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An Interview with Helen McClory

Helen McClory is a Scottish writer whose stories are multi-faceted gems, filled with atmosphere, mystery, and vivid detail. I discovered her work through Twitter and instantly loved it. Her flash fiction is collected in On the Edges of Vision, and you can read some of the pieces at her blog, Schietree. Her first novel, Flesh of the Peach, is forthcoming this year. McClory was kind enough to answer some of my questions. In our discussion, we talk about gender, Sylvia Plath, unlikable women, and much more.

– Caitlin
Nonfiction Editor of Burning House Press

 
 
 

Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I am such a fan of your writing, and I’m so excited to have this discussion with you. First, I would just like to ask you some general questions about life and writing.

What are you currently reading? What made you want to read it?

I’m currently reading Alan Garner’s The Stone Book Quartet, a book ostensibly for children (like most of his work) that is composed of economical, brilliant sentences weighted with folkloric meaning. I loved his writing as a child myself and wanted to revisit his work (though I don’t think I ever read this one) because I’m writing a sort of fantasy/folklore novel myself and thought I’d look to one of the masters of the form.

Continue reading “An Interview with Helen McClory”

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‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 3: ‘Discussing Death’

My first memory of death is linked to a man I never knew. My mother’s father died of a heart attack before I was born; the irony is that I know more about his death than I do about his life.

The entirety of the man has been reduced to a single black-and-white obituary photograph that my mother faithfully keeps at her prayer altar. Then, there are the stories. The stories of what an influence he was in my mother’s life, how he used to work with the British Royal Navy (this was in the 1940s and 1950s, in a pre-independent Singapore that seems as much of a myth as my late grandfather), and of course, the stories about how he died, and how that changed his entire family’s life.

It is funny, what death does. It slowly morphs to form the central narrative of a person’s life, as if only through death did his life gain meaning and importance and weight.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 2: ‘Mixing Memories’

One of my most beloved memories is that of gnarled hands plaiting my long, curly hair, fingers slowly sifting through tangles, gently unfurling errant curls, and tucking them neatly into the beginnings of a French plait. In my ear, the sound of my grandmother’s voice softly admonishes me, telling me to sit still if I want my French braid to turn out properly.

My grandmother was very good at French plaits, and, as her beloved youngest granddaughter, I took it upon myself to have my hair done whenever I could. It was one of the many perks that came with living with my grandmother, who was my principal caretaker during my childhood years, while my parents were off working and doing other adult things.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

On Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden

Barbara Loden is Wanda, as they say in the movies. Her inspiration for the screenplay was a newspaper story she had read about a woman convicted of robbing a bank; her accomplice was dead and she appeared in court alone. Sentenced to twenty years in prison, she thanked the judge. Interviewed when the film came out, after it had been awarded the International Critics Award at the 1970 Venice Film Festival, Barbara would say how deeply affected she had been by the story of this woman—what pain, what hopelessness could make a person desire to be put away? How could imprisonment be relief?

–Nathalie Léger, Suite for Barbara Loden

 

From an early age, I knew I wouldn’t make it in this world. So I connected with women who, in my mind, shared that feeling. Plath and Woolf with their suicides speaking of a deep pain. Barbara Loden and her film Wanda in which the title character wanders alone and unloved.

 

Wanda is poor and she is voiceless and she is invisible. I understand the not-thereness of her.

 

Nathalie Léger felt a connection to Wanda as well. Tasked with writing an encyclopedia entry about actress Barbara Loden, she quickly became obsessed and expanded her inquiry, writing Suite For Barbara Loden, a gorgeous and dizzying investigation and excavation. Léger delves into Loden’s life, at times embellishing and inventing, and analyzes every layer of Loden’s only film, Wanda.  The book is fact and fiction and memoir and film criticism; it is a love letter to Loden and the singular film she created.

 

Continue reading “On Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden

‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran

Part 1: ‘Watching My Father Age’

For as long as I’ve known him, my father has been the strong one in the family. He was indefatigable; during my teenage years, he worked several jobs, survived on three hours of sleep daily, and still had enough patience to deal with an ailing wife and a mildly hormonal teenager.

My father never fell ill. While most of my early memories of my mother are linked to hospitals and needles and antiseptic cream, my early memories of my father are of tireless hard work, and the absence of any kind of disease.

When I was younger, my father would carry me when I was sleepy. I was tall, even as a child, but that never stopped him from swinging me onto his back, hoisting as gracefully as one could a gangly, all-arms-and-legs kid, and striding to wherever it was that we had to go. He would never utter a complaint, he would never say I was heavy, and he would never turn me away.

Continue reading “‘Walking Towards Death’ – 5 Essays on Mortality by Arathi Devandran”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 5: ‘The Everyday’

I am heading home after a long day at work, and I receive a frantic text from S, a dear friend. She has received upsetting news – the father of a good friend of hers has been diagnosed with cancer.

“I feel so helpless,” S writes. “There’s not much I can do for her, except remain available for her, and provide her support.”

I pause before replying.

I had been in her friend’s position before, of being told things that had made my world come crashing down around me. Of facing the insurmountable task of needing to be strong, even though all I had wanted to do was to crawl into a hole, to hide myself from everyone, from myself.

It had taken me several years to come to terms with my mother’s diagnosis, even after she was given a clean bill of health.

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

No End In Sight, untitled paintings by Michael McAloran

Acrylic on raw canvas, a series of untitled paintings. Black and white distribution of raw energy. “I had no end in sight. The paintings were executed while listening – obsessively – to Big Black’s ‘The Hammer Party,’ very loud, in a garage…”

Continue reading “No End In Sight, untitled paintings by Michael McAloran”

‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran

Part 4: ‘On Hope’

I could not go with my mother to the doctor’s that day. Something urgent had cropped up at work, and I could not excuse myself in time for her appointment.

The feeling of guilt was familiar, but I had gotten used to it over the years. I had begun to understand that, as a caretaker, as part of a support system for someone with a long-term illness, I had to determine the limits of my capabilities as well. A caretaker was useless if she needed caretaking herself.

And the years of hospital visits and doctors’ appointments had almost desensitized my mother. Almost, because one can never be completely nonchalant about ill-health. But she had gotten used to it, and she had gotten used to dealing with most of it alone.

She rang me in the middle of the day while I was busy with work.

She was silent on the phone for a long time.

“The oncologist has officially declared that I’m in remission.”

Joy is a strange thing.

It hits you unexpectedly, from all directions, overwhelming, all-encompassing, until it settles so deeply inside you that you feel it radiating, throbbing, filling you.

Continue reading “‘Living With Cancer’ – an essay in five parts by Arathi Devandran”

‘Look Up’ by Adam Steiner

Look Up

 

I

Sovereign fires

Crane their necks thin

Hovering upon faultless feet

 

Weary scythes drop eaves

Overlook brothers of sleep,

Taking age to the face of day

 

Above brilliant margins

Drowsing sentinels

Illuminate the mainstream Continue reading “‘Look Up’ by Adam Steiner”

5 Assemblages by Howie Good

Light Buried Underground

 

1

Weeping woman, look up here.

It seems a beautiful day.

Ovals lay eggs. We have flowers.

Even a simple call can turn into a racket,

self-reflection in bright yellow.

 

2

You are different now.

But not bad different.

Just, you know, not like 1999.

Go die, come back, I’ll love you.

Love will save us, love will save us.

Violet hearts run crimson tides. Continue reading “5 Assemblages by Howie Good”

3 Poems by Cindy Savett

hostage

 

red-tailed hawk, I unfurl

my Refrains,

flexing towards the bend in the shadow

 

crouched,

my beak

 

I grip, taste iron in my talons                  (trap set low)

my four offenses lining up the prey Continue reading “3 Poems by Cindy Savett”

‘Until Tomorrow’ by Jordan Lucien Pansky

Until Tomorrow

 

i light a quick cig & have a seat while the rain slowly sets in. a woman begins citing the new words of her god,
the new sunken scripture:

“it’s a new age on planet earth!” before pacing her step & clapping her hands “it’s the eighth day! june tenth, twenty-sixteen. june tenth, twenty-sixteen. i grew up in…”
then she vanishes. Continue reading “‘Until Tomorrow’ by Jordan Lucien Pansky”

4 Poems by Beate Sigriddaughter

 

THE BURN OF YOUTH

 

I stand tall

like the charred silhouette

of a tree that has lasted

through fire, and

I long for the burn of youth. Continue reading “4 Poems by Beate Sigriddaughter”

3 Poems by Jim Gibson

Snakehill

 

We grind keys on sandstone sacraments

(names dates loves and was eres)

Territorially recorded, awaiting time’s erosion

Through nights and days this hide away

For anyone escaping

Something Continue reading “3 Poems by Jim Gibson”

3 Poems by Adam Levon Brown

Funeral Of The Inside

 

My heart died inside

my chest last night

 

I said my goodbyes

while I carved

 

its initials in a tree.

I buried the remnants

in a hole

 

deeper than my regret. Continue reading “3 Poems by Adam Levon Brown”

In By Fire, Tahar Ben Jelloun Tells The Story of the Man Who Sparked the Arab Spring

 

Every fire begins with a spark, a small flame that ignites a conflagration. Where does that spark originate? No one could have known that when Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to his body on December 17, 2010 his act of self-immolation would trigger protests in Tunisia and throughout the Arab region. He was the spark that lit up the world.

In By Fire: Writings on the Arab Spring, Tahar Ben Jelloun writes about Bouazizi in two distinct ways. In the first part of the book are selections from Ben Jelloun’s nonfiction writings about the Arab Spring. In the second part of the book is Ben Jelloun’s short story “By Fire,” which enters the mind of Bouazizi and attempts to capture the nuances of his life. Both parts are necessary and complement each other. Translator Rita S. Nezami’s notes and introductions do an excellent job of contextualizing Bouazizi’s act of protest and providing much-needed information for Western readers to understand the political climate in Tunisia before the Arab Spring.

Continue reading “In By Fire, Tahar Ben Jelloun Tells The Story of the Man Who Sparked the Arab Spring”

‘Five-Fold Symmetries’ by Liz Zumin

Five-Fold Symmetries

 

If I present myself to them

What of their measurement and their avoidance?

It is a survival, a learning to live

A pellicle thin as skin on black tea.

Few poets don’t wear the mask. Continue reading “‘Five-Fold Symmetries’ by Liz Zumin”

3 Poems by Antony Owen

BREXIT

 

“I don’t want peoples’ change mate I want a change for people like me who people like you write poems about that no fucker will read because it makes em feel bad. People want happy endings and I ain’t it”

– Lou, Ring Road, Cov

 

In full view she slept in shrink-wrap popping like a real fire

And she was, she was a real fire petering out in the ghost grey blitz.

In full view she slept presenting a problem in the Al-Fresco wonderland

It’s not good for business bringing your problems from home into our work? Continue reading “3 Poems by Antony Owen”

4 Poems by Ana Prundaru

Stirred Stillness

 

I want to put a blanket on the ocean

and line scarecrows to a red-ribonned

trail of open hearts

Continue reading “4 Poems by Ana Prundaru”

We Disturb The Air – an interview with Cindy Savett

It must have been around Summer 2013. I had just had my first collection of poems published. It was the culmination of many years of continuous writing. A searing, intense, daily practice of generating language. I had begun writing in the first instance as a means to save my life, and now I had no room left to contain the word. I was emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.

It was around this period that I discovered the poetry of Cindy Savett. Continue reading “We Disturb The Air – an interview with Cindy Savett”

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