Archive for March, 2014

C. K. Williams at UC

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Don Bogen (pictured above with C. K. Williams): The English Department marked C. K. Williams’s concluding week as the 2014 George Elliston Poet in Residence with a reception at the home of colleagues Jenn Habel and Chris Bachelder. In the course of his visit, Williams taught the graduate poetry workshop and reviewed students’ portfolios, did a knockout reading in the Elliston Room, and gave two public lectures: one on influences and one on his own writing practices, complete with drafts and manuscripts. He also managed to dine with students and faculty at almost every restaurant in town. It’s clear the man is a dynamo, one of the most engaged and engaging visitors we’ve had in years.

Tentacular Redux; or, Call for Peglegs

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Near and dear friends, pull out your calendars and draw a heart in the square for April 5. Make that a heart and an exclamation point. No—a heart and an exclamation point with a smiley face where the dot would be. It’s still our tenth anniversary. Yep. All year. We did it up fancy at AWP, and now we’re bringing the party home. Well, if Covington counts as home—and we say it does. On April 5 eve, hop over the river and meet us at the Leapin’ Lizard Lounge. The fun starts at 7 p.m. and runs till someone spoils it by breakdancing. Funky’s is catering, and Bon Bonerie is providing a cake the size of a private island. We’ll have poetry readings (by Jeff Gundy and Kathleen Winter), musical performances (of CR poems that composers Sarah Hutchings and Steven Weimer wrote scores for), and a dramatic reading (by Ben Dudley and MaryKate Moran) from Declan Greene‘s MOTH, which we are in the process of making into a graphic play. Oh—and if you have a great playlist on your iPod, get in touch. We need you. Same if you can drink raw eggs or play bongos with your pegleg.

Pas de Deux: Murvin & Romanosky

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Christa Romanosky and Jennifer Murvin are having a literary party, and you’re invited. Sit down with a glass of wine or beer or ginger ale (just drink something, even if it’s morning) and listen in on the conversation in another edition of Pas de Deux, a two-part exchange between contributors. This time, Romanosky is slinging the questions and Murvin dishing up the answers on the latter’s lyrical essay “How to Put Your Child to Bed,” which appears in CR 10.2. The discussion runs the gamut, from use of the second person, process, warm literary hugs, and unspeakable truth.

Christa Romanosky: Your nonfiction piece “How to Put Your Child to Bed” is poignant, compelling, and carefully crafted. I hear the echoes of a children’s book in the repeating “One night . . .” You also juxtapose fantasies of an artist-lover with the ever-changing imagined appearance of the stripper. How did the idea to create this particular piece begin, and what was your writing process like?

Jennifer Murvin: Mary Gaitskill compares why she writes to why “children like to draw pictures of houses, animals, and Mom; it’s an affirmation of their presence in the corporeal world.” The distance of the years between what happened with my husband and the stripper and my discovery of it, the way this distance and the almost comical melodrama of the narrative made it seem like a story instead of fact, compelled me to write if only to affirm its presence in our history—this had happened, to him, to her, to me.

While I was writing, the use of repetition and refrain gave me comfort and structure, much like the real-life act of putting my son to bed. The refrain came to represent the physical routine of motherhood, against which I could meditate on how this discovery had begun to take on a sort of kaleidoscopic significance. Over several months and several revisions, I was able to recognize a connection between what had before seemed disconnected: bedtime, miscarriages, sexuality, age and illness, infidelity, and also literature, its function to make meaning from chaos. The objective restraints allowed me to order and contain wild emotion in a manageable space.

CR: Someone writing in the second-person pov always risks alienating the reader, yet your piece seems to do the opposite. It draws the reader in like an invitation to a private party. (I was thrilled to have been invited, because it was fucking awesome.) Tell me about your decision as a nonfiction writer to craft this piece in second person instead of the more common first person.

JM: We need a lot of wine at this party, ha! I recently heard a craft talk by the wonderful Pam Houston, a master of second person, in which she argued that the second person point of view “creates a thin layer of shame over the narrator and deflects tension from the things he/she is ashamed of. ‘I’ is afraid to say ‘I’ and so says ‘You.’” When Pam said that, I thought, Damn. That is exactly why I had to write “How to Put Your Child to Bed” in second person.

