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What an invitation:

A couple weeks of literary beach combing, at the portal called the Fictionaut!

It’s an honor for me to present these slivers of “glittery literary aluminum” — initially overlooked by first light, at low tide on the Web.

But ignored no more!

Thank you Carol Reid, for the opportunity:

Hence, I present:

5 Poems in the Shape of Other Poems

by Kevin Army

To say I’m intrigued by these Kevin Army lines would be understating things.

There are certainly echoes of Jack Gilbert here, and Corso, and W.C. Williams;

But the voice is absolutely unique.

I love the way Army slips his winning lines between the unassuming syntax like crisp C notes stashed in a bible.

Case in point:

. . . if it mattered then

wouldn’t it be born into us, the

way a ship yields to storm, the

way our bodies fall when

tackled, the

ways we yearn, endlessly.

endless . . .

I love these shapes of things to come, from a very, very cool poet, whose work I will look out for now.

The Gravediggers

by Gary Moshimer

A taut coming of age fiction set in an expertly-drawn milieu of mist, and mystery.

I love the voice of the narrator here, as exemplified in this line of dialogue:

“. . . What?” I said. “Oh, no. This is for show. Part of the service. Like uh… chimney sweeps . . .”

In this story, you’ll find humor mixed with sorrow, pathos within a Sleepy Hollow style pointillism.

A truly unified effect, achieved in less than 1500 words.

Well done, Mister Moshimer!

Saga of the Sugar Ants

by John Olson

In this startlingly original poetic treatise, Olson draws a comparison between words (thought) and insatiable ants, that you simply must read to believe:

Case in point:

” . . . It is this dialectic that we share with the ants. Desire is universal. Hunger is unavoidable. Sooner or later even the most ascetic among us must

emerge from the shadows and find some form of nourishment, reproductive gratification, or redemption from the crazy, distant stars . . . ”

Crazy stars indeed.  Read John Olson!

Waitress Hopping

by Jennifer Donnell

I love it when I read a lament that is buoyed first and foremost, and sort of lit, by wit.

In this excellent prose poem, a lover’s sweet revenge is most certainly, artfully wrought.

Donnell writes:

” . . . I like that you’re smart and kind about the plight of hypothetical people . . .”

and:

“ . . . It didn’t make sense that a forgettable waitress would be important enough to make the scooped neckline of my sailor striped shirt feel like a trash bag. . . ”

Very nicely (and not so nicely) done. ;)

And at last, speaking of waitresses:

The Waitress

by Rene Foran

Possibly the most evocative piece of verse — clocking in at under 10 words– that I have ever read:

I found myself humming the Dionne Warwick tune in the aftermath, which I imagine you will, as well:

And what more can we ask of our poets?

Walk on, babies.

BIO

Dennis Mahagin’s writing has appeared in magazines such as Juked, Night Train,  Evergreen Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Everyday Genius, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, and decomP.  His latest book is Longshot & Ghazal, available now from Mojave River Media.

 

 

We are pleased to welcome Joani Reese to this month’s installment of Writers on Craft. Joani Reese has poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and writer interviews published or forthcoming in many online and print journals. Reese was a poetry editor for THIS Literary Magazine, www.thiszine.org, and Senior Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, www.connotationpress.com. Reese’s poetry chapbook, Final Notes was published by Naked Mannekin Press/Fractal Edge Press in February, 2012 and her second chapbook, Dead Letters, was published by Cervena Barva Press in 2013. Reese is the Writing Center Manager at Collin College. Some of her published work can be read at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty, jpreesetoo.wordpress.com. Reese is currently Editor-In-Chief of MadHat Lit. Reese’s first full collection, Night Chorus, was published by LitFest Press in 2015.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work in general or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

Ten years ago, I would have said Eliot, but then again, ten years ago I was fresh from grad school, and my head was filled with grad school think. Every year that passes, like a turtle, my brain pulls further into its real-world-all-around-me shell, and I lose a bit more of the woman I was intellectually back then. Grad school was a glass bubble in time for me and then I went back to the true world as it is. I loved grad school. Where else can you bathe and wallow and drink in the history of ideas, stories, and lies, both ancient and new, with other people who have the same love affair with words?  That’s a long answer to a short question.

I have never despaired at the state of my work because it’s not important that others affirm my writerly existence by praising me or publishing me. I enjoy when people like my work, especially other writers I admire, but validation isn’t the reason I write.  Writing, for me, is like breathing.  I do it when it’s necessary, without thinking about it.  It’s autonomic for me.  I have been holding my breath for almost a year now, though, so it’s time for me to get writing again.

I love Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual.  I love Yeats, will always love Yeats; I am in love with loving Yeats. For someone more current, I have recently been reading Pam Uschuk’s Blood Flower.  I met Pam at a conference in Virginia last January. The woman’s words sing. To read her poems and recall the cadence of her reading them aloud from that stage is magical. For her, as for me, sound and sense are equally important, and hearing her made me feel a kinship with another poet I had never felt quite that way before. I recognized her.  One of the first female poets whose work thrilled me was Joy Harjo, who was once Pam’s teacher.  It was kismet that we met.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Proofread!  If you send a fabulous piece into the ether and you don’t bother to proof it to death before you kick it out the door, don’t expect many editors to invite you through their doors. Sloppy writing, though it may not be the truth, reflects poorly on the writer who sent it and suggests the writer doesn’t care about her or his work.  Someone has to have written something pretty damned stunning to get my attention as an editor if they haven’t bothered to make sure their words are all present and accounted for and that they have placed those commas where they, intended, them, to, be.

Also, I really don’t care where you’ve been published before, so please keep the bio. and cover short, sweet, and to the point.  I read the work, and then I read the rest. I don’t accept work based on a writer’s CV, only on her brilliance.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I don’t send work out much anymore.  I used to send it every week, and I was thrilled no matter where my babies found new homes. If I sent a piece out once or twice and it was rejected, I would just tuck it away and begin something else.  I have a folder full of work I have sent to maybe one, maybe two, places. My dear friend, writer MaryAnne Kolton, laughed at me when I told her about this dazzling strategy of mine.

Sometimes, real life intrudes as well, and then fortune favors the too busy to care.  I was fortunate to have been introduced by the angel of my better nature, Bill Yarrow, to Jane Carman, my publisher at Lit Fest Press, in Seattle at AWP.  Jane heard me read my work and something clicked for her.  When she set up the press (a spanking new one), Jane asked me to submit a manuscript.  The funny thing was that because I am the slow, determined, constantly revising writer that I am, I almost said no. The book reflects twenty years of my writing, and I was afraid it would be my swan song.  Ha!  If you never publish a book, you always know you’ve one waiting in the wings in case the mood to be famous (infamous?) should strike. Because poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, right?  I’m glad, finally, that I sent my poems and stories to Jane.  She made me a beautiful book, from Lisa Cardenas’ painting on the cover to the Garamond and Apple Chancery inside. I am a lucky woman.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

The purpose of literature is to make us understand how to live and then why we die. Acceptance and understanding. The boredom, and the horror, and the glory. (To steal from both Eliot and Justice).

