The List in Self’s “The Secret Room” (CAFE IRREAL, Issue # 50)

Self has long pondered the difference between science fiction, speculative fiction, fairy tales, myths, horror stories and the “irreal.”  The other day, she decided to go through the Café Irreal essay, “What is irrealism?”

She’d first read it several years ago, when she began writing lots of speculative fiction.  It was nice to re-discover it.

The essay reminds us that, in “pre-modern” times, the people telling and listening to folk tales and legends assumed them to be “true.” These people, if they had heard Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” read aloud to them, “would most likely assume that the transformation” of the protagonist into a bug was likely the result of “a spell” (And why not? In “pre-modern” times, spells were considered practical ways to deal with malevolence; in other words, spells were not “magic.” They were solutions to a problem) For them, “the irreality of the story — which flows from an irresolvable clash between the real and the unreal — would be lost.”

There’s more, much more to ponder in the essay.  Self recommends that readers go over to Café Irreal to read it in its entirety.

Self’s story, “The Secret Room,” is in the current issue.

At yesterday’s writers group meeting, self’s esteemed friend (and soon-to-be-famous published novelist) Lillian Howan mentioned that her son liked the list in the story.

Which, self confided to Lillian, was the trickiest part of the piece.  Self had to keep working at it and working at it, constantly changing the items in the list because she was never completely satisfied with the “mix.”

Here’s the list in its final, published version:

  • A map of an island with no name.  There was no way to tell whether this island was near or far, whether it lay within the bounds of the Narrow Sea or beyond, in some yet undiscovered realm.
  • A piece of yellowing parchment, on which had been written, in her husband’s careful hand, the letters KMCVQH
  • An iron knitting needle
  • A stone the size of her fist, on whose rough surface glittered a sparkly metal that might have been silver
  • A drawing of a unicorn
  • A broken silver chain
  • A dozen gold coins stamped with the profile of Aurelia, the Queen of the Undersea
  • A small painting, about the width of a hand, of a man with no eyes

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz in PANK No. 7

This is an excerpt from Cristin’s poem, “After Reading Your Poem About Hawaii,”  which was in PANK No. 7.  I bought four back copies of PANK from their Book Fair table at the last AWP, in Seattle, and am only now, four months later, finally settling down to read them!

I really liked Cristin’s poem — a lot!

Poems are phone calls you can eavesdrop on.
When you are a poet, poems are everywhere.
I still read your poetry. Sometimes I think
I still see me in there.

But other times I know that’s not the truth.
The truth is that we both know where we are,
and it’s not next to each other anymore.
So what am I to make of this poem?

Where you are the you I am speaking to,
when in real life we are not speaking at all.
Ring ring, my brain says. Or maybe, it can
just be my poem waving to your poem.

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and her work has been published in Conduit, Rattle, Barrelhouse, La Petite Zine, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, among others.  For more information, visit

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“The Hydrangea”

Self loves gardens.  Ergo, she loves reading about gardens.

And when she isn’t reading a gardening magazine, she’s reading literary journals.

Today self is reading a back issue of the New Orleans Review.  They published a piece of hers, “Thing.”  Which was science fiction.  It was the start of her new experiments in genre.  Thank you, New Orleans Review.

And here is a flower poem by L. S. Klatt.  It’s called “The Hydrangea.”

In a hospital bed, the hydrangea
lies sedated. A gown covers it,
stem to neck, but neglect sunburned ankles
that seem to have walked a mile through dune grass.
And what a day that must have been, the head
of the flower, in a bathing cap, out
searching for wavy blue. June, the blooming
season, hothouse of panicles & Starstreaks.
Then August, rainwater dripping through a
French horn of tubes; the hydrangea
dishevels on a pillow, wilted giant.

Oh dear! The poor hydrangea! Well, hopefully the hydrangea in the poem will recover soon.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Call for Submissions

Call for SubmissionsElsewhere. New Lit mag.  Trés cool.

Self says that not just because she knows one of the editors personally, but because she likes the site’s affect.  Its poetics.  Its unparalleled magnetism.

Stay tuned.

A Poem About Dentists on EUNOIA REVIEW

Self has a dentist appointment, later today.  She is not at all looking forward to the prospect.

This morning, she checks in on Eunoia Review and what does she see?

A poem about dentists.

How’s that for synchronicity, dear blog readers?

Here’s the first half:


by Katherine La Mantia

The dentist showed me
the x-rays where the
radiation lit up my teeth
like strings of lights at Christmas.
can you imagine how
marie curie glowed
And she pointed with
her pen tap-tapping
on my molar
or bicuspid, I don’t know.
the metal rings shrill
hammer on enamel

She showed me where
she would put metal brackets
and metal wires
and how she would

What a beautiful name.  The poet has.  Katherine La Mantia.

Katherine La Mantia is an undergraduate at the University of Georgia.

Stay tuned.

On Secrets/ On Witchcraft

A few weeks ago, self announced that Café Irreal would be publishing her story “The Secret Room” on Aug. 1.

But when she wandered over to Café Irreal today, she saw that in fact, her story was already live, and had been live since May.

Here’s the link, dear blog readers.  Read, review.  Self adores feedback.

*     *    *     *

Here’s something else she encountered today.

While browsing through the British Museum blog, she stumbled upon an article on Witchcraft.

And here self found an answer to a question which has often nagged at her:  Why are witches usually women?

The piece makes clear that accusations of witchcraft were always personal, as evidenced by the fact that people most often brought up charges of accusation against people they knew well — i.e., their neighbors.  And the fact that many of the accused were old women, or widows, or orphaned women, or stepdaughters, makes very clear that the targets were “the most dependent members of the community.” The ones, in other words, who were least likely to fight back or defend themselves.

These female dependents (the preferred pool for witches) were the ones “whose names figure most frequently on the lists of people in receipt of poor relief, and they were the ones most likely to be caught up in the situation of begging for help and not getting it.”

Being perceived as powerless and being perceived as a threat — such a curious contradiction.  In both instances, these two have more in common with perception and have precious little to do with reality.

Which is what led self to write a very curious short story called “Toad.”  Which she will begin sending out shortly.

She finished it while sitting at a coffee shop on Lower Mount Street in Dublin.  Quite close, in fact, to Ballsbridge, where her B & B was.

OMG.  Witches.  Toads.  Lower Mounts.  Ballsbridge.  Self’s brain was filled with medieval imagery, almost the whole time she was in Ireland.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Guest Blogging

Self is the July 2014 guest blogger on Cecilia Brainard’s Travels (and More) with Cecilia Brainard.

She’s never been a guest blogger before, so she was a tad nervous.

But it turns out, all she had to do was send Cecilia a few pieces, a picture, and a bio.  Whew!

Here’s the link to Cecilia’s blog.  The two stories Cecilia posted are “All the Missing” (first published in Phoebe) and “For Sarah Balabagan, OFW.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Sweetness/ Fan Fiction/ Café Irreal

Self is reading something based on a fairy tale.  It’s really sweet, Hunger Games AU, based on the tale “East of the Sun & West of the Moon.”

Peeta whisks Katniss away from her house in District 12, in a broad heavy sleigh, and they arrive in a house at the edge of a lake.  It’s enchanted, like all good houses should be.

It’s really clever, how elements of the fairy tale are woven in, such as in this description:

“. . .   it isn’t the ancient palace from my dream, with its high stone walls and dusty rooms, filled with silence and nameless fears.  I didn’t ride here on the back of a white bear . . . “

The two are tended by Avoxes, which is another thing that fits in with the sense of unreality.

*     *     *     *

On August 1, a fable of self’s is going live on Café Irreal.  It’ll be her second story in the magazine.  Her first, which appeared a few years ago, was a flash fiction called “Appetites.”

Here’s an excerpt from the story soon to be posted, called “The Secret Room”:

One day, during a fox hunt, her husband fell from his horse and broke a leg.  His squires carried him into the castle.  A monk came with healing herbs and made a poultice.  A surgeon set the bone.  But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, the King continued to scream with pain.  For days everyone in the castle was frozen by the sound of his shrieks.

There you go.  Even when writing fables, self always heads straight for “dark.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.



Women and the Global Imagination: Last Day to Submit

This is your last chance to submit to a poetry portfolio guest-edited by Alicia Ostriker that will be featured in Prairie Schooner’s Winter 2014. The portfolio will deal with the theme of Women and the Global Imagination. Submissions close May 15th. Send up to five pages of unpublished poetry to if you’d like your work to be considered. Once you’ve submitted, head on over to the Prairie Schooner archives to read “Normal Light,” an Ostriker poem published in the Winter 2003 issue of Prairie Schooner.

Which reminds self that one of the poets at the Tyrone Guthrie Center had said Philip Larkin was one of her favorite poets, and he has a poem about Toads.

Self googled, and here it is, dear blog readers:


by Philip Larkin

Why should I let the work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it toils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losers, loblolly men, louts –
They don’t end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines –
They seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets — and yet
No one actually_starves_.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout, Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something officially toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other.
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both.

Stay tuned.

Bloody Great “Titus Andronicus” at the Globe, and Letters 7

Titus Andronicus at the Globe:  Wild, Bloody, Great

Titus Andronicus at the Globe: Wild, Bloody, Great

This evening, self caught a performance of Titus Andronicus at the Globe.  She snagged the greatest seat:  middle gallery, first row, center section.  She had a completely unrestricted view of the stage and the audience in the pit.

What is it about British stage actors?  They can make the grandest of gestures feel so intimate.  Of the play itself, could anything equal the horror of seeing the beautiful Lavinia turned into a twitching horror, stumps for hands? Self knew the play would be violent; she didn’t know it would also be so moving.  And darn if the production didn’t have two brilliant actresses tearing up the scenery:  because of them, self actually forgot that the play was called Titus Andronicus.  And — talk about melodrama!  Talk about angst! Both actresses were beautiful, lithe, and perfectly emblematic. The men were adequate, but after the scene where Lavinia, still bruised and bleeding, picks up her father’s hand with her teeth — her teeth, dear blog readers! — self was completely overwhelmed with horror and pity. What an outrageous sight.  It might interest dear blog readers to know that the play was directed by a woman.  (The only criticism self could make about the production is:  they used way too much bloody incense.  What was the point?  To emphasize the ritual aspects of sacrifice?  Phew!)

It’s strange how her London sojourn has ended up being about the brilliance of women:  poets Jenny Lewis and Joan McGavin; filmmaker Sally Potter; and now the director of Titus Andronicus.

Moving on to the ostensible reason for this post: here’s another set of photographs on this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, LETTERS.

The New Orleans Review has a new look!  Took this picture at the AWP Book Fair, February 2014.

The New Orleans Review has a new look! Took this picture at the AWP Book Fair, February 2014.

The Chinese Character for Longevity.  Self bought this from the Redwood City Nursery, ages ago.

The Chinese Character for Longevity. Self bought this from the Redwood City Nursery, ages ago.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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