Archive Winter-Spring 2020
January 3, 2020
from Stumbling Into Joy
by Kate Hopper
“It had been her dream since college to create that throbbing sound...”
Welcome back! We have a great lineup of authors this year, so please click on the blue button above to receive brief, weekly reminders every Friday of our featured writers. It's free and easy and a great way to keep up with essay and memoir—one paragraph at a time.
We begin with one of our favorites, Kate Hopper. She describes herself as a teacher, editor, writing coach, and mother (and wife and daughter and sister and friend…the list goes on and on). She writes memoir, essays, and is currently working on her first novel. She is the author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, winner of a MIPA Midwest Book Award, and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, and the co-author of Silent Running: Our Family’s Journey to the Finish Line with Autism.
The Paragraph of the Week comes from her longform essay in Creative Nonfiction’s True Story series. It is called Stumbling into Joy and is about the author accomplishing in midlife her dream of leaning to play the bass guitar. Learn more about her book here.—THE
When Kate Hopper’s family gave her a bass guitar as a mother’s day gift, the author squeezed her husband Donny and their two daughters saying “He bought me a bass! What?” and began jumping around. It had been her dream since college to create that throbbing sound, but life, with its “ups and downs,” as Janelle Monáe sings in “Tightrope,” got in the way—until now at age forty-three. Her daughter, Zoe, pointed to the gift and shouted “Open it.” It took Hopper a while to get the hang of playing her dream—fingerings and tricky rhythms take time to learn—but eventually she could play a “fast and funky bassline” and even perform it in public. Her inspiration along the way was June Millington, lead guitarist with Fanny, the first all-female rock group, who played with “joyful fearlessness” and believed that music took young women “somewhere else, some place where they don’t have to listen to messages the world is beaming at them.” It is “a safe place” where they could hear “something in themselves” which Hopper describes as “the pleasure of residing inside each note” where all at last “makes perfect sense.”
January 10, 2020
from “The Lawns, So Well-Tended”
in Terrain.org: A Journal of Natural and Built Environments
by Anna Maria Spagna
“Evil demands action not metaphors and the false comfort of subtlety is, like her small-town rental, a temporary indulgence—one she eventually will reject, ‘nuance be damned.’”—THE
Ana Maria Spagna is the author of seven books including Uplake: Restless Essays of Coming and Going, the memoir/history, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, winner of the River Teeth literary nonfiction prize, and two earlier essay collections, Potluck and Now Go Home. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Nautilus Book Awards, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Awards, and she has four times been a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.
The Paragraph of the Week comes from a recent essay called “The Lawns, So Well-Tended” that appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Terrain.org: A Journal of Natural and Built Environments. You can read the complete essay here.
The Paragraph of the Week
Talking about weeds and immigrants at the same time is problematic, I know. There’s a decades-long debate about the dangerously interchangeable adjectives—invasive, non-native, alien—and what their use suggests about the need for purity, the impulse to exclude, the crusade to eradicate. But plants and people are not the same, and comparing them is over-simplifying, and over-simplification can over-complicate things. It’s not hard in a garden, or for that matter, in a democracy, to see what’s causing the real trouble. But even when we try to eradicate racism, misogyny, poverty, injustice, here they come, creeping back, insidious as ever.
—Ana Maria Spagna
“The Lawns, So Well-Tended” by Anna Maria Spagna reluctantly finds nuance to be a temporary but ultimately inadequate refuge for sanity in a politically divided time. The essay is ostensibly about her year-long battle with an unruly lawn during a stint as visiting professor in a college town of otherwise perfect lawns. She is drawn to “the orderliness of small-town life: the mailbox at the door, and garbage cans on the curb, and everyday kindnesses, too.” As a gay woman from the more rugged terrain of the state of Washington, she takes comfort in the welcome the town gives her, but feels uneasy about feeling so comfortable as well. As a writer she knows the tidy lawn can stand for the purity she despises such as the characterization of immigrants as “invasive” and “alien,” but by nuance it can also signify the eradication of all that she deplores such as the “racism, misogyny, poverty, injustice” that keep coming back like weeds. Throughout the essay she turns over a mix of metaphors in her mind testing the notion of small-town complacency as a balm in an evil world, and even takes pride in bringing her own lawn over time into shape: “I can conform! I can belong! I can!” In the end, though, she knows can’t. Evil demands action not metaphors and the false comfort of subtlety is, like her small-town rental, a temporary indulgence—one she eventually will reject, “nuance be damned.”
January 17, 2020
“Faith—is the Pierless Bridge”
from “The Butterfly Nail”
in Wherever the land is
by Amy Wright
“A bridge without any girder is a magic carpet.”—Amy Wright
For years now poet and essayist Amy Wright has been writing prose translations of Emily Dickinson under the title “The Butterfly Nail.” I first discovered them in her 2016 chapbook Wherever the land is published by MIEL books, but I have also found versions that have appeared online since 2011. Provocative and dense in texture they are not intended to be either traditional translations or critical commentaries, but works of art in themselves.
“What I am working to create is not a facsimile, but another work altogether,” she explained in an interview with Sarah Escue, “an apple in itself, if one that falls not far from the tree from which it sprung.” Wright’s translations do not explain the poem, but deepen, enrich, and complicate it allowing it’s truths to cross boundaries. “I think of translation as a means of communicating across time or country or language or media potentially universal insights.” In her translations Wright explores the enormously rich interconnection between poetry and prose that has long been an interest at THE so we have stretched our usual format to feature one example this week.
Amy Wright is the author of two poetry books, one poetry collaboration, and six chapbooks, including the essay collection Think I’ll Go Eat A Worm. Most recently her essays won first place in two contests, sponsored by London Magazine and Quarterly West. Her writing appears in Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Appalachian Heritage, Waveform: Anthology of Women Essayists, and Southern Poetry Anthology Volumes III and VI. She is also the nonfiction editor at Zone 3 magazine.
I will not add commentary to Wright’s translation except to point out all the work that the word “soluble”—which means both “dissolvable” and “solvable”—is doing. Language in Wright’s translation, draws on the poem but has a life of its own.
Faith—is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not—
Too slender for the eye
It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side—
It joins—behind the Veil
To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.—Emily Dickinson
A bridge without any girder is a magic carpet. It defies reason, going where the mind cannot, on that furthest limb, beyond comprehension, and yet, to comprehend it—or imagine it, if one can imagine eternity, is enough.
The “Scene” one takes on faith is “slender” as the eye of a needle, narrow as the slip of one breath into the next. Saddlebags of theories would prevent entrance. The metaphor of a journey is a traditional linear one, reflective of that need to move forward, if “vacillating.” E.D. uses the metaphor ironically, dissolving the illustration upon “arrival” to make the point that the carriage leads to that moment where, were the bridge to dissolve, the priority would become apparent. The bridge never had any supports to begin with. To step onto it, the first relinquishment must be made—to count on the underbellies of bridges or one’s vision before “Necessity.” That desperate lunge from the plank of the collapsing image is the real gesture, from which the poem itself becomes the soluble walk by which a wobbler makes it.