online magazine for short, good writing

Month: April, 2012

A Green Bug in Your Tea

by a contributor

William Doreski

The transparent green bug swimming
in your teacup means no harm.
No, it’s not a louse, doesn’t sting
or creep under your skin. Unaware
that people are mammals, not landscapes,
it paddles in the dregs in search
of edibles or a mate. Its life
resembles ours. Your scholarly work,
your attorney boyfriend, your office
crammed with books in high and low German
enlarge upon without replacing
the world this creature has construed.

Don’t get angry. If ignorance
is bliss, this insect is too happy
to destroy. Here’s another cup
of tea, fresh and hot. No green
insect swimming in the brew.
I’ll empty your inhabited cup
out the window. Look at how gray
the afternoon has turned. Storm clouds
blister and look eager to burst.
Under that blue and white twirl
of umbrella the dean is dancing
toward a meeting with the provost.
Finding a bug in your tea
didn’t end life as we know it.

The rain doesn’t look serious
enough to remodel the planet,
but it will wash that bug away
to some other venue where probing
with its minute feelers it may find
the mate of its dreams, or a meal
so tasty that after it eats
it will no longer be transparent.
I’m sorry you’ve lost your taste for tea,
but note how deliciously the rain
slants over the lawn, how decisively
the dean slopes her stride forward,
the angles at which we meet the world
obtuse enough to define us.

William Doreski’s most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). His work has appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Natural Bridge. His blog is at

This Week in Words – Apr. 28

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

I became a little bit obsessed with interviews this week. I’d visit one site, read an interview, and then a link on the sidebar would catch my eye and I’d be lost in the next interview. So I apologize: Most of my links this week are interviews. They’re good, though, I promise.

I found a post over at Big Other featuring a video clip of William Gass speaking in a Parisian bookshop. He reads a little excerpt of his work before speaking at length about the sentence in fiction. Along the way, he manages to bag a little bit on philosophers and Faulkner, and mention Hitler and the banality of evil before making his way back to what the big deal is about the sentence. All I could think was, “Man, I really want to go to Paris and write in that bookshop.”

Katherine Heiny talked to The Review Review about what it takes to be a writer. She talks about her favorite rejection letter (“We really like this story except for the characters and plot and dialogue”), how “thrilling” it is to have a story published in a lit mag, and the best advice she’s received about writing. It came from Evan Hunter, who told her that if she wasn’t getting up in the morning to write, then she was just a person who planned to write something in the future. She said taking his advice led her “from being a writer who wants to write to one who actually does, and there’s no better feeling than that. And none worse, either.” Amen.

Also from The Review Review (seriously, you should check them out; there’s gold everywhere), editor of Cobalt Review, Andrew Keating, gives writers some tips about submissions. He also sheds some light on what it’s like to run a lit mag (which I found personally gratifying). Key points he makes: follow submission guidelines and read the magazine. He admits this is cliché advice, but from an editorial and writer-in-progress point of view, I can say with utmost confidence that it’s critical advice. By the way, over at Cobalt, they feature interviews with “the most influential writers in the literary community,” which include educators, publishers, and well-known writers. I’d highly recommend burgeoning writers give those a read.

Since this is North Carolina, it bears mentioning that Ron Rash’s novel Serena is being adapted for the screen. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as the title character, with Bradley Cooper playing George Pemberton. (Jennifer Lawrence can’t seem to get enough of Appalachia, can she?) Oddly, filming is underway in Prague, not North Carolina. I have no idea why.

The Rumpus interviewed poet CA Conrad late last week about his work and his process, which is unique. Conrad conducts “(Soma)tic Exercises” in order to create his poetry. For example, he’ll eat only blue foods or only listen to a particular song for several days. He’s even used a mugging experience as inspiration. The results are organic and thoughtful. The interview starts with a story about a crystal and a bizarre encounter with a woman at Mt. Shasta. I almost quit reading, but I wanted something poetic for this article. I’m glad I stuck with it: I think this guy might be brilliant.

Speaking of poetry, National Poetry Month is coming to an end. As a send-off, here’s Shel Silverstein singing “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too.” You’re welcome.

5 New Small Press Books I Can’t Wait to Read

by Treehouse Editors

Johannes Lichtman

Spring is shaping up to be an awesome season for small press books. Here are five (or, four, plus one big press book) that I’m dying to crack open.

(In order of release date)

  1. Amsterdam Stories by Nescio (NYRB Classics). I’m always excited for the chance to say “I read a foreign book!” It happens pretty rarely, because I’m lazy, but when the author is an early twentieth century Dutch businessman who wrote prose under a pseudonym that means “I don’t know” in Latin, well, then I’m game.
  2. Fires of Our Choosing by Eugene Cross (Dzanc). I’ve been pretty pumped about this one ever since Cross published “Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean” in American Short Fiction. Like much of Cross’ fiction, it’s a brutal and surprising story that unfolds naturally, without the artificial first sentence hook that is the hallmark of so much contemporary short fiction. Add in the fact that the collection comes from Dzanc—the awesome home of The Collagist—and there’s a great chance of this book kicking ass.
  3. When All the World Is Old by John Rybicki (Lookout). I see the phrase “will break your heart” on the cover of too many books that only end up breaking my heart from the knowledge that I wasted 16 bucks. But trust me—this book will break your heart in the best possible way. Rybicki writes about his dying wife scrawling love notes to him on the shower door; after she died, the fog from his breath would make them reappear.
  4. Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell (Mud Luscious). I first heard of Bell’s novella through word of mouth—as is so often the case with this champion of the indie world—and I thought the book was called, “Cataclysm, Baby.” The comma might have changed the meaning from intriguingly ominous book title to kickass song lyric, but, alas, it was not be. Regardless, Kyle Minor called this crazy-original book: “An apocalyptic abecedarium that is one part baby name registry, one part S. Thompson’s Index of Folk-Motifs, one part Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” So what more do you need?
  5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Ecco). This book isn’t from a small press, but if you’ve read Ben Fountain’s first collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara—a set of exquisite novels hidden in the shells of short stories—you’ll know why I wanted to break the rules for it. I heard Fountain read an excerpt from a draft of the novel two and a half years ago, and I still remember his description of the beached whaleness of Texas Stadium.

Poetry Isn’t Just for the Poets

by Treehouse Editors

M.G. Hammond

Most of the time when I recommend a novel to a friend who isn’t so obsessed with literature, they consider it without hesitation or complaint. However, if I suggest they read a poetry collection, they usually stare at me like I just asked them to brush up on quantum physics. Common responses include:

“Sorry, I just don’t really understand poetry.”

“I thought I was done with English classes.”

“You mean read the entire collection?”

Even within the literary community, the genre of poetry seems to have this strange veil surrounding it. When one of our fiction editors, Rachel, wrote her awesome “Five Poems” blog entry last week, I was thrilled to see that it seemed to have been an enriching experience for her, but even she admits that poetry makes her “a little nervous.”

When did poetry start to intimidate people? In my grandmother’s day, people actually read poetry for, you know, fun. So why is it now associated with some highbrow academia that should be left only to the devoted poets?

Former U.S. Poet Laureate and literary superhero Billy Collins observed this same phenomenon surrounding poetry when he decided to create his Poetry 180 project with the Library of Congress. The program is aimed at incorporating poetry into the daily lives of American high school students. Collins pulled together a collection of 180 poems by various contemporary poets that can be read each day of the standard 180-day school year. The goal is simple: to remind young people that poetry can be an enjoyable part of everyone’s lives. Collins writes on the program’s website, “Hearing a poem every day, especially well-written, contemporary poems that students do not have to analyze, might convince students that poetry can be an understandable, painless and even eye-opening part of their everyday experience.”

Somewhere along the way, reading poetry became a painful thing for students. If the only exposure young people get to poetry is lessons on scansion and imagery, it’s easy to see how the subject can become tedious. As someone who is currently working towards a degree in poetry, even I have to admit that delving deep into the craft can be really overwhelming at times. But just because poetry is complex doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. Reading a poem should be a personal journey for anyone, a journey in which no one can tell you you’re reading it wrong or your interpretation is incorrect. This comfort with the genre has to start with young people, so if you currently attend or work for a high school (or know someone who does), I strongly encourage you to introduce Poetry 180 to your school. And if you’re like me and enjoy an old-fashioned book you can hold in your hands, there is also a printed collection of the 180 poems.

As National Poetry Month comes to an end, I hope all of you Treehouse-dwellers will be inspired to dust off that old Robert Frost collection or copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And if that’s not really your style, go check out a local poetry slam. You may just discover a new favorite pastime.

5 Plays You Shouldn’t See with Your Parents

by Treehouse Editors

M.G. Hammond

Have you ever been watching a movie with your parents when suddenly a really inappropriate scene comes on involving sex, drug use, intense violence, or anything else that is totally embarrassing to let them see you interested in? So then you start to fiddle with the nearest objects to pretend like you aren’t paying attention and you get this distinct feeling that your parents are just as uncomfortable as you are. Well, the following five plays will provide the same squeamishness, but they are also enlightening, moving, and incredibly entertaining.

  1. Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this play provides plenty of gratifying profanity and cynicism and is a great example of “Mamet Speak,” the quick, overlapping, and deceitful style of dialogue the playwright is known for. Plus, it will really make you hate salesmen. It may also make you hate yourself a little if you’ve ever worked retail. There is also a film adaptation with an amazing cast.
  2. Moon Over Buffalo by Ken Ludwig – This farce about the nature of show business will have you in stitches the whole way through. The situational comedy includes alcoholism, sexual innuendo, and overall ridiculousness.
  3. August: Osage County by Tracy Letts – This one has got all the impropriety you could ever need: professor-student affair, parent-kid pot smoking, pedophilia, incest, and a crazy, pill-popping matriarch. Oh, and it also won the Pulitzer in 2008.
  4. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler – Yeah, you know I have to include this one. But seriously, go see it, watch it, or read it. It will make you uncomfortable in all the right ways. And it’s especially relevant right now.
  5. Pippin by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson – Okay, this one is a musical, and a not-so-familiar coming of age story involving war and patricide. There’s also a choreographed orgy scene. Fosse at his best.

Mary Grace Hammond studies poetry and psychology at UNC Wilmington. Besides editing for Treehouse, writing, and studying, she spends her time spoiling her two dogs, singing show tunes with her pet bird, and watching really terrible horror movies.

5 Things You Should Read (Gay)

by a contributor

from Roxane Gay, author of Girl/Box:

  1. How to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak—a truly gorgeous novel about a woman who tries to change her identity to get into the Twin Palms, but really, it is a novel about loneliness and it’s amazing.
  2. Baby Geisha by Trinie Dalton—the stories in this collection are extremely strange, often funny, always interesting.
  3. Wake Up, We’re Here by Dallas Hudgens—a gritty collection of fiction about people who live rough, complicated lives. Awesome endings in every story.
  4. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer—a novel about the wife of a famous writer on the eve of his winning a major literary prize. This book is one of the finest commentaries of publishing, writing, women, and men, you will ever read.
  5. American Short Fiction—every issue of this magazine impresses me. ASF is one of the most consistently excellent magazines around.


by a contributor

Roxane Gay

There was a girl who built a box with six walls. The walls were smooth like alabaster, cool like marble, made of beautiful things. Sometimes, the girl allowed people to look into her box but she was very careful about what she let them see. Sometimes, the girl ventured out of her box and into a world where she pretended the box did not exist. In the world beyond her box, she had a family she loved and who loved her but they did not know her. They did not know of the box, its walls, how it was made of beautiful things.

There was a girl who built a box with six walls. One by one she removed the bones from her body, stretched them like canvas, stretched them until they were pale and brittle. She lay in the center of her box made from her very own bones because she could no longer stand or sit. She had a family she loved and who loved her. They stepped inside her box, tried to pull her out but they could not and so they left her in her box made of bones, her bones and before long they forgot her and she lay, alone, her body limp and loose.

There was a girl who built a box with six walls, perfect white walls. There were no windows and no doors. In the ceiling there was an eye and above the eye a sky. The girl ran around her box all day and all night, ran so much her entire body became muscle and bone, no blood. As she ran she looked up into the eye and wished, desperately, for a glimpse of the sky.

There was a girl who built a box with six walls. The walls were smooth like alabaster, cool like marble, made of beautiful things. The girl sat quietly in her box, thought she was safe but every day, the walls inched closer. At first, she did not notice how her box grew smaller and smaller and then one day she did see. She did know. There was nothing she could do but wait for the walls to trap her body between them and then shatter her body to dust and after that, she did not know what might happen.

There was a girl who built a box with six walls, six glass walls. This box sat inside a home filled with a family, father mother child. The family lived and loved and the girl in the box beat her fists against the glass but it did not crack or shatter and the family did not see the glass box or the girl in the glass box. The girl realized she would watch this family’s entire lives pass by and all she would ever know of them would be what she saw from inside her glass box. Then the girl realized she was not alone inside her box and that, she understood, was even worse.

Roxane Gay lives and writes in the Midwest.

See Roxane’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.