Red Planet

In this piece, Delany Burk explores fires and the devastating landscapes and after effects of them.

and they say
that mars was once like earth
but now i see mars is earth
blackened red and barren
and once mars burned as we do now

and it’s always california
the blazing state
the deadly scorching state
the martian state

and people are fleeing
from cities, from homes
from smoke and choke

and they say good for her
fighting back
but it’s futile
and within 30 years our planet will black and blue

all salt
and ash and embers
blue melting sea
and red, sizzling land,
sinking, sinking, sinking

 

Delany Burk is a four year senior at Idyllwild Arts Academy who loves watching the stars, drinking coffee, and getting snuggly in cold weather. In her writing, she enjoys exploring the philosophical, scientific, and emotional side of writing.

Visual art by Reah Eunji Kang.

Revitalized

Mina Kim explores the intensity and emotional turmoil that romantic relationships can bring in “Revitalized.”

 


 Thank you.
Thank you for the love.
Thank you for the fear.
Thank you for the tears.
Thank you for the rejection.
Because I learned to like being alone.


Thank you for the love.

Your cheeks are aching from all the smiling.

It is around dinner time when the baby blue color of the sky fades into shades of pink and lavender. Leo’s hands intertwine around your waist, and his head rests gently on your shoulder. The smell of his cotton perfume, which he adamantly argues is not limited to a woman’s scent, fills the space around you (and the entire apartment—it is quite strong). Staring out from the slightly dusty windows of the living room, you and Leo watch the sunset and frequently comment on some of the bizarre outfits of your neighbors outside, laughing a bit too loud when cranky Mrs. Dallows leaves the complex to walk her three Pomeranians in an electric purple jumpsuit paired with knee-high striped socks.

“Look! Mrs. Dallo—oh god—” you breathlessly manage to get out. Leo’s chuckling from behind, and you can feel the soft vibrations of his chest on your back.

“I feel like I’m in The Wizard of Oz all of a sudden!” he laughs.

Then, mindlessly, you crook your head to the side, locking your eyes with his doe ones. Bliss. It’s the only word that comes to mind when you’re with him.

Leo faces you, his eyes lingering a second too long on your lips. When he looks back to your eyes, which are still gazing at him, his cheeks wrinkle as he smiles, and he’s hugging you tighter.

“I love you,” you suddenly blurt out.

“I love you, too.”

And even though you’ve been together for three years, that’s all it takes to get your hands clammy and your heart beating erratically.


Thank you for the fear.

Your cheeks are sore from constantly gnawing on the insides of your mouth.

Sounds of light rain echo through the busy streets, and people are still out and about, socializing even during the darker hours.

You’re waiting. You’ve been waiting for an hour and twenty minutes now, and there’s still no sign of Leo.

Today is supposed to be a reunion date, where you both can catch up, after Leo’s month in Spain with his friends. Specifically, catch up on the past few months because you’re both living hectic lives: Leo with his new office career as a manager and you with your graduate school schedule and studies in English. Classes overlapped with business projects, internships with late-night shifts. But, despite the conflicts, it wasn’t like you to easily give up on a relationship, especially when you still think about Leo wherever you go. So, you desperately cling onto hope.

You wince when you accidentally bite your tongue and grab for the cup of water, which stands alongside a glass of Coke—his favorite—that stopped fizzing an hour ago. It’s pitiful. The side-stares you’re getting from the happily married couple on your right, the glances from the waiters, who are too nice to ask you to leave, and the replies you have yet to receive from your missing-in-action boyfriend.

You wonder if it’s worth calling Leo when you’ve already texted him every five minutes. But, scrolling through the previous messages in your conversation, you decide against it. He hasn’t messaged you anything longer than “no” or “sure” for over five months now.

It’s okay, you think. Leo’s probably jet-lagged and sleeping right now, you attempt to comfort yourself. But, your heart clenches funnily, and your lips begin to quiver.

The fear of losing him has haunted you for too long for you to spit out another reassurance. So, you leave the restaurant in hopes that the blackness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the tears.

Your cheeks become stained from crying.

It’s been a long day of classes, and, in between each one, you are either half-running to a building on the far end of campus or haphazardly stuffing a bagel into your mouth to satiate your grumbling stomach. It’s one of those days where Professor Helen didn’t get much sleep and screamed at you in front of the class about how your essay papers weren’t double sided. One of those days where your clumsy hands decide to spill hot coffee onto your new jeans and where you want to be with Leo, even after months of your daily calls going ignored and your date plans postponed.

Are you two still together? In your heart, yes. Even now, he has you wrapped around his finger.

The afternoon wind brushes the exposed parts of your skin, chilling your ankles and slapping against your face and neck. You are walking back to your apartment, choosing this over the bus or taxi so that the coldness of the winter will completely obliterate the thoughts in your mind.

Strolling through the city, you feel mocked by the buoyant sounds of laughter coming from the restaurants and cafes at each block, and there is a twang of jealousy every time an elderly couple or family walks past you. But, all the pessimistic thoughts come to a halt when you see him. The man who you cared for and loved; the one who made you feel so worried for the past seven months; the one who seemed to carry no worries as he walks towards you, his hands enclosed with another woman’s.

The clicking sound of your shoes ceases at once. You can’t take your eyes off of Leo, and maybe it’s your rapidly heaving chest or your tear stained cheeks that reflects the city lights, but his eyes meet yours. His smile falters at the sight of you.

Please, don’t leave me here like this, you plead with your eyes.

