We here at Barnstorm are delighted to have artwork by Erik de los Reyes on our home page for the fall 2011 season. Erik is an artist, designer, and musician living in Charlottesville, Va. He graduated with a BS in Architecture from the University of Virginia, where he also studied English and computer animation. His piece “California or Bust” is a comment on the commercial partitioning of the feminine form, inspired by a statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It combines hand-drawn linework and computer-generated imagery.
Currently, Erik is working with the ecoMOD team to develop a design for sustainable, compact housing in South and Southwestern Va. (www.ecomod.virginia.edu). He also plays with the Filibusters, a rock and pop band. His portfolio is available online at www.erikdelosreyes.com.
You should read this book. For one, it has several pages devoted to Tantric sex, and not “the sort of faddish Tantra cults embraced by Western rock stars, with their celebration of aroatherapy and coitus reservatus.” No, this is the Tantra that acts like a “booster rocket” to bring its practicioners to a “divine experience.”
William Dalrymple treats Tantra as he treats the rest of his subjects: artfully, tastefully, stepping aside to give us a glimpse of Indian culture. His writing is straightforward, leading you to understand the previously incomprehensible (did he really just write a book about Indian religion?). Of course, such effortless-appearing writing involves a lot of footwork, and it is clear Dalrymple has done his. Each chapter tells the story of an Indian devotee: a Tantric, a Baul, a Sufi Muslim, and others that do not translate easily into American English. The volume of his speakers’ words hints at the hours he must have spent interviewing them. They guide the story; they introduce and explain themselves. Dalrymple as a character appears only to set the stage, to paint a picture of how he found the devotee and where they are sitting (in a home compound, on a rug under a tree, at a mystic performance) before pulling the curtain back to showcase each life.
And you cannot stop reading. Whether or not you have ever heard of the Indian practice of performing the phad or saintly epic storytelling, you will want to find out how a man can chant for 8 hours at a time, perform miracles, and then return to his day job as a well-digger. Dalrymple knows he has good material, and he is not stingy. We hear all the gory details (though, unfortunately, the practicioners of Tantra cannot share all their secrets).
Making comprehensible something so far from Western experience–dare I say exotic?–is what Dalrymple excels at. Clear sentences parse entangled ideas; for instance, he draws a tight distinction between South Indian Chola idols and Chola poetry when he meets with a family of famous idol makers:
If Chola poetry is sometimes explicit, then in Chola sculpture the sexual nature of the gods is strongly implied rather than directly stated. It is there in the extraordinary swinging rhythm of these eternally still figures, in their curving torsos and their slender arms. The figures are never completely naked; these divine beings may embody human desire…but…the Chola deities, while clearly preparing to enjoy erotic bliss, are never actually shown in flagrante; their desire is permanently frozen at a point before its final consummation.
The neat combination of poetic imagery and necessary explanation continues throughout.
Dalrymple has a reputation for writing smart Asian travel narratives and it is well-deserved; he is one of very few people who can explain Eastern anything to Western minds. But he fails on a few points of Indian description. First, he refuses to use the new Indian names for cities that were formerly colonized. Second, his pictures of India all too often paint a romantic countryside. When he describes a famous city in South India, he writes
…Buffaloes are wallowing on the sandbanks of the Kaveri, and bullock cars trundle along red dirt roads, past village duck ponds and the tall, rain-wet fans of banana trees. Old women in blue saris sit out on their verandas, while their granddaughters troop along the roads with jasmine flowers in their hair…
Overlooking this landscape for miles in every direction is the vimana pyramid-spire of the great Tanjore temple. It rises 216 feet tall above the horizontal plain, dominating the flat-roofed village houses and the farmland round about as completely as the cathedrals of the Middle Ages must have once dominated the landscape of Europe
Google “Tanjore” (or better yet, it’s real name, Thanjavur) and you will find that this temple also a smoggy city, and that vehicles blast past those blue-saried women, blowing dust into their jasmine flowers.
Still, the approachability and beauty of the book will tempt you to visit and talk to these fascinating folks yourself. Or at least hunt down some more books on Indian religion.
Alicia de los Reyes
October 20th, 2010
It would appear to be a near-universal truth that, at some point in elementary school, children learn about the lifecycles of insects, in particular that of the butterfly. My second grade class went so far as to mail-order caterpillars, which in turn entertained us and then bored us as they went from the ravenous-caterpillar-stage into the stationary-chrysalis-stage of the lifecycle. And after months of silent and stoic motionlessness, sometime in early spring, the crumpled and bloody forms of new butterflies emerged, suddenly making the whole thing interesting again.
The point of all this is that Barnstorm has risen like a butterphoenix from the ashes of its internet chrysalis into this second decade of the 21st century, ready to supply readers with the appetizing leaves of language. We hope you will “like” our new Facebook page and/or follow us on Twitter, both of which will make it easier for Barnstorm to update you when new publications and updates, like mail-order caterpillars, arrive for your hungry eyes.
We are proud to bring you “Harmony,” an exerpt from writer Dean Bakopoulos’s novel-in-progress The Blizzards.
Dean Bakopoulos, the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, is the author of Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon (Harcourt 2005) and My American Unhappiness (forthcoming Harcourt 2011). He is on the faculty of the MFA program in Creative Writing & Environment at Iowa State University, as well as the low-residency MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
Barnstorm is thrilled to bring you Curtis Smith’s story Bad Monkey.
Bad Monkey is the title story from Curtis Smith’s most recent collection, published this fall by Press 53. Press 53 also published his previous collection, The Species Crown. Casperian Books just released his new novel, Truth or Something Like It. Later this year, Sunnyoutside Press will publish his essay collection, The Agnostic’s Prayer.
Check it out here.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author of nine books of essays and poems, most recently Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices.
If you are reading this, then you have somehow stumbled upon Barnstorm, the official literary magazine of UNH’s MFA Program. We’ve recently gone through a major face lift, nipping and tucking our templates, sucking the fat from our style sheets, and generally goosing our aesthetic. In the process, we switched over to a rolling content format (so now, you know, we work the same way the internet does!) and combed through an avalanche of solicitation in search of the next great voice. Check back often for updates to our poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, departments.
But that’s not all we’ve got planned. We’re working furiously to interview the best contemporary writers who will return our calls. We’re scribbling out reviews for some of the year’s best upcoming books. We have special columns planned from noted writers in a variety of genres. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even start a feud or two.
So please, take some time to explore the site. Let us know what you think. We’re excited about what we have to offer. We hope you are too.
Since his debut in 1992, writer Rick Moody has garnered acclaim for his sharp observations, rhythmic prose, and darkly cathartic plots. Best known for his novels, including the searing portrayal of suburban sexual revolution in The Ice Storm—adapted into film by Ang Lee—he has also released a memoir titled The Black Veil and a collection of novellas called Right Livelihoods. This fall, he added to this repertoire with an album of original songs. Along with the other members of his band, The Wingdale Community Singers, he has assembled a collection of bluegrass and country-influenced music that sounds distinctly new. Here, he talks with Barnstorm about the intersection of writing and music, the pressures of performance, and what advice he’d give a musician hoping to get into fiction.
We’re proud to bring you a quartet of poems from the phenomenal poet David Blair.
David Blair is the author of Ascension Days, which was chosen by Thomas Lux for the Del Sol Poetry Prize. He’s an associate professor at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline, Massachusetts.
The poems are:
Barnstorm is pleased to bring you a new essay from Stephen Kuusisto, titled Bella Nice, Che D’amore.
Stephen Kuusisto teaches in the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa. He is the author most recently of “Eavesdropping: a Memoir of Blindness and Listening” (W.W. Norton 2006).