Dear Fans of Inverted Syntax,
You too can probably relate to the sense of urgency that is created as the calendar year starts closing: to wrap-up the year’s work, to look to the new year with new dreams; an opportunity to be a new self, a better self. Most New Year’s resolutions are about either cutting back on vices or doing more with your life. For me, I usually resolve to eat more greens, workout more, create more, write more, submit more, learn more, and take all my vitamins, every day (not just once a week). Sometimes, I resolve to train for 5K races. Sometimes, I promise I’ll spend more time with my children. I make my goals doable, I chunk the goals, and even then, I still lose steam; I drop those goals, pick up other ones, or sometimes life steps in with other plans and I find myself headed in a new direction. Yet, what I often focus on as the year comes to a close are all the ways I failed to accomplish any of my initial goals, often forgetting to take stock of all that was accomplished.
A few days ago, the editors and I met to finalize the print issue and dream up more for Inverted Syntax in the new year. And we took stock of our accomplishments, including our kick-butt six months of operation in which we produced a fantastic inaugural online issue, while preparing what we feel is a breathtaking print issue coming to you at the end of January 2019. We took seriously our goal of publishing daring work, finding emerging voices, exploring hybridity.
We are also taking stock of you who reads the work, shares the work, submits work to us. We are indeed very grateful for the support of our contributors and readers. And as thanks for sticking with us, subscribers have access to a Steven Dunn interview.
During our editorial meeting, we discussed our big plans for 2019, which centered around: Doing more for our readers and contributors.Dreaming up more ways to support creative rebels .Being an all-around awesome team able to collaborate and solve problems together.
So this 2019, look for:
Yes, it’ll mean more work for our small team, but we do have volunteer applicants waiting for us to review their resumes, and undergrad interns from Regis University starting soon, and even then, we will probably find ourselves asking for help as we nurture Inverted Syntax. We hope you’re still here, through it all, reading us, sharing us, and making us live. And together, we will make 2019 the year of Inverted's creative rebels.
Happy New Year, everyone.
by Tameca L Coleman
“Love is never better than the lover,” Toni Morrison writes in her book The Bluest Eye. It’s a line that has haunted me since the first time I read it. More than once I’ve found myself sitting in the silence of my apartment contemplating the results of my upbringing; the love that was there was often unskilled, wrought by the best intentions and hardship. The love that was there was shaped by economic strife and the damaging social constructions of race. I wondered, so many times if I could heal what I had inherited and love better despite it. But these predicaments seemed to say that earnest and well-intentioned love alone is never enough.
Shane McCrae’s first book of poetry Mule brought these ideas to mind again -- specifically, those moments in which the book begins, where McCrae narrates a marriage. “the twigs by the road were dry enough to burn/ It does not matter if we change,” he writes. Reading lines like these, I wondered: How can people join in union when so much of what cultivates and surrounds the possibility of that union promotes fracture?
An answer comes: As best as one can, even if a departure from that union looms, one tries. Two try. We build a life together, and go about it earnestly, despite whatever upbringing, despite whatever holes in our emotional toolkits, despite whatever social constructs lord themselves over us and shake the foundations we try to build for ourselves loose.
So much of this work hits home for me; I feel it deeply. Despite the sadness in these poems, the beauty and imagery in them make me feel hopeful because the kind of attention paid here only comes out of love.
Mules’ poems work best on me when I read them out loud. They are also visibly impressive. The poems’ fractured forms appear on the page as strange line breaks, repetitions or stutterings, spaces in the text, and slashes that cut through, interrupting memory and emotion. Expression is fraught with interruptions. An example of this is in the poem “A Dancer There.” McCrae writes about when “we divorced”:
These poetic devices create an anxious feeling, a feeling that at any moment everything can be irrevocably lost, and there is constant evidence that McCrae is speaking from a place that is backed by the kind of love that would fight to hold on. Why else would the couple try with so much stacked against them? They live in a world in which they are largely invisible, which does not support the foundation they would like to build and keep, and they also live in a world in which their feet cannot solidly land.
McCrae’s couple married in a bug’s thorax, a place where seemingly they could not get their footing. They married in a battlefield, and in moments where they were separate from those around them, and each other. Their relationship moved as quickly as speeding trains, as did the world around them, as did time. But they married, even when emotions ran high, even while knowing their flaws, even when their son was diagnosed with autism. There is a sense of the narrator pushing forward despite the terrible odds stacked against him. There is also that sense that love alone is not enough. McCrae writes: “half of love is hope,” and “no animal outruns its past.” When I read these lines, I feel the defeat.
There is so much music and beauty in these poems. We see nature here: birds, the mountains, a bee, a pond. And there is shadow, too. In “The Cardinal is the Marriage Bird,” for example, the book’s introductory poem, we see a symbol of hope becoming a harbinger of what’s to come. The cardinal is the marriage bird, but it is also “a shadow on the snow but still/The sunlight on the snow”; it is “a flash of shadow and the cardinal is the shadow bird/A flash of wound...” The beautiful and the terrible cannot be extricated from each other because they are inextricable strands of life. Spring is a tree “raw with birds.” A beautiful woman walks, but is also bodiless according to her country; she is seen and also dissolved in that seeing: “she loses / Her body” if she ever really had one (of her own). And being mixed, half, mulatto means that you “Will recognize yourself in the singing you / Will not recognize yourself in the songs.”
These poems communicate a yearning for connection that I relate to, and they show that there are barriers that separate husband from wife, son from the father, man from other people, and also God. For all of the trying in marriage, in fatherhood, in life, and in spirit, that sense of separation persists. The textures of these poems create a feeling of trying, clutching, even when there can be no holding on.
The language in these poems feels simple but to think so would be a mistake. These poems are masterfully wrought. One of many of McCrae’s talents is in his power for relaying raw emotion to the reader. The reader is brought into the text and feels every word. For example, in the poem “The Boy Calls Twilight,” the narrator observes his son with love and also the kind of distance that comes with acceptance; love being an inherent emotion for a father, and the distance because there is nothing he or his wife can do to change the boy’s state:
Despite the heartbreak in these moments, they are beautiful. The reader in these moments can’t help but be in the narrator’s shoes, experiencing these dualities.
Mule reads as an artifact of living. It harbors no judgement over the life it reflects, nor does it wield anything over the reader. These poems are intimate, and as a reader of these poems, I felt the same heart pangs of loss via memory that the narrator portrays, and I was also prompted to remember my own. Further, as in McCrae’s book Blood, the poems ring like music, the lines echo and refrain, and the pauses and fragments serve as overlapping song lyrics (for example: “His ghost we didn’t know him in his bel-/ly no. We did not know him no the son/ We had we do not know the son we have”). These poems could be sung.
by Ted Downum
Every writer struggles with motivation. Sometimes, a writer’s own body throws up a test of motivation—the eye strain from staring at the screen too long, the writer’s cramp, the carpal tunnel. Sometimes you might feel too sick to work; it’s that much harder to create an insightful comment on the human condition when your own condition leaves something to be desired.
Like a lot of people, I revert to toddlerhood when I get sick. I do better than some, I think, but not nearly as well as others. If, for instance, I’m waylaid by a rhinovirus, my natural tendencies toward self-pity and misanthropy shift into a higher gear. I want to be left alone on my couch with my clogged sinuses and my bad TV. I don’t want to do anything physically or mentally taxing… which means I don’t want to write.
When this happens, when self-pity has gnawed on me for a little while, eventually I think of a particular writer I’ve admired for many years, and the thought of him doesn’t so much inspire me back to the page as it shames me back. Truth be told, I’m not sure he would have bothered with something as fatuous as “inspiration.”
This acerbic spectre, Dennis Potter, wrote novels, films, and journalism, but mostly he wrote for television. He wrote most of his work while suffering from a severe case of psoriatic arthropathy, a chronic condition that struck him in his twenties and plagued him for the rest of his life. When it flared up, Potter became a very sick man. His skin erupted in raw psoriatic lesions; arthritis would paralyze his joints, leaving him bedridden. Sometimes his temperature rose high that he would hallucinate.
Across a thirty-year span from the sixties to the nineties, his plays for British television pushed back the corners of the small screen, leading his audience between the past and the present, the wished-for and the real. Potter’s plays toyed with dramatic conventions: in some, adults played the roles of children, and characters in other plays expressed their feelings by lip-synching to the popular music of the author’s childhood. In Blue Remembered Hills, Brimstone and Treacle, and Pennies from Heaven, among many others, Dennis Potter explored the twilight regions between innocence and experience, love and lust, the idealized then versus the compromised now.
In The Singing Detective, Potter’s quasi-autobiographical masterpiece, his protagonist Marlow also suffers from psoriatic arthropathy, and Potter’s script stages his hallucinations as bizarre musical numbers, both unnerving and funny: “Dry Bones” scene from TSD 1986
In Potter’s everyday reality, though, the effects of his disease were a constant burden. The repeated attacks of arthritis caused his hands to close up: his fingers curled and fused into permanent, gnarled fists. He couldn’t type. With these new limitations, he had to learn to write again—something else that made its way into The Singing Detective:
The pen strapped to the fist makes a useful metaphor for writerly persistence. As a writer myself—albeit only an aspiring writer—I try to apply myself with a little of Dennis Potter’s bloody-minded persistence.
To write well is to test your determination. How determined are you to express your ideas clearly and artfully on the page? How determined are you to get it right, no matter how much revision that might take—and how determined are you to sit down and do it at all, when life puts up barriers, eats up your time, saps your energy? If you do finish something, how determined are you to get it published? Would we write differently, push to get published, if we wrote with urgency, like we had received a terminal diagnosis?
Potter died in 1994, of cancer that might have been caused by medications he took to mitigate his psoriatic arthropathy. After he received his terminal diagnosis, he resolved himself to finish two final scripts before his death. He achieved that goal, working with the help of precise pain management and driven by his own commitment to writing--what he called, very sincerely, his vocation.
In his last days, he found an unexpected serenity in the practice of his craft. In the introduction to the posthumously published edition of those two final plays, Potter described what he experienced as “now-ness,” the beauty and the immediacy in his every perception:
Writing brought Dennis Potter through his illness; it let him recapture the dignity that his illness took away. As his death approached, the act of writing brought his appreciation of life itself into a crystalline, triumphant focus. I have often thought of him when I don’t feel well, in body or in mind, and I don’t want to sit down and do the work of putting each and every little word in order, of thinking about their value. His example helps me to take up my own pen—to be ready to strap it to my hand, if necessary—and go.