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The Roanoke Review is moving on-line!
After 47 years as a print journal, the editor and staff of the Review have decided that we’ve killed enough trees.

The new, on-line version of the Review will be up
and going on or around the beginning of February, 2015.
We will continue to feature the same down-to-earth, moving, funny, intriguing,
stimulating, startling, engaging, high-quality poems, short stories, essays and art
we always have, plus a few interesting extras.
Please keep an eye on
http://roanoke.edu/A-Z_Index/Roanoke_Review.htm
for further information.

All submissions will continue to be received via submittable.com
or at:
Roanoke Review
221 College Lane
Salem, VA 24153

Submissions will be read from
1 September through 31 January.

Thanks for all who submitted for the Roanoke Review fiction contest. The review board recently finalized the decisions for who placed. They were very impressed and it was a difficult decision.

First place: “Mermaids” by Jan Bowman
Second place: “The Tunnel” by Gail Chehab

Runners up:
“Infected” by Seamus Scanlon
“Jimmy and the Constellations” by Sean Hoen

Honorable Mentions:
“Lisbeth from Oklahoma” by Shelley Scaletta
“The Third Assault” by Elisa Fernandez-Aria
“The Tchotchke Guy” by Renato Escudero
“Three Wives and a Daughter” by Susan Land
“The Second Miracle of Mesta” by Keya Guimaraes

Leslie Haynsworth is the $1000 prize-winner of the 2009 Roanoke Review Fiction Contest for her story “Two Left Feet.” According to Haynsworth, her story “grew out of an offbeat news which appeared in the New York Times in 2008… about this island off the coast of Washington State where three men’s right feet—just the feet, and nothing else—had washed up in recent months. I moved the setting to my native South Carolina and changed the three right feet to two left ones, but in many other respects I hewed fairly closely to the original news item.” Copies of the current Roanoke Review, in which the story appears, can be ordered here.

Haynsworth is an MFA student in fiction at the University of South Carolina, where she serves as fiction editor for Yemasee and web editor for the USC Arts Institute. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fourth Genre, The Common Review, Gulf Stream, Live Oak Review, A River & Sound Review, CrossRoads: A Southern Culture Annual, and elsewhere. She’s currently working on a satiric novel about academic life, which is in no way inspired by her own experiences in academia.

Heather Repass speaks with Leslie Haynsworth:

HR: You changed the original setting of the news article which inspired “Two Left Feet” to South Carolina for your story. Why? Does your home state often inspire aspects of your work?

LH: The original setting for the news story was the Pacific Northwest, and I initially intended to set the story there too, but as I started writing, I realized I wasn’t familiar enough with that part of the country to be confident that I was portraying it accurately. So I moved the setting to South Carolina just because I know that coast so much better. But whether my home state inspires my work is an interesting question. Most of my work is set in or around South Carolina, but I’m not sure I’d identify myself as a “Southern” writer in the sense of being persistently concerned with exploring what it means to be Southern. Having lived (briefly, I’ll admit) in the West and the Northeast, it seems to me that in the last generation or so, as we all consume the same mass culture, regional differences have tended to fall away. The South is still a different place from the Northeast, but I think it’s a lot less different than it was when I was a little girl. Certainly it’s not as distinctively its own place as it was in Faulkner’s time. I definitely think of myself as a Southerner, but I’m not really sure what that means for my writing or for my identity.

HR: What things do inspire you to write?

LH: That’s an interesting question too. I have vague ideas for stories all the time, but I can never tell which of those ideas are really going to blossom into stories. From talking to other writers, I think that’s a common experience. I do have one friend who actively looks for interesting news stories, and almost all of his stories are inspired by what he reads in the newspaper. I’m more inclined just to start musing about this and that while I’m doing housework or taking a shower, and sometimes my musings will coalesce into a particular scenario, and then sometimes I’ll find myself wanting to run with that scenario and flesh it out more, and I’ll make up these characters and give them names and put them into a particular scenario and start getting interested in them, and then I’ll know I might be onto something. But, again like most writers I know, I can’t always tell which stories are really going to work. Some of my most promising beginnings have gone nowhere. And sometimes rough or weak beginnings lead to stories that become much more exciting in the middle—and I can’t really explain how or why that happens. I’m just happy when it does.

