UNC Student Spotlight

Mackensie Pless

Mackensie Pless photo

Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica

I fell asleep watching
the work of shadow
puppeteers in the window--

palm trees, their necks
slender as those of dancers
pitching with the wind
until fronds visit each other
in brushes of listed kisses

like friends sending guests
to their beds, swaying
in light from hallway.

Poetry as Psychology: An Interview with Matt Morton

Matt Morton - Photo


Matt Morton has been a Finalist for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship and a Finalist in the Narrative 30 Below Story and Poetry Contest. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and his poems appear or are forthcoming in
West Branch, Quarterly West, Forklift Ohio, Colorado Review, and Cincinnati Review, among other journals. Two of his poems, “Anachronistic Elegy” and “Lullaby,” were published in 64.1, the most recent issue of CQ. Originally from Rockwall, Texas, he lives in Baltimore, where he is a Lecturer in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. Find more at www.mattmortonpoetry.com

Q: Many of your poems seem to inhabit some sort of altered state of dream or memory. What does this poetic space outside of the body proper allow you to do in your poetry?

A: It allows me the freedom to go wherever I want without feeling limited to a particular physical space. I really enjoy participating in workshops, but one question I’ve been asked a lot is “Where is the speaker?” The speaker is in his or her mind! Where is Henry in the Dream Songs? Where is John Ashbery’s speaker(s) ever? I understand the desire to be absorbed into a specific moment and fixed location; some of my favorite poems—Mark Strand’s “The View” and James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock…” among many others—do this. Still, I’m generally more interested in discursive poems. Poetry as psychology, as an illustration of the movement of a human mind through a chain of thoughts, a procession of images or memories or ideas. The way our minds move during waking life is much closer to so-called “dream-logic” than we realize: We often think via associations, and, unsurprisingly, many of those associations have to do with memories that something in the present—the smell of a campfire, the particular green shade of an evening gown—is calling to mind.

There is an excellent G. C. Waldrep interview somewhere online in which he argues that (I’m paraphrasing) what happens in our imagination is just as autobiographical as what happens in the “real” world. I find this extremely compelling. One thing I’m always telling my students is that they should not feel limited—when writing fiction or poetry—by the physical space in which a given piece begins. When you’re grocery shopping, yes, you are physically in the supermarket for 20-30 minutes, you check out, you leave. But where is your mind during that time? You’re rehearsing a speech, your grandfather’s funeral is in three days, how amazing/terrible was the sex you had last night, did what you said on the phone offend your friend, you’re waiting on test results and your phone is about to die and was that woman in the cereal aisle just making eye contact with you? In any given moment, your experience in the world is as much comprised of those memories, hopes, anxieties, daydreams, as it is your observations of your immediate physical environment. Helen Vendler has argued that “mimetic accuracy—one not only of visual representation but also structural and rhythmic enactment…is the virtue, the fundamental ethics of art.” If you agree with this, than surely the realm of the mind is essential territory for exploration in poetry. It’s what I’m most interested in, at least.

Continue reading Poetry as Psychology: An Interview with Matt Morton

Contradictions of our time: An interview with Aaron Sanders

Aaron Sanders photo


Aaron Sanders is Associate Professor of English at Columbus State University where he teaches literature and creative writing. He holds a PhD in American Literature from The University of Connecticut and an MFA in Fiction from The University of Utah. His stories have appeared in
Gulf Coast, Quarterly West, and Beloit Fiction Journal, among others. He just finished a novel, Whispers of Heavenly Death, and he is working on a TV pilot called Good Missionary. His story, “I Dream of Alan Arkin,” appeared in 62.1 of Carolina Quarterly. “Upon the Ground” was recently published in 64.1 (Summer 2014).

Q: Barthes, in his essay The Writer on Holiday, states that knowing the quotidian realities of a writer, far from dispelling the myth of his superhumanity, in fact makes his existence seem even more unreal. “For I cannot but ascribe to some superhumanity the existence of beings vast enough to wear blue pajamas at the very moment when they manifest themselves as universal conscience, or else make a profession of liking reblochon with that same voice with which they announce their forthcoming Phenomenology of the Ego.” So, to interview a writer, rather than make him seem more like us or make us seem more like him, makes the whole world feel more magical. Barthes was against this. How do you feel about the apparent paradox?

A: I don’t disagree with Barthes. What I might add, and he probably says this elsewhere, is that another problem with the writer interview is that the writer can’t be trusted. That’s the other side of the paradox. The more we talk about the process of writing the further we get from what writing is… The truth about writing is that it is lonely and pretty unremarkable. I get up every morning at six and sit in front of a screen. That’s writing.

Still, I love writer interviews because they function almost as a support group. I hear the frustration and despair in our voices. And the questions are often questions without answers. On a recent episode of Fresh Air, when Terry Gross asks Lena Dunham (yes, I love Girls) how she decides whether or not she is sharing too much of her personal life in her work, Gross is asking a question without a real answer. Dunham is polite in her response, but what can she say? Her entire artistic project is built on a persona that at least feels like she’s revealing too much of her personal life. In fact, Dunham’s response can only build on that persona, i.e. her answer is performative (just as my answer to this question is performative).

David Foster Wallace has this great essay in Consider the Lobster, “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” about his fascination with athlete autobiographies. He’s obsessed with these narratives because he believes they might teach him something about athletic genius. What he finds is that great athletes are not very articulate about what they do. Indeed when they do speak of it they speak in cliché. Wallace’s argument is that this is part of their genius: that they have no idea how to talk about it. That seems to make sense to me. Writing is like that.

Continue reading Contradictions of our time: An interview with Aaron Sanders

Introducing the UNC Student Spotlight!

Each week we will be featuring the work of a talented undergraduate in the creative writing program. Find selected works and a short bio through the new left margin sidebar. Check back every Monday to find out who’s up next!


week 1: Coco Wilder

Photo Coco Wilder

Coco Wilder lives in Carrboro, NC. She gets along well with people who care about place, memory, women, and coffee. Read her work here!

 

Summer Reading for the Fall Semester

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“My heart is a bear trap with a fox’s paw caught
in its teeth.”
                – Joseph Mulholland

The new issue is out! For the rest of this poem and much more, pick one up on campus at Davis Library or the UL.
If you’re among our subscribers, expect yours in the mail soon!

End Is Nigh Winners Announced!

This winter, as part of our End Is Nigh contest, we asked you to send us your dispatches about anxious endings, anticipated apocalypses, doomsday prepping, or getting right with God and family before it all comes crashing down. Contest Judge Jim Shepard was so pleased with the quality of submissions, that he couldn’t select just one grand prize winner. Instead, we have two winners and two runners up:

Grand Prize Winners ($575 each):
“When Trains Fall From Space” by Ian Bassingthwaighte
“Cold Snap” by Robin McLean

Runners Up ($150 each):
“Blood by Blood” by Dominic Russ-Combs
“A Brief Chronicle of Jeff and His Role in What is Colloquially Known as ‘The End of Civilization'” by Caitlin Campbell

“When Trains Fall From Space” and “Blood by Blood” will appear in the next issue of the Quarterly, with “Cold Snap” and “A Brief Chronicle” following in the fall.

Explaining his selections, Shepard writes:

Given that the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic seem to be everywhere in our mass culture, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that the entries in the Carolina Quarterly’s “End Is Nigh” contest would have been of such a uniformly high quality, but they were, and choosing the most accomplished from among them was hard. For Runners Up, for example, I chose two stories that could easily have won any ordinary contest: first, “Blood by Blood,” with its evocation of a brother love that survives despite everything, and an imminent endtimes balefully anticipated by a hardscrabble place and a hardscrabble sensibility. And second, “A Brief Chronicle of Jeff and his Role in What is Colloquially Known as ‘The End of Civilization,’” a story that deploys its intricate intelligence with such ingenuity that it transcends its archness and lurches into the realm of the disquieting.

And the stories I chose as Co-Winners are of such dazzling achievement that I think they’d win any contest. On the one hand, there’s the heartbreaking and oddly winsome “When Trains Fall From Space,” which pulls off some of the most unlikely premises with the blithe panache of a Miranda July, and then there’s “Cold Snap,” which is a harrowing and wry and compassionate rendering of a sensibility so damaged by the more quotidian forms of isolation that the oncoming end of the world seems like a seamless extension of the loneliness the protagonist has been riding out for years. Four excellent stories: an enviable array, for any magazine. I congratulate all four writers on their artistry, and heart.