Category Archives: Readings

Print Issue Preview: Summer 2014 Unthemed Issue

A portion of Lee Boot's "Brick Garden Series" appears on the cover of the Summer 2014 issue.

A portion of Lee Boot’s “Brick Garden Series” appears on the cover of the Summer 2014 issue.

This summer Little Patuxent Review will release its first unthemed issue, but as incoming Editor, Steven Leyva, writes in his first ever Editor’s Note for LPR, “I trusted that thematic elements would emerge.” In my own experience as editor of the University of Maryland literary journal, in picking well-written poetry and prose that is thematically rich, it’s impossible to avoid the confluence of concerns of human beings. Blessed by a community that consistently delivers us just such writing, Laura and Steven both speak of this issue as being shaped and guided by change and transition – not just in terms of the transition from one Editor to another, but manifest in the lives of the characters our community has presented us with. To remix both Laura and Steven’s Notes [i], I invite you as readers to take your first steps with these characters and stories through doors opening onto vistas we weren’t expecting.

Even when seeking transformation, by its nature change eludes prediction.  Characters seeking to be transformed may still not expect the processes leading to that transformation [ii] or what the endpoint of that transformation may be. [iii] Similarly Michael Salcman explores how artist Lee Boot has come to an integrative approach combining painting with multi-media by first shifting among the dazzling array of digital possibilities. [iv]

But many times, the transformations are ones our characters did not choose at all. They are pushed, sometimes stumbling, over a threshold by an act of violence. In Cynthia B. Greer’s “Doris and the Dolls,” smoldering self-loathing from society’s rejection of Black Americans leads an eruption of bullying of “white girls” among Black schoolchildren, robbing the speaker of her identity and compounded the feelings of rejection. [v] In Jerri Bell’s “Vigil,” the speaker is raped by an ex-boyfriend and adopts the position of a sentry isolated in the peaks to guard against attack. [vi]

Of course, many other thematic threads emerge as well in the upcoming issue. I am confident that no matter what our readers are grasping for in their literary lives right now, their hands will land on something that holds fast in our new issue. You are invited to join us for the launch of the issue at Oliver’s Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD 21044, on Saturday, June 21st at 2:00 pm. We will have the issue for sale and contributors will read their work, followed by light refreshments and opportunity for discussion between contributors and those in attendance. The launch reading is part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

[i] Laura Shovan and Steven Leyva’s Editor’s Notes set the transitional tone of the issue.

[ii] Alison Turner’s story “A Runner” follows who finds her body and mind transforming during a vacation in Peru.

[iii]  Benjamin Burgholzer’s* essay “Don’t Go Over Your Hip Boots” narrates a son’s slide into drug addiction and subsequent recovery by rediscovering his roots.

[iv] Michael Salcman explores the transformations of artist Lee Boot* in his essay “Time Machine: Lee Boot’s Multimedia and Conceptual Art in Service to the Urban Ideal”

[v] Cynthia Greer’s* essay “Doris and the Dolls” recounts personal and interpersonal struggle among Black schoolgirls during the Civil Rights Movement.

[vi] Jerri Bell’s* essay “Vigil” follows her up a volcanic caldera where she guards herself against rape.

*These contributors will be present for the June 21st launch reading at Oliver’s Carriage House. Details of the launch reading can be found here.

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.

A Collaboration With The Audience: Gerry LaFemina on Music and Poetry

One of the intersections of music and literature that we have explored is the parallels and distinctions between songwriting and crafting both prose and poetry. While Don Biggar drew our attention to the parallels in structure between his songs and his wife Lisa’s stories, Truth Thomas brought our attention to the contrasts between a poet’s solitary efforts and the collaborative musical ensemble. This week Gerry LaFemina, poet and punk rocker whose “Sunday Girl” appeared in our Music issue and whose music can be found in the media player on the sidebar of this site, extends the ongoing discussion to the collaboration between performer and audience. Without further obstruction, Gerry LaFemina:

Gerry LaFemina. (Photo: gerrylafemina.net)

Gerry LaFemina. (Photo: gerrylafemina.net)

First and foremost, I’m a writer, primarily a poet. I spend many hours trying to decide which word is the best word, which order is the best order. And in that space it’s up to me to make those choices. I read the poems aloud, usually at home but sometimes when I’m out, too, which prompts looks from strangers at nearby tables. I tweak words all the time. In all the poems I read regularly at public events, there are changes penned into the books.

And even though there are people whose opinion I trust about what’s going on in my work, even writers I admire and like, people who have the best interest of my poems and fictions in their minds when they approach my work, even then, it’s still up to me to make the decisions. I can agree or disagree with any opinion.

That said, when I’m in the band basement, with the Fender Jaguar hanging from my shoulder and working on a new song with The Downstrokes it’s a completely different process. There, with my fellow song writer Mike Holland as well as our drummer William Poorbaugh and bassist Jamie Lockard, I’m not just writing something that represents me to the audience (as a poem does) but trying to come up with something that represents us–the vision we have for this band. Whether lyrically or musically, it’s a collaboration, and as such I’m focused on who we are: four guys in our forties playing (punk) rock & roll.

And then there are all the strictures of writing what is essentially pop music: a hook, a chorus, a melody, something that can be sung along to.

It’s not unusual for Mike and me to struggle for the right chord or for me to ask him to play a riff over and over until I have a melody, a set of words–invoked in part by the chords and notes and tempo he’s playing. Nor is it unusual for Bill to suggest a tempo change, Jamie to suggest a variation on the progression, or me to suggest we go high instead of low. I find it refreshing, this give and take.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that, ultimately, the song writing process is not just collaborative with the other band members; it’s also a collaboration with the audience. When we’re on stage and I’m singing and playing, the audience is there–they’re real, they’re listening to us, and (I hope) they’re responding. Which is to say that, when people in the audience left our first gig singing the chorus of “Punk Rock Lolita,” I had the verification of success that I rarely have as a poet: someone remembered the combined efforts of the songwriters and it was lodged in their heads.

Rarely has this happened at a poetry reading, and when it does, when someone comes up to me and says “When you read those lines . . .” and they can quote a few lines of a poem, I feel a kind of success that far trumps most acceptance letters. I feel the same way when someone takes the time to write me an email about a poem of mine they read.

Poetry writing, fiction writing, they are different from song writing in ways both obvious and subtle. I like to think the relationship between the artists and their audiences in songwriting (at least when the song writer is also the performer) is the key difference. I know when a song is working almost immediately because the audience lets me know ASAP. As a literary writer, it may take years of rejection letters about a particular piece before I give it up. That’s the real challenge of the artist going it alone as a writer. You have to decide yourself when to give a piece up. The band, they’ll let me know something isn’t working almost right away.

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, LaFemina holds an MFA in poetry from Western Michigan University as well as an MA in literature with an emphasis on twentieth-century literature from WMU. He has taught at Nazareth College, Kirtland Community College, West Virginia University, Wheeling Jesuit University, and Sarah Lawrence College. He directs the Frostburg Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University, where he is an associate professor of English.

LPR’s Exciting New Program for Young Writers

LPR is gearing up for our first-ever Middle School Writers Festival. It’s a project that will be driven by and generate enthusiasm for writing, but we also need some help from you to make it happen. To tell us more about the Festival, I give you Emily Rich:

Emily Rich

Emily Rich

Last February at an LPR reading and fundraiser in Ellicott City, I first heard Editor Laura Shovan talk about plans for a Middle School Writers Festival. I knew immediately this was a project I wanted to support. I had only recently gotten to know members of the LPR staff, but already I was impressed with the energy those involved with the magazine put into getting out into the larger community. When I heard Laura describe the middle school festival as something particularly dear to her heart, I felt an instant connection.

As a writer, parent, and former educator, I have often been concerned that creative writing is an area overlooked in today’s school curricula. When my daughter was in high school in Arlington Virginia, she was fortunate to participate in the county’s Fine Arts Apprenticeship, an extracurricular program for visual and performing artists. But to my knowledge, no equivalent instruction is offered for students with a gift for the written word.

So even though I knew LPR’s pilot project would take place in far away Howard County, I enthusiastically signed on as assistant director.

The Middle School Writers Festival (MSWF) was initially conceived and designed by a trio of literary enthusiasts: Laura, LPR’s grant writer Nancy Berla, and Beth Singleton, a Gifted and Talented (G/T) resource teacher at Murray Hill Middle School and the literary advisor to Our Voice, the Howard County middle school literary and art magazine.

In fact, it was Beth who initially approached LPR seeking some type of collaboration. Beth has been a tireless promoter of writing in Howard County schools. She works with the Writers’ Guild, a county-wide curriculum extension opportunity for 7th and 8th grade students with a passion for writing. Students involved in the Writers’ Guild receive special instruction and maintain a portfolio of work, which they are encouraged to submit to the annual publication of Our Voice.

According to Beth, the upcoming MSWF will build on the foundation established with the Writers’ Guild, providing students with access to published, professional writers. Participating middle school G/T teachers will also benefit, picking up new strategies, resources, and models that they can take back to the classroom.

While LPR has a stated mission to do outreach with local schools, a key impetus for a middle school festival came out of Laura, Nancy, and Beth’s shared desire to align the county’s creative writing program with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)-sponsored National Day on Writing.

The MSWF, planned for October 21, 2013, coincides with the National Day of Writing; however, preparation for the event will begin up to a month in advance.

In September, authors chosen for this project will visit a writing class in each of the participating middle schools, to become acquainted with the students.  Authors Derrick Weston Brown, Linda Joy Burke, Lalita Noronha, and Patricia VanAmburg will discuss with the students the format and purposes of the National Day of Writing and will help them prepare written work for the festival.  Teachers will be encouraged to guide students in the editing and revision of their pieces prior to the festival. Altogether about sixty students from four middle schools—Ellicott Mills, Clarksville, Lime Kiln, and Wilde Lake—will participate.

The festival itself will be held offsite, at the Howard County Center for the Arts.

The sustained attention that participating students will receive from published writers and poets is one of the things that inspires me about the project. I think about myself as an introverted middle schooler who was “good” at writing. My teachers praised me, but they didn’t have the time and resources to commit to fostering the talents of individual kids. A program such as the one Beth, Nancy, and Laura have designed would definitely have helped me to develop my skills and gain confidence as a young writer.

Another aspect of the MSWF I admire is that it caters to the interests of a broad selection of writers. The festival will include three sessions: two small workshops and one session with the whole group, with lunch in between.  For Session 1, students will have the option to select one workshop from the following areas: Writing in Response to Art and Music, Culture and Mythology, Science and Fantasy, and Personal Experiences/Memory. They will be provided with a list of resources related to the various subjects so they can explore possible opportunities in the many fields.  Through the process of writing about an area, students will develop deeper insights into and understanding of that field. This is a terrific way of encouraging kids to think about writing not just as an art form but as an integral part of daily life.

Session 2 is entitled Workshopping your Writing. During this session school-based groups will have a second meeting with the professional writer, to review and improve their written work.

Following lunch, all attending the festival will meet together for Session 3, “Open Mic.” In this session, participating authors will model what it is like to read before an audience. Students will then have the opportunity to share their own work. Many kids of middle-school age might feel anxious about participating in an activity such as an open mic, but I believe the atmosphere at the festival, with kids collaborating with a community of writers, will allow even they shy to open up and share their creations.

A great deal of hard work and inspiration has gone into developing the Middle School Writers Festival, but like anything else, some funding is required to turn a vision into reality. A generous grant from the Maryland Humanities Council allowed the program to get off the ground.

