What I Learned from Carol Channing by Michael Spence

Michael Spence discusses perseverance throughout his career and the success it brought him, and ultimately what he learned from Carol Channing. He last appeared in the North American Review with his poem “Consensus” in issue 298.2, Spring 2013. He also discusses “Consensus” in an earlier post

Perseverance

Carol Channing

Photo courtesy of deserthealthnews.com

Carol Channing was not an actress I ever paid much attention to.  I knew her name and that she’d been in some well-known shows and films, but I never would’ve thought she’d have made any comment that would mean much to me.  As with many other things in my life, I was wrong.  One day she appeared on a TV talk show and was asked, in the face of constant rejection and difficulty getting her career going in her early days, how she found the strength to keep going.  As I recall it, she said, “You just keep trying and trying and trying, and finally, fate gives up.”  That’s a great, funny way to phrase it, implying that whatever forces may seem aligned against one’s efforts at least can be worn down enough to allow a victory now and then.

I recently had my own Carol Channing moment in the world of poetry book contests.  Like many of us, I’d dutifully sent my manuscripts to competitions large and small.  For three decades I tried contests from the Walt Whitman Award to lesser-known ones sponsored by presses that now, alas, have vanished or ceased publishing poetry.  I was fortunate enough occasionally to get a kind comment or two from the judges, and I even “finalized” (as novelist and short-story writer Marjorie Kemper put it) a few times through the years.  But I could never get the last nod needed to actually win such a contest and get a volume of poems published that way.  Though I kept on sending manuscripts out, fate showed no sign I could see of giving up, so I came to the conclusion that such a win just wasn’t in the deck of cards I was playing with.  Mathematically of course, it’s always the case that the odds are tiny that a particular person will win:  There are hundreds or thousands of manuscripts being submitted, and only one is selected.  Still, we keep trying, because maybe…

So I was, as I like to now joke, completely floored and walled and ceilinged when I learned that the manuscript of my fifth book of poems, Umbilical, had been selected this January as the winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize.  I kept reading and re-reading the email telling me this, certain that the words would morph into the this-came-close/thanks-anyway comments I’d been “trained” by all these years to expect.  The volume is slated to appear this fall from St. Augustine’s Press.

All of which is to say that, if you believe in your work—even if you don’t necessarily believe the outside world will favor it—you have to keep on trying.  Fate is so fickle a thing, you can never tell when it will finally give up.


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Michael Spence retired on Valentine’s Day, 2014 from thirty years of driving public transit buses in the Seattle area.  His poems have appeared recently in The Hudson Review, Measure, The New Criterion, The Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, and Tar River Poetry.  New work is forthcoming in The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, and Southwest Review.  His fourth book, The Bus Driver’s Threnody, was released last September by Truman State University Press.  (The Spring 2015 issue of The Hudson Review includes a quite complimentary review of Threnody.)  He was awarded a 2014 Literary Fellowship from Artist Trust of Washington State.  His fifth book, Umbilical, is slated to be published this fall by St. Augustine’s Press as the winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize.

 

Two Poems from a Dream of Anna Akhmatova by Jacqueline Marcus

6-4.1Sort of a strange experience on the writing of these two poems. I was an avid reader of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, but it’s been years since I’ve read her work. The other night I had a dream about her: I was in a dark café—probably the Stray Dog, a name that always stuck with me in the biography, where Russian poets would meet and read their poems. Akhmatova stood up on the stage. I was trying desperately to make out the words of the poem, but I couldn’t hear her. The only thing I could hear was the sound, the tone of her voice that was like a very sad cello. And her eyes, I remember her eyes—those huge, mournful eyes. I could vaguely remember the dream when I woke up at 4 am And then I sat down and wrote these two poems. Both were written in less than ten minutes. I didn’t touch a word.

Abandonment

Bent on the weather of distraction,
I watched the blackbirds from the large framed window
make their way to the northern sea for the last time.
I don’t know why I was feeling the need to go with them,
or why the rain spelled the music of elsewhere,
or if the moon signaled its lost joy, like a child’s drawing
that had been left in a box of memories. All I know
is that the time had come for the end of summer.
A cold sun pressed its palm against the pane of glass
as if my heart would shatter—
so many pieces of impossible nights, a splash of leaves, perhaps,
in a field of elegant trees…

There was no point.

There was only the sound of a lifetime,
diminished. It drifts across the sea and a million stars.

It has no destination.

You come to me, dear soul, in the middle of this winter,
stubborn as a fierce storm.

What exactly do you expect from me night after night?
You follow me like an abandoned dog.

