From the Attic: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Business
November 21, 2013 – 10:00 am
“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Business” by David Kiefaber
I love a good sports essay. Particularly when the sport featured is professional wrestling, or as David Kiefaber astutely calls it: “Shakespeare in bib overalls.” And who knew Roland Barthes was a fan of the likes of Hulk Hogan? Hold on to your spandex; this read, featured in issue 2, is a fun one.
—Sean Rose, Nonfiction Editor
Genre Poetry: It Doesn’t Have to Suck
November 5, 2013 – 8:14 pm
Genre is sometimes viewed as a dirty word in poetry. When a poem is classified by a genre, the piece is expected to follow certain tropes. In the case of science fiction, these tropes include artificial life, humanity’s relationship to technology, and traveling between seemingly impassable barriers. A thriving subculture exists in poetry under the umbrella of speculative poetry—the examination of reality that questions itself. Poems akin to Mary Coleridge’s “The Other Side of a Mirror” and Christina Rossetti’s “The Goblin Market” fall into this category, as they create alternate worlds that invalidate our perceptions of truth.
What is it about that absence of certainty that appeals to me? Poetry is an exercise in exploring perception, and science gives humanity unique opportunities to examine its relationships to sensory data, cognition, and truth. Science fiction is all about the questions that arise from the division between technology and humanity. I’ve been exploring the abilities and experiences that make us uniquely human in order to understand what is impossible to replicate with technology. I am trying to discover how to address that line between perception and reality by way of poetry.
The human brain, upon hearing a sensory metaphor, reacts as if actual sense data is being received. If I describe something as being smooth or jagged, the part of the brain that controls textual sensation works with other parts of the brain to make sense of this concept. At first hearing this notion, my mind was boggled. Double boggled, in fact. If language can fool the brain, the most sophisticated computer we’ve ever seen, what do our senses really tell us at any given moment? Poets are taught the power of the image, but I never imagined that there was such a real reaction to those images on a neurological level.
Learning what the brain does with poetry led to more questions about the possibilities and frailties of language: If metaphors are perceived as real at the instant of creation, what makes reality real at all? What else is possible? One of the benchmarks in the development of true artificial intelligence is the understanding and use of metaphor and idiomatic language. It seems that our brains are unique in the ability to process this kind of symbolic language, to make intuitive leaps, but that won’t remain true forever. For instance, the IBM computer Watson is already beginning to process slang terminology, so technology’s ability to use metaphor could be developed within a few years.
If the human brain and a heuristic system with artificial intelligence can do the same things, how does that change our perception of what humanity is? Will it change how we write poetry? Does it even matter? I haven’t processed yet what any of this will mean for my writing, but these questions about humanity and technology are interesting enough to spend lifetimes writing about. I want the questions to keep coming, to keep blowing up my thought process so dramatically that I never stop being unsure about the difference between truth and perception. Because progress never occurs on stable ground. Certainty is overrated. Magic happens at the break.
From the Attic: This Is A Poem…
October 31, 2013 – 5:00 pm
“The False Mirror” by Julie Marie Wade
“The False Mirror,” from issue 18, shares more than its name with René Magritte’s reflective painting. Both ask: what do we see, believe, or understand when we turn our eye on itself? You can see the painting for yourself at Margritte’s current exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and read Julie Marie Wade’s sound-full vision above.
—Dana Sprayberry-Thompson, Poetry Editor
From the Attic: Rising Above the Practical
October 24, 2013 – 10:00 am
“As Everything Has Three Parts, & We Divide Them However We Want,” “Advice to Passengers,” “Translation with Missing Original,” and “Your New Birthday” by John Gallagher
John Gallagher’s poems ascend over the practical to a place where what can be stated straightforwardly and simply is never actually straightforward or simple. These four poems, published in issue 7, give a new birth to the mundane, propelling the reader to a place far beyond the practical.
—Jennifer Whalen, Public Relations Manager
From the Attic: Place and the Body
October 17, 2013 – 5:00 pm
Interview with Bret Anthony Johnston
As Bret Anthony Johnston puts it in this interview from issue 5, “Place is story. Place is conflict. Place is character.” Johnston’s first novel, Remember Me Like This, will be released next year. The novel’s set in the Texan Gulf, and as a Gulf Coast native myself, I found this interview illuminating, as it piques my fascination with the relationship between place, fiction, and the individual.
—Reyes Ramirez, Copy Editor
October 15, 2013 – 10:00 am
I never wrote about my Persian heritage as a kid—unless you count a fascination with scimitars in grade school. Still, that was just the odd writing assignment, an excuse to draw curved blades in the margins of my paper. These days, I know a scimitar isn’t exclusively Persian, although the word itself comes from the Farsi shamshir. It’s a bit of trivia, a factoid that has yet to appear in my fiction about Persians and Iran. Herein lies my main issue with writing “culture”: which cultural details enrich a story, and which simply distract?
I’d argue we all write culture anyway, that fictionalizing my Persian grandmother’s arranged marriage in Tehran is no more “cultural” than writing about a Baptist private school in Texas. In either case, I see two sources of cultural information that prove more obvious when writing about a culture most readers find unfamiliar.
The first way we access culture is experiential, the personal culture we often filter, reshape, and recycle in our writing. When I write about Persian characters, I find myself drawing on childhood memories of family gatherings or conflicts. Such autobiographical elements make characters and settings feel more “real” as we write them, even as we fictionalize most of the details. What we consider wholly artistic inventions, however spontaneous, are generated from the same place. We may not notice our subconscious translating experiences via our imagination, but as writers, we do this “translation work” all the time.
The second source of information is research, finding those facts and details we haven’t experienced but feel necessary for a reader to believe our characters and the worlds they inhabit. Writing about Iran has shown me how problematic such research can be. Yes, my father was born in Iran and exposed me to Persian culture—but I’ve never been there. I’m not fluent in Farsi either. Any portrayal of Iran or its people requires frequent Internet searches, family interviews, and more than a little imagination. Even afterward, I inevitably get a comment asking for more atmosphere, more exotic detail.
Here’s where my internal critic reminds me that Adam Johnson went to North Korea to write The Orphan Master’s Son, and he’s not even Korean. That if I had the stones to visit Iran myself, I’d have real experience instead of Internet bookmarks. Maybe then my Iran stories wouldn’t suck. And maybe my internal critic’s right.
Then again, fiction has to surpass individual experience. Imagination always adds something in translation. Maybe it’s okay that my reach exceeds my grasp. For now.
Which leads back to the question of research. How do I explain, as my protagonist is beaten by basiji, that these zealots served as civilian militia in the Iran-Iraq War and now enforce proper Islamic behavior on Iran’s own citizens? The answer is: I don’t, at least not mid-scene. The soundest advice I’ve received about writing culture has been to “wear your research lightly,” and while this may seem like yet another trite writer’s motto, I’ve learned most research is for the writer, not the page. What will make a story resonate aren’t the “facts” you fit in, it’s those truly human experiences—love, struggle, and even violence—that we all share.
From the Attic: Places and Portraits
October 10, 2013 – 7:22 pm
“Seattle, 1974″ by Charles D’Ambrosio
Places are like people. Get to know a place well enough and out come the faults. All that familiarity starts to feel more like claustrophobia. Charles D’Ambrosio felt similarly about his native Seattle. He escaped into words and took a long, lovely look at his city, culminating in a beautiful portrait of the place, warts and all, in issue 1’s “Seattle, 1974.”
—Sean Rose, Nonfiction Editor
From the Attic: Crossing the “Impenetrable” Divide
October 3, 2013 – 5:00 pm
“Place Names: The Name,” “After Kabir,” and “Poem” by Dan Beachy-Quick
In 2008,when Dan Beachy-Quick was merely a poet, turning his keen eye into words that whirl through vast white space, we were thrilled to publish several of his poems. Now that he’s crossed into a whole new space—his first novel, An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky, published less than a month ago—we celebrate, and revisit his poems that first appeared in Front Porch Issue 6.
—Dana Sprayberry-Thompson, Poetry Editor
The Devil in the Details
October 1, 2013 – 2:00 pm
There’s something special in that moment when we hear bad news because rather than just leaving it at that, we demand to know more and more, not unlike eating past the point of being painfully full. When did it happen? What dress was she wearing when you saw her kissing him? We keep digging for details until there’s a hole big enough to lie in and absorb the terribleness of it all like a sick liver. I think writing lets me take this notion further.
I mean, I know I do it in my fiction and poetry because, as Charles Bukowski puts it, there is “pain without reason” and art allows the imagination to connect those sorts of dots to create a map of pain which otherwise remains a mystery. For example, Frida Kahlo’s painting ‘Henry Ford Hospital’ depicts the trauma of her miscarriage and rather than just showing us her crying and feeling the emptiness in her belly while bleeding onto a pristine hospital bed, the fetus of her dead child floats nearby while, amongst other things, her fractured pelvis stands adjacent to remind her that her body may never give her a child. These are tied to her with red strings, artificial umbilical cords. Kahlo’s miscarriage was pain without reason, but the painting holds a haunting beauty that reveals her reaching out to some sort of closure that must have been so achingly elusive.
Another: I once wrote a short story where a speaker tells a story about the life of his father conjured from other narratives a la “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” It is a relatively sweeping story (or, as epic as my then 20-year-old self could create), which could or could not be true as some details are too grandiose to believe:
But [his father] would come to be known for the way he would force surrendered, enemy soldiers to lay on the floor on their stomachs and shooting them in the back of head with a pistol so that when his men moved the bodies, he could interpret the blotches their blood and brains had made on the floor and laugh every time they resembled butterflies.
I’ll admit this story stems from a similar affair with my father in that we’ve had a tumultuous relationship where we know nothing of the other. I stopped talking to him and still know nothing. The story allowed me to make sense of such a notion, which stiffens my body like a held breath every time I think about it.
But it’s a messed up sort of thing that provides people to take grief in teaspoons, little details that put things into context in an otherwise chaotic reality. We want those concrete yet stinging details because, according to JM Coetzee, “Nothing is worse than what we can imagine” and we still cling to the foolish notion that grief can be quantified. So if your girl cheats on you, you want to know who he is and if he made her come; if your mother doesn’t want to talk to you anymore, you want to know por que, por que, por que. When we don’t get those answers, I guess there’s nothing left to do but to create.
Issue 24 Is Here!
August 26, 2013 – 5:00 pm
front porch issue 24 is live just in time for the end of the summer season! As always, we’ve complied excellent fiction, poetry, and nonfiction to cure your end-of-summer blues.
“He spoke with the slow, measured clip of someone paying by the word.”
-Kevin Corbin, from “Under Any Other Sun”
Our fiction section hosts “The Cut,” a short, enticing piece by Eva Langston about the price of inhibition and Kevin Corbin’s “Under Any Other Sun,” a sordid, spellbinding story of degradation and holding onto those last scraps humanity.
“Instead, I took my brother to the Blue Ridge, hiked with sandwiches
to a mountaintop, and we asked, When do we get what we were promised?
The furnace of another day expired, and another light failed to catch.”
-Andrew Payton, from “Failed Light”
Issue 24 hosts a wide range of poets including: Jenny Krueger, Leisha Douglas, Neal Kitterlin, Andrew Payton, Heather Cox, and Sam Pink; their poems stretch across a wide range of topics and styles from the lyricism of Jenny Krueger to the dark, gritty realism of Sam Pink. These poems also include a variety of forms ranging from free verse to prose poetry.
“Cars don’t pass through Glenrio so much as bolt past the town’s crumbling bones, but I ease off the gas and coast my ‘94 Sentra onto the gravel shoulder.”
-Jonathan Crowl, from “Ghosts In Glenrio”
From the ghost stories of Jonathan Crowl to Sarah K. Lenz’s musing on sex in religion in “Crashing the Buick,” the nonfiction section of issue 24 is sure to entice.
“[W]hen you get down to the essence of a story, say, a love affair, they are all the same. The difference is the language and the landscape. Stories become unique when they are told from the point of view of the people living in a region.”
This issue highlights an interview with Christine Granados in which she discusses topics such as the categorization of her writing, Hispanic American literature, and the reoccurring themes within her work.
As always, along with these features, this issue features a handful of insightful book reviews and fresh videos of readings by Mihaela Moscaliuc, Kevin Brockmeier, and many more. So find some time for relaxation, sip some lemonade, and enjoy your last days of summer with Front Porch!