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Presenting: Sun Star Review #3

ss_w17_cover1-4-daniel1-ghosts-finalIt’s a new year. The holidays are over, the world is cold and barren, the falcon is growing just a bit hard of hearing, and the center is entertaining inchoate doubts as to its ability to hold. Sounds like the perfect time for new Sun Star!

We would like to express our sincerest thanks to our authors for the privilege of publishing their work, and to everyone who overwhelmed our inbox with wonderful work and made the final cut so difficult. We’re humbled and grateful for all our diverse contributors, and it means so much to us to be able to publish so much work that represents and touches on issues near and dear to our hearts. In every (general) issue, there is a moment, usually just before publication in that last frantic blizzard of word breaks and em dashes, when the project finally takes full shape before your eyes. The threads that you’ve been weaving pull together, and what had been a plan and a feeling becomes a real object staring up at you from your desktop. I must say, in the transition from writer to editor, those moments, the realized conversation and collaborative creation, are among the very best.

We hope you enjoy. Again, we cannot offer sufficient thanks to our authors, our submitters, our assistant editors, and everyone else who makes this project possible!

Happy reading!

Book Review: Poena Damni Z213 Exit

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Z213: Exit is the first book in Dimitri Lyacos’ acclaimed Poena Damni trilogy. Originally published in Greek, this is the second edition of Shoestring Press’s English translation of the work.

Z213: Exit follows a fugitive’s journey through an abstract allegorical landscape rendered in concrete images. The book is made up of a series of entries that frequently break into fragmented verse. There is a sense of solidity in these pieces, a sensuality in their approach to rendering the relationship between person and place:

“First light that opens your lungs all around and above and from here onwards the strong smell of the landscape goes with you all along.”

This is Shorsha Sullivan’s translation from the original Greek and she does wonderful work capturing the sound and complex imagery in Lyacos’ poems. There’s a sense of circularity in these pieces, both in word and image:

“And the snail hurries to go back on its tracks, a tale you remember unfinished, wrinkles that still hold a colour on memory’s transient seed, birds that awake the dew on their wings and you leave with them into the all-white frozen sky, but you wake and are baked again.”

This is a fascinating and disturbing book, and a very beautiful translation. Because of this work’s reliance on language and form, it would be wonderful to someday see an edition that includes both the original Greek alongside the English on facing pages for easy comparison. This edition brings Lyacos’ work to English-speaking readers in a slim and accessible volume.

Series: Poena Damni

Paperback: 152 pages

Publisher: Shoestring Press; 2nd Revised edition (October 18, 2016)

ISBN-10: 1910323624

ISBN-13: 978-1910323625

 

Meet the Author: Anna Sandy

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Anna Sandy’s poem “Storm Shelters” appears in our Winter Issue. Anna is the current Poetry Editor of New South, a literary journal based in Atlanta, GA that, no, does not only take southern-inspired writing. As an MFA candidate at Georgia State University, where she also teaches English Composition, she drinks a lot of coffee, pets her cats, and writes poems and essays. Some of those poems and essays can be found or are forthcoming in the Santa Ana River Review, Muse/A, Nightjar Review, and others.

What inspired you to write this work?

Last summer, I took a generative writing workshop in which we were given a prompt word every day for six weeks and had to write a poem from it. For this poem, the prompt word was cellar– and as soon as I started to envision that kind of cool, damp, dark place, this poem fell out of it.

Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general?

Oh my, there are so many. I love amazing women like Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds, and Rita Dove, and my past and current professors Sonja Livingston and Beth Gylys… and, of course, Frank O’Hara was one of my first poetry inspirations. I have to stop myself or I’ll go on for pages.

Is there anything in particular that you hope readers will understand, gain, or experience from this work?

For me, this poem is about the idea of being able to create security for yourself, and being able to look back at those in-between moments that don’t feel like real life and appreciate them– especially when you’re older and you know what was really going on. The poem is about an outside sense of doom, but it’s also about an inner sense of doom. What I really hope the reader, especially a reader who may have had a rough childhood, takes from it is the way it chooses to take hold on the fleeting, good parts of how things were instead of focusing on the bad that surrounded it.

We loved the way this poem captured the creation of safety and a sense, even, of coziness in the midst of danger. Is this a contrast that you are often drawn to?

Yes and no. I don’t often write about my early years in a way that suggests security because my childhood was pretty rocky and, unfortunately, it’s the bad memories that usually stick out. Like I said in a previous question, I do like that this poem took me to a place of happiness within my childhood. To answer this question, though, I do tend to write about the contrast between things that are going on outside of my body or my home and the things going on within, and how they can sometimes mirror each other and sometimes repel each other.

Describe your typical writing process.

I always cheat and quote Frank O’Hara on this one: “You just go on your nerve.” My poems tend to come out in pretty whole chunks, when they decide they want to.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a peculiar writing habit that you’d like to share?

I don’t necessarily have a favorite place to write, but I do have to be completely alone. Ideally. I would have some sort of hovel or turret that I could lock myself, a comfortable chair, a vat of coffee or tea, and my laptop in.

If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?

I want to say an elephant because elephants are my favorite animals, but I would probably be better at being a cat. Maybe even a wild cat that lives somewhere tropical and basks in the sun all day.

Meet the Author: Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell

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The daughter of farmers and a native Texan with a PhD in English from the University of Texas, Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell is a writer, teacher, and caregiver living in Tucson with her partner and their two children. Her poems have been published in Chagrin River Review, and she was a finalist in the 2016 Tucson Festival of Book Literary Awards for nonfiction. Her writing focuses on memory and loss, mental illness and war. Read her piece “The Redictionary” in our Winter Issue.

You mentioned that this piece was very personal to you and that you felt it was particularly important in our current political climate. Would you like to speak to the personal nature of the piece and to the ways in which the personal and political combined to create it?

When I visited my parents over the summer, I wrote this piece in response to a month’s worth of doctor’s appointments, surgeries, emergency room visits, and hospital stays. All combat-related illnesses suffered 45 years after my dad’s service in Vietnam. My dad had to tell his story repeatedly because his disease is so rare. My dad’s desire to tell his story and his frustration with the fact that no one listens mirrors, in many ways, this past election cycle. I think very few veterans trust elected officials. Any of them. But veterans are desperate for others to hear their stories. This whole political moment boils down to a crisis of narrative and who gets to tell their stories. Getting these stories out there is an act of resistance. Now more than ever.

Tell us about the form of this piece. It feels partway between poetry and prose and we loved the way it experiments with dictionary conventions. How did you decide upon a form? Did the form surprise you?

It did surprise me. I started with my distrust of the military’s use of the word “resiliency.” Resiliency, for the military, is just a catch phrase for being ready to go back into a training cycle, and that includes family, too. It’s peer-pressured conformity, a false return to the “who” you were before you faced death. I started thinking about other “re” words because I saw how often they were used by the military to accommodate its cyclical nature. When my dad got sick, the dictionary form helped me to contain the chaos of the illness narrative as it related to a remembered narrative of war. I write essays when I understand what I am writing about. Poetry is reserved for all those things that defy my understanding. This hybrid form contains my own outrage over my dad’s treatment and my despair for the future regarding how my husband’s own potential combat-related illnesses will be treated by whatever bureaucracy is in place at the time.

Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general?

I’ve been inspired a great deal by the anthology, Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Forms, edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. It opens up so many possibilities for those of us exploring hybrid forms. I like anything that takes a risk.

Is there anything in particular that you hope readers will understand, gain, or experience from this work?

I want others to learn about veterans’ issues, about rare diseases, about the struggles people go through during a chronic illness. It’s about empathy. Not everyone will serve in the military or suffer a rare disease, but most all of us will get sick and rely on the care of others. Not long before this piece was published, my dad finally received 100% disability from the VA.

Describe your typical writing process.

I have two small children, so I have to sneak my writing in, often working in stolen moments. Sometimes early in the morning, sometimes late at night, sometimes when they’re watching “Shaun the Sheep” or playing outside in the desert.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a peculiar writing habit that you’d like to share?

Sometimes I get a phrase or two running around in my brain, and I just run with it. I do a lot of thinking and scribbling, mapping and collaging before I sit down to the computer. If I can’t get my pen to work my ideas, I’ll use scissors, glue, markers, and craft paper. It works. I promise.

If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?

A saguaro cactus. They’re majestic. They grow slowly and can have up to 25 arms. I like the idea of that kind of growth.

Meet the Author: Cameron L. Mitchell

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You can read Cameron L. Mitchell’s story “Big Cat Head” in our Winter Issue. Cameron grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Oyez Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Jonathan, ImageOutWrite, The Queer South anthology, and a few other places. He currently lives in New York City, where he works in archives at Columbia University’s medical school library. He’s hard at work on his first novel. Check out his blog, which includes information about some of his work. You can also find him on Twitter: @CameronLMitchel.

 

What inspired you to write this work?

I wrote ‘Big Cat Head’ after a particularly lonesome few days I had in New York. I started thinking about how isolated one can feel in the city at times despite the fact that there are always people around and countless things to do. I think a lot of people experience that, being lost in this massive crowd. The process of writing the story was a way to cheer myself up. It felt incredibly funny to me, which is kind of a weird thing to say about your own work. It’s also weird because I’m not sure it’s really a funny story at all.

But it all started with that image of a person with a big cat head, which just came to me. I wondered, what would one do if they found something so bizarre in their house?

Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general.

There are numerous authors and books that I love. My biggest fear is dying and not being able to read anymore. If there’s an afterlife, I hope it’s a library filled with an unending supply of books.

Everything I read is influential in some way, in a general sense. As for this particular story, I was much more experimental than I normally am. Much of my work is very straightforward, so it was fun to play around. There’s a book of short stories by Yoko Ogawa that I go back to again and again called ‘Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales.’ It’s the perfect collection of stories. They’re dark, they’re mysterious, and strange things happen. I don’t re-read many books, but I could read this one over and over again. While I wasn’t thinking of these stories during the writing of ‘Big Cat Head,’ I’m sure they had some influence.

Is there anything in particular that you hope readers will understand, gain, or experience from this work?

I hope readers enjoy the story. That’s all I can ask for.

Describe your typical writing process.

I’m at my most creative in the late morning/early afternoon. I love brewing a pot of coffee and sitting down to write. I need total quiet while composing first drafts, but it’s fun to take myself out into the world when it’s time to revise. On weekends, I often print a story out and bring it to a favorite coffee shop to work on. I like having something physical in my hands to read over and revise – it helps me see the work in a new way and catch things I might have missed otherwise.

If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?

 Can I be a nonhuman creature for only a little while? The idea of permanently turning into something nonhuman makes me nervous. I like being human. I’ll assume I can be a nonhuman creature on a strictly temporary basis. In that case, I’ll say a bird of some kind – a large bird. I hate the idea of being a sparrow or some tiny, frail thing. Maybe an eagle? I’d love to know what it feels like to fly, mostly because I often have dreams of being able to fly. In every single dream, it’s like I have this hidden talent that I forgot about. I’m so happy when I remember that I can fly. I take off into the sky, and it’s magnificent. But then I wake up, crushed to discover that I can’t fly.

We loved how the absurdly fantastical in this piece moved into very serious and unexpected territory. Was it a challenge to balance the tone of this piece? Do you feel that absurdity is useful when writing about difficult subjects like death?

I didn’t think much about the tone of the story while writing it. I started with this image of a person with a big cat head and took it from there. The writing was very quick, like the story was already there and just needed someone to write it down. My best stories are the ones that insist on being written. That’s not to say I didn’t take lots of time revising it, but the basic story didn’t change very much.

Death is absurd – the things we do to avoid thinking about it are absurd. I really don’t like thinking about death, honestly. When I was a child, I remember praying for whatever god might be listening to take thoughts of death away. For me, I looked at it in two distinct ways: you die and blow out like a candle; or, there’s an afterlife, and you just go on and on for eternity. Both options terrified me. I didn’t want to blow out like a candle, being gone forever. I also didn’t like the idea of being conscious in some way, going on and on and on – till when?

I should stop now. I’m sort of freaking myself out. But yes, maybe the absurdity in this story is a way for me to work through some issues. Thinking there could be this other world after death that’s unlike anything we’ve ever known or would expect – perhaps that’s comforting to the child burying his face in a pillow, praying to just stop thinking about the whole thing.

All that being said, I’m not sure my story is in fact about death at all. Not in the way readers might think, anyway. The original version of the story actually continued for another paragraph or two, concluding in a far less ambiguous way. Ultimately, I decided to chop those paragraphs off and let the reader come to their own conclusion.

Many of our editors are very fond of our cats and find them influencing our writing, so we felt a particular kinship to this piece. Assuming you, too, are a cat person, please feel free to use this space to tell us all about your cat(s) and their influence on this story.

Though I don’t consider myself a cat person, I had one up until recently. I like cats, but if I were to get another pet, I’d prefer a dog. Dogs are full of love and fun to play with. Cats are weird and not always the most loving creatures. They do their own thing and come to you only when they want. I had cats and dogs growing up, as well as numerous other animals.

My cat was a big influence on ‘Big Cat Head.’ Some of the cat-specific details of the story are lifted from my life. I often wondered what my cat was thinking. Sometimes, she couldn’t get enough attention, demanding to sit on my chest; other times, she hid in the closet, perfectly content without me. While writing this story, I still had my cat, but she was getting older, so I was thinking about what it’d be like once she was gone. She’s still alive, but I had to find her a new home when I moved. It worked out really well since a trusted friend took her in. She has more space now and is happy, though I do miss her.

Cats are kind of absurd creatures. They’re funny and highly entertaining. I like the idea that there’s this world out there with cats walking upright, chatting away. I bet they’re wise.

 

Meet the Author: Lizzie Reinhard

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Lizzie Reinhard’s story, “Bread, Eggs, Milk,” appears in Sun Star’s Winter Issue. Lizzie  earned her MFA from Columbia University. She has been awarded fellowships by Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts and The Catwalk Institue, as well as the Dogwood Prize for Fiction. Her work has appeared in The Seven Hills Review, Juxtaprose Magazine, and is forthcoming in Salamander Magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and their maniacal Pomeranian, Petunia. 

 

What inspired you to write this work?

Should I be honest? There was a snow storm coming to NYC and I thought it was funny how everyone was “stocking up” as if we wouldn’t be able to leave our homes for days. That might happen some places, but is very rare in NYC. That brought me to the feeling of being trapped, and I decided to trap these two sisters together and see what happens. The other thing that was on my mind, is on my mind, at this age (I’m 30) is that I think we’re all constantly comparing ourselves to others, deciding whether we’re doing better or worse than them to see if we’re on track. I think this can cause us to be blind about the people we’re comparing ourselves too, when they’re our family.

Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general?

Claire Messud stands out for me. Alice Munro because she’s the master of short stories that seem to be quiet but pack a lot of punch. I was definitely deep in my Elena Ferrante phase when I wrote this, which probably put my focus on female relationships.

Describe your typical writing process.

Pacing around my apartment until I force myself to sit down and write, writing at least one draft that I “don’t care” is bad (but is that ever true), and trying to polish from there.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a peculiar writing habit that you’d like to share?

“Shitty First Drafts” in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was a great comfort to me. It’s really hard to sit down and write. So if you say: I’m going to write a shitty first draft, that takes a lot of the pressure off!

I also do morning pages a la Julia Cameron. The idea is that you write three pages of blah blah blah whatever to clear your mind, release the ideas that are holding you back from sitting down and writing but I do find that ideas emerge from them. Once I’ve written a full page of, “Ugh my apartment is dusty and I wasted an hour on Facebook,” I find that other thoughts float in, ones that I might not have accessed any other way.

If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?

A Pomeranian, because I love them. But honestly? Any! Most don’t overthink things the way we do. They definitely don’t waste hours on Facebook.

This story captures such a complex and individual relationship between sisters. Was it challenging to find the right balance for this relationship in the story? And are there any particular books/stories/poems that you would recommend for capturing the complexity of sibling relationships?

Amy Parker’s “Rainy Season” portrays a sister relationship incredibly – how sisters can be resentful, protective, best friends, and enemies at the same time. The amount of feeling between her two characters is devastating and so real.

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