Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Welcoming Matt Bell

I am very rarely sexy or funny in my writing, Matt Bell says, but his students seem to disagree. His student Maria Alverez introduced him by saying she had never laughed so hard while trying to interpret Gertrude Stein or discussing the complexities of The Sound and the Fury. Even though this is Matts first semester teaching here at Arizona State, it was apparent that he is already well loved by his colleagues and students. As Maria said, In Matts class, we do not only read, we experience literature.

Luckily, all of us at the reading last night had the same opportunity: we were able to experience Matt Bells words through his, very literal and real, voice as he read sections from his forthcoming fourth novel Scrapper, out Fall 2015 on Soho Press. I had a visceral reaction to his reading, feeling a sinking in my stomach as he described the process of force-feeding from the perspective of the one being fed or a heightened heartbeat as he described a harrowing fight in the dark of an abandoned school.

 We sat down with Matt to discuss his approach to writing, to education and how hes been influenced by both his teachers and students:

How do the creative processes of teaching and writing interplay with each other in your experience? 

One thing that happens when you start teaching writing is that you really have to investigate your own process a little closer, in an attempt to find out what's teachable about it: What aspects of your own experience of a writer can be offered to your students? I think that self-reflection can be very valuable, and can be a way of not letting yourself get away with things, if you take it seriously. I also think that I very frequently find the solution in something I'm working on in the stories or books I'm teaching for class: The close attention to a text necessary to teach it almost always pays off in my writing, one way or another. And of course there's something energizing about being in a room with ten or twenty smart writers for a couple hours each week.

Who has been the teacher who has influenced you the most, either as a writer or as an educator? 

I've had a lot of good teachers, but one of the best was Michael Czyzniejewski, who was my MFA thesis advisor at Bowling Green State University. He gave me an incredible amount of his time, reading untold pages of my fiction for me, and in addition to the kind of smart and generous advice he gave me on those stories, he also helped teach me how to conduct myself as a writer, as an editor, and as a member of the literary community. I really felt like he was helping to bring me into the profession, and I feel very lucky to have him as a friend and a mentor.

On the flip side of the last question, has there been a student who has made a significant impact on your perspective? 

Maybe not in exactly the same way, but there are certainly students whose talent and drive make a serious impression on me. I've been lucky to have students at both the undergrad and the grad level who are serious writers, whose dedication to reading well and to the craft of writing inspires not just their classmates but me as well. It's also a good reminder that there are students coming through writing programs right now that are working harder and faster than many of the older writers I know, and if you want to keep up with the next generation coming up, you have to keep constantly moving forward.

If you could only teach your students one thing, what would it be and why? 

I'm proud of a number of things I teach, but one of the most important is how to read like a writer. Most of the training we get in literature classes isn't craft-based, and for most students that's the only formal reading training they've had. I'm constantly trying to teach students to ask two questions: First, what is it about the story that moved me intellectually, emotionally or morally? Second, how did the writer create that effect and how might I take that technique into my own work? Once you get in the habit of reading this way, the mechanics of books start to open up for you, and you're able to learn new techniques much more quickly than before. It can be hard to get under the hood of a story you love, but this is one way to get there.

Were so excited for Matt to be teaching here at Arizona State, and even more excited to announce he is the new Faculty Advisor for Haydens Ferry Review.

- Philip LaMaster

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Flash Your Fiction

Four Chambers Press is an independent literary magazine based in Phoenix, Arizona that has the goal of bringing literary arts to the public. Four Chambers prints two issues a year, welcoming all genres. They often motivate first-time writers to publish their work.

On September 13th, 2014 this group brought literature to the public by holding a Flash-Mob style reading called “Flash Your Fiction” on the Phoenix light rail system. In doing so, they hoped to honor the daily occurrence of public transportation and strove to represent the unpredictability of life, which can be turned into material for poems or prose. The Flash-Mob participants divided in three groups to board the light rail from Central Ave. and Camelback Station. They staggered their reading times and performed for about twelve minutes per group, to finish at the Public Farmers Market in Roosevelt Station.

 The readers joined the several light rail riders, and once on board they introduced themselves, shared their motives for reading, and started to perform their art. Poet and co-organizer Kelly Nelson was the first performer on the third train, sharing her poem “Murder in a Bus.” She was followed by her fellow writers with prose pieces such as “Happiness is the Worst Drive,” “Materialistic Desire”, and “Directions Home.” The riders expressed their gratitude by clapping between pieces. 

The readers were able to connect with a diverse public of all ages and backgrounds by sharing work that reflected the real experiences of riders in the public system. They were able to link the emotions of daily life with literature. The literary arts are often misinterpreted by others as being boring or mundane, but once the public has experienced the intrigue of a story or a poem, they recognize how much can be expressed in a few lines of literature.   -Zalma Aguirre

Sunday, September 14, 2014

One Thousand Trees for One Hundred Books: The Future Library Project

Somewhere in Norway, trees are being uprooted and cleared out, only to make room for one thousand new trees. In one hundred years, those trees will be the source of paper for one hundred new books.

            Katie Paterson has launched this art project, Future Library, with its mission being “to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future." Overall, the details of the project remain somewhat vague, although this seems intentional. One author per year, for the next one hundred years, will contribute to the project. And while the authors and their works' titles will be on display at the Oslo Public Library in Norway, all manuscripts will be locked away in a secret room (or something like that), until the year 2114. The Future Library will include works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, with no length minimums or maximums. 
            The first contributing author announced was Margaret Atwood. In an interview regarding the project, Atwood suggests that this project is a sort of time capsule, while also suggesting that it will do only good for the future of humanity. Her book will be ready for the aforementioned secret room in May 2015.
            There are many aspects of this project that are completely innovative and intriguing. Even if print is “dead” by 2114, we can still hope for these new books to be published – all one hundred of them! I wonder, though, if the writers contributing to this project will be writing to future generations – will this idea of the future be at the forefront of their minds, and will they write differently because of it? The authors will obviously be aware of the fact that they will be read – even if it’s only one of their works – one hundred years in the future. I would assume this would feel quite nice… a guaranteed longevity of sorts. What will readers think of these books, once they’re made available? In one hundred years, will readers care that these pieces of literature have been conceptualized with them in mind, a sort of dedication to their generation?
            If nothing else, the project is refreshingly optimistic. Even with the “unknown future” in mind, there is still a future being assumed, and everyone involved in the project is hopeful that people will want to read these books. I wonder who else will join the project, believing in future readers as Paterson and Atwood do. My immediate response is to be jealous of those people who will be alive and reading these books in one hundred years; the fear of missing out is ever-present. My more thoughtful response is simply to be glad for the project’s guarantee of print publishing in 2114. 

 -Lauren Mickey

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Report - THE DOCK: September 2014

Enjoy our prose-poem of the month, a lovely piece by Jenna Le.

HFR: "Book Report" clearly takes an interesting form -- in a way, mimicking the form of a book report or journal entries; and in the broader sense, a prose poem form. What was your thought process in creating this unique form? Did the title come before or after the final result?

JL: I was inspired to write “Book Report" after reading Ocean Vuong’s poem “Aubade With Burning City” in the February 2014 issue of Poetry. Because Vuong’s poem is written in long lines, I initially envisioned “Book Report” as a poem with long lines, even though I usually write poems with short lines. I felt that, if I chopped “Book Report" into short lines, I would wind up imposing my personality on the poem too much, and I wanted the poem to have a broad scope and universality. As I sat down to write, I struggled to decide what key I would use to open the doors of the haunted house. Should I begin by retelling the narratives my parents had told me about their escape from Vietnam, or should I begin by describing a scene from a TV show I had watched about the politics that shaped the American evacuation strategy? Ultimately, I decided to use Bulgarian poet Blaga Dimitrova’s life story as an entry-point, believing this would give me the necessary emotional distance from my subject matter, while also giving the poem the syncretic, international-minded perspective I wanted. From this one decision, the poem’s title and its book-report-mimicking form both emerged naturally, simultaneously. Using the book-report form, so familiar to me from elementary-school homework, allowed me to access my childhood memories more easily. It also gelled well with the naive/faux-naive/childlike voice that I thought would serve best to address this gnarly topic. Grown-up journalists have already covered this topic from many angles, for many years, I thought; why not let a child who only knows how to write book reports take a crack at it?

Book Report
Jenna Le

Blaga Dimitrova was a Bulgarian poet. She was Vice President of Bulgaria in 1992, when I was a fourth-grade student in a small brick schoolhouse in Midwest America. The schoolhouse was shaped like a bird, mummy-wrapped in snow.

At eight years old, I didn’t know where Bulgaria was. I knew where Vietnam was, because my parents lived there until war speckled their world with red and brown like a stampede of giraffes. Last month, a Danish zookeeper shot a giraffe in the head and fed it to a lion, who ate it slowly, just to be polite. Blaga Dimitrova visited Vietnam as a journalist in the sixties, but she didn’t meet my parents.

In 1967, Dimitrova and her husband adopted a Vietnamese girl. Dimitrova was forty-five and childless. I was my mother’s second daughter. At eight years old, I wanted to be an astronaut. I longed to be a bird, but I was mummy-wrapped in snow.

Like my parents, Dimitrova was an anti-Communist. She believed that politics need not be antithetical to poetry; one of her poems reads: “The sky moves through the swamp / without becoming muddy.”

I once watched a documentary about the fall of Saigon. In the movie, a Vietnamese woman burns all her adult daughter’s belongings in a bonfire in their back yard. It’s so that the Communists don’t find out you’re an America sympathizer and kill you, she explains. The daughter never speaks to her mother again.

Dimitrova’s adopted daughter grew up to be a writer. She published a memoir after Dimitrova died, alleging that Dimitrova’s husband raped her. What does betrayal mean? In the documentary, a Vietnamese woman shakes her fist because her American G.I. friends deserted Saigon without warning and left her there to die. When I turned eighteen, I moved out of my hometown without a backward glance.


Jenna Le is the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), which was a Small Press Poetry Bestseller. Her poetry, fiction, essays, book criticism, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI OnlineBarrow StreetBellevue Literary ReviewMassachusetts ReviewMeasurePleiades, and 32 Poems. She was born and raised in Minnesota, but now lives in New York, where she works as a physician.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What My Father-in-Law Says - THE DOCK: August 2014

Happy August! Enjoy this poem from our author of the month, the talented David Ebenbach. 

HFRWhat responsibility do you feel in presenting these flawed but very empathetic characters in the form of a poem?

DEI'm glad you asked about responsibility. I think we writers could talk more about the issue of responsibility in our work---responsibility to our readers, to our loved ones, to our characters. In all those cases I think we need to approach the people with empathy and a readiness for compassion, an expectation that people become more complicated the more we know them, and an awareness that our writing can affect people for better or for worse. In this particular case, I was writing about a man who has lost one of his daughters---something that should never, ever, ever happen to a parent---and so it was all the more important for me to come to the poem with empathy. And I think that empathy, at a practical level, actually made the poem possible---it turned out I was only able to approach the enormity of this grief by coming at it through the more idiosyncratic, befuddling, and mundane things that characterize this particular man. Those things are a doorway into his humanity.


What My Father-in-Law Says
David Ebenbach 

My father-in-law says things will be different 
when he’s emperor. He says, Only in America¸ 
even when it’s something every country does, 
like trains. He tells me he’s ready to help me 
with the spelling. He knows the years things 
happened. 1926, 1951. 2012. He stops, 
everything caught on a hook in his throat. 
But then he tells the automat story. He talks about 
old girlfriends, so much that his wife once 
started charging him, and then gave up. He says, 
I used to be nervous and jerky, but now I’m just 
jerky. He says, My daughters were perfect. They 
never gave me any trouble. Says it even now, 
after a year of ashes. My wife holds his hand. 
He says his other daughter’s name, 
sometimes. Says that things will be different. 


David Ebenbach’s first full-length collection of poetry, We Were the People Who Moved, won the Patricia Bibby Award and will be published by Tebot Bach in 2015. He is also the author of the poetry chapbook Autogeography (Finishing Line Press), two collections of short stories—Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House)—as well as The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books), a non-fiction guide to the creative process. Ebenbach has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and he teaches creative writing at Georgetown University. Find out more at www.davidebenbach.com.