Staff Pick: Meg Files’s “Green River”

Raima Larter is a fiction reader for the Little Patuxent Review. In this post, she shares one of her “Staff Picks” from the Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). Meg Files’s “Green River” is available for reading at this link.

Whenever I hear breaking news about yet another mass shooting, I find myself wondering about the parents of the shooter. What must it be like for them? It’s hard to imagine the pain that parents must feel when their children become victims of a shooting. It’s even harder to imagine what the parent of the shooter might feel.

Meg Files has written a story that explores something similar—not a mass shooting, but an equally horrific event. From the first sentence of the story, it is clear the protagonist, Elizabeth, is trying to escape something horrifying: “She decided to go out into the world so as to leave the world behind.”

We don’t know, and won’t know, for many paragraphs, exactly what she’s trying to escape. Hints are deftly dropped into the story as it slowly unfolds. Elizabeth is driving west from somewhere in the Midwest. When she reaches Kansas, she decides to trade in her car. She wants to ask the man at the car dealer, “Would you like to be my son?” She trades her car for a cheaper model and continues driving, reaching Denver. “Denver was a big place. A body could get lost there,” she writes. Elizabeth continues acting strangely, buying a large empty book, “Grandma’s Brag Book,” and filling it with photos cut from another book.

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Concerning Craft: To the Writer Who Is Not Writing

This guest post comes from Alicia Mountain. Her poem, “Without Drawing the Blinds,” appeared in LPR‘s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Mountain is the author of the collection High Ground Coward (University of Iowa Press), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Thin Fire (BOAAT Press). She is a lesbian poet, critic, and educator based in Denver and New York. Keep up with her at aliciamountain.com and @HiGroundCoward.

Hello, Writer.

I know that doesn’t sound like your name right now. It did for a while. When people would ask what you do or what you’re studying you’d say, “well, I write! I’m a writer.” But now that the words aren’t coming, you might feel like you aren’t entitled to your name, like you aren’t earning it. I’m writing to tell you that’s not the case.

So you haven’t written much of anything at all lately. Sometimes a little scrap of an image or a phrase comes along. Sometimes you press it into the pages of your notebook like a foreign leaf. Most days you’re stuck, or busy with the logistics and practicalities of living. Guilt tugs at your sleeve and it’s hard to shake.

Of course, this isn’t the first time you’ve hit a dry spell, but it hasn’t gone on this long before. You’re wondering when the rain will come, if it ever will.

I’m writing to tell you that this is the rain.

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Considering Craft: Adapting From a Whirlwind to a Calm Breeze

This guest post comes from Carrie Conners. Her poem, “Unchained,” appeared in LPR‘s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Conners, originally from West Virginia, lives in Queens, New York, and teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at LaGuardia CC-CUNY. Her poetry has appeared in Cider Press Review, Steel Toe Review, Aji Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, Rhino Poetry, and the Monarch Review, among other publications. She is also a poetry reader for Epiphany magazine.

The last eight years have been a whirlwind. Well, to be precise, seven of the last eight years have been a whirlwind. I defended my dissertation at the University of Wisconsin in June 2010, moved from Madison to New York City in August of that year, and started as an Assistant Professor of English at LaGuardia CC-CUNY in September. Since then I’ve enjoyed developing my teaching of literature, creative writing, and composition with students and colleagues at LaGuardia while exploring the city and learning to negotiate the subway. (Confession: I still consult a subway app on my phone and would still be lost in the Village if it weren’t for Google Maps.) Working toward tenure is a bit like juggling on a tightrope. Negotiating teaching responsibilities with college, union, and committee service while trying to carve out time to write and publish is no easy feat, especially when working to produce both scholarly and creative writing and, you know, attempting to have a life and maintain relationships. So, after I was granted tenure and approved for a year-long sabbatical fellowship leave to complete a research project, I was presented with a new challenge: how to adjust to having time, how to adapt from a whirlwind to a calm breeze.

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Staff Pick: D.E. Lee’s “The Silence of a Sound (San Marco)”

Lisa Lynn Biggar is the fiction editor of the Little Patuxent Review. In this post, she shares one of her “Staff Picks” from the Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

There is so much to love about D. E. Lee’s story,”The Silence of a Sound (San Marco),” from the most recent issue of Little Patuxent Review (Issue 24, Summer 2018). Starting with the poetic title, the lovely alliteration. Right away I knew this would read more as a prose poem and it did, replete with sensory imagery and lapidary precision in word choice: “Smarty drifted around the oaks, down the sidewalk, and between two cars to a wooden pole with a thousand staples stuck stuck stuck all over it.” All of our senses are awakened in this piece: “We . . . walked from the square beneath a clear night sky to Hendricks Avenue, past the white facade of Southside Baptist, which seemed to us to be the wall of a fortress or monastery, and touched every red-ribboned lamp post we passed.”

San Marco is so alive and so are these two characters who hide in the shadows as if they could stop time for these two short days. It is as if they are on the precipice of time, waiting for something, or nothing, to  happen. When it does happen, when the tension builds to Smarty revealing what is behind her “unfathomable look,” the sound of a passing train obliterates her words: “Her lips moved in ovals, oblongs, and circles and then closed in silence like the vanishing train.” It is the quintessential what-could-have-been moment. Those words gone forever to never be spoken again; those few days never to be relived except in memory. The closeness of these two young characters is palpable, the dialogue, free of quotation marks, so natural, woven in with the narrator’s thoughts: “You didn’t answer my question. I know. You can tell me. Couldn’t she guess?” In the three short pages of this piece we are taken on a journey of playfulness, yearning, passion, and then disappointment and disillusionment: It is reminiscent of Joyce’s “Araby.”

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Ann Olson

Ann Olson has been teaching literature and writing at Heritage University on the Yakama Reservation in Toppenish, Washington for twenty-five years. She holds an MFA in creative writing and a master’s in English literature. Her essays have appeared in When Last on the Mountain anthology, North Dakota Quarterly, Emrys Journal, and the Raymond Carver Review.

Olson’s nonfiction, “Mosquito Hunt,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I love the structure to “Mosquito Hunt,” in which one sleepless night provides a frame for struggles and memories of an entire lifetime. How did you come to this structure?

Well, I’ve lived through nights just like this, and I suspect many people have had similar sleepless times when our minds simply won’t give up on all the little things that we can distract ourselves from in the daytime. Why is it that all the worst parts of our lives want to present themselves at 3:44 a.m.?

Q: When you were living through this particular night, did you have a sense that you would be writing about it? And if so, did that change anything about the experience for you?

Oh no, not at all. In fact, it probably would have helped if I HAD thought about writing down the experience while it was happening (but perhaps that would have ended the worrying and I’d have gone to sleep instead?). But I think being there was necessary to see how those thoughts and worries were as constant and irritating as a mosquito buzzing in the ear. It helped me to compare the icky part of that night to the hunt and subsequent bloodiness of the mind’s “mosquitoes.”

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Rachel E. Hicks

Rachel E. Hicks’s poetry has appeared in the St. Katherine Review, Welter, Off the Coast, Gulf Stream magazine, and other journals. She also writes essays and fiction and works as a freelance copyeditor. After living in eight countries—most recently China—she now resides in Baltimore. Her career has included teaching (high school English and homeschool) and volunteering with an international relief  and development agency. Find her online at rachelehicks.com.

Hicks’s poem, “The Exile Speaks of Mountains,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read an excerpt at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: What’s the form for this poem? And how did you end up with this form?

This poem went through many variations in form before I decided upon unrhymed tercets. One form I played around with, before I cut a good many lines and stanzas, was stanzas as “chapters” or scenes of my life. The sensory details and images felt lost in the clutter, though, and I felt it needed to be cleaned up and made a bit sparser, allowing each stanza room to breathe. The order and visual symmetry of tercets express my developing understanding that there is order to the “chaos” of my life, my many moves, my identity as a cultural chameleon. It feels less haphazard than it used to, a bit more coherent.

Q: I feel like this stanza perfectly captures the idea of the universal experience conveyed through a particular detail:

Only if I embrace this life as a perpetual pilgrim
do I find solace in remembering
the terraced cemetery in the Himalayan pines

What’s one way you’ve learned that poets can try to hone this sensibility in their own work?

Just one? Teaching writing sharpens my work. When I’m workshopping with students, coaching them in how to “cut to the bone” or to say “no ideas but in things” (Williams), I’m always inspired by the symbols and images they come up with. One of my students went from generic “desert animals” to “the chuckwalla lizard sneezing salt”. Another chose a beetle brooch as a symbol for a relationship with a special adult in her life. When I’m teaching, I’m also reading a lot of poetry to and with my students—reading, noticing, marveling. (I have to make a plug here for Nancie Atwell’s writing workshop and poetry curricula for middle school students, Lessons That Change Writers and Naming the World [Heinemann].) And speaking of workshopping, my writing has benefited tremendously from working with my poetry critique group here in Baltimore. I suppose I gave three answers—teaching, reading, and working with a critique group—rather than one. Forgive me.

Q: Now just to understand a little bit more about your life—why were you in the Himalayas and how did you come to be in Baltimore?

My parents were both missionary kids—my father was born and grew up in India, and my mother was born in Indonesia and grew up in Southeast Asia. After marrying, they worked at the boarding school my dad attended in the foothills of the Himalayas. They have worked in international schools around the world for their entire careers, hence my many moves. My husband and I lived in southwestern China for seven years, working with an international Christian relief and development organization. After returning to the U.S., we moved to Baltimore for my husband’s job.

My sense of what “home” means has morphed over time. More often for me, it’s about people rather than place. But place still matters—the soil of each place in which I’ve lived still clings. I try to make a home for myself and my family wherever we go, to create some sense of rootedness in who we are, even when the scenery around us changes. I’ve written in prose about this tension, but this poem was my first poetical attempt at describing it that satisfied me. I’ve been more at peace with my nomadic life since coming to identify it in terms of pilgrimage and sojourning—there is purpose to that kind of life: it can be understood in a positive sense, rather than in the negative sense of something being missing, or of roots dangling.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Gayla Mills

Formerly a writing professor, Gayla Mills now publishes personal essays and flash fiction. Her essays have appeared in Spry, Prairie Wolf Press, Skirt!, Greenwoman, and more. Her chapbook of personal essays, Finite, won the Red Ochre Lit Chapbook contest. Her book Making Music after 40: Jam, Perform, and Share Music for Life will be published by Dover in the summer of 2019.

Mills’s nonfiction, “‘A Future Imagined,’” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read this work at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: The title of your book next year reminds me of the content of “A Future Imagined.” Was that nonfiction piece part of the process for your whole book (not, of course, that it was necessarily A to B)?

“A Future Imagined” describes a sliver of my experience as a budding musician. In Making Music, I offer information and advice based on my own experiences, but add research and interviews I’ve conducted with scores of music teachers and learners. I originally thought I could use my music essays to introduce my book chapters, and “A Future Imagined” could begin my chapter on music camps. But I quickly realized that I needed to develop a more direct voice, in a feature-writing style, for a how-to book.

In both the essay and the book, as in much of my writing, I use myself as a character. The details I choose should serve some purpose beyond the fact that I experienced them. I’m going to discuss how I switched from guitar to bass only if I’m suggesting to readers what switching instruments can offer them.

Q: On your website you state, “I’ve learned that teaching, writing, and doing go hand-in-hand, each informing the other.” Could you elaborate?

I’ve found the old cliché true, that if you want to learn something, the best way is to teach it. I’ve taught various subjects while learning about them, from feature writing to Medieval history to personal finance. I think that writing a how-to book about music is also a kind of teaching.

In the process of preparing to teach, you learn infinitely more than what you’re passing on. You might read a book or two to create a ninety-minute lecture. You might need to spend a month building a brick walkway in order to write a one-page essay on how to do it. You might need to spend half a lifetime learning about music before you feel it in your bones deeply enough to pass it along to others.

Q: Has songwriting influenced your prose at all?

I’m a real beginner at songwriting, still at that early learning stage. The better question is whether prose has influenced my songwriting, since I’m a more experienced writer than musician. I’ve written some prose poems and essays that I think would make good songs, so I’d like to work them into verse.

Q: How about music more generally?

Getting experience in two fields can help you be creative, because the two sets of experiences and skills collide to give you fresh eyes. The inventor of the stethoscope, René Laennec, was trained as a doctor but was also a flutist. I love writing about my musical experiences, and I think my interest in words affects how I hear lyrics.

Q: What did you think of the other readings at the launch? Maybe you could pick out a favorite?

It was a real pleasure to hear so many different voices, and I got something from each. My favorite, though, was Wallace Lane’s “Groceries.” His depiction of his encounter with his grandfather—“his touch more silent than soft”—was incredibly moving and fresh.

Q: Random question: could you tell me about a dog you loved?

There are too many. Besides my husband, my dearest companions have been Tasha, Dory, Riley, and Zoey. We’ve chosen where to live and when to move based on their needs, shared countless walks and swims, missed every fourth of July to comfort them during the fireworks, shared the good days and the rainy ones, and buried them deep in the earth when their time had come. I hope to live long enough to add a few more to that list. Dogs add goodness to the world.