Here at the CR office we come across a lot of different kinds of volunteers. There was one volunteer who earned a perfect score on his copy-editing test but who came in dead last in our goetta-eating competition (we like to celebrate Cincinnati’s German heritage); another ran screaming when we asked her to feed Pete, the office scorpion (you can never predict people’s phobias). Then there was the guy who refused to fiddle with a broken electrical outlet because he thought doing so would be “kind of dangerous” and might cause him “physical harm.”
We’re looking for the complete package, and Amanda Scott is a one of the best-rounded volunteers we’ve encountered. She leaves smart, incisive comments on the manuscripts she evaluates, and she proofreads quite fast (but not too fast). Plus, she can French-braid an average head of hair in under ninety seconds (second fastest since the magazine was founded in 2003). Word on the street is that she’s a skilled practitioner of karate, too, though you’d never know it—unless you cross her. Don’t cross her.
If that’s not enough, the gal’s got writing chops, too. Here’s what Amanda had to say about one of the poems from our upcoming issue:
Amanda Scott: When I look at Charlie Clark’s “Conviction (Warden’s Greeting),” a whole mess of southern prison images immediately surfaces in my brain: howling bloodhounds, singing chain gangs, and George Clooney in black-and-white stripes making a break for it across a tobacco field. Or maybe something out of a scene from Cool Hand Luke or Shawshank Redemption. I picture Clark’s warden as some slightly pompous, slightly pudgy, completely wily old cop who has seen things, a lot of things, things that have given him the insight he offers to the newly-arrived convict. Clark uses this warden to deliver a resounding speech that—though presumably delivered in the concrete world of the prison—is highly abstract, even cryptic, as it expounds on the nature of belief and the workings of the mind.
Arranging just a handful of often simple words in extremely short lines packed into sixteen tiny, three-line stanzas, Clark allows each word to bear a significance that grows with its repetition as the poem progresses, creating overlapping echoes. Conviction, hold, guilt, prove, doubt, and certain appear again and again in swiftly altered syntactical configurations that tease out and test these words’ meanings.
In the first line the warden grabs readers’ attention with his beckoning command, “Mind, convict,” before setting up what initially seems like a simple logical argument that quickly turns into a wild goose chase as we try to keep up with where conviction begins and doubt ends in the warden’s increasingly enigmatic, Yoda-esque proverbs. Clark agilely demonstrates how thoughts become muddled and beliefs unstable when the mind has time (as those who are doing time will have) to ruminate on what it believes to be true (or false). Though the poem’s tone is authoritative throughout, a shift begins at the end of the eighth stanza when the warden declares, “convictions/ can be unstable.” The first line of the ninth stanza is dominated by the word “Unsustainable,” carrying the idea that not even this well-controlled poem can sustain with certainty a conception of what is and what isn’t. The poem’s second half is riddled with hyphens that break words apart, leaving prefixes stranded, pushing the rest of the words into the next line or stanza in a blurring cascade that, in the very structure of the piece—“al-/ most,” “un-/ certain,” “can-/ not”—presents us with a simultaneity of doubt and certainty, illustrating the mind’s “contra-/ dictory convictions.” This is a poem that compels us to read it again and again, as much for the clever artistry as its ability to make us “Doubt. For Certain.”