Archive for the ‘Staff Picks’ Category

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Ever wonder what our staff reads when they’re not reading your submissions or reading for exams or reading for academic papers they’re writing? Assistant Editor Gwen Kirby gives voice to one of her favorite pieces of flash fiction in this episode of Staff Picks.


Staff Picks: Favorite Poems and Prose Passages

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

We’ve begun asking CR staff and volunteers to read their favorite poems and passages of prose. Exciting stuff. First up, here’s Assistant Editor James Ellenberger reading Paul Celan’s “So Many Constellations.”

Why We Like It: “Make No Bones about It” by Cindy Beebe

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Rochelle Hurt: In music, riffing usually refers to a method of composition in which a single element (like a series of notes in a specific order) is repeated, sometimes changing slightly with each new iteration, in order to form a pattern—though riffing is often improvisational. It’s a technique common to poetry as well. For example, anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of each line) can be understood as a linguistic riff, as can internal rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, and consonance.


In her prose poem from issue 12.2, Cindy Beebe riffs on the turn of phrase “make no bones about it,” which serves as the poem’s title. She jumps right in with an extension of the title, “Not one single bone,” and then elaborates using “bone/s” as her riffing point and reintegrating the word “make”: “Make soup, if you like, though bones in the soup are not allowed. Even nice, fat ham bones, with ham bits on them.” In this brand of crafted spontaneity, repeated words and sounds become bridges to new phrases or ideas. Later in the poem, “make” and “bones” return to set off the following chain of sonic events: “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.” The progression here is not narrative, nor even logical in a traditional sense—rather, Beebe’s movement seems to be guided by an associative logic. This is a form of play, of course, but it is serious in its linguistic endeavors.

The author describes her process as a means of finding new life in worn out language: “Idioms have always fascinated me. I marvel at how they are able to retain their place in our language, sometimes for centuries, long after their origins are forgotten. If we were to look at them with our eyes open, as though we were children again, what new things might we see in them? What old things might we see differently? Writing “Make No Bones about It” was sort of like milking an old, familiar cow to find out what she might still be worth.”

While Beebe’s riffs do not form a predictable pattern, they are tied together. In this way, the poem forms an expansive network of meaning and connotation with a single idiom at its center. Each individual phrase or idea acts as a lateral extension of meaning from that center, and this allows them to cross back and forth over one another: “Such as whoopee. Such as in the morning, when you are floating still in your little boat of sleep, and the other skin, the skin that isn’t yours, comes drifting over into your own sleepy flesh. And there is this mesh like a dream you dream together. Dreams of whoopee, lots of whoopee.”

This lateral structure is precisely what makes the prose form perfect for Beebe’s poem. The prose block here is a wide plane on which this network of meanings can unfold, expanding outward rather than moving forward down the page in a linear fashion. Additionally, the condensed form supports Beebe’s associative leaps. The breathing space that would be provided by line breaks is not required here, where the reader is whisked quickly from one riff to the next—so quickly, in fact, that when one arrives finally back at the poem’s title phrase, “make no bones about it,” the arrival feels both astonishing and inevitable.


(The opening guitar riff from Sleater-Kinney’s “Dig Me Out” is one of my favorite earworms.)

What We’re Reading: The Locusts Have No King

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

PowellCoverAlex Smith: Hemingway once called Dawn Powell (sarcastically, perhaps) his favorite living writer, and Gore Vidal dubbed her “The American Writer.” She was, indeed, a contemporary and friend of many famous novelists of the mid-twentieth century. And yet her work is virtually unknown today.

Hence my surprise upon reading Powell’s brilliant The Locusts Have No King, which is set in late 1940s New York. The author’s personal knowledge of the city and her thoughtful descriptions make the urban landscape a character in its own right. The novel is essentially a satire, though this fact seems to have escaped the few reviewers of the book, who find fault with its humorous unconcern for human feeling. These critics miss the masterful way the novel manages to be simultaneously hysterical and heartbreaking. As a reader, I was constantly torn between the desire to laugh and cry.

Cast as a love story between Lyle Gaynor, a married New York playwright, and Frederick Olliver, a repressed academic historian, The Locusts Have No King uses misunderstanding, double-talk, and a diverse cast of characters (my favorite being the unforgettable frenemies Caroline and Lorna, who “repeat the revelations they had been repeating [to each other] for years to glazed eyes and deaf ears”) to obfuscate the relationship that might otherwise seem of central importance. In fact, for chapters at a time we lose sight of both protagonists and hear about them only through snippets of gossip the peripheral characters reveal. The novel’s insistence upon rendering a multitude of perspectives causes the reader to see the central relationship in context and to question the possibility of love in a world of consumption and materialism.

The ending is startling for its uncharacteristic sentimentality, but rather than assuring the reader of the healing power of true love, it becomes a bleak reminder of the transactional nature of relationships. This complexity makes Powell’s work not only compelling but also significant to the American literary tradition. Her astute rendering of its characters’ inner and interpersonal lives is reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s, and the novel’s humor reminds one of John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces. The successful blending of absurdity and realism suggests how Powell’s work might enrich intertextual conversations across genres.

In short, I’m now obsessed with Dawn Powell. Upon completing The Locusts Have No King, I ordered several more of her novels, which promise to be just as starkly honest, comical, and satisfying.

Why We Like It: “Abeyance” by Amanda Lee Kallis

Monday, September 14th, 2015

kodi-the-peekapoo-31125-1414709407-8Rochelle Hurt: Hybridity is a topic of much discussion of late: hybrid cars, hybrid crops, hybrid dogs (the Goldador, the Peekapoo, the Schnoodle). It’s always exciting to encounter something that inhabits two seemingly separate worlds at once. What I love most about hybrid dogs is the way their breed labels carve out entirely new spaces for these creatures. The Goldador is not a Labrador that looks sort of like a Golden Retriever, nor is it a Golden Retriever that barks sort of like a Labrador. It’s something else entirely; it’s a Goldador.

Amanda Lee Kallis’s “Abeyance” in issue 12.1 also inhabits (at least) two worlds at once, making use of literary conventions associated with two different genres. Viewed from one angle, “Abeyance” is a long prose poem sequence (which is how it’s categorized in our issue), but from another angle, it’s a segmented lyric essay. The best way to read it, in my opinion, is from a vantage between these two. Let’s call it an essem or a poessay—or better yet, let’s not worry about its particular genre and instead just revel in its strange beauty.

Kallis blends scientific terminology and philosophy (from Descartes, Horace, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others) with lyrical descriptions in a fragmented meditation on mind and body. In the first section, Precursor, she writes: “Negligible or non-senescence is observed in the hydra, a water creature. . . . The price of biological immortality: pearly simplicity and some nettling tentacles about the mouth.” Through a fusion of the discursive essay voice and poetic metaphor, she creates a fresh mode for discussion of the body. Her movement through the piece is largely associative, following rhythmic echoes of phrases and images. Take, for example, this passage from section 11, Scale: “So much talk before speech. You have to snake the clog. My insides are pitched. Immortality is a snaking thing. Immortality is a dog chasing its tail.”

“Abeyance” uses formal hybridity, not simply as a means of innovation, but rather as a reflection of its content. In this piece, the acts of aging, seeing, reading, writing, and understanding, are often hybrid processes. In section 8, Monsieur C, Kallis writes: “A stroke, of course. A shattering deep somewhere. A visible silence. The most significant finding for our purposes is that, in all of that circuitry, the seat of writing is not that of reading and yet we can talk, you and I, in an uneven silence.” The use of synesthesia in the phrase “visible silence” reveals the body as a natural hybrid. We process information through a series of almost imperceptibly distinct mechanisms (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) that become one through the very act of perception. In this way, “Abeyance” is also a piece of meta-writing that provides a guided tour through our own process of reading it.

Why We Like It: Daneen Bergland’s “Animals Invaluable to Epidemiologists for Tracking the Spread of Disease Will Appear to Us as Angels”

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Sara Watson: As an animal lover, I was immediately drawn to the subject of Daneen Bergland’s “Animals Invaluable to Epidemiologists for Tracking the Spread of Disease Will Appear to Us as Angels.” This poem not only considers our relationship with animals, but even offers them an autonomous dream life.

The speaker in this poem is assertive. She knows her stuff. “A body is just a place to keep your guts safe,” she says, and, “Music has always been good for sad things.” It’s more than the phrases Bergland builds that ring true, however; it is her tone of utter assurance. But the speaker is curious, too, and compassionate, gazing into the face ( the teeth, to be exact) of what must be a very small and very frightened bat, asking, “Do you think we are the stars of animals’ anxiety dreams?”

Charming, funny, and smart, the voice here leads me, ultimately, to new questions about myself and the world.

Putting the Period on Our Reading Period

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Nicola Mason: As they say in the auction world when something is about to go, Fair warning! In this case, our Submission Manger is about to go offline  for the usual issue-filling bits of poetry and prose. If you want to shoot us something for consideration, do it this weekend.  The hammer falls on April 15. Please note, however, that we will open up on June 1 for submissions to our contest, The Robert and Adele Schiff Awards. Important info: You can submit and pay the entry fee online AND ONLY ONLINE.

As we’ve mentioned in blog posts past, our reading period has shifted this year for the first time since the mag was born. Wanna know why? Read our apologetic explanation.

I should emphasize that we actually read year round; there are just fewer of us poring over submissions during the summer. If anything, reading is more fun then because there are fewer interruptions, so I can really get in a groove with it, and also because, without a staff to oversee, I can spend time with your stories and poems on my porch swing, in coffee shops, even (oh glory) at the beach. I happily recall the moment, last July, when I first read D. J. Thielke’s “Frantic Hearts,” upcoming in our May issue. I was in the passenger seat of my mother’s car. She had picked me up from the Raleigh airport, and I was getting a bit of reading in during the three-hour ride to my folks’ house on the NC coast. I picked up a new submission—an actual sheaf of paper, not an electronic submission—and encountered these lines:

The funny thing about the mastectomy was that Laine had already lost a part of her left breast, years earlier, to a brown recluse spider bite. While the right remained resiliently healthy and slightly larger, that treacherous left now housed a small collection of tumors, like bright porcelain trinkets shelved in the vaporous gray mammogram images.

“Some luck,” Dr. Kirzinger said after giving her the news. He didn’t specify whether he thought it good or bad.

She knew it wasn’t funny, but the more he talked, the funnier everything seemed: the flyers he forced on her for all-female gyms and one-sided bras. The name of a tattoo parlor with an artist who specialized in fake nipples. The way he casually reached across his desk and patted her breast, like a small, naughty child they were talking about.

I admire “Frantic Hearts” for myriad reasons: the skillful and affecting way Thielke blends the comic and tragic, her gift for metaphor and telling detail, the care with which she explores the nuances of character, and the way she sneakily turns what one initially thinks of as a cancer story into a searching struggle between older mother and adult daughter. “Frantic Hearts” succeeds in presenting not just a fraught situation, but in revealing a complex consciousness thrust into an uncertainty and granted, finally and through harrowing difficulty, a slant sort of grace.

Staff Picks

Monday, February 18th, 2013

While awaiting proofs for our Summer 2013 issue, due out in May, we CR editors decided to write a little something about our favorite pieces. Here’s Assistant Editor Brian Trapp:

As soon as I read Michael Reid Busk’s faux-encyclopedia entries from “The Eighties: A Brief Primer,” I forwarded them to Managing Editor Nicola Mason with pleas to accept. Busk’s entries are strange, comic love letters to the decade of my birth, a nostalgic tribute to ’80s cultural detritus. What I love about them is that they are so smart. Busk could have written a cultural critique connecting suburban banality with the rise of horror movies or the decline of blue-collar jobs with the rise of over-muscled, professional wrestling.

Thankfully Busk chooses to write these poetic short-shorts instead, employing fiction’s strange and vivid details for tonal complexity. In my favorite of these, “Wrestling ’80s,” Busk crafts a mythic origin story close to my eight-year-old heart: Laid-off factory workers, watching their forearms shrink and their families decline, find comfort in Fight Club-esque ultraviolence, meeting in their town’s nighttime decay for gladiatorial combat. Busk comically heightens the violence until the premise turns, and their rage is commodified by businessmen into the WWF fantasy we know and love. This economic windfall is both a happy ending for the men and a great loss, as Busk provides a last line so brutal and honest that it seems affectionate. Throughout these pieces, Busk ultimately interrogates our nostalgia, making the ’80s both ridiculous and menacing.

Busk references other encyclopedic entries such as “Brian Boitano ’80s” and “Computer ’80s.” I thought they were just some intertexual joke, but no. He’s published these pieces in journals such as Folio, Fourteen Hills, and Prism International, and I hope there is a book on the way. In the meantime, I’m going into my parents’ basement to dig out my Hulk Hogan thumb-wrestling figurines.

Staff Picks

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

We’ve just finished finalizing edits on our upcoming issue, which means that we’ve become very familiar with the stories, poems, and essays contained within. Like, super familiar. Like, sit-three-to-a-seat-on-a-school-bus-on-a-hot-day familiar.

After all that quality time spent with prose and poetry, staff favorites tend to emerge. Here’s Associate Editor Becky Adnot-Haynes on why she likes Aharon Levy’s “Philomela in Tribeca”:

Levy’s piece is one of those short stories that could have been bad if it wasn’t so good: thirty-somethings in New York, ennui, thwarted love—all gathered at a party involving fancy cupcakes and clever, self-conscious conversation.

But Levy pulls off his premise brilliantly, and the result is a story that’s not only successful in its idiosyncratic portrayals of the people who inhabit the main character’s world—the partygoer who speaks too seriously in unserious situations, the hostess who moves about her party like “a cheery hurricane”—but which also lays those characters bare, refusing to apologize for them, to handle them with kid gloves. The story’s protagonist, Dan Slotkin, is neither hero nor villain, and Levy is perfectly comfortable treading the space between.

There are so many small joys in the story—the way that Levy refuses to take himself too seriously, his lovely prose and knack for simile: “clothing scattered over the floor, unerotic as fruit peelings” and “[his] worry, amoeba-ish, oozed into new forms, lurked in various corners of the room like an untrusting, just-adopted cat” are two of Levy’s delightful phrases—but his talents run deeper than that, sweeping toward an ending that is as artful as it is inevitable. And along the way? A secret revealed by way of decorate-your-own cupcakes.

Staff Picks

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

We’re finalizing edits for Cincinnati Review 10.1, our Summer 2013 issue. CR editors were asked to write a little something about their favorite pieces. That’s good. It’s been difficult to contain our enthusiasm, and the strain has been affecting our work, health, and personal relationships. To start off, here’s Associate Editor Lisa Ampleman:

I wasn’t surprised when I saw that Don Bogen chose “Exoskeleton” by Rebecca Lehmann as the first poem to lead off the poetry in our upcoming issue. It’s a knockout. Lehmann uses the repetend (a term one of my MFA professors used for repeated elements in a poem) of “I wanted you like . . .” to create movement. It’s an anaphora that happens at the beginning of sentences instead of lines, and because of enjambments, the repetition is more sinuous than metronomic as our eyes ride through, waiting for the next comparison. And the variety of those similes is startling—the “I” wanted the “you” like Henry VIII, like the garbage can, like a slutty tank top. This is no ordinary poem of desire thwarted.

For me, the poem turns when the speaker acknowledges, “I wanted the idea of you,/ that’s true.” The rhetoric of the sentences shifts after that, after the speaker tells us what we may already know: Desire, particularly unrequited love, means being drawn to the idea of someone, the version of him/her we have in our mind, rather than the actual person.