Blade Lineage: An Interview with Laura McCullough

unnamedLaura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series, was published  by University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Her other books  of poems include Jersey Mercy, Black Lawrence Press, Rigger Death & Hoist Another (BLP),  Panic (winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award, Alice James Books), Speech Acts (BLP), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and The Dancing Bear (Open Book Press). She conceived of and curated two anthologies of essays on poetry,  A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, University of Georgia Press and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn, University of Syracuse Press. Her prose and poetry have appeared widely in places such as Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer’s Chronicle, Best American Poetry, and others. She has had fellowships or scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, the Virginia Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, Marble House, and the New Jersey State Arts Council, among others. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA and has taught for Ramapo College and the Stockton University Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway. She is the founding editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations.

 Jon Riccio: Two Bladerunner-infused poems—“Soliloquy with Honey: Time to Die” and “Saved from the Fall by Roy Batty”—usher us in and out of The Wild Night Dress. You juxtapose Batty’s essence: “Intelligent, handsome, struggling with emerging emotion, / he is real, yet temporary, despised,” with the properties that define his existence:

What a strange love story, Batty and Deckard,

and the writer, director, actor, co-creators of Batty,

making me think of sparticles, superpartners

in physics, bosons and fermions, the way

relationship forms a kind of supersymmetry.

 

How is Bladerunner a mirror for your writing process?

 

Laura McCullough: I love that you gave such attention to these two poems and their placement. One of them will appear in an anthology on film and poetry next year, and I’m really excited about that anthology since the new Bladerunner will be out, but also because I love cinematic ekphrasis. Yet your question is leading: does the film mirror my process? A film is a confluence of the creative, interpretive, and a variety of executed craft and skill. The idea must be ignited, the writers—screenplay requires both creativity and a technical skill set—the actors interpret and make manifest, the varieties of crews before, during, and post filming, editors, makeup, lighting, set design, costume, sound, and so on and on: I almost always stay for the credits after a film, which usually amount to hundreds of names, right?

 

In one sense, then, the poet is not like that at all—we work in often very deep solitude (I’ve wondered at times whether the solitude of poetry was an escape, a defense, or a necessary state, maybe all three)—yet the poet might also represent a mind in relation to and refracting many other beings and knowings. When I sit to write, maybe everyone I’ve ever known, everything I’ve read, experienced, and so on, is present and colluding. I love the DH Lawrence quote, “Not I, not I, but the wind that moves through me.”

 

But I am waffling, Jon. Here’s what I really think: increasingly I think less and feel more, and when I “think” of Bladerunner, it is about feelings: Roy and Deckard’s existential aloneness and sorrows, their struggle toward ethics and internal moral agency. They make me weep with tenderness and curiosity and admiration. Those three things are how I come to poetry, as well, as a reader and as a writer.

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“Investigating the Nature of Reality”: An Interview with Brian Evenson

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Photo of Brian Evenson

Recently, Sonora Review‘s 2017-2018 Co-Editor-in-Chief, Patrick Cline, interviewed Brian Evenson, writer of numerous works of fiction and our 2017 Fiction Contest judge.

First off, thank you so much for judging our Spring fiction contest. We love your choice, Kate Berson’s “Luz, Milagro,” and are thrilled to publish it in Sonora Review #72. What do you admire about this story, and what led you to choose it out of the other submissions?

I found it a subtle story, and somewhat elusive–which I mean as a great compliment. It’s the kind of story that gave me just enough to move forward but also maintained a certain amount of mystery. It’s also not necessarily the kind of story I would naturally gravitate toward, and so it had to work a little harder to draw me in. I found it an exceptionally well written story: that, above all, was what convinced me to choose it.

As a semi-frequent contest judge, can you give us a sense of your process in this role, both in this case specifically and generally speaking? What do you look for in a story, and what do you pay attention to? Do you see any tendencies in your choices?

I try to go into each contest with an open mind. It’s more that I’m waiting for the story to convince me that it should be chosen than that I’m looking for something specific–which I guess means I’m looking for something well-written, original and convincing. But, honestly, the story that I chose for the last contest I judged and Berson’s story are radically different. The only thing they have in common is that the people writing them are thinking really actively about language and what it can do.

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“Unbury What Has Been Hidden”: An Interview with Dana Diehl

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Credit: Jellyfish Highway

Recently, Sonora Review’s Web Editor, Eshani Surya, had the pleasure of talking with Dana Diehl, a former Sonora contributor whose short story collection Our Dreams Might Align debuted December 2016 from Jellyfish Highway. Diehl’s collection moves between spaces: locations, dreamscapes, wild worlds. Together, the stories create a collection that explores humanity, intimacy, and the natural world.

So many stories in Our Dreams Might Align deal with humans and animals encountering each other (and I phrase it this way because I believe the animals in your story often have as much agency as the humans do). How do you view the animal/human relationship? Are animals and humans alike or do they only intersect at times? 

I grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania, my neighborhood surrounded by deciduous forest. Animals would come and go through our yard: groundhogs, rabbits, birds, squirrels, frogs, garden snakes, deer, foxes, and occasionally a bear. I spent a lot of my childhood watching these animals. My family taught me through example that encounters with animals are special and that we should be kind to the animals that share our space. If a bird laid eggs in the hanging basket on our front porch, my parents insisted that we use the backdoor for the rest of the season. If a herd of deer paused in our yard to eat from our apple trees, my parents would call me and my brother from whatever we were doing, we’d turn off the lights, and we’d press our noses to the window to watch until the deer moved on. This way of seeing has carried into my stories, and I absolutely consider animals as beings with agency, beings that take up space and have value.

I think animals and humans are alike, but that many of our non-physical similarities are subjective. Humans have historically anthropomorphized animals and turned them into symbols that reveal more about the symbol-maker than the animal itself. While writing this collection, I read a lot of ancient mythology and was struck by how attitudes towards animals varied wildly culture by culture. At one point in history, whales were seen as ferocious, peaceful, monstrous, or harmonious depending on who you asked. Animals become reflections of ourselves. In my stories, I wanted to use my characters’ evolving perceptions of animals to track how they see themselves and their relationships.

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