10th Anniversary: Five Myths about the Afghan People


This essay was originally published on August 7, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Angie Chuang

Angie Chuang

I was one of thousands of “embedded” reporters in Afghanistan during the post-9/11 years—only I didn’t embed with a military unit, I lived with a family in Kabul (and traveled with them to their rural village in Ghazni) for nearly a month. This family and my experiences in Afghanistan with them formed the central narrative of my hybrid memoir, The Four Words for Home.

We’ve officially withdrawn U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, and we’re left with a vague feeling that though the Taliban were overthrown from official leadership, our understanding of this complex nation is more tenuous than ever. Perhaps it was easier for the U.S. government and the American Mind to perceive “The Afghan People” as mysterious and inscrutable. That way, we could throw up our hands and chalk up any nation-building failures to the inherent fierceness and ungovernable nature of the Afghan people. Just ask Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. or the Soviet Army in 1988 A.D.

So in honor of Little Patuxent Review’s forthcoming theme issue on Myth, I offer my personal debunking of five myths about Afghanistan and Afghans I’ve commonly heard.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 19: Myth. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/19-winter-2016-myth/

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10th Anniversary: Music and the narrative brain

This essay was originally published on November 13, 2014. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Movies and operas are not the only narratives scored with music today. As it becomes increasingly rare to spot commuters free of earbuds in subway cars or on the street, it is clear that music is becoming incidental to nearly every scene in our own daily narratives.

I recently rediscovered the soundtrack of a video game that I played extensively as a child. The songs transported me to feelings so foreign to me over a decade later that it took me several days of listening to begin to understand and relate to my eight-year-old self. Some of the feelings I still don’t understand after months of periodically revisiting the music. This brought on more music-assisted reminiscence of times spanning from the mid-90s to the summer of 2012. 

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 14: Music. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/14-summer-2013/

August Submissions are Just Around the Corner

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Submissions open August 1st

It’s that time of year again. On August 1st, submissions open for Little Patuxent Review’s themed Winter 2017 issue. This year’s theme is prisons. The theme is open to interpretation and we highly encourage participants to think outside the box. After all, imprisonment has inspired many groundbreaking works of fiction and nonfiction.

The first book that comes to mind when I think about prisons is Elie Wiesel’s Night. The book has stuck in my mind ever since I read it in middle school, and is probably more present after Wiesel’s passing. It has stayed with me because the book is not simply about a single story of confinement, but of a time of horror that must not be forgotten. George Orwell’s 1984, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings use imprisonment to ponder deeply on the human condition. Orwell presents his fears of an impending bleak future, Johnson attempts to understand one of the most mysterious countries in the world, and Angelou describes the yearning of the soul after trauma.

Prisons dominate our mainstream culture and news. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is a New York Times bookseller and highlights the racial bias built into our criminal system. Netflix’s acclaimed Orange is the New Black (based on Piper Kerman’s memoir) centers on a cast of incarcerated women, each from a different background and history. The growing popularity of Young Adult dystopian fiction enacts a desire to escape oppressive systems. In the abstract, there have always been prisons of the mind or prisons built into our social order from class, race, or gendered discrimination. Charlotte Woods’s The Natural Way of Things proves misogyny is the cruel and inhumane prison for women of all ages, as the female characters are incarcerated for sexual crimes.

The list can go on and on, and you can be a part of it. LPR accepts submissions of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photography, and art. Participants are encouraged to think broadly and creatively about the theme. Guidelines can be found here. Submit work through our Submittable page.

For a sense of Little Patuxent Review’s quality, please take a look at our excerpt archive and past issues available for purchase on our website. Listen and watch past readings on our youtube channel.

Unveiling summer: LPR’s 20th edition

Summer 2016 cover

Summer 2016 cover. Photography by Lynn Silverman.

Raise the banners, strike up the up the band, call down the (purple) rain, rejoice and be glad, because in this issue Little Patuxent Review celebrates ten years of publishing literature and art. What a milestone for a labor of love, born from the attentive care of Mike Clark and Tim Singleton along with a host of others committed to supporting literary and visual arts in Maryland. While many journals have chosen to move to a solely online presence, LPR’s perseverance in publishing a high-quality, knock-your-socks-off, run-and-tell-your-mama print journal speaks to the ethos that runs deep in the consciousness of the editors, staff, board, and volunteers. It’s a part of our “Inscape,” to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins and something I recognized years ago when I was grad student looking for literary journals that might publish my poems. LPR had a good reputation, albeit a quiet one, and no one could deny that the physical, printed journal lived as an art object in the world. Little may be a part of the name, but there is nothing small about what this journal accomplishes twice a year.

