Archive for the ‘From our Contributors’ Category

Exposing Our Roots: Coben, Wineman, Revell, Bagdanov

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Seamus Heaney’s famous poem “Digging” provides a well-loved metaphor for the writing process: pen as spade, the past as soil. “Between my finger and my thumb,” he writes, “The squat pen rests./I’ll dig with it.” In discussing their work from our upcoming winter issue (due late November), several contributors similarly explain their process as a kind of excavation—or, by contrast, a palimpsest built upon the past. Whether finding inspiration in family, biography, the literary canon, or the human body itself, these writers all reveal the constant presence of history on the page.

Joshua Coben: “Antechamber” is one of several poems about fatherhood that I’ve worked on in recent years. It reflects some of my most troubling questions about myself as a son and as a father of sons. I am trying to come to grips with the legacy of silence and misunderstanding that can be passed from taciturn father to quiet son across generations. Each son tries and, in many ways, fails to penetrate the mystery of his father. He seeks not only love, but also the means to understand himself. His father’s example, with all the unanswered questions it engenders, inevitably informs the kind of father he will grow into. This poem tries to convey the ancient dance of filial longing and paternal love, where the latter is often concealed behind barriers we do not mean to erect. The three-beat lines give it the lilt of a waltz, as father and son circle each other, changing places with each turn of the generational wheel.

Steven Wineman: When I heard about Alice Goffman’s book On the Run, I was drawn to the subject (a study of fugitive life in a poor African American neighborhood) and curious whether she was related to the great sociologist Erving Goffman. I did some poking around on the internet and found that, sure enough, Alice is Erving’s daughter. I also learned that Erving Goffman died when Alice was a baby, which seemed especially poignant given that he had remarried only the year before, at the age of fifty-nine. I came upon something else I had not known about Goffman: his first wife suffered from bipolar disorder and committed suicide in 1964. Suddenly I had a very personal link to Erving’s biography; I also was married to a woman who struggled with bipolar disorder and who took her life. I began to think about how to weave all these strands—a young woman taking up the work of the father she lost as an infant; two women crushed by mental illness; two husbands overwhelmed by suffering and loss—into a single essay. “Erving and Alice and Sky and Elisabeth” is the result.

Donald Revell on “Fresh Dante”: The poem for me arose from a crowd of living palimpsests—the city of Toulouse, vivid now as it was vivid centuries ago as the capital of the Troubadors; the Garonne, a river running through the city and through the Cantos of Ezra Pound; a sense of Dante in the midst of all, still and still embodied as he was in Eternity where his shadow dumbfounded the shades, including the shades of the Troubadors themselves; and eventually my own flesh, inscribing and effacing my days. We die into our books and then out of them again. The imperfections of our words match the imperfection of our loves, in the flesh and out of it. For me, Toulouse is at the center of it all.

Kristin George Bagdanov on “Resurrection Body”: I worry about extinction. I wonder how much of my life is actually an interaction with residue (shadow, echo, fossil, language) rather than the thing itself. I wonder if a poem, like the world, is always tending toward extinction, if the poem itself is a fossil in the making. In “Resurrection Body,” I reimagine the concepts of metempsychosis and bodily resurrection by considering the fact that our material bodies are not wholly our own—they are both person and thing, self and other, human and other-than-human. The human body, for example, has ten times more bacterial cells than human ones—so what implications does this have for calling one’s body “human” or saying “I”? This poem also elegizes the current and future loss of this world; the last line could be read as hopeful, or perhaps a realization forged too late in this epoch: that the damage we’ve inflicted upon other bodies is damage we’ve inflicted upon our own, and that this residue will persist beyond any individual’s death.

James McMichael Reading and Our Next Cover!

Friday, September 18th, 2015

For those nearby: frequent CR contributor (see our current issue) and National Book Award finalist James McMichael will be at UC for two events this afternoon. At 3:00 in the Elliston Room, there will be a Q&A, followed by a short break and then a poetry reading at 4:00.

And now we unveil the cover for the upcoming winter issue (12.2), featuring the work of visual artist Alicia LaChance, as well as poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction by Carl Phillips, Rebecca Hazelton, Allison Campbell, Dave Mondy, Colin Fleming, Wendy Rawlings, and Nicholas Montemarano.



Art Song Recording: “The body remembers . . .”

Thursday, September 10th, 2015


Composer and poet Kevin Simmonds has provided us with a recording of his setting of C. Dylan Bassett’s poem “The body remembers . . .”. The score is featured in our current issue. As poetry editor Don Bogen writes in his introduction to the piece: “Music, like poetry, doesn’t belong to just the eyes. Both arts find life also in the ears and in the breath—the body remembers, indeed.”

Ongoing Subscription Offer

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

poetryAs a followup to Monday’s post, whereby we offered readers sample passages from our forthcoming fiction, we’re now presenting a poetry gallimaufry, as it were. AND we’ll make good on our subscription bonus till the end of this week. In short, if you subscribe today, tomorrow, or Friday, we’ll send you a gratis copy of our graphic play MOTH with your first issue of the journal.


From “Not the Waves As They Make Their Way Forward” by Carl Phillips (Visiting UC in the spring!)

Like Virgil, Marcus Aurelius died believing that his triumphs,

when pitched against his failures, had come to very little.

I don’t know. Given the messiness of most lives (humble,

legendary, all the rest in between)—their interiors,

I mean—it’s hard to say he was wrong. Black night.


From “Necessity” by Allison Campbell

You can’t put a cold heart in the microwave for sixty seconds. It will not heat evenly. Some portions of the heart will still be cold, others much too hot. No, you cannot reheat the heart. The heart needs space.


From “Fresh Dante” by Donald Revell

Berries are nice, Lady.

Grishkin is nice, Lullay.

The soul of Toulouse rots through.

Creation is one way. Creation

Is the other way too.


From “April Incantation” by Maggie Dietz

Crack new bourns and boundaries

into parceled plots. Wreck even


the season that reared you: lick

the lilacs into sobbing heaps.


From “Reach for Your Inside Rain” by Emily Vizzo

How easy to be on my knees. My face on the bed.

Take whatever you want, I tell God. My buddy God

ignores me. Patience is his best trick


From “St. Louis Symphonic” by Philip Schaefer

A chorus of fingers

connected to a chorus of brain activities

which leads to a final chorus of breaths

on the other end of the street. A body

becoming a mural, a glowing coral reef.


From Translation series: part of a twelve-poem series “Lu Neza / Sobre el Camino” (“On the Road”) by Irma Pineda, trans. Wendy Call

The sea went deaf and tossed us

into the desert’s arms

The sea went deaf and hurled us

on a path to other places


From “Make No Bones About It” by Cindy Beebe

Make no bones that float. Or sink, either. Make hay, rather. Make barley, alfalfa, the cows will love you. The cows will bow to you in one smooth, synchronous plié. A little cow ballet.


From “Traveling Circus” by George David Clark

The stilts telescope. The big top folds and folds.

My shirt is the lion inside out, his canines for the cufflinks.

When I’ve vacuum-sealed the acrobats inside their leotards,

I use the high wire to tether the tent stakes.


From “Ant in Amber” by Ashley Keyser

Tiger-iris, me the pupil

learning history

is density. Bride, bare


your throat. You palaces

burning at the bottom of the sea,

fathom me.







Snifters of Snippets

Monday, August 31st, 2015

werebackFall term is in full swing here at UC, and the halls are hopping. So is our office. We have two new staffers—Rochelle Hurt and Jose Araguz—as well as a fresh group of grad volunteers. We’re already in the thick of the submissions you fine people are sending our way—and we’re awaiting the proof (due next week) of our winter 2016 number, which is positively primo (if we do say so). Here are a few snippets of prose from 12.2 to wet your lit whistle. To belly up to the CR bar, become a subscriber. As added inducement, we’ll send those who subscribe this week a gratis copy of our 64-page, full-color graphic play, MOTH (a $12 value). It’s the literary equivalent of an absinthe fizz. Look for more excerpts from our forthcoming issue later this week!


Wendy Rawlings, “Restraint”

The hotel room door opens as if on its own. He always steps behind it. More ceremony. Maybe it’s military. One time he had her to his house when the wife was away and asked her to take off her shoes. She thought at first his request must be forensic. Shred the evidence. If he killed her he could dispose of the body. Illicit acts, illicit thoughts. They sat in his den and drank bourbon with Coke and lime. Fabulous heavy glassware, made in the last century. One day she would be a real adult, and own things. He had made another request. Would she remove the rest of her clothes? She had chosen a short black skirt with a pink silk blouse and black sandals with tiny pink flowers hand-painted on them from her one time in Spain. All that effort for flowers. She took her time removing each piece and folding it. Then sat with her legs crossed to drink a second bourbon.


Michael Byers, “Stone”

After minutes of liquid agony, during which he was reduced to a burning nothingness, there came the urge to urinate again, and he gingerly felt for the bottle and applied it to himself in time, and after two more codeine the ceiling began to paint itself in deeply saturated tones of gray and blue, and when he woke the room was dark and someone had turned a Mariners game up very loud, very far away, or so it seemed. Then more time passed without making an account of itself and he was in pain again—this time the pain seeming to have acquired a mind and a will, now wanting him to understand something, that obligations had to be met, that certain performances had to be assured. He spent what seemed like weeks in conversation with this entity. They were on a wide, sandy desert, and then they entered a large open sandy room, which was also the sandy desert. In this way the pain was showing him the terms of their agreement.


Leslie Pietrzyk, “How We Leave Home”

Talk about Roger Ackroyd. Talk about the gig, a good one with a cranking crowd and a decent take. Two glasses of bourbon for me, bigger, taller. Five for him. We found the bottom of the bottle. When he grabbed my shoulders and jammed his lips onto mine, when his tongue scooped through my mouth, when he moaned my name, my real name, no childish nickname, and muttered, “Oh shit-shit-shit-shit,” when his hand snaked down through my tube top and I straddled him right where he sat in my father’s chair, when these things happened and then more things happened, more, I kept my eyes open. I saw everything. It was my own life arriving—finally—and there I was, watching it all spool loose.

CR and Poetry Daily

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Poetry Daily is once again featuring some of our content. Today’s poem: Benjamin S. Grossberg’s “McGuire’s Twenty-Five Minutes” from our newly released summer number.


Song of “Sefiros”

Monday, July 20th, 2015

At last we can present the recording of our “art song” offering based on Jakob Stein’s poem “Sefiros” (both published in our Winter 2015 issue). Contributor and musician Claudia Monpere offers her informed and sensitive response to playing Ellen Ruth Harrison’s score.

Claudia Monpere: I love the fusion of music and poetry, but I’ve never been involved in a collaboration of the two arts. After reading the winter 2015 issue of The Cincinnati Review, I sit at the piano and play Ellen Ruth Harrison’s score of Jakob Stein’s poem “Sefiros.” Oh, what a haunting and lovely composition of a deeply moving poem. Since the parts for both violin and soprano are in the treble clef, I experiment, playing the soprano part an octave higher, then trying the violin section an octave lower. I experiment further, sometimes singing the words, other times reading them silently as I play.

The key of A minor is perfect for this elegy, and the music enhances the poem’s emotional intensity. Holocaust images of fire, bones, and ash are juxtaposed with private loss. As my left hand plays the frequent sequences of triplets, the keys accumulate waterfalls of grief. There are no full chords in this piece. Instead, there are double-stops which heighten the mournful quality. I play slowly, very slowly—“In every abandoned chamber of names charred limbs & leaves read by black flame”—until the tempo quickens and the music turns discordant: “bone-known and written in skeletal verse.”

Stein’s language is replete with consonance and assonance. Harrison’s score lingers on some words and phrases, intensifying the music in the language. With those searing final images: “black plume, bottomless chasm, blazing gate,” my right hand strikes the high A hard—forte—a tied note holding on, gripping through another waterfall triplet,falling downward while the left hand fades—pianissimo. Then the final double-stop of D and A, a long tie, echoes of loss, eons of loss. Silence.


Return to Proof Mountain

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

page mountainWe are in the thick of a thick stack of proofs for our upcoming summer issue—335 pages thick, to be precise. Yep, it’s our second long forms issue, and we aim to have it at the printer by mid-May. In other words, time is as short as the issue is long, and it doesn’t help that we keep lingering on arresting passage after passage, such as these lines from Brandon Amico’s “Book of Distances”:


Chapter eleven is ash, twelve wheezes out

of the book and accordions down the stairs,

thirteen is a map of my eyelid. The box

in the map’s corner shows one inch

to equal one year or one heartbreak,

whichever comes first.


Or these from Steve De Jarnatt’s “Harmony Arm”:

Ma let him in on some oddball Gunderson history. In the nineteenth century, half the clan had briefly given themselves over to an offshoot of the Charles Fourier Phalanx and run off to Utopia, Ohio. This collectivist movement believed that if humans could live together in peach for sixteen generations, a new appendage would evolve, a human tail called a Harmony Arm. It would be as powerful as an alligator’s, but supple as a cat’s. A sort of prehensile hand flexing at the tip—a huge thumb and two fingerish knobs with the retractable talons of an eagle. This reenvisioned noble ape in touch with his true nature would flourish, wielding the tail-arm as a labor aid, weapon, and even a source of sensual pleasure.

Look for more snippets in the weeks to come, and for a sneak peak at the cover, click here.

Vampires, the Interwebs, and the Voice of God: Sam Taylor on “#GodIs (2.0)”

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

potluckIssue 11.2 begins with a raucous, sprawling, peripatetic feast of a poem that posits a contemporary definition of the Almighty: an omnipotent androgyne, both hilarious and terrifying, who “Says forgetabout in a New York accent,” “Reads self-help books,” and is most definitely “not going to attend your potluck.” Read on to discover the genesis of this expansive dialectic between maker and Maker, which includes a nod to the manic sixteenth-century author of Jubilate Agno, who was mistakenly confined in a mental asylum and eventually died in debtor’s prison.

Sam Taylor: I am a hardcore night owl—I jokingly call myself a vampire—and sometimes when I hit a particularly interesting flow of thought, I don’t go to sleep at all. I wrote what would become “#GodIs (2.0)” on one such night. I remember staying up all night writing and then going for a walk the next day with my friend, the poet Albert Goldbarth, in the groggy, altered state that skipping sleep often produces. While I knew I liked a lot of what I had written, I did not necessarily know if it was anything, or think of it as a poem, and I don’t think I even mentioned it to Albert.

mindbendingThe poem wears its writing process rather transparently, such that I feel a bit superfluous commenting on it. The writing began with the initial lines, with the thought of God getting reckless, revealing himself and her cosmic design rather directly in the infamous congressman’s name. But, it was really the voice, not the thought itself, that came alive there from the beginning. Once sprung, the voice surprised me with how much it had to say about everything.  I kept thinking it was done, kept beginning to write other things, only to have the voice start back up.

For me, it was exciting because it consolidated the mystical themes of my first book and the political themes of my second book, while wrapping both of them in a new voice.  I suppose the voice is part ecstatic and part ironic, part mystical and part outraged, part serious and part absurdist. It also discusses grand themes in an extremely casual vernacular that is irreverent and comic, but is not at all unserious.

The lines remained in my notebook for more than a year before I ever looked to do anything with them.  Initially, I thought that the poem would need to be trimmed and tamed more. I thought I might select the best lines and shape a more focused, compressed order. But the more I worked with it, the more I thought the poem’s essential life really lay in being a sprawling, wild ride of excess, something like Christopher Smart’s  “For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffry.” I kept cutting lines only to put them back in. Even the weaker lines that at first felt unimportant seemed to contribute to the larger pacing and rhythm of thought. So, in the end, the final poem is only slightly edited from the original writing. There are poems that take me years to write and others that arrive complete in a single day or in twenty minutes. This one took place in a few hours one night, but it took me years to know that.

Where the Heart Is: Davis, Kimbrell, Miller, and Vang

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

cabinSara Watson: Since my MFA years at Chatham University, a program grounded in themes of nature and travel writing, I’ve developed a particular interest in poetry of place. So much of my own work looks inward, or, at its most ambitious, reaches out from my body toward another. I love it when other poets are able to look up, to look around, to record a world outside themselves. The contributors below have taken their inspiration from a number of locales, using place to investigate themes of home, family, history, and identity.

Susan Davis on “Bertie Mae”: The manuscript from which these poems have been taken is about houses and how people relate to them. How do they feel about the private and public parts, other people’s houses, empty houses telling wordless stories, ownership, centeredness, towns/villages/suburbs and cities, and how they shape the types of dwellings people call home? How did house-building develop in America? The “Bertie Mae” poems are specifically my mother’s stories, starting in 1921 on a farm, ending with a widow alone in a house filled with the memory of her husband. They are snapshots of her along that life path. Although the poems have an elegiac quality, she is very much alive at ninety-three, filling us all with admiration, and challenging me to think of how I will leave myself to my own children.

James Kimbrell on “Pluto’s Gate: Mississippi”: I ran across an article in 2013 about the discovery of an ancient cave opening in Hierapolis, Turkey, believed by archeologist Francesco D’Andria to be the famed gates of the underworld, replete with toxic mist capable of killing any animal that had the ill fortune to breathe there. We all have our own hells with their own gates. Naturally, I started thinking about my home state of Mississippi, and about how far the state—given its history of poverty and racism—has come, and how far it hasn’t. More than most poems I’ve written, I felt that this poem was out of my control, a feeling like being a ventriloquist’s dummy, my mouth getting worked by some unknown voice, both scary and one hell of a rush. In short, this poem is a love letter to Mississippi, and to my friends there, especially to poet C. Leigh McInnis, whom I’ve known since we were both teenagers in the Mississippi Army National Guard, writing poems on legal pads with our desk drawers open so that if anybody walked in our office, we could close the drawers in one quick motion and appear to be hard at work on matters of military readiness.

Wayne Miller: I wrote “Marriage” in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where my wife and two-year-old daughter had accompanied me for six months while I was teaching at Queen’s University on a Fulbright. We were living in faculty housing—a narrow, street-level apartment across from campus—and it poured freezing rain for the first three months we were there. Also important: My wife and I were in our eleventh year as a couple (and second year with a child)—a point in a relationship pretty much no one can imagine when they first get together. Probably because of the weather-induced confinement of those first three months, I kept dreaming myself into different, exotic locales, which was ironic since we’d just traveled all that way to be in Belfast—where, of course, I always woke to find myself. The way my mind kept reaching out and returning home—that lassoing—seemed to me a good description of how a relationship comes to operate ten (or more) years in. As soon as I found the rhyming form, the poem took off.

Mai Der Vang: “Cipher Song” emerged from my attempt to explore and reconcile the lack of an official literary history within my Hmong culture. It’s the idea of writing about not having writing. Yet how does one even begin to tackle such a daunting and elusive past? It’s overwhelming, to say the least, especially given that this history carries profound implications for a new generation of Hmong-American writers like myself, who are seeking to shape a literary identity. In this poem, I try to explore how something as simple as a jacket, along with other items of clothing, can have attached to it centuries of literary and historical documentation. As an oral culture, the Hmong fled southern China in the mid-1800s as a result of persecution, and many migrated into Laos along with other parts of Southeast Asia. Yet just before fleeing, the women secretly embroidered colorful symbols and patterns onto their clothes to represent what the Hmong had been through so they would not forget their history. Much of this traditional clothing is still worn today in our culture.

“Toward Home” is a poem in search of the idea of home, which, to me, is also the search for origin. I feel like I’m constantly digging toward the past, trying to find vestiges of my Hmong cultural history because so little of it was documented. While this poem does not explicitly take up that notion, it still tries to convey the sense of searching for something unexplainable only to be left feeling vulnerable. Craft-wise, I was obsessed at the time with pairing odd objects together, things that just didn’t make any sense. I seem to always be journeying backward, and so much of that internal process can be confusing and bewildering yet still lead to some bizarre and beautiful discoveries, like an oryx as a window, or a lighthouse inside a cave.