By Deb A.
Roald Dahl's beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, and the occasion is being marked with hints of controversy from both a half-century ago and today: a chapter that didn't make it into the final version–it was considered too scandalous and immoral for British children of the 1950s–was printed in The Guardian on Saturday, and the cover of the new edition, published as a Penguin Modern Classic, has been roundly criticised as more appropriate for Valley of the Dolls or Lolita. (Making Dahl's name even more ubiquitous is a recent uproar over the use of the word "slut" in another of the author's books, Revolting Rhymes.)
The previously unseen chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reveals some of the major changes that were made before the final draft went to print. Initially, Charlie brought his mother, not his grandfather, along for Willy Wonka's tour, and was joined by eight other children instead of four. In the unpublished chapter featured in The Guardian, two unruly boys nearly meet a gruesome end: after clambering onto the wagons that transport chunks from a fudge mountain, Wilbur Rice and Tommy Troutbeck disappear off to "The Pounding And Cutting Room", to the horror of their parents. Willy Wonka reassures them, in the least reassuring and most Wonka-esque way, that there's a strainer in place for just this sort of occasion, and it's always worked: "At least it always has up to now." It's probably better for Wilbur and Tommy that they didn't make the novel's final cut, in more ways than one.
By Deb A.
Much of Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf's art is dangerous: from swinging from the roof of Berlin's Sony Center to scaling Tokyo skyscrapers, the two German artists are dedicated to a borderless exploration of our built environment. They have spent years playfully, peacefully, poetically introducing audiences to the more fascinating facets of the structures that we tend to overlook... and that often involves a bit of a climb.
And yet, despite the almost trance-like calmness of their work, the artists realised that in many cases, viewers were unable to get past the inherent peril of their feats and into the art itself. They began to search for ways to help audiences put aside their marvel at the stunts themselves in order to find beauty in the mundane.
Mr. Wermke and Mr. Leinkauf's latest effort involved replacing the two American flags on New York's Brooklyn Bridge with all-white versions.
"The bridge for us is a symbol of freedom and creative opportunity," Mr. Wermke explained to the New York Times. It was designed by German-born, Berlin-trained engineer John Roebling, who, as Mr. Leinkauf noted, "came to America because it was the place to fulfill his dreams, as the most beautiful expression of a great public space."
"That beauty was what we were trying to capture."
The duo, who, in keeping with the respectful nature of their interactions with architecture and public spaces, folded the flags according to America's flag code and returned them, assert that taking public responsibility was always part of their plan, even though they were aware that their actions could result in a permanent ban from the United States. Naturally the initially unclaimed work caused a minor uproar that forced local authorities to closely examine the breach in security and its potential implications, and even a month after the white flags were raised (on July 22nd to mark the 145th anniversary of Mr. Roebling's death), media outlets continue to refer to the flags as "surrender flags". Yet perhaps naively, given the city's recent history, Mr. Leinkauf and Mr. Wermke were not expecting their project to be interpreted as particularly provocative. After all, white is also a symbol of peace.
By Deb A.
Pretty much every four-year-old is an artist, and while few are taken seriously by an audience greater than the immediate family, it's more than likely that at least a few examples of their young portfolios remain for many years, stashed away in boxes in basements along with old stuffed animals and report cards. Once discovered decades later, they face an uncertain fate.
When Dutch artist Telmo Pieper came across some of his own childhood drawings, he neither tossed them into the recycling bin nor returned them to their dusty homes–instead, he brought them to life. Working in Photoshop and Paint, he researched the original subjects in order to make the final results as realistic as possible. The proportions might be askew, but there's something oddly lifelike about Pieper's Kiddie Arts series:
All images © Telmo Pieper
By Deb A.
Christopher David DiCicco writes short fiction in his attic. But he also mumbles it to himself in grocery stores, so if you run into him in Pennsylvania, don't be alarmed. He is a proud member of the online literary community whose piece, "Life Where You Want It" brings an upside-down world to the pages of Agave Magazine's Summer 2014 issue. (He would probably not mind you thinking he wrote Amy Hempel's "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" as well: "I can read that story over and over and you know what, so could you.") This week we are proud to introduce to you the fascinating Christopher D. DiCicco.
Where did you come up with the idea of a short story about being upside-down on a roller coaster?
I think in stories, so it just kind of came to me like a lot of mine do, but then like a lot of my ideas, I married it to something more important that interests me or haunts me or hurts my damn soul. You know what I mean, one of those deeper themes that occur throughout most literature because we’re all so similar, I married it to one of those guys. I’d been talking to my writer friend Matthew Kabik and he’d been reiterating his hate for his cubicle life; every day he’d look at this awful inspirational poster of a mountain biker riding down a hill with the words “Go for it” at the bottom of it or something like that. He said it crushed his soul, the stupidity and corniness of his corporate job trying to inspire him, and I thought about it, how odd and scary it is that we get stuck in these daily loops where we end up doing the same thing over and over again that we’d rather not do, and how that’s probably as weird as the rain hitting the ground and drying it right up. So, I guess the piece is a reaction to that. It’s my way of trying to make the reader look at things in a different perspective, maybe notice how weird things already are.
What would your upside-down life be like?
Upside down, when I kiss my wife, it’s because I’m angry. I step into a room and walk outside into the sun.
Hanging there no longer right-side up, I feed strays, starving them until I can see their ribs.
And when I dance, I stand completely still, and when I’m sad and cry upside down, little words in the tune of a happy jingle come singing out my eyes letting everyone know what it’s like to be me.
You sometimes write by dictating into your iPhone – does that change the nature of your final draft compared to things that start on a screen/a sheet of paper? Do you use this method because your brain is bubbling over with ideas, or because your life as a father/husband/teacher means you have to make the most of every minute... or just because you like to?
No, not really because even if I start a piece on screen or paper, I like to hear it aloud. I’m very interested in how my writing sounds, the flow of it. If I’m typing the thing, I’m saying it aloud and if I’m recording it, then it’s only a matter of time before I’m typing it anyway, so I don’t see a real change in the nature of the writing, not really. But it’s terrible at Starbucks. People probably think I’m whispering to myself. Although it’s probably worse when I’m at the grocery store talking into my phone about life on an upside-down roller coaster. And it’s not like I voice it aloud because it has to sound beautiful or anything. It’s more of it sounding right, to fit what I’m trying to capture for the particular piece. I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s my voice. I know how I sound or the narrator should sound, and if it’s not right, then I want to fix it. For me, dictating into my phone or reading it aloud as I write helps ensure that I’m writing it as it should be. I guess that kind of answers the second part of your question in a way, but not completely, so here goes...I think my style and my process are reciprocal in nature. My style is as much a product of my process as my process is a part of my style. And I’m overflowing with ideas, so I say into my phone, “New story idea” or “Continuation of…” and then I start listing the details, and then I’m like, the hell with this, because the details start taking form and then I just can’t help myself and I start telling the story, which is me writing. I think that makes sense because that’s the kind of the voice I have, some sort of weird casual storyteller. Isn’t that what writing fiction is anyway? Storytelling? I mean, the same way a singer or musician might emphasize a certain note, holding it out or cutting it nice and tight, that’s what the fiction writer does. He or she decides where to cut a word or splice in a phrase, where to emphasize a detail no one cares about until the storyteller decides it’s important, and in doing so the writer produces something of his/her own creation... and what the hell am I talking about, so yeah, being a father/husband/teacher reinforces my approach to writing. It’s old-fashioned storytelling, parenting and teaching—I’m always telling them a story—and if I tell it well enough they’ll listen.
Where does your (presumably irrepressible) urge to write come from?
Urge? It’s more like an anxiety. I have this need to write, and when I do, I feel good. At least, most of the time. It’s a part of me. And the more I know about it, the more writing becomes interesting to me—it becomes something I have to do because I love it. It’s really a narcotic thing, my urge to write. It comes from this intense appreciation of writing as an art, and a sort of obsession over style and experimentation. Those things complete me in a very corny way—who wouldn’t have the urge to feel completed?
Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yes, but I never call it that. I’m not sure why. I know what it is. It’s when I write and hate every word I think of. I get so down on myself that everything seems wrong and I wonder why I write at all. To get over it, I read my favorite stories and they remind me of how good writing is, then I read something I’ve written that I know is good or at least has a good part to it, and when I come to that word or line or paragraph that sounds like it should and I’m proud of it and feel good, then my faith has been restored in me, not just in the written word. Then I can write again.
By Deb A.
Mercedes Lawry's impish poem, "This Be The Day", featured in the Summer 2014 edition of Agave Magazine, comes in stark contrast to her short prose piece in the inaugural issue, "My Nuisance". She is a reader and writer of many things whose motivation to communicate and commitment to doing so authentically is constant, but whose methods are multifaceted.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: “This Be The Day” is a light, airy poem – did it come into existence in a light, airy way?
MERCEDES LAWRY: As best I can recall (full disclosure – my memory falters), the first line came and the poem just went from there – often the case for me. I spend a lot of time in the garden (not that it appears that way) in the spring and so that is where I am primarily centered, or was when the poem came along. I am always cognizant of insects because many of them bite me.
How often do you write?
I would love to say I write every day but I would be a horrid liar. I am dreadfully lazy, easily felled by depression and willingly distracted by a Netflix show. I tell myself I am always brewing some piece of work in my head but that too is actually a lie. I write when I write and feel twinges of guilt the rest of the time. More in fall and winter, less in summer.
Alongside poetry and fiction, you also write humour. What are the particular challenges of the latter, and how do you address them?
My “brand” of humor tends to be dark or wry and I am well aware it’s not for everyone. It’s about being true. When I find something (or someone) funny, I try to discern why I find it so. Where is the line between glib and funny? You must kill your darlings when writing humor as avidly as you would in a poem.
You’re an avid reader – what do you like to read? Do you find that your favourite books are often similar somehow to your own writing style?
I read a lot of contemporary fiction. I tend to scour the longlists of the Bookers, the Gillers, National Book Awards, etc. and look for things I might not have come upon otherwise. I am usually reading a book of fiction and a book of non-fiction at all times (as well as a book of poetry). I have my 50 reserves at the library booked and read as books become available. I don’t think “favourites” have much to do with my own writing aside from the fact that some may inspire me (George Saunders, Lydia Davis). I am still thrilled to find an author I hadn’t been aware of who stirs my soul.
Who are your favourite authors and poets?
Favourites come and go and frequently morph into someone else. I do like Hilary Mantel and have read everything she’s written. I’m a hopeless Anglophile. Poetry-wise, I like Linda Gregg and Jack Gilbert. Lately I’ve read and enjoyed Hadara bar-Nadav. It’s more a question of the specific book or poem. Even favourites disappoint.
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