I am humbled to be the editor during this tenth anniversary, and I am equally humbled by the stories, essays, and poems that have found a home in the following pages. Perhaps with a bit of unintended irony, since LPR is named after a river, readers will find that many of the pieces circle around the presence of water, not unlike the way Maryland envelopes its portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Origins have a way of insisting, it seems. Many of the pieces here call back to various themed issues LPR has published in the past. There are stories of doubt and audacity, poems that evoke social justice and childhood. Nature has its way even on the tongues of a “Roustabout.” And above all there is fine, fine music in the language and lines. Lynn Silverman’s art work is such a fine capstone to that fine music, with its hints at transcendence.

I want to personally thank Laura Shovan, Jen Grow, Michael Salcman, Deb Dulin, Lynn Weber, Debby Kevin, Evan Lesavoy, and Emily Rich who have all been a part of the editorial staff. If I were Lorca, I’d say they have so much duende. If I was Stevie Wonder, I’d say they create in the Key of Life. They make LPR shine. I would also like to thank the board members, new and old, who have never let go of that initial vision of lifting up the arts. They have been a lighthouse on the edge of troubled sea. I am beyond grateful. Lastly all thanks to the contributors, readers, and community who have trusted me with their work, time, and attention. Let’s celebrate turning what Billy Collins calls the first big number. Here’s to ten glorious years and a hundred more if the fates be kind.

~Steven Leyva, Editor

Winter 2016 “Myth” Cover Reveal

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Frame of Mind (G) Minas Konsolas Acrylic and ink on canvas, 2015 30 × 24 in.

Myths are not lies. They are the stories that shape and reflect belief systems.

According to artist Minas Konsolas, myths are the truest form of history because they are the stories a culture tells about itself—stories often repeated in oral tradition before the printed word. Konsolas, born on the Greek island of Karpathos, has read and listened to such stories his entire life. He knows that even though a myth can be manipulated as a method of control, truth of the tale will be found in its universal symbolism.

Regarding universal themes and symbols, Native American poet Edgar Silex reminds us that we have identified “some ninety-plus essential human stories” retold in multiple time periods and places. Why do the peoples of the world tell such similar stories? Theories range from very predictable—the influence of migration—to fantastic speculation about star seed or genetic hot-wiring. For Silex, who is a mythology scholar and teacher, similar stories evolve from our shared human experience—causing symbols and themes to be “engrammed in the universal subconscious.”

Stories and poems in this issue echo ancient works even as they search for images and narratives applicable to current events. Readers share the “drunken joy” of kings, madwomen, slippery gods, and mermaids. They witness crusades, war, persecution, and discrimination on multiple continents. They are privy to the pain of infertility, insecurity, addiction, and other human conditions. They are invited into city apartments, suburban garages, and the roots and branches of trees where the occupants live between heaven and hell in conceptualized beauty, sexuality, or even reality.
Some of us may be able to read present, past, and future in the entrails of a crow. Many of us will remember that the world remains the same even as it changes: snakes are still some of our favorite shapeshifters; apples can be poisoned in many ways.

Thank you, Little Patuxent Review staff and contributors, for sharing this “mythic” adventure. It takes the experience and stories of a village to make a journal happen.

—Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg

Online Editor’s Note: Be sure to join guest editor Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg at the Winter 2016 Launch Reading on Sunday, January 24, from 2-4 pm. 

One Day It Will Be Too Late

Lemony SnicketLittle Patuxent Review was created to foster and encourage a community of writers, poets and artists, which it has done brilliantly for nearly ten years. We’ve held readings and workshops, attended book fairs and festivals, and published themed and unthemed journals, highlighting work submitted by creators all over the United States.

The current themed issued, Myth, closes to submissions at midnight on October 24, 2015. That’s one day from today. As much as our community celebrates you, we can’t submit your work for you. Some things stand alone in the “one” column.

Myths like:

  • Yeti.
  • The Loch Ness Monster (affectionately known as “Nessie”).
  • Slenderman.
  • The Great Pumpkin.
  • “I didn’t sleep with woman.”
  • Donald Trump.
  • Someone knocking on your door to discover you.

If you’ve been contemplating a submission to the Myth issue, now’s the time. Our editors and readers look forward to sinking into your work.

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A Partial List of Voices I Stole

Tyler Barton. Photo credit: Natalie Morgan Sharp.

Tyler Barton. Photo credit: Natalie Morgan Sharp.

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.

An excerpt from “Lease,” which appears in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer Issue:

What Miss Allens don’t realize is eleven is just two ones next together. Mean, she don’t know basic maths. One and one is two. Followed by a zero means twenty. So I walked right up through her yard, past the sign advertising the bike and slapped a Jefferson in her left hand. She spit into her bucket mean the way she does at strays, and she crumbles it up, tosses it at me. Starts shoutin.

