“You Ain’t Ever Gonna Fly”: Listen to Poet Ed Mabrey’s Blackbird Airlines

by William Abbott

Ed Mabrey just released a three-cd collection called “Blackbird Airlines,” and it is remarkably sharp, the sort of poetry and music and drama that slides along your subconscious. The idea of Blackbird Airlines is that of an airplane that you never leave, that is taking off and landing. First class is always reserved for police officers, second class is reserved for media and politicians, and coach is always exclusively reserved for blacks. With that set up, you are ready for poetry.

The overall theme is that of inequality, of the microaggressions and macroaggressions and discriminations, especially from the police. It’s about Black Lives Matter and how society tries to sabotage and disassemble that idea. It’s poetry. It’s storytelling. It’s music. With snatches of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and various versions of Nina Simone’s very different “Blackbird.”

There are a number of poems spread through the first two cds, from “Truths about Black Superman” to “Libretto of the opera: Death of a Black Boy” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMxopjaPBsA) to “Passacaille Africanus.” Mabrey uses his wit to even out the seriousness of the messages: “Black Superman uses his laser vision to write #blacklivesmatter across the face of the moon.” And the comments and asides about being able to breathe are both smart and harsh: a reference to “Can’t breathe Wednesday” is one of many. The poem “Human,” asking if black people can be human and not less-than, with so many examples of how white society holds them down, is almost a manifesto in itself. And the poem “Dear White People” will make you very aware of how uncomfortable white people can be with talking about racism and the ways white people try badly to relate to them.

In any collection of poetry, one worry is that of boredom. If you listen to the same poet reading for a whole cd, much less multiple ones, many expect to lose interest. But mixing your poetry with different music and related stories, along with a remarkable stage/vocal presence, Mabrey will keep your attention focused on his message.

Of course, we’re here expecting the poetry, but the music, remade and remixed in different styles, will make up your soundtrack for days. Passing mention of songs you already know, with different lyrics, will fit over what you expect, changing what you expect. And the story of black people on the airplane being abused and frightened and intimidated in so many directions by so many people. The third cd, “Blackbox,” is made up of more of the music and stories.

The cd also comes with a series of posters and art of various sizes, and the cd case itself is art. The number of people in the cast, visual artists, and musicians is a large list in itself, making this a large-scale effort and a very successful collection. But you should expect little less from such an accomplished poet and performer: a TEDx speaker, a four-time winner of the Individual World Poetry Slam, a two-time winner of Indie Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam, a poet who has been touring for a decade now, and a touring comedian. Ed Mabrey may not be on your poetry radar yet, but you should expect him. Until then, grab “Blackbird Airlines” from his website, www.blackbirdairlines.com or download from CD Baby and listen for yourself.

Interview with Poet Ed Mabrey

by William Abbott

Ex-Dayton/ex-Columbus/Charlotte poet Ed Mabrey has released a three-cd set called Blackbird Airlines. This work is an ambitious collection of poetry, music, artwork, and storytelling. I contacted Mr. Mabrey to ask some questions about his new work.

You’ve had a long list of accomplishments since we first met. Do you want to hit the highlights for the readers?

Mabrey: TedX Dayton, Ohio speaker 2016, 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion (4x), 2016 Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam Indie Champ (2x back to back), Comedian, 10 years touring professionally, etc etc.

You have really interesting packaging and art work for Blackbird Airlines. Tell me about how it came to be.

Mabrey: The Blackbird Airlines project is a living project, in that the goal is to create more artistic items involving the “world” it was created in and then encourage others to take inspiration from it and add their own contributions to that world. It came to pass as I wanted to create an album that covered issues on race, bigotry, LGBT-phobia, socio-economic bias and prejudices. However, in doing so I wanted it to be an album you could ‘see’. So it was intended to be an experimental concept album with only a handful of poems and Nina Simone’s song “Blackbird” as the primary focus. However, after a two-day recording session, I left Ohio and realized that while we recorded tons of material, I hadn’t recorded a single poem. From the need to record the poems and they not have a ‘slapped on’ feel to them, there arose the need for an actual concept. I dreamt of this mystical, mythological plane that was so long it was always taking off, always landing. Sort of a Hotel California on wings. Once that dream was written down and I asked myself a few hard questions, the rest fell into place. There’s still more items coming out to flesh out the ‘movie’ that triple album is. With that said, I couldn’t have just any type of art for an album of this magnitude. The outside art was actually painted by an artist while I was performing the poem “Libretto,” which is on the album. I asked his permission to use it and he was gracious enough to say yes. The flying Blackbird Airlines was created by another artist to be the actual logo for the airline I created. All the rest of the interior artwork was created by me. The idea was to make an ‘explodable’ album. This means that you can separate the pieces of the album and actually frame them for artwork. Every piece of the album, including the actual cds, can be removed and framed.

