A Safe Space for Students: The Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House

As a sophomore at the University of Maryland, I joined the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, a living-learning program that puts students interested in creative writing in one dormitory and conducts workshops and classes in the same building. The people I met there, staff and students alike, not only dramatically improved my writing but catalyzed a mental revolution in how I thought about language and art, all while fostering close friendships (in New York I still live with two of my friends that I met through Writers’ House).

Writers’ House also afforded opportunities to explore other aspects of writing by providing support for programs like a regular open-mic night (the previously mentioned TerPoets) and a literary journal, and taking on the roles of performer or editor also expanded my view of the literary word. The woman who continually protects and develops this magical space is Johnna Schmidt, who recently led her students to the 2014 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Johnna talks about this experience:

Priya is in my office, explaining that she regrets not being more involved in the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. She wishes she had more time, she’s been overcommitted. And it’s true that I have had almost no contact with her. I tell her (a) the door is open, and (b) she owes me nothing. When I look up her record after our meeting I see she is a BIO SCI: PHNB major and I don’t even know what that means, other than that she must have a skill set much more lucrative than mine. This is how it is with college students these days. Having gone through K-12 with the emphasis so firmly set on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math for those of you who have somehow been spared the acronym), many of them reach college starving for artistic or literary engagement but remain too busy putting together their resumes to be able to carve out the room in their schedules for something so unnecessary as art. After all, it won’t lead to a real career, right? And their parents, who are probably sacrificing quite a bit to foot the bill for college, are firm on this point:  You better major in the sciences, business, or technology.

And here am I, teaching poetry and fiction writing at University of Maryland, insisting that such a pursuit is worth your time. I suggest to Priya that she might want to attend the field trip to Split This Rock. I’m only being practical; I have purchased 20 student passes to Split This Rock and am trying to make sure they get used.

A few weeks later Priya is on the Shuttle-UM bus to the metro, surrounded by 19 other students. She is reading Natalie Diaz’ book of poems When My Brother Was an Aztec. We are on the way to meet Natalie and I’ve offered my copy around. I love watching the students read and write. Their attentive bodies. They way everything stops and they become so focused. It’s almost like they enter a different world. I suppose they do.

Natalie Diaz reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival. (Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

Natalie Diaz reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival. (Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

Downtown, in the conference room at the Institute of Policy Studies, Natalie Diaz is suggesting that we need to explode our language. She suggests we crack things open. She confesses that she has tried to write sestinas several times but hasn’t figured out how to break the form yet. She says if we use the word “apple” we need to be aware not only of the etymology of the word but also the mythology, the aphorisms, common usages, and associations. “Apple” is carrying all of that and more to the reader. She finally suggests that we only really know things when they are broken. How many times have we heard some version of “I didn’t know how much I used my right index finger until I broke it.” Even with family members who die or become very ill, we understand their place in the family better when they are absent. It strikes me now that we seem incapable of fully understanding the interconnectedness of things while they are fully functioning.

All of us are listening intently. Priya  keeps asking questions, even after our time with Natalie is supposed to be over. It’s turning into a tete-a-tete between Priya and Natalie. I’m sorry I have to cut them off and let everyone go. Natalie offers that anyone who has additional questions for her can email her.

(Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

(Photo courtesy of Split This Rock.)

Waiting for me at my office on Monday is a thank you note from Priya for giving her the opportunity to attend Split This Rock over the weekend. She’s had several conversations with writers she admires over the weekend, and she uses the words “incredible” and “awesome.”  But my favorite phrase is this one: “this festival was one of my first exposures to spoken word/slam poetry, and I’ve completely fallen in love with it.”  She also asks for Natalie’s email address.

Is there any better pursuit for a college student than to fall in love?  Reason tells us yes, there are better pursuits, skills to learn, career enhancements, work to be done. But, dear reader, who I am assuming to be middle-aged like myself, do you remember your body, back before it was broken, when you were 18, 19, 20 years old?  The body will not be denied ecstasy. Do you remember the urgency of youth, how we pursued things so impatiently, how passionately we loved and believed? I have no doubt that Priya has experienced a turning point. That she’s coming away from the festival with more interesting thoughts than ever and perhaps a new set of antennae with which to gauge the changing environment.

Perhaps it has always been this way, the vitality of the arts spilling into our lives and making converts of us one by one, when we all had more practical uses planned for our time. Art the inevitable interruption; in the face of something really great we drop our Excel spreadsheets. All the parents and administrators in world pushing on the younger generation can’t stop them from falling in love.

My feelings mirror Priya’s. Not only do I feel incredibly grateful for the program that Johnna has shaped, but Split This Rock in particular is an incredibly charged and thrilling way to experience language. It was at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival that I was first blown away by the DC Youth Slam Team and first learned about June Jordan. At Split This Rock I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court and delivered one line of poetry in a cento of protest. I went home feeling like language and reality were more closely bound together than ever, and that we were all engaged in building that language, that reality. If you haven’t been to the poetry festival yet, be sure to go in future years. Thanks also to Sarah Browning and her staff.

Posted in Busboys & Poets, Craft, Creative Writing, DC Youth Slam Team, Events, Literary/Arts Journals, Poetry, Readings, Split This Rock, Stylus, Teaching, University of Maryland, Washington DC, Workshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

No Doubt About It: Le Hinton Picked for Best American Poetry

Le Hinton‘s poem, “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat),” originally appeared in our Winter 2013 Doubt issue, but now has had the distinction of being picked up for the 2014 edition of Best American Poetry. We immediately contacted Le, eager to share more about the story of his poem and the rest of his work with our community in the wake of this momentous achievement. Make sure to give his poem a listen and a read to get the most out of his comments (and because it’s great poetry!). Here’s Le in his own words:

Let’s make this clear. Chris Toll was one of the most creative and gifted poets I’ve ever met. When I found out that he passed away, I cried. If life is meant to be an exquisite sculpture that ages and acquires a lovely patina which enhances its beauty, Chris’s death was like a micro-fracture at its base, the realization that nothing is ever perfect. Some things in life are fundamentally unfair, absolutely wrong. Chris’s death in 2012 is one of those things. As I sat in the audience at Chris’s memorial service, I decided I’d do something I rarely do: write a poem as elegy. There were three keys to my creating “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat).”

In an interview, one of my favorite poets, Dean Young, was quoted as saying: “A straight line, a linear progression, is a fiction and not even a very convincing one. There is no such thing as discontinuity because there is nothing that doesn’t belong, that doesn’t vibrate in this web of connection. Now is always unprecedented and sudden.” This thought is almost always in my fingertips as I begin to write a poem, and it was in this case. There isn’t a linear narrative that runs through the poem.

The second idea that I considered important was that I didn’t want to write an ordinary elegy using a traditional form. Chris was so very unique, so I decided to write about him by using an element of his writing. In some of his poems Chris illuminates words, meanings and moods by taking them apart. In my favorite poem of his, “The Abyss Has No Biographer,” he writes:

How long can I stay
at the inn in innocent?
Love is so hard
and it’s all we came to do.

I wanted to use that technique in my poem for him.

The third aspect of this poem is uncertainty. When someone passes away, especially suddenly, what we feel most acutely is uncertainty, not just about life, but about everything. We question each choice we’ve made and will make, at least for a time. In the poem, I wanted some of the disregarded choices to remain visible. In the poem there are strikeouts that reinforce the uncertainty that is stated by the words.

Non-linear thinking, deconstruction of individual words and a somewhat unconventional visual look  are the three techniques that I wanted to focus on in creating an elegy for Chris.

Kind poetry colleagues tell me that I have a broad range of styles within the poetry I write. More honestly, I’m all over the place. I write in free verse for the most part and don’t often write in forms. However, when I attempt to write a poem, I usually look for some kind of organizing principle. It may be an extended metaphor or an overarching mood, however, often it is something about how the poem looks on the page. I am constantly searching for a different way to place emotion and/or intellect on an empty white space. A few years ago, I wanted to write about gun violence. Other than the title, “You Do the Math,” it was written only with numbers. I find some of the work by Mary Szybist a revelation. In her latest book, Incarnadine, one poem is written as a starburst. Another is written as a diagrammed sentence. Poems such as these fascinate me. “No Doubt About It, (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” lives in that neighborhood of visual variations that I sometimes attempt.

Once the poem was finished, I didn’t intend to submit it anywhere for publication, however, I was reminded that Little Patuxent Review’s reading period was ongoing and the theme was Doubt. I certainly was aware of the proximity of Little Patuxent Review to Chris’s world in Baltimore. Submitting the poem here seemed to be almost destined. When the poem was accepted for publication in the Winter Issue 2013, I was more than thrilled. Being published in Little Patuxent Review was no small accomplishment. It was another step up. The poem’s publication was somewhat of a validation of the kind of poetry that I had begun writing in 2006: poetry that is less narrative, more image driven, more concerned with the architecture of the piece on the page.

In January, when I was first notified by Mark Bibbins about the poem’s inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2014, I first thought it might be a joke or online hoax. I don’t have the kind of ego that walks around wondering why the world hasn’t discovered me. When I found out that the poem was chosen by guest editor, Terrance Hayes, whose work I’ve read closely and loved since 2010, I was stunned. I am profoundly grateful to him and series editor, David Lehman, for choosing “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat).” I know that there are thousands of poets in America who write wonderfully creative, intellectually  and emotionally moving poems. I’ve been fortunate and will always remain thankful.

I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish country, part of the larger South Central Pennsylvania area, which includes the cities of Lancaster, Harrisburg, York and Lebanon.

I host a monthly poetry reading series, the Lancaster Poetry Exchange, with help from a marvelously talented poet, Jeff Rath, that’s been running since October 2007. It has the dual purposes of showcasing local poets as well as bringing in poets from outside the area. Maryland poets such as Meredith Davies Hadaway, Virginia Crawford, Pamela Murray Winters and Cliff Lynn have all read for the Exchange.

I am also the publisher and chief editor of a now-yearly poetry journal called Fledgling Rag. Its genesis was my belief that there are talented, creative poets who reside outside the major and minor metropolitan areas of America. I contend that there are great poems being written by poets who are somewhat invisible to the larger world, such as Harrisburg’s Marty Esworthy, York’s Rebecca Gonzalez and Lancaster’s Jeff Rath. Fledgling Rag, in a small way, attempts to make those poets a bit more visible. There is always a strong South Central Pennsylvania presence in each issue, however, we don’t impose any geographical restrictions in deciding which poets are included in each issue. Each issue has one featured poet. The last three featured poets were Marjory Heath Wentworth, the poet laureate of South Carolina, Michael S. Glaser, former Maryland poet laureate, and Yona Harvey, creative writing professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Three of Chris Toll’s poems, including “The Abyss Has No Biographer,” appeared in Issue 10.

There are diverse poets, with different writing styles and subject matter throughout the South Central Pennsylvania area. There are poets of place, poets of  protest, language poets and experimental poets. Quite of few successful and respected poets use poetic forms as a basis for their work. I’m excited by all of it. That is why my own poetry can be so varied. My work and my non-writing activities seek to bring together my internal world, my immediate world and the larger poetry world together. Isn’t that what we’ve come here to do?

Note: Le additionally supports his larger poetry world (or “extended family“) through his publishing endeavor, Iris G. Press. In addition to being the outlet for Le’s aforementioned Fledgling Rag, Iris G. Press has published several books. Have a look at more of Le’s work and the work of his poetry family there. The Doubt issue where “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” first appeared can be found here.

Posted in Baltimore MD, Craft, Death, Doubt, Fledgling Rag, Lancaster PA, Literary Journals, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Concerning Craft: Daniel Hudon

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

daniel_(1_of_2)

Daniel Hudon (Photo: Miranda Loud)

Please meet Daniel Hudon. Daniel has published a broad body of work including poetry inspired by Magritte, humor and fiction inspired by science, and essays about his travels in Asia and Central America (one of which won him the 2011 Tiferet Nonfiction prize). His teaching also spans fields, covering astronomy, physics, math, and writing at various colleges in Boston.

We published his short story “Possibly Playing Tonight at the Quantum Theater” in our Winter 2014 Science issue. He read his story at our launch event, so be on the lookout for a video when they become available.

Here are the insights he had to share about the writing and refinement of the piece:

Ultimately, “Possibly Playing Tonight at the Quantum Theater,” was inspired by an undergraduate science course that I was a co-instructor for. Our goal was to give the students – non-science freshmen – our best stuff, and that was our pet name for the course, “The Story of Stuff.” So after introducing the Newtonian worldview, we’d spend two weeks effectively blowing students’ minds with the highlights of quantum mechanics. Beyond being a highly successful theory to describe the structure of the atom and atomic interactions, it’s great material for a fiction writer both for the strange world we’re forced to consider, and for the challenges we’ve had in interpreting its results. I wanted to convey some of this strangeness in a story.

According to Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, the conceptual crux of understanding quantum mechanics is the double-slit experiment. If you fire an electron through a pair of narrow and narrowly separated slits, it turns out that you cannot predict where the electron will land on an observing screen. At best, you can quote a probability. This is a bizarre idea coming after the determinism of Newtonian mechanics – given the properties of a baseball, of course we can predict where it will land! Even better, until the electron hits the screen, it exists in a superposition of possible states, and its final end state on the screen is determined from the probabilities that can be calculated. I love that idea of the electron’s final position having all these possibilities and then being reduced to the one that is observed. In quantum-speak, that’s the collapse of the electron’s wavefunction, part of the mysterious particle-wave duality, and I took that and ran with it.

In fact, I’ve made a few attempts to write a story about quantum mechanics and this one came together best. Most of these attempts circled around a pun on mechanics – what would a quantum mechanic do differently from an auto mechanic? – but I couldn’t really get beyond the pun. When I hit upon the idea of the theater, I knew I could get a story out of it.

I wanted a character that goes on a good date and has a good time. One of the things that makes dating fun are the possibilities of what might happen. You don’t know what the other person is going to say or do as you interact with them and try to get to know them. If there’s chemistry, then the conversation can be heady and tantalizing. That’s what I wanted my main character to enjoy. But as the evening carries on, one is always checking in and wondering if it’s going as well as it could – is the other person into you? Many possible threads of conversation are explored, from the mundane to the feisty, and this was what made writing the story fun.

One of the hardest things was choosing how much possible dialogue the characters should have and an early draft has our main character going a little overboard there. I also spent some time revising the scene where the couple enters the theater because, in the quantum world, consecutive electrons fired through the apparatus will not wind up side by side on the screen, so it took me a few tries to convey some of that confusion as they go through the doors. Some readers may recognize the more recent quantum experiments in that scene where scientists fire electrons through both slits and then close one slit or the other, or put a detector behind one of the slits, all to test the whole notion of particle-wave duality and when the wave function actually collapses. The first draft also had the story ending badly for the narrator – she didn’t get him at all, though she had invited him over. I realized it would be much more satisfying for all involved if she did get him, as that’s one of the things we hope for when we’re on a date.

The drafts had the same boring title, either Quantum Dating or Quantum Dramatics or Quantum Dramatics, and my final edit was to change the title to the present one, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the right title for the story. Possibly.

Note: If you enjoyed Daniel’s story and want to read more poetry and prose from our Science issue, you can purchase copies of that issue and others online. More of Daniel’s work can be found at his webpage.

Posted in Boston MA, Craft, Plays, Prose, Science, Short Fiction, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unleashing Monsters: The DC Youth Slam Team

Jonathan Tucker

Jonathan Tucker is a transformative power on this planet. As a freshman, lost and lonely in a large student population at University of Maryland, I found my home at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House through the open mic series that he co-founded, TerPoets. TerPoets still goes on strong to this day, and Jonathan is still giving the gift of his transformative power. These days one of the recipients of that gift is the DC Youth Slam Team, and they are passing it on. While attending the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2012, members of the Team electrified every room they performed in. Seeing them perform was one of the times I’ve most been excited by words. To tell you more about the Team, I give you Jonathan Tucker:

My students wrote a poem about the social norms objectifying women through girls’ Halloween costumes. The video of their “Monster” performance at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival (BNV) in summer 2013 went viral right before Halloween: over 600,000 views at the time of this writing (Online Editor: Written November 1st, 2013. Now over 1.3 million views as of this posting.) Co-author of the poem, 16-year-old Hannah Halpern summed up the message of the piece:

We decided to write a poem changing the way we see monsters; [to show that] women can be fierce, hot-tempered, or what have you. We connected this to Halloween and how as girls grow older, they are convinced that their costumes must get skimpier and show more skin to be sexy. After brainstorming, we realized that our key point was women should wear what they want. Slut-shaming is not the answer, nor is peer pressuring women and girls to wear sexier outfits if they don’t want to.

