Ephemera Newsletter Iss Oct.1
(Creativity and Motivation Weekly)
Welcome to the Ephemera Newsletter, Raḩmaiytherin! (Dhivehi for “friends”)
Thank you to all who submitted to poetry in October and especially to our finalist, Max McDonough, who will be the poet for the month! You can review his poems altogether once they publish as well as his artist statement and bio on this dedicated post on our substack page. We thank you for checking out his work.
On to our standard content matters: Won’t you please check out last week’s issue if you missed it.
And here are some reminders:
Our letter can be cut off by emails! Please remember to click around any cut-off point and or try reading us on Substack.com or through the app.
Good Contrivance Farm Residency: Deadline Oct 31 for applications.
Call For Submissions: Reading for the November issues closes October 10 (Extended and final deadline). $200 honorarium + appear in 4 issues! If you are a paid subscriber to Ephemera, you can submit to poetry @ Ephemera for free as a membership perk! Free subscribers and anyone else can submit, too, with the reading fee and can submit up to 10 poems. Paying the reading fee will grant you 1-month paid access to Ephemera’s full letter each week. Learn more or:
In Brief…this week’s features:
Thoughts on Michael Jackson’s, “Thriller.”
Thoughts on Francis Bacon’s dread-filled and horror-esque painting.
September’s poet, Max Mcdonough and his first of four poems, “Incunabula, Mother Tongue.”
New Feature: Literary Films where we select an interesting movie we’ve seen that dramatizes the life of a writer or writers or artists, particularly we’re interested in biopics, and apropos genre selections.
This month, a biopic on Francis Bacon.
Our weekly lists:
3 magazines with open calls
3 recent job listings for editors and writers.
**No sponsor this issue: Sponsor our letter! Reach out to email@example.com to advertise with us.**
More ephemera: check out an Interesante selection on the diverse geography of place in American novels; Book Recs, bonus content, and our mini-essays to start!
Support us on Bookshop - See our past book recs and others. A highly curated list.
Merci. Danke. Kiitos. 고마워 Go-ma-wo. Cảm ơn. Xiè xiè.
Our world is a changing thing, precarious and yet predictable—as far as human timelines are concerned—steadfast in our reliance on our star, on our moon, on our spinning and, when you really look into the astrophysics, so many absurd movements and unfathomably risky and brazen maneuvers that the jumble of facts would be crushingly dreadful if all of it wasn’t so preposterous held in mind at once, and yet… And yet these fluctuations, our miserable tininess and, all things considered and despite much going for us, our fragility do cause to bubble, to boil, to brim over deep existential dread and fright from time to time, let’s say. All that swirling knowledge is in there, compacted away in the genetic know-how of our most fibrous self. And we know it. Court it. Feast on it, even. And, too, repress and deny this it of being peoples, of peopling. It’s our way to playact and externalize ourselves, something cultures aid in us doing, which is why we produce music, movies, art, and literature attuned to dread, to crises, to fear and anxiety, and make entertainment out of it, plays, co-performed rituals, fables! We love to scare ourselves and feel that burst of physiological response—some of us are junkies or live in the dread as a lifestyle choice. Goth, the change, the loss of summer warmth, the tiny dread of maybe we won’t slingshot back around the sun this time…maybe this revolving day will cease like a worn down top…maybe that cloud cover, that rain, that wind and all the elements will not let up. Seasons and celebrations are the act of externalizing our dread and inoculating ourselves against that anxiety. Horror is healthy.
“I regret the limitation of my own imagination. There’s so much more.”
Oh, and isn’t that dread such a motivator in the morning? Finish your project yet, there, writer-roo? If not, best get to scribbling lest ye be caught with incomplete work, nothing to show for your hellish time spent hunched and there-not-there mindscaping, lest that wind gale evilly, lest it freeze your digits leaving you with nubs, lest the dark gelatinous night stick so Stygian that it never relents in suffocating your sight, or by the steel-tipped beak of the raven and its myriad sickle claws your insides are made inside-out-snackable for a murder of pals… That’s right, the season waits on no body and we must Dr. Frankenstein ours into galvanized animation by whatever suffices for electricity these eerie eves. Be afraid of not finishing your work! Dreadful to sleep through your alarm. Gut wrenching to skip a session. Channel it all. Live wildly within this brash anxiety and undead yourself as need be, for your lines and characters and plots—a pinch of annihilation, a current of treachery, the din of portent filling in like a film soundtrack… Be and use horror for your art, for art’s sake. Fear like a sake bomb. For heart’s sake, however, don’t scare yourself into cowardice. Be brave. Make a practice of these dark arts. Fear and be fear, the spider and its netted prey. Oh, prithee!
Poetry by Max McDonough
Incunabula, Mother Tongue
My mother—blogger, doll addict
cyber queen, sniper
at the eBay auction computer screen—
mixed her idioms.
From the get-go, for example,
became From the gecko
when she said it. Not the sharpest
bowling ball in the shed.
He side-blinded me. Shithead thinks he’s cool
as mustard. Thinks he’s right up my sleeve.
I escaped from New Jersey
for college, which opened up a whole nother
can of germs. In emails I wrote: Professor,
I’ll have to mow it over a little longer.
Professor, without a question of a doubt.
I didn’t realize I made switches too
until I re-read them—a nervous,
first-gen scholarship student—
as I’m sure my mother didn’t think
she’d altered anything
in her life. But that’s a different chiasmus
for a different line of thought,
not for nights like this one, alone
and happy mostly, my heart at the peck and call,
though, of those suburban woods
of my childhood again—
the ultraviolet yellow feathers
of witch-hazel thicket, serrated
huckleberry leaves—the understory
so dense, tangled to itself, that walking
a straight line becomes
a tight circle, and my mother’s voice is mine.
Music: Thriller (Michael Jackson)
One of the greatest pop artists and also greatest music videos of all time. The full version is a 14-minute mini-movie, directed by iconic filmmaker John Landis who had just released American Werewolf in London when he took on this project with MJ, has been inducted to the National Film Register (the first music video to have received that honor) by the Library of Congress. We’ve elected to use the abridged version so as to have the music play immediately, but the full mini-movie of the song, “Thriller,” is a must see for anyone who has never. In it, Jackson and his co-creators play with anxiety, with very common concepts of fear, with how wild simply watching a scary movie can make your imagination—these physiological phenomena had their use in our evolutionary heyday, and yet they still do, out of place though they sometimes are. We do well to play in these gray areas, and Jackson’s video does this frighteningly well (snickers abound). Seriously, though, what a well-conceived foray into our dread and fear, molding the anxiety into a palatable, though still palpable, experience for the viewer to flirt with, in a way. What we mean is, a toe in the water preps you for the plunge. As stated above, playing with fear is a way to inoculate yourself, and to engage your protective senses without the evolutionarily derived risks—lions, and bears, and werewolves no longer exist near nearly all settled areas; zombies, however…
“Thriller” is a marvel. And on a creative note, it’s worth considering how it achieves what it does. It’s worth thoroughly examining the sophistication of the costuming and dancing, and light and setting. (For writers, think somber palette). Produced in what many think of as the golden age for horror movies, “Thriller” the music video nails it. And we’re encouraged by this popular form of high art. Writing can be this too. On a simple note, why can’t we employ the tenets of horror within a poem or memoir or novel and make of it the highest or campiest art we can or such as is needed to complete our task? Per usual, we see horror as—while, yes, a viable and laudable genre—a tool to make use of, its tenets and practices skills to develop. That’s one of the greatest aspects of pop music giants, such as MJ, they can make use of anything, any style, voice, dance, register there ever was and deliver it effectively in the template of their choosing, neatly packaged even, historically listenable to boot. Expertly rendered dread, zombies, fear, annihilating anxiety, and horror camp are combinations that can yield greatness. Boy, we cower, we wince.
Great article on the making of Thriller and context from Vanity Fair.
Soon: Good Contrivance Residency
Applications will open in Mid September and we will select 2 folks (i.e. 2 separate individuals) to receive a residency sponsorship (5 days at Good Contrivance Farm) and travel stipend of $200. Selectees schedule with the farm their preferred dates subject to availability. ~$1100 value. Click to learn more. (Paid subscribers will receive an early-bird submission portal at half price).
Writers Submit: 3 Magazines
A high-key Irish journal that publishes writing from around the world. They are reading work in all genres. The submission period is short and very active, we suggest sending to this very well designed journal ASAP. JUST OPENED-CLOSES OCT 31
The print and online journal is reading poetry and nf. The long standing magazine, founded in 1983, has published a huge array of writers. They are looking for good writing in general. JUST OPENED-CLOSES NOVEMBER 16
The print and online journal is reading in poetry and flash fiction for publication in the next edition. The publisher also hosts other publication opportunities throughout the year. DEADLINE ROLLING
Weekly Artist: Francis Bacon (Artist)
Each October1, we like to be reminded of the fantastical and horrific, at least in terms of art and style, which can serve many purposes, not the least of which, evaluated with consideration and reason (in so far as we’re capable), is adjacency to mortality and to existentialism which ought to yield, beyond the raw excitement of fear or affectation, a better understanding of what it means to be a body, to be alive. Maybe that’s all quite highfalutin, more than necessary to be interested in horror, though perhaps it’s useful to distinguish our interest from the mere visceral jolt of watching bad or scary things and a more integrated mind-body pursuit of visual experiences that provoke our flight response, our ire, or fear. In this light, we look at the figurative painter Francis Bacon, not to be confused with the 16th century philosopher and writer (a disambiguation that became apparent after a youth spent confusing the two). Our more recent character was, for a time, a contemporary of some of us, passing in 1992.
We’ve referenced Francis Bacon’s work in conjunction with other artists in past newsletters as he’s considered a master of figurative work that’s also horror-esque. Aspects of his paintings are unsettling in their use of shapes, geometry, and distortion of the human form. It’s surprising that work as disturbing as the Irish-born British artist's work was met with such acclaim, albeit late in his career—initially, Bacon struggled to find a subject matter that could keep his focus as well as an audience. Early in the 1930’s he received some commissions, and the work that survives shows a penchant for a dark re-imagination of the normal. He was ridiculed by The Times in his first exhibition, and rejected by the Surrealists at one point who simply stated his work was not surreal enough. Regardless, his work is often thought to have elements of expressionism, surrealism, and cubism—his latter career portraits (not shown) pay significant homage to Picasso’s work in many respects.
“One wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive—or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation…”
― Francis Bacon
It serves our purposes as writers to mention that Bacon faltered in his practice quite a bit, including a few false starts, and suffered periods of inability to create across his life. Yet in the 1950’s and ‘60’s he managed to produce a significant volume of work that brought him notoriety and interest from collectors as well as gallery exhibitors. It is said that he led a sort of tortured existence, something which manifests in his work, and certainly contributes to the conception of his paintings as dark. Too, as the two pieces of the seated pope (based on Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X) depict, his so-called desecration of a religious figure immediately penetrates through the holy precepts around religion and upends the icon turning it into something bleak, easily nightmarish. The meat hanging above the pope’s head calls upon the visceral, speaks to our most worrisome thoughts about our own mortality and how flimsy we are in our soft bodies. The face looks both menacing and pained, you can take your pick of interpretation here, victim or purveyor of terror? Bacon came of age through the second world war and lived through the ravaged blight of postwar UK and Europe, a period marked by trepidation, existential anxiety and even a sense of annihilating meaninglessness.
We’re taking stock of the patina of mist through which we view Bacon’s Head VI, this grime, or a prism of dirty light. Also the gape of the man and how the darkness erases the top half of his head. There’s a place beyond the social where the anti-social being lurks, and we’d do horribly well to take stock for our practice. How might we render darkness and dread without a visual aid? We might describe visuals. We might require several paragraphs or stanzas to convey annihilation. When you think about it, while large, powerful emotions, these are yet delicate; they might dissipate if you try after them too hard and become parody, or simply a mess. Perhaps we’ve revealed one of Bacon’s abilities in our thinking as well as how precise one must be to convey deep seeded terror. The grotesque isn’t as easy as how striking it appears.
Fantastic Biography of Bacon
Interesante: America’s Novels
— (10 min read/20 min study)
“My hope is that this map will encourage other readers to imagine all the kingdoms of America and the characters who live there, in the heart of the hearts of the country.”
Complete with interactive map, this article matches great novels with the locale of the their subject matter (non-scientifically, but to great and interesting effect). This was a really long study when we read the article. It’s a lovely sort of experience to see how diverse and widespread the subjects and geographies of America’s novels (not everything is about the cities, the New Yorks and LAs). Have some fun with this or challenge yourself to find an obscure region, even better, write about a space not yet essayed. —Read the article.
Prizes/Awards/Stipends Spring ‘23
Alice James Award $2,000 and publication for a collection of poetry. Alice James Books is a cool, reputable small press with a strong history of publication. $2k + Publication. $30 fee. DEADLINE OCTOBER 16
The Doctorow Prize awards $15,000 and publication to writers who have published at least 3 books of fiction. They are an imprint of University of Alabama Press and select prizes with a panel of judges. $15k + Pub. $25 Fee. DEADLINE NOVEMBER 1
Yale Younger Poets Prize $1,000 & publication to one author each year, alongside a residency at The James Merrill House. Hosted by Yale U., it’s the oldest annual literary award in the US. $1k + Pub + residency. $25 fee. DEADLINE NOVEMBER 15
#Friend of Ephemera:
C&R Press Prizes award $1,000 & Publication in 3 categories, Fiction, NF, & poetry. C&R has been publishing literature, 10 books a year since 2015, operating since 2005. $1k + Pub + Media Campaign. $30 fee. FINAL DEADLINE OCT 31.
Bookstore: Guides, Gifts & Classics
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Francis Bacon by Taschen:
Last Week: Music that links with Surrealism: Psychedelia
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Writing and Cinema: Biopic
With all cultural products, we recommend checking out reviews and write-ups before hand to avoid anything that might be triggering. We condone art and each individual deciding for themselves what to consume. This is a friendly public service announcement.
Poetry at Ephemera:
Good Contrivance Residency…coming soon with an early bird discount for paid subscribers:
First art image for Bacon courtesy of Tate Modern and Wikipedia’s fair use policy