Staff Pick: Tom Large’s “October”

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George Clack is a member of the Little Patuxent Review’s Board of Directors. In this post, he shares his staff pick from the Summer 2019 issue.

A poem in the flesh is not the same as a poem on the page. Each time I attend a Little Patuxent Review (LPR) launch reading, this old truth is brought home to me. In June it was Tom Large reciting his poem “October” that reminded me.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Ellery Beck

IMG_9902Ellery Beck is an undergraduate student majoring in English at Salisbury University. She was one of the winners of the 2019 AWP Portland Review flash contest. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Potomac ReviewArkana, Thin Air Magazine, The Broadkill Review, and The Susquehanna Review.

Ellery’s poem “Jack Rabbit Trading Post” appears in LPR’s Summer 2019 issue. She read this and selected other poems at our June issue launch.

We’re grateful to Ellery for sitting down to answer a few questions.

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Concerning Craft: Ode to the World Before Climate Change

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She lives in Washington, D.C., and uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Paper Darts, Rogue Agent, Wordgathering, and more. Marlena is the communications coordinator for the LGBTQ Writers Caucus and is on the planning committee for OutWrite. Find her at marlenachertock.com or @mchertock.

Marlena’s poem “Ode to the Eastern Shore” appeared in LPR’s Winter 2019 issue. She read this and two more poems at our January issue launch (video below).

Marlena’s guest post is part of our regular “Concerning Craft” series.

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Issue Launch Starts Summer on a Literary Note

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On June 2, contributors, staff, and friends gathered at Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia, Maryland, to celebrate the release of the Summer 2019 issue of the Little Patuxent Review.

LPR Editor Steven Leyva welcomed the audience on the beautiful Sunday afternoon, saying, “Thank you so much for coming out for literature and for art and for the celebration of those things and what it does in our lives.”

Steven also acknowledged the hard work that went into creating this issue, which is a collection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art. This issue’s contributors range from experienced authors to a first-year college student, and several contributors were on hand to read their work.

Two of the readers were entrants in the Enoch Pratt Poetry Contest, which LPR staff judged again this year. Baltimore native Jalynn Harris read her winning poem “Phillis Wheatley Questions the Quarter,” a meditation from the perspective of the first published black African poet in the United States. Finalist Tom Large read his poem “October,” among others.

Other readers included Karolina Wilk, Ellery Beck, Lisa Poff, Jenny Binckes Lee, Benjamin Inks, and Mirande Bissell. Videos of all the contributors reading their work are available on LPR’s YouTube channel.

The launch was a wonderful reminder of the talent and hard work that goes into every piece in the issue, and of the power of literature to inspire awe in all of us. As Steven reminded everyone, “That’s what great literature does—it gives us this great framing, this great presentation, this great package to encounter the sacred, to put us in a state of awe.”

Experience it for yourself by ordering a copy of the Summer 2019 issue.

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Chelsea Lemon Fetzer

Chelsea Lemon Fetzer holds an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. Her fiction and poetry have also appeared in journals such as Callaloo, Tin House, Mississippi Review, and Minnesota Review. Fetzer lives in Baltimore, where she is mothering, teaching, working on a novel, and serving on the board of CityLit project.

Chelsea’s poem, “Sponge,” 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: Thank you so much for being part of our January launch. Do you have a favorite piece from the current issue?

I don’t think I could pick a favorite; this issue as a whole is stunning, but I’m going to shout out “Tamarind” by Sheila Black.

We broke our nails scratching off the brittle
brown skin and then we had to suck-

She captures the experience of eating this intense fruit so well, while we witness the narrator awakening to her own body and the mysteries possible within it. The poem ends with an idea for a necklace strung of the seeds. That image took me from a girl-child to a goddess. Beyond fertility, at least in my mind, the poem lands on the power women hold in all senses, her to decide when and how to wield it.

Q: We just did a post with Nicole Hylton. Her poem in the current issue, “the missing recipe,” begins with the narrator “standing before the stove.” Your opening line is, “Kitchen sink collects the morning light.” I don’t want to make too much of these similarities, or to ask you to speak about Nicole’s poem, but do you think there’s something about kitchens and food and mornings that suits poetry?

Yes, Nicole’s piece resonated with me–that solitude, a sensuous longing. I see the similarities. There is something about kitchens and food and mornings–the quiet routines that call to mind other imprints of ourselves, allow space to remember and imagine. It’s probably impossible for a writer not to reference kitchens at some point–but I think the influence here goes beyond what is referenced in any given piece. What happens if we reframe your question from what suits poetry to what spaces and times ignite us?

We know as writers we have to show up to the empty page, the writing room, or cafe. But the question of where to show up for the sparks, clicks, and oh damns!–that can be more elusive. Personal, changeable.

Real quick, here’s my working definition of “sparks, clicks, and oh damns!”: 1) a brand new idea catching you like the flu; 2) knowing the fix, all at once, the remedy for that line or chapter that had you stumped; 3) finally tuning into the big question your piece has been asking all along; and 4) other things/everything/ whatever that mysterious co-traveler, always knowing the way forward, turns the flashlight on for you to see.

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Concerning Craft: In Defense of the Multi-Genre Writer

Nicole Hylton is a writer-of-all-trades from southern Maryland. She writes poetry, short stories, and nonfiction essays and has completed two novellas, Internet Official and Dropping Her Gloves. Her work has appeared in The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review (where she is a regular contributor), Aethlon, and SlackWater. She holds a BA in English from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, with minors in sociology and women, gender, and sexuality studies.

Nicole’s poetry, “the missing recipe,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase through this link). She read this and another poem at our issue launch in January (video below). This guest post is part of our regular “Concerning Craft” series.

“So, what do you write?”

It’s perhaps one of the most common questions I’m asked at conferences and readings. It’s an innocuous question, an easy icebreaker writers ask other writers to start off the conversation, but I have struggled to find an easy answer to it.

I enjoy writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all in different ways but in about equal measure. I do not have a default genre as I believe many other writers do. I go through cycles, of course, of writing a lot of one genre and less of the other two, but usually the genre comes to me at the same time the story does. The story often suggests the genre when it comes to me. I’ll think of an idea for a story I want to tell, and the story will say, “Hey, I think I would look really good as a poem.” For example, let’s say I watch the movie Wonder Woman for the first time and feel empowered by the way the titular character is written, given how female superheroes have been portrayed in past films. In about the same instant, I’ll think, “There’s a poem in here somewhere,” or “I could write an essay about this.” (For those playing along at home, I wrote an essay, and you can read it here at The Eckleburg Review.)

In general, though, when it comes to genre, there aren’t any black and white rules for me. In fact, I would argue there is a substantial amount of carryover between genres. And I’m not talking about cross-genre work (although I am particularly fond of prose poems). I mean that there is writing advice that applies regardless of genre that all writers can use. Here are some that I find myself using nearly every day.

Every sentence must serve a purpose. I’ve heard this advice from multiple sources and in a variety of ways, but the gist has always been that every piece of the written work (be it a sentence in a short story or a stanza in a sonnet) must serve some purpose. According to Kurt Vonnegut, “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” I don’t know how much I believe that exact claim, but I do believe that every piece of your narrative must be serving some kind of purpose: it must provide something new that has not already been said. Everything in there should be in there for a reason. Clutter is not useful.

The first line is a powerful thing. Not only should the first line of a work be attention-grabbing and put your reader’s butt in their chair, so to speak, but it should intrigue in other ways. The best first lines will disorient your reader, drawing them in to further understand. Most importantly, your first line (and the first couple of paragraphs of longer works) will teach your reader how to read the rest of the work. The first line is the entry point for the reader, the looking glass through which the rest of the work can be seen.

“The most important part of the story is the one you don’t hear.” This quote comes from the main character of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna, a closeted gay man persecuted in the 1950s by the American government for his sexuality and relationships with communists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. What isn’t said and why is just as important (and often more interesting) than what is. What are characters holding back and why? What do they not feel at liberty to express out loud? What isn’t said can often reveal just as much about a character or speaker as what they do say.

There are a number of other writing recommendations I’ve received that could probably be added to this list, but these should give you something to start with. See if you can apply some of your own writing advice to other genres, and try writing in a genre you haven’t in the past.

So, what do I write? Well, I write a little bit of everything.

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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