A curated literary guide

Week #48 / 27th November – 3rd December, 2017

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Five Things with Kristen Arnett

1. The last thing that made you smile.

I just got back from a 2 hour lunch break at the Olive Garden. Did you know if you ask to sample wines, a lot of them, you don’t have to pay for wine. This made me smile, but so did the breadsticks. They’re unlimited, at the Olive Garden. You could eat your weight in breadsticks and you don’t stop until you’re ready to stop, which could be never. The thing that really makes me smile about this is that it was the middle of a workday and I was drinking at an Olive Garden. Also, it makes me smile to know you can get free samples at a place like Olive Garden and the people are happy to give them to you, no sweat, no problem at all. The waiter was funny, he had a couple samples, too, and that made me smile more. If I could make a list of places where it’s fun to drink, I’d probably put Olive Garden on the list.

2. A secret.

I’m trying to think of a secret that I haven’t already told five people. I am good at keeping other people’s secrets, but not great at keeping my own. Here’s one, maybe. Once I was moving out of an apartment on my own. I had this large round table I needed to get downstairs, but I didn’t have anyone to help me. It was the middle of the night. I decided I could probably get it downstairs by myself, so I set it upright and rolled it like a big wheel right out the door. As soon as I got to the stairs and it went down a step, I knew I’d made a very bad mistake. It rolled halfway down as I struggled to catch up to it, and I wound up trapped beneath it halfway down the stairs. I was there for at least twenty minutes, trying to claw my way free. Finally I got out the top and then it slid the rest of the way down. I couldn’t even get it into my car. I wound up leaving it there for anyone to take who wanted it. I didn’t own a dining room table for three years after that.

3. The last thing you wrote.

I wrote a grocery list on my phone. I did this in the middle of the night. I woke up at 3am, super thirsty, and wanted a cherry coke. I stumbled out to the kitchen but the only thing I had in my fridge was beer and milk so old I could slice it with a knife. So I sat in bed with my eyes half squinted in the blue light of my screen and tried to write a grocery list. Then I fell asleep halfway through, so I only wound up writing beer and milk. I didn’t even add cherry coke to this list. I should probably do that now, but I’m not going to.

4. Favourite city.

I love Orlando. It’s a very strange place and I like living there. My favorite part about where I live is you can drive 20 minutes in any direction and feel like you’re someplace totally different. Theme parks. A beach. There are swampy areas and preserves, lakes full of creeping wildlife. There are strip malls and convenience stores smashed right up beside them. Giant new houses next door to tiny rental homes. Recently I’ve started going out in the middle of the night and driving round to places where I lived when I was young, those places and spaces I frequented with my family. My grandparent’s house. The lake I was baptized in. To try and get a feeling of why it still lives inside of me. Mostly it just makes me feel very tired. I don’t know why I keep doing it, but there’s something about home that makes me wanna dig into it until I scrape the bottom.

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

I talked about this idea very recently with my very good friend, Vivian. She thinks about this question a lot! I told her I didn’t know what I’d like to put in a time capsule. I change my mind every day about almost everything in my life. Maybe I’d stick a picture of my dog in a time capsule. People in the future would like to see such a cute and friendly face. My dog is probably the greatest thing I could contribute. An actual angel smushed into a roly poly body.

Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer who has held fellowships at Kenyon Review, Tin House, and Lambda Literary Foundation. She was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction, was runner-up for the 2016 Robert Watson Literary Prize at The Greensboro Review, and was a finalist for Indiana Review’s 2016 Fiction Prize. Her debut story collection, Felt in the Jaw, was published by Split Lip Press in September 2017.

The Glow of Ghosts

a poem from Alessia Di Cesare

I never knew a ghost
could rain.

If you aren’t already subscribed or reading the utterly dreamy online journal Moonchild Magazine, I highly suggest doing so right away. I came across this haunting piece while exploring the inaugural issue, and it still haunts me with its own “glowing and raining / and raining”. This poem, despite its content of ghosts, is also full of light. Images of orange flowers, the sun, and summer insects balance the “whispering whispering” of each poetic line. The beautiful turn of “Do ghosts glow brighter in a thought / of something once lost” keeps me wondering about the lives we inhabit (or don’t) in life.

Visit Moonchild Magazine to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen

Sapir and Whorf

a poem from Melissa Mesku​

A few days ago, I discovered the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a literary project by John Koenig. He creates words to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for. It’s the sort of creative project you didn’t know you needed—a vague, ineffable sensation of lacking that eases once you find it. Melissa Mesku’s found poem ‘Sapir and Whorf’ is the poem version of the Dictionary project. As soon as you read it you feel eased. Created through erasure of an academic text, her theory of mind is in itself unsettling: that because of language, we may be unknowable to each other—our inner cosmologies pinwheeling and expanding with entirely different laws of physics than another person’s. Yet, what is so comforting about Mesku’s poem, as it is with the words of Koenig’s dictionary is the naming of it. Maybe our native language blinds our brains in a way that makes it impossible to truly understand the way another human views the world, but isn’t it great that Mesku manages to explain that very sense of being unable to know?

Visit Unlost Journal to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

Three Poems

poems from Lauren Milici

In the dream, we’re at a theater in Florida. You’ve got stage blood on your nice white shirt & I’m wearing a pink dress, velvet & borrowed. When we talk, my knees knock together.

Today I have a series of poems for you in the latest issue of Wyvern Lit written by Lauren Milici. Each individual piece carries its own dream-like narrative, details both liltingly strange, beautiful, and cutting in their frankness. There are the interwoven themes of abuse, mental illness, all the ugliness contained in human beings set in stark contrast against images that are bright or crisp, aesthetics of sharp reds; environments seen in high contrast.

as if nothing ever happened, as if some point in the night I won’t wiggle from your grip to see if the balcony doors will unlock so I can throw myself into the street below us

In these poems, place becomes more than just a neutral background, and develops its own dynamic driving force. Suddenly it has a stake to play in the language and structure. These poems read more like carefully interrupted, intentionally spliced scenes on a movie screen than just words. They seem to contain more than you could have expected, and through it all there is this note of intensity, of resolve and conviction; something like continuation, of growing in spite of. To end on a note that is anything but final, anything but an end.

You remind me I’m a final girl; the last one to confront the killer & live. I have always crawled home with split lips & skin. I have bled more than this.

Visit Wyvern Lit to read the poems.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

That One Door

a folio from Territory​

The theme for the recent issue of Territory is “prisons.” There are few populations as marginalized and forgotten as America’s inmates, and giving them a voice and a platform is important and necessary work.

I could stop here and say make your way through the entire issue, because it’s completely worth your time and attention. That’s all true, but I’ll say a few words about the special insert, because it’s made up of writings and drawings from inmates that detail the physical and psychological realities of their cells.

The drawings themselves lend a whole other dimension to the people behind the words: their choice of details and color palette, their use of first-person perspectives and floor plans.

Most men use the mirror to answer the questions like am I really, really beautiful? For me it’s the place, I lose the mask I put on for other men: the crooked eye, the flared nostrils, and bared babycorn teeth that tells everyone I eat raw meat like a bush animal. I use the mirror to plait the cornrow hair that tells everyone, I know the devil and we share the meat. It’s in the mirror I see my meaty arm muscles that have made many inmates to scurry away or slink off, to wait for a better day.

From another:

On the female maximum-security pod 4F, Cell 216 is home. Wait, allow me to be more specific. This is a home that I find unfit. But since we’ll be here for a while, let me explain how we give it some style. There are rugs made from towels to keep the dust out and towel “rugs” for our shoes. We make hooks out of soap to hang our towels by twos. We put up calendars and pictures of our loved ones. We have a window with a view of the river and the sun.

Territory didn’t just put together this incredible issue; the journal is also highlighting prison mapping projects that focus on justice—the near-impossibly long road to justice.

Visit Territory to read the folio.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein

Floating Garden

visual art from Motoi Yamamoto

I’m a consistent fan of the meticulous, so it’s no surprise that I unwittingly reblogged ‘Floating Garden’ six separate times in my Tumblr heyday. Set on the deep blue floor of a 13th century French castle and made completely out of well-laid salt deposits, the sparkling white particles create a hurricane-esque curl. Imagining such a destructive natural force contained in not even fully closed walls is somewhat awe-inspiring. It’s only allowed this tower as breathing room, no grains spilling the hallways or outside. Like its counterpart, effects are only felt by what’s underneath. We’re brought back to the natural by recalling what’s been dissolved and eludes our eye (whenever we see one of the fantastic satellite images or just a wave itself)—the ever-present salt.

The salt appears very fresh & untouched. Because the viewers’ bodily response often creates meaning, consider that tiptoeing around this layout is almost impossible. Small air-pockets, rarely large enough to place a foot or hand, signal us proceed cautiously. Salt sprawls, but can only overtake what’s inside its grasp. It will be crushed & redirected easily. Yet when the overall texture evokes bubbles, lace & yarn also aren’t too far off. There’s a lightness that feels almost as if I could peel a corner and drape the entire installation over me as a shawl. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy salt-texture, I instinctively want to touch… the optics make it appear softer. For a moment, I’m tricked into believing that all the sharpness melts together until there are no edges outside his handmade ones. He has a skillful control of what our eye will perceive.

While the surrounding castle’s aesthetic withers, its passage of time apparent in peeling paint, it’s survived human impact for centuries. Stones are unlikely to shift beneath us. Somehow, I’m not interested in the comfort that the space’s stability provides. Rather, when I take in the floor grain by grain, the grandeur of the space becomes less overwhelming and more needed for this extended installation. It feels like I can gently, but fully enter—maybe just with my eyes.

Visit the gallery on DesignBoom.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse