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.

 

 

Catching up on catching up on more (more) reading

IMG_5974

Lucky duck that I am, I was able to spend another four weeks (Jan/Feb) at the Playa Artist Residency program. That’s the pink view from my desk there one afternoon. Once again, I brought some literary journal reading to catch up on — and once again I read some stuff I feel moved to share, to encourage MORE reading. And literary magazine subscribing. And enthusiastic (re)sharing.

Crab Orchard Review continues to be a reliable source of memorable poetry! From the Winter/Spring 2014 issue (19:1), I want to recommend “Deer Rub” by Sara Eliza Johnson, with its sharp couplets of terrific imagery and its canny movement from the deer, widening to a consideration of war at a global level, and panning over seamlessly to a more interpersonal notion of warfare. What a poem!

Another poem I really liked from that issue was “Nuclear,” by Steven D. Schroeder. I just got a kick out of all the wordplay, and how that “play” was part of a larger manipulation of tone that veered from technicolor fifties and sixties imagery and allusion to the philosophical darkness of the nuclear age. It’s also a poem that does some things I aspire to do in poems — and of course it is also interested in history, which I am, and interested in a part of history I’ve also written and thought a lot about. Right in my wheelhouse!

Finally, “Killed Boy, Beautiful World” by Lauren K. Alleyne. This poem articulated so well, so perfectly, the mashup of agony and beauty that is living, especially in a world that can seem full of nothing but death. It’s a poem that ends either in a moment of transcendence, or a moment of surrender. I’m not sure which. But, wow, it’s a poem I’ll be sharing with others for a long time to come.

These poems are not yet available online — eventually, Crab Orchard Review will post a PDF of the issue online, but don’t forget that YOU, TOO, can have great poems delivered TO YOUR HOME by subscribing to COR, or other journals.

Another journal I brought out to Oregon with me from my gigantic New Hampshire home-pile was Measure (8:2) from 2013. For those who don’t know, Measure is a journal devoted to poems written in traditional form(s)/meters, like the sonnet, or rhymed/metered couplets, etc. There were three particularly fun parodies/responses to famous poems. Kathleen Naureckas wrote a kind of rejoinder to Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse,” taking on the point of view of the parents. The first line: “They fuck you up, your girls and boys.” Alan Nordstrom brings us “Sonnet 130a,” again with an interesting switch in point of view — not the “Master,” not the “Mistress,” but their dog. Martin J. Levine re-imagines Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death” as “Stop for Death,” in which Death gets stuck in traffic.

Finally, I wanted to mention a poem from the October 2014 issue of Poetry that I kept paging back to, drawn by the rhythms, the dynamic lines/stanzas/syntax, the sometimes weird images. I’m not sure what else to say about “In the Woods” by Kathryn Simmonds except that it totally had my number.

I’ve gotten into a habit from my youth — I cut these poems out of the magazine pages and scotch tape them into my current writing notebook. It’s nice having good work close at hand. Thanks, poets, for writing it.

Catching Up On Reading

Away for writing retreat at Seal Rock, Oregon, I’m working to catch up on a stack of literary journals that I subscribe to. Reading new work puts me in the writing place, for sure. Today I dug into Crab Orchard Review’s Winter/Spring 2013 (Vol. 18, No. 1 — which I don’t understand how I missed, since I already read/enjoyed Vol. 18, No. 2, but, whatever).

CoRCOVERCOR is one of my favorite journals because of the variety of work and the fact that I always find stuff I like by writers I haven’t heard of before. In this issue, as always, there was much to enjoy, but I’d like to call out a few SUPER SPECIAL favorites. Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s “Lovers in the Age of Airmail,” which I thought made really smart use of couplets and concluded with a bang-on image — “rivulets of water gliding / off the blades of a swimmer’s shoulders / when he steps from the sea.” Al Maginnes’ “Elegy for a Name” was a gorgeous and fitting tribute to the late poet Jake Adam York and his important work about the history and memory of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Ashley Anna McHugh’s facility with the sonnet — especially with full and slant end rhymes — had me rereading “Memento” and “Omen” several times. Aisha Sharif’s writing about the hijab in “The Fitting Room” and “To the White Boy Who Pulled Off My Hijab in 7th Grade Gym” was so memorable — both her poems begin in anecdote but end in a more expansive place, definitely in conversation with the world as well as with the self. Finally, Ocean Vuong’s “Daily Bread,” which interrogated itself and its reader and was well-fueled by sound & senses.

Of the writers above, Vuong and Maginnes were the only ones whose work I had read previously. I am so happy to have some new writers to read and I look forward to reading more from them. Thanks, Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble, and all the folks at Crab Orchard Review, for delivering me regular doses of great reading. If you’d like to check out any of the work I mention above, the issue is available online HERE. If you like what you see, consider a subscription!