Interview with Nicole Stanek

Nicole Stanek

Janet Nodine: How would you describe your poetry?

Nicole Stanek: Hm. Well… I feel like, most simply stated, my poetry is just an accumulation of feelings. I would say it’s very emotional, very uncomplicated but very pungent. It varies, week by week, month by month, I seem to adapt different styles. I don’t stick to one set expectation. Though the subject matter is often about love or life itself, the style of poetry changes with the seasons of my psyche.

 

JN: What inspires you to write?

NS: People and the connections we have between each other. Relationships, love or the lack thereof. I’m inspired by music, by weather, but most importantly by interactions I have with different people in my life. My boyfriend is a constant inspiration in my writing, he seems to show up quite often in one form or another. And other writers. Other writers inspire me immensely. I have come in contact with some writers who have really changed my life, my perspective. I was first prompted to write after reading poetry by a writer named Aaron Marek. And now, others in my writers group really inspire me.

 

JN: What poets have influenced you?

NS: Oh man. Nick Flynn, Sharon Olds, Ellen Bass, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, the list goes on. Often times, it’s just one singular poem that does the trick. It’s not always a poet, sometimes the best poetry is written anonymously.

 

JN: When did you start writing? Was there an incident that prompted your first poem?

NS: I started writing when I was young. School age. But, my first serious interaction with a poem occurred only about two years ago… I started reading more and more poetry, and was becoming severely depressed while doing so. These poems prompted me to think about guilt, and shame and morality. At the time, my personal life was also spiraling out of control. But, reading poetry didn’t ONLY prompt sadness, it also, in an opposite manner, lifted me. I felt amazed, because I realized that the outlet we have as writers is immense in power. We can counteract these feelings by letting them onto a page. I began to write then. My first REAL poem, I can’t even remember the title of. But it spoke of forgiveness, and it flowed out of me. I should really go back into my books and find it…

 

JN: Are your poems always from your own experiences or do you ever write from another’s point of view, standing in their shoes, so to speak.

NS: In the beginning, everything I wrote was personal. But as those words were filtered out of me, I began to write from an almost fictional standpoint. I write sometimes, from a story made up in my mind. I figure in some ways, the poems are still personal, because if I am creating the stories, there must be some of me in them… But yeah, sometimes I do write from another’s shoes. Often a conjured-up character.

 

JN: Have any of your poems been published, if so, where? And do you have any publishing goals to certain ventures, or perhaps, your own book of poetry?

NS: Yes! My first poem “Decaying” was published by r.kv.r.y and I am so grateful. I wholeheartedly believe in what they are doing as a publication! It’s important to talk about these topics, of recovery and the process it entails. It’s quite a complex thing, actually. And it’s insanely interesting. And, I would love eventually to write a book of poetry, but I want to do it when I feel the time is right. When I feel I have completed a cohesive series of work. There is certainly a goal there… I just plan to work towards it slowly. Right now, I would love to be published in other magazines. That’s the short term goal…

 

 

Janet Nodine is a writer of poetry and fiction. She lives on eastern Long Island and enjoys traveling with her husband and spending time with their two dogs and their cat. She has just completed a young adult, paranormal romance, titled, The Revelation of Ella Rose, A Dawn Seekers Trilogy and is currently working on the second book.

Interview with Ashley Hutson

Ashley Hutson

Xavier Vega: It was a nice surprise to get your email asking that I interview you. It was also funny, considering we’ve never actually met in person, but I’ve come to value the friendship we’ve built working on Apeiron Review together. I also appreciate the feedback you’ve given me on some of my work (and I hope my feedback on your work has helped).

So thank you for reaching out to me. Once this goes live, I can tell people that something I wrote ended up in the same place where some Margaret Atwood poetry ended up! But on to business.

I loved “Hot Bones.” The concept itself is creative and fun, even though it addresses the grim reality of death and loss. I’ve read a lot of your work, and I really appreciate the imagery you create because it sparks the brain to create and fill in the blanks. Carrying the grandfather in on the platter reminds me both of a pallbearer and of children climbing their mountain of a grandfather as they shower him with attention. And just as everyone feasts upon hot, fresh grandpa, burning their fingers in haste, I see the same happy children swarming this figure to consume him.

You told me that you thought of this poem in a dream, but I have to ask: What is your process for coming up with your imagery? Do you actively create it, does it all come from dreaming and daydreaming, or do you wait for inspiration? Once you have that image, how exactly do you manipulate it to carry your work?

Ashley Hutson:Hot Bones” was based on a dream I had the morning my grandfather died. I was 17 at the time. I didn’t eat roast beef for five years after that, so the dream left an impression. In a more general sense, I don’t know if I actively create anything, honestly. I actively edit, but the method of creation is cloudy to me. That sounds very pretentious, doesn’t it? But I often read things I’ve written and marvel: where did it come from, when did this get written? How did I write it? Writing is a physical act that I can recall doing with no understanding of how it was done.

Dreams are wonderful because there is no editor present. Bits of collected information can play around, fit together in unexpected ways, and that’s very attractive to me. In waking life, the kernels of stories tend to be small, inconvenient revelations. I’m usually doing something very practical that requires completion, and then—whammo! Behold the beauty of our frail neurons firing randomly.

 

XV: Oh yes, it’s always when you’re not even thinking about writing that things begin to make sense, or just as you’re about to fall asleep, and of course dreams when the conscious mind is out for lunch.

You and I actually had some previous discussions about dreams and dream journals. Can you tell me about any other wild dreams you’ve had lately?

AH: Hmm. I dream a lot about my grandmother’s house, which is long gone. Whenever I’m anxious, I dream of angry oceans. My dream life is vivid, luxuriant. I often find it difficult to rouse myself in the morning.

Hot Bones

XV: That’s a good sign. It’s better than forgetting everything and letting it all slip away.

