From the Archive: Poetry by Anelise Chen

Throughout this fall season, Hot Metal Bridge is reaching back into our archive to feature some of our favorite interviews, stories, essays, poems, and art. What follows is a poem by Anelise Chen. 

Anelise Chen earned her MFA in fiction at NYU. Born in Taipei and raised in Los Angeles, she lives in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Single Track

By Anelise Chen, Spring 2010

Precious room. A set of tools. Single track EP. Of distance, nothing. Of restraint, thread wound around a needle.

Sedulous retracing. Bears wear winter in their fur. Vinyl, volcanoes, sound breaks. Wallpaper pastiche.

Sultry tempo. That meeting. Standing light followed us. Rounding corners, the city. Playing tunes.

Pommelo. Our evening fountain. On the occasion of your wearing a yellow shirt.

Lead in melodies. While in the wait, slant light. Of dignity, distance. Of distance, a hole in a plaster wall.

Posted in Online

From the Archive: Poetry by Lynne Potts

Throughout this fall season, Hot Metal Bridge will be reaching back into our archive to feature some of our favorite interviews, stories, essays, poems, and art. What follows is a poem by Lynne Potts from our very first issue. 

Lynne Potts lives in New York and Boston. Among her works are more than 100 poems published in American and foreign journals. Her book of poems, Color of Water Inside, won the National Poetry Review Press prize for publication in 2013, and her second book, Mame, Sol, and Dog Bark will be released by the same press in 2015.

Idaho

by Lynne Potts, Spring 2007

(This poem is dedicated to Don Quixote’s horse,
not to the Knight or the Author)

Open your mouth. Howl Idaho
till mountains drop boulders like tear balls.
It’s a crying plain crying with a dry throat
dry throat and coated nostrils
where the dear ones played down the long
river of no revision. Spit nickels.
No, spit teeth, tough and returned
as relic. Here a hack saw, there a sock
eye about to die out for good
in the low-down dry river (me, my) torn
from a liquid gone aerate. Walk anywhere.
No. Try pulling a tarp over your Ida
ho-ho eye and forget. That’s what I try
to do in the tub tonight — its rim of my
own wash-out, sad river. Rocinante,
lead me to water. No, lead me to drink.

Posted in Blog, Online Tagged with: ,

Literary Happenings for October

Literary Roundup for October!

If you are looking to quench your thirst for literary social gatherings, we have a few possibilities that may be able to satisfy you this month.

Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture Literary Evenings
This month, Pittsburgh welcomes two authors to the Carnegie Music Hall
Simon Winchester, author of The Men Who United the States, on October 6th.
Jodi Picoult, author of Leaving Time, on October 20th.
Tickets to both can be purchased on the Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture website.

Mad Fridays at Delanie’s Coffee House
Stop by Delanie’s Coffee on the South Side (18th and East Carson), on Friday, October 10th at 7 p.m. for a literary conversation with authors Joan E. Bauer (The Almost Sound of Drowning) and Ellen McGrath Smith (Scatter, Feed)

Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series
Nonfiction writer Adam Hochschild will be at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium Thursday, Oct 16 at 8:30 p.m. He is the author of King Leopold’s Ghost, as well as seven other books, and his writing has appeared in the pages of The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and others. FREE.

Steer Queer Fall Issue Release & Poetry Slam
Readings by contributors to their fall issue, and others are welcome to perform original work, as well. On Thursday, Oct 16, event starts at 8 p.m., performances at 9 p.m. at the Blue Moon Bar (5115 Butler Street). See their Facebook event page for more info.

A Conversation with The Kenyon Review
Editors from The Kenyon Review will visit Pitt’s campus on Friday, Oct 17 at 11 a.m. to host a discussion about the work of literary magazines. Come join Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Natalie Shapero, and Geeta Kothari in a conversation about editorial practices and opportunities like The Kenyon Review’s new two-year fellowships for writers. Hear the inside scoop as they demystify the publishing process and build connections here at Pitt with the next generation of writers.

Friday, October 17
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Humanities Center (602 CL)
*beverages and snacks provided*

City of Asylum 10th Anniversary Celebration!
City of Asylum is hosting their 10th Anniversary Celebration! This event will include drinks, dinner, and a private reception with the five exiled writers who were given sanctuary by the City of Asylum. The event will be on October 18th from 6:00 – 7:45 p.m. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the City of Asylum website.

Exiled Voices 2014
Also on October 18th, and following immediately after the 10th Anniversary Celebration, there will be a reading by the five exiled writers at the Alphabet City Tent from 8:00-9:30 p.m. For more information, and to buy your FREE ticket to reserve a seat, visit the event page on the City of Asylum website.

Pretty Owl Poetry Spotlight Series
Come hear local poets Cameron Barnett, Ziggy Edwards, Malcolm Friend & Adrienne Jouver read at Biddle’s Escape (401 Biddle Avenue) at 7 p.m. on October 22nd!

Pittsburgh Literary Calendar
If you are interested in other literary events that are around, feel free to visit the Pittsburgh Literary Calendar to see what is happening this month.

As always, if there is anything that we have missed or something that you would like us to broadcast, please don’t hesitate to let us know so that we can add it!

Posted in Online

From the Archive: Art from Kyle William Butler

Throughout the fall season, Hot Metal Bridge will reach back into our archive to feature some of our favorite interviews, stories, essays, poems, and art. What follows is a collection titled “From Structure to Debris” by Kyle William Butler, an artist from Buffalo, NY.  

By Kyle William Butler, Fall 2008

In this body of work, I utilize images of building materials to establish
a spectrum ranging from completed structure to debris. On one side of the
spectrum, there is the completed structure. It is both cultivation and
upkeep; a denial of nature and a move toward utopia. This point
represents the constructed individual, overtaken by spectacle and eclipsed
by stereotype. On the other end of the spectrum is debris, the singular
individual left to fallow outside of social norms.

