Last Call! Reading Period Ends March 15

March 6th, 2015

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Attention writers: If you’ve been putting off submitting your work, delay no longer. Our reading period ends in nine days—yes, that’s right, nine days—on March 15th at 11:59 pm EST. Or, in the celebrated words of Bertolt Brecht, originally set to music by Kurt Weill in 1927, and later covered by the likes of David Bowie and The Doors:

Oh moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mamma
And must have whiskey
Oh, you know why.

In case you don’t know why, here’s an explanation of our revised reading period. And don’t despair! We’ll continue to post updates, contributor comments, crossword puzzles, teasers, and other such features from our offices at University of Cincinnati, which are remarkably similar in appearance to the prohibition-era brothels and whiskey bars of Alabama. Or so we’ve been told by the visiting Brecht scholar living in the boiler room of McMicken Hall, who, when asked for a pithy remark on the German master, grunted and slurred:

In the asphalt city I’m at home. From the very start
Provided with every last sacrament:
With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy
To the end mistrustful, lazy and content.

Auf widersehen, Dear Readers, for now.

Mary Szybist: The Return

March 2nd, 2015

Ondrej Pazdirek: Last week, Mary Szybist returned to UC for her second and final stint as our 2015 Elliston Poet. She left her students at Lewis & Clark College and flew into town on Tuesday, February 24—with the airport crew still clearing off the remnants of a busy snow week—and jumped right back to work with her temporarily adopted students: nine of us in John Drury’s graduate poetry workshop. From what I came to know about Mary, I now assume she was writing comments in the margins of our poetry packets even on the plane. She met with our class on Wednesday, and on Thursday met with each of us individually to discuss our work. She concluded her visit by delivering a second Master Class lecture, titled “Repetition and Resonance,” on Friday evening to a packed Elliston Room.

SzybistAs the Elliston Poet-in-Residence, Mary was prepared for and fully devoted to her time in Cincinnati. An exceptionally attentive workshop leader, she was willing to consider each poem on its own terms, and on the terms of the writer, in addition to considering what it could be. As a poet, Mary struck me as someone who treasured each word, took a rare, quiet patience with every syllable, a poet serious about poetry, its success. In our January workshop, she quoted Ezra Pound’s alleged remark that it does not matter who writes the great poems; what matters is that they get written.

I believe I can speak on the behalf of my classmates, and perhaps even on behalf of other people who have had the chance to come into contact with Mary Szybist during her (albeit brief) stay, when I say that her two visits in Cincinnati were truly wonderful, and resonated with each one of us.

 

Mary Szybist is most recently the author of Incarnadine, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. Her first book, Granted, won the 2004 GLCA New Writers Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches at Lewis & Clark College.

Why We Like It: “Drawn In” by Martha Collins

February 26th, 2015

Like most of the students in our eclectic PhD program, CR volunteer James Ellenberger has a “life-I-left-behind” story. Some of these pre-ivory-tower tales involve spotlit stages and mosh pits, the shark-eat-bull world of high finance, the loss of a productive copper mine in a crap hand of five-card draw, and a new identity courtesy of the witness protection program. Thus we were not surprised that night at Arlin’s a few months back, when we were swilling RyePA in celebration of a staffer completing her exams, to learn of James’s shocking past, his secret gift, his hidden passion: high-end shoe repair. He was waxing rhapsodic over the intricacies involved in reattaching a platinum-plated zipper to a $3000 Louboutin python stiletto boot when managing editor Nicola Mason interrupted: “Wait. You were . . . a cobbler?” Not only that—as you’ll discover below—but also a proponent of good dental hygiene who can pull off a Harry Potter metaphor.

