I Will Never Be Caught Up With All This Reading!

Summer is about to turn the corner into August, and I find myself simultaneously working on the stuff I need to finish before the semester starts and continuing to cram as much bonus reading into my days as possible. As in years past, the reading pile is tall and varied, and even includes issues of literary journals I subscribe to, but don’t always keep up with during the school year. Once again, I find myself catching up on Crab Orchard Review (V. 20. No. 2: “20 Years: Writing About 1995-2015”) and finding some real gems I want to make sure my vast and curious readership is aware of.

The lead-off short story, “A Recipe for Mice,” by Amy Knox Brown is so sad and tender and weird and a little creepy! It’s the story of one man grieving the loss of his wife using some uncommon “recipes.” His grief, as well as his anger and frustration with some new neighbors, takes several unusual shapes as the story progresses. I think I might need to share this with my Creative Writing students this fall.

You know, it really is a pleasure to find new stuff to share with students as examples, pieces to get them thinking about the possibilities of imaginative writing. Another from this issue is “Ten Long Weeks at Sea” by Susanna Childress. I love how this poem takes two very different subjects or ideas and weaves them together such that each of the two gets stronger and more interesting. I’ll let you know that one of the subjects of this poem is the giant squid. The other? Go see for yourselves.

Jim Daniels‘ “Filling Out the Health Questionnaire” reminds me to urge students of the pleasures of “found” poetry in all its shapes — the pleasure being multi-faceted — finding, (re)arranging, (re)shaping, (re)combining. This poem is also a great example of finding the profound in the mundane, which has always been, for me, a poetic motivation. The last lines are just terrific: “There is a history of death in my family / that I believe I have inherited.”

I write this from Washington State, visiting my mother on the Kitsap Peninsula, right up the Hood Canal from the Bangor Submarine Base where my dad was stationed for three years when I was a kid. Being here in this house, and going through a lot of my dad’s Navy memorabilia (he just passed away last year and was in the Navy for 30 years; his own father was in for 20), has me perhaps especially primed to love Jehanne Dubrow’s poems, “[To A Navy Wife, in Maryland]” and “Reunion Porn.” The creepy voyeurism of “Reunion Porn,” accompanied by “the itch / of empathy” is very affecting.

I am a sucker for persona poems, and it’s an assignment I almost always give in poetry workshops I teach, so of course I enjoyed Tom C. Hunley’s “Officer Down,” in the voice of the Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum. It turns out to be quite a tender poem, about the Chief’s love for his son, the goofy Ralph Wiggum.

Finally, I loved J.D. Smith’s “Zombie Requiem,” which I will share with my students as an example of one way to write a successful political poem. The poem’s argument here is sneaky — and I guess its moves, although free-verse, are almost sonnet-like in the unfolding of its argument and its turn at the end.

Crab Orchard Review has always been one of my favorite literary journals — I always find memorable work between its covers, they pay writers, and their editors are first-rate literary-community citizens. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating and supporting their important work.

 

 

Building Up to Emerging: Tips for Applying to Fellowships, Residencies and Workshops

Some great, specific advice here on applying to residency programs and other opportunities.

Women Who Submit

by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

The first time I applied for a fellowship was in spring 2009. I was about to finish grad school, and I sent out a slew of applications like I was applying for a PhD. I figured it was the next logical step as I readied myself to move beyond my MFA program, and I had the mentors close by to help. I gathered transcripts and letters of recommendation, curated samples of work and wrote project proposals. I remember one mentor agreed to write a letter with what I perceived as little enthusiasm. When all the rejections came in that summer, I read the bios of those who won and took notice of all their previous awards and accolades. I thought back to that mentor and considered her lackluster support the response of someone who understood the literary world better than I did at that time.

See what…

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Finding Place on Paper: Contemporary Poets and Printmakers Explore the White Mountains Today

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Plymouth State University’s Museum of the White Mountains is seeking poems by writers from (or connected to) New Hampshire and the New England region, for whom the White Mountains have played a role or been a source in their work, for the upcoming show, “Finding Place on Paper: Contemporary Poets and Printmakers Explore the White Mountains Today.”

This exhibit will display poems alongside prints to explore and respond to the White Mountains as a place. Details are still being finalized, but selected poems may be paired with artworks for visual display and/or included in printed material associated with the show. We are especially (but not exclusively) interested in shorter poems (14-24 lines) as they tend to afford more flexibility with respect to visual presentation of the text. There may also be a reading at the Museum during the October 24 – December 16 exhibition.

Previously published poems welcome if the author retains copyright. Interested poets should submit 1-3 poems, a brief biographical statement and contact information, all in one document (.doc, .docx, or .pdf), to Liz Ahl at eahl AT plymouth DOT edu. The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2016. To learn more about the Museum of the White Mountains, please visit http://www.plymouth.edu/museum-of-the-white-mountains/

Here’s a PDF version of this call — please feel free to download and circulate with my thanks!

Call for Poetry — Museum of the White Mountains

The Song One Wants to Hear

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At a chain “family restaurant,” typical among those found at or near the American shopping mall, my section is treated to a slightly perfunctory, but acceptable enough (lots of clapping, good volume) and VERY brief “birthday song,” which begins with a line about not being allowed to sing the actual “Happy Birthday” song. Their homegrown version is very speedy, fast-clappy, and then, after the quick presentation of a dessert to the birthday celebrant, it is OVER. Bing bam boom. Twenty seconds, max.

As I listen to their song (more of a chant, really) I wonder about helpfully informing my server, when she returns, that the copyright issue that has, for years, forced such restaurants into coming up with their own musical accompaniment to the presentation of complimentary birthday dessert, has been resolved. After a protracted court battle, “Happy Birthday” has been released into the public domain, where it belongs! How helpful I could be, I think, sipping on my dessert (a glass of whiskey). I imagine how grateful they would be to know that they can now treat diners to an actual melody – the actual melody, the familiar one. We might all be able to sing along, even, if we were so moved. Think of how we’d all be connected again, by this cultural touchstone. Think of the happy, serenaded customers!

But as I play this all out – my learned revelation to the server, her gratitude visible as she rushes off to tell her co-workers – it occurs to me that the restaurant staff might not be happy to hear the news of the liberation of “Happy Birthday.” “Happy Birthday” is a much longer time-commitment, musically, than the little chant they’ve cooked up themselves out of necessity – and it is, in fact, a song, not a chant, and as such, requires a basic musical ear and voice that not every server may possess. Think of it – you’ve heard or participated in those awkwardly dissonant versions – half the group in one key, half in another, with a few enthusiastic but tone-deaf hollerers sprinkled about. Just because the servers are allowed to sing “Happy Birthday” doesn’t mean they are required to sing it, or required to want to sing it.

Maybe because my dessert is composed entirely of whiskey, this all blooms in my mind as an imperfect metaphor for how I feel about marriage. As a queer lady partnered with another queer lady for nearly fourteen years, I am now allowed to get married. But I still don’t want to get married. I’d like to suggest to the well-meaning folks out there who are so happy we now have this option and who wonder why we don’t take it – I empathize with your wondering why we don’t participate. Indeed, so powerful is marriage in the contemporary American imagination, one of the voices questioning my opting out is one coming from inside my own head. But here’s what I’ve got: like “Happy Birthday,” contemporary secular marriage has been a cultural touchstone, a “thing we do” or, if we can’t, “a thing we want to do.” Or a “thing we are supposed to want to do.” Until recently, I could conveniently tamp down such pressures with the simple fact: I’m not allowed to. Now I’m allowed to.

But like the servers (or, okay, likely their managers/corporate masters), many of us queers didn’t wait around for the law and the culture at large to give us permission to have our lives and our loves and our families. We figured it out. We created new structures and names, and ways of talking (a lot) about boundaries, family, money, work – and we created workarounds that grew into more than just workarounds. Oh we worked and we worked around. We negotiated. We found ways to honor/trouble/subvert/reinvent long-held traditions of kinship and partnership and romance. I mean, we talked a lot. And we figured it out. And it was pretty great!

I personally do not find contemporary civil marriage superior to or more desirable than the songs we wrote for ourselves. There are good reasons to get married and good reasons to not get married. Maybe some day I will – and even if I don’t, I will continue to over-process the philosophical and practical and cultural dimensions of marriage with my lady-love because, damn, do we know how to talk something through. And through. And through.

As I hear the evening’s fifth birthday clap-chant echo briefly from a distant corner of the restaurant, I confirm that there are actually multiple versions of the chant. This one doesn’t have the first one’s specific allusion to the forbiddenness of “Happy Birthday.” I’m pretty sure I’ve actually heard three different versions of “birthday clap-chant” in this one restaurant tonight. How many different alternative songs or chants have been created – begrudgingly and/or cheerfully – in response to the completely ridiculous legal “protection” of the copyright of a song we all know by heart, even if not always in key? And what if, as I am starting to strongly suspect, these servers already know that they are allowed to sing “Happy Birthday” again – but they just don’t want to? I had assumed they didn’t know about the recent court finding because of course, if they had known, they’d be singing “Happy Birthday,” wouldn’t they? Because that’s what’s done. It’s what one wants to sing, what one wants to hear. Isn’t it?