Terpischore’s Atrium with April Bradley

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews the amazing April Bradley who contributed a brilliant flash fiction to Issue 6. April Bradley is a native of Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline. She recently spent time at Vermont Studio Center as writer-in-residence with several other poets, creative nonfiction writers, fiction writers, and playwrights.Her fiction and creative nonfiction has or will appear in Thrice FictionNarratively, Southern Women’s Review and other publications. She also serves as the Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine.  What makes April Bradley’s work so memorable is the way her narrative engages with the very essence of the story by employing an ingenious use of language and imagery. Her stories also tend to interact beyond the spaces that they occupy, leading to a vivid multidimensional aesthetic experience for her readers.

We request you to spend time with her flash fiction A Mermaid’s Purse is Also Called a Devil’s Pocketbook here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

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1. The title of your story published in Hermeneutic Chaos is raw and powerful in the way it allows the collusion of two entities disparate in their origin, meaning and connotations. How did it find its being?

Sailors’ lore and charming words, really—appropriate when dealing with the devil. When I was revising, I looked up information about skate egg cases and learned that sailors also historically called mermaid’s purses by the sobriquet devil’s pocketbooks due to their shape and color. The leathery cases appear dark and sinister with sharp, curved horns on each end that invite the comparison. Most mermaid purses wash ashore empty, and when one cradles an embryo it appears translucent. If a case becomes untethered and washes ashore, the embryo is highly unlikely to survive without intervention, and likewise, if the egg case becomes damaged. It was a good piece of luck to discover this tension in a name for something used to evoke atmosphere through metaphor. The egg case startles Clara, inspires promise because of the association with mermaids but she also experiences an undercurrent of menace. Part of her backstory is that she is a woman who has become false-hearted in her marriage while she yearns for another child. She fears another miscarriage, and in many ways, has squandered what could be a satisfying life for something unattainable.

2. One of the best aspects of the story is the manner in which time is portrayed in it. It begins in the very first sentence, “Clara measures time by tide”, and continues throughout the narrative. There is a vignette-like calmness and vividness in the words, but the physical and mental spaces that they recite are almost breathless in their anticipation. How do you perceive the conception of time in a prose?

Thank you for this significant compliment. Time is an essential component of fiction and one of the most powerful, flexible elements a writer can command. How we control time in our narratives can change everything. I perceive it as a tool, a structural element. Conceiving it is another matter. For the most part, for me, it’s intentional at the onset. In this story, analepsis and prolepsis realized through dramatic irony is used to regulate time, control pacing, and create space for the reader to regard Clara’s world and events in it—limited though it is.

3. What would a devil write in his pocketbook?

A devil or rather The Devil is a canny, contrary, vainglorious thing, so he’d write something enticing and maddening, and would delight in it because he is restive. The lines would be either lavish or as unadorned as the situation requires.

If he were to write to or for Clara, my main character, I’d expect something like, How shall I spend my coin? As though his expenditure is at her pleasure, when it is at her peril. The words pocket and pocketbook have colloquial and connotative references to genitalia, sex, the economy of pleasure, and fertility. Clara’s nearly desperate and looking for that kind of line.

4. If the mermaid goes out on a date with the Devil, what do you think would happen?

Can the devil swim otherwise as a leviathan? Let’s pretend so. Mermaids possess, of course, a prolific and myriad mythology as life-giving, destructive, carnal beings. According to the pair of names for the skate egg cases, the mermaid confers male fertility and abundance while the devil provides the source of female pleasure and fecundity— they seem well matched as co-conspirators. I’d expect a battle of wits and plotting: courting with a purpose for alliance. If one finds the other alluring, it would be a treacherous and foolish to indulge it. They would be attracted to uncommon places. Spar Cave, Isle of Skye would be a suitable setting as long as the locals don’t catch them out.

5. When did you first encounter writing? What did you find so exceptional about it?

This is a wonderful question and it immediately provoked a memory I did not expect. My parents had a summer party, and to keep me they occupied had me write out numbers to one hundred. When I got stuck, I’d ask someone nearby to help out. A songwriter named Hank pointed out I just needed to continue what I had been doing: writing one through nine and increase the number in the tens place by one, etc… He answered my questions whenever I yanked on his jacket and interrupted his conversation. When I reached one hundred and wanted to know what to do next, he showed me how to carry over and keep going. Then we jumped onto the idea of adding more zeros to reach one thousand and ten thousand. I asked him about nothing, zero, and he showed me how negative numbers worked: same thing but backwards. It was an amazing thing to realize that numbers went on and on. I said that if I had enough paper, I could write forever. He said there was a different word for it with numbers, infinity. There are always more numbers, more words.

6. What is your relationship with words as a writer? Do you ask them to chase your intentions in the story, or do they pour out of you, uninhabited?

It’s a complex one because I’m dyslexic. This isn’t a terrible thing by any means—it certainly makes things interesting. I tend to revise while composing as a way to stave off block. If something’s not flowing at one part of the narrative, I’ll tinker with another until that free-fall kicks in again. What gets me in trouble is if I let go of any writing without carefully reviewing it: words and letters move around; I’m a terrible speller; what I think makes it to the page, doesn’t. Words are…wily, wonderful things for me. They get me in trouble as much as they redeem. I’m trying out keeping a journal: it’s not working. I’m also trying out writing in fifteen-minute episodes here and there. That’s working much better. It forces me to write and revise later.

7. Why do you write prose? How do you try to dam the genre’s desire to run frantically across pages without glancing back?

When I think of prose at its most basic it is as not poetry, and although I use poetic devices and stylistic elements in fiction, I tend think in images and story. I have an affinity for the form—a preference. I’m attracted to writing short fiction because it is as Capote said in his famous interview with Pati Hill at The Paris Review, “…the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” And, I’m a slow writer. Rather, I devote a great deal of time and thought into a story and my publishing goals in respect to short fiction are to submit two stories a year at a minimum while I work on large-scale projects. Maybe I’ll become more prolific as I get used to publishing more. That pretty much builds a dam on my end.

8. As the Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes, what excites you the most about contemporary writing? What saddens you?

What is truly exciting in contemporary writing is how much control writers and readers are exerting over what is considered good writing, appreciable writing, and esteemed writing. We see this in the outcome of readers’ votes in our Story Of The Month contest at Bartleby Snopes. The quality of the quantity of contemporary writing available to readers and writers with online literary magazines and small presses is dizzying. It’s disappointing or saddening that everyone is in a hurry. There’s such a frenetic pace and that too shows up in contemporary writing. Maybe it’s the urgent sense of time and our times. There is a distinct sense of unraveling in the midst of so much vibrancy.

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How Submissions To Literary Magazines Should Be

Even though there is a surge in the number of online and print literary magazines in the last five years or so, getting published as a writer still continues to be a serious business. Technology has greatly alleviated the degree of reticence associated with many written manuscripts, and more and more authors are willing to give their works a loyal readership by publishing them through various media. In the case of online literary journals, however, I feel that this relationship is far more intimate, perhaps because a majority of editors and writers value the aesthetic composition of a piece rather than the monetary compensation it might achieve. In fact, most of the editors of literary journals work on a shoestring budget and fund their literary avenues entirely out of their pockets, and their readers and contributors accept and value that. The editors, on the other hand, respect the work submitted to them for their merits, and do not take anything else into consideration. This intense collaborative aspect of publishing that is almost selfless, according to me, is something that makes this writing space a thriving landscape.

If you are a writer submitting to a literary journal, there are certain things that you must keep in mind before hitting that ‘Send’ button. There are numerous literary journals out there waiting to add your name to their contributors’ list, and if you keep the following points in mind, the process of submission would certainly become a gratifying experience for you.

1. Discard your prejudices: A lot of writers dwell under the assumption that most of the literary magazines solicit the majority of works that they publish, and barely glance through the so called ‘slush pile’ ( a label that I completely abhor). Though many articles have claimed this to be the case with many of the top-tiered journals, almost all the ‘small’ literary magazines completely rely on the submissions that they receive to give shape to their issues. And this is because the editors value the potential of your writing. As the editor of Hermeneutic Chaos, I receive a lot of submissions where the writers self-deprecate their own work by announcing that they are not “fit for the journal”and requesting me to offer a detailed feedback whenever I reject them. As writers, we must be confident about the writing that we produce. Every piece of writing bears testimony to a particular emotion and experience, and we, as editors, value that. Please do not be overwhelmed by the writers and writing that you see in a particular literary magazine. Your writing is equally good, trust me.

2. Design your cover letter properly: This is something that has been continuously emphasized on by various editors in numerous articles, but I feel that it requires another mention. Your cover letter is like that fence that gives structure to your submission, and so you must build it properly. The cover letter must not be terse, but neither should it be elaborate. An ideal cover letter addresses the appropriate editor, mentions the name of the pieces that are being submitted, and briefly introduces the writer to the editor. Since most of the literary journals accept simultaneous submissions, it is important to mention whether your work is a simultaneous submission or not. Most importantly, do not brag about yourself or your publishing credentials at all. Most of the editors do not even go through them before reading your piece. Let your work speak for itself.

3. Read the previous issues of a journal before submitting: This becomes important especially in the case of online journals, where all the issues are readily available for the reading audience. Spend some time with the work that they publish and their thematic priorities. Understand the aesthetic criteria of a journal before submitting work to it. Do not send a piece that does not fit their editorial criteria as it will be automatically rejected. When you submit your work to a journal, ensure that it respects its aesthetic contemplation.

4. Understand the notion of a response time: At Hermeneutic Chaos, responses are sent to the submitters within 2 days, usually much sooner. That is because all the submissions are read by one person which makes it easier to arrive at the decisions. However, many journals have more than two editors, and several readers who read the submissions as they arrive, and reach a consensus after thorough discussions. These journals may have a response time of 1-6 months. Do keep that into consideration before submitting your work to them. I have seen many writers complain about the ‘long’ response time of a journal that explicitly mentions the six month wait one may have to endure if one submits to them. If such a time period does not bode well with you, try a different journal with a much quicker response time.

5. Do not resubmit a rejected piece to the same journal: For the simple reason that the editors remember each and every piece submitted to them. Therefore, submitting the same piece two months after it was rejected will not change their opinion towards it.

6. Respect the decision that the editors take: Do understand that the editors are only biased towards good literature that fits their mould; nothing else influences their decision. So if your work is not accepted by them, it is not because your writing isn’t good. It only means that there is another literary journal out there that will publish your writing. So take inspiration from your rejection letters and move forward. There will always be a literary magazine that will love your writing.

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We are now accepting chapbook submissions!

We completed one year this month, and we are so grateful to you for our journey so far. We want to take this opportunity to thank all our readers and contributors for constantly encouraging us to publish some of the finest literature that we can find. We feel proud to have published excellent works by new, emerging and established authors. It wouldn’t have been possible without your trust and support.

In order to celebrate our one year anniversary, we are excited to announce that we have launched Hermeneutic Chaos Press, that will aim to honor the works of poets and fiction writers by publishing their work in the form of handmade chapbooks.

Hermeneutic Chaos Press is a micro press that publishes poetry and fiction chapbooks and other literary paraphernalia that may excite us. Beginning in 2015, we will have two reading periods every year, from May 1-June 30, and from December 1-January 30. Our tastes are quite eclectic, but we are most interested in works that question the sinews of language and everyday experiences, and explore literary spaces outside the common using innovative imagery. We want voices that are radical, sharp, startling and resonating. We would also love to read collaborative and hybrid writing.We aim to publish not more than four chapbooks every year. The chapbooks accepted during the summer reading period will be published in January, while the chapbooks accepted during the winter cycle will be published in the month of August.

Submissions:

POETRY:​​ We will consider both verse and prose poetry, as well as hybrid forms. We look for manuscripts that are cohesive in nature, and that move us through a surprising use of language and symbolism.

PROSE: We will consider a collection of flash fiction, one/two long stories, vignettes and hybrid forms. The stories should possess a compelling nature and capture the motion of a moment in all its vulnerability. 

Guidelines:

1. Please submit a manuscript that is between 12- 25 pages in length (excluding the title page, table of content, acknowledgement,etc.).

​2. Although we prefer a collection of shorter poems/fictions, we would also happily consider chapbook length poems. In case of a manuscript of short poems, please ensure that each page carries only one poem.

​3. All submissions must include a cover letter, title page, table of contents, and acknowledgement and dedication pages (if needed). Please ensure that all pages are numbered.

​4. The manuscript may comprise of poems/fictions that have been individually published elsewhere, but the manuscript as a whole should be unpublished, whether online or in print.

​5. We encourage simultaneous submissions. However, please mention this in the cover letter and withdraw your manuscript immediately if it finds acceptance elsewhere.

6. If your manuscript is accepted for publication by Hermeneutic Chaos, you will receive ten copies of your chapbook as payment. We cannot offer you a monetary compensation at this time.

7. We aim to respond to all our submissions within 8 weeks, usually less. Please feel free to contact us if you don’t hear from us by then.

8. There is no reading fee.

Please send all your manuscripts to hermeneuticchaospress@gmail.com.

However, if you wish to order a chapbook along with your submission, you can do so too. For $8, we will ship a copy of the chapbook that would be accepted for publication, or our Jane Lumley Prize 2014 chapbook. Please direct your submissions to our online submission manager Submittable.

Thank you so much for considering us. We are so excited to read your work!

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Terpischore’s Atrium with Alessandra Bava

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews the amazing Alessandra Bava, who contributed three ingeniously crafted poems to Issue 3. She is the author of critically acclaimed chapbooks They Talk About Death (winner of the Blood Pudding Press chapbook competition in 2014) and Diagnosis, published by Dancing Girl Press, which will publish another chapbook penned by her titled Love and Other Demons next year. She is also the author of two bilingual chapbooks Guerrilla Blues (2012) and Nocturne (2013) both published in Italy. Her poems have been published, or are forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Cease, Cows, and Gargoyle, among others. She is also a prolific translator, and has edited and translated an anthology of contemporary American poets,  Nuova Antologia di Poesia Americana, that will be published by Edizioni Ensemble later this year.

We request you to spend time with her poems here, and then return to enjoy the interview.

 

Alessandra Bava (© photo Marco Cinque) (3)

 

 

1. The poems ‘Incubus’, ‘The Nest’ and ‘I am Disintegration’ (published in Issue 3 of Hermeneutic Chaos) present poetry as a process fraught with both an “anxiety of influence” as well as an “anxiety of audience”, for the words that compose them constantly struggle to find an identity of their own. Could you tell us about your decision to make the poems chart such a vulnerable path?

I try to give my words a precise identity, but they have to speak for themselves and for me, the poet, as well. I look at my poems, and ultimately at my words, as something I have given life to. They must learn to walk around the world using all the strength I have provided them with. The path may be vulnerable, but I have given them legs and a backbone.

 

2. One of the most astonishingly brilliant aspects of these poems is their use of all the sensory manifestations of experience, and not merely the visual, that is usually the dominant mode of description. How do you think can writers hold the disparate interpretations of all these senses together in their work?

I totally enjoy pushing the perception boundaries in my poems. I want my poems to be physical, much like Whitman when he states: “who touches this touches a man.” This is why the visual elements are not the only ones at play. In “The Nest,” that was published in Hermeneutic Chaos, I play with hearing (a nest that beats like a heart or an egg  that is about to crack) and with touch (claws inscribing the heart). As my fellow poet Marco Cinque states, “the poem is a living thing.” I agree wholeheartedly with him. And, this is precisely why I like to use all the five senses in my poetry.

 

3. Though you were born in Rome, you spent your youth abroad attending various American and International schools that fostered your love for literature in English. And this exposure has enabled you to both write poetry in English and also translate poems written in English by various authors. How do you encounter the cultural and literary diaspora in your work?

I look at it as a unique privilege. Being able to write in English or to translate from English into my mother tongue is a an incredible opportunity. I often feel I am two different persons. Switching from a language to the other is a fascinating process. When I write and communicate in English I believe I am terser, whereas Italian allows me to be more exuberant.

 

4. Your poems accumulate intense imageries that transcend their descriptions by engaging with the activity of the texts. How much has Roman art inspired you?

Imagery has a lead role in my personal and artistic life. Being born in Rome, a city surrounded by work of arts and beauty, has certainly made me more art-oriented or art-driven. Baroque art has certainly influenced a lot of my imagination, triggering the accumulation process and the attention to the depictive quality of words.

 

5. Your chapbook They Talk About Death published by Blood Pudding Press is a stunning piece of work that beautifully manages to engage in a necessary conversation with writers such as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Rimbaud in the space offered by the poems. How do you think would these writers try to resurrect themselves in the 21st century?

When I wrote the poems in this chapbook, I was so focused on these poets’ deaths that I have actually not really thought about their possible resurrection. I believe Plath and Sexton would most likely resurrect themselves as Lady Lazarus. Could they get rid of their bloodied bandages, they would be re-born as writing phoenixes. We would certainly benefit from more of their words. Rimbaud was certainly not meant to be just a poet. He was a restless man and a rebel soul, so he would probably resurrect as a wanderer, a modern troubadour. Or, a rock star.

 

6. Your second chapbook Diagnosis has recently been published by dancing girl press and has met with numerous enthusiastic positive responses. Congratulations!

Do you see poetry as a diagnosis or a prognosis, or something in between?

Thank you! The poem that gives the title to Diagnosis plays around the idea that we poets are so to say “insane” and that there’s always someone ready to diagnose us with “Poetry.” If poetry is an illness or a mania, I can’t tell. I’m glad I suffer from it! It’s a path I need to follow. And, I’ve a totem animal guiding me along this path in this chapbook: a hare.

 

7. Who are your favorite poets? Where do you like to converse with them?

I’ve many favorite poets. Sexton and Plath. Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva. Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Dante and Pasolini. Among the living poets Jack Hirschman, fourth Poet Laureate of San Francisco, holds a special place in my heart. I’m currently writing his biography. Whenever he’s in Italy we get a chance to meet and talk. He’s a tremendous poet and, when I talk to him, I learn so much about his life and the poets and writers he has met during his life, from Ferlinghetti to Ginsberg, from Creeley to Corso, from Bukowski to Anaïs Nin. He is such a jovial and intellectually stimulating man. It’s a joy to converse with him! Then there’s Patti Smith. She’s not only an awesome song-writer. She’s a poet and a wordsmith. And, I greatly admire her work.

My favorite place to “converse” with poets is the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. It’s an idyllic place. We’re lucky to have the tombs of so many excellent poets there: Percy B. Shelley, John Keats, Gregory Corso and Amelia Rosselli, an Italian woman poet who committed suicide on 11th February, same day as Plath. It’s an inspiring place. I often go there to write.

 

8. What are you writing now? Where do you think will it carry you as a poet and a reader?

I’ve honestly translated more than written poetry, lately. But, I’ve two chapbooks I’m working on at present. The former is inspired by Diane Arbus’s photographs, the latter by poets who spent part of their life in asylums. And, I’m definitely ready  to resume working on Hirschman’s biography, that I’d love to complete by 2015.

Writing both poetry and non-fiction is challenging and fascinating. It’s making me grow as a writer and a reader at the same time. Poetry makes me strive for brevity in non-fiction, whereas non-fiction helps me use poems as tales of my soul.

 

 

 

 

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Terpischore’s Atrium with Kalisha Buckhanon

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews Kalisha Buckhanon, who is undoubtedly one of the most talented writers in the contemporary literary milieu. Her debut venture, Upstate, was published in 2006 to massive critical acclaim, and won an American Library Association ALEX Award and an Audie Award in Literary Fiction for its audiobook, besides being a Hurston-Wright Foundation Debut Fiction finalist. Her sophomore novel, Conception, was greeted with much greater enthusiasm, and won a Friends of American Writers Adult Literature Award. Kalisha has been awarded an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose; a Zora Neale Hurston/Bessie Head Fiction Award at the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Literature and Writing Conference, for her short story “Card Parties” ; the Terry McMillan Young Author Award at the National Book Club Conference; an Honorable Mention in the Mary Roberts Rinehart Awards at George Mason University; a Presidential Scholarship at The New School; a Century Fellowship at University of Chicago; and an Andrew Mellon/Mays Foundation Minority Fellowship in Humanities.

We are honored to publish an excerpt from her upcoming novel Bleedsoe  in Issue 5 of Hermeneutic Chaos. We request you to befriend the exquisitely written “Singer’s” here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

KBuckhanon photo

 

1. “Singer’s” is one of the most profound fictions I have read recently. However, what intrigued me the most is the possessive apostrophe used in the title. I feel that it is somehow a part of the word yet estranged from it, similar to the delineations of the excerpt. How much narrative responsibility do you attribute to the title of your works?

Thank you and I appreciate you feeling such an impact from “Singer’s,” because I really wanted to build a palpable world to stick with readers around the characters I loved. I give a huge load of responsibility to titles, because if you are expecting a reader to make it through so much, you have to help them out immediately with mystery, provocation. A title can do that quickly as one thing or idea or concept to stick with them throughout.

This is my first time writing of a fictional setting. It took me a much longer time than usual to get my footing and bearings in a “no-place” than when writing a real place. I worried if it took me so much time and aggravation to get centered in my own place I was making up, what would it be like for strangers entering as readers? If that part of it all is catastrophic, there is no story and the characters just do not matter.

It is amazing to me that you caught the apostrophe punctuation and its possessive connotations. I wrote Singer’s to get the backstory of a trailer park located in Bledsoe, Mississippi, the perimeter of non-existent place of which Singer’s Trailer Park is a part. The inhabits of this makeshift community are black Americans seeking ownership in the world. They get a good start, however they do so outside of bureaucratic and state procedures. So their work is in vain. A white man with the last name Singer comes along with the upper class protocols and connections to capitalize on the black Americans who had more of an ancient, even squatter’s approach to possession. His access to state-sanctioned rules and procedures overcomes any history or mission of the place to make it his own, possess the land and essentially own black Americans as if on a plantation.

 

2. Singer’s begins with the line-“Even when their safest part of the world began to crumble and tumble down, it still smelled of fresh paint, like a stretch of new city projects some decades ago instead of now.” The language used here fills me with awe, because each word indulges in its own interpretations, and then swiftly masquerades another connotation when brought in contact with other words. How do you and your characters confront history through language?

Thank you. I flip-flop where I want my characters and story to be much more often than I would like. It is hard for me to stay in one head, time, place or tongue. My first published novel was letters back and forth between two people. One was in jail. In the second one a pregnant girl told the bulk of the story, with her fetus interrupting to offer up its spiritual past through history. I did not know how to include all the history and language styles I needed to finish the stories, but to break up the narrators and voices into parts suiting my needs. I believe there is a bilingual nature to black American language and speech many people are ashamed to recognize or admit, because a way of speaking and hearing words is associated with ignorant or uneducated people who have no respect as foreign tongues. I am aware of all that and fluent in all that, so by nature of that I think my writing could be an expanse at all times. All that variety and difference trying to come together.

And black American history—slave pasts, legal racism, state-created poverty—is a mandate of consideration behind most black American texts no matter where and when they are set. It’s a very jumbled situation to try to connect. So the place I am describing is definitely in the southern country, but I guess at the time I could not find any way to capture its connection to shared black history but to link it to the city via crumbled projects. So the work Singer’s feeds into is my first time transforming that wild tendency into a set third-person narrative all throughout, in one omniscient voice—but with way more characters than I’ve ever managed before. It was harder than I thought it would be.

 

3. Your writing pays an astute attention to geographic details, which are both noticeable and tangible. Does an incorporation of the familiar offer a metaphoric congruity to your psyche, or does it make you uneasy? What is your relationship with the familiar?

Oddly enough, the place I envision in Singer’s is one I visited on trips for my father’s family, who came from Mississippi to Illinois. My grandmother I visited there passed away in 2010 in my Illinois hometown, so I started to think about those trips and places much more than I ever had before. I am glad I captured something, because I was worried about not being a “native” of something but owning the right to write about it anyway.

I never want anything I write to be about me. It has to be about characters and what they want. For one thing, I am very private and I respect that with others who could be connected to my private life in recognizable ways. I want things to seem true and real, but I am very uneasy with familiarity to myself. And at the same time I think where I come from and where I have been in life, not to mention countless people and things my psyche has encountered, are very rich narratively and praiseworthy in ways only artists can respect. It’s a balance. It depends on your goals. I am firmly wedded to fiction, and hiding any realities I have which are just too boring or painful to depict except behind metaphors as many people as possible may enjoy.

 

4. Who decides the narrators in your stories- the author or the characters?

Wow I do not know! I wish I did. I would go talk to them about it. I would find out how in the world they did not make me an Olympic sprinter or swimmer who could stay thin with my gift and obsession, rather than knowing I am just going to plump up day by day. And then I would make them buy me a lifetime supply of Tylenol PM, the only thing that can put me to sleep when narrators are coming on full force based upon things going on in my small personal life or the larger outside world. I wish I could plan stories. My agent and I worked on that. I got there somewhat. But no, I have no clue why certain narrators or voices or people or things start coming around. I just type what I feel is best for them.

 

5. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte introduces the Red Room, which, apart from its various interpretations pertaining to feminism, also alludes to a secret writing space, one that appears to be calm and composed but revels as a fiery subversion inside the writer. How do you envisage your writing- a peaceful, quiet consequence or something else?

I would say it is very fiery, not at all peaceful. It’s a dragon. It’s the strongest thing I have. It’s the safest way for me to express opinions and disagreements in this world. I know I can say whatever I want to say and there will be no pain for it, maybe even praise.

I am a short, round, brown woman whose parents did not go to college but made careers out of those “regular jobs” that even white children must overcome the upper or professional classes’ condescension and dismissals due to. Now, I chose to put myself in elite environments where this laddering is acceptable and the norm, and that is how I learned this truth. I watched my parents come home drained and narrating bizarre stories about feeling unappreciated, overly challenged and treated like children. Then, once I left the nest and my small world where I was viewed as an ideal, I saw I was now them.

I don’t care if you have higher education or a philanthropist’s portfolio, a woman of color has a harder life. My name is ‘Kalisha,’ not Elizabeth or Margaret or Anne. I love Kate Middleton and find her very strong, but my name is not ‘Catherine.’ You must multiply the forces who want to quiet and deny Bronte’s women times ten for Kalishas. And even when women of color just want to write about growing up and love and societal pressures for women, that wild bucking horse of color oppressions stomps into the narratives.

I was writing for my life in an M.F.A. program because job searches were odd for me, despite a near perfect academic background and strong work history, since I had to work myself through college. Every single year a new research study comes out to reveal that resume names showing a sure black heritage get passed over, even hidden. A headhunter responded to me after I switched out the first name on my resume to my middle name: ‘Nicole.’ She met me and told me: “You are really smart so people could want to hire you, but your hair…” I do not straighten my hair. So, if the barrier was not my name before people met me it became my physical blackness after people met me. Bias and oppression are not figments. They are real physical organisms moving daily in our world.

I’ve obviously had a wonderful and great life. I am beyond blessed by comparison to many. I have had fairy tale experiences. I am being interviewed by a brilliant woman from across the world due to my blessings. This does not happen to most people on any given day. So it feels uneasy and ungrateful to air these concerns and point out these patterns in real life. So that is why I write. That is the only reason I write. Millions upon millions, past and present and future, will never have the opportunities I have had to be able to share this truth. They will just suffer from it. Some will implode. Many are in jail and poverty. My writing is always peaceful for me personally. I love it. But it’s very red in there. God placed a deeper chamber full of silenced voices as part of my anatomy.

 

6. If writing were a rabbit hole, how would you want a writer to find it?

I think it depends on the writer and their goals. If this is a secret passion or side love or hobby, you’ll fall when you should. If you are a writer who wants to produce objects of text as a lifelong and consistent career doing nothing else, you cannot wait to fall down into the rabbit hole. You have to know where it is, mark it like a headstone or a mailbox at the curb, and put flowers there or check it every single day without fail. You have to develop a sustained practice where sitting down at a computer or with a notebook or on a typewriter is a 6-8 hour a day concern the rest of everything in your life pivots around.

I would say in my twenties most of my work was created in the more romantic and better glorified “rabbit hole” sense, this aggressive and inconvenient urge to work on scenes and conversations until I had what I thought of as a real story or wannabe-book. Catching that sensation and dreaming of the next time I could indulge was like playing a game with the rabbit hole, knowing it was there but not knowing where it was. It gave me a lot of energy and lots to look forward to in life, not just in writing but general days and future.

I still love that and have that. I prefer it actually. However, when most people take on more obligations in life such as family or material things, it is very easy to block that rabbit hole out. If you fall down in there, then you will not be on top of the more complicated worlds we have tendency to build in maturity and societal responsibility. So I, and most people I suspect, want to step around rabbit holes and leap over them. This is creative suicide. It is why people do not finish writing books or just stop writing.

I finally managed to get to know myself as a person for whom writing is a 6-8 hour concern. I did not know her before, because I was either in school or working a day job or nursing novel publications, or just caught up on others’ drama due to working from home. Drastic changes in my life and detachments kind of forced me into 6-8 hours at my computer every day, without me realizing it had happened. I finally learned what kind of “full-time” writer I am, how my body works and responds during it—from appetite to sleep. Once I got to know her, I was not afraid of her and I like being her. She’s much more productive jumping right into the rabbit hole, rather than slipping in by accident.

 

7. If you were given a chance to collaborate with any member of your writing desk to write a novel, what would you choose?

I would choose my computer screen. I would just talk to it, tell it what I think about this new person and that new person and their dilemma that would be such a great story. I would tell my screen what is so great about this story, and how I thought of it and why it’s so good. I would describe it, go on and on and on like all similar wishes I’ve heard from people who think writing is talking about what could be written—myself included.

And, while the screen completed the task my imagination must pair with my body—butt in the chair, or on my feet with elbows on the table and wrists at the keyboard, my hands always moving, my neck and back sensing the need to stretch, my arms needing to stretch and forehead needing a massage—Kalisha is going to be at the spa in the Jacuzzi or at the happy hour bar special. Or, I will be talking on the phone and watching reality television.

And then when I came back, I could just take my mouse and scroll down the computer screen to see my story has been performed just like Kalisha would have done it alone—but over hundreds more hours potentially, including 20 more pounds for all the sitting. I would merge my imagination with a machine, and write more than any author in history.

 

8. How are your forthcoming projects going to challenge you as an author?

I am proud of my new projects because they are about the love and the work without question or interference. They are the products of that little girl inside of me who would go without sleep on school nights to tap out my version of novels on a little electric typewriter my parents bought me or that young college woman who would scratch these odd visions when I was supposed to be taking calculus notes. However, they benefit from the practice we can only have with more time in life.

I think this is why I moved from first person narration to more third person. I didn’t want to be so limited anymore because it was limiting to what I could say of worlds and people myself as a writer. I have gotten nothing but positive feedback about that decision in my new works and it has given me so much fuel to keep going forward.

 

 

 

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Issue 6 is finally live!

We are extremely excited to announce that the January issue of Hermeneutic Chaos is finally live! It features work from Flower Conroy, Anna Meister, Rasiqra Revulva, April Bradley, Chris Gaffney, Meg Cowen, Ryan Bollenbach, Anna Lowe Weber, Rachel Crawford, Bill Yarrow, Amanda Frost, Matthew Kabik, Pamela Hill, GennaRose Nethercott, Christine Degenaars, Kristine Sorum-Williams, Nyoka Eden, Sabrina Chen, Lynn Schmeidler, Louis Gallo, Charlie Lynn and Aimee Herman. Plus, there is a beautiful chapbook to download too!

We really hope that you love the issue as much as we do! Read it here- http://www.hermeneuticchaosjournal.com/january-2015.html

 

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Book Review: Threnody, by Laura Madeline Wiseman

threnody

 

Porkbelly Press, 2014

23 pages, $7

Review by Shinjini Bhattacharjee

 

The hallmark of a good piece of literature, especially poetry, is to exist by hiding its laws and code of conduct from its readers.  These laws and rules, however, do not masquerade as imperceptible secrets, rather, peek from the corners of the big wide walls of pages, challenging the readers to demystify them. The interstices borne by these interactions offer the readers an opportunity to take refuge in the self-interpretation of a text, and in the process, rewrite it with the writer. Laura Madeline Wiseman’s latest chapbook, Threnody, published by Porkbelly Press, invites the readers to engage in such an exercise, and speaks volumes of Wiseman’s faith in her readers and her desire to engage them with the very fragments of her writing, and arrive at a collaborative interpretation in the process.

Threnody (from the Greek word thrēnōidia implying lament) is set in New Mexico and narrates the journey of the protagonist “I” who meets lady death, befriends her, and rides in her death cart. Wiseman is a brilliant poet, and this can be seen in the manner in which she constructs the fourteen micro-pieces. All of them carry a generous use of vowels and soft consonants, eerily highlighting the lament that lasts throughout the narrative.

The beginning of the first prose poem “In the House of Death”-“The lady of death wears a bonnet and dress as she tips forward to see the ground she passes, high on the cart”-sets the course that the rest of the poems fearlessly undertake. The descriptions of the protagonist’s self and the Other are terse, clever and vivid, and soon begin to merge into each other- “Maybe the lady of death lives inside us. She is a part of our muscles and bones” (“Or To Release Death”). The author uses the metaphor of lady death and the narrator’s relationship with her to highlight the ways in which the various forms of feminisms are constructed by society, and the painful and conflicting relationship women have with their psyche as a consequence. The chapbook interacts with women’s bodies, sexualities and normative social mores, holding them up for a critical examination. Even though the narrator fears lady death throughout the narrative, there is also an accompanying awe and fascination accompanying it, especially the manner in which the latter constructs her body and self (“I’m awkward. I stare, can’t breathe. You’re the one everyone adores”). The lady-death might even be seen as the narrator’s alter-ego, eschewing the familial to embrace a more radical relationship (“I say, I don’t want a sister. I want a friend, death’s bright angel, you”). The narrator paradoxically can only come to terms with her own identity by “let[ting] go” of it.

A perusal of the chapbook is both an aesthetic as well as an emotional experience. Even though the character and settings evoke beautiful mythic dimensions, their intentions are familiar and highly intriguing. These force you to question the underlying assumptions of a heteronormative, largely patriarchal society that works overtly by being covert. Highly reminiscent of the poems by Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and H.D., Wiseman’s vignettes astutely engages in an intense description of surroundings and experiences in a struggle to find an identity of the self. What also lends a greater reading experience is the juxtaposition of the sparse, limited landscape of the chapbook with the always moving death cart in which the lady of death and the narrator travel, along with a choice of words and sentences that defy meaning and choose to tumble over each other instead of restraining themselves in confined ideologies and lexicons.

Feminism is a much traversed territory, and over the decades, various meanings have been forcibly cramped into its vulnerable spaces. Wiseman’s Threnody, however, is unique in its compelling and contemplative use of imagery and interpretation to offer a bold and fearless perspective of the female psyche that resides in the underworld and all that it exhibits. A must-read.

 

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