Category Archives: Poetry

Writing Craft, Vol. X: Poet Tim Seibles, author of Fast Animal (Part One)


NORFOLK, Va. — The poet Tim Seibles recently released his latest book, Fast Animal, a collection you should buy and read now.

Back already? Great. I first heard Seibles read about 15 years ago at Virginia Wesleyan College, and it was just amazing. I bought a couple of his books, and have been a fan ever since. Here’s a taste of Seibles’ voice, from a quick reading he did on his deck the evening we spoke. This is “Wound” from Fast Animal:

Seibles’ work has been recognized with an Open Voice Award and a NEA fellowship, among others, and collected in Best American Poetry. He is a professor in the Old Dominion University MFA Creative Writing Program. By way of full disclosure, I’m a student on the fiction side.

This was a long talk, and it has been edited down quite a bit for length and, in a few spots, clarity. In case Mom figures out that Interweb doohickey, I should note that the following conversation contains some potty-mouthery, which is totally a real hyphenated phraselet, which is, in and of itself, wordish. Maybe I’m not selling this. Point being: language.

Seibles was incredibly generous with his time, which I appreciate. He also may be the tallest interviewee yet. That’s an implied milestone right there. Wicked.

Before we get to the interview, here’s some quick housekeeping. I’ve been wrestling with my thesis the past few months, so the posts have been less frequent. However, I have some talks planned through the spring and into summer around my work schedule. Say, did you know that, if you subscribe, the posts come right to you? In the night, baby. When you really need them.

Additionally, the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest is underway. Why not come up with an entry of two and email them to jhdouc@verizon.net? That should help you fill that hole in either your schedule or the awesomeness generator you call your soul. And there are prizes, including signed editions of Fast Animal. What synchronicity.

See how this works? When you provide me with free (hopefully) amusing content, everybody wins. Not after third place, actually. The General Counsel to the Imaginary Board of Trustees want me to stress this. What I mean is almost everybody, but still.

Back to Tim Seibles. This portion of the talk deals, in part, with perceived limitations imposed upon art, writing compelling poetry through personas such as the title character of the comic book and film Blade, and connecting with readers.

Q: You opened the book prior to Fast Animal, Buffalo Head Solos (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2004), with a preface that talks about … your feelings on limitations. I hoped you could just talk about what you feel when people impose limitations on art.

There are the literal limitations of language. There are all kinds of places you probably can’t go with words. That’s why there’s guitar and saxophone and sculpture and painting. But in terms of the culture we live in … I don’t know that the fact that we’re not a wildly, intensely well-read society really changes how I write. It seems clear that you may not reach as wide an audience as you’d like to with poetry, so you’re limited in the kind of impact you might have in terms of sheer number of engagements with people. But I think about some of the great musicians over the years who played Woodstock and other gigantic festivals, and just having lots and lots and lots of people listening doesn’t really add significance to what you’ve done.

I think every writer wants to do his or her best work and offer it as generously and as often as possible, you know, without losing your mind, and let the resonance be what it is to whomever. You don’t know who you’re going to reach or how deeply. You don’t know what they will make of your work if they’re writers. They may write something they might never have otherwise written because of one poem you wrote. …

I guess all writers are, in some sense, composites. The people who influenced me – like W.S. Merwin, certainly Langston Hughes, the Black Arts poets, certainly Gil Scott-Heron, Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton … they had no idea what their work was going to do to me. Yet they did the best work they could and they let the impact be what it was. So here I am, just one of their progeny.

Q: You talk in that essay about poets saying some of these things, and that seems almost like a self-marginalization before you’ve even done the art. There are four concerns you talk about in the essay, and one is this idea that poetry shouldn’t be political or argumentative. I can’t think of any way poetry could be other than that.

I agree, but people I’ve had conversations with – some of them have been teachers of mine when I was a younger writer – who have felt that poetry should – capital S – should assume a certain position in relation to the larger society, a more contemplative, don’t-want-to-seem-too-upset kind of position in the culture. Fortunately, I’ve heard all kinds of poets with a huge range of perspectives. Certainly the Black Arts poets were heavily focused on political outrage, for better or worse. That can be a limiting thing, too.  It can really put a stranglehold on your subject matter. A writer of any genre has to have room to go anywhere.

Not only do I disagree that poetry has to stay in a particular place or play nice … but I think all of the arts have to have their way of peeing on the rug, as a friend of mine used to say, or demanding a certain kind of attention through rage or even just pure mystical astonishment, I just think poetry, like all the arts, shouldn’t be bound by any particular kind of etiquette. If a poem is rude, let it be rude. All I care about is if it feels like what has been written comes from an honest place. If someone is shocking me just for the hell of shocking me, if someone wants to write ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ 40 times, I wouldn’t care much about that.

