Today 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.”)
Posts Tagged ‘Don Peteroy’
For today’s YouTube video, we offer you a look at a submission’s journey through our reading process. CR is a teaching program. Each term, we take on new volunteers (from UC’s pool of PhD and MA candidates), have them read ten to twenty manuscripts per week, and assess these using our scoring rubric, which runs from 1 to 5. Our staff reads after our volunteers, adding to their comments before a decision is made either to decline the submission or pass it on to the permanent staff (Don, Kristen, Michael, Nicola). Featured in this clip, Associate Editor Don Peteroy (who, btw, birthed the idea of the YouTube channel—clouds parted, golden rays bathed him in light) and Assistant Editors José Angel Araguz and Rochelle Hurt.
Episode 3: Poetic Interludes with Rockstars
[prologue: Counting Crows with Peteroy]
On the first of December, Associate Editor Don Peteroy walked into the Cincinnati Review office and made a casual reference to the song he had in his head that morning, “A Long December” by the Counting Crows. It was the kind of perfect, totally unexpected yet apt thing to bring up, not only because it was the beginning of the month but because mentioning the song brought up the opening lines:
A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
These lines pretty much summed up the air of the end-of-semester/season change happening around me then. Most of the leaves that were going to fall had fallen; the rest were either hanging there dried and stubborn (like memories of 90’s songs) or hidden within the stark branches waiting for spring.
Don being our resident rock star musician, this interlude got me thinking about rock stars in general, how much of what lives beyond their music is often the musician’s own humanly perfect and totally unexpected yet apt things said either in concert or interview.
[interlude one: Bono]
It’s like landing a 747 onto your front lawn
This statement was said by U2’s Bono during an impromptu concert in December of 2000. The band had set up at the Irving Plaza in New York City, a venue whose capacity is capped at 1,000. For a band that can sell out stadiums on back-to-back dates worldwide, Bono’s simile rides a fine line between hyperbole and truth.
Whatever else (good, bad, South Park) can be said about the man, I have been a big fan of Bono the artist since I was a kid. I’m talking albums, but also books, magazine interviews, bootlegs, etc. I actually heard the quote above via a live radio broadcast of the concert that I recorded (on cassette, no less). When asked in college for tips on how to introduce a fellow poet at a reading, I have been quoted as saying, “You gotta be all Bono about it,” meaning you have to go up and share your enthusiasm and admiration for the work of a fellow artist, really bring forth those personal connections you feel. Here’s Bono himself demonstrating at Bob Marley’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
I know claiming Bob Marley as Irish might be a little difficult here tonight, but bear with me. Jamaica and Ireland have a lot in common. Naomi Campbell, Chris Blackwell, Guinness, a fondness for little green leaves – the weed…
But I must come back to the artist himself. There’s a quote I’ve carried with me for about seventeen years now, writing it on the first page of every notebook I’ve had in that time along with other quotes that inspire me at the page. The following words come from an interview during the promotion for All That You Can’t Leave Behind:
…the ability to surrender, to give yourself, either in reverie or revelry. And the journey of the artist is surely the journey away from self-consciousness.
Words like these bring forth the man behind those infamous sunglasses. I keep these words with me for what they say about what I experience working on poems. Whether it’s working toward a first draft or pushing myself into a fifteenth draft, the journey to the next words is exactly “the journey away from self-consciousness.”
[interlude two: Shakira]
Ahora vamos a ponerle un poquito de sabor a guacamole a la noche
[And now we’re going to add a little taste of guacamole to the night]
Shakira spoke these words during her classic MTV Unplugged set as she introduced the mariachi band Los Mora Arriaga. Together, they then performed her song “Ciega, Sordomuda” restyled as traditional mariachi song. To boot, the song’s breakdown had the singer and band snap into a Ramon Ayala-worthy Tejano beat.
My reaction as a seventeen-year-old brown kid in South Texas: *swoon.*
What is swoon-worthy about this performance is the tip of the hat to both Mexican as well as Mexican-American culture via the mariachi/Tejano mix. Here is Colombian rock star Shakira fusing together two Latinidades vital to North American Latin@s. Furthermore, what is poetic about this performance is summed up in the casual cool of Shakira’s statement above. In the quick analogy hinting at the nature of things to come, Shakira is being “all Bono about it.”
I found myself echoing some of Shakira’s swagger recently as I described my latest book as taking the prose poem and adding a little more guacamole and South Texas to it. If Shakira comes looking for me, tell her Bono made me do it.
[epilogue: a cento for David Bowie]
I had written the first half of this post in December, before the winter break. Coming back to it this week, I realize I can’t write about rock stars and their apt and unexpected human moments without honoring the memory of David Bowie.
Lunatic’s Lyric – José Angel Araguz
a cento for David Bowie composed of one line from the last songs on each of his albums
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
of tombstones, epitaphs, wreaths, flowers, all that jazz,
where sad-eyed mermen tossed in slumbers
sighing, the swirl through the streets.
Like the leaf clings to the tree:
Share bride failing star
through morning’s thoughts and fantasies.
And the clock waits so patiently on your song.
She’ll lay belief on you;
Please heal these tears.
Let it be like yesterday,
with just a hint of mayhem
that burns your change to keep you insane.
That a man is not a man,
and it’s no game:
It’s the place that I know well.
You chew your fingers and stare at the floor.
Buildings they rise to the skies.
Made for a real world,
we scavenge up our clothes
with the sound of the ground.
So I’ll spin while my lunatic lyric goes wrong.
Trapped between the rocks,
black eyed ravens
stab me in the dark, let me disappear,
seeing more and feeling less.
“Memory of a Free Festival” “Please Mr. Gravedigger” “The Supermen” “The Bewlay Brothers” “Wild is the Wind” “Subterraneans” “The Secret Life of Arabia” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” “Lady Grinning Soul” “Untitled no. 1″ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” “Big Brother” “Fame” “Red Money” “It’s No Game (part 2)” “Shake It” “Dancing with the Big Boys” “Bang Bang” “Heathen” “Strangers When We Meet” “Law (Earthlings on Fire)” “Lucy Can’t Dance” “Heat” “The Dreamers” “Bring Me the Disco King” “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
Thanks to the scads of readers who contributed to our Cento Contest! Actually, there were only two of you—but your centos delighted us—so much that we’re adding a full year to both your CR subscriptions. Same holds true for anyone who offers us a cento using lines from CR 12.1 by the end of the day tomorrow. We should mention that Assistant Ed. Jose Angel Araguz took the form to new heights by creating a sonnet cento of last lines. To check all these out, simply click on the title of the CR Cento Contest post and scroll down.
And now it’s time for a genre switcheroo. A fiction cento, as it were, though that’s not really an existing term, so we’re just calling it a fiction mashup. Same deal: Those who submit credible efforts—and especially those who submit incredible efforts—get a year added on to their subscriptions. Associate Ed. Don Peteroy played it pretty loose when constructing the mashup below—grabbing a phrase, part of a sentence, or just some interesting word pairs from every prose piece in our current issue. The result is . . .
Hot Raisin Bird for the Temptation Arm of My Father
by Don Peteroy
“I want you to come over. Right now,” Earl said.
“It is forbidden,” Esther said. He hung up the tapeworm and ran out into the rain with his Cape of Invisibility. Except it never worked.
He called 911.
“Welcome to Mr. Milkshake. Can I take your order?”
“Are you ready?” he asked. Words clogged his helicopter.
“I want you to come over. Right now,” she said.
He was driving over in his disaster of a car. She opened the shed. He reached over, putting his arm around seas of cantaloupe slices. She had makeup insurance won’t cover. The girl sometimes wore firewood.
“You nervous?” he asked like a pinecone.
“You signed a contract,” she said.
“Good, but could you squeeze harder?”
That hot, itchy feeling was leaking from him, kind of shaped like France. He said he’d been taking a lot of heat from Pastor Joe: She’s seeing a therapist rumored to be in Rising Sun. It snugs up to the Mason-Dixon line, covered by a Vampire Weekend poster.
He sat on the edge of the bed. Her throat was always on schedule, the damp smell of the locker room. One month, they’d eaten nothing but sailors, but after the divorce, he couldn’t stop thinking about a tub of cottage cheese. When he was nine, he’d been chased through concrete. Chickens were miles away. Rain fell unceasingly in preserve jars. Pastor Joe had bailed him out of jail because her neuroses allowed him to feel like potato salad charred to purity. Winter came. They all ate.
“Did you fight back?” Esther said. A spatula simmered in the crockpot.
He unrolled an old treasure map. She hit him with her secret cave. Everyone got a chance to.
I called 911, popped out my left boob, and said, “No daughter of mine is going to be a rock star.”
Me. It was the last thing she was expecting. Me in full makeup and costume, with their chemistry teacher wired directly to a defibrillator. “Look, let’s go over the options in person,” I said.
“We just want to eat bacon,” she said at length, like a fragile foot.
“She shits herself all the day,” he said, putting his dick away. “I hate salmon.”
I wanted to inhale my wig. “I’m in the band,” I said.
“No way. You’re making that up,” she said.
I unrolled condom wrappers, built to look like coffins. “I’m in the band,” I said.
She threw a pillow. Chickens were miles away. Nipping at each other. That night, she would sit me in a bucket of crabs.
It’s our pleasure to present another edition of Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers, a blog feature in which Associate Editor Don Peteroy lobs a bit (or a lot) of ludicrousness, like a great white written spitball, at an author he admires, and the author bobs and weaves to avoid taking the sodden mass in the eye. This episode’s delightfully game target is Anne Valente. Coming at you, Anne! Cweappppppptttthhhhh [sound of written-spitball release].
Question: You’re teaching an undergraduate novel-writing class. The first two students up for workshop hand in phonebook-sized manuscripts. At home, you begin to read the first one, and it’s not long before you realize the student has turned in an exact copy of Moby-Dick, word for word. You open the next manuscript, and the first line reads, “Call me Ishmael.” It’s another Moby-Dick. In class, you yell at the students, but they don’t know what you’re talking about. In Survey of British Lit, 1580-1700, you’d assigned The Taming of the Shrew. When you initiate conversation, the students start talking about homoeroticism as it pertains to Queequeg and Ishmael. You glance inside your copy of the Shakespeare play, and—it goes without saying—the entire text has been replaced by Moby-Dick. You then look in every book in your office. Kafka’s The Trial is about Ahab’s search for the whale. On the Road? A tale about whale hunting. Even Joyce Carol Oates’s entire oeuvre has become Melville-infected. And then you look in your own book, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down. “Call me Ishmael,” it reads. Your publisher phones to discuss a new novel you’re working on. She says, “Look, Anne, I’ll be frank. I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to do. Let’s try something new, something inventive. I’ve had this idea floating around in my head, and you can take it and expand upon it if you wish. Okay, so this guy, Ishmael, ends up on this whaling boat with this crazy captain named Ahab. . . .” As she explains, you open your inbox. You’ve received a rejection from a literary magazine. The email reads: “We’re sorry, but your work does not suit our needs at the moment. We’re currently looking for fresh stories about a captain in search of a white whale…” In brief, describe the next twenty-four hours of your life.
AV: First, I pull from beneath my bed the Ouija board that’s been gathering dust since junior high. I dim the lamps, light some candles and incense. Even though Witchboard and The Exorcist and even the Hasbro instructions have all warned me not to play alone, I place my hands on the planchette and ask the ether of the living room, “Herman Melville, is that you?” The wind blows against the panes. The candlelight flickers. The spade-shaped indicator creeps slowly around the board, not toward the YES or NO at the top corners but instead around the letters until it spells a full sentence: IT IS I. My hands flinch away from the board. Herman Melville is in the room! I gather my thoughts and wonder what I can possibly ask him. I think of my students, the whale-filled manuscripts, the call from my publisher, the literary magazine rejection. My hands find the board. “What do you want from me?” I say to the room.
The planchette flies quickly around, spells out the longest sentence I’ve seen since the board told me in junior high NO YOU WILL NEVER MEET TORI AMOS SORRY. I memorize the letters Melville gives me, decode them in my head. WHEN YOU READ MOBY DICK A FEW YEARS AGO YOU SKIMMED THE WHALING CHAPTERS AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHALE TAXONOMY AND BALEEN AND HARPOON ROPES.
Then the board goes silent. The wind stops blowing and the incense burns out. I set the board quietly inside its box, slide it back under the bed, and pull Moby-Dick off the shelf. It takes twenty-four hours to read all 663 pages, but by the following night, my eyes bloodshot with a lack of sleep, I know everything there is to know about the history of whaling and uses for whale oil and the difference between a humpback and a minke.
The next morning, my students submit manuscripts that don’t begin Call me Ishmael. We discuss The Taming of the Shrew. I receive a follow-up email from the lit mag saying submissions are closed for their whale-theme issue. I wonder for a few days if using the Ouija board alone will cause me to writing only of white whales, but Herman Melville never contacts me again.
Anne Valente’s first short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, won the Dzanc Books Short Story Prize and was released in September 2014. Her debut novel, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down, is forthcoming from William Morrow/HarperCollins in 2016. She is also the author of the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics. Originally from St. Louis, she is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
Here at UC, we and the rest of the English Department are anticipating the October visit of Julie Schumacher, who’ll read in the Elliston Poetry Room at 4 p.m. on the 26th of that spooky month. Staffer and fan Don Peteroy reviews her latest—Dear Committee Members—below.
Don Peteroy: In Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, Jason Fitger has had enough. He’s a former novelist, has had several divorces, and works as a burnt-out creative writing teacher at Payne University, where literary arts are becoming obsolete. His students—usually international finance or software engineering majors—are either apathetic or apt to write stories that celebrate excessive gore. The university is remodeling the floor above the English department, where the financially privileged economics department resides, and Fitger must deal with the constant noise of jackhammers and toxic plumes coming through the ventilation.
Taking place over the course of an academic year, the novel is told in epistolary form. The majority of Fitger’s correspondence involves requests for letters of recommendations from adjuncts, current students applying to other programs or universities, English majors from years ago applying for catering jobs, and, in one specific instance, a student who’d received a C- in Fitger’s writing class who seeks employment at Avengers Paintball, Inc. Fitger explains to Avengers Paintball that the student’s “autobiographical essay on the topic of his own rageful impulses” makes him a perfect candidate for the job. Other letters involve departmental politics, and Fitger’s persistent, but unanswered, requests for the university to take notice of the increasingly hazardous state of his work environment, due to the renovations.
Early in the novel, we realize that Fitger has blown his cork. He uses his letters as a medium to rant about the IT department’s incompetence, redundant documentation, and his failed relationships and literary career. His tirades are hysterical not only because they’re unprofessional and, at times, completely random, but because they’re honest. For instance, he writes, “Alex Ruefle has prevailed upon me to support his teaching application to your department, which I gather is hiring adjunct faculty members exclusively, bypassing the tenure track with its attendant health benefits, job security, and salaries on which a human being might reasonably live. Perhaps your institution should cut to the chase and put its entire curriculum online, thereby sparing Ruefle the need to move. You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice, and then charge your students a thousand dollars each to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.”
Dear Committee Members is not simply a collection of witty letters, though. There is a narrative arc, and a central conflict through which the novel achieves greater sophistication. Beneath the humor, a tragedy concerning one of Fitger’s students, Darren Browles, brews steadily. Fitger cares deeply about Browles, but as the student’s plight worsens throughout the year, Fitger finds himself powerless to help him. Browles becomes the victim of a culture that privileges certain individuals over others, institutional oversight, and administrative bloating. While Fitger’s letters written on behalf of Browles ridicule institutional ethics (and are therefore funny), they also highlight how deeply serious and horrible Browles’s situation is becoming.
Practically every other page of Dear Committee Members made me laugh. In each letter, Schumacher reestablishes and reinvents the terms of her humor, so the novel stays fresh, with surprises all the way until the end. At the same time, I found the tragic element so heartbreaking that, upon closing the book, I couldn’t do anything but remain seated and staring ahead for long minutes.
Don Peteroy: Hemingway notes that in effective prose, writers will omit aspects of the story, but the reader will nonetheless sense the presence of what’s not there. “The dignity of the movement of an ice-berg,” Hemingway says, “is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” Likewise, in Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud describes the empty, transitional space between comic panels as a potent ground for the untold story beneath the surface. Nathan Holic’s novella, The Things I Don’t See, exemplifies McCloud and Hemingway’s theories of omission through conventional storytelling and comic graphics, creating a haunting and sometimes terrifying reading experience. Though it’s marketed as a horror novella, you won’t encounter haunted houses or monsters. The ghosts in this story are our own monstrous secrets, refusing to be brought into the light.
Craig, aspiring to live life like a “sitcom dad,” has relocated his wife and step-son to a developing community outside of Orlando. Unfortunately, Phase II of the construction is cancelled when the recession comes, and Craig’s family is surrounded by unfinished homes, dirt roads, muddy craters, and the unfulfilled promise of a pool, a clubhouse, and communal happiness. His step-son, Taylor, was already a “problem child” before they’d arrived in the ghost-community, but its emptiness seems to have exacerbated his growing hatred toward Craig. A horror film fanatic, Taylor draws pictures of Craig being murdered in the most gruesome ways. The child’s violent fixations become the object of his step-father’s obsession, culminating in a power struggle. Each chapter alternates between timelines conveying Craig’s childhood and present. Even as Craig reluctantly confesses the truly horrific things he’d done as a child, we see him “investigating” Taylor, attempting to preempt or prevent what Craig believes will be Taylor’s intricate, bloody revenge. He knows Taylor is keeping dangerous secrets because that’s what he’d done as a child, and presumably, that’s what all boys do:
“. . . we were children and we believed our own lies and we were fucking evil, everything that an adult should be afraid of. And I don’t care how many diapers you change or how many loving glances you receive from your baby, you don’t know what children are capable of when your eyes are shut, when the clouds choke out the sun. A damaged child, full of hate? Shit. Best not to shut your eyes.”
Craig discovers on Taylor’s computer a series of animated drawings that are difficult to see as anything other than a promise of destruction, yet we can never be sure what Taylor’s drawings are telling us, or what the story between the frames actually is. Either way, both Craig and Taylor show signs of psychopathic potential, and by the final scene, we’re not sure who is going to do the killing, or if there will be any at all.
I’ve read a lot of horror stories, and those without the ghosts or murderers (Shirley Jackson comes to mind) can be just as terrifying as those with these elements, sometimes more. Aside from Holic’s ability to render sophisticated characters, his sentences are alive with haunting details of an abandoned suburbia, idiosyncratic in voice, poetic at times, and attentive to the power of each word. When horror writers actually care about the prose (about half do)—get this—the sentences intensify the thrills in the plot. Holic wants his readers to believe and feel the terrors on the page, and he succeeds by raising the bar with careful, artful prose. In 126 pages, he manages to juggle multiple themes, which pull the reader in as effectively as the sentences: aging, brotherly rivalry, the death of a loved one, abandonment, 1980s nostalgia, peer pressure, middle-class ennui, denial, passivity, honesty, humility, and ultimately, what it means to be a father.
You can purchase The Things I Don’t See from Main Street Rag Publishing at http://mainstreetrag.com/bookstore
Our new assistant editor, Don Peteroy, has some definite ideas about fiction. Author of Wally (Burrow Press, 2012), an epistolary travel novella about an unstable protagonist who drives from Cincinnati to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, to settle a score with Santa Claus, Don keeps a photocopied image of L. Ron Hubbard taped to his office wall. This morning, he was talking with one of our volunteers about how uncanny certain trends in contemporary American fiction have become. “It’s like a collective unconscious thing,” Don joked: “If a character’s blonde, he’s evil. If he has green eyes, he’s going to seduce someone. And, strangest of all, if a story opens with a couple painting a bedroom wall, you know a sudden death’s about to occur.” Read on to discover why Don admires Brock Clarke’s short story “The Radical” (11.2), which not only manages to avoid these tropes but successfully negotiates another theme that has become common to both fiction and nonfiction: the contemporary cancer narrative.
Don Peteroy: A writing professor of mine once advised, “If you can predict what your next move is going to be, do the opposite.” Brock Clarke’s “The Radical” seems to make best use of that technique: Inevitability is turned inside out; surprises escalate, one-upping each other; rules are established and immediately broken. Though it sounds like I’m describing a story by Steven Milhauser or Robert Coover, the experiments in Clarke’s piece are subtle; barely detectable. The protagonist finds out he’s got cancer. On the night of his diagnosis, he writes a letter to his wife, Therese. She never actually sees the letter, but hears about it years later, and this belated discovery marks the beginning of a slow-moving deterioration that will affect their relationship and that of their close friends.
I admire how much of the dramatic effect of this story hinges on dislocated time. Though the moment of narration is years later, we’re not aware of any retrospective distance until about halfway through the story. Up until that point, it’s strictly present tense—but then we must recalibrate. This isn’t a gimmick or trick: The shift evokes in us the kind of temporal and causal dislocation that the protagonist experiences. Furthermore, we get the sense that the protagonist admonishes the advancement of time—it brings about decay and dissolution. He attempts to forestall the inevitable. Structurally—even down to the sentence level—the story embodies the protagonist’s penchant for evasion. Soon, however, we’re thrown back into linear time, where there are consequences. This is evident in the last full paragraph, which builds tension by delaying closure, but cannot indefinitely forestall the inevitable, discomforting resolution. The effect is profound. Because the story is narrated from some point in the future, we’d expect the narrator to have come to terms with (or to have mastered) his interpretation of past events. Not quite. “The Radical” is both a story about loss, and a story about the drama of telling such a story.