Zoetic’s 2016 Book Picks, Part 1

Zoetic’s 2016 Book Picks, Part 1

The New Year is upon us, and with it comes list after list of everyone’s favorite books of 2016. However, here at Zoetic Press we don’t let the constraints of the calendar dictate what thrilled us. Welcome to the Zoetic Press Best of Books List, curated by the staff and placed here in your timeline in hopes it will inspire you to read and discuss. What were your favorite books this year? Let us know! It’s like a comment section book club!

Kraken by China Miéville

Miéville’s genius lies in taking the particularly English predilection for magic and keeping it well grounded in the world of here and now. Billy Harrow is a cephalopod specialist at the Darwin Centre of the London Natural History Museum, but when their prize exhibit, a preserved giant squid, goes missing, the investigation sends him into the seedy underground of “knacking,” or magic. This gritty, small-scale, un-glamorous kind of magic is both more believable and more engaging for adults than the cloistered, hidden world of Harry Potter. In a single year, I’ve re-read it twice, just to wring every last bit of meaning from every beautifully-crafted word.

-Lise Quintana, EIC

 

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide – Part 4

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide – Part 4

Here at Zoetic Press, we’re just like everyone else: we have to buy holiday gifts for our loved ones. And just like everyone else, we aim to help you, our audience, in what can often be a difficult process. As such, we’ll be offering our holiday gift guide throughout the month, and we hope that it will take some pressure off of your already heavy shoulders!

Today’s list was beautifully curated by Diane Glazman:

(Under $50)

Whether it’s tea, coffee, hot chocolate or something stronger, every writer needs a mug.

Writer’s Cabal Word Mug — “Every day with word count is a good day”

“Keep Calm and Carry on Revising” Mug

First Drafts Mousepad 

Circa Starter Kit — a bit more on the practical side, but I love my Circa notebooks. They combine the best of a 3-ring binder and spiral notebook and are infinitely customizable. Plus, there are accessories galore, which, for any office product obsessed writer, is a dream come true.

I’m a confirmed tea drinker, so I’m always looking for cute tea infusers. Here are a couple of new ones to add to my collection:

“Pipe” tea infuser 

Umbrella tea infuser 

 

($50 – $100)

Fountain pens! I’ve owned 2 Pilot Vanishing Point Fountain Pens for years and love them. They’re very comfortable, the nibs are fantastic and available in extra fine. Plus, the Pilot Iroshizuku inks come in several beautiful shades.

For the writer on the go, a wooden travel desk.

Levenger’s Bomber Messenger Bag : This is actually on my own wish list. I am always looking for the perfect bag, and this is definitely one I’d love to own.

If you’re looking for the ultimate gift for a steampunk-loving writer, look no further than anything created by Datamancer , such as this keyboard.

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide, Part 3

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide, Part 3

Here at Zoetic Press, we’re just like everyone else: we have to buy holiday gifts for our loved ones. And just like everyone else, we aim to help you, our audience, in what can often be a difficult process. As such, we’ll be offering our holiday gift guide throughout the month, and we hope that it will take some pressure off of your already heavy shoulders!

Today’s list was beautifully curated by Andrea Blythe:

My dorkiness shines through when it comes to gift giving, as it does with everything else. I adore things that are simultaneously a little bit useful, a little bit silly. So, here are a few such ideas for the writers and readers in your life. 

Clicky Cube
I am a fidgeter, and the Clicky Cube is touted as the “Ultimate Stress Relief Fidget Cube.” The tiny cube is small enough to fit in your pocket and provides a number of features — including a rotating dial, a “dice” side with fives buttons that click audibly or silently, a trio of tactical gears with a clickable ball and socket, a joystick, and a classic toggler — for any and all of a fidgeter’s needs.

Aqua Notes
Ideas always seem to come at the worst times — on the freeway while driving 70 mph or in the shower or some other place where it might be inconvenient to get the words jotted down. For those shower thinkers, Aqua Notes provides a water proof notepad so that you can write down your best ideas before they’re washed away (pun totally intended).

The Writer’s Toolbox
The Writer’s Toolbox presents a series of games and exercises designed to help writers with charging up their creativity and finding inspiration. The kit includes exercise sticks to kickstart stories ideas, inspiration cards to get some creative descriptions going, and spinner palettes to produce unexpected plot twists. 

