by Quinten Neil Anderson

There’s that thing, again. It’s that thing in a poem that keeps you silent for a few minutes after reading. It’s that thing that you can’t quite place, that lingers around the page; not quite in the margins, not quite between the lines. With no particular certainty may it be explained.

But there it is, again, and you think you know it when you see it. It’s why you keep reading and writing poems. It’s palpable only in common air. This is to say that you must be with the poem for its duration, and even when you are, it escapes quickly. In a moment you dictate, in your head, what you will say, and open your lips to articulate—but it’s gone. This is why it never came up in any of your workshops—or it did, but it was never named. Or it was, but not exactly the way you thought of it, felt it, or meant it.

It’s why I keep reading and writing poems. It’s what I look for in a poem; yet I, too, cannot name it. I don’t think I would like to. It’s the reason for so many discussions about aesthetics, about single words, about the minutest syntactical occurrences. We discuss it with such words as diction, line-break, and enjambment. We attempt to argue points based on sets of rules and codes, which guide us, and allow others to follow our lines of thought. Of course, these are necessary rules and codes for communicating and maintaining consistent aesthetics, whatever the framework for the discussion may be.

But again, before any of these rules and words for communication come out of our mouths, there it is. Freud called it, “the uncanny.”  It is something that knows no time or spatial boundaries. It knows no race, religion, or culture. It is that which precedes ah-ha! This is only intended to be a gentle reminder that poems are of feeling first, of thought second, and lastly of words.

Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir

by Cara Sexton

As a writer and editor of creative nonfiction, there's almost nothing I love more than a great memoir. Having read The Liars' Club and knowing that Mary Karr happened to be a Goddard College alum, I was excited to see The Art of Memoir hit the shelves. The book is, in a sense, a memoir about memoir, and Karr pulls it off brilliantly. She manages to dig into precisely what it is about the genre that most fascinates and delights me: the mining for meaning. I imagine I am not alone in this, given the genre's recent rise in popularity.

But it truly is the art in it that Mary hones in on. Different, I think, from the technicalities of craft, what Mary captures best is the unique magic of memoir, distinct from biography or journalism. "Memoir done right is an art," she writes, "a made thing. It's not just raw reportage flung splat on the page. Most morally ominous: from the second you choose one event over another, you're shaping the past's meaning." 

But for all the inspiration she has for budding memoir artists, she certainly does not neglect the particularities of the craft. To read The Art of Memoir is to have been given a rich course in how great memoir gets accomplished. I am struck by the truth with which she begins chapter 9 (splendidly titled "Interiority and Inner Enemy—Private Agonies Read Deeper Than External Whammies") with the following instruction: 

Carnality may determine whether a memoir's any good, but interiority—that kingdom the camera never captures—makes a book rereadable. By rereadable, translate: great. Your connection to most authors usually rests in how you may identify with them. Mainly, the better memoirist organizes a life story around that aforementioned inner enemy—a psychic struggle against herself that works like a thread or plot engine. 

The Art of Memoir will itself make it into my "to reread" pile. Since I'd read it as part of my studies, I actually plan to start it over again right away that I can savor it more slowly this time. I know there are gems I missed the first time through, and as I prepare to work more on my own memoir writing, I want to do so buoyed by the inspiration that Karr has gifted to her readers. 

This, alongside Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, are books I've read recently that have gotten me personally fired up again as a writer to pour out what burns within, even when some of the work that faces me includes dark, difficult things to relive. But as Karr writes, "[M]ost memoirists know the past can be a swamp. Nonetheless, most are trying to find footing on more solid ground. Some memories—often the best and worst—burn inside us for lifetimes, florid, unforgettable, demanding to be set down." 


A Conversation with Craig Clevenger

by Tyler Woodsmall

I was introduced to Craig Clevenger my first semester at Goddard. The recommendation came from a fellow Goddardite, Andrew. This was the nature of the recommendation:

Andrew: You read The Contortionist’s Handbook?
Me: No.
Andrew: You need to. It’s great.

So, I bought the book and finished reading it the same day. I was hooked. I don’t usually read books more than once, but I’ve read this one about six times. Its place on my bookshelf is empty; it stays on my desk for easy access.

