Archive for the ‘From our Contributors’ Category

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.

Special Fiction Feature: Tom Paine’s “It Was Just Swimming”

Monday, April 13th, 2015

covsketch_final (2)We’re doing something unusual with this feature—running a piece from our pages (in this case a story in our current issue, “It Was Just Swimming” by Tom Paine) in its entirety on our blog. We hope to present you with more such content in the future, and we are grateful to LSU Press for allowing us to reprint the story, which will appear in Tom Paine’s collection, A Boy’s Book of Nervous Breakdowns, this October. Below we offer commentary from volunteers and staff members Katie Knoll, A’Dora Phillips, and Nicola Mason, as well as remarks by the writer on his work. To read “It Was Just Swimming,” click here.

From A Boy’s Book of Nervous Breakdowns:  Stories by Tom Paine, Copyright © 2015.  Reprinted by permission of LSU Press,  All rights reserved.

Katie Knoll: Tom Paine’s “It was Just Swimming” is the perfect example of a story going where you’re convinced it won’t, where it can’t—where, in its first lines, it has already promised to go. “They asked the clerk at the Best Western if the water was safe. . . . of course it was safe!” Reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Paine lets disaster lurk in every line, capturing the strangeness and danger of a day on the Florida beaches. The story’s roving gaze makes each image unexpected, each action as surreal as the next. “People up and down the beach baked under a sherbet of umbrellas. The American flag was snapping. The sky was plutonium blue. He was going to ask his girl to marry him tonight.” The piece has this delightful willingness to just experience itself—the world it creates—and the mind of the man who takes it all in. This willingness to just see lends a wild energy in the piece, which races from grandmothers giving tongue-kisses to asphyxiating boys to car-chase scenes, all while maintaining the kind of heart-stopping line-writing like “when the sunset murdered the sky.” “It Was Just Swimming” left me reeling; eager to stay in Paine’s world, a little scared to get out of it.


A’Dora Phillips: Who doesn’t wonder what might be lurking in the ocean’s depths? In “It Was Just Swimming,” this ubiquitous sense of unease adds to the bewitchment in the story’s backdrop: Is the water enchanted or dangerous? The eerie slipstream mode Paine has adopted works well to create an elusive sense of what is real. The trouble, we might think, is the narrator himself, who has “gotten weird lately,” his impressions warped as his mind feverishly travels from thoughts of his pregnant girlfriend giving birth in a Jacuzzi to perceptions of the Kodachrome-brilliant beach. At the vacation hotel, the clerk seems too old to have children, yet his “twin boys” are out there, catching silver minnows. When there’s “something grainy,” some “weird alien stuff” on the protagonist as he surfaces from the waves, we don’t necessarily realize that we ought to be on alert. The kind of person who throws himself into experience, our narrator takes in stride the water tasting of Clorox, his burning eyes.
beachThough the story is securely anchored in contemporary reality, Paine is preoccupied with the “tripline of miracle” that surrounds his characters. Instead of the old fisherman and his wife, instead of the lighthouse keeper, Paine gives us the twenty-first-century seekers: the narrator, his girlfriend Catalina, and his friend Jimbo. And when the inevitable occurs and something does emerge from the water, something terrible, you wonder why more writers are not reconditioning the ancient tropes of storytelling in light in today’s real-world horrors.


Nicola Mason: “It Was Just Swimming” is a masterpiece of pitch. It hits the highest register in almost every paragraph, and though Paine never swings away from this extreme mode of expression, the tone modulates, toggles back and forth, blends, lending the pitch wildly varying shades of emotion. He’s like a virtuoso playing a one-stringed violin. What begins as jubilance (“It was 101 degrees out! Who wouldn’t charge the ocean? The ocean was liquid salvation! God’s own swimming pool!”) merges with incredulity as the narrator and his pal Jimbo encounter a strange substance in the surf (“The only way to get the waxy orange stuff off was to go at it with plastic knives from the dining room of the Best Western. Even then a couple of layers of skin were lost!”). Soon thereafter, alarm enters in (“He scooped up the kid who was clawing the air. The beach was spinning under him, but he charged with the boy to his Harley. Taking action!”), followed by outrage (“Those twin kids were just playing on Fort Walton Beach! Building a sand castle like every other American kid in summer! That’s not supposed to be playing with napalm! There was something in the water! In the water!), fear (“They zapped Jimbo’s heart with the paddles. Handlebar doctor glared up at the red numbers of the digital clock and stopped compressions. Handlebar stopped compressions!”), confusion (“It was like every pore in his body was leaking at once. But he had no temperature! You can’t sweat buckets without a spike in temp! He was coming back negative—negative negative negative—on all the tests.”), and an odd form of realization (“A lot of these guys had been his sworn enemies. Jesus! They were going to miss him!”). The story does not relent until everyone—characters and readers alike—are inhabiting the same charged consciousness, feeling the same pervasive dread, the same stunned grief. Then—in the final line—it releases us, grimly, beautifully.

sperianAnd yet as tragic as the piece becomes, there is something about its excess that reminds one of those movies titled “Outbreak,” “Contagion,” “Carriers,” “Quarantine.” It is grandly, madly tragic; even absurdly so as odd moments of humor slip in (“Jimbo had the other kid by the hand and was telling him to keep gargling Coke. Jimbo had a strange faith in the curative power of Coke”); or bits of bloviation (“No, he wanted to be more help, he did! But he was a shrimper, not a doctor”); or melodramatic medical gobbledygook (“I’ve got four autopsies already of people who went swimming today. I’ve seen dissolved esophagus, enlarged hearts, and we’ve got samples of ethylbenzene, m-xylene, hexane-2, 3-methylpentane, and isooctane. . . . This guy’s body is full of things you wouldn’t believe.”)

The story is both horrifying . . . and entertaining. It gives you that gut-sick feeling . . . and makes you snort. It is, to use an old simile of my dad’s, as serious as a wolf in the woods, yet it’s also a spoof of sorts. With “It Was Just Swimming,” Tom Paine creates a new genre: the contemporary eco-disaster black comedy.


Tom Paine: I’m a little uncomfortable with writing about a story. Commenting on one’s work means using the word “I” a lot, and maybe that’s why I moved to fiction. The anonymity. But here goes: Corexit. We sprayed Corexit, a cousin of Agent Orange, all over the Gulf after the BP oil spill. Corexit adhered to the oil and pulled it out of sight to reduce BP’s liability. But Corexit made some Floridians very, very sick. Medieval boils and pox and vomiting and death. Not to mention we left the Gulf an ecological septic tank and took a very oily shit on the sealife. So the story seems like SciFi, but is based on testimony. People really did have these horrible allergic reactions and died–not that it made the news. We live in a time when water and skin–the simplest relationship– is in question. What happens to the ancient sea-loving soul when the sea is poison?