For just one more week, The Cincinnati Review will be accepting entries for the 2016 Robert and Adele Schiff Awards in Poetry and Prose. One poem and one prose piece (fiction or creative nonfiction) will be chosen for publication in our 2017 prize issue, and the two winners will each receive $1,000.The entry fee of $20 includes a year-long subscription (two issues), and submissions will be accepted until 11:59 PM EST on July 15. All entries will be considered for publication. Please submit up to 8 pages of poetry or one story/essay of up to 40 pages per entry. All entries should be submitted through our online submission manager. For complete contest guidelines, please visit cincinnatireview.com.
It’s that time again! We are officially accepting entries for our summer contest—the Robert and Adele Schiff Awards in Poetry and Prose. The purse is a cool grand for each winning piece. AND in honor of her namesake, Adele has agreed to sing at our celebratory backyard BBQ for the winners. (Not really, but you knew that, right?) For details, click here. Don’t forget to check out the winning poem and story from last year’s contest—written by Jaime Brunton and Robert Long Foreman—featured in our current issue!
Don Bogen: With its score for alto flute, bass clarinet, viola, cello, piano, percussion, and soprano, David Clay Mettens’s setting of Mary Kaiser’s “He Dreams a Mother” in our Summer 2016 issue (just released) is one of the most intricate and haunting pieces in our series of art songs. It’s also the first for which we have a video of the premiere. “Hypnotic” is a word the composer uses several times in the score, and it certainly fits what happened on stage this past April. To watch, click here.
Be sure to check out the subtle performance by All of the Above, with soprano Jilian McGreen and all those varied instruments bringing out the calm yet deeply strange vision in Mary’s poem. The ending is particularly striking. Thanks and congratulations go to the composer, the poet, and the ensemble.
The poem and full score are in the issue. You can find the other four settings we’ve commissioned to date in the art-song category of the blog.
13.1 is here! We just shipped the last, lovely issue, so if you’re a subscriber, expect . . . the expected. Hope you enjoy the wonderful work therein by the likes of Steven Sherrill, Cary Holladay, Dan Bellm, Barbara Hamby, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Beth Ann Fennelly, Brock Clarke, and other literary, er, leviathans? No. Lemurs? No. Llamas? Yes! Many more literary llamas. Not to mention the winners of (in poetry and prose) of the Robert and Adele Schiff Awards—Jaime Brunton and Robert Long Foreman. Have fun, readers!
Molly Reid: Lately, I’ve been interested in the way I—and perhaps other non-poets—read poetry. How might a fiction writer look at a poem differently than a poet? What do I seek in a good story, and how might that translate to a poem? (Do I need some kind of narrative arc? Lovely language? Image? Surprise?)
Reading submissions for The Cincinnati Review this semester, I’ve had to confront some of these questions, as we’re required to read both poetry and fiction (as well as nonfiction). Having never taken a poetry class, I was at first really uncomfortable with this. I felt unequipped to judge without the kind of rigorous critical apparatus I have for fiction. But after a few weeks, I settled in a bit. Though I may not always be able to name the form or rhyme scheme the poet is using or even completely understand what the poem is trying to do, I feel confident in saying whether or not a given piece works for me—the same way I can judge a nice brie from a rubbery cheddar. (I let the editorial staff parse the finer details; thank god they’re reading behind me.)
Along these lines, I thought it might be fun to take a look at a poem that spoke to me in the latest issue, Donika Ross Kelly’s “Acheron,” to try and examine the process of fiction-writer-reading-poem. Or ignorant-pleasure-seeking-individual-reading-poem. Not a deep critical analysis but a kind of casual aesthetic anatomy.
“Acheron” begins with the lines “This the season men were turned to trees—/ the formula simpler than we initially imagined.” This is exactly the kind of opening I like in fiction: an imaginative leap, a strangeness, not to mention the compression of language. There’s the obvious hook—men turning into trees—though it’s the “season” here that really wins me over. It indicates a time limit, a particular container, retrospection. Even a nostalgia. Then that second line (“the formula simpler than we initially imagined”). What formula? How could it be simple? Who is “we”? And what (and why) did this we imagine what they imagined?
Such a beginning prompts a string of questions that—were this a story—would most likely get answered in some fashion. In the poem, however, none of these questions is answered (with the exception, maybe, of “the formula”: “The stiffened limb and rooting feet, the slow/ crawl of bark over skin; the god mourning/ a man now hidden.” Well, not answered so much as jerked around a little, like contents under pressure.)
I love this space—it makes me want to use words like liminal and hybridity. Why are we always trying to solve problems in fiction, find answers? It makes me consider how there should be more of poetry’s trouble-making and question-asking in my own fiction. And also, most definitely, more men turning into trees.
A reminder that there will be a live performance of our forthcoming art song this Thursday, April 28, at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. Composer David Clay Mettens and his ensemble All of the Above will play from 7 to 9 p.m. For our spring issue, Mettens set Mary Kaiser’s poem “He Dreams a Mother,” a beautiful score that’s our most extended art-song offering to date. Admission for the event will be free. For more information, visit cliftonculturalarts.org.
A lovely review of our winter issue by DM O’Connor of New Pages—with shout outs to Dave Mondy, Leslie Pietrzyk, Wendy Call, Irma Pineda, Charles Rafferty, Rion Amilcar Scott, Anne Valente, and Tom Williams.
“With sixty poems, eight fiction pieces, three nonfiction essays, four reviews, five new translations and a featured artist, the 223-page 2016 winter issue of The Cincinnati Review has more than a little something for everyone. It’s biblical in scope, thick in thought and entertaining as hell.”
by José Angel Araguz
“The memory does not exist, you have to create them” (Jürgen Becker)
These words, with their implication of memory as mortal creation, are emblematic of the spirit behind the shorter poems of Jürgen Becker. Reading through Okla Elliott’s translation of Becker’s poems, I was struck by the importance and emphasis placed on everyday occurrences as material for such memory-making. In “Beginning of September,” for example, nuanced observations become vivid actions:
No war. The old woman
draws her head in, because
she hears an apple
crashing through the branches.
Here, Becker’s lyric works both like a diary and a dispatch from the frontlines of everyday life. The juxtaposition of the statement “No war” against the scene that follows evokes the tension of life during war, and how a residual tension exists after.
Becker’s speaker in this and other poems speaks in a personal and direct manner; this approach makes for lyrics able to evoke life with an immediacy similar to Japanese tanka. This immediacy is evident in the poem “What You See”:
The headlights turn briefly
through the curve, and for seconds
the room is bright. Then you see,
on the wall, the shadow of the tree
which stands barren this summer.
Here, the lyric places the reader in the moment not just of noticing but of realization. The pacing of images as well as the resonance developed through pacing and concision bring to mind Octavio Paz’s short lyrics. Where Paz’s emphasis was on the unfolding poem as a mirror to the unfolding self, Becker’s poems emphasize the unfolding moment as possibility for art. As the speaker of “Hell, Sartre Said, Is Other People” states about the “do-it-yourself handyman who makes the mood/for his and my evening” and his drilling into walls late in the day:
. . . In case I see him, I’ll, I’ll
do nothing. Like always, complaints go
in the poem, which makes a large staying noise.
This creation of “a large staying noise” is exactly the ambition behind these poems. For Becker, the material to make this noise comes directly from memory. Through poetry, memories can be created from what we do and do not see, thus clarifying and pointing toward both what does and does not exist. When the poem “Tenth of July” moves from the image of gorse on a postcard into a memory of gorse not being there, an indirect presence is created around the idea of the shrub:
Gorse; with a postcard
from Elba island gorse comes
into the house; it’s Proust’s birthday;
and the memory of gorse
in those years when, along the railway,
the gorse didn’t bloom.
“The decision to focus on [Becker’s] shorter poems,” Elliott shared via email, “was a practical one. He has such a large body of work, and he has done so many longer poems (5 to 50 pages in length) that to simply choose one or two to represent that entire vein of his output seemed like too much of a disservice. His longer poems also have quite a different flavor than his shorter ones, so the two types of poems didn’t seem to live together in a single book very well. I plan to tackle a selection of his longer poems in the future to create a companion volume to Blackbirds in September.”
When asked what influence translating Becker’s poems has had on him, on or off the page, Elliott said:
“Interestingly, Cincinnati Review just published a poem of mine that I consider very much influenced by the lyric logic of Becker’s poems. I think that’s what I learned most from translating his work, his subterranean and unspoken logic. In order to translate someone, you have to become a linguistic mimic of sorts, and by taking on his voice I learned to think like him a bit. Becker will likely forever be an influence on my poetry, even if only in subtle ways that are undetectable in terms of content or phrasing.”
Check out Okla Elliott’s poem “Machine-Minded” in issue 12.2 of The Cincinnati Review.
Blackbirds in September is available for purchase from Black Lawrence Press.
Suzie Vander Vorste: Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction is my current reading companion, and it’s a great one—full of brilliant short creative-nonfiction essays. It’s easy to flip this book open and land on a piece that enlarges one’s understanding of the art of story-telling, the act of self-reflection, and of the different perspectives on what it means to be human. One essay in particular, “Winter Journal: The First Three Pages,” reminds us how something elemental to the human condition can surge through a piece of writing, compelling us to think about what it’s like to live our lives in our bodies.
As you read about Paul Auster’s childhood sensations of cold air felt through a window frame, the tenderness in which he describes the scene may draw you back to the day when, at age six, you tried to sweep up snow with a broom while helping your mother clear the driveway. It may take you back to pulling icy clumps off your mittens while playing outside, or walking to school with numb toes inside heavy winter boots.
Although his essay in some ways evokes a painful desire to turn back the clock, Auster’s work also considers the inevitability of aging, recognizing both that our time does run out, and that a person only has one body to live in. In “Winter Journal,” Auster tells his body’s story, presenting a fragmented narrative that reflects how life itself is a series of sensations and that emphasizes the ways our sense of self is bound to the physical as much as it is to memory. For Auster, the bodily pleasures and pains of life, past and present, are bound together from the beginning. His ability to convey this interplay over the course of a person’s life is remarkable.
Auster reminds us that there are moments we each experience that are unique to our bodies and our selves, moments that allow the reader to disentangle what it means to have lived one’s own life compared to the lives of others.
Although “Winter Journal: The First Three Pages” is brief, Auster digs deep into the sensations of living in his body to reconcile who he is at the age he is—and all while his title quietly insists there is still more life, and writing, to be had.