Briefs Blog

Behind the Words: Jerrod Bohn

Posted by on Jan 13, 2017 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

JB3-2I caught up with Spry issue 3 contributor Jerrod Bohn as he was in the midst of moving back to Fort Collins, Colorado. He sat down with me and unpacked his thoughts on stylistic choices in poetry, the influence of place, and how maybe—just maybe—we should read more and party less. 

Talk to me about the revision process of “we have on display a nascent child.” How did it start? What surprised you through the revision process?  

A few years ago, I read this incredibly fascinating text Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language by Daniel Heller-Roazen. In the first chapter, Heller-Roazen describes how linguist Roman Jakobson observed that “a babbling child” can form the phonemes that belong to all human languages as well as many that don’t—a baby’s birdspeak, its cooing. Curiously, just prior to the initial stages of language acquisition, the infant loses the ability to produce not only the phonemes that fall outside of what will become the infant’s mother tongue but also seems to “forget” the sounds associated with speaking the mother tongue. Jakobson called this passage from pre-linguistic stages to early language acquisition “the apex of babble.” According to Heller-Roazen, during this time the infant “cannot even say ‘I,’ and one hesitates to attribute to him the consciousness of a speaking being.”

“we have on display a nascent child” is a verse rendering (I hate to say poetic since Heller-Roazen’s book often blurs the line between traditional scholarly writing and lyric essay) of the apex of babble and begins my unpublished, book-length manuscript Animal Histories. I had this strange idea of some research body (the poem’s “we”) observing this infant as it moved from making a limitless array of sounds to that moment when the forgetting takes place, which Heller-Roazen insinuates is the substitutionary payment for  full “citizenship in the community of a single tongue.” Hunger plays a role because I looked at language acquisition in terms of survival. The infant can cry when hungry, but infant cry is arbitrary—crying can signal any number of infant discomforts that parents try, often through trial and error, to decode. Being able to say, “I’m hungry” is so much more effective. But being able to assert “I” is outside the infant’s ability at the apex of babble. “we have on display a nascent child” records the infant’s struggle to assert self when that linguistic capacity doesn’t exist; rather, the struggle when the infant has “forgotten” the phoneme I /ai/ and cannot voice itself into being.

There’s more there, to be sure. The “O” (the poem’s only capital letter) is the lyric impulse, and to me lyric poetry since Sappho’s time is about desire. In rereading the poem several times, I think the “we” possess a certain, necessary scientific coldness; if their purpose is to study the infant at the apex of babble, they cannot intervene even if they know the infant is hungry, is suffering, because to do so would taint the research. Anyhow, I think my story of the poem’s inception is turning into an explication, so…

In terms of actual revision, I can’t recall making too many changes between the poem’s initial draft and the published version, which I never view as “final” and see as just another draft. My writing process begins with a journal, a black pen, and some kind of liquid, coffee, beer or wine. I handwrite the first draft, often making some changes in the process. My journals are full of scribbles. About once a week, I transfer my handwritten drafts to the computer. During this time, I make more changes, but unlike the handwritten drafts, there really isn’t a physical record of this process other than what shows up on the screen is sometimes different than what appears on the page. Another round of revision occurs when I print the poem. I reread the poem several times and use a pen to reorder lines, words, stanzas, change the diction, and make additions and deletions. When I write poetry, I tend to view whatever I’m working on as being part of a “project.” I very seldom write a poem that “stands alone,” although I think the hallmark of a well-realized project is that a poem appears to “stand alone” even when it doesn’t. Heller-Roazen’s ideas are too big for just one poem; I always thought of “we have on display a nascent child” as only the beginning.

 

I did some homework and noticed many of your other publications use uppercase letters. Talk to me about the stylized choice to use lowercase letters throughout your poem in Spry

The decision not to use uppercase letters in “we have on display a nascent child” came of out Heller-Roazen as well. While Heller-Roazen focuses on speech, I started thinking about what might happen if punctuation, capitalization, and other rules of written language become “forgotten.” In a later chapter in Echolalias, Heller-Roazen shares a tale of Abū Nuwās, who aspires to be a great poet. In it, an authority tells him to memorize a thousand passages of poetry, a feat he accomplishes after some time. When he returns, ready to compose poetry of his own, the authority orders him to forget everything he just memorized before he starts writing. Of course, when one actively “forgets,” vestiges remain. I think even when language’s written rules aren’t present, we remember enough to fill them in to construct a reading of a text. Or, if you’re part of the rules police, you become really ticked off.

 

Jerrod, your bio mentions that you live in Fort Collins, CO. Do you find your sense of community shapes your poetry at all?  

At the time of the Spry publication I did live in Fort Collins. Currently (at the time of writing this), I live in Seattle, and I’ve been living in Seattle since September 2014. By the time this interview appears in print, I might be living in Fort Collins again.

I do think community and landscape enormously shape my writing regardless of whether my writing consciously addresses such themes. For example, my most recent book-length manuscript, Pulp: A Manifesto, could only have come out of living in a city, particularly a city experiencing gentrification, soaring housing costs, and increasing income disparity/inequality. This is not to say that Fort Collins isn’t experiencing the same thing; in fact, I think Fort Collins does a better job of hiding it, probably because you’re looking at a city of two hundred thousand versus a city whose metro area population is approaching four million. In Fort Collins, because more open space exists (between housing units, between people passing each other on the street), my writing tended toward themes that were more metaphysical and metapoetic. In Seattle, I wrote a great deal about systemic, institutional inequality—issues related to privilege and American-style capitalism that has effectively transformed everything, including human rights, into something consumable.

In terms of community, two Fort Collins friends, Matthew Antonio and Chris Klingbeil, have had an enormous influence on my writing. Several ideas came out of reading our manuscripts over pints at local breweries. I miss those guys—their intelligence, their attention, their observations—and I’m excited to rejoin them in Fort Collins.

 

On a similar note, you attended Colorado State University’s MFA program. It’s been five years since graduating. If you could give your 2010-self advice about your writing life after graduation, what would you say? 

Haha, this is an interesting question. I know what I’d tell my MFA self, which is “write more, read more, drink less, party less.” Actually, I don’t know if I’d say that because I learned a great deal during my MFA and much of that learning occurred after class, shooting pool and sipping beers with my classmates and occasionally the faculty. As far as advice to my 2010 self, the craziest thing I’d say is, “remember that fantasy novel idea you had in middle school? You’re going to take a little break from poetry to write that.”

