"In my view, writing, at least literary writing, is not just a matter of inventing out of whole cloth or drawing on things we remember, but also of accessing sought-for words and connections. Do we, when we're writing, reach in to actively find the parts of our next sentences, or are those 'given' to us? It often feels like the latter, which naturally makes me wonder through what agency. As Joseph Brodsky wrote somewhere, life is a gift, and where there is a gift there must be a giver."
It’s nothing new for a novel’s key character to share his name with the book’s author. Past examples are Stephen King in Song of Savannah, Paul Auster in New York Trilogy, and Philip Roth in Operation Shylock. But Ches Smith’s protagonist, Ches Smith, is something apart and definitely a standout character in Smith’s new book, The Author is Dead. Try not to speculate on any detail in this book that might be drawn from the author’s life, except that it’s about a writer who writes a book titled The Author is Dead.
We meet Ches, the character, at Sugarville Mall. He carries his writings, his so called “loose-leaf chronicles,” in a black binder that’s always with him. Ches is intrigued by Thalia, lead singer with the Zombie Cowgirls, a “punk-country fusion” band. One short conversation with her and he’s hooked. It won’t be giving anything away to tell that Thalia very soon becomes his ghostly muse, since her otherworldly presence is key to this story’s setup.
Living Midair by Karen June Olson is the newest offering in the 2River Chapbook Series. Numbering 26, these chapbooks are available open access online as well as free download using the PDF or "chap the book" feature which provides a booklet formatted print copy.
Author Karen June Olson is Professor Emerita of Early Care and Education at St. Louis Community College. Her poems in this collection examine nature, rural life, writing class, grief, death, and the familial relationships between daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and grandfathers.
From the title poem, "Living Midair":
That night we sat on a veranda,
our glasses clinked a cheer or two
and we noticed the moon rise
from the water as waves
seemed to give the needed lift
and curled around its bright edges.
The cover of Booth’s Winter 2019 issue invites readers in with little square scenes of bright colors and caricatures, with text promising the Nonfiction Prize winners inside. Of the four pieces selected by Judge Brian Oliu, two touched me most: “A Fractured Atlas” by Alex Clark and “Remember the Earth” by Angelique Stevens.
In the first, Clark recounts the fractured memory of being molested as a child by a friend’s father. Points of view are manipulated. “Her” becomes “you” which sometimes slips into first person: “you grow my nails out.” Throughout the piece, names are redacted, reduced to “( )” for the friend and “// //” for the father/abuser. The switches in POV, these redactions, font changes, and layering of text and image parallel the ways memory works. Details are left out, forgotten, rearranged, repeated, layered with other memories. Each page feels like decoding a map, like uncovering a new memory, a truly inventive piece of nonfiction.
In “Remember the Earth,” Stevens explores the idea of death, of what and who we leave behind. After her sister Gina’s suicide, she faces their tumultuous relationship and the years, months, and days that lead up to Gina’s death. She tries make sense of the timeline that brought both of them there. A tender and intimate work, Stevens packs so much raw emotional energy into one short piece, I had to read it in little bursts.
Both deserved of placing in the Nonfiction Prize, Clark and Stevens peel back layers of their memories. While constructed completely differently, both give stark and honest examinations of a moment in each of their lives.
Review by Katy Haas
Having served as editor of Kenyon Review since 1994, David Lynn will be stepping down next spring. The publication board, staff and college will be setting a timeline for the application process to consider candidates this upcoming fall or winter. The submission period for this year will be limited as a result of this transition. "In anticipation of a new editor’s arrival, we must maintain space in upcoming issues, so we will be limiting our open period of submissions to September 15-October 1, 2019," writes Alicia Misarti, The Kenyon Review Director of Operations.
Fortunately, Lynn plans to remain active at Kenyon College, as the college president Sean M. Decatur notes, "We’ve already been in conversations on some ideas about other initiatives involving writing and literature for the College."
Our thanks to David Lynn for his years of commitment to the literary community as editor, and our best to all at Kenyon Review during this time of change.
Each year, The Briar Cliff Review holds a contest for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction with the winners receiving $1000 and publication. The following 2018 winners appear in the most recent issue (31, 2019):
"I'd hoped to finish this poem before it came true" by Kateri Kosek
"Drink It Dry" by Rachel E. Hicks
"Trauma in Our Country" by Beverly Tan Murray [pictured]
The Briar Cliff Contest is open annually from August 1 - November 1.
Spanning four pages of The Southeast Review (37.1), Tiana Clark’s “Gentrification” conjures up hidden details, the poem’s speaker talking in wisps, the ghosts of a summer past haunting the neighborhood in East Nashville where she used to live and which has now been gentrified. The speaker discusses the ways in which her body—a woman of color’s body—fits into this forgotten space:
and I had never tried cocaine before,
until you tricked me [ . . . ]
and other men laughed and you laughed and I laughed too,
but I didn’t know what was so funny. I didn’t know
when something was at my expense. I was the only girl there too.
I’ve always been the only girl there
inside a house with men, being duped by men, waxing their backs [ . . . ]
Repeatedly, she finds herself in moments like this, moments of emotional or physical violence: her boyfriend feeds her then calls her fat, she does drugs in a backseat, she has drunken fights in the street, she reveals the “vulnerable part” of her neck as she once “grasp[ed] at white men for attention,” her body becoming another gentrified space.
The scenes come quickly as if Clark is quickly scrawling these memories down before she can forget them, wrapping readers in the heat and tension of that summer, unflinching as she reveals the underbelly, the ugliness, the truths about her home and herself. Take some time to sink into “Gentrification,” then, like me, check out Clark’s books of poetry: I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2018), and Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016).
Review by Katy Haas
Big Muddy has proven to be one of my most favorite journals to read. The topics of its many stories and poems speak to that downhome, simpler type of life, even if sometimes it may not be a positive image or experience for those involved.
Within its pages, you’ll find fiction, poetry, and essays that really make you think about life and the situations we find ourselves in. Most of the work and topics are directly related to the ten states bordering the Mississippi River, all the way from the U.S./Canada border to the Gulf Coast through Louisiana.
Creative Nonfiction invites writers to follow @cnfonline on Twitter, then tell a true story in the length of a tweet with #cnftweet to have that writing considered for publication in the "Tiny Truths" section of the print magazine.
The Spring 2019 issue includes fourteen tiny essays on a range of topics including 'caregiving for a parent with dementia' (ChrisGNguyen), finding a single cigarette butt in the driveway every day (GitaCBrown), a family's welcome back "as if no time had passed" (MPMcCune2), going home "in my dreams" (sevans_writer), 'a musician explaining his song title' (ZippyZey aka Karen Zey - pictured), doing the hokey pokey so as not to look a fool (by ridiculoustimes) and memories stirred by listening to the news (mjlevan).
It only takes looking at some of the poem titles in The Cape Rock #47 to get that this slim volume published out of Southeast Missouri State University is poetry by and for the people: “Dad’s Skoal Can” and “Song of the Opossum” by January Pearson; “Toilet Cubicle” by Steve Denehan; “Trimming My Father’s Toenails” by Cecil Sayre; “Long Distance Dating for the Elderly” by Mark Rubin. Not meaning to be dismissive in perhaps attributing these works as common, the craft and skill exhibited in them speaks to the draw of the publication and the selective capabilities of a strong editorial staff.
There are many single stunning contributions: Danielle Hanson’s poem titled “How to Tell This Wilted Dogwood Petal From Starlight” continues “Both have fallen from some level of sky. / Lay down and let’s discuss this rationally.” commanding the reader’s experience of the tangible and intangible; the three lines of “Years Later” by Ryan Pickney will leave readers speechless; Jeff Hardin’s “This Only Place” examines a series of moments under the poet’s microscope, opening, “This easy weightlessness along the earth I owe / to having heard the heron‘s wings the moment / it alighted then decided otherwise and lifted off.”
Offering multiple poems by individual writers is a welcome attribute, and the closing four by Claire Scott exemplify the ability of many of the poets included to manage a range of subject and style. Her poignant “At Eighty” reads at a bit of a romp thanks to line breaks like:
spun with mum
of prayer to
At 86 pages, 43 poets, 69 poems: The Cape Rock is a venerable journal of poetry that both makes connections and distinctions.
Review by Denise Hill
“Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!” Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures!
Author/illustrator Mira Bartók’s debut novel follows the story of a one-eared fox groundling (human-animal hybrid) named Thirteen. As if having one ear isn’t bad enough, Thirteen was abandoned in a grim-filled orphanage under the control of a wretched villainess called Miss Carbunkle. But the turn of events led to unexpected paths, both good and bad. Thirteen’s gut-wrenching encounters with brutality, deprivation, and unappetizing Dickensian roads are intertwined with gentle humor, uplifting vibes, and epic journeys.
Music and friendship play essential roles in the story. This explains why, in spite of the rouge-ish undertakings of rouge-ish characters, any reader will surely immerse oneself with the rollercoaster ride of events and keep the pages turning. Bartók’s writing draws rich kaleidoscopes of characters, steampunk setting, and sensational quests. The delightful illustrations brought a new level of charm to this adventure, making the whole experience undeniably jam-packed with surprises to the brim.
Blend in Miss Peregrine’s characters with the woeful mishaps in A Series of Unfortunate Events, then top it off with the legendary tale of King Arthur, and there you have it! The Wonderling! In a nutshell, The Wonderling takes its readers into a world of infinite possibilities.
Don’t let people tell you that this book is just for children, because adventure has NO age limit!
Review by Mary Kristine P. Garcia
Cave Wall 15 includes a focus on revision. The 'artwork' for this issue consists of fifteen early draft images of some of the poems included. The cover art is actually Emma Bolden's draft of "Easter Sunday." Other authors whose drafts are included: Matthew Thorburn, Billy Reynolds, Chelsea Wagenaar, Jessica Cuello, Peter Kline, and Molly Spencer.
In addition, Cave Wall interviewed poets from this issue about their revision process and published those as a PDF on their website. Poets interviewed include Kasey Jueds, Matthew Thorburn, Tori Reynolds, Emma Bolden, Christopher Buckley, Molly Spencer, Billy Reynolds, Peter Kline, Carrie Green, Elizabeth Breese, John Sibley Williams, Chelsea Wagenaar, Lola Haskins, and Celisa Steele.
This issue combined with these Q&As would make an excellent teaching resource!
It was the illustration by Ricardo Bessa that originally drew me to Anthony Oliveira’s [pictured] short and poetic “Dayspring.” The image caught my eye as I scrolled down the front page of Hazlitt: browns and tans and reds, one man lying on another’s chest, their beards brushing; the embracing figures exude warmth and intimacy as sunlight filters through leaves above them. The story behind this depiction imagines (an unnamed) John, “the disciple whom he loved,” as Jesus’ lover in the days before the crucifixion.
Writing in short poetic bursts, Oliveira roots the story in two religious parables or folktales, one involving a donkey, the other involving a nun. The conversation shows Jesus’ words in red, the two speaking in modern vernacular, including “dudes” and “what the fucks,” making the characters more relatable. The red is striking on the screen whenever Jesus speaks, and these two stories give us something to come back to—something to be anchored to in the chaos that follows.
I couldn’t help thinking of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles while reading “Dayspring” as both pieces of writing display a mythological queer relationship of love and gentleness with a strong foreshadowing of violence and tragedy. Knowing the story of Jesus and his crucifixion, you can guess where Oliveira ends up taking us: to Gethsemane where everything falls apart, where Jesus is arrested, and the chain of events leading to his death begins, only this time we see it through the eyes of the one he loved.
While the piece is short and a sparsely written, the language is strong and beautifully built up. Oliveira writes with a poetic voice that eases readers in and creates the warmth that Ricardo Bessa’s illustrations kindle.
Brandi Pischke’s cover art of sparkly strawberries invites us into Jen Hirt’s book of poems, Too Many Questions About Strawberries. Can we expect a romp through a garden or farmer’s market? Not necessarily, though Hirt’s book takes us through fun, rowdy poems, as well as challenging ones that do, in some cases, concern plant life.
Let’s start with “Why not malachite for resurrection.” In this poem, an apartment’s appeal is heightened because its back steps are perfect for a container garden.
There's still a lot of summer left and many books titles to enjoy from Sync Audiobooks for Teens free summer program.
Each week, Sync provides two paired titles for free download using Overdrive. The titles include both non-fiction and a wide genre range of fiction. Once the week is over, the titles can no longer be downloaded, but the site has the previous books listed with descriptions so listeners can find the titles via their local library or other audio venue. [Pictured: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter, one of the titles this week.]
A great way to encourage summer reading for teens, for reluctant readers, and for adults who aren't afraid to cross over!
The Summer 2019 issue of Rattle includes a "Tribute to Instagram Poets." The editor's preface explains that the poems were originally published on Instagram, which uses captions that are included along with the poems. The editors assert that the poems were selected based "on their own merits and not the popularity of their authors."
Some works include long poetic commentary, such as Benjamin Aleshire's "Good Manners," while others, such as Luigi Coppola's and Jeni D La O's only include a user name and series of hashtags. When applied, the hashtags range from simply labeling the obvious (#poetry #poem) to adding to the poetic image/text in the Instagram, as in Vini Emery's: "All of the things that have been done to me have been done with out me." hashtagged: #disassociation #trauma #power. Because the image is of handwritten text, it's actually difficult to decipher if there is a space or not between "with" and "out," which seems fitting for the work that this should be ambiguous.
Still other poems, such as Raquel Franco's, add comment text without hashtags: "You are more than paper thin. / You are more than sad girl. / You are ink + paragraphs, / an anthology of purpose." with "You are more than your circumstance." as added comment.
A unique feature to include in this issue of Rattle, and one that opens whole new dialogues for poetry writing, reading, and analysis.
Review by Denise Hill
Knowing you can no longer build
with it or kill, a needle-point-covered brick
At eighty-nine pages, plus extensive notes, Sarah Barber's Country House—winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry—offers a plethora of material for a reader to draw out shared experience, contemplate history, raise questions, engage thoughtful research, and marvel at linguistic nuances. My own way into the text is undoubtedly as personal as it is unique, and I believe another reader would see something slightly, or maybe completely, different than I do in the poetry.
The Spring 2019 issue of The Malahat Review features winning entries from two of their annual contests:
2018 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize
Judge Lynne Van Luven
"Found Objects" by Rowan McCandless [pictured]
Judge Shane Book
"Timepiece" by Rami Schandall
Judge Carmelinda Scian
"Exile" by Janika Oza
Judge Kyo Maclear
"Letters To My Mother" by Lishai Peel
Maureen Aitken’s linked short stories, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, is the winner of the 2018 Nilsen Prize, awarded to American writers who have not yet published a novel. The fourteen stories follow Mary, a sometimes artist, struggling through the economic recession in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. Told in the first-person point of view, Aitken’s stories are intimately close to Mary’s life and relationships all the while reflecting more broadly on the Midwest. Aitken’s stories are small and intimate but backed by the weight of broader themes: urban decay and what it means to survive as a woman.
Ashley Morrow Hermsmeier dedicates Something Like the End—winner of the Fall 2017 Black River Chapbook Competition—to “the strange and lonely,” appropriate when the characters of her six-story chapbook are living lives that are just that: a bit strange and a bit lonely.
A woman prepares for an oncoming plague-like wave of bees, and, alone, faces that there are other things to be cautious of in the end of days; a city experiences an unending earthquake; a woman drawn to a mysterious stray cat can’t help thinking about her ex; a woman buries and reburies zombified past versions of herself that keep showing up at her door, versions that died so she could keep living; a futuristic assisted suicide is advertised, its five simple steps outlined for interested parties; and a beauty and beast couple can’t stop dancing as the world ends around them.
While short, each piece manages to push the boundaries of what’s expected. Love stories are surrounded by ruin, break-up stories are haunted by feral animals and zombies, and in each piece, we see the complex ways in which we interact with other humans, or how we interact with the earth that is rapidly changing around us.
Morrow Hermsmeier’s work in this chapbook is imaginative and arresting as it offers solidarity to the strange, lonely reader.
Review by Katy Haas
In his Spring 2019 "Welcome Readers" section, founder and editor M. Scott Douglass explains his plan to "retire from editing" Main Street Rag.
In making such a proclamation, Douglass comments, "the assumption is that you (I) are/am going out of business. That's not the plan." Having already sold off the production equipment for the publishing arm of MSR, Douglass is moving to the next step: "find a suitable replacement to edit the journal (and possibly books). I'd like to be able to bring this person along slowly, train them in the use of software, deadlines, scheduling, etc., but as soon as you hang a sign that says, 'Looking for new leadership,' again, everyone thinks you're on your deathbed and avoids you."
"We're not dying. I'm not dying. We have no debt, so we're not in financial difficulty." Instead, Douglass notes, after nearly twenty-five years, it's just time for him to focus on his own "muse" and get out from behind the desk to travel more.
"So, if you know someone looking to take over a literary house who's willing to put in some training time, send them my way. There may be a place for them here."
The newest issue of Gulf Coast (31.2) is chock-full of award winning writing!
2018 Barthelme Prize
Judge Laura van den Berg
"Something Clear" by Sarah Minor [pictured]
"Hunger" by Yi Jiang
"Some Weather" by Aliceanna Stopher
2018 Translation Prize in Poetry
Judge Ilya Kaminsky
"Air Raid" by Polina Barskova, Transl. by Valzhyna Mort
"Colonies of Paradise" by Matthias Göritz, Transl. by Mary Jo Bang
"Nobility" by Álvaro Lasso Transl. by Kelsi Vanada
2018 Beauchamp Prize in Critical Art Writing
Judge Wendy Vogel
“A Long, Dull Shadow: Georg Baselitz’s Legacy of Misogyny” by Maura Callahan, originally published on Momus
“Playing in the Institute: On Tag at the ICA Philadelphia” by C. Klockner
“Intimate Structures: Dorothea Rockburne at Dia: Beacon” Chloe Wyma
For a full list of entries, finalists, links to work, and information about these annual contests, visit Gulf Coast.
As previously announced, Cave Wall is fundraising to establish the Nina Riggs Poetry Award. They are sooooo close to their target amount and are now offering a sweet GIANT RAFFLE to help them reach their goal.
In discussing the award with me, Cave Wall Editor Rhett Trull offered this beautiful reminiscence:
When Nina got pregnant, she was told by a poetry colleague, "Oh no, here come the motherhood poems." Years later, when I got pregnant, a different colleague told me, "Whatever you do, just don't start writing motherhood poems." We knew they were teasing, but it bothered us. And of course, we ignored it and wrote whatever we wanted to write, whatever we were moved to write. Because that's what we do as poets, all of us: we write toward the heart. I used to hear, all the time, "Don't write poems about grandmothers and dead pets." Well, that's ridiculous. You can write about ANYTHING. Just write it well, write beyond subject and self, toward the greater truths to which all subjects lead us if we let them. At Cave Wall, we've published some beautiful poems about grandmothers and dead pets, once in the same poem and wow, is it a knockout. Anyway, Nina believed all subjects worthy of poetry. And I hope with this award, we can encourage and celebrate writing that mines the everyday for its beauty and truth, as well as writing about relationships and family and, yes, motherhood, too. All of it. All the small and big and wondrous things that connect us, that shine a light on the ordinary revealing that everything is extraordinary if we take a moment to see it.
American Life in Poetry: Column 739
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
I don't suppose there are many of our younger readers who have started to worry about the possibility of memory loss, but I'd guess almost everybody over fifty does. Peter Schneider lives in Massachusetts and this is from his book Line Fence, from Amherst Writers and Artists Press.
Lost in Plain Sight
I lost my short-term memory.
It was there and then it moved
like the flash of a red fox
along a line fence.
My short-term memory
has no address but here
no time but now.
It is a straight-man, waiting to speak
to fill in empty space
with name, date, trivia, punch line.
And then it fails to show.
It is lost, hiding somewhere out back
a dried ragweed stalk on the Kansas Prairie
holding the shadow of its life
against a January wind.
How am I to go on?
I wake up a hundred times a day.
Who am I waiting for
what am I looking for
why do I have this empty cup
on the porch or in the yard?
I greet my neighbor, who smiles.
I turn a slow, lazy Susan
in my mind, looking for
some clue, anything to break the spell
of being lost in plain sight.
We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2006 by Peter Schneider, "Lost in Plain Sight," from Line Fence (Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2006). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Schneider and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.