Contributor Interview: Lisa Nikolidakis

What inspired you to write “The Ladies’ Philoptochos Society,” which appears in Nimrod’s Leaving Home, Finding Home issue?

This story is part of a larger, thematically linked collection that I recently completed. In researching the book, I became obsessed with narratives of first-generation Greek women who came to the States, particularly those who were shoved into arranged marriages. Torn from their homes, moved to the other side of the world, possessing minimal (if any) English, their husbands often twenty years older than them—yet they weren’t allowed to speak of their pain. That silent, obedient suffering hits close to home for me, and I wanted to show how traumatic this particular experience could be for a young woman. I also wanted to challenge myself to write a sympathetic character who makes a decision that most people would condemn.

What’s your writing process like?

As a teacher, the bulk of my writing happens in summer, though if anyone has figured out how to teach and write well at the same time, please let me know. Seriously.

I work from 10-6 almost every day of the summer. Typically, there’s a long stretch of researching, thinking, and note-taking—a space that makes me deeply impatient for the actual writing to begin. I use an 11×14-inch sketchpad to map out ideas visually and work out the math of my stories. Sometimes I remain in research/thinking mode for weeks before I can really begin, which makes my process feel agonizingly slow at times, but I am working on being more patient with my process. My phone alerts me every day at 4 p.m. with, “You are doing enough.” It actually helps.

How many times do you revise a story, usually?

I revise every single time I open my document, so I can’t quantify it. My writing day begins by reading what I’m working on from the beginning. I tweak and shift things as I read through, which helps me settle into the groove of the piece. Once I have a draft, I revise again with specific aims in mind: word choices, syntax, tightening scenes, punching up humor, etc. . . . Then I send it to my beta readers and prepare for more revision. Sometimes I do seven. Other times two. It really depends on how close I’ve gotten it on my own.

What do you like to read? Who are the authors you find yourself returning to again and again?

I’m currently in the middle of Lidia Yuknavitch’s stunning The Book of Joan and Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec. When I’m done with those, Roxane Gay’s Hunger is on deck. I’m a sucker for researched, scientific nonfiction, too, so I’m also reading Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made, and I’m rereading Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps The Score. You know, light beach reading.

What tips would you give to aspiring writers?

  • Stop comparing yourself to famous writers who had success at an early age (or who are the same age as you and have more success). You’re on your own journey, and all of that comparative thinking undermines your confidence. Your writing path will look different than someone else’s.
  • Carve out your writing time and guard it fiercely. For me, this means saying no to things people ask me to do—especially in summer. I’m a people-pleaser, so I hate saying no, but I hate not writing more.
  • Read generously. Give pieces the same benefit of the doubt that you want your own work to receive. That doesn’t mean you have to like everything, but don’t come at it arms akimbo either.
  • Be kind to yourself.

What are you working on now?

A memoir based on my piece that was in The Best American Essays 2016. Dark as some of the material is, the story is hopeful in the end. I’ve just completed the proposal for it and am now writing the book itself. This project is a long time in the making, and finally—mercifully—I think I’ve cracked the code on it. Famous last words I’m sure, but for now, I’m feeling surgical, so I’m running with it.

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Lisa Nikolidakis’s work has appeared in Best American Essays 2016, Los Angeles Review, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Passages North, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. She currently teaches creative writing in the Midwest and has recently completed a collection of thematically-linked short stories.

How Do You Be?

by Francine Ringold

The question, said neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, should not be, “How are you?” but “How do you be?” I reply with the following:

It is sometimes disturbing but more often lovely to live amongst people — under a cloak of men and women and children — especially the children. Ah, there goes Georgie, two-year-old carrot-top curious George.

Yes, it is still a novelty living in an apartment by the water and not in a private home walled in by shrubbery and brick, with neighbors hidden from view who only occasionally peek out their heads to water a bush.

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At first one’s eyes follow the lift and sway of calming water, then there is a cacophony of noises and chatter: teams of rowers being urged on by a coach on a megaphone; the guy with abundant tattoos who looks like a surfer but spouts stock reports on a cell phone; the slender French woman, always on high heels, sashaying a Pekinese—all in front of my sliding glass door—briefly in front of my door, and then skirting past like rare birds batting their wings and squawking.  And suddenly, like now, silence, and only the sea, water, and sky.

