by Lauren Klepinger
Bookworms and publishing nerds at AWP often feel like Christmas came again in the spring. You enter a magical wonderland with all of your favorite literary paraphernalia, and you go home loaded with gifts (for others, or for yourself). So, it’s only fitting that I represent my experience with the fictional character who can best match the enthusiasm of a writer/editor/bookworm landed in
the AWP conference Literary Mecca: Buddy the Elf.
Of course, the hype for the book fair had been going on for weeks.
And when we stepped through the double doors for the first time, our faces looked something like this:
You can find programs and publishers for virtually any specific literary interest.
I found my own favorite booths…
…and visited them a few too many times to deliberate which books were worthy of my precious luggage space:
When I got back to my hotel, though, I realized I still took too much free stuff.
Of course, we also spent plenty of time selling our own merchandise with that good retail smile.
I also can’t leave out the panels and readings, equal parts entertaining and informative:
But no true bookworm is satisfied without also taking a tour of the local coffee shops…
…and finishing off the day with some good food.
All told, AWP is a whirlwind of enthusiasm for literary culture and all the unique and rich artifacts it produces. And it makes me never want to leave.
Lauren Klepinger is a junior English major at Whitworth University, and the Assistant Poetry Editor for Rock & Sling.
by Joshua Tuttle
This was my final pilgrimage to AWP as staff member of Rock & Sling, and I’m having some trouble absorbing that fact. It feels like maybe six months ago I walked into Thom’s office and said I wanted to be part of the magazine. In reality, that was years ago, and as I look back on the last few years, I can’t recommend joining a magazine enough. You meet weird and wonderful people, you get to learn about literature, and you get to participate in making the world a more beautiful place.
This AWP felt different than previous ones. The impact of the election was everywhere, and in some ways that saddened me. I know that they say art is always political, but in past years it felt like there was more emphasis on the fact that art can change the world through beauty. This year, it felt more like everyone was hung up on the ugliness, and were so eager to fight it that they forgot that our chief weapon in that battle isn’t anger, but beauty. Considering where the artists are coming from, I think their reaction is appropriate, but I hope that as a community we remember our mandate to speak truth rather than thrash about in the name of resistance.
This AWP was also the most editors we’ve brought to AWP since I’ve been a member of staff. I still haven’t adjusted to the fact that I’m the senior-most member on student staff, but I have adjusted to the fact that AWP isn’t the frenetic overwhelming thing it once was. No longer do I stand paralyzed, unable to take everything in or even figure out where to begin. Now I walk the book fair looking for editors I know, magazines who have published me, pitching project ideas, and talking to authors I’ve published. My first thought this year was “oh, there’s Image,” not “oh my god what is this.” I think the most rewarding part was to see how our younger editors have flourished, and quickly become savvy AWPers. They had their panels lined up, their readings selected, and as they shuttled from place to place like clockwork they stacked up heaps of swag. The pure joy that I read in their faces was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
So now I close, bittersweet at the close of this chapter, but what a good time it was.
Joshua Tuttle is a senior English major at Whitworth University, and the Assistant Fiction Editor for Rock & Sling.
Contributors for Rock & Sling 11.2 reflect on their work from the issue.
An old Zen tale says the relationship between truth and words is like the relationship between the moon and a finger pointing out the moon’s location. I wonder if faith is another pointing digit. I don’t usually think in terms of faith. This stems partly from awareness that literature, faith and fingers can point at objects other and less beautiful than the moon. Or they can point at nothing at all. My reluctance to speak of faith also stems from my preference to think in terms of choice. I choose to pursue, in my wavering, all-too-human way, Gautama’s compassion, Christ’s “seven times seventy,” Saint Paul’s agape. I choose these because I love them — not because I have faith that they are True or that they will ultimately triumph. Is the poem “What We Know” about Dulce’s faith? What can I say about that? I was her English teacher, not her confessor. I would rather say the poem is about the truth that I have strong feelings for Dulce despite the fact that she and I knew little about each other. We interacted, and did so beautifully, in our own little Cloud of the Unknowing. What interests me is how we humans feel and what we do as our lives unfold in the bigger Cloud. Some years after Dylan’s conversion to Christianity, when his creed had become unclear to the public, an interviewer asked him what he believed in. He replied that he believed in the songs. I thought I knew what he meant by that and I thought I agreed with it. As I write this wonderfully unorthodox contributor’s note, it occurs to me that what I really believe in is the singing.
Sarah Fawn Montgomery
Literature is a way to voice the unspeakable, to make the unknowable more concrete. It makes visible those ambiguities that flit at the edge of our understanding, and in doing so allows us to connect with the abstract in tangible ways. These poems are my way of honoring the mysteries of the natural world—weather, geology, our human impermanence—using metaphor and image, rhythm and form to understand our roles in such an intricate system.
As a child I was frightened and confused. After brushing my teeth, after being read to and tucked in and kissed good night, after asking that the door be left ajar and the bathroom light turned on, it was then I’d stare into the dark and cry. Sometimes I was imagining what would happen if I lost both parents. Or what it would be like if, indeed, I “laid me down to sleep” and never woke up.
But, more often than not, I’d cry and not know the reason—there was some presence in my room I could not understand. I didn’t have a vision. I saw nothing. Rather I perceived it–some loving conscious electrical force of an immense pure “Other.” And it terrified me.
When my father would come to my room, as he always did, for one final nighttime check, he’d find my sheets wet with tears. Then he’d gently ask what caused me such anguish.
But I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t yet learned the words for “magnificence” or “holy.” How could I describe the overwhelming presence of the perfect now that filled my room? Or convince him that I knew the difference between it and my usual fears? Could I really say this presence spoke to me without words?
I didn’t understand I’d turn again and again to this presence all the days of my life. As I grew, I would recognize this same presence in myriad forms—in nature, in literature, in people. And this turning toward is what people would call “faith.” Later, I discovered Poetry’s power to speak of this presence, and to it, and with it. Poetry is the only way I know how to crystallize the unseen.
“Reaching Out to Beauty” is by Sara Whitestone, one of the contributors to Vox, a special issue of Rock & Sling. Vox is available for $5 at AWP.
By Sara Whitestone
I live in Virginia, where just a few months ago in my small town the truss plant closed and over 400 workers lost their jobs. They are angry.
I teach at the largest public university in New York, where sanctuary is being promised to thousands of students who are afraid.
In Virginia I have a dear friend who is a Vietnam veteran. He wonders if his service and his sacrifice in that war were worth it. In New York I have an articulate student-activist whose family is from Yemen. He wonders what will happen to him just because he is Arab.
What can I offer them—my unemployed neighbors, my alienated students, my soldier friend who questions the fighting of his past, my Arab activist who questions his fight for his future?
These people, so seemingly in opposition, are yet so drawn together—so united—by their need for hope.
What can I offer them? What can I write to them when their fears and questions—along with mine—are so loud in our ears?
My daughter is a violinist, and sometimes she wonders what the value of making music is, in this raucous world today. My son is an editor, and sometimes he gets discouraged. What can the mere sprinkling of words bring against a torrent of rage? Aren’t music and art trite and trivial? Isn’t beauty impotent against the fears, against the difficulties, against the disappointments?
But it’s all I know to do—this reaching out to beauty, this reaching for what is good. Because it’s beauty, not fear, that quickens positive pulses—that thrills in its aliveness. It’s beauty, not anger, that soothes and quiets and then soars. Anger shouts and blusters and blinds and buries. But beauty whispers, “Look. Look up. Look towards good.”
So I write poetry because beauty matters. I make music because beauty matters. I play deeply—with the unabashed abandon of a child—because fun is beautiful, and beauty matters.
And I laugh. I laugh loud and long. Because laughter is lovely both to the ear and to the belly. And in even that—especially in that—my body tells my mind that beauty matters.
In times of fear, in times of anger, I search for beauty—in the symphony halls where the voices of fifty rise as one, and in the still moments when stars shine between the bare branches of winter’s sky.
