The only thing more rewarding than holding a new issue of Alligator Juniper fresh off the printing press is celebrating the authors who have work published within those pages.
“The Fairly Quiet Hour,” by E.L. DeLeo, was published in the 2013 issue of AJ as one of the student winners of the Susan Tito Prize. It will be published again this year in plain china, an anthology of the best undergraduate writing. Judge Natalie Singer had this to say about DeLeo’s writing:
“The Fairly Quiet Hour” is an almost surreal-feeling tale of the author’s commitment to a psychiatric ward at the age of 16 after a suicide attempt. The author is what a former writing teacher of mine calls a member of a special club. She is part of a small society of people who have been involuntarily incarcerated and who have felt a type of madness most of us never will. She has the ability to invite us, the readers, into this secret club. In short, she starts with a great story.
But it was not the rarity of her story, the extremity of this club, that drew me in as much as it was the series of important choices the writer made, and the impact of those on the reader’s experience.
Here is a segment from “The Fairly Quiet Hour”:
The group meeting room is separated from the common room by a hall so long that I cannot even hear BET. A doorless threshold behind me leads into an approximately ten-by-ten-foot room that is hard not to notice while sitting in group meetings. This bedroom-like space is empty save for a thin, vinyl mattress set in a wooden bed frame in the center of the floor. The mattress has no blanket or pillow. At the bed frame’s corners, four slots are carved into the wood.
Four men twice my size step through the doorway behind me. My head is between my knees, and I have compressed myself into the smallest space possible. I lift my head for an instant to check the wall clock. It is 4:30 p.m.
Before it happens, one of them says “Okay.” I feel a hand touch my shoulder. For a moment I think they might let this go. Maybe they are about to say, This is unnecessary. Look at her. She’s not doing anything.
Then the hand squeezes my shoulder, but not in a forgiving way. It squeezes as if to lift me by my shoulder. Until this moment, I was plotting an escape route. I forgot why men open jars.
“The Fairly Quiet Hour” will be published in plain china’s November 2014 issue. To read the full story and judge’s note before November, grab a copy of AJ 2013 here.
We would also like to recognize the recent publication of Crystal Jenkins Woods’ first book of poetry. An earlier version of one of the poems in the book, “What a Porno Won’t Show,” appeared in the 2011 issue of AJ. This collection, titled Gravity, can be found at New Plains Press.
Mentioned above as the judge of the 2013 issue’s student contest, Natalie Singer was also the winner of the national contest with “How to Be Analog” and is currently the Managing Editor of Parent Map magazine. Singer will be a guest teacher at an upcoming event for writers starting a book project or with a book project in progress. This writer’s retreat will be held at the Doe Bay Resort and Retreat from June 4-8th. For more information, visit http://writingismydrink.com/2014/02/11/doe-bay-work-on-that-book-writers-retreat/.
Please notify us of current achievements that you would like to share by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Prescott schools are well into spring break now. While lots of students I know are out on fantastic road trips, skiing somewhere cold, surfing somewhere warm, or spending time with their families, I remain here at my desk, researching and writing, working on my senior projects. This morning, as I looked over everyone’s adventure updates and faced the reality that the highlight of my spring break may be as grand as meeting someone interesting at the dog park, I couldn’t help thinking about places I’d never been.
Alix Ohlin’s story, “Places I’d Never Been,” published in the current issue of AJ, recognizes far away, foreign countries as physical places the characters have never been. It also moves deeper into recognizing places of new emotional and psychological experiences as Kayla and her mother-in-law, Marilyn, deal with the grief of losing their husband and son. The majority of the story is set in the local zoo, which turned out to be, according to Alix, “an apt metaphor for the cage of grief.”
“It’s a tragedy, Kayla,” she said. “And it’s all our fault. Humans, that is.”
I nodded. We both stared guiltily at the bear, who ignored us.
“This guy looks miserable. Doesn’t he? He belongs on ice floes, not in this damn zoo.”
I glanced at her; she wasn’t much given to swearing. I could see she was shaking with anger. We hadn’t been so close, before—there’s an uneasiness in the triangle of an only child, his wife, and his mother—but now she was deeper in my heart than my own family, because she was the only one who understood. “I know what you mean,” I said.
“This is what the future holds for them,” Marilyn said. “They’re going to be totally out of place.” We stood there for a while, and I tried to picture the melting of the ice, the far northern landscape pale as the moon, snow giving way to rock, the contours of a disappearing place I’d never been.
The 2013 issue of AJ also features a thoughtful dialogue about the writing process of “Places I’d Never Been,” what it is like to be a professional writer, writing and academia, and Alix’s two novels. Here is a sample:
You have said: “I think fiction surrounds us … we are the protagonist in a given tale; politicians frame events in narratives that cast certain characters as heroes and others as victims. Stories are the way we understand the world.” Given this idea, do writers have a particular obligation to the world at large? If so, how do you see your work as speaking to this larger responsibility?
This is a hard question. I sort of think that as people we all have an obligation to the world at large: to be kind, to do the best we can. As a writer, though, if you set out to morally educate, you run the risk of turning didactic and wooden. So I guess I try to treat all the characters with empathy, to pose the questions in my work in a complex, deeply felt way, and hope that this communicates something about the world.
Alix’s story, “Places I’d Never Been,” and the full interview can be found in “The Gallery” section of the 2013 Alligator Juniper. Visit our website to subscribe.
“In the Form of Birds,” a memoir by AJ‘s founding editor, Melanie Bishop, beautifully explores loss and grief throughout the process of caring for one’s parents. This story, intimate, lovely and profound, can be read in full at Vela Magazine.
You can also read an interview with Melanie on The Vela Blog.
For Valentine’s Day, as some people celebrate their love and some question what love really is, I decided to feature a story about two people with a spooky sort of deeper connection. In “The Double,” published in the 2013 issue of AJ, author Andrea Jackson brings two characters together in a way I never could have expected.
The customer was staring at Corinne.
Can I help you? Corinne asked again.
You look like me, said the customer.
A little bit, Corinne acknowledged.
You look exactly like me, the customer said, with the definiteness Corinne would expect of such a businesslike person. Is there a mirror here? The customer stood and craned her head.
Corinne led her into the back room, once a private place for brides and matrons to check the fit of their garments in a tall three-way mirror.
Corinne began seriously to entertain the thought that she and Brenda were the same person. The idea felt right and true. How simple it was, and what a relief from the early days when she had been always anxious, uncertain whether Brenda liked her as much as she liked Brenda, and whether Brenda truly believed, as Corinne did, that they were soulmates.
Brenda said: Something’s happened to Steve. He’s been so sweet, I can’t believe it. She smiled a happy, secret smile. The pain of exclusion lasted only a moment for Corinne.
She was Brenda. Brenda was she.
Andrea Jackson expertly entwines these two women in a strange relationship as they struggle with a rocky marriage, try out online dating, and wait for a decrepit old employer to pass on. In the end, just when I thought all was lost, the lives and relationships of Brenda and Corinne become even deeper entangled in a kind of spooky happy ending.
Are Brenda and Corinne really soulmates? Is it just friendship? Is it love? Is it stalker obsession? To find out, pick up a copy of the 2013 issue of Alligator Juniper. You can subscribe here.
I hope you’re as surprised by the ending as I was!
If you’ve never read one of Connie Voisine’s poems, you may be pleasantly surprised by the elegance and beauty in her imagery. We were pleased to find just such beauty in something seemingly industrial and plain in her poem, “Medical Plaza,” featured on page 191 of AJ 2013.
Connie Voisine is an associate professor of English at New Mexico State University. Educated at Yale University, University of California at Irvine, and University of Utah, she also coordinates La Sociedad para las Artes, an English Department outreach organization. Her book, Cathedral of the North, was selected winner of the AWP Award in Poetry, and Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream was published by University of Chicago Press in 2008 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She was a Fulbright Fellow at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2012.
Here is a teaser from “Medical Plaza”:
Oh secret volume—so
this is the other,
the failing life? The truer
eye? Tests and brown-tiered
balconies, five stories
of early risers? Hours 8-5. A man
with cane leans on the railing, floor
Following the poem is this dialogue with Connie:
The piece takes place literally in the quiet before the day’s rush, and metaphorically, it touches upon a more substantial, existential waiting. What fascinates you about these in-between spaces?
That’s lyric itself, isn’t it—the in-between spaces. The stopped clock. The emotion, the thinking, the psychology that pauses the busy narrative of the world …
To read the full poem and dialogue, pick up a copy of AJ 2013. You can subscribe on our website.
High Desert Arizona
Like an old-timer
easy with hard luck
will roll up pantleg
to show what
a snapped cable
or a black widow
the land here
bares its stories
about where wind
makes its rounds
has taught ridgeline
junipers to twist;
about where water goes
and by fancy,
where water went
where a scrub oak
wanted so bad
it lay down on
its side and
to have it.
From Southern Poetry Review, Poets of the West and West Coast, 51:2, 2014
Keeping Even, Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2011
Southern Poetry Review, 47:2, 2010
This special edition of Southern Poetry Review can be found at http://www.southernpoetryreview.org/
ABOUT KEEPING EVEN: A POETRY COLLECTION BY POETRY/CREATIVE NONFICTION EDITOR, SHEILA SANDERSON
Whether the scene happens to be the wildebeest migration trail through the Serengeti, or a pond in Kentucky “growing every minute greener,” or a stand of saguaro in the low desert of Arizona, the poems in Sheila Sanderson’s Keeping Even convey a strong sense of place. Grounded “on an actual, factual, earth,” the poems in Keeping Even call attention to the various balancing acts that living requires, to the desire to define and locate the center of gravity.–Stephen F. Austin State University Press
Sanderson understands that you can’t get to the metaphysical without first experiencing and enduring the physical. She straddles the known and unknown planes of existence buoyed by a voice that’s at once ironic and sincere, in a word, genuine. Sanderson swirls her personal myth with Biblical myth to reveal the essential, but seldom revealed, truth that they’re one and the same. Muezzins and hobos exist side-by-side in Sanderson’s world . . . . Wherever we are, and whoever we’re with, she reminds us-no, convinces us-that “the closing argument is faith.” –Alexander Long, author of Light Here, Light There and Still Life.
Sheila Sanderson writes a mature and committed poetry–a poetry that cuts to the bone, a poetry committed to cherishing the elemental wonders surrounding her life. Sanderson pays close attention to nature and her appreciation is specific, fresh, and hard-won, for Sanderson is a poet who, through hands-on observation, realizes the ironies and inequities of experience. And so her vision is subtle, wry, and realistic. The experience of a Sanderson poem is always essential. Her voice is uniquely her own, and a reader will hear Biblical overlays at the edges, in her poetry’s fierce music, in its gravity and concern. Sanderson commands a consistent and sophisticated syntax, and her voice, her style, support and include the contradictions of hope–which is where her poems brilliantly lead.–Christopher Buckley, author of Varieties of Religious Experience, Rolling the Bones, Modern History, Star Apocrypha and others.
Keeping Even is a brilliant book. Written in a wondrous blend of the vernacular and the philosophical, the poems . . .glow with radiance and wit . . . . Sanderson beautifully meditates on the epiphanies of travel, the knotty loyalties of family and home, the bewilderment of grief, and the complex gratitude for being “temporarily employed by the species.”–K. L. Cook, author of Love Songs for the Quarantined and Last Call
Keeping Even is available at Stephen F. Austin University Press, Texas A & M Consortium Catalog, and Amazon.com. It is also available locally at the Prescott College and Peregrine Bookstores.
SHEILA SANDERSON lives in the high desert mountains of Prescott, Arizona and teaches writing and literature in the Arts & Letters Program at Prescott College. She serves as poetry and creative nonfiction editor for Alligator Juniper. Her work has also appeared in journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Miramar, Southern Poetry Review, and Spillway.
It is such a pleasure to have our state and our authors recognized. Please tell us below what you love most about Arizona or the Southwest!