Wordsmith Wednesday: Patti Smith’s M Train

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Our words this Wednesday come from Patti Smith​’s M Train.

They are:

“I hate being confined, especially when it’s for my own good.”

Presented almost as an aside in reference to trying to slyly stay unbuckled on an airplane, this sentence quietly links foundational themes in the text and illuminates them like the author clicking on a lamp in the corner of the room you’ve been sharing to show you more clearly the details in the chairs in which you both sit. In a book that is in large ways about place, space, and an oscillation within those concepts from the joys of Home to the omnipresent itch to roam independent, these words highlight an elemental juxtaposition in Smith between her love of comfortable routine—coffee at her favorite NYC table, her minimalist wardrobe, the love for her late husband Fred and their Michigan house—and the need to feel the wild pulse of world, especially through traveling to places once inhabited by artists she admires. There is sureness and self-awareness in this conflict that makes these little imbedded revelations in Smith’s writing more intimate, her fiercely imperfect independence human and alive. Bristling sincerity and curious uncertainty give texture to the prose that makes the reader feel as if they’re carefully but confidently being shown around a friend’s unfinished house, snapshots and nostalgalia picked up along the way. Smith acknowledges inconsistencies in construction and decor but never apologizes, rarely even attempting to meaningfully explain the vision for the final product, possibly because there never has been one except for it to be completely untied to expectation. We just watch her build the house around us and herself, finding beauty in the bent nails, rusted hinges, and knowledge it will never be done, getting lost enough in the ramshackle romance not to notice Patti herself has thrown on her black coat and gone out in search of coffee just when things seemed to be coming together. – NR

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Submissions for Issue 7

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Submissions for Issue 7 are open until April 15th!

Send us your poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction!

Find full submission guidelines here!

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kaveh Akbar’s “An Apology”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is Kaveh Akbar’s poem “An Apology“ from his collection entitled Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

It reads:

“Lord, I meant to be helpless, sex-
less as a comma, quiet as
cotton floating on a pond. Instead,
I charged into desire like a
tiger sprinting off the edge of
the world. My ancestors shot bones
out of cannons and built homes where
they landed. This is to say, I
was born the king of nothing, pulled
out from nothing like a carrot
slipped from soil. I am still learning
the local law: don’t hurt something
that can smile, don’t hold any grief
except your own. My first time—brown
arms, purple lips, lush as a gun—-
we slumped into each other’s thighs.
She said duset daram, mano
tanha bezar—I love you, leave
me alone. See? There I go scab-
picking again. You should just hang
me in a museum. I’ll pose
as a nasty historical
facet, wave at the cameras, lecture
only in the rhetoric of
a victim. As a boy I tore out
the one-hundred-and-nine pages
about Hell in my first Qur’an.
Bountiful bloomscattering Lord,
I could feel you behind my eyes
and under my tongue, shocking me
nightly like an old battery.
What did I need with Hell? Now that
I’ve sucked you wrinkly like a thumb,
I can barely be bothered to
check in. Will I ever even know
when my work is done? I’m almost
ready to show you the mess I’ve made.”

“I’m sorry” tends to show up in our everyday vocabulary, similarly to “umm” and “like” and “what’s your name again?” when we’ve been taught to be apologetic for who we are and how we feel. We find ourselves in a tug of war between what we think, want to say, how we want to act, and what is expected of us based on social, sexual, religious, et al expectations. As much as we want/hope/try to fit into the mold or perception that our parents/friends/significant others have of us, when that is not who we truly are, our thoughts and actions aren’t always able to align. We speak out of turn, we feel too eager, too energetic, too prepared. We say our sorrys.

We want so badly to be someone else or discover who we are, learn from our past, but during that process we find out we are is a whole bunch of wires all mixed up together never connecting to the right plug. We are human and we want a range of uncertain desires that make us feel like pieces of puzzles that don’t fit together, that we’ve cut apart to line up. This mess is something we must love first before being able to present to others. We must find our roots, our initial selves, and hold fast or it will always be an inward fight. – KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Eileen Myles’ “An American Poem”

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Our words this week come from the end of Eileen Myles’ poem “An American Poem” from their 1991 collection, Not Me.

The excerpt reads:

“I am a Kennedy.
Shouldn’t we all be Kennedys?
This nation’s greatest city
is home of the business-
man and home of the
rich artist. People with
beautiful teeth who are not
on the streets. What shall
we do about this dilemma?
Listen, I have been educated.
I have learned about Western
Civilization. Do you know
what the message of Western
Civilization is? I am alone.
Am I alone tonight?
I don’t think so. Am I
the only one with bleeding gums
tonight. Am I the only
homosexual in this room
tonight. Am I the only
one whose friends have
died, are dying now.
And my art can’t
be supported until it is
gigantic, bigger than
everyone else’s, confirming
the audience’s feeling that they are
alone. That they alone
are good, deserved
to buy the tickets
to see this Art.
Are working,
are healthy, should
survive, and are
normal. Are you
normal tonight? Everyone
here, are we all normal.
It is not normal for
me to be a Kennedy.
But I am no longer
ashamed, no longer
alone. I am not
alone tonight because
we are all Kennedys.
And I am your President.”

Assuming a fictional role in an American political dynasty, Myles allows themselves to interrogate identity, both personal and national, in a voice that naturally oscillates between sincerity and sarcasm. A real-life blue collar New Englander, they use autobiographical content about being a young queer poet experiencing the class contradictions of New York City juxtaposed with their assumed identity as a closeted member of the (in)famous Kennedy family to complicate the typical idea of success as power, beauty, wealth, and fame with the realities of the mass, of the struggle, of the poor and diseased, of the imperfect normal. With this poem, Eileen Myles (who ran a campaign as the first “openly female” presidential write-in campaign the year after this poem was published) empowers the average in the face of the elite, pushes on cracks in persistent political and social structures, and challenges the idea of Americanness itself, all in a style that fosters messy love and honest dialogue rather than nihilism or didacticism. As the actual Kennedy family continues to whet its elite white teeth on our country’s political stage, Myles’ reminder to recognize the whole beautiful, bruised, transforming face of this nation as its truer identity is one that can continue to guide us as we navigate into a more empowered, inclusive, and just image of America. – NR

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Issue 6 Available Now

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Issue 6 of Sobotka Literary Magazine is available now here!

Thank you to everyone involved for their work, help, encouragement, and support. We are psyched to be giving these authors a platform and hope people will feel lit in their bones if they check out this issue!

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Editor’s Note for Issue 6

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The following is the full Editor’s Note for Issue 6:

One cannot walk this winding street with pride
Straight-shouldered, tranquil-eyed,
Knowing one knows for sure the way back home.
One wonders if one has a home.
– Gwendolyn Brooks, “One wants a Teller in a time like this”

What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday

I’ve come home again.

I sit in my car in the morning waiting for the engine to heat up, for my bones to stop creaking. I speed down country roads lined with cornstalks, green and strong until they are harvested or left to turn dead-gold. I drive past the cemetery where my friend’s grave is on the way to and from work, sometimes slowing down to look through the narrow gate and across rolling headstones. I ride the Metra line downtown to avoid the Dan Ryan, the one my dad took for years when he worked at Wrigley, the one that goes through my childhood hometown and Brooks’ Bronzeville, too. I walk suburban streets with my dog, I walk from the L to my friends’ apartments, I walk down high school halls, weekend alleyways, the steps to my parents’ basement. I sleep in my middle school bedroom on an air mattress. I dream of Chicago and its sprawl because I’ve come home again.

Home doesn’t always feel that way. When I left Illinois for Tennessee almost four years ago, I swore I’d never miss this place. I told myself nothing tethered me here besides family and the familiar. Graduation from college had been followed by a failed job hunt, a funeral for a close friend, and sixty-hour work weeks in food service. Lost and apathetic, I’d unconsciously distanced myself from the people and places that reminded me of my past, of myself. But I hadn’t been able to hide. I’d haunted my old campus, broken shouldered and cloudy eyed, for months until I’d moved back in with my parents to try to piece together part-time teaching jobs around Chicago. I’d felt lonely, pathetic, and out of place, no longer at home in the spots that were once mine. Winding through the suburbs and the city’s south and west sides, I wondered if I had a home.

Sobotka grew out of that emotional homelessness. Kathy and I needed something to focus on besides day jobs, and we felt we could provide a platform for people seeking that same connection: a community built not from place, profession, or past, but from words. So we started working on this project nights and weekends, with nothing but a feeling and few hundred dollars.

In the years that followed, this magazine helped create one of the most stable communities in my life. It connected me to Chicago while allowing me to explore creative opportunities in Nashville. It has provided me the space to express myself alongside artists I respect. It has introduced me to the writers, readers, editors, and bookstore owners that continue to breathe life into this magazine and other creative pursuits. It has showed me that a community can grow from a gut feeling, hard work, and a dedication to kindness.

Now, after three years away, I have come home again. This time I find comfort in the cornrows and the creak of airbrakes. I feel the magic in the streetlights, in the midnight train’s horn. The mythos of the Midwest feels present in the memories of my past, in the spine of this place, in myself. I ran from these streets at my sickest, but now I’m back having combated the disease of loneliness and emerged stronger. Time may heal most wounds, but community heals the rest. We want this magazine to be a meeting place for like minds to warm their hands and heal a bit with us from the stress and stimulus that daily life can bring. Come sit down by the fire a while. Make yourself at home.

We are proud to bring the pieces in this issue under one roof. The works here deal heavily with loss, confusion, frustration, and the search for a sense of comfort. They examine the idea of a home (or lack thereof), whether in the literal sense, in relationships, or in one’s own body. They range from the deeply personal to the slyly humorous to the bizarre, but all offer a space for the reader, whether it be a quiet seat in the corner to observe or a spot at the table for an intimate conversation. The authors within may not know for sure the way back home, but they’re willing to walk with you, to help straighten your shoulders and calm your eyes, to keep you company down this winding street.

As always, we hope this makes you feel human and unalone.

Nick Rossi
Chicago, November 2017

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kurt Vonnegut “Wailing Shall Be in All Streets”

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Our words this week come from Kurt Vonnegut’s essay “Wailing Shall Be in All Streets” from his posthumous collection, Armageddon in Retrospect.

The excerpt reads:

“The facile reply to great groans such as mine is the most hateful of all cliches, ‘fortunes of war,’ and another, ‘They asked for it. All they understand is force.’ Who asked for it? The only thing who understands is force? Believe me, it is not easy to rationalize the stamping out of vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored when gathering up babies in bushel baskets or helping a man dig where he thinks his wife may be buried.”

A veteran of WWII taken as a POW during the Battle of the Bulge, Vonnegut’s writings on war and the institutional machineries that create it have informed my perspective on pacifism and patriotism since adolescence, specifically in thinking about the human costs for soldiers and civilians. Vonnegut spent the first part of his career writing directly or indirectly about the sickening inhumanity and personal trauma of the American firebombing of Dresden, a mission that killed tens of thousands of innocent people, including women and children. He’d spent the days during the bombing hiding in a slaughterhouse and the days after working alongside Germans to search for survivors while stacking burnt bodies for mass cremation. The American media hardly spared a headline for victims and vets alike, the government sparing even less. I can only imagine Vonnegut’s anger and despair at this, a young man recovering from the suicide of his mother. His humor, calm criticism, and emotional generosity in the face of trauma taught me a ton on how to navigate heaviness and injustice, how to use art and voice to make something half a century ago halfway around the world feel present and vital and human.

Despite the art of people like Vonnegut and idea that we are the most advanced civilization in the history of our planet, the United States has been at war in one capacity or another for well over half of my life. Recently we elected to give an unstable old man access to the largest nuclear arsenal in history, a cyberbully with the foreign relations tact of an aggressive fifth grader in the schoolyard and the empathetic capacity of a rock. The fear of the Cold War is creeping back into the collective psyche through the language of politicians and the media. So, as the flag waving of Veterans’ Day fades until next year’s brief show of nationalist pride and social media posts, I suggest we build a statue of PFC Vonnegut holding a basket of burnt babies in front of the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Pentagon with a plaque simply saying “The Fortunes of War.” Just as a friendly reminder.

– NR

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