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AWP Offsite Event: Books & Brass

Flyer for Books & Brass event

AWP is finally coming to The Conium Review‘s home-city of Portland, and we’re excited. We’ll be doing several on-site and off-site activities. Over the coming weeks, expect to hear about more upcoming gatherings, readings, and author signings.

To kick off AWP, we’re hosting a reading on Thursday, March 28th at the 1905 Jazz Club (830 N. Shaver St., Portland, OR). The readings begin at 6:00 and feature Theodora Bishop, TJ Fuller, Rachel Lyon, Simone Person, Caitlin Scarano, Rebecca Schiff, and Eliza Tudor. The featured live band is the Michael Raynor Quartet.

The readings are completely free, but if you stay for the music at 8:00, there is a $5 cover for that portion of the evening.

Throughout the event, we’ll have free swag available from Conium Press, and authors will have their books for sale. Find this event on Facebook for more information.

About the Readers

Theodora Bishop is the author of the novella, On the Rocks (Texas Review Press), winner of a 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Award, and the short story chapbook Mother Tongues, winner of The Cupboard’s 2015 contest. Theodora Bishop’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner, Arts & Letters, and Short Fiction (England), among other journals, anthologies, and exhibits. A Best New Poets and four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Theodora Bishop holds an MFA from the University of Alabama and is pursuing her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She serves as Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast, Fiction Editor for Big Fiction, and occasionally subs as a life care specialist at a memory care center in Houston.

TJ Fuller writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon. His fiction has appeared in Hobart, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. He won the 2017 Flash Fiction Contest at The Conium Review.

Rachel Lyon is the author of the debut novel Self-Portrait With Boy (Scribner 2018), which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Her shorter work has appeared in Joyland, Iowa Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, McSweeney’s, and other publications. A cofounder of the reading series Ditmas Lit in her native Brooklyn NY, Rachel has taught creative writing for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Catapult, the Fine Arts Work Center, Slice Literary, and elsewhere. Subscribe to Rachel’s Writing/Thinking Prompts newsletter at tinyletter.com/rachellyon, and visit her at www.rachellyon.work.

Simone Person is the author of Dislocate, the winner of the 2017 Honeysuckle Press Chapbook Contest in Prose, and Smoke Girl, the winner of the 2018 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest in Poetry. She grew up in small Michigan towns and Toledo, Ohio and is a dual MFA/MA student at Indiana University in Fiction and African American and African Diaspora Studies. In 2018, Simone became the Prose Editor for Honeysuckle Press. She sporadically, and to varying degrees of success, uses Twitter and Instagram at @princxporkchop.

Caitlin Scarano is a writer based in Washington state. She holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was selected as a participant in the NSF’s Antarctic Artists & Writers Program and spent November 2018 in McMurdo Station in Antarctica.  Her debut collection of poems, Do Not Bring Him Water, was released in Fall 2017 by Write Bloody Publishing. She has two poetry chapbooks: The White Dog Year (dancing girl press, 2015) and The Salt and Shadow Coiled (Zoo Cake Press, 2015).

Rebecca Schiff is the author of The Bed Moved, a finalist for an LA Times Book Prize. Her fiction has appeared in n+1, Electric Literature, The Guardian, Guernica, BuzzFeed, The American Reader, Fence, Washington Square, Lenny Letter, and in The Best Small Fictions 2017. She lives in Oregon.

Eliza Tudor grew up in Indiana and holds an MA in English and an MFA in Writing from Butler University. Her stories have appeared in The Conium Review, PANK, TLR, Hobart, Annalemma, and Paper Darts, among others, as well as in the anthologies, Mythic Indy, and Dark Ink Press’s Fall. Her novella,Wish You Were Here, won the 2017 Minerva Rising Press Novella Prize and was published by that press. After spending the last few years living in places as varied as Silicon Valley, the south coast of England, and Austin, Texas, she is currently in the process of moving to the Pacific Northwest.

“Phantom,” by Danielle Susi

doodle spiked football shoe

My brother played baseball. He’d had his nose broken. Arms fractured. Skin ripped open by sliding metal cleats. His brown hair was always buzzed short to the scalp during the summer. His shoulders were broad and his arms were strong.

When he came home from a game or practice he’d peel off the sweaty layers. Each cleat popped off his foot left clouds of dust in the air. Bits of hard clay and dirt on the kitchen tile. Thick, high socks left those ridges in the skin on his shins. Back of his neck tanned shade of brown my skin will never be.

Dad had always coached a team. It didn’t matter whether it was my brother’s, but he’d always been very involved in our town’s league. Mom pretended to know exactly what was going on in every game on television or at the field. We were a baseball family, as I imagine many families to be. All the talk about the game didn’t end at the park. It traveled home in our cars. Made its way into our living room. Sat next to me at the dinner table.

His elite team won the district tournament when my brother was in the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. Won the state tournament too. And made it to the final day of the New England Regionals.

He was at that age where he began thinking seriously about college. Maybe he knew that he might not get the chance to play baseball anymore after high school. I watched him as he suited up that last time. Flame in his eyes. That was what I remembered of him.

I sometimes remember the blur of my parents. My brother laying in the dirt. Someone grabbing my arm from behind pulling me away from the fence. Ohmygods. A coach from the other team calling 9-1-1. I remember not being able to breathe. The haunt of ambulances and people sitting silent. My mother screaming screaming screaming.

It was a sort of freak accident—baseball to the chest that stopped his heart. I’d spend my whole life missing him. Bickering and the arguments. Walks to the corner store for candy and slushies. Bike-riding to the dead end and back up to the stop sign. I missed the summer I wanted to collect baseball cards so he wouldn’t have something that I didn’t. I kept the dozen cards my dad bought me in an old cookie tin. RBI, ERA, IP: Codes I couldn’t decipher.

I longed the summer before it happened. When his team made it to the final game of a tournament. I wore one of his old jerseys that didn’t fit him anymore. Our last name stitched on long ago by our mother, letter by letter. When they lost and he saw the jersey after the game. Told me I was an idiot for wearing it. When he and his teammates went to Hooters after and he wasn’t nine anymore.

Everything that happened after that was regarded in “he-would-be’s.” He would be graduating this year. He would be going to college this month. He would be eighteen today.

Extra stacks of prayer cards sat in a plastic grocery bag on a chair in the dining room. His name at the top, laminated. Should we tuck them into binders with those plastic sleeves like he used to with his baseball cards? The ones of Nomar Garciaparra with his bat cocked. Of Jason Varitek crouched behind the plate. Gloved hand extended.

I couldn’t test my memory with him anymore. Couldn’t ask, “Did that really happen when we were young? Or am I imagining it to be that way?”

When we went on family vacation every July by the lake, we stayed in a small cabin with wood paneled ceilings. At night, from twin beds on opposite sides of the room, we would quiz each other. Used moonlight sneaking through the blinds to find an owl’s face. A skull. A sailing ship. Four panels up from the door. Two feet to the left of the holes left from an overhead light since removed. Our navigation.

We laughed so hard our parents knocked on the wall from their bedroom. We lowered our voices. Quiet, so quiet, until one of us stopped responding.

About the Author:

Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, and The Rumpus, among many others. Recently, Newcity named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.

Image Credit: © dule964 / Dollar Photo Club

Chapbook Review: Say You’re a Fiction

Say You’re a Fiction
Written by Kari Larsen
Dancing Girl Press, 2012

Say You're a FictionPoetry is the universe that surrounds the tiny, rocky province of prose; it’s where we learn that our linguistic laws are relative and artificial. This frustrates people – it intimidates and annoys them – and it has given the publishing industry license to ignore poetry (especially the chap-book) more so than literary fiction or even the short story. The impression, perhaps justified, is that people have no time for poetry, ironically, because it so concise. Novels – even big, Franzian leviathans – teach us how to read them, and even the experimental ones count on the reader’s familiarity with the quotidian world – light and shadow, gravity and magnetism – in order to highlight their departures. The physics engine of prose is easily understood; being alive qualifies you to read it. Does anyone even know how to read poetry?

When I was in graduate school, I often asked professors this question. The answers were highly gendered (though, one hopes, not wholly representative). A male professor told me that reading poetry was about mastery – overpowering the ambiguity and fluidity of poetry by bringing the rigidity of theory to bear on it, binding it with context, biography and history. To read a poem was to break it, to domesticate it, to choke the life out of it. A female professor suggested something nearly oppositional – acknowledging the bewildering power of poetry, surrendering to it. To read a poem was to drown in it.

Take, then, Kari Larsen’s excellent chapbook, Say You’re a FictionIf I say it’s beautiful written – darkly and wisely crafted – surely that is diversion, though no less true. I have to say more, but what, or – rather – how? We aren’t dealing with characters or plot, exactly, and so summary seems foolish, yet I’ve got to say something about the piece. We have some measure of constancy: over and over, two men chase the woman who narrates her flight:

“Two men / chase me / through the Louvre / in my nightmare”
But repetition is not understanding. Not yet. So, something has to be done – one needs a strategy, or at least a tactic. Which will it be, then, murder or suicide?

Murder/Suicide

First, there’s Murder: Poems are not parallel universes, like ghosts or neutrinos they do touch our world at certain points, however delicately – that’s where we’ll set the hooks. The epigraph is often the poet’s throat, bared and thrust at us. Larsen’s Godard taunts us: “When you see your own photo, do you say you’re a fiction?” This is the artist’s double-game, the representational uncertainty principle: when we think Godard is making a film, he’s giving us life; when we think he’s documenting, he reminds us – with the frame, the jump-cut, the montage – that he’s not. An irony: in this old slippery spot we set a hook.

It’s just a tether, but the restriction from the infinite to the finite is drastic, a celestial contraction. Now we can start to wrench other references away from the morass of ambiguity – Godard gives us Anna Karina and Jean Seberg, Breathless and To Live One’s Life – and at each point, we set a hook. Larsen’s “Anna” and “Jean” are each the muse, the object of desire, the subject of the gaze – real and unreal in equal measure. And into these films – and into their tangled webs of identification and reference – Larsen inserts her voice. In her first poem, we’re inside the chase; immediately following, we’re outside, watching the chase as a film and recognizing ourselves onscreen. We’re brought to the scene of a shoot (or a shooting) – and then another, and another – and each time the emotion is further bracketed by the cool distance of film; even the soundtrack, the classic emotional ploy, is alienated:

“I tell / the plot in which I am embroiled / to the tune / while I plummet / beyond sound”
Likewise, human actions are straight-jacketed by the script-as-existential-law:
“I do not think we have stopped acting yet / and we can only extort intelligence from each other that will get us / to the next scene slate”

This is one way to read Larsen – to be one more predator, chasing her down the corridors of the Louvre with a camera and a gun, to say with cold detachment that you’ve won. But Larsen’s poems aren’t disarmed or domesticated (as even the stateliest sonnet has a little feral blood in its veins). You cannot kill what’s wild about them (although I’m sure you can exorcise it from your own reading and keep your own house clear).

But if it’s communion you want – be it with demons or spirits – then murder won’t suffice.

So, then, there’s Suicide: poems touch our world, yes, but they bend away to someplace else – and it’s not always the joyous, the erotic, or the pastoral. Sometimes poems are the translation of the ineffably horrifying. In Larsen’s chapbook, the poems start to build up fragments of this nightmare, the sense of being stuck in a soulless loop of someone else’s desire, in a prison of scopophilia, a puppet of cinematic convention. As Larsen writes, in a chilling sing-song:

“The song is the same / and it’s in the café / everything would be different / if another song would play”

In Larsen’s hands (so to speak), Godard’s mise-en-scènes become a labyrinth by Borges, signs trembling between a strangle symbolism and a frightening emptiness. It reminds me of Douglas Gordon’s “24 Hour Psycho” as it manifests in Don DeLillo’s Point Omega – a film requisitioned, manipulated and transposed into words,  so that we can see it, deeper and clearer. But where DeLillo’s language is cold and dead, Larsen’s crackles with dark wit. She knows and loves the game. She has a perfect sense of how to haunt a collection with phrases that return, slightly more twisted each time.

Repetition is not the same as understanding. Sometimes things never connect – some of Larsen’s work will escape you if you try to hunt it down and kill it like prose. Some of her references will elude you. Let them. But, at the same time, don’t take my attitude for Larsen’s. I’m willing – happy, even – to surrender to her dreamscape; Larsen’s heroines aren’t going quiet into that good nightmare. Despite the creeping existential dread, they are ready to fight, both against the ‘two men’ who stalk her and the larger forces which those men stand in for. A métaphore noir: we already know the plot, but sometimes the characters manage to subvert the script. As Larsen writes at the end of “Say You Love Me – oh, Say it with Paving Stones,” perhaps my favorite of the collection:

“As long as I am chased down by two men / I won’t ever be without a gun”
Review by Benjamin Schachtman
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