Featured Interview with Jon Tribble Creative Talks with Deidre Madsen, James H. Duncan and others Poetry Prose Photography Issue 3 1 | The Blue Mountain Review Issue 3
The Blue Mountain Review All rights to the works within this issue remain with the respective artists and writers.
Masthead: Poetry Editor â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Chani Zwibel Prose Editor - Jennifer Avery Interviews Conducted & Collected by - Clifford Brooks & Holly Holt The Southern Collective Experience The Blue Mountain Review email@example.com
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Table of Contents Introduction.........................................................................................................................4 Tracy Kincaid........................................................................................................................7 Will Mayo............................................................................................................................14 Musician Feature with Adam Kadmon...............................................................................16 Marianne Szlyk...................................................................................................................19 James Murdock..................................................................................................................26 Newcomer Interview with Deidre Madsen.........................................................................34
Gerry LaFemina.................................................................................................................39 Sybil Baker..........................................................................................................................45 Special Magazine-to-Magazine Interview: Mad Swirl.......................................................52 Peter Ristuccia...................................................................................................................60 Dr. John Ratledge..............................................................................................................64 Featured Interview with Jon Tribble.................................................................................67 Pam Baker Arena................................................................................................................83 Russell Helms.....................................................................................................................86
Outsider Interview with James H. Duncan........................................................................88 Michael Murphy Burke.......................................................................................................95 Regina Walker....................................................................................................................97 Luke Hankins.....................................................................................................................99 Interview with Keith Hughes............................................................................................102 Rowan Johnson................................................................................................................109 Founding Brother Feature: Felino A. Soriano..................................................................112 Brent Ellis.........................................................................................................................119 Amanda Brendel...............................................................................................................121 Mechelle Ballew................................................................................................................123 A Talk about Faith with Rick Ward-Harder......................................................................129 Outro.................................................................................................................................135
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I've written these words before from the dreams and depths of my wildest, imaginative soul. I write these words today from a place of peace and security: Many see the “new year” as starting on January 1st. However, I feel that the year becomes “new” when winter breaks and Daylight Saving Time lets loose a flood of sunshine. The fresh growth makes the view burst, pop, and then quietly hums to itself - providing not only a sight to see, but a song for which to listen. I have a best friend, Russell Howard, who knows everything about birds. His knowledge of all things fowl played well into a discussion I recently had with colleague, James H. Duncan, about the critical skill of listening. Together, they led me to the symphony of birds. Russell, the lay-ornithologist, can hear a bird, or several birds, and tell you without hesitation what kind it is. Then he adds the specifics of their breeding habits, plumage, and migration. I am a wonderstruck kid every time he talks about them, not robbed of nature’s magic with the gain of a name, but swoon at how words, sounds, smells, and friendships come together to prove the Universe is one spectacularly groovy place. Those meant to be in your life for a moment are fleeting blessings. Those that hang around for the long-haul, like Russell and James, well, they are saints in a land that can seem too unholy. I listen. More than ever before in my life I shut my trap and let others sing, cajole, and laugh. It’s humbling to take a back seat. It is restful. It is to take a deep breath of hopeful resignation, and then exhale all the noise I’ve put too much stock in while drudging through the old year. This year is about looking forward, not backward with the poisonous perspective too much nostalgia can knit from nothing. It’s never a matter of which side is greener. The point is to kick down the fence and find peace in it all. I turned 41-years-old this year, and can say with certainty that Jung is dead-bang right with the quote, “All life before 40 is just research.” I listen because I am far from figuring it all out, but I believe I have a few notions close to correct. To listen is to love. Love is another aspect of the human condition talked about at length in my first book, and a point of contentment with contention in my second – Athena Departs. You can’t get through spring without thinking, experiencing, or finding a full rebirth of what love is in a sea of misused sentiments. If you think you haven’t, I promise you will. 4 | The Blue Mountain Review Issue 3
The heart listens. The pumping, pulsing, heaving organ that’s as skittish as a wren on a low wire reaches out, and if Aristophanes is right, that loose half-sphere of another with your number congeals, softly, into one, perfect circle. Love is hope. Love is freedom. Love is to see another thrive and take joy in their joy. It is curious to me how someone can be thrown into a grump when given the chance to be giddy mankind is still capable of that single emotion that keeps us off the brink of chaos – Love. Let’s all love lucky and discover our own birds to admire, friends to find cheer, and lovers to leave us spellbound that the sun can do so much. Thank God for spring. Clifford Brooks
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The Writer’s High Retreat™
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Tracy Kincaid has been living in the fast lane of “Corporate America” for the past 16 years. In the 24/7 cutthroat business world of fresh bulk commodity sales, she finds very little down time to do much of anything else. In this role, she has had the pleasure of padlocking some very key contacts/friendship from the West to East Coast, and even abroad from time to time. What free time she is able to find, she utilizes by releasing her creative alter ego in a soft, tactful, southern sassy way. This is thrown against the wall in the form of poetry and short story writings, visional arts, home décor, and event consulting. Tracy dabbled in an accounting curriculum at Pickens Tech (when it was named as such) but was thrown wide open into Corporate America shortly after and was unable to finish her pursuit of a degree there. Opportunity called and she took it by the horns like she does anything else that may find its way into her path! This journey has served her well over the years and built relationships and self-reflection that is everlasting.
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Will Mayo What Lurks In These Woods It happened one night in the summer of my seventh year that my father and I were headed home from the family farm when we spied a car ahead of ours blocking the little one lane road we were on. As there was no way around the car we walked forward to touch base with the driver. Out of the vehicle hopped a pimply teenager with a worried look on his face. “You’ve got to see this yourselves to believe it,” he said. We walked around the car and saw there in its path one of those monsters out of the Alabama woods, an enormous snake easily 12 feet long and as big around as a strong man’s thigh. Though it had clearly been run over it writhed back and forth on the pavement with a couple of dents in its side. Not knowing what else to say, my father simply advised the teen to “Just run over it a couple more times, will you?” The teenager took my Dad’s advice to heart and climbed back into his Chevy and ran over the rattler once, then twice, then stopped. He got out again and came back our way. “I figure he’s met his end at last,” the boy said. Sure enough, the rattlesnake was in his death throes. Back and forth it weaved on the country road coming ever nearer and nearer my little boy feet. Spellbound, I watched it as if hypnotized by the sight. “Best not too close, son,” my father said to me with a hand on my shoulder. “He may be dying, but dying still he can bite.” At last, the reptile ceased its writhing before us and came to a stop. We watched in silence as the boy easily manhandled the snake into his car and cranked up the engine. “Tastes like chicken, I hear,” my Dad said to the teenager. “Yep,” the boy replied. Together, we saw him head off and then got back into our own car and headed out of those woods. The darkness swallowed us whole.
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Will Mayo has been active in the small press for the past 25 years. He lives in Frederick, Maryland with his six-toed black cat, Miss Velvet, an enormous collection of unread books, and a few strange artworks to which he's taken a passing fancy. He hopes someday to meet the perfect coffee lover. Beyond that, little more need be said.
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Musician Feature with Adam Kadmon Compiled and Composed by Clifford Brooks When you meet Adam Kadmon, you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t help but feel calmer when you walk away. I have seen him play on a few occasions, and that same feeling of an inherent Zen is present in his music, too. Once you work in enough circles of various artists you get a feeling for those who are earnest and pure within their craft the moment you shake hands. I noticed how easy it is to write a few notes on a new poem, listen to him tool around with a few blues progressions, and fall silent. Silence is a lost art to many, but Adam carries around a brand of it Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve encountered only when surrounded by nature. This transcendental feel with a Beat kind of bluesman hems together a unique perspective on music, how to navigate its often choppy waters, and the way an artist can keep a firm hold on his center while so much vibrant sound belts out. Adam Kadmon is our featured artists in this issue of the Blue Mountain Review, and our honor to present to you. 1) What has been some of the unforeseen benefits, or unexpected stresses, you've encountered while developing your sound, songwriting, and/or relationships with your peers? We live in a world of artists, of creative geniuses, and all human potential points to this fact. As a musician you can basically use this potential in a way you can't in the other arts and sciences, even writing. Music carries frequency and tone, and sometimes people feel what ether you are pulling from without you having to say or explain anything, just by being in the presence of your song. That can be a stressful responsibility, to know that you are causing effects in listeners. That is the paradoxical benefit/stress dynamic. I could go into details, but literally every benefit and stress comes from that fact. 2) I have to ask, and genuinely curious, who your top 5 major influences are in how you create the voice, tone, and delivery special to your performances. Hit me with the good stuff. I could get straight to the point and say Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and Stevie Nix and the like, but I would be lying. My true influence is hip hop music, which 16 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
is why the first album i ever bought was Bad Boy and the Family, before Biggie was gone. That and Sheryl Crowe, because a Change Would Do You Good. 3) What do you see as the biggest mistake musicians make as they begin to build notoriety in the field of music? Thinking they have notoriety. 4) There is a great deal of debate on how much time should be spent on using social media for promotion. Do you find that it helps or hinders? What are a few odd situations you've found that it has created in your career? The way people became "celebrities" in the music industry back when it began in America and Europe obviously was and is and will always be different now unless the internet goes out, which is always possible. The internet has in one way leveled the playing field, and in one way made it more difficult for true musical artists to be heard because if you are an artist with social media you can make more of a facade around yourself than someone who isn't that gifted with social media in particular. Social media is a whole art and science in itself. There are algorithms to it that they created but then there are also people who are just popular, so it just naturally flows for them. I've met "famous people" (i just dont like calling them that) because of Facebook and Twitter that would have never talked to me otherwise, but they for some reason were attracted to me through Social Media. The same is true for alot of my friends. In the end tho, try and break new ground or improve old ground. Make good music and your success will flow naturally through your social media outlets, even if you are small. Appearances can be deceiving. 5) What is it that you do to remove yourself from the chaos of creation to rebuild your focus on the music, and escape what may seem an endless onslaught of public attention?
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Go to the woods. Go to my friends who keep me grounded. Talk to my grandma and get a dose of reality. Talk to people, don't ignore them. If I see someone who maybe likes my energy or really despises me and just wants to tell me that, I let them. For some reason itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s always worked in my favor in creating safe space for my music to exist and still come through a genuine channel. I try to just keep in my mind that the channel is myself and the cosmic energy of spirit, and in the end it's really not that big of a deal. instagram.com/adamkisalive https://www.facebook.com/adamkadmonmusic www.reverbnation.com/adamkadmonmusic twitter.com/amadeuskadmon
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Marianne Szlyk The Poet Charlotte Drives Away Her brain buzzing with botany, backpack crammed with ungraded papers, Charlotte wants to create a found poem, transmuting the latest scientific research from Memoirs of the New York Botanical Gardens into poetry about lichen and peat mosses. She crosses the quad, contemplating the students amongst the bricks and roses. A girl in a sari tries to sell her a samosa. A grad student in a burkha retreats to the library. Charlotte holds her head high and buys nothing. She wants to write free verse arguing against hiding in cloth & custom from the sunlit life. There will be neither lichen nor roses nor research in this poem. Unburdened by sari or burkha or skirt, Charlotte in capri pants hops into the driverâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s seat and peels herself away. She imagines writing a poem for children from the perspective of a girl in a hijab. A driver in a wig and micro mini honks at her for traveling too slowly, too thoughtfully on the highway. Charlotte puts her sandaled foot down and rockets towards home. 19 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
Somewhere further along, past the clot of malls, she merges into traffic, and her mind returns to a sonnet about a man shouting at waves crashing on an empty English shore. She will write this one down in her house like a beekeeperâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hive, one of many in a row on the site of a fallow farm. Her children will buzz around her as bill collectors call.
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Ghost Tour in the Afterlife The car I knew as the White Ghost now haunts the squares of Savannah, carefully turning first one side, then the next, following the trolleys and tourists, allowing its novice driver, a young woman dead from exposure, to navigate the compact city of squares and one-way streets. In this afterlife, no one curses, no one honks, and no one drives up into the mountains through the snowy forest on dirt traces of roads. In this climate, no one dies from exposure. Shaded in winter and summer by evergreen leaves, embellished with Spanish moss, ghosts of flowers and frost, not to be smelled, not to be touched, this one-way street is the world this car was made for. Let the other cars and trucks run free like immense, powerful horses on the routes out of town, the highways to the sea, and the dirt roads, the roads not taken into the mountains miles and miles away from my White Ghost forever negotiating each square, passing the haunted mansions, sometimes reaching the river, always traveling within the world it was made for. 21 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
One Afternoon at Columbia Heights Metro The snow sky colored pigeons chitter over Andy Capp fries in the stairwell. I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t imagine these birds flying away into the metallic blue afternoon. These pigeons are too heavy to fly above the crumpled newspapers on the sidewalk, above clinking glasses at the pizzeria. The pigeons hop, then peck at the dried-out fries, sweet onion grease on pocked metal. Someone dropped the fries even though they were hungry. Someone dropped them, losing their grip, hands too small and numb, their luck too bad. Meanwhile the pigeons gobble up fries.
Marianne Szlyk is a professor at Montgomery College and the editor of The Song Is... Recently, she published her second chapbook, I Dream of Empathy, with Flutter Press. Her first (Listening to Electric Cambodia, Looking Up at Trees of Heaven) is available for free here: http://barometricpressures.blogspot.com/2014/10/listening-toelectric-cambodia-looking.html . Her poems have appeared in Of/with, Poppy Road Review, Long Exposure, bird's thumb, Cacti Fur, Five2One Magazine's #thesideshow, Mad Swirl, Anti-Heroin Chic, Contemporary American Voices, Jellyfish Whispers, Napalm and Novocaine, Silver Birch Press, and other online and print venues including Kind of a Hurricane Press' anthologies. She hopes that you will stop by The Song Is... at http://thesongis.blogspot.com/
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SPRING/SUMMER CONTESTS AT THE SONG IS…
Poems and flash fiction inspired by jazz musicians born in the 1920s… Poems and flash fiction inspired by Latin culture….
photos of Latin culture by Juan Tituana
deadline: 8/19/16 to firstname.lastname@example.org
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www.PACAGeorgia.org https://www.facebook.com/PACAGeorgia What is the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance? PACA was established to give support and assistance to existing arts and historic preservation organizations in Pickens County. With the encouragement and support of county government the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance was formed in the summer of 2007 through a grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts. Pickens County has a rich and diverse array of new and older organizations that provide outstanding programming. The organizationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s vision, mission and core values are stated below. Vision Statement Supporting the Arts and Culture of Pickens County Mission Statement Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for residents, preserve culture, increase educational opportunities in the arts, and promote cultural activities by developing a strong arts and historic preservation environment in Pickens County. Core Values 1. Arts & Culture enrich the lives of Pickens County residents. 2. The arts significantly contribute to the development of children. 3. Planning will be responsive to the voice of arts and cultural organizations and individuals. 4. Preservation of historic resources will retain our cultural heritage and character.
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James Murdock Cosmic Baby I am besieged by the morning star; it illuminates the conundrum I am. I am somewhat a ruler unto myself, yet my conscious action is not what it seems - it descends from higher realms. And yet, I am conscious of this fact. My mind flowers forth from far deeper in space than the place it now inhabits. While watching the earth, the strangers who dwell therein, I am baffled daily at how easily they move around forgetting that it is a planet - in outer space - on which they live and eerily saunter – how little they consider that their every breath is taken halfway down the crooked leg of some bygone, yet lustrous, galaxy. Or perhaps they don’t forget, but I do not find them living accordingly. I want to rise each morning and shout hymns to our mother-planet, to this sweet vessel, and I would if I knew my neighbors wouldn’t stone me to death for witchcraft – I would if I could peaceably be known as one who lives above the world and still be employed, by the world. I would adore standing naked in the understory, abandoning the laws of “civilized” people and crouching like a jungle cat, spying around the woods, stopping to eat fruit now and then. But it is enough that they must see me in the front yard, shirtless and reading, lying in meditation on the bare face of earth, or walking down the road to the pear tree when I could easily drive. For them, it is that I make this statement: there is nothing so desperate as those who follow normalcy for the sake of other’s opinions rather than following the inclinations of their spirit for the sake of their own heart. ----Part of my being is native son, subsisting of the grit and springtime sweetness of our garden home, nurturing the rugged roots given to me, transforming the poison of the world to fresh air. Yet another sector is a lonesome air-child, whose sight is always perched with the black birds upon the boughs of a scaly oak tree, searching further upward. Though I love the landscape dearly – though I reverence it daily – I am bound somewhere to the azure glass ceilings of my own intellect, meant to swim eternally in the mystic twirling star-gas of my own budding imagination – to create brighter worlds within the rigid boundaries of this most perplexing scene. I am one with the surreal, and a fluctuating agent of quantum reality – that thing from which physicists claim whole universes are born. I do not doubt that on some odd primordial sphere, all of my thought-beings, and the objects of my application, are taking shape, crystallizing into a place as physical and stubborn as this one. I would love to meet an extraterrestrial – and to be escorted through the blue-green doorways of our neighbors – but if I am denied it in this life, I will not cease to skip through doorways of wholly new proportions on my own accord. For even as I now close my sober eyes, I am swiftly carried away to the arena of that great cosmic self, of which I am piece and emanation. Listen when I say, my feet have never been prisoners of this world; they but brush the earth and leave her as a quiet base to return to later. Something in my brain is kin to the creating aspect of the universe, and it never leaves me alone. I am always riding the patterned essence of reality outward to it, and it is there that I stare into a mirror far beyond our own star system. And when I see my own 25 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
eyes staring back, I am awakened suddenly to the idea that I am not something diminutive or misplaced; I am the entirety. And I must say to you now: we are all this magic circumstance, looking closely in the mirror, realizing it is the realizing aspect. Together, we are an infant at water’s edge – not yet have we dared to see the depth within us. ----God bless my parents, grandparents. They are responsible for the love I feel for others, for myself. They introduced me to softness and serenity and ushered me to Sunday school. They did not know that while others were in fear of the blood of sacrifice, I was first seeing the Cosmic Christ - the one of universal realization, the I am that we are. Early on, I knew the father-god was a shrouded mystery. The source cannot be seen, just as the river delta has lost sight of the mountain spring, yet its essence is one. I knew the earth was a mother-receptacle, meant to harness and cultivate that which is moving outward from the center. I felt the pain of Jesus. When Christ became aware that he was the rising and setting sun - the beginning and end of an interior consciousness - he must’ve known hopelessness and felt an overwhelming weight of insight. He must have known that it would be ages before his teachings were truly realized, that following him would be a mass procession of catastrophic delusion and violence. He was the channel of the most pure energy in existence - the spring lily in full bloom. That which he saw could not be easily rendered. Humanity had no possibility of comprehending it, had no mechanism with which to funnel such an example. It was doomed to be too much, and yet it was necessary for the nourishing of our infantile planetary perception. Love your neighbor as yourself because they are, as yourself. Watch the flower that neither toils nor spins, but simply is - not lost in the grey combative abstractions of tomorrow but shining forth gloriously as a ray of universal presence, an extension of the unmoved mover, sudden and awake to right-nature - God clothed in ephemeral pedals. It was the oyster of my Baptist rearing which benignly grew an indigo-pearl-lotus of realization. Your consciousness of reality is now bringing about reality. Tell me - how beautifully will you be clothed? ----Most human beings have yet to fully see realty – have yet to truly see nature – because they are, as of yet, the prisoners of their own mental constructions, and of society and of death. People are dying long before they are buried. I wonder how many have left the earth having never closed their eyes to envision the planet from a distance. I wonder how many truly relate to the sacredness of life – how many have ever been awake. I remain half-sedated to my own truths. We cling to philosophies of our fathers too hastily - to the reasons, faiths and conventions of our forbearers – while the open book of God is everywhere before us. We stand afraid of our own alternate perceptions as the traditions of today become the warped insanities of yester-year, and what remains always are ourselves, our original thoughts. I would plainly rather live like a native – in the grasses – than to go on through the drudgery of this flummoxing modernity forever. Let me die a quiet death in this land of bad taste. Our lives should never be so orchestrated for us. We are born and initiated freely by nature, and truly, we must submit to her laws alone. 26 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
People today are ambushed by a more dangerous nature than by a death at the hands of real nature. Dreadfully, the great gift has lost its appeal to most; nothing seems sacred. It is why people thirst for cataclysm – why many would rather have a large rock from space come and crush the earth than to return to work on Monday. There is no danger in a plastic world - no adventure, no beauty, no harmony, as such. When we - as the condition - have long passed, the unconditioned thing will remain. Nature is the mass being of which we are a piece, and her absoluteness stirs within us: trust the sharpness of your wolf-mother heart far above the values of this society; this society is unlike truth. It is forever our alertness to our own autonomy and to the hallowedness of our environment – to the forces from below our feet and moving now through our chests – which shapes the world around us for the better. The individual has the seed within them to become the prime mover of goodness and personal truth. When they find a conscious and compassionate life, they must live on as the purveyor of their own constitution, they must follow the light coming through the window, they must build their own heaven. ----It is important to see earthly nature as cosmic nature - one is the other inside the bubble of a blue atmosphere. A wise wild man once thought, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness”. With this in mind, I sometimes wake up to look out the bathroom window and watch for a moment the fig tree in our backyard. There, in its bushy form, is a picture of our long journey here - of an animal rising from a vegetable, of a spinning sapphire galaxy, joining matter and releasing it without discrimination. Creation tells me this: that intelligence anchors the world, and that it also destroys it. The fig tree is but a window to deeper thought; it must have been put together on one of God’s better days. We must learn to carve out a perspective which continually finds fascination in all of life’s diversity. Though happiness may not be the point of life, it does not fail to help us reach the point. In a word, we must find a way to remain curious about the world, to remain more interested than we are afraid. My freest days are when my mind and body become the simple vehicle of own my wild and irreducible curiosities. Days when I am led aimlessly into a dark forest to saunter along a creek bed and see what flowers or relics I may see - without the slightest care for the precautions of society abroad or for my own burdensome responsibilities – these are days that I own, days when I finally feel holy and complete. Curiosity is perhaps our most underrated virtue. It is thought of as childlike, yet it is what causes us to transcend mechanical actions – it is what makes us godlike. To be aligned with the universe and its beauty is to be playful and curious, like a child. If a person is not curious – and finds no way to see that life is a game - they cease to see the mystery of existence, and sadly, are sleepwalking in Eden. If you are one who always wonders about what treasure may lie around the next bend of the river, keep your neck loose - never stop leaning forward. We must learn to hear the subtle hints of our days and to speak beyond cynicism. People do not rightly move the world until, at last, they see themselves as prime movers. Or if they do not see this, they move without rhythm, and they see nature – all other forms of life - as barbaric, as threatening. It is when we come to realize who is in control 27 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
that we finally take the time to laugh. Nature - whether through trees or stars â&#x20AC;&#x201C; is much more our ally, is much more our guide, than enemy. Once I fell asleep on the ground outside in early summer. When I awoke in the morning, I was covered with the bites of some small insects. I was alarmed at first, but after thinking on it for a moment, I felt proud for having given the colony a free meal for the night. Our relationship with nature is one of give and take. We must learn how to give back before we can receive in a graceful way. It is imperative for a good and full life that we become well-acquainted with the ways of the wild and true culture of the earth. We are not characters without her. But we are the pivotal animal here; it is our prerogative to create hell or to prevent it, to battle or to understand. ----We must know right-thinking is much deeper than thought. It is intuition our evolving consciousness is after. Our higher brain secretly wants to save itself from the chattering mind. Silence is the language right-thinking speaks. Each brain is a receiver. If the receiver be broken, the channel is closed. Intercepting the channel naturally, as a remnant of our early history, is the talking self. It talks of everything, primarily of fear. Beyond the talking brain, among the multitudes of my being, is the watcher - the one who silently watches. He is also the heavy judger of the talking self. He sees the talker as insane and asks him to quiet down. The watcher knows that there is a greater language than that which the talker speaks. The watcher opens the channel again. Silence becomes realization. The talker becomes the pupil and is reborn as an instrument of the inspecting silent mind. This is not new wisdom; it is more ancient than time. Becoming acquainted with the watcher is the doorway to higher intuition, to contentment, to peace, and to understanding. This is a way of finding yourself and of seeing nature. (She is only a killer if we allow the talker to convince us of such.) The only other way to freedom - that I know of - is to admit yourself to the unexamined faiths of religion. (For some of us, that is not possible, and so I am describing the way of self-creation, of a conscious, and therefore higher, metanoia.) The eye is a prism which everywhere and always forms the world. I call my perspective cosmic because it transcends the fearful mind at once. It resides beyond life and death, and is alone yet unified with everything, every object. It is the watcher above the earth and perfect ray of the beautiful. There is no dismay which can overcome it; it is the owner of dread. There is no hurdle which can trip it up; it is the steady ground beneath the hurdle. And blackness cannot remove it; it is the whisper of eternity, an idea permeating through us, which decays but does not die, which bends but it forever unbroken. ----We must recognize that it is a disposition of simplicity which aligns us with the cosmos, with all of life. It is the lack of frivolous want coupled with the ability to see simple beauty that makes a spirit rich with the abundance of existence. This is why the poet owns all. In all truth, my most glorious hours have been in a garden, among the community of plants, heavenly living things. In the crevasses of mountains, I have found whole universes flowering - trickles cutting stone globes, sacred water springing forth to dance as momentary waves across the canvases of landscapes. In mere streams, I have found everything. And this being aware of beauty in nature â&#x20AC;&#x201C; taking in moments to recognize 28 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
carefully – has caused a deep metamorphosis within the steady streams of my perceptions. Simplicity is a path of living which allows a sense of celebration to arise from the basic awareness of one’s own ability to perceive without judgment, to observe without inhibition. Contentment multiplies itself as wonderment and deep-seated gratitude, and as a result, joy is given space to grow quietly into the various avenues of life. Then a voice arises saying, if you are living in a state of persistent desire - if you continually search for happiness outside of yourself - you are missing the point. A debt is an arrangement of slavery. There is no greater slavery than a debt upon the spirit from the heavy chains of mental longing. Only we are the contractors and recipients of such arrangements. I heard my aunt once say to my cousin that if she could be young again, she would marry for money. It was the most alarming sound I’ve heard; it is rhetoric like this that rips families apart. It is my opinion that if you wish to live with such anti-wisdom in-mind, you should do the youth a favor and keep your barefaced stupidity to yourself. I reminded my cousin: some of the happiest people on earth are those who have little, and some of the most poisonous and wretched are owners of worldly empires; “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not!” Let us build up an empire of the spirit overhead, so that everywhere we go, it can descend upon us! The world and the Soul are situated on a ballast scale - you give to one what you take from the other. Our things quickly take our place in the world if we allow them to. ----We must give our best effort to capture what is here, while we are here. Our whole lives are one day on a mossy rock. But it is not so much a capturing as it is a learning to let go. The cycle of a day is our finest instructor: change is; never think it isn’t. The wood sage does not stay with us long; the laurel bloom is but a brief spell which always ended yesterday. You and I are but crested irises – rising from a garden bed we did not plant. Though we are magnificent, we are already gone, and the passionflower which now arises is the scene of a truer heaven on earth. I have been told by an old timer who I love dearly, that one should not be so blissful about life - for a disposition of bliss only brings a quick death. Knowing he was explaining the principle of Darwinism (and seeing the fleetingness of my eyes, trying to give some good advice) – that only the good-hearted die young – I told him of my close relationship to all that is fraught and despicable here, that – as a poet – I also live very near to the despair of human ways. But then I told him that I would rather live one day at peace than to experience a lifetime’s struggle against the inevitable and most natural. When we commonly consider transience, we allow the fearful mind to die – we transcend warfare, and those deranged barriers passed down to us – the ideas we shut out wisdom for – are crushed and suffocated by the overwhelming grip of eternal space. If we can briefly capture a moment’s glimpse at life, the intelligence behind it is forever teaching us that there is nothing to cling to – everywhere is space, everything, constant and new. There is no practice wiser than to re-define yourself commonly - with the start of each new season, on the dawn of each new day, and throughout the movements of your days. Keeping your identity malleable is a doorway to love. It leads to a higher understanding of love – one based in freedom. Without freedom, without openness and trust, love 29 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
cannot grow. The human spirit always rises to break up oppression in whatever form it may take, especially in an unhealthy relationship. There is no personal sacrifice in opening yourself up to see the wholeness of life, to embrace ways unlike what is normal for you. Evolution does not rest upon our stale-cracker culture. It is calling you to be weird – to be weird and to be free. ----I love the mother of my child beyond condition. It is because of people like her that I have learned to be less rigid with things dissimilar to me. She leads by action – louder and more alive than words. It is because I have learned true compassion that I often find myself, these days, in city streets and in country old grocery stores, looking into the eyes of strangers and loving them completely. I am them and their labor is mine. My hands are theirs, and I see them beyond the dull sediment of worldly situations. We are not blizzard-crushed dirt on the roadside to nowhere; we are prism gemstones and channels of divine will. I am not talking about abandoning your beliefs to accept moral ambiguity; I am saying: put down the gun that guards them and learn to love what is beyond your control. Openness is an eternal principle, taught to us not by the customs of olde, but by the wisdom those customs have forgotten – by the great distances of space, by one’s own ability to see the world as miniature. My uncertainties are an openness that I choose to allow. I should not fear them but seek after them. I must admit to myself that I am sure only of my unsureness. My eyes cannot even distinguish what that shadow is disappearing now, at the edge of my garden field. Was it simply the dancing broom sage? The circular oceans demonstrate God’s work with their mysterious depths, and the air between the blue mountains and milky moon becomes a metaphor for the airiness between us and the hard physicality of this place. Space is a force to be harnessed – it is the magnetic opposition to our skeptical daily revulsions. Space investigates our wrongful ambitions and points with a smile at the tired proclivities of civilization. ----The virtue that I hold dearest – that I have learned, at last from the earth – is patience. To me, all virtues follow it and its practice is heavenly work. When our actions are taken patiently, they become forms of art – and we, the artist. Art is whatever is done with a mind geared toward forbearance. The function of art is to recognize beauty and what stands in beauty’s way – the function of art is to see beyond functionality. The work of a conscious life is finding the space to become aware of the most basic art form - living. Patience is the space for self-interpretation. If you have a million tasks, make them one task. Do not rush here and there without considering that you are going to soon disappear. The task you deem so imperative belongs not to you but to the world, at large. It will get done with you or without you. No one is depending on you to save them, and if they are, it is their fault, and their sorrow to bear, as a consequence. Loving people is not the same as coddling them. Be not an acquaintance to ignorance. The only true transformation is that of the self. Societies are always moving toward circular ends – always bearing the saplings of their own negation. It is great individuals who point out strange beauties and dysfunctions, who challenge conventions and create progress. People who live with intention – who embrace the openness of reality – do not shun the bling masses. Calmly and lovingly, they explain what it means to see. ----30 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
Why are we in such a frantic hurry for such deceptive illusions that confront us? The groundhog moves just fast enough to store its food for winter, and if not for the cold, it would not bother to put up acorns. We have created an idea of success that is more like fevered paranoia; it crushes us as we mull through society, and kills everything in its foul shadow. Every child is a flower before the world stops watering them. People say – not with their words but with their expressions – that I must kill myself, my spirit, to go on living. But I know the secret that most people in America have forgotten – the relativity of all things. Though my words hold meaning now, they are relative – awake, yet empty. These words will vanish not long after me. The fences I have put up to keep nature out will be overcome by the creeping great death of eternal ivy. And for that reason, when someone pushes me along, I will go slower. Because our culture lacks all culture, because we have belittled and putrefied nature, because we have no business rushing one another along, those of us listening now have the responsibility to slow down. We must teach the world to adopt a slower pace, or we will race only to a swifter, meaner death. We are in desperate need to simplify our lives. Never before has there been less meaning. The trashiness – the cheap triteness - of our most basic nonsense everywhere litters the landscape, in form of corporate advertising, in the lack of artistic endeavors, in our normalcy, which is dead to wonder. Poetry, philosophy, true science – ideas dedicated to truth – have been murdered by our gross obsession to comfort, apathy, and mechanization. Even barbarism gives me more hope than the drooling silent masses, dead to the mystery of this hour. I am not here to prove that life is purposeful. Truly, I do not know if it is. I am here saying that – if you listen closely – it is teaching; there are lessons hidden in its fabric that we have forgotten about. I believe that if we are always asking if life has a point, we are missing it. That we ask the question is a reflection of the hollowness left in us when we decided that spiritual reality was a fairytale. But the realest lie we are living is that we know it all, have discovered it all, are better than it all. We are dismayed babies who throw our own feces at everything pure and real and sacred. The point is that we put too much value – too much thought – into our definitions of the world. We are not meant to have a stance on everything. The beauty of life is that we do not have to understand it fully. Our demise is that we most blindly idolize everything we like. We obsess to murder. Science or money or even the church, becomes our god - there is no room for God. Is the point of life not to live? ----This essay is a survey of ideas that have come to mind, living on a farm and in the forest valley of a blue mountain. I have found what fills my days with meaning, whether or not they are rendered such by a celestial force. It seems my generation has replaced the word God with the word Universe, but it matters not what we call this force. I believe in meaning because everywhere around me is an intelligence which seems always to be beyond me. But I am not arrogant enough to be certain of my own interpretation. I did not intend to preach here. No one really likes to be preached to, and anyway, I am more prankster than preacher. I have learned that to be less certain about my views is to harbor happiness, contentment. I have found that to lessen my wants is to be grateful for small occurrences - to find the flowering of vegetable plants as supreme miracles, which I have the pleasure of witnessing. In doing so, I have raised a sense of spirituality within 31 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
myself, a love of the ground and sky, a reverence to life, and a kinship with all existence – most notably, what is mysterious and beautiful, yet truthfully, unknown. I did not mean for this to sound like the truth – these are simply my truths, my sights. And it is my only hope that my loved ones may find either peace or humor here. As it has been uttered long before me and with more astounding wisdom than I possess – “it is not what you look at but what you see.”
James Murdock is a twenty-nine year old poet, essayist, and songwriter currently residing in North Jasper County (south of Athens, Georgia). His love for self-expression has burgeoned upon an ardent kinship for the wisdom of American Transcendentalism. He is an advocate of things natural, wild, and free, and his poetry tends to revolve around themes of space, unity, and momentary glances at a surreal and cosmic perspective. Murdock is a naturalist by trade and spends much of his time in the quiet observation of nature, working in his garden, and combing through the woodlands of a farm outside of Monticello, Georgia.
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Newcomer Interview with Deidre Madsen Compiled and Composed by Clifford Brooks I met Deidre Madsen in that inexplicable way Facebook has created between genuine artists. Even in the face of constant negativity, social media can lead kindred spirits towards one another in constructive, complimentary, and blessed ways. For four years, she and I compared notes on the human condition, the use of words to express things best left felt, and irritations that litter the path of all those who strive to experience – truth. Her truth led her to write the book, “Happily Inner After: A Guide to Getting and Keeping Your Knight in Shining Amour.” Deidre doesn’t oversell herself, or try to “sell” anything, actually. She is exactly who she appears to be, and that is the single virtue that coaxed the Southern Collective Experience to invite her to join our fold. It’s groovier than grits that she accepted. In the following interview, I ask her about her life, its lessons, her new book, and opinions concerning everything from realizing true love, to how social media creates a new brand of stalker. Being positive is a mindset too many artists may abandon under heavy strain. I am guilty of it. Many have struggled with it. Deidre sees hope as long as there’s hope to be had. It’s an honor to know it will always – be. 1) What motivated you to spend so much elegant effort and time into creating your book that's surely set to help so many understand love within themselves, and with those around them? The foundation on which this book was formed had everything to do with the many sessions and retreats I held over several years as a life coach. During that time, counseling with individuals as well as couples, it occurred to me that people were trying to fix those around them. In their projections, they were trying to make the other person the problem. Of course this externally focused effort never worked because in the end we cannot really fix others; all we could do is fix ourselves. It’s sort of like looking at your reflection in the mirror first thing in the morning on a bad hair day. You wouldn’t take a comb and reach out and brush the reflection in the mirror. No. You’d take the brush to your own hair and watch the magic happen in the mirror’s reflection. Now it’s a good hair day. I was motivated to discover how to respond and not react to life, to remain focused on the self in lieu of trying to change the world around. That way something truly effective can occur instead of continuing to request someone else be different, change, improve, modify their behavior, or react/respond differently all for the sake of making you fill in the blank (happy, comfortable, safe). 33 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
In relationship to others, if I could find a way to redirect the focus of each person to take care of their own responsibilities including their own fears and beliefs, then surely they can come back into the relationship much more complete and whole. They could have a viable chance at a successful relationship. That took me to another level where those people would then become an even mightier and powerful team together because not only are they loving each other but they are loving that third pillar of space between the two of them. The space between. What is the third pillar? I perform wedding ceremonies as an ordained interfaith Minister. During ceremony, I would see â&#x20AC;&#x153;the two shall become one.â&#x20AC;? Two people, two pillars, two columns of light; when united in holy matrimony create a third space or a third pillar of light. They have the due diligence to uphold and protect this at all costs in order to be a very powerful loving wonderful happy couple on the planet. Everything goes into that beautiful third space that builds and creates this amazing relationship and everyone can benefit from that within the sphere of influence of this happy couple. This is where everything began and why it was so important for me to begin to build a book of work (including a healing modality - Happily Inner After). This emerged to support couples and individuals where the focus truly lies, within each and every one of us. 2) What is the biggest problem, or miscommunication, people in relationships make to create unnecessary tension? The biggest problem in relationships is projection. This is when one takes their issues (fears) and projects them onto the other - consciously or subconsciously. We oftentimes repeat painful patterns from childhood. We hold the other person responsible for our happiness. Failing to remain accountable for one's own issues and fears, belief systems and projections, are the elements that I see time and again that are the biggest Achilles heel to every single relationship without fail. Happily Inner After addresses this neatly within its 15 exercises and 27 communication keys. When we recognize our accountability and take care of that first, everything falls into place because of quantum physics. Quantum physics is this amazing understanding that when you put your attention to a particle it transforms itself into a wave pattern. So if we put our attention to something within ourselves we can shift that energy into something that is holistically smooth and wave-like. This is far more complimentary and supportive of our lives and our partners lives. 3) What do you consider "love"? In America there seems to be only 2 kinds: Love of a romantic nature, and then for family. You rarely hear of love of nature, love of the Creator, whatever the specific faith, or love of friends. It feels as if there is a lack of definition concerning how valuable love is in all its forms. What are your thoughts on this issue? I do feel that defining love in a compartmentalized form is important in some respects. Love on an interpersonal relationship level does relate to Eros â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the epitome of romantic love. What about the type of love that is inner divine love? When I embarked on this spiritual journey of mine back in 1997, I wanted to discover what real love meant and I mean love of that infinite side of myself and from the infinite within 34 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
myself. For example, when you get down to it, there's no one else on the planet that is going to love me more than me; no family member, relation, friend nor lover will be able to love me as much as I can love myself and I mean it from the purest side. I'm talking about a deep love of self that's absolutely not narcissistic but it's truly the deepest sense of inner honoring that you could find. It would be like the God from within that loves me. I'm speaking about an internal love of self that would be considered sacred and divine. That to me is the ultimate because when you're in that state of loving bliss, you're untouchable. You are invincible because nothing can hurt, harm or attack that love â&#x20AC;&#x201C; it is all that is all and nothing can come between you and that beautiful love from within. It is solid and grounded, it is irreplaceable and it is inexhaustible. It is never ending. Many, many scholars and poets speak about this love as being something so divine and sacred that it must be something outside of us like God for example. The journey from outside of ourselves to the inside of ourselves is truly that self-discovery of that one true love. Then once embraced, we emanate this exquisite love. It is magnetic. People are drawn to its beautiful ecstatic elixir of pure magic. From this state of bliss we see love in all things around us. And all is included in this form of love, i.e., nature, animals, the world and the cosmos et al. 4) What have been some of the unexpected joys and/or anxieties around writing this book, and the reception from the public? An unexpected joy for me was simply knowing that I completed something in my life. Don't get me wrong, I complete many goals. However, writing a book, and then seeing that book published are two things that meant more to me than all Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve done in my life. It was most certainly one of the joyful moments knowing that I completed something, and in that completion I now have a great part of me that will live on. Conversely, the greatest anxiety that I had was the absolute fear that I would not in fact complete or publish my book. It was also a great motivator to complete my project because it could be that my ego was certainly driving this to completion I simply had to complete it at all costs. For that part of me, I am grateful. As far as the reception from the public, I believe after 19 years of this work and research, many of my colleagues as well as clients have been happy for this work to finally be available. They have been experiencing it all this time. To know that all of these teachings are in one tidy little book makes me so happy that I can simply refer to it when I'm teaching and training. It's a marvelous feeling knowing that my work can touch other lives now. And do it independently as well. 5) How much faith do you put into social media as far as honest promotion, and then the ideas you share about your personal life? Do you see this as a positive creation, social media, or a distraction? Have you had any new fans latch onto the mistake of you secretly speaking to them - or any, various forms of stalkerish behavior? Social media, I feel, can be a love/hate relationship. It's how to navigate it properly and use it to its greatest advantage. On one hand we have something like Facebook and the like where family and friends are all connecting with us and are happy for our life 35 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
events. I am sincerely grateful for this because I have a huge extended family of cousins and relatives on Facebook. We stay up-to-date with each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lives and it is wonderful. Then there is the business side of things. In some way social media can be an incredible platform to gather and create community. Where other people that are like minded can come together and share a virtual home with other like-minded people. It is like an expansion and also a contraction if we donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get caught up. I see this contraction as a shift from authenticity or to authenticity where we are meeting more face-to-face as a resurgence renaissance connecting heart-to-heart. We should see something like that coming in the near future as well because oftentimes the virtual world can keep us so separated and unauthentic. Nothing is constant. When remaining within the bliss state I find strangers coming up and wanting to be with me, see me, be around me, and be like me. They take things I say personally and feel as if I am speaking directly to them. I find a great compassion for that. I see their pain and their great need. I am their reflection and feel their blessing me in return. Bio: Deidre Madsen, is the award-winning author of Happily Inner After - A Guide to Getting and Keeping Your Knight in Shining Amour. She recently won the Beverly Hills International Book Award as finalist for best New Non-Fiction. She is a lecturer, instructor, spiritual counselor and life coach. She is Psi (parapsychological) specialist (fourth-generation). She is a self-styled quantum activist, following the theories of monistic idealism and tenured as a Supraconsciousness Imagery Guide supported by quantum energetics and phenomenology. Through the ULC Monastery, Modesto, CA, she is an Ordained Interfaith Minister since 2005. She performs weddings and ceremonies, and holds private consultations, group seminars and retreats. Deidre explores, lives and creates puja in some of the world's most sacred sites, including Cahokia Mounds, Monks Mound and Woodhenge (near her birth home). She enjoys creating and performing sacred chants and songs as an efflorescent harpist and flautist (Navajo flute). She has taken independent courses at MIT's open courseware. Some of her past and ongoing research include Depth, Archetypal and Analytical Psychologies, Indigenous Native ceremonial pujas and traditions, Celtic mysticism, Kabbalistic teachings, Bodhidharma's Sanchin, yoga, meditation, Usui Reiki Mastership, Keys of Enoch, Coptic Gnosticism, and is certified in Vibrational Hand-On and Absentia Healing. She is a film producer, an avid actor and performer leaning toward depth or shamanic acting; she is also a vocalist and past dancer and model. She makes her home in Los Angeles, California with her two Maltese dogs.
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Gerry LaFemina The Story of Ash (II) In the seventies ash seemed to be everywhere at the bottom of the hibachi grill mother used for summer barbecues, in the metal trash can where she burned the snap shots, in the cut glass ashtrays on coffee tables where cigarettes consumed themselves, out of a classmate’s chimney & on the stones of the hearth, how his family sprinkled it from a bucket onto sidewalk frost– the grey dust of it fleeing in the first great gust. It scattered like dandelion seed with no wish attached. Maybe that’s the specific sadness of my childhood, the forbidden nature of desire, the understanding that to want was to acknowledge a possible story better than a street of rusting Chevies & stickball, of secondhand paperbacks & secondhand pants. Fuck the catalogues that arrived each November, their glossy inventory of toys. Even the prayers I learned were for others. Really there was no rock large enough, no rock I could hurl that would break 38 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
the window between worlds, & the nuns talking about starving kids in the holy land–those boys & girls were no one I knew. What games did they play? Sometimes today in my better-than life I look at her asleep in the nether light between night & dawn; how I know I’m home, here in this bed, in this small flat, home meaning content & I don’t worry that a brick might crash through the glass shatter the scrim between wakefulness & dream, anymore than I fret a rocket will. This is the luxury of living in the United States of strip malls. Once in the cinema, the projector bulb set fire to the film– the picture dissolved, a whiteness opening from the frame’s center outward until the lives of those onscreen vanished, another few unfinished narratives. My mother demanded restitution from the manager, who sighed & handed her ten dollars back. She spent that money on a spread of cups & wands, the Sun, the Hermit, & Death reversed (for her the Lovers never showed up). Thus it was decided 39 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
we’d move again, & when two days later the old address erupted into a cascade of heat & light that engulfed the sadnesses we’d left in the closets, she called us blessed & never acknowledged how I wore a cologne of smoke. When I think of her at my age she’s just thrown away all the ashtrays her last man used, the ways she did a decade before when my father left. Those relationships, one more cigarette to be crushed. Those relationships, just ash. I was a teenager. What did I know of consolation? Of hurt? Of the fires burning Lebanon? What did I know of the fire that destroyed Sodom? The preachers on TV talked about vengeance & the wrath, the flaming sword like something out of fantasy novels. Imagine dragonflies that breathed fire. There’s a metaphor for munitions. Now fires in Gaza, fires in the Settlements, in Mosul, in Ferguson. Now fires in Syria & in the Ukraine till there’s only smoke, only wailing. The psychic of fire divination asked me to write ten key words about my life on a sheet of paper. Then I lit a match 40 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
as instructed & watched that page as it blossomed into flame. I dropped it into a ceramic bowl. As if they were tea leaves, he read the remains, even dipped his fingers into the soot, rubbed that dust on the tips, then touched my cheek. Everything he said about my life became my story: the past just another fiction of scars anyway, the past scattering in the strong winds, & what he spoke of the future, well, that’s today or else it’s coming soon, & today’s the previews. The woman in this room, she remains asleep & I whisper my one secret to her so it might curl into her dream. About that incident, everything I’ve ever said is a lie– it wasn’t accidental & it defined my life like the soul was so much kindling. When I returned on my bike the smell of fire doused out, the yellow ribbon unfurled the building’s charred frame like the cage of bones within our chests. A cigarette had ignited the old carpet–that’s as good a story as any. No one died so there was no headline, no investigation. Besides, the whole city seemed to be burning, & we’d have to build among the ruins 41 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
as we have for centuries.
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Big Brown Bat Having grown up on Bela Lugosi, I think the name a misnomer–their wingspans average only twelve inches. She studies their migrations I tell her how one night a bat soared from living room to kitchen, & back again. Wingwind grazing my ear. It had found a crevice, climbed inside. I don’t mention the tennis racquet or the way I carried its startled furry body outside, a furiously pulsing half ounce. In those movies, there’s often a scientist & someone who needs saving.
Ditto a romantic subplot & the risk of failure. Echo location: if I’d opened a window it’d have flown right out. How confused it must have been. Frightened. I recall only its wildly beating (like a heart) wings.
Gerry LaFemina is the author of a novel, a collection of short stories, and numerous award-winning collections of poetry, including The Parakeets of Brooklyn, Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist (prose poems), Vanishing Horizon, and Little Heretic. His collection of essays on poets and prosody, Palpable Magic, came out in 2015 from Stephen F Austin University Press. A noted literary arts activist who has served on the Board of Directors of the AWP and edited numerous literary journals and anthologies, LaFemina directs the Center for Literary Arts at Frostburg State University and serves as a Poetry Mentor in the MFA Program at Carlow University.
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Excavations My husband Rowan was tearing down the last board of the dilapidated outside stairs of our house when two women from the Chattanooga Historic Zoning Commission (CHZC) appeared to inform him he had to stop. Did we know our house was part of the Battery Place Historic District? No. And did we know that because our house is part of a historic district, we need permission from the Commission to tear down and build structures on our property? We did not. According to the Design Guidelines for Battery Place, besides being strategically located, the area was the “site of artillery placements in the Civil War.” Civil War buffs know that the greater Chattanooga area was the site for many Civil War battles and skirmishes—including the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle of Chattanooga. During the war, our neighborhood (called Battery McAloon at the time) housed armaments during the Civil War. In memory of the war and its historic role, our neighborhood was eventually renamed Battery Place. Our house, built in 1927 and owned by one family, had been empty and on the market for several years to be sold “as is.” “As is” meant layers of grimy 1960s asbestosmade linoleum in the kitchen and bathrooms, faded wallpaper covering the walls of the entire downstairs, and unplugged and unused air conditioning units stuck in the windows. “As is” meant dodgy plumbing and rickety outdoor stairs in peeling gray paint. Those stairs led to what had once been a screened porch, but now was a covered room with glued-on grass green carpet which covered more asbestos tile. “As is” meant faux Victorian lighting fixtures and blinds and shutters that were yellowed and permanently dust-encrusted. The house reminded me of Miss Havisham’s cobweb-filled mansion in Great Expectations. 46 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
But more than anything, this old house with its white siding and darkened hardwood floors reminded me of a Colonial house from my childhood—columned and white. I imagined the inside promised wood floors and chimneys and secret spaces. We’d pass by it every morning and afternoon on our bus route. One girl about my age would be waiting at the side of the road to be picked up. I envied the gothic possibilities of her life—I imagined she was an orphan who lived with her grandmother. In the books I’d read, orphans were visited by angels and fairies who opened doors to other worlds. Besides echoing the romance of my childhood, there was another, different appeal to the house: the fully functioning seventies-style bar in the basement. I’d heard that for a period around the turn of the millennium, the basement bar was home to wild parties connected to the University’s writing conference that I helped direct. Apparently prominent visiting writers and locals drank, danced, and smoked there for years. Our basement bar had as much writer mojo as an old café in Paris. Like Emily Dickinson, I wanted to dwell in possibility. I wanted A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors – Of course, the two women from CHZC didn’t care about my dreams or Emily’s superior windows. They didn’t care that Rowan was tearing down those rotted, splitting steps because we were planning on replacing them with a nice sturdy deck there instead. These women were not here to dwell in possibility or nostalgia. They were here to do their job and it was their job to monitor any building violations. They issued a Stop Work notice on the spot. Rowan “Stopped Work” and started drinking. He spent the rest of the evening in our basement bar listening to country singers and their pain. 47 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
A few days later I went to the CZHC office, paid for permits, and applied for approval. A month after the Stop Work notice, the housing board gave us permission to build a deck to replace the stairs Rowan had torn down. We added French doors to the half-basement and a wooden gate. We spent hours each day scrubbing floors and peeling wallpaper and painting, determined to erase Miss Havisham’s dust and doilies to replace them with our own vision of the world. But the relics of the past did not let go so easily. At night we’d hear creaks and moans, sounds we weren’t used to, sounds we imagined were of waking ghosts. One of the major pipes cracked, dumping water into the basement. One night, the bathroom sink on the second floor seeped water through to the first floor, and the sodden ceilings crashed and crumbled to the ground. Sometimes I wondered if the family who had lived in the house for so long were crying because they didn’t want to go. We began to feel that the house was haunted; and not just with the ghosts of the family who had lived in this house for eighty years. Not too surprising given when and where the house was built and the fact that we were surrounded by ghosts. Ghosts like the Civil War soldiers who had walked on our lawn - some of them buried in the Confederate Cemetery a block from our house on land once owned by the slave-owning Gardenhire family. They sold the land for one dollar with the provision that the property be used for a Confederate Cemetery. A few blocks from our house along the Riverwalk is the UTC football practice field, which used to be the holding pen for Cherokees before they began a forced migration west known as The Trail of Tears.
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A mile farther past the old holding pen is the Native American Citico site, a large ceremonial village which thrived in the 14th century. Most of the Citico village was used for dirt fill to construct Riverview Drive in 1914, but a few of the burial mounds remain. If there is a house that should be haunted by history, by wrongs and rights, by families gathered and dispersed, it is ours. What if Rowan hadn’t stopped digging? What if, instead of acquiescing to the women representing the CHZC, I had joined Rowan and planted my hands in the soil? Toward the end of Great Expectations, Miss Havisham, who has thwarted her adopted daughter’s relationship with Pip, repents. Her last words, spoken in a delirium, speak to her desire to be exonerated. “Take the pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her!’” What if someone in the future finds my name, my books buried here? Will the ghosts forgive me? If I dig here, what will I find? A lost doll, a jar of moonshine, a fragment of a teacup. Buttons torn from uniforms, a belt buckle, bullet shells, a drinking cup, a short sword, a musket, a revolver, a lover’s ribbon, a locket. Pottery, beads, clothes and pans too heavy for the Cherokees to carry to Oklahoma. Bones: knee, hip, ankle, thumb, shards of the Citicos’ elbows. Stone tools, copperhead pieces, conch shells.
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Before the Cherokees there were the Creek and Euchee. Bone fragments. Earring bone instruments, flint knives, pipes representing birds. A child’s rattle made of tortoise shell with pebbles inside. 446 million years before beings resembling humans walked the earth, there were fossils here, preserved by volcanic ash, along the riverhead. Shells. Coral. Prehistoric jawless fish. Placoderms. Acanthodians. Dig and dig until we find all that will haunt us. And all that will haunt others. Dig until we discover all that we have been. And will become. Dig with our narrow hands So we can dream of dwelling in the house of the forgiven.
Sybil Baker is the author of The Life Plan, Talismans, and Into This World, which received an Eric Hoffer Award Honorable Mention and was a finalist for Foreword’s Best Book of the Year Award. She is a UC Foundation Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and teaches at the Yale Writer’s Conference. In 2015, she was Visiting Professor at Middle East Technical University in North Cyprus. Immigration Essays, partially funded bya Make Work Artist Grant is forthcoming in September from C&R Press. She is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.
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Special Magazine-to-Magazine Interview Compiled & Composed by Clifford Brooks Mad Swirl is a quasi-sane sanctuary of some of the strangest, sharpest, and intelligent words online - or on paper. That’s not new information. If it is, don’t blush: Go get you a bag-full, now. We’ll wait. This interview is cool being patient. I can’t say the same for our saints and sinners on the rowdy vessel we share on a sea of unexpected success. We good? Cool: Let’s get into the groove: After you feel through a few issues of Mad Swirl, what I hope you notice is that there is a commonality in the exceptional nature of those they choose, how those to make the cut are placed to tell a story (each issue), and then the artwork. The artwork is, as the wording of everything between its covers, isn’t brash, unnecessarily “edgy”, or so wide that the net seems to have no sieve at all. I watched this culminate, cool, spill lava, and then relax into a bar fight you might walk away from. Ladies and gentlemen, get out those brass knuckles, moleskins, and sharp minds. This is a blueprint of havoc contained only by the words on this page. It’s long overdue to welcome you to the only Fight Club you don’t have to keep a secret. The following responses come from all of Mad Swirl’s editors: Johnny Olson (JO) is the Founder and Chief Editor for Mad Swirl. He performed all of the editing functions for Mad Swirl from the beginning until recent years. MH Clay (MH) joined Mad Swirl as Poetry Editor in 2009. Tyler Malone (TM) joined Mad Swirl as Short Story Editor in 2011. Madelyn Olson (MO) joined Mad Swirl as Art Editor in 2011. 1) Mad Swirl is a literary journal with prestige and influence without sacrificing its edge. This is a fact. How has it changed (if at all) from what you envisioned "way back when" to what you craft, today? JO: Way back when, in 1999 when a few of us (myself, Lisa Carmen, and Cheyenne Gallion) gave birth to this "whole mad swirl of everything," we had a vision to open a printed space conducive to creativity. "A creative outlet" was our tagline on the first few print zines we made. Today that same idea is still alive but on a much larger and grander scale. What was once 51 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
limited to our near and dear friends and family has now extended beyond our city limits, beyond our state lines and outside of our country borders to span the world. What was once a Xerox'd page has grown to a wide and vast website and a dozen-year-old open mic stage. And word around the mad cooler is that we will be extending our reach even further in the next couple of years. Stay tuned! MH: Since I joined as Poetry Editor in 2009, the scope of Mad Swirlâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s reach has increased throughout the world. Our contributors now span the globe; Europe, Asia, Australia, South America are all represented. We have over 140 Contributing Poets on our Poetry Forum, over 30 contributing writers to our Short Story page and 30 contributing artists to our Gallery. This alone has been amazing to watch in the 7 short years of my tenure. But, even more amazing has been the evolution of Mad Swirlâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s online presence. Johnny was a one-man band in the beginning; editing poetry, short stories and art along with the overall web mastery required to keep the site functioning. With the addition of 3 other people to take over as editors for poetry, short stories and art, the entire site has grown. Each forum has its own personality, diverse as the editors who manage them, yet coherent in the common vision to present and celebrate the creative talents of others. With the forums sorted, Johnny has been able to devote more time to the design and management of the entire site; bringing his personal touches to our readers with Mad quotes and images every day. And, he has managed our social media presence in a big way, raising the Mad Swirl profile in the web world at large. 2) What are 3 things you'd like to express to those submitting to Mad Swirl, and what are 3 facts you'd like the public to know about the editing process? JO: i. Being the gatekeeper of all incoming emails for Mad Swirl, I see most submissions before our editors do. What I prefer is some old school, letter writing protocol. It's as simple as a friendly greeting, a purpose of the message in the body, and a polite closing. Too many folks these days seem to be losing that skill. When we receive these impersonal submissions, a copy/paste of credentials in the body with nothing else, I will send a
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submission guideline back to them (see our Submissions page for this tongue-in-cheek reply). Sometimes we get a nasty response back, sometimes no response; but once in a while we receive a human response which starts off a great dialogue between editor and contributor. ii. A total disregard to our submission guidelines is annoying - such as sending in a dozen poems when we only allow three poems per submission, or a short story that is 3,000 words long when we only accept 1,000 words or less and, finally, sending in 2 visuals when we require at least 5 to review for the gallery. A simple review of that page by our submitters will save time and frustration on both ends. iii. I would like our contributors to know that we do this whole thing out of our love for the art, for the words, for the poetry. We don't get paid to do this. If anything, we spend our own money and lots of our own time to make this madness swirl. I would like folks to keep that in mind. Our goal is only to showcase their work. Most of our contributors know and appreciate this. But once in a great while we will get a bit of ‘tude from a contributor which makes me want to reach thru the screen and grab them by their collar to say all I just said. MH: i. Edit your work before you submit. We don’t mind correcting the occasional typo or misspelled word, but we won’t take time to correct a piece with multiple errors. Let your poems rest after first draft. Revisit them with a critical eye. Send us your best. ii. Be concise; 40 lines or less is a good guideline for submissions to Mad Swirl. We don’t post epic poems, as a rule. A page per poem, or two at most, is what we like to present. Save your Magnum Opus for your published, in-print work. We are an online publication; everyone is scanning away, ready to swipe their thumbs to the next item. We only have a few seconds to capture our readers’ attention and we only get to keep that attention for a minute or so. iii. Left justified, ragged right formatting is standard. Again, as an online publication, working only with Wordpress, makes the duplication of “creative formatting” a challenge. Also, most attempts at creative formatting are actually visual distractions; instead of enhancing the poem, such formatting forces the reader to work too hard to get through it. Remember, those thumbs are just twitching to sweep to the next screen. MO: if you're submitting visual art, having titles for your pieces is always a smart move in my opinion. i know some cool titles that have completely shifted my perspective of the piece. coming up with titles is hard but it's another aspect of the creative process that should be considered - and i, at least, notice it. if you've got a good name for your work, i think it's fair to say that anyone who reviews it will like it more. but even if you got a kinda good one, it's better than 'untitled' or 'number one', etc. get a feel for what's preexisting on the site before you submit. not that anything's necessarily biased but there's a general theme to what mad swirl likes to feature. this isn't to say if you've got your own thing going on, or just something not like what you see - that we won't accept it. we like variety as much as the next guy, of course, but it's important to observe and scope out 53 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
publications before submitting. sometimes, your work will just be more fit for another publication - you will be okay, we will be okay. everyone wins. TM: For fiction, submit something after you’ve re-read it a few dozen times (out loud, always!) and if you’re certain you’ve never read that story before, and there’s a nugget of truth in the short cluster of words, then send it our way. For fun, if you think you want to be the next Bukowski, replace the word “bar” with “circus” and see the beauty that blossoms. 3) What do you see in the literary world that is defining this time and our generation? Who are a few writers, poets, or visual artists you believe bring back the respect professional writers want to become familiar? (I in no way wish to come off haughty in this query.) MH: We would not presume to have the “chops” to offer an academic response to the question. We are not all academics (our short story editor has an MFA, our art editor is an arts magnet graduate, but JO and I have diverse educations and backgrounds, not in the arts). What we do see is a great variety of voices and points of view with the world wide web to fuel widespread exposure of all to all. Also, we would not presume to be conversant in who is “emerging” verses who is not in the worlds of poetry, fiction and art. However, we are proud to present the Contributing poets, fiction writers and artists you can see on Mad Swirl. These folks represent artistic perspectives from all around the world. We couldn’t mention one in particular without listing them all. Check’em out to see what we mean. That’s our prime motivation at Mad Swirl – to be a platform for the expression of these artists who might not otherwise be read or viewed.
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4) There is a great deal of debate concerning form and rules with poetry, especially. What do you value as a discipline in writing poetry, and those guidelines you follow with prose? MO: i am a firm believer that art doesn't need form. if there's any form, it should be within the emotion or energy of the work. i think that to be considered 'art' - the work needs to say something, needs to stir something, or otherwise make a point. i know art professors and probably fellow artists as well might disagree. but there's a lot more pressure for 'form' in poetry, for TM: For Mad Swirl there’s more than a little bleed-over between poetry and prose (poetic prose or poetry that could be considered prose) but I don’t believe we’ve ever concerned ourselves as adherents to the governing rules of form. We’re not angry, stillpedantic, literary rebels or anything; it’s just that the liberating aspects of being enraptured in the madness of sitting and writing for yourself, while also for others, appeals to each of us as we edit. We have some who have never considered themselves poets or fiction writers. Having a fresh set of eyes and brains to engage them is something we pride ourselves in providing; in so doing, we help guide writers to new places. Mad Swirl: We seek fine, mad writing; rarely formal writing. MH: If one should peruse our Poetry Forum, they’d see many forms. However, we don’t use adherence to a particular form as our criterion for acceptance. We appreciate poetry which speaks to us; form is just the package which contains the poem. So, sonnets, villanelles, haikus, free verse, et. al.; they all have appeal potential. The challenge for anyone who submits to Mad Swirl (as it is with any publication) is to try to get inside our heads; grab our attention and, ultimately, our appreciation.
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5) Where in the United States do you see an explosion of culture? Is there a particular state or city you note as being new on the scene? JO: If we must stay in the US only I would of course say that Dallas is a hotbed of poetry and art. Most folks wouldn't guess this unless they have their ear to the ground like we do here in Big D. But we are hoping that in some small way that what we do is putting Dallas on the map for our excellent caliber of locolocal poets and artists. If I were to venture outside the US, I would point my fingers at the UK and Nepal as being other locales where the mad voices are the loudest and proudest and for good reason. MO: dallas definitely has something going on right now. the creative scene is growing and it's wonderful. i've also seen some great stuff coming out of detroit, chicago, marfa. TM: Cultures are blending and challenging the past all over the United States. Less poverty, more liberality; everything from books to Indian fast-food are accessible. It’ll sound obvious, but it’s a salient fact - in Texas the world is getting smaller. Deep Vellum in Dallas is publishing nothing but works translated into English—doing Heaven’s work and connecting cultures on paper. I’ve never seen anything that ambitious in the literary scene - a bookstore in Texas, nestled among BBQ and beer bars, that changes the English language with each publication. That’s a wonder! MH: My colleagues have addressed the creative movement happening here in Dallas; no more on that subject is required from me. What I have found is that there are creative collectives popping up everywhere. If one were to ask this question of folks from any city, they would be able to point to something happening there. Creative souls all over the world are looking for kindred spirits with whom to share the magic of creative expression. Forums like ours provide a virtual meeting place for these folks to find each other. 6) What is your take on the self-publishing vs. "legitimate" publication through a third party press with contract? Do you see any dangers to the overall scheme of things with more and more venues for writers to pay a fee in order to call themselves "published"? JO: If it wasn't for self-publishing, Mad Swirl would never have been born to begin with. There is no shame in being a self-published poet or writer or artist. As long as your creative wares are getting out there and being read and seen, then by all means, selfpublish! It's more about the birthing of one’s work than producing some slick cover and 56 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
fancy layout. Those elements help, but ultimately it's the content that readers will connect with. With all that said, there is a place for a third party to get involved. Not everyone has the know-how or the network to publish their works without a Lulu-esque type service. MO: i think it's really just a personal preference. the DIY scene is bigger than it's probably been in a dang while, especially with the impact of social networking these days - instagram, tumblr, flickr, etsy, bandcamp - just a few of the platforms by which artists/poets/musicians & other creative types can expose themselves directly to the public. if you can make it work all by yourself, i think you should. utilize your networks, if you've got a friend starting something up, work with them, collaborate with your fellow artists, grow your own. of course with this comes overcrowding - way too many people are wanting to be seen and heard these days - but truthfully, if you can make yourself known or seen amongst the crowd, you deserve it. TM: Some say it’s the future and I don’t know if I’m okay with that. There’s a dialog that too many of our writers have missed out on because they’ve never interacted with an editor before. Not that Mad Swirl is a gatekeeper to anything, but unpacking a story and digging deeper is something that writers sometimes don’t think to do, mostly because they’re racing towards the end, forgetting to enjoy the scenery. Also, we might be drowning in indie books. There are so many out there for consumers to purchase which are mostly ignored. There’s too much wasted, ignored, unread art. Books that haunted me and warped me were products of a long investment of time between the writer and publisher/editor. There’s real value in that relationship. Also, working at an indie bookstore, I’ve dealt with writers who wanted a reading just because they’re “published.” This expects the bookseller to invest valuable time in being an editor and critic when their primary focus is just to sell books. MH: Self-publishing is the quickest path toward producing a tangible result, for sure. However, there is something to be said for publishing through an established press or publishing company. Publishers have distribution channels and promotional resources we writers lack. Most writers/artists are not marketing/sales people. We want to have our work read by many, but don’t know how to sell, hate to ask for money, even when we have a book in hand – we end up giving away more than we sell, diminishing any returns to fund the next book. And, there is the benefit which comes from collaborating with an experienced editor – Tyler speaks to that quite well. 7) How useful do you see social media? Is it a waste of time or a handy tool in promotion and branding? JO: Remembering back to the humble beginnings of Mad Swirl, all we had then was word of mouth as our main means of communication. After a year or so of just doing print zines and scattering them about town at the hip coffee shops, record stores, etc., 57 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
we expanded to an online rag. From those two outlets we were able to gather a few dozen email addresses and that was the gist of our outreach for several years. Enter the invention and explosion of social media: Starting with MySpace, Mad Swirl was able to extend our reach well beyond the limited word-of-mouth/email list platforms. We found that the possibilities of who we can touch to spread the mad word were limitless. From there we started a Facebook page, a Flickr, then a Twitter, and most recently, an Instagram. Our audience went from a few hundred to several thousand. Wait, what was the question again? Oh yeah, is social media useful. Yes! Yes, it is! 8) On the topic of branding, what is the size and shape of the reputation you sharpen for Mad Swirl? What is one point you'd like to make about it that folks in general might have missed? JO: The number one point that I think folks might have missed in regards to our brand is the seed that we planted long ago. The name "Mad Swirl" was born from a highlighted passage in a certain book (On the Road) from a certain author (Jack Kerouac) with whom we were obsessed back when (and still are). That inspiration hasn't changed. We still believe that the whole mad swirl of everything to come is always beginning in the glorious moment of the now. Some folks share this sentiment and are actually drawn to us because they recognize that line and our alignment with the Beat movement. But otherwise, I feel that most just think we found a couple of slick words to stick together they do go together nicely, after all. However, Mad Swirl's brand has changed with the times and with our growth. Our grass roots beginning as a true "copy/paste" zine lent itself to a more raw and scattered format. Through the years, we evolved the look and feel of Mad Swirl to fit both our audience and our own creative direction. After one of our last print issues (Mad Swirl V) we revamped our site and found a brand that we felt best for us. After riding that branding wave to grow our contributor and fan base, we retooled the look and feel to follow the trends of today's design sensibilities. What we are currently producing, both online and in our promotional flyers and merchandise, is a direct reflection of those changes. Will it last and be the end-all of our branding efforts? I'd say the chances of that happening are zilch. We must evolve and change if we are to stay relevant in an ever changing landscape of communication and design. Questions for the Southern Collective: What prompted the creation of the Southern Collective experience? Why are you interested in collaborative efforts like this one with us? What do you want to see come from it? (We ask, because, most creative publications and collectives turn into islands in themselves. What you are trying to do is novel. AND, we applaud it, by the way.) The Southern Collective Experience looked at the successes, failures, petty back-biting, and harmonious collaborations and threw them all out the window into a busy street. We wanted to find a journal with a similar, eclectic, exuberant, unapologetic stance on 58 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
what is good in art and make no bones about the fact – we are right. Choosing your journal was easy. My only concern was that it would seem insane to try something like this….but then realized we are all mad to make art our soul’s driving force, and jumped on it with both feet. The Blue Mountain Review wants to create a family with Mad Swirl that is enduring and a beacon to others of teamwork, of building an honest blood and bone family with likeminded madmen (and madwomen) to break all barriers to do the unthinkable: Make the world stand up and say, most intelligently, “It’s about damned time.” We are not most literary journals. We are not the mainstream. We are rogues, philosophers, doers, creators, warriors, who applaud the best of all genres while creating our own. We are not an island. We are building a society of genius on a planet that does not suffer excuses, small minds and/or the ultimate sin – Settling. And finally, here are the links to our social media digs: Website: http://madswirl.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SwirlMad Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/madswirl/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/madswirl Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/47527621@N08/ Blog: http://madswirl.com/category/blog/
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THRUSH Even hearing the thrush of you I long for the thrush of you with orange burned hearth burned songs amid the chilled fountains of evening two stars in nightâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s circus one the brighter the other mortal both broken from the argent eggs of swans during the watch of the dusk silent without knell the full wine drunken nocturnes of crocus moons that cup white the palms and through October shadows mourn fall the pave that none walk upon as it winds the nave of you the life that comes from the life that comes from life in sleep on heaths sleep in gardens sleep on the strand before the breaking white horses of the surf waking twain supine at the left hands of all gods enthroned on the stones of the world we together full of our glad furies touring highlands wealds and wild flower kindled meadows with lyres in hands lutes in mouths and the deep earth beneath our feet solemn chants to the other sides where we found only ourselves and ourselves only and then it was then with memorials curated an elegy still writing itself to the regards of all our curving lives 1985 I met myself the other day. It happened by accident. We both didn't know the other existed. The first time, we passed each other in silence, glaring one at the other. I was on my way to work. He was leaving and going home. I saw myself again later in the week. Apprehensive, I hoped I wouldn't notice myself-but our eyes furtively met and one acknowledged the other awkwardly. We hurried our separate ways. I saw myself again today. I wish I wouldn't see me. That I'd go where I was before I knew I was there and stay that way.
Peter Ristuccia is the President and Founder of Firefly Telecommunications LLC, a start-up technology firm headquartered in Atlanta Georgia. Peter is also a prolific writer and the author of several novels, short stories, essays and poems. His work has been featured on NPR, the New York Optimist and Gloom Cupboard. A native of Athens Georgia, Peter graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor of arts in history. History, especially art history, remains a passion of his, and he makes extensive use of social media to spread appreciation of art history to others.
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San Pedro River Review Blue Horse Press ISSN 1944-5954 San Pedro River Review is a biannual, perfect-bound poetry and art journal. Submission windows run January 1st to 31st, and July 1st to 31st, each year. Spring issues are themed, fall issues non-themed. Representative poets include Naomi Shihab Nye, Ellen Bass, Afaa Michael Weaver, Joseph Millar, Marge Piercy, Joe Wilkins, Alex Lemon, Larry D. Thomas, William Wright, Doug Anderson, Frank X. Gaspar, Walt McDonald, Vivian Shipley, Adrian C. Louis. See guidelines and more at www.bluehorsepress.com
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Dr. John Ratledge BLACKBERRY WINTER I’m thinking of a Harvest Moon– rusted and round, hung low in blackened space. Yet coming without warning, with berries wrapped in frosted ribbon and in gray gloom, cold, I find myself melancholy– wondering about wasted love, longing, loneliness. Knowing that frost’s first showing in latter days of October comes quickly, I wrap myself in Nature’s confusion, as Indian Summer enshrouds me in lazy days of barefoot innocence. Perched high on branches of favorite trees in fields of dancing grass, simple thoughts blow at the will of the wind. Blackberry Winter– with crisp, biting chill 64 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
and thorn-pierced heart, sears blood-red berry, and only burned blossoms remind me of you.
about the poem/book:
Blackberry Winter is a period of cool weather in Spring when blackberries are in blossom, and there are several days of disagreeable, cloudy weather, often with a touch of frost. Similar toDogwood Winter, there is always a “spell” of dark days in May when the dogwood tree is in bloom. Indian Summer is a time of warmth after the first hard frost. To the contrary, Blackberry Winter comes after early Spring weather which has deceived everyone into believing that Spring has finally arrived. The conflict of emotions evoked when “It’s Spring,” and suddenly “Winter returns,” is clear and poignant in its implications for matters of the heart and the complications that Fate always brings to our Living.
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Dr. John Ratledge, currently in his twelth year as Conductor of University Singers, Area Coordinator of Graduate Choral Conducting, and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Dr. John Ratledge teaches graduate conducting, literature, and pedagogy. Ratledge made his European conducting debut in 1996 with the Filharmonia Sudecka of Walbryzychu, Poland, and since that time, he has conducted orchestras in France, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Spain, and South Korea. His choirs have given the premiere of the full orchestral version of the Duruflé Requiem in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Greece, the organ version premiere of same in Bulgaria, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms premiere in Poland, and the St. Petersburg, Russia’s premiere of Handel’s Messiah. Recently, Dr. Ratledge spent seven months in Conegliano, Italy composing his newest composition, The Divine Siren, a cantata based on the words of 16th century poet, Gaspara Stampa. The work was premiered by University Singers in November 2014. He is the Founder, Artistic Director of the Bassi Brugnatelli International Conducting and Singing Symposium in Robbiate.
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Featured Interview Composed and Compiled by Clifford Brooks
Jon Tribble has been on the literary radar for decades. He is a well-respected editor, poet, and a gentle bear genius who never compromises on his idea of literary excellence. Jon is a teacher at SIUC, Managing Editor of Crab Orchard Review, and Series Editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. Yet, He is not a haughty sort, but he carries himself, whether in words or in person, in a way that is not overstated, but immediately demands respect. Jon chooses his words carefully, and his sense of humor is spot-on. He and I have been in touch sporadically over the last few years to say kind words of admiration and offer support. The load that he takes on in his daily life to leave an imprint on today’s literary scene is so furious and far spread that I’m amazed he had time to write, edit, legitimately publish, and now tour far-and-wide to get his genius in front of the public. After his current book of verse, Natural State (2016) hit the ground running, so has he. Over the last few weeks you can track him on Facebook to see just how far and wide his exciting journal has taken him. Of course, if you think that his roll is slowing, you couldn’t be more wrong. Next year, his book And There Is Many a Good Thing (2017) comes crooning into the scene, and I’m sure that is going to kick off another whirlwind adventure. This man has a generous nature, keen sense of ethics, and a friend to all who show the same drive and integrity he embues on anyone who meets him. It is my honor to feature him in the spring issue of The Blue Mountain Review.
1) There always needs to be a Dickensian Begin at the Beginning: Please tell us the nuts and bolts of your life as they took you into the creative man you are today. Please add those details other interviews miss, or just those moments you’ve not realized until now meant, and mean, so much. One of the first books I remember truly loving was the World Book Encyclopedia that my parents purchased when I was four or five. I'm not sure I would have felt the same about a dictionary, but that encyclopedia gave me something I was obsessed with reading for the next five or six years. I also loved an old edition of Bulfinch's Mythology. 68 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
It was that book that brought me to the Odyssey, which I read in as many versions as I could get my hands on and certainly was my first attempt reading serious poetry. I went on and read several versions of the Iliad and even three or four versions of of the Aeneid. I grew up in a United Methodist church camp around one hundred acres in size. My parents moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, from Omaha, Nebraska, where my father had been working as a social worker for the Women's Division of the UMC Board of Global Ministries after earlier work in Des Moines, Iowa, and Nashville. Tennessee. My mother helped him and worked as an elementary school teacher until my sister and brother were born in Nebraska. During my first eighteen years, we lived in Camp Aldersgate, and my father transformed the camp into a place for medical and social services camping for any child, teen, or young adult based upon their need and not upon class or the color of their skin. Unlike outside the camp in the 1960s both in Arkansas and across the South, the camp was a place where racism was not tolerated and this meant I became aware at a very young age of the differences between the place I thought of as home and the rest of the world I saw around me. The camp also meant two other elements came together for me in an interesting way: Nature and Religion. I had acres and acres of woods, a lake, a creek, and so much more to explore as my backyard. I also was raised surrounded by prayers and hymns, call and response and silent reflection, all often in the presence of natural beauty--the sounds of the forest, the mirror-image in the lake of the empty Cross on its own simple gray rock on the other side of the water. 2) Is there a ceremony that you perform to prepare yourself to write? Is there a certain room you need to be in or music played? Do you need complete silence, or is a coffee house full of commotion what you require to dig out the right words? I'm embarrassed to say when I am ready to put words on the page, I can do it anywhere and in just about any way. I have scribbled a poem that came to me driving past a prison (only once; I realized that was too dangerous and now I pull off and either record a voice memo or write in a small notebook); I wrote most of the poems for an upcoming collection about working at Kentucky Fried Chicken as a teenager on my cell phone; I will write poems in longhand during poetry or fiction readings--both which often inspire me; and I can settle in at my computer and write until I remember I have to eat and sleep. All of these ways work for me. As far as music, my one rule is no lyrics unless I am writing about the song, which I love to do. I can listen to classical, jazz, and any other type of music as long as the music is instrumental. 3)
Who are you favorite living artists of any genre who inspire you?
There are so many poets and writers I don't know where to begin: C. Dale Young inspires me for both his writing and his life beyond writing; I have deep admiration for 69 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
Ursula K. LeGuin and her ability to create such fascinating worlds; and Ross Gay's poetry inspires me by looking unflinchingly at the world and still finding a way to praise and celebrate. I love the word play in the songs of Elvis Costello and Aimee Mann. Herbie Hancock has been a wonder for so long. Buddy Guy is one of the greatest guitarists who has ever lived. This is only a beginning. I get to visual arts late, I'm afraid, so most of the artists I find sustaining to me are dead. The visual medium I am most drawn to is film. I worked nearly eight years in movie theaters and I have seen and own so many films on DVD, but my tastes are very indiscriminate. If I told you some of the films I have watched a second, third, or tenth time, well, it would be very embarrassing. 4) Who are the Top 3 Deceased Artists who you cleave to when times become too heavy? Robert Hayden is an easy first choice here. He is my touchstone and my favorite poet. James Baldwin is the answer to so many tough questions in fiction and nonfiction prose. I don't know who I would be as a writer or thinker without his work. Octavia Butler takes me where I didn't know I needed to go or where I hadn't imagined was there. Her book Parable of the Sower is one of my all-time favorites to revisit and to teach. I learn so much every time I open that book. 5) Do you feel that there is a need or void in the Cosmos of Art that begs to be tweaked, rewritten, or left as it stands? As a poet, editor, and brainchild behind a literary journal, do these hiccups in expression come in the form of how artists treat one another or fall into a stereotype? I want to answer this question, but I am stumped right now. What I can say is that when we founded Crab Orchard Review we felt that there were not enough publications that looked at American writing and even world writing and recognized what a diverse and rich set of possibilities writers were already exploring in their works because of who those writers were and what they cared about. There were other editors and publishers who recognized this too--Dan Veach, Martha Rhodes, C. Dale Young, just to name a few--but, like always, the writers were ahead of us all. We tried to keep up as much as we could at Crab Orchard Review and the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry and I hope we have done a pretty good job. More important than that, I have seen now so many new publishing projects and magazines take this up because it is where our literature and world are at--Organic Weapon Arts, Write Bloody Publishing, Sibling Rivalry Press, Waxwing, your own Southern Collective Experience, just to mention a few. It feels good to have been a small part of opening the doors wider for the 70 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
best reasons of all: because the work is good, necessary, and speaks to an audience who has been waiting all along for writing that reflects just how complex, varied, and surprising the world we live in is--all of it. 6) How have you utilized social media to further your creative interests? Do you think people depend too much on it, or under-value its potential? I understand people who back away from social media or want nothing to do with it. I was slow to join Facebook and wondered how I would manage my concerns for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry being on social media. I first tried to demand that people who wanted to enter our book competitions have nothing to do with me on Facebook and found out with the first competition that this just wouldn't work; it went counter to how interconnected Facebook and other social media work. So since then I have taken the opposite approach: I welcome everyone to "friend" me, "follow" me, and "like" our page, and it has worked very well. I should use Twitter more and I have started to use Instagram. In every place, I try to make most of my posts as positive as I can, but I don't shy away from difficult political, cultural, and historical information, either. Knowledge, even about things that are painful or that anger, is always a positive in my view. 7) How do you feel that the artist fits into politics? I'm not asking you to pick a party or defend a belief, but as a unique voice that doesn't appear politically active in today's time, do you think a poet has a place in government? I would never ask anyone else to write on political and social justice topics, but I couldn't write without venturing into those topics myself. The world is shaped in large and small ways by our political realities and it always has been. The challenge for poets is to understand when the politics have taken over from the art. I'm not saying this is always a bad thing, but any artist needs to be aware of this. If an artist doesn't understand the purpose of her or his work, how can the artist know whether the work's intention is artistic transformation or political statement? There is a rare sweet spot where both might occur, but I don't think an artist can get there without understanding what the work is doing and how every choice changes those possibilities. 8) What is your dream end game in creative writing? Without fearing the smack of elitism, or note of condescension: What is your utopian vocation at this point in Dante's walk through a dark wood? I thrive right now when I have too much to do. Free time often paralyzes me. It is crazy, I know, and I am trying to find a cure for this condition. But at the moment, my dream is to be editing three books of poems that are each nothing like the others, working on compiling an anthology of poems I cannot live without, finishing up an issue of Crab Orchard Review and delivering it to the printer (always the finest moment; we really should throw a party every time), working on two or three poetry manuscripts of my own, a memoir and a collection of short stories, and preparing to drive with Allison Joseph, my wife and a tremendous poet and writer and editor, to somewhere out West 71 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
or East or South or North to give three or four readings and publishing talks together and see lots of friends along the way. That is my idea of heaven. Pursuit of Happiness When Jayson Williams of the NBA New Jersey Nets repeats for the third time, A man can pay another man whatever he wants—it’s in the Constitution, you point me to the bookshelf where I finally find the document, We the People, Articles, Amendments, and all the rest in The Universal Almanac 1996, and we argue if equal protection or emancipation or interstate trade can stretch like Silly Putty and pull capitalism from these words like color images of Dick Tracy I leached onto the fleshcolored pancake I rolled and unrolled from its plastic egg in Little Rock twenty years before this reference’s namesake year. We survived the return of “Philadelphia Freedom” that summer of ’76, but the fall was “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” and ninth-grade Civics where Our Republic taught the difference between democracy’s vox populi and the John Birchers at the State Fair whose flag declared on the white stripes, America Is A Republic Not A Democracy! Thank The Lord For The Difference! When my mother found out Chip’s Barbeque’s owner was their leader, she stopped going despite her craving for the corn dogs and the best lemon meringue pie— we all make sacrifices for our freedom. Though Edward Hicks’s “Peaceable Kingdom” wanly smiled down from our mantel those days at 2000 Aldersgate Road, my mother’s savior from three adolescents and her mother’s cancer came over the counter in blue ovals of Cope, 72 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
which helped soften the hours between calls like light slipping beneath an opal’s surface, warm and cool iridescence coalescing. I can’t refract such memories the way I might bend a story of someone I’ll never meet, but I think I learned enough to know no one pays anyone enough for what is given, we all pay too much for what is free, and no declaration of independence provides liberty and inalienable rights like we think it does.
—first published in Natural State (Glass Lyre Press, 2016)
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Temporary Landscape I. Monroe County Fire Tower, Indiana Not easy to see the world around us from this tower, even though the night stayed clear, the moon rests full and heavy in the sky. But I’m not looking all that hard, instead holding on to you ascending beside me, both of us ignoring signs that say, Keep Off, Climb at Your Own Risk. Here in the middle of America, the trees insist on turning colors, just as locals expect them to do every fall. It doesn’t seem to matter to any of these cycles that summer parched us with the worst recorded drought in fifty years. Perhaps our eyes perceive only illusion—we’ll pay later for this false sense of security—but who wants to see the future when the present’s so appealing, and I’d like to stay here longer than common sense and the cold wind will allow. I’ve told you about my friends—my real and claimed family— scattered across the country, and neither of us has an answer to that. Perhaps this tower stands at a point in the center of a web or wheel, and these spokes grow out of it, lifelines connecting me to all the places I’ve touched, all the people who have touched me. But now none of that seems as certain and 74 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
real as the hand warm in my own. Climbing down, I test each step again, and though it’s not earth I long to touch, the ground still feels good and solid beneath my feet. I’ll remain here, with someone to hold to amidst the motion of a planet quickly spinning, centrifugal and centripetal forces pushing everything apart, holding it all together. A radio tower keeps pulsing its red messages to a sleeping world, and the stars keep shining clear, bright despite all threats of frost. II. Padre Island for D. W. Lightning arcs and bolts from one rig to another out on the Gulf tonight, and this Matamoros wind driving surf north in an unforgiving tumble squelches the matches you pitch at our driftwood pile. We poured enough gas to burn sand, but you’ve got to put a light to it or it will evaporate like these words neither of us have managed to say. If I stayed till October I could see fiddlers march out of the dunes, scribble the beach with thousands of scampering shadows. Or I could join you when the flounder run—you’ve already got the boat, the rigs we’d need for the salt flats—you’re sure you could teach me to pop the line when the fish sucks up on the shallow bottom and you have to break its hold. I talked you into a sudden roadtrip to the Aransas Refuge last March—before the whoopers migrated back north—and 75 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
we sighted one of the last pairs feeding on blue crabs in the flats. We stood still and silent as they rose on their great white wings that I wanted to say later shined nothing like sunlight, but there was never a need to say anything. I’ll miss that, and more. You finally get the gas to catch and, for a moment, flames whip around our bodies and my breath tasted the burning air separating us—heat too solid to reach through, bright inferno I’m unable to see beyond. While I finish the last Pacifica from the twodollar case we brought across the border, you fling burning wood into the incoming tide. The fire dead, we head down toward Malachi, and you start reflecting on erosion, the way this island reinvents itself, the way you sometimes can drive your truck from Corpus Christi all the way to Brownsville if the sand piles just so in all the right places. It’s not cold, but I stand here shivering as the sand keeps on shifting under us. III. Pennsylvania Turnpike for D. T. You’d never seen a woodchuck before so when one rears up on its hind legs, the fur golden in the too-green grass, you want to stop, turn back, something to make sure it’s real. But it’s been ten hours on the road already, another six or seven before we reach D.C. You haven’t left your second wife yet, and I don’t think either of us is sure you will, but when the Alleghenies rise before us and light 76 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
disappears with any radio station we’d have the slightest chance to sing along with, you start to tell me how you see your life—a series of jobs— salesman, theater manager, bank clerk, programmer—all new experiences to teach you something the one before didn’t. And I try to talk about life as mission—my father’s years at Des Moines and Nashville community centers, my brother’s medicine—but I have no room to speak and soon the only sounds left to us are the engine’s and silence. I start fiddling with the radio dial, you light up a cigarette, and when the scratchy refrain to “Alice’s Restaurant” comes in, we laugh at each other, neither dumb enough to sing along. Stopping at the first gas station we find in Maryland, we wash our faces in the iron-tasting water from the tap, read the lonely messages truckers left each other in this middleof-nowhere bathroom, and I know we’ll find something better to talk about the rest of the way. IV. Ocracoke Ferry, Hatteras for my brother No dolphins, schools of blues, nothing in the water except gulls combing the foam the ferry’s screws turn out. When I left 77 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
this morning from Portsmouth you’d already gone, two hours into another day that’d turn into night and call in the emergency room. Yesterday it was a surfer you told me about. He came in with herpes and when he found out he knew exactly who it was and when. You asked him if he was so sure now, why didn’t he wonder then? He shrugged, You ride the waves you’re given, like there was no choice in his life, or yours. I watch the surf here break into white wreckage on the sand bars and shoals that make this cape so treacherous. Back at Kitty Hawk Monument this morning, looking out over the condominiums and fast food joints holding this earth down more than any vegetation ever could, I knew you should be here with me. But your choice of blood, sinew, and bone, my choice of books and words define us, obstacles as real as this violent, ripping wind men flew against. At Captain Bilbo’s, today’s catch is bluefish—very good if you don’t eat the skin— the waitress tells me. And it is good, the best fish I’ve ever tasted, meat tender and separating in white flakes under my knife. I grab a placemat with the Captain’s smiling face, buy a postcard with “The Gulf Stream” reproduced in miniature, but I won’t give you either. Cars idle in a slow line when I return to the ferry and I have to wait for two loads to depart before there’s room for me. The black-and-white lighthouse juts above the blue channel, and I remember how frightened I felt driving among the sand hills the first time I hit a break in the storm barrier, saw the immense water before me, was drawn toward the sudden flash of white surf and aqua everywhere catching my eyes, hands, veering the car toward the pure blue and almost driving in, off this continent into the deep. On this boat now, it’s less tempting. The rail’s solid iron convinces me enough to lead me back to land. 78 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
V. Returning Home Each breath I take at night seeks to deny my life, three hundred and eighty-five times my lungs closed, stopped, and I woke gasping to continue. Apnea, they tell me and so I accept the continuous positive airway pressure of 13 cm. to keep my sleep constant, find delta for the first time in ten years, let R.E.M. build a new world in my head rather than threaten to pull it all down. I anchor to this machine, its hose my claim on oxygen, my elephantine surrogate lung pushing air past all my obstructions. More than any place it keeps me alive, yet it keeps me from you. We tangle together at night, air rushing off my face, my mask between your lips and mine. Could we but kiss away all this technology, this physiological wall inside my throat, I would tie myself to you each night rather than it, take the moist air around us and breathe our lives deeply.
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In the Atchafalaya Basin Baton Rouge behind me, my old girlfriend and her new boyfriend with two hundred reasons for me to want to leave as soon as I could. Western Union would have been the smarter choice but none of this was ever about smarter, something I am realizing as I am trying to get back to Arkansas without entering Mississippi and I find the sun getting low, the rain coming down harder as I pull off onto what my map shows as “Old U.S. Highway 190” since it seems to lead me to a road going straight north, but I should know that nothing out of Louisiana goes straight anywhere and never north, and suddenly I’m not on anything anyone would rightly call a road, just seashells broken up and laid down to mark a trail beside the Atchafalaya River. She had called two days before, she was late and I needed to do something, and I asked the damning question before I could swallow my words, choke them back down, and she said nothing. There was nothing to say. I took two days off before the weekend, thought I had to see her, thought she was alone, thought I could say something right if we were together again but I found out all I needed to know when he answered, took the money and asked if I was staying. The water kept rising, my tires slipping on the straightaways as I crawled through the wet night, and I know I should have turned back around if I could but I only saw 80 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
forward and the silver eyes of raccoons and opossums disturbed by me, armadillos frozen by the ditches waiting to launch if I slid their way, and when I finally couldn’t tell road from overflowing swamp I saw a way to escape that I shouldn’t have thought was rescue but I did then and turned up a path that brought my Honda Civic to the top of the levee holding back the river. I drove the road four-wheel drives had carved into the bank knowing below me on one side all sorts of varmints waited in the muck for me to crash down and join them and on the other side the Atchafalaya, dark and deadly, could make me disappear forever in its currents, cradle me deep here or wash me down to gators and the Gulf. But in the moonless black, only my imagination knew this and with my hands tight on the wheel I held my own way steady until I saw them, bright beams almost blinding, and I knew the trucks that made these ruts were out and bearing down on me and I found a cut back down as they blasted past above me before I could ask them to stop, point me somewhere other than here. The seashells seemed solider now and soon a hint of asphalt appeared again and then more until the lights of Melville, Louisiana, waited across a railroad bridge I couldn’t cross no matter how much I wanted to and after sitting there shaking for what seemed like an hour but must have been 81 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
only a few minutes, I turned back south, going home by driving away from it.
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spirituality and Christian principles the bedrock for his imaginative
men who / gathered on the corner waiting.â&#x20AC;? This connection of the
these poems and to think that what they represent is Arkansas as The
Arkansas make every moment he renders matter, and matter
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Pam Baker Arena My Church "Can I get a hallelujah?" I stole a cross—a teeny wooden worn brown cross; picked her up and stuck her in my purse. Not only did I pluck her from the fancy tray forged of silver, I encouraged three others to do the same. They did. We all sinned together. Four remembrances of Christ vanished from our Room of Words and Syntax, right into our discounted alarmcensored TJ Maxx handbags. It really was a no-brainer. A week earlier, I wanted to borrow the symbol that will save us all, but at the time I thought it best not to be impulsive. Seven days and one sin later, it was all mine. Hallelujah! I had a plan. When I saw someone that I thought "needed" to be reminded of Our Savior, I would simply hand it to them, smile, push my glasses up on my nose and put my head down and walk away. Work day by week day, I carried the holy cross in my wallet, ready to throw out an anchor and save someone at any given minute. I searched for that one person in suburban North Fulton who needed that borrowed cross more than myself. "Can I get an amen?" I scanned Peachtree Parkway north to south for lawn men with slicked back hair and gasoline-powered weed eaters; went through fast food drive-thru windows looking too hurriedly to help out that one hourly wage worker who I thought might be down in their luck, who might need a little salvation, or a bit of redemption. Every time I re-entered our stagnant planned neighborhood, I thought about silently placing it in a neighbor’s mailbox, to see if they would surmise that the Holy Ghost himself had left it after a neighborhood revival! The more I tried to give out something that was never really mine, the more that I tried to redeem myself and look inward. Really Pam, do I think a lawn worker who has escaped to freedom needs a cross more than a country club housewife with a four stall garage? And maybe the seventeen-year Chick-fil-A bagger was quite happy working with her friends at her part time minimum wage job. And why the hell am I living in an area where I can't seem to find anyone that I think might like the borrowed cross? Sunday night-6:37 pm-Target parking lot-Peachtree Parkway, Suwanee GA 30024 A bearded man and his matted black lab stand on the side of a crossroad with a worn cardboard sign in hand, “Family in Need.” I stop my tricked-out bumper stickered VW and say, “Hey!” He limps over to me. I ask, “Do you have any kids?” 84 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
“I've got four.” I hand him some cash. His tired eyes smile. I then reach out and give him the wooden cross, as it was never mine to begin with. By now, I'm not sure a cross is really ever anyone's to covet. He looks down, then looks at me and says, “Thank you for the cross; and may God always bless you.” 153 hours after borrowing the symbol of our salvation I say, “He finally did.” I finally got my Amen.
Pam Baker Arena is a visual storyteller, artist, and writer. Raised in rural West Virginia, she creates art daily from her journals and short stories. Letters work their way onto surfaces, and her words paint a thousand pictures through found objects, mixed media, and clay. Her writing embodies the narrative of her life. Pam has taught a variety of art and creativity classes over the years and is currently teaching a class she created called "Narrative Clay" at Art Center West in Roswell, GA. She graduated with honors from West Virginia University in 1982. The mother of four grown children, Pam resides in Johns Creek, GA.
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Russell Helms Lerned’s Book Collection
Slumped in a blue wheelchair like a broken coat hanger, Helen Porter’s chin pressed her chest. She sure didn’t like the boy who drove out that day and picked up Lerned’s books. Helen stared at her hands in her lap. Her fingers looked like scraped chicken bones. She peeped at the tips of her thin sock slippers. Lerned collected books, good books. Her feet felt cold. The boy had worn tight pants. She could see his banger coiled up in there like a corn snake. She thought maybe she could smell cigarettes on him. Lerned never smoked and always kept to himself, looking at his books. That boy had come in there like he owned the place and she had let him.
Gabriel unpacked another box of used books, acquired from the basement of the woman with fingers like chicken bones. “Aflame for God!” he announced. Theo looked up from the PC, cataloging the good ones for Amazon. “Jerry Falwell. Aflame for God! He can make you hot! But he can’t make you come - or can he?” “Damn, he just died like, what, a few months ago?” Gabriel examined the jacket, checked the bottom edge for remainder marks. “God died six months ago?” Theo wagged his bushy eyebrows. “I think maybe God died the next day,” said Gabriel. “Jerry wore him out the first five minutes.” He slid the book to Theo, opened to the title page.
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The nurse pushed Helen’s neck forward. “Lean down darlin. Lean down,” said Debbie Dee. Helen felt unsteady on the toilet and arched back. “You wanna stand up darlin? I can wipe you if you just grab on these bars and hold on.” Helen couldn’t remember that boy’s name. Abe or something and he had never asked what her name was. Kept asking about her husband and complimenting his damn books. Hell, it wasn’t her fault she never got pregnant.
“To my brother in Christ, Lerned…” Gabriel read the inscription aloud, a large swirling script that ate the whole page. “…What we have before us is a battle and we have been marked for war! Forsake earthly pleasures and join forces with Almighty God!” Gabriel coughed. “Signed, Jerry Falwell.”
Helen watched a white horse run through the overhead light and then she slowly rose above it all. She looked puny and broken slouched there without her teeth. The nurse ripped her gown open, her breast sacks dripping to the bed. A blast of electrons sucked her back down, the white horse galloped, and Helen opened her eyes. At least that damn boy’s hair had been neat and clean.
A thin folded page fell from the book and Theo picked it up. “Hey Gabe, check out these tits!” “Whoa and that hairy beeve…”
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Russell Helms has had stories in Sand, Drunken Boat, Litro, Versal, Bewildering Stories, The Moth and other journals. He writes, designs books, and holds a lectureship in English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His novel The Ground Catches Everything (2015) is from Roundfire Books. His MFA in creative writing is from Bluegrass Writers Studio.
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Outsider Interview with James H. Duncan Compiled and Composed by Clifford Brooks James H. Duncan first came to my attention as Big Cheese in Charge over at the Hobo Camp Review. Ten years ago I found Hobo Camp Review through a referral of another writer and immediately found an online magazine that held the goods it promised. It takes a team to keep that up, but James is the guy that puts a face to the powerhouse. He’s funny as hell. He is a sharp poet and insightful writer of prose. He wears both hats well, and all the while keeps Hobo from jumping ship. He has acted as editor on a million different literary pursuits, and worked until recently with Writer’s Digest. I could easily slip into a list of other projects he’s completed, or into, but I can hear James say, “Dude, c’mon. This is about my art, not your Oprah Moment. Move it!” He is right, of course. The interview that follows this introduction is one of the most stark-honest interviews I’ve done thus far. This isn’t flattery. It is fact. There is often a fine line between offering constructive criticism and what’s offensively “keeping it real”. James sees how misplaced our value in listening has become, and how much merit we give social media – that it may not deserve. Like a good man of firm upbringing, James speaks with tact, and doesn’t neglect the responsibility of direct truth. 1. Why are writers such whiny people? First, I think a lot of the issues that do come up in the poetry world have to do with a minority of writers who have a hard time getting over how NOT precious their work is. Yes, our poetry is important to us, and each poem, bad or good, means something. TO US. But to the world, every poem is open for criticism and critique, like it or not. Readers want good lines with meaning, images that evoke strong emotion or hilarity. And no writer is going to get that right every time, and sometime we get it really, really wrong, like, offensively wrong. When people point that out, some writers go into attack mode to protect their work. And that’s a massive mistake. Writers are so damn whiny because nobody wants to listen to each other anymore. LISTEN!
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It’s the key word we need to focus on in this writing profession of ours, in every profession actually, in every field of art and science, in politics and relationships and in life. We fail to listen more often than we’ll admit. And far too often, writers react to criticism of their work with an immediate and sometimes violent rebuke, a brushfire war starts on Twitter or Facebook, and someone always goes down, usually the writer who erupted into nuclear-defense-mode. Here’s the thing: Listening is not a sign of weakness, it is not a sign of concession that a poem didn’t work for all readers, it is not an admittance that you are wrong or a bad writer, it is the professional thing we do as editors and writers to show we value our readers, to show we value our content, and to show respect for the work and the process we’re all a part of. You might not agree with the readers and critics, but without understanding their stance, their point, their grievance, you can’t properly defend your work. And perhaps you can’t come to the realization that maybe the work isn’t defendable, which is just as likely in some cases. But you don’t know that if you don’t listen. You can’t grow if you don’t listen. You stagnate if you don’t listen. You lessen if you don’t listen. You become whiney when you don’t listen. So again, listening doesn’t mean you’re admitting you’re wrong, it just means you’re taking this whole poetry thing, this whole being a human thing, really fucking serious. 2. What is the single most destructive trend in the art world that hinders progress? Aside from the point above, which I contend is the answer to this question as well, I’d also say that it can be destructive to take any one person’s writing advice as the gold standard. I know I just said listening is vital, but so is finding your own path through the weeds. I used to work in the writing advice industry, as I call it, for Writer’s Digest magazine, and I have to admit, some of the advice was great, and some of it was really bad and formulaic. One book I edited was The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig, who offered a ton of fun advice on writing and publishing, and his first point was that none of his advice may apply. It simply may not work—for you. Some advice may change your life, but maybe 90% just doesn’t feel right, and that’s okay. I think that’s important to keep in mind—that nobody has all the answers, especially the people who claim to. Look, it’s good to listen to others, good to seek out advice and feedback, be it in workshops or elsewhere, but there comes a point where it can become too much, too destructive to your own voice and creative drive. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way through writing it out, writing bad novels and poetry or essays until you learn the tricks that work and the shortcuts that don’t. Sometimes you need to leave the magazines and advice books and workshops behind and just wander off alone. That can be true progress.
3. Are you of the opinion that you are born with the skill of creation with the need of practice necessary to hone it, or can it be purely learned in a classroom? 90 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
This reminds me of something Stephen King mentioned in his book On Writing, in which (and I’m paraphrasing heavily here, and perhaps mistaking what he said entirely as it’s been a decade since reading it, but) he says there’s a lot you can learn in a classroom, but it will only get you so far. Bad could become fair. Fair could become good. But good isn’t going to become great unless there’s that important mix of innate talent and hard, hard, hard work. But I think even fair writers with a lot of hard work can find popular success, yet we all still spot these writers as being “fair” (looking at you, 50 Shades). When you find true inherent greatness, popular or otherwise, honed or raw, it hits you like a rock dropped from on high—like Newton conked on the head with the apple. That kind of moment, when you know you found brilliance, does not come from workshops and classrooms alone. That has to be in-born and self-nurtured, enhanced through schooling and/or guidance. I really don’t think schooling alone can get you up that trail to the Literary Himalayas. 4. How do you use social media to best promote and trademark your true image? Ah, “true image”—does anyone promote that? I’m inclined to think no. In fact, I’ll say for sure that no one does. We all have things we hide or accentuate about ourselves in a social forum. I sure as hell do. Does anyone really think I’m always on the road or hopping boxcars or sleeping under bridges as a literary hobo? No, but it’s an aesthetic I’ve always been intrigued with and it’s where I see my heart when I look to poetry and images and stories, but I think we all do that even in small degrees: see where we’d love to see ourselves in the world and tap into that in ways we might not be able to in the real world. But the best way to promote yourself online is to get offline and do actual human things with actual humans, face-to-face—go read at readings, go to gatherings, attend that party your writer friend is throwing, get to know your bookshop owner, attend literary festivals, etc. This is where you meet people who are also doing things, connecting, publishing, collaborating, and you’ll start seeing them online as you follow each other, and your online connections grow from there.
4) With the increased success you enjoy, have you found it puts an unexpected stress on the sanctity of a private life? Well, my successes haven’t been so great that my private life has been affected at all, perhaps to my chagrin. Although there was a time when Hobo Camp Review first started where a lot more writers I didn’t know reached out asking for critiques and advice and blurbs and such. At first it was flattering, and then it became incessant and sometimes demanding, and that did make me pull back a bit, as I didn’t want to just become a “yes 91 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
man” editor throwing around happy blurbs and spending all my time giving feedback to just anyone. I became pretty judicious and started carving out windows of time where I couldn’t be so easily reached, or I wouldn’t allow myself to even open the review’s inbox.
5) How do you feel about starting a Fight Club? Umm, weren’t we told not to talk about that? Ahem, I mean—I don’t know what you’re talking about… dawn and the empty bottles of wine first frost of the January sun alone in the bedsheets not alone the air, like breath between blades of frosted grass in the fields beyond the window, in the hardened distance, autumn has been painted still to a white dawn your pulse sleeps, sputters a little in your subconscious roaming lower lip pouting, right hand clutching a childhood blanket let this moment before you wake with wide eyes sparking with questions of the day remain unthawed despite the sun now aching through the blinds, refracting off stray wine bottles marking the path, the ways and wishes that keep us young, for now How to Read the Braille of Your Heartstrings enter the men’s room like a warm current cutting the Atlantic tide and sweep the cold idea of reciprocation out into November 92 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
in the reflection of yellow floor tiles in the bathroom mirror, hollow out a moment and hold it muffled and silent ghosts of pain, ghosts beautiful, will devour the cartilage along the insides of the ribcage in small nibbles that bleed internal, but that will be of no consequence in a decade or so match that deft feeling by telling yourself that you may think breaking down outside of earshot will save you notice, but you’d be wrong no one is ever within earshot use your bathroom break wisely by counting backwards from 10, 9, 8… until you emerge reborn into stale and stained gray hallways freshly mopped and filthy to a desk, and once there rest your fingers against the veins on the underside of your wrist wait on that feeling to release you into some other hell count the pulsations, and know each one speaks a language you’ll never translate until it’s too late the Braille of the heartstrings are in mid-story and who the hell are you to interrupt?
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Having Come Down the Mountain having come down the mountain ravaged by spring wind, the sweetest quiet and most solemn stones stumbling along my feet, now I find that the walk is easy, now I find that the slopes are slow to take my breath, careful to catch my loping heels, the stone in my palm colored with my sweat, white already and whiter still as the sun stares down at old woman earth like a groom to his bride on the first day the universe tasted love and the stone goes into the pocket like a seed to the dirt, a reminder that the seeds of what we will do are already inside each of us, and how we water them and how we lather ourselves with sunlight will determine how theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll grow, their direction, their width, their reach and now the mountain is level and now the mountain is gone and I feel lighter, although I am so much more now for having come down the mountain James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review, a former editor with Writer's Digest, and a devout nostalgic with a soft spot for anything doused in black-and-white noir aesthetics. His ninth collection of poetry, We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, is set for a summer 2016 release from Dark Heart Press, and the collection pits the yearning childhood dreams of adulthood against the bitter and painful realities of what it means to find our life-path sputtering out to weeds much too soon. His work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, Haggard & Halloo, Reed Magazine, Red Fez, Drunk Monkeys, Salzburg Poetry Review, and others. For more, visitwww.jameshduncan.com.
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Michael Murphy Burke First Kiss, Last Breath A light breeze blew Across the lemon trees That lined the orchard Outside Muktananda Bay It blew a scent from these Yellow orbs of Gods glory That waltzed about my nose And sweetened the air on my lips Like a first kiss Or a last breath My eyes sparkled With the butterfly brilliance Of a Vernal Equinox As I thought of the taste Of your skin After you rubbed The juice of these lemons All over your breasts You said they enjoyed The tightness of the aroma As well as the cool touch Of their breath I remember it was a Thursday When you told me that I have never since looked at The Lemon Trees Outside Muktananda Bay Quite the same.
Michael Murphy Burke was born in New Orleans Louisiana.. September 30th 1959. September 30th also happens to be the day that Rumi, the great Sufi mystical poet, was born on. This is not a coincidence. As has been said, coincidence is just God's way of staying anonymous. Michael grew up surrounded by music, art, passion, freedom of expression and the absolute power of living upon your own path. He's been a poet all 96 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
his life, first being published in the school newspaper when he was a sophomore in high school. More recently he's been a steady contributor to Oracle magazine and has been published in Aquarius magazine as well. His first book of poetry, entitled, "Dancing with the Divine" , should be out in the spring of 2016..Michael is also a custom woodworker..creating artistic visions in a variety of woods for private clients... Michael, as well, is a sacred sound artist. Playing a variety of instruments and doing shows and meditations throughout the Atlanta area and Beyondâ&#x20AC;Ś..
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Jouska My mind creates memories. Like when you told me you loved me. But you didn’t tell me that. And now I can’t remember what you did say. I remember my magnolia tree Fragile and beautiful. It bursts each year in late March And lives brilliantly, vibrantly, violently For a few weeks. But 20 years ago I remember it living for months. It lived until June Becoming larger, riper, more open Until that day in June when I had my son. When I came home from the hospital My blossoms were gone But that tree could not have really lived until June….. My mind makes things up. It lies to me sometimes And soothes me at other time. It remembers so many events that never happened And forgets even more.
Regina Walker is a writer, photographer and psychotherapist in NYC. Her first book, Through My Eyes, is available through Amazon http://amzn.to/1CSdTXL.
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Luke Hankins A Voice Out of the Ruins Nostalgia for a place Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve never been. Remembered intimacy with a person Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve never known. A voice out of the ruins of Eden, calling me back, not into Eden, but into what is possible there, where it once stood, in the ruins.
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Brood X And suddenly this spring the whirring of a vast machinery in the trees, an unseen ubiquity of sound that indicates aliens to children and the mad. But the truth is, risen from the ground after seventeen years as nymphs, these are the opposite of aliens, come out of the earth itself to whirr among the boughs, to mate and let their offspring fall into familiar soil. -Asheville, North Carolina, 2008
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[My haiku about the moon] My haiku about the moon is not quite right, but the moon is right.
Luke Hankins the author of a collection of poems, Weak Devotions, and the editor of Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets (both from Wipf & Stock). His latest book, The Work of Creation: Selected Prose, was released by Wipf & Stock this January. Hankins is the founder and editor of Orison Books, a non-profit literary press focused on the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives.
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Keith Hughes Interview as written by Holly Holt I have worked in Adult Education for eight years. During that time, I have had the pleasure of helping to create lessons that have engaged a student body regularly ranging from sixteen to sixty. I learned about Keith Hughes on a Friday morning, while a colleague and I were looking for videos to add to a social studies presentation. The history nerds within us were beyond thrilled to find a goldmine of videos; only to revisit this excitement again weeks later, when this colleague connected to Keith Hughes through Twitter. Since then, I have had the pleasure of using more of his videos in my lessons, as well as “friending” him through Facebook. Being an introvert, I was hesitant at first to communicate via phone with Keith, but the interview (and the follow up) went extremely smoothly. He proved easy to talk to, and as passionate as ever about what called us together in the first place—teaching. Keith Hughes is an educator with an incredible selection of history lectures that are posted for free on YouTube. He brings each lesson to life with an engaging and utterly delightful approach. I hope this interview does him justice. *** What was the dominant factor behind why you became an educator? When I was younger, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. I saw how my father, who didn’t finish school, interacted with kids, and helped make them feel a part of something, which inspired me to want to engage with others. When I was in college, I was enrolled in five or six majors—the last of which just happened to be education. Who are some of your personal heroes? I know this is going to sound cliché, but my father was one of my personal heroes, through his nature and way of being. As far as historically, I would have to say Woodie Guthrie, because he was a guy whose storytelling provided an alternative history context that related to the rebels I think live within us a little better. Another would be Mary Jones, who helped in the defense of children. It’s kind of a challenge to determine who would be a present-day hero. You can say John Lennon, but then you look at this life and how complex it was. I think Kurt Vonnegut is another good present-day example.
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Do you want to shine the light on your Dad for a sec? I know you said that he’s your hero. Is there any particular memory or lesson about life that comes to mind when you’re teaching? When I was about five or six, my Dad would take me and his Boy Scout Troop out camping. Being that age range, and watching him interact with adolescents, it taught me how to interact with adolescents. He was just very human; he was just very respectful and authentic; and he was the same with kids as he was with adults. He was serious when he needed to be serious, yet he would laugh and be genuinely interested in who they were, and who they were becoming. Kids sensed that, and that was a very mystical thing. I saw that. The kids were different with him than they were with other adults. So, that’s the magic of teaching, I think—creating that balance, that relationship, and that energy in the classroom. He taught me that you don’t earn respect, that you give respect, and that everything comes back to you in this world. So, when you give kids respect, they will give it back to you; and you can use that genuine respect in the classroom. Learning is so much easier to craft that way. My father didn’t teach me pedagogy; he taught me how to be a human being—and I learned how that could be beneficial in the teaching arena and life in general. You have an incredible assortment of videos on YouTube. Is your approach to teaching different from “the norm”? If so, how? I don’t think that it’s really different from the norm. I’ve taught curricular stuff, unless I go off on a tangent. I really just want to help kids start thinking about stuff, and what they need to know through a truthful manner, which is how history should be told. For example, if I teach about the Spanish American war, I ask questions to get the students interested. Each student comes in with a blank slate—and I develop that slate through analogies and student discourse. You mentioned that you have tangents when you’re teaching. Any particular favorite(s)? Tangents should always be student-led. I think that one mistake that teachers do is that they’re blowhards sometimes, because they know a lot, especially history teachers, I think. So, they know about the Cuban Missile Crisis; and, when they’re teaching, they go off on tangents and they’ll talk for hours and hours and hours about something, like the Soviet submarines, or something like that. The kids are like, “Give me a break.” I’m talking about the tangents that are student-led, and they’re asking questions, maybe because they’ve heard something in their family or in relation to their genealogy or they have a genuine interest in a topic. Allowing them to go down that road a little bit, I think, facilitates learning. If anything, sometimes I would push them a little bit about their rights, and about Constitutional stuff. They should know the Constitution. They’re citizens. They have the right to know. And certainly things that affect them, whether it’s their interactions with school officials, administration, and especially dealing with the police and their community. Teaching them to be good people, but absolutely knowing their liberty; knowing where the line has been drawn; whether it’s their right to say the 104 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
Pledge of Allegiance in school, or whether they want to start a protest group. Teaching students that they have power in their lives, I think, is the tangent that I like the most. I’m sure you get asked to do this all of the time, but: How would you define history? That’s a hard question! I guess I could define it as the myth that we think up, which has been put together by our shared history. The perspective is different, but we’re all affected by history through the generations, often subconsciously. You can look at it like a river, which we all crawl out of, and that’s what makes it hard to explain: because everyone doesn’t swim out of the same tide. Our task, living in the present, is to define our current paradigm. Care to express what entices you about The Southern Collective Experience, either personally or historically? I am drawn to the way you guys walk the walk. We come from two different platforms, but there is little difference between the two forms of art, so we share the umbrella as we walk through the world. Here, I’m prompted to think of Richard Brautigan. You express who you are through music and words, while I express myself through teaching. You guys are raw and authentic—without heralding that you’re the mantel of truth, just that you’re doing it for doing it. I have mad respect for that. Last year, you were part of the project, “America's Most Badass.” Do you have something coming up this year that you’d like to tell us about? I’m not sure. I think I’m doing an Erie Canal documentary for PBS. I’m working with a couple of publishers trying to get my Hashtag Teacher Tips published, because that’s an interesting thing that I’ve not done before. People seem to like them, so we’ll see how that goes along, and my ears are always open. I believe in the spaghetti theory of life— you know, you kind of throw everything against the wall, and see what sticks. So, we’ll see what’s coming up in there. I know you have the motto, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” Can you explain how that lines up with your teaching philosophy? The book the quote came from, or something like it, was called The Dancing Wu Li Masters, and I was like 19 or 20 when I read it. It was really about quantum physics, so the book was a layman’s explanation of quantum physics. So, I was learning how quantum physics related to life, and how our minds worked—and I think that phrase was in there, in some jungled way. Anyway, if you don’t have kids with their antennas up, you’re broadcasting to nothing. So teaching kids and being a kind of a point of energy to focus attention, teaching kids how to maintain that through designing learning experience, has kids doing and producing things and not just listening to you. After all, learning doesn’t happen between my voice and their ears. Once I have their attention, I can create the prospect for what I call “flow”—this consciousness where you’re in the moment. Kids are in flow when they’re in video games, right? Creating that in my classroom, you have to have attention; you have to have focus. I always remind myself of that because it’s the secret sauce of teaching. *** 105 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
Please check out these videos from Hip Hughes History: Explaining Federalist Paper #10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNN95-ICOMI The American Revolution Explained: US History Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOjKiLDV3vI
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Amazon Barnes & Noble Fjords Review
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Rowan Johnson White Horse at 17, Johannesburg With Cream and the gods of rock in the White Horse Inn. Eight rooms packed and spinning with pool tables, wild bikers, dancing girls, switchblade knives. Flickering lighters shining circles across the walls. Big bouncers spinning bullets on the tables, loudly loading guns. Dawn is coming, when we will walk home in the sunrise. But now we wait here in this dark room, this place where the sun cannot shine. Go and ask Alice, who just had some kind of mushroom. Procol Haremâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s skipping the light fandango, turning cartwheels across the floor, all the faces just ghostly, spinning circles through the dark with Jefferson Airplane. And one pill's in his hand and one pill's on her tongue and the ones they've already taken got them spinning on the floor. Ceilings spinning round and round the crazy pool hall and the crazy spinning pool balls. Swirling smoke hazing up the lights like haloes. The Horse hums harder as the ceilings fly away. At dawn we walk home with the galloping White Horse clacking heels behind us. Guns being loaded and clicking into place. Flickering Zippos clicking and clacking between us. Two sultry hours along the burning highways with the bikers bleeding profusely on their way, all of us wondering why the gods we believed in have given us this new shining day.
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Rowan Johnson holds a doctorate from the University of Tennessee as well as an MA from the University of Nottingham, England. He has published various forms of writing, including two novels, poetry and flash fiction. His work has been published in Two Thirds North, GFT Press, Passing Through Journal, Wordriver Literary Review, Laptop Lit Mag, and the Writers' Abroad Foreign Encounters Anthology. He has also written numerous travel articles for publications such as The Complete Woman and SEOUL Magazine.
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Founding Brother Feature: Felino A. Soriano Collected and Composed by: Clifford Brooks What I want to do in this interview is dig into, and get out of, the usually controlled Felino A. Soriano some of the chaos I know you’ve got tucked back. Not repressed or stifled, no, I see your Hyde carefully cultivated and prudently carved out the tension I clearly decipher in your poetry. You never hide anything. Your verse is layered like the skins of an onion. You and I have been friends for 10 years. It’s taken me that long to peel back the elaborate, but natural, vernacular you hone like a requiem composed to meld words and their subtle connotations – into a single sound. I believe that those who find your compositions difficult to delve into feel that way because, like Old English or Shakespeare, it’s a language unto itself. Never once have I sensed even the hint that your fourth wall is welded shut by simply cryptic offal. Like all wisdom, and more painful life-lessons, your poetry requires one to put the world aside and focus. Your work isn’t an acquired taste, it is a banquet open to every taste in the reader is willing to bravely approach, and soon find joy a good length outside of their comfort zone. So let’s get to it, brother. Stand before the infinite world of sound, and conduct for us an Opus Unto You that the world deserves to stand and applaud. 1) You are closest akin to the ethereal concrete found in jazz Miles Davis and Coltrane had exclusive access. The complex creation of overlapping melodies in Bitches Brew and One Up, One Down cannot be divorced from an instinctual leap of faith between what you pen, and the soundtrack it summons as I read. You do not imitate. Like any jazzman worth their salt, you make it your own. The question: What ritual do you initiate before, or during, writing/editing that summons the spirits that sit on your shoulders to help hem your images into a tangible description? My writing starts with music. I’m devoted to creating music within each poem, in each specific line. I often incorporate emptiness/space into my writings to encourage breathing within the angular phrasing and density of sound-in-language and multilayered meaning. Rhythm appears always prior to the beginning of a poem. I perpetually listen to music, specifically jazz, when writing (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Alice Coltrane, Jason Moran, Christian Scott, Robert Glasper, —a truncated list of favorites), and often close my eyes, either prior to writing, or during the writing process to find clarity in each rhythm. Music informs the poetry. The line Of the 113 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
poetry this jazz portends is etched into my website, and serves as my reminder of the importance music has on the fruition of my writing. I write all of my poems in my writing room/study. It’s a small space but contains all that is important to me contextually to creating a productive and enjoyable environment. My wife and I painted the walls a very dark gray, near-black. One wall is lined from floor to ceiling with shelves that house my books on jazz, design, poetry, philosophy, etc.; the shelves also hold various collectibles and important possessions. The other walls are crammed with various pieces of art, family photos, quotes, and scripture. I have my typewriter, pens, paper, and computer here, my music collection of CD’s and vinyl, as well as my record player. I write all of my poems eventually on my computer, even if I start them elsewhere. I write very quickly and do very little editing outside of correcting a misspelled word. I value the improvisational properties of writing “in the moment” and have written this way for many years. 2) What makes you happy, boss? You are a methodical man like none other I’ve met in this life. What makes you laugh without a hint of restraint? My life is based essentially on the internal importance of habit and routine. In contrast to say, the improvisation occurring in a poem, my life is predictable, and is purposely this way. Family brings me much joy, as does my job; obviously, poetry does as well, as does music, art and philosophy. Outside of work and familial responsibilities, I ensure to listen to music, write and study something on a daily basis. This makes me smile. My daughter running up to me and giving me a big hug floors me every time. Watching her play and learn and communicate makes me smile uncontrollably. I’m a homebody. I prefer the elation home allows through my family and access to my writing room. 3) You have been run through with a thousand interviews over your tenure as a man to make peace with while on earth. What are a handful of hints on writing something you’re happy with that may have fallen through the cracks with other journals? Something I did not possess when I started writing seriously (in 2000) was confidence in what and how I was writing. Cornel West said “All emulation is a sign of an adolescent mind”, and for the first several years of my writing, I emulated quite a bit. Poets such as Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Octavio Paz, e.e. cummings, and Ed Pavlic were constantly being read by me; my early language was definitely influenced by them and others. It wasn’t until I came in contact with Duane Locke in early 2006 that my confidence and voice began into what is occurring now. He encouraged me through his kindness and commentary on my writing; I cannot properly communicate how this helped me and caused in me a desire to write very differently from what I was then doing. Hints are hard to come by as are secrets not destined to be revealed. I don’t spend a lot of time pondering over my writing; as I stated earlier, I write quickly, which is why I’m sometimes considered prolific. If I were to give advice to writers starting out it would be 114 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
to read a lot of poetry, read and ascertain the disparateness and similarities of what you’re reading; then, write until your writing sounds like nothing you are reading; this will help alleviate the problem with emulation about which Dr. West speaks. Something that also took time for me to get beyond was the sting of rejection letters. This month (March) marks ten years that I have been getting my poetry published regularly. From 2006 until 2009, rejections letters really bothered me; they’d make me question my ability. Although I’ve had just under 5,000 poems published over these ten years, it took me an extended period of time to birth “thickened skin” and not let rejection letters (and I’ve received some nasty ones!) reshape the conviction that disallows me to stop writing. Simply, I’m an advocate for language’s ability to not stagnate into uninteresting and jejune circumstances. This is a responsibility. 4) In the pew truth sits in, there is also the fact that the Southern Collective Experience would not exist without your deft ability to draw up a design that’s free of pomp and circumstance. This is especially true with their journal of culture, the Blue Mountain Review. You also have other literary journals of varying depth. How do you choose how each will look? Are there any particular factors you consider before making the first mouse click? The first journal I started is Counterexample Poetics, back in February, 2009. My original intent was to invite some of my favorite writers to send in their work (as well as take open submissions) for me to showcase. It was an act of respect and diligent discovery in how others’ writings propelled my own. I also hoped to become part of the literary community from the editorial standpoint that originally accepted me through my writing. Counterexample Poetics’ aesthetics have remained unchanged for almost the duration of its existence. I did not publish “issues” but instead published pieces on a rolling basis. A few years back, Jamez Chang came on board as Editor of Flash Fiction for Counterexample Poetics. I have not published any new poetry, art, etc. on the site for quite a while. Jamez, however, continues to publish flash fiction. In early 2014, a strong desire to put forth another journal compelled me to start Of/with: journal of immanent renditions. It is completely different aesthetically from Counterexample Poetics, in that I now publish issues. Honestly, I don’t have major design skills and therefore, I strive to publish journals that are simplistic in appearance that allows the poetry and art to dimensionally exsert from the page, on their own. Exterior interest starts with the cover, and for all four issues that have been published, I’ve used images by Duane Locke. He creates something called “sur-prints” as well as photographs of what he calls the sacred, e.g. dragonflies, birds, spiders, etc. I’ve used three of his sur-prints and one image of a dragonfly for the issues thus far. The feedback on the issues have been very kind. 5) You have created an oasis of your steady, measured meter for Blue Crawford to recline in Clifford Brooks’s, The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford. Tell me your slant on Splaven’s character, and how 115 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
his peaceful presence plays into the chaos Blue leaves in every bar he blows through as he tries to find Miss Dixie. I wanted to produce a character from birth onward that was resiliently evolved through jazz’s improvisational importance; stemming from his mother’s intuitive desire to have this wonderful music engrain into dispositional inheritance. Thus, I created Experiential Cycles of Elwood Oris Splaven. There are elements of autobiography in Splaven, particularly the jazz, particularly the devotion to language and bridging over the petty cultivation of others’ judgmental articulations. 6) You have been known for over ten years as a man of letters who helps shape their future as well. However, I can't remember anyone asking you about your vocation away from the keyboard. Please tell us about your work with those who have developmental disabilities. I work for an exceptional agency that provides supports to adults and children with disabilities. Prior to applying for a job, I hadn’t any meaningful knowledge of disability. That changed though, rather quickly, through the abundance of information and transformational experiences that were provided to me, both organically and through an organized, educational environment. I’ve held many roles for the agency, and am currently a director of supported living and independent living programs; these programs serve adults across two counties. One of my primary roles is teaching various trainings to our agency staff. I look at trainings as providing specific tools to employees to ensure they are prepared and can function within a comfortable style of approach to services. An interesting dynamic is a transformation I’ve had to make to feel comfortable in delivering the information. Naturally, I am very introverted and shy; I’ve had to learn to cultivate a version of bravery to get to the point I am now, which is extremely comfortable with public speaking, and I am comforted in hearing the employees enjoy the trainings. An aspect about the work I truly enjoy is hearing/seeing/experiencing the people we support find talents that provide a function of joy and admiration from others. Contextual to that, we have a wonderful arts program complete with a gallery and studio. Myriad of artistic brilliance occurs, —paintings, drawings, jewelry, clay, etc. Something that has become imperative to me, both on a personal level and in how I communicate with employees in a concentrated way through trainings—is helping to remove labels and antiquated language about people with disabilities. I’m devoted to this because a lot of what is said about people with disabilities is very generalized and narrow; this disallows a full identity to be nurtured and realized. 7) I have heard you say that jazz not only influences your writing, but is in fact a sacred component. Please delve beneath the sound and uproot the spiritual correlation between jazz/poetry. We both cherish Coltrane's A Love Supreme. With Coltrane and Supreme as a foundation, walk us through your process. 116 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
Music has been an important part of my life since childhood. As a youngster, around five or six years old, I’d go with my dad to his band rehearsals. He sang lead in a group that did covers of records by Rick James, The Commodores, Kool and the Gang, and other artists within the spectrum of Soul and R&B. After that, my musical preferences changed, stagnated and changed, more. In 2000, I started listening to jazz, which paralleled my watching the Ken Burns documentary Jazz. This music affected me very differently than other genres on a physiological level. There’s significance in that statement because of the sacred continuity the music has had on my dispositional configurations; the music has been very entrancing over these 16 years, and also, transforming beginning in circa 2006 when I began listening while writing. I realized quickly that the music altered my perception and thus, my poetic language changed, as well. I began to hear the music on a level that even now, I have trouble articulating. The music changed my approach to the configurative dynamics of the poem; I began incorporating angular line structure and space to create rhythm to parallel the alliterative and prosodic elements that I hope create a musical language within the poems, also. A Love Supreme was one of the 1st two jazz albums I bought (Miles’ Kind of Blue was the other; I purchased them together). This album builds a bridge that reaches for the sacred within humanity, and speaks toward finding the interior of what’s good, —one can hear it in Coltrane’s playing. When my maternal granddad died, I was asked to write a poem for him. I listened to A Love Supreme on repeat until the poem was done. This album continues to be a favorite, and one I visit often when I need an emblem of sacred music to accompany the process of writing. 8) You have been a brother in the Southern Collective Experience since it began 10 years ago. Since its birth, and especially in its growth over the last two years, how do you see the group improving society's idea of "the artist"? What are some of your impressions of the group thus far? What are a few things that set it aside from other clubs, movements, or schools of thought? There’s clarity within the Experience from both a geographical context as well as in the importance of authentic approaches to art. Many in the group though, fall outside of the South, but we find identity within roots in music, language, etc. A kindness exists within those participating… and there’s a devotion to finding success as a whole as well as on an individualized basis. 9) When you think back on your childhood, what memories act as a constant place of peace and warmth? If you don't mind, tell us how those moments shaped you as an artist.
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I’ve lived my whole life on the central coast of California. My childhood was quite typical, with school, friends, a younger brother, and standard activities such as various sports and hobbies. My dad started teaching me martial arts at age five, and I officially joined a school at age seven, receiving my black belt at age 15. Martial arts was my first (although, at the time, unbeknownst to me…) exposure to philosophy and critical thinking. I’ve fond memories of family vacations each winter to Yosemite; being able to see what Ansel Adams photographed in person was very joyful. We’d always rent a cabin for a few days; no TV’s were in the cabins, so we relied on familial connection and the radio for entertainment. I did not get to know my grandparents as well as I would have liked, as with the exception of my paternal grandma moving close to us late in her life, both sets of grandparents lived on opposite sides of the county; in Hawaii and North Carolina. I did though, have opportunity to visit them on a few occasions, and spent a summer in North Carolina while a teenager. Contextual to your query about youthful experiences shaping my artistic disposition—I often use those memories to guide my writing now. Nostalgia is a gift; certain songs and scents bring forth a history of enjoyed experiences. 10) It is a full time job trying to keep up with the copious amount of new material you have coming out this year. As a last favor, please tell us about the books you have slated for release in 2016. Thank you. The excellent Fowlpox Press will be publishing two collections of mine, hopefully within the next year. The first is a set of poems called Fragmented Olio; it consists of 100 poems and is broken into five sections: Bas-relief, Behaviors, Consequences, Motives, and Antecedents. The other project I’m working on for Fowlpox Press is a New and Selected poems. This year marks ten years that I have been getting my poetry published on a regular basis. I’ve had just under 5,000 poems accepted for publication over this decade, and that is a really daunting number to work with in regards to selecting what to include in the collection. I will be selecting poems from 2012 – 2016, as this is a period including poems that are consistent with what I am attempting to currently achieve. Another main project I started within the last few weeks is a series I’m calling Of this Momentum Song; I plan on writing this series for many, many years. Twenty of the poems will be appearing in the New and Selected collection that is forthcoming. Another collection that I am truly excited to see come to fruition is my collection called Quintet Dialogues: translating introspection, which is forthcoming from the brilliant publisher Michael Annis, through his Howling Dog Press. My original intent with this collection was to interrogate the jazz quintet and create an understanding of each musician’s introspective solos, using piano, bass, saxophone, trumpet, and drums as the foundation for the directional camaraderie of the quintet’s dialogue. That original premise is still the strongest thread throughout the collection, but has been greatly 118 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
improved by the addition of artwork by the brilliant artist David Allen Reed. In addition to my original writings, I’m also creating new, ekphrastic poems interpreting David’s work… this allows for an altered dimensional quality toward the dialogical approach of the collection; further, we’re “dialoguing” with Michael as well, as he is a brilliant poet and artist and is working on the layout of the book’s entirety. Other than those works, I have two collections awaiting decision by two outstanding publishers, and I have several individual poems awaiting decision from various magazines, as well. I also wrote another collection this year called To Myself, You Listen, and I hope to submit it to publishers sometime later this year.
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About Brent Ellis: As a child, I would sit for hours on end, tracing characters, monsters, and anything I could in comic books, coloring books, and magazines. In Junior High and High school, my drawings became more elaborate: from roses, to Mickey Mouse characters, to designing album cover art for the bands I formed with my friends. In 1990, I applied to the Art Institute of Atlanta (and was accepted), but my parents informed me that they couldn’t afford to send me to the Art Institute due to the tuition. I was unable to get the scholarship. Although I started working for the store where my Dad worked, my heart still laid in the art world. I kept my artistic abilities sharpened and created pieces as they came to me. When the economy had the small crash in the 1990’s, I fell back onto doing what I did best and created to make extra money. I designed and created several tattoos for different individuals during these years, but never had anything to do with the application of ink. Before my fate as a twenty- two year veteran of Law Enforcement, something that I never thought I’d ever do, I worked with a close friend as a roadie for his band. I met rock legends such as South Gang and Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ in the way that so many people wanted to—a nineteen-year-old’s little piece of Heaven. Moving into a different world of crime prevention, my dreams and hopes were put on hold to further a career in Law Enforcement. I did some art on the side, but not like I wanted. Shortly after a near-death experience during a gastric bypass surgery, I decided that I would attempt (as soon as I could) to go back to school. Although I couldn’t afford to go to the Art institute, I decided to go to school for something I loved. After being a student at Appalachian Tech for a two year period and a lot of hard work, I succeeded in accomplishing the one thing I wanted to do, but I still had a void in my life. Using my new found talents, I created works of art with my hands. Fulfilling complete restorations of two classic muscle cars, working countless hours on my own projects and doing side jobs, I finally came up with an idea: “Big E’s Classic Car Art,” where I put
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muscles car and trucks on an eleven by fourteen piece of paper for the car guru to hang on his man cave wall. I ventured into classic cars at first and moved into the pursuit vehicles for several of my “brothers” in blue. Completing several drawings of different cars, my talents were finally recognized by a very talented motorcycle builder shop,“Kotic Kustoms” of Woodstock, Georgia. The owners Buffy and JT love building custom bikes for their customers. After being asked to design a logo that would be showcased on their personal shirts, which would be sold in their shop and shows, I jumped at the chance and designed a shirt that was used in production for several years. I am still designing for them and drawing as time permits. I enjoy all my Hot Rod buddies in the car, truck, and motorcycle world. As I play in this world of art and put car art on paper, I’m reminded of the bucket list that I created a few years back. Whether this ever gets a check mark beside it, I’m satisfied knowing it will be a few pen strokes away. Until then I will keep my talents as razor sharp as I can and keep creating. I might not ever be as famous as Leonardo or some of my favorite fantasy artists, but I do know that some have enjoyed my talent over the years. And being a starving artist, I have known this all too well, but if I can make that young person realize that his/her talents matter, just as I have tried to make mine matter, then I have accomplished a lot in my life. Never give up on what you believe in. Keep pushing forward and make yourself count, because you do. If you never show your talents, then you might be the one that never made a difference in someone’s life that was really needing it. Something that you can easily overcome and build your own story with. Every life has a story, it’s just your choice to make that story available as an open book and let it shine!
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Amanda Brendel Childhoodâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s End Twilight summer I throw my writing to the fire They gasp that I'm willing to give such a sacrifice Pine fire glows green Emerald, cyan, then gold Needles crackling in the heat Stars dancing overhead This is the last year of my youth. This is the last year of my youth. All those words kept at heart Not for the eyes of those who pry A mother's inquisition Inferno of questions I'd rather not say And here I leave the child behind.
Amanda Brendel lives in Northwest Georgia. She is a freelance journalist, independent comic book illustrator, painter, and writer.
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About Mechelle Ballew: My first photo I remember taking was when I was an early teenager. I think it is by far the favorite of all I have taken. It was a sunrise the morning after a horrific storm that sent my family fleeing from the untrustworthy home in which we lived to a more sturdy motel in the quaint city of Ellijay, Georgia, where I was raised. I went on a stroll with my camera upon returning home to survey the damage. In the picture, the fingers of the sun were meandering through the rough pine needles on the trees still hanging heavy with raindrops, as was the tall grass in the meadow before me. The spring air was crisp and seemed to have been cleansed by the storm. That’s when I realized how much I loved photographing nature’s tender, but sometimes violent, beauty. Photography takes me to a place that I can’t explain, my “zone”. I lose communication with this world as I enter my own, and sometimes the transition back isn’t necessarily an easy one. I am a Southern girl who loves my North Georgia Mountains, but am in awe of any new places I have an opportunity to explore. The images I capture while in my zone are little pieces of my soul, and it has been difficult to share them in the past, to open them to scrutiny. But I have realized they are indeed not my soul, but things my soul enjoys, and generally there is no one around to see the fleeting moments I capture with my camera, so I now share the images I have been blessed to capture. I have two daughters that share in my love of photography, unlike my son, whose sole passion is classic cars.
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A Talk about Faith Interview Collected and Composed by Clifford Brooks Rick Ward-Harder, Ph.D., D. Min. is a man of faith I discovered after a friend sent me a riveting video of Ward-Harder delivering a sermon on the importance of nonjudgement. I don’t watch many videos that folks send me. I don’t know if I should admit that, but this one wouldn’t let me shake loose. I watched it once. Then, I watched it a dozen more times. God is good - period. “God is good – period” is as preachy as I get in Blue Mountain Review. Each issue will have a different viewpoint of faith because faith is everywhere. To ignore that fact, or worse, try to quell the positive effects of discussing it, is tantamount to robbing the public of soul. Everyone is south of somewhere. I feel certain that all of us have felt south of ourselves at some point, too. “A Talk about Faith” is a reminder every issue that Someone Out There is not “looking down on you,” the Universe is looking to “lift you up.” Please read, reflect, and take on your own merit this interview with Rick Ward-Harder, Ph.D., D. Min. 1) What drew you to the church and what church do you currently lead? I am the senior pastor / priest at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Hot Springs, AR and at St. Mychal Judge Parish in Texarkana, AR/TX. We are chartered parishes of The Progressive Episcopal Church. We are a part of the Diocese of the Delta, with His Excellency +Daniel Varga, serving as our Bishop. I serve the church national as the Canon to the Bishop and am currently the Suffragan Bishop Elect. There will be a consecration service later this summer. I have been involved in church my entire life, growing up in the United Pentecostal Church. I served in roles as choir member, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and then ultimately left the church after getting a divorce after 10 years of marriage. I had come out to my mother and others at age 16 as a gay youth. Immediately it was “pray the gay away.” She quickly pushed me at 17 to marry a lady who was 33 at the time we married. My ex-wife knew the whole story. I was 100% faithful to her during our marriage, however, my innate sexual orientation never wavered or changed. When I became divorced, I announced to those near to me that I would no longer hide who I was and who I believe Christ created me to be.
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I began to question many of the churches teaching and this led me to the independent Catholic Church or the ISM Independent Sacramental Movement. I had discerned the call to ministry and the priest hood for some time. I had been ordained in 1997 as a minister in the Pentecostal and Non-denominational church and Pastored Hope Apostolic in Little Rock, AR after serving my student clergy period at Greater Christ Temple. I then pastored Christ Cathedral in Little Rock, AR. Both Hope and Christ Cathedral were fully inclusive congregations. As I began working on a Masters in Theology from St. Lukeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, I began moving more towards the liturgical church. I moved in 1999 to Houston Texas and began pastoring Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, which was an inter-denominational church. During this time, I became close friends with Bishop Tom Martin, of the Reform Church, which was an independent Catholic Organization in Galveston, TX. He was a former Roman Priest and Bishop. He no longer appears in their rolls as he was removed from the ministry due to his progressive views of human sexuality and his views on women being fully included in all aspects of ministry. He pastored The Reform Church of Galveston and it was there that I made the full progression into the priesthood being ordained on May 23, 2004. I subsequently became the pastor of The Reform Church in Galveston, TX after Bishop Tom Martin accepted an appointment to a mission work in the Philippines. In 2010, I was incardinated into the Diocese of the Holy Spirit, which was the forerunner of the Progressive Episcopal Church. I was later incardinated into the Diocese of St. Patrick and it was there that I was elevated to Monsignor by Archbishop Phillip Zimmerman. In 2012, Archbishop Jack Stafford, with the Diocese of the Holy Spirit began gathering both Catholic and Episcopal priests who had a liberal or progressive view and formed the Progressive Episcopal Church. I am privileged to be the longest tenured clergy member of the PEC and have been a part of the church since its date of inception. The PEC is made up of both Catholic and Episcopal Clergy. We follow eight principles of progressive Christianity which is rooted in an ancient heritage. More about the PEC and St. Michael and St. Mychalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s can be found at the following links. There also are links that describe the eight universal points of progressive Christianity. http://stmichaelarchangel.weebly.com/ - St Michaels Website http://stmichaelarchangel.weebly.com/progressive-christianity--socialjustice.html - Our Social Justice Page http://stmichaelarchangel.weebly.com/sermonhomily-study-guideand-notes.html - My Sermon Notes http://stmichaelarchangel.weebly.com/fr-ricks-progressive-blog - My Blog Page http://stmychaljudge.weebly.com/ St Mychals Website http://www.tpecusa.org/a-progressive-christian-catechism.html Teachings of the PEC 131 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
2) How early in life do you remember this being your calling? Growing up in church, I was singing in front of the church from my earliest memories. I could quote scripture from about the age of three and have always been active in some form of religious life. I first felt the call to the ministry in my early teens but due to my orientation (I identify as gay) I felt that this would never be an option for me. After my divorce, I moved into the LGBT community circles and saw so many who were like me that were excommunicated from their previous churches but who still held a deep faith system. I recalled that the scripture tells us that no MAN can separate us from God. It was in that moment that I determined to share the message with my fellow LGBTQ brothers and sisters that God does love them exactly as they are. God created them and it is society that has ostracized them and relegated them to simply sexual acts instead of embracing them as loving people capable of productive and supportive relationships. While working on my Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, I did my dissertation on Legalism, Authority, and Spiritual Abuse within the Modern Church. I focused on the harmful and hurtful abusive manmade doctrines that are used by churches in the mainline dominations to control and abuse people. You are either “in,” and fully accepted, or you’re deemed as “one of them,” judged as sinful, and cast aside. This is NOT the teachings of Christ. He taught love, grace, mercy, and peace; most of all he taught acceptance. In 2010, I completed a Doctorate of Ministry through Sacred Heart and focused on equality and inclusion. The church of tomorrow must be inclusive and progressive. Church attendance is in decline in all mainline denominations and this is directly related to no longer being relevant. The church wants to stick with traditional teachings that are skewed towards a male-dominated society and teaches patriarchal authority. This is not in keeping with the teachings of the one for whom we are named. I have been very vocally active in a number of responses at the local and national levels on matters of equality regarding race, religion, orientation, marriage, women’s rights and the like. I have been engaged in the legislative process, the city council process, and in numerous media interviews as an out gay priest. I have also had the opportunity to be picketed by Westboro Baptist and the late Rev. Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley Roper. The calling I felt early in life only grows stronger with each passing day as I meet more and more persons who have a story to tell. As I hear the stories and see the pain that others have inflicted, I am more impassioned to share a message that is good news, a message that teaches the embracing love of Christ and the Church. I relish in knowing that we offer an alternative to the often bigoted mainline church, an option that allows a restoration of a faith system and a connection to and with 132 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
God as the individual understands God. When I hear of the many stories of young people being bullied and ultimately committing suicide, many of whom are LGBTQ youth, I know that our work and my calling really is just beginning, as there is so much work to do. 3) What are some of the rampant, erroneous images society has about religion, and how to you feel that robs people of the seat of their soul? I think many on the conservative religious side see those of us on a progressive position as inferior and often attempt to discredit us. It is interesting that most of these people, including the clergy members, just accept a doctrine or teaching of a human and fail to research the ancient texts and fail to apply a current day understanding of it. They also fail to realize that the Bible is a collection of Books written by men and is written from their personal perspective. This is exactly why some books differ from others. It is an excellent guide, but by no means infallible. They fail to question, search, and determine for themselves what it is they personally believe. When confronted by facts, they simply revert to “talking points” they have been given, which are in and of themselves usually just an opinion. I think on the non-religious side, many fail to realize that a faith system is of major importance to many people, even if they never attend church. Many on the non-faith posture often think that ALL Christians are conservative and opposed to them. They fail to realize that there are many progressive Christians that are accepting of all people and supportive of everyone’s rights to his or her own belief system—be they inclusive of Christianity or other faith system or no faith system. Caught in the middle are the progressive Christians who follow social justice in all they do. They or should I say we, are the ones who often have our faith criticized by both sides or positions. In practicing an inclusive ministry, we welcome all, affirm all, and are inclusive towards all. 4) What are some of your favorite sermons from the Bible, and why? I am moved by Christ’s response to a woman accused of adultery. The citizens, religious leaders, and others were ready to stone her to death. He took social justice to the max in this recounting of the events. He stood against the religious LAW of the day and asked them who would cast the first stone; he asked who was without sin; he then asked her where her accusers were, after they had to back away. This clearly illustrates the social justice message of Christ and his intent that we move forward in a progressive manner, as he ignored the current law which was restrictive. I am also moved by his message of, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Christ was about community building, taking care of the poor, the outcasts, and those that society looked over. 133 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
He also made it clear that what we do to the least of these, we do to him. As Christians, we are to exemplify the life of Christ. This means acceptance of all people. He showed us by example that we are to reach out to, love, embrace, and share with those from other races and cultures, from differing socio-economic groups, from differing religious backgrounds, etc. That is why I am inclusive and welcome all: Muslim, Jew, Christian, Atheist, agnostic, gay, straight, trans, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, married, divorced, single, living together, etc. I also like his example after his resurrection story in which he accepts the doubts of Thomas and does not turn Thomas away but offers proof to him. This imparts that it is okay to question, to seek facts, and to learn. When we blindly accept what the minister says, we are becoming almost cultish. We should know that our beliefs are rooted in a personal exploration and experience. 5) Do you see a mass exodus of people leaving church, abandoning faith, and how do you see that having detrimental effects on our culture as a whole? (Please site examples if you feel comfortable doing so.) I do see a number of people leaving the mainline churches. They are disgusted with everything being about a political party, fundraising, large buildings, and huge salaries. People desire churches that make them feel as though they are appreciated and that they belong. More than anything I feel that people are looking for a deeper spirituality rather than a professed religion. We have lost the true focus of religion; namely, developing a personal spirituality that is unique to you as an individual, and working within our local community to increase social justice and better the community through things like inclusive youth programming, food banks, help to the needy, etc. It seems that many place a focus on the worship experience on Sunday, and that makes them feel good about themselves. The truth is that the work of the church and its members occurs Monday thru Saturday as they encounter the local community. In answer to your question, I do see many abandoning the church (not the progressive church, but the mainline churches), however I do not think most of these people are abandoning faith. They are simply expressing their faith thru the life they are living by helping and sharing with others. I have a dear friend who has not attended church in many years. She identifies herself as a Chrsti-Buddha-Pagan. She sees the truths in each of these traditions and while she identifies most closely with Christianity, she follows in her faith tradition many of the teachings of the other two traditions. She made the comment to me one day that she does not attend church and many think that she has no faith system. She is regularly judged by others as a non-Christian. As we discussed this, I remarked that her faith and ministry is lived out every day in the way she interacts with others; the loving and giving spirit she offers; and the kindness and care she 134 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
gives to others. I am convinced that she would be well admired and accepted by the Christ of the New Testament, as she mirrors his life and example in all she does.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS https://www.facebook.com/FatherRick https://www.facebook.com/FatherRickWardHarder/ https://www.facebook.com/St-Mychal-Judge-Parish-Texarkana-ARTX936568499725073/ https://www.facebook.com/TheProgressiveEpiscopalChurch/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/St.MichaelsHotSprings/ http://www.thegailygrind.com/2016/03/31/priest-slams-fake-christian-lawmakerstargeting-lgbt-people-with-discriminatory-laws/
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Trust in the Process My focus had been so onepointed on poetry during the past year and a half that I became a bit concerned when taking on this assignment for The Blue Mountain Review recently whether or not I’d know what to do. An outro in the form of an essay? With actual sentences that mesh together to form a coherently structured idea? Is it possible? Does the ink in my pen even remember how to flow toward such an end? Well, my friends, I guess we’re going to find the answer together as the words start fleshing themselves out. It’s been awhile since I attended any classes, but I still understand the concept of the old college try… Trust in the process. This basic mantra has carried me along with the fluxing and flowing waves as they rise and fall for many a moon now. No need to abandon such a creed at this stage of the game. Not now as Spring cycles its way into season. Not now as the trees and flowers enter their magical stage of blooming. Not now as the frenzied fever of resurrection and renaissance are being born anew. Not now as the birds sing from the tops of trees with a righteous tune while I do my best down here on the ground to hammer out lyrics that harmonize in synchronized accord with their rhythm. Surely not now as a cool, gentle breeze swirls its way through the air to kiss my cheeks here in the woods of the local park where I walk each day. No, no, if there is one thing that has become abundantly clear, it is that the only sin in life is to stop. Forward movement is an absolute must. A constant, continual, progressive, evolutionary march toward the 136 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
next plateau. An inner alignment with the outward circumstances that arise as the perpetual motion machine of life pulses into high gear. Don’t. Ever. Slow. Down. If you have a dream, then chase after it. If you’ve seen a glimpse of the holy vision in all its glory, then you understand all-too-well that your eyes will never be able to truly close again. Go forth with courage toward your purpose, shaking off the dust of fear from your cloak before such needless worries cause you to settle for less than is deserved. Knock upon the door and it shall be opened unto thee, Jesus Christ preached. His message reflects a natural law of manifestation. But the next aspect of the equation is knowing that once the door swings open, you must seize the moment and run right through it without hesitation. As if your life, your career, your future, and your very soul all depended upon such an instinctive action. Because the truth is, they do. Don’t. Ever. Slow. Down. Lao Tzu said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. Such a long voyage could potentially seem too daunting an undertaking if you expect to get to the finish line all in one stride. It’s important to realize that simply beginning the process is a victory in and of itself, because once you make that choice to fully dedicate yourself to the task at hand, the spirit of God will be with you in every moment from that point forward. An exclamation of faith like that might turn some people off…and that’s just fine. All those who get offended by such language can continue to stand around at the starting gates as the rest of us begin to kick dirt up in the air while heading forth toward the promised land. Don’t. Ever. Slow. Down. Fate and freewill are not mutually exclusive concepts. At all. Each of us has a specific destiny laid out before us that we are meant to achieve while here in this mortal realm of flesh and blood. How soon we are able to achieve that destiny is wholly dependent upon 137 | T h e B l u e M o u n t a i n R e v i e w I s s u e 3
the decisions we make throughout the different stages of life’s process. To err is human, and if you aren’t making some mistakes along the way then you’re simply not pushing yourself hard enough. We must crawl before we walk. We must fall before we truly learn to fly. If you’ve ever noticed that the same types of scenarios seem to perpetually play out in your life, well, that’s because the universe continues to raise similar challenges along your path until you become psychologically aware of how to evolve and overcome them. It’s called breaking the cycle of eternal recurrence. We all face such trials and tribulations. They either break us down to dust and ash, or they serve as lessons on how to become stronger and more resilient. Be thankful for these tests. There was never born a phoenix that didn’t first bathe in fire. Don’t. Ever. Slow. Down. Karma does not play favorites, but it does keep good friends. One of the most important lessons to learn through the process of life is how to tell who is there to watch your back and who is there to place a knife in it. The Southern Collective Experience is full of the former, and that is why the latter will never have a solid opportunity to strike. We are brothers. We are sisters. We are friends. We are family. But most importantly, we are all artists bound and determined to create a positive future as we take each step forward into the beautiful unknown. Thank you for joining us during this issue to share a moment of time in this journey we’re on. Selah Scott Thomas Outlar
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