Revisit: Writing…

Douglas Cole Headshot

This week we are revisiting this guest post by Douglas Cole, whose short story “Villagers” appeared in Issue 12 of Typehouse. originally published on May 31, 2019 here.

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As a Typehouse contributor, I am proud to announce that Touchpoint Books is publishing my novel, The White Field, a fast-paced journey of a man, Tom, just out of prison and trying desperately to rebuild his life. I want to thank the editors at Typehouse for their support. Their publication is a significant part of this novel’s journey.

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I just love the whole process of it. Beginning in emptiness. Wanting nothing. Recording brief flashes in the head, mixing that with some thing in my vicinity, flowing back and forth, slowing down, catching the wave of a memory or something completely imagined or dreamed that arrives like a movie projected into the mind.

Then I let it go. It is what it is. A moment. A snapshot of a moment. The Kaliope fluttering inwit carnival of thought.

And then slow down, go back and read it and in reading it see it again and ask myself, do I want to pursue this? Is there something here I want to work on? Do I have enough pieces? And if so, crawl back inside with new eyes and so add my upper thinking structures, reader-need, what might be called craft (say in fiction, think of plot, dialogue, description, that sort of thing filling out, but mostly stay organic and intuitive).

Some poems are a journey, and a record of a journey, like a scar, and can’t be altered. They may or may not be for others. They may be just for me.

And then, tinkering, as with a mechanical puzzle of word and language structures (especially with poetry, but certainly prose too) and sometimes pushing it as far as it can go to see what it opens, like a dart thrown into the black mystery of the void beyond seeing and hearing and remembering—and trying to connect back to the trance that brought it in the first place, honoring that and then ruthlessly changing it, cutting, reworking and adding to get to what I know, simply know, is right.

And not giving up. Unless I’m supposed to give up and start again.I suppose it resembles a kind of rebirth loaded with karmic weight and weight of self that I have to get around. But that’s all less than, just application—because the whole enterprise is bigger than that. Writing is hooking into the great creative dynamo. It’s freedom and transformation, practice for dying and what comes after. Maybe.

All I know is that it has been my golden thread, and without it, the world would have snuffed me out long ago.

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Douglas Cole writes, teaches and lives in Seattle, Washington. He has published six poetry collections, as well as a novella. His work has been anthologized in Best New Writing (Hopewell Publications), Bully Anthology (Kentucky Stories Press) and Coming Off The Line (Main Street Rag Publishing). His home is https://douglastcole.com/, and his new novel can be found at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/White-Field-Douglas-Cole/dp/1952816076/ and https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-white-field-douglas-cole/1137349249

Poem as Suitcase—What to Pack, What to Leave Behind

Rebecca Irene'

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

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After writing initial drafts in longhand, I’m ready to start typing a poem out on my computer. I begin in optimism—sit down at my desk, stare at some inspiring quotes on my corkboard. Encouraging and antagonistic alike (A word after a word after a word is power-Atwood/ The first draft of everything is shit-Hemingway), these mantras remind me to just begin, but dear reader, is there any despair deeper than a winking cursor and the looming void of a new file? Actually, yes, ok, plenty, but the stark white rectangle gets me every time. Numerous authors have shared about the terrors encountered along the way to a decent first draft. Not many promise that it gets any easier. For those of us who must write, we find ways to navigate the revision labyrinth. Since I frequently moved growing up, and still love to travel, sometimes it helps me to think of each poem as essential luggage for a particular journey.

Luggage: Form. Where does the poem want to go? Just as you wouldn’t pack a purse for a ten-day trip to the Arctic, you probably shouldn’t try to force a natural haiku into a crown of sonnets. Choose an appropriate bag (form) for possibility & intention of the specific poem. Denise Levertov reminds— form is never more than a revelation of content. The initial form may eventually change during the revision process, but at least you have gotten started! When choosing syntax/enjambment, ask what kind of movement the lines might take for their particular voyage. I often think of villanelles and sestinas as steamer trunks, apologias tend to be old leather suitcases, sonnets—vintage hat boxes. My free verse regularly gets stuffed into backpacks, and canvas duffels tend to carry odes about my obsessions: cicadas, cattails, and moths.

Clothing: Tone. What kind of tone (apparel) is appropriate for the poem? Just as you wouldn’t advise a friend to wear a bathing suit to their child’s preschool meet and greet, you probably shouldn’t include clipped accusations when writing a love poem. For example, if my poem is a sonnet, I play with musicality (silk scarves) and varied rhymes (hats of assorted color & shape). Have fun thinking of each line as a favorite pair of blue jeans or velvet dress, linen tunic or wool shirt. Sometimes, I even imagine every stanza as an outfit. Do the lines (pieces of clothing) all work together? (There should be some surprise here. I once knew a woman who wore the same outfit for six months, and I have written drafts that remind me of her.) Once the poem’s tone is exciting & authentic, experiment with mood and texture.

It’s true—I can get carried away with this process. (I’ll spare you a diatribe about Accessories: Punctuation until another time.) However, I like to believe that every poem that eventually resonates with a reader remains with them on their life’s journey. You know, like a piece of luggage carefully checked and shelved, permanently stored in the astonishing baggage-claim of the mind. Who knows what circumstance or conversation will be a catalyst to retrieve the contents, only that they will be needed for the voyage ahead.

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Rebecca Irene’s poems are published or forthcoming in RHINO, Carve Magazine, Juked, Atlanta Review, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She was recently named the 2020 Monson Arts: MWPA Poetry Fellow, and has received residencies from Norton Island, SAFTA, and Hewnoaks. Poetry Editor for The Maine Review, Rebecca holds an MFA from VCFA, and lives in Portland, Maine, where she supports her word-addiction by waitressing. Find her tweeting @cicadacomplex.

Revisit: How Poetry Can Matter to a First-Year Composition Student

Olga Dugan

This week we are revisiting this guest post by Olga Dugan, PhD, whose poetry appeared in Issue 12 of Typehouse, originally published on May 24, 2019 here.

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To be truly educated is to resist the easy certainties of deeply ingrained and unexamined ideologies of soundbites and clichés in favor of an ongoing pursuit of knowledge, of truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.

–Natasha Trethewey1

Shot and left to die on a lonely city street in the twilight hours of a Sunday morning. No witnesses. No leads. An instant cold case. “She didn’t know,” some students whispered as I absorbed their version of events. But I wiped away tears to teach because I believed that the value of my student’s life more than her death made painstakingly clear how poetry could matter to my first-year composition students. A week prior to her untimely demise, Jess M., a newly-minted thirty-year old, described an experience that clarified for me what Natasha Trethewey’s work continues to do for students learning to write. In mixing the generic traditions of poetry and history, Trethewey creates poems of cultural consciousness that prompt student writers to explore the historical roots of their own voices and where their voices can take them in their writing. Presenting the public nature of very private ideas, unexamined notions, and lived-experiences, conveying how we are more similar than different, her poems challenge beginning writers to think about themselves as historical beings, and to write from sources of knowledge that include their individual and collective memories. For Jess M. in particular, the study of historical representation in Trethewey’s poetry led to writing in which she recognized her own voice as reader and storyteller of a fuller version of American history that Trethewey aptly insists we all share.

During an office visit, Jess M.’s questions about an upcoming paper gradually intensified to thoughts on what it means to do this thing called ‘living’ and do it well. Our composition class was discussing this topical question raised in Trethewey’s second book of poetry, Bellocq’s Ophelia, the main character of which undergoes a journey of psychological exile that resonated all too well with my student. She admitted to dreading the essay assignment because the book required her to write out of a personal history from which she felt exiled. Jess offered no reasons for her sense of loss about where she came from, where she belonged. Acknowledgement alone, however, betrayed her understanding and fear of the interdependence of cultural identity and historical memory pervading Trethewey’s poems; the same that exhorts readers to participate in what the poet presents as an ongoing exchange and honest, inclusive remembrance of the past. And given her recognition of this call to active reading and the writing it induces, no wonder the continued heft of my student’s last words to me.

While regretting that she lacked the character’s courage, Jess M. praised Trethewey’s Ophelia for this very act, seeing as hopeful and plausible Ophelia’s final moment of aggregation in which she looks back, sees where she’s been, where she is, then walks away from Storyville and prostitution. My student equated this act with walking away from the marginal places where social, political, cultural, and historical forces greater than ourselves can thrust us, and into a new life, albeit, a life unplanned and uncharted. She ended with a promise to write, ‘not a great paper, but at least one in search of truth.’ Trethewey’s poetry had invited my student to consider what in its historical representation could teach her to remember and examine about her own “presence” and cultural work in the world. Seven years later, her presence is remembered, and the work Jess M. did during that office visit continues to inspire student writers in their own efforts to live and do it well.

1Natasha Trethewey, “Commencement Address by Natasha Trethewey, 19th Poet Laureate of the United States: June 07, 2014,” Knox College (web), https://www.knox.edu/news/news-archive/knox-college-commencement-2014/commencement-speaker-natasha-trethewey.

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Olga Dugan is a Philadelphia-based Cave Canem poet. Nominated for a 2018 Best of the Net and 2019 Pushcart Prize, her poems appear in several journals including Typehouse Literary Magazine, Virga Poetry, The Sunlight Press, E-Verse Radio, The Peacock Journal, Origins, Kweli, The Southern Quarterly, Tipton Poetry Journal, Pirene’s Fountain, and Scribble. Olga’s articles on the work of U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey (2012-2014) appear in The North Star, the Journal of African American History and in Emory University’s “Meet the Fellows.”

Issue 20 Preorders open!

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We are also open to submissions as of September 22nd!

Volume 7, No. 2, Issue 20, #BlackLivesMatter

Fiction by:
Danielle Keiko Eyer, Emily Behnke, Keith Allen, Claudia Spiridon, Finnegan Shepard, Deirdre Danklin, Benjamin Parzybok, Leanne Howard, L. P. Melling, Avra Margariti, Elana Gomel, Ifeanyi Ekpunobi and Kyle Heger

Creative Nonfiction by:
Erin Yuan, Allison Brice, Anesu Jahura, Mounia Mnouer, De’Areyes Bryant, Shadab Zeest Hashmi, Virginia Elizabeth Hayes and David Bassano.

Poetry by:
Betsy Martin, Shawn R. Jones, Jackson Nash, Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, Mary Soon Lee, Wendy Thompson Taiwo, Tyrel Kessinger, David Romanda, Mack W. Mani, Jaq Evans, Michael Berton, Robert Manaster, Dawn Macdonald, James Miller, Soraya Qahwaji, Peter O’Donovan, Nathaniel Sverlow, Blair Benjamin, Suzanne S. Rancourt, Jessi Fuller Fields and Sandra Kolankiewicz.

Visual Art by:
Martins Deep, Roger Camp, C. Christine Fair, Fabio Lastrucci, Jim Still-Pepper, Christine Sloan Stoddard, Kristin Fouquet, Alex Nodopaka, Gary Bloom, William C. Crawford and Cristina Querrer.

Creating and Placing A Photo Essay

Jim Ross Thumbnail

The following is a guest post by Jim Ross, whose visual art appeared in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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I came late to writing nonfiction and doing photography with intent to publish. I quickly realized, I wanted to tell stories combining my words and photos. I’ve had more success submitting nonfiction pieces with embedded photos—a handful or a bunch—than with calling them photo essays. Shooting photos, selecting and organizing, researching, writing text, and publishing has typically taken years.

Seeing a homeless (current preferred term: houseless) man with dog on a bridge in Paris, I snapped his picture. In the next few years, I took many more in America and throughout Europe, especially France. I talked with dogs and humans. A friend in Paris explained that having a dog protected the homeless from arrest because police don’t want the obligation of housing the dog in a “dog hotel.” She also said many vets provide free services to dogs of the houseless. I talked with a researcher from IFAW about her project focused on homeless youth who had dogs. I talked with the program the director of the American Pets of the Homeless about efforts to provide food and vet services. I reviewed research on the houseless human/dog relationship.

Meantime, I kept taking photos and began writing. I tied in my own experience hiking in the Midi-Pyrenees and having a German shepherd tag along for eleven hours, during which she saved me from a charging cow and I later saved her life too. The text showed how having a dog created a bridge between the houseless and housed passersby, who first begin petting the dog, then talk with the homeless person, and come to see them as caring humans. The dog also keeps the houseless human on the straight and narrow. Balancing photos by gender and country, I made only glancing references to particular images, except for one black male carrying a sign, “Homeless broke nomadic folk.” He said, “I’m done with the United States. I think I’ll try Russia next.” I asked, “Have you been to Canada yet?” He asked, “Do they have farms?”

Over 12 months, I ended up negotiating with three different print journals. I gave them all a 2,500 word text with 15 photos. They all embraced the text without changes. The first two were willing to publish only four or five black-and-white photos. Kestrel finally agreed to publish nine full-color images as “Street Dogs and Their Human Companions.”

Recently, I decided to do a photo essay about walking The Way of Saint James in France. I selected 47 photos, outlined the text in ten sections—such as getting lost, lodging, food, water, companionship. I narrowed the photos down to 23. Then, I wrote a 4,500 word text and, with help from friends, arrived at the final 12. New World Writing accepted it overnight and published it three hours later as, “Escaping into Pilgrimage.”

When I’m out, my camera is always with me. I often begin taking lots of photos of similar subjects. Eventually I realize, I’m working on another photo essay.

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Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after leaving public health research. He’s since published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in over 140 journals and anthologies in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Publications include Columbia Journal, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, The Atlantic, The Manchester Review, and Typehouse. Recent photo essays include Barren, Kestrel, Litro, New World Writing, So It Goes, and Wordpeace. A nonfiction piece led to a role in a high-profile documentary limited series to be broadcast over U.S. and international networks. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between city and mountains.  

  

Using Mentor Texts to Generate Prompts

The following is a guest post by Suzanne Farrell Smith, whose poetry appeared in issue 17 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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I often get BPS (Blank Page Syndrome), for which I’ve sought prompt treatment: sentence starters, random objects, storytelling cards, dream journaling, and more. Sometimes they work and crack me open. Sometimes they don’t, and after a paragraph I abandon the idea.

Recently, I’ve started teaching Read Like a Writer workshops, one in memoir and the other in personal essay. I want my students to be genre insiders and understand what characterizes creative nonfiction, where memoir and personal essay fit in, and the signs of a successful piece. We read one or two exemplar essays each week, organized by theme, and discuss them in depth.

At first, I collected prompts that matched the weekly theme: Where do you like to go in nature? Describe a significant experience you’ve had in nature. When I tried them myself, I kept abandoning them. The prompts, quite simply, bored me. 

At some point, it hit me—the prompts should grow from the reading. The text should be a mentor text for more than just reading and discussion. The essayist should say to my students, through me, See what I did here? This technique, this transition, this turn of phrase? Now you try.

For our week on nature and science, we read, among others, Annie Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels.” The essay begins, “A weasel is wild.” Dillard follows with evidence to show the weasel’s wildness (e.g., “He sleeps in his underground den, his tail draped over his nose.”). She reveals how the weasel is “obedient to instinct.” She positions the weasel, right there in the suburbs, as a wild and enviable thing. 

From Dillard’s essay, I created a layered prompt:

  1. List wild things you can observe closely. An animal that frequents your yard? A bug you regularly find in your home? A virus sneaking down your throat? Your imagination? Anxiety? An untamed garden or lawn? Poison ivy? Weeds? A child?
  2. Choose one and, as Dillard does, list what makes it wild. Think of Dillard’s verbs: drag, bite, split, crunch, stalk, kill, eat.
  3. Now consider Dillard’s attention to instinct. In what ways does your wild thing follow instinct rather than rationale?
  4. How does this wild thing bump against the made world? Say, an overgrown lawn submitted to the mower or vaccine-induced antibodies on the attack.
  5. Dillard shares insights about what we can learn from a wild animal like a weasel, how we might clear our minds and act out of need alone. You may not find such insights yet. But you can start to mine for them. For example, what about this wild thing makes you envious? Do you wish to coil around an oak until you, unfettered ivy, have smothered the tree to reach the sky?


General prompts are easy to find. Mentor-text prompts require more effort: select a piece; read close; choose resonant ideas; layer them as cues. Having done this for fifteen essays so far, I can say that the work is worth it. 

Last week, alongside Annie Dillard, one student investigated a deer tick, another pondered her child’s thick hair, and I examined the horsefly that bit my son, drew blood and tears, and transformed me, for a moment, into a wild thing.

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Suzanne Farrell Smith lives in Connecticut with her husband and three sons. She has authored two books, The Memory Sessions and The Writing Shop. She is widely published, has been named Notable in Best American, and won a Pushcart for “If You Find a Mouse on a Glue Trap,” published in Brevity and soon to be republished in The Best of Brevity (Rose Metal Press). Suzanne teaches creative nonfiction at Westport Writers’ Workshopsuzannefarrellsmith.com

  

Trying On Another Voice: Translation as Writing Practice

Susanna Lang

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

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I first translated French poetry into English as a very young woman working with an older poet. He suggested that we co-translate a poem by René Depestre, a Haitian writer, to give me access to a deeply political language. While I had grown up in a political family, there was a high wall between my writing and my activism. I don’t remember how I started to translate Yves Bonnefoy, one of the greatest French poets of the twentieth century and much closer to surrealism, mythology and visual arts than to politics. My mentor had hoped I would follow in his footsteps as a poet of witness and eventually I did begin to write poems that engaged the world. Meanwhile, translating and then publishing Pierre écrite/Words in Stone was an important experience for me during my college years. I had not yet found a voice of my own, and Yves’ meditative, lyrical evocation of the mysteries of the world did help to shape the poet I was then, as my mentor feared. 

I returned to translation when I shifted from full-time to part-time teaching, and was surprised to find my days very solitary. I needed the stimulus of other voices. I discovered Nohad Salameh in an anthology of French women poets, and was later able to meet her in person and visit French bookstores well-stocked with contemporary poetry. At the Librairie Massena in Nice, the bookseller immediately began pulling books off the shelf, talking about each as if it were a friend. There I found Brouillons amoureux by Souad Labbize, which I have translated as Drafts of Love.

The two poets could not be more different, though both grew up in countries where the culture is both Arabic and French, and both now live and publish in France. Nohad was born in Lebanon and worked as a journalist during the civil war. Her poems are lyrical and allusive, her literary roots in surrealism; I’m sure her poems reminded me of my apprenticeship with Yves Bonnefoy. Souad Labbize, much younger, was born in Algeria. Her poems are dense, brief, focused on feminism and other liberation movements, so more like my poems of witness. Both poets enrich my work, though now that I am comfortable in my own poetic voice, you won’t hear their poems in mine as you could have heard Yves in my earlier writing. It’s more like a way to keep myself flexible as my walking practice keeps my body flexible. When I read the translations aloud to hear whether the metaphor and the music are as strong in English as in French, I exercise muscles that I haven’t yet used in my own poems, and think about questions that I haven’t yet considered. This ongoing apprenticeship gets me through the long days when I don’t have an idea of my own to work with. On those fortunate days when the poems come more easily, translation sends me back into my own writing with new tools to use.

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Susanna Lang’s third collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in 2017 from Terrapin Books. Her chapbook, Self-Portraits is forthcoming from Blue Lyra Press in October 2020. A two-time Hambidge fellow, her poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in such publications as Prairie Schooner, december, New Poetry in Translation, The Literary Review, American Life in Poetry and The Slowdown. Her translations of poetry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, and she is now working with Nohad Salameh and Souad Labbize to translate their poems. She lives and teaches in Chicago. More information available at www.susannalang.com and @SusannaLang16

  

Musical Structures in Creative Nonfiction

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

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Recently, I’ve noticed a development in creative nonfiction to use structural modes appropriated from music. Or maybe a musical analogy can capture these under-recognized structural modes by way of shorthand. Here’s a smattering of such musical structures with an example or two to help define them:

Covers – In the anthology After Montaigne writers compose “covers” that re-voice and update Montaigne’s classic essays in their individualized voices and in a more contemporary key.

Sampling – Wayne Koestenbaum irrepressibly drops literary quotes, film references, and pop cultural memes in his work like a sound engineer samples recognizable titbits of songs or beats.  

Lip-synching – David Shields’s Reality Hunger uses quotes which are not identified as quotes; he “lip syncs” the quotes as if he were saying them himself.

Remixes – Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me could be considered a remix of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Coates references Baldwin in his work yet also differs more widely from his original—thus, a subtle if not exact distinction between a remix and a cover. Similarly, Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage remixes the literary criticism of D. H. Lawrence.  

Litany – Joe Brainard’s “I Remember” follows a pattern of minimalist repetition like a Philip Glass song: each sentence begins “I remember…”

Lament – Aisha Sabatini Sloan describes her operatic essay “D is for the Dance of the Hours” as a “lament.” But, like opera, Sloan’s essays make use of the whole emotional range deployed by arias, mad songs, motifs, recitative, and overtures, too, even as they often reference pop music and divas.    

Riffs and noodling – Luc Sante has described his entire writing process as “noodling.” Likewise, we might hear many of Elena Passarello’s pieces in Let Me Clear My Throat as noodling around or riffing on a subject more than obeying any other structural paradigm.

Shredding – Indulgent, face-melting virtuoso feats of showmanship with squealing whammy bars, pyrotechnics, distortion effects, acrobatics that inflict self-harm and, just maybe, eating a live bat’s head: among essayists, Sir Thomas Browne and D. H. Lawrence are “shredders” as are Ander Monson and Giannina Braschi. 

Improvisation – In Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics, Selah Saterstrom uses rituals and trances to improvise writing, not unlike the methods of free jazz.

Études – The locus classicus is Yoshida Kenkō’s Essays in Idleness, but short essays as études (or small practice exercises) are very much alive today in a work such as Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly.

B-sides – We might think of the double essays in Albert Goldbarth’s The Adventures of Form and Content or Michel Tournier’s The Mirror of Ideas as B-sides: alternate versions of the same groove, often flipped around.

Ambient/Noise – Conceptual writers such as Tan Lin and Sophia Le Fraga have experimented with ambient literature and what might be described as “noise,” that is, books or installations that collect scraps of cultural detritus, internet drivel, and bureaucratic textual ephemera. Much like noise music, the appreciation of such writing depends on a taste for interference patterns, weird juxtapositions, the breakdown of technology, and a healthy stomach. 

The emerging rhetorical logics of these musical and performative techniques—as they both pull against and play among traditional structures such as personal storytelling and, lyric forms, have engendered a new energy and direction for today’s creative nonfiction.     

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Will Cordeiro’s work appears in AgniBest New PoetsThe Cincinnati Review, Palette Poetry, Threepenny ReviewTypehouse, and elsewhere. Will’s collection Trap Street won the 2019 Able Muse Book Award. Will co-edits Eggtooth Edition and is grateful for a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Currently, Will teaches in the Honors College for Northern Arizona University.