Today on Cincinnati RevYouTube, we present our literary nonfiction editor, Kristen Iversen, talking about one of her current projects.
In 2011, Ben Dudley—then a student in Michael Griffith’s writing workshop—climbed through the window that led to the tunnel that serpentined to the cavern that narrowed into a smaller cavern (more of a crawlspace, really) into which thrust the stalagmite that housed, about three-quarters of the way down (or up, depending on your spatial orientation), the calcified deposit of our fiction editor’s soul. What he discovered? The tormented egomaniac behind Michael’s mild, aw-shucks demeanor. An ill-fated film ensued. This is the story of that film.
We here at The Cincinnati Review are pleased to announce our Pushcart Prize nominations. As always, it was difficult narrowing to just six pieces from the wonderful work in our 2016 issues. We continue to be impressed by the high quality of submissions, and feel honored for the opportunity to publish your work. Congratulations to the nominees!
Steven Wineman, “Erving and Alice and Sky and Elisabeth”
Susann Cokal, “Fourteen Shakes the Baby”
Leslie Entsminger, “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife”
Cindy Beebe, “Make No Bones about It”
Dan Bellm, “Fragrance
MRB Chelko, “Snow Be”
As a followup to Tuesday’s video of Mary Kaiser reading “He Dreams a Mother,” we present a performance of the score that was inspired by the poem. Written by composer David Clay Mettens, the piece—set for soprano, flute, clarinet, viola, cello, piano, and a range of percussion—was performed live by All of the Above at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center this past spring. The score as well as Mary’s poem also appear in issue 13.1.
What do we do with memory? As far as our writers are concerned, they certainly aren’t going to take contributor Todd Hearon’s comic advice: “Forget it.” Instead, these 13.2 contributors’ poems explore how memory connects us with the people we’ve lost and with former versions of ourselves, trapping us as well as giving us solace. In Chowdhury’s poem, life and memory are cyclical, the joy of children’s “scattered laughter” inextricably tied to the knowledge that “I was born into my grandfather’s death.” In Christiansen’s poem, the memory of her grandmother inspires a meditation on aging and longing, a “kestrel . . . chitter[ing] for her fledglings” who will not return. Hearon brings us full circle, from memory as poetic subject to memory as poetic form, reminding us how powerful rhyme and song can be, how they make memories that never seem to fade.
Shayok Misha Chowdhury on “Creation Myth: Morning”: These days, I measure my time in funerals. The old ones are passing out of this world. Some young ones too. In my language, when someone dies we say they become a “picture.” My grandfather has always been a picture to me, hanging black-and-white against the walls of our family homestead at P544 Raja Basanta Roy Road, Kolkata 700029. I find myself taking comfort in that inevitable alchemy: we will all be pictures one day. This poem is a part of an ongoing series of creation myths. I mean myth not as a synonym for “lie” but as a formative truth: how we came to be. It’s a question I imagine I will never be finished with. How is that I am, that we are? I rarely write formal poems. But the relentless repetition of the pantoum allowed me, in this instance, to return obsessively to words that have always haunted me, that refuse to leave me alone. Dead. Mourning. Mother.
April Christiansen on “Dysphagia”: This poem is from a manuscript that explores themes of growing up in Arizona, the complicated relationships of family and an adult perspective on how people do and do not communicate. While the family is placed in the middle of the beautiful and stark Sonoran Desert, many of the poems deal with the places we have left the desert for and my imagined experience of those who both remained and departed. I am interested in the tension between the tangible and the intangible and how those things are experienced in tandem. This particular poem is inspired by my grandmother and imagines her thoughts and experiences near the end of her life.
Todd Hearon: Mnemosyne—mother of the muses, speaker of this poem—is the goddess of memory. That said, I have no memory of what inspired this poem or how it was composed. I think it grew out of a fragment—advice that a businessman-father might give to his son:
Forget it. There’s no future in it.
I do remember that the poem came quickly and that it surprised me with its sonnet form. I also remember being surprised during the writing that it came out on just two rhymes. But that shouldn’t surprise, rhyme being one of the best forms of mnemonics.
Today on Cincinnati RevYouTube, we present Mary Kaiser reading “He Dreams a Mother.” In the words of poetry editor Don Bogen, this piece “is typical of the inventive and intimate ways Mary’s poems engage history. . . . In the summer 2007 issue we published four poems from a book she was doing on the Shakers. We ran another set of Shaker poems in summer 2011. Mary’s particular angle on this group, with their tense celibacy and obsession with mystic visions, takes them well beyond the image of homespun ‘simplicity’ to which they’ve been reduced.” The image shown in the video is of the Center Family Meeting Room in Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.
On Friday, look for composer David Clay Mettens’s musical rendering of “He Dreams a Mother.”
Ben Dudley’s latest attempt to get on staff. (Spoiler: it’s a no go.)
James Ellenberger: Short poems are like potato chips: I often really enjoy the work, but am left wanting more. The best short poems seem to be able to circumvent the desire for more by engaging or evoking a world well outside of the page. In the case of haiku, the poem’s brevity isolates different cairns of human experience, directing us toward something impactful without telling us how that moment should resonate with us. For example, here’s Basho’s famous frog haiku (as translated by Robert Hass):
The old pond—
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.
This poem transports us without drawing clear guidelines of where we are, which leaves the piece feeling timeless. Even when we’re gone—and the words that we’ve fretted over, too, are gone—the old ponds will be older and the frogs, always new in their sleek skin, will continue leaping. It’s comforting to think that the burden of creating beauty isn’t on our shoulders, that sometimes it’s enough to simply linger in a moment.
“Tip,” a poem Andrea Cohen in issue 13.1, manages to say an incredible amount in only five lines. Here’s the poem:
Always, on the tip
of his tongue, something
cold and deeply unthinkable.
Around him you
always felt sinkable.
The first thing that drew me to this poem was its clever use of wordplay: The tip of the tongue becomes the tip of the iceberg, implying that what we say goes much deeper than the words themselves. In a slightly different way from the aforementioned haiku, we’re given an emotional cairn washed in allusion rather than the description of a single event in the world. It’s hard not to consider Hemmingway’s Iceberg Theory here, particularly in the sense that, as readers, we’re never privy to what’s actually being said (or isn’t). The effect is rather magical: the sheer physicality of the tongue and iceberg must come to terms with the poem’s negative space (“unthinkable”). I see the other elements of this poem (the distancing effect of the self-reflexive “you,” the insistence on “always” as how this poem is framed in time) navigating the negative space that ebbs around these lines like an ocean.
Formally, rhyming “unthinkable” and “sinkable” forms a sonic bridge between what’s tactile and what isn’t; the feeling of being “sinkable” is stark and dire, while what’s “unthinkable” can’t be grappled with as directly. This creates a feeling of unease, one that’s made more poignant with the allusions to the Titanic, which serve to clarify the scale of this attachment (or detachment). It feels as though, in other words, the world, not merely the “you,” is sinking.