Carson McCullers, A Local Centennial Celebration

The afternoon of Sunday, February 19 was unusually balmy, offering a warm kickoff to the centennial celebration of local writer Carson McCullers. River River editors and members enjoyed a literary and musical performance based on the author’s work at Nyack Library, then a sunlit stroll to the historic Carson McCullers house, a white Victorian a short distance down South Broadway, for a festive reception.

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Nyack Library’s Carnegie Room provided a rich setting for actor Patrick Donovan’s dramatic monologue of “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.“, written by McCullers at age 19. Liliya Ugay followed with a haunting performance of her original piano composition inspired by the story, accompanied by Paul Neubauer on viola.

Carson McCullers, an American novelist, poet and playwright, lived in Nyack, New York from 1945 until her death in 1967. Her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, published when she was only 23 years old, received immediate acclaim, and McCullers continued a successful writing career, in spite of her serious ill health.

McCullers’ 100th birthday events have been organized by The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians in Columbus, Georgia, which preserves the legacy of this important writer by organizing events and programs in her childhood home, close to Columbus State University. The McCullers Centennial celebration in Georgia included music, film screenings, and talks. We’re so pleased to be a part of the parallel upcoming events in Nyack, her second home. Nyack Library will host a community reading on Thursday, March 23, 7:00 p.m., and a film screening with Rivertown Films at the Nyack Center on Saturday, March 25, 8:00 p.m., which will be followed by a Q&A with filmmakers Kristi Zea and Karen Allen.

Right in the middle of these centennial events, River River will co-host an open mic and reading with local poet James Hoch on Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m. at the Carson McCullers House in Nyack. Arrive at 7 p.m. to sign up for the open mic! Writers are invited to present readings of 5 minutes or less.

Inspired by McCullers’ work and life, a few River River members have contributed creative pieces to this blog post in her honor. More to come, I’m certain!


Estate

by Celeste Rose Wood

On a list of items I love or have loved I would place
the green plastic glass from my grandmother’s kitchen,
color like a matte beer bottle. Plainest, least favorite
among the bright colors of the set: ruby, amethyst,
citrine. Yet this is the color, dull like an army knapsack,
that lodged in my life accidentally when once I brought
a drink in my car and forgot the dingy glass. The rest of
the set must have sold at the estate sale or landed
with a clatter finally somewhere on a pile of garbage.

When I drink from it, I think of the glass my grandmother
could not forget, one of the set accidentally thrown
away or broken or misplaced by a guest but certainly gone,
gone since before I was born and still periodically lamented
right up to the end of her life. My grandmother loved
many things, kept them carefully wrapped in tissue
paper and bubble wrap, kept them meticulously
cherished. What I love I keep if my disorganization fails
to misplace it. Sometimes my disorganization unintentionally
gifts me something new to love.

~

Reflections on Carson McCullers

by Steven Green

There is no final period to “goodbye.” It’s more of a semicolon.
It sneaks back upon you when least expected.

Merciless memory! Sadistic scenery!
The heart-rending wound of a simple tune, or casual turn of phrase!

At the same time, forgetting and searching, secretly craving renewal of a lost sensation, a buried delight; we return to the job, the family, the school, the neighborhood, striving to be “normal” with no true notion of what that might be.

The flame is squelched but the ambers still burn. Carson McCullers knew this burn most of her life.

We seek distractions from the reality of being alone.

It’s not really a concealed sadness; it’s more like an animal, forever stalking, ready to pounce whenever the fortifications crumble.

From the pain comes poetry and prose. Those realities are easier to control.

~

Village Villanelle

by A. Anupama

The belly of a cloud is rain,
which river sips, which
swallows mountain again.

Passing the daylight to you who refrain
and remain prone, I ask what is it
swallows your mountain strength again.

You, the very moon’s shadow, cannot wane
yet cannot hide from earth’s drips.
The belly of a cloud is rain.

While birds announce pleasure, I beg you, deign
answer. What you know and un-know dips,
swallows your steep mountain again.

You know to write what doubts and what pain
you carry—you lean impish children on my hip.
The belly of a cloud is rain;
quenches sorrow’s mountain again.

Borrowed Pages – Inauguration Day

Whirring blades of helicopter on the flat-screen darkened the diner counter, while I pulled my gloves off. I’d come straight from the protest rally on Main Street in Nyack, New York, where my inauguration-day mood had shifted from black to a mere dark gray. But, staring up at the event about to tumble into history, I recoiled, feeling grateful that the usual spot for our writing group is all the way in the back, next to the chalkboards announcing smoothie flavors and Nespresso options.

Writers arrived with muted greetings, spread themselves out at the long table. Some glanced over at me, probably wondering what might prompt creative writing in this dim light.

Editor’s Eye

At the risk of this blog post sounding something like a Dierks Bentley song, I can easily say what I was feeling in this set of poems featured in the fall issue of River River… but what was I thinking? Let me see if I can shoot some holes in the tailgate called editorial process.

My favorite aspect of this group of poems is the way it demands its freedom to demand, in a resonant voice of plaintive enjoyment. Un-untwistable metaphors entertain and delight me more than technique. The singularity of the Mobius strip, the endlessness of a mandala knot, the beginning and ending somehow different because of a slide down the curly slide all begin to describe the effect of these permanently kinked metaphor-strings.

Editor’s Eye – Poems

A telescopic tour of the poetry featured in our inaugural issue–

A few steps into a poem and you know you’re in trouble. The sudden sweep of imagery or spare sounds, like a current across a shallow river’s-edge, knocks you down into the muddy silt of language. Soggily, you take a seat on a tree stump or bench, and the river poem reveals itself as galaxy pulsing with the competitive gravitational forces of supernovae verbs, dark-matter participles, and adjectives that act like binary star systems.

In “American God,” a sequence of kinetic verbs—strip, tear, attack, pull, throw, whisper—leads to shear, which explodes in multiple dimensions of suggested meaning. Shear the god’s beard, and the word suggests its homophone, sheer, which can mean diaphanous (as a fabric) or unmitigated (for emphasis) or precipitous (as a cliff).

As we fly off with the congealing debris of supernova elements, the poems “jumper” and “The Gargoyle” swallow us into dark, energetic descriptors. In “jumper,” the sequence builds from trembling, evolved, ascended, and aimed into pushed, compressed, distorted, and discarded. “The Gargoyle” is painted almost entirely in participles, until the end of the poem where watching unexpectedly twists up an actual verb with a verbal, or what happens when dark matter meets light.

Fields of oppositional forces pulse with nodes of intensity alternating with nodes of tranquility, and “42nd St-Times Square Subway” offers exactly that: a high-voltage, alternating-current experience. The binary sensibility of adjectives within a line’s-length of each other—concrete/natural, filthy/electric, muted/loud—pushes and pulls us aboard the train and its subterranean conduits. In “Wanting to Be,” the uncoupling of arid/swamp and small/long occurs because of the non-binary fallow/alluvial. Where we land—in muck or dreams—depends on the stream of the poem and how wet with starlight our boots have gotten.

A. Anupama

Welcome to River River, the blog!

Welcome—we’re very excited to showcase new writing at River River: a new, independent, literary journal in the lower Hudson Valley. It’s been nearly one year since we started offering free writing groups and community workshops in Rockland County, New York. We hope you enjoy this curated space for poetry, short prose, and photography as much as we loved putting it together. We also hope to see you at local events, workshops, readings, open mic evenings, slams, and more, which you can find out about on the Rockland Poetry Calendar here. Keep in touch with us by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our email list here. Thanks for reading!