Archive for February, 2011

What We’re Reading

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Welcome to the CR blog’s new series, What We’re Reading. Since our staff is composed of such wonderfully erudite—yes, we said erudite—individuals, we decided to create a feature where members of our small yet mighty work force jot a few lines about what they they’re currently reading as a kind of “employees’ picks” of the literary world.

Don Peteroy: Mary Hamilton’s short-short chapbook, We Know What We Are, was the winner of the fourth annual Rose Metal Press chapbook contest, judged by Dinty W. Moore. I enjoyed the collection because Hamilton has clearly mastered the short-short form: every sentence is infused with urgency and insight. Given the restrictions of this genre, short-short writers might feel compelled to produce vignettes, which are often susceptible to being uninteresting. Hamilton, however, manages to offer a narrative arc within each short-short, full of conflict, character development, and a distinct voice.

Ian Wissman: Recently, I’ve been reading through noir. Sticking out right now is Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go. I particularly enjoyed the ways in which it is a noir working within those conventions, while, simultaneously, it’s a race novel that inverts them.

Matt McBride: In Money Shot, the follow up to her Pulitzer Prize–winning Versed, Rae Armantrout is interested in mediums of exchange. Money Shot looks at where the mediums of language and money intersect to create the architecture of our collective fantasies by juxtaposing snippets taken from advertisements and cable news with her own laconic commentary. What I enjoy most about Armantrout is her unique ability to make readers conscious of language as a medium while simultaneously addressing the political. Money Shot is yet another demonstration of her inestimable contribution to contemporary poetry.

Dispatches from Belfast

Friday, February 25th, 2011

This just in from our poetry editor Don Bogen, who is on a Fulbright in Belfast. We miss you, Don!

Don Bogen: I’ve been getting a handle on the local accent. According to a linguist in the department here at Queen’s, the story goes that a wild black pig stuck its snout into the earth and drove a trough across the island from Donegal in the west to some ways south of Belfast on the east coast, and that explains the fact that folks up here don’t sound the way they do in the southern part of the island. Seamus Heaney, who grew up not too far from here, points out in an essay that the Ulster accent is harsher than the familiar lilt and trill we associate with Dublin and points south, that it hits the consonants harder. To my American ear, there’s a clear Scottish tinge to it, though the Irish r is distinctive. In terms of vocabulary, you hear “aye” for “yes” frequently, and “wee” is ubiquitous. The sentence rhythms follow a northern pattern as well, rising right near the end—most statements tend to sound to us like questions.

I’m especially struck by the vowels. As a Wisconsin boy, I’m pleased to hear that folks in Belfast say the word root as it should be pronounced, to rhyme with foot. The for in forgiven is the American-sounding fur (or even a little stronger:  furr) instead of the fo-given you might hear in parts of England (or fo-ah-given from the Q. of E. herself). Ooh and long o are quite long indeed, as in Lake Wobegon or the movie Fargo. But long a and e are my favorites. Compared to the way we say them, folks here reverse these sounds and then put a hint of a y and a short i at the end. So late becomes lee-yit and sleet would be slay-it. It took me two tries to get a number over the phone because it ended in eight, or ee-yit. Short vowels are different too: One of the poets at the Heaney Center asked me if I knew Robert Pinsky’s poem “Shart.” Communication has its challenges, but I’ve come to find the “questioning” rhythm and accent here endearing. Hi sounds like hiya, and that’s welcoming indeed.

Game of the Month Results: We Accept Your Rejections

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

To everyone who played our game of the month: Thanks for the rejection! (We never thought we’d say that). Your fake rejections made at least four editors laugh coffee out of their noses, and for that reason alone we accept you all.

However, we are literary magazine editors, with all the dragon scales, icy hearts, and teardrop facial tattoos that go with the job—and we’d go broke if we just skipped along, flinging free logo-emblazoned sling packs and thermoses all over the internet—so we’re going to accept one of you more than the others.

The prize goes to Dan Moreau, who turned the enterprise on its head and fake-rejected, well, us. Here is his winning entry:

Dear Literary Magazine Editor,

I’ve been submitting to your journal going on two years now, and I’m ready to take the next step. I’m not getting any younger. Things were fine for a while. I’d send you a submission and, like clockwork, three months later you’d send me a rejection slip. Then I wouldn’t hear from you again for months at a time until you went on a subscription drive or promoted a new contest. That’s not enough for me. I need a stronger commitment. I need someone who’s always going to be there for me—not just when they need a $25 contest entry fee. I should probably tell you that I’ve been submitting to other journals. I know. Your guidelines strictly prohibit simultaneous submissions, but I’m at that point in my life where I can’t commit myself to just one editor. I’m sorry, editor, it’s over. It was fun while it lasted.

Always,
Dan

Well, we want Dan to know that we took this personally, and it hurt, and we sulked, and we felt bad about ourselves, and at least one of us made an effigy of Dan and poked it with a pointy blue pencil, and then we might have collectively left Dan a drunken, garbled voice mail. We know Dan is busy, but did we not deserve at least a personal note, something illegible scrawled at the bottom of the pre-printed slip?

Of course we’re just kidding, and we thank everyone for playing: It was fun!

As for the other fake rejections, we accept them all as very funny, not to mention very cathartic, and you can read them below the jump:

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Contributor Chase Twichell to Receive Kingsley Tufts Award

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Great news: Contributor Chase Twichell, whose poem “Raw Umber” appears in issue 6.2, has won the 2011 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. This prestigious accolade, which comes with a $100,000 purse, is awarded each year to an outstanding mid-career poet. Congratulations, Chase! To read “Raw Umber,” check out Dave Nielsen’s “Why We Like It” blog post from January 28.

“Landscape of the Young”: Why We Like It

Friday, February 18th, 2011

When not in the office, Assistant Editor Matt McBride retreats to the caves of nearby Kentucky, where he renounces the material world and lives on a strict diet of hickory nuts and wild honey. We don’t talk about it much, except to point out when he’s meditating aloud or has twigs stuck in his hair. So we were somewhat surprised when, one recent weekend, he extended an enthusiastic invitation to join him at his hermitage. After losing two axles to the makeshift “roads,” we arrived at his dwelling, where he ushered us into a rough-hewn space lit with artfully placed phosphorescent moss. On one rock wall, Matt had carved the following sentiments.

Matt McBride: I dislike the real world. Perhaps it’s facile to dismiss the entirety of concrete existence, but let’s be honest—life, friends, is boring. Maybe that’s why I enjoy art that demonstrates the gross irresponsibility of such a statement, and maybe that’s why Julie Funderburk’s “Landscape of the Young” (forthcoming in issue 8.1) is such an incredible poem. It delivers back to me the world I’d forgotten, uncovering a salient beauty in that which I’ve ignored, in a manner that avoids simple nostalgia.

Funderburk’s poem doesn’t provide a depiction of our world made strange so much as our world at twilight, when particularities blur and things fade into the ideas of things, where the wind becomes “a choir of all songs,” where “the sand waits for words to be scrawled.” This inchoate landscape is mimetic of  youth itself.  Funderburk writes, “Out here, shadows stretch/ toward each actuality: the wide slats/ of the skeletal pier, whales asleep in the water.” In every line, there is a palpable feeling of being at the cusp of something. And yet what that something is remains entirely ineffable. After all, “you are young; you are a visitor.” By the time you realize what precisely you are on the cusp of, you will have already crossed over. The poem captures, beautifully, the unfledged feeling of dozens of unnamable potentialities boiling inside you. It also captures the awkwardness and uncertainty of such a time. This is reified in the poem’s closing image of the speaker looking out at “the gunmetal sea, in its deep wish to be blue.”

Many poems excel because they convey sharply the experience of a unique, lived reality. Funderburk’s poem excels for the opposite reason; it conveys, abstractly, the feeling of a universal stage of development. “Landscape of the Young” shows us a fuzzy photograph of an adolescent standing on the beach, and all those who look at the image recognize the figure as themselves.

Game of the Month

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

REJECT REJECTION!

Attribute it to post-AWP punchiness, but for this month’s contest, we’re going to try something a little risky. At the mag, we’re all writers too, which is to say we’ve all been rejected, numerous times, which is to say we know well the lowering moment of finding a form response in the mailbox’s mournful maw—or the inbox’s sorrowful cybercircuitry. That last bit of overripe ridiculousness should set the tone for the contest, whose purpose is to dull rejection’s power to pierce us. Basically, we want you to devastate us with your own worst rejection note—one you make up. No actual, real-life rejections, please, because that is just going to make us feel crappy.

Especially if they are from us, because contrary to popular myth, we don’t enjoy rejecting submissions. In fact, we die a little every time we do it, and none of us has slept in years.

So send us you best imaginary rejection letters, and we’ll award logo–emblazoned thermoses or slingpacks to our winners next week. To enter, simply post your comments on the blog by clicking the post title above. (Due to the volume of spam we receive, we have to approve each comment individually, so bear with us as we upload your entry.)

“The Color Master”: Why We Like It

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Here at CR we’ll occasionally “lose” a volunteer. We do our best to ensure that these incidents occur infrequently, but when you have a staff directly exposed to as much incomprehensibly good literature as we do, someone is bound to cut ties with reality now and again. Sadly, this was the case with Katherine Zlabek. One day she was busily working on a blog post about Aimee Bender’s “The Color Master” from issue 7.1. Then she was gone. After a couple of weeks, we got worried and formed a search party. We found her downtown, at the corner of Vine and Central Parkway, dressed in a bathrobe with construction-paper stars glued to it, mixing road salt, cigarette ash, and rainwater with a mortar and pestle in an effort to re-create the color of pigeons. We were concerned not only for Kathy’s safety but also about the question of legal liability. So we gently coaxed her into the CR van, drove her back to campus, and locked her in our storeroom. We later learned that Kathy’s psychic break indeed resulted from reading “The Color Master.” The world Bender created in the story was so convincing, Kathy just entered in. The following is our transcription of what Kathy said through the keyhole of the storeroom door.

Katherine Zlabek: A person should be careful after reading Bender’s work. In it, reality is altered, perceptions are enhanced—effects that do not disappear when the book is set down: The angle of the kitchen floor might be off, the light switch slightly to the right of where it was only that morning. At the bar, do not mention the fate of the boy with the clothes iron for a head, nor the tribe of potato children traipsing past a cornfield—this is a good way to lose your car keys to a concerned friend.

Still, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

“The Color Master” is Bender’s prelude to Perrault’s fairy tale “Donkeyskin.” The essential fairy tale elements are preserved: royalty with outlandish requests (such as a pair of shoes the color of rock so that one could appear, “from a distance, as a pair of floating ankles”), communication via messenger pigeon, the trope of the Chosen One. But in Bender’s contemporary telling, the Chosen One feels “both moved and shitty” upon hearing she is going to be the new Color Master. Because the old Color Master is dying, and really, couldn’t her decision “just as easily have been the result of a fever”?

On its most basic level, the story can be read as a fairy tale for artists, inspiring creators to a higher goal than getting the color/word/shape right. Great art is rarely, if ever, only formally correct—a concept that Patty, the Color Master’s successor, struggles with as much as any apprentice. When she creates a dress the color of the moon, she is keenly aware of her limitations: “Like, the king and princess wouldn’t collapse in awe, but they would be pleased, maybe even a little stirred.” The story emphasizes the breaking down of what seems obvious (such as a color, gray) and its reconstruction through experimentation, a process that reveals depth and nuance . . . and possibility. (To make the moon dress more silvery, Patty uses opal dust as well as particles of the Color Master’s hair.) Bender has once again succeeded in writing a story that is instantly familiar to its reader, not because of any successful set formal elements, but rather for how true her experiment rings.

Too Much Success?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Dear blog readers,

Though one member of our ragtag staff is still stranded in Atlanta, the rest of us made it back from AWP bleary-eyed but buoyant. We were contemplating a blog post that would convey our pell-mell, nerve-endings-afire conference experience when we happened upon volunteer staffer Don Peteroy’s Facebook account of our offsite reading with Mid-American Review and Ninth Letter. His nerve endings felt the same way ours did, so we decided to let him tell the story.

Don Peteroy: The big orgasmic moment of my weekend at AWP: the Saturday night reading. For several months, I’d been anxious about being part of the organizational team for this event. Here’s why:

I’m a musician. I’m extremely bitter and cynical about booking events because, invariably, the club owner’s expectations are never met. Take for instance ANY band I’ve played in. I have devoted hours to 1. securing venues (usually, the band has to make some kind of verbal promise to the club owner that the band will bring business, which in Cincinnati is almost impossible); 2. promoting (which, in the old days, involved spamming locals on Myspace, hanging flyers around town, sending personal email invitations, and lots of begging).

The night of the show comes along. I’ve got 20 friends who have promised to be there . . . and by the time my band hits the stage, there are two people in the audience: Cheryl and Phoebe. (God bless them.)

I’m now utterly embarrassed. As the band packs up, I either find myself avoiding the club owner at all costs (and knowing I’ll be blacklisted by that venue forever), or apologizing in some form or other. Thus I have been socially conditioned to avoid booking events. I hate doing that more than anything.

This relates to my orgasm, really.

Back in September, I was speaking to Nicola at Cincinnati Review. (Allow me to beg: get a subscription to this magazine. Even if I didn’t have a bias, I’d still say it’s one of the top five mags in the country. We publish THE BEST. According to Poets and Writers, we’re one of the magazines that literary agents browse for new talent.)  I mentioned that maybe we should host an event in which three mags read. Originally, being that I’m an egotist, I considered  asking Ellipsis, Oyez Review, and Cream City Review. Why? Because they all published me. Nicola’s idea was better. She has a working relationship with the Mid-American Review and Ninth Letter. Besides, with that group, we’d have a Midwest theme.

The next step was finding a location. This was the part I hated. A former UC student, Lauren Clarke, suggested about fifteen places within a mile of the hotel. This was mid-September. I started calling them, one by one. Some never called me back, some said, “We don’t do those kinds of events anymore; it’s bad for business,” and others said, “We’ve got the place booked that night.”

I felt lousy and couldn’t believe that other literary groups had gotten in so early. One woman was willing to have us . . . if we’d pay her $500 for the space.

The problem here, it seems, is that when readings are done and the audience leaves, other people don’t show up. It’s bad for business.

Luckily I found one place, called Bread & Brew. It was small. The owner took two weeks to get back to me, despite my frequent phone calls. Finally, we touched base on email. Then I realized that she’d put me down for the wrong night. This went back and forth, until, finally, she asked the question that I loathe: “How many people can you bring?”

With bands, you have to lie. You have to say thirty, though you damn well know that if ten friends come, you’ve had a great night.

I got back to her. I said to expect about thirty-five people.

Now I became really worried about what it would mean if ten people came. Sure, we had  these “attending” promises on Facebook, but if I could trust that, I’d be a rock star by now.

Finally, after talking with Nicola, I raised the number to sixty.

God! I thought.  Sixty is a lot! Let’s be realistic: when sixty people say they’ll be somewhere, fifteen will arrive.

When the day of the reading arrived, my anxiety grew. Phoebe and I got to Bread & Brew at a little after 6:00. But for the writer Darrin Doyle and a few stragglers from Bowling Green, the place was empty. I felt like this would be another rock-band-like disaster. But suddenly, at 7:00, the crowd arrived. Within minutes, seats were prime real estate. People were standing shoulder to shoulder; people were sitting on the floor. I got lucky; I was at a table with Darrin and Matt Bell. How odd it was since I admire their writing so much. I’ve read both of Doyle’s books, and frankly, he’s taught me to stop apologizing in my fiction and just say it. Matt Bell, on the other hand, sets the ideal of what an excellent short story should be. Plus, he works for Dzanc books, which is my favorite publisher.

A hundred twenty people came to the reading. It was so congested that people couldn’t make it downstairs. One of our readers saw the wall of people sitting in the stairway and turned around and went home. Some of my friends did the same: it was too crowded.

Amazing! While it’s sad that a lot of people didn’t get access, it’s also wonderful that so many came to support a reading. Indeed, we did have celebrity fiction writers and poets, who all read wonderful material.

I was buzzing. I was so happy that, for once, an event I initiated came to full fruition. No let downs, no apologizing. The bar made a lot of money. Plus I got to see friends and be part of a community of people whom I love, and to be accepted into this community.

I had a wonderful time, and it was a major success. Next year, bigger venue.

Dispatches from Belfast

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

As many of you know, poetry editor Don Bogen won the Fulbright-Queen’s University Belfast Creative Writing Scholar Award (the only Fulbright Award in creative writing). In mid-January he hopped the pond and is now settling into his temporary digs. We look forward to Don’s updates on his adventures in Northern Ireland (last week, he bought a lamp!)—and promise to pass them along to give you a sense of the literary scene in one gorse-carpeted corner of the Emerald Isle.

Don Bogen: Just attended my first official Heaney Centre event—a talk on Bobbie Burns (on his 200-and-something birthday), complete with recordings of a few of his songs, some of which were quite ribald (though only for those who know the dialect), and others involving heroic all-night drinking contests (no translation necessary). No kilts in attendance (it was a cold night) but a few plaid ties. It may seem like I actually ended up in Glasgow rather than Belfast, but the distance across the water here is shorter than you’d think.

Staff News

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Our own Lisa Ampleman has won the latest Wick Chapbook Award for her manuscript I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You. The judge was poet and professor Maggie Anderson, and the book will be out in spring of 2012. Three cheers for Lisa! (Assistant Editor Matt McBride is a previous Wick winner.)