From Homer to Starbucks, a look at sirens and mermaids and feminism and consumerism. What started as a small sequence of poems about the Starbucks logo grew to monstrous proportions after the poet fell under a siren spell herself. All Day I Dream About Sirens is both an ancient reverie and a screen-induced stupor as these poems reckon with the enduring cultural fascination with siren and mermaid narratives as they span geographies, economies, and generations, chronicling and reconfiguring the male-centered epic and women’s bodies and subjectivities.
Dive into All Day I Dream About Sirens through the excerpt below, followed by Domenica’s thoughts on the piece.
“Miraculous Catch” is named after the bible story “The Miraculous Catch of Fish” in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 5:1–11). In the story, fishermen on the Sea of Galilee are having tough luck until Jesus shows up. He tells them to let down their nets and they are rewarded with a great catch. The speaker of my poem, observing these men-turned-disciples, is truly something miraculous: a “maid of many bloods,” a mermaid.
My initiation into the world of myth, metaphor, and symbolism was through Christianity. I attended a Catholic elementary and middle school and felt creatively invigorated by all my religion classes. The apostles seemed like one big awesome friend group, complete with fluctuating loyalties, dramas, and disagreements. Someone like Saint Veronica, risking it all to wipe Jesus’s bloody face with her veil, resonated with me. She was a badass rebel! It made sense, in myth logic, that she’d be rewarded with a magical cloth that could cure blindness and raise the dead. Though instead of magic (heathen!), I was taught to say miracle (holy).
My interest in Christian myth was pure and un-academic and tinged with the eccentricities and superstitions of my Italian family. It’s only natural that Christian symbols and stories began mingling with the other mythological explorations in my writing.
I let myself have fun transposing the mermaids that already lived and frolicked in All Day I Dream about Sirens into these stories: what if the miracle of Jesus walking on water was a trick of a devoted mermaid, guiding his feet beneath the waves? What if Mary Magdalene, Christianity’s OG siren, was a mermaid? Would that explain all the multiplying fish and watery baptisms and fish bumper stickers on the back of mini-vans? In my imagination, yes.
To continue reading, purchase All Day I Dream About Sirens here!
Domenica Martinello holds an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was the recipient of the Deena Davidson Friedman Prize for Poetry.
The poems of Anatomic have emerged from biomonitoring and microbiome testing on the author’s body to examine the way the outside writes the inside, whether we like it or not. Adam Dickinson drew blood, collected urine, swabbed bacteria, and tested his feces to measure the precise chemical and microbial diversity of his body.
Structured like the hormones some of these synthetic chemicals mimic in our bodies, this sequence of poems links the author’s biographical details (diet, lifestyle, geography) with historical details (spills, poisonings, military applications) to show how permeable our bodies are to the environment. As Dickinson becomes obsessed with limiting the rampant contamination of his own biochemistry, he turns this chemical-microbial autobiography into an anxious plea for us to consider what we’re doing to our world—and to our own bodies.
Discover Anatomic and enjoy the poem below, followed by Adam’s thoughts on the piece.
The umbrella is the starting point for a larger obfuscation. A constant mist of tiny particles rains upward, like neck hair at the cicada sex of a smoke alarm. Children outgrow the behaviours of cats, but for many years they are derelicts of skin flakes, stair runners, and upholstery. The average carpet smokes three packs a day. The glassy bits scratching your throat are leftover deterrents to predators. Dust is a conversation happening just out of earshot, it’s the street talk of the Endocrine and Alderaan systems, a vector for the invectives of misdirection. Dust is a bunch of nickels your uncle gives you to get him another Goldschläger. My thoughts, like every other coagulation cascade, are made of melted lint and move around with the chirality of lost oven mitts. In the dusty barns of Michigan, the wrong bag of pale grit was mixed into cow feed. Nine million people ate Firemaster. My limbs tingle just out of broadcast range. Here come the industry standards to burn down the roofs of our mouths.
Anatomic is a book that responds to chemical and microbial tests on my body. In conceiving of the book, my intention was to look at how the “outside” environment, writes the “inside” of our bodies. Consequently, over a period of several years, I worked with laboratories and scientists to measure levels of various pollutants in my blood and urine, including pesticides, heavy metals, flame retardants, PCBs, and phthalates. I also sequenced my microbiome through stool samples and swabbed parts of my body to measure the abundance of microbes living on and in me. How did these chemicals and microbes get into me? How are they biologically active? What are their stories in the context of industrial, political, cultural, and evolutionary history? I decided to respond to these chemicals and microbes through poetry because their capacity to affect the metabolism of our bodies constitutes, in my view, a form of writing at the limits of writing—they interfere with or otherwise influence the exchange of hormonal messages in the body.
We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic. At this point it is fair to say that the spread of the novel coronavirus disease via transnational travel and shipping corridors is as much a product of global metabolism as it is a product of human metabolic susceptibility. We write our environment as our environment writes us. I hope my book inspires people to think about the kinds of energy systems we surround ourselves with and the kinds of materials, foods, and supply chains we produce from these systems, especially as we begin to transition away from oil. As it stands, I can peer into my blood and see the signature of multinational corporations such as Monsanto. “A Bromide” responds to the presence of Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in my body. The poem’s epigraph indicates the precise level of the chemical in my serum. These chemicals belong to a class of compounds known as brominated flame retardants. PBDEs leach from common consumer products like TVs and carpets. Household dust is believed to be the greatest source of contamination for humans.
Adam Dickinson’s poetry has appeared in literary journals and anthologies in Canada and internationally. He has published three books of poetry. His most recent book, The Polymers, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, and the ReLit Award. His work has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, and Polish. He has been featured at international literary festivals such as Poetry International in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and the Oslo International Poetry Festival in Norway. He teaches poetics and creative writing at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Midday at the Super-Kamiokande is part existentialist cry, part close encounters of the other kind. Think Kierkegaard in a spacesuit, Kubrik in a Left Bank café. Like the neutrino observatory of its title, Midday at the Super-Kamiokande seeks “glimpses of the obscure” to carve out meaning, alternately a resistance to rationalism and its champion.
It aims to tear through abstraction with the concrete, either catastrophic – road accidents, nuclear explosions, floods, extinction, eviction, suicide – or quotidian, finding threads of love, empathy, and belief within the fray. These are poems with no middle. These are poems of beginnings, and of ends.
Enjoy the title poem from the collection, followed by Matthew’s thoughts on the piece.
Midday at the Super-Kamiokande comprises 52 poems like this one, the title poem. So, it’s short. The stanzas with their clean enjambments offer closure, whole thoughts, while the leaps between stanzas eschew narrative, letting the temporal connection dangle, alighting on a seemingly dissociated image or idea. The white space between is charged, I like to think, with neural crackle.
In fact, the stanza order could conceivably shift and the poem would still be the poem, only phrased differently, the way a melody is still the melody even after variation. Try it. Each of the stanzas in this title poem would work as a beginning or an end. The poem exhibits “shufflability,” to use a highly technical literary term. Or, as the cover copy says, “These are poems with no middle; they are poems of beginnings, and of ends.” The nub, though, is that’s what poems are. As the incomparable Dean Young says, “You want middles, read novels.”
My editor noticed two recurring motifs throughout the book; neither were planned with anything like high-level intent. One was the instances of doubling: doppelgängers and twins but also images, reflections, reversals, paradoxes and puns. Midnights and middays, as it were. The second was the proliferation of suns. The sun has, throughout Western philosophy, represented knowledge, the “light of reason,” and for some, like Aquinas, a way to God. Unlike the moon, which is a mercurial, slant light, the sun is fixed and direct. “Every sun is a full sun.” Yet the suns in Midday tend to be compromised, either setting, failing or strangely immaterial.
This more philosophical approach, mixing metaphysics with my materialism, was a pivot from my previous books, which took their cues from science. What if “reason isn’t reasonable,” I thought—or read and then thought. Maybe it’s in the darkness, in the shadows, we find the truth. The Super-Kamiokande, a neutrino observatory in Japan, is probing the mystery that is dark matter. But will finding the answer get us closer to the “something from nothing” that is the inescapable, unrelenting presentation of our universe?
I say no. FWIW.
To continue reading, purchase Midday at the Super-Kamiokande here!
Matthew Tierney is the author of four books of poetry; the most recent is Midday at the Super-Kamiokande. His previous book, Probably Inevitable, won the 2013 Trillium Book Award for Poetry in English. He is also a recipient of the K. M. Hunter Award and the P.K. Page Founders’ Award. He lives in the east end of Toronto with his wife and son.
In 1934, Gertrude Stein asked “What is poetry and if you know what poetry is what is prose.” Throaty Wipes answers this question and many more! How does broadband work? Does “chuffed” mean pleased or displeased? What if the generations of Adam had mothers? Through her signature fusion of formal innovation and lyricism, Holbrook delivers what we’ve been waiting for.
Read on to enjoy several poems from Throaty Wipes and Susan’s thoughts on the selected pieces
As an excerpt of Throaty Wipes (Coach House 2016) I’ve chosen four of the constraint-based poems from that work. It seemed appropriate in these days of physical constraint!
“What is Poetry” offers multiple answers to the titular question via anagrams of it. “Without You” was composed without the letter U. “Calculogue” was composed on a Canon LS-863TG handheld calculator – remember doing this in junior high? “Tonsillitis” was written using only the letters in “tonsillitis.”
American poet Harry Mathews explains the energy of constraint-based writing as arising out of the fact that “being unable to say what you normally would, you must say what you normally wouldn’t.” This forced mobility of expression yields more than aesthetic novelty, however; Mathews’ observation speaks to the revelatory effect of constraints. What would we normally not say? What knowledges are obscured through normative discourses? Perhaps writing constraints paradoxically allow for freedom of expression, for honesty, a way for us to, as Emily Dickinson suggested, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
In his “Prefatory Sonnet,” Wordsworth wrote about the freedom he experienced writing in the constraint of the sonnet form. The fifth poem I included in your excerpt is new, and takes its title from lines 5-7 of Wordsworth’s poem:
[…] Bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness Fells, Will murmur by the hour in Foxglove bells
You’ll see that my “Foxglove Bells Manifesto” uses only the letters in the word “constraints,” and argues for appreciating the generative power of choosing to be hemmed in. I hope readers will want to murmur in foxglove bells, to find out what they might hear from themselves.
Susan Holbrook is a poet and fiction writer whose first book, misled, was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the Stephen J. Stephensson Award. Her chapbook Good Egg Bad Seed was published by Nomados in 2004. She teaches North American literatures and creative writing at the University of Windsor. She recently co-edited The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson: Composition as Conversation (forthcoming from Oxford University Press, 2009).
Grappling with queerness and trauma from Alberta to Brooklyn, powering through body, sex, and gender to hit free open roads, in Vulgar Mechanics, K. B. Thors seeks to invent new strategies for survival through the two most basic tools available to the speaker: language and the body. The poems celebrate the body as a vehicle of excavation and self-determination in a world in which there may be no such a thing as a safe word.
Discover Vulgar Mechanics through the excerpt below and read K.B. Thors’ thoughts on the passage.
All the Rage
(The following excerpt is the final portion of the poem, which is the last poem in the book)
“All the rage” is a funny expression. I often wonder about the tells in our language and the origins of phrases — I figure they must give something away about human nature and personality. The idea of rage as fashionable or of the moment was a way for me to poke fun at the forces in the book, the heavy grief and love and anger. The book’s closing poems reflects that finding-our-footing that eventually comes after loss, the insistence of joy and adventure, despite and because of life’s mess. This poem always felt like it should be the last one in the book, a reflection on what just happened.
There are no pat endings in poetry, but this poem is an arrival in a place I hope others recognize. You know those moments where it feels like you understand yourself even a smidge better? The human animal has always loved and lost. We hurt, we get confused, we grow stronger. Sometimes you gotta kick a rock just to get moving—I’m a big fan of how these bodies we’re in help us process. Unhinging here felt bodily and emotional, a dismantling of my understanding of myself in the gendered, violent, gorgeous world, and a coming back around on my own terms. I got thrown for a loop, and used my legs to keep swinging to get to a more nuanced, stable vantage point. I might still be off kilter, but through these poems I was able to see beauty I hadn’t before, that had been there all along.
K. B. Thors
To continue reading, purchase Vulgar Mechanics here!
K.B. Thors is a poet, translator, and educator from rural Alberta, Canada. Her translation of Stormwarning (Phoneme, 2018) by Icelandic poet Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir won the American Scandinavian Foundation’s Leif and Inger Sjöberg Prize and is currently nominated for the PEN Literary Award for Poetry in Translation. She is also the Spanish-English translator of Chintungo: The Story of Someone Else by Soledad Marambio (Ugly Ducking Presse, 2018). Her poems, essays and literary criticism have appeared around the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she was a Teaching Fellow in Poetry.
The Crash Palace is a funny, moving, and surprising novel by the author of the Amazon First Novel Award–nominated The Milk Chicken Bomb. Audrey is unlike any character you’ve met before, and you’ll love being along for the ride.
Audrey Lane has always loved to drive. Anytime, anywhere, any car: a questionable rustbucket, a family sedan, the SUV she was paid to drive around the oil fields. From the second she learned to drive, she’s always found a way to hit the road.
And now, one night, while her young daughter is asleep at home, Audrey is struck by that old urge and finds herself testing the doors of parked cars in her neighbourhood. Before she knows it, she’s headed north in the dead of winter to the now abandoned Crash Palace in a stolen car, unable to stop herself from confronting her past.
In the middle of NonFiction week we wanted to sneak in a preview of Andrew’s much awaited forthcoming novel. So read on and meet Audrey for yourself in the following excerpt and enjoy Andrew’s thoughts on the passage.
She followed a washboard gravel road up and down a ridge of hills. A long line of parked vehicles ran up the edge of the road. She parked at the end and got out. Old pick-up trucks, little hatchbacks, old station wagons with ski racks. After a while she started passing orange trafﬁc pylons. She smelled grilling meat.
In a gravel parking lot, people in orange vests stood around a propane BBQ. A man in a cowboy hat was grilling burgers. Audrey saw a knot of people standing up at the top of a little ridge above them.
She hiked up through the brush. People were standing behind a line of orange ﬂuorescent tape, in a clearing between pine trees. Just past them was a stretch of gravel road. An S-curve switchback, a short straight- away, and then a ﬁnal curve before disappearing back into the woods. The gravel was brown and fresh, deep and scored with tire-marks.
She stood in the small crowd and was going to ask someone when she heard the engine.
She heard the engine and the conversation died down. Everyone stood quietly and then the car came around the corner. Taking the curve hard, back end drifting out in the soft gravel, kicking up a great cloud of dust. The driver shifted down through the S-curve, then revved up to pick up speed through the straightaway. Came close enough that Audrey could see the two of them in the car: two motorcycle helmets, a driver and a passenger, their heads bobbing back and forth through the curves. The car roared past, picking up speed, a Japanese sport sedan with a big spoiler, bright blue, the windshield, doors, hood, fenders all covered in stickers. It roared past and everyone cheered and they heard it shift again for the last curve and then it was gone, around the corner into the trees, the engine noise fading.
The cars came one after the other, a few minutes apart. All of them tackling the S-curve and then the short straightaway before the tight turn disappearing into the trees. Each of them a little different. They at- tacked the ﬁrst curve aggressively or cautiously. They didn’t all drift out on the ﬁrst curve. She saw them pick different spots to shift and rev.
The cars, the Subarus and Hondas and Ford Fiestas, got close enough each time for Audrey to catch a quick glimpse of the drivers and co- drivers in their matching helmets.
She watched twenty cars go by and at a certain point started cheering with the rest of the crowd. Cheered when the cars came into the curve, when they came by close enough to see the helmets, when they sped up through the straightaway and then disappeared around the other curve.
A big man in a denim jacket turned around and beamed at her. ‘That was a good day of racing,’ he said.
‘Yeah,’ said Audrey. ‘Absolutely.’
I grew up outside of Okotoks, Alberta, which is just inside the first rises of the Rocky Mountain Foothills. East of you is flat prairie and west are the higher and higher foothills. There’s a network of roads through those western hills—not a grid but a series of meandering routes that twist along the contours of the valleys and coulees between Highway 549 and Kananaskis Country. When I was a teenager I had a 1985 Dodge Ram with a second-hand stereo duct-taped to the pull-out ashtray. I’d put on a cassette and drive west into that maze of roads and see where I could end up that I’d never been before.
As an adult living in Calgary I didn’t drive for years. I missed it tremendously. I loved getting other people to tell stories about driving when they were younger. I had a friend who’d bought and sold $50 junk heaps throughout high school and I had a friend who’d been a crew driver in the Oil Sands.
Eventually I started driving again and I even moved out of the city back to Okotoks. I spend a lot of time driving now, although most of it is commuting slowly up and down Deerfoot trail, which is not as exciting as turning off onto an unknown gravel road somewhere southwest of Bragg Creek.
The parking spot next to mine at work belongs to a software developer named Eric. Eric drives two cars—a heavily-modded Japanese hatchback and an even more customized left-hand drive race car. Both of them are covered in decals and in immaculate condition. After work he’ll often be down there tinkering with something. I was talking with Eric one day and he told me about the different racing clubs he’s part of—his drifting club and his rally club. And that conversation—helped out by some of the rally club websites he recommended to me—became a key piece of the puzzle for Audrey, and turned into the Elbow Falls Rally Race.
Andrew Wedderburn is a writer and musician from Okotoks, Alberta. He graduated from the University of Calgary in 2001. His stories have been published by filling Station and Alberta Views Magazines . His debut novel, The Milk Chicken Bomb, was published by Coach House Books in 2007. In 2008 it was a finalist for the Amazon / Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. As a musician and songwriter Wedderburn has written, recorded and toured extensively in the groups Hot Little Rocket and Night Committee, releasing seven full-length albums over the last two decades. Andrew Wedderburn currently resides in Okotoks, AB.
Fairy tales shape how we see the world, so what happens when you identify more with the Beast than Beauty?
If every disabled character is mocked and mistreated, how does the Beast ever imagine a happily-ever-after? Amanda Leduc looks at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference.
Discover Disfigured through the excerpt below, followed by Amanda’s thoughts on the passage.
Years after I first saw the Disney film, I read the Hans Christian Anderson version of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Now, all these years later, I find myself focused on this image: the mermaid, mute and heartbroken, arcing that one long dive into the sea. She has been mutilated in a number of ways: her tail and tongue taken from her, her ability to connect with others stolen from her as a result of the witch’s machinations. She has no hope of convincing the prince in this story, bedazzled as he is by the beauty and charm of his new bride. She is made, by virtue of her disability, less than what he might desire.
How should we take this, in this world of modern-day story- telling? Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think that a different outcome could have visited this story, especially given the era of its provenance. (The rudimentary beginnings of European sign language were just entering infancy during Andersen’s time.)
Still. Surely the Little Mermaid and her prince could have learned sign language, of a kind, or communicated through gestures? Did no one in the palace think to teach the ‘little dumb foundling’ how to read and write? In the Disney version, Ariel physically signs a contract with Ursula in order to give up her voice. Couldn’t she have written Prince Eric a note?
But fairy tales have historically been concerned with morals – and historically, morals have concerned themselves in a very particular way with the disabled. Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, as we’ve seen, is one of those people who might never reach the top of the social ladder, no matter how much they try. (The glimmer of hope at the end of ‘The Little Mermaid’ seems to me so faint as to not be a glimmer at all.) Disney’s Ariel, by contrast, not only manages to regain her voice; her other disability – the immobility afforded by a mermaid’s tail on land – is eradicated by her version’s happy ending. At the end of the Disney version, Ariel has legs, her voice, and her prince. The original mermaid, by contrast, dies with none of those things.
So, suddenly we have two versions of the tale: one in which the disability is vanished and the abled body reigns supreme, and another in which the disability is permanent and leads to grief and suffering. Where is the space for disability as a simple fact of life in a scenario like this? If Ariel couldn’t hope to get her prince when she didn’t have legs and/or a voice, what hope could a disabled girl like myself have for a life that was free of torment and bullying unless she was free of a limp and had all of her faculties intact?
In this excerpt from my book, Disfigured, I’m exploring what it meant to me to become acquainted with the Hans Christian Andersen version of ‘The Little Mermaid’, after having grown up on the Disney version. Specifically, I’m looking at the ways in which the Andersen tale highlights so many things about the disability experience without ever explicitly treating TLM as a disability story—the Little Mermaid is made to suffer, and undergo trial through virtue of experiencing disability, in order that she might one day shed her mermaid’s tail for good and walk permanently on land as a human.
So many of the narratives that we tell in our fairy tales, Hollywood stories, and other mainstream media follow this same kind of structure, where people are made to experience disability as a kind of “flaw” in their character or as a kind of punishment. And often, the only way that we’re made to understand someone’s triumph in a story is through eradicating the disability in some way. In the case of the Disney version of the Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up her life at sea—her family, her friends, and all she’s ever known—in order that she might be a human, that she might walk on two legs. In the Hans Christian Andersen story, she gives up her very life itself in order to protect the human man she’s come to love. The understanding in the Andersen tale is that she is broken because she is disabled and can’t speak. In both stories, even though they have very different endings, it’s taken for granted that the Little Mermaid cannot have what she wants with the body that she has—she must change in some crucial way in order to get her happy ending.
When people read my book, I’d like them to think about the ways in which we often ask characters to do or say or fit into impossible ideals in order to achieve their happy endings. All too often, we associate a happy ending with a certain degree of physical prowess—someone is pretty, or walks on two legs, or doesn’t have the kind of “difficulty” in their life that we often associate with disability—because we assume that a difficult life is somehow not worth living, or not worth as much happiness as a life that is free of these complications. But what does it mean when we re-imagine what a happy ending might look like? What happens when we read and tell stories and understand that happy endings and happy lives are not made less so because of complications—but that, instead, a story becomes all the richer for the specific disabled joys that might live inside it?
Amanda Leduc’s essays and stories have appeared in publications across Canada, the US, and the UK. She is the author of the novels The Miracles of Ordinary Menand the forthcoming The Centaur’s Wife. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she works as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.
In Curry,Naben Ruthnum grapples with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing and depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. Curry is a dish that doesn’t quite exist, but, as this wildly funny and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn’t properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations.
Get a taste of Curry in the following excerpt, and read Naben’s thoughts on the passage below.
The second curry of note I’ll mention is Homecoming Shrimp Curry, which has become the staple meal I associate with Christmas in the Ruthnum household. It’s shouldered aside kleftiko and a Persian fish dish with a walnut stuffing as the go-to son-pleaser for my annual returns home, and my parents like it just as much as I do. It’s a deep greenish-brown, a shade you don’t often see in Indian restaurants outside of perhaps a saag: while Westerners may like brown food, they don’t like it to actually be brown. The sauce has a density earned by its ingredients and process: Mom makes the masala with large, motherfuckering onion chunks that would be the star of the dish if the sauce didn’t take a midmorning whirl through the food processor before being returned to the pan. The huge shrimp, decanted frozen into a colander from a frozen bag, like chilled practical effects from a 1980s alien-invasion movie before the sauce catches up to them and they’re subsumed into the curry, white and pink peaks in the murky simmer.
Time and varying heat are key to this dish’s success, a daylong process of heating, settling, cooling, and boiling whose alchemy seems beyond science. That’s often part of curry narra- tives, too: the ineffable, inexplicable Eastern magic performed on electric Western stoves. Top British chef Heston Blumenthal, on his television show In Search of Perfection, where he sought to make perfected versions of classic dishes such as hamburger and steak by seeking out their ur-versions and distilling histor- ically successful processes into a measured, modern method, had scientists do a study on the use of yogourt in the marinade for chicken cooked in a tandoor for his tikka masala episode.
While it was proven that yogourt vastly aided the marinade’s absorption, they couldn’t figure out why. It just did. While this made for an irresistible y[ moment, and I don’t doubt Mr. Blumenthal’s standards or the BBC’s scientist-hiring resources, it strikes me as odd that what seems like a simple matter of chemistry and biology should be insoluble.
There’s no magic or formula involved in the time and heat factors of Homecoming Shrimp Curry, but there is particularity. As in many immigrant households, one of my parents prepared food in the morning and reheated it throughout the day, the knobs on the stove and eventually the button on the microwave enduring twists and pokes as mealtimes came around. In the case of this curry, the multiple simmerings are what elevate it to Christmas dinner and my first off-the-plane meal. The basics are simple, and as I can’t think of a good reason not to include the recipe, I’ll give it to you. Here’s a direct paste of the email that Mom sent me so I could botch the making of the dish:
I called to inquire about the accuracy of this recipe, and it turns out my recall was wrong: Mom does food-process the onions before the cooking starts, not after. The pureeing-of- the-completed-sauce thing comes, I realize, from a Gordon Ramsay chicken tikka masala recipe I used to make all the time when I lived in Montreal, with a roommate who had a Cuisinart. Mom also leaves out the bit about time lapses and reheating throughout the day, but that’s hard to quantify on the page. I don’t follow the turmeric-fry step of the recipe-seems to me that the shrimp cook so fast, they should do it in the gravy where they belong. Then again, my dish somehow isn’t a patch to Mom’s: this is a trope, yes, but it remains true here – I know I can fix it if I master the timing.
There are some moments in this recipe that an Indian- cuisine purist would find harrowing. For example, the ‘fish curry powder from Superstore.’ At the popular food blog Foodàó, Bay Area food writer Annada Rathi rails against these concoctions: ‘That’s when I feel like screaming from the rooftops, “Curry is not Indian!”; “Curry powder is not Indian!”; and “You will not find curry powder in Indian kitchens!”’ She’s certainly been in more kitchens in India than the zero I’ve entered, so I’ll take her word, but I’ll tell you this: every dias- poric kitchen I’ve opened cupboards in contains curry powder, even if it is a home blend of dry spices tipped into an old Patak’s screw-on glass jar. Rathi isn’t a hardliner – she goes on to note that ‘in the course of this article, it has dawned on me that “curry” is the most ambiguous and therefore the most flexible word, a broad term that conveys the idea of cooked, spiced, saucy or dry, vegetable, meat, or vegetable and meat dish in the most appropriate manner available.’ The spectacular imprecision of the term speaks to its ability to encompass centuries of food history, cooking, misinterpretation, and rein- vention: it’s truly the diasporic meal, even when it stays at home. Curry is only definably Indian because India is a country that has the world in it.
There is a truth to the tropes of cooking and homeland and curry, but it can’t possibly contain the entire truth: the overlaps in this conversation between writers like Lahiri, Koul, and me are vast, covering our relationships to our parents and a land we barely know compared to the countries where we wake up every day. In the details, the distinct efforts to set personal experience apart – my insistence that Mom has no kitchen secrets and that cooking was never meant to be a key to the exotic but a passage to adulthood, Koul’s universal reflections on whether there is a point when one ever stops needing one’s mom, Lahiri’s foray into cookbook learning – are there, but I wonder if they are present for readers who are drawn to and receive these pieces. Are the brown, diasporic readers looking for commiseration? And are the non-brown ones looking for an exotic, nostalgic tour of a foreigner’s unknowable kitchen? The short answer, I believe, is yep.
This recipe comes at the end of a section of Curry where I discuss the homeland-authentic-magic of the cooking of brown mothers, in reality and in writing. I recall having a tough time with this part, in that I was pointing to a repetitive trope that I found confining, but with the awareness that I was also talking about the lived truth of many diasporic eaters and writers.
That’s why I chose to discuss a curry that had a particular significance to the patterns of my life and to my literal homecomings–home for me being not India, not Mauritius, but rather unexciting Kelowna, B.C. The recipe, pasted verbatim from an email of my mother’s, gave me a chance to talk about curry powder, which is commonly targeted in food writing as being inauthentic and something that no real Indian would ever use. If that’s true, then my family is even further from India than time and geography would suggest, and I’m fine with that. The movements of diaspora and food culture, and the different labels that are appended to spice mixtures ground in Indian factories to be placed on Western grocery shelves are more interesting to me than enacting an authenticity that may have little to do with me, a Mauritian-Canadian whose family cooked with what we could access.
There is an accidental mother’s-magic-trope in here that I’m embarrassed to have missed at every stage of publication, except when I was asked to excerpt this recipe section for a magazine: Mom didn’t include any amounts next to the ingredients. This is a recipe you have to freehand and make several times before you can get it exactly right.
Naben Ruthnum won the Journey Prize for his short fiction, has been a National Post books columnist, and has written books and cultural criticism for the Globe and Mail, Hazlitt, and the Walrus. His crime fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Joyland, and his pseudonym Nathan Ripley’s first novel appeared in 2018. Ruthnum lives in Toronto.
Permission, by Saskia Vogel, follows a grieving young woman who learns something new about love from a dominatrix in this haunting and erotic debut. It’s a kind of love story about three people sick with dreams and expectations who turn to the erotic for comfort and cure. As they stumble through the landscape of desire, they ask themselves: how do I want to be loved?
Discover Permission through the excerpt below and read on for Saskia’s thoughts on the passage.
When Orly was done, they sat together for a while, by the open window, the breeze blowing in a direction that brought the sound of the ocean inside. She asked him to face her. He kneeled, but she asked him to sit. She wanted them to be eye to eye.
‘I met someone,’ she said.
And he knew she meant the neighbour girl. Orly was on the sofa where the girl had slept. Strange to see the girl inside, in his home. He’d waved at her every day and the gesture had seemed to frighten her. He’d taken it as a good sign. Orly had chosen a location where people weren’t interested in being neighbours. But then she’d appeared on Orly’s sofa, and he’d rushed out of the house on his way to work, not wanting to wake her.
‘We didn’t talk about this,’ Orly continued. ‘What would happen if we brought people over who we didn’t already know. I told her what I do, but I left you out of it.’
Piggy thought about his separate lives. His office jobs, his service to Orly. The distance he enforced between himself and his work colleagues, never letting them get too close unless he trusted them to be in his inner circle. He had enough friends now who shared his interests. He was too old to watch his mouth during his leisure time. When he felt social, he wanted to be able to make jokes at his own expense and trade tales of mishaps on the road to getting here in the same breath as he explained the perfect blend for burger meat at a barbecue. He had spent too long holding back and keeping things down.
‘You must really like her.’
‘More than I think I was prepared to.’ Orly paused. ‘She’s going through a lot.’
Something dropped inside him, and the words came out harsher than he expected: ‘Not another project.’
Orly looked hurt. ‘This isn’t like Kashmira. I took her on because she said she wanted to learn from me. Echo, she interests me. I wonder what she’ll be like if we play.’ She squeezed her eyes shut and smiled.
He didn’t want to encourage her fantasy about this new girl. When she dreamed, it was potent, easy to get swept away. Part of her genius, he thought, was her imagination, but when she fantasized, she also lost her connection to the world around. He wanted her to stay with him in this conversation. He thought about Kashmira, who had been her assistant a few years before. Initially sweet, and eager. But when Orly let her get more and more involved, taking over the sessions Orly was supposed to do with him, he felt left behind. And then it became clear that Kashmira only thought about the money: she had seen what Orly had and wanted it for herself. She didn’t care about the work, the connection. She began poaching Orly’s clients, using Orly’s name as a reference, without her blessing. And one day there was no Kashmira anymore. Orly had asked him not to stay in touch with her at least for a while, as a courtesy. Thinking about the possibility of another girl spending time with Orly in the house – another project girl – it occurred to him that his hurt about Kashmira was really about something else. He said, ‘You’re supposed to protect me.’
He liked the way Orly listened. Taking in his every word.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘I promise I won’t be careless.’
When I set out to write Permission, I wanted to write a story about love and desire, in general, and about BDSM relationships in particular. Thinking of 50 Shades of Grey, I wanted to tell a story that shows a different kind of dominant and submissive relationship, one that felt truer to what I know about this community. I was interested in exploring the careful communication of fears, hopes, and desires that is vital to any relationship, but is perhaps trickier or scarier to navigate outside of a traditional romantic or erotic relationship.
In this scene we meet Orly, a dominatrix, and Piggy, a submissive foot fetishist who is her longest-standing client but also a man who has recently started subletting Orly’s spare room in the suburban Los Angeles home in which she runs her business. Over the years, they’ve developed a tender friendship. Though it isn’t necessarily romantic, their relationship is intimate and erotic, and they care about each other as people. Because they are learning how to share a domestic space as old friends while also managing their dominatrix-client relationship, things get complicated when a new romantic interest—Echo, Permission’s main character—enters the picture. Orly is falling for Echo, the enigmatic neighbor whose father has just died. Piggy is wondering where this will leave him; Orly’s infatuations have put strain on their relationship in the past.
I wanted to share this vulnerable, private moment between Orly and Piggy to show two people who are committed to learning how to meet each other’s changing needs and how to care for each other through life’s ups, downs, and many surprises. If they can succeed, anyone can.
To continue reading, purchase your copy of Permission here!
Saskia Vogel grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Berlin, where she works as a writer and Swedish-to-English literary translator. She has written on the themes of gender, power, and sexuality for publications such as The White Review, The Offing, and The Quietus . Previously, she worked as Granta magazine’s global publicist and as an editor at the AVN Media Network, where she reported on pornography and adult pleasure products.
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, by Suzette Mayr, follows Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, who is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and her job’s finally safe, if she only can fill out her AAO properly. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new girlfriend, her missing friend Coral, her backstabbing fellow professors, a cutthroat new dean – and the fact that the sentient and malevolent Crawley Hall has decided it wants them all out, and the hall and its hellish hares will stop at nothing to get rid of them.
Discover the world of Dr. Edith Vane by reading the excerpt and Suzette Mayr’s thoughts on the passage below.
She hears the dripping. A steady drip of the tap in the bathroom across the corridor. A drip that intensifies, pokes into her concentration, fragments her midnight genius. She pushes the exams away, stands up from her desk, slips her keys into her pocket.
She pushes open the washroom door into moonless black. The sound of water running from a tap. She flicks on the switch. Only one fluorescent light flickers on. The ceiling gutted and cavernous.
Her heart startles, clatters in her chest.
A woman in a yellow dress bends over the sinks. Coral, rinsing her mouth.
Coral’s hand stops, mid-rinse, her hand still cupped over her mouth, water drip-dripping, her bloodshot eyes gazing at Edith through the dim reflection in the mirror.
– I’m sorry, Edith half shouts. – I didn’t know anyone else was in here. You scared the stuffing out of me. Coral! You’re back, she sighs. – You’re back from the hospital. I’m so glad to see you.
Edith sighs again, holds out her hand.
Coral’s hand stays cupped to her mouth.
– I was so worried about you, Edith says.
Vestiges of water curl down Coral’s forearm, drip from her elbow into the sink. Edith drops her hand.
Edith knows it would look stupid to leave the bathroom without using it, so she shuts herself into a cubicle, shoots the bolt of the door, and pulls down her pants. Sits down.
She hears the faucet turn on, then off. Then on again.
She pees, wipes, stands up, and refastens her pants. She swings open the cubicle door.
Coral is still standing there, her back still to Edith. Her hair straight and shiny as a red toy car.
Coral’s fingers over her mouth, red.
– I like what you’ve done with your hair, says Edith. – The colour, I mean. Or maybe it’s the light in here. Is it?
Water drips from Coral’s hands, rivulets in the sink.
– Have a good night, whispers Edith, and she scuppers out the door without washing her hands, her urine-speckled fingers firmly pushing into the middle of the orange poster that trumpets PleaseWash Your Hands.
What I wanted to do with Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall was explore the nature of horror and the uncanny but in a less predictable horror setting.
What’s really interesting to me is the notion that at the foundation of the “uncanny” is the familiar made unfamiliar, and that horror isn’t necessarily about big flamboyant moments, but the subtle tweaks to the normal so that the normal becomes less and less recognizable, more destabilized, and the peripheral begins to upstage or even overtake the centre. A university campus as a setting was the ideal place for this kind of writing experiment and exploration because university campuses have so many Gothic tendencies. Classic gothic stories often feature an old building filled with secrets. There are many, many secrets hiding in any university building, no matter how new that building might be. My main character, a stressed out professor named Edith Vane, is preyed upon by her building’s secrets. The building strips away the fragile pretense she has been desperately using to protect herself, and reveals the familiar as creepy, insidious, and maybe even terrifying.
To continue reading, purchase Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hallhere.
Suzette Mayr is the author of four previous novels: Monoceros, Moon Honey, The Widows, and Venous Hum. The Widows was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in the Canada-Caribbean region, and has been translated into German. Moon Honey was shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Best First Book and Best Novel Awards. Monoceros was longlisted for the Giller Prize. Suzette Mayr lives and works in Calgary.