Issue 89: Elizabeth Vignali

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About Elizabeth Vignali

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review. You can find her on Instagram at: @Random_Acts_of_Lineness or at her website

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Family History"

Like so many poems I write, “Family History” started out as a coping mechanism. I wrote it as a way to manage my unease over my sister’s hysterectomy, and as I wrote, it progressed into both a celebration of female animals’ life-giving organs and an elegy of the ones that fail us. Bodies are so incredibly complex, it frankly amazes me they work as often as they do. So much can go wrong. My sister’s uterus has caused her great pain throughout her life, and our mother died of endometrial cancer years after she survived breast cancer. It brought me a measure of comfort to imagine my sister’s surgery as an opportunity for them to connect once again.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I’m a total procrastinator, so let me just tell you all the things I did instead of getting this little profile finished in a timely manner. I’ve started taking piano lessons again after a 20ish-year hiatus, so I worked on learning “My Father’s Favorite” from the 1995 movie Sense & Sensibility. In the garden, I rearranged a few of the boulders that used to hold our house up (now the house is on a real foundation, yay!) and planted daffodils and hyacinths all around them. I watched Six Feet Under and played the world-building game Civilization and listened to the podcast Heavyweight. I finally put away the clean laundry in the corner of my bedroom that the cat has adopted as her bed– but don’t worry, I left her a pile of mismatched socks she can still nestle in. I finished reading Hamnet, eventually stopped sobbing, and started reading The Yield. I made black bean and avocado enchiladas with mole. I embroidered glasses on a photo of Frida Kahlo. And then, having once again proven to myself that I’m never more productive than when I have something else I’m supposed to be doing, I sat down to write this.

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Issue 89: Alyse Knorr


About Alyse Knorr

Alyse Knorr is an associate professor of English at Regis University and, since 2017, co-editor of Switchback Books. Her most recent book of poems, Mega-City Redux, won the 2016 Green Mountains Review Poetry Prize, selected by Olena Kalytiak Davis. She is also the author of the poetry collections Copper Mother (Switchback Books 2016) and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books 2013); the non-fiction book Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books 2016); and four poetry chapbooks. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, and The Georgia Review, among others. She received her MFA from George Mason University.

Instagram: spikeskywalker12

Facebook: Alyse Knorr

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "First Human Head Transplant"

I wrote this poem after having a happy hour beer with my friend Erin, who is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the university where I work. Erin was teaching a class on personality at the time, and we were talking about different theories about where personality comes from and how it’s manifested. She mentioned offhand that the class had been discussing, as a case study, a proposed human head transplant procedure. I immediately latched onto this idea and asked Erin everything I could about it, then started Googling and learning more about how the procedure had already been attempted in dogs and mice, and how there was a surgeon and a volunteer ready to do the human version at any moment (the volunteer has since stepped away from the project).

As I wrote the poem, I kept thinking about the context in which Erin and I had the conversation. It was a beautiful, unusually warm day, and we were sitting out on a patio drinking beer and talking about personality while somewhere out there this mad scientist sharpened his scalpel. This happens to me a lot—I get obsessed with dark or gruesome stories and find my head spinning with constant questions and imaginings that take me out of the moment—out of the beautiful day or the hot shower I’m taking or whatever it might be. I’m very bad at being “present” when I latch onto an idea or an image or a question that fascinates or horrifies me, as was the case here. And so I think this poem explores all those tensions, and with the limits of the human imagination in the face of the truly uncanny or horrific.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

I love this question! I’m going to use this space to proselytize one of my favorite TV shows ever, The Leftovers. It’s a supernatural HBO drama that aired 2014-2017 and I think it’s one of the most underrated TV shows of all time. I made my wife watch it, I make all my friends watch it, and I’ve even got a podcast project in the works about it. The central premise of the show is that there is a global event called the “Sudden Departure” in which two percent of the world’s population disappears into thin air. But it’s not a religious rapture kind of situation—no one can figure out where these people went or why. And that’s not really the point of the show either—the point is about following the lives of the people who have been left behind, and how they grieve or try to make sense of the world by joining cults or attempting to restore order or believing in really superstitious stuff. It’s an utterly gorgeous show—form the soundtrack to the writing to the acting—and full of beautiful symbolic mysteries. It’s a show that feels more like a poem to me than a novel. I think about it all the time and each time I watch it I get something new out of it. I should also mention that it’s by the makers of Lost, but they TOTALLY stick the landing—easily the best series finale I’ve ever seen on a show. So there’s some lovely redemption there for those showrunners.


“First Human Head Transplant” by Alyse Knorr

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile   On this very day they are planning it! While I drink a Kölsch called Julia’s Blessing with my beautiful wife who … Read more

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Issue 89: Anne Barngrover

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About Anne Barngrover

Anne Barngrover's third book of poetry, Everwhen, is forthcoming with University of Akron Press in 2023. Her poems and creative nonfiction have been published in journals such as Arts & Letters, Guernica, and Ecotone, among others. She is currently an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University, where she is on faculty for the low-residency MA program in Creative Writing. She lives in Tampa, Florida.


Twitter: @Anne_Barngrover



A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Princess Mononoke Hits Differently Now"

I barely remember the summer of 2020. We couldn’t travel, of course, and my usual week-long teaching programs switched to Zoom, so the normal markers of summertime just don’t exist in my memory. But I remember my routine—watery, tropical Florida days that consisted of writing poem after poem, baking lemon poppy seed cakes that kept sticking to the pan no matter what I did, and taking sweaty evening walks with my partner around our neighborhood. On those walks, we’d discuss which movie we were going to watch that night; we were going through some Top 100 list. In that first pandemic summer, I was never alone, which surprised me. The trajectory of my life has bent towards solitude, but ironically, in a summer of great aloneness, I was not isolated, I was not lonely. Still, my world felt very interior. Time seemed slippery, untethered. Or maybe it didn’t, and that’s just how I remember it feeling.

One night, we watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke—the first time I’d seen it since viewing it as a teenager, when my high school boyfriend and I also went through some Top 100 list one summer. Even though the film is animated, I remember being shocked by the physical violence that first time around. The gore didn’t really affect me the second time (maybe I’ve been desensitized by Game of Thrones) and yet, all I felt was loss. How could the forest regrow when the people had killed their gods? How do you reconcile hope with the point of no return? Maybe what’s surprised me most about this poem, and about that summer, is that I still don’t know how to feel about the time when a story leaves us. I don’t know if “end” is the right word.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

Ok, seriously though—why do some cakes lift up from the pan and some just won’t? Sometimes I feel like there isn’t enough PAM or parchment paper in the world; I suppose that, sometimes, things just get stuck. You learn and try again. It’s cliché, but I’ve gotten really into baking during the pandemic, especially cakes. I’ve been making my way through Yossy Arefi’s pragmatically decadent Snaking Cakes and cycling through every season of The Great British Bake-off. I admire the creativity and imagination of these bakers and how they find inspiration for colors, textures, sculptures, and flavors from unlikely sources in the world around them. A few months ago, I was hiking on a cold, marshy island off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts. I couldn’t get over the bog’s combination of colors and textures—the sponge-like, mint-green moss crossed with snake-like, cranberry-red vines. If I were on GBBO, I thought to myself, and if I actually knew what I was doing, I’d make a cake that looked like this landscape. I say all this because I just love how creation—whether it’s writing poems, film-making, or baking cakes—can allow one world to easily transcend into another.

“Princess Mononoke Hits Differently Now” by Anne Barngrover

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile     The first time I watched it, I remember being floored that Iron Town’s ruler, Lady Eboshi-who I actually kind of … Read more

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Issue 89: Sik Chuan Pua


About Sik Chuan Pua

Born in Malaysia, Sik Chuan Pua completed his high school in Singapore, and moved to pursue his tertiary education in Sydney, Australia where he has lived ever since. He studied playwriting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. His plays have been nominated for the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and the Griffin Award, the two major national playwriting prizes in Australia. His short fiction has appeared in Washington Square Review and is forthcoming in Gargoyle. He is working on a novel entitled, Jaws; or The Lucky Country.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Hat Yai, 1979"

Several years ago, I watched a 60 minutes-type report about sex tourism in South-East Asia. One of the interviewees bragged that for several dollars a week, he could “live like a king”.

That stayed with me.

I chose a child’s point-of-view as it enabled me to explore this world at a slant. I wanted to capture his flight of thoughts, without him necessarily realizing what he has seen or felt contained deeper truths. The guilt haunting his mother is sensed by the child but attributed to an entirely different set of circumstances. I think a lot of childhood happens in the in between of knowing and not knowing.

When I wrote the story, I had left my native Malaysia for a number of years. By then, I felt it was the right time to dive back into my memories of growing up in that region.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

To combat the disorientation and all other ill effects brought upon by the pandemic, I have relied on various recordings of J.S. Bach’s The Goldberg Variations, in particular, those by Angela Hewitt and Zhu Xiao Mei.

The strict border closure here in Australia led to my happy discovery of 4K walking tour videos on YouTube. Basically, your guide films his or her walk, without commentary, so it feels as if you’re on the journey yourself. This travel-by-proxy has taken me back to familiar places such as the flamingo house along the Venice Canals in Los Angeles, the ivory sands of South Beach, and the various levels of the Strand Bookstore in NYC. My favorite of these would be the snow-covered neighborhoods gleaming with Christmas decorations. (Americans really know how to celebrate Christmas.) I hope to visit Alaska one day.

Over the last two years, I have developed a strange aversion to alcohol. It’s like I now have organic Antabuse coursing through my veins. I am a tattoo removalist amongst other things. I never enquire who Brad, Jacintha or Richard 4ever is. Some narratives are meant to be erased. As I write this, there has been a tragic shark attack in Sydney, the first fatality in sixty years.

I dream of better days ahead for all of us. Peaceful as a stroll over the pristine snow on December evenings, the air suffused with goodwill.


“Hat Yai, 1979” by Sik Chuan Pua

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile   Do you like this river, Superman? Mama comes here to wash our clothes. Today, Uncle came to our house. I have … Read more

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Issue 89: Tom Wayman

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About Tom Wayman

Tom Wayman's newest poetry collections are Built to Take It (Lynx House P, 2014) in the US, and Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems For a Dark Time (Harbour, 2020) in Canada. His most recent book of essays are If You’re Not Free at Work and Where Are You Free: Literature and Social Change (Guernica, 2018), which was a finalist for the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for poetry criticism. In 2015 he was named a Vancouver, B.C. Literary Landmark with a plaque on the city’s Commercial Drive. This commemorates his efforts to foreground writing about people's daily employment and its effects on them both on and off the job.

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A Profile of the Author

Notes on "Winter Poems"

For reasons I try to understand, I find winter a powerfully inspirational season. I live north of Spokane just across the line in southeastern B.C.’s Selkirk Mountains, where our winters can be quite snowy even if the temperature seldom reaches many degrees below freezing. In 2013, I published a collection of poems, Winter’s Skin, which consists entirely of winter poems. These were all responses to lines or images in the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s Winter Garden, one of the Nobel laureate’s posthumous collections translated by William O’Daly.

More recently, in 2020 a Vancouver, B.C. micropress published a chapbook of mine called The House Dreaming in the Snow. Four of the nine poems included are set in the wintry mountain landscape I inhabit.

And I’ve continued to find the season a steady source for imagery in my poems. I used to explain it by saying my imagination is drawn to the starkness of being alive in winter: existing in a black-and-white world in which the elemental aspects of human survival are foregrounded: heat/cold, light/dark, having access to food and other sustenance/failure to prepare for lean times. Then, too, the rampant fundamentalisms of 21st Century politics across the political spectrum—You’re not just wrong, you’re evil—seems to have frozen the promise of a better life for everybody that was part of the experience of the 1960s, when I first became politically active and began to seriously write.

“Poems in Winter” attempts to explore why the season has come to have such a fierce influence on my writing. Instead of starting from possible reasons for my poems’ focus on winter, however, I proceed the other way around. What do winter poems reveal about my present life?


Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

The food currently most meaningful to me are half a Clif Bar and some trail mix eaten beside the Clearwater Creek cross-country ski trail in the backcountry high above the Salmo River valley south of Nelson, B.C. Clearwater Creek is a tributary of the Salmo River, which in turn joins the Pend d’Oreille River which eventually flows into the Columbia River.

Food always tastes best outdoors during some recreational activity. I’ve always enjoyed cross-country skiing; living in the snowy mountains as I do, as a skier you look forward to snow’s arrival in December and are sorry to see it go in March. The alternative is to dread winter, with its worries about staying warm enough indoors and out, as well as potential dangers driving on winter roads, walking on icy sidewalks, etc. To someone without a winter sport, spring looks like it will never appear.

But as the pandemic has dragged on, cross-country skiing has also become vital for my mental health. Because of reduced in-person contact, I find myself prone to the catastrophic and/or depressive thinking that seems to accompany social isolation when combined with the endless stream of news revealing the irrationality now endemic in the political, social, academic and literary worlds. But navigating the Clearwater trail provides enough endorphins and inhaled pure cold air to restore my optimism and energy. The route is physically challenging: five miles of relentless uphill travel, before a return down the same track. (At the top, one can ring a small bell placed there to celebrate having achieved the summit.) The lift to my spirits skiing the trail grants lasts at least a couple of days. And an important part of the much-needed experience is a break near the top to savor that delicious and restorative snack.


“Poems in Winter” by Tom Wayman

Found in Willow Springs 89 Back to Author Profile   1   Darkness permeates these poems as though each constituent word was derived or descended from the Latin or Old Norse … Read more

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Issue 72: Maxim Loskutoff


About Maxim Loskutoff

Maxim Loskutoff grew up in Missoula, Montana. After graduating from Pomona College, he worked in hospitals in Dallas and Chicago, on campaign trails, and in the Middle East. He holds an MFA from NYU, where he was a Veteran’s Writing Fellow. He’s received fellowships from the Jentel Arts Colony, Caldera Art Center, and NYU Abu Dhabi. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in Narrative MagazineWitnessHobart, and The Minnesota Review, among other publications.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Prey”

The idea came from a true story. A friend of a friend woke up in bed with his giant snake. I never met the guy and only heard the thirty second version, but still, it was helpful. It’s one of the first short stories I ever finished, so to have that thread of truth gave me confidence. To know I could get as weird as I wanted because, hey, real life is even weirder. Much of my writing I’ve done since then continues to explore the relationships we form with wild animals. How we want them to love us and guide us when—in my experience—the very thing that draws us to them is their essential wildness: the fact that they’d just as soon chew your leg off and drag it into the woods as snuggle.

Growing up, I was exposed to a great deal of Native American literature and folklore, and I always found the role animals play incredibly beautiful. Then I’d read in the local newspaper about some dude who tried to pet a bison and got trampled. There’s a tension there that I love, and more than anything in my work, I want to feel that awe of the wild, that shivering feeling you get when you walk a little too far and night is coming.

Notes on Reading

Honestly, I have a somewhat mixed relationship with reading. Growing up in small-town Montana, I read voraciously and it was purely a pleasure. Earth-shaking discoveries on the regular, running from Salinger and Hemingway to Didion and Carver—tears and getting turned upside down. I read a book called Warlock when I first got to college that made me want to run through a wall. That much joy.

Now, it’s become work in some respects. I’m so aware of the seams, the joints, trying to figure out how a story works, that it can burn me out, and only really really special stuff retains that transportive power. And I have to be careful of the really, really special stuff too, because I can be such a mimic. If I read too much Cormac, too much DFW, too much Denis Johnson or Lydia Davis, I start to sound like them. Or, to put it right, I start to sound like a pale, flailing imitation. So reading can be a fraught experience. All that being said, I do read. Most recently, I stumbled on a book of Kafka’s parables—absolutely killer. I sit down with them and never want to emerge.


“Prey” by Maxim Loskutoff

Found in Willow Springs 72 Back to Author Profile I WAKE FROM A DREAM KNOWING that something, or someone, is in my bed. All the muscles in my arms and back … Read more

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Issue 72: Nicole Cooley


About Nicole Cooley

Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and now lives outside of New York City with her husband and two daughters. She is the author of four books of poems, most recently Breach (LSU Press) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books), both published in 2010, as well as a novel. She has received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She is currently at work on a new collection of poems and a nonfiction book, “My Dollhouse, Myself: Miniature Histories.” She is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College–City University of New York, where she is a professor of English.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Dolls”

I am fascinated by dolls, dollhouses, and miniature things. They all seem to cast a spell in strange ways and are both infinitely delightful and often disturbing, even creepy. As a child, I was obsessed with my dollhouse and my dolls, as my own daughters have been, too, and as an adult I love reading about dolls and dollhouses—the past histories of dolls, the stories of who owned and kept them, stories of artists who make altered art and jewelry out of miniature dolls, which is really amazing. I think dolls in particular raise a number of themes that interest me, from gender identities to mother/daughter relationships to questions about bodies.

This series of poems, however, was sparked by a walk I took in downtown Merida, Mexico where I was teaching for a week in January. Inside a store, I found the doll “H1N1 Baby” on the shelf. I went home and started writing. Oddly, or not, I finished the series of doll poems in Mississippi, when I was away giving a reading.

Notes on Reading

I love reading—it is truly one of my absolute greatest pleasures in life and always has been. And I will read anything, from a nineteenth-century novel to a cereal box. I start and end every day by reading. It’s my narcotic to fall asleep and my way to enter each day. And when I sit down to write, I always begin by reading.

Right now I’m reading the new nonfiction book by Eve Ensler about her recent illness, the recent British novel Alys, Always by Harriet Lane, the collected poems of Louise Gluck, a book about women who are standup comics who choose not to have children, an anthology of eco-poetry that was recently published, and Frank Bidart’s new book of poems, Metaphysical Dog. I like to have more than one book going at one time. I have my late-night books, my read-on-the-subway books, my reading-to-inspire-my-writing books.


5 Poems by Nicole Cooley

Found in Willow Springs 72 Back to Author Profile HlNl Doll –  At a bodega in Merida, Mexico Baby in a green surgical mask, baby in a hospital gown, baby in … Read more

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Issue 72: Robert Long Foreman


About Robert Long Foreman

Robert Long Foreman grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia and earned a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Missouri. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in journals that include Third Coast, Indiana Review, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, and Mid-American Review. He won a Pushcart Prize for his short story “Cadiz, Missouri,” which appeared in AGNI, and has also won creative nonfiction contests at The Journal and American Literary Review. His essays were listed in the Notable Essays of Best American Essays 2008 and 2010. Robert teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Rhode Island College.

More Robert Long Foreman

Robert Long Foreman at Michigan Quarterly Review
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A Profile of the Author

Notes on “The Man with The Nightmare Gun”

When I wrote this story in early 2012, I thought I could see what would make someone want to buy a gun for reasons other than self-defense or murder. I have always known that guns are killing machines, and I’ve always been afraid of them, but I could find them intriguing up to a certain point. For a while, I considered taking shooting lessons, thinking that since guns are a part of this world I might as well learn to use one. In order to write the story, or certain parts of it, I had to have this curiosity.

Very soon after I finished writing, I learned that Trayvon Martin had been shot, and soon after that were the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Both events helped to change my perspective on guns dramatically, in a way that no other shootings ever did, somehow. I couldn’t understand—and I still find it baffling in the worst way—how it is that so many people have responded to what happened in Newtown by hoarding guns with a vengeance.

Every time I write something, I go through a period of thinking I shouldn’t have written it, and that was much worse with this story than any other I’ve come up with. I couldn’t write this story now. I couldn’t portray a man’s descent into gun worship, now that gun-worshippers are arming themselves at such an alarming rate, and have it turn out like this story did. I’ve lost all interest in guns, and I no longer understand how someone can want to possess such a dangerous thing.

Notes on Reading

The short story that must have had the greatest influence on this one is Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” Both stories feature a protagonist who is unreasonably bent on acquiring a gun, and whose ownership of the gun has regrettable, similar consequences. It was not an influence I was conscious of at the time of writing; I forgot the details of the story until I taught it recently in a literature course. Even the titles are similar, though, so clearly Wright’s story was exerting its influence on this one as it came together.

I wrote essays and memoirs for years before trying out fiction, so that many of the writers who’ve had the strongest effects on me are essayists and memoirists, like E. B. White, Mary McCarthy, George Orwell, Eula Biss, Nick Flynn, James Baldwin, Anne Fadiman, Virginia Woolf, William Hazlitt, and others. The last great short story I read was E. B. Lyndon’s “Goodbye, Bear,” which appeared recently in One Story and reminded me of one of my favorite books, Lore Segal’s Lucinella.

I love reading, and I rely on it for more than I can say. At the same time, I cannot talk honestly about reading without mentioning how discouraging it can be, how often I’ll start reading a book with hope and enthusiasm, to then find I can’t get past page thirty or forty. I’m getting better at abandoning books at that point and moving on, but it’s very hard, necessary as it is to do so in order to reach the book that demands to be devoured whole.


“The Man with The Nightmare Gun” by Robert Long Foreman

Found in Willow Springs 72 Back to Author Profile I AM NOT A SERIOUS MAN. I thought Carol understood this about me by our fifth date. I thought it was something … Read more

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Issue 81 Cover shows Chris Bovey print of Spokane's famous garbage goat in teal and yellow with Willow Springs in decorative font.

“The Vinyl Canal” by Robert Long Foreman

Found in Willow Springs 81 Back to Author Profile The Vinyl Canal   IT STARTED  WITH  1999. Ben scratched his copywhen he dropped it on his bathroom floor. I don’t know … Read more

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Issue 81: Robert Long Foreman

About Robert Long Foreman Robert Long Foreman’s first book, Among Other Things, was published last year by Pleiades Press after winning the inaugural Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose. … Read more

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Issue 75: Dana Levin


About Dana Levin

Dana Levin is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Sky Burial, which the New Yorker called “utterly her own and utterly riveting.” New poems and essays have appeared in he New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books,, Boston Review and Poetry. A grateful recipient of fellowships and awards from the Rona Jaffe, Whiting and Guggenheim Foundations, Levin teaches at Santa Fe University of Art and Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Melancholia”

I’d been finishing a manuscript obsessed with End Times— which is to say, anxiety about the future: the one being built by the extreme polarities of our age, the one the global technocracy wanted to put in every hungry hand. Then, at Christmas 2013, a cousin killed herself. There’s a lot of bipolar disorder and clinical depression in my family; my cousin’s death— the third suicide in seven years amongst my cousins and siblings (two “accidental,” this one not)— threw me back into thoughts of my father, an untreated manic-depressive for most of his life. A rager, an eater: he was the Jupiterian god who ruled my house when I was young, a father I adored and feared. Even as a child, I sensed we shared an ambivalence about being alive, though mine I think was more situational than biochemical. It seems ironic, in retrospect, that that ambivalence found expression in excess: eating, buying, sucking the air out of a room. Not so ironic: hobbies of risk. The stories I always told about him— the one about the helmet and the crash, the one about the fight he picked on a stranger’s driveway, the car and the flood, the way he hoarded candy— surged for the first time to the page. I kept writing, even though the material seemed such a strange swerve out of my End Times orbit, but by later drafts I understood: no swerve at all, just a layer down, into one experience of the psychological underpinnings of civilization and its discontents, to use Freud’s by-now understated phrasing. Raging, eating, hoarding “candy”: what is this world suffering under but unfettered consumption and hobbies of risk? How else to understand what drives the choices we currently make and refuse to make where the earth, the collective, is concerned? From world leaders balking at eco-conservation to my father’s wrath at my mother’s attempts to limit butter— my own excesses with food and media— the drive of want, its daemon of lack and desire, is the same. And driving that: the mind straining against the bonds of the body. What then, future?

I wrote these father stories down in a conventional narrative mode and thought at first I might be at work on an essay. I could see the path to memoir unfurling, but something in me resisted. I wanted prose and I wanted a poem: the resulting form is the bargain struck. In terms of narrative and timeline, I felt an impulse to make the visible a little hard to see, to quote Wallace Stevens. Later, that felt psychologically accurate: we remember things in flashes, in memories and reflections out of temporal sync, blurs of dream and life. I threw my father’s heavy shade like a stone into a pond, watched associations ripple: movies, images, dreams. The world too seemed to be ruled by a bi-polar father-god, unconscious, suicidal; the way we were living under regimes of extremity, from weather to wealth. The poem built a thought-nest to brood an egg of knowing: why I am where we are.

Notes on Reading

I don’t think “Melancholia” would have found its final form without the influence of three books I read a couple of years before writing it:
Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted, Craig Morgan Teicher’s Ambivalence and Other Conundrums, and, especially, Lucy Corin’s piece “A Hundred Apocalypses” in One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (my kinda book). All three work in short prose flashes; all three work with an economy and compression we associate with poetry. Teicher’s book especially blurs the thrum-lines between poetry and creative nonfiction; Corin’s between fiction and poetry. Houston’s book has ‘refrain’ sections (various tales of hair-raising plane flights—, horrifying!) that give it a sense of rhythm and return we find in poetry. I really loved the experience of reading these books: swinging from room to room, as it were, in the house of the larger piece; a modular, rather than linear, approach. As writers, I think we read to learn, even if we think we’re reading out of obligation or for pleasure. We read to find, and, sometimes, offer each other paths and permission.


Willow Springs 75 Cover shows pink pressed flowers on rough paper.

“Melancholia” by Dana Levin

Found in Willow Springs 75 Back to Author Profile 1 Dad and I on a summer motorcycle ride; I’m eleven. It’s incredibly hot, already, as we exit the pancake house. I … Read more

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Issue 79: Karl Zuelke


About Karl Zuelke

I, Karl Zuelke, earned a BS in biology and BA in English literature at the University of Cincinnati. I attended the writing program at Indiana University and earned an MFA in fiction. My doctorate is from UC as well, in American lit. with an ecocritical focus on nature writing and science writing as literature. I moved to Budapest, Hungary for awhile with my wife, Elizabeth, where we taught English at the Közgazdaságtudományi Egyetem (Budapest Economics University). I have also taught at Northern Kentucky University and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Currently I am the Director of the Writing Center and the Math & Science Center at Mount St. Joseph University, in Cincinnati, where I also teach literature, writing, and environmental studies.

I have a Facebook page but no Web site yet, and I haven’t tweeted in years.

I have critical work published or forthcoming on Terry Tempest Williams, Peter Matthiessen, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and more.

My creative work has been published in The Antioch Review, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, Willow Springs, ISLE, and elsewhere.

A major project I took on two years ago was the blog Dreaming, Singing: Meditations on The Dream Songs. It features creative and critical responses to 385 Dream Songs by the poet John Berryman. I responded to one Dream Song a day for 385 days, plus an introduction and a reflection. These responses varied widely from day to day, depending on the material the day’s poem brought, my mood, my interests, the news, and the weather. They range from close analysis and literary criticism to poems, political rants, anecdotes, and stories. Sometimes I gripe at Berryman and call him a loser (it’s okay—he treated himself the same way). These meditations are mostly brilliant and I highly recommend them, especially if you start at day one and read all 385 subsequent entries in one sitting, plus the reflection.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Fire Artist”

I have backpacked for years, so some scenes from this story are lifted from experience. The bear under the waterfall is told much as I lived it, including that ancient perception of communicating with an animal through what the story’s narrator calls a “psychic wind.” The scene with the moths and the campfire is written exactly as we experienced it. The moose and her terrified calf on Isle Royale bursting through the trees above as they were pursued by wolves is another unforgettable image straight out of my experience. Other scenes began in experience but were altered, others were a retelling of stories I’ve heard, and others are pure fiction. Curt is an invented character. Phil’s rule-breaking personality began in my own brother’s individualist tendencies, but grew beyond them in a way surprising to me. Ultimately, his rule-breaking is not what does him in. It’s the more profound diminishment of his respect—for himself and his loved ones, and for the natural world that had such a defining presence for him but toward which he turned to conquer. His career choices may have tempted him down that path.

Most of the time when I write a story, it takes effort—I have to push, I get tired, my brain feels hollow. On a just a few rare occasions, a story has simply fallen into place. This was one of those. The plot, which develops over a span of forty years, was not preordained. The narrator’s self-aware mysticism and Phil’s rise in influence and wealth, as his character diminishes, all developed out of the characters as their adventures back and forth through time unfolded. The story was a pleasure to write.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

Beach Boys. Steely Dan. Joni Mitchell. Bluegrass. I love a cold beer as much as anyone, but I I’m allergic to hops; I suffer for it—the hoppier the beer, the worse it makes me feel. I stick with red wine, and since I live in Kentucky, I also like a finger or two of good bourbon now and then, out of a sense of community-building and cultural solidarity. Horses, bluegrass music and bourbon lend a richness to the culture of Kentucky which I’m proud to associate with. I’m a pretty good painter in watercolors and acrylics, and I have some skill in woodworking. I can cook. I love cats and understand them, and while I never had one of my own, I grew up around horses. I love and admire them as well. But bees have my attention and heart these days. You wouldn’t think bees would evoke an emotional attachment. I’m just getting started and didn’t expect that. It’s not the individual bees, which are cute but expendable—the bees themselves would tell you that. It’s the hive, this pulsating collective of 30,000 fuzzy insects snugged into their warm, comfortable box. It’s consistently fascinating watching them. A couple weeks ago the temperature in December was in the 60s—too cold for foraging, but there were a few dead bees on the landing, dragged out the day before which had been even warmer. I flicked them away, and the colony heard me, gave off a deep, intimidating collective buzz, then sent out a single scout to see what was up. It was a drone. He hung in my face for a few seconds, decided, I guess, that it was only me, and went back inside. That was it—one scout to check out the disturbance and make a report. Amazing!


“Elodie” by Jennifer Christman

Found in Willow Springs 86 Back to Author Profile IT’S AROUND THE TIME my mother, formerly Roseclaire, emerges from the lower depths. She’s been living in the basement since I was … Read more

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