Briefs Blog

Behind the Words: Rachel Warecki

Posted by on Jul 6, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Rachel Warecki

Rachael Warecki received her MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is also an alumna of Scripps College, Loyola Marymount University, and the 2008 Teach for America Los Angeles corps. In addition to winning the 2017 Tiferet Prize for Fiction, her work has appeared in The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. Here, we discuss her flash story from Issue 4, “The Language of Little Things”:

Cathy Ulrich: Right off the bat, a technical question: How hard is it, getting everything set just so, punctuation and syntax and all, for a one-sentence story like this?

Rachael Warecki: Honestly, for me, it wasn’t that difficult. I’ve always had a tendency toward what’s charitably been called “Dickensian writing” — my undergraduate thesis advisor once suggested that not every sentence needed to have a semicolon, an em-dash, and a parenthetical aside. My thoughts tend to come in huge, paragraphical rushes, so a one-sentence story felt very natural to me. I guess you could say I think in run-on sentences.

The allusions to Gone With the Wind are very powerful for the narrator, even though she admits she might be getting the scene wrong. Why Gone With the Wind?

You know, it’s kind of funny: I’ve never liked Gone With the Wind. I’ve only seen it once, when my mom took me to see one of the big-screen anniversary re-releases, and I remember my twelve-year-old self finding it long and irritating. But despite all the ways in which that movie perpetuates many, many toxic ideas, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler have been held up as a grand romantic couple for decades; even before I’d seen the movie, there were certain scenes, mostly revolving around their relationship, of which I had some consciousness. They’ve achieved cultural osmosis.

Re-reading “The Language of Little Things,” I think I was trying, on some level, to explore how certain concepts or societal standards of romance can still permeate someone’s thinking, even as she’s realizing that she actually rejects those standards. For most of college, I dated someone who was very into the grand romantic gesture, and over the course of the relationship, I realized that I was very much not. And he’d get angry with me when I didn’t show what he thought was the proper amount of appreciation for these gifts and gestures that felt not only very intense and impractical, but also weirdly impersonal — like he’d thought what would a woman in a movie like as opposed to what would Rachael like. It was an additionally weird situation to navigate because everything and everyone around me was telling me that I should love these gestures. Partly, I think, because of how these romantic standards permeate our film and television, and partly because no one had explicitly told us that it didn’t have to be that way. (This same ex once told me he modeled his relationship behavior on the trio of men in Friends, to really emphasize the point.)

To demonstrate how deep this goes, look at how the protagonist chooses to tell John about Michael: even as the narrator’s rejecting John and his over-the-top gestures, she’s doing it in a very cinematic way! Maybe she chooses that moment — making out in the rain — precisely because it’s cinematic, and she knows that’s the language John speaks, that maybe he won’t understand otherwise. Or maybe that’s an aspect of that osmosis that she hasn’t been able to shake yet.

All of which is to say, I chose Gone With the Wind because it seemed like the ne plus ultra of a movie relationship that’s constantly romanticized, but shouldn’t be — the perfect reference point for a protagonist who’s beginning to figure out what romance looks like for her, personally.

This is a story about a relationship that’s not working, the narrator overwhelmed by John’s grand romantic gestures. Do you suppose she sought out Michael because of this, or is it because of Michael that she realizes things aren’t working?

I think it’s because of Michael she realizes that things aren’t working. She likely recognized, prior to Michael, that her relationship with John wasn’t working, and she probably even had an inkling why: as you say, she feels overwhelmed by these grand romantic gestures. But it takes Michael to show her what she does want, which are smaller, intimate moments that arise out of the things she actually likes, as opposed to the things society tells her she should like.

I love the comparison of the two kisses, the epic early-days MGM feel of John’s passionate lip lock in the car against the quiet em-dashes of Michael’s calmer kiss. You give so much power to these two (relatively) small moments. Did you consider, at any point, making both moments more than a kiss?

Not really. This may open up a broader discussion, but I don’t think about sex. It was something I got criticized for as a younger writer. I was in this series of online novel classes when I was first out of college, and we were far enough in the course series that we were all reading the entirety of each other’s novels, and the feedback I got was: I don’t believe in your characters because they don’t think about sex, and normal people in their early twenties think about sex all the time. And I thought, but didn’t respond: Well, I’m in my early twenties and I don’t think about it at all. And then I thought: Well, sex sells, so maybe I should add some. I trunked that novel, but sexual desire is something I consciously included in the novel on which I’m currently working, because there’s always that idea lurking in the back of my head, no matter the genre: Sex sells, sexual desire is relatable to 99% of readers. ***

I don’t know how much of that I was actively processing when I was writing this story — I think I mostly wanted to keep the piece as condensed and focused as possible — but looking back, I like that the story sticks to those small moments of the two kisses.

That last line is so potent, that image of Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara saying she would never go hungry again, choosing security over love. That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here, more a trading of one kind of passion for another. What do you think?

Oh, gosh! I’ll admit you caught me off-guard with this one, haha. Every so often, I write some line or phrase that readers really like to examine in a careful, textual way. And I love when readers do that! I love doing that myself! I was a literature major in college! But sometimes I wonder if any of the authors I’ve studied would drop into an English class and think (with apologies to Freud), “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

It’s been more than four years since I wrote this story, so I don’t remember whether I was trying to consciously set up a passion vs. security parallel, but I like that you’ve picked up on it. And I hear what you’re saying about this being a story about swapping one passion for another rather than swapping passion for security, but I think Michael does offer a potential security, in the sense that the protagonist feels emotionally safer with Michael than she does with John. Maybe she’ll run into other problems with Michael down the line, but right now she doesn’t have to brace herself, wondering what grand romantic gesture Michael’s going to spring on her next and whether she’ll be able to sufficiently police her emotional reaction to suit his mood. Notice the first reference to Gone With the Wind: it’s not a romantic one; it’s a scene where Scarlett is scared and uncomfortable. That’s how the narrator feels about John.

“The Language of Little Things” is such a great title and a great phrase. The narrator has clearly made a choice, here, of the little things over the larger. Do you think she’ll be satisfied with her decision?

I do think she’ll be satisfied! Mostly because this was an intensely personal story for me to write in some ways (as I’m sure you’ve guessed from my previous answers), and it’s a choice I’ve had to make in my own relationships, and I’ve been satisfied with that choice. But this is also a protagonist who’s always paid attention to little things, as evidenced by her reaction to rain and water droplets. So I think choosing little things over larger gestures is consistent with someone who’s always appreciated minutiae, and that choice won’t let her down.


Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.

Behind the Words: Allie Marini

Posted by on Jul 2, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Allie Marini

Allie Marini is a cross-genre writer holding degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida. She has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has published a number of chapbooks, including Pictures from the Center of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) and Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, finalist for the SFPA’s Elgin Award). Here, we discuss her flash piece in Issue 1, “The Wake.”

This is a really personal, beautiful piece. The pills, the lady who died, they all seem so real. Did you have someone in mind when you wrote this?

I’m really glad you asked that. The person is real, my best friend from undergrad, Muriel Avellaneda. This piece is one of the cornerstones of my collection of flash prose about losing her, Pictures from the Center of the Universe (Paper Nautilus Press, 2014 Vella Prize Winner). This was one of the first pieces I wrote & at the time, it was just a way for me to work through some of the emotions of losing someone you love to suicide. So yes, she was (is) real, as is her absence. That part is accurate.

There’s some great language in this flash: “the bipolar colors,” “the anxious shapes,” describing both the appearance of the pills and what they were meant to treat. Every word seems so deliberately chosen. You’re a poet too — are you very particular with your word choices? Or do you just let the music of the language take you over?

I firmly believe that everyone who writes prose has something they can take away from studying poetry. Flash fiction allows a poet to tell a bigger story than the structure of a poem generally allows, & it also lets a flash writer have more freedom to be poetic than fiction generally allows. I personally am a big fan of how the publication Cease, Cows describes this kind of work: “proems”, because that’s what they feel like to write (at least, that’s what they feel like to me.) The descriptions/functions were intentionally written to mirror each other, especially here, since the last year of Muriel’s life was such a mystery to everyone who loved her—all that we really knew for sure were the labels on the pill bottles, what they were supposed to do, what they failed to do, & what she wouldn’t let them do.

This line, “The worst of the storm is always on the other side of stillness” is my favorite. It’s so powerful and evocative. Did you always have this image of a storm and false calm in mind for this piece?

That line actually came from a memory that I mined to place in the piece—when I was in high school, I lived in South Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit. During the eye of the storm, I went out into the yard with my father. I couldn’t believe that the storm wasn’t over; everything was still, but you knew something was wrong because there were no birds chirping or any other of the sounds of nature that you usually hear. It was eerily quiet. Then we went back in & the eye passed & the storm came back in force, more powerful & terrifying than it had been when it started to make landfall. More destructive, violent. When I think of how bipolar disorder plays out, especially in people with suicidal ideation, it’s like that. The quiet just means that whatever is on its way is worse—the storm hasn’t passed. It hasn’t even gotten started.

The “she” and “we” of this piece are never identified. I think of them as a mother and her children. Was that your intent? More importantly, does it matter?

I don’t think the decision to leave these people unnamed was conscious on my part; though while I was working on my MFA a number of mentors & peers commented on that being something I do in a lot of my work. Looking back, I think that as I was myself grieving when I wrote this, & I wasn’t even sure anyone besides me & possibly Muriel’s family might read this, that there wasn’t a need to identify the “she” or the “we” of it. This many years later, I think that the open-endedness works because it could be anyone grieving—just about anyone can insert themselves into this piece & feel like it’s theirs, or like I wrote it for them. Because without knowing that was what I was doing, I think that’s exactly what I did. And I honestly believe that’s something Muriel would have wanted, too. For her life to have had some impact that stays, even if she herself couldn’t.

At the end, the medicine cabinet is opened to reveal the bottles are already empty. The reader is told “we already knew” this would be the case. Here is where the storm returns, the winds pick up. Were the narrators still hoping, you think, even though they knew otherwise, for some pills to be left behind?

I think anyone who’s ever moved through this kind of loss understands this hopeful resignation—you know what the answer is, but you just can’t stop yourself from asking the question anyway. Even this many years later, I will find myself daydreaming that it’s all been a prank, that it’s not real, that somewhere out there she’s still alive, even though I know what I’ll fin when I open the medicine cabinet.

That last image is such a powerful one, the silhouette riding a pony into the surf, calling back to the tales of ponies too tough to die you mentioned earlier. Those ponies made it back safely, but at the end, this one disappears beneath the undertow. Do you think, though, there is still some hope? Even though the woman has died?

Banker ponies are something that I find fascinating—they were literally too tough to die. But toughness doesn’t always equate to survival. Sometimes it just means dictating your own terms. Not every Mustang that leapt into the surf from a shipwreck made it—but they still jumped because if they didn’t, drowning was a certainty. The act of jumping is really what mattered more, because it meant that they didn’t resign themselves to their fate. And because of that, I do think there’s hope. Suicide isn’t an act of weakness or resignation. It’s a desperate gesture that some people take, hoping that they’ll survive & have the strength to swim ashore, & not everyone can push past the undertow. Here, I think the hope is not necessarily on the part of the “she” in the story—the hope is for the “we”. It’s the hope that we can make something meaningful out of the most terrible kind of loss, that we will be stronger the next time we see a sinking ship, & the hope that somewhere, she has finally found her freedom.

“The Wake” is such a great title for this piece, with its multiple meanings: a vigil after a death, the opposite of sleep, disturbed water. Was this always the title?

I honestly can’t remember — I’m pretty sure that it was always called The Wake, intended with all three meanings, though mostly on the obvious, the wake held after a funeral. The secondary meaning was always the wake, as in disturbed water, since hurricanes & Banker ponies are the motifs threading the work together, & the smallest amount was meant to hint back to the cyclical insomnia that tends to plague people with bipolar disorder, causing them to “spin” and then “spiral.”


Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.

Behind the Words: Matt Jones

Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Matt Jones

MSc Whistling - Matt JonesMatt Jones was published in the fourth issue of Spry Literary Journal. Here is his interview with current reader and former contributor, Allie Marini.

Allie Marini: Msc Whistling is a unique, memorable piece that relies heavily on the use of sound, both through vivid sonic descriptions and onomatopoeia, using sound as the primary means of building tension as the piece hurtles towards the end. Tell us about how this piece began–its origin story, if you will.

Matt Jones: I remember stumbling across an article about Silbo Gomero, which is this kind of whistling used by the people of La Gomera in the Canary Islands to communicate across vast distances. I was fascinated by the concept of speech embodied in the medium of whistling, as something with complex and distinct enough tones that could be used to communicate various messages.

In Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut writes: “Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.” Would you call yourself a basher or a swooper when you sit down to write?

I think that I’m some sort of combination of swooper and basher now. When I started grad school, I was definitely more of a swooper—I’d write out a draft in one sitting and then come back to it for editing. Now though, I tend to do a lot of planning. It takes me a lot longer to complete projects.

How many times was this piece declined before it found a home with Spry? What was the process of submitting such a unique piece like for you?

I can’t remember exactly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was rejected ten times before being accepted.

If you could go back and re-edit this piece, would you? (If you answer yes to this, what would you change, and why? — If you answer no, then move on to the next question).

I think I would. I might be interested in further developing some kind of plot, or maybe building up some of the characters. When I wrote it, I was solely invested in the concept of trying to capture whistling as a distinct form of communication on the page. Now, I think I might be interested in trying to build more of a narrative around the whistling.

How has your writing changed since you published this piece? Where can readers find some of your new work?

I wrote this in my first semester of grad school, so at that time, I was really just figuring out what it meant to experiment with things like genre and form. I was also only writing fiction at that time, whereas now, I spend a lot of time writing researched nonfiction. A lot of my new work can be found on my website.

Tri-fold question: Who are your favorite writers to read? Are the writers you like reading the ones you consider most influential on your writing?

This is such a good question. I feel like reading is just as much about figuring out what it is that you want to emulate and what it is that you want to avoid or reject. Maybe emulate is the wrong word, though. Maybe appreciate is better. I’ve gotten really into reading horror books in the last year and a half. If I’m psychoanalyzing myself, then I guess this might have something to do with the state of the world. I’ve also been reading a lot of nonfiction and essay collections. But now that I actually hear myself say these things, I’ve also been reading a lot of novels. A lot of galleys. I’m trying to read as much as possible. Sometimes I think I’m undergoing this kind of detox or unlearning that comes after graduating from an MFA program. A few authors who I consistently enjoy reading are Anne Helen Petersen, Michelle Dean, and Jia Tolentino. Some books that have really stuck with me recently are Carina Chocano’s You Play the Girl, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, and Tessa Fontaine’s The Electric Woman. These have all been influential in the sense that they are so intelligent and innovative and honest. I try and carry these qualities into my own nonfiction.

Who is your writing community, and where/how did you find them?

My writing community is mostly composed of my wife. We met during our first semester in graduate school, and I write a lot about how we met. We exchange work and feedback. We collaborate. We submit together. We apply together. So much of writing for me is bound up in her, not in the sense of subject matter, but in the entire process. The way I think. I can pretty much guarantee that she has edited almost anything I have ever submitted. She’s an exquisite editor. Brutal, but kind. She’s a wonderful and thoughtful writer.

Whose voice do you want to lift up right now– who are the writer/s that aren’t household names right now that you think should be?

There are so many! I’m not sure who is or isn’t a household name yet, but here are some authors that I would love for more people to read: Elisa Gabbert, Hanif Abdurraqib, Alice Bolin, Chelsea Summers, Sofia Samatar, Alex Mar, Annie Hartnett, Lauren Michele Jackson, Jess E. Jelsma, Poe Ballantine, Margaret Killjoy, Esmé Weijun Wang, and many, many more. It’s like trying to think of songs that I would recommend– once you get started, the list can go on seemingly forever.

What’s your writer’s fuel (or writer’s vices?)

Coffee is my fuel. My vice is maybe the internet? Twitter? Cute animal compilation videos?

What question do you wish I’d asked, & what’s your answer to it?

This is a very good question. Maybe what I’m working on right now? Which, I think, is a collaborative novel with my wife. It’s about infidelity and the future and radioactive waste. It’s very new, but I’m excited!

Behind the Words: Cortney Lamar Charleston

Posted by on May 25, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Cortney Lamar Charleston

Cortney Lamar Charleston

Cortney Lamar Charleston has two missions in life: “build a sustainable happiness” and “serve in the cause of making the world a more just and equitable place for all people.” The latter he achieves through his poetry, versatile and bold in its subject matter, yet delicately crafted like a fine filigree. His poem “How to Fix the Roof” published in the fifth issue of Spry Literary Journal constructs a world, scale-by-scale, inviting the reader to stay within and reflect.

Lilia Joy: Where are you from and what do you do for living?

Cortney Lamar Charleston: Originally, I’m from the Chicago suburbs, and I lived in the Chicagoland area up until I went east for college. I’ve been away ever since, with stints living in Philadelphia and Atlanta, but currently I find myself living in Jersey City, NJ and working in New York City. My day job is in market/consumer research, with a focus on the Asian American, Black and Hispanic consumer segments; I aid companies in formulating their multicultural marketing practices using data to help inform their decision-making.

Why do you choose to write poetry? How did you come to it?

I suppose that I write poetry because I feel like I need to. No other outlet that I’ve tried to attach myself to has been able to capture the complexity of my interior as well as it does, whether speaking emotionally or intellectually. I came into writing poetry at a time where I really needed to have that new method of communicating what was inside to the outside world, making my transition to independency while several other things in my personal life were in flux. It was to my great fortune that I had examples near me who showed me the potential of what poetry could be. I studied them, I watched them, and then I dove in, so to speak. I’ve been writing poems ever since.

How do you choose the form for your poems?

To be honest, I rarely choose the poem’s form consciously; I’m more often driven to it intuitively. The words come in streams and I let them do so without worrying too much about the poem’s exact shape or its patterns. Only after the words have stopped coming do I turn my attention to the particular work of “whipping it into shape.” Alternatively, there have been occasions where I’ve started with a form I wanted to engage and then I craft a poem that (largely) conforms to the expectation of said form; it’s just that it happens much less often than the former for me.

What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?

There’s a very strong link between my written voice and my speaking voice. At times, the two are almost inseparable. That said, I think whether one is able to recognize the link depends largely on the context in which they hear me speak or engage with my writing. I simply don’t speak in the same ways to the same people, and that is a byproduct of the way I’ve grown up and had to navigate the world (insert literature about code-switching here). There are many sides to me, and I have, at this point, a rather large toolbox to draw from in terms of choosing how to express any given thought or feeling and do so authentically, even if they seem dissimilar at first glance. Beyond diction or cadence, the one quality that most defines both my writing and my speaking voices is a very clear intentionality. Words mean so much to me, everything in a way. I choose them carefully, in every context. I tend to speak only when I know exactly what I want to say.

What are you working on at the moment?

Since the release of my first full-length poetry collection, Telepathologies, in March 2017 by Saturnalia Books, I’ve turned my attention to finishing a manuscript that is a bit more autobiographical in nature than the aforementioned book. In that collection I’m concerned with investigating Black masculinity as performance, poking at the duality inherent within it and looking at how it brushes against the constructs of race, place, class and sexuality. The collection, I believe, is definitely stronger for having come in the wake of Telepathologies, which forced me to revisit and reinterpret the earliest elements of that manuscript in a new way. Lots of the poems in it have made their way out into the world in recent months, with more coming, and the response from people has been good. It makes me very optimistic!

What writers and/or poets have inspired you the most?

While I could name legends of the craft, the poets that have actually impacted me the most are probably my peers: people that I fellowship with, that I discuss and dissect writing with, who have voices that I trust. At the risk of possibly forgetting to list someone, I’ll refrain from stringing a long list of names together but say they are many of the impressive young poets you see winning or being listed as finalists for major fellowships and awards aimed at early-career poets (i.e. Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowships, Boston Review/Discovery Awards, various first book prizes, etc.). In addition to those folks, I also have to admit that I was incredibly inspired by the works of hip-hop recording artists such as Nas or Lupe Fiasco, for example. They opened my mind to the possibilities of language just as much as someone like Gwendolyn Brooks has, and they largely did it first. For that, I wanted to pay some respects to them as well.

You said that one of your missions is to stand up for justice and equality. Do you do it through your poetry?

I think the most important way in which I attempt to balance the scales is through poetry, absolutely. Much of my written work from the past few years concerns various matters of social justice, whether using historical or anecdotal testimony to speak to racial animus, or class, or even the construct of masculinity. My first full-length collection, Telepathologies, is very much an indictment of America’s systemically racist order, using the backdrops of Ferguson and Baltimore and Chicago as windows into Black American existence and how violence manifests itself within it. A host of the material made its way out into the world ahead of the book’s publication, and one can find tonal previews in publications like The Journal, The Missouri Review, One Throne, Thrush and Rattle. Folks can also get a good idea of the intent and scope from this short film produced using the first poem in the collection and directed by Seyi Peter-Thomas.

Where do you see your literary career in five years?

As a poet who works full-time outside of academic and artistic spaces, I find this question incredibly difficult to answer as I’m still, even a few years into the game, being exposed to so many new and exciting possibilities. Even still, I know that I want my work to continue to be recognized with the publication of individual poems as well as full-length collections. Five years from now, I hope I’d have put out a second full-length collection, introduced more people to the first one and, maybe, be working towards or finalizing a third collection. There’s also editorial work—I’m currently a poetry editor at The Rumpus and I sincerely hope five years forward the profile of the site (which is already well known and respected) as a home for exciting, quality original poetry is greatly enhanced and that the roster of poets and the range of their poetics is as diverse as possible. All together, I’d say those are my greatest concerns as far as poetry goes. Yes, there are prizes or fellowships that I’d love to work toward and hopefully secure, but ultimately this isn’t a primary motivation. It can’t be, I feel, if my work is going to be any good and have any chance of helping shape a more just world as I want it to.


Lilia Joy holds an MFA in poetry from Murray State University and teaches at Henderson Community College. Lilia has served as an assistant poetry editor at New Madrid and a faculty advisor of a student literary magazine The Riverbend Review. Lilia is currently working on her first collection of poetry, A Foreign Bride.

Behind the Words: Olivia Olsen

Posted by on May 24, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Olivia Olsen

Olivia Olson

Jennifer Martelli says, “I had the pleasure to chat with Olivia Olson, whose transformative prose poem, “Abstract Onomatopoeia” was featured in Spry’s Issue 9. Olson is a fellow “Wally “(Warren Wilson M.F.A.) student, and we talked about trends in poetry, podcasts, rivers, scary worlds, and onomatopoeia.”

Jennifer Martelli: “Abstract Onomatopoeia” makes so much sense! I found myself saying the words out loud, and yes, they do sound like their meanings. You masterfully manage the emotional arrangement of the words–apart, remember, dead, winter, sky. Can you speak to the emotional narrative? How does the emotion manifest in these words, and their sounds?

Olivia Olson: As a librarian, I am often thinking about how we catalog and organize information, and as a writer, I see these structures through the lens of language. This poem was definitely inspired by careful consideration of how the sounds of words can reflect their meanings– “dead” sounds thudding and absolute, “sky” sounds wide and fluid– but it was also examining how we categorize a moment–in this case, a moment of grief– into language. I see the narrator of this poem breaking down the overwhelming experience of loss into manageable abstractions.

Let’s talk about the form of “Abstract Onomatopoeia.” How do you decide to use a prose form (hybrid? lyric flash?) as opposed to a lineated form?

I felt like a prose/hybrid form worked for this poem because it looks more like a dictionary or a science textbook. It smacks of definitions. It’s easy to organize.

Some of your other poems–”Self-Portrait as a Crow,” “You Have a Stream”–employ this quirky, almost-flash form. Your imagery is always startling and transformative. Do you find that using this form, especially in your more dream-like poems, helps with the poetic sensibility and/or the narrative?

Yes, I think that’s true, especially with “You Have a Stream,” which was supposed to sound like folklore or magical realism. I don’t know that I could say why, but any time I write a poem like that, with some godlike narrator handing down observations, I think it hangs better as a prose poem. “Self Portrait as a Crow” was a direct Rosmarie Waldrop ripoff– I was reading her Hölderlin Hybrids at the time, and I noticed that she seemed to use fragments the same way other poets use enjambed lines. Like, one of my favorite lines of hers, “But you, planet earth. Grow. Even as we read. Fonder of the dark.”  Another poet might have used line breaks to control the pace and create ambiguity, but she uses punctuation, which seems more effective in letting the reader see how each fragment means on its own and, at the same time, how it means relative to all the other fragments.

You use images of rivers and/or streams in some of your poems. The water, though real and very tactile, also has a surreal quality. Do you live near a river? What does this geographical aspect mean to you (i.e. does it have a mythological meaning)?

I do live near a small river– I hadn’t noticed that it showed up in my poems so much, but you’re right. When I can’t think of anything to write about, I go for walks along that river and try to bring something back with me. Also, water in general is pretty ubiquitous in Michigan– it tends to define our geography entirely.

What’s most striking in the poems I’ve read is your mastery of personification and anthropomorphism. One thing is another. As a reader, I’m grounded by your exact images, but like the images, I’m transformed. In “The Hurtling,” you write

Of course I tell stories–

                                “it’s too late,” the cards

                                kept squawking–

        they’ll tell the truth.

And in “Abstract Onomatopoeia,” you say: “People come home and thud their car doors closed, heavy, meant to keep all their squishy organs protected.”

Talk about your dreamy, scary world! Where do these hybrids come from?

“Dreamy” is a good word to use! If I have a topic that I tend to come back to, it’s altered states of consciousness– dreams, drunkenness, delirium. People who experience mental health disorders, memory loss, aphasias, dementia, etc work with a logical structure that challenges the norm, so we tend to view them as totally other, but that’s not true to our experience, I think. All memory is distorted, even in a typical person. A dreaming mind creates its own logic, its own Wonderland-esque world, as does the drunk/drugged mind, at times. I like to write about those moments, when the line around what we deem a “typical mind” is blurred, and sometimes the result is rather scary.

You have gorgeous rhyme and sounds in your poems. Throughout “Abstract Onomatopoeia,’ you play with sounds via alliteration and consonance. I was so happy to hear you read “Look” on the Word Riot site, just to savor the sounds in that poem. Do you read your poems out loud during the writing process?

