Archive for February, 2016

Why We Like It: “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife” by Leslie Entsminger

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Eric Van Hoose: Ghost stories tend to hinge on the question of the ghost’s existence. Either the figment is real or it isn’t, and story’s purpose is to find the answer. But from the first moments of Leslie Entsminger’s “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife,” when the spirit of Winston’s dead wife—initially haunting his bed—calls him an asshole, it’s clear that this is a different kind of ghost story. Ghosts are definitely present, inhabiting coffee grinders, violins, dildos, vacuums, and their hauntings are circumscribed by expensive, legally binding contracts drawn up and sold by the Church of Inanimate Possession (which, we learn, has branches “everywhere”).

Though most ghost stories test the limits of plausibility and reader credulity—Are there no rules? Are we meant to take this seriously?—in Entsminger’s hands, the paranormal world is no excuse for license. The story sets strict rules and takes them seriously.

toasterAn hour later, Winston sat in the kitchen with the toaster in front of him on the table. It had changed. The dent where one of their cats had knocked it off the counter was gone, and it was definitely shinier. It had taken a few tries. The pamphlet had given vague instructions to find the object with the “most vibrations,” which confused both of them, until Chloris had concentrated and had gotten the hang of it.

Entsminger’s ghosts are profoundly constricted, confined, and through observing the details of this limited kind of embodiment, we see the impoverishment and, simultaneously, the beauty of the bodies we all haunt.

They fell into their old habits, the only exception being that each evening he carried Chloris into the park so she could hear life around her. In the morning, Winston left Chloris on the counter so she could hear the radio. When he came home, he ate dinner and told her about his day. After an evening of game shows, he took her upstairs to bed and tucked her in. At first, he’d wanted to snuggle, but Chloris didn’t like it, saying he left fingerprints on her.

When you’ve begun where most ghost stories finish, when the hauntees are aware of the circumstances and can, as Winston does, verify the relevant contractual details (haunting length, senses involved, instructions for inhabiting different objects), where do you have left to go?

A lot of places, it turns out, and it’s that sense of plunging into the unknown, entering unexplored territory and becoming subject to all kinds of genuine surprise, that is part of the pleasure.

One . . . pictured a woman in a field of daisies, photographed midspin. Her skirts swirled out as she held a blender in front of her, her expression that of someone deeply happy and in love. The caption read Still together, plus now he can really make you margaritas!

Ghost stories can frighten, agitate, linger. They can make us wonder if something is there after we’ve turned off the light. In short, like all good works of art, they can add something to our realities. But until I read “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife,” I didn’t know ghost stories could make me think about love, about kindness, about how our lives are saturated with beauty, about what it means to unplug my toaster. This story is so powerfully affecting because its ghosts are never the point. Instead we get lonesomeness, objects seen anew, insight about human relationships, aging, grieving, and what it means to care for things and for each other. Chloris’s second life might be brief, but for those who read Entsminger’s account of it, her story it is sure to live on for a long, long time.

Frameable Art for AWP!

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

We’ve been working on something special for this year’s AWP conference and book fair in LA. At our request, printmaker and author of the award-winning The Clown Genocide: A Novel in Woodcuts  Billy Simms has created a set of woodblock relief prints to offer new subscribers during the book fair. Modeled after pages in a child’s primer, each print presents a different literary term: A for Allegory, R for Reversal, T for Tone, and S for Symbol. While each print stands alone, when taken together they form the word ARTS (or STAR or TARS or RATS, per your preference). Each also incorporates various symbols that operate in sets of four: the elements, the directions, etc. Printed on heavy paper with hand-torn edges, these 10″ x 10″ works are easily frameable. Subscribers who sign on for two years ($28.00) get to select two; three-year subscribers ($39.00) take home all four. Visit our book fair table (#1141) to see the prints in person and, of course, to say hi!

P1060442 (3)P1060446 (3)P1060449 (3)P1060452 (2)

Why We Like It: Joshua Coben’s “Antechamber”

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Antechamber – Joshua Coben*

The father is a dark door
the son may lean against
to listen for the locked room
of himself, his next life.

Later he will listen there
for the echo of his own
death. Meanwhile he becomes
a dark door for someone
else. It takes him years

to grow so broad and smooth,
so wooden and closed. He does
not feel the ear of his son
pressed close and listening.

