Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse

Steven Withrow

Steven Withrow is a journalist, poet, storyteller, and teacher from Falmouth, Massachusetts. His poetry books for children are It’s Not My Fault (Bloomsbury, 2016) and A Poem Is a Chameleon (self-published, 2019). His first speculative/weird poetry chapbook, The Sun Ships & Other Poems (self-published, 2019), includes poems appearing in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Spectral Realms, Eye to the Telescope, and Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The title poem was a 2016 Rhysling Award nominee from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

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Culture Consumption: April 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane AndersCharlie Jane Anders is now an author whose books I will buy instantly and without hesitation. Her second novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, is about humanity striving to survive on a tidal locked planet, where the same side of the plant is always facing the sun. The humans who have left the mothership have developed ways to exist in the twilight, close enough to the day to garner some warmth without burning, far enough from the night to keep from freezing. In the city of Xiosphant, the people’s lives are strictly regulated according to circadian rhythms — straying from routine or stepping out of the rules even a little bit can result in severe punishment. Sophie, a young student from the dark side of town, discovers this herself when her upper class friend Bianca steals a few food dollars. Sophie takes the blame and finds herself sent to her death in the night, where the temperatures are subzero and the dark landscape is rife with deadly wildlife. But she survives the dark with the help from a surprising and unexpected new friend.

The world building in The City in the Middle of the Night is fascinating, with portrayals of how different people approach the harsh reality of this world with dwindling resources. I imagine a vast amount of research went into understanding the science behind life surviving on a tidal locked planet, from how the atmosphere would work to the weather conditions, to the evolution of life on the world. It’s captivating.

At the heart of this story is the deep intimate relationships between the characters, the love and heartbreak that comes from being emotionally invested in another human. There is a great need to feel connected to another person, a need that is sometimes confounded by an individual’s own misperceptions in how they see the other person and how the other person may see them. Sometimes these issues can be worked through over time, reaching a point in which the relationship can be strengthened and healed despite the betrayals and misunderstandings that came before. Sometimes time reveals all the ways the relationship has been broken from the start, with love feeling more like a chain than a bond. I think this book beautifully explores all the various aspects of these relationships. It’s a strange, beautiful book.

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Journeying the Devil’s Road

Devil's Road Film
Still from The Devil’s Road in Baja California.

Saturday night, my sister and I dressed to the nines to attend the sold-out premier of The Devil’s Road: A Baja Adventure at the Rio in Santa Cruz. Directed by J.T. Bruce and produced by Todd Bruce and Bri Bruce, the feature-length documentary film is a family affair and a fantastic achievement.

The Devils Road premiers to a sold out theater.
The Devils Road premiers to a sold out theater.

After learning that their family is descended from Edward Goldman — a naturalist who along with Edward Nelson made a journey through the Baja peninsula cataloging the regions unique flora and fauna — J.T. and Todd decided to reconnect with the past by making their own journey through Baja on rented motorcycles. The film parallels the adventures of both Nelson and Goldman and J.T. and Todd, as they make their way through the arid deserts and beautiful landscapes of the Baja. The movie reveals some of the interesting plant and animal species native to the area, as well as sharing a bit on the culture of the people living there.

In the Q&A session that followed, the team mentioned that the documentary cost around $20,000 including the two expeditions to Baja (along with various other expenses). “We did it pretty cheap,” explained J.T. “Originally, we planned to have a chase car that would follow us with supplies. We also wanted to have a third rider, and we wanted Bri to be down there more — but we just had to keep cutting the fat off the trip to keep it within budget. We made it happen.”

One of the motorcycles used in the cross-Baja journey was displayed at the premier.
One of the motorcycles used in the cross-Baja journey was displayed at the premier.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it’s even more impressive considering the micro-budget the Vruce team was working with. I hope The Devil’s Road hope it continues to get attention as the team starts to share the doc with festivals and other venues. Check out the trailer below.


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New Books in Poetry: Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore by Frances Donovan

Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore by Frances Donovan

Athena Dixon shared a new interview with Frances Donovan for the New Books in Poetry podcast! According to Athena,

Grey Held writes of Frances Donovan‘s book, Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore (Reaching Press 2018 ), “there is hunting for love, there is basking in love, there is longing.” This collection offers all of these things. It examines what it is to love romantically, sexually, as a friend, and as a resident of the world. It pulls us down into the micro-moments of our lives and then catapults us out into the universe. In this episode, we touch upon marginalization, hope for inclusion, the writer’s journey, and how we come to the page on our own terms.

Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore was named a finalist in the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards. Her publication credits include The Rumpus, Snapdragon, and SWWIM. An MFA candidate at Lesley University, she is a certified Poet Educator with Mass Poetry and has appeared as a featured reader at numerous venues. She once drove a bulldozer in a GLBT Pride parade while wearing a bustier and combat boots. You can find her climbing hills in Boston and online at www.gardenofwords.com.

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

The Stone and Waters of Venice

Water and stone are soothing to me, so it’s no surprise that I love Venice with its jade green canals and its stone pathways. As soon as I stepped onto those narrow streets last week, I felt calmed. I wore my hard heeled boots, so that each step clacked and resonated with the marble and Istrian stone of the buildings towering over me.

My friend and I didn’t do much traditional touring — no tours, no following long lines of crowds into well trodden iconic buildings. Mostly we just wandered, getting comfortably lost among the twisting, narrow streets. We let each turn lead us where it may, whether to some small, empty square or dead ending at a canal. We found our way into churches and observed their historic beauty in the dim light. Sometimes we were brought us to the door of some hidden-away restaurant, a quiet spot away from the bustle of San Marco Square.

Our second main focus of the trip — eating copious amounts of delicious pasta, pizza, fresh seafood, gelato. I was introduced to the Aperol Spritz, a bright red, lightly sweet and bitter drink that I included with almost every lunch or afternoon appetizer.

Walking by a real estate office, I was surprised to learn that the cost of purchasing or renting a home in the city is quite reasonable (particularly in comparison to my current rental prices in California). Of course, there are downsides to the city — massive crowds of tourists so thick you wan barely walk down certain streets, flooding that seems to be getting worse year by year. But a part of me still took a moment to daydream about living in Venice among all its stone and water and carving out an artists life of being perpetually lost in these labyrinthine streets, drinking coffee in the morning, Spritz in the afternoon, and writing to my heart’s content.


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