Now “Hot Bones” isn’t your only flash piece. In fact, most of your work falls into flash fiction and short poetry. But you have published a high volume of flash, and your pieces are always rather poignant and tight. There’s genuine emotion without excessive gushing or mountains of world-building and scene setting. Why do you feel you’re so successful with flash? Is it a matter of comfort, interest, or something else?

AH: Well, you’re too kind. I’m flattered. I have sort of exhausted the short arts, haven’t I? (laughs) I don’t know why I prefer it. Perhaps I’m attracted to the challenge of limited space. Everyone says that, so I’ll join the chorus. Something brief requires climbing to the highest pitch and remaining there for the duration. The limitation is attractive. A relief, in some ways. Limitations offer the impression of control and the illusion that I know what I’m doing. Then I write a poem and realize that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But poems need the highest density, and are therefore the most difficult. Look at tankas and haikus. Devastating things can be done in a few lines. And they’re devastating because they are so brief, because they are able to hit that pitch and sustain that intensity.

And yes, it’s a matter of mental comfort. The fewer words I have to worry about, the easier. The idea of writing a novel gives me palpitations. I fear it would never get finished; it would be an endless, obsessive rewrite. I look at 500-word stories I’ve published in the past year and itch to rewrite them. But I think that’s positive; it signifies change. My eye for what I think is “good” is evolving.

 

XV: I think you put it well when you describe it as density. It could be said that you’re giving your inspirations the appropriate level of time, attention, and focus that they demand from you, inside your head where you negotiate thoughts and emotions. No more, no less, depending upon how much your subject matter really lingers in your head.

Having said that, is there anything going on in your life, any obsessions, any themes or ideas that just keep popping up? Do you think perhaps those areas of passion could move you to create something bigger?

AH: Oh, I don’t know. My external life is happily boring, thank goodness. As far as recurring themes or ideas, there are the usual writerly considerations: memory, time, health, identity, etc.

More specifically, I’ve always been interested in the issue of guns and our American relationship with them. Anything military or war-related, past or present, fascinates me. I live in Sharpsburg, Maryland, too, where the Battle of Antietam took place–now famously billed as “the bloodiest day in American history.” There are a lot of guns, or ghosts of guns, floating around my brain.

I think about other stuff, too, and I’ve certainly published a wide range of things. In my ongoing writing life, however, the above-mentioned subjects feel most important to me. Perhaps they’ll inspire me to something larger. I hope so.

 

XV: I would love to read something about guns that isn’t politically charged or exploitative, you know? Without jumping to conclusions or preexisting beliefs, what does their existence and popularity truly say about the human condition and the American experience? The phrase “a weapon is an extension of the body” springs to mind, and I hope to see your take on that in the future.

Now one thing I’ve noticed in your writing is how you come back to things like sanctity, tradition and ritual, and you add a twist to these things. In “Hot Bones” the image of enjoying grandpa for dinner could come off strange out of context, and in your story over at The Conium Review The Hen of God” we see a nun struggling with celibacy and sexuality in a very intriguing manner. And you’ve also dealt with soldiers and the empty thanks given to them before they’re forgotten, you’ve commented upon small towns that fall into incestuous spirals of monotony, and some of the hush-hush turmoils and truths about relationships.

Does this come from a deliberate place, where you hope to challenge these things intellectually, or is it more of an emotional yearning where you feel compelled to speak up? What drives you in this sense?

AH: It goes back to the question about creating work. Why and how are mysteries to me. (I was applying for a grant the other day and had to discuss the “themes” that run through my work, and I was clueless. If I weren’t me, what would I say? I wondered. So your analysis is helpful.)

I think every writer has certain issues or events that concern them, of course, but I don’t usually sit down and decide to write about X. As with any mystic or conjurer, it’s best for a writer to take an oblique approach. I try to sneak up on it. I like ideas, I like putting together words like Legos. I never even played with Legos; I was more of a TinkerToy gal. But Legos seem like an appropriate metaphor. I like to hear words click together. If I can construct something solid and weight-bearing, I’m satisfied.

 

XV: I see. Don’t chase it but don’t wait for it to come to you. Very organic. I’m reminded of the anecdote about Jane Goodall; she camped hundreds of yards away from the apes she wished to study, letting them see her from afar and get used to her presence. Slowly but surely she came closer and they let her into the fold. Haha.

But tell me a little about this grant you applied to.

AH: I like the Jane Goodall comparison. That’s exactly it. As for the grant, I’d rather not mention it. I probably won’t get it. I’m relatively new to the scene, with nothing to my name except for a small handful of publications. I’ll have to earn a few more chops before people start trusting me with fistfuls of money. But I still try! I’m an impudent little thing.

 

XV: I understand, I’m in roughly the same boat. Nothing like the charge of youthful exuberance to agitate the literati.

To close out this interview I have something strange to tell you. A friend of mine will occasionally shine a morbid streak and begin asking me odd questions. This of course causes a contest where we ask each other increasingly disturbing questions. One that I was unusually proud to have come up with was “If a group of gourmet cannibals were to prepare you for a fine dining experience, how would you like to be served?”

My friend didn’t miss a beat; not only did she have an answer, she had several answers, dictating how various parts of her body should be cooked. I believe her tummy was to be served flank-steak style and her digits to be deep fried, among many other things.

So, in light of the feast of the grandfather in Hot Bones, I pose the same question to you. How would you like to be served?

AH: What a question! It’s tough for me to take real-life cannibalism lightly. It seems like such a bleak practice. I could ask these gourmet chefs to turn me into something that sounded beautiful—a creme anglaise, a raspberry gastrique, a summer roll—but that makes the scenario all the more ghoulish. I say these things as a living person, though. As a dead person, I wouldn’t have an opinion on how I’d be served. I’d be beyond caring.

