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October 27, 2015 / nicolespokane

An Interview with R&S Contributor Susie Meserve

susie meserve

by Terra Ojeda

Susie Meserve was born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts, but has lived on the West coast for most of her adult life. She is a poet, essayist, and memoirist whose essays have recently appeared in Salon, Elle,, the journal of The Santa Fe Writers Project, and The New York Times Motherlode blog. Her poetry has been in many literary journals, including Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, and Rock & Sling. She is also the author of the chapbook Faith. Susie is on the faculty at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where she teaches creative writing and composition. She contributes regularly to the popular writing blog Popcorn, and is currently finishing a memoir called Quiver. She lives with her husband and young son in Berkeley, California.

Terra Ojeda: Do you have a writing routine? If so, what does it look like?

Susie Meserve: I do have a writing routine—of sorts. My mantra is, “write first, before everything else.” If I try to start my paid work first, or start with paying bills or anything else, I never get to the writing. Currently, I write at my kitchen table or at the library or at a coffee shop nearby (though I just had the very exciting news that I may be renting a small studio adjacent to my house as a writing space. I can barely contain myself at the thought of it.) I can’t write every day, since I’m a college writing instructor and I have to teach, but I manage three days a week during the semester and four or more when I’m on break. Every so often I block out a Saturday or a weekend to work, too. I also set very specific goals and deadlines. I’ll aim to finish a chapter, a poem, a section of a book by a certain date—this motivates me and helps me not feel lost and depressed about how much there is to do and how little time I have to do it.

TO: I have noticed that you are a vocalist in a band, Hotel Borealis. Do you contribute to the songwriting for this band? If so, how is it different from other modes of writing? If not, how does this band influence your creative writing process?

SM: This is a great question. While I wrote the lyrics for one song on our upcoming album, and have tweaked Dave Mar’s lyrics here and there, the truth is I’m not much of a lyricist. I keep thinking this will come with time, but so far, it hasn’t. In terms of the music project influencing my writing life, it has and it hasn’t. Writing is very solitary. The music is much more collaborative. But playing and writing music has made me much more comfortable being spontaneous and taking risks—things that have been hard for me, historically. I’m hoping that riskiness translates into my writing at some point.

TO: The same question goes for your role as a wife, mother, and teacher. How do these play into your creative process?

SM: I love teaching, but it doesn’t inspire my creative process except insofar as my students and I discuss artistic process (I teach at an art school). Mostly, teaching is an exercise in forcing me to be super-organized with my time so I can write. Parenting has certainly been the source of material for essays (not so much for poems—not sure why). And having such a lovely kid in my life makes me feel centered when my writing career is not going as planned. My relationship with my husband has been the main topic of the memoir I’ve been writing for ten years, so that’s been central. So, yeah, it all plays in….

TO: I love how you include a variety of connections in your poems. In “Postcard from a Sailor,” you include a fragmented mess of thoughts. Then you close the poem with “all the tools tossed into the sea — if there were a sea if there were any stars by which to navigate –” The universality of this poem is undeniable, yet there is a sense that you are speaking from a specific, individual experience. How do you balance the two?

SM: I see “Postcard from a Sailor” as a kind of thread that came rushing off a spool at breakneck speed. So, in other words: I started with this very personal idea of having a “mess of thoughts” (I like that, thanks), which was something that I was indeed experiencing: my brain was running me ragged with small and big life questions that seemed to be unraveling everywhere, and one day it occurred to me that “pensive” didn’t even begin to describe it. But then as I riffed on that in the poem, the whole world started unraveling (and the list of what would happen if the world unraveled came very quickly).

The list I came up with was how I imagine the post-apocalypse, I guess. I tend to use a lot of quasi-fantastical, end-of-the-worldish images in my poems. I don’t know whether the poem, especially the end, feels depressing or whimsical. For me, the last two lines feel much darker than the rest.

Something else is going on in there that you didn’t ask about. If you look at contemporary poetry, you’ll notice that this phrase “as if ” is totally overused. It’s like all of us poets can’t create an image without a comparison to something that might or might not happen. I wanted to play with that by pushing it: I started with one “as if ” but the next five lines all have an implied “as if.” I thought being relentless about it would subvert it. But that may not be working; maybe I’m just another poet overusing the phrase “as if.”

TO: Whom do you write for?

SM: This is a tough one. With the stuff I’ve been writing lately—personal essays, memoir, more commercially viable stuff, I definitely have audience in mind. In fact, I even spend time thinking about my “target audience” and my “brand.” (I picture a smart woman around my age, probably a mother but not necessarily, who also feels muddled by the choices she’s making and the difficulties and joys of her experience.) But when I write poetry, I don’t even think about audience, is the truth. I just write.

TO: How does writing function for your own personal purpose? Is it a healing process, like writing in a diary? Or does it take on a life of its own?

SM: Writing is definitely healing. For example, when I got things off my chest after writing a couple of essays about my inability to have a second kid, I actually felt that I could cope better with that huge disappointment. But writing is definitely not like a diary for me.

I’m pretty obsessed with making things polished and viewer-ready. And yes, I would say all of my writing takes on its own life. That’s a beautiful thing about writing: you start with an idea for A and end up at Q, at Z,  in a different language entirely.

TO: I’ve read and watched excerpts from your memoir, Quiver. How has traveling with your now-husband Ben shaped your life?

SM: That year with Ben was probably the most difficult and the most amazing year of my life to date, if I’m being honest. I still think about it all the time, probably because I’ve been writing about it for nearly ten years (!). Mostly, I think it was an exercise in solidifying what has been the most formative and important relationship of my life. But I think it also shifted my perspective as a writer. Before we went, I was working a very demanding job and barely managing to put together a poem every couple of months. On that trip, I realized that I wanted to be a writer, to really put writing front and center in my life. It also signaled the shift from me being a poet to being something else…whatever I am now.

TO: When you contemplate taking “next steps” in life, what does that look like? For example, the last couple lines of the excerpt from Quiver on your webpage read: “He had made up his mind: he was going to travel for a year. There was very little I could do about it. Except go with him.”

The white space in between the two sentences seems essential, because it represents that space in your mind that says, “Why not?” Does this explain the kind of leap of faith you have on taking big steps into the next stage in your life? Or are they normally subtle, baby steps that ease their way onto your path?

SM: I wish I could lie and say that I often take those kinds of leaps, but the truth is that I’m a total chicken about any big change and I have to worry it to death before I do anything. That excerpt from Quiver ends there, but in the actual book, about two pages of angst and second-guessing and miscommunication with Ben follow before we actually decide to travel together. So I would say, subtle baby steps, for sure. And research. And talking. I’m big on reading a lot of books and having a lot of discussions and generally gathering as much information as I can before I make any big life decision. I have always wanted to be different in this regard. Oh, well.

Terra Ojeda recently graduated from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. As soon as she first read  “Postcard from a Sailor” from Rock & Sling 9.2, she felt a sense of peace with Meserve’s relatable depiction of a human mind, which navigates from chaos to calm in a matter of seconds.

Photo from

October 5, 2015 / nicolespokane

What Have You Done With Your Eyes?


by Sunni Brown Wilkinson

When the Spanish poet Antonio Machado fled Spain during that country’s civil war, he crossed the Pyrenees in an old car with his elderly mother on his lap. The two died only a few days apart. In one of the notebooks he left behind he writes about how, one day when he was young, he had a piece of sugar cane in his hand.  He saw another young boy with a piece of sugar cane too, and sure that his was bigger, he asked his mother to confirm it, just to be sure. His mother told him no, it wasn’t, and then asked him, “Son, what have you done with your eyes?” It was the greatest reprimand she ever gave him, and he remembered it.

If you have any kind of spiritual life, you believe that much (even most) of what matters you can’t see or “prove.” It’s hidden. And according to Jesus, the kingdom of God is “like unto” the most basic things in life. Therefore, the kingdom of God is coming, but we are also living close to it right now. It’s likeness is all around us. We can see it if we look with the right eyes.

We are currently remodeling our basement. Correction: we are currently living upstairs while our empty basement is waiting for the contractor to help us remodel. We did our own demolition. Over the weeks our little 1950s basement became a warehouse of splintered wood, bent nails, and broken sheetrock.  We wore masks and gloves and protective clothes and goggles.  (I looked like a kid playing astronaut.) We tore down asbestos-filled ceiling tiles. We pried asbestos-filled linoleum tiles off the floor. We threw our sledgehammer against the walls.  And we walked back upstairs at midnight or 1:00 a.m., sore and tired and covered from head to toe in sheetrock dust, white ghost-like footprints trailing behind us on the wood floors. The next day we’d load the debris in the truck and drive across the train tracks to the dump.  

After several weeks of this, our basement consisted of beams, natural light, and empty space: beautiful in the promise of its possibilities. But this isn’t about that space or that possibility.  Something else, something commonplace was, it turned out, at the center of everything. Something before now I had failed to truly see. 

Only two things remain in the basement (under layers of that dust and piles of tools), the two things without which we’d cease to function. I mean our washer and dryer. We can live in a tight space.  The 7 and 4 year old can share a bed, and they can share a room with the baby. We can stuff bins of Legos and puzzles under the crib. We can move load after load of storage to the garage. But we can’t live without something to wash and dry our clothes. (Okay, I could wash and dry our clothes, but this is 2015.)

My fondness for our old washer and dryer has grown beyond a normal relationship between a housewife and her trusty appliances.  Sometimes I stand on the stairs and just look at them: two white buddhas churning away in the corner of a vast empty room, doing their good work out of sight and far away from the rest of the world. They never fail me. I open the washer and stuff it with dirty clothes, and when I return 30 minutes later, it presents me with clean clothes. When I open the dryer and stuff in wet clothes, all I have to do is turn the dial, listen for the buzzer from upstairs, and return, knowing full well that when I open that door a load of warm, scented clothes will fall into my hands.  

Maybe it is a little like the end of the world, or the beginning of it, when all the elements are waiting on the sidelines and everything is quiet and a soft humming comes from somewhere almost out of sight. Something is still working, has been working from the beginning, something that just does what it’s supposed to do regardless of what’s going on with everyone and everything else.  

Someday they will finally give out and we’ll have them hauled away and replaced by newer models. But for as long as they can last, my washer and dryer know what they are supposed to do and they do it. 

I’m crudely offering my own parable here: the parable of the Washer and Dryer.  The children of God are as savory as salt, as luminous as a candle in a dark house or a city on a hill, and maybe too as constant as an old washer and dryer, spinning away in an empty basement, turning whatever is in them into something miraculous. 

 Sunni Brown Wilkinson holds an MFA from Eastern Washington University.  Her poetry has been published in Weber: The Contemporary West, Red Rock Review, Gulf Stream, Rock & Sling, and other journals and anthologies and has been nominated for two PushcartsShe teaches at Weber State University and lives in Ogden, Utah with her husband and three young sons. She also blogs at

September 23, 2015 / nicolespokane

Looking Back at Summer Reading

spool of blue thread

by Laura Bloxham

When I was in grade school I lived for summer reading programs at the local library. If I read so many books or so many pages, I could qualify for prizes. Usually the top prize was a ride through town on a fire engine. I qualified for that prize after the first month.

When I was in junior high school I looked forward to reading in bed all day, reading classics with big classic stickers on the spine. I read Crime and Punishment and Mansfield Park until my eyes were bleary. Then I’d put a sweatshirt over my nightgown to make myself presentable for supper with my family.

In my adult years I’ve had various summer reading plans. During my college summers, I read Faulkner novels. For ten years or so I read Dickens novels. Of course I read many other books as well.

Because most of my life has been governed by the academic year, I start collecting books in February. These books are my companions, stacked next to me on the couch. They give me hope that I’ll be able to finish my semester’s work and have leisure to read.

This summer, the first book I read was Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. I have adored Anne Tyler ever since Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Was it Ladder of Years where a middle-aged woman, sick of her life and burdens, runs away from home? She starts over with a new identity. There is no way to convey the humor and the depth of understanding Tyler presents in her novels. I love the quirky jobs and occupations—the travel writer in Accidental Tourist who does not travel himself—together with gritty family relationships. I am a better person for knowing the pain and redemption in Saint Maybe.

I always read a lot of beach trash, although I don’t go to the beach. I defend the right to read anything—cookbooks, cereal boxes, and instruction manuals. No sci fi for me, but I insist on the right of others to read whatever trash one prefers. The idea of beach trash is to be absorbed elsewhere, to get as far away from one’s own life as possible. My trash of choice is mysteries. I’ve just finished Ruth Rendell’s From Doon with Death, the first Inspector Wexford mystery. The whole Wexford series covers four decades. I’m considering reading all 24 Wexfords in order over the next few years.

I’ve not given up on my junior high pursuit of classics. Nineteenth century literature is often so well-written, so full of richness, that I need to nourish myself with some in between the trash. I read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White earlier this summer. Quite compelling. Soon I’m going back to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which I read last in the late 70’s.

My plans are already turning to next summer. Ah, anticipation.

Laura Bloxham was born in Seattle and raised in the Seattle Public Library.  She loves baseball and reading mysteries.  

September 3, 2015 / nicolespokane

Comfort Reads

by Amy Rice

com·fort food


food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.*


com·fort read


book that induces fuzzy warm feelings, can be read repeatedly, and is quick and easy to consume.**

After I finished a graduate degree and had free time again, I spent a solid year reading nothing but frivolous books. My criteria were simple: titles that are not particularly intellectually challenging, fun to read multiple times, and easy to pick up the plot at any random point. Though now I am expanding my reading horizons, my comfort reads are still on standby for picking up on a weekend or reading a bit just before bed.

Here’s a select list (in order of reading frequency):


murder plainly read


  1. Cozy mysteries (what is this, you ask?). Okay, so strictly speaking, these comfort reads do not fit the “read again” category, but it definitely fills the “warm fuzzies” criterion. Quality and mood varies widely among cozy mystery authors, but I devour anything written by Amanda Flower or her penname: Isabella Alan. Besides the fact that I actually know her and she writes about places I’ve lived, her books are consistently entertaining and she always has a great cast of characters.

Release date: October 6, 2015



pride and prejudice cover

  1. Pride and Prejudice.

This also fails in one criterion: it’s not an “easy” read, per se, but vastly satisfying and one I come back to (and about which I wrote my undergrad English thesis).

harry potter cover

  1. Some books in the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling

My favorites are Sorcerer’s Stone and Prisoner of Azkaban. If I am in “comfort read” mode, I will select my favorite books/passages to read. But I also read through the whole series on a semi-regular basis.

sophie kinsella

  1. Almost anything by Sophie Kinsella

These are practically guaranteed to be frivolous and fun, with at least one cringe-inducing mishap or harebrained scheme.

narnia cover

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia.

I read the entire series at least once a year. Each book takes a couple of hours to read. Despite their comfort read status, they do have some thought-provoking ways to think about faith, but mostly, they are great stories.

best of friends cover

  1. Best of Friends.

A favorite from my teenage years, this definitely falls into the comfort read category, but it’s also in a category all its own:  Christian bookstore find. Yes, there is a conversion scene. However, the real value is the main character. He’s real. A teenager trying to figure out where he fits in the world and in his family. I actually have two copies of this book. Countless years ago, two of the pages fell out. Even back then, I had read the book enough times that I could fill in the blanks. But recently I was browsing a second-hand bookstore, and I found another copy in great condition! To be honest, I really didn’t miss much in those two pages.

anne of green gables

  1. The Anne of Green Gables series, by L.M. Montgomery

You can’t go wrong starting at the beginning, but one of my all-time favorites is Anne of the Island. I love the tales of Anne’s college experience.

13 little blue envelopes

  1. 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope, by Maureen Johnson.

Travel, romance, a quirky aunt, and Harrods!

meg cabot


  1. Avalon High, by Meg Cabot.

Though not in a diary format like the Princess Diaries (also by Meg Cabot), Avalon High has a strong first-person narrator, so it has a similar mood and voice. Also…King Arthur!

shannon hale

  1. Austenland, by Shannon Hale.


This currently occupies the #1 spot. I think I have lost count of the number of times I’ve read it. And it was the first book for which I decided I needed the print and ebook versions. Austen fans will appreciate the Regency details (as told by a 21st century woman) and Austen references. But I also really appreciate the character development (note: if you watch the movie, keep in mind that it’s basically the plot of the book stripped of all character development. Once I got over that hurdle, I quite enjoyed the movie for what it was: pure fun)


*”comfort food.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 01 Aug. 2015. < food>.

**my own definition

Amy C. Rice is an Access Services Librarian at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.  She has been contemplating a Harry Potter or LOTR tattoo for years. To date, she has purchased not one, but two Trivial Pursuit sets (the genuine articles, not the themed versions) at yard sales. She likes reading, but also thoroughly enjoys Netflix and going to movies. And yes, Idaho potatoes are quite tasty!

August 17, 2015 / nicolespokane

Summer Reading: David Copperfield in the High Uintas

high uintas wilderness 2

by Sunni Brown Wilkinson

Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein after spending a chilly, wet summer near Lake Geneva. That terrain – the rugged Swiss Alps and that deep, blue water – coupled with the unusually stormy weather worked on her imagination. The wildness of it no doubt seemed unearthly.

Every summer over the last several years my husband, my dad, one or two of my brothers and I (when I’m not pregnant) all backpack into the High Uintas Wilderness in the northeast part of Utah. The lakes there are also deep and blue, and they are surrounded by jagged mountains filled with cougars and bears. King’s Peak, the highest mountain in Utah at 13, 527 feet, is in this range. Weather in the High Uintas is sketchy. Two summers ago a man died after being struck by lightning. He was returning from a hike to one of the peaks.

We camp at Hidden Lake, a spot at the end of an unmarked two-and-a-half mile trail. The men bustle around setting up camp, fishing, swimming, cooking meals. As the only female of the group, I am unapologetically lazy. I pull out my paperback novel or my book of poems and read by the lake. For two whole days.

One year I packed David Copperfield. It was my first real investment in Dickens, and I was blown away. I wanted to smack Mr. Murdstone and hug loveable Mr. Dick. I laughed out loud when David falls for Dora. His lovesickness made me giggle. And every turn in the story pulled me toward something that felt bigger than the story itself.

high uintas wilderness

That bigger thing came my second night of reading. I sat in front of the fire absorbed in every word. The “Tempest” chapter details the shipwreck the adult David calls “an event in my life so awful” it throws “a shadow over my childish days.”

Page after page of terrible detail came like waves. Ham, the gentle, constant admirer of little Em’ly, throws himself into the sea to rescue survivors of a shipwreck, unaware that the last sailor on board the ship is the very man who ruined his own happiness.

At camp, the wind kicked up. It was cold. And the harder the men in the story swam in that frigid ocean water, the closer I drew to the fire. It was one of those rare times as a reader when I stopped reading a scene; I was seeing it, feeling it, firsthand.

There is something about remoteness that accommodates the extrasensory. If I had read David Copperfield on a sunny beach or a crowded bus, the impact of that shipwreck wouldn’t have been the same. As it is, when I imagine myself at Hidden Lake, I can see – far off – two men in the water; I see their sad deaths, and the way youth is both reckless and deeply heroic. I see the waves the wind is making on that dark mountain lake. A storm is coming. And I can believe in all kinds of ghosts.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson holds an MFA from Eastern Washington University.  Her poetry has been published in Weber: The Contemporary West, Red Rock Review, Gulf Stream, Rock & Sling, and other journals and anthologies and has been nominated for two PushcartsShe teaches at Weber State University and lives in Ogden, Utah with her husband and three young sons. She also blogs at

Photos by Kip Bremser

August 10, 2015 / nicolespokane

Summer Reading: The Perfect Time To Get In Trouble

get in trouble kelly link

by Andy Zell

Summer reading is the time to read books that aren’t on the list or on the table at the bookstore prominently displayed. It’s the time for picking up the unexpected and adventurous. All reading can transport me to another time and place. Summer reading is for transportation to a wholly different time and place, perhaps even a little fantastical.

Last summer I spent a lot of time in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea kingdom hanging out with dragons.

But this summer, it was time to get in trouble. So I read Kelly Link’s recent collection of short stories by the same name. They feature the weird and wild, the humorous and haunted, the serious and superheroic. It was a terrific summer read.

In “The New Boyfriend” a batch of automaton boyfriends make an appearance, each with a different aspect. One is a vampire, another is a werewolf, but the newest one can go spectral. All three of the fake boyfriends belong to Ainslie, a rich girl who has whatever she wants. Despite this setup that resembles a mashup of Bride of Frankenstein and Twilight, the story concerns the relationships of Ainslie and her friends, especially the slightly jealous Immy. It never loses sight of the human in the B-movie settings.

“Secret Identity” is a letter from another teenage girl named Billie to the alter-ego of a superhero (unsettling for me his name was the same as my older brother, adding another layer to the disturbing proceedings. If your brother’s name isn’t Paul Zell, it won’t have quite the same effect. I suggest substituting your own brother’s name for fun.) She met him online and pretended to be older, but now she wants to meet in New York City. It’s a catfish story, but it’s unclear who is the cat and who is the fish. Again, Link’s elaborate and marvelous setup is really a human story of a teenager figuring out who she is.

It’s this quality of the fantastic, when in the best hands like Link’s, that helps the reader to get out of the ordinary world and see something different, all while shedding light on some part of the ordinary that we often overlook. Plus, it’s fun. And summer is the time to put feet up, sip a cool beverage, and dive right into an enjoyable book.

You might like Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble (you can even try the first story here for free). But if you don’t try her book of stories, you still ought to get in trouble with some other book, something you wouldn’t normally read.

Andy Zell gets in trouble as a stay-at-home parent to three pre-schoolers, while still trying to find time for reading and writing. It’s a struggle. He blogs and twitters when he gets the chance.

July 29, 2015 / nicolespokane

How Beachcombing and Book-Combing Brought Summer Back

Rock & Sling

by Julie Riddle

Once the carefree summer days of my youth (floating the stream that winked past our house, playing baseball on a freshly mown field, tanning at the lake, my skin shiny with baby oil) gave way to the horrors of adulthood (global warming, suspicious-looking moles, wrinkles), summer became my least favorite season. A season to endure, to get through, to grit through, passing those endless, blazing months confined in my dark, curtain-drawn home, emerging in the early morning to walk the dogs and in the evening, slathered in sunscreen and wearing a ridiculous floppy hat, to weed the yard (yet another horror of first-world adulthood). I know, I know: Poor me.

But a few weeks ago in late June, as Spokane set a triple-digit record for heat, I surprised myself by saying to my husband, Garrett, “I’m having a great summer.”
“Why’s that?” he said.

I gave it some thought and realized that, for the first summer in nine years, I have not been writing a book. That book, a memoir, is now in production with the publisher, which means I have free time. And I’ve filled it with reading. Lots and lots of reading.

Garrett and I kicked off this summer with a weeklong road trip, starting with the Oregon Coast. I toted a new poetry collection, Among the Missing, to Ecola State Park and read Cathy Bobb’s moving poems to Garrett as we sat on the sand.


Good Night

The robin announces the night,
the gathering in of what we see,

dusk subtracting the elements of our life.

The lilacs, white as love, persist.


Later, as the tide ebbed, Garrett and I walked side-by-side, searching for shells. We both spotted a sand dollar at the exact same time. It was tiny – barely larger than a pencil eraser – bright white and perfectly formed.

The bookstacks at Powell's Bookstore

The bookstacks at Powell’s Bookstore

After the beach we hit Portland for two days. Which meant we hit Powell’s Books for two days. Which is when my summer reading really took off. When I wasn’t in the café, stuffing my face with gluten-free rugelach, I was scouring the literature room, searching for books whose names I had jotted on a list prior to our trip (I had gathered the titles from reviews in The New York Times, from mentions in The Writer’s Almanac, and elsewhere): To the Wedding, by John Berger; An Unsuitable Attachment, by Barbara Pym; The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene; Last Night, by James Salter; Someone, by Alice McDermott. And of course, I brought home a few titles that weren’t on my list: Gilead, by Marilyne Robinson; The Sea, by John Banville; and A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster (which I almost didn’t buy because I was sure I had read it. But it turns out I had only watched the movie a handful of times; I still had the book to relish. Yay!).

Gluten-free rugelach at Powell's Bookstore

Gluten-free rugelach at Powell’s Bookstore

I have read these books during lunchtime, at bedtime, in the evening, curled on the sofa with a dog draped across my bare feet, and yes, even outside during searing midday, reclining in the lacey shade of a tree, sunscreen coating my arms, the ridiculous floppy hat on my head, encountering each book with wonder and delight, like I had just found a gleaming seashell at the beach.
Julie Riddle is the author of The Solace of Stones: Finding a Way through Wilderness, forthcoming in April 2016 from the University of Nebraska Press. She works as senior writer for marketing and development at Whitworth University.

Photos courtesy of Julie Riddle

July 15, 2015 / nicolespokane

The Delights of Summer Reading, or Why We Take a Book to the Beach

Photo courtesy of Annalisa Wells
by Amanda C. R. Clark

People often tell me in hushed tones that they delight in book sniffing. These confessions are wrapped in happy, faux-guilt-laden shrugs of pleasure. There’s something magical in that almond and vanilla odor that wafts from books,[1] with pages sometimes yellow-edged, finger-smudged, marred by the occasional coffee or wine ring, a store-branded bookmark, a price label peeling off, a flower or ticket stub tucked inside. A teardrop wrinkles a page—was it joy, or sorrow, or both? In summer, when the days stretch long, we too stretch out with books in our hands, to read and sniff, perhaps to nap. We digest books in a more leisurely way. The lighter the read, the faster we turn the pages. But there is nothing hurried about summer reading; it is nourishing, not rushed, as we prolong the tangible experience.

For many, new popular fiction is retrieved from the public library. As we know them today, public libraries appeared first in the nineteenth century, where collections could be used freely and exuberantly by the public. Demand was met by (or driven by) production ability; in 1814 the London Times was pulling up to 250 sheets an hour, up from the former 100 sheets pulled manually in preceding years.[2] Rising affluence allowed for more frequent recreational book buying and reading. Voracious readers consumed unprecedented amounts of leisure reading, seen in sales of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which sold copies in the hundreds of thousands.[3] We in the 21st century have inherited this insatiable appetite.

amanda clark 1

Lazy beach reading is a personal activity, allowing our brains to connect in ways quite dissimilar from any other activity; for something so apparently passive, it is remarkably dynamic.[4] Curled up, stretched out, perched, cuddled, lounging, we experience these novels and non-fiction trifles at close range, both physically close and psychologically near the characters and author. We can’t put them down, we soak them up and the hours tick by; but no matter, we’ve traversed the globe, travelled through time. We were someone else. It is a process of sensory stirrings, a re-awakening from our quotidian realities at work or school. The book is “assimilated into the reader’s reservoir of personal experiences.”[5] It’s a Velveteen Rabbit experience during which we bring characters to life while they in turn make us more real, more deeply feeling individuals, adding to our reservoir of experience. Our pulse slows and our empathy grows. Empathy softens our boundaries, giving us the “ability to resonate with the feelings of another while maintaining an awareness of the differences between self and other.”[6]

And isn’t this at the heart of our summer reading? When we traipse off to the beach with our blanket, hunting for a weathered Adirondack, we have a book in our tote, a book that will both whisk us away into the “other” while focusing us even more precisely on ourselves, in the chair, feeling the breeze, sipping the umbrella-ed drink.

Photo courtesy of Emma Myhrum

George Hagman describes this empathy as “a special, transcendent form of union, a bond of beauty.”[7] For those moments we are transcendent and the beauty is in the book itself, the rustle of pages, that soft odor of vanilla. Author of the popular book The Time Traveler’s Wife (2004), Audrey Niffenegger believes that books—like her tragic hero—transcend time and space: “To make a book is to address people you’ve never met, some of them not born yet.”[8]

The author of the novel—popular or elevated—has created for us, the readers, a portal to other worlds. We are transported and transformed. As C. S. Lewis said, we do this so we “know we are not alone.” And for this summer pleasure, we are granted longer days, with earlier sunrises and later sunsets, so that we might indulge our desires to read, to sniff, to dream.

Amanda C. R. Clark is Library Director and Assistant Professor of Art History at Whitworth University. She has published in the areas of contemporary artists’ books, architectural history, and library as place. Clark holds a Ph.D. in library and information sciences from the University of Alabama. 

[1] Henry Fountain, “Digging Into the Science Of That Old-Book Smell,” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast), New York, N.Y, 17 November 2009: D.3.

[2] Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst, A Short History of the Printed Word, 2nd edition (Vancouver, BC: Hartley and Marks Publishers, 2000), 193-195

[3] Michael Winship, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: History of the Book in the 19th-Century United States,” paper presented at Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Web of Culture Conference, Hartford, CT, June 2007.

[4] “Why Reading Matters,” BBC Four video, 1 hour 5 minutes, 16 February 2009 <;.

[5] Eileen Wallace, ed., Masters: Book Arts – Major Works by Leading Artists (New York:Lark Crafts, An Imprint of Sterling Publishing, 2011), 6.

[6] Catherine Hyland Moon, Studio Art Therapy: Cultivating the Artist Identity in the Art Therapist (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2002), 49.

[7] George Hagman, The Artist’s Mind: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Creativity, Modern Art, and Modern Artists (New York: Routledge, 2010), 115.

[8] Audrey Niffenegger, “What Does it Mean to Make a Book?” in Krystyna Wasserman, ed. The Book as Art: Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), 13.

Photos courtesy of Annalisa Wells, Amanda C. R. Clark, and Emma Myhrum.


July 9, 2015 / nicolespokane

R&S Editors and Contributors Share Summer Camp Stories

summer camp

Summer’s in full swing. Here at R&S headquarters, we’re seeking out the shade and waiting for tomatoes.

Summer’s also prime time for camp. How To Pack for Church Camp, an online anthology of creative nonfiction about summer camp, is edited by R&S web editor Nicole Sheets and features work from several R&S folks. Check out:


“The Boys in the Band,” by R&S managing editor Annie Stillar

“Camp Elohim,” by R&S nonfiction editor Julie Riddle

and “Goddess Great,” by R&S contributor Harmony Button, among other great tales on the site.

We’re also reading submissions. Share your story with us!

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June 22, 2015 / nicolespokane

An Interview with Natalie Young

salt lake

by Nick Avery

Natalie Young is a founding editor and graphic designer for the poetry magazine Sugar House Review. She received her BFA in art and an MFA in creative writing. Natalie works as an art director for an ad agency based out of Salt Lake City. Her poetry has been published in Rattle, Los Angeles Times, South Dakota Review, Tampa Review, Green Mountains Review, in Rock & Sling 9.2and elsewhere. I recently reached out to Natalie over email.

Nick Avery: Natalie, thank you so much, again, for agreeing to do this interview. I first encountered your work while I was laying out issue 9.2 of Rock & Sling and absolutely loved how your Monster poems signified a complex and imagined world. They almost seem to fall within the fantastic subgenre. I was wondering if we could start out by talking about the Monster poems. What was the impetus behind these poems? Why conceptualize this myth to delve into the larger concepts—as you detailed in your contributor’s note—of faith, environment, history, and religion?

Natalie Young: I do have a propensity toward fantastical and speculative fiction. So it will come as no surprise that I’m a fan of The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, super heroes, fairytales, etc. The initial concept of the monster came from the graphic novel The Lagoon by Lilli Carré, given to me by a friend. I loved the illustrations and the haunting idea of the lake monster, but I finished the book and wanted more information about the monster. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Thus, my monster of the Great Salt Lake was born.

This is the first series of poems I’ve written. In the beginning, it just seemed like a good exercise to establish a setting and characters and see what would happen.  I didn’t intend to write so many poems about the monster, nor the series as a whole, but they just kept coming. This series has allowed me to establish a world and characters based in both reality and fantasy. The setting creates the time and space to delve into the themes you mention above. These themes have always been a part of my poetry, but somehow, they are less invasive when explored through this fictional world. Which is what myths do, right? They convey big ideas through a story, rather than a sermon.

NA: Let’s continue with the Monster poems for a moment. How do you see place and space functioning within this trilogy? I mean, because on some level the Monster is an alien, an orphaned creature that occupies a given environment. At the same time, I can’t help but feel the loneliness the Monster experiences in these poems. Does a division exist, then, between the Monster and place?

NY: It was a conscious choice to keep the poems almost exclusively set in Utah. This limited the space my characters inhabited, and it was a space I am both familiar with and connected to, having lived in Utah my whole life. The monster’s space is even more contained, living solely in the Great Salt Lake. Having a limited and known landscape makes it easier to establish the fantastical elements—like aliens living on earth and a lake monster that’s been around for centuries—while at the same time being able to deal with the realities of Utah’s culture, history and environment.

The monster is definitely lonely. He’s the only one left of his kind and has lived through vast amounts of time. You hit it spot on when you say he is an alien—not a space alien, but an alien in his own home, which is a sure division in space, place, and identity. His home is shrinking, the lake just keeps getting smaller, while at the same time, human civilization keeps expanding and he’s in the middle of it, but not a part of it.

NA: In “What She Misses About Being Mormon,” you write about the comfort that comes from community, rituals, and certainty. Yet, the subject of the poem acknowledges that hymns are what she yearns for after leaving the church. Why hymns? Is there a connection to be made with this type of song and poetry, or is this a slight overreach on my part?

NY: It’s kind of a bizarre thing, right? There are a number of amazing things a person can get from organized religion, but this character misses singing hymns the most? She’s found new rituals, new community, maybe given up on certainty, but she can’t replicate the experience or feeling of singing with an entire congregation. It’s a combination of the familiarity of notes and words sung again and again over the years and making a collective noise.

Hymns definitely have a close link to poetry. Several commonly sung Mormon hymns were written by Eliza R. Snow, (one of Brigham Young’s wives), who was a poet.

NA: Ok, last question about the Monster poems. In “Pretending to be interviewed” you utilize the structure of an interview—sort of like what we’re doing now, oddly enough—to explore the Monster’s inner thoughts. Why create this simulated dialogue that occurs between the Monster and, presumably, the Monster? Additionally, from a composition standpoint how did the writing and formatting of this poem differ from your other Monster poems?

NY: I wasn’t sure the format would work, but I liked the humor and absurdity of it, as well as what it could convey about the monster. How lonely or bored does one have to be to conduct an interview with one’s self, and then end the interview because it’s too emotional?

None of the other monster poems have any first-person narrative. In fact, none of the other poems in the series do either. So, while it’s absurd in concept, it allowed me to write directly from the monster, to give the monster an actual voice. The questions are written pretty cut and dry without much poetic language, split up by line breaks. The monster’s answers start out very short and reveal more as the interview moves along.

NA: I’d like to move from here to questions about writing as a career. At Whitworth University, there’s a huge push for students to find their vocation and calling. Do you see poetry as your profession at this point in your life? For that matter, what do you think a career poet looks like in 2015? I guess what I’m really trying to get at is this: What do you see is the role—if there is one—of the poet and do you conform to this position?

NY: Robert Frost said, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” I would guess most poets would agree, perhaps in large part because it’s so hard to make a living as a poet. I got a BFA in art and my day job is graphic design. I’ve always loved visual art, but it’s my profession now; poetry has become more of my passion. I went back to school to get an MFA in poetry, and it was what I call a “selfish degree.” I did it because I wanted to get better at reading and writing poetry, not because I wanted to use it as a career path. I realize I’m in the minority of people who are “serious” about writing poetry. In recent history, the typical path for someone who wants to be a career poet is to teach poetry and/or related studies, usually at the university level, and then, theoretically, have time and resources to write. But with a saturated market of talented, educated poets and most of the new positions now being adjunct—with no benefits and low pay—I think something’s going to have to change. There’s no reason a poet should feel like he/she needs to be so intimately tied to academia. There are other ways to create and be a part of a poetic community.

I don’t know if I subscribe to any certain role for the poet. Some people say it’s to speak the truth, to declare it to the world, and certainly, I acknowledge that poets have risked much and played an integral part in certain histories, and that shouldn’t be downplayed. I do believe that poetry can be an amazing tool for healing and change, both for the writer and the reader.

NA: Why did you choose Rock & Sling for these particular poems? What other publications do you frequent—either for reading or for submitting your own work?

NY: I was first exposed to Rock & Sling when I met Thom Caraway at AWP and we set up an ad trade for our magazines. I was immediately taken by how beautiful the journal is, both design- and content-wise. I felt like this batch of poems fit into Rock & Sling’s aesthetic of faith.

There are too many publications that I admire to list here, but a few include: burntdistrict, Gulf Coast, Tin House, Tampa Review, Jubilat, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review and Smartish Pace.

NA: This issue was interesting for our staffers because we received a number of submissions concerning Utah and Mormonism. At one point we started to joke that 9.2 would be known as the “Mormon issue.” Two weeks ago I mentioned to one of our editors that I’d scored an interview with one of the issue’s Mormon poets, a comment she was kind enough to admonish me for—considering that there is a lot more to a person’s poetry than a particular tradition or religion. I was wondering if you could comment on this idea, that is the concept of what makes up a person’s poems. Do you think that poetry is forged by those conversations we have about things like whether or not someone’s Mormon or do they stem from universal ideas?

NY: I don’t consider myself a Mormon poet, but I can’t deny that my poetry is influenced by my experience and identity of being raised Mormon, both as part of the religion and the culture. I think poetry is forged by the culmination of experiences in a poet’s life, including religion and universal ideas.

Sugar House Review just celebrated its five-year anniversary. In those five years of reading many, many submissions, I’ve seen an incredible universality in what people write—for better or worse. Every community seems to have a current flowing through it that individuals tap into consciously and subconsciously.

NA: This is a question I’ve always wanted to ask our Rock & Sling contributors, since I, myself, have spent such a long time trying to navigate the subtle line that exists between the two: Where do you think the rift—assuming there is one—liess between faith and religion? More importantly, how do you see life operating within their structures?

NY: I think that every religion requires faith, but faith doesn’t need religion. Faith and religion can be a beautiful combination and provide things we mentioned earlier—answers, community, ritual—but I don’t trust blind faith. There have been too many tragedies throughout history spurred by blind, absolute faith. Faith seems stronger when it works through some doubt and allows for others’ faith.

May Swenson, who also grew up Mormon in Utah, said that poetry replaced religion in her life. That is how I feel as well.

NA: Where do you find the motivation to write? Where do you start when you get an idea for a poem? At what point do you recognize a poem for what it is—either good or bad? Ok, so that was more than one final question, but if you could indulge me, I’d appreciate it.

NY: My motivation to write comes from my love of words, the need to write as a form of therapy, spirituality, and accomplishment, and it’s become a habit. I feel off-center and guilty when I don’t write for a while. I get inspiration from reading, not just poetry, but all kinds of books and magazines, weird news stories, other art forms and just daily life.

In the last few years, I almost always start a poem by handwriting a really rough draft in a notebook. I leave it for a while, let us both have some space, and come back to it a few days or weeks later and sort of edit on top of that draft—crossing things out, writing new things in, drawing arrows to move lines and words around. The next step is typing it up on the computer, but I don’t do that unless I have a fair idea of what I want it to be. So I guess it’s between paper and screen where I usually recognize my poem.


Nick Avery is a senior (’16) at Whitworth University where he studies English literature and writing. He is the assistant managing editor of Rock & Sling, a literary journal housed at Whitworth, and the poetry editor of Script, Whitworth’s student-run, undergraduate literary journal. When he isn’t frantically running around the English Department, Nick can be found reading David Foster Wallace or writing creative nonfiction. Nick plans to attend graduate school once he completes his B.A. at Whitworth.

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