Earlier this year, I was invited to a local grade school to talk to a class of fifth and sixth graders about being a war refugee. I discussed my Bosnian childhood with them, as well as my family’s move to Spain and ultimately to the States. Something unexpected happened during this session, and my reaction to the event too was unexpected. I wrote a personal essay about it, and I am happy to say that the piece was accepted for publication by the international journal of the humanities War, Literature & the Arts. I feel honored by this acceptance, since this journal puts out work that is both beautifully written and highly perspective-giving. I will announce the publication of the piece here once it is out.
I’m delighted to have one of my new poems, “On the Balcony,” in the new issue of Cider Press Review. In other exciting news, Zone 3 has accepted a poem I wrote about my grandmother’s house in the Bosnian countryside. The poem will be available in their next issue. I’m so grateful to be included in these two magazines and to be such wonderful company.
A short, fantastic interview with writer Alexander Maksik is up on the Tin House website. Maksik discusses the popular tendency to shy away from writing sex in contemporary fiction and says:
Who becomes an artist out of a desire for safety? The aversion to writing about real intimacy is symptomatic of what I see as our growing cultural aversion to sincerity. And far more frightening, is a growing atmosphere of caution. Since when have good writers been cautious?
Lately I’ve been thinking of my own hesitance to address a number of subjects openly, both on social media and in my creative writing. Up until recently, I thought that my creative writing at least was a space where I pushed forward without much self-policing, but recently I read several short stories I wrote years back and was astounded by the difference between my boldness then and my hesitance now. It is true that I did not think as much about the construction of identity/identities in those years but wrote more intuitively—and my critical eye is largely a positive development—but I would like to recapture more of that intuitive movement that allowed me to follow characters from page to page with complete openness and affection. Reading Maksik’s interview really did bring some of that energy back.
As a writer, I love coming across poems that both inspire and intimidate me. This morning I read “Fortune” by Charlie Smith. In it, the speaker describes travelling through northern Mexico with a lover who has just found out she is pregnant. Smith’s work with setting is rich and tight, and the speaker’s honesty in voicing his need to be alone moved me. Below are some verses, but you can read the entire piece on Poetry Foundation:
I didn’t want a child,and I was tired of closeness, tiredof being kind, so was glad to be alonea while and lay down under a jacaranda tree,and watched through leaves the changing patternof the sky…
It is a chilly day in Bloomington, and I’m reading Mark Doty’s “Atlantis” on Poetry Foundation. The poem is startlingly honest and elegant, and it makes me want to dig in more deeply when it comes to my own work. Here are some favorite verses:
I’ve seentwo white emissaries unfoldlike heaven’s linen, untouched,enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,too cold yet for green, too earlyfor the tumble and wrack of last seasonto be anything but promise,but there in the air was white tulip,marvel, triumph of all flowering, the soullifted up, if we could still believein the soul, after so much diminishment…
One of my new poems, “Bare Necessities,” is available online from the wonderful Hawaii Pacific Review. Many thanks to editor Tyler McMahon!
Yesterday, I read the Paris Review interview with the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, whose books often combine journalistic reporting with first-person confession. In the interview, Carrère describes a writing exercise he practices, learned from the German Romantic Ludwig Börne:
For three successive days, force yourself to write, without denaturalizing or hypocrisy, everything that crosses your mind. Write what you think of yourself, your wives, Goethe, the Turkish war, the Last Judgment, your superiors, and you will be stupefied to see how many new thoughts have poured forth. That is what constitutes the art of becoming an original writer in three days.
Carrère finds this to be excellent advice and practices it when he is not working on anything. I felt inspired and started it yesterday myself. Even though I often journal, the session yesterday felt different than it typically does. It was as if Carrère had given me permission to be entirely present with my emotions and opinions, and my assurance with the pen grew and grew the more I wrote.
In the end, after reaching clarity, I felt a need to start a new piece of fiction but was dry for ideas. So I did what I sometimes do: I read poetry by writers I admire until one of their images inflated into a whole scene in my mind. The poem that struck me was “Autumn Sky” by Charles Simic, particularly the following stanza:
The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.
The scene it generated was one where two adolescents—country children who have grown up in neighboring houses—lie in a field and look to the stars. Their unusual dialogue moves the piece into a speculative realm, a genre I’ve been drawn to lately. I’m excited to be revising and polishing this piece now.