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.

Helen2

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Of Past and Prologue

by Jeff Martin

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More often than not, when I read something that leaves a mark, it also leaves a trail. It takes me back to something that paved the way for me to get to that place at that moment—the arc of the reading life. When I was a teenager in the mid ’90s, just starting to come into my own in terms of my artistic interests, poetry was everything to me—reading it, writing it (badly, very badly), and naively thinking that it could change the world. There were later moments when I lost that feeling, hardened by the cold facts of the real world. But as with most things, the pendulum swung back in the other direction, and I found a middle place. Poetry can’t change the world, but it was enough that it could change my world.

The first time I picked up a copy of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915), I didn’t really know what to make of it. The book was in the poetry section at my local library, but it was different from what I’d been reading throughout my tween and early teen years (Frost, Dickinson, the usual suspects). The first thing that came to mind was a play, dialogue. The book contains just over 200 short verse pieces, each one in the voice of a separate character. But here’s the thing: they’re dead, speaking from the grave, epitaphs of a sort.

Jeff5

The whole conceit is set up in the opening poem:

“The Hill”

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for hearts desire;
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill. 

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago,
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time at Springfield.

From here we switch to the people. They confess, they gossip, they clear the air, they tell their stories from their own subjective point of view. When I try to convey what Spoon River Anthology is to the uninitiated, I often say it’s like a mashup of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, which tells one story from four very different perspectives. But that somewhat highfalutin explanation doesn’t really do it justice. Wouldn’t it be great to have a more contemporary reference?

Few novels have had as much buzz lately as short-story master George Saunders’s debut, Lincoln in the Bardo. From page one, it became evident to me that Saunders, a favorite of mine, is also a lover of Spoon River Anthology. The novel revolves around the story of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son, Willie, age 11. Years ago, Saunders heard that Lincoln used to go into Willie’s crypt and hold the boy’s body. The image never left his mind. Written in short vignettes, in the voices of over 150 different characters, it speaks not from the grave exactly, but from the “bardo,” a sort of Tibetan purgatory. The book is an obvious homage to Masters. As you may have noticed, Lincoln makes a brief cameo at the end of “The Hill.” As if that’s not enough of a connection, Masters also wrote a major biography of Lincoln in 1931.

Jeff4

I write all this to say that with all the deserved praise Saunders is enjoying (we rarely see true literary novels become #1 bestsellers), take time to read both of these texts. In no specific order. I wonder what Spoon River Anthology would mean to me if I came to it after Bardo? It’s damn near impossible to untangle the love of some books from teenage nostalgia. And thank goodness for that.

Jeff2

Jeff Martin, Nimrod Advisor, is the founder of the Tulsa Literary Coalition’s BookSmart Tulsa, an organization that brings numerous acclaimed authors to Tulsa every year.

Aging & Creativity or Putting on New Tires

by Francine Ringold

My daughter is going to be 60 years old. That seems impossible, almost as impossible as what she just said to me: “So many of my co-workers are retiring. Perhaps I should too. Yet. . . .”

That is a big “yet” for anyone to face, particularly someone who loves her work as she does. Yet it is bound to happen in this time when we are living longer, when we are healthy longer. We decide to retire.

When we reach an age when we no longer want to pursue the old way—the profession, the job, the vocation or avocation that has dominated the better part of our lives—people, many people, call it retiring. I prefer to say that we are re-tiring, putting on new tires because the old ones no longer suit us, no longer provide the speed and grace and protection they once did.

It is possible that when we re-tire we feel most ourselves—if, of course, we continue to be at work, at work making something: a loaf of bread, a new arrangement for our favorite room, a computer program that will do all the housework at once, a written record of our life up to now, a dance, a song, a story, a poem. We are at work! A different kind of work, work that is play and that has value in itself, work that gives delight in the doing as much as in the product of that doing.

It is no wonder the energy, productivity, and record of the mind and the body’s repertoire coming from older people are mounting. Medical science has made it possible for us to live longer but also—and crucially—that knowledge of the importance of the mind/body connection has become increasingly available. “Keep moving,” we are told. We shed the old tires, the old ways, for new ones. We reconnect with our body and our mind and discover the work to be done and the way to do it.

Yes, I am talking to myself. I do that frequently but I try to refrain from talking to myself out loud. What will they think? And I am not unaware of the physical and mental challenges of aging. I am, after all, eighty-three years old. The so-called “indignities” of aging, the loss of hearing, vision, mobility, bladder control, and recent memory, do not escape my notice. We experience them more or less as the years mount. The skin, the muscles, the bones, the vocal cords lose their elasticity so much so that sometimes they droop. Some of us move more slowly or limp. Some who have always walked quickly still walk as fast as we can even if we limp. And if we can’t walk, we will dance—with an arm, with a tapping foot, with a blink of an eye or a turn of a head.

