Anniversary Interview: Lance Larsen

In anticipation of our second anniversary, our editors recently took time to catch up with some of the contributors from our debut issue. In this installment, Web Editor Avery Osborn interviews Lance Larsen.

Lance Larsen currently serves as Utah’s Poet Laureate and is the associate chair of the English department at Brigham Young University. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared widely in journals including Poetry, Ploughshares, Orion, Southern Review, and the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize Anthologies.

 

JP

How does your teaching influence your writing?

 

LL    

Because teaching is both immersive and collaborative, I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.  I’m curious how the always-evolving tradition of poetry will play out in the next generation.  Teaching also provides the opportunity to celebrate new texts with invested readers.  Just last month I read Sandra Beasley’s I Was the Jukebox with my graduate students, the teaching of which allowed me to think more carefully about her experimentation with the dramatic monologue and to admire how she both wilds up the form and reinvigorates the tradition.  In the fall I’m teaching a special problems course which looks at the prose poem and lyric nonfiction and everything that falls between, a course that will let me explore in a public forum questions I’ve been asking in my own work for the last three or four years.  At its best, a class forges seekers into a community.

 

JP

How do you balance your writing with your career, family, and other responsibilities?

 

LL     

What one achieves is closer to a provisional détente than balance.  An anecdote may be to the point.  Twenty years ago on a Thursday afternoon in April I had two urgent, inescapable tasks: watch Brooke, my high-maintenance three-year-old, and move six yards of top soil and horse manure one shovelful at a time.   I carried Brooke to the driveway and started shoveling.  Unfortunately, whatever I did, she copied.  If I moved six inches, she moved six inches.  It was infuriating: I couldn’t do a thing.  Eventually, to get her out of the way, I put her not beside the wheelbarrow but directly in it, and tossed shovelfuls of dirt on her legs.  

Soon, she was completely buried except for her shoulders and head.  Next, I wheeled her to the backyard, stopped the wheelbarrow, and said, “Hands.”  She shot them out of the dirt and above her head as if performing a magic trick.  And I lifted her free, as if saving her from deep water—or to be more accurate, deep doo-doo—jiggling her a little to shake off the dirt, then set her on the ground.  After dumping the load, we returned to the front yard to begin the process again.  We played this game of burial-and-rescue for three hours, neither of us tiring of it.  Of course, I ruined her pink play clothes in the process, but that was a small price to pay.  Anyone who wants to make art and raise children and be involved in the world will find a way into similar serendipitous work-arounds.

 

JP     

What advice would you give to a writer who has a hard time fitting writing into a busy schedule?

 

LL

If you have time for Netflix, going out to eat, or hanging with friends, you have time to write.  Just carve out an hour a day, or only half an hour at first, whether that’s in the morning, during a lunch hour, or just before bed, and make a date with your quill pen.  If you make that commitment and keep showing up, soon you’ll have a habit.  Writing is about showing up.  If you’re a writer, writing is not discretionary time but how the soul feeds itself.  You have to believe that.   Picasso once said that he didn’t know whether inspiration was a real thing, but if it was, it found him when he was in his studio already working.  Over the long haul we find time for what we want.

 

JP

You’ve said before that you are inspired by other poets, art, and jazz. What is one source of inspiration that surprised you, that you didn’t expect?

 

LL      

Theater. After co-directing a pair of theater study abroad programs, the rhythms of the stage have gotten under my skin.  I love the raw power of two characters talking—more often past each other than to each other.  Thanks to theater I’ve expanded my definition of the prose poem to include dialogues and Q & As, and I’m tentatively trying my hand at what feels brand new.  

One of my favorite plays is Sam Shepherd’s True West.  In an earlier incarnation, before John Malkovich became a Hollywood megastar, he was a stage actor.  And one of his early roles was playing Lee in True West, a combative, mad-at-the-world con man and petty thief.  His foil is his brother Austin, a pampered screenwriter, played by Gary Sinise.  This play has fabulous, heartbreaking, hilarious lines.   

