Tag Archives: Kirk Marshall

Vox: Kirk Marshall

6 Dec

Here’s how I choose to argue the incommensurably debatable, incommunicably topical conundrum as to whether the emergence of e-publishing signifies the “demise” of print publishing (which I’m certain we’re all resolved to agree wouldn’t be an especially dignified or auspiciously indemnified death, but would probably involve blood, entail entrails, command carnage, inspire violence): I’m forever resigned to envision an alternative world, a feasible future, a caricatured grotesquery of reality populating some Philip K. Dick short-story, in which these sorts of speculative arguments collapse into one another like farts in an echo chamber. It’s not that the praxis of publishing, nor discussion, debate, hyperbole, hypothesis or even a literary soliloquy addressing the fate of formats is devoid of value – it’s not a question of intellectual economics, it’s a question of whether a rampant concatenation of contentions from writers and editors can constitute anything short of pretentious – but after the months of monotone dialogue that any individual invested in literature must endure when conversation about the future of publishing abounds, I’m left feeling somewhat devoid of a voice. Let me tell you a story as to why this is the case – as to why all vacillating views on the evolution of publishing might not even be valid. A few years back, when I was younger and more adventurous but no less handsome, I relinquished ongoing employment as a full-time teacher in Tokyo, Japan, and returned to Brisbane, Queensland, to work for minimum wage and free felafels in an Australian performing arts bookstore, which was sequestered below street-level and kept in a state of reasonable disarray where cats seemed to always spawn from between the floorboards. The bookshop will have to remain unattributed, but I’m comfortable enough to disclose the personal tyrannies of the shop’s pyrrhic inhabitants, and specifically those of my boss, a piratical sycophant with the heart of a giant aardvark. A kind of Zarathustrian übermensch who assumed the disquieting physical status of Hemmingway, equipped with the faculties of an elegant like Laurence Olivier and the facial hair of the Brothers ZZ Top, my boss was a fantastical misanthrope who would smoke Toscani cigars at the counter, swill cask wine from the only clean highball he claimed to possess, and swear at his customers if they asked him to locate a book by ISBN. I distinctly recall one torrid afternoon when, an hour before I would close shop, he arose storming from his back-office to explain to everyone currently occupying his establishment that they were all “cunts” and if he had a gun on premises, “browsing might become fun for everybody”. He was constantly amazed that his bookstore continued to attract patrons at all, but such an emotion manifested itself as a Gordian knot within his sheer interior, because he loathed the idea of transacting business – my boss was an avowed Communist, and often quoted aloud from The Communist Manifesto – and yet feared falling into bankruptcy by resisting to sell his wares. He was a gregarious ex-emeritus professor of Literature and Philosophy who had, for decades, engaged in combat with the “coterie of academic fucks” occupying Queensland’s pre-eminent tertiary institution, and had retreated into a tiny life of bookselling, daytime drunkenness and month-long heart attacks. On one profound occasion, he cornered me in the store during business hours to extol the pleasures of eating marijuana by the leaf, which he advised “was an elevator to the stars”. During my three-month stint as bookstore assistant, dogsbody, and infrequent fire warden, my boss paid me cash-in-hand from the same teapot he used to brew tea. He retained a corkboard honour wall with almost obsessive focus, which he decorated and scrapbooked with the many faultlessly eloquent civic complaints that he had published in the city newspaper. He chased me around the store chanting C.J. Dennis’s The Glugs of Gosh in an attempt to dismantle the mechanics of freeform verse, and when I found myself stonewalled between two shelves of children’s books, shaken and with no salvation in sight, I could do little else but succumb to song:

“Begone, red Devil!” I made reply.

“Parch shall these lips of mine,

And my tongue shall shrink, and my throat go dry,

Ere ever I taste your wine!”

What I am revealing here, perhaps for the first time, is that I loved the man: he was of angelic muscle, and his lust for life was violent and infectious. I harbour not a single reservation when I confess that, despite occupying only a crazy three-month ellipsis in my life prior to my move to Melbourne, he persists in my memory as a favourite boss. Perhaps the most significant disclosure in context to our discussion of e-publishing, however, is that the man was a rampant champion of technology: he preferred to populate his days by playing Space Invaders in preference to consolidating stock via Thorpe-Bowker’s Booknet, and found it appropriate to demythologise the 3D motion-capture rendering of Angelina Jolie’s Scandinavian porn-Gorgon in Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf, insisting that a perfect world would be one in which we all participated in suitmation by wearing svelte spandex, to transubstantiate our flesh for pixels, our dicks for vectors. He took me aside one morning and confided that he was dying from heart disease, and that the bookstore was no longer commercially viable – I think we both laughed at this juncture – and that he would have to liquidate his assets. His speech wasn’t entirely lucid, now dislocated of his common bombast so that appeared small before me, a man of vast shoulders but small dividends. He kept mopping his face with the palm of his hand – it was a fact that we were seized by a Queensland summer, but it wasn’t the sort to squeeze from between your pores – and I discerned the image of a defeated lion at the threshold to our store, as he turned his back to me and gazed accusingly at the street. “One day soon, you won’t find a single fucking book on a shelf,” he muttered, his eyes squinting through the shopfront glass, a tornado whistling through his septum. “I’m not assuming the role of a doomsday prophet here, either. A book will either be electric, pure thought, reduced to an electronically-calibrated text document that people download, read, discard, pirate precisely like gaming shareware – or it will be a kitsch hardcopy print-object that is purchased via the internet, from behind the colophon of an online bookstore and from inside a cardboard box secreted beneath a web developer’s bedroom mattress. It will be both these things, and neither will come to occlude or cannibalise the other. I’m looking right square at the future,” he rumbled, the musculature in his neck summoning up visions of dinosaur flesh thrashing through gingko canopies. “I’m standing right at the brink here, Kirk, we both are, and this is the future. Books will be two things, and they will be the same thing, and people will again convey their monstrous ignorance by arbitrating false values that one of these things is superior to the other. But it won’t matter. Because booksellers will become new again. It’ll be like we’re finally all lycra-clad performers in a collective act of suitmation. We’ll forego these physical ramparts for pixels, and we won’t have to invest a flying fuck in the worries of pundits or patrons. Literature is gonna invade cyberspace, and people like you and me who it’s slowly killing might be able to retire, happy, fresh cannabis in our mouths. They’ll set us all on pyres to Valhalla, set upon the rafts with torches, and we’ll ebb out into the wine-dark brink, words crackling between fibre-optic cables within our earshot like a dying applause.” He turned to me then, and regarded me with eyes that were dry and full of sorrow for a day he would not greet. “No-one will ever say that I mattered. That’s the very point. If there’s words swarming behind computer screens or between covers in days to come, I wouldn’t want to matter. The words will be king, and we’ll all have won. Not a single cunt will interrupt our tea-breaks ever again.” At the doorway, his body spangling against the daylight, his shadow cast the store in a hue I don’t even think it’s important to debate.

Evergrey (Kirk Marshall)

17 Feb

There is a tree; the squirrels know this. You could professionally train a red-kneed bird-eating spider to locate it by scent, but still the bulbous globe of the huntress would emerge the other side of the wood, scattered and baffled. It’s a blue tree, with a congregation of foliage that sounds like the world’s loneliest letters-to-the-editor when the wind swifts by.

I call it Evergrey. There are real facts, like love and summer and Warren Beatty and crimson. These are some things; there are others, too. What I like about Evergrey is that it only attracts real facts. It is the opposite of a person in this way: it possesses no need for the inhalation of fiction.

I remember a girl; she was something. A real fact, a beatific crimson, a summer love. My feet have never been extremities to profess to the transubstantiating prowess of my intellect: I can walk no better nor more impressively than I can remember scents. This girl had a perfume about her, but all I remember from my instances with her is the deliberate story of my feet, which is a terrible vacancy, and I have to wonder what has engineered us all to be so talented at loss? When I was young I would amuse myself by harbouring a belief that each blade of grass was like a blind man aching to caress something real, touch a sole or shoe the way a hand plunges through water to ensnare a fish. I have seen this on television; I know how it is done. This girl was like the grass, which is to say I refused capture or navigated my feet all over her geography.