Q: I was talking to a friend [who writes poetry] and he said one of the things he forgets to do is write in a way that remembers the word is spoken. I think one of things people who have experience you reading understand, there’s a wonderful ability for these poems to be spoken.

I sure hope so, man. I like to think that when I’m writing I’m hearing the poems. I’m not sure I can explain it exactly, but the lines come to me as spoken things.  I hope they have a life on the page, but I’m also thinking about how they might hit the ear, how they might live in someone’s ear.

Q: I wanted to ask about the third thing [in the essay] which is poems that are “too imaginative,” and that this is a complaint some might have. I think people pick up your book, they’ll see the form of the poem on the page. Some are lean and some our stout and some move and change … but also within the words sometimes you write the word not the way it appears in a list in a dictionary, but in a way that you want the reader to feel the word – or that the character would say the word. Could you talk about why you do that?

For the most part, I use the language in a relatively conventional way. Now, what I say may not be conventional, but in terms of syntax and meaning for the most part ‘green’ in a Seibles poem is that color of grass. When I’m bending things or trying to tilt the language a little, I’m hoping it will jar them just a little bit, enough to make them kind of snap out of the trance of normal thinking. I’m hoping that with a particular bend in the language that you can pull someone up short and make them attend in a different way.

It’s the same thing, for example, with the use of similes and metaphors. You’re hoping for a kind of heightened moment that really reestablishes their attentiveness to the text. I don’t think a poem can be a shock and a surprise every second. I don’t think any art does that. You want there to be enough unpredictability, surprise in a piece to keep a reader or a listener on edge. …

I know, for example in Buffalo Head Solos, no one is expecting to hear from [the persona of] a cow. … I want to invite people in with a tempting promise and then I want to sustain their interest by rewarding their attention with fresh ideas, word music, etc.

Q: Especially the ‘persona poems,’ it’s about you giving the voice to something that doesn’t have a voice and talking in a lot of ways – I keep coming back to marginalization, but you talk about creatures that are used, that are consumed, or consume so little, and are punished for doing it.

I hope to be giving voice to things that often have no voice, but also playing out my own strange sensibility. I would never work with a persona that had nothing to do with me. Whatever it is, whomever it is – cartoons, cow, virus, whatever – if I’m trying to develop a persona, that means I’m finding certain aspects of my own voice within that voice. Certain things just compel me. What would a cow say about its predicament? How is the predicament of a cow like the predicament of a person. … My inspirations are necessarily connected to my life as a human being.  I don’t have any reason to speak in the voice of, you know, a doily. I’m not moved to speak as a doily. A doily does not know pleasure or suffering.

Q: They’ve got it rough.

[Laughs.] We concede this, their struggle. In terms of persona, I’m drawn to certain characters – animate or inanimate – because they allow me to chew on a predicament that concerns me. I have that poem [“Ambition: Virus Confessional”], which is trying to get at a kind of insidious and secret consumption of life. Culture – it doesn’t matter what culture you’re in. All cultures want to use their members to propagate and promote the culture as it is. That’s why radicals are not welcome. That’s why people who don’t bow to the imperatives of the culture are often marginalized.

So when I’m writing in the voice of a particular persona, I’m often trying to get into territories in that, if I were to try to address them strictly in my ‘own’ voice it would seem maybe too – It wouldn’t be naval gazing exactly, but it would constantly wrestle with certain issues as though my predicament was the central issue. … No one cares about my alienation, you know? People who read poems are more interested in how my sense of alienation or marginalization or joy or erotic insanity speaks to their own fascinations.

Q: Let’s move to Fast Animal, where you have poems about Blade. You read recently at Prince Books in Norfolk, and talked a little bit about some things that were going on around 2007, 2008. What was going on with you then?

I thought 2000 to 2008 was the most disturbing era, socially and politically speaking, in my adult life. As a young man, of course, the 1960s would have been wildly volatile, but in the ‘60s you had people actively engaged in trying to overturn a repressive and generally fucked up society. There were heads butting and people yelling, challenging complacency in the face of what was considered a really well organized evil – racism, sexism, militarism are bad for humanity on a massive scale.

Q: And poetry was part of that.

Yes.

Q: Even from The Black Panther newspaper to –

Yes. Yeah. Absolutely.

Q: – to “revolutionary art.”

Yes. ‘The Revolution Will Not be Televised’ by Gil Scott-Heron.

Q: Which you reference.

Yes. ‘Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni. That stuff was all about ‘Hey, you can not hold us down, goddamn it.’ You know? What I found most difficult about the Bush era, was that the administration was clearly unethical but people just played along. It’s not that people didn’t care. I knew plenty of people who cared, but it felt as if all resistance was being overrun, carried in the current we hated.

I thought Bush and company were just bloodsuckers of a kind, a psychic kind. Blade, you know … When I saw the first movie, I thought he had a certain purity of intention, a recognition that there are certain evils that cannot be tolerated, that must be confronted directly. … I mean, there had to be some place I could go with the kind of anger in my gut. And with that first poem, ‘Blade, The Daywalker,’ I thought, ‘Yes, this is the mind I can step inside that will allow me to say what I mean with a kind of controlled fury.’ I mean, I am not going to kill anybody.

Q: At least, don’t put it on tape.

[Laughter.] Right. But Blade will, Blade has, and knows exactly why. I don’t want to promote violence. Violence doesn’t seem like a great help. At times, perhaps it’s necessary, but to be avoided if possible. … When I was using Blade as a persona, I wanted to get at a certain kind of anger that I couldn’t articulate otherwise.

Now there’s a poem in Buffalo Head Solos, that poem called ‘Really Breathing.’ That’s in a voice that people might consider my voice – that is certainly not a persona. That poem also is about a kind of rage. It’s got playfulness, as well, but it’s a really stormy voice that is complaining and pointing fingers and taking names. The Blade poems allow me a kind of purity of voice. He kills vampires. There are no literal vampires in the world, but we are consumed. We are fed upon in various ways by ideologies and institutions that are not especially humane.

Q: Blade is an outsider, as a character, but Blade is a very successful comic book that was turned into a very successful movie with, at the time, one of the biggest stars in the country. Made a lot of money, sold a lot of popcorn. And it is a piece of pop culture. It’s an entertainment. It’s to be consumed. But what you’ve done is taken that figure and used it to express something else, and I think that’s interesting.

I hope so. There was a kind of clarity of purpose in that character. I mean, even if I just wanted to run around and punch everyone I thought was evil, I’d either be dead or in jail in a few minutes. But Blade could develop a life around fighting evil. Does Blade have a job? No. Blade doesn’t have rent due or credit cards to deal with. Blade is someone who fights evil. That’s what he does. Blade doesn’t have vacations. He doesn’t say, ‘Boy this is getting old. I think I’ll go to Six Flags this weekend.’ [Laughter.]

Even if there’s no way to defeat an enemy, you still have to fight. That’s the way I feel about it as an artist. You have to sing your song, whether it’s to one person or a thousand. At times, I try to use poetry as a shield and as a blade.

Q: I was trying to think of things I see repeated in your poems, because I’m simple that way.

No. In this book, you may have noticed it, certain phrases recur in different poems, in different contexts. I’m consciously trying to knit the book together. It’s really built [the collection] to make certain patterns emerge, certain thoughts and arguments between the poems.

Q: I keep thinking about, you know, it’s meaningful what’s on TV and you come back to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” And then it strikes me, there’s this idea in your previous collection [Buffalo Head Solos] in “Visions.” It’s a poem about a man and a conversation with his cat, and then in the end he’s killed.

He’s killed intellectually, spiritually.

Q: And they find him. The TV’s on.

Basically he’s paralyzed staring at the television, and the nonsense that’s on.

Q: So what do you think of TV?

I think its purpose is distraction. I think people are invited to watch television so they will be less aware of the things that are chewing up our lives. It can also be a legitimate source of entertainment. We cannot attend to the difficulties of the world every waking second. Our heads would just blow up. I do think for most people it’s a substitute for actual thinking and feeling. …

This kind of idea that we can just consume the world, and we’ll always have more stuff to build and buy and sell to other people, there’s just a fundamental wrongheadedness about that approach to our lives. [TV] is constantly saying, ‘You will find meaning by consuming. In fact, the only real meaning is consumption.’ I think that’s a terrible way to subvert human beings and the impulse – the better impulse – of the human heart. …

You hope, because it seems that we have the potential for a certain kind of compassionate attentiveness that we have yet to find the institutions to support it, enact it. I like to think that poetry is a vehicle for compassionate attention. It matters that we feel grave despair and great delight and great longing and that we’re stunned by beauty, that we’re not just paychecks and car loans and mortgages. We’re these complex creatures that can do better, see more clearly, live more heartfully, and hurt each other less.

This is not a culture where people are beating themselves up to get to a gallery or read poetry or hear jazz or Bach. This isn’t a culture where people are killing themselves to get to a reading, you know? Most people don’t know that poetry can be something that triggers a larger grasp of the world they live in. …

If people heard more poems, read more poems, I think they would be far less willing to live without it.

The talk continues at this link.

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UPDATED: Announcing the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest


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April 3

I’m now taking entries for the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest. Deadline is June 15.

Additionally, I’m pleased to say Fair Grounds Coffee on the upstairs of 806 Baldwin Ave., on the corner of Baldwin and Colley avenues in Norfolk, will display winners and runners up in July.

Details on the national tour to come when people start returning my calls anywhere.

• • • • • • • • • • •

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Imaginary Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that the second annual Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest submission and reading period begins next month.

I’m taking submissions from April 2 until June 15, with winners to be announced here at the blog on Monday, July 2. As with last year’s contest, I’ll pick the finalists and judges-to-be-named-later will vote “blind” for their favorites.

I hope get more visual art entries this year, but getting any entries at all brings its own special joy. The winners and runners up will be displayed at a Norfolk-area business. I’m still working out the details there, but hope to have more information soon.

Should nobody enter, we will pretend this did not happen. Just like my junior prom at Cranston High School East. Go Bolts.

Don’t want to enter? Suit yourself, cupcake. But before you go, do consider this persuasive and entirely solicited testimonial from last year’s winner, the Marylander di tutti Marylander who is called Gary Potterfield by all who are introduced to him as such. Get ready for gravitas:

A warning to anyone contemplating entry into the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing contest. Run. Just put down the chop sticks and run. For if you should win your life will never be the same.

Ever since I won last year’s contest, hardly a day goes by that I’m reminded of my victory. In fact, entire seasons go by and I’m not reminded of it. Immediately after the announcement, I began to receive more than 100 emails per day, none of which had anything to do with fortune cookies or cookies of any kind.

I can count at least 2,372 people who have not asked for my autograph, and that’s a low estimate. 

I think my victory has even affected the time-space continuum. The February immediately following the contest explicably had 29 days. 

Clearly, we need to bring the title back to the Virginia. May God bless the Commonwealth that is not Kentucky, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Yes, as the kids say, the preceding sentence was a parochialist U.S. state designation burn.

Click here to see the full official rules, such as they are. (Please bookmark this link for updates.)

Click here to see last year’s winners, and the runners up, too.

Here are the basic guidelines, from the official rules:

In this test of skill and conciseness, readers contribute (hopefully) clever or artistic fortune or fortunes of their own creation to me via email to jhdouc@verizon.net – not in the comments, please.

Funny fortunes. Clever fortunes. Poetic fortunes. Artistic fortunes. Silly fortunes. Sad fortunes. Angry fortunes. Your hopes and dreams, your fears and foibles. Whatever way you want to approach it. It just has to fit on or to the form of a fortune slip, so please keep it to about 30 words or less. Cartoons, (original) comic strips, photos, and artwork all are encouraged, not just the written word – it just has to fit into a fortune cookie fortune sized space, such as this:

There will be modest prizes of my choosing, including signed books by authors previously featured on this blog. Last year’s prizes included Ted Danson and Mike D’Orso‘s Oceana and Earl Swift‘s The Big Roads. There also may be prizes from local businesses in the Hampton Roads area. Or maybe not. Details to come when the reading period nears.

Please enter early and often, and maybe tell your friends.

This message is pretend approved for immediate release by the Imaginary Board of Trustees.

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Tunnel Traffic is back; New Jersey is ‘nice’


The Tunnel Traffic reading series shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, a Johnny Cash reference in which "shot" means "gathered writers to read a poem or whatnot" and "just to watch him die" stands for "just so people listening have this realization, basically, a kind of epiphany about the world." See? This cutline is totally not libelous, right Travis A. Everett, founder of the series? Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. — The Tunnel Traffic reading series returned last month, and it will continue this week at Borjo Coffeehouse near Old Dominion University.

The reading prompt, recently announced by series founder Travis Everett, a poet and and ODU student in the MFA Creative Writing Program, is say something “nice” about New Jersey. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m also a student in the program.

The next Tunnel Traffic is at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, at Borjo, located at Monarch Way and W. 45th St. in Norfolk. There is nearby metered street parking and some garage parking. Plenty of drinks and eats.

Here’s a video from the last one, and a brief Q&A follows.

Here’s the Q&A with Everett:

Q: The topic/prompt is “say something ‘nice’ about New Jersey”? Why is “nice”  in quotes?

We’re just following an old typographic “convention” for providing additional emphasis, John.

Q: New Jersey, as in the state, yes?

The Wikipedia disambiguation page for ‘New Jersey’ informs me that there’s a Bon Jovi album, and two battleships by the same name. Our fault, for introducing the ambiguity. If you have something ‘nice’ to say about Bon Jovi’s New Jersey or either iteration of the USS New Jersey, please do.

Q: We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Anything to add?

I have a lot of “nice” things to say about glam metal.

And that’s the whole interview. As a wise man, his guitarist, and Desmond Child once wrote:

You get a little but it’s never enough.

Show up Wednesday. Maybe Tico Torres will show up to sign autographs, though I am legally obligated to tell you he will not. Anyway, if you want to rock the mike by reading the lyrics to “Bad Medicine,” don’t do it all ironic. Rock the mike with sincerity, baby.

Playing us out is, well, you know:

P.S. Everett was the subject of a Belligerent Q&A last year, available at this link.

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Billy Collins, Joy Williams in lineup of the 34th annual ODU litfest


NORFOLK, Va. – Recently I spoke with the author, short story writer and educator John McManus about writing and somewhat less serious topics. He is co-directing the annual literary festival at Old Dominion University with Michael Pearson.