 

Since JuxtaProse has its mailing address in the potato state and since I grew up in Pocatello, it may be worth quoting one of Lee’s many tirades: “Now, who in Hell wants to eat off a plate with the state of Idaho staring you in the face.  Every time you take a bite, you get to see a little bit more. . .  Personally I don’t want to be invaded by Idaho when I’m eating.  When I’m eating I’m home. . . .  I don’t need my thoughts swept off to Idaho, I don’t need that.”  I’d love to squeeze a similarly savage down-and-out vernacular into some of my prose poems.    

JP   

What’s the most important thing burgeoning poets can do to improve their craft?

 

LL

No surprise here: read, read, read.  Immerse yourself in the canon.  If you read widely, you’ll be less likely to take your own work too seriously.   How does one squeeze in more reading time?  Instead of the radio, listen to books on tape or literary podcasts.  In Our Time  and Great Lives, both BBC offerings, are two of my favorites—also New Yorker podcasts on poetry and fiction.  Yesterday I listened to “Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog,” a Stephanie Vaughan story I hadn’t read since I was a graduate student.  The day before that I caught a spirited discussion of Ulysses and how Joyce came to write it.  What a fabulous way to spend an otherwise forgettable commute.  Meanwhile NPR, which used to be my go-to station, manages to limp along without me.

 

JP  

How did you choose poetry–as opposed to other genres–as the main focus of your craft?

        

 

LL   

Poetry chose me, which I know sounds very aromatherapy and new-agey.  What happened was this: after spending two or three years trying to write fiction, I took a poetry class from Leslie Norris.  This was my last semester as a college senior.  Leslie, who used to carouse with Dylan Thomas and read “Fern Hill” at Thomas’s funeral, knew a thing or two about craft.  I learned quickly that poetry, for me at least, was a better fit linguistically and temperamentally.  I liked the short-form intensity and lines as a unit of measure and the way you could lose yourself in the linguistic moment.  I spent my next two years working up a poetry sample for a PhD at the University of Houston.  Some ten years after that I added essay and memoir to the mix.  I love fiction, especially short stories and flash, but still find poetry a better fit—at least for now.

JP

What role does form play in your poetry?

 

LL

Form is almost everything. All good poems have form, whether open or closed.  Most poems are a mix.  Though I’ve written couplets, pantoums, aphorisms, sonnets, odes, ghazals, and triolets, free verse is my go-to mode.  But not lazy free verse.  I aspire to write free verse the way Charles Wright does.  Here’s a poet who folds his craft and erudition into lovely, organic lines—sometimes spare, sometimes lush, but always authentically sayable.  Hence I fret over the tiniest matters in a poem.  And of course I want to let image and metaphor do the lion’s share of my persuading.  One rule I sometimes set for myself is to end every line with a vivid one-syllable word, usually a noun or verb.   Another rule I love comes from Sandra McPherson,  who requires two surprises or pleasures per line.  That’s a good standard.

JP

Anything else you’d like to add?

LL   

There’s an Isak Dinesen story I love, which appears in her memoir Out of Africa.  As a visitor in the exotic reaches of Africa, she picked up Swahili, and sometimes found herself in conversation with teenage Swahili boys.  Strange as it may seem, these native speakers had never heard of rhyme, so Dinesen entertained herself by stringing together random, rhyming phrases, for example, “Oxen like salt—whores are bad—the Wakamba eat snakes.”  The boys howled with laughter but were afraid to indulge in rhymes themselves.  Still they loved to hear the verbal magic on her tongue: “Speak again,” they said.  “Speak like rain.”  Dinesen goes on to explain the significance of this: “Why they should feel verse to be like rain I do not know.  It must have been, however, an expression of applause, since in Africa rain is always longed for and welcomed.”  That’s what I’m after when I write a poem—what most of us are after—to speak like rain.

