Review of “Memoranda” by Michael Martone

Michael Martone’s little—quite literally—chapbook, Memoranda, does a good amount of work considering how much empty space is found on every page. With each ‘chapter’ focusing on another soul in the workforce, readers are left with a detailed, sometimes grimy view of society, as the readers take a glimpse into various aspects of the daily lives of different professions.

Structurally, this book is full of very, very small chapters, each averaging out to about forty to fifty words. These chapters are short in the extreme. The content of each follows a central theme of working life. That is to say, each chapter is a small peek into a different world of work. While one chapter may look at a Forest Service Forester, another follows a stenographer.

One of the things to be loved about Memoranda was its pace, which lets the reader read more in one sitting, compared to longer chapter books. Contrastingly, at least for me, this also meant having to go back and reread parts as I would begin to pick up pace and stop actually reading the content. And that’s where the stories actually take place: the content. Of course, the short style does have its place in the text: the shortness of the chapters can be seen as representative of the fact that there are so many different jobs that could have filled the pages. There isn’t possibly room for everyone, so Martone uses short chapters to quickly delve into one, then come back up for air almost immediately, before going back for another. It’s what Martone puts in each of those chapters that brings the book to life. Little splices such as “black box isn’t black but orange not orange more blood red not a box so much but not not missed” offer a look into the horrifying job of trying to transcribe contents of a cockpit recorder after being recovered from a wreckage site (13). The emotion Martone  fits into the few lines that each chapter contains is a deep can of sardines, packed in so tight that at first glance the reader can miss part of it. This was another part of the book that I loved: the little things really do matter in Memoranda.

Indeed, these little chapters pack quite a punch most of the time. Of course, every positive has its negative. While short chapter lengths are a great way for the reader to get quick, clean snippets of someone’s life, they also lend themselves naturally to being read too quickly. The chapter on the surveyor, which discusses “this fungus, 2,000 acres, like the antennae we’re installing” is a quick line that doesn’t hold much at first glance (6). As with the stenographer’s story, there is more to it that that. The size of the fungus is crazy! The surveyor’s account of an “Unexpected Environment Impact” has a massive amount of imagery associated with it (6). The only problem with that imagery is that Martone only gives the chapter two sentences to force the imagery into the reader’s mind. When a reader starts to pick up momentum, the little details can be easy to miss, and with chapters this short, everything is a little detail. Some readers enjoy this, but I prefer being able to at least get the gist of the surface meaning on the first round, then go back for the between-the-lines metaphors and imagery. Unfortunately, I just don’t get that with Memoranda. Indeed, this book seems to be asking its readers to read at what may be a different pace than they normally would in order to fully enjoy it.

Even still, Martone shows how a few good words can have more meaning than a hundred weaker words. When actually noticed, the imagery and emotion in stories, such as the when the climate analyst says, “Knowing more, we know less […] that blue cloudbank, disguised as smoke, it turns out, is smoke,” which offers insight into the realization that the climate is changing in a negative way,  is beautiful and insightful, but can also be easy to miss depending on your reading style (9). My main complaint was that this book forced me to read in a way that I normally don’t, but I think the content and skillful writing done by Martone more than makes up for the personal quarrels I may have with Memoranda. Because of this, I highly recommend reading it at least twice (to ensure nothing goes unnoticed).


10410600_10203829371801978_8128860793081392665_n_0 Michael Martone has written several chapbooks as well as works of nonfiction and fiction (including a fictitious autobiography). Martone was born and grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He attended Butler University and graduated from Indiana University. He holds the MA from The Writing Seminars of The Johns Hopkins University. Martone has won two Fellowships from the NEA and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His stories and essays have appeared and been cited in the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Stories and The Best American Essays anthologies. He is currently a Professor at the University of Alabama where he has been teaching since 1996.


About the author of this post:  Nicholas Drazenovic is currently a senior at North Central College and is a co-editor of 30 North. He is studying English with a concentration in Writing, as well as Computer Science. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in either technical writing or software development.

 

Review of “Bright Dead Things” by Ada Limón

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón is a compilation of work that describes what it is to be at home, how to identify the self in physical settings; how to “be” in the “where you are”. The quality of the poems themselves is like miniature stories, each with their own tiny crescendos and fades that follow recognizable story arcs, making a number of the poems prose poetry. The poem “Mowing” serves as a perfect example of Limón’s ability to capture depth in small moments. She writes “The man across the street is mowing 40 acres on a small lawn mower. It’s so small, it must take him days, so I imagine that he likes it” (7).  It is this quizzical nature that is an aspect of Limón’s voice that I appreciate as a reader the most: she observes ordinary instances and can expand upon the details.

In Ada Limón’s book, the sense of questioning surrounding spaces is easy to connect with. Her writing is fixated on two concepts: space and identity. These two themes intermingle in her poems throughout the book, but appear prominently in the poems “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road”, “Prickly Pear and Fisticuffs”, and “Before”. Her ability to marry these ideas, one tangible and one only conceptual, in a way that is relatable into a wide spectrum of readers is where her skills are truly exemplary.

Limón does not need to depend on metaphors that are unrealistic, or evoke a kind of mystical, transcendent story-telling to be a compelling poet. Her writing is based in a realism that is both relatable and unique to the author’s world. It brings realness to Limón as a person as well; she becomes more than just an author; she becomes a character herself in the poetry. Her insight on her own world and ability to transfer these feelings into poetry is another element that makes Bright Dead Things so bright.

If you are looking for poetry that reminds you of your home, your childhood, and of all the small pieces of life that exist, then Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things, will be the ultimate book of poetry to read.


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Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her other books include Lucky Wreck, This Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program, and the 24Pearl Street online program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She also works as a freelance writer splitting her time between Lexington, Kentucky and Sonoma, California.


About the author of this post:  Ryann Overstreet is a junior at North Central College where she studies Writing and Philosophy. She has two orange cats that she is obsessed with and eats a box of pasta a day.

 

Review of “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, is a post-apocalyptic vision of the future with a twist. It’s a narrative written from the multiple perspectives of characters who exist before and after an epidemic ends modern civilization and who are all connected in some way. As the story weaves its way back and forth through the decades, it follows an actor burdened by the pressure of fame and his own poor life choices who dies on the eve of the plague; a member of a wandering band of armed actors who has lived most of her life roving in the wilderness; the actor’s second of three ex-wives who is obsessed with drawing and works on the same graphic novel for years; and the actor’s English friend who serves as the everyman thrust into a calamitous world drowning in sickness and fear. Throughout the novel, paths cross, stories are shared, and the old notions of love, fame, and desire are thrown into chaos and replaced by a single notion of survival. Yet, at the heart of the apocalypse lies togetherness and bonds that no betrayals, pains, or end-of-the-world scenarios can destroy.

Station Eleven paints a picture of a world that would be recognizable to readers, even if it is distorted by the crash of modern civilization. The events of the novel could, in all likelihood, happen today, in our society, in our world. Mandel cleverly crafts a world that the reader can identify with. Her settings are real places, her characters have real struggles, and her situations are based on real conflicts with emotion and survival. Placing the novel about twenty years into the future, she strikes the world with an unknown but realistic infection that reflects our modern society’s fear of outbreak. She topples our culture and plays with memory; in her America, our everyday comforts and joys are practically non-existent and are only remembered as distant pleasures of a better time. Our electronic devices, for example, are only artifacts that end up on the shelves of a makeshift museum in an airport, curiously examined by children with no memory of these things. Mandel’s world runs two ways: For those alive at the time of the epidemic, this is not a world anyone is prepared to face when the calamity strikes, and they have fond memories of the previous world and do what they can to keep parts of it alive. For those born in the post-apocalyptic America, this is only world they know, and all they can do is imagine what the old world was like. This is not an America anyone would choose to live in, and the pain of watching her characters struggle to survive is real because they have no choice.

Not only does Mandel reflect our society and culture well, she also weaves in her own brand of pop culture. The novel’s title refers to a series of graphic novels written by one of her protagonists, the actor’s ex-wife Miranda. These stories are read by other characters, such as the actor, Arthur, and the wandering girl, Kirsten. Throughout the course of the book, the Station Eleven stories pop up to connect characters across stretches of time. These connections, perhaps, serve as Mandel’s greatest strength in her writing: Mandel is capable of using objects, themes, and characters to plot out a chronology over the decades that gets revealed, piece by piece, as the story moves ever closer to its culmination. What makes Mandel’s story unique is that her connections are subtle. She doesn’t hit readers over the head with references to objects, themes, and characters that exist in both the old world and the new world. She lets these connections wander, alongside her Traveling Symphony, allowing the reader to pick them up at his or her own leisure, letting them have moments of epiphany as puzzle pieces slide together. Even the use of a Traveling Symphony, wandering actors who perform Shakespeare to whomever will watch, is interesting because Mandel utilizes them to connect the cultures of the old and new worlds. The line “Because survival is insufficient” is the Symphony’s motto, and Mandel uses this line to present a group of people who want to do more than just survive. They have these old plays by Shakespeare, and they’re doing what they can to keep this part of their past culture alive, for both themselves and for others. Because survival is insufficient. Because simply languishing in the wasteland America has become is to admit defeat, and defeat is not what the human spirit needs to fix itself.

Unfortunately, though Mandel masterfully connects past to present and character to character, there are moments where elements become jumbled. A variety of characters—typically those with the Traveling Symphony Kirsten is associated with—are not given names, referred to instead by whatever instrument they play, such as “the first flute” and “the third violin.” This causes many of these characters to not be as fleshed out as well as they could be and makes them roam in obscurity for the majority of the novel. Also, while the connections between the time periods are interesting and help bring the novel together, jumping between four or five different stories has the drawback of not allowing enough pages for each story to be fully experienced. Thus, at times the pacing can feel rather rushed and plotlines can be forgotten if they are not returned to quickly. Each story is told poetically, but there’s the sense that some characters don’t accomplish as much as others and that certain characters aren’t as important to like or to follow. However, the important characters are allowed room to grow, even if that growth sometimes feels forced.

