Jack Ross, ed.: brief 50 - the projects issue (February 2014)
We used to have a cat called Misha who dragged in clothes from all round the neighbourhood. He evidently thought it a worthwhile contribution to the household economy – no doubt deducing this from the amount of time my mother spent washing, hanging out, ironing, and otherwise dealing with the immense amounts of fabric required for a family of six.
Misha didn’t have much of a sense of humour, even for a cat. The moment he thought he was being mocked, he would stalk out of the room in high dudgeon. You can see him in all his glory on the cover of this fiftieth issue of brief magazine, ready to pounce on anyone who might try to rob him of his prey. He would meow harshly, gutturally as he dragged in his latest prize.
Misha’s project may have been (from our point of view, at any rate), a misguided one. My father had to keep a box of clothes labelled “things our cat dragged in” beside the door of his surgery, next to the house. From his perspective, though, it was the justification of his existence, the proof that he was more than just another furry mouth to feed. He was a proud cat, and (I assume) he felt fulfilled by helping us out in this way.
And it did have the unforeseen effect of making him a bit of a local celebrity. First there was an article about him (complete with the picture reproduced here on the cover) in the NZ Herald. Then he appeared on television, featured on a rather forgettable programme of provincial waggery called That’s Fairly Interesting, hosted by Tim Shadbolt.
Misha would not perform for their cameras on any inducement, so it was actually our other cat, the far more affable Nikita (another black-and-white, short-haired Egyptian) you can see walking around the house with a dishrag in his mouth. Misha didn’t mind ordinary photographs, but he could see when he was being made fun of.
I suppose that it is appropriate to make fun of those who are too self-important, take themselves too seriously. It’s certainly a convention rooted deep in our local culture. But sometimes the self-deprecation has to stop; people have to be given the opportunity to explain just what exactly they think they’re up to.
In the case of the kind of experimental literature which has been appearing in brief magazine since it was first founded in the mid-90s, quite a lot of explanation can be required before one feels one has the faintest idea of what’s going on in – particularly in the case of single extracts from a larger construct.
Of course there’s also a place for the doctrine that any worthwhile work of art must speak for itself, make its own way in the world. It’s not, I think, that I’m asking people to explain away the pieces they’ve sent me for this special projects issue of brief. But some background is required to appreciate most literary artefacts, and I don’t see why experimental poetry and prose should be any exception to the rule.
It can, mind you, be fun to try to guess what someone is doing without being told – and an element of mystery is inherent to the effectiveness of many pieces of writing. Not always, though. So I’m quite unrepentant about having encouraged our contributors to come clean about their projects, let us into the alchemist’s chamber, encourage us to poke around in their ingredients, examine their recipes, and generally satisfy ourselves that we do have some idea what’s going on.
Anyone who knows how fond I am of cats will understand that I’m not putting Misha on the cover in order to mock him, or to make fun of our authors by association, or (heaven forbid!) to suggest that they’re just a bunch of dumb animals.
On the contrary, in fact. Misha was a cat of great character and charm, and it’s still virtually impossible for anyone in my family to understand how he managed to drag back entire sets of sheets and pillows, or the contents of people’s washing baskets (complete with peg-bags), through the hedges and bush that bordered our property. He ranged for miles around the house, and nothing daunted him. Peace to his ashes.
Another unusual aspect of this fiftieth issue of brief is the giveaway volume we’ve included with it: part of the larger celebrations of the magazine’s longevity. As the literary executors for the Rev. Leicester Kyle (a longterm supporter of brief in all of its manifestations), David Howard and I feel strongly that his work deserves far wider circulation than it achieved during his lifetime. I’ve therefore thrown in a free copy of Leicester’s Millerton Sequences for all of our faithful subscribers.
This constitutes (I hope), a reasonably representative collection of the shorter poems he wrote during the last seven years of his life, years in which he was finally able to achieve the life close to nature he’d always dreamed of, living in the tiny hamlet of Millerton in the heart of the West Coast bush.
The book includes full details of the Leicester Kyle website [http://leicesterkyle.blogspot.co.nz] (now substantially complete), which serves as a repository for his collected works, as well as the secondary writings about him. There’s an elegy by David, an introduction by me – what more could the heart desire?