What’s a Salon, anyway?

Gertrude Stein in her salon, writing, c. 1920, Photograph by Man Ray, from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature.

Gertrude Stein in her salon, writing, c. 1920, Photograph by Man Ray, from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature.

When I heard the phrase “literary salon,” I thought immediately of Gertrude Stein and her famous Parisian salons of the 1920s. Invited to participate in one of her events, you knew you were definitely hot shit. Couldn’t you see the flapper dresses sway, feel the crisp bite of champagne, and hear Gertrude bark at Hemingway? I’d love to have been there.

Baltimore’s thriving literary and arts community offers so many opportunities to participate in lectures, readings, and openings that one could fill one’s social calendar with one event after another. These modern salons abound, yet thinking of them in terms of Parisian excess, I couldn’t quite figure out what to expect. Who attended these events? How did one dress? Would I fit in?

Oliver's Carriage House

Oliver’s Carriage House

The first Little Patuxent Review launch reading I attended was last January. Snow drifts piled high then, too (though not as impressive as today). Oliver’s Carriage House, a stone edifice, felt welcoming and warm. Voices drifted down from the second floor. I mounted the steps and arrived to find throngs of people gathered. Three groups of chairs, arranged in rows, fanned out to face an oak podium, which stood before a great unlit fireplace. The afternoon sun poured in through high windows, casting a warm glow throughout the room.

As the attendees shed their coats, I observed that they were a mix of old and young, smooth and wrinkled. Some wore scarves and jewels, others jeans and sweaters. Some were shod with L.L.Bean duck boots while others had feet encased in modest pumps. When the moderator spoke, a reverent hush descended. We all anticipated the words to follow.

Poets recited. Essayists read. The audience laughed. We leaned forward, rapt. Tears formed in the corner’s of eyes and were wiped away with the backs of hands. We asked questions and shared refreshments. Contributors received direct feedback about the impact of their work. The whole event felt positive, reaffirming.

In short, salons aren’t the stuffy, by “invitation-only” events they once were. (Sorry, Gertrude.) They’re attended by the curious, the learners, the adventurers, the dreamers, lovers of words and art and song. Everyday people attend. People like plumbers and cooks and lawyers and teachers and parents. Sometimes, there are even teenagers.

We hope you’ll consider attending this Sunday’s salon launch of Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2016 Issue “Myth” or any of the upcoming Salon Series jointly sponsored by LPR and the Columbia Association. All events are free and open to the public.

Still not convinced? Here are a few photos from a recent Salon Series event where guest editor Patricia VanAmburg spoke on “Pulling Adiadne’s Thread.” She discussed myths, ancient images, and symbols using her own photographs. The next Salon Series event is scheduled for February 22 at 7 pm. It features blues singer Denee Barr, who will share her repertoire of songs by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Judy Garland.

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Winter 2016 “Myth” Cover Reveal

LPR 2016Myth_FRONT cover.sm

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. 

It’s No Myth: LPR Announces Guest Editor for Winter 2016 Issue

When the Winter 2016 theme of Myth was announced to the LPR staff, I felt a flutter of possibility ripple through my body. I’d just returned from Italy, having done my fair share of cavorting before various Roman temples, and my mind immediately turned to the Medusa myth. As my eldest son tells it, Athena came upon Zeus “getting funky” with Medusa in Athena’s temple. Athena cursed Medusa, hence the snakey locks and turning-people-to-stone thing. Myths take all forms. They are a collected body of stories, told to explain nature, history and customs. Myths occur in every culture. Remember the urban legend of Mikey and Pop Rocks? Thank goodness for Snopes, who confirmed my theory that Mikey lives. (In my home, we’ve got our own faux version of Snopes called reliablesource.com, to which we “refer” whenever some outlandish story is told at the dinner table.)

Patricia VanAmberg, June 2015.

Patricia VanAmburg, June 2015.

When the LPR staff decided to invite a guest to edit our Winter 2016 Myth issue, our choice seemed clear-cut. Baltimore poet and writer Patricia VanAmburg balances literary credentials with scholarly training in classic myths. Lucky for us, Patricia is as excited about the intersections between myth and literature as we are.

Here is guest editor Patricia VanAmburg, to tell us more about her thoughts about LPR’s Myth issue.

