Archive for April, 2012

“Two Rooms”: Why We Like It

Monday, April 30th, 2012

One of our newest volunteers, Brian Brodeur, comes to us from Massachusetts via northern Virginia, so if you ask him to, he’s equally apt to drop his r’s (pahk the cah . . . ) for show or to tell you which DC Metro stations to avoid. Brian also knows lots about birds, hiking, sweaters, Nietzsche’s biography, Greek mythology, beards, beers, Browning-esque dramatic monologues, and poker. When he’s doing office tasks for us, we like to ask him questions. “What bird has the highest metabolism of warm-blooded vertebrates?” we’ll say, or “What’s the difference between a cardigan and pullover?” “The hummingbird,” he’ll reply, or “A cardigan opens down the front.” He’ll even know that the ruby-throated hummingbird spends its summers in the US and then flies to Central America for the winter, and that the cardigan was named after the Earl of Cardigan who led the “Charge of the Light Brigade” in the Crimean War. He may even recite some Tennyson to amuse his cruel editors.

When he’s not answering trivial questions (in every sense of the word), Brian’s the host of his own blog, How a Poem Happens. We coaxed him into contributing to our blog, too, and after asking very politely if he could remove his shackles so he could get to class on time, he tweeted out this message on John Poch’s poem “Two Rooms,” in Issue 9.1 (due out next month)—not on Twitter, but to the tune of the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s call. We made him then type it, double-spaced, with one-inch margins in 12 pt. Garamond.

Brian Brodeur: We often praise a piece of writing for risk-taking. John Poch’s poem “Two Rooms” risks pornography and, shockingly, gets away with it.

As the title suggests, the action of the poem happens in two adjacent “temporary” rooms. The shoddy “tin ceiling” and “minuscule cracks” of the first room, the room in which the speaker wakes, anticipate “the two porn actors” practicing “their visceral art” in the second. But before we discover the neighbors, Poch emphasizes the idea of making, of craft and workmanship, the way the “you” of the first stanza, “if [. . .] patient,” may glean a structure’s inner architecture. The poet then complicates this idea:

Above the ceiling, you know there are wooden beams

to which the tin is nailed. If you could see them,

the pine would be crude, but you accept the purpose

holding it all together and up, as a soul holds the body.

The “you” deduces from the shoddy tin that the beams are not only “pine” but that they are “crude.” Implied here is the fact that a deduction, however logical, is still an act of imagination. There is also an implied analogy: the “you” believes in or “accepts” the hidden beams just as the “you” accepts the existence of the soul.

This sets us up for the poem’s major turn, which is marked by a shift from the second- to the first-person point of view, and the more radical leap from the sacred “soul” to the profane “porn actors.” Here the speaker recovers the theme of fact and belief by confessing: “I [. . .] think I know the dark house/ they are headed for” in “the room of needles and no thread.” Curiously, though, the actors “are not acting” but “making love.” They do not want the worry or concern of the speaker and his “late understanding.” They desire only the carnal “heaven” of their “visceral art” that we, the viewers, “become lost in,” an art “that is, in this counterfeit way, a kind of beauty.”

“Counterfeit” or salacious as it may be, “beauty” here still has the final word. By manipulating the “cracks” in easy perceptions of the beautiful, Poch transforms his subjects through his own “visceral art/ never done exactly this way,” redeeming the scene by “look[ing] past” the surface into “the very medium” of things. If what the poet finds above ceilings or through the walls seems “arbitrary” or “temporary,” why shouldn’t this be celebrated, too?

From Our Travel-Minded Contributors: DeWitt, Collins, Harmon, Klatt, Nieves

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Since today is the 40th anniversary of Apollo 16’s return to Earth after a manned voyage to the moon, we wanted also to celebrate travel and experiencing new places. Conveniently, our following 8.2 contributors revealed that their work in our journal was influenced by various voyages (though none lunar):

Anna Carson DeWitt (on “On Nighttime Lawn”): I’d just moved back from Honduras and was living in my childhood home with parents and school-aged sisters. During my time away I’d become interested in landscapes for the first time—probably because it was a way for me to revel in the different-ness of my surroundings without fetishizing human beings (a real fear of mine). When I returned to North Carolina, I was surprised to find that I was almost equally enthralled with the autumn landscape of my childhood—the light, the woodland creatures, the different shapes of leaves. I would come home from work at night, keep the brights blazing in my car, and watch my parents’ yard come alive for a few moments. My father was having health problems at the time, and for some reason this moment of the day was especially poignant for me—watching hidden life play itself out over one patch of grass and thinking about my family, eating dinner inside. All the poems I was writing at the time seemed to be about Honduras, and so I was very pleased when I finally wrote “On Nighttime Lawn”—I had finally broken away from ‘foreigner poems’! It was only in revision that I realized that, in my process, Honduras was deeply present in the piece, if only as an opposite, or a tension in my own imagining. I think I’m trying in this poem to make sense of a world that is both familiar and uncharted, and to depict my growing realization that home—the place and the body—is just as ‘wild’ as abroad.

Martha Collins: Ngo Tu Lap (Ngô Tự Lập) was born in Hanoi in 1962, just as the American military presence was escalating into what we would eventually call the Vietnam War.  He spent his childhood in Vinh Phu, about sixty miles from Hanoi, from which he and his family were evacuated.  He now lives in Hanoi.

Our collaboration began in 2004, while Lap was working on a PhD in Illinois; that summer he came to Boston for the annual Joiner Center Writers Workshop and asked me to help him with an English version of one of his poems. That was the beginning of a collaboration that has resulted in a co-translated volume of his poems called Black Stars; it includes the poems in this issue, and will be published by Milkweed Press in 2013.

Joshua Harmon (on “The Annotated Mix-Tape, #17”): Two years ago, I became what has become termed an “extreme commuter,” someone who spends at least ninety minutes a day driving to and from work. I set my iPod to shuffle during my drive time—and for the first year I commuted, I listened most often to my iPod’s vast 1975-1983 playlist. One morning, as I drove down the Taconic State Parkway, the iPod spun up Section 25’s instrumental track “Trident”—an old favorite by a favorite old band—and it suddenly occurred to me how much of Section 25’s music involved nuclear dread. I spent the rest of that commute listening to that band, then spent the rest of the winter terrifying myself by researching the specifics of the Trident submarine program, ICBMs, the construction of the local Strategic Air Command bunker, and many related things that had, since the early ’80s, been crowded out of my mind. When I had my first nuclear-war nightmare since childhood, I figured it was time to move on to a new song.

L. S. Klatt (on “Waterway”): I often, in my work, probe the illusion of stability, so the fact that I was living on a houseboat on Lake Union during a recent sojourn in Seattle only amplified my sense of vulnerability to sudden movement—whether that be a houseboat rocking on its moorings or the wild fluctuations in weather that can bring a snowstorm to an otherwise temperate climate. This poem also is interested in the ways the mind, perhaps language itself, tries to stabilize and restore order to an unpredictability that may be outside the domain of words.

(on “A Natural Museum”) This particular rendering of a river in winter, like all landscapes, is artificial and imposed. There’s a playfulness here in the framing of the scene and the taking up of different perspectives. Light, as it does for the landscape painter, creates a changeability that I am trying to capture in the poem. I suppose I am asking: what makes metamorphosis possible? And how is consciousness—illumination—significant in the natural world?

John A. Nieves (on “Suppose Us South” and “Cartograph”): When I first arrived in Missouri from Florida to enter the University of Missouri PhD program, I started to notice the differences almost immediately. I grew up in New York City and Connecticut, and contrary to popular opinion, Missouri is much more “Northern” than Florida, which is often billed as the “Northern” southern state. Aside from culture and politics, the geography of climate had an immediate impact on me. The poems in the issue deal with the musings on geography that came from this. “Suppose Us South” figures physio-geographical changes in a brief, intimate, and immediate gesture. “Cartograph” takes on the larger idea of borders and the depictions of geography. The poem is concerned with the faith we put into symbol and delineation as opposed to people and land. The ghosts of history and historiography also play heavily on the poem because maps give far more information than location. They tell us who we are, who we were, who we aren’t. This poem attempts to subvert some of those powers by allowing the living to repopulate the map’s flat surface.

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: The Curses Edition

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

When Cincinnati Review staff member Don Peteroy isn’t busy reading for class, writing 200-page translations (via Google Translate) of 16th-century German adaptations of Hamlet, or playing in his band, he likes to ask writers he admires irrelevant questions. We’re honored to have two replies to share with you, from Lauren Groff and David Yost.

Lauren Groff is the author, most recently, of the novel Arcadia (Voice, 2012), as well as of The Monsters of Templeton (Voice, 2008) and the story collection Delicate Edible Birds (Voice, 2009). Her short stories have appeared in many journals, including the The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, and Glimmer Train, as well as in the Best American Short Stories in 2007 and 2010. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.

Question: Where are your shoes? I’m not talking about your literal shoes, but your metaphorical ones.

LG: To understand where exactly my shoes are—which is a very good question for me, in truth, because I prefer to go barefoot at all times, splinters be damned—I need to first understand what my shoes are. Is it strange that I thought at first of the less-common genre of shoe? Not the kind that lovingly cups tender toes and protects those sad and fallen arches from shattered glass; not my authentic cowboy boots, bought in a flush of glee when I found out I’d won a fellowship I was longing for; not the soccer cleats, a whole size too small, to which I’d sacrificed many blackened toenails, but which were the only shoes ever to allow me to score. No; I thought of a rusted horseshoe above a barn door at a farm in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, where my family lived for a few years before returning to Cooperstown for good. The horseshoe door led to the paddock, where our tiny pony, Imp, lived. Imp was a nasty bastard. Once, when I was five years old, I was contentedly riding on Imp’s back when the jerk tore out of my father’s grasp, rushing me headlong toward a fence, an oak, an apple orchard; I narrowly escaped brain damage by clinging to his mane with my fists and teeth like a flapping human limpet. His horseshoe had been nailed up above the door—for good luck, I was told. On the day I noticed that one nail had come loose, canting the horseshoe down and spilling some of its luck, I found our poor white cat, Marshmallow, in a trough inside the barn. He was stiff and, it finally dawned on me, dead. For a long time afterward, I stood in the doorway, under the horseshoe, unable to go in or out. Inside, all was dark, humid, stinking, a trash-bin full of dog food crawling with maggots, the beloved cat who wouldn’t stir. Outside was an angry pony, ready to spill my brains. Inside, safety but obscurity; outside, risk and sun. We are born with a certain amount of luck, and the rest we have to make for ourselves. I took a step, choosing the light, the flight in the face of the demonic. That’s where my horseshoe still swings, half full of luck, half ready to be filled.

A former Peace Corps Volunteer, David Yost has served on development projects in the United States, Mali, and Thailand. His fiction has appeared in more than twenty publications, including Southern Review, Witness, Pleiades, Asia Literary Review, and The Sun. His anthology Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy is forthcoming in November 2011 from Continuum, and his story “The Carousel Thief” will appear in our next issue, due out in May. An appreciation of that story—written by Luke Geddes—appeared on our blog earlier this week.

Question: Let’s say that an angry God has put a curse on you. The God says, “Every time you write a new story, poem, play, or essay, a Shakespeare play will vanish from both history and collective memory.” Would you continue to write stories?

DY: Do I get to pick? A world in which nobody reads Pericles, King John, Cymbeline, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII, and the three plays of Henry VI would be basically the same as ours, so that buys me eight more stories at least. I imagine I’d draw the line at Coriolanus and The Merry Wives of Windsor and then try to break into television.

“The Carousel Thief”: Why We Like It

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Volunteer Luke Geddes is a bit of an enigma. In the office, he’s quiet, yet at home writes stories involving things like Wonder Woman, in an airport bathroom, finding herself short of feminine hygiene products. Things like castaways from a destroyed Earth traveling through space with only reruns of Gilligan’s Island to entertain them. He has a collection of such comi-tragic pieces coming out from Chomu Press (I Am a Magical Teenage Princess). However, to our knowledge he does not himself possess an invisible plane or a large starship. Further, he does not sport Robinson Crusoe–type (or Tom Hanks–type) rags. He wears a bow tie. Regularly. Which puzzles us. So, in order to better understand Luke, we decided to hire some private investigators to tap his phone and hack into his email. Unfortunately, we discovered nothing of an illuminating personal nature—but we did find this rather insightful confession (which resulted in disciplinary action).

Luke Geddes: I wish I could say otherwise, but my first read-through of David Yost’s “The Carousel Thief” was frustrating—but only because my cruel tormentors, the CR senior staff, had charged me with the task of entering their copy-edits into the story’s electronic file. I tried to stay focused on the editorial notations, but so seductive was Yost’s prose (deceptively straightforward and rife with surprising, vivid details—such as epic lists of regrettable QVC purchases including ostrich steaks and embroidered His and His bathrobes, and of equally regrettable extreme-eating competitions involving cow brains, SPAM, Ramen noodles, and pigs’ feet); so wittily and realistically developed were the characters (a quirky gay couple struggling to live above their means in the dreary Midwest); so unique, expansive, and expertly re-created were the cultures surrounding antique carousels and competitive-eating contests, with the latter’s bizarre but plausible rules about “chipmunking” (stuffing your cheeks without swallowing) and “reversal” (vomiting); so wry and hilarious was the first-person voice; so clever was the way the story combined and subverted the domestic and heist genres, I kept getting sucked into the drama and humor and could not concentrate on my editorial assignment. (In other words, the story was so good that only a long, self-indulgent, semicolon-abusing sentence can capture its greatness.) I hope my evil overlords in the CR offices will forgive my gross insubordination, but if they don’t, I blame author David Yost for writing a story that’s too damn engaging.

Bonus Material: Bancroft, Browne, Longhorn, Schwartz, and Waldrep

Friday, April 20th, 2012

For today’s post our nameless blogoscribe has taken five comments from contributors to Issue 8.2 and arranged them into a surreal pseudo-mini-narrative. If you read it and then tonight wake up having dreamt of being chased by a tumescent elephant into the arms of an existential yet not unpaternal birch tree with a penchant for inappropriate laughter, well, you’re probably going to have a little trouble getting back to sleep. The anti-dote: order Issue 8.2 here.

Josiah Bancroft (on his poem “My Name”): I’m not one for out of body experiences or astral projection and the like, but I have experienced the occasional dissociative moment when some regular fixture of my life suddenly seems alien. Most remarkable is when this happens while I’m staring in the mirror or upon hearing my name called. That something so essential can become novel is wonderful and frightening. I think most people are familiar with that seasick feeling, that out-of-memory experience. It’s the quintessential American identity crisis: “This is not my beautiful wife.”

Ryan J. Browne: “Theory of must” is one in a series of “theory” poems in which I try to go by the words of Lucille Clifton: “Poems do not come from what you know; they come from what you’re trying to wonder about.” One day, I read somewhere about elephants hearing through their feet, not their ears, and, after some research, I had the bare bones of a new poem. During my reading, I saw the state of sexual arousal of bull elephants is referred to as musth. Well, I had a draft of a poem, “Must,” that was about a first date, not elephants, and had been set aside for some time. The next move seemed obvious. It was one of those happy coincidences—work giving life to work!

Sandy Longhorn: In June 2010, I set out to write a poem a day for 14 days and drafted “Litany for the Insomniac” on day 13 of that run. My journal claims “not sure there’s enough left for today and tomorrow” and states that I had slept poorly the night before. The poem went through many rewrites over 6 months, as list poems can be tricky and must be crafted not only for sound, meaning, and image but also for pacing in the movement toward closure. The opening couplet remains intact save one word change.

Lloyd Schwartz: I once got a review that compared me to the comedian Henny Youngman, which delighted me, because I want people to find humor in my poems (though not just). One of my favorite essays is Thomas De Quincey’s “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth,” in which he writes about Shakespeare’s use of comedy, the famous drunken Porter scene in Macbeth, not to soften but to heighten the surrounding tragedy. I’ve been working on some poems recently that are trying to explore the relation between the comic and the serious. “Cut-Up” is based on a true story. My oldest friend, one of the funniest people I know, told me a horrendous story about one of his sons. So awful that it made me want to scream—or laugh. The way we sometimes laugh at the scariest horror movies.

Thinking about my reaction to what my friend was reporting reminded me of a production I was in—in fact, the American premiere of Ted Hughes’s translation of Seneca’s Oedipus. It’s a much grislier affair than the greater and more famous Sophocles version. I was a member of the Chorus. The director, Laurence Senelick, was trying to figure out how the townspeople would respond to the horrible news about Oedipus. He had the inspired idea to have each of us begin with a little chuckle or snicker, as if this had to be a joke. Then as each Chorus member heard the others, the laughter increased until it virtually exploded into a kind of mass hysteria. People in the audience told me afterward that it was one of the most chilling theatrical moments they’d ever experienced. And we on stage were feeling the same thing. It was much more powerful—and seemed more “real”—to laugh at a situation that was too horrifying for predictable tears. I’d wanted to get that experience into a poem for a long time.

G. C. Waldrep (on his poem “Common Prayer”):  Friendship is also a harrow, one of the more complex scars experience leaves on a body. Track or trace, both from the Latin trahere, to drag. To cultivate, in an open field: one imagines an open field: and this is the nub of it, the crux, the punctum: one imagines. The field itself; one’s place in it; the harrow’s sharp teeth or revolving discs (pick your century), each a miniature Klein bottle, a dream-planet’s silhouette bright in the noonday sun. To disturb keenly or painfully, as the mind, feelings, etc. Sometimes, when I read my poetry aloud—I mean to others—I’m asked, “who is the you that keeps showing up in the poems?”

In Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major, the enchanted Smith “put his arms about the stem of a young birch and clung to it, and the Wind wrestled fiercely with them, trying to tear him away; but the birch was bent down to the ground by the blast and enclosed him in its branches. When at last the Wind passed on he rose and saw that the birch was naked. It was stripped of every leaf, and it wept, and tears fell from its branches like rain. He set his hand upon its white bark, saying: ‘Blessed be the birch! What can I do to make amends or give thanks?’ He felt the answer of the tree pass up from his hand: ‘Nothing,’ it said. ‘Go away! The Wind is hunting you. You do not belong here. Go away and never return!'” The birch is right. We do not belong here. And yet in this world there is no “away.” And no return.

Word Without End in Cincinnati

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

We’re pleased to announce that The Cincinnati Review is sponsoring the third annual Word Without End reading in Cincinnati, a three-hour open-mic marathon, from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, May 12.

We’ll convene in the biergarten at Christy’s in Clifton, where there will be sustenance and suds a-plenty. Past highlights: naughty PowerPoint presentations, Justin Bieber tribute bands, and readings with props. Join us for a yammery, jammery evening of rapidfire entertainment (10-minute time limit per act).

This cross-genre extravaganza is open to University of Cincinnati students, faculty, staff, and people from the community who want to perform something related to this year’s theme: Aspiration. (Aspiration: 1. the act of aspirating (blowing), 2. the withdrawal by means of suction of fluids from the body, 3. a strong desire.)

Special guest Margaret Luongo (Miami University) will read her fiction. Email to sign up or for more information, and see you in the biergarten!

Game of the Month: Everyone’s a Winner!

Monday, April 16th, 2012

While we were busy collating proofs for our upcoming issue, many of you were busy composing fabulous entries for our Premise Wars.

The winner? All of you. We liked your ideas so much, in fact, that we’re sorry we didn’t think of it first: a Pulitzer Prize–winning marathon runner who comes back as a mummy and becomes confused about the ethics of eating sentient vegetables.

Email us at to claim your choice of free back issue, CR slingpack, or CR thermos. And thanks for participating!

Collation Junction

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

We’re collating proofs—which have been read and marked up by members of our staff (pictured), the poetry and fiction editors, and our awesome contributors. It’s an intense, two-day process, interrupted by order-out pizza and runs to Starbucks. Captured here, a moment of levity.


Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Congratulations to members of the Cincinnati Review family on their recent literary success:

Editorial Assistant Katherine Zlabek won an AWP Intro Journals Award for her story “Hunting the Rut.” Her story will appear in Artful Dodge next year. Zlabek’s stories have also appeared in Madison Review, JMWW, Oxford Magazine, SAGA, The Rectangle, and the anthology World Lives, Prairie Living.

Contributor Jason Sommer, whose poems have appeared in Issues 6.1 and 8.2 (including a poem we blogged about last fall), won the 2012 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition for his book, The Laughter of Adam and Eve. He has three previous poetry collections: Lifting the Stone, Other People’s Troubles, and The Man Who Sleeps in My Office, and he has translated, with Hongling Zhang, three novellas by Wang Xiabobo.

Congratulations to Katherine and Jason!

Profredding: The Fine Art of a Close Eye

Monday, April 9th, 2012

This week, we’re meeting to finish our proofreading, a multi-step process involving the authors, managing editor, poetry and fiction editors, and assistant/associate editors. Each of us gets out our loupe and a brightly-colored pencil, and we pore through 200+ pages of the journal, noting things that would embarrass us if they made it into print (misspelled title! misspelled author name! bio missing! “rhinoceros” repeated twice, accidentally!). Then, in a one- or two-day marathon, we collate all of the changes before sending them off to our typesetter. Accuracy matters to us.

And so for your reading pleasure this week, we offer our proofreading checklist. Despite our careful work and six sets of eyes, something always gets through, so stay tuned for our Blue Pencil Prize in May—you get to be the editor, ex post facto!

Also a reminder: if you want to flex your cranial matter this week, you can still enter our Game of the Month: best premise for a story or poem!

Proofreading Page Proofs:

1) Check back cover, Contents, and Contributors’ Notes for the complete and alphabetical listing of authors’ names. In addition, check for the correct and identical spelling of each author’s name in all three places.

2) Verify that the page numbers on the Contents page match each piece—and that the author’s name on the table of contents is identical to the spelling of the author’s name on his/her piece.

3) Check for widows, orphans, and line breaks (See “Word Division” section of The Chicago Manual of Style). Widows are last line of a paragraph appearing at the top of a page, while orphans are first line appearing at the bottom. Word division is based on pronunciation:  e.g. knowl-edge and prod-uce vs. pro-duce (depending on which word you use).

4) Check for stacking (blocks of three or more repeated words).

5) Check for rivers (distracting flows of white space). Not so relevant anymore since the norm is just one space after a period.

6) Check for absence of correct ligatures (characters that have been created to solve extra kerning between some letters, like f ling instead of fling) or presence of forced ligatures (when designers mess with a typesetting program that allows you to tamper with kerning).

7) Check the verso and recto of the running foot (title or name should appear with the exception of the title page of each piece) and make sure that the page numbers are correctly listed.

8 ) Compare discrete elements of text (e.g., title tags, subtitles, epigraphs, and dedications). Hold up one piece to another and make sure that the typography and spacing/format match.

9) Check that spreads align: same sink at top but it can vary at bottom (short page or long page). Getting rid of widows or orphans sometimes causes fluctuation in page length.

10) Check tight and loose lines (lines with too many or too few words). If the last line of a paragraph is within an em-space of right margin, mark line flush with margin.