 

XV: Well put. Thank you for your time, and thank you for choosing me to interview you.

 

 

 

Xavier Vega grew up on a strawberry farm in Plant City, Florida as the child of Mexican immigrants. He moved to Tampa and earned a B.A. in English at the University of South Florida where he was published in Thread Literary Inquiry. His work has since been featured Apeiron Review (where he later became a slush reader and worked with Ashley Hutson), The Bangalore Review, Mandala Journal, Crack the Spine, Raven Chronicles, and Yellow Medicine Review, where he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He currently resides in Saint Petersburg, Florida. He sometimes posts things on a blog at https://xaviervega333.wordpress.com/

Interview with Mary McCluskey

Mary McCluskey

Bev Jackson: It is a wonderful honor to interview you, Mary McCluskey.  I have followed your work for the past decade or more, and cannot think of another writer who makes the difficult task of creating fine literature look more effortless and authentic. The magic of your work is the combination of the accessibility of the language with the depth of meaning and “word pictures” you draw, bringing the reader right into the story. (Many wonderful writers abound, but there is often a sense of “author’s presence,” various levels of self-consciousness (ego?) that permeates the work, and while it is frequently embraced as “style,” for me, it is a sheer layer, a barrier, to permeate, to get at the story.) Your work puts up no obstacles, but allows us into your characters directly. That is quite a feat. Whether it’s your short fiction or your novels, and they are read “smooth as silk.” I can’t imagine how you accomplish this. Since I write myself, I know that such fluency is not by accident. Can you tell us a bit about your creative process? Does it come easily to you, or do you spend enormous effort in editing and polishing to get this level of perfection?

Mary McCluskey: How kind of you, Bev!  I am blushing. That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in years. Eons, actually.

But to answer your questions.   Ah, the creative process. I’ve been helped, during the last decade and longer, by the generosity of you and other fine writers at Zoetrope and other workshops who have reviewed my stories and I’ve learned a little by trial and error.  My writing routine follows the same formula whether the piece is long or short, a novel or a flash. I write the first rough draft in a white heat of energy and throw in every damn thing in my head. Then I settle down to shape it.  I revise and revise and chip away until only the bones and the essence of the thing are left.  I love that part, the second and third revision, when there’s still much to do and the story still has spark and promise. I don’t enjoy the later revisions, the polishing, when the writing has become too familiar and dull and reads like– plod, plod, plod. Here comes the district nurse.

Revenge.seahorse_shark_sun

BJ: Ha, your work never plods! Only in your own head. (But I know the feeling of which you speak.)

You have two wonderful flashes in r.kv.r.y: Life Saver in the current Fall issue with the theme of “Goodwill,” and another searing little piece titled Revenge Served Hot to come in the Winter issue themed “Flame.” You have a keen understanding of what makes good flash. It is not just a short story made shorter by word count. The taut snap and crackle of it denotes a genre of its own, which you have mastered brilliantly. How would you define flash fiction, if you were talking to a writer who had never attempted it? I have heard many definitions—prose poetry, slice of life, vignettes. Yet, from my point of view, that doesn’t necessarily add up to successful flash fiction. What are your thoughts on the subject?

MM: Good question. Not sure I can define flash fiction exactly. I’ve read brilliant flashes in all kinds of formats: prose poems, snappy pieces with a sting in the tail, experimental stories that take risks and break all the rules and flashes that tell a complete story, compressed to the core. They all work when done well. What is common to all good flash no matter what the format? They are written with a razor. They start the story late, end it early and stay close to the heart of it. Without one unnecessary word.

 

BJ: That’s a perfect answer! Yes, the good ones absolutely do! As do yours.

That razor is so often the toughest thing to learn, so wise advice for us all.

Now, the really exciting news is that your debut suspense novel “Intrusion” has been picked up by Little A, the literary fiction division’s imprint of Amazon’s new publishing empire. I hear it’s going to be out in 2016 and I am eagerly awaiting its announcement. Give us a teaser of what to expect? Who would your target audience be (beside the myriad Mary McCluskey fans?) and how did you come up with this particular idea?   Inquiring minds want to know. Give us the goods!

MM: Yes, the publication of Intrusion is exciting — and scary! I wake in the wee small hours, those heebie-jeebie hours when, as the Irish say, even God takes a drink and convince myself that nobody will buy it, nobody will read it or review it, and if they do they will hate it. On good days, I just can’t wait for publication.  It’s now listed on the Amazon website but they are still deciding on a cover so they are not promoting it just yet. Publication planned for summer next year.

The novel began as a short story that focused on a marriage after the death of a child.  It grew into a novella because I kept adding to it, and then the weirdest thing happened:  a new character intruded into the novel and began to take over.   I’m serious!  Sarah Cherrington: charming, patrician and predatory. It’s clear she’s up to no good, she has an agenda, and soon the other characters are drawn into her devious games and power plays.

So,  Intrusion began as a domestic drama about a marriage in free fall and became something else entirely – something darker. It doesn’t fit into any particular genre. There’s been some debate on how to describe it – literary thriller or psychological mystery – and so I’m not sure about a target audience. Readers! Anywhere!

City Morning

BJ: I have no doubt that there will be readers in line for it. I loved it in its early permutations, and can’t wait to see the finished product. But here we are blithely talking about your debut novel. Ta da! Just write the book and pub it, right? Easy peasy? What has been your experience of getting a novel into the hands of a mainstream publisher? I am sure there are many writers who are working madly on their manuscripts that would love to know your journey. Was it arduous? Was it skill or luck? Most importantly, was it worth it?

MM: Easy peasy? Ha! Very funny, Bev. It was a stumbling journey full of roadblocks, dead ends, dashed hopes and, finally, elation.

