Firing the Neurons

by Francine Ringold

Old age compels us to speak. It is our destiny and may be our privilege—if we grab on to it. With the publication of Old People: A Season of the Mind, Spring/Summer 1976, Nimrod was once again (as it was with the issues Arabic Literature: Then and Now, New Black Writing, and so forth) on the leading edge of what was to be an international trend: people were living longer, and the productive life of the mind was one of the reasons for that longevity. This ’76 issue brought together writers’ responses to aging and, most importantly, featured writers 65 or over (65 was considered old at that time), including well-known authors Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Archibald MacLeish, and visual artists Alice Neel, 76, photographer Consuelo Kanaga and painter Wallace Putnam, both 82, and famed painter Georgia O’Keeffe, a mere 88 at the time.  The better-known writers were included not only to spice up the issue but also to provide distinguished company for the newcomers.

Yet, as always with Nimrod, it was the unknown or little-known writers that we sought out—and these were the stunners. “I am eighty-six and I’m proud of it!” said Argentinian editor and writer Victoria Ocampo, well known among readers in Spanish but less widely known in the U.S. at the time. Retired librarian Pearl Minor marked this issue as her first publication at the age of 66. (She visited Nimrod’s offices to meet the editors in person 15 years later). Fiction writer Mildred Hirsch Arthur, poets Ruth Feldman, Ivy Dempsey, Joseph Langland, Nina Nyhart, and six writers from the Artists and the Aging program in St. Paul, Minnesota, all displayed the craft, talent, yeastiness, and zest that are ageless. And Judith Johnson Sherwin, who was a mere snippet of 40 when she wrote so convincingly in the voice of a mad old woman, redirected her energy and talent and went on to win Nimrod’s fiction award in 2012, at the age of 76.

Nimrod also went on to exemplify Isaac Bashevis Singer’s statement that “The instinct to create remains as long as one breathes.” With a title taken from a line in W.B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” (An aged man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress . . . ), 1991’s issue, Clap Hands and Sing: Writers of Age, includes fifty-six writers and visual artists: three in their 90s; six in their 80s; twenty-three in their 70s; twenty-three between 65 and 69. And all the work included was written within the three years previous to its publication.  The cover painting from esteemed American landscape painter Alexandre Hogue’s Big Bend series was completed in January of 1991, Mr. Hogue’s 93rd year.

The cover letters sent with submissions were, in three individual cases, written on yellow lined paper and by hand. Mildred Greear, one of my favorites in this issue, not only published two marvelous poems (“In Storage” and “Remainder”) but also sent a glowing letter of thanks to the editors for not only the acceptance but also the “concept itself.”  May Stevens (“For My Loves, Lost and Leaving”) and her miraculous drawings that opened the issue took the reader by the hand, led them to more and more discoveries.

William Stafford, former Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, who first published in Nimrod in 1956, submitted four poems in 1991.  He wrote in his cover letter: “I’d like very much to qualify for the Clap Hands and Sing issue: my bids at this time are enclosed.” Such humility makes one proud of the human condition—and indeed is cause for handclapping.

LM Issue Cover

Nimrod’s 2013 Lasting Matters: Writers 57 and Over, at least in part, is another issue that focused on age—among other things.  In it, Henry Morgenthau III, age 96, published two poems.  His volume of collected poems was published last year and reviewed on NPR, where, at the age of 100, he held forth with thoughtful answers in a clear, steady, and even voice.

I draw attention to these few past issues of Nimrod and the hundreds—or is it thousands—of writers of age in other books, not just because I am 83, nor to sell books, since I believe the aforementioned are sold out. It is rather that they remind us all, myself included, that writing, selecting, shaping, revising, as F. Daniel Duffy, M.D., said, “keeps the neurons transmitting, keeps us alive!”


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.

Is Bibliophilia Curable?

by Jane Wiseman

I suffer badly from bibliophilia and have yet to find a cure.  I’m curious about it and its source. My husband has threatened to install a book-detector at our back door to sound an alarm when more books enter the house, but so far he lacks the technical expertise, so the disease rages on.

For decades, I never missed the Holland Hall Book Fair in Tulsa (a treasure!) and had to sneak boxes of books into the house.  I swore I’d abide by the “one book in, one book out” rule, but just couldn’t honor the pledge.  For me, what more solemn duty than to give these books sanctuary?  And I have no stomach (à la Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”) for choosing which current occupants will correspondingly get it where the chicken got the ax.

Besides, my boys were the happy beneficiaries of my bargains from “Linus’s Corner” at the Book Fair and never went without new adventure stories and children’s poetry books and classics.  I believe bibliophilia is hereditary, or, at least, contagious, if my boys are any indication.  And what a godsend now to have the arrival of grandchildren—a new generation for these treasures!

So, what is it about books that demands possession and proximity?  The old expression, “A book is a gift you can open again and again” doesn’t quite do it.  And I confess to having lots of books on my Kindle and iPad.  But so often I buy the book in hardcopy after the digital read because I want to see and hold the physical beauty of the words on the paper page.  Such sensory satisfaction—sight, smell, touch, even sound—the whisper of pages turning.

When we were children, every December was a Proustian “madeleine” moment for my two sibs and me when we opened the Christmas box from our Australian cousins, filled with down-under kids’ books with their unmistakable exotic Aussie fragrance in full fig as we cracked open the first page.  So I recognized at once the bond between New York booklover Anne Bancroft and London bookseller Anthony Hopkins in the movie version of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, with all its literary allusions and evocative book—and bookshop—smells.

Jane 1

Shifting gears gently, let me say that books, in my experience, have a very pragmatic side.  The first car I ever bought on my own ($55 a month car payments!) was a manual transmission, sand-colored AMC Gremlin, surely a classic by now—rejected, however, by my sons who demanded to be let out a block from school to avoid public association with such a vehicle.  The Gremlin had an abbreviated back seat and an insignificant rear compartment.  It was rear-wheel drive and weighed next to nothing, making it treacherous in icy conditions.

When the Tulsa City-County Library had its annual surplus book sale, I had a rare flash of brilliance.  I loaded up on boxes of book discards in their unmistakable public library cloth bindings and kept them in the rear of the Gremlin.  They provided rear ballast on icy roads, and if I got stuck, I’d have something to read until rescued.  And if help was not forthcoming, I could cover myself in the open volumes, or if desperate, pull out the pages (sacrilege!) and bury myself, or, in extremis, burn them.  Or, perhaps, even eat them, becoming wiser in the consumption.  [N.B.:  Digital literature will not help you there.]

Robert Frost put it well (he wasn’t referring to books but he could’ve been):

I could give all to Time—except
What I myself have held.  But why declare
The Things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with?  For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.

My search for the source of bibliophilia continues, but the source matters less than its seductive presence, right?  So let’s not be too hasty in finding a cure.

Jane Wiseman
writes for a living as a Judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.  She counts the day she joined Nimrod’s Advisory Board as one of her happiest and currently serves as Chair of the Advisory Board.



Why Poetry Matters

Britton Image 1

by Britton Gildersleeve

Years ago—more than 25, actually—the poet Dana Gioia asked if poetry can matter. Here at Nimrod, which for more than 40 years has published amazing poetry, from poets who continue to stun us with beauty, we know it does. And it should.

Poetry—all art, really—connects us. Offers us the experiences of someone outside us to consider, other experiences sifted through the sieves of imagery and compression. Both reading and writing poetry help us to see better: to observe the details in the world around us and to be more aware of how those details shift when seen through the eyes of another. When we read poetry, we’re invited into another landscape, a kind of liminal space between us and the writer. And when we write poetry? We’re actually creating that landscape ourselves. Each effort—while very different—requires imagination and empathy, so necessary for lives well-lived.

If I go too long without poetry, it’s not like I die. It’s not as critical as water. It’s somewhere up there with . . . vitamins. Sunlight. Sitting outside. Not truly life-or-death, but pretty damn important. Because what I learn is always useful—not simply pretty, or even literary. But useful like food, sunlight, vitamins. Take Gary Snyder’s “Axe Handles .” There’s a line (lifted from Ezra Pound) that changed me—“When making an axe handle / the pattern is not far off.”  Let me explain:

Lately I’ve been feeling stiff. Arthritic, for sure, but stiff in other ways, as well. Like my intellectual, emotional, and physical “muscles” are rusted tight. I can’t think like I used to be able to. And for someone with Alzheimer’s rampant in her family, that’s a bit . . . unnerving, to say the least.

The recumbent bike is twice as hard as it ought to be. I’m cranky. And I often feel . . . well, unnecessary. In the way that American culture is so very good at making the aging feel. But Snyder reminds me that even a discarded axe handle is useful. Is necessary: When making an axe handle / the pattern is not far off. Snyder elaborates, bringing in Pound, who wrote the line, translated from the Chinese of another poet, Shih-hsiang Chen.

I’m at least partially in love with this poem because it includes my beloved Pound, whom I studied so closely, imprinting on him like a poetic duckling, and his Chinese translations. Once, at a Nimrod reading the Pulitzer-winning poet W.S. Merwin gave in Tulsa, he mentioned sitting with Pound at St. Elizabeth’s. I did much of my doctoral work on Pound, and suddenly I was physically connected to my flawed idol, whose work is still so influential to poets, through the man in front of me. I was the latest tiny dot in a line curling back to China. Sitting in the faculty study, I was connected to these writers by lines of poetry. That matters.

Britton Image 2

The poet Denise Levertov once said that In certain ways writing is a form of prayer. Because poetry is about calling something—a feeling, a thought, an action—into being. Invoking it, really. Poets are the ultimate magicians. Lines on a page become a kind of prayer or spell, as axe handles become safe passage through aging’s dark journey.

Recently, discussing structure and writing with my elder son, I said I couldn’t write with too much structure. That writing is—for me—a discovery process. Structure, I told him, can actually kill my ideas.

Later, as I lay in bed half-asleep, I thought about poetry. And realized that what I said was only true of prose (at least for me).  I write poetry most easily (and possibly best) when I have the structure of a form.  Sonnet, haiku, tanka, lune—each draws forth the content to fill the form’s structure. They act like scaffolding for the creative process.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized: structure is a kind of mindfulness. It’s almost meditative. Certainly it’s contemplative. If I have to fit inchoate feelings/images/thoughts within a skeletal framework, it’s a kind of magic—following the breath to calm. Letting the poem help me find its voice.

I am more than a discarded axe handle. I am capable of being a pattern, a model. Of still being useful. Of teaching. Of being taught, being what the next axe handle comes from. Of being held within the breath pauses that define the poem’s structure, and becoming part of the poem’s music.

In other words? Poetry still matters. When its raison d’être is to connect, to bring ideas into being. How could it NOT?


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.


Welcome: Our Blog Launch

By Eilis O’Neal

Welcome to the blog of Nimrod International Journal!

In 1956, English graduate students at The University of Tulsa founded a literary journal with a strange name. Called Nimrod after a line by Alexander Pope, the magazine started out as a small one—the first issue is just 48 pages long and mainly features work by TU students. Today we’re celebrating our 61st year as an international journal with a history of publishing diverse writing from around the world, from debut authors to U.S. Poet Laureates.

We’ve never had a blog, though, and so we’re especially excited to announce the beginning of this, an official Nimrod blog.

Starting today, we’ll bring you a new blog post at least once a week, sometimes more often. The blog will be curated and written by members of the Nimrod office staff, Editorial Board, and Advisory Board, and we’ll offer thoughts on a variety of subjects.

What can you look forward to? Interviews with outstanding authors, including Nimrod contributors; thoughts on the craft of writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction; publishing advice straight from editors’ mouths; retrospectives on past issues of Nimrod; book reviews; information on upcoming publishing opportunities; and much, much more.

It’s going to be a bit of a grab bag, but with one unifying feature: everything posted will be of interest to writers and readers. We hope that you’ll join us.

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