In an attempt to reconnect with writers who have influenced me, I googled Mary Gaitskill’s name today and came across a 2015 New York Times article about connection and loneliness in Gaitskill’s work. In the piece, literary critic Parul Sehgal teases out some of the complexities that lie beneath the surface of Gaitskill’s behavior and writing.
The article left me wanting to slow down as a writer and to dig more deeply into silence, awkwardness, discomfort. To explore character traits I avert my eyes from in real life. The entire piece is available on the NYT website, but here is a short excerpt about weakness:
We are phobic of weakness, we treat it like a contagion, averting our eyes and hoping for the best. But Gaitskill puts her fingers in the wound. Even among other artists attracted to weakness as a theme, she is rare in being able to look at it on its own terms. She doesn’t treat it like a curiosity, like Diane Arbus, or a chink in the armor that might let in faith, like Flannery O’Connor. She isn’t afraid of it, like Muriel Spark; nor does she insist its depictions rouse us to action, like Sontag. She looks — just looks — and sees everything: how weakness is despised, how weakness can be cunning, how victims aren’t merely saints or dupes.
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, tired
of being kind, so was glad to be alone
a while and lay down under a jacaranda tree,
and watched through leaves the changing pattern
of 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:
two white emissaries unfold
like heaven’s linen, untouched,
enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,
too cold yet for green, too early
for the tumble and wrack of last season
to be anything but promise,
but there in the air was white tulip,
marvel, triumph of all flowering, the soul
lifted up, if we could still believe
in 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!