I was certainly ashamed of what had happened and also how I was reacting or not reacting to it. The point of view provided the distance I needed to be honest and vulnerable, to take the emotional risk of fully imagining the stripper, of imagining being her myself. Writing the essay in second person helped me to access myself as a character. This was the first piece of nonfiction I had ever written seriously, toward the goal of publication.

CR: I’m interested in how writing nonfiction affects you. Did you emerge from “How to Put Your Child to Bed” knowing more about yourself, your goals and intentions as a writer, your role as a mother or partner?

JM: I’m interested in how writing nonfiction affects me, too! I am still very new to this genre as a reader and writer. What I do know is that it is deeply satisfying to have something tangible, something “made,” from these difficult moments in my life. I tried to touch on this in the essay itself, this question of how art and life intersect, how readers and writers negotiate that space. I continued to work on this essay as I went through a separation and divorce, and I also changed my MFA emphasis from fiction to nonfiction. I have more questions than answers. Writing a lived experience must change it in the mind; when I think of this time in my life, I often think of the lines I wrote and rewrote in the essay.

CR: What was your timeline in writing this piece? Did you face any unanticipated challenges?

JM: I wrote the first draft in June 2011 and put it away for several months. I picked it up again in the spring of 2012 during the separation and divorce from my husband, and I shared it with a close editor friend that summer and my MFA advisor in November, who was kind enough to let me submit it along with my fiction. The emotional challenge was to keep writing through the changes in my life, and the artistic challenge was to create a cohesive thread between all the disparate elements in the essay. I received a few personal rejections from other magazines before the piece was accepted by Cincinnati Review. The acceptance felt like a warm hug after a very long and lonely journey. A kind of closure not just for the writing of the essay, but for all that had happened, too.

CR: I noticed the speaker in your essay presents alternate versions of the same story, of what is told to different people and what actually happened. For example, when the son asks his mother to tell the story of his birth, he receives a version of this tale. Then the reader receives a more complex explanation of events leading up to the birth. Can you talk about how versions of truth shape the speaker?

JM: This question makes me think of Tim O’Brien and his discussion of story-truth and happening-truth. We tell stories because the real truth is, in a way, unspeakable. It is lived only. Memory is fallible; objective, verifiable fact is often unavailable and/or falls short. Mimesis in this and so many experiences is impossible. Stories or narratives—series of events, sensory details, specifics—access the necessary complexity and contradiction of life’s happenings. For children, stories often perform the opposite function: simplification. The negotiation of these truths—which story best tells what needs telling to the person needing to be told—seems to me the work of being a mother and also a writer.

CR: Which books were on your nightstand while you were writing your essay?

JM: Whenever something emotionally difficult is going on, I turn to Maeve Binchy, whose novels are to me the literary equivalent of hot chocolate and cinnamon toast. If I could go back in time, I’d place by that girl’s bathtub Light Years by James Salter and The Meadow by James Galvin.

Jennifer Murvin’s essays and stories have appeared The Sun, Mid-American Review, Midwestern Gothic, Bellingham Review, Cincinnati Review, Baltimore Review and Moon City Review. She is a faculty member at Missouri State University, where she teaches Fiction Writing, the Graphic Novel, and Contemporary American Fiction. Jen is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Christa Romanosky earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia. Her poetry has been featured in Cream City Review, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. Her fiction has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Cincinnati Review, Boston Review, and Crazyhorse. She has also completed two albums of music, All Things Left Unsaid and Talk About the Sky, available on Amazon, Pandora and iTunes.

Pas de Deux: Romanosky & Murvin

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The feast continues with the second course in our feature Pas de Deux, in which Jennifer Murvin turns the tables on fellow 10.2 contributor Christa Romanosky and asks how in the heck she came up with her ironic, biting, and heartbreaking story “Assets.” In what follows, Romanosky reveals her secret recipe: one part biography, eight parts imagination, and two parts kitten experiment, with a dash of Deborah Eisenberg.

Jennifer Murvin: “Assets” is both wickedly funny and deeply moving. The narrator Louise Hayle approaches rather serious conflicts with a sarcastic and clever charm; for example, the word “asset” functions in the narrative as both verbal and situational irony. Tell me about the role of humor in your writing. Did you have any writers or stories in mind as a model while creating the voice of your narrator?

Christa Romanosky: I think the idea for this piece came about when I received a call about my student loans from a debt collector who insisted, out of the blue, that my loans were ninety days overdue, and that if I didn’t pay immediately, the company would seize all of my assets. Panicked, I called my father, who assured me that I had no assets. It ended up being a mistake, but the experience led me to ponder what exactly defined an asset. That’s where it all began. I wanted to write a story about a girl who had nothing, and yet seemed to still be losing things. I had a real-life Marla at the time I was working on “Assets.” Our motto was to laugh at the really hard stuff, since we’d be crying about it later anyway. I try to carry this philosophy with me. I was reading a lot of Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories at the time, which probably helped to sculpt this view.

JM: “Assets” is structured in titled vignettes, some of which contain numbered lists. I absolutely love the choices you’ve made here. How did you come to this structure for the story?

CR: The structure came about as I was making lists to keep track of Louise’s thoughts and feelings. Vignettes helped me to create a sense of movement, a change in topic or time that might otherwise seem too abrupt or jarring. “Assets” was the first successful short story I wrote, and it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimentation. I think sometimes it’s a good thing to not know what you’re doing—to color outside the lines because you don’t understand what the lines are—like those poor kittens in the psychology experiment by Blakemore and Cooper that were deprived of vertical lines: dendric field modification for new writers. That should be a class.

JM: The story juggles several plotlines—a terminated pregnancy, a two-timing boyfriend, a flirtatious best friend (everyone needs a Marla!), financial troubles. Tell me about how these different conflicts emerged during your writing process.

CR: I embraced the idea that sometimes bad shit happens to good people. I mean, Louise isn’t perfect. She’s the other woman in a relationship with Paul, and she hasn’t made the best career choices. She’s got low self-esteem, but that’s real life. I’m very interested in gender and sexuality, how it shapes our identities—what women and men deal with on a day-to-day basis, and what we often refuse to talk about despite the fact that it might be a basic biological function most everyone experiences, like sex. Statistics indicate that approximately one in three women has an abortion by the time she reaches forty, yet the topic is so provocative that it’s rarely discussed without the frills of shame and verdict. The multiple conflicts and plotlines emerge in “Assets” as a way to diffuse the idea that unplanned pregnancy (or other crises) happens in a void, or that choices are made without other considerable factors, some helpful, some not. I wanted to write about how people cope.

JM: “Assets” is written largely in conversations between the narrator and Paul, the narrator and Marla, and the narrator and Dan from Advanced Credit Solutions. Can you talk (no pun intended) a little about your approach to writing dialogue?

CR: A former professor of mine stressed the importance of daydreaming about characters and conversations, and I find that I work out dialogue best that way. I start with one phrase or statement, then assemble at least ten different ways that conversation could develop, depending on what is said to whom, how s/he interprets it, how the speaker wishes to be interpreted, the mood, etc. I sometimes do this in my own life, while conversing with strangers or acquaintances. When I’m asked a question I imagine entire branches of dialogue that could transpire, weigh each potential response, insert sarcasm or wit I’d heard somewhere, envision future interactions that might go poorly because I misrepresented myself, panic about our incompatibility, wish I’d done things differently, and return to reality to finally reply “yes” or “no.” It’s a hard-knock life for an introvert.

JM: I admire the specificity in which you write your characters. Paul doesn’t just have a girlfriend who lives far away; he has Judy, who lives in Phoenix and writes poetry. Louise doesn’t just receive calls about her outstanding loans; she receives calls from Dan of Advanced Credit Solutions. Tell me about how you arrive at this level of detail in your characterization.

CR: I wanted the reader to feel as though she stumbled upon lives already in motion, dynamic lives. While I was writing “Assets,” I daydreamed about these characters in great detail: internal struggles, attachment styles, former relationships, emotional capacities, even the types of foods they would eat. I spent a lot of time at coffee shops, pondering.

JM: I may be reading too much into this, but there is something lovely and almost metafictional about the dialogue in the last scene when the narrator says, “This is as good a place as any to end it.” How did you know you’d reached the end of the story?

CR: I like looking at fractals, at repeating patterns, not just in nature, but in relationships and in what shapes us. The ultrasound image of Louise’s pregnancy, in her mind, looks a lot like female anatomy, the one part of her that Paul clearly wants. I knew that Paul and Louise must ultimately part ways if Louise was to ever have a shot at growth and happiness, but that she needed to build agency before she could break away. When Louise imagines announcing to Paul, “You’ve been sleeping with a potato. . . . Don’t you feel stupid,” it is her way of beginning to put Paul in his place, using what small amount of power she has. It took a total of about two years to finish this story. It was on again, off again, like a very unstable, ahem, relationship. But I finally ended it.

Jennifer Murvin’s essays and stories have appeared The Sun, Mid-American Review, Midwestern Gothic, Bellingham Review, Cincinnati Review, Baltimore Review and Moon City Review. She is a faculty member at Missouri State University, where she teaches Fiction Writing, the Graphic Novel, and Contemporary American Fiction. Jen is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Christa Romanosky earned an MFA from the University of Virginia in poetry. Her poetry has been featured in Cream City Review, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. Her fiction has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Cincinnati Review, Boston Review, and Crazyhorse. She has also completed two albums of music, All Things Left Unsaid and Talk about the Sky, available on Amazon, Pandora and iTunes.

Why We Like It: Ana Blandiana

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Whether championing the dry-rub brisket of his native Texas or sharing self-deprecating anecdotes from his MFA-daze at NYU, veteran blogger and recent volunteer Jose Araguz infuses the CR office with his characteristic humor and generous intelligence. “Sorry,” Jose will say after praising a sestina’s inevitable yet surprising end-words, “I’m easily excited.” We on the CR staff disagree; when it comes to assessing submissions, Jose displays a keen discernment—a quality everywhere apparent in his appreciation of the brief lyrics of Ana Blandiana (10.2). In fact, Jose’s installment of Why We Like It marks this blog’s first appreciation of any writing-in-translation featured in the magazine—an oversight Jose was enthusiastic to remedy.

Jose Araguz: I have long been a champion of the short lyric. The poems of Ana Blandiana, as translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea, are marvelously complex examples. The two pieces that struck me in particular were “I’m Blinkered” and “Hourglass.”

“I’m Blinkered” begins: “I’m blinkered/ Like the eye of a horse,” setting a sardonic tone right off. The poem then explores the experience the title names, a state of seeing the reader quickly discovers is about not seeing, of being hindered, bothered to the point of not wanting to bother. “Don’t ask me,” says the speaker, “What trees and flowers/ I’ve found along the way.” Capable of both wit and gravity, this nuanced voice pulls the reader in until we are left, like the speaker, receiving “messages/ That [we] don’t understand in the clouds.” The poem is visceral in that it conveys the condition of being physically blinkered, but also expresses a kind of metaphysical ennui.

In “Hourglass,” the speaker contemplates how a grain of sand, stuck in the narrow passage between glass bulbs, “refuses to fall.” Because of the stuck grain, time has stopped: “Nothing moves.” Through this predicament, the speaker relays humor, then pushes forward into more serious territory. The poem ends with the declaration: “A dream of stopping/ On the road toward death/ Is almost the same as being dead.” Suddenly, the reader is moved from contemplating the grain of sand into being the grain of sand.

What does it mean to be stuck? Is dreaming a way of being stuck? What do we miss while “blinkered” by our daily thoughts? These questions are just some of the places I go when I read these poems. Whether grain of sand or the eye of a horse, Blandiana’s short lyrics find ways to transform her personal vision into accessible and meaningful poetry.

Submission Trends and Tips

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Brian Trapp: I have an announcement: Sex is back. I know what you’re thinking: Turn on the television; it didn’t go anywhere. And that’s my point. In a culture that doesn’t really hold back on what happens in the bedroom (or car . . . or office), sex should be less interesting as material for literary fiction.