Going out a few steps beyond my glass door, walking my famous dog, Pete, or leisurely strolling, there is a new world, different from yesterday yet the same — fresh faces and company.  As if out of a storybook, a girl with enormous red-framed glasses perched on a small face emerges from the bushes, where she has carefully “picked up” after the baby beagle beside her, named, to my astonishment, Cyrano.  Did she know, I ask, where that name came from? And so, with her father Gabriel (I am not making this up), in the middle of Old Harbor Lane, we discuss Cyrano de Bergerac, and Molly Sue, the girl, decides she wants to read it through her huge glasses.  “And did you know,” her father asks, “that her brother’s name is Shout? We all love that Mockingbird thing.” All this, trivia though it may be, before 9:00 a.m., to be followed by sylphlike former fashion model Amanda from Brazil with her three young children: one-year-old Zion, three-year-old Kowie, six-year-old Luma hugging me and whispering my name with reverence.  Iranian/German engineer neighbor Barush Murgani has already left for the last of his two final exams on solar energy, promising to fix me dinner in celebration.  This evening Caleb will drop by to bore me with pseudo-philosophy and cuddle his dog and mine. I tire of his endless attempt to impress me, though he is kind and good-looking in a scruffy kind of way.

And so it goes: the roving twin Russian boys, about twelve, who did not understand my proudly spouted sentence in Russian, Простите меня пожалуйста (Excuse me please!), until I had repeated it five times with increasing panic; Happy, the small, aged, white mixed-breed, wobbling to us each morning with owner Paige, gazing longingly at Pete as though he is her big brother.

But there they are again, the elegant white birds silently standing erect—egrets, I think—and the deep black crows cawing a warning.  There are Great Blue Herons too, soaring above the trees, widespread wings like two large kites attached to thin legs trailing behind, pointed like an arrow.  And the greedy cormorants lunging for fish. Good to learn the names of things, to parse not words but living things, how they breathe and change colors and fly.

One would think this is enough—to drift with the clouds.  It is not!  Remember May Sarton’s words: “To work is to feel whole!”  So I pick up my pen and write.

 

Francine Ringold, Ph.D., edited Nimrod International Journal for 47 years. She served as the Poet Laureate of Oklahoma for two consecutive terms.  Her most recent book: From Birth to Birth: My Memoir and a Guide for Yours.

 

 

Poetry Equals Happiness

by Britton Gildersleeve

Aspiring poets often believe that it takes unhappiness to create art. You must drink too much, do drugs, have a sadly aching life. Be as miserable and crazy as Poe, as suicidal as Hemingway, as dysfunctional as Sexton. Sometimes, they even hear this from their seniors. The myth of the suffering artist.

Once, years ago, I asked my students to go see a famous novelist who had been invited to the university. He began his presentation/reading by stating that all artists must suffer, and they drink and/or do drugs as a result.

ARGH! Nooooo! Mr. Writer Guy: You just totally messed with my students! (I apologized to them the next class period.)

This is NOT Nimrod’s position, FYI. Because guess what? It’s not true. Happiness fosters not only art, but (obviously) life. It is—and this is only a perhaps—possibly easier to sit down and write if you’re already miserable and your everyday life holds no allure. Certainly on days when the weather is idyllic, and there are birds at all the feeders, and leftovers I needn’t mess with, it’s easy not to write. But when I think of the times my life was splintered into shards and fragments, I didn’t write. I simply couldn’t.

So, is sorrow good material? Maybe. But so is joy, folks. And if you look east, to art in Asia, there is art to be made from (and found in) each element of our days. There is art in dragonflies, and grasses, and even the calligraphy of our names.

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And I know this. Yesterday, for instance, was a good day. Both my wonderful sons were here: the one currently visiting, and the one who lives a few blocks from us. My perfect grandsons and wonderful daughter-in-law were on view, as well. There was Chinese take-in my beloved ordered, so I didn’t need to cook. And the hummingbird feeders were sites of aerial ballet. But I didn’t write a word, other than some work emails.

Today? It’s raining, my younger son and I are having a lovely visit, and I’m writing. Writing. Poetry. About the crows calling outside, about the way the midsummer rain falls like heavy silk over the grass. About whatever. But I’m still happy. That hasn’t changed. Only the level of my activity has changed, and what I choose to spend my time on. Sometimes it’s grandsons, for instance. That doesn’t mean I write better when I’m unhappy. It may just be that when writers are unhappy, there’s nothing else in their everyday lives that claims their interest.

In other words—art does NOT require suffering. Happiness can be just as creative and a lot more fun. Especially if it’s genuine.

Now there’s a question: how to define authentic, genuine happiness? Is it the transient pleasure of a perfect cup of tea? (Maybe? I certainly think so.) Is it the giddy pleasure of my grandson running to me at daycare when I pick him up? Is it—really—any single thing?

