Book Review: The Glass Castle

 

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January 17, 2005

ISBN: 074324754X

Scribner, New York

 

 

 

 

 

It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes:

Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle: A Memoir

by Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

“What I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes,” writes Walls in the first few pages of her memoir. Some of Walls’ earliest memories are of a fire that engulfed her, running up the tutu-like skirt of her pretty pink dress, as she stood on a stool, hovering over her family’s stove, boiling hot dogs. She was only three years old. Her mother, Rose Mary, a self-proclaimed artist, sat just a room away, painting. “Why spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour,” she’d often ask her children “when in the same amount of time, I can do a painting that will last forever?” Walls’ childhood was one ruled by an emotionally-absent mother and an alcoholic father, who instead of parenting their four children, more often than not ignored and neglected them.

If ever they did provide for their children it was by virtue of some sort of thievery. And often their crimes included the children’s participation. “Mom’s plan was for her and Maureen to go into the dressing room . . . with an armful of new clothes for Maureen to try on,” Walls writes. “When they came out . . . Lori, Brian, and I would create a ruckus to distract the clerk while Mom hid a dress under a raincoat she would be carrying on her arm.”

Consistently creditors caught up with the Walls family, and the children, acclimated to this lifestyle, were always on point when their father announced it was “time to skeedaddle.” They gathered the few belongings they could carry escaping into the dark of night. After years of dead-end jobs and countless “skeedaddles” from one town after another, Rex Walls, wife and kids in tow, returned to his hometown of Welch, Virginia. Rather than the contentment one might expect to find in their father’s hometown, what followed were more years of discontent. Rex and Rose Mary purchased a dilapidated house lacking electricity and running water. The children, consequently, were reared in a home abundant in filth, deprived of food, warmth, and sanity.

Despite the volatile childhood that unfolds within the pages of her memoir, Walls’ does not portray her parents as monsters. Rather, she describes them as she saw them, through the eyes of a child. The portraits Walls paints of each member of her family are vivid: each with their own voice, demeanor, and personality. Readers will come away from this memoir feeling as if they’ve come to know Rex, Rose Mary, Lori, Brian, Maureen, and Jeanette herself. There is nothing refined about the words that fall from the lips of innocence onto the page of Walls’ memoir. And so as readers we find that what remains is a story of unadulterated love within a family.

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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: Tender at the Bone

Tender at the Bone

 

May 25, 2010

Random House, New York

ISBN: 978-0812981117

 

 

 

 

“Food could be a way of making sense of the world”:

Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

by Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

Reichl’s parents were big entertainers. Reichl’s mother, endearingly nicknamed “the queen of mold,” bragged that she could “make a meal out of anything” and tested this claim on the many occasions when the Reichls hosted events in their home. At a young age Reichl designated herself the buffet table monitor, standing guard over the guests and shooing them away from the most hazardous of the dishes. When her older brother announced his engagement Reichl’s mother insisted on hosting the engagement party leading to over 26 of the guests taking trips to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped. When the calls started coming in asking if it could have been the food, Reichl’s mother responded “Nonsense. We all feel fine. And we ate everything.”

Reichl’s mother is bi-polar and because her sickness consumed both parents Reichl learned early on how to care for herself. When her parents abandoned her to take a trip to Europe Reichl was left with her maternal grandmother who then pawned her off on Aunt Birdie, the mother of her father’s first wife and her cook, Alice. Reichl’s time with them is one of her most cherished memories, in the kitchen learning to cook dumplings and chicken croquette.

Reichl grew up in the kitchen, listening to and relating stories while preparing ingredients for simple or extravagant dishes, fostered by those who shared her love of food. Included in this memoir is a collection of treasured recipes that are representative of significant moments in Reichl’s life. Rather than a simple narrative of a woman’s coming of age, these recipes enrich and add flavor to Reichl’s story.

Time after time Reichl faced abandonment by her parents. This continually led her to the kitchen, where in her youth, she found nurturing from her adopted grandmother and the family’s hired cook. In her young adulthood she found comfort in preparing her own dishes for friends and lovers. Despite the constant absence of her parents, Reichl’s readers are sure to find that her childhood and adolescence were brimming with love because her kitchen was always full with devoted and affectionate characters who aided her in “making sense of the world.”

 

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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.

 

HSWC Profiles: Catherine Valdez

Catherine Valdez’s poem “Mami” took second place in the poetry category.

As a child, stories that stuck to me were always those with a magical element.  I became more attached to the fantasies found in stories than to actual people. Whenever I read a novel as a child, the plotline never seemed to vacate my head. My mind would play with the plot and the characters and expand upon their journeys. It overwhelmed me until I began to put words to paper. I can’t remember when exactly I started writing stories, but I first took the initiative to pursue a future in writing when I auditioned for a writing program at my current high school, Miami Arts Charter, as a prospective ninth grader.

I find myself attempting to preserve a sense of innocence, something that is often lacking or overlooked in the real world, in my writing. Although I enjoyed lighter subjects I write about darker subjects in order to bring to light that there is hidden meaning and hope in even the most unfortunate events. Because writing has allowed me to escape the reality of abuses and instability, I like to bring attention to the causes of such things in my work. This includes the topics of cultural uprooting, and the effects of loss on the human mind. I’d like to say that everything inspires me, and that there is always a trail of notes or ideas stuffed into my journal or phone because I want to give things or concepts the voice they deserve, whether it be the poetry in picturesque scenery or a narrative of an immigrant trying to find comfort in unfamiliar lands.

It feels amazing to win an award. My confidence in my writing often fluctuates, and having my work be recognized makes me feel like I am on the right track to attaining mastery of my craft. I am currently finishing my senior year. I will be attending Columbia University in the upcoming fall as a member of the class of 2019. I plan on majoring in creative writing and pursuing a career based heavily in the literary arts.

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Catherine Valdez is a first generation Dominican America residing in Miami, Florida. She has had a passion for the written word ever since she read her first book and currently studies creative writing at Miami Arts Charter School.  Her hometown is a large inspiration for her, and she pulls the diverse traditions, languages, folklore, and cultures located in the city into the framework of her writing. Her tone often embodies a feeling of fantasy, her favorite genre being magic realism. She has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her work. Among her awards are multiple Young Arts recognitions, being named a semi finalist for the National Student Poet Program, and being granted first place in Princeton University’s 2014 ten minute playwriting contest. She will be attending Columbia University in the City of New York beginning fall 2015.

HSWC Profiles: Laura Ingram

Laura Ingram’s piece “Absolute Value” won third place in the fiction category.

 When did you know you wanted to write?

Since I learned how to spell words out. My first story was written when I was six and it was about a family of birds who committed tax evasion.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Everything around me–how I feel, how other people feel, something I see, things that I read. A big inspiration for me has been The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak. The extraordinary artistry of his prose blows me away every single time and I go back to that book every time I get stuck. I’ve read it seventeen times.

How does it feel/shape your writing knowing something you created won an award?

This isn’t my first major award, but I was super surprised and very pleased when I found out about it. Getting paid for a piece made me feel like a real member of the writing world. It was like the birthday of my creative abilities and I felt celebrated. I’m so glad my teacher told me to partake in this contest.

I would like to study creative writing and communications and become a writer, college professor, both, or possibly a child life specialist after high school.

HSWC Profiles: Lindsay Emi

Lindsay Emi’s non-fiction piece “Latin Class in Seven (VII) Parts” won first place in the non-fiction category and is included in the 2015 edition of the Sierra Nevada Review.

I’m unfortunately not one of those kids who loved writing since they were very young, knew they wanted to be writers, etc. I was actually very resistant to the idea of creative writing until eighth grade, when I somehow ended up in a Creative Writing elective (not by choice). But I loved the class and by the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to continue writing.

I try to read as often as possible, and so I’m always inspired by what I’m currently reading, whether it’s a news article, a poem in my email inbox, a section of my textbook, pieces I’m reading for a journal, etc. I’m also inspired by the things I learn in my classes and the conversations I have with friends and family. My piece “Latin Class in Seven (VII) Parts” came out of my Latin III class, of course; at the time I was writing it, I was inspired by my hilarious classmates, all four of them, who made me realize that the contrast between the very academic, somewhat pretentious-seeming subject of Latin and the high school environment was a great one to explore.

I remember being at school when I got the email from June Saraceno. The first person I told was my friend whom I was with (and who was actually with me in that same eighth grade Creative Writing elective), and I was just so shocked and thrilled to have been recognized. Validation is great, but there are also plenty of contests in which I don’t place at all, and whether I win or lose, I try to remember that the world of teen contests and awards is so strange and subjective and that I need to keep writing for myself, and not for panels of judges. I’m grateful, though, that I got to attend the reception at SNC in January. It was lovely to see the college and even more so to meet my fellow readers Ava, Catherine, and Gabriel, who I learned were all wonderful writers and people.

Of course, being able to write for a living is the dream, and I would love to pursue writing in college. I’m fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents who encourage me to go down the writing path, but I also feel like I have to plan on majoring in something that’ll keep me out of their house when I’m in my thirties.

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Lindsay Emi is sixteen years old and a junior at Viewpoint School, CA. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sierra Nevada Review, Winter Tangerine Review, National Poetry QuarterlytheEEEL, The Riveter Review, the Young Poets Network, and elsewhere. She is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop, and the The Adroit Journal Mentorship Program. She currently serves as an editor for Polyphony H.S. and a reader for multiple publications, including The Blueshift Journaland Transcendence Magazine. When not writing, she enjoys playing piano and studying classics.

The Writing Dejection and Fear of Rejection

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By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

As I navigate my MFA program I find myself surrounded by great people with a great talent in writing. Sometimes this can be quite intimidating. Even more so is the news that yet another one of my peers has had one of her pieces published.

When I entered my first semester, I went armed and ready, or so I thought, to take on the literary world. I thought I’d be sending in pieces left and right, to anyone who was accepting them, because, after all, I’m a writer, right? But after my first experience of having a piece of my writing work shopped I decided I was far from ready to submit anything. And what resulted from that experience was a temporary withdrawal from writing due to an overwhelming fear of rejection.

I’ve heard that emerging writers should submit pieces like crazy but to be prepared for rejection. Rejection is good, I’ve heard. On the flip side I’ve heard that new writers should be choosy because it’s quality not quantity that publishers look for when deciding on whom to take a chance.

So which is better?

As a writer of non-fiction I frequently hear how hot the genre is right now. It’s what publishers are yearning for, I’m told. So submit stuff. Get your name out there. And while I believe this is true, 8496338840_83408a459e_zI can’t help but think that as picky as I should be with the pieces I submit, I should pay equal attention to where they’re being sent.

With all the periodicals, online magazines, and journals out there, that might prove to be more difficult than it seems. You’ll want to get familiar with the outfit that you plan to submit to.

What kind of pieces do they tend to publish?

Does your piece seem like a good fit?

Below I’ve provided links to some potential online publishing opportunities. It’s a list I jotted down in a workshop with Roxane Gay so it comes from a great source.

Pieces on Women:

XOJane http://www.xojane.com/page/contact

Experimental Essays

Pank http://pankmagazine.com/submit-2/

9th letter http://www.ninthletter.com/index.php/journal/submit-to-ninth-letter

General Interest:

Missouri Review http://www.missourireview.com/submissions/

And for an excellent source of literary journals that spreads across all genres visit the Poets and Writers Database: http://www.pw.org/literary_magazines

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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.

HSWC Profiles: Ruohan Mio

 Ever since I was a child, I have always been intrigued by language—the way it has evolved and grown over time to fit our needs, its subtle quirks and nuances. As a result, writing came naturally to me — it wasn’t really a conscious decision to choose to write; it was more like something I had been doing all my life.

There is something very therapeutic about writing. I often use it as a form of release. My inspiration most often comes in the form of the experiences I’ve had in my life.

Winning an award was both a confidence-booster and a form of validation that people were willing to listen and read my words. It gave me the courage to continue writing. I hope to continue creating poetry and improving my writing.

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 Ruohan Mio won third place in the poetry category for his poem “Dust Bowl.”

 

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/