No Doubt About It: Le Hinton Picked for Best American Poetry

Le Hinton‘s poem, “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat),” originally appeared in our Winter 2013 Doubt issue, but now has had the distinction of being picked up for the 2014 edition of Best American Poetry. We immediately contacted Le, eager to share more about the story of his poem and the rest of his work with our community in the wake of this momentous achievement. Make sure to give his poem a listen and a read to get the most out of his comments (and because it’s great poetry!). Here’s Le in his own words:

Let’s make this clear. Chris Toll was one of the most creative and gifted poets I’ve ever met. When I found out that he passed away, I cried. If life is meant to be an exquisite sculpture that ages and acquires a lovely patina which enhances its beauty, Chris’s death was like a micro-fracture at its base, the realization that nothing is ever perfect. Some things in life are fundamentally unfair, absolutely wrong. Chris’s death in 2012 is one of those things. As I sat in the audience at Chris’s memorial service, I decided I’d do something I rarely do: write a poem as elegy. There were three keys to my creating “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat).”

In an interview, one of my favorite poets, Dean Young, was quoted as saying: “A straight line, a linear progression, is a fiction and not even a very convincing one. There is no such thing as discontinuity because there is nothing that doesn’t belong, that doesn’t vibrate in this web of connection. Now is always unprecedented and sudden.” This thought is almost always in my fingertips as I begin to write a poem, and it was in this case. There isn’t a linear narrative that runs through the poem.

The second idea that I considered important was that I didn’t want to write an ordinary elegy using a traditional form. Chris was so very unique, so I decided to write about him by using an element of his writing. In some of his poems Chris illuminates words, meanings and moods by taking them apart. In my favorite poem of his, “The Abyss Has No Biographer,” he writes:

How long can I stay
at the inn in innocent?
Love is so hard
and it’s all we came to do.

I wanted to use that technique in my poem for him.

The third aspect of this poem is uncertainty. When someone passes away, especially suddenly, what we feel most acutely is uncertainty, not just about life, but about everything. We question each choice we’ve made and will make, at least for a time. In the poem, I wanted some of the disregarded choices to remain visible. In the poem there are strikeouts that reinforce the uncertainty that is stated by the words.

Non-linear thinking, deconstruction of individual words and a somewhat unconventional visual look  are the three techniques that I wanted to focus on in creating an elegy for Chris.

Kind poetry colleagues tell me that I have a broad range of styles within the poetry I write. More honestly, I’m all over the place. I write in free verse for the most part and don’t often write in forms. However, when I attempt to write a poem, I usually look for some kind of organizing principle. It may be an extended metaphor or an overarching mood, however, often it is something about how the poem looks on the page. I am constantly searching for a different way to place emotion and/or intellect on an empty white space. A few years ago, I wanted to write about gun violence. Other than the title, “You Do the Math,” it was written only with numbers. I find some of the work by Mary Szybist a revelation. In her latest book, Incarnadine, one poem is written as a starburst. Another is written as a diagrammed sentence. Poems such as these fascinate me. “No Doubt About It, (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” lives in that neighborhood of visual variations that I sometimes attempt.

Once the poem was finished, I didn’t intend to submit it anywhere for publication, however, I was reminded that Little Patuxent Review’s reading period was ongoing and the theme was Doubt. I certainly was aware of the proximity of Little Patuxent Review to Chris’s world in Baltimore. Submitting the poem here seemed to be almost destined. When the poem was accepted for publication in the Winter Issue 2013, I was more than thrilled. Being published in Little Patuxent Review was no small accomplishment. It was another step up. The poem’s publication was somewhat of a validation of the kind of poetry that I had begun writing in 2006: poetry that is less narrative, more image driven, more concerned with the architecture of the piece on the page.

In January, when I was first notified by Mark Bibbins about the poem’s inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2014, I first thought it might be a joke or online hoax. I don’t have the kind of ego that walks around wondering why the world hasn’t discovered me. When I found out that the poem was chosen by guest editor, Terrance Hayes, whose work I’ve read closely and loved since 2010, I was stunned. I am profoundly grateful to him and series editor, David Lehman, for choosing “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat).” I know that there are thousands of poets in America who write wonderfully creative, intellectually  and emotionally moving poems. I’ve been fortunate and will always remain thankful.

I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish country, part of the larger South Central Pennsylvania area, which includes the cities of Lancaster, Harrisburg, York and Lebanon.

I host a monthly poetry reading series, the Lancaster Poetry Exchange, with help from a marvelously talented poet, Jeff Rath, that’s been running since October 2007. It has the dual purposes of showcasing local poets as well as bringing in poets from outside the area. Maryland poets such as Meredith Davies Hadaway, Virginia Crawford, Pamela Murray Winters and Cliff Lynn have all read for the Exchange.

