What We’re Reading: South and West

April 19th, 2017

This latest “What We’re Reading” post–about Joan Didion’s South and West: From a Notebook (Knopf, 2017)–comes from volunteer Ashley Anderson, a graduate student in the literary nonfiction program at the University of Cincinnati, who is headed to the University of Missouri next fall for PhD studies. Originally from Atwater, Ohio, Ashley’s work has appeared in Peripheral Surveys, SFWP Quarterly, and Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. When not writing, Ashley can often be found organizing something or cooking up a storm.

Ashley Anderson: When I first got an email from Barnes & Noble a few months ago announcing a new book from Joan Didion, I thought this was too good to be true. New work? From Didion, someone who I’ve described as my spirit animal? I was sold instantly, preordering a copy before I had a chance to talk myself out of it.

This new book, South and West: From a Notebook, harkens back to previous essays by this prolific writer by drawing upon notebook ephemera from two unwritten works: one examining the culture of the American South and one that was meant to follow the trial of Patty Hearst in January 1976. Her collection of notes, quotes, reminders, one-liners, directions, and descriptions of places and things are written in trademark Didion style, with precise and detailed language, wit, and a willingness to engage and tackle the world around her.  Despite knowing that this unfinished material is taken directly from her notebooks, readers still feel the same weight and impact from Didion’s words as they do when reading her completed works. In his foreword to the book, Nathaniel Rich writes, “The effect [of reading Didion’s notes] can be jarring, like seeing Grace Kelly photographed with her hair in rollers or hearing the demo tapes in which Brian Wilson experiments with alternative arrangements of ‘Good Vibrations.’” Reading South and West is a bit like seeing the queen without her crown. While Didion’s readers are used to seeing seamless prose, the thrill is examining what lies beneath a polished exterior in order to understand how it works.

The first section, which commands most of the attention in this short volume, details a trip Didion takes through the American South, mostly Louisiana and Mississippi. From the section’s opening line—“In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology”—we are transported to a different side of the famed city. This is true of most of the cities she depicts in her notes on the South, painting a picture of a place that wants to advance but is frozen in an economy that is no longer socially or economically feasible.

The second section, just a small slice of the book, was meant to be Didion’s notes on the Hearst trial. Instead, these snippets of reflections, after many rounds of revision and repurposing, became her 2003 essay “Where I Was From.” Didion herself admits fairly early on that “This is not about Patricia Hearst. It is about me and the peculiar vacuum in which I grew up, a vacuum in which the Hearsts could be quite literally king of the hill.” In her notes, we see that vacuum: the trees, the parties, the misconceptions regarding one’s social status, and even a school “prophecy” that proclaims Didion to be the first woman president. This section on California continues to build a stark contrast between two poles in American culture: the South, deeply rooted in traditions and social codes that dictate every aspect of a resident’s life, and California, known for its continued push toward innovation in a liberal climate.

Given the increasingly polarized atmosphere in the United States, this newly published book by Didion is more relevant now than ever. We have been asking ourselves how we became so divided on so many issues, and one possible answer is buried in Didion’s scribbles. In his foreword, Rich draws upon a 2006 interview Didion had with The Paris Review about why she wanted to use the South to understand California and vice versa. “It is a counterintuitive theory, for the South and the West represent the poles of American experience—the South drowning in its past, the West looking ahead to distant frontiers in a spirit of earnest, eternal optimism,” Rich writes, and yet therein lies the problem—seeking an answer or connection from those who are different, we may look only at our own culture and past.

Despite being a collection of pages from her notebooks, Didion’s newest work still has the same power and capacity as her previous books and essays, a power we as an audience so desperately need right now—the power to find the solution for connection we’ve been searching for.

microreview & interview: Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape With Headless Mama

April 17th, 2017

by Jose Angel Araguz

In “Rummage,” midway through CR contributor Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape with Headless Mama (Pleiades Press), the reader is presented a scene of a yard sale; the opening image of a wedding dress as “a white tumble / alongside registry gifts rattling our tarpaulined front porch” sets the tone. As the speaker details the scene, we learn:

You’ve lost your job as I’ve lost

my faith, selling all our things:
our marriage, our love, the birth

certificates of our imagined ones. How much?
is the only question I can answer.

The connotations of a yard sale, of putting personal belongings for sale on display where one lives, are amplified by the speaker’s monologue, establishing this public act as one born out of loss and need. This layering of meaning via a distinct sensibility for image, voice, and rhetoric presents what is at stake in a clear and compelling manner. When the reader gets to “the only question” the speaker can answer, that question “How much?” is given an emotional torque that evokes how everyday public conversation is often edged with the personal.

Throughout the collection’s poems that engage with narratives of motherhood, family, adoption, love, and culture, Givhan works out various answers to this question of “How much?” which reaches after the cost of things. The poem “Prayer for the Child I Keep Losing,” delves into how much it costs to lose a child:

She’s curling at the edges—
she’s steam from smokestacks unused for ages
yet curing each winter
& finding breath
miraculous against the cold.

Here, the imagery shifts from “steam from smokestacks unused for ages” to the steam of human breath. This transformation implies a restlessness, a further “losing” of the child played out in lyric observation. Yet, holding is also implied; as the poem develops its images that pass into each other, each line holds a sense of loss and presence. That the poem is titled a prayer brings us back to the public/personal dynamic; this personal expression of loss is made in a public space, the poem. What is present, then, in the poem is the tension that makes lyric poetry compelling. The question of how much is answered by the poem’s closing lines:

She’s a light I cannot see
at the edges of every rising, &, oh, every falling thing.

This final image drives home the situation of the speaker, one of finding reminders of the loss and reasons to pray all around her, and, thus, always having to interpret the personal through public, exterior means. This motion at the end of “rising” and “falling” leaves the speaker back at restlessness, but a restlessness sought after and explored.

This impulse for seeking and exploring finds expression in both lyric and formal innovation: “Chicken-Hearted” subverts the sestina, and “A Crown for Headless Mama in Her 14×14 Music Box” presents a crown of sonnets. This latter sequence allows for the full range of the collection’s narratives to meet, the speaker going through many roles as mother, daughter, wife, woman, artist, and poet-storyteller. From this multiplicity, a current of possibility arises; through juxtaposition and voice, the reader is swept up into the worlds of the book. In the second sonnet of this crown, the following dream is evoked:

In a museum, once, we were trapped like frost
on the windowsill when they dimmed the lights
& the monkey-woven Kahlos began
scuttling from their walls toward my babies &
me, demanding I choose. The chirping
smoke alarm woke me, no longer able
to dream us back together. Still the art
kept repeating we’re alive, we’re alive.

This repeated phrase runs counter to the question of how much things cost, making it clear that it isn’t the cost, ultimately, that matters, but that one is alive and able to ask the question and that the presence of art will answer it.


JAA: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

JG: Poetry is tough, it spits pulp, it is cactus spines, it carries water in its belly. Slices of Landscape with Headless Mama were written through a mental breakdown when I feared seriously for my life and my children’s lives. I pulled trauma from the breaking points & stoppered the cracks with flowers, with chicle on the roadside, with inky love. Poetry does that for me, the hard & gorgeous, harrowing & mending poems I read of others & the poems the Muse brings me.

The challenge is how to dwell in darkness searching for light without succumbing to either. Finding unstable truths & rendering them on the page without flattening them. Keeping their luminescence & their shadow stains. It’s easy to say this thing is done. My heart is glad. I will rejoice. Sometimes it’s even easy to mean it.

When the pain returns—cyclical as genetics—what then?

I pulled poems from earlier drafts of the collection & rewrote what clung like berries to a windstormed tree, a hundred times, no exaggeration. I sang these songs until I knew them by heart & then I changed my heart. I laid them on the ground & watched them root themselves to the floor or each other & then I pulled them like weeds & sheared their flowerfisted heads. I was relentless. Because poems are tough. They make me tough. & I tried hard only to take into myself & by myself I mean Headless Mama that which made me stronger.

