Speak Large in the Smallest Spaces

Last week, I noticed that I had been tagged on Twitter—and followed the notification to Vela magazine. In it, Amber Sparks had written a brilliant and incisive essay about the importance of flash fiction, and the reception of writing by women. She included profiles of five writers to watch, and number three is me:

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I was impressed at this generous act of literary citizenship demonstrated by Sparks. So many journals and magazines are not able to pay their writers—Vela among them. It frustrates me when hours of work (writing book reviews, reviewing manuscripts, jurying residency applications, and even writing blog posts) are mostly unpaid labor—and I suspect that women do more of this unpaid or minimally-compensated service work. I saw it all the time in academia.

Of course, the literary / art / creative world does run in large part through a gift economy, but sometimes one can forget the upside of that sort of economy in the frustration and reality that so many of us are working for so little financial remuneration. My flash fiction has taken me hours to craft. And I bet yours has, too.

Here’s an important excerpt from this thoughtful essay:

I submit that women are better at flash fiction because they have learned to speak large in the smallest spaces. They have learned to be heard through the cracks; to be brief because that moment is all they’ll get; to make the most powerful case, the most powerful art, in the seconds between the men and their doorstop novels. I submit that women have learned how to make small fictions because they have had to, and like everything women writers do, they have turned a “small” form into an art and started a fire in the world.

Do read the rest of her essay here.  You can read my (micro) story, “Skin,” here.

***You know, I love reading, writing, and teaching short forms. It’s something I stumbled into, but felt right, right away.  Thank you, Amber Sparks, for writing about flash fiction beyond (the admittedly wonderful) Lydia Davis—and for critiquing the way it is too often dismissed and minimized! It’s not needlepoint—but even if it were, needlepoint too takes skill. Flash fiction: it’s not latch hook.

Ghazals for Foley

JimFoley-Notes

Jim’s comments on my story, Ithaca Is Never Far,” from John Edgar Wideman’s workshop in the spring of 2000. I used the last lines of Jim’s comments in my ghazal. Sometimes, I am grateful for my tendency to hold onto papers that seem to have no particular use.

My second mini-essay is up now on the Kenyon Review Blog, and it’s about a new book of poems, Ghazals for Foley, commemorating the life of journalist James Foley. Jim was my friend and classmate in the MFA program at UMass Amherst. In 2014, he also became the first American journalist killed by ISIS . The book, edited by our friend, Yago S. Cura, includes the beautiful ghazal by Daniel Johnson below. You can buy Ghazals for Foley here from Hinchas Press (all proceeds to support the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation). From the essay:

Whenever I think of ghazals, I think of our former UMass professor, the late Agha Shahid Ali, who is credited with bringing the form back into usage within contemporary American poetry. The ghazal, often about love and longing, is also naturally elegiac in form. As Cura writes in the introduction to the anthology, “Using the ghazal’s form to ‘speak’ with Jim made sense to us, I guess, because of how the repetition crescendos, and because the form has addressed separation, mourning, and loss for centuries.”

Read the whole post here…

Ghazal for James Wright Foley
by Daniel Johnson 

“The idea of walking ahead on my own through the desert as if compelled by a magnet is insane.”
 -James Foley in his Syria journal

Kinetic friend, you moved like light in a mirrored room. Come home.
Raqqa. Damascus. Aleppo. Homs. You rarely took a room. Come home.

We’ll read Borges aloud–burn windfall in the pit–spark a joint.
You’d leave a parting gift, a rebel scarf or Turkish cartoon. Come home.

You crashed your Civic reading Chomsky in Chicago traffic.
Who now will shatter the day into such bright ruins? Come home.

I killed a bat in Olanna’s room, its body the size of a grape.
I laid it in the trash on eggshells like broken stones. Come home.

Roethke in his journals wrote–The cage is open. You may go.
If sunlight bleeds under your cell door, Jim, never the moon. Come home.

 

The Kenyon Review & Some Thoughts on Work and Writing

Screenshot of the Kenyon Review
As of this February, I’ll be blogging twice a month for the Kenyon Review. My first post developed out of a question and conversation excerpt I posed on Facebook:

Does it matter to you if your life and work are legible to others?
Family Friend to me: “My husband told me you are not teaching at _______ School. So you are not working?”

What ensued was the most vital comment thread on my wall in months. My post explores this question about work and writing, and also meditates on my favorite poem by Marge Piercy, “For the young who want to.” Click here to read the post. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.