The Cincinnati Review is pleased to announce that Chris Bachelder, author of Bear vs. Shark (Scribner, 2002), U.S.! (Bloomsbury, 2006), and Abbott Awaits (Yellow Shoe Fiction, 2011) will be joining the University of Cincinnati’s faculty next year. Chris has been a regular contributor to CR, with stories in issues 3.1 and 6.1. Welcome, Chris!
Archive for March, 2011
This week’s “Why We Like It” feature is a double whammy. It’s written by Becky Adnot, a long-time volunteer who is soon to join our staff (fall 2011); so this is also a “Why We Like Her” feature. For one thing, Becky has read submissions going on three years now—purely for the love of it. She hasn’t even demanded payment in pizza or Pabst, the grad students’ stock-in-trade. True, she has tried to eat some of her favorite passages from incoming manuscripts, but with love, dedication, and strategic use of a stun gun, we broke her of the habit. Now she merely holds the paper in her mouth until the ink transfers to her tongue, then sinks deeper into her membranes, the words becoming part of her. She refers to this process as “lit-spit-sorption.” Occasionally the words reemerge as watery tattoos here and there on Becky’s body, reorganizing themselves, rising to the surface, then drifting back into her dermal tissue to form new configurations. The following was transcribed from Becky’s shin and left kneecap.
Becky Adnot: Jenn Scott’s “Myths of the Body” (5.1) begins with the discovery of a sex book in a men’s restroom. It ends with the discovery of two women, naked, under a blanket in the lounge of a fast-food restaurant, surrounded by a rumple of trash, the by-products of thievery and waste. In between, there are many more discoveries to be made. This is a story about Ana, the twenty-two-year-old assistant manager of a restaurant where the weekend cooks bread and fry their arms, where the green beans are canned and gray, where her boss—straight-laced and unappetizing—is also her boyfriend. As she passes through the prism of the ordinary, Ana discovers that her mother, who brings home a string of unsavory men, enjoys being called a slut. She discovers that Hipster Jesus, the frail, dirty boy who appears regularly at her register, is not her salvation.
The pleasures of Scott’s story are many: a diamond-sharp wit, prose as honest as it is gorgeous, characters that entertain and entice even as they remind us of the despondency of their situations. But the story’s greatest triumph may be the way that Scott asks the reader, politely, if he or she might choose to root for Ana. And we do: we cheer her as she steals her boyfriend’s wallet, as she batter-dips filched fish, as she renounces her managerial duties to eat pineapple cream cheese pie. Reading “Myths of the Body,” I was moved as often as I laughed out loud, often at the same time.
This just in from our esteemed poetry editor and migrant worker (weirdly, that is how Ireland views Don while he’s on fellowship in Belfast).
Don Bogen: A word about money. There are seven kinds of banknotes accepted as legal tender here in Northern Ireland: those from the Bank of England, which (no surprise) have the Queen’s face on them; two different kinds of Scottish notes (which we have yet to see); and notes from four different banks on this side of the Irish Sea. Some of these Irish notes are fairly sober. One issued, as I recall, by Northern Bank features a nineteenth-century character with a foot-long black beard, faintly reminiscent of one of the Smith Brothers on cough drops. The Ulster Bank bills have a seal with Latin motto on the back. First Trust Bank goes for a more modern look, with the current bank directors—a smiling middle-aged woman with what appears to be a chain of flowers around her neck, a guy in a turtleneck—and points of interest in nature on the reverse. My favorites, though, are the notes from the Bank of Ireland (“established by royal charter 1783,” as we are informed on the front), which feature an engraving of a lady of that period and the official shields of the six counties that make up Northern Ireland. But the back is where things get really impressive. Some older bills from this bank show the main hall at Queen’s University (home of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry): a late nineteenth-century structure pretending to be a Tudor manor house. The newer ones are even more notable, as they feature the Old Bushmills distillery not far from here in County Antrim.
The bills are multicolored and of different sizes for each denomination. As many folks have remarked, U.S. currency is considerably more boring. But what if we could return to the pre-Constitution days of each state printing its own money? It would be great to have an Ohio bill featuring the site of our offices at the University of Cincinnati, McMicken Hall, which is a mid-twentieth-century structure pretending to be a nineteenth-century New England college building pretending to be an eighteenth-century British estate. Or maybe a note featuring one of the local breweries—not as picturesque as Old Bushmills but still close to what matters. Just across the river in Kentucky, of course, there’s a range of proud enterprises of the Bushmills variety—Maker’s Mark would take on a whole new meaning on the flip side of a twenty-dollar bill.
What banknotes look like, of course, is a whole different matter from what they can buy. Suffice it to say that we have reduced our anxiety considerably by convincing ourselves that the dollar and the pound—in all its different varieties—are roughly equivalent. It’s amazing how far a little imagination can take you.
For this month’s game, we’re going to test the fiction wonks among you. Correctly match the CR contributors below to the excerpts that follow—and choose your prize (slingpack, thermos, or issue of your choice). May the best wonk win!
1. Steve Almond
2. Aimee Bender
3. Judy Budnitz
4. George Singleton
5. Kevin Wilson
a. Our mothers saw that the world was ending. Everything beyond the island had been destroyed. They were the only ones left. They cupped their hands over their bulging bellies and realized they would be the ones to replenish the human race. It was their duty and their privilege. They began to carry themselves even more proudly. They felt godlike and strong.
b. During this stint, I played in a punk band called Anthrax Ballet, one of several thousand such bands—perhaps the worst—in the Los Angeles basin at that historical moment. I played bass in the Sid Vicious style, a concerted twinge only loosely concerned with notes. We released a grand total of one record, a self-funded seven-inch of our hit single, “Girl Fight.” (Scratch face/ Pull hair/ Girl fight!/ Girl fight!)
c. I felt the ghost of her passing through me as I mixed and dyed, and I felt the rage in me that she had to be a ghost: the softness of the ghost, right up next to and surrounding the sharp and burning core of my anger. Both guided my hands. I picked the right colors to mix with blue and gray and more blue and more. And in it all, the sensation of shaking my fist at the sky, shaking my fists high up to the sky because that is what we do when someone dies too early, too beautiful, too undervalued by the world.
d. She brushes her tongue along Tommy’s left eye, the glass peeling away, and then she spits the shards on the floor. She does the same with the other eye. She brings eyesight to the blind, and Tommy watches as her face comes into focus. She is naked, her tongue bubbling with blood, and when she smiles at Tommy, it drips down her chin.
e. I pulled out my wallet, then listened to a strange tale about Billy Crume’s older brother ending up in India somehow, hiring locals, going out into some dense forests and capturing a half-dozen bonnet macaques, sending them back illegally aboard a sloop, breeding them in what used to be a bear enclosure bought from some Cherokees up in North Carolina, training the things to be comfortable around humans, then setting them free to roam Waterloo’s environs.
To enter, simply post your comments on the blog by clicking the post title above.
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Heather Hamilton: I’m currently rereading Paula Bohince’s Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods, a poetry collection that doubles as a murder mystery, though to file it under any one term would be reductive. In fact, Incident is a complex and breathtaking book, pulling double duty on multiple fronts: at once rooted in a specific terror and speaking eloquently to the larger human condition, gleaning the best qualities from both narrative and lyric and melding them into a graceful whole, and forever tossing that strange coin whose faces are violence on the one side and beauty on the other. This is a book that not only withstands but deserves multiple readings.
While we always receive a lot of varied, high-quality work here at CR, we do, on occasion, notice trends in our submissions. Here are two of the latest.
Elaborate presentation: Recently we’ve received a number of spiral-bound submissions. We’ve received submissions on watermarked, stationery-grade stock, on parchment, and on glossy paper with accompanying photographs. We’ve also received quite a few in those see-through folders with that long-plastic-clip-binder thing. You know what we’re talking about. While these submissions did bring a smiles to our faces because they reminded us of that time we forgot to read A Separate Peace for English class and forced our parents to drive us to Office Depot the night before our reports were due to purchase the most expensive report cover so that maybe, just maybe, our teachers would see the clear effort that went in to our reports, as evidenced by their highly polished appearance, and know, without reading, that they were holding “A” papers; they also made us a bit sad since our English teachers were not sympathetic, had in fact not even taken the professional-looking folios into consideration AT ALL, even though each cost almost a DOLLAR (a dollar in the mid-80s no less!), and our parents had refused to pay that dollar even though the plastic folio WAS FOR A SCHOOL PROJECT! Anyway . . . what were we talking about . . . ?
“Priority” submissions: Some trends just make sense. For example, those shoes that are shaped like feet. Some, however, are completely nonsensical, like lead-free paint. Overnighting submissions falls into the latter category. We could understand if these submissions we’re coming in under the wire at the close of our reading period, but they aren’t. While we appreciate the urgency authors feel in getting us their work as fast as possible, we unfortunately can’t reciprocate by reading the submissions any faster, and then we just feel bad that somebody paid $20 to get us a story or set of poems the very next day when we won’t be able to read it for a few weeks. We don’t feel “I-just-stepped-on-my-friend’s-new-puppy-and-now-I’m-worried-there’s-something-wrong,-like-medically-wrong,-with-the-puppy bad,” but we do hate to see fellow writers waste their money.
Ultimately, however, we take every submission seriously, so if you feel the need to overnight us your poems, which have been handwritten using a quill on dried leaves, then laminated and spiral bound, we’d love to see them.
On a particularly frigid Wednesday of last month, volunteer Brandon Whiting appeared for his office hours in nothing but an elaborate feather jumpsuit. This was not unusual in itself—feather suits are actually required office wear—so we didn’t think much of it. And when he began touting the benefits of an “all-marsh” diet, we figured he was just at the forefront of the newest Hollywood trend. But when he tried to wedge himself between our filing cabinets, referring to them only as “the sedges,” we realized something was amiss. We haven’t seen much of Brandon since the warmer weather arrived, but yesterday, while searching for one of our back issues, we discovered an elaborate paper nest in the back of our supply closet. On the artfully arranged scraps, he had written the following sentiments:
Brandon Whiting: At first glance, “Heron” by Meredith Davies Hadaway gives the impression of an actual heron: it’s tall, thin, and elegant. It’s reminiscent of a concrete poem in the sense that its form echoes its function, but Hadaway’s superb way of breaking lines elevates the simplicity of her subject.
In effect, “Heron” shows us the variety of ways a heron moves, “some-/ times looping/ down in/ question, sometimes leaning.” At other times it is content to “[lean]/ into fog—/ slash.” The short, choppy line breaks and terse efficiency (here and there a single word occupies its own line) remind me of a heron beating its wings.
One of the trickiest things about writing free verse is deciding where to break the lines, but this poem shows just how resonant a set of effective line breaks can be. “Heron” is a good example of how visual as well as verbal expression can enhance an object, and for that reason I like it.