Unveiling . . . our YouTube channel! If you were one of those folks who attended the launch of Acre Books at Books by the Banks this past weekend, you saw an extended trailer that included a snippet of an author interview, a visualized poem (voem? pideo?), insight into our process of submission assessment, and a teaser for the live musical performance of one of our art songs. Today, we offer the first episode in a series we call Words Likely to Be Misused or Confused. Though the clip light in tone, we aim to inform as well as to entertain. And hey, there’s a lot more to come: look for a new video every Friday and Tuesday. Huge thanks to Ben Dudley, who made this channel possible by way of both his technical know-how and his comic genius!
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
In his latest collection, Post- (Milkweed Editions), contributor Wayne Miller (6.2, 11.2) presents poems whose guiding poetic sensibility is able to navigate the terrains of memory and day-to-day life and mine them for what they have to say about personal and social life. “The Debt” opens this work by presenting variations on the title’s concept:
He entered through the doorway of his debt.
Workmen followed, bringing box after box
until everything he’d gather in his life
inhabited his debt. He opened the sliding door to the yard—
a breeze blew through the spaces of his debt,
blew the bills from the table onto the floor.
One can see how financial concerns impose themselves on life. Debt is the house lived in as much as a concept. What makes this poem such an effective opening piece is how it brings together a number of the collection’s themes, namely the way such intangible facts—in this case, debt and laws—affect our tangible lives.
The law theme is again explored in “The People’s History,” which creates a narrative around “the People,” and follows them as they comprise both a group of chanting protesters on a city street and a group policing them:
we, the People, will not be denied.
Then the People
descended upon the People, swinging hardwood batons
heavy with the weight of the People’s intent.
The narrative method here is compelling on two levels: 1) The use of “the People” for both sides makes the intangible nature of rhetoric and law transparent, which in turn makes the tangible effects on human action and experience all the more vivid; and 2) Rather than dulling or deflating the intensity of the scene, the use of the phrase complicates the narrative further:
But the People had grown tired of the afternoon
and released dogs into the crowd, dogs
that could not tell the People from the People;
Subverting the implied idea of an impersonal collective, the phrase takes on, through the poem’s twists and turns, a personal, individualistic meaning. In doing so, the poem indirectly paints a contemporary scene that becomes a direct and compassionate critique.
The themes of debt and inheritance are also found in poems that deal with the nature of words themselves. In “On Language,” the reader is presented the following fabulistic conceit:
There were only certain stones
we could step on to cross the river.
The stones we could step on to cross the river
were not certain.
Further developing this conceit, the poet states that “the stones we stepped on/ dropped away behind us/ like the notes of a song.” The connotations of this premise are rich: A set of stones is language, the river is speech, and the other side of the river is meaning. Not only is the transient and harried nature of establishing meaning conveyed, but so is the “not certain” feeling of the human effort to communicate. And yet, the speaker’s fable is one of hope, which the urgency behind the midpoem statement—“Love, stay with me inside this syntax of the river”—makes evident.
The sequence of five poems titled “Post-Elegy” that are scattered throughout the collection present a confluence of debt/inheritance narratives. The first describes how “After the plane went down/ the cars sat for weeks in long-term parking.” The speaker’s journey to retrieve the dead person’s car becomes a process of growing awareness, culminating in the following observations as the speaker drives off:
. . . I realized
I was steering homeward
the down payment
of some house we might live in
for the rest of our lives.
The metaphor here makes grief a physical presence, the car suddenly a space where the memory of the dead person lives on.
In the world of Post-, we are left in such complicated afters: the after of accumulating debt; the after of having to distinguish “the People” from each other; the after of wanting stay inside “this syntax of the river.”
JAA: What role do you feel the personal and the social have in your work as reflected in this collection?
WM: For some time I’ve been interested in complicating that personal-social dichotomy by considering how personal narratives bump up against larger historical moments and metanarratives. Thus, in Post- I’m often trying to entangle the personal and social—to juxtapose them or contextualize each inside the other.
For example, Post-’s opening poem, “The Debt,” depicts a father-son relationship while insistently pulling into the frame how middle-class American life is built structurally on debt. Similarly, “Consumers in Rowboat” presents a tug of war between a couple’s own perception of themselves as private, autonomous individuals and the larger economic perspective that they’re demographically trackable consumers. And throughout the book poems about parenthood and loss sit intentionally beside poems about sociopolitical conflict and violence.
