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.
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.
But for a writer as hard-working as Michalski, “prolific year” is also misleading. In addition to working on her own writing, Michalski edits the Baltimore-based journal jmww and frequents local literary readings.
Michalski and I spoke about her not-so-sudden success last weekend, and we followed with an email exchange. I had recently read The Tide King, her stand-alone novel (Black Lawrence Press).
Laura Shovan (LS): With three books published within an eighteen-month period and a feature in the Baltimore Sun, one might be tempted to say, “Jen Michalski is an overnight success.” Those of us involved in the local scene know that you are a longtime literary community activist. Over the years, how have you balanced supporting other writers—through projects like jmww, the 510 Reading Series, and the City Sages anthology—with staying committed to your own writing?
Jen Michalski (JM): I don’t know, really! It all works out, somehow. A caveat—I like to keep busy. I have this manic mental itch, and there are so many other things I would attempt to scratch it with if I weren’t so involved in the writing community: I want to learn to play the bass and trumpet, attend the symphonies and opera, surf, and knit. I often wish the days were twice as long, or that there were two of me!
That said, ironically, my projects don’t leave a lot of time for writing. Fortunately, I do a lot of my work internally, in dreams and also subconsciously; and by the time I write it out, I’ve worked it over and over in my head and it’s pretty much the way it will be on the page. Writing also just comes when it’s ready, not when I try to force it, so I don’t feel pressured to set aside an hour a day and wait for something to happen. Finally, it helps that I’m a self-employed medical editor, which means my schedule is pretty flexible for when the writing does erupt.
Ultimately, though, being involved in the community is inspiring to me as a writer. All writing is a dialogue between writer and reader, and when I’ve attended a great reading or accepted a great piece for jmww or just talked with another writer about his or her inspiration or process or even kids, I am compelled to respond in my own way somehow, whether right away or subconsciously, a few months later. I feel like these outside projects fertilize the garden, in a way.
LS: We talked about the way different threads of research came together as you were constructing The Tide King: the last “witch” burned in Poland, your family’s immigration story, a National Geographic article about the sinking of the Bismarck, both your grandfathers’ WWII experiences. All of these, except for the Bismarck, are key themes or events in The Tide King. Would you describe your research process? How do you know when something you uncover is going to work for the book?
JM: Research excites me because I never know what I’m going to turn up. In fact, I no longer lock myself in a plotline early on when I’m writing or researching the novel. When I’m researching I’m like a boat in the ocean; I can glide along in lot of different directions and trajectories before seeing land again. And then I might wind up landing in Cape Town when I thought I was going to Madrid!
Even though my research is driven by things about which I’m passionate, I just try to remain open to what I find. If I really wanted to set the novel in Alaska but when I’m Googling I read about a fishing village in Nova Scotia that really excites me, I go with it. In that sense, I know something is going to work when I become excited about it, when the story suddenly opens up and expands. Sometimes, though, the research just gets cut, and I’m okay with that. I wrote about 600 pages of The Tide King and only wound up using 300. I don’t feel they were wasted pages—they were just sort of the outtakes you wind up seeing on movie DVDs. (In fact, a lot of the deleted scenes did wind up being stand-alone stories that were published.)
I also try to stay loose through the various revisions of the novel. The first draft is so different from the second, the second from the third, and so on. Although the characters and the basic plot may stay the same, all the scenes, the setups, can have changed from the first to third draft. It used to be something that frustrated me, because you want to keep the energy of the first draft or idea without watering it down through the revisions. But often the revisions take it to a better place. Now, I try and concentrate on just digging through the research, the draft writing, knowing that I’m going to hit pay-dirt down the road—I trust my intuition will guide me to where I need to be. I am a writer entirely in the moment of writing. I never think about when I should be finished with a particular novel, whether I’ve spent too much time on it, and I also never wish for a novel to end. I try to have so much fun writing it that I’m disappointed when I’ve done all I can and it’s finally finished, that I have to find something else to do.
LS: Early in the novel, Barbara, an herbalist living in rural Poland in the 1800s, discovers a patch of burnette saxifrage that’s been struck by lightning. The herb, she realizes, has extraordinary healing powers. You said that this story, while not scientific, is drawn from both history and folklore. How did this element of magical realism become the novel’s inciting incident, the thing that draws these characters—who span over 100 years—together?
JM: The decision to use the herb, for me, was definitely, the “aha” moment. When I first started writing about Stanley and Calvin in the European theater of World War II (which was inspired indirectly by a story I’d read about the battleship Bismarck in National Geographic), I didn’t know what was going to happen with them. In the back of my mind I knew I didn’t want to write a war novel, even as I wanted to honor my grandfathers, who both served and never talked about it. But I kept writing, figuring that what to do next would occur to me by the time I got to that crossroads. And it did—one day, I was looking through some story files on my computer and found fifty pages of this other novel I had started many years before and forgotten. It featured the enchanted burnette saxifrage. I wondered, “What if one of the soldiers, Stanley or Calvin, gives it to the other?” Burnette saxifrage became the lynchpin—it could tie centuries of family and people together by the nature of its “curse.” It also provided a conceit, the curse of immortality and how humans deal with loneliness and time passing. But I was many months into research and writing before I realized the true story of The Tide King—and it turned out I’d been working on it for years without even realizing it.