I am also the publisher and chief editor of a now-yearly poetry journal called Fledgling Rag. Its genesis was my belief that there are talented, creative poets who reside outside the major and minor metropolitan areas of America. I contend that there are great poems being written by poets who are somewhat invisible to the larger world, such as Harrisburg’s Marty Esworthy, York’s Rebecca Gonzalez and Lancaster’s Jeff Rath. Fledgling Rag, in a small way, attempts to make those poets a bit more visible. There is always a strong South Central Pennsylvania presence in each issue, however, we don’t impose any geographical restrictions in deciding which poets are included in each issue. Each issue has one featured poet. The last three featured poets were Marjory Heath Wentworth, the poet laureate of South Carolina, Michael S. Glaser, former Maryland poet laureate, and Yona Harvey, creative writing professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Three of Chris Toll’s poems, including “The Abyss Has No Biographer,” appeared in Issue 10.

There are diverse poets, with different writing styles and subject matter throughout the South Central Pennsylvania area. There are poets of place, poets of  protest, language poets and experimental poets. Quite of few successful and respected poets use poetic forms as a basis for their work. I’m excited by all of it. That is why my own poetry can be so varied. My work and my non-writing activities seek to bring together my internal world, my immediate world and the larger poetry world together. Isn’t that what we’ve come here to do?

Note: Le additionally supports his larger poetry world (or “extended family“) through his publishing endeavor, Iris G. Press. In addition to being the outlet for Le’s aforementioned Fledgling Rag, Iris G. Press has published several books. Have a look at more of Le’s work and the work of his poetry family there. The Doubt issue where “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat)” first appeared can be found here.

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5 Questions for Jen Michalski, Author of The Tide King

Michalskiblue

Baltimore-based author and editor, Jen Michalski.

When author Jen Michalski was featured in the Baltimore Sun this summer, the headline called 2013 “a prolific year” for her. That phrase is appropriate. Michalski, a mainstay of the tight-knit Baltimore literary scene, will have three books published between January 2013 and April 2014.

But for a writer as hard-working as Michalski, “prolific year” is also misleading. In addition to working on her own writing, Michalski edits the Baltimore-based journal jmww and frequents local literary readings.

Michalski and I spoke about her not-so-sudden success last weekend, and we followed with an email exchange. I had recently read The Tide King, her stand-alone novel (Black Lawrence Press).

thetideking_cover_lorestrials_4Laura Shovan (LS): With three books published within an eighteen-month period and a feature in the Baltimore Sun, one might be tempted to say, “Jen Michalski is an overnight success.” Those of us involved in the local scene know that you are a longtime literary community activist. Over the years, how have you balanced supporting other writers—through projects like jmww, the 510 Reading Series, and the City Sages anthology—with staying committed to your own writing?

Jen Michalski (JM): I don’t know, really! It all works out, somehow. A caveat—I like to keep busy. I have this manic mental itch, and there are so many other things I would attempt to scratch it with if I weren’t so involved in the writing community: I want to learn to play the bass and trumpet, attend the symphonies and opera, surf, and knit. I often wish the days were twice as long, or that there were two of me!

That said, ironically, my projects don’t leave a lot of time for writing. Fortunately, I do a lot of my work internally, in dreams and also subconsciously; and by the time I write it out, I’ve worked it over and over in my head and it’s pretty much the way it will be on the page. Writing also just comes when it’s ready, not when I try to force it, so I don’t feel pressured to set aside an hour a day and wait for something to happen. Finally, it helps that I’m a self-employed medical editor, which means my schedule is pretty flexible for when the writing does erupt.

Ultimately, though, being involved in the community is inspiring to me as a writer. All writing is a dialogue between writer and reader, and when I’ve attended a great reading or accepted a great piece for jmww or just talked with another writer about his or her inspiration or process or even kids, I am compelled to respond in my own way somehow, whether right away or subconsciously, a few months later. I feel like these outside projects fertilize the garden, in a way.

Salon Series, New York

Jen Michalski

LS: We talked about the way different threads of research came together as you were constructing The Tide King: the last “witch” burned in Poland, your family’s immigration story, a National Geographic article about the sinking of the Bismarck, both your grandfathers’ WWII experiences. All of these, except for the Bismarck, are key themes or events in The Tide King. Would you describe your research process? How do you know when something you uncover is going to work for the book?

JM: Research excites me because I never know what I’m going to turn up. In fact, I no longer lock myself in a plotline early on when I’m writing or researching the novel. When I’m researching I’m like a boat in the ocean; I can glide along in lot of different directions and trajectories before seeing land again. And then I might wind up landing in Cape Town when I thought I was going to Madrid!

Even though my research is driven by things about which I’m passionate, I just try to remain open to what I find. If I really wanted to set the novel in Alaska but when I’m Googling I read about a fishing village in Nova Scotia that really excites me, I go with it. In that sense, I know something is going to work when I become excited about it, when the story suddenly opens up and expands. Sometimes, though, the research just gets cut, and I’m okay with that. I wrote about 600 pages of The Tide King and only wound up using 300. I don’t feel they were wasted pages—they were just sort of the outtakes you wind up seeing on movie DVDs. (In fact, a lot of the deleted scenes did wind up being stand-alone stories that were published.)

I also try to stay loose through the various revisions of the novel. The first draft is so different from the second, the second from the third, and so on. Although the characters and the basic plot may stay the same, all the scenes, the setups, can have changed from the first to third draft. It used to be something that frustrated me, because you want to keep the energy of the first draft or idea without watering it down through the revisions. But often the revisions take it to a better place. Now, I try and concentrate on just digging through the research, the draft writing, knowing that I’m going to hit pay-dirt down the road—I trust my intuition will guide me to where I need to be. I am a writer entirely in the moment of writing. I never think about when I should be finished with a particular novel, whether I’ve spent too much time on it, and I also never wish for a novel to end. I try to have so much fun writing it that I’m disappointed when I’ve done all I can and it’s finally finished, that I have to find something else to do.

LS: Early in the novel, Barbara, an herbalist living in rural Poland in the 1800s, discovers a patch of burnette saxifrage that’s been struck by lightning. The herb, she realizes, has extraordinary healing powers. You said that this story, while not scientific, is drawn from both history and folklore. How did this element of magical realism become the novel’s inciting incident, the thing that draws these characters—who span over 100 years—together?

JM: The decision to use the herb, for me, was definitely, the “aha” moment. When I first started writing about Stanley and Calvin in the European theater of World War II (which was inspired indirectly by a story I’d read about the battleship Bismarck in National Geographic), I didn’t know what was going to happen with them. In the back of my mind I knew I didn’t want to write a war novel, even as I wanted to honor my grandfathers, who both served and never talked about it. But I kept writing, figuring that what to do next would occur to me by the time I got to that crossroads. And it did—one day, I was looking through some story files on my computer and found fifty pages of this other novel I had started many years before and forgotten. It featured the enchanted burnette saxifrage. I wondered, “What if one of the soldiers, Stanley or Calvin, gives it to the other?” Burnette saxifrage became the lynchpin—it could tie centuries of family and people together by the nature of its “curse.” It also provided a conceit, the curse of immortality and how humans deal with loneliness and time passing. But I was many months into research and writing before I realized the true story of The Tide King—and it turned out I’d been working on it for years without even realizing it.

LS: The friendship of WWII buddies Stanley and Calvin is central to The Tide King. However, the female characters shape the trajectory of Stanley’s and Calvin’s lives. How did you come up with Stanley’s love interest, little person and country music star Cindy? You said that Cindy’s daughter, Heidi, drives the second half of the novel. Can you explain what you meant?

JM: I don’t really know why I made Cindy a little person. I know I wanted to include country music because I was reading a lot about 1940s and 1950s country music, Patsy Cline and the Browns and Hank Williams Sr. So I knew Cindy would be a country music star. I always am drawn to the different, the “other.” I’ve written before about people with disabilities because I’m interested in their perspectives, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to include this twist in Cindy’s character.

Also, in a way,  although I didn’t realize it at the time, she becomes kind of a foil for Ela, who is also a little person in that she’s a two-hundred-year-old woman trapped in the body of a nine-year-old girl. Ela wants to die but she can’t, and Cindy wants to live on forever, immortalized as a country music star.

But Cindy and Kate (Calvin’s first love) drive the story. Calvin and Stanley never get over Kate and Cindy, and they are both driven through life by them in different ways. For one, it is a helpful, positive coping, and for the other, it’s not. I think it’s a very human condition, our “muses,” and the thin line between the destructive and redemptive nature of them.

Heidi’s story, even as it comprises the last third of the novel, is kind of a surprise to the reader, I think, and it was intentional on my part. For Ela and Calvin and Stanley and everyone else who comes in contact with the burnette saxifrage over the course of two hundred years, their information is very incomplete. They ingested the herb and did not know it, it wasn’t forced upon them, or they’re not aware of the breadth of its repercussions. Heidi is a character who is given full knowledge of the herb, knows what it can do, has seen how it affects those who take it. And, at the novel’s end, she must make a choice about the herb, and she is the only one, to that point, with the agency to decide whether or not she should take it, what should be done with it. I wanted to explore that freedom to decide one’s fate, through Heidi. To that point, the herb, or the search for the herb, for answers, had been the driving force.

LS: The one question you said most people ask about The Tide King is: Will there be a sequel? Explain why your answer is no.

JM: I think it’s good to leave the reader with questions. Life isn’t tied up in a bow, and I don’t think stories should be, either. There is no happy ever after—life just ends, and there’s nothing we really have to drive ourselves through it except our hopes—our hopes to be happy, to fall in love, to be successful. Which, on the face of it, are all human constructs, not real. And that’s what the characters in The Tide King have at the end—their hopes, however slim and unrealistic. There’s nothing that Calvin or Ela or Heidi could do in a sequel that would change the course of humanity, of the human condition. It’s sort of an old story, the follies and hopes of humankind, that doesn’t need a sequel. I thought that was the most fitting, realistic ending of all.

Jen Michalski lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She was voted one of the best authors in Maryland by CBS News, one of “50 Women to Watch” by the Baltimore Sun, and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine (Best of Baltimore issue, 2013). Her novel THE TIDE KING (Black Lawrence Press) was voted “Best Fiction” by the Baltimore City Paper. She is the author of two collections of fiction, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (So New, 2007) and FROM HERE (Aqueous Books, 2014) and a collection of novellas, COULD YOU BE WITH HER NOW (Dzanc Books, 2013). She also edited the anthology CITY SAGES: BALTIMORE, which Baltimore Magazine called “Best of Baltimore” in 2010. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww and hosts the monthly reading series the 510 Readings in Baltimore.

For more about The Tide King, see the Baltimore Sun’s review. Also consider reading up on Jen’s previous book, COULD YOU BE WITH HER NOW, reviewed by LPR earlier this year. Jen’s book FROM HERE is due to be published by Aqueous Books in April 2014.

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.

An Annotated Tour of the Music Issue

Show LPR Some Love, Ellicott City, MD, February 2013 (Photo: Laura Shovan)

Show LPR Some Love, Ellicott City, MD, February 2013 (Photo: Laura Shovan)

At the Show LPR Some Love event this February, we held our first community discussion. Submissions to our music-themed issue were accumulating, so we gathered together local readers for an hour-long talk about music on a snowy day. The conversation was wide-ranging: spirituals, song sparrows, memory, the aging brain and other aspects that our readers hoped to see in this edition.

The first item on the list that we compiled was the relationship of music to sacred and cultural beliefs. In our featured interview, poet Marie Howe explains how the church hymns and Bible stories that she heard as a child influenced the core of her work. Other pieces bear her out: music is a means of communicating culture, whether in Martinique [i] or Baltimore [ii].

The second item was the relationship of music to language. How do musicians use silence to contribute to a song? Are we singing when we talk [iii]? And what about music that is not constructed by human beings: a bird’s song [iv], a wolf’s call?

The item that resulted from the liveliest part of our conversation concerned the relationship of music to memory. Our associations with music, especially songs from childhood and young adulthood, run deep. Work with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients has shown that even when patients no longer talk, they can still sing old standards.

Several pieces address the connection between music and memory [v]. Knowing a favorite tune word-for-word or note-by-note, listeners feel an intimacy with the performer. When we are lonely, music can provide solace [vi] or feed our sense of isolation [vii]. Famous musicians—rockers Debbie Harry [viii] and Neil Young, blues legend Billie Holliday and jazz great Thelonius Monk [ix]—make cameo appearances in our Music issue. Their songs serve as the backdrop for stories of love, heartbreak and transformation [x].

The last item concerned the way in which music creates community. An audience shares a live performance [xi]. Even one listener, such as cover artist Robin Rose [xii] painting alone in his studio to favorite jazz pieces, completes the performance. As with our journal, there is no performance without an audience to respond to our compositions.

[i] Martinican poet Suzanne Dracius’s piece “Pointe-des-Nègres” appears as an English translation by Nancy Naomi Carlson and in the original French. It is accompanied by Ann Bracken’s “An Interview with Nancy Naomi Carlson,” where maintaining musicality in poetry translations is addressed.

[ii] In her poem “Locust Sounds,” Clarinda Harriss points out that the sounds of nature can be heard even in a city such as Baltimore. For a different sort of Baltimorean sound, see 2013 Pratt Poetry Contest finalist Steve Leyva’s poem “Highlandtown after the Zappa Statue.”

[iii] Hope Johnson’s musical poem “Sangin’” addresses this issue.

[iv] Lori Powell’s “To the Bird that Wakes Me” won the 2013 Pratt contest.

[v] See Debra Kaufman’s poem “Strays” and David Vardeman’s short story “Known to God.”

[vi] Gregory Luce finds solace in the classic Coltrane album A Love Supreme in his poem “Aspirins and Coffee.”

[vii] In “Close to You,” Missy Roback’s protagonist uses her obsession with music to avoid building relationships with other people.

[viii] Gerry LaFemina’s prose poem “Sunday Girl” imagines a chance encounter with Blondie.

[ix] Tim Hunt’s poem “Thelonius Monk” recreates a performance at the end of Monk’s career.

[x] Essayist Cliffton Price describes pop music’s powerful association with time in “An Otherwise Empty Room.”

[xi] Anne Harding Woodworth’s poem “On Seeing Psycho in a Concert Hall” looks at the community that a performance creates.

[xii] LPR Art Consultant Michael Salcman’s profile of Rose includes a full-color portfolio of the abstract artist’s work.

To read the full text of a poem and a short story appearing in the Music issue, click here. For more on the art, see “The Integration of Art, Music and More: Robin Rose.”

Meet the Neighbors: Free State Review

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

Barrett Warner with bean truck

Barrett Warner with bean truck (Photo: Bruce Leopold)

The Free State Review website caught my eye with an elegant layout and excellent photography. And kept my interest with statements that revealed a strong sense of identity. There was a focus on “place and experience.” On “authors who live the poem—story—essay before they write it” and provide “some glimpse of a genuine moment in this high concept world, reflected pieces of the real.” And exhibit “engagement and grace.”

That was what I’d tried to achieve in my own work. I would’ve been happy to submit a story had the 3000 word limit not stopped me short. Undaunted, I decided to do the next best thing. I contacted the editors—there seemed to be four—to ask, “So, what is your story?” One of them, writer and reviewer Barrett Warner, was pleased to oblige. Here’s how he responded:

We never had a sign that said, Right now, start a new literary review. There weren’t any voices in the winds. No beautiful angels flying into our minds, nesting on our sternums, singing in our ears. We just found each other.

Editor Hal Burdett found himself when he retired. It took him 81 years, 60 of those spent writing columns in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Times and other Metro newspapers. Raphaela Cassandra found Hal. The May-December pair next found poet J. Wesley Clark. It wasn’t hard to spot Jim. His familiar beard has grown through ten US presidents. He has published 11 poems a year for over 50 years in well over 300 literary magazines. His books include Daughter of the South County, Asleep With Whippoorwills: New & Selected Poems 1970-1995 and I Am Paraguay.

Jim found me. I’d been dodging success as a poet for 30 years and begun focusing on book reviews and essays. I’d written 35 in the previous year, enough to see a lot of new writers and styles and exciting presses. I was thrilled and jealous, especially when writing reflected experience that was “street” but had a polished sense of craft.

All of us had a feeling that writers in the region shared a dream about life. We also knew that elastic forms existed all over the planet. Creating Free State Review was a way to combine them—writers who smelled of seawater, writers who had metal parts and others scented by chlorine or mud. The language seduces us. When words are set beside vigorously lived moments, the experiences dazzle and the art moves us deeply.

We knew that we needed a website, whatever that was, but we had no idea how to advertise that we were accepting submissions except by word of mouth. We wagged our chin-choppers for three months before anything appeared in our box. The first parcel we considered included poems by Chris Toll, Edgar Gabriel Silex, Barbara DeCesare and Jessica Lynn Dotson. The first three were veterans, having eight books between them, but Jessica was a new arrival. She wrote about auto mechanics and had only had one poem posted—and that on a site since abandoned.

Others slowly handed over some poems or an essay or a short. Some such as Rachel Adams and Scott King were strangers who came to us the way that editors sometimes have of sensing other editors. Some such as Beth Spires and James Robison were friends who wanted to go on the journey. There was only one rejection for that first issue. Our raft was a big one, and the Argo could make a sailor out of any cowboy.

The first issue

The first issue, Winter 2013

The press given about our first issue, its growing distribution (Hal, like all good newspaper reporters, is a fanatic about distribution), our crazy launch at Ram’s Head in Annapolis and the rising murmurs about our next issue were impossible to predict, especially given the small number of submissions.

I’d been courting Bethany Shultz Hurst for almost a year, following her work in literary journals across the country, anticipating a book that I wanted to review. After we accepted her poems, she became a finalist in the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, as did the local author Katherine Cottle, who had some great titles with Apprentice House. Similarly, our new poet Jessica subsequently had poems accepted by five other journals and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

We’ve since come to pride ourselves on seeking and finding authors on the rise, at times weeks, at times months shy of a break-out year. In the next issue, there are two authors, Kevin Lavey and Dan Ferrara, who would make me shake.

