Writing That Risks features writers from around the world who delight in exploring the boundaries of content and style.

writing

Writing That Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream. Ed. by Liana Holmberg & Deborah Steinberg, Red Bridge Press, 2013.

Writing That Risks features writers from around the world who delight in exploring the boundaries of content and style.
The collection ranges from a ghost story set to blues chords to a love story set in a museum that may or may not be under attack by an angry mob; from a found poem that begins with a grocery receipt to a multi-part exploration of motherhood in verse. It also includes creative nonfiction that breathes new life into the memoir form. Each piece is gorgeously crafted, and these writers’ unique voices will linger with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Authors: aJbishop, Catie Jarvis, Christina Olson, Dan Sklar, David Ellis Dickerson, Edmund Zagorin, Erin Fitzgerald, Jenny Bitner, Joanne M. Clarkson, John Newman, Jønathan Lyons, Jordan Reynolds, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs,  Libby Hart, Mariev Finnegan, Michelle S. Lee, Molly English, Norman Lock, Olga Zilberbourg, Patrick Cole, Rachel Yoder, Robert Neilson, Sharif Shakhshir, Soren Gauger, Steve Castro, Thia Li Colvin, Wendy Patrice Williams, xTx, Zach Powers.


The risk inherent in curating an anthology, any anthology, lies in the disparate forms and tones of the work, which may not all be read as belonging in flow. Like creating a mix CD, much depends on the tastes and moods of the audience, some of whom may flow through the book cover to cover, some of whom may skip certain pieces in favor of others. Writing that Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream, edited by Liana Holmberg and Deborah Steinberg and published by Red Bridge Press, promises to startle, captivate, and maybe even alienate its readers. Like the cover image of a dancer’s en pointe feet balancing impossibly on the edge of a tipped chair, the work within this anthology could go either way: Balanced gravity-defiance or kersplat fall. All involved in the project seem just fine with this. It’s the purpose of experimentation. As Holmberg states in her intro, “We wanted to know what would happen if writers were given permission to go farther. Where would they go? What would they see? What would they bring back?”
An incomplete list of experimental devices employed by the authors of Writing That Risks:
Magical realism
Temporal manipulation
Point-of-view shifts
Tense shifts
Textual illustration
Mirror image text
Interstitial inset text
Strategic bolding and italicizing
Sexual deviance as displayed by god and/or children
Internet as poet
Randomized language generators
Brevity
Speculative fiction
Non-narrative poetry
New mythmaking
Form invention
Footnotes
Erasure
Strikeouts
In “We <3 a="" adds="" among="" an="" and="" animals.="" ant="" as="" become="" bitner="" blog="" bonobo.="" both="" but="" called="" calls="" changes="" child="" children.="" clinical="" close="" common="" element="" explains="" fantastical="" first="" frequently="" future="" group="" has="" in="" into="" is="" it="" jenny="" kindergartener="" learned="" lessons="" levity="" like="" magical="" many="" mother="" narrative="" narrator="" needs.="" octopus="" of="" on="" otherwise="" p="" parent="" parenting="" person="" place="" post="" proverbial="" random="" reader="" reads="" real-life="" realism="" references="" research="" resources="" s="" scaffolding="" scares.="" shapes="" shapeshifter.="" shapeshifting="" shared="" sharing="" son="" special="" spontaneously="" stories="" story.="" story="" strategies="" subject.="" support="" takes="" tales="" the="" therapy="" there="" time="" to="" tragedy="" trait="" turn="" we="" well="" what="" when="" who="" whose="" with="">One particular potent image is that of a We <3 a="" after="" all="" and="" anonymous="" another="" apes="" at="" baby="" beautiful="" before="" birthday="" bonobo="" bouncy="" breathe="" bring="" but="" by="" cake:="" castle="" catch="" change="" child="" children.="" children="" choice="" commence="" each="" eaten.="" excitement="" experience="" for="" found="" frantic="" get="" have="" humorous="" i="" image="" in="" inside="" into="" it="" jars="" later="" lost="" mammalian="" maturity.="" metaphor="" moths="" nets="" no="" of="" on="" or="" other.="" out="" p="" parenting="" parents="" park="" party="" picnic="" play-date="" playtime.="" running="" s="" sending="" sexual="" shapes="" shapeshifter="" shapeshifters="" shapeshifting="" shepherding="" shift="" shocked="" small="" socialize="" stepped="" suddenly="" terror="" the="" their="" them="" they="" this="" to="" unexpected="" very="" visual="" wait="" which="" winged="" with="">The thorniness of real-life relations is explored using magical realism in another story, called “One Flesh in Floruit” by Molly English. In this story, a husband and wife undergo a macabre, clinical, yet oddly gothic surgery that lets them feel what the other person’s body is experiencing, but not their own. (The wife can feel what the husband touches, and vice versa.) It takes place in a world in which married couples follow this social norm of “fixing.” Spouses who don’t get “fixed” are regarded as luddites, backward, uneducated rebels, as if they didn’t use e-mail. English delivers the narrative in third person, but intersplices the story with first person accounts of a character we assume to be the wife nervously approaching the doctors before the surgery to ask questions about what will happen. It works as a foreshadowing (or sideshadowing?) of the absolute numbness and irrevocable erasure of closeness that the “fixed” married protagonists will come to experience. English textually illustrates this suffocating removal of boundaries by including lines where all the spaces between words are removed. This was an instance where text art really worked for me as a reader, when it often doesn’t. The lack of self and distinguishable sensations was aptly illustrated by the smooshed italicized words.
Writing That Risks also features some worthy experimental poetry. I was particularly drawn to “Estancados :: Atascada” by Jordan Reynolds, a surreal language poem that aims to use words as absolute raw material like clay. In the poem, Reynolds dictates Jack Spicer’s poem “Ballad of the Little Girl Who Invented the Universe” into an iPhone application called Dragon Naturally Speaking Spanish. The app turns the English speech to Spanish text. Reynolds then translates this back into English through Google Translate, proceeding to work the two drafts together into a poem. The cumulative effect of lines like “My flexible eyes lull” and “bilingual mouthfuls dribble holy stillness” made me feel a little like I had stumbled onto the high poetic ramblings of a Jim Morrison wannabe, but the tight couplets contain the intentional weirdness to make space for accidental gems of lines like “Last night / we got along fairly well in Victor’s coat. / Hey, there are a thousand ways to listen.”
I was also pleased by Christina Olson’s opening poem, “Dear Monday,” which also uses the phenomenon of the internet as a tool to shape the raw material of language. “Dear Monday” is “a found poem composed of lines from e-mails sent 2007-2011.” It is left ambiguous as to where the lines are delineated, or how much poetic license Olson took with constructing them. For instance, did she actually write, “Dear Monday, we are getting divorced” in a single email? Or is that line a conglomerate of even smaller lines still? Both Olson’s and Reynolds’s poems read like those popular StatusBot generators that randomize a Facebook user’s status update by pulling from the aggregate data of their total history of posts. (I’m thinking also of Kenneth Goldsmith’s New Yorker article, “The Writer as Meme Machine”.) The verdict is in: Mixing the internet the way a DJ mixes song samples and beats produces a melted Dadaist mix of the mundane, the surprisingly poignant, and the intimate. Take Olson’s line, “But think about June, / with so many fresh tomatoes / we’ll bleed tiny white seeds / if we cut ourselves. How can I worry, / when that is all that matters?”
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’s poem “baccha ka potRa” is complicated with references to Terrence Hayes and Gwendolyn Brooks and Fred Moten. It is also full of juxtaposed potent images of “kitchen pearls & truffula treetops,” Keisha’s mane, “creamy crack, lye ale,” “fizzled particles stuck to a flat iron.” It serves as an image-rich ode to “nappy” hair, its history, politics, textures, icons, and scents.
One prominent strength of the anthology is its curation and flow. If this were a mix CD, the segues would be nearly flawless. Lyons’s erasure story “minnows,” about a family being erased and reassembled, is followed by Sharif Shakhshir’s poem, “The Stork,” which opens with the line, “A wingful of lies.” Broken family in strike-out non-linear prose followed by broken family in verse. Similarly, “We <3 a="" am="" and="" begins="" by="" care="" cat="" cats="" clearly="" ctually="" dan="" disparate="" editors="" followed="" guide="" i="" in="" is="" landscape="" lying="" of="" p="" poem="" reader="" s="" shapes="" sklar="" such="" swooping="" the="" through="" to="" took="" tree.="" tree="" unfamiliar="" which="" writing.="">I think most creative writing students will find this anthology helpful in their pursuit of new angles, forms, genres. Certainly, there were pieces in the anthology that didn’t work for me; some had dialogue that felt too forced or affected; others had plotlines that didn’t excite as much as they promised to; a few poems had lazy enjambments. But what creative writing students can learn from even the pieces that fell short of excellence is the value of risking.
That being said, I disagreed with editor Liana Holmberg in her introduction that “few writers explore these strange confluences” of “colliding currents that churn up strange connections… sticking instead to the familiarity of mainstream realism.” We are living and writing in the age of Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Zachary Schomburg, The Hunger Games, Sheila Heti, Maggie Nelson, Nick Flynn, Paul Legault, Kate Durbin, and hell, let’s even throw in House of Leaves. I wouldn’t say there’s a dearth of innovation or riskiness in the young, contemporary literature scene these days. However, I can always understand the cry for more. My hope for this anthology is that it inspires those writers who are just beginning to hone their craft to reach further into the experimental and the oddity.
What does it mean to risk, and what is being risked? Loss of readership? Alienation? Revulsion? Getting lost in translation? I would argue that the twenty-nine writers of Writing That Risks go straight towards those precise edges, and I would argue still that some hope to careen off of them. The result is a fresh, sometimes exhilarating view. - Lauren Eggert-Crowe

I've been waiting all year for Writing That Risks, the debut offering from new and local Red Bridge Press; the anthology was published last month. Close readers of One Finger Typing might remember February's post Dragons, Google Translate, and 'found' poetry, describing a San Francisco bookstore event at which contributors to the collection read. In any case, the anthology does not disappoint, presenting one glimpse after another into the minds of strange-thinkers ... hands down the most refreshing and enlarging minds to glimpse.
 I most loved the short fiction. This despite, or perhaps because of the fact that some of it is seriously repellent: I kept having to put down Patrick Cole's "It Happened to Paul Sescau," a story in which a character's anxieties about purpose and meaning manifest themselves physically as ... how to put it without giving the story away ... a booger on steroids? The author brilliantly evoked the protagonist's anxiety in this reader. That's a good thing.
Edmund Zagorin's "A Dream of the Aztec" weaves together a similarly acute mix of anxieties. Will drug-filled balloons burst in the young protagonist's belly? Will the airplane carrying him crash? Will the brute in the next seat beat or rape him? Is the story behind this story the irritation of an unimaginably powerful god, with "hands the size of archipelagos and a grip that can throttle the wind itself"?
 Zach Powers' tale, "When As Children We Acted Memorably," is another worlds-behind-the-world story, in the mold of Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman.
"Minnows" by Jønathan Lyons is one of the weirdest and most compelling mashups of formally self-conscious fiction and emotionally wrenching story I've ever read (it somehow reminded me of Malcom Lowry's Under The Volcano, but I'm not sure I can explain why).
"We ♥ Shapes" by Jenny Bittner is a story I've been waiting to finish since I attended that "Small Press Love Fest" in San Francisco early in the year. That afternoon, Bittner read the first part of her story and left me literally hanging off the edge of my chair in the back of the room, ravenous for What Happens Next. I had to read almost to the end of this anthology to find out; Bittner's story is the penultimate piece.
And, yes, it was worth both the wait and the circuitous ride through haunting and rarely-visited literary terrain. - Steve Massover


Read Samples and Interviews
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excerpts from the book and interviews with its authors.

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