The Anatomical Venus–Helen Ivory

The Anatomical Venus by Helen Ivory. Bloodaxe Books, 2019. 64 pages. $9.95, paperback.

Gentlemen, the Venerina is a dissectible young woman

            presented voluptuously in her final moments.

               from The Little Venus

In the forty-eight poems that comprise Helen Ivory’s latest collection, she herself dissects society’s attitudes to women over the past 500-odd years, from the dark days of puritans and witches to our own (supposedly) enlightened era of AI and ex machina porn. The Anatomical Venus literally refers to an 18th Century wax effigy of an idealised woman, to be examined and deconstructed by (typically male) medical students, but also provides a neat metaphor for every doll, real or figurative, that has ever found itself marginalized, manipulated and misunderstood – or else confined to the eponymous house, in which

            A woman lies so tidily

            below the belly of her cooking range,

but

            A child presses fingers to a pattern of blood

            on the candy-stripe wallpaper,

            traces the outline of the pink blanket

            draped over the edge of the cot

            while her mother explains

            that something bad has happened

            in the dolls’ house.

               from The Dolls’ House Mysteries

          Helen Ivory is a feminist, an intellectual, an historian and (very nearly) a scientist, and yet above all she is an artist, not a polemicist, a poet, not a politician, and subject matter that might, in clumsier hands, have become mere manifesto is transformed into gorgeous riffs on a multifaceted theme where

            The rattle of clockwork

 fell about her feet

            as faces blazed down

            from every high place they’d been hiding.

            And the vesper, that evening star, rang out.

               from Chair

In The Anatomical Venus you will find wit and compassion, intelligence and research, realism and surrealism, allusion and illusion, history and myth. But most importantly, you will gain access to a carefully constructed work of poetry that quite simply needs to be read –

  In the third dream

  I am shining the silver

  of every smoke-tainted

  coffeehouse in Vienna.

  Spoons queue up –

  clever schoolboys

  on the first day of term –

  I polish their faces.

  All of the girl-children

  are folded lace parasols

  packed up in a casket

  at the back of the nursery.

     from Housewife Psychosis

In short, this is a wonderful (in the original sense of the word) collection, a literary wunderkammer, a work of serious intent and deft achievement that deserves an essay, not a review. The essays, I am sure, will be forthcoming. In the meantime, let this review suffice.

—Michael Paul Hogan

Congratulations, Dom Fonce!

Preorder your copy of HERE, WE BURY THE HEARTS by Dom Fonce, available September 20, 2019. Congratulations, Dom!

Maryfrances Wagner–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I work at home.  I share an office with my husband, also a writer as well as a visual artist and drummer.  I sometimes wander off to other places to spread things out and get away from the interruptions of email.  I sometimes write when I take a walk or when I travel.  This is the time when I journal and jot down ideas and lines.  I always keep a small notebook in my purse for ideas and a notepad by my bed.  I like to mix things up a bit, but the revision stage always takes place at home.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I do both.  I usually start off writing in my journal.  Once a rough draft emerges, I like to see and feel how it works typed, the way it ends up.  I’ll tinker at the computer and then run off a copy to work on by hand again where I try to fine tune for style, sound, and detail.  Then back to the computer, and this can go on many times before I’m done.

What is your routine for writing?

I try to write some every day whether it’s brainstorming something new, working on a rough draft, revising, or compiling a book.  I also read every day and do research to be sure my details are right.  As an editor myself, I realize how important it is to read the magazines before I submit because so much depends on editorial taste.  I think many writers feel unnecessary rejection because they don’t do this first.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I have been writing all of my life.  As a child I started writing very bad poems.  My mother also wrote little poems for fun, so that’s probably what started me off, and then I found that I couldn’t stop.  I took creative writing classes to learn the craft, and my MA focused in creative writing poetry.  I still experiment with varying styles and keep finding new writers to read, so that I don’t always sound like the same song.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I try to write for a universal audience.  I want readers to be able to find themselves or relate to what I write about.  Of course, the hope of most poets is that we move the reader.  I always hope the reader will be moved in some way or think about what the lines mean beyond the literal.  My poetry is usually layered with meaning, but the reader does not have to understand every layer to understand the poem.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

When I am blocked, I read my favorite writers—new material by them, and their work will often inspire me.  I read on subjects I’d like to turn into poems.  I take walks every morning on a trail with my dogs, and that’s reflective, good time to think and observe.  Sometimes I try an exercise to get me to put something on paper or journal on a topic for a few minutes.  I’ve taught workshops on Writers Block and have a variety of possible things the writer can do to help get going again.  Sometimes, though, it’s a matter of going out and living a little more so that you have new material.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

Two other loves in my life are dogs and dancing.  I spend time with my dogs every day.  I also dance most days, but it’s no more than turning on some music and moving.  I also love and connect with nature.  If I hadn’t been an English major, I think I might have become a naturalist.  I have a number of nature poems.  I collage.  It’s also a good way to get my creative spirit going.  I have two journals full of collages.  Collaging is the opposite of writing poetry—I let the subconscious take over and don’t impose anything on the project.  I assemble jewelry to give as gifts.  I cook.  I feel as creative in a kitchen as I do at writing.  I view recipes as starts and think about ways to make the food taste better.  I also love to invent without any recipes.  I walk every day with my dogs, and I read.  I also co-edit I-70 Review and volunteer at The Writers Place, where I serve as the chair of the programming committee.  I teach writing workshops at all levels and ages, and I mentor writers and teachers.  I worked as a full-time teacher at both the high school and college level as well.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The period where a rough draft starts shaping up into a better poem through revisions.  Watching it turn into something is exciting.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read the best writers.  Decide who your favorites are and read their work.  Study what they do.  Read the magazines you aspire to publish in.  See what they publish.  Find a mentor or another writer who writes as well or better than you do and share your work.  Even better, find two or three of them.  When each is saying the same thing, you’ll know the problem of your work.  Take a good creative writing class or two at a university if you haven’t already.  Learn the craft.  Workshops here and there may give you support, useful information, and help you network, but they don’t necessarily make you a better writer because the time you get to spend is so limited.  A university class will force you to embrace writing for a long period of time on a daily basis.  That is very helpful.  I don’t think most writing groups work very well unless they are small and the members can stretch each other to better writing.  A random group of people results in conflicting feedback–although this can be useful in other ways too. You always want someone to help you grow, help you rethink how you see.  I also think that is true throughout a writer’s entire career.  We always need valued writers we trust who can help us grow and tell us the truth about a poem.

Check out Maryfrances’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2. Check out her latest book of poems, The Silence of Red Glass, and check out her website here.

Sarah A. Etlinger–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I work mostly in public spaces, my local coffee shop (which should be a national treasure!) and sometimes at home. But since I drive a lot for work, I often write in my head while I’m driving and use my voice recorder on my phone to record the ideas.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

As I stated above, I sometimes use the voice recorder function on my phone to record ideas while driving. But if I’m not driving, I get ideas and jot them in the memo pad of my phone. Sometimes I will use a notebook or my laptop.

For the actual writing, I do tend to write on my laptop—but if I’m revising, or need to work something out, I will use pen and paper (often one of the pair of purple Moleskine notebooks I bought when I decided to take this poetry thing seriously!).  Occasionally I will write in the notebooks to start from, but it’s rarer and rarer these days.

My favorite writing utensil is, and has been since I was 16, Pilot Precise V5 Rolling ball extra fine liquid -ink pens in various colors. Second choice is PaperMate Flair marker pens. If I MUST I will use UniBall liquid ink, and if I am REALLY REALLY desperate, traditional ballpoint pens. But that has to be a dire writing emergency! Before you all start thinking I’ve lost my marbles—I like the feel that these pens have on the page and in my hands; I like the ease of writing with them, and I love color. 😊

What is your routine for writing?

My writing routine varies by the week or by the day, since I have a full-time, demanding professor job, a 3-year old at home, a husband, dog, and a home to run. But when I do write it takes one of two forms: writing (where I often look at what I’ve written in my notes, or getting out the laptop and clicking away), or revising. I sometimes revise on my own; sometimes in response to feedback. I have a few readers and I work with a coach/mentor on a regular basis.

The revising routine varies, of course, depending on my time and on the extent of the revisions, or even how I’m feeling! I never write with my own music on; being in the coffee shop, though, there’s always ambient music playing and conversations, which for some reason I can tune out there but never at home!

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing almost as long as I can remember, though it has often come in fits and starts. But I’ve always been interested in, and “good at” language. I love turns of phrase, and I like sounds of letters and syllables; I love words. Love everything about them, and always have!

In 6th and 7th grade I wrote short stories and poetry almost constantly; in high school I did some. I even did a final project on fiction writing my senior year of college, and intended to minor in Creative Writing (along with a traditional English Lit major) in college. My alma mater, Skidmore College (which is the best school in the world and changed my life profoundly), phased out the major and minor, I think, when I got there, so though I took a couple classes, I couldn’t. I also decided, on the first day of 8th grade, I wanted a PhD in literature so I could teach English—which set my path more academically than creatively. (I’ve since earned the PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and absolutely love teaching first-year students how to write academic pieces).

The creative writing classes I took in college were lovely, but it ruined my ability to really write for a while, because –as is often the case with 20-year olds—I didn’t want to revise my work and I didn’t think poetry could be revised. So the feedback shut me off. It wasn’t until late college that I found my voice again.

However, since graduate school, I didn’t write at all. One poem on October 23, 2007, for a man I was dating’s birthday—and not a single (creative/poetic) word again until July of 2016, when my first poem in that time, now titled “Crossroads” (and can be found in the inaugural issue of Brine) came to me while driving through Elkhart, Indiana. The poem seemed to descend the heatwaves, and I chanted it in my head for the remaining 3.5 hours home. Then the floodgates opened and I couldn’t (can’t!) stop.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

My ideal/ intended audience is anyone who likes rich imagistic poetry or who appreciates a real voice in poetry. I’m not an experimental poet, and I don’t do things just to do them. Sometimes, of course, I get lines/phrases/ideas/images out of thin air; or someone says things to me and I like them (moral of the story, folks: I might put what you say in my work. Watch out! 😉). I write for me, as is expected, but I’m increasingly writing for women, I think, who want a different view on what women’s poetry can be. I’m not afraid, anymore, of saying what needs to be said.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

The world inspires me, though I have tended towards particular themes that have cropped up as I develop a body of work. I’m interested in male/female relationships and love; the interaction between nature and our emotions/experience; mythology, and, though I am an atheist, religious concerns from both my Jewish (secular, reform) background, and my mother’s Catholic roots. But, as I stated before, I sometimes just get phrases that clatter around in my head, or someone says something interesting. For instance, a dear friend of mine said, once, in a conversation about their favorite poets, “Neruda when I want to remember” and that struck me—so it wound up in my poem “The Timekeeper.” So, I never know what I’m going to discover; and I don’t write on assignment. I can’t—I need the muse.

If I’m blocked, I revise or put it away. I have to just let it percolate. Something always comes.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I cook, read, and teach, of course. I’m also about to have my fourth semester of piano lessons with a delightful and feisty, 81-year-old piano teacher. I spend time with my family, of course; going on excursions to fairs and zoos and museums and other kid-friendly adventures.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is getting inspired. Turning that inspiration into something, even if it’s not very good. Seeing the feeling or idea or image or thought turn into something else with live arms stretching into all kinds of nooks and crannies. And, of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it when someone says they liked my work!

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Can I just write a book about this? Advice, from 15 years of teaching writing to undergraduates, and from my own, hard-won lessons:
1. Do it whenever you can. Sit and write. Don’t stop.
2. Don’t judge it—just let it be. It can always be shaped and changed and altered. But don’t let that stop you. Just write it down. No one has to see it.
3. That said, get readers. Good readers, whom you trust and love and respect. You can control the feedback, too—ask for specific things—but find readers who love you, and can provide support. Sometimes, don’t guide the feedback. Just get their thoughts. And sometimes take it, and sometimes don’t. Just get it from people who have your back—it’s YOUR work, and your voice. You won’t hone a voice if you’re always crowding it out.
4. It will take a bit to find your voice. And your voice will change. But let it come out anyway, and don’t let things get in the way.
5. Be brave. Be unafraid to say what you need to say, how you need to say it. It might change, but be brave. Say it.
6. Don’t throw anything out. Ever. Keep it.  (No, seriously. Don’t throw it out.)
7. You will have fallow periods—this was the hardest thing I had to learn, and I still get freaked out when nothing is coming. Enjoy the fallow periods. Embrace them.
8. Don’t throw anything out. Ever.

Check out Sarah’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2. Her poem, “Two Fools,” was nominated for a Pushcart. A review of her collection, Never One For Promises, is available in Volume 5, Issue 1.

Volume 5, Issue 1 is Here!

The issue was published January 16, 2019. The sample is available here as a PDF to download.

The full PDF issue is available here from PayPal for $2, to help with funding contributor copies and mailing costs.

The optional theme is Lost and Found.

Contributors: Sudeep Adhikari, Charles Joseph Albert, Rey Armenteros, Jan Ball, Gary Beck, Susan P. Blevins, Michael K. Brantley, Judith Alexander Brice, Alexandra Brinkman, Frank De Canio, Aidan Coleman, Daniel de Culla, Lydia A. Cyrus, Nathan Dennis, Deborah H. Doolittle, Steven Goff, Dave Gregory, John Grey, Jack D. Harvey, Kevin Haslam, Michael Paul Hogan, Erica Michaels Hollander, Mark Hudson, Heikki Huotari, Nancy Byrne Iannucci, Jayant Kashyap, Wade McCullough, Don McLellan, Todd Mercer, Daniel Edward Moore, Donají Olmedo, Simon Perchik, Zachary A. Philips, Mari Posa, Eric Rasmussen, David Anthony Sam, J.B. Santillan, Marygrace Schumann, Sydnee Smailes, Ruben E. Smith, William L. Spencer, Penn Stewart, Lisa Stice, Ash Strange, Lee Triplett, Mitchell Waldman, Thomas Wattie, Richard Weaver, Theresa Williams, and Bill Wolak.

Reviews: Blunt Force by Gary Beck, The Remission of Order by Gary Beck, Overhead from Longing by Judith Alexander Brice, Bombing the Thinker by Darren C. Demaree, Lady, You Shot Me by Darren C. Demaree, Never One for Promises by Sarah A. Etlinger, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, Mark the Dwarf by Jack D. Harvey, The Frayed Edge of Memory by James Croal Jackson, Mishigamaa by Robert Krantz, Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove, I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse, Final Inventory by David Anthony Sam, and Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink by Nita Sweeney.

Winner of The Magnolia Review Ink Award: Nathan Dennis, for “Meditations on Creation.” Selected by Aretha Lemon.