José Angel Araguz: The best poems have an ability to refresh our everyday world, and even have us looking closer at how we define that world. In “Antechamber,” Joshua Coben uses the metaphor of a door to inhabit ideas of being locked out and bring them into the emotional realm of familial roles. The speaker’s straightforward tone charges the short lyric with the certitude of allegory; meanwhile, what develops within that allegory is made up of the uncertain. This back-and-forth movement creates a tension that evokes the restlessness born out of what is unspoken. When so much of human experience is made up of listening at the “door” of one another, poems like this one help us to make sense of what we catch.

Janus1Speaking of doors, this poem had me thinking also of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He is typically portrayed as having two faces, one looking to the future while the other looks to the past. Coben’s poem taps into this simultaneity; the speaker’s meditation, in a way, is a statement on how self is made up only in part of social roles, and never strictly defined by them.

A similar sentiment is expressed by Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

tyler_durden_brad_pit_by_killscrewTaken on their own, these words work on the other side of the spectrum Coben’s poem inhabits. The impetus is the same – a brief exploration/explanation of what the self is – but Palahniuk’s character engages ideas of self through being heard rather than through listening.

The poem and novel’s messages meet on the page, itself a “dark door” where the reader listens in.

*reprinted with permission from the author. Originally published in issue 12.2.

Best American . . . Almond

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

mysteryCongrats to Steve Almond, whose “Now Do You Surrender?” (CR 11.2) has been accepted for inclusion in the 20th edition of Best American Mystery Stories.

As series editor, Otto Penzler picked 50 exceptional mystery stories originally published in North America during the 2015 calendar year. From that short list, guest editor Elizabeth George selected the 20 she judged most outstanding for publication in this prestigious anthology.

A excerpt from Steve’s terrific piece:

 

“How the hell do you know the name of my daughter?”

Scarface set a hand on Loomis’ shoulder. It was a tender gesture that suggested profound brutality. “Settle down,” he said. “There’s no reason for this to turn in the wrong direction.”

Tony Bennett patted his coat in the way of an ex-smoker. “Quicker we clear this thing up, quicker we’re out of your hair.”

Loomis couldn’t figure out how frightened he should be. He had to pee rather ardently. “What thing?”

“A beautiful day like this,” Scarface said. He gestured toward the sky as if the director of a community theater production had just stage-whispered at him to gesture toward the sky. “Who wants to be standing around in a parking lot? Not me.”

“To review,” Tony Bennett said. “You throw this party, what, two weeks ago? All these kids bringing your daughter gifts and whatnot. So then, just as a common—”

“How do you know what’s going on in my house?” Loomis said. “Have you been spying on us?”

Scarface exhaled through his nose, as if he’d been expecting Loomis to behave this way and it bored him. “Nobody’s spying on anybody. You’re missing the point, Mr. Loomis. Just listen.”

“As a courtesy,” Tony Bennett continued, “your wife went out and bought some nice Thank You cards. And you, Mr. Loomis, told her there was no need to waste good money on such an extravagance. Then you threw the cards straight into the garbagio.”

“I didn’t throw them in the garbage,” Loomis said. “I dropped them into a wastepaper basket. I was making a point.”

Scarface ran a thumb down his nose. “What exact point would that be, Mr. Loomis?”

“That it was overkill. We’d already thrown these kids a whole party with lunch and two art activities and gift bags and I was just sick and tired of feeding into this never-ending arms race of bourgeoisie pieties.”

Tony Bennett yawned. “I don’t understand what you just said, Mr. Loomis. But I didn’t like the tone.” He stretched in such a way as to make visible the outline of something gun buttish against his sports coat.

Loomis felt the flutter in his gut go spastic. The air took on a sour radiance. Scarface’s hand was on his shoulder again, again very gently. “Calm down, Mr. Loomis.”

“I feel like you’re threatening me.”

“Nobody’s threatening anybody.”

“We’re having a conversation.”

“Who are you? What do you want from me?”

“You don’t ask the questions,” Tony Bennett said quietly. “That’s not how this relationship works.” He slipped his hand inside his jacket and let it stay there. “How it works is you go get in your car there and drive home and kiss your wife and send those thank you notes.”

Remembering C. D. Wright

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

c-d-wrightDon Bogen: We were saddened to hear of the death last month of our Advisory Board member C. D. Wright. A few days after she passed away, I met my friend the poet C. S. Giscombe at the Creek Monkey Tap House in Martinez, California. Martinez is the kind of town I think C .D. would have enjoyed: small, a little down at heels, and remarkably diverse compared to the pockets of affluence alternating with economic wastelands that mark the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of the country. Its main sources of employment are county business, two hospitals, and an oil refinery. I like it.

Cecil likes the place too. He cycles over the hills from Berkeley when I’m out there, and we meet for beer and a meal before he catches the train back. That evening we drank to C .D.’s memory and talked about her work. Like Cecil, C. D. is a wonderful poet of place, and I’ve often taught his Giscome Road and her Deepstep Come Shining together. But Cecil told me that his favorite was One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, a coffee-table book (if you can use that term for something so insightful and moving) she put together with the photographer Deborah Luster. C. D. was kind enough to give my wife and me a copy of this book a dozen years ago when she was in Cincinnati as Elliston Poet in Residence.

I reread One Big Self after I got back from California, and I know why Cecil admires it. C. D.’s energies moving in all directions, her humor, her deft intelligence, her commitment to everyday lives, including prisoners’, and refusal to treat any type of authority with undue reverence—these are qualities of her poetic voice and her personality. As a poet, she explored things in their full contexts, and she was great fun to spend time with. As far as I know, C. D. never got to Martinez or the Creek Monkey Tap House, but we did share a lively evening at the oldest bar in Cincinnati. That and her glorious poems will have to do.

 

12.2 Sampler: Shape-Shifters

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Smoke works #41 - Anatomywww.Mehmet-Ozgur.comIt is an accepted paradox that the human condition is often best explored by stepping outside of our skins, and CR authors know this. Issue 12.2 is full of shape-shifting figures and warped shadows. Some of them are mythical, like Donika Ross Kelly’s men-as-trees; others are whimsical, like Leslie Entsminger’s late-wife-as-toaster or George David Clark’s lion-wearing circus performer; still others are dark, like Michael Byers’s cheating-wife-as-hallucination, Joshua Coben’s father-as-locked-door, or Nicholas Montemarano’s sex-addict-as-vampire. In the excerpts below, authors convey authentic emotional and psychological experiences by reimagining their characters’ everyday forms and realities.

 

This the season men were turned to trees—
the formula simpler than we initially imagined.

Assume, first, that man and tree were made;
the cypress, the laurel, a spurned god to watch:

[from Donika Ross Kelly’s “Acheron”]

 

“Mr. Whithers? I have your pamphlets right here! So exciting that your wife has come back. Did you know it’s very rare for a prepurchased haunting to occur this late in a death? It does happen, though I think your wife might have set a record—the whole church is aflutter!” Tammy clapped her fingertips with fervor. She then opened the folder and commenced pulling out colorful brochures. “This first one,” she held up a pamphlet that had a photo of a woman and man gazing lovingly at the front of the church, “is for the newly haunted. It explains the terms and what you can and cannot do.”

“Cannot do?”

[from Leslie Entsminger’s “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife”]

 

My shirt is the lion inside out, his canines for the cufflinks.toaster
When I’ve vacuum-sealed the acrobats inside their leotards,
I use the high wire to tether the tent stakes.
As sunrise nears, I wash my face in a funhouse mirror
before packing the glass in my briefcase with everything else.

[from George David Clark’s “Traveling Circus”]

 

It either was Brigid or it wasn’t; he could not decide. It had been so long since he had heard anything like these noises from his wife, these gasps and cries.

No, it was not her.

But then he wasn’t so sure, and then it began to seem that yes, this was Brigid. This was. Now the bedframe began to squeak violently, and he heard only male groaning, the thrusting power of a huge, heavy man. Gasping, Richard swung his feet over the edge of the bed. He couldn’t stand, couldn’t bring together the muscles that would allow him to rise. He lowered himself to the floor and crawled to the head of the stairs. A bright jewel of fire hung in his gut, suspended from his spine by a thread.

[from Michael Byers’s “Stone”]

 

The father is a dark door
the son may lean against
to listen for the locked room
of himself, his next life.

[from Joshua Coben’s “Antechamber”]

 

You slept with the head of your bed beside the attic door, and you imagined every night that there was a vampire up there. A vampire was the second most terrifying thing you could imagine because it could turn you into something you weren’t—a monster ruled by a hunger that would never go away. Yet some part of you secretly wanted to be a vampire, because that would mean you’d never die, and death was the most terrifying thing. You grew up in Queens, in a neighborhood with more dead than living, a cemetery behind your house. A vampire’s immortality, as you saw it, was its greatest power, but almost as great was a vampire’s ability to enslave people, to look into their eyes and make them do anything.

[from Nicholas Monetmarano’s “Limerence”]

Announcing ACRE Books

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

AcreBooks_grassy

We’re excited to announce that The Cincinnati Review, in fall 2016, will expand by growing a new limb—specifically a book-publishing arm, which will offer, in our usual fine-fingered fashion, works of lit in both traditional and electronic formats. Known as ACRE Books, our small press will begin by bringing out at least one poetry collection and one book of fiction in spring 2017. We hope to double that number—and add works of literary nonfiction—the following year. We’re especially excited to have as our poetry series editor the amazing Danielle Cadena Deulen, author of (in creative nonfiction) The Riots and (in poetry) Lovely Asunder and Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, the latter just out from Barrow Street.

Why ACRE? Because we’re ready to claim some territory. Not a huge tract, but a nice wide expanse we can plow and seed. A patch we can plant up with a scad of growing things. Look for more details in months to come. We hope to start considering manuscripts this August!

microreview/interview: MRB Chelko’s Songs & Yes

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz 

…Some crazy guy told me. His mother was beautiful. And perhaps I should have listened. To him. Perhaps. I was his mother. Just then. In a way.

As I read through MRB Chelko’s chapbook Songs & Yes, I kept thinking in terms of weather: the weather of details, the weather of personal perceptions. The poems here keep the reader in close contact with the materials of the poet’s world. As can be seen in the short excerpt above, the poetic experience is guided by distinct choices in phrasing. By varying the length and duration of sentences, the poet is able to place emotional emphasis on each movement of the poem. In doing so, the poems enact a logic and aesthetic similar to modern dance.

When asked what inspired this chapbook, Chelko writes:

“…in an effort to purge myself of ingrained habits/constructions/aesthetics/themes, I decided to write one new sequence per month for a year, shifting the formal constraints each month to force myself into new aesthetic and thematic territory. I’d never written prose poems before, so that’s where I started: prose poems of approximately 100 words, comprised of sentence fragments, with the refrains rest and silence.

This impetus towards using formal constraints to work into a “new aesthetic and thematic territory” pays off in this project in pieces like the one below, where narrative detail is lyrically conveyed by voice and image:

With the dark jars of her eyes the pharmacist disapproves. Silence. No doctor signed this. But look at me. I am dragging the trash bags of my feet up the stairs. The jars empty. Pharmacist. Look up. I am hanging a shirt. Light blue and wrinkled. Single dangling ballerina of thread. I am pouring. Black. The coffee’s heart out. Time. Prescription. Rest. Which arrived earlier. Like a decent book in the mail. Silence and a pack of smokes. And the pink depths of the book’s cover. And the purples. Rest. I got tired. Rest. Unwrapped a secret. Wrapped it again.

I like how the repetition of silence and rest hold the poem’s mood together while coloring what comes before and after. The pharmacist’s disapproval is made more emphatic; later, several levels of fatigue are implied. Here also, Chelko’s formal vision plays out in aesthetically and emotionally stunning ways. The juxtaposition, for example, of: “ …I am hanging a shirt. Light blue and wrinkled. Single dangling ballerina of thread. I am pouring. Black. The coffee’s heart out.” streams together perception and sentiment, using the sentence form in a way that gathers lyric momentum.

About this particular piece, Chelko shared:

“Around the time I was writing these I had a series of abscessed root canals, which resulted in quite a bit of pain and ultimately the removal of four of my upper molars. So, I was walking around the city with these deep, aching holes in my face that only I knew were there. It felt like I was holding a secret in my mouth. The loss of my teeth—they’re still missing—was a tender experience and deeply personal. I smiled tightly, or not at all, for years.  On one rainy, metal grey December afternoon, I received a package containing Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s New and Selected Poems,Reliquary Fever. An almost glowing pinkish red, the book’s cover depicts fingers reaching, tentative, for a soap bubble. There’s a specter of violence even in the gentleness of the image. The bubble, if touched, would of course disappear. I love that book. It was a kind of medicine.”

This recognition of “a kind of medicine” in the day-to-day details makes up much of the engine driving this chapbook.

Buy it from sunnyoutside: $12.

Make sure to check out MRB Chelko’s poem “Snow Be” in issue 12.2!

***

Are you a past contributor interested in a microreview/interview? Write to us [editors@cincinnatireview.com] with the subject heading “microreview/interview inquiry” for more information and guidelines.

Issue Launch Party, Take Two!

Monday, February 1st, 2016

A reminder: the rescheduled Cincinnati Review issue launch party (at Wash Park Art, a gallery at 1215 Elm Street, right across from Washington Park near Music Hall) is this Friday, February 5, from 5:00 to 8:00. Come by for food, drink, lively conversation, and a brief poetry reading from a contributor to the issue.