All Posts in “Writing & Publishing”

Sure, the Story Seems Simple . . .

Jenean McBrearty

Jenean McBrearty’s short story “Reliquary” appears in Relief 6.1. The story encompasses cloning, child-rearing, and the Shroud of Turin, among other things that evoke our relationship to the past and to the spirit world.

Red, white, or old and rugged, the cross is an awesome symbol of Christ’s power over darkness and death. In hoc signes vinces. In this sign, you will conquer. Constantine saw the message written on the heavens, put the cross on his shield, and the world was never the same. Dracula ignored the memo, and we know what the symbol does to him! Context is everything.

When life gets complicated, when its course runs, as it inevitably does, and it’s time to say good-bye, the things people leave behind in this world—their relics—are precious to the people they leave behind. They are personal symbols of the awesome power of life, of love, and experience, symbols that are testaments to God having let us be. To breathe and cry and laugh, and do all sorts of amazing things.

I’ve always been fascinated by diaries and faces, toys and tools of people who were once on this earth. Their artifacts are as holy to me as the cross or the baptistery. We live in a privileged era. Our relics will last a long time. Especially our words. They’ll last as long as the Internet, and that’s predicted to be as close to eternally as any man-made thing can be.

I wonder. Do the dead touch us back when we touch their relics?  Maybe. Maybe the line between the living and the dead will disappear with enough technology, enough research . . . but we should never mistake a marvel for a miracle.

Jenean McBrearty has been published in Main Street Rag Anthology—Altered States, Wherever It Pleases, Danse Macabre, bioStories, Cobalt Review, and Black Lantern, among others. She has self-published two novels and a short story collection. She now resides in Kentucky. God has blessed her with wonderful children, a kitty named Mr. Baxter, and a navy blue Pontiac. Her website is: Jenean-McBrearty.com.

Sixteen (or so) Candles

Michael Dean Clark

Since this blog will publish on my birthday, I decided to make some wishes with it. Yes, I am aware that wishes made public supposedly won’t come true. And yet, wishes kept captive in the inner-recesses of my addled mind go nowhere anyway, so I feel safe in putting a few out there. And yes, I am also aware that making my wish list public might be taken as a tad self-serving. That’s because it is. And I’m ok with that.

Wish #1  This year, my 38th if you must know, I really hope to be found by a story that makes me feel so inferior I am compelled to write it. This is not because I have an inflated opinion of myself and my abilities. Rather, I want desperately to be stunned into the process of telling an amazing story that, for some reason or other, has not been told. I am convinced that it is not an artistic duty that drives story as much as it is the incumbent need to bear witness to the invisible.

Wish #2 Re: Wish #1 – Because so many stories worth telling get ignored for ones we’ve heard too many times before, my second wish is that anyone who ends up reading this blog will also be confronted with a story they must tell. If it happens, I’m hoping the candle I blew out with your name on it compels you to find the keyboard rather than think “Someone should really write about that.”

Wish #3 Re: Wish #1&2 – Because the desire to write a story is the response we SHOULD automatically heed, my third wish is that all of us who commit these stories to prose actually seek their publication so we are not the only ones who get the opportunity to experience them. Instead, I wish for all of these stories to eventually be submitted to various publications (and no, this is not me shoe-horning in two wishes, Jafar). If you’re not sure where to send the story you write, spend some time here.

Wish #4 And for my final wish, a little selfishness on my part (as if taking one more wish than the customary three is not selfish enough). I wish that all our stories find homes, bear witness, and inspire others to stand in the path of stories that will force them, in turn, to be witnesses themselves. 

So don’t let me down people. It is my birthday and all.

Michael Dean Clark is the fiction editor at Relief and an assistant professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. When he’s not writing or parenting via shame and sarcasm, Clark is waiting (im)patiently for the return of Psych, and you know that’s right.

Kafka on Reading Books

I just finished listening to Krista Tippet’s interview with Walter Brueggemann, which was interesting on many levels, not the least for this quote by Kafka on reading books. If only we could always read the Bible as the “ax for the frozen sea within us”! The best literature, and the kind of thing we strive to publish in Relief, will disrupt our habitual lives and refresh our orientation to the world – and to the Scriptures.

Questions on Eternity – Lynn Domina

Lynn Domina

5.2 poet Lynn Domina discovers her human perspective and is okay with it.

For about twenty years, I’d found myself puzzled by the idea of eternity. It wasn’t so much the idea of no beginning and no end; I could almost imagine (if not understand) that. It was that with no beginning and no end, there could be no middle either—and that led to all kinds of loss. With no beginning, middle, or end, we have no sequence, no narrative, no possibility of story.

Then I read something that suggested that in eternity, everything happens all at once. I mulled this over. How could this be? How could I, for instance, stand at the bus stop on the first day of kindergarten, adopt my own child, and bake tonight’s pumpkin bread all at the same time?

Years passed. (I live in history, not eternity, and so I can say, “Years passed.”)

One day I realized that my problem was perspective. I cannot understand eternity because of my stance in time. In order to understand eternity, I would need to position myself outside of time. Since I could not actually place myself outside of time, I began to think figuratively, and I realized that if I had a bird’s eye view of time rather than of space, I would see everything happening simultaneously. Eureka! I had solved this intellectual puzzle at least well enough for myself, at least well enough that I could begin to think of other things.

I am a poet, though, not a philosopher, as much as I enjoy sitting around thinking (some would say brooding). I prefer to read and write poetry, with its images, its specificity, its concrete language, rather than philosophy with all of its abstractions. How could I ever write a poem that spoke of how I’d come to understand such an abstraction as eternity?

I sat at my desk and tried to imagine what I would see if I could have an aerial view of time. Because I live in the Catskill mountains, what I see whenever I look out a window are sloping hills, and the pines and oaks and maple trees that cover them. I see peaks tangled with bare branches in winter, tinged with green in spring, bursting into yellow and orange and red during October. Images of mountains and images of snow have drifted into my poems during the years I’ve lived here. So when I tried to imagine what I would see if I could see everything happening at once, I saw the buds on trees, and I saw the leaves surrendering to decay.

But then I came to this great truth: I don’t want to live in eternity; I enjoy living in time. I cling to story, to memory. I want to grasp the excitement of time’s rush, the contemplative solace of time’s creep. And so I conclude the poem with this blessing: not that we may each live in eternity, but that we may each live attentively, in time.

Lynn Domina‘s poems “Flickering Green, Flickering Bronze” and “Omniscience in Babel” appear in issue 5.2. Read her full bio here.

Poetry & Presence – Michael Martin

5.2 Poet Michael Martin offers notes on a poetry manifesto.

I used to think that Guillaume Apollinaire was the author of the single greatest line in the history of literature: “I know that only those will remake the world who are grounded in poetry.” I’m not so sure anymore. The word “poetry” has lost its savor. I’m not sure if the aura of professionalism promised by the MFA is to blame, though there is something within me that groans at the thought of poets updating their websites, planning their career trajectories, networking for the big grant money. There must be more to poetry than that.

I don’t write poetry for the sake of having a career or for satisfaction of writing “poet” on my income tax forms. I write poetry in order to wrestle with the problem of God in the only way that seems to work for me. The academic study of theology, of religion, or of hermeneutics, I think, generally avoids the problem of God. This avoidance comes about primarily through the tyranny of the thesis statement: the need to come up with an argument. Poetry doesn’t need an argument. In this, it is not unlike negative theology, which also refuses to be forced to define, abstract, and, above all, name that which cannot be named. So perhaps I come to terms with God by not coming to terms with God. The poems “Visions of Vladimir” and “Words written during the suffering and subsequent death of John Paul II, the Pope of Rome” both figure ways in which I try to contend with this problem.

The best poetry can hope for, I think, is to open us to presence. This is why I am so interested in religious poetry, which, in the best cases, opens us to the presence of God, to the mysterion. I am very fond of Simone Weil’s story about reciting her translation of George Herbert’s wonderful poem “Love” every time she had a migraine. She wrote to a priest she knew about this experience, explaining, “I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that, as I told you, Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”

I do not pretend that my two offerings in Relief 5.2 will figure that for the reader. Rather, they are documents of my attempts at discovering God’s presence through a phenomenological attendance to the world which I then try to render into language. What this betrays, of course, is that my view of the world is underwritten by a belief in the sacramental participation of God in creation. God is not purely transcendent. Christianity, in addition to affirming God’s transcendence, tells us that God is also immanent: that God abides in all creation. But remaining aware of this presence is not always easy. We often read about God’s “absence,” but I have the feeling the absence is mostly on our account. In these poems I try to make myself aware of God’s presence in the midst of my own absence.

Michael Martin‘s poems “Visions of Vladimir” and “Words written during the suffering and subsequent death of John Paul II, the Pope of Rome” appear in issue 5.2 of Relief. Find his full bio here.