Archive for February, 2014

Pas de Deux: Wahmanholm & McCabe

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Ever wonder how to know the dancer from the dance? Well, wonder no more! Welcome to our new blog feature, Pas de Deux, a two-part exchange between contributors in which: 1) a recent contributor interviews another about his or her poem, story, or essay that originally appeared in our pages; and 2) the interviewee interviews the interviewer about his or her poem, story, or essay. Sound confusing? Just think of Dirty Dancing. Contributor one—Patrick Swayze—taps contributor two—Jennifer Grey—for a quick romp around the dance hall. After sweating it out, Jennifer Grey gulps some punch and returns the favor by propositioning Swayze until they both have, of course, the time of their lives.

For our inaugural interview, the indefatigable Claire Wahmanholm asks fellow poet and mambo connoisseur Melanie McCabe about her poem “What’s Waiting,” which appears in 10.2. Next week, we’ll post Melanie’s interview with Claire about her poem “Glitch,” which also appears in 10.2. Our hope is to generate a craft-related dialog between two contemporaries about what factors motivated them to write some of our favorite pieces, and that our dancers have a great time sharing their moves.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, prepare to know the Swayze from the dance!

Claire Wahmanholm: I’d love to start by asking about what moment in the poem you are most pleased with.

Melanie McCabe: There are certain images I especially like, such as those that reduce the marriage in the poem to the “clinking of dishes and silver,” or to “footsteps and key turnings.” I hope these images convey the great distance between the couple.

But I guess I am most pleased with the last stanza, which gets at the strong and perhaps somewhat eerie relationship the speaker has with the house she is left in alone. It absorbs her. It swallows her as snow does footprints. She disappears inside of it, but there is a kind of comfort in that as well.

CW: I’m glad you pointed us to the final stanza, because I was especially struck by the sentence: “This is the way tissue is reabsorbed by a body.” We tunnel suddenly inward in that moment—moving from people and furniture and structures into the microcosm of the body. Can you say something about that impulse, or where that image in particular came from?

I’m also interested in the figure of the house more generally and whether you’re seeing it as a stand-in for poetic creation: a structure that attests to pain while simultaneously alleviating it, a musical thing that maybe mitigates the painful silence of the first stanza?

MM: There is another poem in my latest book, What the Neighbors Know (FutureCycle Press 2014), in which I write: “To imagine a house, Freud said, is to conjure one’s body, one’s self, every room a metaphor.” Freud’s idea that the image of a house in a dream represents the dreamer’s body is one that has long stuck with me. There is a real connection throughout this manuscript between the speaker and the house. In this way, it is a stand-in for the body, the self.

I had not thought of the house as a stand-in for poetic creation. This and other poems in the new book come very much from an actual life event, of being forced to move from a home lived in for a very long time. What is significant for me is that the speaker’s connection to the house is stronger than her connection to the husband, that more of her identity is connected to these walls that have held her for decades than to the partnership she had with this man: the “you” in the poem.

CW: In some ways, this poem reminds me of Bishop’s “One Art,” though I do find “What’s Waiting” to be more interested in poignancy, especially in that killer last line-and-a-half. To then discover that the speaker is later forced to give up the house, the one thing “that does not want to let [her] go,” is heartbreaking. Where does this poem appear within the arc of What the Neighbors Know, and how does it contribute to the collection’s tone?

MM: I’m happy to remind anyone of Elizabeth Bishop, in any way! And your remark is interesting to me as my book is organized around three houses in the speaker’s life: one lived in as a married woman and mother; a childhood home; and, finally, a new home lived in alone. The poem “What’s Waiting” appears near the beginning of the fourth section of a four-part book. It marks the conclusion of a relationship that, in Section One, was building to an end.

Why We Like It: “Here I Am”

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Cincinnati is in the midst of its sixteenth coldest stretch on record. Each day is somehow icier than the last, each parking space a bigger snow mountain, each small dog more reluctant to go outside, no matter how plaintively nature calls. In such conditions, we at the mag kvetch a lot. We spit. We claw. We languish. Everyone, that is, except volunteer Bess Winter, who appears to be thriving. She walks into the office dressed like the world’s smallest fashion model, works silently and efficiently at her desk, and neglects to mention that she has a story out in the new Indiana Review until the issue shows up in the mail. In other words, Winter is quietly taking over the world. Fortunately for us, she wields her power gracefully, taking time away from her reign to share some thoughts on Daniel Hoyt’s “Here I Am”:

Bess Winter: It is a truth universally acknowledged that short stories told in two parts are about questions of dying.

At least, I’m starting to think so.

Take, for instance, Daniel A. Hoyt’s “Here I Am,” published in Cincinnati Review issue 10.2, and slap it down beside Tobias Wolff’s much-anthologized two-part story “A Bullet to the Brain.” Both deal with the tricky calculus of a man’s last moments. Both attempt to divide moments before and after death­—though the line blurs. In “A Bullet to the Brain” we meet Anders, a professional critic “known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed,” as he critiques a bank robber whose response is, well, a bullet to the brain. In “Here I Am,” we meet John, manager of a Burger King franchise and victim of a random beheading: “Two men in suits held John down, face pressed to the floor. He could see an onion ring that had fallen out of someone’s paper box, and then a third person smashed the ax down on his neck.”

“A Bullet to the Brain” is one of my favorite stories because of the elegance with which Wolff pares Anders down to his life’s most satisfying moment, in the milliseconds before the bullet exits his brain “dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce.” If Wolff’s story is a close analysis of the comet, “Here I Am,” a story that questions the notion of death (emotional and spiritual), is a careful study of its tail: memories relived, hopes dashed, talent perhaps not used to its full potential. Ostensibly, John’s death-by-beheading happens, in an equally public commercial space, in the story’s first paragraph. We stick with John for another several pages as his body gropes for its head, picks it up, smokes a cigarette, tries to walk home with it tucked under its arm. As it tires. As the head grows heavy. As the body leaves the head behind to a fate that may or may not be an afterlife, but certainly isn’t what John expects. The farther his body strays from his head, the closer he’s forced to confront the puzzling contents of that head. The result is a darkly humorous exploration of grief, a fitting companion piece to “A Bullet to the Brain,” and a startlingly on-trend depiction of an animated corpse.

Literary News: VIDA and Pushcart

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

VIDA, the organization that tallies gender inequality in book reviewing and literary journals, has just published their 2013 count, and we’re happy to report that although The Cincinnati Review isn’t perfect, we are relatively gender equal.

The Breakdown: In overall gender balance for 2013, we had 73 pieces by women and 84 pieces by men. Our poetry tally was almost 50/50, with 56 poems by women and 57 poems by men. Our fiction count came in a little less equal with 6 stories by women and 9 stories by men, but for nonfiction we had one essay by a man and 2 by women. For our reviews, we featured mostly female book reviewers (6 to 4), but we reviewed mostly works by men (3 female and 13 male). However, in our 2014 Winter issue, we have an special review feature dedicated to debut short story collections by women (Jamie Quatro, Kate Milliken and Marie-Helene Bertino). Check it out.

The Cincinnati Review believes that VIDA is doing important and necessary work, and we support their mission for gender equality in publishing and reviewing. You can see the infographs here.

More Pushcart Nominations: We both love and hate nominating pieces for the Pushcart Prize. With our allotment of a mere six selections, there are so many excellent stories and poems that we must leave unheralded. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce more Pushcart Prize nominations from the Pushcart contributing editors. They’ve nominated three more poems from CR’s 2013 Winter issue:

Ruth E. Dickey, “In My Wallet”

Regina DiPerna, “Death, Naked”

Alan Feldman, “A Message from My Mother”

Congrats to these worthy poets and thanks to the editors for nominating these marvelous poems.

About Suffering They Were Never Wrong

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

We’re thrilled that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C. K. Williams is spending this week in Cincinnati. As the Elliston Poet for the 2013-14 academic year, Williams gave a master class yesterday on “First Drafts, Last Drafts,” illuminating the nuances of his exhaustive revision process. In line with old masters like Horace and Alexander Pope (Horace recommended that poets withhold their work from publication for ten years), Williams equated his practice with the act of being physically beaten—repeatedly—and confessed to spending twenty years on a single piece. As proof, Williams offered several scrawled-on drafts of poems that eventually became “Newark Noir” and “Wall,” both from his most recent collection, Writers Writing Dying (2012). Most striking was the formal recasting Williams performed in each draft, how a meditative lyric like “The Economy Rescued by My Mother Returning to Shop,” for example, began as a brief prose memoir and eventually settled into the sprawling, Whitmanesque lines Williams has become famous for.

C. K. Williams is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Writers Writing Dying (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012); Wait (2010); and Collected Poems (FSG, 2007). The Singing won the National Book Award in 2003; and his previous book, Repair, was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His collection Flesh and Blood received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Williams has also published a memoir, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself, in 2000, and has published translations of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, Euripides’ Bacchae, and poems of Francis Ponge, among others. A prose book entitled Williams, On Whitman, was released in 2010 from Princeton University Press. He is also the author of two books of essays: Poetry and Consciousness (1998) and In Time (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Williams will read his poetry at 4:00 this afternoon in the George Elliston Poetry Room, located in Langsam Library 646. This reading is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there.

Inspiration in Death, or; James Wood, did you get your CR 10.2?

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

In his essay “Why?” published last December in the New Yorker, James Wood writes: “Death gives birth to the first question—Why?—and seems to kill all the answers.” He argues that literature can give meaning to our world, our existence. While we generally agree with this grand statement, we were surprised that in his typically reference-heavy essay he didn’t mention the latest issue of CR, which has several stories and poems that give meaning to human decline. (Mr. Wood, did you misplace your copy of CR 10.2?)

Man, can you imagine what the author of How Fiction Works could have done with Douglas Silver’s story “Found Peoples,” told in lush and lyrical detail from the perspective of a Chinese body fisherman? What would the Wood-ster have to say about Daniel Hoyt’s absurd and macabre piece, in which the cephalophore-like protagonist gets decapitated at Burger King on the very first page? How would he weigh in on Michael McFee’s beautiful eulogistic poem about a departed friend?

