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craft of writing

Falling stars off of a tree by Vlad Alvarez

My father is from Montevideo, Uruguay, and I never met anyone from his side of the family besides my abuela, whom I spent a handful of hours with when I was five, and never again (she died when I was seven). His bloodline is riddled with telenovela-worthy drama—decades-long affairs, biological and non-biological parentage, turbulent poverty, alcoholism, anarchists, all topped off with a violent and oppressive military coup d'état that sent him fleeing the country to post-Franco Spain, where...

Illustration by Matt Manley of man looking through a square frame, hidden by shadows.

          I was fortunate to be born into a family that emphasized the importance of story.
          The first story they told me was my name. Next came my great-grandfather cutting watermelon into quarters as he and my father walked a field in Kentucky. Then came my mother running and jumping on the basketball court, powerful and balanced.
          Growing up, my little brother, Nathan, and I shared a room. Both Dad and Mom would come and read to us. They sat on the floor...

Illustration by Matt Manley of man looking through a square frame.

          What else do we have except story? To say how we love one another. To offer comfort. To prepare for grief, for suffering. To try to remember joy.
          In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh. And what were those words? Mostly the language of the body. Breast and thigh, curve of back, ankle’s stem and neck’s graceful turn like the limb of a willow nudged by the wind.
          We were young, only twenty-three when we...

Illustration by Tom Moore

This blog is about Betsy's poem "nails and wings" which appeared in NAR issue 302.2 and is available here.

            Dog paddling across a gigantic sparkling lake while weeds grab at my legs—that’s the metaphor for marriage that floated to the surface this morning. Unlike falling in love, which is generally effortless, delicious, deliciously frustrating, frustratingly rewarding, but most of all finite,...

art by Kali Gregan

     “The Tough Guy Test” (Winter 2017) is the second story North American Review has published from my collection Bridge & Tunnel. In it, a woman returns to her working-class roots in Queens after the Great Recession, her manor-born husband and their toddler in tow. The husband’s adjustment is an immediate challenge, and ultimately the woman must...

Illustration by Tom Moore

I’ve never cared for essays that compare the act of writing to some other activity. For example: “Writing is like swimming.” Or “Writing is like mushroom hunting.” Or “Writing is like wrestling.” I’ve seen all sorts of attempts over the years to box writing up into a convenient metaphor. But to what end? It might be useful in a freshman poetry workshop, but a seasoned writer can only take solace in such similes when they are incapable of or unwilling to write anything they’re happy...

Illustration by Kali Gregan

            Grief and regret are two of those ghosts that seem to frequently haunt my creative process.  More often than not, whenever I sit down to write, they will pull me far from where I want to go and inevitably towards where I need to.  And then, especially in those moments where I most resist them, I will somehow unexpectedly find myself caught in their orbit.  It is such a strange commitment we are asked to make as writers: attempting to capture in words the inherently unsayable. ...

Illustration by Matt Manley

 

Line

There are rungs across the plains. If you’re ok with not looking  too close, they become the kind of ruled mirage you find on cereal box  stickers where holographic animals twitch and transform by tilting  the angle of the card. If you don’t mind squinting, tree stands turn  to their fields and caress the pastured cheeks. Take a step back and silos  lean to hold one another’s hips. There is living in nondescript places, ...

Art by Tom Moore

 

Not the Thing but a Fossil of the Thing

 

Fern fronds fletched like a feather etch ache into gray slate,    

five petals float in a now-unbound crown,     

 

a thumb-sized spine curls and fans out to a tail, a spall splits

into stone pages stamped with tree bark

 

repeating like wallpaper, a leaf shines like oiled leather, oblate,

and an ammonite’s dull weight   

 

smells of new snow. A clam...

Illustration by Kali Gregan

Not writing is a lot like breathing; it can continue without notice. And as I moved through my days into weeks and months of not writing, it started to feel completely normal. Like I never wrote at all: I was never that MFA student devouring every book of poems I could get my hands on, fervent, with my own poems coming like extended fever dreams, these bottle-rocket incantations that my mentor could barely keep up with. Everything I saw and touched was imbued with…what? Incredible potential...

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