But perhaps her beauty is more outstanding than yours. Perhaps you look too embarrassing for Leo to approach you. Perhaps he can no longer conjure up his feelings of endearment for you. Maybe that is why he averts his gaze to her, scratches his head as if he sees nothing, and calmly walks past you.

Are you two still together? In his heart, no, and the thought of that breaks you.

Muffled whimpers escaped from your throat while streams of tears burn your numb face. The signs of the restaurants become far too blurry to read. Once again, you hope the city lights will disappear and the darkness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the rejection.

Your cheeks squish against your pillow.

You wake up on the couch with stains of wine on your shirt, but it doesn’t bother you. For the last few weeks, you’ve greeted every morning on the couch.

Since the breakup, or so you assume, you’ve come to realize that you can swat away or ease sadness, but you can’t avoid loneliness. Loneliness clings so tight that you begin suffocating. Loneliness can’t seem to get enough of you, hindering your ability to properly eat, sleep, study, or function as a normal human being. It creeps into your dreams, your mornings, your nights, and into your mind. It constantly reminds you of the image of Leo and that woman.

Do people drift away from each other this easily? you wonder.

You can’t help but look through pictures of you and him when there was happiness at the very beginning of the relationship. At the time, Leo was the type of guy who would walk you past your home so that he could spend the ten minutes it takes to go around the neighborhood to be with you. But now you realize that he was distancing himself because he was too much of a coward to tell you directly, I don’t love you anymore. Then again, could you handle the impact of those five words?


Because I learned to like being alone.

Your cheeks are getting hit by the rays of the sun.

By the time the sun has fully risen, you’re skipping from your bedroom to the kitchen to make breakfast. Pancakes have become your favorite breakfast food these days, and you begin mixing the batter after you turn on the turquoise colored record player, a recent splurge for yourself, to play some Frank Sinatra. From the refrigerator, you pull out a few strawberries and a handful of blueberries to top the pancakes. Sitting on the couch, you look out the window and smile, seeing the beautiful cherry blossom trees and dainty flowers fully open to admire, for the new season of spring had finally come.

Sometimes, when you’re greeted with the scent of cotton or see your still oddly dressed neighbors, you think of him. Sure, there was no exact closure or apology, but you’ve come to a point where there are no poignant thoughts about him. It took time and the understanding that you can depend on and be satisfied with yourself to stop rebuilding the walls that had been torn down from hurt and rejection. You even learned to embrace doing the activities you used to do with Leo alone—taking walks around town, enjoying Friday nights with movies and wine, or dancing to music.

Feeling fulfilled, you munch on your delicious pancakes, grin at the sight of Mrs. Dallows walking her Poms, and feel content with only the sound of music filling your apartment.

 

Mina Kim is currently a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School who has been enjoying creative writing through her class at school this year. She especially loves freewriting on sense or specific detail. In her free time, Mina likes to travel with her family, drink coffee, and doodle in her journal.

Photograph, titled “Inhale,” by Jules Landa Ventre.

Scars

Margaret Madole illustrates the struggle of helping friends with mental illnesses survive another day in “Scars.”

When I look at my wrists, I expect to see her scars. It doesn’t matter when I glimpse them—at dance, in the shower, on the bus—it always seems wrong that they are unblemished, perfect and whole in every way that hers are not. I can’t feel any other way, not when we live an hour apart and yet I keep her tucked in my pocket, closer than any neighbor. I never stop checking for her texts; I pause in the middle of phone calls with others just to type my replies. When she asks for a high number, I give it to her without question, and agree that yes, I will send her 93 texts if it will keep her from putting scissors to her skin and making more of those wounds. My English presentation can wait until we’re done—it can wait forever if it needs to. I ask my friends from school, the people who somehow have become less important than a girl who ever since we left camp has existed only within my phone, her soul contained in circuit boards and enclosed in a plastic shell, how I am supposed to care about Thoreau when all the way on the other side of the state, my friend has decided not to eat for fourteen days and there is nothing I can do to stop her. I don’t tell them that I half-expect to be the one who will faint from hunger in the middle of class before the two weeks are up if I don’t somehow talk her out of it. The worry keeps me from memorizing my speech, and yet I can recall exactly what she ate on December second: a single candy cane. Is it any wonder that I expect my frame to be skeletal, my stomach flat to the point of hollowness, my lunch box still full at the end of every day?

It seems unfair, even when she’s in the thick of it, for me to claim I feel anything at all. My wrists are empty, my stomach full, my brain free from the lies of mental illness. I know I cannot tell a teacher, “I can’t do this presentation because my friend is depressed.” Besides, I fear they’ll tell me that I’m wrong, that I should just leave it all to the professionals. They don’t know that I emailed her school counselor and still, when she stopped eating completely not once, but twice, it was me who snapped her out of it the first time and me who led our friend to give the warning that saved her the second time, even though her counselor had been pulling her from class for a period every day. The professionals cannot text her at midnight to keep away the doubts that crop up while everyone else is sleeping. So I learned how to fight with her, to throw every thought onto my keyboard in the hope that just one will click. The words to an anti-suicide speech are typed at the slightest alarming message, before I can even think about what to say. I have already adapted so much that it seems a miracle that my outside does not match my inside, that my figure has not lost its padding to the jaws of unsatiated hunger, that I can wear short sleeves without the fear of exposing white “cat scratches,” and that after everything, the only way we match is the bags under our eyes. It only seems fair that if I feel her anguish, I should carry her wounds.

