Monday, July 30, 2018

And Now We Come to the End (Almost)

I launched Redux in August 2011, with the simple thought that there should be an outlet for excellent stories, poems, and essays that have appeared in literary journals but that never subsequently appeared in a book; work that felt lost in the dusty stacks of a library or, more likely, an archive, whether the journal’s or the writer’s. I know that I’ve published stories along the way that—for whatever reason—I would never choose to include in a collection of stories, if I were to put one together. They don’t fit my current areas of interest, or they read a little too old-fashioned now, or I don’t want so-and-so to read this one. Sometimes, the situation is that I see too many flaws in the writing or in the writer I once was. Yet each publication was deeply important to me, and for sure there are stories that I just simply love—flaws and all—that I want to present once again. There should be a way (I thought back in 2011) to honor these works. In fact, there was a particular story of mine I had in mind: this story, I thought, it makes me sad that this story will never be in a collection or seen again, especially since the journal that published it is now defunct.

Someone should do something, I thought. I should do something, I thought.

I already had a simple blog through Google’s blogging platform, Blogger, so why not add a simple literary journal, where I could publish my beloved story and work by other writers? Ta-da: Redux was born!

It was immediately clear that I couldn’t exactly publish my own beloved story without looking like I was running a vanity project, so I solicited some work and some contributing editors who would also solicit work…and eventually I opened submissions to the world. I loved reading these lost stories and poems and essays, and I also loved reading the stories behind the work: how this might be someone’s first publication, or how someone was experimenting with a technique, or the way this poem always made them remember their grandmother. Redux has published writers I know, writers I’ve heard of, writers I didn’t know, writers I didn’t know but who now are my friends.

Along the way, I’ve had wonderful people helping Redux, either as contributing editors or as assistant editors, helping me evaluate work during the open submission periods. And while I was able to set up a fairly low-stress formula for the myriad of Redux-related tasks: reading the work, posting the work, communicating with writers, etc…even low-stress editing takes up a certain amount of time and energy. Which is why…

…I have made the difficult decision to wind up my participation in Redux. There will be one more post, next week, of the story that started it all, my story that I will never put into a collection, that I still sort of love for a variety of reasons, one being that it’s the story I wrote when I first started loving hockey: “I Dreamed of Mark Messier.”

As for now, I will keep the archives alive as long as it’s inexpensive and easy to do so. But I’m also open to passing along the entire enterprise to another person and/or institution. Might that be you? If so, some quick thoughts/suggestions/cautions:

~A social media presence is helpful to find a wider audience.

~My web skills are waaaaaay outdated, so it seems to me that Redux needs a major web update undertaken by someone with skills waaaaaay better than mine.

~I would expect that whoever might take over Redux would be committed to maintaining the archives.

~Finally, it’s getting a bit harder to find work that has been published in print that isn’t also online already, so the mission of Redux might be tweaked a bit. On the other hand, there’s a world of out-of-print books (if one wants to investigate copyright issues) and there’s also, unfortunately, a world of online publications that are now defunct, leaving behind a sea of sadness and empty links.

In the end, I’m glad I took my thought forward into action, and I’m grateful for everyone who contributed their work, read and shared Redux, and, especially, those who helped produce this journal along the way:
Current assistant editors, Kenneth A. Fleming & Clara Jane Hallar;

Current contributing editor, Stephen A. Ello;

Former contributing editors, Rachel Hall, Deborah Ager, Marlin Barton, Sandra Beasley, Anna Leahy, Joseph M. Schuster, & Susan Tekulve; and

Designer, Bill Skillern.

Email me at lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com if you’d like to learn more about the possibility of taking over Redux. And definitely come back next week to read Redux’s final post!

Monday, July 23, 2018

#271: Two Poems by Mark Liebenow


~This poem previously appeared in The Spoon River Poetry Review (2008).


Anger, No. 15

Jackson Pollock, “Yellow Islands,” 1952, oil on canvas

The tortured pain of Jackson Pollock is not some rehab diatribe
that freed his demons, let him sit with bodhisattva Zen smile.
Strangled at birth by umbilical cord left a web of motor,
learning disabilities that hammered his mind with bristled scorn.
Tangled unbent anger for prestige galleries who couldn’t see
his great talent, the backlash against family, friends, his paint.
The stabs at the hole in his mythical dark soul he starved to fill,
the vapid, cathartic release that never held enough death. 
This painting shrivels grand mysteries into drips of disdain
for academy tastes that cater to the known, the well-dressed,
the pricks, the bores, the intellectual crap, the painted taps,
the crank of the well-heeled that clank on hollowed out pipes.
Turned upside down, I wouldn’t know which way was right,
like tube socks yanked on the wrong foot.

Pollock’s hand is weary of sketching the shuttered interior light,
the slippery decay, the pneumatic musk, the stench below city tenements.
His vision of society’s oblivion twisted into streets he crashed,
the spackle of grackles that jig-sawed beneath his skin,
dumped into urine back alleys like chump, fetid trash scrounged for scraps
of cadmium yellow, white scraped from the fat of electric blue clumps.
He attacks the canvas, people that hang around, fills them with scurry
of rats, the splinter, the shiver, the bones gnawed in the gutter.
The drift of the single-celled anemic, the brown grind of cortex rind
that tears apart, the draft that pulls no where but down.
Depression, alcohol, the failed suicide attempts, the night screams
on a subway lost on its one short stop between genius and pity.
His cords of elemental rage disguised as art, laid out, strangled
on the whorl of passionless sex fermenting in the upper left.


Monday, July 16, 2018

#270: "News of the Loch Ness Monster" by Carla Douglas

~This story previously appeared in The New Quarterly  (2003).
My father has his telephone set to ring twelve times before the answering machine picks up. Tonight he gets it on the eighth—just as I’m deciding whether or not to leave a message.
“Hello,” he says, expectant but not hopeful.
“Hi, Dad, it’s me—”
“Oh, yes.” He fumbles with the phone. “Yes, of course, hello dear.”
“Hi, Dad.”
He always knows my voice, but I tell him who it is anyway. He’s going blind—I have just recently learned this, and I presume he needs help making the visual connection. I realize this is something like shouting at people who don’t speak English.
“You’re home. I didn’t know if you’d be there. I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“No,” he says, “I’m just resting. I’ve just finished my dinner.”
“Uh huh. What did you have?
“A meal on wheel. A piece of chicken with a vegetable and potato.”
Did the people who invented meals on wheels ever intend for them to be anything but plural? I imagine a chicken drumstick on a unicycle, somehow managing to get up the steps to his apartment door and press the buzzer.
“And was it okay?”
“Yes, it was fine,” he says, “very nourishing.” He says noorish—rhymes with moorish.
I have two pictures of my father. Or rather, I picture him in two ways. In one, he is sitting in a bright, spacious living room. He is nicely dressed in grey flannels—slacks, he calls them, or trousers—and a clean, pressed shirt. He could be expecting a visitor. In this picture he is pleasantly occupied; a fresh breeze blows in through the open window, and there is definitely no gold shag carpeting.
In the other picture, the one I see when I talk to him on the phone, he is hunched over his unwiped kitchen table in the dim light of a single overhead bulb, staring at the blank wall. The sink is stacked with oatmeal-encrusted bowls and glasses rimmed with rinds of old milk. There’s a smell, too—sour food combined with cooking odours from other apartments and the open tube of liniment in the bathroom. I am in this picture because I am the one connected to the other end of the telephone.
And what am I doing? Mostly, I’m trying to keep these images at bay. And on this particular night I’m fumbling with a flashlight and candles, because to the east of Toronto, where I live, a blanket of ice has descended upon us and shut down the power grid. I wonder if he can see me in the dark.
My father lives in Niagara, in a renovated red-brick cannery. This sounds quite grand, and it could be. Everywhere, it seems, old warehouses and factories have been transformed into spectacular living quarters, with cavernous interiors, exposed brick, and walls of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on urban streetscapes full of shops and cafes. On the outside, most of these buildings have retained a period facade, some even sporting signs identifying the original owners and uses—Dempsey’s Candy Factory; Canadian Textiles.
These lofts always seem to be occupied by designers and artists, part of the space being given over to studio, where they work, live, and entertain lavishly. You see them in magazines and on the Home and Garden television channel. Seldom do they have children, but in the rare cases that they do, the family occupies two floors of the building, the parents’ and children’s spaces connected by a system of intercoms, wrought-iron spiral staircases, fire poles, and perhaps even a slide.
My father’s apartment isn’t like this. You would have to be told—and then you still might not believe it—that until the 1950s it was a thriving little cannery, one of a dozen or more in the city that packed soft fruit and shipped it across the country. Peaches, plums, apricots, pears—staple winter fare in most homes before advances in refrigeration and trucking brought oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, and anything, really, from the south, year-round.
Only traces of its former use remain on the outside of the building. The old, tall windows have been replaced with cheap aluminium sliders, smaller than the originals, and brown siding fills in the gaps at the bottom. But the bricks are pleasingly weathered, and the oversize double doors hint at how the structure could have been transformed, if only the developer had had more imagination.
“… but they always give you too much. I can’t work my way through all that.” He’s still talking about his meal on wheel.
“I didn’t know if you’d be home.”
Usually when I call, he isn’t. Nearly every night he has dinner with his woman friend, a widow he met at his bridge club not long after my mother died. She has become his constant companion. She feeds him, phones him, and fills his head with ideas about how offspring should properly behave. For her fussing attention my father returns a kind of blind party loyalty. She is the final word, the source of all opinion, and he acts as a conduit, reporting all the news to us—mostly about her children’s and grandchildren’s (wholesome, practical and infinitely superior) achievements, but other things, too. She persuaded him to rent this dismal apartment a few blocks from her house. “He’s legally blind, you know,” she told my sister, hurling it like an accusation.
For a time her mere existence provided me with guilty relief, but this soon made way for smug certainty that my mother wouldn’t have liked her either. “She’s not really my type,” my mother would have said, with a sniff. So now I stand on guard with my siblings, ready—eager, even—to preserve our parents’ marital tensions beyond the grave.

Monday, July 9, 2018

#269: "We Take the Bus" by Jacquelyn Bengfort

~This poem was previously published in Gargoyle (2016).

I take her on the city bus
The six blocks to the library
Six blocks too long for toddling legs

I take her on the city bus
So she knows what it costs to spend a dollar eighty
For an hour’s trip across the District

We take the bus.

I take her on the city bus
So she will learn things
Some people never know, see things

See the women bent over their drugstore walkers
See the men with eyes stuck shut, murmuring
See the girls, young, with babies like her

And hear the boys in the back rapping freestyle
She is nearly two and’s seen
More than I at twenty-two:

A gang of masks on Halloween punching out a neighbor,
Panhandlers asking only for a smile
Homeless people passing the peace at church

And all the sirens at night
In place of stars, sirens and
Helicopters, bellies full of hurt children

How young should one begin to know?
Will all this turn her callous
Or cause her pain?

A man on the radio the other day:
“When it comes to our children
Know the space between pain and suffering

“Pain is a teacher. Suffering
Destroys. Just hold your babies
When they are hurting.”

So we take the city bus
With grandmothers and their grocery carts
And men preaching Jehovah’s promise

We take the bus to see the city
At the slowly rolling speed of
Start-and-stop amidst strangers

My daughter and I, she and I,
We take the city bus.


Monday, July 2, 2018

#268: "Between Foreclosures: July 2009" by S.J. Dunning

~This essay previously appeared in Dogwood: A Journal of Prose and Poetry ​(2013).

In the field of foreclosure we measure our days by cities and houses: the condo and the house in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, on Monday, the two-story farmhouse in Washougal, Washington, on Tuesday and Wednesday, “The Shack” in Fairfield, Idaho; from Thursday thru Saturday, a 1600-square-foot million-dollar condo in Big Sky, Montana on Sunday, and there will be many others coming up, each vacant.
My father has said it’s like we’re living the Jonny Cash version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” or I’ve said it’s like we’re living that song on the road, or we’ve both made the comparison. There’s some truth to the analogy—we’re always totin’ packs as the song goes—except our travels are limited to States within the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming. We might as well be driving across the country and back again, however, on account of all miles we tally between these properties.
“We trashout foreclosures,” is the answer I give when people ask what my father and I do on the road, but to “trashout” a house is to remove everything it contains, even the appliances in some cases, and that’s not always why we’re dispatched to a foreclosed property. 
What we actually do at each property depends upon its accompanying work order. In the process we call the “trashout”, we clean the houses, winterize or de-winterize them, change the locks, and do landscaping. Or we might “refresh” a house that’s already been emptied (dust and sweep and make new vacuum tracks) or we might mow a lawn. The yard at the house in Great Falls, Montana, our current destination, is overdue for mowing, so that’s why we’re going there—even though the grass (if there actually is any) is probably dead, even though the mower’s blade will merely spit dust and gravel and litter at me as it spins.