S71 Contributor Interviews: Caroline Wilkinson

Wilkinson PhotoWhat is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

I write in many genres, working to find the right one for the given material, which can take several tries. “Lyme Disease” probably found its shape as a poem because the experience it recounts comes out of Romantic poetry. In the first stanza, the speaker finds herself as a piece of food in a nineteenth-century ode.

Also, around the time I began writing this piece, I had been thinking of my correspondence with a poet, Amy King. The two of us were writing to each other about our experiences with illness, and after I recounted a prior bout of Lyme, she asked me if I was OK. (My symptoms had been rather dramatic.) I told her I was better. In fact, maybe my health was stronger as a result since I have taken extremely good care of myself in the wake of my illness. I, however, added that I would never recover in one way. “You will never fully convince me that what I saw during my fevers was not real.” The poem shows why.

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Announcing the 2017 Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the Sonora Review 2017 Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction contests!

Poetry, chosen by Anselm Berrigan: “I Want to Die in Designer” by Benjamin Krusling

Prose, chosen by Brian Evenson: “Luz, Milagro” by Kate Berson

Nonfiction, chosen by Irina Dumitrescu: “The Pace of Death: On Illness and Borders in the Sonora” by Easton Smith

The winners will each receive $1,000 and publication in the next issue of Sonora Review. 

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Review: Beth Alvarado’s Anthropologies

The beginning of Anthropologies feels like something you’ve remembered before—a frail mother recounts stories for a middle-aged daughter. But then, the daughter is 18, and she wears bell bottoms and a black tee shirt and argues with the mother about a boyfriend. The argument ends and it is Colorado in 1968, and the windows fog as a young girl dries dishes with a young mother, and suddenly you aren’t remembering—you are living in a world so specific and complete you can’t have passed through it before.

Beth Alvarado’s Anthropologies is a pile of perfectly ordered snapshots, so quickly and quietly stacked that soon the remembering becomes a world unto itself.   Alvarado is the daughter of Margaret, the niece of Dorothy, the younger sibling to a half-brother and half-sister born of a father who died in Saipan and a mother too early a widow. Margaret meets her second husband en route to a bridge game in Puget Sound, and Alvarado’s childhood ends when the family moves from Grand Junction to Tucson. “My father was a solitary man,” Alvarado says of her father. “How I hated him,” Aunt Dorothy says of her father, Alvarado’s grandfather.

So is the fabric of a family created, through memories stacked one on top of each other. Through the first section of Anthropologies, Notes on Silence, Alvarado remembers what she learned of her family as a child—the origins of the couple that would become her grandparents, become her parents, and the memories are associative, leaping from quiet deathbed memories to the bubbled promised of courtship.

While vivid, the moments in Notes on Silence, aptly titled, are quiet and dependant on Alvarado’s telling of them. It isn’t until the second section, Notes on Travel, that these moments begin to exist of their own agency—as experiences we inhabit ourselves rather than memories possessed by a narrator.  Notes on Travel begins as Alvarado meets Fernando, the man who will become her husband, but for now he’s just the waiter at an awkward formal dinner when she’s an awkward teenager. She’s 18, then, and travels to west Tucson, Hispanic Tucson, to live with Fernando and his family, and she could well have traveled to a different country.

She watches her mother-in-law pat tortillas on a stove. She takes an “old round green bus down South Sixth Avenue,” passing “the carniceria and the tortilleria and the storefronts painted bright yellow or orange or pink with blue letters and black wrought-iron bars over the windows, and the music of Spanish… all around.”  She absorbs the stories of this new landscape, with its thick layers of memory and history, and these stories alter her, change her own memories and her relationship to her own history. “I wanted to escape my parents’ life, to enter another country, but I hadn’t expected to find there barefoot children hopping from spot of shade to spot of shade as they followed their mother to the grocery,” she writes.

This world, the world between cultures, is the most firmly rooted in place—Tucson, in the 1970s and today—and it becomes, for me, the most vivid. Alvarado explores the intersection of Anglo and Hispanic cultures within this grounding, in relationships with new relatives, or thirty years into a marriage with Fernando, or quick experiences of a mixed-race son and daughter.

Anthropologies is sparse yet complete, a narrative forged out of fragments. The book explores memory and race and relationships, but after awhile, anthropologies is not just about this exploration—it is a memoir, after all, a story of a life, and Alvarado has funny friends and endearing moments. (“The fall picnic. We are standing in front of the salads. Cre-a-tive Wri-ting? the Japanese doctoral student in engineering asks me, spooning rice onto his paper plate, what is this? Cre-a-tive Wri-ting?”)

“Maybe my grandmother simply entered a room in another woman’s past and it felt like home,” writes Alvarado—and maybe that’s what she’s doing here, building rooms, and they start to feel like home.

For more on Beth and the book, check out yesterday’s interview with Beth Alvarado and please order the book, out now on University of Iowa Press.

Megan Kimble is noticeably more cheerful since she stopped commuting on the freeways of Los Angeles and started biking around Tucson. She runs, hikes, and loves breakfast and chocolate chip cookies.