Yes, over and over and over. That’s why I’m not a coffee shop writer. I read other people’s poems out loud, too, when I’m reading them– it just feels like a necessary part of the experience. Sometimes it’s like seeing a band play live– maybe you weren’t really that into them before your friend dragged you to the show, but the performance helped you see something in their music that you missed before, and now you listen to them all the time. I’ve come across poems like that– on the page, I just wrote them off, but after listening to them, I discovered there were things I had totally missed.

Speaking of listening to poems: we write in exciting times. I love being able to listen to a poet read their own work via podcast or website. What do you think about the poetry world embracing technology?

I’m with you on that– I listen to poetry podcasts constantly. I believe I’ve listened to every episode of the New Yorker Poetry Podcast multiple times. I appreciate how technology has allowed people access to poetry, both written and performed, and to resources for understanding and appreciating the work. In my work at the library, I run writing workshops for teenagers, and I often rely on the Poetry Foundation’s website for resources on teaching and leading discussions about poems. Thanks to their generous website, people like me can provide students with excellent insight into poems that speak to them.

I also think technology empowers the readers of poetry. There was a time when only the very well-educated could understand a reference-heavy poem by a writer such as T.S. Eliot or James Merrill, but now, if you don’t understand a reference, you can Google it. Not everyone has Internet access, to be sure, but it is more prevalent than ever, and hopefully that divide will lessen even further over time.

What can we look forward to next from you? Are you working on a project or manuscript? Where else can we find your poetry?

I’m currently finishing up my work at Warren Wilson, so that’s my major poetry project right now, and links to all of my published poems can be found on my website.


Jennifer Martelli’s debut poetry collection, The Uncanny Valley, was published in 2016. She is also the author of the chapbook, Apostrophe. Her poetry has appeared, or will appear, in [pank], Broadsided, Vector Press, and Tar River Poetry. Her prose has appeared in Drunken Boat, The Green Mountains Review, The Mom Egg, and Gravel: A Literary Journal. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a book reviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly, as well as an associate editor for The Compassion Anthology.

Behind the Words: Christopher Grillo

Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Christopher Grillo

Christopher Grillo’s poem, “Without” was published in the fifth issue of Spry Literary Journal. Elizabeth Cooley, Spry staff and former contributor was fortunate to interview him.

Elizabeth Cooley: Can you describe your relationship to confessional poetry? This seems to be a theme for you but plenty of poets and other people are skeptical of confessional poetry or don’t like it. How do you feel it has worked for you?

Christopher Grillo: Great question! I don’t think I am a good enough writer to be really purposeful about the style in which I choose to write. I am very purposeful about what I wish to convey, which is in many ways the feelings and emotions associated with the speaker’s relationship to the world around him. In that sense, I am kind of forced into a confessional style and the use of personal pronouns, which act as a sort of vehicle. I like to think I am giving the reader the primary source. I lay out what is happening and highlight certain things with the speaker’s inner narration. This either provides the obvious interpretation, or if I have done my job well, gives the reader another layer of bias and imperfection, or many layers of the speaker’s context to search through for the truth. I think this is why I have had success writing narrative collections, and why my work cannot always stand alone. In many cases, for a reader to get something out of a poem I write, they may have to have developed a bit of a rapport with my characters. Again, this is not something I choose. It is intrinsic to my process as a writer and as a person and a feeler of feelings. I have worked in other, more traditional styles and I find something is lost. I think it is the humanity.

Your book, The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow, was written in part from your MFA thesis. Can you talk about the process of turning the thesis into a book?

Of course! From the get go, Vivian Shipley and Jeff Mock, my professors and advisors at Southern Connecticut’s MFA program, encouraged writing each week for workshop with an overarching thesis topic or connecting theme in mind. I was lucky in that my style of writing and the things I was writing about at the time could be easily categorized or bucketed and shaped into a collection. For workshop each week, I was mostly writing the Charlene poems, or the poems that would become my first chapbook When Rain Fills the Chasm. These poems mostly deal with the speaker’s relationship to his high school sweetheart as the two age out of their innocence. I knew I wanted to write the other side of this story, the Frankie side, which would become Six-fold. To do that, I proposed an independent study in literature that dealt with sport. The curriculum dictated I read and respond to various titles that dealt with sport as a topic or subtopic and then create an original work that did the same.  By the end of the course I had the bones of Six-Fold. When it came thesis time, I put the Charlene poems and the Frankie poems together. It wasn’t until my defense that my second reader, Will Hochman, pointed out that I in fact had three books within the one collection. Subdividing the thesis into chapbooks based on which relationship each poem focused on– the speaker and Charlene or the speaker and Frankie– came after the fact. So going from thesis to book was really just a practice in sorting the poems and reworking a few stylistic things, like grammar and tense, so that each collection was continuous.

You’re a teacher and high school football coach. Do you feel those roles affect your poetry or speak to it or change it in some ways? How do those parts of your life inform each other?

I don’t know that my roles as a teacher and coach affect my writing all that much. I think I designate times and frames of mind to each of those things that are very distinct from one another. The thought processes that goes into planning lessons and teaching are very different than the kind that go into writing, and the same is true of coaching. I will say that as I have had more success as a teacher and a coach, I have become a better writer. I think the reason is two fold:

1. For me, to be an effective teacher and coach, I have to be maniacal about details. That micro-focus has bled into my writing in a really positive way. My latest work is better thought out and more organized in that there is a clearer vision of an end product and a clearer criterion for how to get there.

2. Secondly, I have to work very hard to be a successful teacher and coach. I am willing to do that because I know my success means success for my students and players. That is too important for me to give anything less than a winning effort. There is no margin for error. Teaching and coaching take precedent over my writing, which is the more self-serving part of my life. That being said, when I do sit down to write, I am accustomed to a degree of dedication that you just don’t turn off. This has helped my writing immensely.

Your poem in Spry, “Without,” is book-ended by part of the Genesis story—particularly Adam’s story—and sandwiched in the middle we move to the speaker’s contemporary perspective. It feels very organic here, so I wonder if you could talk about your process for writing the poem. Was it similar to your typical writing process, if you have one?

When I am writing I typically follow a kind of standard procedure that has seemed to work for me thus far. It starts with a word or collection of words or turn of phrase that I encounter just living in the world that captivates me in some way.

When I was a kid, I remember my parents using the phrase “fat, dumb, and happy.” I think it had kind of a dual meaning. Someone was “fat, dumb, and happy” if her or she was blissfully ignorant, unjaded, or didn’t know enough to care what other folks thought of them. Then, someone could be “fat, dumb, and happy” in a more negative sense, where that person is too stupid to know he or she is being taken advantage of.