No matter how momentous any single event, I’m pretty sure that genuine happiness wells up from a life well lived. Even in the midst of his great sorrow over Tibet, I’m betting that the Dalai Lama is happy. Same for Pope Francis, again in spite of his acute awareness of the desperate poverty around the world. And of course Desmond Tutu, even though he deplores the racial injustice here in the U.S. and elsewhere. And no, they’re not writing much poetry (at least not that I know of).

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What will make us happy is our own life, ultimately. Which is what these various wise leaders—and others—have said for many, many years. Being kind to those around us; refusing to participate in inequity; cherishing the fragile young, the old, the poor, and the unfortunate. THAT will make us happy, because it becomes part of our everyday life, a daily attitude of happy, if that makes sense.

And then? Well, you can write poetry. If you’re so inclined. Honest. Because happiness . . . well, it feeds your inner artist. It gives you, I promise, lots to write about. And that’s more than enough to help you get past the myth of the suffering artist.

Britton Gildersleeve’s creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, This Land, and many other journals. She has published three chapbooks and was the director of the Oklahoma State University Writing Project for twelve years.

Illustrations from Britton’s blog, teaandbreath.com.

Contributor Interview: Asnia Asim

What inspired you to write “A Refugee Contemplates Foam,” which appears in Nimrod’s Leaving Home, Finding Home issue?

I often seek in the space of poetry respite and release for pent-up political angst. But it’s important to understand and honor the quality of one’s anxiety and find an appropriate form for it. Otherwise it’s just a rant. The inspiration/angst for writing “A Refugee Contemplates Foam” built up over months of seeing the heartbreaking images of Syrian families scattered at sea. Interestingly, its form was inspired by an entry I came across in Henry David Thoreau’s journal:

“The rattling of the tea-kettle below stairs reminds me of the cowbells I used to hear when berrying in the Great Fields many years ago, sounding distant and deep amid the birches. That cheap piece of tinkling brass which the farmer hangs about his cow’s neck has been more to me than the tons of metal which are swung in the belfry.”

I loved how Thoreau tied the sound of the tea-kettle to the metal of bells big and small, present and past. In the poem I emulated him, linking the foam of a halloween costume to a refugee’s life-vest to a luxury mattress in a five-star hotel.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing poetry since childhood. I started working on a novel last year.

What’s your writing process like?

I follow a strict daily routine which includes reading, writing, and studying Arabic. My better poems have always been the spontaneous fall-on-the-page kind of creatures. But I revise thoroughly, and often harass someone (usually my husband and sister) to read them to me. For some reason I find it easier to trace the rhythm of my writing in the voice of another.

Do you have a specific place you like to write?

Yes, I always write on a mint green leaf-drop table, littered with books and magazines, placed in my favorite nook of the apartment.

What are you reading right now?

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, and Precious Nonsense by Stephen Booth.

Check out Asnia’s “A Refugee Contemplates Foam” here.

Asnia Asim is the recipient of University of Chicago’s Corbel Scholarship, which is awarded to graduate students of exceptional academic promise, and of Brandeis University’s Alan B. Slifka Tuition Award. Her work has appeared in several print and online journals and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology.

 

 

The Practical Editor: Manuscript Format

by Eilis O’Neal

“The Practical Editor” is my series on the practical questions that can arise as we’re writing and sending out our work. The first post covered cover letters (accidental play on words there, but I like it and I’m not deleting it), and this post is going to focus on the format of your manuscript. I’ll discuss short fiction/creative nonfiction and poetry.

Short Fiction/Creative Nonfiction

For a standard submission, short fiction and creative nonfiction should be double-spaced in an easy-to-read, 12-point font such as Times New Roman. Paragraphs should be indented, with no extra space between them unless you are indicating a section break. Your name and full contact information should appear at the top of the first page, as well as the title, and your name and title should appear on every subsequent page. Pages should be numbered. For mailed submissions, pages should be printed on only one side of plain white paper.

You might be thinking, Why these particular rules? The answer is simple: they make for the easiest reading experience for the editor and they make sure your manuscript can be put back together if, for instance, it gets dropped on the floor and the pages scattered. Single spacing, strange fonts, and double-sided paper are harder for our eyes to read easily—and you want the editor’s reading experience to be as easy and pleasant as possible.

Of course, you may be playing with style in a particular piece: using single spacing in some sections, rejecting paragraph indentations, etc. That’s fine—if you have a legitimate artistic reason for it and if it is consistent within the piece. If there’s not a story-driven reason for you to play with the layout of your piece, however, your default formatting should be as outlined above.

