Feature Story

January 9, 2014

Battling Birthday Depression: Think Like Your Shoes

By kkaraja in Feature Story, LRR, Nonfiction

Posted on behalf of Abigail Larkin, Guest Blogger.

I am 22 as of yesterday, and I’m wondering what my shoes are thinking.

Yup, you heard me. I ordered these awesome Steve Madden high top sneaks, and they are BALLER. Here they are:

Abby Shoes LRR

According to the tracking number, these shoes traveled from New York to Watertown to Hartford to Cheshire. Lots of driving means lots of time to think and wonder—did they anticipate the moment when I would open their box? Were they nervous when I tried them on to see if they fit? Were they afraid I might think they were too flashy, or that they’d cut me off weirdly around the ankles? Maybe they worried I would return them, unsatisfied.

I wonder how these shoes feel about me. I mean they had to be relieved that I didn’t have athlete’s foot or something like that. They could have gone to anybody, and it’s a known fact that 95% of Americans have really nasty feet.

But aside from that I’m guessing my new shoes think I’m pretty weird, because their maiden voyage was a midnight walk to the cul-de-sac outside my house. I stretched out on my back alone in the dark looking at the light-polluted sky and listening to cicadas.

Everyone knows that birthdays are for celebration, parties, cake, and presents, but they’re also for depression. One of the most effective panaceas for birthday depression is stretching out on the pavement in your brand new sneakers, watching the stars—and if there are no stars because of light pollution, then listening to the sound of cicadas in the summer works almost as well.

So as I was lying on the cul-de-sac outside my house, my birthday depression asked me things like:

“Who are you to be wearing these amazing shoes? I mean, they are so awesome, and you are just another jobless twenty-something living with her parents.”

“Why aren’t you having more fun? Your twenties are supposed to be the best times of your life.”

“You haven’t even been to any Asian countries yet. If you don’t go now, you probably never will.”

“You have no idea what you should do next, do you?”

“You’re right, birthday depression,” I told the hypothetical construct which I imagined in my head as a grimy, overweight clown, “I’m not worthy of these baller Steve Madden sneakers.”

And then I took off the shoes. I had half a mind to put them back in their box, tape them up, and send them back to the Steve Madden factory for a cooler more deserving shopper.

But I didn’t, because later I noticed my old gray Vans peaking out from the depths of my closet. I remember how excited I was when I bought them, and the stiff feeling of the new canvas when I tried them on. I thought they looked pretty darn awesome.

Since then, they’ve gotten worn and dirty. The soles had holes in them from being walked into the ground. There were little pen drawings of flowers and song lyrics on the insides from when I was bored in class.

Those shoes had seen things. They carried me through four years of college. I walked them through snow, sleet, rain, and any other weird mix of precipitation that fell on UConn’s campus. They went to countless house parties and walks through the woods. They climbed up and down dormitory stairs hundreds of times. They survived grease stains from my summer job where I made the money I needed to study abroad, and they survived my exchange in Australia, where I trekked through foreign cities, navigated train lines, and hiked up Mountains Kira and Canobolas. They had been kicked on to giant piles of my friend’s shoes when they were too muddy to be allowed inside the apartment. They have felt sidewalks, carpet, linoleum, grass, dirt, mud, rock, saltwater, fresh water, roots, sand, and the floors of cars, boats, buses, and airplanes.

They were a tired pair of sneakers to be sure. But they were happily retired.

My Steve Madden sneakers are very young. Probably a little bit naïve, expectant of the world. Perhaps they are a little anxious too—maybe they’re not positive that their leather and rubber outsoles will hold up against the different grounds they have to tread. But I know these shoes will hold up to anything I can walk on. They might not know it, but they are made up of some good quality material.

Then my birthday depression loomed up and asked, “What kind of stuff are you made out of?”

And I told it, “I guess we’ll find out.”

 

AbigailAbout the Blogger:  Abigail Larkin is a 2013 graduate of the University of Connecticut. She is an aspiring writer and currently freelances for the Monroe Courier. Her sneakers are still pretty fly.

January 3, 2014

Brave New Words

By kkaraja in Feature Story, LRR, Nonfiction

Posted on behalf of Catherine Findorak, Guest Blogger.

I don’t write much anymore. Instead I do a lot of reading about writing. When I feel creatively drained, I look to wiser folks: actual writers. Then I think about my old creative writing teachers and professors–what did they used to tell me? Something about needing to write to be a writer? When I am all out of ideas, this seems silly. Surely there must be something more, something a little more mystical, a little more magic at play. If it was just a matter of sitting down and getting to work, then it wouldn’t be about lack of god-given inspiration…the issue would be that I’m either lazy, or I write for the wrong reasons. Which is a total bummer of a realization! But it’s true. It’s a true bummer, and I think we all go through it sometimes: a period of writer’s block that can only end when we remember why we started writing in the first place. I’m almost there. Almost.

One of the books I’ve read lately is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Even though it hasn’t gotten me through my writer’s block, I enjoyed reading it.. It was moving, it was funny, it made writing seem like something that was worth it. But this isn’t a book review, because if it was I’d be paralyzed with anxiety and unable to write it. So let me just quote a passage that struck a chord with me, having been in a lot of creative writing classes, and now, as a post-grad, finding my life as a so-called writer a solitary existence that mostly involves me not being able to write and being so at odds with the English language that I can’t even win a game of Words with Friends. This section resonated with me because it put into words something that I had always vaguely felt in the writer-occupied spaces I have passed through.

“The problem that comes up over and over again is that these people want to be published. They kind of want to write, but they really want to be published. You’ll never get to where you want to be that way, I tell them. There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way.” (p. 13)

I had always felt that there was a difference between a Writer Who Writes and a Writer Who Publishes. Maybe there’s a freedom some writers feel, when they start writing for themselves and not for others. It’s how it used to be, back when we all started, when we first started realizing that all the stories we had grown up reading were something we could create, too. That magic feeling of making something yourself, for yourself, out of your own truth. Not for any special reason except to get it out of you and make it real.

I never called myself a writer until I got to college, and that wasn’t because I really believed in myself or my writing. It was out of rebellion, really. No one was reading my writing, but I was a writer. I wrote. Let them laugh at my English degree, I’m a writer. I’m allowed to do stupid, impractical things with my life. I’m allowed to be broke. It’s for the art, y’all.

When I was maybe at the height of my success as a writer–when I was the Editor of the school literary magazine in high school and literally ⅓ of each issue was my own poetry–I never called myself a writer. I thought that was a title you had to earn. You had to be published (high school literary magazines didn’t count, especially when you were the one accepting your own work. Even I had to concede that). You had to write a book in which a lot of adults had a lot of affairs. Only then you could call yourself a writer. And you’d probably be really happy and loved in your personal life, on top of that. After all, you were a writer.

Now I call myself a writer, and I haven’t written anything complete in months and months and months. It feels a little hypocritical. It takes a lot energy to be a writer that doesn’t write. It’s like holding your breath. Your body is like, “Enough, dummy! Do the thing you do!” But you don’t, because it’s hard. Because it’s scary. Because sitting still long enough to do work you know nobody is going to pay you for seems irresponsible, and the economy still isn’t in good enough shape for that, don’t you think?

The flesh-eating bacteria of a writer’s brain is the idea of the Writer. Not the teenage girls writing Sherlock fanfiction, bless their hearts. The Writer.

He’s usually male. Maybe he wears tweed, or some kind of blazer, his hair sort of messy just to remind everybody he’s not really interested in looking too good. You know him, right? He’s either Hemingway or he’s talking about Hemingway? I recently watched the documentary Salinger on Netflix. This isn’t a movie review, but what a terrible movie! This J.D. Salinger guy, he went to war and wrote a bunch of stories about human beings talking about stuff! Pure genius! Then he went to go live in a cabin in the woods–and everyone in the world went INSANE about it!

Basically, if you’re a dude, you write stories, and then you go live in a cabin in the woods, congratulations–you are The Writer. You have made it, sir. People are sure going to go crazy about you.

