One of the more pleasant of my many duties at the University of Central Arkansas is to serve as Associate Editor of Toad Suck Review, our national--and international--literary magazine. (The journal is named after a place in central Arkansas, but we publish writers from everywhere.) It's an especially pleasant time now as we read over and put final edits on the latest issue we have assembled, our third. As I see all at once what took chief editor Mark Spitzer and me many months to put together piece by piece, I cannot help but feel proud. I am struck by the quality and daring of the work, a solid portion of which came to us in our gmail inbox from writers we had never heard of. Little miracles just delivered to us out of the blue. It's one of the most exciting aspects of working on a literary journal. Some of these writers are Arkansans, but most of them are not. Most have never visited our state; some have never visited our country. Yet as I look over the magazine I see that in every genre we publish--eco-literature, Arkana, short fiction, poetry, translations, criticism--sterling work came to us from these previously unknown sources. Just as a small example of what I mean I offer you a taste of Georgian poet Zviad Ratiani, whose lyrical, existentialist musings were sent to us by his translators, Dailila Gogia and Timothy Kercher:
And take me now to Rome, I say to my life,
my snickering life.
I suppose I couldn't quite believe that the world really existed,
that those countries, cities, waterfalls, islands,
so, when I found myself somewhere I'd never been before
for the first, second, third times,
I felt altogether embarrassed, disappointed,
disappointed with both the world and myself,
yet more with the world since I had expected more of it,
while it turned out to be what and only as
it should have been. That is,
besides being real.
Imagine just finding that one day in your inbox. TSR debuts at the AWP Conference in March, and I feel confident that it will grab its fair share of well-deserved attention, if for the cover alone, which is the brainchild and masterwork of our mad genius Mr. Spitzer. But I won't say anything more about that. You'll just have to wait to see it in March. For now, I'll say that we really like what we've put together for our readers, and we are eager to to show it to you.
Lagniappe 1: I had a lot of fun participating in The Pinch magazine launch party reading last Saturday. They are good people, and it's a great journal. It was an especially rewarding event for being able to catch up with two formers students who have settled in the Memphis area and were kind enough to come out to hear me read. Thanks to managing editor Chris Moyer for inviting me to participate--and to submit in the first place. When he introduced me on Saturday, Chris told the crowd that when he tweeted about my participation in the event, what he heard back was, "Is he performing live?" "Yes," he responded, "and no cover charge!" Once again, I am mistaken for John Vanderslice, the west coast indie rock singer. (I'll have to meet this guy one day.) As I told the group on Saturday, if they ever heard me sing, they'd gladly pay a cover charge to get me to stop.
Speaking of singers, the drive over to Memphis gave me the opportunity to listen (again) to Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 by Jackson Browne. The CD was released in 2005, but I only bought it in October. Since then I've been listening to it compulsively. Can't seem to get enough of these hauntingly stripped down versions of some of his more familiar songs. Coming back to Arkansas, however, I had to put the dang thing away. Too soulful! I needed to stay awake!
Lagniappe 2: Like many others, I am mourning the loss of Isaiah Sheffer, the founder and artistic director of public radio's Selected Shorts program. Like thousands of others I was a dedicated fan of the Selected Shorts podcast, and I even had the opportunity to see the program recorded on stage in Chicago several years ago. I can't count the number of fine writers it has introduced me to, writers I read regularly now and cherish. Sheffer's life was all about bringing art to as many people as possible, and that is a life well-lived. You can follow this link to read tributes to him composed by grateful listeners.
Lagniappe 3: You may or may not have noticed that as we approach the American holiday of Thanksgiving, various people on Facebook--that is, Americans--have been putting up daily gratitude posts. The reception is mixed. My British friend and colleague Garry Craig Powell, a self-described "unsentimental, miserable old git" has just about run out of patience with all this gratitude. Last week he excoriated Facebookers (all in good fun, of course) for their "mawkish posts about being
grateful for Jesus, their wonderful husbands, wives, children, dogs, cats and
goldfish." So far I've refrained from inflicting any of my own gratitude on the Facebook universe, but with Garry's permission I'll say a little something here. On Wednesday, my family and I will travel to Lowell, Arkansas to celebrate the holiday with my younger brother and his family, and with my mother. I am quite looking forward to this trip. It's been a beautiful, but in some ways painful, semester. It will be good to get away. Last summer, this same group was assembled at Cobb Island, Maryland for the better part of a week. At the time, my mother was only a few months removed from finishing up (light) chemotherapy, post-surgical treatment for ampullary cancer. Her spirits were good, but as a lifelong very active person it was frustrating for her to be hampered by the same old bum hip that had kept her on a cane for almost two years. For so long she had wanted to get the hip replaced--it was during a doctor's visit to consider the feasibility of the operation that the cancer was discovered--but she could not be sure if or when the doctors would clear her for the procedure. After all, her body had been put through the very difficult whipple procedure for the cancer and, on top of that, her heart was showing new, mysterious symptoms. Fast forward four months, my mom's cancer is still gone, her heart is better, and her hip replacement surgery is scheduled for January. Recovery, she has been told, will not be difficult--nothing like recovering from the whipple surgery--and she is on cloud nine with anticipation. It should be a fun Thanksgiving, and for that I am very much grateful, if in advance.