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.”
Archive for the ‘Features’ Category
Hey, everybody. The term starts next week, the winter issue is with the typesetter, and we’re already back to considering and reading submissions for our upcoming spring 2016 number. Actually we never stopped. It has taken us all summer to . . . almost . . . catch up. (Only thirty more to go from last term!)
For those unfamiliar with the journal, we urge you to give us a read before submitting. Sample back issues are seven bucks. There’s no fee to submit to CR, but our system prevents you from submitting another piece (or packet) before you’ve heard from us on the last one you sent. With a response time of (usually) three or four months, that means you’ll only get a couple of shots at it in a given reading period. In other words, choose carefully. In other, other words, send us your best stuff.
For a few samples of material that has been published in our pages—and commented upon by our staff and contributors—check out our blog:
The latter story, a marvelous piece by Tom Paine, is included in his new collection, A Boy’s Book of Nervous Breakdowns, just reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly.
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.
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.
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, lsupress.org. 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.
Though 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.
And 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?
Graphic designer extraordinaire Gabe Ostley is putting together the story of Moth: The Graphic Play—an anniversary-year project of ours. All subscribers will receive this 56-page, full-color bonus book along with their winter issue (due out in November). Click the following link to see part one of The Making of Moth.
Over the summer our lovely subscribers received, along with issue 11.1 (our TEN-tacular number), a bonus music feature, in which we presented Sarah Hutchings’s score for Jeff Gundy’s “March Ode” (published in 2011). In our excitement, however, we . . . er . . . forgot to post a recording of this boisterous bit of music, playfully retitled by Hutchings (who uses only part of the poem in her piece) “Ode to Free Beer.” As Don Bogen writes in his introduction to the feature, “Sarah’s setting captures [the poem] with wit and grace, from the rhythmic opening figure to the bold refrain. An ode is traditionally a poem of praise—and here’s one that has found a fit subject and a new musical voice.”
Click this link to listen: Ode to Free Beer. And look for yet another music feature—Ellen Ruth Harrison’s score for Jakob Stein’s sequence Sefiros—in issue 11.2, due out in December.
The Bad: Paper cuts. Unwieldy tape guns. Sitting on the floor criss-cross applesauce for hours on end. Rapid-onset carpal tunnel.
The Good: Subscribers can look for CR 10.2 to magically appear via the still sprightly and efficient United States Postal Service.
The Wonderful: This issue kicks off our tenth-anniversary year and features the printed score of our first art song, from a poem by Kathleen Winter, “Eve, Seducing the Apple” (CR 4.1), composed by Steve Weimer for Mezzo-Soprano, Viola, Violoncello, and Piano.
As poetry editor Don Bogen writes in 10.2, the printed score is appealing even if you don’t read music: “You can see the poem unfolding among the intricate patterns of notes, directions, and blank spaces on the lines.” So if you don’t have it already, order a copy of the stellar 10.2. When it arrives, if you do read music and happen to have a few string players and a piano on hand, do it up. But just in case your reading skills are confined to the literary, we’ve included a performance recorded last winter from musicians at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. This recording features Mezzo-Soprano Chelsea Duval-Major, Cellist Matt Harman, and Violist Zach Saunders. Enjoy.
Click this link to listen: Eve, Seducing the Apple
We at CR are excited to announce that composers from UC’s acclaimed College-Conservatory of Music have set to music some of the poems in our pages. They will be performing these pieces, with the help of CCM musicians and vocalists, in a special concert tomorrow, April 24, at 2:15 p.m. in room 3250 (the Masterclass Room) of Mary Emery Hall.
The works were created through the CCM class Explorations in Art Song. One composer, Steven Weimer, was inspired by Kathleen Winter’s “Eve, Seducing the Apple” (CR 4.1). A second composition by Sarah Hutchings took as its source Jeff Gundy’s “March Ode.” And there’s a kicker: Our own departing associate editor Lisa Ampleman’s poem “My Internal Count” also received the CCM treatment. If you’re in the area, come check out this unique performance opportunity.
Music. Poems. Music-poems. We LOVE this idea. Why stop with this one performance? As part of our upcoming tenth-anniversary year, we are continuing collaborations between our CR poets and composers from the College-Conservatory of Music. In our Winter issue (due out in November), we’ll be featuring an insert of “Eve, Seducing the Apple” that includes Weimer’s score. AND we’ll offer a podcast of the performance on cincinnatireview.com. In fact, we hope to follow up with several more poem-composer collaborations, mailed as wee booklets to our valued subscribers throughout the year (with, of course, accompanying podcasts of the performances on our website). It’s our anniversary. Let the band play on!