It starts this week.

I neglected to include the link at the time of our talk, and wanted to follow up with a note about the 34th annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival.

McManus recently wrote about the event in his AltDaily column, and told this to The Virginian-Pilot:

We are trying to promote writing and literature. We are trying to get the community out to readings. …

We tried to pick writers who give excellent readings. …

I always love to hear what a writer sounds like, what a writer’s voice lends to my understanding of their writing.

This year’s theme is “The Lie That Tells the Truth,” and those on the bill include Billy Collins and Joy Williams. The festival is underway today, though most of the events come fast and furious starting tomorrow.

Most events are in Norfolk, though one talk is in Virginia Beach.

A schedule follows. Please double check the litfest site. Garage parking is free for on-campus events. Events are free unless noted otherwise.

  • Playwright and director Young Jean Lee. 2 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk, Va. Near W. 49th St.
  • Author Porochista Khakpour. 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • The Words and Music of Paul Bowles: Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno with Andrey Kasparov & the Norfolk Chamber Consort. 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall. Student admission $10; general admission $15.
  • Photographer Yola Monakhov. 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Poet and writer Renee Olander. 3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ University Village Bookstore, 4417 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. At W. 45th St. Garage and metered street parking nearby.
  • Poet and writer Mark Halliday. 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Author Elizabeth Searle. 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ Virginia Beach Higher Education Center, Lecture Hall/Room 244A, 1881 University Dr., Virginia Beach, Va. Surface parking nearby. Reception and book signing to follow.
  • Poet and essayist David Swerdlow. 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Nonfiction writer Claire Dederer. 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ University Village Bookstore.
  • Poet and prose writer Naomi Shihab Nye. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ the George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Theatre, Chrysler Museum, 245 W. Olney Rd., Norfolk. Surface lot parking & some unmetered street parking nearby.
  • Novelist Jeffrey Lent. 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Novelist Scott Heim. 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ University Village Bookstore.
  • Poet Billy Collins: President’s Lecture Series. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Webb University Center. Off W. 49th St.
  • Poets Indigo Moor & Adrian Matejka. 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Journalist and author Megan Stack. 3:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Author Joy Williams. 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
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Want to get published? Barely South Review’s reading period is underway


NORFOLK, Va. — Barely South Review, the online literary journal of Old Dominion University, wants submissions of new short fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and artwork.

The submission and reading period ends Nov. 30. Accepted works will be published in the April and September 2012 editions, as well as the January 2013 edition.

Barely South Review is edited by students in the MFA Creative Writing Program, part of the English Department at Old Dominion. Past contributors include Bonnie Jo Campbell, Brian Turner, Patrick Rosal, Joanne Diaz, Jill McCabe and Karen Schubert, and the review this year featured the College Poetry Prize winning work of Wendi White. Interview subjects have included Blake Bailey, Dennis Lehane and Seni Seneviratne, among others.

Full disclosure, for those who don’t know — I’m a student in the program and was on the editorial staff this past year.

Submission guidelines are located at this link. Worth checking out.

I sent Valarie Clark, managing editor of Barely South, some email questions this past week — what the pub is looking for, where it may go as it evolves, etc. The poet Luisa Igloria, director of the MFA program, also responded to the first question via email. So here’s a quick Q&A about a promising outlet for writers and artists. It has been edited for clarity.

Q: What are you looking for in submissions?

Clark:

We want the best stuff people have,  regardless of whether or not it’s considered ‘traditional’ or experimental.  If someone’s written a lovely ‘modernist’ short story, we’ll consider it. If we got some funky postmodern stuff that lacks a linear timeline or a typical narrative thread — if it’s well-written and appeals to our editors — we’ll consider it.

Igloria:

We have a wonderful opportunity to take stock of our regional and geographical positioning in the ‘south’ — with its rich history and traditions — but also recognize that such markers can mean many things to many different people. We are drawn to works that have a strong sense of their own relevance in time and place, but that are not afraid to take risks or interrogate the sense of limits, in genre and in other areas.

We are looking for works that speak to our own desire to find riveting expressions not only speaking to place and identity, but also bringing these conversations to new levels.

The following responses are from Clark.

Q: What genre would you like more submissions for, if any?

Of course, we’re happy to see all kinds, but we’d love to see more creative nonfiction. We’re talking about essays especially. If people want to send us part of their memoir, that’s great, as long as it can stand alone, apart from the greater work. The submitter can’t think to herself, ‘Well, I don’t need to explain that because it’s somewhere else in my book.’ Well, we aren’t reading your entire book. Make us want to, though, by sending us some terrific piece that can exist on it’s own.

We’re also now accepting art — photos, drawings, even small animations if they’re meaningful.  We don’t want a bunch of GIF files of folks from Jersey Shore.  That’s what message boards are for. But a GIF file of a political figure that makes a statement of some sort by using the animation —we’d consider that.

Q: Would you talk about the themes of the issues this year and how work might address them?

We’re still working on hammering out themes, but we’d do a special call for them if we decide to go that route, and editors are considering establishing themes for issues in 2013.

Q: How has Barely South done so far? Where does it go from here?

Not only are we seeing an increase in submissions already this year — including an increase in nonfiction — but one of the nonfiction essays from the inaugural issue in April 2010 was nominated for a Pushcart by a member of the Pushcart Prize panel.  Many publications nominate their own content, and we’re thrilled that someone from that prestigious contest read our humble literary journal and found quality there. And what a thrill for the author!

In the immediate future, we’re shooting for having the journal put into a downloadable PDF file that people can put on their e-readers. We hope that happens as soon as the January 2012 issue. That means we get to flex our creativity by designing an issue as if we were sending it to print — choosing layouts, fonts, all that good stuff.

We’d like to be able to do some print issues in the future, whether that’s just for ‘special issues’ like the January literary festival craft interview issue — which we’ll be doing again for 2012 — or maybe it’s a ‘limited run’ kind of thing for each issue. This is the year where BSR is starting to plan for the future and how successive ODU students are going to leave their mark on the journal.

One of the most important things for me, as managing editor, is to make sure that BSR is not only a quality publication that keeps up with changing technology trends and how the public wants to spend their time and money, but I also want the experience of putting BSR together to be an amazing one for the students. The staff is made up entirely of students in their second and third years, with some administrative assistance from first year students. This is an outstanding opportunity for the staff to learn not just how to read critically, but how to make choices about what works well together, how to make tough decisions regardless of the biography or the name associated with the piece. Soon they’re going to need to learn all the deign aspects of a print journal as we move to the PDF format.

And in the future we’d like to move to our own separate website instead of being dependent on a blog-type platform that restricts our creativity somewhat. That means we’ll have a constant need for a wide range of talents, and students who are good with technology can find a place alongside those who are more comfortable with traditional journal formats. So far this year we’ve made some terrific decisions together that are already reaping benefits — such as the choice to start accepting art as a regular type of submission.

Wow, submitting to this whole Barely South deal sounds wicked great! What do you think, Vinny?

What are you thinking of sending, Vin — a chapter from the memoir?

Yo, Vin. That’s pretty much your only move, huh?

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Fortune winners, runners up will remain on display at Kerouac Cafe


Citizens of earth encounter 2011 Fortune Cookie of the Damned fortune writing contest entries on the walls of Kerouac Cafe, Norfolk, Va.

The exhibit of 2011 Forfune Cookie of the Damned fortune writing contest will stay up at Kerouac Cafe in Norfolk, Va., through most of July, not just a week, as I’d initially thought.

I found out during an informal gathering last night at Kerouac, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. No formal end date, but they’ll be up a couple more weeks than anticipated.

First place winner Gary Potterfield was not in the area. Third place winner Christopher Scott-Brown was not available. But second place winner Will Harris was on hand to get his prizes.

A brief video of the festivities follows, and you can see winners and runners up at this link to the earlier post on the contest:

Many thanks again to those who offered donations, discounts, and/or other considerations for the prizes: Prince Books, Naro Expanded Video, Kerouac Cafe, Local Heroes, Mike D’Orso, and Earl Swift.

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Fortune writing contest winners revealed; display opens tonight at Kerouac Cafe; bears quicker, more cunning with E-ZPass


And the winners are …

Hold on.

Let’s just acknowledge that this post, true to form for this blog, buries the lede deeper than a wannabe New Yorker scribe unpacking his first anecdote.

The 2011 Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest is over.

Entries were funny, fun, creative, and some other words, too. So thanks. You kept me smiling while I judged this past week at the Poconos Woodland Castle of Judging between diligently editing short stories, attending Wawayanda, N.Y., town council work sessions, researching the American black bear, and such. Because I know how to party.

Naturally, the winners were paw-carried back to Virginia by Keystone State bears. You should have seen them on the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Aside from one brief misunderstanding in the E-ZPass lanes, they were so adorable you could eat them up. Which you should do, preemptively, before the bears turn that notion around on you. Remember: Now that they have E-ZPass, the bears are especially quick and more cunning than ever before.

And the winners are …

Hold on. More about pretend bears avoiding the exact change and cash/receipts toll lanes? No? Pity.

First, some housekeeping: Many thanks to those who offered donations, discounts, and/or other considerations for the prizes: Prince Books, Naro Expanded Video, Kerouac Cafe, Local Heroes, Mike D’Orso, and Earl Swift. Please buy their books and do business with them and so forth. They rock.

Second, a plug: Anybody available is invited to an informal gathering at Kerouac Cafe in Norfolk, Va., at 8 p.m., July 1, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. Free admission. Coffee, tea, lattes, iced drinks are available for sale, and there may be some eats.There will be a mini-exhibit of the winners and prizes will be handed to winners who can make it. Most of the entrants will be on display, too. Entries remain up for a whole week. I now have word that the exhibit will stay up through most of July.

Third, thanks to my fellow members of the Great Panel of Judgment – Mike D’Orso, Cate Doucette, Cortney Doucette, Oliver Mackson, and Earl Swift. There were more than 50 fortunes submitted, and 13 finalists. The first place winner had three of the six first-place votes by the judges. The judges besides me judged only fortunes, as I stripped out the names before giving them the finalists to consider.

Okay. Enough of that. Without further ado:

FIRST PLACE

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

SECOND PLACE

Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.

THIRD PLACE

Christopher Scott-Brown, bookseller; Virginia

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Geoff Ahlberg, senior network engineer for Endeca Technologies; Malden, Mass.

Dani Al-Basir, artist and poet; Norfolk, Va.

Dani Al-Basir, artist and poet; Norfolk, Va.

Brendan Beary, working for The Man; Great Mills, Md.

Brendan Beary, working for The Man; Great Mills, Md.

Peter Carnevale, ambulance driver; Providence, R.I.

Peter Carnevale, ambulance driver; Providence, R.I.

Peter Carnevale, ambulance driver; Providence, R.I.

Ian Couch, Old Dominion University MFA student; Norfolk, Va.

Ian Couch, Old Dominion University MFA student; Norfolk, Va.

John-Henry Doucette, scribbler; Portsmouth, Va.

John-Henry Doucette, scribbler; Portsmouth, Va.

John-Henry Doucette, scribbler; Portsmouth, Va.

Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.

Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.

Blake Hunt, working writer; Norfolk, Va.

Judy Le, editor; Norfolk, Va.

Ian Martin, photographer; Northern California

Ian Martin, photographer; Northern California

Chris Mele, executive editor of The Pocono Record; Stroudsburg, Pa.

Angelina Maureen, fine artist; Norfolk, Va.

Michael Nixon; Norfolk, Va.

Michael Nixon; Norfolk, Va.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Barbara Russel; Chesapeake, Va.

Bob Voros, graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Bob Voros, graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Bob Voros, graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Thanks everybody. I think I’ll try this again next summer.

In bed.

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Fortune Cookie of the Damned, Vol. III: Day of Judgment


Judgment comes tomorrow. With coffee.

First, the winners of the 2011 Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest will be announced tomorrow here at the blog.

Second, the exhibit of entries will be up tomorrow night at Kerouac Cafe, and anyone who is available can gather at 8 p.m. to gaze upon them.

They’ll stay up for a week. Again, the gathering is at 8 p.m. Friday, July 1, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. Free admission. Coffee, tea, lattes, iced drinks, and possibly some eats will be available for purchase.

Donations, discounts, and/or other considerations for the prizes were made by Prince Books, Naro Expanded Video, Kerouac Cafe, Local Heroes, Mike D’Orso, and Earl Swift. Thanks, you guys.

And thanks to all fortune cookie fortune writers, wherever you are.

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Fortune writing contest party, exhibition July 1 at Kerouac Cafe


Winners for the ongoing 1st Annual Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest will be named Friday, July 1, here on the blog.

Additionally, the winners who can make it will get their prizes during an informal gathering at Kerouac Cafe in Norfolk, Va., at 8 p.m. that night. There will be a mini-exhibit of the winners. Most – if not all – of the entrants will be on display.

And I will give a 30 minute interpretive dance performance entitled “Deny Me Not My Shasta.” Oh, wait. I will not do that.

We will have a little party, though, and it will be driven by a perfectly legal psychoactive stimulant called caffeine. We’ve got a chunk of wall reserved, so keep those entries coming.

Well after our communal kidneys deal with all that coffee, this breathtaking exhibition of writing and visual art genius will remain up for a whole week, so you’re covered if you just want to run by Kerouac Cafe to hoist a cup of joe and gaze upon a chunk of wall until the tears of eternal wonder come and go and come again.

Again, the gathering is at 8 p.m., Friday, July 1, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. Free admission. Coffee, tea, lattes, iced drinks, and some eats will be available for purchase.

Festivities will last no later that 10 p.m., largely because I am not as young as I used to be. But feel free to come earlier and stay later. Kerouac Cafe appreciates your business.

Several entries are already in. They come from as far off as Chesapeake, Va. Can Suffolk be far behind? I think not. Can I hear you Williamsburg? You bet I can. Gates County, N.C.? Will you bring it like the postman, Gates County? Hello? Oh, nuts.

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1st Annual Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest


On behalf of the Imaginary Board of Trustees, it is my honor and privilege to announce our 1st Annual Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest.

In this test of skill and conciseness, readers contribute (hopefully) clever fortune or fortunes of their own creation to me via email to jhdouc@verizon.net – not in the comments, please – and I take them and turn them into clunky, iPhoto-ed fortunes, such as the one above, and republish them here.

I’m looking for funny fortunes. Clever fortunes. Poetic fortunes. Silly fortunes. Sad fortunes. Angry fortunes. Your hopes and dreams, your fears and foibles. Whatever way you want to approach it. It just has to fit on a fortune slip, so please keep it to about 30 words or less. I’m open to cartoons, photos, or artwork, even – it just has to fit into a fortune cookie fortune sized space. For example, a font freak might go with this:

There will be modest prizes of my choosing, including first-edition, signed books by authors previously featured on this blog. Three winners will get prizes. I’ll probably publish more than three fortunes, but if you aren’t one of the three winners identified specifically as winner you won’t get a prize. I’m not saying you’re not a winner. Because you’re a winner. You just may not be a winner in this contest. Respect to the math.

If I get enough good entries, I’ll post a bunch of them here. If I don’t get any entries, we’ll just get on with our lives and pretend this never happened. Won’t speak of it. Won’t betray the shame. Won’t even make eye contact. Like after that thing in the summer of 1996.

The Imaginary Counsel to the Imaginary Board of Trustees would now like us to mention a few things under the banner of housekeeping. I now turn this post over to The Expositrope 9000, keeper of helpful information, boilerplate and disclaimers:

Greetings, Readers. I am The Expositrope 9000, keeper of helpful information, boilerplate and disclaimers. Confused? Let The Expisitrope 9000 explain. Ha ha ha. That was a joke.

Here is another joke. I, The Expositrope 9000, just flew in from Reno. Golly, are the arms of The Expositrope 9000 tired. Ha ha ha. I, The Expositrope 9000, do not hear you laughing. I, The Expositrope 9000, wonder if this imaginary microphone I am pretending to hold is on.

Now I, The Expositrope 9000, will now relay the rules of entry:

  1. All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m., June 15, via email to jhdouc@verizon.net. That’s the only way to enter. Comments are appreciated, and you can leave as many or few as your puny human flesh can handle, but those will not be considered for the contest. On this, I, The Expositrope 9000, am firm.
  2. Please include your name as you want it to appear on the blog, as well as what you do for a living, and your town and state of residence. Understand that this information may be published along with your entry.
  3. If you have a problem with having your hometown or full name on the blog, please include this in the email containing an entry/or entries. The Internet can be a scary place. Just let the author of this blog know.
  4. Submit entries in the text of your email to the author of this blog via jhdouc@verizon.net. You may submit by emailing files in the .doc, .docx, or .pdf formats. Please enter artwork in the .jpg or .png formats only. If you submit artwork in the .pdf format, it will lose a generation or two before it reaches the blog, and therefore will look lame.
  5. By entering, you agree to let the author of this blog publish your fortune, giving you and your fragile human ego full credit.
  6. As odd as it may be to state amid a come-on for such an unoriginal contest, please don’t plagiarise. The author of this blog tends to check for that sort of thing.
  7. This blog is for what puny humans call fun. This contest is for fun. Please keep it in that spirit.
  8. If you are related to the author of this blog by blood or marriage, you can’t win a prize, but you can still have a fortune published. I, The Expositrope 9000, hereby explain to you that the author of this blog is married, and has been for some time. You snooze, you lose.
  9. There will be three winners, all chosen by the author of this blog. It is totally subjective. Know that going in. Heed me, puny  bags of meat and bone. I, The Expositrope 9000, speak truth!

I, The Expositron 9000, will now relay the Rules of Civility:

  1. Don’t attack an individual, unless it’s the author of this blog. If that’s your bag, at least be funny about it.
  2. Please don’t use curse words. I, The Expositrope 9000, am not impressed by your potty mouth. I, The Expositrope 9000, have heard it all.
  3. No fortunes that are profane, sexually graphic, racist, etc., will see the electrons of day here. If you wouldn’t say it to your mom, don’t send it; if you send it anyway, don’t expect it to be acknowledged. If your mom is a bigot, think about what you would say to someone else’s mom so long as this other mom is not a bigot.
I, The Expositrope 9000, will now relay gratuitous exposition unrelated to the contest at issue above:
  1. There is so little that is known about Agent X. You might say he is a mysterious fellow with unclear motives … at least for now.
  2. Agent X makes his own rules by taking your rules and breaking them … emotionally. What a mysterious fellow with unclear motives.
  3. What could Agent X possibly want with our large pharmaceutical and venture capital conglomerate? Could it be the runoff at Sunny Creek? Could that be it? Boy. How does he know?
  4. Could it be that he is from there? Hand me that high school year book that happens to be on the table. Thank you. Flippity flippity flip. Gasp. No. It can’t be. It’s him. It’s really him. It’s Agent X. There, in the marching band photo. Sunny Creek High, Class of ’01!
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