You hit 40. You quite literally hit it, when your knee gives out and you lunge across the kitchen—flinging a handful of Ikea cutlery and then placing your hand squarely into the green frosting numbers on your birthday cake.

Marilyn, your best friend, appears in the doorway. “What was that?” She’s the one who bought the cake, one of those perfectly rectangular jobbies from the supermarket—Marilyn never bakes, or cooks at all, actually, as it would ruin her nails. This particular cake had had an image of a semi-nude man on a bear skin rug.

Saving April

By M.J. Fievre


school girlsApril shows me her cuts. Small razor cuts spread on her arm. She’s managed to shape some of them like stick houses—triangles atop squares. Others are words—fuck them. Several of the wounds are still fresh. I want to run the tip of my finger on them, ease the pain, but several years of training stop me—I’m not wearing gloves.

April lets out a short laugh and shakes her head; the silver skulls dangling from her ears slap her jaw. The other students call her Ms. Ugly, but I find a certain beauty in her witchy features: the long, pale face and pointy chin, the crooked nose. The dark eyeliner brings out her daring eyes under ever-frowning brows.

The door of the classroom is ajar, as I never talk to students alone in closed quarters. I’m not teaching middle school for the long haul, but no scandal is going to force me out the door before I decide to call time. April whispers, “I did it to myself, you know. All the pain inside… I have to hurt myself.” Teeny-tiny zits cover her forehead. Her hair, which has been backcombed, is recalcitrant whenever her friend Katrina attempts to fix it in my Literature class.

April pulls down her long sleeves and folds her arms, black fingernails repeatedly scratching the purple shirt—reopening wounds through fabric. “You know what I like about you?” April asks. “You always look so damn unimpressed.” She hides a smile at the corners of her black lips. “I’d love to see your face when the shit hits the fan.”

Real Mammal

By Caroll Sun Yang


He snorts Ritalin all night and chases down the white dust with Old Fashioned Sidecars. He asks me to take pictures of him wearing my sheer black panties with striped ruffles and pink-lemonade colored ribbons laced through. He asks me to do this with my cellular phone so that I might later “text” him the “good ones”. He says has plans to save them for some later date, maybe for use as “jack-off material”. I am reluctant at first. A smidgen hurt at the thought of being replaced as his masturbatory focus. I try not to let my face show disinterest in this project, a disinterest verging on disdain. What will be achieved by this activity? He is not gay. He is not usually prone to high narcissism. He is infrequently frivolous. In fact, he harbors contempt for operatic displays. But here he is cut a little loose on pills and Cognac, retrieving my makeup bag and hand mirror.

You’ve surely seen all the fanfare on TNB lately about The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books, June 2012), a collection of essays, stories and some poetry on the topic of beauty. Thanks to the tireless efforts of editor Elizabeth Collins the book has emerged as a very beautiful physical object full of diverse, witty, engaging pieces. There has already been a fair bit written about the essays in this volume, but given my whole-hearted insistence that poetry is the queen of all forms of writing, I decided a look at Erato’s hand on the book is in order.

Rachel Pollon wrote an essay entitled “Change for a Ten” that appears in TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology. Here, Pollon reflects on what she has learned about beauty.

M.J. Fievre is a Haitian expatriate who lives and writes in Florida. Fievre wrote an essay in TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology, about her beautiful mother and her father’s unpredictable and violent mood swings. Here, she discusses beauty:


What is the biggest surprise when it comes to beauty?

I’ve found that some people are so physically flawed that they end up being beautiful.

Elizabeth Collins is the editor of The Beautiful Anthology, and she is also a contributor who has essays published on The Nervous Breakdown. Her memoir, Too Cool for School, releases later this summer.


What are you sick of hearing or reading about when it comes to beauty?

Probably articles in women’s magazines about doing a “smoky eye” with peacock-hued eyeshadows applied half an inch below the eyes. As if anyone could pull that off in real life without scaring people.

Quenby Moone, Nonfiction Editor of The Nervous Breakdown, has a piece on her father’s death in TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology.


What is your personal definition of beauty?

Growing up with artists, I learned to look at things critically all the time. Everything is up for review–clothing, landscapes, food. Our house has become one long meditation on beauty which evolves over time. Right now I seem to be obsessed with the beauty of tiny microenvironments, terrariums and aquariums.

Greg Olear, author of the novels Fathermucker and Totally Killer, is a senior editor at The Nervous Breakdown and a contributor to TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology, where he wrote about the beauty of imperfection.


What is beautiful that is also ugly?

Ann Coulter. She is clearly on Lucifer’s payroll. She’s distractingly attractive, especially for a Republican, which makes the things she says even more repugnant. Bill Maher is enamored of her; have you seen her on his show? He’s usually relentless, but she turns him into a puppy dog.


Coming soon from TNB Books. Stay tuned…

Jessica Anya Blau, author of the acclaimed novels Drinking Closer to Home and The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, is a contributor to TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology, where she wrote about feeling self-conscious about her nose.


What are you sick of hearing or reading about when it comes to the general idea of beauty?

Nothing. Beauty fascinates me. I love looking at celebrity plastic surgery photos. In general, they make me never want to have plastic surgery.

Few things put more doubt and insecurity in us than our physical attributes and our own taste for what is attractive, and yet beauty still holds the power to reveal the sublime in the seemingly banal. For some, beauty comes face-to-face in a single arresting instant. To others, it is found in contrast with something else, observed over a period of time. Some of the contributors in Beautiful reclaim their definition of beauty; others recognize it in places, objects, and motion; still for others, finding their own beauty is a continuing process. In her introduction to The Beautiful Anthology, editor Elizabeth Collins  considers our conflicting opinions of beauty, “how one person’s beauty, or what one finds beautiful, is not always appreciated by others.”

Zoe Zolbrod, author of the novel Currency (OV Books), is also a contributor to TNB Books’ The Beautiful Anthology, due out next week. Her essay in the anthology, “Pai Foot,” recounts a love affair she had in Thailand.

James D. Irwin has been writing for The Nervous Breakdown for several years. He is 23 years old and lives in England. Irwin’s writing is featured in TNB Books’ THE BEAUTIFUL ANTHOLOGY, on sale June 9 wherever books are available online.


What is NOT beautiful to you?

The majority of modern art. I went to a gallery once and somebody had smeared cake on a table. That isn’t art. It’s a good afternoon tea spoiled.

Nora Burkey is an emerging writer featured in TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology. She currently teaches English in Korea. Burkey, who wrote a politically charged, feminist essay about the beauty of the poor students in Cambodia, answers a few questions: