Archive for September, 2013

Noting the Notables

Friday, September 27th, 2013

We at the mag are delighted that so many pieces from our pages have been recognized as NOTABLE by the Besties:

Best American Short Stories: Steve De Jarnatt, “Mulligan”; Colleen Morrissey, “Good Faith”; and Edith Pearlman, “Life Lessons”

Best American Essays: Tracy Burkholder, “Proof”

Best American Nonrequired Reading: Steve Amick, “Not Even Lions and Tigers”

We offer virtual fist-bumps not just to our contributors but to the CR nuclear family as well. Associate editor Brian Trapp’s essay “My City in Two Dog Parks” (from Black Warrior Review) and former volunteer Luke Geddes’s story “Surfer Girl” (from Hayden’s Ferry Review) were also among the Notables.

Notable on a different front are the efforts of former volunteer Ian Wissman, who has started his own small press, which he’s kicking off with a contest: “Waxing Press is a new small books publisher of fiction based in Cincinnati. Our goal is to publish novels, novellas, and collections of stories that push the bounds of what fiction does, what fiction can do, and what fiction should do. The winner of our inaugural contest, the Tide Lock Prize, will be our first publication in 2014. The deadline for contest submissions is 2/1/2014. More information can be found at our website,”

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

You have a body. You are a body. And yet your body is not ALL you are. Yep, the mind/body problem is scary stuff. It has puzzled philosophers for centuries and driven countless philosophy undergrads to change their majors to business. But our contributors are not afraid of corporeality, or if they are, they use their minds to turn that fear into wonderful fiction and poems. The following writers in Issue 10.1 find inspiration in bog bodies, our distant bodily cousins, and Catholic body-hate:

Alexander Lumans (on his story “Give Your Man His Due”): While living in Galway, thanks to a grad-school fellowship, I visited the National History Museum of Ireland in Dublin. There’s an exhibit all about Irish bogs. The highlights of this exhibit (the whole museum, really) are the four bog men on display. Some body parts are so well-preserved that they appear on the verge of moving. It’s uncanny! I couldn’t pull myself away. I ended up sitting in front of one bog man until the museum closed. Those bodies are, hands down, the most profound things I’ve ever shared a room with. Naturally, I became terrifically obsessed. The only space that allowed me to even semi-convey this sublime/disturbing feeling was in fiction. The first drafts actually had the bog men talking, but that quickly turned south when all they did was mope about having their nipples cut off. So I figured: What better character to get at what I was feeling myself than one of the museum guards?—someone who looks at them every single day. The most difficult part was that I didn’t start writing the story until I left Ireland, which made finding and employing Irish vernacular all the more of a banjaxed holy show.

Priscilla Long (on her poem “Neandertal”): My poem is a sestina about the Neandertals (sometimes called Neanderthals). I’ve always been fascinated by these northern distant cousins of ours that went extinct 28,000 years ago. Who were they? What were their lives like? I was actually disappointed at the revelation (later reversed) that we Homo sapiens did not have any Neandertal genes. Then, when it was discovered that most Homo sapiens (except those whose ancestors never left Africa) do have Neandertal genes, I was completely thrilled. I’ve written two science/creative nonfiction pieces about the Neandertals (it seems that their skill level and intelligence were much higher than they were previously given credit for), and now this poem. Finally I broke down and had my genome scrutinized by the genomics firm 23andMe. (This cost $100.) As it turns out, I am myself 2.9 percent Neandertal. Yes!

Michael Mlekoday (on his poems “Forage” and “Drop”): Me and my friends were sitting on our porch one night, like we did every night. We lived in South Minneapolis; we were the only white folks and the only college kids on our block. Most of us were used to that, grew up in similar areas. We’d instituted a rule: When we play music on the porch, no Eminem. That night, a passerby asked if he could buy a lighter from one of us. Tim handed the guy his lighter, and the guy held out a fist to drop his payment into Tim’s hand. He gave Tim a crack rock. It was messed up. It was where we lived. This was also around the time I realized I had a weird, post-Catholic disgust at my own body, and the fact of embodiment in general. I knew I had some meditating to do on these issues, so I started writing poems that took a mantra and free-associated their way through hiphop, through the inner city, through the body, revolving around their titular mantras. “Drop” and “Forage” are two of those poems; they, along with the rest of the series, appear in my forthcoming book, The Dead Eat Everything. I love my body now/again—I think I needed to see how language, how poems, could break and become bodies themselves.

Operation Collation: Complete

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

All last week we “collated,” which means we gathered round the institutional faux-wood table that dominates our wee office and compared piles upon piles of proofread galleys for our November issue. It’s kind of like that scene in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie where the everlasting gobstoppers are unveiled. (Editor’s Note: This is a metaphor. Please do not lick The Cincinnati Review to see if it will get smaller.) At any rate, typos were spotted, stacks were circled, sinks were compared, spreads were aligned, and questions were asked. Not just questions about namby-pamby comma usage, mind you. The queries of the meticulous-minded editor are both weighty and legion. Our questions are more like: If one is referring to a personified scrotum, is the proper pronoun “he” or “it”? and Huh, honky-tonk is a weird word. Wonder where it came from? (Turns out the origin is unknown.) Also, “barista” is not a feminine form, though so many people were worried about emasculating the dudes making their cappuccinos, the word “baristo” has come into existence. Also, twilight refers not simply to early evening light but also to the light just before dawn (take notes, Stephenie Meyer). Brian Brodeur discovered, in Douglas Silver’s story “Found Peoples,” a gruesome rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter: “. . . a viscous honey seeping from the eyes, decomposing piecemeal with the tides.” We had a lengthy discussion about trademarks, and how it’s ridiculous to enforce the caps on products that are so commonplace they’re considered generic, such as kleenex, dumpster, band-aid, xerox. Underscoring this point, Matt O’Keefe told an anecdote about how the copyeditor of his book insisted that he cap “styrofoam.” Matt resisted. The editor, not to be gainsaid, changed the reference to “polystyrene foam,” though he told Matt he would also accept “plastic foam.” We observed a moment of awed silence. Then Nicola said, “Okay, then. That’s what bad editors do. Let us not be among them!” We subsequently pricked our palms bloody and smacked them all together on the faux-wood table. (Collation is never complete until we seal a pact or two with some hemoglobin glue.) Stay tuned for the exotic rituals that attend the arrival of revised pages. . . .

Why We Like It: “Penis Interview”

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

New volunteer Dario Sulzman has had many previous lives. We don’t mean that in the flighty New Age sense, though if we brought in the right mystic, perhaps we’d learn that Dario was a WWII pilot who pressed “eject” instead of “bomb” by accident, or a seventeenth-century Russian seamstress who died of infection after she forgot to wear a thimble. We don’t know (because mystics are expensive).

We do know that before Dario became a PhD student here at UC, he had a motley collection of jobs that would look good on the back of any book jacket. He’s done the usual gritty work of washing dishes and making sandwiches. He’s been an intrepid newspaper reporter and a reading specialist. He’s been a barista and heroically battled the milk steamer in what he calls the “dance of resistance.” He was a real estate appraiser for divorce cases in New York, wisely judging the value of brownstones and high-rise penthouses for their owners to later fight over. He was once hired by Dunkin’ Donuts to walk around Rockefeller Center with a “jet pack full of hot chocolate.” Now Dario is our reading specialist, and we’re happy to have his appraisal of Michael Barach’s “Penis Interview,” which is as good as a jet pack full of hot chocolate.

Dario Sulzman: Before reading Michael Barach’s poem “Penis Interview,” I’d have referenced Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint or Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow if anyone had asked me for recommendations of classic works involving phallic personification. Now, in our most recent issue of Cincinnati Review, Barach offers a new . . . perspective. The first time I read “Penis Interview,” I was struck by the poem’s blunt, singular honesty. Some “answers” are exactly the kind of crass responses we’d expect of such a carnal appendage—“When can you start? (Duh.)”—while others reveal a surprising vulnerability—“What do you fear? Myself.”—but every line is spoken immediately, without hesitation or wasted energy.

Upon my second reading, I realized how technically layered this seemingly simple, fairly short poem actually is. Its terse impermeability is built up not just by Barach’s consistent use of a question-answer (mock interview structure), but also by playful and varied use of rhyme schemes. Sometimes the answers rhyme, but not the questions; other times only the questions rhyme, leaving the corresponding answers to diverge. Barach uses end rhyme and slant rhyme as well as sudden changes in cadence to create a poem with all of the suspenseful, volley-and-return energy that one feels watching a championship tennis match . . . or some other sport where men with sticks hit balls back and forth to each other.

High Praise from New Pages

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

We got some nice notice in a New Pages review of our summer issue. Look for some fun additions to our usual lineup this 10th anniversary year!

Review by Justin Brouckaert

Now ten years old, The Cincinnati Review has established a reputation as one of the top literary journals in the Midwest. This issue, which includes work by writers such as Porter Shreve, Daniel Anderson, Erin Belieu and Michael Mlekoday, holds up to the journal’s reputation. The issue includes a hefty mix of fiction, poetry, artwork, nonfiction, and reviews, with formal and aesthetic diversity showcased in all categories.

In “Sex-Drink ‘80s” from The 80’s: A Brief Primer, Michael Reid Busk utilizes the flash fiction form to make a common scene—and a time period—come alive:

[W]hen couples went to bars before and after having sex, they had to order drinks with old-fashioned, unsexy names. After all, who the hell was Tom Collins? Who was Jack Rose? They needed new drinks, with new names, and since they had sex on the brain it infected the naming of these new cocktails.

In the nonfiction piece “My Mother in Her Mail-Order Scott Paper Company Dress: A Portrait of Intergenerational Neuroses,” Julianna Baggott writes about her memory of her mother’s obsessive compulsive tendencies being exacerbated by “The Big Paper Craze” in the sixties:

During the summer of 1966, my mother mail-ordered two paper dresses. She sent two dollars to the Scott Paper Company, and within a few weeks, she received the dresses—one paisley, the other a black-and-white print—along with a dollar and four cents worth of coupons for Scott paper supplies. Why did my mother order the paper dresses? Out of fashion or thrift? No. She ordered them because she was a deeply neurotic germophobe, and, in many ways, ahead of her time.

Baggott’s mother’s neuroses are passed down to daughter and granddaughter, illustrating a web of family neuroses. In the end, though, it is not a sense of repulsion or resentment that dominates the narrator’s memory of her mother; instead, it is an attempt to categorize the mother’s compulsion of one borne of love:

In my memory, I see her in the kitchen, hands cracked and bleeding from compulsive washing, yet still scrubbing our pots with ferocious energy. She doesn’t let us drink from coffee mugs because of her fear of lead poisoning. She trims the toxic waxy edges off our bologna, scrapes the DDT from our raw meat. She tosses out dented canned goods. She hovers when we’re sick. She worries, and it is a prayer. Why? Because she loves us, and her love is an engine that can’t rest—even when she knows it should.

In poetry, Michael Mlekoday’s “Forage” stands out as one of the best pieces amid a large sampling. More than just an articulation of hunger or an explanation of poverty, “Forage” is a strange and unabashed admission—not necessarily of guilt, but of the boundaries that needed to be broke to satiate a hunger:

I have skinned
the animal I found in me
& watched him wrench himself
back into the flesh,
I have made gods
of my skinned hands.
I, all thirty-two teeth
of me, yes.

In all, The Cincinnati Review features a strong collection of work in several genres that is strong, evocative, and well worth a read.

CR in Writer’s Digest

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

We’ll soon be featured in the Standout Markets column of Writer’s Digest magazine. Here’s a sneak peak at a few of the interview questions as well as the answers that genre eds Don Bogen and Michael Griffith collaborated on.

What makes a submission to The Cincinnati Review stand out? A combination of boldness and craft, a distinctive energy to both the language and the project as a whole. Also the courage of one’s idiosyncrasy, the willingness to take chances.

What are some common mistakes, either in the submissions process or in the writing process, do you see? Work that seems derivative or easy. Not enough attention to the overall shape of the piece. Work that does the same old things in the same old ways, however competently.

What makes you unique? We don’t publish just one school of work or rely heavily on well known figures, looking instead for distinctive work by both experienced and new writers with a wide range of subjects and perspectives. Change our minds about what fiction or poetry can do or should do. We’re looking for work, as John Berryman put it, that “not only expresses the matter in hand but adds to the stock of available reality.”

“Exoskeleton” Redux

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

There’s something odd about the chair that Associate Editor Lisa Ampleman vacated when she graduated this past spring. The spot is now occupied by Brian Brodeur, but sometimes his visage seems to fluctuate, his beard disappears, and he speaks in Lisa’s voice when he says, “I’m headed to Starbucks for a green tea latte,” or “Have you guys tried any of those new Lean Cuisines? I’m loving the butternut squash ravioli.” Some months back, as her “staff pick,” Lisa wrote an appreciative assessment of Rebecca Lehmann’s poem “Exoskeleton” (10.1), and weirdly, Brian Brodeur was moved to write one on the very same poem this week. Suddenly he found his hands whipped toward the keyboard, and his fingers tapped away until they completed the following analysis. Thereafter he slumped forward in a faint, but not until he was heard to say, “Go Cardinals!”

Brian Brodeur: With its interchangeable allusions to entomology, British history, popular cinema, and kitschy American fashion, “Exoskeleton” fires its barrage of similes at an unsuspecting “you” with a violence that seems random at first.  But Lehmann’s is an artful spontaneity, behaving associatively rather than rationally. “I wanted you,” the exasperated speaker explains, “like a slutty tank top wants a pair/ of big tits to fill it out,” an image of fullness that counterpoints the preceding image of being emptied: “I wanted you like the garbage can/ […] wants the garbage man.” This leap is indicative of the poem’s overall project: to qualify, contradict, and complicate the statement “I wanted you,” that hackneyed expression of sexual desire too cliché and reductive to express what it attempts to signify. Culminating with the deliciously unhealthy “greasy donuts and coffee of you,” the poem creates the overwhelming cumulative effect of burying the reader under its anaphoric catalog of lust. But unlike Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days, a character who ends up neck-deep in earth as she rambles to her unresponsive husband, the speaker of “Exoskeleton” becomes more unburdened as her monologue progresses. “I want you,” the poem concludes, reminding us of how uncontainable our desires can be, how vulgar and strange, and how impossible they are to escape.

Recalling Mrs. Dalloway’s

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Some of you may know of—and may even have attended—our Greetings Readings. These are events in which rogue poetry editor Don Bogen corrals group of our contributors in a rugged, faraway landscape (for example, Boston) for a night of incandescent verse, often followed by a hard-fought game of Twister. (Don is really, really limber.) One such eve took place over the summer at Mrs. Dalloway’s Books in Berkeley. If you missed it, worry not—we’ve got Greetings Readings in the works for Chicago, Kansas City, and an undisclosed location in the South. Read on for Don’s account of high times at Mrs. Dalloway’s.

Don Bogen: It was a great reading overall, with wonderful poems from previous issues, including work from Randall Mann’s Straight Razor, forthcoming from Persea this fall, Doug Powell’s Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award last year, and the prize-winning first books of Kathleen Winter and Mira Rosenthal; poems in translation from Italian—Patrizia Cavalli (9.1), whose sharp, short pieces Geoff Brock describes as “popcorn”—and Polish—Tomasz Rozycki (7.2), whose book Colonies, translated by Mira Rosenthal, is just out this year; and some new work we haven’t snatched up yet.  A full house on a cool Thursday evening:  lots of books sold and signed, copies of our last two issues going like hotcakes.

D. A. Powell and Don Bogen up front.  Mira Rosenthal between them, with Kathleen Winter on the right. In the back, Randall Mann (left) and Geoffrey Brock (right).

. . . in which we rhapsodize over our readers.

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Every now and again, we are moved to laud the exceptional, behind-the-scenes efforts of our pool of trusted readers, who are weekly (yea, even through the “catch up” months of summer) poring over poems and stories and essays, etc., and rendering thoughtful judgments on their strengths and weaknesses. They are busy people with hectic lives, and we do not pay them, yet these intrepid, dedicated humans read on (occasionally taking breaks to apply more deodorant). Below are some random bits of their brain-work. CR submission readers, we (the staff) salute you!

—This feels awfully fresh and unusual, both in content and form. Some stunning language and insightful connections occur in this piece, but it all has a veneer of self-conscious wit that seems to suit it perfectly, as if the author were winking at us.

—I found these obscure but enjoyed figuring them out, and liked them when I did (if indeed I did).

—Though the story feels familiar, the narration and playful form interested me. Humor-tinged despair sharpens the tragedy.

—Not thrilling, but I like the staccato nature of the images, almost like we’re seeing a flash of them all at once.

—Prose is whip smart in most places, though it falters occasionally into cliche. Might be more meditative, but structurally it’s working and it has patient, emotional climax that makes the eyes water.

—These poems have energy/potential, but some of the language seems a bit clunky at times. Another read?

—The allegory is an interesting one, and I liked the prose style at first, but the story was too long to sustain that style and needed pruning.

—Surreal, compelling images, but the poems are either are too obscure and baffling to make a full enough impact or they offer easy, familiar conceits.

—While some scenes have genuine tension and momentum, the writing is needlessly verbose. Certain details seem either to be extraneous and/or out-of-order. This quality often robs the story of narrative momentum, and the conclusion seems to peter out rather than resonate fully.

—Engaging and interesting experiments, but they trail off into obscurity.

—These have a Zach Schomburg feel and are a bit cloying at times, but I still like them (I just don’t like that they want me to like them so much).

Fear and Clothing: Julianna Baggott

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

From Julianna Baggott‘s essay “My Mother in Her Mail-Order Scott Paper Company Dress: A Portrait of Intergenerational Neuroses” (10.1), we learned . . . well, first of all, that paper dresses exist. Or rather that they existed, er, before all those women caught on fire. Perhaps more to the point, we learned how this sartorial innovation appealed to people with a certain psychology, one marketers of disposable products later targeted. In Baggott’s words, “My mother was a germophobe before it was cool, and by cool I mean before it became a marketing strategy to fearmonger mothers, in particular, into buying products to sterlize and protect the lives of their family. My mother’s fear—epitomized in this essay by her desire to buy disposable dresses during the short-lived paper-dress craze of the ’60s—shaped her life and mine. And now this base fear (of super viruses) affects us all.”

Assistant editor Sara Watson appreciates yet another intriguing aspect of the essay: “What I admire most is the care with which the author treats her mother. ‘Some people,’ Baggott writes, ‘speak of barely surviving their childhoods because of the oddities and disturbances of their parents. Oh, we survived all right, but she struggled.’ At some point in our small and tortured lives, many of us will arrive here, at the understanding that our parents are people with their own set of problems. The best we can hope for is to learn from them, not just about ourselves, but about themselves. ‘She hovers when we’re sick,’ Baggot writes of her mother: ‘She worries, and it is prayer.’ Clearly part of what Baggott describes as ‘intergenerational neuroses’ is an overwhelming sense of compassion. And that’s worth passing on.”