Overall, Mandel has created an America that is thrown into a cesspool of destruction and misery, a world that could be our own. In our pop culture, as obsessed as we are with doomsday scenarios at the hands of aliens and zombies, Mandel offers a novel that could be real, where the events could happen at any moment. There’s some action, a lot of drama, and a ton of struggle. Though it sometimes feels like the puzzle takes a while to be put together, all the pieces are still there and get placed, one at a time. Reading Station Eleven requires thought and concentration to it, and those who give it the proper amount are rewarded with an inquisitive, if not haunting, tale that many readers can undeniably relate to on certain levels and hope they will never have to on others.


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Emily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. A previous novel, The Singer’s Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

 


About the author of this post:  Nathan Kiehn is a junior at North Central College and has wanted to be a novelist since the fourth grade. Though he is currently the New York Times Bestselling Author of nothing, he continues to plug away at fantasy and superhero novels, hoping someone important will finally see one of his $2.99 ebooks on Amazon and pay him enough money to get through college. When he isn’t writing or working, he can be found saving the world in video games and with LEGOs.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Oliver de la Paz

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Oliver de la Paz is the author of four collections of poetry, including Names Above HousesFurious Lullaby (SIU Press 2001, 2007), Requiem for the Orchard (U. of Akron Press 2010), and Post Subject: A Fable (U. of Akron Press 2014), as well as the winner of the Akron Prize for poetry chosen by Martìn Espada. He is the co-editor with Stacey Lynn Brown of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (U. of Akron Press 2012). He co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Asian American Poetry and serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Board.  A recipient of a NYFA Fellowship Award and a GAP Grant from Artist Trust, his work has appeared in journals like Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, Tin House, Chattahoochee Review, and in anthologies such as Asian American Poetry:  The Next Generation. He is the music editor for At Length Magazine and he teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University.


 

How long did you have to submit before you were published in a journal?

My first publication ever was a sestina about Filipino rooster fighting, and basically I published that poem right after college in West Wind Review. All told, it didn’t take me long to get published the first time. However, it took a few years to get published after that initial success.

Do you make your living as a writer, and if not, do you aspire to?

I make a living as a teacher and academic BECAUSE I write. I never made much money for my writing, but I certainly have crafted a life because I can do what I enjoy and because I can share what I do.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Read. Read. Read. First way to have a good two-way conversation is to choose to be a listener. Know what the publishers want and read selections of their presses. I learned about great presses by reading great books and then tracking, via the acknowledgments page, the journals that had first published some of the work.

How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

I used to have lots of time to spend on a poem and I would do that—revising incessantly. Now, with a steady job, three kids, and lots of advocacy work and service, I have no time. So I developed shortcuts—I tend to write in sequences now more than I ever had. I use similar titles for poems as ways of getting me started quickly into the work. And I’m more patient with staying still on a tonal premise.

Is there anyone’s work you are currently reading that you find exciting?

I’ve been reading a lot of hybrid stuff—work that combines visual images and poetry/text. Among the books I recently read that do this sort of thing are Monica Ong’s Silent Anatomies, Todd Kaneko’s The Dead Wrestler Elegies, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Philip Metres’s Sand Opera, and Matthea Harvey’s If The Tabloids are True What Are You.

How did you get starting in writing? and did you always want to be a writer?

Oh, that’s tough to answer. I was always writing as a kid because I was an only child and my family lived in the barrens of Eastern Oregon (If you watch the news, the takeover of the Oregon Wildlife Refuge happened not an hour and a half away from my home town). It was, however, mostly a hobby. I lived in my imagination to keep myself company and I had a healthy imaginative life with lots and lots of books and lots of trips to the library. I, of course, had no ambition of becoming a writer. Like all immigrant kids, I was expected to become a doctor or a lawyer, but that didn’t happen.

Is there a reason plenty of your works have a country setting?

I mentioned just above that I grew up in Eastern Oregon and that landscape codified my aesthetics. There’s a particular smell and texture of the air there that’s difficult to articulate to someone who’s not from there. And part of what I try to do to non-Eastern Oregonian readers is show what that’s like, even though I’ll ultimately fail at it.

Was there anything from your youth that inspired you as a writer?

Oh, all of it! I was a big reader, but also a kid who was outside almost every day. Ontario, Oregon had its specific rural narrative and tone. Much of that life I draw from, though sometimes other passions take hold. Right now I’m inspired by grotesque photographs, but I think part of that inspiration comes from my mother’s medical books which she had everywhere in the house. I used to gawk at all the pictures of the diseased subjects with the black bars over their eyes. Strangely, that’s my latest inspiration.


