Category Archives: Notes From The Undergrads

Notes From The Undergrads #9

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Synesthesia editorial board.

“Rummage Sale”
Natalie Cook

With the joy in our spirits of warm days and sunny skies, a friend and I dusted the seats of our beach cruisers and headed through North Park neighborhoods to San Diego’s delightful Balboa Park. As luck would have it, we happened upon a rummage sale put on by the local philanthropic organization The Thursday Club. In the midst of clothing piles, artwork, antiques and dishware, we found ourselves trapped for the better part of the afternoon browsing through the book section. At first, it felt a little overwhelming, much like walking down the spice aisle of an open market without a recipe in mind. We lifted, flipped, scanned, and read the back jacket covers of the seemingly endless colorful and diverse selection and in a matter of minutes I was searching for a box to relieve my arms of the balancing act I had begun.

Recently, I have been an active participant in the debates of paper versus electronic forms of reading. I have entered the world of blogging and online literary journals, zines and I am no hater. I very much enjoy electronically keeping up with classmates’ literary endeavors and reactions while switching tabs to annotate my PDF class reading assignments, but pleasure is about sensation.  Maybe I’m a sucker for the smell, the accomplishment of turning a page, or it could be the fact that I am a fanatic bookmark collector, and there is something to say about being able to physically share literature.

At this rummage sale, I purchased titles such as Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled with renewed inspiration to begin my educated contribution at the poetry parties hosted by my MFA friends. I collected for discovery, Arthur Phillips’ Prague, and even found a 2006 catalog of MFA writing theses from the California College of the Arts that I plan to pass along to a friend. Please tell me where on the World Wide Web I would have found online books with personal and poignant inscriptions to accompany valued books for $1 per paperback and $2 per hardcover?  Even though my spring-cleaning goal was to tackle the books I already have on my shelves, I suppose there’s no harm in accepting another man’s trash to add to my treasured collection of possibilities. A few more to read, to learn, to lend and recommend among my growing literary community.

“Rothenberg and McClure: Impressions from a Non-Poet”
Marysia Kowoski

            Jerome Rothenberg and Michael McClure read at Scripps Cottage Monday, March 14th, and it seemed the entire English department was there. I was there too, though I profess a preference for (speculative) fiction and my knowledge of contemporary American poetry is consequently limited. I have read and enjoyed several of Jerome Rothenberg’s poetry anthologies and was extremely impressed with the amount of work that went into each volume. I am most fond of Technicians of the Sacred, which features a collection of poetry from unconventional sources—underrepresented countries, traditional shamanic chants, Inuit oral tales and ancient Babylonian love poems. These glimpses into near-forgotten poetic traditions really moved me, and I was curious to see the man behind the books whose scholarly vision preserved these overlooked poems for a modern readership.

The elderly gentleman who read at Scripps Cottage was more than venerable scholar and poet, though. He was a humble and friendly person, possessed of an upbeat sense of humor and a genuine verve for art and life. His performance style was unpretentious, cheerful, like a master storyteller sharing his experiences with a community. I was hoping to hear, “I Come Into the New World,” which remains my favorite Rothenberg poem, but I heard some lovely lines regardless: “Where a shadow in the sky is a magpie.” Many of the poems, Rothenberg announced, were written based on a Hebrew form of numerology.

Michael McClure, by contrast, was a graver presence. His performance style was more lofty and serious, his remove from the audience compensated by the music in his delivery that enchanted his listeners. His poetry was likewise more fanciful than Rothenberg’s, rife with symbolic images. Hummingbirds and tigers abounded through the verses. My favorite lines: “What’s on your side of the veil?” and “Do you dip your beak into the vast black lily of space?”

I listened. I jotted down favorite lines. And when the poets had finished, my notebook was filled with impressions of the event, scenes from my latest novel-in-progress, and—dare I say it?—something like a poem of my own. I didn’t have to reach for this language like I sometimes do while writing; it was available to me at the exact moment I needed it. Ultimately, that is the real benefit to me of attending a reading by two of our great contemporary poets, whether I am familiar with their work or not: I absorb their poems word by word, image by image, discovering through them the words I need to pursue my own art. I’m sure I speak for many a listener when I say: thank you, Jerome Rothenberg and Michael McClure, for giving us an evening of pure inspiration.

“The other side, the inside, the left side, and my good side”
Marie Brown

Literary journal. Chapbook. Memoir. Such foreign diction to a literary-canonized naïve girl such as myself.  Throughout my middle and high school English classes, I became all to familiar with the novel, and I know I am part of the majority that shares this knowledge of To Kill a MockingbirdPride and PrejudiceThe Scarlet LetterThe Catcher in the RyeA Separate Peacethe list goes on. It’s thorough, but it’s novel-centric.

Now, I do not propose a total and instant revamp of the literary curriculum—especially now during budget crisis times that have more immediate issues.   Rather I would just like to say: It’s too bad. It’s too bad it took nearly twenty years of education for me to hear the word literary journal. It’s too bad Gary McDowell’s uniquely excellent They Speak of Fruit  has been my first encounter with a chapbook.

My college experience has finally given me the opportunity to explore and pursue my passion for writing, and thank goodness I signed up for the university’s literary editing and publishing class, because until this class, I had little to no awareness to the behind the scenes work, which is unfortunate but typical of American arts society.  Even though the Academy Awards attempts to appreciate the work of the costumers, sound engineers, and script writers  as well as the multimillionaire actors, me and you know that the cinematographers of this year’s Oscars will never be on the cover of People or gossiped about on

BUT: thank you. Thank you for your work anyway, Mr. Sound Editor. Thank you for your work anyway Mr. Publisher. Mr. Editor. Although I want to pursue my passion for writing poetry and literature rather than my interest in literary editing and publishing, I am grateful that I will be pursuing this dream with this vital knowledge and appreciation of my future collaborators.

I look forward to meeting you.



“A Poetry Reading”
Hutton Marshall

I went to a poetry reading on San Diego State’s campus last week, and upon arrival I didn’t know quite what to expect. An underlying theme quickly became obvious once I found my seat and began to look around. It was obvious I had invaded a community of sorts. There was a clearly an inner circle, which made for a more intimate setting. Also, ever before have I seen so many George Carlin look-a-likes concentrated in such a small area. Now admittedly, I do not attend as many of these events as I probably should, so I am unfamiliar with what is the norm at these things. So if this is perfectly natural, then I apologize.

Soon after I arrived a man from the literature department approached the small stage. He introduced an MFA student, who’s name I regrettably did not catch. The program was advertised as appropriate for all ages. That was probably a mistake. Her heavily sexualized poems complimented by her low, cadent voice made for an interesting mood in the crowded, quiet room. She was startlingly cool and confident, showing off her youthful wit. People came expecting to hear to men well past the period of getting used to graying hair, and here was this sprite young woman reading tantalizing poems that made them squirm in their seats. Nevertheless, she found the reception she deserved. Her poems were accessible, emotionally charged, and carefully worded.

Jerome Rothenberg took the stage next. A humbling character, he was visibly embarrassed to read his first piece. Constantly reminding us he wrote it when he was a kid, and that he wasn’t the same person any more, I thought we were about to hear some kind of Nazi propaganda. He read the broken-English prose, frequently pausing to smile bashfully, with the utmost amusement at the kid he used to be. “What garrrr Mama is World?” was one of the lines. He was modesty was touching, showing that even he could be embarrassed by such a delicate piece of writing.

The last poet arose from the beat generation. Michael McClure rose ominously to the stage. Rising to prominence in the 60s, McClure reminisced about readings alongside Allen Ginsburg and other beat poets. This was a man who had been inspired by some of the most impassioned poets of the last century. His poetry followed script of his intense persona. Grave and unwavering, his work hit you via his low powerful voice.

“The binds of the knowable are unknowable.” He stated in one of his epics. McClure is an inspiring relic of a time when poetry was a powerful sociopolitical force.

Notes From the Undergrads #8

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Kaleidoscope editorial board.


“Grammar Rules”
Sarah Forest

With the accessibility of the internet and the globalization of information, how has poor grammar become so pervasive in our society? Tools to find the correct usage of language are more accessible than ever. From online dictionaries like to grammar guides like Grammargirl, twenty-first century citizens have no excuse for their butchery of the English language—especially when one considers the amount of time spent on the wireless Edens of information (Blackberries, iPhones, and laptops). In the age of rocket science and micro-engineering, how is it that we are getting “stupider” when it comes to our basic means of communication—language?


It can be argued that this English major is irritated by the drawn-out death of grammar because she lives in the world with laypeople, but it’s not just the average Joe that doesn’t know how to correctly construct a sentence. Our country’s former president was the king of grammatical bloopers. The corporations that decorate our streets and interrupt our programming are also guilty of grammatical slip-ups. While many individuals revert to fragments and abbreviations simply for convenience, such simplifications are viewed as indicators of stupidity by this passive observer.

As science continues to explore the world around us, amazing discoveries are revealed daily. According to National Geographic News, scientists have discovered that certain monkeys have the ability to understand the most basic structures of grammar—prefixes and suffixes. While scientists continue to test and reveal the cognitive abilities of the cotton-top tamarins, however, human beings are losing their grip on the constructions of the English language day by day. It is frightening that scientists are busy observing cognitive levels in the animal kingdom while humans continue to lose their language—reverting to simpler, primitive forms of communication that “get to the point”.

I would hate to hear what Shakespeare or Milton would have to say about the new approach to communication. As we sacrifice correctness and completeness for simplicity, we also begin losing our connection with our ancestors and our history. I am all for the rebirth of Early Modern English, as the language was much more expressive and simply sounded better, but I’ll settle for the preservation of the basic sentence structure and subject-verb agreement of modern English. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask of our schools and parents to promote proper English, but in the age of Starbucks drive-thrus and cell-phones, I fear that the beautiful language of Blake and Dickens will continue its slow death at the hands of Facebook and Twitter.


“Wiman’s Postolka”
By Lindsay Coughlan

I’m going to just lay it out there: I’m not a fan of poetry. Partially because I have read only a few contemporary poems that I have enjoyed, and partially because it’s confusing to me.

So when I listened to Christian Wiman read his poetry, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I felt conflicted because I don’t really like poetry but I have also heard how amazing his poetry is. I sit there quietly, listening to the sound of his words and the rhythm of the poems, and I am mesmerized.

All of his poems were soothing, but there is one poem in particular that stuck with me. The poem is called “Postolka,” that he writes while living in Prague. When he reads the poem, the words flow like sweet honey. The poem is about Wiman, who is situated next to an open window in his apartment in Prague. While he’s writing at his table, a giant falcon perches itself on the window sill, as it scans the city with power and grace.

“wish for something, you said / A shiver pricked your spine. / The falcon turned its head / and locked his eyes on mine.” These few lines are descriptive and beautiful, as you can imagine being there and experiencing what Wiman experienced. The poem almost has a magical element to it: the moment lasted only a minute and you feel a sense that the poet will never forget this experience.

It’s not that I have completely changed my mind about poetry, but listening to Wiman has opened my eyes. Attending his reading and hearing is poetry aloud reminded me that there is good poetry out there—you just have to know where to look.


“Inching My Way into the Twenty-first Century”
Cynthia Gonzales
For as long as I can remember, I have been a total bookworm. I began reading at the young age of 4, thanks to the “Jumpstart” computer game my dad brought home for me one day, and by age 6 or 7 I lived for the Saturday morning garage sales that usually had books being sold for just 5 cents! My obsession with the written word eventually got the point that when I was in the first grade, I proudly decided that I would give up reading books for Lent (a decision my mother gently told me wouldn’t be possible since books were a pretty major part of my schooling and that giving up school for 40 days would not be possible either).
By the time my senior year of college rolled around, my bookshelves were beginning to bear the brunt of my book addiction. They no longer looked like the organized furnishings that decorated the studies and libraries of the most scholarly of scholars, but more like the crowded rafters in my disaster area of a garage. Needless to say I was in dire need of a solution to remedy my diseased bookcases.
This past February, my prayers were answered. When my 22nd birthday rolled around I was gifted with the greatest present a self-proclaimed bookworm could ask for…a Kindle! The joy I felt while untying that big red bow was like nothing I had ever felt before. My friends and family watched in confusion as I lost all control over this piece of technology that the average Joe would not lose his shirt over; but I am confident in my assumption that my fellow Kindle owners felt the same way I did when they downloaded their first e-book.
I admit, I will miss the weight of a paperback, the feel of the pages between my fingers, but I will always have my shabby bookshelves to turn to when I find myself in need of a trip down the literary memory lane. This bookworm will always love my books, but my new bond with my Kindle will last a lifetime…or at least until the battery dies.


“On Publishing”
Rhiannion Lira

Publishing work has been a much longer and difficult process than I thought – just getting submissions is difficult. Most people tend not to want to submit to a small journal because it’s small and doesn’t carry a big name. Adam Deutsch, the chief editor of Cooper Dillon press, even mentioned that small journals have a hard time because most authors tend to think that the bigger the name the better they’ll do and they can move on with their career faster. It becomes more of matter of excellence rather than instant gratification and because publishing work is a daunting step, most people keep their works hidden from the world for a long time.

At times like these, it is best to use your connections and have them submit to you as well as advertising as much as you can. In my case I have used two art sites that I frequent as a way to advertise my group’s journal, Kaleidoscope, and have received a few replies from them. It is easy for people to forget about the deadlines so constantly reminding them in journals such as this or something like this, just posting journals is not enough. It is best to extend detailed information to your friends who have friends that know friends that have work they’d like to publish. Networking is essential for the word to get out. Word of mouth or type in most cases nowadays, is far stronger than most people think. It enhances the domino effect.

Even though I’ve been asking and asking people to submit works, most of them forget about it or they are too busy and since this if for an assignment, I believe that most people believe it’s not going to hold enough value to them. Even adding that they would be able to leave a legacy behind in a library doesn’t seem to entice them enough. A big name is what they are looking and hoping for and small journals such as Kaleidoscope is not as enticing.

Notes from the Undergrads #7

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the City Writes editorial board.

by Jenna Lettice

In the fall of 2006, a professor of literature asked her students how they felt about the written word appearing, not on the pages of a book, but on the screen of a small digital device.  Two camps formed: those that were open to the idea, and those that vehemently opposed this transition into the alien world of the machine.  Of the two camps I belonged to the latter.

“A digital book?!” I cried.  “Why that’s preposterous!”

To me, a book was more than just characters, plot, setting, and theme.  A book was a friend you clutched in two careful hands.  It was a musical instrument when you turned the pages and they slid across each other making that wonderful shuffling sound.  A book had a unique smell, that of wood, dust, and human hands.  It was ink printed on pages of the most beautiful paper, not a glaring screen that harmed your eyes!

My decision was final: digital eReaders were the enemy.  They were the enemy, that is until Amazon’s Kindle e-reader saved my life.

Three years later, my house caught on fire.

Ladies and gentleman, judge me not too harshly, for it was in this bleakest of times that I turned to the Dark Side.  I began to look into eReaders.

With careful research and a collection of gift cards I had been saving since my birthday, I bought a Kindle.  A Kindle that I clutched in two careful hands for fear of dropping the slim device.  A Kindle that clicks so musically when I touch the “Next Page” button.  A Kindle, with the technology to put ink on a digital page to protect tender eyes from the glare of a screen.  A Kindle that would hold all the books I could read in a lifetime zipped up in a convenient size that fit into my purse.

Day by day, my icy heart melted as my love for my Kindle grew.  It could do all the things I needed a book to do and more.  Needless to say, I was sold.  I was now a proud owner of an eReader.

And yet, my compulsion to buy the traditional book never wavered.  Digital eReaders have swiftly become the most purchased item in the literary world, but with the increased popularity of eReaders, books continue to sell, perhaps because readers like me wax poetic aboutboth books and digital readers.  I’ve heard fears that technology will destroy the book and perhaps, like the scroll before it, the book will retreat to the rooms of museum curators.  I hesitate to imagine this world, however, I do not see the book’s retreat into obscurity as defeat.  Forms of literature and print have evolved constantly over the centuries and still people continue to read, in whatever medium is presented to them. Scrolls, books, and digital readers are each a part of the written tradition and that is what is important.

Books will continue to adorn my shelves simply because I love them.  However, I will no longer dismiss the advancing technology of the written word, because once upon a time, a Kindle saved my life.  Sort of.


“Publishing Art”
by Joey Nargizian
I recently read an article arguing that Blake was trying to raise the role of engraver and of publisher to that of artist. It got me thinking about publications today, and whether or not every published article, can, in itself, be considered a piece of art.

We often think of the artistic qualities of literature strictly as the content and meaning held within the words of a text, and not the actual physical words on the page, or the housing of those words. While these physical qualities may not be literature, can they be art?

I believe, that by not allowing ourselves to think of books and publications, the physical object and all of its paraliterary components, as art, we are losing a vast amount of new and interesting readings and observations of the work as a whole.

However, there are a few publications that I think are creating works of art that are just as interesting as objects as the words they encase. An example of this is one of Mcsweeney’s  Quarterlylatest issues, Issue 37. Its design and production is just as interesting, artistic and creative as the stories published within it. Publications like this straddle the line between book as product and housing for literature, and book as art, and they do so effectively and powerfully.

It is time for the publishing world to not just be considered as producers of housing, but of art.

Links for further reading:


“City Writes: The Eye Opening Process of Literary Publications”
Danielle McLaughlin

The initiation of a literary journal development within a group of confident young scholars is an eye opening experience, to say the least.

Over the past academic semester, students involved in a Literary Publishing course at San Diego State University, under the instruction of professor and Managing Editor of Poetry International, Jennifer Minniti-Shippey, have undertaken the seemingly daunting task of publishing a few collections of literary journals. These contemporary journals seek to explicate the minds and imaginations of the Californian lifestyles and creative energies, and also to further the progression of the students’ knowledge of the literary publishing field.

While this egalitarian literary journey has just begun, I have personally experienced some large-scale self-realizations in the process of receiving submissions for the aforementioned journals. Our magazine was initially founded under the premise of showing the grittier, humorous, and more real side of San Diego life. I am pleasantly surprised by the subsequent conclusions drawn from the work received by the young minds of the San Diego active artistic communities.

City Writes literary journal has focused its prospective audience within the individual communities of the San Diego area, hoping to capture the realities of this breathtakingly diverse community.  By explicating the true realities of this area, myself, and my fellow editors, hope to project the San Diegan potential for alternative creative ingenuity, and to allow the rest of the world to view us for something other than our love for fresh water and beautiful weather.

While the word requirement for our literary journals does not exceed 2,000 words, the messages within these brief embodiments of the San Diego imaginative intellectuals speak volumes.  Our submissions in both prose and poetry have projected some similar themes in the minds of young writers.  The messages in their words are strung with ideological threads of dissatisfaction with the large scale of isolation within communities, the realization of individual diversification in closely-knit societies, and an alarmingly high sense of existential profundity as a result of this diversity.  The artwork and photography we are receiving does not fail to hold the same tone of intellectual value of the prose and poetry submissions.  The artwork projects a similar, but more broadened theme of the beauty of chaos, and the desire for retrospective change, as well as the importance of adolescent education and awareness of political action.  I personally invite the creative intellectuals of all communal areas and groups of study to view the inspiring collection of work that will be featured in the May 2011 premier issue of City Writes.


“Poetic Connections”
by, Leslie Kehrer

Just Married

Husband is food. I mean good
or roof. Which husband? Men,
women and snowmen—Where…
is my underwear? Husband wakes me
with licking cheeks. I make pillow
of husband’s shoulder and husband.

Dousing the dishes topless for husband:
I souse the mugs and bowls with warm
lemon froth and bubble; I sponge
our utensils: spoon, knife and prong,
for food we will eat next Tuesday
and Sunday & Tomorrow; I scrub
& bristle & muscle the pig-headed pans
with sporadic splash and suds to skin;
I rinse & fill & rinse & empty & fill & empty
& fill & empty to the music of water on twice the dishes.

Husband puts his face in a bowl of afternoon
cereal and we sing: Where, where is my underwear?
In the phenomenal
sock project, I watch husband place lone socks
across the kitchen table:
could be inside a pair of pants or suitcase.

In the earth of blankets, I gladden husband by the glow of lamplight through
           the sheets.
(Where is my underwear?) The sky drools sweetly to the ear, the purring animals
           In our bed.
Light snore, the seashore at night.

–J. Hope Stein

J. Hope Stein’s poem Just Married so hilariously portrays the lighthearted ease of a newlywed’s relationship.  The speaker opens with a confused remark that immediately captures readers and brings them into the simplicity of her world.  It continues to describe youthful, rare love and follows the lovers through their silly day: waking up, washing dishes, doing laundry, and sleeping once again. Of such a large collection of poetry in Poetry International’s 15/16 issue, what is it about J. Hope Stein’s single poem that so intrigues?

She brings to life the mundane, a glimpse into a love that moves you from the ordinary day at home into a place where even underwear is unnecessary.

J. Hope Stein’s poem Just Married reminds me of another writer, Juana Hernandez.  Her blog entry An Open Love Letter could be a response to Stein’s blissful revel.  Hernandez’s poem addresses a love fading with the very mundane lifestyle Stein celebrates.  They speak to each other on so many levels.

Hernandez addresses the end of a long, but loving relationship.  She describes the how love can slowly diminish.

“But love isn’t a fire if it doesn’t set you aflame. i clung to you for all the wrong reasons. loved you out of gratitude, for the man you had been when i had no faith. loved you out of respect, for you had always been the rule i measured myself against. i loved you out of fear, for there could surely be no other man who would take me in my entirety, neuroses and all. and i loved you out of allegiance, loved you for being my biggest fan and closest ally, the only one on which i could depend.

but most of all, i loved you out of duty. owed you something for that sweet history you weaved for me.”

She finds love that revels in the mundane, mundane.  It becomes an action done out of respect, duty to another.  It contrasts well with Stein’s poem by showing the complexity of emotions that lie behind one’s everyday activities.  For Stein, love is fulfilled in simplicity.  For Hernandez, it is crushed.

J. Hope Stein wrote a book review of Anna Swir’s Talking To My Body published by Web Del Sol Review of Books.

Juana Hernandez is a graduate of UCLA and authors the WordPress blog I Am the Woman of Myth and Bullshit and The District.


“The Chinese Drawers : On Yan Li”
by, Maureen Balbesino

Who is Yan Li?

Aside from this person’s credentials listed in Poetry International’s Double Issue 15/16, I’m curious to find out more about this Chinese “poet, fiction writer, editor, and painter.” This person seems to be well-established in his career of writing, however I have never heard of him.

So what did I do to find out more? Like any great college student, I Googled his name “Yan Li” into the ever-so-famous search bar and found out that Yan Li is both a man’s an a woman’s name. I clicked on several links and the results were a tota l flop. I didn’t think I’d ever find what I was looking for until I ended up Googling “yan li poet, fiction writer, editor, and painter” instead. What did I find? YES! Links to websites featuring photos and interviews of the man himself, Mr. Yan Li.

Link 1

Link 2

What’s his story?

Wouldn’t you like to know as well? I don’t know about you, but as soon as I decided to crack open the massive magazine to find something to write about, little did I know that I was going to be intrigued by the historical richness of Yan Li’s poetry.

Li uses the metaphor of “Chinese Drawers” to symbolize the different compartments and layers of a life of great historical artifacts and memories to explore.

I want to know who the “Red Guard” is. I want to know what the “Red Book” is. After taking an extensive look at Wikipedia… No I’m just joking. I look at the Britannica Encyclopedia’s free excerpt that reads, “Red Guards, Chinese (Pinyin) Hongweibing or (Wade-Giles romanization) Hung-wei-ping, in Chinese history, groups of militant university and high school students formed into paramilitary units as part of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). These young people often wore green jackets similar to the uniforms of the Chinese army at the time, with red armbands attached to one of the sleeves.”

Young people are often called the leaders of the next generation in society, and this obviously states that they were leading a Cultural Revolution in Chinese history. This excerpt had me even more curious to find out what exactly this revolution was about, especially because I know little Chinese history outside of what they teach us in middle school and high school. All I can remember is that it consists of the different dynasties and rulers they have had in ancient times.

In this Information Age, one subject matter leads to another by means of clicking a simple link embedded within a description, paragraph, or other source of information. Apparently, this Cultural Revolution’s full title is actually the “Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution.” According to Brittanica, its purpose was driven by Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong during his last decade in power (1966–76) to renew the spirit of the Chinese Revolution. Fearing that China would develop along the lines of the Soviet model and concerned about his own place in history, Mao threw China’s cities into turmoil in a monumental effort to reverse the historic processes underway.”

With this much cultural, historical baggage, I can now understand the deep-seated turmoil behind the poem that’s probably hidden within the many drawers.

Just Googled “Chinese Drawers,” and the images that came up were armoires and chests with multiple, little drawers. These are highly decorated and embellished works. Some have ring handles, some don’t. Some are covered in Chinese characters; some are covered in flowers and other artwork. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I wonder what the one Yan Li is talking about looks like…

Perhaps each compartment means a different stage of life. Or maybe even an ancestor’s. Who knows!?

I’m curious. And I’m going to find out more.

Thanks Yan Li.

I am going to be distracted from studying for midterms this whole week now because of your one poem.

Notes From The Undergrads #6

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Heliotrope Journal editorial board.

“Timeless Tales Tainted by Twilight”
by Caitlin Kennedy

Confession: I judge books by their covers.

As a graduate student in English I know that I shouldn’t, I know that it
is what is on the inside that counts. But come on, can’t we all just admit
that a book’s cover art can either make or break that text’s sales?

HarperTeen certainly understands this book-selling tactic. However, in
this case, I really wish they didn’t.

Do you hear that sound? It is Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and Emily
Brontë rolling in their graves, because the covers of their TIMELESS,
butchered) to mimic those of the Twilight Series.

In an effort to make these classics appealing to this vampire-crazed
generation of Twi-hards, HarperTeen has given the covers of Romeo &
Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Wuthering Heights a
face-lift (to appear younger, and more brooding I suspect). As you can see
on HarperTeen’s website, these new covers feature black backdrops paired with white and blood-red flowers– not wholly dissimilar from the cover art for New Moon, the second book of the famous vampire series.

And as if that were not enough to fool Edward-obsessed girls, the covers
even boast the same exact curly, yet dagger-sharp, font, and darkly
emotional blurbs that all gently allude to Twilight, such as “The Original
Forbidden Love,” or “Love Never Dies.” Top it all off with a sticker on
the new cover of Wuthering Heights that reads, “Edward & Bella’s Favorite
Book,” and HarperTeen has officially tapped into the money-making Twilight

I suppose I wouldn’t be as upset if HarperTeen’s intentions were purely to
introduce these classics to a new generation, but clearly their goal is to
make money by fooling young readers into thinking these book are something
they are not. Sure, Heathcliff is dark and brooding, and Darcy is rich and
brooding, and Romeo is young and brooding, but teenage girls are going to
open these books expecting Edward and I fear that they are going to throw
them down again when they find something perhaps entirely foreign to
them– quality literature.

As the Wall Street Journal points on on its blog, HarperTeen has even added material to the back of each book to make it more teen friendly. Readers can take a quiz called “Which Pride and Prejudice Girl are You?”, or a test that asks “What Would You Do For Love,” to see how you measure up with Shakespeare’s young lovers. The WSJ blog even talks about how HarperTeen brings Facebook into the mix with sample profile pages for both Romeo and Juliet.

While HarperTeen claims that each of these revamped originals are,
“Beautifully presented for a modern teen audience” and “a must-have
edition of a timeless classic,” I think these new covers are merely a
depressing attempt by HarperTeen to make some cash off the platinum
Twilight bandwagon.

Over-the-Shoulder Reader
by Kate Murtagh

Amongst my friends, I am known as the “book-giver”. When any gift-giving opportunity presents itself, books are almost always my modus operandi. The books are almost ones that I personally have read and loved (and if you’re lucky, I might even give you a new copy), and here’s why: my favorite thing is to see people enjoy something that I have enjoyed. I guess that’s why I love book clubs (and lit classes, since they’re basically book clubs for a grade) so much. But the worst part is—I am totally that friend who will want to WATCH as you read the book. “Oh, which part are you reading?!” “Tell me when you hit chapter twelve!” I have been asked to leave many a room for this kind of behavior, not that I can really help it.

That’s why I love  Mark Reads. I found Mark when several people told me about a guy who was blogging his way through the Harry Potter series without having any prior knowledge of the books. He was over on a site called Buzznet at the time, where he was contracted to read and review both the Twilight and the Harry Potter series. He read chapter by chapter, and reacted right in the moment—bringing back some of my memories of the first time I had read the books. It was an incredible feeling of connection, and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Hundreds of people from dozens of countries around the world laughed, cried, and discussed with Mark as he read—completely unspoiled about what came next. His blog went viral, and he soon left Buzznet to create his own site. He’s continued with his reading, having just finished Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, and he is now working on Book Thief by Markus Zusak. (Both of which I read because of him!) And he has a little something for everyone with his second site, Mark Watches. Reading and re-reading these books have given me entirely new insights and appreciations, plus the cherished memories of seeing someone else love what I have loved.

by Vicki Valencia

I have always tended to lean towards writing fiction or creative non-fiction, but as of late poetry has grown on me. Now, I am far from a formalist, and I would categorize my work as prose poetry at best. Despite my lack of creative experience, I was captivated by the featured Swedish section in the latest Poetry International Double Issue 15/16. In particular, Gunnar Ekelöf’s poem Poetics struck me as the mission statement of every poet. (And to broaden the scope, every creative writer.)I feel that poetry and fiction are both creative outlets that evoke a reader’s response, participation and interpretation. This is spelt out in Poetics among the lines:

“…a search for meaningless/in what is meaningful/and the other way around…What I have written/is written between the lines” (PI 15/16: 322)

There is a comfort found in images that poets choose to share with their readers and a welcoming in the whisper of their words. It is like coming home after a looong day at work, school, or practically anywhere and being enveloped in the embrace of a lover.

I never knew how vast and diverse the poetry community in San Diego was until this year. There are so many events happening around the county. Means of obtaining that delectable poetry fix is at the fingertips of any and every interested poet and poetry connoisseur.

Poetry is an art form, and an inclusive one at that. Each poet shares a bit of themselves through their writing. And the truly timeless pieces will carry on the ideas, dreams, hopes and wishes of previous generations.

On Science and Literature
by Mike Lockwood

Cyborgs are real. Eugenics is real. And eventually, literature will be dead.

The advanced communication that humans now have combined with the inevitable manipulation of the human gene pool means that theisolated and goofy looking people we rely on for our art and literature will no longer exist, and mental problems will be fixed with computer signals.

Why live in sadness when you could just program yourself to be happy, as a cyborg will be able to do? Why have an ugly baby when you can guarantee a cute one with a little DNA tweaking?

The half man/half Mac of the future will not be driven to write about his problems or his loves and hates—a computer signal can communicate it instantly and with greater efficiency (to a whole lot of people!).

And, inevitably, as brains become closer and closer to computer hard-drives, the non-rational human emotions that inspire them to create will disappear. The incredibly fallible human brain will slowly be replaced with superior computer technology, where ideas can be sent instantaneously, and with none of the confusion that comes along with spoken words. Eventually language itself will go away, and so, inevitably, must literature.

The author will become like the modern barber: only a relic of what he used to be. His bloodletting, back in wacky times, was considered truly effective. But human technology has left him in the dust. Even the meaning of the word “author”, like “barber”, will no longer mean the same thing. Novels won’t exist, plays won’t exist, poems won’t exist.

But then again, who cares? Well, we modern humans do, but we are biased because books and words are so helpful to us. But eventually men won’t need them, because they won’t matter.

This won’t happen for a while, though, so don’t throw out those wonderfully textured and aromatic books just yet.

Notes From the Undergrads #5

Notes from the Undergrads is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class, comprised primarily of undergrads, with a few grad students thrown in for color.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Magnified editorial board.

A Meaningful Discovery
By Kristina Blake

I don’t read poetry.

One of the few poetry books I remember reading in its entirety was Shel Silverstein’s 1974 collection of children’s poetry “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” My fourth grade classmates and I would giggle as our teacher read the straight-forward funny pieces. I had my mom buy me a copy soon after.

To be fair, it’s not that I hate poetry. I just don’t usually understand it.

So, if I have free time to read for pleasure, I usually settle down with a good book. And because I’m a journalism and political science major, a lot of my time is spent reading news stories.

That’s why I was a little worried when I sat down to read required material for my English course, Rachel Galvin’s poetry collection “Pulleys and Locomotion.” I know that poetry is open for interpretation. But is there really no intended meaning for each piece? This is what’s kept me from appreciating poetry in the past.

Galvin’s collection didn’t change this for me. At first.

I struggled through some of her poems because of their non-colloquial words and references I simply did not get. At first glance, I didn’t even quite understand the significance of one of the most simple, yet beautiful of Galvin’s poems, “The Baker Folds What He Does Not Remember.”

After class discussion, Galvin’s visit to our class and her poetry reading on campus, however, I have changed my mind about poetry.

I used to read poetry like I read everything else – straight through. Poetry shouldn’t be read this way. After hearing Galvin read her poems to a particular beat, I’ve learned that I should take my time and appreciate the language used. Galvin chose every word for a reason. Therefore, I should slow down and take my time to discover why.

I used to want to immediately discover the meaning of every poem I read. I’ve learned that reading a poem slowly, and even re-reading it a number of times, is part of the fun. Just like with a song, the writer of the poem may have a meaning he or she wants the world to know. But if readers are truly lucky, they will develop their own meaning as well.
Beauties from Ashes
Rebecca Josephsen

In light of the recent tragedy that unfolded with Chelsea King, I began to reflect on the special relationship between literature and social issues. A few months ago, a local Poway girl who was a friend, daughter, and athlete, was raped and murdered. This event rocked a tight-knit community, and parents began frantically buying their daughters mace and pepper spray, and various schoolchildren tied blue ribbons on trees in respect of a young life so tragically taken from us. Although this scenario is monstrous and heartbreaking, it is not unique in its tragedy. Every day young girls and women are beaten, sexually exploited, or murdered. Throughout the world women suffer rape and sexual violence, genital mutilation, and abuse. Sex trafficking is potentially the number one worldwide crime, with half of the victims found in Asia. Although not as widely known, America also sells, exploits, and damages young girls’ lives. These offenses are deeply hidden from the public’s eye, and it takes individuals like intrepid and creative artists and authors to give these girls not only a name and voice…but hope.

Literature can commemorate and focus the public’s attention to certain particular social matters, as well as personalizing the issues and bringing it close to home. The various stories and essays of families who have gone through the experience of losing a child like Chelsea King, or women who have been the victim of child prostitution are easily accessible in neighborhood bookstores or online. Books can also help the victim work through their pain and anger like Stacey Patton did in her memoir, That Mean Old Yesterday, about the terrible abuse she suffered at the hands of her foster mother.

Not all girls who suffer these horrors can give voice to their affliction. But the pen is a mighty tool and there are many who wield it with compassion and tenacity. Art for Humanity is a South African non-profit organization whose mission is to promote awareness of controversial topics through art and print. In their Women for Children series, the organization paired up poets and artists to campaign for children’s rights. Kareemah El-Amin’s powerful and disturbing poem is accompanied by Angela Buckland’s photograph.

“My birthday Wish”

He said he doesn’t want to die,

My hymen for his life

I’ve saved 100 lives since birth

Between my legs is his salvation

He speaks of love and understanding, piety and grace

With his penis in my face

Gifting me with the sacrament of his unholy communion

I turned nine today

Blow out the candles, and make a wish

“Father, please forgive my sins…

Let me join you before I turn ten”

Whether we are writers or artists or readers, we all can all take an active role in preventing gender based violence by strengthening and encouraging the hands of our fellow daughters and sisters. Inspired by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel who prophesied life to dry bones, the author Lisa Sharon Harper in her poem “And to the Little Ones” declares sweet hope:

And to Taka and Takisha
to their rattling bones
to the little ones
who bear God’s image
The Lord God says,

Writing and rewriting: the gradual development of a literary text

Anna Toftgard

For some reason I have always thought of literary texts as stable, something finished and stationary. When writing something of your own you realize this is not the case. The final version isn’t so final; often it’s where you left off because you got sick of it and just wanted to be done with it. If by any means your text is finished it is simply because you decided that it was finished. Up to that point it had been something fluid and subject to constant manipulation, your decision to label your text “completed” is the only thing with the power to make it such. As someone thinking of a future in publishing I have become more and more interested in this fluid nature of a literary work. The space between the first draft and the published work is where the door to further writing, rewriting, revision, editing and proofing is open. Looking at something like the special edition from 1971 of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, with the original manuscript and his editor Ezra Pound’s annotations, is truly fascinating in connection to this idea. Pound was absolutely ruthless in his treatment of Eliot’s draft, slashing out large parts of the manuscript. But ultimately, his insightful editorial advice helped Eliot distill down his work into one of our greatest modernist texts.

For anyone interested in the stages of creating a literary work, I recently stumbled upon the online site, a project devoted to providing a genetic edition of a text by Virginia Woolf. The text in question is Time Passes, a passage later embedded as a central part of her novel To the Lighthouse, published in 1927. Woolf kept careful track of her own writing process so there is extensive material to draw from. The website offers seven different versions of the same text: handwritten draft, typescript, proof, the first US edition and the first UK edition. In addition, contextual sources such as letters, diaries and newspapers from the time period when she actively wrote this text are made available. You can follow what Virginia Woolf wrote each day, what changes she made and how she adapted and tailored her work for the UK and US markets. It is an intriguing illustration of the process of writing.

In the age of digitalization, when manuscripts can be written as well as edited in digital form, the same kind of records of a text’s different stages of development might not be retrievable. But on the other hand, computers also offer new possibilities. Texts rich in intertexts like Eliot’s The Waste Land or difficult to navigate like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury are ideal candidates for hypertext editions. Allegedly Faulkner wanted to differentiate sections in Benjy’s narrative by use of six different colors in order to simplify the reading. Today, not only this kind of color-coding, but so much more can be done– including the use of links, other media or multiple frames in order to read the literary text and the corresponding notes simultaneously. Layers of the text, such as references to other authors or works, previously available to scholars or through critical editions with an abundance of footnotes are now within the reach of the average reader by the click of a mouse. In this aspect the hypertext editions highlight the dialogue with other texts and contextual sources that is characteristic of literary works.

It is in fact not so surprising that I used to think of literary texts as fixed; they appear before the reader in their final and published form without any trace of the different stages of the creative process leading up to the ultimate version of the text. Looking at a literary text from an editor’s perspective seems fundamentally different from that of a reader. Suddenly the text goes from being something frozen solid and fixed to being shifting, mobile, and changeable like water. Personally, I find genetic research on texts interesting though it is a little like starting at the end and painstakingly feeling your way back to the beginning. What a marvelous thing to instead be able to witness and assist the process in the other direction, from beginning to end.

A Poetic Reaction
Natalie Scott

When reading the latest issue of Poetry International, I found a poem by Lauren Watel called “It’s Cool”. It was short and simple to read with a little sense of humor.

We were driving each other mad again, so

we left the highway and found an empty space

by the ruins of a house. I stroked your chest

and straddled your lap; you kissed me with a low

moan, your skin gold in the light; I cupped your face

between my palms like an artifact; you moved

my hips; and when you pressed your lips to my breast

you grasped. There was a man outside the window.

“It’s cool,” the man said, “just find another place

to do it.” Then he tipped his hat, unimpressed

with the exhibition. Our mood now improved

dramatically, we waved to the man and drove

back to the highway feeling restored, well-loved,

glistening like two jewels in a secret trove.

I was immediately drawn to this poem because I felt like I knew the characters from a story. It opened as if it were an excerpt from a novel. The mood of the couple seemed like they were having a fight in the car and pulled over to discuss their feelings, which came out as physical passion for one another. I felt like this poem was about two high school students madly in love with each other. This love, which feels as though it is full of passion that doesn’t matter where it is expressed. This couple’s passion for one another is the only thing that matters in this moment and you can feel it as you read this poem. Calling their act an “exhibition” added a little humor to the poem in a very awkward situation. Getting caught actually made the moment that much exciting for them. The last line of the poem is my favorite part. “Glistening like two jewels in a secret trove.” It is such a beautiful way to express a young couple in love. Overall, this poem is well-written allowing you to step inside the lives of two people passionately in love with one another.

Notes from the Undergrads #4

Notes from the Undergrads is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class, comprised primarily of undergrads, with a few grad students thrown in for color.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Ramblings On editorial board.

Good Ol’ Uncle Shelby

by David Pope

If you’re reading a literature blog like Poetry International, odds are that you’re a bit of an English nerd. And if you’re an English nerd, odds are you started reading early. And if you … you know what, I’ll just cut to the chase. We all read a Shel Silverstein book or two growing up, right? Right.

Everyone remembers “Where the Sidewalk Ends” but how much more do you know about Uncle Shelby? I was always kind of suspicious about children’s lit writers. In my mind, they’re all just like my kindergarten teacher: into quilting, arts & crafts and cats. You know the type. But in my English 528 (Shel Silverstein: American Iconoclast) class at SDSU with Joseph Thomas, I’ve discovered that Silverstein is anything but.

For those who don’t know, Silverstein got his first “big break” as a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. Yes, THAT Playboy Magazine. While some of his drawings and limericks that appeared in Playboy were indeed “adults only,” a couple of his works, including “ABZ” and “Silverstein’s Zoo”, which were later printed in the form of children’s books, originally appeared in Playboy, nearly identically to the versions that eventually showed up in the children’s section.

With most (good) children’s literature, going back and re-reading the works as an adult can give you a newfound appreciation you never had as a kid. But viewing some of Silverstein’s most memorable work in the pages of Playboy, between an article on LSD experimentation and a centerfold of Miss November, gives his stories a fascinating new context and elevates and complicates them even further.

I’m reminded of cartoons like Rocky and Bullwinkle, where the innuendos and other jokes go straight over any kid’s head, but their parents watching along with them get a laugh for themselves.

Additionally, it turns out Silverstein was a total womanizer and kind of a bad ass. A bad ass with a killer beard, at that.

My point? Shel Silverstein’s plight is a perfect example of how research on the personalities behind some of your favorite pieces of literature can give you a better, deeper understanding of them. (I refuse to use the “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliché, but you get the idea.)


On eBooks

by Loretta Roddy

There is a revolution going on, but it’s not taking place on the streets, being covered on the eleven o’clock news, or hashed out in the political arena.  It’s taking place in living rooms, coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores.  I’m talking about the e-book.

The convenience and ease of electronic books appeals to many literatis.  Travelers no longer have to worry about packing a mini anthology on trips; they can download and read any number of books on the fly.  Rather than purchasing a multitude of novels and books for class, students can download all their course books on Kindle – never to be caught unprepared again (plus they may avoid back problems later in life)!  Paperless, and compact, e-books boast to be the eco-savvy literature of the green movement: no more printing of tree-consuming novels, no more throwing away (or hopefully recycling) of read books.  Rather than filling up shelves, boxes, and the space underneath your shoe collection, e-books are stored neatly on computers, MP3 players, or e-book readers, like Kindle or the iBooks application for the new iPad.’s Kindle has become a wish list item for many.  For $259.00, this lightweight (it only weighs 10.2 ounces!) and magazine-slim portable library can download a book in one minute, no PC necessary.  It has a long lasting battery life, built in 3G wireless accessible in over 100 countries, and advanced screen technology to mimic the look of paper and lessen the strain of screen-reading on the eyes.  Kindle can hold hundreds of reasonably priced “books” and access them at the touch of a button.   A book can be purchased instantly, without ever leaving the couch, eliminating the trip to the bookstore, the perusing of the aisles and titles, and the buying more than you came for (or is that just me?).  Finish a gripping novel?  Can’t wait to get the sequel?  No problem.  In a few minutes you can be whizzing through the next thrilling page turner (or button pusher, in Kindle’s case).

With all of these wonderful features, how can I still think of Kindle and the electronic book as a weak substitute for reading?  The answer is a combination of philosophies and personal preferences.  One, old school is cooler.  Superficial reasoning? Maybe.  Still, there is something to be said for certain “traditional” methods of doing things.  For example, receiving hand written notes in the mail, from someone other than the crazy old aunt in Ohio, is such a simple pleasure.  It is so nice to find a note from a friend among the pile of bills and credit card advertisements that pile up in .  Writing and sending letters is always appreciated, yet often bypassed for the quicker easier e-mail. In the music world, records have the best sound quality of any form of recordable sound, yet tapes, CDs, and now MP3s have made records seem like ancient memorabilia from the stone age of our parents.  The ITunes empire, the email takeover, the digital camera’s supreme reign, the cell phone (I could go on for days), all of these ingenious 21st century inventions remove a part of the ritual in the action.  Taking a picture becomes a detached action. Point and shoot.  Maybe print them off the computer later, maybe never see them outside of cyber space again.  Please don’t misunderstand my stance here: I freak out when I leave my cell phone at home too, quickly jump on ITunes to download the latest Jay-Z and Taylor Swift, and can be seen carting around a digital camera.  But there is something to be said for doing it “old school,” or in this case, pre-1980.

What about the paper, the pages, the bright cover, the unique bindings?  Where do you dog-ear your place, star your favorite passages, smooth the crinkles of traveling at the bottom of a beach bag?  How do you flip through the measured pages to find your spot, feel the glossy, rough, or smooth cover, take in the whole work, backside and inner flaps as well?  Different sizes, editions, hardcover versus paperback, note-friendly margins, size ten font with no paragraphs — these are the characters of the BOOK, not of the story.  These details make the creation the reader holds between his or her hands.  The printed letters staring at you from the cream, or white, or beige, or eggshell colored page, imploring “please read me! Decipher my hidden secrets, explore my wonders! Feel the excitement, the suspense, the sorrow, the relief.”  Can Kindle match this?  Can the iBook compare?  A screen covered with typeset, facing the reader, expecting to be loved the way its predecessor has been for thousands of years?  Is this possible? Have we reached the 21st century and surged forward with a renewed devotion to the detached, electronic, out with the old, in with the new lifestyle?

Lots of questions, but unfortunately not a lot of answers.  I have to admit, I have never owned or read a book on Kindle.  Aside from examining a fellow classmate’s Christmas gift, Kindle remains a sort of taboo in my opinion, something to be observed, but to actually own?  That would never do.  It would be a betrayal of my colorful, packed, unique, diverse bookshelf.  Old friends who wish me good night and rally me awake each day, old friends, new friends, unread friends.  Books contain not only their own stories, but those of previous owners, reminders of events come and gone with the language between the covers, happy lazy summer days on the beach, stressful all-nighters cramming to finish the last page.  A book is an investment of time, dedication, love, and adventure.  Can this be replaced?

The e-book revolution’s will-power remains to be seen: will it take over the way other such electronics have ousted their predecessors? Or will it fall to the wayside, a fad to be remembered on the TV special “I love the 2000s”?


Writers Block and The Search For Inspiration

by Jeff Matson

Chances are if you are reading this you have had some experiences with creative writing, and if you’ve experienced creative writing, you have also experienced what is commonly referred to as writer’s block. The two go hand in hand along the path to artistic expression through language. It happens to everyone. Whether you can’t seem to make your characters real, your plot has gone static, or you just can’t seem to find that elusive last line of a poem, all writers have to overcome writer’s block.

The one major hurdle with creative writing is that it requires one to be well, creative. When you just cannot seem to put the pen to the paper, remember that the source for inspiration can come from just about anywhere.  A good writer has a distinct perspective of the world. It is his job to try as hard as he can to make others understand and appreciate his unique vision through his words. But, in order to begin to sculpt your creative literary masterpiece, you must first open your eyes and ears to the world. A writer is a professional observer, with a flair for language, viewing the world through art-tinted glasses.

Here are a few exercises that have helped fellow writers and myself in the past. Hopefully, these tips for inspiration will get your creative juices flowing and your dendrites firing so that, with any luck, you may conquer your writer’s block.

-First, and I know this may seem obvious, READ! Try reading some new material or re-reading an old favorite. If your piece was inspired by another work try revisiting the original work or other work by that author. Try poetry, short fiction, even screenplays. By surrounding yourself with the work of others, you may find that one spark that can ignite a whole surge of new ideas for the work you are stuck on. Think of it this way: if you were an architect you would study other buildings. If you were a mechanic you would study cars. You are writer so you study books.

-When I’m stuck on a page I often revert to what I refer to as the blank-page method. Simply pull out a blank page of paper and a comfortable pen and let loose. Write whatever comes to your mind. It may be that you just need to get some things down on paper to clear your mind enough to find inspiration for your work. When attempting this type of free-write I usually go by one rule: Let it flow, Let it go.

-For those who are multilingual, translating a piece of writing from another language, like a poem, can be very stimulating and helpful for spawning new ideas and stirring up older ones.

-If you are like me translating a poem from another language isn’t really an option. A useful cure for writer’s block is the writing prompt. Try to get your thoughts flowing again by writing for a specific situation or prompt. It’s much easier to start writing if you already have a purpose. For example: Write about a time you did something embarrassing to get noticed or write about your favorite childhood memory. Any experience can be fuel for your writing.

-One of the most fun ways to get some fresh ideas for your work is to simply listen in on the conversations of others. If you are trying to create a character or dialogue that you want to ring true to life on the page there is no better example than real people in real life situations.


Poetry forgive me, I have done you wrong.

by Susan Todd

As I sat skimming through my copy of Poetry International 13/14 searching, I felt futilely, for a poem that would catch my interest and keep it, I found, much to my surprise, not just a poem, but pages of poetry that did just that. This most recent edition of Poetry International contains within its bindings works that even the most unenthusiastic reader of poetry can enjoy. There are poems that speak to all types of people, to all experiences great and small, from the bite of a mosquito to a couple making love. I enjoyed what I read, and could not have been more surprised because of it. I chose this poem to share with you because, of them all, this one fits in with a genre of fiction I readily admit I enjoy, romance.

It’s Cool

By Lauren Wattel

We were driving each other mad again, so

we left the highway and found an empty space

by the ruins of a house. I stroked your chest

and straddled your lap; you kissed me with a low

moan, your skin gold in the light; I cupped your face

between my palms like an artifact; you moved

my hips; and when you pressed your lips to my breast

you gasped. There was a man outside the window.

“Its cool,” the man said, “just find another place

to do it.” Then he tipped his hat, unimpressed

with the exhibition. Our mood now improved

dramatically, we waved to the man and drove

back to the highway feeling restored, well-loved,

glistening like two jewels in a secret trove.

Poetry spans all genres. It can be dramatic or funny. It can tell a story of love or hate, be mysterious and suspenseful, or mythical and mystical. Poetry has romance and danger and adventure. I have often said that poetry was of no interest to me. I told people I hated poetry and I believed it, but how can you hate what you don’t really know? The answer is, you can’t. So poetry, I admit it, I owe you an apology… and here it is.


I have wronged you. All these years I have neglected you, belittled you, and maligned you to all my friends. You were like that kid who was different from everybody else. The misunderstood one that I never tried to get to know, that I never spoke with to see if maybe, possibly, we had some common interest. I rejected you before I really knew you and for that I am truly sorry. I feel as though I’ve missed out on what could’ve been years of great friendship, for you see, I’ve learned the error of my ways. We do have a common interest. You do have something to say that I want to hear. I was wrong to judge you by form alone. It’s what’s inside that counts and in your work I found something to connect to. I hope that you can forgive my reprehensible behavior, and if so, I look forward to a long and happy friendship with you.

Repentantly Yours,

Susan Todd

Notes From the Undergrads #3

Notes from the Undergrads is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class, comprised primarily of undergrads, with a few grad students thrown in for color.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Undercurrents editorial board.


Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

by Lindsey Messner

I’m not usually the one to jump onto the bandwagon when it comes to newly released novels.  I didn’t read A Million Little Pieces, the Twilight Saga or any one of Nicholas Sparks’ hundreds of mushy gushy romance novels.  However, when I went into a bookstore last week, I couldn’t help being sucked into the obsession with the living dead and blood-sucking fiends all of the preteens rave on about.  I knew of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as his other novels, but his most recent publication, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter instantly grabbed my attention, and I was hooked – Abe Lincoln was a killing machine?  Unthinkable!

But apparently true, in the world of fiction anyway: “Abraham Lincoln would never take another life.  And yet he would become one of the greatest killers of the nineteenth century” (21).  This monster mash-up novel exposes the unknown truth of America’s sixteenth president.  Grahame-Smith presents the reader with selections from a newly discovered historical document, Lincoln’s journal describing his struggles to destroy the vampire population in the United States.  To avenge his mother’s violent death by a supernatural killer, Lincoln, with his unnatural height and his trusty ax in hand, uncovers the sinister deeds of the vampires: using slave owners as pawns and keeping slaves as a food source.

Not only is the story interesting, but the amount of effort put into making this novel into a faux factual piece of historical evidence is astounding.  Along with journal entries, pictures document the truth behind Lincoln’s time spent in the White House before his tragic end.

For those looking for an action-packed thriller, this book may disappoint.  Because the author is trying to achieve the tone of a historical text and not a fantastic work, the tone is fairly flat and dry.  However, this creates a sense of credibility for the author from the audience that would have not been achieved if the subject matter weren’t taken seriously.  The direct connection between vampirism and slavery is astonishing, and, if the living dead existed, surprisingly plausible.

Although I hate to be one to jump on the bandwagon, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fresh, intriguing and innovative.  I recommend it to everyone who likes a good vampire novel with a side of historical documentation.


Why Books Rule and Movies Drool

by Rachel Ford

You read an amazing book and hear it’s being retrofitted into a movie.  You can’t wait!  You loved the book, how great will the movie be?  All they have to do is follow the book and it will be wonderful!   You can’t wait to see your favorite characters brought to life on the big screen!  Fast forward a few months.  You’re exiting the movie theatre wondering if you walked into the right movie.  How could they have gone so far wrong?  Wasn’t someone there to tell them what the book was about?  Bueller?  Now, most importantly, people that never read the book now never will.  How annoyingly familiar is that scenario?

When a movie based on a book gets it right, it makes you want to re-read the book, or read it for the first time.  It’s that enticing that you have to know more.  You are interested.  In today’s society that word is a big deal.  “Interested” means they have won your attention in a culture constantly competing for it.  I can barely get my Starbucks without being twittered to death.

Why are movies not able to re-create the emotions and depth of story that books do?

1)     Books have more time whereas a movie usually has two hours to get it all done.  Certain things need to be cut or altered.  Classic example, Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind.  She has two children from her prior husbands in the novel but only one with Rhett in the movie.  Apparently this decision was made to make her character more sympathetic in the movie version (which is accomplished); whereas the book had more time for details to make you sympathetic towards her.

2)    Books and Movies are different art forms.  A film leaves very little to the imagination.  In a novel you are creating your own movie in your head.  You imagine a scene a certain way and there is no budget limit.   It’s very difficult for a director to re-create that scene to match the masses imagination.

3)    Directors don’t always cast roles the way we want.  Twi-hards freaked when Robert Pattinson was cast as Edward Cullen in their beloved Twilight series.  They simply couldn’t imagine him as Edward.  Now they love him and have accepted him.  However, at the initial announcement it was hard for them to picture him in that role.  He just wasn’t their idea of Edward.  For me, Tom Hanks was cast incorrectly in The Da Vinci Code.  I pictured Russell Crowe or Harrison Ford.  I loved the book but sat through only half the movie; Tom Hanks just wasn’t believable in the role.

4)    Movies aren’t “just like the book.”  This is probably the most popular complaint.  Screenplays are adapted from the book and don’t follow the book word for word.  The majority of readers can handle a change or two; however when large chunks are missing and important scenes altered, faithful readers will lose their minds.

5)    You prefer the medium presented to you first.  Most likely if you’ve made the argument the book is better than the film, you’ve read the book (we hope).  The majority of the time the book is read first.  Popular books are usually turned into movies, not books nobody reads (although it does happen on occasion).  If you’ve read the book first then you have a personal connection to the story from experiencing it on a deeper level.

I’m not saying that they should stop making movies out of books or that we should stop going to see the films adapted from books.  I love reading and I love seeing movies made from the stories I admire.  However, I do think as readers we need to be guarded when watching adapted films.  We need to let ourselves enjoy them for what they are, someone else’s interpretation.  They will rarely live up to our personal expectations, especially if we loved the book.  Loving the book is what started it all, let’s focus on that and pass the popcorn.


Communal Music

by Raymond Currie

One of my current personal projects in music is to devise a series of what I call communal pieces. These are works where anyone, both musicians and non-musicians, can perform the works. The emphasis is not on “quality” of the performance; rather, it focuses on participation. This is a very old concept and is still practiced by many tribes such as the Suya Indians of Central Brazil or Inuit of the Northern Pacific, where the influence of the modern world has not reached. Maybe this is hard to understand since most people reading this are from a modern society. We are trained to think, in our culture, of music as a competition or game, therefore communal music could be viewed as an oxymoron. We divide people from music, or other arts, based on talent. This composition is designed to get away from the idea of competition. It is community driven music. There are three musical things everyone can do: talk, sing, and tap a rhythm. If you can do these three things you can make music. It does not matter if you are a great singer, musician, or whatever, the idea is not quality, it’s participation. With that said, let’s try an experiment:

1)    Pick a note or series of notes in your mind. Sing it aloud and if they are different notes try to keep them the same, but if it varies a little that is okay.

2)    Pick a phrase in your mind (ex. I’m a freaking rock star). With your note(s) speak the phrase without saying the words. Use a single sound for each syllable (ex. I’m a freaking rock star = da da dada da da). Don’t tell anyone the words of your phrase. You are now Voice 1.

3)    Find a friend to repeat steps one and two. Guess what? That Person is Voice 2, and remember Voice 2, use your own phrase and keep the words to yourself.

4)    Repeat step one and two to add as many voices as desired.

The composition can now begin.

1)    Voice 1 begins reciting their phrase (keep repeating it over and over).

2)    Voice 2 begins their phrase after a few repetitions of Voice 1. If they are unsure of when to begin, start ten seconds after voice one. Entry for each additional voice is the same process.

3)    Continue repeating your phrases separately for at least a minute.

4)    Begin to listen to the other voices and begin mimicking another parts voice.

5)    All voices continue mimicking other voices until all voices are singing the same thing.

6)    When all voices are singing the same thing repeat for a few seconds, look at each other, and stop.

Hopefully this was a fun little venture and gave you a better understanding of communal music. Or maybe it just gave you a headache. Just try it sober first.


Review: Living Writers Series
by Matt Silva 
The Living Writers Series began at San Diego State twenty-five years ago.
Since the time it has been running, the writing series has achieved
national recognition as one of the longest running reading series across
the country.

During these past twenty-five years, The Living Writers Series has brought
established as well as up-and-coming writers to the beautiful campus of
San Diego State. Although I have only been able to catch a handful of
readings in my short time at San Diego State, I thought it would be nice
to share how great my experiences have been.

What makes these writing series even more special, is that most writers
that attend not only participate in readings but classroom lectures and
workshops as well.

Scripps Cottage, where the readings are usually held, would best be
compared to a diamond in the rough, as it’s situated close enough to the
hustle and bustle of students making their way to and from classes and
while at the same time blending into the landscape that surrounds it. The
average student most likely ponders what occupies the quaint cottage as
they bask in the sun next to the turtles and their pond.

They would be THRILLED to know however what I know.

What I know, is the enthusiasm and great spirit that fills that cottage is
unlike any other readings I have ever been to (which have been more then a
handful). The work that is read there is alive and detailed. Whether
it’s an old shmo professor that’s trying to test out his latest work or a
well known author that’s traveling the states, the work is always
interesting to say the least.

I remember one time I was there earlier this year and the two writers that
were presenting were Katherine Towler an award winning author and San
Diego State Professor Joseph Thomas. Thomas, already known to be a corky
individual to say the least, got up there before award winning Towler and
 it was hilarious to watch and listen to the things that came out of his mouth. 

Not to mention the way he presented himself and the way in which he described 

his methodical way of writing.

The audience that attends can be heard buzzing with anticipation
beforehand and active in participation afterwards with comments and
questions for the readers.
The readers that attend The Living Writers Series at San Diego State WANT
to be there and to me that’s more important then anything. I’ve never
gotten the impression while being there that anyone was too good for
anyone else. The unpredictable and sometimes bashful MFA students that
participate in the readings before the big dogs take stage are also given
equal respect. Everyone that attends these readings does so in good
spirit with wide eyes and ears.

The Living Writers Series is a good spot to meet fellow writers and enjoy
the friendly hospitality that the hosts of the program provide. Whether
it’s a local writer, better known participant, MFA Student, or unknown,
The Living Writers Series in Scripps Cottage at San Diego State University
is an excellent place to spend some time and listen to fellow writers.