D. Gilson’s essay, “On Faggot: an Etymology,” appeared in The Indiana Review issue 35.1 and was selected by John Jeremiah Sullivan as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2014. Here’s an interview with Gilson in which he discusses his piece, touring Anne Hathaway’s cottage, what his essay so easily could have been, and what he pushed it toward instead.
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We’re proud to have the fantastic Elizabeth Eslami join the Indiana University Creative Writing Program as a Visiting Lecturer. Her collection and novel chilled us; we felt the words cold in our bones. Here Elizabeth answers questions posed her about her writing habits, the deft handling of place in her work, her forthcoming novel, and how she believes in magic.
Elizabeth Eslami is the author of the story collection Hibernate, for which she was awarded the Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction, and the acclaimed novel Bone Worship (Pegasus, 2010). Her essays, short stories, and travel writing have been published widely, most recently in The Literary Review, The Sun, and Witness, and her work is featured in the anthologies Tremors: New Fiction By Iranian American Writers and Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema. She’s a Visiting Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University.
We all have our word pet peeves—those words and phrases that catch on us like hangnails, the newly indicted clichés. Here our staff weighs in on some of their word pet peeves, mindful that every one of these words can likely be wielded as the best sword. So it’s worth noting that this is not our attempt at a blanket ban on these words, not a hunt against what might be considered ordinary or mundane. And of course, while these are by no means rules—only preferences—we hope you too consider what some of your word pet peeves are. We’d like to know. Share them in the comments!
Paul: “Impossible” (adj. “not able to occur, exist, or be done):
Folks, nothing is impossible. Gay Marriage? Possible. The Crusades? Possible. Look, if Disney can do Mulan on Ice, anything is possible. Now I know what you’re thinking: there is no way Daniel Day Lewis will be in a Disney movie. But you’re wrong. Vin Diesel? Disney Movie. Owen Wilson? Disney Movie. Jackie Chan? Disney Movie. Disney will destroy us all. Us being my family, because we love Disney on Ice, and that shit is expensive.
Peter: “Shuffle” (v. “to walk by dragging one’s feet along):
This word can’t, for me, shake its association with awkward prose. It draws attention to itself as language, to the unremarkable act of walking, granting it undue significance. While I can see some argument for how the word might help characterize, sort of demonstrating sluggishness, for me it just can’t do this well enough—so often tossed-around in writing, and so often seeming out of focus, “shuffle” seems to avoid the hard work of functioning as essential, proving detail. Is there an occasion for the shuffle? It seems likely. But so often I find that a simple “walk” would do, and do better, than how I feel when I read the word: a defeated walk out the door, my head bowed, feet barely lifting from the floor.
Leslie: “Tears” (n. “a drop of clear salty liquid secreted from glands in a person’s eye”):
At the beginning of the semester, I hand out a sheet of paper to my students with the title “List of Words to Avoid.” At the top of this list: tears—those crystalline drops of saline fluid that dangle mercilessly from tear ducts. Sound melodramatic yet? Truth is the word carries so many connotations that it’s nearly impossible not to feel like a poem has taken a quick pit-stop in a young adult novel and found itself desperately lost in the lyrics of an early ‘00’s emo/acoustic/indie rock band—Dashboard Confessional, anyone? That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy revisiting the glory days of unfettered youth, but there are other ways to conjure those feelings. There’s so much music in poetry that it would be unwise to revisit tired tunes. Let’s write anthems full of merciless metaphors and somatic similes! Get away from abstractions and dwell more within the body. Avoid those pesky bodily fluids, though—that’s also a huge no-no. But you already knew that.
Shayla: “Pomegranate” (n. “an orange-sized fruit with a tough reddish outer skin”):
Writers tend to go through trends of word experiences—sometimes Paris, sometimes bees, often mangoes. Around 2012, the trend tilted toward pomegranate. I have trouble when writers try to hinge the import of their words upon an exotic or symbolic stand-in. Aside from the passion inherent in its color and texture (its inability to divide into licentious pearls), the fruit harbors historical relevance due to its association with femininity and the underworld (the forbidden fruit of Greek mythology). As writers, we are responsible for the legacy of words, and how we choose to carry that into our work. As uncharted as a pomegranate may seem, I would much rather see a writer do something fresh with a banana, chilidog, or peanut.
Allie: “Somehow” (adv. “in some way”):
“Somehow,” as in the word I’ve used for decades to imbue specialness onto something I can’t describe. This word feels like one of the ultimate copouts, right up there with Exposition Through Dialogue and Overstated Puns. “Somehow” is the gray space of description in setting, plot, and character—and somehow I can’t stop using it.
In light of the recent epidemic of racially charged violence and two grand jury decisions not to indict the policemen responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I would like to draw attention to three newly published poetry collections that deserve consideration within the current dialogue on blackness: The New Testament by Jericho Brown, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae. These three books have garnered much attention on their individual merit, but deserve consideration in terms of the conversation we should be having about race relations in America.
A poetry book is a kind of rumination. For the average poetry collection to go from the seed of an idea to an ISBN number takes at least 2-3 years—even for relatively established poets like Rankine, Brown and McCrae. All three books were released within a month of each other and, based on their overlapping subject matter, one might suppose these varying depictions of the expendability of black lives result from the July 13, 2013 Trayvon Martin case verdict. But, assuming a typical publication schedule, these books would have been in the editing stages by the time George Zimmerman’s acquittal made headlines.
I say this because The New Testament, Citizen, and Forgiveness Forgiveness all bear testimony to the importance of poets amidst the voices that respond to today’s atrocities. The fact that these books focus our attention of varying views of blackness, of black masculinity, of disappearance, of youth—while our newsfeeds fill with the loss of one black life, after another black life, after another—is more strategic than anomalous.
Review of Language Lessons, Vol. 1 (Poetry, Third Man Books, 2014)
Last summer at the Newport Folk Festival, Jack White was joined on stage by actor John C. Reilly. Together they covered Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene”—and Jack White wept. The magic of a music festival sparks in the friction, the weird juxtaposition of singular voices for one weekend only! The best moments of literary anthology Language Lessons, Vol. 1, occur at just such junctions—curated carefully enough to allow for the haphazard transcendent. Headliner Jake Adam York opens the show. Adrian Matejka steps back and lets the ones-and-twos speak for themselves. Nicky Beer ruminates on the panda, while a few stages over, the mythic Frank Stanford returns from the dead for one more set. (Like the Tupac hologram at Coachella, but with more blood.)