It’ll bubble up,
And smashed against the cafe floor,
— Would you like to schedule an appointment?
Would you like an Email alert when it returns? —
see, you were a doctor.
see, I was a virus, a tumor, an obstacle
to your breathing, swallowing and
suctioned to you with a surplus of pixie dust
(but of course, you didn’t know that
because magic isn’t real, right?)
see, an atheist told me that eyes
really are windows to the soul, so I scrubbed
your irises with antiseptic until they gleamed
but it seems that I forgot to clean my own.
I found something rather undesirable
and slipped through your optic nerve.
see, I almost forgot about the whole “soul” part
and found a home in the crevices of your gyri.
sure, it was deep and it was dark
but you taught me the surgeon’s alphabet
in anagrams in order to whisper pretty things
that people seem to worry about.
see, around here people have tasted pluots
and glycerin and roses in your throat.
all I found were dead ends
in hidden caves, deep inside cavities.
all I found was a uvula never belonged to me.
so now whomever you Hollywood-smile at
will see me here: attached to the back
of your mouth, hanging like sour apples
and growing only the best remedies.
You grieved for the skin we found stuck to the sidewalk;
not knowing the garden snakes were only molting,
like boys running towards the water, their elbows popping out of T-shirt sleeves.
At nine and a half in dress up clothes on basement steps, we held mass like Priests.
Wearing Father’s ties, you wrote eulogies for everything that tasted like tragedy.
We learned to mourn on Saturday mornings, in bare feet with dirty hands,
planting tulip bulbs upside down in Mother’s garden.
I am buttoning my black coat to my chin, standing in the kitchen,
feeling your silence on my skin.
I am at the corner of your grief, and you are
somewhere in the middle of its country,
in the middle of his absence,
At night, I wake up and I am close enough for a minute
to hear the boys, sixteen, and calling to the shore
The night they raced to the water.
I dig my feet into the cold sand and watch them
spitting salt water from their cheeks.
Children with sunburns peeling down their backs.
Sea snakes, shedding their skin.
Emma Crockford is currently a sophomore at Rising Tide Charter Public School in Massachusetts. Her interests include goats that look like old men, and dogs that look like their owners. In the summer of 2014, Emma was the recipient of Stonehill College’s advanced studies program for teen’s Creative Writing Award. In 2015, She was chosen to attend the Grubstreet Young Adult Writer’s Fellowship. She is the founder and editor of her high school newspaper. Emma’s work has appeared in The Noisy Island, Teen Ink’s Print Magazine, and Grub Street’s Fellowship Anthology.
Art by Fiona McDonald
What themes did you plan to explore before you started writing, and which ones cropped up naturally?
The themes in the collection curate themselves. A story collection is difficult to put together in the same way as a you would novel, because you want everything to feel connected while still being distinctive stories. When I started the collection, I didn’t know it was a collection, so I wasn’t purposefully trying to explore any specific themes, as you would with a book. I was just writing a ton of stories at the time, trying to see if I could succeed at it. I noticed that a lot of the stories took place in Japan, so I started putting my writing energy into that setting, where I lived and worked for three years. Something about my distance from Japan, for about four years at that point, allowed me see my experience there as an expat, or a foreigner living in a new place. Culturally, it was super interesting to learn about the food and mythology, but it was overwhelming to process while I was there, so the distance helped me refine it.
A few people I knew died during the period while I worked, so themes of loss and grief naturally appeared in the collection. I also wrote stories during the period that had nothing to do with Japan, that the editors found not to fit. Curation is more of an editorial process. Publishers will take your pile of stories and order them, or take pieces out that don’t seem to flow with the others.
What do you think are the most important aspects of Japan in your writing?
The experience of being an outsider is very interesting to me. I grew up in a very homogeneous place. Everyone in my high school was white like me, and I never had too much experience with diversity. My years living in Japan really allowed me to experience the opposite of that.
But Japan itself is still a very homogeneous place. They have a saying: the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. In America, we really pride ourselves for standing, but in Japan, it’s the opposite. There, you just fit in, otherwise, you’re out. A lot of Japanese friends I met talked about the pressure of fitting in, and I thought that was a really interesting aspect of character. It was a fertile place for me to imagine the different battles a character would come up against in Japan.
How has your degree in cognitive science influenced your writing?
There are topics in the field that led to major topics in my writing, because I learned a lot about how memory functions. It’s not that different from writing fiction because both fields ask questions about humanity. Fiction is about creating, while cognitive science is an experiment in creation, which is a part of how emotion functions in the brain. They both come at human truth from opposite ways, but it’s the stuff in the middle draws me to both. The things like the amorameter, that measures love, are super fun to write about. That device seems crazy but people are researching it for real.
I’m actually crappy at science. I ran this experiment about music emotions and memory, and I fudged my data and changed it to tell a better story. Maybe that’s a better way of approaching fiction.
When did you start writing? What was your first professional opportunity as a writer?
Since I was a kid, I wrote stories. I loved reading, so I wanted to create something just as powerful. For my 11th birthday I wanted a typewriter, and since then, I’ve written a number of books.
I had written for fun in my twenties and decided to send some stories to magazines for publication. I thought I would get rejected, but 5 months later, one got published in the Gettysburg Review, a story called “Ash,” which is in the new collection.
What advice would you give to young writers?
Read a shit ton! Read widely, and read stuff that you might not like: non fiction, or about cognitive science, or music, or history. The wider your net, the more material you have to draw from when you go to write your own.
Always carry a notebook and train yourself to write every day, even if it’s just a few lines.
Practice noticing what people say and the sounds you hear: usually great lines can relate to some great story. Become a trained observer of life.
Don’t worry about publishing yet. It shouldn’t be your only goal, because it takes so long.
Now that we have so many websites for publishing young writers, there are a lot more opportunities, but don’t get suckered into paying contest fees!
If you send it anywhere, revise it 10 more times than you think you need to. It always feels great to be done, but what seems done to you, an editor will think is not quite there yet.
That’s the hardest lesson I had to learn; don’t send work out too early. An editor won’t read it ever again.
melon groves, boyo. rows of young boys, backs exposed like the inner sliver of a green bean, hacking and picking away in the steaming soil.
Segolene Pihut is a senior at Idyllwild Arts and she is majoring in creative writing. She is the poetry editor for Parallax and loves dogs.
Art by Noah Jones
You jerk you didn’t call me up
You crashed your motorcycle Saturday
Because you were hasty
Your hand wrapped around the handles like crab spines
And this made it easier to weigh the bike into the ground
You didn’t think of me
When Steven and the swedes burned their house down
Was webbed between one handle and the wheel
And your turbine legs churned up the ground.
You want to see my body bent like a broken bird? Turn to page 8.
For the broken glass that scattered the asphalt and my skin, turn to page 19
You are cracked board game spaces
Perfectly symmetrical squares of auctioned land
But do you remember when I tripped and broke your guitar stand?
You got pissed and kicked my dog across the beer stained carpet
Well Sparky didn’t appreciate that and neither did I
And we would both appreciate it if you would come pick up all your shitty paintings
The apartment seemed emptier
When our muscles were trained towards the bedspread, we observed it like this:
I think of the layer of skin beneath
Tiny pieces of stone tumbling and spilling from my seams
Clever bug, carpet skinner
Its tassels drawing our wrists to our ankles like hog ties
But I am not yet disassembled; not yet stolen
We write, we bleed, we live, we bleed,
Emily Clarke and Danae Devine are both students at Idyllwild Arts Academy and major in creative writing. Emily is the nonfiction editor of Parallax and enjoys incorporating her native american culture into her writing. Danae is the fiction editor of Parallax, and hopes to make creative writing more noticeable to the public.
Art by Dawn Jooste
Flash by in rows, repeatedly.
Stifling, the scent of false industry
Sweats along the country roads.
A mirage of a farmhand straightens up.
Sprawling road kill. Shreds of tires, unassuming.
First shards of LA, and anticlimactic.
Cars congregate-stop and go-
Shadows lengthen, the highway’s hum turns to an unforgiving lull.
You are forced to imagine the fragile ecosystems
A state line is crossed. Street signs change,
And people with them.
Because everyone has forgotten napkins.
In the morning: Rolling hills turn to mesas.
Heat rises in waves of invisible striving toward the sky.
Faceless horizons turn to dust.
By Stella Pfahler
Stella Pfahler is a Bay Area native who attends RASOTA for Creative Writing. She is a circus freak, enjoys surfing, and she plays the saxophone.
Art by Fiona McDonald
My dearest Princess Delilah,
I have been watching you for months through this window. I know that sounds a little creepy, but I promise that I looked away every single time you were changing out of respect. That being said, I think you look beautiful every time you dance quietly to yourself in front of the mirror, or read that one text book on molecular biology, and that little twitch you’ve got below your left eye is just adorable. I love you dearly, and I think that if you consent to marrying me, I could make you very happy. If you’re interested, I will come at once to your aid and rescue you from the tower. Please send word immediately through this carrier pigeon.
Robin the Noble
Dear Robin the Noble,
Thank you kindly for your letter. I think its sweet of you to like the twitch below my left eye. I’ve always been self-conscious about it and I haven’t been able to leave the tower to get it checked out. Before you come to rescue me, though, I would like to know a little more about you. Like, I don’t know, what do you look like, and what’s your favorite color, and what would name a pet guinea pig, and so forth.
Dearest Princess Delilah,
I have brown hair and blue eyes and white skin, and all ten fingers, and all ten toes. My favorite color is fuchsia, and as for the guinea pig I would name it Cornelius Bernard. I would want to endow a guinea pig with a magnificent and noble name in order to make up for the poor animal’s size, and the seemingly insignificant, perhaps even embarrassing, role of being one’s pet. I would always address it by its full name, saying “Here is your breakfast, Sir Cornelius Bernard,” or “Do let me clean out your cage, Sir Cornelius Bernard.”
I hope this letter has served well enough, and I do hope you are still interested.
Robin the Noble
Princess Delilah was, of course, still interested, and sent word right away that she would most definitely like Robin the Noble to rescue her from her tower. Princess Delilah waited many weeks for her sweet Robin, and was beginning to become a little doubtful, when she finally heard a knock on her bedroom door.
“Just a minute!” she said, and ran to the mirror to fix her hair before posing herself perfectly at her desk, molecular textbook in hand, angling her face towards the door in such a way that she was sure, would display the twitch below her left eye. “Okay, okay, come in.”
And there he was, inside of her room, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, and he would’ve probably had white skin too, had it not been for the scorch marks all over his face and arms.
“Princess Delilah!” he said, and got down on one knee to bow to her highness.
“Robin, my most noble!” squealed Delilah, throwing the book to the floor and jumping with glee. “You’ve made it at last!”
But the man rose, scratching his head. “Robin? I am no Robin. My name is Prince James. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with another?”
Princess Delilah did not understand. “Another? What other?”
“Well, princess, I know you can’t see because your little window points conveniently in the opposite direction, but the front door of your tower is guarded by this huge fire-breathing dragon. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with a suitor who failed to get past it. Either way, I got past the stupid dragon and so technically, I am to marry you.”
Princess Delilah clasped her hands as tears welled up in her eyes. “But… My dearest Robin… Do you mean to say that he is dead?”
“I know not this Robin, but I saw the dead scorched bodies of many men lying along the pit that leads to your front door… I’d say if he hasn’t come yet, he’s probably dead.” At this, Princess Delilah collapsed the ground and began to sob into her hands.
Prince James got to his feet and found himself standing awkwardly in the room, not quite sure how to go about cheering up his bride-to-be. “I mean—I’m not so bad, am I? I’m rich, charming, handsome” At this, Princess Delilah cried even harder. “Geez,” he said, scratching his head. “How do you know this Robin anyway?”
Princess Delilah lifted her face, wiping away tears, still beautiful despite the blotchy redness of her tear-stained face. “He- He sent me letters.”
“Well how much can you really tell about a person from a letter?”
“Well, he’s funny and smart and loving and accepting, and and and his favorite color’s fuschia.”
“It’s like a pinkish-purplish-blue.”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of girly?”
“A color’s a color. Besides, what’s wrong with girly?”
Prince Harris chuckled. “Well, no girly guy’s gonna be able to get through what I just got through back there with that dragon.”
“And why not?”
“C’mon, don’t make me explain.”
“Well, what’s your favorite color?”
“Blue, I guess.”
“That everybody’s favorite color. What would you name a guinea pig?
“I don’t know, Fluffy? Squeakers? Miss Piggy?”
Princess Delilah sighed again.
“What’s wrong with those names? What else would you name a guinea pig?”
At that point, both Princess Delilah and Prince James heard footsteps running quickly up the tower stairs. Princess Delilah jumped to her feet. “Do you hear that? It must be Robin, coming for me now!” Prince James rolled his eyes. He thought about bringing up the whole first-come-first-served rule, then drew his sword instead in order to challenge the oncoming suitor. But Princess Delilah didn’t even notice, for she was too busy staring at the doorway. They both stood staring for several minutes, until Robin finally made it all the way up the winding stairs and into Delilah’s room, at which point Princess Delilah let out a gasp and Prince James dropped his sword. For there was Robin, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, perfect white skin, visible even beneath the ash and bloody wounds, but Robin was a woman.
Princess Delilah and Prince James stayed frozen in shock, their eyes fixed upon Robin, whose body was covered in steel armor save for the helmet which she carried with one hand. Everything else was caked with soot or blood, but there she stood, ready to battle a thousand more dragons if they got in her way. Then, she turned to Prince James and recoiled, dropping the helmet.
“Seriously?” she said. “I’m second?” But they merely continued to stare. “I—I spent so much time training. I swear, princess, I’ve tried to beat that stupid dragon of yours thirteen times, but I barely started fencing a few years ago, and well I could get past it sure, but killing it was a different story.”
“Killing it?” said Prince James. “You killed her dragon?”
“Yeah. That’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Kill the dragon, marry the princess…”
“I thought it was just get past the dragon, marry the princess.” They both turned to look at Princess Delilah.
“R-Robin? Is that you?”
“But-but you’re a…”
Prince Jamess, suddenly regaining his confidence, laughed a little. “Why, you’re a woman.”
“Yeah, I’m a woman. I didn’t think that would be a—wait—is it a problem?”
Princess Delilah nodded slowly. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t—I mean I just, I’m just not… like that.”
“Well, I don’t really… go for women.”
“Go for… Oh, you mean you…” Robin suddenly understood, but the lump in her throat grew so large she could hardly speak.
Robin looked away, trying to hold back the tears welling in her eyes. “It-It’s fine, I mean, maybe I should’ve put that in the letter. I guess I just assumed…”
Prince James laughed again. “Why would you just assume something like that?”
Robin’s face turned red as she stood ashamed and embarrassed in the middle of the room, her heart ripping to shreds. She turned to leave, but before she started walking, she twisted once more to look at Princess Delilah. “Your, um, your little eye twitch… It’s even more adorable in person.” And with that, Robin turned to walk back down the stairs from which she came.
But before Robin could go down a couple of steps, she was stopped by Princess Delilah. “Wait!”
Robin halted. “Anything you wish, princess.”
“Maybe we can start over, huh Robin?” Princess Delilah smiled shyly. Maybe we could just be… friends?”
Robin smiled sadly and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”
“How would you like to be my lady-in-waiting?”
Robin thought about it. She would be around the ever-gorgeous Princess Delilah every single day, doing anything in her power to make her life a little easier, to make her a little happier. It was all she ever wanted. She accepted the job immediately. Princess Delilah then ran back up the stairs to Prince James and agreed to marry him as Robin stayed halfway below on the same step, drawing sloppy hearts on the soot of her helmet.
Sabrina N. Melendez
Sabrina Melendez is the 2013-2014 senior editor of Parallax Literary Journal. She enjoys writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, dramatic fiction, and songs. She is from El Paso, TX, but likes to identify as a Puerto Rican because Puerto Rico is a far cooler place to be from than El Paso. Aside from writing, Sabrina likes to play piano, sing, spend hours in the ceramics studio, and make puns that inspire others to leave the room.
Art By Eunji Kang
Emily Cameron: In your book, Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death, there’s a lot of discussion about spirits and connecting to the spirit/spiritual world. A lot of people consider this a pseudoscience; do you believe it is science or pseudoscience?
Caryl Pagel: I’ll separate my answer into two different things that I think: One is that I don’t believe in cliché ideas of ghosts or apparitions. I don’t not believe in them either, it’s just that I would not testify to any of that. But, I do believe that anything can be approached using scientific method. People still call things like psychology pseudoscience. A lot of these ideas and the people I talk about and researched in the book, like William James, were kind of on the forefront of psychological practice. So, yes, I do believe that it’s science, and I believe you can use science to approach things that aren’t measurable or possible to even know about. In the same way that scientists can study dream activity, and we might not ever have any solutions, we can study the idea of what happens to the soul after death. Those might be impossible things to ever figure out, but I think that they can still be approached using the same techniques of questioning and measuring and gathering evidence. It’s proof one way, proof the other way.
EC: How did you become interested in the subjects of clairvoyance and clairaudience, like the ones in your book?
CP: I was always interested in that kind of thing, but I became obsessed with it when I encountered a group of texts which were these scientific journals from the late 1800s. They were the proceedings for the Society for Psychical Research, which was this group of scientists who gathered all of these stories about clairvoyance and telepathic activity and apparitions, and all this sort of unknown phenomena. Their goal was not to say, “This exists” or “This doesn’t exist,” but to just gather all the stories from the people that they could and try to figure out if there were patterns, and which testimonies seemed to be familiar to other testimonies. They were trying to collect evidence. And so I read these journals, these scientific texts, and I became really interested in these ideas. I became interested in them as this subject matter that is unknown, and the stories and people’s accounts are what were interesting to me. It’s a great party trick to ask people if they’ve ever seen a ghost, or even asking people about things like coincidence, or if they’ve ever had a near death experience. People have great stories about that. It was the content that drew me in, but it was the form, the act of storytelling around it, that kept me there.
EC: In your book, you have the “Botched Bestiary” poems, which are similar to accrual poems; do you think this form of hybrid literature disrespects or defaces the original work(s) like some people do? Do you think it adds more to the original(s)?
CP: I don’t know if I have a general opinion on that. I know for me, with those particular pieces, they came from a place where I was doing a lot of research on writing about animals and animal artwork. There are a lot of artists who are interested in the animal body and the human body, and the human as a machine or hybrid bodies with medical technology, and people living longer. There’s so much nowadays, that our bodies are changing in response to our environment, and a lot of that comes across in the visual art that I was looking at, at the time. I was thinking of some of these ideas that the artists were using, like collage, and a goat’s head stuck on a collage like Rauschenberg does, or different shapes on imagined animal bodies. Even things such as taxidermy where it’s half one creature, half another creature. This has always been in our imaginations. That’s where I started to write like that. I started thinking of the text as a body, and something that could be manipulated and rearranged and sort of refocused. So I think that there is a certain manipulation, or botching, or re-stitching something together. I also think of it things like heart transplants; these things in which we are taking pieces, not just in the art world, but also in the physical world. There’s hybridity to our contemporary lives in some way. These are the ideas that were swirling in my mind when I started to take parts of texts. That’s why the quotes are still in there, because I wanted it to be obvious. I thought of those quotes as a surgeon leaving a scar of where the surgery was done. In terms of general erasure projects and collage projects, sometimes you can abuse the original text by doing projects like that. Just like you can originally write a really bad poem on your own, you can also ruin other people’s things. There’s a million ways for it to go wrong, but there’s also a million ways for it to go right. A lot of my book was thinking of writing as an experiment.
EC: Could you break down what the editing process at Rescue Press is like, and describe how it might be different from other presses?
CP: I don’t know exactly how other presses work, but for us we basically collaborate with each author on the terms of their own piece. So, with the novella, Penny, n., we got the manuscript, and I read through it and made notes, I would call the author and we would have these long conversations about certain scenes or certain sentences, which was fun. We’d talk about these characters as if they were really alive, and we’d wonder, “What would Penny really do in this scene?” or we would ask, “Is that the right word?” It was a lot of conversations and dialogues, and some of the suggestions I made ended up in the final piece and some of them didn’t, depending on what the author felt like was right for the work. To contrast that with our newer novella, which is called Last Word, this piece came to us very polished and the author had spent a long time with it over the course of time. So, I didn’t have as many edits on that and he didn’t have as many edits on his own work either because he had already done all of that work and had a lot of other readers. It just depends on the project and what the author is up for, which means for some of them we go back and forth on all these different drafts and some of them we don’t do that much with. We think of editing as a service we can offer to people, which a lot of middle level presses or even other small presses don’t do anymore. They just publish your book. They don’t read it a bunch of times or help you edit it at all. And a lot of the bigger publishing houses will edit it without consulting the author, and they’ll just say, “You have to make these changes.” We try to offer ourselves to the authors and say, “What can we help you with?” or “What do you want to do with this?” It is very much a collaboration.
Ana Garcia: You must receive many manuscripts from authors who want to be published. What is the voice you want to give to them? What are you particularly looking for when you consider work for publication?
CP: It depends on a bunch of different things. It depends on what genre I’m reading, so in poetry sometimes I –at least, lately- am prone to writings that are more adventurous, wild or strange. In fiction, lately I am in a mood for traditional things. What I’m looking for on a manuscript changes depending on what I am interested in at the time, but also really strong writing, regardless of genre or style, can tell me the intention behind it and keeps me interested while reading it. When Rescue Press started, I was interested in hybrid genres, which I still am, but that was one of the reasons why we started, like one of our books To Be Human Is to Be a Conversation, is a piece that is part memoir and part poetry, there are photographs and questions, so it is a documentary text that is very interesting. I’m interested when people are mixing mediums and playing around.
AG: What is the most challenging part of editing an author’s piece? Are there any aspects in particular that you get tired of?
CP: That is one of the qualities I look for before I accept something. We publish about 5 books every year, which is kind of a lot for a small press, but also it’s not that many books. When I decide we are going to publish something, one of the things I think about is “Is this a book that I want to read one hundred times?” Because that is the editing process: you read it over and over again, and you collaborate with the author. In the process, sometimes your life changes or sometimes you’re reordering everything, or cutting huge parts or encouraging people to write more into it, so there are many things that can happen. Some manuscripts don’t need much work at all, but I pick things I know I won’t get tired of, which is hard because there’s a lot of good work out there and it’s quality writing, but I know I can’t read it a hundred times. However, this helps me to read out what I want to publish, too.
AG: Does the writing change a lot when it falls into the editors hands?
CP: It depends a lot on the book project, so some of them we’ve done massive amounts of work in collaboration with the author, and some of them we’ve changed one word. A lot of it depends on how much the author is willing to work with us and hear our opinion. So I would say that it is very different for different books.
AG: Rescue Press varies a lot on the aesthetics they choose for their books. What do you take into account in a book to choose how it should look like?
CP: One of the things that we do, but not all small presses do, is that we really try to make a physical object that fits the content, the style of the work and the author’s vision of it. That’s why all of our books look really different, a lot of small presses will use the same size, the same type of pattern for their covers, but we work very closely in collaboration with the author. Sometimes they’ll say: “I just envisioned sort of a big book for mine,” so we’ll try to make them interesting, trying to use the content to suggest other artistic representations for it, while keeping the author’s vision of it at all times.
AG: After reading so many manuscripts, do you think they have influenced/inspired your own writing?
CP: Definitely yes! I don’t know if I could say how, though. I think just the more you read, the more influence you get. The work that I publish, that I read, influences me a lot. I just read Frankenstein for the first time, and I thought: “Wow, this book is awesome!” So all you read starts layering in your head, and there’s more like available sort of models that you can do.
AG: Now that you went to the publishing companies as a writer and not as an editor, how did this experience make you feel? Do you think that your experience as an editor prepared you for the editing process?
CP: It did. I knew what to expect and the editors for my book were great. Factory Hollow Press is the press that put out my book, and they are the amazing in every single aspect. It was such a gift to work with them, and I felt so honored that they wanted to publish my book. My editor, Emily Petit, spent so much time with my work, and gave me a million bizarre ideas for the cover. She was very patient for editing, and gave me great advice in reordering the poems. So yes, being an editor prepared me, but I was still very lucky with the people I worked with.
AG: What made you decide you wanted to become an editor? What do you enjoy the most about your work?
CP: I enjoy reading all of that work. Basically I just have been a huge reader since I was a little kid and I’ve always been a writer, too. I could not get enough reading while I was growing up. I read every single book in my house, and visited the library very often. That’s still what I do, I mean, part of my job is to read which is what I love to do. Even more than writing.
Ana Garcia: What inspired you to make your own journal?
Nate Pritts: Part of why I started my own journal was that I was submitting my own poetry to lots of other journals and getting rejected a lot when I was younger. And it started to bother me – not so much that I was getting rejected but that a lot of my friends were getting rejected from some of the same journals, and I knew my friends were writing really good poems. I would read the journals we were getting rejected from, and I didn’t always particularly like the poems that were in there. So, it occurred to me that, if these journals aren’t letting us in, I should just start my own and publish my friends in my journal to provide a location for our type of writing. It helped to get the word out and helped to create a community, but it also helped us to feel better about ourselves. I’ve never published my own writing in my journal, but, through publishing other people whose writing I knew or who were actually friends of mine, I was able to learn about other journals like mine and find a better place to fit in with my own writing. I started my own journal mostly because I was dissatisfied with the other options.
Becky Hirsch: When you were a teenager, you created your own magazines as a personal project. Did that directly develop into H_NGM_N?
NP: It directly developed into H_NGM_N only because it always made sense to me to do things myself. If I wanted to read a magazine that was all about the different street signs in my neighborhood, I’d just make it. It always made sense to create these things for myself, and I guess I learned a lot along the way. I learned things like how to staple properly, things that seem really easy when you look at them, but, then, when it’s actually time to do them there are so many different ways you can mess up. I had been thinking about and learning about those practical things from a very young age, and eventually it came time to do one that was a little bit more serious – I mean, H_NGM_N to me seems like my very first actual attempt to create something that lasted. Most of the time when I would do these things as a teenager it was meant to be just a one shot thing. I would make fifty copies and I would give it to my friends and that was it. I never expected to do a second issue, but H_NGM_N was more serious from the beginning. All of that experience with less serious magazines played into the development of H_NGM_N and made it what it is.
AG: What’s the most challenging part of creating your journal?
NP: There really aren’t any challenging parts. It’s so much fun. I love everything I do, and it’s such a gift to be able to do it. So the typical answers to this question have to do with “I don’t have enough time” or “I can’t find all the work I want to publish” or “I don’t have enough money,” but those are just fun hurdles to me. I don’t think of them as challenges. That sounds almost negative. To me, the whole thing is super fun. It’s exciting to spend an afternoon searching online for poems I’d like to publish or, on a Sunday afternoon, to work out the budget for our next book and realize that we don’t have enough money. I guess technically they’re challenges, but they don’t slow me down. They don’t bother me. I’m happy for them because if things were too easy maybe I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.
BH: It seems like you have a very natural entrepreneurial, but have you ever had to have one of those nine-to-five jobs and work for someone else?
NP: I worked in advertising for a while. I was a copywriter and an interactive developer for an ad agency, which meant mostly that I was in charge of writing and overseeing the design and implementation of websites. I also did video work shooting commercials and audio work doing radio spots for people. I think working in advertising gave me a different perspective on some of these issues. Part of it is also that I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time. I was young when I started thinking about how to make magazines. I printed a magazine when I was fifteen, brought it to school and gave it all my friends. When I first published H_NGM_N it was the same way. I printed it, I went to a major conference where a lot of writers were, and I handed them out for free. I created a website and tried to find ways to draw people to it. Part of it maybe comes from having worked in more business-like fields but part of it might just come from the fact that I don’t approach this side of writing as a challenge: trying to figure out how to find more people who will read it, want it, get excited about it. That entrepreneurial spirit I guess is a natural part of who I am. I think it’s the same thing that any writer needs to do. You can’t just sit back and think that someone else is going to publish your poems. Maybe they will but what if they don’t? Do you just sit around and wait until somebody tells you that they’re good enough and publishes them or do you start a journal, start a press, meet people, go out there, and, in essence, sell yourself? You need to find a way to make it sustainable for your art. I don’t mean that you sacrifice your art in favor of selling yourself, but you do need to find a way to make those things balance.
BH: A positive aspect of the spread of online journals is that it has made it easier for people to do just that: start up their own literary journals.
NP: For sure. When I started H_NGM_N, it was done on a ditto machine. It wasn’t even black and white. It was purple and white because ditto ink is purple. The first few issues were short, maybe twenty or thirty pages, which I could totally hand-crank myself at night, but then I wanted to publish longer works of fiction; I wanted to publish more poems, and I wanted to publish visual art. The move online came about because I needed a cheap way to still be able to show full color paintings and sixteen page stories. One pro of online journals for me and one of the reasons I moved H_NGM_N, which was initially a print journal, online was not only because of ease of access but because of the prohibitive costs of print journals.
BH: In your own work, what is the meaning behind the parenthetical titles of some of your poems?
NP: The poems with parenthetical titles that appear in Sweet Nothing, my new book, are taken from a series of letters. Part of the reason why those titles are parenthetical is because those pieces aren’t poems; those are actually letters. In the actual story of my life, those are letters that I wrote to a very particular person. And so, when I decided that I wanted to take those experiences and try to write poems with them, I struggled with what to leave in, what to take out, how much to shape my actual experience and how much to leave raw and real, like with a capital R. I won’t go into that process because it was mind-numbing and heart-wrenching at the same time, but I eventually got to the point where I had created these poems but they still didn’t seem like poems to me in a way that I could put an unadorned title on. So the reason they’re parenthetical is because I’m more giving you a stage direction or a sense of what it is you’re about to read or a summary maybe. They’re not really titles because I feel like you can’t really put a title on an actual authentic experience because it’s life. Part of why I did it and what I hope someone gets out of it is that questions sense: is this really a letter or is this a poem? If you’re asking a question then I’ve done my job already. It doesn’t matter what questions you’re asking, just the fact that you look at it and say, “Oh, this isn’t just a normal poem. What’s going on here? Why did he do this?” That’s enough.
BH: So they’re excerpts from your original letters that have been edited?
NP: They’ve been edited only slightly to remove the names of the guilty parties. It’s just part of the process of taking something real and turning it into poetry. You write letters all the time or an email or whatever and I guarantee you’ve written an email or a text message at some point and thought to yourself, “Hey, that’s pretty good.” But you don’t always use it exactly the way it was or maybe sometimes you paste it into something else. That’s kind of what I did with these. The letters that I initially wrote were longer in most cases than what gets published in the book, so they’re edited partly for length, but they’re edited also where I realized I was repeating myself or that there wasn’t enough arc and growth and change and in the letters as poems, I think there is an arc which is the reason they’re spaced throughout the book. There’s definitely a beginning to them and there’s definitely an ending, which wasn’t there in real life because most of the time in real life things don’t have that kind of satisfying arc.
AG: With H_NGM_N you’ve said that you’ve been successful in providing a home for a particular style of poetry. How would you define that style?
NP: I feel like we’re a home for lost and wayward poets. People who can’t or would prefer not to find their way in the world anywhere else. The poems that we publish in H_NGM_N tend to embrace a sense of process, that the poem itself is a field for working out problems and issues. It’s not a place for presenting something nice and neat that’s already been captured. I’ve said before as a kind of mission statement that the poems in H_NGM_N are indicative of what one beating heart would say to another beating heart. I feel like that sums up pretty well what I try to accomplish in my own writing and what I respond to most in other people’s writing: stuff that is live and real and emotional and visceral and that talks about things in a way that is human and realistic as opposed to things that are exaggerated and things that are vague. I want it to be like an actual conversation.
AG: Sometimes I feel like a poet should try to write a poem with less of a purpose and more of a motivation.
NP: Yeah, sometimes you sit down with the paper or the screen in front of you with a bunch of stuff in your head that you want to work out. You have a reason why you’re doing it, like something happened or you had a thought that caused you to sit down and write. But you shouldn’t say, “Oh, I know exactly what the last line is going to be.” You just start writing, because the poem itself is the process of figuring that kind of thing out. It’s literally thinking on the page. And I think when you come to the page, the more you have with you the more trouble you’ll have. It’s like the scene in Empire Strikes Back when Luke goes into the cave and Yoda says essentially, “Don’t take your blaster in there. You don’t need it.” Luke brings it and it screws everything up. It causes problems. But if he went in there pure and simple and authentic he would have had a much different experience.
BH: What inspired the series of poems that start with the first line, “All my poems…”?
NP: Those poems are from my collection Big Bright Sun and those poems came to me partly because I had recognized certain strategies and techniques that I relied on over and over again. At a certain point, I would start to build up lots of emotional happenings and thoughts and then I would deflect, and suddenly I’d start talking about birds and trees. I wanted these poems to be this experience, this real process, and I was relying on things too much. So I started writing this poems kind of to make fun of myself, because all my poems do this, and all my poems talk about this. It was a way to exercise some of the stuff I was dealing with in. There are always things we like in our writing and we go back to those things over and over again, so it was reacting against that.
AG: In your opinion, what makes H_NGM_N different from other journals?
NP: I think part of what makes us different is me. No other online journal has me as an editor. Probably many editors are always trying to make sure that people read the content on the website and I’m the same way. I work hard as a writer to get my name on the journal, and as a writer it’s the same thing. I don’t know if that makes me different from other editors and other journals, but it’s the way I’ve always worked with H_NGM_N.
H_NGM_N has been around for more than ten years and I feel very confident that will be around for another ten years, which is I think one thing that a lot of journal’s editors can’t say because either their life will change and they’ll have to cancel the journal, or they’ll get sick of it and maybe they just don’t want to go on that long. We don’t give up.
BH: How did you start to select the authors you were going to publish when H_NGM_N first came out? How has that changed over time to keep it open for people you don’t know?
NP: We always have and always will take submissions from anybody. In the beginning nobody did submit though, because nobody knew about it, so I’d solicit friends or other writers’ whose work I admired to see if they wanted to send me stuff.
After a while, I started to get more submissions in and I never gave a lot of thought to balance it: I would just get some poems from this person, and then we got some poems over the submission line that I accepted. I never thought about making sure it was equal, but it did become apparent to me that the journal was too closely mirroring my own personal tastes and it wasn’t challenging me, it wasn’t giving me stuff outside of my own normal purview.
I worked with a few other people; I brought in some assistant editors whose main goal really was to help me solicit more widely. So the assistant editors on H_NGM_N, people who help me read the submissions are people whose aesthetics, in terms of writing, mostly don’t match up with mine. I like what they do, but they are very different from me. And I’ve done that on purpose because I want to make sure that the submissions we draw in, and the way we respond to submissions is admitting a broader aesthetic field.
We get thousands of submissions every year and I feel like it is important to read all of those submissions. All the assistant editors read them, and I read them myself too, and I make decisions based on that. I still don’t have a ratio in mind, of how many online submissions versus how many solicited things, but I do know that I would probably rather take blind submissions than solicited material. There are poets whose work I love, I’ll always write them and say ‘Hey, I’d love to see new stuff for the new issue,’ but in general I like to fill it out with stuff I’ve never seen before, because that’s kind of exciting.
BH: And you’ve never published your own work in your journal?
NP: No, not my own poetry. I’ve written reviews about books of poetry, and I’ve published those. I thought the books were good and I’d just write a review and put it in the journal, but I wouldn’t publish my own poems in the journal. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem like a thing that I ever really wanted to do. I’ve read a lot of poems, and I guess that in part what I want for a poem when I write is for it to find an editor that cares about it, who then presents it to an audience that’s their own. It’d almost be as if double-dipping, if I was like: ‘I’m an editor who cares about that guy’s poems,’ but that guy is also me. So I wouldn’t do it in my journal, I would however publish a book of my own. And I would do that only because that would give me a control over the entire process.
For the book, “Sweet Nothing”, the publishing company let me work with an artist to develop the cover; they even let me choose the size of the cover of the book. I wanted it to be a certain size. Not every press would let you do that–I was really lucky. In fact every press I have worked with has been very open.
AG: In the editing part, is there anything in particular that you get tired of?
NP: That’s a good question. It used to be that we got a lot of poems that were very experimental. I think initially H_NGM_N got tabbed by some people as a journal for experimental poems and that meant we would get a lot of poems that didn’t have that sort of emblematic quality that I was talking about, of being one beating heart talking to another beating heart. They were poems that were more interested in sound than in meaning, more interested in space rather than shape, and I feel that they were misunderstanding what my aesthetic was for the journal. That doesn’t happen lately– we’ve been around long enough, and we’ve established our presence deeply enough that most of the thousands submissions I get are good poems. I feel like people are doing a good job of understanding what kinds of poems I publish and submitting to me if they think they fit in.
BH: How much interplay and influence is there between H_NGM_N and other journals, like Inter|rupture?
NP: There is quite a bit of interplay between other journals that I could name. Inter|rupture is one of them, Curtis –the editor- and I have been friends for a while and he’s a sweet guy who runs a great journal. We talk a lot about issues that we’re facing. Another journal, called Forklift Ohio, is run by two really good friends of mine: a guy named Matt Hart who is my favorite poet and my best friend for a long time, and then Eric Appleby who puts the journal together physically, and he is a great guy. We are all sort of a missing page creatively in terms of the project that we are doing.
Forklift, similar to H_NGM_N and probably similar to Inter|rupture, are not necessarily just publishing concerns, they are also trying to front more of an idea about how poetry can, or should or could work. We do not have secret meetings, but there definitely are journals that have similar aesthetics and the editors mostly know each other, and definitely hang out and talk. There are other journals that I feel very close to in lots of ways, but I think that’s important because otherwise I can feel really lonely. Even if I can look at H_NGM_N, I can tell like: “Oh, we got two-thousand hits this weekend, that’s awesome,” it is still me sitting in my office by myself, clicking on my MacBook. So there are a lot of editors out there that I can relate to and connect with.
On the H_NGM_N website, we uesd to have a links page with links to different journals that we liked, but then it got to be weird. So suddenly if I put a link up there to someone’s journal, it was as if I was implicitly saying that I agree with them, or that I side with them, or I’d put everybody up, but you are always going to forget somebody. So I got rid of the links page. We do have now a partner’s page, and if you click on that there are logos and links to presses that yes, we share aesthetic considerations with, but they’ve also done something for us or we’ve done something for them. So, it’s more than saying that these are journals I like, but also journals that I have actually done things with, so the partner’s page gives a good sense of how the word spreads out.
AG: So you do consider other journals as part of a community rather than competitors?
NP: I never think about it as competitors, I think we are all kind of doing the same thing. It’s true that there are times when I feel competitive, like I’ll see something that Curtis does in Inter|rupture and I’d wish I had published that person first. I can get really excited about those kinds of things, but I never wish that a certain journal would fold and go away and never publish again, because it’s great to have all these journals out there, doing good things and helping to spread the good word of creative writing in general, and poetry in particular, but there’s definitely a sense of trying to top yourself.
The new issue that Curtis just put up has great design and they occasionally publish art and it looks awesome–it’s great stuff in addition to poetry. It pushes me to want to do better, to make H_NGM_N more, just more. It’s a good thing, because it helps us to move forward instead of stagnating.
BH: Do you have a scariest moment in writing?
NP: Scariest moment in writing? No, actually having Sweet Nothing come out was a scary moment for me because, if you read parts of Big Bright Sun it is a little bit more performative. I was trying on purpose to be funny in some poems, I was trying to be more energetic than in other poems, but mostly I was acting, I was making stuff up. Some of the things in Big Bright Sun are real, but for the most part they were literary unaesthetic challenges I was setting myself and trying to beat. However, Sweet Nothing is mostly autobiography, it’s my life. These are failings and problems and difficulties that I experienced, so I wouldn’t say it was my scariest moment but that it was the moment when I felt vulnerable.
BH: Do you have any favorite books?
NP: Yes, I do, but there’s too many to name, I read so much. There are probably fifty to a hundred books of poetry that I return to over and over again that I really love. There are writers who I love a lot too, but I hate listing things because I’ll always forget somebody that I should have remembered. One thing I must mention, is that you have to read. As a writer you should be reading all the time because it’s like research. Even though I have favorite books, I don’t always read those favorite books; I read everything I can get my hands on and that helps me to grow and learn as a writer, as a thinker and as a reader.
So rather than listing favorite books, I’ll just say to read every book.
AG: When you read other people’s work, do you feel inspired by them for your own writing?
NP: Sometimes I do. It is part of the difficulty of being an editor: sometimes I read poems and I can see some things that are wrong, or the things that I would have done differently and I’m not really able to throw myself into the world of that poem because I’m too busy being critical. However there are poems that when I read them I get so excited and so fired up that I have to write something too. Maybe it is because of what they wrote about, or it is because of the way they’ve written. Something will click though, and there’s just some quality to that work that I love the most where I get so inspired and excited that I have to run off and write something of my own.