Call for Submissions: Cake & Grapes

Another new(to me)! magazine that’s open for submissions: Cake & Grapes!  With a name like that, how can you not submit?  Check them out.

We at Cake & Grapes believe that art is anyone’s game. 

That’s why we’re opening our doors to you: to give you a chance. Flash fiction, short fiction, epic poetry, photographs, sestinas, sketches, films, paintings, sculptures, gifs, papier mache hats – we want them all. 

Show us what you’re made of, and we’ll show the world.

GUIDELINES

We don’t want to hamper your creativity; we just need to lay down some basic rules.

Prose
Short fiction, flash fiction, and non-fiction are all accepted. All prose submissions must be less than 2,500 words in length. Exceptions will only be made for essays that are relevant and irreverent.

Poetry
If humorous, epic poems will be tolerated. Otherwise, it’s fair game.

Artwork
As this is an online publication, we will only be able to accept photographs or scans of your artwork. Please be sure that your work is well-lit. We will consider original comics, sketches, sculptures, paintings, graphic designs, gifs, – you name it – for publication.

Video
All video submissions must be less than 10 minutes in length. We’re not the FCC, so no worries there.

Feel like you fit within our loose rubric?

SUBMIT!

Drowning in Truth: Lessons from Dispatches from the Drownings by B.J. Hollars

Dispatches from the Drownings: Reporting the Fiction of Nonfiction by B.J. Hollars is a deep, poignant look into the nature of nonfiction, specifically in how it relates to truth and fiction. Dispatches starts with a very necessary Author’s Note, in which Hollars explains his project:

Sticking with my ‘75/25 theory’ on the validity of facts, only seventy-five percent of the following hundred drowning dispatches are based on true accounts. The other twenty-five are completely fabricated. I have made no effort to differentiate. In fact, in an attempt to thwart the sleuthing reader, I have gone so far as to manufacture false entries in my bibliography. (Hollars, xiv)

Thus Hollars begins an exploration of where truth is found in journalism, in creative nonfiction, and in fiction and where the lines are between these three genres. Though Hollars admits that this way of going about things will be maddening for some readers, he is also clear and upfront about his truthfulness (or lack thereof). It could be argued that this ends up being more honest than most journalism, which does not discuss the writer’s own motives, how she comes to choose the facts she chooses, or what she chooses to stretch or leave out.

Dispatches is indeed a fascinating foray into the exploration of truth in writing, but it is also much more than that. I found myself unable to put the book down. This, despite the fact that Hollars himself admits that there is very little suspense in the book. Most of the stories end the same way, with a drowning. However, Hollars uses many techniques to keep the reader going. Some of these are very straightforward. The shortness of the articles, between one hundred and five hundred words pushes the reader on. The use of white space in the book keeps the articles from running together and also allows the reader that sense of moving quickly through the pages. It is, quite literally, a page-turner. The writing is also captivating, making puns or drawing conclusions so that the reader must ask: Is this Hollars or is he “paraphrasing” what was already there? So many of the articles end with eyebrow-raising lines, like the one about the man thought to have had a heart attack: “On his last swim, however, his heart was no longer in it” (Hollars, 162) or the story of the drowning of the “inmate at the feeble-minded home” which ends with “It appears as if they boy who sought independence on Independence Day found freedom at last in the river” (Hollars, 136).

Some of the things that keep the reader going, however, go deeper into the choices that Hollars made. For one, there is a great variety in the types of stories that Hollars uses. While most of the stories end in death by drowning, they don’t all. The stories vary from the rescue of a pig, to lovers’ quarrels, to mothers drowning children, to men in logging accidents. The sheer range of possibilities of ways to drown is mind-boggling. Additionally, Hollars gives us also a range of details. The articles do not simply state the name and date, etc. Some give the process of grief of survivors, some give the background of the deceased, some give insight into how mental illness was portrayed at the time, some give details about clothing, customs, or celebrations of the time period. The effect is that the reader is not reading the same story over and over again, but instead is looking through one hundred peepholes which give tiny glimpses into the lives of the people and the past. This effect is heightened by the use of photographs from that time period and place.

This array of information given and information withheld also leaves the reader with questions that keep her going through the book. What is mother’s disease? Did they ever find the body? Was that really an accident? What happened to the money? Hollars plays to these questions by very rarely giving the answers. For about four of the articles, he also gives follow-up articles that explain the story more fully. This keeps the reader going in hopes that more might be explained. It is very rare that it ever is.

Perhaps the most powerful thing that keeps the reader going is the search for truth. Knowing that twenty-five percent of the articles are not factual makes the book into a game, as if the more the reader reads, the more insight will be gained, and therefore perhaps the reader will be able to tell the “fraudulent” articles from the real ones. The reader feels as if perhaps the next article will hold clues about how to tell which stories are real, about how to read this book. True to his philosophy, Hollars never reveals which stories we may take as truth and which he fabricated. Instead of leaving the reader maddened, this has the effect of leaving the reader haunted: haunted by the drownings which may or may not have taken place, haunted that we may never know what happened, haunted by idea that truth may not be as easy to grasp as we once thought. Indeed, Hollars writes that he leaves Dispatches with the same ghosts: “Despite all my research, I could no longer precisely recall which stories were factual and which I’d fabricated… I’ve studied the facts, I’ve fabricated the fictions, but I no longer know which me to believe” (Hollars, 184).

*This post is part of a series on the craft of writing called Reading for Writers.  This series examines a variety of authors to ascertain the choices they’ve made in their writing and the effects of those choices so that we as writers can make better decisions in our own writing. May contain affiliate links.

Using Fiction in Memoir: Maxine Hong Kinston’s The Woman Warrior

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston uses fiction to heighten the poignancy and power of her memoir, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts.  Throughout the book, Kingston uses not only her own memories, but also the stories she’s been told to form for the reader a picture of her formative years and the tension she feels as she creates an identity for herself.  She uses fictional elements to speculate, draw meaning, and show her reader the effects that stories (whether they be true or not) come to bear on one’s identity.

Kingston opens her book with “No Name Woman,” a story about her aunt.  But this isn’t just any family story.  It’s one that is shrouded in mystery and silence.  Because of this secrecy, Kingston must resort to speculating to fill in the details of this story.  It’s important that she understand the details because this story is one that her mother uses as a cautionary tale.  In ruminating about the details of this story, Kingston comes up with several possible variations even ones that she admits are improbable and don’t fit.  She wrestles with understanding the details of the story so that she can find “ancestral help” (8).  However, this speculation has come to bear on Kingston’s understanding of herself as a Chinese-American woman.  Kingston shows us through these variations of the story how this family narrative has shaped her understanding of many things.  It shaped the way she understood her relationship with her parents, and with her extended family.  It shaped the way Kingston understands what it means to be Chinese and what it means to be a woman.  It shaped her relationships with men and her ideas about differing standards of beauty.  Ultimately, it shaped how Kingston came to understand her own identity.  In sharing these different versions of the story, Kingston shares with her readers her process for dealing with the story and shows the reader the impact that both the story and the silence surrounding the story have had on her.

In “Shaman” Kingston takes her storytelling even further from anything that could be seen as the “objective reality” that we normally associate with the genre of nonfiction.  The chapter starts with a ghost story from the point of view of Kingston’s mother as a schoolgirl.  In it, her mother actually wrestles with a ghost before exorcising it from the school.  In a genre bent on “honesty” and “truth,” stories like this one can be difficult for a reader to swallow.  But Kingston uses the story to show how she came to see herself living in a world full of ghosts. She says that “America has been so full of machines and ghosts — Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts. Once upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the White Ghosts and their cars” (96-97). This discussion of ghosts shows the importance of Kingston’s childhood understanding of being “other” in America and allows the reader to feel the otherworldliness of that experience.  Describing that feeling and the day-to-day happenings in her life alone would not have given the same emotional impact to the reader.  By using these fictional elements, Kingston lets her reader feel along with her the supernatural, the fear, the separateness that comes with understanding herself in relation to her surroundings that way.

Kingston’s fictional storytelling reaches its apex in “White Tigers,” in which she spends nearly twenty pages telling the story of Fa Mu Lan.  However, she does not tell the story in a detached, here’s-a-story-from-my-childhood sort of way.  Nor does she tell it in a let-me-tell-you-a-historical-story-of-my heritage way.  Instead, she tells the story in first person, as she experienced it herself when she “couldn’t tell where the stories left off and dreams began” (19).  In telling this story in first person, the reader can begin to understand the impact of this story on a young Kingston and can feel the expectations and potential that Kingston would have felt as a child.  It also brings home her point when she says, “My American life has been such a disappointment” (45).  Because the reader has seen the story of Fa Mu Lan from the eyes of Kingston herself, the reader can understand on a deeper level the sense of disappointment that the author must have felt.  Finally, Kingston shows how important this story and stories in general have been in her life when she compares herself to Fa Mu Lan, “What we have in common are the words at our backs” (53).  Here she suggests that while they do not have the shared experience of going to war in ancient China, the stories that they have in common unite them.  Because of this, Kingston can use Fa Mu Lan’s story to come to a deeper understanding of herself, her experiences, and her expectations.

Throughout the book, Kingston tells her reader about listening to the talk-story of her family and the ways in which these talk-stories came to bear on her understanding of herself. She writes, “When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves” (19). More than just telling her reader the importance of these stories on her life and memories, she shows us by telling us the stories, too. They have more weight than we usually give fictional stories because we can see how Kingston was influenced by these stories. Because we are told the stories as well, we as readers can also be influenced by them and therefore relate to Kingston and her experiences.

Though it may seem that including these non-factual stories in Woman Warrior undermines the validity of the truth of Kingston’s memories, it actually has the effect of giving a fuller picture of her dreams, expectations, disappointments, and fears.  Without these stories, it would be more difficult for readers to understand the complexities of Kingston’s experience growing up between cultures.  These stories allow the reader to feel the dissonance between Kingston’s Chinese upbringing and her American existence.  In the same way, when writing nonfiction, we can use fictional elements and stories to give the reader a fuller picture of our experiences.  Fictional stories often hold weight in the factual world, coming to bear on the ways that people understand themselves, the places around them, and their relationships with society at large.  Using these fictional stories to give a fuller picture is especially useful in memoirs.  If we are trying to understand and to help our readers understand our experiences, the stories we tell ourselves can give more insight into how we’ve developed and come to understand ourselves.

 

*This post is part of a series on the craft of writing called Reading for Writers.  This series examines a variety of authors to ascertain the choices they’ve made in their writing and the effects of those choices so that we as writers can make better decisions in our own writing. May contain affiliate links.

Sharing: Suburban Ecology I by TheCartographe

I found this amazing bit of writing the other day on TheCartographe and just needed to share it with you!  As a lover of place and environment and the way that spaces effect us, I adore what’s happening on this blog: “TheCartographe is about the curation of the environment: the selection of images, texts, and ideas that is the formation of a landscape. Topography is physical, but landscape is always psychic.”

This blog is not to be missed. Enjoy!

 

Suburban Ecology I

July 9, 2014.

DSC_0115DSC_0112

 

Some millennia before the present, when the sea was in places it currently is not, it might have been that Anne Barton’s yard was a natural beach of smooth-hewn stones — perfect and round, themselves looking for all the world like fat droplets of water thrown up and clinging on the grassy shore.  The blue velvet easy chair stood primly on the rocks, taking the sea air like one who — feinting — is afraid of the ocean.  But Anne’s yard was not really a beach, of course, and the chair moreover took no solace from the pretend game of seaside release and introspection.  It did not appreciate the scene before it: the crisp break of sidewalk and swell of asphalt.  It was aware only of the thing it could not see — the blockish, secluded bungalow beyond the beachhead, where in the downstairs sitting room there was a precisely chair-shaped depression in a blanched shag carpet the colour of a watermelon where the meat comes to the rind.

I was in this house once, seven or eight years ago, when for one or another reason I  was collecting a size-adjustable mannequin from the Vietnam-era parlor upstairs, located at one end of a hallway encased exclusively by mirrors which, when shoved with some force, would open to reveal narrow closets stuffed with outerwear, shoes, and unlabelled boxes.  The front door, up a half-flight of steps from the lawn and partly concealed by an globular rhododendron, opened onto this hallway, and pointed inside toward the kitchen at the house’s rear.  There, I remember, Ms. Barton, an elderly woman who — to me — has never visibly aged, remained sitting at a card table while she asked me, standing against the entrance to the hall, if I would consider volunteering for her Sunday School.  I can’t recall answering the question.  Instead, I remember leafing through the records — none of which I recognized — contained in a cardboard box which sat on a brass-framed, stackable chair in the parlor, across the way from the kitchen.  I waited until Anne’s granddaughter, my associate, reappeared with a small plastic container filled with a multitude of compartments for pins, all heads different colours, and we departed with the rattling mannequin in parts under our free arms.

At that time, Anne’s garden was not half-covered in rocks.  In fact, it was a serene, if somewhat weedy glade, set apart from the street by the low boughs of a blue-needled pine tree which I did not recognize and now assume was originally decorative.  I lived — still live — in the house beside Anne’s; somewhat newer, somewhat more modish, my father would exasperatedly but quietly rake pinecones and long, browned needles off our lawn from September to Christmas.  At that time, Anne’s glade had real seating: a chipped, white wooden loveseat over-thrown by a modified trellis, and an elaborate swing — also wood — which reminded me always of my brother’s books on medieval implements of war.

It was one summer when I returned from university that the pine tree had been felled — its little ecosystem of sputtering grass and shed needles replaced by a neatly edged bed of lava rock.  Two ceramic pots had been placed off-centre on the wide stump, and in them the plastic-coated cardboard tags that identify greenhouse plants sprouted up like tombstones behind small, flowering stalks.  It was just last summer when the first five metres of Anne’s lawn had been dug up and replaced with the round stones.  At the same time, things began appearing on her driveway.  First the loveseat and swing, which soon disappeared, and then boxes of clothes, which would likewise appear in the morning and have vanished upon my return home in the afternoon.  Then, a tarpaulin tent appeared over a metal pole frame in the middle of the driveway, and a 1995 red Ford mustang would regularly pull in and out of it, as if on the tide.  This largely concealed the garage door, which remained closed during all this time.  I did not see Anne, though my father told me she continued to live there, and the cars that came and went (I noticed only the red convertible) were the vehicles of family and friends — or of the tenants downstairs who had moved in to the bungalow’s expansive basement.

The chair knew very little of this, being limited to the influence of the downstairs tenants and its sidelong views of sporadic children’s play in the tenants’ backyard daycare, a business Anne surely appreciated because of her attachment to children and their ideal upbringing.  When it was removed, I think, its first logical concern must have been the expected weather, and secondly the simple sign hung across its back — “FREE” — which would surely give anyone’s self-esteem a miserable pummeling.  It was, I doubt, hardly troubled by the premise that in millennia to come, it could be considered a distracting embellishment on the ecology of the house — a throwaway decoration not unlike the faking of a shoreline in a time of changing seas.

-tC

Inspiration: Writing that Escapes the Page

The Materiality of Meaning: the Format of Words on the Page

            It has long been the realm of poets to think about line breaks and format on the page.  There is a myth that for prose, the words should speak for themselves.  We have the idea that prose writers who manipulate how they put their words on the page somehow undermine the meaning of the words, as if calling attention to the fact that they are on a page takes away their power.  When poets think about the way they format their work on the page, they are being artful, purposeful, but when prose writers do it, it is a gimmick, a trick.  It’s as if readers of prose are meant to mind meld directly with the words.  We imagine that the way the prose is experienced does not matter.  This is not the case.  Whether we are reading words in straight lines on a page, in text boxes, with line breaks, wrapped around images, on an ebook reader or online, our physical experience of the words matter.  It is not true that we feel the words as completely separate from the physical medium through which they are presented to us.  Because of this, we, as writers, must be more cognizant of the ways in which we are offering our narratives.

            We are living in a time when the possible modes for storytelling are more numerous than ever before.  It used to be that recitation, handwritten manuscripts, and books off a printing press were the only media available to writers to disseminate their works.  The forms that these works took followed the physical limitations of these media.  Works meant to be recited were written with meter and rhyme, so as to be as easy as possible to remember.  Books from a printing press used uniform fonts and lines to conform to the constraints of the machine.  Straying from this form was expensive and difficult.  Even adding images or color consumed near impossible time and money.

