run

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

Starting Block

0.1  There is nothing about running that is simultaneous.

0.2  There is a correlation between running and writing: that when we put feet to pavement we put pen to paper—there is an activeness that is unspoken and silent; the way that my nerves twitch after finishing a run, the way that I feel an unseen force on the bridge of my nose on those rare days where the words unfurl themselves without a second thought of how to breathe, how to formulate whole sentences out of partitioned letters. This is what I have been told over and over: that the discipline required to take those two steps off of my front porch, make a hard right, & truly “begin” to run will somehow correlate to the act of “beginning” to write. I am uncertain as to what I should be expecting: is this a natural syncopation of things, or does it require something magical—something romantic—something that allows the two ghosts to keep pace.

0.3  “I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle—it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent—you don’t know it’s passing.” –Don DeLillo, The Paris Review

0.4  To write about running, I must run. When I first started running, I would write: all experiences were new to me—the sound of loose gravel, the lingering smell of exhaust after a truck speeds up to beat you through the crosswalk. This is the antithesis of long-distance training—the idea is to do the same thing over and over again until nothing is new—that when you run your race, no matter how many miles it may be, nothing will be surprising. There has been nothing new to come from any of this—even a fresh blister forming on the tip of my big toe is the result of the same act being repeated over and over again until the friction causes the layers of skin to separate. I have not been surprised in what seems like weeks.

0.5  I have been struggling with the idea of being a runner: that this is something that I could not possibly categorize myself as, despite running. One who simply runs is not a runner in the same way that one who simply writes is not a writer—there is something mythical about letting the action personify oneself, as if what we put out into the world envelops us in a slick film—that somehow the external actions become internalized until we become the thing that we do. I write. I run. I am terrified of my actions.

0.6  The Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavsky is considered to be the first person to describe what we now know as “method acting,” that is, attempting to create some sort of theatrical truth: the actor intends to embody the role that they are playing, taking the character out of the frame of the stage & bringing it out into the real world: actors never break character–they order coffee as their current role, they relocate, they live a different life than the one that has been afforded to them. In the same way, I write not to inform, but to make you understand what is occurring at this particular moment—not only what my thoughts are while scraping my heels up a particularly steep hill, but how the hill feels underneath my feet—how this is a merging of two concepts that should never meet.

0.7  “I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometime.” –Haruki Murakami

0.8  My training plan calls for brief walking breaks after I have run a certain amount of miles—I am asked to imagine that I am running a race & that there are tables of water, coolers filled with sports drinks. I am supposed to walk and sip—that when the time comes to actually perform, if I were to run and swallow water, I would take in too much air, that I would cramp up and float apart. Under any circumstance, I am not allowed to stop moving: all grabbings must be done in a swift motion—everything continues as it should. There is no room for an interlude here—no world to shake off in order to inhabit another for a brief moment. All energy is expended creating a future world where I am still running. There are small green cups on a make-shift table. There are large orange water coolers that need to be tipped forward to get the last drops. This is all that I can see. There is no luxury. I do not know what I think until I know it.

0.9  It was foolish of me to think that this would be simple: that the concept of finishing is attainable—I would end a run, & then I would write. Instead, I am both of these things at all times; it has less to do with being exhausted, but more to do with never feeling complete. The crawling is constant—the world described by others provides the artifice of fiction; that the blur of oak trees by the river can be one world, whereas the intricate details of a city that he fabricated can exist as another. I am stuck in the parallel—in the same way that despite timelines ending; despite the fact that it has been over a decade since my grandfather stopped running, stopped writing, stopped being a grandfather, stopped being of a world of which we are all familiar, there is no interlude; no moment where anything is forgotten. The lines are linear; constant. His presence is constant. This occurs over, and over, and over again. And yet there is no deviation—no way for them to ever cross. I am not given the benefit of the void when I run, but when it is over, I feel the heat in my eyes—the pulsating of all of the worlds trying to crawl back in.

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives & teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks & five full-length collections, ranging from Craigslist Missed Connections, to NBA Jam, to 8-bit video games, to computer viruses. This piece is from a memoir in progress about translating his grandfather’s book on long-distance running. Other sections from this project have recently appeared in Denver Quarterly, Catapult, Another Chicago Magazine, and The Rumpus.

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Milo napping

Photo by Chris Gladis

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff how they’re coping with end-of-semester stress.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Eating even more chocolate than usual, which is quite extreme behavior if we are being honest here.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

I take naps. Gosh naps. Shucks naps. Why naps. Naps inside of naps. Naps I can steal at work. Naps inside of thoughts. A nap now. A nap later. Look I’m napping. I have napped. I will nap. Napping is comfort. Napping is necessary. Napping is real. My cat naps less than me. I’m a burden to my nap schedule. My nap schedule dictates my life. If you call during a nap, forget about it. Good night every day, any time of the day. Why aren’t you napping this very moment? Will you nap already?

Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

Petting my cat until he gets annoyed, then petting my stuffed dog Patches.

Deziree’ Brown
Associate Editor, Poetry
Flint, Michigan

VIDEO GAMES. Always.

Brenna Womer
Associate Editor, Fiction

Paxil. (Thanks, Doc!)

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

Poorly, but I think it’s important to talk about, you know? I’m not coping well. My stomach is in knots, and my stress dreams have me standing in front of crowds in my underwear at least twice a week. But there are bright spots. I get to see my family for the first time in over a year soon. That’ll be amazing. Also, books? Sending out my manuscript? Remembering that poems can be fun?? Sign me up.

Jennifer A. Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

Thank you for assuming I am coping with stress.

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Hudson River view

Photo by Stanley Zimny

Two Ways of Reading a Book

And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade? —from “Two Ways of Seeing a River,” by Mark Twain

In his famous essay lamenting what is lost in the acquisition of knowledge, Mark Twain begins with a look at his own transition from a youth seeing the beauty of a sunset on a river to a man who can read omens in a “mark on the water” that signifies “a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat.” Twain ends his essay professing a pity for doctors and speculating as to whether physical beauty can still be appreciated by someone who has learned so much about the body.

We writers are encouraged to get degrees in our craft, to read essays on craft, and to read just about everything published in the genre of our craft. Does that necessitate a loss of our ability to see the beauty of the written word as crafted by another writer?

When I read Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—an epistolary novel structured as a series of letters—it struck me that this device choice enabled the authors to succinctly transmit details about World War II by having characters ask each other questions about their experiences, while weaving those details into the responses. Another device choice was the setting. With many of the characters located on the island of Guernsey—cut off from communication for much of the war—it became plausible for them to not understand references to common wartime terms, or to pose questions that would fill in further details about the war.

In consciously recognizing the importance of these device choices by the authors, I suddenly thought “I can no longer read a book without seeing the author’s hand behind it!” After studying and learning so much about the writing process, I realized that I can no longer read a book in only one way. I can no longer read merely for the pleasure of the act of reading.

When this struck me, I was temporarily concerned that I would never again read for pure enjoyment. Twain’s essay came to mind. But as I reflected on his pity for the doctor—and melancholy over the loss of his own ability to see the beauty of the river—it came to me that the pity was misguided. Just as there are “Two Ways of Seeing a River,” there also exist “Two Ways of Reading a Book,” and we should not have to restrict ourselves to only one.

For instance, all magicians know that they practice illusion. Magicians have sacrificed their ability to see only the “magic” of a magic show. They have learned the tricks-of-the-trade and can recognize them when watching fellow magicians perform. Yet, there are magicians who inspire the wonder of other magicians through the grace of their skills, and the art and charisma with which they captivate an audience. There are magicians who are so good that even other magicians can’t figure out how they do a particular trick. There are magicians who admire other magicians even though they themselves know the tricks.

And that is why, after much reflection, I have come to gladly accept and welcome my inability to read a book without noting the tricks-of-the-trade that are apparent to me as a fellow writer. Knowing the tricks has not taken away the magic of a book, but has enhanced it, just as I imagine the doctor—knowing all that he or she knows about the workings of the human body—can marvel that, despite all of the medical reasons it should not, the beauty of the human body continues to exist.

Bernadette Geyer is the author of The Scabbard of Her Throat (2013) and editor of My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology (2015). Her writing has appeared in 2015 Poet’s Market, Oxford American, Poet Lore, The Writer, and elsewhere. Geyer works as a writer, editor, and translator in Berlin, Germany. Her website is http://www.bernadettegeyer.com.

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Photo by Mason Witzel

With so much going on in the world, it can be difficult to remember how and why we found our way to prose and poetry in the first place. Trying to find his own answers, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff why should we care about writing.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

We should care about writing–and more specifically about creating a literary journal–because it means taking ownership of the curation and shaping of our small part in this cultural moment. This journal–any collection of literature–is literature on purpose, and our endorsement of something, our lifting it up to be babied and meticulously prepared and sent into the world, is an act of care that feels revolutionary to me. It’s the opposite of almost everything else that exists because everything about it speaks to an act committed with intention and thought and purpose. When the world is scary and feels random, I find deep comfort in that intentionality.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

Writing is resistance and promotes understanding of others, but it can just as easily pervert our best intentions. We need good writers, honest people with the best ideas for humans, speaking out, speaking for each other.

As much as we need writers, though, we also need readers concerned with engaging with this sort of writing. We need to foster a community of thinkers and better modes of communication, and writing, whether social media or fake news or real journalism, makes a real difference, as we’ve seen. We can no longer ignore this–we see where the new hostile right is targeting America, in its learning communities, brandishing false tirades against a blanket “political correctness,” rather than adapting thoughts in order to create spaces for everyone in your life.

The new right means to destroy empathy and caring. We writers and readers and thinkers are the front lines of the American conscience. We are the first they will seek to corrupt or shut down. We must resist. We must write. I will write. I will resist.

See also:
INBOUND 2016: Ta-Nehisi Coates Keynote

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My wife and I are afraid sometimes, for our own safety and our friends’. It’s been hard for us to turn away from the news, to disengage from media.

Often I think of writing as a way to engage with this fear and with the big questions I have about people and the world. To draw attention to things I care about and that trouble me. I write my way into and out of the problems I see around me, and it feels like a way to gain some insight and control. To make myself and other people think about the scary things.

But in the last week, my wife and I have turned back to literature as escapism – and that’s what it was for both of us as queer nerds for most of our lives – and it’s been amazing. We’ve been trying to read the same short stories and then talk about them as a way to talk about something other than the election results and articles everyone is sharing. It’s funny because the story we talked about today had queerness at its center and yet was a way more refreshing conversation than the doom and gloom we’ve been putting ourselves through.

I want to write things that help other people engage but also escape. And to help find writing out there that does that for me and can do it for others, too.

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Footprints in the Snow

Photo by rabiem22

On Writing through Grief

A flash of thunder belts the city as I lie on my loveseat, reading, my feet hanging off the edge, my head cocooned in a pillow. It’s a rainy Friday afternoon in Albuquerque. The spring weather is cool for a change, and my skin feels like skin, not the dried up carcass of a whiptail lizard I sometimes see along the sidewalks and dusty roadside gardens. I sang on my way to campus earlier this morning, listening to my iPod. No one was around as I walked down the street. So I figured, Why not? The tide is high, but I’m holding on. Relief. For no reason I can gather, I am calmer these last couple of days.

November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide by George Howe Colt arrived in the mail today. I couldn’t wait to start reading once I unwrapped it from the cheap plastic envelope. These days, I’m writing a memoir about my own enigma—my elderly father’s suicide nearly four months ago. Dad shot himself in the heart on his northern Wisconsin farm during a deep January freeze. He was distraught over his impending divorce from his third wife and in poor health. He decided he didn’t want to exist anymore. When I ordered the book, I told myself I was working to develop what one of my professors calls “a personal canon.” The idea is to know where your own book falls within the genres, how it “speaks” to other works created before it. But if I’m being honest with myself, I simply wanted the book because I find the topic of suicide fascinating now. Morbid but true. I ordered Night Falls Fast, a book about the suicidal state of mind, and this tome. November of the Soul is 536 pages without the notes and bibliography, but it feels surprisingly light in my hands.

When I returned to my graduate program shortly after my father’s funeral in January, I hoped to quickly move on from what had happened. From what my father did. I didn’t want to think about his choices and the impact he’d had on my life. But it didn’t take long to realize moving on quickly wasn’t an option. In life, Dad had been a difficult person. At 79, when he died, he was still often angry and had a terrifying need to be in control. On many occasions, he treated his daughters as superfluous, his sons as his to mold. But, in death, I was soon to discover, Dad would be no less of a challenge.

I underline a quote in the book’s preface: “We must meet the patients in the howling desert where the unfinished business of early childhood has left them.” That sounds right to me. My father’s childhood could certainly be described as a howling desert. His alcoholic father beat him in his early years, and, after his suicide, I learned a Boy Scout troop leader had molested him as a child. I don’t think he ever truly recovered from the abuse, though people who didn’t know him well would be surprised by that idea. He was a science teacher for decades, a vice principal at a large public high school when he retired. People respected him. Thought well of him. But his public persona was only one of many.

I skip ahead in the book and read stories about depressed teens who killed themselves and the anguished parents trying to cope with their deaths, and then turn to a section on suicide’s cultural history. In ancient Egypt, my father’s death would not have worried anyone. “Suicide,” Holt writes of the Egyptian man, “was not only an acceptable escape from an intolerable life, but a path to blessed immortality.” During the Roman Empire, my father’s death would have been a “glorious demonstration of his wisdom.” In feudal Japan, he would have been a man of principle had he only used a knife instead of a gun, and cut open his stomach. It was in Christian times that my father’s method of death became disreputable. Disgraceful. A sin against God. In seventeenth century England, my father’s estate would have been forfeited to the crown. To add greater shame, his body would have been buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. In France around the same time, his corpse would have been dragged through town, hung upside down and then thrown into a garbage pile.

What I like about these pre-modern views on suicide, even the grimmest ones, is that my father’s choice to die would have been acknowledged by a community. When he first killed himself, I had a hard time telling people what he had done. In those early weeks, I wasn’t aware that I was feeling shame—I was still too shocked. The word “suicide” is still considered impolite to mention among strangers. We don’t put the word in obituaries. We don’t post it on Facebook. We don’t speak the truth.

I turn to another section in the book, and the rain falls harder. The thunder shakes my apartment, reading from its own powerful script. After a while, hail begins to fall, forming piles, and slinking around the edges of the complex. I squint and the piles look like snow. Dad is snow. The thunder is a deep paternal voice warning me. But of what? I underline another quote in the book and get up to look out the window. The hail falls more quickly. The pile grows. Is Dad trying to bring winter back to me?

I sit down again. I don’t mind this reminder of Dad. It’s another ghost, but it feels friendlier than the ones I’ve encountered thus far. After I returned to Albuquerque from the funeral, I started seeing my father in all sorts of places. At the Flying Star Café a few weeks ago, he was two tables over. The month before, he was walking a dog in the park behind my apartment. For 10 minutes, I watched, fascinated, as my dad’s face faded in and out with another man’s features. A few days ago, I went to the grocery store, stressed out, and in a hurry. I stepped over a dropped plastic bag in the parking lot and when I looked up, I saw my Dad. He was ahead of me. He’d just left the grocery store and was walking fast. Looks like he’s on his way to the next-door hardware store, I thought. That would make sense. I almost laughed.

Grief hallucinations, that’s what these sightings are called, or “ghosts” to some. They often appear after a loved one dies—you can even see ghost pets. The more I read about this phenomenon, the more common I think it is. And depending on your religious background, I could see how someone might hope these sightings actually were visits from a loved one. But I’ve never felt that way. I’ve always known it was my brain, messing with me, filling a gap, searching for something in the void. Or in the words of a Scientific American article on the subject, “We unconsciously try to mold the world into what we have lived with for so long and so badly long for.”

But do I really long for my father? I didn’t long for him prior to his death four months ago. It was only in the last years of his life that Dad started reaching out to me, asking if I wanted to head out to a local pizzeria. Calling me more often. Writing longer messages in my birthday and Christmas cards. But I was always slow to call him back, and I never took him up on the offer to head out for pizza with him. It’s too late, Dad, I said to myself more than once. I was angry at all the years he didn’t seem to care. It was only now that he was in his seventies and had so much time that he was showing an interest in me.

At the grocery store that day, I quickened my step in the parking lot. “Dad’s” back was to me. I wanted to see his face. As I followed, I suddenly realized what made him look like Dad: the same balding pattern of hair.

This man was too narrow in the chest, too tall. I stopped walking. Another shopper nearly ran into me and then brushed past.

Don’t mind me, I said to the woman quietly. I’m just letting my dead father get away.

My ghosts are happening less often now. For the first two months after Dad’s death, they were daily, hourly. Now, if I’m careful not to step outside my routine too much, the ghosts stay away. Mostly. No need to stare too long at passersby to test this out. Read your book, Lynn. Keep your focus. You can outrun your ghosts. Never think about the snow.

#

I put aside the Enigma of Suicide and pick up Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The book has nothing to do with the grief canon, but I love Murakami’s writing. His best works leave me feeling like the world has mystery again. I was reading Murakami the day Dad died, and I don’t want that memory to overtake my other memories of Murakami’s work. When I first read The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, I was swept away. The main character plunges deep into the well, obliterating the day, closing his eyes to reality. I felt his every breath, every sensation of the dark, and I remembered my own weird experiences with wells: the memory of Baby Jessica, hearing her story on the radio when I was 10 years old. As Dad drove us to his house that weekend, the whole world seemed to be waiting, hoping for that little girl to live. How as a child later that year, my own father sent me down a well, my small hands and feet fitting into the metal catch where a sack of potatoes had fallen open. Was I in danger of slipping into the water? My memory resounds Yes! Though I don’t know that that is true. A dark sink of night held me captive as I handed potatoes to my father. The darkness had a shape and smelled of wet potatoes and the sleek drip from the concrete walls. A slippery wire grate was under my sneakers, but I knew what was really underneath me: Death. For a long time afterward, I made a wide arc away from that well cover, thinking of the physical darkness restrained within.

But Murakami is talking about the opposite of wells in this book. He is in Boston thinking about the clouds, the silver jets of neverthesame that he watches as he runs. I’ve lived in Boston. I’ve known those clouds. Here in the Southwest, the clouds are grander. More threatening.

When I first moved to Albuquerque to start graduate school, I borrowed a housemate’s bike and explored the streets and backways. It was August and the monsoons were still hitting the Sandia Mountains with ominous clouds. I’d see one forming on the peaks and think, My God, I need to get to shelter. I’d pedal as fast as I could back to the house, but the rain would never come.

As I read, I learn about Murakami’s journey as a runner, which is the other side of the coin from his writing. This is how you become a runner might as well be this is how you become a writer.

“…writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. When we set off to write a novel, when we use writing to create a story, like it or not a kind of toxin that lies deep down in all humanity rises to the surface … Those of us hoping to have long careers as professional writers have to develop an autoimmune system of our own that can resist the dangerous (in some cases lethal) toxin that resides within.”

Toxin? Have toxins been building up in me since I’ve been writing about my father? Discussing his unhealthy mind? Murakami’s way of destroying the toxin is to run, something I haven’t been doing much of lately. There are times I feel nauseated after a writing session. Seasick. Is this the toxin building within?

I’ll need a way to get rid of it if I’m to continue. I don’t think the naps I’ve been taking are cutting it. I want to finish this book and move on to others. As a writer, I’m a late bloomer at best—if blooming is what anyone can be said to do. At 37 when my father died, I had completed a novel, one I still think of fondly, and hug mentally from time to time, but I know that it has pretty big flaws. I’ve written short stories, none of them published. I’ve written poems. A few published. I’ve been half-assing it. Like my father? He was always trying new things, but rarely accomplishing what he set out to do. I’ve been putting things off, worrying that I’m not a good enough writer and in the process becoming a not good enough writer. And here is Murakami again, talking about the value of hard work.

“I’m all in,” I say out loud, to myself, and to the hail that wants to be snow.

L.L. Wohlwend grew up in northern Wisconsin, but now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of New Mexico’s Creative Writing program. She is at work on a memoir about her father’s suicide, the epigenetics of fate, and whether we can choose to be different from our parents. Her fiction has appeared in Midwestern Gothic and Strangelet Journal.

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Easels

photo by bruna camargo

Letting the Perfect Poem Go

For a long time, and still sometimes today, I get an image and a narrative of what writing looks like, that has a lot of staring, a vicious level of frustration, and a kind of titanic inward shudder that leads to a single, perfect sentence. Then, the writer masochistic enough to do that several thousand more times can end up with a set of “great” books. He or she might even loathe most of them, and leave just one for everyone else, maybe tastefully post-mortem. The key, mostly, is that relentless, painful focus on the single text, the book that must be written and can’t let anything else happen until it does, and involves, also, delving for truth, because that’s a big deal. It might be a Modernist image with Romantic roots, or it might just go back to some hair shirt vision of things that I keep getting, and getting to let go.

Some writers seem to work best when immersed in a single project, and I don’t seem to be one of them. When I started in SIU-Carbondale’s MFA program, Rodney Jones told me, “I like to keep a number of canvases wet,” and some version of the caricature in the first paragraph came to mind, along with a strong feeling of “well, I’m not going to be that kind of writer.” Along with that came some resolve to find the project, really probably the single poem, that would rate all of my attention for an admirable amount of time, and vanish into it as completely as I could. The problem was in trying to make that happen, while drafting sonnets and other exercise poems that were supposed to lead right there, giving shape to that thing–but them not wanting to go there, diverging in every conceivable direction and mostly ones that I couldn’t conceive, pointing toward tremendous possibility instead of reducing things to just one.

At that point, I was walking to the campus bookstore and buying brown paper journals with corrugated covers, then heading back to the little apartment at the back of a house that looked out on a back yard where the grass kept growing long, and the back yard next door held a white camper that someone had set on concrete foundations, while also nursing my dear, pet cat that I had never been able to name anything but Buddy, through his last days. Pursuing that single poem, that looked like it might never come, now that I look back, came from a numbing and understandable kind of drive to not look at how fast everything was changing for me, that he showed me most of all. He mostly slept, couldn’t keep much down, and moved gently, delicately, from the linoleum in the kitchen to the carpet in the bedroom, while his spine, under my hand when I’d pet him, served as the reminder that he’d lost a lot of weight. But I was there to write. Wasn’t I?

It also seemed like the stacks of books of poems that I checked out from the library presented me with relentless evidence of that single-minded labor, and my mind presented guilt that I wasn’t getting there, as if the fact that they had been printed in a book showed that a series of people, starting with the poet, had carefully assessed the hours of labor, level of inspiration, and elements in the poems themselves until an invisible, giant set of rules had been fulfilled, propelling it into Print.  And what I kept getting, as a writer, was more of that sense of enormous possibility that seemed like a sin somehow, a way of avoiding The Calling—that a dozen poems might not only show a dozen different approaches to poetry, but many more within those, and the simple fact of not knowing what was going to come in the next line.  A picture I have from that semester shows the dictionary of poetry terms that I read, its laminated cover worn tan, and Buddy helping me read by planting himself in my lap, all showing the beauty in that endless possibility—but wasn’t it frightening?

And where was he going, this friend of mine, after he left our life?  Did he have a soul?  Would it head somewhere else? By the time he did, in my second year of the MFA, I had what felt like a zillion starts in different directions, with a few different drafts that looked finished in some ways, at least presentable in workshop, but this fearful sense, under all of that, that each of those different approaches, using different techniques and influences, taking on topics that morphed into characters and pointed toward feelings I hadn’t expected to run into, each also pointing toward more possibilities. And heading in their directions, as many as possible, didn’t mean mounting lots of different forms of grim determination; it meant what my reacting to his passing also meant, opening up, breathing as deep as possible, and letting go, and letting go, and letting go of whatever my fearful mind said had to be next.

That’s how I found the parts of him that stay with me today, and how writing seems to happen most joyfully and adventurously for me today. Still with no full length book of poems out, instead I seem to have a zillion different, wonderfully fun tries at different things, including a few possible manuscripts, one 10,000 line epic in heroic couplets that came from who knows where, a bunch of play drafts, fiction pieces, nonfiction pieces, interviews, translations, and even a script for a comic book miniseries. And photos, and music. A lot of people help, and there’s lots of effort, but at least part of that effort is letting that crusty, fearful ideal go repeatedly, of that monolithic poem that just never did exist, and finding, with all of that help, a thread in the writing that leads me free of expectations, and points, like my Buddy did and continues to, at that blessed, endless kind of space of not knowing what’s next, and breathing it in.

Chad Parmenter’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry and Kenyon Review, and are forthcoming in Crazyhorse.  His chapbook, Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti, won Tupelo’s Snowbound Chapbook Contest, and was published last November.

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Storm Clouds Gathering

Photo by Zooey


Associate fiction editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today’s bonus story: In this tablespoon-sized wonder, Emily Geminder cracks open a mysterious, haunting person to find a whirlwind of devastation and its eerie remnants inside. Charged, poetic, and hypnotic, this short piece strikes me a new way each time I look at it and leaves me with more to imagine.

Interior with Storm System

Open it: black hole at the center of the chest. Closet of flesh, blood. Inside you: storm windows, yellow foam, exit sign with blown fuse. Your sister, the prophet, had a sign like that. Long ago and nailed above a window. Its meaning: electric. Its promise: out and through. She wrote: The things in me, you’ll never know. She didn’t say: rooms within rooms, labyrinth of voices, dissolve of brittle white moons. You’d never know. You: dumb, bereft of tongue. TV stuck on mute. Inside you: static and noise. Storm system moving through the tri-state area. Travelers, be warned. You: boarded-up room with only one door. Hurricane, foaming waves, exit wound. You: your one and only voice dropped like a penny at sea. You.

Emily Geminder’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in AGNI, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Tin House Open Bar, Witness, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award, and her work was noted in Best American Essays 2016. She is currently a doctoral fellow in fiction at the University of Southern California.

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Photo by Jens Friedberger

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asks our editors how the act of being a writer has changed them as people.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

I always used to be a reader–Stephen King, Dean Koontz, others–but writing sentences has honed my reading skills to a deadly blade, useful in close-quarters combat. I am hyper aware of art and politics, where I wasn’t so much growing up in Ohio, smelling Lake Erie every day. It’s opened opportunities for me to network, where I found talking to bankers and fraternity bros insufferable. I have things in common with people (!) and an outlet for expression, reasons to travel, lifelong friendships, professional goals. Overall, I am a far better human, more outgoing than never writing would have made me.

Mike Berry
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Troy, Michigan

I’ve learned that writing is my biggest exercise in catharsis. I know that’s not an exciting or revelatory answer, but writing offers me a space to be comfortable with my neuroses and obsessions, to let them consume something other than my own head. Getting things like skinning versus plucking geese, why eulogies exist or what does the weird connectedness of our highway system mean from rattling around my head onto a page, that exercise alone makes being inside my own head much more peaceful, which probably makes more pleasant to be around. For me, the balance that comes with that peaceful mind is key to being a social human of the world. I can only imagine what a monster I’d be without it.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

This is kind of a tough one because I’ve always been a writer (see: my rousing kindergarten mystery “Have You Seen My Set of Pets?”), so I’ve never really had a chance to get to know the person I might be if I wasn’t. Coming to poetry, though, took much longer. It helped me find my feet, and the ways they best connected with the ground beneath me. Plus, it gave me an excuse to write artsy fan fiction in verse, and you better believe I’m not gonna complain about that.

Ben Kinney
Associate Editor Emeritus, Fiction
Fife Lake, Michigan

I remember once writing something full of cheap platitudes, which in my haste I had mistaken for gems of brilliance, and getting called out for my laziness in workshop. This incident not only changed the way I write and attempt to grapple with questions, but it made me a lot less sure, in the best possible way, of all the principles I had previously considered sacred, many of which were reducible to Minions memes. At the risk of sounding pompous, I think it is in writers of all genres’ job descriptions to keep searching for truth, in all its elusiveness, after other people have understandably gotten tired and gone home. I think this mindset has carried over to my non-writing life as well, giving me a certain cynicism that I actually enjoy.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Massachusetts

Writing has helped me find balance. Not just in setting aside time to write and so creating a more balanced schedule, but finding balance mentally. Creative nonfiction has allowed me to write about things I can’t talk about. It’s much easier for me to trust a blank sheet of paper than a person.

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Spooky Hallway

Photo by h00g3


Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

“I’m Pogo” by Lindsay Hunter terrifies me and makes me ask a lot of ethical questions, which terrifies me even more. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Brenna Womer
Associate Editor, Fiction

“Antigonish” by William Hughes Mearns gets me every time.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

“Two Brothers” by Brian Evenson is an oldie goldie I only recently encountered. Still gives me chills, re-reading it. I need to jump into Paul Tremblay’s novels. These are long overdue.

Jennifer A. Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

Imagine being 13 and reading VC Andrews’ Petals on the Wind in the back of a VW bus on another epic summer camping trip. Cathy, who’s spent most of her life locked in an attic with her love-interest brother and starving but also somehow becomes a very good ballerina, finally has an audition for a company, but in the middle of her dance she starts to bleed so heavily she passes out and some older doctor creep later tells her, in a way you suspect is lying but cannot argue with facts and you have no real grasp on his motive, that she released many years of periods and none of it makes any medical or emotional sense to you but growing up sounds terrifying.

Megan Martinek
Intern, Fiction
Willowbrook, Illinois

Is it cliché to say “Masque of the Red Death” by Poe?


Elisha Sheffer
Associate Editor, Fiction
Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Anything from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Takes me right back to my childhood.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Not sure what your definition of “spooky” is, but I pulled John Grisham’s The Firm off my dad’s bookshelf when I was 10. He warned me that I would be creeped out, and I sat on the floor in terror reading the entire thing in one day. Thus ended any ambition I had to become a lawyer…

Kara Wixtrom
Intern, Fiction
Gwinn, Michigan

I have a nostalgic fondness for W.W. Jacobs’ short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” which was one of the first scary stories that I remember from my high school reading. It’s tame compared to some of the other scary stories I’ve read, but at the time, it was the epitome of horror/suspense writing for me, and when I think of it now, it’s not without an appreciative shudder.

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Photo by Pierre Metivier

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our editors and contributors what genre challenges or intimidates them the most.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

Nonfiction, for sure. Lyrical, precise images and reflections, alongside effective research, are stuff that floor me and make nonfiction one of the most fascinating genres out there. People who consistently make nonfiction exciting are the real heroes.

Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

I find fiction the most intimidating. The limits of poetry and nonfiction drive me to creativity, but fiction leaves me filled with ideas in front of a blank page for hours.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Poetry, because I really have to write quite a lot of words to make any kind of sense at all.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

Long-form unsegmented fiction is miraculous to me. I think in units of paragraphs, and I don’t understand how it is people can sustain an idea or an image for pages and pages at a time. The world building and character development aspects of fiction seem fun, but it’s just so many words all at once, I get intimidated.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Massachusetts

Fiction. I think lyrically and in fragments, so putting together something lengthy and still coherent baffles me. I find an easier connection between nonfiction and poetry.

Elisha Sheffer
Associate Editor, Fiction
Rhinelander, Wisconsin

Hands down nonfiction. I have a hard enough time facing reality off the page, writing is the one time I can shake off the limitations and let my mind wander wherever it pleases. I will always be immensely impressed and astounded by the writers that have enough discipline to spend their time in the nonfiction world.

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