Archive for March, 2012

“Conviction (Warden’s Greeting)”: Why We Like It

Friday, March 30th, 2012

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.”

What We’re Reading

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Lisa Ampleman: It’s hard to describe The Riots (University of Georgia Press, 2011), by Danielle Deulen (a new professor at UC this year), in terms that haven’t already been used. I want to say that the essays are beautifully lyrical, but the Great Lakes Colleges Association emphasized that quality when they awarded the collection the New Writers Award for Creative Nonfiction. I’d also say that the book has brutally honest depictions of family life, though Melanie Rae Thon accentuates its candor in her blurb on the back cover. After hearing endorsements like these, I was excited to pick up The Riots at the AWP Bookfair—and I started reading it on the bus ride home. Although it isn’t organized chronologically, I found myself returning to the book whenever I could, devouring it almost like a novel, wanting to know what would happen to the people Deulen describes so well. The pieces sometimes read like prose poems, sometimes like the best sort of memoir: non-self-serving, illuminating scene and personality with verbal vigor.

Becky Adnot-Haynes: I’m doing an exam area in British fiction, which means I’ve been reveling in all things English: I listen to a lot of Ricky Gervais podcasts, and when my husband comes home from work I ask if he wants a spot of tea (he prefers coffee) or some crisps (like a philistine, he insists on referring to them as “chips”).

Anyhow, I currently have the pleasure of reading Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis’s classic academic satire. Jim Dixon has fallen into a university job as a lowly instructor of medieval history, where he is uncertain not only of his job security but of his choice of career, in which the Head of Department gives public performances on the recorder and repeatedly attempts to enter revolving doors from the wrong direction. In the rising action, Jim is unlucky enough to be assigned to give a lecture whose subject he is entirely unqualified to speak on. It’s a smart cultural comedy with a good dose of acerbic wit. Throw in a sprinkling of farce—bedsheet burning, an inconveniently-timed pants-ripping, and a “superficial wound” accidentally inflicted on the Professor of English—and the outcome is, as The Guardian called it, a “preposterously funny book.”

Cincinnati Review Reading in San Francisco!

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Our contributor Nick Johnson was generous enough to set up a reading for our latest issue that will feature fellow 8.2 contributors Rebekah Bloyd and Dan Bellm. This is going to be the biggest thing to hit San Francisco since the Dirty Harry movies. If you live within a 300-mile radius of San Francisco and leave right now, you should be able to arrive in time. And if you’d like to set up a CR reading in your very own burg, just let us know. We’ll put you in touch with other contributors in your area—and we’ll even send you a bunch of copies gratis!

Announcing the 2012 Schiff Prizes in Poetry and Prose

Friday, March 16th, 2012

This year, we’re doing it big: Our annual Robert and Adele Schiff Prizes in Poetry and Prose will now include an honorarium of $1000. One winning poem and prose piece (fiction or creative nonfiction) will be chosen for publication in our 2013 prize issue. The entry fee of $25 includes a year-long subscription. Submissions will be accepted in June and July; all entries will be considered for publication.

For complete contest guidelines, please go here.

For additional motivation, we’ve put our heads together to think up some things the winner might do once he or she is flush with cash. Our best suggestions:

  • Get your check cashed into quarters and use them to fill up your bathtub. Take a photo of yourself with only your head sticking out and declare a caption contest on Facebook. Prize? $1000 in quarters.
  • Buy 1000 things at the Dollar Store (we recommend Charleston Chews and sippy cups).
  • Pay your rent (Yawn! Don’t worry: The staff member who made this suggestion was duly pelted with Tootsie Rolls).
  • Subscribe to approximately ten literary magazines a year for the next seven years (we recommend, well, us).
  • Purchase 200 Skyline Cheese Coneys by mail.

We look forward to reading your contest entries this summer!

Going, going, gone…

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Our T-shirts were a hit at AWP: Pushing , shoving, and literary insults ensued as aspiring and veteran writers alike forgot their manners in trying to snag one of these grammatically-instructive-yet-hip pieces of wearable art.  Which means we’ve only got a few of these babies left—snap one up before they’re gone! Featuring superb artwork by Anne Ferguson.

$20 apiece, including shipping. Small and medium sizes available in the women’s baby-blue ringer tee; unisex café au lait shirts are available in small and large. We’ve only got a few of each, so submit your orders pronto by emailing us at Payment can be made by credit card over the phone or by mailing a check (please email first to make sure we’ve still got your size).

Congratulations to Edith Pearlman!

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Our heartiest congratulations to contributor Edith Pearlman, who won the National Book Critics Circle award last week for her story collection Binocular Vision (Lookout Books, 2011), which was also a nominee for the National Book Award (the only fiction nominee to be on both lists) and won the PEN/Malamud prize for short fiction. Pearlman is the author of three other story collections, and she’s published more than 250 pieces of prose. Her award is long overdue.

We’re honored to have published her work five times, most recently “Life Lessons” in our latest issue, 8.2. We posted a sneak preview of that story here, and you can see her comments on it here.

In honor of her win, we wanted to repost comments Pearlman sent us when we asked about her story “Hearts and Flowers” in Issue 7.1 (Summer 2010):

“I would like to promote writing as an amateur enterprise. There are very few artistic endeavors and sports that do not have an amateur component—think of painting, singing, theatricals; think of tennis and soccer and baseball. There are opera companies that are  largely amateur; there are amateur architects. Writing as a hobby can be taken up as seriously as writing as a profession. The craft can be studied, practiced, and mastered for the pleasure of only a few readers, just as the amateur pianist has only a household audience and the tennis player no audience at all. A few readers? I am happy with one—that is to say, all my writing is directed toward a single ideal reader, literate, leisured, interested in being interested. When I think I have satisfied him, I myself am satisfied.”

It looks like she’s found many of those ideal readers! Congratulations, Edith!

“Litany for the Insomniac”: Why We Like It

Friday, March 9th, 2012

We’re coming down from an AWP high—all those famous writers! Poets in the hotel bar, novelists in the line to catch cabs, babies in the tomatoes! Okay, maybe that last is from a Ginsberg poem, but we enjoyed the scene. Thanks to all who stopped by Table O22 to get a free copy of the new issue and resubscribe.

We had so much fun at the conference that we had trouble sleeping some nights. The Travelodge in downtown Chicago doesn’t supply warm milk for uneasy snoozers, so we consulted Sandy Longhorn’s poem in our latest issue, “Litany for the Insomniac,” for advice. We knew we could turn to our trusty volunteer Garrett Cummins to learn more about the poem; he’s been singing its praises for weeks—quite literally. He’s a founding member of the department’s Justin Bieber tribute band, J and the Beliebers, known best for their ukulele-and-hand-drum version of “Baby.” He also went without sleep for three days straight once, though in that time frame, he wrote twenty-five poems, ten papers for class, four songs, and one petition for better treatment of Latin jazz guitarists by the Grammy ‘s National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He got out his electric guitar for us and sang this tribute to Longhorn’s poem, to the tune of “Never Let You Go”:

Garrett Cummins: Like Laura Thompson, who recently wrote on Catherine Arnold’s “Horse,” I have two expectations when I read a poem dealing with a subject I know well. I want the work to both illuminate the experience and to linguistically intrigue me. Sandy Longhorn’s “Litany for the Insomniac” does both.

Longhorn’s use of litany is an especially apt approach to the inner spiral that insomnia visits upon the person enduring it. Linguistically enacting the nature of sleeplessness through ruminating repetition, the poet tellingly starts each of the poem’s six couplets with the word “suffer.” The first two lines, “Suffer the rage of the hourglass/ its body smacked hard and cracked,” evince the pain of a endless wakeful night, suggesting a consciousness frustrated to the point of violence, further tortured by the futility of lashing out (the cracked hourglass becomes a punishing accuser). One might also read a bit of transference in the second line—the speaker’s own body “smacked hard” by exhaustion, her mental state “cracked.”

As the poem continues, we view clockworks and the new moon in a malign light. The hyperbolic use of language—“rage,” “smacked,” “cracked,” and “slicing”—also helps capture the overblown sense of crisis that a person denied rest experiences while the world sleeps peacefully around her. Though the word “torture” does not appear, it is suggested in the “fistful of cotton” that the sheet has become, in the sweat that emerges from “beneath the skin,” as well as in the “blessing of the rooster,” which heralds night’s end. The last stanza underscores how insomnia can make even a beautiful sunrise into a villain: “Suffer the sunrise, that gold knife-thrower/ slicing open the curtain of feigned sleep.”

Sandy Longhorn’s “Litany for the Insomniac” insightfully expresses, through word and form, how insomnia affects the body of the sufferer and illustrates the broken body insomnia leaves in its wake.

Interview with Jamie Quatro

Monday, March 5th, 2012

One of CR’s contributors, Jamie Quatro, was interviewed by a Chattanooga radio station about her forthcoming book from Grove/Atlantic. To listen, click HERE. Jamie’s excellent story “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement” (included in the collection) appeared in CR volume 6, number 2.