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Black Lamb


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The light fantastic

October 1st, 2014


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Black Lamb.

I am pleased to report that this year’s recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award will be Julie Andrews. It’s always nice to see a former dancing partner achieve success.

andrewsjulie copyMore than fifty years ago there appeared on Broadway a mildly amusing comedy called Anniversary Waltz. In those innocent days before the explosion of television, “mildly amusing” often equated to “modest success.” And so it seemed it would with this play. Somewhat to the surprise of all concerned, it ran for more than two years, and it was decided on the second anniversary (get it?) of their opening they would give a party.

The show was running at the Booth Theatre, which is at the corner of 45th Street and Shubert Alley, a private pathway that connects 45th to 44th, and the producers of AW invited all the casts of the shows playing those blocks to the party, which took place in the Alley after the performance of the night in question. One of those shows was the Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings, in which an old friend of mine was the dance captain. Her husband was the company manager, and the party was on payroll night, so he couldn’t go. She asked me if I’d like to fill in, and I said that I thought I could find the time.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Dancing Issue, Bogert | Link to this Entry

September 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 9 — September 2014

September 1st, 2014

In September’s issue, Terry Ross looks back on the thirteen years since 9/11 in Baker’s dozen. In Make ‘em laugh, John M. Daniel gives advice on writing funny. The Green Flash is Toby Tompkins’s recreation of a day in his childhood. Elizabeth Fournier pinpoints a lifelong fixation in I love canned food. Dan Peterson gives us another installment of his view of the state of Italy. Brad Bigelow reviews a famous Sixties’ book in Geek nostalgia. Terry Ross reviews two books about a famous city in Paris times 2. We welcome Richard Wright and William Golding into our exclusive club of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis proffers two tricky game hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for an historic preparation of Irish Stew. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry

A few tips on writing funny

September 1st, 2014


Okay. Lessee. Okay. A guy slips on a banana peel and falls on his butt. No, wait. The guy’s all dressed up, on his way to the career interview of a lifetime, and he slips on a banana peel and falls in a steaming pile of dog feces. Make that cat feces.

Did you hear the one about the man who was so poor he was reduced to eating his own shoes?

How about the woman who reads someone else’s mail by accident, misunderstands, and thinks the man she loves is two-timing her. It breaks her heart.

This working-class married couple lives in an apartment in New York. They yell at each other constantly. Their best friends are neighbors, a couple who also yell at each other. Sometimes the two couples get together and they yell at each other. By the way, one of the men is obese, and both of the men frequently threaten their wives with violence.

So this salesman runs out of gas on a country road. A farmer takes him in for the night, but the salesman abuses the farmer’s hospitality by seducing the farmer’s teen-aged daughter, making her pregnant and ruining her life. The farmer forces the two strangers to get married at gunpoint, thereby ruining both of their lives.

There’s this starving coyote, see. His prey eludes him and he accidently runs off a cliff and falls thousands of feet to the rocks below.
A nice Italian or maybe Jewish or maybe both fruit vendor is minding his own business when a gangster, a yuppie, and a cop all bash their cars into his pushcart, destroying his inventory and scattering all the money he’s earned that week.

A homeless drunk needs to urinate so bad that he.…



That stuff isn’t funny.

Maybe I’m not telling it right. People have been laughing at this material forever.

It’s not funny. It’s sad.

I didn’t say it wasn’t sad. What do you think humor is, anyway?

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

August 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 8 — August 2014

August 1st, 2014

The All-England Issue

In this special themed issue, John M. Daniel writes about an unpublished historical novel, Willikins Rex. In Not like us, Terry Ross elucidates a few differences between English and Americans. Elizabeth Fournier examines English mourning rituals in Headstones. In Imaginary England, Toby Tompkins thanks the old country for its rich literature. Four books are reviewed by writers Brad Bigelow, Sharon Harrigan, and M.A. Orthofer. Authors Percy Bysshe Shelley and Walter Scott are added to our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis offers new maneuvers of interest. Our delicious monthly lamb recipe is for Lamb Chops Stuffed with Chicken Livers. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another tricky Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All England Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The All-England Issue

Including the fascinating story of Willikins Rex

August 1st, 2014


During the summer of 1961 I worked for an antiquarian bookstore in Dallas. While I was there the store acquired a Book of Common Prayer inscribed by Caroline of Brunswick to her ward, William Austin, dated Christmas 1805, Montague House, Blackheath. The store manager sent me downtown to the public library to research these people in order to put a price on this book.

What I uncovered allowed us to charge $100, which was cheap, I thought. A hundred bucks bought a lot of book back then, but this one had a royal signature and included a special prayer for the King’s health, which was touch and go at the time, to the grief of his adoring subjects and the annoyance of his heir, who was impatient for the old man to get on with the business of dying.

georgeiii*Who were these people? The King was George III (pictured), who had lost his American colonies in 1776 and who was now mad as a hatter. The heir was George, Prince of Wales, the promiscuous, over-eating scoundrel who would eventually become Prince Regent and finally King George IV. Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick was the Prince’s first cousin as well as his wife, and the person he hated most in all the world. William Austin was Caroline’s darling child, whom she adopted in 1802, when he was three months old. Little “Willikins” lived and traveled with Princess Caroline until she died in 1821.

I typed up a one-page paper relating these facts, and it was displayed in a glass case next to the book. That one page was the first of hundreds of pages I wrote about Caroline and Willikins, off and on over the next twenty years. It turned into a novel of love and hatred, insanity and cunning intrigue, manners and scandal. Fortunately for my career, my novel, Willikins Rex, never got published. I had no business attempting a historical novel, but I enjoyed the writing and the research. Along the way I bought every book I could find about Caroline and George, many of which were deliciously opinionated one way or the other about the twenty-five-year royal squabble. At this point I don’t remember how much of my novel came from research and how much I made up. I told the story from the point of view of William Austin, who was a child, and bonkers at that.

Here are a few things that really happened.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All England Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

July 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 7 — July 2014

July 1st, 2014

In our July issue, Lane Browning extols the virtues of crows in Avian individuals. In A true sense of duty, Terry Ross suggests that American soldiers nowadays may have been sold a bill of goods. Elizabeth Fournier looks back happily on her first hearse in Low & sleek & silver & gorgeous. In Bloodsuckers, Toby Tompkins gives us the skinny on vampires. John M. Daniel continues his dissection of literary style in Tag, you’re it! Inspired by Marcelle Sauvageot's novel Commentary, Nic Grosso muses on Looking in, not out. In A cell of one’s own, Doug Bruns wonders what it would be like to do time in a prison with an excellent library. Authors Iris Murdoch and Giorgio Vasari are added to our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis offers new conundrums to solve at the table. We offer another wonderful lamb recipe from James Beard. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall again answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another tricky Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Avian individuals

Crows make me smile.

July 1st, 2014


It’s come to this. I bought mealworms.

No, not live ones — dried ones. I blame the store; had I not seen them on the shelf next to bird food I never would have thought of mealworms. What did I know from mealworms? Crispy brown slender parenthesis-shaped things that might as well be husks, though the bag promised protein and other nutrients. The text assured me that “unusual” birds would be drawn to my property. Right, not your garden variety sparrows, wrens, chickadees and jays, but exotic atypical birds. Really desirable birds.

crow*The bag didn’t mention crows. Birdseed bags never do (though I suspect ammo boxes do). No one wants to lure crows. During World War II they were labeled “black bandits” and citizens used any possible method — shooting, trapping, poisoning, dynamite, voodoo — to dispatch them. King Henry VIII declared them “despicable predators” and urged Brits to decrow (well, more accurately “derook”) the whole island. For centuries crows have been maligned. A sampling of their sobriquets: trash birds, menaces, scourges, nemeses, grim reapers, marauders, filthy scavengers, flying rodents, pseudobuzzards, and dirty #!&*#@! (I won’t get started on Jim Crow, crow’s feet, eating crow, and other pejoratives associated with these birds.) Crowbusters.com celebrates seasonal “shoots” and “mass kills.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Browning | Link to this Entry

