A curated literary guide

Week #23 / 5th – 11th June, 2017

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a poetry collection from Cortney Lamar Charleston

[ Saturnalia Books / 2017 / 128 pp ]

Cortney Lamar Charleston creates a world where reconciliation is the only option, or rather the dead do not depart from this earth quietly. In TELEPATHOLOGIES we learn that language is both a means to death, and an instrument of the dead.

The poem ‘Spell Check Questions the Validity of Black Life’ elaborates upon the way Eurocentricity permeates communication.

[Trayvon] Martin: did you mean traction?
Yes, in the way that lynching, the first
quintessential American Sport, has regained its
footing among a younger generation—no robes
worn, no fouls given, not a whistle to blow.

* * *

            [Kimani] Gray: did you mean kimono?
I did indeed, if ignorance is a kind of silk.

* * *

[Tamir] Rice: did you mean tamer?
            As in not twelve years old, but eleven? Ten? Nine?
                        Would that have been tame enough?

With the un-knowlege and erasure his poem demonstrates, Charleston does not render Spell Check with unrealistic power. We as Black people know that conflation can easily be the death of us. His banter against the red underline of Eurocentricity matches the oppressive tool’s authority, and speaks on behalf of those who can no longer name themselves.

In ‘Charleston’ the recount of the shooting rushes the speaker as memory and warning housed in the body. The grief here surpasses my western understanding of grief as closing one’s self off.

My body, a stack of mirrors, falls through itself.
I am several nouns over the course of descent:
her silver whistle, her public library card,
his set of starter hair clippers humming
into the darkness with no plugs in the wall.

Breaking open, beckoning in, the speaker transforms into remnants of the Charleston church shooting’s victim’s intimate possessions. This hyper tangibility feels like a relinquishing of martyrdom, of sainthood, and a motion through that which is commonplace and grounded in life and the living. These people were born to be loved and to die just like everyone else. Charleston writes these exits from the body, but they do not lead us toward relief.

In ‘State of the Union’ Charleston writes, “you know nothing of gloom until you're mourning strangers with regularity.” TELEPATHOLOGIES is not the blues, is medical, is a hand pointing to an x-ray and a voice saying: here is where death resides in a living body; the intersection between grief and anticipation. This shadow memory in the Black body, like survivor’s guilt with teeth, or divination at the manipulation of white supremacy.

If an All-American heart attack doesn’t take me,
it will be a former All-American who took one to many hits

on the field, who says his prayers and eats his vitamins,
who loves his Second Amendment right first,

before all else, exercises it while exorcising a demon,
as he sees it, shooting rounds square into the heart.

In an age where salves are often coddled and privileged language masquerading as a cure, Charleston’s words make relentless eye contact with the after-life. His poetry does not rush to comfort; rather, it incites.

Visit Saturnalia Books to purchase the book.

Reviewer / Xandria Phillips

Five Things with Kimberly Ann Southwick

1. The last thing that made you smile.

My husband talking about a radio program he listened to that made him think of me—I cry at everything, & he said he was thinking of how if I’d been listening to it, I would have cried. It was stories about people’s moms.

2. A secret.

I tell all my secrets because I’m a terrible liar & tell everyone I’m a terrible liar & they’re, then, not really secrets—but there are some secrets I hold super close in me that I’ll never tell & I guess that is a secret in & of itself in a way.

3. The last thing you wrote.

Today, I’ve been filling out notecards for the feminist theory & criticism comprehensive exam I’ll have to take this upcoming Fall, but I don't think that’s what you mean—I wrote a poem a few days ago inspired by this Rei Kawakubo quote: “Contemporary culture does not allow for nuance.” Mostly, I have been editing the work I wrote during April for NaPoWriMo—I wrote 30 poems! I spilled over into May to make it to thirty, but still. I don’t think I’ve ever made it before this year.

4. Favourite city.

Philadelphia comes to mind first—I lived there 6 years & miss it dearly. But I also am falling slowly in love with New Orleans, the more time I spend there. If I could have New Orleans’ weather in Philly, that might take the cake. Most of my family lives very close to Philly, so that’s a strong pull for me. But the cold makes me miserable.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

If I were to open it in ten years: screenshots of the websites I visit most (my gmail, twitter, facebook pages), a sheet of forever stamps, and a pillow that had been made in the shape of my favorite emoji, this guy: 😎

If someone else were to open it in 100 years: one of my journals &/or scrapbooks, my most recent retired iPhone (plus its charger), and some honey from my Mom’s bees.

Kimberly Ann Southwick is the founder and editor in chief of Gigantic Sequins, a literary arts journal. She lives in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and studies English with a concentration in Creative Writing Poetry at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she is pursuing her PhD. She has two chapbooks, most recently efs & vees, which came out with Hyacinth Girl Press.

Strange Grief: On The Leftovers and Departure

an essay from Tabitha Blankenbiller

Faith eats us from inside

I have never watched the show The Leftovers, but after reading this incredibly thoughtful and heart wrenching essay, I think I would enjoy a show about people leaving and those left behind. By using characters and moments from the show, Blankenbiller illustrates the absences and uncertainties in her life. People can and do vanish when you’re not looking, or worse they linger on the edges of your recent memory, teasing you into thinking they’re real and here. They are, as she says in her essay, “the living ghosts”.

Unlike the show, you don’t need a cataclysmic event to face the unanswerable. Sometimes you’ll never know why or how or when, and it’s okay to find acceptance in that. After all, “[t]here are so few maps to guide us, the strange grievers, as we try to veil our pathetic desire for one last chance, a final word, a miracle.” You just have to go on.

Visit Catapult to read the essay.

Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen


a short story from Janey Skinner

This story is not what you think it is, and that’s what makes it a marvel. In the span of a few paragraphs, Skinner spins a family drama that is saved from being cripplingly maudlin by the charm of the narrator—a Venus Flytrap. A home-office plant, whose sole flora companion is a spider plant, the flytrap proves to be a sympathetic, unreliable narrator watching the family grief unfold. While the family flounders in their sadness, the flytrap is exactly what we need—a keen perspective that shows us the merit of cheering, of hoping for a happy outcome.

Visit KYSO Flash to read the story.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

Ocean Noise

a short story from Justin Lawrence Daugherty

We know it’s the last time he’ll return from sea. Stage 4 Pancreatic. A slingshot asteroid passing through just the right trajectory to earth.

Today I’ve picked a thoughtful and melancholic story about family, the draw of the ocean, and loss in anticipation. ‘Ocean Noise’ seems to evoke those unnamed, indiscernible emotions we’re familiar with but can't quite pin a place or moment on. It’s transient and nostalgic, the way things that float tend to drift unknowingly away if you’re not paying close enough attention. Something about the way the waves move, the shape of your body, the way routine mechanism and memory is a lull, or lulls. Your mind can decide and know things even if it’s not right in front of you. Your mind has already started moving, even if you’re still standing here.

…he watches out as though our father’s gone on some mission to burial at sea. I don’t tell him, what’s down there is more alive than up here.

Grief, or the oncoming approach of it out somewhere distant over the water, manifests itself in different ways for different people in this story. It’s not who suffers or struggles, but how everyone does. When do we see facades slip, jaws slacken, grips tighten. Grief is never really a matter of questions. Why? How? Is this? Can that? When? Where—where are they, where will they go? No, grief just is.

Visit Noble / Gas Qtrly to read the story.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

Bless the Truants: A Response to Stephen Hunter

an essay from Rosebud Ben-Oni

The only knock on ‘Bless the Truants: A Response to Stephen Hunter,’ an essay by Rosebud Ben-Oni in the Kenyon Review, is that it made me read the piece by Stephen Hunter that necessitated the response. Hunter wrote the sort of craft essay that boils down to “writing is pain and competition and if you don’t understand that you shouldn’t write.” It’s easy enough to call it bullshit and call it a day, but Ben-Oni does the good and necessary work of politely explaining why it’s bullshit. She does so not by going point for point with Hunter, but rather by exploring her own life and work.

Writing simply doesn’t have to be about pain and profits. If writing is an extension the self, then the self should be cultivated and examined with as much care and deliberation as the writing, too. She writes about love, about illness, about not writing for years. By the end, I’ve forgotten all about Hunter. Ben-Oni finishes the essay with: “I would like to end this piece in a more collective spirit of sharing the work and news of others, just a few of the many whom keeps me in dialogue with the literary worlds being created.” She writes “and this is not meant to come for Stephen Hunter’s ‘I will beat them all’” but I’m not sure I believe her. Her generosity, humility, and community is everything that Hunter’s me-against-the-world machismo is not, and it’s what I strive for in my own writing and life.

Visit Kenyon Review to read the essay.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein


a poem from Joy Harjo

The use of repetition in this poem is so masterful that it almost makes my head spin. If “say” means “consider the hypothetical”, it becomes very choose-your-own-adventure because every if builds on the former. Each opened door allows us to reconsider what desire means in this context. Look to this example: “Say the stars have never learned / to say good-bye. (One is a jewel / of blue magic in your perfect ear.)” Because star burnout can last 100+ million years, stars are caught in limbo. How many centuries would a star have to cross to even be able to say goodbye? So many that it’s functionally useless to do so… I see the star in the beloved’s ear as both lovely and tragic because the blue magic feels like a consequence of this coupling that will slowly burn itself out. Even the ear in its perfection is unable to hold.

But if “say” is a literal action we’re urged to take, “say” constantly calls us back to our bodies. It feels like a stage direction making us pause before we actually flow into the image. We come into the poem like an actor reading a new script, feeling out the words before they actually begin to stick. Each half step down the page leads us to realize how much the quiet leads to intimacy. The leaps from image to image feel like a gathering of tender moments that the speaker has tossed around their mind many times, and it all culminates in the final: “say all of this is true and more // than there are blackbirds / in a heaven of blackbirds.” We’re not only called to verify these small connections, but imagine just how much has been left out of memory. If the blackbirds are their own whole universe, these saved spaces must be the same.

Likewise, beginning and ending with the notion of flight creates mirroring. At the opening, the water’s so sweet that it’s as if many sugar wings are collapsing on the tastebuds. Desire here is a sweet spring that’s come alive; as the water flies, we hope that it’ll spill into our mouths and quench us. In closing, the blackbirds’ wings are substantial enough to encompass a “heaven.” I see a space so encompassed by dark wings that you can’t help but notice their flurry in the little light that’s been afforded. We’ve gone from the swallowable to the solid, implying that the speaker’s desire has moved from a simple recollection to a full-blown reality that we can inhabit if we only trust.

Visit Ploughshares’ Tumblr to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse