THE BLOG @ TIR
August 29, 2013
The Iowa Review is pleased to announce that Kyle Minor’s “Seven Stories About Kenel of Koulév-Ville” will be featured in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, edited by Dave Eggers. Kyle’s story was featured in TIR 42-3 as the winner of the 2012 Iowa Review Award in fiction.
Read more about The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology here. The collection will be available for purchase in October.
August 20, 2013
Sometimes poetry gets left out. Novels become movies or television shows, essays become documentaries, and the world knows about them. To be blunt, the only truly bestselling poets are dead. Even avid readers of The Iowa Review can probably name only a few poets off the tops of their heads, and topping that list would likely be people like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost.
As a class project for Iowa's undergraduate creative writing track in poetry, a few of my classmates and I set out to bring poetry into the community of Iowa City and the larger community of the internet. We went out into the streets of Iowa City with a video camera, asking people two things:
One: Tell us your favorite poet, and why.
Two: Describe your relationship with poetry in one word.
Many came up with things like “distant” and “Robert Frost, because he was the only one I read in high school.” But one young woman cited Virgil and went on to describe how Virgil’s poetry changed the world.
Check out the videos:
Favorite Poet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CKyhfJ_muw
But we did more than just ask the people of Iowa City what they thought about poetry. We also interviewed two up-and-coming poets, and put those interviews on YouTube as well. Nikki-Lee Birdsey and Chris Schlegel are both graduate students in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Nikki-Lee is from New Zealand and is poetry editor for The Iowa Review. Chris is from Pennsylvania and teaches upper-level undergraduate poetry classes at the University of Iowa. And neither of them is about to give up writing just because the world doesn’t know much about contemporary poetry.
Here are those two videos:
Nikki-Lee Birdsey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp0Y3FYiGyQ
Chris Schlegel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlXUXhh3Rqs
There’s a bit of a disconnect between the poets people name on the spot and the poets writing today. My classmates and I hope that these videos will do a little bit to change that. Two modern poets are now out in the world of the internet, answering the same questions the students of Iowa City are, and coming up with very different answers. I hope these videos have shown you that the distance between poets and the rest of the world is not so great that we can’t cross it.
Kate Kraabel is a senior English major at the University of Iowa and a summer intern at The Iowa Review.
August 13, 2013
Bennett Sims was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and received his MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His stories have appeared in A Public Space, Tin House, and Zoetrope: All-Story.
His debut novel, A Questionable Shape (Two Dollar Radio), has been called “addictively engaging” by Benjamin Hale and was said to announce “a literary talent of genre-wrecking brilliance” by Wells Tower.
Bennett was my fiction teacher this past spring, and when I finished reading his novel, I invited him to stop by the Iowa Review office to talk books, movies, and undeath.
HECKMAN: To get all the uninspired preliminary questions out of the way, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about yourself as a writer, your history with writing, influences, etc.
SIMS: I started writing in elementary school. As a kid I was [laughs] heavily influenced by R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. So a lot of the writing I was doing then mainly involved compiling alphabetical lists of potential Goosebumps titles. Z for Zombies in Zimbabwe, for example.
Apart from that, I’ve been writing institutionally almost my entire life. In high school I attended summer workshops at this really great arts academy in New Orleans called NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), and that’s where I started reading authors like Donald Barthelme and Borges and Cheever and Charles D’Ambrosio and David Foster Wallace. At that point I started thinking more seriously about reading and writing literary fiction.
I went to college out west at Pomona College, where I studied with David Foster Wallace and this poet and novelist named Aaron Kunin. I spent a couple years out of college writing on my own, then came to Iowa for grad school.
You’ve mentioned a couple influences. Barthelme, Wallace, Kunin. Any others that have had a particular impact on you?
A lot of the usual suspects. By which I mean, the authors people tend to identify as influences of mine are people I self-consciously consider influences. Nicholson Baker, Philip Roth, Thomas Bernhard, W.G Sebald. I usually have them in mind when I’m trying to craft sentences.
Proust looms behind the novel, too, in-as-much as it’s really concerned with memory and nostalgia, and how memory operates geographically. The book explores how certain memories can condense within certain places, and how consciousness can intersect with these geographical nodes of memory, such that people are compelled to return to important sites or be reminded of them.
Charles D’Ambrosio compares the book to those of Walker Percy. Was he ever a conscious influence of yours?
I did read The Moviegoer growing up, and I liked it a lot. It’s one of the crown jewels of Louisiana literature, alongside Confederacy of Dunces. But I haven’t read it recently, and it wasn’t something that was in my mind when I was drafting the novel. I was surprised and pleased by D’Ambrosio’s comparison, but the influence had to have been subconscious on my part.
What’s your favorite thing that you yourself have written?
Yes. To make you choose.
Well, I guess there are two axes of satisfaction here. First there are the projects that were the hardest to write and the hardest to get right, and that caused me the most agony and self-hatred and bloodshed, but that I still managed to finish and be proud of. My favorite in this category would either have to be the novel itself or this short story called “House-Sitting,” which I wrote while I was at the Workshop.
The other kind of writing I tend to be satisfied with are just the jokes I type when I’m making myself sit at the computer, whenever I can’t confront the agony of trying to finish something truly difficult. This is a purer, more pleasurable form of satisfaction.
Is that what you do to force yourself to write, make jokes?
Yeah. At some point I internalized this ethos of sitting at a desk and forcing myself to be at a laptop for a set number of hours in a workday. I’m suspicious of how productive this actually is, though, because I tend to just while away the hours writing a bunch of dumb jokes, then pat myself on the back for putting in a full day.
But when I make myself sit at the desk, the things I end up writing—just to amuse myself and keep from going crazy—are these little set-up/punch-line jokes. Probably the single line I’m proudest of would be: What did the doctor prescribe the mutant for constipation?
I don’t know. What did the doctor prescribe the mutant for constipation?
Milk of Magneto.
Your first novel, A Questionable Shape, came out earlier this year. It’s a zombie novel, so my first question about it is simply, Why zombies? Why not vampires or werewolves? What was it about the zombie mythos that drew you to write a whole novel about them?
I watched a lot of zombie movies in high school, and part of what I found so uncanny and interesting about zombies as monsters was what the narrator in the novel refers to as their “radical in-between-ness.” They’re between living and death. They’re between forgetting their former lives and remembering them. There was something haunting about the way in which a zombie would know enough about its former life to return to its house but not remember enough to keep from biting its wife and children.
When I got to college, I started encountering zombies in mind-body philosophy, anthropology, critical theory, and psychoanalysis. In these areas, the “zombie” or the “living dead” or the “undead” often appear as limit figures of kinds of human consciousness. In mind-body philosophy, for instance, a zombie is a creature that is physically and behaviorally indistinguishable from a human but that has no interior phenomenal awareness. They’re “all dark inside.” And in psychoanalysis, the living dead are often invoked as figures of repetition compulsion or the return of the repressed or the uncanny.
Researching undeath in this way confirmed my suspicion that zombies had an interesting relationship to consciousness: that they occupied this interstitial position between what we think of as human consciousness and what we think of as post-human or non-human unconsciousness. I wanted to write a novel where characters could be as interested in these ideas as I was, so I put them in a world where zombies actually exist.
To circle back to the beginning of your question (‘Why not vampires or werewolves?’) it’s just that vampires are, for all intents and purposes, sentient. You can imagine having a conversation with a vampire. They don’t raise any interesting questions about consciousness, and neither really do werewolves. Werewolves raise more interesting questions about the dividing line between humanity and animality, or about animal consciousness.
The novel began life as your undergraduate thesis. How did you go about turning this thesis into the novel it became?
The thesis had a somewhat unorthodox structure for an undergraduate paper. It was divided into an anatomy lesson with each chapter devoted to a different bodily aspect of undead phenomenology. “Their Hands,” would be one chapter. “Their Blindness.” “Their Stillness.” The chapters were then divided into two sections: the first would comprise these semi-lyric, free-floating propositions about what we, the living, know about the undead. Like, “We know the undead are blind.” Then the next section would be a more essayistic attempt to prove these propositions, unpacking or explicating them. If I had just claimed the undead were blind, I would look at a movie like Tombs of the Blind Dead with screen-caps and a close-reading. Then I would look at quotes from David Chalmers about the phenomenological blindness of zombies, how they lack conscious awareness of the things around them.
I’d always approached the thesis as a hybrid genre, so when it came to novelizing it, it was really just a matter of adding a narrative. I created characters for whom all these ideas about zombies and undeath would be urgent and meaningful. As a result, a lot of the thesis ended up in the novel: those lyric propositions about undeath are now pet theories of the narrator, and those riffs on horror movies and mind-body philosophy are packed into footnotes.
Film and film theory seem to play a large role in the book, as well as in your short story “White Dialogues,” which also concerns undeath. Is there something “undead” or ghostly about film that draws you to it?
Yes. Theorists have long remarked on the uncanny and hauntological and spectral properties of the film image. In Camera Lucida, when Roland Barthes is trying to figure out what’s distinct about photographs as art objects, what he hits upon is the idea that there’s a kind of death inscribed in all of them. When Barthes is looking at a 19th-century photograph of a man about to be hanged, he is struck by this: on the one hand, the man is frozen in this present moment prior to being hanged; but on the other hand, he’s also already been hanged for over half-a-century by the time Barthes is looking at the photograph. The paradox Barthes arrives at is, “He is dead, and he is going to die.”
Andre Bazin had some similar ideas regarding film. He writes about how film is a mummifying technique, how films are just these mausoleums or pyramids preserving the images of dead people, and how one can never forget that fact when watching an old film.
Any zombie movies you’d recommend?
One of the properties of the novel is that it takes place in a world where zombie movies don’t exist. The characters can’t watch Night of the Living Dead to makes sense of what’s happening to them. So what they end up having to do is read undeath into movies we don’t normally think of as zombie movies, like Vertigo or Solaris.
If I were also allowed to describe any movie that troped on undeath as a “zombie movie,” I would say Vertigo might be my favorite. If you then stipulated that the movie had to have a reanimated corpse in it, I would say I Walked With a Zombie by Jacques Tourneur. But that movie doesn’t have corpses biting and cannibalizing
people. So if you further stipulated that it had to be this recognizably Romero-like gory horror film, then it would be a tie between Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and this really surreal Italian zombie film called The Beyond by Lucio Fulci.
That one was actually filmed in New Orleans, so it has a special appeal for me.
July 19, 2013
We're thrilled to announce the following winners and runners-up of the 2013 Iowa Review Awards. These stories, essays, poems, and photos will appear in our December 2013 issue. Thanks to all who entered, and thanks to our judges, Susan Orlean (nonfiction), Mary Jo Bang (poetry), ZZ Packer (fiction), and Alec Soth and Kathleen Edwards (photography).
Winner: Laura Lynn Brown (left; Little Rock, AR), "Fifty Things about My Mother"
Runner-up: Meghan Flaherty, "Womb"
Nonfiction judge Susan Orlean writes, "Spare and simple, built of snippets and tiny moments, 'Fifty Things About My Mother' develops into a deep and complex portrait of a woman who died too young. It is a masterful use of tone and detail, managing to be both artful and effortless while conveying a world of emotion. 'Womb' travels through family history with a vivid, exacting, almost reportorial voice. The resulting narrative is engrossing and intimate, beautifully told."
Winner: Meredith Stricker (left; Carmel, CA), "Hazardous Materials"
Runner-up: Rebecca Lilly, "The Orchardist," "Hairy Old Man," "The Water Goddess," "Uncle Lowry," "Abelon Graveyard," "Our Family Business"
Poetry judge Mary Jo Bang, on her choices: The poems in Meredith Stricker’s 'Hazardous Materials' series rest on a bedrock of notation. The borrowed lines—from varied sources: Kafka, Coleridge, Dickinson, Benjamin, Bill Viola, to list only a few—are sometimes used as epigraphs, sometimes as scaffolding, and frequently as echoes that argue that all utterance is interconnected. While the poems traffic in lyric beauty, it’s never at the cost of pretending the real world with its real ruin doesn’t exist: oil spills and waste water infused with prescription drug residues, 'that rawness, the mess / the Veiling of beauty // lost in twigs, “cured” of language, unfinished and starry.' I have great confidence in these poems, in their inclusivity and their formal reach. Language is never more than a fractured mirror of world but these poems come closer than most to capturing the complexity of what is in front of us.
"Rebecca Lilly’s prose poems are fabulous reports of encounters between a motley crew of imagined speakers that include a talking shadow, a tweed-wearing wolf, a Rumplestiltskin-resembling dwarf, a caterpillar, a graveyard watchman named Jacob Arnold, Old Uncle Lowry (with a 'castle in Malibu designed after Poe’s House of Usher'), along with an unnamed speaker and his brother Michael. These poems ask a great deal of the reader and it’s to Lilly’s credit that we willingly suspend our disbelief and enter these scenarios in good faith. The reason we do is that beyond the cleverness of their invention, the characters sound so like us and struggle with the same conundrums with which we struggle. The poems alternate between arch proclamations, lyric description, and novelistic rifts, continually demonstrating both humor and a distinctive and convincing poetic intelligence."
Winner: Elise Winn (left; Woodland, CA), "Honey Moon"
Runner-up: Ronit Feinglass Plank, "Rick's Wax Hands"
Fiction judge ZZ Packer writes of "Honey Moon," "These are truly postcards from the edge, told in plain, clear, transparent prose that becomes almost hypnotic. The story manages the trick of moving both forward and backward at once, and in the end becomes a beautiful homage to the present."
And of "Rick's Wax Hands": "I loved the voice of this story, but I loved most of all how the author shows how one small moment is all it takes to see the world for what it truly is—as well as for what it never could have been."
Winner: Colin Edgington (left; Phillipsburg, NJ), "Umbrae"
Runner-up: Maury Gortemiller, "Do the Priest in Different Voices"
Photography judge Alec Soth, on Edgington's work: "In an era of Facebook and Instagram, I admire an artist like Colin Edgington, whose work whispers, makes you move in closer in hopes of hearing a secret."
July 18, 2013
Our pals at Anomalous Press have just released their newest issue! It's available online, via, Kindle, as a PDF, and as an audiobook (!!).
We present to you Anomalous 9, and we hope that when you're finished, you might come back, or at least give us away. We want to be repossessed. We want to be the enigmatic jewels that thieves leave behind, like the re-painted myths and revolving language of retold histories. This issue is full of them. There are always more layers to peel, but you can start by looking under the sheets to find:
- Two love stories by Lina Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, "Amor con Amor se Paga"
and "De Agua Mansa Me Libre Dios, Que De La Brava Me Libro Yo." “Amor con Amor se Paga or Love with love is paid. Or Love with love is paid. Or Eye for an eye. Or
‘No, no. I got this.’ Or Fausti couldn’t sleep without Quena’s hand in his.”
- Kathleen Gilbert translating the Latin of Ovid in "HEROINES’ LETTERS: Penelope to Ulysses" and homophonically translating George Herbert in "HEROINES’ LETTERS: The Altar." “Woozy arts carve thighs banded shame;/ Go beserk, you fool, wrath much in vain.”
- Kent Leatham’s poem "from A Poetic History: Of" and his translation of Hugh Barclay’s "To Alexander Montgomerie" from the Scots. “My best beloved brother of the craft,/
God, if you only knew the state I’m in!”
- A journey in prose with Janalyn Guo’s pieces "The Hidden Town" and "Boy." “You want access beyond the mudbrickwalls of words. You want an opening in the shape of your figure everywhere.”
- Erika Jo Brown’s vivacious poems, "Captain Snugz Rides Again Again," "Dirty Birdies
," and "The President." "Cave paintings/ existed during the first ice age. Your problems/ are not new, although yes, it is cold in here.”
- A lyrical, pop smash-down with R. Zamora Linmark’s poems "Whitney’s Greatest Love/ Mix," "Last Dance
," and "Arse Poetica." “…Seventy-year-old Lolitas/ explosive and sexhausted titles of/ B-lyrical odes “Gospel According/ to Luke Loser” and “Who Won the War/ Between Gentile and Genital Warts”/ alliterations enough for everyone...”
- Two fresh-faced stories by Casey Plett, "Me and You" and "Gas." “I cried because you had something to remember me by and I didn’t, so you took off your shoes, and then your socks. They were black.”
- Two thought-provoking poems by Rich Murphy, "The Clone Rhymes Now at Home" and "The Tremor State."“…The hen house/ will be bugged to determine/
which came first the kitchen/
or the egg; bedrooms will be projected/
onto police station walls.”
- Edward Gauvin translating two whimsical stories by Jean Ferry from the French, "The Garbagemen’s Strike" and "A Tear in His Eye." “It has to do with a very dear friend, whom I’ll call Jean for simplicity’s sake, and who could never manage to cry.”
- Erin Sweeny’s photographs, untitled from the series Tarpaulin Muster, a portrait of both experience in time and movement through space in the forms of what remained in a stolen, impounded, and then reclaimed Chevy pickup.
If after you’ve read, you remember something you have to show us, we are accepting submissions until July 31st and again during the month of November. Along with our regular submissions, we'll also be reading for our Queer Issue that will go live in March 2014 to celebrate our third anniversary as a press. Send us your finest, and we'll show you ours.
- Two love stories by Lina Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, "Amor con Amor se Paga"