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Month: August 2019

CNF: Stories I Don’t Know How to Tell

by Nick Ackerson

 

  • I did not like Christian, but it still made me sad when he did not come home from Afghanistan.
  • When I was transitioning back into the civilian world, a retired green beret with salt and pepper in his beard gave me a piece of advice, “you were asked to be willing to die for your friends, family, and country. Now you’re going to have to live for them. That’s going to be much harder.”
  • Twice in my life I have walked so far—for so long—with so much weight on my back, that when I took off my boots, all the skin on the soles of my feet separated from my body and remained in the bottom of my footwear.
  • One time I jumped out of an airplane into a lightning storm.
  • One time I jumped out of an airplane wearing an experimental parachute.
  • One time I jumped out of an airplane wearing an experimental parachute, and some one in my chalk fell to their death.
  • I scoff when I hear people use the word “warrior” as if it’s supposed to be empowering. Warriors are so tired they know if they die, at least it’s over.
  • Mike took too many pills.
  • When Jon was in Iraq, his fiancé broke off their engagement in the same week his platoon lost two soldiers.
  • One time I lent someone forty dollars, and the next morning it was announced he had killed himself later that night.
  • I have tinnitus.
  • Every one in the army keeps an unofficial list in their head called, “Of Course It Would Be a Tragedy if Any One in Our Platoon Died — But it Would be Less of a Tragedy if it was this Person.”
  • I have been on a plane to go to war four times, and every time they turned the plane around.
  • I have sleep apnea.
  • Technically the plane only turned around twice. Two times it never left the ground at all. I don’t tell this version of the story because the look on a civilian’s face when they hear the nuanced version of an Army story is infuriating.
  • One time a girl at my college told me, “I asked around about you, and your friends say you’ve never killed any one. Now that I know you’re one of the good vets I’m willing to talk to you.” So I lied and said that I had.
  • In the six and a half years I was in the Army, thirteen men in my unit killed themselves.
  • When I was transitioning back into the civilian world, a retired green beret with salt and pepper in his beard gave me a piece of advice, “you were asked to be willing to die for your friends, family, and country. Now you’re going to have to live for them. That’s going to be much harder.” He was right.

 

Nick Ackerson is writer and comedian based in Chicago. He served in the Army from 2009 to 2015. He sent the first four years of his career jumping out of airplanes as a paratrooper. His final two years in the military were spend doing other, less impressive things.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Stories I Don’t Know How to Tell”?

The original “Stories I Don’t Know How to Tell” list was exactly that—a list of events from my time in the Army that didn’t feel like full stories to me. I wrote this list as part of a brainstorming session for a storytelling class I took in my final semester at college. These were all things that were on my mind — but I didn’t know how to present them as stories with a beginning, middle, and end. They were just occurrences — the only thing they had in common was that I didn’t know how to talk about them. This turned out to be the unifying theme.

I’ve read this piece aloud to a few audiences. Eventually the point of the list stopped being “can I make these stories make sense to the audience?” And became, “can this piece help the audience understand why it’s confusing for me to tell these stories?” There are two moments that stick out to me from these readings. Every time I read the line, “I have tinnitus,” the audience laughed. It’s a quick succinct sentence, and it is also has considerably lower stakes than the items on the list in the front of it. When I would read the line, “Every one in the army keeps an unofficial list in their head called, “Of Course It Would Be a Tragedy if Any One in Our Platoon Died — But it Would be Less of a Tragedy if it was this Person.” There would be chuckling and elbow nudging. You can’t escape it. Every group of people has some one who is a pain in the neck—even groups of people who are in life or death situations.

Sunday Focus: Dance

em>Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

“Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.” — Maya Angelou Dance! Dance carelessly. According to Sweet Dreams, “You are going to achieve success in life, if you dream of yourself dancing alone!” So dance alone: freely, crazily, without constraint.

 

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” – Anne Lamott This Sunday, take your eyes off your feet and follow the lesson of the pitcher plant. Just dance.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Visual Poem Series: No Telling (6 of 8)

by Nance Van Winckel

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Nance Van Winckel’s fifth book of fiction is Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook (2014, Twisted Road Publications); her eighth book of poems is Our Foreigner (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series). A book of visual poetry entitled Book of No Ledge appeared in 2016 with Pleiades Press. The recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, she has new poems in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Field, Poetry Northwest, and Gettysburg Review. She is on the MFA faculties of Vermont College of Fine Arts and E. Washington University’s Inland Northwest Center for Writers.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of this series?

What always surprises me when I (digitally) enhance my photographs of walls is the way the words themselves arrive. My conscious mind works on the images and the wall, tweaking and torquing. Then suddenly some words arrive and want to belong on the wall too.

Word Made Flesh

by Karie Luidens

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on each image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Karie Luidens is a writer of criticism, commentary, current events, and semi-connected musings. The word-made-flesh λόγος is her first tattoo but surely won’t be her last. Follow her ever-evolving body of work at karieluidens.com.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Word Made Flesh”?

I often find that I have grand creative visions but am too much of a perfectionist to follow through—I know the final version of any endeavor will never be as polished as the version in my mind’s eye. Tattoos pose a particular challenge to someone with that tendency. You can’t rework the draft endlessly in cycles of idea and doubt; either you have the tattoo, or you don’t. I figured if I could take the leap and commit ink to a permanent form in my own skin, that could help me commit ink to permanent forms in publication, too…even forms as imperfect as my own penmanship.

Dream of the Bright, Wet Lawn

by Steven Ostrowski

 

Some say dandelions
spoil the lawn. Maybe.
Until you get right up
beauty-close.

Isn’t it a mistake
to break your back
over something
that grows so sun-colored
and keeps coming back?

Lay down in the wet bladed green
amid the wavy yellow faces
and have a daydream is what I say.
I say lay down and
overgrow your stay.

 

Steven Ostrowski is a poet, fiction writer, and painter. His work appears in literary journals, magazines and anthologies. He is the author of five chapbooks — four of poems and one of stories. He and his son Ben Ostrowski are the authors of a full-length collaboration called Penultimate Human Constellation published in 2018 by Tolsun Books. His chapbook, After the Tate Modern, won the 2017 Atlantic Road Prize and is published by Island Verse Editions. He teaches at Central Connecticut State University.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Dream of the Bright, Wet Lawn”?

“Dream of the Bright, Wet Lawn,” in its original form was one of a series of poems in a chapbook-sized volume I am calling Rainlight Meditations. People seem to want to rid their lawns of dandelions, and truth be told, I’ve tried to do the same. But I always secretly wondered what was wrong with them, and found them beautiful. On another scale, the poem seems to be about staying around to try to understand those things in our lives that persistently appear. Finally, earlier versions of the poem used fewer internal and slant rhymes.

Sunday Focus: Unravel

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

“Poets don’t draw,” writes Jean Cocteau. “They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently.” To do, we often first must un-do. What looks like the unravelling end of something might actually be just the beginning.

 

“The human race is a very, very magical race. We have a magic power of witches and wizards. We’re here on this earth to unravel the mystery of this planet. The planet is asking for it.” — Yoko Ono And what is this Sunday’s message? Take up a loose end. Pull it. Unravel the ravel. And begin anew.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

Visual Poem Series: Arrows in Bird Feelings (5 of 8)

by Nance Van Winckel

 

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]

 

 

Nance Van Winckel’s fifth book of fiction is Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook (2014, Twisted Road Publications); her eighth book of poems is Our Foreigner (Beyond Baroque Press, 2017, winner of the Pacific Coast Poetry Series). A book of visual poetry entitled Book of No Ledge appeared in 2016 with Pleiades Press. The recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, she has new poems in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Field, Poetry Northwest, and Gettysburg Review. She is on the MFA faculties of Vermont College of Fine Arts and E. Washington University’s Inland Northwest Center for Writers.

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of this series?

What always surprises me when I (digitally) enhance my photographs of walls is the way the words themselves arrive. My conscious mind works on the images and the wall, tweaking and torquing. Then suddenly some words arrive and want to belong on the wall too.

[Heaven]

by Sara Elkamel
 

Turns out, heaven is only the future
           just these bodies
becoming something else.
I’m not sure
           you’ll understand
I found no silver sheets of water.
No towers
of pink boxes carrying plastic babies.
           No white. None of it.
This morning
           I climbed black mountain
after black mountain.
Imagined a lover and had him
imagine me
           for an hour.
Maybe I could bury our bodies     in sugar,
have them wash up on the shore
           of the desert.

 

Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist, living between Cairo, Egypt and New York City. She holds an M.A. in arts and culture journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The Common, American Chordata, Jet Fuel Review, Winter Tangerine, Nimrod International Journal, Anomaly, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3: Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019) and elsewhere.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “[Heaven]”?

I started writing [Heaven] about an hour before sunset* on a small concrete patio outside my hut at a beach camp in Sinai, Egypt. It was late April, and I had just crossed the Red Sea from Jordan, where I was attending a film festival in Wadi Rum—an otherworldly desert valley furnished with red sand and massive sandstone mountains. What ideal writing conditions, right? Well, as I was two-thirds of the way through the draft—the sky almost completely sunless now—a friend and her two kids joined me outside the hut, and excitedly described the day’s excursion to a nearby five-star hotel (the antithesis of our modest, unostentatious camp). They squealed as they exhibited their new, gas station-bought sunglasses. Entertained as I was, I was also panicking: I usually need to finish a full draft in one sitting; otherwise, it becomes impenetrable once I return to it. Thinking my escape would go unnoticed in the raucous, I slipped into the hut and locked the thin door behind me. “SARA, SARA…” They weren’t done telling stories. I wrapped up the piece, but I knew that its last third was weaker than the rest. I will admit I was disappointed, mostly because I had very high hopes for [Heaven]. I had to edit it for a month to repair the damage that the unsolicited sunset show left. In the end, I got rid of that last third of it entirely.

*I may have started writing it way before then. While searching for this [Heaven], I stumbled upon another a piece titled “Heaven” that I had apparently drafted in June 2017. Though it is very different in form and—frankly—quality, I think it was actually trying to say the same thing. Some words both Heavens have in common are: imagine / plastic / boxes.

Sadness

by Callista Buchen

 

The husband brings his sadness out to show her. Look, he says, how big! The mother hates the husband’s sadness, wants to stab the sadness with the steak knives, to cut it up into little pieces and feed it to the dog, only they don’t have a dog, but she would get one just to eat up his sadness.

He squints and holds it up to the light, shakes it until bits of sadness cover the mantle, sprinkle the counter, float in the daughter’s cereal. They are all coughing. The mother says, I need some air, and picks up the shovel and goes outside to try to bury her sadness like a bone or a body. She watches the husband and the children through the window the whole time.

 

Callista Buchen is the author of Look Look Look, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in October 2019, and the chapbooks The Bloody Planet (Black Lawrence Press, 2015) and Double-Mouthed (dancing girl press, 2016). Her work appears in Harpur Palate, Puerto del Sol, Fourteen Hills, and many other journals, and she is the winner of the Langston Hughes Award and DIAGRAM’s essay contest. She teaches at Franklin College, where she advises the student literary journal and directs the visiting writers’ reading series

 

See what happens when you click below.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Sadness”?

“Sadness” is from my forthcoming collection of prose poems, Look Look Look. The poems of the book explore the early days of motherhood, and in doing so, consider how one’s identity changes and even disappears. As I wrote “Sadness,” I thought about how the members of a family are intertwined, how they often have specific roles and how these roles invite a certain kind of connection, but also how maintaining these roles can keep them isolated and separate.

Sunday Focus: Sunny Side Up

Photo by Meg Boscov

[Editor’s Note: This ongoing Sunday feature pairs photographs from Meg Boscov with a thought (or two) from the managing editor about focusing on tiny things to find something significant. Click on the picture itself to view at full size.]

 

 

Some eggs for your Sunday morning brunch? Did you know that Oomancy, divination by eggs, was once widespread? According to Rachel Warren Chadd, “The white (albumen) of the egg would be dropped into water and various predictions would be made according to the shapes it formed.” In fact, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams were just some of girls of Salem who practiced reading omens using an egg and a mirror (“Venus glass”).

 

“There’s a patch of old snow in a corner,” writes Robert Frost, “That I should have guessed / Was a blow-away paper the rain / Had brought to rest.” He is perhaps asking us to “read” Nature, if not for divination, at least for the news of the day. And what is this Sunday’s message? Go ahead. Read your eggs, your gardens, that pile of rain in the corner. And do tell us what it says.

Meg Boscov is a photographer who lives and works outside of Philadelphia where she continues to pursue her careers in animal-assisted education and dog training. She can be reached on instagram at megboscov.

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now CLOSED. Check out our new category triptychs! The next submission period opens September 15, 2019; submit here.

Upcoming

08/19 • Nick Ackerson
08/21 • Tyler Friend
08/22 • Nance Van Winckel (7 of 8)
08/26 • Suzanne Verrall
08/28 • Amelia Wright
08/29 • Nance Van Winckel (8 of 8)
09/02 • Kim Peter Kovac
09/04 • Ugonna-Ora Owoh
09/05 • Richard Baldasty (1 of 4)
09/07 • Briel Felton
09/12 • Richard Baldasty (2 of 4)
09/14 • Frances Badgett
09/19 • Richard Baldasty (3 of 4)
09/26 • Richard Baldasty (4 of 4)
10/03 • J.I. Kleinberg
12/02 • Tara Campbell