Celebrating 10 Years in Print

This past Sunday, Little Patuxent Review celebrated 10 years of publication by hosting a reading at The Writer’s Center. Thank you to The Writer’s Center and everyone who attended and made the event a success.

Readers included Steven Leyva who introduced each speaker, but also read a selection of his own work, several poems and a selection of an early manuscript. Steven Leyva is also the co-creator of Kick Assonance, and his work has been published in the Light Ekiphrasis, Welter, and The Cobalt Review. Currently, he is the head Editor at Little Patuxent Review.

Emily Rich, who has written for r.kv.r.y, the Delmarva Review, and The Pinch, read a non-fiction selection from her piece “Retrieving my Belongings,” currently only available in the Delmarva Review. Her work has appeared in the 2014 and 2015 Best American Essays and she is the current Non-Fiction Editor of Little Patuxent Review and an editor for the Delmarva Review.

Also reading was new Fiction Editor, Lisa Lynn Biggar, and Desirée Magney, board member of Little Patuxent Review. Both read longer selections of their work. Lisa Lynn Biggar’s work has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review , and Newfound, and she currently teaches English at Chesapeake College. Desirée Magney is a former attorney and writes poetry and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in bioStoriesBethesda Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Jellyfish Whispers, among others.

Joseph Ross closed the event with a reading with various poems, including “If Mamie Till was the Mother of God,” winner of the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize.

We hope to see you all again for Little Patuxent Review’s 11th anniversary.

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Little Patuxent Review Reading at The Writer’s Center

WCSqPlease join contributors, editors, and staff of the Little Patuxent Review (LPR) for a reading at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland on Sunday, August 21st from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM. Readers will include Steven Leyva, Emily Rich, Lisa Lynn Biggar, Jen Grow, Joseph Ross, and Desirée Magney. The reading will be followed by a reception to celebrate LPR’s 10th Anniversary.

Steven Leyva is editor of Little Patuxent Review. He is the co-creator of the poetry reading series, Kick Assonance, which was named a “critic’s pick” by Time Out New York in 2011. His poems have appeared in Welter, The Light Ekphrastic, and The Cobalt Review, and his first collection, Low Parish, was published earlier this year. His poem “Rare in the East” won the 2012 Cobalt Review Poetry Prize. He holds an MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he teaches in the undergraduate writing program.

Emily Rich is the current deputy editor and former non-fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review and an Editorial Advisor at Delmarva Review. She writes mainly memoir and essay. Her work has been published in a number of small presses including Little Patuxent Review, r.kv.r.y, Delmarva Review and the Pinch. Her essays have been listed as notables in Best American Essays 2014 and 2015. Her story “Black Market Pall Malls” won the Biostories 2015 War and Peace essay contest.

Jen Grow’s debut collection, My Life as a Mermaid, was the winner of the 2012 Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Competition. She is the Fiction Editor of Little Patuxent Review. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, Other Voices, The Sun Magazine, The GSU Review, Hunger Mountain, Indiana Review and many others including the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (City Lit Press, 2010). She’s received a Rubys Award for the project “My Father’s House” from the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance; two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council; and her stories have earned nominations for Best New American Voices and a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Baltimore. You can reach her on Twitter @Jen_Grow or through her website: www.jengrow.com.

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry, Ache (forthcoming 2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Los Angeles Times, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together: Imagine Peace. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington DC. He is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee and his poem “If Mamie Till was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review poetry prize.

Desirée Magney is a former practicing attorney who writes narrative nonfiction and poetry.  Her nonfiction work has been published in bioStoriesBethesda Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine (Washington Voices column), and The Writer’s Center – Art Begins with a Story. Another nonfiction piece will be published in the upcoming issue of The Delmarva Review. Her poetry has appeared in Jellyfish Whispers and was included in the anthology, Storm Cycle 2015:  The Best of Kind of a Hurricane Press. She was honored with a “Best in Workshop” reading at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a Board member for Little Patuxent Review, contributes to their blog, and has been one of their fiction readers. She has two adult children, Daniel and Nicole, and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband, John, and their dog, Tucker.

