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first sentence of each third paragraph, Letters to a Young Poet

22 May

You ask whether your verses are good. Today I wanted to tell you two things more: One just comes to relish them increasingly, to be always more grateful, and somehow better and simpler in one’s contemplating, deeper in one’s belief in life, and in living happier and bigger. Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. I am still living in the city, on the Capitol, not far from the finest equestrian statue that has come down to us from Roman art — that of Marcus Aurelius; but in a few weeks I shall move into a quiet simple room, an old flat-roofed summerhouse, that lies lost way deep in a large park, hidden from the town, its noise and incident. Think, dear sir, of the world you carry within you, and call this thinking what you will; whether it be remembering your own childhood or yearning toward your own future — only be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you. How should it not be difficult for us? There is perhaps no use my going into your particular points now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring outer and inner life into unison, or about all the other things that worry you —: it is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. The stillness must be immense in which such sounds and movements have room, and when one thinks that to it all the presence of the far-off sea comes chiming in as well, perhaps as the inmost tone in that prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish for you that you are confidently and patiently letting that lofty solitude work upon you which is no more to be stricken out of your life; which in everything there is ahead of you to experience and to do will work as an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, much as in us blow of ancestors ceaselessly stirs and mingles with our own into that unique, not repeatable being which at every turning of our life we are.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, letters reassembled from Letters to a Young Poet



a second lens: last sentences from Tranströmer’s Memories Look at Me

21 May

It all felt secure and natural. As if biding their time. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. And that, in the event, is what happened. I was thinking of becoming an entomologist and collecting insects in Africa, discovering new species instead of new deserts. Nowadays, well-known for deficient productivity, I was then clearly noted as a prolific scribbler, someone who sinned through excessive productivity, a literal Stakhanov. I thought it was the Inferno but it was Purgatory. The idea was so naive it became sophisticated.

notes on origins, curating, editing, and process

28 Jul

This is not really an essay but a continuation of an idea, another loop in a story I’m telling about origins and wishes and how they mutate when we enact them.
I wanted to gather resonant work. Would it be limited to my particular taste? Of course. That’s what curation is: a gathering and sifting of work according to a single aesthetic formed by both personal taste and long genre experience. And maybe the first flaw, or the first advantage, at Pea River was this: I was, am, a curator rather than an editor. I gathered work from an appreciation locus. I didn’t position myself as a judge after the fact but instead the keeper of the resonance threshold. It either fit my aesthetic and resonated or it didn’t. So my “editing” was never a worthy/unworthy, good/bad judgment as much as a gut-driven call on fit. It’s that simple.
So for the Burden of Home issue, for instance, the included work recreated and extended a set of burdens that mattered to me, whether I’d experienced them before the work arrived as a trigger or whether the work itself created those experiences and memories for me as I read them for the first time. As the work arrived, it attached to other pieces in unexpected places, in sometimes startling ways. The design for the print BoH issue was a sort of gallery I created for that collection of work. A context. Visual, aural, everything but the table in the corner with wilting noshes and plastic glasses for cheap wine. I never thought of the print issue as a book or as a literary journal like other journals, even earlier iterations of Pea River. It was its own thing, something created in response to the curated work. The issue as gallery on opening night, the issue as display case, the issue as alt experience. Something to resonate.
So when I’ve talked with editors who say they take accepted work and just roll it into their template and update the issue number, it’s helped me realize I’m not a journal editor. I’m a curator, and it just happens that our “show” is a bound print journal. I love editors and traditional literary journals; don’t get me wrong. But I’d thought I was an editor, and pretended to be as long as I believed it, and had to pause once I realized I might be unintentionally misrepresenting my larger project. If Pea River ends its hiatus, it will be because I’ve come to terms with it as a not-journal that calls itself a journal, and I’ll make that distinction clear to potential future contributors. I could not make that clear before because I did not realize what I was up to. (And what a beautiful moment when we finally realize what we are up to.)
When we hold a print artifact, we open it, admire it, read it. And maybe the process and backstory for the artifact won’t matter to most people. But for me, process is everything. The design of the theme. Reading the submitted work. The dialogue with contributors. The arranging of the selected pieces, like redesigning an animal that has somehow become dissembled in transit. The tugging on friends who can create a little image or music to make it cohere. The artifact design. The release. The release. A private thing.

This was supposed to be a meditation on hope and expectations and origins, but it turned the way all meditations turn. More, another installment, later.

the origins of Pea River Journal

21 Jul

So many of you have asked about our hiatus, the many whys, that I’ve decided to respond by explaining why I launched in the first place, what my expectations and hopes were back in 2012, the particular joys and sometimes confusing realities of running a small, independent literary journal, why I chose to go on hiatus, and why we are leaving the door open to some sort of future for PRJ that’s still undefined as I write this.

So this is just one part of all that explaining, an explaining that I hope will help me better understand what I’ve done and why.

I conceived Pea River Journal in a funk of have-not-ness. I’d subscribed to various lit mags over the years, followed and read many online mags, and studied the online presences that served as a complement to the print versions of established magazines. So many magazines are publishing so much really strong, really beautiful work. And, sometimes, I would find a story or poem that really resonated with me. However, what I more frequently found out there missed my particular spot. And when I say resonated, I should clarify and say shattered me, or echoed details or the spirit of details or moments imprinted and unforgettable, or created new memories and associations, or brought me to a new experience. Work that resonates gives us a new lens. Sometimes it’s a lens we have forgotten, lost, a lens that escaped. Resonant work returns the escapee lens to us. A gift. A new thing. A new way to see our own hearts.

Reading lit magazines had become a (frustrating) treasure hunt. I was an IT consultant at the time, traveling to a new city and a new set of faces almost every week. Literature was solace. I’d left tenure and comfort behind to chase a new lens. And while dislocation and new experiences gave me new things to notice, I’d mistaken noticing for seeing, the voyeurism of toy-shop goggles for an authentic lens.

The lens is within us, the collection of recorded experiences that trained our filters, the emotional responses that added color and music to our filters until we started confusing what we see with how we see it. The lens is within us. The lens is both trigger and receptor, the how for seeing and response.

And one day, in the middle of a city in the middle of the desert, parched past the bone to the soul that whispers in every dry fissure, I realized this. I was thirsty for resonance. How wonderful would it be to find a lit journal that curated only the resonant work, I thought. Not witty poems, not obscenely violent or pointless stories, not one more meditation on last night’s one night stand or a grandmother’s jonquils, lovely as those things can be. I wanted a lit journal that curated new work so resonant that it would be almost too much to read everything in a single sitting. Something unskimmable. Not sad, really. Not devastating in the usual or popular ways. And I could not find that sweet spot out there. So I started my own journal.



20 May


Pink Martini and the Von Trapps. Dream a Little Dream.

27 Feb

Fifth-month Flowers. A Prints Project response from Robyn Ryle.

9 Oct


Fifth-month flowers experienced

He tells her that not everyone knows the language of gardens. Not everyone can read it among the blooms.
In this town, they love columbine, but in the suburb where he grew up, they’re rare. Here the irises are all purple and down the street, they’re yellow. In the south where he married, they love thick borders of a grass that puts out tiny purple flowers in the fall. You will not see it north of the river.
He has thought long and hard about the intricacies of gardens. It’s a lifetime of knowledge he wants to tell her, but sometimes it is hard to remember all the words.

The kosmos, and the modern reports

“Did you see about that poor child?” she asks. He has to nod and pretend. He doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She watches the news. She scrolls through the reports on her phone. She knows all the right things to be afraid of. She knows who’s trying to pull the wool over her eyes. She knows when to answer the phone and when to let it ring.
He walks by her house sometimes. The glow of the television through the window is beautiful, but the stars look better when your breath makes a mist on the night air.

I conn’d old times

She kept in her living room an old ash tray stand. It belonged to her grandmother. He focused on that. He wanted to love her. It was important, even if he wasn’t sure exactly why.
“What was she like?” he asked.
“She was quiet.” She smoothed her hand down over the fabric of her skirt and he knew this was what her grandmother had done as well. He could see it all for a moment in the late afternoon light. The bright, angry beam that fell across the couch and made him have to squint.

I will make poems of materials

“There’s nothing there,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like my skin’s just wrapped around emptiness.”
“I know what you mean.” He touched her wrist. Ran his finger along her palm. No part of them was unchanged. Even the color of her eyes had faded. Sometimes he could see his life as nothing more than a succession of ages his past self could never imagine, reached and then passed. Normal and then gone, like signs fading into the distance.
They had to press long and firm against each other’s skin to feel the warmth that was still there, but they learned well enough.

What the talkers were talking

He thought if she were a girl now, they’d find a syndrome for her. The attention thing or the autism thing. They would zoom in on her with their fine lenses and they would tell her what was wrong.
“What do you see in her?” his sister asked. They were too old for pleasantries, the only members of their family left alive.
He saw in her shiny stones. Dirt tracks across a clean carpet. He saw clouds moving across the sky filled with indifference. He saw anxious glances away when she opened her mouth to speak. He saw the pink inside of her mouth. The orange-ish lipstick she still wore. That he liked her lips best when it was wiped clean at night before she got in bed.
He saw the possibility that both of them could still change. Could still do that slow bend towards another person, even if everyone could hear their bones creak.

The press of my foot to the earth

She left in the spring, before the first crocuses. She told him the winter broke her. She was moving to South Carolina. She would rent a condo close to her son and her grandchildren.
“Is it what you want?” he asked.
“I’m so tired of that question,” she said.

Through me many long dumb voices

She wrote a few letters and it was as if someone else was speaking. He worried she was dead and someone was deceiving him. They were poetry, her words. He compared them to a note she left on his fridge once. “Your trash stinks,” the note read. “Take it out.” The shape of the letters were the same. Perhaps South Carolina made her into someone else when he couldn’t.
“I liked being old with you,” she wrote in her letters. “I liked the match of our wrinkles. I liked the names of the flowers. Viburnum opulus. Tradescantia. Ornithogalum umbellatum. Helianthus annuus.”
She did not say she missed him. She did not ask him to come. “There are flowers here all year long,” she wrote.
He kept the letters in his pocket. He ran his hands across the grass in his garden and knew he was not done with endings yet.




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