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.

2020 Best Small Fictions Nominations!

Best Small Fiction Nominations

Our 2020 nominations for the Sonder Press Best Small Fictions awards are:

  • Daddy Had a Dog Named Jesus by Martina Litty (Issue 19)
  • We Float Alone by  Addison Rizer (Issue 19)
  • Dandelion Soup by Emily Behnke (Issue 20)
  • Worry by Deirdre Danklin (Issue 20)
  • Father William by Avra Margariti (Issue 20)

Congratulations and good luck!

2020 Pushcart Prize Nominations!

Pushcart Prize Nominations

Our nominations are:

  • Fiction:
    • Leanne Howard for “Heavenly Bodies” (Issue 20)
    • Ifeanyi Ekpunobi for “To Love Someone like You” (Issue 20)
  • Poetry:
    • Shutta Crum for “We Meet for Coffee at a Crowded Café” (Issue 19)
    • Shawn R. Jones for “The Undertow” (Issue 20)
  • Nonfiction:
    • Elizabeth Fergason for “Soup Day” (Issue 19)
    • Erin Yuan for “How to Make Jiaozi” (Issue 20)

Congratulations and good luck!

Cut It Out: Keeping Your Short Stories Short

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

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When it comes to writing short stories, especially flash fiction, we simply have to keep in mind their leanness, their small tautness. There’s no time for long-winded passages or overwrought explanations, no time to waste in the bog. Instead, think of your writing as the striker of the proverbial hot iron. You need to hit hard, hit quick, and be swiftly shaping the heated elements into something worth a damn. To that end, I’d like to highlight a few places where you can start trimming the fat.

  • Don’t start at the beginning. Your first paragraph might seem like the place where your story starts but take another look at the second paragraph or the next one and evaluate if one wouldn’t better serve the story. With my own writing I often find that my opening paragraph, even after polishing, doesn’t always gel with the rest of the story.  After finding a writing groove with a story things can often change from how you started be it in tone or style or character development.
  • Drawing out on an inconsequential scene. No one needs to know how your character (let’s call her Greta) turns off her car, gets out of the car, opens the trunk by turning her keys in the lock to get the groceries out, walks the pathway to her door, puts her keys in the lock, opens the door, and yada yada yada. You can save yourself a lot of real estate by saying these things much more simply: “When Greta got home she grabbed her groceries and went inside.” 
  • Too much description. We don’t need three sentences describing what Greta’s car looks like or how hard it was raining when she went into the grocery store. Lengthy flashbacks and descriptions of dreams also apply here. It’s hard to use flashbacks properly without weighing down your story and no one cares about anyone’s dreams other than their own, even in a short story. This also bridges into my next point.
  • Over-explaining. Short stories ain’t got time for all that. You should trust, if you’ve done the rest of your job well, that your readers are smart enough to assume certain things going into the reading. Let’s say your story centers around a small town where one day a year all the animals in the vicinity gain the power to talk. There’s no need for a page long explanation. In this world, this is just a thing that occurs. We all know this is fiction and we know that anything can happen here.

Obviously, you should keep in mind that any and all of these very tenuous “rules” are meant to be broken at any time, especially if you can spin any of them in a fresh way. So if you feel something is vital to your story you should certainly keep it in. But if you feel like your writing is missing a certain zip or lively forward movement then these are some good places where you might find a bit of chaff.

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Tyrel Kessinger lives in Louisville, Ky. He has two kids and one wife. You can find his work in a lot of places and forthcoming from Crab Creek Review and Washington Square.

***ANNOUNCEMENT***

We are changing our reading period, as our hard-working editors deserve a few weeks off. We will be closed to ALL SUBMISSIONS except visual art starting December 20th. Feedback submissions and tip submissions will open on January 6th, 2021, all regular submissions will open February 1st, 2021.

We love all our readers and submitters, thank you for sticking with us!

Reading With Gloves On

Elana Gomel

The following is a guest post by Elana Gomel, whose short story “1991” appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Here is an image from my childhood: my mother reverently turning the onion-thin pages of a typewritten, amateurishly bound book. She has gloves on.

This is the USSR in the late 1970s. The book is George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four. It has never been published by a state press. It is never discussed by any critic. It is missing from literature textbooks. Orwell’s novel is not merely banned; it does not exist.

What my mother is reading is an illegal copy. Somebody secretly translated it, probably doing it late at night with the curtains drawn. Somebody else secretly typed it out on an ancient creaky typewriter. The copy is then transferred from one person to another along the whispered routes of underground dissent. The book needs to circulate, to reach as many people as possible. My mother only has it for one night. 

But eventually, somebody will say something to the wrong person who happens to be an informant. The KGB will swoop in, confiscate the typescript, and probably arrest people. They can lift fingerprints off the brittle paper to find out who has read it. This is why my mother is wearing gloves.

Another image, many years later: I am sitting on a bench in the sun, reading Nineteen Eighty-Four in English and fretting that the deadline for my term paper is coming soon, and my babysitter is sick. I am earning my BA in English literature, and my son is six months old. I underline a couple of paragraphs, but I have no fresh ideas. My subject is censorship, but my mind is on my baby.

And then I stop. Something is missing.

I don’t have gloves on.

In debates about freedom of speech and cancel-culture, a frequent argument of those who believe certain ideas should be censored is that words can do harm to vulnerable people, which in some cases is true. But words/ideas are also vulnerable and powerful. Manuscripts were hidden, smuggled, copied, and disseminated at the price of people’s freedom and sometimes their lives. When my mother – who was a writer herself – touched Orwell’s words with her gloved fingers, there was a gentleness to it as if she were trying to protect them from the brutality of the world. It was the same way she touched me.

In my story “1991”, the USSR exists not as it was but as it wanted to be – a utopia of equality and plenty. The price of this utopia seems to be small: do not read words that can separate you from your community, poison your mind, turn you into a monster. Isn’t one burned book a small price to pay for universal happiness?

Tattie, my protagonist in the story, thinks it is. I know she is wrong.

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Elana Gomel is an academic and a writer. She has published six non-fiction books and numerous articles on posthumanism, science fiction, Victorian literature, and serial killers. Her stories appeared in Apex, New Horizons, Mythic, and many other magazines, and were also featured in several award-winning anthologies, including After Sundown, Apex Book of World Science Fiction and People of the Book. Her story “Where the Streets Have No Name” was the winner of the 2020 Gravity Award. She is the author of three novels: A Tale of Three Cities (2013), The Hungry Ones (2018) and The Cryptids (2019). She has lived in four countries, speaks three languages, and has two children. She is a member of HWA. https://www.citiesoflightanddarkness.com/  https://www.instagram.com/elanagomel/ https://twitter.com/ElanaGomel

Writing about Black Death in the Time of Black Lives Matter

Wendy Thompson Taiwo

The following is a guest post by Wendy Thompson Taiwo, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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I began writing extensively about the conditions of black life and death in America after the murder of Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016. The killing that took place on that hot July night—a police officer drawing his weapon, a black man shot dead—was routine and yet different. I was living with my young daughter in St. Paul when I heard the news. All of us, black and living in a state that was both in the Great White North and just another South, would wonder what we had been doing in that exact moment he was executed in that car, and if next time, his fate could be our own. 

In Kwame Holmes’ essay, “Necrocapitalism, Or, THE VALUE OF BLACK DEATH,” Holmes writes that Philando “was killed in transit, on Larpenture [sic] Avenue…in the Chevrolet that would become his tomb.” Killed in transit. Chevrolet that would become his tomb. These words would haunt me deeply as a black woman who grew up in California in the 1980s and 90s and watched the grainy footage of the beating of Rodney King and the fiery Los Angeles uprising that followed on TV. Holmes’ words would also resonate with me as a horror film fanatic who could never get over that trope where the black character always dies first. As hyper aware as black folks are and have had to be in this country, it was always so difficult to watch black figures on screen be recklessly hacked to death in the first twenty minutes of a film.

How many generations had lived through attacks by nightriders, race riots, and lynch mobs? How many of us learned the contours of the dark, the smell of the swamp, how to stay one step away from death? There is not one sound, one shadow that our kinfolk would not know to avoid, not one suspicious person our grandmothers could not suss out.

Like a roomful of white screenwriters who decide to kill off the one black character first, white people have been writing black people in the New World to death using law, story, structure, and practice. But it is against this reality that many of us write about black life—before and after death—instead of erasure, nonexistence. In writing about black death right now amid a viral and racial pandemic, I am engaging in the black tradition of conjuring language to write ourselves—our love, our losses, our shame, our preexisting conditions, our innocence, our rage—into existence. And by following in the footsteps of my literary kinfolk who wrote to excise the figurative and actual monsters that haunted and hunted us, I too use words to kill what seemingly can’t be killed, in stories where we are the heroes and survivors, where we don’t just make it out alive but live through the sequel too. 

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Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San José State University. Her writing has appeared in Typehouse, Mn Artists, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, Nokoko, and numerous anthologies. https://twitter.com/wendy_taiwo

Waken to Your Poem

The following is a guest post by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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As soon as I wake up, especially if I don’t set an alarm and just let myself rise when my sleep cycle naturally breaks, seeds of poems are waiting to be planted in my journal. I always choose a journal by its tactile quality. Velvet with lace, satin with ribbon, sometimes leatherette (don’t want to kill animals for my poems). I have far too many of these journals bowing my shelves, but I believe that my truest poems have come from what I’ve scrawled in them

Sometimes I write things I’ve glimpsed in dreams—coneflowers or hibiscus or a house with green shutters and tiny moons carved into the corners. Sometimes I can smell my mother’s Evening in Paris eau de toilette or the smoke from my father’s Lucky Strike. I have even awakened to the feel in my palm of Queenie’s oily, seal-like fur, a pet who has been dead for sixty years. I’ve tasted chocolate brownies, especially when I am on a diet.

One morning, I awoke to my husband’s voice, his breath, the genesis of my poem in Issue 20 of Typehouse, “Murmur,” which has a double meaning—his heart murmur and his murmuring. When I got over the shock that he wasn’t actually in our room, I wrote down what I heard him say, what I felt. And as the day progressed, I added reflections about the experience to the poem. 


“Murmur” means more to me over the last month. My husband had emergency open-heart surgery that left him so debilitated that he is in a nursing home. It is so hard for me to wake alone in our bedroom, but what helps me is to listen for him, and write.

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Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is the author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Her essays have appeared in New York Times (Lives), Newsweek, and more. The Iowa Review, Permafrost, MacGuffin, and others have published her poems and short stories. Currently, she teaches writing at UCLA Extension. @rjshapiro  https://rochellejshapiro.com/

Learning to Delight in Form

Jessi Fuller Author Photo

The following is a guest post by Jessi Fuller Fields, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Religiously homeschooled until college, I grew up a famished reader. Though I had a constant stream of books in hand, the content was often more instructive than literary. I consumed nearly every title on the shelves at home from courtship manuals and Creationism guides to decades-old encyclopedias and Atlas Shrugged. Whenever we went on our semi-regular trip to the public, I chose a Holocaust memoir or A Tale of Two Cities. I avoided short books and graphic novels, the YA section and magazines. In my head, I’d constructed a strict idea of which books merited my attention. Memoirs were always allowed, as were historical novels. Anything remotely contemporary was off the table, unless it was by a Christian author. These were not rules explicitly expressed by my parents, but I thought them best to avoid conflict.

As an English major in college, I began to read more broadly. For the first time, I had friends and faculty to recommend books. I began developing more defined preferences in what I read, no longer choosing something for its instructional merit, but for sound, imagery, and story. It was words, I decided, that made a text. Then Dr. Trakas, my contemporary literature professor, assigned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Listening to the audiobook, I fell in love with the story, the interwoven narratives, and the precocity of the child narrator. I came to class with pages of notes, prepared to discuss heavy boots and the aftermath of global disasters. Instead, all my classmates could talk about was how the text appeared on the page, something that had never before seemed important to me (see figure 1)

Page from extremely loud and incredibly lose

A classmate lent me their physical copy of the book and I peered inside. What I saw flummoxed me. There were pictures. There was handwriting. There were empty pages and pages with text piled onto itself. Words were not all that made the book. It was a visual experience as well. The more I read, the more I noticed this visual aspect drawing me in. I had never considered literature a visual art. Though I had always presumed writers worried away at words and artists manipulated images, that no longer seemed true. There was meaning to be found in how a text appeared on the page and I found myself needing to pursue that artistry deeper. Five years after finishing undergrad, I completed an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetry, where I learned to delight in poet-artists like Rachel Zucker, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and Claudia Rankine. From these women, I began to see poetry as an approach to writing which encompasses more than word choice. Their attention to the entire composition of their work shows us that all writers must consider their own work as a sensorial experience that focuses not only on the sound of words, but on the visual appearance as well. 

Figure 1.
From Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,
by Jonathan Safran Foer. 

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Jessi Fuller Fields is a queer writer and poet from the US South currently based in São Paulo, Brazil.  She completed an MFA at Queens University of Charlotte in June 2020.  Her work explores silence, traumas, and the things best left unsaid. Twitter: @jfullerfields Instagram: @jessi.fullerfields

How to Carve Out Writing Time as a Parent in a Pandemic

The following is a guest post by Laura Desiano, whose poetry appeared in issue 17 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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In December 2019, my second child was born, a daughter who spent nine days in the NICU while her lungs caught up with the rest of her chunky 9 lbs 4 ounces. Thinking back at what, at the time, was the most stressful in my life, I now know how fortunate we really were. I knew my daughter would come home with no lasting health issues. Now with the Covid-19 pandemic, an American reckoning over racial injustice, corrupt government at every level, there is no end in sight.

When the lockdown began, I was suddenly staring down the long barrel of life stuck inside with two small children. What’s worse, I was barely out of the fourth trimester, those early postpartum months when a mother is still very sleep-deprived and riding waves of emotions. How would I find the time and energy to keep up with what little writing I was already doing? The sad truth is, I stopped writing completely.

In fact, this essay is one of the first things I’ve written in months. And it was two weeks late. I’m not trying to be clever either. It’s hard to write as a parent, and it’s an almost impossible task while caring for two children around the clock. At first I tried to jot down a few lines here and there in random notebooks and the backs of envelopes, whatever was handy. But soon even that ended as the needs of my family outweighed my creative time. Daily life overflowed with cooking, entertaining my children, and never-ending piles of dirty laundry and dishes. 

I’m not the only parent-writer who is experiencing this either. After polling a Facebook group of female-identified writers with children, a majority of them have written little to nothing since the pandemic began. Some could not balance homeschooling with work. Some writers said they needed silence and space. Some just had no energy, and therefore little inspiration to even draft a poem, essay or story.

Not all hope is lost, though. Parents are nothing if not creative problem solvers. Some writers converted small space like large closets or second bathrooms into a room of their own. Others have tried a new genre, which lowers the stakes and allows for a more forgiving mindset. I have had much more success writing short romance stories versus poetry. Lowering the bar is also common: even if you just write one line a day on your phone’s notes app, you could have a poem in a week. My partner plans to rent an Airbnb near our very small apartment where I can be alone to rest and write once he goes back on paternity leave. With all the money we were saving in airfare this year, it is worth the investment. 

If the world needs anything right, it’s words. Writers are our truth tellers, our story weavers, our poetry creators. And if we truly value diverse voices, we must hear from parents. Our’s is an essential voice if we are to avoid similar tragedies in the future. We need writers to bear witness and help us heal, and without parents telling their stories, the literature stands to lose too damn much.

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Laura Desiano’s poems have been widely anthologized and published in journals such Tiny Spoon, Drunk Monkeys, Voicemail Poems, Pedestal, among others. Her chapbook Braiding the Storm was published by Finishing Line Press in 2012 (as Laura E Davis). A 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, Desiano is a freelance writer in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, son, and two withering houseplants.