About the author of this post: Josh Soldati is a senior majoring in Media Studies with a passion for animation.

Review of “War of the Foxes” by Richard Siken

Richard Siken’s book of poetry, War of the Foxes, explores the inner and subjective world of emotions, self-perception, and the imperfect pursuit of artistic expression. Within most of his free verse poems, Siken consistently uses the metaphor of painting to express not only the act of making art, but also the processes of human perception, connection and communication. The collection will especially delight readers familiar or interested in both the fine art of painting and creative writing. The poems function on multiple levels of visual aesthetics simultaneously, blurring the line between images evoked by the written form, and those in traditionally viewed in pictures and paintings.

By using the imagery of painting, Siken creates a strong metaphor for the act of making art itself. The opening poem begins with a discussion of the art’s inability to perfectly imitate reality, yet despite this, asserts art’s value and purpose: “The paint doesn’t move the way light reflects,/so what’s there to be faithful to?/ I am faithful to you, darling. I say to the paint.” (lines 1-3). The purpose of art is not necessarily to be true to reality, but rather to be true to the artist’s personal perception of reality, and to act as a tool of communication. This metaphor allows Siken to delve into the role aesthetics play in the navigation and negotiation of identity and interpersonal relationships through the art and aesthetics of the actual poems. While this approach may seem metaphysical, complex, and confusing, the poems read and present themselves naturally and seamlessly, and the emphasis on images and their intuitive, imprecise nature works, for the most part, to capture the intangible and abstract experiences involved in identifying and expressing the self.

There are few poems that do not touch on the metaphor of painting, and those that do not follow so closely to the theme of identifying and expressing the self that they hardly feel out of place. It is therefore interesting to find that the title poem, “War of the Foxes,” does not reference the process of painting. Instead, the reader finds vivid images of animals, nature, and people populating shifting and surreal anecdotes that flow into each other throughout the poem, centering on the struggles of finding, maintaining and communicating the self to others. At the beginning of the poem, two “twin” rabbits are chased by a fox, and to escape, one hides inside the other, and the fox is tricked into letting them go because he believes he can catch the remaining rabbit that must be unable to run away (l. 1-18). This instance is a vivid contemplation on the issue of the self and how it is or isn’t to be surrendered in a relationship or even community. To survive, one of the rabbits completely loses itself as an individual by merging with the other rabbit. Even though they animals survive the fox, the question is raised, at what cost? And more circumspectly, and much in keeping with Siken’s cyclical themes, a second question is raised: were the “twin bunnies” that different in the first place? The third stanza states: “This is the story of Pip and Flip, the bunny twins. We say that once there were two and now there is only one” (l. 12). The notion is troubling, and by the end of the stanza, it’s clear that losing one’s identity is disturbing, and possibly unavoidable to some extent when negotiating a relationship with others: “Together we trace out the trail away from doom. There isn’t hope, there is a trail. I follow you.” (l. 18-19). “War of the Foxes” works to solidify the discourses presented in the poems before and after it, clarifying what it means to express the self in any way, and the dangers that follow suit.

If the collection warrants criticism, it’s that the poems feel obsessive over the theme of negotiating and navigating the self. By the latter portion of the book, it’s predictable that, thematically, the poems will not bring about a satisfying resolution to the challenges that come with defining the self. They end presenting an existential sense of aimlessness in the speaker and other characters, and while the act of expression via art and aesthetics offers some relief and outlet for this conflict, it is a partial relief. It is not the theme itself that is problematic; that conflict is essential to the collection. Rather, it’s that readers may not need to witness every poem to understand the main conflict; once this was discovered, there was no further place to progress and each subsequent poem felt less significant. However, with this repetition, Richard Siken could very well be demonstrating the cyclical nature of the mind, and the illogical cycle of preserving and discovering the self while trying to sustain outside relationships from others that simultaneously demand compromise of the self. Nevertheless, Siken masters poetic and artistic imagery, and his description of human consciousness is striking and perceptive.


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Richard Siken is a poet, painter, filmmaker, and an editor at Spork Press. He is a recipient of two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, two Lannan Residency Fellowships, and a Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

 


About the author of this post:  Meaghan Green is a senior at North Central College majoring in English Writing and Studio Art. She’s inspired by history, nature, and storytelling.

Interview with Corey Van Landingham

 

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Corey Van Landingham is the author of Antidote, winner of the 2012 The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. A former Wallace Stegner Poetry Fellow at Stanford University, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2014, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is currently the 2015-2016 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.


How did you get started writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I always worry that this story sounds a little precious, but it’s true: one day, when I was about five, I walked into the kitchen and told my mother that I was going to write a poem. Of course, I couldn’t write it down, so I dictated it to her, and she transcribed it into this tiny notebook with multicolored teddy bears across the cover. It’s still lurking along with other sentimentals, somewhere… But, this didn’t come out of nowhere, as my mother read me all kinds of poetry when I was younger, like Silver Pennies, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, etc. Looking back on that first poem I “wrote,” I knew what a poem should sound like—I had some sense of a rhythm in my head—but that was also the sing-songy procession of poetry written by people long since dead. It wasn’t until college, really, that I started reading contemporary poetry. And one can’t really say that they’re a writer in all seriousness until they know the world they’re writing into, I don’t think. Though writing sometimes took a backseat, I always thought of myself as a poet (for better or for worse). After changing my major to English my freshman year (I went with International Relations in mind, but, after the first English course I took—The History of Lyric Poetry—I knew I was in the wrong world), the writing track stuck.

How long did you have to submit before you first got published in a journal? If you could do it again, what would you do differently, if anything?

Like most writers, I probably submitted too early, and too often. But that isn’t to imply that I would change anything. It’s a necessary—and ecstatic—moment, thinking that your work is finished, that it’s worthy. It was probably two years, between when I submitted by first poem and when I had one accepted. I sent garbage, mostly, though I didn’t know it at the time. Through this process, however, I got used to rejection. It helped me to view my poems more objectively, less like precious gems. Yes, they were flawed. I could come to see that, after a poem was rejected over and over again. That said, it also bolstered some of my style, my voice. There were things I would never change, no matter how many journals rejected it. That was important, developing my poetic backbone, in a way.

Do you have any writing rituals? What is your process?

I have had many rituals, ones that I sometimes return to, dip back into, ones that morph, ones I shed. Hopefully I’ll have many more down the line. As for process, I think: do what works. For some people that will always look the same. For me, it changes, just as I change, my location changes, my circumstances, moods, relationships, jobs change. In college I would write to music (whatever indie band I thought I should like at the moment). In graduate school, I went to the same coffee shop and sat at the same window seat and ordered the same thing. For many years I had to leave my house to write; there was something about not contaminating the poems with my mundane existence, where I slept and ate and swept dead ladybugs into the trash. Too, whatever I was writing in public had to be really good, I thought then. Someone might peer over and think, she’s spent three hours on that?! For years I would do elaborate word clusters—filling up pages of my journals with words from whatever I was currently reading, sometime copying down the syntax of a poem or two that I liked—before I could begin a poem. Now that I don’t have as much time to write, I get going a bit faster. I keep notes on my phone for poem ideas, for lines, so that when I have a day free to write, most of what I need is already available. Necessity for writing always: a hot beverage of some sort.

Who or what do you think is the main influence on your writing? Do you have any literary heroes, and if so, what do you love about their writing?

Just as I change, as a writer, so does my influence. It used to be poets whose language was lush and surreal, poets whose words were strange and luxurious and beautiful. Something I’ve always been drawn to, however—now more than ever—is poetic statement, moments when lyric imagism is ruptured by some rhetorical force. Jorie Graham has been quite influential, for a long time, for this, as well as Joanna Klink, and, more recently, Linda Gregerson, who I would name as a literary hero. I’m enamored with the performative rhetoric of her poems, how she interweaves narratives while constantly resisting narrative’s tyranny. She is smart as hell, and I’m constantly learning from her poetry. Not just from her elaborate, winding syntax, her trenchant eye and ear, and her keen sense of drama, but from what populates the poems: history, myth, art, science, politics. This layering of the reading experience—the sheer pleasure of the language, the deftness of craft, the insightful statements—is what I’m always looking for in poems; work that sustains after multiple readings.

What have you read recently that made you excited?

While I haven’t read the actual book yet, as it comes out in March, I’m excited to read Kimberly Grey’s The Opposite of Light. Her attention to how language is constructed, to how it constructs us, is fascinating. And the poems are just breathtaking. Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval, Rickey LaurentiisBoy with Thorn, Casey Thayer’s Self-Portrait with Spurs and Sulfur, and Phillip WilliamsThief in the Interior are all newer books filled with inventive, and important, work.

Tell us about your recent poem, “Epithalamium” and the story behind it. Do you remember when you first heard the story in the news? What prompted you to write about it?

I don’t remember exactly when I heard about the story in the news, but I remember how it seemed so episodic. Though this was the first time, I believe, that a drone strike killed civilians at a wedding, it’s something that’s happened for years across the Middle East. “Before any strike is taken,” said President Obama in 2013, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set.” Utilizing the drone to set our highest standard terrifies me, for many reasons, but I also, of course, realize that the terror I feel is utterly removed from any real sense of personal threat or danger. How I, how many of us here in the United States, receive the news is always in some form of abstraction. Watching the news in the gym, say, from the treadmill, seeing death tolls scroll across the bottom of the screen, how language becomes a kind of ticker-tape—it mediates understanding, empathy. Empathy requires distance. So does poetry. So does the drone. I’m trying to figure out how these all relate, while being aware of my own distant position. The inability to fully understand or relate to the killing of civilians during a wedding in Yemen is part of the poem’s “problem”—it tries to latch onto the wedding as a common experience, and, ultimately, fails.

Your book Antidote has been described as emotive, dark, and even haunted. Can you explain some of the inspiration that drove the works it contains?

Well, the major inspirations were the death of my father and breaking up with my fiancé. The minor inspirations, however, are weirder and wider—my mother’s microscopes (she was a microbiologist), my father’s cameras (he was, among many things, a photographer), Indiana and its bizarro weather, Alain Resnais, the landscape of the small, mountain-valley town where I grew up in Southern Oregon, Isadora Duncan, Surrealism and surrealism, and a lot (a lot) of alone time in a creaky, old attic apartment in a house the town rumored to be haunted by one of its earliest residents.

Antidote is composed of over 40 works of poetry. This was clearly no easy feat. How long did it take you to put together such an extensive collection, and what did that process look like?

To be honest, most of it came quickly. Most of Antidote was written during the last year of my MFA at Purdue, when I had enough space from my father’s death to begin to write elegies and when I was in the white-hot heat of a breakup. That combination—the distance and the immediacy—propelled the book forward. I wrote at least three poems a week at that time, a period of production I doubt I’ll ever be able to reproduce. Of course, the poems have been revised and revised and revised, after, but the material seemed ever-present at the time.

What is the one question you wish people would ask you about your work? Will you answer it for us?

I wish people would ask about my fears for my work, about what I worry about most when writing, revising, etc. I’m always interested in hearing this from other poets, as more than anything it seems humanizing, something often more specific and relatable. We can talk in such grandiose, abstract ways about what we want our poetry to do, but talking about what we don’t want it to do might be more tangible.

As an answer, I fear that my older work is willfully strange, at times. That wild language can obfuscate meaning. That it relies too much on the insistence of anaphora and imperative. In my newer work, I am constantly worrying about responsibility. Why can I write/say anything important about the drone? With my reliance on statement, am I too didactic? Is there enough mystery? Do I aestheticize the suffering of others in an unthinking manner? I hope not, but that fear is ever-present.


About the author of this post: Crystal Ice is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing, and is currently considering a program in Writing, Editing, & Publishing. A budding author, she enjoys writing in her spare time, and maintains two blogs while working on one of her many novels and poems.

Review of “A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell

Judith Claire Mitchell’s A Reunion of Ghosts explores the dark angles of a curse carried throughout the generations of the Alter family. Sisters Lady, Vee, and Delph utilize the novel’s narrative space as a memoir and three-way suicide note, looking back on past regrets and the faults of previous generations.  The reader is immediately submerged in the lives of these three women, commemorating their lost loves, illnesses, and near-psychotic breaks.

Mitchell’s writing is both consistent in style and shamelessly funny despite the novel’s heavy content. The humor is introduced immediately as the novel begins, giving the readers a good idea of the sisters’ personalities:

“Q: How do three sisters write a single suicide note? A: The same way a porcupine makes love: carefully.”

The wit isn’t lacking and neither is the unique imagery. Because the novel does an awful lot of time-hopping, Mitchell is able to successfully put her audience in the vivid scenes of the sisters’ pasts:

“And now it was the Bicentennial, a three-day weekend when incensed New Yorkers took time out of their calls for Ford’s impeachment to cheer the whistling comets and fiery chrysanthemums bursting about the World Trade Center.”

What’s remarkable about the style of this novel is Mitchell’s imagery. Occasionally, she will rely on adjectives and adverbs, but her word choice is impeccable. Every word is written with powerful intent. Even though an excess of adverbs and adjectives can indicate overwriting, this book does not fall victim because Mitchell’s images are so vivid.

Mitchell’s character development skills prompt readers to feel hopeful for the sisters’ potentially changing their minds, even though their impending demise is predictable. From the get-go, readers, perhaps middle-aged women, will find something in common with Lady, Vee, and Delph and recognize each of them as women who have faced deep-rooted hardship.

Yet, this novel is not for someone who is looking for an easy read. Mitchell has a particular style and use of time and space that requires the reader to pay attention. Without proper awareness of the plot, setting, and point-of-view, the narrative will seem disjointed. The Alter family’s story reaches back as far as 19th century Germany, so the curious reader may want to gather a bit of context before getting started. Mitchell truly invites the audience into the world of Lady, Vee, and Delph. It is just a matter of how much of that world the reader would like to invest time into.

“A Reunion of Ghosts” explores the depths of family and how it can become impossible to run away from who you truly are. While the sisters’ time is fleeting, they are forced to face the facts of their family lineage and the consequences of bearing the Alter name. The mistakes made by relatives of the past immortally haunt the family, coaxing Lady, Vee, and Delph into the only solution they find plausible—self-inflicted death.  The story itself is complex and cheerless, but Mitchell brings it to life with slapstick characters and excellent writing.


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Judith Claire Mitchell is the author of the novels The Last Day of the War and A Reunion of Ghosts. She teaches undergraduate and graduate fiction workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is a professor of English and the director of the MFA program in creative writing. She has received grants and fellowships from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and Bread Loaf, among others. She lives in Madison with her husband, the artist Don Friedlich.


About the author of this post:  Katie Draves is a junior at North Central College and is currently upholding the position of co-editor of 30 North. She is studying English and Art and hopes to pursue a career in publishing and editing.

Interview with Brian Brodeur

It’s Not All Grotesquery & Gloom: An Interview with Brian Brodeur

by Lauren Banas

BrianBrodeur_profile_picBrian Brodeur is the author of the poetry collections Natural Causes (Autumn House Press 2012) and Other Latitudes (University of Akron Press 2008), as well as the poetry chapbooks Local Fauna (Kent State University Press 2015) and So the Night Cannot Go on Without Us (WECS Press 2007). New poems, essays, and interviews appear in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry (online), The Hopkins Review, Measure, The Missouri Review, River Styx, Southwest Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle. Brian curates the blog “How a Poem Happens,” an online anthology of over 200 interviews with poets. Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Whitewater River Valley.


 

How did you get started writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

We’re beginning at the beginning! I’d always enjoyed making: building mud pies, writing songs, drawing caricatures, busking for beer money (I actually did this). But I didn’t get serious about writing until college when I took an introductory, multi-genre creative writing course that exposed me to the work of 20th century poets like Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Frederico Garcia Lorca. Before this, I didn’t know what was even possible in poetry: what poets could do with line, image, metaphor, tone, and form. Ever since, as Stevens characterizes the imaginative life, I’ve been trying to catch tigers in red weather.

How long did you have to submit before you were published in a journal?

I got lucky. My first published poems appeared in 2003, the year I began submitting to journals in earnest. Well, that’s not exactly true. These were the first poems of mine published in journals and magazines with which I’d never had an affiliation. Before this, I’d placed a few pieces (fiction and poetry) in venues associated with my undergraduate and graduate institutions. But in 2003, while I was taking graduate courses at George Mason University, I began to think I might actually have a future in poetry. Thus ended any chance I’d ever had of becoming wealthy.

Do you have an agent? If so, how and when did you get one? Do you think agents are necessary?

Poets don’t typically have agents, unless they’re doing fifty readings a year. I am not in high demand.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Don’t worry about publishing. Read everything. Write your face off. By which I mean: Try to figure out who you are and who you can become through writing and reading. Don’t get too cozy with any one style, form, or even genre. Don’t limit yourself because of prevailing tastes, politics, theory, or philosophy. Literature transcends these things. Don’t write for the market. The market does not exist. Stay away from abstractions and clichés. Don’t follow anyone’s advice too closely. Don’t listen to me. Stop reading this.

Do you have any writing rituals? If you do, what is your process?

Get up early. Drink coffee. Sit down. Write.

Who or what influences your writing? Who are your literary heroes?

The list is long. Here are a few poets I’m always returning to: William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, E. A. Robinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hayden, Donald Justice, Derek Walcott, Hayden Carruth.

 How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

This is a difficult question. I’ve become harder on myself, I think, particularly with issues of form. I’ve always been attracted to the old measures of English-language poetry, especially iambic pentameter, as well as the sonnet. But I’ve grown impatient with the slackness of line I used to allow myself to get away with. I also like splicing genres, seeing how far I can push a narrative-lyric poem, for example, without the piece degenerating into prose fiction. But, as intimated above, I’ve always felt an allegiance to the lyrical impulse that often occasions a poem. Song and story. Something embedded in my marrow bones won’t allow me to dispense with either.

What is the question no one has ever asked you about your writing? What is your answer to that question?

This may sound rudimentary or flippant or silly, but I’m curious about why writers aren’t more enamored with what seems the miraculous fact of any piece of literature: How does the writer, using only the signs and symbols of language, inspire, terrify, disquiet, and incite the reader? In other words, how does the writer make her work live on the page? I’m sure writers wonder about this all the time, actually, but we’re probably too embarrassed to discuss it in any public venue. It seems so simple, obvious—even absurd. But I don’t have an answer to this question. Or I have too many answers. Which is probably the same thing.

I’ve read several of your poems, but Holy Ghost and After the Accident both stood out in particular. Going off of the foreshadowing present in Holy Ghost, what made you want to write about the light being broken against the knives in the drawer? Did you consider writing those particular lines in a different way?

I like that phrase, foreshadowing present, even if “present” can be misinterpreted “gift.” Can you imagine that scenario? “Happy Valentines, Dear—I’ve purchased you an expensive foreshadowing present! You’d better unwrap it quickly, it’s … foreshadowing!”

