Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Sheila Black

Sheila Black is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Iron, Ardent (Educe Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Puerto del Sol, the New York Times, and the Nation. She is a coeditor of Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability. She currently splits her time between Washington, D.C., and San Antonio, Texas.

Sheila’s poem, “Tamarind,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase at this link).

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: You told me you’re feeling “craft insecure” at the moment (hopefully I’m not betraying confidence in asking about that!). I thought maybe you could pick one craft element then that you use in “Tamarind,” and explain if briefly for us. I think you’ll find there’s a ton to choose from.

Andrew—you are not betraying a confidence at all. I think most poets feel “craft insecure” fairly often. I don’t know if it is so much insecurity about the craft or form itself as the tension the critic Charles Altieri describes as the struggle in a poem between “craft” and “sincerity.” You want a poem to feel “sincere”—a truth or an observation that teaches the reader something; at the same time, a poem depends on form to distinguish itself, to catch on fire. I often—make that usually—write my poems in a headlong rush, one big block of text—and the revision process for me is often about finding form. Putting “Tamarind” into couplets sort of snapped the poem into shape. I think because it allowed the white space between each couplet to do some of the work of the poem. The speaker is talking about sexuality, coming of age, and within a particularly fraught Caribbean (I spent a good part of my childhood in Nassau, Bahamas) historical context. The couplet form, and the space it gave for a kind of breathing in the poem, I hope creates a kind of outline or ghostly sense of that pressure—the things the speaker apprehends, but not entirely. I care a lot about sound in my poems so the poem also moves forward with a lot of internal rhyming—slant rhymes, sometimes full rhymes, buried within the lines (she/seed/tree). The poem also uses repetition of words—again she/seed/tree, etc.—to tell its story. I love how in a poem you can shift the sense of a word through a poem simply by repeating it or how even the act of repeating a word gives it a kind of double presence—the sound and what it signifies somehow playing off one another.

Q: You’ve described yourself as “attracted to the unruly and confrontational elements of the confessional.” What does “confessional” mean to you? And would you describe “Tamarind” in this way?

I tend to think of the confessional in much the terms Cate Marvin has written about it—as a dramatic form, where what is dramatized is not merely trauma itself, but the speaker’s relationship to that trauma and the act of speaking that trauma. I think in what we consider the first generation of confessional poets—Plath, Sexton, Berryman, et al.—the speaker’s voice, the dramatic wrestling of finding a voice with which to speak, is often foregrounded; what was innovative in this “confessional poetry” was the way the poem encompassed their speakers’ stuttering, difficulty, self-mythologizing, etc., as they sought to deal with or reveal charged material or content.

A friend of mine—a very great poet—once took me to task for calling myself confessional; he said I didn’t really have the right kind of history or psychological make-up—no drunken father or absent mother, no real primal trauma I was attempting to exorcise. He also said that I did not seem to be a sufficiently unreliable or untrustworthy enough narrator to call myself confessional, which always amused me a little. I think what he meant was that in the classic confessional poem, part of the drama of arises from the ways in which the reader must interpret what the narrator or speaker really feels about the traumatic situation described. Think for example, of how Plath’s “Daddy,” ostensibly a furious repudiation of her father, is also in some sense a love poem. He said—my friend—that I was more a poet of unease. I’ve thought about that a lot, and I think it is true. I came of age in the Watergate years and something of that sense of profound lack of certainty or trust really infuses my work. I think my speakers are often grappling with a feeling that they are born into a world that is unreliable where various truths are always buried or concealed. That might also be a result of growing up in many countries as the child of a foreign service officer—I had a sense of being somewhat outside, in exile, not sure where I belonged or what I was supposed to represent. I think that is reflected in “Tamarind” when you look at the uncertainty of the speaker versus the more declarative stance of her friend.

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Why I Write: All It Took Was a Game of Tennis

Jane Hegstrom is working on a number of memoir pieces about her midwestern childhood in the 1950s. She is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Masters of Writing Program and has a PhD in sociology with a specialization in social psychology and gender. Her academic writing has appeared in Sex Roles, Discourse Analysis, and Women’s Studies. She has also published in Bookends Review.

Jane’s nonfiction, “Mary and Carol Ann,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase through this link). She read excerpts from this piece at our issue launch in January (video below). In this guest post, which is part of our regular “Why I Write” series, she shares how she began writing.

My path to a writing life started, oddly enough, with an evening game of tennis. I was fifty-nine at the time and had played tennis for thirty-five of those years. I have a love affair with tennis, a sport that mentally transports me to a place where troubles and petty annoyances are lost in the sheer joy and focus of the game—what I imagine Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was talking about when he described the concept of flow.

My doubles partner that evening was a new player to the group. She was probably in her early thirties, the same age as my daughter. We won the racquet spin and chose to serve. I took my place at the net and when my partner served her first serve, our receiving opponent ripped a forehand return right at me. The moment I blocked the ball, an electrical malfunction caused the lights to go out in the tennis facility. We all moved slowly through the dark to the net to wait for the lights to come back on. Then my partner, in front of seven other players (the other court had joined us), asked me in a concerned voice, “Are you all right? I was worried that you’d get hurt by the ball hit right at you—you know, what with your age.”

No one said a word, and I was grateful it was dark because I’m infuriatingly prone to blushing. I forced a laugh and said something like, “We’re all used to having balls hit at us, not to worry.”

My partner’s remark left me feeling disoriented, as though I had walked into a room filled with strangers, a room I had never been in before. Her remark was a one-two punch. First, there was the shock that I was perceived to be old. Second, my confidence as a tennis player had been undermined. I thought, Maybe I’m not as strong, not as fast, and my reactions are slower. A younger player’s remark threatened a treasured aspect of my identity, and at that moment I assumed an altered identity: I was now old.

On my way home that evening, I thought of the French feminist writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir who, at fifty-two years of age, was shocked when she overheard a student say to one of his friends, “So Simone de Beauvoir is an old woman, then?” De Beauvoir’s conclusion was, “Old age is more apparent to others than to the subject himself.”

I began to wonder if other people were as stunned as I was when they discovered for the first time that others thought they were old. I made notes of my feelings and decided that at some point I would write about this particular event. I’m a sociologist whose areas of specialization are social psychology and gender, why not add the area of aging to my repertoire? I dreamily imagined my writing to be a hybrid of Malcolm Gladwell and Nora Ephron.

When I retired from teaching, I hadn’t forgotten about my startled reaction to the first time someone perceived me to be old. I immersed myself in the literature on aging and gathered anecdotal stories from acquaintances. One such acquaintance had a large number of Facebook friends and posted the following question on her Facebook page: Please describe the first time that you felt others perceived you to be old. It could have been a comment, an event, or even a feeling.

After a couple of months of collecting anecdotal data and organizing my thoughts, I was ready to launch my writing career. Except I couldn’t write! My years as a sociologist had produced a voice geared for peer reviewed academic journals and there was certainly no developed literary tone to my writing.

Enter Johns Hopkins University Masters of Writing Program. As a nonfiction student in the Hopkins Writing Program, I continued to draw upon my sociological background for essays on aging, but now I was learning to deliberate about structure, contemplate the importance of beginnings and endings, swap out weak verbs for stronger ones, add simile and metaphor, and remind myself every day not to over-explain—a lingering practice of my academic writing.

Then a memoir and personal essay workshop at Hopkins pushed me in another writing direction—my childhood. The result has been a collection of memoir pieces about my Midwestern childhood in the mid 1950s. And I’m grateful and proud that Little Patuxent Review published the first of my memoir pieces, Mary and Carol Ann.

Meet the Neighbors: Q&A with Dave Ring of OutWrite DC

In this post, Erika Franz interviews Dave Ring, the community chair of the OutWrite LGBTQ Book Festival in Washington, DC. He was a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018 resident at both Futurescapes and Disquiet. Hard at work on a novel, he has also placed stories with publications like GlitterShip, A Punk Rock Future and The Disconnect. He is the editor of Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was from Mason Jar Press. More info at www.dave-ring.com. Follow him on Twitter at @slickhop.   

OutWrite DC is based out of the The DC Center. Can you explain the relationship between the two?

OutWrite is a program of Center Arts, which is the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s umbrella program for arts-based initiatives. Like other Center Arts programs, OutWrite is supported by Kimberley Bush, the DC Center’s Director of Arts and Cultural Programs. Aside from Kimberley, we’re staffed entirely by volunteers, including myself.

Can you explain a little about the genesis of OutWrite DC? What is the umbrella mission under which you are operating?

That was before my time. The festival was started as a program of the DC Center in a joint effort between David Mariner, the Center’s Executive Director, and poet Dan Vera. The umbrella mission is “The DC Center for the LGBT Community educates, empowers, celebrates, and connects the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.” OutWrite does that by celebrating LGBTQ literature.

That actually touches on my follow up question: Who is the target audience? How far does the region extend?

There’s been a recent discussion on social media about queer communities connecting outside of bars. And while I think there’s value both historical and individual in “gay bar culture,” it’s been pretty great to curate this other space.

OutWrite’s target audience, like many LGBTQ organizations that exist in person and online, is both hyper-local—DC—as well as global—the internet. And by DC, in practice we mean the DMV.

There isn’t an LGBTQ literary festival in every town, so we also have folks attending from all over. It’s common for us to have folks coming to us from the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, or even California.

Can you explain the programming and what’s on offer from OutWrite? I am especially interested in the festival in August.

The Festival is our biggest event during the year. It will kick off on Friday, August 2, with an event—the details of which are still to be announced. Saturday, August 3, is the busiest day of the festival. It’s a full day of readings, panels and bookselling. Saturday will see about 650+ attendees, if we go by last year. Sunday, August 4, is quieter and more focused. We have six workshops for writers, two at 10am, two at 12pm, and two at 2pm. Those typically have 5-15 attendees each.

This year all events are free and open to the public.

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LPR Fundraiser Friday, April 5 at Columbia Arts Center

Join us at a fundraiser for Little Patuxent Review at 7:00 p.m on Friday April 5, at the Columbia Arts Center (Long Reach village center) and enjoy Akimbo. You can click here for tickets or pay at the door.

Akimbo, an Improv Comedy Team, is a group of performers from Baltimore, Maryland who met through their various work at the Baltimore Improv Group. Akimbo performs the old school improv format known as the Harold and seeks to intrigue audiences as much as make them laugh. Every performance is entirely improvised using only a single word of suggestion from the audience, combined with that strange, sweet phenomenon we call improv group mind. You’ll laugh, you’ll ponder, and laugh some more!

Statement of Sorrow and Support of All Humanity

Truth Thomas is a board member of the Little Patuxent Review, and his words below express the feelings of the magazine’s board and staff.

 

On Friday, March 15, 2019, at least 49 people, including young children, were murdered by a white supremacist who targeted Muslims at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. Almost the same number of individuals were injured in this horrific terrorist attack.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden described it as “one of New Zealand’s “darkest days.” She is profoundly correct in her assessment. What is also correct to say is that the far-right violence currently on the rise in the world is intensely energized by the white supremacist rhetoric of the President of the United States.

Sadly, Brenton Tarrant, the man who has been charged with murder in the New Zealand mosque shootings, praised Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” In that respect, one of New Zealand’s darkest days is also one of the darkest days in our nation.

In light of this, the editors of Cherry Castle Publishing are compelled by the troubling tenor of our times to make it plain: Their blood is our blood. We are the siren-surrounded mosques in New Zealand. We are the police-taped Bible study at “Mother Emanuel” in Charleston, and we are the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh weeping over the dead.

And so, unhesitatingly, we stand in prayer and bold solidarity with the Christchurch community as it grapples with the aftermath of this unprecedented right-wing violence. Moreover, we stand in harmonious agreement with all souls who celebrate the beauty, diversity, and human dignity of all people, wherever they reside in the world.

-Truth Thomas, Editor-in-Chief, Cherry Castle Publishing

Concerning Craft: Four Ways to Find Inspiration in Writer’s Block

Adam Gianforcaro is the author of the poetry collection Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out and children’s picture book Uma the Umbrella. His poems can be found in Poet Lore, the Minnesota Review, Maudlin House, Literary Orphans, and others.

Adam’s poem, “I Want to Hold My Boyfriend’s Hand,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase through this link). He read this poem and two others at our issue launch in January (video below). In this guest post, which is part of our regular “Concerning Craft” series, he focuses on strategies for overcoming writer’s block.

Writer’s block is one of the most thwarting traditions of the creative mind, but one we all experience. Some try to find ways over this block with a change of environment or a third pot of coffee, but after a short break, writers often come back to their laptops still feeling frustrated and uninspired. Instead of seeing writer’s block as a barrier to a current project, it may help to imagine it as a detour sign, a cue to change directions and take in new scenery before coming back to the road where you had originally stopped.

There are plenty of ways to get out of your head and back to the project at hand, but when writer’s block shakes the foundations of creativity and rises from the ground with wrath and fury, why not fight this creative suppressant by creating art of another form?

  • Get inspired: Many people find reading one of the best remedies for overcoming writer’s block. Not only is it a good way to get out of your own head, but it’s also a great way to find inspiration. One way to do this is by viewing the work you are reading in its micro form, sentence by sentence. For example, while reading If Beale Street Could Talk, I came across a sentence that stopped me in my tracks: “The mind is like an object that picks up dust.” Lines like these, even when taken out of context, sing with beauty and symbolism and versatility. With this, writers can find inspiration not in grand ideas and plot direction, but by viewing books and other art works that once seemed familiar in a new and up-close way.
  • Repurpose an old work: Giving an old piece of writing a new identity may also help you break from your barricaded funk. Take inspiration from the previous Beale Street prompt by scouring some of your writings and searching for one or two of your sharpest sentences. Then, use these as inspiration for a poem. Or, if you have an old poem, use a line or two from that as your muse for a short story or creative nonfiction piece. There are many ways to repurpose old writings—even those that may be unsuccessful in their current format—and make them shine like new.
  • Design a broadside: For poets and flash-fiction writers, broadsides are an underrepresented and underutilized way to breathe new life into your work. Experimenting with two-dimensional design and adding visual enhancements to a short work (new or old) can turn your literary feat into a piece of visual art. And don’t worry if you don’t think you can draw well. Simplistic line drawings and abstract color blocking can take your work from a great piece of writing to an awe-inspiring broadside.
  • Make something and destroy it: Writer’s block can be frustrating, and many times, we may not want to dive into another project or experiment with different forms of art to help alleviate the obstruction at hand. Writer’s block can make you want to throw your laptop out the window, burn your notebooks, and scream bloody murder. We have all been there. So embrace that feeling, but in a safe and constructive way. For example, you can build a tiny fortress with toy building blocks, only to tear it down with an aggressive swoop of the hand. Of course, yoga or aerobics could also act as positive, physical ways to alleviate the frustrations of writer’s block, but you may find it symbolically pleasing to build your own walls with colorful pieces of plastic and use your hand as a wrecking ball. The only downside of this is the clean-up afterwards.

So whether you decide to take a break from your current writing project to create something new or use your time to figuratively destroy the physical manifestation of writer’s block, using these tips can help you gain a new sense of accomplishment and greater control for getting around the wall that was once obstructing your writing. And with this clearer vision, you will see that the wall wasn’t all that big in the first place, and all you had to do was take a step back and walk around.

Ann Bracken Panelist in March 17 Event: “Visionary Women: The Journey, Art About Women by Women”

On March 17, contributing editor Ann Bracken will serve as on a panel discussing an invitational art exhibit, “Visionary Women: The Journey, Art About Women by Women,” which celebrates the talents and art of women from Howard County and elsewhere in Maryland during National Women’s History Month.

For more information, please Columbia Art Center at 410-730-0075 or email Art.Staff@ColumbiaAssociation.org.

Columbia Art Center is located at 6100 Foreland Garth in Columbia.