AZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought

Volume 5, Issue 2
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AZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought
Volume 5, Issue 2
Illustration © Evgenia Barsheva, All Rights Reserved


"... those who managed to get close enough only saw the quivering lips, the palm of a hand with no origins which waved from the limbo of glory, while a member of the escort tried to get him away from the window, be careful, general, the nation needs you, but he would reply sleepily don't worry, colonel, these people love me, as it was on the train in the barren lands so it was the same on the wooden paddle-wheeler that went along leaving a wake of player-piano waltzes in the midst of the sweet fragrance of gardenias and rotting salamanders of the equatorial tributaries, eluding prehistoric dragons in their leather gun cases, providential isles where sirens lay down to give birth, sunsets which were the disasters of immense disappeared cities, even the burning and desolate shantytowns where the inhabitants appeared on the riverbank to see the wooden boat painted with the national colors and they could just make out an anonymous hand with a velvet glove which waved from a  window of the presidential stateroom, but he saw..."

So flow the sentences in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, his absurdist conflation of several real-life dictators into the cartoonish and yet domineeringly horrific figure of one. The rollicking sentences are stunning; each clause stumbles upon the next; you find yourself in the first pages waiting for regular declivities in sentences that are nowhere in sight. Finally, you learn how to read--the book has created a pace for you and has learned you in it. You stop looking for the periods, for there is only one every few pages, and instead read the clauses as a sort of musical score, each measure layering an image that adds "another truth behind the truth" with a poetic cadence that dips and crescendoes with an almost orchestral grandeur as the echoes of each phrase collect into a single din. Though you are unable to gather a footing that you otherwise might have had--in landing in one storyteller's point of view, noting speech within quotes, stopping to think in the pauses between paragraphs and periods--you become caught up in the unceasing performance, the force of the grotesque, and the sense that a tyrant's power is slippery to the touch because it is not a single scepter but is made up of many small things, relentlessly.

The pieces in this issue of AZURE probe the topics of despotism, loyalty, and the layering of truths. Kirk Marshall's "Wolf Tickets Through the Feral Winter," an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Feverglades, weaves a delicate beauty of loyalty and commiseration in a bleak landscape--there is a touch of the gentle grotesque in this piece, which seethes with empathy.  Frank Meola's tale of  kaleidoscopic storytellers in "The Looking Glass of Arthur Gordon Pym" is a re-imagining of the plot of the Edgar Allan Poe original, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. We also offer you Dan Butterworth's "drunken man on a bicycle," a highly-allusive and intensely crafted 23-part poem that analogizes--with comic darkness--a travelling circus to affairs of state. Leland Seese's structural experiments in "contra Formalisme" and other poems frame the revolt that is their ethos. Finally, the short creative essay "Sylvanus, Bard" by Marc Lerner examines the relationships between history and performance as funneled through the experiences of a particular figure. "The idea of a false accusation leading to the performance of the same act of which one is accused seems almost preternaturally pregnant with theatrical possibilities," Lerner writes.

After enjoying the excerpts below, you may read the full issue online here. All illustrations are originally devised for the accompanying pieces by the illustrious Evgenia Barsheva.

excerpt from The Looking Glass of Arthur Gordon Pym by Frank Meola
It is with some reluctance but compelling need that I set pen to paper once again on the subject of my recent voyage into the southern Pacific Ocean and the narrative relation of it first published in the Southern Literary Messenger under the name of Edgar Allan Poe.  Mr. Poe, editor of that publication, learned of my adventures and encouraged me to set them down, trusting that my awkwardness of style would testify to the veracity of my account.  But I was hesitant.  I did not believe I could write from memory a description that would convince the reader.  Poe therefore suggested he himself write the narrative, or a part thereof, and publish it in the magazine as fiction.  This ruse would demonstrate that the story's facts would be believed by the public even though presented to them as fiction!  And indeed this is what occurred.  The narrative was taken by many as truth.  Consequently, I decided to write my own description of the entire adventure AS FACT, there being evidently no danger of the public not believing it was all true.
excerpt from drunken man on a bicycle by Dan Butterworth

A drunken man on a bicycle tumbles over streets
like a crumpled paper in the wind of history—
behold the miracle of flying trash, animal
shapes rich and strange: top hat horse head,
dinner jacket monkey, ferret and weasel
dealing five-card stud at the conference table—  
marvel at the polished sheen of this inscrutable
now.  Step right up: watch the raveling
of the feral woman, witness the juggling hands!
For we have decreed sacred this manner of inebriation,
this monkey riding the back of a dog, godlike,
our adorations gathering as insect clouds
over the muddy waters of our borders, malarial,
heretical.  Hush for the conjuring spell, marvelous
prestidigitation! For we have canonized this chaos
of handlebars, this zigzag careening through
the morning commute, this hit and run of spectators
frozen in testimony, infectious—maybe you, maybe me,
as the turning of the bicycle weaves
and veers to eat the world up.

excerpt from Wolf Tickets Through the Feral Winter by Kirk Marshall (from the novel Feverglades)
The dogs were muscling their gaunt shapely forms from out of blind snow-bracketed banks, lanes, ditches, Detroit’s steel-girdered interstices — the inglenooks and modesties of Dearborn, slender brown skulk like clats of sinister inchworms on the eye. Their bellies cinched in dry lank starvation. Their ears and snouts and coats kinked wet, glossed, obtaining an august diesel sheen in the glaucous boreal light, blue kidney figments as though migrant dolphins come ashore on roaming silver-haired legs. A thousand thousand hounds surface loping along the grey march. Their tongues pink and exposed and ice-chafed, whiskered muzzles zebraic with facets of cloven white. Their gums scalloped a darker pink, their gums bared and gnarled a traumatic hue, their gums clustered with milky crescent teeth. Pelted and knickerbockered a variation of colour, a mottle of browns, reds, rusts, yellows, silvers, blues. Coats to pillow the eye. Lemons and whiskeys and jets and gold oxides all assembling in unpeopled streets striated fire-pure and barren with snow coral. Old winter-feasted trees, choke cherries and aspens ailing and sharded in the godless thaw, holly and gold hyssop and shimmering sneezeweed felled low before the raptured greening, now trembling to herald the arrival of the dogs.
excerpt from contra Formalisme (and other poems) by Leland Seese
shaggy raggy rudeboy hip hop feministic slam
starchy Formaliste is up in arms

Formaliste insist on platted streets & tuckin shirt & tuckin sheets
but heat’s too heat for shirt & sheet a’tall
Formaliste knock wrong way talk wrong color
​lovers with wrong other                      Formaliste give mouth-closed
kiss-o, mwah!
Formaliste too tight to be cool head  

excerpt from Sylvanus, Bard by Marc Lerner

In the nineteenth chapter of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall we read the astonishing and melancholy story of Sylvanus, a Roman general in the provinces of Gaul under the reign of Constantius. The court of that emperor was controlled by a corrupt and scheming cabal of eunuchs and ministers, who conspired to forge some letters of the hitherto entirely loyal Sylvanus’ to give the appearance that he planned to attempt a coup. The immediate danger to his person prompted Sylvanus to attempt the very thing he was unjustly charged with, and he assumed the purple at Cologne, only to be assassinated after a reign of twenty-eight days.

The idea of a false accusation leading to the performance of the same act of which one is accused seems almost preternaturally pregnant with theatrical possibilities. One can easily imagine a play of Shakespeare’s with this narrative; Sylvanus would begin with devotion towards the emperor perhaps stronger even than that of Brutus, and in his dying moments reflect that his sincere wish to serve Constantius with fealty was subverted by the inhuman exigencies of Fate.



AZURE Vol. 4 Available in PRINT! To order:* | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Retailers, Libraries and Independent Booksellers order with ISBN: 9780999424346

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The Lazuli Reading Series aims to explore the intertextual connections between works published in our journal, AZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought, and classical and theoretical pieces of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The guided discussions may feature author readings, dramatic performances, and live insights by expert scholars.

​Next up: "Still Sort of Weeping the Substance": Sugar Cane and Blood in the Artistic Imagination (March 29)

On March 29th at 7 pm ET, join poet and scholar Sarah T. in her exploration of the history of sugar cane through the aesthetic choices of artists from across the Caribbean and the Americas.  This 2-hour seminar samples work that invokes sugar cane across a broad range of topics, with special emphasis on Kara Walker’s installation, Euzhan Palcy’s Sugar Cane Alley (1983), Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), and Sarah T.’s own adaptation (2016) of Toomer’s work. Multi-award-winning voice actor Jeannie Brown Johnson will read one selection aloud.

Read more details and register here. Space is limited!


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We love work that is linguistically, intellectually, and emotionally demanding of the reader.  We want literary fiction that grows in complexity upon each visitation; we enjoy ornate, cerebral, and voluptuous prose executed with thematic intent. Writers we admire are Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Djuna Barnes, Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison, Thomas Mann, Aphra Behn, Robert Musil, Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Cormac McCarthy, and Herman Melville.


In gratitude... you. AZURE is a passion project run by an exceedingly small staff dedicated to serious literary output, and your subscription to this free e-newsletter goes a long way in helping us obtain funding for our activities. For that, thank you! 

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