Monday, December 10, 2007

Teen Angst Poetry

I am a big fan of bad poetry. And bad writing in general. Then again, that should be apparent from my appreciation of campy movies (see post from October).

One of my favorite sources for reading bad poems is, where sadly misguided efforts (though they felt right at the time) are submitted by their now grown up writers. Very funny stuff. And you can find everything organized into thematic categories like "I Am Alone and No One Understands My Pain" and "Obvious Metaphors."

My favorite Obvious Metaphor poem that they once posted is this little ditty from a contributor named Arran (from age 16):

Coleslaw Girl

I am the coleslaw girl
everything about me
is shredded.

I used to be whole
where did I go
to become this mess?

I am the coleslaw girl
grated & ripped apart

loosing my mind.


If anyone reading this wants to share a short poem, or line, from a teen angst riddled voice, I'd love to read it.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A shiny new book!

Former Indiana Review editor Danit Brown has a book forthcoming from Pantheon. The collection of stories is titled Ask for a Convertible. We can't wait to get our grubby little hands on a copy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Indiana Review on the Radio Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, December 5) at 7:30 p.m., the Indiana Review senior editors--Abdel, Jenny, Danny, and Hannah--will be guests on the WIUX Creative Writing show. We'll be talking a bit about our upcoming issue, 29.2, and reading some selections from it--exciting new work.

Tune in if you're in Bloomington at 99.1 FM. And if you aren't, hear the broadcast streaming over the web at

Monday, December 3, 2007

Laura van den berg: Winner!

Indiana Review 29.1 contributor, Laura van den berg has been named winner of the 2007 Dzanc prize. The prize awards $5,000 annually to a writer who is interested in bettering their community through literary community service, and who is working toward completion of a novel or short story collection. Laura's working on a project to teach creative writing in local prisons. Sounds pretty daggone cool.

Check out Laura reading her story, Where We Must Be, on our Bluecast.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Best New Poets 2007 is Here!

A brand new shiny copy of Best New Poets 2007 arrived in our office this week with Tyler Mills' poem "The Violin Shop" right there on page 50. We're proud to have printed that poem in this summer's issue, 29.1, and even prouder that it was included in BNP! Way to go Tyler!

And it has a delightful new book smell...

The collection can be purchased from University of Virginia Press.

So I was curious about who the guy on the cover was. Turns out, according to their blog, all their cover photos are stock photos! Weird. Something about the cover design definitely led me to believe the person on the front is one of the poets included in the collection, or at the very least, one of last year's poets. Hmm...

Oh well. It still looks like a great collection!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Cover Me!

Who doesn't judge a book by it's cover? Joseph Sullivan has compiled a list of the most compelling covers of 2007 over at the NY Times blog.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

can you do this in a poem?

Many people wonder how exactly we decide what to publish. What do we look for in a poem? What quality makes one piece of art leap out of the slush pile and into the magazine, while others quietly pass on to other hands, other venues?

This snowman, an image of the Hindu god Ganesh, was created on the main street in Mussoorie, India, a town in the Himalayan foothills. Out of the

Now do this. But in a poem.


Monday, November 12, 2007

I Love Typography Too

Hey Word Nerds:

My partner told me about this blog called I Love Typography, which celebrates the super sexiness of type. Think about the smooth curves of a comma; how low the hook of a number 9 can hang.

Now don't do anything naughty while you browse the blog.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It's November, and NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo are here!

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably heard of National Novel-Writing Month. Several years ago, I wrote my first novel. And, to date, my only. All thanks to NaNoWriMo, a program that proudly values quantity over quality, a program that’s nearly 10 years old.

But there’s no reason that quantity can’t be edited and made publishable by someone, somewhere.

My novel was a piece of genre fiction that didn’t start out that way; I started off trying to write a serious story but got bored with it really early. Instead of starting over, I pushed through, and my central characters got bitten by zombies.

These weren’t your regular old zombies. These were a new type of zombie: although a bit stiff in the joints, perhaps, they were planners, thinkers, and social. My zombies would have the neighbors over. And then much on their brains. They totally owned their undeadness and became assassins.

My masterpiece. My zombie-assassin novel. I deleted nearly all of the manuscript soon after submitting to the NaNoWriMo folks for word-count verification. The novel was terrible. Really, really terrible. But fun to write.

And it’s not too late to get started! You’re only a week behind, if you feel so inclined.

Along those lines, though, and the impetus for this post, is the several years young NaBloPoMo. I learned about it only yesterday, and when I saw this badge, I just had to post it. My own intention is not to blog every day (I wish!), but rather to share the project with y’all. And hey, if you’re a two birds, one stone kind of person, you could always post your NaNoWriMo manuscript in progress…


Monday, November 5, 2007

I took it from the top and put it on the bottom...

That's how James Brown described the process of creating the musical structure we now know as Funk. It was all about The One.

I stumbled upon this great documentary from the BBC (they have some great documentaries, by the way--check out Richard Pryor if you get a chance) on youtube. They've got it divided into seven parts, but the whole thing is really compelling. It does a really great job of covering many of the major Funk figures and providing a historical context for the music's rise. One of my favorite moments is when JB's bandleader, Pee Wee Ellis talks about coming up with the concept for "Coldblooded" after listening to Miles Davis' "So What?". If you've got both songs, you should listen to them back-to-back because it's fascinating to see what they did. This kind of innovation was actually pretty typical because many of Funk's greatest musicians had their roots deep in Jazz. Great stuff. Check it out.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Other Blogs We Love: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Reading the highest of highbrow fiction and poetry gets tiring at times. And, as you may have noticed, we here at IR are not afraid to admit that, at times, our taste is decidedly lowbrow.

If you're looking for a good recommendation for your next trashy read, the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books offer smart and funny reviews of genre lit, with a focus on crappy romance novels of all types. Recent highlights include:

The help-a-bitch-out feature, in which readers help other readers find vaguely-remembered plots (e.g. "The heroine was wrapped up in some kind of rug/carpet/blanket and unrolled for a king or ruler or duke or something of the sort.")

The worst lines in sci-fi erotica

One of the main bloggers' husbands offers a guest review of David Hasselhoff's autobiography, in which the difference between good trashy and bad trashy is thoughtfully discussed.

And you have to love "Covers Gone Wild."


Monday, October 29, 2007

IR Bluecast: Amanda Fields

Amanda Fields reads and discusses an excerpt from her story, "Boiler Room," featured in our 29.1 summer issue. Remember, if you'd like to hear previous entries (from Sherman Alexie, Stuart Dybek, Wendy Rawlings, Crystal Wilkinson, and others), just press "posts" and select the entry you want.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Editors on Parade

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Probably because the idea of coming up with a costume, putting it together, and parading it around is such a radically different creative outlet compared to writing. And the visual aspect offers something inherently immediate that language doesn't.

Anyways, enough of this quasi-deep thought. Let's find out what the staff here has dressed up as over the years.

What was your favorite Halloween costume as a child? As a teenager/young adult? Recently?


Childhood: I was always mismatched. We would go shopping on Halloween night, so I would have on a Spiderman mask with some kind of cape. I must have been 10-11.

Teendom: After football practice I would go dressed as a football player.

Recently: I can't even remember the last time I dressed up. But interesting fact though: for Halloween my father would actually buy me eggs so that we could throw them. Peer pressure man.


Childhood: As a Cowperson! I had boots and overalls and a red handkerchief, and an awesome hat (a real cowboy hat!). Later on, I'd try to balance that same hat on my big teenage head.

Teendom: I didn't dress up much, except for the Halloween dance. I made this kind of shroud-ish looking dress. So, I guess I was some kind of dead person. It was inspired by the Dracula movie that had just come out, starring Winona Ryder.

Recently: In college I generally dressed like a disaffected youth. So I pretty much wore black boots, black pants, black turtle, and black makeup. I guess that's a Halloween costume.


Childhood: I was a dinosaur. Had this green and yellow suit with a huge tail and a hood for my head that had little spikes on it.

Teendom: Regan from The Excorcist. I went to my high school in a ratted out wig, nightgown. I even put a can of peas on the blender that morning just to splosh the goop on my chest.

Recently: It's too offensive to write out. But I will say it involved the Virgin Mary.

and introducing... Stephen!!! (our editorial intern)

Childhood: I was the X-Men's Wolverine all the time. At the time I kinda wanted to be Wolverine everyday. I had on a plastic mask, this blue and yellow fabric suit, and gloves with plastic nubs that were suppose to be claws.

Teendom: I was The Highlander. Trench coat with a giant sword. Tied back my long hair. I carried around a real sword too, which I got from Spain.

Recently: Recently I was a Jedi knight. (I have to make up for the dullness of my real life by dressing up as fictional male heroes). Wore a Jedi robe and a light saber that I had long before I even put the costume together. I felt like Obi-Wan.

Happy Halloween ya'all! Please post favorite costumes that you've donned in the past.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Book Hog

I am very greedy with my books. I hog. I hoard. This is my nest building activity. If ever I run out of furniture, I can build furniture out of my books. Though it won’t be nearly as comfy.

Years ago, when I got my first apartment, I neglected to get insurance, and I knew that I really, really should get it, but I didn’t. And whenever I would leave the apartment, especially for extended periods, I would worry and worry about my babies back home. Were they all right? Had my neighbors set the whole building on fire? Had a tornado popped open my windows and sucked the books out into a whipping funnel of pages and wood pulp?

I have insurance now. So if any tragedy should befall my books, I can at least get them replaced. Except for the signed copies. But I’m still more the kind of person who’d put a bookplate on my book (mine! mine!) than the kind of person who’d open the cage and set a volume free. And I maintain that there’s nothing wrong with that.

But I do admire those generous catch-and-release readers, those book lovers who let their babies loose in the wild. Maybe someday I can be like them. Book Crossing is a collection of such folks, and the books shared by such folks. They’ve been around for awhile, and you may have already heard of them, but I’m not sure just how long they’ve been around. Their Website content is copyrighted from 2001 to present, if that’s any clue. Anyhow, it’s a really fun project, and sometime real soon, I’m going to try to pry some books out of my fingers to take part in it. (I can’t tell you how much easier typing will be then.)

And other groups of folks have taken the model on, too, like the kids at the Newark Center for Creative Learning, with their Leave Your Book project. (When I was in grade school, the closest thing I had to this was when my Girl Scout troop tied messages to balloons and waited for replies. I can tell you none of our balloons made it to Germany or New Zealand.)

I’ve still always got my eye open for a great bookplate, though.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Great Moments in Funk history

Having James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince together in the same space makes this one of the Funkiest moments in Funk history. Prince's performance, beginning with him riding to the stage on a man dressed like a zebra/wildebeest, also makes this one of the most awkward.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

another one bites the dust

Literary magazine distributor Bernhard DeBoer announced it was shutting down this August, affecting some great magazines like Lyric and Jubilat...

Last winter, Publishers Group West went under, filing for bankruptcy and putting some fine magazines, McSweeney's and Punk Planet (completely ruined by their distributor's failure) among them, into financial crisis. This useful feature from Salon gives more background...

With this kind of financial craziness, how are little magazines supposed to get into bookstores?

This article from Publisher's Weekly offers a little hope, but not much.

It seems there is a fine business opportunity for a group of people with a little start-up capital, a good website, some financial know-how, and some connections in New York City to provide this service for magazines.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Getting to know your editors

We here at IR just received the latest issue of Slab, another literary magazine. Very cute, sexy, and fun.

Along with bios, the staff of Slab asked their contributors to answer this cool 8 piece Q&A list below. I thought it would be fun to interrogate our editors with it. Thank you so very much Slab!
Me love you long time.

1. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Abdel: Black jelly beans

Jenny: (For the record, I don't think pleasure should be guilty.) Terrible MTV shows, like Next and Parental Control

Danny: Fried food (but only as long as I don't get sick)


2. How do you take your coffee?

A: With cream
J: Lots of sugar, lots of cream -- as far from coffee as possible. Prefer Tea
D: Condensed milk (Vietnamese style!)
H: Black or with a little cream, depending on the time of day

3. Who were you in a previous life?

A: Joan of Arc
J: Mira Bai
D: A farmer
H: probably not a writer

4. Who or what is your greatest influence?

A: James Baldwin
J: Poverty
D: Marilyn Manson
H: ?

5. What is the worst film you ever paid to see?

A: Soul Plane
J: Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
D: Showgirls (But then again, I bought it on dvd, as well as the special edition box set.)
H: Deep Blue Sea. Samuel L. Jackson getting eaten by a shark in the middle of an inspirational monologue...well, you don't see that every day.

6. What is the best thing you can buy for a dollar?

A: Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie Sandwich
J: Sour Patch Kids
D: Firecrackers
H: A really good bagel

7. What is the worst present you ever received?

A: I once received the presence of Rutherford B. Hayes. Terrible presence
J: ?
D: Tighty-whites for Christmas
H: Probably some kind of inspirational decorative object

8. What is your favorite word?

A: Circuitous
J: Cup
D: #$@*
H: Gravitas


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Review of Dark Familiar from 29.1

Aleda Shirley. Dark Familiar. Louisville, Kentucky: Sarabande, 2006. $13.95 paper (ISBN 1-932511-36-9) 88 pages.

Reviewed by Hannah Faith Notess

Dark Familiar is Aleda Shirley’s third full-length collection of poems, following Chinese Architecture in 1986 and Long Distance in 1996. The world of Dark Familiar is haunted, and not just by the usual ghosts. Haunted by the living, the absent, and the dead, in a landscape washed in the saturated colors of Mark Rothko’s paintings, the speaker of these poems vacillates between addressing the haunting figures and a more general reader, exploring all the ways a voice and a landscape can be haunted.

Shirley takes her epigraph from Rothko: “Silence is too accurate.” Devoid of context, this statement could either mean “Silence is also accurate, along with speech” or “Silence is more accurate than speech.” Both meanings fit the poems here, which return repeatedly to silent moments—particularly unnatural silences: a busy casino floor seen through glass that mutes the sound, a mysteriously noiseless helicopter seen by an abducted child from her hotel window, or “silence, like a mirror / where the silver’s gone completely opaque.” Shirley’s poems speak into these silent moments to address the bigger silence of the dead, and the silence of God.

What I find particularly interesting about Dark Familiar is the way that Shirley’s layering of cosmic significance over earthly landscapes invests those landscapes with significance and trivializes them at the same time. In the book’s first poem, “The Star’s Etruscan Argument,” a casino floor becomes a microcosm of the universe, and the speaker of the poem, watching from above, becomes a God-like figure:

How quickly
smoke swirling from a hundred cigarettes dissolves

above their heads: invisible systems at work, & God
not looking out for any of us from the inverted
domes in the ceiling that watch & record everything.

A few poems later, in “Phantom Pain,” the casino is refigured metaphorically as a gathering place for the dead:

…my dead
must have their own dead to find & so must disperse,
unable to remain in an assembly of my devising.
I wonder if they gather, seasonally, in a vast hall,
the air filtered into fake euphoria, like a casino’s,
a serried music of wealth urging them to wager more,
& on the great window a pale outline of bones.

The speaker’s ability to shift in and out of the land of the dead recalls other famous underworld visitors—Orpheus, Odysseus, Dante—only Shirley’s underworld is not a place to which the poet travels and returns. Rather, this underworld exists in and around the daylight world, haunting the speaker in the most banal of settings.

In addition to the epigraph from Rothko, many of the poems in the book bear titles from Rothko paintings, such as “Brown, Black on Maroon,” “Blue Over Orange,” and “Purple, White and Red.” Although these poems could be read as ekphrastic responses to Rothko’s work, only one of them, “Four Darks in Red” overtly references a painting: “Along the top of the canvas a band of anthracene / that is God or the absence of God / or someone’s ingenuous belief in him.” Like Rothko’s paintings, Shirley’s poems work with color emotionally, sometimes assigning a narrative to the colors, other times setting a scene infused with an emotional approach to the color. The ekphrastic poems feel haunted, too, by beauty and by its absence. Shirley’s fresh approach to color as emotion unifies the book’s voice, making it a compelling address to the Dark Familiar, the haunting presence found in everyday life.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

So, do you come here often?

A while ago I got hooked on the techno crack that is googleanalytics. The site allows you to track your web traffic in frighteningly precise ways. I can see how many page views we've had so far, where in the world they're coming from, how long people have stuck around, even what kind of web browsers you're using. So, since we've talked about ourselves so much, let's talk about you.

-There are around 2,000 of you out there and you've visited somewhere around 3,500 times since we started the blog in March 2007. I'm not sure how you do it, but you usually look at 1.62 pages during your stop under the blue light.

-You lead very important and busy lives, and thus only have an average of 1 minute and 54 seconds to stick around.

- 60% of you are new here (Welcome! You can put your shoes near the door. No, the dog will not chew on them. Much.)

- 294 of you were quite fond of our Funk post. Also, Laura van den berg is a fave with 132 of you listening to her bluecast. 99 of you wanted to get your smoking hot poetry.

- You seem to be particularly interested in coming by on Mondays, especially in the morning. This suggests that you are all independently wealthy or are running the blue light on the company dime (We don't judge!).

- Most of the time you are in America, but you visit from 70 other countries on six continents. Canada, UK, Egypt, India, Australia, and France are your more popular points of origin.
- In the States, your favorite location is in good ole' Bloomington, IN (Ahh, the phone call is coming from INSIDE the house!), Louisville second, NYC third, San Fran fourth.

As an editor, it seems useful to have access to this type of information about our readership. Unless we meet people at AWP or get the occasional email, many times it can feel like you're producing the magazine in a vacuum, setting it out into a void. The statistics give some proof that we're not all alone, there are a great deal of people out there interested in the production and dissemination of quality literature. So, thank God for computers, right?

Well, I'm not so sure about that. Although it's cool to look at the numbers, how much can you really tell about a person by their web browser? As we delve further and further into the digital age, there's a temptation to act like we know someone just because we know what they look at on their computer. And I don't know about you, but I consider myself to much more profound than my browsing habits. That's not saying much since 90% of what I look at on the computer is actually pretty stupid.

I guess my point is that we started Under the Blue Light in order to give our readers and writers insight into the individuals who put IR together, but also to allow us to find out more about the people who are looking through our pages. Posting interesting material is not easy (Lord knows!) but besides providing you insight into fascinating world of IR, we're also trying to make this blog a forum for our readers and writers to interact (with us and each other) on a more organic level. There's a lot of people who care about literature and writing and the magazine, and the more connections those people could make, the better. So, if you see us offering writing exercises or asking questions, we're just interested in getting to know you beyond your pageview. So don't be shy, leave a comment. We promise to respect you in the morning.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

hey poets, you don't have to just read poetry!

Sometimes it seems like poets just don't have enough to write about. We get so many poems about sitting in one's room, looking out one's window, or washing dishes and looking out the kitchen window...And then I find myself sitting at home, trying to write and looking out the window!

Rather than suggest, as John Barr has unhelpfully suggested, that we all run off to Africa and shoot big game to have something to write about, I'm going to suggest that poets in search of material can start by expanding their reading.

I'm thinking here of Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska's newspaper columns, which have been collected and translated into English by Clare Cavanagh in the wonderful book Nonrequired Reading. Szymborska clearly brings her poetic intelligence to bear on reading such titles as When Your Dog Gets Sick, Giants and Dwarves of the Animal Kingdom, Wallpapering Your Home, and The Encyclopedia of Assassinations.

So here's your exercise: take the title of a thoroughly unpoetic book, and use it as a title for your poem. Here are some examples from Szymborska's book to get you started:

Accidents in the Home

Repairing and Redecorating Your Apartment

Wall Calendar for 1973

Heat Waves and Fevers

The History of the Near East in Antiquity.

Post your attempts here if you wish!


Monday, October 1, 2007

Hang in there little tomato

I have an ever-growing collection of rejection slips spilling out the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet at home. Its weight threatens the stability of the rickety wood floor of my apartment.

Yes, rejection sucks. As writers, we set ourselves up for disappointment every time we send out our work. And if/when rejected, it's easy to become discouraged. Even worst, it's easy to question your worth as a writer. Am I good enough? Am I just wasting my time? Do I even have anything to say that people would be interested in hearing?

The short answer is: Yes, you are good enough. No, you're not wasting your time. Of course you have something to say that's worth an audience. And this is how I know:

Every time my "writerly" faith wavers, I watch a selection from my bad movie list. I have a catalog of Lifetime channel originals and made-for-TV mellow-dramas, B-movies and after-school specials, films starting Jennifer Lopez -- some of these greatest celluloid travesties of all time. These movies, for me, offer more than just a sense of comic relief. Beyond camp value -- the aesthetic of "It's so bad, it's good!" -- terrible movies provide me with, dare I say, feelings of superiority. Their scripts, so poorly conceived, suggest that if people can get paid for writing such crap, surely any of us can find success as well.

Don't believe me? Try renting a few of the following selections and you're sure to have an ego boost. Enjoy!

The Apple (1980): In the future (the 1994 future!) a young folk-duo, presented as a quickly over-killed metaphor for Adam and Eve, are tempted with the dirty apple of musical success by the industry giant Mr. Boogalow. Their love is tested by the draws of glamor, excess, and lots of ugly musical numbers. The Apple was made too early for New Wave, but too late for Disco -- so what we are left with is lots of ratted hair in a roller derby fantasia!

Showgirls (1995): From the creative team that brought us Basic Instinct comes this sad number: a look behind Las Vegas' entertainment industry, where stage dancers can't stop clawing at and squirting lotion on one another. It watches less like a drama, and more like a pubescent boy's mistaken fantasies of who women are. Dialogue includes one whole conversation where two characters express their love of eating Doggie Chow. A true fiction writer's nightmare.

Over the Top (1987): Made back when Sylvester Stallone was a sex god (it's so gross to actually acknowledge that -- what were people thinking back then?). A nomadic big-rig driver must win the love and trust of his astranged son through the awesome power of truck-stop arm wrestling! Most memorable line, and heart-piercing words of wisdom: "The world doesn't meet you halfway," spoken by our hero. This, followed by an 80's power ballad titled 'Meet Me Halfway.'

Boxing Helena (1993): Boy loves girl. Girl doesn’t love boy. Boy proceeds to amputate all of girl’s limbs. He tries to make her love and depend upon him, but she just spits back emasculating insults. Which looks odd when you’re a strangely attractive talking head (literally). Includes a sex scene that is so drenched (no pun intended) with 90's-ism that it's soundtrack is none other than Enigma. Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David Lynch, directed this and no one has trusted her with a camera ever since.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stuart Dybek is a Freakin Genius

For those of you who haven't heard, past contributor and 1/2K judge Stuart Dybek was named a MacArthur Grant award winner.

We offer our sincere congratulations to Mr. Dybek, along with a most humble request: Loan us $5.

Come on, we know you got it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Review of Saturn from 29.1

Levent Yilmaz. Saturn. Translated from Turkish by Űnal Aytűr. Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 2006. $13.95 paper (ISBN 1-931357-21-8), 101 pages.

Reviewed by Roxana Cazan

The publication of Levent Yilmaz’s Saturn, Selected Poems proposes a double achievement: a disclosure of a poetic repository which combines characteristics of Ottoman poetry, Turkish lyricism, and a modern annealing into form, and a sublimation of linguistic features of a very poetical language into an English translation which preserves its original opulence of sound and meaning. Levent Yilmaz, professor of intellectual history in Paris and Istanbul, combines in the present volume the poetic alchemy of an established creative writer and the acuity of mind of the critic and translator who revealed W.B.Yeats and Petrarch to the Turkish audience. Saturn is organized in five parts which offer a thematic voyage through an ethos combining several major themes, large as life itself: the religious spirit in the poems from Caravagio (1987-1993); the Ottoman fortitude in poems from Dream and Storm (1988-1990); the spiritual journey in poems from Lost Souls Nameless Islands (1994); the oracular verve in pieces from Tiger Time and Passing (1997); and a linguistic geography in poems from Last Country (2002).

The expression of mortality written across the pages of this volume is for Yilmaz a manifestation of temporality and tragedy. In an article recorded by Victoria Holbrook in the book’s afterword, Yilmaz compares his fascination with fatality to Odysseus’ weeping when he realizes that he is dead. Levent Yilmaz’s weeping pours into language like a river, and takes the shape of a symbolic rhetorical question: “If nature rages, why is language calm?” (“River”). It is in this language that the poet weaves themes and mythemes representative for a nation whose geography, history, and idiom rest at a cultural crossroad.

In one of his articles, critic Murat Nemet-Nejat explains how in modern Turkish poetry ,poets turned their attention to the spoken language. Turkish, a Finno-Ugric idiom originating in Siberia, values connotation over denotation. Metaphors transcend the limits of the natural world. In Saturn, the translator kept very close to the original. Yilmaz writes, “the earth does not pounce on me/ like a wild beast anymore” (“Soul, name and poison”). The vehicle of this metaphor distances itself so much from the tenor that only the clue offered by the poem in its entirety helps us solve this metaphoric puzzle. The poet ruminates on a life that contains a cumulus of performances of the self, where different masks take primacy at different times.

Metaphors assume other rhetorical shapes in hyperboles: “the history of ecstasy/ begins in the twirl of your lip” (“Magic spell”), alliterations: “the breath blowing on my ears welled up in me/ and the Forbidden began founding the world” (“Nativity”), the agglutination and the syntax specific to the original language and transposed into the target one: “death was nailed to deathlessness” (“Crucifixion of St Peter”) or “in my place, to my brother, she gives birth” (“John the Baptist”). Along with this, it is interesting to observe the perfect sublimation of the Turkish ethos into a translation that can appeal to a western audience. This trick turns Saturn into a “world in between,” to draw on a phrase Mustafa Ziyalan used to speak of Turkey. Indeed, just as his native country and its inherent or acquired culture, Levent Yilmaz’s poetry reveals a crossroad between the (Middle) East and the West, the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, between secular culture and the Muslim Sharia, a dialectical synthesis between Islamic ideology and Byzantine iconography.

It is because his awareness of the attraction of contraries that Yilmaz successfully attempts to unite them. The religious theme of Caravaggio and the title itself point to a selection of poems centered on Biblical iconic characters and scenes mirroring the master’s paintings. Among poems like “St Matthew’s call” and “A vase of roses, and a child,” there are lines and images subtly dispersed which announce the cultural entwining proposed. “Medusa’s Head” brings forth a parallel to the Greek mythical figure; its opening line “I turned into stone” reminds one of Lot’s wife.

The next section recreates the Ottoman ethos. The opening poem builds its structure on images that exude passion and sexuality. “Pleasure’s pink marbles/ opened their wet lips/ like a black rose, I know// that dressed in a wind-threaded silk garment” (“Bursa”). The voluptuousness of the body semi-revealed by the veils of the odalisques’ garb is “buried/ under a gold ornamented dome” in Bursa, where the mausoleums of the Ottoman sultans entomb histories and secrets in “sermons or minted coins.” The Persian sword becomes totemic and brings about conquest both physical and spiritual: “with the sword springing from my mouth and seven stars in my hand…/ I will be looking down from another world” (“Persian Sword”).

Other images that construct Yilmaz’s poetic imaginary belong to a dialectic of reverie, where the poet embarks on a journey of self-discovery, “following a sightless maiden” with oracular powers. The historic dimension is widened by lines such as “I came to know/ what stone is, / what is wetness/ and slavery that creeps into the skin,” which gives a complex portrayal of the Ottoman philosophy of the conqueror who becomes responsible for the history of an entire nation. The poet identifies and simultaneously distinguishes himself from this figure, an act that triggers anxiety and sadness.

Eventually, the poet finds consolation in a newly discovered world of sound. Contraries do not frighten him anymore because he understands that “the world is large, we know,/ the sound it makes is heard in the heart.” In his world, “‘Intercordial’ travel is difficult in this part of space,/ distances grow long, custom becomes varied;/ on this side, voices speak; in another region signs communicate” (“Saturn”). The poet’s solution crystallizes in the concluding desire, “If only this last country which they say is not for him were his country;/ if he could touch words here, keep them in hand, and then fling them/ moonward, he would attain language; he could be daring/ he could be lost” (“The Last Country”). And this is what Levent Yilmaz does in Saturn: he grasps the words, utters them, and “attains” a language which turns the poet into a sounding clarion.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Funk is a Many Splendored Thing

Although the idea for our Funk section was not to provide a single definition of Funk, if you're going to discuss an aesthetic, it's important to have the proper points of reference. With that in mind, I started thinking about what I would describe as Funk's primary texts. This actually took a lot longer than I thought it would (and I ended up not including some important stuff, forgive me Rick James!) but here's what I came up with, after the jump.

1. "Make it Funky" by James Brown – Could be considered a primary text of Funk, from the High Priest of Funk, Soul Brother #1, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Star Time, The Godfather, James Brown. Listen for the last part of the song where JB basically reads a soul food menu and makes it sound like poetry. James, you had me at neck bones.

2. "Zinabu" by Bunzu Sounds—Part of the African Funk movement of the late Seventies. This song is featured on an album called World Psychedelic Classics. Great album, btw.

3. "Freddie’s Dead" by Curtis Mayfield—That’s what I said! This was part of the classic Superfly soundtrack. Curtis Mayfield is one of the greats. His voice is both angelic and rough. The guitar riff is classic and the way he arranges so many elements (listen to the harp!) in this piece is incredible.

4. "Nutbush City Limits" by Ike & Tina Turner—I know we’ve all seen the movie, but if you’re not up on Ike & Tina’s music, you only know half of this story. Tina is one of the funkiest women to ever grace the stage and Ike is boss on guitar.

5. "Dance to the Music" by Sly & the Family Stone—Sly was a master of bringing Funk to the mainstream without losing his focus on The One. Genius.

6. "Doin’ It to Death" by Fred Wesley & the JBs—Although James Brown does vocals on this track, Fred Wesley, one of the pioneers of funky horns (he worked with Ike & Tina, too) steps forward to deliver a dynamite solo. After helping JB develop his funky formula, Wesley (and Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker) joined George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic movement.

7. "Up for the Down Stroke" by Parliament—George Clinton at his best. Funkier than a miskeeter's tweeter.

8. "One Nation Under a Groove" by Funkadelic--Getting down, just for the Funk of it.

9. "Lady Marmalade' by LaBelle—Probably one of the funkiest all-female groups ever, LaBelle consisted of Patti LaBelle (That’s not her real name, by the way. It’s Patricia Holt), Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. They used to be a quartet, but Cindy Birdsong left to join the Supremes (if you’ve seen Dreamgirls you know all about it.) Anyway, Patti is amazing and this song is sooo Funky.

10. "Mama Feelgood" by Lyn Collins & The J.B.s—Lyn Collins was signed to James Brown’s Star Time label. She is one of the few artists who could sound almost as Funky as JB with his band.

11. "Fefe Naa Efe" by Fela Kuti—If you haven’t met Mr. Fela Kuti, it’s an honor to make this introduction. Fela is one of the pioneers in the aforementioned African Funk movement. His music is Funky and political (he was exiled from Nigeria for criticizing the government) and cool as the other side of
the pillow.

12. "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder—Innervisions and Talking Book are incredibly Funky and cerebral albums. I love me some Steveland Hardaway Judkins!

13. "The Payback" by James Brown—I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razor! Another primary text of funk. This track was supposed to be on the soundtrack for the sequel to the Blaxploitation movie, Black Caesar, but was deemed “not funky enough” by the film’s producer. According to, at the time of the recording, JB was dealing with flat sales, a 300+ tour date/year schedule, and the death of his son in a traffic accident. Heavy stuff. Heavy, funky stuff.

14. "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic—The title isn’t necessarily a turn-on, but this song features the greatest guitar solo ever recorded (and I love Hendrix, by the way). When guitarist Eddie Hazel asked George Clinton how he wanted him to play, the legend goes that Clinton told him to think about the saddest thing he could think of and then play. Hazel said he thought about his mom dying. I love this song because if you listen closely you can almost hear a story being told.
Narrative and Funky. Incredible.

So that's my (very incomplete) list. What would you add?


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Notes from the Slush Pile: Filling the Forms

Now, this doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes a poet, probably one who’s taken a creative writing class or two, gets it into his or her head that it would be a good idea to submit his or her sestina or pantoum assignment for publication...

I have nothing against teachers assigning sestinas or pantoums. I think they are very useful exercises. And I’m a big fan of formal qualities in poetry; that is, when they’re done well. But more often than not, the sestina/pantoum reads like a form that had to be filled out—name, address, social security number.

Of course these are both very difficult forms, so it’s no surprise you might feel a great sense of accomplishment at having completed one. But income tax forms are also very difficult to fill out, and that doesn’t make them poetry.

So when you’re thinking about sending out your next sestina/pantoum, ask yourself, is the subject I’m writing about one that would be served by a lot of repetition? Does the repetition serve to move the poem forward, rather than merely to bring it back around to where it started?

You should know I’m probably more biased against these two forms than are most of the poetry editors and readers here. I just happen not to like them. But it seems only fair to be honest about my biases as a reader.

And sestina writers take note: even McSweeney's has stopped publishing them.


Monday, September 17, 2007

A quick writing exercise

This should only take 15 minutes. Tops.

Grab the nearest person next to you: your mother or lover (hopefully not both), your co-worker, your Maytag repair person -- whoever. Give them fifteen small strips of paper. On five of these strips, ask your benefactor to write five different Locations (aim for the ultra-specific, like a rusted sagging shack, or the flooded back room of a post office). Fold these up and place them into a sandwich bag.

For the next five strips, ask the person to give you five different Emotions. Again, aim for the specific (if it's anger, what is the anger towards?). Fold these and place them in another baggy.

The last five strips get Embellishments. Anything that adds attributes, description, and/or texture to any situation. The sound of snores, a pudding-like consistency, an elephant that snores and has pudding-like consistency. Fold 'em, bag 'em.

Now shake these baggies like a Polaroid picture. Pick a trigger from each. In one (possibly nonsensical) bursting free-write, write at least one block where all three of these things come up. None of these triggers needs to take over the subject of the free-write -- they just need to make an appearance.

Ten minutes.

Now write!

(If you appreciate having created a sentence/image/moment from this exercise, please post in the comment section. I'd love to read it.)


Friday, September 14, 2007

Bluecast: Crystal Wilkinson

2001 Indiana Review fiction prize winner Crystal Wilkinson reads and discusses an excerpt from her short story, "My Girl Mona," featured in our 2002 Writer's of Color issue. The deadline for our 2007 prize, with final judge Lan Samantha Chang, is October 15th.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Picking up on what Hannah wrote…

Rejection stinks. No one likes rejecting folks any more than folks like being rejected. Well, maybe some folks. Not us.

I have to say, though, that in the past couple years, my attitude about receiving rejections for my own work has changed. Quite a bit.

In the beginning, when I first started sending my work out, I received the inevitable rejections. I was crushed, of course. And after moping around the house for a few hours, occasionally looking at the rejection but really being unable to bear it, I’d file the rejection away for that other legendary inevitability: the tax man. (You’ve heard this, right? That we’re all supposed to save those rejection letters for when we’re audited? Don’t know if that’s true. I’ve also heard of people’s various rituals for disposing of rejections, too. These rituals sound very much like what folks do after a bad breakup, or any breakup, really: tending to involve booze, or fire, or both. Maybe black markered-mustaches, too.) Recently, however, the rejection’s arrival thrills me. It doesn’t thrill me more than if the work had been accepted, of course, but to finally hear! To finally know!

And it helps to know that the selection process is not perfect, is not the only say; that one poem rejected at Journal X may be happily published by Journal Y. (Is there a Journal X? If so, I don’t mean you, Real Journal X!) There’s plenty of evidence in support of that fact in this article on Knopf’s dark secrets, if you don’t believe me.

If you still need some of that ritual healing, though, here’s an idea: write rejection slip poems or (super) short shorts—that is, poems or short fiction to fill up the back of your rejection slip. (Denise Duhamel has a poem in 29.1 that inspired this idea: $600,000. It was, if I recall correctly, written to fit onto a bill of play moolah.)

Nothing better than turning a pile of rejections into a pile of new work, I say.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Review of Get Down from 29.1

Asali Solomon, Get Down: Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006. $21.00 hardcover (ISBN 0-374-29942-0), 194 pages.

Reviewed by Chad B. Anderson

Get Down, Asali Solomon’s debut short story collection, humorously yet tenderly explores the African-American middle and upper-class in and near Philadelphia. In five of these seven stories, the principal characters attend predominantly White private schools, navigating the racial politics of lunch rooms and middle school dances, while returning “home” to communities that call them “Oreos” and “Aunty Tom,” or mock the way they “talk proper…like somebody on TV.” Indeed, Get Down probes the entwined, yet frequently conflicting spheres of class and race. In Solomon’s collection, Black parents shake their heads at the Malcolm X Projects, but frown on Black families who move to the suburbs; a wealthy Morehouse student obsesses over the fair skin of his ex-girlfriend; and a pre-teen girl pins a rumor’s origin on the only other Black student in her grade to protect a racially-ambiguous gossiper.

Part of what contributes to the complexity of Get Down is that Solomon not only tackles race and class, but also gender, sexuality, and religion. In “William Is Telling a Story,” the protagonist—sharp-witted, confident, and overtly masculine—becomes speechless when he cannot sexually perform with a white woman in Jamaica, exactly one year after his weight-lifting partner gives him oral sex. In “Save Me,” a Christian camp director with a “dripping Jheri curl” encourages campers to accept Jesus by reminding them that they “could all be killed this very night” and go to Hell; meanwhile, the story’s agnostic narrator dismisses the director’s claims, but remains, years later, “aware of moving closer to death.” Within these stories, Solomon explores homophobia and religious duplicity in the Black community, yet does not confine her characters to a narrow preoccupation with their Blackness, which too often happens with African-American characters in fiction. Solomon’s characters are distinctly individuals; each with hang-ups and neuroses of their own outside of race, and her attention to her characters’ struggles prevents them from becoming “stock” Black characters.

In fact, what is most laudable and captivating about Get Down is Solomon’s precision of character. Solomon’s characters are inimitable, yet pleasantly familiar. In “The Star of the Story,” there is Akousa, the forty-six year old hairdresser who sells marijuana on the side and is nostalgic for her days as a salsa dancer. Akousa’s son, Eduardo, plays the role of funny man around young women to compensate for his obesity, while lusting for his cousin. In “Party on Voorhees,” Vetta sports “an obvious hair weave,” and claims to be Puerto Rican, Irish, Native American—everything but Black. These characters are our aunts, our best friends, our enemies, and our neighbors just around the block—Solomon has created a diverse community through which she explores the tensions between men and women, between parents and children, between “Oreo” and “ghetto,” between the upper and working-classes. Not only is there a constant pushing and pulling between people in this collection, but also within the characters themselves. These characters are in transition—between Black and White, between youth and old age, between love and lust, or simply coping with puberty. Thus, the characters’ “in-between” states thread a sense of restlessness, disillusionment, and desperation through Solomon’s fiction.

In the story, “That Golden Summer,” thirteen-year-old Zuie spends her summer in a low-cut yellow dress, hoping her school crush—a White boy she fantasizes about kissing in the nude—will phone her. He never does. One afternoon, two strange men stop her in front of her house while her family is away and ask her to take a ride with them, before realizing her young age and driving on. Later, she learns that two teenage girls are missing from her neighborhood. When Zuie’s mother berates her for talking to strangers, explaining that “you can’t imagine the things that men do to little girls,” Zuie thinks, “For once, they wanted to do it to me. To me!” Zuie’s loneliness and sexual restlessness are so acute that the advances of probable kidnappers flatter her. In the transition between youth and adulthood, struggling to grasp her sexuality, Zuie stands on the edge of danger, leaving the reader wondering what will be the expense of satiating her growing desires.

Like Zuie, Solomon’s other characters verge on change—often their own emotional, social or psychological undoing. Solomon concludes her stories before her characters cross the threshold of transformation, just as they come to realizations that force them to waver over an emotional edge. With this in mind, the collection’s title becomes particularly resonant. Though it nods at the idea of music and dancing—both of which play a significant role in the stories—the title “Get Down,” actually holds a more ominous meaning. In “Party on Voorhees!,” Sarah, recently transferred from a predominantly White private school to a public school, notices three boys sliding guns into their coats at a party, shouts, “Get down!” and flings herself to the floor. Over the laughing crowd, her companion explains, “Girl, he’s not trying to shoot us.” Sarah, weary of transitioning between two worlds, resolves, “‘I just want to know what the fuck is going on.’”

Like Sarah, the characters of Get Down are waiting for a gunshot—metaphorical or otherwise—that, for better or for worse, will send them over the edge. In this sometimes sad, often funny, and always bittersweet collection, Solomon’s characters struggle to understand and connect with their parents, their friends, their lovers, and most of all, themselves. Get Down’s epigraph is a quote from rap artist Jay-Z: “This can’t be life.” After finishing this collection, however, readers may realize that these stories—the fragile people, the messy relationships, the intimate gestures and fleeting moments—are indeed accurate reflections of life. Solomon’s dialogue and humor are sharp and perfectly timed, her details stunning and precise, and her first literary effort is fresh and satisfying.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Notes from the Slush Pile

Over the summer I've been reading the backlog of poetry submissions received during the past school year. The process of pulling poems out of dozens of envelopes at a time is occasionally thrilling (when I find a poem surprises and delights me), often tiring, and never dull...unless you sent us a twenty-page "found" epic culled from the pages of some government document. Please don't.

Sometimes even when the poems are not that good, I still wish I could respond to the person who wrote the poems as a person, and I feel a little sad that the blank rejection slip we'll send doesn't really offer a way to talk about anything but the writing. So here are a few non-poetry-related thoughts I've recently had, inspired by slush:

Your apartment sounds nice.

I'm glad to know your bone marrow transplant was successful.

You know, people who write poems like this live in such predictable locations.

Three months in China--sounds fascinating!

I'm glad that your walk through the moonlit snow cleansed your spirits.

Maybe your friend needs to call the suicide hotline.

I hope the fact that your poem was accidentally sliced open with the letter opener has not hindered my reading of it.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Don't forget the comics

All you comic artists, graphic storytellers, visual spinners of narrative—we here at Indiana Review still would love, love, love to see your darlings. Some of our past comic contributors include Gene Yang, Chris Lanier, Rachel Masilamani. And in case you haven’t noticed, tucked in (but never neglected) with the “Graphic Arts” section of our submission page, we’ve been open to comic submissions for some time now.

Maybe we should revise this business of putting comics in with purely the visual arts section? After all, comics are just another form of fiction. (Graphic) Short stories, (graphic) novels—sure the medium is different, but the genre is still the same. Still we can’t dismiss the beauty and craftsmanship of the comic artist’s visual talents. This is what we’re looking for in comics: a healthy dose of eye candy with a strong story to tell.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bluecast: Jason Ockert

Jason Ockert reads and discusses an excerpt of his story, "Minute Minute," featured in our 29.1 summer issue. Remember, if you'd like to hear previous entries (from Sherman Alexie, Stuart Dybek, Wendy Rawlings, and others), just press "posts" and select the entry you want.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Come get your smokin' hot poetry!

Smoking bans are spreading like the dickens—or, to be completely corny, like wildfire. So what can be done with the scads of cigarette vending machines left lying about? Some folks in the UK have seen fit to turn them into PVMs: Poetry Vending Machines. Some other folks in the UK find this a none too bright idea. The point the Guardian blogger makes is valid. But I have to say that I also think anything making poetry, or any literary art, more visible is a pretty great.

Now if I could just find one painted pink or gold with a fancy arch and some mehndi designs, I would totally be in business. The only work left to do would be vagueing up some of my own work to make it ready for vending.

Only thing is, last cigarette vending machine I saw in these parts was years ago at Marion’s Piazza. Don’t know where else I’d find one.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Best New Poets 2007

Congratulations to Tyler Caroline Mills who was recently selected for the Best New Poets anthology by Natasha Trethewey. Tyler's poem, "Violin Shop," appeared in our summer 2007 issue. Big ups to Tyler!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Go Hannah!

She'll probably try and smack me upside the head when she finds out I mentioned this on the blog, but our fabulous and very talented poetry editor, Hannah Faith Notess, is a featured poet on Check it out.


Monday, August 20, 2007

The Poky Little Puppy

For me, it all began with a little dog that had the courage to follow his own path. While his siblings sniffed away at a familiar patch of grass, this puppy, this poky little puppy, struck out and explored on his own. I'm not sure if this was the first book I ever read, but it is the first one I remember. And what did I learn?: lizards and caterpillars are cool, dogs have the uncanny ability to prepare rice pudding, moms be tripping (no strawberry shortcake? WTF?), and every story has a moral. The Poky Little Puppy was one of those books that really first sparked my love of reading.
First Books (thanks, Newpages) is a cool nonprofit that works to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. First Books works with existing literacy programs to distribute new books to children who, for economic reasons, have little or no access to books. It sounds like they have a lot of opportunities for people to get involved with the program on the local level, whether through donations or volunteering, so check them out. Stay Poky.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm convinced.

Let's all go to Cumbria! MC Nuts and Wordsworth make a compelling case.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bluecast: Tyrone Jaeger

Tyrone Jaeger reads his poem, "Letter to You During this Our Reincarnation," featured in our 29.1 summer issue. If you'd like to check out previous recordings (Sherman Alexie, Stuart Dybek, Wendy Rawlings, and others), just press "post" and select the one you want.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Review of Falling Room from IR 29.1

Eli Hastings, Falling Room. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2006. $17.95 paper (ISBN 0-8032-7364-9), 175 pages.

Reviewed by Jackson Brown

Coming to terms with disparity, especially that which exists between personal perception and firsthand experience, is a common trope for the coming-of-age story. In Falling Room, Eli Hastings’ first collection of nonfiction, disparity itself becomes the narrative focus, rendering episodes of Hastings’ already uncommon personal experience—spills through Caribbean calypso clubs, missions for meds in Mexico’s underbelly, and lessons in faith from a psych ward resident—in a provocatively political light. The first five pieces of the collection map out the nascent political consciousness of Hastings’ adolescence and young adulthood, depicting socioeconomic disparity in the eclipse of the working- and middle-class Seattle of his youth by the techno-boom of the eighties and nineties. The stakes of this cultural divide become personal for Hastings early on, as an emerging commercial youth culture troubles his own shadowy adolescent clique, which, as Hastings puts it, is “working at vanishing.”

Distinguishing his teenage years from the tidy packaging of a discontented “grunge” culture, Hastings portrays his adolescence as influenced by hip-hop and psychedelics, recounting clandestine escapes with his friends from the protective womb of suburbia to drop acid, spray paint (or “write”) on inner-city high-rises, and explore the gritty mystery of urban Seattle. These flirtations with the criminal world indeed come across as angst-ridden, but are executed with the cool level-headedness of self-conscious social privilege. Willingly unaware, but watchful, parents are portrayed as always waiting in the wings; the safe assurance of an exurban homecoming sits on the periphery of each caper.
The figures that Hastings encounters and eventually comes to identify with during these exploits, however, convey less teenage torment than a sort of quiet weariness: a suit-clad homeless man compulsively sweeping a stretch of sidewalk in Seattle’s financial district throughout the day, rewarded with a single cup of coffee; an elderly streetwalker obliquely probing a teenage Hastings with questions to discern if he’s a prostitute; a benevolent Nicaraguan auto shop owner in Hastings’ college town, menaced by the LAPD. By the conclusion of “Intersection,” Falling Room’s sixth piece, a growing awareness of America’s socioeconomic divide prompts Hastings and his friends to vow greater political awareness and activism. He laments, “[…] the books and discourses that crowded our desks and our minds failed to contain the promise we needed to hear—and to make.”
This “promise” of political activism is portrayed as frequently at odds with Hastings’ coinciding desire to “lose himself,” whether through drugs or in the exotic milieu of Central America. We see a similar desire in his father, who, in the collection’s title piece, ends up in Intensive Care after taking an eight-story plummet while hiking in Costa Rica and who consequently develops an addiction to painkillers. This internal struggle, however, never fully obstructs Hastings’ political questioning and exploration. We see a perseverant spirit imparted from father to son in the closing moments of the story as Hastings holds vigil at the hospital after being informed that his father hasn’t much longer to live:

[…] I take his hand. And then he gives me a bone-crushing squeeze and his eyes bulge and scan beneath their lids. Some moments later I turn and walk past the befuddled doctor and out into the night. My father and I are not ready to say goodbye, not ready to dignify death.

The next six pieces in Falling Room transport us as far away as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Panama, Hastings veering off the beaten path to dive into the native cultures and the political perspectives of the locals. While these stories generally avoid the heavy-handed exoticism of weaker travel literature, some parts do lack a certain degree of nuance, Hastings’ hazy recollections of his own drug-induced episodes rendering his portrayal of Caribbean nightlife with the same dusky obscurity as his depictions of his nightly haunts at home—aside from a few of Panamanian fishermen and Cuban prostitutes painted in the shadows. To some degree, this correlation of two worlds feels intentional, the collection above all stressing the cross-cultural and class-permeable universality of human connection. But as we slide from his fortune-telling session with a priest of Santeria, to a pot-smoking circle with Cuban hip-hoppers, the political drive and narrative direction of the stories seem, at times, haphazard.
Narrative meandering, however, does mimic the overall trajectory and structure of the book, these six pieces alternating between Hastings’ travel tales and various episodes of his life in the States—coping with his best friend’s bouts with mental illness and his father’s drug rehabilitation, his own arrest at a WTO protest in downtown Seattle. However far-flung these stories’ settings and themes, each piece resonates with alternating sincerity, humor, and wonder; each is an integral episode in Hastings’ quest for understanding political differences at home and abroad, as well as the personal disparity between his childhood and his adult life.
The book’s final three stories shift the thematic focus for a quiet ending, presenting differing images of places Hastings has called home: a muggy Wilmington, North Carolina where he encounters frequent racial tension as he works toward an MFA; the hushed rooms of his father’s house in Seattle, containing pieces of his childhood that evoke both memory and uncertainty; and his mother’s mountain home, set far from the city, a symbol of the exploratory spirit his parents embraced in their initial move out west. Falling Room, too, manages to embrace this exploratory spirit throughout its pages, fusing the collection through a voice that is hopeful, yet unsentimental, and always seeking answers.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Rank Odor

The New York Times reports on rankings and their affect on publishers and authors. When I grow up, I want to be a published novelist, but can you imagine how much of a mind-f it must be to see your book is ranked the millionth most popular in the country? And then to check back in twenty minutes and see that you've dropped several hundred thousand spots?

Technology is now all about finding ways for us to make us paranoid about our self-worth. Whether it's counting your Google hits (denying you google yourself is so 2003), or your "friends" on facebook (do you even really know most of those people?), or obsessively poring over your blog statistics (googleanalytics = techno-crack), it's a natural extension of the timeless question: Am I loved?
Now you can find out not only are you loved, but by how many people, and about their geographic location, if more people love you now compared to four months ago, and what web browser they love you with.
Of course we know that this kind of self-obsession is a tremendous waste of time (especially for writers, who are self-obsessed enough) but the scariest part of the Times article is when the guy from Amazon talks about being a "taste maker" (barf!). Sites like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles don't even release the algorithms for their rankings, yet they control so much of the way that people attribute value (literary and otherwise) to themselves and others. Somebody ought to do something.
Ooh wait, I think I got an email...


Thursday, August 2, 2007

We Want Your Funk

Indiana Review is planning to bring the funk in summer 2008. Our 30.1 issue will feature a special "Focus on the Funk" section, with art, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that has a uniquely funky aesthetic. As we have been informed, funk has the power to move and re-move, and it also has the power to defy definition. So please don't ask us to tell you what funk is (although the Godfather of Soul may be helpful). We're looking for work that makes you want to jump back and kiss yourself.

When our reading period opens September 1st, we'll also be accepting regular submissions, but if you have work you'd like us to consider for this special section, please mark it "Attn: Funk Editor". Indiana Review can only contain so much funk, so we'll only be reading for this section during the month of September. Any submissions after that will be returned. You can check out more specific guidelines on our website.

But whatever you do, no matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you see on TV or in the newspapers, no matter what it says on wikipedia, please, please, make sure that whatever you do, you do it on The One.

**Update: Author Tayari Jones has an interview with our Funk Editor-in-Chief about the project.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Price of the Ticket

The Guardian has an informative piece from Caryl Phillips exploring James Baldwin's expatriation in Paris, and the impact of his return to the states on his creative work. I'm not feeling Phillips' dismissal of Another Country (One of my favorite books), but it is interesting to think about what role an author can (and should) take on in the struggle for social justice. Baldwin had a profound influence on the way that Americans understood race, but Phillips' piece seems to suggest that his persona as a public intellectual (and all of the complications that came with it) crippled his creative work. I think that brings up a serious question for any writer.
Would you sacrifice the psychic space you need to create if it meant you could have a significant positive impact on social change like Baldwin? Hmmm...


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Indiana Review 1/2 K Prize

Congratulations to Greg Bachar, this year's winner of the 1/2K prize for prose poems and short short stories. Greg's piece, "Amsterdam, 1936" will be published in the 2008 Summer edition of IR and he will also receive a $1,000 honorarium. Stuart Dybek was our final judge. Thanks to all who participated. For more info, click here

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jennifer Militello

Kudos to Jennifer Militello, who won Tupelo Press' First Book award. Jennifer has work upcoming in Indiana Review's 29.2 winter issue. She was also gracious enough to let us record her reading her poems, which we'll post in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Read anything good lately?

These days, it seems that most of us live a good distance from family and other loved ones. So how do we keep up with what they're reading? Good Reads offers a virtual peek-over-their-shoulders in a (not too) creepy way. Maybe better, you can check out what some authors are reading, too.

It's sort of like a book-lovers' MySpace, in which you can add books you've read, rate them, review them, and even discuss them--among some other neat options.

There are a couple things I'm ambivalent about, one of which you may have already discovered: you can't view some of the good stuff unless you sign up. But if the books compel you, you'll find yourself getting over your reservations quick enough.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bluecast: Tyrone Jaeger Pt. II

In the latest edition of the Bluecast, Tyrone Jaeger reads his poem, "The Third Flood," featured in our summer 29.1 issue. Remember, if you'd like to hear previous entries (from Sherman Alexie, Stuart Dybek, Wendy Rawlings, and others), just press "posts" and select the entry you want.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Three Strikes

One of my favorite writers, Martha Southgate (The Fall of Rome is awesome!), wrote an interesting essay in the New York Times Review of Books about the unique challenges faced by Black writers who try to build a career beyond a second or third novel. Southgate's piece also spawned a lively response from Ishmael Reed and some other writers in the Times' letter section. It's kind of spicy--check it out.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Review of The Elephants Teach from 29.1

D. G. Myers. The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. $17.00 paper (ISBN 0-226-55454-6), 238 pages.

Reviewed by Abdel Shakur

Although creative writing as a subject is more popular than it’s ever been (over 400 programs world-wide, granting 1,000 degrees every year), it’s hard to see such explosive growth and not feel a nervous twinge. What standard of writing are these programs directing their students towards? Are they all being taught, as some critics would charge, to “write like Iowa”? Further, what does it mean to have so many studying writing at a time when society marches towards ever braver levels of illiteracy? In D.G. Myers’ The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, the author reframes these anxieties by addressing a more basic question: How did writing become creative in the first place? Instead of detailing all the ways that creative writing is “broken,” Myers promises a broad historical perspective on how creative writing was conceived to “work.” Covering a century and a half of history, Myers’ at times fascinating account helps us understand the institutions, personalities, and philosophies that shaped the current state of American letters.

Although creative writing as a subject is more popular than it’s ever been (over 400 programs world-wide, granting 1,000 degrees every year), it’s hard to see such explosive growth and not feel a nervous twinge. What standard of writing are these programs directing their students towards? Are they all being taught, as some critics would charge, to “write like Iowa”? Further, what does it mean to have so many studying writing at a time when society marches towards ever braver levels of illiteracy? In D.G. Myers’ The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, the author reframes these anxieties by addressing a more basic question: How did writing become creative in the first place? Instead of detailing all the ways that creative writing is “broken,” Myers promises a broad historical perspective on how creative writing was conceived to “work.” Covering a century and a half of history, Myers’ at times fascinating account helps us understand the institutions, personalities, and philosophies that shaped the current state of American letters.

Creative writing’s rise is especially striking when we learn from Myers’ account that English as a discipline itself is a relative newcomer to academia. Myers notes that as recently as the late 1800s, the predominant study of English was more linguistic than literary in focus, and had a much funkier name: philology. Definitions of philology varied, but according to Myers, “sometimes it meant historical linguistics; at other times, something like cultural studies.” According to Myers, philology broke important ground by considering English apart from the classical studies which had dominated university studies before. Philology was also significant to the development of creative writing for another reason: writers hated it. Myers traces the origin of the phrase “creative writing” to a speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson, where the writer belittles philologists as merely “the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomanics of all degrees.” Many writers resisted what they saw as an attempt to simply quantify and systematize literature. This reaction cracked the door to what Myers calls a “constructivist” approach to literary study. Instead of literature serving as anthropological record, scholarship was devoted to uncovering the techniques authors used to construct their texts.

Although teaching composition is seen as a necessary financial-aid evil for many graduate creative writing students, according to Myers, the subject opened the door for the modern approach to writing studies. With the fall of philology, composition presented the revolutionary idea that literature was not merely a dead thing, but was instead still being written. Myers introduces Barrett Wendell, an unheralded innovator in composition, who sought to teach writers to “recognize and grasp the individual nature of experience” and “develop habits of mind not unlike those required for literature.” Students didn’t write fiction or poetry in composition, but Wendell’s focus on sensory details has become a guiding principle in creative writing instruction.

Casual readers will probably find Myers large historical cast a bit daunting. Aside from challenging pedagological theory, there are several passages of near Bible-length lists of institutions and teachers that “begat” one another. However, Myers should not be faulted for his thoroughness. The Elephants Teach is primarily concerned with giving an authoritative account of creative writing’s history. The book has a wealth of interesting information, which in a less complete context might read as mere anecdote.

For instance, according to Myers, the staple of the contemporary creative writing class, the “workshop,” started off as an experiment to get junior high kids more interested in literature. Hugh Mearns, a former student of Barrett Wendell, developed the class as part of a progressive educational attempt to make students invest in the study of writing by getting them interested in their own self-expression. Later, Norman Foerster adopted Mearns’ system, giving special focus to literary criticism, and created the first graduate creative writing program in 1930 at the University of Iowa. By giving such a detailed rendering of this history, Myers helps his readers put Mearns’ contribution into proper perspective. Unfortunately, Myers’ narrative disappoints by lacking any significant mention of non-White writers and academics. These omissions are glaring in a book that seeks to explain how contemporary creative writing took shape.

However, throughout his book Myers does an excellent job of showing how market and academic institutional forces shaped creative writing, and how those forces perverted some of the principles the subject was founded upon. Although his focus is history here, Myers also keeps an eye towards the future of how creative writing will be taught. In this newest edition of The Elephants Teach, Myers writes that the major challenge to the subject is its lack of “subjective criteria for the production and evaluation of new work.” Established with a “subjectivist/expressionist ethos,” creative writing fails to offer its students concretely defined principles, which he says leads students to tread similar literary paths—read: “write like Iowa.” Myers claims that if writers don’t know the “rules,” they can’t be expected to defy them intelligently.

The rub, of course, to this line of reasoning is determining what the “rules” actually are, and who should make them. Ironically, Myers is vague when it comes to establishing these concrete principles, but that doesn’t completely undermine the value of what he proposes. The dialog about creative writing ideals may not need absolute resolution in order to be productive. By the end of The Elephants Teach, Myers wearily suggests that “creative writing may not be able to reform itself from within.” However, by providing a first-rate history of the subject, Meyers may have laid the groundwork for a provocative discussion of dynamic new approaches to writing, as well as its instruction.