The Barren Sand

   1.
   The poor are everywhere
   so they're easy to overlook.
   As when I stand on a beach
   staring at the pregnant sea,
   I forget the barren sand.

   2.

   In a perfect world
   the poor would be taken care of
   so I'm building stockades
   where they can be put.
   With so many everywhere
   it's hard keeping them under my foot.
   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

   First published in Scarlet Leaf Review

My Dark Vanessa – Not Your Father’s Lolita

It is impossible to hear or read about a middle-aged man statutorily raping a teenage girl without thinking of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic, Lolita. If you need proof – even Sting, who will readily admit to being the greatest songwriter since King David, mentioned Nabokov in Don’t Stand So Close to Me. He tried to use Lolita’s name first, but nothing rhymes with Lolita.

In My Dark Vanessa Kate Elizabeth Russell takes Lolita and shifts the perspective to that of the abused girl. However, the pedophile here is not an unintentionally-funny, delusional, and ultimately pathetic Humbert Humbert. Quite the opposite, Jacob Strane (think of Strange), the 15 years old Vanessa’s English teacher, is an experienced and masterful manipulator, and he cynically preys upon Vanessa’s loneliness and desperation to be thought of as special. Early on he tells her that she has “something these dime-a-dozen overachievers (her fellow classmates) can only dream of.” Proving he is a master of the back-handed compliment as well.

Nabokov and Lolita feature prominently in this brilliant and creepy book. The title comes from Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which Strane is pleased to inform Vanessa has a passage where my dark Vanessa is rhapsodized as an admirable butterfly to be worshiped and caressed. Strane’s “grooming” of Vanessa also includes giving her his copy of Lolita, with his hand-written notes in the margins. Yeah, Strane is a disgusting creep, but Vanessa craves this attention, so she is incapable of seeing it. Or (just as concerning) she won’t acknowledge seeing it.

The story jumps between two periods in Vanessa’s life: her high school and college years (between 2000 and 2007) and 2017 at the height of the Me Too movement when she is 32 years old. Much like Humbert Humbert, Vanessa is an unreliable narrator who ends up deceiving no one but herself (again like Humbert Humbert, but without the ridiculous name). Initially, she refuses to accept that she has even been abused, as she insists the relationship (despite the obvious imbalance of power) was consensual. And she continues to grapple with the effects of the abuse well into adulthood. “I always seem to end up going out with . . . men who claim to be turned on by strength but can only handle women who act like girls.” Having the two timelines is effective. The reader sees how the sexual abuse of children was ignored even into the early 2000s, and then how it is everything but ignored at the height of the Me Too movement – where victims are pressured into telling their stories whether they want to or not. The reader experiences how the adult Vanessa begins to come to terms with the years of abuse. It isn’t pretty or romantic, but in a way it is heroic.

Regardless of its title, Lolita’s story was not told in Lolita. In My Dark Vanessa, it is. And the change of perspective (especially in light of the Me Too movement) is devastating. Because they have earned it, Vanessa and Lolita shall have the final words here. “What could we have done? We were just girls. . . . [It’s] not that we were helpless by choice, but that the world forced us to be. Who would have believed us, who would have cared?”

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

William

   I lack imagination,
   which is a problem
   when you pretend 
   to be a poet.
   But no matter
   how hard I try
   I cannot imagine
   myself doing it.

   Yet, some scientists say
   there are limitless
   parallel universes
   and perhaps
   in one of them
   one of me
   tackled the beast -
   if only to spite
   those multiples of me
   sitting in stalled trains
   on parallel tracks.

   How I would love 
   to ask that reckless me:
   how did I do it?
   What happened next?
   Did it make
   a difference?

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

   First Published in The Broadkill Review

The Winter’s Tale – A Mosaic Play

William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is neither history, comedy, or tragedy. So no one knew what to call it, because apparently, back then, those were the only choices. As a result, the scholars (both of them) argued (what scholars do best) and finally decided to flip a coin. The play has been called a romance ever since, which doesn’t tell us much about the play but does tell us about how scholars are shockingly lazy thinkers.

We would categorize The Winter’s Tale as one of Shakespeare’s mosaic plays (similar to The Tempest), because it has a lot going on. There is crude humor, intense psychological drama, dancing, singing, storms, shipwrecks, and a bear (not the kind you see in Provincetown – though that would be awesome). The play’s first half is tragic. The second half is largely comedic. One entire act is pastoral. In short, it is a pageant – like Block Island on a Saturday evening in August.

The Winter’s Tale is believed to be one of Shakespeare’s later plays. As such, it incorporates many themes and elements from his earlier works: the perpetual fear of being cuckolded, all-consuming jealousy, a punitive patriarchy, forbidden love, and superior women inexplicably in love with inferior men. The play opens with a charming scene of two childhood friends (Leontes, the king of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the king of Bohemia) near the end of a happy reunion. Suddenly and irrationally, Leontes fears his wife, Hermione, has been “sluiced” and “his pond fished by his neighbor (Polixenes).” This concern is delusional, but Leontes convinces himself that he has been cuckolded. The resulting crazed jealousy causes Leontes to lose everyone in his family. And we are only half way through the play. The second half is devoted to a chastened and sorrowful Leontes getting what is left of his family back.

Autolycus saves the play from tragedy. He is a charismatic scoundrel that lies and steals his way across Bohemia. “I see this is the time that the unjust man doth thrive.” And, shamelessly, he thrives. “Ha, ha, what a fool Honesty is! and Trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman!” Autolycus is not trustworthy, and he certainly is no gentleman. But he is a delight, in part, because he immediately follows the gut-wrenching first half, and he brings song and mischief – both of which are desperately needed at this point. Autolycus is humorous, but he is not a clown. He is too intelligent and self-aware for that. “Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance.” In this sense, he is a cousin of the peerless Falstaff. And the play benefits mightily from his presence.

The Winter’s Tale is frequently remembered because it contains one of Shakespeare’s few stage directions – the glorious “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Over the centuries, it has gone in and out of style. This is something we do not understand, because the play is so much more than a “romance” or a man-eating bear (so maybe it is a Provincetown bear). It is a pageant that belongs just below the top tier of Shakespeare’s plays.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans.

Miss Disdain

   When all the months were hot July
   and I was barely in my teens,
   I met a sullen girl with a fiery eye
   that she always directed towards me.

   Such disdain drove me to distraction;
   her antipathy struck me as wise.
   She taught joy brings no satisfaction,
   and scorn is Love's truest disguise.

   Miss Disdain grew up and multiplied,
   and I delighted in each fury's spite.
   Being aware of all the flaws that I hide,
   their indifference could only be right.

   She was the alpha of all cruel passions
   whose touch made lesser men wince,
   and in various forms and fashions
   I have chased Miss Disdain ever since.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans