Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bluecast: Jason Ockert

Jason Ockert reads and discusses an excerpt of his story, "Minute Minute," featured in our 29.1 summer issue. Remember, if you'd like to hear previous entries (from Sherman Alexie, Stuart Dybek, Wendy Rawlings, and others), just press "posts" and select the entry you want.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Come get your smokin' hot poetry!

Smoking bans are spreading like the dickens—or, to be completely corny, like wildfire. So what can be done with the scads of cigarette vending machines left lying about? Some folks in the UK have seen fit to turn them into PVMs: Poetry Vending Machines. Some other folks in the UK find this a none too bright idea. The point the Guardian blogger makes is valid. But I have to say that I also think anything making poetry, or any literary art, more visible is a pretty great.

Now if I could just find one painted pink or gold with a fancy arch and some mehndi designs, I would totally be in business. The only work left to do would be vagueing up some of my own work to make it ready for vending.

Only thing is, last cigarette vending machine I saw in these parts was years ago at Marion’s Piazza. Don’t know where else I’d find one.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Best New Poets 2007

Congratulations to Tyler Caroline Mills who was recently selected for the Best New Poets anthology by Natasha Trethewey. Tyler's poem, "Violin Shop," appeared in our summer 2007 issue. Big ups to Tyler!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Go Hannah!

She'll probably try and smack me upside the head when she finds out I mentioned this on the blog, but our fabulous and very talented poetry editor, Hannah Faith Notess, is a featured poet on Check it out.


Monday, August 20, 2007

The Poky Little Puppy

For me, it all began with a little dog that had the courage to follow his own path. While his siblings sniffed away at a familiar patch of grass, this puppy, this poky little puppy, struck out and explored on his own. I'm not sure if this was the first book I ever read, but it is the first one I remember. And what did I learn?: lizards and caterpillars are cool, dogs have the uncanny ability to prepare rice pudding, moms be tripping (no strawberry shortcake? WTF?), and every story has a moral. The Poky Little Puppy was one of those books that really first sparked my love of reading.
First Books (thanks, Newpages) is a cool nonprofit that works to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. First Books works with existing literacy programs to distribute new books to children who, for economic reasons, have little or no access to books. It sounds like they have a lot of opportunities for people to get involved with the program on the local level, whether through donations or volunteering, so check them out. Stay Poky.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm convinced.

Let's all go to Cumbria! MC Nuts and Wordsworth make a compelling case.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bluecast: Tyrone Jaeger

Tyrone Jaeger reads his poem, "Letter to You During this Our Reincarnation," featured in our 29.1 summer issue. If you'd like to check out previous recordings (Sherman Alexie, Stuart Dybek, Wendy Rawlings, and others), just press "post" and select the one you want.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Review of Falling Room from IR 29.1

Eli Hastings, Falling Room. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2006. $17.95 paper (ISBN 0-8032-7364-9), 175 pages.

Reviewed by Jackson Brown

Coming to terms with disparity, especially that which exists between personal perception and firsthand experience, is a common trope for the coming-of-age story. In Falling Room, Eli Hastings’ first collection of nonfiction, disparity itself becomes the narrative focus, rendering episodes of Hastings’ already uncommon personal experience—spills through Caribbean calypso clubs, missions for meds in Mexico’s underbelly, and lessons in faith from a psych ward resident—in a provocatively political light. The first five pieces of the collection map out the nascent political consciousness of Hastings’ adolescence and young adulthood, depicting socioeconomic disparity in the eclipse of the working- and middle-class Seattle of his youth by the techno-boom of the eighties and nineties. The stakes of this cultural divide become personal for Hastings early on, as an emerging commercial youth culture troubles his own shadowy adolescent clique, which, as Hastings puts it, is “working at vanishing.”

Distinguishing his teenage years from the tidy packaging of a discontented “grunge” culture, Hastings portrays his adolescence as influenced by hip-hop and psychedelics, recounting clandestine escapes with his friends from the protective womb of suburbia to drop acid, spray paint (or “write”) on inner-city high-rises, and explore the gritty mystery of urban Seattle. These flirtations with the criminal world indeed come across as angst-ridden, but are executed with the cool level-headedness of self-conscious social privilege. Willingly unaware, but watchful, parents are portrayed as always waiting in the wings; the safe assurance of an exurban homecoming sits on the periphery of each caper.
The figures that Hastings encounters and eventually comes to identify with during these exploits, however, convey less teenage torment than a sort of quiet weariness: a suit-clad homeless man compulsively sweeping a stretch of sidewalk in Seattle’s financial district throughout the day, rewarded with a single cup of coffee; an elderly streetwalker obliquely probing a teenage Hastings with questions to discern if he’s a prostitute; a benevolent Nicaraguan auto shop owner in Hastings’ college town, menaced by the LAPD. By the conclusion of “Intersection,” Falling Room’s sixth piece, a growing awareness of America’s socioeconomic divide prompts Hastings and his friends to vow greater political awareness and activism. He laments, “[…] the books and discourses that crowded our desks and our minds failed to contain the promise we needed to hear—and to make.”
This “promise” of political activism is portrayed as frequently at odds with Hastings’ coinciding desire to “lose himself,” whether through drugs or in the exotic milieu of Central America. We see a similar desire in his father, who, in the collection’s title piece, ends up in Intensive Care after taking an eight-story plummet while hiking in Costa Rica and who consequently develops an addiction to painkillers. This internal struggle, however, never fully obstructs Hastings’ political questioning and exploration. We see a perseverant spirit imparted from father to son in the closing moments of the story as Hastings holds vigil at the hospital after being informed that his father hasn’t much longer to live:

[…] I take his hand. And then he gives me a bone-crushing squeeze and his eyes bulge and scan beneath their lids. Some moments later I turn and walk past the befuddled doctor and out into the night. My father and I are not ready to say goodbye, not ready to dignify death.

The next six pieces in Falling Room transport us as far away as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Panama, Hastings veering off the beaten path to dive into the native cultures and the political perspectives of the locals. While these stories generally avoid the heavy-handed exoticism of weaker travel literature, some parts do lack a certain degree of nuance, Hastings’ hazy recollections of his own drug-induced episodes rendering his portrayal of Caribbean nightlife with the same dusky obscurity as his depictions of his nightly haunts at home—aside from a few of Panamanian fishermen and Cuban prostitutes painted in the shadows. To some degree, this correlation of two worlds feels intentional, the collection above all stressing the cross-cultural and class-permeable universality of human connection. But as we slide from his fortune-telling session with a priest of Santeria, to a pot-smoking circle with Cuban hip-hoppers, the political drive and narrative direction of the stories seem, at times, haphazard.
Narrative meandering, however, does mimic the overall trajectory and structure of the book, these six pieces alternating between Hastings’ travel tales and various episodes of his life in the States—coping with his best friend’s bouts with mental illness and his father’s drug rehabilitation, his own arrest at a WTO protest in downtown Seattle. However far-flung these stories’ settings and themes, each piece resonates with alternating sincerity, humor, and wonder; each is an integral episode in Hastings’ quest for understanding political differences at home and abroad, as well as the personal disparity between his childhood and his adult life.
The book’s final three stories shift the thematic focus for a quiet ending, presenting differing images of places Hastings has called home: a muggy Wilmington, North Carolina where he encounters frequent racial tension as he works toward an MFA; the hushed rooms of his father’s house in Seattle, containing pieces of his childhood that evoke both memory and uncertainty; and his mother’s mountain home, set far from the city, a symbol of the exploratory spirit his parents embraced in their initial move out west. Falling Room, too, manages to embrace this exploratory spirit throughout its pages, fusing the collection through a voice that is hopeful, yet unsentimental, and always seeking answers.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Rank Odor

The New York Times reports on rankings and their affect on publishers and authors. When I grow up, I want to be a published novelist, but can you imagine how much of a mind-f it must be to see your book is ranked the millionth most popular in the country? And then to check back in twenty minutes and see that you've dropped several hundred thousand spots?

Technology is now all about finding ways for us to make us paranoid about our self-worth. Whether it's counting your Google hits (denying you google yourself is so 2003), or your "friends" on facebook (do you even really know most of those people?), or obsessively poring over your blog statistics (googleanalytics = techno-crack), it's a natural extension of the timeless question: Am I loved?
Now you can find out not only are you loved, but by how many people, and about their geographic location, if more people love you now compared to four months ago, and what web browser they love you with.
Of course we know that this kind of self-obsession is a tremendous waste of time (especially for writers, who are self-obsessed enough) but the scariest part of the Times article is when the guy from Amazon talks about being a "taste maker" (barf!). Sites like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles don't even release the algorithms for their rankings, yet they control so much of the way that people attribute value (literary and otherwise) to themselves and others. Somebody ought to do something.
Ooh wait, I think I got an email...


Thursday, August 2, 2007

We Want Your Funk

Indiana Review is planning to bring the funk in summer 2008. Our 30.1 issue will feature a special "Focus on the Funk" section, with art, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that has a uniquely funky aesthetic. As we have been informed, funk has the power to move and re-move, and it also has the power to defy definition. So please don't ask us to tell you what funk is (although the Godfather of Soul may be helpful). We're looking for work that makes you want to jump back and kiss yourself.

When our reading period opens September 1st, we'll also be accepting regular submissions, but if you have work you'd like us to consider for this special section, please mark it "Attn: Funk Editor". Indiana Review can only contain so much funk, so we'll only be reading for this section during the month of September. Any submissions after that will be returned. You can check out more specific guidelines on our website.

But whatever you do, no matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you see on TV or in the newspapers, no matter what it says on wikipedia, please, please, make sure that whatever you do, you do it on The One.

**Update: Author Tayari Jones has an interview with our Funk Editor-in-Chief about the project.