Our very own, Mary Stone Dockery, has a first collection of poetry available now!
You should check it out.
Also, you can read more about the process and publishing and writing at her blog:
Any time I read work by Michelle Reale, something happens in the world, something changes and becomes new or different or altered. I am pretty much always left in awe. The Stone Highway Review (friend of Blue Island Review) contributor writes powerful yet subtle pieces that retain both mystery and insight into human nature, all while keeping the reader close and intimate. Her chapbook Like Lungfish Getting Through the Dry Season upholds the expectations I had from reading her work in numerous literary journals. This chapbook is its own strange world, at times surreal yet gritty and entirely now and embedded in poetically seductive language. This is a book about broken families, about struggling childhoods and about how one becomes a woman, or a person, after the influence of imperfect and often hurtful people.
Each piece often reads as if someone just ripped the cigarette you were smoking right from your fingers. The second piece sets us up for a new world, a journey into the strange and different, about a woman who is fleeing possible abuse. The abuse is never named, but only alluded to: “Upon arrival she’d begun to think the shiny white bandages she’d wrapped herself in… might have been a mistake.” When asked where she is going, the character’s arms turn into wings: “fluttering…in gentle arcs.” Reale shows a knack for comparison, when she describes planes in the sky as “steely coffins.” This piece hums with a threatening yet hopeful tone, and sets us up for a collection of pieces that work much in the same way. We may be in an airport or at a hospital or in a car, but often we are in more place than once, and we get there in subtle and soft ways.
The honesty of Reale’s work is clear throughout each piece. The language is crisp, dreamy, and seductive, while remaining unapologetic. Reale isn’t afraid to “go there.” In “A First Time for Everything,” a mother dances the day away in response to a fight with a father. The daughter watches the mother’s dancing, anticipating the father’s return and the fights that could ensue. A story like this could become dramatic or over the top, but Reale keeps us grounded in the language and the sexy scene:
“She begins her dance, her long thin arms wrapped around an imaginary partner. Her beautiful feet, arched as if she were wearing heels that make her look like every man’s dream. I am hung over from a binge with my friends the night before, something that doesn’t register with my mom. When I take a drag from her cigarette, my little sister, still in her nightgown with the sagging ruffle giggles. I hold my fingers up to my lips, shhhhhh, while the smoke unfurls from the corners of my mouth. ‘ Magic,’ she whispers, loving the secret between the two of us.”
The piece is filled with these kinds of secrets. Secrets the reader gets to know about, secrets we may feel left out of, but we don’t feel cheated. We always know enough. “Nostrum” is an example of a story we feel there is much more to, but because our main character is younger and knows less, so do we. This depressing tale of a broken family made me write “Woa” in the margins. First, a child is taken from her father because of a fight between the parents. Then, the father picks up a girl and we get the hint that he sleeps with her, then leaves her behind. The father tells the daughter, “No one can save you, remember that,” giving the piece an anti-evangelical feel, while the father remains “pounding out a furious beat on the steering wheel.”
Another strange piece involves a mother who volunteers to watch a neighbor’s child. The child happens to suffer from some kind of developmental disability. The speaker of this piece does not trust her mother – a common theme in the entire chapbook, and one that is shown for good reason here. This is another piece I wrote “Woa” in the margins many times. The things this mother says are surprising and can really make you gasp:
I will tell you this, though, my mother says, dropping her voice as if Belinda might understand. She will still get her mothly. She touches her head first and then her crotch: Up here has nothing to do with down there. Honestly, can you just imagine?
The mother is even a bit torturous to this helpless child:
My mother blows a stream at Belinda. She laughs when the girl sputters. Belinda’s mouth looks like the downward grimace of the tragedy mask of theater.
And the mother continues to say, “She’ll live a long life ‘cause she won’t have any stress.”
This particular story struck me sensitive to children, but also to those who are silenced in any way. Reale uses her seductive and subtle language to take our breath away, to show us the true darkness that can reside in all kinds of people – mothers and fathers are not the perfect people we should idolize after all. And they are more complicated than simply evil, here. They are troubled people, yes, and yet somehow still retain our sympathy.
Reale’s chapbook is modest in that each piece is quite short and looks as though there is little to it. Yet, each piece contains an urgency and life-like quality that pulls you through them quickly. I read this book straight through each time without stopping. While you may want to take a break and breathe, you most likely won’t be able to because Reale makes us sympathize and care for often grotesque or even borderline gothic characters who simply need to be loved. For example, the intensity of “Hunger” –
I held my arms under my stomach, cradling my girth and nursing hunger pains. I rocked myself back and forth on the curb like I was my own baby.
And again in “Like Lungfish Getting through the Dry Season” –
She spread her fingers in front of her face. Her gestures were like currency…
She skipped out the back door like a sprite.
She would read their futures in his fur.
When I came home after a long day of work not too long ago, I found my dog had chewed up my copy of this chapbook. Somehow he ate the cover page and part of the first page. The cover pages fell off, leaving the rest of the piece intact. This spoke to the strength of the work for me. It strengthens our understanding of these familial relationships through its seductive and smoky language. Through its honesty. The seduction can be a bit creepy in places, but like one of Reale’s narrator’s claims, “there is a first time for everything.”
by Mary Stone Dockery
Check out our friends over at Stone Highway Review and their first issue. I think you will like what you read.
and free download is available here as well:
Don’t forget to find Stone Highway on Facebook and to submit your own work for the second issue coming out in December. Issue 2 will include more poets and more awesome writing.
So, missed the deadline and sad that you can’t submit anymore? Well guess what? Since the 15th amazingly fell on a Friday, I think it’s perfectly fine to stretch the submission period over the weekend. So – tweak your poems, revise, work them out, and send them to us by Sunday night. We want your work. We love reading it. Thank you for choosing Blue Island Review!
With less than a week left to submit, I urge you to get your poems to us! We have received many submissions so far, but know there are some of you lagging behind. We have imagined that at the last minute on July 15th, we will receive more submissions in one day than any other day since May, when we first set up a call for your lovely poems.
Remember, we want to read more than one of your poems – it gives us a sense of your work. So, send us three. Also, we prefer shorter poems, 30 lines or less, though we do consider longer pieces. We just want stuff that is awesome. So send us your best work and let us publish you. You will be published alongside so many other talented Kansas poets that you won’t know what to do with yourself. In fact, it might just blow your mind.
Unsure where to submit – click HERE or click on the link above titled Guidelines.
July 15th is the last day!
Those of you with artwork, you have until July 20th to submit. We want your work! Send us your interpretation of Blue Island or of what it means to be a writer in Kansas. We love photography as well!
Any questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org OR check us out on Facebook!
Thank you for all your work and the chance to read it – we are happy to share this with so many great people and talented artists.
So you haven’t been writing. I get it. You have many excuses, ones I have used before I am sure…
I’m too busy mowing the lawn, watching my favorite show, eating dinner, doing dishes, surfing the Internet, checking Facebook, sending emails, riding horses, making out with my boyfriend, working, sleeping, showering, eating again, watching more TV, staring at my computer screen, playing Scrabble, drinking a beer, drinking another beer, cleaning the bathroom, cleaning out my closet, rearranging my furniture, driving across the country, watching TV again, shopping, making margaritas, sewing the button on my pants, fixing the printer, pulling weeds, going to the amusement park, eating again, and sleeping, then waking to do it all over again.
Where does writing come in?
The question I have for writers who claim to be too busy and to not have time to write is: What are you hiding from? What are you avoiding?
It seems to me that there is a reason we fill our lives with things other than writing, and we blame not having any ideas, blame writer’s block, blame the busy lifestyle we lead. Yet, there seems to be something in a person’s ability to procrastinate writing to the point that it barely exists, to the point where the writing life is thrust into some other world, where it sits waiting, ideas festering and growing moldy. And that life gets pissy when it’s ignored.
But the question is why do we ignore it?
I think that I have found a possible answer – perhaps we are avoiding the turmoil that IS writing. The pain we experience during creation.
No one ever talks about how much it can hurt to write. Not physically (though my hand and wrists do often feel like they need a break). But emotionally – it can hurt to tap into parts of yourself and your life and to splay them out, open in front of you, where you have to face it. Writing makes you look at the lies you told your best friend. It makes you look at the bad decision you made, when you stole from the department store or slept with a friend’s boyfriend or got arrested for trying to beat up a cop. Writing makes you look at how you truly feel about people in your life – and what reflects back at you can be surprising and hurtful when you discover that a deep love is more complex, that you find yourself despising someone close to you in writing, that you realize part of you sees this person differently than you have cared to admit.
Writing makes us relive events in our lives that we don’t quite understand. And usually these events are painful, emotional, secret. The place we have to go to explore these events is a dark place, and there is pain.
Perhaps we ignore writing sometimes because this can be “too much.” On the other end, while writing is also freeing and cathartic, to get there you have to go through some level of pain. It hurts to push through. And so, we ignore it all together, until it builds so much inside that we have to let it out.
I say write when those scars are fresh, when you can feel the heat still inside of them hissing. This is not the same advice people have given me before – to let things in life settle before writing them. I think if you wait too long, the writing won’t be as powerful, as fresh. And it may hurt more to wait. In the meantime, would you be avoiding your feelings toward that subject? Perhaps partially.
Part of me wants to suggest that you purposefully pull yourself from those topics you are drawn to write about and to force yourself to write something else, to see what happens when you face it sideways instead of straight on. And part of me thinks that we should stop being babies and just write it out, face ourselves, and get over it. Isn’t that what we signed up for anyway when we decided we wanted to write – that we would be in pain, poor, and miserable for much of our waking life?
Ha. Perhaps a too-romantic view, too melancholic. But I do know that if you are avoiding writing, if you fill all your time with things that are less important to you, if you make it a goal to make every day so busy that you CAN’T write, then perhaps there is something you need to consider that you are avoiding more than writing – that you are avoiding a part of yourself, and leaving that part of you unattended for too long can make it really hard to pull them back when you finally realize what has happened.
Go write something. And let the pain come.
Yesterday, I received my contributor’s copies for Amoskeag, the literary journal published by Southern New Hampshire University. It was an exciting thing to receive – the cover is black and white, with horses running toward you, lightening behind them. The back cover shows a dark, shadowy tree and lightening in the background again, some clouds misty as if light is trying to come through.
I waited a while to get this journal, because it got lost in the mail. Luckily the editor, Michael Brien was easy to communicate with. In his emails, he kept saying, “I hope you like the placement of your piece.” I didn’t know what he meant, of course, until I received the journal and found my poem next to a picture that seemed to be speaking directly to my poem.
This is an exciting publication because it’s a poem that I have been sending out for many years. I would say since about 2006 or 2007 – making that four or five years of sending this poem out, meaning that if I sent it to ten places a year, it was rejected at about forty places or so before finally being picked up.
Those numbers seem pretty much against us. But instead of pulling the poem, I continued to look at it, and made the changes it needed, and finally, someone on the staff at Amoskeag thought it was worthy of publication. What a feeling.
This is the story I use now when people tell me they keep getting rejection. Rejection CAN feel quite personal. Even though I send out so often I am receiving rejections nearly every other day, I still can’t be totally numbed to the feeling – it’s disheartening especially when you send the same poem over and over again, when you KNOW the poem is a good one, when you KNOW it is ready for publication and still, it gets the big fat red stamp of rejection.
Well, all you can do is keep sending it out. I think a good idea would be to take that particular poem and hand it off to a close friend to see what minor changes could make it better. And then, send it out again.
Here’s another tip – one poem I kept sending out since about 2006 and it finally just got picked up at Coal City Review – the only changes I made to it – make stanza breaks. The poem, titled, “When Momma Left Me,” was originally one big block of text, and I can imagine that to readers that kind of poem looks daunting. And for some reason, changing the poem to couplets made it get picked up finally. After so many years of rejection.
Don’t give up on those rejected poems. Keep sending them. Change the look of it from time to time. Send it with poems that are so different in tone and content that it stands out in each batch – so that someone HAS to really think about it. Put it second or third in the batch, not first. Send it to the same place over and over again, until that person falls in love with it. Change a verb or two to make them stronger. But keep sending them. Eventually, someone will fall in love with that poem and mark it with an acceptance.
This edition of Amoskeag is amazing. The other contributors range from high school age to our ex-poet laureate Donald Hall. The photos in the journal are amazing and emotionally complex. If you get a chance, head over to www.amoskeagjournal.com and check it out. This issue is ripe with parent-child conflicts, with loneliness and with memory.
Here is the poem I have in this issue that I am glad to say is finally published. It appears next to a photo titled “Girl under Table,” which shows a young girl under a dining room table, her face down, as if she is hiding from someone. Michael was right – this is great placement for this poem. I am glad it took so long because it seems like it belongs where it is.
This poem appears in Amoskeag, Spring 2011, Vol. 28, No. 1, page 19
As a Child
As a child I knew the breeze of a whip
as it glided through the air,
a swaying twig on a tree,
until it fostered a line
of bruise-red kisses
on the sides of my hips.
I listened to the swish of the string,
imagined jump-roping on a playground
to “Cinderella Cinderella” choruses,
my pelvis thumping against the bed
to the tune of the switch,
as it bumped
like a bass guitar.
Recently, I had a poem accepted at a lit mag and it was a great thing. I was excited, the magazine was legit, having many contests, prize money, great contributors, an interesting blog. I received the acceptance in late April and was told the issue would be coming out in June.
Yesterday, I went to check out the website to see what was going on with the latest issue – and you probably guessed it – the journal’s website has completely disappeared. It no longer exists. Nothing having to do with the journal exists. This journal even had a page where people posted poetry to receive feedback from other poets – and that page is gone, gone, gone, and all those poor writers’ hard work has disappeared with it.
How could I have known that this would happen?
Well, I don’t think I could have known. The journal had only had one issue under their belt, but the website was extremely professional, user-friendly, detailed. You could tell someone had spent a lot of time on it. This journal even had a small press and they had books on the website that they had published. They WERE legit, and they seemed to be doing well enough that I had no idea that any moment it would all fall under.
While I am sad that my poem will no longer be published and I will have to send it out, I am more sad that this seems too happen frequently. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, even. What sucks is that the editors both times have failed to contact me or others to let us know there are problems. No warning, nothing. Just one day a realization that they no longer exist.
This serves simply as a warning. Newer journals seem to be a lot like any other kind of business. Some last, some don’t. They take a lot of work to create and a ton of time. And a lot of us even shy away from submitting to newer journals for this very reason. I don’t like feeling like an acceptance doesn’t matter anymore. And I know no one else does, either. But for those of us just beginning, these newer journals are also good places to look to for a place for our work.
What’s the point? Well, keep submitting to the new journals. Be sure you get to know the website. Check and see what kind of advertising the journal is doing with other writing blog, with editors at other journals, etc. Make sure they are trying to get noticed and to gain a following. If it seems to quiet, it could be – but isn’t necessarily – a sign that the journal may struggle more than usual.
Those of you starting up a literary journal – remember that you couldn’t do it without your contributors, so keep them updated, informed. Let them know you are doing your best or that sometimes life happens and we fail or simply lose the funds/time we thought we had. Or it was harder than you expected.
Either way, journals are popping up daily and dying daily. Choose wisely where you want your work to be showcased. And keep sending your work out.