Don Bogen on the winning poem: Jaime Brunton’s “Chase” is the first prose poem to win the Schiff Award and a great example of the genre at its best. Here are some things I especially admire about it. First, it’s definitely a poem. Neither narrative-driven nor expository, “Chase” can’t be mistaken for flash fiction or a paragraph in an essay. It uses sentences the way a good poem in free verse uses the line: with grace, variety, and special attention to sound. “Chase” revitalizes phrasing, so that the most impersonal, empty constructions—“There is,” “There are”—come to support subtle emotional exploration. What the poem has to say about time, loss, and our hopes for a clear arc in the lives of those we love is marked by discovery and insight. “Chase” is sharp, sensitive, and brilliantly rendered, a standout among prose poems and poems in general.
Michael Griffith on the winning story: Robert Long Foreman’s “Awe” features a documentarian who, adrift after a project gone tragically wrong, has quit his profession and is seeking . . . well, is seeking renewed access to the sublime, to awe. His bizarre stratagem is to arrange through Craigslist to watch a woman give birth. In Foreman’s nimble hands, Bill’s alternately comic and poignant (mis)adventures with the couple who agree to allow this make for a delightfully askew, surprisingly emotional story.
Check the blog tomorrow for our distinguished list of HONORABLE MENTIONS. (Sorry, meant to announce them today, but there have been logistical . . . complications, and we don’t want to leave anyone out!)
Our sincere thanks to those who submitted work to The Cincinnati Review’s summer contest. This year’s field was wildly varied in form and content, and it was difficult to choose from among the many quality entries. In addition to the winning pieces, we have a distinguished list of finalists and honorable mentions, as well as the editors’ comments on the entries and the prize poem and story. Please visit our blog on Monday for more contest content.
Those who participated in the contest will receive a year’s subscription to The Cincinnati Review, beginning with our winter issue, due out in early December, and also including the spring/summer prize issue.
Jaime Brunton for her poem “Chase”
Robert Long Foreman for his story “Awe”
Though I’d read and taught C. K. Williams’s poetry and even reviewed it for The Nation a long time ago, I never really got to know him until his visits as George Elliston Poet in Residence in the winter of 2014. His reading and talks were wonderful (and can be heard at the Elliston Project website: https://drc.libraries.uc.edu/handle/2374.UC/695985), but what I remember most about his time here are things that go beyond the literary: his engagement with people, his insight, and especially his enthusiasm. Air travel can be exhausting, but he seemed to bring energy with him from the moment he stepped off the plane. Even the traffic jam that socked us in on his last trip back to the airport didn’t faze him: I had one of the most thoughtful—and helpful—conversations ever as I was stuck behind the wheel that afternoon. I was going through a rough patch, and Charlie’s presence made a difference.
You can see some of his vivacity in this picture from a party at the home of my colleagues Jenn Habel and Chris Bachelder. It came out in smaller settings too, like the dinners Charlie and I had at a quiet pan-Asian restaurant in town, some with our current assistant editor, José Angel Araguz. Normally we take Elliston Poets to different restaurants in the evenings after their readings and talks, but Charlie plunged into the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese offerings at this one place and was ready to eat there more or less every night of his residency. Gusto seems the word for his appetite here, both for food and talk. And range. I can’t say we completely covered the menu during his visits, but we came close.
For Charlie, the menu of conversation was inexhaustible, and he approached it with sensitivity, intelligence, and exuberance—more or less the way he approached writing. He’s greatly missed.
For those nearby: frequent CR contributor (see our current issue) and National Book Award finalist James McMichael will be at UC for two events this afternoon. At 3:00 in the Elliston Room, there will be a Q&A, followed by a short break and then a poetry reading at 4:00.
And now we unveil the cover for the upcoming winter issue (12.2), featuring the work of visual artist Alicia LaChance, as well as poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by Carl Phillips, Rebecca Hazelton, Allison Campbell, Dave Mondy, Colin Fleming, Wendy Rawlings, and Nicholas Montemarano.
Rochelle Hurt: Hybridity is a topic of much discussion of late: hybrid cars, hybrid crops, hybrid dogs (the Goldador, the Peekapoo, the Schnoodle). It’s always exciting to encounter something that inhabits two seemingly separate worlds at once. What I love most about hybrid dogs is the way their breed labels carve out entirely new spaces for these creatures. The Goldador is not a Labrador that looks sort of like a Golden Retriever, nor is it a Golden Retriever that barks sort of like a Labrador. It’s something else entirely; it’s a Goldador.
