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To structure is to survive. If you want your work to have even the tiniest chance of lasting — this is a dream hope; a stage of adolescence; your writing will not last, but it may hang around for a year or two — it must be well structured. If your ideas are flimsy, your characters boring, your scenes flat, your sentences dull, face it: your work is on the way out; however, even worse is the story or novel that is stillborn. It needs backbone and oxygen. It needs clarity. It needs everything you can do to save it. In other words, it needs structure.

More… “What You Make, Make To Last”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Examine your sentences. Use strong verbs wherever possible. Use the active, not the passive, voice. Try not to use the same words everyone else uses, unless you have a particular reason for making your piece flat. Flat is not what usually works, because flat is boring.

Examine your paragraphs. Do they lead from one to the other in a way that makes sense? Does each paragraph carry an interesting thought, a wonderful sentence, a joke, an astute observation, something to mull over? You do not have to have all of these in the same paragraph. George Garrett advised us to touch base with each of our senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) on every single page. It is good advice.

If your piece contains chapters, ask yourself if you have started and ended them at the most effectual points. Until you reach the end of the piece, you want each chapter to tantalize the reader into the next chapter. This is called narrative drive. It was not always seen as essential, but today it is essential. Without narrative drive, a story withers on the vine. More… “Poetic Praise”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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All is completed, I said. You can rest and take delight in your accomplishment, I said. Except.

Except now you have to do it all over again.

Maybe not all of you. Maybe only most of you. There are, after all, those painstaking writers who meticulously go over each sentence as it appears and polish it until it has just the right glossiness and hint of darkness. When it is as smooth as a milkshake. When it dances or sings or claps.

But make no mistake: Almost all of us have to do all of it all over again.

You may start by running a spelling and grammar search on the file in your computer. The search will clean up a few typos. Which helps, but, sadly, not all that much. After all, this is simply housecleaning, and like housecleaning, you need to do it repeatedly, i.e., every time you add to or alter your piece. You must also read, reread, reread again, and then reread some more. Some readers suggest reading backwards from the last page, especially when what you have written is poetry. What are you looking for? The tiniest things imaginable: reversed quotation marks, for example, and words that lack needed power, or a comma that should be a semicolon, a question mark that should be a period. Check spellings for capitals and hyphens. Check military abbreviations. Check all other abbreviations. This, unfortunately, is not fun. This is tedious. And you may find yourself nearly hysterical with anxiety.
More… “Revise Until You Drop”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Chances are you have rarely seen a movie that draws substantially on the work of a major American poet. But this can change if you find a theater that is showing Paterson. This conditional, however, only doubles the unlikelihood. Even in greater New York, the movie had limited appearances. As Hollywood turns out innumerable examples of stupefying violence, inane plotting, and simplistic characterizations, the unlikelihood of poetry on the big screen outstrips even the remotest possibility. Yet somehow we find ourselves tenderly watching Jim Jarmusch’s subtle masterpiece. One of my fellow viewers remarked how odd that the movie didn’t contain a single car crash or large explosion. Yet what it had in plain sight was something like the spirit of William Carlos Williams, often referred to as WCW, the great modernist poet and doctor who spent most of his life as a general practitioner in the once-industrial town of Paterson, New Jersey.

The movie shows us how the spirit of WCW’s poetry is embodied in a bus driver, played with taste and control by Adam Driver. The low-key plot proceeds with an almost structuralist clarity. As Driver goes through his week from Monday to Sunday, we see him fall into a strict pattern. He awakens without the benefit of an alarm clock, each weekday beginning with a glancing look at his wristwatch; the hour is between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. He arises, pulling himself out a bed made supremely normal and comfortable by the presence of his beautiful wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). There on a chair next to the bed is his driver’s uniform, washed fresh and ironed each evening by his solicitous helpmate. A short breakfast (some featuring Cheerios), and then, carrying a tin lunch pail, he walks along leafy suburban streets. Walks that is, until he passes through an abandoned run of brick factories and warehouses — until he arrives at the bus depot. There, before he begins his route, which takes him through downtown Paterson, he spares a few moments to jot down poems in a notebook, the words appearing on the bottom of the screen in a clear, evenhanded script. More… “Poets in Paterson

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school, I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her; that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

In that house, we all wrote stories. We were the children of Caribbean parents who had pushed our noses into books so young that when they stopped pushing, we just stayed there. Writing was naturally the next step. Bringing these stories in to share with my friends at school followed. More… “For Post-Graduate Starving Artists”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance creative writer from Washington, DC. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra and Instagram @kesia_alexandra.
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Some stories have fantastical endings. Matthew Vollmer’s forthcoming Gateway to Paradise, a smart collection of short stories, begins with “Downtime,” wherein a dentist named Ted Barber is haunted by the loss of his wife, Tavey, who drowned on their honeymoon. He flew back to Valleytown, North Carolina, knowing that his wife’s body was stowed in the cargo bay of the plane he is on. He is now having a hot affair with his assistant, who is formidably competent and would be a great wife, but images and reminiscences of Tavey keep pulling him away from Allison. He has weird imaginings, weird dreams, or perhaps they are hallucinations. They are certainly hallucinatory. He swims with Tavey off the coast of Mexico and, after trying to shake her off — her dimly lit, sketchy, almost transparent body — he gives up. She hangs in and he finds himself giving into her. He allows her to find places in his body where she can hold onto him. He knows this is slightly insane, but he finally decides both women will be with him: one in the real world, one in another world. As odd or weird as this sounds, it is simply a metaphor for how a man whose wife has died must accommodate both the memory and the reality, the woman lost and the woman he needs now. At the same time, the image of the husband taking his dead wife’s corpse into his own body makes a striking impression. It is not unrelated to Franz Kafka’s insect in the Metamorphosis. And if you have not read the Metamorphosis, you must put down this essay right now and go straight there. Then read “Downtime.” More… “Imagined Endings”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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But first you have to write the ending.

Correction: First off, you must avoid any ending in which some godlike savior comes into the story to take care of everything and everyone. This is a deus ex machina, a last-minute, last-ditch, make-everything-right, sort-out-the-kinks-and-crinkles ending that satisfies no one.

Now: write an ending that is not deus ex machina.

We have already described one kind of ending. Beginning in medias res allows us to end with the beginning, which, done well, will then be surprising or informative, or both. More… “Cut the Cord”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Do apostrophes matter, even though “nothing matters” in the end? German Lopez thinks they do. Is the period “no longer how we finish our sentences”? So says Jeff Guo. If you’re an editor like me, you notice writing about little things like apostrophes and periods, especially when you see it in big news outlets. First, in Vox in January, came “Apostrophes, explained.” Then, in the Washington Post in June, came “Stop. Using. Periods. Period.” Lopez and Guo are on opposite sides in the long-running “language wars” over English usage between prescriptivists, who (as caricatured) believe that nothing is right in usage except what their outmoded rules permit, and descriptivists, who (as caricatured) believe that nothing can ever be wrong. Those wars aren’t news if you follow the story of English, but how the two writers took their positions did seem new. In each article, I saw an oddness and wondered what it might mean about the state of battle. More… “The Language Wars”

Jeffrey Mitchell has worked for years as an editor, writer, and instructor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
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As a teacher of first-year writing since 1987, I have learned to share my passions with students. Sharing what really matters to you can lead to deep learning, but it can also involve emotional risk.

In a class that focuses on using research, writing, and re-writing to think about the connections between literary texts and our lives, I have chosen a theme I think about a lot: Deception. We read short stories in which characters deceive or are deceived. How many of these stories do you recognize? More… “Magic Class”

Fred Siegel teaches in the English and Philosophy Department at Drexel University. His writings have appeared in The Drama Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Kugelmass, When Falls the Coliseum, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He also performs magic shows in a variety of venues, and plays the role of “Fred” in the autobiographical performance, Man of Mystery. A copy of his doctoral dissertation, The Vaudeville Magic Act, 1880-1932, mysteriously appeared on eBay recently. He has lied for money in the Coney Island Sideshow (1989-90), and has been logging his dreams since 1993. He also does improvised performances with Comedysportz Philadelphia and Tongue & Groove. To read more, go to his Geekadelphia Profile.
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Consider Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I know that some of you have read this book, but perhaps not all of you, so please bear with me.

Nabokov was a Russian who knew English better than most Americans. He wrote Lolita in English and later translated it into Russian. You may have seen a film of it, but no film can depict Nabokov’s sublime and sometimes flamboyant English. The book is narrated (not always reliably) by Humbert Humbert, a literature professor in his 30s who falls in love with a 12-year-old child named Dolores Haze. This is shocking. The child has already had sex and aims to seduce Humbert Humbert. This is also shocking, though it may be one of Humbert’s lies. Humbert Humbert marries the child’s mother in order to be closer to Dolores, or, as he calls her, Lolita. This too is shocking. The book came out in the late 1950s, a few years before the Beatles shocked the world.

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” Thus the book begins. Humbert attributes his attraction to young girls a result of his loss of a childhood friend. This may be accurate or it may be an excuse. Either way, he agrees to marry Lolita’s mother, Charlotte. But before long, Charlotte falls out of the book. Humbert and Lolita, or “Lo,” launch themselves on a road trip, driving more or less aimlessly around the country. This is part of the middle. While Lo is convalescing in hospital, a Mr. Clare Quilty swoops in, like a hawk, to grab Lo away from Humbert. More… “Menacing Middles”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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