December 15, 2013

Postcards from the Terrible, Available World: A Review of Rebecca Cook's I Will Not Give Over by Marc Sheehan

Cover credit: Aldrich Press
I Will Not Give Over by Rebecca Cook
Aldrich Press (2013)

Reviewed by Marc Sheehan

Perhaps the main poetic mode of the last few of decades has been a detached voice—ironic and non-committal. In this neo-Ashbury school of poetics, the one great sin is to show emotion. The prose poems that compose Rebecca Cook’s first book, I Will Not Give In, adhere to a very different aesthetic. 

Some of its best poems are set in childhood or early adolescence. Their disquietude stems from the constraints and consequences of a blossoming intelligence and sexual curiosity confronting the world. Many of the poems contain a rural setting, but they are far from pastoral. Take the poem, “Millie the Model”:
“The knob on the old wringer washer is a bomb. I set it carefully.… I run around the barn and I’m almost safe. But no, I blow sky high…. The blonde woman with no shirt is smiling for the camera, her breasts full as milk inside the wheat field. Her belly is curvy, her jeans cut off at the knees….”
These poems don’t try to tease meaning or nostalgia out of an idealized landscape. If anything, the backdrop of rural isolation is analogous to a personal isolation engendered by an intense and painful self-awareness. Exploring that can cause an author to devolve into self-indulgence, but I Will Not Give Over avoids this. The poems create an internal logic that builds from image to image, making them satisfyingly cohesive even when they are portraying states of emotional or intellectual disarray. Additionally, there is the overarching narrative of growing older, of coming to terms (or not) with the world’s casual cruelty. For example, in “Black,” Cook writes:
“The bull’s ball sac is like the black knob of the sock darner and you’re sick on your stomach with it, knowing she slips the rubber bands around them, knowing they dry up and fall off.... You won’t eat it… and you find out that they left it hanging too long at the meat-processing plant, your pet steer’s body draining, the boy with his water gun washing out the clots, the blood pooling on the floor, festering.”
By foregoing line breaks, Cook manages in many of the poems to create a headlong rhythm, like the breathlessness of a panic attack. By plunging forward, the poems reinforce the emotional chaos, making the form of the poems feel genuinely authentic.

A number of literary journals with a focus on cross-genre writing and indeterminate forms have started publication in the last few years. This book lands right in the middle of that collective exploration. Most of the poems have some kind of narrative to them, reading almost like “flash fiction” pieces. Others are arranged more by image rather than action, making them read more like traditional prose poems. By exploring the common linguistic area between prose poems and flash fictions, Cook expands their forms’ possibilities. Mostly, she reminds poets of the necessity for writing compelling sentences—not just compelling lines—by composing such wonderful forward-plunging sentences as the one in “Yellow”:
“He held you down so tight you couldn’t breathe, couldn’t scream, couldn’t move, your mouth full of clover and it’s that you look back on, his body on yours, pressing down, his skin woven into you in that moment and sometimes you gather all that narrowing breath into your center until you’re almost there but then you’re just standing in your kitchen with the spoon between your fingers, stirring and stirring and then it stops.”
Throughout, some of the most intense pleasure emerges from reading such long, word-drunk sentences that seem to recall William Faulkner by way of Sylvia Plath or Sharon Olds. As noted earlier, the most successful poems in I Will Not Give Over are set in childhood or adolescence. Those poems have great tensions between personal innocence and worldly experience. However, they gain a different kind of intensity as the adult “I” ruminates on her place in the world and her complicity in its imperfections. For example, Cook writes in “Womb”:
“My moored womb thickens and bleeds, listening for the rattle of shells down the shoots, waiting, waiting, so full of regret I can’t stop hearing its muffled singing rising up from my middle, that echo ringing of birth, of water, of my sons’ faces slipping from me and into the world, into this terrible, available world.”
It’s that “terrible, available world” Cook does such a wonderful job of exploring. These are not poems that read as though they have had all the rough edges workshopped out of them. They are direct, vulnerable, lush; they engage all the senses. The collection is a terrific debut, one that suggests further, richer explorations to come.

December 9, 2013

Issue 10 Contributor List


Kelsey Dean
Geoffrey Miller


Joan Connor
Michael W. Cox
E.C. Kane
James Pouilliard


Pamela Galbreath
Eunice E. Tiptree


Marie Abate
Nancy Naomi Carlson
Melissa Cundieff-Pexa
Doug Paul Case
Claudia Cortese
Damien Cowger
James Dunlap
Maia Gil'Adi
Jessica Glover
Jason Gordon
Patrick Haas
Mary-Kaylor Hanger
Darla Himeles
Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Nate Liederbach
Paige Lockhart
Valerie Loveland
Nathan McClain
Michelle Menting
Matt Morton
Erick Piller
Amber Rambharose
Laura Ramos
Will Stockton
Michael Wasson

November 23, 2013

Fractured Fairy Tales: A Review of Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue by Angele Ellis

cover credit: Hyacinth Girl Press
Darling Hands, Darling Tongue by Sally Rosen Kindred
Hyacinth Girl Press (2013)

Review by Angele Ellis

“My son knew that Disney does not have the last word,” said Sally Rosen Kindred in Little Patuxent Review in 2012, describing what led her to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, first published in book form in 1911. “That if a story was intriguing, there was a good chance there was a ‘real’ one out there that was even better… Only there was still so much that was missing.”

The startling, exquisitely crafted free-verse poems in Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue supply what is missing by both reimagining and subverting Barrie’s Edwardian boy’s dream, whose simultaneously unappealing and appalling details have either been forgotten or absorbed into our Disney-saturated culture. This chapbook ventures into new territory—a world of what comes afterward, or instead—by remaking and dissecting, sometimes literally, Barrie’s classic tale. (Kindred uses Peter Pan and Wendy, a version abridged for parents and children with Barrie’s permission in 1915 by the British writer May Byron, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1921.)

Kindred reflects and refracts myth to reject, as Andrew Mulvania wrote in Weave Magazine of the Biblical allusions in her full-length collection No Eden (Mayapple, 2011), “the easier and overused.” In “Tinker Bell Thinks About What She Wants,” Kindred conjures a bold woman’s voice for the sprite Barrie describes as “quite a common fairy”:
pull me down. I want you
but wish I did not need your hands

to do my dirt work, your heavy heat to solder
or your pretty mouth to

tell me over, make me more
than a sliver of a dead child’s laugh.
Tiger Lily (whom Barrie condescendingly calls “a princess in her own right… the most beautiful of dusky Dianas”), Tinker Bell, and Wendy Darling narrate seven of the fifteen poems in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. As Kindred’s female mythmakers—sharp, demanding, regretful, wanting out—they resonate with rebellion. Her Tiger Lily decides to leave the book altogether:
…If my lips moved in this story
we could talk.
I’ve shut your book. Just think
if my sisters and brothers were more
than a smudge on the page, than Redskins
moving in tandem, marching
in some dim

ellipse, waiting to be elected
for salvation or the Superbowl.
As for Kindred’s Tinker Bell, she not only dies—“a… bright shine of a stain” in the midst of the careless, clueless Lost Boys—but undergoes an eerily beautiful autopsy:
…her blood, gone bronze

now that it’s dried in trails
through the handful
of painted dust
we’re calling a girl:

and here,
two bones from the tongue
of a lark—
I can’t even say.

They smell like apples.
They may have been her hands.
And Kindred gives the last word to her Wendy Darling, returned to drizzling London as a wise but sorrowful adult (“Long-armed now, hard-boned / and wingless”):
… Peter once said I made that world. I lie
with it: guilt simmers my dreams, its ocean
seeps out in pain along my arms
when I wake forgetting why rain
is coming down outside
but my body by a man’s, and bone-dry.
Most poignantly, Kindred reads and rereads Peter Pan and Wendy as a narrative of the frayed but essential bond between mother and child—the endless push-pull (for both) between the need for safety and the desire for freedom and adventure, in a world that wavers between fantasy and nightmare. Nashay Jones’s richly-colored illustration for Darling Hands, Darling Tongue’s cover shows a mother stretching her arms upward toward a child who may be either returning to her or flying away, as petals—or wings—fall around them.

These ambiguities and tensions pervade the dreams of the child and adult personae Kindred employs in Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. In dreams, Kindred suggests, begin both responsibilities and escape from responsibilities. The feminist, postmodern poet can change the story and close the book, but the Lost Boys—and Lost Girls—linger in the imagination as more than ghosts or shadows. They are reminders of the fragility of the child-parent bond and of the mortality of the poet’s own child, as in the stunning “One Ending”:
Our story ends, we’re thinking,
when Mr. and Mrs. Darling
throw open all the blue-house windows
to land and adopt the Lost Boys.


That’s one ending.
There’s always another, one
with tigers red
at mouths, their soft paws smearing
the sides of the house
that is his sleeping body,
their tongues a bronze door,
this page
their wild breath at the glass.

November 16, 2013

Lyrical Calls to the Feral Spirit: A Review of Jen Karetnick's Landscaping for Wildlife by Mindy Kronenberg

cover credit: Big Wonderful Press
Landscaping for Wildlife
Big Wonderful Press, 2012

Review by Mindy Kronenberg

Landscaping for Wildlife seeks to reconcile the forces of the natural world with human nature. It uses various poetic forms (including villanelle, pantoum, and sestina) to create observations that are rich and nearly ritualized in their music and lyricism. Jen Karetnick’s poems capture the domestic and untamable sensibility (or one could even say conceit) that resides inside us as we witness scenarios of encroachment—whether of the wild on the familiar, or vice versa.

Panic and tenderness intermingle in “Echolalia,” where a baby’s cries from colic (“Back arching, her legs point into pitchforks, / Stabbing my ribs as we rock and walk.”) are echoed by peacocks. The lines of the poem are styled as its own mirror to call back the night’s shrill events, beginning and ending with the harsh call of the birds. Fear and humor come into play in “Interview with My Son before Snorkling,” and despite visions of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel and the poet’s memory of the movie Jaws—she sees “…a dorsal tipping / every wave"—and watches as her son collects underwater treasures. It is a remarkably poignant moment, summoning the sting of parental detachment:
For brief seconds on his own he collected brain coral,
observed eels scooting under rocks, and I wondered

as all mothers wonder if this is the one I’ll be allowed
to keep, before he finned up from behind to slip into mine

his growing, shriveled hand, that once-familiar
fish swimming in the oceanic eddies of my body
“A Gesture,” like “New England Music Camp,” brings together the transformative power of nature’s pageantry and personal transformation, creating memories that are both intimate and celebratory. In the first poem, a display of dolphins acts as a backdrop to the act of handholding (“…glistening fins and clouds, / light striking on every surface, / his fingers grazed mine, / withdrew, then came shyly to rest.”).  In the second, a sensual rhythm vibrates in the landscape while a young choir sings (“In the sticky sap, / the glacial lake’s mercury / licks at rocky lips. // The groove underscored, / released by an hour’s taut / and stretch, the choir / eclipses this song—”).

An ecological conscience in world’s wilderness beset by human development pervades many of these works, maintaining an eerie beauty amidst the danger. In “Love Poem for the Purple Gallinate,” the bird of the title is heralded in its glossy, abundant environment of the glades. But it is at risk when losing its life mate, diminishing it to a stain: “and should one die, the other will too, become no more than / a freckle of sunspot like the sheen on the surface of oil.” “The Sound of Global Warming: Brief Renku with Myself” is equally haunting:
Traffic rushes by
Like one thousand rivers fed
By icecaps melting.

All night, Iguanas
Thud to the ground like mangos.
Inside, they’re awake.

In visions mythic and modern, concise and elaborate, Karetnick’s poems become a collective cautionary tale. They capture beauty among caveats, dazzling the reader with scenes and images that too suddenly slip from our view.

November 5, 2013

Issue 07 Redux: All Very Surprising by Anthony Varallo

From Issue 07 came a poignant piece of absurd fiction with skillfully blended humor amongst a deeply emotional experience. Humor is often mentioned as a difficult form of writing because a distinct, compelling voice is a vital prerequisite, one that must be discovered through diligence and trained with practice.  In Anthony Varallo's "All Very Surprising" the voice itself is one of the surprising aspects of the the story, and the fact it is done in such a natural way helps the reader jump gleefully right into the action. We loved it before in Issue 07, and find that years later the story has aged like fine literature.
Frank Jackson
Web Editor, Weave Magazine
 All Very Surprising by Anthony Varallo
      What were the chances her baby would be born talking?
      “Slim,” the baby said. He had just unburdened himself of his hospital blanket, which fell from his pink shoulders and exposed the umbilical stump still clinging to his belly button. “They don’t give you a big enough blanket, do they?” he said. He offered her a toothless smile. “Oh, already I seem to feel the chill of death!” he intoned.
      His mother began to cry. They’d been home from the hospital one week, and already she’d given up trying to understand.
      “Please don’t cry, mother dear,” the baby said. “For I am prone to melodrama.”
      The mother lived alone, her husband gone, her house fitted out with the rocking chair, bassinet, crib, changing table, Pack ‘n Play, and books and toys her mother had purchased secondhand for her. “Don’t show up at my doorstep one day,” her mother warned. “Understand? I given you what you needed and I’ll continue to give you what you need, but don’t show up at my doorstep one day.”
      “I won’t show up at your doorstep one day,” she said, but her mother only laughed.
      “Always the last to know,” she said.
      At night the mother bathed the baby in the plastic bathtub she was able to fit inside the kitchen sink. She rinsed the baby with the detachable sink nozzle, the baby neglecting to close his eyes as she maneuvered the spray above his head. In the bathwater, the baby looked suddenly tender and helpless, and the mother found herself whispering, “I love you,” as she shielded his eyes from lather. The baby gave her a curious look and said, “What is you definition of love, mother dear?”
     The mother stopped rinsing him and cleared her throat. “Well,” she said, and then offered several explanations cribbed from popular songs and movies and the few Bible verses she could vaguely recall from her childhood. The baby nodded without comment. But later, when she was slipping him into his pajamas, the baby said, “You know, I wasn’t very impressed with your definition.” The mother rocked him in the rocking chair and read him the books her mother had chosen: Goodnight, Moon; If You Give a Mouse a Cookie; Guess How Much I Love You; Go Dog, Go. She thought the baby might be nodding off, but he only shook his baby head and said, “These books are full of lies, aren’t they?” He gave her a look. “And me so wee and glee.”
    Mornings, the mother took her baby to Starbucks, where people gave her looks for placing a sippy cup of iced macchiato in the stroller’s beverage holder. She sped the stroller through the door. “If there’s one thing I simply cannot abide in a barista,” the baby said, sucking noisily on the macchiato, “it’s chuffiness.”
    Afternoons, they went to Target, where the mother picked up some diapers and wipes, and checked items in the clearance isle. “Savings,” the baby said, inspecting the garden tools at stroller height. “More like the idea of savings, right-o, mother dear?” A woman approached them and knelt down to see the baby. “Ooh, what a cutie patootie we have here!” she said. “With a wittle face that’s so squeezy-weezy! Ooh, yes it is, yes it is!” She held his face as if it were a rare and delicate fruit. When she was out of earshot, the baby said, “What is the sorrow that drives her?”
    One evening the mother put the baby in his car seat and carried him to the car, which had already been packed with boxes of baby clothes, toys, the plastic bathtub, the stroller, and the Pac ‘n Play hastily folded into its carrying sack. “Oh, but I am an unwanted puppy en route to a strange farm!” the baby said. The mother began to cry. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that this is all—“ and she gave way to sobbing.
    “It’s just that this is all very surprising,” the baby offered.
    The mother nodded, and began to wail.
    “Don’t cry, mumsy,” the baby said, “for there is no end to the all very surprising things, is there?”
    The mother was about to answer when the sky opened up and rain began to fall.
    “Ah, who knows the caprices of the weather?” the baby said.
    When the mother arrived at her mother’s house, she placed the baby in the stroller and pushed him to the doorstep, where she would leave him with the boxes, bathtub, Pac ‘n Play, the crib, and all the other items her mother had purchased for her. The rain had picked up; the mother fastened a canopy over the stroller and pulled it low. “How the winds do blow, mommy-o!” the baby said. “So suiting our current mood!” The mother leaned beneath the canopy and kissed the baby on his head. His skin tasted faintly of old milk. The baby’s eyes met hers. “Believe you can do it, me mutter; believe it as best you can.”
    And she’d nearly made it out of the neighborhood when the storm worsened; rain slapped her windshield like a rebuke. Would the canopy hold? She circled back to her mother’s house, saw the stroller on the doorstep with its canopy bucking in the wind, and saw, as clearly as she saw the years lengthening before her, where she would raise this baby into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood; that, as much as she’d like to imagine she could deposit her baby into her mother’s care, she could never really leave such matters to chance.

Anthony Varallo is the author of This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, and Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His third story collection, Think of Me and I’ll Know, is just out from Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books. Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.

This story originally appeared in Weave Magazine Issue 07, October 2011

October 31, 2013

Dakota R. Garilli reads "What I Would Gladly Sacrifice"

"What I Would Gladly Sacrifice" first appeared in Weave Issue 09. I'm so proud to have poems as moving, beautiful, and interesting as this in Weave.

October 7, 2013

Seeking Fellow Travelers: A Review of R. A. Voss's We Never Travel Alone by Brigette Bernagozzi

cover credit: CreateSpace Publishing
We Never Travel Alone by R. A. Voss
CreateSpace Publishing (2013)

Reviewed by Brigette Bernagozzi

R. A. Voss’s essay collection, We Never Travel Alone, has been accurately billed as an all-in-one book that nonfiction readers with tight schedules and chaotic lives always seek. And, indeed, it is a mixture of “Travel/Nature/Memoir/History,” as the book’s back cover proclaims.

The introduction is less elegant than the rest; its earnest hopes for the reader to learn something from its pages gives an appearance of a thesis proposal. However, each chapter is well-crafted and inviting. Some are suspenseful, like “Buttermilk Road” with its opening confession: “Something happened that day … Something I never told anyone.” A few offer humor, including the tongue-in-cheek opening to an insomnia chapter: “Will I get lucky tonight?”

At the heart of each chapter, Voss invites readers to travel the world with her as she charts geographical locations such as the Anne of Green Gables historic site on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, her ancestors’ hometown in northern Germany, and her brother’s archaeological dig site in Israel. And that’s before factoring in the Iowa landscape where she was raised. But not all of Voss’s travels feature traditional globetrotting. Her chapter “My Solitary Journey to the Deep” leads readers into the realms of deep sleep. Or, more accurately, into the no man’s land that lies on the other side of a good night’s slumber—one disrupted by blaring alarm clocks, a snoring husband, and the near-constant urge to pee. And in “Bragging Rights,” Voss shows both literal and metaphorical journeys when strains of discord emerge during a boat trip with her then-husband.

Voss raises the stakes in her devastating chapter “Disruptions.” Here, during a visit to observe nesting birds, she refers frequently to the work of Rachel Carson, famed author of Silent Spring—the book that first revealed to the masses potential complications linked with the widespread use of the insecticide DDT. Carson’s work crops up during Voss’s discussion of “environmental endocrine disrupter chemicals” and the devastation they once caused the mating rituals of bald eagles. Readers witness these difficulties in the natural world through the eyes of a woman who hopes to experience motherhood but whose natural cycles, much like those of the eagles she seeks to protect, have been thwarted. In an example of the author’s seamless transition between the personal and the global, she confides:
“I have missed feeling their first kicks inside my womb. I have missed feeling their soft warmth nestled against my chest. I have missed their sticky faces and their muddy little hands. I have missed my unborn children each time a child of one of my friends, born near the time one of mine would have been born, passes through any of the milestones that mark a child’s journey through life” (127).
Naturally, the memoir label applies to this book due to reflective passages like this one, as well as several chapters regarding the author’s childhood in Iowa. In “The Road to Recovery,” a chapter that braids her grandparents’ lives with the economics of the Great Depression, she offers this commentary on present-day Iowa:
“One can take a drive through the countryside in any county in Iowa and find the landscape still dotted with now-defunct windmills standing like sentries over the land” (59).
Here, as in many other places in We Never Travel Alone, Voss’s practiced eye and straightforward yet imaginative prose allow readers to find beauty in a seemingly wasted landscape.

All in all, Voss’s collection of dazzling journeys is impressive in its scope. Although constantly surrounded by appealing locals and fellow travelers, she manages to craft a series of thoughtful meditations on a diverse array of places. Whether ruminating on a surprising act of violence in a Buddhist monastery or exploring notions of motherhood during a road trip to visit nesting eagles, Voss proves a thoughtful tour guide and, most importantly, a worthy companion for any armchair traveler.

October 2, 2013

Thank You, Weave Magazine Subscribers!

We'd like to take a moment to send our thanks to the wonderful people who subscribed to Weave Magazine during our September subscription drive. We hope you enjoy reading these issues as much as we have.

Janice Anderson
Andrea Beltran
Kayla Berkey
Catharine Clark-Sayles
Leslie B. Conder
Copic + Spoons
Kelly Cressio-Moeller
Dakota Garilli
Kristin Hankins
Karen Lewis
Gordon Preston
Jan Priddy
Teresa Narey
Janette Schafer
Michael D. Smith
Scott H. Stoller
Harrison Thurman
An Tran
Robert Yune
Holly A. Zaldivar

September 30, 2013

Issue 03 Redux: Cheap, Fast, Filling by Roxane Gay

When a piece of flash fiction has particular strength the reader is able to envision the main character almost as a portrait, where we can interpret the life of the protagonist in a complex manner, obviously quite the task to pull off in a thousand words or so. The below 950 words in Roxane Gay's "Cheap, Fast, Filling" from our Issue 03 release, guides the reader into such an experience. We're given a glimpse into the lives of those we rarely hear about, refugees surviving on the bare minimum, their only sustenance coming from empty calories so to speak, exemplified in Lucian, a man flawed by desperation.  

Roxane Gay has become one of our most important voices in literature. She has often been a vocal advocate for minorities in publishing. Besides her many renowned essays on the matter, she recently has spent time blogging for The Nation, illustrating how a broad range of voices participating in the literary conversation will only strengthen our community, which is of course a core value behind Weave's mission. At the time, we were proud and excited to include this wonderful story in our collection. In looking back, we're even more grateful to share this again.

Frank Jackson
Web Editor, Weave Magazine

Cheap, Fast, Filling by Roxane Gay

When Lucien arrives in the United States by way of a trip to Canada, an illegal border crossing, and hitching rides down to Miami, his cousin Christophe, who made his own way to Miami years earlier hands him a 50 dollar bill and tells Lucien to eat Hot Pockets until he gets a job because they are cheap, filling and taste good. Lucien sleeps on the floor in an apartment he shares with five other men like him, all of them pretending this is better than that which came before. There is a small kitchen with an electric stove that has two burners and a microwave that is rarely cleaned. Christophe also tells Lucien that Hot Pockets are easy to prepare. Because he doesn’t know how to cook, Lucien is grateful for his cousin’s advice.

Lucien is in the United States because he loves Miami Vice. He loves the shiny suits Tubbs and Crockett wear. He loves their swagger. He loves the idea of Miami as a perfect place where problems are always solved and there are beautiful women as far as a man can see. In secondaire, Lucien would daydream about Miami while the French nuns frowned and slapped his desk with their rulers. He has not yet seen that Miami but he knows it is there. It has to be there.

Lucien’s apartment is in Pembroke Pines—a world away from Little Haiti and everything that might be familiar in an unfamiliar place. Every morning, he wakes up at five, showers, gets dressed. He walks four miles to the Home Depot on Pines Boulevard where he waits for contractors to cruise through the parking lot looking for cheap, fast labor. He stands in the immigrant bazaar with the Mexicans and Guatemalans and Nicaraguans, sometimes a few Chinese. They stand tall, try to look strong, hope that a long white finger will curl in their direction. Three or four times a week, he is lucky. He grabs his tool belt, hauls himself into the truck bed and enjoys the humid morning air as he is driven to big white houses owned by big white people locked behind gates to keep things safe from people like him.

Once a week, Lucien buys a calling card for $25. It will allow him to talk for 28 minutes. He calls home where he talks to his mother, his uncle, his wife, his four children. He tells elaborate fables about his new life—how he’s found them a new home with a bedroom for each child, and air-conditioning so they can breathe cool dry air. There is a lawn with green grass and a swimming pool in the backyard by which his wife can lay in the sun. His children, two boys and two girls all under the age of ten, clamor for his attention. He strains to understand them through the static on the line. They tell him about school and their friends and the UN soldier who is renting a room in the house, how he’s teaching them Brazilian curse words. When there are only a few minutes left, his wife chases the children into the bedroom they all share. They are alone. There is no time for anything tender. She whispers that she needs Lucien to send more money, there’s no food, there’s no water. She wants to know when he will send for them. He lies. He tells her he’s doing all he can. He says soon.

On the weekends, Christophe picks Lucien up in the truck his boss lets him take home and they go to house parties in Little Haiti. They listen to konpa and drink rum and as all Haitians are wont to do, they philosophize about how to solve their country’s problems. “Haiti,” his father would always tell Lucien while he was growing up, “is a country with seven million dictators.” Sometimes, when it is very late at night, Lucien will find comfort in the arms of a woman who is not his wife. He will go home with her and in the darkness, as he cups her breasts with his hands, and listens to her breathing against him, as he presses his lips against her neck, and her shoulder, then licks the salt from her skin, he will imagine that she tastes like home.

Around the corner from Lucien’s apartment is a 7-11. Sometimes, when he can’t sleep, Lucien likes to go to there because it is cool and bright and white and clean and he can buy Hot Pockets. The man who works there late at night is also Haitian. He understands why Lucien likes to slowly walk up and down each aisle, carefully studying each row filled with perfectly packaged products. When the clerk first arrived in Miami, he did the same thing. Lucien thinks about the sweet things he would buy for his children if they were with him and how much it would please him to watch them eat a Twix bar or a Kit Kat. Each night, before he leaves 7-11, Lucien buys two Hot Pockets that he microwaves, and a Super Big Gulp. He walks home and sits on the curb in front of his building so he can be alone. He drinks slowly, so slowly that there’s no ice left in the cup when he’s done. He eats one of the Hot Pockets and the other one, he holds. He enjoys its warmth, thinks he’s holding the whole of the world in his hands.

Roxane Gay lives and writes in the Midwest.

This story originally appeared in Weave Magazine Issue 03, October 2009

September 28, 2013

A Possible Decency: A Review of Diane Raptosh's American Amnesiac by Marc Sheehan

cover credit: Etruscan Press
American Amnesiac by Diane Raptosh
Etruscan Press (2013)

Reviewed by Marc Sheehan

Over the past several months, the United States (or parts of it, at least) has crossed a number of sociological, political, and historical divides—think marriage equality legislation and marijuana legalization, for starters. However, for me, two events stand out: the re-election of President Barack Obama and the death of noted poet and feminist Adrienne Rich. What the two have in common is that they both rose to the top of their respective paths without the support of—and even the active opposition of—white males. Rich’s power and recognition grew as the power of white males in the United States declined, and President Obama won both his national elections without support from the majority of white males.

Enter American Amnesiac, Diane Raptosh’s wonderful, ambitious, and timely book of poems that was recently a National Book Award nominee. At the center of American Amnesiac is Calvin Rinehart, a former financier (“I plumped / for Goldman Sachs) from Denver who wakes up with amnesia. In an act of self-reinvention, Rinehart adopts the generic name John Doe, which he has been given by the authorities, the media, and the denizens of the blogosphere:
                                        Bloggers from across the world
predict What ‘happened’ to Cal Rinehart will become widespread

if ID cards fall into currency: round-the-globe government-controlled
            DNA database hubs.
A mug’s game! A blunt kick in the khakis!
In these poems, Rinehart/Doe spends as much time and emotional energy piecing together the world around him as he does trying to reconstruct his past. Culture, Rinehart/Doe discovers, both liberates us from ourselves and imprisons us in its expectations:
                                                                 We can’t
ask what we are without asking when, within which mixes, how

weighted, and who’s strung up in we.
Raptosh gives her character a Hobson’s choice: He can either remain untethered from a culture that gave him privilege at the expense of others, or he can re-enter that culture and forgo the redemption he found through having his memory erased. Or maybe there’s a third choice: take the best of the past, jettison the rest, and move forward. Raptosh’s white male protagonist combines longing, regret, remorse, self-discovery, and reinvention in just the right proportions. Of course, it is ironic that Rinehart/Doe has the ability to start over precisely because he is a white male of means, a status which he tries to renounce.

Most of American Amnesiac is written in a loose form of the ghazal—a traditional Arabian/Persian poetic form Rich also explored in her “Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib.” In Raptosh’s hand, the form becomes more narrative and the associative leaps—for which the form is known—stretch further across the couplets, creating a tug between epiphany and narrative. Although, sometimes, the juxtapositions appear faster and put Doe’s predicament into sharper focus:
I recall the end of Rinehart’s last consulting phase
as if it were Lisette’s first look.

At each momentous stage of his life, a Sioux Indian earns a new name.
Jumping Badger landed the tag Sitting Bull on killing his first bison.

Unfriend was just dubbed word of the year.
The name’s John Doe, and I’m just lying doggo here on wheezing earth.
When Adrienne Rich won the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1951, few people felt the United States was on the path of becoming a country that would embrace marriage equality and an African American president. What these poems do best is to synthesize our experience—both intellectually and emotionally—and try to make sense out of the cacophony. Like Rich, Raptosh sees a changed world, and the poems in American Amnesiac point with a “spine of possible decency” toward it.

September 23, 2013

Jan Priddy reads her poem "Zoöpraxiscope"

"Zoöpraxiscope" first appeared in Weave Magazine Issue 09. We are thrilled to continue sharing our contributors' work in multiple mediums in order to extend the reach of their work.

A big thank you goes to Jan Priddy for her beautiful reading and this artful recording.

Purchase Issue 09, where this poem appears, or subscribe to Weave here.

September 20, 2013

Writing the Rhythms of Our Lives: A Review of Margo Taft Stever's The Hudson Line by Mindy Kronenberg

cover credit: Main Street Rag Publishing
The Hudson Line by Margo Taft Stever
Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2012)

Review by Mindy Kronenberg

The passing of Irish poet Seamus Heaney has sparked numerous conversations, in both print and on the Internet, of how his work’s significance was due in part to its strong connection to the lives of determined and vulnerable citizens. He was described as a poet who capably expressed “the rhythms of ordinary lives,” by delving beneath domestic pantomime and finding an inner darkness or hope. Similarly, Margo Taft Stever’s The Hudson Line summons the stories of citizens along the route of a suburban commuter train—privilege providing little protection from the chaos that enters lives without warning. It is a haunting ride filled with longing, rage, fear, and a determination to find the right words to share the stories of one’s life.

Stever’s characters and scenarios are startling and evocative, capable of rousing panic while they plumb the emotional interiors of pending violence. Like parables, they are partly reportage and partly out of time, nearly magical in their lyrical narratives. For example, in a scene of marital carnage, a wife is driven to murder to protect her children. With chilling intimacy, she is transformed (“Splitting Wood”):
The wild moon foamed at the mouth.
The wild moon crept softly at her feet.

The arms that grabbed the ax
were not her own,
that hugged it to her heart

while he slept were not hers,
the cold blade sinking in his skin.
In “House Raising,” the vestiges of rigorous indoor children’s play result in a furious husband admonishing his wife. Her recollection of the children’s games becomes metaphorical for how creating a homestead (“…houses out of cushions, / intricate cities and roads / out of rugs and blocks,…”) can dissolve into stains and frayed remnants underfoot.

“The Worst Mother” and “Step-Mother” play upon fairy tale perceptions of failure and fright in the maternal dynamic. The first lists affectionate ritual (“Playing music / for you before / you were born,...”) and the suffering of a child’s illness (“The night you gagged / and choked up shreds… / I comforted you). The latter poem unleashes a litany of brutal powers (“The step-mother’s fangs lengthen / in moonlight.”) as well as the curse of circumstance (“A step-mother is always evil, / marked by the blood of her husband’s children. / She tries to climb into the other’s shoes).

Stever captures the complexity of what dwells beneath even the most cantankerous or hardened persona. In “Beulah Reid,” the “cruel nanny” taunts her charges with the sticks the children find outside (“Some are blunt, others sharp, / spring loaded. You twist them before us.”). She hisses at them “with damnation” and is reduced to an old broken woman with “…stocking pulled down over ankles, the corridors of your bulging / legs, your jutting veins…” who seeks the sedate strains of an old television show for elderly viewers. In an instant, the harridan is anyone’s aunt or grandmother, another transformation that mingles poignancy with pain.

The Hudson Line mixes cautionary tales with those of wonder and persistence (“The Quickening,” “Why So Many Poets Come from Ohio,” “Queen City”), and ignites the live wires of what ultimately makes us human. It is a testament to the poet’s empathy and grace, capturing the resilience and terrors of seemingly ordinary people.

September 12, 2013

Call for Book Reviews!

We’re opening submissions for book reviews!

As avid readers, we’re always on the hunt for a well-crafted book, be it overlooked or a new release. What should we read next? What book shouldn’t we have passed by on the shelf? And why? We’d love to know what you think about them! If you:
  • have an in-depth review of an unknown author or a new release that may not receive the attention it deserves
  • are a reviewer who’s looking for a new market
  • want to try reviewing a different genre than what you normally write
  • are knowledgeable and have fortes in specific genres
Then let us know! Please submit reviews to Weave by using our submissions manager. Emailed submissions will be ignored. If you are having trouble submitting, please contact Submittable support.

Please limit reviews to 500-800 words. We accept multiple submissions for chapbooks only for our Chapbook Roundup. Acceptable categories include all genres of fiction, poetry, chapbooks, and creative nonfiction. Please ensure that your selection follows Weave Magazine’s themes of diversity, community, and equality.

And, of course, if you’re an established reviewer and would like to join our reviews team, please contact our reviews editor, Nicole Bartley. Please include your name, contact information, a brief bio of yourself and your work, your estimated turnaround time for reading and writing reviews, 1-2 titles of work you’d like to review next, and a few samples.

We look forward to your submissions!

September 10, 2013

The Hectic Road to Compassion: A Review of Lorraine Lopez’s The Realm of Hungry Spirits by Nicole Bartley

cover credit: Hatchette Book Group
The Realm of Hungry Spirits by Lorraine Lopez
Grand Central Publishing (2011)

Review by Nicole Bartley

The Realm of Hungry Spirits by Lorraine Lopez is an overwhelming search for personal peace, for both characters and readers. Lopez drops readers into the main character’s varied and complex life, and readers will be compelled to learn how the drama unfolds and resolves—all in the span of two weeks. They may also reach for a bottle of wine just to tolerate the stress.

Marina Lucero is a middle-aged teacher who opens her home to friends and family members in need of shelter. Her unstable life becomes overrun with their troubles, such as her friend Carlotta who flees from an abusive husband, her nephew Kiko who is kicked out of his house, her little sister’s ex-fiancé Reggie who is grieving from their recent breakup and living with Marina for the time being, and her well-meaning but dimwitted ex-boyfriend Rudy and his blackmailing friend. Everyone turns to Marina because she is intelligent, reliable, and giving. To relieve her chaotic life, she relies on teachings from the Dalai Lama and Gandhi—teachings that play heavily into the overall plot.

But Marina—despite her good intentions, responsibility, propensity to care too much, and lofty spiritual goals—is an unreliable narrator amongst many unreliable characters. Her emotions can flip at least three times in one page, and she is subject more to rage and pheromones than the rationality she attempts to wield. Her loneliness gets the better of her more often than not, and readers are left wondering how one so intelligent can lack emotional follow-through.

Luckily, Lopez is deft at making readers quickly sympathize with Marina’s plight. From the first chapter, readers are bombarded with Marina’s troubles in order to quickly understand her anger, annoyance, and exhaustion: Her nephew starts a rap band one morning and by the evening, he’s acquired a small dog to train for fights and claims it’s his calling; a neighbor’s sister asks Marina to help her pack belongings but is caught in the act of trying to rob a former married lover; Marina’s younger sister dates and seduces anyone who might seem financially well-off; and an ex-boyfriend’s best friend threatens spiritual curses if Marina doesn’t follow the friend’s instructions concerning his custody deposition. The tribulations quickly pile atop Marina, and it’s a wonder she manages to keep everything in line.

Through numerous extreme situations and their resolutions, Lopez shows that everyone should be accepted and forgiven, despite their flaws. This, in the end, is the main lesson of the book: to recognize similarities, not differences, in others and accept them. This Buddhist method of compassion has a Christian correspondence: “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For example, when Marina’s harsh words about another man backfire, they open her eyes to one of the Dalai Lama’s true meanings behind his teachings. Lopez writes:
“I nod, my cheeks suffusing with heat. The Dalai Lama’s gentle face appears in my mind’s eye, his expression sharpening into disapproval, even disgust. Compassion, he writes, is built upon connections forged through recognizing similarities, not by fixating on differences and holding in contempt those who are different, as if they are lower than the self” (122-123).
Throughout the story, Marina seeks like minded people who are intelligent, responsible, and clean. Those who don’t fit these traits are usually met with consternation and impatience. It takes a small family to make her realize she’s been looking at compassion with the wrong perspective. She doesn’t often recognize the good in people around her until they shove it in her face. The passage above is a subtle turning point in the story—a eureka moment for her.

Although Marina’s internal world grounds the story, readers unfamiliar with Los Angeles may feel lost amidst the geographical references and the consistent use of Spanish in both narration and dialogue.  They may also wonder if life is really how she depicts it: poverty results in insanity and promiscuity, most men are too lazy to be responsible for anything, and most uneducated women are weak, selfish, and manipulative. It’s not a pretty rendering. Yet, most of the characters exhibit a moment of pure humanity, such as when an abusive husband reveals intense love and stand-offish teenagers show compulsions to please. If readers substitute their own neighborhoods for the one in Lopez’s novel, they might recognize themselves or the people around them. This returns readers to the aforementioned passage; there is always something that connects us to everyone else, and we must recognize that similarity and feed it in order to gain peace.

September 2, 2013

Announcing Weave's September Subscription Drive!

As an independent literary journal, Weave Magazine relies on the support of our readers. Weave exists because you believe in our mission of writing, art, diversity and community. Weave exists because of our amazing contributors. Weave exists because of the support of our local arts and literary community. Weave exists because of subscribers.

Our past subscription drives have been successful, and we want to continue that success this month while celebrating our latest issue. Our goal for this drive is 50 subscriptions in 30 days, because we believe in our community, our mission, our contributors, and in YOUR support!

SUBSCRIBE through Google Checkout during the month of September to receive:
  • Two copies of Weave Magazine at a sweet discount!
  • A public thank you on our website, including a link to yours!
  • A warm fuzzy feeling for supporting independent publishing!
Start with our latest issue buy purchasing a current issue subscription (issues 09 & 10), or get issues 08 & 09 at once by purchasing a bundle issue subscription. All subscriptions are discounted during the entire month of September!

We just reopened to submissions, so it is the perfect time to get your hands Weave. If you are sending us work, consider supporting the publications in which you envision your work. Support indie publishing by subscribing to a fantastic journal of the best in contemporary art and writing.

August 21, 2013

The Symphony and the Sorrow: A Review of Julie Marie Wade's Postage Due by Hillary Katz

cover credit: White Pine Press
Postage Due by Julie Marie Wade
White Pine Press (2013)

Review by Hillary Katz

Julie Marie Wade’s Postage Due is a familiar yet unique coming-of-age journey through prose poetry. By using varying form and perspective, Wade chronicles her girlhood with the masked but overriding wisdom of adult experience. She heavily references a number of literary, movie, and television characters and actors, including the disgraced Hester Prynne, the naïve Dorothy Gale, and the independent Mary Tyler Moore, as well as real-life people such as the author’s mother and despised dermatologist. Wade connects all of these people to her personal oppression, confusion, and maturation that follow central themes of burgeoning self-discovery and sexuality.

Much of the book consists of direct letters and postcards. Although these forms are effective in portraying the struggle and angst of the speaker, they often lack the linguistic musicality and surprise that separates poetry from prose. In fact, many of the direct letter poems, such as “Dear Mary Tyler Moore:” seem to be better suited for a young adult novel than a poetry collection due to their juvenile tone and sentiment. For example, Wade writes:
Well, I like to swear sometimes. It’s liberating. And I’ve sampled cigarettes, & I’ve gotten high a few times, & I don’t think it’s such a crime. (I certainly don’t think it’s evil.) And even though I’m probably never going to be a true bad-ass like Rizzo, I’m already way past Sandra Dee. Does that make sense? It’s like I just haven’t been able to experience so many things, & now I’m hungry (starving, actually) to get out & try everything.
Although the self-realization here is one that many people can relate to, the writing’s literal nature relates more to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret than to a serious book of poetry.

This is not to say that the author is incapable of musicality and surprising language. More “grown-up” poems are interspersed throughout the book, including several religion-themed ones and a few ekphrastic poems. These sparser, “older” poems are a welcomed relief to the dominant teenage-torment-themed pieces. The uses of memory and seeing the self from an outsider’s perspective are well placed and presented in a lyrical, subtle way that creates mystery and intrigue for readers. For example, the book’s opening poem, “Aubade,” paints an imagistic picture of summer in Pittsburgh with an interestingly weighty tone. The speaker states, “I remember being born,” and ends with “Stay close. The earth is shaking / (or) / I see you, / even when / you’re hidden.”

A successful direct reference poem is “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What (A Correspondence with Mick Kelly).” The speaker’s imagined conversation with the protagonist of Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter cuts to the loneliness and confusion of adolescence in a refreshingly understated way. Wade writes, “Difference is the darkest word in this whole / hard language,” to explain the isolation felt by her younger self. In an exploration of her sexuality, the speaker reveals a surprising and intimate (presumably first-time) scene:
Under the pelt of his skin, I was hiding. I still
remember how heavy he was, rocking
from side to side. I didn’t want to be that kind of woman,
the kind that turns to sawdust in their hands.
The animalistic “pelt of his skin” portrays the rawness of inexperience, and the reflection of wanting something different than the stereotypical submissive female norm is important to the book’s central ideas—both for readers and for humanity as a progressive species steering away from gender rules.

The poem ends with the resonating line, “So this is the symphony then, this is the sorrow.” Truly, this line embodies the heart of Postage Due—the ongoing, essential process of discovering one’s self, and the strange juxtaposition of pain and beauty that inherently comes with it.

August 19, 2013

Weave Issue 09 Has Arrived!

click cover to subscribe!
Weave Issue 09 is here! And we couldn't be more excited to share one of our best issues yet! I've been reading Weave for many years now, but this issue is particularly exciting for me because it's the first issue I actually helped make happen as Managing Editor. I'm so proud of the result and inspired by everyone at Weave who came together to create such a beautiful issue.

The striking cover by Jason John presupposes what Issue 09 is all about: harmony and disharmony, strength versus weakness, and beauty and aggression. Throughout, these authors and artists imagine and explore life before birth all the way through adolescence, sexual exploration, romantic entanglements, and growing old. Gender is torn apart and put back together in ways that are surprising and thought-provoking, asking in many different ways, what does it mean to be me, us, them?

These stories, poems, drawings, and photographs are at once haunting, gorgeous, grotesque, funny, and always engaging. I am truly in awe of the talent held within theses pages, and I can't wait to see what these established and emerging writers and artists do next.

We hope you love Issue 09 as much as we do. You can buy this issue or subscribe to Weave here.

August 17, 2013

Issue 01 Redux: Making Weight by Jared Ward

When Weave opened for submissions for our first issue, we had no idea what kind of work the slush pile would yield. We knew whose writing we admired, and we solicited a good part of that first issue. We were trying to establish Weave’s aesthetic, which was something I believed we could define. So when we read Jared Ward’s flash fiction submission “Making Weight,” I was surprised by how it delighted me. A story about wrestling? I wasn't an athlete, nor was my former co-editor, but she and I both found ourselves giddy over this intensely focused glimpse into an unfamiliar world. I was able to enter this story, which, at its core reveals the unique bond between teammates and friends, and in there I found kinship with the characters.

I could not have predicted wanting to publish a story about wrestling, however, when we accepted Jared’s piece I started to become the editor I am today: one who is willing to see the common thread that ties together a well-crafted story or poem, no matter the world in which it takes place. The voice of Weave is the voice of many, and it's redefined with each issue. I believe the last line of “Making Weight” really encapsulates this broad aesthetic; ‘Anywhere there’s everything...” That’s Weave. Enjoy.

Laura E. Davis
founding editor, Weave Magazine


Making Weight by Jared Ward

     My draws hit the floor, taking a quarter pound with them. I stepped naked onto the beam scale, cold metal under my feet. Slid the big weight to the right, clicking it into the hundred notch, then flicked the smaller one to 18, 19, 20.
     One pound over. One hour til weigh-in.
     I stepped off as Eddie slipped out of his boxers.
     Not yet.
     He laughed like a young Tone-Loc, a six a.m. laugh, his white teeth gleaming, always gleaming in his black cantaloupe head, teeth I’d ask him to show in the dark of the bus coming home from a meet in Derby or Wichita, Ark City or Winfield.
     Eddie, where are you? Smile so we can all see you.
     He’d sock my arm, flash me those pearlies, and turn up Too Short, Geto Boys, or whatever rap he had in his Walkman.
     Teammate. Friend.
     I layered two pairs of warm-ups over illegal plastic, the suit trapping heat so I’d sweat like a hydrant. Pulled on my Asics and laced them up tight, always tight.
     If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on, coach always said.
     Eddie, skin and bones, a shadow in the dim locker room light, stepped off.
     How much?
     I’m under.
     He grinned. Half.
     See you upstairs.
     I stopped at the fountain, letting the cold fill my mouth, swishing it twice before spitting it back. I’d taken three swallows for lunch eighteen hours before, not nearly enough to drive away dreams of pizza and milk and medium ribeyes.
     The thermostat was on the far side of the room. I cranked it to ninety, high as it went, and stood under the vent. Heat, when cutting fifteen pounds every week, is a wrestler’s best friend. The night before I ran three miles after practice, then drove to the health club and jumped in the sauna, pounding out push-ups and sit-ups on steamed wooden benches. The air got too hot to breathe and I crawled to the floor, pressed my face hard to the doorway crack, and sucked the cool air from outside.
     Fifteen pounds was almost too much.
Waiting for Eddie, I crouched in front of the mirrors on the wall, shot imaginary doubles and popped to my feet. Singles and arm drags and fireman’s carries.
     He was buttoning his headgear, the old school ones shaped like big headphones. I grabbed my new triangles whose front strap always fell over my eyes. Snapped it.
Let’s go.
     After some hand-checking, he caught an underhook, stepped deep with his right foot and snagged my left heel. Had to give him the takedown, twisting to save back points. Caught a wicked crossface on the bridge of my nose and he drove my face to the mat. I could feel the burn as the top layers of skin disappeared from the left side of my forehead.
I cussed him and drove my head back, fought to my knees, feet, then broke his grip to escape. Turned and faced him.
     He smiled.
     Lucky, I said, and we circled, probing for weakness.
     My legs felt too worn to be weary. It was Thursday morning, because meets were always on Thursday, and it’d been Sunday since my last meal of more than a Powerbar and a couple of kiwis, or a cup of plain noodles and a few leaves of lettuce. By Wednesday morning, it was just a sugarless grapefruit for breakfast, then nothing until after weigh-ins. I hated grapefruit, but they took the longest to eat.
     The running, though, hit me the hardest. Three miles before school, stair laps at lunchtime, two miles before practice, a mile at the start, and three miles after. Monday through Wednesday, usually Friday. Toss in practice with two pairs of sweats, sometimes the plastic, an extra two hundred push-ups and sit-ups at home, and by Thursday, fatigue was more of a concept than anything tangible.
     Eddie’s dark hands trying to tear me apart, that was tangible.
     Our heads came together, ear to ear, my right hand clenching his neck, his right curled around mine, and our lefts grabbing and pulling whatever they could. Locked in those tight circles, his breath was the loudest sound I could hear, smooth exhales surrounded by dull thuds of our warring bodies and the plastic clap of our headgear colliding.
     He tried again for the underhook. I caught it this time, pushed his arm inside and clamped a front headlock. I sprawled back, forcing him to the mat, and as I cranked his neck to the side a river of sweat poured out hidden plastic, onto his head.
     Shrieked like a girl. You wearing the Hefties?
     Gotta. No time.
     Bastard, he said, wiping himself. Come on.
     We went twenty more minutes, wrenching each other down to the ground, trying to squeeze out the air, inflict enough pain so the other would quit. Sometimes we’d careen out of bounds and lie side by side, lungs sucking the heat. One would get up, offer a hand, and head back to the center.
     I’d just escaped and turned towards him. He was hunched over, hands on his knees, looking at me.
     Under yet?
     I shrugged. We’ll see.
     On the stairs his arm slung over my shoulder. I won, he said, and I thought for a moment.
     Tied, I said, and he knew he was right.
     Pushed me into the wall and took off. I call first.
     I stripped by my locker while Eddie toweled off, weighed, and sighed in relief. Left my clothes in a puddle and stepped on.
     Under. Fifteen minutes to spare.
     Lying on the bench he asked, where we eating?
     Anywhere there’s everything, I said, closing my eyes.


Jared Ward has had work accepted by West Branch, Santa Clara Review, New Delta Review, and others. More importantly, he never missed weight... even if he sometimes wanted to.

This story originally appeared in Weave Magazine Issue 01, October 2008

August 10, 2013

Synesthetic Repast: A Review of Katherine Rauk's Basil by Mindy Kronenberg

cover credit: Black Lawrence Press
Basil by Katharine Rauk
Black Lawrence Press (2011)

Review by Mindy Kronenberg

There is a clever sort of alchemy at work in the poems in Basil, Katharine Rauk’s poetry chapbook. These thirty-one oddly compelling and challenging poems emerge as collective parables that, taken together, form a surreal, spiritual, and sensual guide to this and the next life.

Some poems combine prose and poetry narrative formats, transitioning between exterior and interior events, creating an effect of guided dreaming. For example, in “Suicide Rates Spike Near High Voltage Power Lines,” we meet a woman who knew “the metal switchbox outside her apartment window… was the very voice box of God,” and “ …felt God’s voice thrum around the rims of teacups, pulse along the floorboards’ crease.” As she lies on her bed awaiting her reward, the story breaks from prose into stanza, and the narrative distills into electrified testimony: [She felt]
God’s voice
sizzle in her teeth, she felt
God’s voice surge
down the wire
of her spine, and
God’s voice gather
in the satellite
saucers of her knees…
Rauk uses the same split in “Heartbone (I),” this time in the form of a wistful reverie, a poetic escape amidst a meal with repellent company. She has the ability to create micro-dramas with minimal context but tremendous tension, maintaining a visceral connection to the human dynamic in its many guises.

There are startling transitions in poems with such concrete titles as “Blood Orange,” “Basil,” and “After Cooking with Turmeric.” Each encounter is a journey that transcends culinary expectations. In the first, the poet asks: “Is this a fruit, / a wound, a lover?” In the last, an act of intimacy is savored as a synesthetic repast: “Now / we are opening / vaulted windows / to a sunlight of bees, / a thousand burnished / throats.”

Ultimately, there is a great deal of longing in the poems in Basil, desire entwining with ambiguity, seeking reason or redemption. In “Vignette,” enchantment and superstition take hold in a ritual for a woman wishing for motherhood. Rauk writes, “…so she tied a cucumber to her waist. // Cucumber vines crept beyond / the edges of the garden plot / like sticky fingers swiping from the sweet jar.” In “Heartbone II,” the poet/narrator seeks discovery in the intricate parts of herself—“My nub, my sweetness, my buried / bruise. My blue note and knotted / fruit stone, my blood knocking at the edge / of known…” By presenting an inventory of tactile and temporal elements (“root bits and flesh / snips, snarls of hair that won’t let loose. Made of loss, made of juice…”), she wonders if her own personhood will fully emerge among the sum of her parts. This speaks to the poet’s earnest process in each work in Basil, a hunt for the self within the confounding yet comforting sensory-tangled world.

July 10, 2013

Weave @ the Pittsburgh Gallery Crawl Friday, July 12th!

Weave will be in Pittsburgh this Friday! Check us out if you can. We will also be apart of the pop up bookstand on September 6th and Septembers 27th.

The Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand comes to Gallery Crawl this Friday night, generously hosted by The Toonseum! We'll be outside in the courtyard at 945 Liberty Avenue, from 5:30 PM until about 10 PM.

The Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand will feature Pittsburgh authors and Pittsburgh independent publishers, interspersed with choice selections from other cities. Books, comix, zines, and litmags--fiction, memoir, and poetry all will be represented.

This will be the literary block of Gallery Crawl, with Amazing Books open until 8:30 PM, Alexi Morrissey writing commissioned poems at Bricolage from 5 PM to 9 PM, and the Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand offering terrific wares of contemporary literature.

Small Press Pittsburgh has been showcasing Pittsburgh's literary scene since 2008. We have existed as a web directory, and we are currently exploring new ways to support Pittsburgh's literary and publishing institutions. 

July 9, 2013

Bittersweet Soup: A Review of Marsha Mehran's Pomegranate Soup by Nicole Bartley

cover credit: Random House, LLC.
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran is an intriguing narrative with a dash of wonder and one-too-many sprigs of enchantment. She gradually unfolds the co-dependent Aminpour sisters’ tale of evading mysterious pasts and a desperate attempt to establish a safe home in the small Irish town of Ballinacroagh. While there, Marjan, Bahar, and Layla rent a small cafe from an Italian landlady, Estelle, and introduce their secluded town to cultural cuisine. This results in both trusting friendships and despicable prejudices.

The Iranian, Irish, and Italian cultures are depicted only through language and food. Mehran created strong, distinct voices through realistic vernacular from Estelle and the Irish citizens. However the Aminpour sisters don’t present dialogue cadences. Instead, they use the same language structures as the narration: American. This could be an attempt to make the sisters as “normal” as possible for American readers and set them apart from other characters.

Mehran explores the sisters’ “otherness” further through their experiences with prejudice from the town gossip, close-minded society women, and the town bully. Although the sisters are never questioned about running a business without a man, the town (and author) focuses on their ethnicity. Among earlier instances of indirect prejudice, Bahar encounters hatred when she is angrily shunned by the butcher’s wife and men in a bar while trying to find Layla one evening.

“Something was very wrong here…. Something that went beyond the sad little curiosities of the old women in the butcher’s. Whatever she thought of that kind of small-mindedness, it was nothing compared to the bald hatred before her. It was an exclusion as foul as she had experienced in those scary early years in London, when the whole city was under alert of terrorist threats, and anyone who looked slightly foreign was watched with suspicion. Turning on her heels… Bahar pushed through the pub door, anxious to escape the dread that was rising in her chest. Just as the door slammed behind her, a sinister voice called out: ‘Go back to yer stinking camels!’ Raspy smokers’ laughs enveloped the rest of the smarting insult” (140).

The commonness of that insult connects with the characters, which mostly represent tropes. Bahar is fully developed and the overall story arc seems to center on her. Her abusive past resulted in mistrust of men, in addition to severe migraines triggered by fear and any conflict. She is constantly on edge, and her post-traumatic stress is enough to make readers want to hug her and hand her a bowl of abgusht and a cup of tea.

Because of this, readers will find common ground with Marjan. The narration follows her reliance on general kindness, food, and drinks as attempts to provide comfort. They also counteract her ineptitude of protecting and guiding her sisters. And, to ensure that they’re accepted in town, she uses her peculiar gift of making inspirational meals.

“Through her recipes, Marjan was able to encourage people toward accomplishments that they had previously thought impossible; one taste of her food and most would not only start dreaming but actually contemplate doing (78). … Evie and Fiona sat at one of the window-side tables now, each drinking her own bowl of red lentil soup as vague ruminations—prompted by Marjan’s magic—swam in their heads: Evie could see neon pink letters spelling out her name over the salon’s door, while Fiona imagined hers lighting up a theater marquee once again” (89).

But this relates to Mehran’s inability to remove excessive ingredients after her dish has been plated and served. Although Marjan’s cuisine provides a touch of magical realism, other poorly integrated fantastic elements cause hiccups. For example, Layla’s supernatural musk of cinnamon and rose is just enough for readers to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. But Mehran unnecessarily explains the scent by killing the sisters’ mother in childbirth.

“Layla never knew her mother either, for she died shortly after pushing her out into the harsh world… The weary doctors in Tehran General Hospital had no explanation for the merciless bleeding and just shrugged with defeat when they told her father the news. They failed to mention that, as the last drops of blood seeped into the hospital’s sea green bedsheets, a tiny bud had popped out of his wife’s womb. When the flower seed fell into the pool of blood, it blossomed into the face of a full-grown rose. The fearful doctors kept this to themselves, partly to avoid a malpractice suit, and partly because the rosewater and cinnamon scent that accompanied the flower’s miraculous unfolding reminded them of a time when military guards did not hover behind every surgery room door” (29).

The background of the mother dying will gain readers’ sympathies, and it’s easy to believe that Layla’s natural musk is due to Marjan’s constant cooking with exotic spices. But a rosebud causing fatal hemorrhaging represents an elaborate need to appeal to readers, which tarnishes the story.

But Pomegranate Soup isn’t just a novel about family and finding a safe home; it is also, surprisingly, a cookbook. Each chapter is prefaced by recipes, and the rich descriptions of ingredients will make readers salivate. Overall, the novel provides enough intrigue and simplicity to keep readers turning pages without much thought. It will succeed when readers wonder if they, too, live in a provincial town that needs a bit of spice.

Review by Nicole Bartley

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
Random House, 2005