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Matt Tompkins talks about word choice at Little Patuxent Review

Little Patuxent Review coverMatt Tompkins has a new essay published at Little Patuxent Review. His piece, “The Lightning Bug versus the Lightning,” is part of the “Concerning Craft” series. In the essay, Matt talks about the importance of precise word choices in fiction. Read the entire essay here.

Little Patuxent Review also published Matt’s story, “The World on Fire,” in their Summer 2015 issue. “The World on Fire” is a wildly imaginative story about a man who begins seeing fire everywhere after an off-brand laser eye surgery. It appears alongside five other equally strange stories in Matt’s new book, Souvenirs and Other Stories, available now in both print and digital formats.

Literary Journal Review: The Kenyon Review 33.1

The Kenyon Review
Vol. 33, No. 1

Kenyon 331A teal band spans the upper reaches of a black-and-white snapshot of New York City at night: electric lights smolder like embers dotting the buildings and intersecting streets. There’s a sense of weightlessness—the dark rooftops standing on matrices of light; the ground obscured by the camera’s perspective. The photo, “Night View” (1936), was taken by legendary photographer Berenice Abbott as part of a series of photographs, Changing New York, published in 1939. The historic cover of this winter issue of The Kenyon Review resonates with the magazine’s contents (and publication history) in several indirect ways.Kenyon’s reputation for publishing new, emerging writers, originates in the magazine’s early days when it was founded by editor John Crowe Ransom. Incidentally, Changing New York and The Kenyon Review share the same year of first publication: 1939. Abbott’s famous subjects, aside from NYC, include artists of the 1920s French literary scene, such as James Joyce and John Cocteau. She, like Kenyon, introduced audiences to artists now widely studied in high schools and colleges across the country. Kenyon’s current editor, David H. Lynn, remarks on the magazine’s history of introducing the early work of writers, such as Robert Penn Warren, Robert Lowell, Flannery O’Connor, Rita Dove, and Ha Jin. In his editor’s notes, Lynn draws a connection between Ian McKellan’s performance as King Lear and the traditions set by Kenyon, defined by the talent within its covers. McKellan’s performance is “magical,” enduring throughout time—of all the interpretations of that tragic, complex, cruel, comic character, McKellan’s stands out the most for Lynn. And, Kenyon’s young writers conjure a similar magic through their diversity, the complexity of their work, and the immortality of print.

Connections, unlikely or not, abound in Kenyon. All three stories (the winner and two runners-up), selected by Louise Erdrich for Kenyon’s Short Fiction Prize, deal in some way with familial disconnection. The winner, “Death Threat,” by Megan Malone, observes the impact of a death threat juxtaposed with the narrator’s father’s stoic exterior. However, upon hearing of the sudden death of his beloved, cruel cat, the father breaks down in tears—expanding the story’s tension into an uncomfortable epiphany. “Salt,” by Christopher Arnold, portrays a father whose addiction to salt has both envigorated his mundane life—through taste—while slowly killing him. His children are unable to grasp his love of that mineral. His son’s decision to leave the family farm further emphasizes the potential harm salt has dealt the family—with salt to spice your surroundings, complacency sets in. Finally, “Listened,” by Diana Kole, portrays a married couple on the brink of collapse. At a dinner party, the husband is rapt in a song sung by their hosts’ young daughter. Later, while in their own home, his wife accuses him of eyeing the hostess. These stories, which are really the tip of the iceberg of this dense issue, each examine relationships that are powerful and yet ordinary.Following these initial three stories, the fiction of Kenyon becomes more eclectic. Scott Russell Sanders’s “The Woman at the Grave,” is a long story of a man earnestly searching for a woman from his youth, who inspired a famous song when a snapshot of her, mourning before a grave, wound up in the hands of a folk-singer. Missed connections and second chances ensue. In “Field Guide to Monsters of the Inland Northwest,” Sharma Shield’s protagonists, a “Projectionist” and his Sasquatch wife, are embroiled in a struggle to define themselves, without relying on exteriors. Another story, “Pastoral,” by C.F. Ramuz (trans. from French by Michelle Bailat-Jones), portrays two children playing among windy hillocks. What makes this short, nostalgic (more bitter than sweet) story outstanding is that the narrator and the reader (“we”) are literally drawn into the setting, observing the children as subtle entities.

Lastly, the poetry. There doesn’t seem to be enough nonfiction in this issue, but there’s plenty of poetry. Aside from some well-known writers (Franz Wright, Jane Hirschfield, and Campbell McGrath), Kenyon’s bristling with unfamiliar names. Khaled Mattawa’s translation of Syrian poet Adonis’s “Desert” is a nomadic, dynamic long poem. The desert is ravaged by war and injustice—the speaker declares “don’t write about these things” and “there is no country there”—delivered from the mouth of fear. Mark Irwin’s “Elegy” (and there are so many elegies out there!) cycles through canny objects, “A glove, a ball, a house collapsed,” instilled with regret and hope over the loss of child in uncanny lines, “The colossi / of two pop stars flash on a giant screen,” “I like green best when it courses / like fire. [. . .] A carcass of vowels wept.” Christina Pugh’s “Techno-blue Lobelia,” is an erotic object-poem, in which the speaker observes “each flower / face needles white lightning / in its center, then torches / that wattage over ground.” Other impressive poems include Gabriel Fried’s meditative, lyrical “Vespers” and Victoria Chang’s stark “Elegy as a Box of Staples.”

Where the poetry leaves an impression, the fiction evokes subtlety. Perhaps this is because of the briefness of a poem—the necessity of keeping language present, of rendering meaning and delivery nearly simultaneous—while fiction, and this is true for short stories, allows writers to unfurl a plot and develop characters. The juxtaposition of these two literary genres (the essay feels underrepresented here) is most apparent within the pages of a magazine. What’s also apparent is that the continuation of Kenyon’s tradition—the practice of publishing high-quality work by new and established writers—conjures yet another, magical connection vivid from start to finish.

Review by Tristan Beach
© 2012, All Rights Reserved

Journal Review: Anobium 1

Vol. 1
Anobium Books
ISBN 9780615501062

Origin of Species

Anobium Vol. 1 is the schizophrenic brainchild of Benjamin Van Loon—and the schizophrenia thing is rather literal, seeing as the issue is officially headed by Mary J. Levine, a fictitious product of committee thinking.  Yes, the masthead lists an imagined entity.  Intrigued?  This simple quirk acts as a benchmark for Anobium’s ideology—the volume simultaneously takes itself seriously and has a good laugh. Think about it: a fake editor seems like an off-kilter joke for any self-respecting literary magazine, but in actuality it represents dedication to creativity and literary craft.  The masthead itself is a testament to Anobium’s charm—character development exists across every page, even “boring” credit pages.With Friend, Chimp in Lab CoatAnobium Vol. 1The first volume is wrought with humor, but it’s also enveloped in poignancy, incredibly well-designed, and meticulously edited.  The journal is able to successfully present a wide range of voices without losing the editorial tone, because it artfully shapes its tone as both the class clown and the chess club geek. Anobium reaches out to two extreme ends of the literary spectrum, and it does so brilliantly and without second-guessing itself.

Susan Yount’s “Hyperbolic Umbilic Catastrophe” and “Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking” present narratives as theorems.  Meanwhile, Stephanie Plenner’s “Instructionals” provides advice for literally burning bridges, cutting ties, and other idioms.  Plenner’s piece provides a smart, linguistic look at everyday human experiences through an intentionally flat affect.  It seeks to be staunchly rigid and serious as it deconstructs these idioms, and it does so in such a way that you can’t help but laugh (in a good way) and introspect.  Such experimental pieces abound inAnobium.

A series of pieces from Jonathan Greenhause hint at the contents of Sebastian’s Relativity, the first chapbook by Anobium Books, released this past November.  In these excerpts, Sebastian is tied to a restraint table by chimpanzee surgeons, watches visible syllables land in heaps on the subway floor, and more.  The magic realism of the pieces is intriguing, and each page-long entry has a distinct, microcosmic story arc.  Without having read Sebastian’s Relativity yet, I wonder if Greenhause successfully pulls these micro-fictions into a larger arc—as stand-alone pieces, these work marvelously, but even collections of stand-alone masterpieces need to  have a sense of continual movement through the pages.  I will say this: the teasers in Anobium Vol. 1 are enough to make me want to find out.

Anobium Vol. 1 is full of similarly dissimilar stories and poems, born from a contemporary, gritty version of The Twilight Zone on steroids with a Mensa IQ. Many pieces are remarkable in their uniqueness, yet they coalesce nicely as a collection.  Concerning the aforementioned need for a “larger arc,” Anobium has it in spades.  The selections and arrangements move through Anobium seamlessly, creating an even tenor to Benjamin Van Loon’s madhouse of literature.

With Family, Genetically Abnormal Deviant

However, the Managing Editor (and his Associate Editor cronies) can’t take all the credit.  A big part of what brings these different threads together is the volume’s artwork, designed by Benjamin Van Loon’s brother, Jacob Van Loon.  Think Coen brothers meet [insert more obscure brother duo here].

Anobium’s artwork isn’t just random flare pinned to the pages; it’s part of the main show.  Though Anobium bills itself as primarily a literature rag, it is fundamentally both a lit and art journal.  Each page of Anobium fits seamlessly together.  Big blocks of irreverent text sections off various elements of the issue, while black and white illustrations pop from the inner folds.  Anobium achieves an aesthetic more refined in its B&W pages than I’ve seen in some full-color journals.

And the Brooding Offspring

Anobium achieves excellence in its inaugural issue.  The literature is witty, and a large chunk of the writing pairs this with humor.  The artwork blends well and works as an actual, integrated part of the volume, rather than a tacked on extra. Essentially, it’s damn good.  Copies of Anobium Vol. 1 and Sebastian’s Relativityare still available.  Pre-orders are currently available for Anobium Vol. 2, releasing on January 31st, 2012.

Review by James R. Gapinski
© 2011, All Rights Reserved