In my MFA program I heard all kinds of voices. Most of them I had to silence. Most of all I had to watch the paintings swirl. Most of all I had to turn up the music & dance. & there were some voices that danced inside me & those I cultivated, for those I rejoiced. If this sounds strange it is but poetry is strange. & again & again & again have faith.

Poetry is faith. This book is my first as my first child as any first heartswell & reminds me of what is possible.


Landsape With Headless Mama is available for purchase from Pleiades Press.

To find out more about Jennifer Givhan’s work, check out her site. We look forward to featuring two of her poems in our upcoming issue, due out in mid-June.

Poets of Instagram part 3

April 12th, 2017

by José Angel Araguz 

For this third and final interview featuring #poetsofinstagram, John Carroll of @makeblackoutpoetry shares with us a few poems as well as insights into the craft and style of his poetry on Instagram. I was drawn to the work of @makeblackoutpoetry for its clear focus on hope. Each of the examples displays a keen eye for words that fit a poetic sensibility wanting to connect with the reader. Like koans, the lyricism of these poems is geared toward inviting a shift in the reader’s train of thought. This hope-oriented approach mirrors the community @makeblackoutpoetry has cultivated. His account features the work of others as well as his own. All this work on and off the page establishes @makeblackoutpoetry as a champion of this poetic form, able to live up to the title of his first blackout poetry book, Hidden Messages of Hope.

José: Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to poetry and the journey to where you are today?

John: For the last fourteen years, I’ve experimented with all genres of writing. I found a solid niche in journalism and flash fiction before I started making blackout poetry. Discovering blackout poetry was actually an accident.

I came across some of Austin Kleon’s work online through one of my favorite blogs. Since I had been in a writing funk I decided to give it a try and became addicted immediately. That was over six years ago.

José: When did you get started with your Instagram account?

John: I started the Make Blackout Poetry Instagram account four years ago this month. After releasing a chapbook back in early 2013 I was looking for a new writing project that I could eventually publish. At that point I had been making blackout poetry off and on for two years and decided to give it my full attention.

José: Who or what influences you?

John: Charles Bukowski and EE Cummings were early poetry influences for me. My influences since starting Make Blackout Poetry include Marianne Williamson, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Neville Goddard. They’re all pretty obscure writers that focus on spirituality from a different perspective.

The concepts they teach fill my mind with deeper meanings of everyday life that inspire me to find the hidden messages of hope that I share daily on social media.

José: In three words, how would you describe your poetry?

John: 1. Inspirational, 2. Challenging, 3. Spiritual

José: What ideas of craft do you find yourself working with, both in terms of linguistic expression and visual presentation?

John: All of my poetry is made on “found” book pages that I usually purchase at secondhand bookstores or have been given to me with the purpose of making blackout poetry. I typically use spiritual books because the words are meaningful to me. Life, Hope, Love, etc.

When creating the visual elements of my pieces, I’ve used anything from Sharpie markers to oil paint. I primarily use acrylic paint and enjoy watercolor.

José: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram? What do you find most positive about it?

John: When I first started Make Blackout Poetry I posted a poem every day for a year. Now it’s only every other day since I share the work of other blackout poets that submit their work to be shared. Creating four to seven pieces a week can be a bit challenging, but I love what I do and I’m dedicated to keeping the account active for years to come.

As an artist and a writer, using social media to share your work is amazing because you receive instant feedback. The most positive part of that is hearing how my art helped someone either with a hard day or by giving them a different perspective to view their life from.

José: What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing poetry (for Instagram or in general)?

John: Write honestly and do it every day. People are drawn to sincerity and want to be able to connect to your words. Don’t rob them of that just because you’re self-conscious. We all struggle with insecurity, but being courageous has its rewards.

