Archive for October, 2011

“Our Libretto Conundrum”: Why We Like It

Monday, October 31st, 2011

CR volunteer Ryan Connair is a taciturn individual. Here at the CR office we know Ryan mostly through the incisive comments he leaves on the manuscripts he’s read and the industrious yet stoic way he plows though the menial work we assign him. We have personally witnessed the man apply over six hundred mailing labels to promotional post cards without uttering a single comment on how Sisyphean the task is. Not a single “couldn’t you just get a helper monkey to do this?” or “I have a master’s degree in professional writing; I just wanted to bring that up.”

Since we know embarrassingly little about Ryan, we’ve decided instead to speculate about him. So, here are three interesting “facts” we’ve gleaned.

  • Upon reaching adulthood, Ryan changed his name from Brenton Fosworth to Ryan Connair, an homage to his love of the 1997 film Con Air, starring Nicholas Cage, and his love of television personality Ryan Seacrest.
  • Ryan came up with the concept of a bathrobe-like fleece blanket in early 2001, but failed to patent it. A good friend of his betrayed him, however, when he saw Ryan lounging in an early prototype. His friend would go on to found the Snuggie corporation and make millions. Ryan has been embroiled in bitter litigation ever since.
  • He’s an astute critical reader who wrote the following analysis of Tom Hopkins’s “Our Libretto Conundrum” (forthcoming next month in issue 8.2) on cocktail napkins during a two-day whiskey drunk.

Ryan Connair: “Our Libretto Conundrum” by Tom Hopkins is about a shepherd. A shepherd who likes to write opera librettos while he’s riding his motorcycle. A shepherd who gets elected president and becomes a transformational figure in American politics. It’s a premise that could go wrong in a lot of ways. I won’t go into the premises behind Hopkins’s two other 8.2 offerings, “Catching the Rollers” and “The Songs Our Local Birds Always Sing,” except to say that they’re equally ridiculous.

These stories work, though, and it’s because of the way Hopkins handles his premises. “Our Libretto Conundrum” doesn’t try to explain how a shepherd could become a national legend. Some of the facts are there—his operas revived the capital city’s economy; he singlehandedly saved a boatful of tourists—but Hopkins doesn’t stoop to trying to make these events believable. The story’s not about that. It’s about the influence a figure like that has on the rest of the nation; about the glut of librettos and the spike in traffic fatalities; about the narrator sitting in traffic and honking his car horn like everyone else.

And that’s what I like about these stories. The Hopkins’s contexts are absurd, but the characters aren’t. They react in perfectly human ways to circumstances that seem perfectly normal to them. The juxtaposition gives Hopkins’s stories surprising emotional weight—only at the last moment does he make you realize that you can change the world all you want, but people stay the same.

Biased Hyphens, Pied-Piping, and Meta-Quotation: A Tribute to the Chicago Manual

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Lisa Ampleman: Here at the CR, we swear allegiance to the Chicago Manual of Style; here’s photographic proof of the day that the 16th edition arrived and we vowed to employ the Oxford comma and spell out all whole numbers under one hundred.

As a new assistant editor, I’ve spent the past six weeks memorizing every entry from 1.1 (“Books and journals as the core of scholarly publishing”) to 16.145 (“An index with authors, titles, and first lines combined”), and managing editor Nicola Mason regularly quizzes us. “What’s the difference between ‘innate’ and ‘inherent’?” she’ll ask as she walks in the office on a given morning. “Are scare quotes permissible?”

Zealotry takes many forms. There are those who skip door to door to spread the good news, and we are similarly driven to share favorite tidbits from our bible. Like Catholic schoolboys noticing that in Jeremiah 13, God compares his people to dirty underwear, we’ve come across some interesting—perhaps even entertaining—proclamations in the manual from the Windy City, which we refer to familiarly as our buddy Chuck:


Bonus Material: Adams, Rzicznek, Debus (and introducing O’Keefe)

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

By now followers of our blog have been privy to posts by our new sunny-on-the-surface-yet-with-dark-hidden-depths staffers Becky Adnot-Haynes and Lisa Ampleman (by day, they read submissions; by night, they prowl the city, scrawling HYPERCORRECTION MUST DIE in scarlet lipstick on the windows of citizenry who have been heard to say, in the course of a casual conversation, the maddeningly WRONG phrase “between you and I”).

Our other new staff member, Matt O’Keefe, is a crusader of a different stripe. Often we’ll catch him muttering under his breath about his hero George Washington, how pres numero uno is underappreciated, the poster child for poor dental hygiene, unfairly pictured with dinghys or cherry saplings when he’s about SO MUCH MORE. “Why are people always going on and on about la-dee-dah Jefferson,” Matt will complain while making the mindlessly-yapping-mouth gesture with his hand, “when Washington was totally the bomb dot com!” We have to keep him from inserting facts about GW into the manuscripts he edits, or grading down submissions for not mentioning the Great Man. But here at CR, we accept that people are not perfect, and we try to accommodate each other’s harmless little foibles. When Matt said he wanted to write something for the blog, we knew what was coming, but he did single-handedly engineer our new online submissions program, so we were willing to cut him some slack.

Matt O’Keefe: Last weekend I went with my family and some friends to Gorman Heritage Farm just north of town to rustle some hay and maybe eat a cinnamon donut. While there we watched a man shovel manure balls into a wheelbarrow while the horse who made the balls looked on. It was a glistening chestnut animal with a long, noble head, of which I remarked to my friend, “Imagine waking up with that in your bed.” But guess what, it wasn’t a horse; it was a mule. I never knew a mule could be so beautiful. The guy with the shovel told me that George Washington first brought mules to North America and improved them with his meticulous experimental breeding. A mule is a combination of a female horse and a male donkey; if you reverse the genders, what you get is called a hinny. Famously, both mules and hinnies, having a number of chromosomes (63) indivisible by 2, cannot reproduce with other mules and/or hinnies, though sometimes a male horse or donkey will make a female mule or hinny pregnant.

All this is to say that horses, not mules or hinnies, feature prominently in the current issue’s poems by the below-listed contributors. And, no, that’s not a typo, Ben Debus’s poem is not actually titled “The Abandoned Horse at 824 Sleepy Hollow Road.” I won’t give away the equine angle except to say it has something to do with the metaphor he mentions.

Lavonne J. Adams: I have been fascinated for years with matters of depth perception, as if I were a painter and everything around me part of a still life. On the particular Saturday when I wrote “A Certain Perspective,” the Preakness was about to begin. The announcer’s small talk about the track caught my ear, especially the words “optical illusion.” The scene at the track and my own physical reality began to merge. But I was completely surprised by the poem’s last line, which I think is always a pleasure for a writer—that acknowledgment that the subconscious has its own agenda, and sometimes we must allow it to set the pace.

F. Daniel Rzicznek: I wrote “Horses” in the span of an afternoon, the images flying one after another onto the page. I see this poem as both a tribute to the beasts that have labored for thousands of years to build our civilizations and as a warning that the universe eventually swallows all. As Americans, our history surrounds us, and one of the things I’ve been interested in lately is giving a voice to landscape itself and inventing memories for the earth. I tried to allow history to shade certain parts of the poem as well. How often we forget that our lives are built on loss.

Ben Debus: “The Abandoned House at 824 Sleepy Hollow Road” is one of a group about abandoned houses. In part, it has to do with a concern about the foreclosure crisis. It makes me wonder where the people who leave their houses go; and (as in this one) what happens to a house untended, unlived in. This one burns. The ways that a house can fall apart are astounding. That we put so much into houses, our things, time, hopes: The metaphor is, in one way at least, an attempt to express the aliveness we grant to houses.

Submission Trends and Tips

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Though the work we receive here at CR is always widely varied, we do notice, on rare occasions, certain trends among the submissions. Here are some of our latest.

A Pre-Story Death: Sometimes a death that occurs before the narrative begins—especially when it’s the loss of a loved one—creates a poignant sense of present absence, giving even mundane actions a kind of emotional echo, like in the 1990 film Ghost Dad. However, when handled poorly, the device can be a cop out, lend false weight to a story, like in the final episode of Lost when you learn that the weird parallel universe is actually like a kind of limbo-type place and everyone’s actually dead. I mean, really? I watch a show for six seasons and the “reveal” is that they are all dead?! We live in a post–Jacob’s Ladder world. You just can’t drop a “surprise” death on us anymore; it’s like playing tic-tac-toe with anyone over the age of four.


Irrelevant Questions, Part Tre

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Now for our third and tasty installment of “Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers,” in which Don Peteroy, Cincinnati Review staff member-extraordinaire, conducts one-question interviews with writers in an attempt to discover what makes them tick—or, rather, what they think about ticks:


Alex M. Pruteanu is the author of the recently-released novella Short Lean Cuts (CreateSpace, 2011). His work has also appeared in Peer-Amid, The Legendary, Girls With Insurance, Trick With a Knife,, Slingshot Litareview, and Pank Magazine. Pruteanu subsists and generally uses too many of this planet’s resources in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area in North Carolina.

Question: Let’s say that you’re in the bathroom, brushing your teeth. Suddenly, you see the bathtub go down the drain. Then the toilet goes down the bathtub’s drain. Then the sink goes down the bathtub’s drain. You can more or less figure out what might happen next. How would you stop this madness?

AP: Yes. Indeed. It’s obvious that the simple act of brushing one’s teeth has somehow defied the laws of quantum mechanics, brushing aside the brilliant work of Dr. Stephen Hawking and ruthlessly opening up a black hole in the universe. Personally, I have known this for quite some time now and, therefore, have stopped brushing my teeth. I look at every session missed as saving a baby universe out there somewhere. And that makes me feel good. Also, in the decade and a half that my mouth has not seen a toothbrush, I can proudly announce that, although I’ve lost a few teeth along the way, I am now able to whistle much better.


Dinty W. Moore, is author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, forthcoming from Wisdom Publications in May 2012, as well as the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2009. His other books include The Accidental Buddhist, Toothpick Men, The Emperor’s Virtual Clothes, and the writing guide, The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction. He worked briefly as a police reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a modern dancer, a zookeeper, and a Greenwich Village waiter before deciding he was lousy at all of those jobs and really wanted to write memoir and short stories. Moore has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, among numerous other venues. He is a professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University and can be had cheaply.

Question: Let’s imagine that price tags appear all over your body. If you try to rip them off, it hurts. You go about your day in isolation. You notice that whenever you do something productive with your hands, the prices on the tags that are attached to your fingers increases. Whenever you come up with a good idea, the price of your forehead skyrockets. Likewise, the opposite occurs: bad ideas and lethargy decrease your apparent value. How would you reconceptualize your life, or would you just go to a doctor and have the darned tags surgically removed?

DM: This is fantasy, right?  I mean, it sounds like some of my worst days as of late, and maybe you’re seeing something I can’t see? Are the tags yellow or blue? Are you gifted with special sight? I’m really freaking out right now. But to the question at hand: I would reconceptualize my life. Just learning to spell “reconceptualize” would probably take my forehead over the $100 mark, which would make me beam with pride. All that goofy smiling would surely raise the price on my cheekbones and along the corners of my eyes. So I would smile some more. An infinite capitalist feedback loop would be created. More forehead action. More smiling. Watch those prices climb. I would eventually sit down from the effort. My sacroiliac price would skyrocket, no doubt. (I’m no cheap piece of you-know-what, you know.) But how long could I keep this up? And are there any buyers? Is the demand real or just a Dinty bubble? In my wildest dreams, foreign investors would purchase me piece by piece, until I no longer existed as a distinct entity. Then, totally disassembled, I wouldn’t have to answer bizarre e-mails from random graduate students in Cincinnati.  Never. That would be bliss. Did I spell Cincinnati correctly? Did my forehead price just jump through the roof?


From this point on, the interviewer will refer to himself as “Random Graduate Student” or “RGS.”


Maya Pindyck is the author of the poetry collection Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press, 2009) and the chapbook Locket, Master, winner of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Her work has appeared in journals including Poets & Artists, Sycamore Review, Bellingham Review, Mississippi Review, and Tusculum Review. Besides teaching at the Frederick Douglass Academy VII in Brooklyn, she is also a visual artist and a co-founder of Project Voice, a growing compilation of women’s abortion stories.

RGS: Let’s say that you get hired to teach at a brand new writer’s conference in the Bahamas. When you show up for the first class, you notice that all of the students are wearing bear costumes. Furthermore, they communicate only through growling and moaning. You quickly discover that this is a conference for writers who have a fetish for bear costumes. To make matters worse, you look at the revised conference schedule—which you’d received minutes prior to the class—and realize that you’re teaching, “The Craft of Bear-Enthusiast Sonnets.” How would you handle this? 

MP: I would grin and bear it.

“Gunga Din”: Why We Like It

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Here at CR, we’re looking forward to the howling winds and dead-tree vistas of January. Okay, not really, but we ARE anticipating the new issue, which will hit the frozen or semifrozen (depending on the latitude) North American newsstands then. Either you can pull on your long underwear, lace up your boots, and brave the hoarfrost to get your copy . . . or we could just mail it to you.

To light your fire—figuratively speaking (using issues as actual kindling is not recommended)—Lisa Ampleman, one of our new assistant editors, has jotted a few thoughts on a poem in the upcoming issue. Just to make it challenging for Lisa, whose gray matter sometimes shoots beams of rainbow-colored light from her earholes (just to show off, we think), we made her drink three 7-Eleven Slurpees in swift succession while composing these comments. It’s a testament to cerebral prowess that her thoughts can still form even in the midst of a catastrophic brain freeze.

Lisa Ampleman: Jason Sommer’s poem “Gunga Din” (Issue 8.2) is not an appreciation of the Kipling poem or 1939 film but a searing portrayal of a father-son relationship. The poem does feature a water-boy, nicknamed Gunga Din, but this time the setting is a Nazi work camp. The speaker imagines the man “running always, one/ thing shining in his head: to do, do—/ water for thirsty brothers—this to do/ and done well all may yet be well,” a sentiment that resonates darkly in this context. The speaker’s father, a Holocaust survivor, has asked him to write about the water-boy in a way that honors the man’s memory.

Our poet-narrator notes that when, while growing up, he’d heard his father’s stories about Gunga Din, he always thought of the man as an idiot to be mocked, like a scrawny kid who didn’t make the football team. This speculation, though, is corrected by his father, who wants the speaker to see “a whole world beyond irony,” and in the end, the poem is about the challenges of the son relating to the father. Through digression and self-reflection, this poem highlights the tensions for the children of Holocaust survivors, the effort to honor the parents even while acknowledging their flaws. Sommer deftly demonstrates the difficulty of realizing we’ve been wrong and moves from thought to thought in syntax that catches the breath when we reach the poem’s culmination.

Game of the Month: The Winners

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Thanks to all the funny bunnies who participated in our Game of the Month. Since we at the mag—as a matter of principle—refuse to rain on a funny bunny’s parade, EVERYONE’S A WINNER! [Conjure mental scene involving confetti, streamers, those obnoxious party horns, a goofy guy who can’t dance, etc.] Please email editors [at] cincinnatireview [dot] com to claim your prize (thermos, slingpack, issue of choice).

Congratulations to our National Book Award finalists!

Friday, October 14th, 2011

A hearty congratulations to two of our contributors who have been named 2011 National Book Award finalists!

Frequent contributor Edith Pearlman is recognized for her short-story collection Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories (Lookout Books, 2011). Pearlman’s stories have appeared in Issues 2.2, 4.2, 6.1, and 7.1, and a new story, “Life Lessons” is forthcoming in our January issue.

“Life Lessons” explores a daughter’s changing perspective of her father, nicknamed “Danny Boy” by the women who love him, including his wife, his two sisters, and some mysterious nurses. Pearlman recently sent us this comment on the story:

A newstand magazine—it may have been Real Simple—ran a contest in which the contestants were to remember a life-changing moment. The prize was substantial. Why not invent such a moment? I basely thought—and proceeded to rummage in my ideas drawer, where I found the young-for-her-age-girl; the piano teacher; the beautiful parents, the father slightly naughty. I put them all together, along with “Danny Boy,” one of my favorite ballads. The piece had very little to do with reminiscence (though a lot to do with life-changing moments). It had become a story, and I look forward to seeing it in print.

The nurses, however, are drawn from life.

We posted a sneak peek of the beginning of the story here.

Congratulations also to contributor Carl Phillips, a 2011 National Book Award finalist in poetry for Double Shadow (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011). Phillips’s poem “Until There’s Nothing, Just the Sea, a Sea of Leaves,” from his 2009 collection Speak Low, appeared in Issue 3.1.

The winners will be announced on Nov. 16 at a New York City gala.

On the Winners . . .

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

And now, what you’ve been waiting for: Statements from judges Don Bogen and Michael Griffith about the winners of the 2011 Schiff Prize in Prose and Poetry, as well as words from the winners themselves, Tresha Haefner and Elisabeth Cohen, on how their pieces came to be.

Don Bogen: What impresses me most about “A Walk Through the Parking Lot at Midnight” is the way it moves through a range of perspectives—below ground, on the surface, above the surface; outside the body, inside it—in a patient series of closed stanzas up to the very end of the poem. Each of these stanzas has its own particular angle, a new way of seeing the mundane that enlivens it. As the poem calmly and strangely unfolds, the perspectives interact, and the result is a landscape that is simultaneously defamiliarized and enriched. We may be in a parking lot, but the poet is not just parked there.

Tresha Haefner: When I first moved out on my own, I didn’t have a television, didn’t have much to do in my free time, and didn’t know anyone in town. I spent most of my nights walking around my apartment complex, which was across the street from a parking lot. I was just learning to write poetry, and most of my poems contained imagery of the night, and things I saw or thought about on my walks. A worm coming out in the rain. The nature of life, death, history, the body and brain and bones. The truth is, all the lines in “A Walk through the Parking Lot at Midnight” were originally parts of my other (failed) poems, which I had been hitting my head against for years.  Things came together when my friend (poet, Kelly Cressio-Moeller) directed me to an essay on “Free Line Poems” (written by Sally Ashton), which suggests looking at your old, “orphaned” lines to see if they are working together to say something. Mine were all about light and darkness, all the many places wherein there exists this faceless luminescence, both internally and externally. Rereading the poem and rewriting it I kept thinking about the prophet Zoaster, who was the first to speculate that there are two gods, a god of light and a god of darkness. The darkness, he said, is inside of us, but the light is all around.

Michael Griffith: Elisabeth Cohen’s story is a stylish voice piece about a parent trying to get an awkward, scabby youngest child into a tony private school. The voice is wry and witty and rueful, and Cohen’s social satire is beautifully executed. But what I like most about this story is the risky and surprising way it turns out to be about parental love, and not the greeting-card-homily kind but the real thing: guilty, sometimes ambivalent or miserable, frustrated, ringed round by anxiety and loathing of self and the world, but fierce and unkillable.

Elisabeth Cohen: Growing up, one of my brothers used to have these oceanic nosebleeds, which is where the end of “Mollusks and Optics” came from. They were these torrents of blood—there’s really no other word for it—profuse, seemingly endless, requiring lots of old towels. It was like something from the last of the Romanovs. My parents were outwardly calm during these episodes even as our kitchen began to look more and more like a slaughterhouse. The memory came back to me when I was trying to finish this story, and it seemed like a pretty good way to end a story  about the emotional price you pay as a parent, when you let someone outside of you, over whom you have the most tenuous illusion of control, carry your heart around.

Lit Mag Love

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Check out the Writer’s Relief “Lit Mag Love Contest,” where if you sign up for subscriptions to two lit journals, you’ll be eligible to win subscriptions to two more. Lots of mags (including this one) have donated free subscriptions and other swag, so there ought to be winners galore. The link is here: