Miscellaneous

Strange Country: On Ai, Frank Stanford, and Page Expectations by Peter LaBerge

BY LOTTE L.S.

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The 1970s. Roots: An Asian American Reader is published in 1971    the same year

the first issue of This magazine sows the seeds of Language poetry

culminating in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E seven years later        Lyn Hejinian

                                    Leslie Scalapino

                                        Ron Silliman

the Black Arts Movement continues to          grow       Sonia Sanchez       Amiri Baraka

Nikki Giovanni       Etheridge Knight

                                                             morph           

                            and later

                                             be challenged by younger poets    Ishmael Reed            

Cecil Brown     “confessional poetry”        sparks       both followers

                                           and reactionaries            

No More Masks! An Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Women   published in  1973

Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers                                1974

    Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings    1975

    Audre Lorde              besmilr brigham Lawson Fusao Inada     Adrienne Rich

June Jordan                   Mei-mei Berssenbrugge    John Ashbery Joy Harjo

    Leslie Marmon Silko           Ana Castillo     Michael S. Harper      Alfred Starr Hamilton


Born in the mid-‘90s in South London, it is difficult for me to comprehend the full breadth of poetries existing in the U.S. during the ‘70s. Meanwhile in the U.K., Ted Hughes and his contemporaries continued their attempts to hold the poetry world hostage, and others provided a proliferation of propaganda to assert that a poem was not a poem if it did not rhyme. The British “revival movement” attempted to deploy oxygen into a sealed tank. In each person’s hands the assemblage above would differ, the same decade rendered unrecognizable for another. “Omissions are not accidents,” wrote poet Marianne Moore in 1968. We all choose who it is we recognize, who forms part of our reality. “When I was growing up I thought Arkansas was the centre of the universe, and Fayetteville was the centre of Arkansas, and Dickson Street was the centre of Fayetteville, and Roger’s Pool Hall was the centre of Dickson Street, and Roger was the Buddha,” poet C.D. Wright once said. Some of us will always be framed as marginalized, but no-one is marginal to their own life. U.K., 1970s: Another reality. Denise Riley, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the written and oral poetries of Bengali communities in East London, the poetry anthologies circulated within the anti-apartheid, Nicaragua and Palestine solidarity movements.

Ai and Frank Stanford are two poets often summoned for failing to receive the “recognition” they “deserved.” This is partly due to the fact that much of their work is out of print, the remaining copies $$$. While Ai received numerous awards and read to packed audiences, and both she and Stanford were published widely in journals and with presses, it does seem that both chose to situate themselves away from the movements and schools of poetry that were wielding their manifesto-ed lightsabers during their time. In a rare interview, Stanford warned, “If you’ve come here to get me to talk about movements in poetry and schools and writers and so on, I believe you’ve come to the wrong place.” Working as a land surveyor, he published ten collections of poetry with small literary presses, rarely giving readings. In 1977, he set up Lost Roads Press with C.D. Wright, run from Arkansas with the aim of showcasing the work of local poets. Not long after, Ai’s second collection, Killing Floor, won the 1978 Lamont Poetry Award from the Academy of American Poets. In the face of the often-reductive descriptions of her work as “hard hitting monologues” focused on “tragic violence—rape, murder, incest, suicide, abortion”—she would assert, “I don’t want to be catalogued and my characters don’t want to be catalogued and my poems don’t want to be catalogued.”

Stanford was just ten months younger than Ai, born two states away in August 1948 in Mississippi, and by the time Killing Floor was published, Stanford was dead; three self-inflicted bullets to the heart, two months shy of his thirtieth birthday. I don’t intend to recount or amplify the already heavily-mythologized biographies of either poet (a simple online search will do). I want instead to track the work of two poets writing at a single moment in time—relatively close to one another but seemingly unaware of one another’s work—by bringing into proximity two collections: Ai’s Vice: New and Selected Poems (1999) and What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford (2015). While Vice wasn’t Ai’s final collection, it spans over twenty-five years of writing, bringing together poems from earlier books with new poems. What About This contains all ten of Stanford’s published collections, as well as a selection of unpublished manuscripts, an interview, short prose, and excerpts from his sprawling 542-page poem, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of both the release of Killing Floor and Stanford’s death. Tavern Books crowdfunded over $10,000 to reprint an anniversary edition of Killing Floor, while Foundlings Press published Constant Stranger, a collection of writings inspired by Stanford, and readers gathered in Arkansas for the Frank Stanford Literary Festival.

While in their twenties, both poets made new discoveries about their pasts. Stanford found out that he had been adopted at birth from the Emery Home “for unwed mothers” by Dorothy Gilbert, who he had previously believed was his biological mother. Stanford is said to have never discovered anything concrete about his origins, the records of his birth lost in a fire that burnt Emery Home to the ground in 1964. “Night has put her coins over my eyes,” he would later write. “I don’t know my past.” Around a similar age, Ai found out she was “the child of a scandalous affair my mother had with a Japanese man she met at a streetcar stop.” She described herself as “1/2 Japanese, 1/8 Choctaw, 1/4 Black, and 1/16 Irish.” The New York Times noted that “the proportions are telling too, for not quite adding up to a complete person.” In Stanford’s work, the messiness of experience, fractured identity, and shifting contradictions are akin to a snow globe being shook, the sensation of stepping off a spinning roundabout:

the principal that old crawdad asked me my name I told her I am
the Marquis de Lafayette Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier
I got it down pretty good don’t I
better known around these parts as Francois Gilbert the gambler and duelist
sometimes I am Jean Lafitte the pirate I am the Japanese bowman
if I go into all my past lives it will take all day
but I was the rascal and rogue after I read the Lodging for the Night
I was Francis Villon

Here we see how The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You moves across multiple verbal registers without punctuation to avoid distinguishing between different selves; alternating between lyric and narrative, Stanford doesn’t abandon but reconfigures traditional lyric goals of expressing a singular self. What results is a consciousness ricocheting across multiplying existences. C.D. Wright called The Battlefield a “542 page poem without line integrity, punctuation or even space to facilitate breathing and eye movement, much less narrative clarity.” Written over more than a decade, the poem tells the story of twelve-year-old clairvoyant Francis—growing up white in the ‘60s between Memphis and Mississippi—who seeks to avenge the death of his friend, Sylvester, who is black and lynched in a racist attack. The Battlefield features a collection of characters based on many of the people Stanford spent his childhood summers with in the levee camps his father worked in, as well as cameos by figures such as Sonny Liston (who, after crying alone in a short-order café, falls asleep and is kissed on the back of his neck by Francis). If Stanford’s work spotlights the many shards of a self—“the adoptee, the backwoods Ozark dreamer, the vibrant light in the room, the withdrawn seeker” as A.P. Walton writes—Ai’s work offers a multitude of voices, “personas,” that express the shifting, contradictory and fractured nature of feeling. So begins “The Hitchhiker”:

The Arizona wind dries out my nostrils
and the heat of the sidewalk burns my shoes,
as a woman drives up slowly.
I get in, grinning at a face I do not like,
but I slide my arm across the top of the seat
and rest it lightly against her shoulder.
We turn off into the desert,
then I reach inside my pocket and touch the switchblade.

We stop, and as she moves closer to me, my hands ache,
but somehow, I get the blade into her chest.
I think of a song: “Everybody needs somebody,
everybody needs somebody to love,”
as the black numerals 35 roll out of her right eye
inside one small tear.

At once disgusted and lustful, humorous and hateful, the speakers in Ai’s work refuse to be overawed or mystified by their own complexities. “I feel everything and nothing,” the rapper Dave declares in “Two Birds No Stones”; “That’s why I’m living three lives, I’m in GTA.” By presenting us with a seemingly endless number of characters who abuse and face abuse, who do not deviate from speaking with the same unbroken, cool inflection, Vice forces us to confront the possibility that these aren’t just a few rotten apples who wear their vices on their sleeves—but that the whole tree from which they bruise is sick. In Ai’s poetry, violence is not “an interruption of civilized existence,” as Lisa Russ Spaar writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books, but “a prior, intrinsic, and terrifying truth of it.”

Stating that her speakers were not “vehicles” for her own voice, Ai said, “I’m not really searching for myself…. It’s human nature that I’m exploring, the behavior of everyone.” Yet Ai’s work avoids genericism or universalism. The poet and translator Forrest Gander writes, “One form of totalitarianism is the stuffing of expression into a single, standardized language that marches the reader toward some presumptively shared goal.” There is no such “goal” in Ai’s work; her poems do not seek to rehabilitate—this is why sins remain as book titles (Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, Fate, Greed)—these are speakers who remain, who refuse or are denied healing, redemptive epiphanies, resolution, anesthetic, transformation. There is no exhale. In refusing to do so, Ai recognizes the limitations of poetry, its inability to unstick itself from the world’s nightly revolutions, its whirring mechanics under the totalizing, brutalizing, systems that determine so much of our daily lives. Likewise, The Battlefield is not a journey for “justice.” Stanford recognized that his writing could not stand in for the work of justice, choosing—after 542 pages of violence, dreams and death—to leave the poem on, “all of this ends / with to be continued.” Later, Stanford writes in Crib Death, “I for one leave the transcendence of language / To the auctioneers on the widow’s steps.”

But the speakers in Ai’s and Stanford’s work are gifted something: existence. I remember asking my Mum what she wanted to do after she had managed to extract herself from a decade-long clusterfuck of a relationship. “I just want to be,” she said. It sounded like the easiest thing in the world, but to be able to live without the (poetically omnipresent) necessity of redemption, of transformation–isn’t that everything? And it feels almost impossible most days. “I mean to live,” says the narrator in Ai’s poem, “Nothing But Colour,” after stabbing herself to death with a bronze sword. In another poem, “Everything: Eloy, Arizona, 1956,” a woman deserts her lover:

Tin shack, where my baby sleeps on his back
the way the hound taught him;
highway, black zebra, with one white stripe;
nickel in my pocket for chewing gum;
you think you’re all I’ve got.
But when the 2 ton rolls to a stop
and the driver gets out,
I sit down in the shade and wave each finger,
saving my whole hand till the last.
He’s keys, tires, a fire lit in his belly
in the diner up the road.
I’m red toenails, tight blue halter, black slip.
He’s mine tonight. I don’t know him.
He can only hurt me a piece at a time.

Ai’s speakers are aware of these limitations, our inability to pick and choose which parts of a person or world we recognize, and which parts we turn away from. She will do the best with what she can. She will take pleasure in what she can. Ai stated, “I’m not afraid to look a character in the eye and see his whole life, and deal with that life rather than an episode.” Intention is important for anybody—not just poets—to know why, by what means, and for whom or what we wish to act. But “good intentions” function solely to serve a good night’s sleep. More often than not, good intentions sustain crippling conditions, tokenize experiences and lives, emphasize “assimilation” as if it does anything but standardize and suppress the proliferation of ways of being, seeing, feeling–of poetries. “I try not to write about issues when I write poetry,” M. NourbeSe Philip answers in “Interview With An Empire,” “[Instead I try to] get to the truth of certain experiences.” Ai’s work doesn’t intend to make a reader empathize, understand or condone. Rather, it provides us with “the cruel radiance of what is,” as James Agee expressed in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. Yusef Komunyakaa recognized this in his introduction to a later collection of her work: “Ai’s ‘method’ was being alive.”

And yet I too keenly feel the tension between documenting the world as I experience it, and exploring how I’d like it to look, feel, run. Metaphor and the subversion of narrative form are two ways that Stanford’s work denies a singular, unified representation of reality. Take the misleadingly simple narrative of “Riverlight”:

My father and I lie down together.
He is dead.

We look up at the stars, the steady sound
Of the wind turning the night like a ceiling fan.
This is our home.

I remember the work in him
Like bitterness in persimmons before a frost.
And I imagine the way he had fear,
The ground turning dark in a rain.

Now he gets up.

And I dream he looks down in my eyes
And watches me die.

Stanford called his writing, “the poetry of being awake and asleep at the same time.” In “Riverlight” there exists no distinction between dreaming and reality, between the literal and the symbolic, between the “real” and the unreal. These binaries, and the hierarchies we see them strike up in daily life, float away. To be both alive and dead, both dreaming and awake, in both the present and past, is reality for Stanford’s speakers. We are all born into and make our own realities, for better or for worse. The presence of a missing friend, presumed dead, feels more real to me than the conversation I had with someone in my kitchen this morning. Disregarding linear chronology, Stanford’s poetry instead echoes how narrative and the process of remembering unfold in the mind. This reminds me of another Frank: Frank Ocean, whose album, Blonde, and mixtapes, Nostalgia, Ultra, and Endless, capture a consciousness delving into disjointed memories, the rabbit hole of past nights and years that mix physicality with the ethereal, exploring moments that morph into flashes of feeling, color, and texture that are felt presently. Each looks backwards to “The strange country of childhood / Like a dragonfly on a long dog chain,” to the point where memory is an active part of the present. “I can fuck you all night long / From a memory alone,” Ocean raps in “Memrise.”

Stanford’s use of metaphor and simile also refuses the hierarchies embedded in placing one thing in service of another, to render it more real. When Stanford writes, “Night is nothing / but the small shadow a woman-child’s foot casts / when she puts on her boots / when the taichi lesson is over,” the “small shadow” of a “foot” doesn’t exist to service our understanding of the night, but instead layers another narrative on top, spawning further narratives. “I am not content in just suggesting things by the use of words,” he writes, “I want to show the origins.”

After the release of her first collection, Cruelty, Ai was criticized by some for having “no consistent political position.” To claim so is “political.” To claim otherwise is “political.” As is whatever we choose (or don’t choose, or can’t choose) to dedicate our time and attention to. However, within current left-wing “radical politics” (O “radical,” a word increasingly used alongside “privilege” and “oppression” by those who think that using the word constitutes doing the work), we are often encouraged—as carla bergman and Nick Montgomery write in Joyful Militancy—“to wear our politics and our analysis like badges, as markers of distinction. When politics becomes something that one has, like fashion (rather than something people do together), it always needs to be visible in order to function.” At times, “having good politics” can be reduced to signaling (often online) “the right positions,” “saying the right things,” and “having well-formed opinions,” that form “the correct ways of critiquing and fighting” oppressive structures. By refusing to submit to the idea of a shared universality or hierarchy of feeling, reality, or approach, we are treated as equals by Ai and Stanford, expected to interpret for ourselves without prescription. And so their poems are changed by our reading, by our interpreting. They provide no platitudes, no certainties, no “correct way” or template with which to write, live by, or challenge our conditions. “Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple,” states Adrienne Rich in Poetry & Commitment. As we see in Ai’s work, lived complexity is not nuance; existence is not representation; recognition is not empathy. “I don’t decide to represent anything except myself,” Mahmoud Darwish said, “But that self is full of collective memory.”

Both Ai and Stanford approach the page—the persona—through their own subjective set of experiences, observations, and understandings. “It’s not the word made flesh we want in writing,” William H. Gass writes, “but the flesh made word.” So much in the world (and its writings within) tell us what it wants from us: to grieve, to feel anger, to invest in the project of empathy that attempts to “play our full emotional scales like a keyboard,” as Haukur Hilmarsson describes (though he was talking about the cops)–to exploit rather than honor the pain of those around us, to mine our own to the extent that not doing so can deny their existence in the first place. In 2018, we write into a different set of choices and contexts than Ai and Stanford did. But they are choices and contexts nonetheless. Realities, even. Stanford and Ai’s work doesn’t expect a thing from us, but to fully enter their worlds does require our trust, our own subjectivities, a willingness to bring ourselves to the page.

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Lotte L.S. is a poet living in Great Yarmouth. More of her writing can be found here.

Feminist Fridays: On Maggots, Motherhood, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Peter LaBerge

BY AMIE REILLY

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Last August, on Eclipse Day, my son was sitting at the kitchen table, holding the pinhole camera we’d made, when he asked, “Mom, what are those?” His voice was tinged with something I could not put my finger on. Something curious but also disgusted. I looked at him, my eyes following his finger downward,where he was pointing at a trail of fat maggots inching across our kitchen floor.

There’s something that feels illicit about an eclipse—the way the moon crosses over the sun so that for a few moments, night conquers day and all is dark when it shouldn’t be. It feels briefly apocalyptic, a glimpse at the end of the world. Perhaps the appearance of maggots in my kitchen, so close to the life I made, were a result of this celestial phenomenon.

I lied to him. “They’re caterpillars, bud. And they’re confused because of the eclipse. I bet the moon is disrupting their natural navigation.”

But why are caterpillars acceptable and maggots cringeworthy? Julia Kristeva defines abjection as our repulsion to reminders of our delicate materiality. My disgust of wriggling maggots is based in my fear of death; they are a reminder of rot. (The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.)

I needed to get them out of my space, so I sent my son upstairs to brush his teeth, bent down with some tissues and started to squish. Halfway through my mission, my thinking changed.

These maggots, these larvae, are more than just embodiments of death. They are babies. And maybe it was the eclipse, or maybe it was the fumes from the bleach, but then I thought, maybe I am thinking about them all wrong. Maybe these helpless invaders are not only reminders of death, but also life. Something in between.  

In the early pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, she describes Victor’s exploration into the liminal space between the living and the dead: “…I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. I paused, examining and analyzing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life…” From life, death and from death, life. How monstrous.

I went from angrily crushing them between my fingers to being tinged with tenderness. Something about the newly realized juxtaposition—death worms as fly babies—combined with the still unshakeable feeling that I had been invaded suddenly felt a whole lot like motherhood.

Pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing can seem like an invasion. And for many second-wave feminists, motherhood was seen as a scourge on our fight for equality. Yet for others, like the brilliant Adrienne Rich, motherhood was more complicated; necessary, sometimes joyous, but not what was portrayed in literature and culture. With the birth of children there are moments of breathtaking beauty, but also moments of terror, dissatisfaction, and confusion.

In the first essay of her collection Of Woman Born, “Anger and Tenderness,” Rich includes glimpses of her journal entries: “Sometimes I seem to myself, in my feelings toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance…And yet at other times I am melted with the sense of their helpless, charming and quite irresistible beauty…” Rich encapsulates the flux of motherhood, of feeling monstrous in her anger and awestruck at their tiny magnificence. Because she leaves these missives in journal format, her words feel like secrets, whispered confessions.

Rich is revealing this secret: motherhood sometimes feels like a constant shifting of power, and there is no homeostasis. Like Rich, I have felt these feelings in my own mothering. Though on Eclipse Day, it wasn’t my child causing me to vacillate between feeling lovestruck and worn out. Crushing the maggots on my floor felt like a monstrous flex of power. And yet, they stirred in me a twinge of something softer. Many have described the birth and death of the woman upon motherhood, about the joy and pain of raising a child. These maggots were a representation of both. New life, old death. Suddenly those worms morphed into something new, something apart from the narrative I’d had of their existence.

The maggots-as-death trope is as old as literature itself. They are used to evoke disgust and fear in the Bible. They can be found in Chaucer (“The Monk’s Tale”) and Shakespeare (Hamlet). In the anonymously authored “diary” Go Ask Alice, maggots appear in the narrator’s horrific dream about her newly dead grandfather. And Toni Morrison writes maggots into scenes that encompass death and children in both Sula and God Save the Child. But my own thoughts about maggots-as-babies don’t align with these stories. A small thing, I know. But for a moment it knocked me a little off-kilter.

In “Anger and Tenderness,” Rich also questions whether her inability to cohere to literary images of motherhood made her “then abnormal, monstrous.” If maggots no longer cohere to the literary trope, who is the monster? The squisher or the squished?

Much has been written about Mary Shelley’s relationship to motherhood, how it was so fraught with death, how those experiences may have influenced her writing. Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died from complications shortly after giving birth to her, and Shelley had three children, two who died in infancy. It is plausible to read these biographical details alongside Frankenstein and gain a deeper understanding of how birth and death combine in her story. Victor’s mother dies when he is a young man, and, like Shelley’s mother, it is arguably motherhood that kills her. In addition, Victor himself is a mother-figure, a creator of life. Shelley even uses language unmistakably reproductive and maternal to describe the moment he discovers his monster is living: “The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils.” This mix of maternal language, tinged with both awe and pain, feels quite a bit like Rich’s essay.

Rich describes feeling like a monster in her selfishness. Maternal Victor is also a monster, not only because of his own feelings or because of his selfishness, but also because the life he creates is made from death. Frankenstein’s monster is a creature manifested from the corporeal evidence that death is permanent. But understanding Victor as a mother-figure means that his monster is his child. And he is a monster too, lurking in forests murdering his creator’s loved ones. And yet, his murder spree stems from loneliness. His maker has rejected him, abandoned him. Who is the monster here, the creator or the created?

Samantha Hunt, in an interview with The New Yorker, said “When I became a mom, no one ever said, ‘Hey, you made a death. You made your children’s deaths.’ Meanwhile, I could think of little else. It’s scary to think of mothers as makers of death, but it sure gives them more power and complexity than one usually finds.”

Zadie Smith, in her essay “Joy,” writes, “Occasionally the child, too, is a pleasure, though mostly she is a joy, which means in fact she gives us not much pleasure at all, but rather that strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognize as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily.”

In Frankenstein, Shelley writes about a dream Victor has about his love, the woman he hopes to be the mother of his children: “I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I swathe grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.”

What a mix of pain and pleasure, fear and elation. And though these three women writers are coming from different places, from different times, different experiences, so much is the same. Motherhood and loss, abjection and empathy. Life and death simultaneous.

My maggots, I think, can be understood as occupying the liminal space between life and death. I’ve thought about them often in the year that has passed, perhaps more than one should think about kitchen pests. But there they are, even in their deaths, still living in my thoughts. What can be made of the larvae who often feed themselves from something dead, who are considered only in relation to their connections to decay, and yet, are newly alive? Born from a mother, vilified for surviving. They, too, are Frankenstein’s monster.

Shelley’s novel, perhaps born from her own connections to loss and motherhood, complicates our understandings of life and death. Victor creates new life from dead parts, and the life he creates brings death to others. But why? Because his creator abandoned him. Do we blame Victor for his monster’s violence? (Don’t we always blame the mother? Am I my son? Is he me?) Victor is both a mother and motherless. His creation is both child and monster. Shelley’s book is a story about loneliness, and isn’t that so much of what motherhood is about? When Rich writes about feeling monstrous, I think she is writing about isolation. Secrets whispered about the parts that don’t fit, like the maggots in my kitchen.

When something doesn’t quite fit the narrative we know, we bristle against it, squash it. In feminism, motherhood doesn’t quite fit. So many second-wave feminists felt motherhood was a saboteur to the movement, a setback, a succumbing to patriarchal norms. Now, third-wave feminists (re)try to pin down a motherhood narrative, a bug splayed out under glass. And yet, so often it slips from beneath the pin.

Heather Hewett responds to Rich in the book Mothering in the Third Wave. In it she asks, “Why are we still talking about feminism and motherhood in the same terms, and often in ways that are more personal and less political?” Her question is two-fold.

To answer the second part of her question, we must look backwards: Our second-wave mothers taught us that the personal is political. And so giving voice to the experience of motherhood will always be personal, because each one is different. And these stories are political because women’s bodies are still monitored and dissected by the outside world. Simply telling stories is an act of political bravery. A public confession.

To answer Hewett’s first question, we must consider faults. The language of motherhood fails us because the narrative set up is too rigid, inflexible and exclusive. It is binary, there is little space for the liminal spaces of reality. For every stance there is someone to take it down. For every step forward, someone else falls back. What words could possibly help us come to terms with an experience that leaves a woman both vilified and deified, depending on what room she enters?

The spaces in between, where we explore the grey mess of child-bearing (or choosing not to bear children, or being unable to bear children) are where the stories are. But for too long these stories were focused on the white and middle-class. Hewett’s essay also explains the importance of intersectionality in third-wave feminism and its continued examination of motherhood. She is telling us that what is missing from this conversation is the space for voices that, for too often, have been ignored. We need to change the narrative.

Perhaps we need to remove the binaries. We need to see anger, tenderness, life, death, joy, pleasure, monsters, mothers, children, and loneliness as parts of a whole. Instead of looking through a pinhole camera to catch a glimpse of what is both beautiful and terrifying, we need to look wider.

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Amie Souza Reilly holds an M.A. in English Literature from Fordham University. She teaches at Norwalk Community College and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and ten-year-old son. She has published essays in The New Engagement and Entropy, and has flash fiction forthcoming in Toasted Cheese and Pigeonholes. Her blog can be found here: https://theshapeofme.blog.

An Essay Inventor & Other Creative Minds Who Were Gamblers by Peter LaBerge

BY BORIS DZHINGAROV

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Note: This is a sponsored post.

Gamblers are often subjugated to stereotype.

You have probably heard that many creative and ingenious people are prone to various addictions. If minds of those astonishing and worship-worthy humans work in a way that they see more dimensions, shapes, colors of everything that surrounds them in a daily life, then it’s not a surprise that they may have certain disturbing habits as well. There are writers whose drinking habits prompted the weirdest legends to be composed about them.

It’s believed that Ernest Hemingway was never sober while writing. However, his biographers debunked this myth. He was, in fact, a fan of certain spirits. Sobriety during work was crucial to the writer.

Honoré de Balzac was known to be a coffee fanatic. He used to drink up to 50 cups a day! This was his way to energize and catch an inspiration wave.

So a little (or even an excessive) gambling habit doesn’t seem that bad after all, right? At least, it doesn’t do serious harm to physical health. So thought many famous authors and artists of all times.

So, who was that mysterious genius who invented an essay?

Come on, it was Michel de Montaigne! Little did he know that his creation would cause so much trouble to all students! Nowadays, we can get some affordable writing help; students from de Montaigne’s times (the 16th century, by the way) had to write it all by themselves.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

This man was a genius. He wrote his name into the history of literature forever. So we can forgive him for having a slightly disturbing gambling habit, right?

Well, not “slightly,” to be honest. You know you have a problem when you write a novella titled “Gambler” to pay off casino debts. What irony! Roulette was Dostoevsky’s absolute favorite, and he spent many hours playing this game of chance and losing continuously.

If you’ve ever read any of the Russian author’s works, they definitely left you with some food for thought, whether you liked them or not. He was and still is an incredibly popular writer, and his talent helped him to get out of a debt pit. Dostoevsky was writing novels, getting good money for them, and was blowing it all. On the other hand, his life was far from boring and, perhaps, it was more exciting than office work.

Claude Monet

This man is one of the most talented artists in the history of France. His work was the epitome of impressionism and inspired many young painters to pursue their careers in this genre.

However, a talent doesn’t provide you with an addiction-prevention medicine, and it just so happened that Monet turned into a very passionate gambler. In his case though, the hobby helped him to become a famous artist and helped the whole world to find out about Claude Monet.

This creative French mind was experiencing serious financial struggles when he started his career as a painter. In fact, it was more like a hobby rather than a career, because supplies were incredibly expensive and the little money that he earned selling his work didn’t cover expenses.

Once, Monsieur Claude won an impressive sum playing a lottery. Back in the 19th century. $13,000. Today, his winnings would be equal to a quarter of million bucks. That sum helped him to get back on his feet and continue painting. Basically, if it hadn’t been for gambling, we wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy the mesmerizing beauty of his most famous “Water Lilies” or “Impression, Sunrise.”  

Charles Bukowski

This genius has quite a reputation. Charles Bukowski was an image of a man who made bold, spontaneous decisions in life: he had no regrets, practiced all kinds of deviant behavior, and engaged in drinking and gambling. Some people may think that this lifestyle is not acceptable, and others will be incredibly jealous of him.

Mr. Bukowski has certain similarities with Fyodor Dostoevsky in terms of gambling. However, his was not a huge debt. It was, for him, about pouring his passion about games of chance on a paper.

Charles Bukowski wrote a poem about Las Vegas, and he mentioned gambling and its many attributes in much of his writing. The German-American poet developed a very interesting philosophy concerning this issue. He was sure that if you don’t play, you don’t win. There is literally no way you can find this statement to be illogical. In fact, Bukowski thought that a real life and gambling had a lot in common. Both can be called games of chance.

René Descartes

You’ve been to at least one philosophy class, right? Then you must be aware that every piece of knowledge that we have about modern psychology was born thanks to the one and only René Descartes. He is a French philosopher who had a big share of academic success in the most intriguing and thought-provoking field of study. But he didn’t want any of it at all. In fact, he had no idea he would ever become a philosopher.

He went to law school but then decided that a job of a professional gambler was much more appealing. Yes, this is an official profession, even now. Professional gamblers are characterized as self-employed and they have to pay taxes just like everybody else.

René Descartes is known for his quote, “The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.” You might think that the French philosopher said that about gambling. But nope, not really. His life path held an unexpected, scientific turn for many reasons, including his gambling failures. However, Descartes never gave up on his enthusiasm for games of chance and continued playing for the rest of his life, but not as actively or excessively as he used to when his passion bore into his soul.

Michel de Montaigne

We’re not done with famous and glorious French thinkers yet, so stay put! Don’t you think that there is some kind of a pattern here? I wonder how many philosophers we’d find if we wandered into one of Parisian casinos? Well, if we had lived in the 16th century, we definitely would have found de Montaigne playing one of his favorite games of chance.

His essays are considered to be the best works of the genre, especially taking into consideration that he invented the genre itself. His works are so successful and appealing because of, you guessed it, gambling! Thanks to this activity, he learned a lot about life, its ups and downs, as well as others’ attitude towards it.

He developed a philosophy that was wrapped around an idea that humans can’t control anything that’s going on in their lives. We can only have an impact on certain processes, and we can shift certain situations to different directions.

He’s famous for his quote, “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.” And these ideas have a direct bearing on the gambling sphere. You need to learn to control yourself when the world fails to follow the plan you’ve set out for yourself.

Feminist Fridays: She made the empty rooms roar by Peter LaBerge

BY AMIE REILLY

 Image by Blythe King from  Issue Seventeen .

Image by Blythe King from Issue Seventeen.

She made the empty rooms roar with accusation and shake down a fine dust of guilt that was sucked in their nostrils as they plunged about.

from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

The mayor of the city where I live recently decided that a sidewalk needed to be installed on our street. He sent a foreman here on Saturday morning to tell us what was happening. At sunrise Monday morning, before we could protest, a truck full of men sliced through the yard, a pine tree, and our walkway. A concrete moat surrounds me.

Rapunzel was locked away in a tower because, before she was even born, her father promised her to a witch.

The witch caught Rapunzel’s father stealing rampion out of her garden. He was stealing it, of course, because his wife was craving it and told him she would die if she didn’t have it. So in the way the story gets told, it is her fault the baby gets taken away. Except that really, he agreed to let the witch take the baby in order to avoid his own death. And this means somewhere in a stone house Rapunzel’s mother was left grieving for the loss of her child. She was punished for wanting.

Beautiful Rapunzel, locked in a tower, her hair growing in ropes strong enough to hold an adult, is then courted by the king’s son and she falls in love (at age fourteen). When the old witch finds out, she banishes the pregnant Rapunzel to the desert. She was punished for loving. (Somewhere someone is thinking, But don’t forget the poor prince—he fell into the brambles and was blinded!)

As the story continues, we learn that the blinded prince wandered the forest until he found his lost love in the desert, her newborn twins in tow. Childbirth and early motherhood are not mentioned, though her swooning collapse into his loving arms is. In the end, Rapunzel’s tears renew the prince’s sight and they live happily ever after.

This is a fairy tale about three women: a mother, a crone, and a virgin who becomes a whore but is redeemed by motherhood. Though the story is centuries old, we know that women are still flattened into these roles. Rules are built like walls around women’s words and bodies in an effort to keep them under control. There’s no place for stairs or nuance in these towers.

Once upon a time, I got trapped in an elevator that was going up to the top floor of a hotel. That night, I had used a fake ID to get into a concert with my roommate and afterwards one of the band members invited us back to his room. My roommate and I had had a lot to drink. I don’t remember how we got separated. But somehow I ended up in an elevator with the (older, married) singer, and somehow the elevator buttons were out of reach. The man had a thick brogue, a thick wool sweater, and thick curls framing his face. He grabbed the back of my head with thick fingers and stuck his thick tongue down my throat in an act that felt not like a kiss, but like a gag.

When women find themselves trapped, whether in sealed towers, elevators, or the confines of laws and mores, they often become disembodied. To be trapped like this is to be simultaneously watching and watched, spectacles and spectators of their own bodies. Yet for most men, these rules are different. Elevator buttons are seldom out of reach. Towers aren’t traps, they are platforms to rule from. When men are placed on high, it is more often to stand in judgement. To look down upon the subjects and cast rulings, shout power, be heard.

I listened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on the radio last Thursday. Though I was not watching, I knew what she looked like because the commentator told me she appeared “stricken.” When her voice trembled, my stomach turned. She sounded like me for a moment, and I knew that waver could impact her credibility, that her words and her looks would be judged and written about for years. I imagine they’ll be studied in university courses the way I studied Anita Hill’s in the ‘90s.

Dr. Ford’s voice filled my car as I sat in a parking lot. That morning, I taught a roomful of college freshmen Amy Tan’s essay “Mother Tongue.” In class, we spoke about language and power, considered the impact of cognitive bias and what happens when those with power don’t (won’t?) listen when words become difficult to understand. At first I thought about how often language fails people. Now I wonder how often people fail language.

As I heard Dr. Ford’s voice grow stronger in the face of frivolous questions about finances, I imagined her on a witness stand, though I know this isn’t a trial. The commentary of the reporters seemed invasive; the recapping felt like a sports replay. I only wanted to hear her, to thank her.

When Serena Williams lost the U.S. Open in early September, the media was divided. Some tried to defend the umpire, blaming Williams for being “out of line.” But she wasn’t. Williams, whose every move and wardrobe choice is criticized in ways that are unquestionably tied to her gender and race, was chastised from on high by a man with power. The umpire, a man sitting physically above her, judged her body and language and it cost her. She did not lose control, she has been under control. She lost because she was emotive.

Women get trapped in towers, powerful men get to shout from them. These stories are not new.

Brett Kavanaugh opened his speech with an assertion that his statement was his and his alone. As if he could stake a claim on language. He pleaded for the people to consider the power of the word “evil.” (I used to think there was power in the word “no.” I don’t think that anymore.) Then his voice cracked, and although I was not watching, I knew that he was crying. My stomach turned. I knew this would be perceived by some as sensitivity. When he steadied himself, I understood that he would be seen as a strong and capable man. I have heard men’s voices do this before.  

A text came through my cellphone, and as I looked at it I realized I was I tired. The text was from a friend: “The world is a dumpster fire.” I told her I was having a rage flare in the seat of my station wagon, and she sent me a gif of the earth in flames. I thought about these images and the metaphor of fire as anger. Flames are tongues and rage comes out in words, but want I really want is quiet. A reprieve. But there is no sleep and there is no fire, not yet.

When it comes, how will we describe it?

In 1977, a woman named Francine Hughes was divorced from, but still living with, an abusive man—a man who beat and berated her in drunken rages. He moved back into her house after they divorced because he’d had an accident and she had empathy. Hughes’ ex-husband raped her and humiliated her. Do you know what else he did? He burned her books.

One night, after he drunkenly raged and raped her, she lit his bed on fire. Mickey Hughes died and the house was destroyed. With her children in tow, she drove to the police station and turned herself in. Francine Hughes is the reason domestic violence is a viable defense. In court, up on the witness stand, Hughes told the truth, and a jury of her peers deemed her innocent by reason of insanity.

A little like Bertha in Jane Eyre, Hughes was a madwoman in the attic. Unlike Bertha, however, Hughes’ fire destroyed her monstrous husband. Also unlike Bertha, Hughes lived to tell her side of the story. Her voice changed American Justice.

And yet, after her death last year, Hughes’ granddaughter told USA Today, “She didn’t feel like it was something to be proud of. She never felt justified. She never felt free. I think that’s kind of why she kept it low key because I think she was ashamed and haunted by it.”

Burning everything down helped Hughes get rid of her abuser, but his abuse never left her. That she died without ever talking about her abuse, that it was a source of shame for her, reminds us that even when justice happens, trauma haunts like a ghost. What words can there be?

My description of what happened to me in that elevator years ago is not well-written. I did not—could not—adequately portray the spinning, trapped feeling of my fear or the in-between temperature of my body. My language is repetitive. In repeating the word “thick,” I hope you will understand the scene—not only the way he looked, but the feeling that followed.

When people began to question (threaten) Dr. Ford, they came for her memories. They said her narrative was wrong. They said if it really happened, she would remember more, be able to tell us more. Like Dr. Ford, like so many women, I do not know what I was wearing that night in the elevator. I do not know what the hotel lobby looked like. I do remember the name of the band, but I can’t recall how I got to the hotel. It is a story that is both mine and not mine because it is lost. The story is flawed as I am flawed, and there are no words for that.

Kavanaugh’s words did fail him. He ranted, shot fiery language at those who asked him the pressing questions that must be answered. The words he was so sure of at the beginning of his speech became evasive, insulting, unstable. It seemed as though the platform he thought he was standing on disintegrated beneath him. This might be enough to make him fall. As I write this, I hear that the GOP has agreed to postpone the nomination for a week.

He will, I hope, be barred from further power. He will be chastised for his actions. He will be judged for his performance. Of course, Dr. Ford will be judged for hers, too. Her trauma won’t go away, but she has impacted Justice. Memory is fallible, and so is language. Trauma stays. It is to be believed. Perhaps things are changing. As I write this, though, I hear the President say of Dr. Ford, “She looks like a very fine woman.”

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Amie Souza Reilly holds an M.A. in English Literature from Fordham University. She teaches at Norwalk Community College and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and ten-year-old son. She has published essays in The New Engagement and Entropy, and has flash fiction forthcoming in Toasted Cheese and Pigeonholes. Her blog can be found here: https://theshapeofme.blog.

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump, and the Department of Education: Why Public Education is Broken in America by Peter LaBerge

BY DARREN CHANG

  “ Satire ”  by Nayeon Clara Hong, from  Issue Twenty-Four .

Satire by Nayeon Clara Hong, from Issue Twenty-Four.

For 13 years of our lives, we spend seven hours a day and 180 days a year in schools. We’re not allowed to complain, either, since every state has compulsory education laws that require some sort of schooling until the age of 16. I was lucky enough to attend public school in a district where the Board of Education encountered little trouble in securing funding. Test scores were high and outcomes were generally good. Even parents who could afford to send their children to private school chose the local public high school because of its reputation and rating. But not all Americans identify with such a rosy image of public school and instead find a broken system mired with inequality and ineffectiveness.

About 90 percent of students are enrolled in one of the 98,200 public schools across the country that served over 50 million students last school year. The other 10 percent enroll in private elementary, middle, and high schools, which are still subject to some curricular and logistical regulation by local boards of education and state governing agencies. But what separates the United States from other countries with compulsory education is the lack of federal oversight. The Constitution does not guarantee a right to education, and only Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets a legal framework for educational rights in the United States.

Because of the Constitution’s 10th Amendment delegation of educational control, state and local governments hold the primary responsibility for public education in the United States. The first Department of Education (DoE) was designed to only collect information on public schools across the country. In its current iteration, the Cabinet-level DoE provides about 10 percent of funding to state education systems through grants from taxpayer dollars, coordinates Federal programs while complementing state and local efforts, and aims to strengthen the Federal commitment to equality of opportunity.

The Federal Government, and specifically the Executive Branch, garners the authority to supervise education through the Constitution’s Article II provisions for international relations and the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal rights. Education is an important element for international relations not only because of the international law requirement of the UDHR, but also because a well-educated population maintains and increases the United States’ competitiveness. Education boosts global competitiveness and occurs in two main ways: economic growth and technological innovation. Higher educational quality builds a stronger economy by increasing the human capital available in a society, leading to higher labor productivity. The additional effect of increasing innovation through fostering new inventions and processes adds to economic growth and ensures national security. A pipeline of newfound technologies like drones and updated missiles helps our military maintain its dominance.

Another key reason for education lies at the heart of our government: democracy. Thomas Jefferson first upheld the necessity for an educated citizenry, writing in a personal letter that a public trusted with electing its leaders must be well-educated. Later, public school reformers such as Horace Mann and John Dewey followed suit, capitalizing on the ability of education to equalize conditions and train citizens to fully apply their talents for society’s benefit. Although indicators of civic participation such as voter turnout are currently low, basic and equal education builds a deliberative democracy that increases representation and informed voting. As the Washington Post’s subtitle subtly explains, “Democracy dies in Darkness.”

The “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment provides students the right of equal access to education. Historically, the equal protection clause was crucial for integrating public schools after the Jim Crow Era. For instance, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) outlawed the “separate but equal” doctrine, and subsequent cases, including Keyes v. School District No. 1 (1973), applied a stringent requirement for desegregation. The Federal Government’s role in following the 14th Amendment is relatively clear-cut: the Executive Branch, including the DoE, must enforce equal access to public education and execute the Supreme Court’s decisions on the matter. Yet, even six decades after Brown v. Board, education remains highly unequal. A 2018 forthcoming study from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis investigates the geographic inequality from a data set of 200 million standardized tests, concluding that correlates of race, socioeconomic status, and school characteristics still play an outsize role in determining achievement.

The United States has many improvements to make in both educational equality and educational competitiveness. Educational outcomes are still deeply tied to race, class and disability, starting from differences in early childhood education—richer children can afford daycare and preschool, while poorer children are more likely to stay at home with extended family. Disadvantaged children score two grades behind their classmates, according to a study from the University of Michigan. School districts just miles apart can spend thousands more per student, based on funding allocation.

Compared to leaders in education such as Finland and Singapore, the United States scores poorly on international tests. No matter how researchers spin the data, American students belong squarely in the middle of the pack on the Program for International Student Assessment—15th in reading, 37th in math, and 19th in science. The responsibility for ensuring proper and equitable education falls to the U.S. Department of Education and specifically Secretary Betsy DeVos, but little is being done to rectify the situation.

The most obvious problem at the federal level is an abdication of responsibility to public school students. President Trump has made it incredibly clear that education is not his priority, even threatening to eliminate the Department of Education and combine it with the Department of Labor. The FY 2018 budget cut over $9 billion with large-scale effects on federal appropriations for early childhood education and elementary schools, and the FY 2019 budget proposal reduces the DoE’s funds by another 11 percent. Crucially, the 2019 budget slashes $2.3 billion from the Supporting Effective Instruction state grants for teacher training and $1.2 billion from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that pays for after-school and summer enrichment opportunities. Instead, President Trump wants to re-allocate this funding to school choice programs that have increased support for charter schools.

The nomination and subsequent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education reinforces the irresponsibility of President Trump when it comes to education. In light of the hullabaloo over her confirmation hearing, the President’s and Vice President’s support of such an unqualified and unpopular nominee signals a commitment to increased elitist interests in education. As a public servant, Secretary DeVos should be responsible for increasing educational outcomes in public schools, but her experience only deals with private schools. She has demonstrated “a sketchy understanding” of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an unwillingness to defend equal accountability for public schools, and a scary detachment from the reality of federal financial aid for higher education.

Thus far, both the President and Secretary of Education have focused on increasing school choice through building charter schools and paying for private school vouchers. Charter schools receive public funding but are privately run; the schools typically enjoy less regulation from the government, having developed their own curriculum and certification policies. Although charter schools may better serve gifted and talented students while allowing parents freedom over their child’s educational trajectory based on lackluster public school ratings, the results are mixed. Non-profit charter schools seem to do better than for-profit ones, and new charter schools tend to perform poorly.

The problem isn’t necessarily with the charter school model; rather, organizations like the NAACP and Network for Public Education worry that charter schools replicate inequality and steal funding from already cash-strapped public schools. Many charter schools are de facto segregated by race: 70 percent of black charter school students attend a charter school with nearly all black students. In addition, more charter school students are expelled than public school students, especially those in minority neighborhoods.

Vouchers for private schools signal the loss of faith in public education among the nation’s elite. Once upon a time, public education was the nation’s pride and joy. A public high school diploma provided a stepping stone to success, and public schools made many gains in equality and educational quality. Now, the elite are afforded their choice of schools, and Secretary DeVos wants to extend that privilege to low-income students. In principle, this sounds like a wonderful idea; in practice, many students can only afford cheaper private schools with the voucher, limiting the effect.

Vouchers aren’t available for every student, and even in states where eligibility requirements are lax, only some students take the vouchers, leaving the rest of the disadvantaged students to continue in already disadvantaged public schools. Moreover, a slew of studies cited by Mark Dynarski at the Center on Children and Families at Brookings Institution conclude that private school vouchers result in worse outcomes, based on math and reading test scores. The current federal commitment to choice-based education at best provides mixed improvements while at worst replicates past inequalities.

Yet, the states are doing no better. Federalism has only increased inefficiency and an inability to provide equitable education. States are cutting education funding left and right, and with no federal money to fill in the gaps, public schools suffer even further. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), passed by President George W. Bush in 2001, pushed for standards-based reform and federal accountability through Title I grant earmarking. States were required to test students in the third through eighth grades in math and reading each year and demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” for each school.

But, the NCLB was replaced in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which keeps intact the commitment to testing while granting any accountability checks back to state governments. For example, the Federal Government can no longer tie funding to adoption of Common Core standards. States rarely have fulfilled accountability requirements without federal supervision (see voting rights). The decreased federal power and increased power for state and local boards of education only transfer more choice and responsibility to parents and families, according to Cornell Law School Professor Michael Heise in the Columbia Law Review. Such action threatens student attendance in public schools along with curricular equality.

Federalism in education isn’t hopeless, however. After the 2008 Recession, President Obama and former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan adopted the Race to the Top Program as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States essentially competed with each other to adopt data-driven evaluation processes, including performance-based evaluation for teachers and better assessment for student outcomes. After the program’s expiration in 2015, both the Center for American Progress and EducationNext concluded that the “competition” had, by and large, increased public education quality. Of course, problems still arose with the Race to the Top policy: states that “won” the competition gained far larger benefits than states that “lost,” and Race to the Top still promoted charter schools at the expense of public schools.

The problems of the educational system today are striking, and solutions aren’t easily found, especially considering this administration’s crass treatment of education. But the responsibility to provide equitable education cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of states that already lack resources. The Federal Government should decrease its focus on school choice to instead properly fund public schools nationwide. Private school vouchers and charter schools should be more responsive to taxpayers’ concerns over outcome and be more transparent. Importantly, schools should be funded with the worst-performing public schools in mind. We know our country’s federalist model for education can work, but without a strong, federal guiding arm, educational (e)quality collapses, and democracy dies in darkness.

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Darren Chang is an undergraduate student at Cornell University, where he participates in intercollegiate policy debate and devours large quantities of ice cream. Academically, he is interested by the intersection of different cultural perspectives, especially Asian American and disability scholarship. You can also catch him reading memoirs and autobiographies, playing ping pong, and laughing at memes of his home state of Indiana.

Remembering Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee by Peter LaBerge

BY PETER LABERGE

Nothing makes us happier than witnessing growth and passion in emerging writers. When we came across a startlingly fresh, unique writing sample from a high school student named Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee in 2017, our jaws dropped, and we knew she had to claim a seat in the program.

We are heartbroken to share Rudrakshi’s unexpected passing at the end of last year, during her junior year at Greenwood High School in Bangalore, India. To pay tribute to Rudrakshi’s extraordinary promise and potential, we have asked her mentor, Andrew Gretes, to reflect on his time working with her, and are fortunate enough to share a short story of hers below.

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On Rudrakshi’s Passion and Drive: A Brief Reflection

BY ANDREW GRETES

Working with Rudrakshi last summer was truly a joy. Her energy and passion for writing were contagious. She’d toss out a spry semantic observation—“I really like the word ‘human’ before ‘urgency’”—and I’d find myself mulling over the line and thinking to myself, Well no wonder that story I’m writing isn’t working; I’ve placed the human after the urgency!

There’s a wonderful maturity in so many of Rudrakshi’s sentences. When I read a line like, “Sometimes she used to think her parents were like characters from different plays who came to rest under the same roof,” the whole drama of being a child (half-offspring, half-spy)—our desperate quest to decode our parents—it all comes swirling back to me and gives me chills. Rudrakshiki’s fiction is littered with such lines.

Her imagination, her verve, and her ability to evoke such human mysteries will be deeply missed. In her writing statement, Rudrakshi spoke of an “intense belongingness” she found in reading the Adroit Journal. I smile at the thought of a young writer reading Rudrakshi’s fiction today and feeling that same jolt of intensity and belongingness.

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This is How It Took Place

BY RUDRAKSHI BHATTACHARJEE

 

           This is how I remember Anthony.                                                                                                                                                             Sentient and aberrant. Curved chin, topaz jaw, hair sprouting out of his bottle-shaped head. Not beautiful, never that, but intriguing. Rising up from beneath the water, his arms on mine, the veins in his neck bulging, like thin green snakes trying to push their way out of his skin. Laughing sometimes; throat quivering, chapped lips and a mouth suddenly penetrable. His laugh has always been a quiet, rustling sound, you could hear it only if you tried. Then he is beneath the water again, absolved, as if he was never there at all.

           I don’t remember how I started cheating on Mark with Anthony but I remember it happened very fast.  I knew Anthony’s apartment address in a day, his allergies (pollen and tobacco sauce) in another, his relationship with his parents (non-existent) in a week. Somehow my life formed a routine. I spent my days with Mark and my nights with Anthony. Comedy shows and then Goddard films. Discussions about Central Park and then the Met. Loud buzzing groups with mimosas and then a solemn bottle of wine.                                                                                                                                                             Sometimes I liked to pretend that they were the same person and that he was just different in the morning and the evening. Two sides to the same person. I’ll never get bored, I told myself. Its like the perfect partner. A two in one deal. I repeated this to myself continuously, in cabs, on the subway, standing on pavements as I stared at the reflection of my face in rain puddles wondering when I had started looking as drained as a rotten grape. They were very similar thought, and this made it easier to pretend. Mark liked his coffee with no sugar, as did Anthony. Both of them loved the idea of winter but realized that a hot summer was easier to bear. They had both been on their school swimming team. Both of them worked in sales, although one was a cashier, the other a regional manager. They could have almost been best-friends. Meeting on the C Train, drinking chilled beers after work, kicking back their feet, and loosening their collar and discussing women and sports. I like to think of them that way: old friends fitting into each other comfortably, always laughing at a joke I had told.

           An example of a conversation with Anthony:

           “We spent our nights on the streets, just walking and looking at the guys selling their paintings. It was beautiful in a way I don’t think I’ll ever experience again.” Anthony pulled at my earlobes the way Mark pulled at my toes.

           “Did you ever buy a painting?”

            Anthony sighed, smoke blew into my face. “We were broke and in college. English majors. We still can’t afford paintings.”

            “You’re not a failure. And you can now.” “It’s almost as if you think I love you because you flatter me.”

“You were young and dumb then, I’m sure you bought some obscure painting. Half a breast, face of a lion.”

            “We were young.”

            We were young.

            Anthony said this often and only when I had not met him for a few days. It was a sore point for him. That he is forty five and I am twenty seven and Mark is twenty eight. I told him it’s scandalous. I told him age looks good on him. I told him I’ll love him when he’s grey. I told him all the things I’m supposed to tell him.

            His eyes gleamed, his fingers jokingly reaching for an aspirin lying on the table because he knew that I knew that later he would rummage for Benzedrine in his bathroom cupboards.

            I wish I could describe the pathos that Anthony’s tired figure evinced from me anytime I touched his pulsing warm body as he talked in a flurry of drunken murmurs even though he had not touched a drop of alcohol. Anthony’s guzzling brown iris dilated, the whites of his eyes disappearing. I was always rapacious with Anthony’s eyes, I imagined myself swallowing them while I lay with Mark.

 

            An afternoon I spent with Laura in a Fifth Avenue restaurant I could barely afford:

            My friend Laura called Anthony the Mysterious Musician even though I told her numerous times that Anthony had never played a music instrument. “That doesn’t matter,” she’d said, “he just has to be the type.” I told her she had been watching too many romantic comedies.

            Laura didn’t find the age thing strange as I thought she would have. But then again, her husband is six year younger than her; she cannot judge. Laura met Anthony once. She said he was gruff and smug and and she made me wonder when I had stopped seeing him in the way everyone else saw him. We argued.

            “But Mark’s so much better for you. He’s so nice.”

            “I think so too.”

            “Then why not drop Anthony.”

            She cupped my face. She thought I liked it when she treated me like her daughter, she thought I had never been shown affection without lust accompanying it. All this analysis from a psych class she had taken in community college more than three decades back. I called her Grizzly Bear in my head and not only because she never shaved properly so she pricked my skin anytime she brushed her legs against mine. “And stay with Mark. I understand the need to break out and try a dangerous thing but its been a year now. I mean I gettit, the literature thing. But he has the personality of a brush.”

            “I’m just enjoying myself.” She petted me disconcertedly before licking the large brownie on her plate and gulping it down.

            As I stared at the thin wrinkles on her face that made it look like she was always squinting and the alarming whiteness of her hair, I wondered why I continually surrounded myself with people who were at least ten years older than me.

            “Just don’t get too attached. What happens if Mark doesn't forgive you?” I didn’t see her much after that.

 

            Places I Have Visited With Mark:

A deli in a street in Chelsea that we found by accident

Coney Island

a Youtube Space Gordo’s Bar

An open mic night at an LGBTQ friendly bar where Mark sang “My Heart Will Go On”

The Strand

Mark’s parent’s house on the Upper East side Staten Island

            Places I Have Visited With Anthony:

His apartment

 

            When I first told Mark I loved him it was because of how he smelt that day. He smelt like detergent and smoked ham. He reminded me of the liveliness of a Sunday brunch and the openness of cafés with rooftop seating. He reminded me of houses with long hallways and mirrors running from end to the other. He reminded me of baby blue walls and bright orange curtains and white fruit bowls and marble kitchen islands.                                                                                                                                                              When I first told Mark I loved him, he bought me a gold pendant. When we fought I gave it back. When we made up, he gave me a new one. This is how it was with Mark. Endless chances and charity donations. A life of two kids, country clubs and a tennis court on which he would let me win if I asked.

            Anthony, I knew I would never marry. It wasn’t even because we rarely agreed or because there were always aching silences between us or because he was always so angry that he needed to chew Benzedrine to sit upright. It wasn’t even because anytime I kissed him I had to pretend I could not taste the sour bite of a previous cigarette or because I never knew what he was going to do until he did it. It wasn’t even the age thing, although I had wondered about that at first. It was because when I told him I was with Mark, he scowled and then laughed and said, “I’m sorry that this has happened. And I’m sorry that I love you as well.”

            Towards the end of my relationship with Anthony and the start of my marriage with Mark, Anthony finally began to share his poems with me. He was like a more callous Allen Ginsberg and sometimes I found him dry and witless. But I liked the idea of having my very own beat poet, tightened and caged and leashed to me. I only seemed to live for the idea of things, I was slowly realizing, I never had any time to give to the reality of situations.

 

            The reason I broke up with Anthony and spent three weeks in misery while Mark rubbed my back, and applied ointment and combed my hair before finally proposing to me was because of what Anthony said once when I told him I didn’t want to choose between him and Mark.

            He said, “And that’s another thing I hate about women. A woman finds a million ways to tell a man he’s useless without having to say it out loud.”

            I told him I always knew he hated women. He chuckled. It was a really ugly, throaty sound. I only thought it was a chuckle because it was easier to think that than think of it as something harsher, like the clearing of his throat. “Even my barber knows that.”

            I told him he was a homosexual. Then I told him I didn’t mind if he was but that I’d known all along.

            “I’m not gay,” he said. “I’ve let you into my house for so long, haven't I?”

            I asked him why he was so angry about Mark. He’d never said anything before. Why was he asking about Mark now?

            “Because I didn’t realize I could until today.” Then I left his apartment, not even turning around once.

            Within three months I was back. It was eleven, I took a cab even though the fare was 60 dollars but with my new name and bank account of Mrs. Mark, I had been promised that money did not matter. We would have to save, yes, but not in the way I had been when I had lived in Brooklyn.

            “You can withdraw and withdraw," Mark had said to me in the way you tell a child he can have as many red toy truck as he wants. “Anything you need,” Mark smiled, and his teeth suddenly seemed alarmingly white to me, as if he had had them removed and replaced with a shinier ivory set he thought would look much better.

            When I spoke to Anthony, he scowled at me the entire time I talked. The hollows of his cheeks gaped at me, his dark eye circles glowered. I wanted to touch his face and feel its bristly edges. I wanted to kiss him right above his chin where he had cut himself shaving. I wanted to scream at him that it wasn't fair that the reasons I had fallen in love with him were the reasons I couldn’t stay.    

            He said, “I did miss you.”

            I said, “I was in Paris. Love and all that.” He said, “My subscription to the Leopard’s Review got over.”

            I said, “I’ll buy you a new one.”

            He said, “Buy me a new fridge too while you’re at it.”

            Sometimes I thought about poisoning Mark while I sat at my desk in the library, making no justice to the managerial position he had got for me. I thought of slipping some antifreeze in the cranberry juice I would give him while we would sit on our terrace, watching the building opposite where Mark wanted to live because it had bigger rooms and a bigger terrace and more floors. I would love him then, I decided, I would be so kind to him that day. I would purr at every joke he told, I would rub his back, I would do all the things he had done for me. I would feel sad, maybe even cry a little once he was dead but the thrill of taking away his life, of being so powerful lit a sort of burning desire in me. My body suddenly felt alive and jocular: it was like I had been reminded that my body was my own and my life was my own and I could do whatever I wanted. It seemed like a tremendous finding to me, this simple thought that I could do what I wanted, that tomorrow I could run away to Bali or throw myself off a cliff because my life was mine. I had forgotten that I had a pulse for so long that now when it became apparent to me once again, I felt it with a such a deep and powerful throbbing that it seemed impossible to ignore it. It became more and more clear to me that I could only love Mark if I was going to leave him.

            This is the way in which Anthony becomes angry:

            First he will shake his head slightly and scoff, releasing a sudden whoosh of air from his mouth. Then he will sit down on whatever is near him, be it a table, a chair, sometimes even the ground. Then he will stare at me, threatening me to continue. I will continue. Then he will look down and close his eyes, and I will imagine that when he opens his eyes again they will glow a violent shade of red and he will sprout out fingers like Edward Scissorhands and slice me into thin creamy pieces of flesh so he can keep me cooped up in some jar he has forgotten to clean in his kitchen.                                       

  But he will not do any of this. Instead: he will laugh, and take me into his arms and I will apologize and he will say, “you do like me, dont you,” and I will say, “not always, not now, maybe yesterday” and he will smile because he finds me funny and I will stay there sprawled out on his chest, chin up, watching his rubbery purple lips murmur something in Latin, and I will say, “why did you learn a dead language” and he will say, “to impress you” and I will not say anything because now in this moment we are in a movie, in a romantic comedy and I can feel nothing except this sort of bubbling happiness because to love and to know that you are loved is enough, its enough for me, and we will stay like this till Anthony’s skin withers away and flakes of his dead skin fall to the floor, and I will stay there buried in his skeleton until that too breaks and I am left with only this memory of him and then I will mourn, mourn, mourn.                                                                                                                  

 

            This is the way in which Anthony tells me he's leaving:

            “I’m going back to Kansas.” He’s eating the maple sugar and honey oats I bought him from CVS, and is picking out the dried raisins because he thinks they look like dead insects. “My mother’s dead.”

            “I thought you lived in Missouri.” “Kansas City,” he growls. “Anyway, I’m leaving soon, my brother wants me there for the funeral to say a few words. And I haven't seen my nephew in a while, so I’ve bought a bike for him. This is pretty much my last day with you. I’ll be home for a while.”                                                                                                                                                              I watch him. He looks as haggard as always with his ruffled hair and his untucked shirt and his blue Under Armor boxers which he has worn every time I’ve met him. But there’s something different, something so out of place it’s disconcerting. He’s grinning. His face looks like those lopsided colorful smiley faces children make with play doh. He looks like Mark. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry to put you through all this. Don’t forget me.”

            “How could I forget a poet as famous as you,” I say and I am supposed to sound bitter but I just sound pathetic. Like I’m begging him to stay.

            He laughs. It is settled.

            When I get back home to Mark, I tell him I have been having an affair for the entirety of our relationship. I tell Mark about Anthony’s retarded brother, his alcoholic sister, his dead mother, his broken cobblestone home, his favorite yogurt shop where he was kissed by a senior girl and the park nearby where his friend was shot. But then I am crying, because I am getting mixed up, because Anthony’s brother might have been a construction worker, he may not have a sister, he might have lived on a farm, and his friend might as well be alive and well and working in Goldman Sachs. I can believe anything I want because I will never know the truth again.

            “Why did you marry me?” Mark says. He is making a sandwich with only lettuce and chunky pieces of cream cheese between the bread.

            “I love you,” I say. It’s like another way of saying sorry. “I love you.”

            “Why did you marry me?” he says again and takes out taco shells from the cupboard. Mark once told me he loves Mexican food because the best days of his life were the holidays he spent with his aunt in Tijuana. He helped her sew when she couldn’t anymore because of her arthritis and in return she would give him Cochinita pibil which he would give the boys near his aunt’s house so that they would agree to playing soccer with him. When he told me this I suggested we go to Chipotle.

            “I am not particularly rich, or handsome, or clever. Why did you marry me?” Mark does not get angry in the way Anthony gets angry. When Mark gets angry he bites his nails, or peels off his scabs or cooks sporadically. When Mark gets angry he does not shout, he discusses.                                                                                                                                                              “Oww!” he yelps suddenly, his fingers have brushed the pan inside which he is making tomato sauce. His iPhone beeps and he flinches in surprise. I cannot think of a life without him.

            Weeks Later:

            Anthony emails me pictures of him with his family. He looks like a child in all of them. He is eating corndogs and making silly faces with his sister. I email him back and ask him if he has found a writing job there yet. He tells me his brother got him a job in construction.

            Your mother is dead, I want to remind his smiling face. But I don’t say anything and I delete his contact from my phone.

            What Mark and I do on Saturdays when we are both home:

            When Mark asks me why I did it, why I hurt him like I did, I am not sure how to respond. He is looks at me expectantly, waits for me to say something like i have so much love that I cant contain it but I disappoint him. I say ‘I’m sorry’ and he says, “I know you are but what am I” and he laughs but he rarely comes home now, he spends all his time in his office or at the gym. Sometimes I go through his phone when he is in the shower, quickly skimming through his messages. So far I am safe, Mark only texts his friends things like account numbers and questions about holidays, there are no women. There is one other text he sends every Friday, where he asks ‘how much’ and the response comes ‘$250 for an ounce of MJ’ and Mark says ‘meet at the location’ but I don’t mind. Mark and I are happy.

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Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee was a student at Greenwood High School in Bangalore, India, and she studied with Andrew Gretes in the The Adroit Journal 2017 Summer Mentorship Program.

The Point is Just to Have Fun: On Reading and Writing by Peter LaBerge

BY EMILY FRISELLA

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I wish there were just a way to reassure people. The point is just to have fun. That is the beginning and the end of why I read. Now, what makes reading fun for me is a book that has a real reach and a strong intellectual yearning, and a book that seems to grapple with the culture in ways that are interesting. — Jennifer Egan

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I find Egan's words (from an interview in Seattle Met magazine) incredibly reassuring. I had not yet read Egan's quirky and innovative novel A Visit from The Goon Squad when, sometime in the gray winter months of 2015, I heard her give a book talk at Oxford University arguing that reading should be fun. In a drab conference room in one of the world's oldest and most elitist academic institutions, this claim felt brave, even revolutionary.

When I was in the seventh and eighth grades, I read with a prolificacy that I doubt I will ever again achieve. I read novels under my desk in class, read ahead on my assigned textbooks, read my parents' National Geographic magazines and stayed up later than I was supposed to reading in bed. I wrote just as unabashedly. I spent my allowance on beautiful notebooks and wrote in them before and after school, filling their pages with accounts of play rehearsals and dentist appointments and crushes and embarrassments and short stories and scripts and unfinished novels. At thirteen, I was self-conscious and awkward, but when it came to my writing, I was not afraid that my words would not be worthwhile or interesting to anyone other than myself. I didn't yet understand what it meant to be pretentious, and so I had no embarrassment over my own writerly pretensions.

I also didn’t yet have a sense of what the wider world considered literary or not. I didn’t know what a serious writer was supposed to spend her time on. What I had was my school library, my parents’ bookshelves, and occasional trips to the local bookstore, where I would spend my Christmas and birthday money from relatives. I picked up books because they seemed interesting, and I when I found books I loved, I read them over and over again. I kept notebooks full of character sketches, short stories, and ideas for novels, and I truly believed that I was a writer.

The first time I felt a twinge of embarrassment over a book, I was about fourteen. A boy who I liked had stopped to talk to me, and he asked me what I was reading. I remember turning to show him the cover of the book—The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot—and suddenly realizing that it was emblazoned with a giant pink heart. I felt mortified, certain that this book would make me seem girly, frivolous, and deeply uncool. What if he was unimpressed by what I was reading, or, even worse, scorned my taste?

As I grew older and busier with school, I read less, but the question of taste became increasingly important to me. I decided to read “the classics” and spent summer vacations devouring Anna Karenina and David Copperfield. I still enjoyed YA romances as much as Tolstoi, but Meg Cabot became a guilty pleasure. Then, in college, my academic reading began to bleed over into my recreational reading in a way that it never had before. I loved my classes in English and history, and I wanted to learn more and more. Within a few weeks of first year orientation, I realized there were hundreds of contemporary writers who I’d never read, that in the circles I aspired to, writers like David Foster Wallace, who I’d never heard of before, were considered canonical. In an effort to pursue my ambition to be a writer, I joined the college literary magazines and began submitting my poems to a handful of publications. Instead of picking up whatever looked good, I began to ask peers and professors for recommendations. Gradually, I started to read things not because I wanted to read them but because I thought that I ought to read them, and I found myself avoiding books that I thought might seem frivolous to the kinds of serious, literary writers I hoped to emulate.

Literariness is elusive. It’s difficult to find hard-and-fast rules for what makes something ‘literary’ or not; any rule you think of will come along with a major exception or will contradict another rule. Your writing must speak to “universal” themes (Shakespeare), but also must be challenging, experimental, and grounded (Faulkner); erotica is smut (Fifty Shades of Grey), except for when it’s not (Anaïs Nin). Though we can analyze why certain types of storytelling and characterization and world-building are effective, being ‘literary’ is often about having the right tastes—which is to say, liking things that other ‘literary’ people like. This kind of thinking can create an insular, even blinkered, sense of what good writing looks like, but at the time, I didn’t think about it this way. I started reading performatively, reading so I could show others what I had read. I read things that looked and sounded literary, things that I could talk about at networking events and publishing internships, things that would impress my professors during office hours. And yes, many of these books were brilliant and fascinating and fun—but some of them were boring.

When I say these books were boring, I don’t mean that they were without merit, or that no one should read them, or that anyone would find them boring. I mean that, personally, they bored me. From time to time, all of us come across books like this—books that, for whatever reason, are a slog. But of course, this is largely a matter taste. I know many smart people who cannot stand Charles Dickens, and others who love him; I have only respect and admiration for a friend who wrote his dissertation on Milton, but I couldn’t make it through Paradise Lost, and I no longer believe that this makes me lacking as a reader or a writer. Taste is personal, and so boringness (and for that matter, fun) are personal, too.

None of this is to say that I believe that critics’ and scholars’ opinions don’t matter—I’d hardly be writing an essay like this if I did. I am incredibly grateful for the college education and internships and workshops that opened the ‘literary’ world to me, and I love spending time with people who take reading and writing seriously. It’s safe to say, I think, that all of the literary people who I admired and who, at various times, I have tried to model myself on, began reading and writing because it brought them joy. And so, these days, I am trying to read things that I will enjoy, whether that’s literary fiction, a cooking blog, or a sci-fi novel. I still take recommendations from friends and colleagues and people I admire on Twitter; I still read establishment publications like The New Yorker and the London Review of Books. But I’m trying to shake the habit of reading those books as a performance.

For me, writing is exciting not only because it can create new worlds, but also because it can create conversations. If you’re reading only so that you can say the right things, then you’re missing out on real conversation. Time spent reading a boring but impressive book and learning how to express an impressive opinion about it is never really worth that little thrill you get when showing a fellow cocktail-party-goer that yes, you know the modern canon at least as well as they do. When you read and discuss books purely to make yourself look clever, you’re too busy worrying over being caught out to really enjoy discussing them—it’s a game you can never really win.

During my year in Oxford, I was lonely, overworked, and, though I had yet to admit this to myself, depressed. It seemed that there was always someone brighter and more well-read, and I feared these people would scoff at what books I liked or didn’t like, what I read or hadn’t read. With a terrible case of impostor syndrome, I was beginning to lose sight of the reasons I had wanted to study literature in the first place, and Egan's words were exactly what I needed to hear.

With a Pulitzer, five novels, and two short story collections, no one would doubt that Egan is a serious writer—and now, here she was, reminding me that taking writing and reading seriously doesn't preclude the possibility of fun. Self-consciousness necessitates performance—whether in the form of cocktail party opinions on the Man Booker Prize or the sci-fi novel my fourteen-year-old self picked up to impress a crush—whereas, almost by definition, having fun requires feeling unembarrassed about what you enjoy most. I still pay attention to the prize-winners, yes. I am interested in others’ opinions on what writing is good or interesting. But I’m teaching myself to profess only opinions that I believe in, to avoid nodding along when I disagree with someone about a piece of art, but fear my ideas might be unfashionable. I write in the hope that my words will be read, and in this sense, writing is a performance—but these days, I remind myself that writing is not only a performance—because before my words become something that people will read, I am writing to experiment, to think through an idea, and it is best to start as unselfconsciously—as joyously—as I can.

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Emily Frisella grew up in Oregon and currently lives in London, where she works as a bookseller and blogs sporadically at www.untimelycriticism.com. Her poetry and essays have appeared in The Rumpus,The Plath Poetry Project, Cosmonauts Avenue, Pedestal Magazine, Foundry, and elsewhere.

Leila Chatti: How I Wrote “Hometown Nocturne” by Peter LaBerge

BY LEILA CHATTI

  Tunsiya/Amrikiya , by Leila Chatti (Bull City Press, 2018).

Tunsiya/Amrikiya, by Leila Chatti (Bull City Press, 2018).

To explain how I wrote “Hometown Nocturne,” the final poem of Tunsiya/Amrikiya, it might be helpful to know the following things:

1. I spent the summer and fall after my MFA program in Tunisia and southern France. Visiting my home state of Michigan that October for a wedding, I discovered a SOLD sign in the front yard of my childhood home.

2. A dear friend of mine, Samuel Piccone, had recently asked me why, when I write so frequently about place, I never wrote about my hometown.

I began writing “Hometown Nocturne” a few days after returning to Michigan from my stay overseas. It was the second week of November, winter was quickly approaching, and I was staying in a Detroit suburb with my partner and his mother. I was disoriented; both “home” (in the United States, in Michigan) and not home. I would never again be home—my home was gone.

I remember very clearly how the poem began—I was reading Maggie Smith’s The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and a word jumped out at me: “field.” Just field, one ordinary word. I quickly opened my laptop and the first line arrived: “When I can’t sleep, I remember it: blue fields. . .”

I believe in trusting your impulses; if something startles you, follow it. I was startled by the word field that day in a way I had not been the previous thousand times I’d read that same word. I think that’s part of the magic: what was ordinary becoming suddenly new and urgent. I am also part of the magic, an integral part, as is any writer in the act of writing. My role is to be alert—to recognize the prickle on the back of my neck, the little rabbits in my brain lifting their heads from sleep. Right word, right time, and me paying attention—the poem began.

Writing this poem, I was very attuned to sound. In the beginning: remember, blue, borrowed, boots, curbside; lawns, poplars, spitball; sleep, fields, sleet, teenagers; sleep and slip; and so on. I write with my ear, and read aloud as I’m writing. I also think about the lines as distinct units, and so write line by line. I want each line to be interesting when read alone. Sound play and enjambment might be my favorite tools, and this poem was one where I really followed those instincts.

One of the most important parts of writing this poem was unwriting its ending. The poem has actually stayed almost identical to that first draft except for the final two lines. In the first version, I continued on after the trees’ pompoms into a long, unnecessary extension of what I had written in the rest of the poem—more East Lansing wintry details. As embarrassing as it is, here’s the ending of the first draft:

The whole way home I scuffed my feet,
shuffled across any unplowed stretch to mark the colossal
peaks and ledges of my name. I trekked
puddles to my bed, crawled into the fresh
bank of moonlight. Frost brimmed
the branches of the magnolia outside my room.
More than once, I mistook this burden for blooms.

What I realized when revising the poem four days later, in order to submit it in time for Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest, was that I was getting too poet-y, too flowery (literally, with those blooms at the end). Dorianne Laux, my beloved teacher, once told me very kindly that I didn’t need to add frills and lace to my poems—I could keep that for my wardrobe (which I do, if you’ve ever seen me). Instead of flourishes, she said, just tell it straight. So I told it straight. I also chose to keep myself outside of the home, to further emphasize the sense of isolation and yearning for belonging and ownership I felt, as well as to resist the temptation for an ending which neatly resolves. This was the result:

I carved carefully my name in frost.
Scuffed my feet the whole way home.

I sent the poem in with a half hour to spare, and that’s the story!

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Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of the chapbooks Ebb (Akashic Books, 2018) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors' Selection from Bull City Press. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, The Frost Place, and the Key West Literary Seminar, a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Cleveland State University, where she is the inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Publishing and Writing. Her poems have received awards from Ploughshares' Emerging Writer's Contest, Narrative's 30 Below Contest, and the Academy of American Poets, and appear in Ploughshares, Tin House, American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere.

Fifteen Adroit Moments of 2015 by Peter LaBerge

1: The Adroit Journal transitioned from a biannual publication to a quarterly publication. 

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And featured a stronger contributor batch than ever before—Dennis Hinrichsen, Alex Dimitrov, Tyler Mills, sam sax, Alexandra Teague, Joseph Fasano, Nick Narbutas, Meghan Privitello, Brian Tierney, Zach VandeZande, Claudia Cortese, Ocean Vuong, and so many more. 

 

 

2: The journal's network of staff readers, contributors, and summer mentorship students hit a collective home-run at the YoungArts Awards. They filled an astounding fourteen—out of twenty-four—Finalist seats, three Honorable Mention seats, and five Merit Award seats. 

Special congratulations to the 2015 journal-affiliated finalists—Bindu Bansinath (Short Story), Walker Caplan (Short Story), Carissa Chen (Poetry), Noah Dversdall (Poetry), Julia Falkner (Poetry), Nancy Huang (Short Story), Hannah Knowles (Short Story), Adina Lasser (Creative Nonfiction), Aaron Orbey (Creative Nonfiction), Maia Rosenfeld (Short Story), Audrey Spensley (Poetry), Talin Tahajian (Poetry), and Oriana Tang (Poetry & Short Story). 

 

 

3: For the first time in its history, The Adroit Journal was represented in the Best of the Net 2014 anthology. Twice. 

Richie Hofmann's poem "Midwinter" was selected by Kathy Fagan for inclusion, while Madeleine Cravens' essay "Girls and Boys: Growing Up in Four Parts" was selected by Michael Martone for inclusion. As an eighteen-year-old college freshman, Cravens is the youngest inclusion in the Best of the Net series to date. 

 

 

4: Another first in the journal's history: the staff and contributor network of The Adroit Journal met and united at the 2015 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Minneapolis, MN. 

Poetry Editor Talin Tahajian & Founder and Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge recounted the most priceless moments here in their collaborative post "Overheard @ AWP 2015." 

 

 

5: India Carney, interviewed by Peter LaBerge for the Beat Converses blog series, placed fifth on the eighth season of The Voice

Click here for the interview, and click here for our favorite bits of India's time on The Voice

 

 

6: Summer mentorship students Oriana Tang and Christina Qiu were named 2015 United States Presidential Scholars in the Arts....

...and became the first two students to ever be simultaneously named Presidential Scholars from the same non-arts public high school for the same genre and sub-genre. Oriana, who studied poetry with founder and editor-in-chief Peter LaBerge in the 2015 summer mentorship program, was named a Presidential Scholar in Writing (Poetry & Short Story). Christina, who studied fiction with then prose editor Kaitlin Jennrich in the 2014 summer mentorship program, was named a Presidential Scholar in Writing (Short Story). Click here for the announcement of the designations. 

 

 

7: Prose Reader Julia Falkner successfully completed her time as a National Student Poet for the Western Region of the United States. 

We're so proud of Julia, and especially love her emphasis on LGBT poetry and poetics. She joins Adroit-affiliated National Student Poet Program (NSPP) alums Michaela Coplen, Nathan Cummings, Aline Dolinh, Luisa Banchoff, Miles Hewitt, and Claire Lee. 

 

 

8: The Adroit Journal completed another successful online mentorship program, which paired 42 high school poets, fiction writers, and journalists from around the world with mentors for the summer. 

Truly an unforgettable, fantastically talented bunch! For more information, visit the mentorship program online here. If you are an adult poet or writer, check out our call for mentors for the summer of 2016 here. 

 

 

9: The Adroit Journal's 2015 Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose, designed to recognize the best student (secondary or undergraduate) writers, were selected from thousands of merited submissions by Tarfia Faizullah and Alexander Maksik. 

Congratulations to poet Ian Burnette (of Kenyon College, selected by Richie Hofmann as the runner-up for the 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry) and prose writer Lydia Weintraub (of Princeton University). Read Ian's prize-winning poem "dear radio" here, and read Lydia Weintraub's prize-winning fiction work "Feelies" here. And click here for submission guidelines for the 2016 Adroit Prizes, which are open to submissions until February 1st! 

 

 

10: And speaking of the best, staff readers, contributors, and summer mentorship students took The Best Teen Writing of 2015 by storm. 

And—of course—it was guest edited by Issue Eleven critical reviewer Michaela Coplen. Congratulations to the following journal-affiliated inclusions: Sophie Evans, Aidan Forster, Henry Heidger, Emily Mack, Isabella Nilsson, Rachel Page, Maia Rosenfeld, Audrey Spensley, Caroline Tsai, and Emily Zhang. To even be considered for  the anthology, contributors had to receive national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, so congratulations to them for that, as well. Special congratulations to Grant McClure, recipient of the top honor—a $10,000 Writing Portfolio Gold Medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Click here for the journal's original announcement. 

 

 

11: In addition to being named a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts, Adroit's very own Oriana Tang was named a 2015 Davidson Fellow in Literature for her writing thesis Writing Tears from the Stars: A Linguistic Revitalization of Human Empathy

After being selected by Richie Hofmann as an Honorable Mention for the 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry, Oriana studied (as previously stated) with Peter LaBerge in the 2014 summer mentorship program, and subsequently joined the journal's prose staff and body of summer mentorship prose mentors. As a 2015 Davidson Fellow, Oriana received $25,000, and was honored in Washington, DC. Currently, she is a Yale University freshman, and needless to say, we're fans. Click here to visit her project online—you'll be a fan, too. 

 

 

12: The Adroit Journal shared work from four contributors at the New York City Poetry Festival for the third year in a row.

 From left to right: Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, Jeanann Verlee, Peter LaBerge, & Joseph Fasano.

From left to right: Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, Jeanann Verlee, Peter LaBerge, & Joseph Fasano.

Despite nerve-wracking reports of rainfall for the day, we're happy to report that our reading was a success! Click here to watch recordings of the reading, which featured poets Joseph Fasano, Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, and Jeanann Verlee. 

 

 

13: Last year, The Poetry Society of the United Kingdom recognized ten Adroit-affiliated students in its 2014 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Awards. And this year, we matched it. 

Congratulations to Ben Read, of Spokane, Wash., whose poem "Mario Kart: Brain Circuit"—published in The Guardian, and penned while studying poetry with poetry editor Jackson Holbert in the 2015 summer mentorship program!—was selected by judges Liz Berry and Michael Symmons Roberts as one of 15 Overall Winners for the 2015 Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Further congratulations to the staff readers, contributors, and summer mentorship students commended in the 2015 FYP Awards: Rebecca Alifimoff, Ava Goga, Alex Greenberg, Kathryn Hargett, Mia Nelson, Audrey Spensley, Caroline Tsai, Lucy Wainger, and Chelsy Jiayi Wu. For more, visit the announcement here



14: Ian Burnette's poem "Harvests," originally published in The Adroit Journal, was selected by guest judge Tracy K. Smith for inclusion in the Best New Poets 2015 anthology

"Harvests" was also selected by Richie Hofmann as the runner-up for the 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry, and was selected for inclusion in plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing of 2014. Joining him in BNP 2015 are eleven other journal staff readers and contributors: Mary Angelino, Leila Chatti, Tiana Clark, J. Jerome Cruz, Jaydn DeWald, Cody Ernst, J.P. Grasser, Trevor Ketner, Eduardo Martinez-Leyva, Elizabeth Onusko, and sam sax, whose Adroit poem "fraternity" was nominated for inclusion. 

 

 

15: You might remember that in 2013, when we geeked out over receiving 8,000 cumulative submissions. You may remember that in 2014, we geeked out over receiving 16,000 cumulative submissions. Well, we've done it again—we're proud to have once more doubled the amount of cumulative submissions received. 

As a plus, we're thrilled to have snagged the #2 spot on Duotrope's Most Response Times Reported list. Thanks, Duotrope!


And thanks to our loyal readers, staff members, contributors, summer mentorship students—thanks to all in the Adroit family—for more than four years (!) of happiness, connection, and (if we may say so ourselves) some damn good writing

Stay tuned for Issue Fourteen, comin' at ya next week. Don't miss it; join our mailing list below. 

Fourteen Entirely Relevant Questions to Ask College English Departments by Peter LaBerge

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Since we at the Adroit blog know high school seniors near and far are doing it around this time of year, let's be real -- the conventional questions (about funding, about class size) don't strike a unique chord anymore. Here are some that might.
 

1. Do you host karaoke nights? If so, with what frequency? (Asking for a friend.)

 

2. In which aisle of the metaphorical grocery store would I find your English department stocked? 

 

3. Speaking of which, about how much free food would you say you provide the average English major with, per semester?

 

4. If your English department were a short story, what would be the title, and who would be the author?

 

5. What would you say the pH level of your institution would be? (Just an estimate is fine.)

 

6. If you could give your English department one (and only one) superpower, what would it be and why?

 

7. Friends or Seinfeld?
(Ed. Note: The answer should always be "Both.")

 

8. Would you happen to know what portion of your undergraduate student body is comprised of closet fan-fiction writers? (Again, asking for a friend.)

 

9. It's after midnight on a weekend, and an English major at your institution has a spoon in his or her hand. What is he or she eating?

 

10. Would you say your institution embodies the Times New Roman, Arial, or Garamond aesthetic?
(Ed. Note: If the answer is "Comic Sans," run.)

 

11. Has your institution adopted a specific stance on the proper format of the em-dash?

 

12. Please respond with between five and eight emojis that most accurately represent your institution.

 

13. If your English department were a giant metaphorical hamburger, which condiments would you put on it?

 

14. And finally, the most relevant question of all:

What's in it for me?


*Disclaimer: No comment has been made regarding the response rate to these questions.

 

Dearest high school seniors: We love you so. The college process will work out, even if it doesn't feel like it! The important thing is that you take advantage of resources you have to make educated and well-informed decisions, with the reminder that happiness very likely can be achieved at multiple schools. Everything happens for a reason. As the fine fellows of William McKinley high once said...

Letter to Kate Gale of "AWP is Us" by Peter LaBerge

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief.

 

Dear Kate Gale,

Thank you for bringing the important matter of the privileged homogeneity of the AWP Conference to light via your recent Huffington Post article entitled “AWP is Us.” It is important to open this complex issue and explore it for what it is. I’m afraid, however, your reasoning and defense is almost entirely off-base.

First of all, it appears that your definitions of exclusion and intolerance are solely physical—as you write, “I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Indians. It was an unlikely image.” So, I guess, because Fenza is not murdering minorities in his spare time, there is no need to inspect and better route diversity efforts within AWP?

No. Sorry, not even close.  

How about, intolerance is silencing the voices of whole communities, omitting the telling of so many stories because of the intensely subjective, largely flawed process that is AWP panel selection?

In particular, I’d like to focus on one particularly disturbing excerpt of your extremely disturbing letter:

First of all, as someone who is 50% Jewish, I want to know just how Jewish AWP is. How many Jews apply to panels? How many Jews have worked at the office, not counting the accountant? Is there any level of anti-Semitism going on at AWP? With some added queries, we can nail down the Jewish question.
Of course, I want to know about gender preference diversity as well. How gay is AWP? I would say that I'm about 30% gay, that percentage accounting for all the time with girls before I started dating guys and which I'd be happy to return to if the need arises. We could simply ask applicants, how gay are you? If the person is confused, AWP could lay out some questions to help tease out the truth. If you are a female and not sure if you're gay, think about this. Did you attend Smith or Reed? How many pairs of Doc Martens do you have? Have you seen the movie Bound more than once? If male, do you attend musicals regularly? Do you have a large Barbara Streisand collection? Do you shop at Crate and Barrel?

Okay, aside from the alarming stereotypes flagrantly used in the above excerpt of your letter (Barbra Streisand? Jewish accountants?) and the supreme (and, frankly, offensive) misunderstanding of sexual orientation displayed here, there’s the simple fact that as minorities—as members of color, as members across the expansive spectrum of gender and sexual orientation, as female members or members of a particular religion—we don’t, and never would, strive to host “black panels,” nor “gay panels,” nor “Jewish panels" (etc.) in a world in which all voices are given equal respect and weight. We do not strive to be tokenized, to be labeled in the way you have labeled us. In the same way panels are not labeled “white,” are not labeled “inclusive of men” or even “exclusive of women,” we do not want to be defined by something as physical as one aspect of our identities—because there is so much inside each well of identity, each race, gender, socio-economic class, religion, and everywhere else.

Imagine if every white-washed, straight-washed, (etc.) panel accepted to the conference were labeled and written off merely as “white-washed,” “straight-washed,” etc.

We minority writers have interests beyond our identities, but even if we didn’t, our identities should not be rendered insufficient for exploration in the academic and social setting the AWP conference provides. To imply that further efforts to encourage and house diverse panels are not worth AWP’s precious time—or, even worse, that each “diversity panel” should be carefully counted and selected on the basis of how overtly it applies to the stereotypical terms of each well of diversity—is not only inaccurate, but also inherently problematic.

Finally, even the idea that AWP is Us is problematic, because it ignores the diversity inside of “us.” It neglects the intersectionality that must be considered—we are not all white and female, writing an angry vent letter in defense of a privileged organization from the Red Hen Press publishing house. Such an implication would be irresponsible, as well as dangerous.

So, Kate Gale, your tremendous bouts of ignorance and privilege are showing. Perhaps it would be best to sit down and listen to the chorus of dissent for the legitimate criticism that it is.

Adroit Visits the 2015 New York City Poetry Festival, in Review by Peter LaBerge

        By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief 

 From left to right: Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, Jeanann Verlee, Peter LaBerge, & Joseph Fasano.

From left to right: Laura Romeyn, Keegan Lester, Jeanann Verlee, Peter LaBerge, & Joseph Fasano.

Yesterday, in the sunny nook of a Sunday afternoon, The Adroit Journal shared work from four contributors at the New York City Poetry Festival for the third year in a row. Despite nerve-wracking reports of rainfall for the day, we're happy to report that our reading was a success! Thanks so much to everyone who came out to the reading, and of course, to the wonderful folk at the Festival. We hope to return in 2016! 

If you couldn't make the festival, don't fret. We've managed to bring the reading to you, courtesy of prose mentee Shannon Sommers' iPhone (Thanks, Shannon!). 


Joseph Fasano

The moon, who has been away so long now, the lost moon with her silver lips and whisper, her body half in winter, half in wool. Look at her. Look at her, that drifter. And if no one, if nothing comes to know you, if no song comes to prove it isn't over, tell yourself, in the moon's arms, she is no one. 

 -- Joseph Fasano, from "Testimony" 

 

Laura Romeyn

It rained once / they say, not a flood, but a bucketing. / I think of how my body takes on water, / how my body leaks it out and off. / How I’ll reach for a glass when I need it, / when I want it.

 -- Laura Romeyn, from "Slab City

 

Keegan Lester

If we continue with what we should, / we all stand to lose / getting naked and swimming in lakes. / Everyone will be doing it then. / They will name it something paradoxical / like natural hibernianism.

 -- Keegan Lester, from "The Topography of Woody Allen

 

Jeanann Verlee

Maybe it was the tequila, / the salt licked off a neck. Or the way / the first boy in Juarez slid under my skirt in a back room. / The way the point guard unbuttoned my shirt / in the stairwell after practice. Or how the kid / with the teardrop tattoo beneath his left eye / gripped my hips, how he never uttered a word. 

 -- Jeanann Verlee, from "Grime

Five Books to Read Over Spring Break by Amanda Silberling

By Joanna Moley, Blog Correspondent

 Photo via  Contrary Magazine

t's finally spring break, which means you can put down all of your school books and do some pleasure reading for a change. Whether you will be relaxing by the pool, bundled up in a ski lodge somewhere, filling free time on a sports team training trip, or taking time off at home, here are a few spring break book suggestions to take your mind off real life for the next week.

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This novel is recommended for anyone who loves books told from multiple perspectives, people interested in music and the music business, and PowerPoint enthusiasts everywhere (read it, I promise that will make sense).

2. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This is a great pick for dog lovers and people who love heart-wrenching, yet uplifting stories about life. I suggested this book to a certain editor-in-chief back in high school, and it was a big hit (Ed. note: A solid testimonial)

3. This is the End by Various Authors

Check this out if you're a fan of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, or if you just really hate big business and love/identify with awkward people.

4. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Read this if you love intertwining short fiction, intellectual-yet-enjoyable beach reads, and stories about Africa. This book was written by the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who not only writes amazing novels but also gives killer TED talks.

5. Emma by Jane Austen

This one may be a stretch, but anyone looking for a great classic novel to indulge in during their week off should pick up a copy of this classic. I recommend it for fans of complicated love triangles and powerful female protagonists. As an added bonus, read the book and then use the rest of your free time to watch the movie "Clueless" and find the parallels.
 

Whatever you're up to this break, make sure to find time to read! As second graders and school librarians everywhere will remind you, books can take you on vacation without your ever having to leave the house.

Adroit's Best Books of 2014 by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

Nothing is better than waiting for a book release and finally taking a trip down to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book the second it's on the shelf – we just cannot trust Amazon Prime's shipping policies with matters as important as reading new books.

Whether we counted down the days for a book to come out, or just stumbled upon it during the year, the Adroit Blog Staff lived up to that New Year's Resolution of actually making time to read. Here we have an assorted mishmash of our favorite books of 2014, including everything from bone-chilling poetry to short stories in The New Yorker to The Princess Bride.

ALexa Derman, Managing EDITOR
BArk BY Lorrie Moore

Admittedly, if you had asked me in 2013 what my favorite book was going to be in 2014, I probably would’ve said Bark. I’d been waiting for the collection, Moore’s first in fifteen years, for quite some time. Lo and behold, the hardcover I pre-ordered months in advance did not disappoint. At turns acerbic and earnest, Moore’s prose is above all else honest. Maybe that’s why some of the pieces included in this collection are so troubling – they prize honesty first, forfeiting contrived endings and conventionally likable characters for the sake of authenticity. If the people who populate Bark wouldn’t be a reader’s first choice for friends, it’s because they’re (perhaps too) real.

 

Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

 Amanda's "Bad Feminist" costume, alongside "Cat" and "Overzealous College Freshman"

Amanda's "Bad Feminist" costume, alongside "Cat" and "Overzealous College Freshman"

Let’s start by saying that I loved this book enough that I kept an extremely close eye on the web-o-sphere the week when Roxane Gay was giving away free Bad Femnist t-shirts on Twitter. Like the social media superstar I am, I managed to snag the t-shirt – score! I also loved the book so much that I was “Bad Feminist” for Halloween. Okay, maybe that costume was just borne out of necessity, because it’s really challenging to create a Halloween costume in a dorm room, and I thought the shirt would look awesome with fishnets and leather. But my Twitter expertise and Halloween costume are aside from the point. The fishnets and leather are also aside from the point.

The point is that Roxane Gay’s essay collection is hilarious, thought-provoking, informative, and tear-jerking all at once. It’s varied and diverse, like the practice of feminism. Gay can write about experiences with sexual assault, competitive scrabble, and Fifty Shades of Grey – and it all blends together with ease.

In the essay "I Was Once Miss America," Gay writes, "There is nothing more desperate and unrequited than the love an unpopular girl nurtures for the cool kids." But in the literary world, Roxane Gay sits at the cool table and eats her school cafeteria lunch with grace. Bad Feminist is more than just a cultural studies book. It's a Roxane Gay book. As a reader, I should probably care more about the implications of white-washed beauty pageants and racial tensions than Roxane Gay's middle school experiences. But what makes Roxane Gay such a great writer is that when you're reading her essays, her anecdotes weave seamlessly around dire commentary to the point that you become convinced that Gay's scrabble tactics are a serious social issue.

 

Talin TahajianPoetry EDITOR
Crystal Eaters BY Shane Jones

This book is difficult to explain. I’m going to start with a disclaimer that I’m very biased toward Shane Jones because I think he’s pretty much a crazy god with a literary mind so absolutely bizarre that it must be holy. (I discovered Light Boxes in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble four years ago and it changed my life—and the way I think about writing—for the better.) Essentially, Crystal Eaters is the text version of that weird time after midnight when you’re scared to look at the clock and are pretty sure it’s only about 1:30 a.m. but really it’s nearly 4:00 in the morning. The narrative loosely follows Remy, a child who lives in a world where the length of your life is dictated by the number of crystals inside you, as she discovers beautiful and terrible shit about people, the universe, drugs, death, daughterhood, illness, what it means to be alive. Its constant stream of vivid imagery has the same kind of beauty as that guy with a lot of multicolored tattoos and a black septum barbell ring who takes the Red Line into Boston on Monday mornings. If you enjoy Crystal Eaters, which you will, you may also enjoy the following unofficially related products, all of which also premiered in 2014:

-       iPhone app: Monument Valley
-       Electronica album: How to Run Away by Slow Magic
-       Remix of an alternative rock song: “Last Train” (Dactyl Remix) by Dawn Golden
-       Literary magazine issue: Columbia Poetry Review (Issue No. 27, Spring 2014)
-       Tweet by a poet: “The more you try to convince me I’m not dead the more I am dead.” (@MathiasSvalina, 19 October 2014)

 

Lucia Lotempio, Poetry Reader
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s second collection is brilliant. I will shout it from high-up open windows—dammit, it is brilliant. She pushes every image, every metaphor to the edge of the poems—I was constantly amazed at how effectively she stretches her metaphors and how complex each conceit was. The way she talks about sex and gender is sharp and invigorating. She uses the obscene and the absurd to expound on gender theory and the murky exactness of how gender is performed and perceived. And she uses absurdity with such skill: each exaggeration is purposeful, each ridiculous moment is with motive, and each poemscape is bright as it is intricate. What really drew me in to this collection were her titles. From the opening “Is Your Country a He or a She in Your Mouth” to “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” to “Bedbugs Conspire to Keep Me from Greatness,” Lockwood just nails it.  Must read poem: “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics”—you’ll get the D.L. on what Dickinson’s and Whitman’s (the Father and Mother of American poetry respectively—yes, you read that correctly) real contributions to American poetry were (hint: it’s mostly tit-pics). 

 

Ariella Carmell, Blog Correspondent
As You Wish Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride By Cary Elwes

I must confess that I only read one 2014 release this year, so by the transitive property my favorite book of 2014 was As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. Cary Elwes (who plays Westley, the usurper of my heart, in the film) divulges some behind-the-scenes antics in the production of the cult classic. Elwes is by no means a florid writer, but he writes with an earnestness that’s hard to resist as he goes on about the lovely qualities about the cast and crew. In fact, the only issue I had with the book was that it was almost too nice. Where was the gossip, the rumors? Give me some dirt, Cary. The most interesting tidbit I gleaned from this memoir was the inconceivable (hah!) fact that Samuel Beckett would drive Andre the Giant (Fezzik) to school. An image worthy of any Beckett play.

 

Henry Heidger, Blog Correspondent
Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Because I work primarily as a poet, I often find myself behind on fiction reading. However, one novelist on my 2014 reading list shadowed all of the others—Marilynne Robinson. Prominent professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Robinson first rose to literary acclaim in 1980 with her novel Housekeeping. After a long period of relative silence, she again stormed the literary scene with her 2004 novel Gilead. This autumn saw the release of Robinson’s third book set in the town of Gilead, Iowa—Lila, nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction. Lila is the story of a woman, alone after years of rural homelessness, whose life takes a breathtaking lift after stepping into a small-town church to escape the rain. Lila is quaintly beautiful with its evocative storyline, but its most masterful quality is the breadth and vastness of its characters. Questioning religion, morality, and love to their comprehendible reaches, Lila was the most vital book I read this year.

 

Joanna Moley, Human Rights Correspondent
The Alaska of Giants and Gods by Dave Eggers

Because life is a crazy and mysterious thing that seems to be filled with everything except for free time, I didn't read any books that came out in 2014 during 2014. In my defense, I did read a bunch of other books, they were just released before this year.  Despite my lack of expertise on the books of 2014, I do regularly read the fiction pieces in "The New Yorker," and I was especially impressed by Dave Eggers' The Alaska of Giants and Gods.  This piece is full of simple but unexpected lines that make the reader do a double take – within the first few paragraphs that protagonist declares that her children, "were strange but good."  I think that is an amazingly nontraditional way to describe your offspring.  It's loving, but also vaguely and wonderfully insulting.  Most of the important information about the characters is revealed throughout a cruise ship magic show, which is seriously unconventional method for creating characters with depth.  I would recommend this story to anyone who loves literature, has no free time whatsoever, and enjoys seemingly whimsical stories that actually contain nuanced themes about origins and identity.

 

Eloise Sims, Human Rights Correspondent
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet

My favorite book of the year is definitely Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. I love Peet's frank and detailed way of writing, and his characters are the kind that literally leap off the page and wave their arms in your face. Life: An Exploded Diagram is a Romeo and Juliet-esque story of forbidden love between two teenagers in a tiny town in England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but in a deeper sense, it's a story about the power of family, hope, and resistance. Clem, the main character, is a vaguely hopeless Bill Nighy-esque artistic genius, trapped in the stifling environment of his family home, who falls madly in love with Francoise, the French, posh, and out-of-reach daughter of his father's boss. I couldn't recommend it more for anyone wanting to be pleasantly surprised by a novel's dexterity and depth. The events in Francoise's and Clem's lives intertwine beautifully with actual historical events in the 1950s, making it a huge bonus for the history nerds out there. Altogether, as my friend once said, this book "will take your insides, lure them into comfort with strawberries, then tape them to a nuclear warhead and fire them to Mars."

 

And then we have the Adroit staff who were so rebellious that they wrote about books from 2013. If a book is good enough that it stays with you the extra year, is it fair game?

 

PETER LABERGE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
SEAM BY TARFIA FAIZULLAH

In nearly every poetry class I’ve taken, the instructor has told me that I would one day come across a collection so profoundly moving I would never again have to question the purpose or power of poetry. For this reason, I am especially grateful to have recently read Tarfia Faizullah’s debut collection Seam.

From my perspective, there seems no greater honor than being invited to partake in an intensely personal life-changing journey. This is precisely what Seam offers; the reader gratefully accompanies Faizullah as she takes the reigns from history books, and paints the most gruesomely evocative picture of the Bangladesh Liberation War in existence today. Specifically, Faizullah leads the reader through the stories of Bangladeshi war victims, sharing both the intimate and the expansive. To the patiently attentive reader, Seam strives to be concrete proof that quiet beauty can sprout from the ash of injustice, and that where there is a story, there is life.

 

Derick Edgren, Blog Correspondent
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Usually when I listen to music — and I promise, this is relevant — it's typically per song, but sometimes there's that gem of an artist that produces only good music (read: Sia, Florence + The Machine) and that's how I feel about literature most of the time. When someone asks me what authors I enjoy, names don't come to mind. Titles do. No book has ever had this spark to it that's made me think yes-can't-wait-to-check-out-this-guy's-entire-album. 

When I read Chimamanda Adichie's book Americanah, I fell in love with her equally direct and abstract prose. A friend of mine recommended it to me, It's long but it won't feel like it. And after six hundred pages, and mind you, I'm a very slow reader, I couldn't agree more with her precaution or whatever you want to call that. Which I found to be quite complimentary — when a book feels quicker than it is. The story follows the life of a young woman, Ifemelu, who moved from Nigeria to the U.S. to attend university. While marketed as a love story, between her and her childhood friend/lover, it's so much more than that. An amazing commentary on America's sweepingly vague perception of Africa and Africans versus African Americans. It's beautifully written, a winding road, written in part-blog form as Ifemelu's blog gains success. Nevertheless, it all ties together, with a surprisingly simple ending, that I felt (maybe not all felt) was well-earned is a story, there is life.  Chimamanda Adichie is the Sia or the Florence + The Machine of literature for me. I've found myself attracted not only to her semi-autobiographical story, but the way she tells it. Which I’ve always felt was more important.

"What Belonged/To Winter": Seasonal Poems from the Adroit Archive by Amanda Silberling

By Amanda Silberling, Blog Editor

  “  Continual  ” by Giulia De Francesco, Issue 8,  The Adroit Journal

Continual” by Giulia De Francesco, Issue 8, The Adroit Journal

It's that time of year again – the time when we lie in bed and stay in our pajamas until 4 PM reading all of the books we never got a chance to read earlier in the year. Okay, maybe we're the only ones who stay in their pajamas all day. But that's irrelevant. We don't want to share our lazy holiday habits with you, but we do want to share these poems. We took a look through the Adroit archive to find some excellent poems to get you in the wintry mood, whether you choose read them in your pajamas or not. 

"Four Elements" by Marie Gauthier (Issue Five)

On the stovetop, cocoa melds 
with condensed milk in a pot 
warming on the burner. 

Small economies: how the sun 
weakens in December, bows 
to evening before the end 

of afternoon.

"The Ordained" by Jacques J. Rancourt (Issue Eight)

If God were a season

then he would surely be winter, would ground
by starvation, by frostbite, he would bate

in pairs. [...] 

I gave my soul to God but he wanted

my body. I gave to winter what belonged
to winter. The rest I cut free with a knife.

"Ode to a Skeleton Key" by Bruce Bond (Issue Six)

Once I saw you as the silent tongue 
in the bell of lamplight above my bed 
and thought, how strange to have any other, 

or locks for that matter, though even then 
you betrayed only the oldest closet, 
the dark no greed or anger would disturb. 

"Midwinter" by Richie Hofmann (issue nine)

reflected like a sequin, like summer even,
though it was New Years Day, and the world

was dusky, and the dog, the house, the woods, the books—
they weren’t even ours.

"In Another Life" by Ruth Foley (Issue Four)

You have been alive for the past 
thirty years. You prefer the ocean 
to the mountains. You have let your hair 
grow long again, and tie it back when 

the babies come to visit. You had more 
children, and they had children. In 
the winter, they come to your house to sled 
on the hill that leads out of your woods. 

"Late Winter Parallax" by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson (Issue Two)

So many limbs, the sturdy hemlock
and this silent mimicry. They sleep
just out of reach. I reach
breathless at their breathing – such gestures,
the stretched neck, the seeking after. 

Get Excited: the 2014 NEW YORK CITY POETRY FESTIVAL Approaches! by Peter LaBerge

...And what better way to celebrate it than by listening in on our blog editor Amanda Silberling asking a few of our readers some fun questions?! Check out the below fun answers our readers came up with, and be sure to visit the journal's reading this Saturday on the Chumley's stage at 4:30 pm!

READER #1: TALIN TAHAJIAN, Poetry Editor.
 

AS: Describe what you plan to read at the festival in a rhymed couplet.
TT: Some words I'll pass off as poetry in attempt to be posh / and probably something about summer squash. 

AS: What are the best and worst things about poetry? 
TT: Its ability to entice/its ability to slaughter.


 

READER #2: SAM ROSS, Poetry Contributor.


AS: What's the coolest literary experience you've ever had?
SR: One of the coolest literary experiences I've had came after I wrote a poem inspired by a small Persian miniature I saw at the Morgan Library in New York City. The painting depicts a lion that is made up of a bunch of other animals, the lion's body as a menagerie. I worked on my poem for a long time, it was probably a year before I had a draft that I was happy with. I was reading Fragile Acts by the poet Allan Peterson, and I was totally gripped. Then on page 31, Peterson writes about the same small painting of the lion! My poem is titled "Sol in Leo" and his is "The Sun in Leo." It produced this amazing feeling of interconnection, like having the same uncommon tattoo. Poetry isn't as solitary as it's sometimes made out to be. You can have conversations you don't even know about, only to catch up much later.

AS: What do you think makes a poetry reading successful?
SR: I think really successful poetry readings create a rare feeling, the I'm-so-glad-I'm here-and-not-anywhere-else. I saw Jennifer Tamayo read in Seattle with Coconut Books and felt that way. She involved the audience, she swung some sort of animatronic hand around like it was a censer, but those moves didn't feel like gimmicks. They were fun and interesting, but they were also really connected to the work. But you don't have to be a performer to produce this feeling. I think intention and respect for the audience are the only essentials. Even the basic tenets of public speaking (eye contact, kempt hair) need not apply. Everybody listens differently, and not all poems need to be read in a particularly demonstrative way. That said, you do have to be legible, somehow, if you want to be understood.


 

READER #3: J. SCOTT BROWNLEE, Poetry Contributor.


AS: You have thirty seconds to explain to someone why poetry is important -- what do you say?
JSB: I'd recite Yusef Komuyakaa's poem "Rock Me, Mercy" to them.  It's short, powerful, and relevant to the events of our time.  "The river stones are listening," Yusef writes, "because we have something to say."  It's doesn't get more immediate or necessary than that.

AS: If you were organizing a poetry reading and could feature any four readers, dead or alive, who would they be, and where would the reading take place?
JSB: Walt Whitman, Larry Levis, Tarfia Faizullah, and Jamaal May--and it would be on The Brooklyn Bridge (I love bridges almost as much as I love these four poets).  For me, Whitman and Levis represent the best poetry written during their respective generations, and I owe a great deal to the examples they set for me (they have big, generous hearts and aren't afraid of being vulnerable).  Tarfia and Jamaal's work, though, I think excites me more than the poets of the past I revere--because it's linked to what is happening now.  They've also mentored me and given live readings I've attended and will never forget... and are fabulous humans, in general.

 

So, there you have it! There's a glimpse at a few of our super-cool, super-talented New York City Poetry Festival readers this year. Be sure to attend the reading on Saturday at Governor's Island, NYC, to learn more! (Or, of course, follow this blog. Ahem.)