"I teach poetry as a means of survival to endangered species, my black students."
— Masks, Deonte Osayande (Adroit Poetry Reader)
"If the reader, any reader, one reader is moved by the poem so that their consciousness is expanded, however minutely, then something has happened… Something has changed on the earth, if only a bit or for a moment, in the right direction."
The Not-So-Glamorous Writer, Failing the Stereotype
By Amanda Silberling
I don’t know about my fellow staff members, but I’m definitely not living up to those expectations. This is how it works: It’s about 1 AM, and I’m lying in bed, hair and glasses askew, reading poetry submissions over the idle buzz of That 70s Show re-runs. It’s not that I don’t read submissions carefully—I always evaluate poems to the best of my ability [winks conspicuously at poetry editors]—but when I read submissions from Paris-dwelling Pushcart winners while I clean smudges off my glasses, I can’t help but feel like I’m an insult to Fancy Writer stereotypes everywhere.
All of my non-writer friends romanticize my literary life. They picture me at summer workshops, lying under the stars as my friends recite Shakespearean sonnets. But at a workshop last summer, my friends and I had a High School Musical movie marathon. Almost two years ago, I received a beautifully-bound leather notebook with a shiny golden trim as a contest prize. I still haven’t used it.
I don’t think I’m alone, though. I’ve found famous editors’ Twitter accounts, expecting to unlock the secrets of their top-tier publications, only to read 140-character musings about their Pokémon games and whether or not Wal-Mart is open past midnight. I’ve never even encountered one of these Fancy Café Writers in the flesh—about a year ago, I befriended an elderly man at Starbucks with Kurt Vonnegut and Ready for Hillary stickers on his laptop, but he turned out to be a retired lawyer playing Candy Crush. My favorite barista has a very artsy aura, but the other day I heard him talking with a customer in great detail about World of Warcraft quests. I think I would have preferred to assume that I was in the presence of a famous Vonnegut scholar and a well-known photographer who uses the tip jar to buy Fancy camera lenses.
My submission-reading process is very similar to my writing process, except my writing process is even less glamorous. Call me naïve, but I’m pretty sure that writing a poem is basically the same thing as giving birth. I always feel like I’m pulling something out of my body and expelling it onto the page. I mean that in the least romantic way possible.
I’ve attended writing workshops where my classmates take out their favorite overpriced pens and write the titles of their poems in elegant cursive lettering. And then there’s me, chewing my pen from the dentist’s office, reminding myself that my dentist would not approve of this pen biting habit. I can’t help but think about my sixth grade journal—I decorated the covers with inspirational writing quotes that would motivate me to become a best-selling novelist at age eleven, and of course, I never actually ended up writing in the journal.
For a group of people who dedicate so much of our lives to thinking about the aesthetic of our imagery, the flow of our language, and that dream residency in Europe, most of us aren’t very glamorous—or at least the good ones, I try to tell myself. Here’s my new philosophy: the less picturesque your writing habits, the better your writing. That Fancy Writer from Tel Aviv or Tokyo? She ain’t got nothin’ on you, gurl.
If you ever meet a writer who tells you that they write every poem on a vintage typewriter and fill the pages of their leather moleskins at underground cafés, well—they’re probably not very good. You’re better. I never really liked chai lattes anyway.
Do you know what you’re doing two weeks from today? We do!
Catch The Adroit Journal at the New York City Poetry Festival, featuring J. Scott Brownlee, Caleb Kaiser, Sam Ross, and Talin Tahajian!
July 26 / Governor’s Island, NY / 4:30 PM / Chumley’s Stage
Staff Spotlight: Alexa Derman, Managing Editor
Meet Managing Editor extraordinaire Alexa Derman, connoisseur of all things feminism, Hamlet, and show tunes. Alexa’s writing style is so wild that no one dares label it a certain genre, and her plays have been performed in various theatres across the country. Normally, this Yale freshman watches the spotlight illuminate the characters in her plays, but now, we’re opening the curtains for Alexa’s turn in the spotlight—the Adroit Blog Staff Spotlight, that is!
Bindu Bansinath: Anyone who’s familiar with Adroit is no stranger to the name Alexa Derman. How did you originally get involved in the magazine?
Alexa Derman: I actually got involved through a former poetry editor. We both attended a summer program at TeenInk way back when, maybe four years ago, and she worked at Adroit and asked me to submit. This was maybe three websites ago for the magazine. I remember the font was really ratchet and it was this weird peach color. Anyway, I included a postscript in my submissions being all, “Heyo, if you ever need staff members!” and Peter “interviewed” me via Skype chat when I got back from a Bat Mitzvah and suddenly I was on staff. It was a little surreal.
BB: Sounds like it! Can’t imagine Adroit in peach.
AD: I had no idea we’d explode and become so professional.
BB: What made you stay on with Adroit in its initial stages?
AD: I think I was just excited to be a part of something bigger than myself and my school literary magazine. I’m sure a tiny part of my tenth grade brain got a little bit of a power trip from these big fancy writers asking me to evaluate their work, but more than anything I remember just being excited, all the time. You know, offline and back in the world of my hometown I was stuck in this English class where people thought Shakespeare was what “old English” meant, and everyone’s favorite author was John Green (not my personal cup of tea). But suddenly when I logged into Submittable, I got to talk to these kids across the country about short stories, of all things. I was really in awe of everybody. And then as the work we received began to get more experimental and innovative, that thrill of discovering really new ways of looking at literature also drove me to stick with it.
BB: For a tenth grader, that’s a huge responsibility. How was your own writing process affected by your work at Adroit, if at all?
AD: I think I began to see writing differently in general; a short story didn’t need a beginning, middle, and end, for example. I definitely drifted more towards innovative work. And I also think being surrounded by so many confident teens made me have more confidence in my own work, enough to start seeking out opportunities to showcase it, if that makes sense? Until Adroitalmost everything I wrote just ended with me closing the Word document—I never tried to show it to other people.
BB: I hear great things about your hybrid writing and the pervasive feminism in your work. Could you talk a little more about that?
AD: I’m really into theatre, and Stephen Sondheim is my favorite composer (isn’t he everyone’s?). His personal motto about creating art is “content dictates form.” I really take that to heart. A lot of the things I’ve written could be considered “hybrid” in that they’re sort of genre-less and collage-y, but I don’t ever set out to write in a weird form—I just try to pick the form that best serves that I’m writing about.
As for feminism, I think that’s relevant to me in two different ways. First: writing about Ophelia was a mechanism, really, to write about feminism (and more specifically feminism and the modern millennial, I think). I didn’t really realize that at the time. Second: I think that oftentimes, being someone who writes pieces (in particular, plays) about women constitutes as an act of feminism, because women’s voices are severely lacking in literary circles (Just look at the VIDA count). More often than not, the stories I’m interested in telling happen to be women’s stories, but I’m glad that they are, especially for plays. Sometimes, being a feminist writer just means creating developed female characters in a sea of ingenues and femme fatales and other archetypes.
BB: I’ve heard (and read!) much about your explorations of the Ophelia character. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
AD: In the past month or so we’ve mostly gone our separate ways, but Ophelia and I spent a lot of time together for about a year and a half. When I first read Hamlet in drama class my friend and I were assigned to perform the nunnery scene, and I remember writing this really scathing character history and wishing I got to play Hamlet. I was so frustrated that I had to get onstage and just say “Good my lord, how does your honor this many a day?” while he got to deliver all of these gorgeous lines, and I misplaced that anger at Ophelia—I was really mad at her for being a “lesser” character. When I stepped back and redirected that frustration about having to just play “obedient” at the people in the play who’ve made her that way, I sort of came to terms with my own tendency to view passive teenage girls as perpetrators of the patriarchy when in reality they’re victims. I spent a lot of time exploring that topic and realization through Ophelia in a lot of different mediums.
Next Spring, I have a one-woman [play] about her opening in New York, if all goes according to plan.
BB: You’re also a successful playwright. Tell us about that.
AD: I’ve been super lucky to have been on a sort of whirlwind of seeing my plays done in different places. In June, I had staged readings at Kean University and at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, and had a piece fully mounted with the Blank Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival. It’s been… wild, to say the least. Basically, I have a lot of pieces going up in different young playwrights festivals and it’s been really cool. I love being in the rehearsal room so much; my favorite thing is to hear the director and the actors talking about the characters without me. When your work really exists externally to you and is now being interpreted and made important by somebody else, there’s nothing like it. I’ve overheard some of my actors improvise banter in character while waiting around for rehearsal to start—it’s surreal. I’ve been really, really lucky.
BB: In the context of your work, what are your future goals?
AD: This is really specific, but I’d really like to better be able to write a three-person scene! All of my plays and most of my stories are about two people, because I love so much to write about relationships more than anything else (On my computer, all of my word documents for pieces are “Name 1 & Name 2”). Someday, I’d like to shake up that dynamic a bit and write about three.
On a less literal note, I’d really like to try my hand at writing “smaller” pieces. I come from a really heavy theatre background, and what they say about theatre is that it’s about the day that something happens, the most important day in that character’s life even. Thus, I have a lot of short stories that end in screaming matches and these huge exhales and releases of tension. I’d like to work on writing pieces that don’t just blow up, where everyone doesn’t get to just say everything on their mind. Smaller stories.
BB: What do you want other people to discover when they read you?
AD: I write a lot in dares, to get myself going: “Write a story about a stripper but every other paragraph has to be about American History.” “Write a play that collapses into a well-known tragedy at the climax.” “Write a monologue that makes the drug addict character win the argument and the audience.” “Write about the definition of good writing.” I force myself to find a way to write pieces that are seemingly impossible to write. I think what I want other people to discover is that the right words can make anything into art.
BB: What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
AD: Write what you know.
Alexa Derman is a freshman at Yale University, where she plans to study English and Gender Studies. A 2013 YoungArts Finalist and Merit Award winner, she has also received recognition from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, Bennington College, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada College, Johns Hopkins University, and Rider University for her fiction, nonfiction, and plays.
Alexa’s work is currently featured or forthcoming in Word Riot, The Sierra Nevada Review, Dramatics, Hanging Loose, Winter Tangerine Review, and elsewhere, and will soon appear in an anthology by Samuel French. Her plays have been produced or are slated to be produced by the Blank Theatre Young Playwrights Festival, Stephen Sondheim’s Young Playwrights Inc., Semicolon Theatre Company, The Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, International Thespian Society, and youth company Contagious Drama, taking her to locations as varied as Hollywood, New York City, and Nebraska. She loves to collect soap and ugly floral shorts, and is an award-winning hair and makeup artist.
Bindu Bansinath’s work has appeared in The Columbia Review, The Susquehanna Review, 2RiverView, PANK, Notes to the Future, Damozel, The Round, Miscellany, and more. She is forthcoming in CALYX, and is a rising freshman at Columbia College of Columbia University.
Anonymous said: How does adroit find writers to judge the adroit prizes?
We typically will ask past contributors to judge, including Chloe Honum, Garth Greenwell, Kirk Nesset, and Marlin Barton. Richie Hoffman's work actually appeared in the issue that featured the 2014 Adroit Prizes, which he judged. If it's absolutely needed, we will bring in a judge from the outside (just wait until you see what unbelievably amazing poet we snagged for next year's prize), but we generally like to keep it in the Adroit family.
— Amanda Silberling // Blog Editor + Director of Social Media Relations
Self-Revelation, Brian Oldham | The Adroit Journal, Issue 9
I think it’s a poem. I think I wrote it down. Andrea
calls. We talk for an hour and then she says she thinks
she wrote a poem. I think it has a title."
Jill McDonough, It’s What You Said You Wanted
The Adroit Journal, Issue 9
Meet the Blogger: A Self-Interview with Bindu Bansinath
By Bindu Bansinath
Bindu Bansinath’s work has appeared in The Columbia Review, The Susquehanna Review, 2RiverView, PANK, Notes to the Future, Damozel, The Round, Miscellany, and more. She is forthcoming in CALYX, and is a rising freshman at Columbia College of Columbia University.
You have a poetry chapbook coming out soon. Tell us more about that.
The book’s called and i a black bubble burst and it is coming out under a small independent press. In a few nutshells, I’d peg the subject matter as explorations of womanhood, unrequited and/or abandoned desire, and a stubborn denial of loss. Some of the poems have been published previously, but the majority of it is new material. And that’s enormously exciting to share.
Are you primarily a poet?
I consider myself more of a fiction writer. The poetry I write airs on the side of prose. Let’s just say that I want to pull through for stories in the way that stories have pulled through for me- in the way that they continue to pull through for me- and that’s that.
What’s your biggest obstacle in writing fiction?
Abandoning stories, I suppose. I’ll begin something with urgency. I’ll begin with characters who have places to be at any given moment. I’ll trust the voice I start with. But unless there is something clearly momentous for me to carry on, the urgency dissipates. I lose touch with the characters I make. I forget why they’re there. They move from place to place arbitrarily. The voice I started with is clunky at its mid-section.
On paper, yes. I don’t like that I do that. It contradicts what I said about pulling through for stories. But when I sense I’m not doing justice to the ideas I have, I feel an enormous sense of pressure and it takes a lot of coffee and chocolate to prevail to the other end.
Rejection from magazines.
Do you ever go back to the same characters or stories?
Certainly. There are some stories that have their basis in my life- one in particular- that I try over and over to tell because I assume that it’ll be easier to do so as more time passes. I like stories more than anything because within a story, you can assign symmetry to all the weird shit that happens to you, shit that’s otherwise unrelenting and random. You create stories for things you’re not ready to say at will. But maybe there are things I’m not ready to say either way. I’ll keep going back to it, however. In that way, writing is a good gauge for how well you’re healing; how well you’re living.
Do you think anyone from your life will be able to recognize themselves in your work?
If you’re still in my life, I’m probably not writing about you. You’re better than fiction to me if you’re still dealing with me. But if not…
All bets are off?
Afraid so. You know who you are. I hope you see yourself everywhere. I would be flattered if I was you.
Some people that you’ve recently abandoned. Go.
That’s one thing I’ve never been able to do. It’s easier the other way around.
Some stories that you’ve recently abandoned.
I’ll start by saying I’ve not abandoned these! They are all unfinished documents in my google drive. I don’t even want to mention the ideas, because it’s all a tease. I need to finish them.
If you’re not going to mention the ideas, why would you ask yourself the question?
To draw attention to myself.
Do you like attention?
Do you think you’re adorable?
Sometimes, but doesn’t everyone? I know you’ve taken selfies in which you think you’re cute shit. Which is good, because you definitely are. You’re the cutest shit around.
And so? Any closing advice?
Take up all the space you can and kiss wisely.
Dear Adroit: Advice for Teens, from Teens
by Amanda Silberling
Welcome to the first Dear Adroit feature! This week, we asked our readers to send in their questions about this mysterious, elusive land that we call the literary world, and I—Amanda Silberling, a frizzy-haired, slightly frazzled writer trying to navigate this world myself— will do my best to provide the best guidance that I can. In this debut edition of Dear Adroit, I tackle your questions about the merits of pursuing writing vs. something entirely different in college, and how you know when you’re ready to start publishing.
I’m a high school junior, and everyone around me is starting to talk about college. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I plan to study writing in college, but it seems more practical to study something else and just write on the side. What should I do?
Along with nearly every other young creative, I faced the same dilemma. After about the forty-seventh time when someone says, “So, you know it’s really hard to make it as a writer, right?” the self-doubt really starts to hit. Parents everywhere may groan, but I say ignore the self-doubt. Whether your calling is writing or multi-variable calculus, I can’t stress enough how important it is to follow your passion. The prospect of unemployment is scary, but I think that working a job that I hate until I’m seventy is even scarier.
So, you’ve decided to pursue the dreaded English & Creative Writing major— now what? No matter how idealistic we may be about our art, it’s hard to ignore that there is potential risk. I think that it’s important to apply to colleges that can support you in your literary endeavors; that way, if you seem doomed to live the starving writer stereotype, you have classmates and faculty to help you get on your feet. In fact, the primary reason why I committed to Penn was because of its incredibly supportive and dynamic Writers House. When you decide where to apply, make sure you find out whether or not this school can become your own personal literary haven-— look up the writing professors, see how frequently they host author events, read student reviews of English classes, etc.
It’s okay to be a writer and choose not to focus on writing in college. We have amazing writers on Adroit staff who are medical students (I don’t know how they do it). Hell, our own Founder & Editor-in-Chief isn’t even a English major (he’s a Communications major with a Creative Writing minor). If you choose not to major in an artistic field, just make sure that you always make time for writing— the worst thing any aspiring writer can do is not write.
I want to start publishing— how do I know when I’m ready? I don’t want to start young and regret it when I’m older.
You’re right— it’s awful to publish and then want the piece gone. But once your work is online or in print, it’s never going away. I’m eighteen now, and I already regret what I published when I was sixteen. I very much believe in something that I refer to as “writer puberty.” We’re all still young, so our writing changes rapidly. The poems I’ve written this summer are far different than the poems I wrote in March. The poems I wrote in March are far different than the poems I wrote in January. But “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “better” or “worse.” If you feel confident that a piece of writing is 100% done, will never be edited again, and is good enough that you won’t feel ashamed when your pompous writer friends bring it up at the bar when you’re thirty, go for it. Just make sure you’re publishing in respectable places— that’s a double-check. If a well-known, reputable publication wants to showcase your work, odds are, you did something right. How do you know if the publication is reputable? That’s for another edition of Dear Adroit.
Anything on your mind? I want to hear it. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you just might be featured in a forthcoming edition of Dear Adroit!
Hey, you! Yes, you! We need your help, so that we can help you!
Here at Adroit, we’re preparing to launch our “Dear Adroit” blog column, in which we answer questions from young writers and give them our guidance and advice.
Anything on your mind? I want to hear it. E-mail me (Amanda Silberling) at email@example.com, and you just might be featured in “Dear Adroit!”
Don’t be shy. Let us love you.
Summer Mentees of the Week: Emmi Mack & Robert Esposito
By Amanda Silberling
Welcome to the first installment of the “Summer Mentees of the Week” feature! Every Friday this summer, we’ll introduce you to some of our wonderful participants in the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program. Over a six week period, twenty-six high school-aged mentees work with members of The Adroit Journal staff to develop an innovative vision of their writing and find what makes their voices unique. But even outside of the literary realm, these Adroit mentees have pretty distinct personalities. For our first Summer Mentee feature, Meet Emmi Mack, the personification of Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire, and Robert Esposito, Spelling Bee stage crew extraordinaire.
Introduce yourself in a haiku.
Emmi: Emmi Mack is loud/and probably not at home,/writes when she’s alone.
Robert: I write stories ‘cause/I’m not good at poetry/I like science, too.
How did you find out about the journal?
Emmi: My talented former teacher Bri Cavallaro (check her out!) emailed all her old students about the journal’s Wildcard Deadline Period for some publishing opportunities.
Robert: That’s actually an involved story. My school this year performed 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and I participated through stage crew. I had to sit in Right Wing for every single performance of it, including practices, so I memorized every song and got to know the lines better than the performers. In one of the songs, a girl sings, “Be smart be cool be an adult be remarkably adroit in social situations,” and it’s disgustingly catchy, so obviously I had to sing it in my head for the next few months. During that time, I was reading some story online and I saw the author’s biography, which said something along the lines of, “S/he also wrote in the following journals: [irrelevant], [irrelevant], [irrelevant], The Adroit Journal, [irrelevant].” I chose Adroit solely because of that song, and it easily became one of my favorite literary journals.
What made you decide to apply to the workshop?
Emmi: Friendly rejections from the magazine that made me want to improve with its help.
Robert: As soon as I read most of the works, I knew that I wanted to try and get published in the journal. I submitted a few poems, the only poems I have penned, and one prose work. All of it got rejected, but with the prose, Peter sent me back an email that advised me to submit to the mentorship program, so I did.
How did you react when you were accepted?
Emmi: I called my two best friends from writing camp, to find out that they were accepted as well!
Robert: I immediately cleaned up my ritual circle I had set up in my bathroom that allowed me to join the program and thanked the dark gods.
Who is your mentor, and what are they like?
Emmi: Talin Tahajian is my mentor, and aside from being ridiculously impressed by her pieces I’ve read online, she’s full of reading and prompt suggestions that make every week exciting. She also gives me unique feedback about parts of the poem that I hadn’t really given much thought to pushing further. I hope to get to know her more!
Robert: Elizabeth Ballou is my mentor! Since it’s only the second week of the program, I’ve had limited interaction with her, but so far she’s really neat! We have a lot of similar interests in genre (although I haven’t delivered on any of my favorite genres so far, oops).
What has been your favorite moment in the workshop so far?
Emmi: Lunching with Peter LaBerge and other new mentees in Bryant Park the week of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards was such a fun way to celebrate writing. I was able to meet and reunite with some brilliant writers like Oriana Tang and the lovely Becca Alifimoff. Meeting Peter was so nice, because not only am I a fan of his poetry, but I admire how hard he works to pull this program together and make everyone feel so comfortable.
Robert: My favorite moment was probably the day that I began interacting with my peers. Only one of my friends shares my enthusiasm in literature, but we read independently, and our tastes often don’t coincide. When I found that there were people who love books that I love (specifically The Song of Achilles, which I’m still reeling about), I nearly had a heart attack. I knew they existed somewhere, I just wasn’t expecting such a concentrated mass of them.
If your writing were a Disney Channel sitcom, which one would it be?
Emmi: Lizzie McGuire. Check me out on Halloween.
Robert: As deplorable as it may seem, I’m unfortunately not up to date with my knowledge of Disney sitcoms. The only one that’s coming to mind is Wizards of Waverly Place, which I’m not even sure counts. But what I’m trying to capture is that my work may be the essence of all sitcoms combined, in the way that they’re so awful, but in being so awful, they completely reconfigure the Graph of Quality. Suddenly the awfulness of it becomes so consuming that it inverts, and becomes somewhat decent. That’s what I hope to achieve.
In seven words, describe the last piece you wrote.
Emmi: Messily while staring at a phenomenal view.
Robert: Thinly veiled metaphor for racism with angels.
How has the workshop helped you develop as a writer?
Emmi: It’s forced me to actually sit down and write enough this summer to produce three pieces a week… no way could I maintain that work ethic all on my own.
Robert: I’ve been writing since kindergarten, but there was really no one there to help me get along with my creative endeavors. I didn’t reach out to anyone online, mostly because I was too shy. I took one Creative Writing class in high school, which would have been a lot of fun were the other kids not seniors who took the class for an easy A+, but that’s about as much “legitimate” help in writing I received. Obviously books count to some extent, but that’s beside the point. In just two weeks, the Adroit mentorship program gave me more feedback than I’ve received in seventeen years. It’s mildly overwhelming, but great to finally have someone else’s opinion on what works and doesn’t work in my writing. For example, for some reason I thought it’d be really cool to write a story involving flashbacks all in present tense. It wasn’t.
What can we expect in the future from Emmi/Robert?
Emmi: Enough bad decision making and chance encounters to keep giving me something to write about. Maybe even enough to fill a book.
Robert: Hopefully at least one novel that I’ll be submitting to the Scholastic Writing Competition this year, and after that, probably nothing! I’m not too interested in submitting to journals anymore (after my whole adrenaline rush of being published a whole one time), and I’m focusing my energy on resurrecting my school’s local literary journal. After that, writing is probably going on the backburner and be more therapeutic than anything since I’m most likely going into the dreaded biology major for college.
Anonymous said: Wait you're interviewing summer mentees!? That's pretty fly. When will those interviews start?
Pretty fly indeed! We’ve actually already started— check out our latest blog post, which will be making its way through the tumblrverse tomorrow: http://www.theadroitjournal.org/blog/2014/7/4/summer-mentees-of-the-week-emmi-mack-robert-esposito
— Amanda Silberling // Director of Social Media Relations