LS: The friendship of WWII buddies Stanley and Calvin is central to The Tide King. However, the female characters shape the trajectory of Stanley’s and Calvin’s lives. How did you come up with Stanley’s love interest, little person and country music star Cindy? You said that Cindy’s daughter, Heidi, drives the second half of the novel. Can you explain what you meant?
JM: I don’t really know why I made Cindy a little person. I know I wanted to include country music because I was reading a lot about 1940s and 1950s country music, Patsy Cline and the Browns and Hank Williams Sr. So I knew Cindy would be a country music star. I always am drawn to the different, the “other.” I’ve written before about people with disabilities because I’m interested in their perspectives, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to include this twist in Cindy’s character.
Also, in a way, although I didn’t realize it at the time, she becomes kind of a foil for Ela, who is also a little person in that she’s a two-hundred-year-old woman trapped in the body of a nine-year-old girl. Ela wants to die but she can’t, and Cindy wants to live on forever, immortalized as a country music star.
But Cindy and Kate (Calvin’s first love) drive the story. Calvin and Stanley never get over Kate and Cindy, and they are both driven through life by them in different ways. For one, it is a helpful, positive coping, and for the other, it’s not. I think it’s a very human condition, our “muses,” and the thin line between the destructive and redemptive nature of them.
Heidi’s story, even as it comprises the last third of the novel, is kind of a surprise to the reader, I think, and it was intentional on my part. For Ela and Calvin and Stanley and everyone else who comes in contact with the burnette saxifrage over the course of two hundred years, their information is very incomplete. They ingested the herb and did not know it, it wasn’t forced upon them, or they’re not aware of the breadth of its repercussions. Heidi is a character who is given full knowledge of the herb, knows what it can do, has seen how it affects those who take it. And, at the novel’s end, she must make a choice about the herb, and she is the only one, to that point, with the agency to decide whether or not she should take it, what should be done with it. I wanted to explore that freedom to decide one’s fate, through Heidi. To that point, the herb, or the search for the herb, for answers, had been the driving force.
LS: The one question you said most people ask about The Tide King is: Will there be a sequel? Explain why your answer is no.
JM: I think it’s good to leave the reader with questions. Life isn’t tied up in a bow, and I don’t think stories should be, either. There is no happy ever after—life just ends, and there’s nothing we really have to drive ourselves through it except our hopes—our hopes to be happy, to fall in love, to be successful. Which, on the face of it, are all human constructs, not real. And that’s what the characters in The Tide King have at the end—their hopes, however slim and unrealistic. There’s nothing that Calvin or Ela or Heidi could do in a sequel that would change the course of humanity, of the human condition. It’s sort of an old story, the follies and hopes of humankind, that doesn’t need a sequel. I thought that was the most fitting, realistic ending of all.
Jen Michalski lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She was voted one of the best authors in Maryland by CBS News, one of “50 Women to Watch” by the Baltimore Sun, and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine (Best of Baltimore issue, 2013). Her novel THE TIDE KING (Black Lawrence Press) was voted “Best Fiction” by the Baltimore City Paper. She is the author of two collections of fiction, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (So New, 2007) and FROM HERE (Aqueous Books, 2014) and a collection of novellas, COULD YOU BE WITH HER NOW (Dzanc Books, 2013). She also edited the anthology CITY SAGES: BALTIMORE, which Baltimore Magazine called “Best of Baltimore” in 2010. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww and hosts the monthly reading series the 510 Readings in Baltimore.
For more about The Tide King, see the Baltimore Sun’s review. Also consider reading up on Jen’s previous book, COULD YOU BE WITH HER NOW, reviewed by LPR earlier this year. Jen’s bookFROM HERE is due to be published by Aqueous Books in April 2014.
According to my family, I am a frustrated biologist. I was the weird mom at the bus stop who, when the Brood X cicadas inundated central Maryland in 2004, couldn’t help examining the “visitors” instead of avoiding them. So why choose literature instead of a career as an entomologist? It turns out, those fascinated with the natural world – no matter whether that fascination is in the realm of physics, biology, neuroscience, or astronomy – are often natural writers, and vice versa. Science and literature are, after all, both
rooted in the practice of observation. When the LPR staff decided to invite a guest to edit our Winter 2014 Science issue, we didn’t need to look far. Baltimore poet and novelist Lalita Noronha balances literary credentials with exemplary training in the sciences. Lucky for us, Lalita is as excited about the intersections between science and literature as we are.
Here is guest editor Lalita Noronha, to tell us more about her hopes for LPR’s Science issue.
The poet is to the human condition as the telescope and the microscope are to the scientist.
To this day, I remember the elation on my botany professor’s face when he peered into the microscope at my double stained section of a dicot stem and burst out saying– look, here is where art lies. No painter can paint something so beautiful. No words can describe it. I was fifteen, a freshman in college. What did I know of science or art? I’ve forgotten my professor’s name and his exact words, but never that moment we shared.