  1. Holden

If you really want to hear about it,[1] I have this complex about third person narrators. Who the hell’s talking to me, and where the hell are they?

These are questions I started asking myself a few years ago, when I was first trying to write, feeling a need to justify my tendency toward the first person. There was something repulsive to me about reading a story or novel and picturing the words coming from a writer, narrating from her desk, or—god help me—his favorite coffee shop. I wanted the words to come from somewhere (that at least seemed) real-life. When a character is a narrator, I see them talking to me—something people do every day in my real life. They’re right there. It’s as if I just happened upon them.

When I sat down to write, it was nearly impossible to write third person, so I didn’t. It’s not that I didn’t respect third person, but I didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t feel natural. It didn’t feel found.

  1. George Saunders’ dad characters & artifact fiction

Having just turned 40, have resolved to embark on grand project of writing every day in this new black book just got at OfficeMax.[2] Then thought: what if stories were strictly documents? Fiction felt double authentic if contained in some seeable/knowable document. Diaries, letters, memos, lists, quizzes, social media, textbooks, etc. etc. etc. (possibilities endless!).

It was far from a unique idea, but that made it no less intriguing. I wanted to read a story that was a thing. A character had created some textual artifact, and I was reading that artifact. I found writers doing this everywhere (Saunders, Egan, Danielewski, Davis, Greenman, the entirety of tNY Press) and it made me want to put every story into a form. This made voice everything. I had to make the thing talk. No time for exposition, setting, what color shirt are they wearing. Just voice, distilled into something that voice created. And this was all I wrote for a while.

  1. Bone

You’ll probably think I’m making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I’m not.[3] I milked that formal thing for a while before I was back to writing 1st person stories with characters talking talking talking and shutting up when the story had finished finally.

Photo credit: Tyler Barton.

Photo credit: Tyler Barton.

Things changed, as they do. I write in coffee shops now. I read a lot of third person. Sometimes, I can even find a way to write it. But I’m still drawn to the voice of a character/narrator. Often, I hear a voice saying a single, unique sentence, and I go from there.

When I sat down to write “Lease”, what I had was: “Mrs. Henderson always starts my oranges for me.” It lodged in my brain like a song lyric. Maybe it was applying the verb “start” to a fruit that made it shine in my mind. There was something off about the description—something incorrect. The voice saying those words came in sideways, with a little accent and attitude. When I heard the words in my head, they could not come without a touch of country slack, slur, and twang.

  1. Taylor Greer & my father

I been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.[4] Until last year (when I read The Bean Trees, Lindsay Hunter, Scott Mclanahan) I had been afraid to write how the people I grew up around spoke. I’d just learned this term—appropriation—and was afraid of being cheap or mean. But these authors showed me sincerity in voice and respect for character. They were never laughing at their narrators.

Photo credit: Rob Westaby.

Photo credit: Rob Westaby.

I grew up in rural, southern Pennsylvania, where it wasn’t a requirement to speak with a bastardized southern drawl, but it didn’t hurt your chances of fitting in. There was an annual event where my classmates rode their tractors to school. I grew up spending precious Saturdays at a go-kart racetrack. I often hear these accents, these tones, in my memories.

I also used to notice the way setting morphed my father’s voice toward a slightly southern accent. At the racetrack, in the garage, at Christmas, it was there. When he sang, there it was. When we camped, I heard it. The rest of the time it was gone. This gave me the idea that a voice could convey a character’s setting without the narrator outright pointing you to a map.

  1. Bogart, Man-man, Hat and The Gang

Where the voices coming from? I really can’t say, boy. Is a real mystery.[5] Which ones hit and which miss? The only book I’ve read more times than Catcher is Miguel Street, where every voice is recorded as it sounds.

I think that every sentence of a first person narrator needs to sound said. I’m inclined to write it like it’s said (this being why, in “Lease”, I chose to drop “g” from a lot of present participles). I read the lines of this flash over and over, out loud, trying to nail down the mannerisms, transitions, and emphases. It took a lot of time for the character’s voice to tell me what he cared about. For this character it was justice. Although he isn’t 100% honest (I think he manipulates with his airhead act), he has a determined sense of justice. It’s the battle between justice and dishonesty that give his voice its shape.

That was only the first step. I had to figure out what it was he wanted. I waited for him to tell me, in his voice. Then I wrote down what he said, just like he said it.

[1] Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

[2] “Semplica Girl Diaries,” George Saunders

[3] Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks

[4] The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver

[5] Miguel Street, V.S. Naipaul

Online Editor’s Note: Having had the opportunity to both read and hear Tyler Barton’s “Lease,” I found his use of voice reminiscent of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of my all-time favorite novels. Order your copy of the Summer Issue online to read “Lease” in full.