Show Me The Money

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By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

As writers we have certain goals in common like getting published and being acknowledged. Getting a little cash in the process doesn’t hurt either. Many online magazines pay writers for pieces published, but some of these also charge nonrefundable submission fees.

What other options are there you ask. How about writing contests?

True a lot of contests also charge submission fees, but the prize amounts are substantial, significantly larger than what online magazines and journals pay.

Below I have provided information to some upcoming contests.

Now get writing and good luck!

Contest Website Fee Prize Deadline
Masters Review Emerging Writers Contest http://www.writermag.com/contests/masters-review-emerging-writers-contest/  $20 $5,000 3/31/15
Minnesota Emerging Writer’s Grant https://www.loft.org/programs__awards/grants__awards/mn_emerging_writers_grant/  $0 $10,000 grant 4/03/15
10th WriterAdvice Flash Prose Contest https://writeradvice.submittable.com/submit  $15 per submission (Three max.) $200 1st place$100 2nd place

$50 3rd place

4/21/15
PEN Canada New Voices Award http://www.pen-international.org/pen-internationalnew-voices-award/  $0 $1,000 5/22/15

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Rebecca Victoria Ramirez resides in Northern California with her partner, children, and an assortment of pets. She earned her BA in English May 2013 and will earn her MFA in Creative Writing January 2016.

Book Review: Paul Killebrew’s Ethical Consciousness

2013
Poetry
$14; 120 pages
Canarium Books
ISBN: 9780984947126

 

 

 

 

“I am in the human world and not in the human world.”
Paul Killebrew’s Ethical Consciousness
By Bryce Bullins

Paul Killebrew’s latest collection of poetry, Ethical Consciousness, is statement of experience and of uncertainty, of anxiety and surefootedness, and of the ability of the human mind to process everything and nothing simultaneously. Killebrew’s verse is terse beyond measure yet reads in a flowing, precise manner. We become lost, overwhelmed even (in the best senses of the word) in the menagerie of language Killebrew has collected. Its construction is deliberately deliberate with single lines like “dark compromises” (“Exclamations in Earnest”) or “meticulous pagination” (“Muted Flags”) carrying their own gravity within the gravity of the poem at large. On their own, complexities are ripe within the tangible worlds Killebrew creates via the explorations of the metaphysical and subconscious desire of not only himself as a poet but the narrators of each poem (arguably the same but room for interpretation is vast). With the addition of the reader, invariably involved in the progression of the poem, these connections become immediate and resonant.

Killebrew has the ability to produce devastating lines of poetry that come unexpectedly but are immediately welcome and pummel a reader with deft weightiness. For example, in the title poem:

It’s as if the self
were a series of
statements
occasionally arranged
in dizzying
complexity but
mostly repeating
ten or eleven sentences
from the brief oeuvre
of a personality
that grows only
like a balloon—

The meta presence of this particular excerpt is overwhelming: Killebrew is using a blanketing statement to make reference to the very thing we are doing at the moment of discovery in the reading and what Killebrew has already put on the page here and the preceding 22 pages: a series of mostly the same thoughts, despite variations, repeating again and again, and yet are still utterly engaging and relevant precisely because of their repetition. This is brilliant verse.

There is a tremendous strength in the language of Ethical Consciousness. It’s common language but not in a risible sense. The language presented here has a color palette all its own, unique to the worlds Killebrew is painting via his fast firing neuron verse. Despite these previously unknown shades, his verse is cogent and striking.

With its fast paced, line of flight construction, attention to emotive details while navigating away from sentimentality, and its ability to pull one into the world of forms it creates, Ethical Consciousness sits in an ether all its own. This is poetry that speaks best when it speaks for itself. To superimpose meaning or theory on to it outside of the personal experience of reading it for oneself would do disservice to it. This is intimate poetry that demands attention and rightfully deserves it.

Book Review: Partyknife by Dan Magers

2012
Poetry
$15 Print; $5 PDF; 92 pages
Birds, LLC
ISBN: 9780982617779

 

 

 

Shut Up and Play the Hits1: Dan Magers’ Partyknife
Bryce Bullins

“Tamaki asks me to talk dirty to her without being degrading, / but I don’t know the difference.”
“Love is a prelude to an afterthought.”
“I had an anxiety attack during the three-way. / I see through all appearance and know abundance.”

These are opening lines to poems in Dan Magers’ collection Partyknife, the collective sigh of palpable dread of being an up-and-coming adult in a world none of us will ever be able to get in touch with again while simultaneously bursting at the seams with the joy of being alive in such an insane moment.

Partyknife is nuanced poetry in readers digest post-ironic form. Magers’ verse is melodramatic, angry, and hopeful in the most modern sense of the word. It is filled with the directness of language we only fantasize of using out loud because we are too aloof in our own shoes at the byzantine carnival of the 21st century. The brusqueness of his content and its blasé approach to more or less everything captivates a reader in such a way that we both marvel and make faces of disgust at the seemingly cavalier attitude of Magers’ narrator. Scathing but poignant remarks such as “we were not fuck buddies. / We were not even buddies. / We were just fucks.” leaves a reader slack jawed with its audaciousness to simply say it as it is. At a deeper level, Magers mines into the vein of language most of us could only hope to use to express our inner turmoil. Magers has managed to acquire the gall we lack and in taking such a risk, his verse pays dividends in its delivery and resonance both on and off the page. These are poems catchy enough to remember for weeks after reading.

Fitting then that Partyknife is designed as a 7’’ vinyl and presents itself as an EP for a band that ought to exist but never will. The poems even have track lengths. It’s a playful anachronism in that despite the common conception of vinyl being an archaic form in the age of digital formats (primarily MP3), analog recordings and pressings remain of a higher fidelity.

For the uninitiated, MP3s are subpar to vinyl, or any analog based recording for that matter, because MP3s are compressed audio while analog recordings are not. In being compressed, the vibrancy and dynamism that can be heard in analog recordings is lost (this assumes you have the proper equipment to get the most out of that analog, however). CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg sums it up nicely: “An analog recording corresponds the variations in air pressure of the original sound. A digital recording is a series of numbers that correspond to the sound’s continuous variations, but the numbers have to be reconverted to analog signals before they can be listened to. Listening to a well-recorded LP, you hear humans making music; with digital it’s more about sound for sound’s sake.”2

Naturally then, the only viable form for Partyknife is that of the 7’’ vinyl. Partyknife would never be found on the iTunes store because its quality would be diminished in that garbage compression. The ability for abrasiveness is lost in digital formats. The language of humans is lost in compression and tiptoeing niceties. Partyknife is essential reading/listening because it’s the best kind of dangerous: it captures an emotional zeitgeist and it doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of it. It exists for itself and on its own, within and without the temporality it defines.

1 Also the name of a documentary about the final show of the seminal NYC band, LCD Soundsystem and there are arguably parallels to their music/lyrics and Partyknife.

2 http://www.cnet.com/news/why-does-analog-sound-better-than-digital/

Erin Stoodley: HSWC Profiles

This week we are presenting Erin Stoodley, the local’s prize winner in fiction for her story “Ghost.” Here is her response to our interview.

When I was younger, I wrote because I needed to write. Writing served as a means to better understand humans and our complexities.

My mother exposed me to the literary realm at an early age. When I was a child, she read to me from her favorite Victorian novels. Many afternoons, we would pick through the books at the local library. My mother introduced me to a world that, as Faulkner wrote, recognized the prevailing of the human spirit. Today, I write to be a part of that world.

In addition to desiring to study the human experience, I also want to produce work that resonates with an audience. We have all experienced loss, but we may feel emotionally detached from the world until we read of someone else’s pain. For example, after finishing such books as The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich, I was able to place my suffering into context and realize that my experiences only reinforced my humanity.

Receiving such validation as I have in the Sierra Nevada Review High School Writing Contest has greatly motivated me in pursuing a writing career. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the contest.

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Erin Stoodley is a student residing in Ventura, California. She has received recognition from such organizations as the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and the National YoungArts Foundation. Her poetry is published or is forthcoming in The Adroit JournalBelleville Park Pages, and Euphony Journal, among others.

Isabella Stenvall: HSWC Profiles

We asked this year’s High School Writing Contest winners to tell us more about their writing process. Here is Isabella Stenvall’s response.

Inline image 3Writing has been my source of expression since I was quite young. I devoured as many books as I could obtain and created a love for words and patterns that communicated my ideas. I have always been quite creative, thriving in my own imagination. Writing allowed me to take my introspective world and share it with those around me.

I can be inspired to write by practically anything. More frequently I take strong emotions or influential experiences and turn them into narratives that help me understand what has taken place. Other times I write to capture a memory or time, in fact every day for the past three years I have been recording every day of my life for future recollection. This includes small conversations, defining moments, immature comments, silly jokes. Writing stories protects some of the brightest and darkest days of my life.

Knowing that I won an award for “Wars with Numbers” brings me immense joy. The piece describes my painful battle with anorexia and first steps to recovery. It is incredible that my work was read and recognized, especially a narrative that was somewhat difficult to allow myself to send in.

After high school I hope to travel from my small California town to a university in an East Coast big city. My dream is to be accepted to Columbia University, located in my favorite city in the world providing me an opportunity to continue my life-long passion for dancing and receive an exceptional Ivy League education. I want to explore courses in international peace relations and possibly travel the world working as a diplomat.

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Isabella Stenvall is a seventeen year old contemporary dancer from California who fosters an intense love for ocean-swimming, alt-j, and chocolate-covered strawberries. She won the local’s prize for her non-fiction piece on anorexia, Wars With Numbers.

Book Review: The Goldfinch

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others,

 that in the end, we become diguised to ourlves.”

-Francois De La Rochefoucauld

the goldfinch

Review by Courtney Berti

Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch

Little Brown

ISBN 978-0-316-05543-7

 

Why would anyone want to read a novel about the typical American teenager: after his mother dies, a promising thirteen-year-old moves in with his gambling drug-addict father, falls in with the wrong kids at school, does drugs, becomes an alcoholic, grows up, repeats father’s mistakes…It sounds like the plotline for a dramatic television series for teenagers. But the truth is that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is less for an uninformed teenaged audience, and more for a jaded and cynical adult audience. How does one figure?

Written from the first person perspective, readers are plunged inside the head of thirteen-year-old Theodore Decker at the moment when his upright, stable, fairly happy world is turned upside down forever. Initially, we see Theo making his first bad decision with his friend Tom, leading him to be suspended. His mother is escorting him to school to address the suspension and his behavior with his teachers when they are caught by a rainstorm. The two of them duck into The Hague to take shelter, browse for a bit, and in the moment we are introduced to the subject in the title (The Goldfinch, a painting by Carel Fabritius 1654) an explosion occurs that kills Theo’s mom and brings him face to face with fate in the form of an older gentleman by the name of Welty. Welty, in his last moments, gives Theo a ring that later leads him to an antique shop where he meets a lifelong friend by the name of Hobie who remains for Theo, and readers, a stable moral compass throughout the rest of the novel—a necessary character for a novel that tries to tackle questions such as: What is good or evil? Does fate exist? Is there a god? Does any of it mean anything?

It is in the stating of these questions, and in the stylistic choices that Tartt makes, that a number of risks are taken in the realm of what constitutes literature. For example, the twists of fate and the surprisingly happy ending are what have led more than one reviewer to identify (and criticize) The Goldfinch as Dickensian, in nature. Stephen King goes so far as to call Theo a “21st century Oliver Twist…” The criticism is that all of the loose ends of the novel are tied in a nice neat bow in a manner typical of Dickens as well as pop fiction and genre writers—pleasing to the unlearned reader of fiction but infuriatingly predictable to the student and writer of literature. In her essay, “The Breakout Element: Unpredictability and the Novel,” writer Lan Samantha Chang calls this neat wrap-up, “resolution of plot, at the expense of characters.”

Because of this tendency to break away from character for the sake of resolution, the end of The Goldfinch is, perhaps, the most notable risk taken by Tartt. The narrative style of the last chapter of the book changes drastically so that the main character, Theo, and his friends are indirectly addressing the reader while the characters are basking in the reverie of disasters righted and lessons learned, very much like the end of A Christmas Carol. In some cases Theo actually does address the reader (who he, ironically, suspects does not exist) but a good example of the tone near the end is when his best friend Boris says, “And I know how you think, or how you like to think, but maybe this is one instance where you can’t boil down to pure ‘good’ or pure ‘bad’ like you always want to do—? Like, your two different piles? Bad over here, good over here? Maybe not quite so simple” (745).

It may be that Boris is challenging Theo (and readers) a little too bluntly to abandon strictly black-and-white thinking (along with all the other little things the reader is asked to think about), as if the lesson of the book was not already learned by readers in the telling of it. Perhaps this is why some critics will call it a masterpiece like the artwork upon which the story is based, and why other’s will call it a children’s book for adults. Only in children’s books is the underlying lesson so tediously re-stated, but I think that Tartt pulls it off. The happy note on which the book ends is exactly what is needed as the reward for the reader who has experienced so much misery along with Theo for ten years of his life and at least a couple weeks of our own.

Not to say that the book is a miserable read, by any means. Tartt manages to draw readers so completely into the psyche of Theo via long, meandering, almost stream of consciousness paragraphs that we are sympathetic with his cause and feel as tortured as he throughout the novel. While this doesn’t sound particularly fun, I would argue that Tartt takes a risk by daring readers to explore the uncomfortable places of one’s own consciousness by writing in the first person, but also by creating a highly introspective, philosophical character who feels separated from the goings on of his everyday reality.

For starters, the book is divided into separate sections with their own labels, indicative of Theo’s emotional climate contained therein, (i.e. “Morphine Lollipop,” or “Wind, Sand and Stars,”), and Tartt manages, through her writing, to help us make sense of why each section is labelled as it is. For example, in the chapter entitled, “The Idiot,” we see Theo talking to himself: “…I hated being around people, couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying, couldn’t talk to clients, couldn’t tag my pieces, couldn’t ride the subway, all human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness, there was not a squeak of light anywhere I looked, the antidepressants I’d been dutifully swallowing for eight weeks hadn’t helped a bit, nor…” etc.

Upon further examination, one sees that the title of this chapter (and its contents) is a criticism of modern American culture, which Tartt shows us throughout the novel—from New York to Las Vegas she uses pop-culture, art, film, and literature references to show their impact on Theo’s psyche. His choices and responses to this culture are demonstrated through his highly-conscious, deeply poetic, and philosophical persona.

Like this passage in which Theo is harried in the thrum of typical, every-day life for possibly the first time since he was thirteen, we see that it is not only the chapter headings, but the style of these long and winding passages, which are carefully crafted to reflect Theo’s state of mind. I believe that this is why, initially, the book feels slow and drawn out—reflecting a young boy’s half-stunned half-dead state of grieving almost too closely without giving any sense of a way out. But, once the story gets rolling and the reader is allowed to feel some relief along with Theo when he meets his friend Boris, these passages start to feel more natural, and then, dare I say, more like the stream of one’s own thoughts. Such is Tartt’s ability to display the vast emotional landscape of her main character.

As I said, I think that The Goldfinch is geared towards an audience of cynical and jaded adults. Not only does Tartt show readers how very little Theo is helped in tending to his emotional stability as a child, but also how this emotional state is carried on through adulthood. Tartt shows us the fast pace of the world and a man so caught up in it since he was thirteen that he must keep going or be overcome entirely, but by what? Theo acquired a painting, The Goldfinch, from The Hague on a day it was blown up. The explosion killed his mother and the painting serves as a metaphor for his emotions concerning her death—wrapped up tight in duct tape, a secret, hidden forever from himself and the world. The turnaround of the novel comes when Theo discovers that his friend Boris switched the painting for a magazine when they were kids and it has been sold to a person in Amsterdam. This metaphorically puts Theo in a place so distant from his feelings that he doesn’t even recognize them anymore—they are so far away that they are foreign.

Perhaps the ultimate criticism of American culture, therefore, is in the neat and risky resolution. Perhaps Tartt decides to “spell it out” for her readers because the point of the novel is to show how people have lost the emotional understanding to intuitively garner the meaning of the novel for themselves due to constant exposure to a culture that is too fast-paced, too dependent on drugs to drown out emotional problems, too distracted to feel—just like Theo. If this is the case, then the neat ending is the perfect ending to wrap it all up.

What makes The Goldfinch so brilliant, apart from the beauty in the writing itself, the complexity (and simplicity) of language, the depth of thought and emotion, is that by the end of an otherwise harrying tale, the reader feels relief, a sense of freedom from his or her own thoughts and the anxieties surrounding the belief that, “We don’t get to choose the people we are. Because—isn’t it drilled into us constantly, from childhood on, an unquestioned platitude in the culture—?”(761). And here, in this sense of relief, we understand why the book is named after and centered around a painting of a finch that is shackled to a perch by a chain drilled into a piece of wood by the culture of the man who maintained it.

 

 

Courtney BertiCourtney Berti lives in South Lake Tahoe with her dog and her boyfriend, Kelley. She will receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada College by January 2015.

Book Review: House of Deer by Sasha Steensen

2014
Poetry
$15.95; 88 pages
Albany: Fence Books
ISBN: 978-1934200773

 

 

 

 

Knocking at the Door: Sasha Steensen’s House of Deer
Bryce Bullins

Sasha Steensen’s latest poetry offering, House of Deer, is a fascinating exploration of language, family, the self, the other, and connections both internal and external to all of those things. It continues Steensen’s exploration and deconstruction of language to its purest forms and parts, and in doing so establishes an approachable framework for both critical analysis and aesthetic enjoyment.

House of Deer is entrenched in the past. Nostalgia and memories drip from this book like a noxious nectar that beckons the reader to visit moments of time they may have never even lived through. Steensen’s excellent awareness of the line, attention to detail, and tone transport us to rural Ohio circa 1970. From the typeface on both the book cover and the titles of poems, which is reminiscent of the title cards to Little House on The Prairie, the collection makes no qualms about what its intentions or aims are. House of Deer doesn’t expressly stick to this 1970s homage however. For example, the lengthy and prose based “The Girl and the Deer” creates a narrative that dances back and forth from the perspective of deer and girl with aptly named sections “The Girl”, “The Girl and the Deer”, “The Deer”, etc. all while unfolding what reads like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. While there are hints of time contextualization, nothing leads one to believe that this poem is expressly set in a specific time or place. Its narrative is capable of existing at any time. Framed another way, poems like “The Girl and the Deer” and “Fragments” exist in all places at once escaping our dogmatic expressions of time and memory.

At its best moments, House of Deer is frank and sparse. Steensen’s delivery is sharp, poignant, and at times jaw dropping in its ability to express authentic darkness so succinctly. As an example:

1977finds
house of saud’s
daughter stoned to death
&one Burchfield sister (9yrs old)
locked in a closet
while the other (13 yrs old)
aborts her father’s baby

What’s so strange about this from a reading perspective is that her objective tone isn’t anything new or experimental. Rather than write in a manner that intentionally obfuscates and confuses a reader, Steensen grounds her work in a tangible and present way few other poets can achieve. Its beauty lies in its ability to be visceral without feeling affected.

The non-spacing of words adds to House of Deer‘s already rich texture of language. As in “1804woodsmen”:

1804woodsmen &woodswomen &woodschildren
cut a road right before you
&hereinafter
ahistory of Garrettsville, Ohio:

Rather than feeling arbitrary or intentionally confounding, the tightness and closeness of the words represents a quick thought much in the vein of Cummings or of Williams; something that is meant to be read briskly, as much of our own thoughts are when they are finally strung together. In the case of “1804woodsmen” this tightness may refer to the close knit community of Garretsville, Ohio. The word associations and sounds that come out of these connection of seemingly unrelated words opens gateways to new avenues of language we would have never gone down otherwise. The brilliance in this lies in its deceptively simple execution. It’s not enough to simply tie any two words together in such a manner; it’s the deft selection of those words. Language is repetition and so it stands to reason that the poems in House of Deer can be read and re-read a hundred times and each time something new could be gleaned from its pages.

The complexity of language, of reminiscence, of past as present and future as one, commingle and make House of Deer a collection that is as captivating as it is melancholic. It demands a reader’s attention with its noise and subtlety. House of Deer beckons at its closure: “Come forth peril, little pearl in the darkness”. The peril Steensen speaks to is not necessarily a dangerous one, but rather one that is capable of vast illumination. Though it carries a heavy burden with it, its undertaking is essential.

 

Bryce2

Bryce Bullins is a first year graduate student focusing on poetry but has worked previously on the Sierra Nevada Review as an undergraduate student. He received his BA in English with a minor in Music from Sierra Nevada College in 2014.

 

Fifth Annual High School Writing Contest Winners Selected

Contact: June Saraceno
jsaraceno [at] sierranevada [dot] edu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Incline Village, Nevada) Sierra Nevada College’s English Program has announced the winners of the 5th annual High School Writing Contest, a national competition which honors high school juniors and seniors in three categories: creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry.

The winners receive a cash prize, an invitation to the awards ceremony on Jan. 9, a scholarship offer from Sierra Nevada College, a private, non-profit four-year university in Incline Village, Nevada, and possible publication in the Sierra Nevada Review.

Bryce Bullins, managing editor for the Sierra Nevada Review said, “Selecting just a few winners from such a large pool was an especially difficult process considering the caliber of work these young writers submitted.”

