12.2 Sampler: Shape-Shifters

February 10th, 2016

Smoke works #41 - Anatomywww.Mehmet-Ozgur.comIt is an accepted paradox that the human condition is often best explored by stepping outside of our skins, and CR authors know this. Issue 12.2 is full of shape-shifting figures and warped shadows. Some of them are mythical, like Donika Ross Kelly’s men-as-trees; others are whimsical, like Leslie Entsminger’s late-wife-as-toaster or George David Clark’s lion-wearing circus performer; still others are dark, like Michael Byers’s cheating-wife-as-hallucination, Joshua Coben’s father-as-locked-door, or Nicholas Montemarano’s sex-addict-as-vampire. In the excerpts below, authors convey authentic emotional and psychological experiences by reimagining their characters’ everyday forms and realities.


This the season men were turned to trees—
the formula simpler than we initially imagined.

Assume, first, that man and tree were made;
the cypress, the laurel, a spurned god to watch:

[from Donika Ross Kelly’s “Acheron”]


“Mr. Whithers? I have your pamphlets right here! So exciting that your wife has come back. Did you know it’s very rare for a prepurchased haunting to occur this late in a death? It does happen, though I think your wife might have set a record—the whole church is aflutter!” Tammy clapped her fingertips with fervor. She then opened the folder and commenced pulling out colorful brochures. “This first one,” she held up a pamphlet that had a photo of a woman and man gazing lovingly at the front of the church, “is for the newly haunted. It explains the terms and what you can and cannot do.”

“Cannot do?”

[from Leslie Entsminger’s “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife”]


My shirt is the lion inside out, his canines for the cufflinks.toaster
When I’ve vacuum-sealed the acrobats inside their leotards,
I use the high wire to tether the tent stakes.
As sunrise nears, I wash my face in a funhouse mirror
before packing the glass in my briefcase with everything else.

[from George David Clark’s “Traveling Circus”]


It either was Brigid or it wasn’t; he could not decide. It had been so long since he had heard anything like these noises from his wife, these gasps and cries.

No, it was not her.

But then he wasn’t so sure, and then it began to seem that yes, this was Brigid. This was. Now the bedframe began to squeak violently, and he heard only male groaning, the thrusting power of a huge, heavy man. Gasping, Richard swung his feet over the edge of the bed. He couldn’t stand, couldn’t bring together the muscles that would allow him to rise. He lowered himself to the floor and crawled to the head of the stairs. A bright jewel of fire hung in his gut, suspended from his spine by a thread.

[from Michael Byers’s “Stone”]


The father is a dark door
the son may lean against
to listen for the locked room
of himself, his next life.

[from Joshua Coben’s “Antechamber”]


You slept with the head of your bed beside the attic door, and you imagined every night that there was a vampire up there. A vampire was the second most terrifying thing you could imagine because it could turn you into something you weren’t—a monster ruled by a hunger that would never go away. Yet some part of you secretly wanted to be a vampire, because that would mean you’d never die, and death was the most terrifying thing. You grew up in Queens, in a neighborhood with more dead than living, a cemetery behind your house. A vampire’s immortality, as you saw it, was its greatest power, but almost as great was a vampire’s ability to enslave people, to look into their eyes and make them do anything.

[from Nicholas Monetmarano’s “Limerence”]

Announcing ACRE Books

February 9th, 2016


We’re excited to announce that The Cincinnati Review, in fall 2016, will expand by growing a new limb—specifically a book-publishing arm, which will offer, in our usual fine-fingered fashion, works of lit in both traditional and electronic formats. Known as ACRE Books, our small press will begin by bringing out at least one poetry collection and one book of fiction in spring 2017. We hope to double that number—and add works of literary nonfiction—the following year. We’re especially excited to have as our poetry series editor the amazing Danielle Cadena Deulen, author of (in creative nonfiction) The Riots and (in poetry) Lovely Asunder and Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, the latter just out from Barrow Street.

Why ACRE? Because we’re ready to claim some territory. Not a huge tract, but a nice wide expanse we can plow and seed. A patch we can plant up with a scad of growing things. Look for more details in months to come. We hope to start considering manuscripts this August!

microreview/interview: MRB Chelko’s Songs & Yes

February 4th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz 

…Some crazy guy told me. His mother was beautiful. And perhaps I should have listened. To him. Perhaps. I was his mother. Just then. In a way.

As I read through MRB Chelko’s chapbook Songs & Yes, I kept thinking in terms of weather: the weather of details, the weather of personal perceptions. The poems here keep the reader in close contact with the materials of the poet’s world. As can be seen in the short excerpt above, the poetic experience is guided by distinct choices in phrasing. By varying the length and duration of sentences, the poet is able to place emotional emphasis on each movement of the poem. In doing so, the poems enact a logic and aesthetic similar to modern dance.

When asked what inspired this chapbook, Chelko writes:

“…in an effort to purge myself of ingrained habits/constructions/aesthetics/themes, I decided to write one new sequence per month for a year, shifting the formal constraints each month to force myself into new aesthetic and thematic territory. I’d never written prose poems before, so that’s where I started: prose poems of approximately 100 words, comprised of sentence fragments, with the refrains rest and silence.

This impetus towards using formal constraints to work into a “new aesthetic and thematic territory” pays off in this project in pieces like the one below, where narrative detail is lyrically conveyed by voice and image:

With the dark jars of her eyes the pharmacist disapproves. Silence. No doctor signed this. But look at me. I am dragging the trash bags of my feet up the stairs. The jars empty. Pharmacist. Look up. I am hanging a shirt. Light blue and wrinkled. Single dangling ballerina of thread. I am pouring. Black. The coffee’s heart out. Time. Prescription. Rest. Which arrived earlier. Like a decent book in the mail. Silence and a pack of smokes. And the pink depths of the book’s cover. And the purples. Rest. I got tired. Rest. Unwrapped a secret. Wrapped it again.

I like how the repetition of silence and rest hold the poem’s mood together while coloring what comes before and after. The pharmacist’s disapproval is made more emphatic; later, several levels of fatigue are implied. Here also, Chelko’s formal vision plays out in aesthetically and emotionally stunning ways. The juxtaposition, for example, of: “ …I am hanging a shirt. Light blue and wrinkled. Single dangling ballerina of thread. I am pouring. Black. The coffee’s heart out.” streams together perception and sentiment, using the sentence form in a way that gathers lyric momentum.

About this particular piece, Chelko shared:

“Around the time I was writing these I had a series of abscessed root canals, which resulted in quite a bit of pain and ultimately the removal of four of my upper molars. So, I was walking around the city with these deep, aching holes in my face that only I knew were there. It felt like I was holding a secret in my mouth. The loss of my teeth—they’re still missing—was a tender experience and deeply personal. I smiled tightly, or not at all, for years.  On one rainy, metal grey December afternoon, I received a package containing Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s New and Selected Poems,Reliquary Fever. An almost glowing pinkish red, the book’s cover depicts fingers reaching, tentative, for a soap bubble. There’s a specter of violence even in the gentleness of the image. The bubble, if touched, would of course disappear. I love that book. It was a kind of medicine.”

This recognition of “a kind of medicine” in the day-to-day details makes up much of the engine driving this chapbook.

Buy it from sunnyoutside: $12.

Make sure to check out MRB Chelko’s poem “Snow Be” in issue 12.2!


Are you a past contributor interested in a microreview/interview? Write to us [editors@cincinnatireview.com] with the subject heading “microreview/interview inquiry” for more information and guidelines.

Issue Launch Party, Take Two!

February 1st, 2016

A reminder: the rescheduled Cincinnati Review issue launch party (at Wash Park Art, a gallery at 1215 Elm Street, right across from Washington Park near Music Hall) is this Friday, February 5, from 5:00 to 8:00. Come by for food, drink, lively conversation, and a brief poetry reading from a contributor to the issue.

Why We Like It: “Make No Bones about It” by Cindy Beebe

January 27th, 2016

Rochelle Hurt: In music, riffing usually refers to a method of composition in which a single element (like a series of notes in a specific order) is repeated, sometimes changing slightly with each new iteration, in order to form a pattern—though riffing is often improvisational. It’s a technique common to poetry as well. For example, anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of each line) can be understood as a linguistic riff, as can internal rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, and consonance.


In her prose poem from issue 12.2, Cindy Beebe riffs on the turn of phrase “make no bones about it,” which serves as the poem’s title. She jumps right in with an extension of the title, “Not one single bone,” and then elaborates using “bone/s” as her riffing point and reintegrating the word “make”: “Make soup, if you like, though bones in the soup are not allowed. Even nice, fat ham bones, with ham bits on them.” In this brand of crafted spontaneity, repeated words and sounds become bridges to new phrases or ideas. Later in the poem, “make” and “bones” return to set off the following chain of sonic events: “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.” The progression here is not narrative, nor even logical in a traditional sense—rather, Beebe’s movement seems to be guided by an associative logic. This is a form of play, of course, but it is serious in its linguistic endeavors.

The author describes her process as a means of finding new life in worn out language: “Idioms have always fascinated me. I marvel at how they are able to retain their place in our language, sometimes for centuries, long after their origins are forgotten. If we were to look at them with our eyes open, as though we were children again, what new things might we see in them? What old things might we see differently? Writing “Make No Bones about It” was sort of like milking an old, familiar cow to find out what she might still be worth.”

While Beebe’s riffs do not form a predictable pattern, they are tied together. In this way, the poem forms an expansive network of meaning and connotation with a single idiom at its center. Each individual phrase or idea acts as a lateral extension of meaning from that center, and this allows them to cross back and forth over one another: “Such as whoopee. Such as in the morning, when you are floating still in your little boat of sleep, and the other skin, the skin that isn’t yours, comes drifting over into your own sleepy flesh. And there is this mesh like a dream you dream together. Dreams of whoopee, lots of whoopee.”

This lateral structure is precisely what makes the prose form perfect for Beebe’s poem. The prose block here is a wide plane on which this network of meanings can unfold, expanding outward rather than moving forward down the page in a linear fashion. Additionally, the condensed form supports Beebe’s associative leaps. The breathing space that would be provided by line breaks is not required here, where the reader is whisked quickly from one riff to the next—so quickly, in fact, that when one arrives finally back at the poem’s title phrase, “make no bones about it,” the arrival feels both astonishing and inevitable.


(The opening guitar riff from Sleater-Kinney’s “Dig Me Out” is one of my favorite earworms.)

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: Don’t Move!

January 25th, 2016

Yep, it’s time (some would say high time) for associate editor Don Peteroy to lob another Irrelevant Question at an Unsuspecting Writer. Actually, we always clear the question with the writer beforehand. Actually, sometimes the writer doesn’t like the question and asks for another. Actually, sometimes the writer never responds, which is, we guess, another way of indicating he or she didn’t like the question. Which all goes toward saying we never know how a writer is going to respond. That’s the cool part. The recipient of this edition’s Irrelevant Question—Colin Fleming—really delivered. We don’t know about you folks, but here at CR we’ve been longing for a good, rousing disquisition. Something we can stand back and let unfold, and unfold, and then say, simply, “Wow.” A disquisition that tackles a difficult distinction, such as the difference between good writing and writerly writing. (The latter term designating writing that is meant to sound good, often isn’t, but fools people anyway.) Feeling brave? Read on.

Question: It’s about time we have some fresh new literary terms, don’t you agree? Could you please coin some new terms, and define them?

CF: As someone who can’t read a book, no matter what it is, without marking it up and writing in the margins, I’ve come to realize that I’ve done this sort of thing where I’ve blended literary terms into my thinking such that I’ve done away with, you know, terminess. I’ve stopped pausing to label something as some form of device. I want to get beyond that and see something mmetaphorore integrated, so I’m always in the sentence, not in the label. If you see a metaphor as more than metaphor, you’re never leaving the sentence, and the author is doing a bang-up job by keeping you there.

And since I wonder, too, who really knows more than a few literary terms these days, it seems we could use a few that go beyond academic speak. I like the stuff that registers with the people across the hall, and that’s what tends to register most with me.

I read so much material full of what I call moves. Term the first! I hate moves. A move is when a writer is doing one of these “Look at me, Ma, I’m really writing!” deals. A lot of literary magazines love moves. They like stories written in the monotone third person, with sentences that remind me of someone slamming back a typewriter carriage at the end of a line and starting again. The perpetual da-dat-da-dat-da-dat (repeat, repeat, repeat) sentence structure of so much contemporary fiction. Moves are viewed as literary, as not how the “rabble” would ever express anything, thus conferring an imagined superiority on the writer. Pens are not waved through the air. They are wanded. Move. I looked at this one book where a line went something like “The sun gentles the wall of the building across the street.” It gentles it? It fucking gentles it? Move Central. Don’t do moves. You know when you’re doing a move. Moves are for your insecurity, and if someone is doing them past their juvenilia period, there ain’t a lot of talent there. Which can be confusing, because there is a system in place to reward moves.

Move-buffs also tend to be what I think of as sandboxers. As in, playing in the sandbox with the cronies. A sandboxer is someone who writes and hopes rather than writes and knows: labors over some 300 word short-short for an age, and then requires a fellow sandboxer to praise it, and then a dozen others, so that it can be thought of as good. The original sandboxer is subsequently pressed to return this service for his confederates, perpetuating a cycle of codependency and enabling, which allows the sandboxer to replace actual reality with an invented one. Sandboxers spend huge amounts of time on social media, posting dozens of items a day that read like especially bromidic dross from literary fortune cookies. One will encounter things like “If I could be trapped in a bookstore 24/7, I’d happily be an agoraphobic #snuggles.”

Colin-FlemingA more cheery term, the one that matters most to me and that is crucial to writing—certainly writing that lasts—is a simple one: life. You know when you see life in something you read, because you feel it, and you exclaim, in a way, your way, “There it is!” I’d argue that the more life in something, the harder it is to get it into most journals, but that’s another matter. You can’t fake life—that moment that fifty different people encounter and connect with in a personal way, disparate though these people and their experiences are. The life moment is the “push away from the desk moment,” the “I think I’m going to go for a walk around the block or down by the harbor” moment, the great unshakable that comes back to you at different points, and differently each time. I find myself denoting this, of late, with “That is the stuff,” in the margins of what I’m reading. Life is a long way from the box. Which sounds like a double entendre, but isn’t. See? Old school lit term there amidst the new. Like a sponsor!

Colin Fleming is the author of the forthcoming book The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories From the Abyss. He has written for Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Vanity Fair, and is a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Launch Party Rescheduled

January 22nd, 2016

Friends, sorry to say that the weather—or rather anxiety about the weather—has compelled us to reschedule our issue launch party. Please snuggle up tight tonight and save your yaya’s for February 5, when we’ll be celebrating with stored-up vengeance!

Launch Party!

January 19th, 2016

launchpartyThe Cincinnati Review is celebrating our new issue with a launch party at Wash Park Art (a gallery at 1215 Elm Street, right across from Washington Park near Music Hall) this Friday, January 22, from 5:00 to 8:00. Come join us for food, drink, lively conversation, and a brief poetry reading by Norman Finkelstein, a contributor to the issue. More details here: www.washparkart.com/Events.html

We will, of course, have copies of the magazine on hand. The new issue includes fiction from Nicholas Montemarano and Wendy Rawlings; poems from Charles Rafferty, who was just featured on Poetry Daily (poems.com/poem.php?date=16811), and this year’s Elliston Poet Carl Phillips; art by Alicia LaChance; translations from the Zapotec; a crossword puzzle by Fiction Editor Michael Griffith, and more. You can pick up a copy at an office near you (369 McM) or order one through our website.

What’s Poetry Got to Do with It: Rock Stars

January 14th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

Episode 3: Poetic Interludes with Rockstars

[prologue: Counting Crows with Peteroy]

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Crow_on_a_Branch_-_Kawanabe_KyosaiOn the first of December, Associate Editor Don Peteroy walked into the Cincinnati Review office and made a casual reference to the song he had in his head that morning, “A Long December” by the Counting Crows. It was the kind of perfect, totally unexpected yet apt thing to bring up, not only because it was the beginning of the month but because mentioning the song brought up the opening lines:

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

These lines pretty much summed up the air of the end-of-semester/season change happening around me then. Most of the leaves that were going to fall had fallen; the rest were either hanging there dried and stubborn (like memories of 90’s songs) or hidden within the stark branches waiting for spring.

Don being our resident rock star musician, this interlude got me thinking about rock stars in general, how much of what lives beyond their music is often the musician’s own humanly perfect and totally unexpected yet apt things said either in concert or interview.

[interlude one: Bono]

It’s like landing a 747 onto your front lawn

paul-david-hewson-434933_960_720This statement was said by U2’s Bono during an impromptu concert in December of 2000. The band had set up at the Irving Plaza in New York City, a venue whose capacity is capped at 1,000. For a band that can sell out stadiums on back-to-back dates worldwide, Bono’s simile rides a fine line between hyperbole and truth.

Whatever else (good, bad, South Park) can be said about the man, I have been a big fan of Bono the artist since I was a kid. I’m talking albums, but also books, magazine interviews, bootlegs, etc. I actually heard the quote above via a live radio broadcast of the concert that I recorded (on cassette, no less). When asked in college for tips on how to introduce a fellow poet at a reading, I have been quoted as saying, “You gotta be all Bono about it,” meaning you have to go up and share your enthusiasm and admiration for the work of a fellow artist, really bring forth those personal connections you feel. Here’s Bono himself demonstrating at Bob Marley’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

I know claiming Bob Marley as Irish might be a little difficult here tonight, but bear with me.  Jamaica and Ireland have a lot in common.  Naomi Campbell, Chris Blackwell, Guinness, a fondness for little green leaves – the weed…

 But I must come back to the artist himself. There’s a quote I’ve carried with me for about seventeen years now, writing it on the first page of every notebook I’ve had in that time along with other quotes that inspire me at the page. The following words come from an interview during the promotion for All That You Can’t Leave Behind:

…the ability to surrender, to give yourself, either in reverie or revelry. And the journey of the artist is surely the journey away from self-consciousness.

Words like these bring forth the man behind those infamous sunglasses. I keep these words with me for what they say about what I experience working on poems. Whether it’s working toward a first draft or pushing myself into a fifteenth draft, the journey to the next words is exactly “the journey away from self-consciousness.”

[interlude two: Shakira]

Ahora vamos a ponerle un poquito de sabor a guacamole a la noche

[And now we’re going to add a little taste of guacamole to the night]

Shakira_-_Live_Paris_-_2010_(12)Shakira spoke these words during her classic MTV Unplugged set as she introduced the mariachi band Los Mora Arriaga. Together, they then performed her song “Ciega, Sordomuda” restyled as traditional mariachi song. To boot, the song’s breakdown had the singer and band snap into a Ramon Ayala-worthy Tejano beat.

My reaction as a seventeen-year-old brown kid in South Texas: *swoon.*

What is swoon-worthy about this performance is the tip of the hat to both Mexican as well as Mexican-American culture via the mariachi/Tejano mix. Here is Colombian rock star Shakira fusing together two Latinidades vital to North American Latin@s. Furthermore, what is poetic about this performance is summed up in the casual cool of Shakira’s statement above. In the quick analogy hinting at the nature of things to come, Shakira is being “all Bono about it.”

I found myself echoing some of Shakira’s swagger recently as I described my latest book as taking the prose poem and adding a little more guacamole and South Texas to it. If Shakira comes looking for me, tell her Bono made me do it.

[epilogue: a cento for David Bowie]

16260046973_0561915cd5_oI had written the first half of this post in December, before the winter break. Coming back to it this week, I realize I can’t write about rock stars and their apt and unexpected human moments without honoring the memory of David Bowie.

Lunatic’s Lyric – José Angel Araguz

 a cento for David Bowie composed of one line from the last songs on each of his albums

Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
of tombstones, epitaphs, wreaths, flowers, all that jazz,
where sad-eyed mermen tossed in slumbers
sighing, the swirl through the streets.

Like the leaf clings to the tree:
Share bride failing star
through morning’s thoughts and fantasies.

And the clock waits so patiently on your song.
She’ll lay belief on you;
Please heal these tears.

Let it be like yesterday,
with just a hint of mayhem
that burns your change to keep you insane.

That a man is not a man,
and it’s no game:
It’s the place that I know well.

You chew your fingers and stare at the floor.
Buildings they rise to the skies.
Made for a real world,
we scavenge up our clothes
with the sound of the ground.

So I’ll spin while my lunatic lyric goes wrong.
Trapped between the rocks,
black eyed ravens
stab me in the dark, let me disappear,
seeing more and feeling less.


Song Sources:
“Memory of a Free Festival” “Please Mr. Gravedigger” “The Supermen” “The Bewlay Brothers” “Wild is the Wind” “Subterraneans” “The Secret Life of Arabia” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” “Lady Grinning Soul” “Untitled no. 1″ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” “Big Brother” “Fame” “Red Money” “It’s No Game (part 2)” “Shake It” “Dancing with the Big Boys” “Bang Bang” “Heathen” “Strangers When We Meet” “Law (Earthlings on Fire)” “Lucy Can’t Dance” “Heat” “The Dreamers” “Bring Me the Disco King” “I Can’t Give Everything Away”

Notes for a New Year

January 13th, 2016

Right. 2016. The world is another year older, but hey, still looking good! Well, except for the icecaps. And the ozone layer. And, er, all the trees that were burned to a crisp in the Northwest. And, um, all those flooded towns in the Midwest. But on the bright side, we mailed out a sparkly new issue over the holiday break! Well, some of them were sparkly. We ran out of glitter midway through the mailing. corn-chipsPeteroy wanted to substitute crushed corn chips, but Mason vetoed. She didn’t want subscribers licking their issues, which would be undignified. Yes, we here at The Cincinnati Review care about your dignity—among other things, such as your reading pleasure. On that score, so far so good. We’ve received some lovely notes from some lovely people about the poems, stories, and essays in 12.2. Secretly we’ve been calling it the Issue of Darkness, because, on the prose side, anyway, there are some pretty rough pieces. We shed tears over it. For real. Then we got on with things . . . like drinking heavily and stuffing our gobs. But now it’s a New Year, and we’re right back at it. A little chubbier, and we’re pretty sure Hurt still has a hangover, but she’s reading submissions like a champion . . . submission reader. Okay, seems like we’ve had enough fun here. We plan to get back to regular blogging (and FBing and Tweeting) posthaste. What did you miss during our cyber silence? Well, for one thing, we nominated Steve Almond, Brandon Amico, Tom Howard, Safiya Sinclair, Ashley Wurzbacher, and Changming Yuan for Pushcart Prizes. Assistant Editor Jose Angel Araguz’s new poetry collection—Everything We Think We Hear—was officially released.  Former staffer Lisa Ampleman got some great play on Vinyl (vinylpoetryandprose.com). Charles Rafferty’s “Leisure” (12.1) was featured on Poetry Daily. Managing Editor Nicola Mason had a solo show opening at Sidewinder Coffee. And CR brought on its first creative nonfiction editor, Kristen Iversen (of Full Body Burden fame). It’s been an eventful month.

fishbowlAs we start out the sixteenth year of the third millennium, we want to remind everybody that we no longer accept hard-copy submissions. We are still getting a few, of course, but now we are sending them back unread (with a wee note of explanation). Also—a teaser—we have some big news coming up. Not really, really big. We’d say medium big. Or bigly medium. Or something. Stay tuned! Visual clue to right: