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Rita Bullwinkel’s Top Ten AWP 2016 Panels

The annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is less than a month away, and we’re getting amped up for the obligatory tote bags. Our staff and contributors will be sharing their favorite AWP happenings on our blog over the coming weeks, and we hope to see you at the conference (stop by table #1238 and say “hello” to The Conium Review staff).

First up, Rita Bullwinkel (Vol. 4 contributor) shares her top ten panels.

“The Violence of the Page”

Thursday, March 31, 2016, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Room 403 B, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Lucy Corin, Maggie Nelson , Brian Evenson, Ben Weissman, Fred D’Aguiar)

This panel explores the various tones, reasons, genealogies, and methodologies writers might choose to employ when representing violence, cruelty, and bodies on the page. The writers on this panel have explored these issues in a variety of genres (fiction, scholarship, and poetry) and in a variety of registers (comedic, elegiac, outrageous, conceptual, documentary, and more), and are uniquely capable of discussing the aesthetic, political, and metabolic effects of such writing.

“It Ain’t What They Call You, It’s What You Answer To: Peeling Off Genre Labels”

Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Room 502 B, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Daniel Orozco, Doug Dorst, Maureen McHugh, Kelly Luce, Manuel Gonzales)

How does fantasy fiction (or sci-fi, or detective or horror fiction) become literary fiction? Who decides how/when the genre label gets affixed, or peeled off? Why is the move from genre to literary always somehow a narrative of progress, implying a lesser realm left behind? Hear firsthand as writers with varying affinities to genre fiction reflect on how they negotiate with (wrestle, embrace, sidestep) genre conventions in the creation of their work.

“Translation as Animation: New Poetry from Japan”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

Room 402 AB, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Kyoko Yoshida , Forrest Gander , Sawako Nakayasu, Goro Takano, James Shea)

Beginning with a short reading, this panel of translators and writers explores the formal problems, aesthetic choices, and political implications of translating contemporary Japanese poetry. Panelists discuss the diversity of Japanese poetry and consider how the pleasures and challenges of translation animate their own writing. Poets under discussion include Takashi Hiraide, Sayumi Kamakura, Shirō Murano, Kiwao Nomura, and Gozo Yoshimasu.

“Korean Feminist Poetics and Translation”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Gold Salon 3, JW Marriott LA, 1st Floor

(Eunsong Kim, Johannes Goransson, Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, Joyelle McSweeney)

South Korea’s contemporary history has been deeply impacted by US imperial policies. Yet its history remains relatively unknown: its war, dictatorships, and 47 Free Trade Agreements. We poets and translators discuss feminist Korean poets and propose poetry-as-activism and translation-as-resistance to colonizing power.

“What the Heck Does Innovative Fiction Actually Mean?: Authors Cut Through the Jargon”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 3:00 pm to 4:15 pm

Scott James Bookfair Stage, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(James R. Gapinski, Ashley Farmer, Manuel Gonzales, Matt Bell, Carmiel Banasky) Innovative fiction is fast becoming a literary buzzword. It’s often a placeholder term for experimental or avant-garde, but what does it really mean? It’s time for a down-to-earth chat that eschews all the labels and jargon. In this panel, presented by The Conium Review, several authors cut through the marketing ploys and hype for a candid talk on the strange, weird, and new in contemporary fiction.

“Kelly Link, Emily St. John Mandel, and Ruth Ozeki: A Reading and Conversation, Sponsored by Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Concourse Hall, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(Emily St. John Mandel, Ruth Ozeki, Kelly Link)

This event brings together three brilliant contemporary female writers—Kelly Link, Emily St. John Mandel, and Ruth Ozeki—to read and discuss their craft and experiences as genre-bending authors. Kelly Link is the recipient of an NEA grant and is the author of Get in Trouble. Emily St. John Mandel is the author of Station Eleven, a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award. Ruth Ozeki is the author of A Tale for the Time Being, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

“In the Realms of the Real and the Unreal”

Saturday, April 2, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

AWP Bookfair Stage, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(Katharine Beutner, Sofia Samatar, Carmen Machado, Alice Sola Kim, Kelly Link)

This panel explores genres of fiction that juxtapose the real and the unreal in experimental ways: historical fiction, literary fantasy/science fiction, weird fiction, and satire. Where do we draw the line between a secondary world and a distorted reflection of our own world’s beauty, violence, and diversity? Can we discern a poetics of the unreal in contemporary fiction? How have the continual debates over generic boundaries—and/or their irrelevance—affected the ways contemporary writers work?

“In Whose Image: Trans and Genderqueer Writers on Magic, Spirituality, and (the Bodies of) G-d”

Saturday, April 2, 2016, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

Room 402 AB, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(CA Conrad, Joy Ladin, Ryka Aoki, Ian Ellasante, TC Tolbert)

Spirituality, like writing, hinges on transformation. Similarly, trans and genderqueer writers have unique experiences with transformation on and off the page. This dynamic panel explored the intersections between ritual, myth, magic, magical realism, and even end-rhyme as they shape our various embodiments and faiths. We don’t want to save you, but we hope you are ready to be changed.

“New Directions in Contemporary War Fiction”

Saturday, April 2, 2016, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Room 510, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Peter Molin, Matt Gallagher, Andria Williams, Jesse Goolsby, Elliot Ackerman)

This panel features short readings and commentary by four first-time novelists in the burgeoning field of contemporary war literature. The authors’ novels, each published in either 2015 or 2016, highlight new possibilities for representing combat, war, and military culture in fiction. Building on recent critically acclaimed fiction depicting conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the panel authors refine our understanding of the human dimensions of war overseas and on the home front.

“Fables, Fibs, and Flat-Out Lies: The Material of Making, Sponsored by Copper Canyon Press”

Saturday, April 2, 2016, 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Concourse Hall, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(Michael Wiegers, Richard Siken, Laura Kasischke, Roger Reeves)

Whatever the chosen form, making is a dominant force in any artist’s life. For writers, the creative material—language—is simultaneously precise and slippery, irreducible and expansive; metaphor is a lie that tells the truth, and image a construct made from the sound and meaning of language. This reading features three writers who practice various literary and artistic forms—fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and painting—and will be followed by a conversation moderated by their editor.

Rita Bullwinkel is a Conium Review Vol. 4 contributor. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee where she is a fiction MFA candidate at Vanderbilt University and the Fiction Editor of the Nashville Review. Her writing has appeared in several publications including VICENOONSpork anHayden’s Ferry Review. She is a graduate of Brown University, a Vanderbilt Commons Writer in Residence, a Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholarship Award winner, and a Helene Wurlitzer Foundation grantee. Her story “In the South the Sand Winds are Our Greatest Enemy” was selected by Joyland Magazine as one of their top five favorite stories published in 2015. The Nashville Review will be exhibiting at AWP at booth #1500.

Vol. 3 Pre-Orders on Sale Now!

Pre-orders for The Conium Review Volume 3 are on sale through early November or until supplies last. The current pre-order price is $10.00. Retail price will be $12.00 after release. Our last issue sold out early, so be sure to reserve your copy today.

The Conium Review Volume 3 features eight new stories from Olivia Ciacci, Tom Howard, D. V. Klenak, Jan LaPerle, Zach Powers, Christine Texeira, and Meeah Williams. In these strange and surreal stories, you’ll find a company that sells night-in-shining-armor-style happy endings, a boy with a second person trapped inside of him, and more. The pieces include fables, flash fiction, short stories, and novella-length fiction.

Book Review: Fables

Written by Sarah Goldstein
Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2011
ISBN 9780982541661

Sarah Goldstein’s first book, Fables (Tarpaulin Sky Press) defies easy categorization. Marketed as “fiction,” Fables is formatted into five sections, each featuring short, numbered blocks of prose that depict a scene or relate a story in the fashion of Aesop. However, like Aesop, Golstein’s “fables” can just as easily be taken as (prose-) poems, each one containing a pronounced, concentrated rhythm and featuring familiar and strange images, while lacking proper nouns and specificity. Another thing lacking from these fables is a moral or encapsulating final phrase—something that comments on the preceding action. In the case of Fables, the minimal commentary renders these dark fables vague and cryptic. If there is a lesson to be learned amid the catastrophic misfortunes befalling the characters in these fables, human and animal alike, that lesson is found solely within the reader’s analysis.

FablesFor instance, in the very first piece in the section entitled “Fables,” Goldstein seems to bring in the very question of narrative, which is to explicate a series of events beyond simply ordering them into a digestible sequence. When a group of adults bring with them grief-stricken orphans on their next hunt (they heed an old myth: “take an orphan child hunting, you will return with threefold the bounty” [author’s italics]), the orphans vanish mysteriously from their party and the hunters return empty-handed. According to the fable, the children depart from the party, sensing the adults’ frustration, and wind up falling asleep in the underbrush of the forest, only to awake as birds: “When they cry, it is the sounds of the whippoorwills. The nightingales become their mothers, and pheasants usher them to winter quarters” (7). When the adults return to face the other villagers, “[everyone] grimaces, hearing only what they decide to understand” (7). There’s no clear alternative interpretation of the events that Goldstein presents to us. The children disappear and turn into birds. Birds and transformations figure greatly throughout this collection as recurring motifs, enabling these fables to feel interconnected, despite each one being both microcosmic and singular, without repeated characters or settings, yet still managing to recall Greek and Western European storytelling tradition. In the instance of this fable, Goldstein affords her readers the freedom to “decide to understand” what they read or how they read into Fables.

Rimbaud, in his famous prose poem, “Conte” (“Story”), utilizes then brutalizes the familiar fable form, depicting a restless prince who savagely slaughters his subjects, who in turn mysteriously emerge unharmed and compliant. “Conte” ends with a cryptic encapsulating sentence that has nothing to do with the preceding text. This is to illustrate that what Goldstein does with the fable, by reinvigorating or reinventing (or even calling attention to the form and structure of the fable) isn’t entirely new or untried—think: Donald Barthelme and many of his numerous narrative experiments here. However, Goldstein writes with the air of someone who simultaneously knows what she’s doing while not obsessing with encrypting or disclosing meaning. Fables is no flagrant assault on any literary movement, but a very poised, playful, and unpretentious collection of proses that challenges readers’ notions of what is a fable and to whom is the fable directed.

In her section entitled “Ghosts,” Goldstein shifts attention to the familiar, universal ghost story—haunted folklore that has seeped through the centuries. The third fable of this section unexpectedly brings the reader into another cryptic, ominous scene:

She shudders along the roadside with her limbs deciphered. You are close enough to hear them clattering. A windshield held her indent but the driver has already taken a sledgehammer to it: her backbone a plaintiff pounded into dust. Her sightlines narrow to a dreary hallway of open doors with see-saw voices sobbing into amputated handkerchiefs. (43)

The “you” may be taken in the figurative sense; however, would it not be more delightful and insidious to assume we bear witness to this violent aftermath which despite its vividness (deciphered, clattering limbs and a road compared to a hallway of sawing, creaking doors) is still quite puzzling? Goldstein infers the driver has hit a tree, whose shape has left an indent in his windshield. Another way we could interpret this—this, with its free associations!—is that gendered tree is in fact a woman, shuddering along the roadside as the man who hit her with his car is obliterating the evidence. Again, no comment illuminates or firmly directs our thinking, which is refreshing to say the least.

Perhaps one of Goldstein’s greatest achievements in this slim, provocative (and beautifully designed) collection of proses is her consistent, dark and at times terrifying tone (terror as suggestive; horror as explicit—according to Anne Radcliffe’s “On the Supernatural in Poetry”), sustained through a consistent pattern of narration—no exposition, a sequence of action with or without a climax, and overshadowed by dodgy yet curiously vivid, heavily auditory-based depictions. Goldstein’s tone, along with these violent, intelligent, and suggestive yet playful and inventive little stories make Fables an outstanding candidate for any poetry/prose lover’s bookshelf.

Review by Tristan Beach
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