“The Missouri Review is, quite simply, one of the best literary journals in the world." —Robert Olen Butler
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Things I find unsettling –

A brain coral – no, an actual brain, the folds of gray matter
unraveling through a sleeve underwater –

The gutter, a lake of no respect –

Are you a lifer – schadenfreude-laced exchange
at the speed of its antidote, a confession or apology –

A suspicious package at the local airport,
milled palm-oil soap called green tea –

Carry me, cries a stranger, mispronouncing my name –

— Last week’s poem of the week was Karen An-hwei Lee’s “X Is For Xenophobia

The lack of money is the biggest killer of literary magazines. Making my students aware of it is critical.
My sister used to have this grand idea that she would read all the books in the world when she was younger and my parents supported it (why wouldn’t they — their child wanted to read instead of watching endless cartoons), while I scoffed in her face. (If you can’t already tell, I’m the older sibling.) Reading all the books in the world meant that she had to read every book she laid her eyes on from cover to cover. I used to always think that she was ridiculous for continuing to read books she found boring or just plain bad, but it’s been several years since she’s grown out of that grand idea and now I’m not so sure I was right to scoff at her.

— Morgan Denlow, "Reading Every Book in the World

Dusk as silent as an owl’s wing. The old wall, built by the Romans, or built to keep the Romans out, stands scaffolded and tarped for a long restoration. All the roads wind round to the mountain’s top, where the little village, hunched, is half-obliterated by shadow as if the klieg-lit façade of an old movie set. In the town square, a table set for a séance. A stray dog turns round three times before settling down on the cobbles. The voyeur peering into a window turns away nonchalantly. He exhales smoke. An arc of embers falls as he flicks the butt away. As he passes, he touches the brim of his hat. One of the six chairs at the table is toppled, as if someone had taken fright and stood suddenly. The planchette on the Ouija board centered over NO.

Our poem of the week a few weeks ago was Eric Pankey’s “The Little Village

I have no interest in retreating from my past. I want to hold it in my fists and move forward with it. I want to help the men and the ladies as much as I can. I want to be back there because, before jail, I was a college dropout without any hopes, making $7.25 an hour at a shit job. Now I make $8.25 at a different shit job, but I’m on my way to a graduate degree, possibly to teach at the very jail I was housed in, while writing short stories that mean something to me. There are no words to express that mix of humbling awe and terrified excitement. Sometimes I think about all of that and it melts down over me like some great majestic light.

Free to travel, he still couldn’t be shown how lucky
he was: They strip and beat and drag us about
like rattlesnakes. Home on Brattle Street, he took in the sign
on the door of the slop shop. All day at the counter–
white caps, ale-stained pea coats. compass needles,
eloquent as tuning forks, shivered, pointing north.
Evenings, the ceiling fan sputtered like a second pulse.
Oh Heaven! I am full!! I can hardly move my pen!!

On the faith of an eye-wink, pamphlets were stuffed
into trouser pockets. Pamphlets transported
in the coat linings of itinerant seamen, jackets
ringwormed with salt traded drunkenly to pursers
in the Carolinas, pamphlets ripped out, read aloud:
Men of colour, who are also of sense.
Outrage. Incredulity. Uproar in state legislatures.

We are the most wretched, degraded and abject set
of beings that ever lived since the world began.
The jewelled canaries in the lecture halls tittered,
pressed his dark hand between their gloves.
Every half-step was no step at all.
Every morning, the man on the corner strung a fresh
bunch of boots from his shoulders. “I’m happy!” he said.
“I never want to live any better or happier than
when I can get a-plenty of boots and shoes to clean!”

A second edition. A third.
The abolitionist press is perfectly appalled.
Humanity, kindness and the fear of the Lord
does not consist in protecting devils. A month–
his person (is that all?) found face-down
in the doorway at Brattle Street,
his frame slighter than friends remembered.

— Last week’s poem of the week, Rita Dove’s “David Walker (1785–1830)

When I say Frances, I mean the maple trunk
bulging through the chain-link fence. I mean the pit bull
with spiked collar who lives on the other side.

I say Frances, and I sound like a leaking bike tire.
Frances: my purple Schwinn, my flowered banana-seat.
My legs pumping through the subdivision

that springs from the field. Frances
rides on the air. You might say, I don’t understand,
and I’d say, This is not my voice. It’s something

in the leaves that keeps speaking. Something that saw me
as a child, rubbed a coin on the sole of my foot, charmed.
When I say Frances, I mean a woman. I mean

a place. The dead cling to the land. The living cling
to a story that, like currency, changes hands.

An old poem of the week, Laura Van Prooyen’s “Location: Frances

Another installment of Wes Hazard’s playlists: So You’re Picking Up Margaret Atwood From the Airport

"1. Prince – The Future

Prince’s soundtrack album for Burton’s first Batman went to #1 and featured some of his most radio-friendly work between Purple Rain and the name change. Still, relative to his other hits of the era these don’t get heard much anymore. We should all work to change that. The lyrics fear a future not too far from some of Atwood’s speculative fiction but even more importantly you might get a chance to talk about her Jungian breakdown of Gotham’s finest.”

(Source: Spotify)

There are probably some general wise moves to make—don’t piss everyone off, write more than once a month, read some books, and so forth—there isn’t one correct way to get wherever it is you’d like to end up. The lack of set rules may be a bit terrifying, especially those first steps in any given direction outside of school. But they’re crucial steps. This really just boils down to accepting risk. The world doesn’t have an outstanding road map for a young writer, but when you’re fully engaged in your own work, you’re always going to be able to make your mark. It’s nothing to fear, especially when taking a few steps off the beaten path is, always, inevitable.

Ask Me

She’s so darling about the whole thing—
asking me to be a bridesmaid

when we both know but won’t say
how two years ago she called me

drunk from a bar bathroom, her slurs
knotted like fingers in hair.

Sweat pooled in the crook of my arm
as I swore to her, Girl, he’s a dog.

It was the season of abandoned
couches that mushroomed in lawns,

the smell of Palmetto bugs soaked
in hot tequila. God bless

the state lines: I said yes when he asked
on a beach towel between Florida

and Alabama, yes the timeshares
loomed behind us in their turquoise

and salmon knolls, yes the jellyfish
floated thin as ghosts. How long

until I became just a sad and empty bag?
Weeks later, he and I ate sundaes

on a breezy patio, my eyes rimmed
in salt, while a baby screamed

at the next table over. The dogs and I
have this in common—our mouths

remember everything we put in them:
the bright fruit’s unexpected gristle.

— Our own Anne Barngrover has some poetry in Paper Darts.

The bravery and vulnerability of this stunning first collection took my breath away as the speaker asserts in the poem “The Interviewer Acknowledges Grief”: “Because you/ can’t reassure me I have/ the right to ask anything// of women whose bodies won’t/ ever again be their own.” Seam ends, though, with a line of hope: “The moon filled the dust-polluted sky: a ripe, unsheathed/ lychee. It wasn’t enough light to see clearly by, but I still turned/ my face toward it.” I am excited to read more from this poet who is steadfast in her search for the truth even in the most unimaginably dark places.

— For National Poetry Month, Anne Barngrover gives us the top five poetry books she brought home from AWP in Best of AWP14 SWAG. Above, she discusses Seam by Tarfia Faizullah, Southern Illinois University Press.

The Pulitzer awards are not the culmination of what we see in proper and polite and unquestionable society. Pulitzers award the defining moments that make us question. Or they should. It is what we have come to expect and why we have been disappointed.

"The track I break out when I need reminding that no matter how coal-lumpish whatever I’ve written is, time and pressure transforms coal into diamonds which can then be polished to dazzling brilliance. Despite the mood music, my usual method of revision wasn’t working—that method being staring at the words on the screen, and/or reading and re-reading a printed-out copy until new or different words magically enter my brain—and I was ready to give up on the unlovely mess before I keeled over mumbling and twitching or threw a brick through my computer monitor (perhaps an overreaction to bad prose)."

Q Lindsey Barrett: Writing Beyond Good: Mining for Diamonds

(Source: Spotify)

There are several things that matter. First, the composition of a magazine’s staff. Of our five senior staffers, three are women; four of our seven graduate editors are women; and eleven of our fifteen interns are women. Second, we have to consider a literary magazine in its entirety, not just as individual pieces. If we’ve accepted seventy percent of the content for an upcoming issue, looking at the gender breakdown, and seeing which way we are leaning, matters. Third, we have to encourage the writers whose work we turn down (which, rather obviously, is most of them) to send work to us again. Our submitters can’t feel shut out. The extra time it takes to write a personalized rejection and say “we want to see more from you” makes a huge difference, something our interns and staff are doing already.