I found Kevin’s story in a pile of rejections for a fiction contest run by the Maryland Writers’ Association. It was the only one that I liked. Kevin and I met for coffee at Artifact and talked it through three or four revisions before we accepted it. A month later, he received a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Fiction. Dan Ferrara—who knows where this cat’s going to prowl in six months? Mostly the demons chase us, but every so often a certain writer turns and chases those demons right back. Ferrara’s got a purr that would scare any hungry coyote.

A reporter asked last month if there was a particular writer that I hoped to get into our journal. Yes, I answered, but the perfect writer has no name, no zip code. We’re searching, turning over stones, hoping that he or she will find us. Perfection isn’t a state, it’s just a single moment in a changing, stirred-up world. Here’s the dope: we’re trying to meet those moments and connect and put them into print.

It’s partly beginner’s luck that we found so many talented authors, but the fact is that we’re not beginners. Hal had came up at The Sun under HL Mencken, and that wizard’s two literary journals had sparked an early interest for the enlightened conversation that the arts bring to our day-to-day. Jim was a foreign correspondent in Mexico and Cuba. We’re an older Sunshine Club of hard-knocking dreamers.

So we’re different from other new magazines started by much younger types with lots of energy and visions of changing the world or maybe doing something with their MFAs. We’ve seen so many movements and presses and writers come and go, even actual revolution. You develop an instinct for sensing when you’re glimpsing a real modern-day Icarus and when it’s only a wad of feathers passing overhead. Jim says, “The first step in writing from the gut is to have plenty of guts.”

Ours isn’t the coolest, hippest journal out there. We’re no Fence, Coconut, Dzanc or Mud Luscious. We’re no Adam Robinson. And we don’t know all those stars making life-changing one-shot films or posting about zeroism or “the new severity.” We’re too old school for that. We still enjoy reading without having to plug in something, all the more so if we’re snuggled under a quilt. And we believe in public readings, in the live poetry scene, in bringing words to people’s ears and not just their eyes.

Raphaela is helping us with this, setting up readings at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, East End Book Exchange in Pittsburgh, Minás Gallery in Baltimore and Mystery Loves Company in Easton. Her take is that life is too messy without literature. Raphaela designs robots at the Naval Academy and helped attract St. John’s College astrophysicist and poet Jim Beall to the Review. His “Odysseus” includes images such as “axe murderer” and a boat run aground in the mountains “wrestling with legacies” as he speculates about the poet and dreamer in each of us.

Hal could talk the leg off a dead mule, but it’s not all a sales pitch and I believe him when he talks about empathy. He says,

In the modernist world, the heroes are all lonely creatures. They deal with their mortality all alone. There’s not much tension in that, but these Free State Review authors focus on moments of separation and slipping away, the husband taking a job somewhere else, the father endlessly repairing his car in a late night garage but driving nowhere or a brother’s suicide. Empathy is the perfect countermeasure for 21st Century isolation.

This is why Free State Review is not just a journal. It’s a love affair. Maybe we saw something for a moment and suddenly knew that our lives would be different. Knew this in spite of our eyes being bloody from staring at nothing so long. We saw it and knew that we wanted this love, this flash of hope, this electric profile that was there for an instant, then was gone. So, this time we decided to follow it, to see where it led and—chanting some and jigging some—disappear into its miracle of words.

As someone who is new to the world of literary publishing but not the world at large, I wish Barrett and his band of seasoned beginners all the best. And remind them that small literary journals like ours have a cultural influence that is disproportionate to their size.

Note: See the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses piece “Independent Presses and ‘Little’ Magazines in American Culture: A Forty-Year Retrospective.”

What Sets Us Apart: LPR at AWP

Baltimore Review Editor Barbara Westwood Diehl (left) and LPR Editor Laura Shovan (right)

Baltimore Review Editor Barbara Westwood Diehl and LPR Editor Laura Shovan

Nothing helps a literary journal clarify its personality like trying to stand out at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference. The annual AWP get-together is one of the largest of its kind. This year’s event, held in the midst of a Boston blizzard, attracted more than 12,000 attendees.

This was the first trip to an international literary gathering that Little Patuxent Review had taken. We were but one of 750 exhibitors and shared a table with one of our real-life neighbors, The Baltimore Review. Tucked into a corner of the second exhibit floor, I’m sure that all 12,000 visitors did not make it to our table. Even so, plenty of people stopped to chat about our journal. By day three, I realized that there were consistent themes in their comments.

First, many people were drawn to our table by our striking journal covers, featuring works by acclaimed artists Joan Bevelaqua, Raoul Middleman and Theaster Gates, not to mention a Renaissance masterpiece. The quality of the overall look, resulting from the excellent work of Design Editor Deb Dulin and her predecessor, Stephanie Lemghari, also surprised and impressed writers who had been perusing literary journals all day long.

