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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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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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Anthony Moll

Anthony Moll is a poet, essayist, and educator. He holds an MFA in creative writing & publishing arts and is completing his PhD in poetry & Queer theory. His chapbook about the melancholy of the modern workplace, Go to the Ant, O Sluggard, is available from Akinoga Press. His debut memoir, Out of Step, won the 2017 Non/Fiction Prize from The Journal and will be available in July 2018 from Mad Creek Books.

Moll’s poem, “A Jumpmaster in DuPont Circle,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). He read this poem and other work at our issue launch in January (video below).

Our Summer Issue 2018 launch is on Sunday, June 3, at 2 p.m. (information on our events page).

Q: You said at the launch that this was your third try submitting poems to your friend and our editor, Steven Leyva. Can you say something for our readers about the persistence required for publishing?

Yeah, at the launch reading I mentioned how even though the editor of LPR is a close friend of mine, I twice had poems rejected from the journal before this poem was accepted. For readers worried about rejection, I think this demonstrates two (sort of conflicting) ideas:

1) Rejection can be an act of love—to have a piece rejected that isn’t yet ready can be a good thing for writers submitting their work. In the long run, I’d rather have a smart editor say no to a piece that isn’t yet done than to have work with my name on it out there in the world when it isn’t yet fully polished. BUT,

2) Editors have their own tastes and biases too, so writers really need patience if they’re going to find the right home for their work. Sure, in some instances that work might not be ready, but there are also cases in which a writer is submitting solid, well-developed writing that just doesn’t fit an editor’s taste, a publication’s literary aesthetic, or an issue’s vision/theme.

One of the skills that writers need to develop (and continually recalibrate) is the ability to determine when one needs to keep looking for a home for a piece, and when one needs to pause and turn back to revision.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Wendy Mitman Clarke

Wendy Mitman Clarke’s poetry has been published in Rattle, Delmarva Review, and Blue River Review, and it will appear in the spring 2018 issue of Blackbird. She won the Pat Nielsen Poetry Prize in 2015 and 2017, and her poem “The Kiss” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her nonfiction has been published in River Teeth, Smithsonian, Preservation, and National Parks. Her novel Still Water Bending was released in October 2017. You can read and view her work at www.wendymitmanclarke.com.

Clarke’s poem, “Beachcombing,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: What’s the name of the form you use in “Beachcombing.” Why did you make that choice?

A: This form is a pantoum. I was really intimidated by form at first, but I learn so much from it. I’m intrigued by the paradoxical way it makes you more flexible, stretches your thinking and your effort, and often takes the poem to a place you didn’t expect or perhaps wouldn’t have gone at first. In this case, the repetition that this form required worked to establish the kind of rhythmic movement of waves upon a shoreline, and so the form complemented the poem’s setting and topic perfectly. I also think it’s fantastic that a form as ancient as the pantoum can so beautifully illuminate a subject that’s so vital in our contemporary world.

Q: Your poem begins with a statement from UNESCO about plastic killing marine animals. What’s the relationship in your writing between literature and social/environmental causes?

A: So many things are happening in our world today that demand that we bear witness and raise our voices, it can be overwhelming. I felt the need to prioritize. I have spent my whole life on the water, have sailed tens of thousands of miles and have been in some really remote places. Everywhere I have found plastic. My daughter and I are avid beachcombers, and yet with every perfect shell comes a disposable razor or a toothbrush or a tampon applicator or a little round ball from a deodorant dispenser or a mylar balloon, or just tiny, colorful, indiscriminate bits of plastic. It doesn’t biodegrade, and fish and birds and whales—anything that lives in or near the ocean—ingest it in some form. Without our oceans, we as a species and as a planet are dead. People don’t understand that with every choice they make for their convenience, they are killing the oceans and the animals that depend upon them—ourselves included. Plastic straws, plastic coffee cup lids, plastic water bottles—it’s ubiquitous and pervasive and it has to stop. I hope if I focus my writing on trying to make people more aware of issues like this, perhaps I can do my small part to help our natural world and the animals and organisms with whom we share it. The Lorax had it right: Someone has to speak for the trees. Also, artists like Chris Jordan—whose work “Midway: Message From the Gyre” absolutely shatters me—inspire me to raise my voice through my writing.

Q: You seem to write everything—poetry, nonfiction, fiction. What got you into writing?

I have been writing since I can remember. I come from a family of voracious readers, and writing was always valued in my family. My dad could recite things like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by heart, and at every Christmas or major family event like a wedding, he would write a poem to commemorate it. I had an amazing English teacher in high school—that one teacher you worship and for whom you want to excel, and after a I wrote a short story about a post-apocalyptic world, he encouraged me to pursue more creative writing. My nonfiction writing began when I was in college with a semester left to graduate and the urgent need to find a job. I started working as a reporter at my hometown newspaper, then was hired by The Associated Press, where I really learned the value of brevity, accuracy, and efficiency in writing. Eventually I shifted into magazines, and that’s where my nonfiction really was able to stretch.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Seth Tucker

Seth Brady Tucker’s fiction has recently appeared in December, Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere, and his poetry and fiction have won awards over the years. He runs the Longleaf Writers Conference in Florida and teaches creative writing to engineers at the top-ranked Colorado School of Mines.

Tucker’s short story, “The Court of Tar and Oil,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I notice you’re from Wyoming. Have you ever been to Worland? My mother’s maiden name is Worland and apparently, we have some sort of family connection to the place.

What I know about Worland: there was a fight nearly every time we played them in basketball. Tough team from a tough town—all elbows and inner-city play way out there in the flat expanse of the desert plains. Their basketball court ended at a wall with a thin pad on it, and you knew you were going to get driven into it at some point in the game.

Q: The image in my mind that I have of Wyoming I got from Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces. Have you read that book? How does it correspond to your own experience?

The beauty of Wyoming is wild and terrific in the literal meaning of the word terrific; it is wide open, wind-swept, frightful, but also remarkable for some of the most rugged and lovely terrain on the planet. I was lucky to grow up in the little hamlet town of Lander, next to the Wind River Range, and most of my youth was spent working our ranch or working the mountains with my father, who was a hunting guide in the Winds for many years (and who knows about as much about those mountains as anyone alive). It made being a child tough, but I also have some rare and cherished memories of winding our way up those mountains on horseback. I haven’t read Ehrlich’s work, but Annie Prouix is a transplant to Wyoming and does a fairly good job of writing about life up there, but I have to assume that Ehrlich likely writes about how big and bright the sky is, how far one can see into the distance, the shadows of mountains always just on the horizon, the slow progression of the highways as you make your way to them; it is what I love about Wyoming–this hint of the unknown and wild and dangerous.

Q: I realize the Longleaf Writers Conference is just a week away. What’s the origin story of this conference?

This is our fifth year, and for three of those years Matt Bondurant and I have funded scholarships and fellowships for emerging poets and writers. We started with just Matt and I as faculty, then slowly started to build, bringing in writers like Andre Dubus III, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Antonya Nelson, Rebecca Makkai, David James Poissant, Chris Offutt, Jen Percy, Anton DiSclafani, and many other authors who were awarded financial aid. We are proud of the support we give our attendees, and have helped a number of them go on to publish books. We partner with Ole Miss for a couple scholarships as well, and this year we are bringing Beth Anne Fennelly and Tom Franklin and Jill McCorkle, with the help of our other partner, the Cultural Arts Alliance of South Walton. We built this conference to be small and intimate in a way that the big conferences can be overwhelming and isolating; we want beginners to feel as comfortable there as those with long histories in the workshop or academia; we bring the best writers we can who also happen to be generous and enthusiastic teachers and writers; to sum up: we write hard and beach hard. You should come next year!

Q: Are writers’ conferences something that should be on my radar as a young writer? Should I be going to things like this?

Absolutely—this is the networking of the job of being a writer—the sooner you start, the sooner you get that big break everyone wants and needs. My only regret is not going to these conferences while in grad school.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with J. A. Bernstein

J. A. Bernstein’s forthcoming novel, Rachel’s Tomb (New Issues 2019), won the AWP Award Series, Hackney, and Knut House Prizes, and his forthcoming story collection, Stick-Light (Eyewear 2019), was a finalist for the Robert C. Jones and Beverly Prizes. His work has appeared in Shenandoah, Boston Review, Kenyon Review Online, Tampa Review, Tin House (web), Chicago Quarterly Review, and other journals, and won Crab Orchard Review’s John Gunyon Prize in Nonfiction. A Chicago-native, he is the fiction editor of Tikkun and, starting this August, an assistant professor in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Bernstein’s nonfiction piece, “The Works,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: You told me that, “like a lot of writers,” you’d prefer not to discuss your own writing. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?

My sense is that a piece of creative writing should be able to stand on its own. That doesn’t mean context or intention are unimportant, or that criticism shouldn’t exist (well, it depends on who’s writing it). I’m also not averse to discussing craft. But my instinct is that if an author needs to start explaining her work, or clarifying it for readers, then the work itself probably needs revisiting.

Q: What happens when somebody “doesn’t get” something you’ve written?

In an ideal world, I’d have them shipped to Siberia.

Q: What do you see as the relationship between literature and advocacy?

This is a great question—and please excuse my pert response to the last one. This is also a question that I’m sure I, and virtually any writer who’s alive today, ponder continually. Let me simply say this: when I was in graduate school, I remember a literature professor I admired, Terrence Whalen, telling a group of students that Melville’s politics were inscrutable. “Let that be a lesson to all you creative writers,” he joked. And I think there was truth in that. The best works of art, regardless of their commitment, seem to evade scrutiny or any quick encapsulation.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Rachel Morgan

Rachel Morgan is the author of the chapbook Honey & Blood, Blood & Honey (Final Thursday Press, 2017), and her work is included in the anthology Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America (Ice Cube Press, 2016). Her work recently appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, Bellevue Literary Review, Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the poetry editor for the North American Review.

Morgan’s poem, “The Plural of Grief,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I just finished a writing program, so I’ll start off with a self-interested question. How did you navigate transitioning from being a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop into your next life? And do you have any advice for me?

How did I navigate the transition? Not well—cautiously and slowly. I don’t recommend it. I had a complex, at best, relationship with my MFA experience, and I think many writers experience something similar. Transitioning from MFA to WORLD is hard. The employment opportunities are often contingent or in the nonprofit sector, so the financial struggles are real. Additionally, finding and guarding writing time is complicated. Staying connected to writer friends in the same struggle helped; we could process the difficulties together and read each other’s new work. Meet, even virtually, with a group of writers for workshop on a regular basis. Also read, write, submit, and repeat. No matter how many “no’s” you hear, keep submitting. The right poem will eventually find the right editor and publication.

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