Because in the art of words, in the cadence of music, in the awe of nature, there is power.
And it is this—this power of good—that lifts our eyes from our troubles and re-tunes our ears so that we can once more see. And hear. And hope.
Sara Whitestone is a novelist-in-progress, an essayist-in-practice, and an un-tortured-poet-in-process. In exchange for coaching in creativity, Whitestone’s diverse students introduce her to the mysteries of the world. Her works have appeared either in print or online in The Portland Review, Word Riot, Literary Traveler, and many others. Whitestone’s current project is a fictional autobiography titled Counting to 100. To learn more about Whitestone’s inner and outer adventures, visit sarawhitestone.com and follow her on Twitter @sarawhitestone.
After the 2016 presidential election, we saw artists responding in many ways, along with the rest of America. One of art’s most valuable functions is to help us know who we are as a people, and we want Vox to function as a collection of voices that help us hear. We make no claims about its contents, other than the work we chose exists both as art and as a cultural reflection. Our goal is not to pass any judgement other than aesthetic. We are not interested in who is right or wrong, politically, but in capturing the voices in the discussion. We attempted to present as wide an array of voices as we could. Of course we are limited to publishing what we receive, though we made an effort to solicit voices from many perspectives. We have entered a time of strident opposition and activism, during which the American people will likely redefine our values, processes, and institutions. We hope this issue reflects the appreciation and care with which we and our staff received it. We hope to continue publishing Vox, collecting and sharing your experiences of witness to this time and place. Here is where we live and work and create—in pain, in love, and in God’s grace.
Vox is available at AWP for $5.
by Ann Marie Bausch
2016 was a year of profound change for me even before November 8th. My husband and I sold our house, quit our jobs, and moved to a new town to start fresh. I exited the traditional workforce and began writing and house-wife-ing full time. Craziest of all, I looked in cookbooks for recipes. And I started reading again.
Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of reading—my mother guiding me through Dr. Seuss and Little Golden Books over and over before bedtime until I could recite them myself; sitting on the front porch of our house racing wide-eyed through Anne of Green Gables for the sixth or seventh time (the fact that I knew the outcome already mattered not); hiding The Thornbirds behind a binder in algebra class. Green Eggs and Ham. Emily of New Moon. Gone With the Wind.
In college I majored in English. In graduate school, Creative Writing. That added up to seven years of literary study and analysis. Before that, no one had ever put William Faulkner in front of my nose, much less Tim O’Brien, or George Garrett, or the incomparable Flannery O’Connor. I will be indebted to those teachers forever.
But my full-time jobs had never left me with much brain space at the ends of the days. Before long, People Magazine was as good as it got. Maybe five real books in ten years. My brain simply didn’t have the capacity to take the good stuff in. And then Facebook came along to vacuum up any moment of consciousness that remained.
But when we moved, I had “time” again—I put the word in quotation marks because I had walked through it in an activity-induced zombie trance for so long that I no longer had any idea what it meant. I began taking chances on new titles I found in book stores, things I’d heard others chat about in passing. Suddenly, it was all about nonfiction. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth shattered my views of race and religion, my passions for reading and politics melding. I looked rapturously ahead to the election of our first woman president with these writers at my side, and the fullest energy and optimism I’d felt in years.
And then. Well, we all know the rest.
I wept, and then I went numb. Nothing was the same. I entered a massive creative blackout—what could I possibly write about when I didn’t know what world I was living in anymore? I had been reading, with great interest, a book about the history and evolution of world religions. I couldn’t go back to it. I didn’t want to learn. I didn’t want to become more informed. I wanted to hide. I wanted to escape.
Enter Harry Potter.
I am probably the last person on seven continents never to have read these books. I believe there is an Antarctic penguin somewhere squawking about Lord Voldemort. Fantasy isn’t my thing, I’d say, as nearly everyone I knew became rapt over the years, waiting in line with pounding hearts the day the next book in the series was released. Now—what the hell, I thought. Nothing matters anymore. I’ll give it a shot.
It didn’t take long. Suddenly I was awake at night thinking about the characters, figuring out when in my day I could sit down with the next book, catching myself smiling delightedly as the next whimsical episode unfolded. One day I bought a stuffed Hedwig (Harry’s owl) at Barnes & Noble—I had this sudden urge that I needed her. And that, really, was what made me realize what was happening. I wasn’t reading to learn anything. I wasn’t reading for an assignment, or with a writer’s eye, or to be able to check a Nobel Prize winner off my list.
I was reading for joy.
Harry Potter had given me back the way I’d read in childhood—for no other reason than to be swept away by a great story. It was about the smell of the paper, the swish and crackle of a turning page, zooming through paragraph after paragraph to find out what happens next.
In 2017, I want to carry this exuberance of the washed-clean into as many parts of life as I can. Fresh eyes for reading, for other people, for my community, for ways I can help. I have no idea where it will go, how it will all turn out. In the embrace of uncertainty, of being less sure, I believe a tiny seed will begin to sprout and grow, a seed of something all of us have known, maybe not since we were children, maybe in a way completely unfamiliar to us before now: hope. And when things get bad from time to time, you’ll find me at the Owl Emporium.
by Amanda C.R. Clark
In that grisly but summoning 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, a bloody, nearly broken, nearly dead Christ faces his mother, saying, “See, mother, I make all things new.” This is the audacious promise of Christianity: that we are broken, fallen, and completely a mess, and yet, there is the promise of all things being made new, in fact, are made new, now, in this moment, in this expanding present that is always before us and always supersedes and triumphs over our own checkered pasts.
How do I keep things new for those who work with me? There is a freshness of spring that we all crave, that is needed to sustain us through life, as our personal seasons elongate over time, late summers that move toward longer autumns and transition into extended winters. What haunts my waking dreams is the library; a sacred space, richly textured with human spines and book spines, crinkly papers, and dusty tomes. How do I make these perennial objects of desire—those recorded and those we wish to find—new to those who do not see the library as I see it?
I feel it slipping away. The bastion of books is revered only by a few. I encounter many persons, librarians among them, who see no future in the library as a unique place steeped in history and worthy of preserving. If you are a person who prays, I entreat you to say a little prayer for the library as a beautiful sanctuary of exploration. Pray that it will not be re-made in a new way, but that it may be new now, as it was, and as I hope it always will be.
Dwight D. Eisenhower once entreated all who understand the value of reading and books: “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book…”
Amanda C. R. Clark received her Doctor of Philosophy from The University of Alabama, completing her doctoral work on the study of contemporary artists’ books. She holds a Master of Library and Information Studies degree, and, additionally, Master and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Oregon in the fields of Western architectural history and Asian art. She is currently the director of the library at Whitworth University.
by Michael Wright
In the Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot famously described an experience of time he called the “still point of the turning world,” an experience “where past and future are gathered” together, saturated by “a grace of sense, a white light still and moving.” Decades later, the Buddhist poet Jane Hirshfield said, “In every instant, two gates. / One opens to fragrant paradise, one to hell. / Mostly we go through neither.” Both poets are looking for language for the spiritual substance of the present, the only space of time where we live and move and have our being.
After two years of doing social media for a seminary, I’ve had a hard time distinguishing this “spirituality of the present” with historical amnesia and aimlessness. Later in the poem, T.S. Eliot looks around the streets of London and sees men and women “distracted from distraction by distraction / Filled with fancies and empty of meaning.” On the surface, it may look like living in the moment, but rather than entering it, they are pulled apart, skimming on time’s surface. Of course, it’s much easier to be distracted than to open gates to spiritual insight, it’s much easier to react to the latest viral fancies than commit to longer writing projects, much easier to forget than to remember. It’s a struggle I’m haunted by as we enter the new year. How can I find this still point if I’m unaware of the past and future that gathers it?
If I start thinking, “I have to restore my historical consciousness!” or “My life depends on reknitting the past and future into my experience of the present!” I will feel overwhelmed and probably implode into depression. But maybe changing my experience of time can start with more simple decisions. What if I kept a calendar? What if I wrote in saints’ days and birthdays and monthly goals instead of only knowing the release days of the latest movie? What if I started each morning sidestepping the day’s outrages streaming from the dim light of my phone and wrote for an hour? What if I engaged traditions older than the latest viral post? Filled in the gaps with books I still haven’t read and hymns from my Southern upbringing? And what if I practiced meditation to start dipping below the surface of my distracted mind to the still point within my own heart?
These are the kinds of practices I’ve been dreaming about for the new year. I think I’ll start with the empty calendar, be kind to myself in the process, and hope that, in time, I can cultivate a fuller experience of my life and the grace that sustains it, new every morning.
Michael Wright (MA, Theology and the Arts) is the associate editor for FULLER studio and magazine at Fuller Seminary, and he writes and lectures on poetry, popular culture, and spirituality. Connect with him on Twitter at @mjeffreywright.
by Kathryn Smith
I’m entering a new decade in 2017. Like Star Wars, the Seattle Mariners, and the death of Elvis, I’m turning 40, and so far, when I think about this looming milestone, I don’t have strong feelings about it. When my partner turned 40, she felt a sense of relief, as though she’d been waiting to turn 40 her whole life. That 4 in the tens column of her age gave her permission to do all the things she did already: go to bed early with a whiskey and a bad crime novel, shake her fist at neighbors who don’t shovel the snow from their sidewalks, complain about rock and roll music (She’s going to make a fantastic curmudgeon one day.). I don’t think I have the enthusiasm for 40 that she had, but nor am I dreading it the way some people do.
In a way, this approach to 40 reflects a new approach I hope to take toward myself: Let what comes come. I have a tendency to be too hard on myself when I don’t accomplish items on the arbitrary checklists that exist only in my brain, to feel bad about myself when I learn of friends’ successes and achievements, regardless of whether I have any desire to do the things that they have done. My hope for year 40 is that I learn to give myself a break.
Of course I have some hopes and plans. I plan to read a lot of books this year, more than I usually average. I want to keep working on my art-making skills and make more interesting collages and other art pieces out of books. I hope to engage more in my community, particularly when it comes to supporting those who are marginalized. I want to grow a new crop or two in my garden and be more deliberate about preserving the harvest to last through the winter. But I’m going to take baby steps. And I’m not going to keep score, because when I do, it’s just me vs. Team Impossibly Perfect, and there’s no winning that game.
I’m not going to run a marathon, travel the world, or learn to speak French or play the guitar. For me, non-resolutions are the new resolutions. So for 2017, a new decade, a new kindness toward myself, and a knowledge that by freeing myself from my own expectations to do more or be better, I can let kindness and gentleness toward others reverberate into the world around me.
A mini chapbook of Kathryn Smith’s poems was published in issue 11.1 of Rock & Sling. Find more at kathrynsmithpoetry.com. She has no plans to join Twitter.
by Kristine Langley Mahler
2016 was filled with surprises that have challenged my resilience—an experience to which I’m sure many others can relate. As I reflect on the books I read last year, I’m startled to realize how much I connected with the messages of my top four recommendations: I was riveted by my ancestral past while afraid of the implications for the future (Barkskins), worried that naming my fears would not help combat them (This Is Only a Test), aware, more than ever, of the rural population whose discontent has come from being ignored (Throwed Away), and scrutinous as I examined the implications of restriction on my eating practices (Bread). Books, at their best, provide templates for comprehension and coping, and I recommend these four books (three are nonfiction and the fourth is grounded in nonfiction) with my whole heart. May 2017 bring, for us all, more insight and empathy to guide our actions.
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
This is the culmination of the best of Annie Proulx; it is the book I didn’t even know I was waiting for. I have been researching my ancestors who arrived in Quebec around 1660, so the fact that Barkskins is, essentially, a genealogical tracing of the lines of two Frenchmen who arrived in Quebec in the late 1600s was providence.
Rene Sel and Charles Duquet’s paths take dramatically different turns as Sel marries a Mi’kmaw woman (and Proulx traces the fate of the indigenous Canadians through his line) and Duquet sneaks out of his indentured servitude to start a logging empire (and Proulx presents an extensive account of logging throughout the world through his). People die, people are born, people succeed and people fail, and the two lines reconnect at the close of the book as we, as readers, see where the choices made by Sel & Duquet’s generations have led the world. Do not be daunted by its length or a fear of genealogical confusion. There is a family tree that you can reference throughout. The last line of the book gave me a long, cold shiver up the base of my spine, so please, please, when you read this book, do not skip to the end. The end has to be earned. And you will likely feel the same exhaustion and fear I did, because it is what has been wrought; it is what we have brought.
This Is Only a Test by B.J. Hollars
I love B.J. Hollars’ voice and I love his relentlessly inquisitive approach to writing through discovery, and so I love this essay collection about fear. We begin in a bathtub in Alabama, where Hollars and his wife wait out the tornado that devastates Tuscaloosa, and we walk into the wreckage afterwards, following that Minotaurian thread through the maze of fears against which we cannot protect ourselves enough: natural disasters, drownings, nuclear fallout, and the little frightening moments that happen when you become a parent. I still think about the story Hollars writes about Buckethead, the mythical kid at his summer camp who supposedly hid in a refrigerator during a game of hide-and-seek and a maintenance guy shoved the fridge into the lake as an anchor and the kid drowned; for several days it was all I could think about, especially since Hollars’ subsequent essay examines the apparent frequency of refrigerator deaths in the 1950s. Hollars researches well, Hollars writes well, and Hollars knows that confronting these fears is all just a test of our resilience, but it’s a pop quiz we can’t prepare for.
Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina by Linda Flowers
“Throwed away,” as Linda Flowers wrote, is an expression peculiar to eastern North Carolina. If a piece of land or a person or a stretch along the highway looks ‘throwed away,’ it can be in no worse shape. The expression is pejorative, though often but mildly—sadly—so.
Flowers, who came from Duplin County (just south of Pitt County, NC, where I lived) published this incredibly important memoir/nonfiction research book in 1990. It follows the demise of tenant farming and the rise of manufacturing plants in the coastal plains region of North Carolina while also considering the lack of proper education and the frustrating results of industrialization on a population who weren’t considered important. The strengths were the memoir sections—Flowers had a beautiful grasp on her subjects and her home. Flowers passed away in 2000; a shame, because her work on the collective ignoring of rural people who felt “throwed away” is particularly relevant today.
Bread: A Memoir of Hunger by Lisa Knopp
Lisa Knopp’s memoir of her disordered eating—not “eating disorder,” because there are such strange, stringent criteria one must meet to be “officially” diagnosed—Knopp refers to it as her “malady”—traces the connections between experiences and anxiety, between hunger and craving, and between the awful shifting attitudes of society towards eating behaviors. Knopp restricted her eating, in different ways, during three separate periods: as a 15-year-old high school student, after college at 25, and as a 54-year-old woman, and she writes with a precision and poignancy that took my breath away. Knopp began restricting as a response to her hunger for her mother’s presence; she began restricting again as a response to a lack of control and fear for the safety of the things she consumed, and finally, as she grieved for the changes in her life as well as a response to her health concerns.
Disordered eating is manifest, it’s everywhere, and no one is talking about it because it’s not a “real” disorder. But Lisa Knopp is talking about it, and she’s also talking about the other shunted-aside population—older women, who’ve learned how to hide their behaviors. This book is vitally important, and the vulnerability it takes to write about a disorder-no-one-calls-a-disorder is immensely moving.
Kristine Langley Mahler has essays published or forthcoming in Sweet: A Literary Confection, Tahoma Literary Review, Rock & Sling, and the Brevity blog, among other journals. Her work was awarded the 2016 Rafael Torch Literary Nonfiction Award from Crab Orchard Review, and she recently received a university grant to complete a creative nonfiction research project about her Quebecois great-great-grandfather and immigration/inhabitation on native land. She is an associate nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel and a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Her work can be followed at www.kristinelangleymahler.com.