She’s amazing, clearly. As a teaching artist and coach of the DC Youth Slam Team, a program of Split This Rock using poetry to empower teens to speak up about issues of social justice,  I couldn’t be more proud. The overwhelming positive response from feminists around the world via twitter and facebook is sweet. The exponential growth of our online following is dope. The small fame our teenage poets are garnering is not what makes me proud though; it’s the lesson they and half-a-million viewers of their poem are learning that makes me the most proud papa poetry coach.

Poetry matters. Youth voice matters. Combined with passion for social justice issues like challenging the rampant sexism in our world, they are most powerful.  Poetry is not only relevant, real, and important, but it can be fun and entertaining too.

Along with my fellow coaches and teaching artists at Split This Rock, I’ve been teaching this lesson for years. It’s difficult to be convincing when the rest of the world sees poetry as confusing emotional babble from dead white men. To many people, it has no bearing on their lives besides an English class once or twice in grade school and maybe a scene in a movie like Love Jones. But for the teenagers in our programs, often marginalized youth who feel like their voice isn’t heard and doesn’t matter, the empowering lesson learned through poems like this Monster piece, and the response to it, are life-changing. In my humble opinion, helping students learn to value themselves, their thoughts, and creativity is more important than anything the schools test them on.

Spoken word and performance poetry, such as the slam at BNV where that viral video was recorded, changes the way young people experience poetry. It is, just as it began thousands of years ago, a living, breathing art form. It speaks directly to them when teaching artists like myself and other poets from the community visit schools and coach after-school poetry clubs. Yes, we write like all poets, but we also speak directly to the students and perform our poems with a passion and intensity comparable to that of Shakespearean (or hip-hop for that matter) theatre. We encourage everyone to write, not just the talented or advanced students, using whatever language, grammar, or spelling they desire, to express themselves. After all, that is the point, right? We help them tell their stories and use famous works of art (including music, theatre, film, and visual arts) and movements for social justice, to inspire them. We rigorously workshop, revise, and rehearse poems. Then we do something dangerous, silly, and possibly stupid: we compete. Our goal is for every school to have and support a poetry slam team just as they do their sports teams. This might sound crazy, but the passion and poetry of our young people is just as important, if not more so, than their ability to tackle one another.

The DC Youth Slam Team (Photo: Jonathan Tucker)

Poetry slam was invented in the mid-1980’s by Marc Kelly Smith and it turned performance poetry into a sport. The goal was, and is, to gain a larger and wider audience for poetry. The goal has never been to rank, categorize, and demoralize poets, though that can and has unfortunately happened sometimes, just as it does in sports. What’s also happened, as my students on the DC Youth Slam Team have experienced firsthand, is that being a poet on a team has transformed the lives of many people who never would have otherwise thought of themselves as poetic, talented, or valuable. The tragic feeling of losing a poetry slam by one-tenth of a point dissipates quickly. The empowerment created by a room full of people, often your peers, applauding you and your poetry, does not fade as fast. It builds confidence, character, and self-worth. It helps survivors of traumatic and violent experiences process their emotions and strengthen their healing process. For me, as a young poet, it helped me find myself, my voice, and my purpose. As a coach and host of an open mic, it also helps me build community. We came in 2nd place this year, out of 50 teams at BNV, losing to Denver, CO by less than one point. Though we were certainly disappointed that we didn’t claim 1st place and champions of the nation, we’re far more concerned with the world hearing our poetry and the important messages therein.

As a teacher of poetry I’m working to help everybody realize their potential as brilliant, critical-thinking, passionate poets. They may not have known that they wanted to be a poet performing on stages across the world, but something about putting their truth on paper through poetry opened them up to the possibility that they are indeed as great as they imagined, as their teachers told them they were. Indeed, these young poets are monsters; powerful, compassionate, and talented monsters who have survived terrible and surreal experiences and are no longer scared of the blank page or center stage.

You can find more videos of the DC Youth Slam Team’s performances at their Youtube channel. You can learn more about the team and support their work by visiting their website.

Jonathan B. Tucker is a poet, educator, and youth programs coordinator for Split This Rock, where he coaches the DC Youth Slam Team. Two-time winner of the Community Oriented Underground Poet (COUP) Award from the National Underground Spokenword Poetry Awards, JBT is passionate about using poetry as a community organizing tool. His book, I Got the Matches, and other poems are available at jonathanbtucker.com.

Posted in Busboys & Poets, Community Outreach, DC Youth Slam Team, High School Students, Outreach, Poetry, Programs, Slam Poetry, Split This Rock, Teaching, Washington DC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Print Issue Preview: Science Under the Microscope

Science LPR-cover front only-1 (2)One of the first blogs I wrote as the new Online Editor of LPR was about my experiences as a poet and physicist. Concluding the blog, I sought our communities’ experiences with and thoughts on science. One respondent sent a poem by Robinson Jeffers that ruminates upon what possibility of mankind precipitating its own destruction with science. Mike Clarke, Co-Publisher of LPR, pointed out the huge challenge we had undertaken with a theme that cannot help but run up against the legacy of C. P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures”.

Evidence of these concerns and many other ideas runs rife across the pages of the Winter 2014 Science issue, and this issue has been one of the most exciting and richest experiences I’ve had with LPR yet. The pieces speak to each other in ways that remind me that in both science and art, human thought revels in theme and motif.

A theme through human history is the search for our origins. This issue brings us the wonders of new life [i] and newly (re)discovered [ii] life in the primordial soup of the sea. Contributing Editor, Lalita Noronha, and invited contributor, Myra Sklarew, make the most of time by guiding us through the billion year history of evolution from the first complexities of plants [iii] to the development of the biological machinery of intelligence [iv].

One of the gifts of that machinery, which continues to vex scientists with the challenge of its complexity, is the gift of introspection, empathy, and critical thought. This issue celebrates those creatures sacrificed for science [v] and critiques the inhospitable laboratories dominated by so-called “enlightened” men [vi]. Meanwhile, Michael Salcman contextualizes the artwork of Soledad Salamé’s, featured in the issue and on the cover, clearly living on the supposed border between science and art [vii].

Returning to a more taxological approach, you will find poetry living in the world of flying creatures [viii-x] and poetry about genetic inheritance [xi-xiii]. In each category sharing an aesthetic — the songs of a twittering towhee [x] and a reticent mute swan [xi] — the poets view their object with a diverse set of lenses, sometimes evoking binoculars and at others a microscope.

The issue concludes with Susan Thorton Hobby’s interview [xiv] with Nobel laureate John C. Mather, whose view takes us from the microscopic all the way out to the largest field of view possible: the entire universe. John will be giving a talk on the history of the universe as part of LPR’s and the Columbia Art Center’s ongoing salon series in April.

When we opened the reading period for this issue, we asked you to “write with your most exacting eye, your most dogged pursuit of truth, and, of course, your utmost imagination.” I am thrilled to see how our community has met that challenge.

Before the bibliography, there is also a little book keeping. Please don’t forget to join us for the Science issue launch reading at Oliver’s Carriage House,  5410 Leaftreader Way, Columbia, MD on January 25th at 2:00 pm. Those authors who cited below who will be reading at the launch are marked with a † symbol. Additionally, we have recognized those authors cited below who we have published in this issue only after submitting to LPR two, three, or even four times with a * symbol. Please keep in mind that rejection often means that your poem was not the right fit for our current issue, and your persistence may mean that your work will find a happy home in our future issues. Click on links in the citations to be taken to previews of the work.

[i] Kim Roberts’ poem “Protandric” tells of the mating habits of oysters.

[ii] Whitney Gratton’s† poem “Coelacanth” recounts the rediscovery of the fish of the same name.

[iii] Lalita Noronha’s† poem “Mustard Seed” celebrates pays homage to biological and ecological complexities found in such seeds.

[iv] Myra Sklarew’s poem “Ode to Astrocytes” celebrates the astrocyte cell, recently discovered to be more important to brain function than previously believed. The issue also features a conversation between Noronha and Sklarew on their experiences as scientist-poets.

[v] Rebekah Remington’s† poem “To Science Fair Plants” gives thanks to plants who have become grade school science experiments.

