Some Consequences of Submitting

Just so you know. This is what can happen when you submit your work to LPR:

Dylan Bargteil

Dylan Bargteil (Photo: Colleen Napolitano)

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 journal Stylus 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.

On Music and Writing

Lisa and Don Biggar

Writer Lisa Lynn Biggar and musician Don Biggar (Photo: Ronald Sturga)

Living with a writer, I witness first hand the crafting of stories. The process brings to mind how I craft a song and the similarities that can be found between the two arts. A tempo, or timing, starts in my head. Sometimes, it is upbeat or a unique expression on a break. Sometimes, just simple and melodic works best. I notice the presence of a tempo in my wife’s stories, and I ask myself, “How does the story move me? Is it leading me in an obvious direction? Is it toying with my curiosity? Am I on a freight train I cannot stop? Would I want to?”

I have played guitar since I was nine. After a few years of playing, I learned how to read and write music and started to write my own modest songs. I continued to read and write music for each new instrument that I learned. As I composed songs, I was able to hear the instruments, differentiate between them, and bring them into the composition as needed. However, I was not a lyricist.

My wife Lisa Lynn Biggar and I met through music. I had plenty of music written, and she had been writing poetry, stories, and lyrics. We saw the potential in a partnership of my music and her lyrics, and over the years we have written many songs together. She still pursued her writing career, and now her story writing has become more of a creative outlet for her. I still find enjoyment playing my various instruments, particularly guitar on our back porch, and we both enjoy playing songs together now and then.

If you think of any rock-and-roll song, you know when it starts, and you know what the basic structure will be. Now think of a piece of classical music that is slightly more complicated. You are not quite sure where it is going to take you, but there is a lot going on with all the instruments. And there is potential. I always enjoy songs that highlight the various instruments used. Think of the songs from the band Chicago from the Seventies. A lot of horns and guitars. They would craft their songs to showcase each instrument, to give it time up front on its own. This works with characters in a story, as well. Each character has his or her own unique voice but still plays a part in the whole melody. Each instrument is like a character. They all have their own voices to be heard.

Sometimes within the first paragraph of a story, everyone is in the mix. At other times, the characters are introduced to us gradually. In this same way, I keep listeners engaged in the interesting developments of a song. The introduction of a unique instrument for a brief arpeggio, a harmony with another instrument, or a change in timing to add a blues or folk element are just two examples of how I keep the attention. I regularly find this when reading a story. A plot twist brings new dimension. A brief and one-time appearance by a character has the power to alter the perception of the entire read.

Something else that I find in song and see often in print is the build-up. The build-up to the solo or pivotal moment is significant. In a story, this is usually when one or more characters attempt to gain control. The pivotal moment could be a revelation or when a certain motive is revealed to be the driving force behind the whole thing all along. It is the work of that freight train driving the tempo home. And I would not want to stop that.

Online Editor’s Note: Don’s wife Lisa’s short story “Mediation” appears in our Winter 2013 Doubt issue. You can view a video of her reading the story by clicking on this link.

Reader Response: The REAL Lucille Clifton

We love getting your reactions to the material that we post. If your message contains new information or images relevant to one of our posts, we’ll even publish it as a separate piece. Here’s what one of our readers, also a contributor, emailed me regarding “A Tribute to Lucille Clifton.”

Dear Ilse,

Thanks so much–wonderful piece.

The Angel

A 1979 poetry reading at The Angel Tavern on Bank Street in Fells Point (Photo: The Baltimore Sun)

Lucille and I became friends years ago and she gave many gratis readings for Poetry at The Angel, a series of readings in a Fells Point bar that ran every single Sunday for 3 years; Dyane Fancey and I ran it. Readers ranged from poets laureate and folks like WD Snodgrass to bag ladies and drunks. Some of the latter weren’t bad either. Wot larks. Lucille, of course, was a star in The Angel’s crown.

I’ve attached “Bone to Bone,” a short story based on a Clifton anecdote. It won 2nd prize in the Raymond Carver Short Story Competition (with a nice check and plaque) and a place in The Best of Carve in whatever year it was. 2005, I think.

The anecdote, a story Lexie says she remembers well, was this: for some months, Lucille was getting miffed phone calls from people wondering why she had not responded to their invitations to read, to run for Poet Laureate, etc., etc.; seems much of her mail was going to another Lucille Clifton who lived in Baltimore. When Lucille contacted this woman about turning over the mis-sent mail, Clifton #2 insisted she was ‘The REAL” Lucille Clifton and that those invitations etc. were meant for her! Quite the hassle.