I’ve long loved Donald Justice’s well-anthologized poem “Men at Forty,” which feels personal and distilled as the men move solitarily through their domestic spaces while considering their own aging. When, in the last line, Justice describes their houses as “mortgaged,” it felt to me like an almost shocking (and compelling!) breech of the poem’s private lyrical “purity.” That’s just one small example—but it’s the sort of complicating of lyrical isolation that I was reaching for when I was writing Post-.
Post- is available for purchase from Milkweed Editions.
To find out more about Wayne Miller’s work, check out his site.
Join us for the launch of Acre Books—UC’s new small literary press—at the annual Books by the Banks festival, which takes place at Duke Energy Convention Center this Saturday. Doors open at 10 a.m., and panels and other book-tastic events run until 4 p.m.
Our 45-minute program begins at 2:30 in room 209. Nicola Mason, editor of Acre Books, will begin by reading selections from its signature anthology (and first publication), A Very Angry Baby, to be released in early 2017. Come and hear snippets of works by literary powerhouses Julianna Baggott, Brock Clarke, Andrew Hudgins, Margaret Luongo, Erin McGraw, Jamie Quatro, Josh Russell, and more. Devil babies, apple babies, hungry babies, aged babies, monster babies created in a lab—the anthology runs the gamut (and includes poetry and hybrid forms as well as fiction).
Following the reading, Acre Books will launch its YouTube channel. Sit and enjoy the show as we “air” on the big screen a succinct sampling of videos—following a couple of submissions (one poetry, one prose) through the reading/ranking process at The Cincinnati Review, an imagistic rendering of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s poem “Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon,” a segment of an interview with Brock Clarke, and some comic, language-centric skits.
Last, we’ll offer the kids some game-time fun with our own version Pin the Tail on the Donkey. We’re dubbing our spin-and-stick offering Pin the Wail on the (Angry) Baby. After the blindfolds come off, participants will be soothed with a candy pacifier.
We’ll entertain you and shan’t detain you . . . long. You’ll have time to stroll through the book fair and check out at the many reader-friendly stations lining the halls of the energy center. Hope to see you there!
On Our Poetry Winner, “Very Many Hands” by Aaron Coleman
Poetry Editor Don Bogen: “Very Many Hands” stood out among this year’s strong field of contest entries for, among other things, its overall ambition: It’s the first multi-unit poem to win the award, and it more than meets the challenges that a longer work entails. I was struck by the fine combination of unity and variety among the paragraphs—we’re always in one poem, but it stays fresh over the long haul, with room to shift and surprise. The energy and drive of the piece unit by unit, sentence by sentence, and phrase by phrase, are impressive indeed, the rhythms both intricate and forceful. With images that take us everywhere from a church pew to “man-high seas of crops,” from the Underground Railroad to the San Diego shipyards, “Very Many Hands” is a vivid exploration of past and present, self and others. The poem is big, smart, sensitive, and deft.
Aaron Coleman: We’re living inside a time where many of the myths that have carried us don’t hold the same strength—or at least don’t hold the same meanings—they once held. This prose poem form, trapped and raving inside itself, pushing against those boundaries from within, calls to mind, for me, Terrance Hayes’s concept of “wind in a box.” These paired verse paragraphs, in each page’s dialectic, scramble to push for new parameters wherein an identity might make a home; those parameters, out of necessity, struggle to come to terms with the mess of history, memory, family, religion, shame, guilt, violence, desire . . . I find myself often struggling to work through these topics in a way that feels productive in my poems, and in the case of “Very Many Hands,” and often, I find the doorway in through personal vulnerability, perilously through my body and the bodies of those I love. I hope what comes through in the poem, on some level, is a dynamic and recalibrated spectrum of desires; what happens to us when we work to acknowledge their complexity, and complicity?
I’m interested in the context that a place like Cincinnati might have for a poem like this, on the border of the crucial Ohio River between mythical (and at the same time, dangerously real) North and South, and a pivotal space of the Underground Railroad. Being from the Midwest and having lived around it, I see this poem as born out of our schizophrenic (here I mean “split mind,” in the sense of the word’s Greek roots) midwestern spaces.