 

What are your current writing goals? 

I continue to actively submit my poems to various print and online literary magazines and journals. My biggest writing goal is somewhat out of my control. I’m hoping to publish a full-length book. I’ve currently have Animal Histories (where “we have on display a nascent child” appears) to some publishers. Although nobody’s picked it up yet, it was given an honorable mention in one open reading period, so I’m trying to stay confident.

(Editor’s note: He is now under contract to publish Animal Histories, due in July 2017 from Unsolicited Press. Congratulations, Jerrod!)

I’ll start submitting Pulp: A Manifesto soon. I also want to continue working on a chapbook tentatively titled “From ‘Testimony of a Human Being Within an Oppressive System’”inspired by Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. My Marxist/anti-capitalist take involves the trial of a nameless employee of an unnamed Corporation that knowingly commits human rights in its quest to earn money. The overarching question is to what extent is someone guilty even if they don’t directly give the orders? The text considers the people who, mostly through complacency and because of their privilege (ignorance of or refusal to acknowledge), go along serving the interests of oppressive systems, i.e., the cogs in the wheel, so to speak. These individuals do not directly make the decisions that exploit and/or discriminate against certain populations, but through their compliance or refusal to speak up, go along with their supervisors’ decisions. The many who don’t speak up to the few. I want to explore how responsible/accountable they are regarding the actions of oppressive systems.

 

What is one online essay/poem/story/YouTube video that you think Spry readers should check out?

This is kind of an older essay now, but I’m quite fond of Reginald Shepherd’s “On Difficulty in Poetry.” The essay originally appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, but John Gallaher posted it to his blogspot. Most Spry readers are probably familiar with the different types of difficulty Shepherd describes in part II of the essay, but the what Shepherd notes about what various camps believe a poem should do is still the subject of much debate. I’d love to discuss these ideas with other poets!


Laura Bernstein

Laura Bernstein’s poetry and essays have been published in Passages North, The Normal School, and (of course) Spry Literary Journal among others.. She currently serves as Director of Communications for a NYTimes bestselling author.

Behind the Words: Jill Khoury

Posted by on Jan 6, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Image result for jill khoury poetEditor of Rogue Agent, a journal of embodied poetry and art, Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Inter|rupture, Arsenic Lobster, Portland Review, and Copper Nickel. Her poems “Amenie,” “Suites for the Modern Dancer,” and “Crows” have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2013, “Trilafon” was nominated for a Best of the Net Award, and Split This Rock picked her poem “Certain Seams” as a third place winner in their 2013 poetry contest, judged by Mark Doty. Her chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, was released from Pudding House Press. In 2014, her manuscript was a finalist for the Four Way Books Intro Prize. She works with the Western PA Writing Project as a teacher in the Young Writer’s Institute, and also reads audio for  Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature. She teaches in university, high school, and enrichment environments, and is especially interested in conducting workshops on poetry & the body and disability poetics. Her first full-length volume of poetry, Suites for the Modern Dancer, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2016. She tweets @sundaygray. Her poem “For Healing” can be found in issue 5 of Spry, here.

Faith Padgett sat down with Jill Khoury to ask her some questions about where her poetics have taken her since her publication with Spry. 

 

I notice you employ white space in “For Healing” very specifically and intentionally, both within the line (caesura or lacuna) and around the line (indentation, movement across page). As a poet, how would you categorize your relationship to white space? What does it do for you? How do you define or conceptualize it?

In this particular poem, I was thinking about the element of surprise, of jarringness, of being jolted. I also imagined the speaker standing up in a support group and telling this story. How the task would feel almost too daunting to complete, so her speech would be interrupted while she steadied herself. How the other group members might not understand what she is saying, so she would pause and explain slowly. The poem moves away from the margin as she tells the anecdote about the performance artist, and then back toward the margin as she reveals why this anecdote matters as a metaphorical portrait. The poem ends without punctuation because I imagine the story ending, and it would sort of silence the room because it would not be the literal/biographical explanation of the mother and her suicide. I imagine her words just descending into the silence, and all the various emotions she could be feeling at that point. Of course all this manipulation of space was important to me when I crafted the poem, but I know that it may not be received in the way it was intended. This is the risk and reward of all art.

 

More generally, I have picked up on a theme in your work, that of lingo/jargon, specifically from the medical world (re: “optic nerve hypoplasia,” “meninges…dura mater,” or “is suicide genetic?”). How do you feel the world of diagnoses, doctors, and bodily-minded language has infiltrated your poetics?

Infiltrated is an interesting word choice! I think I pretty much built my poetics around these things which all come under the umbrella of “bodily-minded language.” From a very young age I was immersed in the milieu of “diagnoses and doctors.” I have a congenital disability (blindness and other brain differences), and my mother, whose suicide this poem is responding to, had chronic illness long before I was born. I grew up spending a lot of time in the hospital and the doctor’s office. When I was a student, and then a grad student, I did not write about these things because it seemed like it was frowned upon to speak so frankly of the body and its myriad adventures. But this language feels rather natural to me. It does not feel like “lingo.” As well, I find it sonically pleasing. The more that my voice matures into itself, the more I allow my work to go to places that I both love, because they feel like home, and fear, because it makes me vulnerable.

 

You have published a chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, with Pudding House Press, and your first full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, is forthcoming from Sundress. How would you compare the chapbook process to the book process? Where there noticeable differences in craft?

At the time of this writing, Suites has been published, and I have two chapbooks from two different presses. One was published before Suites and one was published after. The biggest difference I’ve noticed, and of course this is based only on my experience, is in the editorial process. For both the chapbooks, the edits were left up to me. Borrowed Bodies was published as it was received, and there was a pretty short time between when I sent the manuscript, when it was accepted and when it was published—probably a few months for the whole process. With Chance Operations (winner of the 2015 Vella Prize from Paper Nautilus), I had the chance to revise the manuscript myself, because there was a much longer interval between acceptance and publication, and the editor deferred to my choices. The book process was another entity altogether. I had a wonderful editor in Erin Elizabeth Smith. Suites is a braided narrative with an ensemble cast. We worked together to make the book tell the story I wanted it to tell. I am beyond grateful for her editorial crafting and collaboration.