A Brief Interview with the JP 2017 Short Story Contest Winner, Rocio Anica

This interview was conducted via email.

JP

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

ANICA

I suppose I always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought I could be one until I read “Bodega Dreams” by Ernesto Quinonez when I was fourteen. The novel was political on its own terms, it was funny, and it was written by someone who was un-apologetically himself. It was everything I didn’t know I could be as a POC. Representation matters, I guess; that’s the moral of my writing journey.

JP

Who are your biggest influences?

ANICA

None of this will make any sense, but: Kurt Vonnegut and Junot Diaz and Jack Handey and Lindy West and Joan Didion.

JP

Timeline: please describe the writing and editing process for “Curandera Crew.”

ANICA

Under Ernesto Quinonez’s tutelage last fall, the Cornell fiction workshop turned in several new stories. “Curandera Crew” came about from one of his writing prompts, which was to write about a myth that was particular to our background or origin. I’m not going to lie, I wrote the story in three days and those were some of the hardest days of my writing life. Even though the writing process was as if I were merely transcribing, as if the story had been existing intact within for some time, it was clear that I had not wanted to look at it or explore it, and the act of letting it exist outside of myself was traumatic. My boyfriend who lives in Indianapolis had to come to Ithaca to cook and clean for me and to make sure I sure I took breaks and showered. The instant I handed in the story, I crawled into bed, freezing even though it was ninety degrees outside, and slept for two days.

JP

Your story won our contest back in November and heavily deals with American healthcare and Mexican heritage; topics as significant in November as now. Would “Curandera Crew” be different if you were writing it now?

ANICA

Maybe I would have added a lot more to the issue of pregnancy and babies, since Planned Parenthood is taking a hit these days and it’s hard for many to believe that for thousands of people Planned Parenthood was their main healthcare provider. Numbers that make your jaw-drop, although it’s not just POC, it affects everyone. In many ways, I think that Wall is a symbol for restricted access that has always been an issue for the 99%, and not just because walls have two sides, but because we were starting to move around freely in speech and thought and access (Obamacare, BLM, Standing Rock, trans rights, the list is endless) and needed to be contained again. Another thing, while I have you here, is that I am remembering that I had indeed considered playing up the privilege-of-having-babies theme in the story (that is, in terms of affordable access to healthcare as well as the able-bodied privilege), but in workshop it seemed that all the men crossed out the parts about the babies, and I thought, hmmm. Maybe I’ll just hint at the pain. Anyone who has felt it will see it and understand instantly. Anyone who does not will just have to do the work of reading between the lines. These days, though, I very much feel like taking anyone who is a bit tone-deaf and shouting into their ears.

JP

Reading and/or film recommendations?

ANICA

I recently melted into the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante for the first time, so for anyone who still has them on their reading list, bump them up to the top! I also watch a lot of horror and sci-fi, and though it’s not a film I was pretty moved by the genuine gentleness of The OA. I love earnest artists and themes that envision a better place and characters that challenge your cynical comfort. Yes, I do understand that being vulnerable and weird isn’t supposed to be “cool.” Fuck that shit.

JP

Fun question: Last song you listened to?

ANICA

“Monstro” by The Downtown Boys. 

Down the Memory Hole

By Ashley Bach

I’m not keen on re-reading. To quote my high school chemistry teacher, Jim Rocco, “With so many books in the world, why would you read one you already read.” I keep my favorites on hand, revisiting my favorite sections and skimming it over to refresh my memory. Even last semester, when I had re-read Pride and Prejudice, I recalled so much, I found myself skimming as if it were a recap. Last semester required me to read two books that I read in AP English, and one book that I started reading for AP English. Perhaps it was my own intellectualy growth, the invigoration of respectable instructors, or both, but I enjoyed “revisiting” the works. While I have it in my copy of Pride and Prejudice from AP that Austen’s novel was “as interesting as watching paint dry,” when I read it for class last semester, I found a lot more to like about it. You should always find more than you did before when re-reading a novel, and it is good fortune to find more to like. I’m thinking of my polygamy and celibacy as a reader, and how I would come back to books — I’ve never been one for a bookmark — and would be irritated when I found myself reading a portion I already read, hoping to be further along in the story and finding that I’ve gone backwards and am covering old ground. Now the reason I speak of this is that over this yesterday, with the passing of John Hurt and the surge of popularity of Orwell’s novel, I began revisiting 1984. Now, I always preferred Huxley’s vision of the future. I read Brave New World first and I found Orwell’s vision to be if not a retread of what Huxley had done in his novel, I found it to be unconvincing and the Newspeak to be jarringly on the nose.

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Those are antonyms, George. That’s not that deep. It is not without substance. It invokes the idea that concept that are valued and concepts that are feared end up, for good and ill, birthing their counterparts, but there’s an immature lack of polish seen in the YA dystopias that abound today.

That being said, I find that I have a new appreciation for passages like the following:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.

Things are better this read, if only because I’ve subverted the search of figuring out what happens and at am seeing how much I remember.

It is all very familiar. I was assigned 1984 the first time. Being assigned a book, as many of you may know can be very different from reading independently, and I did not have the pleasure of discussing the book and being able to consider the text from different viewpoints. I was reading for something called Reading Team, meaning that the most important thing was reading comprehension — facts — and not analystical thought. That’s kind of humorous in a way, considering the text.

The idea of the dystopian novel is to satirize the current political climate by creating a vision of what would become of it. I wonder if those who are reading it for the first time with the phrase “alternative facts” in mind get something out of it Orwell never expected; readers who are seeing the futurevision taking place in their present, only in a world more technologically advanced and intellectually bankrupt than the Ingsoc Orwell dreamed, and not one that came about because of a nuclear war, but because of of a mass falling out within our society.

Books About Civil Rights

In recognition of MLK Day and the time we live in, here are a few books for the literary citizen who wishes to read about civil rights and diversity.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Citizen begins, “When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows. Usually you are nestled under blankets and the house is empty. Sometimes the moon is missing and beyond the windows the low, gray ceiling seems approachable. Its dark light dims in degrees depending on the density of clouds and you fall back into that which gets reconstructed as metaphor.”

From there, Rankine tells a narrative poem about a girl who is “an almost white person” attending a Catholic where the cool behind her cheats off of her and a friend who has the habit of absentmindedly calling the speaker by the name of the friend’s black housekeeper.

Rankine’s inarguably autobiographical prose poetry is marked by the speaker wondering why she does not stick up for herself, but subtextually the reader understands that it is because she cannot, unless she wants to offend the people in power.

Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

Eula Biss is a white writer who uses her white privilege as a way of discussing the social injustices inacted upon non-whites, such as the woman in 1999 who gave birth to a set of twins – one white, like her, and one black. The “peculiarity” was the result of the fertility clinic implanting the white woman with some of a black woman’s embryos. Biss recounts how custody case followed, with the white mother not allowing the child’s biological parents to make contact with it. This story is interposed with Biss’ personal anecdotes about a mother who is accused of dating men out of her race in order to gain access to “other cultures and racial identities” and Biss’ doll Susannah who was black.

Biss makes it clear throughout the book that she has had a culturally rich upbringing as a result of her mother adopting cultures from the men in her life, but Biss uses her whiteness to tell these stories to a white audience, and to show white privilege as someone who benefits from white privilege.

March by Andrew Aydin, John Lewis

The March trilogy is graphic novel series created by Congressman John Lewis, who was being discussed on CNN as a typed his name. Unlike The Walking DeadMarch is a historical graphic novel about Lewis’ work in the civil rights movement, framed by Lewis attending Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Given the present state of things, the March trilogy is all the more important to read. Lewis is being criticized for his current politics, but perhaps by reading the trilogy about his life, people can understand where he is coming from.

 

 

 

 

JuxtaProse Literary Magazine is now accepting submissions for our 2017 Cover Art contest!

The contest winner will have their work published on the front cover of JuxtaProse volume 11, our second anniversary issue, to be released digitally and in print. The expected release date is March 6th. The winner will receive a personal interview with the JuxtaProse Staff to be published on the website and blog, as well as three print copies of the issue. Up to three additional entries, each by a different artist, may be awarded “Honorable Mention” status, for which they will receive web space to have their artist statements, bios, and the honored artwork featured on the JuxtaProse website and blog. All finalists will be considered for publication, regardless of honorable mention status. Artwork which has peen previously published is eligible, so long as it has not appeared in another literary journal (a publication which primarily exists to publish fiction, poetry, or essays).

Entries should consist of 1-3 TIFF files. Artists may enter multiple times but will be charged a separate entry fee each time. Applicants are encouraged, but not required, to include a cover letter and an artistic statement of no more than 50 words. All mediums welcome. $10 Entry Fee. Enter at juxtaprosemagazine.org/contests. The deadline for submissions is February 20th, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

JuxtaProse is an Idaho-based literary magazine that publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art from around the world. Previous contributors include National Book Award finalist and Pulitzer Prize nominees, over 20 contributors to the Best American Poetry series, nationally exhibiting Artists, and award winning writers from locales as varied as Scotland and Israel. Alongside these established voices, we make a concentrated effort to publish the work of emerging talents — including previously unpublished writers, artists, and students. Each of our quarterly issues reaches a readership of over 5,000 and continues to grow. Literary editor John Fox’ blog recently ranked JuxtaProse number 14 in a list of the best online literary magazines. Although JuxtaProse is primarily an online publication, we publish a print edition of our anniversary issue each spring.

A Year in Reading

By Ashley Bach

It’s the end of an interesting year. On top of the “best books” lists, go-to literary sites like The Millions, The New York Times has contributors writing about “A Year in Reading.”

2016 has been a difficult year for a lot of people, and writers like Dan Chaon punctuate the books they read with a recap of the public figures we lost this year and other disappointments.

The New York Times has a colorful interface where one can read how Newt Gingrich read Daniel Silva’s The Black Widow. My favorite writer for a little bit during my senior year John Green — I know. I’m sorry. I liked Mental Floss, and it was my last year to enjoy YA before Ruth Graham came to my house to fight me — makes notable recommendations. NYT reached out to filmmakers, politicians, and musicians on top of writers, tapping into the readers who do not often read in a move where the person from pop culture is a spokesperson for a book; modern-day LeVar Burton’s.

Beyond looking into how these books contextualized a person’s year (all fiction is interactive if you internalize it enough), one has book recommendations for 2017 until the end of the decade, or maybe to the halfway mark of the century, depending on your reading speed.

Here are some books I read this year:

Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss
This is a powerful novel on race and prejudice in America that I did not encounter until I wanted to read about something one of my professors told me; people initially thought that telephone poles were evil and would go out and cut them down. Biss only touches on that subject in the beginning, but I wound up reading the whole book, and I loved it.

Jane Austen and Her Times by Geraldine Mitton
I read this as research for a paper I wrote for my Jane Austen class. My favorite portions were the ones that discussed the works Jane Austen read and her response to them.

Romance’s Rival: Familiar Marriage in Victorian Fiction by Talia Schaffer
Another research material. It is a new book and gives a new perspective on marriage in Victorian literature I did not consider. From it, I was able to write an essay called “But They’re Cousins: Modernizing Mansfield Park.”

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
I did not hear about this book until Katherine Dunn died, which is unfortunate. More people should have known about her when she was alive. Don’t let the title fool you; this is not a cute romantic comedy, I knew that going into the book. The disturbing imagery and sad state that the family must live in are still hard to get through but rewarding to finish reading.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders
It’s a short read, highly allegorical; two things that I love about it. The short length is why I think Saunders felt so at ease with having a conceptual, surreal plot.

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
A fairly short and very weird read. It has been on my TBR since my freshman year of college, and I always mixed it up with Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The titles may be similar, but they are not alike besides the vampires in The Orange Eats Creeps and the short story Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
I still have yet to watch the film with Kal Penn – my reward for finishing the book. It was required reading for class, and while it contained the usual Lahiri motif; infidelity, it is a moving tale about people who feel connected to literature.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky                                                                                   This semester required me to revisit two texts that I read in my senior year of high school: Pride and Prejudice and The Scarlet Letter. I am happy to have been able to appreciate them in a better atmosphere, where I was smarter, better intellectually stimulated. I tried reading Crime and Punishment the summer before my senior year, but it was too long, and I switched to the Great Gatsby. I never thought I could navigate such a massive text so quickly, but I had an extraordinary professor, and an audiobook, while worded differently from the text at times, had the same idea.

I know it’s been a difficult year, and I hope that 2017 is better, but I have always seen literature as a supplement for the things we lack in our real lives, be it wealth, romance, sophistication, or the spectacular.

MFA vs NYC 2 Years Later

*Featured image from Blunderbuss Magazine

By Ashley  Bach

I’m keeping an open mind and my options open as I prepare for graduation and the transition into adult life. Considering how selective the MFA programs I am applying to are, I know that I will have to have a pack-up plan. That is why I got Chad Harbach’s MFA vs NYC. It’s helpful. I already read Andrew Martin’s “‘MFA vs NYC’: Both, Probably,” so I don’t agree with the conceit that someone must choose one or the othe. More than anything, I read Harbach for Saunders’ perspective. More than anything, I enjoyed the insights into the world of publishing and the MFA, and showing that results vary.  I have a few takeaways from my reading that I think are helpful in considering the world of American writing:

“The MFA has many detractors, and many of them greatly overstate their case, harking back to a time when every writer was a wine-chugging Hemingway firing a homemade rifle at a rabid shark from the back of a speeding ambulance. (Nobody ever uses Edith Wharton, or any woman, as an example of an author untainted by degrees, though until recently women were much less likely to be degreed.) “MFA writing” is supposed to be sedulous, dutiful, and uninspired. And much of it is–most of it is. The problem with the argument is that therse adjectives describe the vast majority of the writing that has been done in the history of the planet, but they often fail to describe the books written by graduates of MFA programs.” – CHAD HARBACH, “Introduction”

  • Synopsis: those who are against the MFA say that the writing achieved in MFA programs are usually uninspired. Harbach says that plenty of written work in uninspired, but the writers who come from MFA programs are usually the ones gaining acclaim.

“As the MFA fiction writer moves toward the poetic/academic model, the NYC writer moves toward the Hollywood model…because New York publishing increasingly resembles the Hollywood world of blockbuster-or-bust, in which a handful of books earn all the hype and do humongous business; others succeed as low-budget indies; and the rest are released to a shudder of silence, if at all.” – CHAD HARBACH, “MFA vs NYC”

  • Synopsis: fiction writers who receive MFAs are becoming like poets with MFAs who rely on an income as professors, while the writing society of NYC is kind of like The Devil Wears Prada meets The Big Picture. 

“It’s important to remember that a CW program is neither necessary nor sufficient. That is: you don’t have to go through one to write a beautiful book, and going through one will not assure that you will write a beautiful book.” – GEORGE SAUNDERS, “A Mini-Manifesto”

  • Synopsis: Despite what the author biography of the yearly literary awards lead one to believe, an MFA is not the only way to be a great writer.

“[After quoting Thoreau ‘I had woven a kind of delicate basket…’] During the MFA, I wove a lot of crappy baskets. I wrote 347 drafts resulting in 26 full stories, not all of which were good. My best story took the most draft–48. Thank god I didnt’ try to sell them.” – MARIA ADELMANN, “Basket Weaving 101”