Amanda Lee Kallis’s “Abeyance” in issue 12.1 also inhabits (at least) two worlds at once, making use of literary conventions associated with two different genres. Viewed from one angle, “Abeyance” is a long prose poem sequence (which is how it’s categorized in our issue), but from another angle, it’s a segmented lyric essay. The best way to read it, in my opinion, is from a vantage between these two. Let’s call it an essem or a poessay—or better yet, let’s not worry about its particular genre and instead just revel in its strange beauty.
Kallis blends scientific terminology and philosophy (from Descartes, Horace, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others) with lyrical descriptions in a fragmented meditation on mind and body. In the first section, Precursor, she writes: “Negligible or non-senescence is observed in the hydra, a water creature. . . . The price of biological immortality: pearly simplicity and some nettling tentacles about the mouth.” Through a fusion of the discursive essay voice and poetic metaphor, she creates a fresh mode for discussion of the body. Her movement through the piece is largely associative, following rhythmic echoes of phrases and images. Take, for example, this passage from section 11, Scale: “So much talk before speech. You have to snake the clog. My insides are pitched. Immortality is a snaking thing. Immortality is a dog chasing its tail.”
“Abeyance” uses formal hybridity, not simply as a means of innovation, but rather as a reflection of its content. In this piece, the acts of aging, seeing, reading, writing, and understanding, are often hybrid processes. In section 8, Monsieur C, Kallis writes: “A stroke, of course. A shattering deep somewhere. A visible silence. The most significant finding for our purposes is that, in all of that circuitry, the seat of writing is not that of reading and yet we can talk, you and I, in an uneven silence.” The use of synesthesia in the phrase “visible silence” reveals the body as a natural hybrid. We process information through a series of almost imperceptibly distinct mechanisms (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) that become one through the very act of perception. In this way, “Abeyance” is also a piece of meta-writing that provides a guided tour through our own process of reading it.
Composer and poet Kevin Simmonds has provided us with a recording of his setting of C. Dylan Bassett’s poem “The body remembers . . .”. The score is featured in our current issue. As poetry editor Don Bogen writes in his introduction to the piece: “Music, like poetry, doesn’t belong to just the eyes. Both arts find life also in the ears and in the breath—the body remembers, indeed.”
Two of them. Sensible in nature (at least to us).
First, as of January 1, 2016, we will no longer consider hard-copy submissions. By that we mean submissions on paper, sent through snail mail. We get so few now, it’s easy to overlook them. We have to remind each other to glance at that teeny little sheaf of sheets on top of the filing cabinet. Interesting to recall that when the mag started over a decade ago, the office centerpiece was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with stacks upon stacks—upon stacks upon stacks—of stories, essays, and packets of poetry. Such is progress. Submit electronically. Befriend a tree.
Second, we are reducing the number of poems that can be submitted in a single batch to six. The limit was ten, but we realized we were the only mag in double digits, poem-wise. In an effort to keep things moving, and to encourage writers to shoot us their very best stuff, we’re making our new magic number six. Of course, we’ll grandfather in sets of poems that have already been submitted. As of October 1, however, if submissions contain more than six poems, we’ll read the first six and stop.
Thank you kindly.
Here at UC, we and the rest of the English Department are anticipating the October visit of Julie Schumacher, who’ll read in the Elliston Poetry Room at 4 p.m. on the 26th of that spooky month. Staffer and fan Don Peteroy reviews her latest—Dear Committee Members—below.
Don Peteroy: In Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, Jason Fitger has had enough. He’s a former novelist, has had several divorces, and works as a burnt-out creative writing teacher at Payne University, where literary arts are becoming obsolete. His students—usually international finance or software engineering majors—are either apathetic or apt to write stories that celebrate excessive gore. The university is remodeling the floor above the English department, where the financially privileged economics department resides, and Fitger must deal with the constant noise of jackhammers and toxic plumes coming through the ventilation.
Taking place over the course of an academic year, the novel is told in epistolary form. The majority of Fitger’s correspondence involves requests for letters of recommendations from adjuncts, current students applying to other programs or universities, English majors from years ago applying for catering jobs, and, in one specific instance, a student who’d received a C- in Fitger’s writing class who seeks employment at Avengers Paintball, Inc. Fitger explains to Avengers Paintball that the student’s “autobiographical essay on the topic of his own rageful impulses” makes him a perfect candidate for the job. Other letters involve departmental politics, and Fitger’s persistent, but unanswered, requests for the university to take notice of the increasingly hazardous state of his work environment, due to the renovations.