The poem started with the speaker as “fat, dumb, and happy;” he is not aware of his physical appearance and doesn’t know he should be ashamed. Nor is he conscious that there is a different way he should be dressing. He is content when he is shirtless in high school mascot shorts. Charlene brings it to his attention, buying him cologne and a new pair of pants in order to refine him in a way that he is uncomfortable with and that is just not a good representation of who he is.

This poem is a good example of the basic scaffold of my writing process. After the starting word or phrase and the narrative around which it is built, comes a connection to something more abstract but hopefully accessible. With Without, I thought about metaphor and decided on what seemed like a clear connection to Adam in the genesis story: the fattest, dumbest, and happiest man in all of history regarding self-image prior to the fall.

I didn’t necessarily want to draw on Eve as a connection to Charlene, even though that seems like the logical move, because I think within the Genesis story, Eve’s motives are less malicious than Charlene’s. Charlene knows what she is doing and she knows she is going to change the speaker in a bad way.

Bookending the speaker’s story with the Genesis story just seemed right in terms of story structure and narrative arc. I like starting wide in scope, hinting at what is meant to be said, zooming in on the anecdote, providing nuance to open the interpretation slightly, and coming full circle in the end.

The line breaks in this poem have a good mix of end-stopped and enjambed lines, and they add to the good sense of rhythm here. How do you think about line breaks while you’re writing?

Thank you! I work really hard at that. It feels like I write each poem twice. It is probably more like 20 times. The initial drafting process is about making sure what is on the page is as close to what is in my head as possible. That sounds like a dumb thing to say, like “Chris, why can’t you just write what is in your head?” but there is so much muck to sift through in there, and so it is much harder than it seems. Once I get to the point where I am almost touching the feeling of the moment I want to show readers, there are typically only a few words that cannot be compromised.

I know there are poets who are really particular about line breaks and enjambment for how those things add meaning or depth to the poem, but that isn’t how I see it, really. That part of the process is all about the music and what it sounds like when I am reading.

I have a couple (not so) pro-tips:

  1. Once the words are out of your head, play with form. Literally, Google “poetic forms,” and try to make the poem work in each one until you find something suitable. This helps in cutting the fat, forcing a syllable limit in some cases. Once that is done, you can take it in and out of the form as you see fit.
  • I draft a lot in 10 syllable line counts and haiku stanzas. Rarely do the poems stay that way. I simply do it for the limitations.

2. Never end a line on a word that isn’t an important word.

    • Typically, I saw nouns and verbs only, but I have broken this rule many times.

3. Never end on a line with a period. Comas are fine I guess, but they are also implied

    • And I am sure I have broken this rule countless times,
      But going forward I won’t.
      You heard it here first.

4. Read the thing out loud to yourself.

    • This is something I practice with my 8th grade language arts classes during writing tasks. It is a part of a whole editing day. They work in partners, switch essays, and read their work aloud to one another. As each student listens to their work read, he or she marks spots that feel abrupt or that trip up their partner who is reading it for the first time. It works!

Sometimes it’s hard to get enough writing done post-MFA, coming out of a place where writing was the main goal for you and everyone around you. As a recent MFA grad, how do you find the time while having a full-time career? Do you still exchange work with readers from your MFA or other writers?

As a teacher, I am afforded the luxury of writing all summer long. I write a little bit during the school year but it is difficult. For me, the key has been a mindset shift when school is in session. For ten months, writing becomes a pastime, something to unwind with. I have a regular Tuesday night prompt with a few friends (I think this is what non-poets call “poker night”), and a few of those poems have even evolved so much as to be published.

In the summer though, it is work. Hard. Hard. Work. I have friends from the MFA that I am in touch with and we have a nice workshop relationship. I try really hard to go into the summer with a clear vision for what needs to be produced before August hits.  

What are you reading right now? Do you find what you’re reading influences your work?

I just finished House of Nails. It is the story of Lenny Dykstra, the bad boy of baseball in the height of the steroid era. It is a Macbeth-status tragedy. No kidding.

I struggle with the question about influences because it comes up a lot. The honest answer is no and here is why: I do better when I am a blank canvas in the middle of a serious writing project and so I am typically not reading during this time. There are exceptions. My last project was out of my wheelhouse in terms of my expertise around the themes and motifs it deals with.

This next statement will seem out of left field, but I find that there is a lot of natural poetry in the vernacular of various trades or disciplines, so when I come across parts of speech that are manufactured by the niche walks of life they are associated with, I become a crazy man about learning everything there is to know. This usually makes for good writing. 

You’ve finished a book! What have you been writing since then? Has it changed much in content, form, style, or any other way?

Everything has changed! A year or so ago, I came across some online article that said every person should read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Around the same time, I saw the Hawking biopic and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. It was the perfect storm in terms of “things that make me a crazy man until I know everything there is to know.” This became my first true practice in research, despite countless annotated bibliographies throughout college and graduate school. My most recent book is called Elegy for a Star Girl (Swimming with Elephants Press). It is a book of love poems. It is an elegy. It is a space odyssey. It is all those things (I hope). I read probably 20 books and sat for hours teaching myself these celestial concepts (literal and figurative pun intended), in some cases, just to write one short poem.

True to style, the speaker is a slightly more cerebral and mature version of the storytellers in SixFold, When Rain Fills the Chasm, and Heroes’ Tunnel. I don’t think I could change that if I wanted to.


Elizabeth Cooley‘s poems have appeared in Toad, Spry, and Mason’s Road. She is a recent graduate of Purdue University, where she was managing editor of Sycamore Review.

Behind the Words: Christine Brandel

Posted by on May 21, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Christine Brandel

Christine Brandel is amazingly multi-talented: a poet, a blogger, a columnist, a photographer, just to name a few.  Inspired by her love for learning, Christine currently teaches writing at a community college, and  finds time to volunteer at a hospice.

Her poem “A Wife Is a Hope Chest” published in the fourth issue of Spry Literary Journal has guts, fierceness and charming eloquence, all in one. It serves as the title poem for her collection, A Wife Is a Hope Chest, published in 2017 as the first full-length collection in the Mineral Point Poetry Series from Brain Mill Press.

Lilia Joy: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Christine Brandel: I write and make pictures. I have four tattoos. I have short hair.

I’ve mostly worked in education, from preparatory school to secondary school to college and continuing ed. I also have experience in the volunteer sector, and I am currently a hospice volunteer. 

When did you start writing? Why?

I’ve been writing all my life. In retrospect, I suppose my earliest writings were really just imaginative demands for attention: I wrote a book in second grade primarily because I knew Miss Farkas would display it on the bulletin board (she did), and I also filled a pre-teen diary with an entirely fictional (though loosely based on Grease) story line, which I hoped someone would discover and marvel at (no one ever did). In high school, I began to write more seriously, expressing the angst I was sure I was the only one who’d ever experienced. 

What drew you to poetry?

Although I write in other genres, poetry has always felt like home to me. I like the tightness of a poem — the way it can create a story or evoke a reaction in only a few words or images. I also like the role sound plays, the way it adds music as well as meaning.

Do you write full time or part time?

This is a tricky question: I do write full time, but I also work full time as an associate professor of English at a community college. I also (occasionally) need to sleep, so it’s a complicated balance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work to say “Okay, Christine, you’ve got no papers to grade tonight — quick, write a poem.” Somehow, though, I try to find a way: when writing calls me, I answer. I also work on submissions every week, and write a character blog and column on comedy as well, so if a poem’s not yet ready to emerge, I’m still writing in some way.

I noticed that a comedy streak runs through several of your literary activities. Even the poem published in Spry, although tragic and depressing, is delightfully sarcastic. How did comedy find its way in your writing?

Humor was always present in my life; growing up, I was taught to appreciate what it can do, especially during hard times. Reading, listening to, or watching comedy is something I do everyday. It’s my meditation, I guess.

I admire those who can be funny in a way that seems effortless. I began kind of studying it — trying to pick apart that magic — and that’s when I started to write about it.

As far as my own comedic voice, like a lot in my own life, I find it easier to do on paper than in person. My character, Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss), was born in a story called “Everyone Needs An Algonquin” that I wrote and simply filed away. Twenty years later during a traumatic period in my life, I was struggling with writer’s block, so I dug through some old work and found Agatha. She made me smile. I soon realized that, while a sad Christine didn’t feel able to express herself, a witty Agatha had a lot to say to the world, so I created a blog for her and just kept her going and growing. She helped me get through.

Of course, comedy and tragedy are threaded through all of life. I just try to reflect that in my writing.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently quite fascinated by the brain — how it works, what happens when it doesn’t, and how we can change it. Naturally, this interest is playing out in my work. However, I’ve yet to decide whether I’m thinking about the actual parts of the brain or leaning more towards the phrenology version, as I find them both intriguing in different ways.

How do you come up with ideas for your poems?

For me, poetry is testimony. Therefore, a lot of my poems speak about experiences I’ve had. Sometimes they’re just brief moments — a flash of a memory or a feeling of confusion; other times they’re about bigger things, like identity or tragedy, both of which inspired “A Wife Is a Hope Chest.” Sometimes I write to testify on behalf of a person who does not actually exist. Occasionally, the process begins simply with a title, line, or image, and I build the poem around one of those.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

That moment when an idea first arrives — it’s magic and simple and beautiful. You write it out and see it on the page: something that was empty is now filled. And then you step back and the real work begins. 

Where do you see your literary career in five years?

As I’m developing my brain-based work, I’ve got another poetry manuscript I’m currently trying to find a home for. I also have a novel outline that I’m perpetually playing with (but not yet actually writing), and I’d really like to be able to buckle down and get that going. 

Do you have any favorite writers or poets that inspire you?

I suppose Bob Dylan was the first writer to really inspire me; I have vivid memories of recognizing that his lyrics meant something. As an American teenaged girl, I was obviously influenced by Plath and Sexton — I still feel connections with both, particularly Plath since both of us spent some of our writing lives in England. I also really admire the poetry of James Tate, Russell Edson, and Charles Simic. The French surrealists inspire me. And Raymond Carver, of course.

To learn more about Christine Brandel, visit her website or Twitter.


Lilia Joy holds an MFA in poetry from Murray State University and teaches at Henderson Community College. Lilia has served as an assistant poetry editor at New Madrid and a faculty advisor of a student literary magazine The Riverbend Review. Lilia is currently working on her first collection of poetry, A Foreign Bride.

Behind the Words: AJ Kirby

Posted by on May 18, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: AJ Kirby

A. J. Kirby is the award-winning published author of several novels – including most recently the crime-thriller The Lost Boys of Prometheus City – and over 100 short stories. He is also a sports writer, with four best-selling titles under his belt, and a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. Here, we discuss his piece in Issue 3 of Spry, “The Siege.”

Cathy Ulrich: “The Siege” is such a tense, understated piece. The hints of destruction outside the restaurant really up the intensity — both for the reader and the characters. What was your impetus for writing this piece?

AJ Kirby: I’d wanted to write a story based on the chaos of the riots which bubbled up across the UK in 2011 for some time and I did write several other stories which touched upon the violence, but never the one I really wanted to, which was this one. I wanted to write about the simple heroism of some people in protecting what was theirs, and for the longest time I couldn’t find a locus for the action nor the right characters to populate the story. In the end, I decided the action would take place in a takeaway restaurant and the real action — the violence — would take place in the margins. The characters would take centre stage… That way I wouldn’t feel as though I had to go too overboard in describing the manic destruction and I could truly focus on capturing the characters of my protagonists as they prepared to face down their fate.

The main focus of the story is on the trio of men: the narrator, his uncle and his father. But there are two unseen (and for the most part, unheard) characters: the brother, Umit, and the mother. Was your intent always for those two roles to develop “offscreen,” so to speak, or does a draft of “The Siege” exist wherein they played more prominent parts?

An interesting and insightful question. You’re right, the two offscreen characters did play more prominent parts in an earlier draft of the story. That draft was around 10,000 words and I could probably have stretched it even longer, but I felt that the central idea of the story became diluted the more I wrote, and I wanted to regain some clarity. At 10,000 words the story was too flabby and the character list too unwieldy. And I wanted to write a short, snappy story, not a novella. So, I rewrote the whole thing, as it were, sacrificing the two additional characters. Writing the whole thing again was a tough decision, but in the end, stripping the story right back to the kernel of the idea made it better, so it was worth it. Also, I like the fact these offscreen characters are still present, upstairs in the shop, and hinting at a wider world outside the story. Stories do not happen in vacuums after all. 

It’s the little things that really bring this piece to life, like the detail of the narrator feeling guilt over dumping the takeaway menus in a building that ends up burning. The reader understands he’s not really to blame, and, logically, he probably understands too, but that feeling of guilt is such a natural, human reaction that it makes the narrator seem like a fully realized person. Can you describe your process in creating these details?

At first, I wanted my protagonist to feel attracted to the destruction outside; to feel the urge to join them on their rampage. But then I decided the story would work better if he was threatened by the action. Yet it still didn’t quite seem to ring true. And then I decided the protagonist must feel close to the violence and mayhem — he must feel he has done something to provoke it, even if it is obvious he hasn’t — in order for his character to be fully realized. He had to be a little conflicted about events. After all, that’s what most of us are like all the time. I think this is the hardest part of writing; getting the characters to ring true. Getting these details right is what every redraft is about (and all the other drafts burn like takeaway menus). Getting these details right in a short story, in which there isn’t anything like as much scope for exploration of character as there is in a novel, is key to producing a good story.   