I should, briefly, mention the two previous novels, now mocking me from my hard drive. One completed, but needing more work than it’s worth, and the other that came to a breathless halt after 200 pages and then died.

So – Intrusion. I made classic mistakes. The first one was to send it out before it was ready in a mad rush to get it published. The moment I considered it “finished” I ran a spell check, made a list of top agents, wrote a fast query letter and then sat back and waited for the Call that Would Change my Life.

It never came, of course. Instead I received a variety of rejection letters, mostly form, a few with suggestions for change, though no two opinions agreed, and one rejection letter, meant for someone else, that discussed a novel about elves in combat. A large number of agents didn’t respond at all.

So, I looked at the novel with cold, critical eyes and began an aggressive revision. Then I sent it out again with a more coherent query letter and a different title and an agent with a good reputation offered to take me on if I agreed to work with her on revising the novel for the market place. I was overjoyed. I had an agent! I signed the agency contract.

At her suggestion, I did one complete revision and then another and it was hard because I was not at all happy with the way the story was shaping. I was particularly unhappy with her suggestion for an improbable upbeat ending and I said so.  She sent me an e-mail saying our visions of the novel differed too widely and terminated our contract.  I was devastated – what was the point of a contract if an agent could cancel it with one email? – but I was also a wee bit relieved.

I took the novel back, stripped it of all the extraneous new material and got it down to the bare bones. Then I began again.

When I was sure it was ready, I wrote a new query letter and sent the novel out again.   This time the interest was immediate and reassuring and I signed with Julia, my present agent.  And thus began a new revision but this time I felt in synch with my agent and that made all the difference.

She was – is – so supportive and when we agreed to accept the offer from Little A we had a giddy conversation at 3 in the morning and celebrated.

And next? The process will begin again with the new novel, Deception. It’s just gone off to Julia and I know she’ll have some concerns because it’s even darker than Intrusion and explores some rather unsavory issues.

I see more revision in my future!

 

BJ: Fascinating, that process! I love happy endings, and in my opinion, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving manuscript. I have a feeling the cork is out of the proverbial bottle now, and we will see a lot more of your novels on the shelves in years to come. Congratulations, Mary, it’s really been fun learning about your career. I hope to follow in your footsteps.

MM: And you will! I just know it. And hey, let’s talk about you for a minute. I’m not used to being on this side of the table. As a journalist for most of my working life I’m more comfortable in the role of interviewer, not interviewee. So please, Bev – tell me what you’re up to these days.

 

BJ: I wrote a book this year! My last book, the memoir Loose Fish, is on the back burner for now—waiting to be fictionalized, perhaps. My new suspense novel, Blue Lake is now looking for representation. I’m back to doing art during the holiday season, as it always keeps me on keel—until I can face another round of agent queries. And of course I live vicariously through my talented friends, like you!

The highlight of 2015 (besides writing a complete novel) was being asked by Mary Akers to edit the SOS section of r.kv.r.y. I have missed Lit Pot, my previous publishing venture (demise in 2006), so it’s been wonderful fun, and she’s a joy to work with. And that reminds me to ask our iconic interview question. What does recovery mean to you?

MM: Well done, Bev. You’re obviously involved in a number of wonderful and creative things. Here’s hoping that Blue Lake finds the right agent – and soon!

And now onto that rather tricky question —

I think of recovery as simply a slow healing process. There’s not always an end to it. It’s a journey. And yes, we may recover completely from something simple like a bad cold or a bout of flu but a serious illness can leave weakness and scarring; a struggle with addiction can last a lifetime. A devastating grief, in my case the loss of a child, alters a life irrevocably.

I was stunned by grief, frozen in place. With time, I began again the small routines that make up an ordinary life.  The damage remains, of course, but those of us affected in these different ways learn to carry our pain, our addiction or our grief with us.  Eventually, we learn to carry it better, until it does not weigh so heavily on our shoulders. I see that process, that journey, as recovery.

 

BJ: Thank you for sharing that. I see your recovery process as one and a piece with your work, reflecting the depth of experience and sensitivity for which readers yearn. It’s a tribute that you are able to share that measure of authenticity with others, enriching all of our lives.

Happy Holidays, Mary. r.k.vr.y and yours truly appreciates this splendid time with you.

MM: Thank you, Bev. And many thanks to r.k.vr.y for setting up this interview.  It’s been a pleasure talking with you!

 

Homepage Winter 2016

Cover Image
All artwork appears courtesy of the artist.

Welcome to our Winter 2016 “FLAME” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the exciting and diverse array of voices in this issue, enhanced by the beautiful artwork of Laura Didyk which she has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way everything came together for this issue. We have a list of new readers for the journal, all of them are prior contributors, and I’m thrilled to see how their aesthetics influence future issues. We have a new Shorts On Survival editor, too, the discerning and talented Bev Jackson. And a big thank you to my devoted editors and readers who have hung in there for years now, and also the contributors to this issue who have trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Laura. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

Our April 2016 themed issue will be HURRICANE and the July issue has a tentative theme of BLINK. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

Interview with Avital Gad-Cykman

Avital

Mary Akers: Hi, Avital. Thanks for letting us have your wonderful short story “Fulfillment.” I love the details in this piece, so honed and specific. They really speak to me as a reader and as a writer, too. I love this paragraph, especially:

Walking tentatively toward the north, she stopped when a masculine voice called, “Hey, hello, want me to read your palm?” As expected, the man, unkempt and in his thirties, wearing an oversized jacket, leaning against a rare robust tree, was looking at her. People always thought she was easy prey. She shook her head, able to sense the rough surface of his blackened hand rubbing against the palm of her hand, and what good future could come out of that?

It has a great specificity of menace and creepiness to it–both aspects of work that I gravitate toward. Do you enjoy encountering literary creepiness as a reader?

