Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why We Like It: “Bonsai Dawn Redwood Grove” by K. E. Duffin

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Volunteer Daniel (“Dan”) Groves comes from a long line of Groveses. His father was a Groves, his father’s father was a Groves, his father’s father’s father was a Groves. Naturally, when Dan writes last name, he scribbles “Groves,” but don’t be fooled. On the day he was born, the hospital intern responsible for typing out birth certificates, an avid disco fan, was listening to a cassette on his brand new, ten-pound, $325.00 Sony Walkman. The cassette was a limited edition, fan-club-only album titled Songs You Never Knew the Bee Gees Wrote. The intern received Dan’s info just as the title track from the famed John Travolta/Olivia Newton John film blared through his headphones, and the intern sang along: “Grease is the word, is the word that you heard; it’s got groove, it’s got meaning.” As he sang, he happened to be typing what should have been “Groves.” Instead, he typed “Grooves.” Dan has succeeding in concealing and correcting this blunder for decades, but sadly, he has also internalized it. Unbeknownst to Dan, groove is the criterion that informs his entire aesthetic. Were you to wake him in the middle of the night, when his cognitive filters are disabled, and ask him why he likes such-and-such poem, he’d mumble, “It’s got groove; it’s got meaning.”

Daniel Groves: In K. E. Duffin’s “Bonsai Dawn Redwood Grove,” the poet observes that “time/ is undone,” and then immediately asks—“but by what mechanism?” One answer could be that time is undone by the mechanism of the poem itself, which seems to invoke ancient artistic practices, with which the poet is aligned, in order to evoke even more ancient—ageless even, by comparison—natural processes. Moving down the page we follow the references as they move, like the sun, from East to West. The title refers to the ancient art of Bonsai, native to Japan, Land of the Rising Sun; the first line’s description of Bonsai Dawn Redwoods as having “many-fingered green hands” alludes, with a playful variation, to Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn” mnemonic, often used to mark beginnings, and thus to the dawn of the Western poetic tradition; lastly, the poem takes the form of a sonnet, “little song,” a form imported to England from Italy during the Renaissance. Amid these references to cultural heydays, the poet notes that the “green hands” “reach out from the Eocene” (“Eo-” from the Greek for “dawn”—the Eocene being the dawn of modern mammals), but even evolution itself has not had time enough to produce a bird “tiny enough to adorn such feathery fern.”

The poet, however, can “will it there, furtive and unheard,” as a figure for her dawning sense of herself, which is “small on these mossy slopes” but nonetheless serves as a mechanism by which “Eons pass” (this “Eo” a false dawn) and “time is undone” as “the mute bravado of duration elopes with all my smoldering days.”  Though I remain congenitally wary of most groves, K. E. Duffin’s “Bonsai Dawn Redwood Grove” is a delightful exception.

From Our Winners

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

We’re on a bonus-material kick, so here’s some good stuff related to our contest—statements from the readers of your many amazing entries and a bit from the winners on their moolah-worthy works.

NOTE on the POETRY: We were impressed with the formal variety of this year’s contest submissions. The things you’ve done with a page!  There were sonnets, of course, and even sestinas (a few!). There were poems about water in very long lines stretched out like rivers. There was a series of LA Haiku. There were prose poems, prose poems with holes to fall (or think) in, lineated proselike poems in which every line was end-stopped. There was a “Poem as a Field of Action.” There were elegies, histories, taxonomies, narratives, and lists. There were tiny, itty-bitty, microscopic lyrics. And the content! There was a poem for Thelma & Louise and one for Charlie Chaplin. There were pomegranates, epidemics, vibrators, and snow. You sent us your most romantic love poems, the finest tributes to your very best friends, your brightest joys, your deepest heartbreaks. And having to choose just one winner, for us, was the biggest heartbreak of all.​

Chelsea Jennings (on her winning poem, “Elegy”): Birds appear often and with great symbolic power in elegies. Watching the birds that perch on the telephone wires outside my window or that have nested in my kitchen vent, I wondered what it might mean to live among these creatures that harbor our losses. I began to imagine every bird as bearing the weight of someone’s grief. “Elegy” is a record of the world created through that perspective—when the feeling of loss collides with the peculiar, everyday magic of birds.

NOTE on the PROSE: It was a pleasure to read so many well-crafted and accomplished stories. We got absurd and surreal stories, like the one featuring absurd postcards from D. H. Lawrence’s trip to Mexico in which Frieda has a prosthetic head. We received imaginative, magical realist stories—one starring a spell-casting farmer creating magical problems for encroaching suburbanites. You sent us meditative and emotionally moving personal essays, telling us (for example) about loving the film Father of the Bride and your conservative father when you eloped into same-sex marriage. We got lyrical and psychologically acute realist stories, like the one where a man has an existential crisis at a bird fair with a much younger girlfriend.  You send us so many wonderful stories that to pick just one winner was downright traumatic. We had to do it, but we’ll never be the same again.

Tom Howard (on his winning story, “The Magnificents”): I started with the little scene in the beginning of the story: a dumbshow in which the character of Death is savagely beaten in front of cheering spectators on someone’s front lawn, as part of an extravagant birthday celebration.  And I imagined this strange middle-aged guy standing and watching, hopelessly out of place—kind of lonely, holding a bottle of meat-flavored champagne, with his head halfway in the clouds. I didn’t think this world had much use for someone like him, someone without any real talent or ambition or ruthlessness. But I liked him. And it became (among other, stranger things) a story about giving him a chance to show what he, or anyone, is really worth.

Free Beer . . . Tomorrow

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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.

Schiff Award Winners!

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The winners of the sixth annual Robert and Adele Schiff Awards are:

Tom Howard, for his story “The Magnificents”

and

Chelsea Jennings, for her poem “Elegy”

This year’s field was particularly distinguished, and it was difficult to choose from among the many quality entries. In addition to the winning pieces, three other contest entries—two poems and one story—will also be published in the prize issue (forthcoming May 2015). We present below a list of finalists and honorable mentions, as well as the editors’ comments on the winning poem and story. Next week look for the winners’ comments on their works.

Don Bogen on “Elegy”: “Elegy” stood out, first of all, for its distinctive music: bold and insistent in its rhythms, subtly lyrical in its sound echoes. The last couplet particularly grabbed me—the insights there and in the eight spare lines before it seemed to deepen with each reading. Anchored in concision, thoughtful repetition, and fresh use of some of the simplest terms, “Elegy” sings its own grief as it captures the sad complexities of human loss.

Michael Griffith on “The Magnificents”: This year’s fiction winner of the Schiff Award belongs to, or perhaps invents, something like a new genre: Dystopian Slapstick. Told in a frenetic shorthand that makes this feel like a short novel rather than a long story, “The Magnificents” combines hilarious black comedy with surprising pathos. Never before have I rooted so hard for a little boy’s garage magic to save someone from euthanasia.

Finalists

“The Mountain,” Barret Baumgart

“A Recipe for Mice,” Amy Knox Brown

“Bird Fair,” Katherine Davis

“Real Americans,” Camellia Freeman

“Walls,” Rachel Goldman

“The Nino,” Sarah Gurman

“Sirens,” Stephanie Horvath

“The Neighbors,” Sheri Joseph

“A Bildungsroman,” Mark Labowskie

“Forces of Nature,” Jason Mastaler

“But for Herr Hitler,” Robin McLean

“Judas Cradle,” Robin McLean

“Philip Roth’s Last Hours,” Timothy Parrish

“The Doppelgangers,” Helen Phillips

“Unaccompanied Cello,” Jennifer Acker Shah

“Stay Up with Hugo Best,” Erin Somers

“Tuckernuck,” Melanie Unruh

“Planet Joy,” Misty Urban

“History of Titles,” Jason Whitmarsh

“The World without Nan,” Elise Winn

“Dear Lazarus,” John Woods

Honorable Mentions

“The Greenhouse,” Alex Collins-Shotwell

“Hell,” Jacques Debrot

“Pedazos of a Man,” Daisy Hernandez

“Learning to Swim,” Jennifer Imsande

“M1 Liberty Freedom,” Adrienne Johnson

“Source Code,” Kevin Lavey

“The Deliverist,” Dan Mancilla

“True Carnivores,” Robin McLean

“The Yellow Dress,” David Meischen

“The Erratic,” Christina Milletti

“Split Skin,” Samantha Mitchell

“Sleeping Alone,” Alexander Sorondo

“Trilogy,” Julie Marie Wade

“Paper Boats,” Caroline Wilkinson

Hat-Tipping Time

Friday, September 26th, 2014

It’s time for a post commending our small pool of trusted readers, who are in no small way responsible for buoying our literary vessel. These magnificent humans render thoughtful judgments on thousands of submissions each year. They have children to raise, medical conditions that require myriad unguents, rude neighbors who sneak out at night to pee on their lawns—and still they read on. Below are some examples of their considered critiques. Thank you, volunteers and satellite readers, for your generous service.

—I found a lot of things about the premise, character, and form surprising. This one felt fresh, though there were some areas where the language was a little clumsy, and the moment of change seems sudden. I think it could be expanded.

—The writing takes us right up to the point where the story should start. Then it ends.

—Strong, unexpected images. Unique voice. Deserves another read.

—This story is beautifully written; it also has much more of a sense of its own language & the power of that language than it does of the story’s moving parts. As an experiment, it’s engaging, even stirring; as a story, it’s somewhat less. The writer is clearly quite talented, though.

—The poet has the ability to move from outer space to a tight close-up in some of the poems, and when it works, it’s a pretty ride.

—I enjoyed the energy and imagination with which the poet approached her subject matter. There is a tension dug into in these lyrics that evokes what is learned and lost in growing up.

—Complex and moving. I love this one. Engages timely issues with deft handling. The description goes on for awhile, but it’s interesting how the dynamics shift as they go.

—This story is not terribly original, and the beginning and end aren’t quite right, but the writing is good throughout. Perhaps someone to watch?

—A pretty good story here. Quiet. Sensitively envisioned.

—An accomplished poet. Many of these didn’t grab me but were technically sophisticated. They are worth another read.

—Sketches of somewhat stereotypical characters. All in summary and description, no scenes. It doesn’t hold together as a cohesive whole.

Why We Like It: “Classified” by Sarah Burke

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

New volunteer Matthew Pennock hails from NYC, where he studied, earned a poetry degree, and taught school, but he is mainly known for being the reincarnated Houdini. As a baby, Matthew escaped from his crib nightly, and in the morning his parents would find him stuffed inside his sock drawer or an empty box of Tide. Though he grew larger as he aged, Matthew challenged himself to fit inside, and then escape from, smaller and more oddly shaped containers: the helmet of a suit of armor, a clarinet case, a bottle of Britney Spears’s fragrance Curious (he emerged redolent of Louisiana magnolia, golden Anjou pear, and dewy lotus flower). Considering his past life and accomplishments, we do not find it curious that he chose to write on “Classified” in our current issue.

Matthew Pennock: Sarah Burke had me at line 1. I turned the page to her “Classified” and read “Wanted—shell the mollusk exudes like sweat.” What follows is an immaculately rendered poem in which images work in concert to create a feeling of paranoia and exhaustion all too present in our current cultural climate.

The poem, as the title implies, alludes to the structure of a classified ad, relying twice on the italicized verb “wanted,” which is then followed by a series of images, all of which are variations on one theme, close confinement: “Think glove, not box. Vase,/not tank.” These images, however, do not feel claustrophobic; in fact, they feel like the only safe spaces one may inhabit: “Think womb, think flashlight/burning in a makeshift tent of quilts.” After bearing witness to this cavalcade of tight fits, I couldn’t help but see the title in a new way. “Classified” no longer functions solely as an indicator of structure—the form of a want ad—now it takes on the mantle of government. It is a Secret with a capital S, calling to mind the NSA’s wanton violation of our privacy, the vague terror threats the FBI says they’ve foiled but will never reveal. Whenever I think of all the various undefined ways the world wants to destroy me or what I hold dear, I too want to find the safest, most confined space. I want to crawl into an “anthill chambered as a heart.”

Upon Spelling

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Nicola Mason: Last week, Michael (the fiction editor) looked up from his reading and asked, “What words do you see that are frequently misspelled?”

“Cemetery,” I said, “minuscule, seize, graffiti, mantel—the fireplace thing—as opposed to mantle—the cloak thing. What about you?”

“Discreet—the keep-it-to-yourself thing—as opposed to discrete—the singular-bits thing—Caribbean, liquefy, genealogy. What else?”

“People always use poured when they mean pored. And Cincinnati,” I said. “It’s surprising how often people stick an extra t in there.”

“Millennium,” he said, “sacrilegious, fluorescent.”

“Vocal cords,” I said, “with an h.”

“Yes!” he cried. “With an h.”

“Foreword,” I said.

“Epigraph,” he said. “Not epigram.”

“Not epigram.” I nodded. “Nyet.”

Michael rested his chin on his thumb. “How can we help the spelling challenged?”

“I’ve got it,” I replied. “We can quote Words into Type. On the blog. Everyone who’s anyone reads the blog.”

“Whose,” he said, “when they mean who’s. And vice versa.”

“Vice,” I said, “when they mean vise.”

“Such as this passage?” he inquired: “The writer who is a poor speller should work with a dictionary always at his side and should send out no manuscript, proposal, or outline without carefully checking doubtful words and proper names.”

“Indeed,” I said. “And this one: Words often misspelled should be memorized or written on a list for future reference.”

“Good one,” commended Michael.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad we had this very spontaneous talk about the building blocks of our wonderfully expressive language.”

“Ditto,” Michael replied, making a little gun with his index finger and thumb, then shooting it at me. “What do you say we get back to our reading?”

I nodded, leaning toward my computer screen and inhaling. “I love the smell of fresh submissions.”

Revising our Reading Period: August 15 to March 15

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Nicola Mason: It’s Trepidation Day here at the mag—the day we designated to make it known that we are (deep breath) shortening our reading period. We’ve gone back and forth. There’s been heated discussion. Fisticuffs, even. Okay, not fisticuffs, but brow furrowing and such. Definitely brow furrowing and one incipient case of TMJ. In other words, we don’t want to do it, but we have to do it. Weirdly, it’s to be fair to all the talented writers submitting—who are waiting longer and longer to hear from us because of the steadily climbing number of quality manuscripts we receive. Each day we get an email from an irritated, perhaps slightly more than irritated, writer whose work has been under consideration for, basically, ever. This most often means that one reader dug it and passed it on to someone else, who dug it and passed it on to someone else (repeat two more times), and it has reached the head eds, who must read it, and maybe even reread it, before deciding if it goes into the upcoming issue. Sad to say (reality rears its pattern-bald pate) we can publish less than 1%  of what we receive.

We most definitely don’t want to speed up the actual process of reading submissions. We don’t want to give anything short shrift. In fact, we rather pride ourselves on supporting that underserved set of writers, the emergers. We are excited, for example, to have discovered John William McConnell’s story “House of Wine,” forthcoming in our fall/winter issue. It’s his first publication, and it’s amazing. We are painfully aware, however, that we are not being kind to hold onto the work—for, basically, ever—of wonderful writers who are trying to take the lit world by the nape and give it a sharp shake. In other words, to be fair to those who submit, we have to restrict the number of submissions we receive. We realize this is something of a catch-22, and that there will be strong feelings and opinions about our long-considered and considerably fraught decision.

Of course, we would love for some beneficent donor to appear before us with a sack of crisp bills so we could a.) work full time, or b.) hire more kick-ass staffers. If you know such a person—if you ARE such a person—we’d be thrilled to hear from you. In the meantime, we are shortening our reading period—with regret—in the hope that we will be more speedily responsive in the future.

I leave you with this delightful passage from the story mentioned above. Thanks, John William McConnell, for sending your stuff our way.

John’s mind jump-started awake. Lilith asleep next to him, snoring. Dim bars of light leaned across the bedroom, beamed through the slats from a disco-ball moon. John immediately understood he would not be sleeping that night, only by the sobriety of his awakeness, its painful edge and the ache behind his eyes.

John frowzed upright and frowzed his brow; he frowzed, then frowzed his eyes and frowzily frowzed out of bed. He really wanted to utter an obscenity but had forgotten them all. He pulled on his pants and shuffled around shirtless in a world of gunmetal blue, and gray, and lurking blacknesses in the corners. Out of the bedroom. Through a blank hall. To a menagerie of couches and furniture that had borrowed from the night a glister of comatose hate. Fuck you, said the couches. On the table was a bottle of wine, number four, and praise the lord: still half full. He poured into a glass and raised it. There was very red lipstick on the rim. Lip, John thought. John glanced around. What the fuck was this? He just wanted to. Yeah, he was gonna do it. John pressed his mouth over the lipstick, her lipstick, cherryblood red. Drank the wine with his mouth precisely over the lipstick and enjoyed the lipid roundness of the stuff adhering to his mouth. The sticky fat. He held the glass and listened. Sometimes there was the shorelike sound of a car spinning around the cul-de-sac, lost in the suburbs, probably, and how the high beams arced like the flash of a lighthouse through the windows. Vase, picture, couch, plant. He drank again, smacked his mouth.

MOTH: The Graphic Play

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Our tenth-anniversary project (well, one of them) is nearing completion. MOTH: The Graphic Play will be fluttering toward subscribers soon. That’s right—56 full-color pages of the eponymous play by Declan Greene, gorgeously illustrated by the talented Gabe Ostley.

MOTH is the story of Anime-obsessed Sebastian and art-freak Claryssa as they awkwardly navigate the cruel social hierarchy of high school. A horrific event on the school’s athletic field threatens their friendship and sends Sebastian on an apocalyptic mission, whereby fantasy and reality intermingle with dangerous consequences. Written with dark wit that’s ultimately after your heart, MOTH is an exploration of friendship, adolescence, loss, and mental illness.

Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers: The Case of the Poltergeist Proxy

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

It’s September, y’all, and Don Peteroy is not only blazing back onto our blog, he is also claiming a chair in our cluttered little office. Many of you know him by his rap moniker Freezy P, but to his colleagues, fellow staffers, and to readers of his work, he is known as, um, well, Don. We’re excited to have someone new around to good-naturedly needle, not to mention coffee runs just got easier (he drinks his Starbucks black). This time out, the hapless focus of Freezy’s irrelevant inquisition is CR contributor Andrea Scarpino.

Andrea Scarpino is the author of the poetry collection Once, Then (Red Hen Press, 2014) and the chapbook The Grove Behind (Finishing Line Press, 2009). She received an MFA from The Ohio State University and has published in numerous journals including The Cincinnati Review, Los Angeles Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Question: You are currently on a book tour, which is great. Let’s imagine that tomorrow, when you show up for your reading, you see a sign on the bookstore’s door. It reads, Andrea Scarpino’s reading has been cancelled. You’ve been replaced by a different poet. The ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge will be reading “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” You’re okay with this; you’re too awed to be upset. But when you show up for your next reading, in a different city, you see the same thing has happened. And the next, and the next. You write some new poems, send them to literary magazines, and they all get accepted. But when you get your contributor’s copies, you notice that your poems have been replaced by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” You email the magazine editors and they respond, “Sorry. There’s nothing we can do about this.” The same ill-fortune occurs in every venue: AWP panels, chapbook publications, book reviews. You track down and call the agent who represents the ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. She never returns your calls. Finally, you try to approach the ghost. You do it on three occasions, and every time, the second you start speaking, he vanishes. You even try this at a reading, and the crowd gets so mad, they throw Danielle Steel novels at you. Tell me. What do you do?

AS: First, I get myself to a safe place. An angry Danielle-Steel-wielding mob is not something to be taken lightly, especially since those glossy book covers pack a real punch (take my word on this). I find a bathroom near the bookstore’s café—I will need to be well-caffeinated to think through my next move—and I try to remember back to all those undergraduate English literature classes. And I realize, slowly, how much Coleridge and I have in common.

Coleridge was addicted to opium, for example. I am addicted to sugar, which causes a high in similar parts of the brain. Coleridge wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem I think is terrible. I wrote a book-length poem about water that I now also think is terrible. Coleridge had a thing for albatrosses. I have a thing for crows (Hughes’s Crow and/or otherwise). Coleridge was a Romantic. I’ve been known to be romantic. Uncanny, really, how similar we are, I realize as I sit in my locked bookstore bathroom, Stevia-sweetened almond-milk cappuccino in hand, angry mob gathering and lighting torches on the other side of the door.

And the truth slowly dawns on me: I am Coleridge’s ghost. Or he is my ghost. Or the Ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is both of our ghosts. The workings of the supernatural world are difficult to hold to any particular space-time continuum. The point is that I am writing his poetry (as terrible as I may think it), and he is writing mine (as terrible as he may think it). I unlock the bathroom door and quell the angry crowd with my best Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman impression. And then the Ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and I share a lemon poppy seed muffin.