Make Believe as Metaphor

This post was originally published on June 1, 2011. It’s being re-shared as part of LPR’s 10th Anniversary.

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caught flak–and a great deal of attention–for running a disaster-preparedness campaign for the Zombie Apocalypse. If you are ready for Zombies, the CDC suggests, you are ready for anything. Tips for an ordinary disaster-preparedness kit follow. The CDC understands that zombies aren’t a real threat. What appears to be make believe is really metaphor. In this equation Zombies = life-altering disaster.

Writer, illustrator and storyteller Vonnie Winslow Crist understands the relationship between make believe and metaphor. Crist, who recently published a book of fairy tales, poems and sketches, The Greener Forest, has a featured essay, “Fairies, Magic and Monsters,” in LPR’s Make Believe issue, scheduled to launch June 18. The essay looks at current and classic fantasy books and movies such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Crist traces their popularity back to somber messages safely sent through stories shared by the cooking fire.

Many have complained that the Harry Potter series grew progressively dark with each book. Considering that Rowling explored a subculture living in a state of dictator-enforced paranoia, the darkness makes sense. Lord Voldemort’s tactics are as familiar as the front page, which daily tells us about the cruelties of depots clinging to power. In her essay, Crist points out, “This is fantastical literature’s greatest gift. Through make believe places, races, characters, and creatures, the authors of these tales use metaphor to help us examine the controversial issues of our world.”

Crist is a master of metaphor. In The Greener Forest, her modern fairy tales stand out. These stories use traditional fairy tale tropes, artfully layered with modern concerns. In “Shoreside,” a vacation at the beach forces a wife and mother to reconsider the family life she has chosen. Hiromi watches her husband and children swim in the ocean but avoids the water herself. She is a ningyo (a mermaid of Japanese folklore) and fears that the pull of the water and the adventurous life it represents will break her family ties. When a child nearly drowns in the ocean, Hiromi must test those ties.

“Tootsie’s Swamp Tours & Amusement Park” is set, with an oddball sense of just-the-right detail, at a rundown Southern destination beset by Spriggans. As Jess walks through the park with her uncle and husband, she realizes only she can see the ugly fairy creatures threatening her. Jess, who has recently lost a pregnancy, comes to believe the Spriggans caused her miscarriage. Her depression lifts as she takes control of her situation.

A handful of original fairy tales set in “once upon a time” showcase Crist’s love of the genre. “Blood of the Swan” is a particularly beautiful quest story about a young man who must slay the swan maiden he loves in order to save his village.

The stories in The Greener Forest can be dark. Even tales with a love theme at their center, such as “The Return of Gunnar Kettilson,” would never be optioned by Disney for a feature film. Gunnar Kettilson is, after all, a zombie. Unlike modern zombies, though, Gunnar has a thirst for revenge, not brains, and he still has enough heart left to protect the woman he loves. As Crist says in her LPR essay, “Fairies, magic, and even monsters will continue to be threads running through the human tapestry because they offer us hope and bring order to chaos.”

Vonnie Winslow Crist writes Harford’s Heart magazine’s “Writer’s Block” column, does illustrations for the Vegetarian Journal, co-edits The Gunpowder Review, contributes to Faerie Magazine and publishes the blog Whimsical Words. She has taught creative writing at Harford Community College and for the Maryland State Arts Council Arts in Education Program and regularly leads a writing workshop at Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Balticon

Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Tales of the Talisman, Macabre Magazine (England), First Word Bulletin (Spain) and Great Writers Great Stories: Writers from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as Loch Raven Review, Champagne Shivers and EMG-Zine. She is author-illustrator of Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales (children’s book), Essential Fables (poetry) and River of Stars (poetry) and co-editor of Lower Than the Angels: Science Fact, Science Fiction & Fantasy and Through a Glass Darkly: An Anthology of Mystery, Gothic Horror & Dark Fantasy.

She has received a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award and placed first in the 2007 Maryland National League of American Pen Women poetry contest.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this publication, please check out LPR’s Issue 10: Make Believe https://littlepatuxentreview.org/sales/individual-issues-2/

The Scalpel and the Pen

Michael Salcman

Michael Salcman

I met poet, neurosurgeon, and art critic Michael Salcman five years ago. As a CityLit board member, Michael initiated the Harriss Poetry Prize and was its first judge. When I won the inaugural contest, publisher Gregg Wilhelm asked me whether I’d like feedback from the judge. I received more than feedback. Michael became a mentor, friend, and colleague. Little Patuxent Review has benefited immensely from his work as our art consultant.

Poetry in Medicine: An Anthology of Poems About Doctors, Patients, Illness, and Healing, represents the integration of Michael’s three major areas of expertise: medicine, poetry, and fine art. But the book also reflects his generosity. Its pages include luminaries of Western literature: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickinson; and modern poets who place their unflinching gaze on the body: Linda Pastan, Lucille Clifton, Stanley Plumly; side by side with poets from our local community: Shirley Brewer, Clarinda Harriss, Jennifer Wallace.

The book represents six years of compiling, curating, and organizing, but it also speaks to Michael’s lifelong love of poetry. He is, after all, part of an honored tradition of physician-poets who engage in two healing arts: medicine and poetry.

Shovan: This anthology represents several years of work. Would you describe its genesis?

Salcman: For years and years when I would see a poem by Emily Dickinson or by Anne Sexton that was about illness or about doctors, I would put it in the drawer because I was fascinated by their opinions about illness and doctors. Gradually these favorite poems piled up.

Shovan: You were encouraged by the poet Thomas Lux, whom you worked with at Sarah Lawrence’s summer writing program.

Salcman: I started going every year for ten years [beginning in 1998]. Tom would kid me that I was the only published poet who happened to be a brain surgeon… I told him I wrote poetry in order to get away from medicine but Tom would always greet me and ask, “So, have you written any medical poems this year?” Finally he started telling me, “You know, you’d be the perfect person to do an anthology about doctors and diseases.” It felt like a challenge.

Shovan: The anthology isn’t limited to modern medicine or modern poetry. How did you go about selecting poems for a book that covers hundreds of years of Western literature?

Salcman: First, I went through every volume in my poetry library page by page. Of course, I wanted the widest range. I wanted things by non-physician poets, people writing about their own illnesses, people who were parents of patients…poets like Blake and Poe who used the metaphor of medicine and illness to write social commentary.

Then I went through the major online sites: the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Society of America, Poetry magazine, all of them. People are surprised when I tell them that if you go on any of these sites, medicine, sickness, and health are major themes, major topics.

Shovan: Past anthologies of medical writing have had a more contemporary focus, or have been limited to doctor-poets. How does Poetry in Medicine differ from those books?

Salcman: I thought that it was time for a book that put together the very best poems on the subject no matter who wrote them, from the beginning of the Western tradition to contemporary times. My major criteria were literary excellence and the topic covered by the poem.

Shovan: I know you worked with your editor at Persea on refining the hundreds of poems you collected. Together, you came up with the wonderful thematic groupings for each chapter. The process took six years overall. What were some highlights of working on Poetry in Medicine?

Salcman: To begin with, Michael Collier’s Foreword is the most beautiful and elegant essay. His sensitivity as a poet is just amazing… And it came to him to start the foreword with a discussion of a great Eakins painting [“The Gross Clinic”] and carry the discussion from art to medicine and on to my life as a poet.

Once we had the physical book, I’ve been just really pleased with it. As an art writer and art collector I’m so proud and happy to have the other great medical painting by Eakins [“The Agnew Clinic”] on the cover, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. The book ended up as a dream project.

Shovan: There’s a push in current poetry to use fresh, specific language. I’ve read poems that seem to draw from medical textbooks in their vocabulary. What do you think of this type of realism?

Salcman: The language of science—of which medicine is a part —it’s both a science and an art— creates a fresh vocabulary for both poets and writers, but one has to be careful if one is interested in the music of the poem… Medicine is filled with nouns and not with verbs, whereas a poem seeks a good balance of both and needs to avoid polysyllabic Latinate words.

There’s nothing more real than the body and its complaints and the fate we all share. You can use medical terms or anatomical terms in a way that’s very mysterious.

When Dickinson writes, “The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs,” it’s a terrific example of using simple medical terms to enrich a poem. When she describes the stages of hypothermia she leaves out the word “coma” in favor of “chill” and “stupor,” which are more everyday terms.

Shovan: The poet and the physician both have to be excellent observers. Talk about the up swell of humanities courses for medical students. How do they benefit the doctor? The patient?

Salcman: These courses are also called Narrative Medicine. At Columbia, for example, they take medical students to the great museums of New York and work on their powers of observation by looking at paintings… There are many courses that use short stories and poems. I think these courses are valuable in improving the empathy and sensitivity of the young physician as well as observational acuity.

Shovan: You are part of a great, but small circle of poets who are also physicians. If we look at stereotypes, the doctor is viewed as the scientist, driven by logic, but absent of the empathy we were just discussing. The artist, on the other hand, is viewed as a romantic figure, driven—and sometimes driven insane—by emotion.

Salcman: These stereotypes are based on the traditional battle of the two cultures. I responded very negatively to C.P. Snow’s famous book The Two Cultures. It argued that the West was all about the humanities, warm and fuzzy; the East was all about engineering and physics, which would take over the world. And that these two cultures spoke in mutually incomprehensible languages.

I have never believed that the arts and sciences were opposed to one another. Artists and scientists seek different types of truths, but their working methods are often similar and the objects they produce, certainly in the visual arts and in science, are gradually starting to resemble one another. Through great artists we first suspected that there were multiple visual systems in the brain, separately devoted to color, movement, and form. Calder explored movement, Matisse color, and Mondrian form to maximally stimulate the brain.

This back and forth between how and why we respond to artworks and how we create artworks I consider just one more piece of evidence that art and science spring from the same creative urge and use a similar logic.

Shovan: So, how does poetry inform medicine?

Salcman: Who else sees us in our most painful and intimate moments but doctors and poets? Because of breast cancer, women and women poets became very concerned with body image and the whole issue of whether they remained women after mastectomy. The number of great poems about breast cancer, such as those by Alicia Ostriker and Lucille Clifton’s “Lumpectomy Eve,” is truly amazing. Women patients and the poet friends of patients have really added something to our sensitivity in regard to the body: that we are not just pieces of meat, that we’re not just animals. As a result students of medicine should think of it as something of a holy occupation.

Shovan: In “Poetry in Medicine” we can see how the doctor-patient relationship has developed over time.

Salcman: There was almost a 200 year period in which people like Moliere and Dryden were incredibly sarcastic about doctors and about medicine. Samuel Johnson, who wrote a lovely poem about his deceased doctor friend was an exception—this poem is mentioned in my Introduction. Today doctors and patients enter into a range of person to person contacts beyond their traditional roles. Most poems have been kinder to the doctor in the modern era than they have been to the hospital. The hospital is often unfairly portrayed as the place one goes to die, as in poems by Cavafy and Baudelaire. I think a lot of the poems in the Anthology are complimentary in the way that a sophisticated thinker might look at a physician… in a nuanced, careful way. After all, the doctor isn’t perfect, but he’s what we’ve got and we’re all in this thing together, trying to deal with our ultimate mortality.

Online Editor’s Note: You can hear Dr. Salcman read from his Anthology on June 26 at Zü Coffee in Annapolis from 6 to 8:30 pm. He’ll also participate in a Little Patuxent Review reading at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Public Library on October 20.

Interview with Danuta Kosk-Kosicka

9781627200455-FaceHalfIlluminated-COVProlific LPR contributor Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka has two books being published. The first, Face Half-Illuminated, includes sixteen original poems and Kosk-Kosicka’s translations of sixteen poems by her mother, Polish poet Lidia Kosk. Apprentice House published the book just this week, and its available on their site as well as Barnes & Noble.

In April, CityLit Press releases Kosk-Kosicka’s Harriss Prize-winning chapbook Oblige the Light. Contest judge Michael Salcman, a poet and the art consultant for LPR, selected Kosk-Kosicka’s twenty-eight-poem manuscript.

This is all in addition to the contributions Kosk-Kosicka has made to LPR’s pages in print and online. Her poems “Lake Patzcuaro” and “The Movie in my Head” appeared in our Spirituality and Make Believe issues, respectively. She also contributed an essay on her experience as a foreign-born poet as part of our On Being Invisible series that coincided with the Social Justice issue.

This fall, Danuta and I met over coffee at Ellicott City’s Bean Hollow to discuss her work.

LS: Congratulations on the new books.

DEKK: I keep smiling. It’s a very good feeling.

LS: Do you draft your poems in your native Polish or in English?

DEKK: I came to this country as a scientist. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry. I was writing grant proposals, scientific articles. Everything was in English. So it became natural for me to write poems in English as well.

As a teenager I wrote [poetry] in Polish. I was a professor at Hopkins, and in the last few years I found myself, when I was writing scientific papers, scribbling some poetry on the back.

It’s just natural for me [to write in English]. I live here. I worked in this language. My kid was born here. Everybody around me speaks English. Most of my friends are English-speaking, so it was totally natural.

LS: Did you leave the scientific field to focus on your writing?

DEKK: I was beginning to feel very ill, and then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Turning to poetry was a life-saver, so to speak, because I’m a very active person. Many people with fibromyalgia spend time in bed, can’t do anything. Of course, I have days like that too, but with writing and translating I can pace myself. Writing is a good thing and I chose poetry over novels. . . . I don’t have the energy to write a novel.

