Ronnie Pope is currently based in the strange land of Wales, UK.Read More
Natalie Baker is a freelance writer and editor based in London. Her writing has appeared in Occulum, Severine Literary Journal, Bad Pony, Synaesthesia Magazine and For Books’ Sake. When she’s not writing, you can find her supporting the charity project Bloody Good Period as their fundraising coordinator, and working (late into the night) on her first literary novel. Follow her on Twitter as @NataBakeEditor or visit her website https://www.natalieclairebaker.com.
Alice collected collectives. She harbored them in her mind, the way her gums had harbored baby teeth and grownup teeth, mismatched ships in a sea of cherry pink. She collected baby teeth, too—they rattled around in an old breath mint tin. She gathered things she could no longer have—her childhood mouth-bones, a sense of belonging. She memorized the collectives from a paperback book; she recited them in her head every morning as she brushed her mismatched teeth.
Cameron DeOrdio lives in Astoria, Queens. He writes comic books and short prose stories, along with copy for business-to-business technology clients. His work has appeared in The Rampallian and V23 Magazine, among others. His comics credits include Archie Comics' Josie and the Pussycats. He received an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where he studied comic scripting alongside fiction writing.Read More
BY MICHAEL J SEIDLINGER
This is an except from "Falter Kingdom."
I read somewhere that symptoms shouldn’t start until nightfall. I call bullshit on that because it’s one p.m. and I’m hungry and locked in my room. The doorknob won’t turn and, yes, it’s unlocked.
It’s messing with me and getting stronger and bolder and meaner every day. I send everything above as a text message to Becca, who immediately replies with this exclamation point, three of them actually, and then:
“I heard! That’s like such bullshit!”
Duh. I text back, “I’m home with it.”
“Are you okay?”
“See previous message.”
“Wait, like, you’re stuck in your room?”
“Yeah,” and I add, “It’s cold in here.”
Becca texts back, “We need you to meet someone today.”
“Ditch school and help me. I’m clueless with this shit.”
It’s true. I can’t believe it, but yeah, I really do need Becca’s help. But everything I just said feels so fake, and wrong, and nothing at all sincere. But it’s there, so that’s something.
“I’ll leave at lunch period.”
Good. I want to text back, “I’ll be stuck in a room haunted by some demon, waiting for you,” but instead I text, “Thanks.” And again with the “Love you.”
We both text the same two words to each other.
It feels as strange as ever.
But Becca doesn’t ask about the party the other night. She doesn’t even act suspicious. Maybe she’s caught wind of the Nikki thing but she won’t say anything about it. I think it has a lot to do with how she’s reacted to what’s been happening. For being someone so close to me, she shouldn’t have done that, keeping her distance and stuff. But then she’s also skipping school and she never skips school, so . . .
I’m confused. What else is new?
I know you’re there, yeah.
I can sense it nearby, but it’s weird because I can’t get a make on where it’s standing. It feels like it’s everywhere around me. But it’s also not doing anything. It just wants to keep me here, in this room.
Like if I left the room I’d do something stupid.
I look up from my phone and shout, “Are you protecting me or some shit?”
I hear a creaking coming from the floorboards, kind of like how the floorboards creak when I shift my weight from one leg to the other. A low creak, and then there’s nothing.
I get a text from Brad. I don’t read it.
It’s probably just a bunch of “Bro, you got suspended?! That’s fucking wild! You the man!” kind of stuff.
I try the door, still not budging.
I sit on my bed, laptop open, and I start scrolling through blog posts and other stuff. Just wasting time.
Blaire texts me, “Halverson’s a douche.”
I text back, “Yup. Douching it up.”
Blaire replies, “You’ll be okay.”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Talked to Becca. She’s on her way.”
I read that text again and again. Something about it . . . how it makes me picture everyone I know soaking in the drama that’s probably happening, and they’re all running around, exaggerating their concern, so that they also get some attention. That’s probably happening. And then I think of Nikki, picture her sitting at a table in the cafeteria, watching as Becca and Blaire make a scene. Everyone knows what’s going on.
And here I am, freezing and stuck in my room.
I get a call. When I look, it’s a number I don’t recognize.
Well then, ignore.
But the number keeps calling. I put my phone on silent. I go online and focus on something else.
This is all getting so overwhelming.
Becca messages me online, telling me that I’m not answering her texts.
“Yeah, getting overwhelmed by things.”
“Gotcha,” she types, “on my way. Father James is cutting us like a huge break. I think he’s going to be the one that sees you.”
“Great,” and then I add, “Yeah, that’s really great.”
Becca asks, “Still locked in?”
“Yup,” I type back. Then I add, “Might have to leave via the window.”
“That’s like so fucked up,” she says.
“It is, yeah. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“But we do know what’s going on though.”
I try to make sense of it, put it in words that would make sense to her: “No, I know, I mean . . . well, it’s just like everything people said about being haunted but it’s also very different.”
Becca doesn’t type anything.
“Let me try to explain.” But the explanation doesn’t come. I type out something that doesn’t make sense so I delete it. I’m at a loss. Then I ask, “Who’s driving you?”
Her reply: “Jon-Jon.”
I should have known. I mean, it’s not a bad thing, I guess.
I type back, “Cool.”
She knows me well enough to know that when I reply “Cool” it means the opposite of cool. She knows my mannerisms but she doesn’t know how I’m really feeling. And that’s what makes me think of Nikki as the real reason I’m going to keep doing this. I’ll break up with Becca when this is all over and Nikki and I are together.
Becca types back, “We’re heading out now. Be there soon, like ten minutes.”
“Okay,” I reply.
I lean back in bed, laptop on my stomach, hands in my pockets to keep them sort of warm.
I wait—wait for something to happen.
I look at my phone next to me; the screen’s lit up, people reacting. People are always reacting.
If anyone’s confused by this, just think of how confusing it is for me. I’m full of mixed emotions. I want it gone but I also know that none of the attention would be there if it weren’t for the demon.
I think, “You are the reason I’ll be remembered.”
I expect something to happen, but nothing does.
I stare at the screen, watching the social media feed scroll with the latest from hundreds of people I follow.
I start to count each breath I see.
Then there’s the sound of someone messaging me.
I blink, realizing I hadn’t blinked in a good minute. Hands out of the pockets, I lean forward and read the message.
“They are outside.”
I look at the name of the sender but the name is mine. It’s my name.
I don’t know what to say, so I say, “Thanks.”
“The door is open.”
I read the message and then look at the door, wander over and give the doorknob a tap, then a slight jostle.
I look over at the laptop, breathing out a sigh that I see as a little plume, a cloud in front of my face.
When I look back the sender appears as “offline.”
I don’t have time to react though because whatever that was, it was right. They are outside. Jon-Jon’s car parked behind mine, Becca looking up at my bedroom window, waving.
I look at the phone and see a few missed calls.
Oh yeah, it’s on silent.
I switch the ringer back on, notice over two dozen missed calls and more than a handful of text messages. I run downstairs, taking along my laptop and the power cord too, because, well, I’ve learned my lesson.
At the front door, I shove the laptop in my book bag and I leave the house without looking. I don’t get a real chance to think about what happened until I’m sitting in one of the back pews of the church, waiting to be seen.
I put all the pieces together. And then it sort of makes sense, but not really. I was messaging myself?
Was that you?
Michael J. Seidlinger is an Asian American author of a number of novels including The Fun We’ve Had and The Strangest. He serves as director of publicity at Dzanc Books, book reviews editor at Electric Literature, and publisher in chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he never sleeps and is forever searching for the next best cup of coffee. You can find him online at michaeljseidlinger.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@mjseidlinger).
Rios de la Luz is a queer xicana/chapina living in Oregon. She is brown and proud. She is in love with her bruja/activist communities in LA, San Antonio and El Paso. She is the author of, The Pulse Between Dimensions and The Desert via Ladybox Books. Her work has been featured in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Entropy, The Fem Lit Magazine, World Literature Today and St. Sucia.Read More
Let’s put these sleaze-balls back into the dusty, forgotten books where they belong.Read More
BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
1. Between Life and Death - Yoram Kaniuk (Restless Books, 2007/2016)
Excerpt from Lit Hub:
"Near the house, right across from the calm hidden beauty where I searched for a gutter to play me the lullabies of my childhood, a little bit of sea is still open. Moshe my father would swim in it every day at exactly five in the afternoon, after most of the swimmers had already gone home, because he loved having the sea all to himself. In the spring and fall, the sea was sparkling and smooth and soft, and sometimes in the morning, on the way to school, we’d walk barefoot in the sand along the shore, and under the hewn-limestone wall, we’d take off our shoes, hang them by the laces on our shoulder, put our schoolbags on our heads like the Arab women who carry ewers of water and bundles of wood to the ovens, and we’d walk in the shallows lined with seashells, some were broken and cut our little feet, until we came to the sand dune across from the Model School."
2. The Missing Museum - Amy King (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2016)
From TS' site:
"AND THEN WE SAW THE DAUGHTER OF THE MINOTAUR
Poet, comma. It is thus the delay,
which is also a beginning. That we can link eyes
across her time-space continuum is another hyena.
The female elongates, bares fangs, and a trash
compactor recycles. Hyena gives
in the recycling fashion. Phoenix, no more false
flight from holes; now balloons eating decay.
Hunger denuded us, too. But will you give
up your death for me? With surgery, I outright hollow
the monster to breathe across windows. I don her hollow
whole. She writes back in the pauses of haze.
Her and her tragic magic. We are all cross-dressing
in tiny wings with the machines of bones to go on."
3. A Child of Storm - Michael J. Wilson (Stalking Horse Press, 2016)
Sensitive Skin Magazine published four poems from the collection:
"Edwin Davis & The Electric Chair
Brown came with a crate.
The kind milk bottles condense in.
He sat it down. In the center of the room.
I had spent the day clearing cobwebs, a rug.
I used parts of the crate to make the chair.
Stringing the wires, using the Edison diagram
The Brown instructions.
I shot 1000 volts through Kemmler
then again until he burst to flame.
The skin around the metal became leather.
They would have done better using an axe.
I shot volts into a woman. Into the man who shot McKinley.
I got to meet J.P. Morgan. Twice.
Every time –
The smell –"
4. Reconnaisance - Carl Phillips (FSG, 2015)
ead an interview with Phillips at NPR:
"I have, from the start, been writing about the body and power. And maybe more specifically, the gay male body, and power in intimate relationships, but I feel as if there's a lot of overlap with society's views of how different bodies are treated. So to that extent, I think there's always a kind of political resonance to the personal, and then vice versa."
5. Shadowbahn - Steve Erickson (Blue Rider Press/Penguin, 2017)
It's exactly what we need right now - a book set in a tragic political landscape along to a playlist to give song to the time we live in now - one of strange turmoil and uncertainty. All of the characters are on a journey of self-discovery, and the reimagined Twin Towers represent this. It's definitely a book to pick up once it's released this February.
6. The King of Good Intentions II - John Andrew Fredrick (Rare Bird Books, 2015)
Read an interview with Fredrick at LARB:
"I think the books are failures too. Brilliant failures, of course. And again I don’t mean brilliant in the look-at-me sort of way, but brilliant in the sense that parts of them (and I hope the preponderance of them) truly shine. As comedy. And very very human and humanist. Isn’t that enough? Yes, I revised the first King five times. The hardest work I have ever done. Much harder than writing a dissertation on Ford Madox Ford and Virginia Woolf. I just got sick of looking at The King II, I revised it so much. I’m a Jamesian and a Joycean. I could revise all day — trying to lift the prose into poetry, trying to make the jokes zanier and tighter. There’s nothing wrong with failing. Failing is an energy. And in a way, paradoxically, the books are not failures and I am being very disingenuous about the records. You shouldn’t trust me; I’m an unreliable narrator in real life, too."
7. Political Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity - Edited by Fox Frazier Foley & Erin Elizabeth Smith (Sundress Publications, 2016)
Read an interview with both editors over at VIDA about how the anthology came to be. Foley stated:
"My feeling about this are complicated, and kind of conflicted. I think of poetry in the same way that I think of prayer. I’m a religious person, so to me, prayers are actually a significant factor in seeking any type of progress, including political or social progress. Prayer and poetry, to me, are both ways of centering your consciousness, and raising both your focus and your energy. They are both, on some level, ways of howling down the parts of the Universe that we don’t entirely understand (I mean, we might name them, or tell stories about them—but I think all religious apparatus is really just a way of making somewhat intelligible to us the forces that are beyond our rational comprehension) to please come to our aid in helping us fix this situation. Prayer and poetry both bring people together, too—one person’s words can forge connections among many people, so that ultimately both a poem and a prayer can result in focusing the energy and consciousness of larger groups, in a way that creates a feeling of solidarity. To me, all of that is integral to political and social progress. I understand that not everyone sees it that way, but speaking for myself and my own lived experiences, that’s how I understand it."
CA Conrad's poem in the collection is amazing; excerpt from “act like a polka dot on minnie mouse’s skirt:”
"i am not a
faggot i tell
about their tedious future careers
all the taxes bankrolling a
racist tyrannical military."
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She has lead workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente
Everyone seems to know who Michael J. Seidlinger is, even if just by name. Seidlinger is a ghost — the kind of ghost who messes up you book case and reorders everything so you can't actually find what you're looking for. But then when you actually look back at all of the reordered books, you find something beautiful stuck in there that you hadn't seen before.Read More
He steps onto the pier, fists clenched at his sides, careful of the wide gaps between planks, where he sees the restless gray-green water. Clutched in his palm is a chunk of purple agate, bought just now, when they’d gotten off the bus. Tess bought one too, smaller, more smoothed than his—it must be in her pocket, because she’s ahead of him, leaping from plank to plank like a ballerina, arms wide, palms open. Her hair, long and tangled, ripples behind her. He’s a better swimmer than Tess, but Tess isn’t afraid of drowning.Read More
He drops by on an irregular nightly schedule. Magnificent body with a huge span of wings. It’s the wings that are a bitch. Not easy fucking a guy with wings. Hands have to be strategic. Forget rolling over, me on top—his wings are way too sensitive. The novelty gone, I think of moths, insects, creepy crawlers—sci-fi nightmares. Near climax, the wings will unfold and flap in orgasmic fury. The air disturbance is unbelievable—like fucking a helicopter. And he’s so airy. More light than substance. I like a body with substance. Some mass inside and around me. Not that he understands. And I’ve tried explaining. Then moving. Several times, around town, to a new town, new country, subterranean. He’s a master stalker, more bird than man, his homing instinct supernatural, natural to me.Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
The MFA debate can get pretty silly, no? Is it pointless? Is it overpriced? Does it regurgitate the dreaded borg-hearted MFA voice? Maybe, maybe, and maybe. There are just too many variables to consider.
I used to daydream about perfectly articulating my disdain for the MFA. It’s been four years since graduating, and the reason I disliked my program has become clearer and clearer to me. It took me four years of separation to see it, and I'm glad I didn't commit opinion to paper before now. Where I used to solely blame the program I can see my own flaws. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t take enough time to learn about myself before MFA. I was in a relationship that affected my concentration. But it was also not what I expected, save for a class or two. I didn't feel challenged, and I felt like the stronger writers suffered at the hands of people who weren't sure what they were doing there (paying money to kill time, essentially). I’m also in debt – tons of debt, debt that no one talked to me about, and debt I imagined I would magically – or easily – pay off.)
Getting an MFA is a personal decision, one that is dependent on internal goals. Some people want community, while others want to be able to teach. Some people want to put off working. Some people work 9-5 through their MFA. Some people breath writing. Some people think of poetry as a hobby. There are so many things pre-MFA candidates should think closely about – how the program will serve them, how the program may harm them, and how others in the program play a part in the whole.
I asked a group of 39 people on Facebook what they wished someone would have told them before they went into MFA, and it started the conversation you see here.
Is it worth it?
“Stay true to yourself, be prepared to have your heart ripped out, and find people whom you can emulate and who will encourage you. Take what you want and leave the rest.”
“Follow your guts. In my case, my MFA was one of the best, most genuine things I've ever done for myself, and it's worth all the crazy debt.”
“Don't expect to be taught how to write. That's not how it works.”
““It doesn't usually lead to a job, a book deal, teaching or anything realistic.”
“Don’t do it.”
“With the MFA, you get what YOU put into it. The degree itself doesn't mean very much, but if you take your work seriously, write like a madwoman, give it your all, it DOES pay off. You have to give yourself permission to do this and to do it with your gut, heart, and head. You'll work long hours, yes, spend them writing and reading and networking and falling in love with the craft and the process. I started my MFA in 2007 and graduated 2011. I needed time to "steep" and mature, so don't beat yourself up if you need more time, too. I grew immensely as a writer in those years, but it wasn't just because I had inspirational mentors or fantastic feedback or a wonderful environment or even time and space (I worked full time throughout to avoid debt). I grew as a writer because I put in the long hours and hard work. It takes gumption and this crazy idea of believing in yourself.”
“Other people don't always take it seriously, and sometimes that can feel discouraging. I think for myself, I had to realize that this was my work and my experience, and it took me time to come to that conclusion as a writer. Sometimes, other students wouldn't give decent feedback. And honestly, sometimes I was guilty of that too. Ultimately, it's about making the best of your environment you're in, and figuring out how to thrive and get the most out of it as possible. It's a personal thing. And once I figured that out, I was much better off.”
Should I focus on publishing during my MFA?
“I think my MFA mostly paid off in me learning how to write, how to take myself and my craft seriously. You can certainly publish without an MFA, but I was in an environment that encouraged and celebrating submitting and publishing. So there was that motivation. It felt awesome to tell my advisor each time a piece got picked up! My mentors would often suggest places to send my work, too, so that helped. But it really wasn't about publishing. It was about being a part of a writing community that was supportive (for the most part), encouraging (for the most part), and to have a group of readers to challenge me and my work to develop and get better.”
"I won't lie. It fucking bugged me that very few people in my class knew how to submit to literary journals. By the time you get to Masters level you should have a clue, I think. You're coming in to hone your work, not learn to read a submissions page."
“People get obsessed with ‘having a book.’ Publish when it’s right. Not because you’re in or post-MFA.”
“As far as getting published/sending work out, that was not something that was stressed or even talked about much in my program.”
How important are having mentors and support?
“You aren't necessarily going to meet your mentor because many of the professors are juggling multiple classes/jobs/writing. Which isn't personal, of course, but because many universities and colleges don't hire these professors/writers full time, everyone's priorities and energies are stretched too thin. And that was highly disappointing for me because that's primarily why I went.”
"As I was finishing the program, sometimes I felt like another mentor in the classroom, which helped me develop my own teaching abilities. I think this helped me become a more understanding teacher, too. I also learned a lot from my peers who were more advanced than me. I was able to see the difference between my peers who were thriving and those who were floundering. I wanted to thrive, so I did what they did and made friendships with them.
“[The mentorship element] is especially an issue nowadays, with many writers teaching in multiple programs. And with it being a 2-3 year thing, even one sabbatical can mean not connecting.”
“That it's okay to disagree with (and ignore) a mentor's critique/edits if they don't know what's best for your work. To know that sometimes your mentor DOESN'T know what's best for your work, and to trust your instincts (and peer review ) in those cases. Especially peer review...at the end of the program, you're all going to be MFAs, which is often the same degree held by....yep, your mentor.”
“My conversations about my poems during the semester were all one-on-one with my mentor. So much better than the round table discussions during undergrad. We had workshops for a few poems during residency, but the bulk of my poems were discussed only with my mentor.”
“If you get paired with a mentor with whom you don't work well, the semester might end up being a bust. I saw that happen to a couple of folks. I was fortunate that it didn't happen to me, though some of my semesters were more productive than others.”
“I had lazy professors sometimes. I remember one poem I wrote and submitted for a class that I never got any feedback on and numerous that got tons of feedback. It sucked sometimes. Other times, I'd get feedback that was clearly the professor wanting my work to be something else than I intended. You have to deal with a lot of imperfections because no program is going to be perfect. You have to seek out good feedback from writers you trust. Again, that's sometimes going to fall on your shoulders. It took me 5 years to realize that. It ultimately comes down to being responsible for your own learning and growth. There are no mentors who are going to come in and do the hard work for you, no program or environment that's going to magically make it all come together. To be a writer, that's in your lap and your lap alone. On that note, we all need different things to thrive, so it's a matter of knowing yourself and knowing your own personal needs as a writer and human being.”
“Other writers can be mean and aren't often supportive. You have to find your own support and remember that in the end you are competing, so some people are just going to be mean. Don't take it personally. Literary bullying exists but can be shut down.”
“We also had a very new professor who tested her class out on us and we were all unhappy to have wasted a semester on that – though the learning was strong – the class itself was all disjointed. The class after us got the benefit of our comments and ideas - we never got anything (even thanks)."
What's the talent pool like?
“MFA programs admit students based on potential, not based on current level of talent. I had this expectation that I would see strong writing and receive excellent feedback from my peers and it was initially frustrating for me. I had to learn on focusing on the quality of my own work rather than worrying about the quality of others.”
"A lot of copycats."
"In an MFA program, you might not be with a group of writers at the same "level" as yourself, but I think there's something to learn from that experience as well. "
“I think a lot of people end up doing the MFA right out of undergrad, or almost right out of undergrad. For a lot of them, it ends up being a really expensive way of "finding yourself."
“In my experience, in terms of the larger gestalt of the whole thing, it created a sort of giddy, youthful culture of self-exploration. That ended up being both really positive, and sometimes really negative. But in terms of the workshop culture, I often felt as if our discussions were just total anarchist free-for-all. Like anyone could say, "I feel like…" or "This doesn't work for me," and not actually offer a craft-based explanation. I'd often walk away from workshop discussions more confused than I went in. On the other hand, in retrospect, that made me a stronger writer, because I had to learn to really trust my gut.”
“Impostor syndrome is normal. Learn from the writers you're jealous of, borrow their techniques and see if they work for you or not, don't waste time being jealous of them."
[Editors note: Experiment with voice. DO NOT PUBLISH WORK THAT MIMICS PEOPLE'S WORK.]
“I was 20 when I started my MFA. I was too young. My work was undisciplined and really unfocused. I didn't understand what it meant to be a writer. I actually started the program in hopes of earning a masters degree so I could teach the "good" high school English classes, but my goals changed and matured as I worked my way through the program. I began to see writing as a part of my identity rather than a means to an end. Again, I grew immensely, and I think it was mostly personal.”
How important is the critique element?
“I have an MFA from Hollins University. It's very difficult to find people who know how to critique. A good critique requires the reader to understand what the author is trying to accomplish and then offer suggestions to help, placing it within the larger framework of similar pieces. Many workshop readers focus on what they want the piece to be, rather than what the author is trying to accomplish.”
“Many others admitted may have never been in a workshop before. There is a lot of variety in level in terms of writing and critique ability. Form your own writing circle and get out in the community with non-academic writers to keep yourself humble!”
“I think a good MFA program will help hone those skills – how to critique and how to be a better reader. Writing reviews, I learned, was one really fantastic way to go about doing that.”
“Don’t freak out if someone in your class always gets fantastic feedback while the rest of you are confronting your demons. That has a lot to do with the aspirations of everyone else being pinned on one style, and obviously, the harsh critique is better for you, like kale or broccoli. Doesn't mean you enjoy it.”
“Pick your friends and thesis group carefully and as early as possible. Keep the critiques as honest as possible and try not to fall for the star writer and fawn with the rest of the class and professors. That helps no one.”
Did diversity and class issues affect you?
“I often felt alienated coming from a poorer background, and class issues definitely played a role in the program.”
“There were very few non-white students during my three years, but we were pretty evenly split between men and women (the poetry students were mostly women). The majority were way under 50. At 29, I wasn't considered one of the "kids."
“The majority of students were under 25 and it was a big dating game in the first year.”
“I only had white men as poet mentors (profs and visiting writers). I got to work with a woman with nonfiction briefly. In workshop, it was overwhelmingly white. The few POC students expressed feelings of isolation – and often, these students had horrible experiences in workshop with people not understanding the work or what the author was attempting.”
"I felt like I was alone. The majority of people were rich white kids."
What about low-residency programs and finding time to write?
“Do plenty of research about full vs. low-residency programs. When I was applying (around 2010) there seemed to be a stigma attached to low-residency in that you could never get the same attention and access to faculty help that you could from full residency. Looking back, I don't think that's true–you're going to be doing 99% of your writing and revising on your own in any case.”
“It used to feel like a low-residency program added an asterisk to your degree. But now, low-residencies can be an excellent option, in some cases offering access to faculty that might otherwise be out of reach. The residencies that anchor each term, at least in our program, are an outstanding resource.”
““I'm not sure what the answer is in work vs. writing, because it's really STILL something I'm trying to figure out. I wrote during my lunch hour, after coming home at the end of the day, during the weekends, etc. Almost every ounce of m spare time was spent reading, writing, researching and submitting. I was kind of obsessed.”
“Be careful of "free ride" rhetoric if it really means underpaid teaching job that prevents time for outside employment. I worked full time through my MFA at a nonprofit, but that ended up being a better professional set-up than if I'd gone with a program that offered full funding in return for teaching undergrads”
“Kids, job, husband – full time wasn't an option for me. Though if I'd known about fully funded programs (never heard of grad school without debt, until after my MFA), I might have found a way to make it work”
How awful is the debt?
“Unless you have parents paying, you are fucked. People don't tell you that. And then you wonder why some MFA kids breeze through while those of us work jobs and pay debt and have little time to write."
"You will be in debt for decades afterward. That's a high price to pay for what essentially comes down to confidence, perspective, craft, and community. In retrospect, for me, it was worth it. I would not have been able to build those things on my own. But I don't think it is worth it for everyone.”
“Don't pay for it. Get a free ride, or as close as you can. Do your research! I had an almost-free ride—but I still didn't have nearly enough to live on. It was the loans I took out for living expenses that ended up fucking me over.”
“I thought taking out the max amount of government student loans to live off of was probably a bad idea…but it turns out it was a completely idiotic idea.”
“Yeah I was told that adjunct live was rough but I had no idea that it is completely unsustainable.”
“Find out if they offer teaching grants or editing grants, also? Some might offer a handful, but those might be really hard to snag.”
“I'm faculty at a BFA program and give a talk on this each Fall. My first bit advice is not to do an MFA because you want a teaching job. I speak frankly about the job market and over-saturation. For those still interested, I urge them to look for well-funded programs and consider both the size of the program, TA/RA opportunities, and how the faculty/coursework line up with their writing goals. Ultimately, I tell them applying is a part-time job, and it's worth it to really do the research. I also suggest they consider geography in terms of cost of living. I do my best to help them navigate the field and suggest some programs that people I know have had terrifically nurturing experiences with.”
“You will be in debt until you are old and grey and may not even get any teaching experience - make sure you ask about that (if you want to teach) and always look for a program that offers a full or partial ride with teaching opportunities.”
How do you stay true to your voice?
“The MFA Voice is a myth; it’s not all-permeating, but there are trends, and they are obvious.”
“My worst and best experience happened in a workshop -- I am a feminist poet, and my early work interrogated sexuality as a means to talk about gender inequality and sexism. Well, one day, I read my poem aloud in workshop as we oft do, and a male student blurted -- "Katie, why do you only write about sex? I mean, there are other things to write about, or is that all you think about?" And everyone laughed, including the professor, who agreed with him. I felt so embarrassed -- they were missing the entire "point" of my writing about sexuality. We were then in the same class studying a poem that had sexual themes, the same student blurted out -- "I bet Katie wrote this poem." So embarrassing. I could have stopped writing sexy poems. I wanted to. I wanted to curl up under my desk and hide, but in the end, I learned from that shitty experience to toughen up. I learned that people aren't always going to "get" your work. I learned that it's ok to have obsessions and to write about them obsessively. I kept writing about sex! That day in class I learned so ridiculously much about the way the world works -- about shame and about gender roles and about being strong regardless of it all.”
Do you get burned out?
"You may get burned out and not write a line for two years afterwards, and if you do, it doesn't mean you'll stop writing. Seriously I wish someone had told me this. I felt like a complete and utter failure when I just did not want to write - actively had an aversion to it. I'm back in the saddle, and all the happier for it, but knowing that was a possibility would've made a huge difference!
“I was totally burned out for a couple of years, and really resentful about the whole experience. I did not realize how much I had learned in my MFA, or how rich and nuanced my education had actually been, or how ultimately positive it ended up being for my career, until like three years later.”
“I worked the entire time during MFA (9-5) and it felt like I was just exhausted afterward. Ironically, having space gave me my voice back and revived my love of writing. The MFA took something from me, something that prevented me from really writing well. It was the focus on popularity and fitting in that prevented me from blossoming. This is an issue. But after getting away from all those too-cool-for-school kids I really found my way as a writer. But I did learn how to talk about poetry.”
Lisa Marie Basile is a NYC-based poet, editor, and writer. She’s the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and her work has or will appear in PANK, Thrush, Ampersand Review, The Atlas Review and others. She's also written for Hello Giggles, Bustle, Bust, The Establishment, The Gloss, xoJane, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and The Huffington Post, and other sites. She is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press, Uni of Buffalo) and a few chapbooks. Her work as a poet and editor have been featured in Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, The New York Daily News, Best American Poetry, and The Rumpus, among others. She currently works for Hearst Digital Media, where she edits for The Mix, their contributor network.
Check out the exclusive cover reveal of Lucky Bastard Press' HYSTERIA anthology + enter to win a copy & bonus swag.
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
As both editor of Luna Luna and a contributor to Hysteria (an anthology of writing by female and nonbinary writers about their biology and anatomy and experiences with the body) I thought doing a reveal of their cover would be a great way to create a dialogue about this amazing collection of works. When E. Kristen Anderson presented the idea, I thought Luna Luna would be the perfect home for this.
Want your own free copy? Here's how!
1. Tweet or post a link to their fundraiser (or just write a super cute supportive tweet/post about the book).
2. Leave a comment below (with the link to your social post) + your email (so we can contact you!)
3. We'll pick a comment at random and send you the anthology, along with E. Kristin Anderson's gorgeous Lana Del Rey-inspired poetry collection (I've read it, blurbed it and adore it).
LMB: Who is the team behind Hysteria?
EKA: Allie Marini and Brennan DeFrisco gave me the platform to do this anthology when they green-lighted the project at Lucky Bastard, but it’s basically been me and the contributing authors. Allie and Brennan definitely helped with soliciting some fine voices I hadn’t heard of, and have been a great support, so I don’t want to be like, oh, hey, this was all me. But in a lot of ways it was. And it’s been both intense and rewarding.
I think what Hysteria does so well is take a topic that is hard to write about successfully and inclusively (the body and notions of femininity, in many cases) and make it subversive; it's envelope-pushing. What sort of bodies did you want to include here?
It kind of started with me writing erasure/found poetry from tampon packaging. I’m not even kidding. And Allie and I got to talking about a tampon/period anthology and we expanded the idea out to other body-related themes. We went from there.
I certainly did want to push the envelope. But what I found interesting is that some poets that I thought would submit told me (before later submitting and being selected for the anthology) thought their work wouldn’t be edgy enough. And my answer to everyone asking “would my work be suited for HYSTERIA?” was “there are many ways to experience the female body/being female.”
So I wanted lots of bodies. Including nonbinary and trans bodies, which was a little harder because I know that many of these writers have been excluded from this type of project. We went looking, and we found some amazing work.
Tell me a little bit about what spoke to you when selecting content?
Diversity of topic and voice was really important to me. I wanted—like I mentioned above—lots of experiences to be represented. There was a point at which I think I posted on my original call “no more period poems, we’ve got that covered!” But it wasn’t just about topic. It was also about style. There’s some experimental work in HYSTERIA that I don’t know I would have read or picked up if I were shopping in a bookstore, but that I’m glad showed up in my inbox because it spoke to me within the context of this project.
And diversity of cultural background was important to me, too. And by cultural background I mean race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. I really wanted pieces about wearing a hijab. About bat mitzvahs. About non-hetero sex. I hope I did a good job with this. I hope I found authors and pieces that people enjoy and relate to and learn from.
What do you think the anthology speaks to in the climate we're in right now – as women, as creatives?
You know, every day it feels like there’s something else going down that I want to throw this book at. Women being told their dreadlocks are unprofessional. Women’s tough questions being written off as the result of PMS. (Looking at you, Trump.) Bills being passed that could undo years of work for women’s rights. People trying to tell me, personally, that “hysterical” is just a colloquialism and not a gendered hate word. Folks thinking that just because we’ve achieved parity in one little bubble of the lit world that sexism is over for all of lit. The VIDA counts for big magazines (hello, the Atlantic) and smaller magazines. Songs on the radio. Things I overhear kids say to each other when I write at the Starbucks that’s next to the middle school.
So often we think, well, it’s just a joke. It’s just one guy. It’s just one magazine. It’s just a handful of nut-jobs. It’s just the radical right, and their minds can’t be changed. But! But. Sexism is so ingrained in us that even you and I do sexist things every day without thinking of it. I think I’ve referred to a woman I didn’t like as a bitch even this week.
I hope HYSTERIA gives us a place to talk about uncomfortable subjects, to start and continue conversations with ourselves, our daughters, our peers—but I also hope it’s a place to find comfort and community. Maybe the patriarchy isn’t listening. But maybe we can rally anyway.
I was particularly thrilled to write for this anthology. I am alongside some amazing writers and also emerging ones. How did you vote for pieces? Was this about making a space for all voices, new and established?
I read and selected the submissions myself. Aside from the solicitation—which I did ahead of time, before sending out the call—I just wanted to make sure we had everything covered. I didn’t care if folks were famous or brand new, just that the work was good. And I’m super fortunate that we did get some big names for the anthology. People who said yes when we reached out and asked. But I’m also super fortunate to have new voices with new things to say. Because that’s what community is about and I think that, in a way, that’s what HYSTERIA is about, too.
What are the plans for the anthology?
I’m hoping to set up a launch party here in Austin, TX when the book is ready. I think it will be a good time, and hopefully, as many contributors as possible can come and read. We’ll definitely be sending out review copies and doing our best to entice booksellers and librarians. We want this book in as many hands as possible. It’s a beautiful book if I don’t say so myself.
How will donations help?
The funds from the Indiegogo campaign are going to help us pay some of the up-front costs (like hiring our cover artist, Jodie Wynne, and the Adobe Cloud account we had to open to manage the many, many contracts for the individual authors) as well as printing. But the biggest reason we wanted to do an Indiegogo was so that we could pay our authors better. So if you can help us out with that, that would be amazing. Should we exceed our goal, any extra funds will go toward a launch and/or future anthology projects at Lucky Bastard Press.
Tell us what it's like to work with Lucky Bastard Press.
Lucky Bastard was founded by Allie Marini and Brennan DeFrisco and somehow I tricked them into letting me do an anthology with them. They really gave me free reign, which was scary but also really thrilling. I’m now on board with LB as a full editor, but at the time it was just, here, EKA, make a book. So I did. And I’m really excited that it’s with a press that is all about the underdogs and the long-shots. Isn’t that how many of us feel, as artists, especially as women? Lucky Bastard is here to champion the weirdos. And, in this case, it’s the hysterical weirdos that we want to show the world.
The writer list, as provided by
Lucky Bastard Press:
E. Kristin Anderson
Lisa Marie Basile
Dena Rash Guzman
Erika T. Wurth
Kelli Russel Agodon
Francesca Lia Block
Erin Elizabeth Smith
Heather Kirn Lanier
Jane Eaton Hamilton
Sally Rosen Kindred
Karen Paul Holmes
Emily Rose Cole
Mary Lou Buschi
Sarah Frances Moran
Julie "Jules" Jacob
Ariana D. Den Bleyker
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Randon Billings Noble
Sarah J. Sloat
Sarah B. Boyle
Jennifer K. Sweene
Judith Ortiz Cofer
Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick
Amy Katherine Cannon
Nicci Mechler & Hilda Weaver
Jessica Rae Bergamino
Jessica L. Walsh
Lisa Eve Cheby
Katelyn L. Radtke
I want her to be happy. And I know she isn’t happy. Not since the second one. She loves the children–of course she does–but she wants her body back.Read More
Ben Nadler is a masterful storyteller--he weaves words together in a way that makes me believe I am right there in the story, in real life. Nadler's latest book, The Sea Beach Line (Fig Tree Books, 2015) took me by surprise--I wasn't expecting to fall in love, but I did--I fell in love on the first page. I suppose we are never expecting to truly fall in love when we do, but once you do, there's no going back. Sometimes, I believed I was the main character in the story, feeling all of the turmoil and emotions Izzy felt, as if Izzy was stealing my body for the time that I read the book.Read More