Autodidact: self-taught


Lapham’s Quarterly: The Death Issue

by V. L. Craven

Lapham's Quarterly Death Issue

When I heard the Fall issue of Lapham’s Quarterly was to be called the Death Issue I knew I had to have it. It’s my introduction to the literary journal so I thought I’d put down my thoughts.

This being my first experience with any literary journal (and being an unemployed individual) my initial reaction was to the price ($16US) but it’s over 200 pages of high-quality material (both physically and content-wise) so after the shock subsided, I took it home.

It is truly a thing of beauty. The covers are that texture that’s become quite popular for electronics and book covers that feels like rubber and suede had a few too many drinks and decided to spend a freaky night together. (It’s called Soft Touch.) The paper is a heavy-weight stock, as well–it’s not the sort of periodical that finds its way to the recycling bin after it’s been read.

The layout is artful–nearly every page has a photograph or artwork concerning the issue’s theme. There are small poems and quotes tucked amongst larger pieces, as well. Longer poems get their own pages, like Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’.

Besides poetry and quotes there are facts about death rituals from around the world, graphs and timelines about causes of death and numbers of deaths during various catastrophes and tables of resting places of some of the most famous people in history, amongst other things. It’s a macabre trivia-lover’s dream.

There are non-fiction pieces–letters, diary entries, interviews and excerpts from books. The section on How We Die was spectacular. Mary Roach’s excellent Stiff was excerpted. Anatole Broyard’s excerpt is heart-breaking. A piece on the funerary rites of the Rus  written by Ahmad ibn Fadlan in 922 was quite interesting.

And fiction, of course. The entirety of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ was included, much to my delight. There was an excerpt from Nabokov’s The Eye and Philip Roth had a darkly comic bit from  Sabbath’s Theatre .

There are also myths and tales from philosophers and histories meant to teach the reader about living wisely. A bit of Herodotus’ The Histories was particularly enlightening.

Entries are widely varied both in time (the earliest is a section of ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’ by Euripides written in 1200 BCE) and scope, as they come from many nations and cultures–some long extinct.

There is nothing negative to say about this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. The selections come from people approaching death–some literally, some only in contemplation, some in the wake of losing someone close to them. And the contents reflect the myriad ways humanity responds to those situations. I highly recommend this one.


Poe Forevermore!

by V. L. Craven

Poe and His Magazine

When I first learned of  Poe Forevermore magazine  I immediately thought, ‘I MUST HAVE THAT,’ accompanied by grabby hands.

Before getting on to the comments, I’d like to talk about the physical magazine. It’s beautiful. The covers are glossy with a nice weight and the pages are high-quality. (It also smells nice. Whilst reading I kept huffing the gutter…Which sounds so wrong, but my paper-smelling friends will know what I mean.)

On to the contents. The majority are stories that Poe himself would have likely chosen for a magazine of his own. (The full title is Poe Forevermore: Tales of Mystery & Imagination for good reason.) And they certainly live up to his legacy.

Of the short stories–Sherlock Holmes figures in two of them. Meeting Augustin Dupin in one (‘The Comfort of the Seine’ by Stephen Volk) and interacting with Oscar Wilde in the other (‘The Case of the Green Carnation’ by David Gerrold,which was the stand-out piece for me).

‘Conflagration Site’ by Stefan Grabinski, (translated by Miroslaw Lipinski for the first time) is an excellent haunted-house-with-a-twist story. It’s always nice to be introduced to a new author.

‘The Man From the Fires’ by Larry Blamire has a very Ray-Bradbury feel that was creepy and atmospheric.

There were two complete works of Poe’s: ‘Alone, ‘ (which is my favourite poem so thumbs up on that one) and ‘Berenice’, which had been annotated with factoids. The most interesting of which was the correct pronunciation of the titular character’s name–it’s four syllables and rhymes with ‘very spicy’.

Two of the non-fiction pieces were written by actresses who’ve played Berenice on stage. Those were eye-opening (and made me never want to be on stage in a coffin for an extended period of time.) Tony Tsendeas also wrote about playing Egaeus in the same play. Props to Mr Tsendeas for doing a 45 minute long monologue in that role. I’ve played characters with loads of lines, but nothing approaching that. Respect, my friend.

Rounding out the issue is an interview with the writer of the new Hitchcock film, Stephen Rebello. Rebello talks about his incredible journey through befriending Hitchcock, to writing his biography, to working on the screenplay, to being on set during filming. The sheer unlikelihood of a person being able to be involved in all of those things to the degree that he was is impressive.

Inside the back cover there’s a bit of Hitchcock talking about finding out about Poe and how it influenced his own work. It was a lovely way to wrap up the first issue.

TL;DR: The magazine is fantastic and I’m looking forward to more. As soon as I have gainful employment I’m getting a subscription, as subscribers get extra goodies that single-issue-at-a-time people do not. And if $10 seems too pricey for a periodical, you should know it’s the sort you’ll keep and re-read. It’s definitely worth it.

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