Book Review

Review of Savannah Slone’s Hearing the Underwater

Review of Savannah Slone’s poetry chapbook Hearing the Underwater, available now through Finishing Line Press.

By Melinda Ruth, Poetry Editor

In Hearing the Underwater, Savannah Slone’s first chapbook, the speaker invites you to immerse yourself with her, to linger and listen to what the water tells you. In this collection, sound is synonymous with submersion, and concerned with the truth beneath the surface. Each poem is a key to unlocking the reflective power of water in the world and in the body of the speaker.

We begin with leaving.

In the opening poem, “Venal Exodus,” or the corrupt evacuation, we are splashed with sharp sounds from the first lines, “Chalkboard paint. Bruises. / The Midnight Cousin,” and “Three sizzling ticks, pulled/ loose,” sounds that amp our adrenaline with the speaker’s to ride the fast pace of growing up in a broken home where everything ends, but also begins.

In this poem we are shown the underhanded leaving of the mother’s boyfriend in the lines, “Bang./ Mom’s boyfriend stains field// crimson with self-inflicted farewell.” Here we have the first leaving of childhood and possibilities. Here, the stanza break prolongs the experience, keeping the reader poised to fall with her. Yet the poem ends by undermining this exodus, in the lines,

Are you crying because he did this to your family
or are you just mad that now you won’t ever

get to take
this
option
out?

This ending slows the reader down and sets us up for the stagnation, this wading in place the speaker must fight against.

The second poem, “Cynicism and Other Synonyms,” continues the slowing ending of the first poem, forcing us to linger with the speaker, treading in the foggy waters of depression. By manipulating line lengths, Slone speeds us up and slows us down like the drifts of ocean waves. In the lines,

and my name
with cynicism
and other synonyms
because
here I am

                              here.

We see the effect of “Venal Exodus” in which the speaker is still here because she can’t choose the other way out.

But not all of Slone’s poems focus on the farewell. In the prose poem, “Ode to the Uterus,” the speaker takes on a more political tone and addresses the issues of reproduction and sexuality, in which another kind of water pools. Here, the speaker states, “shoreline mirrors sex mirrors making me a mother mirrors making my mother’s mother a mother mirrors.” Not only do the mother and the men became a reflection of the speaker, like the smooth surface of water, but also a reflection of history: of the speaker’s family, and of the world.

In this, and many other poems, the speaker grapples with the power of life, of men, of sex, of birth, of being a woman. This power is much different from the power of death that opens the book, and acts as a point of tension between the past and the now. The fluctuations of power become central to the speaker’s perception of life.

Further in, Slone ties the theme of the mother’s boyfriend’s suicide to the modern day gun rights debate. In the poem, “Within Your White Picket Fence,” the speaker states that,

your erasure tongues don’t
decompose your rags
don’t fill the dying bullet
holes of those whose throats are running raw.

In this instance, the poem acts as Aletheia, disclosing the truth trying to be concealed in which gun violence intrudes on life, both her own and others, and is another kind of power.

The speaker asserts that in this America, there is no way out alive.

Similarly, in the poem “hollow lungs, eyes, kazoos, and fingernails,” the speaker addresses the brutality of power, asserting that this is on all of our hands. In the lines,

we bury disassembled
rag dolls, pouring the nectar of humanity
over top the neglected
handcuffs.

The nectar of humanity acts as that water that encompasses us all, through tears, through body and blood, through that shared genesis of the world in which we were all once ocean.

In this poem, the deliberate choice to refrain from capitalizing becomes a commentary on power and subjugation in which the power of the gun, of the inherent violence of police oppression is enacted through form. As lowercase has no power over uppercase, the speaker has no power over life. The poem also incorporates shorter lines that are cut off before they can finish, contributing to the narrative.

In the penultimate poem, “The Table Where We Sat and Sit,” signals the emersion, the slow rise of the speaker. In the line, “I gifted my mom an orphaned quarter…” the quarter is integral because it returns to the theme of money, of growing up poor, but it also signifies the beginnings of the patchwork needed to quilt the past with the present, bringing mother and daughter together again. In this quarter we see the mercy the speaker needs to learn to show herself, as well as the powerplay of currency.

The collection closes with “Muzzled Magic,” a prose poem that grounds the reader in the real and now, closing off the magic of water and reflection. Through the lines, “yarn scrapes against cracked palms. Playground of ghost tongues […] the other forgotten, fossilized teeth,” we can see the cyclical nature of death and life, in which the speaker must figure out how to begin the long slow process of sewing herself back up. In this sense, the poem takes on the final form of water, a tool used as divination, as the speaker is still seeking that last exit strategy, that final farewell of death, that is our ultimate, and prolonged, ending.

Hearing the Underwater is a poignant commentary on the depths in which power and pain dwell inside the heart’s ocean. Amid the unsettling conditions of growing up and living in today’s America, Savannah Slone invites the reader to drown with her, to wallow and listen to the slow siren song of life, death and regeneration in which we all must follow. Grab a copy at Finishing Line Press today!


Melinda is a Baltimore transplant who is currently a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas, seeking her MFA in Poetry. She has pieces published in Pleiades, The Emerson Review, Red Earth Review, and more. When not writing, Melinda enjoys good coffee, expanding her artistic tastes and late nights with her dog.
Arkana News

Issue 4 Notes from the Editors

A note about Issue 4 and Arkana‘s past, present, and future.

by Cassie Hayes, Managing Editor

Arkana, a journal of mysteries and marginalized voices, is now two years old.

I have been working with the journal since it was only a name, a Submittable page, and an empty WordPress site. Now we’ve just published our fourth issue, received thousands of submissions, and been fortunate enough to promote over fifty new works of literature and art from talented contributors from all walks of life. I remember our pride and awe at our first launch party, when we looked up at the journal projected before us—this thing we filled with our time, hard work, and passion, this thing that hadn’t really existed before that day in December 2016. It is a wonderful feeling, creating something beautiful and worthwhile. It’s an even more wonderful feeling to have created something beautiful and worthwhile with friends and cohorts, fellow editors and students on our staff and fellow writers toiling on their craft who took the time to send their art to us and let us make their voices part of the journal.

At the launch of our first issue, I remember understanding for the first time the power and importance of literary community. I remember being in awe at what in only a few months we had managed to create. And I remember feeling pride and excitement—amazed that I got to be a part of this larger literary conversation.

The launch of Issue 4 felt no different. I am overwhelmed by what the Arkana contributors and staff have managed to create.

For this issue, we received over 500 submissions from talented artists and writers across the globe. After combing through the slush pile, careful consideration of each submitted piece, and several tough discussions, we managed to narrow all those submissions down to the twelve new written pieces featured in Issue 4.

The work in this issue is powerful and reflective. Characters and narrators proclaim their identities, confess their secrets, and brave human mystery—touching on themes of family, sexuality, longing, faith, romance, home, hope and hopelessness. The work in this issue finds light in the dark and dangerous, beauty in the ordinary or cast aside, and clarity in chaos. The work in this issue probes the complexities of life—accomplishing the goal of all great art.

The word “journal” in Middle English meant “a book containing the appointed times of daily prayers.” It was tied to the everyday but also the sacred, the spiritual. At Arkana, we strive to be champions of the arcane—writers, editors, and artists putting together a journal of mysteries and marginalized voices, a journal that is everyday but sacred, a journal of writing and art that explores and celebrates the everyday and the sacred.

Issue 4 encapsulates this mission. Just take a look at the way this issue explores the sacred in texts such as “The Anchorite’s Tale” and “On the Oregon Coast”. Look at how it explores the everyday sacredness of home in “What I Remember from Missouri” and “The Bomb Beneath My Skin.” Feel what it means to look back, to struggle, to love in “How to Love Her,” “What you learned as a boy,” “Now—after time—I am willing to admit,” “Ohio Deathbed, 1990,” and “My Father Wore Another Man’s Pants.” And experience confession, it’s joy and it’s dangers, in “623,” “War Commentary #49, #50, and #51,” and “The Secrets of Ellwood County.”

Because the last class to have been here since the very beginning—since the naming of Arkana, crafting our mission statement, and planning the journal before it was a journal—have graduated, Issue 4 is both a capstone and a foundation. It is a statement. This is how far we have come. And this is the starting point from which we will continue to grow.

To the contributors of Arkana, thank you for trusting us with your art. To the staff of Arkana, past and present (and future), thank you for dedicating time and work to the creation and continuation of this journal and its mission. And to the readers, thank you for your appreciation of contemporary literature and for searching—along with the contributors and staff—for answers to the unanswerable questions of life and humanity by experiencing and promoting writing and art.

In other words, thank you to the community surrounding Arkana for continuing to question, wonder, explore mystery, and listen to the marginalized and those whose voices have been silenced.

Check out Issue 4, submit your art and written work to Arkana’s next issue in the fall, and we look forward to continuing to evolve and innovate as a journal.

Read Issue 4 here: arkanamag.org.


Cassie Hayes is from Waxahachie, Texas and attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. She works as an editorial intern at Sundress Publications. Under her pen-name, her poetry and prose has been published in From Sac, Cabinet of Heed, L’Éphémère Reveiw, and elsewhere.
Series

Favorite Five Lit Mags

Part of a series in which members of the Arkana staff list some of their favorite artworks.

by Cassie Hayes, Managing Editor

Here’s a list of five literary journals that I love to read (and look at, and listen to). I like journals that do innovative things with technology while also remaining very true to themselves and to who they are as a journal. Literary magazines are works of art by themselves, put together by the writers, editors, staff members, and readers with the same care and passion that goes into a sculpture or a painting—and looking at the following five journals always reminds me of that. Of course, this list is not complete—there are so many amazing, innovative literary journals out there, and these are just the five that I’ve recently been reading. I hope you check them out once you’ve read through the issues of Arkana!

American Short Fiction

I’m a fiction writer and reader—I love seeing cutting-edge fiction. I’m also from Texas. So I adore this literary journal that publishes short fiction and is based in Austin. Every time I go into a Barnes & Noble, I make a beeline for the magazines to pick up American Short Fiction, which is always well made yet not pricey, and includes not only wonderful writing but interesting illustrations and designs within their pages. I am always in awe and (I’ll admit it) a little jealous of the quality of writing included, and after reading I am always left with lots to ponder and plenty of inspiration for my own work.

The Drum

The Drum is “a literary magazine for your ears.” It’s entirely audio and includes work that focuses on the musicality of language. With downloadable content, I like downloading a story, essay, interview, or poem and listening while I workout or do housework, sort of like podcasts.

Image Journal

This literary magazine is not only visually stunning, but it also includes thought-provoking writing that grapples with issues of faith—specifically through the lens of the Western religions Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Spiritual without being preachy, the work in this journal muses on deep and human topics that are always worth the read. I also love the interviews included in the journal, in which writers and artists talk about their craft and their work, as well as spirituality.

Storychord

This literary journal did innovative things with multimedia by pairing a short story with art and music every other Monday. As of November 2017, the site stopped accepting new work for publication, but you can still comb through their archives to see all the great work they published since 2010.

Memoir Mixtapes

On their website, Memoir Mixtapes claimes to be “the ultimate mashup of the two things we all love to talk about: ourselves and music.” Not only will you find some cool writing in this journal, but you’ll also stumble upon some great music that you might have never heard or haven’t thought about for a while.

Thanks for reading this list of some of my favorite literary journals. There are plenty of wonderful lit mags out there, and I hope you discover and rediscover some of your favorites while thinking about this list!


Cassie Hayes is from Waxahachie, Texas and attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. She is an editorial intern at Sundress Publications, and her fiction and poetry appear in various online and print literary journals.
Interview

Interview with Micha Meinderts

Arkana‘s interview with Dutch author Micha Meinderts.

by A. É. Coleman, Audio and Art Consultant

It’s a day of firsts. Not only has Arkana crossed national boundaries with our interview of Dutch author and trans activist, Micha Meinderts, but it is also our first video interview. We were honored to have Micha as our guest on this maiden voyage.

Micha is the author of five books, the most recent of which being Aldus Sybren. This is an autobiographical work of fiction about the main character, Sybren, who was born a female in the Netherlands, grew up in the US where “she” transitioned to he, and is now returning to the Netherlands as an adult male to both find his way among men and his place as a stranger in his homeland.

http://www.michameinderts.nl
https://www.facebook.com/aldusSybren/
https://twitter.com/michameinderts
https://www.instagram.com/michameinderts


Originally from Oklahoma, A. É. Coleman writes fiction, comics, and questionable poetry.  He’s a Navy vet who owns cats, plays bagpipes, and listens to science podcasts while pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas.
Book Review

The Way of the Writer

A review of The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson.

by Cassie Hayes, Managing Editor

Reading Charles Johnson’s book The Way of the Writer is a lot like listening to your dad. One-third of it is fragmented, rambling anecdotes about people you have only heard of vaguely. One-third is a lecture about how society is going to pot. Then there’s a third of hard-earned and sensitive wisdom that keeps you pondering for days. And the wisdom is why it’s worth it to keep listening.

The book came about when the poet E. Ethelbert Miller asked Johnson via email a long series of questions about Johnson’s life, career, philosophy, and craft. Johnson later took what he’d written to Miller and edited and combined the emails to become The Way of the Writer, something akin to Stephen King’s On Writing, but more literary, more academic, and more philosophical, probably because of the different personality behind the writing. Because of the fractured origins of the work, the book feels very pieced together, going through wide-ranging subjects and—sometimes annoyingly—repeating and cycling back to information and ideas over and over again. It’s not completely a craft book. It’s not completely a memoir. It’s not completely a philosophical exploration. It’s not completely anything—except an opportunity to be a fly on the wall as E. Ethelbert Miller’s brain-picking questions lead to a very talented and brilliant philosopher, educator, artist, and writer opening up about what he’s learned over his long and productive career.

Throughout the book, Johnson preaches discipline, patience, dedication, curiosity, and getting pure enjoyment out of your work. His advice ranges from the broad, such as that a writer may have to “work a lifetime before he (or she) stumbles upon that one story that becomes an archetype for our thoughts, feelings, and experiences,” to advice more specific, such as how to better develop dialogue and characterization and the importance of plot in fictional works. These more craft-specific chapters are what I find most compelling. The chapters that feel more like memoir come across as preachy, and the philosophy chapters—such as the entire sixth and final section of the book—come across as pompous and educated-out-the-wazoo.

But in those craft-based chapters, Johnson’s sensitivity and his true passion for literature and young writers shines through. “Despite its importance,” Johnson writes, “art should always be a form of play.” He rants about “the natural, inevitable, and annoying human tendency to oversimplify people and things (or any phenomenon) to make them manageable,” which makes me want to give him a standing ovation. He includes writing exercises and tips he used in his classes while he was teaching at the University of Washington, gives several examples of books that have helped him and his students over the years, and even offers a chart of a hundred of the best opening sentences of some classic books.

Although you could certainly take the fact that he includes the opening sentence of Middle Passage, his own book, on this list of best opening lines as proof that he’s not exactly the most humble or unbiased of guys, I like how personal the book is. This book is not meant to be a “how to be a writer” book. It is the way of the writer—what works and what doesn’t for this particular writer, Charles Johnson.

Out-of-touch and elitist at its worst, refreshingly old-school at its best, Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer is a fascinating read in which you feel like you’re swept away in the writer’s own thought process and struggle to make meaning of his life, world, and craft. It ends on a sour note, with the final section focused more on philosophy than writing and that detracts from the power of his earlier craft-based discussions. (A good rule of thumb for you writers out there: if you start rambling about Sartre, you’ve probably gone on too long, and you had better have a dang good reason for it.) But, despite the ending, there’s a lot to learn from someone who’s had such a long, disciplined, and passionate career. I would highly recommend The Way of the Writer for anyone interested in fiction or teaching, and it’s an interesting and helpful read for anyone interested in nonfiction. There’s not much about poetry, but the ideas behind the book are useful for anyone interested in pursuing the writing life. (If you’re willing to tune out the constant name-dropping of John Gardener, which verges on the obsessive.)

In his chapter on writing book reviews, Johnson writes that he tries to include as many quotes from the book being reviewed as possible, so that readers of the review will be able to get a taste of the author’s writing for themselves. So, I will end this blog post book review with words directly from the introduction of The Way of the Writer:

“It is all one piece, this writing life, and each activity—professional and personal—enriches the others. Everything flows from the same source—the love of art. All art.

For the kind of writer I’ve just described, what might have been selfish or ego-driven at the onset of his or her career gives way—as is always the case with love—to the simple desire to humbly serve and possibly enrich, if we are lucky, literary culture of our time.

My hope is that, if nothing else, readers young and old, beginners and veterans, will experience on these pages devoted to the craft, the discipline, the calling of writing, that predisposition to love the goodness, truth, and beauty found in fine writing (and all well-wrought art). And to see that serving such a mistress for a lifetime is, in the truest sense of the word, a privilege and a blessing.”


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She got her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington, and she currently attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas. Her work appears in From Sac, Five:2:One, Work Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.
Arkana News

ARKANA UPDATE

by the Arkana Staff

TODAY our brand new issue went live on our main website: arkanamag.org! This issue contains twelve new works of literature, including four short stories, four poems, an illustrated narrative, a work of creative nonfiction, and two author interviews.

The short stories range from the exploring the magic of nature in “In the Forests of the Night,” to coming-of-age tales as kids encounter life’s complexities in “Shelter,” to the supernatural mysteriousness of “Empty as Churches,” to the humorous anecdotes of “The Obituary” and “The Poets Registry Office” in “Two Conversations.”

The poems—“Grandma’s living room of false gods,” “Sunflower,” “My Beautiful Radium,” and “Mad Woman” deal with madness and hate, family and place, and all touch on our mission statement’s promise to “seek and foster a sense of shared wonder.”

The illustrated narrative, “Being Rita,” is a beautiful work pairing visuals and the written word, both mediums coming together to portray the confliction of having difficult or unpleasant family members.

The creative nonfiction, “To the First Time Flier,” presents a narrator musing on America and privilege when talking with an immigrant on a flight to America.

And, finally, members of our staff were lucky enough to get to interview two authors for this issue—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and the forthcoming An American Marriage, and Alexander Weinstein, author of the speculative fiction short story collection Children of the New World.

Also, we’re super excited to feature four original works of art with some pieces in this issue. Make sure to check out Sarah Simon’s work with “Grandma’s living room of false gods,” Thomas Gillaspy’s work with “Empty as Churches,” Deborah Torley Stephan’s work with “In the Forests of the Night,” and Rollin Jewett’s work with “Two Conversations.”

We hope you enjoy all the new work we uncovered through reading through submissions and through some wonderful writers and authors taking the time to send work our way. Anyone who wants to come is invited to our Issue 3 launch party, and stay tuned to our blog for some notes from the Issue 3 genre editors about the work included in the issue.

Head on over to arkanamag.org to start reading Issue 3 or our archived issues now!

Arkana News

Issue Three Launch Party

An invitation to the launch party of Arkana’s third issue.

by the Arkana Staff

YOU’RE INVITED to the launch party for Arkana’s third issue! The party will be held on December 5 at 5pm at the Lantern Theatre in Conway, Arkansas. We’ll be celebrating all the hard work of our staff as well as the work of our twelve new contributors that will be included in our upcoming issue.

We’d love to see you there!

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