By using concepts from the disciplines of urban planning and architecture,
I draw parallels between the individual and the slum, and between the
stereotype and the gentrified neighborhood. Through this combined
terminology I hope to develop relationships between these different
spectrums, using each to provide insight into the other.

commdisease-thumbnail.jpg

Communicable Disease, intaglio, 25″x11″, 2007.

idtheftdetail-thumb.jpg

Identity Theft (detail), india ink and acrylic on two panels, 48″x49″, 2007.

helpyourselfkansas-copy-thumb.jpg

Help Yourself: Bystander Photographs Assault Victim at Kansas Gas Station, oil, acrylic, ink, pen on panel, 20″x20″, 2008.

Posted in Online Tagged with: ,

Readings Roundup 9/22-9/26

Readings Roundup!

Celebrate the HMB Blog’s return with a literary excursion in Pittsburgh this week.  For one week, there’s a lot to choose from!  And all of them are free!  Except for the James McBride Talk!

Tonight, Monday 9/22:

James McBride on his new novel, The Good Lord Bird.  Carnegie Music Hall at 7:30 pm, $15 for a ticket.

You have a decision to make on Wednesday 9/24:

1) Pretty Owl Poetry hosts a reading at Biddle’s Escape (401 Biddle Ave) at 7.

AND

2) Speakeasy–the reading series for the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA program–hosts the last in a series of readings introducing their new MFA candidates at 9 in the Cathedral of Learning Room 501.

(Maybe you can go to both?!)

Thursday 9/25:

Poet Lucie Brock-Broido is around for the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series, and reads at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium at 8:30!

Did we miss something happening this week?  Let us know!

Posted in Online Tagged with: ,

From the Archive: An Interview with Terrance Hayes

Throughout the fall season, Hot Metal Bridge will reach back into our archive to feature some of our favorite interviews, stories, essays, and poems. What follows is an interview with Terrance Hayes, who earlier this week was named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow.  Terrance Hayes 2014 MacArthur Genius Award Fellow

by Lauren Russell, Spring 2011

Terrance Hayes is the author of four books of poetry, including Muscular Music, winner of both the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Whiting Writers’ Award; Hip Logic, which was a National Poetry Series Open Competition winner, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and a runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Wind in a Box, named one of the Best 100 Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly. His latest book, Lighthead, was awarded the National Book Award. Hayes is also the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, three Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Hayes is an alum of the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA Program, and he opened the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series this fall. Hot Metal Bridge’s Lauren Russell caught up with Hayes at Voluto Coffee.

Hot Metal Bridge: You were a basketball player in college. At what point did you decide to focus on poetry?

Terrance Hayes: I started writing poems in high school, but I wasn’t thinking I could have a career at it, so I just kinda wrote, and even in college I was a fine arts graduate. I wasn’t a poet publically, but I had a professor who knew that I wrote. When I was getting ready to graduate, I wondered if I would go play basketball overseas or if I would get an MFA in painting. Painting was too expensive, with supplies, and I hadn’t really taken poetry. I hadn’t even taken a poetry workshop, so I thought that would be the thing that would be newest. So I just thought I would be an English teacher or something. I didn’t even think I would be a poet, even when I got here.

HMB: I heard that when you were a student in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh, you had two professors pushing you in somewhat different directions. Do you think this was good for your work?

Hayes: Three. You know it was Toi and Lynn and Ed, Ed Ochester, and they were all very different. I don’t know how much you know about Ed—he runs Pitt press, and he was the chair of the department for most of the time I was there. I wouldn’t say they pushed me in different directions, just they had different ideas of how poems should be written. Usually students get their affiliations; they start identifying with one professor more than another. Usually when they’re doing applications, some professors want particular students, so there were sort of implicit divisions that way. It’s sort of my personality that I’m not a person who’s interested on being on any team, so I didn’t pick any of them, didn’t want to pick sides. Toi was the closest to me emotionally, but in terms of the classroom I was trying to get the most out of all of them and see what all three of them could give me.

HMB: I have heard you say that your aim as a poet is to resist being categorized with any particular school or style, to go from “room to room” in the house of contemporary poetry. Is this kind of independence hard to achieve?

Hayes: It’s more local. I just think about that when I’m writing a poem. I don’t sit down at the desk and say I’m going to write a black poem, a narrative poem. When you look at anybody’s bookcase, there are so many styles. When I’m working, I just try to write whatever the poem requires. But you know that does happen. People look at your work and say, “This is a Terrance Hayes poem,” and I have nothing to do with that. I’m just trying to be interesting to myself, but a critic or someone who’s read a lot of poems will identify a style. There’s a division between what critics/readers expect and what writers expect. As a writer I just try to keep writing, not think about what readers expect.

HMB: I think that’s why I have trouble with lit classes.

Hayes: Yeah, it’s two different sides. I don’t in a general way value one over the other, but I do think they’re separate. In a workshop, people function more as readers than as writers, but if you imagine what a writer needs rather than what a reader needs, that’s a very different kind of workshop.

HMB: You have also said you aren’t interested in “perfect poems.” Why not?

Hayes: Every year I have something. [I’m talking about] not a deliberately flawed poem but more a reflection of a perspective, which is not about perfection. If you think about an animal, there’s no perfect animal. Most people think of poems like they’re machines. I’m thinking of something more organic and human that exists the way it needs to exist, more like a baby or child. How do you achieve that? I think of myself as a person who likes to be in control of everything. So how do I surprise myself? For so long I’ve been this person who’s been too in control, so how do I relinquish control? Some of it’s about line breaks, narrative. I like the poem to look a certain way in terms of line breaks, but how do I release control? Some of it is subject matter. The poet wants to be liked in the poem, but what does it mean to not always chase some kind of appeal? Discomfort, vulnerability, rawness that come up in a poem—that also has to do with perfection, the absence of perfection. That’s hard to teach, but if you make people more generous in the workshop, then you can get it. You say, “Oh, it’s not a perfect poem, but it’s pretty good; we’ll take that.” It creates generosity if you aren’t chasing a perfect object.

HMB: Can you talk more about narrative?

Hayes: Narrative is all set-up—you know the Freitag triangle? Climax, resolution—that’s very controlled, so if you relinquish some of that so there are holes, digressions in the story, not feeling like you have to go from point to point in a story.

HMB: Harryette Mullen has said that her work struggles against the idea that “innovative” and “black” are somehow mutually exclusive. Do you also see your work as bridging that gap?

Hayes: Yeah, I think that’s right. If I think about readers, if I think about readers’ response to her poems, I think there’s that cultural dimension to it—even in Muse and Drudge, she has African-American vernacular, blues, quatrains; she’s experimenting within the blues structure. As a reader I can see how she’s innovating with the blues culture, and I can see how she can’t escape that walking around in her body, in her brain. But as a writer I see that she is trying to write a long poem and play with language form, quatrains. Readers come up with styles, categories.

HMB: Some of your poems make references to the work of other poets (Jorge Luis Borges, Etheridge Knight, Harryette Mullen in Wind in a Box; Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, and James Dickey in Lighthead). Do you feel that your work is in conversation with other poets? And if so, why these particular poets?

Hayes: Yes, it’s in conversation with them. And those are poets for now. There are certain poets—Harryette, Elizabeth, Larry Levis, Etheridge Knight, Sylvia Plath. I have probably written about three poems about Etheridge Knight. They’re usually people I’m reading. The poem is just one way to think about a given writer. A poem is an ongoing interest and loyalty to a writer, but I can write a poem about anything I’ve been reading. Really if you think about the long haul, you’ve read everything by people. At this point I’ve read everything by Etheridge Knight, so there’s not going to be as much surprise for me, the same kind of spark, as with someone I’ve just discovered and am perplexed by. But usually people I am excited by—I bring them into the library, and they stay there. But I don’t think of it as a kind of fixed thing; I just bring them onto the shelf, and it’s ever-expanding.

HMB: Your work also frequently references musical icons—Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Tupac Shakur, James Booker, and Elizabeth Cotton, among others. Much has been said of the relationship between poetry and the visual arts, but I haven’t heard as much discussion about the interplay between music and poetry. Can you speak to this?

Hayes: Yeah, but you know, I think that’s first, that’s primary. Language is just music without the full instrumentation. Music doesn’t have the burden of connotation that language does. I prefer music, actually. I think there’s almost no room between the two. Talking about what a poem can do, think about Miles Davis or Beethoven—those pieces that have communicated something emotional without language; the only language you have is the title. I think a poem can do that, but people resist that. I’m chasing a kind of language that can be unburdened by people’s expectations. I think music is the primary model—how close can you get this language to be like music and communicate feeling at the base level in the same way a composition with no words communicates meaning? It might be impossible. Language is always burdened by thought. I’m just trying to get it so it can be like feeling.

HMB: I am really impressed with how you manage to take genres from other settings—liner notes, movie synopses—and turn them into poetic forms. In Lighthead, you adapted the pecha kucha, a Japanese business presentation format. How did you think to do this?

Hayes: I participated in one. A few years ago, they had one in the architecture department at CMU, and they invited a bunch of different people. I went to one in Japan, a year later, but before that, these guys called me and a bunch of other people and said, “The subject is open systems. Send us 20 images about whatever you’re going to talk about around that subject, and talk about them for 20 minutes.” I thought, language is an open system, because you can come up with a structure and put almost anything into it, and like a computer it feeds out results. I got the most intense parts of poems I could find—the most intense lines that Amiri Baraka ever wrote, Adrienne Rich, Jack Gilbert. If a poet writes a poem that’s 20 lines, there’s a “hot spot” that gives it its emotional energy. I cut out everything but the hot spot in my favorite 20 poems and put it together.

When I got there I saw other people—a jazz musician who said music was an open system, so he improvised on his bass; an urban developer talked about cityscapes as an open system.

Everybody went, and I very quickly thought that I had done it wrong, because I could see a kind of continuity in what they were talking about, but I had a one-sentence theory, and then I had just made something. So I was really nervous, and my wife was there, and then it was my turn. There were about 13 people, and if you do 20 slides at 20 seconds each, you can do it in six minutes 40 seconds, and at that moment I thought I did it wrong, and when I finished, there was complete silence. I was sweating, and I thought, “Ah, man I fucked it up,” and I said that to my wife, and she said, “No, it was extremely intense.” After people came down they said, “That was really interesting, that was mind-blowing,” but even in that moment when I thought I had done it wrong, I thought I wanted to replicate that feeling of reading it, and I thought would it be possible to do that in a poem that sustains this intensity through 20 seconds, that seems narrative by association but is really 20 moments of emotional intensity, so I decided I was going to do it.

So I just went home, and from then on I was working with all those parts. The first one was “Arbor for Butch,” and if you google the title you can find how there are associations with the Martin Puryear sculptures. The next one I did with music—I thought, “I’ll do 20 pieces with Fela Kuti.” And one I did with narrative, and the last one was the most far out, “Twenty Measures of Chitchat,” and I don’t even know if that works. I thought, “I’ll do these emotional responses to fragments of conversation,” so it’s far from the original idea. I’ve only read it out loud once. It was exciting to me to see how far out I could go. That would be the key thing I am suggesting—I wasn’t excited about continuing the form, even though I made it up. I want to see how far I can push it. I’m interested in breaking my own rules, even if it’s a failure. I don’t think it’s an out-and-out failure, that poem, but I know it’s more complicated and difficult than other poems in that book.

Last summer I went to Japan. A graphic design artist started the pecha kucha in 2003. The founders still do them every other month. So I just went and told them I was writing poems and gave them a book. They weren’t that interested, but that’s fine. I did one more, “Gentle Measures,” which is the first time I have maintained a longer interest in a form, beyond the book. This woman came up to me and said, “People are doing these all over,” and I said, “They were doing that before,” and she said, “No, they’re doing poems,” and I think that’s cool. But getting back to the writer/reader thing, I don’t claim that as a form I made up. It’s just something that was helping me write, and I just adapted it. But I don’t have a trademark on it, which is what I said to the person who said they wanted to do an anthology. The point is to do something new, not to invent a new form.

HMB: You have said you always try to do new things but that certain themes always catch up with you. What are those themes, and if it is impossible to escape the topics that obsess you, how do you keep “making it new”?

Hayes: What are the themes? Can music be a theme? Family, particularly fatherhood/masculinity. My poems are full of guys; my drawings are full of guys, too. I don’t know if music is a theme. It’s more of a constant approach. Identity, that’s such a big word, with a capital “I.” Who am I, what am I—what is good, what is bad. Most recently, something about place. Being a Southerner living in Pittsburgh. Race. Culture with a capital “C.” Race, gender, place—those certain things in a big way. Those things come back. I can always see it retrospectively, but when I’m in the middle of a poem, I try to think of it as a very local experiment, but then when I look back at it, I can see that’s what I’m doing. You think you’re always going to go right, so maybe this time you’re going to go left. You’re always using the word “up;” this time use the word “down”—which is why I always go back to music. If your poems are always like a Bob Dylan piece, now you can write a poem like Lil Wayne. What would it mean to have a poem replicate the way Lil Wayne usually uses language. What’s different about how Lil Wayne uses language rather than the way Bob Dylan uses language? That’s why I always come back to music—it’s a way to think about using sentences. But in the end you can’t outrun your skin. Everybody has a style. But it’s fun to resist it.

HMB: Congratulations on winning the National Book Award for Lighthead! In some poetry communities there is a lot of tension around the distribution of awards, particularly since the greater society gives so little recognition to poetry in general. Does this kind of validation from the “establishment” change how you feel about your practice?

Hayes: They have nothing to do with each other really. I was on CNN and on PBS and in Oprah Magazine and The New York Times, the fashion spread, and all that stuff. So that was unusual, especially for a poet. On CNN there was that general question with a broader populist proposition to it—what do we do to get people to read more poems? I say when I do readings and when I go to readings, people are there. I think a small group is fine. Poetry doesn’t have to be a bestseller. It’s not walking down the street and having everybody know who you are. The prize is separate from how I prefer a really small, really faithful readership—people who will say, “The last poem you wrote was not very good, but I’m still with you.” That’s what I’m chasing—a reader who will tell you that. That’s not very many people, but that’s the kind of reader I’m trying to cultivate. People who see me on CNN and whatever and buy the book—that’s cool but has nothing to do with a reader who will try to be with me through my missteps. I try to be grateful, display a certain kind of gratitude so I don’t seem too ungrateful, but I don’t dwell on this.

The CNN thing went well, and the woman said, “They’re going to call you back to do more stuff because you’re young” and all that, and maybe two months later, Anderson Cooper’s assistant called. There was this new thing with Huckleberry Finn where they took out all the n-words.

On the phone they asked what I thought about it, and I said, “That’s like putting underwear on Michelangelo. We’ve already seen what’s there; you can’t cover it up.”

And she said, “Do you want to come on the show?”

I said, “No, I think I’m doing something.”

She said it would be a great opportunity, and I said, “Well, imagine Huckleberry Finn where everything is gone except for the n-word. That’s what I thought about when I heard about the book.”

The woman, his assistant, paused. She said, “I don’t know if you can say that for the show,” and I said, “That’s why I can’t come on,” and I said that’s fine. I have to be able to say what I want. There’s something that clamps down on naughtiness. I have friends who support what I do and say I should take these opportunities and be a spokesperson. I don’t want to be a spokesperson, I just want to write poems. A) I’m always going to be saying something crazy, and B) I can’t remember what I say from one minute to the next. That’s the current dilemma, but it’s passing. They’ll find somebody else who can do a better job, but it’s been cool.

Posted in Blog, Interviews, Online, Poetry Tagged with: ,

From the Archive: An Interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan

Throughout the fall season, Hot Metal Bridge will reach back into our archive to feature some of our favorite interviews, stories, essays, and poems. What follows is an interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan.

By Katie Booth, Spring 2010

John Jeremiah Sullivan is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the southern editor of The Paris Review. He writes for GQ, Harper’s Magazine, and Oxford American, and is the author of Pulphead and Blood Horses. Sullivan lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In February 2010, he came to the University of Pittsburgh to talk with students about the work and art of nonfiction writing. Hot Metal Bridge sat down with him afterwards.

Hot Metal Bridge: Simultaneous with becoming a professional writer, you entered the literary industry as an editor. How has your work as an editor helped or hindered your growth as a writer?

John Jeremiah Sullivan: These days I’m purely on the writing side of things. I miss editing a little. Apart from the fun of doing something collaborative, of not just, you know, being alone at your desk all the time, there was a degree to which it strengthened me as a writer. At least I thought it did. Every day you’re forcing yourself on a microscopic level to be unforgiving with other people’s prose, it can’t help but make you more exacting when it comes to your own stuff. And I tried to learn from the writers I edited, to note their moves, how they went about fixing problems. The danger, of course, is you go too far with that, and you can’t write, because the critical voice is just so powerful from the very beginning, it smothers what you want to say. You’re trying to light matches in a rainstorm of self-doubt. Writing has to believe in itself as it’s happening.

So, the challenge for me has been to keep hold of all that editing taught me, but at the same time insist on myself as a writer and not as somebody who’s working to please an editorial voice. The whole editor/writer relationship has to stay a bit antagonistic, if it’s to be healthy. Some people would say very antagonistic. But I’ve always been lucky to land with editors who became friends too.

HMB: You wrote a fascinating and well-researched piece about Michael Jackson shortly after his death, and as I understand it, you only had about three weeks to report and write it. Can you talk a little bit about getting that assignment and then working through it?

JJS: When Michael died, I had a really strong immediate feeling I wanted to write about him, and I had kind of always wanted to write something about him, but it would have been a non sequitur while he was alive, or gratuitous. His death created an occasion for saying what I’d wanted to say. Writing is often ghoulish like that. I’m from Indiana. We’re not exactly long on heroes there. I named my goldfish MJ, and tried to learn Michael’s dances like everyone. He was our Elvis.

Journalism-wise, there was a purity to the situation, because the magazine was coming to me saying: the cover fell through, we need a cover (which happens all the time in mag world), do you want to do Michael? Okay, cover piece, closes in three weeks. And we hung up. Assignments are rarely that clear, that intelligible, that easy to act on.

Every time I turned on the TV or the internet, he was what people were talking about, and it was a hurricane of horrible glibness and stock phrases being traded around, the same sort of passive aggressive judgmental reporting that characterized his treatment by the media in life. I just felt like: okay, I have to figure out a way to get out from underneath all of that and say something to honor him, I guess. I felt like, this historical American artist has died, and it has to be marked in a way that’s not crass. I’ll either succeed or fail at that.

I was living in the mountains teaching for the summer. I covered my office with MJ paraphernalia. I sent off for a stack of books and articles, in addition to what I had. I started calling people on the phone. I put together a playlist of pretty much every song he ever recorded and set it on shuffle. My daughter danced to Michael Jackson all summer long. She couldn’t understand if he was a boy or a girl. “Is he both? Maybe he’s both!” I wove myself into a little Michael cocoon and hoped something would happen there. I hoped to learn something about him, that could then be reported. This is always the hope, that I will learn something and be able to express it in a way that’s pleasing. Otherwise, what am I doing? Who cares what I think about Michael Jackson, right? I don’t.

HMB: In that piece as well as Blood Horses, and much of your other work, it seems like you immerse yourself in an incredible amount of research. What is your process for balancing research and writing?

JJS: I have a system I use that I stole/adapted from John McPhee, who lays it out very carefully in an interview that was published in a magazine called Writing on the Edge. Every non-fiction writer should read that interview. It’s hard to get. They asked him this same question, and he explained an elaborate system. He was an early computer user, and always working with so much data, and he started creating these “logs,” these vast records of his reporting notes, his interviewing, his note-taking, his reading, and everything is divided up into discrete items, a compendium of items. Sentences. These are then tagged and arranged and rearranged, until blobs of interrelated material start to emerge. The shape of the thing is inside there.

It’s Ezra Pound who talks about the rose in the steel dust. They liked to do these experiments back in the Man Ray days, where they’d have a surface covered with millions of tiny iron shavings, then take a magnet in the shape of something—a rose in this case—and lower it down over the table, and the dust would gather itself into that shape. Beautiful to see. We do that with our material, when we’re writing well and not forcing it, not pushing the piece to arbitrary places. The thing itself—the rose—is the piece, and the form. It knows you’ve got ten thousand pages of material, but regrettably it only wants to be twenty or thirty pages long, so it starts demanding you make decisions. Now you’re in dialogue with it. The magnet and the dust are approaching each other.

HMB: Right now you’re working on a book that tells a historical story. How have you worked to shape the story in the midst of that history?

JJS: It was a case of falling down a rabbit hole. A professor in college told me about this strange article that had been published in an obscure journal back in 1919. It was about an 18th-century figure, a German lawyer, who left a stable well-to-do existence behind and went into the North American forest, where he lived among Native American tribes and worked to unite them against colonialism. The English hunted him for years, until they finally imprisoned him, and he died there, in prison.

It was a great story, and more important something about it seemed unfinished, I was left with the feeling there had to be more. But I was five years into the research before I started finding things that hadn’t been seen before, documents, and I had this original instinct confirmed. He was, in fact, not a footnote, not a freak, but connected to some very significant things that were happening intellectually and politically. The story shifted beneath me. In that sense, it was a lot like writing for a magazine.

I keep my bearings by remembering what I’m doing there in the first place. I’m there to make a book.

But mostly I don’t keep my bearings. Mostly I experience intimidation. Every day you’re brought fresh reminders of your total ignorance, reminders that if you were to spend the rest of your life studying, you’d still miss completely major things that are essential to a true picture—it’s hopeless, you know?

So, I say to myself, sometimes out loud, your task here is not to master the intellectual history of the early Enlightenment. No one can, and if there have been a few who could, you’re not one of them. You’re here to make a book. And no one else is going to make the book you’ll make, no one else cares as much. At that point I’m reinjected with the motivation of, let’s not allow it to be a piece of crap.

HMB: You were talking today about working on “Horseman, Pass By” a magazine piece for Harper’s about the Kentucky Derby, and as you pursued that story, you were also developing what ultimately became Blood Horses, a book that stemmed out of the same project. You were simultaneously working both to cut massive amounts of material for Harper’s, and expand them for your book.

JJS: Yes, I wrote this mutant thing that was 40,000 words long, and the magazine wanted something that was 15,000 words long, and the publisher wanted something 80,000 words long. On the same day sometimes I was working in both directions. That was discombobulating.

HMB: Can you talk about that process? What was that like?

JJS: I mean, I’d like to say it was frustrating, because I’m always eager to complain, but more than anything that whole experience was one of discovering myself as a writer, figuring out what I was interested in doing as a writer. Having to work both ways at once forced me, in a Wax On, Wax Off kind of way, to be thoughtful about my own sentences in a way I hadn’t been—not to the same degree. It goes back to what we were talking about before, with the editor/writer business, and suggests maybe the lines aren’t as clear as I made it sound. Here for instance I was making editorial decisions: you know, cutting, structuring, reworking, all the stuff you do when you’re working on other people’s pieces. Ben Metcalf at Harper’s, who’s truly a magnificent editor, was guiding me through all that. But the whole time I wasn’t thinking like an editor, I was thinking as a writer.

Anyway, I remember feeling awakened; it was an awakening to how difficult writing was going to be, as a life’s pursuit, but also how worth it, maybe, if you dedicated yourself to form. But I should say, if we’re talking about Blood Horses, that’s a book I have complicated feelings about. There are places where I see I didn’t humble myself before the demands the book was created for. There are places where I hear myself writing out of obligation, because I believed something needed to be said, but the book didn’t need it, and didn’t want it. A book is a device that enables an interplay of tensions, pressures, all the things required to sustain somebody’s attention over 300 pages. I’m satisfied to be trying it again.

HMB: So as you’re working out these different pieces, especially with very different tones and registers, how do you go about considering and creating a persona for yourself as the narrator?

JJS: One aspect of coming out of the magazine world is that fact-checking is always there, hovering, waiting to take away your favorite sentences. But your “self” they don’t get to touch, they don’t get to mess with. That’s your fiefdom. So I like to take that as a liberty, and I try to run with it. That’s what you mean by persona.

I never feel like the “I” that’s speaking in a piece of mine has any real duty to sync up with whatever Me is on a given day, in terms of sensibility. If I can create an entity on the page, a being with a voice, who’s able to look at things in a way that gets me closer to what’s true about them, then I embrace him, even if he ends up saying things I don’t say. You can’t do it with other people, of course. If you didn’t actually say the heat was miserable when we were riding the bus together, I can’t quote you as saying that in my piece. But the creature who writes under my byline gets to feel hot and miserable and tell you about it, and the fact-checkers have no way to check it, except to verify that it was 98 degrees in El Paso that day.

I’m saying it’s one thing we get as nonfiction writers. You know, fiction writers get a lot. They can do anything. We can’t do that much, but we can play with masks, and they can’t take that away.

HMB: You’ve done some work writing book reviews that reveal your talents as a reader, your appreciation for other people’s writing, and how closely and carefully you read. What advice do you have to writers who want to be better readers?

JJS: I’m disturbed at how many people think you can write at all without first being a compulsive reader. Not that you can’t find examples in the literature of naive geniuses, but for most of us it’s like trying to paint without knowing how to mix colors: these are your models and your materials, these other books, this long conversation that writers have been having with one another for thousands of years. More practically speaking, if you don’t read widely and purposefully, you can’t have a clear sense of your own strengths and weaknesses. You’re liable to think you’re a genius, when really your stuff is pretty mediocre. Thinking you’re a genius is death.

That said, how do you get to be a better reader? I asked Guy Davenport this question one time, because talking to him could really make a person despair; he just knew so much, he’d read so much in many languages, but not in a pedantic or scholastic way, in a really passionate way. He gave me what I thought was very solid advice, which was: first of all, start reading and don’t stop. The other thing is to follow your interest. He said there ought to be a phrase, “falling into interest,” to go with falling in love.

Follow your interest; follow the writers who energize you, not the ones who exert a sense of obligation on you. The books that do the one or the other will change, as time gone on. The landscape shifts. Don’t adhere to systems unless that feels good.

You know the effect people refer to, the Baader-Meinhof Effect, where you learn a new word, and then you see that word three times over the course of the day. It seems like this amazing coincidence, but really what’s happened is that the word has entered your matrix of signification, shifting in the process from invisibility to visibility. Reading is like this, with books and writers instead of words. If you follow your interest, you’ll be adding to the store of things, examples, that make up your ideas. Read Plutarch because a list you read said he was important, and what if you get asked about him at a party, he’ll wash off. Read Plutarch because you’ve fallen in interest with him—because you’ve followed his successors back to him or his influences forward, or because you need him now to understand better some other writer whose work you love, however it happens, maybe a book of his falls open to a page and you’re fixed—in those ways he becomes part of your soul.

HMB: Last night you said, as advice to writers, to seek out subjects that flatter their obsessions. What obsession do you have that you haven’t written about yet, that you’re waiting for a moment to write about?

JJS: Something I’ve been trying to get my editors to let me write about for like six years now and they just will not say yes, is the new breed of pop-music producer. I like their invisible power. We watch these performers onstage, on television, and speak about them as artists in the old-school mode, but almost every single aesthetic decision related to their music has been made by some overweight guys in sports jerseys who live in the studio and smoke weed 24 hours a day. I want to hang out with those guys. Their approach is much more scientific, cynical, and there’s a man-behind-the-curtain aspect to it all. At the same time they’re passionate technicians and students of music. I think you’d end up looking at pop culture in a different way, if you could get access. But it doesn’t seem sexy. It’s more nerdy. My editors may be wise.

But my real obsession is the first half of the eighteenth century, and that’s all I work on, between deadlines, so mostly I’m pretty in touch with my obsessions. I don’t have to spend a lot of time seeking them out. The job I have at GQ is a beautifully flexible one, especially for this publishing day and age. It lets me roam. They’ll let me go from a serious or at least self-serious political piece to Michael Jackson or Axl Rose. And it’s gotten to a point now where I don’t think that’s even recognized as a conspicuous thing, that I have no niche as a magazine writer yet write tons of pieces. I try not to examine it very hard. It’s just what I do.

Posted in Blog, Interviews, Online Tagged with: ,

Now Accepting Submissions!

Beginning today, Hot Metal Bridge is taking submissions for our fall issue. We love to read new work from emerging writers, so send us your best. All submissions are due by November 15th.

Fiction:

Hot Metal Bridge is looking for thoughtful and well-written fiction. We like to publish the stories of Pittsburgh and the Appalachian/Ohio Valley/Northeast/Midwest region, but are always thrilled to publish any
well-crafted, thoughtful work that comes our way. Send a bio, contact information, and e-mail address. We can’t wait to hear from you. Good luck and good writing.

Creative Nonfiction:

We’re seeking your best, unpublished true stories in any form from traditional memoir and literary journalism to lyric essays and the unexpected. Entries should be between 500 and 5,000 words and can be should be submitted as a Word or RTF attachment by Friday, November  15.

Poetry:

For the first time ever, HMB is accepting digital media submissions! It’s very exciting. So please send us your audio/video submissions—your slam poetry, your
dance poetry, your performance poetry, your ___________ poetry, you get the idea.

Or, just send us poems on the good, old-fashioned page. We’re looking for the best, regardless of form or theme.

Send us up to five of your amazing poems. Please include a short bio with your submission.

Posted in Online

Flashes of War by Katey Schultz

Flashes of War by Katey Schultz
(Apprentice House, May 2013)

Review by Brett Sholtis

Reflections in Broken Glass

Describing Flashes of War as a short story collection is kind of like calling Pink Floyd’s The Wall “a bunch of songs.” Sure, it’s true, but this debut collection of fiction by Katey Schultz is much more than that. These thirty-one stories, the result of three years of research and interviews, examine the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from disparate, often marginalized, perspectives. An Afghan woman remembers her son who died in a bomb blast. Iraqi civilians from Fallujah languish in a refugee camp. An American woman comes to terms with the death of her husband. A team of Marines witness the capture of their leader. Like shards of glass in the aftermath of an explosion, these stories are at times fragmentary, but like those shards, each story hints at the truth of a larger occurrence.

At her best, Schultz’s storytelling is poignant and nuanced and leaves me certain that her research has paid off. One of her better stories, “Home on Leave,” explores the subtleties of military service and masculinity, as a young man home from his first tour in Iraq struggles to overcome the notion that, because his job as a mechanic kept him within the relative safety of the base, he somehow hasn’t done his duty as a soldier. This is the kind of detail you just can’t fake.

Another one of the best stories is also one of the shortest. “Permanent Wave” centers around one detail of one moment: professional baseball pitcher Michael Pineda tossing a wounded war hero a baseball, so that the vet can throw the opening pitch at a game. Without spoiling the end, I’ll just say that to me this brief story perfectly encapsulates the dilemma of the wounded combat veteran: at once held up by society as the apotheosis of manhood, and yet literally deprived of part of his body.

While the majority of the stories in Flashes of War focus on Americans, Schultz brings a similar acuity to her nine stories with Afghani or Iraqi focus characters. One of my favorites is “Aaseya and Rahim,” about an Afghani couple struggling to get by during the American occupation. Although their marriage was prearranged, their relationship is neither formal nor traditional. Aaseya controls her own sexuality and aspires to attain an education, and despite the forces that brought them together, they really seem to love one another. Perhaps I would be tempted to dislike a duplicitous character like Rahim, who earns a living working for both the American military and the Taliban, but due to Schultz’s skill at placing readers within the boots of her characters, I was left feeling only sympathy for this couple, who had endured not just the Americans, but also the Soviets before them.

That within-the-boots approach is at times compromised when Schultz writes from a first person point of view, as these voices sometimes sound a bit too much like her own strong third person voice. While I may believe one narrator, a soldier, when he says, “Dawson’s quick-witted with his tongue but stupid as a buckshot fawn when we’re on patrol,” my suspension of disbelief fails me when a wounded soldier narrates how, “the sky pulsed overhead like an electric blue ocean,” or when another narrator, an American soldier shooting at a vehicle, asserts that “windows shattered into red-stained slivers of light.”

Schultz doesn’t write in character so much as she takes characters and possesses them. The result is a hyper-realist approach, where Schultz’s fine authorial renderings blend with the blood and guts of those she inhabits.

The net effect of all these stories is that the reader cannot help but ask the big questions about war—these wars in particular, and war in general. Schultz has made an effort to avoid proselytizing, a good choice. For while these stories beg for some overarching interpretation, she seems to follow the advice of Vietnam veteran and acclaimed author Tim O’Brien, who said that real war stories have no moral. Instead, she has collected the evidence, placed it before us, and left us to arrive at our own conclusions.

 

Brett Sholtis served in the Army as an infantry soldier in Kosovo and an
automations specialist in California. His itinerant career includes work
in motorcycle safety and environmental research. He is a 2013 winner of
the Taube Award in Fiction.

 

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Online

Hannibal and Me by Andreas Kluth

Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach us About Success and Failure

by Andreas Kluth

(Riverhead Books, January 2013)

Review by Clinton Coggins


Kluth’s Triumvirate, or Somewhere in the Alps There are 20 Dead War Elephants

The first book from the Economist’s Andreas Kluth, Hannibal and Me, explores the life and relevance of Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian general who employed brilliant military strategy in defeating legions of Romans during the Second Punic War. But this is not a book about warfare. Instead it explores the difference between winning and getting what you want.

Kluth’s Hannibal is not the gallant, bombastic commander who ascends the Alps triumphant on the back of an elephant, as he is sometimes portrayed. (Kluth notes that this march halved his army, including the elephants.) Instead, Kluth reveals Hannibal to be a single-minded genius—brilliant in warfare, but unable to understand it as an extension of peaceful rule.

Kluth mixes autobiographic details with anecdotes from the lives of Hannibal, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and others in an effort to deduce what it is exactly that makes these people great or not so great. Specifically, he narrows his focus to three men: Hannibal, considered to be one of the greatest military tacticians of all time; Scipio, the man who defeated him; and Fabius, the Roman senator and statesman who helped Rome recover from a string of devastating military defeats at Hannibal’s hands. Kluth’s narrative insight and research highlights the unique symbiosis of the triumvirate of Hannibal, Scipio, and Fabius—each man made whole by the existence of the others, at times enemies, and at times allies.

The book is, on the whole, remarkably cohesive in theme and scope, blending the stories of characters as disparate as Cleopatra and Niels Bohr, while maintaining certain foci throughout. Familial relationships and the legacies they leave for each individual is one such theme: “Some adolescents, like Hannibal and his brothers, try to emulate their parents…Other children… rather, search for their mother or father…A third type of adolescent…will neither emulate nor search for their father or mother but rebel.”

Hannibal and Scipio fall firmly into the first category. In the temple to Baal in Cartegena, Hannibal swore an oath with his father to “use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome,” honoring the thunder god for which he was named (Hannibal means “grace of Baal.”)

Scipio too seems to have been strongly influence by his paternal relationship, witnessing his father fall as he diverted Hannibal’s forces to protect his fleeing son. Scipio went on to lead the Roman army to undo this defeat. Both Scipio and Hannibal were fighting the wars of their fathers, victims of generational circumstance, unable to escape.

Another theme Kluth explores is a comparison of Hannibal to Tiger Woods, the feared and scandalized golfer. “Working backward from that pin, Woods knew that he had to win tournaments…and regarded the hole as the unit of success. To Tiger Woods, strokes were the equivalent of tactical maneuvers, holes were battles to be won in order to win the tournaments, which were analogous to wars, and nineteen majors was the…objective.”

To Kluth, Hannibal’s problem was that he focused on single strokes, or victories, instead of Rome’s defeat. In doing so, he allowed Rome to continue and survive, despite decimating its armies through tactical supremacy. Had Hannibal applied Tiger’s approach, each one of his victories would have been designed to weaken Rome as a city-state. Instead, Hannibal focused almost exclusively on warfare itself and the defeat of Roman armies. In response, under Fabius’ leadership, Rome adopted a strategy of non-engagement that weakened Hannibal through attrition, allowing the empire to recover. It was this strategy of non-engagement that kept Hannibal from toppling the empire, despite its tremendous military losses.

The end of Kluth’s book devolves into a tone similar to a Zig Ziglar management book, with platitudes highlighted, numbered, and listed. An example: “Have ‘young’ ideas while you’re young and while you’re old. As you get older, it becomes ever easier to think of reasons not to try something.”

In spite of this weakness, and in spite of an almost pathologically singular reliance on Jungian writing for quotes on the human psyche, overall, book the book is organized, thought-provoking, funny, and at times surprising.

Clinton Coggins, a reader, writer, and editor based in eastern Iowa, works for publications such as The Clock Inside.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Online

Summer 2014

"She's Gotta Have It" by Otha "Vakseen" Davis III "She's Gotta Have It"

Letter from the Editors

Fiction

Note from the Fiction Editors Jen Bannan and Frank Huerta
View from the Porch by Warren Read
Magdalene by Emily Koon
Without Wind Resistance by Sean Towey
The Delicious Hell of It: An Interview with Charles Bock by Sara Button

"Felinity" by Otha "Vakseen" Davis III "Felinity"

Note from Poetry Editors Michelle Lin and Laura Brun
The Girl in the Bed by Erica Bodwell
How I Crossed by Colleen Coyne
Two Poems by Alejandro Escudé
Seven Rules to Ensure Victory by Chas Holden
Flora by Ginger Ko
Thru the Landscape by C.J. Opperthauser
Will-o’-the-wispering by Jake Syersak
Swarm by J.R. Toriseva
Hex by Amanda Tumminaro
Becoming my Mother by Jeanann Verlee
Cinepak by Patrick Williams
Some Other Kind of Way To Be Alive: An Interview with Dana Ward by Lauren Russell

"Wake Up and Smell the Heartache" by Otha "Vakseen" Davis III "Wake Up and Smell the Heartache"

Nonfiction

Note from the Nonfiction Editors Rachel Wilkinson and Sara Button
Attachment by Marin Sardy
Destruction Bay by Patrick Kelling
Prepping for Doomsday: An Interview with Jen Hirt by Rachel Wilkinson

"Dark Cities" by Kate LaDew "Dark Cities" by Kate LaDew

Artist Gallery

Contributor Bios

"Color Bars" by Sheri Wright "Color Bars" by Sheri Wright

"Master of the Unseen" by Amanda McGlynn "Master of the Unseen" by Amanda McGlynn

"Eyes Wide" by Otha "Vakseen" Davis III "Eyes Wide"


("She's Gotta Have It," "Felinity," "Wake Up and Smell the Heartache," and "Eyes Wide Shut" by Otha "Vakseen" Davis III)