Archive for November, 2010

The Blue Pencil Prize

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

It’s here! It’s here! The new issue has arrived, and because this puts us in a jubilant mood, we’re going to offer fabulous awards and prizes to FIVE of our readers. But, um, first you have to earn them. In short, the first five people to find a genuine, bona fide typo in volume 7, number 2, get a choice of a free issue, a free thermos, or a free slingpack—all emblazoned with CR’s oh-so-tasteful logo. We’ll post your findings in the blog. So get cracking, all you sharp-eyed subscribers! If you succeed in out-proofreading us, we’ll even throw in the old-timey editor’s tool of choice, a blue Col-Erase pencil. That’s why we’re calling this THE BLUE PENCIL PRIZE.

(Just leave your comments on the blog by clicking on the post title above. We get a lot of spam, so you’ll have to wait for your comment to be approved).

Look! If you win, you’ll feel as happy as Lisa and Matt!

Winter 2011 Issues Are In the Mail! (Plus Caption Contest)

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

This is how we do it. I don’t know what else to say.

Tell you what, I’ll send the writer of the best caption for this photo a free back issue of your choice. Leave your caption as a blog comment (You have to click on the post title above, then you’ll see the comment box. We get a lot of spam, so you’ll have to wait for the comment to be approved). Be sure to check back in a week or so to see if you won! Judging will be entirely subjective, flawed, and at my whim.

PS, If you are here looking for the mysterious and illustrious BLUE PENCIL PRIZE, it is scheduled to go live right here on Saturday the 27th at Noon. So get cracking, all you sharped-eyed subscribers! But don’t leave your rare finds as comments to THIS post, else you’ll tip off your competition.

“The Drowned Girl”: Why We Like It

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

As promised last Monday, here’s our most recent installment of “Why We Like it.”  It was almost a full month ago that graduate student and fiction writer Ian Wissman break-danced into our office because he was excited about a story. There’s nothing unusual about this. It’s a tradition in our office. Except this time Ian’s break dancing morphed into something we’ve never seen before. At first we thought it was an especially mournful blend of Vaganova method pointe work and vintage electric boogaloo. However, when we studied the video footage backward at high speed, we realized that Ian was carefully spelling out the following thoughts letter-by-letter with his body:

Ian Wissman: Micah Riecker’s standout “The Drowned Girl” (6.2) has landed him a spot in the upcoming New Stories from the Midwest for reasons that go without saying to those who have read the story. Riecker’s setup is clever—we’re baited by a father-son moment, a discussion of girls; or rather, the drowned girl young Rick has fallen in love with after two days at his family’s lake house—but just as quickly the focus shifts to the father-narrator’s relationship with his estranged wife, his son’s infatuation merely a catalyst for the man’s reflection. Especially striking is the interplay between Riecker’s risky narrative and his beautiful prose. Moments of absurdity slip delicately into poignancy when the father—fantasizing about the youthful beauty of the drowned girl who daily rises from her watery grave to date his son—thinks back to his fleeting love of the boy’s mother, Ellen. As he wades into the middle of the lake seeking physical contact with the drowned girl, he recalls intimacy with Ellen: “Then I began to touch her, and she spoke to me in Latin, whispering the names of what I touched. The bone by her neck, after I unbuttoned her shirt, smooth as carved soap, became the clavicular head, and it was as if I’d never touched her there.” Shrouded in such language, the father’s initially creepy fascination with the drowned girl is complicated by our awareness of his longing for what he has lost, and our sympathy carries us through the horrifying scene at the story’s end.

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Covering Cover Letters

Friday, November 19th, 2010

by Nicola Mason

I started out in journal work twenty years ago—as a grad assistant at Southern Review—so needless to say I’ve seen a lot of cover letters. When I’m asked about them, my line is, “A cover letter can’t help you.” People react as though I’ve said something ominous (I sort of enjoy this), but really it’s just a way of saying that our decision on whether to publish a particular piece is based on the piece itself. We know when something is or isn’t for us because, well, we read it. We’ve accepted work by people who have not a single publication credit to list, and we’ve turned down work by people who have a long, spooling paragraph of impressive pubs.

Actually, the only things I look for in cover letters are danger signs—hints, or outright shouts, that the writer is a difficult personality, someone who’d be hard to work with, someone . . . insane. Okay I’m kidding about that, but I do get annoyed when someone tries to sell me on his/her submission in the cover letter, especially when words like universal, cosmic, magic, and synergy are used. Or when the writer tries really hard to be hilarious. I once read a cover letter in which the writer pledged to pack himself in fire ants if we rejected him. In another, a writer urged me not to heed any of the ugly rumors about her. What rumors?

These were distractions, and distractions are, generally speaking, a poor idea. Don’t paste in flattering photos. Don’t include the names of pets. We don’t want a press packet or a business card that declares the writer . . . a writer. Let the work do the talking. The best cover letters don’t distinguish themselves. They get in; they get out—which conveys an understanding of the formalities, that there is a human heart beating at the return address (nice to be reminded), and that professionalism is valued—whether or not there are splashy credentials involved.

New Issue Teaser: Rader, Walker, France de Bravo

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

According to our sources, the very large truck circling campus contains our new issue! Unfortunately, the driver is apparently unable to locate the mossy nook we call our office. But do not worry!  Editor Matt McBride is in hot pursuit. After only three mile-long laps, the distance between Matt and the truck has barely widened. We hope he catches it soon. We are almost out of popcorn. Go, Matt!

In the meantime, enjoy some more comments from our contributors:

Dean Rader: One of the recurring themes of my book, Works & Days, is the notion that the self is not just in flux but is many selves fabulously in flux. So I started working on self-portraits that intentionally avoided the individual self, that sketched the self as a revolving series dialogues. These include such self-portraits as Michael Jackson to Robert Hayden, Hesiod to Dorothea Lange, and even Frank O’Hara to the Distended Angel. ”Self-Portrait as Dido to Aeneas” tries to place the self concurrently in the present and in history as a site of loss. It seems like many self-portraits try to depict “loss” of some kind, but loss is never just about the self—it always involves another.

Jeff Walker: This poem concerns “trailing spouse” culture at an international research organization in Bogor, Indonesia, where I live. Both my wife and I are from the U.S., and her job as a scientist is the reason we are here. The lunch described in the poem was a spouse meeting, and they were mad! They wanted to be given work from the same organization; many have science degrees themselves. That was what got the poem going, but I was able to work in a lot of elements: monkeys, two mentions of “bucket,” tennis (we play a lot here), and different forms of inarticulateness or being made mute.

Brandel France de Bravo: My book of poems, Provenance, contains twenty-six poems inspired by etymologies—a word for every letter of the alphabet. The poems are like word biographies, but they are also jazz improvisations: Each word’s history and influences open up dozens of alleyways and wooded paths to wander. I have studied and speak a number of languages, and I’m fascinated by words that exist in one language but not in another (saudade in Portuguese is one of the most famous examples, but convivir—the title of my poem in The Cincinnati Review—is another). In language, if not in life, I love “false friends.” I also love unlikely siblings. The Spanish verb “to know” is the same as the verb “to taste.” For a poet that is a tasty duo.


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“Ghazal for Aurora Chasing the Deer”: Why We Like It

Monday, November 15th, 2010

We’re already up to a month’s worth of “Why We Like It,” a weekly blog feature that highlights work from recent issues and provides a glimpse into the minds of the interesting volunteers who open your submission envelopes. This anonymous blogger’s mind resembles an overfed hamster on a rusty, cobweb-draped wheel, but thankfully poet and UC PhD student Lisa Ampleman is on staff. A green spectral glow flickers above her head when she reads a poem, especially a ghazal by Dana Koster. Lisa is not allowed to sit near the computers or electrical outlets. Here are her thoughts, transmitted directly to our blog via telepathy:

Lisa Ampleman: A Persian form, a Petrarchan motif. Dana Koster, in “Ghazal for Aurora Chasing the Deer,” handles both deftly.  The ghazal’s refrain, “gone,” metamorphizes at the end of each couplet into “goners,” “goad,” “gain,” and “grown,” and enjambments make the repetition even subtler. The twelve-year-old Aurora, after asking politely, runs off after the deer she sees, and the speaker wishes her such wildness for the rest of her life. The poem is not reducible to such paraphrase, though: The scene is not pastoral. The child is feral, a savage, nearly “slitting the doe’s throat,” feeding. The menace in such diction is ameliorated by the child’s age; this is Hopkins’s “Goldengrove”—with a predatory runner.

Though I’m a sucker for couplets, what keeps me returning to this poem is the deer motif. In Petrarch’s Canzoniere, Laura is a white doe unable to be touched. Petrarch himself is a fleeing, wounded stag. The chase is synonymous with love, with the prey being whoever is passive and pursued. Here, though, our Aurora is the active one, a figuration not for love but
for sheer exuberance and passion outside of the romantic context. Koster captures well that age before a girl becomes a sulking adolescent, when she has energy enough to dash after deer.

Next week, find out why Ian Wissman likes Micah Riecker’s “The Drowned Girl.” Keep an eye out!

The Cincinnati Review is available for order through our secure online form

CR Contributor Jane Springer Wins 2010 Whiting Writers’ Award!

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Congrats to Jane!  Obviously we’re big fans—we’ve published her poems in two issues of The Cincinnati Review.

Don is preparing to interview Jane, and we hope to run that conversation here on our blog in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!

New Issue Teaser: Richard Lyons, Travis Mossotti, Martha Silano

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The proofs for our Winter 2011 issue have arrived in the office, and the artwork by Tobin Sprout looks terrific.  To celebrate the new issue (which is a euphemism for “because we want you to subscribe”), we’ll be doling out some behind-the-scenes bonus material each week.  We asked all of our contributors to comment on their poems and stories, and here’s what poets Richard Lyons, Travis Mossotti, and Martha Silano had to say:

Richard Lyons: “Eyebrows” is part of a series about body parts, as strange as that sounds, and is my attempt to address tribal angst without much or any immediate personal angst. I think Zbigniew Herbert is an influence on this series. I think this because I find Continental European poets more open to irony, especially irony that doesn’t applaud itself.

Travis Mossotti: “One Act: Opening Night” is the first poem in a manuscript written in short-lined syllabics; like this one, the rest of the poems generally have short lines, simple verbs, sparse use of the more clever adjectives in the English language—literally stripping the poem down to its bare essentials to see what lives there.

Martha Silano: I’m fascinated by how clichés can abruptly transform from tired phrases into refreshing action. Gary Snyder’s poem “Thin Ice” is an example of this phenomenon: “stepped on the ice of a frozen pool  . . . the sudden / feel of an old phrase made real.” To make good on a title as grandiose as “It’s All Gravy” (and yes, the title came first; I wrote it at the top of the page, having no inkling of the poem that would follow), I had to channel Neruda and his food odes, summon the cosmos, and somehow interweave these twin inspirations into one glutinous and bubbly sauce. Did I succeed? Hell if I know, but it was immensely satisfying getting ether, Newton, God, doulas, duodenums, and my Uncle Benny’s porkpie hat into one poem.

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“Something Ancient”: Why We Like It

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Enjoy our third weekly installment of “Why We Like It.”  Our first and second posts explain what it’s all about, so scroll down and check those out.  This week, we ran into fiction writer and PhD student Leah McCormack at the Cincinnati Zoo, wearing a hi-tech headband, talking excitedly to the simians. We asked the gorillas to transcribe what she was saying, and this is what they typed:

Leah McCormack: I recall last year an animated conversation among some graduate-student volunteers about a story submission: According to them, the piece was, in a word, fantastic. The narrator was a gorilla. I was, to say the least, intrigued. The manuscript had passed through the volunteers’ hands and was being considered by the genre editors.

That story, “Something Ancient” by Brian Beglin, appeared in the Summer 2010 issue. It is indeed fantastic—and funny and poignant and heartbreaking. Like his father and grandfather before him, Roger (the gorilla) is outfitted with an electronic headband that allows him not only to communicate with humans but to work and live alongside them. Worn since childhood, the headband (or “rim”) has undermined Roger’s animal instincts, his gorilla identity, and he must negotiate life in the margins, just outside whatever it means to be human and whatever it means to be simian. Is love human? Is aggression not? Are words more telling than acts? “Something Ancient” asks of us these things—and offers new, and unsettling, insights into what makes us who we are.

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Hailey Leithauser’s “Schadenfreude”: Why We Like It

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Here’s the second installment in the weekly blog post we’re calling “Why we Like it.” The first post, by Jason Nemec, explains what it’s all about. This week, poet and UC PhD student Les Kay perched on top of our swaying, manuscript-stuffed filing cabinets to sing the praises of Hailey Leithauser’s “Schadenfreude” from our summer issue.

Les Kay: If I were to write a poem about the too-long tradition of taking pleasure in the pain of others—Schadenfreude—the result would either be some perverse analogue of a Bugs Bunny cartoon or a self-important plea for compassion when faced with the next YouTube video of a child being beaned by a baseball. In her poem, however, Hailey Leithauser gives us neither of these unsubtle extremes. Rather, through remarkably delicate construction and enviable precision, the poet eases us into a more complex understanding of this common phenomenon while gently suggesting the ways it touches all of us.

With dexterity reminiscent of Plath, Leithauser weaves multiple rhymes and half-rhymes across brief two-line stanzas, occasionally including internal rhymes. Although those rhymes, like “ironic / caustic / despotic / Teutonic” and “sight / quite / contrite,” suggest the comic, Leithauser’s spacing and line breaks slow progression from one rhyme to the next, one brief line to the next. Thus, the potential of the comic is ever present, but mitigated, pushed aside—much like our tendency to think about Schadenfreude. The nonce construction of the poem, with a roughly iambic meter ranging from one to three beats per line, suggests a diminished ballad or children’s song, yet the explication of Shadenfreude through the final figure of “parfum” sold in “bottles/shaped like a tear” makes clear both the seductiveness and pervasiveness of this frequently felt, but seldom expressed, emotion. Moreover, the final fragment, strung across three stanzas —“An attar/of pleasure, a tincture//of voyeur/dabbed coyly,//adroitly,/at the back of the ear”—resolves the seeming paradox of Schadenfreude itself by returning to the body with those final, loosening anapests.

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