[vi] Mary Jo LoBello Jerome’s†* story “Dermis” recounts the difficulties faced by a female scientist.

[vii] Michael Salcman†, LPR’s Art Consultant, presents an essay entitled “Earth, Water, and Fire: The Art of Soledad Salamé”.

[viii] Catherine Bayly’s†* poem “Wait and Collect” examines butterfly collecting.

[ix] Barbara Daniels’* poem “Ode to Binoculars” praises the power of bird watching.

[x] Barbara Crooker’s* poem “Rufous-Sided Towhee” listens carefully to a bird of the same name.

[xi] Anne Barney’s poem “Old Song” begins with an ancient flute carved from the wing bones of a mute swan.

[xii] Marlena Chertock’s† poem “Short Curve” examines the far reaching consequences of genetic inheritance in our everyday lives.

[xiii] Marian Kaplan Shapiro’s* poem “LUCA” begins with the human species’ last universal common ancestor.

[xiv] Susan Thorton Hobby† contributed an interview with John C. Mather entitled “A Modest History of the Universe.”

†These authors will be present for the January 25th launch reading at Oliver’s Carriage House.

*These authors were published after submitting to Little Patuxent Review at least twice.

Posted in Columbia MD, Events, Prose, Readings, Science, Short Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

To Boast in a State of Grace: Musing from a New Editor

Dear LPR Staff, Publishers, and Readers,

Steven Levya at the Town Hall open mic and reading at Minas Gallery. (Photo Credit: Laura Shovan)

Steven Levya at the Town Hall open mic and reading at Minas Gallery. (Photo Credit: Laura Shovan)

In a year when an Olympic Torch hand off happened at the international space station, Christian Wiman stepped down as long time editor of Poetry, and the world lost Seamus Heaney, the persistent and powerful work of a Maryland literary magazine might seem insignificant. Consistently, some might say quietly, Little Patuxent Review has published an excellent and diverse group of authors who weren’t afraid to confront themes important to society at the local level. And while that is noteworthy, to do so amidst the economic realities of a massive recession and slow burn recovery while remaining a print journal – well I am tempted to call that an act of courage. Tempted, yes, but recalling an essay by Louise Glück, writing is less an act of courage and more a state of grace. For LPR I know that grace is derived from a dedicated staff of editors, a forward thinking set of publishers, and a faithful community of readers. Here is an example of how a literary magazine, when it remains close to its community, when it is willing to challenge, doubt, and audaciously make believe with its readers and authors, can become a necessary stitch in the seams of imagination which reveal a region, a city, and a neighborhood. Among that needlework, I must mention the extraordinary efforts of Laura Shovan, whose diligence and creativity as editor help to grow LPR’s presence in the region, and craft an inclusive identity for the magazine. I am both honored and humbled to continue such important work as the next editor of Little Patuxent Review.

Steinbeck explains in East of Eden, “You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast,” so let me offer a boast of failure. In my first year of my MFA, which should have been labeled the year to, “Shut up and listen,” I was determined to prove that I belonged in grad school and deserved to call myself a poet. That first week of classes was like being in a foreign country. Simultaneously I felt ashamed of my inability to “speak the language” of a workshop (I studied theater and acting as an undergrad), and eager to demonstrate what little I did know.  One evening I invited a classmate to my home for drinks and high-minded conversation, and in a moment of inspiration, though in retrospect it seems more like “party anxiety,” I spread all my books of poetry across the living room floor, called my friend, and said, “When you get here, let’s just pick a book off the floor, flip to a page, take a drink and read a poem.” Almost sounds like a precursor to literary beer pong. My friend thought the idea sounded fine as long as I paid for the drinks, but when he arrived and saw my magnanimous spread of verse, he cleared his throat politely and remarked, “This all you got?” There couldn’t have been more than six or seven books on the floor. Big failure? Check! Later when I visited my friend’s apartment and saw the multiple bookcases dedicated to poetry I understood his incredulity. I mention this anecdote, not because it’s the only story of failure I have, God knows there is an abundance of stories, but because it was a moment of failure where I feel I learned the right lesson. I responded to that evening by doubling my home library, diversifying my reading of poetry and fiction, and resolving to listen well to the group of emerging writers and seasoned teachers I found myself among. In other words, I learned the importance of stepping back and listening as method of becoming fully present in a community. I recognize this value as a part of Little Patuxent Review’s DNA, and believe it must remain a key part of the magazine’s posture in selecting great work to publish.