Well . . . I don’t know what happened, but lately these CR submissions are making me blush. I am no Puritan, but I’m slightly uncomfortable with the amount of prostitution stories we’ve been getting. We’re talking fortyish fallen-housewife prostitutes. Chinese-village prostitutes. Indian-child prostitutes. Some of these stories are comic or tragic or in between, but they’re all about the ancient transaction. This is not a bad thing. Literary fiction has no boundaries or borders. But I will say this: Even when writing about sex and prostitutes (and sex with prostitutes), restraint and style are still very much appreciated.

Carnal acts are part of human experience, but when represented in fiction, they often become mired by overwrought and purple prose or else fall into uninspired, pornographic stereotype. If sex is back, then so be it, but let’s not have literary fiction compete with the dark corners of the internet or the latest incarnation of Fifty Shades of Grey. Sex in fiction should be as weird or beautiful or awkward as life itself.

Pas de Deux: McCabe & Wahmanholm

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Welcome to the second part of our inaugural double-interview feature Pas de Deux, in which Melanie McCabe asks fellow poet and 10.2 contributor Claire Wahmanholm about how she conceived and executed her playful, moving, and sonically-rich near-sonnet “Glitch.” Remember that beautifully understated “fluster/ of lost door keys” at the beginning of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”? Claire’s poem scrutinizes the “radar blip” (as she puts it) of a similar lapse, turning, like Bishop, from levity to seriousness with the expediency we’ve come to expect from fixed forms, especially the Italian sonnet, which “Glitch” both courts and resists. Read on to discover how the poet connects Alzheimer’s, etymology, and assonance in lyric poetry.

Melanie McCabe: I was immediately drawn into your poem for a number of reasons, but one of them was my curiosity as to your impulse for writing it. “Glitch” reminded me of my mother, who years ago suffered a stroke and struggled for a while afterward with speech.

Claire Wahmanholm: That’s actually a very appropriate connection, though I didn’t have strokes specifically in mind. The poem hatched out of my experiences with family members who struggled with Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. I was thinking a lot about brains at the time, and about how, like all other machines, they can crash, misfire, corrode. But the poem ended up moving away from Alzheimer’s and into a broader exploration of brain “weirdness” that isn’t necessarily as dire.

MM: I am especially taken throughout your poem with the delightful pile-up of sounds—the rhyming, the assonance, the staccato effect of the alliteration that seems to me to mimic the “sticking” of the brain that has developed this glitch, this crash or misfire. Could you comment on your intentions here? Is this typical of all your work—or specific to this poem?

CW: I’m committed to sonic exuberance in general, but I wanted to turn it up to eleven in this poem because of the subject matter. “Glitch” entered US lexicon in the 1960s via the Yiddish word “glitsh,” which in turn comes from the German verb “glitschen” (to slip). The word as a whole translates into something like “slippery terrain,” and I wanted to give the impression of tumbling down a sonic precipice and never quite regaining your footing until the final line.

MM: You mentioned a kind of poignancy in my poem, but I find it very much in yours, as well. The loss of the ability to control one’s brain, the functions of speech and memory, is a terrifying prospect for most of us, and, to anyone who has seen it firsthand in someone they love, it is devastating. Can you talk about how this informs the poem?

CW: This is an interesting question because I had always seen the first two-thirds of the poem as more tongue-in-cheek/playful than poignant, though I think the poem eventually falls out of this mode. Still, I’m not sure I would be able to reconcile what I perceive to be the poem’s airiness with something as devastating as cerebral deterioration. I think I see the poem as more informed by the absurdity that everything we are depends on this one machine functioning perfectly—which is, of course, impossible.

MM: Could you speak also about the form you are working in, which strikes me as sonnet-like, with its fourteen lines and its turn. Was this your intention—or did you have something else in mind?

CW: I’m glad you brought this up—I have a deep respect for form, and enjoy writing within and around the edges of it. In this case, however, I had set out to write a thirteen-line poem—a deliberately “glitchy” sonnet with the broken middle line as a visual echo of a synaptic break, maybe. Though I’m intrigued by what might happen if I considered this poem a sonnet, I’m more interested in having it read as an unachieved, missed, or interrupted form.