Book Scarf – Inscribed with “The Raven”
As someone who has long loved Edgar Allan Poe’s work, I’ve been coveting this infinity scarf with the text of his most famous poem, “The Raven,” printed across the cloth. Is “The Raven” not to your liking? No worries. Storiarts has dozens of other scarves to choose from — everything from A Tale of Two Cities to Anne of Green Gables to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Writers Tears Whiskey
For every writer that sips or shoots whiskey as a balm for their literary suffering, there’s Writers Tears Whiskey. Pour a glass and drink the writer’s block away.

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide, Part 2

Here at Zoetic Press, we’re just like everyone else: we have to buy holiday gifts for our loved ones. And just like everyone else, we aim to help you, our audience, in what can often be a difficult process. As such, we’ll be offering our holiday gift guide throughout the month, and we hope that it will take some pressure off of your already heavy shoulders!

Today’s list was lovingly curated by Kolleen Carney:

If you’re anything like me, you have about twenty-eight cents to work with this holiday season, but you aren’t above maxing out at least one credit card to make your family or friends happy. Here, I present to you my holiday guide for people with no money:

  1. Horror Movie a Day: The Book: For six years, Brian Collins watched a different horror movie each day. Here, he has hand-picked 365 suggestions, should you or your favorite horror fan want to delve into such a challenge. The print version is massive and makes a great bathroom book, but for those e-book aficionados, the Kindle version is FREE until Saturday, 12/10. (Price range: Free- $25)
  2. All You Need is Pug: Does your pug need an aviator scarf? Off course it does. Everything in this shop is handmade and guaranteed to have your favorite pup looking stylish while staying warm. (Price range: up to $75)
  3. Witch City Wicks Candles: These soy candles are hand-crafted in Salem, MA, and have the best scents. I suggest checking out Christmas Mourning or Black Christmas, my two personal favorites. (Up to $40, from what I can see; all collections are different).
  4. Paperback Paradise Postcards: These are hilarious. Who doesn’t want a set of postcards with vintage book art and clever new titles, such as “Piece of Shit Birds”? These have NSFW language, so it may be more appropriate for your snarkier friends than, say, your nana. ($4)
  5. Write Like a MFer Mug: Look, I am sorry, I have a foul mouth, ok? I can’t help it! I love this mug from the Rumpus, but if you are more polite than I am, they have a Dear Sugar mug with no swears on it. ($15)

Happy holidays, everyone!

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide, Part 1

Zoetic Holiday Gift Guide, Part 1

 

Here at Zoetic Press, we’re just like everyone else: we have to buy holiday gifts for our loved ones. And just like everyone else, we aim to help you, our audience, in what can often be a difficult process. As such, we’ll be offering our holiday gift guide throughout the month, and we hope that it will take some pressure off of your already heavy shoulders!

Today’s list was lovingly curated by Lise Quintana:

You wave a hand in the air, and a flight attendant hands you another glass of champagne and a china bowl of warm spiced cashews. Looking out the window, you see the tiny tropical island below get bigger until it fills your field of vision. As your plane comes in for a landing, you can see a handsome, dark-skinned man in a pristine white suit waving and smiling. If you listen closely, you might hear an accented voice shouting “The plane! The plane!”

That’s right. You’re on Fantasy Island, where you have an unlimited amount of money, so the big worries like making rent, health insurance, etc., are already taken care of. Now you’re down to the little things – what would make your writing life a teeny bit better? Money is no object! What would be amazing? Here is my holiday gift list of things that, if you happen to have a rich uncle you’ve never met who suddenly passes away leaving you zillions of dollars, you might buy the writer in your life.

  1. Noise canceling headphones

Whether you suffer from misophonia (where you can’t stand the sound of people chewing) or are just easily distracted and need to buckle down, a good set of noise-canceling headphones is indispensable. Block out everything but your writing soundtrack or your favorite audiobook.

Pro tip: Want to ensure you can’t hear anything you don’t want to? Combine your headphones with high-quality ear plugs and turn up the music.

  1. Smartpen

You’re on the train or bus on your way to work, but you have a fantastic idea for story. Maybe you’re in a meeting and you’re the one who has to take notes for the group. A smartpen allows you to take notes that are automatically translated to .pdf, and if you have Evernote, you can store your .pdfs so you can access them from any device.

Pro tip: Want to be able to finish writing that story on your computer after you’ve started it on the train? Try an online OCR program to convert your .pdfs to Word.

  1. A standing desk

Eight million studies have shown that too much sitting is bad for you. But writing requires a great deal of being in one place, and it’s not always comfortable to stand for six to eight hours at a time. Standing for even a few minutes every hour can improve your circulation, allowing for increased creativity!

Pro tip: Once you’ve mastered the standing desk, take it to the next level with a treadmill desk.

  1. A virtual assistant

You want utter isolation in your island fortress. You want to spend all your time writing, but not doing those pesky submission chores like researching markets and querying agents and publishers. You want someone else to correct the typos and punctuation, send your signed hardcopy contracts back to your agent, and get last year’s scanned receipts to your accountant. A virtual assistant can do all that for you without ever being in the same room!

Pro tip: If you need someone to do real, physical tasks like picking up your dry cleaning or walking your dog, you can hire temp help for those too!

  1. Speech to text software

You’re in the car, but the most amazing story in the world comes to you. And not just the plot — jewel-like sentences, each one a glistening crystal of perfection, line themselves up like Michael Ondaatje via Zora Neale Hurston via Jhumpa Lahiri. But you’re in the car, and if you pull over, you’re going to miss your date/plane/appointment. If you have speech to text software, you can literally dictate your story directly to an editable document, thereby never missing a brilliant turn of phrase, even at 70 miles per hour.

Pro tip: Dictating, like talking on the phone, even on a hands-free set, is distracting and can cause accidents. Take your dictation to the next level by hiring yourself a chauffeur.

Granted, if you had the money to do all these things, you might no longer feel that hungry drive to work on your writing 24/7. But what I hope for every one of you is that someday, you get to find out.

Book Review: Studies in the Hereafter by Sean Bernard

reviewed by Michael Chin

studies in the hereafter

Studies in the Hereafter
Sean Bernard
Red Hen Press, 2015

An old adage tells us that nothing is certain except for death and taxes. Yes, taxes suggest giving up a portion of our hard-earned income, but when April 15 occurs to me, I think less of money than of paperwork–filling in numbers on a series of forms and hoping for the best that I didn’t overlook anything. It’s this sense of bureaucracy, mundanity, and unending work that Sean Bernard captures with aplomb in Studies in the Hereafter, his debut novel which explores existence after death as equal parts tale of human emotion and saga of administrative headaches.

Studies in the Herafter splits time between an unnamed narrator who reviews files of humans for placement in the afterlife, and the odd couple of buttoned-up but eccentric Carmelo and more free-spirited Tetty, whom our narrator has been assigned to assess. Twists abound as the narrator abuses his privilege of “insertion” intended to allow him to observe his subjects close up, and winds up all but falling in love with Tetty, and can’t help himself from interacting (a big no-no). Meanwhile the narrator’s own after-life assigned wife is facing an existential crisis—an unhappy woman in heaven, which turns out to be a dangerous thing to be as unhappy people have been disappearing of late.

The balance between personal is very much at the heart of this novel. In applying the lessons from his research to his own administrative position, the narrator concludes, “Work matters: it’s responsible for at least half a person’s life contentment” (148). And so, while the narrator largely maintains a collected exterior, it’s also clear he’s not particularly happy himself, and we catch a hint that he might even envy his more emotionally transparent and vulnerable wife. When he watches her at rest, he comes to the melancholy observation that, “the grandest any person can be is in sleep—perfectly filled with potential. It’s only when we open our eyes, when we speak, that the magic falls away.” (173).

Indeed, the narrator’s wife never does seem to quite fit into this afterlife. Even when she aims to socialize, it’s with both excessive and misdirected effort, such as the theme party she decides to host, primarily for the narrator’s work friends. The party schematic is equal parts ambitious and convoluted, centered around guests wearing masks that represent different emotions that they’re unaware of. Other partygoers must treat them as if they really are experiencing the represented emotion until the wearer catches on and actually begins to act accordingly. The sad, she says, will jump out a window, and based on the rules of their afterlife, will land safely, only to take on another mask. Confronted with a party that might compel them all to face emotions, no one shows up (though this is, at least in part, on account of the narrator’s boss keeping folks in to work late).

Studies in the Hereafter is most remarkable when it rejects specific narrative in favor of the subversive suggestion that Bernard is writing to and about each and every one of us. In the closing movements of the novel, after the narrator’s wife has disappeared and after the narrator has found her, and as the two of them look upon Tetty and Carmelo together for the first time. The wife, newly at peace, gestures to the other pair and tells him, “That’s us. You and me. Right there” (250) and we the readers are left to speculate if this is metaphor, if this is pointing out commonalities between the two pairs of entities, if this this a broader suggestion that we are all Tetty and Carmelo. After all, the very dedication in the front matter of the book labels the novel “for us, you and me”—a note that might be so intimate to Bernard and his kin that it necessitates no further identifiers, or could just as easily suggest this book really is for and about each and every person on this plane of existence and the next.

Studies in the Hereafter succeeds as many things. It’s a cleanly written narrative that dares to speculate wildly about the infrastructure of the hereafter while grounding it in office politics and paperwork. It’s also a profoundly human story of two people who do and do not mesh, moving closer together and further apart in as nonlinear of a narrative as any connection between two thoughtful humans tends to be. Above all, it’s a book that celebrates existence, for all its flaws and complications. The afterlife may not be better than the one we’re living now, but in Bernard’s imagining of it, we’re happy to see through all varieties of being in all manner of worlds.


Michael ChinMichael Chin won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction from the University of New Orleans and has previously published or has work forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, the Prairie Schooner blog, and Word Riot!. He is a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.

Book Review: Evergreen by Sarah Frances Moran

reviewed by Clara B. Jones

evergreen

Evergreen
Sarah Frances Moran
Weasel Press, 2016

Once, a decade or so ago, I was complaining about a boyfriend to a Hindu friend who replied, “Clara, everybody has a story.” Of course, I learned from that experience not to take myself too seriously; however, reading Sarah Frances Moran’s chapbook, Evergreen, convinces me that some stories are more urgent than others. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), An American is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes and a child is victimized every 8 minutes. Feminists and their activist counterparts are keenly aware of the socially-, politically-, and economically-sanctioned differentials between men and women pertaining to power and agency. Though the inequalities of Patriarchy and inequality are inherent to American society, it was not until my late thirties that I consciously realized that many men were not benign figures and that, except for their self-imposed or legally-imposed restraint, most men are capable of dominating me physically. As a result of this insight, I assess any man’s control over his aggressive potential.

Sarah Frances Moran, Founder and Editor of the highly-regarded poetry journal, Yellow Chair Review, has experienced parental narcissism in the extreme. Confronted with a stepfather who is, at once, flawed and impotent, Sarah describes a complex relationship with a man who psychologists might describe as a person lacking empathy or the capacity for “Theory of Mind,” a person unable to view a situation from another person’s perspective. Raised Catholic, Sarah’s relationship with “Bebo” (or, “Dad”) is sufficient to seriously challenge her faith (“ What 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Says”—“They say this god will destroy him who destroys/ god’s temple./ They say this,/ but I don’t believe it.”); yet, despite her trauma, she is resilient enough (like an “evergreen”) to recognize her predicament as a complicated one (“The Child Is Gone”—“I wondered if there was something inside me you needed”) and to understand that her victimizer may be unable to appreciate Beauty (“The Child Is Gone”—“When you hear that songbird/ does it still rip you apart?”). Though some might say that Sarah is too forgiving of the man who sexually abused her, she refuses to allow the perpetrator’s moral and spiritual emptiness to define her own Truth. Furthermore, Sarah is on a path to discovery of wholeness that she invites us to accompany her on.

Evergreen is a beautifully-produced book with a haunting cover photo depicting a pine forest darkened by foreboding weather. The reader is aware from the outset that this is going to be a rough ride of expiation and “working through,” reminding me of other women artists who have used their practice in an attempt to come to terms with pain…psychic and/or physical. The visual artist, Käethe Kollwitz, comes first to mind for her many attempts to purge the distress of losing a beloved grandson in World War II. Indeed, the poet and critic, Harry Burke, reminds us that poets are like visual artists using the blank page upon which to record creative expressions, and Moran, like, Kollwitz, uses her talents to communicate strong feelings as well as their causes, effects, and (partial) resolutions (“Caution: Go Slow”—“I want my own cage/ and my own understanding”). Sarah’s narrative poems reside in the tradition of other “confessional” poets (e.g., Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds) for their deliberate attempts to draw the reader into the writer’s personal experience.

The organization of the book is effective, moving in sequence through the poet’s own stages of grief, in particular, feelings of betrayal, sadness, and anger (“This Evergreen’s Locking Up Everyone Who Ever Laid A Finger On Me”—“These are the cages I keep where I harbor/ all the damaged broken animals of my childhood.”). These sentiments are reinforced by the use of sarcasm, a defense mechanism protecting a wounded ego (“Every I Love You Lied Through Your Teeth”—“You’ll die thinking of me.”). Eventually, Sarah is forced to admit that the perpetrator is human (“The Child Is Gone”—“…pour into my inner sides and find/ what is it you lacked in yourself.”). The victim is not relieving the victimizer of responsibility but realizing that human beings can be, at the same time, evil and worthy of pity. In another stage, perhaps, still driven by anger, the poet stereotypes “Bebo” as in the poem, “Bebo The Broken”—“Very tall with tattoos on his arms/ and a busty Latina on his chest.” However, the reader would do a disservice to Moran by appropriating the description of the perpetrator. The characterization of “Bebo” and his failures, as well as his misdeeds, belongs to Moran, herself, and her stepfather’s characteristics are no laughing matter. The poet’s stereotyped description of her abuser is not an attempt to distance him but an attempt to highlight that he is a man as well as a buffoon.

Ultimately, aided by therapy and a loving partner, Sarah has been able to define and inhabit her own turf. She presents herself as wounded but healthier, wiser and grateful (“Salvation”—“A display/ of scars/ and wicked smiles/ whispered words/ and shouts that shatter fears.”). These beautiful and memorable poems reveal the poet’s journey toward enlightenment, which none of us completes, and they exhibit strong music and interpretive power, recording one woman’s path to a healthy relationship with herself and others. There is something in this chapbook for everyone, hetero-normative, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or gender non-conforming (“An evening with Zoloft”—“It’s cotton candy kicked across the living room/ because I wanted chocolate.”). Reading these poems gave me insight about how to address my own experience with familial sexual abuse and, most important, reminded me of the importance of healthy self-care (see, for example, the poem, “If I Were Jane Gallagher”). Evergreen deserves to be read by anyone who appreciates the poetry of personal experience and should be recognized as an important poetic contribution to gender studies.


C Jones smallClara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. As a woman of color, she writes about identity and power. Ofi Literary Magazine, WNC-Woman, Transnational, Bluestem, The Review Review, Mount Island, and 34th Parallel are among the venues her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in, and her collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition. In the 1970s, Clara studied with Adrienne Rich and has studied recently with the poets Meghan Sterling and Eric Steineger.

Book Review: Violation, Collected Essays by Sallie Tisdale

Reviewed by Joshua James Amberson

Violation

Violation: Collected Essays
Sallie Tisdale
Hawthorne Books, 2016

Sallie Tisdale’s thirty year career has been wildly varied. It spans from a history of salt to philosophies of sexuality, a sociological study of food to the lives of women Buddhist masters. Her books and essays are so wide-ranging that she should be mentioned in the same sentence, and as often, as writers like Rebecca Solnit or Geoff Dyer—as part of a group of modern writers who are willing to write about anything that captures their imagination and create work that exists just outside of the doors of classification. But usually Tisdale doesn’t come up in the same sentence, somehow hasn’t gained the same level of name recognition, the same reputation for risk-taking that Solnit, Dyer, and others have.

Enter Violation, a career-spanning essay collection out this month on Hawthorne Books which (one can presume) aims to change that. While it takes a moment to sink in to some of the early-in-her-career essays that begin the collection, once the book gains traction it becomes clear that this is a goldmine, a windfall of finely-tuned essays that manage to maintain a certain spontaneity. Each essay has layers beyond its ostensible subject matter, making connections that feel both surprising and strangely inevitable. The world’s seemingly-infinite variations of flies leads to her long relationship with Buddhism. The walls of her childhood home lead to a consideration of passion versus talent. Bad teeth lead into philosophies of pain. She looks at the allure of Disneyland, the chaos of the education system, and—again and again—at the complicated bonds of family.

The title essay, and the book’s centerpiece, is perhaps among the greatest essays about truth in nonfiction ever written. In an expansive braided form, Tisdale considers the ways writers violate the privacy of others—especially their loved ones—and what responsibilities this implies; what larger implications this has. “We fall between cowardice and kindness in our desire to be fair; between courage and cruelty in our need to tell the story,” she writes. “We are betrayed by our own amnesia, by the fact that one can never be sure.”

Tisdale likes considering grey areas like these, lingering in the in-between zones. “Long before I knew how to describe it,” she writes, “I liked ambivalence. Certainty has always seemed a bit dishonest to me.” And often her style of ambivalence feels almost subversive, somehow more radical than so-called radical writers. She’s open to possibility, to seeing life as complex, and is perpetually working toward finding a place where dogma ends and the daily lived reality can step into the light.

Even in essays about elephants in captivity or the work done in abortion clinics, she tries to make us feel the routine of it, the mundanity that comes from doing any one thing—even a highly-politicized thing—every day. The essays may have brief moments where they’re flashy, sweeping, making big, broad statements. But she always pulls back, provides a counterbalance, reminds us that every issue is more complicated than its surface, that reality doesn’t often match up with political rhetoric.

In the book’s introduction, Tisdale writes that the questions she comes back to are “about the nature of the self, what it means to live in a body, why we are all lonely, [and] how to use language to say what can’t be said.” It’s in the final essay—an almost lyrical, structurally loose piece called “So Long as I am With Others”—that we best see these themes melding together, becoming part of a larger whole. The essay doesn’t spend much time reflecting on when she was younger and didn’t have life figured out, but instead focuses on life as a middle-aged woman, with full grown children, still having daily existential dilemmas. It’s a raw, emotionally complex piece; a meditation on the inherent loneliness of being human. “A beloved friend tells me that I hold myself apart,” she writes, “and it feels like a death sentence. It doesn’t matter that she’s right.” The essay is odd and unruly—largely philosophical, fluidly darting between sadness and celebration—and at the same time a perfect distillation of everything that came before it.

At her recent book release at Powell’s Books, she said that this final essay was the one she couldn’t find a home for—the one all the editors she had worked with in the past said was, in different ways, “too weird.” She also said that it’s an example of the direction she’s going in, which suggests (to me anyway) that—as great as the essays in Violation are—the best Sallie Tisdale essays are still to come.


Joshua_AmbersonJoshua James Amberson is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and creative writing teacher. His essays, short prose, and reviews have appeared in The Portland Mercury, Broken Pencil, and The Rumpus

Book Review: Becoming the Sound of Bees by Marc Vincenz

Reviewed by Thaddeus Rutkowski
becoming-the-sound-of-bees-mark-vincenz
Becoming the Sound of Bees
Ampersand Books
June, 2015

I read this collection of poems in fits and starts, mostly while I rode the subway to and from my class. I took in every word, however, and I appreciated Vincenz’s large, clear-eyed, often profound vision of the world.

One of the poems, “Amelia’s Orange Grove,” kept bringing me back. This poem is not typical of the book, in that it is about a romance, or a romance almost gone wrong. It is about a relationship between a man named Juan and a woman named Amelia. There is love between them, but there is also distrust, and probably infidelity. The poem begins:

Juan doesn’t dare ask, but knows Amelia has others—
in dark cities, in the dust of autumn, pictures her
winding down dwindling alleys where windows
slam shut at noon; sometimes he smells them
emerging from Amelia’s pores at night
when she sleeps and he turns, watching streetlight
flickering forgiving forgetting

The character Juan is suspicious of Amelia; he imagines her in alleys “in dark cities” (cities without light, or cities of dark people?) and he can smell other presumed partners emanating from her skin. And yet, there is a sense that this couple will stay together, because there is an element of “forgiving” and “forgetting.” There is also the suggestion that Amelia’s wanderings are only in Juan’s mind, because he doesn’t have the nerve to ask her about them, and thus he has no confirmation.

In the middle of the poem, Juan looks up at the sky and tries to identify constellations (he tries “to remember Sagittarius from Capricorn, searching for the virgin and the sky’s dangling umbilical cord”). It is not just an astronomical exercise, because he seeks the stars that symbolize purity and birth—qualities prized by many, in a wife. In this way the poet connects the universe with our own experience of life—something he does repeatedly and well throughout the book.

At the end of this poem, Amelia seems to promise a life for herself and her partner, in a house next to an orange grove, and Juan tastes the fruit of that grove as he eats an orange with the “skin, flesh, pips” and “swallows it all.” It is as if he is consuming the sweetness, bitterness—and seediness—of a relationship all at once.

In a later poem, “Fossil,” the personal world meets the natural world again as the speaker (presumably the poet) walks along a beach with a man named Ivan (presumably a friend). The poem begins:

He comes alive again & calls them
ancient crabs & I don’t correct him

though I know they’re trilobites,
he reaches down and feels their smooth

ossified shells, running his finger
along their ridges & appendages,

their sharp protrusions, moves his
thumb across their compound eyes.

I tell him, like us they could see
in stereo, complex eyes that caught

light into far distances, the first
complex eyes on our planet

Here, the poet makes a connection between the present and the distance past—hundreds of millions of years ago. He points to a similarity between our eyes and “their” eyes, suggesting that just as we see across eons, these ancient creatures could see “light into far distances.” And in the part of the poem not quoted here, there is another hint of romance as Ivan “looks sad again like when he thinks of Tatjana and the creatures vanish.” It is as if a loved one is going the way of extinction, as the trilobites did.

Becoming the Sound of Bees is filled with references to the natural, the ageless and the elemental. The cover art shows beekeepers, both male and female, dancing next to movable comb hives in an apiary, smoke jars in hand. Perhaps the message is that if we listen hard enough, that droning, buzzing sound will draw us back into something more primal, more durable, than what we experience every day.


 

CREDIT: Tony Cenicola
CREDIT: Tony Cenicola

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the novels Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. All three books were finalists for an Asian American Literary Award, and Haywire won the Members’ Choice award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He received a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

 

Author Interview: Christopher Grillo

Six Fold

Recently, Zoetic Press was pleased to premier Christopher E. Grillo’s newest poetry collection, The Six- Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow. Christopher is an education professional and recent graduate of Southern Connecticut State University’s MFA program, his poetry having been featured in Extracts, Up the River, Young Raven’s Literary Review, Drunk Monkeys, Noctua Review, Lunch Ticket Press, Referential, The Elm City Review, and more. Christopher is Noctua Review’s Connecticut State University’s Poetry Prize Winner and the Elm City Review’s editor’s choice award winner. He moonlights as a high school football coach at his alma mater, North Haven.

Christopher spoke to Kolleen Carney about The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow, his writing process, sports themed poetry, and what’s important to have an adult.

KC: The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow is a narrative collection; did you draw any of these poems from your own life? Is there any aspect of confessional writing in these poems?

CG: Absolutely. I don’t believe a poet can effectively convey a message through subject matter he or she knows nothing about. I was a small town kid and an athlete. Many of the poems are some of the most distinct memories I have of my adolescence. That is not to say that they aren’t embellished and altered in a lot of ways, and certainly there are “moments” implanted for continuity’s sake. Those moments, the ones that are more fabricated, in my opinion, are the weaker poems in the collection.

KC: In these poems the speaker is almost haunted by memories of his youth. I think this is a theme most of us struggle with; the wish to still be young, the wish of having done more (or differently), the reality of being older with our glory days behind us. Any thoughts on this aspect of your book?

CG: Yeah. I think for me it is less of a reflection for remembrance’s sake and more of a comment on growing up and losing some of the “innocence” (though I wouldn’t describe any of the characters as innocent) of those adolescent years.

When I frame it that way it sounds depressing. But I would like to think the book actually has a hopeful ring to it. That Frankie’s dreams, and the speaker’s dreams for Frankie, and his idealism, kind of crumble is totally gut wrenching. But the characters persist and learn to lean on each other more than ever.

That’s what it’s all about when the smoke clears. In adulthood, they have loyalty and friendship, and while it seems a small victory, it is much more meaningful than the fantasies of their youth.

KC: The poems are a beautiful blend of athleticism and masculinity paired with introspection. I will admit I have not read a lot of sports- themed poetry. Was this a difficult balance to achieve? Were you afraid of it not being well received?

CG: Thank you! I’ve been asked this many times in one form or another, and I think for a while I was defensive to what I felt the implication was, the old meathead trope. I recognize now that I am one of a very small sample size living in the overlap on the sports/literature Venn diagram, and so I am more understanding of the questions raised by the phenomenon. To answer directly: no it was not difficult, because I am myself an introspective AND physical person. For me, as a football player, the game helped me to become more introspective. I was an overachieving athlete, a wannabe hanging on at a level of play far above my physical capacity. By their very nature, athletics test a person’s physicality, but the mind and the body are so interconnected and so you are constantly examining your strengths and self-inflations versus your weaknesses and self-doubts. If you are not honest about whom you really are you will be exposed. What’s worse, you will let people down. I think that is true of life as well.

KC: I understand this book connects with another work by you. Could you tell us about that? What made you focus on this particular narrative?

CG: Sure. So this collection is one half of what was my MFA thesis and is now a full-length collection called Heroes’ Tunnel (Anaphora Literary Press.) The poems in the full length alternate in focus from the speaker’s relationship with Frankie to the speaker’s relationship with his love interest, Charlene. During my thesis defense a reader praised the work for its braided narratives. I tried my best to look as though that was the intention, but it really wasn’t. I left the defense and blew up the order of the poems so that there was a Frankie section and a Charlene section, and it became clear that I really had three books. The Charlene section was published early last year under the title When Rain Fills the Chasm, by Finishing Line Press.

KC: What is your writing process like? I am always fascinated with how writers, you know, write.

CG: For me it usually starts with a phrase or a piece of description that the world around me offers up. From there, the poem starts to take shape and I get a basic idea of what I would like the reader to take away. The revision process is when I tighten the language and the extended metaphor so that my intent is clear. This is the most natural way to write, I think. I have written with a collection concept in mind, as with Heroes’ Tunnel, and it is a really tough process. I think this is why you see a lot of poetry collections out there that are loosely held together by abstraction. I don’t think this devalues the writing in any way. A good poem is a good poem, but I personally feel like I am wasting my time if I am not writing towards a clear narrative collection. That’s just me. I must have been a novelist in my past life. In my current incarnation though, my ADD is too aggressive for prose.

KC: Tell us about the title, which is beautiful. Amidst all the sports imagery, this snow is a gorgeous stand- out.

CG: I really struggle with titling. In the early drafts the majority of the poems had titles like “Driving with Frankie, Winter.” A lot of the feedback I received was focused there, so I went on a titling binge. Towards the end I was really losing steam. The poem the collection is named for features Frankie and the speaker driving home from the bar in a snow storm. I Googled “snow”, “snowflakes”, etc. One of the first things that popped up was that phrase, six-fold radial symmetry. I don’t know how it contributes to the collection, but I’m sure if you brought it to an AP lang class somebody could figure out the connection. If I’m being honest, I just think it sounds awesome.

KC: What do you do when you are not writing?

CG: I am a middle school teacher in New Haven, so that is usually the thing that pulls me away from writing (in the most positive way possible). I love my students and the work I do on the achievement gap. They are my heroes. At this point in my life, being a teacher is so much more central to my identity than being a writer.

I am also an assistant high school football coach at my alma mater, which is so much fun. I like to work out though I’m not super outdoorsy. I’m more of a gym/free weights guy. I’ve recently started golfing a bit. I play with my old man who is retired and plays like twice a week. It’s one of those full circle experiences. He’s helping me with the mechanics through the guise of trash talk. It’s like little league baseball all over again. I love it.

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The Six- Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow is available through the Zoetic Press website.

Kolleen Carney is a poet and Associate Editor for Zoetic Press.