A Letter from the Editor
December 21st 2011
Welcome to Issue Four.
“Did you ever fail to waste at least two hours of every sunshiny day, in the long ago time when you played the flâneur, in the metropolitan city, with looking at shop-windows?”
Aside from offering us a modicum of warmth as we fall into the grasps of winter, this question, taken from the August 1854 edition of Harper’s Magazine, is possibly the earliest recorded usage of the term flâneur in the English language. Examples of literary devices resembling what we would now identify as flânerie, can be found at a much earlier date. In The Spectator and the City in Nineteenth Century American Literature, Dana Brand argues convincingly that “the flâneur is as English a phenomenon as he is a French one.”
Brand outlines that a literary device resembling flânerie can be found in the ‘survey’ or ‘urban panorama’ books which depicted sixteenth century London. He notes that these books had a mutual “encyclopedic intention, bourgeois urbanism that celebrates the city’s magnificence and vitality, and a tendency to divide the city into separate spaces so as to give the reader the sense of looking at a coherent map or model of the metropolis.”
Brand states that these ‘static’ urban panoramas were complimented by the publication of further genres which focused upon other aspects of city life. For example, “coney catching” books, which depicted criminal activity in the sixteenth century capital: tales of pickpockets and fraudsters brought the streets to life, whilst alerting the reader to the dangers of walking in the city.
Similarly, Theophrastan character books, where the author attempted to categorize and subsequently describe the individuals that walked the city streets, for Brand form the “origins of the flâneur’s conception of the urban crowd, if not the origins of the flâneur himself”.
I allude to the origins of the term flâneur in the English language for a specific reason. With the publication of each issue of StepAway Magazine I become increasingly aware of how our writers adhere to and challenge the itinerary of the classic flâneur.
Are our writers flâneurs? They certainly do not resemble the bourgeois masculine figure, free from familial and financial concern - ’loafers in the city’ as depicted in Louis Huart’s Physiologie du Flâneur. Well, at least not all of them.
Each one, however, understands (as Baudelaire decreed in Le Spleen de Paris) that “enjoying crowds is an art”. They recognize, like Baudelaire, the “feverish delights” which await a writer who immerses him or herself in the urban throng.
And yet, the pace of their work can be so very different, matching, it seems the intensity of life in the contemporary city. For example, our opening poem, “A Running Record” by Francis Raven, was recorded into an iPhone while the poet jogged through Washington D.C. and transcribed later. This is hardly letting a turtle set the pace of the walk. On the contrary, it forms an urgent series of ‘blink and you miss them’ snapshots recorded at seven minute mile pace.
Alternatively, Virgine Colline’s “Paris Haiku” returns us to the city of light, birthplace of the flâneur, yet her observations recall Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” such is their fragmented, pared-down, elliptical yet direct nature.
The nineteenth century Parisian flâneur is dead as a doornail. We know that for a fact. We have laid flowers on his tomb at Montparnasse. Our writers respect his legacy, yet they are also intent on forging something new – different ways of cutting through the metropolis. In “Footnotes from the Gutters” previously unpublished poet Liam Pezzano lines up slices of Manhattan with the precision of a sushi chef. What we are offered is his omakase of New York City street life. Discoveries such as these are what make being the editor of StepAway Magazine truly worthwhile.
Whether they are walking, running or driving; alone or have a parrot perched upon their shoulder, our writers offer a unique way of seeing their city.
Many of you may have noticed that our latest edition of the magazine comes with a supplementary issue entitled Northern Wanderer. The intention of this supplement is to introduce our international readership to the home of StepAway Magazine, the north east of England, a region with a rich literary heritage. Northern Wanderer was inspired by a flâneur poem set in Newcastle upon Tyne entitled “After Breakfast (With Peter) Costing 5/6d” by the late Barry MacSweeney. You can read more about Newcastle and the poem itself in my introduction to the supplement.
Our cover art comes courtesy of two talented Newcastle upon Tyne based photographers: Sharon Temple-Sowerby and Andy Siddens. Ms. Temple-Sowerby’s photograph, which adorns the cover of Issue Four is an impromptu shot of a passerby taken from the doorway of her workplace on Grey Street. In the background is the Prudential Assurance Company building, a red brick and sandstone construction designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1891-7. The unknown walker appears to have stepped through a time-slip – a behatted gentleman of a bygone age. Mr. Siddens’s superb photograph of the Newcastle quayside will be discussed in my introduction to Northern Wanderer.
Issue Four is quite a treat. Gary Glauber returns with “Madison Avenue Secrets” which captures the consumer swirl of one of Manhattan’s busiest thoroughfares. Tobi Cogswell’s “Walking Home as Morning Wakes” is a sensual saunter through the early morning metropolis. Zara Raab’s poem “Beyond the Village” grew out of her experience as a naïve country girl coming to San Francisco for the first time. S.K. Iyer’s “homeward commuter” is a meander through the galis (or alleyways) of Bombay. Steven Ray Smith’s “Five o’ Clock, Fifth Avenue, Late November” was inspired by the nine years which he spent living in New York City, in particular walking in early fall when “the sun turned down early and the lights of the city turned on”. Finally, William Cordiero’s “Salt City” and William Cullen’s “A Gift from Heaven on Christmas Eve” plunge us into the depths of winter.
And on that note, all that remains for me to do is wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year from everyone at StepAway Magazine. For those of you planning on walking in a winter wonderland, don’t forget to wrap up warm. Alternatively, sit back, pour yourself a glass of something comforting and enjoy issue four.
With the warmest of festive wishes,
Darren Richard Carlaw