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Brief Interviews with Hideously Talented People: Part Three

All good things come in threes, so to top off this series of interviews I exchanged nouns, verbs, and punctuation with Houston’s own Marcell Murphy. A believer in the power of spoken word, Marcell discusses his literary influences and experiences, some of which have taken him abroad.

Marcell Murphy is a poet, spoken word artist, and writer from the Houston area.

 

GLASS MOUNTAIN: According to your bio, you are an international reading machine, having shared your work in places outside the United States such as Canada and Jamaica. What was it like to participate in these readings and interact with those of other literary traditions?

 

MARCELL MURPHY: Reading internationally was really wonderful. The exchange of ideas about different forms and the use of free verse were absolutely stimulating. The cultural exchanges were the greatest benefit; hearing about the evolution of poetry in different countries and the struggles and triumphs of being a poet in those countries made me realize how different the process can be and how strikingly similar a lot of the techniques and concepts are.

 

GM: Not too long ago, I attended a reading in which you were a participant, along with some other notable local writers. One of the things that immediately attracted me to your work was your delivery; it was both lively and powerful. What are your thoughts on public readings and presentation? Do you think readers have an obligation to their audience?

 

MM: Obligation is a bit strong; performing poetry and reading poetry both have their place. Performance poetry is more conversational and it’s a little more challenging to convey the use of language on stage. On the contrary, the ability to emotionally connect to the audience is therapeutic for the poet and, hopefully, for the audience member. This can vary by crowd; some audiences want to hear the conventions in your poetry and your use of language, and others want to be moved emotionally, so the reader has an obligation to be honest with who they are as a writer and a duty to convey the best message possible to their audience, no matter what kind it is.

 

GM: To add to the previous question, at the reading aforementioned, one of the poems you shared crafts a world in which the speaker struggles with high blood pressure. The poem’s language was lyrically interesting and somehow felt very autobiographical—to which you confirmed my inclinations, briefly commenting on the poem afterwards. How would you describe your poetical interests? Do you find yourself writing mostly about personal trauma or experience?

 

MM: It took me quite a while to start writing autobiographically; I was initially enthralled with social commentaries, political poems, and love. I learned from contemporaries and mentors that it’s necessary to test the borders of your writing. Writing from places that are not always comfortable will help me to become a more complete poet, so I believe that nothing is off limits when it comes to subject matter, even if it’s about me and my demons.

 

GM: Throughout the Houston community, you are an active voice within literary circles, namely among slam poets. What drew you to this art form and how do you think open, verbal connection informs your written work? Is the performance of your work something you keep in mind during the writing process?

 

MM: I went to my first slam in 2001 and was blown away. The fusion of great writing and performance really showed me the power of poetry beyond the page. There is a delicate balance between verbal connection and the written word. My goal is to perform in a way that supplies audience members with great content and a great performance without sacrificing either. That’s the amazing thing about slam—you get a fusion of both.

 

GM: I suppose it goes without saying that most writers are influenced by other artists they admire and respect—these allegiances can vary in degree, of course. I’m sure you have a few notable poets that have inspired you. However, possibly more interesting are the unexpected individuals that lend themselves to creative fervor. Are there any unconventional figures or objects that inform your writing?

 

MM: I have written poems based on the soundtrack of video games, graffiti art throughout the city, and even from the Opera (I have a number of short poems inspired by Bizet’s Carmen). Inspiration does not just come from one source and I have learned to be open to many different forms of art, and I am grateful for it all.

 

Once again, Glass Mountain invites you to attend its next reading on Tuesday, August 21. It’ll be well worth your time, even if you only wish to make a cameo appearance. You’ll hear from the likes of Marcell, as well as the other subjects of this literary one-on-one. We hope to see you there.

 

Amanda Scott

Assistant Fiction Editor

Brief Interviews with Hideously Talented People: Part Two

In the second leg of this Q&A marathon, we take host inside the mind of poet Scott Chalupa, literary throwback and Haiku extraordinaire. Among other things, Chalupa expounds on the writing process, “bad news,” and the Bayou City’s literary scene.


Scott Chalupa is a Co-Editor for Glass Mountain.

 

GLASS MOUNTAIN: You are a fairly seasoned reader, having participated in more than a handful of public readings thus far. What can we expect for this particular reading? Are the pieces you plan to share related in any way? What value do you find as an artist in public readings, as opposed to the privacy of reading to oneself?


SCOTT CHALUPA: You can expect a little sleaze with a dash of spirituality—hopefully not a slapdash. With only 10-12 minutes I like a little consistency, but a good spread of topics. All the pieces are related in the sense that some are about brokenness, one is about wholeness, and another is about pushing through the distance between those two states. Hopefully, there will be enough of an arc to travel from one point to the next.


Public readings remind me that I don’t write in a vacuum. I’ve always enjoyed a public forum. For several years I attended an open mic at the Mausoleum (now AvantGarden). I hung out on the fringes of the Houston slam scene years ago, where I met Marcell Murphy, another of our readers this month. When I first began reading at open mics, I was reading to myself over a microphone. After some caustic encouragement from a couple writers I admired, I began to read differently. I also began to write with the audience in mind. The energy I encountered in the slams pushed that even further. Through both experiences I learned that poetry exists as a relationship between writer and audience.


GM: In its ambition to become an epicenter of literature, Houston’s literary culture is constantly evolving and redefining its bounds. As a veteran of Glass Mountain and active organizer, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve contributed to that force. How do you feel about your position within the local lit community and how do you see yourself fitting into its maturation?


SC: I’m just an active participant. Sometimes I’m more active than others, and I certainly don’t always have an accurate gauge about how great or small my contribution is. I do know that my involvement is evolving. Years ago, I was very active in attending and hosting readings. I even gave a couple readings at BookStop (rest in peace, old friend). I involved myself in different pockets, from open mics to slams to workshops, but they were all entirely outside the more academic community in which I now find myself. Today, I’m focused on Glass Mountain and its functions at UH and (hopefully) in the greater writing community of Houston. I fit in where I am asked to—I just do what is in front of me to be done.


Houston’s literary community is vibrant, and I don’t know if it wants to or could be an epicenter. There are a few publishing houses working out of Houston, and Inprint brings many key literary figures to town. Perhaps the pockets of the literary community are more disparate than need be, so the maturation process (I’m not sure that’s the correct word) would be one of bringing the pockets together. The nature of “literature,” I think, is rather insular. Dickens was a rock star to the general public. When was the last time you heard of a major “literary” writer selling out performance halls? Maybe “maturation” could be a process of un-defining what is “literary” while bringing as many people to the table as are willing to sit with one another.


GM: It is my biased— and possibly valid—belief that most writers are scattered brained: in our attempts to craft and perfect one piece, we end up with a trove of new ideas for others. This can be both productive and counter–. Can you talk a little about your approach to the writing process?


SC: I often let ideas steep long enough to grow stale. I’m horribly undisciplined—try as I might to change that. I work most intensely with looming deadlines, meaning I work less without them. I usually don’t have a trove of pieces sprouting from the front of one; it’s more like parsing out a swarm of ideas into individual pieces. And sometimes I just have to force myself to write until something’s been said.


I love to write and edit by hand. I love the workshop process. Any time I can get feedback without leaping to defend my creative decisions is a blessed gift from the universe. I especially love it when two or more workshop members have different readings of my work. It affords me the freedom to decide where I want to spell out certain things and where I want to leave space for the reader (I usually prefer the latter).


GM: After writing for some time, it seems that writers eventually come to a conclusion about what works in their writing; somehow, the themes and language most vital to their aims rise to the surface and the rest sinks to the bottom of the page. This weeding out of extraneous elements is no easy process and takes time. Where do you find yourself in that progression and what do you find works in your writing? Are there any particular themes that you find yourself returning to?


SC: I like to let each piece define itself. Especially in poetry, I feel the voice of a work or body of work is best determined by the needs of the writing rather than the needs of the writer. I often find myself letting go of my expectations of a poem so it can breathe on its own. So in the progression of things, I usually find myself trying to get out of the way, trying to facilitate the writing rather than defining or producing it. Experimentation and an open mind are important, too. When I’m open to whatever happens, the poem happens of itself.


That being said, the elements that seem to work best for me are a little grime and wordplay—or playful words, at least. The best work is fun to write. No matter how dark or hopeful a particular piece, when I’m enjoying the craft process (to include perceived “bad news” at a workshop), the best work emerges.


GM: Lastly, and most importantly: if I asked you to write a Haiku in which Mitt Romney’s name appears, what would it look like?


SC: Dressage: flip-flop-clop.

Could a nation be so trained?

Huzzah! King Romney!


Bravo, Scott Chalupu.


Amanda Scott

Assistant Fiction Editor

Brief Interviews with Hideously Talented People: Part One

In preparation for Glass Mountain’s August reading, I caught up with this month’s readers to talk about jitters of the public reading sort, slam poetry, and Mitt Romney. This month we will hear from Glass Mountain editors Melissa Dziedzic and Scott Chalupa, as well as local poet Marcell Murphy.


Below is the first installment in a three-part series of interviews:


Melissa Dziedzic is the Fiction Editor of Glass Mountain.


GLASS MOUNTAIN: For this reading, you will be sharing a condensed version of a novella that you have been working on. Can you talk a little about the piece and its origins? What prompted you to choose the novella form for this particular work?


MELISSA DZIEDZIC: I originally wrote the piece for a workshop I took last semester with Professor Parsons. The focus of the course was forms of fiction, and for that particular class he chose to focus on longer stories, or novella length narratives. Because one of my ultimate goals is to one day have a story that can endure for the length of a novel, this emphasis on longer works seemed like a crucial step in being able to fully develop a storyline. The original seed of the story came after I read a news article about a woman who was giving birth as performance art. I just couldn’t stop wondering about how her child would feel about that choice in ten or twenty years. The more I wrote about the characters the more there seemed to be to write, so the need to produce a longer work was the perfect opportunity to see where the story could go. I chose to read this particular piece because—at this point at least—it is the story that I have the most faith in.


GM: Presumably, when shortening a larger work, scenes and other details must be omitted. Naturally, this can change the piece in many ways, sometimes even introducing new causeways or concepts. In your experience, what has the editing process been like? As the piece matures, are there any new elements that you’d like to introduce going forward?


MD: In editing this piece, up until deciding that I was going to be reading it for the series, I followed the same process I’ve used in the past—just more drawn out because the draft of the novella I ended up with was at least twice as long as every other work I’ve written and heavily edited. Editing the story specifically for the reading has somewhat influenced the way I’ve chosen the scenes and details I’m going to include. The story as a whole has shifted in a way; to me it is gaining more of a single-sighted focus and less of a multi-faceted build-up, if that makes sense. For me to be able to read it in ten to twelve minutes, the writing must be more concise, but I tend to dwell in moments rather than move through constant action. As I go forward with the longer piece I plan to further develop the entire family unit and their relationships.


GM: You mentioned that this will be your first time participating in a public reading outside the privacy of the classroom. While the experience can vary for everyone, I’d imagine this transition can be jarring for some, requiring “pre-game” rituals or calming mantras. How do you feel going into the reading? Do you have any particular expectations?


MD: I think I definitely find myself leaning more towards the “jarred” end of the spectrum. I don’t enjoy being the center of attention, and the fact that I’m also going to be sharing my own work is definitely an added worry. I expect to be very nervous. My voice will tremble; my only hope is that the tremble doesn’t last the entire ten minutes.


GM: I suppose it’s difficult for anyone to name a favorite writer, so I won’t ask that. However, it’s very possible to have favorites. Who are some of yours and why?


MD: Oh, I hate this question. I’m terrible at having favorite writers, but I’m only slightly better at having favorite books. I guess, as most people probably do, I have a few different writers that I look up to for very different reasons. I always have to include Cormac McCarthy, because I’ve read The Road at least four times and any book you actually read that many times is bound to have an effect on you. Also, whenever I’m having trouble just saying what needs to be said—no more, no less—thinking of McCarthy’s writing style can be a big help. I am a big fan of John Green, who most classify as an author of “young adult” fiction. His stories may focus on high schoolers, but they tackle themes that I still find relevant, and he doesn’t dumb down his writing to suit the genre. One of my favorite books though is Père Goriot by Honré de Balzac. There are some passages in that novel that still blow my mind. Those passages are the ones I read when I feel stalled in pretty much any area of my life. You’ve got to love a good bildungsroman, and Père Goriot is an excellent one.


GM: Of course, being adamant about reading and writing certainly helps foster new ideas for fiction pieces—the “practice what you preach” method. Are there any other springs that feed inspiration into your fiction other than these two regiments?


MD: I feel like the best source of inspiration really is just life. Living itself can be crazy and silly. And things that have threads of reality in them of course always end up being the most interesting and relatable.


GM: Aside from these readings, there are many others taking place around town, featuring both local and visiting writers. Are there any in particular that peak your interest?


MD: The line-up for the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series this year looks terrific; I’m very excited about Junot Diaz in particular. I was also able—being freshly of legal drinking age—to attend a Poison Pen reading for the first time the other night and really enjoyed myself. Both the atmosphere and the readers were great. I’ve also attended Gulf Coast’s readings at Brazos Bookstore. I like seeing the incoming University of Houston graduate students read because they are where I would like to find myself at some point in my life as a writer.


Once again, prepare yourself for another eventful ménage à trois on August 21. You won’t want to miss it.


Amanda Scott

Assistant Fiction Editor

Up Glass Mountain We Go, To Literary Heaven

And now we are here. It is just past 7:30 on a Tuesday evening in July. My fellow comrades and I have spent time fighting rush hour traffic in cars, buses, and even on bikes to be here tonight. Concerning the dank streets and sky, we mumble soundlessly under our breath and in our minds: To hell with the rain.


Tonight, a modest crowd has gathered in the patio of Cafe Brasil, a local haunt for food junkies, film buffs, and, now, literary addicts. But this is no rehab, for we do not seek to detoxify or purify minds or bodies. Rather, we intend to feed that addiction with a drug we like to call Glass Mountain. Never heard of it? Well, that’s quite alright. We won’t ostracize you; not yet, anyway.


Glass Mountain is the University of Houston’s undergraduate literary journal. Its editors read, edit, and publish work from all over the nation. Not only is the journal open to all genres of literature, it also welcomes–and encourages–art submissions as well. However, rather than merely publish work in the pages of a slickly bound journal, Glass Mountain desires to transcend the restriction of parched, identical rectangular pages, and venture forward more openly. How will we do this? Through evening readings at Cafe Brasil every third Tuesday of the month.


Unfortunately, if you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, then you probably missed our kick-off reading which took place on Tuesday, July 24. If that is indeed the case, then you might consider marking your calendar for next month’s literary orgy which will take place on August 21.


Supplying both presence and prose, readers Brett Forsberg, Steven Simone, and Rebecca Wadlinger officially stole this reading series’ virginity. Gracing those in attendance with both fiction and poetry, the three readers certainly earned their keep, with pieces that showcase just why Houston–though still in its adolescence–deserves to be considered a literary hub.


Starting the night off, Steven Simeone shared a brief fiction piece; both dark and blunt in its delivery, the story’s intensity succeeded in capturing its audience. Not to be upstaged, Brett Forsberg’s story “Role Models” consummated themes of adolescence and discovery, embellishing these qualities with forceful bouts of comedy. Striking a balance between satire and sadness, both readers managed to set the night’s tone.


During the intermission, local musician Austin Smith roused the crowd with his eclectic blend of vocals, guitar, and keyboard. Relaxed, yet spirited, the virtuoso played a brief set before handing the stage over to Glass Mountain graduate student advisor Elizabeth Winston, who then introduced the final reader of the night: poet Rebecca Wadlinger.


“I wrote this when I felt terrible”: this was Wadlinger’s introduction to her first poem of the night, aptly titled “If You Feel Terrible,” followed by two others. With an ear and tongue for Norwegian, Wadlinger also read from a forthcoming poetry collection by Gro Dahle which she recently translated. According to Wadlinger, the collection follows a contemporary Norwegian surrealist tradition, and this disclaimer proved to be true, indeed.


Speaking of tradition, this reading is only the first of many to come, so prepare yourself for a great season of readers and good company.


The following photos piece together the night’s eventful reading:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amanda Scott

Assistant Fiction Editor

Robertson Prize Reminder

Just a reminder: the deadline to submit for the Robertson Prize is August 1st!  If you attended Boldface 2012, then submit a revised essay, story, or poem(s) that you workshopped during the conference.  $100 prizes will be awarded in Poetry and Prose, and submitted works will be considered for publication in Glass Mountain magazine.  Good Luck!

Write-A-Thon Contest Winners

Congrats to all who participated in the write-a-thon writing contests. We’re publishing the winners below for each category. The contest entries were all written within a two hour window during the write-a-thon, for prizes of $25 in each category.

Special thanks to our judges, Mat Johnson, Tony Hoagland, Kevin Prufer, and Aaron Reynolds.


Limerick Award Winner: Scott Chalupa

Judge: Tony Hoagland


A woman consumed with her weaving

discovered her husband was leaving

then opened her blouse

to all sorts of louts

and bedded her way through the grieving.



Shortest Story Award winner: Melissa Dziedzic

Judge: Mat Johnson


The bearded lady, passing a mirror, went to the store to buy scissors and a razor.



Haiku Award Winner: Rebecca Wadlinger

Judge: Kevin Prufer

The wooden swing moves
April’s wind is hard and strong
but the child is gone


Flash Fiction Winner: Jenni McFarland

Judge: Aaron Reynolds


When George came home, Alice was reading his email.  Without looking up, she clicked the message, marked it “unread,” and closed out the tab.  She left open her own email, and a few innocuous Wikipedia pages.

She was better at this game than he.  He always greeted her too eagerly when she came home; with shaky hands, he’d close out the porn he’d been watching before she made it over to kiss him hello.

Did you know Madonna went to U of M,” she said.  He kissed her, looking over her shoulder at the computer.  She knew he would.  “How was your day?”  She figured she’d clear the browser history when he went to wash his face.

Not bad,” he said, squeezing her shoulder.  “Mind if I hop on?  I need to email my professor.”

No problem.  He’d have no reason to suspect she’d been snooping.

She passed his laptop, then sat picking at her fingernails.

He wasn’t typing.  He watched her over the top of the screen.

She smiled.  “I’ve had ‘Like a Virgin’ in my head all day.”

He was clicking the touchpad, still not typing.  He’d probably gotten side-tracked reading Madonna’s Wikipedia page.

We should go to a concert,” she said.

Sure.” His monosyllabic response was disconcerting.  He still wasn’t typing.  Perhaps he was reading her email.  That didn’t worry her.  She kept the emails from his brother in a separate account.  So why the grunted response?  The narrowed eyes? He glanced between her and the screen.

Then it hit her.  She’d only closed his email out; she hadn’t signed out of the page.  He would have found his email already logged on.  She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t.  He just handed the computer back to her, and went to wash his face.









Franke Varca wins Discover Poetry Award

Huge congratulations to former Glass Mountain Editor Franke Varca for winning the 2012 “Discovery” Poetry Prize. Winners of the Discovery Poetry Prize are awarded $500, publication in The Boston Review and a reading at 92Y in New York on May 7th. Other winners this year include Mario Chard, Rebecca Hazelton, and Rosalie Moffett.

From 92y.org:

Now in its fifth decade, the “Discovery” Poetry Contest is designed to attract large audiences to poets who have not yet published a book. This marks the fifth year that the Poetry Center has partnered with Boston Review to present the contest.

Many winners have gone on to distinguished careers as poets, among them Marilyn Hacker, Mark Strand, Nick Flynn and Lucille Clifton.


Launch Party Pt. 2

Wow, thanks for everyone who came out and made the launch party a great success! We had a great attendance and some great readers (and that not so great dog next door, but that’s ambiance, right?)

Also, check out this awesome article The Daily Cougar wrote about us:

http://www.thedailycougar.com/2012/02/12/launch-party-an-antidote-to-stale-readings/

Thanks again to everyone who came out, and thanks again to all our supporters who couldn’t!

Launch Party

Come and join the staff members of Glass Mountain for the launch party, at 7:00 on February 9th at Antidote and listen to some of our wonderful contributors read while you sip on a delicious beverage!

What: Glass Mountain Launch Party
When: February 9th (2/9) at 7:00 PM
Where: Antidote
Who: All of your friends, the staff of Glass Mountain, our contributors!
Why: To support the magazine and your entire writing community!

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