Early in the novel, we realize that Fitger has blown his cork. He uses his letters as a medium to rant about the IT department’s incompetence, redundant documentation, and his failed relationships and literary career. His tirades are hysterical not only because they’re unprofessional and, at times, completely random, but because they’re honest. For instance, he writes, “Alex Ruefle has prevailed upon me to support his teaching application to your department, which I gather is hiring adjunct faculty members exclusively, bypassing the tenure track with its attendant health benefits, job security, and salaries on which a human being might reasonably live. Perhaps your institution should cut to the chase and put its entire curriculum online, thereby sparing Ruefle the need to move. You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice, and then charge your students a thousand dollars each to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.”
Dear Committee Members is not simply a collection of witty letters, though. There is a narrative arc, and a central conflict through which the novel achieves greater sophistication. Beneath the humor, a tragedy concerning one of Fitger’s students, Darren Browles, brews steadily. Fitger cares deeply about Browles, but as the student’s plight worsens throughout the year, Fitger finds himself powerless to help him. Browles becomes the victim of a culture that privileges certain individuals over others, institutional oversight, and administrative bloating. While Fitger’s letters written on behalf of Browles ridicule institutional ethics (and are therefore funny), they also highlight how deeply serious and horrible Browles’s situation is becoming.
Practically every other page of Dear Committee Members made me laugh. In each letter, Schumacher reestablishes and reinvents the terms of her humor, so the novel stays fresh, with surprises all the way until the end. At the same time, I found the tragic element so heartbreaking that, upon closing the book, I couldn’t do anything but remain seated and staring ahead for long minutes.
As a followup to Monday’s post, whereby we offered readers sample passages from our forthcoming fiction, we’re now presenting a poetry gallimaufry, as it were. AND we’ll make good on our subscription bonus till the end of this week. In short, if you subscribe today, tomorrow, or Friday, we’ll send you a gratis copy of our graphic play MOTH with your first issue of the journal.
FORTHCOMING IN CINCINNATI REVIEW 12.2
From “Not the Waves As They Make Their Way Forward” by Carl Phillips (Visiting UC in the spring!)
Like Virgil, Marcus Aurelius died believing that his triumphs,
when pitched against his failures, had come to very little.
I don’t know. Given the messiness of most lives (humble,
legendary, all the rest in between)—their interiors,
I mean—it’s hard to say he was wrong. Black night.
From “Necessity” by Allison Campbell
You can’t put a cold heart in the microwave for sixty seconds. It will not heat evenly. Some portions of the heart will still be cold, others much too hot. No, you cannot reheat the heart. The heart needs space.
From “Fresh Dante” by Donald Revell
Berries are nice, Lady.
Grishkin is nice, Lullay.
The soul of Toulouse rots through.
Creation is one way. Creation
Is the other way too.
From “April Incantation” by Maggie Dietz
Crack new bourns and boundaries
into parceled plots. Wreck even
the season that reared you: lick
the lilacs into sobbing heaps.
From “Reach for Your Inside Rain” by Emily Vizzo
How easy to be on my knees. My face on the bed.
Take whatever you want, I tell God. My buddy God
ignores me. Patience is his best trick
From “St. Louis Symphonic” by Philip Schaefer
A chorus of fingers
connected to a chorus of brain activities
which leads to a final chorus of breaths
on the other end of the street. A body
becoming a mural, a glowing coral reef.
From Translation series: part of a twelve-poem series “Lu Neza / Sobre el Camino” (“On the Road”) by Irma Pineda, trans. Wendy Call
The sea went deaf and tossed us
into the desert’s arms
The sea went deaf and hurled us
on a path to other places
From “Make No Bones About It” by Cindy Beebe
Make no bones that float. Or sink, either. Make hay, rather. Make barley, alfalfa, the cows will love you. The cows will bow to you in one smooth, synchronous plié. A little cow ballet.
From “Traveling Circus” by George David Clark
The stilts telescope. The big top folds and folds.
My shirt is the lion inside out, his canines for the cufflinks.
When I’ve vacuum-sealed the acrobats inside their leotards,
I use the high wire to tether the tent stakes.
From “Ant in Amber” by Ashley Keyser
Tiger-iris, me the pupil
is density. Bride, bare
your throat. You palaces
burning at the bottom of the sea,