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Winter 2016 | Vol 4 No 3

“Ravello” by Frank Herrera


Winter 2016

Frank Herrera About the Light

Strangely Beautiful

Interview with Nikki Giovanni

Contemporary American Theater Festival Season 26

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Letter From the Editor Artists & Academia

Ears, Eyes & Soul Dwayne Brooke

Poetry Randi Ward

Fiction Jon Anderson: “Mali Quartet”

Ed:Cetera Kierkegaard Disses Self-Publishing…

Coda Triumph Over Winter

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C O N T R I B U T O R S Catherine Baldau is a writer, editor, and project manager. As the Publications Specialist for the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, she has edited and designed numerous books, including the award-winning harpers ferry under fire: a border town in the american civil war. Todd Coyle is a journeyman musician who has performed in and around the Eastern Panhandle of WV and around the country for over 30 years. He has worked in folk, blues, pop, jazz and country bands as a guitarist, bassist, singer, producer and sound man. Zach Davis is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, such as carve, the first line, drunk monkeys and numerous volumes of the anthology of appalachian writers. He is the Fiction Editor of fluent. Judy Olsen, a Washington, DC, native residing in Shepherdstown, WV, has had

a love affair with photography since her teens. After 30+ years in the corporate world, she rediscovered her passion and enjoys capturing the world of light and shadow that will never come again in exactly the same way. Sheila Vertino is returning to her roots as a freelance writer and journalist, after a career as a magazine editor-in-chief and book and research publisher. Based in Shepherdstown, she describes herself as a culturally curious word nerd. Ed Zahniser is a retired career bureaucrat and co-founder of the Shepherdstown (WV) good news paper. His poetry has appeared in over 150 literary venues in the U.S. and U.K.; seven anthologies; five books, five chapbooks, and three gallery shows of poetry as works on walls. He contributes to fluent, wv observer, adirondack almanack blog. His recent book of poems is at the end of the self-help rope, Slowread Books, 2016.


“Ravello,” duotone silver gelatin print by Frank Herrera, taken with a Hasselblad. The photo was taken in the town of Ravello, home of the famous music festival, on the grounds of a park overlooking the Mediterranean.


See the fluent website for more content: calls for artists lists opportunities.

classes lists arts classes for children and adults. back issues is the magazine archive.

fluent Winter 2016 | Vol 4 No 3 Nancy McKeithen editor & publisher Sheila Kelly Vertino associate editor Kathryn Burns visual arts editor Zachary Davis fiction editor Stephen Altman poetry editor Todd Coyle music editor Sarah Soltow proofreader Contributing Writers Amy Mathews Amos, Catherine Baldau, Paula Pennell, Ed Zahniser Contributing Photographers Curt Mason, Mark Muse, Judy Olsen, Keron Psillas, Carl Schultz, Sterling “Rip” Smith, Hali Taylor Submissions For information on submitting unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry, please see the website: Please submit arts news to Fluent Magazine is published quarterly and distributed via email. Available online at To Subscribe All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be duplicated or reprinted without permission from the publisher. © 2016 Fluent Magazine, LLC

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Jefferson County, WV is a Certified Arts Community.

Artists & Academia At fluent, we don’t intentionally plan issues according to a theme. But if we did, this could be the “Artists Who Teach” issue. Three of the artists featured in this issue are both artist and educator. Frank Herrera was a teacher of Spanish before he became a photographer, and a teacher of photography for much of the last 40 years. His story begins on page 10. Sonya Evanisko is teacher, painter and now sculptor— see her “living” sculptures beginning on page 22. Nikki Giovanni is a teacher, poet and writer. Zach Davis, fluent Fiction Editor, interviewed Giovanni last October while she was at Shepherd University as the 2015 Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence. The interview starts on page 28. I suspect that, for all three, their teaching informs their art, much like their making of art informs their teaching. And for a harbinger of warm weather and summer in the Eastern Panhandle, see page 34: the line-up of plays for the Contemporary American Theater Festival’s (CATF’s) 26th season, July 8–31. Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher

“Potomac,” digital, by Frank Herrera. fluent | 5


Dwayne Brooke: From Django to Taj to Zep BY TODD COYLE Mixing old, new and original to create one of West Virginia’s finest musicians. Dwayne Brooke is an example of what passion, intelligence and focus can produce. FLUENT I was impressed with you when you first came

onto the music scene. You seemed well schooled in the history of blues, folk and rock. Where did that come from? DWAYNE BROOKE I remember being a little tiny guy and waking up before everyone and playing my dad’s Johnny Cash record. “Ring of Fire” was my first favorite jam. Maybe the alchemy of the dark voice with the trumpets. My grandma, who watched me while my parents worked, was a big country fan as well... Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, George Jones, Hank Williams. She played all that old stuff on a huge console record player that was basically a big piece of furniture. Don’t touch! Then my uncle Dale moved in with us for awhile, and he was a guitar player and lover of old blues, bluegrass and southern rock. He had a bunch of old albums and guitars that I was also told never to touch, so of course, I did, which I think may have been the point. He gave me my first electric guitar, and later an acoustic. He had a campfire almost every night and would sing all kinds of weird old songs and play slick country guitar licks while I strummed along. He taught me all kinds of cool stuff.... [I’m] still working on some of that. FLUENT Your love of Django Reinhart is well known.

What brought you to him? How has he influenced you? Any others we should know about? BROOKE The first Django I heard was on some old tape I was traded. I was mesmerized. But it was completely otherwordly to me and the thought that I could play it never really crossed my mind. Then one day I was improvising and I accidentally played some G Major Six 6 | fluent

stuff and I was like, ‘holy shit that’s a Django tune.’ So I started trying to figure it out. Then I saw Larry Keel play some Django, and jammed along on some with Danny Knicely and that was that. I detoured down the gypsy jazz rabbit hole for quite awhile there afterward. Django’s music enlightened me so much that I think its pretty much in everything I do to some degree. FLUENT The Woodshedders? What’s the history?

What’s next? BROOKE The Woodshedders sprouted from a couple private gypsy jazz jam sessions. It was me and Stu Orser on guitar, Ryan Mayo on upright bass and Chance McCoy on mandolin. The name came from the old Charlie Parker story about jazz cats having to literally go out to the woodshed to rehearse so they didn’t drive their families crazy rehearsing incessant scales and arpeggios. The slang came to mean that he who was “woodshedding” was working hard to become more proficient on their instrument... which we definitely had to do. Initially, The Woodshedders played only instrumental Django tunes. I had been writing songs all along, and eventually the Django influence snuck in there, too. Fiddlin’ Dave (Van Deventer) joined us once on stage and the band was complete... for a minute. We moved the weekly gypsy jazz jam session to The Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry for quite a few months. From there we eventually moved to The Cliffside Inn for another several months. Then Fiddlin’ Dave and I partnered up with Frazer Watkins and rebooted the old 1960’s Berryville bluegrass festival as “Watermelon Park Fest” in Berryville, VA. I’ve since moved on from fes-

tival promotion, but The Woodshedders has been the house band ever since, playing alongside such legends such as Ralph Stanley and Loretta Lynn. We moved the regular weekly jam to The Blue Moon in Shepherdstown. We also started recording our first studio album, “Catch That Yardbird.” And sometime in the middle, Chance moved away and became an overnight fiddle champ, then a banjo champ, played in several other bands, and now plays with Old Crow Medicine Show. It was at these Blue Moon sessions that Jesse Shultzaberger joined us on drums. Aimee Curl and Morgan Morrison of Furnace Mountain started singing with us at this time, too. We would do all the Django stuff, originals from “Catch That Yardbird,” plus a bunch of old jazz standards, including tunes by Frank Sinatra and the Boswell Sisters. Two years later, we recorded “O dig” at Shepherds Ford Studios. Around this time, Stu had moved on to become a full-time luthier and Spruce Brother. Danny Knicely joined us on this album on several mandolin tracks. Then Jared Pool joined the band on mandolin, and eventually electric guitar, and we began to tour a little more. We recorded our third all-original studio album, “Wildfire,” at Montrose Stu-

Photo: Reed George

dios in Richmond, VA in 2013 with this current lineup. We’re currently woodshedding on our fourth album, due Spring 2016 if all the right stars align. FLUENT You’re a great songwriter, what’s the process?

Who are your favorites? BROOKE Well, its a pretty mystical thing for sure. I’m still not sure exactly how to do it. Everything works, just not all the time. Sometimes its melody first, sometimes words, sometimes it’s just a misheard lyric or muffled song heard through a wall. So I guess just keeping an ear open and consistently trying is my process. The hard part is starting, then sticking with it to rewrite what isn’t right. But the irony is, the harder I try to write a song the less likely I am to finish it. The other hardest part is second-guessing yourself that you aren’t rewriting someone else’s song that is stuck in some forgotten corner of your brain. Or that it just sucks and you should stop. Sometimes, if I do allow myself to write some crappy stuff and change it later, I can get to something decent. I could go on endlessly because there are endless ways to try to get a song out. Sometimes I feel more like a song discoverer than a u

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writer. I do know that I’ve had to write hundreds of shitty songs to get one or two that I want to let anyone hear. Townes Van Zant fever-dreamed a song and when he woke up it turned out to be “If I Needed You.” That’s probably the best way I’ve ever heard to write one. What a gift. FLUENT What are you non-musical interests? Hobbies?

Movies? Racquetball? BROOKE I geek out on antiques quite a bit. We humans have lost something somewhere along the way in regard to our stuff. I see in so many old things true artistry and craftsmanship. I feel in these also a thought for quality, integrity and a respect for materials. I don’t see this in Value City or Target— hardly a trace of humanity anywhere. Antiques are also a great compliment to songwriting, I find. All these old things have lives and stories of their own, most of which we’ll never know, and I find that compelling. Also, I make found object art, am a novice archer and dabble in theoretical cosmology. FLUENT Guitars. Whatcha’ got and why?

BROOKE I’ve been blessed with quite a few. My

faves are a 1940’s Gibson Southern Jumbo, which was owned by a southern West Virginia Pentecostal revivalist; a Gibson 1937 L-37 Archtop, which came from a voodoo dude down in New Orleans (I’ve still got the candle that I was instructed never to let it part with); and a 1968 Gibson ES330, which I purchased from Elvis Presley in historic Harpers Ferry. I’ve also got a ’73 Fender Strat, the first guitar I purchased on my own as a teen buckaroo, and a black Jaguar given to me by a good ol’ good buddy. And a sweet bird’s eye maple MD-50E Gypsy Jazz petit bouche from Cognac, France, made by master luthier Maurice Dupont. Also also, I’ve just been sponsored by Shelton’s Electric Instruments and am the new proud owner of a Seafoam Green FireFlite model. Check ’em out! FLUENT You’re forced to board an alien spaceship

going to a far-off galaxy never to return. You can take a guitar, one suitcase and five records. Which guitar, what’s in the suitcase and which five records? BROOKE Probably the Southern Jumbo because it’s got all that good revival mojo, and it’s good and loud in case they don’t have a decent PA on the spaceship. 8 | fluent

The suitcase contains one copy of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, 13 bottles of Balvenie 40-year-old Batch 7 Speyside Single Malt Scotch, six jars of moonshine, one large sack o’ tobaccy, a Swiss Army knife, waterproof matches, duct tape, the complete works of Tolkien pocket book, a picture of my sweetheart, my dog, and an extra pair of underwear. The five records thing is impossible, but in my present mindstate these five records are pretty great: The Essential Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong’s Greatest, Billie Holliday 33-44, Bob Marley Talkin’ Blues, Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti. FLUENT What’s are your thoughts on the music and

arts scene here? What’s cool and what should change?

BROOKE I think the scene here is great. You don’t

have to go far to find all sorts of amazing musicians playing everything from old-time, bluegrass, blues and jazz, to rap, rock ’n roll, and a bunch more styles that don’t have names or acronyms yet. Plus, we’ve got Terry Jackness, which is pretty much a trump card when it comes to music scenes. But yeah, people around here really love and pack in to support live music, and that’s the best. The only thing I would change is everything in the music sales industry, but that’s a whole other magazine. FLUENT Do you do politics? Any thoughts on the state

of the nation and world? BROOKE The state of the world is a hard thing to discuss in short. I think humans have somehow unwittingly become subjugated by capitalism, corporatism and inequality, the by-product of which is the ruination of the environment. We are so immersed in this socio-economic predicament that it seems nearly impossible to do anything about it. I work making art and music as often as possible, and slinging the ’tiques. FLUENT Coolest day ever?

BROOKE July 21, 1983: −128.6°F, at the Soviet Vostok

Station in Antarctica. FLUENT

FOR MORE Facebook : Dwayne Brooke | The Woodshedders

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sk photographer Frank Herrera what about his work makes it uniquely his, and even though he tells you, you still may not know. “I look at my own work around here,” he says, waving a hand at his office walls, lined with photographs from over four decades. “I have combinations of textures and lines and technical stuff, but then some of them have an extra thing you can’t put your finger on.” That indefinable “extra thing” is the what. “Everything refers to something else,” he says . “I can look at objects and see that they have a meaning beyond their physical being,” beyond merely face value. His photographs often imply an untold story, and leave just enough ambiguity for more than one interpretation.

The Backstory A native West Virginian, born in Beckley, Herrera has been a professional photographer since 1970, but he was a teacher first, following the lead of his parents. He grew up speaking Spanish at home—both his grandfather, a miner, and his father, a professor of Spanish, were born in Spain—so, with a BA in Spanish and Political Science from WVU and graduate study there, Frank, too, became a professor of Spanish, in Massachusetts. Yet, the pull of photography remained. “I was involved in the photo club at college, and we were into 10 | fluent

Fellini and all that, making black-and-white movies,” he says, explaining his affinity for B&W photography. Later, a friend who committed suicide at 24 left him his 35mm camera, a Voigtlander Vitessa. “I began messing around with it, doing B&W... and teaching myself.” An easy distance from where he was teaching, “there were all these free lectures and programs, by people who were really seminal in art, and I would go hear them”: Harry Callahan at Rhode Island School of Design, Aaron Siskind, Minor White at MIT. He learned. He stopped teaching Spanish for a few years, and in 1970, became a photographer full time.

Photographer as Storyteller “I photograph whatever is in front of me,” Herrera says. “When I first started out, I was always on the ledge between documentary and landscape.” What developed is his interest in “social landscapes,” ones that combine terrain with transient elements: a farmer on a tractor, a rusting ’52 Ford truck, Charolais flattening a field of grass, a shuttered grocery. “There’s always some reference to life on Earth as we know it.” And aspects of documentary remain in his work, evidence his series: “Bridges of West Virginia” and WV Portraits; photos of the kind of things people used to shoot with box cameras; and crosses.

West Virginia is Herrera’s favorite place to photograph, and where his interest in social landscape was honed during summer vacations from teaching spent on a friend’s farm in Brushy Fork, WV, which encouraged artists to come and work and stay for free. He was a Polaroid Fellow at the time. It meant free film, buyback of his photos and inclusion in the Polaroid Permanent Collection in Cambridge, MA. One summer working on the farm, he made friends with Yuri Schwebler, a Croation sculptor who made the Washington Monument into a sundial in the

snow back in 1974. He also introduced Herrera to Glen Echo Park, an arts and cultural center, which had just started and might be needing a photographer. It did. When he started there in fall 1975, “the darkroom was underground, with no windows, in what was a food storage locker,” says Herrera. “When it rained a lot, it got damp down there. Very funky and a lot of fun!”

Teaching: Back to the Future Since starting Photoworks at Glen Echo Park he’s taught there for more than 40 years, save the few u

Self-portrait in Frank Herrera’s Martinsburg, WV studio. To friends, he’s known as Tico. “In Spain, a common nickname for Francisco (Frank) is Quico, pronounced ‘Kiko,’ ” he explains. He was so called at home, and by classmates and adults, as well. “When in the early 50s Xavier Cugat recorded his hit song ‘Tico-Tico,’ everybody thought it sounded a lot like ‘Kiko’ and started calling me ‘Tico.’ It stuck.”

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years he taught at the Corcoran School of Art and Shepherd College [now University]. “I don’t teach that much," says . “I just give people a gentle nudge one way or the other, them let them run. I don’t have any rules.” One of his mentors, Paul Caponigro, taught him about rules, including how not to use them... “that you don’t have to have absolute black in every picture, you don’t have to have a white in every picture.” He says people like to make up rules like that. u

Right: “Otis and Ricky Grogg,” 1974, Polaroid. Below: “Groceries.” Far right: “Nantucket Ferry Terminal.”

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Herrera does his own printing and has no plans to change that. “I’m never really satisfied with something,” he says, then quickly hedges. “Well, sometimes I am. I’m always willing to look at it differently.... Every time I sit down to print, I might print something entirely differently.” He tries to get his students to do that, to work with the possibilities of the negative. “Once you get the negative, that’s just the beginning. Then you start working with it.” Herrera says the best advice he can give his students is to “bracket.” It works for him. “If you get down to where you really need advice—everything else should be ready by that time—if you’ve done everything else and you’re ready, get the photo.” u

4 Questions Your own favorite photograph? “The Mapplethorpe,

[page 16] because it was technically difficult to do, I pulled if off, it works on several levels, and meets most of the criteria for me, like tonal range and it’s got movement in it.” Favorite f-stop? “11, because back in the old days when we raced sports cars, you didn’t get your number until you went to Tech. And so we always ended up making numbers out of black Contact Paper, and 11 is the easiest. It became my favorite number.” Favorite camera? “Hasselblad, and I have a little Sony digital camera that I take with me. And if not a photographer? “Formula One driver.”

“Mustang” below, “Palm Springs” right, both taken in Sanford, Florida, in 1975. Both are silver gelatin prints. “I was shooting shiny things then,” says Herrera.

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Getting the Photo June 1989, Washington, D.C.—There was widespread grumbling about the censoring of the Mapplethorpe exhibit, “The Perfect Moment,” at the Corcoran Museum of Art. Jesse Helms, Republican senator from South Carolina, wanted to cut off money to the Corcoran over the “obscene” content of the show, and Christina Orr-Cahall, director of the Corcoran, feared it would lose funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and canceled the exhibit. “People in Washington had been waiting for this show to hit,” says Herrera, “and were pissed at the Corcoran for caving in.” So members of the arts community had planned a demonstration for June 30th that would include pictures from the exhibit projected onto the wall of the Corcoran. A friend of Herrera’s, light and projection artist Rockne Krebs, had arranged with Mapplethorpe’s dealer to have 5˝x 7˝glass positives made for the projection, and the event organizers needed someone to photograph the event. Herrera volunteered. On the 30th, he and his wife, Becky, packed up his truck—with a stepladder, a tripod and his camera equipment—and drove it down to the plaza across from the Corcoran. “I had the camera, a 4x5 [large format] Deardorff made in Chicago in the ’50s, jacked up on a 12-ft tripod and I’m at the top of a 10-ft ladder, and busloads of people start arriving.... I realized I was looking down on a sea of people carrying signs... a lot of people moving around so there would be a lot of blur... everyone had flash and that was cool because it would go off at different places and light up different stuff.... So I told Becky down on the ground to keep people away from the tripod.” Each image would be projected for five minutes. Herrera did a test with a Polaroid to check what exposures would be best­—the 4x5 is hard to focus, especially at night—and figured he would need to bracket them: a 30-second exposure the first time each image was shown, and a 1-minute exposure the second time around. Herrera got the photograph. It appeared on the cover of the September 1989 issue of Artforum International magazine. He says it’s his favorite. u

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Crossing the Country “I started seeing them along the road... coming up in incongruous kinds of places,” says Herrera. One day, traveling on Route 45, he spotted a crew erecting one of the giant crosses and stopped to inquire. The crew had nothing to say, but gave him a flier: “Crosses of Mercy” it said, with an address to write to for information in a year, the anticipated completion date of the project. A year later, August 22, 1985, Herrera sent a letter, detailing his plan to document the project. He soon heard back—from Bernard Coffindaffer, who had sold his business for a reported $3 million and was pouring it into his crosses project, “Cast Thy Bread.” A handwritten list of 124 “cross clusters,” all numbered, with questionable directions to get to them, was enclosed. Herrara applied for a Guggenheim Foundation grant, which he got a few months later, and for a year, he traversed the state in his Chinook, capturing the crosses. “When I first started the project, I was going to do just the ones in WV. Coffindaffer had already put up one cluster in every county—that’s 55—and one at every entrance to the state, somewhere around 68 clusters.”

When The Washington Post contacted him about doing a feature on his Guggenheim project, it wanted a color photo for the cover. The original of the one above was in B&W and taken in the summer. “So I u

Left: “The crosses are the same in every picture, exactly the same, cookie-cutter. Everything else is different, in every which way,” says Herrera. This photo, taken in Nicholas County, WV, is one of his favorites in the series. Above: Cluster #68, in Pleasants County, WV. Herrera titled it “51 Men Died Here” because the scaffolding high up on the tower, which sits on the Ohio River, fell as it was being built and 51 men fell. Silver gelatin print.

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I went back to the same place, around 11 o’clock on a January night, and instead of it being June and drizzly and with planes landing in the background, it was totally different, clear and crisp.” To get the mist, he used smoke bombs that put out white smoke, opened up the shutter and then walked through the scene while a friend blew the smoke in different areas, so the camera wouldn’t pick up Herrera. “A whole bunch weren’t right, but eventually the one on the cover was. It took a 20-minute exposure and a 5-minute smoke bomb. It wasn’t until about 1 am when the cop showed up,” he laughs. Coffindaffer, who had previously declined to do a segment of Scott Simon’s weekend program on NPR, did agree to the Post’s request for an interview for the feature, and allowed Herrera to photograph him for it as well. The two had never met in person before that—just through letters—and they eventually had a falling out. “Not on my part, but on his, because he was distressed at what I was doing, and he thought I was stealing his thunder,” says Herrera. Years later, he was contacted by the NPR producer, then working for Connie Chung on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and asked to be on the program, which

would include Coffindaffer, filmed separately. He agreed, and met CBS in Charleston for the filming. It was to air on Columbus Day but didn’t. Coffindaffer had died— with more than 1,900 crosses planted around the world. Herrera went to the funeral and took a picture. It was the last crosses picture he took in West Virginia.

The Next Photograph “There’s a high desert in Chile I would like to go to for one. I’d like to go back to Menorca. I always have some place to go,” Herrera says. “This spring we’re going to Malta.” He’ll take the Hasselblad along. fluent

“The Shadow Knows,” a group photography exhibit of silver gelatin master prints from Photoworks’ Advanced Master Darkroom Class, Feb 6–Mar 14. Photoworks at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD 20812, 301-634-2274. Exhibit of Frank Herrera’s work at The Bridge Gallery, Feb 26–Mar 20. Opening reception, Fri, Feb 26, 6–8 pm.

things you’ll find on the fluent website all free, all the time the magazine: current & past issues to read and download image of the week gallery exhibit information calls for artists / contest info / audition listings arts class listings arts news http://glenechophotoworks. how to subscribe, how to advertise, how to submit work, how to contact us org/2016/01/19/the-shadow-knows/ <updated daily>

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FEB: 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14

MAR: 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20

APR/MAY: 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, & 1

It’s Courtney’s wedding day, and her mom, Delia, is making sure that everything is perfect. The groom is perfect, the dress is perfect, and the decorations (assuming they arrive) will be perfect. Then, like in any good farce, the doorbell rings...and all hell breaks loose. So much for perfect!

This sequel to the Old Opera House’s 2014 hit, The Red Velvet Cake War, stands on its own and was written by three playwrights that have delighted OOH audiences with plays like The Dixie Swim Club (2010), Southern Hospitality (2011), and The Hallelujah Girls (2012).

Large, lovable, lonely-hearted Maureen Mulligan gives romance one last shot on a blind-date with sweet awkward Joseph Spinelli. She’s learned to pepper her speech with jokes to hide insecurities about her weight and appearance, while he’s almost dangerously forthright, saying everything that comes to his mind. They both know they’re perfect for each other, but will they come to admit it?

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he staircase winding down to Sonya Evanisko’s studio hints that something strange and wonderful waits below. Thick treads of white oak with raw bark edges seem to float one on top of another. Irregular

lines swirl through the woodgrain, around knots that stare like curious eyes.

Turn right at the bottom of the stairwell and you enter a typical artist’s studio: works-in-progress scattered on a large table, shelves packed with paints and supplies, the jumble of colors and textures. But turn left and you enter the unexpected, enchanted world of kokedamas. Similar to the Japanese art form of bonsai, koke-dama translates to “moss ball.” These plants dangle free of containers, their roots protected by a coat of moss. By adding whimsical, artificial elements, Evanisko has sculpted them into living art. u

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Detail of a kokedama for the exhibit â&#x20AC;&#x153;Like Moss Between the Cracks.â&#x20AC;? This form of living art questions what is real, what is false and what has value.

