Gleanings from around the web

A humorous look at writer’s nightmares over at the Ploughshares blog:

You give a reading and only one person shows up. It is your ex.

You spend five years working on a novel about Marie Antoinette’s wigmaker. The day you finish your final revisions, Margaret Atwood publishes a novel about Marie Antoinette’s wigmaker.

Read the rest of Rebecca Makkai’s humorous blog post

Also over at Ploughshares, check out their Writing Lessons posts.

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Ever wonder what literary magazines end up in Michael Nye’s, managing editor of The Missouri Review, mailbox?
Wonder no more

 

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Baseball your game? Then Spitball magazine may be for you.

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Are you a new or unpublished writer? These magazines may be for you.

A Manuscript Critique Sale to Benefit Caregivers – And A Little Personal History, Too

I stumbled across this post this morning and wish I had found it sooner, but here it is. The sale date is tomorrow. Read on:

 

By Robin Black   Any interest in having your prose or poetry manuscript reviewed by the likes of Philip Levine, Elizabeth McCracken, Ron Carlson, Tony Hoagland, or perhaps some other equally amazing author?? There’s an app for that. . .or anyway, there’s a website. And you’ll be …

via A Manuscript Critique Sale to Benefit Caregivers – And A Little Personal History, Too.

“A Disorienting Place”: On Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”

During my internet ramblings this morning, I came across three things that have stuck together like the lint, hair, and tobacco shake that inevitably find that random piece of restaurant candy deep in the bowels of one’s purse: an article in The Atlantic titled “The Joy of the Memorized Poem” wherein Billy Collins discusses how Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” got him through an MRI, Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover,” and an article in Vice by James Franco on Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker.

Ok. Go with me on this.

I’m cruising Facebook, click on the Collins article, read it. Collins says that he discovered the Yeats’ poem in college and, after many years of reading and teaching the poem, he made himself memorize it. Of memorization of a poem, Collins writes: “This process—going from deep familiarity to complete mastery—is a challenge and a great pleasure. In repeating different lines, your reading becomes more focused than you’ve ever had before. You become more sensitive to every consonant and vowel.” And I remembered reading “Porphyria’s Lover” in college.

This was the first poem that really stuck with me, and I read it over and over, memorizing the first person dramatic monologue from the point of view of a jealous lover who kills his lady-love by strangling her with her own hair so that she would remain “mine, mine, fair / Perfectly pure and good” (Browning lines 36, 37). Naturally, I then Googled “poems about serial killers.” Which brings me to James Franco.

On September 25, 2014, Vice published Franco’s piece on serial killer Richard Ramirez complete with five blood-and-gore pictures of Franco(?) as Ramirez and four poems by Franco about Ramirez. Without discussing whether or not Franco’s poems work (see this great article in Paper by Gabby Bess for that), I want to say that the whole piece disturbed me, and not just because I was a thirteen-year-old female resident of the Los Angeles area when the fear of the Night Stalker took hold.

In the article, Franco says that he doesn’t want to humanize Ramirez; he wants to understand Ramirez from an actor’s perspective. What would it take to get into that character? (In 2011, Franco was supposedly slated to play the part of Richard Ramirez in a film that, apparently, was never made.) Franco goes so far as to write that he “can relate a little to Ramirez’s feelings” because he, too has felt the “need for power — especially sexual power.”

I recoiled at this. I wanted to dismiss the idea that taking bloodied pictures, that writing poetry was a way to get into a character’s head, and that getting into a character’s head does not humanize him or serve to “celebrate a killer” (Franco). But then there was “Porphyria’s Lover” sitting there in the back of my mind, all dead woman posed so that she would remain “perfect” for the speaker forever. Browning put himself into the speaker’s character, someone who saw nothing wrong with murder, someone who, in fact, believed he was answering his love’s “one wish” (line 57).

About his own writing, Collins says, “I want the poem to be an imaginative thrill. To take the reader to an odd place, or a challenging place, or a disorienting place, but to do that with fairly simple language. I don’t want the language itself to be the trip. I want the imaginative spaces that we’re moving through to be the trip.” The imaginative space in Browning’s poem is a disorienting place, and it is a challenging place. The reader is placed squarely into the mind of a killer in plain language. The reader feels Porphyria’s hair pull tight in the speaker’s hands. The reader sits on a bed, the dead Porphyria’s head on his or her shoulder. It is disturbing at the same time that it feels genuine, and that is what makes this poem work.

I’m not quite sure why “Porphyria’s Lover” was the poem that first stuck. Perhaps Gabby Bess comes close to explaining it in her article on James Franco’s Vice piece, “Now more than ever, there seems to finally be a sense of what can happen when men feel entitled (and that entitlement is culturally reinforced) to something that was never theirs.” Perhaps my college self needed to be disoriented, to be challenged to understand that no one owned me but me.

