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.


ms

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.

 

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The conclusion to “Standing Deadwood” by Thomas M. Atkinson from issue 294.3-4

“STANDING DEADWOOD” originally appeared in issue 294.3-4, May-Aug 2009. The first half of Thomas M. Atkinson’s short story “Standing Deadwood” was featured yesterday June 6, 2015.


House_in_the_Woods

After work, I stopped by on the way home to visit Gwen’s mother Jeri, who lives in a little stick-built house under a two hundred year old standing dead oak just waiting for the right gust of wind. Once Amber found a perfect arrowhead in the broken knot of a windfall branch, grown over and over again each spring, rising higher and higher. Jeri owns Miss Jerolee’s Trims ‘n Tans and most people call her Miss Jerolee whether she’s working or not. She was nursing a cup of coffee at her dinette and she looked like she’d been painted with the powder off of those cheese curls Amber likes so much. Last year she fell asleep with a chemical whitening tray clamped between her teeth, and for months and months, until her cigarettes could stake another claim, it was like she had a light bulb turned on in her mouth every time she smiled.

I said, “Is your tanning bed giving you trouble?”

She held out an orange arm and said, “’Bronze Goddess.’ You spray it on. It’s
what the stars wear to the Golden Globes.”

I said, “And I thought there was something wrong with our TV”

She said, “I got it off the eBay.”

I said, “You talk to her today?”

She licked her thumb and worried a spot on her arm. She said, “Honey, she don’t
call me no more. Not unless she needs cash.”

I said, “You give her any?”

She said, “Not since she broke in the shop. And I didn’t mean to then.”
She lit up a menthol and rubbed the filter end against her teeth until it squeaked.

I said, “I drug her home again last night.”

TraarbaraGruzŝoseo

I’d tracked her out east of town, to a trailer home back a gravel road so washed out that my shingle hatchet kept sliding up underneath the pedals and back again. An old woman on oxygen was asleep on the couch and a lady was selling loose gemstones on the Shopping Channel. Gwen was in the back bedroom in the dark, laid out side by side on the floor with a high school boy like they were dead. They were both dressed and his hand, slim and soft, was on top of hers as light as a feather. She’d sighed and whispered, “Tell me again.” Then I stepped between them and put my boot through the Sheetrock above his head. I stomped all the furniture to match sticks and didn’t stop until Gwen got in the way of the vanity, crawling for the light of the open door. The boy balled up in one corner covering his head with his hands, and I pissed three beers down his back before I drug her out to the truck.

Jeri said, “Smoking that makes her crazy, Honey. It’s poison.”

I said, “I tore up a trailer. Pissed on some kid.”

She shook her head and blew smoke out of her nose.
I said, “Wasn’t his fault.”

And she said, “No, but not yours neither. She’s my flesh and blood, but God help
me, you’ve served your time.”

I said, “But she’s my baby.”

She said, “She’s my baby once too. You got another baby to worry about.”

At the door, I said, “Jeri, when are you going to let me fell this tree?”
She said, “If you cut it down now, how’ll the insurance buy me a new house?”

I looked up and said, “That’s not much of a plan, Jeri. You might just get
squashed like a bug.”

She said, “Next time your sister brings her down, come by the shop and Kim’ll do
her free.” Kim is the Korean girl who works for Jeri, and she paints tiny unicorns on Amber’s nails that look like they’re running from one to the next.

I stopped by Wendy’s and picked up a Frosty milkshake because that’s about the only thing Gwen can keep down anymore. There was a doe in the yard when I got home, and we stared at each other until I turned off the engine and she bolted through the pines. Gwen was still sleeping and the whole room smelled of rotting teeth. I untapped the oven mitts from her hands and rubbed at the adhesive caught in the fine hairs of her wrists. When she stretched you could see my boot laces in the big bruise coming up on her ribs. She smiled at me like a sleepy child, like she used to, like the last two years were a dream she’d already forgotten, and said, “Baby, be careful at work today.”

I said, “I will. You want some Frosty?”

She rolled on to her side and said, “No, I’m just going to catnap until Amber gets up for school.”

Sometimes she forgets. I said, “Give her this.” I kissed her palm and wrapped her fingers tight around it and now she’s fast asleep. It’s what I used to do.

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I go out for a breath of air and set the Frosty down just outside the back door. Three beers from now I’ll be too drunk to drive to Akron, too drunk to run without thinking about where I might be running, too drunk to find my pistol hidden up in the rafters of the tool shed. But I won’t be too drunk to sit in the dark and watch him lick ice cream off his little black hands. And with any luck, I won’t be too drunk to throw my hatchet through the screen door, at the night full of starlight gathered in the green behind his eyes.


Thomas M. Atkinson is an author and playwright. His new novel, Tiki Man, was named one of four finalists in the 2014 Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest. His new collection of linked stories, Standing Deadwood, which includes “Standing Deadwood,” has been selected as a finalist in the 2014 Spokane Prize for Fiction (Willow Springs Editions) and the 2014 St. Lawrence Book Award for Fiction (Black Lawrence Press). “Ruint Horse” was just named 1st Runner-up for the 2014 Chris O’Malley Prize for Fiction at The Madison Review and will appear in the Spring 2015 issue. His short story, “Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills,” published in The Sun magazine, was twice nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize, and is taught in English 11 & 12 AP courses in San Diego, California. “Ruint Horse” and “Red, White & Blue,” were finalists for Tampa Review’s 2013 and 2014 Danahy Fiction Prize. His short play, Dancing Turtle, was one of six winners of the 2013 38th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival, and appears in an anthology of the same name. He has won numerous awards for both fiction and drama, including five Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards. His short fiction has appeared in The Sun, The Madison Review, The North American Review, The Indiana Review, Tampa Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Moon, City Beat, Clifton, and Electron Press Magazine. A new print edition of his first novel, Strobe Life, is now available. He and his wife live in Ohio and have two sons.

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.

Concerning “Man in Flower” by Brian Patrick Heston from issue 300.2

Man in Flower” was an Honorable Mention in the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize contest.

Roy Batty

With “Man in Flower,” I was attempting something of an urban pastoral. Yet rather than celebration, I was interested in something more detached, where wild nature could take precedence in a place, the city, which we usually attribute to civilization. However, since detachment is so foreign to how we humans experience the world, I decided the scene needed some form of human presence, but not a living presence, because a living human would ultimately take over the landscape both physically and metaphorically. The man in the poem is dead because death has a way of lifting our veil of illusion. When we bury bodies, we do not see the equalizing force of decay. Yet, what happens to the man in the poem is exactly what goes on once we are buried in the earth. I wanted to present the man, objectively, as dissolving organic matter that feeds other organic matter. Ultimately, I am attempting to explore a vision of a connected nature, where nothing is wasted and everything, including human bodies, are transformative matter.

The last layer of metaphor I hoped to get across in the poem was the very fragility of civilization itself. Though it may be the greatest invention of the human species, it is never far from collapsing under the immense weight of all the demands we put on it. Countless civilizations before us have disappeared, and before their disappearances, the inhabitants of those civilizations felt just as secure, just as indestructible as many of us do today. Therefore, the poem borders on the apocalyptic, but I hope it resists apocalypse because nature once again reclaims the cityscape.

Slug

The man might be dead, but everything else continues to live, which is very much something we seemed to have forgotten in our mad rush to set wider and wider boundaries between our civilization and the rest of the nature we share the planet with. So, I guess, in the end, I wanted to write a poem of recognition rather than a warning. Warnings seem too human-centric and only end with a fear that moves us to protect ourselves. Recognition, though, offers us so much more than fear. It offers us understanding, and in this particular case, the understanding that polluting and destroying the nature that sustains us is not only foolhardy, but also ungrateful. We have had the privilege to exist on a tiny blue oasis in the middle of frigid airlessness. It has given us oranges, sex, and Paris. It has allowed us sunny stoop and porch days filled with birdsong and the scent of baking pizza, and if there’s one thing our probes sent into the abyss of space have communicated back, it’s that nothing of what we have here can be found out there.

We are, as far as we know, stranded on an island, but unlike Crusoe, we do not long for England because there is no England. There is only the island for as far as the mind can fathom. And here we remain blissfully ignorant of how truly rare we really are.   


Man in Flower

The man lies in the tall grass by the old railroad yard.
No one walks this way anymore, it’s moon-filled
and sun-stilled. Trains haven’t run here since before
the bicentennial. Weedy trees rise up around the man
like a jungle, or barley waiting for the farmer’s scythe.

A white flower has burrowed its way through his temple,
blossoming from his bottom eye. He is man with flower
now/man-flower. Above him, in the ratty leaves
of an ash, starlings have made a noisy nest. Each day,
they speckle him. Seeds also gather, stubby sprouts

already rising from his thin jacket, his faded jeans,
the loose skin of his face. His body will be safe
for a while. But once covered in grass, in the heaviness
of daisies, everything the man is will shrink, flatten out,
until what remains is a field where no one ever goes.


Brian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His poems have won awards from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, and the Lanier Library Association. His first book, “If You Find Yourself,” won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award and is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. He is also the author of the chapbook, “Latchkey Kids,” which is available from Finishing Line Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such publications as Many Mountains Moving, Rosebud, West Branch, Harpur Palate, 5AM, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, South Carolina Review, River Styx, and is upcoming in Borderlands, Tampa Review, and Canary. Presently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Georgia State University.


Illustrations by  Clay Rodery, an illustrator who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Clay’s illustrations have been featured in the North American Review issues 298.4, 299.1, 299.3 and the most recently is in issue 299.4, Fall 2014 and most recently 300.2, Spring 2015.

Flashback Friday featuring Devi Laskar from issue 294.2

Necessity breeds invention!

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I was in an online poetry boot camp and had a few hours to come up with that Tuesday poem. Everything I had written that day stunk like raw fish baking on a dry dock. I overheard my children discussing their favorite movies at the time. My oldest said “Little Mermaid” and my middle said “Sleeping Beauty” and my youngest said “Snow White.” When I asked my youngest why, she said the wicked stepmother had the best laugh. And a poem was born.

“Cackle like a Wicked Stepmother” first appeared in issue 294.2, March-April 2009. Here is a flaskback of the poem as well as link to purchase your very own issue.

How to Cackle like a Wicked Stepmother

First you’ll need the accessories,
dazzling with mischief and ill-
intent: poisoned apples, floor-length
mirrors that talk back in iambic
rhyme; sinuous black evening
gowns, eye-shadow the color
of a bruise, lips too crimson to
be kissed, a castle with a working
dungeon; stone stairs always in need
of mopping, henchmen, preferably
hunchbacked, a charcoal forest whose
trees disappear into the abyss
of moonless nights, a thunderstorm
thick with jagged rain; oh, and a man
with a charmed life standing before
you, confessing his abiding
love for your sister, or best friend
since the second grade. The rest
is easy, look into the glass, bite
through to the core, delicious,
forbidden down to the guttural,
and feel the crows’ wings fluttering
in your belly finally rise.


photoselfie

DEVI S. LASKAR was born and raised in Chapel Hill, N.C. She holds a BA in journalism and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MFA in writing from Columbia University. Ms. Laskar is a photographer and writer—and a former crime reporter in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Illinois. Her poems have been published in the Atlanta Review, the Squaw Valley ReviewPratichi, the Tule Review, and the North American Review, where her poems were finalists for the James Hearst Prize in 2009 and 2011. 


CLAIRE STIGLIANI (b. 1983) is a drawer and painter known for her works inspired by paintings, photographs, magazines, posters, YouTube clips, literature, performance and plays. These works explore the act of watching and being watched and blur fiction with reality. Her recent shows include The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, (WI), The Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, (WI), RussellProjects, Richmond (VA), and the Jenkins Johnson Gallery (NY). She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and Photography in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.

At Home in the Pauses by Brian Fitch

I’ve been thinking lately about fiction and nonfiction, how they can merge and separate until one becomes the other.  Especially I’ve been thinking about the technique of pause in nonfiction, a liberal stepping outside, pausing the narrative, to pursue a possibly fictional what if this had happened?

NAR_testimony Clay Rodery

Fiction writing has as one of its compelling qualities the possibility of being real.  When the narrative is paused, fiction and nonfiction can become intermixed as a writer finds herself or himself stepping back from fiction to the real, to actual stories, the unembellished past.  When the edges of imagination become too thin to keep a writer aloft, s/he can just let go.  What really happened may provide a sort of reorientation.  When the writer’s imagination is recharged by the real, or at least the remembered real, another pause to follow a fictional path will present itself.

After enough years, these pauses can become quite lengthy and take on the appearance of actual story.  In other words, the pause may become the story and the return to the nonfiction frame may become the fiction.

Rust

Once the paused fiction has become the dominant narrative, the next step is another pause from the now functioning narrative to a newer fiction – a pause within a pause, within a pause and so forth.  If you live long enough, you may find yourself far from the original home with no maps back, even if you want them.  Another question might be who would want them, but that is for another discussion.  Making the attempt to find your way forward in these new narratives will keep you writing and attempting to answer the questions who am I? and/or how did I get here?  Whether or not you can answer these questions does not matter.  You are writing fiction, the pauses are infinite, and the converted narrative may very well be the superior one.


Brian Fitch lives in western Wisconsin with his wife the poet Jennifer Brantley and their cat Moxie.  His fiction or poetry has appeared in North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Sewanee Review, Helsinki Quarterly, Ars Interpres, Bark, and others. Brian appears in issue 296.3, Summer 2011 as well as the current issue 300.2 with his story “Nothing Is Always the Same”.


Illustrations by  Clay Rodery, an illustrator who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Clay’s illustrations have been featured in the North American Review issues 298.4, 299.1, 299.3 and the most recently is in issue 299.4, Fall 2014 and most recently 300.2, Spring 2015.

Between the Personal and Political: Writing the Stories of Gay Liberation by Bradford Tice

I am very grateful to North American Review for publishing the poem “I Heard They Were Queer for One Another,” featured in the spring issue of NAR, as it is part of a project that is very near and dear to my heart. In the introduction to Carolyn Forché’s landmark anthology Against Forgetting, Forché advocates for a space between the categories of the personal and political poem—a space that she calls “the social.”[1] I have always liked the implications of this. That between the personal and the political there is conversation, gossip, culture, socializing. A fertile ground for poetry indeed! That space Forché describes is where I wanted this poem to reside.

A Rosetta Stone for Directors

The personal: I came out of the closet in high school, so I feel intimately the desire of individuals to carve out a space that is private, separate from politics and the media’s glare. I’m also aware that the act of carving out such a space can be a political gesture. That’s perhaps why I became so fascinated with the story of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I learned about the Stonewall, the efforts of Gay Liberation, and I remember being shocked at the time that I had lived as long as I had having never caught a whiff of any of these narratives or histories. It wasn’t even in a classroom or book that I learned about them, at least not at first, but rather through word of mouth, interactions with older gay men in the community who knew a thing or two about gay history. At the time (the late 1990s) it seemed that gay and lesbian history was an idea that was still trying to take shape. The commotion made by this silence (and silence can indeed make a lot of noise) propelled me into this project. I wanted to make sense of these stories, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted to make sense of what they meant to me. How was I a part of this history? How much of my life did I owe to these men and women?

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The political: So a word on the Stonewall. The Gay Liberation movement is said by many to have started on a hot summer night in 1969 in New York City’s Greenwich Village when a group of street kids with few options and nowhere else to go chose to resist police harassment of known homosexual establishments. The poem “I Heard They Were Queer for One Another” is a piece included in my most recent poetry collection What the Night Numbered (Trio House Press, 2015), wherein the myth of Cupid and Psyche—their epic account of love discovered, lost, and eventually reunited—is re-envisioned and threaded with the accounts of the Stonewall Riots. The voices that speak within these poems are those of the oppressed and unnamed, those who live between the traditional categories of sex, gender, and sexuality in a time when the only names given to such individuals were slurs. Many are the voices of street kids and queer youths, hustlers, panhandlers, and survivors who have come to New York in search of both the city’s great anonymity and the promise of a space, however meager, to meet and love one another. The spirit of these youths are vocalized in the character of Psyche, the name given to a transgendered runaway from Nebraska who comes to the urban streets at the age of thirteen with only the clothes on her back, a fist full of faux jewelry, and a desire for a new kind of love.

The poem featured in this issue of North American is set at the moment when the crowd and commotion outside the Stonewall Inn became a riot. On June 28, police raided the bar. The riot trucks idled outside waiting to be loaded with the patrons, all of whom would be arrested, their names published in the paper, which meant jobs would be lost, marriages would implode, and lives would be ruined. This was nothing new. Raids were a part of life during this era in gay culture, but for whatever reason, on this night the patrons, many of them those street kids mentioned above, had decided enough was enough. The poetic speaker in the poem is a kind of collective voice—the voice of those street kids gossiping about what happened, speculating, but the poem watches the police. Once the riot started, the police were forced inside the Stonewall, barricaded inside. There was only one exit, and they were ordered by their superior to wait for help to come.

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The social: I wanted this poem to tie the experiences of those officers to the lives of those rioters beating on the doors of the Stonewall. I wanted to show a point of connectedness in the midst of chaos, the one side reflecting the other. Brutality is always easier when we deny our commonalities, and so I chose to make everyone present bound and intimate, even as it all came apart. As this brotherhood of officers stands together facing their fears of what might await them on the other side of that door, they effectively mirror the fears of the Stonewall’s patrons who often faced daily homophobia and potential police harassment. Effectively, in that moment the police are queered. They are made strange, or perhaps more accurately, they are brought into the strange—that liminal and uncertain space at the margins. They feel their power slipping away, and they are oppressed. I would like to think that for a moment the two groups psychically approached one another, perhaps recognized themselves in each other’s faces, and I’d also like to think that it was indeed the queerest thing.

[1] Carolyn Forché, introduction to Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993), 31.


Bradford Tice is the author of two books of poetry: Rare Earth (New Rivers Press, 2013), which was named the winner of the 2011 Many Voices Project and a 2014 Debut-litzer finalist, and What the Night Numbered (Trio House Press, 2015), winner of the 2014 Trio Award. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, North American Review, The American Scholar, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, Epoch, as well as in Best American Short Stories 2008. His poetry was also selected as the winner of Prairie Schooner’s 2009 Edward Stanley Award. He currently teaches at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.


Illustrations by  Clay Rodery, an illustrator who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Clay’s illustrations have been featured in the North American Review issues 298.4, 299.1, 299.3 and the most recently is in issue 299.4, Fall 2014 and most recently 300.2, Spring 2015.

Connectivity by Julia Shipley

Elton_vs_Pnau_800

Around 5:30 PM on Monday, December 8th, 2014, a couple down the road from me, Patricia and Stuart Little, both in their 70s, returned home from a shopping trip. When Mr. Little fell while getting out of the car, Mrs. Little was physically unable to help him up. At that time, like most houses along the rural Creek Road, the Little’s were in the dark, owing to a storm-wrought power outage which rendered the Little’s home phone useless. Presently there’s no steady cell service in this remote part of Vermont, so Mrs. Little struck out across the snowy field to fetch help from the neighbors.

In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, which was a one of the last precincts in America to be electrified, this delayed or lacking linkage to grids and networks means that people who live here are, by necessity, deeply and directly tethered to each other.

europe_map_800

These kinds of connections tend to withstand power outages and missing bars on smart phones. Like mycorrhizal fungi running under the soil, exchanging information and resources between trees, there is a secret service contract between residents of the Kingdom, an unwritten “thou shalt look after your neighbor” system here. My next door neighbors exemplify this, once calling to inquire if I had broken up with my boyfriend, noting, “We haven’t seen his car in your driveway lately.” We have not, I replied, saying he was simply busier these days than before.

Well, guess what, they’d clued in sooner than I had. Yup, I soon learned, he and I were done.

Alternately, they often checked in to see if I was, “Ok” saying, “There’s a lot of snow on your car, and it hasn’t left the driveway recently. We wanted to be sure you were alive in there.”

My poem “Migration of Baling Twine” was inspired by these kinds of mundane connections that bind us together. My poem (full disclosure) is also a love child born from the coupling of Nancy Willard’s poem “The Migration of Bicycles” and author Helen Scott Nearing’s passage about “love” as a connective substance. I was inspired by Nancy Willard’s playful poem included in her collection, In The Salt Marsh (Knopf, 2006) where she observes the behavior of bicycles with the same intensity as a wildlife biologist chronicling a pride of lions, reporting how they operate singly “balanced on one foot like a clam” and in clusters, “…a whole pack / will stand for hours in the rain.” As anyone whose ever strolled through a backcountry barn knows, baling twine is as ubiquitous as bicycles in the city–so commonplace as to be invisible, and yet… Helen Scott Nearing, author and co-author of a kind of back-to-the-land Bible, The Good Life, later wrote (I have to approximate, as I can’t find the passage right now) that she believes this world is held together by ordinary strands of love crisscrossing the globe. Long before the internet she said that she thought our loving thoughts crossed the distances like a spider’s silk and made a net that kept the planet in tact (or something like that).

Another piece that secretly informs “The Migration of Baling Twine” is William Stafford’s poem “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” with its threat of broken links and severed ties: “For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,/a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break” and its consequent, “lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.” Any connection, Stafford suggests, be it a fungal strand, a transcontinental phone call, a loving bond, an artery to the heart, or a piece of twine tying the door open, is subject to rupture, a rupture that could equal disaster.

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Mrs. Little never made it to the neighbor’s house. The combined circumstances of grave illness and no power to call out meant that Mr. Little was unable to rescue the wife who’d set out on behalf of saving him. He was discovered inside his house in medical distress by a relative who visited two days later, whereupon, the relative alerted authorities of Mrs. Little’s disappearance. She was found, halfway across the field, no longer alive.

Despite all our connectivity, both it and our humanity are fragile, fallible, friable as baling twine, anything but foolproof. The warning contained at the end of Stafford’s poem haunts the Littles’ story, haunts all our stories, “the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”


unnamedJulia Shipley is the author of Adam’s Mark: Writing From the Ox House, a book-length essay exploring reciprocity between farming and writing, selected as a Best Book of 2014 by the Boston Globe. Also. Her first full-length poetry collection, The Academy of Hay won the 2014 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the Bona Fide Books in the fall of 2015. She works as independent journalist, the cofounder of a micro press, Chickadee Chaps & Broads, and a small scale farmer living with her husband in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Her poems and essays have recently appeared in Cincinnati Review, CutBank, FIELD, Fourth Genre, Green Mountains Review, Poetry, Poet Lore, Orion, The Rumpus, The Toast and Verse Daily. Julia’s poem “The Migration of Baling Twine” appears in issue 300.1, Winter 2015


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Illustrations 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.

Life Stories by Donald Anderson

Writing starts from the world—doesn’t it?—something you see or hear, or hear about. Newspapers. TV. Restaurants. Coffee Shops. Family Reunions. Bus Stops . . . a “trigger,” was how Richard Hugo put it, and it arrives from anywhere, anytime, like meteors, fish bites, hail, or dawn. Sometimes it can be as simple as a word. Take sabotage, coming to us from sabot, the French word for wooden shoe. The first instances of “sabotage” were likely peasant revolts against oppressive landowners, peasants tossing sabots into machines with the intent to destroy the machines: a word turning into event, or story.

dog sleds -clay roderyEarly in my Air Force career, I found myself stationed at a radar site atop the Brooks Range in central Alaska. The base camp sat beside the Indian River that connected to the Koyukuk, a primary northern tributary to the mighty Yukon. There was an Indian fishing village, where the Koyukuk met the Yukon. During the winter, when the Indian River froze, the fishermen would manipulate their snow machines up that frozen track to our radar site to play cards and drink liquor. We obeyed the federal law forbidding the sale of bottles of alcohol to the Indians. There was no such law against pouring all the drinks they could pay for. The Indians would drink up, then head back to their village, swerving and whooping in the refrigerated dark.

There was an older Indian who came not by Ski-Doo, but by way of dogs and sled. He’d drink, then go outside to sleep with his animals. It could be fifty below and he’d trudge out. You’d hear the dogs yipping in the morning—at four or five—as he’d toss them frozen fish. Once when he’d mushed up for a night, I asked, “Why don’t you drive a snowmobile?” He gave me a look. “If your snowmobile dies,” he asked, “what are you going to do—eat the carburetor?” Continue reading

Of Dioramas and Human Bondage By Laurie Frankel

For our year-end Salon meeting (please don’t call it Book Club), we members assigned ourselves the task of making dioramas of a scene from a favorite book. Here’s mine. Can you guess?

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It’s Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, when Philip Carey meets Mildred Rogers in the coffee shop. Yes, that’s a teeny Philip Seymour Hoffman shoved off into the corner playing the part of self-abasing Mr. Carey. While reading the book, I always pictured rail-thin Mildred as rail-thin Keira Knightly (but with her top on). Imagine my delight when Keira decided to set all photo-manipulating editors straight by bearing some of it all. When I saw the photos, I thought, how better to portray the sexual power Mildred wielded over hate-my-stinkin’-clubfoot Philip (Carey not Hoffman) than with a Godzilla-sized photo of Ms. Knightly proudly showing off the twins. The fact she donned black opera-length lace gloves for the shoot (and in my diorama) is proof there is a God.

Initially, I neatly set the coffee cup and saucer on top of an upright table and extra chair, but when my dog knocked the whole thing over, I saw the disarray and said, “Good boy!” It was as if my dog’s tail channeled Mildred’s fury.

How many ways did Philip “The Masochist” Carey self-flagellate? Don’t make me count them, but I never tired of it. That Maugham articulated obsessive infatuation and its close cousin self-hate with such depth and precision amazed me because at one time or another we’ve all experienced Philip-Carey type longing. I mean, haven’t “we?”


Author, short-story writer, and humorist Laurie Frankel knows pain is the root of all comedy and is thrilled her life is so damn funny. Her books include “I Wore a Thong for This?!” and “There’s a Pattern Here & It Ain’t Glen Plaid,” about which Kirkus Reviews has this to say: “. . . laugh-out-loud funny . . . great practical suggestions . . . A quirky, earnest guide to regaining self-esteem for the modern woman.” Frankel’s literary work has appeared in ShenandoahThe Literary ReviewNorth American ReviewAlaska Quarterly Review, and The Pedestal Magazine. She is the host of the upcoming website AllThingsRejected.com. In the meantime, feel free to reach her at LauriesLoveLogic.

Notes on “Prayer for my New Daughter” by Rebecca Foust from issue 300.1

Prayer for My New Daughter

After Yeats, and inspired by an attack on transgender students using a “bathroom with urinals” at a college in the northeastern US.

A soul in chrysalis, in first agonized molt,
must choose: LADIES, or MENS.
For some—for you—these rooms are fraught,
an open field where lines are drawn: think of
the White-Only signs. Or Serrano’s Piss Christ
and Duchamp’s Fountain, pitted with acid
and icepicks, de-faced. As for restrooms called
“Bathrooms with Urinals,” no, his words
will never deconstruct the master’s house.
For an hour I have walked and prayed,
considering icepicks, how they’re made
to fit a blind hand; how kept so well honed.
You are soft as sown grass and fierce as cut glass.
You pack your new purse with lipstick, and mace.

This poem presented me with several technical problems, most imposed by the limitations of sonnet structure. “Prayer for my New Daughter” is part of a manuscript called Paradise Drive that recently won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and will be released at AWP in April 2015. Because Paradise Drive is entirely comprised of sonnets—some faithful to form, and others exploded—I did feel compelled to say all I had to say in this poem in fourteen lines. I don’t necessarily love epigraphs (and have noticed many editors don’t, either) but I felt I had to give attribution to Yeats. Also, while still in the process of revising the poem, I noticed that it worked better at readings where I had a chance to give background on the events that inspired it.

claire Continue reading