Food is love, Food is life by Lilly Deng

blog - food

To me, the only real pleasure in life is food. I remember as a child my math Ph.D. father watching in horror as his daughter was far more interested in cooking shows than any math workbook he tried to pass onto me as fun. I spent my allowance money on food. I remember once saving up $14 to buy fresh blueberries and real butter for a blueberry coffee cake recipe I found. Up until then, I had only ever had canned blueberries courtesy of Betty Crocker, and we, like many working-class households in America, were a margarine home (if we had margarine at all).

The first time I ever had truffles I nearly fainted from delight. Continue reading

Forgive Me by Laurie Frankel

[Please note: In the interest of full disclosure, this is a self-serving blog post—as if there were any other kind? No, but really, this one is truly self-serving, so much so it has links to Amazon here and here, too.]


Forgive me Writing Establishment for I have sinned: I paid for a review and self-published my book. For years I swore I never would. In fact, I have looked down upon and discussed disparagingly and at length with other writers regarding those who did—those poor unvetted, clearly talentless, desperate losers who paid for reviews and then self-published. And now I’m one of them. Hi.

I have what I consider two types of writing: literary short stories and book-length commercial nonfiction (aka self-help). I’m still a holdout with the short stories as I very much value the nod from venerated journals (“thank you North American Review!”). With an acceptance rate of once every two to three years, I’ll be exceptionally well-known on my 292nd birthday. Continue reading

Throwback Saturday featuring Jeremiah Webster with “Scop Wanted” from issue 296.2

Jeremiah Webster was a Finalists in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2011

As a teacher, Scop Wanted was my unabashed critique of the assessment culture that now dominates the American academy. In an attempt to foster higher learning standards and accountability, our poetic (the soulful yawp of Whitman) has been lost. As Kołakowski so eloquently states, “Culture, when it loses its sacred sense, loses all sense.” The irony, of course, is that great art is omnipresent in our time. One need only look for that still twitching arm of Grendel.


Scop Wanted

Suppose the genius
of language
is reverberation,
the way a word-beatific
becomes more than a  tick the tongue prattles off
after the sounds have risen
from the hall of the human throat.

St. Ambrose was perhaps the first
to deny himself the pleasure
of reading aloud,
to let a word mean its sound
as we think of a heart
housing an immortal soul.

No wonder
students despise Beowulf,
the song of Heorot
dormant on desks.
The teacher is writing:



as the arm of Grendel
twitches even now at his feet.


Jeremiah Webster’s poetry has appeared in North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Creek Review, The Midwest Quarterly, REAL, Dappled Things, Rock and Sling, Blue Canary, Ruminate, Euonia Review, and is forthcoming in Floating Bridge Review. He also wrote a critical introduction for Paradise in The Waste Land (Wiseblood Books), an anthology of T.S. Eliot’s early poems. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. Jeremiah was in issue 296.2. Spring 2011.

Illustration provided by: Briana Hertzog, an illustrator living and working in NOVA. Briana graduated with a BFA in Communication Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduation, she attended the Illustration Academy where she was mentored by a spectacular group of renowned illustrators. Hertzog is featured in Quail Bell Magazine and Pantone Canvas Gallery. Visit to see all her work.


Liner Notes from the Green Room: A Report from the inside of the Best American Poetry 2014 Release Reading, the New School NYC by Sean Thomas Dougherty

In the early A.M of Thursday September 18, I drove seven hours from the small working class city where I survive working in a pool hall and traveling for gigs, taking care of my toothless and slowly dying girlfriend and three kids, where I play pool and scribble and try to make some sense of this difficult life, I drove seven hours through the small towns and mountains of southwestern New York towards the apex of the Empire State (and the Imperial Empire of the United States of America) to read for the release of the 2014 issue of Best American Poetry edited by  recently inaugurated McArthur fellow Terrance Hayes.