Poetry

Poetry has fewer formatting rules than prose, because the layout of a poem often has an impact on how we read and understand it. If you aren’t using special spacing or layout, however, poems should be single-spaced, aligned to the left, in an easy-to-read, 12-point font such as Times New Roman. As with fiction, your name and full contact information should appear on each poem, with your name and the title also appearing on each page of any poems longer than a single page.

Even though there aren’t as many hard and fast rules for formatting poems, I would like to offer a few tips to consider as you lay out your poems—from an editor’s perspective. These are considerations that we run into time and again at Nimrod as we’re putting our issues together, and while they may not change the way you lay out your work, they are something to think about as you do so.

Line length

In the U.S., you are almost certainly going to be writing and thus printing your poems on 8.5 x 11 inch paper. (Standard paper size can vary in other parts of the world, but the following comments still hold.) Print magazines and journals, however, vary in size. Nimrod, for instance, is printed as a 6 x 9 inch journal, as are many other literary magazines. But not all: The Missouri Review, for instance, is 6.75 x 10, while a recent New Orleans Review is 5.75 x 6.75.

The point is: There are very few instances in which, once accepted, your work will be printed on an 8.5 x 11 page. If your lines are very long, extending to the end of the usable space on your page as you type, they may not fully fit onto the printed page of a journal. Of course, there are standard ways to indicate that a line actually extends through a line break, but those will affect how your poem looks on the page, and perhaps how the reader reads it.  This may not bother you, but on the other hand, it might. It’s simply a choice that you’ll make for each poem, but it’s an issue that I think many poets don’t consider until an editor writes to them and says, “Your poem is going to look different than you intended when we print it.”

The Shape of the Poem

Similarly, your poem might have a particular shape on the page. This can be a literal shape poem—one that forms an arc, a triangle, a circle, etc.—or just specific use of placement and space of the words to evoke a certain meaning and feeling. And, again, this might make your poem look different if the page it is printed on is smaller than the page you wrote it on, or if the journal uses a different font than the one you used.

Say that you’re incorporating a lot of white space into your poem to give it airy feel or perhaps a feeling of distance and separation. If you wrote it on a page that is 8.5 inches wide, but it’s printed on a page that is only 6 inches wide, the white space will often have to be tightened or shrunk, making some words/lines closer together than they looked when you printed it at home.

Likewise, the font that you use is probably not going to be the font that the journal uses. (Times New Roman is great for manuscripts and easy reading, but many journals have signature fonts. Nimrod’s, for instance, is Cochin.) So if your poem has a distinct shape, it may be difficult for the journal to replicate it exactly. They can probably get pretty close, using various layout tricks, but it may not be an exact replica.

As with the line lengths, I don’t bring this up to say, Never write a huge, airy poem or a shape poem. I merely want to call attention to it, to let you think about your own preferences as you write.

The Caveat

As you can see, formatting your work at the most basic level is pretty easy, and you can make a template of it for all of your manuscripts. But there is a caveat, and that is that each journal or magazine may have its own particular formatting instructions. If it does, make sure that you follow those instructions.

So that’s manuscript formatting for journal submissions. Happy writing, and if there are topics that you would like to see covered in future posts on “The Practical Editor,” leave a comment below or email us at nimrod@utulsa.edu.

Eilis O’Neal is Nimrod‘s Editor-in-Chief. She is also a writer of fantasy and the author of the young adult fantasy novel The False Princess.

 

Navigating the Darkness: My Life with Horror and Literary Fiction

by Helen Patterson

At my high school, all graduating seniors were required to write an essay about what the good life was. My essay was called “Circumnavigating the Darkness,” and my premise was that human beings have darkness inside of them, and that the good life is only possible if we turn away from this darkness. I wrote about Raskolnikov, Colonel Kurtz, Ahab. All three confronted this darkness in themselves, leading to violence, death, and disaster as the darkness within devoured them. Now that I’m a little older, I think that my earlier self was wrong about our ability to hide from or escape our worst selves. Intangible, indefinable, variable and fluid from culture to culture and age to age: The darkness is in all of us.

This darkness is why we remain so fascinated with Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness and Moby-Dick. Through literature, we attempt to know ourselves, and through these and similar novels we dissect the existential terror of a species confronting the worst aspects of modernity. I would also argue that these, and many of our greatest classics, are, at their core, horror books. However, many people would dispute this because we seem reluctant, as a literary community, to admit genre elements lurk within our greatest works.

People are very dismissive of horror. Some of the finest examples of horror writing are often reclassified as “psychological horror” or “literary fiction” or “magical realism”, particularly if there are strong philosophical or aesthetic elements, as in Borges’s short fiction and Danielewski’s hypnotic House of Leaves. Perhaps this is actually a sign of horror’s strength and flexibility. When you read a romance, a coming-of-age story, or a social satire, you know what you are reading. Those genres are strongly stamped into our collective consciousness.

Horror, though, creeps in where it isn’t wanted or expected, blurring genre lines and muddling the supposedly black and white edges of the world. Horror is Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber which reveals the rotten heart of the fairytale and childhood. Horror is the slow realization in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House that the house, that inviolable, safest place, is as deadly a trap as any cave, forest, or battlefield. Horror is the trauma of slavery in Morrison’s Beloved echoing from the past to the present and refusing to be silenced despite attempts to bury it. By excusing or downplaying the horror in these and other books, we are attempting to let ourselves off the hook, give ourselves the benefit of the doubt: We are trying to circumnavigate the darkness at the heart of these stories and focus only on the style, the structure, the tone.

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When I write, often it comes out as “literary” or “psychological” horror, but you can’t really call it anything both horror. I said as much in my personal statement when I applied for MFA programs a few years ago. I mentioned how illuminating reading Joyce Carol Oates when I was a teenager had been, how “it was as if a floodgate had been lifted in my head” letting all the darkness spill out onto the page. I want to remind myself, and other writers like me, that it is okay to weave horror into what you write, or, for that matter, forget weaving and just paint the whole thing in blood. If you do it well, you are getting at the heart of something raw and real, something visceral.

Though we may desire it, we can’t eradicate the darkness inside ourselves or our species: what we can do is try to understand it, parlay with it, even, under very careful circumstances embrace it, and this is where horror comes from. Horror is a genre concerned with boundaries, borders, and crossing over. It asks about the liminal spaces between the living and the dead, the narrow spaces in the walls where cockroaches and ghosts hide. It shows us the moment, or series of moments, in a person’s life when everything goes wrong, when the familiar veers into the dark: a car accident, a fired gun, a bomb dropping from a blue, cloudless sky. We need horror, need to read horror, because our world, on both the individual and the global scale, is teeming with darkness, and we must learn to navigate it.

Originally hailing from Colorado, Helen Patterson is a graduate of The University of Tulsa. She works at the Tulsa City-County Library, writes literary horror, and loves a wonderful Okie boy.

 

Poetry, Food, and the Search for the Sublime

by John Coward

Poetry often tackles the big issues of human existence—love, death, God, the meaning of life, and so on. This is good and right, because poetry—distilled language in search of deeper meanings—is suited to the quest for purpose and reflection. When it is powerfully shaped and emotionally true, poetry can be both beautiful and sublime, an illuminated pathway to transcendence.

That said, let’s talk about food.

Seriously, food—because there’s a link between poetry and food. Food, like poetry, can be beautiful, even sublime. What’s more: many poets like to eat and, when they can afford it, they like to eat well.  Not always fancy, mind you, but food that is rich as well as satisfying.

Poetry and food share the pleasures of the senses. Reading beautiful words, shaping the syllables in your mouth, letting the language roll off the tongue—that’s sensuous, like biting into an overripe peach and savoring the juicy sweetness.

Cooking, too, can be sublime. Consider the act of breadmaking, which involves measuring flour, adding water and yeast, kneading dough, watching the dough rise, shaping the dough, and smelling the fresh loaves as they turn golden-brown in the oven. What poet or poetry lover wouldn’t find this a sensuous experience?

The link between poetry and food was made plain some years ago in Victoria McCabe’s literary cookbook, John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets. McCabe collected more than one hundred recipes, including some classical European dishes, such as Richard Hugo’s Fettuccine Verdi al Forno (even the name sounds sensuous), as well as others that are more basic, such as Jim Harrison’s A Sort of Purist-Type Chili, which starts with five pounds of cubed chuck, includes fifteen (fifteen!) whole garlic cloves, and then simmers for eight hours.

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A poet herself, McCabe offered a recipe called Gruel, which consists of two major ingredients: rice and a can of chicken noodle soup. Season with salt and pepper. This recipe doesn’t seem exactly sensuous, but McCabe claims it is “better than it sounds.” McCabe also highlights a practical advantage for poets and writers: “Gruel is a hearty meal and is extremely cheap to make.”

But perhaps my favorite recipe in John Keats’s Porridge is from the great Southern poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren, whose recipe is called simply Recipe. It consists of two ounces of Jack Daniels Black Label, two ounces of non-chlorinated water, and two cubes of ice. Warren saves the most potent ingredient for last: “½ hour in which to meditate on the goodness of God.”

That last part—that’s where we can search for the sublime.

John Coward teaches media studies and journalism at The University of Tulsa. He is a member of the Nimrod Advisory Board and the author, most recently, of Indians Illustrated: The Image of Native Americans in the Pictorial Press (University of Illinois Press, 2016).

 

 

 

 

About electronic reading and writing: some reflections

by Diane Burton

I never expected to be posting to a blog.  Years of work as a teacher and editor have left me ill-equipped for the spontaneity and serendipity that are the pleasures of good blogs.  And I continue to harbor reservations about electronic reading and writing—so I thought this might be a useful place to think about those reservations.

I’m temperamentally resistant to composing on a keyboard:  for me, writing begins as drawing. So I’m starting this entry in longhand and hope to work my way to the computer as I find a rhythm and the piece finds a shape.

There have been other circumstances as well—vision loss and impaired eye-hand coordination, from neurological disease and decline—that have prompted me to think long and hard about the advances in digital technology, to consider the gains and losses occasioned by the rise in electronic mediation in reading and writing.

As an editor at a little magazine, I appreciate the value of computer-assisted desktop publishing.  Nimrod operates on a tiny budget with a paid staff of two and lots of volunteers, yet the journal we produce is polished and professional.

As a student and teacher of writing and literature, I am grateful for the ease of access and the wealth of resources computers make possible:  in the creation and distribution of all kinds of documents, in the availability and immediacy of information, in the profusion of visual and aural supplements to what has long been primarily verbal expression.

And that’s not even going into the physical convenience of having so many possibilities at our fingertips—especially welcome for those of us whose bodies are slowing ahead of our minds.

I came up with lists of my misgivings (on the computer now, as that’s the kind of writing computers facilitate, it seems to me), divided into categories:  personal/physical, social/philosophical, expediency/depth, and so forth.  It’s a long list, and the longer I examined it, the less the categories and the concerns seemed to say about the effects of technology and the more they seemed only to confirm my biases.  My worries are about ephemerality—of access, of information, of the technology itself; about the tension between the isolation digital immersion signifies to me and the connection other people find in it; about the deteriorating attention to accuracy, style, and form that the speed of electronic communication sometimes seems to foster; about the diminished aesthetic range our devices can limit us to; even about our carbon footprints, though I have no idea whether server farms are more environmentally harmful than paper mills.

In short, my worries were about modernity itself.

Walker Percy wrote in “The Loss of the Creature,” an essay from the 1950s, about the loss of what he called “sovereignty” and what educators these days usually refer to as critical thinking. He argued that the apparatus that surrounds experience, especially cultural and educational experience, prevents more than it enables learning.  What concerned him then, long before anyone carried handheld computers in the form of smart phones, back when computers took up rooms and rooms in sterile labs and had names like UNIVAC, was that mediation, in the form of the complex structures that determine cultural transmission, deprived people of anything but received knowledge.  The threat is that this mediation forecloses discovery.

This threat, real or imagined, certainly potential, is at the heart of my uneasiness about electronic reading and writing.  But, while the technology may not be dangerous in itself, I don’t want to let it off the hook completely. The virtual world shows us an enormous amount of stuff, but it shows it only a little at a time, and that little is ultimately chosen by someone else—that terrible word “curated”—whether it’s sponsored content that comes at the top of a search or keywords decided upon by committees of cataloguers or items that appear on our screens because they’re trending or popular.  There is so much material automatically available that it can seem churlish to demand more—and so we don’t, and we become passive consumers of the riches spread before us.  By doing the organizing and choosing for us, digital resources contribute to the erosion of our capacity for critical thinking.

As I said, I never expected to write a blog.  If you’ve read this far, you can see why—and why I may not be asked to do so again.  For me, the pleasures of reading and writing are intimately bound up with the process of discovery, a process I have the luxury of enjoying as an editor at Nimrod, where writers submit sometimes wonderful and always interesting work and where, as our mission statement asserts with hope and anticipation, the mission is discovery.

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Diane Burton, an associate editor at Nimrod, retired from teaching at The University of Tulsa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1985 Issue Highlight, New Call for Thematic Submissions, and The Tulsa Voice Flash/Poetry Announcement

by Cassidy McCants

You might have seen our recent call for submissions for next spring’s thematic issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, inspired by an effort in Tulsa to bring together diverse groups at a new public park called A Gathering Place. In the call we’ve quoted John Dewey: “The local is the only universal, upon that all art builds.” It’s true, isn’t it?

We at Nimrod agree­—and, in connection with this theme and a new partnership with The Tulsa Voice, recently in the office we’ve gone back to the Spring/Summer 1985 issue of Nimrod, Tulsa/Tbilisi (28.2), which includes poetry and fiction by writers from Tulsa and from Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia. The issue is dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts (it’s a fitting time to return to this issue, I think, as NEA funding is being threatened today) and the 25th anniversary of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, two organizations that have shown Nimrod support and encouragement throughout the years. (We were housed at the Council for many years before returning to TU.)

Tbilisi Cover

In the issue’s Editor’s Note, Francine Ringold offers some connections between Tulsa and Tbilisi: both are warm most of the year; both deserve to be “recognized on their own merit”; and the past and the present are uniquely important in these cities—“In Tulsa and Tbilisi we peer down through the years, from modern to historic in architecture, language and literature, and witness an enduring core of cultural pride.”

Some highlights by Tulsa natives and locals in Tulsa/Tbilisi:

Ivy Dempsey’s “Remembering Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor
Carol Haralson’s “Anna John Counts out the Biscuit Flour”
Manly Johnson’s “The Dream”
Markham Johnson’s “On the Road” (Mark went on to win the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, judged by Robin Coste Lewis, in 2016)
Daniel Marder’s “Valia”
Mary McAnally’s “Our Work”
Alice L. Price’s “Twice-Born”
Renata Treitel’s “Brides of Bohemia”
Winston Weathers’s “Little Boy Lost”
Ruth D. Weston’s “The Mark of the Plow”
Ann Zoller’s “The Privacy of Corn”

Mary McAnally

Our Work

            “Mother of God, Dushenka / I tell you
             this / you work your life / you have
             nothing.”
                                               —Carolyn Forché

The story had been told of this man
who walked on water, a cat
that crouched and sprang 15 feet straight up,
an old woman who levitated.
John said he’d have to see it to believe it.
I said he’d have to believe it to see it.

Jorge painted a picture
of an old man whose flesh fell off in folds,
like molten wax or icing on a cake.
He called it “age”
and claims it’s very real.

I read John a poem about the Indian belief
that our souls enter and leave our bodies
through a hole in the top of our heads.

John asked how we could support ourselves
doing that kind of art.

We have nothing but our work.

We have nothing but our work
and each other
and the holes in the tops of our heads,
John, the holes in the tops of our heads.

The issue also features an interview by Julie Christensen with Georgian film directors Lana Gogoberidze, Georgi Shengelaya, Eldar Shengelaya, and Rezo Chkeidze; “The ‘Knight’ Goes English,” an article by Venera Urushadze originally published in Soviet Literature; “The Culinary Art of Georgia: Sour Plums, Poetry, and an Open Flame” by Darra Goldstein (with Georgian recipes!); poetry and fiction by Georgian authors—Liana Sturua, Lia Sturua, Jansug Tcharkviani, Murman Lebanidze, Nomar Dumbadze—with translations by Shota Nishnianidze, Vladimir Babishvili, Peter Tempest, and Valentina Jacque; and more.

Betania

Jansug Tcharkviani

            Betania¹—the house of virtue and the
            house of obedience and the house of
            glory . . .
                                                                Saba²

You haven’t seen my hands,
My eyes and my shoulders—
Crazy about white horses
And the far-away sound of bells.

You haven’t seen my fogs,
Brought from the mountains on hawks’ wings,
How filled with the white winds
Are the days, blue like the body of the Christ.

You haven’t seen the remoteness of the fresco,
Color of the fire-bird, color of wild pigeons,
How the scent of chrism is absorbing
The old walls of my body.

You haven’t seen—come and see!—
That this temple is my body, that my body is this temple!
I am your house of virtue,
I am your house of obedience,
I am the Betania of your body . . .

                  Translated by Shota Nishnianidze with Manly Johnson

¹Betania—a church near Tbilisi, built in the XII century with XIII century frescoes.
²Saba—Saba-Sulhan Orbeliani, a prominent writer and public figure of XVIII century in Georgia.

The local is the only universal—recently Nimrod has teamed up with The Tulsa Voice in a search for flash fiction and poetry by Tulsa-area (or Tulsa-connected) writers. We’ll select flash fiction of up to 500 words and poetry of no more than 40 lines in length to be shared in the pages of The Tulsa Voice. After going back to the Tulsa/Tbilisi issue and seeing notable work by numerous Tulsa writers, I’m especially eager to see what we receive for consideration in this category. I know Tulsans have a lot to say—Fran also celebrates in her Editor’s Note from 1985 that Tulsa writers “seem to demonstrate, like the Georgians, an openness, a desire to speak out.”

