Series Curator: Jonathan Cardew
May Selector: Leonora Desar
What’s rare, what’s bright, what’s new?
This is what we ask a new writer every month in search of the best hybrid, poetry, and flash writing from the previous month. In this edition, we catch up with Leonora Desar, flash impresario and Pidgeonholes editor.
Leonora gives us a little selection of her favorite writing from May 2020
When I was younger I wrote poetry. It was terrible. It rhymed and people threw stuff at me when I read it at this poetry bar in the East Village. Ok, maybe they didn’t throw stuff; maybe I’m confusing that with karaoke, but trust me, it was bad. It’s for this reason that, for many years, I hated poetry. It confused me. I thought 1) it was esoteric, or obscure; only the truly cool and elite could understand. 2) I DIDN’T understand, so clearly I wasn’t cool (or elite). I wasn’t even anti-elite, which would have made me an anarchist, and therefore interesting.
Poems like Lopez’s “Note to Distant Friends” changed my mind. It isn’t esoteric, or elite. It reads casually, even though the language is precise. It’s breathless. It flies out in a whoosh. I can feel it, this moment of great joy. This is a love letter, an anecdote, a lightening flash in time. I am corked inside this bottle. Pop!—
I fly out.
I see Parker Posey. Lopez describes her—She’s in these gloves: Baby blue, silk. I AM her—watching Natasha on the dance floor. She’s “rocking a suit the shade of aged Shiraz.” Lopez has put me in this moment, in Parker’s body. It’s that immediate.
I whoosh with her, toward that final line. It hangs on like a ghost, a kiss. A chic one, from 90s clubland.
I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with some friends when we started talking about nose jobs. I told them I wanted one at one point, and then I didn’t. Or rather: I DID want one but was afraid. Who knew what could happen? Would I do a Michael Jackson? Or a <redacted> celeb who I am redacting just in case she sues me, but probably won’t, because who are we kidding, here—she won’t ever read this. Or what about <redacted> model, who’s actually quite pretty, and for some reason strikes me as the sensitive type, therefore, the redaction.
My friend said I should read this nose piece in the Times. I was hooked—and not just because the writer shared my singular obsession. It was voice. Tone. Lines like:
“During a brief hour of peacetime, I took aside one of my bullies and asked him why people were mocking my nose. ‘Because it’s huge,’ he said. Then he told everyone that I had asked that.”I wanted to read on. Unfortunately, like all good things, it ended. But there was more. Not about noses but other stuff. Another piece resonated, and even better, it was published back in May, so I can tell you about it without having to sneak it in. Unfortunately, I am running out of space, so I will tell you about it briefly. In short, Brodesser-Akner is like me, she hates her fellow man, or at least planning to spend time with him. And like me, she seems to capitalize arbitrarily: “Stuff I’m Not Invited To.” AND: this is where I’m hooked. She quarantines her text within parentheses. She tells us (re: “Stuff I’m Not Invited To”):
“… and my noticing it is just another dig at a rot inside me that will never feel loved enough, but this piece is about joy and so inside a parenthetical this will remain.)”
Oh, Taffy. I would like to be your friend or pen pal, but both of us would probably just make plans and cancel.
This takes a familiar theme—miscarriage—and renders it in a way that feels intimate and new.
1) comics. This is not just text, but text in the artist’s hand. We can see her or imagine her imprint, where her hand paused in grief, or where, in spite of grief, it shook and shook in delight because the language is so damn good—
“I was told to look for a rush of light.”
2) concision, lack of theatrics. Lesser breaks our hearts precisely because there aren’t any violins. Believe, me, I checked, inside her text: beneath the soft rock of the clock radio, beneath a pair of runny eggs, beneath an ad for maternity gear, beneath the elastic waistband of a pair of jeggings.
3) simplicity. The language is sparse, stripped down. This allows the rawness to come through. And repetition, like that “rush of light.”
“Notes for My Latest Bookkeeper Regarding the Maintenance of My Library While I’m Touring 50 Indie Bookstores in 50 Days” by K.B. Carle in Little Fiction | Big Truths
Sometimes, the thought of writing straight-up narrative makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Then I read this. Or something like this. No, Carle seems to say. You DON’T need to write straight-up narrative. You can have fun with lists. You can write something meaningful and poignant that’s also weird. You can write an amazing title—and follow up with some amazing voice.
You can add repetition, echo. You can include (as Carle did) this Most Annoying Peeve: those bottom-dwellers who lick their thumb before turning a page. You can include a way of cataloguing texts that evoke nostalgia for that bygone shop, Kim’s Video, in the days where art school dropouts ruled the world.
At Kim’s, videos were rarely alphabetized, but placed under arbitrary rule. Carle one-ups this: Her bookkeeper is ordered to catalogue her Frederick Douglass by publication year, then by alphabet, “then by the angle of his face on the cover, and then favorite to okay as noted by colored-coded post-it notes.” (!!!)
Carle seems to say, don’t just tell us about yourself. Do it through objects, books. For Carle’s narrator, these include: Sacred: Toni Morrison. To be ordered: Megan Giddings. Questionable: Virginia Woolf, who needs to be locked up by sundown.
Who you’re not ready for and may never be: Roxane Gay.
Carle seems to say, you can slip in your narrator’s mom, their dad. She does this through books, the ones “forming tents” at the father’s feet.
When I finally stop banging my head against the wall, I realize wait. Maybe I want to try it. Maybe I DO want to write a straight-up narrative, if only once. I read Bidar. I realize, I don’t have to be humorless. Bidar is fun. Funny. From her asides: “Period cramps: terrible. Makeup: half-assed” to Sasha, who has been canned from her temp job “for pressing her boobs against a glass conference room wall.”
The piece has some sadness, too, but above all Bidar creates a mood, like an impressionist refusing to tell you what her painting is about.
But what IS it about, you say.
What do YOU think that it’s about?
It’s about Christmas leftovers. Punching drunks. It’s about not dying from food poisoning and socks that smell like vomit. It’s also about the light, the light filtering from the street. A series of quiet fires that add up to something more.
Leonora Desar’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in places such as River Styx, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Black Warrior Review, and Columbia Journal, where she was chosen as a finalist by Ottessa Moshfegh. Her work has been selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019, the Wigleaf Top 50 (2019 and 2020), and Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020. She won third place in River Styx‘s 2018 microfiction contest, and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight‘s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest, judged by Stuart Dybek, and Crazyhorse’s Crazyshorts! contest. She lives in Brooklyn.
Logo Design: Olwyn Cardew
Jonathan Cardew won a travel toothbrush at a boules competition in northern Brittany. His stories appear in Passages North, Cream City Review, wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, Best Microfiction 2021, and others. He is the author of A WORLD BEYOND CARDBOARD (ELJ Editions) and the blog editor for Bending Genres. Ignore him on Twitter @cardewjcardew.