We promised you more good. short. writing., and we hope you enjoy!
Thanks for all your support, and lots of love from the ALP team!
(and don’t worry, you can still read antilang. no. 1 in our archive)
Our second last preview before we launch antilang. no. 2 is “Borealis,” a flash fic by Steve Passey that instantly locates and characterizes its narrator with a distinct voice. This story is a perfect lead-in to fall, when the auroras become more frequent and visible in the chill evenings.
Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the collection Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock and the chapbook “The Coachella Madrigals,” among many others.
While an audio collection of short readings does lend itself quite well to poetry, we also have some fiction appearing in our first volume of soundbite.
Clocking in at a whopping three minutes and eighteen seconds, Chris Kelly’s excerpt from his novel A Kid Called Chatter is the longest piece forthcoming in soundbite. And in just three days (!) you’ll also be able to read his poetry in antilang. no. 2.
The first of our long weekend double-feature previews!
Lip Manegio’s “survival of the tomboy,” after Canadian performer Ivan Coyote’s 2016 Tomboy Survival Guide, is a spoken word piece that walks the hinterlands of flash fic and prose poetry. Lip Manegio is a queer, trans nonbinary poet from Boston working towards a BFA in creative writing at Emerson College. Their work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Flypaper Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Freezeray Poetry, the minnesota review, and elsewhere.
And we’re very excited that elsewhere includes two other pieces appearing in antilang. no. 2!
Hello! About a month ago we started our monthly writing contests for our donors on Patreon and promised to post our top 3 picks on our blog–we only have 1 contest entry for this month, but it’s really good. The first contest has closed and the second is launching later today (bonus round: if you start donating before Wednesday you’ll get a hard-copy of antilang. no. 1 and get to participate in the writing contest!).
Without further adieu, Erin Vance’s “Happy Hour”
After she let the rhubarb rot with its roots still anchored in the garden, Aoife filled the prescription. The pharmacist’s ivory coat was stiff like rawhide. He handed her the medication. Aoife plodded home along the dirt road, breathing the dust until her chest felt tight and her head spun. Meclizine hydrochloride. Take two tablets at onset of vertigo symptoms. If dizziness and nausea persists, take one tablet each hour, not exceeding thirteen in a period of twenty-four hours. Do not operate heavy machinery or drink alcohol while taking this medication.
Aoife swallowed hard and coaxed saliva to the front of her mouth. The medication was fetid, chalky. The tablets stuck to the sides of her tongue, began to dissolve as she choked them down her throat. Aoife rounded the corner to the house she shared with her mother, to the porch, to the overgrown garden, the decrepit oasis where the mosquitos were still leeching the blood from her mother’s hands. Aoife’s mother sat on the porch in a pink housedress, a gin and tonic in one hand, the other lingering over a jar of Arbequina Gourmet Stuffed Olives. Aoife’s mother had a proclivity for the anchovy stuffed ones. Aoife liked them because the image of the goddess Mnemosyne was transposed onto the label in faux-gold leaf. Aoife kissed her mother’s forehead, the white hair soft like feather grass. She dropped the paper bag from the pharmacy on a table and went inside to mix herself a drink. Three o’clock meant gin and olives. It was three forty-five. Just enough time to have two or three gins before four o’clock ushered in vodka and soda crackers.
Aoife settled in a plastic chair next to her mother and flung her dirty sandals off the porch. The two women sat in a dry sort of silence, the air around them astringent, smelling slightly of formaldehyde or insulation. Aoife refilled her glass, and her mother’s. Her hands were clammy from the condensation. A pigeon impaled itself on a metal spike, upon which had previously hosted a citronella candle until it melted off in the sun. The macabre interlude prompted Aoife to bring the vodka onto the porch. She sucked on unsalted soda crackers, her head spinning again. She wondered if she should take more of the medication. She popped two tablets into her mouth. They were lost in the wet sludge of crackers and vodka and saliva. The pigeon twitched. It let out a sound that was half-squawk, half-scream, a multi-lingual death growl. It was only three feet away from where Aoife and her mother sat. Aoife sucked on a cube of sugar, filtering vodka through the cube as it dissolved. The bird whirled around on the stake, like a child swinging a hoop around on a stick. It made Aoife dizzy. It wasn’t really whirling. It couldn’t be. She wondered if she should take more of the medication.
Aoife stood to refill her mother’s glass. Her feet were wet. They’d been damp for a long time. She picked up the crystal glass and it splashed onto her hand, stinging where she chewed the skin away from her nail beds. The astringent vapours coated her body. Aoife felt unclean. She turned to the pigeon on the stake. Flies were swarming it. They formed a big, black cloud. Aoife cried out and they were gone. The pigeon was gone, too. Not even its bones remained.
Aoife wondered if her mother had also seen the bird, had also seen it whirl and disappear. Her mother was silent. Aoife sat. The plastic chair dragged against the wood with her weight. Aoife closed her eyes against the spinning afternoon. When she opened them, the sun had set. Out of the corner of her eye the porch light bounced off of the pink fibres of her mother’s housedress. She wondered if she was an amnesiac and brought the drink, still stiff in her hand to her lips. The liquid was warm. Her mouth buzzed with fruit flies. Aoife wretched. She flung herself onto the ground. She writhed, spitting and gagging, tearing at her lips, scraping her cheeks and tongue with her jagged nails. Her head was full of bugs. Aoife ran screaming, straight into the stake. It caught her in the neck. A pigeon cooed in the distance. She gasped, but did not struggle. She fell and closed her eyes, clutching the wound, and went to sleep.
Her mother did not stir.
If you’ve followed us since Issue 1, then you know that our inaugural issue was solicitation-only, and that we used that model to put established authors beside emerging writers. You already know we like work that b(l)ends genres and operates on multiple levels, according to varying types of readers. And putting together the first issue was relatively easy–we already knew so many amazing writers that we wanted to feature together.
So, what about issue 2? For the second issue (coming this September!) we opened for submissions from all over the world. We received some repeat submitters who appeared in Issue 1 (spoiler alert–they are also in issue 2), but this upcoming issue is not a repeat of what we’ve already done. We considered every submission and accepted it purely on the merit of the work, though as we did so, we made sure to push ourselves and our understandings of ‘merit.’ We read cover letters and when we were unsure of a piece, we considered it in light of what the cover letter said the piece was doing and the positionality of the author. This is important, because we are editors, but that does not mean we are infallible. We are also white and in a heterosexual relationship, and regardless of how much we strive to be allies, we are not subject to the same forms of oppression and marginalisation as many of the writers who submitted work to us are. We read your pieces, and we grew. And the magazine has also grown to encompass and support these voices.
If you have submitted work to us, then you know our policy is to help edit pieces–most of the work in our issues has received edits (though some comes to us in its best form). And in doing this editing, we opened our dialogue with our submitters. At times, we would suggest a change to be made (usually a line to be cut, because we are about concision), and the submitter would correct us, would point out the importance of including that line, even if it was, technically, a redundancy. Because although we (being university-educated as readers) could ascertain the message of a piece, the inclusion of that line opens the piece to people not as well-trained in reading. Thank you. To all our submitters who expressed concern that their pieces would not have the same, or as broad, resonance if they followed our edits, thank you. You have helped us become better editors, and we are grateful that you entrusted your work to us and had the courage to correct us. And we are so happy that so many writers–including those who corrected us–agreed with our edits. We believe every piece in Issue 2 is as strong as it can be, and that is what we strive for. Good. Short. Writing.
So, now that it’s edited, how do we put it together? Well, we start with a huge list of our submitters and their pieces on an excel spreadsheet. Then Allie writes it out by hand because she doesn’t understand technology and she highlights the names according to prose vs verse (ish–there are genre blurring pieces, so this is done by feel). We agree on a piece to start the issue–the tone we want to set. And from there we find the thematically linked pieces. For issue 2 this means the (loosely) place-based pieces. We start making lists of names with arrows to indicate different groupings of themes and which pieces flow together best and rearrange so that each grouping leads into the next intuitively. This process involves a lot of back and forth of names and titles and general confusion between the hand-written order and the master copy Jordan compiles on the computer. We found three main themes for this up coming issue: place, deconstruction of form, and intersectional feminism, with five ‘random’ pieces to round out the issue (there is a similarity to the ‘randomness,’ but we haven’t come up with the right adjective for it).
Keep an eye open for our upcoming previews, because we’re going to start launching Issue 2 previews in the next few days!
It seems our contributors are also astutely aware that poems make for good short writing, since of all the submissions that we’ve now received, only one (1!) is a prose piece. And while we love pointed poems, we’d like to see some prim prose as well.
you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
Pointed, political, immediately recognizable.
The Sweetest Little Song
You go your way
I’ll go your way too
Less well known, but beautiful in both its simplicity and its message.
Are good short writing
-me right now
The genre of poetry seems inherently ideal for good short writing: haiku, sonnets, epigrams, rondeaus — they all beg to be brief and, considering they’ve been around for centuries, they’d better be good!
It seems our contributors are also astutely aware that poems make for good short writing, since of all the submissions that we’ve now received, only one (1!) is a prose piece. And while we love pointed poems, we’d like to see some prim prose as well. So, in hopes of remedying this generic imbalance, let’s unpack an extremely pithy piece of fiction.
Whenever I’m teaching undergrads a text, no matter what length, I always get them to ask the same three questions. What does it say? What does it mean? And what does it do? And when you combine these questions and move through them cyclically you get what we call close reading.
The piece I’m going to unpack is the “baby shoes” flash fiction often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The are several stories behind the story, as is often the case, but the one I’ve heard is that Hemingway and some buddies were at a bar chatting about writing. One thing led to another and they decided to have a contest to see who could write the shortest short story. Hemingway obviously won because he’s Ernest Fricken Hemingway. His story was only six words long and has become a literary legend: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ugh, gets me every time! Six words and I’m like “nope, I’m tapped out!” So let’s take a look at what’s going on in this piece.
First, what does it say? Well, it says there are some baby shoes for sale and that they’ve never been worn. Phew, one down, two to go! What does it mean? It means the baby doesn’t need the shoes… so the baby probably died. What does it do? It punches you right in the feels. Why? And this is where we wonder. This is where we’re curios. And so, this is when we go back to “what does it mean?” and read a little more closely.
“For sale: baby shoes never worn.” It’s definitely in the last two words that you get the emotion, the weight of the implications, the subtext of the dead infant. But what do the other words mean? What do shoes do rather than clothes? Clothes could be for any baby at any stage while shoes are something you buy in a specific size and in anticipation of a specific action: walking. Were it baby clothes for sale the child might have been stillborn. Shoes suggest that the baby was born, that it was alive, and that it died before being able to walk.
The difference is the implied loss of potential life vs the implied loss of an infant; a life stolen away just before it could start acting on its own. And what about the opening words? The shoes are for sale, the parents or guardians did not give them to a friend or to someone in need, because they themselves are in need. They can’t afford to be charitable, they need the money from the shoes even though the child who was supposed to wear them died quite recently.
So now back to the third question: what does the story do? It hits us where it hurts. Why? Because it draws on what a lot of people would call universal themes, like existential dread and the fear of losing a child. “Think of the children” is a common cliché and rhetorical tactic; you can’t help but think of Helen Lovejoy on The Simpsons: “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”
But what does this do? Asking the question again and again is how you get to the social implications of the text, how you connect media to culture. There are tons of different avenues you can pursue here, and some will be more productive than others, but let’s just talk through one as an example.
American literary critic Lee Edelman unpacks the “think of the children” trope in his chapter “The Future is Kid’s Stuff” from his book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Edelman argues that all politics are heteronormative because, whether you’re conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, all policy is made with the future generation in mind and therefore privileges straight reproductive people.
Following Edelman’s theories, you could argue that the baby shoes story reinforces heteronormative politics by appealing to the public’s emotion through the “think of the children” cliché. Alternatively, you could argue that the story’s casual tone and classified ad format expresses a disregard for the child, both the literal one who died and the figure of the child in the cliché, and that the story is actually about money and the struggles of the lower class caused by the expectation that families will have children. Both readings are viable and largely depend on whether you read the story as impassioning or as detached.
The final question that I always ask is “So what?” After you’ve argued what something says, what it means, what it does, and what that function does, take a step back and think about the implications and consequences of your own readings and interpretations. The baby shoes story either reinforces or challenges heteronormative family structures and “think of the children” rhetoric. So what?
So, you have to decide your position on what the story does (and there are a lot more than these two options or this one topic) and you have to ask why you read it as doing that. Then ask “so what?” again. How does your position on this issue, which stems from your reading of a six word story, affect the way you think about politics, about health care, about the economy, about society’s expectations concerning sexuality and family?
This is what we call close reading. And as we all know, reading occurs after writing, so while you can’t anticipate every reading, you can see what might be done with six simple words. We hope this energizes your good short prose writing and that you send it our way!
Who says no one lives online? antilang. no. 1 lives online!
Our inaugural issue is live, and best of all it’s free! Read it, share it, tell us what you think about, and stay tuned as we get ready to open for general submissions for no. 2.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this publication possible! We hope you enjoy this beautiful magazine that we have all created together.
He dabbles in Marxist poetry, conceptual translational poetry, and short fiction.
Jordan Bolay hails from Northern Saskatchewan. He first migrated South (like an hour and a half South) to Saskatoon where he got first a BA and then an MA in English. He then moved to Calgary to pursue his PhD in English. He studies videogames, the ideology of canonization, comics, and (when he actually works on his dissertation) social politics in the archives of Western Canadian writers. While not working on his research (procrastinating), he dabbles in Marxist poetry, conceptual translational poetry, and short fiction. His chapbook how to make an English exam interesting was published by The Blasted Tree Press in 2017 and his long poem “Rest (an erasure of the Regina Manifesto, Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Programme, 1933)” was published in ti-TCR and was an honourable mention for The Capilano Review’s Translate and Transform Contest, also in 2017. (Jordan is working on making future titles more concise.)
During his MA he was the poetry editor of The Fieldstone Review at USask, and has been the fiction editor of filling Station (Canada’s experimental literary magazine) since 2016. In his spare time, Jordan enjoys hiking in the mountains surrounding Banff, homebrewing craft beer, and rocking out on his Geddy Lee signature jazz bass.