Today on Cincinnati RevYouTube, we present our video version of one of many delightful poems by contributor Jeannine Hall Gailey—read, of course, by JHG herself!
Archive for October, 2016
Writers are consummate observers: we stand to the side, notebooks in hand, pencils behind our ears, eager to see and understand the world around us. In issue 13.1, two contributors take on the task of processing the most universal human experiences—birth and death—and they do it by attempting to remain above the fray even as they enter it. In Robert Foreman’s story “Awe,” a man goes to watch the birth of a child by a near stranger. Hoping to feel something new, to experience “awe,” he finds himself in over his head. In Anatoly Molotkov’s poem “Obituary,” the author takes a sidelong look at death, “hid[ing] among reflections” like a man who observes the Medusa by hiding around a corner, able to look on her face only through a mirror.
Robert Foreman: My first daughter’s birth was a c-section. I wasn’t allowed in the room until the very end, and a surgeon was there, too. It was a joyful experience, but it was nothing like when my wife gave birth to our second daughter, without the intervention of a surgeon, or for that matter an epidural. Whereas our first daughter’s birth was thrilling, the second’s was astonishing, and I found that when it was over I felt like a different person. I wasn’t a different person; I have all the same bad habits I had before, and I’m still a bad driver. I spend a lot of my time looking at things on eBay that I can’t afford. But I knew, as soon as Daughter Two was born, that what had happened there was unlike anything else that had happened in all the other rooms I’d been in.
Writing “Awe,” I was at least as interested in my distance from the event of childbirth as I was in the sheer astonishment of childbirth. The awareness of my secondariness to the experience colors all my memories of it. In order to represent and exaggerate that distance, I made the witness to childbirth in “Awe” a virtual stranger to the woman giving birth and to everyone else present. The moderate fun and great difficulty of writing the story lay in figuring out just what circumstances would lead someone to want to see a baby getting born, and what sort of people would plausibly let a stranger watch the birth of their child. I wanted to convey the life-changing, life-making beauty of human reproduction, but I had to work my way toward it via fabrication.
Anatoly Molotkov: When I write prose, I’m focused on telling a compelling story, on characters whose reality I expect to be authentic to the reader—it should all come together, “make sense.” In poetry, I seek a less linear approach to discourse. Poetry’s workings defy logic. A poem should not be completely understood by either the reader or the writer—instead, it should open an interpretive space in which multiple possibilities coexist. “Obituary” begins a series of poems that attempt to project a distinct, confident voice via the use of statements that do not easily lend themselves to causative relationships yet accrue as symptoms of the speaker’s views and, more generally, of the human condition.
Today on Cincinnati RevYouTube, Don Peteroy interrogates former fiction editor and somewhat successful writer [<–joke] Brock Clarke. One may think, looking at Brock’s creds, that he’s has little in common with the rest of us schlubs, but we’re here to tell you that Brock shares many of the characteristics of regular people. For example, he’s a biped. (We have seen him walk.) Actually, Brock is utterly lovely, and we’re grateful to him for letting us share this content with you. (Check back with us Friday for a video poem of contributor Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon.”)
For today’s YouTube video, we offer you a look at a submission’s journey through our reading process. CR is a teaching program. Each term, we take on new volunteers (from UC’s pool of PhD and MA candidates), have them read ten to twenty manuscripts per week, and assess these using our scoring rubric, which runs from 1 to 5. Our staff reads after our volunteers, adding to their comments before a decision is made either to decline the submission or pass it on to the permanent staff (Don, Kristen, Michael, Nicola). Featured in this clip, Associate Editor Don Peteroy (who, btw, birthed the idea of the YouTube channel—clouds parted, golden rays bathed him in light) and Assistant Editors José Angel Araguz and Rochelle Hurt.
Is poetry a pool filter that needs to be cleaned out? How can we transmute our day-to-day detritus into poetry? Two of our contributors from 13.1 grapple with how to explore and write about experiences both external and internal. Catherine Staples, in detailing the events and images that resulted in “Like a Sleeve of Arctic Air,” shows how an accumulation of sensory information can be generative. For example, the big, difficult questions here aren’t plucked aimlessly from the air, but rather gleaned from the bitter cold, childhood tales of angels, and owls. It’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re the protagonists of our own stories. The “horrifying novel-in-progress” that Angela Ball mentions seems like an apt way to think about how we’re simultaneously experiencing and creating the realities that we participate in.
Inspiration comes in many forms, but it’s our willingness to make do with what surrounds us, or once did, that allows us to create art. When the oxygen mask drops from the overhead compartment, be sure to strap it on.
Catherine Staples: “Like a Sleeve of Arctic Air” began with weather, a winter blizzard that knocked out power all along the mid-Atlantic. At first it was thrilling; we lit candles and piled on comforters. With a good supply of wood and kindling, we reveled in keeping the fire going. We boiled water on stacked logs for oatmeal and tea, and wrapped our dog Rosie in blankets. But by the fourth day the temperature in the house was dangerously low. As I rushed out to relight the fire, leaving the warmth of my husband for the cold hearth and struggling clumsily to make the matches light, I was struck by the dire nature of the cold. How thin is the veil between this world and the next? What keeps us any of us alive? As a child I had learned about guardian angels; they tempered that terrifying line in the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer—the one that mentions “if I should die before I wake.” Imagination leapt from the concept of guardian angels to the plausibility of feathers, wings, proximity. Months earlier, I had been out to Rushton Woods Preserve with my Villanova pastoral literature students to watch as northern saw-whet owls were banded. These diminutive owls are flush with feathers, head to foot. Up close, you can see that the wing feathers are fringed, which muffles their flight, rendering it virtually soundless. Perhaps more remarkable, as a saw-whet lifts off your palm to return to the dark after banding, you can see but not hear it leave. The lyric impulse for accuracy is a necessity when you introduce the uncanny; with luck, the detail about wings and the dog’s knowing glance suspend disbelief.
Angela Ball: “You Say It’s Hard to Join the Hours” was written during an April marathon featuring current and former Center for Writers students and colleagues. I’ve always liked the British expression for someone who has gone a bit bonkers: “she/he has lost the plot.” I think that we form part of a complicated, continuous, sometimes boring, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes horrifying novel-in-progress constructed of our travels through the world, during which we lean heavily on pro forma, often useless advice and rigid convictions passed down from family experience. The poem plays off of this notion.
Unveiling . . . our YouTube channel! If you were one of those folks who attended the launch of Acre Books at Books by the Banks this past weekend, you saw an extended trailer that included a snippet of an author interview, a visualized poem (voem? pideo?), insight into our process of submission assessment, and a teaser for the live musical performance of one of our art songs. Today, we offer the first episode in a series we call Words Likely to Be Misused or Confused. Though the clip light in tone, we aim to inform as well as to entertain. And hey, there’s a lot more to come: look for a new video every Friday and Tuesday. Huge thanks to Ben Dudley, who made this channel possible by way of both his technical know-how and his comic genius!
In his latest collection, Post- (Milkweed Editions), contributor Wayne Miller (6.2, 11.2) presents poems whose guiding poetic sensibility is able to navigate the terrains of memory and day-to-day life and mine them for what they have to say about personal and social life. “The Debt” opens this work by presenting variations on the title’s concept:
He entered through the doorway of his debt.
Workmen followed, bringing box after box
until everything he’d gather in his life
inhabited his debt. He opened the sliding door to the yard—
a breeze blew through the spaces of his debt,
blew the bills from the table onto the floor.
One can see how financial concerns impose themselves on life. Debt is the house lived in as much as a concept. What makes this poem such an effective opening piece is how it brings together a number of the collection’s themes, namely the way such intangible facts—in this case, debt and laws—affect our tangible lives.
The law theme is again explored in “The People’s History,” which creates a narrative around “the People,” and follows them as they comprise both a group of chanting protesters on a city street and a group policing them:
we, the People, will not be denied.
Then the People
descended upon the People, swinging hardwood batons
heavy with the weight of the People’s intent.