In effect, Clevenger’s book has infected and corrupted my temporal lobe, and rereading the book hasn’t served as a cure. I’ve toyed with the idea of having a lobotomy, but I’m not comfortable with the health risks. Clevenger’s forthcoming book is Mother Howl. I’m looking forward to the book hitting the shelves in the near future. I recorded the following phone conversation that I had with Mr. Clevenger:

Tyler Woodsmall: If you hear Christmas music, it’s because I live in a bed-and-breakfast, and there is some strange themed party going on in the living room.

Craig Clevenger: I saw that on your bio. You actually live in a bed-and-breakfast.

TW: So I’m just going to jump right into the questions. Was it a conscious decision to write in the noir genre? Or is that what came out naturally?

CC: I did not consciously decide to write noir. I gravitated to it from a point of pure craftsmanship. I’ve always thought crime writers get the most amount of mileage out of the simplest rules of writing. And if you want to learn plot, setting, character, structure, arch, and all of those things, a really well-done crime novel will have those basic conventions done in a very un-experimental, no-avant-garde kind of way.
Crime novels are executed in a textbook fashion, but that isn’t to say they won’t be surprising or enjoyable.
When I was learning writing, studying in a lot of workshops and reading books, the closest you got to craft was detailed discussions of character and motivation. Plot, in terms of prose in fictions circles, was considered a dirty word. And anybody with highbrow aspirations didn’t discuss plot; that was for beach reads. I really just think that’s a shame. So I learned about the mechanics of plot from crime novels.
On a personal level, it just reflected the world I knew. I won’t get too personal here, but I spent most of my childhood after Texas growing up in Orange County, California, which is the embarrassing suburban bedroom community. And I went to Catholic school. So on the surface, the life I had seemed to be very middle America, right out of the sitcoms. But in fact, what I knew to be true was a lot different from that. I read science fiction to escape. Then when I read James Cain and Jim Thompson, I knew what I was escaping from. That was the world that I knew. The idea that something ugly is brewing beneath June Cleaver’s sink was something I responded to.

TW: So back to the plot-and-structure statement. Do you think that is why both of your books have been optioned? Because they have a clear plot and structure?

CC: I hadn’t thought about any of those reasons. I suppose. I’m not a screenwriter. I’ve tried screenwriting; it makes my head hurt. I’d like to try it again, maybe someday. Haven’t really thought about it, to be honest.

TW: You have one film that’s been made [Dermaphoria], and The Contortionist’s Handbook has been optioned a couple of times. Are you involved with the scriptwriting process?

CC: I haven’t really been involved. For the first Handbook script, the studio asked for my notes on the script. And the notes I gave them pretty well excoriated the script. I just did not like it at all. They bought my story, not my opinion. But they did ask for my opinion, so I wasn’t speaking out of turn. In my notes, I said, “I’m willing to bet this will be the last time I ever hear from you.” And I was right.
The Handbook has been optioned again. I had a very nice meeting with that director. The director has been very receptive and wanted to know why I wasn’t happy with the original script. It’s a very long process. It’ll be under option for a while before it turns into film.

TW: I’m curious to know what your favorite films are.

CC: The 90/120-minute cinema has kind of lost its luster in the last decade. There have been a few brilliant ones that have come out. But my favorite films are David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and anything by the Cohen brothers—Barton Fink in particular. That one is my favorite. Barton’s room number 621 pops up in my fiction now and then. Dermaphoria all took place in room 621.
Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner is also great. The most recent one that left me slack-jawed and speechless was Birdman.

TW: Good choices. You don’t hear a lot of people talk about The Indian Runner.

CC: Oh, you know it?

TW: Oh, yeah. I’m going to segue abruptly here with this next question. Do you think that there is a difference between literary and genre fiction?

