Thank you for joining us for Witness Weekends! We’re so grateful to our contributors and Lit Award winners for sharing their work, and we hope you have enjoyed this Virtual Launch Party for the Magic issue!
Our final reader, Emily Greenberg, is the winner of our 2020 Lit Award for fiction with her short story “Delivery”. This story was selected by our judge, Kristen Arnett, and held our readers captivated with Greenberg’s particular flare for world building and craft. Our Fiction Editor, Wendy Wimmer, writes “‘Delivery’ is doing some Ray Bradbury-level world building, but what kept me hooked were the characters. The intensity and longing in this story is palpable and I enjoyed reading the story the first time I read it, but subsequent rereads have allowed me to really appreciate the internal clockwork of what Greenberg has accomplished here.”
We are thrilled to have a chance to share with you this excerpt from “Delivery”! For the complete story and conclusion, find it in the new issue, pages 103-116!
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “EMILY” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Emily Greenberg’s writing is published or forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Witness Magazine, Chicago Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Her story “Delivery” was awarded the 2020 Witness Literary Award in Fiction, judged by Kristen Arnett. She currently lives with her partner and dog in Columbus, Ohio, where she is an MFA Candidate and Distinguished University Fellow at Ohio State.
We are in the final days of our Virtual Launch party! Thank you for joining us for these Witness Weekends. We are grateful to our Magic contributors and 2020 Lit Award Winners for sharing their work all month!
Today we have another 2020 Lit Award Winner, Michele Sharpe, whose essay “When a Child Offends”, was selected by our nonfiction judge, José Orduña. Our readers found this thoughtful look at how to defend someone who is guilty, and also a child, both sentimental and raw, with an effortlessly rhythmic pacing. We hope you enjoy this interesting and timely narrative.
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “MICHELE” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Michele Sharpe, a poet and essayist, is also a high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, adoptee, and former trial attorney. She’s written for The New York Times, Witness, The Washington Post, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Catapult, and Guernica. Poems can be found in B O D Y, Poet Lore, North American Review, Stirring, and Baltimore Review. Michele recently completed her second memoir; her first is Walk Away, published under her previous name, Michele Leavitt. More at michelesharpe.com.
Happy Witness Weekend! We are honored to be sharing readings from our Magic contributors and 2020 Lit Award Winners all month long; join us every Saturday and Sunday for new videos!
Today we have a special treat: our 2020 Lit Award first-place winner for poetry, Andrew Collard, reads from his poem “Future Ruins.” We were immediately captivated by the compelling way this poem approaches the landscape and experiences of Middle America. Our judge, Heather Lang-Cassera, writes:
Andrew Collard’s “Future Ruins” is an exceptional poem which refuses to shy away from the darkness yet is unafraid to acknowledge the strange beauties which whisper from within fissures and beyond peripheries. Collard captures complexities of contemporary life as the verse maintains its dichotomies, does not water down hardships nor loss. We explore a desperate sort of sadness, such as “what it means that I am from here // but can’t afford a home here.” Yet the work rejects didacticism, instead painting a palpable landscape, a place in which we can immerse ourselves for contemplation. This includes the work’s closing on a multifaceted image inside of a mall food court: “a shoot of grass stands through the cracked tile of the fountain / drained of water, all of its lucky pennies.” Through five vignettes, the poem zooms into and out from intimate moments, showcasing nuances of public and private topographies. When we were reading for the Witness Literary Awards late last year, we could not have foreseen the circumstances of COVID-19, which now amplify the urgency of this poem, one that, in part, realizes the deep reach of economic crisis. The timeliness of “Future Ruins” is almost eerie, perhaps a reminder that, to an extent, a great poem finds its poet, yet Collard is a rare writer who seems to have mastered both narrative and imagery, and through his dynamic writing, he addresses profound matters, acknowledges intricacies, and invites honest examination from the reader. This poem is a superb demonstration of the role of the modern writer as witness to their times.
We are so pleased to present Andrew Collard’s work in this issue!
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “ANDREW” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Andrew Collard is a PhD student and instructor at Western Michigan University. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, and Nashville Review, among other journals. He currently lives in Grand Rapids, MI.
Two Witness Weekends left! We are so thrilled to be sharing readings from our Magic issue all month long; join us every Saturday and Sunday for new videos from contributors and 2020 Lit Award winners.
This weekend, we’re celebrating work from Kristina Ten. Ten’s enchanting short story, “The Dramatic Haircut”, exists in a wild world that plunks the main character into a salon chair surrounded by birds with bladed wings. It was selected by Kristen Arnett as a runner-up in our 2020 Lit Awards for Fiction, and was a fast favorite among our readers, one of whom noted “[This story] moves swiftly from satirical and biting to gruesome, but is still darkly funny. The language is concise, not a single cut of air that doesn’t belong. It propels me forward, and I surrender to it.” In addition, our illustrious Fiction Editor, Wendy Wimmer, writes “What I love about Ten’s work is how she balances the weird and the intensely human emotional connection to the reader. She is using the distance between magical realism and humanity to render something intensely personal and beautiful.” (Spoiler alert for our 2020 Fall issue: look for Ten’s forthcoming story “Two Hundred Ways to Disappear.” We just can’t get enough!)
We are happy to invite you to pull up a chair and enjoy our Virtual Launch Party in style with Kristina Ten!
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “KRISTINA” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Kristina Ten is a Russian-American writer of short fiction and poetry, and a 2019 graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, AE Science Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. You can find her at kristinaten.com or on Twitter as @kristina_ten.
Such a delight to be sharing readings from our Magic issue! Join us every Saturday and Sunday to watch new videos from contributors and 2020 Lit Award winners.
Today we have work from Emmy Newman, our runner-up in the 2020 Lit Awards for poetry. Of her poem “You Will See It Coming & You Won’t Run”, our judge, Heather Lang-Cassera, writes:
Emmy Newman approaches a storm of catastrophes which could have been too difficult to bear: natural disasters, unattended luggage, life-threatening illnesses, and a variety of other tragic matters. Astute gestures of kindness to the reader, however, allow us to sit in the palpable apocalyptic moment that is “You Will See It Coming & You Won’t Run.” Through masterful poetic craft—such as humor, including “the neighbor’s Chihuahua throwing its tiny body against the fence,” and unlikely couplets, which lend a comforting sense of stability to the verse—Newman is able to approach a rapid-fire narrative of topics that might otherwise be too dark, too painful, to engage. Even the frightening lack of punctuation at the conclusion of the poem, possibly signifying the end of times, is served up in good company and with comfort food, “slices of rhubarb pie on our favorite blue-edged plates.” Although we could not have foreseen the health and economic crises COVID-19 would bring to us while we were reading for the Witness Literary Awards back in late 2019, Emmy Newman’s superb poem, complete with panic-induced canned-food purchases and bedroom carpet worn thin by anxious pacing, swept me in then as it does now. Newman is a poet of true pathos, one who can skillfully cast light on the world and its complexities, urging us through our own authentic explorations of the human condition.
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “EMMY” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio:Emmy Newman is a current MFA candidate at the University of Idaho. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Cream City Review, Inverted Syntax, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and currently serves as the poetry editor for Fugue.
Our virtual launch party continues! We are so excited to have a chance to be sharing readings from the Magic issue all month long. Join us Saturdays and Sundays to check out new videos from our contributors and 2020 Lit Award winners. Let’s celebrate!
This Witness Weekend, we’re introducing Alex Berge’s engaging short story, “The Intruder”, which encompasses the struggle of a heartbroken office drudge to become social again, in the midst of a series of strange visits from a coffee-drinking, masked intruder… In response to this reading, our Fiction Editor, Wendy Wimmer, notes: “This was one of those stories that I kept remembering in quiet moments of my daily life. Berge does a series of interesting movements with narrative craft here that is almost a primer on how to turn a story and develop a character at almost a subliminal level.” As with any good mystery, we’ve given you just a taste; for the complete story and conclusion, find it in the new issue, pages 16-23!
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “ALEX” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Alex Berge earned his MFA in fiction from West Virginia University in 2011. He’s a member of Poems While You Wait, a non-profit writing collective, and is the Associate Editor for CRAFT Literary. He lives in Chicago with his wife.
Photo courtesy of Joe Tighe
By Chelsi Sayti
This book welcomes the spell of a room. Domestic and meditative, poet Eryn Green is looking out the window of nature and memory to define home. The Yale Younger Poets prize-winner’s second collection, BEIT, praises the newness at the heels of every moment, the connection between the immediate and holy ancient. Judaic mystic tradition and reflections on the Hebrew Aleph-Bet give history a place in home’s fluctuating scope. Home is heritage, it is full of birds and branches and captured in the day’s minutiae. “H sticks out / one foot from under the blankets-and the storm / of my life tunes up” (from the poem “Auberge”). The deep spirit of this book emerges from an abundant familial love. There is so much joy in family here. BEIT explores home and asks urgently, Here is all this good, how can it be?
These poems are flushed and alive, “This insistent/ gift in us, breath / of transience, a daily kind / of echo, practice, promise / of real transgress” (from the poem “Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus”). Green visits us with existential gratitude, showing the triumph in continued existence. There is an awe that affirms life in the deluge of experience. “We say breathing / is hard when we feel / most alive-what must one be / but dancing?” (“Auberge”).
Like the spiritual visions it describes, BEIT is curious and in motion, losing itself to sound and demonstrating grand order. “O now that the aspens quake / in unison outside today being of one / perfect chorus, form, affection, animal eye, addiction” (from “The Difference Between a Poison and a Food”). Green’s poems are sung, light through glass, lost and discovering themselves as they go. There is a practiced joy in their meditations. “Shiver / ever / green / every changing part of me” (from “Hekhelot (Winter, NY)”).
Fear of missing what’s important encourages the same recognition in us, “not listening / when the thrush birds speak-/ In danger of not speaking myself / where I stand, not recognizing/ the going home/ of sticks and stones and hands held out / across tables” (from “Fog”). Through its music, this call to attention of the everyday becomes a prayer, “riot of spirit / any minute now / the whole swell of it / good god it / was perfect” (from “First Heaven”).
BEIT illustrates a spiraling geometry, “wheels / within wheels, the world” (from “Merkavah (Chariot Scene)”), a symmetry between the smallest intimate familiar and the infinite, “every time a universe explodes / a chromosome knows to reassemble” (from “Dear Unimaginable: Portal (Wilder Shores of Love)”). BEIT searches through home and finds the divine.
BEIT | Eryn Green
New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2020
97 pages | $16
Welcome to our first-ever virtual launch party! We are so excited to share readings from the Magic issue each weekend. Join us every Saturday and Sunday as we post videos of our contributors and 2020 Lit Award winners reading from their work.
For our second installment of Witness Weekends, we present to you Mary Lane Potter’s essay, “In Praise of the Disappearing Body.” Inspired by Augustine’s Confessions, Potter uses the heightened language of lyric-philosophy to explore the chasm between the vulnerable body and an unknowable, cosmically distant god. The lyric nature of this nonfiction contribution really resonated with our readers; one reader mentioned that the essay reads like a poem, ultimately leaving them with “a sense of oblivion, as well as oneness. I love it!” We hope you do, too.
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “MARY” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Mary Lane Potter is the author of the novel A Woman of Salt (Counterpoint 2001) and the story collection Strangers and Sojourners (Counterpoint 2004). Her essays have appeared in Feminist Studies in Religion, SIGNS,Women’s Studies Quarterly, Tiferet, Spiritus, SUFI Journal, Leaping Clear, Minerva Rising, and others. She’s currently completing a book of essays on the body/spirit tangle.
Welcome to our first-ever virtual launch party! We are so excited to share readings from the Magic issue each weekend. Join us every Saturday and Sunday as we post videos of our contributors and 2020 Lit Award winners reading from their work.
This weekend we begin with the work of Eric Tran, whose poem, “Lectio Divina: Vision, The Vision #1”, was a favorite among readers for its striking imagery and emotional tenor. Our readers noted that Tran’s poems have a heavy emotional quality, which is highlighted by choices of content and language; he is able to access a realm where personal thoughts and compelling emotions appear from unexpected places. We hope you enjoy this poem as much as we have!
As a special deal highlighting our contributors this month, we are offering 25% off our Magic Issue and Witness Memberships in our online shop when you type their name as a coupon code. $1 from every sale & tip jar donation this month with coupon codes will go to help first responders in the COVID-19 crisis. Add “ERIC” to unlock savings today!
Author Bio: Eric Tran is a resident physician in psychiatry in Asheville, NC. He is the winner of the Autumn House Press Emerging Writer’s contest and the author of The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer. He is also the author of the chapbooks Revisions and Affairs with Men in Suits. His work appears or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Iowa Review, 32 Poems, and elsewhere.
By Robin Healey-Smith
The odds of being struck by literary lightning in any given year are remote. The odds of it happening twice? As chance would have it, though, the good people over at New Issues Poetry & Prose have struck me twice with two recent books.
The writers are poets Chet’la Sebree with her work Mistress and Eman Hassan with her work Raghead. These are their first collections, but given the content and scope of the written material you would never have guessed that these are debuts.
Mistress is arresting. It’s tonally dark and honest, focusing on the struggles of personal and cultural identity.
You see, Sebree weaves together her own personal narrative, that of a 21st-century African-American woman, with that of the historical figure Sally Hemings, an African-American woman enslaved during Antebellum America by Thomas Jefferson.
Sally, as she was called, had a difficult road. Aside from her compulsory relationship to the President, she suffered immense tragedy as a mother: two of her children died in early childhood, while four others grew up enslaved alongside her.
One such poem, “Boy of My Body, January 1790,” visualizes the birth of Sally’s first child and his eventual passing:
A hinge unhinging: a glass
until boy of my body
calls for me: hungering.
Twine: to tie off.
Scissors: to sever.
The lyricism at work here is heartbreaking—there’s a tight control of language happening here that resonates a resounding vibrato on the tip of the tongue; the mark of a formidable writer.
Sebree spent a great deal of time studying the history of Hemings. You needn’t look any further than the historical timeline provided at the back of the book to fully appreciate Sebree’s dedication. Everything from the birth of Sally Hemings to Thomas Jefferson’s inheritance of her to the birth and death of her children to her travels are chronicled in a comprehensive list that one might easily follow along with whilst sitting down to read this collection. Sebree’s research pays off mightily. Shee is able to use each line to craft persona poems which infuse life back into Sally Hemings. In turn, this has us bearing witness to the renewed and continued presence of Hemings in poetic form.
“Anachronistic Conversations: Sally & Chet’la” is the culmination, in which Chet’la is able to align herself alongside Sally and converse with her:
between love and Stockholm, you’ll find me
Clutching inkwell and shoe buckle.
You didn’t travel your grandmother’s Middle Passage
In linen-lined cabin.
Even as he became purr of his own musculature,
He could have unlaced me.
You are my
sister, my mother, the lover
I don’t want to be, but fear that I am.
The fear in this passage is pervasive for Sebree and Hemings—and the reader. It’s a fear of being made invisible, something less than whole. In response to this fear, Sebree gives priority to Hemings, and by extension herself. Far too often Hemings’s voice was overshadowed by the domineering presence of Thomas Jefferson. “La Negresse” pivots away from the man that was and chooses instead to focus on the woman that might have been:
Worse than doggy-style,
the conflation of animals and deep penetration,
la negresse implies only black women like it
—my ass in turned vibrato—
Or are the only ones willing to admit it.
Mostly, though, I want to know
if that’s how you liked it, Sally,
if Paris made you
in its manner of blackness.
Sebree begins to more closely parallel her own experiences alongside that of Hemings’s and express the male lens of desire and fantasy in which many women, especially women of color, are seen.
“Mistress of Hypermobility” highlights this instance:
Move me from metropolis to small town places
Where people know they know my face,
But no one can pronounce my name.
I’ll speak a mesh lingue romantiche anywhere
someone will try to understand me,
as long as I can admit
I’m always moments away
from falling between continents
With this collection, Hemings and Sebree do not fall between the continents and its cracks and slip into something akin to disremembering. Rather there is a conscious effort by poet and subject in this collection to defiantly claim: We are here. We are seen.
Of its own accord, Raghead by Eman Hassan aligns itself, too, along issues of sexuality, visibility, and being rendered invisible, albeit via a more contemporary lens.
Take for instance one of the later poems, “Transport”—which, for all intents and purposes, starts off somewhat mundanely, delving into the heat and traffic of the Middle East:
Traffic on the road is terrible, but here this is normal.
This can be anywhere in the Middle East, the heat a stampede through
The solar plexus.
Despite this opening lull and the feeling of exhaustion at play within the lines due to traffic and sun, the poem quickly unfolds into the narrator observing men and women being rounded up on the streets, quite literally trafficked into metal trucks, “the kind used to move livestock.”
It is with tangible terror—perhaps at an internal indifference or horror at our own inaction—that we return to those relatively unassuming first lines, this time with the hint of awareness stressed on that all too lulling of words, traffic:
Trafficking on the road is terrible, but here this is normal.
This can be … anywhere in the Middle East.
Eyes peek out of parallel slats
as if peering from an oven.
Tonally, this collection maintains its measure of bleakness throughout and transfigures an otherwise barren and desperate landscape onto the page.
Never is this more on display than in the poem “Guns & Lemon Trees,” a poetic account of a Kuwaiti admiral and his soldiers inspecting the residence of Hassan’s father for weapons and any other contraband after the family has just spent the night digging tunnels to hide those materials in the sewers:
I remember my heart thudding
In my chest at our narrow margin of days,
the way I clenched my fists
to hide dirt still under my nails, the way
I struggled to unclench fists,
how I struggled to still my fists, I remember
the admiral’s heavy lips whistling the all-clear,
not finding any guns, telling my father
how lucky you are to have daughters with gardening skills
instead of sons, who might have gotten you killed.
Tension dominates this collection of poetry by Hassan, to be sure, but it is more than tensions that make it a compelling read.
The title poem, like much of this book, pulls from personal experiences while also capturing moments in contemporary history and empowering the female Middle Eastern subject (rather than relying on a given global narrative of “invisibility”):
… I used to don
my father’s headgear, preen in his bedroom mirror
(mmm, how handsome!),
my pulse pounding in Bedouin drumbeat fashion,
afraid to wrinkle its starched goodness
or be found in its gauzy tabernacle, admiring
halo-like, delicate when left
It’s a striking parallel, to be sure, given that much of the book is dedicated to taking a closer look at the already complex boundaries in being a citizen caught between cultures—American and Kuwaiti. This tense dynamic of heritage spills out within the same poem, when the narrator happens to get caught by her father:
No matter my precaution, my father finally caught a show
of my shenanigans, zeal of his pleasure
at my make-believe surreal as he taught me to fold
the cloth, tease its front
into a dent, under an anchoring rope of gahfiyya.
He dressed me up in a dishdasha
And we went for a ride. He let me drive the whole stretch
of Gulf Road, agreeing my name
for the night was Ibrahim el-Majnoon…
…and crazy we were, with my eyeliner’d uni-brow
And him, still loud and lively, pretending I was the son
he didn’t have.
Despite it all, despite the placement and the subversion of those made invisible, despite the incredible propensity for cruelty displayed within this collection, Hassan stands resilient in her poetry, in her sense of place and heritage.
One of the later poems in the collection, “Without an Iota,” captures this to great effect. In the poem, a squirrel is described in intricate detail when his home is destroyed in the dead of winter:
The last time I saw him months later
(and this time really the last), he was stretched out
on a branch beside his trashed home, without
an iota of self-pity, the debris of his labor not withstanding
the brutal charnel of a Midwest winter. There he was,
proud body catching rare winter sun, unruffled
in the knowledge that neither he nor the rubble of his sanctuary
would last the season.
Hassan stands proudly, without self-pity. In her voice, there exists a focus, an intentionality to showcase the other and have them be seen. Time and time again, truth is what spills out onto the page.
The works of Sebree and Hassan extend beyond self and the language of isolation. These poets strive to reach the communal, to touch something more than the literary self. Lightning is like that; it can light up the darkest night and be seen for miles all around.