My reading resolutions for this year revolve around a set of too-long-unread books. Many of which were too-long-unread because they are long and complicated. Like Marge Piercy’s Gone to Soldiers and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes, which I have been leaving at home, while these slimmer volumes have been travelling with me.
The stories are set in the Southern United States, during the Reconstruction era, and sometimes the characters are recognizably human, but sometimes they have butterfly wings, and sometimes a grizzly bear wears high heels.
Bayou is filled with cotton fields and alligators, corn liquor and chain gangs, dreamin’ root and fireflies, potions and rituals, and witchcraft and stories.
“I now seein’ you keep all the stories in the world. I was thinkin’ you can dig up a story out yo’ noggin that tells you where my friend is.”
Many readers would expect the volumes to be named for their setting, but in Jeremy Love’s hands, Bayou is a character.
Here, landscape is so soaked with memory that it has come alive. Here, bodies of lynched people huddle beneath the surface of the water, bodies of the four-footed and furred are hanging above the soil.
Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus are here, but even friendly spirits are disturbing and disorienting. “Be Brave. Don’t cry…they will not prevail.”
Grasping hands might be formed as often from mud as from hatred. And even creatures that appear human might behave in an inhumane fashion; in these stories, a man can swallow a girl whole.
Some frightening characters have golliwog and Topsy faces, transforming racist imagery into characters of startling agency. Some seemingly ordinary faces morph into haunting shapes of all-mouths and all-eyes. Some mythic characters appear with a twist, like the female rabbit in her housedress who is bemoaning the absence of her husband, a long-eared Penelope.
Panels often directly engage the reader, daring them to face injustices, both historical and present-day. The illustrations are in predominantly sombre and earthy tones, and even when they are brighter, there is often a queer tint to them, as though fermented.
Beneath it all, simmers a musicality, like that found in George Elliot Clarke’s luscious prose. This is the sort of storytelling which simultaneously begs for a soundtrack and offers its own — the blues (some truly bright pigments grace these pages).
Hopefully a third volume will sustain the high notes alongside the mournful notes; volume two slips back in time to explain some of volume one’s events, and there are obviously many more stories to be told, many layers of understanding to uncover.
It’s been awhile since I gushed about Brick, but it is still just as gush-worthy in its 96th issue (contents listed here). It is one of those packets in the mail which makes me smile.
A cover like this issue’s does not immediately engage my interest, but when I read about Sophie Calle’s work in “For the Last and First Time”, the exhibition from which this issue’s cover photograph is pulled, my heart turned over.
That feeling, of being whole-fully and heart-fully surprised by unexpected epiphanies, in works of art and lives of work. And the pages of a magazine spark it. That’s sweet.
The epigraph to this issue sums up the spirit of the magazine nicely, in the words of Marilynne Robinson. “I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it.”
Next, I turned to the piece by Carrie Snyder “Why Give Yourself Away?” It, like many of the pieces, appears to have elements of fiction and non-fiction; it, like many of the pieces, seems to set such distinctions solidly under the heading of marketing concerns. It feels like the author is giving herself away; it makes me grateful for the giving.
Then, Alissa York’s piece, “In Memoriam Pompeius Maximus”. Which made me weep so thoroughly that I nearly weep again, now, just at the thought of having read it. It is so painful that I have to remind myself that that, too, is something given. That that, too, is a gift. (Fortunately, I read this piece at home, with a piece of pasty and an almond-milk latté at hand. Alissa York has made me cry before. Often. And hard. Despite this – because of this? – she is one of my MRE authors.)
Next, John McIntyre’s “An Elegant and Elusive Gent”, which begins with the memory of his having sent James Salter a fan letter at the age of eighteen. This struck me because only last year did I take note of James Salter, having read the letters he exchanged with Robert Phelps, which were edited by John McIntyre and published as Memorable Days. (Even lacking a familiarity with either writer’s works, I enjoyed the chronicle of their friendship and the representations of the writing life in the collection, and the single letter which is reprinted in this issue manages to capture that perfectly.)
After that, I lost track. Because this is one of those publications in which whatever-comes-next is good. It is one of those magazines which I put on the shelves with the books. Brick is one of my favouritest things.
How about you: what’s in your bookbag these days?