Crimes against Humanity

In the awkward moment of farewells,
small talk, coffee, the clatter of silverware at the café,
we left our signatures beneath the prose of endearments.
The train muttered the sound of towns with its gray whistle and scarves,
a cold wind embraced the warmth of the fire.
No one could have guessed by now how the country had changed.
We were strangers passing through centuries of farms,
cobblestone streets and mothers hurrying with their children,
bargaining prices for fish, cabbage and flour for bread…
The train sang through fields of wheat. Each time
it entered the tunnel of years,
it was a new dawn.
I got off, and stepped down to the platform.

I could tell you what I saw through the steamy windows:
the faces of the young, the faces of the old—

and the long, dolorous smoke of what we’ve done to one another.


Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of Forpoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com.  She is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at Truthout.org.  She is the author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her e-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books. She taught philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her essays, “The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society”, “Neruda”, and “How Nazism Shaped US War Policies: Thousands of SS War Criminals Recruited to the U.S. by CIA-Pentagon after WWII” appeared in the North American Review blog. Her new collection of poems, Summer Rains, has been accepted for publication at Iris Press.  


Illustration by Eric Piatkowski. Eric was raised in Arizona, and after a few years of working in theater, he switched gears and studied illustration at the Pratt Institute. Now in Des Moines, he splits his time between drawing, drawing, and more drawing. Give him a call, he just might be the perfect man for the job. Prints of artwork are available through Etsy at Eric Piatkowski Art. The illustration above is titled “Adrift” for a story in issue 299.2, Spring 2014.

Throwback Thursday featuring Roy Bentley from issue 293.2

“Funerals in the South” first appeared in issue 293.2, March-April 2008. It was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2008.

DVD 731 GRIEF FOOD . (Mobile Register, John David Mercer) LIVING RELIGION

Funerals in the South

We didn’t sing “My Old Kentucky Home” or “Dixie,”
but we might as well have. Without fail, neighbors
poured in with Tupperware-sealed Texas sheet cakes,
Jello, to-die-for fried chicken, ham, pecan pie. Grief,
it turns out, swallows easier than you might think.
I can tell you now the adults scared us, the children,
opening their hearts to loss. The scariest of mourners
had to be Myrtle, my aunt, a holy-roller fond of saying
Satan had her by the throat—she called him Beelzebub,
as though a sort of respect or friendship had sprung up.
At the eulogy—hellfire and damnation were preached
over our dead who, byGod, had to listen—she’d raise
a bony arm to signify that the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit,”
was upon her. Sooner or later, shouting Je-sus! Je-sus!
until it echoed in the funeral home like a braking train
whose wheel-song of descent calls to mind journeys,

an end to journeying. If the casket was closed, she’d
pound a lid; if it was open, she’d take hold of a hand
or trace the rouged-and-powdered contours of a face.
Thankfully, she had limits. Mouths were sacrosanct.
No smooching the chill lips of the Departed. Which
I understood, even then: a body’s temperature after
embalming isn’t a thing to have register at any age.
If April is the cruelest month, then it’s always April
in some part of eastern Kentucky. I wanted to sing:
Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today!
But I was a kid. I sang what and when I was told.
If there’s a God, enthroned in some obscene palace,
weeping because one Cross and Savior isn’t enough,
not in the coal towns, then she was right to sign on
as cheerleader. If not, there’s the solace of food—
napkins under chins to catch the hallelujah crumbs.


Ohio, 2014

Roy Bentley has received fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Books include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama, 1986), Any One Man (Bottom Dog, 1992), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine, 2006), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House 2013). He has taught creative writing and composition at universities and colleges throughout the Midwest and in Florida. These days, he teaches English and composition courses for Georgian Court University and lives in Barnegat, New Jersey. 

A Teaching Moment by Paul Crenshaw

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The assignment is this: explicate your favorite song as we have been explicating poetry for the last several weeks in Introduction to Literature. I get mostly the usual: Britney Spears or Kelly Clarkson from the sorority girls; some Dylan from the over-achievers who want to impress me with their dedication to the assignment; Grateful Dead from the long-haired kids; Jack Johnson or John Mayer from the girls with bare midriffs and navel rings. I want them to understand literature through lyrics, to assess the world through words, but they’ve mostly cut-and-pasted, clinging to cliché and settling on summary instead of searching for any meaning in the song.  

E– brings in a song by Rascal Flatts in which a high school girl has cancer. During her chemotherapy treatments she loses her hair. She is worried about, among many other things, how she will look for her prom, but on prom night her boyfriend shows up with his head shaved in hopes of allaying her fears. The song, E– tells us, is based on a true story.

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She also tells us that she has recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She flies home every weekend for chemotherapy treatments. She leaves my class at 4pm Thursday and boards an airplane for home, where she will be hooked to a machine that pumps poison through her veins and drains all her energy and sends her spinning to the restroom every few hours to kneel on the tiled floor and empty herself of everything. On Monday she flies back and attends her classes. She is afraid of, among many other things, losing her hair.

