Two from LPR Visit Paul Rucker’s Exhibit in Richmond

Photo of Paul Rucker

Paul Rucker

In our Winter 2018 issue, LPR featured the art of Paul Rucker. Contributing editor Ann Bracken conducted an interview with Rucker, whose work was also featured in our issue launch.

On May 5, Ann and our publisher, Desirée Magney, traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond to see his exhibit. Below are their comments about the installation.

Desirée Magney: On display, in the back section of a large room on the first floor, was a line-up of Rucker’s mannequins dressed in long, colorful robes cinched at the waist. Pointed hoods stood erect from shoulders to well beyond the tops of the heads. Other than the colors, the mannequins’ clothing resembled the garb of the KKK. I had seen photos of Rucker’s figures in our Winter 2018 Little Patuxent Review journal, so I knew what to expect. But I couldn’t have anticipated the impact the actual exhibit had on me.

The figures were very tall and arranged in a crisscross pattern. So, no matter where you stood, you felt surrounded, intimidated, and overwhelmed by them as they towered over you. The eyeholes in the hoods were vacant, contributing to the eeriness the exhibit created. I imagine these were all feelings intended by Rucker—feelings felt in a much greater degree by those who have encountered actual Klan members. Thus, it was a very effective exhibit.

Rucker also had display cases of old Ku Klux Klan newspapers, postcards, flyers, brochures, and pamphlets. There were postcards of actual lynchings. There were photos of people posing with wide smiles on their faces, in front of bodies dangling from thick tree branches.

I queried Ann how Rucker obtained this memorabilia. “He bids on Ebay. He always wonders who he’s bidding against.” Rucker wonders if the opposing bidder is a believer in the doctrines of white supremacy groups or someone like him who wants to make us all aware of this horrifying history and the continued presence of these groups today.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Wendy Mitman Clarke

Wendy Mitman Clarke’s poetry has been published in Rattle, Delmarva Review, and Blue River Review, and it will appear in the spring 2018 issue of Blackbird. She won the Pat Nielsen Poetry Prize in 2015 and 2017, and her poem “The Kiss” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her nonfiction has been published in River Teeth, Smithsonian, Preservation, and National Parks. Her novel Still Water Bending was released in October 2017. You can read and view her work at www.wendymitmanclarke.com.

Clarke’s poem, “Beachcombing,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: What’s the name of the form you use in “Beachcombing.” Why did you make that choice?

A: This form is a pantoum. I was really intimidated by form at first, but I learn so much from it. I’m intrigued by the paradoxical way it makes you more flexible, stretches your thinking and your effort, and often takes the poem to a place you didn’t expect or perhaps wouldn’t have gone at first. In this case, the repetition that this form required worked to establish the kind of rhythmic movement of waves upon a shoreline, and so the form complemented the poem’s setting and topic perfectly. I also think it’s fantastic that a form as ancient as the pantoum can so beautifully illuminate a subject that’s so vital in our contemporary world.

Q: Your poem begins with a statement from UNESCO about plastic killing marine animals. What’s the relationship in your writing between literature and social/environmental causes?

A: So many things are happening in our world today that demand that we bear witness and raise our voices, it can be overwhelming. I felt the need to prioritize. I have spent my whole life on the water, have sailed tens of thousands of miles and have been in some really remote places. Everywhere I have found plastic. My daughter and I are avid beachcombers, and yet with every perfect shell comes a disposable razor or a toothbrush or a tampon applicator or a little round ball from a deodorant dispenser or a mylar balloon, or just tiny, colorful, indiscriminate bits of plastic. It doesn’t biodegrade, and fish and birds and whales—anything that lives in or near the ocean—ingest it in some form. Without our oceans, we as a species and as a planet are dead. People don’t understand that with every choice they make for their convenience, they are killing the oceans and the animals that depend upon them—ourselves included. Plastic straws, plastic coffee cup lids, plastic water bottles—it’s ubiquitous and pervasive and it has to stop. I hope if I focus my writing on trying to make people more aware of issues like this, perhaps I can do my small part to help our natural world and the animals and organisms with whom we share it. The Lorax had it right: Someone has to speak for the trees. Also, artists like Chris Jordan—whose work “Midway: Message From the Gyre” absolutely shatters me—inspire me to raise my voice through my writing.

Q: You seem to write everything—poetry, nonfiction, fiction. What got you into writing?

I have been writing since I can remember. I come from a family of voracious readers, and writing was always valued in my family. My dad could recite things like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by heart, and at every Christmas or major family event like a wedding, he would write a poem to commemorate it. I had an amazing English teacher in high school—that one teacher you worship and for whom you want to excel, and after a I wrote a short story about a post-apocalyptic world, he encouraged me to pursue more creative writing. My nonfiction writing began when I was in college with a semester left to graduate and the urgent need to find a job. I started working as a reporter at my hometown newspaper, then was hired by The Associated Press, where I really learned the value of brevity, accuracy, and efficiency in writing. Eventually I shifted into magazines, and that’s where my nonfiction really was able to stretch.

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Meet the Neighbors: Jerry Gabriel of the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference

Jerry Gabriel’s first book of fiction, Drowned Boy, won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and was published in 2010 (Sarabande Books). It was a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick and awarded the 2011 Towson Prize for Literature. His second book of fiction, The Let Go, was published in 2015 (Queen’s Ferry Press). His stories have appeared in One Story, Epoch, Fiction, Five Chapters, and The Missouri Review, among other publications. His work has been short-listed for a Pushcart Prize and he has received grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (2004), the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (2011), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2016). He lives with his family in southern Maryland, where he teaches writing at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and directs the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference.

Q: I can say that I love the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but I’m less sure I can honestly say I love the Chesapeake Bay. I just haven’t spent much time on or around the water. What’s the Chesapeake Bay mean to you?

When I was in perhaps fifth grade, I wrote a “paper” on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which I guess fascinated me at the time, but that was probably most of the thinking I did on the subject until I moved here with my wife twenty-five years later.  But my relationship with the Chesapeake Bay is actually pretty rich, if mostly mediated through my children. We live about five minutes from the bay, and we spend a great deal of time there, digging around along the wrack line and in the tidal pools, swimming, getting ankle-bitten by the insidious flies. Though I am not a native Marylander, and I don’t especially like crabs or extreme humidity, I have come to see the bay as a special place. There is a museum on Solomon’s Island—the Calvert Marine Museum—that does a great job of showing the interconnectedness of life in and around the bay, and at the college where I teach—St. Mary’s College of Maryland—we try to speak to that same interconnectedness. I act as faculty editor for a journal on campus that is dedicated to the environmental and cultural change in the region—it’s called Slackwater—and being involved in that project has also made me appreciate much about the bay and its bounty, as well as its fragility.

Q: Has proximity to the bay in St. Mary’s City influenced your writing at all?

I wouldn’t say my writing has been affected yet by this proximity, but I certainly think it’s slowly working on me. I have lived a number of places, and in some important ways, I think of myself as a place-based writer, so I’m not especially comfortable just dropping my characters into new landscapes. I have to feel like I know a place. That said, I’m working on a book set in the 1860s in the Midwest, a place I couldn’t possibly have known, so take all of this with a grain of salt, I guess.

Q: There’s a lot of history to St. Mary’s. I know very little but I think of early Catholic settlements and of slavery. Have you written about these or other aspects of the history of your region?

Through my involvement with Slackwater these last several years, I’ve learned a great deal about the history you speak of. It’s powerful—and goes way back. Again, I have not yet had any of that seep into my work. But I certainly don’t rule it out. I have become very interested in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries lately, so it could be a case of adding two and two together, creatively.

Q: What’s the origin story of the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference?

Well, there was a poetry festival at the college for many years that was created and directed by Michael Glaser, a poet who is still lives in the area. This conference is an extension of that work, in some ways. But it is also an attempt to make this beautiful spot a hub for literary connections in the region. The campus is very quiet in the summer and it is a great place to get together and talk about ideas related to writing. I’ve been very lucky to gather some incredible faculty members—including folks like Patricia Henley, who has been a finalist for the National Book Award—and it’s just been such a rich experience across the board, for me, for the faculty, for all the folks who attend (including high schoolers and SMCM undergrads).  The ethos—and I think this, too, goes back to Michael Glaser’s festival—is rooted in possibility. No one here subscribes to the “cut me down to make me stronger” theory of creative writing instruction.

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Lessons from a Publisher: Ian Anderson of Mason Jar Press

Ian Anderson at LPR’s annual reading.

At Little Patuxent Review’s annual reading this past March, we were lucky enough to hear fiction by Ian Anderson, the founder and editor-in-chief of Mason Jar Press. In this guest post he shares some “lessons from a publisher.” 

Mason Jar Press is an independent press based in Baltimore that specializes in handmade, limited-edition chapbooks and full-length publications by established and emerging writers. Recent publications include The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado, by Dave K, and Not Without Our Laughter, by the Black Ladies Brunch Collective and edited by celeste doaks (celeste and others from the BLBC also contributed to our recent winter issue).

There are two important questions that you should ask yourself when looking for a publisher. The first is, “Am I the right author for this publisher?” The second: “Is this publisher the right one for me?” It’s this second question that is most often overlooked by writers, especially those taking their first steps into the world of publishers, and it can make the difference between having a good experience or a bad one. Most writers aspire to have a book one day, so it can be tempting to go with just anyone who will make that happen. But if it’s a bad experience, that can be worse than no book at all—for both you and the press, and no one wants that. To avoid this, before you even start looking for a publisher, you need to know what kind of book you want in the world.

Is being in Barnes & Nobles (these still exist as I’m writing this) important to you? Is having a say in the design of your book important to you? Are you trying to reach a specific audience? Does the quality and form of the finished product matter? The answer to these questions (and a hundred others you need to consider) can eliminate some publishers and help you focus on ones that fit for you. Here’s the rub, though. There are tradeoffs to some of these questions. For example, if you’re trying to get on the New York Times Bestsellers list, you’re better off trying to get in with a bigger publisher, but they probably won’t ask your opinion on the cover design beyond, “Is your name spelled right?”

Tough decisions might have to be made.

This is because, when we talk about publishers, we’re actually talking about types of publishers. What we do at Mason Jar Press is a whole lot different than what Penguin Random House is doing. What Mason Jar does is closer to what someone like Dzanc Books is doing, but we’re still worlds apart. Between MJP and The Big Five (or Four), there is a hot mess of publishers, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, so take your time thinking about what you want to get out of the experience

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Seth Tucker

Seth Brady Tucker’s fiction has recently appeared in December, Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere, and his poetry and fiction have won awards over the years. He runs the Longleaf Writers Conference in Florida and teaches creative writing to engineers at the top-ranked Colorado School of Mines.

Tucker’s short story, “The Court of Tar and Oil,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I notice you’re from Wyoming. Have you ever been to Worland? My mother’s maiden name is Worland and apparently, we have some sort of family connection to the place.

What I know about Worland: there was a fight nearly every time we played them in basketball. Tough team from a tough town—all elbows and inner-city play way out there in the flat expanse of the desert plains. Their basketball court ended at a wall with a thin pad on it, and you knew you were going to get driven into it at some point in the game.

Q: The image in my mind that I have of Wyoming I got from Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces. Have you read that book? How does it correspond to your own experience?

The beauty of Wyoming is wild and terrific in the literal meaning of the word terrific; it is wide open, wind-swept, frightful, but also remarkable for some of the most rugged and lovely terrain on the planet. I was lucky to grow up in the little hamlet town of Lander, next to the Wind River Range, and most of my youth was spent working our ranch or working the mountains with my father, who was a hunting guide in the Winds for many years (and who knows about as much about those mountains as anyone alive). It made being a child tough, but I also have some rare and cherished memories of winding our way up those mountains on horseback. I haven’t read Ehrlich’s work, but Annie Prouix is a transplant to Wyoming and does a fairly good job of writing about life up there, but I have to assume that Ehrlich likely writes about how big and bright the sky is, how far one can see into the distance, the shadows of mountains always just on the horizon, the slow progression of the highways as you make your way to them; it is what I love about Wyoming–this hint of the unknown and wild and dangerous.

Q: I realize the Longleaf Writers Conference is just a week away. What’s the origin story of this conference?

This is our fifth year, and for three of those years Matt Bondurant and I have funded scholarships and fellowships for emerging poets and writers. We started with just Matt and I as faculty, then slowly started to build, bringing in writers like Andre Dubus III, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Antonya Nelson, Rebecca Makkai, David James Poissant, Chris Offutt, Jen Percy, Anton DiSclafani, and many other authors who were awarded financial aid. We are proud of the support we give our attendees, and have helped a number of them go on to publish books. We partner with Ole Miss for a couple scholarships as well, and this year we are bringing Beth Anne Fennelly and Tom Franklin and Jill McCorkle, with the help of our other partner, the Cultural Arts Alliance of South Walton. We built this conference to be small and intimate in a way that the big conferences can be overwhelming and isolating; we want beginners to feel as comfortable there as those with long histories in the workshop or academia; we bring the best writers we can who also happen to be generous and enthusiastic teachers and writers; to sum up: we write hard and beach hard. You should come next year!

Q: Are writers’ conferences something that should be on my radar as a young writer? Should I be going to things like this?

Absolutely—this is the networking of the job of being a writer—the sooner you start, the sooner you get that big break everyone wants and needs. My only regret is not going to these conferences while in grad school.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker’s work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature. She is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves is the most recent. She has received a number of awards, including the W.B. Yeats Society of New York Award and the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, as well as three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts writing fellowships.

Crooker’s poem, “Road Trip,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: Pardon my poetry ignorance, but I was surprised when I first saw “Road Trip” that it appears as two big paragraphs of text. You don’t seem to utilize line breaks the way other poets in the winter issue did. Am I right in this observation, or missing something? And is there a name for this sort of style of presentation?

The short answer is, this is a two-stanza poem. And it’s not in paragraphs or sentences, but rather, pretty carefully delineated lines. Let’s take a look at the first couple of lines.

Spring ahead, the weatherman said, which is what we did,
driving down I-95, watching its scroll unroll before us:
purple and yellow crocus in Maryland, a smudge
of green on the trees. In Reston, VA, the buds start popping,

See how differently it would read if I broke it like this:

Spring ahead, the weatherman said, which is
what we did, driving down I-95, watching its
scroll unroll before us: purple and yellow crocus in
Maryland, a smudge of green on the trees.

I typically create my lines based on breath units, where I would naturally pause to take a breath.

Then I think about where the line ends, as that’s where the emphasis should fall. I have an aversion to lines that end in “a” or “the,” or prepositions like “in.” Then I pay attention (usually by reading the poem out loud) about how the punctuation works with the pauses (noun + line break is a shorter pause than noun + comma, for example). Finally, I look at the poem as a whole, looking for shapeliness. . . .

Also, if this were prose, it would look like this:

Spring ahead, the weatherman said, which is what we did, driving down I-95, watching its scroll unroll before us: purple and yellow crocus in Maryland, a smudge of green on the trees. In Reston, VA, the buds start popping, and a cardinal sets his road flare on a bare bush.

Great question!

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“Columbia at 50”: Film and book talk Monday, May 7

On Monday at 7 p.m., the Columbia Art Center will host a showing of Columbia at 50, a film produced by Dick Krantz. Brian England, an LPR board member, was the executive director. Following the video, Len Lazarick will give a book talk on Columbia at 50: A Memoir of a City. This free event is sponsored by Columbia Art Center and Little Patuxent Review.