Interview with Jennifer Denrow

Jennifer Denrow is the author of two chapbooks: A Knee for a Life (Horse Less Press, 2010) and From California, On (Brave Men Press, 2010). She currently lives in Colorado where she recently finished a PhD program at Denver University.

Whitney DeVos: Being a CA native, [your thoughts on your most recent collection California are] what I’m most interested in hearing about—the disembodied place and the poetic voice of the 21st century—and how California (or California) speaks to both.

 Jennifer Denrow: I had to write something before about California and I said this: California is about the role of California in the contemporary imagination, as an imaginative trope within a dislocated psyche. The escape here has to do with the inability to make things mean—it feels like if I try hard enough there can be a resolution via the imagination. But sometimes when we make things they overcome us. It’s difficult to know the appropriate boundary for imagination—at what point it moves from an attempt to decipher the world into a construction of the reality of the world. I can’t ever tell the difference but I continue to try.

When you say “disembodied place”, I think that’s right—dislocation feels prevalent, necessary (for me, anyway). I think it’s important to stay inside uncertainty, to think about place and imagination as inseparable—I feel like I’m always trying to determine what place is, how it works. Fanny Howe says in “Bewilderment”: “Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability.” Maybe when you say the “voice of the 21st century” this is the voice . . . .

WD: As regards bewilderment and imagination—how do you see these relating to our position in history, our collective consciousness, etc.? Also, poetry? Any advice for a young contemporary writer?

 JD: I think imagination and bewilderment are tops—wonder, for me, is the most important emotion—to be able to maintain wonder and be in the world (in order to be in the world, maybe). I can never know what anything means. It feels like I want to—like the correspondence I try to create with everything that’s outside of me is purposed to result in meaning, but I don’t think that’s it—I think it’s more like trying to understand how everything can mean so much and wandering around inside the suggestion that it does. It feels like an invitation I have to remain attentive to.

In terms of how this relates to our position in history, or in poetry, I’m not sure. There is something in the way things are made—or in the way they are made to be to one another: I was standing in a hole the other day, a hole in the beach, the sand had been moved, etc, and this couple walking by (it was dark) approaches, very suspiciously, and the woman says what’s going on here. And the man says, hey, you’re standing in a hole, why are you standing in that hole, and I said because it’s something i do—and then he said, so you know you’re in a hole and I said yes, I love holes. This was all very mysterious for the couple but for me it felt regular. I don’t know why thinking about wonder and our place within history and poetry made me think of this story but it did.

It feels necessary to always make things mean—maybe that’s what that story was about. they had probably narrativized my hole-standing to equate to some great act of faith, or maybe they thought I was stuck, or maybe they thought I had fallen into the hole and didn’t know and they were going to help me by telling me I was there. I don’t know. Maybe they were just drunk.

When it comes to advice, I’m not sure of that either. I know what’s important for me—that I continue to look at things, past the point of seeing them, and then past that, into not seeing them, and then staying out there, as far as I can inside of them, for as long as possible and seeing what that feels like and what can happen inside of that. Maybe other people have to do different things. Maybe obsession. I think that’s good advice.

 WD: It feels necessary to always make things mean—I can definitely relate to this… sometimes it is so hard! But necessary, of course, in the face of everything that asks us to find things meaningless or—everyone who tells “us” (poets/artists/English majors) that we are “just overthinking everything”. as humans, we are people of stories and meaning (ceremony seems relevant—and our loss of meaning within, lack of rights of passage, connection with nature, self reliance, commercialization of holidays (“holy days”)…

 JD: Meaning, it seems, comes from reference. And that’s why it’s so hard. Because everything feels like hypertext. One thing means not only itself, but it also means what happens when you click on it and when you click on it, you have all of the information of the new thing which is also the old thing and that of course means something else as well. There’s the thing about Stein making a rose mean a rose again, but then what happened—between then and now? Everything means so much. That’s why indefinite and demonstrative pronouns are so important. They are words dependent on external reference, some relation is indicated—to say this is here means nothing unless you can see or have some other reference to this and here. But now, these words feel complete without information outside of themselves because nothing is one thing anymore.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s not right. Maybe nothing has ever been just one thing . . .

WD: What is at stake for us today, as “Californians,” Americans, humans, citizens of planet earth, attempting to make meaning etc.?

 JD: What’s at stake: is it loss of wonder?

 WD: I wonder, how we can court/cultivate wonder in a world in which we may Google everything, or in which places we’ve never been look exactly how they looked on “Planet Earth” or in some movie, etc., What can things mean in a world in which the survival of wonder is at stake? How do we create worlds in which meaning is integral? Is the point of art to create a mirror/a two way mirror/a different mode of being?

 JD: I know. Wonder is so hard to keep. I was reading this article about David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who thinks about time. He says when we’re young, the world is unfamiliar so time takes forever to pass because we’re learning about the world, but as we age, time speeds up because we’re familiar with what’s here. That’s why it’s so hard—familiarity: it can mess everything up. His research was centered on near-death experiences or moments of fear when everything slows down. The best thing he says is that we’re in a time lapse—that our brains need time to figure things out and then what is figured out is revealed to us. That the brain is constantly making decisions about the information that’s important/necessary for us to have is something I like to think about. What else is really happening? What gets censored? How can anyone tell if what we get is the right stuff—it’s necessary for survival, I’m sure, but is it the right stuff?

There’s a book. It’s called The Truth About Stories and in it is written that “the truth about stories is that’s all we are.” That feels right to me.

 WD: But if dislocation is prevalent, how does this speak to place? Where might we locate ourselves? Within language itself? Within the wor(l)ds of others?

 JD: My estimation of place is very porous. I think everything is a place. I think people are places and I think my arm is. it seems like we locate ourselves in relation to the material around us or in relation to an emotional state or a psychological one. I’m here is one of my favorite declarations because it feels so true. And I don’t know what it means. I’m always wanting to say to people, maybe I do say it, we’re here. I like that there is something we can agree on–that we can know, momentarily, one thing that unifies our experience. I don’t know how to determine place, but I feel like I’m always in it. In something. Here. I always feel like I’m here and that seems important.

 WD: I’m here. I have a good friend, and one of his favorite things to do is overhear people on their cell phones telling the people on the other line where they are. I like when people explain their jokes.

JD: That’s so funny—listening to where other people are. Isn’t it weird that everyone is somewhere. I love it when people explain jokes—but that’s mostly because I’m so slow at jokes. Sometimes it takes me so long to understand it and then I have a hard time figuring out how it’s funny. This is my favorite joke: what did the zero say to the eight?

Nice belt!

You should just make that joke the interview.


Whitney DeVos currently lives & writes in Tucson, Arizona.

Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Review by Lisa Levine

“A Visit From the Goon Squad” isn’t a must-read for MFA craft classes, but it should be.  The recognition Jennifer Egan’s fifth book is receiving this year ought to remove any doubt that she is a writer to learn from.  Her layered Powerpoint section and the sharp, twisty characters it illuminates spoke to me as much as they did the publishing world.  In her Pulitzer-prize winning book, Egan drifts through time, balancing traditional narrative moments with a graceful, of-the-moment series of slides.  Throughout, she focuses in on the imperfect, unpolished moments of her loosely connected characters’ lives.

More than any acclaimed aspect of the novel, I found the chapter titled “Ask Me If I Care” did what great stories are supposed to do – evoke the kind of knowing nostalgia people would feel if they recognized the best times in life when they were happening.  Egan’s tone is cunning; there’s something eternal about her teenagers, one of whom – Bennie – will become the producer whose story threads throughout the book.  The chapter, told in the voice of Reah, the group’s self-proclaimed dog, drains pleasure from the darkest plot twists – when Rhea stands in the audience at a club listening to Bennie’s band play, she’s flattened into scenery: “I turn to Jocelyn, but she’s gone…I see Lou’s fingers spread out over her black hair.  She’s kneeling in front of him, giving him head, like the music is a disguise and no one can see them.”  The characters’ lives don’t seem to be made of nostalgic material, but the act of telling tightens the screws on friendships that define and endure until the novel’s end.  Music happens for that very reason – there’s a time and a place worth remembering, worth defining, so without cliché, the soundtrack of these teenage dreams holds true throughout the lives that follow.

Location overwhelms these characters’ dreams; in “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” enclosed spaces – rooms, cars, purses – seem to speak for their owners more fluently than can speech or action.  Adult Bennie takes his son to hear a band he’s producing, and the closed-in space of their practice room creates heat even when the music is shit: “Bennie felt Chris snap to attention beside him when Olivia entered the room, as if a charmed snake had risen from its basket inside him.”  The “Safari” chapter, where “the reader is forced to recognize that Egan’s characters have no choices left,” confirms Cathleen Schine the New York Review of Books, balances tension and freedom in an enclosed jeep from which the safari-goers keep trying to escape.  And, in the frame of Sasha, a lonely woman who steals for pleasure and then becomes a married found-object artist and mother of the Powerpoint slide creator, material objects become the dream.  Her tiny thefts – wallets, bath salts and other minutiae – cut through Sasha’s story; kleptomania intensifies her awareness and in one instance tears down the artifice of her family without causing irreparable damage.  However hollow her actions, the thefts solidify and come to define her.  By the novel’s downslope, Sasha’s found object sculptures have become a place of relative peace.

Winning out over Jonathan Franzen’s shattered love story for a Pulitzer says a lot, but writing a book that feels intimate and personal, and earning this year’s prize, says everything. “A Visit From the Goon Squad” isn’t that tiny book or band I love that no one else has heard about, but each time I flip open the pages of my paperback copy, I can almost believe that all the acclaim belongs to another writer, and I’m reading a novel I alone understand and cherish. Jennifer Egan’s light touch on darkness, ability to create depth out of trends and smart, fucked-up characters draw me into a one-on-one conversation with the author every time, regardless of how many other readers are having the same experience.

(Photo of Jennifer Egan by Pieter Van Hattem/Vistalux)

Lisa Levine writes, and lives, in Tucson, with her dog Saige.  She is fascinated with coconut water, men who read, and figuring out how changes in human nature actually happen. This summer, she is teaching kids to love books.  Lisa is the Sonora Review fiction editor.