My class claps quietly after she has finished speaking. We sit stunned through the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, Don Henley. In the hallway outside the classroom E– is waiting for me. She is smiling. She is young, twenty perhaps. She apologizes to me for failing the assignment. She says she couldn’t remember everything she wanted to say, so she only summarized the song. She missed the bigger meaning, she says.   

I hold out the part of her presentation she handed in, and that I read biting the inside of my mouth hard enough to bring blood while the rest of my students were struggling through their songs. “You had it all written down.”

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She is twenty, young, perhaps dying. I am thirty-one. I drink too much on the weekends and worry about my job, whether I am accomplishing anything in the classroom. I worry if my wife and I are eating right and exercising enough, if we are putting enough money away for our children’s college funds, if we can afford to fly home this summer, where I can buy a new CD with lyrics I haven’t listened to.

“I didn’t present it right,” she says. “I guess I was afraid.”

Looking at her I am thinking about fear: the fear of losing your hair, losing weight, losing your life. About drugs that run rampant through your body, changing moods and balances and outlooks. About cells that multiply and mutate and take over. About being twenty years old and flying home every weekend to sit in a cancer ward while trying to find the greater significance in some stupid assignment an adjunct literature professor has given you, yet still being scared of standing in front of a class and explaining what a few words might mean beyond the surface of a page or the lyrics of a song.

But I don’t say any of that. Like my students, I cling to cliché. I settle for summary.

“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “You’re doing fine.”


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Paul Crenshaw’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Essays, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Reviewand Brevity, among others. He lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife and two daughters.


Illustrations by: Anthony Tremmaglia, an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly. Anthony is featured in issues 299.1, Winter 2014 & 299.4, Fall 2014 and his most recent work (top illustration featured above) will be in upcoming 300.3, Summer 2015. Find more of Anthony’s work at http://www.tremmaglia.ca/

Can Books Fly? by John Smolens

truckAs a kid, I had a recurring dream that now seems Dali-esque. What I recall is images, grossly out of shape, out of proportion, and in odd relation to one another. There was always the truck, an eighteen-wheeler. One moment I was inside the dark, cavernous trailer, while the next moment I was outside the truck and it was small, like my own toy trucks. The only “human” image I recall in this dream was a thumb. (Freudians just shut up and go away.) And there were other images, things gleaned from childhood, a life of being small, a life of crawling and toddling on the floor, a life of looking up: a chair, a coffee table, curtains that extended from the floor to an incredibly high ceiling. But the most vivid image in this dream was the book. Periodically, it would fly overhead, spine skyward, pages flapping in the languid fashion of a bird with a substantial wing span. We are defined by questions, I suspect, and as a result of this dream a question that has been central to my existence all these years is Can books fly?

flying-books

Sometimes we say, when sales are brisk, books “fly off the shelf,” but with the demise of brick and mortar book stores, the simple, pleasurable act of entering a book store, perusing its shelves, not in search of a specific title necessarily, but just looking, has all but disappeared. Used to be that when visiting a new town or city, you’d keep your eye out for book stores. A good book store in an unfamiliar town was a haven of contemplative quiet which smelled of paper, the quality stuff in a new hardback, mingling with the brittle, yellowed pulpy stuff you’d find in used paperbacks with cracked spines. Very often the pleasure of being in a book store was not knowing what you were looking for, but hoping that, because you were in a book store, the exact right book would reveal itself to you and leap—or fly—off the shelf into your waiting hands. Call it a leap of faith.

When books aren’t being bought and sold, they’re often given away. (Or purloined, if you heeded Abbie Hoffman’s advice regarding his book entitled Steal This Book.) Books are loaned, lent, thrust into your hands by a fanatic with Rasputin eyes, proclaiming, You must read this!” A few days ago I was on Plum Island, which is north of Boston, and I stopped at an establishment that had a sign in the window which read Beer Wine Help Wanted (no ordinary sign, this might be, for some, a philosophy, or a mantra). I discovered that though the establishment was closed someone had put a cardboard box outside the door with Free Books writ large on the side in black Marks-a-Lot. I sorted, I sifted: lots of Clive Cussler; several romance novels, which from the cover art might be classified as Bodice Ripper Lite. But then I found it—or them. Toward the bottom of the carton were two copies of The Great Gatsby. Both paperbacks in excellent condition; both sporting the famous original cover art featuring the sad yellow eyes (the pupils gimleting naked nubile women) peering out from the tear-stained deep blue field above what might be a carnival or city lights. Though over the years I have had several copies of Fitzgerald’s novel, I took one copy from the carton, because you can never have enough copies of Gatsby; you can never read it enough times. It’s a book from which one can’t help selecting sentences that resonate far beyond Gatsby and the world of East and West Egg:

“Conduct may be founded on hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.”

“To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing—my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.”

“Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.”

And though the novel’s concluding sentence is justifiably one of the most memorable in our literature, it is the first line that sets Nick Carraway’s narrative in motion with such grace and conviction:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

Like the book I found in that carton, his father’s advice, offered in the next paragraph, was free.

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Books are often associated with freedom; a book that is given, whether it’s a gift or is left in a box marked Free Books, is a unique expression of freedom. When they’re banned, when they’re burned, our sense of a just freedom is not only compromised but threatened. In recent years, there has been a tendency for people to place what are often called Little Free Libraries outside their homes. According to Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote about this phenomenon in The Atlantic, these “Give one, take one” Little Free Libraries began in Wisconsin in 2009, when a man established one outside his house in honor of his deceased mother, an avid reader, and the notion has since spread throughout the country. Some Little Free Libraries are compact architectural gems, sporting shingled roofs and handsome glass doors, which make it easier to peruse titles without exposing the books to inclement weather. Leaving books outside of one’s house is a matter of freedom of expression, yet there are people who, in the thrall of civic-minded idiocy, take exception to such exchanges. In many communities they have registered complaints with the local constabulary, citing building code violations and zoning laws. Friedersdorf continues that there’s a certain type of American who is determined to regulate every last aspect of community life. Due to selection bias, they are overrepresented among local politicians and bureaucrats. And so they have power, despite their small-mindedness, inflexibility, and lack of common sense so extreme that they’ve taken to cracking down on Little Free Libraries, of all things.

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Somewhere inside every avid reader resides an unremitting, unrepentant dreamer, one who knows that books can fly, one who knows that the fate of free books will not be determined by impassioned letters to the editor or incensed diatribes at community zoning board meetings. Such dreamers know that the solution is in the air. Rather than stacking volumes in a cardboard box or some weekender’s building project, we need only to stand in the front yard and hurl books skyward, allowing them to glide and wheel and circle overhead, always just within reach of innocent, unsuspecting passersby.


John Smolens short story “The End of the World” appeared in the North American Review (Winter 2013). His new novel Wolf’s Mouth will be published spring 2016.


First Illustration Link
Second Illustration Link

Third and fourth illustration by: Gigi Rose Gray, an illustrator born and raised in New York City where she received her BFA in illustration from Parsons New School for Design. She now resides in sunny Los Angeles. Her works are inspired by the grace and elegance of women, mid-century design, french renaissance interiors, the colors olive green and mustard yellow, dreams, cypress trees, Greco-Roman art, and nostalgia. 

Poetry and Other Cities by Tobias Wray

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Notes on “The Archeology of Music” from issue 300.2, Spring 2015

My father had a certain expression on his face whenever he played. His eyebrows arched high on certain notes and his forehead would round and dip in anticipation of a run. The correct embouchure for a clarinetist tightens the lips and flattens the chin into the comic appearance of a chimpanzee communicating a dramatic feeling. Yet, he seemed the most himself then—much more accessible somehow than the stormy man who complained about the state of the kitchen or the rudeness of store clerks. Here was a man who existed only once his case opened and the first note filled the room.

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Here is a city you used to live in, one you are only returning to now after many absent years. The towering buildings seem familiar, as does the scent rustling over the streets, but it is another city you know, a city that has already ended. I haven’t spoken to my father for years now. There are no adequate explanations for such things, except that he left and his leaving has stayed. I remember tiptoeing past his practice sessions in the living room, afraid my distraction would draw his haunting notes to a halt, the authority his clarinet imbued on space. The sound of rustling sheet music and the angular towers of stacked CDs carve at the edges of my childhood. Music for me is a world of artifacts, physical yet emptied. What is left to us but to wander the city and to leave it strange?

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I imagine that I remember the music as it was, distinctly. Of course, it is more than its pitch, its demarcations of sound—the idea of a sound shaped by memories since. Poetry is often like that, too, something more than lost, more than artifact. In 2011, I went to a lecture on the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, which was buried for over 2,400 years, famous for its set of unique bells and other instruments. The unburying of the site is what captured me, the careful way we are always rediscovering our own histories. The insinuation of archeology, that nothing made should be lost, appealed—that a sound might wait so long to be heard, how it seems so inevitable once it is. It touched on a desire I hardly knew I had, to hear my father play again. It is as much what we bring back to the site as it is what we pull.

 Everything we know has been recovered. This is what we fill the cavity with, our recovery. 


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Tobias Wray is a poetry editor for the cream city review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, Blackbird, Bellingham Review, The Fourth River and elsewhere. He’s been a finalist for the Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowship. He holds an MFA in poetry and translation from the University of Arkansas and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Illustrations by: Allen Forrest. Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest works in many media: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College (receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production). He lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.

Why I Do This by Eric Barnes

In one of the best rejection letters I’ve ever gotten, an agent told me recently, I honestly don’t have a clue who’d be a viable publisher for this.

A line like that is a condemnation of sorts. In 2015, this agent goes on to declare, there is no market for the kind of literary fiction I am trying to write.

That she said this about a manuscript I spent nearly three years writing means I should feel some heavy mix of defeat and depression. Hopelessness and hatred.

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I don’t feel that.

I should. I really should.

But I don’t.

I’ve been doing this for a very long time now—this being the seemingly endless act of sending queries to agents and short stories to editors and manuscripts to book publishers and in return receiving, far more often than not, rejections that vary from the generic to the cruel to the inane to the insightful.

In the fray of all of this rejection, I can say that I’ve had some successes. Two novels published. Nearly thirty short stories in journals and magazines. Agents of note who signed me on and agents unknown who nonetheless committed everything they could to my writing.

None of it, though, has been what I want. I’ve never been reviewed in The New York Times. Never published a story in The New Yorker. Never made more than a token amount of money.

I know writers who’d kill for the successes—such as they are—that I’ve had. I should, in that sense, accept and be happy with what I have done.

But this is a cruel business, where moments of achievement are either very rare or very fleeting or are shared only with yourself, alone in the dark or well-lit room where you work.

My first short story was published more than twenty years ago. My first novel was published more than fifteen years after I committed to writing seriously. Two novels I’ve written have gone unpublished, rejected by publishing houses of every possible size.

The time has gone by more quickly than I can honestly calculate.

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Why do I do this?

Two different agents that signed me up then left me in limbo for years before giving up on my writing after a mere handful of rejections. I never read more than the first fifty pages, one agent admitted after sending me a letter that said he was, immediately, dropping me from his list.

And he—like the other agent who kept my manuscript for nearly three years and finally wrote to say he’d sent it to just six editors during that time, who said this while also dropping me from his list—was a big name agent. An agent whose writers you know very well. An agent who, if you are a writer and he offered to represent you, you’d say without the slightest hesitation, Yes, of course, do whatever you want, take as much time as you need. Yes. Please, yes. I’ll be having a celebratory drink in the bar, yes and yes, this is it, the one. Yes.

Yes.

Why do I do this?

The number of rejections of short stories I’ve written totals far more than one thousand.

One thousand No’s. Some stories rejected fifty or sixty times before they were published. Other stories still out there. Other stories given up on, filed away in a folder where they will stay from now on. An inbox—and prior to that a physical mailbox—filled with form letter dismissals.

The number of rejections I’ve received from agents totals in the hundreds—plus the one I just received while typing this post.

Why do I do this?

The answer is longer than I can possibly explain. The answer, in truth, is something I’ve never fully articulated to myself.

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There’s ego. That’s part of it. If a writer tells you otherwise, you ought to be skeptical.

I keep writing because The Millions called my second novel remarkable.

I keep writing because a short story of mine was later picked up in one of the Best American series.

I keep writing because after more than a decade of being rejected by the North American Review, they suddenly said yes to one of my short stories.

Because Steve Almond published a short story of mine, telling me—nearly one hundred years ago, as we talked via landline between South Carolina and my first kitchen in Memphis—I told my students this is how you fucking want to fucking write.

Because a friend of one of my wife’s best friends had one of his friends in San Francisco hand him a copy of my first novel and say, Dude, you need to read this book.

(That he said dude only made my joy that much greater.)

Ego. Exposure. The knowledge that there are—finally, actually, maybe, always—people out there who’ve read the words I’ve spent so much time and energy stringing together.

Maybe that’s why the “email” from the agent telling me, in effect, there is no publisher for my new novel didn’t depress me more. She had some kind words for what I’d written – just a few, but they were kind and they accurately captured the intent of what I had written. The agent called me talented, said my work is inventive, compared the manuscript to Kafka as she described it as a dystopian, surreal fable of sorts.

All of that made me happy. All of it, I think, is true.

Or maybe, sadly, I’m just that desperate for praise. Token praise, probably, meant simply to soften the blow of rejection.

But also I think I liked that agent’s email because it was honest. The business of publishing, she has in effect said, does not have a place for me.

Maybe it should.

But it doesn’t.

That much, at this point, is painfully clear.

Ours is not an industry that is big on fiction as social commentary, she wrote, except when cloaked in the [guise] of a commercial novel.

There’s a formula behind this, a multi-layered puzzle maybe, or a maze of rooms and hallways and doorways to navigate.

Whatever the analogy, I’ve yet to solve it.

So I keep chasing agents for my work and publishers for my novels and editors for my stories. Another big name agent has asked to see my new novel. An agent who’s interested seems to be up and coming in the industry. There’s a Canadian agent who might be a gateway to a better, less commercial, more artistically accepting publishing landscape (but who, it turns out, would reject me while I was still writing this post).

Why do I do this?

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It’s a thought that haunts me every day. Every time I sit down to write. Every time I receive another rejection of any sort.

But then I tell myself there are other Canadian agents.

I tell myself there are good books published all the time.

I tell myself the story, the novel, the paragraph I’ve just finished is certainly the best I have ever written in my life.

I tell myself there are people who have enjoyed the things I have published and who will want to read more of what I write.

If only I can find a way to get the words in front of them.


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Eric Barnes is the author of the novels Shimmer, an IndieNext Pick from Unbridled Books, and Something Pretty, Something Beautiful from Outpost19, which The Millions called a “remarkable book … where cars are freedom, stories are everything, and home is thick with ghosts. ”

Additionally, Eric has published nearly thirty short stories in publications such as North American Review, Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, Best American Mystery Stories, and more.

Eric is publisher of newspapers in Memphis and Nashville that cover business, politics and most things in between. Additionally, he hosts and co-produces a local news talk show on public television. In the past, Eric was a reporter and editor in Connecticut and New York. Years ago he drove a forklift in Tacoma, Washington, and then Kenai, Alaska, worked construction on Puget Sound, and, many years ago, graduated from the MFA writing program at Columbia University. Eric’s story “One Day, One Week, An Hour” appears in issue 298.2, Spring 2013.

More at www.ericbarnes.net and on Twitter at @ericbarnes2.


ldNX3rfo (2)Illustrations by: Rob Dobi is an editorial illustrator from CT.

“For the past decade I have been designing merchandise for the biggest bands in the world, photographing the decaying ruins of the northeast, working on his t-shirt brand Fullbleed, co-running the apparel design community at Mintees and poking fun at hipster stereotypes.  Lately my focus has been on editorial illustration, providing media outlets with meaningful work similar to the style I have been honing in the music industry for the past ten years. I have a BFA in illustration from RISD and currently reside in Connecticut with my wife Christina and dog Buddy.”

The Personal is Confessional by Metta Sáma

& so what.

This is personal. In 1993 and again in 1994 I was pregnant. By two different guys. One was my guy (’93) and one belonged to someone else (’94). Before I knew I was pregnant – pregnancy one and pregnancy two – my parents knew. My dad dreamt about fish and my mother looked into my face. By pregnancy two it didn’t affect me, that someone could dream my pregnancy into reality (not existence, just into the speakable & spoken word), that someone could look into my face and see a pregnancy. Pregnancy 1, however. . .

pregnantbelly

A friend who had been pregnant and had a child said of her pregnancy that her body became a publicly consumable object. An object. For consumption. Of consumption. A free-to-consume body. Think of all of the times your own hands have reached towards a pregnant woman’s stomach. Without her permission. How many times your mouths opened to form the obvious pronouncement: you’re pregnant. How many times your eyes rested on a pregnant woman’s stomach and had thoughts travel from your brain to the woman’s body? How many of those pregnant women were strangers?

Pregnancy 1: my mother said to me: you need to go ahead and tell us. What could I tell them that I didn’t know? She said: your father has been waiting for you to tell him. She said: he thinks you’re trying to hide it. She said: your father’s been dreaming of fish again. And this is how I discovered my own pregnancy. My father dreamt of fish. My mother looked into my face. Who else could see it? Who else had seen it? How long did I have before the side-eying strangers would see it? Before the baby bump? That little bump that gives permission to say it, to see, it to touch it.

stock-footage-closeup-on-woman-s-eye

When l think of the monster Argus, I think of the man, the young man, the teenager, the adolescent, the child, the toddler, the infant, the fetus, Argus. How easily my eyes travel to the interior. The uterus that provided shelter for the fetus. All of the eyes forming inside of the body. The eyes outside of the body. The fetus’s eyes. The community’s eyes. The storm of eyes. The congress of eyes. The rumor of eyes. The gaggle of eyes. The murder of eyes. Mine. Theirs. His. Yours. What is it like to be the pregnant woman? The body of consumption. For consumption. The freeto-consume body. The woman who is hyper woman. The woman who is no longer woman. Who is object. Objectified. Pedestaled. Whose pedestal is burnt while she teeters on it. The pregnant woman who is made Mother before she becomes a mother. The pregnant woman who is judged, castigated, brandished, branded before she becomes a mother.

What is the story of Eve before Cain and Abel? The story of a fallen woman. What is the story of Eve before The Fall? The story of a rib. Who was Mary before her body was burdened with the body of Christ. No imagined being. Who was Mycene before the monster Argus was slain? No imagined being.

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What a tragedy. To bear the body of a child whose 100 eyes will be the death of him. Whose 100 eyes will watch her imagine her construct, her deconstruct, her reconstruct, her deconstruct. Whose 100 eyes will overshadow the woman who bore him. The woman who was no one until after the making of the monster. Life in reverse.

My eyes, your eyes, the community’s eyes, the fetus’s eyes, the writer’s eyes.

Here is a different title to this piece:  To Dream Mycene I Became Mycene.


photo

Metta Sáma is author of Nocturne Trio (YesYes Bøøks2012) and South of Here (New Issues Press 2005 (published under her legal name, Lydia Melvin)). Her poems, fiction, creative non-fiction, & book reviews have been published or forthcoming in Blackbird, bluestem,Bone Boquet, Drunken Boat, The Drunken Boat, entropy, Esque, hercricle, Jubilat, Kweli, The Owls, Pebble Lake Review, Pyrta, Reverie, Sententia, Transitions among others. le animal & other strange creatures will appear from Miel Books later this year. Sáma is Assistant Professor & Director of Creative Writing and Director of the Center for Women Writers at Salem College.


How Nazism Shaped US War Policies: Thousands of SS War Criminals Recruited to the U.S. by CIA-Pentagon after WWII by Jacqueline Marcus

This essay is dedicated to Mohamedou Slahi, author of Guantánamo Diary. Slahi has been imprisoned at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba since 2002. In all these years, the United States has never charged him with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in March 2010, but the U.S. government fought that decision, and there is no sign that the United States plans to let him go. It is also an homage to investigative journalists.


Nazi photoIt’s all starting to fit together for me after reading Eric Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men Like most children of the 60s, I grew up believing in the Hollywood version of WWII—that the U.S. fought Hitler’s brutal forces of fascism from spreading across the face of the earth and brought it to an end.

Check out our public schools’ history books and you’ll discover that an important part of the victory has been intentionally omitted: Russia deserved a good deal of the credit for beating back the Nazis.  Millions of Russians died fighting Hitler’s vicious war machine.  Indeed, Victory Day, May 9th, is hugely celebrated in Russia every year. However, ask most American high school students if they know the significance of May 7th or the 9th and predictably you’ll be met with a bunch of blank faces. Moreover, the Russians were partly responsible for having liberated victims of concentration camps.  The truth is that the partnership between the U.S. and Russia finished off Hitler’s Third Reich for good.  Like most Americans, I believed that Nazism came to an end on Victory Day, 1945.

But some fifty years later, thanks to the hard work of investigative journalist, Eric Lichtblau, including journalists in the 60s and 70s that were hounded by the CIA and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, for what they discovered, we’re learning more about the appalling truth on what actually happened after WWII.

In Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door, I learned how the CIA-Pentagon eagerly recruited “ten thousand SS officers from top Third Reich policymakers, including sixteen hundred Nazi scientists and doctors with direct links to Nazi atrocities.”  The Pentagon-CIA helped to “cleanse” their war records under the top secret document known as “Project Paperclip.”  As Lichtblau explained, it was far easier to enter the US if you held SS Nazi credentials than if you were a victim of Hitler’s persecutions. The government provided thousands of the most heinous Nazi torturers and murderers “visas, houses, offices, and research assistance.” Lichtblau revealed that the horrific war crimes committed by the Nazis were of no concern to the U.S. government.  The feds wanted the information that resulted from SS Nazi operations.

Child_survivors_of_AuschwitzWhile Nazis were being secretly welcomed into our country, most victims of the Holocaust were denied entrance to the U.S. with very few exceptions. “Holocaust survivors were denied visas en masse while Nazi collaborators and SS members of Hitler’s reign of persecution, men who had proudly worn the Nazi uniform, were often able to enter the United States as war refugees who ended up living long, happy, prosperous lives.”

I think of one example from many given in Lichtblau’s first chapter: a top Nazi cabinet minister responsible for ordering the murder and imprisonment of some 600,000 of his countrymen, known as the “Butcher of the Balkans,” and how he happily entered the United States, no problems, compliments of the CIA and U.S. immigration officials, and how he became “simply another visitor traveling . . . ”

I believe this is a very important book to read not only for the sake of setting the record straight on this dark chapter in our history, but because it also raises the infamous question: Did those thousands of Nazis that were allowed to work in the Pentagon and the CIA help to shape U.S. foreign and domestic policies after WWII?

All you have to do is read the CIA’s Torture Report and then compare notes with the criminal Nazi war policies: the practice of torture, illegal invasions, presidential assassinations of individuals that the U.S. President chooses to kill, including U.S. citizens, without trial, due process or burden of proof, psychological warfare, intrusive and illegal surveillance of national and international phone calls, e-mails, text communication, computers, homes, extraordinary rendition i.e. illegal kidnappings, locking prisoners up as “enemy combatants,” which means that they are denied all judicial and legal rights, prosecutions of ethical journalists/whistle-blowers, secret CIA black cells in which the same torture techniques that were used on Holocaust victims were-are applied to detainees, and worst of all: medical experimentation on human beings, “detainees,” to see how much pain and suffering they can endure. Many were murdered from the intensified torture practices.

As Mike Lofgren explained in his recent article “The Implication of the Torture Report“:

N-E-LAWfdetail“Chillingly, ‘enhanced interrogation’ is a literal translation of the German verschärfte Vernehmung, a term introduced by a Gestapo directive of June 12, 1942, to describe permissible methods of interrogating prisoners. Post-World War II war crimes tribunals judged the techniques described in the directive—techniques strikingly similar to those employed six decades later by the CIA—to be war crimes. It should also be noted that a Japanese sergeant at Changi Prison in Singapore was sentenced to 20 years at hard labor after World War II for waterboarding prisoners.”

Over the years I’ve struggled with the conclusion that the U.S. occupations, surveillance, and torture policies have made us look like the bad guys in the eyes of the world.  And it seems that our soldiers have been struggling with that same question as well. In addition to physical wounds, the mental wounds of fighting continuous wars have led to drug addictions and suicides. Twenty-two U.S. veterans commit suicide a day, a toll that has surpassed the number of soldiers killed in combat.

But here’s the worst of it. Historians have often asked the question: How could the German people allow someone like Hitler to rise to power? Why did they eagerly applaud Hitler’s racist speeches of hate and bigotry like sheep?  Someday, historians will ask the same questions about the American people and their government concerning U.S. torture prisons at Abu Graib and Guantánamo Bay.  Will Americans care? Will they be outraged that these crimes against humanity were committed in their names? Will they strongly demand an end to the CIA-wars? Inevitably, I fear the answer to those questions.  And that, perhaps, is the most disturbing revelation of all.


Selected quotes are from Eric Lichtblau’s book The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men.

jackie's bio pic

Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of Forpoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com.  She is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at Truthout.org.  She is the author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books. She taught philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her essays, “The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society” and “Neruda” appeared at the North American Review blog.

Eric Lichtblau is a New York Times investigative reporter in Washington.  In 2006 he won a Pulitzer Prize for stories on the NSA’s secret wiretapping operations.  He is the author of Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice.


The first photo is from rarehistoricalphotos.com, and focuses on a Jew about to be shot in front of a mass grave in Vinnitsa, Urkraine. It comes from an Einsatzgruppen soldier’s personal album.

The second image originates from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Belarussian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography.

The last illustration is by Anthony Tremmaglia. He is an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly.

Flashback Friday featuring Gaye McKenney from issue 294.2

Gaye McKenney’s poem “Demolition” from the 2009 Spring issue of the North American Review received an Honorable Mention in the James Hearst Poetry Prize.

SuburbiaA note from the Author: The inspiration for the poem “Demolition” came from news reports of a fallen Marine, 2nd Lt. James Cathey,  who was killed in the Iraq War. His pregnant wife, Katherine, refused to leave his side—sleeping beside his casket guarded by fellow Marines.  It was (and still is) one of the most heart-wrenching images I’ve ever encountered. Here is an excerpt from the actual story:

The night before the burial of her husband’s body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. Continue reading

Remembering 9/11

On the 13th anniversary of 9/11, our thoughts are once again with all those who lost loved ones on that tragic Tuesday morning. And we at the North American Review would like to pay tribute to those lost lives. We want to remember the names, the faces. We want to remember the bravery and sacrifices of the first responders. We want to remember those who, though in danger themselves, took the time to help others. We want to honor them all and celebrate the sense of unity that emerged from the rubble.

So lower your flag, and take a moment of silence for the nearly 3,000 lives that ended that fateful day.

The National September 11 Memorial in New York is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. Photo by Svein-Magne Tunli

The National September 11 Memorial in New York is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, as well as the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. Photo by Svein-Magne Tunli.

Twin beams of light illuminate the skies over New York City, N.Y., in the Tribute in Light. Photo by Kenn Mann.

Twin beams of light illuminate the skies over New York City, N.Y., in the Tribute in Light. Photo by Kenn Mann.

www.911memorial.org/blog/honoring-sept-11-911-memorial

Amanda Blanche is a student at the University of Northern Iowa. She is currently working as an editorial assistant for the North American Review.