Archive for May, 2012

“Proof”: Why We Like It

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Volunteer Suzanne Wendell has a special kind of speaking voice. It is melodious and relaxing, kind of like one of those Sounds of the Ocean CDs minus the crashing waves. We’ve wasted entire afternoons asking her to repeat phrases like “purple mountain majesty” and “oodles of noodles.” Sometimes we even kind of zone out listening to her mellifluous intonations and go to a place of neither sleep nor wakefulness—kind of like when you half-wake-up from your Saturday afternoon nap and pretend not to hear your sig. other saying it’s time to get up, the Szymanskis are coming over and you need to hide the good bourbon and mash the avocados.

When she isn’t slowing our heart rates with her voice-box vibrations, Suzanne helps us open mail, send mail, enter copyedits, organize contributor information, and, of course—review and evaluate manuscripts. Here are her thoughts on Tracy Burkholder’s “Proof,” an essay from our upcoming issue:

Suzanne Wendell: Fiction is what I write, and it seems to be all I ever get anything out of, at least in terms of “honing my craft.” But from the first sentence of Tracy Burkholder’s essay—“Ginger-scented oil slicks my fingers”—I was hooked, and I enjoyed and appreciated the piece as much as I would a short story.

I would like to say that this is because Burkholder’s essay reads like fiction. I felt awe when I read “One of the first stories we’re told is the stroke of our mother’s hand across our newborn skin.” But Burkholder does more than dazzle us with poignant and beautiful prose. She also includes facts from scientific studies, interesting facts, even. Did you know, for instance, that Puerto Ricans touch each other an average of three times per minute?  I’d like to see a fiction writer use such fascinating trivia as successfully and as matter-of -factly.

I think I am most drawn to “Proof” because of Burkholder’s astute observations about something so deceptively complicated: touch. After reading the essay, I realized how big of an issue touch is in my own life. Knowing, for example, when and when not to hug an acquaintance or relative. It’s not that I don’t like hugs. I love hugs. It’s the possibility of offending another person by encroaching on his or her personal space that holds me back. But Burkholder, whether or not she ever intended to, inspired me to go for it every time. So if I ever get slapped, punched, or sued for touching someone inappropriately, remember it’s Tracy Burkholder’s fault and not mine.

Comma Clarification

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

As we await delivery of our summer issue (due any day from our printer), we’re not exactly picking our noses. Or if we are picking our noses, it’s because we weren’t raised right, not because we have nothing better to do. For one thing, we’re all reading rapaciously to keep on top of all the submissions, which have doubled in number the past couple of weeks as all you deadline-conscious writers try to get in under the wire. (Our reading period ends Thursday [tears, lamentation]. . . . But lo, our contest starts Friday [pennants, pumping fists].) We’re also getting a jump on copy-editing our fall number. In late summer we’ll shoot it to the typesetter, and maybe, just maybe, if we are caught up on everything else, we can spend a few days on flotation devices in a large, warm body of liquid, preferably holding sweating glasses of some improbably colored beverage. But we get ahead of ourselves. Right now we’ve got commas on our minds. Not literally, because that would look weird. Rather, we’ve been thinking about them in the proper-usage sense, and in the spirit of summer giving, we thought we’d post about a situation in which commas are often used incorrectly. Curiously, this error stems from people being scrupulous about the commas in a given sentence . . . and they use one too many.

The problem arises from the complex-compound sentence. That’s a sentence that has at least two independent clauses with a dependent clause or phrase thrown in. An example is the sentence above beginning with “Rather.” It seems the temptation is to add an extra, unnecessary comma after “and,” thus treating the prepositional phrase as a parenthetical. The effect is clunky and chopped-up: “. . . sense, and, in the spirit of summer giving, we . . .” Blech. Here’s another off-the-cuff example:

The convict ruminated on his criminal past, and hoisting his squeeze bottle of Elmer’s, he lamented that he had not discovered earlier the joy of popsicle-stick art.

Still a bit clunky. Two he‘s in swift succession. To streamline, we’d probably edit this line as follows (and move the comma accordingly):

The convict ruminated on his criminal past and, hoisting his squeeze bottle of Elmer’s, lamented that he had not discovered earlier the joy of popsicle-stick art.

Hope this clears the comma air. Happy punctuating!

Swan Song: Final Contributor Comments from 8.2

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

The days during which Issue 8.2 can be proud of its status as newest, youngest issue are waning: Issue 9.1 is at the printer and will make its debut in the next few weeks. We don’t want to overlook the amazingness of 8.2, though, so we’ll celebrate it one last time with a series of comments from contributors about their pieces:

Tara Bray (on “Doubts of a Striving Contortionist”): This poem grew out of my fascination with the body and with anyone who strives to push against the body’s limits. Also, I am interested in the flip side of passion for anything, be it art, sport, hobby, or matters of the spirit. To give oneself completely to what requires so much of us is at times a source of doubt and discontent, yet often we keep on without knowing why. The ending image was inspired by the ta∂åka mudra, which involves drawing the front of the waist toward the back of the waist.  Ta∂åka, in Sanskrit, means pool.

Todd Hearon (on “Mnemosyne”): Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, is the goddess of memory. Ironically, I have no memory of what inspired this piece or how it was composed. I think it grew out of a fragment—some form of advice a father (or business tycoon) might give:


Forget it.  There’s no future in it.

I do remember that it came quickly, and surprised me in the form of a sonnet. I also remember being surprised during the writing that it came out on about two rhymes. But that shouldn’t surprise, rhyme being one of the best forms of mnemonics.

Glenn Shaheen (on “Public Works” and “Sensationalism”): For a week or two I had this restructured grammar running through my head, something that had a distinctive rhythm but was “wrong,” but not wrong in a common way or a way we’d look down on to give our pity (both actions, of course, “wrong” as well). The wrongness was distinctly musical, and obeyed its own rules of structure and sound but maintained the specific communicative goals of normalized grammar, not eschewing clarity, not of idea at least. So it was stuck in my head, and over a week or two I wrote out four poems in a loose first-person plural, trying to create this character of a chorus that spoke about community, in the sense of a city, a nation, a people, in this grammar. Then I had these four poems, and I liked them enough to figure I’d come back and write more, but whenever I tried to a few weeks later, I couldn’t find the same sound, and only those first four (two of which appear in The Cincinnati Review) ended up surviving edits, revisions, hacks, and slashes. So I guess that’s a lesson about running with the muse whenever it calls, right? Well, I doubt I could have put a whole manuscript of these together anyway without a certain degree of tedium, so it’s probably for the best, as much as anything is for the best.

Faith Shearin: My poem “Dogs Waiting for their Owners” was written after a few spring days at the local dog park. I had been thinking about waiting, and the images of dogs tied to trees or standing in the backs of trucks offered themselves to me. The more I thought about the dogs, the more I also thought about the waiting I had done in my own life and the waiting I had read about in myths.

What We’re Reading

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Matt McBride: Lately I’ve been reading Terrance Hayes’s newest collection, Lighthead (Penguin, 2010). Hayes, who is the current Elliston Poet-in-Residence here at UC, is one the few poets who can use form—both conventional forms such as acrostics and found forms like Pecha Kucha (a sped-up Japanese version of Power Point)—to make poems stranger as opposed to using form to rein poems in. What I admire most of all in Hayes’s poetry, though, is its ability to stay in motion. Hayes poems are like wind-up search engines, moving through culture and integrating allusions ranging from Wallace Stevens to Elizabeth Cotten, from James Joyce to Tupac Shakur. Mixed with these allusions is the personal—indeed, Hayes collages a self from all these differing cultural representations of human existence and identity, and while doing so conveys his experience as an African American. Further, all this is accomplished with a language lithe enough to keep up with the speed of Hayes’s consciousness but substantial enough to support the significance of what he has to say. It is a poetry that can jump from “I’d rather have what my daddy calls ‘skrimp.’/ He says ‘discrete’ and means the street/ just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive” to “that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry,” without skipping a beat or collapsing under the weight of its pronouncements.

If you’re interested in reading a more thorough review of Hayes’s Lighthead, check out Lynnell Edwards’s “A Chorus of Selves: Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead” from issue 8.1.

And if you happen to be in the Cincinnati area, make sure to attend Terrance Hayes’s talk about poetry on May 25 at 4:00 p.m. in the Elliston Poetry Room, 646 Langsam Library on the University of Cincinnati’s main campus.

Submissions Trends and Tips

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

We receive about 1,500 poems, stories, and essays a month through our online submission manager, and many of those submissions get read by our staff, who have noticed the following trends. . . .

Becky Adnot-Haynes: Maybe it has to do with the current popularity of Gotye’s musical version, but I feel like we’ve been seeing a lot of the Somebody that I Used to Know story: Sensitive, articulate, twenty- or thirty-something man wanders about a major city (often—though not always—New York), spots a woman that he used to date/sleep with/watch from afar, has his interest reinvigorated, begins/thinks about beginning a conversation. The stories unvaryingly, and maybe inevitably, end in disappointment, and they are always highly meditative, often in first person, and heavily detailed, often on the matter of how the woman’s hair/manner of dressing/looks in general have changed. The stories often aren’t bad. There just seem to be an awful lot of them making the rounds.

Lisa Ampleman: Lately, many of the creative nonfiction pieces I read include a certain amount of research—a good thing. However, the writers also seem determined to emphasize how much research they did and what methods they used. I trust the author a little less when I see phrases like, “A quick Google search pulls up thousands of webpages about cocoons,” or “I typed ‘bloviator’ into an Internet search engine and discovered . . . ,” or “I read a book about rare European coins to find out why my uncle had saved so many.” A more seamless use of research includes the valuable information discovered without emphasizing the method, like Joshua Harmon’s “The Annotated Mix-Tape #17” in Issue 8.2 (appreciated here) or either of the personal essays forthcoming in Issue 9.1 (Vladimir Vulovic’s “Why Chess?” and Tracy Burkholder’s “Touch”). So rather than telling us you spent sixteen hours poring over Google search results and Wikipedia pages to find the forty different facts you discovered about the history of Mardi Gras, just help us imagine eighteenth-century Louisiana by creating a well-researched scene.

Call for Submissions: CR’s 2012 Robert and Adele Schiff Prizes in Prose and Poetry

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Writers: Polish up your best poems, stories, and creative nonfiction, because we’re gearing up to read entries for the 2012 Robert and Adele Schiff Prizes in Prose and Poetry. One winning poem and one 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.

While we’ve accepted postal entries in the past (and will continue to do so this year), stay tuned–we’re in the process of setting up our website to receive submissions and entry fees through our submission manager, so we’ll update the guidelines accordingly when we know more.

We look forward to reading your entries this summer! And don’t forget: the reading period for non-contest submissions ends on May 31.

Word Without End

Friday, May 11th, 2012

A final reminder that Word Without End takes place tomorrow at Christy’s Biergarten in Clifton from 6:00 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. We’ve got a great lineup of readers and performers (listed below). Come and hang out with us!

Jody Bates, Don Bogen, Mica Darley-Emerson, Danielle Deulen, Ben Dudley, Luke Geddes, Michael Griffith, Alli Hammond, Chris Koslowski, Margaret Luongo, Laura Micciche, Don Peteroy, Laura Thompson, Gary Weissman

“Testimony”: Why We Like It

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Sara Watson is one of our new volunteers here at the Cincinnati Review. Unfortunately, we’re an office staffed by introverts, and so we spend much of the day avoiding eye contact and answering each other’s earnest attempts at speech with a series of gradually quieter and quieter “yeah”s. To give our blog readers a feel for her as a person, in lieu of the awkwardness of actually getting to know Sara, we’ve instead researched her through Wikipedia, discovering some odd similarities with one Brad Pitt.

Sara BradleyBradWatson (born December 18, 1963) is an American actor and film producer, as well as graduate student in creative writing. Watson has received four Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe Award nominations, winning one Golden Globe. Watson first gained recognition as a cowboy hitchhiker in the road movie Thelma & Louise (1991).

Watson in Johnny Suede

Watson’s onscreen career began in 1987, with uncredited parts in the films No Way Out, No Man’s Land and Less Than Zero. Her television debut came in May 1987 with a two-episode role on the NBC soap opera Another World. She appeared in four episodes of the CBS primetime series Dallas between December 1987 and February 1988 as Randy, the boyfriend of Charlie Wade (played by Shalane McCall). Watson described her character as “an idiot boyfriend who gets caught in the hay.”

In the same year, the Yugoslavian–U.S. co-production The Dark Side of the Sun (1988) gave Watson her first leading film role, as a young American taken by his family to the Adriatic to find a remedy for a skin condition.

Watson in Cool World

Sometime after this, Watson decided to (1) run the Pittsburgh half-marathon and (2) pursue poetry full-time, possibly after making her two most notably bad films, Johnny Suede and Cool World. This is fortunate, as poetry, and not acting, seems to be where Watson’s true talents lies, demonstrated by her apt appreciation of Angela Ball’s “Testimony” from our upcoming issue, 9.1.

Sara Watson: There’s something inside-out, audacious, even, about a testimony written in second-person that I find immediately charming. Angela Ball isn’t giving her testimony, after all; she’s giving ours. “You saw your love pull up,” Ball writes, “You saw him.” Well, I think, here we are, all seated and sworn in. To what might we bear witness?

I like a poet who builds a world. “You saw him enter the continent/ of a pond,” writes Ball, in a line likely to haunt me for decades. I think of Alice on trial in Wonderland, her world inverted, everything topsy-turvy, white roses painted red. In the world according to Ball, bodies of water are continents. There is a magical quality to Ball’s rural summer— a season passed in the slow heat of some greener place, a place of swimming, baseball, and dancing— that rings true (as all good testimony ought). The otherworldliness of summer, that quality of being outside of time, of being carefree and outdoors, is one that we recognize. Moreover (and Ball is banking on this), this season of joy is one that we can affirm, one that we know. We saw. This is our testimony.

Angela Ball’s “Testimony” whispers joy, but the piece is a heartbreaker, too, “adding bitter to sweet.”  Our summer ends (just as Alice wakes up in the upright world). We, the speakers, must all get back to work, minding our little superstitions, now more questionable than ever. What can we do now but tell what we have seen, dream of it, perhaps, and hope for the next warm season.

Hark, Prose Approacheth!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Last week we leaked a few lines from poems in our upcoming issue—and now we’re following up with a spate of prose teasers. Good stuff coming, readers! A mere month away . . .

David Yost, from “The Carousel Thief”:

Farzad’s first experience with competitive eating had been at a picnic table outside a slaughterhouse in Evansville, Indiana: the Second Fried Cow Brain International Challenge.

Vladimir Vulovic, from “Why Chess?”:

In chess, a queen is the strongest piece, but it is the fate of a much weaker king that determines the game. Does chess need queens as hunters and kings as prey to be interesting? If the powers of kings and queens were reversed, would chess turn dull, with kings too strong to be checkmated?

Emma Törzs, from “Safe Word”:

Three years had gone by since Gretchen had been killed, and this past year, working for Lisa, he’d talked about her more than ever before—but on some level the woman he spoke of was just a construct of his sister, a symbol instead of a real person. A well-recited story. It wasn’t until moments like this—alone in his dark kitchen, cheek against his refrigerator—that he really thought of her, her memory pummeling him . . . , a steady rain of anguished, unrepentant fists.

Elisabeth Cohen, from “Mollusks and Optics”:

You regret naming this child Percy. It was a compromise: You wanted Ethan, and your spouse wanted Walter. It seemed a sensitive name for the bookish child you envisioned, who would read Tolkien in an armchair for hours as your older children pursued their complicated social agendas and you cheerfully pulverized the hummus. It now seems unduly like the name of a victim.

Readerly Refreshment: A Sneak Preview

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Issue 9.1 is officially at the printer, and we’re as cranked up as four-year-olds on cherry Kool-Aid. There’s still time to order your subscription here! To whet your appetite for the issue (which is so much better than a powder composed of red dye, citric acid, and other natural and artificial flavors), we wanted to give you a quick taste.  Here are excerpts from four forthcoming poems. Next week, look for sip-sized samples of prose from the issue.

Angela Ball, from “Remarks You May Have Prepared for the Dinner”

. . . Excuse me, does this by any chance contain
Potash or sundries? I’m allergic

To sundries, especially anything
The color of baby chicks.

Is this a premises? If so, we may have to leave. I think
I’m feeling queasy. . . .

Patrizia Cavalli, translated by Geoffrey Brock:

Love that’s not mine nor even yours
but a fenced field we entered once,
which you a little later left,
and which I, lazy, made my home. . . .

Gregory Lawless, from “Foreclosure”:

. . . You call me back to the car. The way a man loses his hands between ladder rungs. You with your guardrail beauty. Sloping gently out of view. With your dents and etchings. . . .

Medbh McGuckian, from “The Flower of the Moment of What Comes Easily”

. . . Even the daylight feels as mute
As the fourfold halo of the May moon
Or the thoughts we say are ours
When stars lose their nests,

Pearllike letters hidden down
A mineshaft. . . .