We can do this—keep moving despite a loss here and there—because most of us have been prepared for the adjustments that age calls for by having experienced the “indignities” of simply being human: the water breaking as we gave birth; the time we tripped onstage and fell into the orchestra pit; the moment when we forgot to say “I do” or “I won’t”; the time we failed an exam or we were fired. Is it possible, given our survival from past embarrassments, to look at the indignities of aging not as losses but as a new way of being in the world? Thus we can welcome our shortcomings as, for example, astigmatic Monet did in the watery impressionist technique of his later paintings, or bedridden Matisse did when he invented his famous cut-out collages, which emerged only when he found painting difficult to manage among the covers. Losing your hearing? Think of how grand it would be to lower the volume on your neighbor’s orgasm screams without touching a knob or calling the police. Perhaps it is not always best to see the distinct outlines or the hard realities in order to see with clarity. Perhaps it might be helpful to remember that we all have frailties, that we are all, young and older, handicapped in one way or another—all imperfect.

And what about memory? The experts tell us that it’s all there: the names we seem to have forgotten, the stories we half-remember; they are all there imprinted on our brain and body. We just might take longer to retrieve the names, the details, like a computer, when its memory is full, takes longer to retrieve information. But the word, the files of years of experiences and thoughts and people are all there.

Sometimes not only does it take longer to bring our memories back, it takes a prompt, a sudden happening like Proust’s madeleine cakes, to thrust a memory forward. At the World Brain Mapping and Therapeutic Science Summits in the last several years, it was affirmed that the brain retains an almost perfect record of every lifetime experience. We just need to find the way to access that memory, those imprints, so that we can reclaim what seems to be lost or dim. We need to work!

As much as we need to work, we need to play. We have to welcome the unexpected, relish fragmentation, bits of information that return in the retrieval process and promise to grab on to the next fragment when it comes, like puzzle pieces that ultimately come together. Jotting down fragments, or spreading out machine parts until they form a new configuration, places our energy in the moment, what someone called “the present moment of the past,” or—we might hope—the present moment of the future.

Open spaces, the spaces between fragments, are also inviting. They suggest more than is stated. We are released from the insistent and even frightening demand of knowing where we are going, of having to see the total picture— beginning, middle, end. That might come later, the transitions, the linear perspective. For now, involved in the fragment and eased by the space between fragments, our energy is pulsing. We leap from one fragment to another. The parts are on the table and we see how to put them together and we make them work together. It’s fun!

Does this sound like a game more than serious business? I hope so. In this re-tiring phase of our lives, work is allowed to be play. And work and play are both enhanced when we engage the body to stimulate the mind and vice versa. I always start my writing of the day (writing is my work) with a simple physical exercise that stretches my mind as it stretches my body.

The importance of play in all meaningful activity was made explicit by Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga, who emphasized that play is something we do for its own sake, for its intrinsic value, for the pleasure of the doing and not for the resulting object of that doing. So, I suppose, when we work at something, when we work at making something and don’t worry about selling it, or publishing it, we are playing—we are joyful because each moment is full of life and presence.

Ideally, this is what we can do when we retire. We can enter into a process fully, attend to each moment, each fragment. We can really see, hear, feel, shape, revise, retool, and discover something new, something that brings us further joy. The arts allow us to do this kind of work/play. So does the engagement in making something: combining ingredients in a stew; stitching a dress or quilt with a new pattern; crafting a golf swing or a curveball; turning wood into bowl or statue; bringing a gaggle of voices into a chorus of collaborative singers. Language and image and color and form often spring out of those moments when we have the time and are given the grace to pull back from all the former routine “doing” in quest of something else, some profit outside the act itself, and re-tiring so that the car of our being runs better—not perfectly, but with new verve.

 

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.

Practicing Poetry at the Nimrod Conference

by Britton Gildersleeve

“As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth.
They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil,
the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude,
the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy
of the dance, the common work of the tribe.”
                                                                     —Gary Snyder

 The poets I love best—those I return to over and over again—are the poets who share these archaic values, as Snyder names them. Many of them have Nimrod ties—Nimrod is where I first encountered many of them. When I recently moved halfway across the country, I had the unenviable task of downsizing a lifetime’s library of books (mostly poetry) autographed by wonderful writers Nimrod has brought to its annual Awards Weekend, as well as to other events.

Many of these writers were recognized not only by Nimrod for their exceptional quality, but also by other national awards: the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, Library of Congress Poets, state poet laureates. . . . The list is long and illustrious, particularly if you include the writers—like my beloved Seamus Heaney—whose past visits Nimrod has co-sponsored with The University of Tulsa, where we’re housed.

There was Henry Taylor, whose books The Flying Change and Understanding Fiction: Poems 1986-1996 helped fuel my desire for an advanced degree in creative writing. He knew so much I didn’t! Even during a 45-minute workshop at the Nimrod Conference in 1998, he had us writing and working. A true writer and teacher. Write every day, he urged us, sharing that during his bout with “chemo brain,” he did clerihews, a short fun exercise that he insisted kept his “poetic brain” alive and functioning.

And Mark Doty, who teaches me every time he comes to Nimrod, and whose poetry and fiction both are revelatory. When you get to where you think the poem stops, he told us, write one more page. You may be finished. But the poem may, instead, take a turn you never expected. Or Pattiann Rogers, author of more than an armful of great books—my favorite collection of hers spans 30 years of poetry: Song of the World Becoming. Her work taught me—teaches me still—that the natural world around me is full of magic, if I just stand still, watch, and listen.

doty_si-303x335(Mark Doty, Blue Flower Arts)

There is W.S. Merwin, who has written not only remarkable lyric poetry, but has written an entire epic. And also, by the way, completely restored acres of ravaged rainforest on Maui. In his spare time.

As judges of the Nimrod awards, fiction and poetry writers from around the country read their work to conference attendees. They teach short workshops. They share their craft, their ideas on art and life, their selves, with all of us. Looking at a list of all the judges we’ve invited to be part of the Nimrod family (which is how all of us think of Nimrod), I’m stunned all over again at the amazing diversity of work represented, including young, new writers—Anthony Doerr, for instance, was pre-Pulitzer, and less well known when we asked him to join us as a fiction judge in 2008. I had the great fun of reviewing his collection of short stories, The Shell Collector. Six years later, he was both a finalist for the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize winner. What I remember best? That Tony Doerr was so knowledgeable about craft, and took all of us in his workshop as seriously as we took him. That’s true of almost all the Nimrod judges.

From established names like Denise Levertov, Ishmael Reed, Stanley Kunitz, and W.S. Merwin to newer craftsmen like Chase Twichell, Colum McCann, and B.H. Fairchild, each year some of the best writers in the country make themselves available to writers of all levels, from all over. During Awards Weekend there’s an entire evening and a full day devoted to writing. To poetry and prose. To writers. How rare is that, these days? That a town like Tulsa, Oklahoma, would be the site of a glittering weekend of literati?

My point? That even a short Nimrod Awards Weekend can function as almost a full course—certainly a workshop—in writing. And that’s the reason so many of us call it our writing home, even many of these illustrious judges.

I thought it might be fun to include a list of the judges for the original Nimrod/Hardman Awards, which have since become the Nimrod Literary Awards.

Here goes:

2017: Laura van den Berg and Jericho Brown
2016: Angela Flournoy and Robin Coste Lewis
2015: Karen Russell and Tina Chang
2014: Chris Abani and W. S. Di Piero
2013: Cristina Garcia and Aimee Nezhukumatathil
2012: Gish Jen and Philip Levine
2011: Amy Bloom and Linda Pastan
2010: David Wroblewski and Molly Peacock
2009: Robert Olen Butler and Marie Howe
2008: Anthony Doerr and Mark Doty
2007: A.G. Mojtabai and John Balaban
2006: Gina Ochsner and Colleen McElroy
2005: David Plante and Charles Martin
2004: Aleksandar Hemon and B.H. Fairchild
2003: Colum McCann and Chase Twichell
2002: Ron Carlson and Edward Hirsch
2001: Janette Turner Hospital and Pattiann Rogers
2000: John Edgar Wideman and Thomas Lux
1999: Ron Carlson and Mark Doty
1998: Anita Shreve and Henry Taylor
1997: Francine Prose and W.S. Merwin
1996: Antonya Nelson and Lucille Clifton
1995: William Kittredge and Peggy Shumaker
1994: Timothy Findley and Lorna Crozier
1993: Janette Turner Hospital and Lars Gustafsson
1992: Ron Carlson and Colleen J. McElroy
1991: Gladys Swan and James Ragan
1990: John Leonard and W.D. Snodgrass
1989: Toby Olson and Olga Broumas
1988: George Garrett and Stephen Dunn
1987: Gordon Lish and Carolyn Kizer
1986: Rosellen Brown and Stanley Kunitz
1985: Mary Lee Settle and Lisel Mueller
1984: Paul West and Richard Howard
1983: Ishmael Reed and Denise Levertov
1982: Diane Johnson and Marvin Bell
1981: R.V. Cassill and Mark Strand

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.