Archive for the ‘From our Contributors’ Category

Inspired Lines: Bar-Nadav, Hanson, Sunderlin

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

One of the million cool things about making a magazine is putting various works in conversation with each other. No poem is an island, after all. Or, if a poem is an island, then CR, and poetry in general, really, is an archipelago. And like the flora and fauna that travel from one discrete landmass to its neighbor, common images, melodies, and themes—obvious or otherwise—are bound to arise across any selection of work. Language is funny that way: It travels. It haunts. It is shared and borrowed and adapted and revered.

The poets below are quick to recognize their affinity  for a certain mode or line that has inspired them. Hadara Bar-Nadav “enthusiastically join[s] a tradition of writers who have written about objects,” such as Pablo Neruda and Gertrude Stein. Julie Hanson gets permission from Sappho to “give up the struggle against” writing nature poetry. And Jacob Sunderlin pirates Moby-Dick for a way of venerating his buddy, “enthusiastic wearer of flannels,” Grosso.

Hadara Bar-Nadav on “Door,” “Motel,” and “Spine”: I am currently at work on a poetry manuscript that explores the inner lives of objects (both plastic and bodily). This poetry-based exploration of objects in turn reveals the inner lives of humans who depend on, assign meaning to, and fetishize these objects: a wineglass, motel, and thumb. We fill our days with such matter, such clutter. Objects can seem to disappear inside of their particular (and often very necessary) function. Do we really think of the life of the bedroom door, what she has witnessed? Or the fountain with its sculpture of a boy standing naked in a city square? And what of the spine and its relentless support of our cumbersome and thankless heads?

I enthusiastically join a tradition of writers who have written about objects, and I accept them as companions and sources of collaboration, including Francis Ponge, Gertrude Stein, and Pablo Neruda. Like these writers, my poetic investigation of objects through a unique contemporary lens brings to light the visceral and playful potential of our own lives.

Julie Hanson: I can account for the trigger for “It is unconquerable; it has” with surety. I was directed to the subject matter through the words “a vine that grows up trees” (which is, in its entirety, fragment 173 in Anne Carson’s translation of fragments of Sappho, If Not, Winter). Because I know such a vine, and know it well, it might have occurred to me as poetic material much earlier in my life. It didn’t. I suspect that it occurred to me as poetic material at the point of giving in, giving up the struggle against it, at the point, in other words, of my surrender. I suspect, too, that it was in the writing that I was first able to take part in the fun the vine has had with me; before that it was just effort and exasperation and fruitless struggle—which to some extent, of course, remains the case. Nature is bigger than I am. She is the vine, persistent, victorious, and, in this case, creepy!

Jacob Sunderlin on “Grosso”: I used to read Moby-Dick (also written about coincidentally and beautifully in this issue of Cincinnati Review) after getting home from a night job I once had stuffing ads into newspapers, and this passage directly inspired the content and style of the poem: “In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were fabricated, saith tradition, of the tusks of the narwhale. How could one look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod of bones, without bethinking him of the royalty it symbolized? For a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.” Where I’m from in Indiana, my friends do things like work in magnet factories and lay brick and do HVAC and start bands called Wabash Trash and they are my royalty. I’ve written several poems about one of them, Grosso—an Ahab in The Pequod called Wednesday—who is introduced here.

Oblique Elegies: Contributor Comments

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Like many of our friends and colleagues who edit, write, and teach poetry, the CR staff is often asked about the uses of this craft or sullen art. As we hawk our wares at readings, distribute sample copies at neighborhood coffee shops, or even speak with conference-goers at book fairs, readers either curious about poetry or confused about its relevance to their lives shrug and say some version of, “Poetry? But what does it do exactly?”

One possible answer comes from the elegy, one of the oldest subgenres of lyric poetry. Elegies, from the Greek elegeia or “lament,” ask us to enter into the experience of loss, uniting author and reader in shared expressions of grief. Whether praising the life of a deceased public figure or mourning a private loss, elegies, ideally, bring us closer to consolation by giving a form to grief.

Issue 11.1 assembles a number of powerful, moving, and even unlikely elegies that, as Emily Dickinson put it, “tell it slant.” Among these indirect elegies we find a poem that confronts the tragic early death of poet Jake Adam York through the objective correlative of an upright piano destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, as well as an elegy for the dead exhumed from the cemeteries of San Francisco in the 1930s and ’40s, a period in which the city voted to reappropriate this land for other uses. Read on to discover what our contributors have to say on the subject of loss, and how each poet shaped these losses into some of the most mournful, melancholic, and plaintive poems offered in our pages.

Keith Ekiss on “Burial Fragments”: In Buena Vista Park, on the edge of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, if you take the path from Haight Street to the top of the hill, you might notice that the gutters along the walking path are made from marble. It seems rich, this marble, a remnant from another era in which public parks were considered civic treasures. And if you stop and look closely, as a friend once told me to do, you might notice inscriptions, names—or parts of names and dates—and bits of phrases that memorialize the dead. These fragments are the remains of cemetery headstones.

In the 1930s and 1940s, after a series of ballot measures and various proposals, San Franciscans, seeing themselves as short on usable land, started eliminating most of their cemeteries, digging up the graves and building new cemeteries south of the city in Colma. Unclaimed headstones and graveyard statuary (the dead could not object) were broken up and “re-purposed” throughout the city, as seawall by the beach and as gutters in Buena Vista Park. There aren’t many names visible, given all that marble, and I like to think the person who laid the gutters, out of some vestige of respect, tried to hide most of the names. In the back of my mind, I was probably thinking of Richard Hugo’s poem “Graves at Elkhorn,” with its commentary on the way cemeteries reveal cultural values, which ends:

The yard is this far from the town because
when children die the mother should repeat
some form of labor, and a casual glance
would tell you there could be no silver here.

Elton Glaser on “Circuits Open and Closed”: What’s behind this poem never gets into the poem. In April 2011, my wife of forty-two years, apparently in good health, died unexpectedly in her sleep. Ever since then, my own sleep has been erratic. Sometimes I fall asleep at 8:00 and then come awake at midnight, unable to close my eyes again. Variations on that theme make up my nights. This poem probably began with the phrase “my late, abbreviated sleep,” and the images accumulated from that point, prompted by jottings on notecards I’ve kept over the years.  The conclusion of the poems returns to its secret source: “I may have come / To the end of something, but there’s no end to the end.” The poem finds its closure, but the hurt never does.

Christopher Lee Miles on “Battle Tank Truck”: This poem is in memory of my brother. He died young, too young. Rather than label the poem “Elegy” and address him directly, or lament him indirectly, my technical purpose was to melt these common elegiac forms of address into the poem itself. I wanted the images, rather than the voice of the poem, to communicate his absence. I wanted the loss tucked into the very structure of the poem. Did I succeed? I cannot say.

Kevin Simmonds on “Upright”: In 2005, the late poet Jake Adam York traveled to New Orleans. He did so shortly after residents were allowed to return following the breeches of the levees during Hurricane Katrina. I’d asked if he would visit my childhood home and see if my upright piano was still there in my bedroom. He kindly said yes and took several pictures for me to see what was left of it and my home. (I was living in Singapore at the time.) That piano meant a lot to me growing up and I wanted to write a valediction of sorts–not only for the piano but for the other losses the water left in its wake. And I wanted to dedicate it to the memory of a warm-hearted, conscious and talented poet who inspired the poem.

Reoccupying the Office: Salutations

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Hey, all you lit types. We missed you this summer. Hope you got some reading d0ne, swilled some sweetly sour drinks, fed your pets faithfully, and added a few entries to the Annals of Lawn Care. (We know you didn’t go to that Tom Cruise flick, because that thing lost millions.)

We’ve been pretty productive over the so-called break and will soon have some Schiff Prize winners to announce, an amazing graphic play to gladden your eyeballs, and a fall/winter issue (now with the typesetter) jam-packed with long-form goodness (thanks again, NEA)!

With the new term we say a sad farewell to departing Associate Editor Brian Trapp (tears, lamentation) and a cheery hello to new Assistant Editor Don Peteroy, who has served the mag valiantly for four years—even starting his own characteristically zany blog category: Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers. (Look for a new entry later this week.)

In the spirit of transition, we give you a last look back at issue 10.2. For those of you who’ve fallen out of the CR loop, issue 11.1 hit stacks and stands and all manner of grubby palms this July. It’s our 10th anniversary issue, so grab it if you haven’t already.

Now: Volume 10, Number 2, we remember you!

Emily Dickinson wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Robert Frost had a paralyzing fear of public speaking. A certain poet in the CR office only makes eye contact while wearing sunglasses. Poets are notoriously introverted. They spend a lot of time looking out the window, which is probably why, when pressed to make small talk, they are apt to comment on the weather. Read on to learn how our 10.2 contributors have made an art form of window gazing, and elevated “the weather” from small talk to poetry:

Catherine Pierce (on “The Tornado Wants a Companion”): I grew up on the East Coast, where we had occasional hurricanes and blizzards, but never tornadoes. When I moved in 2007 to north Mississippi, a place that frequently experiences tornadic activity (to use a phrase often heard on TV here), I was struck by how terrifying I found this phenomenon—far more terrifying than even the worst weather incidents in my hometown. Eventually I realized my fear stemmed not from the statistical odds of being killed by a tornado (those odds are lower than the odds of dying from, say, smoke inhalation or electrocution, things I don’t think much about in my day-to-day life), but because tornadoes seem to me to have agency. Unlike a hurricane or snowstorm, which just occurs all around you, here’s this single, discrete thing that you can actually witness wreaking havoc. You can watch it coming, and you can hope it doesn’t come for you. I wanted to write a series of poems that explore that agency: If a tornado had a reason, what would it be? What in the world is it that the tornado wants?

Katherine Bode-Lang (on “Death in Midsummer”): I have long been fascinated with astronomy—the sky and our smallness in its presence. This poem is one moment when the strange weather of the hills met our movement against the sky. And I happened to be looking out the window at the right time.

Kurt Steinwand (on “Frankie the Storm” ): Storms in the news. We give them names, personalities; Sandy with her ironic innocence, though the displaced sand of the Jersey Shore made a connection. The Media sensationalizes, tells the stories. My storm was Italian, a goombah, an intruder, no admired Rocky Balboa. The storm was serious, a shorted-lived member of the Mob who thought he was in cahoots with God; His henchman, maybe even thought he was better, an extension of the Almighty, the Short Reign of Frankie IV. I gave him a name, then believed it was too gratuitous, too legitimizing. I took it out, then put it back in the title and let him have his little moment in the clouds. The power of a poet is often to give a brief life, Godlike, allow it to blow onto the page, be taken seriously with all the senses, and be gone. Or is he? When at the end he’s still “coming in.” That was the essence of this poem.

On Marriage: Duffy-Comparone, Beasley, Clark, Seaton

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Divorce. The rate in the US, by some estimates, is 50 percent, but it seems like more. I mean, Al Gore and Tipper. Not to mention Deb and Gary, your high school friend’s really cool parents. And Gwyneth Paltrow and that guy from Coldplay? If they can’t make it, who can?  As Louis C. K. says, “Marriage is just a larvae stage for true happiness, which is divorce.” He says that because he is . . . yep . . . divorced. Everyone, it seems, is either divorced or getting married so they can get divorced. So why try? Why tie the knot in the first place?

For one, you crazy kids, it might just work out. And for two, you might get some fantastic poems and stories out of it, like our four contributors in CR 10.2, who find inspiration in this ancient institution. Emma Duffy-Comparone addresses whether there is marriage through our many reincarnated lives, if you have a soul mate as a fish or a birch tree. Bruce Beasley ponders the intersection of marriage and atmospheric disturbance (hint: wind is divorce). Kevin Clark found his poem in the juxtaposition of an Italian Renaissance painting and the story of a marital love life gone stale. And Maureen Seaton looks at her daughter’s marriage for proof that her generation’s idealism has not gone to waste.

Bruce Beasley (on his poem “On Marriage”): During a period of several weddings of couples close to me, set alongside divorces of several other couples at the same time, I started thinking of marriage as a balance of desire and satiation, stability and restlessness for change.  During a windstorm I started mulling the fact that what we call “wind” is nothing but air driven by changing atmospheric conditions into motion. I thought “divorce is to marriage as wind is to air”: an unexpected turbulence that disrupts or destroys.  The inverse, though, also seemed true: marriage as a contained turbulence of desire. In thinking about the weddings and the divorces (and a divorce followed quickly by a marriage) I thought about the word immotive, which means “unmoving, immovable,” but sounds a great deal like emotive, which means “moved.”  Marriage, then, as a mixture of the emotive and the immotive, the moving and the unmoveable.  Marriage as a mixture of stasis and change, the restlessness of desire and the stability of devotion. I went looking for oxymoronic words and phrases—“hold fast” suggesting both stillness and speed; “still” containing both incompletion and change on the one hand (still going on) and motionlessness and stasis on the other (stillbirth) to suggest the paradoxical nature of marriage as a stillness amid the perturbations of change.

Emma Duffy-Comparone (on her story “Crossing the Sagamore”): I watched a Ted Talk once about how mushrooms can save the world: something about how they can clean up our most brutal waste, our oil spills, and our nuclear meltdowns. After learning this I went nuts, cooking with them almost every night. I think the affair lasted about a week, and then I called it off. But then I kept dreaming that I had beautiful gills down my ribs. I think these gills were more like a mushroom than a fish, but that made sense, too: my love for the ocean is so physical I’d have to call it lust, and I’ve always known on some level that I’ve lived in there. I mean, I just know I was a fish. And then, partly related to this issue is the question of whether there is a soul mate, one you keep bumping into whether you’re tuna together or birch trees on the side of the highway or soldiers in the Civil War, etc. I’m not sure if I believe it, but Deirdre and Ted seemed to, and then I sent Ted away. And in the meantime I gave those mushrooms a lot of work to do.

Kevin Clark (on his poem “Watching Kira Learn to Surf”): The poem emerged out of the longest sequence I’ve ever attempted. I’d known a long-married woman decades ago who broke up with her husband because he had no imagination in bed. Year after year, same thing in the same order, no matter what, she said. I’m sure that wasn’t the only problem, but I’d carried the idea of such a circumstance around in the back of my mind until I thought to myself, hey, that could be a dramatic subject for a poem. The effort led to the idea for a verse novel I’m calling Magdalene in Ecstasy, after a Renaissance painting by Sigismondo Coccapani. I want each poem to stand on its own, much in the manner of Andrew Hudgins’s After the Lost War, even though my book is structured differently than his. Marie, the speaker of “Watching Kira Learn to Surf,” is the main character, though two others speak as well: her ex-husband Jesse, a Vietnam vet and surf shop owner suffering silently from PTSD, and a lonely Italian lit professor named Raffaele with whom she’d spent a memorable night in the Baja when they were both twenty. Kira is Marie and Jesse’s only child. The poem describes a key moment in which Marie is with Jesse when she realizes that she must eventually leave him. The three characters have experienced a mix of deeply erotic and spiritual longing on their way to hard-earned, barely certain self-reliance.

Maureen Seaton (on her poem “Skinny Dipping”): “Skinny Dipping” came along as one of those poems that slams into your brain, messes with it, and leaves by the back door. I’ve been trying ever since to figure out if I actually believe what I wrote. I want to. I want a practical idealism, not something my imagination cooked up to keep me in the poppy field. I wrote it at 7,500 feet above sea level in New Mexico, far from the farmland of upstate New York, observing my daughter and her husband as they went about their gentle lives: December 2012. I think it occurred to me that something luminous had indeed survived from those four sodden days, our small and large wars, our bare feet and poppies. That my father had been wrong, after all, and there was Mike’s and my kid and Diane and Morton’s kid to prove it. Look at them, I thought, and the poem crashed into me fiercely, like music at 3 a.m., Woodstock, turn of an epoch.

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.

Welcoming Whelm

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

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

Contributor News

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

We’ve received some delightful news from contributor Katherine Bode-Lang, who just learned her poetry manuscript “The Reformation” has been awarded the 2014 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. All three of the poems published in our pages are included in the collection, which will be available for purchase in September. The selection was made by Stephen Dunn. Congrats, Katie!

Anxieties of Influence: Bagoo, Edmeades, Joyner, Schutt

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
As Harold Bloom contends, most poets, whether they admit it or not, struggle to surpass their influences. Wordsworth arm-wrestles Milton for The Prelude. Stevens posits a secular vision of the sublime to rival Dante’s devout cosmology. And part of Shakespeare, however deep and dark, envies Ingram Frizer for stabbing Kit Marlowe in the face.

Four poets published in issue 10.1 take a less violent, if equally revisionary, approach. Andre Bagoo uses a technique he borrowed from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to write an unauthorized biography in verse. Lynley Edmeades follows the lead of four giants of Irish and American poetry to access the origins of language itself. Janet Joyner credits Jacques Cousteau with helping her link the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis with the massive 2010 Transocean oil spill in the Gulf Coast. And Will Schutt negotiates the terms of his literary debts to Elizabeth Bishop and Du Fu in order to gain possession of his own poems.

Andre Bagoo (on five poems from All Streets Lead to the Sea): About two years ago I read Borges poem “Las Calles (The Streets)” with its closing line: “unfold the streets—and they too are my country.” At around the same time, I had begun a collaboration with the poet Vahni Capildeo called Disappearing Houses, which saw me spend time walking around the streets of Port-of-Spain, where I grew up and live, photographing things. Also at this time, my nephew Luke was obsessed with the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with its fantastic device of a living map that betrayed the whereabouts of all through magically changing footprints on its surface. I thought of writing, in a series of poems, an unauthorized biography of someone, but based solely on key experiences they had on key streets in their life: a kind of personal history; a biographical map. Thus, “White Street” recalls one such event for the protagonist:  tenor Eddie Cumberbatch’s performance of Schubert’s Das Winterreise at the Little Carib Theatre in 2011. All Streets Lead to the Sea, the name of the entire sequence, remains ongoing, but many of the poems in it have already been published, scattered across diverse journals and publications, as they should be.

Lynley Edmeades (on “Deipnosophy,” “Expenditure,” and “Interior, Midday”): During 2011-2012, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was a year dedicated to the study and writing of poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queens University. I was fortunate, also, to attend the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh, where I saw Jorie Graham and Paul Muldoon perform. When I look back, I can see a clear line between what I was writing at that time and what I had been surrounding myself with. Seeing and reading Paul Muldoon during that year (his influence on Northern Irish poetry is indispensable) taught me a lot about form and encouraged my growing interest in etymology and lexicography (hence “Deipnosophy” and “Expenditure”). Seeing Jorie Graham opened up a space around silence and place, the metaphysical capabilities of the poem (hence “Interior, Midday”). My teacher and mentor during my time in Belfast was the poet Sinead Morrissey. Her influence on my own process has now become something quite elementary. These three poems are all, upon reflection, an attempt to get inside language, to embody the reality that language enables.

Janet Joyner (on “The Edge Has Moved to the Center”): It was not so much the Deepwater Horizon well explosion, which took life and dumped unparalleled quantities of oil into the Gulf, that was the initial spur for my poem “The Edge Has Moved To The Center,” but rather the “clean up” procedure of dispersing chemicals to break up the oil floating on the surface so that it would descend, in small bits, to the ocean floor. And there remain, out of sight, out of mind. Justified by the sea’s “diluting factor.” To enter, as Jacques Cousteau once said, “the planetary currents and upwellings and winds that keep atmosphere and ocean in constant motion—reacting one with another, maintaining Earth’s temperature and the sea’s alkalinity and oxygenation endlessly circulating as though they were a pulsing bloodstream and Earth itself a living organism. Finite and fragile, minuscule but majestic: air and water, the fluids of life.” This same principle of “dilution” underlay the schemes enabling the subprime mortgage scandal at the root of  the financial crisis now known as our Great Recession. With “clean up” procedures that left untouched those most responsible for it.  And, as it turns out, if business really is America’s only business, then pollution by assault weaponry will go largely unchecked.

Will Schutt (on “Ambitions” and “Biking Down Beach Lane I Spy a Group of Fox Kits Underneath an Empty Summer Rental”): Both “Ambitions” and “Biking Down Beach Lane I Spy A Group of Fox Kits Underneath an Empty Summer Rental” were written in the early spring out on pretty Eastern Long Island, a place packed during the summer and relatively dead in winter, where the inbetweeness of spring is acutely felt. I was working from home and spent the early mornings and late afternoons watching animals: wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and, yes, once, a brood of fox kits. For whatever reason, I wanted to record their presence before the summer crowds—I told myself—drove them into hiding again. Perhaps, aware of their failure to capture the animals, the poems have more to do with our natural yet inexplicable desire to preserve things (in art, in writing). I was reading David Young’s translations of Du Fu and re-reading Elizabeth Bishop, especially her poem “The End of March.” For the scoring and spare punctuation, I owe a debt to Young’s Du Fu; the looking closely bit I get from Bishop. As for the liesurely pace and flights of fancy—those cowbells at the end of “Biking” are all in my head—I hope I can claim them for my own. But maybe they’re theirs too.

Art-Song Offering

Friday, November 8th, 2013

A bit of news related to our developing interest in words and music. (Look for our first art-song feature in our November issue, coming soon!)

Kevin Simmonds, whose poems appeared in 9.2 and will also appear in 11.1 (spring/summer 2014), is the composer of a musical piece being performed this weekend and next in San Francisco. The piece concerns the life and death of Emmett Till, the African American teen who in 1955, after allegedly whistling at a white woman, was kidnapped from his uncle’s home, brutally beaten, shot in the head, and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. The photograph of his open casket became an iconic image that circulated throughout the world, and Emmett Till immediately became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

Simmonds also wrote half the text of this unusual and powerful presentation, which, utilizing a combination of Japanese Noh and religious oratorio, includes poetry, musical settings of poetry, characters, a chorus, and an instrumental ensemble—all in a concert presentation.