12 Winters Blog

The Loss of Intellect by Ted Morrissey

Posted in April 2014, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on April 15, 2014

I appreciate NAR’s invitation to contribute to its blog.

Morrissey blog pic

My review of William H. Gass’s novel Middle C for NAR was a warm-up for a longer critical paper that I’ll present at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, and in preparing to write that paper I re-read several of Gass’s essays and interviews, including an interview from 1995 that was published in the Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 3.1 (1997), and reprinted in Conversations with William H. Gass (2003), edited by Theodore G. Ammon.

The interviewer, Idiko Kaposi, asked Gass his view on emerging (mid-90s) technologies and how they would affect writing, reading, and ultimately, thinking. As a teacher, mainly of eighteen-year-olds, looking back at Gass’s remarks from nearly two decades ago, I find his insights disturbingly accurate. Gass, besides being an award-winning novelist and literary critic, was also a professor of philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, since retired.

Gass suspected that the…

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Anthology released by Twelve Winters Press

Posted in April 2014 by Ted Morrissey on April 6, 2014

I’m pleased to report that [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct: An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist was released last week by Twelve Winters Press, which I founded in 2012. The anthology is a collection of poems, prose poems and flash fiction all dealing with the theme of extinguished and extinct, from animals to plants to languages to eras, and much, much more. The anthology was edited, and in fact the project was directed, by John McCarthy, with much support from the Press’s associate editor Pamm Collebrusco.

Extinct cover - front

John and Pamm received thousands of submissions last fall and eventually narrowed it down to work by 37 writers and poets from the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore: Elmaz Abinader, Majnun Ben-David, Lauren Camp, Jennifer Clark, Rebecca Clever, Susan Cohen, Meg Eden, Frances Gapper, Damyanti Ghosh, John Gosslee, Laura Hartenberger, Parul Kapur Hinzen, Daniel Hudon, Douglas Jackson, Zeke Jarvis, Amanda Larson, Christina Lovin, Mark McKain, Sarah Fawn Montgomery, Elizabeth Deanna Morris, Travis Mossotti, Ezra Olson, Lynn Pedersen, Cindy Rinne, Matt Rotman, Freya Sachs, Susan Sailer, Danielle Sellers, Mary Senger, M.E. Silverman, Judith Skillman, Darren Stein, Ursula Villarreal-Moura, J. Weintraub, Lenore Weiss, Laurelyn Whitt, and Lee Tyler Williams.

I had nothing to do with selecting the work and in fact didn’t read the pieces until they were already laid out in the proof of the anthology. Perhaps I’m biased, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how exceptional the work is. It’s literary and accessible, and provides incredible variety in both focus and form. The link above is to the anthology on Amazon; however, it’s available from a growing list of global sellers, including Barnes & Noble and Espresso Book Machine. Check the Poetry Titles page at the Twelve Winters Press site for a complete list (which will be expanding daily for a while).

Currently only the print edition of the anthology is available. We’re working on digital editions (complexly structured poetry and e-readers are not always happy bedfellows, so it’s taking longer to get the digital editions out than we’d hoped — but we want them to be as readable as possible and to do justice to the original work).

My thanks to John and Pamm, and also to my partner in all things, Melissa Sievers, for her support and assistance, especially with mailing out the anthology copies to contributors.

Keep an eye on Twelve Winters Press as we have several exciting things in the works, including J.D. Schraffenberger’s forthcoming poetry collection, The Waxen Poor, with a tentative release date in August. Follow the Press @twelvewinters.

tedmorrissey.com

 

Anthology submissions, Joyce quote and other stuff

Posted in September 2013, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on September 22, 2013

Last week Twelve Winters Press began accepting submissions to our anthology [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct:  An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist, and the global response has been enthusiastic.  Submissions are pouring in from everywhere (jut this morning we received a submission from the orbiting International Space Station … just kidding, that’d be cool).  Contributing editor John McCarthy has done a great job of getting the word out via various venues, like NewPages and Duotrope, but nevertheless he was anxious that we’d get enough submissions.  I knew his worries were unfounded.  And, according to John, we’ve already received some really terrific pieces.  We plan to take submissions through the end of November.  We’ll see if the pace slackens at all (or increases!).

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading, off and on, Gordon Bowker’s biography of James Joyce (see NYT review), especially the section regarding the release of Ulysses and Joyce’s starting to ponder what would become Finnegans Wake, and I came across a Joyce quote that’s particularly meaningful to me:

A book, in my opinion, should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality. (to Arthur Power)

I like this quote especially because it reflects my own ideas about creative composition (which I’ve discussed before in this blog more than once, and also in the Preface to the new edition of Men of Winter). Also, it fueled my musings about the creative project I’ve been working at for about eighteen months (minus the ten months I devoted to writing my Beowulf book), which is a collection of related stories that I think of as “the village stories.” I wrote three stories (and some other experimental thing) in 2011, and they were picked up pretty quickly (except for the experimental thing).  Since finishing the Beowulf book I’ve written two more stories (homeless to date), and I’ve just started working on another.  Anyway, I’ve been working under the impression that these stories would coalesce into some sort of loosely held together, but held together, narrative.  So far, though, the only thing that ties them together is that they have the same geographical setting, and several characters, or their relatives, appear and reappear from story to story.

So I’ve started considering moving on to another project, conceived of as a novel from the start, that’s been on my mind, in embryonic form, for a few years now.  I think I’ll finish the story I’ve just begun (about five ms. pages into it); then turn my attention to this new novel, which will require some historical research — but that’s right up my alley.

Speaking of Men of Winter, A Revised & Expanded Edition, Twelve Winters Press (a.k.a., me) released the Kindle edition yesterday — Nook to follow in a few days. Other related issues, like copyright and lost royalties, are being hammered out with Amazon and Barnes & Noble as we go.

Also, I heard from Battered Suitcase Press, and they’re planning a November release for my e-novelette Figures in Blue, which TWP will bring it out a print edition by the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 (possibly a signed, limited edition).  Meanwhile, I’ve decided to hold the release of An Untimely Frost, my new novel, until after January 1.  I’m just not going to be able to get everything pulled together in the way I want it this fall.

tedmorrissey.com

TWP taking submissions and Beowulf book makes its way in the world

Posted in September 2013 by Ted Morrissey on September 15, 2013

I’m happy to announce that Twelve Winters Press, which I founded last year, began taking submissions today for its first anthology:  [Ex]tinguished and [Ex]tinct:  An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist, slated for a spring 2014 release.  I’m also happy to acknowledge that I’ve been joined on the Press’s masthead by two of my oldest Benedictine University and Quiddity friends and colleagues, John McCarthy and Pamm Collebrusco.  In fact, John will be serving as editor of the anthology, while Pamm will be a reader and ultimately do what she does as well as anyone I know:  edit and proofread the book before it goes to press.  Pamm has generously edited and proofread my last three books, and is at work on the galleys of my latest novel, An Untimely Frost, probably even as I write this blog post.  (Her work on my monograph, The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters, with all of its technical terminology drawn from a host of disciplines, copious citations, and its Old English, was nothing short of herculean — more on the Beowulf book in a moment.)

The anthology will consist of poems, prose poems and flash fiction (up to 1,000 words in length), and John is accepting submissions through November 30.  Please check out and share the submission guidelines.

My monograph, The Beowulf Poet and His Real Monsters:  A Trauma-Theory Reading of the Anglo-Saxon Poem, came out in March, but with the advent of the new academic year university libraries have started to add it to their collections (nearly every day a new library or two pops up on WorldCat — and, yes, I’m checking its progress, just like you would a child who’s beginning to make his way in the world).  To date, libraries that have added either the print edition or ebook edition to their collection include Notre Dame, Duke, Purdue, Pepperdine, Nebraska, South Dakota, Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin, Loyola Notre Dame, Lewis and Clark, Smith College, and Australian National University.

Beowulf Poet cover

The book actually grew out of my doctoral dissertation, which I completed in 2009 (Zeitgeist and the Zone:  The Psychic Correlation between Cultural Trauma and “Postmodern” Literature).  My primary focus was American postmodernism, but I included quite a bit of research on Anglo-Saxon history and culture, and the poem Beowulf in way of support for my thesis.  As almost an appendix to my dissertation I also wrote a trauma-theory reading of Beowulf; however, the Anglo-Saxon scholar on my committee wouldn’t accept my theory about the poem, so I ended up cutting that chapter.  Anglo-Saxonists are notoriously uncomfortable with post-structural criticism (they tend to prefer analysis of a more traditional philological nature), so it wasn’t a big surprise that she didn’t care for my reading.  Nevertheless, I’d put a lot of time and effort into it, and I felt it was valid (even revolutionary — hey, sometimes you have to toot your own horn).

Even as I was cutting the chapter, I had vague plans of bringing my theory out somehow or another (perhaps in an article). After successfully defending my dissertation, my mind switched gears back into creative writing, and I spent the next three years working on the novel that would become An Untimely Frost.  I teach Beowulf every fall, so I continued meditating on the poem and my analysis of it.  Then in late winter 2012 I met with an editor from Edwin Mellen Press who encouraged me to pursue writing a monograph about Beowulf and my trauma-theory reading.  I accepted a contract, and in May of 2012 I began work on the project in earnest.  I transported home from my classroom three copy-paper boxes of books and articles, transforming my bedroom into a Beowulf and postmodern critical theory library (it was a mess, and it was a good thing I was living alone because if I hadn’t been, I soon would’ve been).

I thought I could knock out the project in three to five months; I was wrong.  I pulled quite a lot from my dissertation, but it was now three years old.  An important book or article on Beowulf appears once a week or so, according to the University of Toronto, which is the epicenter of Beowulf scholarship, and to say I’d been keeping up only at my leisure would be putting it rather kindly.  So I had a lot of reading to do.  Also, I’d done a little translating of Old English for my dissertation, but for this monograph I felt that I needed to analyze the original language of the poem, so I set about translating numerous key sections.  Much of the summer of 2012 was spent with my nose in the poem, various Old English dictionaries, and translations that I admired.  I was often at my kitchen table entombed in stacks of books.

The project that I thought I could finish by September (2012) dragged on into the fall … and winter.  In the meantime, two of my three adult sons had moved back home for various reasons, and it became a running joke as nearly every day they’d ask me what I was doing, and I’d say that I was finishing my Beowulf book (or I’d ask them, “Guess what I’m doing today?” to solicit their groans of skepticism), as I was in the process of finishing it for about six months.  There were a thousand details to attend to to get it right.  I was not a known Beowulf scholar, at all, so I was determined to make it as solid a piece of scholarship as I was able to produce.  When I needed to procure supporting reviews before sending it to the press, I sought opinions from the most respected Beowulf scholars in the world, and I was grateful that James W. Earl and Robert E. Bjork, both of whose work I’d admired for years, agreed to review my manuscript.  I waited, a little anxiously, for their reviews — and was considerably relieved when they were returned so favorably.  (See my Beowulf book’s page to read blurbs of their reactions.)

It ended up taking ten months for me to complete the project.  Shortly after its publication, Edwin Mellen’s editor-in-chief awarded it the press’s D. Simon Evans Prize for distinguished scholarship.  Considering I had to cut from my dissertation the chapter on which the monograph was based, I was especially pleased with Earl’s and Bjork’s good opinions, and then the Prize.  In fairness to the Beowulf scholar on my committee, my chapter paid little attention to the poem’s original language, and my analysis of the Geatland/dragon section of the poem, I knew, was undercooked (in writing the monograph, that was the section that received the most new material and most extensive revision — by the time I wrote the book, I had a clearer idea what I’d been wanting to say all along).  Also, her reaction inspired me to make my scholarship as airtight as possible as it represented what the mainstream of the discipline was likely to say about my rather wild reading of the poem.  I thank her in the book’s acknowledgements, and my thanks is sincere.

The press is just beginning to solicit reviews of my Beowulf book in scholarly journals, and I don’t know of any that have appeared so far. As I said, I’m gratified that universities are adding it to their collections, so hopefully some Anglo-Saxonists will begin to pay attention to it (as well as scholars and doctors in psychoanalysis and neuropsychology, which are also important aspects of my trauma-theory reading).

tedmorrissey.com

Campbell, Smith and Stein — not a law firm but a great National Poetry Month

Posted in April 2012, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on April 22, 2012

April, as everyone knows, is National Poetry Month, and here in Springfield, Illinois, we’ve had a great one.  Among the highlights have been the visits of Bonnie Jo Campbell, Marc Kelly Smith and Kevin Stein. At the risk of doing each an injustice, I’ll mention here their readings in summary. First, though, I’ll point out that while it’s National Poetry Month, I prefer to think of poetry as Aristotle did: as writing that is imaginative and creative in nature — therefore, fiction and creative nonfiction are forms of poetry as well.

It makes perfect sense then that Bonnie Jo Campbell, known mainly as a novelist and short-story writer, kicked off a terrific string of events by delivering the John Holtz Memorial Lecture April 20 at Brookens Auditorium on the campus of University of Illinois, Springfield. (For you purists out there, she did read a couple of her poems as well). In addition to attending her reading and lecture, I had the good fortune of being able to sit in on her craft talk with creative writing students at the university, and also to be among those who accompanied her to dinner before her event. Even though she did deliver the memorial lecture, calling it a lecture is a bit misleading because Campbell was so down-to-earth with her audience, the word lecture isn’t right in terms of mood as it implies a certain amount of stuffiness, and she was anything but stuffy (in fact, she abandoned the podium on the stage to literally come down to the floor of the auditorium so that she could speak more intimately with the audience). Her plain cotton shirt, faded blue jeans and well-worn boots added to her folksy and completely genuine charm. However, if one thinks of lecture as meaning a vehicle by which to deliver insightful wisdom, then lecture is precisely the right word.

In addition to the poetry, Campbell read from her short fiction and from her latest work, the novel Once Upon a River. In between readings, she would discuss various topics, including her writing process (which she describes as hard work), and the joys and perils of publishing. Interestingly, she read the manuscript version of her story “The Solutions to Brian’s Problem” which is notably different from the version included in her collection American Salvage — not because she prefers it, but because she likes the idea that writers, like visual and musical artists, can have multiple perspectives on a single subject.

With Bonnie Jo Campbell after her reading and lecture at Brookens Auditorium, UIS, April 13. Photo by Shannon Pepita O'Brien.

I’ve been to a lot of readings, but Bonnie Jo Campbell’s was truly one of the most engaging that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. My thanks to the university in general (notably the English Department and Brookens Library) but especially to my friend and colleague Meagan Cass, who did the extensive leg work and made sure the copious i’s and t’s were dotted and crossed to bring this extraordinary writer to Springfield.

A week later, on April 20, The Pharmacy hosted an event with the Father of Slam Poetry, Marc Kelly Smith, who had the dual purpose of performing (and I mean performing) his own poetry and also educating the audience as to the origin and tenets of slam poetry (I’ll be the first to admit, I needed an education). Smith was, in a word, fabulous — even though I was the first “victim” he took from his seat for some spontaneous (and totally unanticipated) audience participation, for which I was prevailed upon, among other things, to spit on the floor and imitate a train whistle.

Smith emphasized that slam poetry is rooted in bringing poetry from some sacred altar, where only the well-educated are allowed to espouse it, and return it to the people, whose feelings, ideas and experiences are just as worthy as the tweed-wearing academic Poet’s, and whose appreciation of language is just as great. Smith conducted a competitive slam so that neophytes, like yours truly, could see how one operates — although he underscored that the efforts of the inexperienced newcomer are just as valid as the veteran poet’s, because slam poetry is about inclusion, as opposed to the university brand of poetry that tends to be exclusionary.

Many thanks to the fine folks at The Pharmacy who made Smith’s visit possible, especially Adam Nicholson, who among other things took the lead in advertising the event, and his efforts paid off as The Pharmacy was packed to its plaster-flaking rafters.

Doing some unexpected audience participation with slam poet Marc Kelly Smith at The Pharmacy April 20. Photo by Shannon Pepita O'Brien.

Last but certainly not least was Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein’s reading and presentation at the Vachel Lindsay Home yesterday, April 21. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Stein’s readings on two other occasions so I knew the enjoyment that was in store. As poet laureate, a post he’s held since 2003 (following Gwendolyn Brooks), Stein, like Smith, has been focused on making poetry accessible to everyone, especially children and teenagers. Stein discussed his efforts to encourage students to write poetry, via his Illinois Youth Poetry project, telling stories about some of his experiences working in schools and also reading some of the poems written by young poets. Speaking from the parlor of the historic Vachel Lindsay Home, Stein also read some of his own poetry and from his most recently published essay collection, Poetry’s Afterlife.

Though not a “tech guru” himself, Stein said, he’s been focused on using technology to promote poetry since he first became laureate, encouraged in large part by his own children, who knew that their peers would more readily respond to audio and video of poetry being recited and performed, more so than plain words on a page or computer screen. They apparently were right because data from his website show that visitors are much more likely to watch and listen to poetry than to simply read it as print text; and, moreover, the video and audio with the most hits are also the texts of poems that have the highest number of hits, suggesting that visitors are more likely to read poetry if they’ve first seen or heard the piece recited.

As with the other writer/poet visitations, bringing Kevin Stein to the Vachel Lindsay Home was a group effort, but special thanks go to Home manager Jennie Battles as well as my friend and colleague Lisa Higgs, president of the Vachel Lindsay Association.

Just a personal update (though not that personal): I’m starting to put together some readings and talks for the summer of my own, and so far only have one date on the calendar, June 16 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana (details to follow). My publisher, Punkin House, is planning to have my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God out by the end of summer. I’ve just finished writing a long short story, “Figures in Blue,” and am starting to send it out to meet people; meanwhile, my stories “Crowsong for the Stricken” and “Beside Running Waters” are due out this spring in the Noctua Review (see the cover) and Constellations, respectively. Also, I’ve accepted a contract with Edwin Mellen Press to write a scholarly monograph  (very tentatively working-titled “The Beowulf-poet and His Real Monsters”) on the poem Beowulf, the manuscript of which I hope to have completed by September 1.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly (certainly most fun-ly), my friends Meagan Cass, Lisa Higgs, Tracy Zeman and I are working with Andrew Woolbright and Adam Nicholson to offer a series of fiction and poetry workshops this summer at The Pharmacy, co-sponsored by the Vachel Lindsay Association — much, much more information to follow.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter

Pathfinding

Reflections on Best of the Net

Posted in February 2012, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on February 5, 2012

The last several weeks have been so busy that time for blogging was all but nonexistent. There was syllabus writing, and preparing my presentation on William H. Gass’s The Tunnel for the fast-approaching Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, and — most time-consuming, but also most interesting, of all — was reading fiction for the Best of the Net 2011 anthology, published by Sundress Publications.

Sundress was founded and is managed by Erin Elizabeth Smith (whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing her read her own poetry in the fall), but it was my friend and colleague Meagan Cass who invited me to read fiction nominations for Best of the Net, which strives to publish the best poetry, fiction and nonfiction that appeared originally in online journals. Journal editors must nominate the work (unless it was self-published, in which case the author may submit the piece). See Sundress’s submissions page for full guidelines.

Meagan had lined up several readers for fiction, so I was in a group that was assigned just under seventy short stories to read; in other words, I read about half of the total fiction submissions — so the observations I’m about to share are based solely on that half; perhaps the other half would have suggested different impressions altogether (though I suspect not). According to the email to readers that organized the reading, this was the largest number of nominations Best of the Net had received, a sign, it seems clear, that the anthology is catching on and more and more editors are aware of it and appreciate its mission to give kudos to work published online, as opposed to that which first appeared in print publications.

Strictly online publications (though many do their own “best of” print editions on, say, an annual basis) are gaining legitimacy to be sure. The Modern Language Association, for example, has been establishing criteria for online publication of scholarly work to assist in the tenure-granting process as more and more academics have been turning to peer-reviewed online and e-outlets. (See the MLA’s “The Future of Scholarly Publishing.”)

There remains a certain prestige to being published in traditional print, especially if by a long-established journal (this is true for both academic and creative writers), but I do believe electronic publication is catching up — thanks to a complex web (ha) of factors, including projects like Best of the Net that call attention to the excellent writing which is appearing in online venues.

It was an honor to be asked to read for Sundress’s project, and I knew it would be an educational experience. As a writer (especially as a creative writer) I’m very much interested in trends in electronic publication, and I had certain questions going into my reading that I hoped the experience would help me answer — and I believe it has. First and foremost I was curious about this legitimacy issue; that is, I wanted to know how online-published work seemed to stack up against work appearing in more traditional, and established, journals. I wondered about the writers themselves: Would they primarily be first-timers in terms of publication, or ones who had only published in obscure and eclectic online sites?

And I wondered about the journals and their editors and designers. I’m hardly a babe in the woods when it comes to my exploring and reading online publications (in fact, I like to think of myself as something of an expert, or as much of an expert as one can be in a field that literally changes by the minute); however, I knew the project would introduce me to journals I’d never encountered, in spite of my regular trolling of Duotrope’s Digest, NewPages.com, and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses’ member directory. I wondered where these journals were originating (from a university English department or from somebody’s basement or from somebody’s smartphone while sipping a latte at Starbucks). I wondered who their editors were, and I wondered what sorts of designs and formats were being used (and how reader friendly they were).

I’m about to get to my observations, I promise, but I should probably point out that I’ve been reading literary journal submissions for years, going back to my undergrad days at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale reading and editing the English Department’s Grassroots journal, but much more recently I published/edited my own chapbook-style journal, A Summer’s Reading, from 1997 to 2004, and since 2007 I’ve been editing then simply reading for Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program.

So let’s just say I’ve supped deeply from the slush pile.

I suppose I thought reading for Best of the Net would be a lot like slush-pile reading in that I would discover early on in a given piece that I wasn’t smelling what its author was cooking, but this wasn’t the case at all. I said earlier that it was time-consuming, and that’s because I found I really needed to read just about every piece to the final mark of punctuation to try to decide yea or nay, and even then it was often a difficult decision. We fiction readers had been charged with finding only about twelve to fifteen “yeses” (in other words, we had to say “no” to around fifty-five in our own batch). I discovered that the writing was overall very, very good; and, for me, it was often the end of the story that moved my metaphorical thumb up or down — which I suppose isn’t surprising seeing that as a writer and teacher I know how difficult endings can be (much more challenging than writing an effective beginning).

The process was also time-consuming because by and large the submissions were full-length stories. Reading online, it’s difficult to gauge lengths as one might when reading from paper, but in my group there were only a handful that I’d call flash fiction or even a short short, and a roughly equal number were in the neighborhood of 10,000 words (which in paper manuscript would be about forty pages). As an editor and publisher of print journals, I’ve been frustrated by space limitations and have had to say “no” to many a worthy offering because there simply wasn’t room for it in the journal; and, as a writer, I’ve been curious why more journal editors didn’t take advantage of the infinity of cyberspace by publishing longer pieces (to be read by whom I’m not precisely sure — but that’s a whole different issue).

In terms of form, I’d say that in contrast to the cutting-edge nature of online publishing, the stories themselves tended to be very traditional. Again, I’d say only a half dozen or so of my seventy-ish were what I’d term experimental in narrative structure or style. I suppose since writers tend to write in a way that would be publishable by either print or online journals, the web editors receive pieces that have also been sent to their print counterparts. And even the story-writers who did play with form did so in a way that would translate to paper-print in essentially the same manner. (Here I am, I should acknowledge, writing quite specifically for the web, and yet I’m composing almost exactly as I did thirty-five years ago when writing a sports story for the Galesburg Register-Mail newspaper, so it seems the medium itself has not greatly affected how we write and process text, regardless of whether we are a forty-something or a twenty-something.)

Thus it’s fair to say that I was surprised by both the consistently high quality of the nominated pieces and also by their consistent ties to their print forebears. Perhaps online editors had published numerous highly experimental pieces but chose to nominate their more traditional ones. My sense, however, from both my Best of the Net reading and my usual snooping about online journals, is that the vast, vast majority of what’s being published on the web would be equally suited to traditional print.

As far as the writers themselves go, I only scanned bios after I’d read the piece and made my yea/nay decision, but I found quite a mix, just as one does in a print publication. There were writers who had not published before and ones who had only published in barely-on-the-radar venues, but there were also many, many writers who had impressive lists of credits and awards. Also just like their traditional brethren, the editors of these online journals tend to be academically trained and, often, affiliated; they are writers and poets themselves, with their own publishing credits and accolades; many are MFAs and PhDs, or are candidates, respectively.

I found that many of the journal sites were attractive and very readable, but at the same time there were those whose designers didn’t appear to believe that people would actually be attempting to read what they were publishing — with tiny, highly compressed text that seemed to say “Go ahead, just try to read me … I dare ya!” Reader fatigue was a problem I often struggled with, and I tried not to let it affect my judgment of the individual story. I should say that editors tended to nominate pieces in two forms, both in text documents and with links to their publications; I generally toggled back and forth to determine which would be easier on my eyes (even if I opted for the text document, I was curious about the journal itself and would poke around a bit).

Here are just a few journals I encountered due to my BOTN reading that I was especially impressed with in terms of design and, in some cases, general mood or aesthetic philosophy, but it is hardly an exhaustive list: Juked, Cha, Serving House Journal, Fiction Weekly, Ghost Ocean Magazine, and Up the Staircase Quarterly.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of excellent work being published in online venues, thanks to the loving labor of a lot of dedicated editors and web designers, and as a consequence web-based publication, at least in the creative arts, is quickly achieving the prestige which had been granted exclusively to traditional print journals.

So kudos to these writers and editors; and to presses like Sundress that are dedicated to recognizing online excellence.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog dedicated to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Vachel Lindsay Association and upcoming Pharmacy showing

Posted in November 2011 by Ted Morrissey on November 6, 2011

It’s been such a busy fall in the local literary and art community, here in Springfield, Illinois, that it’s been a challenge to find time to blog about it (much to everyone’s disappointment, I know). I’ll only hit a few of the recent and upcoming highlights.

Last week was particularly bustling with Halloween-related doings. Last Thursday, Oct. 27, was the Midwest Gothic Costume Ball on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield. I donned a get-up in honor of Herman Melville, and in spite of the well-worn copy of Moby-Dick protruding from my coat pocket, and my “Hello. My Name Is ‘Herman'” sticker, most folks needed a little assistance to connect the dots. That’s all right. I was joined by fellow authors Edgar Allen Poe and Hunter S. Thompson (complete with manual typewriter and verbatim suicide note — talk about commitment to a role), among a host of other costumed revelers.

Held in historic and haunted Brinkerhoff Home, the highlight of the ball, for me, was a discussion and reading by Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter literary journal, who is co-editing, along with Brian Kornell, an anthology of Midwest Gothic literature (in other words, creepy stories set in the Midwest). Her talk was fascinating, and her selected readings appropriately creepy. Check out Jodee and Brian’s website. The Costume Ball was hosted by Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program, which also released its new edition, 4.2, featuring the paintings of my favorite local artist Felicia Olin.

Then the following evening, Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield, organized the first annual Horror Reading, held at Cafe Andiamo in downtown Springfield. Attendees could read from their favorite horror stories or their own original prose and poetry. It was well attended by UIS faculty, graduate students, and a host of others.

Meanwhile, Springfield Poets and Writers, Prairie Art Alliance, and Sangamon Watercolor Society have been quite active, including some joint ventures. There’s been too much afoot to even adequately summarize here, but check out their various websites, especially for upcoming events.

Last night I proudly joined the board of the Vachel Lindsay Association, which is devoted to maintaining the poet’s family home and promoting the work of one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets. The Association’s meeting and dinner was held at Maldaner’s, a historic restaurant in downtown Springfield; and the featured speaker was Louisa Lindsay-Sprouse, the poet’s granddaughter. Louisa gave a spirited, informative and entertaining talk on her grandfather’s influence growing up, though she never knew him as he took his own life in 1931.

I was asked to join the Vachel Lindsay board by my friends and colleagues Lisa Higgs, who became board president last night, and Tracy Zeman, also a board member. Lisa and Tracy are exceptional poets in their own right.

I fear I may be burying my lead, but I’m looking forward to the upcoming showing by artists of The Pharmacy, which will be this Friday, November 11, at the wharehouse, 1022 S. Pasfield Street in Springfield, just a couple of blocks north of The Pharmacy. In addition to being an artists colony, The Pharmacy has been very active in promoting creative writing as well, hosting workshops and readings.

In terms of my own writing, I continue to tinker with stories set in a bizarre Midwestern town — though I believe they’re clamoring to be a novel, and they’ve pretty much talked me into it. I have a paper on William H. Gass that I need to write for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, so I’ll get to that shortly, and when it’s done, I’ll turn my full attention to this bizarre Midwestern town … thing … project (yes project sounds better). Somewhat in preparation for the paper, I read Gass’s book-length essay On Being Blue, though mainly my paper will focus on the author’s long and dense novel The Tunnel.

One last note, I received a text message from my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, that my novel Men of Winter is going to be released, eventually, as an audio book (Nook and Kindle versions were recently made available).

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Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Hearst Center reading, and a busy literary October

Posted in October 2011 by Ted Morrissey on October 2, 2011

I’ve just recently returned from Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I had the honor of reading for Final Thursday Press‘s series at the Hearst Center for the Arts. Jim O’Loughlin, the publisher (and editor and just about everything else) of FTP, organized the reading; and I was originally put in contact with Jim via Jeremy Schraffenberger, whom I’ve known for a number of years thanks to our mutual involvement in the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. The Hearst Center, which is the former home of poet James Hearst, is a wonderful venue, with its art gallery and performance stage, among other features; and there was a sizable and attentive crowd that came out for the reading. I read a slightly edited and pared down version of the fifth chapter of Men of Winter.

Toss in some great conversation along with terrific pizza and Iowa’s own Millstream beer (plus the late-September beauty of northern Iowa foliage), and it was a memorable trip to be sure.

Speaking of Men of Winter, my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, has been hard at work for the last several months reorganizing the press and expanding the house’s markets; as a consequence, my novel is available once again via Amazon, with the added bonus of a Kindle version, plus it’s now available through Barnes & Noble, including a Nook version.  Punkin House will be bringing out my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God in 2012.

While I’m on the topic of my writing (fascinating as it is), I’ll mention that I’ve been circulating the manuscript of my novel An Untimely Frost, which I finished over the summer; and I’ve been working in earnest on a conceptual story collection, of which I have two stories out and about, hopefully making friends, and I’ve been writing a third (highly experimental) story. Right now I’m envisioning a collection of thirteen interrelated tales, but obviously we’re still a long way from home.

I stated in the title of this post that it’ll be a busy literary October in Springfield, Illinois, and indeed it will. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the upcoming events:

Monday, October 3: Poet Stephen Frech will be reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30.

Thursday, October 13: Poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will be reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00.

Thursday, October 27: Quiddity lit journal’s Midwestern Gothic Costume Ball, featuring Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter. Festivities will begin at 7:00 in the historic (and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield.

Friday, October 28: A horror reading by Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Creative Writing Program, at Andiamo Cafe, 6:00.

October  in general and Halloween in particular have been more or less my favorite time of year for-,well, ever; and this 2011 installment sounds like it’s going to be a hoot. (I’m a big fan of winter, too, but it’s always diminished by Christmas and New Year’s — however, not so the fall.)

Before closing I want to add that I’ve been attending some terrific showings sponsored by Prairie Art Alliance. Check out their events and exhibits page to see what’s on the horizon (that’s a landscape reference … get it?).

One last thing (because apparently people have been concerned): I did, at long last, finish reading War and Peace. I enjoyed the seven months of my reading life that I devoted to the infamous classic, but I must say Tolstoy’s longish treatise on historical theory was not the most emotionally satisfying way to conclude the (roughly) 1,200-page novel — though I understand what Tolstoy was up to, and as an experimentalist myself I appreciate that he was experimenting with genre and form. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. One of the first things I did after finishing War and Peace: read a wonderful novella by Denis JohnsonTrain Dreams — finished it in only two glorious sittings.

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Pathfinding

Returning to The Tunnel, and the Final Thursday reading

Posted in September 2011 by Ted Morrissey on September 11, 2011

For nearly a year now I’ve been devoting myself to my creative writing, putting my scholarly interests on hold, but I’ll be scratching that itch to some degree by presenting a paper with the PsyArt panel next February at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. I plan on presenting a paper titled “William H. Gass’s ‘Very Long Winter’: The Cultural Trauma of the Fallout Shelter Frenzy as Expressed in The Tunnel” — which will deal with ideas and images of enclosure in Gass’s award-winning novel, nearly thirty years in the writing. Consequently, this fall I’ll get back to some Gass reading, in addition to research on the fallout shelter phenomenon in the United States, especially in the 1960s, the decade in which Gass began writing The Tunnel, for which he won the American Book Award in 1996.

This paper will be a companion to a paper I presented in 2010 at the University of Louisville’s conference on the Atom Bomb’s influence on Gass’s work, with that paper focusing chiefly on his classic short story “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.” I thought of submitting this fallout shelter paper for last year’s conference, but I knew I’d be in the throes of writing my novel, An Untimely Frost, and wouldn’t want to derail that line of thought to write the Gass piece. By the way, I was invited to participate in the panel by Andrew Gordon, who’s on the editorial board of PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts.

It will be the fortieth anniversary of the Louisville Conference, and as such there are several special events planned — so it should be even more fun and rewarding to attend than usual. I’ve also submitted a creative piece to the conference, my short story “Crowsong for the Stricken,” but it’ll be awhile before I hear if it’s been accepted.

Speaking of “Crowsong,” I read the story to an enthusiastic (and indulgent) group at Athens (Illinois) Municipal Library August 28. I was there ostensibly to talk about researching and writing Men of Winter, but concluded by reading some new work. I appreciated the fact that a couple of my Quiddity and writing cohorts, Pamm Collebrusco and Meagan Cass, took the trouble to attend the talk and to add their experience and expertise to the conversation. Pamm is an associate editor for Quiddity (and one of the best proofreaders/copy editors I’ve had the privilege of working with), and Meagan has just begun teaching creative writing at the University of Illinois at Springfield (she’s a gifted fiction writer whose work I admire very much).

I’m currently working on a story that is a companion to “Crowsong for the Stricken” (and another recently written story, “Primitive Scent”); I’m thinking more and more that I want to write a collection of these weird stories which are conceptually connected. On the one hand, this current piece is really putting up a fight, but, on the other, I’m experimenting liberally (wildly) with narrative technique … so, anyway, we’ll have to see what comes of it all.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to give a reading for the Final Thursday Reading Series, organized by the University of Northern Iowa’s Jim O’Loughlin and Final Thursday Press. The reading will be September 29 at the Hearst Center for the Arts. It begins with an open mic at 7:15; then I’ll do my thing at 8. It should be a good time, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I don’t have any readings or talks planned for October (currently), but it should be a great month for literature and art here in Springfield, Illinois — I’m trusting those two facts are not related. Poet Stephen Frech will be in town October 3 and give a reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30. Then October 13 poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will also give a reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00. (The Pharmacy, by the way, is a new addition to Springfield — so new I’ve only recently learned of it and have not yet darkened its door with my presence … soon, very soon.) What is more, Quiddity is planning a unique literary event for October 27 — intriguing details to follow.

The Prairie Art Alliance continues to organize a series of terrific events. I attended “Abstractions: A Collection of Member Work” last week; and “Paper Works” is coming up October 7. See their events page for complete details.

I can’t stop writing without plugging one of my favorite local events, less than a week away: the Route 66 Film Festival, September 16-18, featuring 62 films in three days. Download the festival’s program schedule.

That’s about all I have time and patience to talk about for now (anyone reading this is probably feeling the same way), but I’ll be back at it again, I trust, before long.

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Pathfinding

The Winter’s Tale and other literary happenings

Posted in July 2011 by Ted Morrissey on July 24, 2011

I had the pleasure of attending a production of The Winter’s Tale at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival last evening in Bloomington, Illinois. I’ve been attending the Festival for years and am always impressed and pleased with its productions, some of which are risk-taking, like 2008’s Titus Andronicus, which channeled a kind of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome motif while employing a heavy-metal soundtrack (and, for my money, it worked), or last season’s The Tempest, which suggested that the entirety of the play was taking place in some sort of ethereal space and not on solid ground (I liked it) — while other productions are much more conservative in their staging. This Winter’s Tale, directed by Deb Alley, tended toward the conservative.

The most obvious manifestation of this conservatism was the deletion of Time, personified, from the text. Sometimes an actual character, sometimes a chorus, Time opens the fourth act by emphasizing the swift passage of time (in the context of The Winter’s Tale, sixteen years evaporate in an instant) and transitioning into the spring/summer section of the play. The Festival production eliminates this first scene of Act IV altogether, and 4.2’s exchange between Polixenes and Camillo serves as the transitional device. In more traditional readings of the play, time stands still in the nation of Sicilia, where the action opens (and closes), but the sixteen years have progressed in Bohemia, the site of 4.2 through 4.4, and thus the characters have aged. However, with the excision of Time and 4.1 in the Festival production, time’s passage has not been arrested in Sicilia, evidenced by the graying of hair and faltering of vision among the characters when we return to Sicilia for Act V.

The removal of this whimsical element in the play (that is, Time’s appearance and his freezing of time in the winter section of the play) lays the groundwork for a more conservative climax, which virtually eliminates Shakespeare’s ambiguity from the climactic event, and in my mind simplifies and makes less interesting the event. In the beginning of the play, Sicilia’s Queen Hermione is unfairly accused of adultery and is imprisoned by her suddenly insane (with jealousy?) husband, King Leontes; and we are told that because of the ordeal, Hermione perishes. In the final scene, 5.3, after Leontes has been reunited with his daughter Perdita (it’s a long story — go see the play), he is presented with a statue of Hermione — a statue which shortly comes to life. It is unclear in the text of the play if we are witnessing a supernatural event (a la the freezing of time) or if Hermione has merely been in hiding somewhere for sixteen years and is reintroduced as a “statue” for dramatic effect (dramatic within the context of the action of the play).

The Festival’s production definitely privileges the more conservative interpretation; through the actions of the characters, especially Paulina, the alleged maker of the statue, and through the graying of Hermione’s hair, it seems clear that the flesh-and-blood Hermione has only been playing at being a statue. The whimsical, the supernatural has been expunged from the scene, which is an extension of its being expunged from the play as a whole. The conservatism of the Festival’s interpretation shows up in other, more subtle ways. For instance, the contrast between the winter-Sicilia-tragedy half of the play and the summer-Bohemia-comedy half is evident in the costuming (especially the palette’s shift from largely monochromic to widely colorful) and the set (especially the lighting’s shift from blue spectrum to orange spectrum). While costuming and set/lighting do suggest the contrast, one has to look closely to see it. Another conservative choice would be the physical absence of the bear that famously chases Antigonus from the stage in 3.3. According to the Norton Shakespeare’s footnotes, in the Bard’s day an actual bear very well may have been brought onto the stage to “chase” Antigonus, but

[m]odern productions vary significantly in their representation of the bear. Some strive for realism, having a bearskin-clad actor or a mechanical likeness of a bear pass across a darkened stage illuminated only by the occasional lightning bolt. Other productions are more stylized, suggesting a bear by the obvious artifice of a mask or symbol.

The Festival removes a step or two further, and the bear is represented merely by its roaring and the terrorized expression of Antigonus as he runs (unsuccessfully) for his life.

One may argue that by eliminating elements like personified Time and an actor in a bear-suit, the Festival production is being the opposite of conservative — that it’s straying from more traditional, more textbound versions of The Winter’s Tale; and, on the one hand, that’s true, but I guess what I’m suggesting is that the Festival’s interpretation is more conservative (that is, less fanciful) than Shakespeare’s vision of the story. I have some ideas as to why these choices were made, and how they affect our overarching reading of the play — but that sounds like the stuff of an academic paper.

To be clear, I enjoyed the Festival production very much, and I encourage directors to stray from traditional staging choices and to play with the text, even if those choices and those edits seem, to me, less whimsical than what the playwright had in mind in the first place.

Anyway, the Festival is also doing Romeo and Juliet, and I plan to see that within the next week or so.

In June, I happily participated in the Poets & Painters event at the H. D. Smith Gallery in the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois. The event was a joint venture between the Prairie Art Alliance and Springfield Poets and Writers (of which I’m a proud member). I was planning on providing a link to the poems and artwork that were presented that evening (including my poem “Anima”), but the page seems to be missing in action at the moment. If it rematerializes, I’ll update this post.

This month I’ve been participating in a poetry workshop organized by Lisa Higgs and Tracy Zeman (a link to Tracy’s poem “Grass for Bone” in Beloit Poetry Journal) at the Vachel Lindsay Home. Unfortunately I had to miss the second of four sessions, but I’ve been enjoying them very much and getting a lot out of them. I’ve mainly been focusing on writing some new short stories and putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of my newest novel, “An Untimely Frost,” but I did write a poem for the workshop; and in general Lisa and Tracy have had me thinking about language in ways I wouldn’t have been if not for the workshop this summer.

The workshop session I missed was time well spent nonetheless as I met with the Friends of Sherman Library book club July 12 to discuss my novel Men of Winter. It was great fun to talk with avid and enthusiastic readers, and they indulged me to read my brand-new short story “Crowsong for the Stricken,” which was also fun (for me at least). In addition to “Crowsong” I’ve also written a story titled “Primitive Scent,” and I’m at work on a third new story. I have in mind the next novel I want to begin writing, but now I’m thinking of postponing that project to write a collection of stories all set in the same weird little Midwestern village, the setting of these three new stories. We’ll see.

On the reading front, I continue to make my way through War and Peace (on page about 840 out of 1,200), and also Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (for my nightstand read) — but I did take a few days away from Tolstoy to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella Memories of My Melancholy Whores (translated by Edith Grossman), and liked it very much: funny, haunting, touching — all the things one would expect from a Nobel Laureate.

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