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Wow, Heather, that’s certainly a question!  I’d prefer to answer as a cat, but I’ll give it a shot as a human being. Love yourself in the right way and forgive yourself and others for their failings. Be kind whenever possible, and carry a backpack full of wit and cunning around with you, just in case kindness fails.

As a poet, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Avoid the words ghost, stars, ancient, beautiful, ashes, love, death, spirit, evening, dawn, life, and then read Eliot, Yeats, Plath, Bishop, Lowell, Harjo, Uschuk, McCallum, Lee, Lorca, Clifton, Vuong and know those words for the first time. Slow down and give your work time to breathe. What you just wrote in a fever twenty minutes ago is NOT ready for submission. Trust me on this. Pour it into the oak cask, and then later, bottle it, wait, then open it and let it breathe a bit. Your work will thank you, as will your editors and eventual readers. 

Your new book Night Chorus is your first full-length collection of poems—but you’ve been writing beautiful poems for decades.  How did you decide which pieces should go into this one, how to break the sections, etcetera?  How does it feel to have a life journey kind of book released to the public?

I answered a bit of this above.  These were poems and stories (which began as poems before I gave myself permission to write stories) that had all been written in the blood and the sweat of the last twenty years.  Some are personal, some a discourse on western culture or the world. Many offer a point of view, and I am unapologetic that it leans toward a liberal kind of mercy and kindness.  Few are funny, though some have wit. After I’d decided the book’s title would include the word Chorus, I thought of creating specific delineations, orchestral and musical movements, which gathered a specific sensibility together in each separately titled space. When the poet Shara McCallum took me under her wing when I was in grad school, we decided to separate my thesis, Grafting Wings, into different sections.  It was her idea, and it was brilliant. I paid her a compliment by using the same strategy with my first (and most likely last) collection.

When I read your poetry, there’s such a rich and elegant sound to many of the lines and there is often water imagery.  The sea.  S sounds like knock outs.  I almost feel like S moves through the whole collection as via so many memorable lines with the sounds of oceanic murmurs.  Can you speak to what water imagery does for you, whether your use of it has been organic or deliberate? 

I never noticed the water imagery as particularly intrinsic to my work, Heather. That’s interesting. Maybe because water must flow or it becomes stagnant, putrid. Our lives have to move forward or they, too, become stagnant, putrid. The writing reflects my many different selves and speaks to those I both love and regret having loved, and water seems the most natural vehicle to explain what cannot otherwise be explained about my life. For me, words have to connect and flow in a way that creates a situation where function follows form. The sonics are all-important, and I can’t explain how I know what will sound right, I just do, eventually.  I have one poem, “Sand Dollar,” that’s been anthologized almost to death and is in Night Chorus near the conclusion.  I wrote that baby for ten years before I thought it was ready to leave me. I think I am really a frustrated musician.  I can’t play an instrument to save my life, but I can play words and somehow, I intuitively understand both their ability to create dissonance and assonance and the beauty and power that harmony mixed with disharmony can provide.

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I want to write a detective novel, or maybe a true romance/slasher kind of thing where the first girl to have sex dies shortly thereafter and the virgin gets the football captain and then he dumps her for a younger model, and then the dumped moves to Europe to meditate and becomes the most sought after shaman, Yogi, and philosopher/organic farmer in the world, all as an implied metaphor for the correct way to observe and tolerate the human condition.  Just kidding, though it certainly might earn me a bit more money than my poems have done so far.  After all, we’re all in this crazy, creative life for the money, aren’t we? I have a friend who has sent me two screenplay bibles.  He’s sure I’m the next great Hollywood writer.  I adore him and maybe he’s right.  Off to track down George R.R. Martin and find out what really happens in the end.  Who knows, maybe he’ll make me his ghostwriter since he’s too busy having fun to finish his series? The best thing in the pipeline for me is the companionship and fabulous friendship of the many small press writers, editors, and publishers I have come to know as a result of the advent of social media, and perhaps in the near future, fortune will smile, and I’ll write down a word, or even two. Thank you.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowler.com.

 

I divided my Editor’s Eye into two sections:  stories I consider more or less done and two poems more or less done but edited.  Louise Erdrich would probably agree with me. In The Paris Review interview, she claims that she still edits sections of her published books.  Things can always be better. In either vein, all the stories/poem had a particular charm and shine.

Bear Costume by Steven Miller concerns not nice people and it’s funny, two of my favorite topics.  Life is messy and essentially not nice to begin with and you have to admire writers who dare to tell it like it is, but when they do it with a sleight of hand and wry tone, well, brilliant.  The ending is just perfect: unexpected, it stops the reader in our tracks and, at first, we go, “Huh?” Then laugh or, at least, I did. Richard Yates, John Cheever, Janet Malcolm, and Truman Capote, to name a few of my favs, wrote about unpleasant folk and didn’t mince words when writing it.  No words minced here or any out of place except one typo.  Check it out.

Pot or Marijuana by Ann Bogle reminds me of a diary. It meanders hither and thither and stops short of a neat wrap up, which is how diaries are – a continuous recording of the now even if it’s then.  I’m a diarist myself and some of the best – John Cheever’s and Sam Pepys’ – have the same elements here: the little confessions and the self-absorption verging on excess, the wry slights (“Thousands of joints were strewn to the Madisonians,” an oblique poke at Alcoholic Anonymous, and, if I’m not wrong, a sly reference to David Foster Wallace’s hysterical anti-A.A. diatribe in Infinite Jest!), sharp social commentary (“That is $1,200 less than the average black woman earned in the U.S.”), and dead on psychological descriptions of youthful female yearnings.  “I was a girl octopus,” Ann writes.

How fabulous! Weren’t we all?  And another perfect end, “It was training for living underground. I learned animal medicine.”

Moth Man by Katrina Kepsa.  This is an odd but delicious kind of fairy tale that just works its own magic.  I appreciate its strangeness and love the fact it’s not another one of those flashes involving death and a parent or a cripple or some sort of recognizable human condition preyed upon by writers to usurp as emotional fodder. Yes, this character is an odd bird and could be a metaphor for an outlier but the reader can decide.  The imagery and descriptions like “Somehow, the hat had tucked in all of my limbs, smoothed all of my sharp edges, so that I became an inverted pin, my gaze magnetized towards the moon” and “. . . my shadow dragging behind me like the velvet cloak of an overdressed superhero” are a marvel.  The end reminds me of Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber, “He was still staring, waiting for an explanation, so I cupped my right palm over my right eye and handed over a tear, my only possession, as precious to me as a bee’s sting.

“It’s pure enough to drink,” I said, and turned towards the approaching train.”

This is a story my 19-year-old manga and super hero-loving daughter would adore.  I can see her illustrating Moth Man and giving him a chance to fly.

Beyond the Sense of Ashes by Samuel Derrick Rosen is a fine example of a strong poem.  I took the liberty to peel its excesses away for the poet’s consideration. If you dismantle a weak poem, you’ve got nothing left.  The test of whether or not what you’re writing is worthwhile comes with the tearing down. Dismantle a strong poem and you get to its indestructible core.  This is one of those pieces that Donald Hall would have said reveals itself with many readings.  Hall was Poet Laureate.  In his recent book, Essays After Eighty (he’s 80 plus years old), he said that often he didn’t understand certain poems while composing them, and further, that they revealed themselves to him later on.  This would be one such fine work.

And the title is simply fabulous.

Beyond the Sense of Ashes

All are words, so quickly they decay,

into silence, spaces that persist,

amnesias singing of day.

A world without death,

Each measure of dissent a measure of applause.

Fury signifies you; nothing is everything.

Your ascendancy of eyes,

In pursuit of beauty, so soon we’re struck down,

No moment of resistance.

In those hours where mystery recoiled,

Among eternity’s dead phrases.

In those hours of the harshest definition.

Still beyond a sense of ashes.

Whispers now a world of language,

neither time nor sand, nor space or glass.

There comes soon another world

Not born yet still must pass.

All that was – your sovereignty of sight,

All that can remain without remaining.

The meaninglessness of names.

Once, we were nameless.

Now, forever aging.

3 Poems and a Seething Pen by Kevin Army contain powerful imagery of pain and loss and yearning.  I loved them but felt they had too many words that got in the way.  I get too many words as it’s one of my worst habits.  Winnowed (my word of the day) down, this trio has haunting majesty and a youthful anger that seers. The poet also has a good sense of how to effectively align words on a page for maximum effect. That alone tells me I’m reading someone with a good command of language.  In my editing, I excised as many “I’s” as possible, a trick Donald Hall gives in Essays After Eighty.  He eggs writers to get rid of that personal pronoun as much as you can and to begin as few sentences as possible with it, even in memoir.  It’s a literary trick, but a good one, which pushes the writer off themselves and towards the universals.  

 get wasted and write poetry

in twelve tone. i have no key.
admit it: i hardly matter, and
that’s ok because you hardly matter either.

we maintain mountains. we are crushed, but
somewhere, in some ether,

we can jump off of each other, until
none of us are left.

there.

passing out. in silence.
in sound. in
words.
the shape of words, or of the silence. it
doesn’t matter. where stillness is violence, and
where movement is empty.
there. outwardly.

look, he moves. the breathing, it speaks of the vapor, the inner chill of
self destruction.

is it my fault or yours? or his.
where is the blame. tonight,
let it rest, get wasted,
and write poetry.

on.
my.
skin.

still feel it all there.
everything done. and everything
haven’t done.
ashamed for me, and something is going to break, something has
got to give, like maybe that floor when he jumps,
standing on that floor and maybe we will both sink,
into a lovely unexpected sinkhole,
where that fucking hardcore song disappears,
where that sound stops threading, where
it is no longer a part of me, where

did something different with my life.

but for now, waiting for him to fall,
so i won’t be alone.
waiting for him to fly so
i can be carried away.
waiting for the walls to disappear, for
the sparks to stop, for him to jump and
for the waking, the waking.
the forgiveness and the
waking.

Water, the stabbing, the lost words

the water.

he stands there, dried up.

notepad on the floor, wet ink.

wonders, how would it be, to stab myself

with this pen.

and then to go for a swim.

there.

well, over there.

sitting, arms folded.

he writes some more. looks outward,

an ocean of ideas. of life. of

nothing.

there is nothing left. it’s all there,

blurred now, and lost,

on the paper.

some thought about water
thoughts, turned virulent, turned into
a garden of unwanted weeds.
the fucking paper, there, right. over. there.

the fucking aurora borealis
the flowering trees,

the man yelling outside,

the beautiful seething world, the
endlessness noise,

and  sound

the water.

the stabbing.

the untold words. His words.

they were never lost, it was their

creator who was lost.

all his life. all

his

life.

he climbs up on the diving board, and

looks down, his soul before him.

 __________________

Lucinda Kempe lives on Long Island where she exorcises with words.  Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Summerset Review, Thrice Fiction, decomP, Corium, Matter Press, Metrofiction and more than a dozen other journals.   She has completed conferences at the Southampton Writers Conference with Roger Rosenblatt in 2010, Frederic Tuten in 2011, and Kim Barnes in 2012.  In 2013, she attended The New York Writer’s Institute, nonfiction with Jim Miller.  She has studied with the poet and editor Larry Fagin and has completed a graduate class in humor with Patty Marx. In 2015, her flash “Old Ingénue” won the March Temporal Writing Contest at the Dr. T.J. Eckleberg Review.

Coming back to Fictionaut after being away for a while has been a real joy. I found myself yet again in a familiar pattern: stopping in to read a few poems or stories, then finding myself several hours later in a space all my own, my family around me already gone to bed (somewhere in there we exchanged good-nights and kisses – at least I think we did). Sinking into prose that captures my mind or my heart. Stories that experiment and laugh on the page. Poetry that touches me with a light beauty and deft hand.

My late-night readings proved inspiring as always.

My task, as is the aim of the Editor’s Eye series, was to find hidden gems that may have been overlooked. Along the way, I discovered some writers whose work I did not yet know – so that was also a delight.

Here are the results of one editor’s late-night ramble through the wonderful world of Fictionaut. I hope readers enjoy these as much as I have!

Because words are insufficient by Ed Higgins

This poem just knocks me out – image upon image upon image. And I love the notion that sticky notes try to order one’s life, that words are perhaps all we have  (We arrived by noun, verb, syntax at the heart’s empty page. Not a moment too soon.) – and yet, the writer hits us hard with so much more. I found myself thinking with each stanza “I’m awake!”  – like word and image were snapping me to attention. If I tried to quote one or two or twenty of my favorite parts, this paragraph would end up referencing the whole thing. Just go read it yourselves. You’ll see.

Ackermann by Josef K. Strosche

Conversations with Death and Medieval German Lit: what’s not to like? What I really admire about Strosche’s approach to this story is how he manages the pacing: the almost academic approach to story-telling – the essayistic prose, the straightforward timeline, the references to dark and difficult themes (you know, the kinds you find in German Lit) – with a great twist at the end. Our hero Ackermann treads just above water in a life that follows a somewhat typical trajectory (grad school, internship, travel through Europe, work at an online journal, girlfriend), while something dark threatens to tug him under: this is careful writing. I also like the shift in the last paragraph, how we finally glimpse the narrator, and are left wondering about a whole new set of questions. There is a lot of mystery here, between Life and Death.

Two from Rene Foran: aromatic and au

– because they are a mere 13 and 10 words, respectively, and oh so lovely, and full.

The wooden man: 12 fragments for Easter by James Knight

I loved this from the opening stanza and image: The wooden man came to her in a cloud in a vision in a dream in a story. When he spoke, his tongue clacked against his teeth. This put me right on edge – got my attention and held it. A remarkable set of reflections: new myth-building and sharp writing. I also really admire the way this story closes. Because you gotta wonder from the title and the opening how on earth the writer will manage to end this piece. And he does,  just right – with a closing line that haunts.

The Bird Nests of Lascaux by Jerry Ratch

This poem opens marvelously and works its way through history and story in a seamless manner. I admire how Ratch weaves together two things as diverse as strings  in a bird’s nest and cave paintings of Lascaux, both serving a purpose: sending a message, or teaching an important lesson. The question of intention seems, to me, to be at the heart of this poem. How history may or may not be a set of lessons. There is a precision in this poem, and then there’s the final line, which surprises and delights, as if to say something about the randomness of it all. In the end, I’m not sure that’s what the writer intended or not – but I think there’s a lot to this small poem, and I admire how it moves so lightly from beginning to end, and leaves me with some big questions.

One Way by Yasmin Elaine Waring

This is a poem that holds in its heart one simple idea. There is something about the mother with her one-way ticket that is so utterly un-sentimental but full – I really like that idea. The contrast between the one-way, single-focus mother and the GPS-obsessed, round-trip engineer works really well. I feel there’s even more to this poem/ story.  But I like the hint we have here. It may be too much for cynics, this poem, but the mother in this poem knows what love is, and I admire the writer for bringing us, ever so briefly, into her world.

________________________________

Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in New Zealand, currently traveling in SE Asia aboard her sailboat, Momo. She edits at Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. She is also an assistant editor of Flash Fiction International (W. W. Norton, 2015) and on the editorial team of Best Small Fictions (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2015). Her poetry, fiction and reviews can be found in numerous journals and anthologies. Her latest story appears in Smokelong Quarterly. More at michelleelvy.com. You can also find her at her blog Glow Worm and sailing on Momo.

“I want to live in Fictionaut,” I exclaimed when I first joined four years ago. I was startled and seduced by the quality of work and the bravery of its producers. The vibrancy and enthusiasm of the community was palpable. The whole thing was like a giant, bewitched slot machine, churning out small prizes and jackpots and lighting up the reward system of my brain with the only risk being the commitment of time required for reading and commenting. Considering the potential detriment to my family and work life, and like a lot of folks writing in this space before me, I participated in only an occasional binge-like fashion. So when I was asked to take a turn at the Editor’s Eye I accepted it as a challenge to develop a habit of daily discovery, something to work in to my busy, modern lifestyle like five servings of fruits and vegetables. And it has been good sustenance, indeed.

Because what I had assumed would be a daunting deluge turned out to be more of a measured trickle, I managed to read everything that came in over two weeks. Here are four of the dozens of writers who made an impression on me as I kept refreshing the “Most Recent” tab.

Gary Perscespe

Ex-Lover” is only 17 words, so I won’t spoil it by quoting it here. If brevity is the soul of wit, Gary’s piece is the soul of a wistful punch in the gut. It’s real, it’s sad and it does what I wish more poems did: get in, get out and leave it to the reader to imprint his or her own experience on the page (which, unless you’ve been cloistered all your life in some sort of religious devotional arrangement – and then perhaps, even so – you will be able to do).

Something a bit more finely textured is his piece, “Christmas.” Here are details of place, and an emotionally distanced observation of two lives intertwined, their possibilities limited by a gulf of time that Gary only dimly illuminates using a past that’s referred to in a speculative future tense. This fluidity is deft stagecraft set off by a holiday tapestry backdrop festooned with blue Christmas lights, diamonds and gold buttons.

FM Le

Reading “Strays and Lies” left me with a kind of literary road rash. It’s visceral, hard and important writing in that it articulates in a singular way something many readers will relate to first hand. Felicia repeats a refrain about elemental purification. There is a hamster wheel of sorts for those who have ever suffered “A man-shaped hole in my atmosphere.” How do we reclaim our power when it’s repeatedly appropriated by the language of the oppressor? By relearning her “ABCs,” and in reclaiming that appropriation, things becomes dizzyingly recursive for the narrator. For all the “doing” in reaction to the things that are done, she becomes desperately mired. It’s like struggling in quicksand.

I will keep all my bones and I will dance until
I am clean again,
until I am numb. The wine doesn’t
make me whole but the vodka
purifies me like fire purifies water.

He does not help me with
anything. He is the proof that the devil
can jump from the card and bind, bind with loose
knots and then convince me that they are tight
and I am stuck like I am waist-deep in mud.

Foster Trecost

How do we measure life? In “Dream(ed) Life,” Foster muses on the conventions surrounding time, and how much numbers of years can’t account for. It’s suggested his protagonist has discovered an alternate to the year as the standard of measure for fulfillment, but convention is sometimes needed to help us navigate in life.

So years were used, and secret numbers were kept secret.

The big measure of his life happens seems to happen nearly at its center staple, were it a book. But on what shelf would we find such a book? There’s a woman who starts it all, there are the many dream vacations, there is the resignation to age and repose and, finally, passing. There’s a life, and there’s the story of the life. There’s the implied question: are we the dreamers, or are we the dream? And the bigger question: does it matter? Trecost approaches this with a gentleness for his main character and a joyful sense of play regarding time, although “this is a sad, sad story. Sorta,” we are told in the Author’s Note.

Gary Powell

If, when you die, your life indeed does flash before our eyes, that great existential film strip could resemble Gary Powell’s “When.” Depending on how you’ve lived your life, of course. Regardless of whether you’ve carried on an extramarital affair, you’d presumably have flashes of your highest highs, your lowest lows, and some of the more mundane moments between. And if not an affair, you could probably pinpoint some other choice or pivotal moment that precipitated the cascade of events that has led to the moment you find yourself in. If not, maybe you need to get out more. Or at least vicariously live through Gary’s characters as the moments of their lives are ruthlessly cataloged and placed under gleaming museum glass. Grief, ecstasy, guilt, libidinous urgency, joy…every color of human experience is in splendid representation here, but Gary’s list-making provides these raw experiences without much in the way of editorializing. It’s like a Biblical litany of “begats” that have left me at turns bruised, jubilant, bemused and devastated. And it is all so, so rich.

_______________________

Sara Fitzpatrick Comito is a poet who lives in Fort Myers, Florida where she and her husband are urban farmers and beekeepers. She does marketing and public relations writing for work, and also gets to do a fair amount of writing about food and restaurants. Sara’s poetry has appeared in places such as Blue Fifth Review, THRUSH Poetry Journal and A-Minor Magazine

 

 

We are pleased to welcome Andrew Roe to this month’s installment of Writers on Craft. Andrew Roe is the author of The Miracle Girl. His fiction has been published in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, and other publications. His nonfiction has been published in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, and elsewhere. He lives in Oceanside, California, with his wife and three children. 

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work in general or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

Despair? There’s no despair.

OK, just kidding. There’s plenty of despair. And I do find that turning to certain books and authors helps me get over those inevitable rough patches. My “go to” list is always evolving, but recently it’s been Charles D’Ambrosio—specifically, his short story collection, The Dead Fish Museum, and his recently published essay collection, Loitering. His sentences deploy in my brain like no one else’s at the moment, and his work makes me want to be a better writer.

In the past, I’ve also turned to big tomes like Don DeLillo’s Underworld and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. For whatever reason, my writerly despair can be soothed by randomly opening to a page from a large, capacious novel and then reading a short passage. When I was writing The Miracle Girl, Colum McCann’s magnificent Let the Great World Spin was a source of inspiration, as I searched (and struggled) for a way to bring together multiple stories and characters and voices.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Whether it’s someone else editing your work or self-editing, it’s important to be open to editing and not be too precious about your writing. Of course there’s that old chestnut about killing your darlings (Colette? Faulkner?). It took me a long time to learn that one, and I’m still learning it. Don’t get too attached to your sentences and the sound of your voice. Always believe that your writing can be improved. Be suspicious if you ever start feeling too satisfied with yourself.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I have a greater sense of the commitment that’s involved if you’re serious about being writer, about it being a lifelong pursuit. For a long time I was haunted by this quote from Don DeLillo. It goes something like this: “I didn’t realize the true commitment that writing required until I was on my sixth novel.” That’s kind of frightening, but I’m also starting to understand what he means. There’s this devotional, monkish quality to writing. And I’ve also come to rely on writing more than I did in the past—for better or worse. Meaning that if I’m not writing fiction for a prolonged period of time, I start to feel very uneasy and uncentered and cranky (just ask my wife). Writing seems to be more tied to my psychological well-being than it used to be. Not sure what to make of that.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

To be empathetic.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer? 

To be empathetic.

Your new book The Miracle Girl is a beautiful story, bound to win the hearts of countless readers.  You speak to your inspirations for writing it at the One Story blog—but more connected to craft nuts and bolts, exactly how long did it take you to write? Did write in chapters or increments? What was your process?

Thank you for the kind words!

It’s all a bit hazy now, and it’s a little hard to fully quantify, but the first sparks date back to the late ’90s. That’s when I had the idea and wrote the opening of the book and began compiling notes and ideas. When I moved from San Francisco to Humboldt County in 2000, I spent a year on it, accumulating more than 250 pages. I had the sense that I was only a quarter of the way done, so I abandoned it to write a shorter, “easier” novel. The Miracle Girl has a lot of characters and story lines, and looking back now, I don’t think I was ready to tackle that kind of a book yet.

I’m guessing I didn’t pick it up again until about 2007, when an agent (my current agent, Michelle Brower) contacted me and encouraged me to finish the book. It was slow going for several years, as I became a parent (my oldest son was born in 2005, and then my twins, a boy and a girl, were born in 2008) and worked a full-time job. At some point I stopped writing short fiction and taking on freelance work and focused only on the novel. We finally submitted it to publishers in January 2013.

So that’s a really long way of saying it took 15 years or so, with plenty of gaps in there when I was writing other stuff or not writing at all.

For the most part, I wrote it straight through, in chronological order. I found it very helpful to set small goals and zero in on sections/scenes first and then chapters. If you’re writing a novel, especially one with a lot of characters and stories, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed. So it really helped to stay focused on what I was currently writing (that sentence, that paragraph, that section, etc.), which allowed me to gain momentum and also avoid freaking out (most of the time).

How many novels have you written?  Do you feel each one informs your process differently? 

Well, besides The Miracle Girl, I’ve written two other novels: one that was written after I graduated from college and that never (thankfully) was sent out or shared with the world, and another that was written when I stopped working on The Miracle Girl (see my answer above). I had another agent for that book, which was called Retreat and was sent out to a few publishers but never sold.

I’m not sure if each one has informed my process differently. I do know that each book is unique and has its own set of problems to solve. With novels, you’re constantly relearning, finding out new things, discovering humility over and over. And that’s one of the great things about the form: it’s so adaptable, so vast, so challenging, so conducive to aspiration and failure.

Does living in California affect your work—which is to say, is there anything about the West Coast that draws you to use coastal terrain when you write?  I note that The Miracle Girl is set in Los Angeles.

I’ve lived in California all my life—both Northern (San Francisco, Arcata) and Southern (Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego) California. The Miracle Girl is set in the fictional El Portal, which is an amalgam of the Southeastern Los Angeles suburbs where I grew up (Whittier and La Mirada).

So yes, California definitely affects my work. It’s where my stories are usually set. And one of the things I want to do is show a California (particularly Southern California) that typically doesn’t get depicted in books, film, and TV. It’s not all La-La Land and Jeff Spicolis and anatomical enhancements. There’s a complexity and diversity to California, and one of my hopes as a writer is to do justice to the reality of the place and its people, and perhaps convince readers to see beyond the stereotypical portrayals.

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I’m currently working on another novel. Since I tend to be wary/uncomfortable when it comes to talking about works in progress, I’ll just say this: It begins with a woman waking up in San Francisco Bay and not knowing how she got there or what has happened the past three weeks. Also, I have a new short story coming out later this year in Glimmer Train. 

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowler.com.

I want to thank every writer who contributes to Fictionaut’s story page. I commend you for your bravery. I know each of us posts work with the hope that it will be read and appreciated. Some writers submit a piece, and in what seems like minutes, it shoots to the recommended list like a comet trailing stars. For those lucky writers, it is the validation that, yes, the time they spent editing their poems, or tightening an ending was worth the effort.

For reasons I don’t always understand, a piece with merit may garner many readers, yet few or no stars. Sometimes a story plummets to the bottom of the page with only a handful of glances. For those under-starred and under-read writers, who may have received little or no feedback, it’s not a great feeling.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve read everything posted on the story page. Every piece had a bit of fresh language, a quirky plot twist, or something worth a reader’s attention. The four writers I’ve chosen for “Editor’s Eye” — Con Chapman, John Olson, Glynnis Eldridge and Darryl Price –brought me into their worlds and held me there with style and heart.

Con Chapman, “One Hurt in Collision at Intersection of Art and Commerce”

For me, humor works best when there’s a twinge of pain beneath its surface: some need unmet, an insecurity confirmed. There’s enough pain in Con Chapman’s “One Hurt in Collision at Intersection of Art and Commerce,” to make its wincing, can’t-help-but-laugh ending satisfying.

Con, who illustrates his story with photographs, has a great eye for the telling detail: The logo of his protagonist’s art gallery, in an affluent suburb, is written “bEth uPshaw sTudios”. Chapman let’s us know early on that she suspects her artwork is a fraud, by allowing us to eavesdrop on a bit of nasty business with her boyfriend, the onerous Kurt Mergen. Over a disagreement about wine not meeting his exacting standards, Mergen tells Upshaw she produces “…the kind of art that wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of a bank lobby.”

So we’re hopeful that when she sells a piece of her work to a couple for a hefty $5,000, telling herself, “I am an artist, dammit!”… “And I deserve to be paid what I’m worth!” she’ll be validated with an encouraging comment from the buyers. Con is too good a writer to give us an easy ending.

John Olson, “The World Explained”

John Olson begins each line in “The World Explained,” with “This is why”. He then subverts expectations by explaining his assertions in unexpected, sometimes unfathomable ways. There’s so much delight here. Each declaration is worth pondering, but below are a few of the reasons why “The World Explained” is on my list:

“This is why the caged bird sings: the blind games of your hands.”

“This is why poets never seem to make much money at their craft: vulgarly   ornamental finery.”

“This is why UFOs never land and introduce themselves the way a normal     creature of intelligence would be inclined to do after traveling billions of light      years through space: insufficient cosmetic for the cheeks.”

And this concluding bit of brilliance:

“This is why nothing can ever be fully explained by science: thongs.”

Glynnis Eldridge, “Dear Andreas”

Maybe it’s the blocky look of the letter on the page, or its disturbing subject that kept readers from bestowing stars, but Glynnis Eldridge’s “Dear Andreas,” deserves more attention. In this epistolary piece, Andreas, the narrator’s childhood friend, drowned himself. The narrator travels back and forth in time, happy to evoke memories of shared bus rides, and then, as if plunging deep into an ocean’s center, touching on painful truths:

“Andreas I think about your voice and I can’t think about how it          sounds underwater.”

References to ferries, swimming pools, and floating, touch on the way water exhilarates or sooths. But water has a darker pull, too. At the end, the metaphor Glynnis employs conveys not just Andreas’ death, but the way her character contemplates her own:

“Andreas, what happened? Sometimes my friends talk about going away like             you, and their talk makes me think about it too, but I think about the black           hole that formed when you vanished, and it’s been growing and pulling         everything into itself. I try to look at it objectively. It only comes into focus            when I see it peripherally.”

Darryl Price, “Flower Power”

Darryl Price begins his poem with an epigraph from William Carlos Williams: “Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels.”

In his poem “Flower Power,” Darryl sees the sky, the moon and right into the heart of the “you” he speaks to with such adoration. There’s power in love, and power in words, especially when they’re conveyed with such freshness:

“…than not words, but more like what you

might expect me to grunt or groan up

real close–stuck on or against almost–to

a huge sky full of clearly ripened opening

 

stars. I’ve been there before you see, so

the whole thing is neatly tattooed in my

invisible head at all times, like a benevolent

trauma. It has already become me. What that…”

The poem goes on revealing more of what it means to be a poet, to struggle to find words expressive enough, rich enough to continue to open and bloom as a flower would.

I hope you enjoy these pieces as much as I do. Please give them a read, and if they resonate for you, tell the writer. We’re all hungry for feedback. And stars. No one has ever said no to a star.

___________________

Tina Barry writes fashion, food and relationships articles for newspapers and magazines. Her poems and short stories have appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines, including Drunken Boat, Lost in Thought, Inch Magazine, The Camroc Press Review, Elimae, and Exposure, an anthology of microfiction from Cinnamon Press (2010). She completed her MFA in creative writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY, in 2014.

We are pleased to welcome Avital Gad-Cykman to Fictionaut’s Writers on Craft.  Avital Gad-Cykman was born and raised in Israel, lives in Brazil and writes in English. Her book Life In, Life Out, published by Matter Press, is a flash collection that includes both new micro-fictions and others published in well-known magazines and anthologies such as Prism International, W.W. Norton Flash Fiction International, Salon, and The Los Angeles Review. She is the winner of Margaret Atwood Studies Magazine Prize and first placed in The Hawthorne Citation Contest. She is a four-time Pushcart prize nominee and a finalist in Iowa Fiction award for story collections. Her work has been featured in The Literary Review, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, CALYX Journal, Stand Magazine and elsewhere. It has also been anthologized in The Best of The First Five Years of Gigantic, Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction Anthology, You Have Time for This, and The Flash among others. 

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

First, thank you for inviting me to this interesting series. I’ve enjoyed your work for years, and am honored to be here.

In regard to the question, I don’t return to the same books for stimulation. The common ground of the books I seek is their literary quality—they are so wonderful they inspire and challenge me, even when they are not linked in any way to my work. Sometimes, I turn to poetry because its transcendence can connect me to my emotions in a way that keeps things raw. I usually turn to dead poets, but am open to all.

As for prose, in the past months I’ve read Elena Ferrante’s six books, and all this time I haven’t been stuck once. Her books flow smoothly while they go deep into the characters’ minds and relationships, and this constant insight into inner lives helps me feel and develop my own stories.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

I’d recommend using several levels of editing, but this goes beyond “one piece of advice”… I’ll focus, then, on not letting go of a story too soon, and paying special attention to the ending—it’s tempting to think that a story is done when it is so in a general manner, but the ending should be at least as good as everything that precedes it. I find that it’s interesting to tie loose ends, either completing a circle to the beginning or marking a process of change.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

From the time I started writing fiction regularly, I have felt certain urgency to publish my work, since it’s been my most profound way of communicating with the world. In this sense, things remained the same. Over time, however, I learned that neither writing nor publishing comes easy, so I take more time for both these days. My experience taught me that a writer of literary fiction needs to be stubborn, flexible, sensitive and thick-skinned, as well as disciplined and passionate, all of which requires some acrobatics.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

It’s hard to determine a purpose when literature probably came into existence simply because some people wanted to tell stories and others wanted to read or hear them. For this reason, the answer depends on the purpose of each human being, who has anything to do with literature. Readers expect a fulfilment of emotional, mental and/or intellectual needs, and their expectations are as varied as they are. A writer may say, like I did, that writing literature is a way to communicate with the world, while Roland Barthes, among others, has declared the death of the author, establishing a notion of reading without any regard to the writer’s intention.  Either way, even if there isn’t an inherent purpose, I believe in the power of literature to question existing paradigms, transport to different worlds, comfort, entertain, touch people’s lives, and bridge between the familiar and the foreign.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

I wish I could heal the world with a few good words or offer enough comfort, but when you don’t believe in a pre-existing reason for life, you don’t have a guiding formula, and you keep struggling to find a footing. However, there’s beauty in this crazy life, and it does good to find it, grab it and remember the sensation. I find that there’s magnitude in moments of elation as well as in a satisfying routine, in all sorts of love (of course) and in anything that holds the freshness of discovery.  In any case, when in doubt, humor can definitely come first.

In many stories in your new book, your work feels very informed by the jurisdictions of unspoken geographies and a sense of the political surreal.  I love the opening to the story “Peace Signs,” for example, which starts, “We raise wolf-like dogs and tiger-like cats and children who are not like us. We put peace signs around our yards, but nobody believes them.”   How does national/international politics inform your fiction? 

Thanks for this insight. Growing up in Israel, the limits between the personal and the public are blurred, since your life is deeply affected by existential questions. It goes from facing the fact someone close is in the army, to living through periods of high tension and war, and to considering your own priorities in the face of such a turbulent life.  The range of related emotions tends to appear in my writing in all sorts of ways, even when war is not the backdrop.  I hope to make readers stop and consider the complexity of such situations and the ways people find to survive emotionally and physically.

You have published short work in so many excellent venues.  How has the experience of putting out your debut collection been and how did you choose which stories would be included?

Having my first book published has been thrilling.  Clearly, when Matter Press accepted it for publication, I was very excited. Later, I learned a lot from the process of editing and arranging the stories in a way that suggests a trip through diverse territories. Basically, I tried choosing flashes that worked well together, illuminating a variety of moments and situations. On top, choosing the book cover required a better understanding of my own book. I was extremely happy that Vered Navon, an excellent designer and photographer, agreed to work with us. Finally, I have enjoyed many interesting, positive comments and reviews for which I am deeply grateful. I recommend having a debut book, and then the next one and the next…

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I’m working on the last part of a novel, and I feel quite good about it: I trust it’s meaningful work and love entering under the narrator’s skin.  She’s a complex, sometimes entertaining, sometimes rather scary woman in her forties. She was adopted in her childhood and has always considered adopting, but life took other directions, until a collapse of a part of her “foundation” sends her on a journey back to her previous plan. In a general manner, the book deals with her relationships and her choices, giving a special attention to questions of boundaries and adoption. I can’t write too long without being playful, so there’s that too. I am rather consumed by the story and hope to pass on this feeling.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowler.com.

This digging for stories and poems that shine quietly on Fictionaut has been a pleasure. I read over two weeks and, as asked, chose pieces that were not on the Recommended list. I’m sorry I couldn’t read everything on the site, really. Maybe someday I will. Someone who probably did read your work and supported you with his comments is Matthew Paust, who gave his attention to every damn story I opened. He is a remarkably generous man who behaves exactly like someone who gets the huge importance of feedback to a writer, even if it’s just a “Kilroy was here” three-word comment. (Google explains this phrase if you are too young to remember it. It was still around when I was very, very small. Tiny.) Thank you, Matt. And thanks to all the readers who take the time to let the author know that you’ve read their work. Don’t be shy, writers. As they say way too often in the media, join the conversation.

I don’t think I’m much good at critical analysis of writing. My taste in literature runs the gamut from Henry James to Lydia Davis, Wallace Stevens to C.D. Wright. Good writing is nourishment for me and I am astonished by how well the writers on Fictionaut fill me up every time I come by here to read. Just like you, I “select,” based on my own mysterious process. So I will not try to analyze these authors’ works, but simply share my responses to the few pieces I could choose for the purposes of Editor’s Eye, and in some cases I’ll borrow from classical music to help me out.

Emoji Problems” by S. Asher Sand is, I believe, a failed relationship saga.  I’m not absolutely sure about that, but I don’t care. I’ve read his compact and witty love story several times and with each reading I become more adept at learning the narrator’s mysterious (for me) language.  This is life at full-tilt told in emoji code, and the reader gets to crack it. Here’s a sample, but the exchange I thought the funniest I will leave for you to read when you have the minute it takes to read the flash. It may take you longer to understand it, but you’ll enjoy the time.

“I gave her a full moon with face looking to the side.

She gave me a snail, a sunset over buildings, a bikini.

I gave her a dress, a glass of wine, a love hotel.

She gave me kids. Here they were, two loudly crying faces. She gave me that.”

“Mine” by Gary Moshimer gives us a boatload of emotional action in a little over 700 words.  Gary’s written this short fiction with enough depth to leave me feeling satisfied and uplifted.  A relationship develops in a few paragraphs without fuss and with certainty.  This flash has gravitas. I found it difficult to select a sample from this work because the words so belong together. They move us expertly from one heart-shift to another. Read this bit:

“She opened my door with a nail. She pawed my crystals with her big red hands. She squeezed my arm and pulled me outside to her big red convertible. She drove too fast and smoked.”

You know how the narrator feels about her don’t you? And in no time, you’ll know much, much more.

“Suburban Snomance” by Carl Santoro is flash, is poetry, is bright allegro. I’ll just go ahead and gush. Carl takes a moment and shares it with lyricism, humor, and a resounding word-sound track. He showed me what is possible when an artist “sees” a fleeting winter spectacle and has the chops to translate it for us so that we share his delight. There are only 189 words, but they set the scene, soar with it, and let it gently subside. Nice. A snippet from the quiet enough opening:

“From my large kitchen window, as I slowly raised the blinds, I watched as at the foot of my driveway, somewhere behind the high snowy mounds, the pink dusk sky suddenly became filled with an arched fountain of snow-sprays…”

From that point on things get riotous.

“Three Sundays at the Grove” by Dallas Woodburn is a leisurely adagio, longer than most of the pieces I tend to read on Fictionaut. Every time I am drawn toward a longer work on this site, I am rewarded for my attention because the writers are so good. There are more characters in this story than in the others I mention here and more time elapses. Dallas focuses on two people, one who founders and one who triumphs in a surprising and touching final scene. “The Grove” is an outdoor shopping mall in West Hollywood, which is a rich setting for sounds, tastes, smells, and as a background for a grand range of emotional tones. As in musical adagios there are thematic resolutions, there is one in this lovely story, too.

Here is a favorite paragraph:

“That was twenty-one years ago, and the Hindi phase was long gone—as was her father. Still, Deepti was left with two constant reminders: her vegetarianism and her name, Charusheela Deepti, roughly translated to “beautiful jewel full of light.” These two things, combined with her honey-freckled skin, almond eyes, and unruly wiry curls, made Deepti feel a part of many groups—part Asian, part black, part Hindi—and yet not really a part of any group. She was a one-woman species. Unclassifiable.”

“Checkboxer” by Mark Zarvox: humor? horror? science fiction? satire? Obviously, I have trouble describing this flash, but oh, god, I hope it’s not prediction. It’s a lightening flash of 600 or so words that will strike postmodern, atonal chords (to beat the music thing to death) with you, I betcha. Just read it. Feel free to drop me a message if you think I’m nuts, but I don’t think you will. I’ll stand by my recommendation. Here’s a morsel:

“Dennis was surprised by the knock that came to his door the next day. His desire was to not answer but there was a fear that coiled and roiled in his belly and made him go do it. It was the police, as he feared… or maybe he had always been looking forward to this moment in a way.”

“Gray Tail” by Lucinda Kempe is a spare, surprising, funny, sad poem in five stanzas. There are only 151 words, but Lucinda only needs that many to tell her story, share honest images that will endure for me. I once took a workshop with a fairly famous poet/teacher who told me that I should leave my dog out of a poem the group was critiquing. Why the hell would I do that? I thought, but didn’t have the nerve to say. Maybe now I’d speak my mind. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best things about humans (okay, not all of them) is that their hearts have as much room as they do for animals. Lucinda’s poem did the job for me. My heart sang.

“The tip flicks, shiver of anticipation

As dinner arrives on the porch. “

Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. Let me know what you thought. xxoononnie

___________

Nonnie Augustine was a professional dancer with a B.F.A. from The Juilliard School, co-founder of The Albuquerque Dance Theatre, and an instructor at the University of New Mexico. She has been published online and in print and was the poetry editor of The Linnet’s Wings from 2007 until 2014. He poetry collection, One Day Tells its Tale to Another, was named by Kirkus Review to “Best Books of 2013” and in 2014 she won the 16th Glass Woman Prize. Her website and blog are at www.nonnieaugustine.com and at www.augustinesconfessions.blogspot.com respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now, here we are, bogged down in the February Flats where light is a precious commodity, and our days are blighted by sleet and wind. There’s a carwash in my head: I look straight ahead, but the view is obscured by the slap of water and greyish mists. Reading fiction is my antidote to all things dreary at this time of year. So, going into the Editor’s Eye this week, I was mining for poems and stories that would shed light, lift me out of the Flats, make me laugh (whether at comedy or whimsy or just delight at a fresh point of view). Five outstanding writers warmed me, cleared a path forward and illuminated the winter gloom: Darryl Price, Katrina Trepsa, Lorna Garano, Peter Churches and Ed Higgins, I thank you.

Darryl Price presented us with a group of eleven poems in “Mailings.”

Darryl has such a strong command of language that I hear kettle drums when I read him; he never tiptoes around words. He stomps and marches them toward the front lines where they do glorious battle against equivocation. He is wrong when he writes “I’m mucked. No one is going to discover my poems in a locked away desk drawer somewhere.” That will never happen. This writing is too good.
I have no favorite poem among the eleven, but there are favorite moments.

Your face in my hands

is a lot more fulfilling. How many more ways can I break

this to you? I don’t care if they read my poems in school. I care

that my poems talk about the soft skies of your eyes over

and over again. It’s never enough/

from “I Was Supposed to Write This.”  Or,

whenever
someone says that they like my stuff I
immediately feel like a failure. Like is for

ice cream I’m thinking. Like is for sex and

walks in the park. Where’s the love? It’s the downfall
of my house of poems
/ from “Safety First.”

One last excerpt (and yes, I love your “stuff,” Darryl) from “It’s a Beautiful Banana Moon:”

…. the latest pushy words still want to give themselves over 

to you tonight like ants on the march. I

definitely tried to stop them. …. And so,

 nothing quite as new as a golden

nugget cracked on a struck rock, for you

or for me, or full of potential

as a gestating pearl. It’s just a

regular miracle fruit in a

deep blue basket of folded, wading 

stars.


When I read “a deep blue basket of folded, wading stars,” you banished winter and warmed my hands and feet. Your poetry was a hearth.

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Lorna Garano brought us a fable about health and fear with “The Sick.”

It’s by far the longest piece I’ve read on Fictionaut, full of rich characters and careful plotting. Following the death of Winsome Rehaga, in 2087, a household juggles the superstitions and semi-science that so often overtakes people in the time of a plague. The world is divided into Well zones and Sick zones (the word Sick is always capitalized the way a religion is capitalized or a famous battle). Garano’s characters include her narrator, Salda, who is a Domestic; Sorayda who is a snitch, and others who worry they might become one of the Unemployables. She perfectly balances the story’s science fiction content and its naturalistic emotional content. Food is made in labs, and things sometimes go wrong.

This time it was breadfruit. A few months ago it was plums and the year before Brazil nuts, tangerines, and parsnips. To write a contemporary history of our country would be to write a history of food fights. In 2087 a full-blown riot erupted over cantaloupe, and between the police shootings and the internal killings, more than a hundred people died. Eighty-seven was a year of riots and tumult on all sides. It was also when a group of protestors broke into HealthLink demanding airtime. “Malcontents,” Grandmother called them. “They shouted their nonsense conspiracy about the Well keeping themselves artificially healthy,” she told Mother.   

This is my first encounter with Garano’s work, but I will be looking for her byline from now on.

 

Peter Cherches’ “Working with Frank,” is a quirky story about a young man who has to help his boss on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Together, they have to manhandle poultry out of an extra cold refrigerator. Set in the notorious Perdue chicken plant (notorious, in real life, for harsh working conditions and undocumented workers in several southern states), the story is a small gem. The narrator, a proofreader of recipe labels and a cog in the huge agribusiness machine, meets the actual Frank Perdue and finds him shorter and fatter than he appears in his TV ads. The piece has a creative nonfiction feel to it.

“Frank,” I said, “I never knew we sold turkeys.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know, young man,” he said. “For one thing, these aren’t turkeys.”
“What are they?”
“These are my new big-breasted super-vixen oven stuffer roasters. Just perfect for those big family get-togethers, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Passover.”
“I’ve never seen such big chickens,” I said. “How do you do it?”
“It’s done with a combination of genetic engineering and nuclear radiation,” he said. “And the results are just scrumptious.”

For me, the story ends too soon. I want to see the two men sitting on the loading dock, passing a bottle of wine back and forth, and I want to know the secret formula for making radioactive chickens. (But then, I want Boo Radley to sit on the porch with Atticus and start speaking, so what do I know?)

Here’s a little slice from Ed Higgins’ “Writer’s Cough.

I. . .Oops . . . . . . wait a sec!. . . I’m stopped, astounded, stunned between coughing my left lung clear over my keyboard and watching it flopping on the back of my desk just now. . . Oh shit! my spat-up, spasm-seized lung just slid behind my printer and down the crack between the wall and desk. . .

Caught between grimacing and laughing big honking guffaws, I left the February Flats far behind for a delicious few minutes. This is the kind of writing to kick flu season in the butt. Inspired, Higgins says, by chewing “vile tasting zinc gum” one time when he was sick, the gum make a comeback hereTastes like a half-rusted galvanized rain gutter.
As he tries to retrieve his lung from under his desk, it finally comes back to him with dust, paper clips and post-it notes stuck to it and must be washed off before he can swallow it back into his body.

And would your believe, one of the lost sticky notes from under my desk that I flicked off my dust-bunnied lung is just the inspiration I need to finish up this frigging story I’ve been stumbling around in. “Snot. Do something with snot,” the still bright-yellow sticky note says.

Kudos to Higgins: This may be the first recorded use of “dust bunny” as a compound adjective!

Jumpers,” by Katrina Trepsa, is a gripping story about two women who ride on the roofs of trains to travel across Mexico, as so many migrants do for survival.

They risk their lives with each attempt, their tools consisting of cardboard and string. They need to place the cardboard between their bodies and the hot metal of the train roofs; they use the string to tie themselves down so that they don’t slide off.

At dawn we walked across the lawless and nameless countryside, avoiding checkpoints, and speaking little. The thick overgrowth gave way to loosely paved roads scattered with plastic bags that clung to the gates of cattle ranches. We reached the tracks at midday.

Both narrator and her companion are nameless, but Trepsa makes them utterly real – maybe all the more so for being nameless like Woody Guthrie’s “deportees.”
The companion is utterly practical and instructs the narrator, “Your body is a credit card,” she said. “Cuerpomático. Use it to buy yourself a little safety.”

Trepsa says she was inspired by an article in the Guardian about Central American migrants traveling to the U.S. on freight trains through Mexico, and she recommends reading Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez on this topic.
With her short story, she has created a snapshot of a friendship born out of necessity, and I have no doubt there are thousands of such friendships like this one being forged right now, as we read.