CC: I think there is a difference between genre and non-genre fiction. Even though my stuff is definitely influenced by noir, I consider it mainstream literary fiction. As in “no genre.” I think the distinction between genre and literary fiction is, by and large, arbitrary and unfair. To both parties. More unfair to genre writers than anything else. Watching the inconsistencies with which exceptions are made kind of shows how artificial or even hypocritical that distinction is. It is really a loss for people who want to read capital-L literary fiction. [Craig uses fancy voice.] They are missing out on some really good stuff.
When you start drawing the lines between literary fiction and genre fiction, the default is, you know, dudes like me. And I like me. But there are other voices out there and other perspectives.
Scott Heim is a wonderful writer. I met him briefly. HHe is a lovely dude. Had his books not been on a face-up literary table and shelved in “Gay and Lesbian Fiction,” I never would’ve seen them. So when we start saying “literary” and “genre,” that is a dangerous default. For reasons beyond just dismissing science fiction. That default of “literary” is exclusionary even in the mainstream reading community. Does that make sense?

TW: That makes perfect sense. I’m going to jump subjects on you. In The Contortionist’s Handbook, your book has a lot of specifics for a psychiatric evaluation of a drug overdose. The book is filled with information on how a psychiatrist determines if the patient is “safe” or “suicidal.” How did you go about researching that?

CC: That was, frighteningly enough, one of the easier things I was able to figure out. To qualify, even though I researched specific psychological techniques, a lot of what is in the book is of my own invention. So anyone who uses The Handbook in a literal fashion is in trouble.
I just thought that the psychological diagnosis of a character was a cool spine for a novel. The psychiatric interview was natural. It isn’t the first time it has been done. But I’ll be honest. I found the information on a bookshelf in a bookstore, a big textbook in the psychiatry and self-help section called Basic Psychiatric Diagnosis.
I read through the book and laid out interview questions on index cards that a psychiatrist might ask a patient. I had it vetted by one psychiatrist and then a friend of mine who was pursuing a doctorate in psychiatry. They both said it was pretty accurate.

TW: Where does this dark writing come from?

CC: If you’re talking about the style in The Handbook, that came organically. If I had to pin two writers together, I would say Andrew Vachss, because of this book he wrote called Shella, which is phenomenal, and then James Ellroy and his book White Jazz.
Those things alone were not the ways I would always write. But given that I was writing a book from the perspective of a cocaine addict, I wanted to stay in his head and sustain that mania for as long as possible.

TW: Side note … you and I share a favorite book: Kiss Me, Judas.

CC: Yeah, I’ll tell you a story about that author, Will Christopher Baer. After The Handbook came out, there was a coffee shop I would go to. I gave the manager of the coffee shop a copy of my book. And then the manager asked if I liked a writer called Will Christopher Baer. I said, “Yeah I’m a huge fan.” The manager said, “He used to work here.” So it turned out I was writing The Handbook like twenty feet away from the guy. And neither one of us ever knew it. So that is how we met.

TW: That’s crazy.

CC: We met at a bar. We had the same car; our birthdays are a week apart. Both of us dressed exactly the same way, both have forearm tattoos. I lost touch with him, and I miss him dearly.

TW: You went to CSU–Long Beach. Do you think college developed your skill as a writer?

CC: Absolutely. I don’t know if it necessitates college. I had one writer who told me flat out that college was a mistake. But there is no substitute for reading and writing if you want to be a writer.
I never got my degree from Cal State. I fell a few credits shy and never bothered chasing them down to get that BA. I had taken all the English classes and workshop classes I could. And I figured the certificate wasn’t going to make me a writer. It’s doing the work.
The advantage to college in particular, if you have the funding and don’t have to work, is to just be free to read, study, and be creative. I don’t think it is absolutely necessary. I say that knowing the current economic divide we have in this country. Not having an MFA hasn’t hurt me at all. Devoting time to the craft is better than any degree.

TW: What are you currently reading right now?

CC: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. I’m making an effort to read people outside my comfort zone. I’ve been focusing a lot on female writers lately.

TW: Do you have a method for getting a novel on the page?

CC: My method has changed over the years and with each book. I know I do my best work during the best part of the day. I won’t say morning, because I’m not always up that part of the day. I have a finite amount of brain juice to get me through the day, so I want to make sure I use it productively for whatever I’m writing. And if there isn’t enough left over to navigate traffic or pick out a pair of socks, so be it. I don’t like working in coffee shops or being seen writing. I’d hate being that guy.

TW: Good.

CC: (laughs) That said, I also know that being isolated or blocked in isn’t healthy for the long term. And not communing with the world doesn’t make me a better writer.

TW: I don’t know how much you can tell me about it, but I’m excited for your new book, Mother Howl. You said you’ve evolved since your first book [The Contortionist’s Handbook]. Are we going to be seeing a different evolution from the last book you wrote [Dermaphoria]?

CC: Yeah, I finished Mother Howl over a year ago. And I spent a while shopping it to agents. I finally have an agent. I did a couple of rewrites on the book, and my agent has been circulating the manuscript. There’s been some interest, but big publishing houses usually go dark around the holidays. So I’m learning to be patient.
It’s a different book. I’ve just turned 51. My last book was a decade ago, and that was written with the last vestiges of my angry young man from my late twenties and thirties. I have a much different worldview now. That isn’t to say my stuff won’t get dark. It’s a very different story. It isn’t a noir story. It’s written in the third person, and it is two interwoven storylines. I’m not very good at summarizing plots because I spend so much time doing the opposite.
I think the best indicator is a short I wrote on Rumpus called “Vapor Trail.” That is very dark. It is told from the point of view of a very old man reminiscing about his life. So I’d like to think I’m breaking out into different types of stories and narrators. Having crossed the age-fifty threshold, my worldview has softened a bit.
It’s easy to be an angry young man when you’re a white male living in the richest state in the country. And then, when you get old, you realize how good you have it. And hopefully, you learn some empathy along the way instead of entitlement. Pardon me. I just turned 51, so I’m feeling very reflective these days.

TW: I keep jumping subjects on you here, but I wanted to ask about your publisher. Or should I say your previous publisher. [MacAdam/Cage went out of business in 2014.] How has the process of finding the right hands for your new book been?

CC: That was simply a matter of just getting an agent. With MacAdam/Cage, I didn’t have an agent. I should have. I feel I have a moral obligation to tell writers to get agents. If it’s good enough for a publisher, it is good enough for an agent.
If a publisher says they just want to work with writers and not agents, that’s a red flag. A writer not having an agent only serves the publisher’s best interest. An agent is there to safeguard a writer’s interest, even if it’s for just small presses. At least having someone vet things for you.
If I’d had an agent, I wouldn’t have been dragged down in the MacAdam/Cage muck.

TW: Last question. Any suggestions for young writers?

CC: The landscape for writers starting out has changed radically. It is the stuff of science fiction. Now there are so many respectable venues for having your work online, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
My only piece of advice for writers is this. Write everything like it is your last. Don’t plan your portfolio. Write like this story is the last thing you will put on paper. If it is important enough for you to do on your own, with no guarantee of money, then do it. And don’t think about the next thing until you’re done with what you’re working on.

TW: Thanks so much for doing this. I hope I didn’t keep you too long

CC: No, I don’t have any plans. After this, I’m going to grab a cat and watch Netflix.

Keep an eye on the Duende twitter account to find out when "Mother Howl" hits shelves in bookstores! 


Two Iranian Poets Sentenced to Prison

by Jay Sheets


On October 27th, the Associated Press published an article on how two Iranian poets, Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi, were recently detained, interrogated, and ultimately sentenced to prison for their work which “insulted the sacred,” and, “[acted as] propaganda against the state.” They were also sentenced to 99 lashes apiece for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. Both poets have the right to appeal and are currently free, but are facing 11 ½ and 9 years in prison, respectively. The full story can be read here.

From Mousavi’s Facebook page:

“I and Fatemeh Ekhtesari were prevented from leaving the country this morning and our passports were confiscated. We do not know the reason… Why have I been facing problems for years to hold a literary workshop and even classes to teach rhyme and meter? Why are our books banned despite taking care to select the poems and passing the censorship of the poet, editor and publisher? Why should the oppositionist swear at me for writing war poetry and the pro-regime activist swear at me for have read a rumour about me?... I have been often in the same conditions as the artist who killed themselves after years of failing to obtain permission. Do you know how many times I have thought about death? What is the body of an artist worth when their soul is tortured and killed?...”

PEN Center USA has taken an active approach to this injustice by sending a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, along with starting a petition on their website.

PEN Center USA:

“On Monday, November 2, 2015, more than one hundred of the most prominent names in poetry, including Robert Pinsky, Claudia Rankine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, and Tracy K. Smith, sent a joint letter with PEN American Center to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, urging him to nullify their conviction and harsh sentencing. Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center, said, "It is not often that poets join together in a blunt political statement, but this sentence is an affront not just to governments or advocates, but to all who understand that without creativity a culture and society cannot thrive."

Please take a moment to support PEN Center USA’s cause and sign their petition which calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally quash their sentences.

Thank you for reading.

Image courtesy of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran



Taking the Torch: My New Role & Duende Updates

by M.A. Vizsolyi

It is with honor, excitement and a little trepidation that I take over the role as faculty advisor for Duende.  When I say “trepidation,” I speak only to the challenge of maintaining what is one of the best undergraduate, student-run journals available. It’s important to note, however, the huge support I received from the continuing editors this semester, particularly senior editor Amy Sterne and managing editor Catherine Chambers, as well as my colleague and former Duende advisor, Wendy Call, and program director, Janet Sylvester.  

Wendy Call helped begin the journal over a year ago, and, for those of us who’ve ever undertaken such a task will attest to, it was a tireless effort.  It was Wendy’s work ethic, meticulous attention to detail and generosity that brought the journal the success it has garnered thus far.  Wendy, I know that I speak for all of the past and current editors when I say, thank you.  You will be missed by all of us. 

This is another reason that stepping into this position has been so hard—I have brilliant shoes to fill.  I’ve realized that I could never do that, of course.  I need to act as advisor in my own way, while maintaining the organization of the journal. 

One of the first steps I took this semester was to reaffirm my role as advisor, not editor.  It is the students who edit this wonderful journal, and readers should be aware of the kind of work that they do each semester.  With a record-level of submissions and page-views last semester, that work can be a lot, all of which is unpaid.  So, thank you Quinten, Catherine, Amy, Tyler, Cara, Jay and Sérgio.  Your work is important. 

I want to briefly highlight a major change that is taking place for Duende, beginning this semester.  We are changing our production schedule to one issue per year, with our next full issue (Issue #4) coming out early in the fall of next year.  In the spring, we will release a special feature-issue of the journal.  Our first feature issue will be released this spring.  The reason for this change is simple. All of our editors are full-time students, and many of our editors also hold down full-time jobs.  As an editor, it can be tricky to find the balance between editorial work, creative work and other life circumstances.  The hope is that this change will support a healthy balance between each of those.  Plus, that means our editors can spend more quality time with your submissions!  We are currently reading submissions for Issue #4, and we will begin reading submissions for our next feature issue this spring.  

Most of what you’ve come to expect from Duende will remain the same, however—edgy writing from authors in a global community, great art, and monthly spotlights featuring our diverse community of writers.  

Duende remains true, too, to its mission statement. We stay “committed to having a majority of the writers and artists in our journal come from groups that are underrepresented in today’s U.S. literary ecosystem.”  

All of this is to say, that there’s much to be excited about over here at Duende.  

Thank you to our authors, readers and the Goddard College community for your support.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

by Jay Sheets

I’ve always had a fascination with snails. There is something about them that feels perfectly poised in their slow, but purposeful, way of life—their shell as a home, the earth as a neighborhood—that reminds us to slow down and take life as it comes. So, when I came across Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, I knew I was in for a great read.

Bailey writes on how she suffered from a debilitating illness which kept her bedridden for years. During that time, a friend of the author brought a plant in from the garden to keep beside her bed, and a snail happened to be hiding under one of the leaves. Bailey goes on to tell a story of eventual companionship with this snail (rightly named “The Snail”), which, over time, gave her a much-needed purpose for living during her difficult battle. The more her fascination with the snail grew, the more she researched snails, and she shares these scientific findings perfectly throughout her memoir.

As a poet, I was happy to come across this thought by the author, when speaking of her own fascination with these little creatures: “...I also came across poets and writers who have each, at some point in their life, become intrigued by the life of a snail...” To read the words ‘poet’ and ‘snail’ in the same sentence was certainly surprising, but makes perfect sense. Poets and writers are creatures of the present when engulfed in their work, so what better animal to represent the feelings of the poet and writer than the snail? Especially when we think of how most poets and writers are solitary creatures, ‘shelled’ away in our thoughts, only to come out at night or when the rest of the world is sleeping to ‘feed’ on the mysteries of the world.  

Not only did I get the chance to discover what we can learn from the life of a snail in all the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, I got the chance to learn about the life of the snail itself; how a snail’s slime is stronger than we could ever imagine, how it can glide over a razor-sharp knife like it was nothing, or how it can defy gravity when put in a position to have to carry fifty times its own weight on its shell. I also learned that snails are nocturnal; sleeping during the day and exploring and eating at night. I learned that their favorite foods are mushrooms, and, if stuck in captivity, will escape to feed on whatever’s around—paper, stamps, cardboard boxes. I also learned that the common wood snail has, amazingly, thousands of teeth, and that you can actually hear it eating or munching away at a piece of lettuce if you’re close enough. The most fascinating thing I learned, however, was how the snail can be likened to the Cupid of the animal world, and because of this, I will never look at snails, or Valentine’s Day, the same way again. The following is an excerpt from Birds, Beasts, and Relatives by Gerald Durrell, as imparted by Bailey:

“As I watched them [two snails] they glided up to each other as their horns touched. Then they paused and gazed earnestly into each other’s eyes. One of them shifted his position slightly so that he could glide alongside the other one. When he was alongside, something happened that made me doubt the evidence of my own eyes. From his side, and almost simultaneously from the side of the other snail, there shot what appeared to be two minute, fragile white darts...The dart from snail one pierced the side of snail two and disappeared, and the dart from snail two performed a similar function on snail one...Peering at them so closely that my nose was almost touching them…[I watched as] presently their bodies were pressed tightly together. I knew they must be mating, but their bodies had become so amalgamated that I could not see the precise nature of the act. They stayed rapturously side by side...and then, without so much as a nod or a thank you, they glided away in opposite directions.”

These ‘darts,’ as Durrell describes, and as Bailey informs us, are “...tiny, beautifully made arrows of calcium carbonate, and they look as if they’ve been crafted by the very finest of artisans. They are formed inside the body of the snail over the course of a week and can be as much as one-third the length of the shell. The dart’s shaft is hollow and circular, and, depending on the species, may have four fin-like blades, which are sometimes flanged; one end is harpoon sharp, while the other end comes to a flair with a corona-like base.” These ‘darts’ are vehicles for sperm, and since snails are hermaphrodites and can take on either gender when necessary, some species will simultaneously swap sperm. Other species can be solely male or female, or reverse roles at any given time. How fascinating is that! Again, I will never view Cupid the same way after this read. Though we know Cupid represents/is derived from Greek mythology, couldn’t it be safe to say that our modern idea of Cupid and ‘Cupid’s Dart’ could have been inspired by the ‘love-making’ of the snail? With this information, it certainly makes one think Yes.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a great day-read for anyone looking for something off the beaten path. This book gifts us new perspectives on companionship, surviving illness, and of course, the wonderful world of the snail.

Technology and the Reader

by Tyler Woodsmall

Is the average American reader an endangered species? Many people would say yes. Smart phones allow consumers to carry high-tech entertainment devices in their pockets. While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, instead of reading books and magazines, people are now on their cell phones and tablets. We could conclude that the evolution of technology has made reading an obsolete form of entertainment. But that assumption would be wrong.

The literature market has been changing. E-book sales went up by a high percentage in 2012 to 2013, begging the question “Will print books go extinct?” In an article published by goodEreader, by Michael Kozlowski reported that as of 2014 to 2015 the sale of paperback novels went up 8.6 percent while e-book sales went down by 7.5 percent. According to Jennifer Maloney of the Wall Street Journal, in her article “The Rise of Phone Reading,” nearly 54 percent of people who read e-books use their smartphones for that purpose. Though e-book sales have gone down, reading literature on cell phones has grown.

I have personally observed one kind of literary growth, which represents a potential evolution of the written word: free online literary journals. This venue surfaced in 1996 and has become exceedingly popular in the last few years. LitLine claims there are now 240 online-only lit journals. This indicates that publishers and readers are evolving with the times.

With today’s quick-fix technology, the average American attention span has greatly decreased. According to a Microsoft Corporation study people can lose concentration after just eight seconds. This affects the overall sales of both e-books and print books. Both must cater to readers’ attention span or literature will continue to become scarcer.

Internet literature allows readers instant gratification. After reading a short story or poem, they can immediately text or e-mail it to a friend. I am excited about the potential for online journals. In today’s millennial generation, few people carry books, but almost everyone has a cell phone.

The average American reader isn’t going extinct; they are exploring new mediums. The Internet culture adds more opportunities for new literature, new readers, and new writers. People who spend hours of their day surfing the Internet and using social media aren’t illiterate; they just haven’t found the right things to read. Perhaps online literature will meet that need.

A Brief History of Prison Writing

by Tyler Woodsmall

I believe that there is a unique connection between incarceration and literature; classics from around the world have been written from prisons. Just a few of the numerous notable works are Fanny Hill (1748) by John Cleland, The Consolation of Philosophy (523) by Boethius, Civil Disobedience (1849) by Henry David Thoreau, The Enormous Room (1922) by E. E. Cummings, The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) by Marquis de Sade, and De Profundis (1897) by Oscar Wilde.

Out of the depths of prison, a plethora of literature both profound and controversial has emerged. Perhaps boredom causes prisoners to write, or maybe some inmates use literature as a tool to escape the walls that confine them. Whatever the reason, the literature that has emerged from prisons has had enormous literary impact—from raising pro-Christian philosophical questions to the creation of erotica and books that vividly recount disturbing depravity.

The history of prison writing seems to have begun with Boethius, a classical Neoplatonist philosopher who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy in 523 AD, during his imprisonment for treason. The Consolation of Philosophy is a written account of a conversation Boethius had with Lady Philosophy while he was in prison. It serves as a personification of his philosophical ideas, such as the denial of the flesh, intellectualism being the highest good earth can offer, evil’s lack of substance, and providence as the reason God created the universe. This thought-provoking material was written between bouts of torture.

But the cruelties of prison life were not a part of every inmate’s journey. English author John Cleland wrote the first piece of erotica from a debtors’ prison. A year after Fanny Hill was published, Cleland and the publishers were arrested for the book’s “pornographic” content. But Fanny Hill has since solidified its place in classic literature. It no longer lives in obscurity; you can purchase a copy in any major bookstore. Surely this book would be just as important if Cleland had written it in his own home or anywhere else. But the fact that Fanny Hill was written from prison validates the theory that prison writing has produced historically notable literature.

American poet E. E. Cummings was imprisoned in 1917 in France on suspicion of espionage for his anti-war sentiments. While there he wrote an autobiographical novel called The Enormous Room. Cummings' novel is important because it can properly exemplify the importance of unpopular speech. Ultimately prison writing can ask questions we could never think of speaking. What do they have to lose? They’re already in prison, so the only thing that would be “free” inside of a jail cell is thought.  

The Marquis de Sade, a French author, wrote prolifically during the thirty years he spent in prison and an insane asylum. His work reflects his own life of sickening depravity, perversity, and blasphemy. His name is the origin of the word sadismDid prison make Sade a writer? Probably not, but it did seem to have a profound effect on his writing. Richard Seaver, a translator of Sade’s work, said, “There is no question that de Sade would have never been a writer of any stature if he wasn’t sent to prison.” (This quote can be found in the documentary “Pornographer or Prophet?”) Sade’s themes of torture, loneliness, violence, and sexuality reflect the author’s madness, a condition that prison drove him to.

The idea of incarcerated people having a voice outside of prison is frightening or upsetting to many people. However, historical literature and other creative materials often come from vexatious places. “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe. I personally agree with Poe’s statement; I believe that the “horror of their reality” contributes to why profound writing can come from prisoners.

I just completed my first semester at Goddard, and therefore this has been my first semester working with Duende. I have only had the pleasure of seeing a few prison writing submissions, and I give a great deal of credit to my fellow Duendians Jorn Otte, Amy Sterne, and Wendy Call for championing Duende's prison writing project. The history of prison writing leads me to believe that more notable literature will come from behind bars. I’m not saying that Duende will publish the next famous incarcerated writer, but it’s great to be a part of something that feels so important.