What is more embarrassing than writing about the music you don’t intellectually love or or ethically love but actually love?

Is there a way to write about music without lying?

How can anyone not listen to music in the car?

What does a lullaby in a language you don’t know and a tradition you don’t understand mean?

Is a good pop hook an epiphany or advertising? Is ecstasy a lie? Does listening to a sad song when you are sad increase the sadness or does it help give the sadness a shape? Does angry music draw out or release anger?


  1. As if from nowhere, Gillian Welch (along with guitarist David Rawlings) appeared in the late nineties singing new songs on old guitars about the same people who live in the songs of the dark forested heart of old, weird America: farmers and orphans, drifters and barroom girls. There was something unsettling and enchanting about her songs’ relationship to old songs, the way colorized old photographs are beautiful but dreamlike — they don’t hit your brain the way real photographs do. Many critics at the time, I learned much later, were similarly unsettled but not as enchanted as I was. Ann…


1.

I didn’t set out to write so much about zoos.

The story I published in American Short Fiction a few years ago titled “The Zoo and The World” began because I drove cross country for the first time, from Baltimore to Oklahoma City, and I wanted to write about that, and around the same time I happened to read a story about a man trying to disguise his pet turtle as a hamburger to sneak it on a plane, so my cross-country story became an animal-smuggling story. …


I’ve been teaching James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son” in different kinds of classrooms for almost twenty years. As material for contemplation of America and Americans, past and present and future, it is inexhaustible. As a model for writers, or for anyone trying to understand and communicate a complex understanding of a complex world, it represents an impossible and necessary challenge.

The subject matter of the essay is a few days in Harlem in the summer of 1943 when, in quick succession, Baldwin’s father dies, his father’s last child is born, and, then, at the time of the…


I’d like us all to take a step back and take a deep breath before we move ahead with a more formal assignment. None of what’s happening in the world right now is familiar; there is much to fear. Nevertheless, here we are, suddenly in an online writing course together. I am grateful for that fact. I love to teach writing (and to write) because 1. writing is a way to express ourselves in a way that is both emotional and thoughtful and 2. it is a way we can understand the emotions and thoughts of others. Simply put, writing…


The classic “creative writing workshop” scene is familiar: an apprentice writer sits silently, listening to her story being torn apart by vengeful classmates while an all-knowing professor oversees the savage action, offering occasional unpredictable but authoritative cutting remarks. More and more, creative writing teachers and students are questioning this model, pointing out how it encourages catty behavior, has the effect of pulling all stories toward the same aesthetic perspective, sees every story as a problem to be solved, and offers writers chaotic and contradictory advice. …


Though it was spring, there was a chance of freezing rain, and storms. I knew I would have to drive the not-quite-two-hours from Oklahoma City to Ada that afternoon through the weather, half of it across open land on sweeping thin roads with too-high speed limits, no doubt a white pickup with blasting brights on my tail. I dreaded the drive.

All morning I had individual conferences with my freshmen about their research essays. The conference process is mentally exhausting, and also necessary: the only way to teach essay writing well, I have become convinced, is to create moments of…


I decided to keep a sort of journal over the few weeks of winter break. Each entry had to begin with something happening in the moment or in memory and had to proceed without knowing where it was going, and it had to end. Ten lines of ten syllables each.

The neighbor’s sycamore loses its leaves
Into our yard, a gift and mess, pale
Yellow and papery, each the size of a
Hand, a dead hand, a dream of hands. Gray sky
In evening deepens abstractly, thinking.
Winter is outside, light is light only
In the dark. Bare branches allow being
Looked through. Dryness, loss of leaves, is also
A radical openness, not into
Possibility, but one cold real night.

Edmond traffic in December sun is Hard on the contemplative impulse, if The desire to see and appreciate Comes from the world, not from the inner self. So perhaps this…


The lullaby I most often requested from my mother was the alphabet song. I associate the song, even its most cheerful versions, and even now, with a feeling of drifting in darkness and a letting go of consciousness natural as opening a hand. Falling asleep is what we hope dying will feel like, though we fear it will not. When we hear or sing a lullaby we are in a small way preparing for the passage from life to death. The irony is that the roles of the lullaby, singer and sleeper, will, we hope, be reversed later in life…


The problem with discussions about the relationship between literary and genre fiction is that they invest so much time and heart in the debates about relative cultural prestige and so little in the consideration of essential similarities. Thinking carefully about how genre and literary fiction overlap can give us an appreciation for the literary possibilities of genre fiction as well as the genre energies available to works of literary fiction.

I propose in this essay to think specifically about the mystery story, and how we can see its forms and energies at work in many stories, not only in stories…

Rob Roensch

a fiction: The Wildflowers of Baltimore (Salt); The World and the Zoo (Outpost19) https://sites.google.com/site/robroensch/

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