The rest of us–I don’t know. I guess we just have to keep writing, knowing it’ll never turn us into anything but ourselves. That’s what it is, I think, that always drew me to writing. First, I loved reading. Reading stories was like getting to be in someone else’s head for a little while, and that was necessary because otherwise my thoughts would have driven me crazy. But writing gets them out, and even better, they’re mine. It doesn’t matter if I get them published or get paid for them; they’re mine, and I get to share them. We’re sharing ourselves, here. You don’t have to be a Writer to do that. You just need to write. (So I guess we should all get started.)

CatherineAbout the Blogger: Catherine Findorak is a recent UConn graduate and former Long River Review staff member. She is currently deciding between one of these life paths: public librarianship, being the person who writes the bios for dogs on Petfinder, and teaching gorillas how to read.

April 26, 2013

I don’t “get” Poetry.

By Tatiana Gomez in Creative Writing Program, Feature Story, Fiction, LRR, Poetry

What is there not to get? I often hear the expressions I don’t like poetry/I’m not a fan of poems /I don’t care much for poetry from English majors, and people who consider themselves fans of literature (blasphemy to my ears). It is seldom, or actually never the case where I hear someone say they don’t like or get fiction. I’ve heard people talk about not understanding a story, but never the whole category of fiction. I can’t really blame anyone for not “getting” or “liking” poetry when the epitome of poetry is someone like Emily Dickinson, or even Shakespeare. Not to bash Dickinson because she is imaginative , her themes and metaphors are extremely complex and interesting, but to be honest out of several hundred of her poems only about twenty (okay maybe 90) will make sense to the average reader, and out of those twenty (90) I like about five (2) of them. Although I consider myself a devout poet (keep in mind not a good, but a devout poet) there are some poems out there that make me cringe and wonder why the hell they’re even considered anything. One of these poems is Edward Taylor’s “Upon a Spider Catching a Fly”.

Upon a Spider Catching a Fly by Edward Taylor 70e0d276494b485f6b15e944d909f612

Thou sorrow, venom Elfe:
Is this thy play,
To spin a web out of thyselfe
To Catch a Fly?
For Why?

I saw a pettish wasp
Fall foule therein:
Whom yet thy Whorle pins did not clasp
Lest he should fling
His sting.

But as affraid, remote
Didst stand hereat,
And with thy little fingers stroke
And gently tap
His back.

Thus gently him didst treate
Lest he should pet,
And in a froppish, aspish heate
Should greatly fret
Thy net.

Whereas the silly Fly,
Caught by its leg
Thou by the throate tookst hastily
And ‘hinde the head
Bite Dead.

This goes to pot, that not
Nature doth call.
Strive not above what strength hath got,
Lest in the brawle
Thou fall.

This Frey seems thus to us.
Hells Spider gets
His intrails spun to whip Cords thus
And wove to nets
And sets.

To tangle Adams race
In’s stratigems
To their Destructions, spoil’d, made base
By venom things,
Damn’d Sins.

But mighty, Gracious Lord
Communicate
Thy Grace to breake the Cord, afford
Us Glorys Gate
And State.

We’l Nightingaile sing like
When pearcht on high
In Glories Cage, thy glory, bright,
And thankfully,
For joy.

(more…)

April 9, 2013

An Interview with Michael Schiavo

By catherine1f in Creative Writing Program, Feature Story, Interviews, LRR, Poetry

Michael Schiavo founded Long Review Review during his senior year at UConn in 1998. He is the author of The Mad Song (2012) and several poetry chapbooks. You can read his blog at The Unruly Servant. This year’s LRR staff caught up with him to discuss the past of Long River Review, poetry, and other literary concerns.

LRR: You founded the Long River Review in 1998. What was that experience like? What sparked it? How would you describe the first issue?

MS: When I was chosen as one of the editors of Writing UConn, I wanted to get course credit for the work I’d be putting in. I also saw UConn’s undergraduate literary journal transforming itself from a saddle-stitched, Xeroxed publication into a perfect-bound journal, one with potentially national reach, akin to Ploughshares or Agni: a journal housed at a university that would publish work from writers at all levels of experience. I’d edited and designed my high school literary journal for several years and also made chapbooks of my own work. Joan Joffe-Hall, who helped create Writing UConn, gave her blessing and I got encouragement from the Individualized Major program and the English department to propose a revised format. Wally Lamb was a huge help. He was teaching at UConn at the time and had just been chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. After hearing my appeal, he agreed to back the printing of the first issue. When the English department saw the final product, they gave permanent funding for the journal and gave course credit to all students who held the position of Editor.

I hope that the first issue was a good blueprint for the subsequent installments. All the issues that have followed have taken on their own character and it’s great to see Long River Review evolving to this day. It’s necessary for each editor to put their own stamp on their issue, while giving space to the great work done by UConn students.

LRR: How old were you when you first started writing? Was there a particular catalyst?

MS: A fifth-grade project in poetry is the earliest concrete point I can reach to find the spark’s moment, but I really got going in eighth grade writing short stories. Poetry came about a year later when I was a freshman in high school. I was just playing with words. I still am.

LRR: Who are your biggest influences as a poet?

MS: I agree with Emerson’s stance that “it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem, — a thought so passionate and alive, that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing.” I’m influenced by any poet that takes this approach in their own way, that sees language as Nature, and a small sample of those writers would include Emerson himself, Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Harryette Mullen, Clark Coolidge, Doug Crase, Charles North, Paul Violi, Bernadette Mayer, lots of Johns (Ashbery, Berryman, Cage) and contemporaries like Samuel Amadon and Morgan Lucas Schuldt.

LRR: Do you write on a steady basis or do you wait until you’re inspired? Do you have any writing rituals?

MS: A little of both. Sometimes the words can’t be stopped. Sometimes it’s fun to help them out a little, but usually never necessary. The writing tends to come in bursts and I just follow the wave. If I’m not in the mood, I’ve found that I shouldn’t really force anything. It’s best for a poet to go and live a little so he can come back to the page with new sounds. I had the form for my first book, The Mad Song, in my head for years: 13 chapters consisting of five paragraphs, one per page. Each paragraph would have a certain sentence count — three of them would be 13 sentences and the remaining two would be either 6 or 7 sentences. When I’d meditated on the form for long enough, I tried it on the page. Tried long, Jamesian sentences/paragraphs at first. Didn’t work. Then, in 2006, when I started working at the Vermont Studio Center, everything aligned and the entire poem poured out of me in 10 days. It was dictated to me from somewhere else. I didn’t ask where or who, I just followed it through to the end, knowing I had a certain form to fill, and with the suspicion that if I asked what was going on, where this was coming from, it would stop. The only ritual I have is to have no ritual.

LRR: Are you currently working on anything?

MS: I have six manuscripts that are complete, or nearly complete, waiting for an editor to take a look at: Green Mountains, containing poems I’ve come to call “ranges”; Buds, dub versions of Shakespeare’s sonnets; Roses, a series of sketches of said flower; Adventure Sonnets, inspired/based on the Choose Your Own Adventure book series; a translation of Virgil’s Eclogues; a translation of the Dao De Jing. I started to translate the Inferno, but got distracted. I’ve also been making notes on spheric meter, a new way of approaching scansion. I’m considering doing another series of The Equalizer, and I’ve recently launched a print poetry ‘zine called Gondola. Issue 1 has early work from Paul Violi. Issue 2 features poetry from Ray DeJesús, Buck Downs, Matt Hart, Curtis Jensen, Catherine Meng, and Sandra Simonds. I plan to publish another three issues in 2013 featuring work from Aaron Belz, Brooklyn Copeland, Dora Malech, K. Silem Mohammad, Morgan Lucas Schuldt, and others. It’ll be a limited run series. I have a blog, The Unruly Servant, that I sometimes update. You can always find out more there.

LRR: If you could go back to your experience at UConn and change one thing, what would you change?

MS: I should’ve listened more to Sam Pickering! He was one of my advisors, and while I did take a good portion of his advice, he always encouraged me to take courses like Children’s Literature or Shakespeare. Unfortunately, those classes often met at 8:00 a.m., and, feeling that I had plenty of other options for English/Literature courses, often found alternatives at later times. Point being: take advantage of all the great resources at your disposal while studying at UConn, in the English department specifically, but around campus as a whole. The Dodd Research Center contains Charles Olson’s papers as well as some of Frank O’Hara’s. That’s a good place to start.

LRR: Do you have any particular styles or genres that you gravitate towards in other people’s writing? What do you think makes a ‘successful’ journal: variety, style, cohesion, something else?

MS: I like a meter-making argument, doesn’t matter genre or style. “Voice is all,” as Kerouac said, & insofar as it keeps your attention: that is, it should be a voice worth spending time with. Interesting writing will pull you along if the writer knows what she’s doing. If you allow yourself, it will teach you how to read it, even if you’ve never encountered its kind before.

For me, a successful journal will contain various voices and styles in conversation with one another. When the tone or subject matter of every piece is too similar, or the work all comes from one perspective, you start to narrow your audience, and they’ll eventually get bored. Complimentary, antagonistic: a good editor will know how the pieces fit, &, like a good writer, should constantly push herself to take a fresh look at what she’s doing and always experiment with the new.

LRR: There is a growing necessity for literary journals to have an online presence or to be totally available online. Similarly, e-books are gaining in popularity, and there has been a lot of backlash about the computerization of reading. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a necessary evil or is it beneficial?

MS: It can run both ways. This past decade of digital publishing has been a boon to poets who can now get their work out to the public faster; or just get it out to a public that wouldn’t be able to find it if it was in a tiny, DIY journal. There are journals like Shampoo orH_NGM_N that are totally online. H_NGM_N started a press a few years ago because of the following they built via the Internet. So did Coconut, which recently resumed all-around publication after a personal hiatus by editor Bruce Covey. Forklift, Ohio is a great print journal that’s been published for almost 20 years now. Matt Hart and Eric Appleby take pride in constructing a unique design for each issue, but they also have a web presence. Know how each medium works in the present day and use both, but above all, make sure you’re publishing interesting writing. Good writing transcends all media.

Writers need to advocate more for the preservation of print, not just for the classics or would-be classics, but for everything, the important work and the disposable. We can argue the aesthetics of page v. screen, we can argue margin and cost savings — or control of the market — but what’s of utmost importance to me is the civic purpose of having print publications. Amazon has already shown its willingness to delete books from people’s Kindles (1984 of all books!) and while they say they’d only do it to enforce the law, I’m not willing to take their word. It immediately puts Amazon in the position of being the anti-Abbie Hoffman: they’ll steal your book! No, sorry, I want a book that, once I purchase it, someone has to physically come and take from me if they don’t want me to read it. I also don’t want newspaper or magazine or journal articles that can be retroactively wiped of “errors” or “corrected.”

LRR: Do you have any words of wisdom for college students who want to continue writing and working in literary spaces after college? Any tips for this year’s Long River staff? 

MS: The publishing world is changing every day but what will never change is the desire to read good writing, in every possible form, on every subject. Between crowdfunding and explosion of MFA programs, it’s a unique time for students to find new forms of publication, to start a literary journal, an independent press, a newspaper, even a bookstore. We need more websites like Coldfront and Vouched devoted to literary culture across the nation, not just focused on the urban epicenters and MFA programs. Liam Rector used to say (quoting his friend Rudd Fleming): “Find those with whom you have rapport and proceed. And never proceed with those with whom you do not have rapport.” You find allies for your work in the unlikeliest of places. Take any job that pays the bills because any job will inform your writing. A good writer can mine any experience for words.

To this year’s Long River staff: have fun, enjoy the experience, listen to one another, and be open to pieces you normally wouldn’t. Make sure there’s a broad range of styles and perspectives, but, above all, make sure you publish the best writing from the UConn community. You wouldn’t want to break the streak, would you?

 

Quick hit questions—

What was the last great book you read?

Always Materialized by Buck Downs

Do you have an all-time favorite literary magazine?

Allow me a very incomplete list: canwehaveourballback?CUEForklift, OhioH_NGM_NLa Petite ZineNo Tell MotelSixth FinchTightUnpleasant Event Schedule

Favorite word?

Ah

Favorite quote?

“Mu” - Zhàozhōu

 

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