Bess, Gabby. “Some Observations on James Franco’s Serial Killer Poems.” Paper. Web.        14 Nov. 2014.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” Poetry Foundation. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Collins, Billy. “The Joy of the Memorized Poem.” The Atlantic. 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Nov.      2014.
Franco, James. “Four Poems Inspired by Serial Killer Richard Ramirez.” Vice. 25 Sept.            2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Sara Kuhl–From Sprain to Amputation-South85 blog

Sara Kuhl writes about wanting to protect her characters:

As writers, we often develop deep relationships with our characters. We talk to them while we’re in the shower. At night, we dream of them. Our characters live side-by-side with us for long stretches. So when it comes time to push their narrative to a place that forces us to make a choice that could hurt them, we may opt to give them a sprained leg when what’s really necessary is an amputation.

I’ve danced around causing my own beloved characters pain. In an early draft of a story about a boy who drowns, I refused to allow the parents to feel the anguish of that loss. I wanted to tie up their lives in neat little packages and allow them to go on their way.

Read the rest of Sara’s post at the South85 blog

“A Big Empty”-short story by contributor Rhonda Browning White

Rhonda’s short story, “A Big Empty,” is up over at Bellevue Literary Review.

We hadn’t talked since we left our West Virginia homeplace over two hours ago, both of us teary-eyed, too afraid to put words into the space already overfull of emotion. Every now and then, I’d hear Romie sniffle in the seat beside me, and she’d squeeze my knee, or I’d squeeze hers. It was the only way to say what we felt. It surprises me then that she speaks when we’re partway through East River Mountain Tunnel.

“Look at them cracks,” she says. “You think it’s even safe to drive through here?”

– See more at: http://blr.med.nyu.edu/content/archive/2014/fall/bigempty#sthash.Jrb1wcEx.dpuf

Literary Citizenship-Little Free Library

This is a cool concept–a way to practice the ‘take a book, leave a book’ concept with your neighbors (or maybe anywhere you feel people would benefit?)

Little Free Library

The concept started when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin wanted to honor his mom, a former schoolteacher and avid reader. When Todd got together with Rick Brooks, they saw potential and the rest is history:

They were inspired by many different ideas:

  • Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
  • The heroic achievements of Miss Lutie Stearns, a librarian who brought books to nearly 1400 locations in Wisconsin through “traveling little libraries” between 1895 and 1914.
  • “Take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces.
  • Neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking and community gift-sharing networks
  • Grassroots empowerment movements in Sri Lanka, India and other countries worldwide.

This idea is a great way to promote literacy, especially in areas where libraries are lacking, and spread literary citizenship.
Ways to get involved in building your own Little Free Library are here.

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The Poetics of Pooh: On the Urge to Unsee and the Act of Imagining

From the Brevity blog–Pooh and imagination.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A guest post from Andrew Panebianco, on the act of imagining:

433I don’t have time to get into the entirety of Pooh with you. Even if I were able to.

Because as you probably know, Pooh has his own Tao, now.

So let’s leave it here—there’s an immensity to Pooh. There’s a touch of eternity to all his bumbling; a bottomlessness to his most rumbly of tumblies.

There’s a stare into the open eye until the closed eyes open kind of Zen to Pooh.

He’s got Pooh-dist leanings, you could say.

I want to talk about everything that makes Pooh, Pooh. But I don’t even understand it all. So instead I’ll focus on a single point—my very favorite moment, from my very favorite character, from my very favorite story from the entire World of Pooh.

Which is my very favorite.

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Here’s how it starts:

Christopher Robin has sent Pooh off…

View original post 632 more words

No Place Like Home

            This time of year, when I’m not skipping through mounds of crackly leaves, or sipping hard cider on my porch swing, or carving intricate designs on pumpkins, or canning the bounty of my prodigious garden, I’m preparing for winter. Taking a cue from neighborhood squirrels, who think my house a great place to gnaw on, I make list of things I should get busy with before winter turns my vistas brown and gray. At the top of my list is changing the filters in the floor vents and furnace. It’s not a big deal, but because I have to stop doing all the things listed above, I like to put it off. At least until I run out of hard cider.

Changing the floor vents is accomplished with little fanfare. I think I could change both of them in the duration of a TV commercial, especially during political campaigns. But the furnace is in the basement. If essays had sound effects, there would be one after the word “basement.” DA DA DAAAAHHH!

The basement is a place I avoid. To reach it, one exits a barn-type door and descends a short, steep stairway on a back-porch type area, to a landscape of red clay, spider-family webs, and darkness. It is cool and damp and perfect for serial killers, vampires, zombies and lifeless, decapitated bodies who crawl around in the dirt. It is also the storage area for gardening tools, which are known to be aggressive.

I take my little flashlight, too small to double as a weapon. It’s quiet in the basement. Cavernous and shadowy, with earthy odors and ancient dust whose waftings harbor secrets. Bad ones. When I reach the old metal furnace, the rusted doors scrape against the edges of the machine. An ominous, baleful silence is broken and battered. I am sure I have awakened dormant demons who are poised to uncoil from sinister corners, ready to abduct and drag me to a lair from which I will never see light again. I slide the filter into its slot and clang the metal door shut. It doesn’t go well, the door is out of its frame and the hollow stillness at my back makes every inch of my feigned composure crumble. “It’s nothing,” I tell myself, “Stop being a wuss,” but my feet carry me quickly away.

I have survived another trip to the basement. And for now, the monsters are contained.

By the way, I never do the things I suggested at the beginning of this tale. Perhaps I should. At least the hard cider part. It might arm me against the murky mysteries downstairs.

Out from the Swamp: Al Maginnes’ “The World of Whiskey”

by Gabrielle Freeman

Last week while on a five-mile walk on our town’s Greenway, a path that alternates between asphalt and wooden bridge, a path of light filtered through oak and walnut leaves, a path bordered in morning glories and Carolina jasmine, a friend and I tried to figure out just where we had acquired our obsession with dark fantasy, black comedy, and the macabre. Like you do.

After much talk of books, movies, and television shows; of Lecter, Dexter, and Pennywise, we decided it was most likely TV series we had watched as kids that sparked our interest in (and natural bent toward) these genres of the shadows. Darkroom, One Step Beyond, Tales from the Crypt; these are a few of the titles that came up. But my epiphany of the afternoon was that my tastes in literature, tv, and film were directly influenced by the Twilight Zone. This really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Every 4th of July of my childhood was spent watching the Twilight Zone Marathon on LA’s channel 13. Wishing people away into the cornfield, “It’s a cookbook!”, and “My name is Talking Tina, and I don’t like you,” became a part of my vocabulary. It’s just that, for whatever reason, I had never consciously thought of the “dimension of sight and sound” as dark fantasy/ black comedy/ macabre before.

Anyway, it’s safe to say that if a poem offers alternate methods of thinking, if it straddles accepted lines or rips them apart; murky lines of smoke lazing up in a a shadowy bar, lines of light and dark through half-closed slats of window blinds, lines between realms of existence; I’m probably going to want to read it. I was excited to read the latest issue of Shenandoah when it came out last week — the noir issue. A whole issue of intrigue, morality plays, silk stockings, off-screen sex and murder? Sign me up. The poems did not disappoint, but one in particular stood out: Al Maginnes’ “The World of Whiskey.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how this poem fit the theme. It takes its inspiration from the blues lyrics “If the river was whiskey and I was a duck / Might swim to the bottom, never come up.” The imagery in the poem evokes a primordial swamp butted up against an ancient forest, of a creature early on the evolutionary timeline crawling out of the murk on to land: “And as we slipped into / the first fringes of tree-shade, / we found ourselves wanting / to sing for the first time / in a long while” (lines 19-23). 

After reading editor RT Smith’s comments on the issue, I realized that not all of the selections in the issue deal in noir. But after reading the poem several times, I came to understand that part of what I love about this poem, part of what works in this poem, is the juxtaposition of dark fantasy, black comedy, and the macabre; all of which are arguably part of the noir feel. The blues lyrics are humorous. Imagine a drunk duck diving to the bottom over and over again. It’s funny, but literally, the speaker would love to be drowned in whiskey forever. The speaker contemplates escaping his world through alcohol, permanently.

In the poem, the speaker includes the reader in a collective “we” who descend into an underworld, into a world of whiskey “Mired in sand and duckweed” (line 7). This is Lethe,  the limbo where alcohol makes us forget, where we stare “up through ambered layers […] searching the ice-melted memory of the sun” (lines 8-12). We are only pulled from the liquid prison by disembodied voices drifting through the trees and a desire to join them.

Maginnes writes a fantasy world complete with real world horrors. There is a membrane between the worlds of whiskey and, presumably, sobriety that is not easily broken. There is a world beneath where we float (“Down here, we all float,” with all apologies) aimlessly and forget, and there is a world above where we may emerge, dripping, and add our voices to the song of the world.

Read “The World of Whiskey” here, and check out the rest of the Shenandoah noir issue here.

Maginnes, Al. “The World of Whiskey.” Shenandoah. 64.1 (2014). Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Karin Gillespie–Sacred Writing Secrets That You Won’t Get From Writer’s Digest

Wise (and funny!) words from writer Karin Gillespie:

Every  once in a while, I get a phone call from someone who will say, “I want to be a writer. Will you tell me how to do it? Could we have lunch or actually, I don’t have time for lunch. How about coffee? Or could you just e-mail me your answers.”

I know what they actually seek from me. They want to know the real writing secrets; the ones buried deep in the bowel of a mountain and closely guarded by a moat filled with hammer-head sharks.

 Read the rest of Karin’s post on her blog.