What does the listener have to look forward to in the poetry?

Mabrey: If the listener just listens to the album in random order, they can still enjoy it. I suggest going in order with cd 1 cd 2 and then the Blackbox album. Headphones and even an eyemask (which I actually mailed to some people who purchased the cd in a pre-sale special) are strongly recommended. The entire album has been arranged so that the listener can ‘see’ what is happening throughout the album. They should expect to laugh at the right and wrong times, get a little upset, get very upset, be moved to tears, cry, be afraid, sing along, have moments of pride, and hopefully walk away from the experience different than when they first pressed play.

“Blackbird Airlines” is available for purchase from Mr. Mabrey’s website, blackbirdairlines.com, and is well worth it. 

 

The Bright Corners of a Writer’s Mind: A Review of Kim Addonizio’s Bukowski in a Sundress

by William Abbott

Kim Addonizio has released Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writer’s Life (2016, Penguin), a book of essays about herself and writing. From the first essay, where she picks up a man at the hotel bar and takes him back to her room, which she is sharing with another writer, this collection is a sharp and funny look at life as a poet and a writer.

Addonizio, who has become well known for Ordinary Genius and The Poet’s Companion (written with Dorianne Laux), has released this series of essays as “Confessions from a Writing Life.” Some of these essays are craft essays (“How to Succeed in Po Biz,” “DOA,” “The Process,” “What Writers Do All Day,” “How I Write,” and others), with varying degrees of advice. This is fine, of course, as this isn’t an advice book (cf. Ordinary Genius in particular). But it is a mirror, showing her reflection on how writers can waste time, or how they can be insecure about their work.

Some of her more personal essays also show how she works her life into her writing. It also shows a very real, very human person who has to care for her elderly mother (“Flu Shot” and “Space”), avoids her dysfunctional brother lest he try to take advantage of her financially (“Simple Christian Charity”), worries about screwing up her daughter (“All Manner of Obscene Things”), looks for love and sex (“Penis by Penis,” “How to Fall for a Younger Man,” and more), and enjoys her alcohol (“Cocktail Time”).

Through it all, Addonizio employs a witty, sarcastic style that gives you plenty of reason to like her. “Many are they,” she wrote, “who harbor the burning desire to become successful poets and rise to the top of their profession. To see one’s name on the cover of a slender paperback, to have tens and perhaps even dozens of readers, to ascend to a lecture podium in a modest-size auditorium after being introduced by the less successful poet, who is unsure of the pronunciation of your name – these are heady rewards.”

Her writing about writing is especially engaging to other writers. “I write crap, shit, clichés, whiny complaints, black speculations, goofy formulations, and give up. I go back and write, ‘nada nada nada I suck why can’t I write anything,’ and give up again. I write something I like, and the next day I realize it’s shit.” We’ve all been there. Like, daily.

The essays on being a writer and on how to write are the most interesting to me, and likely to most writers. The book talks about the stress, the distractions, the chaos of the writer’s life. It talks about how research can turn into the rabbit hole that distracts you from writing. It talks about how writers mine their real lives for more writing material, and the essays demonstrate the truth of that statement.

The exploits with men are entertaining. The family stories are heartfelt. The alcohol runs throughout the essays. You’re pretty certain she’s being truthful with you, but if she isn’t, she’ll probably write an essay someday that tells where she lied, as she did in “Pants on Fire,” where she breaks down how she embellished stories in some of her poems, line by line. Her eye toward craft doesn’t blink often, and the reader is likely to enjoy her insights, laced as they are throughout the whole work.

The title of the book, according to the author in the eponymous essay, comes from a negative comparison of her from a judge for a book award, and after having read this book, I’d suggest it was 25% Bukowski, 75% sundress. Just the balance I was hoping for.

Summer 2016 Issue!

Dear Readers,

Our latest issue has arrived! Please enjoy at your leisure.

Over the course of a summer, often a period of restoration and change, decisions must be made. During the off season, we must assess our deepest, most immediate desires. In doing so, we must mend, maintain, and sever relationships based on these cravings. These searches for purpose and meaning often lead us back to our beginnings, back to where our journeys began. Summers mark our returns to the metaphorical nests of our beginnings.

In this issue, you will find mother-child relationships vitalized by unique points of view, characters struggling with the realities of untimely deaths, and the metaphysical journey of a droplet of water in the summer heat. Wherever you are in the waning moments of summer, you will be faced with the choice of what to take with you and what to leave behind.

Best Wishes,

Carly Plank

Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Magazine

 

Spring Issue Release!

Dear Readers,

Our latest issue has arrived! Devour it here:

Spring reminds us of patterns and eternal cycles, of particular motive forces and metamorphoses. “Spring is the time of plans and projects,” Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, recalling for us in English (does it work in Russian, too?) the mechanistic as well as seasonal valences of “spring,” both connoting a potential energy. Once again we proliferate tasks. We plan. We tinker. Here in our own backyard of a past, Anne Bradstreet wrote of spring as the just reward for the winter-ravaged pious: “if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

We’re afraid Bradstreet’s puritanism bores us (“my mother told me as a boy/‘Ever to confess you’re bored/means you have no/Inner Resources’”). Here we are and it’s spring and we are hungrier than before. We are not the pious collecting our patient reward, but barbarians energized around a wild pagan fire. What a profligate expense of energy!

OxMag too is cyclical and this is the end of one cycle and the start of a new one—like Yeats’ gyres, widening, unwinding. As we do each year, we hand the reins to more capable people flush with stores of energy. It seems proper to introduce them.

Carly Plank will take the helm as the new Editor-in-Chief. Carly is a second year master’s student in creative writing. Her creative nonfiction has been published in 34th Parallel and her fiction has been published in 3288 Review. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Aquinas College, located in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Justin Chandler steps up as fiction editor. Justin is pursuing an MA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. He is currently working on a novel. In addition to his work with OxMag, he serves as editor on The Ryder Magazine’s yearly fiction issue. He prefers fiction about pugs.

Isaac Pickell will MC poetry. He too is a second year Master’s student in creative writing at Miami.

Katy Shay takes the reins as CNF editor. Katy is a graduate assistant at Miami University. She loves creative nonfiction, comics, zines, music, nature, justice, witchcraft, feelings, and goth looks from the late nineties.

And lastly, we thank Joe Squance, our managing editor; the Miami University English Department and all the faculty who have helped us this year; our events coordinator, Michelle Christensen; our genre editors Andrew Marlowe Bergman, Josh Jones, and Ian Schoultz, and all of our readers. Lastly, but most importantly, our submitters, without whom we’d have nothing at all to read and no magazine.

Keep writing,

Evan Fackler and Jess Marshall

cream city review: Genre Queer

The cover of cream city review’s last issue, Genre Queer, depicts a person (he/she/they/ze/zir?) on its cover. This person, arms exposed and covered in tattoos, radiates a warm glow, cactuses grow from the bottom of the magazine and raise their arms towards the person and from the glow emanates words. These words move away from the person, sometimes you can read a full sentence sometimes you cannot. The word faith is repeated over and over again. The cover is exciting: hand drawn and handwritten in a world that seems increasingly hostile to the analog. In short: the cover is different. And difference is the way I would categorize this glorious collection of short stories, essays, poems, interviews, drawings, and genre-defying/busting creations.

The titular “genre queer” folio that is within this book is introduced by way of definition and inclusion, defining the words genre and queer and allowing for a list of self-identifying titles (presumably from the authors) including: transsexual, ftm, genderqueer, two spirit, working class, the list goes on and on.

This section opens with the wonderful line drawings of TextaQueen which combine genre, such as the fifties style monster movies, with fluid gender. TextaQueen’s art are at once a celebration of the many different ways to be and to not be in the case of the zombie-esque Gandhi Returns. This energy — creative, funny, exciting — keeps up through the section that offers us poetry, prose, essays, and short fiction which examines, not only the fluidity/multitudes of gender and gender identification, but the fluidity/multitudes of genre.

“Identification,” by Trace Peterson, asks the question, “Can I see your ID?” over and over again, giving us the varied responses of Trace. The piece starts out straight forward, “Can I see your ID?” “Here it is. I changed my sex so I don’t look like this anymore, but you get the idea.” Veers into humor, “Can I see your ID?” “Oh you know, like Laverne Cox but the Swedish/French WASP version.” Turns to the amply frustrated: “Can I see you ID?” “Shit fuck piss cocker puss cunt Waco dominant fallopian gyno-bot womp decal mother trucker wall detroit czechoslovakia dromedary fuckhouse.” And throughout offers insight into the frustrations Trace faces as people try to identify her: “Can I see your ID?” “Yes, I agree the vagina is the most transcendent possible thing to have.” Peterson’s work fluidly moves through a variety of responses which both show the struggle of identification through the eyes of the laws and the difficulty of identification on the level of the person. The piece is sharp, funny, and thought provoking.

Claire Harlan Orsi’s piece, “Pronoun Discomfort: A Situational Analysis,” is my new obsession. Orsi thoughtfully moves us through their choice to change their pronoun. Orsi pulls on many threads, coming out as they to family, friends, and Facebook, and showing us all the moments of rejection, confusion, frustration, and humor that ensue. The prose is clear, brave, and honest making the reader trust every word Orsi writes. Orsi breaks down, situation by situation, moments in their life and the difficulties faced when confronted with the stickiness of pronouns and the societal preoccupation with pinning a person into “he” or “she.” Each section begins with the word, “Situation,” a tactic Orsi says was inspired by an international student at a writing center who, “used a similar schema to depict her efforts to negotiate English-language conversations.” Orsi points out the many difficulties of trying to navigate this similarly liminal space. Each “Situation” presented pokes at a kind of hard truth, and like all hard truths its truth is intuited yet impossible to pin down: “Situation: I narrate my own life to myself, catch myself using ‘she.’ I don’t admit this to anyone. Does it mean I don’t really want what I say I want? Is it simply a matter of condition? Or am I not real, even to myself?” “Situation: Facebook, in addition to a range of 51 genre options allows users to change their preferred pronoun to they…I shouldn’t need one of the major structures of the techno world order to validate my gender but I am surprised by how good it feels, ‘Capitalism knows me too well,’ I write on my Facebook wall, because there is nothing good that doesn’t also make me feel guilty.” The whole essay is infinitely quotable and an important, honest, and vulnerable piece of work.

The selection of poems, drawings, essays, interviews, short stories and all can and should be enjoyed by a variety of people. I have folded over nearly every page in the magazine, filled the margins with exclamation points and check marks. Other notable moments: Lois Baer Barr’s nonfiction piece on Still-life, the tremendous art of Izzy Jarvis (which I did not fold over because I want to cut it out and hang it on my wall), the short fiction of Kelsey Ronan which harkens back to a Michigan past that looks much different from its present, and the work of Aaron Apps, “Children remain Childish Mostly,” which is both critical of and generous about the “greasy fuck storm” of the internet and the violence that is inherent in our system, “…but maybe we need to be more careful with our language even though it is mostly impossible in this greasy fuck storm where little intervenes into the dumbness of children.”

Cream city review: Genre Queer from the cover makes a promise to their reader that they will experience something different, something that is maybe not easy to define in the binaries that we often work with, within and without. This issue delivers on that promise, blurring the lines between genres. “In this special folio, cream city review celebrates the textually inventive, the playful form, the bent and queer border.” After reading this great issue, you will celebrate it too.

-Katy Shay

Winter Issue Release!

We’re happy to announce the release of our winter issue, Past ImPerfect!

Featuring work from Sharon Black, m.h. burkett, Vanya Erickson, Lynn Gordon, Meredith Davies Hadaway, Taylor M. Meredith, Dennis Must, Saramanda Swigart, Ashley Tobin, and Helen Wickes.

The Writer’s Workshop: A Survival Guide

As writers, you have all taken part in some sort of workshop, whether it was meeting up with a group of friends at a local coffee shop, sharing your work digitally via Google Drive, or commenting on the work of your peers in a more formal academic setting. Participants swap papers, read one another’s work, and reconvene to discuss opinions, highlight points of agreement, and expand upon areas of disagreement, all the while working to help the author achieve his or her goals. The writing may be left to speak for itself, or the author may play a more central role by directing attention to relevant concerns and questions.

Sounds like a foolproof system, right? Nothing bad can happen; you’re among friends, or colleagues, or both! Don’t be scared. They’re here to help you. However, the workshop environment presents a number of unique challenges that are not present in other arenas where writers share work. Public readings are nice, because readers are somewhat shielded from immediate criticism. There is a culture of courtesy and respect at such events because attendees are present by choice instead of necessity. A writer reading their work to the public can be compared to a basketball player getting playing time in an NBA game. You might not be considered “one of the greats,” and you might only play for a minute or so, but you’re playing in the NBA. Come on. For one minute, you’re not riding the bench. Your ambition has not been wasted. Yeah, you may mess up. You may even lose the game for your team. But you put on the uniform and you played on a national stage. You have a captive audience, as a writer does at a reading.

But workshop is different. Because nobody’s work is automatically positioned above the rest, a fight for supremacy often naturally ensues. Like benched players at practice, vying for just a chance to play in the game, it’s natural for writers in a workshop to feel competitive. Everybody’s been telling you the job market is shrinking, publishing deals are hard to come by, and rejection letters will pile up by the handful before an acceptance graces your inbox. As a writer, you face hundreds of seemingly insurmountable obstacles every day in the form of words. Do yourself a favor and don’t let unsavory workshop dynamics add to that load. Here are some tips to help you and your work survive workshop relatively unscathed.

All participants:

Check your ego, along with your literary preferences and preconceptions, at the door, please. Grab it, along with your coat and its sleeves stuffed full of tender emotion and longing for warm, fuzzy feelings, when you leave.

Respondents:

Don’t try to sound smart. You’ll miss the point completely—especially if you’re having one of those incoherent days that befall overworked, sleep-deprived people every so often. There’s no need to spend a minute elaborating on something that can be expressed in ten seconds. And please don’t be scared of offending anybody, because doing so is just another way for thoughts to be lost in translation. Remember, everyone should have checked their egos and emotions at the door.

What to do if you dislike a submission: Find something to appreciate. Something must be working. Wrack your brain. Is there one decent line? One decent word? What does this contribute to the piece? Summarize the piece so the author knows you read it with good intentions and an open mind. Have something to prove? Workshop isn’t the place, folks. Try your personal blog, or, if you’re not shy, Facebook. Then, when in doubt, do as the new critics do: use textual evidence to support your viewpoints. You don’t have to be best friends with the author. In fact, empty praise deserves to be abhorred. But sometimes every writer needs a “job well done” in addition to more constructive feedback (as long as you’re not completely lying). Treat workshop like a day at the office. You might get a leg up by pleasing the right people, but you won’t gain anything by acting unprofessionally.

Authors:

Hold tight to your intentions and filter feedback accordingly. Let your story be the net, trapping the ideas worth keeping; the others will slip through the holes during revision. Repeat: it’s not personal, it’s business. Well, okay, it might occasionally be personal, but, above all, it’s business.

Take accountability for the quality of your work. Did you give your writing the quality time it deserves? If you aren’t sure of your characters’ intentions and deepest desires, how do you expect readers to be? Any cut corners will become apparent in workshop. If your writing is genuinely un-workshoppable (if people just don’t understand the complexities of your artistic aesthetic), then go, young protégé, onward and upward; submit to experimental literary magazines and small presses. Make a name for yourself!