The story’s about someone’s attempt to steal the identify of a famous poet. Everything about it is fiction (the physical look of the poet is actually based on my experiences with Gwendolyn Brooks long ago), but the story stems directly from Lucille’s mail problem.

Identity as a topic came up again at LPR’s tribute to Lucille at the 2012 Baltimore Book Festival. Inspired by her line “one evening I return,” I embedded it in the title of an on-the-spot poem that I wrote and read to the the audience. This time, I absolutely told the verbatim truth, recounting an anecdote exactly as Lucille had told it to me on the phone:

One evening I return to a Baltimore bookstore and find it closed
Clarinda Harriss

1969: Lucille Clifton went to Gordon’s to buy a book.
“Do you have any form of photo identification?”
She had no form of photo identification.
Why carry a passport in your own country?
She was told her credit card was no good without photo identification.
She walked over to a table covered with books by Lucille Clifton.
She stood beside a life-size cardboard cut-out photo of Lucille Clifton.
“But you can’t be Lucille Clifton,” the salesman said.
“Lucille Clifton is famous.”

 Your fan,

cl

Note:

Clarinda Harriss

Clarinda Harris, BrickHouse Books founder and director, speaks at the imprint’s 40th birthday bash. (Photo: Eva Quintos Tennant)

“Lexie” is Alexia Clifton, Lucille Clifton’s youngest daughter.

“cl” stands for Clarinda HarrissClarinda is a Professor Emerita of English at Towson University and the former department chair, has served as the faculty advisor to Grub Street, the University’s award-winning literary magazine and is the founder and director of BrickHouse Books, Maryland’s oldest continuously operating small press. She has authored a number of poetry collections, most recently Mortmain and Dirty Blue Voice, and co-edited anthologies such as Hot Sonnets. A review of Hot Sonnets appears in this blog, as does “Concerning Craft: Clarinda Harriss” and “Self-Interview: Clarinda Harriss.” And remember that you can download and read her short story “Bone to Bone” here by clicking on the above link.

Clarinda’s mention of the readings at The Angel got me searching the Web. The only photo that I found was one offered on eBay, and Clarinda promptly bought it. According to her, the “100” is written in thick copy pencil, which she remembers from her dad’s newspaper days. She identifies the people as follows: “The three ‘front men’ are the late Jessica Locklear, poet, Lumbee Indian (black, white, Native American, like pretty much all Lumbees) and Frank Evans, still alive, well, witty, and wise, a never-closeted gay man. And Clarinda Harriss Lott, not yet divorced from the late Judge Hubert E. Lott.”

When I asked Clarinda for information on her father, she said he was, “RP Harriss, brought to Baltimore to be Mencken’s Special Assistant. Henry Mencken introduced my parents to each other. My dad went on to be an editor at The Evening Sun. His only novel, The Foxes, was a Book of the Month Club alternate, so it did pretty well. He was editor of The Paris Herald as well–hence received most of Ezra Pound’s crazy letters.”

I’d better stop here, though I’m sure there’s more intriguing material to uncover!

A Tribute to Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton lived in Columbia, Maryland, where Little Patuxent Review is published. In 1979, Lucille became the second woman and first African-American to serve as Poet Laureate of Maryland. In 1988, she was a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry finalist for Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 and Next: New Poems. In 2000, she received the National Book Foundation Poetry Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000. In 2007, she was the first African-American woman to be awarded the Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for her body of work. Along the way, she even shared an Emmy Award as co-writer of the TV special Free to Be…You and Me. Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010 after waging a prolonged battle with cancer.

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
Lucille Clifton

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!

But you can’t fully appreciate this poem until you see Lucille read it, so here she is:

 

Yesterday, Little Patuxent Review people–Editor Laura Shovan and Contributing Editors Linda Joy Burke and Susan Thornton Hobby–got together with poets Virginia Crawford and Edgar Silex as well as Lucille’s youngest daughter, Alexia Clifton, to stage a tribute to the poet and person that they knew and loved. The event not only included readings from the newly released The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 but also a few on-the-spot poems that some audience members had created in response to Lucille’s poems.

The event was held during the 2012 Baltimore Book Festival in the CityLit tent and was included as part of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change annual global initiative. Here’s a quick look, thanks to photos taken by Laura and daughter Julia as well as Sam Schmitt:

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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.”

Note: Lucille Clifton was featured in our Summer 2008 Childhood issue. We introduced you to our partner for the Clifton event in “Meet the Neighbors: CityLit Project.” You can catch Won’t You Celebrate With Me? Honoring the Life and Poetic Legacy of Lucille Cliftona photography exhibit, at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Lady Chatterley, My Father and Me

Viktors Jurģis

My father, Viktors Jurģis, around the time he revisited Lady Chatterley.

In 1928, when the English author DH Lawrence had Lady Chatterley’s Lover privately printed in Italy and Alfred A. Knopf published a heavily censored abridgement of the novel in the United States, my father was a 21-year-old undergraduate studying philosophy and theology at the University of Latvia.

In 1930, when Lawrence died at age 44 and US Senator Bronson M Cutting proposed amending the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act to end US Customs censorship of imported books and Senator Reed Smoot opposed it, threatening to read obscene passages from Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the like on the Senate floor, my father was about to start what he believed to be the best job in the world, or at least Latvia: reading books by day–at the beach, if he liked–and screening films by night. That he might have to keep certain ones out of his country seemed incidental. That was how it was in nearly every civilized nation.

Lady Chatterley's Lover

The first banned book found in my father’s basement bookcase.

In 1959, when my father was 52 and I was 15 and we were living in Grand Rapids, MichiganGrove Press published an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the US Post Office confiscated copies sent through the mail. Barney Rosset, who had acquired the publishing house in 1951, sued the New York City postmaster and won in New York and, again, on federal appeal. My father bought the book shortly thereafter, probably for 50 cents, curious to see if he would still censor the work as a more circumspect middle-aged man. I don’t recall his conclusion or whether he even cared to share it with me.

What I do remember is him stashing the controversial novel in a small bookcase, one of several pieces of furniture brought over from our former house and stored in the basement. Soon, Lady Chatterley was joined by John Cleland’s Fanny Hill and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the remainder of the trio whose ban Rosset’s attorney, Charles Rembar, had succeeded in getting overturned. Other tantalizing titles subsequently appeared, most notably Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue, authored by the Marquis de Sade.

Our conservative neighbors in Grand Rapids, home of the man who would become President Gerald Ford and site of what would serve as the starting point of Sarah Palin’s first book tour, would have been appalled had they known that a seemingly decent man was leaving smut out where an inquisitive girl could find it, but that seemed perfectly reasonable to me. My father had made it clear that there was a difference between what I chose to read and think and how I should behave. And left no doubt about the latter.

Still, I approached those basement books haltingly, not knowing whether reading them would be right or wrong. The way that they were sequestered suggested that they weren’t exactly fit for the coffee table, but the fact that they weren’t stored under lock and key indicated that might merely mean caveat lector. In the end, the demand characteristics inherent in any book–Open me! Read me!–prevailed. This allowed me to resume research initiated in childhood with a dictionary, where I’d looked up titillating terms.

Naturally, I ferreted out the raunchy parts of the subterranean novels first. But it wasn’t long before I became entangled in elements of context and style. What teen wouldn’t roll her eyes while reading something similar to the following from Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

Whilst all her womb was open and soft, and softly clamoring, like a sea-anemone under the tide, clamoring for him to come in again and make a fulfillment for her.

And whilst the tone of Tropic of Cancer was more contemporary and realistic, what girl who also read Glamour would want her sex scenes to reference, say, disgusting scabs?

“You’re cancer and delirium,” she said over the phone the other day. She’s got it now, the cancer and delirium, and soon you’ll have to pick the scabs.

In 1964, I left for The University of Michigan, which placed me smack in the middle of a socio-political and sexual revolution. There I read Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus and other erotica, but that was immaterial. With our invasion of Vietnam underway and the Roe v. Wade ruling still nine years in the future, the obscenities concerning me most were those related to war and a woman’s right to control her own body. I now wonder whether that wasn’t also the case with my father. Compared to the death and dislocation brought by the successive invasions of Latvia that he’d experienced during World War II, what did a smattering of salacious literature matter? Best set it aside in a basement bookcase.

Surprisingly, Americans continued to condone censorship. In 1966, Fanny Hill–correctly called Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure–was back in court. Following a favorable ruling (Memoirs v. Massachusetts), it became known as the last book banned in the States. In reality, the ruling merely shifted responsibility for determining what is obscene to local communities. In 2010, the Merriam-Webster dictionary was banned in a California elementary school because it contained a definition of oral sex. Damn straight, I said. The dictionary was where my own depravity began. But that basement bookcase sure helped.

If you support the freedom to read, do your bit to celebrate Banned Books Week, September 30 through October 6. To get you going, here are some suggestions:

Dear Elvira: Regarding [Literary] Diets and Cats

Elvira Rivers

Elvira Rivers

Before we bid adieu to audacity (the theme of our Summer 2012 issue) and begin to entertain doubt (the theme of our Winter 2013 issue), I’ve slipped in something any literary review of repute requires: an advice column, complete with a fictional columnist. So without further ado, allow me to introduce Elvira Rivers, whose brief bio appears below, and share her response to our first query.

Dear Elvira,

My precious pup Pudgie was diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and put on a strict diet. In a matter of months, he not only lost a substantial amount of weight but also regained his masculine swagger. I attempted to emulate his regimen, but to no avail. I’m a literary publisher and avid reader and have neither the time nor the temperament for calorie-counting. Are there any relevant books you could recommend?

Best regards,

Ted

PS I’m also attempting to write a novel but find I can’t maintain concentration. Perhaps you could suggest some nutritional supplement that might be beneficial in this regard.

Dear Ted,

In keeping with the time-honored principle formulated by William of Ockham, I always recommend beginning with the simplest solution, obtained in the simplest manner.

Thus, for starters, I offer a single paragraph from Muriel Spark’s novel A Far Cry From Kensington, written in the voice of one Agnes Hawkins. Mrs. Hawkins is not only well-versed in your métier, having worked at postwar London publishing houses where people are entirely mad, but also shares your predicament, having put on pounds. True to form, she figures out how to reduce her girth as efficaciously as she learns to reduce hack Hector Bartlett, a “pisseur de copie,” to the ridiculous. This is what occurs after she considers her role at MacIntosh & Tooley and takes a look at herself in her nightdress:

From that night I decided to eat and drink half. Only half of everything I normally ate, in any circumstances. And I decided to tell nobody at all about my plan. Just to say, if pressed, that I’d had enough. And just to consume half, or perhaps even a quarter, until I reached a reasonable weight and size. And I started next morning eating less, drinking less.

While Mrs. Hawkins succeeds swimmingly with the diet that she devised and I whole-heartedly recommend, I must add that Spark, though ending up in the same place–Florence, Italy–failed to achieve the same outcome. Shortly before death at age 88, she had recovered from a nervous breakdown brought on by reliance on diet pills and cups of strong coffee in place of regular meals. Would that writers took a fraction of the care in considering their own actions that they routinely lavish on those of their characters!

Moving on to your other concern, let me start by saying that the only supplement I recommend without reservation is The Times Literary Supplement and again turn to Mrs. Hawkins. Here, with apologies to Pudgie, is how it goes when a retired brigadier general claims he couldn’t possibly write a book because his concentration is so poor:

“For concentration,” I said, “you need a cat. Do you happen to have a cat?”

“Cat? No. No cats. Two dogs. Quite enough.”

So I passed him some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp. The light from the lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of the cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.

Three years later, the military man sends Mrs. Hawkins a copy of his published war memoirs, complete with a photo of him at his desk with a large alley cat called “Grumpy” sitting inscrutably beside the lamp. The inscription thanks Mrs. Hawkins for her advice, without which, the author openly acknowledges, the book would not have been written.

In an aside to her readers, Mrs. Hawkins allows:

The book itself was exceedingly dull. But I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.

So, based on the sound advice regarding diets and cats that I have provided, I fully expect that in due time you will send me something similar to the brigadier general’s as a memento. I look forward to seeing 50 percent of you depicted on the dust jacket, together with a half-full plate of a photogenic culinary delicacy and, at safe distance, a serene cat lounging under a light. Naturally, inside content of some literary value would be a boon.

Sincerely yours,

Elvira

PS If you hold out hope of my actually reading your novel, please ensure that it is available in some standard downloadable format accessible to my tablet.

About Elvira

Elvira Rivers, une femme d’un certain age, was born on a certain date in a certain place. Her father was the storied Tony Thames-Avon, a British actor and playwright, her mother the celebrated Latvian beauty Daiļa Daugava-Gauja. When Thames-Avon-Daugava-Gauja met Percy Pocomoke-Patuxent, she made surname consolidation a condition of marriage. The Rivers were inseparable until their divorce two years later.

Elvira went on to cure the common cold, design couturier gowns and write The Great Latvian Novel, while Percy vacillated between painting and poetry, then poetry and prose. He eventually acquired a Harvard MBA and left to run the London office of the venerable Boston investment bank Duck & Cover. Back in the USA, he was convicted on 14 counts of fraud and conspiracy and is currently serving an 11-year sentence.

To encourage her former husband to return to the literature and art he so loved once, Elvira sent him frequent letters. After finding herself uncharacteristically incapable of making ends meet–her nest egg had suffered substantial cracks during the 2008 crash–she approached Little Patuxent Review about writing a column helping creative types such as Percy better navigate life’s unruly waters. She has been with us ever since.

Note: Elvira is not related to the late mother of our online editor even thought her first name and the middle name of that witty woman are identical. She is also not connected to the winking woman shot by Ewing Galloway, though the resemblance is remarkable.

Concerning Craft: Shirley Brewer

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Please meet Shirley J. Brewer. Shirley is a Baltimore, MD poet and educator. Her work has appeared in The Cortland ReviewThe Innisfree Poetry JournalPearl, The Comstock Review, Loch Raven Review and Passager. Her chapbook A Little Breast Music was published in 2008. A second poetry book, After Words, will be out in 2013.

We published her “Fairy Tale, Interrupted” in our Summer 2012 Audacity issue. Here she is reading that poem and one other at our launch event:

And here’s what she says went into the writing of “Fairy Tale, Interrupted”:

Fairy tales have always fascinated me. The lure of a prince on horseback emerging from a forest captured my imagination. In second grade, I began writing my own, bringing them to school. My teacher encouraged me. My fairy tales, alas, came to an unhappy end. When I reached high-school age, I tossed them. A decision I now regret.

The first movies I recall seeing were Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I loved Cinderella. Befriended by a fairy godmother, she makes it to the ball, meets her prince. Despite setbacks, the proverbial happy ending prevails. As children, we revel in joyful conclusions. We want life to work out. Magic-wand intervention helps. Cinderella continued to mesmerize me. In 1998, I attended a poetry workshop in Ireland and returned with one souvenir: a glass slipper on a glass base. In 2000, I studied poetry in Italy and brought back a Cinderella CD in Italian.

I wrote “Fairy Tale, Interrupted” in Kendra Kopelke’s Lyric Spirit class at the University of Baltimore. I wanted to explore Cinderella as an un-fairy tale. The poem is only 15 lines, written in five tercets. Each stanza ends with a rhyming word: “stair,” “air,” “hair,” “impaired,” “where.” I don’t recall orchestrating the rhymes. The poem seemed to want to go in that direction. I liked referring to Cinderella as “the babe.” It seems deliciously disrespectful, especially for a writer who worshipped the classic tale. In the third stanza, the speaker admonishes Cinderella, calls her a “little twit.” The only time I’ve ever used “twit” in a poem, and it felt exactly right. In the fourth stanza, the speaker dares to curse Cinderella. This is a darker version of the story. The glass slipper, carriage, fancy gown are mocked as superficial. Even the fairy godmother is extraneous. What’s important is staying with the prince. The poem addresses the importance of learning to prioritize and listening to one’s inner voice.

If I explore my perspective of the Cinderella story, I must acknowledge my experience with time and clocks. As a two-year-old, I appeared on the front page of the Rochester Times-Unionin my crib, holding a clock–reminding readers to turn back their clocks that fall. Must have been an omen. For years, I struggled with time, developed a reputation for being late–to school, work, appointments. I always seemed to be in my own dreamy time zone. I came to dislike clocks and their brutal numerical insistence. I’m happy to report that I’ve vastly improved my punctuality these days. I was even 45 minutes early for the LPR Audacity issue launch event!

In the poem, the speaker–okay, it’s me–gets to chastise Cinderella for paying too much attention to the clock. Damn the clock! I say to her, to myself, to the readers. What’s important will be found when we ignore the o’clock-ness of our lives. When I write, I lose myself in time over and over, and it feels wonderful, wonderful.

Sure, my way might ruin the tale, cutting out a thrilling part. Who wouldn’t miss the antics of obnoxious stepsisters trying to jam unsightly feet into a dainty glass slipper? But c’mon over. I have that slipper I purchased in Ireland. We can admire it, listen to Cinderella in Italian, talk about the poetry process and explore the forest of our psyches. Never, ever–not even once–will we pay any attention to the clock.

Recently, Shirley started a new venture, The Poet’s Coach, where her coming to terms with time should come in handy. Check our Announcements page for details.

Note: If you like fairy tales, you might want to read my essay “Fairy Tales, Full Circle.”