José: What are you future plans in terms of writing projects?

John: I’m currently working on a revised version of my first blackout poetry book, called Hidden Messages of Hope. It’s going to be re-released by a poetry press in London this summer. I’m also currently writing a series of plays with my writing partner, Laura Relyea, that will debut in Atlanta later this year.


Follow the @makeblackoutpoetry account on Instagram and keep up to date with John Carroll’s work on his site.

Also, check out José’s current Instagram poetry project, @poetryamano, which currently features erasures/blackout poems.

Be sure to check out the part 1 and part 2 of this series.

What We’re Reading: Ryan North’s Romeo and/or Juliet

April 10th, 2017

This latest “What We’re Reading” post comes from volunteer Hannah Haney, a first-year masters student in Literary and Cultural Studies here at UC. When not reading through submissions and making insightful comments, Hannah likes to read good books, eat good food, and write bad poetry. She is also the Managing Editor of Relief Journal. We’re glad to have her on board!

Hannah Haney: I have read Romeo and Juliet so many times, I can practically recite it. I’ve seen every adaption and for a long time thought literally nothing could make this play more exciting.

And then Ryan North came along.

Romeo and/or Juliet (Riverhead Books, 2016) takes the classic love story and makes into a Choose-Your-Own Adventure Gamebook. Readers choose whether to play as Romeo or Juliet, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. Juliet, for example, has a “+2 perk” because of her muscles (oh yeah, Juliet is totally ripped and three of her top six interests include muscles), but a -2 weakness for hot boys. Romeo has +1 perk for his excellent elocution, but a -1 weakness in the moderation and foresight categories.

Once you have weighed such options, the adventure begins! As you progress through the book, choices that would take you on the traditional narrative path are marked with a heart icon, so you can clearly choose to make a decision completely opposite of what Shakespeare had in mind.

Here’s an example to illustrate, from section 144:

“You hang out on your balcony for a bit, thinking about Romeo. He’s so great! He’s hot, and … well, that’s all you know about him for sure.


But PROBABLY he’s really nice and smart and great to talk to, and intuitive, and understanding, and considerate. PROBABLY he’ll make sure to communicate with you every day, even if it’s just a quick note to say he loves you. PROBABLY his favorite food is a nice fillet of salmon for two by candlelight, and he loves horses, and even thought he won’t admit it to his guy friends he’s got this secret soft spot he only shares with you for romantic comedies, and every year on your birthday just the two of you will go to see your favorite play, 10 Things I Hate About Thou.

You sigh happily. “Romeo’s so great,” you say.

Well, that was fun but it’s getting late! Time for bed. Turn to 106

Keep puttering around the balcony for a bit longer. Turn to 159″

If the reader decides to turn to 106, the story ends with Juliet waking up, talking to her parents about Romeo, listening to her parents talk about sex, deciding to stop seeing Romeo so her parents stop talking about sex, having a one-night stand with a knight named Percy, getting pregnant and living as a single mother. Choosing page 159 forces you to decide between talking to yourself about Romeo in fancy or “regular human” language.

This version of the play results in over 100 different endings, each one illustrated by one of several different illustrators. There are 476 sections in the book, including side quests, bonus characters you can unlock as you read, and synopses of other Shakespeare plays.

What makes North’s adaptation so refreshing is that Romeo and Juliet don’t have to die in the end! I’ve seen their story played out over and over and over again, but this time, I get to choose the ending I want. No more tragic death for the two lovers. Or maybe everyone dies. Or maybe Juliet ditches Romeo all together and does her own thing. The reader gets to decide who makes it and who doesn’t. The format is highly-addictive—I want to spend hours playing through every possible outcome.

Poets of Instagram part 2

April 5th, 2017

by José Angel Araguz

For this second interview featuring #poetsofinstagram, @colette.lh shares with us a few poems as well as insights into craft and style of her poetry on Instagram. I was drawn to the work of @colette.lh for its combination of compelling visuals and linguistic insights. As can be seen in the examples below, each poem’s visual component interacts and adds to the text: hope rises like waves; something seen as “over” lies in pieces; and doubt surrounds in stark depths. The lyricism of @colette.lh’s work lies in its visceral connection with the elements of poetry: words, emotion, and impression.

José: Can you tell us a little bit about your introduction to poetry and the journey to where you are today?

colette.lh: I suppose I was destined to be a writer. I was named for the French author Colette and my parents were both English majors in college. I am an English teacher, myself, and have always appreciated poetry and art. It wasn’t until October of last year, though, that I picked up the pen. I began writing blackout poetry while recovery from major surgery for endometriosis. I also discovered I couldn’t have children without the help of modern medicine. Poetry became my coping mechanism. I wanted to try to understand my own feelings by searching for the words on a page. It was sort of an exercise in uncovering emotions that I couldn’t fully articulate.

José: When did you get started with your Instagram account?

colette.lh: I started my IG account a few weeks into my recovery in October of 2016. I wanted to give back in a way. I’d spent countless hours reading brutally honest blogs written by men and women coping with infertility, and their stories saved me many times. I thought that if I shared the poems I’d written, it might help other wanna-be-parents. Most of my poems are cryptic enough, though, that my hope is everyone can relate to at least a handful of them.

José: Who or what influences you?

colette.lh: Well, infertility. That was certainly the catalyst for this poetry journey, but I’ve realized it goes far beyond that. My poetry is influenced by the love and admiration I have for my husband. One of my favorite (early) blackout poems reads, “I’ve got you. That’s a family.” I still very much feel that way. Other blackout poets and artists on IG inspire and influence my work as well–a few are even my students! I’ve shared some of my blackout books with them; they get inspired and share with me. It’s cyclical. It’s lovely.

José: In three words, how would you describe your poetry?

colette.lh: Trying to heal.

José: What ideas of craft do you find yourself working with, both in terms of linguistic expression and visual presentation?

colette.lh: I would describe myself as a minimalist. I aim to write short, powerful poems that reveal some sort of truth about whatever it is I’m dealing with at that moment. My mood guides the words I find on the page, and the poem that emerges guides the artwork that I pair with it. I try to maintain a distinct style although I do have a variety of visual presentations (now that I’m scanning through all of my poems). I love lines, shapes, waves, flowers. I just enjoy trying something a little different for each poem.

José: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram? What do you find most positive about it?

colette.lh: The most challenging aspect of writing for Instagram is seeing my work reposted without acknowledgement of any kind. Maybe that’s the English teacher in me, but it feels like plagiarism, and I’m not a big fan of that. I’m not looking for praise or accolades; just a tag would be nice. There are so many positives though! I have “met” some amazing poets through this platform and found a tremendous amount of support and encouragement within the IG community in general. Having an “audience” to hold me accountable has been great too. I’m not sure I’d still be writing daily otherwise.

José: What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing poetry (for Instagram or in general)?

colette.lh: Start writing today. Now. Write a little everyday. Make poetry that means something to you. Share it with the world if you want, but write it for yourself. Enjoy it; learn from it. I would also encourage novice writers to read. Follow other poets, and study their craft. Read, write, repeat. I think it’s that simple.

José: What are you future plans in terms of writing projects?

colette.lh: I plan to continue writing blackout poetry to document my infertility journey, and I’d ultimately love to compile the poems into a book. Know any publishers looking for visual/blackout poetry? (Haha) In the meantime, I’ve submitted a few of my pieces to literary journals just to get a feeling for whether or not there’s any interest in my kind of poetry. Beechwood Review has accepted a handful of my blackout poems that will be appearing in Issue 3 later this year. The other submissions are still pending. Regardless of what happens, I’m happy to have found solace in poetry and the IG community, and I thank you for taking an interest in my work.

Follow to @colette.lh keep to up to date with her work.

