In a hallway I saw a sign with an arrow pointing the way, and I was struck by the thought that that inoffensive symbol had once been a thing of iron, an inexorable, mortal projectile that had penetrated the flesh of men and lions and clouded the sun of Thermopylae and bequeathed to Harald Sigurdson, for all time, six feet of English earth.
Several days later, someone showed me a photograph of a Magyar horseman; a coil of rope hung about his mount’s chest. I learned that the rope, which had once flown through the air and lassoed bulls in the pasture, was now just an insolent decoration on a rider’s Sunday riding gear.
In the cemetery on the Westside I saw a runic cross carved out of red marble; its arms splayed and widened toward the ends and it was bounded by a circle. That circumscribed and limited cross was a figure of the cross with unbound arms that is in turn the symbol of the gallows on which a god was tortured—that “vile machine” decried by Lucían of Samosata.
Cross, rope, and arrow: ancient implements of mankind, today reduced, or elevated, to symbols. I do not know why I marvel at them so, when there is nothing on earth that forgetfulness does not fade, memory alter, and when no one knows what sort of image the future may translate it into.
The illustration above, appeared in The Fatal Lozenge which was Edward Gorey’s first published “alphabet book”. In the book series, each letter of the alphabet is represented by a character which appears in a four line poem and each poem is accompanied by a single illustration. Other than being in alphabetical order, the individual poems do not relate to each other, but instead each page turn reveals a new character who is caught up in some sordid activity or misfortune.
The first edition of The Fatal Lozenge was published as a small paperback volume with $1.25 printed on the cover. On the second printing of book the price was increased to to $1.75, but otherwise the edition are identical.
In 1961, an edition of The Fatal Lozenge was published in London under the Constable imprint. For the British first edition, the title was changed to The GoreyAlphabet and new cover art was created. The British first was issued as cloth hard cover book with no dust jacket and has intense pink covers.
I recently stumbled upon a link to this issue of Amazing Stories magazine from 1927. What jumped out for me was the inclusion in this issue of H.P. Lovecraft’s of The Colour Out of Space and H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. How cool is that. You can read the original publication and the entire issue can be downloaded here
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
As I have mentioned more than a few times over the years, I was a voracious reader of Ray Bradbury’s novels and short stories as a kid. So, I was excited to see that the American Writers Museum in Chicago is highlighting Ray Bradbury, perhaps best known as the author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, online and in-person, now through spring 2022. Check out the excellent introductory three-minute trailer for the exhibition featuring fellow sci-fi and fantasy authors John Scalzi, Rachel Bloom, and Maurice Broaddus below.
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I don’t remember which book that I read first, Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath, but both had a lasting effect on me and made me a John Steinbeck fan. Over the years, I think that I’ve read every novel and short story that the Nobel Prize-winning author wrote. So, I was quite surprised to read a story this week about the discovery of an unpublished horror novel by Steinbeck.
The book has been “hidden” at the University of Texas in Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, which specialized in archiving literary ephemera, especially from Nobel laureates. According to the Guardian, the book is “Set in a fictional Californian coastal town, Murder at Full Moon tells the story of a community gripped by fear after a series of gruesome murders takes place under a full moon… Investigators fear that a supernatural monster has emerged from the nearby marshes. Its characters include a cub reporter, a mysterious man who runs a local gun club and an eccentric amateur sleuth who sets out to solve the crime using techniques based on his obsession with pulp detective fiction.”
The Steinbeck estate has emphatically stated its lack of interest in its posthumous publication. Personally, I think that millions of readers who were introduced to Steinbeck through his powerful stories and moving characters in high school English classes would jump at the chance to read the horror story. Maybe Hollywood will option the book for a film ? How about a 40s style black and white thriller with 21st century special effects ?
Rooting through my image files I came across this little series of paintings by British artist and illustrator Jonathan Wolstenholme. He is widely known for his amazingly detailed works deriving from a love of old books and of the paraphernalia associated with a bygone age whose hallmarks were finely skilled labor and exquisite craftsmanship in the production of all manner of objects.
A map indicating the state of the union may
Yield the statues, static & statutes of grave
White men while a map indicating disrepair may
Yield colorful groundbreakers uprooting graves.
A map indicating the state of your affairs may
Include only the business of your accountant
If you are able to steer clear of laissez-faire—may-
Be let’s not take that road down the mountain.
A map indicating states of arousal may
Also be a map few people find useful
Though the people who feel this way may
Also be people in a state of denial.
A map indicating a state of inertia may
Be indistinguishable from a map
Indicating a state of flux. The route may
Lead you in circles around the map.
A map indicating a state-of-the-art May-
Bach may feature what could be mistaken
For peace signs or tiny wheels making
Their way across a larger map that may
Indicate a state of grace under fire or may
Indicate a state of emergency exit, a route
Which may divide at forks in the road or may
Multiply at crossroads leading you out
Into a light so bright & constant you may
Have to wear a cap & shades indoors
Like brothers who know as much about May-
Bachs as Bach pursuing cultural studies or
The mother tongue of New York, they may
Wear peace signs on their shoulders
Traveling states of aggression that may
Actually be states of preservation or
Terrance Hayes’s most recent publications include American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin (Penguin 2018) and To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (Wave, 2018). To Float In The Space Between was winner of the Poetry Foundation’s 2019 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism and a finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin won the Hurston/Wright 2019 Award for Poetry and was a finalist the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry, the 2018 TS Eliot Prize for Poetry, and the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Hayes is a Professor of English at New York University.