Archive for February, 2013

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: Greenpeace Edition

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Like a human harpoon, Don Peteroy drives into the capacious, frenzied, sophistical, groping, transient, contentious,  flameproof, satiate, igneous, whale-loving heart of Michael Czyzniejewski with this latest edition of Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions.

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of the story collections Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009) and Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012), as well as a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. He teaches at Missouri State University, where he serves as Editor of Moon City Review.

Question: You, Michael, are not an adverb and adjective addict. I’ve read your two collections, and not once did I write in the margins, “For the love of God, Michael, ditch the modifiers!” You use them sparingly because, I assume, 1) you understand that simple nous and verbs should do the job, 2) you trust your reader’s imagination, and 3) you don’t want to be considered an inept writer.

I have bad news for you. For now on, whenever you decline to use a modifier, another whale dies. How will you conduct your career as a writer, knowing this? Be careful of your response. It could massacre many whales.

MC: What I’d do is this: I’d rampage for a while, staying away from writing, you know, back-alley cockfights, some underground Russian roulette matches, a few androgynous prostitute weekends, a gun/military memorabilia show or two. That sort of thing. Refreshed, I’d then make up a character who has a magically real speaking disorder that invokes a string of adjectives before each noun. For instance, he’d greet his mother for morning porridge by saying, “Top of the fantastic, invidious, bright, officinal, clear, iatric, monosyllabic, hairy, hypnagogic, disingenuous, clavate, pregnant, invasive, Zeitgeist, phony, bibulous, polyamorous, gooey, volant, shameful, malodorous, sullen, acephalous, yellow, meretricious, common day, divaricate, Kafkaesque, redundant, trabeated, cheery, saliferous, divergent morning to you, Mumsy!” At that she would smile and give him his porridge.

At that point, I would feel as if I’d saved enough whales for me to sleep at night, enough adjectives in the bank. If I had to use adverbs, however, I’d just let the whales die: Krill would love me, Ahabs would want to be me.

A Monster Lineup for the Monster Mags Reading

Monday, February 25th, 2013

We’re a little more than a week away from the AWP Conference, and we’re crossing not only our fingers and toes but also some internal organs to wish away wicked-bad winter hijinks on behalf of the thousands of creative-writing folks about to descend on Boston. (Begone, potential younger relative of Winter Storm Nemo—would that be Winter Storm Dory?).

Another reason to hope for a bit of mercy from Mlle March: we have a full lineup of talented readers for our Monster Mags from the Midwest reading on WEDNESDAY, the night before the official start of the conference! We’ve partnered once again with Mid-American Review and Ninth Letter for this offsite reading at the Back Bay Social Club, 867 Boylston Street, right across the street from the convention center. The event starts at 6 p.m., and the readings will start at 7. Our fabulous readers: Steve Almond, Tarfia Faizullah, Roy Kesey, Mary Miller, Sarah Rose Nordgren, and Marcus Wicker.

Also, make sure to stop by our table at the bookfair, F19 on the Plaza Level. We’ll have awesome ceramic tumblers as a subscription reward, and the Monster Mags will be offering the three-for-one deal again. That’s right: you get a year’s subscription to Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, and Ninth Letter, for a mere $33.

And we’ve sent Don Bogen as our advance scout to Boston: he’ll be attending a Greetings from Cincinnati Review event on Monday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m., at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Contributors Kathleen Aguero, Andrea Cohen, Martha Collins, Richard Hoffman, Pablo Medina, and Lloyd Schwartz will read.

Staff Picks

Monday, February 18th, 2013

While awaiting proofs for our Summer 2013 issue, due out in May, we CR editors decided to write a little something about our favorite pieces. Here’s Assistant Editor Brian Trapp:

As soon as I read Michael Reid Busk’s faux-encyclopedia entries from “The Eighties: A Brief Primer,” I forwarded them to Managing Editor Nicola Mason with pleas to accept. Busk’s entries are strange, comic love letters to the decade of my birth, a nostalgic tribute to ’80s cultural detritus. What I love about them is that they are so smart. Busk could have written a cultural critique connecting suburban banality with the rise of horror movies or the decline of blue-collar jobs with the rise of over-muscled, professional wrestling.

Thankfully Busk chooses to write these poetic short-shorts instead, employing fiction’s strange and vivid details for tonal complexity. In my favorite of these, “Wrestling ’80s,” Busk crafts a mythic origin story close to my eight-year-old heart: Laid-off factory workers, watching their forearms shrink and their families decline, find comfort in Fight Club-esque ultraviolence, meeting in their town’s nighttime decay for gladiatorial combat. Busk comically heightens the violence until the premise turns, and their rage is commodified by businessmen into the WWF fantasy we know and love. This economic windfall is both a happy ending for the men and a great loss, as Busk provides a last line so brutal and honest that it seems affectionate. Throughout these pieces, Busk ultimately interrogates our nostalgia, making the ’80s both ridiculous and menacing.

Busk references other encyclopedic entries such as “Brian Boitano ’80s” and “Computer ’80s.” I thought they were just some intertexual joke, but no. He’s published these pieces in journals such as Folio, Fourteen Hills, and Prism International, and I hope there is a book on the way. In the meantime, I’m going into my parents’ basement to dig out my Hulk Hogan thumb-wrestling figurines.

News from Our Contributors

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Congratulations to our contributors who’ve gotten good news lately!

Book News:

John A. Nieves (8.2) won the Elixir Press Annual Poetry Award Judge’s Prize for his first book, Curio, which will be published in early 2014.

Jon Pineda (9.2) won the 2013 Milkweed National Fiction Prize for his first novel, Apology, which will be published this summer.

Award News:

Brian Conn (9.2) won the 2013 Bard Fiction Prize for his novel, The Fixed Stars: Thirty-Seven Emblems for the Perilous Season (Fiction Collective 2, 2010). The prize includes $30,000 and a one-semester appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College.

Rochelle Hurt (8.2) and Dana Koster (7.1) were awarded Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes, and Rebecca Dunham (8.1) and K. A. Hays (3.2, 5.2) were named as honorable mentions.

Fellowship News:

Steve Kistulentz (9.1) received a $4,000 Literary Arts Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission.

Roger Reeves (9.2) and Jake Adam York (6.1) both won NEA fellowships in poetry.

We’d also like to take this opportunity to join the chorus of those mourning the loss of York, an excellent poet and member of the literary community.

Winners and Masters

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Thanks to our contest participants, who made February—the last couple of days of it, anyway—feel a little bit less like a canoe trip with Charon. And yes, you win. All of you. Please contact us at editors(at)cincinnati review(dot)com to claim the prize of your choice.

In other news, MastersinEnglish.org has nominated our website for inclusion on their upcoming list of 100 Essential Sites for Voracious Readers. If you’re considering a master’s degree or you’re an educator looking for a resource, check out this tidy site, which “cater[s] to English majors, or those who are considering taking their education in English literature and composition a step further.”

Game of the Month: February Is Like…

Monday, February 11th, 2013

So: February. Did you know that this month’s observances include American Crossword Puzzle Week and National Fettuccine Alfredo Day? Until a few minutes ago, neither did we, because the miseries of February have blinded us to its less horrendous aspects. But we’re trying to make it more bearable by having a bit of fun with February in our new game of the month (our last one, unfortunately, was lame, or dull, or something that resulted in no one even trying). To make up for it, we’re going to award five prizes this time out. We want you to win. Really.

How to play? Tell us what February’s like. Come at us with your best metaphors and other literary lampoonings. Here are a few examples to get you started:

Short and brutal—a Napoleon of a month. —Alli Hammond

February makes a bridge, and March breaks it. —George Herbert

Kath says February is always like eating a raw egg;
Peter says it’s like wearing a bandage on your head;
Mary says it’s like a pack of wild dogs who have gotten into medical waste
and smiles because she clearly is the winner.

—Tony Hoagland

Submit your entry by commenting on this post (click the title) by Friday, February 15. Writers of the five best similes win their choice of thermos, slingpack, or CR back issue (2.2 excluded). Good luck!

People Who Need People: Feldman, Pineda, Simmonds

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Our contributors are often inspired by art, images, ideas, and other objects and intangibles. We’ve noted the ways science, music, and women’s roles galvanized the writers of Issue 9.2.  Below, though, poets from that issue discuss a more “personal” influence:

Alan Feldman

on “In Response to My Fear That I’ll Receive Another Call from the Yacht Salesman”:

Like many, I’m afraid of the way a good salesman can play upon my desires. This was the most dangerous salesman I ever encountered, I suppose. He had a genuine love for the boats his company made, and he cast me as a kind of local-hero-to-be if I’d buy one; it was like a movie where I would single-handedly save the little coastal town where the factory seemed like the only industry. And, in return, he showed me how the boat could change my life. For days I gazed at the brochure, imagining a kind of heaven on earth for myself: the seas always manageable, the wind fresh and abeam. When I pondered this decision I realized either way—buying the boat or not—I’d be making a mistake, and there seemed something fundamentally shattering about that realization, and funny too. If I lose the yacht, I thought to myself, and the Eden it represents, maybe I’ll at least get a poem. Plus I get a lot of pleasure from the vocabulary associated with sailboats. I think such words evolved so they could easily be heard over howling winds, so they have rather distinct sounds and are fun to use.

on “A Message from My Mother”:

I do love to sail, and when I’m out on the water under a big sky, I sometimes check in with people I’ve lost, my mother especially.  She died about thirty-five years ago, and I’ve noticed, over the years, that she’s mellowed. She’s less apt to offer advice, for example. And she seems to have become somewhat passive, wistful, and even philosophical. I don’t know if she actually knew Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, but it’s my favorite long poem in English so maybe she’s had time to read it. She did love Keats, though—something I often think of, since she died relatively young. My young granddaughter lives at least half of her day conversing with people she imagines. Until I changed the title on this poem, so that it was clear that it’s my dead mother speaking all the way through, I’m not sure the poem succeeded. My favorite part is her description of what she feels like now.

Jon Pineda (on his poem “The Sow”)

I’d recently finished the first draft of a novel, and I needed to recharge a bit. So I returned to working on poems, going for compression. I wanted to hem lines in with sound. That was the big driver. Oh, and the fact that my daughter loveslovesloves pigs.

Kevin Simmonds (on his poems “ars poetica” and “poem”)

I can’t recall which current news item triggered “ars poetica,” but it was simply the latest in an onslaught of smartly constructed, prepackaged political talking points spinning some act of consciously committed and grave indecency. Maybe it was a lie told as the truth. Maybe it was a walk back from a previously lapsed and miscalculated truth. I wanted to write a self-conscious poem that didn’t traffic in untruth but, rather, spoke plainly in declarative sentences. And why not write about the atrocity of war, the male and blameless memoranda of war?

“poem” is a lie—a lie that reveals truths about my strained relationship with my father.

Funny, unplanned consequence: the word count of each of these two poems is within one word.

Staff Picks

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

We’ve just finished finalizing edits on our upcoming issue, which means that we’ve become very familiar with the stories, poems, and essays contained within. Like, super familiar. Like, sit-three-to-a-seat-on-a-school-bus-on-a-hot-day familiar.

After all that quality time spent with prose and poetry, staff favorites tend to emerge. Here’s Associate Editor Becky Adnot-Haynes on why she likes Aharon Levy’s “Philomela in Tribeca”:

Levy’s piece is one of those short stories that could have been bad if it wasn’t so good: thirty-somethings in New York, ennui, thwarted love—all gathered at a party involving fancy cupcakes and clever, self-conscious conversation.

But Levy pulls off his premise brilliantly, and the result is a story that’s not only successful in its idiosyncratic portrayals of the people who inhabit the main character’s world—the partygoer who speaks too seriously in unserious situations, the hostess who moves about her party like “a cheery hurricane”—but which also lays those characters bare, refusing to apologize for them, to handle them with kid gloves. The story’s protagonist, Dan Slotkin, is neither hero nor villain, and Levy is perfectly comfortable treading the space between.

There are so many small joys in the story—the way that Levy refuses to take himself too seriously, his lovely prose and knack for simile: “clothing scattered over the floor, unerotic as fruit peelings” and “[his] worry, amoeba-ish, oozed into new forms, lurked in various corners of the room like an untrusting, just-adopted cat” are two of Levy’s delightful phrases—but his talents run deeper than that, sweeping toward an ending that is as artful as it is inevitable. And along the way? A secret revealed by way of decorate-your-own cupcakes.

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: Solipsistic Collapse Edition

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Don Peteroy is at it again, asking relevant writers irrelevant questions. But could this be the last Irrelevant Question he irrelevantly asks? Writer Andrew Farkas imagines this grim future, and provides an answer that Peteroy didn’t want to hear. At this posting, Peteroy is still recovering from his psychic break.

Andrew Farkas is a fiction writer from Akron, Ohio. He is the author of Self-Titled Debut, which won the 2008 Subito Press Prize for Experimental Fiction, and has published fiction in Northwest Review, New Orleans Review, Whiskey Island, Emprise Review and The Brooklyn Rail, among others. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he helps run a letters racket on the Near West Side. We published his short story “Sky Party” in Cincinnati Review 6.1.

Question: What’s my next question going to be?

AF: Don, you’re a good guy, so I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your next question is going to be “What’s my next question going to be?” It’s also going to be the question after that. And the one after that. Don, have you ever read one of those old horror stories where someone gets caught in a loop and consequently they’re doomed to repeat the same actions over and over again forever? Have you, Don?

When we read those stories, I think the reason we think they’re so creepy is because in our world, things don’t keep repeating themselves in exactly the same way. By reading one of those stories, we’re forced to look at a world that is completely foreign to ours and wonder what it’d be like if that sort of repetition existed here. You can never step in the same river twice, you can never go home again, that’s the world we live in, but not you, Don.

Oh, at first it’ll be funny. You’ve asked me this question, then without really even thinking about it, well maybe you’ll ask Michael Martone or Lydia Millet or anyone, really, and you won’t worry about it. For a little while this question will be your schtick. But then you’ll say, “I’m done with this question,” only to your consternation, you’ll find that, once again, you’ve asked that very same question. And then again. And again. I hate to be the one to tell you this, Don, but soon CR will suspend your portion of the blog. They won’t fire you or anything. They’ll just say you need some time off. Of course you’ll want to ask why, but when you try to ask you’ll say, “What’s my next question going to be?”

It hurts me to do this, but someone has to, so I’m going to fast forward now, fast forward to the future, where you’ve stopped talking, terrified of what you might say. You’ve gone on a search to find how you might move beyond your one and only inquiry. Alas, this search has been in vain. You can’t get to the heart of your problem without asking some other question, though for you there is only the one. Perhaps you’re on a mountain top there in the future, or in a desert, desperately wondering if you will ever be delivered from this sad fate ripped right from an old horror story. But just like in those old horror stories, and I hate to do this to you, Don, we have to leave you there, because I can’t see anymore of the future than this. But I thank you, Don, for letting me take part in this interview. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Game of the Month: Guess the Drawer

Friday, February 1st, 2013

We’ve stocked up on the essentials as we finish our copy editing and prepare to send the next issue (due out in May!) to our amazing typesetter and designer. Over time, we’ve collected an odd mix of things on our desks: highlighters, flavored waters, and a sharp knife on one; a king-cake baby, Starbucks mug, and the AWP Writer’s Chronicle on another; and a ham sandwich, Irish breakfast tea packets, and a piece of paper describing proofreading marks on a third.

For our Game of the Month, you get to guess which staff member has filled this desk drawer with these particular items! Your options are:

A) Becky Adnot-Haynes, associate editor

B) Lisa Ampleman, associate editor

C) Don Bogen, poetry editor

D) Michael Griffith, fiction editor

E) Nicola Mason, managing editor

F) Matt O’Keefe, senior associate editor

G) Brian Trapp, assistant editor

If you get that answer right, you’ll receive a free slingpack, thermos, back issue (excluding 2.2), or we can add an issue to your current subscription—your choice.

And BONUS!! If, in addition to explaining whose drawer it is, you can say WHY it is filled Lay’s potato chips, you’ll receive a FREE one-year subscription.

Leave your comments by clicking on the title above. (Volunteers and former staff are ineligible for this game. You people know too much.)