David Bersell’s “Dear Chris Crutcher”

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We are honored to host an essay from Issue 4 alumni David Bersell’s new collection The Way I’ve Seen Her Ever Since out now on The Lettered Street Press.

Read “Dear Chris Crutcher” below.

Dear Chris Crutcher

My name is David Bersell and I am in the seventh grade. You are my favorite author. I’ve read all of your books. Running Loose is my favorite. When the runner found out his girlfriend died in a car accident I felt terrible. But I also felt good. Like I was him. I read Stotan first. I picked it up at the library because of the swimmer on the cover. My brother started swimming in high school and got eighth place in the breast stroke at State’s. I play backup point guard on my school’s basketball team. Some of your book covers don’t make sense. There’s a hurdler on the front of Chinese Handcuffs but the main character does triathlons not hurdles. Also I was wondering if you’ve heard of Walter Dean Myers and Carl Deuker. They also write really good sports books. My school’s having an Author Fair and I picked your books for my project. I need to write a summary and draw a scene for each one. I think I’m also going to pick my favorite characters and write your biography. Usually I don’t try at school. English and Gym are the only classes I like. I read in an interview that you used to hate school too. You said you picked your college because you went to look at all the catalogs in the library and it was the only one that was red. The rest were black or blue. When I was in fifth grade I forgot I had a book report due so at the start of class I scribbled down a report for an imaginary novel. I remembered a cover I had seen about a math nerd so I made the story about how he has no friends but then he wins a math competition and gets to go to Washington, DC and the kids at school think he’s cool. My teacher gave me a B. I think I’m going to try writing a book soon. In class during notes and every night before I fall asleep I imagine stories.

Your fan,

David

David,

Thanks for taking time to write your responses to my stories. Sounds like you (and your brother) are quite an athlete. It also sounds like you have already figured out some of the things I figured out to get through school with minimum effort. That works, but I should let you in on a secret. Someday there will be something you really want to go after and you’ll find yourself putting your entire intellect into it. Trust me. You’ll love it.

I know what you mean about some of the covers. I complained about that hurdler on Chinese Handcuffs, too. So much that they changed the cover.

I have read a lot of Walter Dean Myers. He and I know and respect each other a lot. Don’t know Carl Deuker as well, but I hear great things about his work.

So, good luck with your writing and your athletics. Sounds like you have a lot going for you and you know how to enjoy it.

Sincerely,

Chris Crutcher

Dear Chris,

I was barely friends with Steve—spring track, he charged the hurdles with anger, then lay in the grass, listening to Hendrix—and I only knew Carl because I had a crush on his ex-girlfriend.

We were seventeen.

That means I loved them.

The next weekend, Carl and Steve’s friends gathered at the crash site to drink in their honor. I wrote a poem, and when that wasn’t enough, I wrote a short story, imagined the violence.

The road curves to the left, but the car speeds ahead, no swerve, no breaks. It only takes a second. The metal and plastic and rubber blasts from the ground. I know this is supposed to be sad, but isn’t it also magical, the car transforming into a spaceship, Carl and Steve alive and weightless for one more second, angling up from the earth, shooting higher, through the branches and swallowed moonlight?

And I know the spaceship doesn’t stay up. I clipped the photographs from the newspaper. I know about the graceless fall, the snap of foreheads against windshield, the after.

But what if Carl and Steve were driving even faster, what if the tires kissed the rounded incline of the road’s edge just right, what if the exhaust malfunctioned at the perfect moment so the pipe sucked blue fire into the night?

What if the Carl and Steve kept flying?

Picture the car rumbling through our atmosphere, above our houses and hideaways and parents pouring coffee and sighing, all our dogs and Saturday mornings, Carl and Steve curling around a cloud of purple gas with the bass turned up, Carl and Steve nodding at the rind of the universe, how cute, how fragile, Carl and Steve closing their eyes and waiting for whatever mystery comes next, all those minutes, all those galaxies and unlived lives, all that open space, hanging like a sail, waiting to be filled.

Chris, you were right.

When I was seventeen and couldn’t sleep, I read passages of Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis, aloud in my bedroom. “The water turned colder, raging, and the sand became wet, and Blair would sit by herself on the deck overlooking the sea and spot boats in the afternoon fog.”

And when Ashley had a nightmare, or I was too sad to speak, we read The City of Women, by Sherod Santos, a lyric collage about ex-lovers and divorced parents, one more time. “Who we are is composed of what, perhaps only what, we can never reclaim form the rubble.”

I owe so many: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, We the Animals, Chloe Caldwell, Major Jackson. “The Fourth State of Matter.”

My friends.

I teach at summer camps and in high school classrooms because I know how writing can be a superpower for the adolescent and hungry.

Is that why you write Young Adult?

After I read at a teen writers workshop, a student asked why I always wrote sad stories.

I said, “I don’t try to be sad, just realistic.”

Then she said, “Isn’t it sad how love’s dead?”

She meant it.

“There’s love, just not how you think,” I said. “It’s there, it’s just hard. Like writing. It’s hard, beautiful work, but it’s worth it.”

“But there’s no romance.”

“No, there’s romance, too. Believe me. You just have to wait.”

She told me about watching her little sister grow up. “The loss of innocence, it’s already starting,”

I wanted to cradle her and stop telling stories, but I knew protection was a child’s myth, so I needed to write the truth. I needed to describe the pain, because there is always pain, and the glory, too, crafting pieces into a quilt, a window and a mirror, my love.

Chris, I’m sorry this is so belated: thank you for writing back.

All the best,

David

bersell book

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Wallace Stevens’ “Gubbinal”

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We are proud to have our words this week come from friend and Issue 4 contributor, Raul Clement.

“Gubbinal” by Wallace Stevens, is exactly the sort of poem I love – one whose surface simplicity gives way, on closer examination, to a great complexity of content and possible interpretations. Here is the poem in full:

“That strange flower, the sun,
 Is just what you say.
 Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
 And the people are sad.
That tuft of jungle feathers,
 That animal eye,
 Is just what you say.
That savage of fire,
 That seed,
 Have it your way.

The world is ugly, 
And the people are sad.”

I read this as a poem about how a certain pessimistic and unimaginative outlook fails to see the wonder of the world—and in doing so, actually diminishes that wonder.

The speaker of the poem sees the sun poetically, as a “strange flower.” But at the same time, with a bitter and sarcastic resignation, he tells the unnamed “you” to “have it your way.” In other words, according to the “you,” the sun is just the sun and nothing more.

The famous second stanza, repeated at the end of the poem, should not be interpreted literally—or at least not with a singular meaning. It does not represent the attitude of the speaker, but the attitude of the “you” he addresses. Stevens might have punctuated the poem like this:

That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way:

“The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.”

To do so, however, would have reduced the secondary meaning. The world is indeed ugly, and the people are sad—but only because of people claiming this is the case. By leaving out quotation marks, Stevens allows for this double meaning.

There is so much more to analyze—the title, the rhyme and meter, etc.—but that could turn into a ten-page essay. That Stevens manages to pack so much into so few words, and with such simplicity, is a reminder of the great power of poetic compression.

– RC

Profile of Wallace Stevens Smiling

This is a portrait of the American poet Wallace Stevens, (1879-1955). He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for his in 1954. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Issue 4 Available Now

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Issue 4 of Sobotka Literary Magazine is available now here!

Sincerest thanks to everyone who was made this issue possible, especially the writers. We’re excited for people to read some amazing work. Feel lit in your bones!

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Editors’ Note for Issue 4

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The following is the full Editors’ Note for Issue 4:

“There are few things more frightening than being alone.

The solitary entrance into your new school’s lunchroom, hands gripping the flimsy plastic tray as if for physical protection. The silent wait on your doctor’s exam table, wax paper crinkling as you squirm in anticipation of a diagnosis. The empty stage before your first solo recital, a dull hum of conversation behind the closed curtain. The walk up to the open casket with only your memories and last remarks.

While these are all moments of loneliness, and certainly anxiety inducing, they are finite and conquerable. Real terror is infinite loneliness. True social isolation. That barren horizon that appears to keep rolling along ahead, regardless of your vain attempts to slow down and seek refuge in the care of a gentle friend or the compassion of a family member. Just a sad, endless marathon to death.

The majority of the two years we’ve spent working on this magazine thus far have been spent shifting closer towards the cusp of social isolation. Whether it be moving away from home to live alone in the outskirts of a new city or sacrificing days to build a skill set in a prospective career as friends disperse, we’ve found ourselves separate and alone, searching for stability in something other than the conversations and company of our core group of friends. We’ve had to rebuild our essential communities, find our space in our respective cities and occupy it the best we could. This magazine has served as a source of comfort and familiarity through the changes these past couple of years have brought, providing us a thread to a shared past and a foundation for a connected future. It has given us a sort of surrogate community where we could engage with and share the ideas of others even when our social circles were nearing nonexistent. Basically, it kept us from feeling we were running that marathon.

We’ve learned firsthand that literature can provide the community, both of place and purpose, necessary for avoiding the intellectual black hole of social isolation. You can find solace or strength in a story that puts words to something you thought you alone felt. A poem can express an emotion or an experience in a way that gives you a kind of clarity that simple, logical advice cannot. The acts of writing and reading should be a conversation, no matter how distant or indirect. They allow you to shape your perspective in response to the presented perspective of another.

In a time when political theater and its all-too-real repercussions have become bizarrely terrifying, the solace that sentences and stanzas can give becomes an invaluable resource for those reaching for a reassurance that love, community, and beauty can still exist in the face of hate, fear, and bigotry. Literature can provide a welcome escape from reality, but, more importantly, it can shape reality into something you don’t feel the need to escape from. It can provide you that vital conversation that assures you that you’re not alone in the often overwhelming swirl of stimulus or struggle to act in the face of a seemingly interminable slew of common tragedy.

The prose and poetry in this issue creates a conversation about the comfort and conflict that human connectedness causes, providing insight into the rewards and risks of closeness. Pleasure can be a placebo. Pain can be empowering. The acceptance that life is a continuous, unavoidable mixture of the two can provide a sense of calm knowledge. All the works in this collection gave us some sort of insight into the intricacies of people, both isolated and interconnected. Every piece is done with an empathy that touches and teaches us, like talking softly with a close friend.

Ultimately, they made us feel human and unalone. We hope they do the same for you.

Kathy Klimentowski/Nick Rossi
Chicago/Nashville, June 2016”

Issue 4 Editors Note 3

Issue 4 Jacket

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Here’s our jacket for Issue 4!

Prose by:
David Bersell
Brendan Cavanagh
Raul Clement
Brandon French
Matthew Hoch
Darius Jones
Kim Peter Kovac

Poetry by:
Lauren Ball
Gary Beck
Lauren Bender
Bob Carlton
Ivan de Monbrison
Timothy B. Dodd
William Ogden Haynes
M.B. Wharton

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Quarterbacks’ “Center”

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In anticipation of his forthcoming essays in Issue 4, we are proud to have our words this week provided by David Bersell.

For Wordsmith Wednesday, I’m looking at “Center,” from Quarterbacks’ self-titled album.

An excerpt:

“The night I first met you
We were dancing in the living room
And we kissed in front of everyone
I had waited two years to talk to you
I helped you move to your new house
We left handprints in the closet before we moved you out
I’m looking up at that room now
So I’m hoping that you come down

Because there’s such relief in coincidence
A universe that finally works out the way you always suspected
With yourself near the center”

After reading Amos Barshad’s fantastic profile of the band, I started listening to Quarterbacks songs before bed.

Like much of their work, “Center” describes a coming of age romance, balancing detail and brevity. It’s a story I’ve lived, have written too many times, am walking further away from the older I get—my first kiss was while slow dancing at a birthday party; I helped a girl pack and leave home every August until we weren’t kids anymore.

I listen for my favorite lines, after the narrative. “A universe that finally works out the way you’ve always suspected/with yourself near the center.” It’s a young hopeful thought that the speaker can’t resist. I hear the lyrics as a sustained note, a positive reflection of the Yeats lines Didion references in Slouching Towards Bethlehem: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Before The Fader published Barshad’s article, Quarterbacks broke up. The band knew it would happen eventually. The bass player wanted to live with his girlfriend and play his own songs. The drummer’s anxiety made touring unbearable. The frontman was ready for a change, moved to Brooklyn, is looking for a teaching job, pays his bills delivering booze. There’s something beautiful about that, too.

– DB

qbs

Issue 4 Authors

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We proudly present our Issue 4 authors!

Prose by:
David Bersell
Brendan Cavanagh
Raul Clement
Brandy French
Matthew Hoch
Darius Jones
Kim Peter Kovac

Poetry by:
Lauren Ball
Gary Beck
Lauren Bender
Bob Carlton
Timothy Dodd
William Ogden Haynes
Ivan de Monbrison
M.B. Wharton

Sobotka Issue 4 Author Flyer