The short story "Sea Dogs" published in the March-April 2007 issue of The North American Review is based in part on the year I ran away to Europe, helped build a schooner in Denmark, and crewed on her maiden Atlantic crossing in the tail end of hurricane season 1966. An Old Danish sailor who had sailed with us on the first leg of the voyage told the Danish newspapers that we would never see the West Indies alive. We were that incompetent. What if he were right? “...
Anchors on chiefs’ and officers’ hats blaze
bronze, gold. Fear holds us, though technically
seamen are navy property. But sex?
Dismissed. Inspection done. Red stripes. White crow.
Each left sleeve flies one. Our navy blue wave
falls apart. First...
Though writing may be my calling, music is my passion, and I often turn to music for lessons about writing. Just now, for example, through my earbuds iTunes shuffled from Big Sean to the opening adagio of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Babi Yar symphony. The lesson? Transitions are for those who need everything explained to them.
They Might Be Giants and Robyn Hitchcock, using lyrics that sound like they come straight from textbooks, teach me music is not genetic to language but grown in...
A few years ago, I was dealing with the problem of writer’s block, and I was trying to stimulate a thought by looking up the definition of a word in the dictionary when I realized that the listings (if used selectively) often formed a pattern that I could use myself: a “definition” that enabled me to generate a sequence of associations and contain them in a structure that relied more on verbal synopsis than syntax. I used numbers instead of stanzas for a structure...
One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Yet many of the writers I know shy away from anything “teary” for fear that their work might be seen as (cringe!) melodramatic. But the trouble with shying away from drama (for fear of melodrama) is that it often stifles you before you go to where you need to go in your story. Often to find the beating heart of a story, the part where our throat tightens and...
A terrible, lunar beauty,
pale and sere
like leaves past withering
when we run along the edges,
slag bits broke loose and
rolled down the wash
to the bottom,
as dark marbles,
two halves of ancient bivalve clam
facing each other
in frozen contemplation,...
Across the room, a group of 20-somethings,
winding down their pasta dinners,
discover you can fret your finger on the rim
making even cheap wine flutes complain.
At first, annoying, an assault on ears,
but later like the reel whine
when a line is cast and catches sun,
its bright wick whipped against a sky so blue...
One of the first pieces I accepted when I became nonfiction editor for NAR in 2008 was “The Malignancy of Beginnings” by Rafael Torch. I fell in love with this dark and gorgeous memoir of a man fighting abdominal cancer while his wife fought against, not a tumor, but an unwanted fetus growing in her abdomen. The parallels frightened me when I first noticed them: the husband fingering the lumps in his belly, moving them from side to side like golf balls. The wife...
All of us know a person too-dearly in love with his or her own saga. The world’s assembled triumphs and tragedies pale before the splendor of his homemade spinach omelet or the ouch of her stubbed toe. No matter what chronicle one giddily spins, he’ll call forth a responding story pay-grades higher than one’s minimum wage tale. My family refers to this sort as a “one-upper” – someone whose lion-killing, blonde joke-telling, soup kitchen volunteerism, bedroom...