Meg Tuite Interviews and Reviews Michelle Reale

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Michelle RealeMichelle Reale is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Marie Curie Sequence (Dancing Girl Press, 2017) and Confini: Poems of Refugees in Sicily (forthcoming from Cervana Barva Press, 2018), as well as three books on librarianship with a fourth due out in January 2018. Much of her work focuses on Italian-American aspects of memory, narrative and immigration. Her work has been published in many journals both online and in print. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is an Associate Professor and Librarian at Arcadia University.

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Michelle Reale’s latest collection, All These Things Were Real: Poems of Delirium Tremens, is powerful vulnerability (which I consider the same deal) with a mastery of language that Reale wraps around the struggle of a mother’s trapped son who is an alcoholic, and her attempt to make sense of their world together. It’s heartbreaking and relentless. Reale gives the reader a harrowing account of what it is to watch a son rock between the fragility of life and death. Here are some quotes from this unforgettable collection:

“When he thrashes in the narrow bed, when they forget his name, when the male nurse argues about who’s on break next, try not to gouge the glibness from their hollow frames.”
“Tug the thin gown over the bare buttocks, the spine contorted, writhing in disintegration.”
“I could wallpaper a house with receipts for Nikolai Vodka, for Rumpleminz schnapps, one you can’t detect, the other could be nothing more than assiduous oral hygiene.”
“The doctor is thin as a lemon slice…”
“My son froths a verbal manifesto…”
“I wear ICU delirium like a hairnet.”
“I step over and around her voice that splinters on the floor like glass.”
“There is a twig growing from his ear and he waits for the glue to put it back, to hold it all together.”

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MT: Michelle! I am continuously blown away by the force of your being within your mesmerizing lines. Can you share what this specific collection means to you? How it relates to you as a mother?

MR: Thank you for your kind words!  Actually, it was cathartic to write the poems and very difficult to read them now, in bound form.  As a mother, going through this with your child, no matter how old they are, is one of the most agonizing feelings in the world. There was literally nothing I could do to help. As a woman, a mother, it reinforced what I have always felt and believed: that the world is fragile, and we, ourselves in it, even more so.

MT: I am almost positive that most families have dealt with addiction. This is a subject that we, as a collective, as a family, as a person, all relate to and struggle with. Can you share your thoughts on this?

MR: I have been that person, I am ashamed to say, who would look at someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and think “How could their family not know?” But now, I understand all too well how it can happen.  It was right in front of my face, though I failed to read all the signs of alcohol abuse.  I made all sorts of excuses for his red eyes, for instance, and kept urging my son to use eye drops, etc.  I used to tell people his allergies were awful.  I also understand, in ways that I never, ever have before that addiction of any kind is a true disease—an awful one.  In my son’s case, he told me he never wanted to drink—-it was like a ball and chain—but he knew that he risked severe withdrawal or death if he quit. He really didn’t know a way out.  He fell down the steps in my home and suffered a horrible injury.  After 9 hours in surgery his body went into withdrawal for which he was hospitalized for a month in ICU. It was touch and go. To see the physical torment, the hallucinations, etc was devastating, to say the least.

MT: That is heartbreaking and must have been absolutely terrifying! I know that you are living in the same house/block that you grew up in. Does that manifest in your work?

MR: I live in the same town in which I grew up in.  My world is very ethnically nuanced—I guess that is a good way to put it. Very Italian-American. This is not only manifested in my writing, but in my mental and emotional worlds, too—which of course bleeds into my writing whether I realize it or not.  A lot of my current work is what one of my friends called “accented,” meaning that it has a preoccupation with the Italian-American world which is warm, close, loving, connected and strong, but can also be claustrophobic, judgmental, gossipy and exclusive. The two sides of every coin, I suppose.  But I have to say, that I embrace all of it.

MT: You are one of those ‘warriors of writing’, as I call them. You let the filters drop and give your reader a vivid and palpable experience through your words. What is your process as a writer? Do you have a specific time/place that you write or does it come when it does?

MR: I write every single day. EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I also hate writing advice and I discard most of it. With that being said, I have an MFA and was incredibly grateful for the experience—it definitely made me a better writer, but I am very, very self-directed and single-minded: I just show up for my writing life every day and get it done.  It gives me joy.

I keep a lot of notebooks. I like to say that I live by the notebook.  I write in them every day, several times a day.  I am highly reflective and my work has a contemplative component to it in that I sit with it for a bit and let images work through me. I despise gimmicks—and the writing world is full of them in the form of gimmicky online lit zines in which clever repartee gets in the way of just telling people plain and simply, how to submit! It comes in the form of too many readings that blunt the force of the work, or crazy antics in which writers have zany contests or do weird things on stage at readings. In fact, I am not big on readings and go to very few. I participate in even less. I don’t need to hear a writer read their work for it to have resonance with me.  In fact, it sometimes ruins the work for me. My experience with poetry in particular is one on one: me and the page.

I do walking meditation on most days with my dogs Vanzetti (a little Chihuahua) and Miso (a Shih Tzu) and I might know what I want to write about and maybe I don’t. But I let the subconscious work on my thoughts. I write my ideas down in a Kelly green moleskin which is falling apart, but I am so attached to it!  Sometimes a poem will come out whole, but most times it doesn’t. But it is a good feeling when things come together. I am working on two themed collections right now—something I love to do.

MT: I get this feeling that you have this huge extended family that live near each other? Is that true? And if so, how are the family gatherings? Any tension between siblings/parents/kids?

MR: Yes, it is true!  I have a ton of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews etc. and we all enjoy being with each other so much. Two of my collections focused on each of my grandparents —The Legacy of the Sidelong Glance: Elegies was written about my paternal grandmother and the life of misery she led, before being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44 —she was dead 3 weeks later. Birds of Sicily was written as an exploration of my paternal grandfather’s life, a reluctant Sicilian immigrant who was a very dangerous and difficult (to say the least) man. My extended family holds up and supports the work 100% even if some of the things I have revealed in the writing hurts. And often it does. Most of the time I spend with others is spent with family. We all get along very well!

MT: Who are some of your “go-to writers” that inspire you when you are writing? Or are you a writer who doesn’t read while in the midst of writing a collection?

MR: Actually, I am always reading, sometimes several books at a time.  My go to writer for a bedrock of truth is Adrienne Rich—whose work is so brave, so true and at times so raw, when I read her work I feel that this is what poetry was meant to be.  Wislawa Zymborska, Joseph Brodsky are others that I study.  I love the Eastern European aesthetic and sensibility: a bit brooding, dark and spare. As well, two Italian poets I love are Alda Merini and Patrizia Cavalli.  I am drawn to them over and over again.

MT: What are your thoughts on how we, as a country, a community, can deal with mental illness and addiction?

MR: I think awareness is one way, and by that I mean educating ourselves about what addiction looks like, how to support (and not enable) someone with an addiction and make oneself aware of resources to recommend.  Also, it is very important to adopt a stance of non-judgment; it is simply too easy to think that someone is beneath us in some way because they drink or are addicted to drugs. That simply isn’t the case.

MT: I have huge, huge love and admiration for librarians! My mother was a librarian and enveloped all her children in the beauty of escaping in books. When did you decide that you wanted to be a librarian?

MR: I probably over identify with being a librarian, but I love it! I have worked in libraries for literally my entire life and consider myself incredibly lucky to be in such a vibrant atmosphere every day!  I am an associate professor and librarian at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia and love my job. I think I always knew that I wanted to help people with access to information. Books are one aspect of librarianship, but there are a million others. I am so glad to be a part of a changing information landscape!

MT: Can you share a quote that really resonates with you as a human and a writer?

MR: I collect quotes and so that is such a difficult question to answer, but right now, this quote reinforces how I feel about showing up every day to write: “Ritual is power; habit is stimulant.”

MT: Can you share a poem that you LOVE!!?

MR: Adrienne Rich’s poem “Transcendental Etude” from her collection from The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001, (W. W. Norton) is perhaps my favorite of hers. The poem is too long to reproduce here, but my favorite stanzas are these:

No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.
At most we’re allowed a few months
of simply listening to the simple
line of a woman’s voice singing a child
against her heart. Everything else is too soon,
too sudden, the wrenching-apart, that woman’s heartbeat
heard ever after from a distance
the loss of that ground-note echoing
whenever we are happy, or in despair.
Everything else seems beyond us,
we aren’t ready for it, nothing that was said
is true for us, caught naked in the argument,
the counterpoint, trying to sight read
what our fingers can’t keep up with, learn by heart
what we can’t even read. And yet
it is this we were born to. We aren’t virtuosi
or child prodigies, there are no prodigies
in this realm, only a half-blind, stubborn
cleaving to the timbre, the tones of what we are,
even when all the texts describe it differently.

MT: That is brilliant. I am also a fan of Adrienne Rich.

One more question. Tell me about the brilliant artwork of your son, David, who created the painting on your cover.

MR: David lived in New Orleans for quite a few years and he produced a lot of paintings when he was there. He painted the one on the cover about 5 years ago, just from an artistic vision. Who would have known, five years later, that that painting would adequately portray his nightmarish experience!

MT: He is so talented, like his Mom! Thank you so much, Michelle Reale, for your unending inspiration and love of life! It resonates in all of your work! LOVE!

MR: Thank you, Meg!  Always a pleasure!


 

All These Things Were Real CoverPurchase Michelle’s collection here

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Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous journals. She is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, and five chapbooks. The latest is Lined Up Like Scars published by International Flash: Short-Short Fiction (University of Chester: UK). She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College, lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets.

Photograph in banner cited from: Karl Herler (flickr)
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LITERARY ORPHANS ISSUE 30: Letter From the Editor

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Dear Orphans & Orphanettes,

The act of writing takes patience. It takes dedication, quietness of the mind, and an innate ability to create rhythm and voice on a blank canvas. Before one can even begin to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), the act of writing demands an indeterminate length of time where the mind can travel down any number of roads without interruption. To write, we must voyage outside of ourselves. We must hover above our earthly bodies and examine ourselves and the worlds we inhabit objectively.

In a world of ceaseless streaming, advertising, and background noise, finding the right environment for creativity can be difficult. With each object we interact with and each digital screen we glance at, we risk opening the doorway to a deluge of chatter. Buy this! Buy that! Your life is incomplete without the NEW and IMPROVED

It’s almost like living in a horror story where supernatural voices direct every waking moment of our lives. If it’s not an advertisement whispering in our ears, it’s a strongly worded opinion piece shaming us for something we did or didn’t do. These ghostly voices encourage us to strive for something better than ourselves. They tell us we’re not good enough and that we shouldn’t be content with who we are as individuals. We need to be more. We need to be better.

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Little Warrior Brother by Gabe Keith [Excerpt]

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Little Warrior Brother by Gabe Keith is available on Amazon in both print and digital format.


Little Warrior Brother by Gabe KeithHer paws scrape against the road’s surface as she slowly hobbles up to the back end of my post. My bunkered position rises from the middle of the road in a half-assed tower of stacked sandbags on top of boxes of sand wrapped in metal mesh and plywood. I pull back the heavy red blanket that serves as its back door to see who is approaching. It’s our dog. She bleeds from multiple bullet holes as she climbs up the sandbag steps to where I stand, watching her.

She forces her way to the third step, turns slowly, and sits down, facing outward. Her body wheezes and shifts as she gazes as evenly as possible, stretching her neck so she can scan back and forth across the road. I want to touch her, in spite of orders not to. But her body is in pain. Petting her will only punish her more.

This is a memory, and I never trust memories. I blocked them out for years, and now they hit harder. I remember that pain, the way her face wore it. She looks out steadily with her nose tilted up, her eyes focused even though her breathing is forced and her body shudders in pain over and over again. I wonder if she knows she is going to die, her pups will probably die, and that will be the end. Riddled with bullets, she protects me still.

I can see the house in the distance where I have lived for the last couple of months and wonder how she made it back. I can’t believe I’m mad at her. But I am.

I stand in the stuffy wooden box, encased in a sweat-stained shell of assorted gear held together by interwoven straps, buttons, and Velcro. My gear weighs down on my shoulders more than usual. It’s been a long post. I let the curtain fall and return to facing the front. The smell of burning shit suffocates the senses. I listen to the wheezing creature as I ponder my options. I tell them she’s here, they kill her. I say nothing, she lives until the next shift begins and my relief makes the call. I move her into the woods, she walks back over again.

My machine gun sits crookedly on the bipods with a belt of ammo resting on the can. The road beyond me disappears into the horizon, cutting through one-story houses with palm trees dotting little farm plots and an occasional lonely oasis. I’m currently on the outskirts of Fallujah. I’m in the Marines, in an infantry battalion, and we are on our third deployment to Iraq in less than two years since this thing started. We hold an area of large multi-story houses that stretch along the highway just outside city limits. Each house holds a full platoon, and each platoon has set up a perimeter to ensure the entire infrastructure is watched closely.

Since we replaced the last battalion here, it’s been our job to manage the ebb and flow of traffic that enters and leaves the city. My post is the farthest out from the house my platoon inhabits on this side of town.

I reach for my radio and call in to command.

“Fisher?”

“Yeah?”

“Snowball is here, and she’s sitting on my post. Looks like she’s been shot up pretty bad.”

“What?! Okay, hold on.”

I wait. My squad leader, Corporal Fisher, must be checking with the lieutenant on what happens next. I look back outside at our girl, and remember how we got here.

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Ray Nessly Reviews Crossing the Lines

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As he demonstrates in his outstanding story collection, Crossing the Lines, Tony Press is a keen observer of humankind. Perhaps it’s due to the Buddhist path that he follows, but as almost all reviewers point out, in so many words, Press’s stories have heart, they reveal us for what we are, they remind us of the lessons of life. And they do so subtly, in a masterful but also entertaining way. The 32 stories range from a single page to about twelve pages in length, but most of them weigh in at about four, five pages. These are flash fictions of the compressed, short-story kind, you might say—with beginnings, middles, and ends, as opposed to stories that come and go in a flash—impressionist, employing poetic techniques. They take place mostly in the U.S. (various locations), with several in Mexico and Spain. Some take place in present day, others during the 1960s, and a few are historical.

I have many favorites in this collection. Among them: “Take Me to Your Heart,” “A Nica in Blighty,” “Always Another Straw,” “Pancakes,” “At Last,” and “Hunger.” There’s a special place in my memory though for three of these stories. In “The Viper’s Smile,” a writer on retreat in Spain finds himself trapped in his cabin with a lethally poisonous viper. Given his predicament, the first-person narrator’s tone is admiringly restrained, adding to the story’s black humor. Take the story’s understated, opening line: “With the exception of the viper on the floor, it looked to be a beautiful morning.” And without revealing too much, let’s just say the ending is deliciously open-ended, and amusingly invokes a New Yorker cartoon and the classic image of Death, hooded, with scythe.

Next, deservedly nominated for a Pushcart Prize, “Funeral Season” builds a story about life-long love and friendship that culminates with this mediation on loss:

“One tired week later, Nils sat at the kitchen table at mid-day. The apartment, once so cozily cramped, was large and empty, a shell of itself. Yes, the furniture had not changed, and yes, all Tommy’s albums remained. In truth, the sole material difference was that his clothes had been donated and his toiletries and stunning array of medicines tossed in the trash. What did ‘larger than life’ mean, Nils wondered. He had always thought it trite but the absence of Tommy was so much more than his mere corporeal self, and that self had been dissipating for months anyway. No, there was a palpable vacuum. He didn’t like that term anymore than he did ‘larger than life.’ Language. Life. Shit.”

And perhaps my favorite of all, “What the Storm Brought,” shows us the whole of a budding romance that unfolds over two years during World War I, and does so unhurriedly and vividly, in only five pages. Memorably, the opening sentence is the aphorism-worthy, “January was the month of truth but some truths were harder than others.” As the opening paragraph develops, the snow storm promised by the title arrives. I won’t spoil the O’Henry-ish twist at story’s end, but again comes snow and these lyrical sentences:

“When he took pen and ink to her thigh and scripted his name in blue, however, she clutched his hands and wanted to hold them forever. And each year after, she never failed to rejoice at the first fall of snow.”
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NesslyRay Nessly hails from Seattle and lives near San Diego with his wife and their two cats. He is forever at work on a novel: If A Machine Lands In The Forest. His writing appears in journals such as Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Boston Literary Magazine, Apocrypha & Abstractions, MadHat Lit, Yellow Mama, Do Some Damage, and the Irish magazine, The Penny Dreadful.

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LITERARY ORPHANS ISSUE 29: Letter From the Editor

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Dear Orphans & Orphanettes,

As you may have noticed, Literary Orphans has two “orphans” this month. We originally thought about dedicating an issue to Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, but the more we talked about it, the more we realized that you can’t mention one of these orphans without bringing up the other. Apart, each of these orphans makes for an interesting character study, but together, these two made history.

It was 83 years ago, as of yesterday, May, 23, 2017, when Bonnie & Clyde met their demise down a sleepy stretch of Louisiana road. Six officers fired more than 130 rounds into Bonnie and Clyde’s vehicle, ending a crime spree that affected over a dozen banks, gas stations, and stores and took the lives of at least 9 police officers and civilians. Their deaths were among a handful of famous Depression Era criminals who taunted the FBI and made a living of robbing banks across the country. While Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde “Champion” Barrow were some of the most notorious public enemies of the Great Depression, it wouldn’t be until some 30+ years later that their story would enter the American lexicon as a romanticized tale of two rebellious lovers.

In 1967, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway reintroduced Bonnie and Clyde to the public by way of the silver screen. Though criticized for its glorification of violence, the film Bonnie and Clyde was a smash hit that quickly became one of the highest-grossing movies of its era. At a time when the antiwar drums were growing in response to the Vietnam war, and as a prelude to one of the most momentous displays of paranoia and distrust by a leading government official, the American public found itself wooed and courted by the wrong side of the law. A new breed of rebel, in constant flight from dark-suited G-men, stole our hearts. Those who would carve out a life for themselves, no matter how illegal or ill-fated, became our protagonists, and we sympathized with them. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t just star-crossed lovers with a violent streak; they embodied a rebellious spirit we yearned for when we felt the system had failed us.

In an era when we’re bombarded with news about our government leaders having secret meetings with Russians, it seems only fitting to look back at America’s criminal sweethearts. At a time when the National Security Agency (NSA) helps to create two major global cyber security threats, it feels only logical to question the ethics and laws of our governing bodies.

When Bonnie and Clyde were reintroduced to the American public in the late 60s, our collective rebellious spirit was on an upswing. It’s only fitting that we bring their romanticized tale back to the public eye when similar sentiments are once again reverberating through the American consciousness.

In Literary Orphans Issue 29: Bonnie & Clyde, we embrace our inner outlaws.

We’re all in this together,

Scott Waldyn
Editor-in-Chief


Find Literary Orphans Issue 29: Bonnie & Clyde Here. 

 

Scott Waldyn Reviews The City, Awake by Duncan Barlow

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It’s difficult to talk about The City, Awake by Duncan Barlow (published by Stalking Horse Press) without spoiling the mystery, but the novel is unlike any thriller I’ve read before. It’s dark, moody, and buried deep within the towering skyscrapers of a cityscape that seems larger than life, and it’s also a thoughtful exploration of the mind. In Barlow’s thriller, noir is married to a dense fog of mysticism, and with each flip of the page, one isn’t quite sure as to whether one is reading a crime novel or something more sinister and macabre. This is what makes The City, Awake compelling, as most other books that set a similar tone plant themselves firmly in one genre or the other.

The City, Awake by Duncan BarlowIt’s Barlow’s prose that makes this novel work, as his writing is sharp, concise, and poetic. He’s able to set a consistent ambiance that beckons readers to willingly take this hidden road with him. While the plot itself is an enigma, Barlow’s words are direct, making sure that there is clarity in the metaphysical ride he’s asking us to step into. This is key, as with each turn of the page, the foggy cityscape gets denser and denser.

I found myself reading The City, Awake slower than I have read other novels, taking breaks between chapters to pause and reflect. Part of the reason behind these breaks was to admire the beautiful prose, and the other part was to reflect on the dreamlike world he builds. In this world, the skyscrapers rise to no end. In this world, the lens through which we view it is constantly in soft focus.

It’s noir, but it isn’t. The City, Awake by Duncan Barlow is undefined, unique, and demands readers’ attention. As I said, I’ve never read a book quite like this before, and I probably will never see another one quite like it again. It’s truly an original experience all on its own.

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The City, Awake is available from Stalking Horse Press. Find more information here.

 Photograph in banner cited from: Joi Ito (flickr)

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Our Trip to the American Writers Museum

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We recently were given the opportunity to explore the brand new American Writers Museum in downtown Chicago! Read our write-up below.


 

Literary Orphans visits the American Writers MuseumIn the 1930s and 40s, Chicago was known as a major hub for publishing. From book binderies to publishing companies, this Midwestern goliath was known for producing great contributions to Literature. While the publication industry has certainly evolved much since those bygone decades, Chicago remains a city committed to creating and inspiring the next generation of writers, poets, and artists. We see it at the many festivals, like the Printers Row Lit Fest, that draw massive crowds to the city every year.

On May 16, 2017, the vision for Chicago’s future commitment to Literature came to fruition. The American Writers Museum officially opened its doors to the public, and a seven-year project achieved what 25+ visionaries have tirelessly worked to create.

The American Writers Museum is the first and only one of its kind to celebrate American Literature in all of its various forms. It’s an institution wholly dedicated to language and the guiding hand language has had in shaping our American society.

“It’s not a library,” Founding Board Member Hill Hammock says. It’s a communal resource, one with the goal “to engage and not specifically have books on the shelves.”

Housed in this museum in the heart of Chicago’s downtown are a great many exhibits meant to educate, inspire, mesmerize, and provide meaning to visitors. One of the first exhibits is a massive timeline that tethers great works in American literature to history, providing context to how society impacted Literature and vice versa. It tells our story of civilization, through both literary works and historical events. Other exhibits include the famous scroll upon which Jack Kerouac wrote his novella, On The Road, as well as rooms that feature interactive games, writer-inspired works of art, famous local authors, and of course, a writers’ room.

Literary Orphans at American Writers MuseumThe writers’ room is exciting in that it’s a designated place for visitors to sit down and reflect. There’s a story wall for hanging up completed works, and there are tools, such as pens, paper, and typewriters, for visitors to create with. Right next to the writers’ room is a lounge where visitors can pick up one of the many books on the shelves and sit down on a couch to read. This lounge also serves as a venue for readings, presentations, and other events on the museum’s already busy calendar.

What’s truly inspiring about the American Writers Museum is its unique design, as well as the way visitors interact with the various rooms. Each room brings a different feel, using state-of-the-art equipment that demands visitors approach each exhibit from different angles. To get the full experience, one really has to meditate on the presentation and explore. As Hammock said, this isn’t a library. The American Writers Museum aims to be so much more.

For more information on the American Writers Museum, please visit americanwritersmuseum.org.

James Claffey Reviews The Best Small Fictions 2016

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Eclectic, compelling, and in places uneven, The Best Small Fictions 2016 presents a wide-ranging take on flash fiction, taking the reader from the woods of Michigan to Minnesota’s I-35 on a journey through the finest short fictions of the past year. Amongst the stand-out pieces are Justin Lawrence Daugherty’s “A Thing Built to Fly is Not a Promise,” a wonderful meditation on life, death and war. Daugherty imagines Earhart alive and siren-like, searching for signs of rescue. The story surprises and delights and gives the Earhart legend a new and quirky look.

Also of note is Amir Adam’s “The Physics of Satellites,” which is another meditation on time and space, through the lens of the narrator’s Aunt Maria, who, after finding her husband “hanging like cured chorizo from the ceiling fan” takes to her bed citing arms and legs that don’t work anymore. Adam’s tight narrative structure and display of a family in crisis is remarkable.

Toh EnJoe’s microfiction (translated by David Boyd), “A Thousand and One Tongues,” is as powerful as if it were ten times as long. In a nutshell, EnJoe captures worlds and their revolutions. There’s a level of infusion to the tales of Scheherazade in Enjoe’s microfiction that gives it a distinctly original taste.

Paul Beckman’s “Healing Time” encapsulates the fissures that exist between families and how those problems that prevent openness and dialogue between siblings can ultimately backfire on the participants. The poignancy of a mother trying to heal her family’s rifts posthumously is brilliantly captured in this piece from Beckman’s book, Peek.

BSF-2016-front-187x300Robert Scotallero’s “Bug Porn” is another standout in this collection. The scene in a basement with a crushed Daddy-Long-Legs and an undressing woman is a finely-balanced flash with that hint of frisson that elevates the narrative out of the reach of the ordinary.

The secrets of a Days Inn and the impending birth of a child are the stuff of Amelia Gray’s “These are the Fables,” a well-crafted piece set in a Dunkin’ Donuts in Beaumont. Gray excels at describing the underbelly of life, and the denizens of small town America. Her ability to craft layered characters in such a tight narrative space is quite something.

One of the weaknesses of the collection is perhaps the reliance on the already anthologized work of Etgar Keret and Alberto Chimal. Both stories are already present in Norton’s recent, Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World. Keret’s ‘The Story, Victorious I & II,” is humorous, and metafictional and Chimal’s piece, “The Waterfall,” plays with baptismal rites; they seem oddly out of place here, and their inclusion weakens the anthology’s overall impact.

Also, oddly discordant, are the two spotlight interviews at the end of the anthology. These seem extraneous to the vision of the anthology and don’t serve to enhance the collection in any meaningful manner. Nonetheless, the excellent work represented in The Best Small Fictions 2016 shines a light on the best writers of short fiction today. The table of contents reads like a who’s who of flash fiction and rightly so. These stories entertain, inform, and ultimately educate the reader in what effective and insightful flash fiction should look like. Tara Masih, the series editor, and Stuart Dybek, the guest editor, have collated a marvelous anthology that builds on the series’ first iteration, guest edited by Robert.

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bio2Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, James Claffey, hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work has appeared in numerous publications and he is currently at work on a new novel. He is the author of the short fiction collection, Blood a Cold Blue, from Press 53.

Book cover image cited from Queen’s Ferry Press

Photograph in banner cited from Forest Wander (flickr)

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Scott Waldyn Reviews ‘The Messenger is Already Dead’ by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens

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If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Jennifer MacBain-Stephens, you’re already familiar with the dark, soothing air of serenity found within the stanzas of her poetry. Her work is very much like a walk through the woods at night, when the winds are steady and though you can’t see it, everything is moving beneath you. The air is crisp and comforting, and under the absence of light, you’re lulled into a false sense of security as deeply rooted vegetation coils slowly around your feet.
The Messenger is Already DeadJennifer MacBain-Stephens’ work is layered. It speaks to ideas, histories, and themes as much as it creates moods that you can’t help but curl yourself up into. In the collected poems within The Messenger is Already Dead, published on March 15, 2017 by Stalking Horse Press, MacBain-Stephens groups her poems perfectly to weave an intricate and multi-faceted breath that each one of us can harmonize with.

With this collection, we’re propelled forward and backward in time. In one moment, we’re reflecting on the raw power and emotion of Joan of Arc, and in the next, we’re reliving our own pop culture. Jennifer MacBain-Stephens easily blends the historical with the modern and pop cultural to create poems that feel timeless and classic. I never thought I’d read a line that referenced a “most wanted poster in a video game from 1999” right after a darkly beautiful piece about Joan of Arc and be at peace with it, but I did (and I am). The way MacBain-Stephens structures her prose, she can pluck anything from the ether and make it at home with her unique style.

It’s why The Messenger is Already Dead works. This collection of poetry isn’t really a collection at all. Each poem is a carefully arranged chapter, and one poem feeds into the next breathlessly and without skipping a beat. You could easily indulge in this collection in one sitting, or you could meditate on each chapter and let the swirling ambiance fill your lungs as you voyage from one thought to the next.

My personal favorite of the bunch is a tie between “Lustmord” and a piece simply called “Time.” “Time” has a wicked sense of humor to it, and it plays with the idea of perception using a host of pop cultural references to bring its point home. “Lustmord” is much darker, as it explores this feeling of trapping ourselves in torturous revelry. Paired together and with the rest of the pieces in this collection, these poems paint a disjointed sense of progress, as if we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again, as if the idea of time stopped long ago and we’re on a loop, switching out new props every time we choose to reenact a similar story again and again. It’s no mistake that tales of Joan of Arc are peppered throughout The Messenger is Already Dead. MacBain-Stephens wants us to look in this ether, tell her what we see.


 

The Messenger is Already Dead by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens is available from Stalking Horse Press.

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Photograph in banner cited from: Sebastian Wojnicki (flickr)

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Ray Nessly Reviews “Nothing but the Dead and Dying” by Ryan W. Bradley

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The people of Alaska are the subject of Ryan W. Bradley’s outstanding collection of short stories, Nothing But The Dead And Dying. The harsh environment is but another challenge for hard-working folks dealing with unfulfilling jobs, troubled relationships, illnesses, addiction, or worse, deadly violence. Bradley’s minimalist writing style pushes descriptions and scenery to the background and concentrates on the essential. As famed author Donald Ray Pollack enthusiastically observed, Bradley writes “in spare, unadorned prose reminiscent of Willy Vlautin and Raymond Carver.” (Now that is a compliment to die for.)

Nicely balanced between character-driven and plot-driven, these stories are fast-moving, and yes, they entertain. But most of all they reveal the author’s gift, which is to create painfully realistic characters. Having faced setback after setback, they are burdened with complicated, often conflicting emotions. To bring them to life and make the reader understand their inner workings, as Bradley has done, requires a writer who not only possesses the chops to find the right words—that snip of dialogue, that just-right turn of phrase—but who also completely understands human nature, and has shared some of his characters’ life experiences. (Bradley has had numerous “blue-collar” type jobs, including working on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle.)

My favorite stories in this collection are:

“The Long Grass”: A teenaged boy’s awkward first sexual experience is complicated by guilt and dread, worrying that his father will find out he accidentally killed his dog. “Julius’ father had gotten [the dog] in the divorce, the only thing he’d really fought for, giving up the custody battle as soon as Julius’ mother dangled the rights to the dog.”

“Glaciers”: Heartbreaking and beautifully told, depicts the burdens of debt and life-threatening illness on patient and caretaker alike. “Maybe she’ll bring him lunch, like she used to. Surprise him with fresh steak or ribs. Or she’ll keep driving to the places where there is no development, no dirt to move. She will find a glacier, where her skin can adopt the pale blue of the ice, still hard, refusing to melt for anyone or anything.”

“Love And Death In The Moose League”: An aging, former major league pitcher hangs onto a secret as well as what’s left of his dignity in this poignant story that has just the right touch of humor. “Patterson wound up and as he released the ball there was a pop in his shoulder…The whole stadium was silent. The ball was laying in the grass not ten feet in front of the mound. Patterson looked at it in disbelief. Even the ump was bewildered. It was a few seconds before he walked in front of the plate and called ‘ball.'”

“WEST”: This tale of mass murder at a high school switches between point of view characters to excellent effect. The story dramatizes what plausibly motivates many such shootings, and is all the more chilling and tragic because intimate details about the victims are revealed. The last few lines are not ones the reader will easily shake off.

“Morning For Night”: A portrait of infidelity, of one-night stands, in the far north. The protagonist wonders “how it will all play out in the morning. How the sunlight will move on their bodies, the tangle of sheets. Like the slope, he thinks, seeing the sun in the middle of the night, it doesn’t feel right or wrong. You just get used to it.”

“All Things Infinite”: Bradley’s homage to a mentor. A man buries his father at sea, Viking-style, in a small boat set aflame. He recalls what his old man told him once: “‘There’s no rule book for fathering, Boy-o,’ he said. ‘I did my best and you turned out all right from where I’m sitting.'”

These are not only my favorites in this collection; they are some of the best stories I’ve read in years.

 

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NesslyRay Nessly hails from Seattle and lives near San Diego with his wife and their two cats. He is forever at work on a novel: If A Machine Lands In The Forest. His writing appears in journals such as Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Boston Literary Magazine, Apocrypha & Abstractions, MadHat Lit, Yellow Mama, Do Some Damage, and the Irish magazine, The Penny Dreadful.

Photograph in banner cited from: Edith Schreurs (flickr)

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Purchase Nothing but the Dead and Dying, published by CCM