My Dance With Gombo

Martha Darr headshot

The following is a guest post by Martha Darr, whose poetry appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Since childhood, I have been enchanted by words and sounds. I studied foreign languages, played music throughout my years in college, and did field work in various parts of the world as a graduate student. I was sure that I would be among the anointed for a lifelong career in academia. But gradually, I began to face up to a reality – my love for verbal expression belonged in the arts. Poetry found me.

After my focus shifted to the artistic, I was surprised by how comfortable it felt. No guilt or remorse for “not being able to hack it in academia,” just a sense of contentment that I had found my way back home. I could let personal feelings surface in a creative way. As if awakened from a deep sleep, I started attending all the book festivals, conferences and workshops that I could find – anything that I thought might be relevant and would not destroy my bank account. My educational training in African Diaspora Studies also traveled with me and has been a great assist in numerous ways.

When I began to write the poem “Gombo Exaltation,” which appears in Typehouse, I felt a tug. I have always enjoyed eating this amazing dish, usually associated with Louisiana Creole and Cajun cooking, but wondered why it was often, but not always, written as “gumbo.” I decided to go with the variant spelling as part of the title in order to pay homage to a source that has played a less well known role in its history.

During the time of slavery, when blacks were taken to the Americas from West Africa and the Angola-Congo Basin areas, they also brought parts of their culture with them. As one linguistic example among many, the word for okra – a key ingredient in gombo – is kingombo in Kimbundu, a Bantu language spoken in Angola. (Dicionário Kimbundu Português, n.d., pg 132). It’s not too difficult to imagine that the languages in these regions were probably a source for the name of the vegetable, and by extension the dish, regularly consumed in Louisiana as well as other parts of the Americas where similar dishes are prepared.

In addition, the use of the term Holy Trinity refers to three ingredients in the stew, and is familiar to folks who regularly cook and eat it. However, I also chose to include it in the poem as a way to set a reverential tone echoed by a praise and prayer-like closing.

I enjoy focusing on something key in a culture and combining it with the music of rhythm, repetition and metaphor. My goal overall is to compose the kind of poems I hope will stay with the reader, linger a bit. Fortunately, we still live in a time when diverse cultural elements can be blended to make fresh art. It is a privilege to present this kind of work to an appreciative audience. Writing can be an out-of-body experience for me. I never take it for granted.

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Martha Darr is a poet and literary translator.  Her work has appeared in such publications as Typehouse, Star*Line, Fiyah, Penumbra Literature and Art, Exterminating Angel Press, Journal of American Folklore, and a bilingual anthology Knocking On The Door of The White House: Latina and Latino Poets in Washington, D.C.  Martha has received various kinds of funding, including a grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities.

No Objections to Objective Correlatives

Pernille AEgidius Dake

The following is a guest post by Pernille AEgidius Dake, whose short story “Where I Sit” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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‘The book is used as an effective objective correlative’ wrote my teacher on a copy of my story now titled ‘Where I Sit.’ Notes from a prior fiction workshop reminded me that an objective correlative defines a particular emotion out of an object, situation, or (chain of) events and then re-evokes the sentiment somewhere else in the story. These were not facts I recalled even subconsciously, I think. The application of Adam Haslett’s novel in my short story was dumb luck; I thought I was experimenting with metaphor.

In Imagine Me Gone, a work of fiction by Adam Haslett, two family members out of five lose out to their battle with depression and commit suicide, leaving the two surviving siblings and the mother to reconcile with the pain. They overcome their grief tenaciously and hauntingly so.

Still, the title led me to imagine a more common, and in most cases, more mellow departure: a breakup. Splits won’t fully take until the breakee gets past being jilted. The (kind) wish of the breaker, or narrator, to not only be gone—but to be forgotten—is expressed in the novel’s title. In the opening of my story, the narrator reads Imagine Me Gone, then the book is also reopened in the end—adding a symbolic play with how the fictitious family suffers real pain, not the narrator. The opportunity to play with the book’s spine and the narrator leaning her back against the bench’s backrest was a bonus.

The support (pardon the pun) of an objective correlative struck me like I’d been given free limitless rides to an amusement park’s bumper cars. The writerly craft gave the story a reference, a definition, like the lip of the floor where the cars race, and within that perimeter, I could spin about and hit everything in sight (many drafts were true bouncing-around-rides with word counts to rival rush hour in Beijing). The Imagine Me Gone-sensibility framed the story and made it easier—I should say safer—to explore: to envision how my two protagonists had loved and squandered, mostly squandered, and misunderstood not just each other, but…. Always will there be misreads: when did who really stray in what parts of the relationship? It comes naturally and seems customary to blame the breaker for all the pain that went before; the last break calls out and sums up all the misery that can rip through a couple’s time together, shakily and deafening.

It’s impossible to hear who’s truly to blame—that relies wholly on perspective! The objective correlative made it easier to make both characters ambiguous, then anchor them to the bench.

Thank you to Typehouse for not benching this story.

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Danish-born Pernille AEgidius Dake was a finalist for Glimmer Train Press 2014 New Writer Award as well as december’s 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award and has been published in Skirt!, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Glassworks Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Dime Show Review, and elsewhere. She is an MFA Candidate in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Filling Your Artist’s Cup

Nikita Andester

The following is a guest post by Nikita Andester, whose creative short story “Such a Peachappeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Recently, a photographer friend of mine said he’d quit chasing success; for him, it was all about fulfillment. This declaration hit me like a gut punch – not only because he was the most successful creative I knew. It was that, as straightforward as prioritizing fulfillment was, I’d never even considered measuring my life like that.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said. Not long after, I shifted my career entirely to focus on fiction and started emphasizing my own quest towards fulfillment. Nowadays, I keep my eyes trained on what Julia Cameron calls your “artist’s cup.” Filling your artist’s cup means letting go of the need to generate “output” – at least for now.

As artists, we’re bombarded with questions about what we’re busy crafting. If you’re not making, the logic goes, then you’re not an artist.

But just like how you’d never take a road trip without topping off the tank, you can’t create without topping off your own creative reservoir. As writers, the best thing we can do for our craft sometimes is shut the laptop, ignore that pulsing cursor, and rediscover the power of play.

By making the mundane captivating, we’re inviting ourselves to rediscover why life is worth writing about in the first place. Refilling your cup means doing the little things. Looking at that button collection of yours or strolling through a cemetery can work magic on your creativity. 

Once, I went on a walk and counted bumblebees, losing track somewhere around forty. It was a mesmerizing way to spend a half hour, and I never saw that stretch of my street the same way again. Like hard candies tucked into your cheek, those moments become your secret to savor – not for social media or an art project or growing your career, but because the best way to get inspiration is by living.

If you’re so busy you forget to breathe, let alone play, remember: playtime can happen anytime. Traffic? Prime opportunity to practice dance moves. Dishes? No better time to throw back with Backstreet Boys and sing/yell your heart out. 

As a society, we’re pressured to always focus on advancing our career – or at least getting rich. But if every heartbeat is given over to the symphony of our career, how can we stop to enjoy the popcorn at life’s intermission? Often, the best part of a show is the quiet moment when we’re washing our hands, alone, digesting what we’ve just witnessed. Filling your artist’s cup grants you those moments for your own life, too.

Tom Robbins put it best: it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. So what the hell – reread that manga from high school. Try that hairstyle you found on Tiktok. You’re more than someone who makes art; you are art – and hot damn, it’s time you acted like it.  And as you fill your artist’s cup, you may just realize you’re creating more art than you ever have before.

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Nikita Andester (she/they) is a writer, musician, and visual artist who lives in Portland, Oregon and has their MA in Professional Creative Writing from the University of Denver. Raised in the deep south, Nikita’s writing draws on her past lives as a farmer, waitress, ESL teacher, and farmers’ market maven to uncover the magic lurking in the lives of working-class characters. Nikita’s creative work can be found in Wild Musette Journal of Music, Mystery, and Myth; Argot Magazine; and Typehouse Literary Magazine. Twitter: @nikitaiswriting Website: www.nikitaandester.com

Spelunking the Strange Questions

John Backman

The following is a guest post by  John Backman, whose creative nonfiction piece “One of Those Exquisite Nothings” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Can you form friendships with dead people? Can the poem you wrote when you were six influence your decision to help a stranger fifty years later? Can you be bigender and Buddhist—someone with two “selves” who believes in no permanent self?

For some people, the term spiritual writer may conjure an array of stereotypes: clergy, self-appointed moral scolds, wielders of gratuitous religious symbols. My own spiritual writing has never gone in that direction. But in the past three years it’s become even less conventional, shifting from articles on well-traveled spiritual topics to personal essays that explore strange wrinkles in the universe (like friendships with dead people). The shift is more natural than I’d first thought: spirituality has a way of opening its practitioners to wonder and mystery—to far more questions than answers—so it’s inevitable that some of us would stumble into the weirder alleys.

In “One of Those Exquisite Nothings,” my essay in Issue 21, I receive a life-changing diagnosis on the same day I begin cleaning our new deck to prepare it for staining. As it turns out, both the disease and the deck cleaning involve technical issues that require action on my part despite the fact they may not exist. By cleaning the deck, I remove something from the wood that might not even be there; in my diagnosis, I have something to address that some experts believe is no big deal. That wrinkle led me (and the essay) to include other strenuous efforts that could be construed—at first glance anyway—as a waste of time: my own Zen practice, the creation and destruction of breathtaking sand mandalas by Buddhist monks.

Maybe the stereotypical spiritual writer would seek to solve wrinkles like this. I’m more inclined to feel my way into the twists they present, just as spelunkers (who, for the record, are now called cavers) might use their hands to navigate a cave. A fringe benefit of this approach to writing, for me, is that when I start I rarely know where I’ll end up. What could be more fun than that?

For some reason, my mind wanted to link the wrinkle in “One of Those Exquisite Nothings” with a larger aspect of the universe: the myriad things we do and experience that make a near-zero impact on the planet, our species, even our immediate vicinity. They are close to nothings, but exquisite nothings nonetheless (like sand mandalas). When I began writing the essay, I didn’t expect it to end up in that larger aspect, which took several days and numerous revisions to emerge.

On one of those days, I wrote myself a note in the right-hand margin: “This last paragraph is not quite there. And right now I’m not sure where there is!” That’s where I live as a spiritual writer: in the freedom of not knowing, in the joyful suspense of what comes next.

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A spiritual director, bigender/nonbinary person, and quasi-hermit, John Backman writes about ancient spirituality and the unexpected ways it collides with postmodern life. This includes a book (Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart) and personal essays in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Catapult, Tiferet Journal, Amethyst Review, and Sufi Journal, among other places. Last year John was named a top 10 creative nonfiction finalist in the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards. dialogueventure.com  or on Twitter. @backwrite

Sláinte, Seanchaí:

Why Irish Writers Have Been So Influential in English-Language Literature

Zachary Kellian

The following is a guest post by Zachary Kellian, whose short story “Founding the Irish Porn Industry on My Summer Holiday” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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An afternoon stroll down O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, will take you on a tour of Irish history in a matter of blocks. You’ll follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses, as you cross the River Liffey, that famed waterway from songs by bands as varied as The Chieftains and Radiohead. You’ll see the battle-scared post office, its pillars pock-marked by English bullets from the 1916 Easter Rising. Most notably, you will pass many a statue on the boulevard. But look closely. While the United States struggles with its history of problematic statues in the American South and elsewhere, you’d be forgiven for thinking the stone and copper monuments along O’Connell Street are all memorials to great Irish war generals. But there is not a horse, rifle or saber atop these pedestals. (The Irish, a historically neutral nation, often joke that we have never won a war, even the ones we rage against ourselves.) These statues, displayed on the most prominent street of the capitol, all celebrate publishers, poets, and famous orators of the Republic of Ireland.

It says a lot about a nation that would put its famed wordsmiths front and center as an example to the rest of the world. This belief in the power of language is reflected in the sheer number of famous writers who have called the land of Saints and Scholars home. To name a few: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, CS Lewis, to say nothing of Ireland’s four Nobel Prize winners for literature (Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, and Heaney). The Irish diaspora also produced many a true literary great, from The Brontë Sisters in England, to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Conner in the United States.

Which begs the question: why have Irish Writers had such a profound influence on English-language literature? It all comes down to the Gaelic tradition of the Seanchaí (literal translation: “bearer of old lore”). They were the men and women chosen to oversee the histories, laws, lineage, and stories of their people, and were positions of great honor in Celtic tribes since before recorded history. 

Over the centuries of Viking and English colonization, the Irish protected this role as a way of keeping their culture and its many traditions alive. The Seanchaí became the guardians of Ireland’s past and the champions of its future. They shared their tales in clandestine groups, huddled around peat-smoke fires, while imbibing on fine uisce beatha (Gaelic: “water of life,” the origins of the English word “whiskey.”) 

One need only visit a public house in Ireland today (a “pub,” or bar) to see this same story-telling tradition in modern practice. All of the aforementioned writers were brought up in this tradition of lively story-telling and became experts through osmosis in the art of imagery, plotting, and pacing. It is a tradition we as writers (whether we have Irish blood or just an appreciation for the Emerald Isle’s people) have the honor of carrying on.

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Zachary Kellian is an Irish American author living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the co-editor of Orca: A Literary Journal, and is putting the finishing touches on his first novel. He has never been called a Seanchaí, but if anyone ever did, the drinks (and accompanying stories) are on him. You can follow him on social media: @zackellian or visit him at zacharykellian.com

Roots of “Roses”

Samuel Heyman

The following is a guest post by Sam Heyman, whose short story “Roses” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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During the fall semester of my senior year of college, I was in the eye of a storm. Specifically, a perfect storm of intersecting liberal arts topics and a looming mania, through which my guiding light was storytelling. I finished my first full length play that semester, as well as a TV pilot in play’s clothing—but interestingly, the work that emerged from that period most intact was “Roses.”

“Roses” grew from a seed planted in my mind after reading Hideko Abe’s Queer Japanese for a linguistics research project. It was a small but rich book, and it didn’t take me long to find something of interest. The first chapter of Queer Japanese concerns gay advice columns, such as those found in G-Men, a now-defunct Japanese gay men’s magazine. Getting a chance to read about the true experiences of queer people in Japan sparked a familiar compulsion in me.

“There’s a story there,” I said aloud—a phrase I often use when an event or situation tempts me into plumbing it for meaning, emotion, truth. There are many stories that could have emerged from my reading of Abe’s lovingly crafted research text, but the one I chose to follow was Kenta’s story; a story about a young gay man coming to terms with his identity, while contending with the reality that he may not be the only queer person in his immediate family.

Throughout “Roses”, I found ways to incorporate the lessons that Queer Japanese had taught me, while also reflecting on the stories of same-sex love and attraction that I had internalized when I was Kenta’s age. I knew there was no way that mere cultural appreciation would be sufficient grounds for me to write a story that was fully authentic to Japanese gay male experience, but I also knew that my goal was less about accuracy than truth. 

The yaoi and bara manga that Kenta reads—that I, too, have read—is nearly always inaccurate, even when it isn’t explicit or pornographic. Yaoi is, in most cases, a fantasy genre dreamed up by straight, female manga artists rather than an authentic exploration of what it means to be gay. Bara, while it at least has congruous authorship, is aspirational and exaggerated in the way it depicts masculinity, men and sex between them. Though entertained, Kenta was made to feel inadequate by these stories, and I was too. 

The story I sought to tell in “Roses” was one that spoke back to the manga of my adolescence. It is grounded in the words of real people, earnestly seeking advice for how to come out to their families and receiving a well meaning, if deeply sad response: “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” It imagines a generation of queer youth that is unsatisfied with the fantasies they’ve consumed, and who crave a reality that, for all its blemishes, can at least afford the sweetness of love requited, the warmth of familial embrace. The truth it tells is hopeful, like a flower’s potential to bloom. 

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Sam Heyman (He/Him, They/Them) is a gay nonbinary writer housed in Nashville, TN. His writing has been published in Hashtag Queer, Ordinary Space and, most recently, Typehouse Literary Magazine. He hopes to create space for queer lives in literature and imagine, through storytelling, brighter tomorrows for humans of all stripes. Twitter: @sheymanCYCO

Synesthesia: Artist as Witness

Suzanne S. Rancourt photo

The following is a guest post by Suzanne S. Rancourt, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Being a witness, or artist, isn’t always a choice if one is gifted with what the western perspective calls “a perceptual phenomenon,” i.e., Synesthesia. I have always stated, as Artists we have a responsibility to take note and “report” via whatever art making modalities we have available to us; using our sensory tools to see, smell, hear, feel with our gut, (and flesh i.e., air displacement,) what is happening in our immediate environment.   

Some cultures and/or practices refer to the phenomenon of activated sensory systems as Zanshin, situational awareness, or hypervigilance. As a trauma survivor, and practitioner, I have heard and seen the negative connotations ascribed to a hypervigilant state. Transmuting these negative connotations, and in some cases the presentation of, to positive, productive skills, requires a supportive culture, environment, and practitioners to facilitate. I’m talking about practitioners competent in facilitating the neurologically calming, (cooling, quenching, tempering- the body, mind, and spirit,) artmaking modalities. Let our narrators tell the stories through whatever artmaking modality the story emerges from.  i.e., writing, singing, pottery, stacking wood, painting, dance, martial arts, hiking/nature.  For example:  I use Aikido, Iaido, and time in nature to facilitate this transmutation of trauma skill sets into tools for life and art making. I do my best to implement teachings from my Indigenous Ceremonies, childhood, rural upbringing- all of which emphasize inner stillness and practice. 

Synesthesia is a tool that an Artist can hone and employ, thus, better facilitating the reader, and audience’s, ability to experience, and relate to the art being presented. Synesthesia can be something we were born with or developed post- traumatic event. Transmutation takes time and guidance to better differentiate the after effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury, or the residual of “near death experiences.”  I had to return to memories of when I felt safe and whole. Through writing I began to remember the natural world. I got back into recovery because I needed to reconnect with natural abilities. I had the help of mentors, and friends. I kept writing without the critic- voice interfering. i.e., free writing, journaling. I continued singing and songwriting which worked my auditory responses from the inside out. I used my hands, hiked, swum miles upon miles, all this bringing my body, mind, and breath into a wholeness where I felt safe enough to engage with memories and all of my senses. I had lots of help along the way – both formally and informally. 

Artist as Witness: experience fully, record, and report through whichever art making modality our response to a given situation emerges from. Allow ourselves to meld our abilities as Artists and Witnesses with, and through, Synesthesia.

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Sundress Best of the Net Nominee, Suzanne S. Rancourt, is of Abenaki/Huron descent. Author of Billboard in the Clouds, Northwestern UP, received the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award, and murmurs at the gate, Unsolicited Press, released in 2019. Old Stones, New Roads, Main Street Rag Publishing, is forthcoming Spring 2021. She is a USMC and Army Veteran who holds degrees in psychology, writing and expressive arts therapy. Suzanne is widely published.  Please visit her website for a complete publication list: www.expressive-arts.com. @FlameSuzy

About “Beirut, Summer 1982”

From the painting Lebanon by Nabil Kanso 1983

At left: A fragment from Lebanon, a painting realized by Nabil Kanso in 1983, expressing the horror of the Lebanese civil war. http://lebanonpainting.com/works.html  

The following is a guest post by Soraya Qahwaji, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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The basement scene depicted in my poem “Beirut, Summer 1982” could have happened at almost any time of the fifteen-year long Lebanese civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. I chose to situate it during the summer of 1982 as an allusion to the siege and carpet-bombing of Beirut by the Israel Defense Forces. This choice was inspired by an American friend who once told me: “I understand Israel, because the people around Israel are Nazis.”

I was surprised by such a piecemeal statement that demonized and justified the killing of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese, and condoned practices such as occupation, torture and ethnic cleansing. In the Western political narrative, the rhetorical function of comparing a group of people – especially Arabs –  to Nazis, is to imply that their lives don’t matter, and that protections granted by international law and human rights conventions should not apply to them. I wasn’t expecting to hear that from my friend, a graduate of a very liberal – and very expensive – college, and a convert to Buddhism who believed in practicing compassion towards all beings and was planning to become a monk in the Thai forest tradition. I decided to take the incident as a testimony to the hold of negative representations of Arabs on the American mind, especially the younger generation.

My friend had just begun elementary school when the twin towers were attacked. He has been exposed to negative depictions of Arabs for all his life, which has conditioned his mind in a way that his Buddhist values and practice has been powerless to remedy. I felt the need for a counter-narrative. Not a counter-narrative that would fall into the trap of tit-for-tat and demonize Israel or its army – neither are mentioned in the poem – but a counter-narrative that would humanize “the people around Israel.” What I hoped to achieve is forcing the humanity of the victims onto those who deny it.

Beirut, Summer 1982 is also my Ars Poetica. Deep down, I am that mother who wants to comfort and entertain her children, at the risk of her own sanity. This, to me, is the essence of poetry: providing spiritual and moral sustenance. One of the most poetic things I’ve recently heard was on a BBC documentary on Chinese “reeducation camps” for the Uyghur minority in East Turkistan. One Uyghur inmate had written on the bathroom wall: “Oh my heart, don’t break!” The writing itself was not shown on camera, so as not to endanger its author. You could say that the sentence is trite and cliché. The language is unsurprising, the picture, juvenile. But whoever wrote that sentence was trying to remain spiritually, morally and psychologically alive in the face of extreme circumstances. This is poetry. 

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Soraya Qahwaji is a writer of whom nothing is known. Now let’s look at her essay.

Writing While Black in a Year of Protest

The following is a guest post by Shawn R. Jones, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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I sat down to write a few days after George Floyd’s murder, and never had the writing process felt more precarious. In 2019, it seemed so clear. I understood what I wanted to say and who I wanted to speak for, but more recently, my mind has been fraught with hurt, rage, and disappointment.

I am not sure who I am writing for now. Am I writing for Black people questioning their place in America, for my white neighbors whose hellos are suddenly more of an apology than a greeting, or for people who are speaking to me for the first time? 

For instance, my husband and I have been living in a predominantly white neighborhood for over a decade. There are a few neighbors who have refused to speak to us. However, a few days after Floyd’s murder, one of these neighbors pulled up beside us and asked how we were doing. I wanted to respond, the same way we have been for the past 401 years. I wasn’t sure if I should be thankful that she had finally decided to speak or angry that she hadn’t “noticed” us before.

I spoke back, with a hello that had a silent uh… in front of it and a question mark behind it. You see, I had stopped speaking to her because she had never responded and also because I had assumed she was the one who had written, “Niggers Go Back to Africa,” on the asphalt in front of our home. It was an assumption I made based on a gut feeling I have learned to rely on in environments where people can hate me and smile at me at the same time and others can hate me so much that they refuse to speak or smile at all.

In this racial climate, I don’t know what to expect from some white people any more than they know what to expect from me. I rely heavily on a gut feeling when I need to decide who I can trust. Thus far, that feeling hasn’t failed me. I don’t think I have a special mojo. However, I am convinced that many black people can feel racism without anyone even looking in their direction because racism feels more like a being, a spirit that prowls around our country, searching for a host.

So, how do we write about racism? How do we decide who our audience is? As I write this, I am asking myself those same questions while also understanding that sometimes we need to protect our mental health by not writing about events that disturb us. However, if you are compelled to do so, write a visceral response to a racial injustice you have witnessed this year.  Revise later. If you feel ready, choose an incident, and write without worrying about what people are going to think about you.  Become a gutsy writer, and write what you need to write for your own liberation. After you give your piece an honest voice, your audience will show up. 

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Shawn R. Jones is a writer from South Jersey. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Womb Rain (Finishing Line Press 2008) and A Hole to Breathe (Finishing Line Press 2015). Her poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, is #61 in Finishing Line Press’ New Women’s Voices Series. Her poetry has also appeared in Essence, Challenges for the Delusional, River Heron Review, and Guesthouse. She has poetry forthcoming in Peregrine Journal. Her debut short story, “The Life that You Saved” was recently published by Obelus Journal. Shawn is the owner and operator of Tailored Tutoring LLC and Kumbaya Academy, Inc. She is also a 2019 graduate of Rutgers-Camden’s MFA Program. Twitter: @shawnrjones1

The Practice of Seeing

The following is a guest post by James Miller, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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We have a long global tradition of writing about visual art—ekphrasis. Anne Sexton’s “The Starry Night” is an important one for me, a poem that captures her longing to dive into Van Gogh’s raw brushstrokes. Sexton seeks a more vivid and dangerous world, one ruled by a “great dragon” that demands absolute commitment to fearless creation.

Many ekphrastic writers follow a similar path. They begin in a self-conscious posture of looking, often at a framed masterpiece on the gallery wall. Their lines seek to animate static images with floods of association, reflection, desire. But poets have also responded to films, theater, and music—all of which unfold across charged minutes. These are arts of entrance, sojourn and exit; to write about them, we explore the subjective experience of duration.

I thought about these ideas when I first saw Gerhard Richter Painting (2011), by German documentarian Corinna Belz. Her film privileges the artist in the studio, working. Mostly we stand behind Richter, waiting with him as he considers… reconsiders… doubts. And acts. He covers a massive canvas with broad swathes of black, yellow, red. Then he steps back, into stillness. Then he lifts a monster squeegee from the table, approaches his abstract slab of paint…and smears color from left to right, or ceiling to floor.

I gasped audibly the first time the squeegee came out. The first time the paint blurred and failed, dropped away to reveal layers of hidden texture, half-memories of a half-hour before, an hour, a day, a week. Part of what excited me about Richter’s method was the slow and steady pace of his movements. He seemed to lean into motion as if shifting a great weight, taking his time. This was far from the flippant wipe we sometimes see between scenes in an old action movie, or the unthinking everyday swipe so characteristic of social media… thank you, next! Richter’s patience was touched by a menacing quality: Let us see what is hidden, he seemed to say. And in so doing, let us distort and blur and misremember and forget. We do all of this willingly, with courage.

What did this film teach me about seeing? In my poem “Gerhard Richter Painting,” I tried to describe his decisive gesture, bringing forms into being while simultaneously defacing or obscuring them. As Richter worked, I thought of warehouses on the shores of memory, filled with piercing remnants of a life, or a culture, or an ecology. The artist can open the warehouse door, revealing an impossibly rich and suggestive jumble. But the artist must also close that door, perhaps wincing at the squeal of metal as it comes down, bringing darkness again to once cherished things.

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James Miller is a native of the Texas Gulf coast. He won the Connecticut Poet Award in 2020, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cold Mountain Review, The Maine Review, Lunch Ticket, The Atlanta Review, Thin Air, A Minor, Eclectica, Rabid Oak, pioneertown, Juked, North Dakota Quarterly, Yemassee, Phoebe, Mantis and elsewhere.