Thursday Throwback featuring Susan Terris with “Before Cortéz” from issue 295.2

Susan’s poem “Before Cortéz” was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2010.

Thoughts from the author: “I’m always interested in the plight of women past and present and in women’s potential for power. I have an inordinate admiration for women who find a way to use this power to change their lives. Yes, I admire the  women who do not simply Ophelia-like cave in and choose servitude or death.”

jperkinsamaricangirlweb (1)

Before Cortéz

Bitch they call me. Whore. Yet in the blink of
a puma, I—Malintzin—was changed from
Aztec princess to Mayan slave. But still beautiful,
I think, as I scrub other women’s linens on
the bank of a slime-green river. Testing, I smile.
My reflection meets my eyes, smiles back.
With a chapped left hand, I rake
through my hair. My double uses her right.
I have no rights any more. Angry, I
spit in the face of the washerwoman who
looks like me. A feral cat, she bares her teeth.
But my lips are still pursed. Puta! she cries,
La Chinganda! Curds of water stir as the circle
of phlegm grows wider, thins and vanishes.
The other Malintzin, wet clothing molding
the arcs of her body, rises from the river,
moves slowly, sinuously. She makes no ripples.
Her dress sheds no water. Eyes dark with
menace, she advances until I see myself
reflected in her pupils. Run if you can, she
whispers hoarsely. But, rooted there, I breathe
out and in. When I exhale again, the other
Malintzin steps up close, grabs hold of me,
presses her mouth firmly against mine. Inhale,
she murmurs, shape-shifting into
a plumed conquistador. As bidden, I breathe in
and so begin to vanish….

Susan Terris’s most recent book is Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk Press). She is the author of 6 books of poetry, 15 chapbooks, and 3 artist’s books.  Journal publications include The Southern Review, Denver Quarterly, The JournalNorth American Review, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers from Field appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. Susan’s piece, “Before Cortez,” appears in issue 295.2 of NAR. She’s editor of Spillway Magazine. Her book Memos will be published by Omnidawn in 2015.

Illustration by Justin PerkinsJustin graduated from College for Creative Studies. A freelance illustrator and designer, he teaches art in Detriot. Justin’s first illustration for North American Review appeared in issue 298.4, Fall 2013.

Throwback Thursday featuring Joan Colby with “The Lunar Year” from issue 295.2

Joan Colby’s poem “The Lunar Year” was a finalist in the 2010 James Hearst Poetry Prize. The poem appears in issue 295.2 of the North American Review.


A note from the author: “The Lunar Year” was inspired by reading a list of names for the moon in the various months. I chose the names that I found most intriguing and spun off from there. Many of the moon names were of Native American origin. To this day, some farmers schedule tasks according to the moon’s phase and I know of horse breeders who wean or castrate according to the “Sign” (a particular moon or phase of the moon). Continue reading

Douglas County Jail Blues by Brian Daldorph

Thirteen years since I started teaching my Creative Writing class at Douglas County Jail just outside Lawrence, Kansas.  Thirteen years, hundreds of classes, thousands of inmates in my class over the years.

I’ve taught for over twenty years at the University of Kansas.  I’ve taught in France, Senegal, Zambia, Japan and England.  But there’s no doubt at all that my writing class at Douglas County Jail has been the best teaching experience of my life.

I was there again on Thursday, same time, same place, in the classroom with tiny windows of a facility that’s been described as looking more like a corporate headquarters than a county jail (or “correctional facility,” to give its proper name).

Here are some of the voices we heard in this week’s class:

In the echoed word misheard, spoken

from lips unseen, I hear your name.


blue-beard-finalwebRoom after room—they all seem filled with gloom

Not enough time outside to blossom and bloom

Slowly he starts to realize he’s stuck in a tomb


I used to act my age

Then I got stuck in this cage

which put me in this rage

I can’t seem to turn the page

  Continue reading

Hurricane Anniversaries by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

In the early morning hours of October 24, 2005, I got up to watch the news; little did I realize it would be the last time I’d be using electricity for over a week.

For weeks, we’d been watching the progress of Hurricane Wilma. We had just finished cleaning up from Hurricane Katrina, which hit Florida on its way to New Orleans. We had a huge ficus tree, and when it fell, it took up much of the back yard. It didn’t hit the house, but it did smash a shed to smithereens, along with the fence line.

So we got that cleaned up and a new shed built, just in time for Hurricanes Rita and Wilma (the shed survived the tests!). I have no memories of Rita, but Wilma was different.

I knew that Wilma would come ashore on the west coast, so I assumed that it would lose power as it crossed the peninsula. On the contrary, our puny land mass didn’t seem to affect it at all.

Justin Perkins - first judgement

Some people say that Wilma was only a category 1, but I’d swear it was a 2. When I saw all the damage, I wondered if it was a 3. At any rate, it’s sobering how much damage a strong 1 or 2 can do. Some parts of our county were out of power until Thanksgiving. Our house lost some of it’s roof shingles and had some damage, but nothing catastrophic. Continue reading

Peep Rejects (and other inspirations) by Laurie Frankel

sunlight-justin perkins

I’m always on the lookout for writing inspiration. When something, anything, strikes me as funny-odd-interesting-sick-creepy-fantastic-ridiculous, I take note. I have many quarter sheets of paper with cryptic phrases that at the time felt like the start to The Great Gatsby, but upon rereading seem more like the beginnings of a psychotic break. I have visions of accidentally stabbing myself in the jugular while logging brilliant thoughts behind the wheel, think Joe Pesci in Casino—and sorry AT&T, it can’t wait because my thoughts have the half-life of a neutrino. Continue reading

The Making of: Digital Love and Heartbreak by Justin Perkins


One of the things I like most about my illustration assignments is that I have the opportunity to face challenges that get me out of my creative comfort zone. My first assignment from North American Review did just that. Once I read the story “I Thought You Might Want To Hear About It” by Brian Hyer I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, conceptually (in a good way).

Most of the time when reading stories, ideas for images come almost immediately, but although I enjoyed reading this story nothing came to mind the first time I read it. I had to stop and read it more carefully. In the end I was taking notes and highlighting important things until I had enough information to achieve my goal of giving the viewer a piece of the story and making it interesting while keeping the same mood the story has overall.

After I went over the story and pulled out what I wanted to emphasize in the artwork, the brainstorming process became a lot easier. After I had a thumbnail I liked, I gathered the reference materials I needed and did a more refined sketch on 3 layers of tracing paper that I scanned and put on Photoshop to finish planning out the color and lighting of the illustration.

justin perkins image

When doing the final artwork I used acetate to separate the individual layers. For this piece I started with a gouache painting of the main character sitting at his desk at school. On the acetate, I added drawings of different elements in the story (the smart phone he uses to send messages to women online and the police shield from his run in with the law). After the original artwork was done I altered some of the colors and touched up some areas in Photoshop, then I was ready to send it in.

Justin Perkins2

Justin Perkins graduated from College for Creative Studies. A freelance illustrator and designer, he teaches art in Detriot. Justin’s first illustration for North American Review appeared in issue 298.4.

Why Does Poetry Matter? by Charlotte Pence

My poetry often siphons science for inspiration. Scientific American, Nature, “Best of” series all provide me with gifts like “humans taste brown” and “the measures we use depend on what we are measuring.”For the past five years, I’ve taken a special interest in human descent with modification, which has turned into an interest regarding literary evolutionists and what they have to say about why we spend so much of our time in the land of narrative. According to Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, if you add up all of our time watching TV, listening to song, day dreaming, night dreaming, not to mention actually reading, approximately 2/3 of our lives are spent in fantasy land. In an era of ever-increasing productivity, why has narrative remained such a central part of our lives? Neuroscientists and biologists tell us point blank: the mind is hard-wired for story. For example, if your boss gives you a wobbly smile in passing, you will have a hard time not wondering why the smile didn’t seem genuine. Is she mad at you? Is it maybe not at all about you? Is it that she knows you will soon have some work dumped on you? Whatever the case, the mind takes the fragments and attempts to create a narrative.

open - Artist jperkins fish

As an avid reader, I like that narrative is so important to our lives. But as a poet, I have a particular set of concerns regarding this sibling that everyone loves more than poetry. If our brains are hard-wired for story, what is the draw of poetry when narrative is sliced away? Is the lack of narrative in lyrical poetry part of what contributes to poetry’s small readership? Continue reading

Adventures of an Amateur Writer By Grant Veeder

open - notebook paper and hands - jperkins

Yes, I remember being a young writer. I think my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Hershey, was encouraging me, but at the time, it felt more like I was being tolerated.  Mr. Hershey was a sweet, sweet man. When I told him that the title of my poetry notebook was “Evangeline and Other Poems I Hate,” he merely gave a grimace-smile, and said, “Oh, you don’t really mean that.”  I did. Continue reading

Door to Another World: about “Rutabaga” from 297.2 by Susan Elbe

I’m a very, very slow writer. I am glacial. I move at the pace of lakes “making” ice. I don’t write every day. I don’t even write every week. I definitely don’t do a poem a day in April. I hate free-writes. I don’t dislike, but am wary of, prompts. I never attend workshops where I need to produce new work overnight or in class. I’m not a poet who gets “an idea” for a poem—a phrase will come into my head and I’ll walk around with it for weeks until I’m finally compelled to put it down on paper and begin the journey toward a poem.

So, when my poetry group collectively decided they wanted to do 10-minute free-writes at the beginning of each group session, I balked, protested, and, finally, gave in, certain that nothing would come of it for me, that I could just use the time to mull over my day.

One night the poet who hosted our group put a big, clumsy rutabaga in the middle of our circle of chairs and said, “Here’s our prompt.” Really? I stared at that rutabaga for what seemed like an eternity. Then I started writing, just describing the look of the vegetable and pretty soon the 10 minutes were up. It wasn’t until at least a week or two later that I pulled out what I’d written and stared at my description of that homely vegetable for what seemed yet again like an eternity.

When I was a child, my grandmother used to make what she called mashed turnips. I hated them. They had the consistency of baby food, the color of pumpkins, and tasted awful. Along with wonderful other foods like paczki and  fried dumplings and potato pancakes, they were a staple in my German-Russian household, but  I could not eat them. Only now do I realize they probably weren’t turnips at all, but rutabaga, a very common confusion—turnips are smaller, have a smooth skin, and have white flesh.

One Night Bride

Continue reading