After the Accident also seems to possess the same foreshadowing in a scene sometime in the future. Did you intend to draw parallels between these two poems when you wrote them? Are they both describing similar scenes?

Funny you should mention that. Both “Holy Ghost” and “After the Accident” appear as two parts of a four-part sequence titled “Snapshots” in my first book, Other Latitudes (2008). This book is filled with menacing images like glinting knives, and characters that find themselves in hospital beds or worse. But I promise it’s not all grotesquery and gloom!


About the author of this post: Lauren Banas is a sophomore at North Central College and is currently studying English Writing. Stemmed from a life-long love of reading, she is a constant writer of fiction, specifically that of the fantastical variety. She loves experimenting with new literature though and hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

Review of “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts comes at a time when mainstream queer culture is all about resisting definitions. Refusing to apply clear and concise labels to oneself can be both a radical act and a way to walk the middle ground without having to declare open support for any community except for the self. At its core, The Argonauts is about walking that middle line and combining dichotomies to achieve a creamy middle.

 

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Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts comes at a time when mainstream queer culture is all about resisting definitions. Refusing to apply clear and concise labels to oneself can be both a radical act and a way to walk the middle ground without having to declare open support for any community except for the self. At its core, The Argonauts is about walking that middle line and combining dichotomies to achieve a creamy middle. In it, Nelson explores gender, sexuality, and motherhood in a fluid, stream of consciousness style that transitions from one subject to another, curling back on itself occasionally to show the interconnectedness of these issues.

At the heart of the book is Nelson’s relationship with Harry Dodge, an artist. Near the beginning, she says, “Before we met, I had spent a lifetime devoted to Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained—inexpressibly!—in the expressed.” Nelson implies that the reason she writes is to express the inexpressible through words, even though they can never quite do the job. On the other hand, when she describes the passionate arguments she had with Dodge on the subject, she says, “Once we name something, you said, we can never see it the same way again. All that is unnamable falls away, gets lost, is murdered.” This reflects the combining of public and private spheres mentioned throughout the narrative.

As a memoirist, Nelson has a desire to express the inexpressible parts of private life, from the act of fishing inedible foods out of her son’s mouth to, at the climax, how it felt to give birth. As the book goes on, she does a similar thing with Dodge, revealing more and more of him beyond his gender identity until Dodge himself writes his own story of seeing his mother when she was dying of cancer, intertwined with Nelson’s recount of the birth.

The public and private becoming one is no strange thing to people in the queer community. Some of the most private things, one’s sense of gendered self and one’s romantic and sexual affections, become wildly, terribly public, often with steep consequences. As Nelson notes, once a person is seen as “queer,” that signifier is all some people think about when considering them and their work. This goes both for the straight, cisgendered population as well as the queer community. When a queer person reads a book by another queer person, the tendency is to look for the hidden clues and try to identify with all of them, essentially making the work again about the author’s identity.

Nelson recognizes this, and sets forth to craft a story that both validates her and her partner’s queer identities while making them a facet of their whole. She talks about the association of pregnancy with heteronormativity and poses the question:  when does queer stop being radical and just become a part of a person’s identity? Can an issue that’s been so public for so long finally move to a wholly private sphere? Should it be wholly private? Throughout the book Nelson grapples with these questions, detailing small anecdotes of her life, intertwining them and presenting them as the expressions of the inexpressible.


Maggie_Nelson.bw_1024x1024Maggie Nelson is the author of Bluets (Wave Books, 2009), Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (University of Iowa Press, 2007), The Red Parts: A Memoir (Free Press, 2007), The Art of Cruelty (WW Norton, 2011), and The Argonauts (Graywolf, 2015). Nelson is also the author of several books of poetry, including Something Bright, Then Holes (Soft Skull Press, 2007), Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull, 2005), The Latest Winter (Hanging Loose Press, 2003) and Shiner (Hanging Loose, 2001). Nelson currently lives in Los Angeles where she teaches on the BFA and MFA faculty of the School of Critical Studies at California Institute of the Arts.


About the author of this post:  Hope Kennedy is a sophomore at North Central College, where she’s studying English and Management. Likes include writing, cats, and sleeping in on rainy days. Dislikes include inaccurate movies based on good books, the sound people make when they chew ice, and that awkward smile you exchange with a stranger when you make eye contact.

Winter 2016 Underground

Join us for the Underground, hosted by the staff of North Central’s literary journal, 30 North!

What is the Underground?

The Underground is an open-mic event that celebrates literature, art, music, and anything else that inspires you. Bring your creative work to share: whether it’s an original poem, story, song, artwork or other creative piece, it’s welcome at the Underground. Feel free to also bring a poem or story excerpt from a favorite author to read. Don’t feel like getting up in front of the mic yourself? No problem! Please come and listen! We’d love to have anyone who’s interested in creative work attend the Underground.

When and Where?

We’ll be in the Boiler House basement on Wednesday, February 10th from 7pm-9pm. See you there!