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CR under New Management

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

 

Becky Adnot-Haynes

Becky Adnot-Haynes

It’s our pleasure to announce that, as of next week, Becky Adnot-Haynes will be moving into the Managing Editor position here at CR. She’s replacing Nicola Mason, who’ll turn her attention to launching the book-publishing arm of the journal, to be called Acre Books. More soon on Acre. For now, let’s tell you a bit about Becky, who’s been an asset to the mag for many years. She began reading as a volunteer way back in 2009, came on staff in 2012—working as Assistant Editor, then Associate Editor, in our snug little office—and while earning her PhD in fiction published The Year of Perfect Happiness in 2014 (winner of The Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction). After graduation, Becky worked in advertising, honing her writing and editing skills. Now she returns to 369 McMicken Hall to champion literature once more. When we forced her to make a statement, she had this to say about her “dream job”:

“The Cincinnati Review is one of the most awesome literary magazines around, and I’m honored to join its ranks. I look forward to upholding the magazine’s commitment to publishing fresh, diamond-sharp prose and poetry, and to working with the staff to continue to usher it forward. Thanks, CR, for having me!”

 

We interrupt our holiday hiatus . . .

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

. . . for a bit of  hinky (un)fun.

So you didn’t think 2016 could suck any more? Well, it’s time for another round of the tortures of the damned—our holiday round of hink pinks. For background and another set of these puzzles, see our August contest.

Again, as stolen from the master, Dylan Hicks of The Paris Review, a definition and rules: “Hink pink is a word game in which synonyms, circumlocution, and micronarratives provide clues for rhyming phrases. In the standard explanatory example, an ‘overweight feline’ is a ‘fat cat.’ Hink pinks on that babyish level aspire to lend vocabulary building an air of fun, but more sophisticated puzzles are sometimes mulled over on road trips, in trenches, and in other settings where boredom and tension might be mellowed, to paraphrase Dryden, by the dull sweets of rhyme. . . . A puzzle of disyllabic components is a hinky pinky, followed with decreasing dignity by hinkily pinkilies, hinklediddle pinklediddles, and hinklediddledoo pinklediddledoos. Even with longer puzzles, however, the goal, almost a mandate, is for each syllable to rhyme perfectly, though this perfection might depend on idiosyncratic stress.”

So—“Candle heist” (hinky pinky) would be “Taper caper.”

“First-year in a painterly inferno” (hink pink) would be “Bosch frosh.” 

“Fawlty player’s sternutation” (hink pink) would be “Cleese sneeze.”

“Multitalented Jackson has mastered spotted Pacific salmon, too” (hinky pinky) might yield “Bo knows cohoes.”

Rhymes must generally be perfect, with the exception that an s—usually possessive—is allowed at the dead center. For example, “Undomesticated Donald’s Niagara plunge” would presumably be “Feral Trump’s barrel jump.”

Below are another sixty. As always, the first two people to submit forty correct answers get either a one-year subscription or a one-year extension of subscription . . . plus a free copy of the first title from our brand-new publishing imprint, Acre Books, Very Angry Baby: The Anthology—due this spring.

  • Ornamental cap for the gland that secretes melatonin (hinkily pinkily)
  • Very poor job, colloquially, of hurling a carnival’s live-animal swallower (hinky pinky)
  • Barmier chortling (hinky pinky)
  • Wally Cleaver’s failed attempt to pass himself off as author of the Cultural Revolution (hinkily pinkily)
  • Maltese Falcon actor’s anecdote about a Yankee shortstop (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Government payout after a Dadaist injured himself while hoisting a urinal in the British Museum? (hinky pinky)
  • Hannibal native’s stint as Colombian rebels’ jefe (hinky pinky)
  • Ingenious bug bedeviling Hannah Montana (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Literary whaler’s dig at a celebrity chef (hinky pinky)
  • Feud between a pop icon and the author of Executioner’s Song (hinkily pinkily)
  • Prison for promiscuous bovines (hinky pinky)
  • Missile-riding actor, give a quick read to Bleak House! (hinkily pinkily)
  • Verbal puzzle for Whedoniacs (hinky pinky)
  • Germanic cube of rebaked bread (hinky pinky)
  • Worldwide internet community clobbers Louisiana senator for his sex-play in a funeral-home vehicle (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Japanese general’s icy treat (hinky pinky)
  • Depression-era president’s ice-cream-pastel blinds (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Barney Fife’s French witticisms? (hinky pinky)
  • Would-be presidential assassin Fromme’s luau torch (hinky pinky)
  • Maurice Gibb in Melanesia (hinky pinky—all rhyme)
  • Mediterranean condiment is in favor of getting a Brazilian (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Cartoon superhero rodent’s mercurial marital partner (hinkily pinkily)
  • Babylonian legal code namesake’s sidelight of experimenting with ionizing radiation (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Name for the occasion when a Fascist-friendly poet sprang for diet citrus soft drinks for all (hinkily pinkily–and with a slight rhyme cheat)
  • Headline: Internet rumor clearinghouse confirms that the Vatican is now a nuclear power (hinkily pinkily)
  • Campus jail in Blacksburg (hinky pinky)
  • Psychiatrist of 20th-century American pragmatist philosopher Richard grabs a wee nap (hinkily pinkily)
  • Policy analyst’s straightened Afro (hink pink)
  • Fictive evangelist’s larder (hinky pinky)
  • Little kitchen corner where the microscope’s inventor keeps his Ray Lewis jersey (hinkily pinkily)
  • Sea herbivore’s self-regard (hinkily pinkily)
  • 18th/19th-century German polymath’s state of Indian seclusion (hinky pinky)
  • Classic TV kid’s dim captor (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Liza Bennet’s Bollywood suitor (hinky pinky)
  • Apathetic island race of mythology’s welcoming committee for Michelle Obama (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • English diarist’s broken-down jalopies (hink pink)
  • Jewel-encrusted aileron (hink pink)
  • Roman magistrate’s cute car (hinky pinky)
  • Bumbling inspector’s dowry (hinky pinky)
  • Compulsively stockpilin’ hatcheter (hinky pinky)
  • Recently retired Laker great’s smoothie-shop misadventure (hinkily pinkily)
  • Terrible product idea: Small beanbag with glue on its underside (hinkily pinkily)
  • What a manager (Domo arigato, sir!) had to do in 1983 when an arena-rock band jonesed for a crispy candy bar but none were available (hinky pinky, but all rhyme)
  • Singer/Urban Cowboy club-owner’s shuddering fear of love bites (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Hootenanny featuring the Supremes (hinky pinky)
  • Middle Brady sis is tryin’ for an inhalation high and a fiber-filled breakfast at the same time (hinkily pinkily)
  • Post-dinger celebration failed to connect with Forrest (hinky pinky)
  • Oddball list: Toothy present-day fish, toothy squeaky-clean songstress/star of the 1950s, toothy prehistoric meat-devourer (hinklediddledoo pinklediddledoo)
  • Distaff soccer great’s Sorento fraud (hinkily pinkily)
  • “Firework” diva’s milking operation, staffed by pirates (hinkily pinkily)
  • Actor/Soulquarians’ rapper idly draws instant dorm-pasta (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Polka satirist quailed before 2001 computer (hinky pinky)
  • World’s biggest-selling writer’s ululation on a workers’ holiday (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Underwood canned-meat-sponsored pageant winner’s unkempt Dracula creator, familiarly (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Outlaw Country icon’s verbal eruptions about a certain Grizzly Mama (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • A gathering of ten devout yellow henchmen (hinky pinky)
  • Please outlaw Common Sense pamphleteer Tom’s sexist explications! (hinky pinky)
  • What’s seen when a portly officer’s shirt rides up while securing an arrestee (hinkily pinkily)
  • Plow inherited by John Scopes’ defense lawyer (hinklediddle pinklediddle)
  • Beyonce’s husband upchucks country short-shorts (hinkily pinkily)

The CR 13.2 Cento Contest!

Monday, December 5th, 2016

cento-poemJosé Angel Araguz: Time again for another cento contest celebrating the release of our latest issue!

The cento is a collage form in which a poem is composed entirely of lines from other poems. It can be an homage to the originals, a subversive twist, or just a fun game. Contemporary examples of the form include “The Dong with the Luminous Nose” by John Ashbery and “Wolf Cento” by Simone Muench.

As in our previous post, I’ve gone ahead a composed a cento poem based on last lines pulled from 13.2 (with punctuation added here and there) in celebration of the new issue. We encourage you to compose your own 13.2 cento and post it on our blog. We’ll float a free issue to creators of the strongest three (either gift for a friend or added to your current subscription). Pro tips: 1. Remember to cite the authors you quote from the issue; 2. enjambment is your friend!

Here. Take it all.

cento sonnet, written with last lines drawn from The Cincinnati Review, issue 13.2

Stand in bareness after the plunging hoofs are gone
beside the body, talking to it.
No more swallowing blood and coughing up trenzas,
ashamed to be ashamed.

Pollution of the heart, yearning,
until the visions open, until the visions bleed.
I’ll sing myself hoarse with prayers of data and space, our soundless bell,
night after night. You know my name, remember?

The hands that fed me
across the dusky skies and spelled out my silent shame
killed it easily, that stag with horns of gold,
and woke finding no God to whom to pray.

About the time: It’s passing so quickly.
I don’t know what to do with my heart.

*

[sources, in order: Alex Lemon (title), Joseph Zaccardi, Okwudili Nebeolisa, Eduardo Martinez-Leyva, Carina del Valle Schorske, Tuvia Ruebner, Claire Hero, Jessica Rae Bergamino, Todd Hearon, Josh Kalscheur, Jim Daniels, Martha Silano, Marilyn Nelson, David O’Connell, Charlotte Muzzi]

Pushcart Nominations

Monday, November 28th, 2016

2016_cover_bigWe here at The Cincinnati Review are pleased to announce our Pushcart Prize nominations. As always, it was difficult narrowing to just six pieces from the wonderful work in our 2016 issues. We continue to be impressed by the high quality of submissions, and feel honored for the opportunity to publish your work. Congratulations to the nominees!

Literary Nonfiction

Steven Wineman, “Erving and Alice and Sky and Elisabeth”

Fiction

Susann Cokal, “Fourteen Shakes the Baby”

Leslie Entsminger, “The Brief Second Life of Winston Whithers’s Wife”

Poetry

Cindy Beebe, “Make No Bones about It”

Dan Bellm, “Fragrance

MRB Chelko, “Snow Be”

What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?: Tarot

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Musings by José Angel Araguz

Episode 5: Tarot

In this episode, I do a quick study of the ways I see tarot being connected to poetry. As tarot is more complex than can be contained in one blog post, I will focus on my personal experiences with two cards in particular and how I see them relating to poetry writing.

But first, some basics:

A Brief Tarot 101 

tarot-highpriestessHistory: While the tarot card system goes back to the fifteenth century, the tarot as it is practiced today has a history that is only a little over a hundred years old. Today’s main tarot-as-divination methods are split between two camps: practitioners who use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and those who use the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. As the RWS is the most prominent in popular culture, its images and interpretations the most readily familiar, I’ll be referring to that deck. (Case in point: Xena: Warrior Princess’s take on the High Priestess.)

tarot-xena

How It Works: Tarot presents a system of symbolic images that are used for divination and as tools for meditation. Typically, a deck will have seventy-eight cards divided into two groups or arcanas (“hidden truth” or “secret knowledge”). The first group, called the Major Arcana, comprises twenty-two cards. Starting with The Fool (card zero) and ending on The World (card twenty-one), the Major Arcana is often seen as representing the fool’s journey—a journey through life in which the Fool gains wisdom as they overcome obstacles. The second set of cards, known as the Minor Arcana, consists of fifty-six cards divided into four suits (similar to traditional playing cards). As my discussion below will focus on two cards from the Major Arcana, I will not spend more time on explaining the Minor. (Anyone interested in learning more about tarot in general, please check out the links throughout this article.)

Tarot & Poetry

tarot-magician

I: The Magician

As the site Biddy Tarot explains:

The Magician is associated with the planet Mercury and carries with it skill, logic, and intellect. The number of the Magician is one, the number of beginnings. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. . . . He takes the power of the Universe and channels it through his own body and directs it to the physical plane.

As can be seen in this brief description, this card implies action and manifestation. Mercury, as an element, is never still, always in motion; in a similar way, I see the poet in the initial act of writing a poem evoking this constant motion. The Magician is all about sitting down to the materials at hand and making use of them. The first draft of a poem can be seen as a setting down of the initial elements, seeing what there is to work with.

This view on the Magician/poet brings to mind a quote from Robert Bly, who in an interview sums up the creative act in terms of dancing:

There is a dancing among all the experiences you’ve ever had and a dancing among the gifts you’ve received from your family, from the wider culture, from your reading. And then the hope is that you can begin to work yourself back into your own life.

When I come across the Magician in a tarot spread, I immediately interpret the card as directing me to do the “poet” work of bringing together the elements of a given moment or reading to see them as a whole. Writing a poem, comparatively, can be seen as doing “Magician” work, conjuring the raw materials for inspiration and seeing how they “dance.”

tarot-towerXVI: The Tower

As Biddy Tarot explains:

The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.

Considered one of the darker and more fateful cards in the Major Arcana, the Tower brings with it a sense of reckoning. In terms of poetry, I see this card as associated with revision. Sometimes the “ambitions built on false premises” that make up the first draft are hard to break free from. This is where the Tower’s informal “destruction” via lightning bolt becomes necessary. Lightning occurs randomly; similarly, an insight into a poem can also come randomly, striking when one is not expecting. The value of revision, then, can be seen as making opportunities for such lightning to strike.

The waiting involved in revision is how this “Tower” work differs from the more active “Magician” work. The distanced nature of revision is also implied by the Tower. If “Magician” work is done on a personal level, “Tower” work is done on an impersonal level. Or, one can say that a poem is revised in an impersonal manner until it becomes personal again. This take on revision echoes what Donald Hall said in an interview:

If the poet wants to be a poet, the poet must force the poet to revise. If the poet doesn’t wish to revise, let the poet abandon poetry and take up stamp-collecting or real estate.

Hall’s stern and task-oriented tone here is totally in line with the Tower.

*

For further insights into the connections between poetry and tarot, check out this article by poet, tarot, tea leaf reader, and creative mentor Tabitha Dial. Along with making connections between poetry, tarot, and Jung, Tabitha shares some tarot-oriented writing exercises.

Also check out The Poet Tarot from Two Sylvias Press.

A Question for Brock Clarke

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

brockToday on Cincinnati RevYouTube, Don Peteroy interrogates former fiction editor and somewhat successful writer [<–joke] Brock Clarke. One may think, looking at Brock’s creds, that he’s has little in common with the rest of us schlubs, but we’re here to tell you that Brock shares many of the characteristics of regular people. For example, he’s a biped. (We have seen him walk.) Actually, Brock is utterly lovely, and we’re grateful to him for letting us share this content with you. (Check back with us Friday for a video poem of contributor Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon.”)

CR on YouTube

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

tubeeweUnveiling . . . 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!

microreview/interview: Wayne Miller’s Post-

Monday, October 17th, 2016

by José Angel Araguz

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:

1
There were only certain stones
we could step on to cross the river.

2
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.”

interview

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.

Acre Books at Books by the Banks!

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

launchJoin 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!

Writing & Getting Published

Schiff Awards: The Judges and Writers on the Winning Poem and Story

Monday, October 10th, 2016

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.

underground-railroad-hero-hAaron 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.

daniel-stylite-1Maureen 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