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.

I pulled a round tea-box from my bag and opened it, revealing many strips of paper printed with verse. “Take a line, and use it as a starting point,” I suggested. The box passed from hand to hand, with some taking several, others taking one and then trading for something else. Then inspiration pulled us all into the silent focus of writing, and it kept us well past my ten-minute warning to wrap up and begin the readings.

Here are a few of the results of that exercise, from slices of William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming” and “Wild Swans at Coole.” Some brought image and individual experiences to the signs of our national moment, while others veered into satire. But we all took a collective deep-breath and nodded encouragement to each other in our micro-democracy: our open circle. Many thanks to the writers for community, for inner voice striving and shining through…

The Falcon
by Steven Swank

The falcon has broken the bond,
no longer hears the falconer;
flights are now of her choosing,
no longer tethered to his will,
she sleeps alone in nature,
lets hunger define the kill.

Writers trouble the politics,
debate the call to peril, yet
join the street for justice’s sake,
compose the freedom carol.


I saw, before I had well finished
by Lilly Nin

I see, said her brain.

I felt it, said her heart as it drummed like a flicker bird, loud and mighty on the highest branch.

Well, said her brain, then why did you not listen?

I don’t know. I did hear it too, far in the distance, but I heard it. I know I did! But it was too loud for me. My ears lost their sense.

There will be punishment for not listening! said her brain. You have worked so hard for it. It will hurt, it will bleed. You will hear its cries. They will wake you up at night. The scar is still not healed from before, and it will open up again.

I feel it, ouch! said her heart. Why do you do this to me, again and again. I am tired!

I was taking care of you, said her brain. I was doing my best for you. I was trying to prevent this, prevent more pain for you but you did not listen. I saw it coming, way before I had well finished.


“The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned”
by Mike Seliger

Today, I turned off the Internet,
scheduled a day of quiet
Uninterrupted Creative Concentration.

Today in a parallel universe
there is great joy in Mudville,
where Mighty Casey prevailed.

Today, in that place, Great News!!
A benevolent leader stepped forward
and righted wrongs from the past.

Today, in this Universe,
the Dinosaurs fell off the edge
of a cliff as the Earth quaked,
TerrorRanOSoarUs roared
and waved his short arms,
and stood on the top of a hill
proclaiming “Long Live the King!”
while all the Warm-bloodeds
cringed and watched from their caves.

Today is Junior’s birthday.
Someone forgot the candles.
Someone stole the cake.
“I was going to take you
to the Circus” Daddy said,
“but there are no more elephants
and soon no more circuses,
only bright-lit, loud spectacles…
“It’s okay, Daddy,” said the boy,
“clowns scare me, especially
the ones with orange hair
who blow big bubbles
that burst into nothing in midair…”
Today is the First Day
After the Giant Earthquake.
Survivors emerge slowly,
as do birds and flowers.
There is nothing left
for Tyrant-O-Saurus to eat.
Disgusted, he turns away.

From behind a Cloud
the sun peeks out
and the songs of birds
herald a new day…


“Their hearts have not grown old”
by Steve Green

A wide-eyed child, riding upon a wave of innocence, faces the world with wonder and curiosity.

After many storms and upheavals, the weathered pensioner squints out at a weary planet.

The young man, with a fresh degree and a promising career, captivates an energetic crowd.

The older man, sculpted by the knife of experience, is avoided by the suspicious throng.

The child, buried deep, wonders what happened. The fires of curiosity are still burning. The anthem is still held in tight grip to cut away delusion and uncover truth. His arms are still expanding to embrace receptive cohorts.

But the new bark around the old tree, tough and rough, frightens the younger seedlings.

The wide branches of the old timber serve to protect the saplings. But age is a reminder of temporality, a rather disquieting piece of information.

Find Flow with River River this December

streaky lights

While ice will soon form on the Hudson, River River brings a swirl of literary events to Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space at CILK119 in December. Cuppa Pulp, a major sponsor of River River along with Seranam Literary Arts, offers a physical space to anchor the budding nonprofit. We hope you will enjoy the wellspring of literary events made possible by this partnership this month and for many months to come!

We’ll begin on December 3 with Saturday Morning write!, a 3-week series of free salons designed to encourage generation of new work. Facilitators Donna Miele or Anu Amaran will offer a prompt in a supportive group atmosphere. Writers take this wherever their creativity leads them, and we end by sharing our work fresh off the page. The write! salons are River River’s signature offering, and have sailed through a variety of wonderful venues, including Art Cafe, Johnnycakes, and Didier Dumas of Nyack. We are honored and excited to continue hosting salons at Cuppa Pulp. 

December 17 brings a triple-splash that includes write!, then a Drop-in Poetry Revision Workshop with Anu Amaran, and right in the middle of it all, the much-loved holiday season Lodestar Reading, featuring local author Mary Beth Keane, who will read from her novel, Fever. Fever was named one of the best books of 2013 by the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR Books, and Library Journal.

Come in with the estuary tides!

The Invitation by Jean Marie Donnelly

Jean Marie Donnelly, also a member of Rockland County’s Writing Beyond the Basics, leads River River salons at Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space. She is at work on a novel set in a dystopian world in which creativity has been banned. The following story, true to Jean Marie’s taste for the weird and fantastical, is based on a prompt called “The Invitation.” We always love a good twist!

~

I stare at the wedding invitation on my kitchen table.  There’s been some mistake.  The invitation looks exactly like the one my fiancée, Declan, and I picked out. I touch it to be sure; rough where the roses belong and pearl smooth around the edges. I run my finger across the raised lettering I had insisted upon.  D-E-C-L-A-N S-A-V-O-Y.  The letters are so neatly spaced out and his name feels so good under my fingers.  M-E-G-A-N L-A-N-G-S-T-O-N.  My finger traces out the rise, fall, crevice, and groove of each letter.  Surely there is some mistake.  Declan and I met during our junior year of college. We’ve been a genuinely loving couple for the last six years.  Why is Megan’s name there? This mystery is not helping the piercing headache I can’t seem to cure.

Continue reading “The Invitation by Jean Marie Donnelly”

Reading in Translation: One Student’s Five Cents

Recently, River River’s teen intern Mia Schiffer had the opportunity to discuss some fine points on reading in translation with Claudia Shaldervan, a classmate and native Russian speaker. The text was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Both students are writers, poets, and artists. While certain details of Claudia’s experience will be familiar to those who have shared it, the overall discussion offers some wonderfully deep thought on the transformative effect translation can have on literature, as well as a poignantly expressed opinion on how reading one’s national literature from afar creates powerful, conflicting feelings of connectedness and disconnectedness. 

Q:   Do you think that a book or poem can truly be translated into another language and keep its integrity?

A: Literature of any language holds a humor and essence unique to its culture. Of the Russian works I compare with their English translations, poetry especially gets lost in translation.

Continue reading “Reading in Translation: One Student’s Five Cents”

A Character Template: You Won’t Know If You Don’t Ask

By Julie M. Goldberg

The fiction project I’m working on features a large cast of characters gathered in a supermarket one autumn evening. I won’t elaborate on what is happening to them there, but suffice to say that not one is having a pleasant shopping experience.

When writing my first novel, I felt that the characters existed in the universe somewhere, and my role was to get well enough acquainted with them that they would trust me and tell me their story. They did, but it took a long time.

The characters in the current story have suggested their collective existence and experiences to me, but require much more effort to sculpt as individuals. I wanted each to have a separate soul, as evidenced through her language, her longings, and her choices.

Continue reading “A Character Template: You Won’t Know If You Don’t Ask”

Poetry as a Ward Against Conspiracy Theory by Celeste Rose Wood

What makes a conspiracy theorist and what makes a poet? Could it be the same psychological phenomenon manifesting differently in different minds, in different environments? I suspect that dissociation at a subclinical level, which has been implicated in suggestibility or openness to hypnosis, as well as in credulous belief of paranormal phenomena, also contributes to the creative processes of poetry and other art. Most of us, poet, conspiracy theorist or neither, have likely occasionally experienced mild feelings of unreality during which the world seems dreamlike or hazy: a manifestation of dissociation at subclinical levels.

Continue reading “Poetry as a Ward Against Conspiracy Theory by Celeste Rose Wood”

Night Running, Down Moonbeams

Outward Bound

Thoughts on intersections between poetry and photography, jotted down while sailing down the edge of Megapolis: a photoblog by River River Photography Editor David e Bell.

Departure

I was a photographer first, and looking back poetry has always been there filling in the gaps. Perhaps photography has been providing the structure upon which I have created a series of poetic universes.

In my world, photography is reactive, reality bounded, while poetry is reflective, unchained to any particularly reality. The photographer is limited by the physics of light, the limits of his software, and a moment frozen in time. Poetry is timeless, bound only by the texture of language and the poet’s ability to work that texture, to weave images that exist only in the mind.

Continue reading “Night Running, Down Moonbeams”

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.

Continue reading “Editor’s Eye”

Borrowed Pages: A Taste of the Macabre

We know we can always look forward to a taste of the macabre from John, a confirmed horror fan and writer who has been published in California Quarterly, Forge, and Diverse Voices Quarterly. John attends River River’s write! in Nyack, a weekly group that shares a writing prompt and a round of readings, in both poetry and prose. We bring you this unedited excerpt dripping fresh gore…

Writer’s Block

by John Morrison

Henry was frustrated. He wanted to write something down, anything. So he wrote about his frustrating inability to put words to paper. It didn’t help. He threw his pen down on the table, stood up, and grabbed the folding chair he had been sitting on. His knuckles turned white as he lifted the chair and heaved it through the window. The glass erupted outward and rained down on the sidewalk.

Continue reading “Borrowed Pages: A Taste of the Macabre”

Patience, clarity, and the “glimmer factor”

In anticipation of our upcoming 6-week workshop, “Step into Revision,” here’s a brief discussion on the topic. And, following typical revision advice (“Show, don’t tell”), our Fiction Editor, Donna Lee Miele, demonstrates the art of clarifying character motivation, improving syntax and word choices, and creating momentum in a scene.

Patience: First Draft and the Revision Persona

In prose or poetry, fiction or personal essay, revision begins in the first draft as the nagging, questioning voice of self-doubt. Most of us begin hearing that voice in the middle of the first paragraph! That voice is your revision persona. As you press forward, make note of that persona-non-grata’s questions and comments in a separate file or notebook. Then ask her to kindly get out of your way. Be determined, but don’t rush your first draft. The first principle of writing, and re-writing, is patience.

Continue reading “Patience, clarity, and the “glimmer factor””