Aaron Coleman is the author of St. Trigger, which won the 2015 Button Poetry Prize, and Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2018). A Fulbright Scholar and Cave Canem Fellow from Metro-Detroit, Coleman has lived and worked with youth in locations including Kalamazoo, Chicago, St. Louis, Spain, and South Africa. He’s recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis’s MFA Writing Program and former Public Projects Assistant at Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Recent poems have appeared in Apogee, Boston Review, Fence, Greensboro Review, Pinwheel, River Styx, Tupelo Quarterly, Southern Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He is currently a PhD student in Washington University in St. Louis’s Comparative Literature Program.
On Our Prose Winner, “Stylites Anonymous” by Maureen McGranaghan
Fiction Editor Michael Griffith: “Stylites Anonymous” stood out among a strong field of nearly 600 prose contest entries for its imaginative conceit—that grail I hadn’t even known I was looking for, the Great American Pole-Sitting Story—but even more so for the way that, with a depth of ambition that reveals itself bit by bit, it wittily explores big themes: faith, family, addiction, love, spectacle and asceticism, and more.
Maureen McGranaghan: I first learned about stylites, monks who live atop poles, from William Dalrymple’s 1997 book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East. It was fascinating from beginning to end. In 1994, Dalrymple set off from Mount Athos in Greece and spent six months traversing the Levant to arrive at the Coptic monasteries of Upper Egypt. His book is a survey of the old Byzantine Empire and an exploration of its Christian communities, past and present. I was especially struck (and frightened) by the fierce asceticism of Byzantine monks, who crammed themselves into crawl spaces, locked themselves in hanging cages, or lived atop “styles,” as the poles came to be known, for years at a time. Nor have stylites necessarily died out; Dalrymple interviewed a Syrian monk in Aleppo determined to resurrect the practice (though it’s unlikely his community has survived the current civil war).
I can hardly imagine life atop a pole; it seems uniquely terrifying (I don’t love heights), uncomfortable, and maybe transcendent. What would someone’s daily schedule look like up there? These fifth- and sixth-century monks (when the practice flourished) were serious guys, fearsomely so, but I could not help being amused by imagining them today: on telephone poles and cell phone towers, mystifying people, annoying cops, and drawing lawsuits. The other thing that struck me about them was their singleminded vision, largely divorced from the reality the rest of us inhabit. They were alone in their minds and with God.
When I first began writing about the pole-dwelling father of my story, I did it in the collective we of his children, who just want a normal dad and relief from his shenanigans. Then, as I continued to draft and explore the idea, the character of John emerged, the youngest son, who, alone among his siblings, embraces his father’s faith and fanaticism. Into John I poured some of my own confusion about faith and what constitutes a healthy life. Maxine’s appearance surprised and delighted me. Shrewdly pragmatic, she is the antithesis of the father, a folk hero of this world. Maxine illuminated for me the extent to which we are all playing games with ourselves in one form or another, as we seek to satisfy not only our baser cravings but our need for meaning and deeper fulfillment.
Maureen McGranaghan is a playwright, poet, and fiction writer. Her play Dis Place was developed and performed as part of Bricolage Production Company’s 2014 In the Raw festival. Her fiction recently appeared in Image, and she was a finalist in the 2016 Iowa Review Awards. Her chapbook of poetry, Attached to Earth, was published by Finishing Line Press (2011). For more information, visit www.maureenmcgranaghan.com
Winners of the Seventh Annual Robert and Adele Schiff Awards in Poetry and Prose
Aaron Coleman for his poem “Very Many Hands”
Maureen McGranaghan for her story “Stylites Anonymous”
First off, a big thank you to all who submitted! It was a pleasure to read such a rich variety of poetry. From the formal to the experimental, there was no lack of innovation and ambition in the work. We were moved especially by the social consciousness exhibited by a majority of the pieces. This made for an enlightening and cathartic reading experience. Adding to this were poems whose engagement with ideas on music, travel, childhood, and locale all resonated with heart and insight.
One of the pleasures of reading fiction submissions for the Schiff Prize is that we are given a glimpse of all the wonderful things happening on the literary landscape. Without question, aesthetic paradigms are changing. The theme of identity crisis—both personal and cultural—seems to be a common preoccupation, and writers are grappling with this in new and sophisticated ways. The stories and essays we read revealed the contingent and unstable nature of humanity as well as how minds work in dramatically changing circumstances. We were pleased and excited to witness the collective push toward innovation, to see the rules of fiction changing before our eyes.
