May 2021

Series Curator: Jonathan Cardew

May Selector: Andrew Bertaina

What’s rare, what’s bright, what’s new?

This is what we ask a new writer every month in search of the best hybrid, poetry, and flash writing from the previous month. In this edition, we catch up with writer, Andrew Bertaina, author of the forthcoming collection, One Person Away From You (Moon City Press, 2021).

Andrew gives us a little selection of his favorite writing from May 2021:

“The Quest for Nirvana” by Claire Mardsen in Emerge Literary Journal

The link between walking and writing is well-documented, from the flaneurs of France to Henry David Thoreau, what happens when we take a walk is explored in Marden’s essay. There is a propulsive sense whenever I read about walks, a sense of moving with the writer, and Mardsen instantly grabbed me with her precise prose: “I greet the echoes of the men, women, and children who walked these same paths to the old mills and churches with a sympathetic smile. They reverberate around me as we walk the hilltops and moors together, connected by stone and sky.” And the real beauty in Marden’s quiet meditation is how she’s able to capture the way our minds, particularly this last pandemic year, have been so attuned to the future, to risk, and the essay ends with a gentle letting down, a rest for the writer and the reader. 

“Honeycomb and Theories of Heaven” by Twila Newey in Green Mountains Review

Newey’s poems in the latest Green Mountains Review arrive like an incredible breeze on a warm day. The poems transported me to the ethereal realm that my favorite poems do, where I’m inhabiting a space somewhere between the earth and the heavens, imaginary or no. Honeycomb uses the vast complex structures of a comb to investigate the complex ways we navigate relationships, and it ends with an invitation to the reader. The second poem, theories of heaven, explores the birth of the cosmos and heavenly realms through the migrating patterns of birds, and the shape of the poem mirrored that V. It was gorgeous and both poems are life-affirming. “And what if/the kingdom of heaven/is a teacupful/of plants flown/on a duck’s feet/from one fresh/water haunt to another.” 

“My Father Read a Poem to Me” By Yi Shun Lai in Brevity

In My Father Reads a Poem to Me at Brevity, Yi Shun Lai deftly evokes her strained relationship with her father by describing all that can be heard or imagined in the space between words, in the silences, in the way even emotions can be manufactured to serve a moment. 

“I try to explain that what pop psychologists would call emotional blackmail has never been the way to accomplish anything, but there is too much to explain, and I eventually peter out into silence.”

 The essay navigates that incredibly difficult terrain often shared by adult children and their aging parents when they’ve ceased to be heroes and have become all too human. I adore it. 

“Bulletproof” by Bethany Marcel in The Normal School 

https://www.thenormalschool.com/blog/2021/05/12/bethany-marcel

This story manages the flat sort of effect that I’m fond of in stories right now. The main character, Monica, imagines that her soul has left her body, which leads her to start behaving oddly. The dissociation allows her to talk past strangers without worrying over the consequences, to imagine herself as a tree. “Trees had no awareness that people like Monica wanted them dead, would even kill them for their own needs. Unlike people, trees knew who they were. Monica thought how in her next life she would be a tree.” 

The story navigates the space of her breakdown so well. It manages to be humorous and sad and strange all at the same time. 

“Backspace” by Lucy Zhang in West Branch

We all know that writing is so much about revision, but this is the first piece I’ve seen that incorporates revision into the finished product. In this incredible poem about the collapse of dwarf stars, the family compost heap and whether tall people die faster, the reader gets to watch the poem take shape as though in real time. In writing, we talk so much about revision, but in Zhang’s poem, we get to witness it, which is a rare gift indeed. 

Andrew Bertaina’s short story collection One Person Away From You (2021) won the Moon City Press Fiction Award (2020).  His work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Witness Magazine, Redivider, Orion, and The Best American Poetry. He has an MFA from American University in Washington, DC, and currently serves as an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. His new book is available at https://www.uapress.com/product/one-person-away-from-you/

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