We’re not sure, but we think he would conclude that in the shadow of death, the literature in CR 10.2 shines forth in beacon fashion. In the absence of Wood’s comments on our pages, you’ll just have to read the issue yourself and fight the good fight—with our worthy contributors—against the void.

Douglas Silver: “Found Peoples” began the way many of my stories do: a newspaper article (I believe it was in the BBC) read at an hour I should have been asleep. There is a man (probably several) in China who makes his living fishing dead bodies from the river and selling them back to the families of the deceased. While I was fascinated and disturbed by this vocation, the “fisherman’s” pecuniary motivation held little interest for me in terms of story arc. I knew I would have to complicate Feng’s circumstances if I had any hope of generating sympathy.

Surprisingly, it was through researching decomposition—the stages by which a body shuts down after death, the rates and influencing factors of putrefaction, the sensory bath on display as matter transitions from organic to inorganic—that I gained a toehold into the isolation, longing, compunction, and even gruesome intimacy I imagine (need to believe?) someone in Feng’s line of work is forced to grapple with. How do the unremittingly lonely connect with a world beyond their reach? What are the stages of emotional and spiritual decomposition? What do you do when your life is over but you’re still breathing? These were questions I asked myself as I wrote the story.

Daniel Hoyt (on “Here I Am”): At the 2011 iteration of the Kansas State University English Department Christmas party, my friend Dave, a history professor, was talking about his research. He’s a medievalist who studies the old-school saints. He mentioned a beheading, a saint living on after the blow. He picked up his own imaginary head and tucked it under his arm. The pantomime did it: The decapitation seed was planted. Also, I sometimes walk my dog past a local Burger King. At night it looks all smoky and stark and neon-lit. Hopper would eat there, I think.

Michael McFee (on “Frosted Windows in a Small-Town Presbyterian Church”): I hadn’t planned to write a poem about the funeral of my colleague, my mentor, my dear friend of nearly four decades, Doris Betts. But sitting in a crowded pew, with others who loved her so much, feeling bereft and looking around that unadorned room for comfort, or at least distraction, I found it in an unlikely place: the windows of the sanctuary, old-style milky glass without any sort of religious decoration, panes meant to keep the outside out and the inside in. And on that particular day, those frosted windows seemed to embody the blankness and numbness everyone felt in the aftermath of Doris’s death, and our longing for her living, breathing presence, before we had to file out for her burial in the church cemetery. A few weeks later, the poem came pretty much as it is, in short uneven couplets, with plenty of wordless white space, and her name isolated, italicized, tilted groundward.

Wick Winner

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Our own Brian Brodeur has just learned his chapbook “Local Fauna” won the 2013 Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize judged by Peter Campion and will appear from Kent State University Press next year. Big congrats, Brian!

Five (well, technically ten) Golden Tickets

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Yep, it’s our tenth. And if you’ve been reading our blog posts and status updates, you know celebratory mailings and events are spilling like silk scarves out of the CR tophat. But there’s one we haven’t mentioned yet—the equivalent of the coveted rainbow scarf, rainbow meaning it’s got it all, that we’re going all out, or all in, or a combination of those and some other confusing, very nearly meaningless phrases. Yes, friends, we mean we’re having a gala. In Seattle. When many of you fine writer types will be there. A gala involving fancy hors d’oeuvres (like shrimp toast), and free drinks at the extremely sleek-looking bar, and a huge saltwater fishtank (a WALL of FISH), and a synapse-leaping lineup of readers (Kevin Prufer, Jamie Quatro, Roger Reeves, and Joanna Scott), not to mention a lot of extremely experienced listeners. There’s only one hitch: You have to be invited. We wish there were shrimp toast for all, but the seas are already overfished, so we have to be careful of the numbers. Still, we want to see our most passionate subscribers, those of you who murmur lines from our pages in your sleep, who develop restless leg syndrome when you know a new issue is in the mail. To you—actually only five of you—we offer a chance to attend our swanky offsite soiree (Friday, February 28, from 7 to 10) and to bring a friend. In other words, the first five people to open the current issue of CR and respond to this post with the first four words (a bit of dialogue) on page 71 get the CR tenth-anniversary full monty. By which we mean an invitation and a spare (for a pal)—not that we will get naked. Okay, Trapp might get naked.

We won’t approve the responses until we receive five—which means you can’t cheat by copying someone else. Submit your entry by commenting on this post (click the title). Subscribers, run for your 10.2’s!

Welcoming Whelm

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

We just received our lovely copy of contributor Dawn Lonsinger’s Whelm, which won the Idaho Prize for Poetry Prize in 2012 (selected by Nance Van Winckel). Dawn writes that “Whelm is part wildness and part witness, part love song and part lament, an elegy to former times and selves that admits fear of a future where humanity, community and strangeness are lost to manmade systems. It is also an ode to oddity and intricacy. The poems attempt to understand how difficult it is to be a thinking, feeling, speaking being in a largely impenetrable world—both wordless and written over with various conflicting narratives.”