More funding is needed, however, in order to provide meals and to compensate participating authors for their time. If you would like to participate to this exciting undertaking, LPR is accepting donations both monetary and in-kind.

Festival Sponsorships are available for donations of $100 or more. All sponsors will be listed in the MSWF program and will receive a one-year subscription to the Little Patuxent Review. In-kind donations of notebooks, pens, and other writing-related giveaways for the students are also greatly appreciated.

I am so thrilled to be able to be a part of this exciting LPR initiative, and I have great hopes for its success this year and on into the future.

Emily Rich is a former federal employee and community college instructor who, after being diagnosed with both cancer and autoimmune arthritis, decided to take some time off to write. Her work has been published in a number of journals including Little Patuxent Review, Greenbrier Review, River Poet’s Journal, and Welter. She has also previously contributed to LPR’s Concerning Craft series. She is thrilled to be working with LPR both as assistant director for the MSFW and as a non-fiction reader for the upcoming Science issue. She lives in Arlington, VA.

Perform All Poems: Reflections on a LPR Poetry Reading

Poets are invariably all too familiar with the declaration, “Poetry is dead.” The Washington Post eagerly informed us that as we inaugurated our president, poetry was ceding its position of power*. Many readers were just as eager to address the Post’s error. One of the main point/counter-point arguments between yea- and nay-sayers was the state of the poetry reading. This week Steven Leyva, an LPR contributor and featured reader at the recent Town Square reading and open mic at Minas Gallery, brings us the good news of what thrilled and excited him about this modern poetry reading. As a co-creator a poetry reading series dubbed Kick Assonance, he’s been paying attention where The Washington Post was not:

-“All poems perform.”  Thomas Sayers Ellis

Steven Leyva

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

The thing about poetry readings is they are really bits of theater in small. Both audience and authors are staged, the verbal costumes (forms!) are shown off, and with a bit of luck everyone suspends their disbelief about the power of poetry in order to be moved.  It doesn’t always work, but when it does, the effect can be spellbinding. An excellent poetry reading can leave you lying awake in bed, attempting to recall certain lines or titles, as you would the name of some handsome stranger who just bought you a drink. And the whole business is great for the authors as well, who in fits of method acting get to act like poets. Though it may seem, with my tongue firmly embedded in my cheek, like I am speaking about a kind artifice, I really mean embodied imagination. The poem made visual art via the poet’s body and voice.  In that mode it seems fitting that Little Patuxent Review partnering with The Town Square Reading Series chose to celebrate its Music themed summer issue last Sunday, August 18th, at Baltimore’s Minas Gallery. And as luck would have it, I was asked to be one of the featured actors/readers.

What’s fun about Minas Gallery as a literary venue is being surrounded by beautiful art in an intimate yet public space.  The vintage clothing store on the first floor works like a quirky foyer for the art gallery on the second floor, where the readings are held. For this reading, instead of paintings, photographs lined the walls. Portraits to be precise. Strange portraits. Plenty of blue-hairs, and I don’t mean older women, and one man with stag antlers. The pieces were lovely, really, and made for an interesting backdrop for the poems, as well as the imagined sense of a larger audience. In terms of actual people, the place was packed, every seat filled, with a few folks standing in the back. Why is it that the “Poetry is dead,” statistics-mad, naysayers can never seem to “quantify” the actual bodies that continue to go to poetry readings?

Minas Gallery packed for poetry.

Minas Gallery packed for poetry.

As a biracial, African American poet I am used to living as a critique and tend take note of audience diversity, inevitably wondering, “Am I the darkest person in the room? The youngest? The only one in a interracial relationship?” What can I say? I like a little meter, a little iamb in my audience. I was not disappointed, and I think that speaks to the strength of LPR as well as The Town Square Reading Series, and The Free State Review whose editors and contributors were in attendance, participating in the open mic. All and all the reading was well set. The poets just had to fill the space with music.

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

Clarinda Harriss at the Town Square open mic and reading at Minas Gallery. (Photo Credit: Laura Shovan)

I was fortunate to read with such Maryland mainstays as Michael Salcman and Clarinda Harris. One lovely aspect of being a part of a group of featured readers is entering in to that reciprocal space where poems from separate poets seem to act like point and counterpoint, melody and countermelody. Correspondence in air as the poet Ilya Kaminsky calls it. Each of the readers acts as both reader and audience, both costumed monarch and Greek chorus, which is humbling, healthy, and awe inspiring. I believe all of the featured authors would argue for the importance of listening to a poem for what it wants, listening to others by reading, and listening to the imagination, therefore how much more important is it for the same authors to model listening and demonstrate how poets are able to riff off each other in the moment. It reminds me of that old adage, “Acting is reacting.” Poets can and do make use of the sensibility as well. So the Zydeco of my poems talking back to the twelve bar blues in Clarinda Harris’ work, while Michael Salcman’s poem about Bach as fat man sustained like a bass note, created an atmosphere for living verse. But that dialogue wasn’t insular; it didn’t exclude the audience. A joke I made about wanting to be an actor when I was young and realizing that my son (2 years old) is handsome enough to be one, sparked a conversation post reading with audience member about ancestry and striking features. One of the open mic readers mentioned that he was a geologist and said he really enjoyed my poems about place. Can a geologist give a higher compliment to a poet? Other people were enthusiastically chatting about setting poems to music, former poet-teachers, and a whole host of other topics.  In Skin, Inc. Thomas Sayers Ellis suggests that a line breaks multiple times before the final break on the page when written and then voiced by what he calls perform-a-formers. In other words, excellent poets. What I find interesting is seeing the embodiment of those multiple breaks in the proliferation of active, creative conversations after a reading. Conversations about everything that is alive, even grief. Lines were certainly multi-broken at this reading.

(Photo Credit: Laura Shovan)

(Photo Credit: Laura Shovan)

With a bit of “theater” in verse on a Sunday evening in Baltimore, above a vintage clothing store, framed by quirky portraits, with a metrical audience and a few perform-a-formers, collectively another reason was fashioned to transcend our disbelief in the power of poetry. Hopefully in the aftermath author and audience alike encountered in their sleep the name of a handsome stranger buying drinks folded with half remembered lines of poems.

(*See Betteridge’s law of headlines. )

Steven noted the distinct possibility for poets riffing (to borrow a musical term) at readings, finding inspiration from each other in the moment. An interesting contrast is found in Social Justice issue guest editor, Truth Thomas’, account of the differences between the solitary and collaborative nature of music and poetry.

Steven Leyva teaches writing at University of Baltimore and is the recipient of Cobalt Review Poetry Prize. His poems have additionally appeared in Welter and The Light Ekphrastic, and he has published a collection entitled Low Parish. He is the co-creator of the poetry reading series, Kick Assonance.

Meet the Neighbors: The Ivy Bookshop

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

Rebecca Oppenheimer

Rebecca Oppenheimer

Little compares to a well-tended bookshop. Whether traveling alone or with friends, it seems that in every city I explore, I explore my way into a bookshop. Today Rebecca Oppenheimer offers you a peek into The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore. Rebecca maintains The Ivy Bookshop’s blog, keeping visitors up to date about news in and beyond the literary world of the shop. Here’s what she had to say about the place:

Founded in 2001 as a more intimate alternative to the big chain stores, The Ivy Bookshop has grown from a beloved neighborhood fixture to a major presence across the Baltimore metropolis and beyond.

Our mission as Baltimore’s literary independent bookstore is to serve as a bridge between writers and readers – on a large scale by hosting and participating in author events and other literary happenings, and on a smaller scale every day by offering our customers the best literature of all types and genres.

The Ivy Bookshop’s storefront located at 6080 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD.

We host over 100 in-store author events a year. Our recent events have included readings by Man Booker Prize winner James Kelman, Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle Melton, Edgar Award winner Paul French and national security expert David Sanger. Earlier this year, we launched two popular event series: Crimes and Misdemeanors, which focuses on the best in mystery, suspense and true crime, and Front Table, which spotlights authors of outstanding literary fiction and memoir. We also host many writers who hail from closer to home – from debut authors just building an audience to national figures like Laura Lippman, Jessica Anya Blau and Marion Winik. We’ve held panels and discussions on topics ranging from Jane Austen to the Preakness.

The Ivy is also a presence in the greater Baltimore literary community. Through partnerships with the Baltimore Speakers Series, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University and other pivotal institutions, we are connecting all the time with new readers. We look forward to our annual appearance at the Baltimore Book Festival, where we get to introduce ourselves to a huge pool of book lovers.

So yes – we enjoy getting out and about! But an equally vital part of who we are is what goes on our shelves. The Ivy is a store run by book people for book people. Every member of our staff – both front and back office – loves to read and feels strongly about getting the best books possible onto The Ivy’s shelves. Will you find the latest bestsellers here? Absolutely! But you can also venture off the beaten path by delving a little deeper into our inventory.

Each of our sections includes classics and current popular titles – but also books you might not have heard of before seeing them on our shelves. We have titles from university presses, small presses and boutique imprints of larger publishing houses. These books are here not because they have a massive marketing budget behind them, but because we’re intrigued by them and think you will be, too.

We are delighted to count Little Patuxent Review among our partners. LPR shares The Ivy’s commitment to a thriving local literary scene, and to providing space for extraordinary voices, both established and new.

Rebecca mentioned the plethora of events that The Ivy hosts, and it’s absolutely true. Their calendar is flush with happenings  through November! What she didn’t mention is that another way The Ivy Bookshop is working hard to connect readers and literature is their book club registry, which also well-worth checking out.

Of course, Rebecca’s words and your imagination can only take you so far. What you really must do now is navigate your way to 6080 Falls Road and begin to map out the yet uncharted regions of The Ivy Bookshop.

Book Review: Shirley Brewer’s After Words

Most of us don’t live in hamlets. Even if we did, I suspect we’d still get our news mostly from the Net, from neighbors and co-workers and friends, TV, the diminished but dogged daily papers, the weeklies. Surely not from books. Rarely do we experience our news directly. It’s hand-me-down, a leeching of vitamins from vitamin pills, not whole foods.

Yet After Words somehow defies all this to deliver its news needle-to-vein, turning the reader into a direct witness. It burns in the palm and reads like a teletype. It is a knife thrust. Dispatch after dispatch, Shirley Brewer leaves us no easy way to turn our eyes. So yes, the book is reportorial. Yet it is more: part cenotaph, part elegy to this clearly bright, sweet fellow, this real-life Everyman, someone a lot like you and me. Part of the teeming masses. A citizen. A researcher at Johns Hopkins. A budding medical student.

But two days shy of his twenty-fourth birthday, this Everyman was stripped forcibly of his anonymity and burst unavoidably into the headlines when he bled out on a city pavement, heart punctured by a mugger’s knife. A private life, a public death.

And so this Everyman got a name. Stephen Pitcairn.

Pitcairn’s slaying occurred one block from the author’s home in the Baltimore hamlet known as Charles Village. She never knew him, as most of us remain unknown to each other until fortune, good, bad or notorious, draws attention to us; never knew him, yet in the pages of After Words constructs an incisive and meticulous portrait, perhaps of the victims (yes, plural: “When you kill a son, you kill his mother too,” the poet reminds us), perhaps of our common, most atavistic selves. This isn’t a poetry to turn to for pleasantries.

Disclosure: Like Shirley Brewer, who stitched together the discarnate bulletins that make up After Words, I never knew Stephen Pitcairn; but Shirley I know. She is a deft and professional writer, an acrobat who inches across the high wires of her art with grace and roisterous good humor. If you, too, are acquainted with Brewer’s work – and the public audience is certainly growing for her spirited, haunting, sometimes insistent, always capacious, Thoroughly Modern Shirley voice – then this slender volume may surprise you: the voice is pretty spare here. Appropriately spare. While the grace informs every page, the wry humor has been flensed, scooped clean, replaced with the unhurried, fully permeable nobility of a mourning sensibility. Much in the way of lamentation comes from the victim himself, shade of a shade.

Is it too much to ask
for one piece of chocolate cake?

I grieve for my parents, my sisters,
my co-workers, my friends –
the light they lost when I died.

My mother heard my final cries
over the phone – Mom,
the last word I spoke.

[from “Slain”]

Since she never knew him, Brewer pulls off this act of fine imagination with her back against the wall, especially in the creation of particulars: returning to us someone she never met, delivering him in high, unforgettable contrast. And so reading the poems is something like assessing at close range the gradations of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, a large print of that icon, perfectly developed, which is a sort of magic on the wall. After Words is a sort of magic in the hand: sitting by Adams’s lens, by Brewer’s pen, we rise to become bystanders in the half light preceding the dark.

Brewer, for all the gypsy scarves and fires gladdening her other work, is no necromancer: she knows damned well that she can’t raise the dead, that the dead don’t shine, don’t feel, don’t speak, and ditto inanimate objects, yet she wags her pen and forcefully conjures these selfsame riddles and runes. Stephen rises (so to speak, and speak he does) and shines (“brighter than a full Charles Village moon”). The moon speaks. Even the ruinous knife speaks. The pages of After Words record Brewer’s struggle for reconciliation and meaning, even if only existential, no alchemy, no thaumaturgy, no voodoo to it, the mode elegiac, the voices disconsolate.

In “The Role of Elegy,” Mary Jo Bang addresses the point:

What is elegy but the attempt
To rebreathe life
Into what the gone one once was
Before he grew to enormity.

Come on stage and be yourself,
The elegist says to the dead. Show them
Now – after the fact –
What you were meant to be:

The performer of a live song.
A shoe. Now bow.
What is left but this:
The compulsion to tell.

This poet tells. She invites Stephen to come onstage again and again, invites him to be himself the while, and what emerges is not so much memoir as a grounded and very sentient but unsentimental study.

I live on in blue,
a doctor of sky.

Yet she is not unremitting. When she asks us, in Stephen’s voice

If I could look in a mirror
right now, what would I see?
No one says: Death
becomes you.

she allows him a rare droll moment. But then he continues, absent a whiff of irony

The dead cannot speak –
both lungs and larynx lost.

If another language thrives here,
I have not learned it.

My words still shine like candles
tossed into the white cauldron of moon.

and we are back on track, in the demimonde of the associative. The heart’s blood of poetry. This track leads us to a (technically, emotionally) admirable passage, Stephen’s too-human realization that

This lonely country could be an illusion,
except I remember my casket

lowered into the ground,
severing me

from my sisters drenched in black.

[from “Lifeline”]

“. . . my sisters drenched in black” – did you notice? – there’s the economy of the artist asserting itself. But of course. Of course.

This is real poetry pressed into the service of nobility, not simple art. Deceptively hard to do, yet Brewer, as in everything she’s shared with us, is abundantly equal to the task. But perhaps she had help. Let Stephen’s words abide, then, for the poet, for us, for his family:

Did they think a knife
was enough to part us?

How do I relinquish
the parts of me that will not die?

Invisible, my hand rests
steady on your shoulder.

Shirley Brewer will be a featured reader at the Minás Gallery open mic this Sunday. Admission is $3. Click here for more details. For insight into Shirley’s approach to writing and craft, see her contribution to our Concerning Craft series.