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Evanisko in her Shepherdstown studio, where hanging kokedamas enjoy the natural light. The fragile living art requires misting three times a day plus controlled temperature and light.

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A tenured Professor of Art and Coordinator of the Painting and Drawing Program at Shepherd University, Sonya Evanisko’s foray into kokedamas began in 2015 when the university awarded her a sabbatical. But it was not at all what she had planned. “My sabbatical proposal was to research and design a living wall for the Shepherd campus,” Evanisko says. “That’s the true inspiration that got me researching living walls and contemporary floral and plant design. There are floral design competitions around the world, from the Chelsea Flower Show in London to the Philadelphia Flower Show and New York City shows, where these edgy artists are pushing the boundaries of what floral design is. “I researched these competitions, design shows, and living walls all over the world and when I was working on the designs I came across kokedamas. It just hit me. “I knew I didn’t want to come back from my sabbatical and just put these architectural drawings of living walls in a gallery to have someone passively walk through and look at what I did. I was more excited about, ‘Can I fill this gallery with an almost fantasyland of these strange sculptural forms?’ ”

Though a departure from Evanisko’s work of the past two decades—acrylic paintings, drawings, mixed-media collages—the transition to kokedamas made perfect sense. That dichotomy of natural and artificial, real vs unreal, had been infused in her art for years. “A lot of my work over the past several years has juxtaposed consumer items with natural plant forms, making a statement for humans to question: What’s real and what’s valuable compared to what’s plastic and false and why do we collect these unreal, artificial things? The kokedama work continues that conversation.” u

Below, one of Evanisko’s earlier works:“Blue Bird and Bleeding Hearts,” 24˝ by 24˝ acrylic on panel.

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Kokedamas in progress hang from a custom-built rack that makes it easier to store and work on them.

Glass-blown mushrooms sprout from one plant. A brass ship found on eBay circles another. Felted birds made in China seem to twitter about a fern. All of it hangs by a system of industrial cables, wires, pulleys and gears—even a meat hook—in the three-story, light-filled room at the back of Evanisko’s Shepherdstown residence. The room opens to her garden, nature spilling into nature, a scene Evanisko finds “strangely beautiful.” Though Evanisko didn’t recognize it at the beginning, the kokedama work evolved naturally out of a life spent nurturing—at home as a single mother to twins, in the classroom as an educator, and even outdoors as a gardener. She is the type who would be late for a meeting rather than pass a wilting plant that needs water. A perfect custodian for the fragile kokedamas. 26 | fluent

“Because they’re not contained in a pot that would protect the roots,” Evanisko explains, “I have to mist them with a sprayer three times a day to keep everything wet and moist. Every morning, the first thing I do is come down and water these plants, put the grow lights on, care for them. If I stop at home between classes, or at dinner time, the first thing I do is come here. And before I go to bed at night, I turn the grow lights off. You don’t have to do that when you create a collage or a painting. You don’t have to check in on it.” Evanisko, at her core, is a nurturer. For the past twenty years at Shepherd, she has run the freshman orientation program for her department. “I’m a hands-on professor who really tries to get to know my students as individuals and I take great pride in seeing where they start as a first-year student, and then it’s amazing how over the next four or five years those students transform into emerging artists themselves.”

Evanisko manipulates the soil, moss and string to form the ball shape. She works on the same heated floor where she plants seeds in flats and nurtures them until they’re ready to be transplanted to her garden.

This year, Evanisko has been honored by the Faculty Merit Foundation of West Virginia as one of five finalist for West Virginia Professor of the Year. “I do what I do here because I feel it’s my life’s calling. I feel so fortunate that I’m able to do this for a living—something I’m so passionate about—so when someone’s highlighting you, it’s rewarding.” Another reward comes after her students graduate. “With social media, it’s so lovely to watch them all as art educators or web designers or gallery owners or producing artists, and so I take great joy in watching that transformation.” What about the kokedamas that Evanisko has been nurturing for the past five months? “Kokedamas typically live anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the amount of care you give them. I made work that’s unsellable. And I also made work that’s temporary. I am fully aware that I could allow these to just die if I stopped caring for them after I exhibit them in February.”

Evanisko has committed to caring for the kokedamas at least until May, when they’ll be featured in the Back Alley Garden Tour in Shepherdstown. After that, she plans to leave them outside and see how they survive in the natural elements. She shifts with discomfort at the thought of it. “It’s really different for me to invest months of research and collecting materials and building and making the art and then saying that I can’t give it a permanent home in a gallery or in somebody’s home. I can’t sell it. I’m going to watch it disintegrate. I’m going to watch it decay. That’s completely new for me. It is not in my being—it’s not natural for me. I do everything I can to nurture things and have them survive, and to walk away….I don’t know what’s going to happen after May when I’m faced with letting them go.” fluent Sonya Evanisko’s exhibit, “Like Moss Between the Cracks,” runs through Feb 18 at the Phaze 2 Gallery, Center for Contemporary Arts, Shepherd University, with guest artists Mark Harding, Kathryn Stella and Louisa Zimmerman Roberts. If you miss it there, you can see it at the Back Alley Garden Tour, in Shepherdstown, Sat–Sun, May 16–17. To see more of the artist’s work or to contact her: |

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“At this point, if i’m not contradicting myself, something is wrong.” 28 | fluent

Interview With Nikki Giovanni By Zach Davis

Acclaimed poet, Virginia Tech professor and 2015 Shepherd University Writer-in-Residence Nikki Giovanni sat down with fluent for a wide-ranging, thoughtful and frequently funny interview. FLUENT: So when did you realize that you wanted to

be—or when did you realize you were—a storyteller or poet? NIKKI GIOVANNI: I think my teachers from a long time ago all sort of praised my papers and that kind of thing, but I don’t think I realized I needed to take it seriously until I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. I went to Penn for social work school because everyone I ever loved was a social worker. A professor of mine, Dr. Schumacher, asked if I’d like to go to lunch one day--which is usually bad news, you know--but I went. At the lunch she said, “Dr. Rosenblum and I have been reading your papers, and we’ve reached a conclusion: You’re never going to be a social worker.” So I just said, “Yes”—you know how you try to be cool about these things. “But,” she said, “we quite like your writing.” So I said, “Okay” because I figured she’s just trying to be nice, now. And she said, “Columbia University has just started a new course, and it’s an MFA in writing. And what I did—I hope you don’t

mind--was I applied for you.” And I said, “Thank you.” And she said, “And you were accepted.” And I said, “Thank you again” because I didn’t know what else to say. And she said, “I thought you could probably use a little help, so I applied for a Ford grant for you, and you received it. So next semester you’re enrolled in Columbia University in New York.” FLUENT: Oh, wow!

NG: So now I’m at Columbia in New York, which is…

I won’t say every writer needs to get to New York, but New York is a good place to be. So now I’m in New York, and I didn’t graduate from Columbia, either, but I realize, “Okay, this is it. If you don’t do this you’re going to have another level of problem.” And I enjoyed writing. I’m a different thinker. I enjoy putting things together in ways that people may not have necessarily thought about. I was a history major in college. I like looking at what I think of the past and what makes sense. We were talking a bit about this last night, but slavery in the United States is illogical. We haven’t really dealt with that. And it has to be dealt with. So, I’m a bit older but it’s taken me this long to get to that question. But how we deal with that is a major question for the 21st century. u fluent | 29

FLUENT: Do you have a preferred writing time, or

writing place? Someplace where you can get the creative juices flowing? NG: Well, I don’t have creative juices flowing. I have questions, which is how I work. It starts with a question. I’m a midnight writer. At one point I had a son living with me, so you make that adjustment. Now the house is empty, but I don’t think I’ve quite made the adjustment that I maybe should have. And now that there’s no one needing me, the writing has gotten more difficult. But I still have questions. The book I’m working on now is a big question, and it really started with the illogicality of slavery. Black slavery, I should say. It’s called A Good Cry. Right now I’m working on that, but I’ve allowed myself to be distracted, and that’s the truth. I also think I’m tired. I’m 72, and I think that I’ve put a lot of time into doing other things and now that I have the time, I need to make the adjustment. It’s sort of like being constipated. You know you have to shit, but you can’t. So ultimately, you end up taking a pill or whatever it is you do. FLUENT: So when you’re writing, when you’re getting

to answer these questions that you mentioned, do you write to a specific word count, or a certain time, or is it more “That’s enough for now?” NG: Well, it depends on the question. I’m writing a lot of hybrids right now, and I think I’m probably going to be writing them for quite some time. A Good Cry is a hybrid. You know, I have ideas that aren’t necessarily poems, and some that aren’t necessarily prose, either. And—don’t laugh—there’s one recipe in there! FLUENT: This idea of writing a hybrid—you have

some parts that are poetry and some that are prose. Do some of those ideas work better as poems, or is it more that you would like them to be poems? And for the other ideas, is it that they—for lack of a better phrase—take more words to explain? NG: As I think about what I’m doing, I think it has its own form. I think I allow the story to come in as it needs to be. I’m sure I’m more disciplined than I appear to be. I’m sure I’m not as laid back as I want to think I am. I know that I’m more disciplined than I ever admit to being, and I know that I study more. But I don’t have any way of explaining that in a way that makes sense to a young poet. 30 | fluent

I don’t want some young poet to read me--and I’m not that important, anyway--but I don’t want someone to say, “Nikki did it that way, so that’s how it should be done.” It doesn’t work that way. What you have to do if you’re writing, if you are a writer, is you have to learn something every day. More than writing. People ask that. They say, “Do you write every day?” Well, why would you write every day? What you have to do, is you have to read every day. FLUENT: Do you have a first reader? Someone to

whom you show something you’ve been working on before anyone else? NG: Sure. Now you have to ask who. FLUENT: Who is it?

NG: It’s me. I teach at Virginia Tech, and I tell my stu-

dents, “You are your first reader.” So no matter what you think about what it is you’re doing, you’re the first person who reads it. If it’s not working for you, then it’s not going to work for anyone else, and you can’t fool yourself about that. You can’t say, “Well, I can see the problems, but so-and-so won’t.” Someone asked me the other night who edits my work. Hopefully by the time I’ve worked on it enough to give it to my editor, it doesn’t need editing. I’m working with two graduate students right now. Both of them nice girls--well, they’re young women. And one of them has a terrible weakness, which I don’t mind calling it that. She never re-reads her own work. So she’ll turn in something to me, and I know damn well I’ll be looking at her like, “Did you read this?” and she’ll say yes. And I’ll tell her to read it out loud, and then she’ll see the issue. You have to hear what you wrote, and the best way to do that is to read it out loud. Get a glass of champagne—if you don’t drink you’ll probably just get a cup of coffee—and read it aloud because it has to be in rhythm, and it has to be what you thought it was when you wrote it. And you’ll find, not necessarily mistakes, but maybe there’s a misspelled word, or it’s not the right word. So, you are your own first reader. FLUENT: That’s really interesting. I’ve written things

that I think, “Wow, this is amazing on the page,” and then I’ll read it out loud and realize, “Okay, this sentence has been going on for the last year and a half.”

It’s weird, but reading your own stuff almost puts you outside of it, gives a bit of distance. NG: It really does. FLUENT: It gives you that bit of perspective you

wouldn’t have otherwise had. So, your answer actually answered my follow-up question, which was going to be “Do you edit your work before you show it to your first reader?” NG: [Laughs] FLUENT: Obviously you do because you are your first

reader. NG: And you continue to look at it, too. We did a thing for the contest [ed. note: Nikki Giovanni was the writerin-residence and judge for the 2015 WV Fiction Competition] last night, and it was really interesting to hear people read their work and how they’d change it from what’s on the page. Because it did differ. I did say to one young lady, “Did you hear how you read that?” because the lines were different. It was a lovely poem, but she read it one way and had written it a different way. So I asked her that because if you can hear that difference and acknowledge it, it will strengthen your writing. And it is a lovely poem, but reading it I could tell that the writer had it set up wrong, so I was really interested in how she was going to read it. If she had read it aloud to herself beforehand, she would have changed everything. FLUENT: So how long do you wait from when you write something—say, a draft—to when you start editing it? Do you wait at all? NG: I’m usually tinkering it them throughout. You know, it’s like cooking. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The other day I made short ribs and just really fucked ’em up. I don’t know—obviously my mind was someplace else. We had them for dinner, and I just said, “That’s it for the short ribs.” I had some friends who said, “Oh, no, they were good—we liked them.” I said, “I’m glad you did, but they’re wrong.” And you, as the person making what you’re making, have to know that. I don’t let things sit too long. Like I have a file on the computer for A Good Cry, and there are about six or seven poems in there now. I probably won’t do it today because I have other things I’m doing, but probably this weekend I’ll open the file and—I hate to say because I’ll sound like an

alcoholic-—but I’ll get a glass of champagne—and I’ll see what I’m doing with them. The book is going slow. I know the book is going to take a long time-—I don’t push myself on that. If I’m lucky, maybe the book will be finished by 2016 or so. I don’t have-—if I was in the Mafia I think the phrase is “I’ve made my bones—so I don’t feel like I have to have something out there, and I’m certainly not hungry and I’m not cold. FLUENT: So you have a backlog of items. Have you

ever gone back to look and thought, “Hmm, I’m not finishing this one.” NG: You hit Delete. Especially if I can’t remember it, it’s gone. If I can remember a line or something, then it’s fine. I rarely keep a line, although I do have a couple on the computer right now. But I usually don’t keep them because it will drive you crazy trying to figure out what to do with them. On the other hand, on occasion you’ll have a line that you feel like you need to keep because it’s such a lovely line. But for the most part, you stick it in a file and go about your business. Because you think, “Oh, if I drop dead, at least they’ll know I had this great line.” FLUENT: [Laughs] So how important are first lines to

you? NG: Very important. We were actually talking about this last night at the Masterclass. One of the poems, “Grandma” I think it was called; there was a line in it where the poet said, “My friend is like Marilyn Monroe / only broken into pieces.” And this was in the second paragraph. And I was like, no, baby, if you’re going to mention Marilyn Monroe, you have to open with it because we all know Marilyn, and if you’re going to tell me Marilyn Monroe is in pieces, then I want to know what those pieces are. So first lines are very important. You’re not trying to fool your audience. You know, “Ask your doctor if this is right for you.” I’m not trying to do that, but I am trying to find the line that makes sense, that says this is the poem. FLUENT: So sort of a thesis statement right from the

beginning? NG: Yeah, pretty much.

FLUENT: What do you read for pleasure, and what do you read for inspiration? u fluent | 31

NG: I don’t do inspiration, so that’s gone. I’m sitting

here looking at Ron Rash’s book, and I love what he does. I think, well, I know that my favorite writer is Toni Morrison. FLUENT: Hard to argue.

NG: Oh yeah, anything they say about Toni, I’m going

to read that. And I really love—because she’s such a good writer and such a lovely young lady—Edwige Danticat. There are other things I think I should read, so I’ve been trying to read those. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nahisi Coates—I just really so disliked that book. FLUENT: [Laughs]

NG: So I’m having trouble getting through his book,

and people are telling me that I need to read it. But I want to be able to discuss it intelligently when I tell people I don’t like it. So I’m trying. And Lawrence Ross has a new book out, which is about racism on campus, and I really like what Lawrence does, and I like seeing how he’s approaching that. And Will Haygood has a new book on Thurgood Marshall. I didn’t know Mr. Marshall, but I’m a big fan—well, who’s not? But he was a great lawyer. Most of my reading is nonfiction. FLUENT: Going along with that, what would you say

are the two works—and the number is completely arbitrary, you can exceed that if you want to—what are the two works that you can point to and say that a person is incomplete for not having read, or more charitably, what they’re missing out on if they haven’t read? NG: I think I may have answered this, to an extent because I think the people I mentioned are so good, but the kid that I taught, Kwame Alexander, did The Crossover, which won the Newberry. I think I’ve read The Crossover about 6 times already. Because for one, I’m so proud of having taught him, and I’m so thrilled that he won the Newberry. And, it’s a hybrid, by the way. He and I laughed about that because he came to see me to talk, and The Crossover begins with a rap and goes into narrative, and a lot of people said, “You can’t do that.” He said, “I thought about you, and I did it.” FLUENT: [Laughs]

NG: Because I’m always saying it’s your voice. So... I’m trying to think of what else is essential. As I said, I’m 32 | fluent

interested in history. And of course, I’m interested in the Constitution. I’m interested in how we brought this nation together as a people, what it means. And I’m interested in the questions that aren’t asked. Because if you don’t ask a question that nobody’s asking, then you’re going to end up with the same answers we already have. FLUENT: You said that Toni Morrison is your favorite

writer. Would you say anything and everything she writes is gold or do you have a particular favorite? NG: I wouldn’t say anything and everything, but whenever she puts something out I’m going to read it. One of my very favorite books is Sula. Of course, also, God Help the Child. I had to drop her a note for that one, to say, “Wasn’t this a prequel to The Bluest Eye?” I just couldn’t resist. FLUENT: Would you consider yourself a regional

writer? Obviously your work speaks to a lot of people across many different lines, but is there an element to your work, would you say, that benefits from a shared regional identity? NG: I just think of myself as a writer. It’s great when someone from, say, California, tells me that they liked my work. But, I think it’s important for someone like me, or maybe it’s just good for my own sanity, to not get involved in how the work is taken. My job is to write it and not necessarily concern myself with how it’s going to be taken. I do like people. It’s funny, people laugh when I say I’m not friendly. I’m not, but I do like talking to people. One of the things I like is doing book tours. I don’t understand writers who don’t, actually. I would never go on a book tour to sell a book, though. That’s not the idea. It’s very gratifying to think that, I’m here now, and in 10 years I’ll be somewhere else and someone will come up to me and say, “I don’t know if you remember but about 10 years ago you were in Shepherdstown, and we took a picture together.” It’s very gratifying to hear that. FLUENT: Do you have a favorite of your own works that you’ve written? NG: In many respects, not actually. I like the concept, if I can say that. I like the concept of Bicycles. A lot of people don’t stop to think, but bicycles are about love because it’s about trust and balance. I like the book,

and it is sad, in places, especially with “Blacksburg under siege,” which is about the tragedy at Virginia Tech. But I like the book because it’s about love. I also like Chasing Utopia, which is about my mother. She was a beer drinker, and of course Utopia is a kind of beer. And there’s no way not to like Black Feeling Black Talk. I signed a first edition of Black Feeling Black Talk last night. FLUENT: Oh, wow.

NG: Right? You know how seldom you see a first edition of your book? I was so glad to see that. I don’t like to re-read too much of the stuff that’s already out there. I think there’s a tendency for writers to do that when they’re working on something so they don’t contradict themselves, but if you’re a writer, you’re going to contradict yourself. I published my first book in 1968, and this is 2015, and at this point if I’m not contradicting myself, something is wrong. Either I’m stupid, or I haven’t learned anything, but something is really wrong. FLUENT: Do you have something that tends to

resonate more with readers, maybe something that’s surprising to you how resonant it is? And the flip side, do you have something that you really thought would resonate more with people than it did, but for whatever reason it didn’t have that connection? NG: The two poems that I was surprised became what they are was “Ego Tripping”--that was just a creation poem--and I had no idea how “We Are Virginia Tech” would... that still brings a tear to my eyes. And I really like “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars).” I was surprised that that one was as popular as it was because it’s not a casual poem. FLUENT: I know you said you don’t re-read too much

of what you’ve published, but have you ever seen something like... one from the vaults, I guess? NG: [Laughs]

FLUENT: I was wondering if you could talk a little about

the poetic voice. I’m talking specifically about poems written in the first person. I think there’s a tendency for some readers to say, “Ok, this is the exact feeling of the author. This is that author speaking, not the person in the poem.” I’m thinking specifically of “Nikki-Rosa” and those last few lines that say, explicitly, what the poem is about. Every explication of the poem I’ve read says that this is Nikki Giovanni’s feelings on the matter and not necessarily the character in the poem. NG: Well, I do think “Nikki-Rosa” is about as close to my voice as it gets, but I also read other poets, so I know that I is not necessarily me. And something like “Nikki-Rosa” is pretty typical childhood memories. I think that someone today, writing in the inner city, could write that poem.

FLUENT: Finally, and maybe this is a little too cutesy for a final question, but how do you know when something you’re working on is finished? NG: [Laughs] When it’s time to quit. When you get to the end and say, “That’s it.” We’ve been joking around a lot lately. I’ve been saying that we need a class called Penis 101 to educate young boys on what they should be doing. Starting at age 12 through 21. FLUENT: [Laughs]

NG: And a guy from the audience stood up and said

that we ought to give a hand to the penis, and I said I thought the 12 year-old boys already did. [Laughs] FLUENT: [Laughs]

NG: And I knew “Get off the stage.” That’s the end—

it’s not getting better than that. And your poetry is gonna be like that. You’ll get to the point where there’s nothing more to say on the topic. When you do all that you can do, you know that’s it. When you know that’s the end, that’s the end. fluent

FLUENT: And if you have taken a look at one like that,

can you see the voice developing? NG: Well, occasionally I’ll see something because I do readings all over, and I’ll see an older poem of mine and read it and think, “Damn, that’s a pretty good poem!” I seldom disappoint myself. What I think isn’t working--there’s a button called Delete, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Books by Nikki Giovanni are available at Four Seasons Books, 116 W German St, Shepherdstown, WV, 304.876.3486,

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down about love, lust, motherhood and forgiveness. And something else entirely.

Ship’s Log: 1896. A father boards a ship and leads a mysterious expedition bound for Africa. In tow are his troubled son, a rebellious young woman, and a skeptical crew. On the open sea, an unexpected detour resurrects family secrets and reveals true intentions, fundamentally changing the course of the journey— and their lives. Christina Anderson creates a telling parable about violence, betrayal, faith, and freedom in this moving maritime epic.

“Do you remember…the precise moment you fell in love?… The kind that hurts and heals and haunts you like a starved spirit. Like you won’t survive it. Have you ever known that kind of love?”

“Hope damages us….It weakens one of the most powerful tools we humans possess: doubt. When we doubt, we question, then we seek answers.”

NOT MEDEA A Rolling World Premiere by Allison Gregory What if the show you came to see is not the show you need to see? A working mother escapes to the sanctuary of the theater and encounters a play she desperately doesn’t want to watch, so she hijacks the show—and the audience—leading them through her own very personal story. A synthesis of myth/magic/ real world, NOT MEDEA is a funny and fierce slap34 | fluent

THE WEDDING GIFT A World Premiere by Chisa Hutchinson Doug is an average guy with an average life. Until, that is, he finds himself at a wedding, not as a guest…but as a gift. Surrounded by those that speak a language he’s never heard, Doug realizes he’s little more than a pet. And when the bride grows dangerously fond of him, the prospect of returning home becomes even more remote. Chisa Hutchinson’s provocative and uproariously funny new play asks: What does it mean to be the only “outsider” in a community? How does it feel to be the “other?”

“I’m not bad, considering I’ve been intergalactically sextrafficked and am being held against my will in a very strange place, probably light years away from everyone and everything I know and love.”


A World Premiere by Susan Miller Four women bond and become one another’s timetable of history after a protest rally in the early 70s lands them in jail. Through the vagaries of love, careers, children, lost causes and tragedy, the women reunite once a year for a photo shoot, chronicling their changing (and aging) selves. But, when these private photographs have the potential to become part of a public exhibit, mutiny erupts and relationships are tested as the images unearth secrets and force the women to question who they are, what they’ve become and how they’ll navigate whatever lies ahead. Susan Miller’s new play asks all of us—the Baby Boomers, the Great generation and the Millenials—what really matters, in this sharply funny and evocative exploration of time.

“You’re—rock and roll. The space launch. Civil rights. The decades that chronicle the most sweeping changes in everything. Style. Music. Literature. You’re my—sundial, my—alphabet. My guide to better living. You’re my memorial to all that.”

Mark Muse – Photographs Fine Art Photography and Printmaking • Portfolio Printing Printing for Exhibition Color and Black&White High Quality Art Reproduction


THE SECOND GIRL A New Play by Ronan Noone With Eugene O’Neill’s classic Long Day’s Journey into Night as a backdrop, THE SECOND GIRL is a lyrical wrenching, and caustically funny play. Set in the downstairs kitchen of the Tyrone family’s summer residence, circa 1912, Noone’s characters—two Irish immigrant servant girls and a chauffeur—struggle with denial, personal responsibility and failure, while searching for love, belonging and a sense of what it really means to call some place “home.”

the new f word arts | culture | events

“…a broken heart is not a qualification to being Irish—tis getting up with the pieces of the heart in your hand and asking the fella who broke it if he wouldn’t mind giving you a kick in the head, too. That’s Irish.” fluent | 35


Randi Ward is a writer, translator,

lyricist and photographer from Belleville, West Virginia. She earned her MA in Cultural Studies from the University of the Faroe Islands and is a recipient of the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Prize. Ward is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Vencil: Anthology of Contemporary Faroese Literature, World Literature Today and other publications. MadHat Press will release Ward’s forthcoming poetry collection, Whipstitches, this spring. For more information, visit

listen Photography by Randi Ward

The Village

The children sang and hid among these rocks. They took turns courting the dangerous edge where angelica was sweetest and stood tall against the storm and snarling sea before bending in the fall. They’d watched the boats row out from the landing. They waved and laughed among these mossy rocks, unknowing that the evening would not see the fishermen returning with the rain.

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Cast from our memories of tear-chapped cheeks, their solemn faces blister with cold rain in the park where they stand for the village. They always stare longingly at the sea.

St. Olaf’s Fling

listen Í Mjørka They say I should not wish for it to go. I sit silently staring at the grey. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. The fog is all I see from my window. I ask myself how long such murk can stay. They say I should not wish for it to go. They say I should not wish for it to go. They say the earth breathes fog like it drinks snow, letting the dark weeks soak into its clay. They say this fog will make the pastures grow, will melt the dead grass with its ebb and flow and soften the ground for the tender hay. They say I must not wish for it to go. Still fog is all I see from my window. How long can I keep staring at this grey? Grey, grey, grey. They say I must not wish for it to go, that once I’ve known its workings, deep and slow, I’ll patiently weather these somber days trusting that fog will make the pastures grow.

You kept saying I was frigid, but when you finally passed out I took off my sweater and made a pillow for you.


Dregs (1). A copper kettle hides its cobweb from the sun.

(2). My windows only look this dirty in the sun.

(3). The curtains draw me when they’re tired of the sun.

The handle’s broken off the door, but it still shuts.

The handle’s broken off the door, but it still locks.

No more mistaking gusts of wind for friends long gone.

A cup of coffee laced with notes of cardamom.

A cup of coffee doesn’t care what it becomes.

A cup of coffee doesn’t care what it becomes.

No bitter aftertaste to bait my scalded tongue.

Drink it to the dregs, then leave it when it’s done.

Drink it to the dregs, then leave it when it’s done.

They say the fog will make the pastures grow. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. They say I should not wish for it to go. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. They say I should not wish for it to go. They say the fog will make the pastures grow. [Í Mjørka = In Fog]

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I. All This For the third day in a row, Dave and I spent six hours bumping through sandy tracks. We are tired, sore, sweaty and covered in dust. At dusk we pull into the village of Gourma and go straight to Amadou’s house. Like many of the other buildings in this sparse place, it’s a small one-room mud building with a makeshift veranda. Amadou, one of our field agents, meets us dressed in a red sweat suit with a logo from Altoona High School in Pennsylvania. He’s wearing flip flops and sunglasses, even though it’s getting dark. The house is dominated by a recovered cable spool that serves as a table. In one corner is a bed—a rectangular wooden frame sitting on four large stones with only a mat and a sheet. Amadou sits on the bed. We take the only two chairs in the house, metal frame with plastic weaving. On the wall above the bed is a calendar from three years before—it shows goods from a hardware shop in a town nearly 4 hours away. Near the bed are a well-worn issue of Jeune Afrique, and a frayed and coverless copy of “Ambiguous Adventure.” In a corner are a small charcoal grill, two blackened and dented aluminum pots, a small metal teapot, two small glass tea cups, and several mismatched spoons and forks. There is no electricity for 180 miles. As it gets dark, Amadou lights the kerosene storm lamp and places it on the table. We exchange news and talk about the project. 38 | fluent

Finally Dave says, “It must be very difficult to live here.” “Yes,” Amadou says, sweeping his hand expansively around the room. “Not everyone has all this.”

II. Nafissa The curtain that covers the doorway was intended to keep the sharp blades of heat from the room. We push it aside and it slumps closed behind us. We let our eyes adjust to the darkness. The small room has no windows. It is the only room in the house. There is a woman sitting on a mat on the dirt floor. She is holding a child. In one corner of the room, on the floor, lie several pots and cooking utensils. In another corner is a worn-out trunk. The woman indicates two low stools for us to sit on. There is little else on the dirt floor or adobe walls, nor is there room for much else. The little girl she is holding seems to be about 4 or 5, but it is hard to tell. Her hair is beautifully braided, each braid ending with a colorful plastic barrette. The child cannot speak. Her hands are curled and stiff, her fingers strangely bent. Her arms and legs are thin. She drinks from a cup held by the woman who, from time to time, gently wipes the drool from the child’s mouth. The child has an enormous toothy smile and beautiful eyes. Her name is Nafissa. She stares at us. She makes a random gesture. The woman says she wants to touch me. I hold out my hand and we touch. Her grin becomes wider. She is perhaps fascinated by my whiteness.

My wife, who knows the woman’s family, asks where the father is. He has gone to Mopti. He left when it was clear that Nafissa had problems. The woman does not speak ill of him. There are no other relatives in a position to help. Some neighbors provide food. The doctors at the hospital claim it is a tumor and there is nothing they can do. Over the past 10 months it has gotten progressively worse. The woman does not complain. The woman does not seem unhappy. It’s God’s will, she says.

Photo: Jon Anderson

We tell the girl how beautiful she is. I tell her I will marry her when she is older. We talk about acquaintances. About events. About relatives. As we stand to leave, Nafissa squirms and looks at us with her huge eyes. I ask why she has become so animated. “She wants to go with you,” the woman says. I take a long look at her and touch her cheek. “Next time,” I say. “Next time.” u

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We exit the hut. It’s like walking out into a fire— burning hot and bright. Our eyes try to readjust. The world shimmers in the heat.

III. Almost Perfect As soon as Frank awoke and went downstairs, he saw a young, grubby kid at the door. In Bamako, kids were sent everywhere with all sorts of messages for all sorts of people—the poor man’s cell phone. In broken English and Bambara, the kid said that Lalla was at the clinic. Frank gave the kid a quarter. He was fairly sure the kid was saying Lalla was at the maternity – he was never really sure he understood Bambara correctly. Lalla, a strong, healthy woman, was apparently having her first child. Frank drove to the maternity on his way to work. He wanted to be as useful as possible. The father of Lalla’s baby seemed to have abandoned them. He was not around, not providing support, obvious by his absence. Instead Frank, her brother-in-law from worlds away, tried to pay the bills and prescriptions, to be there in the room. He knew it was not the same. The worn out clinic had no electricity, no medicines, no materials, just three metal beds. The bottom halves of the cement walls desperately needed a cleaning and a paint job – the hands of thousands of people had been rubbed against it. The midwives seemed attentive and well intentioned. Lalla’s pregnancy had already been long and hard – with several trips to the doctor’s. Frank was not sure the doctors knew what they were doing. Frank felt a general resentment against the child’s father, the clinic, and the system that allowed these situations to develop and forced him into positions where he was unsure, impotent. He became angry and started to close off. Lalla was in full labor. She was sweating and breathing hard, but she smiled briefly before returning to her pain and exhaustion. Frank had to return to work, promising to be back as soon as he could. The meetings went longer than he expected. It was several hours before he could return. Anya, Lalla’s mother, was sitting on the veranda of the maternity, holding the baby. Anya was the center of the family, holding together a loose coalition of children. She was the center of all major family events. 40 | fluent

He could hear Lalla crying inside. He heard the soothing mutterings of the midwives. Anya looked up with sad and anxious eyes. Tenderly she held out the baby. “A sara” she said. He didn’t understand. He couldn’t understand. The earth slowed, the universe stopped expanding, and his skin cooled. He carefully took the quiet, peaceful baby girl. She had a full head of lush black curls. Her skin was smooth and brown as a shea nut. Her fingers and toes were perfectly formed. Her arms and legs were as plump as ripe mangoes. She was a big baby, and beautiful, almost perfect. Her eyes were closed.

IV. They Think He learned a lot from Mali and his Malian friends. Not as much as he should have, but Mali found cracks in his thick hide. Some people think he has gone native. He realized he was not learning how to be a Malian—he was learning how to be a person. He learned the greetings and the constant handshakes, and he enjoyed it. The differences between copying and understanding, mimicry and knowledge. Everyone has their own rituals. He learned you should always greet everybody. He learned anyone could be your cousin, and directors were cousins of drivers, and the President could be teased by a doorman. And you, you could be told an uncomfortable truth by a cook, and you could not get mad. Some people think he has gone native. He learned small lessons in dusty villages from people who had never gone to school, and with whom he didn’t share a spoken language. He learned there are other languages. He learned the barefoot man in clean but worn clothes, with a fast and toothless smile, is the descendent of kings. In these slow, hot moments he felt more real than before a thousand choices at the supermarket. He learned the “truth” may not be out there waiting for discovery by clever people working alone. He learned the truth might need to be constructed through dialogue, through conversations among

large groups of different people, and it needed to be constructed and reconstructed every day. A good place to do this is under a big tree. He learned a level of stoicism and grace under difficulties. We are not our difficulties. We are how we deal with our difficulties. He wished he had learned this lesson better. Some people called it fatalism. But Malian mothers cry like other mothers. Some people think he has gone native. He learned power is not binary with winners and losers; and the game of rock, paper, and scissors is more reflective of the world than a coin toss. He learned honor is important and humiliation a terrible thing. He learned to always strive for respect, equity and a just set of rules. A fight that’s not fair is not a fight, and an unfair fight is not worth fighting, much less winning. He learned small gestures count and the most generous people you will ever encounter are the ones who have much less than you. He learned he was an egotist, and a narrow minded one at that. But he shook the fingerless hands of lepers and sat and joked with them. They drank tea. They laughed.

He worked with Malian women whose interior courage extends beyond any horizon you will ever see. They have straight and strong backs, and big and inclusive hearts. They live in small villages, in small houses on dusty roads. They have babies and bury many of them in the sandy soils of the bush. He learned, at least they tried to teach him, about tolerance, about not assuming you know another person’s troubles. He needed these lessons because the place he came from had not taught them so well. Sometimes they were not even in the lesson plan. He was not a very good student. He wanted to do better. But still some people think he has gone native. fluent

Jon Anderson has been working for several decades on development challenges in Africa, much of that time in Mali. Portions of “Mali Quartet” previously appeared in different form in Short Stories by Peace Corps Writers.

The Bridge Fine Art & Framing Gallery Thru-Hike: Remembering the Appalachian Trail—An Encore, Jan 10 – Feb 12 Closing Reception Fri, Feb 12, 5:30 – 7:30 pm

8566 Shepherdstown Pike, Shepherdstown WV 25443 • 304.876.2300 Fine Art, Ceramics, Photography & Custom Framing

fluent | 41


Kierkegaard Disses Self-Publishing on Last Episode of “The Apprentice” By Ed Zahniser

The great Dane Søren Kierkegaard appeared on Donald Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice” the very day that NBC dropped the popular show. Kierkegaard empathizes with Trump’s hubris and shows his own trademark irony by blasting the self-publishing that birthed Kierkegaard’s own 30-plus books, such as Fear and Trembling, The Sickness Unto Death, The Concept of Anxiety and The Crowd Is Untruth. —The Editors TRUMP Welcome to “The Apprentice, “Mr. Kierkegaard. KIERKEGAARD Thank you, Mr. Trump. I do consider

myself an apprentice author. But I was the life and soul of a recent party. My lips spewed witty banter, to everyone’s laughter and admiration.

TRUMP When I announced for the presidency

as a Republican last summer, I set the record straight pronto on Hispanic immigrants. People loved me. I shot to the top of the polls. KIERKEGAARD Indeed, one wants not to be forever Bileam’s ass.

TRUMP Whose ass?


TRUMP Explain or you’re fired!

KIERKEGAARD In the Hebrew Scriptures God gives an

ass the gift of speech with its master, named Bileam. I merely alluded to the livestock symbol of your opposition party. 42 | fluent

TRUMP I’d fire that Billy M’s ass so fast his long ears

would ring.

KIERKEGAARD I confess that after my recent witty party

performance, oddly, I wanted to shoot myself.

TRUMP Not me! Deprive the world of me? Or my hair?

I’m at work on my memoir, “The Donald.” It’s gonna be huge. People will love it. KIERKEGAARD I can dissociate from most things, too, but not from myself. Even asleep, I cannot forget myself.

TRUMP Sleep is sheer waste. It deprives the world of my

great presence. Do those Hebrews have scriptures, really? KIERKEGAARD You may have heard of them as the Old Testament. TRUMP Yes. Heard of it. I got a bank loan once

based solely on my hair. I could tell.

KIERKEGAARD Do you plan to self-publish your

memoir, Mr. Trump?

TRUMP Who else would be qualified? That’s what I do.

I make good deals, big great deals. KIERKEGAARD Things repeat themselves. Humanity exults in a discovery. The discovery will be perfected. But then we ask, “Is it really a boon?” We try to put the brakes on it. Consider the printing press. It guarantees that the dregs get published.

have my hair to fall back on. Not that my book won’t sell like hotcakes. It will be great. People will love it. KIERKEGAARD I confess to be embittered. Only creative work’s enchantment lets me forget how petty life is. TRUMP My people tell me you wrote the book on the

oir will redeem the printing press. KIERKEGAARD Most people write poorly about things they are ignorant of. That’s why I now read books only by people who were executed or somehow risked their lives.

concept of dread. And someone named Ludwig Wittgenstein called you the greatest thinker of your day. He said you’re a saint. So, you have your halo, but I have my hair-lo. People love my humor. The Chinese will love my humor. KIERKEGAARD The W’s are pronounced as V’s, “Vittgenstein.” But who is Wittgenstein to canonize us? But, yes, a creative writer is an unhappy being. Deep down he conceals a vast anguish and would rather be a swineherd.

TRUMP I saved the life of a blind person once, clearly

TRUMP Swineherd. I’ll use that in my next campaign

TRUMP Don’t sit there in fear and trembling, my mem-

putting my hair at risk. Pouring rain dulled the sound of an on-coming Toyota Prius hybrid just as the blind man stepped off the curb. He never saw my hair, and it was too wet to take a selfie. But did I detect earlier that you have an opinion on self-publishing? KIERKEGAARD A writer’s lot is wretched, to present oneself hat in hand, to kowtow and to cringe. But not me. I write what I want. People think me a crazy original.

TRUMP So you do self-publish?

KIERKEGAARD Everything I write. All but one of my

siblings died by age 34, and my father left me an inheritance. I used the inheritance to print my writings. TRUMP How are the sales of your book?

KIERKEGAARD Sales are irrelevant. I send copies of

some of my books to all the writers in Denmark. Besides, I use thirteen pseudonyms.

TRUMP Explain that last word or you’re fired!

KIERKEGAARD Pen names, I use literary nicknames,

one might say.

TRUMP Oh, pen names. Why didn’t you say so? I was

thinking Sudofeds. Thirteen pen names. Now that’s exceptional. That’s nine more pen names than Nora Roberts uses. But your low book sales must be a downer. I

speech. Putin is a swineheard. My opponents are swineherds with undistinguished hair. Undistinguished. That’s a four-syllable word. KIERKEGAARD Each of us takes revenge on the world.

TRUMP There’s a long word on this card? Starts with

“exist,” ends with “ism.” KIERKEGAARD Existentialism.

TRUMP Explain, or you’re fired!

KIERKEGAARD That’s the idea that existence precedes


TRUMP Explain or you’re fired. I mean it!

KIERKEGAARD It means we aren’t born possess-

ing meaning. We create our meaning. We create our essence. We’re not held back by our potty training. We’re pulled forward by who we are meant to be. TRUMP Can creating your meaning get you a bank loan,

like I got based solely on my hair?

Before Kierkegaard could respond, NBC pulled the plug on “The Apprentice.” Trump later vowed—on Fox News before they dropped him, then on CNN—to sue NBC, saying lawyers will handle his case pro bono just to be associated with his hair. fluent fluent | 43


Triumph Over Winter

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Snow Landscapeâ&#x20AC;? by Seth Freeman looks as if it could have been taken during Jonas, the blizzard of January 2016, during which Shepherdstown, West Virginia, received a record-breaking snowfall of 40.5 inches and__) international media coverage. Freeman took this image of a motorcycle waiting out the worst of the storm on a porch in the Pack Horse Ford area of Shepherdstown in 2010.

Fluent Winter 2016  
Fluent Winter 2016