After a month, her mother sends her to the hospital for evaluation.  There will be no more scars made with scissors, no more delayed meals, no more early morning conversations. Those are not allowed in psych wards. Meanwhile, I remain at home, in school, trapped in my own sort of isolation. A part of me enters the hospital with her as her wrists heal and her hunger dissipates; the rest lingers in honors classes, pretends that everything is all right. I hide how I’m afraid of her coming back with nothing fixed. I resist the urge to ask everyone fretting about their grades if they’ve ever thought about what it’s like to have real problems. I have to right to shout at them. After all, I am safe. I eat regularly. I have no lines on my wrists. But if that’s true, then how come in my worried haze, I can see the scars residing on my arms, bright and clear, marking me forever? Why am I, too, overcome with fear at being removed from everything I care about until some doctor deems me stable? How come, every time I look in the mirror, I am able to count my ribs?

 

Margaret Madole is a 16-year-old sophomore from Connecticut who refuses to be reduced to a collection of nouns in a bio. Other people have described her as a writer, actress, dancer, violist, and girl scout. She prefers adjectives like eclectic, loud, enthusiastic, nerdy, and creative.

Visual Art by Öykü Seran Harman

A Conversation With Alice Bolin

Alice Bolin is the author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession. It is a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and a New York Times Editor’s Choice book, is on the list of Kirkus’ Best Nonfiction Books of 2018, and is an Edgar Award nominee.  Alice has published poems, stories, and essays in numerous publications, and is the former Poet-in-Residence at Idyllwild Arts Academy. She is currently a Creative Nonfiction professor at the University of Memphis.

 

Delany Burk and Kalista Puhnaty sat down to interview Alice about her recently published essay collection, Dead Girls, a large portion of which was written during her two years as the Poet-In-Residence here at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

 

Q: You write in many of your essays about the sexism that is present in the media. Do you think it is improving with the “Me Too” movement and the issues that are being brought up surrounding that?

 

A: I do think that it is improving, and that there have been a lot of changes when it comes to representation, and more diverse stories, but we have a really long way to go. I also still think stories that are supposedly combating sexism often play into it in certain ways. Even with the Sharp Objects thing, where a lot of it is just an excuse to just watch violence against women, and also watch women be ravaged by their past trauma. I don’t necessarily know if staying in that mode is doing us any favors, and I would like to see just more diversity in stories, not only in terms of representation but in terms of the kinds of stories we tell, and more experimentation with plot and structure. It is happening in some ways, like–I don’t even want to use this example–with anthology series like Black Mirror, changing the ways that people consume TV, which is really cool, and we aren’t as stuck in this season arc thing. But I think that we still have a long way to go, that’s my basic answer.

 

Q: Do you think that the fascination with dead girl shows, and stories like that, have anything to do with the “damsel in distress” theme from many older stories?

 

A: Yeah! It has everything to do with that. That sort of overlap between fairy tales and dead girl stories, and the ways that they always feel fairy tale-esque, harkening back to those attitudes about women, about women needing to be saved or helped by men. We still feel really comfortable with that narrative, of “Oh, let’s get a dad to come help,” but that’s what’s interesting about dead girl shows. The dads are the heroes and the villains, and that tells us something about our culture that we didn’t know before, which is ultimately sort of the good thing about them. But yes, it definitely harkens back to that damsel in distress image for sure.

 

Q: Why do you think that serialized crime shows are so popular, when a majority of people don’t know about real cases of women disappearing and dying, especially with the killings of women of color and trans women often going unspoken about?

 

A: I think our conception of what a mystery is has everything to do with the identity of the victim, and probably the perpetrator. When I lived in Los Angeles, two guys were shot right near my house and their killers were never caught. What they said in the newspaper was, “Oh, it was probably gang related,” and that they were two Latino guys, and that’s all we ever heard about it. That’s a mystery, we don’t know who did it, but it wasn’t treated like a mystery. Gang violence answers the question. “Okay, mystery solved!” When a white girl gets killed you feel like, “Oh! Who could have possibly done it?” because we don’t think that white women deserve violence in the way that we think that other kinds of people deserve violence. Or maybe because that’s just not our image of a victim of a violent crime. So that’s part of it, the allure of “the perfect victim.” Also, I have read literary theory stuff about serialized fiction even in the Victorian era, you know, Dickens and Wilkie Collins, but also journalism. Once the daily newspaper would come, people would follow these cases that were salacious, and serialization is kind of this method of getting people addicted to narratives, where once you have that cliffhanger, people start to fill in their own ideas of who did it, and what the answer is. It is perfect for these kinds of stories. I think that it has to do with structure too, there’s something about it that has been around for 200 years.

 

Q: Is there ever a time where having a dead girl in a story can be justified? And If so, how do we write stories about dead girls in a way that doesn’t fall in the same pitfalls that other dead girl stories do?

 

A: I don’t really feel like I’m the arbiter of what kind of stories people get to write. I even met the writer Megan Abbott who has written a bunch of literary… you might say literary thrillers, and they all center around female characters, and female rage you might say, and she explicitly said about my book, even though she liked the book, and she gave me a blurb, she said about my book that she doesn’t necessarily agree, and she thinks that we need to keep telling dead girls’ stories, and keep exploring that idea, because that’s where we’re going to find some answers about why this violence is so prevalent. Which I think is valid. I respect that opinion. So basically my answer is I don’t know… but I think there are ways that dead girls shows, and dead girls stories can kind of reveal our feelings towards women, and our feelings about crime and about who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, in ways that other stories can’t because they’re so outlandish and over the top and even fairy tale-esque, and magical. They kind of illustrate our really messed up interest in these stories by being so over the top. I think Twin Peaks is the perfect example of that.

 

Q: What other criticisms have you received for Dead Girls, and how would you address them?

 

A: I think that the biggest criticism that people have of it is that it is not all about dead girls. There need to be more dead girls in it, that it’s too personal, and there’s not enough analysis of that phenomenon in it, and it’s a little bit of a bait and switch. Which… whatever. But I think for me that was not the book that I was interested in writing, was a critical analysis purely of this dead girl phenomenon, not that it would be difficult to write. But I also felt like, “Well there are endless dead girls, I could write about that forever. Where do I find an end to that story? How do I find my way out of it instead of just staying in it? That book could be 1000 pages long. How do I find a resolution?”  And the only way that I could do that was sort of veering off course, and examining other stories, maybe examining alternatives to that story and thinking about my own stories and the ways that I have sort of been complicit in the kind of oppression I was critiquing. That was how I found my way out of it. I’ve talked to women who are really cool who are like “Oh I’m so excited for your book, I’m a PhD student and I’m writing about violence against women in literature for my dissertation” or something and I’m like, “That’s great…” and you know I think that can exist alongside my book, and be kind of an alternative. I’m not the only person who is writing about this stuff but that’s kind of my take about it.

 

Q: You seem to have a fascination with mystery; have you considered writing a mystery novel or story? If so, how would you approach it?

 

A: Yeah! I want to write one about Idyllwild. But the thing is, I do like mystery and mysteries, but what I like more is that kind of mood, a really noir-ish or thriller-ey tone. And I love that in books that really have no mystery or the mystery is kind of missing, like books by Shirley Jackson, or Patricia Highsmith. I think those books, or even books like Toni Morrison, or “Ghost Story” books where you feel like there’s a mystery and you are reading it like there is one but ultimately the mystery is never going to be solved. That’s the kind of book I’d like to write. And maybe about Idyllwild. I think it would be the perfect setting. It’s so creepy.

 

I moved to Idyllwild from Koreatown in LA, which is the most densely populated part of LA, and I never felt worried about walking around at night because there were always people everywhere… but here? No. I’ve written about it a little bit, I think it’s so perfect for that creepy mood. That’s what I’m more interested in, because I do want to question our addiction to mysteries.

 

Q: Has teaching influenced your opinion on women in media?

 

A: I mean, teaching has influenced sort of everything that I think, but… Basically I think one thing that teaching helps me do is be more open-minded towards kind of practical ways that representation is important or sticking by what I believe in in certain ways, where maybe even if I like a book, or an essay, I’m maybe not going to assign it if I think that it could be offensive or marginalizing towards my students. And it is more important for me to represent more diverse and interesting voices because that is what my students need, and also what they would appreciate. So I feel like in some ways it has put me more in a mind of how I can be more responsible for my own choices, and the media that I’m personally consuming and recommending or assigning. Because I have this weird kind of power where I can make a group of people read books that I tell them to, and so I want them to read books that do have good representation of women, that don’t have damaging ideas about women, unless that’s something that we want to talk about.

 

Q: You’ve dug quite deep into many aspects of the media that are considered shallow. Are there any rabbit holes you’ve gone down that didn’t make the cut?

 

A: Lots of them. Yes, tons. Especially stuff about music and country music. There’s none of that in the book but I have written lots about country music, because I think that country radio is really fascinating and especially actually how it relates to women and female artists and the kind of values that it perpetuates to its audience. Also stuff about reality TV, there’s a little bit in there but I have, much more to say about MTV. I think I am probably going to be writing about stuff about media in my next collection, especially women and social media influencers, stuff like that is something I am really really interested in and love to write about.

 

Q: What is your opinion on the media’s obsession with bad mothers?

 

A: Hmmm. I feel like the media probably has pretty equal obsessions with bad mothers and bad dads, but they’re portrayed in different ways. I think we villainize women more for being bad mothers, like it’s almost perverse to be a bad mother. But to be a bad dad is sort of expected. It’s like, “Oh, sure.” It’s sort of a cliche, where a bad mom is like gasp, “So shocking!” and that’s something that in fairy tales, usually the mother is dead. But there might be an evil stepmother, or there’s this witch figure off in the wings and there clearly is literally or figuratively a stand in for a bad mother or an absent mother. I think it has a lot to do with our anger towards women, and towards our own parents. That’s something I talk about I think in the dead girl show essay, that the Philosopher Julia Kristeva, her theory of the abject had to do with this anger, maternal anger, anger towards our moms, she was a psychoanalytic theorist, so its like this Freud thing, but I think that it’s kind of gross, right? That’s really my only take on it, I really like stories about moms, and about moms who are in the picture, and who are good moms. I think that’s actually much more interesting than bad moms… Bad moms can be interesting too. That’s what my student at Idyllwild said to the class once: “To get writing ideas, I google ‘I hate my kids.’” I was like, “How many stories can you write about people who hate their kids?” but still, that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.

 

Parallax Fiction and Poetry Scholarship Contest

Win a $25,000 scholarship to study Creative Writing at Idyllwild Arts Academy!

Idyllwild Arts is an arts boarding high school nestled in the mountains of Southern California.  Our Creative Writing majors intensively study poetry, fiction, and dramatic writing (in addition to running Parallax Online!).  If you are in high school and you love to write, consider taking your passion to the next level by entering the Idyllwild Arts Parallax Fiction and Poetry Scholarship Contest for a chance to win a $25,000 scholarship to attend Idyllwild Arts!
Deadline: December 2, 2016
Open to: High school students entering 9th-12th grade in Fall 2017.

Click the link for details.

The Marshmallow

Halsey Hutchinson has taken multiple new perspectives on your average, mundane marshmallow, to evoke a whole new richness from the treat.

 

PURE is this sweet, and pure confection

Powdery, spongy untainted white

Blissful bundle, and now finger’d fare,

Ah, this tasty marshmallow square.

Thou know’st that this cannot last

A form reformed by fingers without a past;

How this heat changes you

And swelling, insides oozing goo;

And this, alas! chang’d through and through.

O dark unsightly, unwelcome crust,

Coating caked, white, no more.

This marshmallow harm’d and, I am changed

Our skin scarred, jutting bones rearranged.

Crying uncontroll’d, as I bear witness

And the creepy black brown crust of this.

Now burnt, scathed and impure,

Misshapen sweetness now obscur’d,

And life and death and pain endur’d

Cruel cancer, hast tumors multiforme

Glioblastoma, mass surgery deformed?

Wherein could this marshmallow be,

Except in this molten middle that comes from thee?

Now finish’d, consum’d, no more blacken’d crust

Not pure sweet, but bittersweet, chalky remains and dust.

Memories of her without tumors last;

Just good and bad, now chang’d, time pass’d,

Sweet tastes of life, pure and innocent, burnt and beautiful.

 

Halsey Lilac Hutchinson was born in June 1999 on a cold, windy evening as the fog crept across the Golden Gate bridge along the corridors of California Street.  Soothing her mother’s cries, the room smelled of lilacs, delivered by the hour from a fearful father to whom women still seemed to be a mystery. Now at the age of sixteen, Halsey is a junior at the acclaimed San Francisco University High School, known for its unique interdisciplinary approach to art, history and music. She spends weekends at SF Botanical gardens finding creative inspiration among the vibrant purple hydrangeas and never misses her annual trips to Pacific Grove to observe the colorful orange and black monarch butterflies in the shimmering eucalyptus trees.

Art by: Sterling Butler

The Grand Canyon

A poem by Rowan Brown.

The Grand Canyon; Some Say it’s Stars and Velvet, but I think it’s More Like Antebellum Wallpaper

In the art gallery beneath the Parthenon in Nashville,

There is an exhibit

consisting entirely of paintings

of victims in a civil war hospital,

And paintings of wallpaper designs from 1863.

All of the paintings are large canvases

with nice frames or plaques.

The eyeless man’s grey

is accentuated his smeary swollenness.

The single pink stripe on a blank canvas isn’t accentuated by anything.

It’s a painting of wallpaper.

This is how I imagine seeing the Grand Canyon would feel.

It would feel like blue and white stripes

and a man rejecting kidney inside a temple of art and science.

 

My father always tells the same story about the Canyon

And finally being able to see the stars

for what they are,

instead of pinpricks on velvet.

He thinks the Canyon helped him see the universe

in all of it’s true dimensional glory.

He says they used to be little lights

on a black dome over our heads,

but now he lives in the starfields.

I’ve watched the stars grow up, he says.

I’ve watched them for light years.

Bullshit, I say, light years are a measure of distance.

 

 

Rowan Brown is fourteen years old, a freshman studying writing at the Fine Arts Center, an arts-oriented, competitive, magnet high school. Her most recent publications include “1over8” magazine and the Creative Communications Young Poets Anthology. She is a reader for Crashtest magazine and has just won three honorable mentions, silver keys and a gold key in the Scholastic Art and Writing awards. Rowan is an avid participant in FIRST robotics and will be attending the World Robotics Championship for the third time this spring.

 

Art by Anastasia James.

A Conversation with David Wright

Winding through the music Bach and Ekphrasis writing, Parallax editors sit down with published writer David Wright and converse about what defines a poem, the responsibility of poetry, and how it interacts with the world of art.

David Wright is a writer and a musician. His work mostly falls under the category of Ekphrasis writing, a type of writing that is in conversation with another piece of art, anything from a painting to a piano performance. David Wright, having studied music with a focus on piano, wrote a book titled The Small Books of Bach that is filled with rich poetry that focuses mainly on the music and culture of Bach, along with commentary on the musical fanatics who have continued to play his music to this day.  Two of our Parallax Editors, Parsa Sheikholeslami and Segolene Pihut, had a chance to sit down one-on-one with David and talk to him about his background in music, his beginnings as a writer and poet, and how the two art forms can be masterfully intertwined.

 

You initially studied music in college. Do you still play or perform music?

I do. When I switched from being a music major to a music minor, what I discovered is that music became much more about collaboration with other people and less about competition. It’s less about trying to be the best singer and more about the community of singers. And that was a wonderful shift. Ever since I graduated, I’ve become involved in choirs, as well as church music. For about six or seven years, I worked with a friend who was a composer, and he did a lot of choral works. We collaborated together on those. I did mostly the text, he would do mostly the music. But sometimes, just because I had enough of a musical background to be dangerous, I would make suggestions. And then he would explain to me why that wasn’t going to work. So yes, music has stayed as a part of my life. I love it.

 

Do you consider yourself a musician or a writer?

I’m a writer. I’m a writer, and a teacher. Those two things are pretty inexplicably bound together for me.

 

What do you think ekphrastic writing enables the writer to do that he wouldn’t be able to do with another type of writing?

All writing is responding to something else. There’s always an allusion to something in the world or to something that we invented. What’s interesting about ekphrasis is that if the work of art is vast and substantial, you’re entering a rich conversation that’s already been going on before you got there. It’s not like I look at a tree and I say “Oh! That’s a pretty tree,” but some person painted that tree and manipulated it on the canvas and did interesting things and had stuff to say about it. I get to enter into that and ask “Why did you say this? Why do you think that’s a tree? Look how you’ve reduced it to its shapes and its forms and its colors.” It’s the richness of the conversation you get to enter with another artist. I used to take students to the art institute every semester, when I taught in the Chicago area, and one of the things ekphrasis allowed them to do was to spin out of themselves into a larger world. Because we all write about ourselves too much, “I feel sad/love/angst about this,” right? Which is fine, you can write about that. But we sometimes neglect the larger, more textured, complicated world. When you spend 45 minutes looking at a painting, or listening to a piece of music, it’s going to spin you out of yourself in a way that might be good for us. And particularly for young writers. They get to enter that conversation. Ekphrasis offers that to them. Of course, they spin back in, what you think about that song, what you feel about that painting, is it going to be a part of what you write? But it’s changed,  if you spun out into that object that’s on the wall, that was made with lots of layers of possibility. That’s why I like ekphrasis for myself, but also for teaching. It’s a useful thing to do. It can become too easy, or it can become a kind of a trick. And that’s when it becomes dangerous. I have a really good friend, a poet, Keith Ratzlaff, who wrote a whole book of poems called Dubious Angels, based on the engravings that Paul Klee did. Towards the end of his life Klee became obsessed with angels, and these bizarre engravings. Keith became obsessed with these prints, and wrote a whole book based on these. And he finished the book and he said “I wasn’t sure if I could write anymore without Paul Klee. Paul Klee was my drug.” He became worried he became too dependent on the art, and I was the same way about Bach. So it’s nice to have written some poems recently in the last year or two that don’t talk about Bach. It’s a relief.

 

Do you feel like writers have a responsibility to refer to the outside world in their works, rather than just their own inner workings?

Sure, absolutely. I think that all poems are full of conversations, and I wouldn’t want to limit those conversations to ones that feel intimate or that feel political. I wouldn’t want either one of those to be the extreme. One of the poets I love who writes about social and political matters is Carolyn Forché. Years ago she edited an anthology called Poetry of Witness. And what she tries to do in that anthology is collect poems by folks who’ve lived through situations of political extremity. And it goes all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century with the Armenian genocide and it comes up all the way to the first Gulf War, as the book was published in the mid-90s. And the topics refer to the movements of Women’s Rights and Civil rights, and it’s these poets really writing in response to situations of extremity. But what’s interesting is that the most interesting poems in that anthology don’t only respond in a kind of argumentative or political way, although they do do that, but they also talk about what’s it like to peel an orange in the midst of gunfire. What it’s like to try to nurse a child to sleep when you’re not sure that your home will even be there next Thursday. What it’s like to fall in love, and then think, I have to leave the country in exile. So the most interesting poets for me are the ones who keep both those realities meshed. They’re not just narcissistic or worried about their private life, but they’re also not so overwhelmed by the politics that they forget to be human. And at a time of political extremity, which it feels like during this election year, with Trump and what not, you feel like you want to fix the damn world. Frankly, poems probably aren’t the place to fix the damn world for the short term, though they might be for the long term. Shelly called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of humankind,” meaning they were actually dealing with the mechanisms that make people do and feel things. But they’re not acknowledged, and people don’t notice it.

 

Ekphrasis is a conversation between two different types of art. Do you think that, say if you write a poem about a painting, if the reader already knows the painting, is that going to be more limiting? Or leave more room for interpretation?

Ideally, I would want any poem I write to be musical and linguistically interesting enough that nobody would need to see anything else to enjoy it. Ideally. Except that’s not how language works. Language lives in the world and carries with it all the places that it’s been. And all the ways that it’s been used. So, even as the poet, I’m not in charge of the language completely. It’s going to go in ways that are not in my control. So ideally I would want my poem to be musically and linguistically interesting enough that you wouldn’t need to understand anything that it refers to. But, how much richer is it if someone brings a knowledge of something that poem is doing? And I would hope that I wouldn’t just transcribe the piece of music or describe the painting. I think the worst ekphrastic poems are those that simply describe the work. How many people think of poetry as a static description of something? I want poems that can do all the things poem can do. Or at least most of them. At once. Simply transcribing an event or an experience, that’s maybe journalism? Not even very good journalism? Maybe it’s a diary entry? But it’s not a poem, right? Because all that other textured stuff we value isn’t there. In the poem I read last night [at a reading at Idyllwild Arts Academy] about a Chagall painting, it wasn’t in the room. I didn’t try to describe it to you. I think the poem was enough about the artistic process, about temptation, about despair, about what art can do, and you don’t have to see that painting. Of course, if you’ve seen that painting it’s about, or other paintings by Chagall, you might be able to interpret more. But I don’t think you have to. How do you feel about it, Parsa? Do you think ekphrastic poetry is limited by its connection to this other work of art in the world?

 

My personal opinion is that, if the poem is a good poem, maybe knowing the piece that’s in it is going to make it limiting. If the definition of a poem is about making connections, and there is some established piece it’s referring to, if you don’t know the painting specifically, you can have any type of interpretation from the poem.

 

But I don’t want anybody to have any type of interpretation of the poem,  because then they don’t need my poem. Do I want you to have deep feelings? Go have them, you don’t need my poem. I want you to take me seriously enough to be moved or shaped or pissed or some other way you’re affected by the language on the page.

 

Well yeah, for sure, but I feel like, there’s a general mood of the poem and sometimes there are going to be some descriptions of the work of art that you’re writing about, but I’m just talking about say “there’s a yellow bride,” there’s an actual yellow bride in the painting, but if I don’t know the painting, I’m going to have a certain type of limitation.

 

But isn’t “yellow bride” a weird and interesting thing? All on its own? When are you going to write the yellow bride poem? Why is she wearing yellow? Don’t brides usually wear white? So why is she yellow? What’s that about? Has she had that dress for so long that it’s been yellowed from the sun? Was it a heirloom, her grandmother’s dress? But you don’t know, right? I get what you’re saying, fidelity to the painting can be trouble, both for the reader and the writer. Trying to be too faithful to it. At the same time, if the writer is doing her work, she’s going to have something interesting to say. And she’s going to describe the yellow bride as “a yellow bride floating upside down under the green moon” which could happen, in a Chagall painting, which is why Chagall is interesting. Which is why I want to write poems about it.

 

One of my friends who is into making movies told me that he is jealous of musicians, because of the immediate relationship they make with the audience. So, as a person who has experienced both being a musician and a writer, can you describe a little bit of what type of relationship you make with your audience?

It’s hard, because you can’t be in charge of your audience, no matter who you are. You think you can. You think you can write this book, or sing this song, or you’ll make this film, and somehow be in control of how people receive it. And you can’t. The interesting part about live performance is that you can experience and feed off of or respond to the way your audience responds to you. The piece of music isn’t complete until it is received by someone. Now, that’s not always true. How do we receive most music? Up here in Idyllwild it’s unique because there’s a concert every other night. You can walk by the practice rooms, all day, every day, and hear someone playing. But most of the music we receive is, where? Recorded. So it’s left very little space for us to enter into the dialogue of the piece. With a poem, you absolutely don’t get to see how someone experiences your poem 95% of the time. With poetry, you make the book, put the book in the world, someone reads it and that’s that. And their reading experience is not something you have any control over. You’re not in charge of that exchange with the reader once you let the poem go into the world. What’s fun about doing something like my poetry reading last night, is that you are in charge again for a second. And you can say, oh, I think these folks are a little sleepy. I’m going to read a funny poem now. Oh, these folks liked the last poem, I’m going to read another poem like that. That’s a really rewarding experience. And that’s why I love to go out and actually interact with people. It’s like taking comedy on the road, you get to see which pieces affect people in a certain way. And there’s some poems I don’t read aloud, because they’re really dense, they’re really elusive and full of language play, that doesn’t really translate as well to the ear as it does to the eye. And you can’t expect someone to grab all of that at a poetry reading, there’s this flood of words coming at you, very hard. Some readings you can really hear what’s going on, and with other times there’s–have you experienced “poet voice”? You know poet voice? [Speaking in a slow, monotone voice.]  I’m going to read… my poem right now…it’s going to be…..just like this….. It lulls you completely to sleep. You look at the page and you’re like “This is really gorgeous and full of energy! What happened? When she read this, she fell into poet voice, and I’ve lost my mind.”

 

You said some poetry is better suited to the page. Do you think it’s a missed opportunity when poets choose not to do readings?
I think two things about that. First, that the mechanics of selling poetry in America right now, is that you sell poetry hand-to-hand. Most people don’t buy poems. They don’t buy books of poems. So what you have to do, is go to schools and bookshops and libraries and give readings. And when you do that, people go, “This is kind of cool! I’d like to buy a book.”  So that’s how most books of poems are sold. There’s just that pragmatic piece about it. But yeah, I feel like a lot of poets miss an opportunity of what poems will do when they’re in someone else’s body. Robert Hass says that “writing a poem is putting your breath into the body of another person” and he says that it’s a very intimate thing. And I think he’s right about that. So reading a poem out loud is one way of experiencing that. I’ll tell you something else that’s cool is if you have someone else read one of your poems aloud. There are choices you made, and resonances that happen that you wouldn’t know about. Which is why I had folks jump up and do the four-part poem I read last night with me [at the Idyllwild Arts reading]. Because, I don’t know what that poem sounds like unless I get three people to help me out. And even then, it’d have been more fun if I wasn’t the one doing my part, but got to hear four other people do it. So in that way it’s a little like my experience of writing music. The song isn’t complete until someone else sings it.

An Interview With Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses is an editor, teacher, and writer of nonfiction and fiction. During Matthew’s Idyllwild Arts visit, Parallax editors spoke with him about his writing style and the process of writing I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying.

Q: What was the process of writing a novel in flash fiction like? How does it compare to writing a traditionally styled novel?

 

A: I was writing the book, a flash fiction book, as a kind of side project next to writing The Hundred Year Flood. I had been working on The Hundred Year Flood for seven years at that point, and it just seemed interminable–I had to do something that was going to end soon. I had been asked to contribute one flash story to a series of flash fiction posts on a website called jmww, so I sent a first chapter as a stand alone. When I was getting tired of the The Hundred Year Flood, and had to write something else, I had to think about what I had to work on, and remembered that first chapter was unfinished. I started writing more one page stories with the same character. When I had about twenty, I started sending them out in chunks. One magazine asked for twenty of them. The original twenty had already been accepted so I just wrote twenty more and sent them those. Then I had forty. Then my publisher asked for a novel. So I had 40 of those chapters and they asked me to write 120 of those chapters for them to look at. I wrote another 100 for them.

 

Q: Did that affect your sense of narrative?

 

A: Yes. Because each one of them was a standalone, you could take any one of them out, and hopefully they could stand as a small story. I had enough movement in each of them. And when I was going back and trying to figure out how they’d fit into a larger narrative, I started looking at how those movements added up to a greater movement. I spread them out on the floor. My daughter was a baby at the time and would want to walk all over them, so my wife had her go up into a separate room. I was moving around the stories by hand.

 

Q: Was the revision process more difficult because each piece is a stand alone, but still only one part of an entire story line?

 

A: I would write one every morning when I got to work, and was doing so by looking at my surroundings. I’d find a single object, write it into the stories (so that I had something to kind of anchor the piece), and then I would spend the night revising it. The thing about them being so short, is that you can do them quickly. I was basically doing one a day, everyday. And when I sold the book, I had to look at them as a whole so I could find a bigger arc to the story. I just repeated too much. I was explaining things multiple times for the sake of the story’s arc. I didn’t need all those. I cleaned language for just the book itself.

 

Q: Do you usually use objects or metaphors as the basis for your characters?

 

A: No, not usually. I like to set myself little challenges. When I was doing a flash story, I was thinking, can I do this all in one paragraph stories based off of everyday objects? I don’t usually do that.

 

Q: Do you find that challenges make for a better story?

 

A: I don’t know what is better, but I think taking a challenge is more interesting. I think if you think of writers who write basically the same thing over and over again, it doesn’t seem that fun.

 

Q: Did you use aspects of your own life to help the storyline of I’m Not Saying, I’m Just saying develop? Is any of it nonfiction?

 

A: Almost none of it is nonfiction. What I did use was the fact that my daughter was so young and I had a fear of how she would grow up, but I think pretty much everything else was all made up. I was using my fears in a kind of ‘what if’ situation. Like what if your kid shows up one day, and they’ve been formed by your absence. For me, parenting is a lot about how your child comes out perfect, and then you try very hard not to screw her up. There is this sense that there’s a point where she will get screwed up and how do you help that?

 

Q: Many of your flash fiction pieces are very poetic. What determined which pieces leaned more towards prose poetry than flash fiction? Did it depend on what part of the storyline the piece was focused on?

 

A: I think of them all as mostly fiction. They could all be prose poetry I suppose. I wasn’t trying to make some more poetic than others, although there was the list that might be more prosaic. What probably makes them seem more poetic is that they’re operating on the same level of sentence, and that’s what I was trying to do with all of them, to have the plot happening in each sentence, one that starts in place and goes until the end of it.

 

Q: Why did you call it I’m Not Saying, I’m Just saying?

 

A: I thought it was funny. I had that title as one of pieces. It makes me think of this story “Dogs I Have Known,” which is all centered around dogs. Each section is about a different dog that the narrator has known in his life, and one section that anchors the piece and is about dogs in general. Dogs don’t have anything to say except “I have things I need to say!” Maybe that’s what I was thinking about. That the narrator didn’t have anything to say except to say something. There’s a lot stuff built in around that.

 

Q: Why did you choose to only use nicknames like, “the wifely woman” instead of real names?

 

A: I wanted to be really close to the narrator’s head, but also I think that the length or the brevity really means that you have to characterize people more quickly, and names don’t do that much characterization work. They do a little, but I feel like the name of the relation does a lot more. Like “mother” does a lot more for the relationship than “Joan.” Mother plays on archetypes. So the ‘wifely woman” is kind of playing on what a wife is and cultural conceptions. The narrator is trying to think of the boy as a son; it didn’t seem right to call him the son.

 

Q: Do you find that your voice resembles the style used in I’m Not Saying I’m Just Saying, as well as other pieces? Or did you particularly develop the voice for the narrator in I’m Not Saying I’m Just Saying? (Do you vary your style?)

 

A: Yeah I do, I think it’s very good for me to change it up. I also think it’s harder, like right now I’m working on a novel with a very different voice. A very disaffected narrator. The novel itself is a lot about voice, so I feel like I need a lot of time developing it before I can work on the book. It requires a lot headspace, which I don’t really have right now. Which is why I keep throwing pages out.

 

Q: Would you classify yourself based off of your voice or based off of your content?

 

A: I don’t know. I think the content is more consistent. There’s a lot about parenting, adoption, race, masculinity. I think that’s usually how I’m characterized.

 

Q: When and why did you start writing?

 

A: I wrote a book about the sting ray who wanted to find the shine of his teeth in elementary school. My teacher, who was a great teacher, said that I didn’t write description well. I still don’t write description well. But it was always something that stuck with me, something for me to be like “I’ll show you.” I think she knew what to say to me. Why did I become a writer? In part I think it’s kind of the same as what I often write about. What is one way of learning to be who you are in a world that doesn’t value that? Writing has been a large part of that for me.

 

Q: How does your culture affect your writing?

 

A: I’m often writing characters who are very far from accepting who they are, whether or not they even know who they are. And that’s an experience that seems very close to mine. I get this feeling that the great American arc is denial. It’s this person who refuses to accept whatever is the truth and that’s an experience that resonates very strongly with me and my history.

Wednesday

Grace Meyer’s piece depicts the melancholic demise of a friendship.

 

Ten o’clock is too late at night to meet for a date,

but our young hands ache from pencils and

TV dinners told us we should be together.

 

We walk to the The Oriental Pearl,

where a quiet raisin of a woman

serves us a sleepy bowl of rice.

 

We sit silently as rain slides down the windows.

The waitress wants to go home to her soap operas.

I think about kissing another boy, maybe a girl.

 

You tell me you don’t think things are working out:

I’m distant, we both deserve better,

your dad is hounding you about baseball.

 

You slowly put on your wet coat, smile at me with pity.

I stare at droplets of spilled tea on the waxy wood.

They look like the shapes of continents undiscovered.

 

 

Grace Meyer is a junior at Brookline High School in Brookline, Massachusetts. She won a Fine Arts Award for Creative Writing from Interlochen Center for the Arts. When she is not writing she enjoys running, baking, and photographing her dog. 

 

Art by Holli Shelton.