Bodies retreat beneath spontaneous intimacy: a kiss is a knife, after all, and it severs resentment from a smiting fist. She looked gentle; she wore a red jersey, mine, over naked shoulders. I have always hated algebra, and she threatened to thwart this, my eyes finally recognising the hidden constant. A mathematical smile: I say this because it was incalculable. She claimed to know a tree-herder, someone who reared larch and beechwood, and he was apparently an old man with damp eyes with a riverboat not far from the left bank of Everygrey Lake. There was no such man, and the body of water to which I refer remains anonymous.

An unnamed mirror, black like a comet’s underbelly. She was my Evergrey Lake. I chased her to the tree once. That is to say, I begged her for a kiss and she ran away. Her laughter was a thing to summon. It was a convertible through winter rain. When I transferred my tongue for hers, I came away indebted. Allow me to explain: she seized ownership of my private life, by reaching through the summit of me, beneath the sediment, where the worms trembled and convulsed. She found something approximate to fertile, at least I thought so, because a shoot began budding and coiling within my chest, my own little simulation of the Evergrey tree. There was nothing quite so exact as her hair; now I am equipped the foresight to discern that my observation was only romantic folly. Her hair was no different from decayed coral, but I did not realise this for a long time because my eyes are sensitive to the sun. For all it’s worth, I thought there was no material so lustrous.

When I joined her beneath the pollen-shaggy canopy, my hands would congregate around her jeans: these were blue; her Levis, and not my hands.

I can’t tell you how kinetic a sensation it was to fan my palm over these jeans: it wasn’t that these skin-intimate tubular accessories alluded to the indefatigable plunder of her legs, which shone like the surfaces of night dolphins emerging through surf, but because of what they physically manifested. I wasn’t so intent on the sublime arrangement of the female form which these jeans denied me, but the brazen-blazered blue fabric hugging her pelvis, itself, the same way an ice-cream flavour arouses the ache of hunger because of the tongue navigating its sweet, frozen dome. You want that ice-cream almost as much as you crave that tongue; this is what it was for me to witness the girl gyrating about in her Levis. There is a narratological reference offered by a structuralist theoretician regarding signification, which argues that a pipe and the illustration of the same pipe are different things. When I think of her jeans, and later draw these, I cannot pursue the theoretician’s point: they are exactly the same thing, and this thing is all about sex and not the territory of language. I mean the visceral act, the practice, and not the sociolinguistic theory that assesses it: sex is something that occurs off the page, for words cannot seek to supplement the pleasure with their feeble phonetic preoccupations. I will only say that the girl made my testicles ache. But isn’t this a fact of uneducated love?

Her body was something to draw clichés from the soil like a mouth sucking poison. It was black like a terrible victory, marbled black like the aperture of a gun.

My red jersey collapsed around her shoulders, and she looked significant, glamorous. Vanity provoked me to scale the Evergrey to demonstrate my prowess as both a lover and an athlete. I clambered up the peril-brindled trunk, accelerating over the conifer’s spiny flesh with the brutalised pads of my feet. Some days I recall looking down at the girl and capturing a smile of warm chastisement, and an upwelling of magnificent brown breasts; other days I know this is a mythology which I have grafted onto the memory to retain some retrospective grace.

What I know is that as I ascended the thicket of branches, inhaling purple thistle and vaulting between the Evergrey’s violent intersection of limbs I looked out from my post and viewed the viscid, bright contour of green sky and saw a distant figure escorting ripples in their turbid thousands through the surface of Evergrey Lake. I climbed higher to secure a better post, and squinted through the microcosm of aspidistra-spores describing their lazy ballet around my warring eyes. I visored my brow with a palm, and struggled higher so that my view was unimpeded, installed with a new capacity for geometry, so that I could spy on the silhouette of the swimmer far beyond the base of the Evergrey.

I chewed the inside of my cheek, and hissed to the girl: “There’s someone naked in the lake, away from the other side of the wood. There’s someone fucking naked, I swear.” She rewarded me no response, so I scaled to the tree’s apex, where the branches were so few that the lack of traction seized me in a vertiginous fear. The swimmer looked up at me then, and I knew who it was.

I fell from the Evergrey and sailed into the afternoon, raging through branches that cut me like adultery. I woke to find myself covered in blood, and with a damp-eyed tree-herder angled over me, his mouth tiny with horror, whispering: “I remember you. You were at the lake when that girl died all those years ago?”

Brow by Brow – Ronnie Scott (Interviewed by Kirk Marshall)

9 Oct

Kirk Marshall: Over the years, The Lifted Brow has come to self-ascribe its format as that of a “bi-annual attack journal”. What’s the plan of attack? If there’s a manifesto for what you’re striving to accomplish, what’s its immediate thesis?

Ronnie Scott: The Brow is just called an attack journal because I don’t really like the term “journal” by itself — we’re not a publication for writers of literature, but rather for readers — and while I do like “magazine” a lot, people unfamiliar with the Brow who come to a launch show or something will initially look very uncomfortable when you tell them it’s a $25 magazine and then when they see it, they’ll say something like “Well, it’s more of a book, really, isn’t it!” Whereas this is the first time I have actually been asked why it’s called an attack journal.

I’ve come up with an embarrassing number of attack plans since the Brow’s inception, none of which I tend to care about by the time the following issue rolls around, so that is why it’s embarrassing. The very first Brow was designlessly filled with text because in Brisbane, in 2006, there happened to be a few literary magazines around that fell short of content after issue one and folded after a half-life of second and third photo spread-type issues. That’s not at all important anymore. There are things that are important to me, obviously. I have lots of special opinions! But if there’s a central thesis for the Brow that might potentially matter to other people, it’s that there are writers, artists, and aesthetics in Australia that aren’t published or paid enough to really get the chance to develop. I’ve heard people say that there are only 1,000 people in Australia who will ever buy a lit. journal, and the problem is that you’re competing with thirty magazines for that one, tiny audience. But the truth is, there are all these different markets of readers whom it is possible to access. Our sales don’t take sales from other lit. journals I don’t think. It’s just the “this, and also this”. So the “attack” idea – it’s not about attacking what is currently out there, it’s just that there is also room for other stuff.

KM: So, in effect, The Lifted Brow appeals to a market of literate readers within this country – in addition to further afield, because I, like many others, are aware of the prominent spike in popularity the journal has galvanised in places like the US and Canada, deriving from the success of your fourth issue onwards – that would be otherwise neglected by Australian journals. What’s your understanding of the literary community in Australia, when it pertains specifically to the publishers of journals? It seems evident, as you point out, that there are thirty magazines intent on competing for the same phantom readership – an entirely theoretical demographic – but this also seems to presuppose that the content generally offered to the public is therefore determined by a hypothetical. The Brow, on the other hand, is furious in its endeavour to explore & showcase new themes, forms and genres of writing. What’s your opinion on the substance of content offered by other journals, and do you think the success of the Brow demonstrates that the editorial values of these journals are no longer valid?

RS: No way, because there is so much to like in other Australian magazines. One of my favourite Australian essays ever was published in HEAT, a thing by Saskia Beudel about becoming trapped in a cave in the Northern Territory. The thing I’d improve about most of the big guys is for them to publish better fiction. The New Yorker’s fiction department publishes high-quality conservativeish fiction, but in Australia, we don’t have as much fiction to choose from full stop, which I think is due to population. So to me, the result of selecting fiction that appeals to a biggish number of people is often that these magazines will choose fiction that feels bland. It’s hard to find very high-quality fiction in Australia on a regular basis, so I’d rather publish something that fails with personality and aplomb. On the other hand, what these guys have in droves is top-quality essay, and that’s something for which you need a bigger budget than I have. My perfect magazine would be a mix of idiosyncratic fiction and extremely well-researched and well-reported essay. It’s not that we don’t publish idiosyncratic fiction in Australia — your magazine, Red Leaves, does it, and I attempt to with the Brow, so people who want it can definitely find it. Good. But as a reader, I’d like to either publish top-quality essay in my own magazine or read idiosyncratic fiction in one which also contains that. The other thing to remember is that in Australia, there are lots of magazines that are not reader-focused — something like Voiceworks or Wet Ink has the purpose of creating a home for writers, which is important, but is a different thing than what the Brow does.