Let us gather; let us speak out.

Order past issues of Nimrod here. Limited copies of Tulsa/Tbilisi (28.2) available. (Select “Single Issue” and type in the title and/or volume number of the issue you’d like.)

More information about spring/summer 2018’s Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, including instructions for submission, can be found here.

Guidelines for The Tulsa Voice flash fiction and poetry submissions can be found here. (Writers must be living in Tulsa or the surrounding area or have strong emotional ties to Tulsa to submit.)

Cassidy McCants, an Associate Editor of Nimrod, is an M.F.A. candidate in fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributor Interview: Gail Peck

Braided-Light-200x300

Nimrod has published quite a few of your poems, and many of those are ekphrastic or use art as a frame for the poem. What is it about visual art that so often draws you back to it as inspiration?

Art and photography are my second loves, next to poetry and prose. The colors, the texture, the juxtaposition, the intricacy. When I see how the Old Masters could paint lace, I am in awe. I’m not a nature poet, but I am able to get some nature in my poems when I write about the Impressionists. I never thought I could write about lilacs, roses, numerous flowers. Their beauty inspires me. I knew why they inspired Monet when I went to Giverny. As for photography, I am most fond of the human face, and all it tells about joy, sadness, hard work, grief, war.

Do you have favorite artists or artistic periods when it comes to finding inspiration for poetry?

I love the Impressionists most of all, but I also like the Post-Impressionists, the Old Masters, and the Abstract Expressionists. My last full-length poetry book was about the work and lives of Van Gogh and Monet, titled The Braided Light. I did extensive research. Earlier on, I was happy to come across a book of children’s art titled “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” with drawings and paintings by the children who were interned at Terezin Concentration Camp. I did a chapbook based on that artwork, and those poems were later included in a full-length collection with poems about art, sculpture, and photo-journalism.

What’s your writing process like?

I tend to carry ideas in my head for a while, rather than rush to write them down. At times, I have whole poems in my head, which is scary now as I age. I do first drafts in longhand, and then head to the computer. I look at the poem daily for a while to see what might need to be changed. When I am satisfied, I take copies to my workshop group. At times I’ve nailed it, but often, not. I rely on the group’s knowledge.

What is your tactic for revising and refining a poem, usually?

I don’t usually do numerous revisions. There are times my group has suggested minor word changes, and sometimes the poem doesn’t work at all. I haven’t gotten to the heart of what I wanted to say, a lack of focus. Some poems I try not to give up on, but this may mean placing them in a drawer for a long time. I may be able to salvage the entire poem, or only a line or two. The more emotion I have invested in the poem, the harder I work to save it. And I just finished a poem I worked on for forty years! For whatever reason, I decided to title it “Aubade,” and then things fell into place. It was about the day my husband left for Vietnam.

What tips would you give to aspiring writers?

Read constantly. Take some classes in creative writing, perhaps Adult Education. Be willing to have your work critiqued by people you trust. Be willing to revise. If you  read your work in public, practice reading, have your work organized before you start reading. If you take your reading seriously, others will.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Big question. Some of the poets I return to over and over are Stanley Kunitz, Linda Gregg, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Alberto Rios, Sherod Santos, and Claudia Emerson. I like to support alumni from the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program, so I buy their books.

What are you working on now?

My past few books have been ekphrastic except for a chapbook about my mother’s life and her death. It has been strange to wait for a bit of inspiration rather than have a book on my coffee table I can go to and find an image I can write about. I did some work on family photographs but got stuck. I plan to go back to that, as there’s a built-in narrative, but I’m trying not to repeat myself. I am stubborn and don’t give up easily—being a Capricorn helps.

Postcard, France, 1960 (Circulatory Systems: Current and Connection, Spring 2015)

One cat plays a harp,
another holds the music.
Cat 3 has died of happiness
stretched across the floor.
I name him Champagne.

Diana writes to Courtney—
“Thank you much Christmas,
fair, foul weather love,”
as if a cost for every word.
“Don’t leave Tangier without
giving me a chance of impeding
you with a hat I must have repeat of.”

I color the hat green,
attach three ostrich feathers.
It will sit atop Courtney’s
satin hair she brushes daily.
In Tangier it’s one of a kind,
but more suited to Diana
whose face she sees
each time she sticks
the hatpin in. Then
it all comes back—
the wound they never speak of.

Gail Peck is an award-winning poet who has published eight books of poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals.