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
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.
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.

How to Prepare for the End of the World: A User’s Guide to Saying Goodbye

IAN BASSINGTHWAIGHTE is a writer and photographer living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he attends the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The Common, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Tin House, and more.

I’m terrified of black holes, but fascinated by the mystery of what’s inside them. I love zombies, but that’s not to say I want to meet one. Nor am I ashamed to admit that I like Armageddon, the Bruce Willis movie about the impending impact of an asteroid the size of Texas. My favorite part: when Steve Buscemi, in an ode to Dr. Strangelove, sits on a nuclear warhead and pretends to ride it like a bull. In real life the bomb would’ve failed to detonate, the asteroid would’ve hit Earth, and humanity would’ve been eradicated. The catastrophe, of course, having gone unnoticed in the cosmos. Nothing truly lost; nothing really changed. After all, in the famous words of Carl Sagan, Earth is just a pale blue dot. Worse still, that pale blue dot appears on a huge black canvas full of other dots. Those dots come in several colors, and are innumerable.

Continue reading How to Prepare for the End of the World: A User’s Guide to Saying Goodbye

Introducing a New Series: The CQ How-To!

These posts will be alternately serious, whimsical, applicable, fictional– but always engaging. Check back for updates!

How to Find A Literary Agent

LAUREN SPIELLER is a California girl living in Brooklyn. She spends her time writing young
adult novels and short stories for adults. She also works as a freelance editor, specializing in
query and manuscript critiques. Follow her on twitter @laurenspieller

Lauren is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

So you’ve written a book. Well done!

…Now what?

Assuming you’ve already shared your book with critique partners (by which I mean: writers. Not
your mom, not your high school English teacher, not your best friend…OTHER WRITERS),
revised, taken a break from your project, come back fresh, revised again….you’re now ready to
send your book to publishers. Right?

Wrong! You can’t go sending your book willy-nilly to editors, begging them to read your literary
masterpiece. That’s a literary agent’s job. Your job is to find a literary agent to represent you.

Continue reading How to Find A Literary Agent

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