The narrative method here is compelling on two levels: 1) The use of “the People” for both sides makes the intangible nature of rhetoric and law transparent, which in turn makes the tangible effects on human action and experience all the more vivid; and 2) Rather than dulling or deflating the intensity of the scene, the use of the phrase complicates the narrative further:
But the People had grown tired of the afternoon
and released dogs into the crowd, dogs
that could not tell the People from the People;
Subverting the implied idea of an impersonal collective, the phrase takes on, through the poem’s twists and turns, a personal, individualistic meaning. In doing so, the poem indirectly paints a contemporary scene that becomes a direct and compassionate critique.
The themes of debt and inheritance are also found in poems that deal with the nature of words themselves. In “On Language,” the reader is presented the following fabulistic conceit:
There were only certain stones
we could step on to cross the river.
The stones we could step on to cross the river
were not certain.
Further developing this conceit, the poet states that “the stones we stepped on/ dropped away behind us/ like the notes of a song.” The connotations of this premise are rich: A set of stones is language, the river is speech, and the other side of the river is meaning. Not only is the transient and harried nature of establishing meaning conveyed, but so is the “not certain” feeling of the human effort to communicate. And yet, the speaker’s fable is one of hope, which the urgency behind the midpoem statement—“Love, stay with me inside this syntax of the river”—makes evident.
The sequence of five poems titled “Post-Elegy” that are scattered throughout the collection present a confluence of debt/inheritance narratives. The first describes how “After the plane went down/ the cars sat for weeks in long-term parking.” The speaker’s journey to retrieve the dead person’s car becomes a process of growing awareness, culminating in the following observations as the speaker drives off:
. . . I realized
I was steering homeward
the down payment
of some house we might live in
for the rest of our lives.
The metaphor here makes grief a physical presence, the car suddenly a space where the memory of the dead person lives on.
In the world of Post-, we are left in such complicated afters: the after of accumulating debt; the after of having to distinguish “the People” from each other; the after of wanting stay inside “this syntax of the river.”
JAA: What role do you feel the personal and the social have in your work as reflected in this collection?
WM: For some time I’ve been interested in complicating that personal-social dichotomy by considering how personal narratives bump up against larger historical moments and metanarratives. Thus, in Post- I’m often trying to entangle the personal and social—to juxtapose them or contextualize each inside the other.
For example, Post-’s opening poem, “The Debt,” depicts a father-son relationship while insistently pulling into the frame how middle-class American life is built structurally on debt. Similarly, “Consumers in Rowboat” presents a tug of war between a couple’s own perception of themselves as private, autonomous individuals and the larger economic perspective that they’re demographically trackable consumers. And throughout the book poems about parenthood and loss sit intentionally beside poems about sociopolitical conflict and violence.
I’ve long loved Donald Justice’s well-anthologized poem “Men at Forty,” which feels personal and distilled as the men move solitarily through their domestic spaces while considering their own aging. When, in the last line, Justice describes their houses as “mortgaged,” it felt to me like an almost shocking (and compelling!) breech of the poem’s private lyrical “purity.” That’s just one small example—but it’s the sort of complicating of lyrical isolation that I was reaching for when I was writing Post-.
Post- is available for purchase from Milkweed Editions.
To find out more about Wayne Miller’s work, check out his site.
Join us for the launch of Acre Books—UC’s new small literary press—at the annual Books by the Banks festival, which takes place at Duke Energy Convention Center this Saturday. Doors open at 10 a.m., and panels and other book-tastic events run until 4 p.m.
Our 45-minute program begins at 2:30 in room 209. Nicola Mason, editor of Acre Books, will begin by reading selections from its signature anthology (and first publication), A Very Angry Baby, to be released in early 2017. Come and hear snippets of works by literary powerhouses Julianna Baggott, Brock Clarke, Andrew Hudgins, Margaret Luongo, Erin McGraw, Jamie Quatro, Josh Russell, and more. Devil babies, apple babies, hungry babies, aged babies, monster babies created in a lab—the anthology runs the gamut (and includes poetry and hybrid forms as well as fiction).
Following the reading, Acre Books will launch its YouTube channel. Sit and enjoy the show as we “air” on the big screen a succinct sampling of videos—following a couple of submissions (one poetry, one prose) through the reading/ranking process at The Cincinnati Review, an imagistic rendering of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s poem “Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon,” a segment of an interview with Brock Clarke, and some comic, language-centric skits.
Last, we’ll offer the kids some game-time fun with our own version Pin the Tail on the Donkey. We’re dubbing our spin-and-stick offering Pin the Wail on the (Angry) Baby. After the blindfolds come off, participants will be soothed with a candy pacifier.
We’ll entertain you and shan’t detain you . . . long. You’ll have time to stroll through the book fair and check out at the many reader-friendly stations lining the halls of the energy center. Hope to see you there!
On Our Poetry Winner, “Very Many Hands” by Aaron Coleman
Poetry Editor Don Bogen: “Very Many Hands” stood out among this year’s strong field of contest entries for, among other things, its overall ambition: It’s the first multi-unit poem to win the award, and it more than meets the challenges that a longer work entails. I was struck by the fine combination of unity and variety among the paragraphs—we’re always in one poem, but it stays fresh over the long haul, with room to shift and surprise. The energy and drive of the piece unit by unit, sentence by sentence, and phrase by phrase, are impressive indeed, the rhythms both intricate and forceful. With images that take us everywhere from a church pew to “man-high seas of crops,” from the Underground Railroad to the San Diego shipyards, “Very Many Hands” is a vivid exploration of past and present, self and others. The poem is big, smart, sensitive, and deft.
Aaron Coleman: We’re living inside a time where many of the myths that have carried us don’t hold the same strength—or at least don’t hold the same meanings—they once held. This prose poem form, trapped and raving inside itself, pushing against those boundaries from within, calls to mind, for me, Terrance Hayes’s concept of “wind in a box.” These paired verse paragraphs, in each page’s dialectic, scramble to push for new parameters wherein an identity might make a home; those parameters, out of necessity, struggle to come to terms with the mess of history, memory, family, religion, shame, guilt, violence, desire . . . I find myself often struggling to work through these topics in a way that feels productive in my poems, and in the case of “Very Many Hands,” and often, I find the doorway in through personal vulnerability, perilously through my body and the bodies of those I love. I hope what comes through in the poem, on some level, is a dynamic and recalibrated spectrum of desires; what happens to us when we work to acknowledge their complexity, and complicity?
I’m interested in the context that a place like Cincinnati might have for a poem like this, on the border of the crucial Ohio River between mythical (and at the same time, dangerously real) North and South, and a pivotal space of the Underground Railroad. Being from the Midwest and having lived around it, I see this poem as born out of our schizophrenic (here I mean “split mind,” in the sense of the word’s Greek roots) midwestern spaces.
Aaron Coleman is the author of St. Trigger, which won the 2015 Button Poetry Prize, and Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2018). A Fulbright Scholar and Cave Canem Fellow from Metro-Detroit, Coleman has lived and worked with youth in locations including Kalamazoo, Chicago, St. Louis, Spain, and South Africa. He’s recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis’s MFA Writing Program and former Public Projects Assistant at Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Recent poems have appeared in Apogee, Boston Review, Fence, Greensboro Review, Pinwheel, River Styx, Tupelo Quarterly, Southern Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He is currently a PhD student in Washington University in St. Louis’s Comparative Literature Program.
On Our Prose Winner, “Stylites Anonymous” by Maureen McGranaghan
Fiction Editor Michael Griffith: “Stylites Anonymous” stood out among a strong field of nearly 600 prose contest entries for its imaginative conceit—that grail I hadn’t even known I was looking for, the Great American Pole-Sitting Story—but even more so for the way that, with a depth of ambition that reveals itself bit by bit, it wittily explores big themes: faith, family, addiction, love, spectacle and asceticism, and more.
Maureen McGranaghan: I first learned about stylites, monks who live atop poles, from William Dalrymple’s 1997 book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East. It was fascinating from beginning to end. In 1994, Dalrymple set off from Mount Athos in Greece and spent six months traversing the Levant to arrive at the Coptic monasteries of Upper Egypt. His book is a survey of the old Byzantine Empire and an exploration of its Christian communities, past and present. I was especially struck (and frightened) by the fierce asceticism of Byzantine monks, who crammed themselves into crawl spaces, locked themselves in hanging cages, or lived atop “styles,” as the poles came to be known, for years at a time. Nor have stylites necessarily died out; Dalrymple interviewed a Syrian monk in Aleppo determined to resurrect the practice (though it’s unlikely his community has survived the current civil war).
I can hardly imagine life atop a pole; it seems uniquely terrifying (I don’t love heights), uncomfortable, and maybe transcendent. What would someone’s daily schedule look like up there? These fifth- and sixth-century monks (when the practice flourished) were serious guys, fearsomely so, but I could not help being amused by imagining them today: on telephone poles and cell phone towers, mystifying people, annoying cops, and drawing lawsuits. The other thing that struck me about them was their singleminded vision, largely divorced from the reality the rest of us inhabit. They were alone in their minds and with God.
When I first began writing about the pole-dwelling father of my story, I did it in the collective we of his children, who just want a normal dad and relief from his shenanigans. Then, as I continued to draft and explore the idea, the character of John emerged, the youngest son, who, alone among his siblings, embraces his father’s faith and fanaticism. Into John I poured some of my own confusion about faith and what constitutes a healthy life. Maxine’s appearance surprised and delighted me. Shrewdly pragmatic, she is the antithesis of the father, a folk hero of this world. Maxine illuminated for me the extent to which we are all playing games with ourselves in one form or another, as we seek to satisfy not only our baser cravings but our need for meaning and deeper fulfillment.
Maureen McGranaghan is a playwright, poet, and fiction writer. Her play Dis Place was developed and performed as part of Bricolage Production Company’s 2014 In the Raw festival. Her fiction recently appeared in Image, and she was a finalist in the 2016 Iowa Review Awards. Her chapbook of poetry, Attached to Earth, was published by Finishing Line Press (2011). For more information, visit www.maureenmcgranaghan.com
Our conscious minds notice only the tiniest fraction of all the stimuli in our environment: car horns, baking bread, ants on the sidewalk, a gust of wind, a buzzing phone. Sometimes, it seems easier to put in our headphones, tune everything out, and get through the day. Thankfully, our issue 13.1 contributors are on high alert, noticing the little, the obscure, and the strange, bringing us the news of a world that is challenging and beautiful. Tabloids we might not notice become critiques of our own voyeurism, a museum we may never visit becomes a site of religious power, and the chilling fog reminds us that unseen does not mean lost. Check out what our contributors have to say about finding inspiration from the world around them.
Allen Forrest: The idea for my comic came to me as I was waiting in line at the grocery store and looking at all those tabloids at the checkout. The psychology of their subjects and headlines made me think “what if” they spelled it out a little more. I am a big fan of the late Mae Brussell and all her amazing research work—so I incorporated some of her views into this piece.
John A. Nieves: Both “Brume” and “While the Radio Was On” are poems in a series on everyday disappearances. I am interested in the way things slip from the world and the different ways people deal with that slippage. “Brume” engages the way fog erases by filling space, by obscuring. I was interested in disappearance by addition instead of subtraction, so even the final note of the poem is one of addition. “While the Radio Was On” engages a particular suspected suicide, though even the finality of that tragic occurrence (and the body disappearing below) gets called into question as the surety about the motive of the act is troubled and doubt dissolves into a narrative we all know perhaps too well. Even the doubt, then, disappears in its own way.
Alison Pelegrin: “The Doomsday Prepper’s Villanelle” was inspired by binge watching (as a comedy) the series Doomsday Preppers. I live in the deep South, where this kind of preparedness has been hard core among citizens since (and probably long before) Y2K. “Hot Sauce Shrine” came to me from all over. There is a found objects/junk museum near my house that has a hot sauce house. A lot of the imagery in that poem I have seen on a country road I drive sometimes to and from work. The last line came from a video featuring the poet Campbell McGrath—I have no idea of the source (I think this was pinned to the wall behind him), but it has always reminded me of Bede’s sparrow.