Low & sleek & silver & gorgeous

July 1st, 2014


I bought a hearse the same year I became self-appointed to the Green River Killer Task Force. She was low and sleek and silver and gorgeous.

hearse2I would peek between the blinds to admire her because she was so damn beautiful and all mine. I didn’t live on the safest street in Portland: two blocks down from the Clinton Street Theater, which played The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday and Saturday evening. All the dressed-up show creatures would creep past my window on the way to the movies. They would ogle and stroke my beautiful Lucrezia as she sat parked outside my window. If Facebook had been around then, I’m sure all of them would have posed with her for their death car selfie.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Fournier | Link to this Entry

March 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 3 — March 2014

March 1st, 2014

In our March issue, editor Terry Ross wonders in Vive la différence! whether it would more honest if society admitted that condescension is all right. In Soul on ice, Ben Feliciano, no sports fan, exposes himself to professional hockey. In Beating up the Bard Toby Tompkins pays tribute to the greatest writer of all after walking out of a play at intermission for the first time in his life. Elizabeth Fournier fondly remembers crashing Joe DiMaggio’s funeral in Joltin' Joe & Chinatown. In To tell the truth, John M. Daniel's recalls how he learned about lying from his mother and advertisers. Susan Bennett admits that she is Having an affair with a second horse. Lucia Cowles reviews Elisabeth de Wall's book about 1950s Vienna, and Nic Grosso reviews one about plants and their sex lives. We welcome Frederick Exley into our coterie of Honorary Black Lambs. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall defends the proud coyote against legions of urban cat lovers. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another tricky Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Vive la différence!

Why did "condescension" become a pejorative term?

March 1st, 2014


The poor word has had a hard time of it. Once a proud descriptor, whether as noun, adjective, or verb, it has dwindled to a mere gibe. What had previously signified a praiseworthy act now means a rude, even a detestable, one.

The Oxford English Dictionary locates the derivation of “concescend” in the Latin roots meaning to “go down with.” As a verb, it lists two principal meanings: “to stoop voluntarily and graciously,” and “to depart from the privileges of superiority by a voluntary submission; to sink willingly to equal terms with inferiours.” As a noun, we have the delightfully worded “voluntary abnegation for the nonce of the privileges of a superior; affability to one’s inferiors, with courteous disregard of rank or position.”

This is the denotation; the connotation is quite different. In Roget, “condescend” is listed under “878. Pride.” “Condescendence” and “condescension” are grouped with “self-esteem,” “self-respect,” “self-importance,” “vanity,” and “haughtiness.” Nothing very “gracious” or “affable” here. As a verb it is listed alongside “act proudly,” “deign,” “stoop,” “look down one’s nose,” “strut,” “swagger,” and “show off.” As an adjective, with “dignified,” “noble,” “imposing,” and “stilted.” Like its cousin “patronizing,” “condescending” has taken on an almost entirely negative flavor.

The terms that annoy some well-meaning people in the OED’s definitions are “superior,” “inferiour,” “rank,” and “position,” precisely the words that denote differences among us. Our post-Sixties posture of “political correctness” [sic] discourages us from thinking in hierarchies. The intellectually deficient individual is no longer “disabled,” merely “differently abled.” Whole ranges of people are labled “special,” requiring “special education,” rather than more specifically categorized. Merely to hint that some people may in fact be stupid, thick, or not playing with a full deck is to risk being ostracized or, at best, accused of being “mean.” The bell curve is out, out, out! Even simple categories of human characteristics, along with hierarchies, are impermissible. No more fatsos (they have weight-related diseases), loudmouths (they’re bipolar and forgot their meds), string beans (bulemia), or goofballs (ADHD).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

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