Thursday, September 30, 2010

Something to celebrate!

Fall has arrived (I missed the Super Harvest Moon -- did anyone see it?!), coffee consumption is at an all-time high, and the stack of Fiction Prize submissions is vast and growing vaster.

It's come to our attention that a former contributor, Jeff Hoffman, from issue 29.1, won the 2010 New Issues Poetry Prize for his manuscript, Journal of American Foreign Policy. We're thrilled about this news -- the manuscript will be published in spring 2011! Congratulations, Jeff!

Going back to issue 29.1, an excerpt from Hoffman's "Victory Crowd," which is -- ironically -- about a different sort of victory:
The Marriott explodes in a filth of balloons
and confetti. Rachel sickles a hand
to my ear: We won, etc. I love you, etc.


Photo by Andy Keels

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cultural Studies by Kevin A. Gonzalez reviewed by Marcus Wicker

Kevin A. Gonzalez. Cultural Studies. Pittsburg, Pennsylvania: Carnegie Mellon Press, 2009. $14.00 paper (ISBN 978-0-88748-493-3), 90 pages.

Reviewed by Marcus Wicker

In his debut collection, Cultural Studies, Kevin Gonzalez fleshes out and amps up many of the already strong poems from his 2007 chapbook, The Night Tito Trinidad KO’ed Ricardo Mayorga. Employing the second person “you” as a stand in for the “I,” Gonzalez writes as a Puerto Rico-born MFA poet, educated in the U.S. Cultural Studies articulates a recurring speaker’s love and distrust of identity and America as a rosy melting pot.
Cultural Studies is a book about voice, and it sounds like a poet’s heart occupying space between Puerto Rico and the States, pondering the self. Ars poetica “Flat American Waltz” introduces this idea:

Beneath the cracked roof of the bus shelter,
where a school of cigarette butts gathers

to worship the thin lines of the sidewalk,
a man is muttering a cliché as deep

as the best metaphor you could conjure
for America. It’s all been done before.

Gonzalez insidiously calls attention to the self (the speaker, talking in clichés) by juxtaposing clichéd cigarette butts with the man muttering a cliché concerning America. This redundancy mirrors the act of writing a poem—the notion that, from subject matter to craft, no idea is original. What’s original about Gonzalez’s work follows two couplets later:

Let’s talk about accents, tongues

curling up as they hit the base of the pot.
The black smoke of the bus assimilates

into black air. Let’s all believe in the place
These hard plastic seats are taking us.

A kind of “accent,” or voice here, is celebrated in the poet’s fresh imagistic rendering of an old adage—the cigarette butts become a school, gathered to worship the sidewalk crack. Black smoke serves as a metaphor for the writer’s own identity—a convergence of languages and cultural points of reference. Throughout the book, as in the final couplet, Gonzalez seems to be talking himself into believing that a bicultural identity is natural. However, Gonzalez is also a truth teller; his poems are willing to admit the complexity of identity and nationality.
The speaker’s life in Cultural Studies can be traced from childhood to college to graduate school and back to Puerto Rico. In “Poet Laureate Guest Stars on The Simpson’s” the speaker, at ten years old in San Juan, makes frequent early exits from the baseball diamond to watch dubbed American television in an overcrowded apartment building. Daily, he ran past an old man “who walked so close to death / he must have already missed himself” to watch Homer struggle with a clip-on tie and Marge gamble away Lisa’s college fund on The Simpsons. Near the middle of the narrative, Gonzalez begins to critically assess the show’s impact:

. . . Youth was
however long it took to learn
nobody loans without borrowing something
in return. For you, Homer was Homero
& Santa’s Little Helper was Huesos,
& somewhere, kids deterred
by the bent acoustics of your tongue
referred to Samuel Sosa as Sammy,

In making the English-speaking cartoon character his own (Homero), the poet also relinquishes a bit of his own identity. By westernizing Latin American baseball star Samuel Sosa’s name for his friends, the speaker takes part in the process of assimilation. By the poem’s end, Gonzalez wishes to return to the baseball diamond—“it’s foul poles / two bent palm trees.” But he cannot; the “beachfront lot is now a Walgreens.” Through suggestion, Walgreens becomes a metaphor for the seemingly acquiescent speaker.
In “Cultural Strumpet,” the speaker recounts college, explaining “you were still / a Poli-Sci major. You wore T-shirts / with portraits of patriots on the front / & told girls how Che Guevara, baby, / was buried beneath the Fountain of Youth.” Juxtaposed with lines like “The Puerto Rican girl said, You’re so militant / the black girl said, You’re so white / the white girl said, You’re so white / and there was no arguing in Pittsburgh [where Gonzalez attended college],” the reader sees a man outwardly struggling with identity, momentarily conceding to the girls’ collective judgments. Paired with a poem like “Cultural Sellout” where the speaker longingly proclaims “Pablo [Neruda] was not the kind of poet / who googles his own name,” we view the American notion of fame interfering with the poet accessing his identity as a writer of Spanish descent.
Through a narrative, “Cultural Stud” portrays the speaker returning to his native Puerto Rico after college. At Frenchie’s nightclub, a Columbian waitress sparks a realization:

She wants to be an American citizen
& you are tired of being
a graffittied wall
forgiving the humid caresses
of your vandals. You tell her
it's true: you have a token to feed
to the rusted turnstile of heaven
but you have no lube to make it turn.

To the waitress, the speaker’s birthright becomes more important than his poetic flattery. Nothing will cure the author’s sense of cultural dislocation; neither drinking cases of Medalla, Puerto Rico’s national beer, nor his knowledge of American cartoons. However, in Cultural Studies, the poet’s tongue—his diglossic, melancholy, narrative exploration of a conflicted bicultural identity—allows a reader space to try on the author’s blues. Winding yet taut, candid and crafted, intelligent but never obnoxious, Gonzalez celebrates and laments cultural dislocation in a wildly honest voice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A few of my favorite things....

You might not be able to see it, but I believe this blue man lifting weights while dancing has something to tell us:
Don't forget to floss. Don't forget to exercise. Don't forget eat your spinach (or kale, chard, or other leafy greens). Don't forget to plan out your Halloween costume and don't forget to submit to the IR Fiction Prize. and Don't forget to scroll over to the left and peruse our Bluecast.

Thanks to our fabulous and hardworking intern Tara we've sidestepped earlier technical difficulties and are able to make them available again. Yay!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You Beat Me To The Punch

I fell in love with the music of Motown this summer, thanks to a class on the history of the record company taught by Professor Charles Sykes. After six weeks of listening (and awkwardly dancing in private) to the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Temptations, and  other Motown artists, I understand what it means for older generations to shake their head and say music isn’t the same anymore.

In the age of auto tunes, it’s easy to forget that good music should tell a story. Motown's founder Berry Gordy, who started as a songwriter, attributed their success to a firm belief in how a song should be structured. And while listening to this in class, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the fiction writer:

Narrative Elements in the Motown Sound

Context: when, where, under what circumstance
Thesis: theme—conflict
Antithesis: conflicting ideas—antagonist
Synthesis: resolution, clarification
Moral: proverb, something to live by
Figurative language: simile, metaphor, figurative language

Thanks to my fellow Indiana Review editor DK, who reminded me in her post earlier this week that every experience informs our fiction—what we write and the way we write. So although good music tells a story, a good story gives you the feeling of experiencing music.

This is for you DK

Mary Wells – You Beat Me to the Punch (Written and produced by Smokey Robinson and Ronald "Ronnie" White)

That day, I first saw you passing by
I wanted to know your name but I was much too shy

But I was looking at you so hard
Until you must have had a hunch
So you came up to me and asked me my name

You beat me to the punch that time
You beat me to the punch
You beat me to the punch
After I hadn't known you for it seems like a long, long time
I wanted, wanted to ask you, would you please, please be mine

Whenever you came around, my heart would pound
So you must have had a hunch
So you came up to me and asked me to be yours

You beat me to the punch one more time
You beat me to the punch
You beat me to the punch, yeah

Since I love you, I thought you would be true
And love me tender
So I let my heart surrender
To you, yes, I did

But I found out beyond a doubt one day, boy, you were a playboy
Who would go away and leave me blue

So I ain't gonna wait around for you to put me down
This time I'm gonna play my hunch
And walk away this very day

And beat you to the punch this time
And beat you to the punch this time
I'll beat you to the punch, yes, I will
And let you know, know, how it feels

P.S. If you can’t tell by the titles of my blog post, this will definitely be a Motown themed year.

P.S.S Deadline for the Indiana Review Fiction Prize is October 15. Please submit. You know you want to.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Alliteration is always appealing...!

Panel from The Amazing Spider-Man #24 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, page 2

1960s superhero comics are fascinating time capsules. I find them an often ludicrous read, particularly because characters can only speak in exclamation points! This makes everything dynamic! And dire! Recently, for a class, I've been looking at meta-narration in this particular Spidey era. The narrator isn't a tangible entity here, yet the voice is so strikingly loud. It talks to us, questions us, cajoles us. It's as if we're embarking on an adventure, buckling our metaphorical seatbelts for the ride to start: "And awaaay we go...!"

Certainly, it's been a trope of pulp fiction for the narrator to act as sports commentator or circus ringleader. It's a marker of serial drama, of to-be-continued soap operas. The author, whether one person or a team, wants you to wait desperately for what happens next -- while continually summarizing, explicating. On the other hand, literary fiction is usually more subtle. First-person narrators may address their audience, but usually the narrator is invisible, or situated closer to the perspective of one character. So what's the value of looking at these showing-and-telling comics?

For me, they're a reminder of how fiction should make us feel. We should be insistently, urgently engaged with the text, asking our own questions, feeling the full crazy weight of something happening, someone else's interiority, some other setting we may recognize or one we don't know at all. The Spidey panel is not necessarily an exciting one. It's Peter Parker's house. No one menacing is at the other end of the door. Everything is as domestic as possible. But the narrator's voice floods the panel, an energizing force -- there is possibility here. There is huge promise. Awaaay we go...! And I think this is how we should feel as writers and as readers, even if we may not be dealing with madcap supervillains who dress as giant scorpions.

I remember a more recent, familiar incarnation of this can be found in Christopher Nolan's 2008 film, The Dark Knight. In a pivotal scene, the Joker whispers, "And here we... go!" to himself and to Batman, but the phrase also works to goad the audience. That dialogue clip was featured prominently in the movie trailers, implying peril, implying tension. The "we" commands us. We are waiting. We are ready.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's Out There

Here on the Indiana Review blog we have a label called "Yay us exclamation mark" and we use it whenever we have happy news about contributors or issues. This week on our beautiful Issue 32.1 was featured on their Literary Magazines Reviews right next to our AWP book fair neighbors the Los Angeles Review. You can read the reviews here

If you still haven't gotten your hands on a copy of our blue feature you can buy a copy online and have it mailed personally to you! (I know the U.S.P.S. has been in service since 1775, but I still find it a to be a small marvel every time mail arrives at my door where there are hundreds of doors on my street, hundreds of streets in my town, hundreds of towns in my state...)


Monday, September 13, 2010

Featured Poetry Website:

Hey all,

This week's featured poetry website is Motionpoems a collaboration between poet Todd Boss (his first collection Yellowrocket was published by Norton a couple years ago and was stellar. Check it out if you haven't already) and artist Angella Kassube. While relatively new, has produced some absolutely beautiful graphic reditions of poems. It's also drawn (yes, terrible pun intended) such poetic giants as Jane Hirshfield, Marvin Bell, and Robert Bly.

Below are a few of my favorites. (To copy the url, I had to go to youtube. Go to for the actual site and better quality videos.)

Click Here for Tim Nolan's "Old Astronauts"

Click HERE for Freya Manfred's "Swimming into Winter"


Click HERE for Todd Boss' "The God of Our Farm Had Blades"

Best wishes,


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Let’s Get it On

My name is Kurian. I’m the new Fiction Editor of the Indiana Review. While officially this is my first month on the job, I’ve been combing through submissions all summer, and I’m very impressed by the variety of work being sent into IR. Despite the rumors, you all are proof fiction still survives.

So keep submitting!

What I’m excited for most this year:

• Reading submissions

• The 2010 Fiction Prize and working with Dan Chaon (Submit, Submit, Submit)

• Issue 32.1 (Coming winter 2010)

• AWP in Washington, D.C

I look forward to reading your work!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Poetry on the Interwebs!

Greetings, fine people of the internets,

As the new Poetry editor of IR, I have the distinct pleasure of blogging poetry related news to you weekly. This is a good thing, since much of my writing procrastination involves wandering aimlessly around the web, finding audio or visual poetry to charge the lazy synapses. For this first week, I’d like to highlight a website I can never get enough of: is a website that brings writers and graphic artists together to collaborate on beautiful graphic interpretations of a text. Below are a few I particularly admire.

Click Here for April Kopp's poem "Whether It Suffered, or It Did"

And Here for Esther Lee's (a former IR Editor) "The Blank Missives"

And finally Here for Ander Monson's "Index for X and the Origin of Fires"

Best wishes,

Keith Leonard

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The missing

Photo by Zeromusta

We did put up the bio of our 2010 Fiction Prize judge, Dan Chaon, but we wanted to talk some more about his work! I especially found his 2001 short story collection, Among the Missing, a startling and unsettling read. There are definitely themes at work here, metaphoric doors left hanging ajar, things missing and unexplained, disappearances, abductions, gaps in time and memory. The moments in these stories don't always form linear, clear-cut epiphanies. But the moments do draw us in, provoke us to ask questions, and imprint themselves into our consciousnesses. They surprise. They linger. They're  powerful because they remind us of our own fears and relationships, the times we open newspapers and see a blurb about a tragedy in our neighborhood, our cities. The stories examine how people deal with what's missing in their lives.

His novel, Await Your Reply, published just last year, is similarly concerned with questions and issues of identity, secrets, runaways, coincidences. The title alludes to a spam email that you might get after foolishly submitting your electronic address somewhere. (We get tons of those emails, by the way -- every version you can think of. An elderly woman who begins with "Dear," an African prince, a government, a billionaire...) You don't know who's on the other end, who's waiting for you to respond.