And all the poetry people said “Amen”

At an editor’s meeting a few weeks ago, I found myself struggling.

There was a particular poem I just loved—when I read it, a sucker-punch wave washed over me and I knew I wanted it in the journal. But why do you like it, a colleague asked, what exactly does it mean here, another chimed in, and while I could point to several details and had a decent grounding within the piece, I couldn’t put my finger on it, exactly. But I wanted to return to it again and again—to me the poem was mesmerizing.

This got me thinking about what we look for in poems, and what a poem sets out to do. This is not a post to expound on the wonders of elliptical poetry, or even to say that I don’t look for meaning in poems—I definitely do. But I think that poetry has an intangible quality that works in a more mysterious way. The other night reading Poetry, I came across “One Whole Voice,” a commentary on faith written by a collection of writers. In the first section Jericho Brown talks about poetry and prayer, stating that poems “ask us not to understand in the same way that we often find ourselves not comprehending the possibility of a God in this world.”

We may not be able to fully comprehend a poem or the divine, but would he be God, would a poem be a poem, if we understood perfectly? He continues, “I’ve never believed that what attracts us to poems is knowing what’s going on in them. As a matter of fact, I think just the opposite. Maybe that’s the problem people have with poetry. That’s not what we’re taught about how words can be used. I do want poems to have meaning, but I also think that having meaning isn’t the end of the conversation about poetry—or about faith.”

And when I read a really good poem, it does require a little faith. To see it as something a little sublime, and to revel in it. If that’s the case, maybe to even say ‘amen.’


Poetry Magazine, February 2012

IR’s Fabulous Interns

Two weeks ago, I posted a link to the first of a series of interviews I’m doing for the NPR station WFIU with one of IR’s lovely interns, Kelsey Adams. This week, I’d like to feature the rest of our awesome team!

Avery Smith is our  prize intern. Here’s what she says about her writing, her work at IR, and her studies at IU:

I write poetry in every facet of my life: in classes at IU, on my own time, and also in my work at Women Writing for (a) Change. I love writing poems to explore perception: how people perceive, how places, words, and events can be perceived on various levels, and what exists beyond the surface level of perception. I think my work has taken on a more philosophical bent due to the classes I’ve taken at IU, and in response to the work of many of my favorite poets: Kazim Ali, W.S. Merwin, Wallace Stevens, Naomi Shihab Nye. Working at IR gives me exposure to what is new in literature, and it gives me hope that people still read and care about the written word, that the written word has the power to engage and change whole lives.

Shilpa Reddy is our publicity intern. She primarily writes fiction. Of her own work, she says,

I like focusing on the small things and overlooked details in life. I love to spend time describing places I see daily, because it allows me to appreciate the space around me in new ways. I’m also interested in the way that science and literature intersect. As a student of both the sciences and humanities, I’m always looking for connections between the two, and I’m fond of authors who do the same. Writing has allowed me to realize what I really care about, and to find resolutions to problems I wouldn’t be able to solve in real life. It helps me distance myself from myself, so that I can be more honest with my life.
“IR is a hidden gem at IU,” Shilpa says. “I always wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a publication, and it’s exciting to be a part of the process.”
Emily Mullholland is our subscriptions intern. She’s not a creative writer herself, but she is a voracious reader. Here’s what she has to say:

When I was in middle school, I used to dream about being a writer. I was convinced I would have a published novel by the age of 18. Things changed, however, when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. From that point on, I began directing my attention toward the writing of others (friends, authors I enjoyed). I tweaked my dream, deciding I wanted to go into editing and publishing. Things just took off from there.

I was a fan of IR before I even knew that internships were offered here! When it comes to opportunities to gain experience in this world, IR has been the culmination of all of my work. Working at IR has convinced me that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, if I can.

We are so lucky to have such fabulous interns here at Indiana Review. Thanks, ladies, for all that you do.

Round-Up

We’ve got some merry news. This spring, Q Ave Press will publish Heather June Gibbons‘s chapbook, Flyover! We’re lucky enough to feature her poem, “Memory is a Bull Market,” forthcoming in IR 34.1.

 

 

 

 

We’d also like to extend our sincerest congratulations to 30.2 contributor Greg Wrenn! His first book of poems, Centaur, won the 2013 Brittingham Prize in Poetry and will be published in February 2013 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

 

 

▶ And check out this list of “Literary Heirs” by Stephen Heyman in the NYT, a flashy and substantial gathering of excellent literary magazines.

▶ In case you missed it: “A Publisher’s Menagerie: Stories behind Publishers’ Animal Logos” by Elisabeth Watson.

▶ We eagerly await The Morning News 2012 Tournament of Books which starts next month.

▶ AWP is less than three weeks away! Will you be there?

The Art of Procrastination

Image: Wendy MacNaughton for The New York Times

I don’t know about you, but it seems like the amount of time I spend procrastinating increases as my workload increases. Before I can force myself to focus, I have to clean my apartment, re-alphabetize my bookshelf, eat a snack, brush my teeth, text everyone in my contact list, drag a shoelace around the apartment for my cat to chase, and check all my favorite websites and blogs. There are so many wonderful, fascinating gems out there in the great wide world web! Here are a few of my current favorites.

1. Awful Library Books

Image: awfullibrarybooks.net

Two Michigan public librarians bring us the best of the worst in current library book holdings. Take, for example, this treasure, which examines how junk food can “convert a normal brain into a criminal mind.”

2. Haiku For The Single Girl

Image: This Isn’t Happiness

You, too, can write haiku!

3. Ommwriter

Introducing OmmWriter Dāna from hs&co on Vimeo.

 

And, last but not least, here’s a tool that *might* help you stay focused. Let me know if it works for you…

Poems, Stories, Storming In

I’ve been doing some solitary brainstorming about brainstorming. Let me explain. I’ve been storming, mainly on my own, in my head, trying to wrangle up all the amazing ideas that I witnessed develop as a result of collaborative problem-solving. And I’m screeching to a thundering halt. This attempted recall began after I read Jonah Lehrer’s article “Groupthink” in The New Yorker this week. He recounts how, in the 1940s, ad man Alex Osborn’s revolutionary strategy of “brainstorming” erupted on the corporate scene, positioning Osborn as “influential business guru.” Osborn advocated for many minds working in rapid fire to generate ideas, and proposed that many more ideas in commando-fashion attacking a problem would create the most innovative solutions. Since then, brainstorming has been applied in numerous situations—corporate strategy, product development, academic research, and as a pedagogical tool, to name a few. As a result of Osborn and the pervasiveness of his method, I’m sure we’ve all brainstormed at one time or another.

One way brainstorming intersects with the literary is in the realm of a writing workshop. Yes, my brain storms all the time, on its own, night and day. Sometimes I wish it would calm down a bit and just bask in some sunshine, and other times when I want some good old fashioned thunder, I’ve got nothing. But it’s in group workshop that brainstorming, collective problem-solving, actually becomes problematic. Critiques of the workshop call it “groupwrite,” the phenomenon in which a bunch of writers get together to “fix” a poem or to “solve” a problem it’s having. Writers not in a traditional workshops often long for someone to tell them what to do, to help them mend their not-quite-right poems (or stories). However the problem with this approach is that it assumes too much—that the group knows the poem’s intent, that there is only one way the poem can work, and the group will come to that creative solution. This is not to say there aren’t amazing groups of writers and great workshops, or to say I don’t have amazing readers myself, of my own work. But jointly, brainstorming mentality has the ability to strip the poet of his agency. When groupwrite happens and the writer turns to the group to mend his piece, what results, I find, is a faltering of voice, an evening of texture, and distillation of originality. Further,one main requirement of brainstorming is to eschew negative feedback and criticism. Yet for great ideas to be developed, in my mind, discernment is crucial. In workshop we talk about issues with the writing, but not issues with the proposed revisions. Not all solutions are equally plausible or helpful.

And sure enough, Leher writes that when Osborn’s technique was tested, “‘brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool ideas.’” Which is when it hit me. This is what a literary magazine is! Here at IR we don’t sit down together and write a whole issue conjointly, rather writers work on their own–near, far, all over the globe, storming away to come up with rich and glorious and weird and terrifying stories and poems. And they send them to us, offer them up to the group. Who is discerning and takes those literary ideas, and pools the best of them into a carefully crafted collection. Groupwrite? No. A group of amazing writers. And the result? Lightning bolts galore.

Jonah Lerner “Groupthink.” The New Yorker, January 30 2012