Featuring Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley

Starlight Taxi:  A Glimpse Into Roy Bentley’s Appalachian Soul
by Stephanie Stanley

“This place is there for those who know where to look
and why that shiver up the spine isn’t about wind
or reminders that we die but what it takes to live
where all the talk is an inventory of close escapes.”

~ From  “Elegy, Neon Junction”,  Starlight Taxi (Section One), by Roy Bentley


In Roy Bentley’s latest collection of poems, Starlight Taxi, death and resurrection, labor and leisure, love and betrayal, God and sin,  the famed and family collide, give the reader a 95-page glimpse into Bentley’s Appalachian soul.

Growing up in the late 1950s, Bentley fondly recalls “idyllic” memories, kindness and a level of parental acceptance that drove him to achieve his dreams later in life.

“My parents came to Ohio after leaving Kentucky, so I spent the first twelve years of my precocious childhood playing in orchards and getting in touch with kindness.  It was truly an idyllic time for me,” said Bentley. “I was an only child and my parents were starting to have some problems, but they treated me with respect and awe. The level of acceptance I got during the first seven years of my life pushed me to later believe I could do something as remarkable as become a writer. It is tough work, but it requires confidence and the belief that I have something to say.”

Bentley began writing in 1969, though he says he “floundered around” with the craft until attending Ohio University in 1976.  In 1984, his first chapbook was published and he was awarded the Signpost Poetry Award by the Bellingham Review, in Bellingham, Washington.  For the past 30 years, he has continued to publish books and chapbooks of poems.

According to Bentley, his favorite work to date—Starlight Taxi—took ten years to complete.

“Poetry collections gestate so long in different versions,” said Bentley. “Starlight Taxi was rewritten, went through several title changes, and was a finalist in several contests before winning the Blue Lynx Prize in 2012.”

Bentley says many of the poems contained in the collection are “largely autobiographical.”

“While some members of my family remember some of the instances and details differently, autobiography enters into most of the work I do, especially stories and narratives,” said Bentley. “My writing is usually grounded in somewhere I have been or something that I’ve done. My life is rooted right in there.”


“The two of us, mother and son, are happy. You
could do worse than to be born in Dayton, Ohio;
you could do worse than Nettie Potter for a mother,
the blue of her dress storming over shoulders.
She’s bought a thing which the weight of the light
causes to alternately glow and darken. She’s played
music as cheerful as she wishes the world to be.”

~ From “Listening to Coltrane on the 4th of July: 1. Earth Angel”, Starlight Taxi (Section Two)


Starlight Taxi is divided into four sections, each varying in subject matter and vivid imagery.  Bentley says the order of the poems “evolved” over time.

“I tried an arrangement where my Appalachian themed poems were in the back of the book, but I found out through the course of submitting the collection to contests, the section the editors felt the strongest about was the Appalachian section, so I put it first and cut a few weaker sections,” said Bentley. “I knew from having won an Ohio Arts Council Award that my poem “Listening to Coltrane on the 4th of July” was strong by itself, so I put it in its own section.  I am always half scared when I write that critics are going to tear into my work for little things like similarities—like you’re doing the same poem over and over. I’m careful to vary subjects and approach, and I try not to be too damn repetitive.”

Bentley says the poems he included in Starlight Taxi are written about people and the places he describes are “peopled landscapes”.

“I just never seem to have the focus other writers might, where they use the landscape and draw from it. To me, the landscape is a peopled landscape. My poems are about people. I never try to manipulate the reader with imagery, but I realize that there are certain images and a way to present the images,” said Bentley. “The reader needs to know where they are while reading a poem.  I look at a poem much like a screenplay with a setting. Something has to happen.  I kind of want my work to be like an intellectual, smart comic book. I love movies, and I like for my poems to be visual and for the reader to have a cinema-like experience.”


“When I wasn’t sleeping myself, I was at the movies.
Brando’s line of dialogue from The Fugitive Kind
likely never entered his dreams: We’re, all of us,
sentenced to solitary confinement inside our
lovely skins. We saw one another on weekends.
He’d fire up the grill, singe a couple of steaks.
There’s a closeness engendered by factory work,
by being part of any suffering which has its own
untransmutable satisfactions.”

~ From “Factory Work,” Starlight Taxi (Section Three)


After completing his book The Trouble With a Short Horse in Montana Bentley says he felt like he was “coming into his own as a writer”.  Before long, the collection would be overshadowed by his latest work, “Starlight Taxi”.  Bentley says each collection reflects a distinct stage in his life.

“It is a mystery to me how a person changes over the course of a long life. I’m fortunate that I’ve lived long enough to see and express different parts of my life,” said Bentley. “I can’t believe how much fighting and denial a person has to go through to handle their life. The loss of my parents pushed me to write about them in poems, because I think people live again when you write about them, in a way that is unexpected and cool.”


“If the living are with us, some almost real, so are the dead
who settle for being welcome in the room where pictures
are snapped and flashbulb circles dot a line of sight and
a gift of cowboy boots or pearls or a tool is everything.”

~ From “Christmas, the Late Fifties,” Starlight Taxi (Section Four)


Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever, describes Bentley’s poems as “stories of work and family and the mercy we need and deserve in the midst of our hard times.”  While Bentley agrees with Martin’s evaluation, he feels his work juggles the past and present in an effort to come to terms with sixty years of living.

“If I could stand outer-body from myself and my work, I would say that this is a guy who is, clearly, interested in the question of what it means to be here, now,” said Bentley. “There’s a lot of history tied up in my work. I would say that I’m a guy who wrestles with things.  I don’t just deal with subjects, I wrestle subjects. In the Bible, Daniel wrestles an angel until the angel blesses him. I feel that way. That’s poetry for me.”

Throughout his life, three experiences have remained at the heart of Roy Bentley and have lingered in the shadows of each poem that flowed from the fingers of the Appalachian poet.

“Beyond that, I would say serving in the Air Force definitely shaped me. I got into school at OU on the G.I. bill.  In the process, I got a sense of what’s too much, how to ‘show, not tell’ in a piece, how to make poems powerful, more condensed, and how to use compression to my advantage,” said Bentley. “Most of all, I would say I have been shaped by my Grandma Potter reading to me from the King James Bible. Her voice, that voice, is in my work. That is where it all began.”

In recent times, Bentley has felt the pull of his Appalachian roots, guiding him back to the people and the places that played a vital role in the shaping of the man and, in turn, the poet.

“Like my parents, I kind of pulled away from my history for a while, because I think there’s a certain prejudice to being Appalachian, but lately I have begun to embrace it,” said Bentley. “Some might call my writing ‘hillbilly lit’ and mock it, saying it is about the icky part of Appalachia. To me, being Appalachian is no different than any other culture trying to wrestle with their identity. Why wouldn’t you deal with it? Why wouldn’t you want to come to terms with what makes you you?”


Q&A Session with Roy Bentley:

Stephanie Stanley: What inspires you to write?

Roy Bentley:  “Everything is interesting to me. I was watching a show on PBS the other night about John Barrymore, and the actor said the word ‘stagger’. That set my mind off to start a poem called ‘Stagger’, about my father dealing with a visit from his father. There’s nothing that doesn’t interest me as far as subjects go. I don’t try to be confessional in my writing. I’m not trying to write a poem to tell on someone, but I will tell on myself, and I find that to be important. I am open to the flow of ideas and experience. I don’t think I have an agenda as a writer, and I think that helps me. I don’t always have to feel deeply about what I’m writing about at the start, but over the course of writing it, I begin to feel it deeply.  A lot of writers need to be inspired and they write a lot less frequently than I do. I think I use writing to hide out from the world.”


SS:  Religious themes abound in Starlight Taxi. What role did or does religion play in your life?

RB: “I consider myself spiritual, but I’m not religious.  The question of God, faith and trying to wrestle with these things comes up in my work. I believe that if you’re here and awake, you’ll ask yourself if there’s a God and what it all means.”


SS: Why did you choose the title, “Starlight Taxi”?

RB:  “My poem, ‘Starlight Taxi’, is about the death of my father and the light in his eyes when I was in the room. I was the only one in the room when my father died of lung cancer, and I was just there with him, trying to deal with it.  When he passed, his eyes did not close, and the light in his eyes was the focus of that metaphor. We taxi the light around. Originally, I was going to title the book ‘Listening to Coltrane on the 4th of July’, but when it won the Blue Lynx Prize, it won under the title ‘Starlight Taxi’, and I’ve never been sorry about the title change, as that is the unified image that best embodies what is going on in the book.”



SS:  How much weight do you place on the opinions of editors and critics?

RB:  “I just can’t trust myself. I’m clueless, I worry sometimes, and I need lots of guidance.  For example, ‘Starlight Taxi’ and my other book are both over 90 pages long, though my newer books are substantially shorter. Length worries me.  If you publish a poetry collection over 68-70 pages, I think you’re asking a lot of the reader.  Even though Starlight Taxi took ten years to write, because of the length of it, I fear the reader won’t want to give it a week to read it. I’m trying to keep my next few books around 70 pages in length. The reader has to be the primary consideration when writing.  Poets have to be humble enough to listen to an editor who knows what they are talking about. They are not trying to hurt your feelings. They are trying to help to make your piece the best that it can possibly be.”


SS:  What are your thoughts about modern poetry and modern poets?

RB: “I read a lot of younger writers on Poetry Daily or Poets.org. While some of their work may not be to my liking, a lot of the young readers I’ve been reading have a story to tell. Just because they are young doesn’t mean they lack skill or experience. They have both, and I don’t know where they got it.  I started out writing when I was 16, but wasn’t relatively decent at it until around 1980. There’s a lot of work online, and I think they publish too many and too soon. I think at times modern writers are impatient to publish, and that is a mistake.  What’s the hurry? It is difficult to know when a poem is done.  Take your damn time. Really.”


SS:  What is your current writing project?

RB:  “I think I’m always somewhat in love with the latest stuff I’m working on. I have a book called ‘Sass’ that is all-Appalachian in theme. ‘Sass’ pulls together story and extended narrative with characters and is set in Kentucky. It has taken a year to complete. I had poems about Kentucky to include in the book, but had to fill in a few holes and spaces to keep the narrative going.  It isn’t published yet, but I’m pretty enamored of it.”



Stephanie Stanley, of Chillicothe,Ohio, is a freelance writer and photographer for the Chillicothe Gazette and the Pike County News Watchman, where she writes weekly feature stories, business features and artist profiles. In addition to the Gazette and News Watchman, Stanley’s feature articles have appeared in various publications, including The Marion Star, Newark Advocate, The News-Messenger, Coshocton Tribune, Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Jackson County Times Journal, Circleville Herald, and WOUB Public Media. In February 2012, Stanley’s feature story, “The Devil in the Details”, was awarded a First Place Best Feature Osman Hooper Award by the Ohio Newspaper Association. Earlier this month, Stanley’s feature, “Singing Her Heart Out”, was named First Place Best Feature at the Ohio Newspaper Association Convention, in Columbus, and “The Simpler Life”, a series of feature stories about Mennonites in Pike County, earned Third Place Best Feature. When she isn’t writing, Stanley works as a private music instructor and is active in the local arts community.

Interview with Katie Rice

Katie Rice

Two poets from our January 2014 issue interview one another. In this, the second, Katie Rice (Paris in October) is interviewed by Jack Troy (The Wind in the Jug):

Jack Troy: Were you exposed to poems in school in a way that gave them importance to you? Did you have any teachers whose enjoyment of poetry impressed you?

Katie Rice: I just graduated from Colgate University in May, so up until now most of my education in poetry has been driven by classes and professors. It’s worked as a catalyst, a jumping point for me to explore further. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than an inspired person and I’ve had a handful of professors whose joy in the work they’re teaching forces you to pay attention to the work.

I had a two high school teachers who opened my eyes to literature. One was an English teacher who taught me all of the bones of clear writing. He exposed us to the classics and demanded we think about them. Those classes were invaluable. I also had a Creative Writing professor who was the exact opposite. He was more prone to whim and inspiration and he let me do the things that I wanted to do. That balance—at age fifteen and sixteen—was really important. I’m not sure that without them I would be where I am. One of the first poems that really spoke to me was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” We read it in high school English. Not original, I know, but it was powerful.


JT: What was the impetus for you to write your first poems?

KR: It always seemed natural, something I needed to do rather than was asked to do. When I was ten years old or so I would swap stories with a good friend of mine—I still have copies of the copies we would swap on the bus ride home. So, that was when I really began. And poetry grew out of that. I think poetry started to grow over the story writing when I felt there were things I needed to express that I couldn’t do in a story. For me, poetry has always been an easier place to work through emotion.

800px-Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Duelo_a_garrotazos(Paris in October)

JT: How do you judge the success of your own poems?

KR: This is a tough one. It’s hard not to judge the success of a poem by what the outside world thinks of it, but I’m trying to let go of that notion a little bit. I have poems that I think are wildly successful in an emotional way for me, but I’ve presented them in workshops and had them ripped apart. I think there can be two types of success for a poem. One is solely for the writer. I think: have I pushed myself? have I represented something true on the page? have I edited out the superfluous? does it make me feel something? If I have done those things, it is a success. The second is for the outside world. I think the questions to ask are similar to those that I ask myself. Is it compelling to an audience? Are they struck by the new ideas or forms? Does it ring true to people outside of myself?


JT: Is there a poem that impresses you by doing its work especially effectively?

KR: I immediately thought of “Sharks’ Teeth” by Kay Ryan. It’s short enough to be quoted here:

Everything contains some
silence. Noise gets
its zest from the
small shark’s-tooth
shaped fragments
of rest angled
in it. An hour
of city holds maybe
a minute of these
remnants of a time
when silence reigned,
compact and dangerous
as a shark. Sometimes
a bit of a tail
or fin can still
be sensed in parks.

Kay Ryan is a poet who has cut out the extra. She introduces the concept, explains the silence, and draws something interesting from it all in 56 words. She’s a genius of concision.


JT: Does memorizing poems have any merit for you?

KR: I think memorizing a poem is the way to really know it. The poems I like best end up getting memorized by “accident” anyway, they ingrain themselves in my head because of how often I read them or think of them. I like the idea of filling my head with pretty things like poems—they are something to think of when you’re waiting for the subway or sitting in the doctor’s office. It’s also a way into a poem. Memorize a poem that doesn’t make sense and you might be able to worm your way into the language. Memorization makes a poem a part of you. I think it’s a wonderful practice.



Katie Rice earned her BA in English: Creative Writing from Colgate University. She now works at Penguin Random House and lives in Brooklyn, NY.  Her poems have appeared in Black Bottom Review.

Jack Troy is a potter, teacher and writer who lives and works in Huntingdon, PA. He has taught over 200 workshops for potters and his work in clay has taken him to 24 countries. His poems have appeared in West Branch, Pivot, Friends Journal, Kestrel, The Studio Potter, and Common Ground. His collection of poems, Calling the Planet Home, was self-published in 2003. His website is jacktroy.net

Interview with Jack Troy

Jack Troy

Two poets from our January 2014 issue interview one another. In the first, here, Katie Rice (Paris in October) interviews Jack Troy (The Wind in the Jug):

Katie Rice: When did you first start writing poetry? Were there poets who inspired you to write?

Jack Troy: When I was in graduate school, majoring in English and Art, James Dickey was an artist in residence for a week or so, and I was fascinated by the way poetry animated him and was contagious to many of us in his presence. Years before, his poem, “The Shark’s Parlor,” woke we to narrative possibilities, and quickened my necessity to get words to serve that interest.


KR: I know you are a potter. Do you see any overlap between your process for writing and your process for art? How are they similar and different?

JT: This question is inevitable. I am a potter who writes, not vice versa. A pot can only be in one place, whereas poems can exist undiminished in thousands of places. Working in clay clay is physically demanding and saves me from the sedentary aspects of writing, while at the same time providing access to reflections that sometimes instigate poems. I love making objects for daily use – cups, bowls, pitchers – that have the potential to, in Thoreau’s words, “affect the quality of the day.” After 50+ years, I’m confident that my pots are in use at any mealtime in any North American time zone. I try to keep alert to the phrases and observations that deserve a context in language. As Stevens said, “It is not every day that the world arranges itself into a poem.”


KR: Are there specific poets that you turn to time and again? Why?

JT: Jack Gilbert and Jane Hirshfield and two whose work keeps drawing me in, although I can’t remember  a single line from either. Translating their attentiveness to experience into language – each is a master at that; they mentor me. I have been mining Wallace Stevens’ “Adagia” for years: “To live in the world, but outside of existing conceptions of it,” is one gem.


KR: (I know I’m stealing this from you, but I think it’s a great question): How do you judge the success of your poems?

JT: If a poem surprises me years after it’s been written – if its freshness survives – is one measure of its success. And like all writers, I enjoy knowing what a poem carries and delivers to the reader. If I live long enough, I will be interested to see if earlier poems turn out to be “poems about poetry,” but none have yet.


KR: What is your writing process like?

JT: The best poems spring from subjects that ruthlessly demand to be set right. I try to do justice to whatever urge comes upon me to give a subject its due, to sort the pure metal of itself from the ore that may or may not contain it. Mornings are my best times to write.

Bullock-cart-by-M-K-Kelkar(Wind in teh Jug)

KR: This issue was about recovery through art–how do you think art makes (or doesn’t make) recovery possible?

JT: When I received my daughter’s autopsy report from the Tucson Medical Examiner’s office, I immediately began writing a poem that helped me deal with the aftermath of her death, even though it had occurred several weeks earlier. The scientific language anchored the factual aspects of the post mortem and that degree of reality was somehow necessary for my recovery.



Jack Troy is a potter, teacher and writer who lives and works in Huntingdon, PA. He has taught over 200 workshops for potters and his work in clay has taken him to 24 countries. His poems have appeared in West Branch, Pivot, Friends Journal, Kestrel, The Studio Potter, and Common Ground. His collection of poems, Calling the Planet Home, was self-published in 2003. His website is jacktroy.net

Katie Rice earned her BA in English: Creative Writing from Colgate University. She now works at Penguin Random House and lives in Brooklyn, NY.  Her poems have appeared in Black Bottom Review.

Interview with Janet Frishberg

Janet Frishberg

Emma Bailey: I love the confessional tone in your writing, Janet. Do people ever assume your fiction is actually memoir?

Janet Frishberg: This is definitely a thing that’s coming up in my life right now. A lot of what I’ve been publishing lately has been fictional, simply made up stories. But because I write both fiction and non-fiction, I don’t really know how to stop people from assuming that the narrator is me sometimes. When I share a piece of writing on Facebook or with people in my life, inevitably at least a few people will assume that it’s non-fiction, and it’s resulted in some weird situations with people giving me condolences for something that never happened to me.


Emma Bailey: Where and when do you write?

Janet Frishberg: I write most of my pieces while riding the bus, using my phone. (My thumbs have gotten very fast.) I love going to a cafe and writing, but if I only wrote this way I’d create way less.

I wrote this particular piece, “Benefits of Anticipatory Grief,” on paper, while sitting in a car waiting for my friend Sonia to get done with yoga so we could go eat dinner. I was kind of bored and kind of upset and didn’t really know why, so I jotted down some stuff. After many, many more drafts, and a brief life as a poem, it turned into this piece.


Emma Bailey: What do you do with all the pieces you write? How do you organize them on your computer?

Janet Frishberg: I don’t have great organizational tactics right now–this is definitely an area where I could improve. I have a list of the pieces I’m currently actively working on in my submissions spreadsheet, and they’re present in my head as well. As I start to work on something, I’ll move it out of its chronological folder and into the “In Progress” folder, where it gets its own folder so I can save drafts separately. (It helps me be a better editor knowing that nothing I delete is ever truly lost.)

I write probably 4 pieces a week (short ones, less than 1000 words), but I almost never do anything with them within six months of writing them. I like getting some temporal and emotional distance so I can more easily see which parts have energy and which parts need to be cut when it comes time to shape it more.


Emma Bailey: How does age influence your experience in writing communities and submitting your work?

Janet Frishberg: My age is very double-sided. I’m sometimes the youngest person in a workshop or a writing community, and there are definitely perks or privileges that come along with that. At the same time, there are some challenges, of not being taken seriously, or other writers not trusting my feedback initially because of my age or appearance. But I try not to worry about it too much because it’s not within my control.

In Silicon Valley there’s a whole culture that’s in love with youth and people doing big things young. I grew up here so I’ve totally bought into that ambition and the fear that comes along with it. I’m also aware that I’m going to change my mind and who I am so many more times in my life, even in just the next 5 years, so there’s some real discomfort about doing things like interviews (ahem) where I’m claiming my opinions and experience.

When I write anything autobiographical, there’s a part of me that’s imagining future-me reading this (on the internet, presumably FOREVER), cringing and being totally horrified. But…should I just not write or not say anything until I feel old enough to be justified in having an opinion or perspective? And when, exactly, will that happen?


Emma Bailey: Do your parents read your pieces? Do you think about how they’ll respond when you’re writing?

Janet Frishberg: My parents do read most of my pieces, and sometimes I think about how they’ll respond, especially when there’s something in the pieces that I haven’t already shared with them.

For instance, the piece I wrote for the anthology, “Get Out of My Crotch: Twenty-One Writers Respond to America’s War on Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health,” definitely had me naked in a bathtub with my boyfriend at the time, and they both heard me read that one out loud to a roomful of people.

Sometimes I think about it when I’m writing, like what will they think about this, or what will people in general think about this, but it’s really important to me not to confuse the part where I’m creating with the part where I’m publishing. I try to remind myself that publishing work is a choice, and I can decide on that later. I don’t want to censor myself in my creating. That feels like a really dangerous thing to do, the self-censorship.


Emma Bailey: I know that you’re a fast reader, what do you read? How much do you read?

Janet Frishberg: I freaking love reading. Right now, I read a book a week on average. My rate usually depends on how long my commute is (I read on the bus in the mornings) and how busy work is. When I’m really into a book, I get greedy with my time and very protective until I finish it. I’ve always been this way–when I was little I used to go the entire day without eating because I didn’t want to stop reading.

One thing that’s really important to me is I try to read two books written by women to every one by a man, because a few years ago I realized I was reading almost exclusively books written by men. People recommended books written by men to me, they were the classics that I thought I should read, etc. I got a lot of joy from changing my ratio. This year and moving forward, I also want to pay attention to how many writers of color I’m reading.


Emma Bailey: Are there any specific books that have changed your life? In what ways?

Janet Frishberg: The one that I haven’t been able to stop talking about for more than a year is Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Chronology of Water.” It gave me so much permission in my writing and being. Her fierceness, the poetry of her work, the sparseness of it, the structure. When I read it, I realized how much I’d allowed one specific philosophy behind storytelling to shape my ideas of what I was allowed to do in my work. The philosophy I’d bought into was logical, linear, and very American. Lidia’s book rocked my perspective in a wonderful way.



Emma Bailey is an artist in San Francisco and started drawing as a way to document the awkward and sweet moments of the day. Emma and Janet have been collaborating for the last year. You can find one of their collaborative pieces here.


Interview with Jodi Paloni

Jodi Paloni

I’ve had the privilege to read quite a few of Jodi Paloni’s stories, and her resonant voices and intimate sense of place never fail to anchor me into the lush, fictive landscapes––and oftentimes the interior landscapes––of her protagonists. Jodi wrote a preliminary draft of “Attachments” while we were on retreat together at Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts. It is my pleasure to introduce my dear friend and fellow writer Jodi and to briefly discuss her story.  ~ Mary Stein

Mary Stein: Jodi, By the time I completed “Attachments,” I felt almost as though I were waking from a lucid dream. I’m wondering if you’d talk a little bit about what inspired your world-building in relationship to this story.

 Jodi Paloni: It’s funny that you mention the dream state, Mary. As you know, I wrote this on a wonderful little retreat at Wellspring House. On a damp misty morning about mid-week, I woke up frustrated in the face of more revision work, but felt daunted by the blank page. So off I went, with a copy of Amy Hempel’s The Collected Stories, to stretch my legs and read at a soggy picnic table by the water. When I’m stuck, I go to my old standbys for inspiration: Amy Hempel, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Lorrie Morre.

Then there’s the Wallace Stevens quote, “Perhaps the truth depends upon a walk around the lake.” I lean on the premise of that line a lot.

 When I finally returned to my room, wet-through, I felt chilled. I changed into dry clothes, crawled back into bed and fell asleep. A morning nap! A luxury! I woke up with an image of a woman named Lorelei adopting a fat cat. That’s all I had when I opened my laptop. As I wrote, Joe popped in from out of nowhere. This was not a planned out story. I drafted the whole thing in one afternoon and into the evening and night, I revised it. I was quite pleased to have a draft I was fond of to show for my day of wandering and woolgathering.

 Often a walk gets me out of my busy head and into a more meditative space. That’s when my characters find me. I find I need to woolgather quite a bit in order to generate new work. Don’t you?


MS: I agree. I love the rare moments of slowing down enough to become a conduit for a story and its characters. I actually hadn’t realized you wrote “Attachments” after having a dream, but that dream-like atmosphere definitely appears in the story. In fact, one of my favorite parts about this story is its sense of mystery and intrigue: There are Joe’s secretive phone calls, the strangeness of the boathouse mural, and Murray’s sudden death. In a way, the narrative seems to be shaped as much by plot events as it is by these intentional exclusions––almost as though the story emerges even more sharply through the negative space. Tell me a little bit what questions you wanted to leave with the reader.

JP: Oh, I love that you brought up negative space. Philip Graham, one of my mentors at Vermont College, suggested I read Maps of the Imagination, The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi. Before Google Earth, a map didn’t show every tiny detail, all the building and paths and trucks and  sheep, etc… It was the space around the landmarks that enabled the traveler to see the marks that would lead the way. Philip and I had discussions on how to leave stuff off the page. I’m not always able to see what is not needed though, and my draft readers help me. I had a few ideas about whom Joe might be talking with on the phone, but the intrusion would have added an element that would have taken the story on a more circuitous route. I read Hempel when I feel the need to reign myself in on the tangents. She is the master of negative space. She was my guide for this one.


MS: This story is perfect for r.kv.r.y, given its emphasis on writing with a theme of recovery. “Attachments” deftly weaves Lorelei’s past trauma with her present conflict, and culminates in a rather sad repetition of an age-old cycle for her. I’m wondering if you would talk about the idea of recovery in terms of this story a bit.

JP:  Well, here’s another quote, this time from Ms. O’Connor. “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” I feel we spend most of our lives grappling with those events surrounding our loss of innocence. At least I do. There is something about Lorelei coming back to the place where it happened––facing Joe who was there, that they never really talked about it, all of which keeps the trauma alive and kicking––that seemed necessary. In the end, I wanted to tell a story where there was a bit of movement forward, as well as the potential for more movement ahead. That’s what life is, every day.  Again, we start all over, and again, and again. Hopefully, we are lucky enough to find the right supports, whether fur or fowl or human, to stick with us as we bumble through it all.

 Franz Marc- (Attachments)

MS: On that note, I can’t help but to bring up the cat––Old Murray has as much presence as any of the human characters. In some ways, he seems to serve as a divining rod for the story’s thematic overtures. Tell me a little bit about the progression of his inclusion through the various drafts of your story.

JP:  I have to admit, when I tell people that this is a cat story and a love story, I worry what they will think. I have a cat, Mew, who used to look a lot like the character, Murray, only Mew is a she and since, I have cut out all of her dreadlocks and put her on a diet. She’s quite buff now, chasing moths, leaping and such. And I have a good friend, also a writer, who has an enormous cat name Murray. Fat cats are both comic and tragic, the makings of good story, yes? The Murray in the story is a morph of those two cats. So there’s that.

But, I think you’re asking me to go a little deeper here. I can’t say that Murray’s role in leading the way, as it were, was deliberate. He became a very strong presence in my head as I crafted, as strong to me as Lorelei and Joe. He became a prop for Lorelei, her distraction from intimacy, but I had not seen that coming. I didn’t plan to kill him off, although I supposed he represents Chekov’s gun in that first graph. When Lorelei and Joe walked home and opened the door, he was dead. It was as much a shock to me as it was to her and I do not mean to sound trite, as if my characters lead me around by the nose. It’s a mystery, though, how that can happen some times.


MS:  What are you working on right now and how does this story fit in the greater body of your work, if at all?

JP: I’ve just completed a collection of stories that takes place in the fictional town of Stark Run, Vermont. The stories are very much place-based, rural and rambling. This story did not make the cut, as it stands right now. The tone of this piece, the language of it, is very different than most of my work; it’s more minimalist. But we’ll see. Having it appear in print and thinking about it again has me questioning my decision to save it for another project later.


MS: As a fan of your writing, of course I want to plug your work! So please tell us where we can find your blog and links to more of your stories.

JP: Thank you, Mary. Sure. The blog is called Rigmarole, which pretty much describes how it tends to go and on and on about this and that. You can find links to my 365 Short Stories Project and a dozen or so reviews of short story collections, as well as links to some other work I’ve published on-line. http://jpaloni.wordpress.com/



Mary Stein is the Assistant Editor of Conduit literary magazine and works as a teaching artist in Minneapolis. Her fiction has appeared in Caketrain, The Brooklyn Rail, Spartan Lit and Connotation Press. She received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been nominated for New Stories from the Midwest.

Richard Bader On Recovery

Richard Bader

One reason I like seeing my work in the r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal is that it looks so good here, artfully placed and presented and accompanied by actual art. Another is that I feel so at home. I seem to be unable to write a story without “recovery” playing a starring role. Recently I’ve written stories featuring frogs, parakeets, bowling, a woman on death row, and, in this latest issue of r.kv.r.y., people on a bathroom break, and recovery themes are everywhere. Recovery has been a major force in my life, so this makes sense.

But just how deeply embedded in fiction is the idea of recovery? Or to put it a different way, if you take away all fiction containing the theme of recovery, isn’t the body of work you’re left with deeply and sadly diminished?

“Recovery,” my online dictionary says, is “a return to a normal state of health, or mind, or strength.” The struggle for that “return to normal” has an impressive track record of making fiction compelling that extends at least as far back as Homer. Beautiful woman is abducted from her homeland. Homeland seeks to “recover” her. Beautiful woman’s face launches a thousand ships. Armies collide. People die horrible deaths. Heroes are made.

The Iliad.

In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” poor insectified Gregor Samsa may fail in his effort to “return to a normal state of health,” but his struggle in that direction is heartbreakingly present. And his eventual demise signals a “return to normal” for his family, for which they’re grateful. They recover from him.

In what’s arguably the most studied short story ever written, Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” Robert, the narrator’s wife’s visiting friend—a friend who earlier has helped the wife recover after an attempted suicide—may be physically blind, but he’s the one who guides the narrator past his own narrow-minded blindness about life toward new insight and awareness, and in doing so brings them both (aided by alcohol and pot) to a state of grace. “Recovery,” in other words. Or, if not precisely recovery, since it’s debatable whether the narrator ever had the qualities he gains at the end, at the very least a sort of uncovery.

The driving force in Moby-Dick is recovery’s darker cousin: revenge. Ahab can’t recover the leg he’s lost, but he can try to get even with the creature that took it from him, and it’s his lust for revenge that drives the plot. Score settling becomes its own kind of recovery.

Or, to move away from fiction studied in college classrooms and toward the fiction of best-seller lists, take Stephen King’s The Shining. Jack drags his family to a mountain hotel where he’s been hired as caretaker for the winter, seeking recovery from both his alcoholism and his flagging writing career. And OK, things don’t work out so well for Jack, but the theme is there, in Jack and in his wife and young son, who struggle toward what stands for “normal” in a Stephen King novel.

Just how prevalent is recovery in fiction? “Normal” makes for lousy fiction, so it makes sense that upsetting the normal, and struggling to return to it, would be common. But is recovery in most fiction? Is it possible to find it in all fiction, if you dig hard enough? Or is recovery simply one of those things that once you start thinking about it, you see it everywhere, like Ford trucks when you’re considering buying one?

All of this points to another reason I like being published in r.kv.r.y.—it puts me in such good company. And maybe that’s the neat trick of this publication. While appearing to narrow, it in fact opens up whole vast worlds of the fictional universe.


Richard Bader‘s fiction has been (or is about to be) published by the Burningword Literary Journal, SN Review, and National Public Radio. This is his second story for r.kv.ry. He lives and writes in Towson, Maryland.

Interview with Kevin Winchester

Kevin Winchester

Eugene Cross: Your story “Like Juliet and Romeo” is such a quietly moving piece. So much is left unsaid and I felt that contributed to the overall power of the prose. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for, or origins of this story?

Kevin Winchester: Thanks. This story emerged from a couple of different places. I wrote another story a year or so back, “Waiting on Something to Happen,” and the main character, Joe, is trying to find his way in the world after his wife passes away. I approached the revisions of that story with the idea of Keats’ negative capabilities in mind. I understood how his theory applied to poetry, how the poets employed it, and the challenge of integrating that into fiction intrigued me. Sure, doing that in fiction is nothing new, but it wasn’t—isn’t—something that was in my writing tool box, so I wanted to explore it. And in “Waiting…” Joe very much seemed to be a man not only “capable of being in uncertainties,” as Keats put it, but a man convinced that all was uncertainty. And yet, as a character, he was a very pragmatic man, a man who tried to live his life based on fact and reason, which made it even more challenging for me. I finished that story and it turned out okay I guess—it won the 2013 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award, which kinda implies the story was finished—but I had a hard time moving past it, something about it wouldn’t leave me alone. Joe’s wife, Patty, wasn’t in the first story in any corporeal way, only a brief and vague flashback, a memory at best, nothing that gave her much of a physical presence. But, she was real for Joe, and for me, too, I suppose. I worked on some other pieces, toyed with some ideas, and I noticed most of those ideas revolved around characters that felt oddly familiar. I began to see the possibilities for linked short stories. Thematically, I thought I “had it,” thought I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t generate much momentum in the other stories. Finally, I saw that what really linked the ideas was Patty, the themes, setting, stories, all of it; without Patty, there was no connection. I stopped drafting the other pieces and focused on Patty. I didn’t want to move back in time, back to a period when she was alive, because I found how everyone else lived with her absence much more compelling—their recovery, in a manner of speaking. As the comics say, death’s easy, you know? I eventually saw the obvious—Patty speaking as an absent narrator allowed me to explore negative capabilities even more, which led to “Like Romeo and Juliet.” My hope then, at least in regard to my hopes of achieving that negative capability, was that the authority of Patty, the unnamed, absent, yet vaguely omniscient narrator, would enhance that sense of power. And, I had to let her tell a part of the larger story before I could move on to the other pieces. Likewise, she needs to have this conversation with Joe so he can move on, too.


EC: From the changing of the seasons to sunset in Florence to that arresting image of the hawk striking the rabbit, the natural world plays heavily in your work. How does setting and nature affect your writing?

KW: The old saying is “write what you know,” and that’s pretty much all I know. I’ve tried to step out of that sensibility occasionally, but I just can’t do it. I’ve probably spent more time outdoors than inside over the course of my life. It’s where I’m most comfortable. For me, moving away from the natural world dampens the senses, blurs the lines, reduces everything to shadow or silhouette. I find a sharpness in Nature that provides clarity. I used to rock climb— combining a vertical granite face, three or four hundred feet of exposure and gravity will make you see things pretty clearly. And too, I’m a Southerner, a Southern writer (whatever that means anymore). It all starts with a sense of place, both on the page and in my life. So, I suppose you could say that setting and Nature affect all aspects of my writing, or at least, it informs all aspects of my writing. For instance, when story ideas first come to me, I see a character. Most times, that character is either outside, in nature, literally, or is being affected by natural forces.


EC: I really loved the point of view in “Like Juliet and Romeo,” that direct address to the narrator’s distanced love. What led you toward this?

KW: It started with that idea of experimenting with negative capabilities. But more directly, I knew that the narrator was Patty, Joe’s wife from the other story, and I knew she was dead. The other character in “Like Juliet and Romeo,” the one the narrator speaks to, is Joe, and obviously, he knows she’s dead. But, nobody else knows that. I realized the challenge would be getting the story to work on its own merit through the absent narrator whether the reader knew the first story or not. Also, I wanted the story to be successful, to carry the same—or more, power, whether the reader realized the narrator was dead or simply somewhere else. In the early drafts, the POV was a more traditional 3rd and it didn’t work. Walker Percy used a type of second person POV in Lancelot, one of my favorite novels, and I drew on that work. I kept tinkering with that in mind, and eventually, this pseudo-2nd person POV emerged, the voice clicked in my ear, and I knew I had it. It was completely different than Percy’s narrator, it’s still a 3rd person POV, but it was his work that started me in this direction.


EC: Elvis, Maybelle Carter, a German band playing American rock and roll. What role does music play, not just here, but in your work as a whole? How does your life as a musician influence your life as a writer and vice versa?

KW: Music influences my writing as much as Nature does, probably more. I come from a musical family; music has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. There’s always a song of some sorts playing in my head, I hear a rhythm in everything, everything— dialogue, water flowing, typing my response right now… While most of my story ideas first appear with a character outside, in Nature, the ideas never move beyond that until I hear the main character clearly. The way they speak, the cadence, the rhythm, the melody of their syntax establishes a soundtrack and everything rises from that. I hear the soundtrack thing in my head as I write. For me, everything about Voice is rooted in my musical sensibilities, whether it’s a character’s dialogue or the overarching voice of a piece. The relationship is more direct, too. The idea for the story I mentioned earlier, “Waiting on Something to Happen,” came from a line in the Shovel’s and Rope song, “Keeper.” The line described a guy who was “waiting on something that hadn’t happened yet.” That line stuck with me, I kept wondering what he was waiting on, and eventually I had the story. And vice versa? An old story of mine, “Baby Boy,” nagged at me for a couple years after I finished it. Eventually, I wrote a song called “Elijah” that explored the theme and character from the story in a completely different way. And in general, I’m always striving to write stories the way Jason Isbell, John Prine, Guy Clark, Darrell Scott, Robert Earl Keen write songs, and I try to write songs the way Ron Rash, Denis Johnson, Chad Simpson, Claudine Guertin, and you write stories.

EC: What’s your creative process like? Any favorite spots to write, talismans or rituals you utilize?

KW: Hmm, my creative process? Who knows? Mule-headed-ness helps. It’s work, you know? Every day, sit down at the computer, turn it on, start pounding the keys, guzzle coffee, swear, doubt myself, keep putting words on the page, keep herding sentences into little paragraph-like piles and hope they’re worth revising later. During semesters, I usually write for about an hour or so early mornings. Summers are better. I spend mornings outside, trying to coax vegetables from almost an acre of red clay, then write for several hours in the afternoon. I usually write at home, where I have a small office. It’s really more a cluttered closet stacked with books, notes, my computer, and room enough for me and Cooper, my dog, but it works. Sometimes I’ll go in early and write at work. Talismans or rituals? Hmm, again. Not really. Okay, I’ll admit I have minor OCD tendencies, all the light switches in the house have to point downward before I can begin, but I’m not that superstitious and don’t put much store in that sort of thing. Well, except Voodoo, ‘cause, you know, Voodoo is real. But, that’s such a demand on your time, what with all the rituals, incantations, and chickens, so I usually stick with the light switch thing. Other than that, for the most part, it’s just: sit down and write.


EC: Is this story part of a larger collection in the works? What future projects are simmering for you right now?

KW: I think so, hope it will be. I’m working on other short stories with the idea of them being part of the linked collection I mentioned. It’s still in the early stages, getting to know the other characters and such, and I’m certain there are several stories yet to be written. Hopefully, over the next year or so they’ll emerge and the collection will hold together. I have a novel manuscript completed, but I ended my last agent relationship, and I’m only casually looking for a new agent for that manuscript. I’ve also joined in a new, collaborative music project—an Americana band we’re calling the Flatland Tourists (Yes, you can follow us on Facebook! Thanks for asking.). I’m writing and co-writing material for that project. We’re hoping to get a CD out in the world late this year, early next year. We have material now and we’re just starting to go out and play those tunes around locally, but it’s new and fresh and I’m really enjoying writing with these folks, so new material keeps coming. Between that and the short stories, I have plenty of writing projects to keep me busy for a while.



EUGENE CROSS is the author of the short story collection “Fires of Our Choosing,” which was long listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and was named the Gold Medal winner in the Short Story category by the Independent Publisher Book Awards. His stories have or will appear in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, American Short Fiction, Story Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and Callaloo, among other publications. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, as well as fellowships from Yaddo and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He can be found online at www.eugenecross.com

Interview with Monica Wendel

Monica’s three-part prose poem The Lightning appears in the January issue.What is your biggest challenge as a writer?Not falling into despair. Is that melodramatic? I get overwhelmed easily.Are these poems part of a larger work?Yes — they are part of a series of five prose poems, which are forthcoming in my chapbook Pioneer (Thrush Press). I wrote them in Florida, about Florida. The three you see in r.kv.r.y. I wrote at the hotel pool with my boyfriend, his father, and his stepmother. 

What did you think of the artwork selected to illustrate your piece? Did it have any special meaning for you?

Pairing representational art with my poems was unexpected. I live with abstract artists and am more likely to find myself surrounded by shapes and colors rather than landscapes and people.

That said, I loved how the painting was dramatic and universal, since watching (and listening) to lightning is both of those things. It seems that anyone can relate to those moments of fear and anticipation, and the painting is another way of entering into that experience.

What is your writing process? Do you have one?

Since January 2013 I’ve lived in five different places, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to find a process amidst all that change.

Still, I write best in public, around the noise of people and music and espresso machines. Usually writing invokes waking up early and drinking coffee, then rewarding myself with a walk or a run. Normal stuff. Writing is boring and hard work, just like anything else.

And finally, what does recovery mean for you?

Again, back to this idea of the boring. That recovering, from a breakup or an injury or addiction, just means that you can go back to the hard work of everyday living. That you have to pick up your dog’s shit and be nice to the telemarketer and make rent and buy groceries. It can be disappointing to move out of crisis — like there should be a different person waiting at the other end. But of course, you only end up becoming yourself.

Discussion with Alexa Mergen

Alexa Mergen

I live with journalist Matt Weiser. We talk about books and writing a lot of the time. Lately we’ve been comparing notes on how the process of writing straight news contrasts with composing poems and essays. Below is a piece of the conversation from Sunday, February 2, 2014. 
~Alexa Mergen, author of Cells of Solitude

Alexa: It’s Sunday morning and news broke on your beat. You spent much of the day writing a story for The Sacramento Bee. What’s it like as a writer to turn an event into a story within hours?


Matt: Even though I have a deadline, I have to forget about that. Worrying about how little time I have will just be a preoccupation and get in the way of everything I have to do.

What’s it like for you to work without an event, and produce a poem without a deadline?


Alexa: Events for me occur in a moment: an image of a neighbor looking at a bird, or a line that lands from nowhere in my ear. I have to allow these things to ripen in their own time. Some poems, the rare ones, are written in hours. Others have taken me decades.

In a decade, you write thousands of news stories reaching millions of people. What’s it like to have so many readers? We poets are fortunate if a few see our words.


Matt: Sometimes it feels like a big responsibility. It’s also a privilege. But it also feels very anonymous at times. That’s because with the kind of writing I do I don’t really form a personal bond with the readers. Instead we bond around these news events that affect us all but are often kind of fleeting.

When you’re writing a poem, how do you come up with images that are lasting, and how do you make them resonate for your readers?

blue-and-green-music-(Cells of Solitude)

Alexa: Actually writing a poem is a tiny part of the process of making a poem. Most of the work is preparation. I intentionally make myself permeable so that my senses are heightened. The images end up being both particular and universal, hopefully lasting, because of this willingness to feel. Through practice, you learn the skill of how far to stretch an image in the poem and how images work together.

How do you make a news story lyrical so that the writing flows even as you are conveying facts ordered logically?


Matt: I remind myself to include details that can be felt by the senses. That means how something looked, what the weather was like or something about a person’s behavior. And I also use direct quotes from the people I interview to convey emotion and convey the fact that these are real people speaking.

You are a heavy reader of news stories. What is it about writing essays and poetry that makes them different lyrically from journalism?


Alexa: In writing essays and poems, I’m not at all bound by linear time. Both essays and poems can occur as spirals of recursive ideas or, as in this r.kv.r.y essay, “Cells of Solitude,” like strung beads. Sound, rhythm, pattern, images and connotation link ideas together in poems. Whereas when I read a news story, I want all the information to be firmly grounded in the present of current events and situated in a historical context.

Featuring Ann Hillesland

Ann Hillesland

“Singing is like meditation—you breathe in and out, you have to be in the here and now.  And yet performing is something more.  I think of it as projecting my energy outward to the audience.  Here is my love of this music, the emotion it brings out in me.  Please share in it too.

Writing is like both of these aspects.  When you are in the zone, writing is like singing, the eternal present.  But it is also projection to the audience.  In fiction, I’m hoping that people will understand and care about the characters as much as I do.  In nonfiction, I’m putting myself and my emotions out there and hoping that people understand me and that they won’t be bored.

Because this piece, “Wunnerful, Wunnerful, Fabulous,” combines these two interests, singing and writing, it possesses a kind of duality—doubly in the moment, doubly projecting outward—that’s strange for me, like out-of-alignment binoculars.

If you’ve already read the essay, you may have formed an idea of what the singing group, the JewelTones, is like.  Now you too can experience a duality—your vision of the JewelTones can come up against the real thing.  The following short video was produced by a local public access video group about the JewelTones.  The videographers filmed us mostly at typical gig: a 90th birthday party in a carport on a hot day.  We are costumed for the 40s (not in our fabulous long red dresses as in the essay) and singing songs from the 40s and 50s.  Here are the real JewelTones, sweating on a makeshift stage.  Here is our love of this music.  I hope you enjoy it.”

–Ann Hillesland