Archive for August, 2012

Dispatch from Bread Loaf

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Associate Editor Lisa Ampleman just returned from 10 days in beautiful Vermont at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference (average high in August: 78.  Cincy’s average high? 86. When we’re lucky). Though she brought back the standard-issue Bread Loaf cold, we welcomed her coughing, sneezy presence–as long as she uses hand sanitizer before passing us any documents in the office. Here’s her take on the conference:

The Inn at Bread Loaf, with the mountain for which the conference is named

Lisa Ampleman: On the first day of Bread Loaf, Director Michael Collier cautioned us to pace ourselves, a sage bit of advice for a schedule packed with opportunities: a morning lecture, workshops and craft classes, meetings with visiting agents and editors, up to four readings in a day, late-night revelry in the “barn,” bonfires, meadows to explore, friends to make at the three daily meals. Enough to exhaust even the extroverts among us.

“It feels like summer camp for writers,” people kept saying, with the fresh mountain air, shared living space, and family-style dining. But the 220 writers hadn’t gathered just to swim in ponds or run the “Writers’ Cramp Race” (though some did): the heart of the conference is the workshops, when poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers sit down with notables in the field who know their craft. My workshop leader, Linda Gregerson, had a knack for explaining why a poem wasn’t working, if a phrase felt “off the shelf” or if an ending was too pat, and our workshop’s fellow, Troy Jollimore, knew how to tell us if a line break, sentiment, or diction choice wasn’t serving the poem well. The other nine poets in the workshop were insightful and helpful readers, who spend their non-Bread-Loaf days in various fields; though some were MFA and PhD students, our workshop also included a doctor specializing in geriatrics, a clinical psychology student, and a cosmetologist. For many, the conference was a chance to delve into their love for writing in a way they can’t in their everyday lives.

Inside Robert Frost's summer writing cabin

Midway through the conference, we walked down Highway 125 to the Homer Noble Farm, where Robert Frost (who had a hand in founding the conference) had a summer writing cabin later in his life. After a picnic, Collier took out a set of keys and opened up the cabin for us to explore, and John Elder, a retired Middlebury College professor, told us that much of Frost’s imagery was triggered by the natural world in that part of New England.

I also had the chance to say hello to and share Issue 9.1 with former CR contributors, including Julie Funderburk, Matt Hart, Carl Phillips, Joshua Rivkin, and Ted Sanders, and to meet many potential future contributors.

Other highlights: Claire Vaye Watkins biting down on the spine of her new story collection, Battleborn (Riverhead, 2012), at the start of her reading, just to make sure it was real. Matt Hart wowing the crowd with his rousing reading on the last afternoon of the conference. The very talented waiters surprising us by performing “Bread Loaf” to the tune of “New York, New York” at one dinner, with Molly Bashaw on trombone and Lan Samantha Chang’s young daughter twirling a boa. Hayrides around the meadow at a gala reception. And, of course, the two dances: where else can you see the incoming poet laureate get funky on the dance floor?

Want to know more? You can listen to lectures and readings from the conference here.

Two writers read near the meadow

Other participants’ take on Bread Loaf:

Michael Bourne

Margaret DeAngelis

Chloe Yelena Miller

Laura Maylene Walter

“Safe Word”: Why We Like It

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

When we held our annual Feats of Physiques award ceremony just before summer break, volunteer Julia Velasco raked in a slew of medals—a CR version of the Olympic kind, only ours were fashioned out of office supplies and shipping tape. Anyway, Julia walked away with at least a pound of paperclips, staplers, and Media Mail stamps hanging from her neck. Turns out she can wiggle her ears better than anyone in the office. She can remove her own tooth, then stick it back in quick-like without even bleeding too much (Matt McBride did not fare so well in this event. He now talks with a lisp and weeps over all the pretty white smiles in Colgate commercials). She has control over individual eyelashes. She claimed she could do the splits, and because of the creepy eyelash thing, we believed her and simply handed over the medal (which was constructed of thumbtacks and no one else wanted anyway). Moreover, she writes blog posts the way leaves transpire. Which means she’s a natural, as this post on Emma Torzs’s story in our current issue attests.

Julia Velasco: Like all good stories, “Safe Word” is about human nature, telling us something about ourselves that we didn’t know but can easily recognize. When I started reading, my curiosity was caught immediately. This story is a fascinating new view on the sensitive topic of sexual violence against women, but what I found most interesting, what kept me reading, was Emma Torzs’s take on the consequences of this kind of violence for a man, not only in his relationship to victims—his sympathy for them—but the horror he feels in seeing himself as a potential aggressor.

It is ultimately the narrator’s fear of himself—the dread under all the layers of what he wants to be, a certain something escaping his control—that makes this piece so engaging. The story of the victim has been told often and well, but rarely has the story of the predator been presented in such a nuanced way. “Safe Word” invites us to take a look of what a “nice guy” can hide, even from himself.

I like it because it is dark and disturbing, because it made me grimace in captivated disbelief. Because it taught me why I should cross the street when approaching a stranger in the dark, but also how easily that stranger could be me.

On Readers . . . Reading

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Nicola Mason: The new term has begun, and 369 McMicken Hall once again resounds with the ticking of keyboards, the shir of sheets of paper, the squeal of the ancient laser printer, and talk of books read, exams taken, conferences attended. In other words, the staff has returned. We will start training a new group of grad-student volunteers next week, and they will contribute to the hurly-burly-hurry-scurry of an office running at full tilt toward one deadline after another.

Though the place is quiet in the summer, however, a great deal of work is done over those months by the amazingly dedicated year-round readers that help us catch up on all the submissions we received during the spring. These good people make my job both easier and a lot more interesting. I thoroughly enjoy reading their thoughtful comments on the poems, stories, and essays that come CR’s way, and I admire both their zeal and their commitment to the serious assessment of said pieces.

To give our blog readers an idea of what goes into a reader’s report on a given submission, I will share below some random examples. (Little known fact: Our volunteers often comment on each and every poem submitted.)

—Some nice moments,  and the cadence of the lines is nice. It fizzles at points, but the conceit is kind of fun.

—Some fun rhythmic stuff going on, and some interesting images, but it’s just not there.

—Most of these poems are of good quality. They wear their influence very visibly on their sleeve—the late Adrienne Rich. There are quite a few worthy ones to pick from here. Birds and bird imagery seem important to this poet.

—An enjoyable poem about imagination, and has some cool similes and subtle sounds.

—Deals with the liminal in an interesting way and does a good job showing.

—Reflects with dissatisfaction upon speaker’s childhood with some fairly beautiful lines, but it doesn’t seem to do much else.

—The poem seemed over before it began, and the details didn’t help the poem in terms of direction.

—I really love the pacing of this narrative, and the characters, and the unlikeliness of the ending. The only downside, for me, is that it sort of reads like a chapter in a novel; i.e., I’m not sure it necessarily stands as a story on its own.

—Creepy, spare, and simply narrated. Nicely paced. Overall, I really liked this one.

—Nice narrative essay about spiritual journey. The intro is not particularly interesting, but I was hooked by part I. Sometimes the philosophizing breaks up the flow of the piece, so that could be tightened, but it was pretty much fascinating all the way through.

—There is some awesome weirdness in the middle that makes this one stick out, even though the speaker creeps out of the poem to say things near the end in a way that breaks the spell.

—This essay is self-conscious without being sarcastic or precious, and I think it artfully chronicles the confusion and emotional upheaval of great loss. Thoughtful use of details, and a formidable ending.

—This piece has several things to recommend it: masterful use of tone, some fresh language choices, a compelling opening, and a definite momentum that carries the reader through the end. However, the irony is sometimes so awkwardly handled that it makes this piece hard to endorse. Also the characterization of secondary characters seems slight, and the narrator seems, at times, not just preoccupied but woefully dense (which undermines the story’s credibility somewhat).

Don’s “Greetings Reading” Report

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Don Bogen: The second Greetings from Cincinnati Review reading—at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle—was a grand success. Thanks to our fabulous contributors in the Pacific Northwest (especially Carolyne Wright, Martha Silano, and Jeannine Hall-Gailey who did the legwork) a standing-room-only crowd was on hand to hear seven—count ’em, seven—poets on Wednesday, August 1st.  I was asked to introduce the readers and serve as general emcee and poem jockey—just call me Dr. Don.

We heard poems about radioactive cesium and electromagnetism; about bridges and the bridge pose; about love, death, gravy, and a Victorian museum, all from the pages of CR. Along with the three folks above, Kelly Davio, Rebecca Hoogs, Priscilla Long, and Megan Snyder-Camp took part. Former tireless volunteer Suzanne Warren, who’s now a visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Puget Sound, turned up for the occasion. Contributors’ books sold out, free copies and subscription forms were snatched up, and the small bar at the Hugo House was hopping. After the reading, we moved on to a large bar in the neighborhood to continue the festivities.

CR will return to the scene of the crime for our tenth-anniversary celebration at the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle.  Before then, we hope to do more of these readings at cafés, bookstores, literary centers, and bars large and small.  Word is out to St. Louis and points east, including Boston and Washington, DC. We’ve got great fiction and poetry contributors across the US and abroad, and we’re always happy to send copies and maybe throw in an editor or two.

Click here to see the video on YouTube.