Lisa Lynn Biggar is pleased to be the new fiction editor for LPR. She received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently working on a short story collection set on the eastern shore of Maryland. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Little Patuxent Review, Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review and Newfound. She currently teaches English at Chesapeake College and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and four cats.

The Writer’s Center is located at:

4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815

 

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

My Writer’s Center

Desirée Magney

Desirée Magney

On August 1, the Little Patuxent Review (LPR) will be showcasing some of its many talented contributors at The Writer’s Center (TWC) in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition to readings by authors featured in our Summer Issue, LPR editors will discuss the submission and selection process.

writers centerI am particularly excited about this event, not only because I serve on the board of LPR but also because TWC is such an important part of my writing life. I’ve been a member and supporter of TWC for many years, so I am pleased to see LPR expand its presence into Montgomery County via this home of the literary arts.

What transpires day after day in this unimposing, two-story building in Bethesda is remarkable. Workshops are taught in every genre, literary events are held, open mics welcome all writers, writing groups meet, plays are performed, and for the past 25 years it has been the home of Poet Lore, the nation’s oldest poetry journal. But on a personal level, TWC helped form me as a writer and continues to do so.

I’ve always been a reader even though we had scant books in our home growing up. The only bookcase in my parents’ house had three short shelves. It sat under my bedroom window. The matching red bindings of Poe, Shakespeare, and Wilde sat above the green spines of an encyclopedia set someone sold door-to-door. And then, there were the blonde Nancy Drews and the exquisitely illustrated The Fairy Tale Book. I mined them in search of their golden nuggets. As a child, each offered a taste of something different, a world I could escape to behind my bedroom door. I watched spring arrive in the corner of the garden of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant. I stood in the snow with Vania as the stag in Silvershod, struck his hoof creating gems whose colors tumbled into the night. And I rode with Nancy in her roadster to solve her latest mystery. I became a reader but I wasn’t yet a writer. Yet, even as a child I admired each writer’s ability to draw me in. It wasn’t until well into adulthood, taking classes at TWC, when I felt a writing life was possible for me.

About eight years ago, I signed up for my first workshop, “Creative Writing.” I learned to stop during the course of my day and take in whatever was happening around me with all of my senses. This use of sensory detail is something I try to incorporate to make my personal narratives and poetry come alive. I’ve taken many memoir, poetry, fiction, and travel writing classes. I’ve joined writing groups with fellow students. In a sense, TWC workshops became my personal MFA program. I was given the honor of a “Best in Workshop” reading and published a number of personal narratives in various magazines, and slowly began to feel I was part of the writing community – that I was indeed a writer. My personal essay “The Horn of Freedom”  was published in  The Writer’s Center Winter 2015 publication.

Whenever I walk through the door at TWC, I know I am entering a safe place to share myself and my writing. I’m entering a community of writers who are generous with their time to one another and who are supportive with their praise, critiques, and knowledge.

A perfect day is getting lost in my writing, looking up at the clock, thinking a few minutes have passed, only to discover it has been hours. It took me years to discover this new me and I don’t think it would have happened without the support of TWC and its writing community. So, I will enjoy this August 1st event, watching the confluence of the journal of which I am so proud and the place that is such an integral part of my writing life. Won’t you join me?

Online Editor’s Note: Join Little Patuxent Review editors Laura Shovan, Emily Rich, and Steve Levya, and writers published in LPR as The Writer’s Center celebrates publication of LPR’s Summer issue. The reading will be followed by a reception. 

Readers include Joseph Ross, George Guida, Rachel Eisler, Katy Day, Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka, Adam Schwartz, and Paul Carlson.

 

A Visit to Magruder High

In April, Nonfiction Editor Emily Rich and Poetry Editor Laura Shovan visited Magruder High School. Students Megan Mitchell and Sam Lee each wrote essays highlighting the impact this visit had on them. First up, Sam Lee.

Sam Lee, Magruder High.

Sam Lee, Magruder High.

The chatter of a room full of creative writing students fell nearly silent when writers Laura Shovan and Emily Rich walked into the room. Our teacher led them to the front and introduced them, even though we already knew much about their writing. Each pulled up a chair and casually sat down. Once they were settled in, Ms. Shovan asked, “So, what are your questions?”

It took a few minutes for the collection of aspiring writers to warm up, asking standard questions as first—“Why did you begin to write?”, “How is writing part of your daily life?”, and “What are your inspirations?” They gave thoughtful and insightful answers from two unique perspectives, but our questions were not very specific yet.

In the weeks preceding their visit, we had the opportunity to read some of their works and familiarize ourselves with their individual writing styles. For Ms. Shovan, in particular, we had many questions about her style; our next assignment would emulate some of her poems. The questions for Ms. Rich pertained more to her content. Her personal essays had captivated us, and we were all curious about her storytelling.

LPR Poetry Editor Laura Shovan's journal.

LPR Poetry Editor Laura Shovan’s journal.

We view them as role models—their lives are something that we, as students of writing, hope to accomplish one day. They answered fully and with grace, frequently elaborating with their past experiences. Ms. Shovan even pulled out her own personal writing journal to show us, and Ms. Rich explained a bit of her writing process as she works on a new piece.

Each left us with a few pieces of advice—to live lives worth writing about, and to be observant of others. Their thoughts and ideas have helped inject more vigor into our writing; seeing and having the opportunity to converse with two kind, successful women was an invaluable experience.

Next, Megan Mitchell reflects.

Megan Mitchell, Magruder High.

Megan Mitchell, Magruder High.

I had the privilege of sitting in front of Laura Shovan and Emily Rich, experienced writers who graced us with their presence. Now of course, we had the typical questions that any aspiring writer would ask: How do you come up with ideas? How important is character development? What’s the difference between prose and short stories?

Ms. Rich and Ms. Shovan shared their extensive knowledge on these topics. Their unique explanations of their experiences were an invaluable aspect to their visit, and provided a diverse image of their individual journeys as writers.

A peek inside LPR Poetry Editor Laura Shovan's journal.

A peek inside LPR Poetry Editor Laura Shovan’s journal.

However, I found that the most striking questions and answers weren’t about the process of writing itself, but the ones concerning our own personalities within our writing. As Ms. Rich and Ms. Shovan shared, writing well is not about being like other popular authors, or what your teacher defines as good writing. Good writing is about putting your own style into your work, and telling your own story through your own creativity.

Ms. Rich and Ms. Shovan’s visit offered incredible insight into the world of a writer, and gave me inspiration in following my own path. I greatly appreciated their presence and generosity in taking time out of their days to inspire us.

Thank you, Laura Shovan, Emily Rich, and Little Patuxent Review!

Online Editor’s Note: A special thanks goes out to Scot Ehrhardt, Sam and Megan’s teacher, who was instrumental in getting Laura and Emily into the classroom and encouraging his students to write, not only about this experience, but about all experiences. We thank Sam and Megan for getting Laura Shovan to open up her journal and give us all a peek inside: we’ve been so curious to get a glimpse of her genius at work!

Interview With Ann Bracken

Generous LPR contributor Ann Bracken has out a memoir in verse called, “The Altar of Innocence.” New Academia Publishing/Scarith published the book on January 30, 2015, and it’s available on their site as well as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Bracken most recently appeared in LPR’s Food Issue with an interview of Grace Cavalieri. She interviewed Nancy Naomi Carlson in our Music issue and contributed an essay “Crafting a Bridge to Healing” to our Social Justice issue. Her poems “Adultery” and “Wine and Water” appeared in our Make Believe and Water issues, respectively.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Ann just as she began another semester at University of Maryland.

Ann Bracken knows about healing. As a writer, teacher and expressive arts consultant, she is skilled at harnessing the power of creativity to bring light into the darker areas of our lives. So it is no surprise that her new book, The Alter of Innocence: Poems, emphasizes spiritual empowerment and recovery. Despite the dark subject matter—her mother’s mental illness and suicide attempt, her own struggle with depression and an unhappy, sometimes verbally abusive marriage—it is a tone of compassion, not resignation or resentment that runs through the beautiful poems in the collection. “The book was an instrument of forgiveness,” she tells me as we chat on the phone on a chilly January day.  She says she had long ago come to understand the role her mother’s illness played in her behavior. But through writing, she gained greater insight into her husband’s actions, which she believes were partly the result of his fear and an inability to influence the course of her depression. Most importantly, in coming to see her depression as a spiritual illness she has learned to forgive and heal herself. It’s a message she can now share with the rest of us.

ER: Congratulations on your new book, The Alter of Innocence! The writing is lovely and poignant. The poems in this collection all relate to one another and tell a definite story, like a memoir in verse. How did you decide on this structure?

 Ann Bracken: Thank you, Emily, for reading The Altar of Innocence and for this chance to talk about my process. I’m glad you found my story moving.

Originally I started to write a chapbook that would cover my growing-up years and lay the foundation for another book that would deal with my own depression and the eventual decision to leave my marriage.  As I looked for contests to enter and reviewed the guidelines, I realized my collection was too long for most of the chapbook contests.  I decided to keep going and put the two sections together.  One goal that I had was to use the poems about my childhood to foreshadow similar events in my  adult life.

ER: I admire the way you apply adult understanding and compassion to the nightmarish and heartbreaking events of your childhood. I wonder if your attitude toward your mother evolved as you were working on these poems or did you start out from a place of forgiveness?

AB: I think I always had compassion for my mother. Over the years, I realized that she made choices in her life, and even though they seemed to lock her in an endless prison, I really tried to understand her.  When I was growing up, one question that haunted me was discovering the cause of my mother’s depression. Somehow the idea of a lifelong depression that began in her postpartum experiences did not add up.  In the late 90s I discovered a series of original watercolor dress designs that were more or less buried in my parents’ basement storage room. I was so taken with my mother’s designs that I had them professionally framed and then took them to her in the nursing home. When Mom saw the paintings she told me—for the first time in my life—that she had always wanted to be a fashion designer.  One of the saddest memories I have is when, as a child,  I would ask my mother to teach me how to draw, and she answered by hanging her head and saying, “I can’t.”

ER: Your mother was a talented young woman who sacrificed a lot of herself to her family. Would a creative outlet have helped her?

AB: Mom’s paintings have hung in my living room for the past fifteen years, reminding me of her unrealized dreams. And I can see myself as a teen observing her very physical manifestations of anxiety—hand-wringing, hunched posture, and hyperventilation.  I remember thinking, “I’ll never be like my mother.”  In my mind, I think I meant I would never fall apart the way she did. Or at least I wouldn’t look like I was falling apart!  Years later, when I thought about my own writing and how I only wrote when school was out for the summer, I realized I would be like my mother if I didn’t do more to make my dreams come true. My own dreams about being a writer. Ultimately, Mom inspired me.

I have thought a lot about whether any kind of creative expression would have helped my mother, and of course, I’ll never really know.  Even though she did not ever create any more fashion designs or do figure drawing,  I think my mother’s artistic sensibilities infused her work as a homemaker.  But was that enough to feed her soul?  I do think every woman, every person, deserves some time to express themselves in deeply personal and satisfying ways.

ER: As a society we’ve gained a lot of understanding about depression and especially post-partum depression. And yet I think a lot of mothers today probably feel a sense of isolation and sacrifice. What would your advice be to young mothers based on the experiences you’ve had?

AB: Oh, I would like to hug them and just say, “Ask for help. You’re OK to feel overwhelmed and kind of sad.”  No one said that to me, and most likely, no one said that to my mother. Even when I had my own children in the 80s, there was not that much support for women with postpartum depression. When I think about the tremendous physical and hormonal changes, coupled with the massive responsibility of a new baby combined with sleep deprivation, I have the utmost compassion for any woman who sinks into postpartum blues or depression. I think framing the situation by taking a look at the very real physical and psychological demands is the place to start.  Then we need to look at creative ways of offering women a strong support network, either with family and friends or with professional help.

ER: One of the poems that really affected me was “Time Travel,” in which you write this about your mom:

Maybe I could even
lead her up to the roof
where we would sit together
touching the green of trees
and Mom could see that anything is possible

Could you expand on the imagery here? I felt your desire to get your mother back in touch with the sensual world. She had retreated so far into herself.

AB: The roof image came to me as a way to speak about showing her more of the world, a way of getting her out of the house.  In some ways, the house and her flower garden became her whole world, especially as she got older.   And maybe I saw the idea of touching the green of trees as offering a connection to her love of nature, and a way to reignite my mother’s long-standing love of color. She had a fabulous color-sense, which I now realize was probably developed even more in a color theory class in art school.

ER: We watch you mature throughout the book. Your voice changes. Your understanding changes. Your desires change from wanting your mother to play with you at the pool to wanting her to go to AA. I think you capture the voice of each age so well. Was this difficult to do?

AB: I did not think about voice too much when I was writing the poems. I focused on the experiences and I think the voices just came through me. It was really a mysterious process. One thing that I did was to make a list of incidents that had stuck in my memory and then use them to brainstorm images and ideas that could reveal some character or desire. I adapted a few exercises from Visual Journaling by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox.  My favorite involved  doodling with colored pencils or oil pastels to capture the mood I was aiming for—curvy pink and teal lines for soft feelings,  jagged orange or black lines for pain or anger.

ER: I was really struck by much of the imagery in your poems. You write about trying to

…ignore the thought about slipping the pointed end of the seam ripper
under the white flesh of my forearm
and ripping out the veins

As a writer, how do you arrive at these sorts of images?

AB: It seems like I am talking about a different person when I say this, but those were my actual thoughts when I was deeply depressed and plagued by what the psychiatrists call “suicidal ideation”.  I had a dressmaking business at the time, so I spent many of my days making clothes for other people.  When I was in my darkest moods, I could not stop thinking about suicide—the only way it seemed possible for me to escape my pain.

ER: Tell me about your ex-husband and the role he plays in these poems.

AB: We met in college and were married for 25 years. For much of that time I was dealing with bouts of depression. It took me a long time to recognize how unhealthy our relationship was. In the first place, in those days verbal abuse was not recognized as true abuse. But also, I realize we were fundamentally a bad match. My ex-husband is a builder. He sees things in black and white and he likes to have control over his environment. My physical illness and journey into the darkness were things he couldn’t control and I think it really frightened him.

I’m actually grateful for my depression because it served to exacerbate his verbal abuse to the point where I could finally see it.

ER: How long have you been writing poetry? What made you want to become a poet?

AB: I have been writing poetry since I was an adolescent, but only sporadically until about 1993.  I wrote the first poem that seemed pretty good when I was on a retreat. I didn’t realize until years later that my spirit knew I was depressed long before my mind identified it, or even my doctors. But the  poem speaks clearly about my inner state.  I think what made me want to write poetry was a desire to have a voice. I felt silenced in so many ways and writing offered me a way to speak.

ER: Who are your influences?

AB: My paternal grandfather wrote a poem for each of his grandchildren up until he died in 1955. His poem for me hung in my bedroom and I memorized it at a very early age.  I have so many poets I admire—Grace Cavalieri for her unflinching honesty and heart, Sharon Olds for her magnificent use of imagery, Lucille Clifton for taking on the underside of life with simplicity and plain language, and  Mary Oliver for two poems-“The Journey” and “The Wild Geese”-that helped me to find a deeper meaning in my experience of depression.

ER: You’ve channeled what you’ve learned from your difficult past into a dedication to help others. Tell us a little about the work you do through the Possibility Project. What do you find most rewarding and what is most challenging?

AB: I trained to be a poetry facilitator through the International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy. In going through my own depression, I found poetry and literature to offer an in-depth understanding of my spiritual, psychological, and emotional journey.  I can’t say enough about the fabulous CD by David Whyte called “The Poetry of Self Compassion,” where David explores many poems and literary works that speak of  the gifts in the darkness, the necessity of entering the darkness without fear.  David was a keynote speaker for the association, which is where I learned about poetry therapy as a field.

My own work is simple—sharing my love of poetry and its rich ability to both reveal and conceal as a tool for self-discovery and healing. Over the years, I have moved away from a focus on poetry because so many people are afraid of it—they think they can’t understand it. So I have developed workshops that incorporate improv, journaling and simple art projects as a way in to the layers we are sometimes called to explore. Some typical issue I work with are negotiating life transitions, processing grief of many kinds, and deepening one’s own artistic expression. I’ve also been a poet in residence in an elementary school and offer journaling and art workshops at creativity conferences.

ER: You’ve addressed the issue of sexual violence in some of your writing. What are your thoughts on the attention being paid to sexual assaults in the military and on college campuses? Is the culture changing?

AB: I think the culture is inching toward a new place, but we have much work to do. The mainstream  media and many of the voices of authority engage in victim-blaming, especially when they talk about how women should dress less provocatively and avoid  excessive drinking. But what about the men? What responsibility do they bear?   I believe we need to talk about mutual respect in relationships. No more wink and nod that “No means yes.”  We need to educate both young men and young women about the need for mutuality of consent.

When I interviewed a former Marine about her experience with sexual assault, I was shocked to hear about the way she hid the events, even from her husband, and the way she was harassed and hounded by her commanding officers. The incident caused her to suffer from PTSD  for years, but eventually she was able to help others with her Fatigues Clothesline Project, where female vets write and illustrate their stories of trauma and assault on the inside of their uniform blouses.

Last semester, I discussed the issue of sexual assault as a topic for research and suggested that a male student might take on the issue. I stressed that sexual assault is not just a female issue, and that male have an important role to play in changing  attitudes and behavior. Thankfully, one young man stepped up and his research was excellent.

ER: I’m interested in the work you do with journaling. On your website you talk about using the power of story to harness life’s goals. Can you talk a bit more about the healing power of journaling?

AB: I started journaling many years ago, before I had ever heard of it as a practice for self-reflection and healing.  I remember choosing various materials for journaling that matched my emotional state.  Once when I was especially frustrated and angry, I spread newspapers on the kitchen floor and wrote in huge letters with thick crayons.  I felt better afterwards.  When I went through my last depression, I kept a journal which really helped me to make sense of all the craziness of  finding the right treatment and struggling with my ex-husband.  Even though I now do all my journaling by hand, at that time, I  typed all of the entries as a way to work on my writing skills and to become a better typist.  When I worked on the second part of my manuscript, I hadn’t read the journal in 20 years, and I was amazed at what a resource it was for details about significant experiences that could illustrate my journey. I even used snippets of dialog that I had recorded.

I remember being terribly depressed and despondent for many of the four years of that depression, and keeping the journal offered me a way to objectify the experience by reflecting on significant events. I also began to play with metaphors and images that helped me more than I realized at the time.  I still journal on a daily basis, but now I handwrite everything. I use journaling to get rid of frustration, to make sense of puzzling events, and to set and keep track of my goals.  I often talk to my students about the value of journaling when they are upset or overwhelmed as a way to quiet their internal chatter.

Thank you, Emily, for your thoughtful questions and your careful reading of my book. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to your readers.

ER: Now that The Alter of Innocence is complete, what are your next projects?

AB: I was a special ed teacher for years and my next book of poems will be a collection about some of the significant students I taught. I’m excited to tell their stories.

Ann Bracken is a writer, educator, and expressive arts consultant whose poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Little Patuxent Review, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems, Reckless Writing Anthology: Emerging Poets of the 21stCentury, Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, Pif Magazine, Scribble, New Verse News, and Praxilla. Ann was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. She serves as a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review and leads workshops at creativity conferences, including The Creative Problem Solving Institute, Florida Creativity, and Mindcamp of Toronto. 

She is the founder of the Possibility Project, which offers expressive arts and creativity workshops for women of all ages, as well as poetry workshops in schools. Ann Bracken is a lecturer in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. She lives in Columbia, MD.

What You Eat: Pasta Primavera

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were all lost in the supermarket or, as in the case of this entry from Emily Rich, watching a child grown into a different cook, a different person, than ourselves, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Emily Rich:

Emily Rich

Emily Rich

Isabel, with my black apron cinched around her waist has effectively shooed me out of the kitchen.

“I got this, Mom, don’t worry,” she says, unsheathing the good chef’s knife from its protective case. My oldest daughter is home from college and wants nothing more than to make the family dinner.

Wine in hand, I retire to the non-serious side of the granite counter and take a seat on one of the low backed stools where I can watch my daughter expertly dice zucchini and red peppers into one parti-colored mound on the cutting board. Her fingers on the knife are pale and slim, well manicured. Her blond hair is swirled up into an out-of-the way bun.

She has categories of ingredients arranged before her, spices, vegetables, fats, but no recipe book. She knows what will taste good, she says.

How fun it must be, I think, to be able to cook with such authority and abandon. It’s a gift I’ve never had.

It’s not that I don’t like to cook, I do. And I’ve long gotten over my food issues, from the days I rebelled against the tense and joyless dinner table of my youth, eating as little as possible of whatever my mother put on my plate. By Isabel’s age I was skinny and finicky and a terrible cook. I’ve relaxed quite a bit, but it was something I had to teach myself to do.

As a wife and mother, I adore my family and want to provide them with good, healthy, even memorable meals. I peruse cookbooks and magazines—or more recently, websites like epicurious.com—I write lists, shop, chop, bake and braise, following every recipe pretty much down to the quarter teaspoon. I’ve never developed the confidence to improvise. My meals are less spontaneous love letters, more well-researched reports.

Whether learned or inherited, Isabel has gotten her cooking skills from her father, a happy and extraordinary cook. I remember Isabel as a child standing beside him in the kitchen as he threw unmeasured quantities of this or that into the veal ragout, stirring, tasting, adjusting the flavor. “You know how you know if something tastes good?” He’d instruct. “Taste it. You gotta go with your gut.”

My husband is a big man with big appetites, whose passion for life’s pleasures mean a good portion of the family budget will always be dedicated to fine food and drink. Not that I’m complaining! If you want to have a great dinner, come over sometime when he’s cooking and pouring the wine. I’ll happily clean up the kitchen for us afterwards.

But my husband can also be undiscriminating. He’ll eat anything. It’s a point of pride. Sweetbreads, pigs head, offal, you name it. Once in Thailand he bought a bag of wok-fried locusts from a street vendor. In Hawaii he ordered something called “difficult octopus” that looked like a bowl full of pale snot and delighted in the reaction he provoked from the rest of the table as he chopsticked the goo into his mouth.

Isabel is more discerning. She is a pescatarian, which means she’ll eat fish, but not poultry or meat. It’s healthier, she says. Usually she cooks vegetarian, like she is doing tonight: A pasta primavera bursting with vegetables, a blueberry-peach cobbler for dessert.

So what is my contribution to the meal tonight? I like to think I provided the haven where everyone’s true selves could flourish. From the time my children arrived, I wanted nothing more than to create a warm and stress-free home, a place so completely opposite from the sad and violent home where I was raised. My kitchen is clean and well-stocked, there’s classic rock streaming on the computer. Everyone is relaxed and having a good time. All I need to do is get out of the way and let Isabel compose her love letter to the family.

Isabel’s Pasta Primavera

I use whatever vegetables I have available, sometimes it’s frozen broccoli and spinach. But my favorite is fresh zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. I chop those up and sauté them in white wine (if I have it!), butter and as much garlic as possible. Throw in some herbs like oregano or thyme, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile, boil whole wheat angel hair pasta, drain and mix in the sautéed veggies. Top with Parmesan and a fried egg. Finish with black pepper. Enjoy!

Emily Rich is the non-fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review. She writes mainly memoir and essay. Her work has been published in a number of journals including Little Patuxent Review, Welter, River Poet’s Journal, Delmarva Review and The Pinch.