Avital Gad Cykman: Thank you for having me and my story!

What a great question! It made me think about my different preferences as a reader and as a writer. As a writer, I’d take any ride, anything that comes out of my consciousness and sub consciousness. As a reader, “creepy” literary stories such as Joyce Carol Oates’s amazing “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” scare me so much it’s hard for me to enjoy their flawless narration. Having said that, I adore reading ambivalent texts containing a menacing subtext as long as I can doubt the inevitability of upcoming disaster.

 

MA: It also reminds me a bit of the work of Margaret Atwood whose work I know we are both superfans of. Want to say something geeky and gushing about her work? (You know I will agree.)

AGC: We love her for a reason! Margaret Atwood has written so much, so well, and in so many forms and genres that if a reader doesn’t like her, it’s simply because he/she has not read the right work. I love her sharp, insightful poetry that drills right through the surface of relationships into the mud underneath. Take for instance these famous lines: “You fit into me/like a hook into an eye/a fish hook/an open eye.” She has no mercy! Of the huge variety of her fiction I mostly admire her intimate books such as Cat’s Eye and the historical ones like Alias Grace. In these she builds layers and more layers of her characters’ identities and lives while also involving the readers emotionally, playing with meanings and elaborating important social concerns.

MA: Your wonderful book “Life In, Life Out” is so different and original. I would say it has a unique voice, but it has much more than one voice or one particular style. What do you look for in story collections as a writer and a reader?

AGC: Thank you for these words and for asking this crucial question. When I listen to music I usually put it on “random” so I can listen to a variety of songs unless a CD is a long project with a theme. I love variety in story collections, getting to know different aspects of the author’s world and a diversity of characters. In a novel, on the other hand, I expect certain unity, a world and its related themes and characters. Therefore, when I put a collection together, I thread stories that are related in the same way people are: they reflect on one another without necessarily having a strong similarity. My novel is different, as I am entering one woman’s world.

Fulfilled

MA: When I choose work to illustrate each issue, I’m often surprised to learn that the image I chose ends up having special significance to the author–a significance that I couldn’t have known. I think this speaks to the way our minds crave to connect disparate things–especially inter-genre connections (like dance and music, visual art and text, etc). What did you think of Mia Avramut’s image used to illustrate your story?

AGC: I gave one glance at Mia Avramut’s image and everything clicked: my story, the drawing, and their existence within a womb in which an unexpected life, an impossible pregnancy grows. The plant in the womb cannot really exist, and yet it’s lively and full of life, giving hope. This is the reason I emailed you right away and told you the choice was inspired.

 

MA: In this piece, you use the line “the electric pleasure of the city” which I love. What, as a writer, gives you that electric pleasure–either in the writing or the reading?

AGC: Oh, the electric pleasure…I love beautiful prose that combines humor, compassion, intelligence and the capacity to expose the unseen, unheard of and irregular in a visceral, involving manner. I try to write this way-never to address only one layer or one emotion-and make it interesting both to me and to my (hopefully not imaginary) readers. I’m hoping that the novel I’m going to finish editing within days now holds at least some of these things.

 

MA: And finally, because we are a recovery-themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

AGC: After a certain age or experience, aren’t we all in recovery, doing the best we can within the circumstance? Recovery means daring to hope even against the worst odds, and having the strength to live intensely and laugh at the face of the next disaster.

 

Interview with Ting Gou

Ting Gou

Jude Marr: In your poem “Excavation: Mobile, Alabama, 1996” the dichotomies include an exploration of the mortal and the immortal. Can you say more about what you consider to be immortal?

Ting Gou: This is a very interesting question, Jude! I’m not sure I consider anything to be immortal in the sense that it lasts forever, without exception. But I do think that we tell ourselves stories about immortality in order to give meaning to our experiences. It’s these beautiful myths that keep us alive.

Memory is the closest thing to being immortal that I can think of, and I’m not just referring to the memory of someone who has passed away. Memory, by definition, is immortal. The fact that we can remember something means that it continues to exist for us.

Some actions are also immortal, in the sense that we remember them forever. When I was a medical student on the hematology oncology service this past year, I was taking care of a young man who was dying from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I don’t remember most of the chemotherapy drugs now, but I remember hugging his mom while standing in line in the cafeteria. I also remember hugging the mom of another leukemia patient later that month.

This poem is an ode to memory, I guess. The memory of my mother opening the fish and finding the worms inside. The memory of a house from childhood. But also: memory as a source for imagination. Memory as self-reinvention. Building a future for yourself in the face of terrible things is, in a way, practicing a kind of immortality.

 

JM: I’m struck, as ever, by your precise use of both language and imagery. As you write, how conscious are you of your life as a scientist?

TG: Thanks, Jude! To be honest, I’m not conscious of being a scientist at all, probably because I’m not currently doing bench research. I’ve done some clinical research in medical school, but working with computer models and Excel spreadsheets is very different from the hands-on pipetting and centrifuging and dissecting I did when I was an undergrad at Princeton. I kind of miss the dynamics of a wet lab.

I’m more conscious now of my other identities when I’m writing: as a medical student, an Asian-American, a southerner (whatever that means), and new Michigander. But I think my background as a molecular biology major does infiltrate my poetry subtly (and sometimes not so subtly). Like many of my poems, “Excavation” contains questions, maybe because I’ve always had a desire to figure out what is really going on. Lately, my poems have been containing more and more questions.

Excavation by Ting Gou

JM: The title, also, is very exact—and yet it seems to beg a question. To what extent does location matter?

TG: This poem is based on an event that actually happened, unless I remembered it incorrectly. Isn’t it interesting and terrifying how we construct our identities out of imperfect memories? But I suppose the way in which our memories are imperfect is also useful. I’m thinking about an archaeological dig where you have to infer what happened based on what you find. You can think of the artifacts as specific aspects of the memory. If you find a lot of clay pots, can’t you infer that the civilization liked to store things in clay pots? Similarly, if you find yourself remembering mostly the horrific aspects of an event, can’t you infer that the event was at least somewhat disturbing?

Sorry, I kind of got off topic. But I think location is important, because it’s often the only thing we know for certain about a memory.

 

JM: How would you react to being described as a poet of the senses?

TG: “Poetry is one-third imagery, one-third emotion, and one-third intellect.” I think Joseph Millar said that during the workshop we took with him and Dorianne Laux. I think it’s helpful to think of imagery as working in conjunction with everything else. It can be the most important thing in some poems, but some poems don’t need any imagery at all. I think it all depends on what the poem needs.

If being a poet of the senses means that you take in your surroundings as best as you can, then I think every poet is a poet of the senses. You don’t have to include a lot of sensory details in your poems, but you have to be open to perceiving them in your environment.

 

JM: What do you see as the relationship between dissection and poetry?

TG: In both, you are trying to figure out how something is put together. It could be a body, or it could be your childhood. You are digging under the surface. You are exposing things to light.

 

Interview with David Alasdair

David Alasdair

David is a great storyteller who has a way of accessing what many male writers cannot. We conducted the interview in a bar nestled in the corner of one of those strip-malls with a Radio-Shack where we had been sitting at a table for the past two hours surrounded by collections of families and lovers and groups of friends. It was mid-day and there were two empty pint glasses on the table and a faint trace of mildew which waved by every few minutes. I was no closer to knowing any of David’s secrets and I wasn’t leaving until I had at least one.

RAJAH BOSE: Your first piece of nonfiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

DAVID ALASDAIR: You can’t say it’s my first, you’ve gotta build up my reputation. They say it’s easy to sit back on your laurels. I have like one laurel and I already want to sit on it.

Waitress: Would you like anything?

I get the the Taco Salad with Tofu. David orders the Pork Tacos. There’s a brief look between us – a sizing up – and I add two more beers to the order.

RB: Ok fine, I’ll cut that question out. You wrote this essay during your MFA and now it has been nominated for a top writing prize. There’s always someone who thinks your piece needs work – I might be a hater while someone else loves it. How do you decide this is the right time for something you’ve written?

DA: Really smart people were giving me advice that I didn’t think fit. It only happens occasionally but this piece came out fully formed. I thought about editing it and then I decided, fuck it, I like it how it is. It’s like having a kid: maybe I wished their eyes weren’t so close together, but I love them for who they are.

RB: In your essay (The West Elm Sofa), you talk about recovery and the people that help you get through the struggle. You are both vulnerable and secretive. How do you choose the elements that you are going to allow people to know and what to keep secret?

DA: I’m a big believer in the gaps. I remember a few years ago in high school they made us watch Shane, the old cowboy movie, which has very little dialog. Afterward they told us to go write an essay where you suggest everything without saying it. When I was a kid that was a revolutionary concept, to suggest something without saying it. So I try and do that whenever possible. It’s quite clear there’s loss involved in my characters and it’s more universal when you leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps. I bet everyone who read that piece has had some kind of loss and they can imagine themselves having one space where they have some kind of solace. They don’t need me to explain why.

RB:  Speaking of kids, let’s talk about Kerry Howley’s book Thrown, I’ve heard you talk about that book more than you talk about your kids. What have you learned from other people’s writing that you brought to this essay and your work otherwise?

DA: The one thing I say to people reading that book is “Don’t get discouraged.” Because it’s a book where you can read it and think “I have to give up,” because I could never be that good. The music of her language, the ability see something anew, is just phenomenal. For instance, when she talks about all the fighters drinking PediaLite and she describes the crushed teddy bears on the floor. I guess it’s like Walter Kirn said: “Music comes first.” You have your own particular music. Don’t be afraid to describe things the way you see them and to be musical in your language. So much of our training is about being clear, but a little bit of abstract, a little bit of musicality is a good thing.

Our tacos and salad arrive. David eyes the grilled tofu, I check out the tacos. I offer him a bite that he declines.

Waitress: Another round?

There’s another sizing up. “Sure,” says David.

RB: You write about sports, your balls, fighting, masculinity and your feelings. Explain.

DA:  One time I wrote about my balls.

RB: And you read it at VoiceOver. In front of 100 people. Including your daughter.

DA: True. Maybe it’s just the world I know. The cliché is that women will talk about everything and men will talk about sports, but I think it’s pretty normal for a guy to talk about his feelings. You get into a very macho setting like a gym or a soccer team and you think
that men won’t communicate on an intimate level and they do. I guess I just try to capture that.

RB: So we’ve mentioned that you write about your balls…

DA: One time.

RB: …I wrote a recent essay about cowboys and manhood, and there’s a scene about cutting off the manhood of a bull. There’s also a bunch of other introspection about masculinity and roles, etc…

DA: Did I read that?

RB: No, it’s new. The problem is, when people read it, they kept saying: go to the balls, go the balls. I didn’t think it wasn’t about that, but I feel that people often want to explore what is off-limits.

DA: I don’t think it’s the off-limits that works, it’s the structure of a joke. There’s a setup and a punchline. The ending should feel inevitable but not predicable. So you’re like, “Ah-ha. I get it. I didn’t predict it, but I get it.” When people do it to be outrageous, it doesn’t work. There has to be a story.

RB: Is that to say that all of your pieces are just jokes?

DA: [Laughter] No, they just have the mechanics. Not necessarily a punchline, but an ending you didn’t predict.

RB: There are male writers who write about their feelings: Jess Walter in Financial Lives of the Poets or Shan Ray in his recent poetry book Bailfire.

