Monthly Archives: March 2014

what saves the poor boy?

Working as a curator in your spare time is a lot similar to digging for gold in your back yard: it’s fun working the metal detector, but the precious ore is rare. Still, every now and then you come across fiction that promises. Burgeoning short stories saying you will meet their author again. One such short story is “poor boy” written by a promising new voice: Elahzar Rao.

According to the online bio, ELAHZAR RAO has a B.A. in English from Hunter College, and is currently pursuing an M.S. in education at Long Island University.  His publication credits include artwork in Cerise Press, Prick of the Spindle, The Centrifugal Eye, Fogged Clarity, and Convergence, as well as short stories forthcoming in Hawai’i Review, Fiction Fix, Pilot, and The Literary Review.

I came across the author while curating for Fiction Magazines, and made a mental note to “look it up” later. The piece I initially saw was different than the works I found published, but all stories were glued with an intriguing style. He is a versatile artist interested in more than just writing: I suspect he isn’t at the end of his creative transformation as he still ably toys with multiple means of expression and his photography is rivalling with his writing.

One of his published works appears in the Cortland Review (issue 57). It is called “poor boy” and tells the story of an ordinary family that gets so caught up in fighting the windmills of modern existence that it loses sight of their sons.

Their involuntary omission comes at an unforeseen cost, and their effort to climb the ladder to a better life are deemed shallow and scattered in the four winds in the aftermath of the disaster.

While still holding the overweight of the sensational narrative, the short story is redeemed by a very personal use of language. The author has a strong voice and gives special attention to style.

He makes good use of symmetry, apparent in phrasing such as “whatever he had worn now seemed shed”. The piece has an adequate sense of rhythm and laboriously builds momentum through reminiscence. It is well-balanced and stays true to the POV. Still rough around the edges, but undoubtedly good. I have a feeling we will hear of M. Rao again, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

In fact, I encourage you not to. Go and see for yourselves. Find out what saves the ‘poor boy’ on ‘”the Cortland Review” website.

milena ©2014


words particle zoo and noViolet Bulawayo

Back in mid-February a newspaper title caught my eye. It insisted on forcing the conversion of a very English verb – “to bluff” – in tight, latin suffix-ed, shoes. This lead to a heated debate in a close circle of language afficiandos. We argued language is a living organism, but we failed to reach an agreement on what kind of healthy food it should eat. The case of natural growth was argued, neck and neck with that of academic trimming.

Are the new imported words part of an unnatural ‘particle zoo’ of the linguistic kind, or just the result of ageing in diversity?

Below, I will delve in the intricacy of language innovation, enlisting the help of a methodical words crafter that goes by the pen name noViolet Bulawayo.

NoViolet Bulawayo © Man Booker Prize 2013

Elizabeth Zandile Tshele is a talented and meticulous words crafter. Only four years my senior, the Zimbabwe-born author spent her formatting years in a place imbued with story barely waiting to be told. And when she started writing down the words, a powerful narrative came to play. Her novel, We need new names was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Her short stories are ready for their readers within the pages of Guernica mag.

She took to writing using the pen name NoViolet Bulawayo: NoViolet translates as “with Violet” and it is an homage to her mother (who passed away when the author was only eighteen months old); Bulawayo is the author’s home city.

Longing is ever present – both in style and in name. The stories are grown on a backbone of objective narration, but they blossom out of the factual and they shine with glistering new language dew. Because even though we know the words, when we read noViolet’s stories we realise we don’t know these words that swirl about, forming a new language of the soul. Adjectives and nouns fall differently in place and work in a different harmony and rhytm. This is partly because English is by no means a sufficient ambassador of the African spirit and partly because the author took to the language and internalised it in a unique way.

In the case of noViolet’s stories, it feels as if the author is not speaking, but wearing the language.

As far as the author is concerned, English stays awkward and foreign:

The problem with English is this: You usually can’t open your mouth and it comes out just like that–first you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right.
But then because you have to do all this, when you get to the final step, something strange has happened to you and you speak the way a drunk walks. And, because you are speaking like falling, it’s as if you are an idiot, when the truth is that it’s the language and the whole process that’s messed up. And then the problem with those who speak only English is this: they don’t know how to listen; they are busy looking at your falling instead of paying attention to what you are saying. – from We need new names

She wears English like a well-tailored suit and she has successfully weeded out the obstacles in the way of story-telling.

But there is another thing: nurturing. If you are to transplant a plant from one pot to another, you always make sure it has some of its original soil and you always make sure it is nurtured enough. We can argue the same about language: if you are to internalise a foreign language to the point of making a first hand creative use of it, you must nurture it. So, if we return to the well-tailored suit analogy, the relationship between language and words-crafter is symbiotic. This is not unheard of: Shakespeare alone is considered responsible for some two thousand new English words. The language is the words crafter’s tool and if it isn’t sharp or broad enough, it is up to the words crafter to adjust it.
So what of the particle zoo, then? Well, not everyone is a cunning enough words crafter, ready to internalise and improve a language that isn’t capable of expressing the exact message conveyed. Some simply resort to ungracefully jamming an obviously foreign word into latin sufix-ed shoes. Hence the odd-looking particle zoo-like result.

many mad monsters © nikki frances

milena ©2014

Romanul grafic la noi acasă

despre Prâslea cel Voinic și merele de aur (de Maria Surducan)

Voinicul Mariei Surducan și-a croit drum, peste mări și ţări, de pe raftul librăriei de acasă, pe biroul meu.

                 Despre Maria Surducan v-am mai vorbit. Ba chiar, am vorbit și cu ea despre voi. Am aflat că-i plac poveștile și că lucrează de zor la adaptarea lor în romane grafice. Am mai aflat că atunci când nu lucrează la romane grafice inspirate din folclor, lucrează la povești ilustrate originale.

                Despre Prâslea am lăsat-o pe Maria să vorbească:

Prâslea cel Voinic a prins viaţă în bandă desenată datorită personajelor. Prima a fost pasărea măiastră, cea care pune în mişcare intriga prin furtul merelor de aur. În versiunea mea, e o fiinţă şireată, agilă, dar care ascunde sub aparenta nepăsare şi accentul ardelenesc un plan bine pus la punct. Apoi au apărut fraţii cei răi”… simbolic, ei sunt versiuni alternative ale personajului principal, sunt Făt-Frumos care a făcut o alegere greşită. Dar practic, unul e şcolit în Austro-Ungaria, unul a fost plecat cu Erasmus la turci, primul vrea să pună mâna pe tron cu orice preţ, al doilea ia totul în zeflemea. Apoi a fost Lupul Cenuşiu (mentorul), apoi personajul negativ (Negru Împărat)…

Astăzi, după ce am terminat lectura, am și eu câte ceva de spus: Prâslea cel Voinic și merele de aur, în varianta Mariei Surducan, este un roman grafic savuros care, păstrând elementele basmelor din care se inspiră, transportă acţiunea pe un tărâm nou, un tărâm unde magia și știinţa se întâlnesc și se completează.

Un ochi de pasare maiastra

Se spune că poveștile sunt predestinate reinventării – parte din cultura orală, mai vechi decât scrisul, mai vechi poate și decât focul, poveștile dau măsura lumii din care se desprind. Şi înainte să fie cuvânt, poveștile au fost imagine cu tâlc. Poate tocmai de aceea îi șade atât de bine paserii măiestre în închipuirea grafică.

Ştiind că romanul grafic este cu precădere dificil, datorită imperativului echilibrului dintre imagine și text, am deschis cartea Mariei cu inima cât un purice: dacă imaginea e prea puternică? Textul prea abraziv? Temerile s-au dovedit a fi fără temei: nici pomeneală de vreun dezechilibru – Prâslea strălucește în decorul difuz al ilustraţiilor. Şi-apoi incantaţiile, polimorfismul și-o sumă de surprize contribuie la augumentarea experienţei cititorului.

Iar între toate surprizele una parcă mi-a fost mai dragă între toate:

Praslea a venit c-o misiva

milena ©2014