Check out José’s current Instagram poetry project, @poetryamano which currently features erasures/blackout poems.

Check out the other interview in this series.

Leah Stewart: Current Novel Project

April 3rd, 2017

We continue our YouTube series on the current projects of our talented CW faculty here at UC. This week: novelist Leah Stewart.


The 7th Robert and Adele Schiff Fiction Festival Begins!

April 3rd, 2017

Here at the University of Cincinnati it’s time for one of our favorite traditions: the biennial Robert and Adele Schiff Fiction Festival! Four wonderful emerging writers—Catherine Lacey, Elizabeth McKenzie, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, and Jung Yun—are coming to the UC campus this week to read and discuss their work. We hope to see you there:

Fiction Reading: Catherine Lacey & Jung Yun

April 5, 2017; 7:00 p.m.
►Tangeman University Center 400C

Panel: “The Engines of Fiction,” moderated by Kelly Kiehl and Jessica Masterton

This panel will focus on the propulsive elements of narrative, in both the short story and the novel. The most obvious topics include plot, event, structure, and suspense, but panelists might also discuss other elements such character, language, tone, form, and atmosphere.

April 6, 2017; 11:00 a.m. – noon
►Tangeman University Center 400A

Fiction Reading: Elizabeth McKenzie & Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

April 6, 2017; 7:00 p.m.
►Tangeman University Center 400A

Panel: “The Writer as Reader,” moderated by Julialicia Case and Molly Reid

This panel will focus on issues such as influences, literature old and new, the landscape of contemporary literature, and books our panelists love and would recommend.

April 7, 2017; 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
►Location TUC 417ABC

Author bios:

Photo by Willy Somma

Catherine Lacey is the author of Nobody Is Ever Missing, a winner of a 2016 Whiting Award and a finalist for the NYPL’s Young Lions Fiction Award. It has been translated or is forthcoming in French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German. She is currently the 2016 Kittredge Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and has won fellowships and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Omi International Arts Center, Late Night Library, and Columbia University.  Her second novel, The Answers, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux and abroad in June 2017. Her first short story collection, Small Differences, will follow. She was born in Mississippi and is based in Chicago.



Elizabeth McKenzie is the author of The Portable Veblen, published by Penguin Press and 4th Estate. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology, and has been recorded for NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her collection, Stop That Girl, was short-listed for The Story Prize, and her novel MacGregor Tells the World was a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Library Journal Best Book of the year. She is the senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review and the managing editor of Catamaran Literary Reader.


Antonio Ruiz-Camacho’s debut collection Barefoot Dogs (Scribner) won the Texas Institute of Letters’ Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction. Barefoot Dogs was also a Fiction Finalist for the Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, a Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco ChronicleTexas Observer and PRI’s The World Best/Recommended Book in 2015, and was published in Spanish translation by himself as Los perros descalzos (Vintage Español). His work has appeared in The New York TimesSalonTexas Monthly, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Toluca, Mexico, he moved to the US at the age of 31 and began to write in English at 35. He earned his M.F.A. from UT Austin’s New Writers Project, has been an Elisabet Ney Museum writer-in-residence, and a fellow at the JSK Journalism Program at Stanford, the Dobie Paisano Program, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Yaddo.


Photo by Stephanie Craig

Jung Yun is the author of Shelter, published by Picador in March of 2016. Her work has appeared in Tin House (the “Emerging Voices” issue); The Best of Tin House: Stories; The Massachusetts Review; and The Atlantic Monthly. She is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships in fiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and an honorable mention for the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at the George Washington University.

Petty Yawp: Submission Trends and Tips

March 28th, 2017

Flannel Moth Caterpillar

Assistant Editor James Ellenberger: The Trump submissions have arrived. Droves of flaxen-haired poems and stories bask in the submission queue like flaccid porcupines, bristling at the cool, liberal wind that whistles atop our heads here at the CR office. Things to keep in mind: Trump is, yes, a total goon, an irregular Cheeto that shouldn’t have made it through quality control. But alas. The Electoral College, with some help from the people, has chosen.

It’s rough. No bones about it. Even in a post about reining ourselves in as writers, I can’t help but take pot shots. It’s hard not to be frustrated with this presidency, let alone with the fissures in our political and social consciousness that the election brought into the light. The air in office breakrooms and at family dinners is thick, as if with gasoline fumes. Everyone has talking points heavy as flint in their pockets. Internet forums, too, invite the incendiary; laid out like coal quarries, they burn endlessly underneath like Centralia, PA. It’s a difficult time. But even so, our writing, the stuff that we’re showing others and trying to publish, doesn’t have to become dismissive, petty, and aggressive.

In the many, many submissions that I’ve read over the past few months, I’ve seen every known subspecies of ad hominem argument. Authors have demonized large swaths of individuals for their education, political affiliation, geographical location, financial situation, race, and gender. There have been assassination fantasies, absurd caricatures, and parodied elections. Rural characters have struggled to distinguish their orifices from holes in the ground while academics build castles of glass and stock up on stones.

There’s catharsis in skewering a known enemy, feeling as though the page alone remains the bastion of total personal expression. Before you send a Trump submission–or that story about a working-class hero who’s easily manipulated, all heart and no brains–out for publication, perhaps consider how “on the nose” it is. What conversation is it entering? What kind of belief system is it perpetuating? In other words, is the work doing more than yawping in the echo chamber of what’s already been said? Is it work that’s doing more than venting, berating, or inciting anger? Is it giving folks a fair shake or relying heavily on the unfair dogmas we’ve adopted as Truth?

That isn’t to say that we don’t want your politically-minded work. We love submissions that grapple with difficult situations and our current political climate. Susann Cokal’s “Fourteen Shakes the Baby,” which appeared in issue 13.1, is a great example of this brand of work. It’s shocking and brutal, yet beneath its surface we can see a political and social system deeply ingrained with misogyny, one that exists well beyond one young woman’s experiences. The text’s relentless focus on the body manages to cross the liminal space between abstract policy and how we really live our lives. We ought to use our writing as an opportunity to embrace complexity rather than reification of the binaries that got us here in the first place.

The Fourth C of Good Copyediting

March 26th, 2017

Nicola Mason continues her YouTube series on the Five Cs of Good Copyediting. This week: Conciseness.

Statement in Support of the NEA

March 23rd, 2017

Given President Trump’s proposed budget and its implications for (or, rather, complete slashing of) the National Endowment for the Arts, we here at The Cincinnati Review are joining others in the writing community to state officially that we stand in solidarity with the NEA.

We would also like to acknowledge our own ventures made possible by the NEA’s generosity. With a FY2014 grant for $10,000, The Cincinnati Review was able to: devote two issues (11.2 & 12.1) to publishing literature in longer forms; produce our tenth-anniversary centerpiece, Moth, a 56-page, full-color graphic play written by Declan Greene and illustrated by Gabe Ostley; and begin an archival project that has us digitizing back issues for classroom use, to bring The Cincinnati Review and the work of its contributors into broader readership and conversation.

Beyond our own award, we’ve benefited from individual grants made to our staff members, editors, and contributors, as well as colleagues in the University of Cincinnati English department. As consumers of art, we’ve enjoyed the fruits of the NEA’s grants to other local organizations, including the Ballet, Opera, and Symphony Orchestra, and various museums and theater companies. Even ArtWorks Cincinnati’s mural program, which pairs teens with professional artists to paint murals throughout the city, has received crucial backing from the NEA.

These projects and many, many others both here and nationwide pump money into local economies and sustain communities in immeasurable, intangible ways. The NEA is a lifeline for those who create art and those who appreciate it, especially in smaller and more rural areas. By adding our voice to the chorus, we hope to encourage you, our readers and friends, to contact your representatives in Congress and express your support for the NEA.

Find more information and a sample script here at The Literary Network site.

NEA image