I’m grateful to a number of people to be packing my bags this week! There’s the National Endowment for the Arts, which funded the two-week fellowship and stipend I’ve received to Vermont Studio Center to work on my novel-in-progress, THE BOOK OF GOTHEL. There’s my Dean, who was kind enough to allow me to participate in the residency despite the fact that it begins during final exam week. There are my colleagues at Lake Superior State University, who agreed to administer my finals. There are my students, who have been so supportive of my absence. And there are of course my husband and daughter, who are being, perhaps, most supportive of all.
It has been a real challenge to maintain a balance between work and creative time, this year, since I’ve been serving as chair and teaching an overload, so this fortnight of dedicated time to focus on my manuscript is much-needed. I have about two thirds of the novel rewritten — this is the third draft, if you’re counting — and with all the dedicated time, I’m expecting to actually finish the rewrite. By the end of the two week residency, I hope to be line editing a printed copy of the whole manuscript. I finished the first draft at Vermont Studio Center when I was there for a month in 2015, so returning there to finish feels like coming full circle.
My travel itinerary on Saturday will be a little intense — both Vermont Studio Center and Sault Sainte Marie are pretty remote — but I’m looking forward to the quiet of Maverick Studios, to celebrating winter solstice in the snowy wilderness of Vermont, to seeing the Gihon River freeze. I’m looking forward to listening to my cleats prick the icy ground, after I suit up to leave my studio for a brisk walk to work through a narrative problem. I’m looking forward to quiet time, to thinking time, and to sending the full manuscript off to the agent who asked to read it when I’m through.
I’m excited to share the release of the latest issue of Border Crossing, the online journal I co-edit with Julie Brooks Barbour as part of our work with the Lake Superior State University creative writing program. As fiction editor, I’m especially eager to share the work of a Danish writer I discovered this year in translation: Adda Djørup. The editorial board was blown away by Peter Sean Woltemade‘s English translation of her gorgeous, fabulist story “Hell’s Graces.”Djørup is the recipient of the EU Prize for Literature and a three-year working grant from the Danish Arts Foundation. The story originally appeared as “Helvedes gratier” in her 2015 story collection, Poesi og andre former for trods(Poetry and Other Forms of Spite). We are delighted to be able to present this deliciously strange story for the first time in English!
Another story you don’t want to miss in this issue is “Animals of the North” by the emerging environmental writer Christopher Ring! The Border Crossing editorial staff, last year, was moved by this story’s beautiful examination of the people and places of Baffin Island and of the colliding habitats of polar bears and grizzlies. In the interview featured alongside the story, Ring talks about his process for writing the story and his experience at Breadloaf Orion.
Years ago, when I was in graduate school at Louisiana State University, I read a gorgeous story in The Southern Review about a man who contracted malaria and fell in love with the woman in his fever dream. I loved it so much I wrote a paper exploring its surreal narration, its dreamy subjectivity. Imagine my surprise, five years ago, when we went to accept a dreamy story from the Border Crossing slush pile and realized it had been sent by none other than the author of “Malaria”: Mark Jacobs! “House of Flowers” is the third story of Mark’s we’ve had the honor of publishing. It’s a smooth, jazz-inspired riff about a man who moves into a dysfunctional boarding house in Syracuse.
The final story I want to share from the fall issue of Border Crossing, “Error_Code: 1072,” stood out to the editorial board, last year, for its vivid illustration of the anxieties of the Digital Age. J. Paul Ross has created both a literary fiction about a woman having brunch with her distracted family and a horror story about erasure…
My poem, “Louisiana Disaster Recovery 3.0,” appears in the latest issue of Gulf Coast.I’m so grateful that it found a home in a journal so close to my hometown because it’s about the floods my family and friends suffered in the greater Baton Rouge area last fall. The poem is written as a Venn diagram in two voices: Voice 1 is focused on recovery from the floods, and Voice 2 has no energy left after all the disasters that have hit the area in recent decades. This structure was inspired by “Employment Relations 4.0,” an innovative poem by Brian Bilston, which I used as a writing prompt in my introductory creative writing class last fall. (I actually wrote a first draft of the poem in class; one of the perks of my job is that I get to do all of my writing prompts alongside my students.)
My class and I were working, that semester, on responding to a call for poetry for a multimedia dance/art/creative writing concert organized by Joshua Legg at my university last fall. The concert was called “Re/Action,” and Joshua had chosen coping with tragedy as its overarching theme: how communities create stories about ourselves to cope with tragedy, successfully or unsuccessfully. The floods had just happened right before he told me about the prompt, and every time I tried to respond to it, I kept thinking about them.
The frequent hurricanes and floods are part of the reason my spouse and I chose to leave south Louisiana. It’s so difficult to build something, when the weather continuously undoes all your hard work. My mother-in-law’s home in Vermilion Parish was devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005, and they had to use FEMA money to raise their house up on concrete stilts. Most of the other houses on the Ramke family land have been destroyed by the constant floods. Here are some pictures from our most recent visit to the land that my daughter will inherit when she grows up–that is, if it’s still around.
You can order a copy of the Gulf Coast issue here.
I’m chairing the SFPA’s poetry contest, this year, and it opens today! First, second, and third place prizes will go to the best speculative poems in each of three length categories. All forms and styles of speculative poetry are accepted. You can read more about the contest rules on the official contest website. This year’s judge is the brilliant Nikia Chaney.
Nikia Chaney has won awards from Cave Canem, Poets and Writers, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women Writers, and more. Her work has appeared widely in venues like Iowa Review, Portland Review,New York Quarterly, and elsewhere. I was blown away by her poem, “hummingbird,” which was recently made into a musical score and film by MOTIONPOEMS. I highly recommend watching the film and reading the poem on her website!
I received my contributors’ copies of Cimarron Review in this afternoon’s mail. It’s an honor to have two poems from the full-length poetry manuscript I’m working on appear alongside work by Karen Skolfield, Sidney Wade, and Edmund White. Highlights for me, in addition to work by the above-mentioned poets, included Katherine Kaufman’s prose poem, “The Foxes,” and Miriam Cohen’s wonderfully sardonic short story, “Wife.” You can order copies here.
Wolf Skin had its premiere performance this week at the Baltimore Composers Forum concert with the original score by composer Elizabeth Skola Davis. Watch the video below to see the performance by Joseph Regan, tenor, and Tim McReynolds, piano!
The lyrics originally appeared as a prose poem in the Los Angeles Review and as the title poem in my chapbook.
“The huntsman was just passing the house and thought: How the old woman is snoring! You better stop in and have a look.”
—from “Rotkäppchen” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1812)
Inside, the shadows shape a riddle, a story. The half-burnt candle in the kitchen, the unwashed dishes. The cloth-covered basket by the door. From the hook on the wall, neatly hung, the red ripple of fabric. The crackling fire. The light flickering in the hall. In the bedroom someone is sleeping. At the foot of the bed, two well-worn slippers. On the side table, one book. One pair of spectacles. Night fills the room like cradlesong.
There it is again, that strange buzzing sound. There it is again, from the bed. Such a little old woman could not make this noise. When the log falls into the fire, and the light hits the shape under the blankets, when the log falls into the fire, and you see the claw dragging the floor, you have already begun to rush at the bed with your scissors, you have already resolved to slit the beast open, the word hero stinging your tongue –
In the story you tell your friends, you’ll say you took home the wolf skin as a trophy. You’ll say the old woman thanked you, and the girl went on about how frightened she was. But the truth is the girl spoke only three words that day: Who are you? The truth is the grandmother only whispered, white with shock, as she drank the wine: We were dead. It was dark when you left the grandmother’s house, and cold. When you tried on the wolf skin, the stars laughed. Dead leaves crackled under your feet like fire.
I’ve been remiss in not writing about my wonderful experience at Frostburg Indie Lit Festival in October, where I was invited to be part of a panel on Fairy Tales Reimagined by Sarah Ann Winn. I stayed with a fabulous group of writers at a beautiful cabin in the mountains outside town, where the view on my morning runs actually looked like this:
At the festival, I went to wonderful panels and readings, met people in person whom I’d only known online before, and sold some copies of Wolf Skin at the book fair! The panel itself was so much fun, because identifying the traits that make fairy tale retellings successful–both in poetry and in fiction–has been an obsession of mine for years! It was wonderful to be able to talk about that with other writers and readers of the genre, and to get to hear fellow panelists Stacey Balkun, Sally Rosen Kindred, and Sarah Ann Winn read from their books. Bonus: I got to read snippets from Anne Sexton’s Transformations and gush about Donald Barthelme’s Snow White!
One of the chapbooks I bought at the book fair was Stacey Balkun’s Jackalope Girl Learns to Speak (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), from which she read at the panel. This was the first chapbook I chose to read from the mighty haul of books I bought (there was so much goodness!); I literally read it cover to cover at the I-Hop outside Frostburg on the drive home. Jackalope-Girl is a startling, fabulist collection full of wonderfully surreal imagery; I hadn’t read anything like it before. In the first poem Balkun imagines the title character born into a suburban family during an ice storm: “It was unusual/the cold front, the leporid wind scream./Nurses worried in the maternity ward…” She continues:
If the patients looked up, they would have seen
the last photographs of the new-dead flicker
across the screen with captions like tragic… while frightened deer stilled in yards, antlers branching
toward the grayed sky. Gas stations and their 24/7 signs
stood, for the first time, un-glowing and nobody knew
to blame the jackalope-girl, newborn and hungry,
ears still unfurling, nesting in a stranger’s arms. (“Myth”)
The rest of the collection explores what follows from this premise in all its strangeness. Balkun spins a wonder-tale about Jackalope-Girl with poems that tell of her lost birth-sisters, how she learns to speak, her first time, her first tattoo. But the real wonder of the collection is the extended metaphor Balkun builds, simultaneously, about alienation, adoption, and those who feel like transplants in their own families. I highly recommend picking it up (here’s a link).
Immediately after I got back from Maryland, two of the poems from the full-length collection I’m working on were featured in the autumn issue of Rose Red Review. “In the Dining Hall of the Glass Mountain” is a retelling of the Seven Ravens tale; “Bones Knock in the House” is a villanelle exploring the latent content in Hansel and Gretel. Also recommended in this issue is Sarah Ann Winn’s poem, “Witness” and John W. Sexton’s poem, “All the Way Down.” Thanks to editor Larissa Nash for all the hard work she did putting this wonderful issue together!
I’m excited to share the release of the latest issue of Border Crossing, the online journal I co-edit with Jillena Rose and Julie Brooks Barbour as part of our work with the Lake Superior State University creative writing program. As fiction editor, I’m especially eager to share the work of the featured fiction writer this year, Saramanda Swigart, who writes the most fabulous–and feminist–historical fairy tales! “The Earth Falls to the Apple” tells the story of a young, 16th century noblewoman who receives a strange mirror as a gift from a suitor.
In the interview that follows the story, Swigart explains how the premise came to her as she researched how mirror technology changed in the 16th century. “Suddenly,” she explains, “human beings could see themselves in great detail… I began to wonder if the relationship toward the self changed as a result—if ideas about being human changed—leading to, or contributing to, a greater emphasis on individualism.” What resulted is a startling combination of fairy tale, historical fiction, and horror.
Overall, this year, the fiction we’re publishing this year is phenomenal. There’s “The House on Pienza Road” by Robert McKean, in which a man has an affair with his real estate agent as he tries to sell his recently deceased father’s house. We were especially impressed with the voice of this story and the wonderful, no-nonsense character of Ortensia Costello, the realtor, who comes to life from the very first page. There’s “The Walk Away” by Cass Pursell, about a sheriff who encounters an apparently homeless man in a cemetery, who ends up being something else entirely. Pursell’s story is alternately meditative–a thoughtful reflection on grief–and full of action, with a suspenseful ending. “Entanglement” by TJ Heffers is a sci-fi piece about a pair of scientists who are experimenting with a dangerous new mode of transportation. The story is simultaneously lyrical and thrilling, and its underlying allegory is thought-provoking. We also published a strange and wonderful experiment by Leanna O’Brien, “Not Born But Built,” the story of a synthetic consciousness written entirely in code. And there’s the beautifully written LSSU High School Short Story Prize-winning story, “Shadows of Auschwitz” by Anna Shier, an alternate history about a woman living in a postwar Germany very different from the one in our timeline.
This issue also includes a number of talented poets, selected by my colleague Julie Brooks Barbour. Sally Rosen Kindred, this year’s featured poet, offers five magical–and densely lyrical–poems about crows’ funerals and ravens and floods. Hope Wabuke‘s prose poems are innovative, musical, and moving, with their stark and abstract language. “Night Tales” by Leah Umansky imagines promises archived by birds. And the issue is visually enhanced, throughout, by Jude McConkey’s dreamlike photography. There is so much goodness, you’ll just have to read the issue for yourself!
I was excited to receive my contributor’s copies of Southern Humanities Review, today, featuring “The Birds,” first in a series of essays I’m working on about my parents’ and brother’s deaths–this one focusing on my father–and one of the most generous personal notes I’ve ever received from an editor. It is a very good feeling, that I’ve done well honoring my dad’s memory. I can’t say enough nice things about Southern Humanities Review, and their managing editor and nonfiction editor, Aaron Alford, who does excellent work. You can purchase the issue here. Also featured is poetry by Natalie Diaz, Staci R. Schoenfield, and more!
Below is the short film, which I produced collaboratively with Lloyd Eddy (visual artist) and Joshua Legg (choreographer and dancer). It premiered at the multimedia concert, movement/text/image, on April 1, 2016 at Lake Superior State University.Such an amazing experience to collaborate with artists in other disciplines!
Fragments from the Alchemist’s Handbook
You’ll need the stone that burns. A pinch
of quicksilver. A map of the heart, of all
its parts. With thought, with will, combined.
With eyes squeezed shut, call memories
saturnine. Project what once was shadow,
the shapes of once upon a time—
You’ll need the stars. The stars. The faint,
wild echo of first explosions. The source
of energy and light. The spark. The fire.
Stand back. Stand back. Do not get caught up.
O body of flesh. O flesh made of water. Do not
become smoke, become dust. Do not die—
You’ll need a mask. Try clay or ash
or wood. Small worms make rivers. The work
of human hands. Your blood. Your sweat. Your time.
And then. And then. Watch will become wish.
Watch wish become spirit. Watch spirit become
thing. The impulse, awakened from your mind—
It’s been a whirlwind semester, so far. In addition to reading and editing fiction submissions for Border Crossing with two wonderful interns, I’ve been teaching two courses for the first time: a course on Responding to Writing for future teachers, and an intermediate creative writing course for majors and minors that is specifically designed to help students take risks in their writing, to encourage them to experiment in order to help them discover their voices.
Teaching the combination of these two courses for the first time together has brought some interesting insights. Much of the theory we’ve been reading for the writing response course discusses the importance of encouraging students to make their own decisions about their writing. Not only with regard to topic selection, but also with regard to choosing the best form to express their ideas, and even deciding what that best formis. English education scholars like Katie Van Sluys and Katie Wood Ray encourage teachers not to enforce their own aesthetics on students, but rather to ask students what they think makes good writing so that the students work on building their own aesthetics. In essence, good writing instruction is the ultimate panacea for the age-old complaint of the creative writing graduate: “What will I do when there are no more workshops?”
Ideally, we tell students, they should make friends with the other students in their program, so they can share their writing journeys and work. But post-graduation, the working writer most often makes decisions alone, in front of a glowing computer screen. And if what Walter Benjamin said about genre is true, that–
All great works of literature invent a genre or dissolve one.
Isn’t the core work of the creative writing teacher to foster a culture of experimentation, in which students are encouraged totake risks, so that they can work on developing and discovering their own voices?
The intermediate creative writing course I’m teaching this semester incorporates a collaborative–and rather experimental–performance project. I approached Lloyd Eddy, my colleague, the art professor at Lake State, before the beginning of the semester, looking for an opportunity for my students to collaborate with art students, and he invited me to come talk to him and Joshua Legg, our new dance professor, about a collaboration they were already planning. The three of us had an exciting discussion about the possibilities of a collaboration among students in all three disciplines, and I was really excited about the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues. For years, I had made most of my decisions alone at my computer, and I’d never collaborated outside of my discipline.
At the beginning of the semester, we divided students into interdisciplinary groups, in which they had to decide not only the subjects for their collaborations, but what forms those collaborations would take. We formed a faculty group and met for weekly discussions, like our students, to deliberate about our own piece. This past weekend was the first dry run of the emerging collaborations, and I’m excited by the varied forms the groups have chosen. I got chills and tears in my eyes, more than once, as I watched the performances. There’s a dance in which a narrative poem torn into strips will be part of the costume of the dancer, draped over her dress and tied in ribbons throughout her hair; the final gesture of the dance is mirrored in a sculpture that will be projected onto the stage. Another dancer is using a spoken-word poem as her sound score; the artists in that group will exhibit a triptych of mixed media paintings. Joshua and Lloyd and I are making a film that explores the creative process through the visual imagery, gestures, and language of alchemy. It’s been so much fun to discover the similarities between all three art forms, to explore the creative process not only with words but also with art and dance. I’d forgotten how invigorating it can be to experiment together in the classroom and with my colleagues–who are brilliant and inspiring–and I can’t wait for rehearsals to start!
Last summer, I started editing poetry for Faerie Magazine, the lush quarterly edited by Carolyn Turgeon, which was just profiled in the Style section of the New York Times. If you haven’t heard about Faerie yet, you should check out this article, which examines the magazine’s “gossamer pleasures” and calls it “wonderfully curious and deeply weird.”
I have to say, it’s been a delight to read all of the poetry submissions we’ve received these past few months, and to connect with other fabulist, fairy tale, and science poets. This autumn, we were excited to feature two gorgeous fairy tale poems by Sally Rosen Kindred.
The winter issue, out soon, will feature two seasonal science poems by naturalist and poet Elizabeth Bradfield, alongside an interview in which she explores the connections between her poetry and her work as a naturalist. Also featured: an interview with Isabel Allende!
Interested in learning more about Faerie? Check out our submissions guidelines here, subscribe here, or look for the magazine in the lifestyle section at Barnes and Noble. You can also sign up for our free weekly newsletter in the top left corner of this page.
I received news yesterday that my debut poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin, won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2015 Elgin Chapbook Award! The award honors the best speculative poetry chapbook published in 2013-2014. I was honored to be nominated, and I’m just plain thrilled to win! I’ve been writing speculative poetry since I was a kid, and I’m amazed to have my work recognized by this wonderful organization whose grandmasters include luminaries like Ray Bradbury, Jane Yolen, and Bruce Boston. Read more about the chapbook here, and order a copy here.
I was excited to find the latest issue of Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism in the mail today. This issue includes two of my poems, “Instructions for Letting the Stranger into Your Bed” and “Ahab’s Sister-Wives,” along with poems by Ki Russell and Gregg Murray, a story by Stephen Langlois, and more! Phantom Drift is always delightfully weird, and this issue’s theme is “navigating the slipstream.” I’m sitting down with my coffee to read it cover to cover now! Order a copy here.
Reaching beyond the simple retelling or recasting of the myths that compose our culture’s symbolical landscape, Mary McMyne’s Wolf Skin (2014) weaves brave, dark versions of the Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel tales into the emerging identity of a textual version of the poet. In doing so, she creates a new myth about mother- and daughterhood, contrasting the mortality of self and body with the immortality of love. What’s most impressive about this collection is the way that it builds a mere twenty pages into a single composition that illuminates and complicates both the individual speaker and mythical characters, each informing the other… Before any myths have even been mentioned, the book’s central symbology is established: mothers, children, and flying creatures that mediate the connection between the dead and the living… Wolf Skin catches the reader in its snare, personalizing the universal girl of myth and universalizing the individual woman/poet/speaker by blending them together, and in so doing invites readers to identify as closely with the poet-voice as we’re meant to identify with the cautionary figures of our most basic myths.