Archive for the ‘Literary Life’ Category

Kerri Webster wins Whiting Award

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

It’s always sweet when one of our past contributors gains recognition for his or her outstanding work. That happened in a big way this week.

Huge congrats to Kerri Webster for winning the Whiting Award! Kerri was one of four poets to receive the honor this year, along with the cool 50K that comes with it. (Not too shabby.)

Kerri was our featured poet in our Summer / Fall 2011 issue with five — count em five! — poems. Here’s a brief taste from one titled “Diorama.”

See the cross-section opened on loss
so big you could charge admission? Hole
in the ceiling for the tree to grow through. Something
nests in the radiator. I don’t climb up.

Details on the Whiting Award here.

Summer Reviews Roundup: The Curfew

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

 

“William ate the rest of his lunch in silence. He put what he had learned in a box and he shut that box. To do otherwise would be to give signs that he had learned something, some new information, and such behavior—indicative of new information—is what alerts those who are looking for traitors. He could not even consider having learned that which he had learned, which after all was practically nothing. Just an idea, a hope of an idea. Away with it for now.”

The Curfew takes place in a city of invisible tyrants—a city where people go missing and grandmothers shoot police officers. Add to this a lost mother, a mute daughter, a father on a quest, and a puppet show. Jesse Ball (The Way Through Doors) creates a modern fable, nests and chops his narratives so that his reader is always pleasantly dislodged. Perhaps because of his background in poetry and art, Ball has meticulous methods of placement and composition. This book feels like something that was not written but put together from raw materials. Asides and observations mix with the story, and so The Curfew is full of aphoristic, fantastical flashes: “There is a theory that the sun is made up of thousands of suns arranged in a war against the others. It is a discredited theory, but it has never been disproven.” Think of this book as a novella and a sketch, a poem and a collage. It is pieces put together for a reason, and in the middle of it all there is still the story—a father who gives everything to keep his daughter safe, a daughter who reaches for anything within her power to learn her father’s fate—acting as a warm human thread that is never subsumed.

Cat Richardson, Managing Editor

Summer Reviews Roundup: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton, forward by Maxine Kumin

Mariner Books

ISBN-13: 978-0395957769

Here we are presented with an unflinching account of one of the great, highly original confessionals, illuminated in no small part by Maxine Kumin’s introduction. This is a practical tome, a Sexton survey that is best read in twenty-page doses. It’s also a striking concordance of her poetics; the ability to track the devices which constitute Sexton’s sensibility may prove its most useful aspect. We follow her wary sojourn towards God—“God is in your typewriter,” she was told—where her most scathing surrealism emerges: “Jesus was fasting. / He ate His celibate life. / The ground shuddered like an ocean, / a great sexual swell under His feet.” We follow her rhyming as it develops from a decorative stand-in for gravitas to a resonant, architectonic feature; in Love Poems (1969), this utterly conversational musicality reaches its culmination in tandem with gripping lineation. Sexton then turned to the mythic, reworking all manner of fable and fairy-tale in preparation for her later poems, which tackle her Christian mythology with a taut, peculiar faith. Her poetry is particularly suited to the frenzied asymptote between the cerebral and the carnal, piety and appetite: “For they fling together against hardness and somewhere, in another room, a light is clicked on by gentle fingers.”  She finds curious objects which fulfill the dual role of holy symbols and meals, arranging them in absurd litanies as befits her taste for the liturgical cadence, if not the precise content.

To be sure, there are many clunkers once everything is considered. There are times when Plath’s rigor might have benefitted Sexton’s lines a great deal: “Angel of hopes and calendars, do you know despair?” Her fierce dedication to the actuals of the body (genitalia and all), while necessary, will not always be appreciated. She also has a tendency to wring a certain turn of phrase dry if it works once—her catalogue of sea-actions ages quickly, as does her taste for possessives. These, however, can’t touch the resplendence of the greater portion of her output, characterized mostly by successful poem-cycles. While she championed the self as an inexhaustible reservoir, meanwhile asserting the female voice with formidable creative energies, it is clear that her genius rests on neither confessionalism nor feminism alone. To borrow Kumin’s phrase, Sexton has earned her place in the canon by advancing the frontiers of the English language’s unique poetic territory: diction both brutal and sinuous, ritualization, mythmaking, and the talent for extrapolating Place from Self.

Peter Longofono, International Editor

Summer Reviews Roundup: Creatures of Habit

Saturday, September 17th, 2011
Creatures of Habit by Jill McCorkle
Shannon Ravenel Books
ISBN-13: 978-1565123977

Each of the twelve short stories in Creatures of Habit pulls you in deep and quick, and each contemplates the basic, animal aspects of human behavior. They’re set in small-town North Carolina and feature, among other characters: a neighborhood witch and her turd-throwing monkey, a senile and murderous nursing home resident, a husband-snatching next-door neighbor, and a woman on a honeymoon with the wrong guy. It’s dirty, human stuff—reality TV stuff—brilliantly nuanced and rendered by the skillful Jill McCorkle. I met Jill McCorkle this summer at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. In the words of Mike Yanagita, she’s such a super lady. She’s been compared to Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, and I think the comparisons are merited. McCorkle’s insanely good at getting people right:  she unearths the most subtle and troubling aspects of human endeavor in her stories, and deftly exposes the humor in human frailty. Her prose is clear and confident, honest and funny, and very, very Southern. Highly recommended!

Mary Block, Interviews Editor

Summer Reviews Roundup: Climate Reply

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011
Climate Reply by Trey Moody
New Michigan Press
ISBN-13: 978-1934832264

These poems occur in a forest of sorts. These poems occur at night.

Trey Moody’s poems aren’t nature poems in the traditional sense—that is, they’re not clear heirs apparent to the works and poetic lineages of Wordsworth, Thoreau, and (to a lesser extent) Whitman—but are instead indicative of a newer, hybridized breed of poem that simultaneously inhabits the natural and human spheres. Trees abound, but so do kitchen utensils. “The loud knives // gleam along the forests” Moody writes in “The Listener, the Land,” and the encroachment of each world on the other gives the reader the sense of having stumbled upon a rusted-out mechanical relic in the woods at night. Or, equally plausibly, an oak tree mysteriously growing through his kitchen floor in the pre-dawn hours of the morning.

Moody’s poems also separate themselves from traditional nature poetry in the same way that Whitman’s, and later Frost’s and Glück’s, do: the inclusion of human beings and human agency. “When I open the fridge // in the middle of the night, I can hear / you thinking behind me,” Moody writes in the fourth section of “Dear Ghosts,” titled “Hum of the Fridge Like Thought.” Ghostly presences persist through Moody’s poems, presences the narrator “misse[s]… the most” and whom he entreats to “knock once if you believe // in structural security, twice / for mutual relationships.” While domestic images—light bulbs, refrigerators, cellars—contribute to the dual sense of interiority and exteriority in Climate Reply, the clincher is the human element, the component of the collection that makes the dialogue implied in its title possible. Who’s replying to the climate? To whom is the climate replying?

Trey Moody’s book doesn’t answer these questions, but it does complicate and compound them: echoes respond to echoes, people talk to the night sky, bodies commune and communicate with bodies. These poems are equal parts visceral and surreal, expansive and personal, and if you can’t read poetry alone in the woods at night, reading Climate Reply in your kitchen at 2:00 am may just be the next best thing.

Eric Weinstein, Poetry Editor

The Future

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

We are just three days away from the start of a new school year, and while that makes us sad, it also makes us happy, because our new masthead is kick-ass and we’re about to rock you hurricane-style with our plans for the future. One of the things getting revamped is our blog, which we hope to use as a platform to connect with you, lovely readers, writers, and contributors.

What you can expect to find:

  • Interviews with writers you’ve heard about and writers you might be hearing about for the first time but will certainly hear more about in the future.
  • Updates on our brilliant masthead and the books on their bedside tables.
  • Book news. LOLcats News. Weather News. News about My Lunch.
  • Poetry and prose from our slush pile that’s too good to go unshared.
  • Dispatches from behind the frontlines of the NYC/NYU literary scene. (In other words, what I saw when I spent all night in the corner closest to the wine table.)

There will be guest bloggers, there will be book reviews, and there will be whatever else you want to see here. If you have any suggestions for content, email me at: onsqublog@gmail.com.

My name is Julie Buntin. I’m a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at NYU, and I’ll be posting here regularly.

Getting the Most out of a Workshop

Monday, April 18th, 2011


 The workshop: where great stories get made.

Are you currently in a writing workshop, or have you been in one in the past? Most writers have lived through and learned from a workshop at some point in their careers, and it’s always an interesting experience. I personally love workshops (almost) all of the time. They’re enormously helpful, allowing me to recognize problems in my writing that I couldn’t see with my own subjective eye. They’re also a great source of support; many times now, another student has pointed out some virtue of my writing that I wasn’t aware of, making me see my own writing in a new light.

Sometimes, however, writing workshops can go wrong, and can be enormously frustrating, demoralizing, or just plain confusing. Have you ever watched students debating over your work, or getting wrapped up in one small logistical point? Have you ever left a workshop feeling more confused than when you went in? Here are a few guidelines for getting the most of your workshop.

1. Listen and take notes; analyze them later.

When your story is workshopped, you have the wonderful opportunity to hear other people thoughtfully discussing your writing. This is not the time to argue with them! You have no role in this discussion; only your writing is being discussed, not you. If there is some point that must be clarified, tough! It should have been clear in the writing itself. While the discussion is going on, stay quiet and listen to what is being said. Take notes so that you can remember both the good and the bad later when you are revising. It will also help you stay objective in your memory of the workshop; you may think the workshop went horribly, but if you write down the positive comments as well, you’ll be able to see the good with the bad later. Once the discussion is over, you may want to answer a few questions if it is part of a larger work or if your classmates are curious about something, but there’s no need to be defensive or argumentative.

After the jump: making the most out of questions.

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Tell Your Character What to Do!

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Today’s post is in the form of a writing exercise. It’s an exercise that has been so popular among my students and fellow writers that I must share it here as a way to revitalize your current projects or begin a new one. It’s pretty simple: you have to tell your character what to do.

You probably have read Jamaica Kincaid’s short piece “Girl”, which is a list of instructions for a girl that gradually becomes a story about womanhood and growing up. (You can read it here: Bedford St Martins). It is a delicious, wicked, and ultimately poignant examination of the expectations we make of girls and the limitations we simultaneously impose on them. All of that comes in a simple list of instructions about cooking, cleaning, and behaving well. As I read this piece again, I am reminded how stories are everywhere. They are in every face you see on the street, every commercial you watch on television, on every scrap of paper with someone’s grocery list on it fluttering in the breeze. Stories are in the doodled margins of library books, in bathroom wall scratchings, and in every elevator where one button more than the others has been polished smooth by hands. Stories are wherever evidence of human life exists.

So here is my challenge to you: write a piece that is a set of instructions or is entirely in the imperative to someone, telling them how to do something or why they need to do it. If you already have a story/novel going, you can address it to one of your characters, turning the instructions into a story about something important they need to learn or become. You’ll begin to see how your concrete instructions are really telling a story about something much less concrete, telling us about a culture or an expectation or a life.

And if you want to do it in poem form, read this poem that I love, which is similarly a set of instructions for living: “On Living”. This poem always makes me feel both grief and joy; it is a keenly expressed call for engaged living. Perhaps your instructions will speak to your own opinions about what a person must do to live a fulfilling life.

And just to get you started, your first sentence has to start with “you must.”

Tools for Better Netting

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

There is a whole suite of tools I use to manage the internet; the most important thing I’m looking for in this area is to keep the internet in check and prevent it from interfering in my or my creative life. That’s why many of my favorite software with regard to the internet is software that pushes the internet away and makes it manageable. Today I’d like to feature my favorite internet-managing applications. Click the icon images below to visit their sites and learn more about them.

Quiet Read
My first weapon in my arsenal for keeping the internet at bay, Quiet Read is an absolutely essential application for heavy internet users who don’t want to be puled into reading everything the moment they click a link. When I find something I want to save for later, such as an interesting article, an item I want to buy, or a link I want to send to someone else later, I drag the link over the icon in my menu bar. It’s as simple as that. Later, I can click the little coffee mug in my menu bar, and a list of my saved links will be right there, ready for further reading or processing. Quiet Read is how I save links for posting on Twitter among other things; it’s a fantastic way to push the internet away and read an article when I want to, instead of when I must.

After the jump: more great internet-management apps.

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The Business of Being a Writer

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

It’s funny how being a writer is changing these days. In the olden days, all a writer had to do was write; after a little wrangling to get a publisher, an in-house editor, an agent, and a publishing house would take over all the other work that was required. Now that the internet has kind of exploded over all of our lives, though, the business of promotion and creation has changed dramatically. Most publishing houses don’t do the work of pairing an editor with a writer for a long-term relationship anymore; it’s mostly up to the writer to produce a polished work. And they’ve even left some of the work of self-promotion up to the writer as well. Writers are in a much better position nowadays if they blog or have friends with blogs or have some sort of online presence. You should be Googling yourself regularly, they tell us, and you must control what those search results are very carefully.

A post from this freelance writing website talks about being a 21st century writer and about the three hats of writer, editor, and marketer that a writer must wear nowadays. The site is mostly for copywriters or non-fiction bloggers, yet I was struck by how the world if fiction is converging with these types of writers more and more. We have to be aware of the business of writing far more than writers in the past, aware of what sells, able to advertise and pitch our writing, able to promote ourselves, using email chains, twitter posts, facebook messages. Is this a necessary part of being a 21st century fiction writer, or can some writers still make it without all this internet presence stuff?