 

In your life outside poetry directly (if there is such a thing), what are you up to? What are you into? If I asked you to name what you’re having the most feelings about right now, what would you say?

Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a themed issue of Rogue Agent (a journal of embodied poetry and art) called DON’T ERASE US, whose poems respond to the chronic violence against queer people and people of color. It’s really giving me all the emotions. There’s a core feeling of devastation, that the problem feels insurmountable. There’s also a feeling of joy and pride and humbleness as I read and re-read the work of these authors, who respond to acts of unspeakable destruction with such creative force.


imageFaith Padgett was born and raised in the suburbs of Texas and is currently a Creative Writing concentrator at the University of Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose and several anthologies including the Poetry Society of Texas’ student anthologies and the YoungArts anthology for 2014. She was a semi-finalist in the Presidential Scholars program, and she confesses to having attended Poetry at Round Top twice, much to her delight and bewilderment. She has previously worked with the Southwest Review and she is a member of the Philomathean Society. When not working or writing, Faith can be found sipping tea with a book or walking through the prairie with one of her four adopted mutts.

Behind the Words: Kevin Brown

Posted by on Oct 5, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

kb4_rszKevin Brown is a Professor of English at Lee University. He has published two full-length collections of poems, A Lexicon of Lost Words, (2013; Winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry) and Exit Lines (2009); two chapbooks: Abecedarium (2011) and Holy Days: Poems (winner of the 2011 Split Oak Press Chapbook Contest); and a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again (2012).

He has also published a scholarly work They Love to Tell the Story: Five Contemporary Authors Take on the Gospels (2012) with Kennesaw State University Press, in addition to critical articles on Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Ellison, John Barth, and Tony Earley. He received a Ph.D in English from the University of Mississippi with a dissertation that dealt with Mark Twain’s influence on Kurt Vonnegut. He also has a Master’s in English from East Tennessee State University, a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Alabama, and a Bachelor’s Degree from Milligan College. He has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Poetry from Murray State University.

I sat down with him to ask him a few questions about his work, and about the poem he published in Spry, which can be found here.

Faith Padgett: You are a very well published writer teaching at Lee University. Can you tell us a little bit about the subject matter you’ve taken interest in, either recently or in the past? I notice Kurt Vonnegut’s name is frequently tied to yours.

Kevin Brown: As far as being a literature professor goes (which is the primary way I define myself), I’m interested in contemporary fiction, especially the novel. Vonnegut was the subject of my dissertation (an examination of how Mark Twain’s later work influenced Vonnegut’s early work). In the past couple of years, I’ve also published articles on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Doris Lessing’s To Room Nineteen. I’m currently working on a second article on Cloud Atlas, and I have another Vonnegut article in mind right now that I hope leads somewhere. Contemporary Literature is a class I teach every fall, and it’s my favorite class by far. I’m also teaching a Creative Nonfiction class this fall for the first time, so I’m curious to see how that goes.

Faith Padgett: So, favorite Vonnegut book? Can you pick just one, and why?

Kevin Brown: There’s no question on this one: Slaughterhouse-Five. I recently re-read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and I liked it better than I remembered doing so before. I tried to teach Cat’s Cradle almost a decade ago now, but it just didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. I’m teaching Slaughterhouse again this week, and I’m looking forward to doing so. As to why, I think it’s his best developed novel. He never really creates compelling characters, but I feel more for Billy than I do any of the others. He also has more layers in this novel than he does in the others. It’s richer and rewards re-reading in a way most of his other works don’t.

Quick side story about Vonnegut: I changed my major to English the summer before my junior year. It had been my worst subject, and I was ill-prepared to make that move (why I did is a longer story involving an inspirational professor), so I decided to read through an anthology of short stories to learn about a wider range of writers. It was in alphabetical order, so I went through the As and was into the Bs when I hit a long story that didn’t look interesting. I decided to read in reverse alphabetical order at that point, and I quickly found Vonnegut’s story, “Report on the Barnhouse Effect.” It was the first story he published and the first story I read by him. It was also the first time I ever read a story and felt like someone was stating something I believed, as well, something I didn’t hear other people talk about. It was a great moment.

Faith Padgett: What single word (or phrase) would you say characterizes your writing right now? How about five or ten years ago? What’s changed?

Kevin Brown: Learning. I’ve been trying to write more nonfiction and fiction over the past couple of years, and I feel like I’m starting all over again. After more than a decade of writing poetry, I had gotten comfortable enough with it to feel like I knew something about it. I don’t feel that way about prose. I also tried a new approach to writing poems with my last batch, and I’m not very happy with how they turned out.

Faith Padgett: I see that you have a particular skill for importing names into the fabric of your verse. How do you feel names, like Jack and Lisa, for example, fit into your process? Can you describe the moment these names infiltrate the draft, and how that feels for you?

Kevin Brown: The Jack poems were my first real, sustained approach at writing persona poems. I wanted to do something different than I had done before, as most of my poems were first person, and I wanted the freedom to get outside of myself. Even though some material in those poems came from my life, getting away from the I helped me re-imagine the scenes I did use from my life. The rest of the names came simply because they were needed. At one point in the series, Jack attends a funeral. I hadn’t planned for him to do so, but it came; thus, I needed someone to have died. That became Bill, and Wendy was his wife. In “Jack Imagines a Different Map,” Lisa came from a former co-worker I had, and I have no idea where the kids’ names came from. Ryan is from a real friend I had who did, in fact, die of cancer before he turned thirty. He’s one of the few real people I use in this set of poems.

Faith Padgett: To delve specifically into the poem Spry published, “Jack Imagines a Different Map,”— how do you feel about it, having some distance from it and its date of publication? Further, I notice the way it shifts from stanza to stanza creates slightly irregular stanza lengths, which is different from many of your other, more regulated work. How do you feel the stanza, and the line, are working for you (or against you) here?

Kevin Brown: I’ve struggled with the Jack poems, as I’ve had success placing them in journals (like Spry), but the collection has never quite landed. It’s come close, but never got all the way there. I’ve thought about shifting away from Jack altogether and making them more personal, less persona poems. But I like Jack, and I like the collection, so I’ve left him there. In some ways, these poems were more honest than what I had written before. My earlier poems were all about relationships ending, and this set of poems is the first where I take on my growing sense of my mortality. As far as craft goes, I tend to like uneven stanzas and line length; I have to force myself to use more consistent form. In this poem, especially, I wanted to end the early stanzas with enjambed lines, as I wanted to push the reader along; then, before the final stanza, I give the reader a pause before hitting the ending hard.

Faith Padgett: You write fiction, poetry, essays, memoir— why do you think you are a multi-genre writer? Do you have a favorite (and is that a taboo question, like asking for a favorite child)?

Kevin Brown: I’ve been trying to figure out why I write in a variety of genres. Part of that is simply how I started writing. Given that I became an English major late (and ill prepared), I started writing poetry simply because I thought I was supposed to do so as an English major (this was in the days before creative writing classes were standard at any institution). I kept doing so because I had more success doing that and, honestly, because they were shorter (so I thought they were easier). I also thought I couldn’t write fiction because I couldn’t create characters or sustain a narrative arc (two rather important parts of most fiction). I came to the memoir because I wanted to tell part of my story, and it was the best way to do so. I started writing more essays after that, as well as fiction, because I thought the memoir had taught me how to write prose, even fiction, better. Also, my poetry has become more and more narrative over the years, so it seems like I’m trying to write fiction even when I’m writing poetry. As for a favorite, I really like writing prose more than poetry and nonfiction over fiction. I can’t really separate essays (creative nonfiction, anyway) from memoir in the way I approach them, but I think I enjoy them the best, at least right now.

Faith Padgett: You hold many master’s degrees (three, if I counted right), and you are very active in the current discourse about education, as well as being a teacher yourself. Can you tell us a little bit about how you feel education and poetics are related? Do you feel your education shifting/transforming/altering your work?

Kevin Brown: My combination of education and poetics is strange, as I didn’t go get my MFA until I had been writing poetry for at least a decade. I also teach many more literature courses than I do creative writing ones (usually only one every other year or so). The main way they do overlap, though, is that the literature I teach certainly impacts my own writing. Teaching a poet like Rilke every semester, as I did for more than a decade, certainly influenced my poetry.

The same thing happens in reverse, I hope. When I teach a literature course, I talk about what I think the author was trying to do in a work because I’ve thought through similar problems in my writing. It always annoys me when critics talk about how writers think when it’s clear they’ve never tried to write a novel or poem. I tell my students that they should take classes in whatever area of English they’re not focusing, as it will help them tremendously.

Faith Padgett: On that educational theme—what about didactic tone? I notice your poems, by and large, take up a quietly everyday diction, which, in turn, often lends them a semi-casual softly revelatory tone. Do you think poetry should serve to teach us something, or is its purpose entirely divorced from the notions of didactics?

Kevin Brown: And here’s one of the main problems with my writing. I have a real tendency to try to teach people something through whatever I write; perhaps that’s why I like nonfiction better than anything else. That’s partly because most of my early writing was analytical in nature, but it’s also because, more than anything else, I’m a teacher. Parker Palmer has a quote in his book Let Your Life Speak that sums up how I view myself: “In fact, I could have done no other: teaching, I was coming to understand, is my native way of being in the world. Make me a cleric or a CEO, a poet or a politico, and teaching is what I will do. Teaching is at the heart of my vocation and will manifest itself in any role I play.”

I’ve had to force myself to cut down that approach, but it keeps coming through. It’s one of the main areas I have to work on in revision, and I clearly still struggle with it. I suppose I always will. Thankfully, I do consider teaching my vocation; writing is simply one of the main ways I process the world. If I never publish another word, but continue teaching, I’ll be happy; if the reverse were true, I can’t imagine being satisfied with my life at all.


Faith Padgett was born and raised in the suburbs of Texas and is currently a Creative Writing/Spanish double major at Oberlin College in northern Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose and several anthologies including the Poetry Society of Texas’ student anthologies and the YoungArts anthology for 2014. She has won several Scholastic regional silver and gold keys, and was a semi-finalist in the Presidential Scholars program in 2014. When not working for Spry or writing, Faith can be found sipping tea with a book of poetry or walking through the prairie with one of her four adopted mutts. Check out her website here.

Behind the Words: L. Ward Abel

Posted by on Sep 28, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

FullSizeRenderI had the pleasure to talk poetry, jazz, and human frailty with poet and musician, L. Ward Abel. His multi-faceted poem, “Bill Evans,” appeared in Spry’s Issue 2. Read this poem out loud and feel the movement beneath the surface of the writing. Before ever speaking to the poet, I knew he was a musician.

Jennifer Martelli: I read “Bill Evans” first as an elegy, and then as an ode. The speaker (you?) establishes an immediate connection by letting us know what Bill Evans knew (“deafening”) and then by inserting himself into Evans’ psyche (“. . . .I sense a brokenness a spiralling. . . .”). What is amazing is how much information is condensed into this six-line poem. What is your relationship to the subject? To Bill Evans?      

L. Ward Abel: I am a great lover of jazz, particularly the era that produced Evans, Tyner, Coltrane and the like: those giants who did so much with open spaces that could occur in the music of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Of course Kind of Blue comes to mind, which is perfection. But I’m also drawn to those tortured souls like Evans who used new approaches to confront the inner demons of insecurity and obsession, like Charlie Parker and Jackson Pollack . Evans always portrayed a lonely image to me. I have a poem about Glenn Gould that examine such a landscape.

Stork

     to Glenn Gould

He used to be a friend

of mine, Toronto, though

someone said he didn’t like

to talk, but sing, not really

singing. And even Bernstein

acknowledge the sun

humming with piano notes. I

don’t believe Glenn would

know me now, come to think of it

I think he walks Ontario,

his overcoat, agonized

the penance the pilgrimage.

He plays so late at night, he sings,

how can his parents sleep?

Jennifer Martelli: Here is a sure sign of an excellent poem: even though I knew this poem was about a musician, I was compelled to Google Bill Evans. What a story! His death was described as “the longest suicide in history.” This brings me back to that gorgeous second sentence in the poem that so mimics “a falling that is/wordless. . . .” Do you see his life as a long suicide?      

L. Ward Abel: Well, he never seemed to recover from the death of his brother…and when you couple such occurrences with a terrible heroin and cocaine habit, you have a volatile mix. Such artists can’t seem to cope with their own genius, so any personality issues seem to explode, like they did with him. The art came first when he wanted to live, and when he lost the will to care for himself and his work, he faded away. I suppose the fact that he was a pianist makes his loss even more “wordless.”

Jennifer Martelli: You use syntax masterfully in this poem, and in other poems (“Upriver Cloud to       Cloud” comes to mind). I love that “Bill Evans” consists of three sentences, with incredibly complex movement: one half of a compound sentence, a long sentence, and then that killer last line: “Those/beautiful fat fingers.” As a musician, are you informed by that type of composition when you’re writing poetry?       

L. Ward Abel: Absolutely…and again the simplicity implied by the last line belies the fact that his work was so incredibly complex. My own compositions make an attempt at simple imagery, cutting the unnecessary and keeping some kind of essence. That idea is what I love about poetry: a concept that ordinarily could fill volumes can be addressed in ten lines of a poem.

Jennifer Martelli: In so many of your other poems, place appears to be important: Missouri, Zebulon, Toronto, Herculaneum. And yet, your poems are not traditionally “narrative,” in that they need a physical starting point. How do you use place in your poetry?      

L. Ward Abel: My home is is basically in a rural part of Georgia, or at least rural until recently…and it has become in many ways a character in my work. I think it is a manifestation of my need for some kind of stability, a built-in compass that, even when reflecting on the philosophical or the spiritual, allows me to know “where” I am. If I meet someone for the first time, I always ask where that person is from. It can reveal a great deal about someone. And the use of setting creates such an important layer of information while still preserving the need for retaining a concise approach.

Jennifer Martelli: Ironically, “Bill Evans” describes “so-called/places.” Why this choice of not naming a place for this poem?      

L. Ward Abel: With Evans, he is the true “place,” transcending mere geography and reflecting a geography of the troubled heart. I guess I don’t just associate him with just New York, New Jersey, Florida or Baton Rouge, although it’s all part of him, but he seems like weather…he’s everywhere.

Jennifer Martelli: Another choice I noticed in your work is the “he” and “she” who show up in many of your poems. I’m thinking of the poem “Oconee,” or “Busthead Skies.” You are able to embed such quirky and exact imagery in the poems, they seem to be actual folks, and yet they’re given an “otherworldly” aspect by leaving them unnamed. Are they based on people you know?      

L. Ward Abel: Usually they aren’t people I know: they are images that evoke an emotional connection with an idea that is being examined, and the “character” takes on human characteristics. Oconee is a river in Georgia, yet it represents something else, whether human or not.

Jennifer Martelli: You write with such precision about Bill Evans and George Wallace! You seem fascinated by dramatically flawed characters. How do you approach these subjects (in these cases, drug addiction, racism)?      

L. Ward Abel: I really think the flaw is always the focus…it is who we are, this imperfect vessel that may or may not find redemption. Sometimes it doesn’t or can’t happen. Maybe it shouldn’t happen. But I’m fascinated with a disheveled landscape, one with broken glass and wrappers, abandoned, left to its own devices.

Jennifer Martelli: You are a prolific poet and musician! Do you have a new project in the works–either poetry or music….or both?      

L. Ward Abel: Yes, I always have something I’m working on, like my new collection of poems to be published next winter entitled Digby Roundabout. I’m shopping a new collection called A Jerusalem of Ponds. And I’m working on some new songs that I’ll release this or next year that I’m recording with with my musical partner, Steve Rawls, with our group, Abel & Rawls.


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.

 

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: The Conclusion

Posted by on Aug 1, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction (2)
Writing creative nonfiction is particularly hard because the genre requires us to dig deep in order to interrogate whatever subject we’re interested in writing about. The subject is, often, one that resonates at a deep emotional level—in other words, something most sane people work hard to bury so they never have to think about it at all because it’s probably painful. And who wants to do grapple with that level of emotional pain on the off chance that someone might find some value in the essay or book or blog post or whatever comes out of that interrogation? Writers, that’s who. “Other people deal with that stuff in therapy.”

 

Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve learned that creative nonfiction demands what I can only honestly call a blood sacrifice from its most dedicated participants.

 

Writers in the genre need to offer journalistic honesty, interrogating the elements of their pasts (or the pasts of their subjects) to the point of pain and often at the risk of their emotional stasis for the sake of their craft. They have to swear. A lot. (Honestly, I can understand why.) They need minds that are equal parts surrealist, absurdist, realist, magician; they need to care so much that when their worlds sweat, they sweat. And they need to embrace accoutrements. Swallow them. Taste them.

 

I’d love to take a moment to thank each of our brilliant contributors to this project, who have embodied the spirit of Spry in their willingness to be vulnerable, take risks, and trust their energy and talents with us and our readers. I hope you found this series as enlightening and motivational as I did. And please stay tuned as we gear up for our next series, the ABCs of flash fiction.

 

Warmly,
Linsey

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: Z is for Zero

Posted by on Jul 31, 2016 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

ZZ_ArtZ is for “Zero,” or How I Got Fired From Spry Because I Said the ‘F’ Word Too Much

As in zero fucks. As in ZERO FUCKS, Nana.

Okay, alright. Are we good? Are we scared? ARE WE PUMPED?! Did you think that Z was going to stand for ‘Zany!!!!111!!’ or ‘Zippity-do-da!’ or ‘Zexual Healing’? Well, it’s not. This is not that kind of talk, and I wish you were stop trying to push your beliefs on me when we are out at dinner. I’m just trying to enjoy my veggie tartar, and you’re making a scene.

‘Zero fucks’ is an interesting concept because in the world of writing and in the minds of writers, we should be caring what others think. In our itty-bitty minds, if something isn’t perfect, then no one will like it, so no one will buy it, and you’ll develop erectile dysfunction.

It’s true—we are in the business of entertainment. We seek to invoke emotions or instill experiences from the reader; this is understood as a success. But we succumb to failure when we try to implant ourselves in the mind of the reader.

That is not to say that the reader is not important—remember, we are entertainers—but the reader’s judgment of the text should not be the driving force behind its creation.

For example, an author like Kathryn Harrison wrote a memoir about her relationship with her father. Not her relationship, her relationship. Yeah, that kind. Of course, there were most likely moments where Ms. Harrison thought, “Holy shit, I cannot believe I’m about to tell everyone that my dad and I doodlebopped.” But you know what? She wrote through it because her story was one that should be told. Her story mattered. She giveth zero fucks.

Another one: Nox by Anne Carson is a fantastic visual text, memorializing her brother after his passing. How stressful it must be to retrace the history of a sibling into words and feel okay with how it turned out. She must have gone bonkers. But she knew she had to tell her brother’s story, and thank god she did because it’s wonderful. Fucks times Zero.

Now why did they not hand out any fucks? Because they wrote about difficult subjects that could have easily been stashed in that top drawer, never to be seen again. They could have saved themselves some stress or embarrassment. They could have said, “Everyone is going to hate this, so fuck it.” They could have, but they didn’t.

“Get the hell outta here, Kathryn and Anne! You sit down and finish writing these things or no more Haagen-Dazs for you,” most likely said by their editors. 

A good, simple exercise to reel in the fucks is to write your greatest fear or a secret you’ve never told anyone.

What made you keep this secret? Why is it a secret? Who are keeping the secret from? What would happen if people found out about this secret? What lengths have you gone to keep this secret?

Where did this fear start? What happens when you think about this fear or are faced with this fear? Do you shake? Cry? Sweat? Scream? What lengths have you gone to avoid this fear?

When you start writing like this with no filter, no assumptions, no worry, there will be no stopping you. Fear only holds us back from the truth. And isn’t the world a much better place when we are a little vulnerable?

Readers, writers, doers, don’ters, secluders, narcissists, plain Janes, Tom Green’s—we are all writers. Our stories matter. And we must always go into the battle with a sword and shield and stab any motherfucker that stands in our way. I’m sorry, I’ve been watching A LOT of Game of Thrones lately. Let me try again.

We must always write like winter is coming. That’s awful.

We must write like we’re a Lannister. Not the incest-y ones. The cool one. The one who drinks too much. The one who is not of average height. Him. He’s great. Write like he lives.

Spry will never ask me to write anything again.

Go write, dum-dums. Go write like it’s you’ve got nothing to lose except the seven kingdoms. Go write like you don’t give a fuck.

Love, Zac.


Zac Zander lives in Connecticut with fiancé, Michael, and his dog, Kaki, who is named after the musician, not the pants. He obtained his MFA from Fairfield University with a concentration in nonfiction. His work appeared in Now What? The Creative Writer’s Guide to Success after the MFA, and he is currently working on several projects, including a collection of essays and an album.

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: Y is for Yes

Posted by on Jul 30, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

KC Photo Headshot 2I haven’t always considered myself a non-fiction writer. In truth, fiction has always been my deep and passionate love. For as long as I’ve been talking, I’ve been telling stories—just ask my mother. I’ve also found that poetry has been a comforting friend—a constant lesson in brevity and a way to collect my thoughts. These have always been the forms of expression I’ve fallen into most naturally, the ones I’ve had the strongest urge to share. To this end, I’ve shied away from the idea of writing about myself—aside from infrequent and undisciplined journaling from time to time.

I believe there are a few reasons for this. One, I haven’t always felt like I had anything to write about in terms of my own life. I’m in my twenties and I haven’t exactly accomplished everything I’ve set out to do so far. What do I have to say that anyone wants to read? Also, it’s infinitely more dangerous to write about myself, to get personal out there into a world of snap judgement and internet trolls. This is a scary notion. Beyond that, I’d be exposing my innermost thoughts and feelings and this kind of vulnerability is hard to achieve with close friends and intimate partners, let alone strangers. This has never been something I’ve felt prepared to do.

And then I started doing it—publishing essays and articles about my life. And, suddenly I’ve added creative non-fiction to my resume almost as naturally as those other genres. So what has changed? I think, in the simplest terms, I decided to say yes. Yes, I have a story to tell. Yes, I have unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences and, yes, they matter. Yes, I can put myself out there because I believe in authenticity and honesty and the value of vulnerability and maybe I can show that to other people. 

Saying yes to writing about yourself and your life experiences means accepting that you are worth writing about. This is essential. You must believe in the value of your own story, and how it fits into a larger story, the story of what it means to be human. At least that has been the case for me. Saying yes to writing about my own deeply personal experiences with sex and body image, with chronic illness, with the fears and frustrations of growing up, has meant saying yes to opening wounds that come with devoting time and energy to putting my experiences to words. It’s meant saying yes to digging into the deepest, darkest parts of myself, the secret places, and opening the shades for the world to peer inside. Saying yes has meant confronting myself in the most head-on way. This has been, at times, terrifying, but also freeing.

This writing, this sharing, has made me a more open and thoughtful person. It has allowed me to break down the walls of artifice and showmanship that go hand in hand with representing oneself in our modern world. It has allowed me to be critical but also compassionate toward people, toward life, and even toward myself. And, it’s created wonderful, inspiring connections with others who find pieces of themselves in my own stories. It’s reminded me how alike we all really can be in terms of our deep fears and desires. In saying yes to sharing parts of myself, I have found a new perspective, a brighter outlook, and maybe even a better world within myself and others. And, I think I may just be getting started.


Stephanie Harper received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Fairfield University with an emphasis in fiction. Her work can be found in The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, The Montreal Review, Poetry Quarterly, Midwest Literary Magazine, and Haiku Journal. She lives in Denver, CO.

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: X is for Xenolith

Posted by on Jul 29, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

xenolith

Source: Bryant Olsen | No changes

Xenolith (n.)  xe·no·lith \ˈze-nə-ˌlith, ˈzē-\: a fragment of a rock included in another rock

I feel like I have to open with a disclaimer here: while I certainly am I writer, I more often or not define myself as a poet. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in Creative Nonfiction insomuch as, the way I write it, it’s largely just another way to say poetry. The way I put my words down on the page may often look a little different, but I still think that Creative Nonfiction and Poetry (with those capital letters) are really striving toward the same goal: Truth. Or rather, the Closest Possible Thing to truth, which could also be called our own, personal version of the (capital letter) Truth.

So, being a poet, and X being an exceedingly difficult letter, I must defer to metaphor. While I’m more of an indoor cat, it’s sometimes hard to believe the perfection of the images nature just drops in to our laps. It’s like the world wants one to be a writer.

Here’s the easiest way to break down this particular metaphor: the surrounding rock is nonfiction and the embedded rock is creative to make…dun dun dun…Creative Nonfiction. The nonfiction part is the facts, the part that to most people makes the piece true versus untrue. But your goal, as the writer, isn’t just to give your reader the facts, it’s to give them the Truth…your Truth. To lead them to the rock embedded in the facts, the heart of the matter, not just the objective report of what happened, but rather the subjective view of the situation only you can give. There isn’t a definitive Truth, after all, only a beautiful, flawed, but wholly your own version of truth. Something only you can give the world.

Xenoliths are created when rock is somewhat malleable for a time (during the host rock’s development) and a secondary rock becomes embedded in the larger body. That foreign rock can be buried for a long time within the larger frame of rock before some natural (or human) force reveals it. Geologists care about xenoliths not only because they’re often beautiful, but because they can give a scientist a more specific and detailed history of the original rock. Xenoliths in writing are similar because they a) are already somewhere within the facts, b) can take a while, rooting around in all those facts, to find, and c) give the facts something richer, fuller, and all over more meaningful. Truth.

Or, if all this rock talk is boring you, take a look at Brian Turner’s poem “Jundee Ameriki,” from his book Phantom Noise. Like most writers, I tend to turn to the work of other writers as example whenever I’m at a loss for words:

At the VA Hospital in Long Beach, California

Dr. Sushruta scores open a thin layer of skin

to reveal an object traveling up through muscle.

It is a kind of weeping the body does, expelling

Foreign material, sometimes years after injury.

Dr. Sushruta lifts slivers of shrapnel, bits

of coarse gravel, road debris, diamond

points of glass—the minutiae of the story

Reconstructing a cold afternoon in Baghdad,

November of 2005. The body offers aged cloth

from an abaya dyed in blood, shards of bone.

And if he were to listen intently, he might hear

the roughened larynx of this women calling up

through the long corridors of flesh, saying

Allah al Akbar, before releasing

her body’s weapon, her dark and lasting gift

for this Jundee Ameriki, who carries fragments

of the war inscribed in scar tissue,

a deep, intractable pain, the dull grief of it

the body must learn to absorb.

Devon Bohm Bio Pic 2Brian Turner’s piece is exactly the kind of xenolith of writing I’m trying to get at here. He could have told us about that day is Baghdad fact by fact, could have pieced the story together objectively and clearly, and such a stunning image, told in any way, would still have impacted the reader. But the facts of what happened aren’t the heart, aren’t the rock within the rock of what he’s saying. It’s not what’s happened, it’s the way what happened, like the xenolith, was once embedded, but has now worked it’s way to the surface. The impact isn’t the original moment, the original rock. The impact is what’s created when the secondary rock rears its way up and out and has to be written down. Combining the two stories created a much stronger piece of writing—created a xenolith that not only gives the reader facts the but creates meaning out of said facts. Creating your truth, versus the not-actually-real Truth.

So I say, embrace the xenolith when it works it’s way up. No matter how hard or bloody or convoluted. The heart of the matter is often all of those things, but it’s what will make your writing resonate. As a writer, it’s not only your job, but perhaps your privilege, to be able to dig down deep, past the facts, and find that rock within the rock. Become a scientist of fact and memory, classifying and working it all out, finding a way for all of us to make sense of the world in a way only you can provide.


Devon Bohm graduated cum laude from Smith College with a BA in English Literature and Language and earned her MFA with a dual concentration in Poetry and Fiction from Fairfield University. While an undergraduate, she studied English and Classical Literature at University College London. Her poetry has been published in Labrys and in 2011 she was awarded the Hatfield Prize for Best Short Story. Devon is a former Editor in Chief of the Literary Arts Journal Mason’s Road and a former Adjunct Professor of English at Fairfield University. She has previously been featured in Spry’s ABC’s of Writers (for Beginners) series.

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: W is for Weirdness

Posted by on Jul 28, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Catherine Kyle summer 2015You are weird. You are. And that’s great.

Your weirdness is an asset. It can be an ally in writing. If I’m ever feeling stumped for inspiration, I retrace memories with an eye for incidents that seem a little weird.

I mean “weird” here in the sense of unusual. It’s amazing to me how many bizarre events are categorized as normal by the people involved in them. I suppose this is natural. It happened, so how weird can it be? I think this is what we tell ourselves. But if you think about it, I suspect you’ll find lots of weird things have happened to you.

Of course, some of this is context dependent. I once found myself staring up at the roof of a tiny purple tent deep in the woods while a secret rave surged nearby. For ravers, maybe this isn’t so strange. But for me, it was unprecedented. How on earth had I found myself in the passenger’s seat of a red Chevy, listening to gravel crunch and crack under its wheels, while my friend covertly gave our names to a man by the side of the road who waved us into the forest and on to a secret rave? None of it had seemed particularly out of place at the time. But as I lay there in the tent with my hands behind my head, brimming with introvert-panic, confusion set in. I saw myself from outside myself and wondered, How did I get here? When I woke up the next morning to the silhouette of a banana slug clinging fervently to the outside of the tent, its backdrop the glow of lavender nylon bathed in Northwest dawn, its soundtrack the dulcet tones of a raver expelling the contents of her stomach in a berry bush nearby, I thought, Yes. I was right. This is definitely weird.

I think it is those moments—the ones where we abruptly behold ourselves from outside ourselves—that hold the nuclei of weirdness. The How did I get here? moments, the moments where we pull a double-take. Alternatively, they could be the Did that really happen? moments—events and circumstances that seem bizarre in retrospect.

Once, when I was a child, my hair caught on fire. My father was taking a class in the creation of pysanky, Ukrainian-style Easter eggs, and he was melting wax used to draw on the eggs’ surface over a small open flame. I leaned in too close and poof, a lock on the left side of my head caught aflame. Before I even smelled smoke, my father calmly reached over and extinguished the fire between his thumb and index finger. His expression never changed. No more than a few inches of hair were singed.

This is weird. Everything about it is weird. The eggs, the wax, the flame, the potential crisis and the placid serenity that met it. I would expect a story in which a child’s hair catches on fire to end in tragedy, or at least a fossil of trauma embedded in the telling. But this is a story in which a child’s hair catches on fire and the world merely pauses for a calm, gentle moment. It was almost peaceful. A happy memory, really. And that’s weird.

My parents were professional puppeteers when I was a kid. That’s weird.

I cleaned a daycare at 3 AM dressed as Alice in Wonderland (one night) and Satine from Moulin Rouge (another) because I had a crush on a boylesque performer in the cabaret I was briefly in and thought it might endear me to him if I helped with his part-time janitorial job. That’s certainly weird.

I sulked in a tree for an hour at age eight because a group of playmates wouldn’t let me be Luke Skywalker in our summer edition of Star Wars. Yep. That’s kind of weird. But it’s also kind of telling.

The value of weirdness isn’t just found in mining our histories for uncommon moments, compelling as they may be. Everyone has a weird story to tell, something unusual that’s happened. So I also mean “weird” here in the sense of otherworldly—of eerie, ethereal, transcendent. What are the moments that take you out of yourself not just because they’re outlandish, but because they peel back the plastic of the world? What are these moments telling you, these instances of self-jolting?

A father clamps out the fire ascending his daughter’s hair and the daughter learns, wordlessly, what it means to feel both mortal and safeguarded, fragile and loved. There is no name for this kind of tension and so neither of them says anything. The father goes back to painting and the daughter goes back to watching, knowing that she could have been badly burned and knowing that the father knows and that yet everything is fine and wondering how there can be no word for this.

Two parents animate their hand-sewn puppets between the scarlet curtains of their hand-built stage. In the audience, their daughter watches, committing the parents’ gold turtlenecks and turquoise sweaters to memory. She knows every word of the script. She knows every note of the songs. She knows that this is imperative to her parents, this mischief, this play. She looks around at the other children laughing and wonders how we are both part of and witness to a family and what that means for belonging. Of course, she does not have words for this. But watching her parents perform, she wonders.

A girl clicks around in heels and a crinoline taking out garbage and scrubbing countertops. There is glitter in her teeth from the glitter in her lipstick. She knows that this is folly, that this effort will go nowhere. But it occurs to her that she is here not out of hope, but rather out of amusement. She looks in the mirror at her glittering teeth and wonders about the lengths we will go to see of what we’re made. She wonders about the ways in which we hold our puppet-selves up.

A girl sits in a tree and wonders about gender. She wonders about the unfairness of boys who tell her that because she is a girl, she must be rescued by boys. She will go on to study this for five years in grad school. She is wondering this in a tree and wondering this in a classroom. She is wondering this at eight and wondering at twenty-eight. Probably, she will never stop wondering. But it is this moment, the audacious robbery of the role of Luke Skywalker, that kicks off the spiral of wondering.

These are small parts of my weirdness. Small parts of me. My WTF moments that unfurled into tapestries stitched with questions I never thought to ask.

I lie in a purple tent and think, Everyone here has a story. The friend in the Chevy. The puking raver. The DJs. The guy on the road. I want to know. I want to know your weirdness. Not cloaked in fiction, but nude on the page. We humans are endlessly fascinated with each other in part because we want to connect and we want to hear truth. Our weirdness, disparate as it may be, can also be a bridge. We are all weird, but you are weird too. The world’s collective weirdness does not negate that fact.

So. Let’s hear about it. 


Catherine Kyle is a Ph.D. student in English though Western Michigan University finishing her dissertation on graphic novels from Boise, where she teaches at the College of Western Idaho and works for The Cabin, a literary nonprofit. She is the author and illustrator of the hybrid-genre collection Feral Domesticity (Robocup Press, 2014); the author of the poetry chapbooks Flotsam (Etched Press, 2015) and Gamer: A Role- Playing Poem (forthcoming from dancing girl press, 2015); and a co-editor of the anthology Goddessmode (Cool Skull Press, 2015). She also helps run the Ghosts & Projectors poetry reading series. Her graphic narratives, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in The Rumpus, Superstition Review, WomenArts Quarterly, and elsewhere. Visit her website.

ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: V is for Vanity

Posted by on Jul 27, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

scott,christinapictureVanity is in all the unfinished works on my USB. Little phrases or sayings that show my self-consciousness, my desire to please the reader. These lines are taken out, or they sit in drafts that I am afraid to finish. But as I examine them, I see a trend—I’m either trying to please myself with how artistic and flowing I can make a sentence, or I’m literally just trying to be understood, and like a plumber underneath a sink with a wrench who can’t figure out where to tighten, I feel helpless. How do these two desires merge? My answer is: remove the vanity.

Vanity. In my life it has less to do with fanning myself underneath a veranda and sipping lemonade while getting a foot massage and thinking of my accomplishments and more to do with sounding smart. Or educated. Or like I know the answer to questions during a class I teach. Vanity and a desire to not look stupid are pretty much the same thing in my life.

There is a piece I started to write about the preponderance of police shootings of unarmed black people in this country. My artistic-self wanted to make an effective underlying metaphor. My practical, down-to-Earth self wanted a relatable metaphor. The result? Absurdity.

A toddler shot a teenager for walking in the street. Toddlers cannot be held accountable for life, since they do not understand intangible concepts, so the perpetrator was given extra milk and sent to bed early. Later that day, a toddler sucking in and out a binky cleaned up the crime scene. He had a temper tantrum half-way through, covered in blood. It was deemed that he needed a diaper change. His diaper was changed. He continued to clean up the blood, thinking about his extra portion of Goldfish Crackers when he got home.

In this toddler’s world, only other toddlers deserve justice. Adults, or those who are not cradled and swaddled in blankets and fed liquefied steak through straws must await a bad day when a toddler gets indigestion. The toddler can take a toy out of his chest of toys and aim it at the adult and whatever explosion of gore results will be forgiven. The toddler coos and the crowd laughs and the death and torture of others is overlooked or not acknowledged or maybe the adult deserved to die? Toddlers know what they are talking about. Toddlers can do no harm. Toddlers serve and protect. Toddlers know about the world because it has always been good to them. It has always kissed their booboos and forgiven them when they break mommy’s vase. They accumulate more toys and while they haven’t figured out the square toy with round holes they have a committee looking into it.

It’s an important concept, and I can’t say I’ve yet done it justice. So do I ditch it? Do I give up under the overwhelming pressure of my ineptitude? Do I let my vanity save it and put it out there anyway? I haven’t found that balance yet in my writing, but I hope one day I will.

What about you?


Christina Scott is a graduate of the MFA writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in Spry Literary Journal, The Quotable, Maudlin House, Riding Light, and Animal Literary Magazine. She teaches college English classes in Westchester County, New York.