I have been a writer/poet since the moment I learned the alphabet. I have been a teacher for most of my adult life. My favorite class has always been world literature because I marvel at the diversity and sameness of its stories—especially those of the ancient world.

One of the defining moments of my life was my introduction, by Maryland poet Edgar Silex, to the Sumerian myth of Inanna. I had been teaching the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh (c. 3000 B.C.E.) for many years before I first read the Inanna text of the same era, a story in which the female hero takes an inward, spiritual journey. Immediately, I started a library of mythology which expanded to archeology because I loved the visual symbols that went with the earliest texts.

This is how I learned about the work of archeologist Marija Gimbutus, who claimed that millions of small prehistoric figurines were evidence of a very early mother goddess worship. A seminar on Gimbutus’ findings in the early 1990s provided my first trek in search of ancient artifact. Soon after, I travelled through Turkey (the Greek/Roman ruins at Ephesus) and the Greek Islands gathering material for a course I would teach at Howard Community College titled Ariadne’s Thread: the link between the images of prehistory and classic Greek Myth.

Patricia VanAmberg on Cyprus.

Patricia VanAmburg on Cyprus.

Later in 2004 and 2006, I arranged student/faculty trips to Greece and Crete. In Athens, we visited museums and ruins including those of the Acropolis and the ancient Agora. On Crete, we saw the ruins of palaces (c. 1600 B.C.E.) at both Knossos and Phaestos and the archeological museum of Herakleion with its wonderful bulls and snake goddesses. We also visited Mycenaea in the Peloponnese, and the ruins of Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Some of these travels will be featured in a slide presentation for the 2015-16 LPR Salon Series.

Aphrodite's birth place

Aphrodite’s birth place

More recently, I have searched for stories and ruins in Italy, France, Brittany, Vienna and Cyprus. In Vienna, I sought the tiny fertility figurine named goddess or woman of Willendorf. On Cyprus, I was searching Aphrodite—sometimes called Cyprus by the Greeks because of her rumored birth amidst sea rocks of that island. I have seen the very place from which the legend sprang, as well as, the temple ruins of Paphos and the wonderful museum of prehistory at Nicosia.

I can tell you that the Aphrodite of Cyprus has more in common with the Sumerian goddess Inanna than than she has with the Venus of classical myth and western art. As a fertility goddess, she also has something in common with both Willendorf and the Greek kore Persephone. It is all about season—season of place and seasons of life—cycles and lapses:

Some Mythic Lapses
by Patricia VanAmburg

Visions of Demeter dangling
darling Demaphon in the fire
causes his startled mother
to lose her faith in the gods.

Metira’s startling lack of vision
causes disappointed Demeter
to turn heels on earth and
lose her faith in humanity.

Envisioning mother burnout
human and divine
causes darling Demaphon
to lose his immortality.

A lovely vision in flame
Persephone awaits Demeter
eats three seeds and
forgets about spring.

Online Editor’s Note: Submissions for Myth open on Aug. 1 and remain open until Oct. 24.

Enoch Pratt + LPR = “Sole” mates

When Shaileen Beyer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library contacted Little Patuxent Review to inquire if we’d be interested in partnering for a third year on a statewide poetry contest, we agreed without hesitation.

Inga Lea Schmidt (Photo by: Shannon Finnell).

Inga Lea Schmidt (Photo by: Shannon Finnell).

By the time the contest concluded on March 1, nearly 250 entries from 93 cities and towns, representing 17 counties plus Baltimore City, were submitted in the blind contest. Little Patuxent Review editor Steven Leyva, LPR poetry editor Laura Shovan and LPR poetry readers Evan Lasavoy and Patricia VanAmberg judged the poems. Although they chose three finalists, all of whom will appear in our Summer 2015 issue, “Sole” by Inga Lea Schmidt was the winning poem.

I asked the judges what made this poem a stand out. Patricia, who is also an English professor at Howard Community College, said:

Playful wording of the poem “Sole” appeals in many ways: The first of these is vivid and specific imagery—all the way from a fish that “looks like a tongue”—to the solitary cup of coffee. Consistent themes of loneliness/flatness ensure that the diverse meanings of the word “sole” bond coherently. Sound devices like the judicious alliteration of S (solitary—seven—seconds) enhance the flow. Finally, the poem is well crafted with effective line breaks and transition.

Evan added:

“Sole” is a clever poem that doesn’t get caught up in its own cleverness, doesn’t get smug about it. While it’s structured like a dictionary definition, it reads like a plain spoken explanation. This allows the poet room to explore beyond the strict meaning of the word, to wander off on tangents right from the beginning that open the poem up and give it room to reach out beyond itself. It was the simple, yet compelling, voice of “Sole” that first struck me; its movement and nuance won me.

Inga shared her own thoughts about “Sole.”

I love when poems veer off course. With the first few lines you have a pretty good idea of where the whole thing is headed, you know exactly what you’re looking at, and then it happens: a turn. It can be subtle at first, but soon the poem is turning and twisting away from you and before you know it, you are so far from where you started.

This is the effect I wanted to achieve with “Sole,” which was inspired by Phillis Levin’s beautiful “Part,” another poem that breaks down the definition of a word. I began with the structure of a dictionary entry, straightforward and dry, then gradually introduced bits of myself and what the word “sole” means to me personally. I liked the idea of something so clinical — a dictionary definition — becoming something revealing and human. The flatfish turns to feet, turns to solitaire, turns to intimate feelings of isolation and unsettlement. I hope when readers finish the poem, they feel they are far from where they started.

“Sole” can be seen on display in Enoch Pratt Free Library’s front windows starting next week. On Saturday, May 2 during the CityLit Festival, please join us at the Little Patuxent Review session in the Poe Room (11 to 11:45 am) where Inga will read “Sole.” In addition LPR editors Ann Bracken and Steven Leyva will joined by contest finalists James Carroll (“Nick’s Diner”) and Micia White (“Rest Stop”).

Enoch Pratt Free Library Poetry Contest Winner:

SOLE

By Inga Lea Schmidt

Sole: a flatfish,

small fins, small eyes,

small mouth, it looks

like a tongue. Also

a shoe’s solid base or

the undersurface of a foot,

a calloused pillar where

the weight of a person

is carried, where the one hundred

and forty eight pounds of

blood and bone and brain

and too much thought and fear

rest. An adjective:

having no companion: solitary.

A card game I can win

in two minutes and

seven seconds. From the French

seul, meaning only, as in,

being the only one, as in,

am I the only one? Sole:

having no sharer. Sharing

with no one. Use it in

a sentence: I make a sole cup

of coffee, sit at the window,

and wait.

Online Editor’s Note: Inga Lea Schmidt is a poet and fiction writer living in Baltimore. Her work has appeared in Off the Coast, Puerto del Sol, and Best Indie Lit of New England, and, in 2013, she received the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Project Award. When she isn’t writing, Inga works as a mediator resolving conflicts in Baltimore prisons. In the fall, she will begin an MFA program in Creative Writing at Hollins University.

To learn more about how the collaboration between LPR and the Enoch Pratt began read “Meet the Neighbors: Enoch Pratt Free Library.” 

LPR’s Exciting New Program for Young Writers

LPR is gearing up for our first-ever Middle School Writers Festival. It’s a project that will be driven by and generate enthusiasm for writing, but we also need some help from you to make it happen. To tell us more about the Festival, I give you Emily Rich:

Emily Rich

Emily Rich

Last February at an LPR reading and fundraiser in Ellicott City, I first heard Editor Laura Shovan talk about plans for a Middle School Writers Festival. I knew immediately this was a project I wanted to support. I had only recently gotten to know members of the LPR staff, but already I was impressed with the energy those involved with the magazine put into getting out into the larger community. When I heard Laura describe the middle school festival as something particularly dear to her heart, I felt an instant connection.

As a writer, parent, and former educator, I have often been concerned that creative writing is an area overlooked in today’s school curricula. When my daughter was in high school in Arlington Virginia, she was fortunate to participate in the county’s Fine Arts Apprenticeship, an extracurricular program for visual and performing artists. But to my knowledge, no equivalent instruction is offered for students with a gift for the written word.

So even though I knew LPR’s pilot project would take place in far away Howard County, I enthusiastically signed on as assistant director.

The Middle School Writers Festival (MSWF) was initially conceived and designed by a trio of literary enthusiasts: Laura, LPR’s grant writer Nancy Berla, and Beth Singleton, a Gifted and Talented (G/T) resource teacher at Murray Hill Middle School and the literary advisor to Our Voice, the Howard County middle school literary and art magazine.

In fact, it was Beth who initially approached LPR seeking some type of collaboration. Beth has been a tireless promoter of writing in Howard County schools. She works with the Writers’ Guild, a county-wide curriculum extension opportunity for 7th and 8th grade students with a passion for writing. Students involved in the Writers’ Guild receive special instruction and maintain a portfolio of work, which they are encouraged to submit to the annual publication of Our Voice.

According to Beth, the upcoming MSWF will build on the foundation established with the Writers’ Guild, providing students with access to published, professional writers. Participating middle school G/T teachers will also benefit, picking up new strategies, resources, and models that they can take back to the classroom.

While LPR has a stated mission to do outreach with local schools, a key impetus for a middle school festival came out of Laura, Nancy, and Beth’s shared desire to align the county’s creative writing program with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)-sponsored National Day on Writing.

The MSWF, planned for October 21, 2013, coincides with the National Day of Writing; however, preparation for the event will begin up to a month in advance.

In September, authors chosen for this project will visit a writing class in each of the participating middle schools, to become acquainted with the students.  Authors Derrick Weston Brown, Linda Joy Burke, Lalita Noronha, and Patricia VanAmburg will discuss with the students the format and purposes of the National Day of Writing and will help them prepare written work for the festival.  Teachers will be encouraged to guide students in the editing and revision of their pieces prior to the festival. Altogether about sixty students from four middle schools—Ellicott Mills, Clarksville, Lime Kiln, and Wilde Lake—will participate.

The festival itself will be held offsite, at the Howard County Center for the Arts.

The sustained attention that participating students will receive from published writers and poets is one of the things that inspires me about the project. I think about myself as an introverted middle schooler who was “good” at writing. My teachers praised me, but they didn’t have the time and resources to commit to fostering the talents of individual kids. A program such as the one Beth, Nancy, and Laura have designed would definitely have helped me to develop my skills and gain confidence as a young writer.

Another aspect of the MSWF I admire is that it caters to the interests of a broad selection of writers. The festival will include three sessions: two small workshops and one session with the whole group, with lunch in between.  For Session 1, students will have the option to select one workshop from the following areas: Writing in Response to Art and Music, Culture and Mythology, Science and Fantasy, and Personal Experiences/Memory. They will be provided with a list of resources related to the various subjects so they can explore possible opportunities in the many fields.  Through the process of writing about an area, students will develop deeper insights into and understanding of that field. This is a terrific way of encouraging kids to think about writing not just as an art form but as an integral part of daily life.

Session 2 is entitled Workshopping your Writing. During this session school-based groups will have a second meeting with the professional writer, to review and improve their written work.

Following lunch, all attending the festival will meet together for Session 3, “Open Mic.” In this session, participating authors will model what it is like to read before an audience. Students will then have the opportunity to share their own work. Many kids of middle-school age might feel anxious about participating in an activity such as an open mic, but I believe the atmosphere at the festival, with kids collaborating with a community of writers, will allow even they shy to open up and share their creations.

A great deal of hard work and inspiration has gone into developing the Middle School Writers Festival, but like anything else, some funding is required to turn a vision into reality. A generous grant from the Maryland Humanities Council allowed the program to get off the ground.

More funding is needed, however, in order to provide meals and to compensate participating authors for their time. If you would like to participate to this exciting undertaking, LPR is accepting donations both monetary and in-kind.

Festival Sponsorships are available for donations of $100 or more. All sponsors will be listed in the MSWF program and will receive a one-year subscription to the Little Patuxent Review. In-kind donations of notebooks, pens, and other writing-related giveaways for the students are also greatly appreciated.

I am so thrilled to be able to be a part of this exciting LPR initiative, and I have great hopes for its success this year and on into the future.

Emily Rich is a former federal employee and community college instructor who, after being diagnosed with both cancer and autoimmune arthritis, decided to take some time off to write. Her work has been published in a number of journals including Little Patuxent Review, Greenbrier Review, River Poet’s Journal, and Welter. She has also previously contributed to LPR’s Concerning Craft series. She is thrilled to be working with LPR both as assistant director for the MSFW and as a non-fiction reader for the upcoming Science issue. She lives in Arlington, VA.