A good book

Photo by Josh Antonio

This week, we asked our editors: If you had the opportunity to have your work read by one person, who would it be?

Annie Bilancini
Associate Editor, Fiction
Cleveland, Ohio

Out loud? Vincent Price. Quietly to themselves? Malala Yousafzai.

Amy Hansen
Associate Editor, Poetry
Sycamore, Illinois

My gran. She put me through college, even when I dropped a very practical major to study writing instead. She passed away before I wrote anything I wanted to share, but I wish she could see that I’m doing the thing.

Ben Kinney
Associate Editor, Fiction
Fife Lake, Michigan

Since I was an undergrad, I’ve had a fantasy of Stephen King reading something I wrote and telling me he was entertained by it. He’s currently in his late sixties, and although he’s healthy (and hopefully will write for at least the next thirty years), one of my main drives for writing things now is to make sure he will someday know who I am.

Stephen Wardell
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction and Poetry
Williamston, Michigan

Every night at bedtime I want Werner Herzog to dictate to me everything I’ve written that day. Then tuck me in.

Patricia Killelea
Poetry Editor
Alameda, California

Paul Celan and Jim Morrison, but not at the same time.

wait… yes: at the same time.

Jacque Boucher
Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

I want Justin McElroy to read every bad poem I’ve ever written trying to joke about my (sometimes-crippling) anxiety. Then maybe fistbump me. I’m not sure what the proper way of communicating solidarity over these things is.

Jen Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

Sometimes the people I want to read my stories and the people I hope never read my stories are the same people.

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stones, black and white

Photo by Jos Von Wunnik

This week, we asked our editors: what are your favorite and least favorite words?

Jacque Boucher
Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

Favorites: Loquacious, vivisect, shoulder, guts

Least Favorite: Lover, twitch, slit, lure

Amy Hansen
Associate Editor, Poetry
Sycamore, Illinois

Favorite: till as in to plow

Least favorite: lover

Jen Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

I do not like when things or people quiver, though it’s a solid enough noun when used to indicate an arrow holder. I love suss. Why does Microsoft Word always red-squiggly underline it? It’s a real word!

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Sandusky, Ohio

Favorite: bricky, irregardless, JCPenney’s.

Least: poignant, quirky

Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

Favorites: revel, savor, luminescent, cling, visage, and crave. I dislike vague words (though I like the word vague) and the words cry, tears, and suddenly.

Sarah David
Associate Editor, Fiction
Minocqua, Wisconsin

I really like how all these words look and sound: blizzard, revel, ambiguous, horizon, telepathy, moonlight, autumn…I have more favorites, I’m sure. I don’t like “moist” or “whine” (though I like wine).

Matt Weinkam
Managing Editor
Cincinnati, Ohio

My pet peeve is any version of the word “thrum.” It’s pretentious and calls attention more attention to itself than it does to the sound it attempts to describe.

Monica McFawn
Fiction Editor
Whitehouse, Ohio

I love the word “bluff,” this definition:”good-naturedly direct, blunt, or frank; heartily outspoken” I like people like that, too, and there isn’t really another adjective that describes that quality. It’s an archaic usage but should come back. Words I hate? Probably the two word combo “years before” Bothers me when it is used as a transition, and I don’t like the sound, either.

John LaPine
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Ishpeming, Michigan

Favorites: orbit, zenith, cells, sluice, crush, sunbeat, apex, salacious

Least: “in today’s society,” “most people believe”

Willow Grosz
Associate Editor, Fiction
Talkeetna, Alaska

favorite: grey

least favorite: gray

Ashely Adams
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

There’s an under-appreciated poetry in scary science words/phrases (yeah I’ll cheat a little). Some of my favorites are: Laurentia, coronal mass ejection, extirpation, penumbra. Also hellbender (a species of giant salamander) and warmouth fish. As for least, I wouldn’t say I HATE this word but I’ve always struggled saying the word three. As a kid I’d always turn the “th” sound into an “f” and make it free and I was super insecure about it. I still trip up on it today.

Sara Ryan
Associate Editor, Poetry
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Favorites: bone, illusion, grip, bread, blood

Not favorites: foam, slit, rut, glob

Alex Clark
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Rosebush, Michigan

My favorite is Persnickety…it’s a nice descriptor and it feels really satisfying to say.

My least favorite is solicit. I don’t know why.

Patricia Killelea
Poetry Editor
Alameda, California

Least favorites: “hegemony” and “jubilant”

Favorites: “stone” and “gruntled”

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Puffy White Clouds

Photo by Tom Raven

Editor-in-chief Jennifer A. Howard on today’s bonus story: I have a thing for unlawful writers, writers who trespass genre boundaries and who steal forms. Here, Kate Imbach rips off what might seem the most tedious of shapes – the school essay. In less careful hands, such thievery leads at best to a quick joke, but she builds instead a story of full of heart and humor and sadness and danger. Imbach is a hooligan of the highest order.

Write an Essay About Your Favorite Family Member

I’m not sure if you’ve met my brother? He’s worked at the Dairy Queen for the last two years. He’s met pretty much everybody. At the supermarket he’s always nodding and saying things like, “Good morning Mr. Anderson, how’d Kelsey do on her finals?” Everyone in town says my brother should be the mayor. “If you don’t run off to college and forget all about us,” they say, winking at him as he hands over their Oreo Blizzards. As if we have enough money for college. As if anyone has enough money for college.

We went to the library one day and looked up the mayoral age requirement. It was twenty-five or thirty. I forget. It doesn’t matter because either way that’s a lifetime from now. We closed the little book of local statutes and haven’t mentioned it to each other since.

It used to be a fun joke between us. It made blood pound in my ears. If Sam could have been elected mayor at twenty or whenever, sometime soon, he would’ve had a solid paycheck and important friends in town, the red-faced old guys who own the restaurants and lumberyards. I would’ve worked in a town office. My desk would’ve been covered in important papers and official stamps. I would’ve forged Sam’s signature on the commendations for police officers and all the old people who lived to be 100, stuff like that. Sam would’ve been too busy for paperwork.

It’s not going to happen. The dream is over. The years between now and when Sam could run for mayor are the years when everything will go wrong. Law breaking, drugs, drinking, jail a few times, prison for a few years, who knows? He’s a boy so his adult trouble will be unique in the details. It’s different for girls. Girls don’t get to run around shooting up, stealing cars and evading the cops. They don’t get to know the secret tunnels of this town, the holes cut into chain-link fences by drug dealers. Girls get pregnant before they even get to be criminals, before they even get their adrenaline going.

Sam is tall and cute. He has clear blue eyes and a flop of brown hair. He’s athletic. All of his strength is practical. He’s built for carrying big bags of trash out to the dumpsters behind fast food restaurants.

Girls love Sam. I keep begging him not to get anyone pregnant. He acts like I’m being gross. I think he’s being gross.

We have a mountain behind our house. Actually that’s what I’d like to say but since you’re from town I guess I can’t really make the hill out to be a mountain. I’m talking about our dumb regional park. The trails, if you haven’t been there, are sad and dusty. Fat women in sweatpants – as though they might break a sweat – walk their little dogs on the main trail, the one that circles the base of the hill. That walk is about as arduous as a trip from the couch to the fridge. Sam knows them all from Dairy Queen.

Sam and I like to run to the top of the hill. He runs the whole way and I stop a couple of times with my hands on my hips to breathe. By the time I reach him at the summit – that’s what we call it, but I don’t know if it’s high enough to technically be called that – he’s lying down on top of his shirt. He says the grass is itchy. I say maybe he should just leave his shirt on. I know he’s trying to show of his abs, but I don’t say that. He scoffs, like since he’s three years older than me he has access to some ancient wisdom about grass that I’ll never understand.

Sometimes he acts like he’s smarter than me. I let him go on thinking that. It’s ok that he’s not. Sometimes you have to let boys think they’re the smart ones.

We thought that that day we went to the library together would be special. We thought we’d start his campaign. Instead we wound up sitting on the summit together like we always do.

“We are wasting years here,” he said.

“It’s only been like an hour,” I said.

We were lying next to each other, looking up at puffy clouds. Everything felt kind of tense. I knew he was crushed about the mayor thing. I had to say something.

“Want to race to the bottom?” I asked.

“We already are,” he said. He laughed and tugged my ponytail hard, like he used to do when we were kids. He ran off down the mountain. I had to carry his stupid sweaty shirt all the way home.

Kate Imbach is a writer living in San Francisco, California. She used to work in tech startups. She also has a Master’s in Public Administration, which is only one letter away from an MFA. Her work has been published in Word Riot, Jersey Devil Press, and Axolotl, among others. You can read her work on kateimbach.com and follow her on Twitter @kate8.

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gazing

Photo by Dave Campbell

This week, we asked our editors: How does the day (or week) you’re having affect your writing?

Alex Clark
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Rosebush, Michigan

I’m trying to get better at writing through painful times and bad weeks. I recently went through a break-up and–man this is going to sound cliche’–school and my writing projects were the only things that kept me going while I was between apartments and handling my own heartbreak. I think this is usually how we all start writing-as a coping mechanism. And I think, somewhere in my life, I filled that need with other things. Now, I’m trying to get that back because I think you can create powerful work out of your dark days and, in turn, creating powerful work can make those days better. During bad weeks, I’m trying to focus on less emotionally draining projects, projects about things I love, projects that let me get lost in fun, beautiful, language. That was a long way of saying, yes, the week I’m having does affect my writing, but perhaps it drives me to stop picking at fresh wounds and start building pieces that are fun and playful.

John LaPine
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Ishpeming, Michigan

My best writing comes out of the cold, dark, icy, bitter, frigid winter months. No pain, no prose.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Sandusky, Ohio

I suffer from SAW or seasonal affective writing which in many cases results not only in the individual and their unmotivated response to living but can also pervade ecosystems in close proximity to the writer. Early onset SAW is observed in individuals who regularly sigh at inopportune moments at work, in bed, and after returning home at two in the afternoon, misappropriating the time they have left until the subsequent business day, binge watching aimless comedy pilots slated to air after the harsh South Park time slot on Comedy Central via any number of streaming services.

Annie Bilancini
Associate Editor, Fiction
Cleveland, Ohio

I can only write from a place of joy, so if I’m feeling low or overwhelmed during a given week, it’s likely that my writing will either be pretty rough or non-existent.

Ethan Brightbill
Associate Editor, Fiction
Allentown, Pennsylvania

I can be in a happy place and write, but my best stuff frequently comes from a particular kind of despair resulting from feeling like I’m not getting anywhere in life; the writing ends up counteracting it. The results are great, but I’m nevertheless glad it’s uncommon.

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Untitled

Photo by Jessica Lucia


PN’s Hayley Fitz on today’s bonus story: Shane Kowalski’s “Dreaming Dog” somehow accomplishes the tightrope walk between cozily familiar and fabulously unique. I’ve been in this bedroom before, asking or being asked about names of things and wondering where twitching paws took pets when they slept. But Kowalski packs this story with a sincere complexity simmering just below the surface. This is not a conversation I’ve had before.

Dreaming Dog

We were having a discussion of my dog’s name in bed. Her name was Wanda and she was a lawyer and she wanted to know if I had named my dog after Martin Luther King Jr. or Martin Luther.

Who? I said.

Your dog’s name is Martin Luther, she said.

Yeah, I said.

So it has to be one, she said. She was getting very fervent with me and I felt guilty.

We were just lying in bed after a good time filled with a lot of touching and I had practically forgotten about Martin Luther. When she first asked me about his name, I almost said, What dog?

She looked at me. I looked at her, trying to feel her out. Then I looked at Martin Luther, who was sleeping in the corner.

Does it make a difference? I said.

Kind of, she said. Yes.

I told her I didn’t name him. Which was the truth. I got him from a shelter, and miraculously at that, since I had no prospects at the time and I was living in an apartment in that terrible small city that was just eh. I had the sense the shelter just wanted to dump him on someone—wash their hands of him. He was an old dog, with a wobbling walk, and he seemed to have a canine form of Tourette’s. He’d howl depressively at nothing or anything during the day. It would wear him out by the evening and he’d sleep like a dead dog through the night. I considered changing his name when I got him, to kind of, you know, make him my own. But then thought: How rude would that be? After nine years, what kind of a jerk changes the sound a dog knows himself by? Who was I even to name something?

What would you have named him if you did? Wanda said.

You ask hard questions, I told Wanda.

Then I puffed up my pillow and let my big head slowly sink back into it. Wanda, thinking of her next question, watched me do this.

In the corner the dog was fast asleep. He snored and his one good paw moved now and then. He was dreaming now. He had just been barking it seemed and watching the intercourse on the bed, but now he was dreaming of dancing tennis balls in hula skirts, of cars that slowed down and talked in baby voices, of gods with hands used only for petting.

Shane Kowalski is a fiction writer in Cornell University’s MFA program.

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Color TV, Plate 3

Photo by Thomas Hawk

This week we asked our editors: What TV are you watching right now?

Amy Hansen
Associate Editor, Poetry
Sycamore, Illinois

Right now, in the last semester of graduate school, for some reason, I’m really into shows about people with really secure jobs. I’m watching the new season of Parks and Rec this week thinking, “Yeah, I could definitely direct something. I have skills like Leslie Knope. For example, I eat waffles, too. This is fine.”

Sara Ryan
Associate Editor, Poetry
Ann Arbor, Michigan

I WATCH SO MUCH TV. I’m currently watching Top ChefFixer UpperEllen’s Design Challenge, and basically all remaining Food Network and HGTV shows. Otherwise, I’ve been watching The 100, Making a Murderer and New Girl on Netflix. I LOVE TV SO MUCH.

Jacque Boucher
Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

Much like my taste in music, my taste in TV stopped maturing around 2009. Hayley Fitz and I spent a good deal of last semester watching Dexter, and now we’re watching House. This has the added bonus of reminding me of my sister, who’s also a huge fan of the show, so it helps with the homesickness.

Rachael Belmore
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Marquette, Michigan

I waste way more time lately on playing FB games while listening to Broadway soundtracks than I do on TV, but I did make it to season 10 of Grey’s Anatomy over the break. Now that school’s back in, I’ll watch an episode every couple of days when I’m at the gym; it helps me to pass the time and to ignore any social urges that might sweep over me uninvited. Smiling and waving at people I know is overrated.

Stephen Wardell
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction and Poetry
Williamston, Michigan

The original Star Trek. I keep getting tricked by other life-forms, feeling lonely and self-important, and making controversial decisions about the future of this planet as commander of the Enterprise.

Robin McCarthy
Managing Editor
Belfast, Maine

I forgot to watch TV in the aughts, so I’m catching up with Gilmore Girls right now. My long term relationship has gone long distance this year, so I’m pretty much dating the Lorelai’s right now. They help me decompress at the end of the work day, have dinner with me, and are usually the last people I see before I fall asleep.

Alex Clark
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Rosebush, Michigan

Nurse Jackie. I come from a family of strong women-who all happen to be nurses and though the show isn’t exactly realistic in its portrayal of how a hospital runs, it is spot on about the personality traits required for the job.

Annie Bilancini
Associate Editor, Fiction
Cleveland, Ohio

I’ve been watching iZombie and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend lately. One is about a woman who is a crime-fighting zombie and the other is about a woman who hallucinates high-quality musical productions multiple times a day. Both are exquisite and both explain my relationship to reality fairly accurately.

Stanley Hudson
Associate Editor, Fiction
Marquette, Michigan

Will I lose any man points if I say that I’m watching Avatar: The Last Airbender? Because that’s what I’m doing, and if you don’t like that I will fight you.

Fisticuffs aside, Avatar was a neat little exercise in world building when it first came out, and it still is. As a fiction writer, I can appreciate building worlds—organic, expansive worlds—and making them work with dynamic and charming mechanisms.

Karl Schroeder
Associate Editor, Poetry
Buckhart, Illinois

Antiques Roadshow. Come for the history lesson, stay for the subtle twinges of suppressed and growing rage as people slowly realize that they were put on TV because their antique is fake.

Paige Frazier
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Louisa, Kentucky

Just finished season 2 of Transparent. Phenomenal. It makes dysfunctional living look super cool.

Ben Kinney
Associate Editor, Fiction
Fife Lake, Michigan

I’ve been obsessed with Survivor since I was in middle school, and recently I have begun rewatching all the seasons again. Despite being so into the show that I remember who wins every challenge and who gets voted out on every episode, I still find myself hoping that things might turn out differently. On a re-watch, you have time to look for the little things: the nuances of character you missed on the first go-around, or the hands of the crew sometimes finding their way into a shot. That’s worth 400 hours of your life, right?

Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

I’m watching the old Twilight Zone episodes. Some inspire me, some wow me, and others help me fall asleep :)

Sarah David
Associate Editor, Fiction
Minocqua, Wisconsin

I’ve become oddly addicted to House Hunters of various varieties, like the International one. I do not currently own a house, but I apparently like watching people hunt for them. Oh, and there’s an Island Hunters where people buy their own islands! This is seriously happening somewhere.

James Dyer
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Lowell, Michigan

I may not be a student anymore, but I feel as though I’m obliged to make a Leftovers plug here.

 

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Bank Spuiplein

Photo by Gerard Stolk


Hayley Fitz on today’s bonus story: I was chatting with some other editors while perusing our submissions queue when I found Christopher DeWan’s “Indestructible.” To be real, I was pulling it up with a bunch of other stuff and hadn’t meant to read it right then, but my eyes hit that first sentence and I couldn’t escape. I threw my laptop at the other editors like, whoa, stop what you’re doing, you have to read this. So, now we’re throwing this wild ride to you, dear PN readers. Take cover.

Indestructible

My mom says I’m a miracle because when I was eight I was diagnosed with cancer, a bad kind of cancer that no one survives, and I survived. She says I’m indestructible, that I can’t be killed, and she believes it. That’s why she’s got a gun pointed at my head while she robs this bank. “It’ll all be okay,” she tells me. I don’t know if it’ll all be okay, but we have to pay those doctor bills somehow.

Christopher DeWan has published stories in journals including A Cappella Zoo, Bartleby Snopes, DOGZPLOT, Jersey Devil Press, JMWW, Juked, Necessary Fiction, and wigleaf, and his story collection Hoopty Time Machines is forthcoming from Atticus Books. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Learn more at http://christopherdewan.com.

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Perception

Photo by Kirill Ξ/Κ Voloshin


PN’s Jason Teal on today’s bonus story: Darrin Doyle’s “The Lumping” is a cautionary allegory that thrillingly brandishes the first-person plural to dramatize a public assembly: “[The man] held our discontent within himself even as we tried to deny it,” the collective reports, and we struggle alongside the speaker(s) to grasp the elusive, visceral ideology that promises “the strange and tantalizing plateau of achievement that until this moment had not been conceivable.” Utterly consumed by the fiction’s true-to-life applications, we laugh guiltily as the lump runs unopposed for whatever office, placing a bombastic operator onstage to demonstrate technique.

The Lumping

By lumping, he said, we will become. Not by lumping on occasion, only when it is convenient, but with discipline and devotion, passionate at all times, with disregard for lesser obligations (clearly implying that every earthly obligation fell into this category). If everyone lumped three times a day, he stammered and sweated, ours would be a world of transcendence and joy. To lump is to live; to live, lump.

Naturally it would be difficult to make room in our lives for lumping. This he admitted as a wave of sadness passed over his face. Daily food shopping, arguments with husbands and wives, project reports due at the office, church gatherings, Tee ball games: such a plethora of distractions to be accounted for, to be superceded. Here he removed a towel from his back pocket, dabbed his glistening brow, and thanked us for our courage in joining him on this fine evening when we had thousands of other non-lumping activities competing for our attentions.

Our culture, he said (and we were quietly thankful he included himself as a member) would love nothing more than to leave us all unlumped. The lump had gotten a bad rap. It was misunderstood, villainized, mocked in the media. Bad press all around. Was this a mere coincidence, or could there be – he hesitated before uttering the word – a conspiracy? Uneasy chuckles passed through the crowd, but his face remained stoic, suggesting that he found the possibility quite feasible.

He said our modern bodies longed to be lumped. The natural order demanded it, in fact, but time had made us forget. Thousands of years ago we had lumped without thought, with scarcely any conscious effort, with as much ease as we now slid on a pair of pants. Once upon a time life consisted solely of lumped people going about their business wearing blissful expressions of satisfaction. Our intrinsic need and ability to lump had been bred out of us, through no fault of our own, across the generations.

But the situation wasn’t hopeless. His face lit with a mesmerizing smile, his eyes gleaming like polished stones. It would take diligence and dedication, he said, to retrain our primal instincts. We were soft, fragile beasts, spoiled and unchallenged by daily routine. Lumping, however, remained alive deep within us; what we needed was to simply tap into our recesses and let nature recapture the area where the daily grind had staked a bully’s claim.

By lumping, he panted, stepping delicately along the length of the wooden stage as we tried to keep our eyes on him while furiously lumping (a difficult task), not only would our bodies sweeten and tone, but our hearts would follow suit. We would, in effect, lumpify our souls. With lumping, all of the desperation we felt, all of the disappointments in life – the failed promotions, the bad hair days, the parking citations, the unhappy marriages – these trivialities would cease to matter. Transcendence for all. A lump is invincible, he exclaimed, because a lump is legion.

A crowd had massed steadily around the stage. The wind no longer stirred. Our hot breath poured from our mouths. Had it only been hours since we’d arrived? It seemed much longer. We tried to recall our homes, our families, our obligations, but the memories were gone. Our attentions were set upon reaching this goal – his goal – the strange and tantalizing plateau of achievement that until this moment had not been conceivable.

A gauze of darkness pressed upon us as twilight fell. All around, people pushed for purchase, trying to get as near as they could in order to hear the lumping instructions. Throughout the crowd the lumping became more elaborate, more desperate, as our proficiency increased while we sensed an encroaching end. Was the stage equipped with lights? What would happen when nighttime was total? What if nobody achieved full lumpness?

The space was cramped, neighbors knocking elbows and treading toes. The air hung ripe with the bouquet of sweat. Everyone studied the man, seeking whatever key movement would complete the lumping process. But we all still looked the same, just like ourselves: pale, unfit, and frightened. Surely we had not lumped, were not even close. What were we doing wrong? Were we even capable of full lump? Did we lack the proper passion, the devotion?

On stage the man had been silent for some time, merely lumping to himself and observing the gathering disorder with a watchful gaze. At first glance he appeared tranquil, but in the waning light his face resembled the dark skin of a pond. Beneath its reposed surface swirled life, containing multitudes, bearing each one of us: our concerns, our failures, our secret regrets. He held our discontent within himself even as we tried to deny it.

Perhaps, we thought, this was the true meaning of lumping: to finally lay bare our most private selves, to unite through the world of the hidden, the inner place where heretofore none could live but the architects themselves. A playground where lumps could frolic: no names, no identities, no bodily trappings.

His lumped body finally came to rest. The cage of his chest swelled and shrank like the pulse of the world. Yes, he said. Now you understand.

The darkness grew quietly across our eyes as the cold chill of night swept into our bones, and together we raised our hand to the sky.

Darrin Doyle’s most recent book is the story collection, The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books). He is the author of the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and teaches at Central Michigan University.

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meh, another blizzard..

Photo by Mike Beauregard

Winter has reached Marquette, and as the Passages North crew navigates through the first few weeks of snow, they reflect on this week’s question: How do you make it through the U.P. winters?

Sara Ryan
Associate Editor, Poetry
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Covering myself in a blanket made of cats. And lots of swear words.

Matt Ftacek
Associate Editor, Poetry
Niles, Michigan

The smug satisfaction I feel knowing I can go further south and loudly ask, “You call THIS winter?”

Ashely Adams
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

Hatred.

Jacque Boucher
Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

Exercise, lots of soups, and liberal understanding of the true definition of “naps.”

Alex Clark
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Rosebush, Michigan

Vitamin D and so.much.coffee.

John LaPine
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Ishpeming, Michigan

Caffeine in the mornings and alcohol at night!

I want to learn how to ski this winter because I’ve never done any winter sports, I want to try to get outside during our 3 hours of sunlight, and it would be an amazing way to get to class.

Deziree’ Brown
Associate Editor, Poetry
Flint, Michigan

Lots of Xbox.

Rachael Belmore
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Marquette, Michigan

Sheer willpower. I wrap myself in a jacket, no gloves, no hat, no scarf, and emerge angrily from the balmy cocoon of my apartment. I plow straight through the snow drifts that try in vain to stop my advance. “Come at me, bro!” I scream into the blasting wind, shaking my snow-covered fist in the arctic air. Reaching my car, I wrench the door open, savoring the death-crack of the ice seal I’ve broken yet again. Heater full-blast to campus, I can almost see through the windshield I’ve refused to clean off by the time I arrive. I brace myself for the next battle: the Icy Parking Lot of Doom.

Jen Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

Winter is a gift. You get to put on weight, and pjs at 5:00 some days, and waking up in the dark feels productive and wholesome even if it’s not technically that early. Also: a new season of The Bachelor always helps.

Stanley Hudson
Associate Editor, Fiction
Marquette, Michigan

I stumble around falling into snow banks and generally cast my loathing out like the heat of my snow-marred hatred will keep me warm — it doesn’t though, not for long, never for long, and eventually I collapse and pray for a quick death to a cruel deity that picks me up, pats me on the butt, and proclaims, with his booming, merciless voice: “you know, hot cocoa is a thing. You should try it out.”

Willow Grosz
Associate Editor, Fiction
Talkeetna, Alaska

Coffee, gym, coffee, routine, coffee, snowventures(!), coffee, long underwear, coffee, wine, winewinewine, chocolate, crying all the time.

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Baby marmoset with open mouth

Photo by Tambako The Jaguar

Six Feet

I’m swaying at a sweet spot: two beers and no dinner, red lipstick, and dim lighting that smudges the distinction between supportive colleagues and tipsy strangers wandering in. It’s December. The upstairs room at the brewery is all lacquered wood and beery congratulations on a successful end to the semester. Thirty-some faculty and students are gathered to celebrate the end of a workshop with a reading. And in that space, feet planted in shoes that trick me into believing I’m barefoot, I feel at home for the first time in over a year.

To put poetry on a page is a kind of practiced evisceration, like putting guts under glass in some private museum. Something else happens altogether when a poem becomes a thing that lives in the air, when the body of it can’t be ignored or internalized any longer. To speak a poem is to make a concert of diaphragm and lungs, of teeth and tongue and, yes, of the evisceration that brought it to life in the first place. To listen to a spoken poem, then, is to bear witness to a bodily triumph where the idea that “I’m sharing this with you” becomes equally as powerful as “I made my body do this for you.”

What does it mean to be the person sitting on the other side of that six-foot channel between poet and audience? If the act of giving, of making the body perform, is such an intimate one, then being an engaged audience member at a reading must be an onslaught, a standing still with hands open, an unwillingness to look away. When it’s over, both parties feel raw, energized, and at a loss for what to do with that one memorable line, that handful of intestine.

Before I came to the academy, I was a slam poet in Juneau, Alaska. Month after month, I put six feet between my body and the first row of chairs and filled it with whatever could fit in the three-minute narrative of a competitive poem. The first time I wrote about not being in love anymore, it was to twelve people in a vacant storefront in January. The first time I gave a name to my experiences with sexual assault, it was to a crowd of a hundred and fifty on a cold night in October. I can’t remember, but I think my dad was there. In return, I sat and listened while seven other poets pushed their traumas and triumphs into that same heavy air.

There are plenty of ways writer communities are formed: desire to share an intellectual space, hope for accountability, striving toward a similar goal. Each reason for its formation is as valid as the strength of its members. The community that is formed by the interplay between poet and audience member, however, doesn’t come from the same cerebral place. Instead, it’s a tacit understanding that two people—twenty people, fifty—have experienced a radical give and take that’s changed them. Maybe they’re hollowed out and half-drunk, looking for somebody to help them hold the caverns in their bodies together. Maybe they’re treading water, palms too full to take on any more than they already have.

In the past, I’ve struggled with how easy it is to think I know a writer based on a connection to their written work. I’ve struggled more with how suddenly I realize I’m wrong. That, at best, I’ve consumed the product of someone’s labor without giving anything in return, and we’re both no less alone than we were before. But when poetry lives in that six-foot space, a thing experienced instead of a thing consumed, poet and audience member stand on equal footing. The answer to “I made my body do this for you” is “I see you;” is “I’m listening;” is “You’re not alone.”

Jacqueline Boucher is an MFA candidate writing and teaching in Marquette, Michigan. Her work has appeared in Superstition Review, Split Lip, The Butter, and other magazines. She also serves as PN’s spoken-word editor. Send her your work here.

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