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Contributor Conversations: Chelsea Werner-Jatzke interviews Jack Granath

Chelsea Werner-Jatzke interviews The Conium Review contributor Jack Granath.  His work has appeared in Vol. 1, No. 1, Vol. 1, No. 2, and on our Online Compendium.

[Chelsea Werner-Jatzke]: The title of “For Bandit and Teddy and the Rest” does a lot of work. Do you feel that a title carries more heft in flash fiction than in longer fiction?

[Jack Granath]: As a reader, I’m sometimes mystified by a poem until I glance back at the title and realize it makes perfect sense. (That can be a good thing or a bad thing.) Maybe this is a common role of the title for short pieces in general, including flash fiction. They can situate, contextualize, point. Other titles will complicate, give texture—point again, but in a direction you wouldn’t expect. I’m not sure what Bandit and Teddy do here.

What I would like to avoid is the title that does nothing the poem or story isn’t already doing, like a voice-over describing the action or the emotions that you’re sitting there watching at the movies. When I notice I’ve used one of those, it’s usually for a piece that shouldn’t have had any title at all.

[CWJ]: In crafting “Year of the Monsters” for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, dying, was there a particular work you were referencing while writing this?

[JG]: That story is easily one of the strangest writing experiences of my life. I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, got a García Márquez sound going in my head, put down the book, and picked up a pen. I wrote a story about the death of an old man and dedicated it, “For Gabriel García Márquez, dying.” That was at the end of February and he died in April. So I think the focus there was mainly on his ghost. Or at least on the premature shenanigans of his ghost.

[CWJ]: I’m interested in your progress from poetry to fiction. At what point in the writing process do you decide something is distinctly prose and follow that, rather than writing a poem? For instance, what makes “After the Japanese,” originally published in Rattle, a poem and not a story? Time passes, action takes place, character develops, a moral emerges.

[JG]: That’s a big, interesting question. I’m not sure I would use the word “progress” to describe anything I do. “Small, circular wayfaring” gets closer to it.

In his essay, “The Prose Poem in America,” Russell Edson says, “Time flows through prose and around poetry. Poetry is the sense of the permanent, of time held. Prose is the sense of normal time, time flowing.” It’s a great essay, going on to talk about how the length of a work plays a role in this too.

That last consideration makes me think of Suzanne Bernard’s great book about prose poems. For her, brevity (and a special power derived from it) is one of the three defining qualities of the poem in prose (the others are unity and freedom). She quotes Edgar Allan Poe, “I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, ‘a long poem,’ is simply a flat contradiction in terms.”

But as a guy who loves lots of long poems, I have to say it’s more a question of concentration than brevity. I don’t think action, character development, and a moral (does that poem really have a moral? What have I done!) matter much in terms of the way we classify fiction and poetry.

Just as some poems need to be sonnets and some need to be free verse, others need to be prose. The point at which that decision is made can happen disastrously late or disastrously early, but usually it’s another thing that, like the title, turns up on its own.

[CWJ]: I was impressed with the way that “Very Important to Them,” published on Opium in 2008, seemed to grow through the comments left on the website. The evaluation forms you used for writing the piece spill over into your piece because it was published electronically. Do you have pieces that you feel belong in print vs. pieces that belong on the Internet? 

[JG]: The Internet as a publishing platform is a contradiction. A piece on the Internet is so easily accessible that lots of people will see it, but many of us still labor to squeeze our stuff into print publications that hardly anyone will read. We do that because what we publish on the Internet disappears so soon, so effortlessly, and so completely.

So time again: poetry with time flowing around it. There’s nothing sadder than a monument squatting there in its ignorance of geological time, but a poem isn’t that exactly. It’s more like a handful of mud shaped into something and left out in the garden. In some cases that garden is called the Uffizi. In others it’s just a patch of shrubs in a Kansas suburb. Either way, Renaissance statue or garden gnome, the thing is waving goodbye to the tourist or the mailman through every minute of its existence.

I agree that the small act of accretion that went on among those dangling reader comments adds a layer to that piece, extends it with a bit of unintentional irony, I think. Print, electronic, wherever it winds up, pretty much anything can happen to a poem.

Jack Granath photo

“Year of the Monsters,” by Jack Granath

Sad Priest

for Gabriel García Márquez, dying

The old man died, and the priest, who was his friend of many years, spoke in his homily about eclipses, mountains falling into the sea, and monsters engendered in the turbulent sheets of newlyweds.

Some months later a solar eclipse did occur, but the scientists and the Indians knew all about it in advance.  There were mudslides in flood season, too, but that was nothing unusual, with the worst of the rains.  The thing that nobody anticipated was the monsters.

Right on schedule, a few days shy of nine months out from the funeral, Laura Maldonado, who lived on Chubasco Street, gave birth to a small creature with eyes that glowed like hot nails, fully developed fangs, and the wings of a bat.  Next, Ximena Moreno from Suestado Street brought forth a slime-secreting eel with a shark fin and perfectly formed feet and ankles.  Then Mayra Alejandra Eckstein Zapata from Cordonazo Street gave birth to a sweet-faced child embedded in the shell of a crab.

From that time, for the space of a full year, the infants arrived in astonishing packages.  Most were stillborn or died soon.  Five or six eked out a kind of existence that the people of the town made room for.

Visitors from the news agencies and the universities came to make their reports, but the locals politely ignored them, knowing that the answer to these mysteries lay tangled in the roots of the trees there, lay buried under rocks or flagstones or in the archives of their dead grandparents’ memories.  Besides, they had their own writer, a young man with a caterpillar mustache, who tackled the subject in his own way, developing a classification system from which he derived remarkable lists.  It was his contention that all of the wingless creatures were either formerly or potentially winged, with stumps or divots on their shoulder blades.  Even the eel had dimples by its dorsal fin.  None of this could, of course, be substantiated.  Few of the children had remained above ground for long, and the hurried descriptions of them, tending toward religious euphemism, lacked that level of detail.  No one outside of the town took the young writer very seriously.  He wrote for money, gabbed in cafés, and trailed after prostitutes.  Later though, he reworked his lists into a startling literary style, won something called the Top Prize Award, and was carried away on a whirlwind of celebrity.

And he was surely right in arguing for the “genealogical significance” of the newborns and against the imprecise language that classed them all as monsters.  Several women simply gave birth to frogs, and a frog is no monster.  Another young lady was delivered of a handful of grubs.  Briefly viable fish and lizards drew fewer and fewer comments throughout the year.  The university crowd never understood this distinction.

A few normal children were born during that time, but the town treated them as outsiders.  All of them took their difficult adolescence elsewhere at the first opportunity.  The one exception was a hybrid, born with an ordinary skin disease that made him appear, even as he emerged from the womb, in the likeness and apparel of a clown.  His mother got one look at him and died of fright on the delivery table.  He was later elected their mayor.

By that time the phenomenon of the monsters had hardened into a memory that might or might not be true, a story told and told.  The ending was always the same:  they brought news of it to the old priest, but he was inconsolable.

About the Author:

Jack Granath is a librarian in Kansas City.

Special Note:

Jack Granath’s “Year of the Monsters” was a finalist in our 2014 Innovative Short Fiction Contest, judged by Manuel Gonzales.

Image Credit: © makar / Dollar Photo Club

Tom Howard is the 2014 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner!

The 2014 Innovative Short Fiction contest has ended, and Manuel Gonzales has selected the winner.  Congratulations to Tom Howard and his short story, “American Rag Story.”  This year’s judge, Manuel Gonzales, noted that this piece was “funny and tragic and formally interesting,” and he also liked that “it didn’t take itself too seriously.”  Tom Howard’s work has appeared recently in ARDOR, Storm Cellar, Quarter After Eight, Digital Americana and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.  Tom will receive a $500 prize, and his story will be published in the next issue of The Conium Review, due out later in 2014.

This year’s finalists were Amy Blakemore, Jack Granath, D. V. Klenak, Jan LaPerle, and Christine Texeira.  Honorable mentions include Colleen Burner, Julie Curwin, Will Kaufman, and Kendall Klym.

The Conium Review editorial staff thanks everybody who submitted and supported this contest.  We look forward to announcing next year’s judge soon, and we hope many of you will consider submitting again in 2015.