I divided my Editor’s Eye into two sections: stories I consider more or less done and two poems more or less done but edited. Louise Erdrich would probably agree with me. In The Paris Review interview, she claims that she still edits sections of her published books. Things can always be better. In either vein, all the stories/poem had a particular charm and shine.
Bear Costume by Steven Miller concerns not nice people and it’s funny, two of my favorite topics. Life is messy and essentially not nice to begin with and you have to admire writers who dare to tell it like it is, but when they do it with a sleight of hand and wry tone, well, brilliant. The ending is just perfect: unexpected, it stops the reader in our tracks and, at first, we go, “Huh?” Then laugh or, at least, I did. Richard Yates, John Cheever, Janet Malcolm, and Truman Capote, to name a few of my favs, wrote about unpleasant folk and didn’t mince words when writing it. No words minced here or any out of place except one typo. Check it out.
Pot or Marijuana by Ann Bogle reminds me of a diary. It meanders hither and thither and stops short of a neat wrap up, which is how diaries are – a continuous recording of the now even if it’s then. I’m a diarist myself and some of the best – John Cheever’s and Sam Pepys’ – have the same elements here: the little confessions and the self-absorption verging on excess, the wry slights (“Thousands of joints were strewn to the Madisonians,” an oblique poke at Alcoholic Anonymous, and, if I’m not wrong, a sly reference to David Foster Wallace’s hysterical anti-A.A. diatribe in Infinite Jest!), sharp social commentary (“That is $1,200 less than the average black woman earned in the U.S.”), and dead on psychological descriptions of youthful female yearnings. “I was a girl octopus,” Ann writes.
How fabulous! Weren’t we all? And another perfect end, “It was training for living underground. I learned animal medicine.”
Moth Man by Katrina Kepsa. This is an odd but delicious kind of fairy tale that just works its own magic. I appreciate its strangeness and love the fact it’s not another one of those flashes involving death and a parent or a cripple or some sort of recognizable human condition preyed upon by writers to usurp as emotional fodder. Yes, this character is an odd bird and could be a metaphor for an outlier but the reader can decide. The imagery and descriptions like “Somehow, the hat had tucked in all of my limbs, smoothed all of my sharp edges, so that I became an inverted pin, my gaze magnetized towards the moon” and “. . . my shadow dragging behind me like the velvet cloak of an overdressed superhero” are a marvel. The end reminds me of Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber, “He was still staring, waiting for an explanation, so I cupped my right palm over my right eye and handed over a tear, my only possession, as precious to me as a bee’s sting.
“It’s pure enough to drink,” I said, and turned towards the approaching train.”
This is a story my 19-year-old manga and super hero-loving daughter would adore. I can see her illustrating Moth Man and giving him a chance to fly.
Beyond the Sense of Ashes by Samuel Derrick Rosen is a fine example of a strong poem. I took the liberty to peel its excesses away for the poet’s consideration. If you dismantle a weak poem, you’ve got nothing left. The test of whether or not what you’re writing is worthwhile comes with the tearing down. Dismantle a strong poem and you get to its indestructible core. This is one of those pieces that Donald Hall would have said reveals itself with many readings. Hall was Poet Laureate. In his recent book, Essays After Eighty (he’s 80 plus years old), he said that often he didn’t understand certain poems while composing them, and further, that they revealed themselves to him later on. This would be one such fine work.
And the title is simply fabulous.
Beyond the Sense of Ashes
All are words, so quickly they decay,
into silence, spaces that persist,
amnesias singing of day.
A world without death,
Each measure of dissent a measure of applause.
Fury signifies you; nothing is everything.
Your ascendancy of eyes,
In pursuit of beauty, so soon we’re struck down,
No moment of resistance.
In those hours where mystery recoiled,
Among eternity’s dead phrases.
In those hours of the harshest definition.
Still beyond a sense of ashes.
Whispers now a world of language,
neither time nor sand, nor space or glass.
There comes soon another world
Not born yet still must pass.
All that was – your sovereignty of sight,
All that can remain without remaining.
The meaninglessness of names.
Once, we were nameless.
Now, forever aging.
3 Poems and a Seething Pen by Kevin Army contain powerful imagery of pain and loss and yearning. I loved them but felt they had too many words that got in the way. I get too many words as it’s one of my worst habits. Winnowed (my word of the day) down, this trio has haunting majesty and a youthful anger that seers. The poet also has a good sense of how to effectively align words on a page for maximum effect. That alone tells me I’m reading someone with a good command of language. In my editing, I excised as many “I’s” as possible, a trick Donald Hall gives in Essays After Eighty. He eggs writers to get rid of that personal pronoun as much as you can and to begin as few sentences as possible with it, even in memoir. It’s a literary trick, but a good one, which pushes the writer off themselves and towards the universals.
get wasted and write poetry
in twelve tone. i have no key.
admit it: i hardly matter, and
that’s ok because you hardly matter either.
we maintain mountains. we are crushed, but
somewhere, in some ether,
we can jump off of each other, until
none of us are left.
passing out. in silence.
in sound. in
the shape of words, or of the silence. it
doesn’t matter. where stillness is violence, and
where movement is empty.
look, he moves. the breathing, it speaks of the vapor, the inner chill of
is it my fault or yours? or his.
where is the blame. tonight,
let it rest, get wasted,
and write poetry.
still feel it all there.
everything done. and everything
ashamed for me, and something is going to break, something has
got to give, like maybe that floor when he jumps,
standing on that floor and maybe we will both sink,
into a lovely unexpected sinkhole,
where that fucking hardcore song disappears,
where that sound stops threading, where
it is no longer a part of me, where
did something different with my life.
but for now, waiting for him to fall,
so i won’t be alone.
waiting for him to fly so
i can be carried away.
waiting for the walls to disappear, for
the sparks to stop, for him to jump and
for the waking, the waking.
the forgiveness and the
Water, the stabbing, the lost words
he stands there, dried up.
notepad on the floor, wet ink.
wonders, how would it be, to stab myself
with this pen.
and then to go for a swim.
well, over there.
sitting, arms folded.
he writes some more. looks outward,
an ocean of ideas. of life. of
there is nothing left. it’s all there,
blurred now, and lost,
on the paper.
some thought about water
thoughts, turned virulent, turned into
a garden of unwanted weeds.
the fucking paper, there, right. over. there.
the fucking aurora borealis
the flowering trees,
the man yelling outside,
the beautiful seething world, the
the untold words. His words.
they were never lost, it was their
creator who was lost.
all his life. all
he climbs up on the diving board, and
looks down, his soul before him.
Lucinda Kempe lives on Long Island where she exorcises with words. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Summerset Review, Thrice Fiction, decomP, Corium, Matter Press, Metrofiction and more than a dozen other journals. She has completed conferences at the Southampton Writers Conference with Roger Rosenblatt in 2010, Frederic Tuten in 2011, and Kim Barnes in 2012. In 2013, she attended The New York Writer’s Institute, nonfiction with Jim Miller. She has studied with the poet and editor Larry Fagin and has completed a graduate class in humor with Patty Marx. In 2015, her flash “Old Ingénue” won the March Temporal Writing Contest at the Dr. T.J. Eckleberg Review.