Nonfiction and Craft Essays

Fool Me Twice

So a student e-mails me. She works at a domestic violence shelter, and she has a question. Many of the women I meet, she writes, have been abused not once but multiple times by different people. But why? I think about the problem logically. I see what she is thinking – how perhaps without realizing it, she is shifting the blame from the abusers to the women. I send her a study from the Department of Justice on “repeat victimization.” I point out the victim-blaming. I do not say that I know repeat victimization very well. I keep the personal to myself. [Read more at The Manifest Station]

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Notes from a Swing State

1. The Day of the Election. I am driving home from work. The sun is setting. Did I tell you that we have the most incredible skies in Ohio? I couldn’t get used to it at first. I grew up in a town in Wales, where the sky is a flat lid, and the valley bends round like cupped and comforting hands. But here, the sky is a down-turned bowl, and we are so small underneath it. Anyway, I am driving home, and the sky is reddening, great slashes of white from vapour trails, and flaming trees like torches. I am listening to a sad song on the radio, and I feel as though something is ending. Like sitting in an empty house when someone you love has closed the door behind them with no possibility of return. [Read more at Planet].

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The Origin of the World

I start to like my father again when we are standing together looking at a painting. To begin, you would have to explain the place. The Musée D’Orsay in Paris was a railway station until 1939, and the great clock-faces on the exterior signal an obsession with timekeeping and travel. This particular painting is relatively small, and its intimacy is out of place under the arching glass roof where trains once ran. The museum is a public space and still has the feeling of a railway station with people hurrying to their next destination. In the middle of all this is a painting of a woman’s genitals, and my father and I are standing together in front of it. [Read more at The Manifest Station].

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Why a recent Twitter spat over the Welsh language suggests that Wales remains under England’s colonial eye

Historian, writer and TV presenter Lucy Inglis faced a tide of outrage last week, after commenting negatively on Twitter about the rudeness of Welsh people , and the uselessness of the Welsh language. As Inglis should know, there is a long history of the English dismissing Welsh culture and language as degenerate. The 1847 Report into the State of Education in Wales (known by the Welsh as ‘The Treachery of the Blue Books’) criticised the supposed decline of Welsh morality blaming the Welsh language, women and the Methodist movement.Inglis’s comments criticising campaigns to restore the Welsh language (“Get royally f****d”) were, at the very least, unfortunate in how they echoed maxims of the past. [Read more on Wales Online].

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A Song Like A Branch of Cherries

Everything that is written will potentially be read, so it is wise to take care when deciding to put pen to paper. No one knew the risks of putting words on paper – or was more exhilarated by those risks – than Alun Lewis. His letters are poems. His poems are cherished missives that not only speak to particular people from the poet’s life, but also speak to us with a decorous, sincere and intimate voice. Owen Sheers writes how “in that conversation between his personal and fictional voice, […] Alun Lewis survives.” Lewis’ life and death mean that the epistolary form has special significance in his biography and works. Joining the army in 1940, the letter was Lewis’ lifeline to loved ones, yet he had always rejoiced in the letter, corresponding with a variety of writers from Robert Graves to Lynette Roberts. It was Roberts who recognized Lewis as a charismatic writer of letters, telling him: “I like your letters, Alun, but I should be frightened if you came too near. I might fall in love with you. I might be disillusioned.” [Read more at Poetry Wales]

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My Expat Life

The day I arrived in the States, I found out I had miscarried. I was pregnant and going out to meet my husband Dan who had a postdoc at the Pennsylvania State University. It was a hard beginning. He hadn’t bought a car yet so we caught the bus to the doctor’s. In the dark room, in the white light from the ultrasound, I could see the appalled expression on the technician’s face. It was the first time Dan was to see the baby. “Don’t look,” I said, but it was too late.

[Read more at Motherland]

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The Potential of Silence

As the epigraph for his memoir A Lie about my Father (2007), John Burnside quotes the infamous writer of suspense stories, Edgar Allen Poe, who Burnside read avidly as a boy. Poe’s story, ‘The Imp of the Perverse’, is famous for theorizing the impulse to self-harm or violence merely because, as Poe suggests, a particular action is something ‘we feel that we should not [do]’. Burnside quotes Poe’s description of an imperceptible force that builds inexplicably: ‘a cloud of unnameable feeling’ which ‘assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights’. Out of intangibility, blankness or silence, something material and powerful can emerge. As Ernestine Schlant notes in The Language of Silence, silence is not ‘a semantic void’ but a ‘language […] infused with narrative strategies that carry ideologies and reveal unstated assumptions’. [Read more at Agenda 45.4]

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Why not choose a happier subject?

Researching rape stories is a difficult and delicate topic. A crucial aspect of this work is how to do it justice – not only for ourselves as researchers, but most of all for those who have suffered sexual violence, and their families. From a subjective point of view, as editors of the new volume of essays, Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation, we see two more major issues. First, how do you deal with the obvious pain involved in the topic (even if it is refracted through literature)? Second, how do you talk about it with colleagues, friends and family? Even mentioning the word “rape” provokes a wide range of responses. For second-wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, the primary objective was to put rape on the agenda in an effort to prevent it from occurring. Now what is at stake is not just whether we speak about rape or not, but how we speak about it and to what end. [Read more at the Times (Higher Ed).]

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Arches

In the west of Utah, there stands a 65 foot natural arch of entrada sandstoneLocally, it is known as the “Schoolmarm’s Bloomers” or the “Chaps,” but most people know it as the Delicate Arch. At one time, it was a sandstone fin. But over time, the middle eroded, opened like a mouth to the long red desert and mountains beyond. The first time I visited the Delicate Arch, I was driving cross-country with my husband Dan. We had been married just over a year, and in that time, I had miscarried two babies. I had given up trying to have children, and had suggested the drive to San Diego as a distraction for us both.

[Read more on The Junction Box(for the Glasfryn Project)]

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John Siddique Showcase

British poet John Siddique is an ardent student of human nature. As his poem ‘Why’ suggests, he is interested in culture, nationalism and belonging, as well as human desire and the vagaries of how we choose to live. The repetition of ‘because’ emphasizes Siddique’s preoccupation with unravelling the reasons for particular human behaviours, whether that includes the malice of racism, the denial of adulterers, or the deep-seated bonds of family – both blood and adopted ties. Though Siddique grew up in Rochdale in the English North, his parents were immigrant workers who came to Britain to find work during the late 1950s. His mother, Norah O’ Neill, was Irish, and his father, Mohammed Siddique, was from India and later returned to Pakistan when Siddqiue was a boy. Writing about his family in the anthology Four Fathers, Siddique describes his father as ‘a handsome Indian man who liked taking photos’ and his mother as ‘a girl who had seen a vision of the Virgin Mary during an air raid when she was eight years old’ (Four Fathers, Route 2006). As a result of his family background, Siddique is particularly interested in writing about people and characters that do not fit into the white, Anglo-Saxon identity that has sometimes dominated British subjectivity. He is also especially perceptive in analyzing the assumptions and prejudices of the British: the tendency to favour the known and familiar over the strange or the unknown, as is clear in ‘Why’.

[Read more on Pirene’s Fountain.]

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Celebrating, not complaining (part of a debate on the need – or not – for women only anthologies)

British poetry has had many victories: women laureates, women editors, strong women’s voices; but there are still subtle forms of exclusion. I would agree with Eva Salzman who suggests that “In the UK, any glaring gender imbalance is typically explained away as a ‘coincidence’ here, an accident ‘there’.” In the introduction to the collection Women’s Work (2008), Salzman provides some sobering facts about women’s exclusion from poetry anthologies, offering a review of key volumes. Many anthologies from 1960 to present are made up by only 5% to 18% women poets.  Some more recent anthologies contain 25% women, while one or two go as high as 35%. In all this counting, Salzman only found two anthologies that had more women poets than men (edited by two trailblazers Carol Ann Duffy and Adrienne Rich). Like Salzman, I’m adamant that I don’t want “a separate, girly sandbox to play in”, but I would like to have as equal a chance as my male counterparts. [Read the full article and the other responses in Poetry Wales.]

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Welsh Poetry and the Surreal

Though writing in 1968, Glyn Jones’s point that the Welsh writer is ‘not a man apart, a freak, but rather an accepted part of the social fabric’ is still relevant. Art about Wales is often rooted in political realism, but there are elements of surrealism in Welsh culture. Take the architectural bricolage of Portmeirion designed by Sir Clough William-Ellis; the surrealist photography of Angus McBean; the bizarre lyrics of bands like Super Furry Animals; the surreal elements in art by Ceri Richards or Sue Williams; and even the hit BBC comedy, Gavin and Stacey has been praised in The Times for its ‘village surrealism’. [For the full article see this issue of Poetry Wales.]

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 ‘Braced for the large, fat envelopes’: Preparing poetry submissions for a woman’s market

Submitting poetry to magazines and anthologies can be daunting. In her journals Sylvia Plath writes of the grueling tension that accompanies any submission of creative work. Waiting for magazines to write back, Plath must ‘brace myself for the large, fat envelopes, the polite, encouraging yet inevitable rejection’…  [Read the full essay in the volume Women on Poetry.] 

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