The story has an open ending with the three men (although the narrator is a very young man) standing outside the restaurant to face the rioters. What do you think becomes of them? Or does it matter?

I don’t think it does matter really, but I think the story gives enough clues. I suppose violence is inevitable, but the heroism of going out to meet that fate makes for a better climax than a terrible beating. I think of this as my Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ending….

You’re a novelist, sports writer and reviewer who has won several writing awards. In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned your first award was a yearlong pass to a local swimming pool. I’m curious — did you go there to swim laps or just splash around?

That award was way back, when I was still a kid. But it is still probably the most useful prize I’ve ever won. The swimming pool was at the end of our road where we grew up and I went there practically every day, sometimes to splash around, other times to train. I was a pretty good swimmer back then. Captain of the school team (helped having the pool so near). But I didn’t love swimming as much as I loved other sports and other pursuits, especially writing. So I let it slide. I’ve recently started swimming again though, as I’m keen to lose some weight. I do laps religiously now, never just splash around. The best thing about swimming – other than the fitness of course – is that swimming lap after lap has a kind of hypnotic quality to it and I often find that if I go into a swim thinking at the back of my mind about some kind of a problem in one of my stories, usually when the time I’ve finished my allotted 50 lengths, I’ve come up with some kind of an answer.


Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.

Behind the Words: Neil Carpathios

Posted by on May 17, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Neil Carpathios

Neil Carpathios’ poem “Intro to Boredom 101” from Spry’s Issue #4 takes on a poet’s worst nightmare – boring people. He explores how folks become boring in the first place, and how it spreads like a plague. Neil’s poem does this in a neat way, blending humor with fantastic imagery that is anything but a lesson in boredom.

Katie Eber: I love poems that start out with a good, witty setup, and I think “Intro to Boredom 101” does that really well. It stays grounded, though, in its delight of visual detail. How did you keep the funny of this poem from boiling over and taking over the whole thing?

Neil Carpathios: Really, the “funny” is mainly due to the references relating “the disease” of boredom to sex and birth—in the opening lines and then later toward the end of the poem. The rest of the poem is, for the most part, quite serious, cataloging items that we humans might hurry past and not fully notice or know. I think that these items, mainly conveyed through visual and concrete descriptions, nicely balance the more humorous touches, as mentioned. The humor in the opening and toward the end almost act as bookends to the more serious middle portion. Or–like an Oreo cookie! The humor is the cookie parts and the serious is the crème in the middle.

You punctuate some of your longer lines with very short ones. How does an idea of balance figure into how you approach a poem?

I often feel that, like a musical score, there must be some variety of syntax and punctuation in order to sustain a rhythmic flow and interest for the reader. Too many long lines in a row and the reader might be inadvertently lulled into a sluggish or—-no pun intended—boring state of mind. Too many choppy, short lines, and the poem might come across too jerky. Especially in a poem that incorporates cataloging and listing and parallel structure, variety is needed for balance.

The poem approaches boredom like a disease. How did you make that leap?

I’m not sure how I thought of that. I think that this notion may have grown out of the opening lines about boredom being an almost physical trait that can come from parents, much like eye color, body type, etc., or an inherited affliction like many other diseases. Boredom is believed to be something that we as humans fall prey to, which is what the poem is really about. The idea that it might be inside of us from birth, although not grounded in scientific fact, is a fun little twist on the idea of boredom.

Not to get too philosophical here, but why do you think we tend to “fall out of love with amazement?” Do you think poets are (in some ways) perpetual kids who manage to retain a sense of wonder?

I think that you’re right. We grow up too fast, at least in terms of how we take-in the world. Maybe the poet’s job is to reveal how the ordinary all around us is really not that ordinary. Maybe the poet’s job is to lend a freshness of vision to things. Little children are the greatest poets. We all were poets once, but most of us lose that sense of wonder as we age. To be amazed, to be surprised, to be moved….these things sometimes actually take some work. Artists of all kinds are on this earth to combat laziness of perception and feeling. When I read or view or hear a work of art, I want to feel the thrill of being alive, like I did when I first walked on a beach or saw a rainbow or tasted a watermelon. This might be putting a lot of pressure on artists to assist with this desire, but it is a lofty and sacred part of the job.

Neil’s new collection Confessions of a Captured Angel is out at Terrapin Books. You can connect with Neil through his website.


Katie Eber holds a B.A. in English Literature from Roanoke College and is a 2014 graduate from the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Fairfield University. Her work has appeared in On Concept’s Edge, Hobo Pancakes, Garbanzo Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, and MadHad Lit. She is the current Poet Laureate for the town of Wallingford, CT.
Katie enjoys good beer, good sandwiches, and advocating for widespread use of business hammocks.

ABCs of Flash Writing: The Conclusion

Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: The Conclusion

I marveled at the words. The sentences brevity and richness.

“As she picked it (a wild pink rose) to add to her bundle she noticed a raised mound, a ring, around the rose’s root” as told in “The Flowers” by Alice Walker.

Ms. Walker puts me in that moment so that I am Myop, the girl who wanders away from her family’s “hen house to pigpen to smokehouse” to pick flowers in neighboring fields. I am the girl who “made her own path, bouncing this way and that way, vaguely keeping an eye out for snakes.” Until Myop “steps smack into his eyes.” A skeleton. A man hung long before Myop had an inkling to wander so far from her home. The body long dead as provided in details such as “the buckles of the overalls had turned green” and the “rotted remains of a noose, a bit of shredding plowline, now lending benignly into the soil.”

This flash fiction enables the reader to become the pre-pubescent child stumbling upon the remains. The details bring to life the piece’s literal and figurative meanings. Ms. Walker never tells the reader that this is a hung man’s skeleton nor does she go into backstory or the child’s dramatic imaginings but instead provides breadcrumbs of rich description as Myop experiences her day. This masterful use of specific details enables the reader to unravel the mystery of the dead body, the historical significance, and the finding’s effects on the child.

The piece ends with the simple and heart wrenching statement, “And the summer was over.” Possibly literal and definitely metaphorical; complete in this one succinct sentence.

In flash fiction, we have a small space to create a world, to tell a story, to allow the reader to become part of it. Ms. Walker enables this to occur with the richness of details and the focused viewpoint of Myop. And that is our goal. To enrich, enliven, and bring forth a flash fiction or nonfiction story through active and descriptive verbs and vibrant adjectives so we not only read the story, it becomes a part of us.

In the past 26 days you’ve learned from various writers about how to approach writing in the flash genre. Now, take those tools and create on your own.


Lisa Diane Kastner is the Founder and Executive Editor of Running Wild Press. She got her MFA from Fairfield University (FUMFA) and lives in Los Angeles with her amazing husband and maniacal cats, The Master and Margarita.