationship goes wrong. That unraveling could be embodied in a man smashing a radio, or the point when being with a younger lover “begins to seem like shoplifting.” However they present, these moments seem to have something to do with the shifting of power. I can relate, though my lovers have been women. Am I onto something, in your work, or just seeing it through the lens of my own experience?

SC: Ha-ha. The universal experience of both women and men, however their partners are gendered. I write a lot about love going wrong. A good friend of mine, another poet who reads early drafts of my work, suggested to me that I write about that going wrong part with much more facility than when I try to write a love poem about something going right. Maybe it’s the imperfections which make that subject most interesting to me. Yes, the power shifts—sometimes. In “Summer of Love,” the poem which contains the man smashing a radio, that might be the very beginning of the shift to the speaker in the poem taking charge of her life, but it still takes a while. In “Hold Me Like You’ll Never Let Me Go,” the poem with the line about shoplifting, it’s not so much that the power has shifted as that the speaker is tired of her (okay, very inappropriate) fling and quotidian things like food take over desire in her mind. It’s just time to stop fooling around. But everything goes wrong in its own way. Maybe when love goes right, it follows a stylized ideal that is harder to write about in an interesting way. The going wrong parts are often quirkier. and since I use a lot of self-deprecating humor at times, what better theme for viewing my own foibles? I’m not embarrassed to put my imperfections out there—they provide great material for poems. It’s possible to mine both tragedy and comedy for subject matter, sometimes at the same time.

BIOS

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Susana H. Case is the author of six books of poetry, most recently, Erasure, Syria, (Recto y Verson Editions, 2018) and Drugstore Blue (Five Oaks Press, 2017, winner of an IPPY Award), as well as four chapbooks, two of which won prizes. One of her collections, The Scottish Café, from Slapering Hol Press, was re-released in a dual-language English-Polish version, Kawiarnia Szkocka by Opole University Press in Poland. Her poems appear widely in magazines and anthologies including recent publications in CalyxThe Cortland ReviewFourteen HillsPortland ReviewPotomac Review,  RattleRHINO and others. Dr. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology in New York City.

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Lynn McGee is the author of the poetry collection Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019); Sober Cooking (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016), and two award-winning poetry chapbooks: Heirloom Bulldog (Bright Hill Press, 2015) and Bonanza (Slapering Hol Press, 1997). Her poems are forthcoming in UpstreetLavender Review and The Tampa Review, and have appeared in the Potomac ReviewThe American Poetry ReviewSouthern Poetry ReviewLiterary MamaPainted Bride QuarterlyOntario Review and others. Lynn earned an MFA in Poetry at Columbia University and has taught writing at George Washington University, Columbia University, Brooklyn College/CUNY and others. A 2015 Nominee for the Best of the Net award, Lynn received the Heart of the Center Award from the LGBT Community Center in New York City for starting their first adult literacy class. Today she is a communications manager at Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York.

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Submissions To Dogfish Head Poetry Prize Now Open

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Submission Guidelines

The seventeenth annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize for the winning book-length manuscript by a poet residing in the Mid-Atlantic states (DE, MD, VA, PA, NJ, NY, WVA, NC and District of Columbia) will consist of $500, two cases of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Beer*, manuscript publication by Broadkill River Press, and 10 copies of the book (in lieu of royalties).

The rules are: Manuscripts must be received by midnight, August 15, 2019.  Manuscripts received after the closing date will not be considered.  Eligible poets must reside in the above listed states and be twenty-one years of age by the date of the award. *  The manuscript is to be submitted electronically in one MS Word document attachment.  Send to Prize coordinator Linda Blaskey at dogfishheadpoetryprize@earthlink.net.  Snail mail submissions will not be accepted.

Two title pages are to be included with each submission: the first with the title of the manuscript, author’s name, address, phone numbers and e-mail address; the second with just the manuscript title.   No manuscript is to have any author-identifying information other than the one title page and will be rejected if it does. Judging is blind and double-tiered. The manuscript must be book-length (between 48 and 78 pages of original work – no translations) and no more than roughly thirty lines to a page, including the poem’s title and two line-spaces between the title and the body of the poem.  A poem may be more than one page. One submission per entrant.  There is no entry fee.

This year’s final judge will be Joseph Millar.

The award will be presented to the winner on Saturday evening, December 14, 2019 at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes, Delaware.  The winner must agree to attend this event and to read from their winning book at a reception honoring the winner.  The prize will be officially awarded by Sam Calagione, Founder and CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Distillery, or by another company official.

The author of the winning manuscript also agrees to provide, within ten days of notification, a color head-shot photograph, with photographer’s credit, for the back cover and a dedication page for the interior of the book. Also, an acknowledgement page of poems previously published, and in which publications and/or websites they appeared will need to be provided. The winner agrees to travel to Delaware at the winner’s expense for awarding of the prize.   Dogfish Head will provide the winner two nights lodging at the Dogfish Inn in the beach resort town of Lewes, Delaware.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales retains the right to use any of the winning work in promotional materials.

Co-workers of Dogfish Head and their families are ineligible to enter.  Previous winners of the prize are ineligible to enter.

For questions and more information contact Linda Blaskey, Prize coordinator, at linblask@aol.com or at dogfishheadpoetryprize@earthlink.net

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New Release from Poet Stephen Page

salty

Congratulations to North of Oxford contributor Stephen Page on the release of his new book, The Salty River Bleeds ! 

The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page

Praise for The Salty River Bleeds

The Salty River Bleeds is a juicy tale in verse that draws us into the teeming world of a large Argentinian ranch. This world is populated by herds of horses and cows, nefarious ranch hands, foxes, bees, bats, parrots, carnivorous ants, Andean flamingoes, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, to name but a few of its many denizens. The narrative reveals the complicated web of woes in the life of a land manager, the tyranny of weather patterns, and one man’s battle against the encroachment of pesticides. In this world, nature’s staggering beauty and naked brutality are constantly in evidence. A stallion “learns the phases of grass.” Trucks struggle through “the butter of mud.” Cows can explode with bloat, and rain that the narrator prays will be called down from the sky by the croaking of tree frogs can make or break you. As its title suggests, The Salty River Bleeds is packed with the drama of birth, death and eternal conflict.

–Amy Gerstler, author of Bitter Angel

The Salty River Bleeds is ambitious in its scope and its execution, with a relevance to contemporary environmental issues. Stephen Page deftly combines poetry, prose, and letters…and relies on highly refined, compressed imagistic language and strong character development to tell his tale.

–Jim Daniels, author of Places Everyone

The Salty River Bleeds is a continuation of the story of Jonathan and Teresa that Stephen Page began in A Ranch Bordering the Salty River.  These poems speak of the visceral life of farming on a fictional ranch in Argentina.  Page’s narrative is a journey of perseverance through a physical and psychological wilderness where loveliness and brutality abide together.  Here, the likes of a raw and wet “afterbirth slopped into a steamy pile” leads to the mother straining to “stare at her calf until breath raised its ribs.” Page walks us through vulture-ravaged carcasses into pastures and wood and marsh; walks us into the solace of bees, mockingbirds and “a flock of black ibis” that “lift/and cloud away.” This is poetry told with an unflinching, yet reverent eye.

–Carolyn Welch, author of The Garden of Fragile Beings

The Salty River Bleeds is equal parts parable and fable, examining humankind’s destructive and self-defeating tendencies, particularly with regard to caring for the land human beings and animals rely on. Here where the Salty River bleeds, you will find that Myth swims, Old Man lingers on your peripheral vision only to disappear, and Black Dog follows you into the mythic Wood. On the ranch, you will encounter Tattler, Excuse Maker, and Bad Guy, archetypal figures standing in for all those whose motives are to be questioned. By turns imaginative and inventive, gritty and grisly, gorgeous and ephemeral, this is a book that will linger long after you have finished. There are inherent truths laid bare here that we would all do well to pay heed.

–Cati Porter, author of Seven Floors Up

In Stephen Page’s The Salty River Bleeds, the spiritual journey of Jonathan continues from A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. Looking for a story to explain his life, Jonathan meditates on nature, in particular Wood, a place of testing, a place of mysteries ripe to be discovered, and the people who work his land without reverence.  With an observant eye for detail, Page brings together striking images of the elements of earth and human life that become both obstacles to and medium through which the speaker of these poems understands his world.

–Caroline Malone, author of Dark Roots

Stephen Page’s The Salty River Bleeds is a pastoral and violent account of ranch life. His poetic collection blends agricultural and rustic contention with eco-rural insight and directness. His delivery is candid and un-floral, thus bestowing the music of his perception an energy of seized quotidian acuity. These poems dare the readers to care about the animals, the daily activities of surviving rurally, and the grammar of the land exploited by genetic modified commerce and industrialization. The work invites the geography of natural breeding life to marry the perennial charm of ranch hardship. There, in his work, exists the sensual preservation of humanity, but also diurnal desires. Page’s bucolic poems “may take you to an unlit alley at night” or “sound like buckets of water being poured on the corrugated roof.” Regardless of the rustic tempo his work imbues you, through Page’s percipient, omniscient eyes, we see and hear everything he observes and feels and yearns. Like sheep hides “salted in the transit room” – Page’s work is designed to ambush us, not with the forcefulness or melancholy of existence, but, as seen here, with the authoritative authenticity of his persistent fervor.

–Vi Khi Nao, author of Fish in Exile 

Stephen Page’s The Salty River Bleeds is a collection of connections. Page explores relationships, ethics, and economy through environmental images that ooze the intricacies of farm life. His thoughtful, sensory-rich prose and varied expressions of poetic form delve into the inner workings of losses and discoveries.

–Savannah Slone, Author of Hearing the Underwater 

Stephen Page is a true poetic chronicler of the complex business of ranching, that mythic journey. The Salty River Bleeds is iconic storytelling; a hybrid of poems, letters, and prose. Filled with rich images, “wood walks” and myth finding. “Life takes you into some unplanned territory.” Follow Page and we are “wading into wheat” and “working all week to save the corn.”  The tractor is broken, the fences need mending, but still we are watching and waiting for Old Man walking by the side of the road, the one who never stops. Follow Page into his dreamscape of visceral reality to satisfy a curiosity, an unspoken desire.

–Elaine Fletcher Chapman, author of Hunger for Salt

In The Salty River Bleeds, Stephen Page poetically and unapologetically reveals the real, harsh truths of running a ranch in Argentina. Johnathan’s daily stressors, created by unreliable employees, weather, and Teresa’s greedy son, Damien, find us anxiously watching him “run across pastures with my sword / Raised, looking for someone to decapitate.” Page softens Johnathan’s persona by peppering the pages with love, beauty, mate, and the whimsy of Wood and Myth as “A wooddove pops / its wings as it departs eucalypti mist auraed by / a vanilla sunrise.” The juxtaposition of the hard and the soft leaves us with a longing to know how Jonathan and Teresa’s story ends. The Fauna of this collection proves to be a mesmerizing sequel to the Flora of the initial introduction of Johnathan and Teresa in his earlier collection, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River.

–Laurie Higi, author of The Universe of Little Beaver Lake

The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page

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Alexander Pushkin Dies in a Duel by Charles Rammelkamp

pushkins_duel_with_danthes_atrist_a_naumov_b

A. A. Naumov. Alexander Pushkin’s duel with Georges d’Anthès.
Public Domain

Alexander Pushkin Dies in a Duel

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How would you react
to an anonymous lampoon
awarding you the title,
Deputy Grand Master of the Order of Cuckolds?
.
We were sure it was the work of Baron d’Anthès.
He’d been sniffing around Pushkin’s wife
in Saint Petersburg society,
but to my knowledge,
the beautiful Natalia’d rejected him.
.
Married six years, four children,
Pushkin was as certain of her fidelity
as he was of d’Anthès’s mischief.
.
Sure, tongues wagged as they always will
when a stunning beauty’s involved –
some called Natalia Russia’s Helen of Troy,
and no denying she was a flirt.
She had so many admirers.
.
But the mock letter couldn’t be ignored,
and even though the Baron denied writing it –
and face it, it wasn’t exactly Eugene Onegin, 
the week after d’Anthès’s marriage
to Natalia’s sister Yekaterina,
the two of them met at Chernaya Rekha
on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg,
a cold day at the end of January.
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charles
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. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf
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2 Poems by Byron Beynon

beaded rain
.
Sounds
.
The rain’s beaded notes played
on the window pane,
as a fluid score fell
on a stave of glass.
Music forgives the ageless night,
nurturing the outline of each hour.
The adrenlaine in the blood,
a texture that survived
the wound which dragged
along unshadowed ground.
The articulation of colours,
recognized like friends,
a blossoming of sounds
growing from within.
.
Ghost
.
The tree I planted
twenty years ago
has been felled
along with its shadow.
Birds that paused
on its branches
have melted away.
The wind no longer vibrates,
its notes pass by
with an undulating silence,
a silence that blooms
with the dignity of night,
as its memory reaches
towards the splintered
gleams of the most secret stars.
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Byron Beynon 2014
Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Agenda, London Magazine, The Yellow Nib, Poetry Wales and Poetry Ireland Review. He coordinated the Wales section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann).  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).

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2 Poems by J.C. Todd

misty

After the Death
.
After the death
she listened
to the widower
to the children wild
or silent from grief
to the whine of the pup
that brushed her leg
because the leg he’d brushed
had disappeared
.
after this death
which came after others
which left behind grievers
whose sorrows she had consoled
.
it was the cat weighing in
at 3.7 pounds,
the cat whose eye pads
had lost their fatty tissue
whose hind legs, thinned
and thinning, could not
navigate the stairs
.
it was the cat she stroked
to feel her sorrow welling up
.
Slow Reading,
.
                          like diving deep
into a dumpster—it’s got a shape—
oblong, and a square footage
but its contents are unknown.
Slow reading, like rummaging
with a system, following the words
that soon aren’t words but
music or flash films or
textures your body takes in,
the consciousness of someone else
you’ve absorbed. You could
consider saying like sex
but that’s only a thought, an
expectation you feel obliged
to fulfill. Slow reading’s
like breathing, autonomic,
and thinking this
you feel grateful that the muscles
and the bellows keep going on
below awareness, as reading
draws you down, below
what you know or see.
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JC Todd headshot (1)

 

J.C. Todd is author of The Damages of Morning (Moonstone Press, 2018), a 2019 Eric Hoffer Award finalist. Other books include What Space This Body (Wind, 2008), two chapbooks and collaborative artist books On Foot/By Hand and FUBAR (Lucia Press, 2018, 2016). Winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Prize, she holds fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Leeway Foundation, Ragdale, Ucross, and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. Currently a poet with the Dodge Poetry Program, she has taught at Bryn Mawr College and in the MFA Program at Rosemont and holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson.