Promptly: Tara McDaniel on The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction


The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, ed. Tara L. Masih, Rose Metal Press, 2009

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction is the best of its kind. For both beginner and advanced practitioners of this hot and wildly popular genre, the Field Guide offers tons of practical advice, hands-on exercises, and intriguing histories of the form. The back matter is chock full of recommended reading lists and suggested anthologies. It’s no wonder this fabulous book is already in its second printing and has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Tara L. Masih, editor of the Field Guide, presents the first comprehensive essay on flash in the introduction. After first reading Tara’s intro, I was astounded at the rich history of flash. It’s been around since the dawn of myth; and in Shouhua Qi’s essay “Old Wine in New Bottles,” he gives various examples of Chinese flash dating as far back as 350 BC. Masih describes 14th century Italian flash, the burgeoning of flash in America beginning with Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe, and even the feminist flash started by Louisa May Alcott and Kate Chopin. We learn the development of flash and its current style and means of consumption via both print and the internet. The final two sections of the book give you an idea of where flash is going in the future and how you can join the party.

The Field Guide is structured as a series of individual essays, each taking a different approach to flash. Such esteemed writers as Stuart Dybek, Jayne Anne Phillips, Robert Olen Butler, and Steve Almond give their two cents on the form along with advice on inspiration, taking risks, beginning and ending successful flash, and finally how to best tackle the editing process. There is truly something in the Field Guide for everyone. Jayne Anne Phillips, in her essay “’Cheers’ (or) How I Taught Myself to Write,” introduces the one-page form and how to play with its density to create the most powerful and moving stories in the shortest space. She suggests working with “instruction booklets, tax forms, newspapers, and cookbooks” to get your writing into a direct mode. As with all the other essays in the Field Guide¸ Phillips’ essay concludes with a prompt and a story example to illustrate how to use the prompt. The writing advice and exercises contained here offer more than just basic advice on flash fiction. In a way, this is a fun manual for writers of both poetry and prose, no matter what the form. Lex Williford’s essay, “Forty Stories in the Desert” gives instructions for how to make your own Rorschach blots and then generate lists of images from them. Williford also gives instructions on how to use the lists to create “15 minute fictions.” Practicing one 15-minute fiction a day for five weeks will “encourage the discovery of images, characters, and storylines,” says Williford, who has used this exercise successfully for years in the classroom. This same essay is also rife with such wonderful advice as how to create surprising reversals in both poetry and prose.

As a poet, I have used many of these exercises to generate new poems and breathe life into drafts that I thought were stuck. One of my favorite entries, “The Myth-ing Link (Or, Linking up to Myth)” by Pamelyn Casto, explores how to write flash using myth as a formative structure. She gives examples of how to re-create or breathe new life into traditional myths, or de-familiarizing myths by giving them a special and unexpected twist. The writing prompts at the end are fantastic with no less than seven ideas for using a particular myth to create new stories and characters. I’ve taken some of these ideas, such as putting Pandora on trial and giving her voice using a Q&A format. Steve Almond’s contribution shows how you can take bad poems and turn them into successful flash. And Kim Chinquee explores the relationship between prose poem and flash in her essay “Flash Fiction, Prose Poetry, and Men Jumping Out of Windows.” The Field Guide is as fine a writing resource as I have yet come across. A highly recommended resource for individual libraries or for use in workshop.

Of Commonplace Things: Sarah Clift on Patrick Madden’s Quotidiana


Patrick Madden, Quotidiana: Essays, University of Nebraska Press, 2010

We sometimes refer to thoughts as trains because the mind travels along a long track through different terrains and climates, caught up in the scene of the moment while only subconsciously aware of the connection to the preceding scenes. With his first book, Quotidiana, Patrick Madden gives us a first class ticket on the train of his thoughts, and it is an enjoyable ride. He also invites us to lay our own track:

So let’s think more, ponder, wonder, meander, maunder. Despite appearances to the contrary, despite the clamor and clang of true-life sensationalism in every medium, quotidian essays are being written and published all the time. They’re an antidote to the harried hullabaloo of — what? — talk shows? tabloids? the maddening crowd? And so I (and my friends, known and unknown) continue this quiet labor, stopping to smell the roses, suspicious that the tree falling in the forest does make a sound, the cat in the box might as well be alive. The exercise of writing from the infinite suggestiveness of common things has proved fruitful for me time and again, with essays sparked by considerations of garlic, diaper changing, washing grapes, a chipped tooth, and others. I’m addicted to that world’s whisper. (9-10)

Madden’s title comes from a phrase he heard while learning Spanish as a missionary in Uruguay: la vida cotidiana, meaning “everyday life.” He expands on our English equivalent, quotidian, and creates the world of Quotidiana. On his website, he defines this Quotidiana as “the land of everyday, commonplace things.”

Madden introduces us to his world in a series of ten essays. The first, “The Infinite Suggestiveness of Common Things,” is foundational, as it recounts his discovery of essaying:

During my first extended encounters with the essay, I was struck (dumbstruck, moonstruck) by those authors who wrote from seemingly insignificant, overlooked, transient things, experiences, and ideas, who were able to find within their everyday, unexceptional lives inspiration for essaying. (2)

With this first essay, Madden ensures that readers know the genre they are about to experience. Essays, as part of the creative nonfiction genre, are more than an artistic retelling of past, true events; they are anecdotes or observations with reflective meditations. The anecdotes or observations need not be grand events by themselves, but an essayist can make the smallest observation grand with his or her insights. Madden explains these attributes of an essay and thereby enhances the essay-reading experience,

Essayists are keen observers of the overlooked, the ignored, the seemingly unimportant. They can make the mundane resplendent with their meditative insights. (4)

Once he opens our eyes to the endless possibilities of the mind and, by extension the essay based on things seemingly mundane, Madden offers a recipe for a successful essay: “A successful commonplace essay will gather memories and researches, attach ideas and stories to build upward, toward meaning.” (6)

In the remaining nine essays, Madden shows how to execute this formula. Especially insightful and entertaining is his essay “Laughter.” Madden begins with the observation that his infant is just learning to laugh. This observation leads him to a third-century BC Egyptian papyrus that says God created the world through bursts of laughter. He then takes us on a journey through laughing gas, different kinds of laughter, and laughing animals. (This explains his cover art, featuring a kookaburra, formally known as the “laughing jackass.”) Madden then recounts the story of Democritus (known as the Laughing Philosopher), the etymology of laughter, and the sounds of laughter. He pauses with an anecdote about his son’s many trips to the emergency room because of foreign objects in his nose, and the doctor who laughs every time he sees them. He shows how laughter can break down social barriers with a story of his son’s peek-a-boo game with a stranger on a New Jersey train. Madden continues the string of memories, researches, ideas, and stories to build to the health benefits of laughing. The essay ends with his memory of laughing in church then a return to his infant daughter laughing.

This sequence may seem disjointed, but it is an accurate representation of what happens in our minds when one small, commonplace thing sets off our thinking. For that reason, Madden’s essays are familiar and readable. Riding his thought-train is comfortable, yet thought-provoking in its own right. Few writers can inspire their readers to take part in their craft. Yet Madden’s collection of essays inspires us to look at our commonplace, quotidian life and see that it is both wonderful and meaningful, and then to engage the essayist in each of us.

 

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Sarah Clift recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor of general studies degree, writing emphasis.  She is a writer and editor in Elk Grove, California.

Looming Lone and Legendary: Nick Demske on the Post Moot conference


Sometimes the only thing more boring than a conference is someone trying to explain a conference to you second hand. But—golly gee whiz—Miami University’s second Post Moot conference, held this past April in Oxford, Ohio, impacted me so positively that I feel nearly obligated to share what I experienced there. It’s not that the conference was devoid of boring moments or that it was its content was so extraordinary in terms of conference fare, but there were at least a few subtle distinctions between Post Moot and the other convention experiences I’ve had that seem really worth noting and celebrating.

First, some throat-clearing: the conference model most readers of this review will probably be familiar with is from going to AWP—a big, fat dragon of a get together that swallows its participants and craps them out 3 or 4 days later, exhausted, overwhelmed, overstimulated, with pockets full of business cards from people they don’t remember meeting. I don’t mean to represent AWP as exclusively negative; I’ve only gotten to go once, but it was a very good experience for me. It’s great to be around a sea of other people who have a big investment in the word; one will likely have the chance to meet at least a few writers they’d been admiring from a distance; and, in general, you have a chance to meet new people. And how often do adults bother to meet new people?

But all of these attractions aside, AWP’s most prominent quality, to me, is how mechanically it operates. It’s like a huge machine that processes writing and people who write like they’re cheese. For one reason or another, it feels bureaucratic, sterile and so huge that everyone seems to express feeling lonely or lost at the end of it, even amidst the throngs of other writers.

One reason Post Moot was striking to me is because, in this way, it was practically antithetical. It had that luxury because it operated on a much smaller scale (I would guess there was less than 300 consistent participants at most?). So, first, there was this more manageable group. Second, only one main presentation took place at any one time so there was not any anxiety over which presentations to attend and which to miss; everyone basically had the chance to see anything they wanted to. And third, whereas a model like AWP never breaks for meals—or for anything really—Post Moot not only had built in meal times, but they were extravagant, healthy and all around fantastic meals consistently. What’s more, they were provided by the conference organizers themselves! Almost anytime one could spot William Howe during the conference, he was donning a chef’s coat and wielding a ladle. Which brings me to this point—the visibility and sheer work ethic of the conference organizers. Howe commandeered the food end of things—and deliciously, I might add—Chris Cheek announced every single presentation, I believe, and Catherine Wagner managed all things odds and ends, whether it was last minute transportation for presenters, taking in the money and registration info or some other miscellany. These details may seem weird or insignificant, but they established a tone for the conference that I found ideal for anyone really wanting to give the presentations their full attention.

Finally, the subtitle to Post Moot 2KX was “poetry & performance: a convocation.” I feel this was another foundational decision that set a great tone for the conference. “Performance” was an ambiguous enough term to allow for a wide diversity in the presentations. It’s difficult to explain that any further, knowing that I can’t do any real justice to any of the presentations, let alone all of them. But, in an attempt to illustrate the variety, I will provide this list of highlights and memorables from the weekend:

• Mark Wallace reading his poems on the weirdnesses of living in California.
• K. Silem Mohammad’s deadpan delivery of poems with titles like “Squirting Ringworm Taco.”
• K. Lorraine Graham exhibiting pretty darn advanced hoola hoop skills prior to reading from her book Terminal Hum.
• Rick Royer reading work alongside his sleep machine, encouraging audience members to nap during his performance and demanding, also, that they not laugh.
• Mel Nichols reading a series of Facebook superpoke messages.

• ______ making (folding, cutting sowing and binding) a handmade, blank book in some 15 minutes, to hopefully empower the audience to do so later on their own.
• Ryan Downey presenting a paper comparing Kamau Braithwaite to Andre 3000 of Outkast.
• Barrett Watten reading from the several-volume, collaborative project Grand Piano, on compromising radical politics with jobs in academic institutions.
• Jose Luna wandering around a dark auditorium, playing experimental saxophone.
• Dana Ward giving a trademark manic reading, complete with tics and other physical hiccups.
• Tyrone Williams presenting a paper on Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater and drawing links from it to the dubious phenomenon of Colored People Time.
• Hoa Nguyen reading phenomenal work which involved a lot of poop because, according to Hoa, she was changing lots of diapers when she wrote it.
• Chris Mann literally—deliberately—mumbling nonsense for the full length of his presentation.
• Kate Sopko presenting on the unglamorous maintenance that art and its creation require, as well as questioning why those who perform that maintenance don’t receive as much praise as those credited as the artists.
• Mike Basinski’s presentation—a stream of consciousness flood, during which audience members were encouraged to clap at arbitrary moments.
• Lisa Howe reading from her poems for the zombie apocalypse.
• Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetic Theater performance, presented by students of Miami U. who had only practiced it for 2 days.
• AMJ Crawford and Danny Snelson’s sound/image/poetry barrage.
• William Howe reading his English-to-insane-English translations of Dickinson on a mere three hours of sleep.
• Adeena Karasick’s jack-hammer-articulate reading style.
• Rod Smith, at an after party, unable to read his poem about Sarah Palin having sex with a Chihuahua because of debilitating laughter—the audience’s and his own.
• Lara Glenum, Josef Horaçek and Jonathan Skinner’s super-grotesque multimedia installation: Horaçek’s audio/video manipulations of Glenum’s texts, on a screen surrounded by a creepy, rudimentary construction-gut-tunnel assembled (and later destroyed) by Skinner.
• Jen Hofer’s presentation on her brilliant “Escritorio Publico,” project, in which she simply sits in a public space and composes letters for anyone willing to pay a small fee (was it $2 a letter; $3 a love letter; $5 an illicit love letter?)

Maybe these snippets of summation are useless if you don’t know the people they reference. I don’t know. But I guess it’s not even the specifics I want to illustrate here. It’s more just 1) the democracy in what this conference had as presentations and 2) how much more organic and familial this conference felt than those I’ve attended prior.

For me, these two elements really facilitated thinking outside of my usual conventions in terms of artistic creation. The contrasts between each presentation provided a breadth that almost seemed counterintuitive to the idea of conferences as a whole. Since conferences are get togethers of people who like the same things—whether it’s comic books, Civil War reenactments or experimental poetry—they’re usually pretty limited by their very nature. This conference featured poetry readings—with a breadth of different styles—performance art, dance, visual art, video art, sound collages, book making and other craftsmanship for which I don’t know names. But that’s the point…the names stopped mattering. And I’m tempted to say it’s because the presentations were so often hybridized. But that feels inaccurate because, as the conference proceeded, they began feeling less and less like separate entities. Post Moot emphasized the unity of all these expressions I’ve come to think of as separate. This is why the familial tone proved to be so important, since emphasizing the unity of things that are sometimes thought of as separate or even adversarial can turn to a damaging endeavor, if not handled with great sensitivity.

Beyond that: I had come to the conference (and I imagine I wasn’t alone in this) expecting presentations more exclusive to literature. This expectation wasn’t exactly disappointed, it just proved to employ a sort of biased vocabulary. All of the presentations were literary, but they were also visual, performance, dance, etc. K. Silem Mohammad standing there reading poetry became a sort of dance. Carla Harryman formally presenting scholarship became a kind of visual. The environment of acceptance and family which had been established was essential to pulling this all off, though, since all of these potentially different genred presentations could’ve been viewed as irrelevant by many participants otherwise. After attending a short film screening, or a performance piece or a sound experiment, I would consistently leave with a better understanding of how incorporating some of those aspects of creation could help further build the poetry I’ve been writing. In fact, after attending the conference, I feel more conflicted than ever about using all of these terms to segregate these expressions traditionally thought of as different forms (performance piece, film screening, poetry, etc).

Possibly my favorite presentation of the weekend was the Black Took Collective’s performance and this is mainly because they were so successful at incorporating so many aspects of art making into their hour or so of time. Comprised of three members (Duriel E. Harris, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Ronaldo V. Wilson), the trio stood, sat, moved, read, sang and lifted their voices in about every other way to incorporate as much into their performance experience as possible. During sections, there was video being projected on more than one screen, as well as projections of script they were sometimes typing during the performance on laptops, part improvisation, part extraction and mash up of other texts. Voice modulation, certain wardrobe transformations, moments of audience call and response—the Black Took Collective struck me as very in tune with the subtle levels of representation or expression that could be tweaked to change the experience and its significance. They were possibly the most inspirational of the presentations, for me, in regard to establishing meaning through different, often unrelated avenues.

This captures the essence of Post Moot in many ways. Not an emphasis on hybridized or collaborative forms, but that all expression entails aspects of hybridity and collaboration, whether intentional or not. The more aware the artist becomes of those aspects, then hopefully the more they will be able to manipulate them in order to create a fuller expression.

This is also why I feel Post Moot so much deserves attention. Unlike other conferences I’ve been to, Post Moot was not as much about rehashing and scrutinizing the modes of expression I’m already familiar with, but challenging participants to travel beyond the typical, self-applied bounds of our expressions.

Whether there will ever be a third Post Moot is sketchy, at this point. And clearly conferences of this nature aren’t banging down our doors, promoted in the mainstream or ever known by most. Perhaps, however, the influence Post Moot—and get togethers like it— have on their participants will be the catalyst for more celebrations of this nature to emerge. And if that’s the case, I highly suggest to any arts practitioners (or not) interested in a crash course in expanding their modes of expression to give such a conference’s attendance high priority, despite time, travel, financial or any other sacrifices it entails. Until then, Post Moot will loom lone and legendary, at least in the mind of this one participant privileged enough to have been there.

Creativity in The Other Genre: Jen Knox on Dinty W. Moore’s Between Panic and Desire


Between Panic and Desire, Dinty W. Moore, Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 2010

Dinty W. Moore brings a lot of well-deserved attention to the genre of creative nonfiction. He is the founding editor of Brevity, one of the first literary journals to highlight the art of creative nonfiction in short form, and he serves on the editorial board of Creative Nonfiction. Further, he teaches his craft at Ohio University, and has published two memoirs, The Accidental Buddhist and the subject of this review, Between Panic and Desire.

Knowing most of this background going in (I visited Moore’s website for a few of the aforementioned details), I had high hopes and an admitted bias toward the text. I began to read thinking, “Alright, Dinty, show me how it’s done.”

Between Panic and Desire is a memoir in parts. The book begins by way of explanation, introducing a philosophy that interweaves throughout Moore’s light-hearted, digressive prose. In the prologue, Moore recounts his curiosity about two Pennsylvania towns, one named Panic; the other, Desire. He visits each town out of sheer curiosity, in an attempt to find the origin of their names. Although the information Moore finds is minimal, this narrative introduction sets a cozy stage. As Moore sits in his car, half way between Panic and Desire, he comes to a realization: “I have been here all my life.”

This insight is rather transparent, and although it is a depiction of an actual event, the sappiness of it almost caused me to stop reading. But the art of nonfiction is not about metaphor or interpretation. It’s about narration, dynamic insight, humor, curiosity and a certain sense of inclusion the reader seeks—the sense that the author is confiding in his reader. So, I continued reading. When I reached the introduction, which included a mnemonic disclaimer and the author’s reasoning for writing the book (both seem a requisite for the genre), I got a taste of what was to come: humorous insight, self deprecating asides, an odd assortment of pop trivia and a drawing. Moore makes connections between societal norms and social blunders (including playful commentary on an exchange between Fresh Air’s Terry Gross and Gene Simmons), personal reflections and emotionally-driven interpretations, and I came to realize Moore’s narration is not sappy at all it’s just devoid of pretension.

If I finish a memoir (admittedly, I often don’t—I’m persnickety when it comes to the genre), it is inevitable that I have pieced together some portrait of the author by the time I close the book. But it didn’t take too many pages of Moore’s experimental prose before I felt this portrait emerging. I’ve never personally met Dinty W. Moore, but as I read his memoir I began to imagine a man who’d make a pleasant dinner companion. I imagine he laughs often and loudly, and that his capacity for conversation is dizzying as he seems capable of transitioning from mundane chit chat about the weather forecast to in-depth commentary about the socioeconomic impact of his choice to order the asparagus over corn at a Midwestern diner. Perhaps I’m wrong. But the very fact that I have such a detailed (albeit wholly imagined) portrait of the writer after reading his work proves that my expectations were met—Moore knows how to create a strong narrative presence.

I was impressed by Moore’s swift, witty style and his willingness to share candid analysis of, well, everything without spending a single sentence disclaiming his stance or apologizing for the connections he draws. He executes the art of digression by using a myriad of forms: essays, plays, a list and a quiz. The cohesion of theme—the pendulum swinging between panic and desire—allows Moore to tie personal experiences (and reactions) to societal norms (and abnormalities) in a frank and humorous manner.

Although I still wish that I wasn’t force-fed that initial thematic portrait of being stuck between two extremes (towns), Moore’s authorial voice quickly redeems itself. After all, the beauty of this genre is not found in the conclusions the author draws; it’s found in the ideas and experiences that allow the reader to understand how he came to them. And Moore takes his initial image: him, relaxing in a car that is parked between panic and desire, and drives it home in an extremely entertaining and dynamic way.

Jen Knox is the author of Musical Chairs, a memoir. She earned her MFA from Bennington’s Writing Seminars and currently works as a fiction editor at Our Stories Literary Journal and a Creative Writing Professor at San Antonio College. Jen’s short essays and fiction can be read in Flashquake, Foundling Review, Metazen, Slow Trains, SLAB, and Superstition Review. Jen grew up in Ohio and lives in Texas, where she is working on a novel entitled Absurd Hunger.

Equanimity: Dan Noyes on Robert Masterson’s Artificial Rats and Electric Cats


Artificial Rats and Electric Cats: Communications from Transitional China, 1985-1986, Robert Masterson, Camber Press, 2009

Robert Masterson lived in a unique time and place-Xian, China in 1985-1986. He was there to teach English. That year Xian had a kind of Wild West flavor to it. Maoism, with its commissars, cadres, informants, military might and policemen was crumbling and a kind of vacuum opened up that hustlers and black market profiteers filled. Add to this a population of Han Chinese, Chinese Muslims, ordinary city dwellers, foreigners, Chinese army patrols, condemned prisoners and earnest Chinese college students and you get the rich mix that Masterson evokes in this book. Foreign tourists in China in this era were rare.

He writes of making friends in this passage:

We began to make friends among the other foreigners at other schools and also among the Chinese themselves, those bold enough, foolish enough, or desperate enough to risk association with Westerners. We spent our evenings inside the city walls within the fetal Xian nightlife at clubs called Art Salon or Peace Cafe or Friendship Gardens.

In the book the participants find themselves in settings where their dialogue reveals uncertainty, miscommunication, and the gaps between cultures as in this passage:

The relative high ground of a village somewhere to the northwest of Xian seemed a good place to rest. We leaned our bicycles, wheels heavy and caked with plastic mire, against a loess-block wall and stretched out in the warm sun, rubber boots heavy and caked, a crazy pattern of corn webbed above us.
Soon, as we knew they would, they came. First, an old man in a ragged blue Mao suit, he was wearing agate sunglasses and smoking a thimble-bowled pipe. He stood before us, puffed twice on the pipe, and rocked on his heels.

“Ni hau, laodz [Hi, old guy],” somebody said and his lucky, bushy eyebrows rose behind his stone lenses in surprise to hear us speak human-being speech.

He raised his right hand in a gesture much like a royal or beauty-queen wave.

“Hhh,” he glottalled at us. “Hhh.”

The conversation with the old man continues and the old man says the same ‘Hhh’ to every question. The effect is humorous, touching and illustrative of the culture gap between the visiting teachers and the locals. And the passage, like everything in the book, summons the place, the people, the landscape, and the feel of that place in that transitional time. Indeed the soul of the place is captured.

Masterson’s eye for detail, deftness with language and sense of capturing the instant in all of its complexities is revealed here in A Long, Slow Ride Through Town on the Way to the River to Get Her Brains Blown Out:
For a moment much longer than a mere instant, I felt the bonds of eye contact with one of the convicted. She looked young, certainly no older than mid-twenties. A roly-poly criminal, a moon-faced dumpling-girl in a pink quilted jacket with unraveling pigtails. Her acne was a red mask down her forehead and beneath her eye… The truck carrying the convicted slowed to lurch through deep potholes at the intersection. The placard around her neck announced her crimes: excessive fascination with foreign videos, prostitution…
Our eyes clicked together, she with her wrists bound and riding in the back of one the People’s Liberation Army trucks under machine gun-armed escort to her execution and I enjoying a lukewarm Xian Beer with my one-eighth kilo bowl of noodles at the roadside shack the foreigners called Jiaozi Hut. She seemed to hold herself only vaguely erect, but I saw her still register some surprise when she saw me. It was as if somewhere still inside her, some country-girl, pre-western video, pre-prostitution part of herself was still able to exclaim, “Oh, look! A foreigner! A yangguizi!”
Masterson is a great writer who describes as a journalist and writes with the rich nuances of a poet. In an interview with Red River Writers Masterson stated ‘I want to give a voice to the voiceless.’ He was speaking of his work as a journalist but he does that in this book as well. The ordinary person–the bureaucrat trying to get his wife pregnant, the condemned prostitute, the café owner and others–are masterfully and richly presented and ,often, with a delicate humor.

The most dramatic event in the book-the vicious and unprovoked beating of the author by a xenophobic mob closes the book. Masterson does not write it either—it is the AP story reproduced here as reported in 1986. The beating has drama, violence, and the miracle of survival. Yet Masterson does not elaborate on this terrible event—he lets the AP story explain it. The structure of the book that alternates prose and poetic passages with footnotes is compelling indeed and creates a kind of cinematic flavor for the book.

Robert Masterson has been writing for more than twenty years. He has had his work published in an array of publications and knows a great deal about technique. Yet he writes with a kind of innocence and clarity and the book has a freshness to it. Simultaneously he writes about the subject matter, the mind of the narrator, the craft of the story, and the myriad themes of life and survival in transitional China. He gets out of the way of all of this too. Don’t ask me how he does that.

The book’s effect is one of equanimity. He sees all, tells all and celebrates all with a journalist’s eye and a poet’s heart. His writing in the genres of journalism, horror, poetry, essay and humor all combine into a rich experience. This is a hip Asian stew with lots of flavor, surprises and soul that leaves the reader grateful and enriched. I picked up the book and could not put it down. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

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Dan Noyes currently lives in New Mexico after being chased out of Nevada. He is an artist and you can see his work at http://newgroundsprintshop.com/members/active/noyes/noyes.htm. His writing has also appeared in ‘Printmakers Remember 9/11’ and ‘Vietnam Mandala’.

Sassing Back, Rewriting the Politics of Incest: Antoinette Nora Claypoole on Sharon Doubiago’s My Father’s Love


My Father’s Love, Sharon Doubiago, Wild Ocean Press, 2009

“The Lone Ranger is still coming across the purple sage. America in her mask. The mask they wore to nurse you. The you and your sister wore posing for the camera. Behind the mask is a girl with breasts…we sleep in the Petrified Forest…”

We arrive in Long Beach, Ca. inside another time almost feeling the sea winds inside the old Ford as the handsome man, his “gorgeous wife” move into the American way. We trek through the landscape of a family caught between nuclear and extended, between a toxic wasteland and vast compassion. America of the 1940’s and 50’s is where Sharon Doubiago takes us, Southern California the backdrop, small living rooms and side streets with “hobos” the set. But it’s not Hollywood; it’s not even surfer girls. Yet the characters in this true place carry a painful, universal story of exploitation, incest, and rape.

Poignantly, provocatively written by poet Sharon Doubiago—Oregon Literary Arts Award winner/Univ. of Pittsburgh Press prodigy—My Father’s Love is neither a reflection of the once trendy, incest victim/malice nor an American sojourn into a glamorized, western, “Golden State” of forgiveness.  Rather Doubiago’s first volume of this book (Vol. 2 forthcoming) is an intersection of where we’ve been and where we long to be. It is an expression of how a young girl, an American woman, can and does love and simultaneously defy father/men, sisters/mother despite the cultural designs of being christened a daddy’s “girl”. Despite being expected to birthday a man who can rape and claim the name of love. Created with tender, poignant vulnerabilities, Doubiago inspires a revival of innocence stolen with literary and actual photos of her family, herself, her longing, included in the book.

Rather than a rally of hate and loathing often found in varied genres of incest literature, this poetic prose expose—not quite memoir (happily), not ever fiction—reveals, as the subtitle promises, a “Portrait of a Poet as Young Girl”.  Doubiago, both muse and historian, depicts with a reverent, oblique love the impact and immaculate deception of the American Dream. She reveals the cowardice of a “loving” father, the betrayal of sister/mother bonds—all with candor and a tender paradox of longing. A longing for connection which ever informs the detailed, graphic images of a corruption her family—so many of our families—bred/breed.

Despite evidence of incest tucked between “the red bricks outside our front door”. Despite beauty betrayed at a young age via “garage dates” with daddy Doubiago brings us My Fathers’ Love while delicately clutching nasturtiums gathered from the cliffs upon which she was born. She bears roses in her heart with thorns, yet blooms intact. Petals strewn for us to discover. A pathway to truth in our own lives. She is the finest guide we can imagine to navigate, to survive the feverish climb. Had Sylvia Plath read My Father’s Love she might still be with us, doctored by Doubiago’s poetic candid courage. Seizing, drinking stories which free twisted lies from death due to silencing, Father’s Love is the sculpting of a young woman’s psyche and a freedom from its corruption. By place and people who have the American Dream etched into their daily rivets, Rosie of WW II not far from their vocabulary.

The 1940’s beaches, the mid 20th century places, the Ramona, California of the book resound with memories Doubiago has etched and woven with the threads of western, Americana innocence still yearning to return. She tells of place–literal and figurative– where being “woman”, being girl child is the mother lode of fathers and all others who seize the doctrine of consuming/owning all that stands in the way of beauty. Repeatedly, just as in the minds of those who have survived it, just as the act of incest lives in flashbacks of “real life” each day, Doubiago tells of a place where innocence is a commodity. In Doubiago’s words, her stories, her chronicles of childhood as a an oldest daughter of a simple “daddy mommy” family living the 1940’s and 50’s of S. California she talks incest in seductive, intriguing yet harsh, tales of ancestry.

Still hers is not the angry rant nor the victim chime of loss deconstructed by other “incest” chronicles and writers. Rather Doubiago writes for us a valentine etched into nearly every page of this epic deliverance into a landscape of pain. A song in her genius, poetic storytelling, Doubiago casts a spell over us as she weaves this delicate and honest tale of conquest, of sex and being sexed as a young girl. In the name of love Doubiago writes in her most resounding voice to date—surpassing her classic A Book of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes—a new tale which is elixir for those of us straining to understand how we have come to love all who have taken our innocence as commodity, have tasted our beauty and “smacked snot” on our hearts,

“I don’t want to run away. I want to stay in my family forever, at least until the confusions are cleared up and they know I’m not jealous and they know how much I love them.”

Valentines are more than metaphor in this book. A confused young adolescent Doubiago painfully describes her first valentine from a crush, in sixth grade. Having already been raped by “daddy”—who was born on Feb. 14th—the images of confusion about love are set.

Doubiago shares with those of us women young enough to still be here and old enough to write the 60’s, courage to prevail. She knows how many times we have been called liars by those sisters and brothers, mothers and aunties, afraid to speak truth who named us “exaggerators” so they can alleviate their fear of facing truth. Doubiago depicts this betrayal phenomena with as much importance as the act of rape itself. That is, Doubiago is not only a “survivor” of incest but more–she gives us the crack in the wall.

The broken slivers of beer bottled glass betraying bare feet in an urban meadow. She takes us to the window of blindfolds. And helps us take hold of speaking truth despite the aloneness, the negation of those who have witnessed a crime against soul. Doubiago makes a choice to tell us we aren’t alone. We who have as writers and lovers been tried and convicted by beloveds everywhere for “having wild imaginations.” During the sentencing, being told “No honey, one of that ever happened, you weren’t raped.”

That is, in My Father’s Love we not only sojourn a taboo with unique tender intensity, but we are driven to lace up our boots and walk the cliffs, the blizzards of self-indulgent lies our sisters and mothers deny. While they freeze, Doubiago urges them to take shelter. There is no state maintaining these roads during the storms Doubiago documents,

“Nights. Everyone’s dead but me and Mama. Then the arrowhead penetrates right in the middle of her forehead splitting her in two. Then the flames, then the whole tribe is storming in on me”

There isn’t a page one turns in this epic mural of the heart that forgets the witnesses. In this way My Father’s Love is as much about incest and how we translate it’s persistence as it is about defining love and betrayal in the sassy defiant sway of sisters and mothers denying a father’s confession of rape right in front of their irreverent senses. Doubiago in fact stretches far beyond the Anais Nin syndrome of keeping secrets until all the players are “gone”, taming—perhaps for the first time– “incest literature” to dance in two-step, in wild west literary format, with the sisters and mothers forcing them/us to claim a part in the corruption of beauty incest demands. This place of denial is portrayed as horrific as the act itself.

In Bridget, Doubiago’s sister (Bridget’s “real” name not used in this book), we have not a literary protagonist, rather a metaphor of spite.  There are times Doubiago forces us to see in a sister, a loathing that surpasses or at least equals the rape itself–as a person lying in the same room with you while you are taken from your love in the name of love, as that person denies her sister a safe harbor and/or denies witnessing the rape. That is, with Doubiago. Younger sisters are not immune to the desire to slay beauty. There is more we know we as women can do and be and there is less and less Doubiago and her sister “Bridget” will escape. Doubiago is ever vigilant. Asking, still, for their eyes to open and cry with the girl who never cries in her sleep. To weep with the girl who doesn’t sleep.

In the end, we are transfixed from the perplexing politics, the remiss of old rhetoric which consumes our dreams of a country where at long last a man of color might redeem the toxic currents of power. That is, there is a timelessness in “My Father’s Love” which reminds us that our delusions may be invested in tender men (and women) who appear to be the keepers of our dream and yet are the ones who will most certainly seek their own needs first, exploiting our trust in their desire to be trusted.

Make no mistake. In My Father’s Love. The vileness of incest is not dismissed. Nor is it excused, given penance. At the matrix of her work Doubiago seeds the multi-dimensional, complex encounters with father. Holy father is challenged. A shroud is lifted. From the subtle rape of a sacred heart to the violent rape of her body, the secret rape of her trust is depicted without mercy. From “lift your shirt, let’s check your breasts” to “you see you just aren’t as happy as your sister”. Doubiago takes us into the labyrinth of humiliation and shame upon which secret rapists thrive, the altar upon which they pray. And make no mistake, she loves her daddy. She hears his deathbed confession of rape and writes us a legacy which is not exclusive to her family, rather rampant in this American society.

There is no vaccination against such a disease, Doubiago’s father is living testament to this fact. Still. This is not a hate my father confessional book, not a how-to hymnal. It is a collection of beatitudes to set us free. To know of these things. Doubiago stands in a threshold and invites us into her world. This was her Daddy. She loved him. Knowing full well it could also be our world as well. She invites us in to stand strong in our truth, to know we are not alone, and feel we can dispel the lies which others would have us live by and begin to authenticate our self (a self so desperately craved, so nearly lost.)

To stay it straight, My Father’s Love helps us stop lying to ourselves by telling the truth. It makes being a victim of incest unfashionable. Proudly, without apology, Doubiago writes love. She transfixes the vile nature of the event into a sojourn of survival via story. Writing the scenes, threading the tapestry the young girl (or boy) who is raped is now defined by the compassion s/he finds in un-silencing brutality. Rather than anger and victimization defining life, a connection with others defines survival. We are with her, in her story, and at some odd or brutal intersect, her story, our story merges. And we become one surviving together the condoned brutality of patriarchy while defying the common bond of lies, becoming connected in corrupted love,

‘Isn’t it pretty Sharon LuLu?’, he sighs in Tyler, Texas. His hard snaky thing wagging back and forth under the steering wheel. Hives break out across my bare midriff…I worry about his wiry hairs when he has to zip up fast, Mama coming back so happy with roses”

Reading Doubiago one feels organically, somatically a subsequent ostracizing of those who rape and commit incest will emerge. At best, they will and can be busted. Not by the law, but by their People which once used to be one and the same thing. At least, they will be more easily recognized, disguised as Father Love, masquerading as family.

In the end Sharon Lura Edens Doubiago gives us a safe home from which we can deconstruct and reinvent our loss of innocence, a place from which we can release our longing. Doubiago is a sorceress divining a sense of replenish. In the act of writing as revolution she has given Love a new task. One she herself accomplishes with painful grace: become that which you desire. Not that which has desired you. Insisting we redefine a father’s love Doubiago infuses our crucial task with a tender, painful, genius. A plethora of craft and heart, this book, this project, chronicles our despair and in the making defines our possibilities. That is, Sharon Doubiago in My Father’s Love becomes a model of freedom, that others may plan our escape.

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antoinette claypoole is a published author, poet from Ashland, Oregon. Her first book Who Would Unbraid her Hair: the legend of annie mae is an underground classic about the American Indian Movement and was recently acquired by the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. in their Library collection. A recipient of a Literary Non-Fiction fellowship Award from Oregon Literary Arts, she is currently completing a trilogy of poetic exposes and previously unpublished work by/about the life and lost works of Louise Bryant (1885-1936), for which antoinette received the Oregon Award. Recently a collected work of Taos, New Mexico artists and writers—la Puerta, Taos the art of fetching Sky— was published by her small literary press, Wild Embers.