            With the advent of the digital age, however, the possibilities for publishing and storytelling have exploded.  This explosion means there is also a myriad of ways that a reader can experience a text.  Audio books, Prezis, digital storytelling, hypertexts, and ebooks all offer new possibilities for narratives to be presented.  Because of these new technologies, we can see the fallacy of the direct experience of the word.  A book put in each of these formats takes on new meaning and affords the reader altered ways to encounter the text, even as the words stay the same.   It becomes apparent, then, that reading is an experience that is dictated, at least in part, by the physical choices that authors make concerning format and medium.  In this way, we can see the importance of the material medium that a writer chooses.  The writer can now be a painter, a sculptor, and a poet all in the same work.

            Even if our work remains in traditional ink and paper form, the options in terms of choices a writer can enact are plentiful.  We are no longer beholden to the constraints of traditional printing presses, but can now digitally format our words to be printed in a diverse array of forms.  Writers can choose varying fonts and font sizes.  We can include images or sculpt the ways our words look on the page.   We can choose the way that different ideas get juxtaposed or separated.  We can change color, font or style midsentence, or even midword.  Rather than being automatically a gimmick, these devices can be used to add a more dimension and new layers of meaning to texts.

            Take, for example, Kamau Brathwaite’s essay “Trench Town Rock.”  In his introduction, to the essay, John D’Agata writes:

 I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a ‘performative essay,’ but I know that there are texts that are more profound because of the arguments they try to demonstrate rather than merely state … that simultaneously enact the concepts they represent… Brathwaite therefore emphasizes the experience of reading his texts, encouraging us to find alternative paths into their meanings: visually, aurally, authentically participatory (D’Agata, 599).

 Brathwaite uses an array of devices in his essay to make the reading more experiential.  He uses images, changes the sizes and fonts of his texts, uses varying margins, italics, and bold type.  It is clear that he was purposeful in his choices.  The some sections of the essay are scattered and disjointed, while others read like traditional poems, news reports, or transcripts. The format of each of these sections visibly shows the differences. The effects of these choices on the reader are palpable.   Instead of reading an account of the deaths, the reader can feel the chaotic, disjointed feeling that being in Jamaica at the time must have been.  The reader’s sense of the order of things is disrupted, leaving her with the feeling of lawlessness and turmoil that mirrored Brathwaite’s Jamaica. In this way, the reader experiences the feelings more directly than words following a traditional format would have allowed.

            The ways that a reader encounters words on a page will change the experience of those words.  Different fonts can be used to show different voices.  The words telling the story of a journey can show the journey in addition to telling it, following the route along the page.  Two versions of similar stories can be juxtaposed to show the differences in perspectives.  Different colors or fonts could be used to give the reader different feelings.  Text that is askew on the page can be used to literally show a skewed point of view.   Rather than being interesting effects and ways to play with words or experiment, current technologies make it possible for these new layers of meaning to be the norm.

            It is indeed true that form follows function.  Thus far, writing has taken a very specific form, following the function of the technologies available to us.  But is it true that linear, left-to-right, uniform font on sequential pages should be the default form in which narratives are experienced?  In a postmodern world, where texts are becoming ever more disjointed, we must ask the question if it serves the purposes of the individual text to be written in a linear manner.  It may be true that this form is useful and logical for narratives that follow a traditional linear structure.  However, for works that do not follow this narrative structure, the form of linear font on sequential pages does not follow the function.  As the technology to shape the experience of the reader becomes more and more accessible, writers have more of an obligation to take these possibilities into account when making decisions about their work.  It should not be assumed that all, or even most works are best suited for traditional formats.  Not all narratives or experiences or essays follow traditional, linear structures, and their formats should adapt to the experience.  Now that we are released from the technological constraints of traditional printing, writers need to let go of the constraints in format that came along with that.

              It is not the case, of course, that all writing from here on out should be in non-traditional formats.  Rather, writers should make conscious decisions about how their work looks on the page and take into consideration the effects of those decisions on the reader. We should let go of the myth of the spiritual, non physical power of our words and understand that they are experienced through the choices we make about format and medium.  More and more, the decisions about such things fall into the hands of writers.  Rather than buying into the idea that the power and meaning of our words lies only in putting one letter after another, we should allow ourselves to utilize the full potential available to us by making thoughtful, conscious decisions not only about the words we chose, but also how we chose to send those words out into the world.

Work Cited

Brathwaite, Kamau. “Trench Town Rock.” The Lost Origins of the Essay. Ed. John D’Agata. St.Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2009. Print.

Call for Submissions: Wigleaf

Wigleaf is now open for submissions.  They publish (very) short fiction.  Check them out!

SUBMISSIONS

We feature stories under 1000 words.

Submissions are welcomed via our SUBMITTABLE page.

(We’re open during the final week of each academic month,
with the exception of December. So: the final weeks of August,
September, October, November, January, February, March and April.)

For all other correspondence: wigleaf.fiction@gmail.com.

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE

We post new stories at least twice a week for nine months
of the year. Our summer break runs from early May until mid August.
Over the break we put up our annual, The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short
Fictions of the year.

Using Poetry in Creative Nonfiction: Eva Saulitis’ into great silence

“Alaska. As a college student, a dream for me of blue-white tundra, wolves, caribou, moose, indigenous hunters: wilderness. A dream of emptiness, silence” (3).  With this first line in her first chapter of Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas, Eva Saulitis presents her reader with an idealized, poetic view of the place she is about to bring us.  With these images and sentence fragments, she paints us a lyrical picture of the place we will come to know and study through her.  Though she writes about scientific research and the imminent extinction of a group of transient killer whales, Saulitis uses poetry and poetic language throughout her account to allow her reader to feel her connection to Prince William Sound and to experience that same level of connection and loss.

Throughout into great silence, Saulitis weaves poetry and lyrical language throughout the text.  She begins her book with an epigraph of poetry by Dylan Thomas.  She also begins her prologue with lines of poetry by W.S. Merwin.  With these two epigraphs, Saulitis sets the stage for a book about science which the reader knows will not be a typical research book.  Though into great silence recounts her days as a field biologist studying whales and includes much of her research, she chooses to begin her book and her prologue with poetry.  This shows her reader that she will be narrating this story not only through the lens of a scientist, but also through the lens of a poet.

Saulitis continues to use epigraphs to insert poetry into her narrative throughout the book.  In particular, she uses the epigraphs to frame points of especially poignant emotion. For example, she begins Chapter 18, “Beast and Beauty,” with two lines of poetry by Cyrus Cassells.  This is a small cue to the reader that this chapter will be one of the most evocative in the book.  In this chapter, Eva slowly realizes the true effects of the Valdez oil spill.  As she says, “Every zooming skiff, every blackened beach, every harassment of whales triggered ire, until it seemed the oil was inside me” (92).  She goes on to compare the scene to a “war zone” (92).  This realization that some of the worst fears of the researchers are becoming reality is one of the most emotional moments in the book and Saulitis uses Cassells’ poetry to highlight that.

Saulitis uses a poetic epigraph again to begin the last section of the book, titled, like the book itself, “Into Great Silence.”  On page 179, Saulitis begins Part 4 of her book with a poetic quote from Li-Young Lee.  This section of the book is by far the most emotional.  Saulitis begins to leave her day-to-day accounts of research behind and allows herself to ruminate on the emotions and repercussions connected to the loss that she is witnessing and the grief that she is feeling.  She becomes more introspective and more speculative, trading in scientific research for meditations on death, loss, and ultimately hope.

Saulitis also chooses to begin her second to last chapter with poetry by Peggy Shumaker.  In this chapter, Chapter 47, Saulitis begins to write in present tense.  This is a chapter in which she uses some of the most introspective, reflective language.  It is in this chapter that she revisits her battle with cancer and relates it back to the story of the whales.  She reflects on the process of writing the book.  At the very end of the chapter we see Saulitis as the author who began the book  meeting herself as present author directly and telling us how her views have changed.  Not only does she begin the chapter with poetry, she rewrites the poetry as the title of the chapter.  The poem that she uses ends with the line, “In a language lost to us/god is singing” (239).  She chooses to name this chapter “In a Language Lost to Us, Eyak Is Singing.”  These poetic devices set her reader up for a very poignant ending.

Saulitis does not only use the poetry of others in her account of her whale research and the loss of the pod.  She also brings her own poetry into the retelling.  This happens most often in Saulitis’ use of letters to her parents and her own journal entries from the time.  These things give the reader a penetrating look into the narrator’s relationship with the world around her.  Her letters are often strikingly evocative.  Saulitis makes a real effort to pull those around her into her world.  For example, in her letter to her parents, she writes, “The hemlocks, gray-barked and bearded with lichen, remind me of ancient men in Tai Chi poses.  Gnarled, wind-scoured, half alive, they seem to hold each cry, each gasp of the Sound under oil, under boats, under trash, under storms, like memory given form.  When I lean my body against one, I’m dizzy from their knowledge” (80).  This kind of lyrical language does not just describe the place to the reader, but makes the reader also feel the connection and emotion attached to this place as if we are there with Saulitis and feeling the same sense of connection and attachment.

The emotion and passion with which she writes to her parents also comes through in her journal entries.  Amid a myriad of observations about wildlife, one journal entry muses, “If I sat here all day, what would fill these pages?  Out of nowhere, a helicopter.  Clouds sink and rise, wind rises and stills, the air becomes moister and cooler.  It’s impossible to predict what will happen next” (135).  This kind of imagery and introspection is incredibly effective.  It is clear in both her journal and in many of her correspondences that she is of that place.  There’s an immediacy about those passages that brings the reader into the experience.  In these instances, the reader can feel the place and Saulitis’ connection to it in a very powerful way.  Additionally, the speculation that she engages in here allows the reader to feel the possibility that the place holds.

This kind of lyrical language is juxtaposed with more straightforward accounts of her scientific studies.  She gives not only detached scientific explanations, but also an emotional sense of loss.  This juxtaposition comes to bear on both the factual portions and the poetic portions of Saulitis’ writing.  The lyrical portions are given a sense of authority when they are seen next to the research of a scientist who has been studying the place and the whales for years.  The scientific portions are made much more poignant and the reader connects with them much more when they are placed alongside poetic accounts.  Saulitis gives us not only facts on a page, but these facts are given meaning and weight through her use of poetry and poetic language.  Rather than undermining the validity of the scientific research that Saulitis did, it intensifies it.  The poetry and the science both become more authentic and more true.

Saulitis becomes most lyrical and introspective at the very end of her book.  She begins her last chapter writing:

Fine mist falling, fog down to the decks of boats in the harbor. On the breakwater, shags and herons cluster, hunch-shouldered against gusts.  I see them through the spaces in his ribs.  I stare down into the cradle of his rib cage, basket of bones, hoop of barrel staves, empty frame… I want to crawl inside, huddle at his skull’s base, a dark, secret place, to listen (241).

The strength of this writing is in the way it plays with images and lyricism.  We can feel the sense of longing and loss inherent in the way Saulitis talks about the space between ribs and wanting to crawl inside.  But we can also feel the sense of hope and connection in the resiliency of the hunch-shouldered herons and listening.  This echoes the feelings and imagery that she uses at the very end of the book in which she writes, “That what’s broken can be mended. That what’s shattered can be made whole.  That what’s damaged can be repaired. That the end of the story is ‘and then –‘  And then there was Eyak. Always and forever. Amen” (245).  In this, she closes into great silence much in the same way she began it, through the lens of a poet, someone who felt on a very special level a connection to a group of whales and a place and wants to bring that connection to the reader.

As writers of nonfiction, we can use these devices in our own writing as well.  Like Saulitis, we can include poetic epigraphs to heighten the poignancy of our nonfiction stories.  We can also use poetic language, such as metaphors, to share not only the factual details of our experiences but also the emotional facets.  We can juxtapose the lyrical, emotional language of our areas of expertise or personal experience to give our readers a fuller, more true picture of the events.  The use of poetic language in nonfiction can serve to enhance the experiences we are sharing with our readers.  Evocative, lyrical language can help take stories off the page and make them more visceral and relatable for our readers.

 

*This post is part of a series on the craft of writing called Reading for Writers.  This series examines a variety of authors to ascertain the choices they’ve made in their writing and the effects of those choices so that we as writers can make better decisions in our own writing. May contain affiliate links.