I had this burst of writing in 1997, a huge amount of poems in both languages. Apparently it was in me and it had to come out. I think it was probably that feeling of loss [after leaving my job because of my illness]. Having been an associate professor at Johns Hopkins, that was a huge loss.

LS: You came to the U.S. during a time of political upheaval in Poland.

DEKK: In 1980, people didn’t know much about Poland. It was not very often that scientists came from behind the Iron Curtain.

They wouldn’t let my husband come with me. The thinking was: Two professionals going abroad, they will not come back. He was let out in December only because Solidarność (Solidarity) was born in Poland and they let him go visit his wife. I was going to go [back] to Poland for Christmas and I couldn’t because martial law was imposed and there were no flights.

When you have no communication and you know you can’t go back, you have to kind of build a wall for security. You want to forget, but of course you can’t forget.

I’m looking at the titles of the poems and I’m thinking many of them are [about] loss. It comes in different ways. It’s the loss of country. For many months I couldn’t call my parents; there was no communication. I had to forget certain things so I didn’t go crazy. Part of the poetry is recovery [of those memories]. Many of the poems are like dreams.

LS: Translation is an art form in its own right. How did you get started translating poems?

DEKK: It’s a challenge. I guess that’s why I started . . . it was a challenge and something I could try to do. You know, the first poem I translated was Wisława Szymborska’s “People on the Bridge.” [When Szymborska won the Nobel Prize], a friend asked me if I could translate and I said I’d never done anything like that. At that time, there were no books by her in English.

When Szymborska’s books came out, that poem I translated was in two of them. My friend copied the published translation and compared it with mine. We realized they were very different. This was when I started to say, “Okay, what is a translation?”

Mom asked me to translate her poems. The first poem of hers I translated was a rhymed poem. That tells you how innocent I was—a rhymed poem in another language. It was published in Passager. Then I thought this was a great project to do.

LS: Do you remember your mother writing poetry when you were growing up?

DEKK: She is a lawyer and she worked all her life. Her first book was published when I was already here. Mom—she’s just totally amazing. [I remember her] writing occasional poems for the kids in school.

Putting together this book [Face Half-Illuminated] at Apprentice House was very difficult. I felt a huge sense of responsibility because it’s my mom and me together. [Kosk-Kosicka has translated and edited two previous collections of her mother’s poems.]

I came up with this idea. I proposed it to Apprentice House. They picked it when I was in Poland this year. So I told Mom, “We’re going to have this book!” Then I started going through the translations all again. My poems had to speak to each other. Her poems had to speak to each other and then they had to go across. I was the only one who could do it. My mom does not speak English.

LS: Who are some of your favorite Polish poets that Americans haven’t really discovered yet?

DEKK: Gałczyński. This is a poet we grew up with, my generation. And Norwid. He’s very difficult. A philosopher, a bit like Blake . . . he was very serious. I don’t know anybody who wrote like that.

Find previews of poems from both books here and here.

Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka is a scientist, bilingual poet, writer, poetry translator, photographer, and coeditor of the literary journal Loch Raven Review. Her poems have appeared in the U.S. and throughout Europe in numerous literary journals and anthologies—most recently in International Poetry Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Spillway, and A Narrow Fellow Poetry Journal. Her translations of Maryland poets laureate—Lucille Clifton, Josephine Jacobsen, and Linda Pastan—have been published in Poland. Her translations of Lidia Kosk, Ernest Bryll, and Wisława Szymborska’s poems have been published in the U.S. She has translated into English almost 100 poems for two bilingual books by Lidia Kosk: niedosyt/reshapings and Słodka woda, słona woda/Sweet Water, Salt Water, the latter of which she has also edited. Danuta is the author of Face Half-Illuminated, a forthcoming book of poems, translations, and prose (Apprentice House) and the winner of CityLit Press’s fifth annual Harriss Poetry Prize for her chapbook manuscript Oblige the Light.

Lidia Kosk is the author of eleven books of poetry and short stories, including two bilingual volumes, niedosyt/reshapings and Słodka woda, słona woda/Sweet Water, Salt Water, as well as two poetry and short fiction anthologies that she compiled and edited. She collaborated with her late husband, Henryk P. Kosk, on the two-volume Poland’s Generals: A Popular Biographical Lexicon. Her poems and prose have been published in literary journals and anthologies in Poland and in the U.S., most recently in Lalitamba, The Blue Lyra Review, The Fourth RiverThe Dirty Goat, and International Poetry Review. Her poems have been translated into seven languages and into choral compositions and multimedia video presentations. She was featured, with Danuta, on National Public Radio station,WYPR’s “The Signal.” Lidia resides in Warsaw, Poland.

Nothing Is Permanent But Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Questions for Jen Michalski, Author of The Tide King

Michalskiblue

Baltimore-based author and editor, Jen Michalski.

When author Jen Michalski was featured in the Baltimore Sun this summer, the headline called 2013 “a prolific year” for her. That phrase is appropriate. Michalski, a mainstay of the tight-knit Baltimore literary scene, will have three books published between January 2013 and April 2014.

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).

thetideking_cover_lorestrials_4Laura 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.

Salon Series, New York

Jen Michalski

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 book FROM HERE is due to be published by Aqueous Books in April 2014.

A Poet’s Calculations: Introducing Guest Editor, Lalita Noronha

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.

-V.V. Raman

A magnolia flower, a member of the dicot group.

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.

Lalita Noronha

Lalita Noronha

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.

A Poet’s Calculations
By Lalita Noronha

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/.

An Annotated Tour of the Music Issue

Show LPR Some Love, Ellicott City, MD, February 2013 (Photo: Laura Shovan)

Show LPR Some Love, Ellicott City, MD, February 2013 (Photo: Laura Shovan)

At the Show LPR Some Love event this February, we held our first community discussion. Submissions to our music-themed issue were accumulating, so we gathered together local readers for an hour-long talk about music on a snowy day. The conversation was wide-ranging: spirituals, song sparrows, memory, the aging brain and other aspects that our readers hoped to see in this edition.

The first item on the list that we compiled was the relationship of music to sacred and cultural beliefs. In our featured interview, poet Marie Howe explains how the church hymns and Bible stories that she heard as a child influenced the core of her work. Other pieces bear her out: music is a means of communicating culture, whether in Martinique [i] or Baltimore [ii].

The second item was the relationship of music to language. How do musicians use silence to contribute to a song? Are we singing when we talk [iii]? And what about music that is not constructed by human beings: a bird’s song [iv], a wolf’s call?

The item that resulted from the liveliest part of our conversation concerned the relationship of music to memory. Our associations with music, especially songs from childhood and young adulthood, run deep. Work with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients has shown that even when patients no longer talk, they can still sing old standards.

Several pieces address the connection between music and memory [v]. Knowing a favorite tune word-for-word or note-by-note, listeners feel an intimacy with the performer. When we are lonely, music can provide solace [vi] or feed our sense of isolation [vii]. Famous musicians—rockers Debbie Harry [viii] and Neil Young, blues legend Billie Holliday and jazz great Thelonius Monk [ix]—make cameo appearances in our Music issue. Their songs serve as the backdrop for stories of love, heartbreak and transformation [x].

The last item concerned the way in which music creates community. An audience shares a live performance [xi]. Even one listener, such as cover artist Robin Rose [xii] painting alone in his studio to favorite jazz pieces, completes the performance. As with our journal, there is no performance without an audience to respond to our compositions.

[i] Martinican poet Suzanne Dracius’s piece “Pointe-des-Nègres” appears as an English translation by Nancy Naomi Carlson and in the original French. It is accompanied by Ann Bracken’s “An Interview with Nancy Naomi Carlson,” where maintaining musicality in poetry translations is addressed.

[ii] In her poem “Locust Sounds,” Clarinda Harriss points out that the sounds of nature can be heard even in a city such as Baltimore. For a different sort of Baltimorean sound, see 2013 Pratt Poetry Contest finalist Steve Leyva’s poem “Highlandtown after the Zappa Statue.”

[iii] Hope Johnson’s musical poem “Sangin’” addresses this issue.

[iv] Lori Powell’s “To the Bird that Wakes Me” won the 2013 Pratt contest.

[v] See Debra Kaufman’s poem “Strays” and David Vardeman’s short story “Known to God.”

[vi] Gregory Luce finds solace in the classic Coltrane album A Love Supreme in his poem “Aspirins and Coffee.”

[vii] In “Close to You,” Missy Roback’s protagonist uses her obsession with music to avoid building relationships with other people.

[viii] Gerry LaFemina’s prose poem “Sunday Girl” imagines a chance encounter with Blondie.

[ix] Tim Hunt’s poem “Thelonius Monk” recreates a performance at the end of Monk’s career.

[x] Essayist Cliffton Price describes pop music’s powerful association with time in “An Otherwise Empty Room.”

[xi] Anne Harding Woodworth’s poem “On Seeing Psycho in a Concert Hall” looks at the community that a performance creates.

[xii] LPR Art Consultant Michael Salcman’s profile of Rose includes a full-color portfolio of the abstract artist’s work.

To read the full text of a poem and a short story appearing in the Music issue, click here. For more on the art, see “The Integration of Art, Music and More: Robin Rose.”