Firmly believe that no one is out to get you. Even if they are, your work won’t benefit from any such acknowledgement. Everyone is busy and everyone has bad days. If a response you receive is too short or too simple, chalk it up to a bad day. Your work might (shockingly) not have been at the top of the list of priorities in the daily life of the respondent. But you don’t know their struggles, so give them a break. Direct targeted questions towards that person if you really must know what they think of your work. Yes, you are probably attached to your writing, but your writing is not attached to that person. Don’t be swept up in the brilliance or ignorance of one idea or another; don’t let rhetoric sway you. Strip away the faces of the criticism, focus on the content, and have faith that other perspectives exist.

Let your work rest. Do you still feel like your work is worthy of accolades? Do you still feel cheated and want validation, or at least another educated opinion? Don’t keep riding the bench. SUBMIT, already!

-Carly Plank

The Intonation of Shame

The impossible dream for most writers is to actually make money writing.  I can’t imagine how many times I’ve been told through my years of studies that I’m working really hard but I’ll just end up in food service—by the way, I worked in restaurants for fourteen years and still really miss that work, so this is not to say that a career in food service is unimportant or unfulfilling (though at times it can be very thankless).  The point is that still when I say I want to make a living as a writer, I am brushed off by family and friends as if I’d asked for a unicorn for my birthday:  “Great dreams, kid, but let’s be realistic.”

Over the past year, this has been further complicated by colleagues and peers.  I have said on many occasions, “If I have to make money writing calendars and Valentines’ cards, that’s what I’ll do.”  But then comes a sort of slut-shaming of writers; “If you take a job like that, you’re a sellout.”  Nobody ever says that phrase, but it is intoned.  If you take a job where you are producing anything less than your greatest works, you are not to be a respected writer.  At AWP last year, I overheard a conversation that went something like this:

Person A:  I just got offered a job writing for Buzzfeed!

Person B:  Ugh, don’t tell me you’re going to write those stupid lists.

Person A:  No, I’m going to write articles.

Person B:  As long as you don’t write those stupid fucking lists.

Without knowing either party, I was super stoked for A, then felt really bad for A, then decided that B was being incredibly judgmental when they should have been happy for the friend getting a job writing that actually included getting paid.  I was bummed for A.  Whatever you feel about those lists, congratulations seemed in order. Over the last year a fellow fiction writer posted an article to several poets’ Facebook timelines including my own; the article was about a small group of poets that were getting work at weddings and corporate events for writing personalized haikus on demand.  The group members in the article were making money doing something fun and it actually involved writing.  I remember one response to the article was that we shouldn’t espouse the corporatization of poetry.  Beyond the fact I don’t think this group of poets was “corporatizing” anything, it still begs the question:  Why would that be so bad?

And then there’s the other side of the spectrum.  A woman recently asked me how to publish her children’s books (which she had not completed yet).  As I started to answer—this is the research you need to do, these are some options—she interrupted me, wanting to know how she could make just “a little money” off the project.  I shot her hopes down immediately.  “You can’t go into writing to make money.  No one makes money.  For every Stephen King there are a million good writers that don’t make a dime.”  This is the reality I realized I had accepted for her:  Even calendars and cards are too hard to make a living at if you aren’t willing to put in the time, research, and effort, so buck up sweetheart cause unicorns won’t be making an appearance before the cake.  I’ve known this woman a long time, and she goes through bursts of creative energy evidenced by abandoned kilns, canvases, and metal working tools in her garage.  For her, I don’t think there is a way to make “a little money” let alone a living because she doesn’t have the commitment to hard work and rejection that is required of a writer.  There is no doubt she is an artist, but for now she needs to have her dreams crushed.

That’s the thing.  In today’s writing community, there are those who prefer to be elitist, see their work as pure and above monetary compensation (well, not above it, but there have been no excellent offers yet).  There are those like me, that are willing to pump out droll to get a reference, the experience, some edge.  But it isn’t an impossible dream to make money as a writer—it isn’t even impossible to make money and maintain your artistic integrity—just don’t knock others who are writing for a living though not creating writing you enjoy, because somebody enjoys it, and that’s why we can get paid.  As a writing community, we should understand these struggles.  Leave the shame, and instead, support each other.

-Jess Marshall