UNC Student Spotlight

Polina Bastrakova

Polina Photo

Emergency Room – No Vacancy
Burning Bridges and Buildings

After Practice,
I want to carry your iron-board teeth in my pocket
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and drown my face in your yellow-grass hair;
while sipping on Faulkner’s barn burning,
stomping like Vicious did and screaming
for Jesus to come cradle my hands.

I unlearned how to paint cancer,
and I am terrified of the aftermath
of my scarred lungs.
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I don’t paint for the charcoal on my fingers,
but for the breath it brings my friends.
I write poems, I no longer paint.

On “being a bird” and “being a pilot”: an interview with Phillips Saylor Wisor

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Phillips Saylor Wisor is a musician and artist living in Washington, DC. His portrait sketches are drawn on cardboard food boxes from black and white photographs. He is currently setting the poetry of Carl Sandburg to music under his moniker, Stripmall Ballads.

In your artist’s statement, you call yourself a “refugee of the Cheap Art Movement.” What originally drew you to this movement, and what does it mean to be refugee of it?
Around 1998 I was introduced to Peter Schumann and the Bread & Puppet Theater in Vermont. They live on a giant farm and make puppets and bake bread and stage productions in fields, barns and forests. They construct their puppets and sets from recycled, salvaged and repurposed material. That’s where I first heard about the Cheap Art movement. I was attracted to Peter’s work ethic and subsequent aesthetic. Really great, imaginative stuff! They are self-sufficient and geniuses at community involvement and utilizing hidden talents of their volunteers when staging large productions. I found that immensely inspirational. I existed on their periphery for a time, taking part in some performances and a pageant, and silently absorbed as much as I could. I took what I learned and primarily applied it in musical contexts.

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How does the Cheap Art Movement define “art”? How do you define it?
I am not an ambassador for any art or artist or movement. There are other experts who know better than I. But to quote Schumann, “Art is not business! Art is like white clouds in blue sky!”

“Cheap Art” a broad term that one can find elements of in street art, zine culture, certain music, etc. It can be visual, performative and literary, separately or all at once.

To me, it values economy and accessibility and freedom. It’s unconcerned with profit and removes money from the equation of creating and experiencing art. Artistic skill comes from the creative process but is not needed or “required” in order in engage with the creative process. It’s not about being “good” as much as it is about “being” and “doing.” That’s empowering.

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Book Review: Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

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Anneke Schwob reviews
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Coffee House Press
September 2014
227 pp.


Eimear McBride’s debut, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, is difficult in almost every sense of the word. Removed from specificity of time (post-Star Wars, pre-iPods) or place (split equally between Ireland’s generically rural and the anonymously urban), McBride’s nameless protagonist fights her way through adolescence under the repressive regimes seemingly de rigeur for an Irish bildungsroman. Her conflict is familiar – an upbringing awash in patriarchal religion; family relationships both fraught and fiercely protective; a deeply uncomfortable, exploitative sexuality – but the terms of engagement feel urgent and fresh.

Given both McBride’s nationality and broad thematic strokes, the comparisons to Joyce have felt both thickly strewn and inevitable. McBride acknowledges a debt: in an essay in The Guardian, she said, “Reading Ulysses changed everything I thought about language, and everything I understood about what a book could do.” Drawing parallels, also, with Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brien, William Faulkner, reviewers have called the book’s style “neomodernist” and “stream-of-consciousness.” This last, however, doesn’t seem quite apt. McBride’s prose resists streaming; at times, it seems barely conscious. The Girl is inchoate, her thoughts choppy, as disordered and half-formed as the title. Sentences are broken into stuttering clauses. Meaning aggregates through repetition only to be disrupted by another character’s crosstalk, lost forever. Maintaining a firm grip on the narrative is a pointless exercise; leaving plot behind to coast on waves of prose similarly futile. Rather, the text demands to be felt – affectively, yes, but also viscerally.

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Book Review: Richard Howard’s A Progressive Education

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Hannah Star Rogers reviews
A Progressive Education by Richard Howard
Turtle Point Press
October 2014
128 pages

Imaginative Empathy: The Poetic Letters of Richard Howard

Richard Howard’s experiments in dramatic monologue and dialogue over six decades, in books like Fellow Feelings (1976) and Talking Cures (2003), have demonstrated what we might think of as his imaginative empathy—the way his poetic addresses ask readers to reconsider the situations of his speakers. His collected volume, Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003, shows how his voiced poems developed from kinship with writers and thinkers to explorations of the lives of 19th century portrait-sitters.Perhaps we should not be surprised that this poet, critic, and translator can create the worlds of others through their voices, renowned as he is for his important friendships with literary figures including Roland Barthes (for whom he acted as host in New York and, eventually, translator), Susan Sontag, and Amy Clampitt. Howard’s new book demonstrates to us once again the rewards of thinking with someone else’s mind.

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“an illustrator’s dream”: An Interview with Noa Snir

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Noa Snir was born in Jerusalem, where she graduated with honors from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. She is currently residing in Berlin, where she works as a freelance illustrator. She has worked with magazines worldwide and exhibited her work in Israel, Germany, the US, and Portugal. Noa’s work is frequently inspired, both thematically and visually, by the old world. She is interested in naive and folk art, religious art and art brut – art created by people who did not perceive of themselves as artists. Pieces from her Scheherazade series appeared in The Carolina Quarterly 64.1. You can find more of her work at www.noasnir.com

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Why Scheherazade? What about this story attracted you to it?
I find the 1001 Nights stories to be an illustrator’s dream. The literary piece is so rich and unconventional. Scheherazade is the female protagonist who provides the framework for this incredible mythology and breathes life into the stories, yet we don’t know much about her. In my work I wanted to put the focus on her—a young, clever girl who finds herself in the midst of an impossible situation and uses her wit, humor and charm to keep herself and her younger sister alive, night after night, for years. The book tells us how her nights are spent (entertaining the king using whatever means necessary), but I was interested what her days looked like.

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How to Mine the Past

LESLIE BAZZETT’S novel Abandon was a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and was nominated for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Choice Award. Her short fiction debuted in The New England Review, where it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and received Special Mention. Subsequent work has appeared in West Branch and The Carolina Quarterly (both also nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and NER Digital. Most recently, her work again appeared in The New England Review, and was the online fiction selection for that issue. She has just completed a new novel, Taken. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, poet Michael Bazzett, and their two children.

Stories Do Not Come From Pencils

Titles are tricky. I liked this one for its complete lack of sophistication. Because this is a story about the seven-year-old writer I once was, living in a shitty factory town in Massachusetts, armed with a blue pencil I was certain would carry me back to my father.

You see, my mother had left my father, whom I adored – a musician, a great artist – and taken us from Boston to live with her lover in his crumbling town. I don’t know what the factory originally produced. It had since been repurposed to make sleeping bags. On my walk home from school, I would often stop to peer in through the barred windows that were permanently fogged with steam, clouded as the eyes of a lunatic.

That I associate mental or physical impairment with the place is not an accident. It was infamous for inbreeding. I read somewhere that at one point it had the highest rate of dwarfism and genetic mutations of any town in the country. Many of these unfortunates lived in a dilapidated brick house on the same street as my school. Retards, as they were called in those days. Specials. Coming to or from school I would sometimes get caught behind a crossing. A little school bus – not even yellow, that’s how shitty this town was – would be parked, hazards blinking in the road, all the specials jerkily crossing into the street, hooting indecipherable exclamations I always took to be curses or taunts.

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