Best American Poetry reading photo by Jordan Calhoun

When I was first asked to participate in the reading, I said I wasn’t going to go—I’m notorious for turning things down. Turning down readings (too far, not enough money), turning down dates (too tired), and turning down jobs (why work when I can die alone and working the nightshift at the CITGO station?). I turned the car around the night before I was going to leave and drove home. I played in a nine ball tournament that I missed making the finals for by one bad roll (is this a metaphor for my life?). But I was scheduled to visit my friend Jeffrey McDaniel’s class at Sarah Lawrence College the next day before the BAP reading, so out of  a seldom provoked sense of obligation, I woke up at 4 AM, snuck out of the house without waking anyone and drove. And drove and drove. Continue reading

The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society by Jacqueline Marcus

We have always been something of a war society in the U.S., but since 2003 something far more sinister than anything I’ve witnessed has sprouted from the seeds of violence from what critics have called a coup d’état of our United States Constitution after September 11th.


I don’t understand what it is we’ve become in the last twelve years. It may be a cliché to say that I feel estranged, a little like that lonesome wolf, Harry Haller, in Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf. The war mentality has been filtering through our politics, universities, entertainment, and mainstream media with what appears to be a deliberate objective to reduce American culture to the lowest beastly denominator. Continue reading

“Shopping for Pants as Lesson in Language” as Lesson in Loss by Brian Simoneau from issue 297.1


It’s Saturday night and I’m taking part in a fantastic poetry reading. One of the editors of District Lit—an online journal that publishes excellent stuff and works hard to build community among its contributors and readers—has gathered a group of writers to read poems in the devil-themed basement of a lively bar. For the past few weeks, I’ve been happy to be joining them, eager to hear their poems, and excited to read my own—it’s my first reading since the release of my first book. As I make my way to the bar, however, I begin to worry. Not fear, not the early pangs of stage fright, not flop sweat seeping through my shirt and making me self-conscious and therefore more nervous, incredulous that my armpits could possibly be so wet when my mouth has suddenly gone so dry (though all of that is certainly still a possibility), but actual worry. Concern that I am about to ruin everyone else’s night by reading my poems of loss, of displacement, of doubt. These poems, not to mention their author, hardly seem a good choice for fun on a Saturday night. Continue reading

The Red-Headed Stepchild by Gretchen Tessmer

Fan fiction is the red-headed stepchild of the writing world.  It searches for a home among reputable houses but, walking that fine line between plagiarism and hackneyed parody, it’s forced to live in the leaky, damp cardboard box in the dank and dingy alley outside, hoping tonight’s trash yields more than banana peels and half-burnt muffins for dinner.  The fact that it’s directly responsible for such illustrious (that’s straight up sarcasm, boys and girls—in case the tone fails to come through) works as Fifty Shades of Grey certainly doesn’t help its reputation.


But I feel sorry for the red-headed stepchild.  At least, I feel sorry for how the kid has been treated by the family—by our cigar-smoking Grandfather (classics), our gin-swilling Aunt Vi (contemporaries), our overly dramatic younger sister Lisa (memoir) and slick Cousin Perry (critics), who can be somewhat of a pompous know-it-all.  Sometimes I even want to sing its praises, if only because no one else will.

First of all, it’s not masquerading as high-brow anything.  It knows its own limitations.  No fan fiction writer will ever achieve great fame and fortune for a job well done on a piece.  Even if the prose is all original, the manuscript has commandeered something, whether it’s a character, setting, or major/minor plot point.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be fan fiction.  So at least it’s self-aware.  Unless it’s pure plagiarism, of course, which is neither self-aware nor particularly bright—that would be Lisa’s ex-husband (let’s call him Bobby) who can’t seem to stay out of jail. Continue reading

Most Rejection Isn’t Personal by Susan Terris from Issue 295.2

 Oh, yes—like most poets and writers, I receive rejection letters:

  • Some are merely form notes, pre-printed.
  • Some are form notes asking the poet/writer to send work again.
  • A few are form notes with personal, hand-written notes added, complimenting the work and asking to see more of it. Or personalized emails.
  • A very few are personal letters or emails that mention specifics about work and ask to see more.

In this era of Submittable and other submission managers where work is sent online and then accepted or rejected the same way, there are often no notes at all. What does this all mean, you may ask?

File:Thank you trashcan.jpg

Maybe it means nothing except that different editors have different styles of replying. Even the form note, pre-printed by snail mail or inserted into email, may mean nothing except differing methods of dealing with a large number of submissions. And, yes, this is the place that I must (full disclosure) admit I am a journal editor as well as well as a poet and a writer. . . Continue reading

Throwback Saturday featuring Michael Hudson with “The Mummy Declines His Curse” from issue 296.2

Michael Hudson was a Honorable Mention for the James Hearst Poetry Prize in the Spring of 2011 and was featured in issue 296.2 of the North American Review.

From the author:

Archaeology is sometimes a peculiar endeavor when you think about it – the digging up and display of human remains is very repugnant if it is your grandma, but it is kind of okay so long as it is your great-great-great-great-grandma.  There has been some changes in attitude lately; Native Americans in particular objecting to the desecration of ancestors.  Museums have been returning, sometimes reluctantly, the bones that have long been part of their collections.  But as far as I know, there has been little effort to repatriate Egyptian museum mummies to their tombs and pyramids.  I suppose time is the factor; the older the bones the less likely anyone will claim descent.  But technically we are all related to Pharaoh Thutmosis IV as well as Lucy the Australopithecus, and so therefore every time we view his pilfered mummy or her pitiful little handful of yellow fossil bones we are…being impious?  Disrespectful? Scientific?  Ghoulish?  Whatever it is, there is something that’s bound to be a little iffy about rifling through somebody’s tomb, even with the best of scientific intentions.  The poem was poking around this idea.

537px-Thutmosis_IV_mummy_head Continue reading

Warren Eyster / Writer & Teacher by Raymond Cothern

My writing resume usually starts with the fact that I studied writing at LSU with Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily, both known to interested folks as two great writers. I list them for just that reason, to have someone think, Wow, two fine writers and this unknown studied with them so let’s pay attention to his work because he must have some talent. If that has ever been the case it is surely talent by association. But as well-known as those two writers are, there was another writer and teacher at LSU who influenced me more than Percy and Bourjaily.

Merely scratching the surface, here are a few facts about Warren Eyster, my old undergraduate creative writing teacher.

dads current photo

He was born in Steelton, Pennsylvania, in 1925, and after high school, Eyster became a hydraulic repairman in the Army Air Corps and, in 1942, joined the Navy. His experience in the navy was to be the basis for his novel Far from the Customary Skies, set on a Navy destroyer operating in the Far East during World War II.  While in graduate school at the University of Virginia, he wrote half of that first novel as short stories, and after leaving Charlottesville he devoted himself entirely to writing. Audrey Wood, primarily a theatrical agent, with clients like Tennessee Williams and William Inge, nearly succeeded in persuading Little Brown to publish his first novel. Instead, David McDowell at Random House became his editor and with support from Bob Haas and Bennett Cerf, Eyster became acquainted with a number of writers, including James Agee, Robert Penn Warren, Mario Puzo, William Carlos Williams, Budd Schulberg, and William F. Buckley. In 1954, he was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to work with aspiring Mexican writers at El Centro Mexicano de Escritores in Mexico City. Finishing a second novel, No Country For Old Men, Eyster started to write a novel about a Mexican revolution. He also translated the first three chapters of a Carlos Fuentes novel, Where the Air Is Clear, and was instrumental in getting it published. The movie, “The Old Gringo”, was based on conversations Eyster had with Carlos about Ambrose Bierce and his determination to bring about his own death by becoming a spy for Pancho Villa. Continue reading

The Mirror of Craft by Claire Millikin


Graham Greene, speaking in the person of the protagonist of the End of the Affair, describes book reviews that praise the author’s “craft” as accurately reflecting a book that is hollow, without soul or pulse. He goes on to say that exquisite craft is what’s left when an author’s soul is not in the work. And one can think of work by seminal American poets, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman as rather roughly crafted, misspelled, strangely thrown rhythms, eccentric rhymes. Or of Tennyson, whose ear has been considered too perfect but whose intellect, so we’re told, was lacking. And yet if one turns the mirror the other way, one can say that Dickinson’s and Whitman’s craft was—as contemporary poet Wayne Koestenbaum describes his method—reckless, a steeping and a disciplined forcing of the mind to go down to the depths. In fact, Tennyson’s In Memoriam is hardly a polished work of craft without soul, but an obsessive reiteration seeking the surface of implacable loss, rife with implausible contrasts and jagged imagery. Continue reading