Issue 5 Guest Editor Announcement

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We here at Sobotka are excited to announce that Grant Garland will be joining us to help edit our fifth issue this winter. Grant is a graduate of the English Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, former editor of Montage, founder of literary podcast Middle Literate, and contributed to our first issue back in 2014. We’re proud to have him on board as our first guest editor and can’t wait to see what lands in our submission pile for Issue 5!

GrantBW

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

Wordsmith Wednesday: Nas’ “One Love”

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Our words this week come from Nas’ track “One Love” off of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.

The lines are:

“But, yo, guess who got shot in the dome piece?
Jerome’s niece on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus Little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hanging out with young thugs that all carry 9s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?”

The textual cadence of these words is only a shadow of the spoken delivery, but the internal rhymes and crisp colloquiality of Nas’ lyrics are undeniable. Illmatic is full of dense, image intensive verses but the stylized envisioning of letters to jailed friends found on “One Love” has always stood out to me. The conversational relation of urban tragedy/reality is presented with such familiarity and frankness that I instantly relate to the unnamed recipient of Nas’ news. I feel the sadness of a little girl from the neighborhood being shot dead while walking home. I feel the anger of knowing another young kid from the block is getting involved in the same nonsense that killed that innocent child. I feel the guarded closeness between separated male friends, the commrodary of shared struggle. The clear-eyed bitterness and empathetic realism in Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic is part of the reason the record is a masterpiece, but the unique creative vision and flawless execution on “One Love” make it a touchstone for urban storytelling in my eyes/ears/mind.

– NR

Nas

Wordsmith Wednesday: Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing”

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Our words this Wednesday come from Elliott Smith’s song “Ballad of Big Nothing” off his record Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars, 1997).

The lyrics are:

“Do what you want to whenever you want to/
though it doesn’t mean a thing/
Big Nothing”

Smith is undoubtedly a master of commonplace melancholy, but these words speak to a ever-present psychic thread that pulls at my mind: life is inherently meaningless. All your desires and dreads are transient. Every personal triumph or tragedy only has as much importance as you ascribe to it. These lines always sound like a smirk in the face of people so bent on having what they perceive as freedom that they lose sight of the fact that your ability to do what you want doesn’t necessarily fulfill any ultimate end, but rather just gives you access to a million new beginnings. Real freedom probably lies somewhere between realizing there is no perfect, achievable end and being able to consciously choose which beginnings to ascribe meaning to. Oh, and I love the way he sings it.

– NR

ElliottSmith

Wordsmith Wednesday: Cursive’s “The Great Decay”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is an excerpt from Cursive’s song “The Great Decay” off their album Burst and Bloom.

It goes,

“This is the bed I’ve made/
This is the grave where I will lay/
These are the hands where I will bury my face.
I don’t believe in wasting time/
Searching for truth you never find/
Nobody moves we live in the great decay.
All these ghost towns share a name/
Anywhere, USA.
All these strangers look the same/
Day after day after day.”

Tim Kasher grasps at the mundane and uneventfulness that often encompasses life. The sameness that we experience and feel everywhere we go. Through these lyrics he points directly, with his index finger, at the parts of life that can tear us down and waste our time. This pointedness acts as a calling to break the cycle of monotony and progress forward toward a world, or even just a life, more exciting and different. To push past the tedium that wears one down and create a place unique from all the rest.

Cursive

Submissions for Issue 4

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Submissions for Issue 4 are open until February 14th, 2016!

Please send us your poetry, prose, and creative nonfiction!

Find full submission guidelines here!

Sobotka Issue 4 Submissions

Wordsmith Wednesday: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel The Sandman.

It reads,

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

As much as we do learn at school, there is still infinite daily territory that education does not cover. Most of these things we learn how to deal with in other ways. Through viewing other people’s actions, through movies, or through the stories that we read. These are the places that we see other characters love, understand one another, and grow. These are the places where the guidelines of life are shown to us. These are the things that end up shaping us.

– KK

Gaiman

Wordsmith Wednesday: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”

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Our Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Kurt Vonnegut‘s “Cat’s Cradle” and consists of two related passages from different parts of the book. The excerpts read:

“‘He must have surprised himself when he made a cat’s cradle out of the string, and maybe it reminded him of his own childhood. He all of a sudden came out of his study and did something he’d never done before. He tried to play with me. Not only had he never
played with me before; he had hardly ever even spoken to me.

‘But he went down on his knees on the carpet next to me, and he showed me his teeth, and he waved that tangle of string in my face. ‘See? See? See?’ he asked. ‘Cat’s cradle. See the cat’s cradle? See where the nice pussycat sleeps? Meow. Meow.”

‘His pores looked as big as craters on the moon. His ears and nostrils were stuffed with hair. Cigar smoke made him smell like the mouth of Hell. So close up, my father was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. I dream about it all the time.

‘And then he sang. ‘Rockabye catsy, in the tree top’; he
sang, ‘when the wind blows, the cray-dull will rock. If the bough breaks, the cray-dull will fall. Down will come craydull, catsy and all.’

‘I burst into tears. I jumped up and I ran out of the house as fast as I could go.’

‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…’

‘And?’

‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.'”

With these words, Vonnegut planted the seed to a simple truth in my seventeen year old mind, one that solidifies the longer I spin on this multi-colored space rock: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Not your parents. Not your boss. Not your teacher. Certainly not you. Some people have convinced themselves of certainty better than others, but it’s everybody’s first shot at this thing. Everyone’s perspective can offer insight and learning from the experiences of others is essential to success, but it’s vital not to lose focus searching an answer that doesn’t exist. There’s no skeleton key to a successful life. It’s all just a bunch of X’s.

– NR

Kurt Vonnegut

Editors’ Note for Issue 3

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The following is the full Editors’ Note for Issue 3:

“Anxiety can either cripple or drive you.

It can drag you down like a stone, trapping you on the murky psychic riverbed to choke on seaweed and self-critique. It can be the palm that holds you underwater, screaming bubbles and scratching at the invisible force. It is the sound in the distance, the figure in the dark, the uncertainty of the answer to a difficult question. It is the thing that stops you from enjoying any taste of success by planting the thought of a more satisfying success just ahead yet unseen. It is FOMO and the neighborhood watch and small town racism and narrow-mindedness in all forms. It is the smoke break and the bitten-up fingertips and standing on the back porch at 4 am.

It can also be the motivation that forces you back to the surface, making you flap your arms until you figure out how to turn slapping hands into a doggy paddle into smooth strokes propelling you for as long as your mind muscles allow. Anxiety can feed off fear, turn frustration into fuel. It can be the foundation for great innovations, inspired music, transcendent literature. It is that thing that must be alleviated through expression, the need to take some internal pressure and spit it out into the world so that somebody else can chew on the idea for a while. It is the desire to find solutions.

The tricky conundrum is that anxiety can also suppress that expression, trapping everything inside your skull. What if what I think is stupid? What if what I made isn’t good? What if what I did isn’t important? What if people laugh in my face? What if they laugh behind my back? What if they laugh in the comments? What if nobody cares at all? Anxiety can be completely paralyzing to creativity, killing all motivation before the process has even begun. The effect can be especially fatal if the primary motivation is to create something impressive or cool in the eyes of others instead of trying to give a voice to that gnawing thought in your frontal lobe.

The real trap is allowing anxiety to breed off itself, choosing activities and developing habits that perpetuate rather than alleviate that stress weighing on your brain and strengthening that pressure pushing down from a place unseen. This seems to be the elemental basis for addiction, whether it be to drugs or beauty or success or anything else. They all appear born of the idea that acquisition or achievement of some formless, yet theoretically attainable, thing will take away the “bad stuff” i.e. the generalized anxiety associated with just being alive.

The catch of course is that if a little is good, then more must be better. And so we overdose. We want so desperately to relieve that near constant anxiety associated with not feeling good that we cease to even let the uncertainty enter our lives by developing habitual coping mechanisms. We get high. We apply makeup. We work to exhaustion. We check our phones incessantly, hoping for communication from a friend/acquaintance/news source/etc. We make sure the boogiemen of doubt and depression don’t creep into our minds by making sure every crevice is filled with entertainment or consumption or communication. We are constantly doing regardless of what is being done. Some may say we do these things to feel good, but it seems more likely we do them to not feel so bad. And there is a difference.

This magazine itself probably started as a way to relieve some anxieties we hadn’t wanted to face yet. Anxieties about achievement and value and creativity and success and death. The fear that we were just floating through life thoughtlessly, consuming without creating and, thus, feeling empty and unsatisfied. A looming uneasiness that we were stagnant, being pushed in directions we didn’t want to go because we were ourselves directionless. Neither of us had dreams of starting a literary magazine. This isn’t a career move or a resume builder. This isn’t about social capital or appearing intelligent to our peers. This isn’t self-worship. This is two lost people on a park bench. This is sure why not. This is screaming into the void.  This is the need to do something.

The pieces of writing included in this issue are great examples of why we chose literature as our something rather than another medium. They make us feel connected to the authors, the world around us, and ourselves. They are nuanced and subtle yet moving, just as the more vivid parts of life often are. They relieve some of our own existential anxieties by giving us proof that people are finding ways to live despite the ever-present pressures. They inspire us to try and do the same.

Above all, they make us feel human and unalone. We hope they do the same for you.

Kathy Klimentowski/Nick Rossi
Chicago/Nashville, October 2015″

Sobotka Issue 3 Editors' Note

Submissions for Issue 3

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Submissions for Issue 3 are open until July 12th!

Please send us your poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction!

Find full submission guidelines here.

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