Science has always been an integral part of my life, not only because I love it, but because it was my financial gateway to America. Without scholarships and grants, the little V-shaped Indian peninsula on which I was born was as far from America as the furthest planet. At home, however, science and literature were, as Thomas Huxley says, two sides of the same coin. My father was a botany professor; my mother was a geography and social studies teacher. As educators, they simply insisted that my siblings and I “learn” − at first, anything, and later, preferably something that would earn us a living. Asked to choose between science and arts, I chose to major in botany. No surprise there. Since then, I have worked with viruses, bacteria, cells, tissues, and animals in academic research institutions and in the biopharmaceutical industry, and with young women as a high school science teacher. It was only then, when my summers were free, that I began writing. And it felt natural.
Unfortunately, science seems to be more at odds with poetry than with other literary genres. Sometimes, poems invoke science-based images as metaphors that are incorrect, simplified descriptions of the science itself. Counterclaims that science robs the wonder of the natural world and of life itself, with its cold, formal, scientific methodology are equally rampant. In fact, poetry and science have always had a symbiotic relationship. Consider Erasmus Darwin’s long two-part poem The Botanic Garden (1789) which together total some 3260 lines structured in rhyming couplets with footnotes addressing, among other scientific issues, the beginning of his theory of evolution that his grandson, Charles Darwin, would later amplify. In more recent times, consider the long science/poetry careers of William Carlos William, and closer to home, Michael Salcman (neuroscientist, art critic, and LPR Contributing Editor), poet Myra Sklarew (a research scientist, who I will interview for this issue), molecular biologist Katherine Larson, whose book Radial Symmetry recently won the Yale Series of Younger Poets, and many other gifted scientist/poets who explore our organic world in new and different ways.
Ultimately, scientific research and creative writing both seek to understand the mysteries of life (and death) on our own planet and beyond, and certainly in our imagination. To me, it is an endless journey.
I am excited and honored to be the guest editor of the Science Issue of Little Patuxent Review. I very much look forward to reading your stories, poems, and nonfiction over the coming months. Here is a “science” poem of mine published in Persimmon Tree, 2012.
Paired in vials of cobalt blue media,
they mate, metamorphose in ten days,
specks of eggs hatch squirming larvae,
rice-grain pupae, adult fruit flies.
My students chart sex ratios and the inheritance of traits,
black, round-bodied males, spiny oblong females,
sepia eyes, vestigial wings.
They record data, analyze, calculate gene frequencies.
It’s all done in a month.
My calculations: Should I live to be, say eighty,
a respectable age in these times,
that month of teaching, a thousandth of my life-span,
flew by before I stopped to count butterflies,
or wrote the last line of this poem.
Lalita Noronha is a research scientist, author, poet, teacher, and fiction editor for The Baltimore Review. Recipient of a Fulbright travel grant, she earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology from St. Louis University School of Medicine. Her short story collection Where Monsoons Cry received the Maryland Literary Arts Award. Others credits include awards from the National League of American Pen Women, the Maryland Writers Association (fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry) and a Maryland Individual Artist Award. A Pushcart prize nominee in poetry, she is also a contributor to WYPR’s The Signal. More about Lalita can be found at http://www.lalitanoronha.com and http://lalitanoronha.wordpress.com/.
Just so you know. This is what can happen when you submit your work to LPR:
Your poem gets published, say in the Winter 2012 Social Justice issue. You get invited to present your poem at the launch reading. The online editor, seated in the audience, is intrigued. She likes your mastery of metaphor. And that you use it to say something. She asks you to write about how you came up with the poem for the blog. And to include an image of yourself, if you don’t mind, that isn’t boring. You comply on both counts, and she posts something that looks like “Concerning Craft: Dylan Bargteil.”
Time passes. The online editor is deep into doubt—the upcoming Winter 2013 Doubt issue, that is. She cites Voltaire, references epistemology. Then she remembers how much damn fun doubt can be, especially when one is young. So she writes about that and adds images. And, recalling that you actually are young, asks you to prepare a post, too. And to include an image of yourself, if you don’t mind, that isn’t boring. You do all that, and she posts something similar to “Delving into Doubt: Worship No Idols.” There, you reveal that you are a musician as well as a poet. But the pertinent fact that you are now pursuing a doctorate in physics—the uncertainty principle and all that—seems to slip your mind.
Time passes, and the sausage-making mechanism that serves as the guts of many a lit mag grinds on at LPR. And exacts the occasional ounce of flesh. Reminding you that the upcoming Summer 2013 Music issue is in the works, the online editor requests tracks of your tunes. You send some. (See “Scene II [Rough Mix]” in the sidebar.) Then vault into the vat on your own, providing lines from physicist Richard Feynman to tout the Winter 2014 Science issue. And start to develop a sense of what we’re about while you’re there. Responding to our editor’s recent post on what sets us apart, you state something like:
At the readings and online, it’s clear that LPR has fostered a literary community that is genuinely interested in developing the role of the arts in society and our own lives. More impressively, the conversations among members of this community truly do span not only geography but also fields of study, socioeconomic background, gender, age and other borderlines along which too many communities become insular.
Now, all that’s required is a twist in the plot. The online editor, a fiction writer in her free time, rises splendidly to the occasion. Being sufficiently experienced to skip the tedious expository stuff that no one reads anyway, she types the simple declarative sentence “I resign.” And omits more–though elements of her thought process can be inferred—to ask you, the poet-musician-physicist submitter-contributor who also happens to have been the editor-in-chief of the University of Maryland literary and arts journalStylus and has since started a delectable beer-brewing and pizza-making blog, to serve as her successor.
