Issue 56: Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

Kirsten Lunstrum
Kirsten Lunstrum

About Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum is the author of two collections of short fiction—This Life She’s Chosen (Chronicle Books, 2005) and Swimming With Strangers (Chronicle Books, 2008). She has been the recipient of a PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell colony. She teaches at Purchase College, SUNY and lives with her husband and two young children in the Hudson River Valley.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “The Remainder Salvaged”

“The Remainder Salvaged” was a long time in the making. Several years ago, my husband’s grandmother (who has been, incidentally, one of my few early-draft readers for over a decade now, and who still—even now that she’s in her 80s—occasionally writes me long, thoughtful, and hand-penned letters analyzing and critiquing my stories) sent me a newspaper clipping of a Wenatchee World article
featuring her uncle discussing the anniversary of the Wellington Train Disaster. The disaster happened in 1910 in the Cascades, near the town now known as Tye (then as Wellington). An avalanche swept two Great Northern trains from their tracks, killing 96 people. According to the clipping, my husband’s great-great uncle, who was a young man at the time of the accident, was one of those who received the bodies of the avalanche victims when they were tobogganed into Wenatchee following the accident. I knew I wanted to write about the disaster as soon as I read the article, but it took me years to finally find the right character through which to enter the story. Then, last summer my family and I, home in Washington for our annual summer visit, hiked the site of the avalanche (known as the Iron Goat Trail) along the now-defunct train route. The site struck me as eerie, though we were there on a bright, warm summer day. Pieces of the train wreckage are still there, beneath the layers of overgrown brambles and nettles and undergrowth; and the snow shed the railroad built following the accident is crumbling and scribbled with graffiti. The result of the visit to the disaster site was the emergence of the trio of characters that appear in this story—Nils, Iris, and the sister—and a first scene.

This story diverges from most of my stories in that it is fairly closely based on actual history. I’ve loved reading historical fiction since I was a little girl, but haven’t tried my hand at it as a writer until now. As I wrote this story, I wrestled with how accurate I needed to be about the history, and how clear I needed to be about the specific date of the accident; I made several revisions of the story, sometimes holding to the facts, other times veering far from them. In the end, I think I found some middle ground between fact and fiction, and am happy with the final version of the story.

Notes on Reading

As a reader I tend to favor short stories over novels (though there are plenty of novels I love and find myself turning to again and again as models of prose and structure). My new literary obsession is the work of Anthony Doerr, whose collection Memory Wall won the Story Prize this year. I was completely knocked out by the stories in that collection—especially the title story and one titled “Afterworld.” Both stories are fragmented narratives, and that form, too, is a new obsession. I also recently read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and though the book is a hybrid memoir/poem, it has really had an influence on my fiction. In fact, I’ve been reading quite a lot of creative nonfiction in the last year (in part because I taught a nonfiction workshop last fall at Purchase College), and shifting my genre focus as a reader has had the unexpected side effect of rejuvenating my short fiction. I went through a long phase of total fiction burnout following the publication of my second book of stories. I was bored of the standard structure, the standard realism (or, at least, my standard realism), and I needed something to wake me up again to the joy of making fiction. I think my attraction to Nelson’s and Doerr’s books has everything to do with the way both writers are blending and subverting traditional genre limitations and playing with structure, and though it’s not very evident in this particular story, I’m working on doing more of both in the new collection stories I’m currently writing. (And, yep, I’m writing a third collection before finishing a first novel. It’s probably a disaster to say that publicly, but what can I do? Stories are it for me—every new story a perfect challenge—and I don’t think I’ll ever lose my devotion to the short form.)

Issue 78

“Dear Mistress” by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

Found in Willow Springs 78 Back to Author Profile DEAR MISTRESS, You are the cancer in my family’s gut, our bleeding ulcer, a bile we cannot swallow.   THIS IS THE … Read more

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Kirsten Lunstrum

Online Exclusive: A Conversation with Kirsten Lunstrum

Works in Willow Springs  February 3, 2005 Adam O’Connor Rodriguez A CONVERSATION WITH KIRSTEN LUNSTRUM Photo Credit: www.kirstenlunstrum.net KIRSTEN SUNDBERG LUNSTRUM WAS BORN IN CHICAGO and raised in the Pacific Northwest. … Read more

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Kirsten Lunstrum

Issue 78: Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum

About Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum is the author of two collections of short fiction, This Life She’s Chosen and Swimming With Strangers (both published by Chronicle Books). Her … Read more

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Issue 68: Clare Beams

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About Clare Beams

Clare Beams and her husband live in Massachusetts, where she writes and teaches 9th-grade English. She received her MFA from Columbia in 2006. Her story “We Show What We Have Learned,” originally published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, will appear in the Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Her story “Much Peace,” published in Inkwell, received a Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize 2011 volume. She has a story forthcoming in One Story and has just finished, she thinks, a novel called The Meditations of All Our Hearts. She’s at work on more stories.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Hourglass”

I think “Hourglass” began out of my fascination with a certain kind of lofty language that gets used sometimes in discussions about teaching. For the past five years I’ve been a ninth-grade English teacher at a small private high school, a wonderful place. I love the work, and I’m surrounded by colleagues who do, too. When people who love teaching talk about it, there’s a tone that can color things, a grandness that strikes me as unusual (as grandness goes) because it’s genuine. I think that for the most part we talk about teaching in lofty terms because we can’t help it. The kids really do make it hard to use any others.

In writing this story, I was interested in taking that kind of language in a darker direction. What if the idea of shaping others, which is at the heart of my understanding of a teacher’s job, were more literal and sinister? What kind of tyrant could have that kind of vision, and what kind of student might be tempted by it?

Of course, all of this makes the whole process sound much more conscious and calculated than it was. All I really had to go on when I started writing was an image of this old streaked-stone school and the sound of Mr. Pax’s voice. These elements combined to make the story feel somehow outside time in a way that was exciting to me. When I realized how Melody was going to have to transform, everything became much harder for a while—I knew pretty much where I wanted things to go, but not how to take them there convincingly—and the story and I are both indebted to Sam Ligon for his incredible insight and patience along the way. He helped “Hourglass” to become a much better version of itself.

Notes on Reading

As a reader, I have an enthusiasm for old British things that I think has left its mark on “Hourglass.” I love Keats and Tennyson and the thick, sprawling novels that have always reminded me of big houses with dark corners—Our Mutual Friend and Jane Eyre and Great Expectations and Middlemarch. There’s a kind of scope there, a feeling of entering a whole world, that I’ve found and loved in some more modern books, too. Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital blew me away, as did Geoffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex and A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, and I just finished reading Julie Orringer’s wonderful The Invisible Bridge. Last summer I had a great time with Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, a fabulously creepy and atmospheric ghost story. All of those books—though in very different ways—demand that a reader slow down and make space for them.

Recently I’ve been reading short story collections, something I tend to do when I’m revising stories of my own, as if I’m going to find some magic key that will make the whole process easier. That never happens, but I have found some wonderful books: recent highlights are Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collector, Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen, and Kevin Wilson’s Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.

And then there are my longstanding loves, writers who fill me with feelings of inadequacy and admiration and most of all gratitude. I will never be able to read enough Alice Munro, who packs her worlds into small spaces in a way that amazes me. For pyrotechnic sentences, Nabokov and Woolf. And for the sheer beauty and density of what can be done with words, no one has anything on Shakespeare. Hamlet and King Lear are probably the most staggering to me, but
I teach Romeo and Juliet to my 9th-graders, and every year I find something new in it.

Hourglass by Clare Beams

Found in Willow Springs 68 Back to Author Profile A TRANSFORMATIONAL EDUCATION, the newspaper ad had promised, so we’d come to the Gilchrist School, which looked like a 19th century invalids’ home. … Read more

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Issue 68: Nance Van Winckel

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About Nance Van Winckel

Nance Van Winckel was editor of Willow Springs from 1990-1996. Her fifth collection of poems
is No Starling (2007, U. of Washington Press). She is the recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships as well as awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner. She is also the author of three collections of short fiction and the recipient of an Isherwood Fiction Fellowship for a work in progress. She lives near Spokane, Washington and teaches in the low-residency MFA Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Her current project is something she calls pho-toems, a marriage of photographs and small bits of poetic
text. These have appeared in various literary journals, galleries, and shows.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Four Poems”

These poems are from a new book, entitled Pacific Walkers, that will be out in 2013 with the University
of Washington Press. The poems evolved from recalling my first “real” job: as a newspaper reporter. I was sent out to cover
a rash of unidentified corpses, John Does. Each poem I worked on seemed to call forth a next poem, and so on. I both love it
and hate it when this happens. I feel the poems invade me, take me over, make me theirs. The first piece I wrote about the job
was a little prose poem. It opened up the door.

THE JOB. I worked a week on the Bridal Desk and when I griped about it, the boss said, “Here then, Blondie, see if
you can get some legs under this.” And back in the last century I was a grateful person. Having scoffed at the brides and the
names of their laces, I was sent into a cold wind along a shoreline lashed by an icy froth and a third then a fourth John Doe
collected in black plastic bags and put in a black truck and me taking notes while the collector shook his head, saying, “Ain’t
no story here. There’s only one way to spell dead. Stand back.”

The two snaps of his green rubber gloves pulled on. He has a tag to attach to the dead man’s toe, but no toe. One
ankle but no foot. The collector says, “For someone who didn’t add up to much, this guy has quite the big number.” I write it
down. No one likes my story. I don’t like my story. In ten minutes I have to phone it in. What, per se, to jot? The filled-full
shadow becomes a shade.

I work for the paper. I can say this and flash a badge and walk into the cordoned-off places. I work for what I don’t
even know is itself about to die. The paper. The man’s big number sits beneath the small name—same as last week, as last year. I
jot: freedom fighter, according to the tattoo; Christ-lover, so claims the cross on its chain with its broken clasp. Loyal, yes,
to the end.

Notes on Reading

I’m always reading at least one book of poems, a collection of stories or a novel, and a nonfiction something. I go
back and forth between these in the course of a day. During my writing time, I take frequent breaks to read. Reading another poet gets my language synapses firing again. A new favorite collection of poems was Laura Kasishcke’s Space, in Chains. I loved how a poem of hers will start out in prose and then break into lineated lines, or vice-versa. Often right in the middle, the piece
morphs and moves from prose into poem. I liked how liberated that made the poems feel . . . as if they couldn’t be nailed down
to being one thing or another, which in turn seemed to go with the subject matter of the whole book, that transitoriness.

I’m also crazy about the poetry of Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Norman Dubie, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Mary Ruefle. I go back
to Transtromer frequently, and also to Wallace Stevens. In fiction I just read a wonderful short novel by Paula Fox called
Desperate Characters, and I’m now reading and thoroughly enjoying the collected short stories of William Maxwell
called All the Days and Nights. The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald was a recent favorite book of nonfiction. I also pour over books of visual art: photography especially but also paintings and all sorts of collage, assemblage, and montage.

Four Poems by Nance Van Winckel

Found in Willow Springs 68 Back to Author Profile “Outlaw Mentality” -that’s what the coroner says caught you up, brought you down. A life of that fuck-that stalled on the track. … Read more

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Issue 68: Matthew Dickman

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About Matthew Dickman

Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review/ Copper Canyon Press, 2008). The recipient of The Honickman First Book Prize, the May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award from Claremont College, and the 2009 Oregon Book Award from Literary Arts of Oregon. His poems are forthcoming or have appeared in Tin House Magazine, McSweeny’s, Ploughshares, The Believer, The London Review of Books, and The New Yorker among others. W.W. Norton & Co. will publish his second book in 2012. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on Two Poems

Both “Dog” and “Halcion” were, formally, a departure for me. For a long time my poems seemed to need at least a page and a half for me to figure anything out, for the poem to feel complete in some way, so it was an interesting feeling, a kind of departure, when I began writing shorter poems. “Dog” is part of a longer elegiac sequence written for my older brother after his suicide. Mainly it’s a poem that suggests our shadows are always with us. That we can tame grief and struggle enough to be house trained though they are still wild animals. “Halcion” was written after my first experience taking the drug of the same name. I took it before having my wisdom teeth removed. I’m terrified of the dentist and all things medical. Halcion took care of that fear! It’s a wonder drug. I love it. The poem tries to describe my feelings when I was on it.

Notes on Reading

For a writer, reading is one of the most important experiences that can affect their work. Reading is also a radical act. It’s humanizing in nature. It teaches us, in a natural and very sincere way, about compassion and understanding, about true empathy. Some important books for me, as of late, are Lucia Perillo’s “Inseminating the Elephant,” Diane Wakoski’s “The Butcher’s Apron,” Gary Jackson’s “Missing You, Metropolis,” and Dorothea Lasky’s “Black Life.” Each of these poets are very different from each other but they all have something important in common and that is a wildness of imagination. Each of them raises their freak-flags high which makes me feel brave, in turn,
when I sit down and write.

Willow Springs 68

Two Poems by Matthew Dickman

Found in Willow Springs 68 Back to Author Profile Dog   I’m hiding from the stars tonight. I’ve pulled every blind and turned off all the lights but one, which I’ve … Read more

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Matthew Dickman

Issue 69: A Conversation with Matthew Dickman

Interview in Willow Springs 69 Works in Willow Springs 68 April 15, 2011 TIM GREENUP, KRISTINA MCDONALD, DANIEL SHUTT A CONVERSATION WITH MATHEW DICKMAN Photo Credit: Academy of American Poets It’s … Read more

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Issue 68: Jan Beatty

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About Jan Beatty

Jan Beatty’s books include Red Sugar (2008), Boneshaker (2002), and Mad River (1994 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize), published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Beatty hosts and produces Prosody, a public radio show on NPR affiliate WYEP-FM featuring national writers. She worked as a welfare caseworker, an abortion counselor, in maximum security prisons, and as a waitress for fifteen years. She directs the creative writing program at Carlow University, where she teaches in the MFA program. She’s hoping to complete her fourth book of poems this summer.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “American Revolver”

I’ve been trying to write “American Revolver” for a number of years, but just couldn’t figure out how to write a poem about a guy who robbed whorehouses for a living. Not a lot of models out there. In my previous books, I have poems about prison, some of them reflecting the time I spent in maximum security as a social worker, and later as a teacher. I didn’t want to repeat or revisit the issues of these poems. What makes “American Revolver” work, I think, is highlighting the oddness of both the ex-con and the speaker—he’s robbing whorehouses and she’s decided to have sex with him while he’s reciting the 19th amendment. Can she be a feminist if she turns her back, so to speak, on the women’s right to vote? To what degree is she implicated, as someone who engages with him, knowing that he terrorizes people? How does desire relate to the oddness and danger, or does it? My hope is to make this messy and unresolved: having humor on the edge of desire/on the edge of self-destruction.

Notes on Reading

Right now I’m reading D.A. Powell’s Chronic, Anne Carson’s Nox, Ross Gay’s Bringing the Shovel Down, Stacey Waite’s the lake has no saint, Reginald Shepherd’s Red Clay Weather, A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos, and Scavenge by RJ Gibson. I’mreally looking forward to some books that are coming out: Judith Vollmer’s The Water Books, Toi Derricotte’s The Undertaker’s Daughter, and Aaron Smith’s Appetite. I always go back to Ed Ochester’s Unreconstructed, James Allen Hall’s Now You’re the Enemy, Wanda Coleman’s Ostinato Vamps, Off-Season City Pipe by Allison Hedge Coke, and work by Alicia Ostriker, Gerald Stern, and Etheridge Knight to name a few.

I read a lot of nonfiction—right now a lot of books on Canada, since I’m heading off on a train trip across Canada in August. I’m reading a book on Winnipeg, since I’m half-Canadian, and that’s where my birth father is from. I’m reading some books on arctic exploration. Nonfiction that I always return to: In-Between Places and The West Pole by Diane Glancy, anything by Gretel Erlich, Jon Krakauer, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass.

Willow Springs 68

“American Revolver” by Jan Beatty

Found in Willow Springs 68 Back to Author Profile I knew a guy named Red from Concord who robbed whorehouses for a living. You couldn’t tell just looking at him: his … Read more

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Issue 67: Buzz Mauro

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About Buzz Mauro

Buzz Mauro’s stories have been published in River Styx, NOON, New Orleans Reviewz, Isotope, Tampa Review and other magazines. His poems have been published in Tar River Poetry, Fugue, Poet Lore, Main Street Rag and other magazines. He has an MFA in Acting from Catholic University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, and believes you can never have too many MFAs. He’s published three books with co-author Deb Gottesman on the applications of acting technique to “real life”—primarily public speaking and job interviews—and has taught public reading skills at the Rainier Writing Workshop and The Writer’s Center. He’s co-founder and Co-Executive Director (also along with Deb Gottesman) of The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, Washington, DC’s largest theatrical training center. He lives in Annapolis with his partner Steve Daigler.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Fractions”

The first fiction class I ever took was with Rick Moody, and when it came out that I was a math teacher (which I no longer am), he said I should write “the math book” that the literary world had yet to see. I liked the idea, and he was Rick Moody, so I’ve been writing stories with math in them ever since.

“Fractions” has a lot less math than some of my math stories. In this one I was more interested in the hellishness of parent-teacher conferences than the math itself. Also, less facetiously, much as some of us would like to believe we live in a “post-gay” society where everyone is “fine with it,” plenty of people still have trouble integrating their sexuality into their lives, and that’s an issue that finds its way into a lot of my fiction.

I ran sprints in high school, never more than 220 yards, and I tend to write super-short. At 4,243 words (ten Willow Springs pages), “Fractions” is one of my longer pieces. I wrote it in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, where the geniuses David Huddle and Ann Pancake had everything to do with getting it into its present presentable form. Thanks, too, to Sam Ligon for seeing something in the story and offering his amazing eye in the crucial final stages.

Notes on Reading

I’ve read gluttonously since I was a kid, and my family, who have always thought I needed more fresh air, make a lot of fun of me for it.

I never thought I’d be in a book club, because I couldn’t imagine having my reading predetermined to that extent, but I’m in one now and loving it. It’s a bunch of smart, interesting, nice people who have introduced me to some wonderful recent books I probably would not have gotten to without the impetus of our monthly meetings, including Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and Marianne Wiggins’ amazing Evidence of Things Unseen. I tend to go for the classics (all-time must-not-miss: The Brothers Karamazov), but I love Richard Powers (all that science and linguistic agility and humanity) and Lorrie Moore’s short stories (so funny and heartbroken). And everyone in the whole world should read J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, because it’s the best example I know of that rare and wonderful thing, a truly important contemporary novel that’s an honest-to-god can’t-put-it-down page-turner. Oh, and one more: Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is the Great American Novel. For my non-contemporary lit fix, I’m currently reading the Hebrew Bible for the first time, and you really can’t beat it for crazy. (Read it from the beginning and tell me I’m wrong.) Some of it’s beautiful, of course, and all of it’s fascinating. I’m taking it slowly, in conjunction with Christine Hayes’ fabulous Yale undergraduate course, which—by the way—can be found in its entirety (videos of lectures, assignments, even exams), along with full courses on lots of other enticing subjects, at Open Yale Courses. (Yale happens to be my beloved alma mater, but the courses are free and available to anyone – and they include a great one on the American novel since 1945.)

I love to dip into certain books at random for a jolt of language energy to get my own writing going. The best book for that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read all the way through, but which I open all the time. I find that Nicholson Baker works well for that, too, as does Lydia Davis, and my new favorite inspirer is Jane Gardam (discovered in my book club!).

Issue 93: Liana Roux

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Issue 93: Meg Kelleher

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Three Poems by Liana Roux

Gnash I’m grinding my teeth straight through the enamel. The dental hygienist asks if I’m experiencing any stress. Has my wife noticed anything?Does she hear tumbling rocks? Gnashing, from Middle … Read more

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Two Poems by Carol Potter

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Issue 93: Matthew Baker

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Issue 93: Carol Potter

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Willow Springs 93

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Photos from AWP

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Congratulations Alexis Treads!

Congratulations Alexis Treads on a feature in Colossal! View her featured oil paintings here. Alexis Treads created the cover art for Willow Springs Issues 87, 88, 89, and 90.

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Fellowship by Susan McCarty

Found in Willow Springs 71 Back to Author Profile Seafood Night EVERY FRIDAY AROUND FIVE, we stack the sun chairs in the pump room of the Maple Hills Country Club and watch … Read more

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Issue 67: Hugh Martin

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About Hugh Martin

Hugh Martin is a graduate of Muskingum University and now attends the MFA program at Arizona State. He served six years in the Army National Guard as an M1A1 Tanker and spent 11 months in Iraq. His work has appeared in CONSEQUENCE Magazine, Mid-American Review, Nashville Review, and is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Third Coast, and the American Poetry Review. His chapbook, So, How Was the War? (Kent State UP, 2010) was published by the Wick Poetry Center. His work was recently selected as part of the 7th Avenue Streetscape Series in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. In the summer of 2011, he will teach introductory creative writing classes at the National University of Singapore. He is at work on a manuscript of poems with the tentative title, The Burn Pit.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on Two War Poems

Like most of my work, these poems are triggered from my experiences in Iraq. “Friday Night, FOB Cobra” is a poem that tries to capture, using small and sparse details, the lives of the soldiers inside the FOB (forward operating base). Some of my goals when writing involve exploring those aspects of war outside of actual fighting, attacks—all those things that come to mind when thinking of typical stories of war. My goal was to make each section vivid and strong enough to give the reader a clear idea of what each soldier is like as a human being, and possibly what issues cross the soldiers’ minds regarding their own lives, outside of and away from the war. I hope the reader might better understand each soldier, and whatever flaws they may have. The poem began much longer, and over a few months and work-shopping, I trimmed it down. One thing I tried to do was give each soldier a voice, while juxtaposing some kind of action that helped exhibit the mundane, boring, redundant and sometimes disgusting routines of life on a base while at war. One thing I’ve found through my experiences in the military is that no matter the situation in war, no matter how dangerous, dull, horrifying, tiring, etc., people talk about their lives. A lot of my war experience was just that: arguing about the best American mafia-film in the street while EOD tried to blow up an IED; or listening to a soldier give another soldier relationship advice while we searched someone’s home for weapons. Besides the armor, the weapons, the training, I think telling stories, listening, talking to each other—that’s one of the ways soldiers survive. You could say this about all of humanity I’m sure, but I think it’s even more true with soldiers at war.

In “Observation Post,” I wanted to capture the death of an interpreter through the eyes of two men on guard duty (one of the most boring, but necessary tasks for any soldier in any war). The poem is based loosely on the death of one of our best interpreters, who lived in town and whose sons worked at our base. We’d just been out with him the day before searching random vehicles on the roads and the next day leaving the FOB, he basically drove down the road about a mile, and was shot through his windshield, probably by men who obviously didn’t like that he worked with the U.S. military. This was devastating for us and many of the locals, but in the overall bigger picture, interpreters were and are threatened and killed all of the time in Iraq. It’s obviously an extremely dangerous and risky job. That day they had the funeral for him and hundreds of people crowded the streets downtown and hoisted his wooden coffin as they walked to the cemetery. Members of the Kurdish army, the border patrol and other Iraqi security forces were swarming all over town, gathering information on suspects. I’d never seen so many people determined and thirsty for vengeance. I don’t remember if they ever found the shooters.

The poem itself underwent at least ten heavy revisions. When I begin any poem, I place my initial ideas, thoughts, and all notes on page 1 of a Word document and just work my way down. I’ll go to the next page when I begin the first draft, and as I make changes, no matter how major or minor, I’ll move the new version to the next page; I like this process because it allows me to flip back and see where the poem started and what was left out and added, etc. With this poem, I toyed a lot with form, usually playing with placement of the stanzas. At one point, the stanzas were pushed into blocks all the way to the left side of the page; I also had the poem in ten two-line stanzas; I had another version with asterisks between stanzas.

Notes on Reading

I’ve always tried to be a pretty eclectic reader. Being in grad school, I usually balance getting my work done and then reading what I want when I can. Right now, I’m in the middle of Doug Anderson’s The Moon Reflected Fire; Lorrie Goldensohn’s Dismantling Glory; W.S. Merwin’s The Carrier of Ladders; and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I have a long list of books (both prose and poetry) that deal with war either directly or indirectly and I am constantly chipping away at it. Over the past year or so, Bruce Weigl’s work has probably been the most inspiring and influential. I’d barely read him before grad school, but now I’ve read and reread all of his work. The way he approaches Vietnam using mostly plain-spoken language and clear, precise, but fresh imagery, is something I admire. He makes it look easy. His poems bring you in quickly and he’s very skilled with using line breaks and an internal rhythm to keep the reader moving. I also greatly admire many of his poems that deal with the speaker’s post-war life. “Song of Napalm” is one of my favorite poems dealing with war and I think Weigl covers a lot of ground in the poem; it serves as another attempt to try to understand a terrible event. The end of that poem strongly resonates with me because of its sheer realism and the way the speaker tries and wants to deny what he’s seen, but no matter what, cannot. The poem is not only about the speaker’s denial, but everyone’s denial of all the horrors of war that have taken place or are taking place right now. The speaker fights with the idea of this girl dying and the fantasy of her having wings and escaping; by the end though, the reality of it is acknowledged: she dies, and no one, and no thing, can or should deny it. I think it’s about taking responsibility, acknowledging suffering, and ultimately trying to learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.

When I returned from Iraq someone told me to read Yusef Komunyakaa and honestly, I don’t think my senses were ready for his work at the time. Revisiting Dien Cai Dau a couple years ago though, I found the work incredible. His lyrical poems are highly palpable and many of his images are stunning; they have literally stopped me on the page. “Thanks,” his poem where the speaker literally expresses gratitude to different aspects of nature—tree trunks, butterflies, flowers—that helped him avoid a bullet, mine, or tripwire, is still a poem that I can’t fully digest—it’s just too good, even the concept of it I find unique and beautiful. Komunyakaa is one of those poets that I will be revisiting throughout the years, finding more and more layers and nuances that I couldn’t before.

It’s hard to list “underrated” books over the past five years, so I’ll just list three that I enjoy: David Baker’s Midwest Eclogue; Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet; and James Harms’ The Joy Addict (actually that one came out pre-2000, I think, but I read it in 2005; it still remains a book I go back to).

Issue 93: Liana Roux

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Issue 93: Meg Kelleher

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Three Poems by Liana Roux

Gnash I’m grinding my teeth straight through the enamel. The dental hygienist asks if I’m experiencing any stress. Has my wife noticed anything?Does she hear tumbling rocks? Gnashing, from Middle … Read more

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Two Poems by Carol Potter

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Issue 93: Matthew Baker

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Issue 93: Carol Potter

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Willow Springs 93

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Photos from AWP

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Congratulations Alexis Treads!

Congratulations Alexis Treads on a feature in Colossal! View her featured oil paintings here. Alexis Treads created the cover art for Willow Springs Issues 87, 88, 89, and 90.

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Fellowship by Susan McCarty

Found in Willow Springs 71 Back to Author Profile Seafood Night EVERY FRIDAY AROUND FIVE, we stack the sun chairs in the pump room of the Maple Hills Country Club and watch … Read more

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Issue 67: Laurie Lamon

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About Laurie Lamon

Laurie Lamon’s poems have appeared in journals and magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly,The New Republic, Ploughshares, Colorado Review, Arts & Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture, Poetry Northwest and 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Ordinary Days, edited by Billy Collins. She was selected by Donald Hall, Poet Laureate 2007, as a Witter Bynner Fellow for 2007. Her collections of poems are The Fork Without Hunger, 2005, and Without Wings, 2009 (CavanKerry Press). She is a professor of English at Whitworth University.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on Four Poems

“This Poem Doesn’t Care That It Isn’t a Sonnet” is a very new poem, and it’s representative of other elements of style and subject in my work. I’m very concerned with what distracts us from the on-the-ground reality being played out everywhere around us. The poem is a kind of catalogue of what a poem knows it can’t do anything about: the superficial distractions of pop culture, technology’s interference with real human time, political terrors, human suffering, animal abuse… It acknowledges that we live with burdens which are overwhelming. On one important level, our responsibility is simply to be aware, to be witnesses, and to care. At the more “political” level, the poem is curious about the world, engaged by facts, and accurate in its telling. Even at a quieter lyrical level, the poem also quickens us. To be truly affected by beauty is not a passive response. It wakens our desire for the conditions and goodness of that beauty.

The question of stylistic and subject connection and departure is so interesting to contemplate and study in poets. I began as most poets probably do, being startled and gratified by imagery, and how a line has architecture, enacting time and space. Thirty years later, I can see how early affinities have evolved into recognizable themes. Some of those are evident in these four poems.

I wrote “Pain Thinks of Black” over fifteen years ago. I remember the process of writing it distinctly, probably more distinctly than any other of the Pain Poems, certainly. These poems are quite different from my other poems. With this series, and crucially with this poem, I am trying, with very intentional reductions, to render experience without metaphor or simile, without the values of association and correspondence. That sounds like a description for something other than a poem! When I was writing the first of what would become over 40 of what are now The Pain Poems, it was the X-ray and MRI image that became the visual guide for what I was handling. Everything familiar to me as poetic tools had become inadequate.

“Pain Thinks of Black” took years to get right, as ridiculous as that sounds. It’s only 4 lines long! The utter catastrophe that can open up, be real, and become part of your life’s history, and which you can survive…. Dickinson’s poem “Pain—has an Element of Blank—“ and her descriptions elsewhere of “Adamant” are buried in the psyche of this poem. “Pain Thinks of Still Life” is something quite different in subject, exploring the paradox of that genre to express the dynamic of possibility that the image and juxtaposition can render. The imagistic poem, the Still Life painting—they offer an amazing presentness that is anything but quiet.

Notes on Reading

I read all kinds of books. I love history and science and biography. One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years is Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe. I think curiosity about the physical world is an antidote to most of our failings as human beings! Emily Dickinson knew much about botany; she was a devoted and learned gardener, and she grew orchids in her conservatory. Poets I return to again and again include Dickinson, Adrienne Rich (An Atlas of the Difficult World in particular), and Muriel Rukeyser. I didn’t discover Rukeyser until graduate school, and I can’t imagine understanding Rich’s poetry without knowing hers, and her biography. I read Czeslaw Milosz to encounter one of the most generous, compassionate, and intelligent minds of the last century. I think “Six Lectures in Verse” should be required reading for us all. I read Linda Pastan for her spare complexities, and for the way she integrates mythology into the world of streets and flower markets, husbands and breakfast tables, overcoats and bedsheets.

Willow Springs 67

Three Poems by Laurie Lamon

Found in Willow Springs 67 Back to Author Profile This Poem Doesn’t Care That It Isn’t a Sonnet   This poem doesn’t care about the movie Avatar, dosen’t care about IPods … Read more

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Issue 66: Kerry Muir

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About Kerry Muir

Kerry Muir holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. Her creative nonfiction currently appears in Kenyon Review Online, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. Her play for children, Befriending Bertha won first prize at the Nantucket Short Play Festival & Competition and was published in the anthology Three New Plays for Young Actors: From The Young Actor’s Studio (Limelight Editions/Amadeus Press, 2000). She lives in California.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “The Bridge”

“The Bridge” was one of the first things I ever wrote, long before I had any formal
training, or even entered the MFA program at Vermont College. It began because I just
felt weirdly haunted by the image of a long, dangerously rickety bridge with potholes in
it. I started there, and just moved in a stream of association: breaking the rules in order
to cross the bridge, the non-stop Watergate trials on the TV, my dad watching them, my
dad’s polio, the fact that another kid’s dad, who also had polio, had committed suicide
that year. I just let myself wander, without any preconceived notion of a structure, to be
honest, because I didn’t know what else to do! Because of that, probably, the piece was
over-written in its original version, and Willow Springs editor Sam Ligon helped me
cut to the chase, figure out what was necessary in the piece, and cut what was excessive.
I needed an outside eye. I’m not my own best editor, most of the time, and I’m very
grateful for his help and guidance!

Notes on Reading

Books I’ve loved long-term: Robin Hemley’s Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art and
Madness, Junot Diaz’ collection Drown, Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles, Sandra
Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek. Also, all of Sam Shepard’s plays, even the ones that
failed. Especially the ones that failed.

Creative nonfiction books I’ve recently loved: Notes from No-Man’s Land</em> by Eula Biss, Sam Shepard’s Day Out Of Days, Sam
Shepard’s Cruising Paradise, Philip Graham’s The Moon, Come to Earth, about Portugal.

Most recent book discovery: I just bumbled into a book of essays that blew me away,
Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, by Jeanette Winterson, a writer I’d never
heard of up until two weeks ago. She’s an expert on the Modernists: Woolf, Stein,
Pound, Yeats… She had some wonderful things to say about the randomness of ironclad
notions of genre, in an essay called “Testimony Against Gertrude Stein,” and she wrote it
long before all the James Frey sh** hit the fan—really interesting, prickly, timely stuff.

Issue 66

“The Bridge” by Kerry Muir

Found in Willow Springs 66 Back to Author Profile CAMMY TUTTLE IS THE SMARTEST, toughest girl in our whole fifth grade. She has red hair, straw-straight, and wears boys’ clothes. Her … Read more

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Issue 66: Stacia Saint Owens

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About Stacia Saint Owens

Stacia Saint Owens grew up in Kansas and is a graduate of Brown University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She also holds a BFA in Theatre from Southern Methodist University. Her fiction has appeared in Southern California Review, Wisconsin Review, Willow Springs, Dos Passos Review, Smoke Signals, NIGHT, Confrontation, Quarterly West, and The Massachusetts Review. Her work was selected for Special Mention in the 2010 Pushcart Prize Anthology. Her short story collection, Auto-Erotica (Livingston Press 2009), was the winner of the Tartt First Fiction Award and was shortlisted for The Saroyan International Prize in Writing. She is a former Lecturer in English Literature at Harrow College in London, and now resides in Los Angeles, where she is writing a novel.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Color by Number”

My grandfather was a police detective in St. Louis, and I’ve inherited an interest in true crime. The family lore handed down from my grandfather’s career includes:

His very first day on the force, as a minimally-trained beat cop, when he set off walking and two blocks from the station was immediately accosted by “a raving lunatic running up and down the fence, naked as a jaybird,” an escapee from a psychiatric hospital.

Arriving at a domestic violence scene to discover that a man had beaten his wife, children, then himself to death with a ball peen hammer.

Bursting into “Negro pubs,” lining the patrons against the wall, and stealing money from their pockets, which he did reluctantly but could not figure a way out of as this practice was ordered by his superiors (who also collected the money), and he had a wife, seven kids, and two parents to support. To cope with his guilt over this and other institutionalized abuses, he began drinking at work and succumbed to alcoholism.

Part of my father’s driving ambition was the desire to keep his family safe. He shielded us from any urban exposure, raising us in the squeaky-clean suburbs of Kansas City and later in a nearby small town dominated by the law-and-order industries of a prison system and an Army fort. There was a blatant incongruity present in my father’s level of hyper-vigilance, the scare-tactic true stories he told us, and the sedate, congenial environment we lived in. This juxtaposition gave me a strong sense of subtext from an early age, an awareness that although I could not see it, very bad things were happening at this very minute.

As a teacher working with at-risk high schoolers and female prisoners, I found myself swimming with sharks, and it was crucial to learn to recognize and safely interact with people manifesting various psychological disorders. These experiences incited a lot of questions about nature vs. nurture, neurobiology, self-determination, and personal vs. societal responsibility.

I have always found appealing the phrase “an accident of birth,” the way it encompasses both luck and misfortune, its inarguable reminder that our very existence is ultimately due to a highly random meeting of a specific sperm with a specific egg. We are fiercely protective of our individuality, but it all could have so easily gone another way. Many different versions of ourselves were almost born. Many different versions of ourselves are continually shaped or eliminated or resurrected as we stride, struggle, or stroll through life experiences.

American culture encourages individuality and aspiration. There is a fine line between these qualities and self-absorbed ruthlessness. The latter is often considered acceptable, but can cause as much damage as the more-feared anti-social disorders. What is the difference between a corrupt police officer who is driven to drink and the one who steels himself and accepts that he must do what he can to survive? Which one of these two can be classified as sick? They are in an identical situation, so do they have exactly the same choice?

“Color by Numbers” is an exploration of these types of questions. The two main characters’ lives progress in rough parallel as they grow up in similar but crucially-different circumstances and eventually become responsible for their own choices. One is an outwardly-conventional, law-abiding person; the other is an outwardly-charming sociopath. They are both tormented by lack of connection, which may be due to their upbringings, heredities, personalities, levels of intelligence, or mere accident. The omniscient, measured voice is reflective of the clinical tone of an official report, and does not allow either character a narrative advantage. The characters are afflicted with frenetic, messy compulsions that they struggle to contain, just as the rigid, repetitive format of a police, medical, or science lab report attempts to coolly eviscerate emotion while describing events that normally provoke an impassioned telling. The structure is meant to shift the role of authority from author to reader. The reader is the one for whom all available information has been compiled, who will be expected to render the final diagnosis or judgment.

The numbered sections are episodes, in the dramatic sense of self-contained events in a series and in the medical sense of recurrent pathological condition (such as “psychotic episode”). In the original Greek, “episode” meant a digression between two songs in a tragedy, and I like the idea of seemingly-extraneous events causing significant repercussions. A numbered list always suggests authority and finality to me, along with an escalating inevitability. Yet I am simultaneously aware that a list could be created at any length, and that every list is excluding other items. This duality makes it more challenging for the reader to judge the characters—and such judgments should be difficult, made with thoughtful skepticism and humility.

The structure also evokes a color-by-numbers activity, which is creative, but prescriptive and limiting. There is little penalty for disobeying the color-by-numbers rules and choosing our own color combinations–even coloring outside the lines—; however, most of us are conditioned from an early age to honor the parameters of the game. Does this create the best picture? Once again, how much choice do we have?

The columns suggest lives unspooling on separate tracks, also the creeping, stalking energy of something sinister gaining momentum. The paragraphs that end each episode are attempts to draw conclusions, and do so imperfectly. The paragraphs do draw connections, pointing out that although the characters feel oppressed by isolation, they are actually all entwined and all impact each other, though they do not perceive this.

Notes on Reading

I am drawn to fiction that takes risks and meddles with language while remaining fundamentally accessible—which does not mean transparently knowable. I grew up in a household that valued literature, but the wider community was not especially literary, and I think that is an accurate description of almost anyplace in present-day America. How does a writer captivate and entertain while challenging both intellect and emotions? How can a work be innovatively provocative and enduringly universal? I admire writers who strive to construct these bridges, who sincerely and zealously invite the reader to get involved with the work. Check out the riveting historical re-imaginings of Edmund White, the muscular fabulism of Anna Joy Springer, and the elegant intoxicants of Carole Maso.

I read widely in other genres. This limbers my brain, loosens my self-imposed constraints, and builds my trust in the readers’ adventurousness. Poetry always knocks me into an enjoyable jumble, as do stage and screenplays, which have a more immediate mission to please the audience. I recommend the poets Sawako Nakayasu and Paul Foster Johnson; the playwrights Sarah Ruhl, Laura Zam, and Christine Evans; and the experimental public games of Rob Ray (www.robray.net/virtualart), a delightfully vital and forward-looking kind of “reading.” And if a million people have read it, I’m interested. I am fascinated by discovering what motivates people to read. So: magazines, horror novels, viral web pages, pop song lyrics, lasting classics. The plays of Agatha Christie are lovely little gems, compact and consumable and unsettlingly macabre all at once. Deceptively complex, like even the most ordinary day of your life on this lush, volatile planet.

Issue 93: Liana Roux

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Issue 93: Meg Kelleher

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Three Poems by Liana Roux

Gnash I’m grinding my teeth straight through the enamel. The dental hygienist asks if I’m experiencing any stress. Has my wife noticed anything?Does she hear tumbling rocks? Gnashing, from Middle … Read more

Read More

Two Poems by Carol Potter

Read More

Issue 93: Matthew Baker

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Issue 93: Carol Potter

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Willow Springs 93

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Photos from AWP

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Congratulations Alexis Treads!

Congratulations Alexis Treads on a feature in Colossal! View her featured oil paintings here. Alexis Treads created the cover art for Willow Springs Issues 87, 88, 89, and 90.

Read More

Fellowship by Susan McCarty

Found in Willow Springs 71 Back to Author Profile Seafood Night EVERY FRIDAY AROUND FIVE, we stack the sun chairs in the pump room of the Maple Hills Country Club and watch … Read more

Read More