DA: Agreed. I feel if I went into a locker room with a guy and couldn’t talk about my feelings, I would think this is not a solid relationshipthis is pretty superficial. Mind you I have that relationship with some women.

RB: Well, I guess we should talk about our feelings.

DA: OK, it’s your interview.

Waitress: Another round?

“Yes,” we both say at the same time.

RB: So. Tell me about your feelings.

DA: You tell me about yours.

There’s a long pause.

RB: My girlfriend is too good for me.

DA: Yes, she is.

RB: She thinks she’s lucky to have me. But it’s the other way round. I don’t know what she sees in me.

DA: A good-looking, well-dressed, talented artist who is both very masculine yet also sensitive. Yeah, I don’t know what she sees in you either.

RB: Your turn.

DA: I get lonely. Not as lonely as when I first moved here and I knew no-one, but still.

Waitress: You guys need more beer?

“We’re talking about our feelings!” I say.

The waitress turns and walks away unimpressed. She shouts over her shoulder, “That’s great. Let me know if you need anything else.”

RB: [Laughter] She doesn’t care.

DA: I don’t blame her. We might not be making much sense anymore.

RB: We should do this more often.

DA: We should.

 

Rajah Bose is a veteran photojournalist from Spokane, Washington. He is good-looking, well-dressed, and masculine yet sensitive. You can see his work at http://www.rajahstudio.com/blog/.

“Clair de Lune” by Marcus Iannacone

Claire de Lune (flowers)
“Flowers” by Laura Didyk, Sharpie on paper, 2015.

The night is deep. Hills to the west are illuminated slightly by the highway, our neighborhood still, dimly lit by streetlamps and pale moonlight. Our footfalls are distinct from each other. My father’s seem quicker.

“Uh! I’m happy we’re through the hot days,” he says. We walk almost every evening. It’s the main exercise he gets, and it helps him work off some excess calories. These walks are his opportunity to commune with nature, something he’s not afforded much. He works hard. He’s overweight and over-stressed and he does very well. He fits a paradigm in that way. He talks about the movements of Earth on these walks: the seasons, where the stars are now, changing weather, the circular, fractal patterns of the observable world. At twenty three, the age I am now, he was a geology student at Yale researching corals in the Caribbean.

We turn the corner of our street. There is a swirl of gnats above the guardrail of the bridge. The thin brook below croaks with frogs. Other insects harmonize, a train whistles, and we walk. Because we walked yesterday, and we will walk tomorrow and the next day there is never any reason to say how savagely awful I feel walking with him. It wouldn’t make me feel any better, and it would be excessively cruel to him. I feel terrible walking by myself or doing anything, regardless.

I would like to forget that there was anything else. When I’m by myself things are empty, and I imagine that my brain consists only of tiny microscopic miners pushing carts down a shadowy track to somewhere else. No more memories. The evolutionary mechanisms of my mind can shudder along the rails, providing preference, seeking areas of comfort, and I don’t have to be present for despair, or confront the complex abyss of depression.

But my father loves what he sees. He realizes the profundity of everything–fleeting life, color, love, the preciousness of galaxies and animals, himself, and me. But it is his explicit pronunciation for all this when we walk which reminds me of what’s lost, that it’s the way I see things which I can’t seem to change, that meaning and love are still part of this world but I can hardly be part of it. He loves me and I have only the most minimal capacity to reciprocate love to another human being. I can’t really bear all that, but we keep walking every day, and it’s why the discomfort of these walks is so acute, so remarkable.

He says, “Listen to those bugs!” and a familiar reaction moves over me, immediate repugnance and then succeeding guilt dull in my throat. I say, “Yea,” almost too quietly. He puts his head down and strides a little faster.

Sometimes my process of thought is like a stock ticker of sentimental nonsense: There’s the world of dreams and the world of thoughts and the world of despair…There’s the reality of work and roads and responsibility. I can’t believe anyone really wants to continue humanity… Maybe that’s why we have children, to shift the responsibility of death to them… Maybe the effort of love yields love… Loving unequally seems to be the bane of all, civil rights, the fear that we love unequally is as unavoidable as movement… all that anthropology runs red eventually so who knows…Do I need a tattoo or can I just write “futility” on my hand and make the call later?… I don’t want to call anyone… Do I have an obligation to try to relate?… If I don’t I’ll probably be lonely and have wasted my life…. Are there really sixty more years of this?… I’m going to have to push for forty… I wonder if there’s some way to give myself over to science… And this is the beautiful struggle… Here, have a seat on the big couch of ideas…

My father says, “Look at those flowers. They’re still blooming!” I light a cigarette. Then he asks, “What class do you have tomorrow?” “English and Spanish. I have to leave first thing”, I say. “Oh. When can we work?” he asks. “Tuesday. You want to finish the ceiling?” “Yea.” I’m turning the filter of the finished cigarette back and forth between my fingers. One of my eyes is tearing up.

I think of my dog. He used to go on these walks. His bones are under flowers and a marble slab behind our house. It’s a memory I avoid. I could have done better with one of the only things that mattered. When he was dying I had nonstop nightmares. It was a sleep paralysis thing, obviously from going off all the medications and getting drunk. I was running then, maybe fifteen miles a week, and I ran more in order to sleep better but it didn’t work.

Finally I just avoided sleep, stayed up late watching movies, but eventually I would doze and always had nightmares. The dog was dying on the floor and I was in my bed wanting to–whether asleep or awake. So he started sleeping next to me. He had bad dreams too and sometimes howled in his sleep, twitching. I’d shake him and he would wake startled, his eyes wet. My desperation for anything that wasn’t human, anything that wasn’t terror, ate through everything, and he was all there was, disintegrating in every instant. I would be left with my nightmares, my hatred and my grey existence, not able to figure out how to die, and he was a dimension of some love ending. Before he died the streak of bad dreams broke. The last two nights I slept fine. I had anticipated being affected significantly when he was finally gone but nothing happened. It just hurt.

My father sniffs, exhales a hum of satisfaction, “Fall is my favorite! I can’t wait for it to get really cool,” I say, “Yea. Me too.” He starts to talk about something he heard on the radio. We start up a rise in the road and he takes longer steps. He says “whoo-“ as we top the incline and slow our pace.

It didn’t happen all at once. There was no one event that changed everything. There were moments but nothing that’s solely responsible. There were warnings—out-of-the-ordinary short jabs, and every time I felt an eerie despair that would disrupt my life for a few days, and I always wondered the reason for that sense of loss.

We’re still in stride, descending on the street that brings us back home. He puts more swing into his arms.             We turn at the end of the street and onto the one we came from. No more gnats swarm on the bridge. The brook is black and trickling, and the moon is half-full above the path formed by the water, clear of trees. There is a pinkness in the dark sky, and flat clouds are moving slowly north.

We pass under the magnolia tree at the beginning of our street. I can’t think of anything to say, and we both advance silently on the asphalt, blue, grey and black with different rectangular patches like a denim quilt in the moonlight.

 

 

Marcus Iannacone lives in New Jersey, a carpenter by occupation who tries to find time for working with language and ideas

Contributors Winter 2016

Chloe Ackerman
Chloe Ackerman (Flame) hails from the Land of Enchantment but currently resides with her dog in the much rainier (but no less enchanted) Pacific Northwest, where she recently completed a doctorate in clinical psychology. She has edited or contributed to a small number of literary magazines and anthologies and has been published in Mirror Dance. She hopes to one day be both a famous author and a renowned psychologist because she believes in having it all, but she would also be happy with a supply of tea and a tiny house in a forest.

Christopher Allen
Christopher Allen (Wile E.) has had work appears in Indiana Review, Eclectica Magazine, Night Train, Literary Orphans and over a hundred other journals and anthologies. Read his book reviews in [PANK), The Lit Pub, Necessary Fiction and more. Originally from Tennessee, he now splits his time between Munich and Dublin. Allen is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and blogs HERE.

KathleenBurgess
Kathleen S. Burgess (At Old Oraibi), poet, editor, retired music teacher, union officer, statistical typist, server, factory solderer, videographer, and hitchhiker through North, Central, and South America, has poetry in North American Review, The Examined Life, Evening Street Review, Malpaís Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, Mudfish, other journals and anthologies. A chapbook Shaping What Was Left and the anthology she edited Reeds and Rushes—Pitch, Buzz, and Hum are Pudding House publications. Two new collections Hitchhiking to Peru and The Wonder Cupboard are forthcoming.

Laura Didyk
Laura Didyk (Illustrator) makes art and writes poetry and nonfiction. Her work has been published in Diagram, Post Road, Alligator Juniper, and the Sun, among others, and her artwork has been printed in No Tokens magazine. With an MFA from the University of Alabama, she has been a writing fellow at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and VCCA. Currently at work on her memoir, she writes, teaches, and makes art in the Berkshires.

Susan Gower
Susan Gower (Three Moons Over Maple Grove) is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and literary journals, including Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and Talking Stick. She lives in Luck, Wisconsin, with her husband Mike.

Ashley Hutson
Ashley Hutson (Hot Bones) lives in rural Western Maryland.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Conium Review, Threadcount, and elsewhere.  Find her at www.aahutson.com.

Marcus Iannone
Marcu Iannacone (Clair de Lune) lives in New Jersey, a carpenter by occupation who tries to find time for working with language and ideas

Kristin Laurel
Kristin Laurel (Anxiety) is employed as an ED and Flight Nurse. She completed a two-year master track program in poetry at The Loft Literary Center. Her poetry and prose can be seen in CALYX, The Raleigh Review, The Mom Egg, The Main Street Rag, Split Rock Review, and many others. Her first full-length publication Giving Them All Away, won the Sinclair Poetry Prize from Evening Street Press. She lives in Waconia, MN.

Mary McCluskey
Mary McCluskey (Revenge Served Hot) has had prizewinning short stories published in The Atlantic, The London Magazine, StoryQuarterly, London’s Litro Magazine, on Salon.com, and in literary journals in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong.  Her novel, INTRUSION, is scheduled for publication by Little A in March 2016. She divides her time between Stratford-upon-Avon, in England, and Los Angeles.

Simon Perchik
Simon Perchik (As if these leaves) is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013).  For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

Scott Sanders
Scott Loring Sanders (Argument with Myself) has had work included and/or noted in Best American Mystery Stories and Best American Essays. He’s published two novels with Houghton Mifflin and was the Writer in Residence at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. His essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction and other journals. He currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches at Emerson College.

Nicole Stanek
Nicole Stanek (Decaying) is a poet based out of Long Island. She is a graduate of Dowling College with a B.A. in Psychology and Media. She currently leads the Westhampton Poets Society, a writer’s group on the East End of Long Island.

William Kelley Woolfit
William Woolfitt (Funk Island) teaches at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is the author of two books of poetry, Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, forthcoming). He is also the author of a fiction chapbook, The Boy with Fire in His Mouth (2014). His poems and stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, Threepenny Review, Tin House online, and elsewhere.

“As if these leaves” by Simon Perchik

Cio Che C'e.LOVE REDACTED
From the “Love Redacted” series by Laura Didyk, Sharpie on paper.

As if these leaves are no longer at home
this match is breaking away-–by itself
strikes against the wooden door

demands it open her eyes, already smells
from hair loosening around her shoulders
as smoke –you need more wind

and the sky to level out, clear this place
for the stones growing wild side by side
no longer feel your fingers kept warm

by gathering more and more leaves
to their death just to want to be held
as never before by the burning.

 

 

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013).  For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.