Creative writing professors and Sierra Nevada Review staff evaluated a record number of submissions. Chosen from over 525 entries, the winning submissions came from students across the United States, including Maryland, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and New Jersey.

“I am inspired and energized after reading these diverse and passionate stories. The future of the written word is clearly in good hands,” said Gayle Brandeis, the college’s Distinguished Writer in Residence and an award-winning novelist.

In creative nonfiction, first place went to Lindsay Emi, Westlake Village, California, for “Latin Class in Seven (VII) Parts.” Second place went to Darla Macel Anne Canales, Erie, Colorado, for “Oven.” Third place went to Gabriel Braunstein, Arlington, Massachusetts, for “Family on the Commuter Rail.” The nonfiction Local’s Prize went to Isabella Stenvall, San Luis Obispo, California, for “Wars with Numbers.”

Finalists in creative nonfiction were Emily Zhang, for “Family History,” Oriana Tang for “Sister,” Aletheia Wang for “Scar,” Jack Priessman for “A Merciless Deed,” and Annie Harmon for “Reflected.”

In fiction, first place went to Emily Zhang, Boyds, Maryland, for “Midwestern Myth.” Second place went to Lucy Silbaugh, Wyncote, Pennsylvania, for “Burrowing.” Third place went to Laura Ingram, Disputanta, Virginia, for “Absolute Value.” The fiction Local’s Prize went to Erin Stoodley, Ventura, California, for “Ghosts.”

Finalists in fiction were Lindsay Emi for “For My Daughter,” Jessica Li for “Ellen and Su-Ji,” Tatiana Saleh for “Laundry,” Madison Hoffman for “Genderfuck,” and Oriana Tang for “Lara.”

In poetry, first place went to Oriana Tang, Livingston, New Jersey, for “Bildungsroman.” Second place went to Catherine Valdez, Miami, Florida, for “Mami.” Third place went to Ruohan Miao, Chandler, Arizona, for “Dust Bowl.” The poetry Local’s Prize went to Ava Goga, Reno, Nevada, for “Notes on Repression.”

Finalists in poetry were Emily Zhang for “Transitory,” Katia Kozachok for “Primordial Roar,” Allie Spensley for “Palo Verde,” Emma Symmonds for “Purging,” and Jessica Prescott for “Daughter of Zeus, Lover of Mine.”

Winners in each category received $500 for first place, $250 for second and $100 for third. The Local’s Prize honored student writers from Nevada and California with a $100 prize. These students are also eligible for a $20,000 scholarship to attend Sierra Nevada College.

The winning students have been invited to read their work in an awards ceremony on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 at Sierra Nevada College alongside highly acclaimed writers Suzanne Roberts and Alan Heathcock. They will be reading at 7 p.m. Friday in Sierra Nevada College’s Prim Library as part of the college’s low residency MFA creative writing program.

The Sierra Nevada Review’s annual issue publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by emerging and nationally recognized authors. All High School Writing Contest winners will be considered for publication in the 2015 issue, which releases in May.

The 6th annual High School Writing Contest runs Sept. 1-Nov. 1, 2015. Guidelines can be found at http://www.sierranevada.edu/writer

Book Review: The Waste Land, by John Beer

Beer Waste Land

Searching the Rubble: The Waste Land and Other Poems by John Beer

Bryce Bullins

2010

Poetry

$14.00; 110 pages

Ann Arbor: Canarium Books

ISBN 978-0-98223796-4-9

 

The audacity of naming your book after T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece is staggering. Mark that audacity a notch higher when the cover of the new book is a facsimile of the original, appearing identical in all aspects spare the author’s name. It sets up an expectation so high that if the mark is not reached, utter disappointment and even a touch of anger may surface. It’s a good thing then that John Beer’s latest collection hits that mark and goes a step further, serving up a remarkable example of contemporary poetry both in style and content.

Beer doesn’t try to copy Eliot as much as he tries to reframe the foundations of “The Waste Land” for a new age. Structurally, both poems contain five distinct sections and tones of voice and are closely tied to one another in overall arc and theme. Beer uses just as many allusions as Eliot did, though the footnotes are lacking (more on that later). Beer avoids the lyricism of Eliot in favor of more casual, though no less direct, prosody (in a way, Beer’s brute address creates a kind of lyricism in itself). Beer seems to take a slight jab, albeit in jest, at Eliot in the second part of his “Waste Land”: “O O that T.S. Eliot / he’s such a shrinking violet / and if you think I sigh a lot / try life with T.S. Eliot.” Beer self-deprecatingly admits that his “Waste Land” doesn’t have the same weight of Eliot’s but in the next two lines, Beer iterates quite subtly that “…you don’t need to be a hero.”

In truth, Beer’s “Waste Land” does carry weight and heft to it. Rather than writing through the lens of a world ravaged by the end of the first World War, Beer writes through the gorilla glass of the 21st century and the end of the most protracted conflict in U.S. history.

Beer’s “Waste Land” is our reflection in that glass, staring back at us, sometimes mockingly, sometimes sincere, but always with a sharpened edge.

The anaphora of the unknown city at the beginning of the poem is the most strikingly obvious example of this new world in that the city itself is never mentioned (though alluded to in the title as either Chicago or possibly New Orleans) but the vague descriptions given to the city could be for any place on this planet and speaks to the ever encroaching globalization in which everything becomes so blurred and hegemonic that scarcely any identity yet remains. It’s simultaneously foreign and familiar, cultivating a sense of unease but utter captivation with the words on the page that seem to sink into our marrow the more we read them.

The other poems that make up the “Other Poems” section of Beer’s book are equally exceptional in their own right. Punctuated by dry wit and a practiced tightness, each poem flows smoothly and interconnects with one another in a showcase of excellent book layout. For example, the three poems entitled “Flowers”: each begins the same way, verbatim, followed by a new situation for the couple in the poem. The emotions that these situations bring to the surface are reinforced and expanded upon over the pieces that sit in between each version of “Flowers” creating an overarching narrative. It’s a fascinating style choice and one that I found worked quite well.

“Sonnets to Morpheus” is a section rife with humor (because the Morpheus in question is not that of Greek myth but the Morpheus of the Wachowskis Matrix film trilogy) and seriousness. Beer sprinkles lines taken directly from the films such as Neo’s now famous line “I know kung fu” and pairs it with beautiful prosody such as “Their music fell into my heart / like an unexpected taxi” and “…The children line up / beside the pond. They never realize / we poison them with their own reflected breath.” It is a testament to Beer’s ability as a poet that he is able to combine such disparate topics together yet create something thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking.

The only thing baffling about Beer’s collection is that he leaves out the footnote markings for the notes that appear in the back of book. For a book that is trying to imitate Eliot’s original, it comes as a glaring omission. However, rather than vexed or annoyed with the discovery of the notes, it made me thirsty to revisit Beer’s words immediately, catching the nuances and allusions that had been missed on a first reading. Like Eliot before him, Beer can be read for the sheer aesthetics of the line or for the expertness of his craftwork that make those aesthetics possible.

Beer’s language and the pure emotive feeling his poems exude make each one feel as if it is city unto itself. They are built from the ground up to be a marvel and each one feels different than the last, crafting a truly unique voice over the entire body of work. Of course there are thematic elements that tie them all together, just as there are common similarities between cities that make them feel the same, but it’s the subtle changes and the atmosphere of each that makes them special and significant in their own right.

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Bryce Bullins is a first year graduate student focusing on poetry but has worked previously on the Sierra Nevada Review as an undergraduate student. He received his BA in English with a minor in Music from Sierra Nevada College in 2014.

 

Black Rock Press Visit

by Tom Loeschner

 

On Wednesday morning Sierra Nevada Review staff members paid a visit to the local press, Black Rock Press, at University of Nevada Reno. Staff members Amy and Inge run the Press and teach bookmaking to students at UNR.

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Machines dot the concrete floor of the lower room in the Jot Travis Building. The press shop is a wonderful world of flywheels, oscillating ink rollers, and 100,000’s of metal and wood types. Some of the printing presses date back to the last century while others are newer.

Various hand crafted books made in house are on display.Holding a handcrafted book by Black Rock Press gives the same experience as seeing a new painting or feeling a handmade ceramic bowl, you can see and feel the work that went into it.

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The vibrancy of the ink, the layout of the fonts, unique bindings and the texture of quality paper gives their books a truly artisan feel.

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Tom Loeschner Loeschneris an aspiring writer and student at Sierra Nevada College. While Tom is an Incline Village, Nevada native, he has lived in both Washington and California. Tom enjoys writing creative non-fiction, climbing, fly fishing, and spending time with his wife, Andrea, and their dog, Munchichi.