Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Words to Paint a Thousand Pictures, by April Zabrinski (from Calliope)

At first I didn't really know what to make of this poem. I really liked the first three lines, “Tiptoed whispers like / Caramel drops stolen from / The ceramic jar” and then I just got lost in the rest of the poem. Zabrinski moves from one vivid image to the next with no punctuation at all (except the final period after the last line) so that they all blur together. Without realizing it you've moved from the caramel drops to moonlit sonatas to sunrises.

The transition between images works because many lines are part of the preceding image and the following one. For example, “And the cat fanning its tail atop / the purring radiator / watching with closed eyes / drips of chocolate delight on the / Asian run / And picked locks” The cat can watch the drips of chocolate or there could be a period after “closed eyes” and the chocolate on the rug and the locks could be an entirely new image. Or the chocolate could just be on the rug and the locks could be a third image all together.

Each image is unique and interesting, but they race by so quickly. When I first read it I was a bit put off by the fact that I wasn't allowed process each image before the next one was introduced, but then I remembered the title, “Words to Paint a Thousand Pictures.” It seems to me that this poem does exactly that. In twenty-two lines Zabrinski tries to paint as many pictures as she can. Depending on where you insert your own punctuation the poem can present many different pictures.

I imagine that this must be extremely difficult to pull off, but it is pretty cool and the more I re-read it the more I like it.


The Caretaker by D. A. Kentner from Calliope

This story won first place in Calliope's 18th annual fiction contest, and it is easy to see why. As you read you follow Archer Foley (what a great name) from a bar where he has a conversation with a stranger to the cemetery where his wife was buried a year ago and where he learns the name of that stranger. The cemetery manager says that this man, Henry, visits the cemetery every day, “cleans away any debris from his wife's grave, then busies himself cleaning markers, raking leaves and grass, and throwing away dead flowers,” though he isn't employed by the cemetery. Not only does Henry fulfill the duties that a caretaker might have, but it turns out that he also keeps track of graves that don't get visited.

It is then revealed that Henry finds the families of those whose graves are un-visited and finds a way to heal them by getting them back to the cemetery. So Archer's chance encounter with him at the bar turns out not to be chance at all. And suddenly Archer is on a mission not only to reconnect with his own children, but also to reunite Henry's family. Though he had been drinking double scotchs at a bar (and then driving) only a few hours ago, now his life has a purpose. The cemetery manager sees what Archer is about to go do, and says that it isn't easy work being a caretaker like Henry. And Archer responds that, “there isn't a better paying job on the planet.”

This quick plot rundown doesn't do the story any justice, and if you've got a second I'd say to read it (online at The one part that irks me is that Kentner lets Archer get in a car and drive after spending an undisclosed amount of time drinking at a bar. Other than that it is a really moving piece.


Monday, November 28, 2011

"Beginnings" by Lee Stern

In the Sixth Issue of Cantee, the poem titled "Beginnings" by Lee Stern caught my attention. The first and second lines are enjambed and read "I don't have any more beginnings / to give you before the road stops." The juxtaposition of beginnings and the end of the road creates a vivid image in my mind as I picture just what that road the speaker is referring to looks like.
The speaker repeats multiple times in different wording that he or she has run out of beginnings, which to me, means that too many mistakes have been made throughout his or her life, and it is time to reevaluate and stop starting over. It is presumably time for the speaker to get his or her act together and move forward, rather than start over, as he or she has done so many times before.
This idea of new beginnings is very relatable because we've all been in a position where we wish we could simply start over like flipping over a piece of scribbled on computer paper to the stark white side. The poem's author makes us question just how many times we should be attempting to start over and when we should just face our mistakes and move along, head held high.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Woman Who Eats Soil ---Jen G.

I've noticed I tend to go a little too in-depth in my posts, so I'll try to keep this one short. I was scrolling through the Green edition of The Fairy Tale Review when I came across the unusually-named poem, "The Woman Who Eats Soil" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. It begins with the melancholy lines "What can the unfortunate insect do/if it is found wanting in weight?" (115) and follows the brief story of a woman named Hao Fenglas who, for the past seventy years, has been eating soil in secret. In all honestly, I have no idea what to make of this poem. Hao continues on with normal life, waving to kids as they walk to school, all while she eats soil. The poem ends with the lines "[the bugs] have an idea on how to grow bigger, too big/ for this purse. But it is forgotten with each bite" (115); I feel like there is some clue here, but I cannot for the life of me figure it out. Maybe I'm missing the big picture? Any suggestions/interpretations are welcome!

---Jen G.

A grisly but refreshing look at "Snow White"---Jen G.

I purchased the electronic collection of The Fairy Tale Review (all five issues: Blue, Green, Violet, White, and Aquamarine) some time ago, and now that I have some I have been happily perusing the different issues with more depth. As I was reading the Violet Edition (published in 2007), Kim’s Addonizio’s opening poem, “Snow White: The Huntsman’s Story” quickly caught my eye. As you may have seen, Hollywood is churning out its next series of genre/character films, and has turned its eye to none other than Snow White. In a similar fashion to The Prestige and The Illusionist, rival studios are coming out with Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror, one an adventure/thriller/romance and the other a romantic comedy. With the movie machine in mind, I unfairly went into “Huntsman’s” expecting something more like “Show White,” or an alternative twist on the story.

Well, it was alternative.

“Snow White: The Huntsman’s Story” isn’t a romance but a lament by the Huntsman who, contrary to the stories he hears, did in fact rape and kill Snow White, his “assignment” (15). In a short number of words, the Huntsman systemically punches holes in the accepted myth, fills the reader in on the grisly truths, and attempts to convey his remorse. Haunted, he says, “ I took out my knife and held her head/back. She closed her eyes. A deer/crossed the clearing, stopped/and turned/ I thought/it watched me,/ I think it watches me still…” (15), the Huntsman is recounting his tale long after Snow White’s death and the romance’s myth’s birth.

One of the more confusing motif’s throughout the poem is that of the references to the Nazis. For example, in one of the more grisly sections, he says, “Believe in the apple, the glass coffin/without its covering flag,/where she lay/as perfectly preserved as Eva Peron/until the prince came to carry her away./Of course he didn’t carry her./ the servants did. And when they stumbled/over a tree stump-/if you believe the story- the piece of apple,/ caught in her throat, popped out” (15-6), and later mentions that in the snow fall there was “white on her blue Aryan eyes” (16). I have a few ideas about the imagery, such as the evil queen has become Hitler-like leader, exterminating rivals like Snow White (but why call Snow White Aryan?), or that the myth we know and love is just that, a myth, which we like to tell ourselves in order to avoid the darker truth. “Snow White” is a part of the Grimm’s collection, and “Huntsman’s” is an effective reminder of that tone. That being said, “Huntsman’s” does not leave even the Grimm version unscathed.

Ms. Addonizio weaves an intriguing and dark work, both grisly and disturbingly refreshing, carefully working with and casting off the different clich├ęs and myths surrounding Snow White, even ending the tale on a twist of the famous “Lips red as rose” lines.

When it comes down to it, the movie treatment will more likely than not focus on the Disney version of Snow White, and I have a feeling that by the time Hollywood has plowed through Snow White tale next summer, I am going to be more inclined to reach for “Huntsman’s” grittier take than buying a ticket.

---Jen G.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Reader" by Justin Taylor

In issue six of Canteen, there is a short prose piece by Justin Taylor titled "Reader." The author starts off by stating that the reading is not a group activity, comparing it to attending a sporting event or seeing a concert. Instead, he asserts, "the act of reading is one of deep. fulfilling, isolation." I had never really thought about comparing these different activities but I can definitely say I agree with him.
He goes on to discuss how the importance of literature in society today has drastically depleted from previous times, proclaiming that: "We live in a period where the value of self-knowledge has been undermined, debased, and perhaps abandoned; when the very notion of the self is held in profound suspicion." This is, unfortunately, a harsh reality of today. The majority of people of our generation spend their time on social networking sites, which only contributes to an increase in narcissism on a global scale. It is a sad time, not only for the economy, as Taylor points out, but also for the arts, which have become far less important to us.
Taylor also discusses the importance of private discourse in leading to "productive public discourse amongst individuals." which is certainly true and relates directly to the act of reading a piece of literature. This decrease of interest in literature is disheartening, particularly for someone who cares about it as much as I do, and as much as most of you probably do as well. Hopefully there will be a revival and people will realize that spending time on your computer facilitating false relationships will never replace the person to person interaction that literature instigates.