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Luisa A Igloria

By Valerie Horres

Luisa A. Igloria’s poem “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last” can be found on page 51 of Vol. 6.1 and viewed online: http://silkroad.pacificu.edu/LuisaIgloriaStatus.pdf

The Interview

VH: What there some particular event that sparked the creation of this poem? What was the inspiration for this piece?

Luisa A. Igloria: I’m going to have to confess that I initially wrote this poem as part of a submission for another journal’s call for Facebook-themed poems. I wrote two for that submission, but they didn’t interest the editors at that journal, after all. I continued to work on the poems, though–this one in particular engaged me most because I liked the mixture of tones emerging in it: upbeat, perhaps in some places a little cavalier or a wee bit punk, maybe even borderline irreverent, but also increasingly, toward the end, earnest and wistful. The title is of course self-explanatory: “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last.”

VH: How did you go about picking the images for the poem? Was there one that you started with and the rest follow? What was your process to create this poem?

LAI: This second question is related to the first one–so I’ll continue by saying that after I decided to write the poem as an abecedarian, other decisions seemed fairly easy to manage. I knew that because of the subject of the poem–which is in part the sheer welter of information that comes through the specific social networking experience that is Facebook, and also the randomness of such information–I wanted to arrive at some satisfying emotional justification for all the different images that came into it.

Picking images was easy–I simply looked at my Facebook news feed when I was writing–the poem gives away the date (June 01 last year) I was working on it; and it’s true that on that day a number of news sources (New York Times, etc.) ran the headline of the story about sculptor/visual artist Louise Bourgeois’ death.  I didn’t lift lines whole from other people’s status posts – but I think I worked in some of the typical threads one might encounter there – those that write environmental/nature-themed posts (Earth Hour), those who write about where they’ve recently traveled, those who play games (Farmville etc.), gush about tv shows (Glee, etc.)

The last few lines of my poem echo a sentiment that many other poems have written of in their own way and in their own time — about the weird or wonderful serendipity of human encounters, and that despite the odds, they can and do happen.

VH: You write “O agony and ecstasy, our lot on this blue-green/ planet.” Are those two feelings the only ones we can experience? Is there a way to lessen the agony and extend the ecstasy, or is there reason for experiencing both?

LAI: You ask, “are those two feelings the only ones we can experience?” I like to think not; only, they do seem to define some of the extremes of human experience. I believe in nuance. But in this particular line or part of the poem, I think I’m speaking to the idea that the reason we recognize one state is because we also know the other. I don’t know if there is something in my particular upbringing or background that has predisposed me to such a worldview, but I believe that all experience is yoked to its opposite; that we are capable of deep feeling to me signifies that we have also opened ourselves deeply to everything that life might offer of both pleasure and suffering. We need to experience both because our understanding would be imperfect and untrue if we only knew one state. Is there a way to lessen the agony and extend the ecstasy? I don’t know that a formula for that has been discovered — but I think that poets try to find some respite, or some way at least to meet experience more deeply–in language.

Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Originally from Baguio City, she teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. To visit her website go to http://www.luisaigloria.com.

Karin Lin-Greenberg grows seedlings on her own  balcony.

By Valerie Horres

Karin Lin-Greenberg’s short story “Weight” can be found on page 119 of Vol. 6.1 and viewed online: “Weight”

The Interview

VH: After reading just the first sentence of your story, I was immediately curious about how you came about creating this piece. What was the inspiration for it? Did it start off as a story about one subject and then morph into something else? If so, what was the process by which it transformed?

Karin Lin-Greenberg: This story started out with the narrator’s voice. I lived in Missouri for two years and taught there. Sometimes my students would tell me that I had an accent, and they’d ask me where I was from. I grew up in New Jersey, and I don’t think I have that stereotypical accent that people associate with New Jersey (think MTV’s Jersey Shore), but my students let me know that I definitely sounded like I wasn’t from Missouri. So my goal with this piece was to try to capture a particular voice that sounded like it was from a particular place, and I wanted this voice to sound different from the way I speak. So the first step in writing this story was to listen to people talking (I suppose this could be called eavesdropping). I’d go out, listen, and then I’d jot down some phrases that caught my attention. One example of this is the phrase “fixing to make dinner,” which I overheard one day while I was grading papers in a coffee shop. The word “fixing” was what was interesting to me about that sentence; growing up, I’d only heard people say, “I’m going to make dinner.” So I gathered phrases like that and then I just started hearing Darlene’s voice come together in my mind. I hope her voice sounds somewhat authentic in the final version of the story. Once I had the voice, the story followed.

When I got back that afternoon, both Wes and L.J. were wearing brand new overalls, which were covered in dirt but were still stiff with newness. Neither of them was wearing a shirt, and they each held a hoe and were working the soil. Above each of the older plants, the ones they’d started weeks ago, three wooden stakes were tied together in the shape of a teepee so the stems could have something to lean on as they grew taller. All in all, the whole thing looked pretty professional, like they really knew something about what they were doing.

— Excerpt from “Weight”

VH: What about gardening drew you to use it in this piece? How do you find the best symbols to use in a story? When you are writing a story, do the symbols pop up first in your process and then the story line and the message grows out of them, or do you start with a plot or a message you want to impart and the symbols follow?

When I was in Missouri, I decided to start a garden. I lived on the third floor of an apartment building, so I only had a balcony on which to garden. I got all these buckets and some sacks of soil and tried my best to grow vegetables. I had no idea what I was doing; I knew nothing about using good soil and composting and fertilizing. I managed to get the plants to grow (and grow and grow; I hadn’t yet learned how to trim plants back so they don’t get to “Jack and the Beanstalk” proportions), but I wasn’t very successful in getting many actual crops to develop. Every day when I went out to the balcony with my watering can I was confronted with plants that were tall and leafy and green without any tomatoes or peppers or other vegetables on them, and I suppose that image made its way into the story. At that time, I was also getting a lot of rejections for my stories with notes from editors on the rejections saying things like “too quiet” or “too restrained,” so I decided that I wanted something “loud” to happen in this piece. I’d been writing a lot of stories with characters who were passive—they would notice and observe, but they wouldn’t do much—and I think those little notes were a reminder that readers are interested in characters who act and don’t only observe. So I had the image of the garden that didn’t produce crops and then the goal of writing a “not quiet” scene, so then I ended up with the idea of Darlene smashing the plants. And then I had to figure out why she’d do such a thing, especially after her brother and son had spent so much time on the garden. As for symbols, I don’t worry too much about symbols and symbolism as I’m writing. I’m more concerned with character and plot, and I think symbols emerge later. When I’m writing fiction, I never, ever start with a message that I want to convey; if I have that urge, I’ll write an essay instead of a story.

From the Garden

VH:  In the last paragraph of your story, the narrator notes that “All of us here are trying to coax something out of this place, and who knows what will come of our efforts.” This resonates on a much higher level than just the garden she is trying to grow. Do you think that we all, like the narrator, are stuck and limited to coaxing something from the different places in our lives? Can we do more than this, or are we just watering and waiting and hoping that something good will grow out of what we do? Read the rest of this entry »

Charles Finn

By Valerie Horres

For the next few weeks this blog will feature interviews with several of the writers who have pieces published in Vol 6.1 of Silk Road. The first such author is Charles Finn, whose nonfiction story “A Secret Hideout of Leaves and Mud” can be found on page 114 of Vol. 6.1, as well as viewed through this link: http://silkroad.pacificu.edu/ASecretHideoutbyCharlesFinn.pdf.

Finn’s vivid descriptions of a child traipsing through nature were what initially drew me to this story. The evocative language reminded me how as a little girl my own backyard was a place of magic, how the discovery of a small pebble or a daffodil budding earlier than the rest of the flowers could fill me with a magnitude of delight, the purity of which I have not felt in many years. Like many of the other pieces in this issue of Silk Road, “A Secret Hideout of Leaves and Mud” holds a nostalgic tone, one full of longing for the sensation of wonder that only children seem to possess. This story speaks to the fear of growing up and leaving something behind in childhood which can never be found again.

 

The Interview

VH: What inspired you to write this story? For instance, was there any particular event that provoked you to write it, something that made you think back to this location and the sustenance it provided for you?

CF: I can almost always remember the exact moment that leads to a piece of writing. What I was reading or thinking about that spurred me to put down the first few words of an essay or poem. ‘A Secret Hideout’ is unique in that this isn’t the case. I remember the circumstances, but not the actual trigger that prompted my memory of the hideout I write about. It is also unique (for me) in that it grew out of a writing class. As a rule I don’t put much faith in such things – workshops, writing groups, even MFA programs – but in the summer of 2009 my good friend Dr. Neil Browne at OSU-Cascades in Bend, Oregon was teaching a two-week class on the personal essay and invited me to sit-in. I balked at first, seeing my aversion and skepticism, but I also knew deadlines could be helpful, and at the very least it seemed a good way to get another essay out.

On the first day of class we were asked to imagine a place, any place. Earlier we had been discussing Faulkner’s invented Yoknapatawpha County and perhaps for this reason my thoughts went back to my childhood home of Waterbury, Vermont. As I sifted through my memories, my attention became centered on the dead end street where I grew up. As images tumbled past I hurried to write them down until I was led to the very end of the street and the “hideout” that resided there; a place I hadn’t thought about in years.

VH: Did you have to imagine most of the details for this story, or were there vivid memories you could draw on from your childhood?

CF: I had no specific memories of times spent at the hideout. What I had were vague impressions, the feel of being there, and maybe this is why the essay has such an elegiac tone to it — I had to create language around sensations instead of events. Granted, I could recall the damp soil, rotting leaves and the shifting patterns of shade, things like that, but what my friend and I actually did was difficult to bring back. I know we “hung out” in the best and truest sense of the word, and that we conducted ourselves in classic little boy fashion: burning ants with magnifying glasses, whittling sticks, talking about everything and nothing. But all this was background for what? I kept asking myself.

VH: Do you think we lose something in the process of growing up that we can never get back?

CF: I think as we grow older and burden ourselves with responsibilities (real and imagined) we yearn for simpler more carefree times, times when our days were open-ended and less structured, when they unfolded of their own accord. I also think as we grow older we often lose touch with Nature, literally as well as figuratively. As I began to write I saw these ideas converge, and I realized that’s what the hideout represented for me; a carefree time when I was in direct contact with the natural world. As the essay began to take shape I also remembered being that little boy and how the first hints of self awareness began to surface, and what felt like a knowledge of a reality beyond the perceived. There was an epigraph to the essay (I don’t know where it went) “… for childhood is certainly greater than reality,” from the Poetics of Space, a fantastic little book of philosophy and the nature of houses by Gaston Bachelard. When I struck upon this, I knew I had all the elements I needed for the essay.

VH: Do you think that having this hideout, a place to imagine and create as a child, influenced the person you became as an adult? Did it have anything to do with you becoming a writer?

CF: The honest answer is no. My whole childhood, which was half feral, informed me more than anything else. I grew up in a different time. When being outside all day on my own or with friends – away from adults – was the norm. That’s what was important. Unstructured time, down time, time to be bored, to be curious, to poke around streams and fields shaped who I became. Richard Louv has written an important book on the matter, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. I grew up as (possibly) the last generation where we did or do not suffer from this. As to becoming a writer, that would have happened no matter where or how I grew up. It is the nature of my childhood, the opportunities it provide (such as the hideout) that influenced the type of writer I would become.

VH: Did you make any significant changes to your story as you were drafting it?

CF: Originally the essay had a different ending, an epilogue of sorts that was a specific memory, a ritual my best friend and I performed to become “blood brothers.” I remembered this scene only belatedly, and was surprised it hadn’t come to me right away. For space reasons it couldn’t be used and so for Silk Road I looped the essay back to the epigraph by Bachelard as well as the quote by Thoreau. I’ve always thought of memory as a kind of time travel. It is Thoreau’s stream he goes fishing in. Firmly ensconced in middle age, I now wonder how I got here. I wonder if I really was that little boy. It seems like another life and lifetime ago. Childhood, with its inherent and incumbent innocence is a holy land. One of the tragedies of life is how quickly we grow and have it taught out of us.

 

Charles Finn is the editor of High Desert Journal, a literary and fine arts journal out of Bend, Oregon, dedicated to further understanding the people, places and issues of the interior West. His writings have appeared in over 50 journals, anthologies, newspapers, and consumer magazines. He lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife, Joyce Mphande, and their two cats, Pushkin and Lutsa.

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