From the New Issue: Ashley Ryba

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Our newest cover features the art of Ashley Ryba. In the photograph, you’ll see a clay model of a city: like the Laurus, a miniature of something larger. But, look closer and you’ll see that what edges the buildings isn’t a park:  it’s a forest, or it was. This photo is a detail from Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a three-part installation representing the hidden processes of environmental degradation.

Tactfully provocative and refreshingly novel, Ryba’s works lend a new tone to environmental debates. Like good poetry, they welcome us with familiar forms (clay, grass, pop bottles, the cityscape), then, amicably and with a little humor, usher us to the turn:  The grass is fragile, or surrounds us rather than receding. The pop bottles are solar lamps. The city is not an end in itself. 

To view all of Ashley Ryba’s installations and follow her work, visit www.AshelyRyba.com.

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Ryba’s “Breathing Box” in downtown Lincoln, NE.

Poet Q & A: Alie Kloefkorn

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Q:  Your poem “Like Venus” was a great exploration of romantic tropes.Have you continued to explore those ideas in your work?

A:  Yes, the relationship between art and the body is a subject I continue to explore a lot. A different version of “Like Venus” became a part of the chapbook that I wrote for Dr. Laura Madeline Wiseman’s Advanced Poetry course last spring, in which I attempted to sort through and consider different perceptions of the bodyas an aesthetic object, as a sexual object, as a biological organism, as something that belongs to us but is forever eluding our understanding, as a foreign entity in which we live and which carries us through life. I think many people, many writers even, assume that writers are wholly authoritative figures, that they have complete control over what they write about and how they writethe pen is in the writer’s hand, after all. But as I continue to write creatively, I continue to surprise myself, to return to certain ideas or subjects that I have no conscious intention of addressing. The body is one of those subjects that is always creeping back into my pen. 

Q:  Have you continued to write? Do you plan to continue to be a part of the creative writing community?

A:  Definitely. I will write poems for the rest of my life. Really, it is all I ever want to do. And I would like to become more involved in the creative writing community, but that will require more effort and gumption on my part. I can be very shy, especially in informal social situations, and I overthink things when it comes to interacting with others. Tonight, for example, I am going to the Crescent Moon to listen to some poetry and to read some of my own. I am not nervous about reading my poems; that part is easy: you stand up in front of the mic, you read your poems, you sit back down. I am nervous about what follows, about approaching and interacting with the other writers, about fitting the right remarks into the right places in time. I suppose that is, in part, why I writeto compensate for the things I cannot say and the connections I have trouble making through conversation.

Q:  Has being published connected you with any new fans or fellow writers? Has it changed the way you approach your work?

A:  I do not like what being published does to my writing. Being published makes me think more and more about getting published: what will editors think when they read this poem? Which publication should I send this to? Where would it fit best? I also have no patience for the submissions process, either. I just want to write and think about the writing. But this desire is constantly at odds with the desire for people to read and hopefully glean something from my poems. I suppose I should just stop being stubborn and get my poems out there. 

Q:  How do you approach your work? (Do you have a particular process you come back to, or is it always new?)

A:  The most difficult part of the process for me is simply beginning. I can be a perfectionist, and that often times prevents me from writing anything at all. So I usually begin by free-writingno particular subject, not even a particular form, just whatever comes to mind. Most of what I put down during this step is complete nonsense, but it gets my mind moving and, every so often, I get something good out of it. That something can be a single word, a sentence, an idea for an entirely different poem. One of the poems I published in Laurus a couple of years ago, I think it was titled “Going On,” has this last line: “and their going on is hope if I ever saw it.” “Hope if I ever saw it”that is a line that came up when I was free writing. I wrote it at the bottom of a page that was full of crap, full of gibberish and dead ends and craziness, but then that line came out and I knew it was something good, something I could build from. I really do believe that if you want to write something good, you need to brave the bad for a while.

Q:  Do you have any advice for other creative writing students—a mindset or a piece of wisdom—that has helped you creatively?

A:  One of my favorite quotes is by Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” How freeing is that? As I mentioned before, I have trouble beginning my poems, so to keep in mind that the first draft isn’t supposed to be profound or beautiful or even interesting is very comforting, and very freeing. To build on that idea, any advice I would have for fellow writers is to not be afraid. Never be afraid of trying new things in your writing. A lot of the time, what you try won’t work, but that is okay. Laugh it off and try again. You will always learn something.

Q:  What have you been up to lately?

A:  I’m working on a chapbook right now, based on my experience working at Nebraska Book Company over the summer. I almost have a complete rough draft of about 20 or so poems, so I hope to publish that eventually.

Q:  Have you been published anywhere else?

A:  Not recently, though I did just send off some poems to The Sun, which is my favorite literary magazine—it prints such rich and interesting content. And I also post poems weekly on my blog (snowchildpoet.com)

Q: What are your current plans?

A:  Aw man, that question again. I really don’t know. All I really want to do is write, so I suppose I’ll find a job that keeps me sheltered and fed and write in my spare time. I am both excited and terrified to see where things go.

Kloefkorn’s poems “Like Venus” and “The Problem with 20/20 Vision” appear in the 2013 issue of Laurus.

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Art detail by Georgina Vieane

Writers’ Corner: Mentor Interview

Award-winning poet, Creative Writing instructor, and local workshop organizer Sarah Chavez discusses publishing, diversity, and the rewards of writing in the first episode of Writers’ Corner.

Author Q & A: Adriana Martinez

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Q:  Your story “Ten Cent Pistol” was vivid and terrifying. Have you continued to explore violence and trauma in your writing?

A:  It’s so interesting that you ask this question because I think that it ties closely into the way I view “Fiction.” The way I see it is that nothing is every truly and completely fiction. So much truth goes into everything that is written whether or not the writer intends it. This is especially true for “Ten-Cent Pistol.” Though I don’t know of anyone that has murdered their parent/guardian by lacing their drugs, I do know of many that are in similar situations that Mona was in. The story is nowhere near perfect and doesn’t do “the truth” the kind of justice I intended, but that is what I try to do with my writing - tell the stories that seem too fantastic to be true, and yet have so much truth in them. I try to bring the lives that seem to be on the fringes of the collective psyche and give them enough substance so these voices have to be heard. 

Q:  Have you continued to write creatively? Do you plan to continue to be a part of the creative writing community?

A:  Oh absolutely, yes! I absolutely will continue to be a part of the creative writing community. 

Q:  Has being published connected you with any new fans or fellow writers? Has it changed the way you approach your work?

A:  To my knowledge being published hasn’t

connected me with fans or fellow writers. What has connected me with writers and readers though is the UNL Writing Center (an amazing place, you must go) and my various writing classes. The way I approach my work hasn’t changed significantly. I suppose I didn’t realize it might. 

Q:  How do you approach your work? Do you have a particular process that you come back to?

A:  From what I understand, my process is not so similar to other writers I know. Most writers I know spend time each day writing. I don’t. I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters and the situations they are in. For example, the story I most recently wrote took about 8 months of planning. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think about the characters or narrative arc every second of every day. Yet in moments when my thoughts wandered, I found myself thinking of the characters and thus they began evolving. I have learned to be patient. Really patient. As soon as I start trying to force something out before it’s ready it’s complete garbage. The characters, though it might sound strange, let me know when they are ready to be put down on paper. In an interview Karen Russell said something to the effect of “[writing is] taking dictation from imaginary people… I like it mostly.” I would have to agree completely with her.

Q:  Do you have any advice for other creative writing students? A mindset or a piece of wisdom that has helped you creatively?

A:  Listen to yourself and really hear yourself. Don’t listen to anyone tell you what your writing process should be, or what you should or shouldn’t be writing! For some, the grueling process consists of writing “x” many words a day or doing “x” many exercises really furthers their work. That isn’t the case for me and for a long time I tried to be “that” writer and I grew to hate writing stories. I would have this ideal image of what I wanted the story to be in my head and it never came out right. It wasn’t until I became patient and allowed the evolution of stories characters that writing became enjoyable again. I would also suggest reading everything you can. Everything. Cereal boxes, soup cans, street signs, fishing magazines, everything. Take every writing class that you can! You don’t think you’re a poet? Fine! Take all the poetry writing anyway! It will help you grow! Be fearless. I would also suggest finding a group of readers/writers that you trust. Those people are invaluable. I am so lucky to have the group that I do. 

Also, write smut. Shock yourself. Shock others.

A conversation between Neko Case and Sherman Alexie

 Herein, musician Neko Case discusses art and writing with author Sherman Alexie. You can catch a screening of his film Smoke Signals for free at Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center on Monday at 7 PM. On Tuesday night, Alexie will host a reading and discussion at the same time. Alexie is visiting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on behalf of Prairie Schooner’s winter 2012 issue launch.

McSweeney's: In Which I Fix My Girlfriend's Grandparents' WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero

A humorous essay from McSweeney’s website on the trials and triumphs of the modern age. Here’s an excerpt:

The warrior closed his eyes, summoning the power of his ancestors, long departed but watchful still. And then with the echoing beep of his digital watch, he moved with deadly speed, wrapping his battle-hardened hands around the power cord at the back of the Router.