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 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

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.


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.

John Image 2

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.

Ringold Ad Pic

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