From its inception LPR’s selection process has involved a thematic element for each issue. As a young writer, I was often weary and wary of themed issues in literary journals. I suppose my reasons were the obvious ones: artistic restraint, an anti-authoritarian streak, and a presumption that themes are ultimately boring. After all, an intentionally thematic issue, while acting as an efficient organizing structure, can exert a certain hegemonic pressure. Simple objections made, for sure, but simple-minded as well. Perhaps it’s the height of myopia to evaluate a literary magazine based on the boundaries of a single issue. I couldn’t see how a journal could tell a story; have a conversation with its readers over a sequence of issues. Consider Little Patuxent Review’s most recent sequence of themes: Make Believe, Social Justice, Audacity, Doubt, and Music.  What a journey to take a community of readers through.  It brings to mind the words of Poet-Teacher Richard Hugo, in his essay Writing Off the Subject, that all truth conforms to music. I’ve learned to not balk at the word conform, and notice small mysteries in the sequence of themes. Is this one arc in the collective thinking of a community? Do people begin in imagination (Make Believe) and then bend toward activism (Social Justice)? Does activism natural give way to bold action (Audacity), before ultimately arriving in Doubt? Do the questions raised by a healthy doubt resolve in beauty (Music)? I feel I’ve wandered dangerously close to Keats in the last question—beauty is truth—but creating such collages in the imagination is what makes literature fun for me.  Such themes frame discourse that is already occurring, and make room for people to enter the dialogue. A literary magazine is solitary pleasure blended with “call and response” engagement. And in the myriad responses lie the opportunities for growth.

It is a deep joy to help create the collage and to invite others to do the same. It is an awesome responsibility to step back and listen to a community’s voice, heartbeat, and imagination. Courage is required, but I hope for more grace in the way I listen, read, and publish. LPR and the community it serves is worthy of nothing less.

Posted in Audacity, Doubt, Editor, Make Believe, Management, Music, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nothing Is Permanent But Change

If you have already submitted work to LPR’s Summer 2014 issue, you’ve noticed two things.

First, LPR is working on an unthemed issue—the journal’s first. When I became editor in 2011, the staff discussed LPR’s history of publishing themed issues. We’ve featured the best regional art and literature in our fifteen issues, covering such topics as Childhood, Turning Points, and Social Justice. At that time, we elected to continue with themed issues. Focusing on one topic helped me learn the craft of editing—selecting pieces that work well as a whole.

The journal’s reach has grown over the past three years. We hear from poets, readers, and fiction and nonfiction writers who would like LPR to try an unthemed issue. Whether it’s Science or Spirituality, writers don’t always have polished work on hand that coincides with our themes. We hope, by alternating themed (Winter) and open (Summer) issues each year, more of you will be encouraged to submit to our journal.

The second thing you may have noticed: the signature line on our current submission reply reads “Steven Leyva and Laura Shovan, Summer 2014 Issue Editors.”

While LPR has grown over the three years of my editorship, so have my children. With a son heading to college and a daughter beginning high school, it’s time for me to cut back on my LPR duties.

Please help me welcome Steven Leyva as Little Patuxent Review’s next editor. After our Science issue launch event on January 25, I’m looking forward to working with Steven on LPR’s Summer 2014 issue. With no limit on the subject matter for our themed issue, I hope you will submit your best work by March 1, 2014.

Steven blogged for LPR after our Town Square series reading in August. When Steven takes over in 2015, I will move into the role of Poetry Editor.

It’s hard to believe three years have passed since LPR’s co-publishers surprised me with a phone call: Are you interested in editing Little Patuxent Review? What a thrill it was to make that same phone call to a talented, committed young writer. I can’t wait to see how LPR continues to develop under Steven Leyva’s leadership.

Online Editor’s Note: Don’t miss your opportunity to thank Laura for her hard work leading LPR. Join us for the SCIENCE issue launch reading at Oliver’s Carriage House on January 25th at 2:00 PM. The event is free and open to the public.

Posted in Editor, Management, Submissions | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments