Poetry Review: Slow War

SLOW WAR, by Benjamin Hertwig: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

Reviewed by Daniel Cowper

Slow War, by Benjamin Hertwig, is a book of poetry that is about something which is simultaneously personal and political, experiential and objective. It is a book about military service during the Afghanistan war.

It is more than that, of course. Hertwig writes about an upbringing that invited him military service, about homecoming, readjusting to civilian life and coming to criticize the conduct of a war he helped to carry out. It is, as well as war literature, a nstlerroman, about a boy growing into an artist. The poems are nearly all addressed to Hertwig’s younger self in the second person:

you picked rocks for a farmer one summer,

in the fallow you found an arrowhead

so sharp it sliced the tip off your finger:

blood fertilized the soil. you kept the stone

secret for years, sometimes you pulled it out,

held it in your hands, held it under

the light.

Rock Picking

Hertwig speaks frankly about the facts of his own experience of war and its aftermath. Most controversially, Hertwig speaks of befriending Omar Khadr (who as a boy was involved with Taliban fighters in the war, before he was injured, captured, tortured, and held in Guantanamo Bay on charges of participating in combat).

Remember David Jones’ dedicating his account of World War I to the German soldiers who fought against him “by mischance”? James Salter hoping for the survival of his “friends” the MIG pilots he shot down? St. Exupery’s reporting how soldiers in the Spanish Civil War called out across the lines “Good night, friend,” when they each retired to bed?

Artists can (perhaps must) bring empathy to their understanding of battlefields, and Slow War reads as an ongoing attempt by Hertwig to engage compassionately with his past self and erstwhile enemies. Perhaps because of that empathetic approach, the unfolding narrative of the book is startlingly engaging. This is the rare poetry book that is hard to put down, and which can naturally be read all the way through in a single sitting.

Hertwig is an highly effective storyteller. He knows how to introduce anecdotes, animate characters, and nail down themes as well as any novelist. His writing always obeys the maxim that verse should be also good prose.

Because of its success from a narrative point of view, it is easy to overlook the lyricism of Hertwig’s writing. The poems in Slow War are not written in a showy style. They are written with a subdued but persistent rhythm, and the most musical passages are based on cyclical patterns of thoughts, words, and sounds. Sometimes they cycle despite persistent interruption:

you have seen

  visions and bodies

in flame

 

the body of christ

  shed foryou do not

belong. gunfire and

bombsong you do not

  belong. her eyes are

coal a face of wind

the place you stand

  is holy ground.

Fruit on a Wooden Table

The transition from the liturgical “the body of christ shed for” to the accusation “you do not belong” is a fair example of Hertwig’s deft handling of pivot points throughout the book.

Similarly, Hertwig’s handling of Christian iconography in this passage is typical in its naturalness and sincerity. Hertwig notices the parallel of soldiers removing their boots to enter Afghan homes, and the Almighty’s instruction to Moses to remove his shoes; he notices that war seemingly burns without exhausting its fuel, like the burning bush. These parallels naturally give rise to thoughts of what war does reduce to coals – individuals. The impression one receives is of the poet almost being startled by encountering, in chaotic destruction, a mirror image of holiness.

In acknowledging the power of both grace and violence, Hertwig’s poetry takes on a special forcefullness, which can only be described as the force of honesty.

A lesser writer would have made of similar material a more political book. Slow War succeeds because it reports facts about the human heart and human behaviour: those facts may have philosophical and political implications, but Hertwig allows us, as readers, to draw our own conclusions.

Daniel Cowper is the poetry editor for Pulp Literature. Daniel’s poetry chapbook is available from Frog Hollow Press, and his first full-length collection is forthcoming in 2019.

Benjamin Hertwig’s poem Inglewood Courts appeared in Pulp Literature Issue 15.

Writing tip. Dishing in Acquisitions

It’s no secret that acquisitions editors have red flags. We twitch when we see spelling errors or the wrong publishing house’s name in the cover letter.

However, as a group we do appreciate authors who write with authority, finding ways of getting time of day, setting, tone, the promise of genre, and some hint at the central conflict up front.  We want to know, “What is this story about?” And, “Why should our readers care about this protagonist?”

Heroes and Villains: Not All Good or All Bad.

Alien 2’s flesh-eating monster cared about her children, and Narnia hero Digory’s vanity echoed his Uncle Andrew’s. Happily, unflawed white-hat heroes rarely sail in and out of my acquisitions in-box.  The trouble is that, more often these days, I read heroes that are bad through and through.  It’s pretty easy to write an all-bad hero. Balancing flaws believably, perhaps with some small sacrifice or reluctant, kind act, are a couple of ways to show narrative skill.

And, inside the acquisitions in-box, I read on.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers to you. Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here. 

Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

 

 

 

 

Author News: Greg Brown

Every year, we nominate our most recent crop of authors for as many awards as possible. It’s one way of passing forward the good fortune we had in publishing them in the first place. This year, we’re proud to announce Greg Brown has been placed on the 2018 Journey Prize Longlist for his short stories ‘Bear’ (Pulp Literature Issue 14) and ‘Love’ (Pulp Literature Issue 16).

Greg Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of
North Carolina-Greensboro. He is a recipient of UBC’s Roy Daniels Memorial Essay
Prize and you can find his stories, criticism, and essays in Postscript, Paragon, The
RS500, Lenses: Perspectives on Literature, and Tate Street.

The Journey Prize annually recognizes emerging writers for the best short story first published in a Canadian literary journal, and we’re eagerly awaiting the shortlist announcement, September 12th.  Until then, enjoy these excerpts and get a taste of what the Journey Prize jury will pass judgement on in the next month.

Pulp Literature Issue 14, Spring 2017
‘Bear’
Greg Brown

We yawn our way through the ranger’s warning.
“Sure sure,” Dilly says.
“Got it,” I say.
Later, Dilly’s disappeared and I’m staring into a tangle of tree branches and darkness.
The stars in the night sky: glint of teeth.

The teeth are literal teeth: a grizzly bear …

 

 

Pulp Literature Issue 16, Autumn 2017
‘Love’
Greg Brown

We agreed as a family that the only thing to do was to bring Mom home for the next few months or weeks, whatever it would be. It’ll be hard, Dad said. But maybe it can be fine, too. Denisa was suspicious about the cost of it all — like the private nurse we’d have to pay for, where at the hospital it was free — although she didn’t put it like that, said that we’d be crazy to bring Mom into a place where there wasn’t any immediate care, because what if there was a problem like before, the thing with her stent that plugged up and caused some internal bleeding that almost wasn’t staunched in time?

She could’ve, Denisa said.

The oncologist had said October, and the late pale fog had come and now the sky was mostly dimmed and gone by suppertime …

Review: I Remember Nightfall, by Marosa di Giorgio

 I REMEMBER NIGHTFALL, by Marosa di Giorgio, translated by Jeannine Pitas: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017

Poetry Review by Daniel Cowper

Often my own dreams are set on a fictional island. The shores are dark rock, cluttered with docks and boardwalks. Shallow lakes and marshlands pockmark the interior, interrupted occasionally with steep hills and mountains. Sometimes the hills are only little sugarloafs you could scramble up in half an hour; sometimes they are filled with alpine flowers, and depressions shelter reservoirs of snow in summer.

 I am inclined to think most of us have one such landscape inside us, which we have created unconsciously. Sharing that internal world is part of what art can offer.

An extraordinary dreamscape belonged to the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio (1932 – 2004), four of whose books of poetry have been published by Ugly Duckling Presse collectively under the title of I Remember Nightfall, with en face English translations by Dr. Jeannine Marie Pitas, a poet and scholar.

The translations themselves are fluid and supple, maintaining momentum and rhythm with simplicity of phrasing. The poet’s voice feels entirely natural and consistent throughout.

Perfect translations fit the original so naturally that the translator’s word-choices and turns of phrase feel inevitable, once compared with the original. Judged by the limited samples over which I applied that test, Dr. Pitas’ translation approaches perfection.

 I Remember Nightfall is a rich and mercurial collection, and provides English speaking readers perhaps their first access to the work of di Giorgio. I regard this as an event of some significance, since the more I read of di Giorgio, the more I am persuaded that she is an essential poet.

The best poems are overwhelming in their originality and visceral power. Their narrative unfolds like an avalanche. Blessings and torments are dispensed in an agony of beauty. There is an experience of both helplessness and power.

It is not unfair to compare the astonishment with which one reads di Giorgio’s poems with the experience of first reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both portray a specific natural order, on which the supernatural constantly impinges. This technique of apparition or visitation can lead to an excessive reliance on the element of surprise, but di Giorgio refrains from ambushing the reader. She is a poet of discovery, not jump-scares.

Much of di Giorgio’s power, especially in translation, derives from the incredibly vivid world she describes in her poems. To give you a sense of that world I will simply list the ideas in a randomly selected passage of poetry:  baskets, fruit trees, mushrooms, chimeras, horses, eggs, bones, bells, the slaughter of livestock, grapevines, almonds, fire, planets, hunger, the moon, feathers, lettuce, magnolia blossoms, coconut, bonfire, boat, telegram, teacup, tablecloth, hyacinths, roses, star anise, honey, dentures, citrus fruits, squashes, tulips, the sense of being followed, vermin, escape, concealment, cattle.

The items on this list are representative. Di Giorgio’s world contains a kitchen, where food is stored and prepared; a garden, where flowers are grown; and farmland, where food is produced and livestock maintained. This kitchen, garden, and farmland provide a mental setting within which the poet may ecstatically describe domestic incidents, spiritual visitations, or the enactment of mythic parables:

The Carnival barely arrived, there in our beloved land.

The pea plants loaded with little fruits and flowers burned, and the long-antlered potato, and the pink, hairy yams; and in the air, the spiders walked, calmly…

And the house. There were only two dwellings in that vast region. Ours and “the other”. Our family and “the other”; that was how we referred to each other.

At times we would exchange an emissary, a hare; otherwise we would say “It’s raining ‘over there.’”

But we went for years without seeing each other. The children married their own siblings at a young age. When hunger and thirst became unbearable, a family member would be surrounded, then roasted, and life would go on. …

The Native Garden is in Flames, poem 4

Frequently the poet depicts, with mingled alarm and delight, encounters with of the alien or supernatural in her essentially domestic landscape:

Everyone goes to bed. The romantic aunts rest with a hand on the pillow and their corollas open.

Then someone gets up. Are they going to commit a crime? But all we hear are moans and then everything remains at peace.

A horse comes up the road like a terrible girl, with its mane and its haunches. In the air a planet or a bat is spinning.

…And under the magnolias — who’s there?

The War of the Orchards, poem 7

It is impossible to fairly excerpt these poems, and they must be read in full to experience their effect.

Di Giorgio’s poetry has a tendency towards the naive, and an inevitable criticism of a large volume of her work is that she can be repetitive.  I do not consider repetitiveness to be a major defect in a writer, as it is often the result of either perfectionism or a refusal to shilly-shally. With Di Giorgio, it seems to me to be the byproduct of the density or concentration of her inspiration.

I do not advise trying to read all of I Remember Nightfall at one sitting. I found the poems most refreshing and exciting when taken in small batches.

The four books collected in this volume (The History of Violets, Magnolia, The War of the Orchards, andThe Native Garden is in Flames) were published between 1965 and 1975, and represent the poetic production of the poet’s thirties and early forties. It would be interesting to compare these poems with the work produced in her youth and later in her life.

It is always a gift to encounter a poet of unique vision and powerful expression. I will return often to this collection, and I look forward to the release of any future translations of Di Giorgio’s work.

-Daniel Cowper, Poetry Editor, Pulp Literature Press.

Daniel’s poetry has appeared in the Literary Review of Canada, Prairie Fire, Vallum, CV2, Dalhousie Review, Freefall, the Hart House Review, and is forthcoming in Noise Anthology; his poetry chapbook, The God of Doors was a winner of Frog Hollow Press’s Second Chapbook Contest. His non-fiction has appeared in the Puritan’s Town Crier.

Issue 2, Spring 2014

Jeannine Pitas’s poem ‘Feynman’s Flowers’ appeared in Pulp Literature Issue 2, Spring 2014.

Featured Author: Tais Teng

Have you picked up our Summer 2018 issue yet?  The cover art alone is worth the price.

After the Tsunami is the fourth digital painting by Tais Teng that has graced the cover of Pulp Literature, the first three being Youth Hostels of the Faery (Summer 2014), Pesky Summer Jobs (Spring 2015) and Dieselpunk Explorers (Winter 2016).  

Not only is Tais Teng a talented and unique artist, he has also written a hundred books for both adults and children.  Readers of Pulp Literature will recall his story ‘Growing up with your Dead Sister’ in Issue 8.  You can find more of his art at taisteng.deviantart.com  and you can read more about him on his website, taisteng.atspace.com.

For a true composite of Tais’ work, enjoy this excerpt from ‘Growing up with your Dead Sister’ from Issue 8, and check out his artwork which graces Pulp Literature Issue 3, Issue 6, and Issue 9.

Growing up with your Dead Sister

by Tais Teng

After the accident, Lyra’s big sister was buried in a closed casket.  

“But I wanted to say goodbye to her!” Lyra wailed.

“It is better that you remember her the way she was,” her mother said.  “Anyway, she wouldn’t hear you. She went on. Hindela is in a better place now.”  

Lyra really tried to feel glad for her sister.  A better place? One where you ate strawberry muffins for breakfast and the sun always shone?  

It didn’t work.  She felt betrayed, abandoned.  Hindela had always been her guide, her protector, telling her essential things like “Don’t fondle that toad, or your fingers will drop off!”  Lately Hindela had been kissing boys and giggling a lot. Lyra didn’t see the use, but she was sure she would be kissing boys, too, later. And only Hindela could tell her how such things should be done.

When they sat down for dinner Lyra saw Hindela waiting in her usual place.  She wasn’t ghostly at all and none the worse for wear.

“Mama?” Lyra said.  “Why didn’t you set a place for Hindela?  She needs a plate and her own cup with the blue roses.”

“What do you mean?”

Lyra pointed.  “Hindela is sitting right there!  I bet she is as hungry as I am.” Her sister did indeed look a bit pale, with hollow cheeks.  Dying was hard work, Lyra thought. It must make you simply ravenous.

“You see her?” her mother asked.  

“She is just like my grandmother.”  Lyra’s father nodded. “It sometimes skips a generation.  Give Hindela her plate. Ghosts seldom linger longer than a fortnight.”

Read more of ‘Growing Up with your Dead Sister’ in Pulp Literature Issue 8

2018 Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction Winners

Bob Thurber has released his final thoughts on this year’s Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize!

Runner up: ‘Day Three’ by Robert Runté

Winner: ‘The Angler’ by Nicholas Christian

On ‘The Angler’, Bob had this to say:

I adored this selection from the first read, and appreciated the narrative’s strong current and free-flowing authenticity on all subsequent readings.

The language of “The Angler” blisters like sunburn. The edges of this very short (under 600 words) story are prickly bright and they’ll leave blind spots on your eyes for days. Congratulations to the winner, and thank you for the enjoyable daze. Your story outshined a long, sunny list of finalists.

Double congratulations are due to Nicholas Christian for his recent marriage to the 2018 Magpie Award for Poetry winner, Kelli Allen!

 

You might recognize Bob Thurber from Issue 12 as our feature author, and as the returning judge for the 2018 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize judge.

Bob was recently declared legally blind, but true to form, he hasn’t let that slow him down.
“I have enough ‘tunnel vision’ to still  work (read & write & edit) every day, using various magnifying tools and software, though my work sessions are shorter. More stories and more books are coming.”

We look forward to his upcoming short story, ‘Winter of the Frozen Moon‘, to be published in the 2018 issue of So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library.

A big thank you once again to everyone who participated in the 2018 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize. If flash fiction drives you, set a reminder for the annual Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest, opening Jan. 1st, 2019.

2018 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Shortlist

Ten days and ten entries remain. We are pleased to release the Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize shortlist. Listed below are the authors whose stories will be considered, by flash-master Bob Thurber, in alphabetical order.

Amy Neufeld
Jen Knox
Kate Felix
Kate Felix
Liz Cox 
Liza Potvin  
Nicholas Christian  
Rob Taylor   
Robert Runté
Ron. Lavalette   

The list is shorter, and the stakes are higher. Best of luck to these ten flashes of fiction!

 

2018 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Longlist

A hummingbird sighting always feels a little bit magical, and with the many entries for this year’s Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize, we are feeling awe-struck! We’re pleased to announce the longlist:  the top 27 entries listed alphabetically by author last name. Authors listed twice have two entries in the longlist.

Alex Reece Abbott
Ariel Basom
Lauren Bentley
Nicholas Christian
Liz Cox
Kate Felix
Kate Felix
Marissa Fischer

Aleisha Hendry
Terrence Huntington
Jen Knox
Jen Knox
Ron. Lavalette
Kim Martins
Jenn Marx
William P. Masters
Gabriella Morrison
Sadi Muktadir

Amy Neufeld
Liza Potvin
Robert Runté
Megan Rodgers
Rob Taylor
Annis Teller
Annis Teller
Hannah van Didden
KT Wagner

Thank you to everyone who entered! The shortlist will be revealed in July, and the winners, picked by Bob Thurber, will be announced July 15th.

Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Closes June 15th!

One week left to enter the Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize, so polish up your flashiest flash fiction for submission!

Looking for inspiration? Peruse these snippets from past Hummingbird Contest winners. All that furious fluttering should get the juices flowing.

2017 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Winner, Issue 17
‘Just Down the Hall’
by Jeanette Topar

Truth was, Mrs Cole had become a little afraid of 902.
Late in the evenings she’d hear 902’s footsteps slide across the tiled hallway, hesitating
outside her door. “Is this my place?” her neighbour would ask. Mrs Cole would mute the
volume on her TV and hold her breath as she sat quietly in her tidy living room waiting for the woman to shuffle away. The last few times Mrs Cole had encountered her, 902 was wearing nothing but a gray slip that blended with the colour of her skin and matched her hair — she appeared little more substantial than a shadow or dust mote hovering in the hall.

2016 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Winner, Issue 13
‘Xuefei and his heart’
by Rebecca Wurz

Xuefei sat on a metal stool in the corner of the operating theatre. He’d been awake all night, and now, sitting in the quiet of the deserted room, he felt drowsy. He had transported the heart of the criminal executed at dawn from the prison infirmary to the university hospital’s surgical suite, built especially for this demonstration. American transplant surgeons, collaborating with Chinese colleagues, were scheduled to do the first heart transplant on Chinese soil.

2015 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Winner, Issue 9
‘The Last Neanderthals’
by Christina Crocker Escribano

You say, No one is going to eat us, but I know better. The path of the forest is necklaced in footprints. The surface of the snow is scuffed and bloodied. They left no remains of skin or bone, just a fistful of hair that looks like our own. We stop and watch, for a long time, as if the blood was an outline, a shadow, a spirit blooming in the ice. You say the soul lifts from the body, but I see that it doesn’t.

2014 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize Winner, Issue 5
Here I Lay Down My Heart
by Rob Taylor

Hayim lifted Mima toward the dhow.  The captain knelt, grabbed her by her armpits and lifted her up, then lowered her into the hull.  Hayim tossed in his duffle bag and for a moment, in the thin skim of ocean and sand that skirts Bagamoyo, stood apart from all that mattered in his world.  Then he hoisted himself on board. Mima was already playing with the livestock and making friends with the other children. In the weeks since their arrival in Tanzania she had learned a mouthful of Swahili and was now in full song.  Samaki! Kuku! Mbuzi! she pointed and guessed, and the children laughed and nodded and were impressed.  Hayim climbed atop a mound of rice bags, maybe seven or eight deep, and pressed his duffle bag into the curve of the hull, punching it here and there with his fists, pounding out their shape.  Between punches images of Tel Aviv flashed in his mind — their old apartment, the table and chairs, dishes and books he’d filled it with. Those few weeks when Mima had gone to preschool and life had felt normal and the word normal had plumped with meaning.  Then Hayim lay down and his mind cleared.

The 2018 Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize close June 15th. We hope to see your submission soon!

Read Hummingbird Contest winners and runners-up of years past in Issue 5, Issue 9, Issue 13, and Issue 17.
 Issue 5,  Winter 2015
 Issue 9, Winter 2016
 Issue 13, Winter 2017
 Issue 17, Winter 2018

 

Author News: CC Humphreys

You remember Issues 1 and 14 feature author, CC Humphreys, don’t you? Allow us to refresh your memory … he’s the swashbuckling thespian and prolific author whose historical fiction and young adult novels have topped the charts.

Sound familiar? Well, longtime fans and newcomers alike, take note! CC Humphrey’s new historical fiction novel, Chasing the Wind, is now available through Amazon or the Penguin Random House website!

Set in 1936 during Hitler’s Olympics, Chasing the Wind tells the story of Roxy Loewen, a morally ambiguous pilot following the path of a rare painting across a politically turbulent Europe and North Africa.

Smuggler. Smoker. Aviatrix. Thief. 

The dynamic Roxy Loewen is all these things and more, in this riveting and gorgeous historical fiction novel for readers of Paula McLain, Roberta Rich, Kate Morton and Jacqueline Winspear.

Those of you who are on Salt Spring Island on June 20th, or in the Vancouver area June 21st are welcome to attend the launches  as well!