Now, all she needs is an answer. Instead, you elect to quiz her. She replies, Jeopardy! style, with a question as well, albeit a rhetorical one. “So what?” she asks and asserts that unfamiliarity with the LPR community might matter less than you imagine. That when she started this site, many in that community looked a lot like her. That she wanted to make it look more like America and, in some respects, succeeded. That you, as a young man, can address an untapped audience. And, moreover, do the same as a musician, a physicist, a beer-brewer, a pizza-maker (and more). That there are untold opportunities to explore what “LPR community” can eventually come to mean. You respond by stating:
I’ve decided to accept the position. It sounds like an exciting experiment! I share your concerns and aspirations and look forward to being in a position to tackle them.
LPR applauds your decision. And the online editor is delighted to pass the baton to you right after the launch. Now, let’s get back to that other “you,” the one left wondering in the wings. Both present and future online editors suggest that YOU buy (and read) our Music issue, study the guidelines in preparation for the August 1 opening of our Science issue submission period, do the work required to dazzle LPR with your style and savvy and stick around to see what happens. Here’s some music to get you in the mood:
Dylan Bargteil is a PhD student in the NYU Physics Department. He studied poetry with the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House at the University of Maryland, where he also served as the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Stylus. His poetry has been published in Little Patuxent Review and Poetry Quarterly and has received the Jiménez-Porter Literary Prize. He is also a recording musician, is currently working on multi-media and anonymous public art projects and will soon start serving as the LPR online editor.
Big news! Little Patuxent Review finally upped the limit for fiction submissions to 5000 words. We’ve been gradually heading in that direction over the past few years, but this opens up LPR to even more great stories by talented writers who’ve been unable to pare down their pieces to 3500 words. I can’t wait to see what comes in during our Summer 2013 Music issue submission period. It should make for terrific reading.
I don’t envy myself, though. My role in chosing pieces to publish will soon become more difficult than ever. More words mean more ways that a story can go astray. A higher word count makes some writers less rigorous when it comes to revision, so I suspect I’ll see stories that have expanded to 5000 words when fewer would have done the job very well.
My advice: Before you submit, revise!
Fortunately, revision is my favorite part of writing. No writer that I know gets far without it. Revising is writing. There’s no separation.
“What about Jack Kerouac?” I can hear one of my former students asking as I write this. “What about “first thought, best thought” and the spontaneous purity of the initial draft?” All good questions. I’ll get to them in a moment. But first, try not to delude yourself into believing that you’re a misunderstood genius.
It’s an occupational hazard, I know. I tend to think that my own first drafts are brilliant—that I’m brilliant! Get ready, world, here I come! Until a day or so later, when I reread my words and realize that what I’ve written is dung. Oh, maybe my story has its moments–some beautiful sentences, the kernel of a good idea–but it’s also laden with grammatical errors, huge holes in plot or logic and mixed metaphors galore. And don’t get me started on punctuation: how I love a good dash, can be overzealous with parentheses and am errant with commas.
So I start revising. And revising. And revising.
I put as much space between me and the piece as possible. A few days, a few months, a few years. Because what needs to be changed in a piece is never fully apparent in the first few passes. When I feel that I’m finally finished revising, I go back and do it again. At some point I show my former-masterpiece-turned-modest-work to a writing friend. Based on what he or she says, I revise some more.
Most good writers that I know do this. Yet, there is this notion among new writers that revision spoils the original intent, that it takes away the energy and zip, or worse, that it deadens the personality of a piece so that everything sounds as though it was shaped in the same writing workshop. Kerouac regarded revision as a form of literary lying. (Never mind for the moment that Truman Capote regarded the “first thought” approach as typing, not writing.)
As reported in “You Don’t Know Jack…,” Johnson reveals just how much of Kerouac’s approach came about through a disciplined and self-punishing journey to find an authentic linguistic and literary style. Fortunately, that style came into being somewhere between the margins of the working-class French-Canadian neighborhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he grew up, and the elegant lyricism of the writers he admired. And that–not the myth–is what makes Kerouac a writer worth emulating.
Very occasionally, a story will emerge from me nearly fully formed. Those works are rare gifts but still require the scrutiny of my internal editor. For me, revision is important because it uses a different part of the brain. It requires more decisions, more meditation, more intuition, more listening, more music and rhythm. Exacting and deliberate revision is what adds depth, emotion, texture and personality to a piece.
My point? Being a misunderstood genius gets in the way of being a great writer. Besides, you can save every version of every draft you ever write. If your revised version is not what you want it to be, go back to the beginning and start again. Which is to say, revise.
Recommending books to help you with editing your own manuscripts so that they’re submission-ready is easier. Here, all you need is something that tells you how to (1) make sure you don’t get in your own way and (2) not give exacting editors such as Jen peripheral reasons to reject your work. I started out with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and that worked as well as any. There are others that would do, no doubt.
There’s a lot to say about Lucille, but her poetry speaks for itself. And now that I’ve gone gray and put on pounds, certain poems, in particular, speak to me. Here’s one where, as Margalit Fox noted in The New York Times, the historical and personal converge:
homage to my hips
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
According to Laura, “It was a great panel discussion. Many people approached me about how much they enjoyed it. Even my mother, who does not read poetry, was so fascinated that she came home and read Lucille’s Collected Poems for about an hour.”
