Angela Woodward - The structure of the book blends her husband Jonathan’s lectures about ice ages, pre-history, and astronomy with Jenny’s telling of their life together. The narrative’s pieces seemingly rub against one another, like positively charged magnets. They simply don’t want to touch or fall neatly into place. You sense a connection but are uncertain about the bond


Angela Woodward, Natural Wonders: A NovelFiction Collective 2, 2016.   
read it at Google Boks                                                                                                                             
www.angelawoodward.com/

In Natural Wonders, Jenny is given the task of assembling a memorial edition of her recently deceased husband Jonathan’s lecture series about the physical history of the earth. With little knowledge of his work or of Jonathan himself, Jenny constructs from his fragmentary and disorganized notes her own version of our planet’s past.
Presented as a series of lectures, Jenny’s earth history is an amalgam of stories from science and about scientists—a Serbian mathematician and his theory of the ice ages, a Swiss doctor camped on a glacier, the mysterious materia pinguis thought to have drifted down from stars to form fossils. Into these stories she interweaves scenes from their marriage as well as material she finds on Jonathan’s shelves. In her history, an explanation of continental drift becomes enmeshed with a schoolboy’s erotic encounter with an older woman. Icebergs in an Andean lake launch a woman’s jealous affair with a third-rate actor, and H. G. Wells’s Island of Dr. Moreau is dramatically recounted in new form.
Natural Wonders mixes mythology, popular fiction, and a misfired romance with the story of the earth hurtling around the sun. From intimately human to geologic to cosmic, it explores change, love, and loss.

“Empiricists are us. We know what we know through our sensing apparatus. A fact, we know, is a thing done, and once it is done it is done and leaves only artifact and residue, evidence of its happening. But we also know (we’re giddy with fear) that our senses are so easily fooled. And in that fooling lies great wonder! Angela Woodward in Natural Wonders knows what the grand satirists—Swift and Sterne and Defoe—knew about the great tectonic paradigm shift to this new way of knowing. Her deadpan take on the scientific deadpan is expansive and microscopic, hilarious and heartbreaking. The book is a studious study of silly seriousness, a calculating engine collecting forever the erotic and effervescent data of our empirical world. It is so surely never sure of itself. It can’t not believe its eyes. Behold! Observe! See! The natural wonder of Natural Wonders as it does a bang-up tangled tango with the tabula rasa.” —Michael Martone

“Natural Wonders is an amazing work about sentience and biologic magic, its structure built and layered with beautiful rigor. It is full of delicious sentences that will pull readers into its meditation on story-making and the awe that seems to be just outside our sight. It contextualizes our shred of a civilization so vividly in that readers will see the world with new eyes through this book.” –from the introduction by Stacey Levine

Angela Woodward is the author of three books and the recipient of numerous awards. This year she will have two more books published: Origins and Other Stories (Dzanc Press) and Natural Wonders, winner of Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize (FC2/University of Alabama). Natural Wonders centers around an awkward mistake: Jenny, misreading a moment, merely shakes her husband’s hand as she leaves for the morning. This error grows in magnitude after she finds her husband dead from a heart attack. The structure of the book blends her husband Jonathan’s lectures about ice ages, pre-history, and astronomy with Jenny’s telling of their life together. The narrative’s pieces seemingly rub against one another, like positively charged magnets. They simply don’t want to touch or fall neatly into place. You sense a connection but are uncertain about the bond—the result captivating you from beginning to end. Finally, Woodward’s prose, full of shimmering sentences, is graceful, an absolute delight to read. In this interview, Woodward discusses her reading and writing habits, how she designs stories, and the poetry of prose.
Jacob Singer

Jacob Singer: Can you tell me about your reading and writing habits surrounding Natural Wonders?
Angela Woodward: I read tons of source material for this book. It started with a Time-Life book on the ice ages. I have no idea why I was reading it. I found it in the library of the college where I work, but it’s written for younger students. It’s popular science, not a textbook, so I don’t know why it would have been in our stacks. It’s really well written, though, and I got interested in retelling some of the stories in it.
Since it’s geared for non-specialists, perhaps for scientifically minded kids but not scientists, the focus is on the people involved in the science as well as the theories and events. So for example in the first chapter of Natural Wonders, the Swiss scientist Agassiz has a hard time convincing the English there’s evidence of the ice ages all around. It was in this book that I got the little nugget where he shows them a hill that’s been scoured by a glacier, and they tell him little boys have slid down it for years, and polished it with their backsides. It seems such a reasonable refutation. They’ve seen the little boys, but no one has seen a glacier in this spot. This kind of incident, a clash of beliefs, really interests me, and the Time-Life book was full of these stories. Everything about the mathematician Milankovich, the frozen mammoth in the final chapter, the Snowball Earth theory—it all came from this one book.
I also read all kinds of other books to fill in gaps, where I needed to learn more about something. I read a lot of anthropology, archaeology, particularly feminist takes on these sciences, and autobiographies of scientists and travelers. I had so much good stuff, and I couldn’t use it all. A lot of tales about people traveling in Siberia were so compelling, and I tried and tried to weave that in, though it didn’t fit and didn’t make sense. There’s a lot out there, though, about the solidity and certainty of the explorer, suddenly overturned by inexplicable events.
As far as how I approached this book, I wrote a lot of the initial chapters in short bursts, whenever I had the slightest break in my work day. I wrote some at a residency on Norton Island, off the coast of Maine, which gave me a profound sense of the creepiness and unknowability of nature. Back at home, I got up early and wrote every morning before work, for about half an hour. I do that every day, no matter what, and though it’s not a lot of time, even getting a few sentences done makes a difference to me. I wrote a lot of the book’s ending at another residency, the Wormfarm Institute in Wisconsin. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who made those residencies possible. It’s such a gift to an artist, to be left alone to work, especially if you have a demanding job and a family. To leave that behind even for two weeks has been vital to me.
JS: How did the book change during the revision process?
AW: This book started out so complicated. I didn’t know what it was, or why it couldn’t be everything. It had a set of chapters interspersed throughout that told about a traveler going to the ceremony of some indigenous people in Siberia, and a terrible accident. Then it had another story about a disastrous archaeological dig. The relationship between Jonathan and Jenny was really fleshed out. And then it had bits and pieces of the chapters you see today, that have whatever flavor they have, a more folkloric feel, whereas the rest of it was sort of novelistic. It was a huge mess. It, and I, reached a point of collapse and implosion, and I started over completely. It was like making a patchwork quilt out of a bunch of nice but worn-out clothes. I kept certain sentences, and in some places made new stories out of some paragraph I’d saved. Some of the raw material was the same, but it had all been cut down and repurposed.
After that, it had a better structure, and I pieced it together and wrote about a third to a half of all new material. Even after that, it was still pretty shaggy. I did another major revision, where I took out the traveler’s story, which I had broken up into five chapters that spanned the book. I really liked it, but I was insane to try to fit it in. I had rewritten it so it was something that happened to Jonathan, except the era didn’t make sense unless it’s fifty years earlier in Siberia. I didn’t want to produce something that worked on the reader like an intellectual puzzle. I want the writing to be felt first, and maybe puzzled over later, but I didn’t want the reader’s first reaction to be worrying about being smart enough to sort the structure out. The structure should just support the material, and I think at last I simplified it enough.
JS: What was the first scene that you wrote?
AW: What is now the first chapter, the earth being created in 4004 B.C. at nine in the morning, might have been the first one I wrote, pretty much like that. But when I decided I might make this big sprawling novel out of the material, I put another piece I’d written a little earlier as a stand-alone short story in front of that one. It was called “Things That Can Be Done to Skeletons,” and it skimmed over a lot of the themes I later unpacked more slowly. So that one was really the first.
JS: Tell me about the idea of the missed kiss and Jonathan’s death? This scene is a keystone moment in the story. Did this come about early on in the writing process or did it surface as you continued to write and revise?
AW: I can remember composing that sentence, on a day when I took a little break in the middle of my work day, snuck away somewhere quiet, and wrote for half an hour. It resonated a lot with me as soon as it appeared. Jonathan and Jenny’s whole relationship is encapsulated in that moment. There’s nothing really wrong between them, and yet when he wants to show her physical affection, she veers away without thinking about it. They’re still so close, and yet they don’t connect. It’s a mild domestic scene, the goodbye kiss, nothing passionate or dramatic, but she absolutely rejected him. Initially, that sentence cropped up just once, but as I worked on ways to make the material cohere, it seemed like one of the moments Jenny might return to in her mind. And then it becomes more significant in retrospect, when it becomes clear at the very end of the novel that the non-kiss was the last time she saw him alive.
JS: The narrative structure of your book blends a semester’s worth of Jonathan’s lectures about ice ages, pre-history, and astronomy with the love story of Jonathan and Jenny? Can you tell me a bit about how this structure came to be?
AW: As I explained, initially this was a kind of fractured set of loosely related narratives that I had to junk. The idea of each chapter being a lecture finally held the disparate pieces together. I had to lose a lot of material that I liked, and that was well-written, but that didn’t fit with Jonathan’s course. For example, I had a chapter about a man who shot and stuffed tons of birds and shipped them back to England—another Siberia story—and another about the explorer Roy Chapman Andrews shooting the knees out of gazelles. These related thematically, but Jonathan wouldn’t have fit them into Earth and Prehistory. So the lecture series gave me a means to sort out what I had. It was not a challenge, but a gratifying solution.
The lecture structure also lets both protagonists speak. Jenny is telling Jonathan’s stories in her own way, and the voice shifts between his and hers. She’s in a way his puppet master, a ventriloquist. That let me both stay grounded in the earth science and let out her playful and irreverent takes on things. I got a balance of masculine and feminine, art and science, and also the earth’s story with the story of the marriage. I was able to find room for most of what I wanted to explore, within a reasonable container.
JS: One of the most pleasurable aspects of reading this story was attempting to piece the lectures together with the love story. Because different pieces didn’t neatly fall into place, I was constantly shuffling scenes around in my head—somewhat like a puzzle—in order to see the big picture. Nothing seemed to neatly fit together but I could sense there was something that tied smaller scenes together. Can you discuss your sense of aesthetics with regards to unity/disunity and open/closed narratives? This seems to be one of the aesthetic concerns of “innovative” texts.
AW: I’m so glad you started out with “pleasurable,” because pleasure is what it’s all about for me. I would say all my reading is pleasure reading, because I don’t read anything I don’t immensely enjoy. If I don’t feel strongly, I just stop. I can read some pretty dense theoretical or philosophical work, and feel the pleasure of complex ideas. I love detective novels, and I’m constantly amazed at the skill of authors who can create such a surprising, riveting plot, and often a great sense of unity in the gang of characters, the bit players on the murder squad. There are authors whose prose I find miraculous and I read and reread them: Thomas Bernhard, William Gaddis, Magdalena Tulli, who create a whole world out of a narrative voice. Whatever I’m doing as a writer, I hope the reader will fondle the words, marvel over the sentences. I want to make a beautiful contraption. Beautiful is not pretty. It includes ugliness and terror, too.
Given that I enjoy and admire really disparate types of writing, I don’t know if innovative/traditional is really the way I think of my aesthetic. I do want surprise, and openness, as a reader and a writer. That’s what I find most engaging, that space for interplay between the creator of the story and reader of the story. I would hope that I left a lot of room in Natural Wonders for you to see what you want to see in Jonathan and Jenny’s relationship, and in the fate of the Earth. If it was a neat allegory, you would have to deduce what I meant and what I thought, or gotten my lesson out of it. I don’t want that. I like that you’re juggling the pieces. I would hope that anyone could get some satisfaction out of the small scenes and the larger scheme, whatever that is, and not have to know exactly how the parts line up.
One book I returned to for guidance throughout the three or four years of writing Natural Wonders was Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies. That’s the one where mute travelers are thrown together in an inn overnight and tell each other their stories using tarot cards. Calvino doesn’t waste much time establishing how these people came together or why they’re mute, or how the cards get laid out. Each story is so interesting in itself that it keeps you reading, though it’s hard to say what the overall narrative arc is. That book inspired me to go ahead and tell the stories I wanted to tell, and hope that readers would enjoy them enough to not worry about the container they’re in. That’s not to say I don’t have a pretty strong perspective on the material, but I’m willing to risk readers finding different paths in and out of it.
JS: Can you talk about the poetic use of language in Natural Wonders—both at the level of the word and the sentence. You use both extremely well. I felt I was in a specific universe with a specific dialect of English based on scientific lingo. Here’s an example of what I mean:
The students have the formula for phosphorus and manganese in their notes, but they’ve missed his explanation of the mysterious materia pinguis. Again it was the Swiss, and some of their French and Italian neighbors, who couldn’t help but stumble over fish bones, sea shells, whorled nautilus, high on the mountains where they could not have been washed by any sea. Sometimes these figured stones lay in piles, layer upon layer, as if a whole abandoned beach had been thrown up under the goat pasture. The most convincing explanation for these odd replicas of marine animals was that a mysterious plastic force under the earth produced them in coincidental mimicry. Jack Frost painted the windows with meadow flowers, and these were inorganic, in no way derived from vegetable life. In the same way, the materia pinguis concreted under the earth, shark’s teeth, scallop fans, created by this underground petrifying juice.
AW: No matter what the piece of writing, it’s created out of words. Writers are only working with words. That’s all we have. We don’t have ideas. We don’t have images. We don’t have scenes. We don’t have characters. The illusion of all those things can be crafted out of words, but those other things—the ides, the images—are by-products of language. Words in themselves have sounds and sense, and they shift and change in relation to the other words around them, both in their sound schemes and how they’re yoked grammatically. I’m never not aware of that baseness of language, even as I try to do quite complicated things with it.
Take one of the sentences you quoted above: “In the same way, the materia pinguis concreted under the earth, shark’s teeth, scallop fans, created by this underground petrifying juice.” The materia pinguis stands out, in italics, as mysterious and Latin, and it also delivers that incredible moist clump of consonants in pinguis. Then that’s followed by “concreted”— such a nice verb. It’s both simple and little unusual, and it’s describing a specific physical action, of coming together and hardening, taking form. Then we have a little row of noun-as-adjective modifying noun—shark’s teeth, scallop fan—followed by two modifiers and noun: underground, petrifying juice. That sentence has a rhythm and a concussiveness, with “concreted” paired with “created” so the hard c’s hit three times, and the cree, cree doubles. We can visualize everything more or less: not the materia pinguis, which we have to get the definition of from context, but the fossils are apprehendable in our mind’s eye, and so is the juice, at least hazily. We might not have seen an underground petrifying juice, but we can imagine some white oozy junk when our eyes flick over that description.
A sentence like that is sensual in a lot of different ways, and that, in a bigger sense, is the world Jenny is creating out of Jonathan’s science. On the micro level and on the macro level, that sentence is Natural Wonders. It’s an explanation of an outdated geological theory as well as an explication of Jenny as the mastermind behind Jonathan’s notes, with her strong aesthetic sense overruling his pedantry. That’s their marriage, too, that she, knowing nothing of his science, is nevertheless able to work in concert with him—though only after he’s dead.
I don’t usually look at my own work in such detail, and I’m certainly not thinking all those thoughts as I’m sitting at my keyboard writing. But this book seems to have a resonance from the way the words are put together that puts its whole world together. I would say that anyone whose writing really makes an impact is doing that too, though in lots of different ways. This may be why much writing advice is so useless. Only a few rules are applicable to only a few styles. I will always take any advice I can get. I’ll always see if something makes sense to me, because it can’t hurt. But I’m not aiming to make a movie with my words. That’s just one approach.
JS: What prose writers turned you on to writing at the level of the sentence? Would you talk about your progression as a prose stylist?
AW: I had very little coursework in creative writing, and I seem to have missed that whole minimalism thing. I think my background in music might be what led me to the way I think about writing sentences. I studied the violin seriously for much of my youth, and I attribute my sense of the sound of words to my musicality. I like verbs. The idea of getting rid of all “to be” verbs has been useful to me. Again, other writers use “to be” verbs all the time, and it’s fine, but for me, my writing seemed to get sharper when I made deliberate rearrangements to find an active verb. It forces some creative solutions.
In terms of my education as a writer, I may owe more to Thomas Bernhard than to anyone else. I read him when I was in grad school, though not as part of coursework. I wasn’t intending to be a writer then, or I hadn’t quite figured out how I could do that, so I was studying something else. I was felled by the first book of his I read, which was either Gargoyles or Concrete. He breaks that most fundamental writing rule: show, don’t tell. Yet he tells in a way that creates a vivid world out of its unstoppable cascade of prose. It felt like the earth stood still when I first read him. The inescapable track I thought I was on vanished. He opened up immense possibilities. His writing is so courageous. That’s what the student writer should take away from a master like Bernhard. Not to imitate his style. That would be false. His subject matter and his style are inextricable. He found a way to tell what he had to tell, though it has almost none of what we might be taught to do. There are scenes, and images, and dialogue, though they’re subsumed within giant sentences and paragraphs, so you have to work backwards to find them. I don’t know. Every writer on earth doesn’t need to invent their own style, and style for the sake of style is pretty vapid. But Bernhard wrestles with language in a way that’s fundamental to his project. He’s writing about rotten, corrupt, vicious systems, and he can’t do that using polite, conformist language. What he’s saying requires spewing, and so he spews with elegant, controlled mania. He doesn’t do it to sound original. His voice is original, unique, because it arises out of the particular virulence of his perspective.
I suppose, underneath it all, this is my problem with the label “innovative” or “experimental” fiction. It presupposes, somehow, that the innovation is formal, concerned with form. “Let’s try writing in a new way.” I would say my fiction is enormously innovative, particularly if you look at my short fiction collection Origins and Other Stories (Dzanc) coming out at the same time as Natural Wonders.
It’s innovative because my take on the world is what it is, and what I need to say doesn’t much concern sentiment or even rationality. Though I admire traditional narrative very much, especially in the excellent detective novel, I can’t write that way because it doesn’t serve my project. I’m not messing around with form as a kind of game, but I’m expressing odd and overlooked things, sometimes fierce and lonely things, and it takes an unusual approach to language and structure to get at those things. I’m overturning and looking under things, coming at them from oblique angles, and play with language and structure helps that happen. There’s play and pleasure and freedom in it too, but the innovation doesn’t exist for its own sake. -

quarterlyconversation.com/a-conversation-with-angela-woodward




Angela Woodward, Origins and Other Stories, Dzanc Books, 2016.

Winner of the 2014 Collagist magazine prose chapbook competition. Available spring 2016.
“Origins and other stories is heady and weighty, elegantly written and substantial, and I am excited for you to read it.”–Gabriel Blackwell
angelawoodward
Angela Woodward, End of the Fire Cult, Ravenna Press, 2010.
Excerpt (PDF)
excerpt

Angela Woodward's new book with Ravenna, End of the Fire Cult (following The Human Mind), examines culture and change, while also telling the story of the waning days of a modern marriage...
A sample: Three years ago my husband gave me two-thirds of an exceptionally beautiful and sacred mountain. I disputed whether he owned it in the first place, but I accepted through treaty his offer of the majority portion.
This opening to the book, this gift, is only the first volley in the border dispute between two countries a husband and wife have each imagined for themselves. When a third country threatens to invade both Marmoral and Belgrave, the couple must decide how to defend themselves.
End of the Fire Cult alternates between tales of her Marmoral and his Belgrave. When a third country threatens to invade both Marmoral and Belgrave, the couple must decide how to defend themselves. End of the Fire Cult examines culture and change, while also telling the story of the waning days of a modern marriage.

Faith and fire twine and two cities emerge from the smoke, growing more familiar with each page. An arresting work. - Amelia Gray

Angela Woodward's End of the Fire Cult possesses a peculiar magic that's quite unlike anything I've recently read. Commuting effortlessly between interior and exterior worlds, spinning narratives in a prose that is always poetically apt, Woodward introduces us to the border disputes between two countries that a husband and wife have imagined and strategically revise, adapting, building and destroying as their marriage struggles onward.… End of the Fire Cult is deeply strange and yet hauntingly familiar, and Angela Woodward's stunning voice seems both contemporary and very old. - Philip Graham

Woodward is a lyrical, tantalizing modern romantic… - Sid Smith

The End of the Fire Cult is the most brilliant, tightly packed jewel of a book you should have heard of but probably haven't. The story of the end of a marriage as told through the geo-political relationship of two imaginary countries, its so much more than the sum of its parts. The line between the public and the private story, between political language and poetry, between the old world of family lineage and sacred ritual and the new globalized consumer landscape is the marginal zone where--somehow, incredibly--this story takes place. Each sentence is gorgeous and the larger ideas--the way it looks closely at what it is we're losing, at precise details of that loss--filled me with a sense of deep knowing and sorrow. Both the wholly known and detailed "real" world of the marriage (which is in its own ways wickedly surreal) and the "imaginary" countries with their histories, cultures, myths and internal conflicts were delicious and though wonderfully original and strange, were also imbued with the deeply familiar, universal and, for right now, recognizable tensions of our time. This is unputdownable and often left me wanting for breath. - Ammi E at amazon.com

Angela Woodward‘s first novel, End of the Fire Cult (Ravenna Press), is a small masterpiece (small only in the sense that it is 104 pages long) that has unjustly gone without the wider recognition and audience that it deserves.
End of the Fire Cult tracks the slow dissolution of a marriage–not through the day by day tensions of the unhappy couple, but through the political, cultural and diplomatic relations between two imagined countries: Marmoral, invented by the wife, and Belgrave, invented by her husband.  Relations are strained between these two countries, and as the reader explores the annual rituals, folklore and written literature, and the delicate negotiations of Marmoral and Belgrave’s shared border, the reader comes to see how large, how complex is the interior geography of any wife and husband, and how much can go wrong. Numéro Cinq is proud to be able to feature two excerpts from Angela Woodward’s novel: “Fire III—Fireflies,” and “Arachne.”—Philip Graham

The novel begins: "Three years ago, my husband gave me two-thirds of an exceptionally beautiful and sacred mountain." From that gift, we're taken into a marriage that has its qualities displayed not in the small, telling gestures of psychological realism, but in the broader strokes of a shared fantasy, a history kept in the stories the husband and wife tell each other of their respective countries, uneasy neighbors in a made-up world. The wife creates the past and present of the Free Republic of Marmoral, put "under the auspices of a hereditary oligarchy of thieves," and even as she tells her husband about it—"back when [they] leaned against each other in the evenings"—he is already asking to change some bit of her country, to make it more to his liking. As the book progresses, the husband's country Belgrave—populated by a "long-standing warlike people"—has an uneasy relationship with Marmoral,  but that's nothing compared to the new threat that opens the book: already besieged from the north by her husband's invented land, the wife finds a new neighbor to the south, a country allied with the husband's Belgrave but which she knows nothing about, until the husband explains this new country's actions, its attempts to take more of more of what was once the wife's, infiltrating her borders with its culture and people.
          Once this stage is set, the novel takes off, progressing in short chapters detailing very little about the wife and her husband's "real" lives, but delving deeply into the fantastical minutia of their competing countries. The wife invents an ancient history for her people, who were "grass, weeds, not lions," unlike her husband's people, descended from gods, then details the working of their libraries, their religions, their tourist industries. On and on the book goes, giving us more and more of these three countries, and all the while we catch their straining marriage mostly through subtext, through inferences captured in the details they choose to add to their countries, until finally Marmoral is openly attacked, after which the book once again reconfigures, changes the level of access we get to both the wife's fantasies and her reality.
          In this ingenious fashion, Angela Woodward's End of the Fire Cult manages to render the sometimes-hard-to-see strains of a marriage not by zooming in on their smallest details, but by casting their essences across the history of a mutually-invented world. In doing so she makes the wife's sadness and her longing into something of a small epic, one as moving as it is inventive, as heartbreaking as it is gorgeous. Eventually the wife ends in exile, not from her marriage, but from her well-loved, invented country, imagining herself "the sole member of [her] civilization." It's a sad state for a character so full of imagination, but perhaps it is worth considering that we, as readers, get to appreciate what she's not just invented, but also shared, and then to revel in its fantasy, even if the husband for whom she'd invented the world would not.–Matt Bell



Angela Woodward, The Human Mind, Ravenna Press, 2007. 
Excerpt (PDF)

These stories brim with ideas, with firm outward gazes upon the story's world and a bracing intellect involved beyond the self. Historical figures such as Edgar Allan Poe, William James, and Robert Hooke people them, but so do a man made of smoke, an orphaned woman who sews hats and handbags, and the alchemist Dr. Craft, who bottles starlight.

These stories brim with ideas, with firm outward gazes upon the story’s world and a bracing intellect involved beyond the self. Historical figures such as Edgar Allen Poe, William James and Robert Hooke people them, but so do a man made of smoke, an orphaned woman who sews hats and handbags, and the alchemist Dr. Crafft, who bottles starlight. Woodward may be Borges’s niece and Norman Lock’s sister, but this world of mystery and imagination is no one but hers. –Cooper Renner

The Human Mind
Angela Woodward
In 1870, the human mind was something like a rainy street, foggy, dark, a narrow cobbled passage traveled by men in long raincoats. They swept into the little stores, shaking their umbrellas and stamping their galoshes. Who knows what they bought. In upstairs rooms, women put their mending down and went to the window. Even cupping their hands to the glass and leaning their foreheads close, they couldn't see much more than the continual downpour. Sometimes the smell of liver grilling at the little corner stall rose up out of the drizzle, or a horse's whinny rang out briefly. At four o'clock, the man came to light the lamps, though really it had been dim all day, and dark for hours.
Around 1905, I went on a picnic with William James. He sent the students off to pick raspberries, while we lolled on the blanket. He described the equipment in his laboratory, "a metronome, a device for whirling a frog," and one or two other bits of apparatus. "It's so comfortable to be with you," he said. But I didn't answer. At that point, he inspired me with so much respect it felt like fear. Our hands had touched once, briefly. His fingertips were pads of perception, linked to great waves of sensation and longing. "What is this fire?" he said, but that was another time, a year later, as I was sneaking down his back steps, crying. I did not turn around, though I knew what he referred to.
It was in 1956 that the human mind became a parking lot, at that time the most beautiful of structures. Ideas slotted into in neat stalls, where the sun reflected off their shiny hoods. The equality and unanimity of it was glorious, the rows and columns of vehicles, the suppleness of their curving fenders, the power promised by their long, lean hoods. Though you might suppose that every one of these machines had a driver, the drivers were never evident. They had left in the early hours to do assorted things in a nondescript building. And if on the weekends the cars were crammed together at one end while a fleamarket sprawled on the grounds, and if patches of oil made dark stains on the once startlingly even surface, and if the little trees planted for shade failed to grow but stood stunted and sunburnt inside their wire cages, this was not part of the official version.
And once -- but when was this? -- the human mind was a moth, a luminous night insect, clinging to the trunk of an enormous tree. The forest hummed with the howl of wolves, even of werewolves. Snakes and rodents rustled the underbrush. Beetles, fungus and bacteria picked apart corpses and reduced logs to dank powder. Through a gap where lightning had burnt the top off an oak, a frightening glow poured off that strange disc in the sky. The moth's wings flapped and it flew waveringly upward, following the perfume of a night-blooming flower. Before the wind picked up, anyone who would have been around to listen would have heard the shush of its wings folding and unfolding, and perhaps laughter from the garden, wherever that was, where men and women, unobserved, lay down in the wet grass at the edge of civilization.
               


Angela Woodward, Notes re Erehu, Ravenna Press, 200-. 




Short fiction(selected):
  • “Saskatchewan,” Two Serious Ladies, January 2016.
  • “New Technologies of Reading,” in Web Conjunctions, December 2015. (nominated for Pushcart Prize)
  • Clarity,” The Collagist, March 2015.
  • “Punctuation Essay,” Ninth Letter, Fall/Winter 2013-14.
  • “Lake Vostok” (novel excerpt), Black Warrior Review, Fall/Winter 2013.
  • “She,” Redactions, issue 17, Fall 2013. (nominated for Pushcart Prize)
  • “Freedom,” Storm Cellar Quarterly, Fall 2012.
    ( nominated for Pushcart Prize)
  • Three short fictions, Connotation Press, November 2012.
  • “History of Matches,” Wigleaf, February 2012.
  • “Erehu,” Camera Obscura, January 2012.
  • “Suicide Among Animals,” Caketrain, December 2011.
  • “Kingdoms and Classifications,” Salt Hill, May 2011.
  • “A Story,”  Necessary Fiction, February 2011.
  • “Symmetry,” Artifice Magazine, January 2011.
  • “Excerpts from End of the Fire Cult,” Ninth Letter, spring 2010.
  • “A Companion Text to Modernity and Self-Identity
    by Anthony Giddens,”
    Storyglossia, Aug 2009.
    Reprinted in Best of the Web 2010. Dzanc Books, 2010.
  • “Danger,” Diagram, January 2006.
  • “The Iron Keys,” Gulf Coast, Winter-Spring  2005.
Angela Woodward - Freedom[sample]

Interview on The Collagist blog
Interview with Philip Graham on Fiction Writers Review
Angela Woodward interview with Meg Tuite

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