KM: I agree with you that Australia has recently become, if not has historically long established itself as, a national proponent of sophisticated, rigorously-researched reportage (and you only have to look to a top-quality periodical like The Monthly, despite its occasionally too-evident conservative political inclinations, as an indicator for journalistic substance in this country). Recently, the essay format – whether that manifests itself as nuanced academic analysis bolstered by exacting research, or as creative non-fiction with the intention to function as a personal disclosure  – seems to have foregrounded itself more than ever under the stewardship of certain literary editors. And I think it’s not overstating reality to suggest that the Brow excels as a showcase for varying modes and genres of writing because the journal, by your industrious editorial bent, favours the model in which a literary publication frees itself of “specialising” in content. You’re an omnivorous reader, and your literary predispositions assert themselves in the content you incorporate into the magazine. What do you feel about the narratological argument that a literary journal should be less like a miscellany and “more” like an anthology: that it should solely publish fiction, for example? You also suggest that the present-day Australian literary community lacks the means to produce consistently excellent short fiction the way in which populations within the US are capable – do you therefore think it’s unproblematic, if not necessary, for journals like Chris Flynn’s home-grown quarterly, Torpedo, to source and solicit material from overseas to supplement Australian content?

RS: To be honest, I’ve never heard the narratological argument that a literary journal should solely publish fiction. I also don’t see how it could possibly be problematic that Torpedo solicited overseas material. I guess what I was saying earlier is that I don’t really care what other literary magazines do, don’t do, should do. Many of them do really interesting things. The Brow is fun because I sell enough copies to make back our expenses (other than the “expense” of the time I spend creating a thing I have fun doing), to usually pay the contributors a little bit of money, and to sustain my feeling that people are reading what I enjoy publishing. If I start to think about what journals should and shouldn’t do for too long, it feels kind of toxic to the soul. Is anybody literally upset that Chris is publishing overseas writers? Really? Why?

KM: Though I won’t claim to have instigated this with an auspicious stratagem in mind, I have to concede, for my part, that in the course of this interview I’ve been consciously striving to direct attention towards the divisive nature of literary publishing. More specifically, that editors often initiate a project like an independent magazine almost with a feeling of purity – uncompromised creative ambition deriving from a dogged passion to fill an existing gulf in the market – but then so frequently gauge the success of their own creative enterprise by sacralizing their journal at the expense of others. And I think the community with whom we engage and with which we interact, though providing us with likeminded company in our artistic endeavours, does knowingly foster this discourse of systematically outstripping one another because there needs to be some objective of accomplishment which is only attained through success to justify our editorial efforts. Whereas what you’ve vocally illustrated above is that, with the Brow, you consciously avoid having to buy into the culture of bullshit: each successive issue of TLB seems to be less influenced or determined by the curatorial predilections of any other local magazine. So let’s zone in on the concept of personality, because I feel that’s integral to a transparent discussion of the integrity of your magazine. How much of TLB is Ronnie Scott? A great many independent publications can seamlessly transfer from the hands of a founding editor to those of a fledgling fresh out of grad school, without appearing to deplete the stock, the significance, the ethos of the original. You mentioned the disparity of being paid for your diligence. If someone with persuasive hand gestures offered you the opportunity to jettison the Brow for sweet cash, would you? Or do you have an end-game for the magazine that you’re one day anticipating to reveal to us all?

RS: Well, I’m kind of tinkering around with the idea of guest editors, because I can easily misthink things and print stuff that doesn’t work very well. Like, the penis illustrations in the current issue are the result of my thinking it would be dumb and funny to print some penis illustrations, whereas what it really means, practically, is that I put off sending my parents their copy for as long as I can. But, no, I wouldn’t sell the Brow, and I wouldn’t pass it on to somebody else, even if you overcame the excellent question of seriously who would want it. But bringing in other ideas is good! There is a great guy named Mark Free who has recently come on to develop our live shows and music, in part because I get monomania and have for now exhausted my monomaniacal bloggy music taste over the course of the five compilation CDs I’ve published. In the magazine itself, it’s less problematic, because we get lots of submissions and that dilutes my monomania to a manageable level, but you can definitely see my interests reflected from issue to issue. Finding people whose creative input I trust feels increasingly important to the Brow retaining interest for me and for readers. I’m vaguely looking around for someone to guest-edit a celebrity special because I don’t think I have the resources to build a really good issue around that theme. But I want to read it.

KM: A discussion of TLB in the context of its patrons, champions, aides-de-camp and “unrivalled spruikers” – to restore the phrase which Thomas Benjamin Guerney used in his contributors’ bio in issue #004 – seems germane to any free-associative conversation about the way the magazine operates under the guise of your editorship. Recently, Voiceworks columnist Sam Cooney wrote an impressionistic review of issue #007, in which he stated that “Brow editor Ronnie Scott seeks out certain types of contributors that other publications would (and do) immediately dismiss, and he hoists them up for us. He yearns to broadcast such writing and artwork (and sometimes music). Plus he has a squadron of loyalists helping him, not unlike backup dancers in a Beyoncé video (is Beyoncé past her use-by date as far as referencing goes? I’m not sure, sorry).” Insofar as I’m concerned here, I’ll surmise that the latter sentiment is a rhetorical – after all, ain’t it obvious that Beyoncé’s vintage ages like good wine? – but I’m intent to foreground a reflection of those proverbial backup dancers whose krumptastic/gymnastic moves must, by consequence, make you the envy of the emerging lit. community here, in Melbourne. In contradistinction to the traditional model for the curmudgeonly literary editor (there was a feature article in The Age a few years back in which editor Peter Craven maintained that “I may be a megalomaniac about [endorsing my own writers] but I’m confident of my judgement”), you’re widely recognised as a sociable guy whose interests within the framework of the community remain grassroots and opposed to mainstream convention. What are the pitfalls of commandeering a publication where those people within the periphery of your greater social circle are not only the ones who support the magazine, but are the ones who creatively contribute to and purchase each successive issue? Do you ever feel that, because of the phenomenally familial culture of TLB, that it’s difficult for the editors of more established literary journals (eg. Southerly, Meanjin) who exist beyond the parameters of the Australian emerging community – and whose own issues are funded by grants or auspiced by OzCo – to legitimate the good work you’re accomplishing through the Brow? Is there a tacit sentiment among this caste of older publications that suggest the Brow, and journals like it (James Bradley ascribes independent magazines as being inherently “transitory”), are not as “serious” or sophisticated in values as those belonging to the old guard? How do you react to the possibility that the Brow may be dismissed due to a binaristic category of “the haves” and “the have-nots”?

RS: Well, it’s not true that the people who buy the magazine are the people who contribute to the magazine are the people who are my friends. A few of our frequent contributors are definitely some of my closest friends, and they have been very supportive of the Brow since the start – at one point, Tom Guerney, whom you’ve mentioned, was even co-editor. But the bulk of our contributions come from people I’ve never met, as do most of our sales. A third of our sales come via our distributor, for example, who gets us into places like Borders. And probably 90% of our online sales and our gig sales are from people who are not familiar to me.

It’s still a familial culture, though – the next couple of issues are almost wholly commissioned, with long stories both by people I see all the time like Michaela McGuire and Chris Currie, and by people who contribute frequently to the Brow, like Tao Lin and Sean Casey. That’s mostly because when I was thinking about the issue, I asked myself the question: “If this person sent me 10,000 words of text, would I drop everything to read it right then and there?” It makes sense that those are usually going to be people I’ve already enjoyed publishing.

I don’t really know anything about Southerly, but I know that places like HEAT, Griffith REVIEW, and Meanjin like what I do with the Brow. You know, there are cynical ways to view mainstream publishing in Australia. The difference between publishing David Foster Wallace and not publishing David Foster Wallace is that suddenly publishers and agents will give me the time of day – and it can feel gross that my business is benefitting from my having published something that makes me proud and sad for reasons that are very personal, being that it’s my favourite writer who died. But even mainstream publishing is such a small world that it’s not worth worrying about, though the struggle to gain legitimacy for the Brow used to make me furious. Nowadays, I don’t really worry. If I were competing with established journals for grants or readership, legitimacy might worry me. Like, if you were an exciting startup magazine and these things you saw as inconceivably well-established and better-off were locking up all the grant money on a seemingly perpetual basis, I can see how that would drive you crazy. But I don’t apply for grants, have not applied for grants, and again, I really do think that all the literary magazines have pretty different readerships.

KM: Which brings us finally, with some circumlocutory charm, to the material content of issue #007, because although the conscious motivation to compete within the local community might not rationalise or catalyse the emergence of a new lit. magazine, there aren’t many publications whose editorial inclinations are so stylistically predisposed to seek out experimental aesthetics. This is something I love, on a personal level, about the curatorial objectives of TLB: that each issue of the magazine is meticulously organised in such a way to as to not merely showcase, but build into the framework of the issue, a platform in which (for example) a thirty-paged graphic contribution by Kirsten Reed or a 12,000-word work of fiction written by Krissy Kneen reaches its audience without compromise. If you’ll excuse the pun, is this lust to risk editorial convention and sling it out there – like your innumerable penises – ignited by a willingness to forge new boundaries, to defy impartial expectation? Or, if you’ll excuse the pun, does it – like the innumerable penises – just come together, with some luck, a lot of effort and a flick of the wrist?

RS: Coming up with the order of an issue is pretty much my favourite part. I’m glad you like it! Before I started the Brow, I tried making “literary mixtapes” for a couple of friends, because I like making mixtapes and I read a lot of short stories. To my knowledge, neither of my friends read them, because they were these clunky-ass spiral-bound photocopied slabs. But now I have a magazine and where are those friends now!! One of them is my best friend and one of them is my partner, and they are both living full and happy lives. My favourite publication in terms of layout is Sammy Harkham’s comics anthology Kramers Ergot, particularly numbers 5 and 6. Just like McSweeney’s takes these twinned ideas of being “a publisher of words” and “a publisher of books” in interesting directions — is it the first McSweeney’s where Dave Eggers incorporates some text to the effect that “If designers are designing words, then let them write the words”? — Sammy Harkham and Alvin Buenaventura take the idea of “publishing narrative art” a hell of a lot further than anybody else had. The entire book makes an argument for what it is. I don’t have the skills or panache to really do that with the Brow, and besides, I don’t have as clear or focused an editorial vision as Kramers Ergot, so a design that made an argument for what the Brow is would look reachy and half-hearted. But in publishing a lit. mag, you’re already fighting against most readers’ inclinations, like they don’t want to read forty jarring things by different authors they haven’t heard of. If the order of the work somehow makes that more enjoyable for people, good.

Bear Vs. Plane! (Kirk Marshall)

25 Jul

We were sitting with calculable comfort at about 3,000 feet, our feeble human engineering warping from the relaxed atmosphere of our immediate surrounds, the cabin lights dimmed in a subdued, sleep-aglow sort of way, and the earth rotating beneath us was now not even a memory, but a rumour or a myth.

I think it’s only precise to suggest that we were all succumbing to the mid-flight possibility of unerring bliss when the plane banked left with a sudden sharp logic, and the craft began to shudder, a nauseating momentum. A bear was on the wing, and it was sinking its legend of bladed teeth into the skybus carapace, plunging holes into the cabin through which its thermal-deranged eye roved, bloodshot and foaming, fascinated by the horrified human cargo trembling and yowling within.

I’d seen a bear once, or maybe read about one, but the experience had constituted an apparently unprofound and spurious event, because I knew nothing of merit about such animals, except that they excrete a noxious mixture from a foot-shaped gland, though for what it’s worth that could have been mountain goats. Not possessing an interest in the particulars of zoology, or things of this breed, I did not feel certain about the most effective way to intervene in the turbulent fear of the moment, so I slunk out of my seat into the aisle and grimaced, like a marathon athlete distressed by the lacklustre gloss of his or her performance.

“We should trade with it!” I suggested, as oxygen masks vaulted from the ceiling in a weird clusterfuck of pneumatic pipe and plastic.

Stewardesses were somersaulting like bulbs of forest pollen, their white uniforms brazen and distinct amongst the red abundance of screaming mouths. I felt, for a glee-drunk second, that all these bright, swift, softly-phosphorous women were dashing themselves at my feet because of the image of a gallant hero-bandit which I presently commandeered, but I am not so dispossessed of intelligence to forget that I am fat, short, nervous and equipped with a nose capable of inviting comparisons with a small bowel. For these reasons I merely entertained an obscene fantasy to put me at ease, in which I swam naked with these fleet-pleated females in a lake that bristled with the greenest orbs of floating apples, and within a passage of panicked seconds I felt sufficiently restored in my miraculous purpose to propose another solution.

“I think I watched a documentary once which advises victims of a bear attack to transform into hedgehogs and roll away. Actually, I think it was a school play I was once involved in. Nevermind!”

This, too, did not generate the stutter of generous applause nor the graphic spontaneous nudity that I was striving to catalyse, so I scowled and plundered my pockets for warmth. The bear had sheared a considerable hole in the side of the aircraft at this point, so that we could all collectively observe the rapid articulations of the beast’s paws as they monstered the exterior alloy and thrust talons the size of sunsets through the gap in the metal.

It was a mild, unclouded day outside, and the high-octane whistling of debris and upholstery being set astir by the stratospheric winds reminded me of swallows whistling, though it might have been shrikes warbling.

“I’ve got it!” I yelled, my head frothy and raging with the adrenaline of my conviction. “Why don’t we paint stripes on ourselves to make us resemble zebras? Bears don’t eat zebras, and that’s a simple fact of chemistry!” I was incommunicable with pride at this theoretical injunction, and I probably would’ve been swarmed by in-flight hostesses startled into arousal by the catastrophic theatre of our present dilemma, but the bear chose that moment to lunge at a passenger hoarse with terror, cowering in her seat, and the berserk creature managed to pull her, despite her convulsive kicks, through the gash in the plane’s exposed side.

The woman was accelerating to her murder, and this realisation went down sharp in me, like a slice of lightning pie. I could only glimpse a tangle of visual cues outside the periphery of the nearest convex window, but the thrashing passenger seemed to be grappling with the bear out on the wing, blood fanning rivers of carotid-crimson through the incendiary fire of the daytime sky.

The bear was feasting. I could not abide this, particularly not directly following my brilliant scheme to disguise the entire airborne convoy as economy-class zebras, so I careened down the aisle, artfully darting past the sinewy blooms of the oxygen masks, capering above the glade of golden hair thicketing from the screaming scalps of one hundred sex-fierce flight attendants as they marvelled at my Sisyphean ascent, and soon the planets glided through my legs like a basketball being dribbled to the cosmic net by a Harlem Globetrotter displaying the wings of a condor.

I thundered down the aisle, between fright-blighted faces, a thousand docile drugged-up irises swifting in their sockets to watch me dare the ghosts of adventure, yet I continued harrying up that band of carpet without pause, until I reached the emergency supplies strapped fast to the wall at the nose-end of the plane. I prized the flare-gun from its bracket and without a further regard for self-preservation, or even the expression on my ex-wife’s face when I disturbed her in the throes of orgasm with a census collector, I dove through the hole in the aircraft and hooked onto the ligature of the left wing.

The bear looked up, haunted, a mutilated sneaker dangling like the first fruit of misery from its blood-clovered jaw. It roared at me then, at my compulsion to disrespect its efforts to kill the whimpering, shallow-breathing woman travestied in a splay of wounded limbs on the shark-shaped extremity of the aeroplane.

I grinned, clambering to my knees and triumphantly locating my feet. I waved the gun, an arc of propulsive colour, and narrowed my gaze at the great swollen animal hulking toward me. “You’re smoked, cubby,” I crowed, pulling the trigger, thinking that I should aim for its heart, but wondering whether that applied to bears or tigers. The sky pulsed a stroboscopic red.