BEIRUT: “I keep my staff locked up in a kind of leathery dungeon,” says Larry Cape, who on this cold December morning is all but hidden beneath an voluminous black leather jacket and black gloves, his eyes shielded by a pair of incongruously retro glasses with small, round lenses. “I do feed them, of course. I give them a kind of meat-paste jelly stuff that I pump down their throats through a cream-colored plastic pipe. Meat is all they need!”Cape is the founder and editor-in-chief of “Black Wire,” a quarterly online literary magazine, run from a rooftop office in Beirut. The first issue of the magazine, which is available to download free as a PDF, was published in late October. It showcased a collection of interesting, entertaining and occasionally starting poems, short stories and works of flash fiction, accompanied by a selection of artwork.
Cape’s staff may or may not be imprisoned in a dungeon – in fact, they may or may not exist at all. A twinkle in Cape’s eye when he mentions them suggests they might be figments of an extremely active imagination. Whatever the office environment, “Black Wire” certainly represents a departure from the standard when it comes to literary magazines.
“I want to publish what others won’t dare to,” Cape says. “I want to publish the pinnacle of new writing: rhythmic, powerful, gross, elegant, supernatural ... work that isn’t afraid to take risks. That was the whole point of ‘Black Wire.’ It wasn’t just to create another literary magazine because there’s hundreds – probably thousands, actually – all over the world. But a lot of them are the same and mostly, if they’re online, they’re not very aesthetically pleasing. They’re very dull.”
Cape, who is working on a novel and has written several plays, says he is interested both in submissions that explore unusual topics and those that play with literary conventions. One of the magazine’s aims is to support writers with an experimental approach whose work is overlooked by traditional outlets for reasons of content, style or political or religious perspectives.
The first issue opens with “Bishopsgate,” a short story by Oliver Zarandi with an imaginative plot and an unusual third-person voice. It explores what happens when a struggling writer with a fixation on antique surgical equipment and terrorist activity goes to meet the ex-lover of a deceased IRA bomber, in a desperate attempt to figure out how his novel should end. Disturbing but beautifully written, it is a fitting introduction to Black Wire, demonstrating an innovative approach to controversial subject matter.
Jonathan Post’s seemingly traditional tale “The Dog and the Sparrow” plays with the didactic purpose of a fable, replacing the expected moral of the story with three comic “lessons” that send up the genre. Mote’s “Tropical,” meanwhile, employs a language halfway between prose and poetry to describe the emotional aftermath of an abortion.
“The Mirage of Sanayeh” by J. F. Walsh is set in the familiar neighborhoods of Beirut. A contemporary take on the traditional Islamic jinn, its sardonic tone gently mocks accepted literary styles and tropes.
Many of the submissions in “Black Wire” are imbued with sex and violence, though this is rarely their focus. Cape, whose exacting standards dictate that if he does not receive enough submissions he considers suitable he will cancel the issue rather than compromise on quality, says that he believes readers in Lebanon are ready for work that breaks taboos.
“The kind of people who read literary and art journals are open-minded people,” he says, “so they’re not going to be that shocked. ... I plan on each issue becoming more and more raw and intense because it’s the only way that you can evolve the art form – by taking risks.
“There’s this small group of people within the art world and the world of literature that take risks and generally they’re not noticed, because galleries are interested in selling work that looks good in a home. They’re not interesting in taking risks because they have a business to run. But I don’t have to pander to the masses. I can put out whatever I want.”
Cape hopes that the publication will serve as a platform to promote writing by local authors but says that for the first issue most of the submissions he received were from Europe, America and Africa. Since he started accepting submissions for the second issue last month he has received more work from Lebanese writers, he says, but speculates that the fact the magazine is published in English might present a barrier for some.
“There are a lot of great writers in Lebanon,” he affirms. “They shouldn’t be afraid to send in work. Even if they think their English isn’t great, if I can get a flavor of the poem or the story then I can contact them and ... we can work on a translation together.”
Cape’s focus on the aesthetics of the magazine, which is elegantly laid out in printable format, goes some way to explaining his decision to include artwork. “I wanted to be able to have something that would complement the writing,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how intellectual you are, it kind of helps the brain.
“If you’re reading something constantly, it’s like a little treat almost. You finish the story and there’s a nice picture,” he adds, with a sardonic smile.
“Readers can expect to view work in an arena where anything is possible,” he sums up. “Sometimes, they may read work that disturbs them or offends them. To those people I would like to offer a tour of the dungeon – I’ll treat you well.”
Black Wire is accepting submissions for the second issue until Jan. 10. For more information, please visit blackwireliterary.com.