James Ellenberger: Martha Collins’s “Drawn In” follows something like the artifice of an advent calendar: Instead of tooth decay in the name of our Lord, however, there’s a six-line poem tucked behind each flap. I’m fondest of the structural integrity of these vignettes—and how Collins, in evoking Dante at points throughout the poem, asks her readership to consider the continuous movement from section to section as a kind of terza rima. Beyond that, the poems themselves resemble the staircases at Hogwarts, constantly shifting, never really losing momentum. Take, for instance, the transition between sections two—“held by the walls// of this now for my small city”—and three—“City where Catherine/ and Jesus traded hearts”. The repetition of “city” manages to hammer into colloquialism the high religious ethos and rhetoric surrounding the referenced locale (Siena, Italy). These shifts between high and low diction might be suspect if it weren’t for the smart scaffolding that these poems are built into. Structure aside, the poem’s just damn beautiful. Excerpting here, due to the integrative and fluidity of the form, doesn’t do the poem justice, but what follows is a handful of my favorite lines:

                where Dante, knowing
nothing of crust or core, made his own
       layers down, where he had

                 to go, on his way, down

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

February 25th, 2015

According to W. C. Williams, “You can’t get the news from poetry.” But you can from our blog! Here’s our latest.

Poetry Daily is featuring a poem from our new issue today. Dan Bellm’s “Twilight” (11.2) is part of our special focus on longer works. In case you miss it, the poem will stay in the Poetry Daily archives for a year.

Due to inclement weather, the concert featuring Ellen Harrison’s setting of Jacob Stein’s poem “Sefiros” (5.1) has been rescheduled for this evening, at 6:45, in Patricia Corbett Theater. Harrison’s score appears in 11.2. The music will be available on our website soon. See you tonight!

Why We Like It: “The Radical” by Brock Clarke

February 23rd, 2015

Our new assistant editor, Don Peteroy, has some definite ideas about fiction. Author of Wally (Burrow Press, 2012), an epistolary travel novella about an unstable protagonist who drives from Cincinnati to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, to settle a score with Santa Claus, Don keeps a photocopied image of L. Ron Hubbard taped to his office wall. This morning, he was talking with one of our volunteers about how uncanny certain trends in contemporary American fiction have become. “It’s like a collective unconscious thing,” Don joked: “If a character’s blonde, he’s evil. If he has green eyes, he’s going to seduce someone. And, strangest of all, if a story opens with a couple painting a bedroom wall, you know a sudden death’s about to occur.” Read on to discover why Don admires Brock Clarke’s short story “The Radical” (11.2), which not only manages to avoid these tropes but successfully negotiates another theme that has become common to both fiction and nonfiction: the contemporary cancer narrative.

Don Peteroy: A writing professor of mine once advised, “If you can predict what your next move is going to be, do the opposite.” Brock Clarke’s “The Radical” seems to make best use of that technique: Inevitability is turned inside out; surprises escalate, one-upping each other; rules are established and immediately broken. Though it sounds like I’m describing a story by Steven Milhauser or Robert Coover, the experiments in Clarke’s piece are subtle; barely detectable. The protagonist finds out he’s got cancer. On the night of his diagnosis, he writes a letter to his wife, Therese. She never actually sees the letter, but hears about it years later, and this belated discovery marks the beginning of a slow-moving deterioration that will affect their relationship and that of their close friends.

I admire how much of the dramatic effect of this story hinges on dislocated time. Though the moment of narration is years later, we’re not aware of any retrospective distance until about halfway through the story. Up until that point, it’s strictly present tense—but then we must recalibrate. This isn’t a gimmick or trick: The shift evokes in us the kind of temporal and causal dislocation that the protagonist experiences. Furthermore, we get the sense that the protagonist admonishes the advancement of time—it brings about decay and dissolution. He attempts to forestall the inevitable. Structurally—even down to the sentence level—the story embodies the protagonist’s penchant for evasion. Soon, however, we’re thrown back into linear time, where there are consequences. This is evident in the last full paragraph, which builds tension by delaying closure, but cannot indefinitely forestall the inevitable, discomforting resolution. The effect is profound. Because the story is narrated from some point in the future, we’d expect the narrator to have come to terms with (or to have mastered) his interpretation of past events. Not quite. “The Radical” is both a story about loss, and a story about the drama of telling such a story.

Performing “Sefiros”

February 13th, 2015

Mark off Monday on your calendar, Cincinnatians. On February 16 at 8 p.m., Ellen Ruth Harrison’s art-song offering, Sefiros (the score of which appears in our current issue), will be performed in the Robert J. Werner Recital Hall at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. The concert celebrates Harrison receiving the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2014 and will feature two premieres: All One Can Imagine for soprano and violin, and Fleeting Edge (performed as part of Vestige: Traces of Reality for clarinet, piano and string quartet), along with other works. One of these, La Danse du Baladin, for solo flute, will be performed for the first time ever with dance.

Of setting to music the poems of Jakob Stein (also reprinted in 11.2), Harrison says: All One Can Imagine was inspired by Stein’s evocative poems. Their striking imagery resonated deeply with me. Although the music has a mournful quality to it, as does much of my work, it is tinged with longing as well. And with longing comes hope for “all one can imagine.”

Fear not, far-flung subscribers: We will post a podcast next week so you too can get your Sefiros on.

Best American Poetry 2015

February 10th, 2015

Today we are celebrating the news that “Is Spot in Heaven?” (10.2) by David Kirby—or “Le Kirb” as he is known by his fan base—was selected for this year’s Best American Poetry volume. Editor Sherman Alexie (also a CR contributor) sure knows a ringer when he reads one. Congrats, David!

Remembering James Olney

February 9th, 2015
From his essay “Remembering Richard Remembering Mlle. Marty” (volume 3, number 1; summer 2006)

In the summer of 2004 I spent a couple of weeks, as I regularly do, with Byron at the house in Solliès-Toucas where Richard lived for the last thirty-five years of his life, and we availed ourselves, as we regularly do also, of the nearly inexhaustible riches of the cellar Richard left behind. It may have been on successive evenings—or perhaps not, I don’t recall—that we chose to drink with dinner on one occasion a 1952 Chateau Latour, on the other a 1987 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Individually they were great bottles; taken together they provided an astonishing experience. With fifty years of age on it, and thirty-five years older than the Lafite, the Latour was only then coming to its full maturity, with many years still to go—I should say another fifty at least—before any falling off from greatness. Of a deep, rich red in color—not the “raw purple-red” (as Richard one place puts it) of extreme youth but to the eye not old by any means either—it was most remarkable for the firmness of its structure, determined by the still prominent tannins, and for the depth and complexity of its flavor and its lasting power on the tongue. Now I should remark that this slow aging is characteristic of Latours in general and of the 1952s in particular, so there was nothing unusual in its easily holding its own for fifty years and well beyond. What was much more surprising was the Lafite which, though thirty-five years younger than the Latour, was to every one of the senses of wine-drinking—sight, smell, and taste—already an old wine, even extremely old, but a very great wine nevertheless and, as Richard would say, heartbreakingly beautiful.  In color it was tinged with brown, and even that was beginning to thin out; its aroma was exquisite but not long-lasting, and its taste was likewise super-subtle, lovely but fleeting on the tongue. We drank the bottle just in time, for as wine it was not much longer for this world. It rather reminded me of what Yeats was told by some of his mystical brotherhood: that if you burned a rose and put its ashes in a bell-jar in the light of a full moon you could see the ghost of the rose in all its beauty rising from the ashes. It had not gone this far with the Lafite but a large part of its ghostly greatness and beauty no doubt lay not in any Latour-like robustness but precisely in its fragility, its fleetingness, its—to adopt another term from Richard—fugacious  loveliness (my computer flags “fugacious” as unacceptable; all I can say in response is tant pis). It was, in fact, the experience of drinking these two wines in close proximity to one another, and especially the experience of the Lafite, with the portrait of Mlle. Marty seated before the open French window constantly on view inside the house in Solliès, that determined me to write the present essay.

Crossword Key

February 6th, 2015

As promised, and hopefully in time to save the remaining hairs on your head, here is the key to Michael’s first crossword.

Stay tuned for the next puzzle!

Guess Whose Desk

February 4th, 2015

We’re in the thick of mailing mayhem and don’t have time for a blog-post proper, but for fun we’ll toss out these shots of what’s on or next to our staff’s desks. This will be more fun for folks in the department, but if you match the image with the right staffer (Sara, Matt, Nicola, Brian, Don), we’ll give you a free issue.