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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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Archive for January, 2016

The Thirteenth Anniversary Issue

Volume 14, Number 1 — January 2016

January 1st, 2016


When I began publishing Black Lamb back in January of 2003, I had no fixed idea of how long it would go on. Then, as the years accumulated, and as writers stayed and/or left, I found myself printing thirteen years of monthly issues, incorporating more than thirteenball3,000 original essays and almost 2,000 images, many of them drawn especially for Black Lamb.

But we are now in 2016, and print journalism is, if not dead, at least limited to those with major bucks (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Harper’s, etc.), and we small fry have to face the muzak: go online or go paperless.

So we’re going paperless. It’s a hell of lot cheaper.

Henceforward, Black Lamb will exist only online. We begin our internet manifestation with the first issue of our fourteenth year, incorporating some recently written articles as well as a number of superb specimens from our copious archives.

Wish us long life! •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

January 2016 in Black Lamb

January 1st, 2016

In our first online issue of January 2016, Editor Terry Ross looks back briefly on Black Lamb’s first 13 years. In Lords of the screens, D.K. Holm notes the childishness of movies. Emily Emerson reflects on a feature of country life in Pruning. In House of mirth, Michele Gendelman maintains that comedy is in her family’s genes. Steffen Silvis examines a forgotten nemesis of T.S. Eliot in Poet of parts. In Fan on the water, Toby Tompkins recalls his father’s death. Writing from Tel Aviv, Rochelle Singer celebrates a Torah in the street. In Pedophile heroes of 9/11, James Prunty rues society’s tendency to demonize. Greg Roberts explains how he pissed his life away in Programmed to fish. In Kramnik crushed, James McQuillen reports on the confluence of chess and pro wrestling. Signing in from India, Randall Giles notices the prevalence of very loud public music in Godawful din. In The sweetest sound, Ed Goldberg waxes sentimental about his grandpa and a pennywhistle. Elizabeth Fournier lists 15 things that please her in What’s not to like? In Gasping for breath, Doug Bruns reflects that his life’s journey is neither finished nor purposeful. John M. Daniels offers a selection of Very short stories. In An instant classic, Brad Bigelow reviews Nâzim Hikmet’s novel in verse. M.A. Orthofer reviews Patrick Modiano in Nobel thriller. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers a reader’s plaintive and angry question. And we welcome American western writers Robinson Jeffers and Jack London into our star-studded gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

What’s not to like?

15 things that make me happy

January 1st, 2016


Things I Have (Until Now) Privately Savored (in no special order):

Sharp pencils. There is nothing like a sharp pencil. I feel like I could open a book of white paper and write forever, the sharp tip of my instrument creating beautiful words and imagery. What is it they say? A dream and a sharp pencil can take you anywhere. It sounds like a delicious ride on a fluffy cloud.

princessleiaPerforming the monologue from Princess Leia. Boys of all ages sort of tilt their heads and stare at me with glossy eyes as I begin, “General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.”

Canned food. I wish you all had the luxury of looking in my pantry. It is all there in living can color, cans arranged by month and year. Every three months I rotate them all out and restock. I lust for pull-out shelves someday. That would be more delightful to me than walking through Crystal Gayle’s long and luxurious locks barefoot.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Fournier | Link to this Entry

Fan on the water

... and ashes to ashes

January 1st, 2016


My father died in 1996 in Tucson, Ariz., where he had spent his last years at a rehabilitation facility for addicts of all persuasions. He’d been an alcoholic for many years, but he got Clean and Sober in Tucson, and mostly stayed that way. But he never told me or my brother Mike about a colonoscopy that had revealed the worst. By the time we found out, he was in hospice care, already damned-near dead. He was too stoned on morphine when I finally got to his bedside to talk much, although he gobbled all the chocolates I had brought immediately. The hospice nurse had told me that flowers depressed him, and that he no longer ate anything but sweets, so what the hell.

Dad hadn’t wanted to see me at all when I arrived at the hospital. It took a full day and a sympathetic orderly for me to get into his room and deliver the chocolates. The sugar hit roused him briefly and he told me, mouth pasted with chocolate, that I was a “good son.” I’m not sure he knew which son I was. He died a week or so later.

My brother Mike dealt with the details, flying out from his Transcendental Meditation Center in Washington, D.C. to take charge of Dad’s body and effects. He found the least expensive crematorium in Tucson, fended off the blandishments of its directors pressuring him for a Pharaonic send-off, and got a no-frills deal.

sailboatMeanwhile he and I had contacted our family and Dad’s surviving friends for a memorial service in Falmouth, Mass., to be followed by a scattering of Dad’s ashes into Buzzards Bay. Mike had the crematorium send the sealed plastic box, in my name, to my wife’s art gallery on the east side of Manhattan, because at the time the mail carriers in our home nabe were careless about delivering packages.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Tompkins | Link to this Entry

Torah in the street

High tech meets more than its match

January 1st, 2016


Here I am, another late afternoon just me and my computer in my cubicle, working on a presentation about a highly competitive, cutting-edge device guaranteed to eclipse background noise on cellphone calls. When, lo and behold, out of Kafkaland, drums roll and trumpets blast from down on Shenkar Street, penetrating double-glazed windows and shattering the notion that background noise can, or should, be silenced.

“Oy, yo, yo, yo, yo, Mashiach!”

Is the messiah really here in the heart of Israel’s most elite, high-tech neighborhood? Is he riding a white donkey?

I rush to the window and throw it open. The black-and-white street is flooded in color. Young drummers dressed in red, black hats dancing in delirious circles, a white truck crowned in gold and studded with loudspeakers, women in glossy wigs and shiny multicolored scarves pushing baby carriages, a Filipina pushing her elderly ward in a wheelchair, and blue-and-white police cars sealing off the rejoicing masses. Throngs of onlookers are agape, pointing and snapping photos from their cellphones.

torahAnd in the middle of all of this hullaballoo its raison d’être: a Torah. A brand new Torah being welcomed into the fold. Hidden modestly under a canopy of green velvet draped on four poles, it is barely visible from where I stand on the second floor of a corporate office. So I rush downstairs to greet it.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Singer | Link to this Entry

Very short stories

January 1st, 2016


In the October 2015 issue of Black Lamb, I told of my introduction to the pleasure of writing pint-sized stories. Actually, they’re smaller than pint-sized. At 55 words per story, they weigh in at about six ounces, which is what a Coke bottle held when I was a kid. It cost a nickel. I digress.

Over several years I wrote dozens of such miniatures, and most of them were published, under a variety of pseudonyms, in collections Steve Moss and I put together for Daniel & Daniel and Running Press. Here are some that were written, again pseudonymously, for a collection published by Quality Paperback Book Club. They were disqualified because the stories were supposed to be submitted only by members of the club. So these stories appear here in print for the first time.

From Here to Eternity

“Looks bad, Frank,” Saint Peter said. “Booze, broads, brawls….”

Frank shrugged. “I did it my way.”

sinatra“You belong downstairs with the hookers and gangsters.”

Frank smiled.

“But the Boss likes your singing,” Pete continued. “Put on this white robe. From now on you’re singing in the choir.”

“Like hell!” Frank thundered.

Pete smiled back. “Bingo.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Gasping for breath

My true north is still elusive

January 1st, 2016


I was an intent and haughty young man, hungry for direction and purpose. I am less intent as an aging man and I have worked to lose the haughtiness, though I still remain hungry for direction and purpose. A true north, presented as a reasonable and intelligent sensibility, remains unknown, a shrouded mystery. Schopenhauer, that great sourpuss, said that walking is simply the function of interrupting the natural state of falling down. I am walking, and conscious that every step is taken in self-defense, taken to keep from collapsing. I have concluded that for me life holds only surprises and reveals nothing. I am in a poker game and am blind, having no idea what cards I hold.

manpacingI did not spring from the womb playing Mozart. I cannot do math. I have not experienced a particular urge to save the world or develop a vaccine or build an empire. I have no natural capacity for anything, as best I can tell. The writer in me struggles to spin my web, but all disciplines have their nature. I work from my gut. In short, I exist, like, as best I can tell, many of us exist, without a clarifying direction or calling, most of the time not even cognizant that we even exist. I keep my eyes open and take notes. I attempt to string them together and search for patterns. And at sixty I still search.

Driving through Ohio recently I realized how much I prefer straight lines. The highways of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, reminded me that hidden curves are, conversely, not to my liking. I want to see straight ahead as far as I can. I want my eye to rest on the horizon. Maybe that is why so many of us are drawn to the ocean. The eye is unimpeded and the curvature of the earth is distant and not threatening. Yet the only migraine I ever experienced occurred in Spain on the Costa del Sol, where the sun and the ocean and the expanse could not be escaped and in all directions intensity loomed. This was a painful thing to experience and all I take from it is an odd aversion to brilliance. A moth will singe its wings and die over a flame. And the search goes on.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Bruns | Link to this Entry

An instant classic

A novel in verse for the ages

January 1st, 2016


Human Landscapes from My Country
by Nâzim Hikmet
translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk
Persea Books, 2009

One of the drawbacks to running my website is that I rarely read books that are still in print. Browsing in new bookstores is always frustrating. I find things I’d love to read but then struggle to justify the time away from reading books I should cover on the site.

hikmetLast week, however, I couldn’t resist buying a new book. We were at the Istanbul airport waiting for our flight back to Brussels, and my wife and I were killing time browsing in the D&R store in the international terminal. There was a small section of English translations of Turkish literature, and in it, a copy of Nâzim Hikmet’s Human Landscapes from My Country, published by Persea Books in 2009. I thumbed through it and saw that it was a long poem (Hikmet’s subtitle is “An Epic Novel in Verse”), which would usually constitute strike two for me. I have to confess that I do not read as much poetry as I should.

But I soon found myself five pages into the book, almost inhaling the text like air. Although written (mostly) in blank verse, Hikmet’s style is transparent and effortless to read. Unlike the only other verse novel I’ve read (Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, which I did enjoy and do admire greatly), Human Landscapes from My Country could be published as prose with little effect on the meaning — though certainly not the form — of the text. I decided to buy it, and I read over 150 pages in the course of our flight back. I went on to devour its more than 450 pages in the course of a few days.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Bigelow, Book Reviews, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

Nobel thriller

Patrick Modiano surprises

January 1st, 2016


After the Circus
by Patrick Modiano
translated by Mark Polizzotti
published in France 1992

After the Circus seems like a very simple story. The Modiano-like narrator relates events from when he was eighteen; in contrast to many of this author’s works, in which he often (re)considers and comments on events and his actions of the past from a later or present-day perspective, Modiano barely intrudes on the timeline here, making for even greater immediacy to the story than usual. He does describe revisiting one of the locales, café, from his story at one point, ten years later, around 1973; once outside: “I stupidly broke down in sobs,” a rare emotional outburst from Modiano’s otherwise so passive and passionless alter-ego-protagonists. This prefigures just how devastating the blow to come to the eighteen-year-old in modianothe story proper is (a sense further reinforced by the fact that the story is only finally written by Modiano when he has distanced himself from events by another two decades, After the Circus coming out only in 1992).

The opening of the novel already suggests vague menace and unease, the young narrator being questioned by the police. He doesn’t know why, and when he asks at the end of the interrogation is simply told “Your name was in someone’s address book” — without being told whose. The names he is questioned about are ones he doesn’t recognize, so he is left with no idea what they think he might be mixed up in.

The narrator is a young man of barely-formed personal identity. He’s escaped from six hellish years at boarding school, with hardly any family support system; his father is in Switzerland — occasionally in contact if often barely understood over the telephone line — and the young man shares an apartment (that soon has to be vacated) with a man named Grabley. Grabley calls him Obligado — a nickname — and it is only very late in the novel that we learn his actual name, Jean. “I was struck that she’d call me by my name,” he says when it is finally revealed, a so-personal marker that only in an extreme situation (“Please, I’m begging you,” she pleads) does it come up.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Orthofer | Link to this Entry

Lords of the screens

They're infantilizing the movies!

January 1st, 2016


Let’s say you haven’t seen a movie in a long time. Let’s pretend, in fact, that you went into a coma at the age of ten early in the Sixties. You wake up forty years later, in 2001, and the first thing you want to do is go see a movie. You soon learn that the stuff you watched as a kid at Saturday matinées are now international hits taken seriously by movie reviewers as both great art and great entertainment.

lordoringsAbout two years ago Variety announced that the non-Disney auteur most associated with the “magic” of childhood was set to direct the first adaptation of Scottish author J.K. Rowling’s internationally popular kids’ books. So I wrote a letter to Steven Spielberg asking him not to film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (renamed Sorcerer’s Stone in America).

My argument was simple: Don’t mess with Rowling. Don’t take something delightfully literary and make it literal with computer-generated wizardry and the dominating faces of actors who usurp the clingy visualization that a reader, young or old, brings to the books.

My advice would have been impossible to heed, of course, because once a movie of Harry’s proportions gets rolling, it rarely if ever reverses direction.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Holm | Link to this Entry

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