HRHow did you discover your talent for writing?

To be honest, having taught a lot of creative writing classes, I think almost everyone has a talent for writing in one way or another—a vantage point on the world, or a voice that is in some way really fresh or exciting. So I feel a little uncomfortable thinking of myself as having a “talent” for writing. But I do have a passion for it, and that’s something I discovered pretty early. I was a voracious reader as a kid, in fact, kind of famously so—they named the library at my summer camp after me. And I can remember being seven or eight and making up stories in my head, and by the time I was about 10, I was writing some of those stories down. So writing was always something I wanted to do. But, again like a lot of people, I think, I was pretty tentative about that ambition for a long time. I took a creative writing class in high school and made a D in it. That’s a story I love to tell my students now. The feedback you get from teachers or other mentors can discourage you so easily when you’re young. But I look back now and see that my high school creative writing teacher just had a sensibility that was very different from my own. What I’ve come to realize in recent years is that success as a writer comes at least as much from perseverance even in the face of discouragement or rejection as from any innate talent you might have.

HR: What led you into the MFA program at the University of South Carolina? Do you have any plans yet for your life after graduation?

LH: After college, I decided I wanted to be an English professor, so I got a PhD in Victorian literature. But along the way, I kept taking on these writing jobs, in advertising, PR, feature writing, etc. So when I went on the academic job market, I ended up being hired to teach professional and creative writing rather than literature as I had initially planned. And I loved it—and what I loved most of all was the creative writing classes. Working with my students on their writing made me realize too that maybe my secret, tentative ambition to pursue a writing career of my own might actually be worth pursuing. But with a teaching job and two small children, I found it hard to make time for my writing, and when I did squeeze in that time, I found it hard to tell if my work was any good. I realized I would benefit a lot from being part of a community of writers. A few years earlier, I’d profiled several noted writers for Publishers Weekly, and all of them had said their MFA experiences had been really instrumental to their development as writers and to their professional success. Going back to school at age 40 when I already had a PhD felt crazy, but after a lot of thought, I realized it was something I really wanted. My mom kept telling me I deserved to give myself a chance to succeed as a writer, and for me an MFA seemed like the best way to do that. I chose the program at USC simply because we lived in Columbia and I felt like I couldn’t uproot my whole family so I could get yet another graduate degree. But it turned out to be a great choice—it’s a particularly friendly and supportive community of writers, and the fiction professors—Janette Turner Hospital, Elise Blackwell, and David Bajo—are all fantastic, just really astute and insightful readers. Working with them and being immersed in a program where we’re all thinking about writing and commenting on each other’s writing on a regular basis has made my work so much better in so many ways. I still sometimes have these moments when I’ll think I was crazy to give up a tenure-track job to go back to grad school, but really I don’t regret it for a minute.

As for my post-graduation plans, they’re totally up in the air at the moment. I’d love to go back to teaching, but those jobs are hard to come by. I definitely want to finish my novel, and hopefully start working on another one—I’ve taken lots of notes on a couple of different ideas that I’m excited about.

HR: You work as fiction editor for Yemasee and as web editor for the USC Arts Institute. What have been your favorite moments in those jobs?

LH: Working for Yemassee has been so great—I think any MFA student who has a chance to work on a literary magazine and doesn’t do it is crazy. Reading through piles of submissions teaches you so much about what works and what doesn’t, what makes a story really compelling, what grabs an editor’s attention, and what makes her put even a promising story in the rejection pile. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I started getting a lot more of my own work published after I began reading for Yemassee.

As for my favorite moments as fiction editor, they’re when I find those stories that I just love and am so excited to publish. You have all those manila envelopes piled up in the in box, and when you pull one out, you never know what you’re going to find. Most of the submissions I read are interesting or promising in some way, but when I find one that pulls me in and makes me say, “Oh, wow,” that’s really exciting.

Working for the Arts Institute has been great because it’s given me a chance to see what goes on in the arts all across campus, and to get to know artists in other disciplines. I think when you put artists from different fields together, they can cross-pollinate in really interesting ways.

HR: Would you be willing to tell me a bit more about your satiric novel about academia?

LH: Sure—it’s been so much fun to write, I almost feel like it’s not fair that it’s also counted for course credit! It’s set—as so many satiric academic novels are for some reason—primarily in an English department. The basic premise is sort of like that nursery rhyme where, for want of a nail for this one horseshoe, a whole kingdom is lost. The plot is set in motion when a lowly adjunct professor of English starts scheming to land a slightly better job as assistant director of an obscure institute on campus. Not being as well-versed in campus politics as she should be, she inadvertently sets off a fairly catastrophic series of events. Poking fun at academic life has in many ways been cathartic, and what’s especially fun is that all these people who know I’m working on the novel are always coming up to me and saying, “hey, have I got a story for you—this just has to go into your novel!”

HR: In what ways is writing a novel different for you from writing short stories?

LH: In some ways, it’s actually easier to write a novel. I tend to be a long-winded writer, and I always find out—and want to write—more and more about my characters and their situation as I go along. Short stories force you to be disciplined and efficient, and that doesn’t come naturally to me. But those are also valuable qualities even for novel writers, so I really appreciate the way stories force me to make my prose more lean and to consider what absolutely needs to get said and what can simply be implied, or left out altogether. What I wish, though, is that there was more of a place out there for fiction that falls in between the 10-20 page range of the typical story and the 300 pages or so of the typical novel. A lot of the ideas I have feel like they’re more than short stories but not quite novels, and there’s not a lot of room in the current market for novella-length work.

HR: Is there any advice that you wish someone had given you when you started writing?

LH: Absolutely—I wish I had understood back then how important it is not to get discouraged by rejection. It happens to everyone, over and over. I think most people who aspire to be writers have probably had a fair amount of academic success and are acclimated to having their work praised rather than rejected. So when you start submitting your work and get those initial rejections, it feels a lot worse than it really is. Once you’ve been a journal editor, you really understand that every journal has to reject very promising work on a routine basis. Last year, I had a number of stories and essays accepted for publication and one of my friends said, “Wow, you’re doing so well,” and my response was, “You have no idea how many rejections I got, though.” Other people’s success is very visible to us, but their failures aren’t so visible. So based on what we can see about how others are doing, compared to what we know about how we’re doing, it’s really easy to feel like a comparative failure. I track my submissions on duotrope.com, and it provides you with all kinds of handy stats, including your acceptance rate. Right now mine’s at about 4.5%, meaning that I have one acceptance for about every 20 submissions I make. Next to that stat is a message from duotrope that says, “Congratulations! Your acceptance rate is higher than those of other people who are submitting to the same markets.” If I had understood from the start how routine rejections are, it would have been easier to maintain confidence in myself as a writer even when my work was being regularly turned down.

P. Scott Cunningham is the founder of the University of Wynwood and the director of O, MIAMI, a contemporary poetry festival debuting in April 2011 thanks to funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Harvard Review, Court Green, Abe’s Penny, Pool, Pure Francis, PANK, Northville Review, Roanoke Review, and elsewhere. A satirical piece of his appears in The McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes (Vintage, 2009). He lives in Miami and continues to work on a book-length collection of poems about the composer Morton Feldman. You can read “Intro to Morton Feldman” and “Feldman Dry-cleans Boulez’s Underwear” (below)  in previous issues of the  Roanoke Review. (Photo by Elliot and Erick Jimonez)

The Roanoke Review is currently welcoming submissions and reading for its $1000 Fiction Contest (postmark or online submission deadline November 8).

~

~

Feldman Dry-cleans Boulez’s Underwear

Extra bleach, extra starch, he said.
He was visiting from Paris, heard
my family’s business was the best.
“I’m leaving for Chicago on Monday to conduct
Mahler’s ninth, you know, the one
stuck half way between the past
and the future.” Yeah, I said,
like these stains we won’t be able to get out
unless you cough up an extra buck.
“Robbery!” he screamed, and I explained
in America you get what you pay for.
“Is that why no one plays your scores?”
he retorted and stormed through the door,
forgetting to take his ticket so
I stole his fancy European panties
and sold them to this Chinese guy
who likes that stuff. When an intern
came by, asking for Pierre’s laundry,
I gave him back some splattered
boxers instead, a note attached that read,
“Compliments of Jackson Pollock.”

~

Mary Crockett Hill speaks with P. Scott Cunningham:

MCH: Why Morton Feldman? How did it all begin?

PSC: Why Feldman? I first read about Feldman in the New Yorker in 2006. Their music critic Alex Ross wrote a short biographical piece on Feldman and his place in 20th Century music. To put it bluntly, I fell in love. I immediately ordered every book by him or about him that was available (I still don’t have “Morton Feldman Essays,” an out of print book that is largely absorbed by more recent volumes – though I did hold and flip through a copy once), and I started listening to his music, beginning with Rothko Chapel.

I’d be lying if I said I loved the music immediately. I didn’t. I didn’t even understand it. At that time, I knew pretty much nothing about classical music, so I had no way to situate what I was hearing. It sounded like nothing to me. The difficulty I had with the music only increased my fascination with Feldman the person however.

Feldman was a 300-pound giant from Queens who was nevertheless dwarfed by the size of his personality. Everyone who has ever met him has at least one outlandish anecdote about him. He was loud, gregarious, a bit of a womanizer, and undoubtedly one of the most talented PR men of the century. His friends were all famous artists (Cage, Guston, Pollack, O’Hara, Rothko, etc.) and he was at the center of that New York School scene that everyone wishes they had been a part of (even if they’re over the fascination now). And yet he made music that’s seemingly the exact opposite of himself: quiet, sparse, repetitive, and often quite lengthy. (String Quartet II can last almost six hours if conducted slowly.)

How did these two things–the brash New York artist and the quiet, serious composer–exist within the same person? That contrast is what has kept me interested in Feldman and what drives the poems. Originally, I was writing a fairly straightforward biographical portrait of Feldman but that project slowly expired in favor of a book of poems that responds to Feldman, often in highly tangential ways. I may not even title it after Feldman, or make an explanation of the connection between the two because I’ve gradually come to realize that the poems are more about the ideas that Feldman has bequeathed to me, not the man himself.

I’ve since come to really enjoy the music. It’s deeply serious and engaging if you’re willing to commit to listening to it for long stretches. It’s a very different experience from listening to pop music or even someone like Philip Glass or John Adams (both composers I love btw). Feldman isn’t going to charm you into listening. There’s barely a discernible thread to follow and harmony is only an occasional visitor. To critics frustrated by a lack of melody, Feldman used to say that he throws in one moment of beauty per piece, and what more could you really ask for?

MCH: Let’s pretend I see you wearing one of your awesome Lady Python t-shirts from the University of Wynwood, which causes me to say “Hey! I’ve never heard of the Lady Pythons. Maybe you could tell me something about them.” Then you say…

PSC: I’d say that the Lady Pythons are the mascot of the University of Wynwood and the nation’s premiere collegiate Division III Women’s Jai-Alai team. University of Wynwood is a faux-university I created in order to produce literary events in Miami.  Our goal is to make Miami a destination for young writers and a city that can self-perpetuate its literary life. Because our public transit system has traditionally been neglected in favor of building highways and we’ve gone through multiple political upheavals that have drastically altered the city’s demographics, Miami can feel like a fractured place. Which is good for writers in some ways—there’s more material here I think than almost anywhere else—but it also makes life as a writer very difficult, especially for young people who hail from places like Portland or New York or Boston or San Francisco where the modes, hangouts, and styles of writerdom are all well-scripted. So we’re all blazing trails down here because there’s no other option. It’s occasionally exciting; often frustrating. Point being, I created UofW to make things happen in a literary sense because I didn’t see them happening already. Thankfully, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation took an interest early on, which has allowed us to host a visiting poet series and fly in great poets like Zachary Schomburg, Ed Skoog, Joanna Klink, and Roanoke’s own Melanie Almeder!  They’ve also partnered with us to produce the city’s first poetry festival, called O, Miami which debuts next April.

Because I’d invented my own university, I had to give it a mascot and a sports team right? Hence the Lady Pythons women’s jai-alai team. And sports teams need logos, so I asked my friend Isaac Littlejohn Eddy (that is indeed his given name), who is a cartoonist for the New Yorker and the New York Times, to design their logo. And then I made t-shirts. [Editor’s note: you can get your own Lady Python t-shirt here.]

MCHOf the potentially zillion things in life that can make poetry happen, what are some of the things that make poetry happen for you?

PSC: First and foremost, reading poetry and going to poetry readings. I look at poetry as one big conversation, so I can’t write without other voices in my ear. Without them, I just feel like I’m ranting. Music too makes me want to write poetry, but maybe that’s just an extension of my first answer? Sometimes I wake up with a poem in my head. And I contribute to a chain of haiku on Twitter with the Miami Poetry Collective and most of the stuff I write for that is Miami-generated: images I come across while walking or driving. The one thing that doesn’t make poetry for me, interestingly enough, is memory. Or rather, every memory-generated poem I’ve ever written is terrible. I’m not entirely sure why that is though.

MCH: What are you reading these days?

PSC: I’m definitely a hot mess reading-wise. I have to have several books going at once, to the point where I stress myself out about the unmanageability of it all. But I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which was great. I’m also moving slowly through C.K. Williams’ new book on Walt Whitman and Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense. (I also read anything poetry-related (and fiction too if the writer is especially lyrical) with a pencil and notebook, which slows me down.) Poetry-wise, I’m reading Dorothea Lasky’s Black Life after just finishing Timothy Donnelly’s Cloud Corporation via The Rumpus Poetry Book Club (totally worth joining).  And this will sound kind of au courant and “aren’t you special?” but I’m making my way through everything Roberto Bolano wrote. I can’t help it. I really love him in the way I once fell in love with Denis Johnson.

MCH: What’s your favorite joke?

PSC: I don’t think I even know any jokes anymore! All my humor is YouTube-based! Just name a stupid video you’ve seen recently and I probably thought it was hilarious. Though, now that I think about it, last night D.A. Powell was posting #molluskmovies on Twitter and I thought it was the funniest thing that’s ever happened. Examples, “Clam 9 from Outerspace”, “Rebel Without a Conch”, “Some Limpet Hot” etc. Like I said, I’ll laugh at anything.

MCH: Anything else to add?

PSC: Read Roanoke Review!

Online submissions here.

The Roanoke Review Fiction Contest

Awarding $1000 to some creative soul.

(And $500 to the soul placing second.)

Submission are currently being accepted for the Roanoke Review‘s 2010 Fiction Contest. Prize winner & runners-up will published in 2011 issue.

Send unpublished stories (max, 5,000 words) to Roanoke Review Contest, Roanoke College, Salem, VA  24153. Include $15.00 reading fee for each story.  Make checks out to Roanoke College. Also include a SASE for reply. Manuscripts are recycled.

Deadline is November 8, 2010 (postmark or online submission).

Note: All entrants will receive a copy of the 2010 Roanoke Review (if you provide us with your address).

You may now submit to the 2010 Contest online.

Laura Madeline Wiseman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of three chapbooks, My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010) a finalist in four national contests, Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), and Branding Girls, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her poetry and prose has appeared or is forthcoming in MARGIE, Feminist Studies, Prairie Schooner, and Arts & Letters. She has received an Academy of American Poets Award, the Mari Sandoz fiction Award, and the Stuff Memorial Fellowship, Grants from the Center for Great Plains Studies and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and five Pushcart Prize nominations.

Wiseman’s poem “Senorita Extraviada” was previously published in the Roanoke Review, which is currently welcoming submissions and reading for its $1000 Fiction Contest.

~

Senorita Extraviada

In the second of a list of films the woman tells of a scrapbook
of laughing men she sees in between the before and after she is raped
because she doesn’t know yet that she like the women will be caught

in a frozen scream
she will rewind and play again

as if by going back she could stop herself from flipping pages
of naked women taken vaginally and then anally
mouths violently keening with the sound off
because they don’t know what comes next.

They think these moments of violation
of clothes shredded
of desert sand slick with blood and semen
is the worst it could get.

They don’t see the scrapbook woman sobbing, snot bubbling
as the man forces her through each picture
thinking if maybe she behaves now

is a good girl for this                he      won’t.

They don’t know until the gasoline is blinding
cold and stinging between their legs and breasts.

Maybe one hears the catch of the match
but most feel the fire as another torture they must suffer.

The woman in the documentary sees them captured in murdering
not dead but dying
limbs launching as they try to fan it off
like a terrible memory they could wave away.

She is replaying now her begging
the scrapbook slipping from her hands as if it too was burning
to land soundlessly on her pile of clothes.

She’s swearing she’ll never tell how they were taken
because she doesn’t yet know
that this is still the between

the before and after
the rape
the moment when a line of men will watch her laughing

as they         while they               each they

she doesn’t know she’ll return
here    return here     return
to the between

~

Mary Crockett Hill speaks with Laura Madeline Wiseman:

MCH: “Senorita Extraviada” refers to the documentary of the same name about the numerous women kidnapped and killed in Juarez, Mexico, in recent decades. Can you tell us how you came to write about these “Missing Young Women”?

LMW: While doing graduate coursework I took a class in Chicana literature and theory. It included reading Desert Blood by Alicia Gaspar de Alba and watching Senorita Extraviada. Simultaneously I was also taking a workshop in poetry with the poet Grace Bauer. I vividly remember writing the poem “Senorita Extraviada.” I was tidying the house, but when I walked into my office and glanced at my desk, I had the urge to sit down and write. I did, sitting down on the edge of my chair, pulling a spiral notebook from the papers on my desk, and clearing a small enough space to write. In the circle of light from my desk lamp, the poem fell out of me, line by line, image by image. I wrote the poem in just a few minutes. Unlike most poems I write, it went through few revisions. I’ve written very few poems like this, by this process.

MCH: I’d like to know more about the scrapbook that serves as the poem’s entry point. Why start there?

LMW: In Senorita Extraviada, there are several disturbing scenes the director uses to try and make sense of the murders. In one of them a woman describes a book of photographs of murdered women. The poem responds to this scene, the flashes and stills of gruesome images. I’m interested in trauma and how the brain remembers horrific events. Traumatic memory is messy. It is unstructured, meaningless, fragmented, emotional, bodily, a snapshot, a phrase said. I think the poem is an exploration of how we remember and make memories of trauma.

MCH: How do poetry and politics fit together for you?

LMW: Poets have described the potential of poetry to foster change in the lives of one and of many. From Adrienne Rich to Pablo Neruda, from Percy Byron Shelly to Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Audre Lorde to Czeslaw Milosz all write of poetry’s power for action. Muriel Rukeyser writes “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day.” Czeslaw Milosz writes, “Do not feel safe. The poet remembers. You can kill one, but another is born.” Adrienne Rich explains one must write the “words you have dreaded and needed in order to know you exist.” I don’t think poetry has to create change or be political, but I think it can.

MCH: Where do your poems generally begin?

LMW: One way I’ve sought inspiration to begin a new poem is to start by reading poetry—a collection, a literary journal, a chapbook, an anthology, etc. I read and read until I’m inspired to write a poem. For me, it’s something about the cadence and rhythm of reading poetry that opens the door for my own poems. This isn’t the only way I find inspiration, but it is one of them. I also love to read prompts for writing poems. Currently I’m teaching the wonderful book The Poet’s Companion edited by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. The text is full of ideas for generating poems. I’ve also taught Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook and Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Because I believe writing teachers should write in the classroom, I always write alongside my poetry and creative writing students, both inside and outside the classroom. For example, a few years back because I was taking Naomi Nye’s master poetry and creative nonfiction workshop while teaching a poetry class, I often brought to class Naomi’s suggested writing assignments for the day (e.g. write a poem about “Lost Friend,” “Tiny Houses,” “I Don’t Know,” etc.). We wrote several poems from Naomi’s prompts, which my students and I enjoyed.

MCH: Am I right that you have two chapbooks coming out this year—Ghost Girl from Pudding House and My Imaginary from Dancing Girl Press? Could you take us on a sort of virtual tour of each chapbook?

LMW: A finalist in four national contests, my chapbook, My Imaginary claims humor as the site of inquiry into the erotic body. My Imaginary explores the interplay between imagination and reality, language and myth, objectification and sexuality, parts and whole. Imaginary (and often unruly) body parts often embody erotized narratives with words (slang or otherwise) that are taboo. We’re told not to say or speak them. Silences become something we’re expected to carry, making the act of speaking and writing to break that silence, powerful. My Imaginary seeks to transform and thereby reclaim the ways the English language genders and sexualizes. You can listen to audio recordings of some of the poems on my website.

My poem “Senorita Extraviada” appears in the chapbook Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010). Ghost Girl explores memory loss and recovery after relocation.  While many of the poems are traditional in form (villanelle, ekphrasis, prose, found), Ghost Girl reclaims the heroic journey as a female one. Audio recordings and more information available at here.

MCH: What are you working on now?

LMW: I’m currently working on a series of poetry, Speech Making: from the American Platform of Matilda Fletcher. These poems are based on the life of the 19th century suffragist and lecturer, Matilda Fletcher (1842-1909). The fifth of fourteen children from abolitionist parents, who had fled what they called “the peculiar institution” of the South, Matilda was born in Winnebago County, Illinois, and raised on a farm in Durand. Like her seven brothers who served in the Civil War, Matilda imagined herself in the public sphere. After the death of her one and only child, Matilda joined the lecture circuit, a series of talks so powerful a man named a silver mine after her, another man claimed she had a forked tongue, and upon the death of her first husband, newspapers speculated who might be the lucky man to call Matilda his own. She spoke to support herself and her first husband until his death. He died of tuberculosis, a disease he contracted during his service to the Union. During her forty year career, she spoke on woman’s suffrage, temperance, and education and published several books, including An Address: Farmers’ Wives and Daughters (1873), Practical Ethics: For Schools and Families (1875), and The Trial and Imprisonment: of Geo W. Felts (1907). Given the nature of oration and the time period during which she spoke, much of her work has been lost. However, some of her poems and lectures have survived in historic newspapers, often as excerpts only. Eleven years after the death of her first husband, she remarried and became the stepmother to three children, all under the age of ten. She continued to speak on the issues that mattered to her until the day she died.

I first encountered Matilda Fletcher when I began graduate study in women’s studies at the University of Arizona. At home in Iowa over a holiday, a family member suggested I look up an ancestor who “spoke at Chautauquas while her stepchildren sang and danced.” Though my interest was piqued, I did not take up this inquiry for another seven years. At work on my dissertation at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one hundred years after her death, I began writing these poems, sometimes in the voices of the men in her life, sometimes in my own voice, and sometimes in hers, my step-great-great-great-grandmother.

The poem “Maternal Lineage”  I wrote while doing a residency at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa in 2009.

MCH: Anything else you’d like to add?

LMW: Also a finalist in a national contest, my third chapbook Branding Girls forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, reclaims the commodified and objectified self as it interrogates the effects of the commercialized female body. Brand Girls delves into consumerism, brands, and advertising by using ekphrasis to respond to the work of contemporary women artists.

Greg McBride‘s chapbook, Back of the Envelope, appeared from Copperdome Press in 2009. Winner of the 2008 Boulevard Emerging Poet prize, his work appears in Cimarron Review, Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review Online, Hollins Critic, River Styx, Salmagundi, and Southern Poetry Review. A Vietnam veteran and retired lawyer, he edits The Innisfree Poetry Journal.

McBride’s poem “Kindling” was previously published in the Roanoke Review, which is currently welcoming submissions and reading for its $1000 Fiction Contest.

~

Kindling

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

Then came the night that told us

what we knew,

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

that held us gentle in its palm.

We had conspired

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

to withhold the secret from

ourselves,

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

the secret that in time, through

friendship, children,

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

your wars and mine, swelled

the silence, filled

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

our gasping lungs, made kindling

of our skin

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

until, the only lovers

in the world,

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

and blind, we felt our way

toward home.

ANY_CHARACTER_HERE

~

Mary Crockett Hill speaks with Greg McBride:

Mary: How did you come to write the poem “Kindling”?

Greg: I didn’t begin taking an interest in contemporary poetry, and eventually trying my own hand at it, until my mid-fifties. Perhaps for that reason, nearly all my early poems, including this one, arose from autobiographical material, including the eternal subject of love. I was thinking back to the early days of a budding relationship and the impulse some of us feel then to conceal it from friends—the way news of a pregnancy may be withheld—for reasons having to do with the intensely private nature of new love, its delicacy, its vulnerability, its power, all made more poignant and urgent when it’s a second chance, when suddenly, the rest of the world seems to blur as it revolves around this new connection.

Mary: The version of the poem in the magazine ends “and blind, we felt our way / toward home.” A more recent version you shared with me ends “we felt our way / into the blaze.” I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about your revision process in general, and specifically how you came upon that different ending.

Greg: Like many illustrious poets, including Auden and Kinnell (no other comparison intended!), I’m an inveterate tinkerer with my writing. As I wrote more and more poems, I started to notice how often the notion of “home” made an appearance, understandably, given the peripatetic nature of my childhood years of upheaval after upheaval, but still, almost a tick. In this case, I thought, and the editors of Roanoke Review apparently agreed, that ending with “home” was a fine way to close. As is my wont, however, I took another look after publication and realized that the poem was really about the intensity of the relationship that provided the foundation for a home made together. And, of course, it played off the title more effectively, more vividly catching the initial combustion even as it prefigured the life-fires to come.

More generally, revision is central to my writing method. I’m always trying to fend off perfectionistic tendencies so that I can just get some words down—and word-processing from beginning to end facilitates that process. What I come up with initially is likely to be awful, but it’s in the play with word and phrase, syntax and sentence, that the actual writing occurs for me. It’s like legal writing in which the more I write, the more I clarify and understand, and the more I clarify and understand, the more I write, sifting through layers, encountering resistances and working through them. As the poetic axiom goes, if you know where you’re going when you begin, you’re not likely to end up with much of a poem. Like most writers, I have a pretty good ear for the rhythms and sounds of language; as I write, I “hear” them both lilting and ringing, even through my tinnitus. Only once has a poem (“The Crow,” a poem about my wife’s illness) leapt onto the page essentially fully formed and resistant to revision. I was satisfied that, in its simplicity, it captured well what I was feeling.

Mary: Your bio suggests that you began writing after a 30-year legal career. What led you to write?

Greg: Writing is what got me through undergraduate school, where I discovered the power of writing as a means of fueling my successful passage there and beyond. And what I liked most about lawyering was the writing. Often it was the only way to determine, with some certainty, what it was I thought about a given issue. I could posit a legal position, then make the case for it on paper and successfully assess its strengths and weaknesses in a way I could not in my mind. And since I did not trust my own, I certainly did not trust the orally expressed judgments of other lawyers if they had not yet reduced their argument to a cogent, written explication. The law is complicated; its language must be used precisely. The wrong article or a dangling modifier can introduce all kinds of ambiguity and even lead to a result that contradicts the intent of statutory language. In poetry, of course, ambiguity is the poet’s friend, something to be cultivated in service of the poem. If a poet lays it all out there in a seamless, considered way, he/she is merely handing the reader a pre-digested product, in effect, denying the reader the emotive experience a well-crafted poem can ignite.

Mary: What’s the best thing about your job as editor of The Innisfree Poetry Journal?

Greg: New poems pour in and often I’m excited or otherwise affected by them. I get to “meet” poets from all over the country, as well as from overseas. It’s fulfilling to feel part of the larger literary community and to be making my own contribution to it. Since money plays essentially no role in this life we lead, it has a kind of purity akin to that of my youthful athletic life. I wrestled in high school and college as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization, to perform an activity solely for the purpose of developing and realizing the potential of one’s talent. There’s joy to be had in this life; serving a talent strikes me as fundamental in its pursuit. In economic terms, the case for poetry is harder to make than for most other human activity, but many of us subscribe to William Carlos Williams’ observation that “It is difficult / to get the news from poems, / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

Mary: What are you currently working on? Reading?

Greg: Like all of us, I’m working on any number of things concurrently. I’ve just put out the fall 2010 issue of Innisfree. I’m trying to find a publisher for my first full-length collection, Dead Man’s Word (a finalist for three awards so far). I continue to add to it, subtract from it, and reconsider poems published some time ago, and I expect that process to continue until a publisher appears. At the age of 65 I harbor the thought that it may be my only book. I continue to write poems arising from my Vietnam War experience, as well as postwar experiences that somehow relate back to that seminal moment of my youth, as well as poems arising from fatherhood and, now, grandfatherhood.

The most recent book I’ve read is an advance copy of Rod Jellema’s forthcoming collected poems, Incarnality, which I can’t praise highly enough. Other recent books are James Salter’s memoir, Burning the Days; Karl Marlantes’ Vietnam novel, Matterhorn; Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections; and Louise Glück’s book of essays, Proofs and Theories.

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