Audacity and I had a test of wills a few weeks ago. On a whim, I’d signed up my teenaged son, my brother–eight years my junior–and myself for a mud run. We had eight weeks to train for the run, my first 5K, but there was no way to prepare for the obstacles: walls, nets, slides and a whole lot of mud. After a sleepless night of agonizing over what I’d gotten myself into, it was race day. Once we started moving, there was no time to think, to doubt, to say, “I’m doing something audacious.” I was climbing 20-foot walls and going over the other side.
For most of us, audacity comes and goes. Sometimes, we can call up the chutzpah required to do wild, wonderful or dangerous things like crawling through mud pits for fun. Other times, we have to hold back, become cautious. The blind enthusiasm of youth is in constant conflict with the experience and limitations of age. As submissions came in for our Summer 2012 issue, I was gratified to see that potential contributors explored both the audacity of the young and the audacity that can only come with experience. This diversity was reflected in our final selections.
Representing youthful audacity in the upcoming issue, Dee Roy’s short story “Different Kind of Snake” introduces us to Barbara-Jean, a shotgun toting 12-year-old who outdoes her older brothers when it comes to nerves. There is also a young voice in the poem “Watermen 1979,” where Dennis M. Kirschbaum takes us oystering. Just as Barbara-Jean is egged on by her brothers, Kirschbaum’s speaker is induced to act audaciously by peers.
Representing a more mature form of audacity,LPR Art Consultant Michael Salcman walks us through Baltimore painter Raoul Middleman’s career, which has taken him from abstract expressionism and pop art to a revisiting of the old masters and, finally, to his own artistic voice. Middleman is a master portraitist, as is poet Dan Vera. Vera sketches a wily, wild old man outsmarting the Feds in “Mr. Guzman Makes a Fool of Himself.” If Vera shows us that age can be used to advantage, Moira Egan counters that age should be both celebrated and bemoaned in “Dryness Sonnet,” a savvy look at sex in later life.
Like Egan, a number of other contributors equate audacity with sex, exploring how it breaks down or bumps up against our inhibitions. Angie Chuang’s engaging essay “Thanksgiving with the Shirzais” describes her complicated relationship with an Afghan-American family and the wayward, attractive son.
Our Audacity issue also features art by Towson University Assistant Professor Amanda Burnham. Her work has transitioned from ironic sketches of Baltimore’s urban landscape to whole-room installations that leap from walls into the viewer’s space. Our featured author is fiction writer Edith Pearlman, interviewed by LPR Contributing Editor Susan Thornton Hobby. In her short story “Self-Reliance,” Pearlman spends an afternoon with retiree Cornelia Fitch, who chooses her audacious moments with steely self-control.
I learned from the mud run that audacious behavior is a means of testing courage and resolve. The outcome can be laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking or disastrous. Whatever the result, audacity–like the pieces in our summer issue–is always memorable.
Online Editor’s Note: To learn more about some of the contributors mentioned, read the previous post “Concerning Craft: Raoul Middleman” and catch “Shapeshifting Through a Short Story Collection,” a piece on Edith Pearlman coming next Tuesday. And if you’d like to meet these two remarkable people, join us for our free Audacity issue launch event on June 23, where Middleman will discuss his work, and purchase a ticket for Pearlman’s appearance on June 27. Both events are part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, which runs from June 15-June 30 and is well worth attending.
Writers agonize over the every word, then painstakingly revise and edit. And visual artists tend to communicate best at the preverbal level. So the prospect of having to spew spontaneous utterances at the behest of a stranger can be unnerving. While some grin and bear it, others find a better way to bare their souls: fabricating entire interviews out of whole cloth. Those documented to have done this include Oscar Wilde, James Barrie, Evelyn Waugh, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Milan Kundera and Philip Roth. However, there is only one master: Vladimir Nabokov, who Paris Review assertsconducted and wrote up every single one of his interviews himself.
It was Nabokov who inspired me to initiate this online self-interview series. Here, creative types are asked to supply both Q and A while I provide phony information on interview site, time-span and the subject’s demeanor. This, after all, was what was included in the introduction to one famous Nabokov interview, which Playboy later admitted was the only nonverbal one the mag had ever run. Only I took additional liberties and mixed it up even more. Here’s what happened when I formulated the first…
Always on the lookout for new topics, I elected to look into animal communication. Since I’d once readAnimal Farmand had vague recollections of Boxer, Mollie and Clover, I visited some stables near me in Maryland to chat up a literate filly or two. Alas, all any of them wished to discuss was dressage, so I had to drive all the way to upstate New York, where an astute poet I knew lived.
Before arriving at my destination, I needed to stop my car to–well, you know–and saw some mares engaged in lively discourse in a pleasant pasture. Not wanting to put them off, I assumed a similar shape. The one with the most horse sense told me I was wasting my time: when it came to poetry and prose, humans had the edge and none more so that the mother of her vet, who happened to be here.
Before I knew it, I was back in familiar form and ankle-deep in–well, you know–whilst establishing interview parameters with the esteemed Clarinda Harriss. We settled on what turned out to be an unseasonably hot day in May. At the appointed time, we left dazzling sunshine for the relatively cool dark of a 100-year-old barn. The air there was replete with buzzing insects attracted to honeyed straw. I elected to wing it since I needed to use my pristine third-generation iPad, packed with a passel of penetrating questions, to shoo them away. Things soon became sufficiently bizarre for me to start out by saying:
IM: Hold your horses! Why have you donned a beyond-the-elbow plastic glove?
CH: Because I’m about to assist in impregnating a mare, which for all I know could very well require my having to reach–well, you know–inside.
IM: Look here, Clarinda–if I may call you that. I don’t see why you have to horse around with something as serious as poetry.
CH: My Son the [Horse] Doctor and I agreed it would be instructive for me to assist in this activity, a fecund mix of the natural and artificial so akin to my own work.
IM: Well, carry on then, I suppose. I’m hardly one to change horses in midstream.
CH: For the moment, could we focus on rhyme instead of hackneyed sayings?
IM: If you feel that poetry’s about rhyme, though that’s not the prevailing paradigm.
CH: But isn’t it about orchestrating sounds in a manner more sonorous than routinely encountered in casual conversation or even highly refined prose?
IM: I’ll give you that if you hand me the turkey baster your Son the [Horse] Doctor just added to the panoply of medical equipment laid out behind your back.
Clarinda does. I put it to good use targeting pesky horse flies, whose impressive compound eyes are irresistibly drawn to my iPad’s formidable retina display.
IM: Seems this is a tool of your son’s trade. What would you say are yours?
CH: Words, naturalment. And noise—a joyful noise or an ugly noise or a loud, rude noise or simply a sneaky whisper. And an irrepressible sense of play. Suppose I typed “a joyful nose.” A gift from the great muse Accident! Suddenly I’m composing something astounding about how horse manure smells sort of good instead of the solid but pedestrian piece I’d intended. And, speaking of senses, let’s throw in the standard ones. All five plus perhaps Number 5.5: muscle tension. Blake knew it, bees knew it, even horses under trees knew it. If you want to talk to a horse, talk an apple under his or her soft nose. The soft nose is how the horse says “please” and “thank you.” That’s how and why I maintain my Old Gray Mare of Poetry title. The nose, toes, hose and how it all slows. Goes. You knows. They’re doors, doors to perception.
CH: Indeed I did. They mentioned that people sometimes ask why their poems don’t rhyme. They’d say, “What on earth have you been listening to? We rhyme all the time.” They meant deliberate echoings: “rhyme” and “time” rhyme. Language plays games with rules poets make often make up after we’ve played by them.
IM: Give me a short example, no more than a sample.
CH: Here’s a quickie for you, a silly poem that I quote a lot because it’s the only one of mine I can say by heart. It’s called “A Cougar Considers Her Boy-Toy.”
Bless his sweet ass, but
did he have a stroke?
He can’t remember a thing
from when I was young.
The syllables go 5-5-7-5. Twenty-two total, which is why I can remember it. For a lark, I say that it’s based on a form called “vantaydu,” as in vignt-et-deux.
IM: Speaking of ass–and not just the equine kind–how do you select subject matter?
CH: First off, “ass” is not just about content; there’s my fave sound device, assonance. One of the hotter of my humble contributions to Hot Sonnets, the anthology Moira Egan and I recently birthed ends thus: “The poem writes itself. We lie in trance. But love, fuck, trouble hum their assonance.” One of the reasons that I write poems in English rather than Horse Latin or Basque is that English spelling is so cockeyed that the short “u” sound can be made by an “o” or “ou” as well as a “u.” A wide-open field. Chew on that. But I digress. Where were we? Ass. Can we stretch that to tits and ass? Perhaps the whole body? I sing the body eclectic. I have written poems inspired by my pre-teen titlessness and by later overflow. I have written poems about nyloned legs nuzzled by the knee of a tuxedo. I have a poem called “Knees,” in fact. I love the way knees smell. Neigh, I have written at least one poem inspired by big bony feet, both mine and those of others. When I was a mere groom in the stables of Plath and Sexton, I had a Lady Lazarus thing about long red hair, which may actually date back to the way my bay brown hair sun bleached to a chestnut red. I’m working on a series called “Blasphemies,” in which Mary Magdalene’s long red hair plays a role. You’ll recall that she is sometimes depicted in sexy religious art as washing Christ’s feet with her hair. Come to think of it, feet play a big part in both my poetry and prose. Sorry, Little Girl. (No, not you–that’s what we call this mare.) I’ll do more with hooves, I promise. But you can’t be too perturbed since I have written horse poems. I may even have had your sire in mind when writing this:
This isn’t metaphor.
You can tame a two-year-old stallion
black, sleek and lethal as
a coal train ripping a hole in a mountain
by gripping his velvet upper lip
or better yet his big pink lolling roll of tongue
and holding on
till he goes meek as painted Pegasus.
The veterinarian is about to shoot
the horse with tranquilizers in order to pull
two vestigial teeth that have erupted
in the empty spaces between molars–
grooves evolved over eons–
where the bit fits
in a ‘normal’ horse’s mouth.
This isn’t metaphor either.
The owner, breathless pink in Vermont air,
watches Mister Mexico go
all dopey in the stall but not fall.
Girls love horses. This is metaphor.
IM: Enough with the content, already! Let’s return to form. What about people like you who sometimes use fixed or traditional forms? The rules for sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, pantoums, ghazals and the like were created long before you came along.
CH: True, but these forms beg to be played with! I like to steal the lines I use as the repeated lines in repeating forms like vollanelles and pantoums. I like to write odd sonnets with 13 or 15 lines. George Mason, a Founding Father, invented his own sonnet form. So did Robert Frost, John Updike and others. And looky here: when a writer’s using a form with built-in repetition, that writer often adds even more.
IM. Whoa! Exactly how much repetition would you say is enough?
CH: Consider Dylan Thomas’s villanelle “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” The second repeated line, used over and over throughout the poem, is “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He could’ve said, “Oh, rage against the dying of the light” or something similar. But I speak as one who’s always thought that if Thoreau had practiced what he preached, he’d have said “Simplify.” Instead, he said it twice.
Clarinda’s Son the [repetitious Horse] Doctor approaches, leading a sweet-faced Morgan mare. “Mom, you going to help or what?” he asks. She smiles sweetly and says, “Honey, I’m a poet. You know I love to get my hands into things. Let’s go.” She takes the turkey baster from my hand, leaving me defenseless against barnyard ravagers. “Don’t those flies sound somewhat like Satie’stypewriter song?” she says, ever so sweetly.
After what seems like–and actually is–hours, Clarinda is ready to turn in bespattered boots for something befitting the poetry reading slated for later. Since I already look swell, her Son the [hospitable Horse] Doctor offers me a drink while I wait. I opt for a Horse’s Neck. When he asks whether I’d like that made with bourbon or brandy, I request one of each. When Clarinda returns, looking as resplendent as a jockey in purple silk, she waves off libation. “I’ll Have Another,” I say to the Son.
Perhaps because I’m in my cups by now, Clarinda suddenly seems somewhat overdone. I suggest she look in the mirror and remove one accessory, channeling Coco Chanel. When she digs in her four-inch heels, I take it upon myself to undo a superfluous clasp and set aside a glittering necklace of superlatives that adds nothing to her narrative. “Relax,” I say. “As Grace Coddington remarked when I interviewed her amid her many cats just the other day: “…everyone needs an editor.”
A journal like Little Patuxent Review requires a vibrant literary and artistic community to thrive–and even survive. In appreciation of the cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” where we provide you with some personal introductions.
At the start of 2010, Mother Jones published a piece that asked whether it was time to write off literary magazines and answered mainly in the affirmative. The author, the infamous Ted Genoways of the Virginia Quarterly Review, then called not only for a few bold university presidents to make necessary changes but also for writers to venture out from under the protective wing of academia and to put themselves and their work on the line. “Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ’s sake, write something we might want to read,” he said.
By the end of 2010, The Guardian had published a piece on the renaissance of the literary magazine. It wasn’t that the author disagreed with Genoways. In fact, he cited the editor of Five Dials, the digital journal put out by one of London’s oldest publishing houses, as saying, “Some literary magazines have grown precious to the point where the humour and liveliness has long since evaporated.” Rather, he simply believed that the impact of information technology on literary magazines had come full circle: what once may have contributed to their decline was now facilitating their resurgence.
Around that time, I was taking online journals seriously enough to want to submit my own work. First to Narrative Magazine, founded in 2003 by former Esquire editor Tom Jenks and author Carol Edgarian. But Narrative seemed to favor established authors, and I was hardly that, having come to writing late in life. Still, I was willing to wait for some quality electronic publication to take on some of my short stories. I tried TriQuarterly, which the The New York Times had called “perhaps the preeminent journal for literary fiction.” TriQuarterly had transitioned from a print to an online publication in 2010 amid some critics’ cries of dismay. Atticus Review, started in 2011, also caught my eye. It had an attractive layout, posted new material weekly and featured fiction I wanted to read.
TriQuarterly picked up my “Making Soup”, and Atticus Review gave my “Winter Wonderland” a home. Since the former was located in Chicago but the latter was just a piece down the road from me in Kensington, MD, I contacted the publisher there and asked him to write a few words for LPR about how his journal got started. He graciously agreed, so it is my pleasure to introduce Dan Cafaro to you and share what he sent:
Like many a literary journal, Atticus Reviewstarted in the hazy atmosphere of indie lit debauchery. That’s only true, however, if you and I see debauchery in the same light, i.e., as an orgy of contemporary literature. Let me rephrase this and say instead that Atticus Review first spilled onto the virtual page following a predestined union of fancifully spirited minds and warped spirits at the February 2011 AWP Conference in Washington, DC.
The first concept meeting of our weekly online journal took place in front of the Atticus Books table on a dreamy residue of a Saturday morning at the AWP book fair. The impromptu gathering was attended by a trio of relatively hung over AWP marauders, as I remember: John Minichillo and Matt Mullins, two fine professors with doctorate degrees in literature, and yours truly, a self-educated hack like no other. I had become acquainted with John when he approached me some months earlier with his debut novel, The Snow Whale, an imaginative recasting of Moby-Dick, and was so taken by the sheer inventiveness of the storyline that I signed him to a book contract.
In our initial conversation, John had mentioned Matt, his friend and writing peer, with whom he was collaborating on a screenplay of The Snow Whale. [i] Matt soon thereafter approached Atticus with a story collection, Three Ways of the Saw. I was immediately smitten with the potency of Matt’s writing: the title story grabbed me by the shirt collar and cold cocked me. Against my better business judgment–story collections are as tough to market as Jesus statuettes at an atheist convention–and over a nightcap of mid-shelf bourbon after our startup publishing house’s inaugural AWP reading, Matt and I shook hands on a book deal. I could have wiggled out of our gentlemen’s agreement, but as Hemingway famously said, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” [ii]
The following morning, this unlikely trio discussed how best to go about shaping a literary magazine and what that would entail. I asked for suggestions on the person to put at the helm. My informal criteria required a someone who:
Could deal with my half-baked ideas and wildly ambitious vision for the press.
Wasn’t afraid of making a jackass of himself or herself or making a stool pigeon out of me as long as poking fun at ourselves moved the conversation forward.
Dug the idea of flipping the current notion of a literary journal over onto its overripe, bulbous melon.
John mentioned his wife, writer Katrina Gray, as a possibility. I didn’t know Katrina other than through her outstanding fiction but admired her spunk and figured we could make a go of it if she could deal with the workload and my whimsical nature. Ever since taking the bull by the horns, Katrina has far outshone my outlandishness and it has been a magical hayride since Day One, thanks in large part to AR conspirators and editors Libby O’Neill, Jamie Iredell and Michael Meyerhofer.
In short, Atticus Review is a moonchild conceived out of wedlock in an orgasmic storm of Tasmanian proportions, otherwise known as the whirlwind of AWP. [iii]
[i] By the way, fellows, whatever happened to that screenplay you promised?
[ii] I have no regrets. Matt and I were clearly destined to work together, and I feel fortunate to have been the first to publish his books. Fast forward and note that Atticus Books launched Matt’s collection at the 2012 AWP conference in Chicago.
[iii] There may be some funny business going on here, but I assure you that this affair in letters is not as salacious as it appears. As for the sauciness of our publication, well, you’ll have to make up your own mind about that.
Dan Cafaro is founder and publisher of Atticus Books, the deadbeat but well-intentioned grandpappy of Atticus Review. He can be found frittering away far too much time on Facebook, Pinterest and the live music section of the Internet Archive Collection. If the crowbar fails to pry him away from the computer, his wife and daughter will file for joint custody of the dogs. Atticus Review is his first attempt at in vitro fertilization. He prefers paper plates to fine china and doesn’t care a lick about Petri dishes.
If you’d like to learn more about other literary publications that have embraced the Digital Age, you might want to check out:
It takes audacity and faith in yourself to begin sending work out to publications. We received several submissions from local teens, all for our upcoming Audacity issue. I tracked down these young writers to Corey O’Brien’s Advanced Composition class at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, Maryland. A few weeks ago, LPR Fiction Editor Jen Grow and I visited the class.
Here’s what two of the students in the class, Jennifer Swiger and Lucy Font, had to say about that day:
Every other day at 10:15 am, we write. Members of our class settle into seats, open daybooks and write. The girl near the door could be inventing a fantasy world between the lines of her notebook, while the boy in the back of the room could be filling his pages with a mouth-watering description of what he ate for lunch yesterday. Whatever the case may be, we write.
On Friday, however, we listened. Privileged with the presence of two editors from the acclaimed publication Little Patuxent Review, we learned that writing is about more than pen and paper. Seated before us were Editor Laura Shovan and Fiction Editor Jen Grow. A few minutes into their presentation, we began to scribble furiously, jotting down words of inspiration. As any class would, we had questions. Giancarlo Albano paved the way by asking, “How important is the title of a piece?”
From there, Shovan and Grow elaborated on countless aspects of the writing process, from revision to formatting. Their shared experience as editors and their words of wisdom as well as the diverse publications that they brought, ranging from Shovan’s high school literary magazine to the latest issue of LPR, proved to be invaluable.
Shovan and Grow emphasized a key piece of advice: do not give up. They made it clear that rejection is inevitable and, more importantly, that each rejection should strengthen the desire to persevere. An anecdote that made an impact on us involved a class of art students that had been painting diligently only to be instructed by the teacher to flip their canvases and paint over their work. Why not think of writing as a blank canvas, a clean slate? As Jackie Minehart said, “[the story] touches on the point that we have to have confidence in our writing skills and continue to progress in order to get better. If we realize one idea isn’t working, we must move forward.”
The generosity with which Shovan and Grow offered us their time and expertise was appreciated beyond words. As writers, we gained insight into both the process of publishing and the art of writing. We were taught to be fearless, honest with ourselves and, most importantly, true to our craft. We must write and continue to do so. Thank you, LPR!
We invited Corey and his students to the following Friday’s Wisdomwell reading and were delighted that they took us up on it. The subsequent Monday, the three students who had read their own poems there–Jen Swiger, Poulomi Banerjee and Jackie Minehart–shared their experiences with the rest of the class. From what Corey later told us, it was clear that the evening had made a lasting impression on the students who had accompanied him. Jen Swiger, he said, had summed it up by saying that the Friday night poetry reading was the first time that she felt like a writer. As a both writer and an educator, I have to love that.