People also mentioned the general excellence of our product. In addition to design, the paper quality and full-color spreads stood out among the other journals.

Second, many appreciated our strong community focus. LPR operates as a collective of creative artists, suppliers and supporters. This sense of a group effort extends to our contributors, past and present. The ways in which we have accomplished this include:

Printing

Since our inception, we have worked with a small local company instead of opting for a less expensive out-of-state or big-box printer.

Readings

Contributors are invited to read at the launch of each issue, which has brought people from as far away as California to Columbia, Maryland. For the past two years, we have also scheduled at least one additional event per issue, holding readings at the Columbia Festival of the Arts, The Writer’s Center, the CityLit Festival, Busboys and Poets, the Baltimore Book Festival and other venues. Even a converted post office!

Videos

Launch readings are videotaped whenever possible. A separate video of each contributor, posted on our YouTube channel and linked to the online table of contents of our issues, makes them available to the general public.

Website and Blog

Led by Online Editor Ilse Munro, the LPR site is anything but static, offering outstanding original content on a weekly and, increasingly, a bi-weekly basis.

We post reviews of books authored by our contributors and others from around and beyond the greater Baltimore-Washington area. Some contributors participate in the popular “Concerning Craft” series. This gives our writers and artists the opportunity to share insights on how they came to create the pieces appearing in our publication. In addition, we post articles aimed at helping potential contributors improve both their writing skills and submission strategy (and include links on our Submissions page). Finally, we provide personal introductions to other area arts organizations such as The Baltimore Review in our ongoing “Meet the Neighbors” series.

We also have several online series that expand upon the themes that define our various print issues. “On Being Invisible,” for example, serves as the online companion for our Winter 2012 Social Justice issue. This gives a range of blog contributors the opportunity to discuss the role of literature and art in our community and larger society. (We hear you! Based on your feedback, our editorial staff is looking into the possibility of publishing one unthemed issue per year.)

Which takes me to the third and most important theme that emerged regarding what sets us apart: we want your input, and we are more than willing to act on it when possible.

All of these elements—our sustained focus on publishing a high quality product with visual as well as literary content, our continual commitment to community, our ongoing engagement with a our core constituency—serve to characterize the special place that Little Patuxent Review occupies among the other literary journals.

Since it was revived in 2006, Little Patuxent Review has used the arts as a lens through which to view ourselves and our society. Each new issue, each new post on our website is a springboard for discussing the achievements and challenges that humanity faces.

That discussion has included interviews with luminaries such as Michael ChabonEdith Pearlman and Martín Espada side by side with works from emerging authors such as Dylan Bargteil, Angie Chuang and Liam Casey. We invite you to join the conversation by submitting your work, commenting on our blog posts or volunteering to work with us.

I thank all the contributors and fans—long-time and new—who visited with us at AWP. Like us, you believe that the arts reflect the sum of our fears and hopes for the world.

Online Editor’s Note: As part of our continuing commitment to contributors, we are preparing to launch a new series, “First and Foremost,” featuring authors whose debut literary works have been published by Little Patuxent Review. Our first “first” will be Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, an accomplished writer and editor who recently expanded her scope to encompass short fiction. Watch for other developments as well as our first Assistant Online Editor Leila Warshaw starts to makes her presence felt.

Print Issue Preview: 30 Authors and Artists Address Doubt

LPR Doubt Cover

Introducing our Winter 2013 Doubt issue. Cover art: The Ideal City, Fra Carnevale (?), at the Walters Art Museum. Cover design: Deb Dulin.

For our first 12 print issues, you’ve had to wait for the launch party to sneak a peek at what’s inside. But seeing that 13 is a lucky number and our Issue 13 comes out at the start of 2013, a most auspicious year, it’s time that you caught a lucky break. Therefore, we’ve set it up so that you can preview the text of two pieces in advance. And, unwilling to leave things entirely to chance, we’ve armed you with cheat sheets, as well.

All you need to do is turn to our Winter 2013 Doubt issue page, where we present the complete table of contents, and click on two highlighted items. Those are Laura Shovan’s “Editor’s Notes” and the Clarinda Harriss poem. Then see what these two literary ladies have to say about that in the sections below.

Of course, if you’re one of those rare individuals who’s completely comfortable with uncertainty and doesn’t doubt his or her ability to make it to the launch, we wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises. Simply skip what’s written here and head straight for Oliver’s Carriage House this Saturday, where we’ll be sure to save you a good seat.

Your Cheat Sheet for “Editor’s Note”

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but doubt is the agent of change.

In our 13th issue, 30 writers and artists examine the role that doubt plays in marriage, religion, art and identity. Doubt can be triggered by small moments such as watching a handyman at work fifteen feet in the air [i] as often as it comes from the force of a failing marriage [ii] or a tsunami’s destructive power [iii].

There are those who live in a perpetually agnostic state, calling into question everything from religion and community to the self and one’s perception of reality [iv]. For these doubters, something as simple as a taste of honey harvested from a backyard hive can be enough to restore faith in society [v].

Human culture would not evolve without such proof-seeking minds. If nobody questioned status quo thinking about how the autistic mind works [vi], what it means to be a painter in 2013 [vii] or who created a Renaissance masterpiece [viii], human history could not move forward. Whether the results are “correct” or not, the process of change begins when one doubter pulls apart what is accepted and puzzles together facts and observations to create a new theory.

The product of doubt, whether one has scrutinized a childhood memory [ix] or re-envisioned a character from the Bible [x], must be a new way of looking at the world. Our hope is that you, the reader, will engage in the inter play between doubt and change as you read this issue of Little Patuxent Review [xi].

                                                                                                — Laura Shovan

…And another for “Blasphemy is the Child of Faith and Doubt”

Because of or despite the fact that I come from agnosticQuaker/atheistEpiscopalian parents, I have always been obsessed with the what-ifs implicit in biblical lore. And I have always been fascinated by the much underrated or downright dissed female leads in that lore–Eve, Lilith and, of course, Mary Magdalene, who I have known since childhood was the wife of Jesus. (What is UP with a few current scholars acting as if they had just discovered that Jesus was married?) In addition, I love to re-tell old stories with some crucial part left out–like, suppose Cinderella got zapped to the ball WITHOUT THE DRESS? In a poem written years ago and published in Sybil-Child, I envisioned her standing ragged and astonished at the top of the stairs descending into the ballroom, then pulling off her filthy kitchen togs. Standing there gorgeously naked. No wonder the Prince fell for her.

  — Clarinda Harriss

Note: You can pre-order copies of the Doubt issue now from our Individual Issues sales page. And order some back issues, too. Check out what’s in those in our Issues section.

__________________

[i] Award-winning poet and children’s author Jacqueline Jules makes her first appearance in LPR with the poem “Standing in the Air.” It explores the way in which everyday moments, in this case observing someone repair a roof, can create self-doubt. Jules uses dialogue to establish the character of the workman, which contrasts with that of the speaker. (p. 50)

[ii] The short story “Mediation” by Lisa Lynn Biggar was submitted for our Summer 2012 Audacity issue, but Fiction Editor Jen Grow felt that the piece was a better fit for the current theme. Biggar uses dramatic irony to explore a modern love triangle. (p. 70)

[iii] “Japan 2011” is one of two poems in this issue by Elisabeth Dahl of Baltimore. Dahl’s use of form in the poem mirrors the poem’s theme, the devastating 2011 tsunami. (p. 30)

[iv] There are several pieces in this issue that examine the nature of reality and how it affects views of the self. I particularly like the use of pop culture detail in Kim Jensen’s poem “Perimeter.” (p. 45)

[v] Cynthia Grier Lotze’s timely poem “When You Began Keeping Bees” is filled with sensory images. Home beekeepers in our local community, Howard County, Maryland, recently won a battle against a zoning law that limited backyard beekeeping. (p. 80)

[vi] Lauren Camp’s poem “The Dam of Asperger’s” uses spacing and other form elements to mirror the difficulties a teacher or parent might face communicating with a child on the autism spectrum. (p. 46)

[vii] This fall, LPR art expert Michael Salcman and I visited the Baltimore studio of painter Leonard Kogan. See the LPR Facebook page for photographs from our conversation. (p. 16)

[viii] In the first LPR essay featuring a classical work of art, Michael Salcman posits an alternate “author” of The Walter’s Art Museum’s masterpiece, The Ideal City. (p. 35)

[ix] This  issue includes several pieces in which contributors view a childhood experience through the lens of adulthood. Check out P. Ivan Young’s “Nerf Football,” one of a series of poems about urban childhood friends, and Bruce Alford’s evocative prose poem “What to Leave Out.” (pp. 27 and 68)

[x] Frequent contributor Clarinda Harriss acts as a voicebox for the biblical characters Eve, Lilith and Mary Magdalene in her three-part poem “Blasphemy is the Child of Faith and Doubt.” (p. 66)

[xi] Among the powerful pieces not mentioned is Le Hinton’s poem “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat),” a tribute to the late Baltimore poet Chris Toll, who leaves behind a rich legacy of visual and linguistic experimentation. (p. 82)