Jacob M. Appel
S. L. Ferraro
Beverly Tan Murray
John Paul Rollert
Tune in next week for the judges’ comments on the winning poem and story!
Chris Collins: Susann Cokal seized me with her first sentence: “The first one is not so bad, hurts, grinding on the sticky floor with the others watching.” And what proceeds is the story of a character known to us only as “Fourteen”—a girl who’s “been a teenager for a year already”—and her brutal night of being repeatedly raped at a party.
As a father with a daughter just a few years younger than Fourteen, I squirmed in my chair and at times had to pause reading to breathe. It’s difficult to write violence; Cokal does it with a delicacy that haunts. The rhythm of her sentences turns the page and the stomach: “She feels the ticklish trickle between her legs and knows she’s puddling on the filthy linoleum.” Although what occurs in the story is pornographic, Cokal’s artistry brings eloquence to the sequence of events, leading the reader through the assaults on both Fourteen’s body and mind.
The story is not a chronological progression but rather a back and forth, giving us interludes of Fourteen’s movements, from her day at the beach with friends, to her sexual assault by surfers on a kitchen floor, then by college students in a shabby apartment, to her pickup by police, to the day of her first court hearing. This remarkable and distressing piece is written with a veracity that mesmerizes. The tragedy captivates—like a car accident from which we cannot look away.
Susann Cokal on “Fourteen Shakes the Baby”: I’ve been told this story is harrowing. It harrowed me; it hurt, but it wouldn’t let me stop writing. I lived with the idea for decades, hearing young girls’ stories both from their own mouths and from the men who lusted for what those mouths might be made to do. It took a long time to find the form that would convey the sense of brokenness that comes after such a violation—the body, mind, memory, and psyche all rearranged.
For a while I lived next door to some of it. A new neighbor popped up on the sex offenders map when he moved in. Somehow a story spread through the neighborhood that the guy was a victim of a scam, that he’d been dating an underage girl who said she was eighteen and then brought him to court to get some of the family money. I did a basic online search and found newspaper articles closer to the truth: A young girl had been raped multiple times one night, then reportedly had consensual sex with the man who was now my neighbor before being raped again by another man. The papers’ bare facts about this case and others melded with personal testimony about survivors’ traumas and a frequent tendency to blame the victim: “She’s oversexed”; “She wanted it”; “She liked it once we got started”; “Frigid gentlewomen of the jury! […] I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me.” That last claim is from Lolita, a book I love for many reasons but not for this one; the others are typical comments from people outside the experience.
So I lived with the imaginary fourteen-year-old of this piece of fiction as if with a “real” person (she is very real to me), and finally the narrative started coming in staccato, disordered bursts of memory and sensation. I wasn’t sure “Fourteen” would ever find a home, but I needed to write about her, and I’m grateful to the editors for putting her in these pages.
For those with blinders on and earplugs in, Cisneros just won the prestigious PEN Center 2016 Literary Award for her latest book, A House of My Own: Stories from My Life. (She was asked to be in New York to accept this award on September 28, but recorded a video acceptance so she can be here in Cincinnati that evening.) And if that’s not enough to entice locals and others within driving distance to our humble (actually, it’s quite nice) campus on a Wednesday afternoon and evening, we’ll mention that this popular and critically acclaimed author has just been awarded the National Medal of Arts. President Obama will present this award to Cisneros on September 22. She will join us just a few days later!
Details for the events on September 28 are as follows.
2-3 PM: Q & A with students and faculty, Tangeman University Center 400A
7 PM: Public reading, Tangeman University Center 220 (Main Street Cinema)
In my reading of The Catalog of Broken Things (Airlie Press, 2016) by poet and 13.1 contributor A. Molotkov, I found a thematic thread made up of moments within longer lyric sequences where the given speaker of a poem gestures toward a spirit of assessing the nature of “broken things.”
We dive right into the catalog, so to speak, with the poems in the first sequence, “The Catalog of Broken Things,” which approach family narratives with a surrealistic sensibility. The opening poem begins:
I let my dead mother in.
She’s lonely out there on her own.
Her ears are seashells
empty of sea.
Reading these lines, I get a sense of a poetry that feels out the world through images. This aesthetic creates a reading experience where the reader is carried into the meaning-making process through sensation as much as language. The following section is another example of this sensibility at work:
My aunt, a shadow without a landing.
In her chest, small
streams fight for the chance to be
I list her in my catalog under tumors.
She deserves more attention.
We all do, we keep
telling the moon,
but it’s dead. It doesn’t listen.
The concept of a catalog implies a sense of order and control; what is being wrestled with here is the lack of both. By proceeding to pit themselves against the image of the moon, who is seen as “dead” and unable to listen, the speaker, and, in a way, the poem, are in the role of providing “more attention.” This is a gesture not of repair but of acknowledgement. Life cannot be controlled and ordered beyond our personal understanding, our “listening.”
This acknowledging/cataloging voice appears again in the later sequence, “The Melting Hourglass.” In this sequence, the reader is presented with the story of Zungvilda and Goombeldt as narrated by a disembodied speaker. This speaker alternates from sounding like a family member, complete with shared memories, to sounding like the voice of the hourglass of the sequence’s title. This variation in voice and narration add to the reading experience; one gets a sensation of the lyrical line as live wire. The following section of the sequence presents the kind of torque available through this imaginative conceit:
Zungvilda shares her thoughts
I have no choice but to listen
after all she lives inside my head
she asks why men are so difficult
don’t generalize I say
but she can’t hear me in there
I’m afraid it’s a monologue
I’m afraid it always is
she wonders why every day seems to start
with wild yanking and smoke
like an old lawn mower
she muses about the interchangeable
questions and answers
she suspects that the new crater
that just formed on the moon
might be her early grave
she remembers the time
when she was a girl
lost in the forest
I remember it too
even though I was
too young to remember
The narrative turns developed in the speaker’s mediation here provide a fruitful disorientation in that the reader has to follow the lyric sense of the line as it develops. In the first two stanzas, the speaker is shown to be privy to Zungvilda’s thoughts while also being at a remove; this tension of intimacy and distance is paralleled in the last two stanzas where one of Zungvilda’s memories begins to take shape, but is quickly turned away from by the speaker.
These two moments are variations of the “broken things” theme of the book. When the speaker states “I’m afraid it’s a monologue / I’m afraid it always is,” a moment rich in metanarrative and self-awareness occurs; the “monologue” here is not only a metaphor for time and existence, but also poetry. In the same way that poetry is able to provide “attention” in the poem discussed above, poetry here is seen as able to acknowledge its limits and “broken” nature. Seen this way, the title of this collection becomes its own mission, writing as a way to catalog the broken things around us.
A. M. : The challenges of balance. Once I commit to a longer work, the next question becomes: is it going to be five pages, or fifty? Working with recurring themes and motifs, it’s tempting to keep going. How to choose the length that keeps the tension, helps me avoid repeating myself, and allows for a substantial investigation? Once I settle on an approximate length and write my selections, their order becomes both an opportunity and a challenge. Ultimately, any poem could have emerged in many different ways, but happens to be the way it is, not optimal in any objective sense, but a compromise between intention and the infinity of possibilities. If we consider the many points of view and tastes the readers will bring, it’s easy to see that each word shivers with fear and anticipation for the unlikely connection it may fail to make.
My tendency in poetry is to push the text outside my own comfort zone. Often, I end up distanced from the capability to evaluate my own poems. I am in three writers’ groups in order to compensate for my myopia and my personal obsessions. Almost thirty people had their eyes on some or all of the poems in The Catalog and provided a wide variety of suggestions. I’m indebted to them for breathing their reality into my work.
The Catalog of Broken Things is available for pre-order from Airlie Press.
Special thanks to A. Molotkov for participating! Check out his poem “Obituary” in issue 13.1.
Find out more about his work at his website.
Only a little over a month left to submit your Very Angry Baby material for our new press’s themed anthology. We’re pretty much full for fiction but still seeking poetry and hybrid forms. Remember: the baby need not be young, need not be small, need not be human. It does need to be angry. VERY. Contributors thus far include Julianna Baggott, Allison Campbell, Brock Clarke, Andrew Hudgins, Margaret Luongo, Erin McGraw, Jamie Quatro, Josh Russell, Changming Yuan, and more. Deadline for submissions (through our Submission Manager—Very Angry Baby category) is the end of October. Send us your brawling bundles, your seething teethers, your diapered devils, your newborns gone nuclear. We can handle it . . . we hope.