Camilla Gudrova for Granta

‘Waxy’ is a short story extracted from The Doll’s Alphabet, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in February 2017, and available to read now on Granta’s website. 

My new bedroom was an old kitchen. One wall was taken up by dozens of small cupboards and drawers, a fridge, a black stove and a little brown sink with a beige hose hanging out of it like a child’s leg. The landlord told me the fridge and stove didn’t work, but they were good for storing clothes and other things. I could use the fridge as a wardrobe, she said.

It was on the fourth floor of a fat house covered in green tarpaper, and shared a hall and bathroom with another room, where a couple lived. Neither of our rooms had doors, only door frames. All the windows looking out onto the street were covered in dirty sheets, giving the impression from the outside that the house was nothing more than an empty shell with a giant’s patchwork blanket hanging on the other side.

Along with the fridge and stove, my room had a table, a stack of flimsy chairs and a couch, which I was to use as a bed.

The kitchen cupboards were painted green and the walls were papered a reddish brown, with water spots and black mould here and there that reminded me of tinned meat that has been opened and forgotten. The sink water only ran cold.

I was very relieved. As soon as I moved in, I removed the sheet covering my small window, and washed the glass with vinegar.


A few days before, a girl from my Factory said she was leaving her place, since her Man had done well on an Exam and she could afford to move, and she told me I could take it. I was desperate to find a place and another Man, but when I went to look it was no more than a curtained-off section of a gloomy room shared with two other couples. One of the Men had brown teeth and kept licking his upper lip and leering at me as I was shown around the room. All four of them shared one filthy hotplate, and the windows were covered in long, thick, mouldy purple curtains. Damp Philosophy Books were stacked everywhere. In one corner there was a mountainous pile of empty tins, like a dollhouse for vermin. The curled, hanging metal lids reminded me of the Man’s protruding tongue.

There is nothing worse than being taken advantage of by someone else’s Man. It’s always considered the woman’s fault. I knew I wouldn’t be safe there. I was very fortunate to find the kitchen room through an advertisement posted in a cafe.


October 26, 2016

Say Something Back by Denise Riley

Kate Kellaway on Denise Riley's latest collection
denise riley

Kate Kellaway explaining in the Guardian why Denise Riley’s poetry is ‘deeply necessary’: 

It sometimes seems that contemporary poetry divides into two sorts – those poems that did not need to be written and those written out of necessity. Denise Riley belongs to the second category – her writing is perfectly weighted, justifies its existence. It is impossible not to want to “say something back” to each of her poems in recognition of their outstanding quality. Her voice is strong and beautiful – an imperative in itself. But her subject is not strength – it is more that she is robust about frailty. She describes in A Part Song, the most important of her poems, the death of her adult son, Jacob – to whom, along with his sisters, the volume is dedicated.

Maybe; maybe not starts the collection on a wing and prayer – in which Riley refashions the biblical with a new take on Corinthians – I love her line about putting away “plain things for lustrous”. Although written with certainty, it is a poem about doubt, and leads naturally to A Part Song, which follows it. Here she begins by doubting song itself: “You principle of song, what are you for now.” And in song, it is the plain, not the lustrous, she craves. She dismisses the conventional lyrical solace of elegy. “I can’t get sold on reincarnating you/ As those bloody ‘gentle showers of rain’/ Or in ‘fields of ripening grain’ – ooh/ Anodyne.” Instead she wishes her son’s “lighthearted presence, be bodied forth/ Straightforwardly”.

It is a poem of several tones – but never hushed, reverent or docile. This is part of its originality. At one point, she startles with a mum’s scolding tone – painful to read – as she urges her son to be alive almost as you might tell a teenager he has had one sleepover too many and urge him to come home (death the never-over sleepover). And she complains: “But by now/ We’re bored with our unproductive love,/ And infinitely more bored by your staying dead/ Which can hardly interest you much either.”


Say Something Back is published by Picador (£9.99).


The Man Who Brought You Brexit

Sam Knight on Daniel Hannan for Guardian Long Reads

Britain’s vote to leave the EU was the grand finale of a 25-year campaign by a lonely sect of true believers. Daniel Hannan wrote the script. Another great piece of reportage by Sam Knight in the Guardian: 

Until about nine months ago, leaving the European Union was not something that sensible British politicians talked about. They hadn’t, really, since the country entered the bloc in 1973, the year that Theresa May sat her O-levels. In the intervening 43 years, as the EEC became the EU; and Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair came and went; and the Channel Tunnel was dug; and the borders spread to the east; and the euro was launched, and then foundered; our relationship with Brussels seemed, more or less, to embody a settled ambivalence towards the European continent that most British people instinctively recognised as their own. Close, but separate. In, but not integrated. Related, but not the same. We did not learn French.

And then 17 million people voted to leave. Everyone has their own explanation for why. Not all of them make sense. I found out the other day that my wife’s uncle voted for Brexit because his son is training to be a doctor, and doesn’t like Jeremy Hunt, who campaigned for remain. Victory, as they say, has many fathers. Since 23 June, a great many things have been blamed – or thanked, depending on your view – for convincing the population that staying within the European Union was hurting us. Their names are more than familiar now. Nigel Farage. Globalisation. The rightwing press. The left behind. Professional politicians. Absent politicians. The financial crisis. Boris. Migrants. Project Fear. Sunderland. In their own way, and over time, these things helped create the feeling that we were trapped in something so defective, so inimical to our interests, that our best hope was to climb through a high window, and out.

But you don’t get to Brexit without someone dreaming up the window – the remedy of leaving – in the first place. And during those long years inside the European project, that was the work of the right wing of the Conservative party. To be specific, a small, somewhat esoteric part of that wing: a flash of feathers, almost, a sect of true Eurosceptic believers who dreamed and schemed for this moment for the last 25 years. Most worked for little else, with no reward, and with no sign that they would ever prevail. “Like the monks on Iona,” as one of their former parliamentary researchers told me, “illuminating their manuscripts and waiting for the Dark Ages to come to an end.”

But you don’t get to Brexit without someone dreaming up the window – the remedy of leaving – in the first place. And during those long years inside the European project, that was the work of the right wing of the Conservative party. To be specific, a small, somewhat esoteric part of that wing: a flash of feathers, almost, a sect of true Eurosceptic believers who dreamed and schemed for this moment for the last 25 years. Most worked for little else, with no reward, and with no sign that they would ever prevail. “Like the monks on Iona,” as one of their former parliamentary researchers told me, “illuminating their manuscripts and waiting for the Dark Ages to come to an end.”

And no one in that group worked with more devotion than Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European parliament for south-east England. Hannan, who is 45, is by no ordinary measure a front-rank British politician. He has never been an MP, or a minister, or a mayor. Instead, since the age of 19, he has fought for what he calls British independence – fomenting, protesting, strategising, undermining, writing books, writing speeches and then delivering them without notes. For the last 17 years, Hannan, a spry, fastidious figure, who likes to read Shakespeare once a week, has done this mainly from the other side of the English Channel. He knows what it is to toil for a lost cause. “Here I am, Ishmael,” he told me recently, in his office at the European parliament in Strasbourg, invoking the Old Testament as he gestured around him. “Every man’s hand is against me.”


Ben Lerner at the RCA

10 October, 18.30-20.00

Monday 10 October, 18.30-20.00
RCA, Kensington Gore, SW7 2EU, Lecture Theatre 1

At 18.30 on Monday 10 October, Hatred of Poetry author Ben Lerner makes a rare London appearance at the Royal College of Art’s Kensington campus alongside Emily LaBarge, Holly Pester and Heather Phillipson, in a panel discussion moderated by Brian Dillon. The talk, hosted by the RCA’s Critical Writing in Art & Design programme at the RCA, will focus on the relations between poetry, visual art and criticism.

The event is free but RSVP to info@fitzcarraldoeditions.com is essential – there will be a list on the door.


Brian Dillon is UK editor of Cabinet and teaches critical writing at the Royal College of Art, London. His books include The Great Explosion (2015), Objects in This Mirror: Essays (2014), I Am Sitting in a Room (2012), and The Hypochondriacs (2010). He writes regularly for Artforum, frieze, the Guardian, and the London Review of Books. He is working on a book about essays and essayists to be published in 2017.

Emily LaBarge is a writer and researcher based in London. She has a PhD from the RCA, where she is currently Visiting Lecturer. She contributes to esse arts + opinions, Cambridge Humanities Review, The Photographers’ Gallery and Border Crossings. Her current research examines the language of anxiety in contemporary literature. Forthcoming work includes essays on Sylvia Plath, and Throbbing Gristle’s ex-studio — ‘The Death Factory’.

Ben Lerner was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright, Guggenheim, and MacArthur Foundations, and is the author of two internationally acclaimed novels, Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04. He has published three poetry collections: The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. Lerner is a professor of English at Brooklyn College.

Holly Pester is a poet and multidisciplinary writer. She has worked as an archivist, lecturer and practice-based researcher with readings, performances and sound installations featuring at Segue, New York, dOCUMENTA 13, Whitechapel Gallery, and the Serpentine Galleries. She teaches courses on Oulipo and Poetic Practice at the University of Essex. Her poetry collection Go to reception and ask for sara in red felt tip was published by Book Words in 2015.

Heather Phillipson works across video, sculpture, drawing, music, text and live events. Solo projects in 2016 include the Whitechapel Gallery, London; Frieze Projects New York; Images Festival Toronto; 32nd São Paolo Biennale; and a major new commission for the Arts Council Collection’s 70th Anniversary. Recent solo projects include Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, the 14th Istanbul Biennial, Performa New York, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Opening Times (otdac.org) (all 2015), Bunker259, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Serpentine Galleries (all 2014) and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (2013). Phillipson is also an award-winning poet and has published three volumes of poetry: a pamphlet with Faber & Faber in 2009; NOT AN ESSAY (Penned in the Margins, 2012); and Instant-flex 718 (Bloodaxe, 2013), which was shortlisted for the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. She was named a Next Generation Poet in 2014 and received Poetry magazine’s Friends of Literature prize in 2016. She has been shortlisted for the Film London Jarman Awards 2016.

Part-time Publishing Assistant (3 days a week)

Deadline for applications: 26 September 2016
Fitzcarraldo Editions

Fitzcarraldo Editions is looking for a part-time (3 days a week) publishing assistant. Providing support to Fitzcarraldo Editions’ publisher, the publishing assistant will be involved in every aspect of the publishing process, including editorial, production, publicity, marketing, foreign rights, and general office administration. The position will suit someone able to work as part of a small team but also willing to use their initiative and work on their own. Experience in publishing is desirable but not required. Attention to detail is essential. Knowledge of a foreign language is a plus. To apply, please send your CV and cover letter to info@fitzcarraldoeditions.com by 26 September 2016. Interviews will be held soon afterwards. Salary on application.

Things That Didn’t Happen

Sarah Moss for Granta

‘Things That Didn’t Happen’ is a short story extracted from Sarah Moss’ new book, The Tidal Zone, published by Granta and available to read on their magazine website:

Once upon a time, a woman and her husband lay together, and the man’s seed navigated the hollows and chambers of his wife’s body until it came home. Cells began to divide and re-form, as they do, and something new was made. As the weeks went by and the woman began to feel odd and sick, the new thing took shape: a comma, a tadpole, eventually the bud of a brain and a spinal column. Suddenly, in the shallow darkness of a summer night, a heart completed itself and began its iambic beat. The heart beat while the new thing grew a head and arms and legs, while it began to flutter and then to turn in the seas of the woman’s womb. For a long time the creature floated free, tumbling and kicking, learning to listen to the rumble of voices, to dance to music coming from the bright world beyond. When the woman swam, letting the water carry her swelling body, the growing being drifted and spun within her. When she walked the small thing was lulled by the percussion of her footsteps and the constant thrum of her heartbeat against its own, the engine of the ship bearing it on. But as winter passed and the sun strengthened on the ground where the woman walked, as the snowdrops and then the daffodils pushed through the earth and began to open apple-white and yolk-yellow, the creature found itself cramped. The walls of the womb seemed to close on its arms and legs, to wrap even its ribs and behind, and soon the being was pushed down, its head held in the woman’s bones and its hands and feet gathered in. The woman no longer swam. She walked less than she had, and she and the little stranger began to be sore and cross. At last, one bright April morning when white clouds drifted high in a blue sky and leaf-buds beaded the tired grey trees, it was time for the woman and the new thing to part, a painful work that took many hours, into the cold night and through the next morning, which the woman and her husband did not see because they were in a room with no windows, awaiting the child’s birth. The heart had been working for months now and it kept going, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but always beating the same rhythm. Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. When the child was born there came the ordinary miracle of breathing, that terrible moment when we are cast off from our mother and from her oxygenated blood, when we have never taken a breath and may not know how to do so, the caesura in the delivery room. She breathed. The music of heart and lungs began, and continued, and no-one listened any more.


The Satoshi Affair

Andrew O'Hagan for the London Review of Books

Writing for the London Review of Books, here’s the beginning of Andrew O’Hagan’s fascinating profile of events and personas that unpacks the myth of Satoshi Nakamoto:

Ten men raided a house in Gordon, a north shore suburb of Sydney, at 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 December 2015. Some of the federal agents wore shirts that said ‘Computer Forensics’; one carried a search warrant issued under the Australian Crimes Act 1914. They were looking for a man named Craig Steven Wright, who lived with his wife, Ramona, at 43 St Johns Avenue. The warrant was issued at the behest of the Australian Taxation Office. Wright, a computer scientist and businessman, headed a group of companies associated with cryptocurrency and online security. As one set of agents scoured his kitchen cupboards and emptied out his garage, another entered his main company headquarters at 32 Delhi Road in North Ryde. They were looking for ‘originals or copies’ of material held on hard drives and computers; they wanted bank statements, mobile phone records, research papers and photographs. The warrant listed dozens of companies whose papers were to be scrutinised, and 32 individuals, some with alternative names, or alternative spellings. The name ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ appeared sixth from the bottom of the list.

Some of the neighbours say the Wrights were a little distant. She was friendly but he was weird – to one neighbour he was ‘Cold-Shoulder Craig’ – and their landlord wondered why they needed so much extra power: Wright had what appeared to be a whole room full of generators at the back of the property. This fed a rack of computers that he called his ‘toys’, but the real computer, on which he’d spent a lot of money, was nearly nine thousand miles away in Panama. He had already taken the computers away the day before the raid. A reporter had turned up at the house and Wright, alarmed, had phoned Stefan, the man advising them on what he and Ramona were calling ‘the deal’. Stefan immediately moved Wright and his wife into a luxury apartment at the Meriton World Tower in Sydney. They’d soon be moving to England anyway, and all parties agreed it was best to hide out for now.

At 32 Delhi Road, the palm trees were throwing summer shade onto the concrete walkways – ‘Tailor Made Office Solutions’, it said on a nearby billboard – and people were drinking coffee in Deli 32 on the ground floor. Wright’s office on level five was painted red, and looked down on the Macquarie Park Cemetery, known as a place of calm for the living as much as the dead. No one was sure what to do when the police entered. The staff were gathered in the middle of the room and told by the officers not to go near their computers or use their phones. ‘I tried to intervene,’ one senior staff member, a Dane called Allan Pedersen, remarked later, ‘and said we would have to call our lawyers.’

Ramona wasn’t keen to tell her family what was happening. The reporters were sniffing at a strange story – a story too complicated for her to explain – so she just told everyone that damp in the Gordon house had forced them to move out. The place they moved into, a tall apartment building, was right in the city and Wright felt as if he was on holiday. On 9 December, after their first night in the new apartment, Wright woke up to the news that two articles, one on the technology site Gizmodo, the other in the tech magazine Wired, had come out overnight fingering him as the person behind the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, who in 2008 published a white paper describing a ‘peer-to-peer electronic cash system’ – a technology Satoshi went on to develop as bitcoin. Reading the articles on his laptop, Wright knew his old life was over.

By this point, cameras and reporters were outside his former home and his office. They had long heard rumours, but the Gizmodo and Wired stories had sent the Australian media into a frenzy. It wasn’t clear why the police and the articles had appeared on the same day. At about five that same afternoon, a receptionist called from the lobby of Wright’s apartment building to say that the police had arrived. Ramona turned to Wright and told him to get the hell out. He looked at a desk in front of the window: there were two large laptop computers on it – they weighed a few kilos each, with 64 gigabytes of RAM – and he grabbed the one that wasn’t yet fully encrypted. He also took Ramona’s phone, which wasn’t encrypted either, and headed for the door. They were on the 63rd floor. It occurred to him that the police might be coming up in the elevator, so he went down to the 61st floor, where there were office suites and a swimming pool. He stood frozen for a minute before he realised he’d rushed out without his passport.


A Mind of Winter

Charlie Fox for Cabinet Magazine

(In time for the Summer Solstice) Charlie Fox, writing for Cabinet Magazine, on snow and snowmen of general and literary snowy-ness:

Consider an author, alone in the snow. Vladimir Nabokov has frozen still, caught out between the past and present as he drifts back into the memory of a childhood winter, its distant sleigh bells ringing in his ears. “What am I doing in this stereoscopic dreamland?” he asks. “How did I get here?” Suddenly no longer the small child with the puppyish gaze who spent “snow-muffled rides” hallucinating a role in “all the famous duels a Russian boy knew so well” but the impish old man of writerly legend, he rediscovers himself aged in his New England exile. (He and Vera have not yet left America to live at the foot of the snow-capped Alps in Montreux.) The memories are immaterial; “the snow is real, though, and as I bend to it and scoop up a handful, sixty years crumble to glittering frost-dust between my fingers.” So much is condensed in this handful of snow, now solid, now melting: a whole collection of memories and wonders. But what is the material supposed to mean? Perhaps you have to develop what Wallace Stevens calls, at the start of his poem “The Snow Man” (1921), “a mind of winter” to know. Snow, like so many other materials, keeps its own special area in our thinking, and has its own blizzard of effects on our minds.

A more depressive survey than my own might be occupied by sketching out the imaginary equivalent of the Arctic across these pages. Indeed, snow’s richest metaphorical potential probably lies in its capacity to accurately map states of mental desolation, ranging from inertia to catatonia, through its exquisite blankness. But turn away from this icy eloquence and there are many other properties to be found, a full arc of thinking that curves from the trashy to the numinous. Snow coats reality in a fresh layer of strangeness. The psychological territory it occupies is vast and shape-shifting—if snow sends Nabokov into an elegiac mood, it can also account for great flurries of joy. The most logical response might be simply to play with it, following the thoughts that swirl through the mind as it responds to your attention.

Bob Eckstein’s book The History of the Snowman (2007) is intended as a festive novelty, a goofy stocking filler, but examined with monomaniacal attentiveness over a dismal summer, it seems more like a thorough and eccentric work of anthropology: “The biggest niche in snowman retail is … the artificial snowman industry. Plastic, Styrofoam, glass, wood, wool, silk, ceramic, Lenox, wax, rubber … white chocolate, marshmallow, singing, dancing, lit up, blown up, hung up, strung out.” Eckstein’s manic and materially various catalogue indicates the supernatural versatility of artificial snow, but also illuminates the discreet oddity of the snowman himself, a creature at once cuddly and cold. There’s a touch of cruel fairytale transformation—the fat man turned into a winter vagabond—lurking at the heart of these homemade sculptures as they cannily freeze the body, repurposing a carrot into a nose and coal into eyes. But this ingenuity with humdrum domestic stuff also supplies the snowman with a weird indigent charm, as if he were a jolly hobo paying a yuletide visit. He is a figure of fun, but you might wonder exactly what he represents for the family inside the house. A happy mascot with a balloon physique, the snowman keeps watch over the outside world. He might be a parody of the father or of all fathers and the gloom they supposedly exude, especially in Victoriana (cold, heartless, at some definitive remove from the orbit of the house), or a thrifty homage to an elder, signified by cozy but archaic accoutrements like the muffler and the pipe. The snowman could be an avuncular totem pole.


The Hatred of Poetry

by Ben Lerner

Today is the publication day of the fifteenth book from Fitzcarraldo Editions: Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry. Buy the book from our website and read the first few pages of this essay below.

In ninth grade English, Mrs. X required us to memorize and recite a poem, so I went and asked the Topeka High librarian to direct me to the shortest poem she knew, and she suggested Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” which, in the 1967 version, reads in its entirety:

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

I remember thinking my classmates were suckers for having mainly memorized Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet, whereas I had only to recite twenty-four words. Never mind the fact that a set rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter make fourteen of Shakespeare’s lines easier to memorize than Moore’s three, each one of which is interrupted by a conjunctive adverb—a parallelism of awkwardness that basically serves as its form. That, plus the four instances of “it,” makes Moore sound like a priest begrudgingly admitting that sex has its function while trying to avoid using the word, an effect amplified by the deliberately clumsy enjambment of the second line and the third (“in / it”). In fact, “Poetry” is a very difficult poem to commit to memory, as I demonstrated by failing to get it right each of the three chances I was given by Mrs. X, who was looking down at the text, my classmates cracking up.

My contempt for the assignment was, after all, imperfect. Even now I routinely misquote the second sentence; I just Googled the poem and had to correct what I typed out above, but who could forget the first? I, too, dislike ithas been on repeat in my head since 1993; when I open a laptop to write or a book to read: I, too, dislike it echoes in my inner ear. When a poet is being introduced (including myself) at a reading, whatever else I hear, I hear: I, too, dislike it. When I teach, I basically hum it. When somebody tells me, as so many people have told me, that they don’t get poetry in general or my poetry in particular and/or believe that poetry is dead: I, too, dislike it. Sometimes this refrain has the feel of negative rumination and sometimes a kind of manic, mantric affirmation, as close as I get to unceasing prayer.

“Poetry”: What kind of art assumes the dislike of its audience and what kind of artist aligns herself with that dislike, even encourages it? An art hated from without and within. What kind of art has as a condition of its possibility a perfect contempt? And then, even reading contemptuously, you don’t achieve the genuine. You can only clear a place for it—you still don’t encounter the actual poem, the genuine article. Every few years an essay appears in a mainstream periodical denouncing poetry or proclaiming its death, usually blaming existing poets for the relative marginalization of the art, and then the defenses light up the blogosphere before the culture, if we can call it a culture, turns its attention, if we can call it attention, back to the future. But why don’t we ask: What kind of art is defined—has been defined for millennia—by such a rhythm of denunciation and defense? Many more people agree they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it, and have largely organized my life around it (albeit with far less discipline and skill than Marianne Moore) and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are for me—and maybe for you—inextricable.


Fitz Carraldo Editions