Sep 18, 2014

Announcing the Winner of the 2014 John Gardner Fiction Contest!

Our new issue is here! And that means we finally get to announce the winner of our 2014 John Gardner Fiction Contest. We run this contest in honor of John Gardner (1933-1982), author of fiction, a dramatist, and beloved professor here at Binghamton University.

We would like to thank everyone who submitted their work for consideration. Without you, we wouldn't be able to function as a journal. Seriously.

Congratulations to Janet Schneider, whose work "The Positional Player" is the winning piece! She wins $500 and our admiration here at the journal. Take a look at the sneak peek of her work below.

Want to know how the story ends? Buy a copy for yourself!

Janet Schneider writes during the winter in Berkeley, CA and in Charlevoix, Michigan all summer long. Her fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in Traverse Magazine,, and She received her MFA in fiction writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. When she’s not writing, she’s riding her bike.

You can buy the latest issue of Harpur Palate with Schneider's winning piece included via Submittable. While you're there, take a look at our submission guidelines and send us something yourself!

Congratulations again to our 2014 John Gardner Fiction Contest Winner, Janet Schneider!

Sep 16, 2014

14.1 Cover Artist Meredith Britt

We are so thrilled to have Meredith Britt's artwork for issue 14.1. Isn't it gorgeous?

Meredith Britt, "The Horses Return to Vaughn"

More about Britt in her own words:

I make art because it feels good and I don't know what else to do.

Painting, drawing, sculpting and making cut-paper collages occupies some of my creative energy. I’ve always done artwork, and I have made it my main focus. I have a bachelors in fine art from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. I learn a lot about art just doing it. It's fulfilling, luxurious and necessary.

I was raised by yard gnomes under a tall train trestle in southern France who grew squash and beans in their back yard and studied Chekhov by candlelight. They taught me to speak, but I only remember a few words. Amoeba. Acupuncture. Anomalies. We didn't get past the As. I was a picky eater so they fed me pop tarts. I began making self-portraits from shiny objects, and wrote the pop tart cookbook, which is out of print.

Then one day a passing stranger in a donkey cart gave me a lift to the art supply store. I began to draw and paint. I took up finger puppets. People came from miles around. From that day on I worked backwards, carefully careless. I became the president of Harvard and ambassador to the U.N. Now I am in the witness protection program in Las Vegas, N.M., where I decorate pop tart wrappers and run a hostel for yard gnomes.

Long ago I lived in New York, Chicago, Westcliffe, Colo., Big Sandy, Mont., New Orleans, Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Kansas City, Ouray, Utah, St. Louis, Concord, Fla., and Rye, Colo.

Sunlight, the sky, other artists and their work, and my own art give me inspiration. My socks don't match. I’m a pretty good writer. I don’t make much money at that. This is an excerpt from my novel. No, wait – no, it isn't.

Britt is also part-owner of El Zocalo, a cooperative art gallery found in Las Vegas, New Mexico. They have a great website HERE, and a blog HERE.

Meredith Britt with sample artwork

Britt's artwork is sharp, fresh, and unique. "Horses Return to Vaughn" is a bright work of cut paper and we are proud to feature it on our issue. You can find more about her work at El Zocalo on Facebook!

Buy a copy of Harpur Palate 14.1 for your very own via Submittable.

Sep 15, 2014

Submissions For Our Contests Now Open

It's contest season! We're now reading submissions for our 2014 Milt Kessler Memorial Prize in Poetry and our 2014 Harpur Palate Creative Nonfiction Contest. You can read the details below or at our Contests Page.

The 2014 Milt Kessler Memorial Prize in Poetry

The entry fee is only $15 for this contest, and you can submit up to five poems for consideration per entry fee. Each entry fee includes a year subscription to Harpur Palate. The winner receives $500 and two contributor copies of their issue. We'll also highlight you on our website and promote you via social media. Multiple submissions for contests are allowed, and simultaneous submissions are encouraged.

Look at our archive page to see what sorts of work we've liked in the past. Better yet, purchase a subscription! You can do that via Submittable.

Our editors depend on reading blind submissions, so please don't include identifiable information on the manuscript itself. Leave that for the cover letter. If you'd like to submit a snail mail submission, you can address it to the appropriate editor and mail it to this address:

Harpur Palate
Binghamton University
English Department
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000

We prefer online submissions via Submittable. The deadline to submit is November 15, 2014.

The 2014 Harpur Palate Creative Nonfiction Contest

Like our poetry contest, the entry fee is only $15 and includes a year subscription to Harpur Palate. Please limit submissions to 8,000 words. The winner receives $500 and two contributor copies of their issue. We'll also highlight you on our website and promote you via social media. Multiple submissions for contests are allowed, and simultaneous submissions are encouraged.

Look at our archive page to see what sorts of work we've liked in the past. Better yet, purchase a subscription! You can do that via Submittable.

Our editors depend on reading blind submissions, so please don't include identifiable information on the manuscript itself. Leave that for the cover letter. If you'd like to submit a snail mail submission, you can address it to the appropriate editor and mail it to this address:

Harpur Palate
Binghamton University
English Department
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000

We prefer online submissions via Submittable. The deadline to submit is November 15, 2014.

Get Writing!

Aug 13, 2014

Sri Upadhyay Reviews Whip & Spur by Iver Arnegard

Whip & Spur
Iver Arnegard
Gold Line Press, 2014

ISBN: 9781938900099

"Already in that darkness": A Journey With Personal Demons

Iver Arnegard manages to lure a reader from the first two words: whip and spur, the namesake images of his work. From the title itself Arnegard’s writing does not waffle. It is consistent - in both the voices of its characters and the narrative - simultaneously transparent and sharp. Like the nominal “whip” and “spur” there is an immediate core of pain and control that is evident behind the writing and within the characters. Arnegard expertly explores the fallacy of control, the illusion that inspires one to become most afraid of that which they cannot police. The untamed wilderness Arnegard uses as his backdrop and the cruelty and isolation he presents through starkly-straightforward intimacy in his characters only serves to further unite his thematic elements. The reader feels the opposing forces of each narrative push and pull in an ultimate struggle between oneself and the individual will to persevere and survive. Often the ties that bind characters in Arnegard’s pieces, and the forces they wish to escape, are exactly what defines them and is so deeply rooted.

In “Ice Fishing” it becomes apparent that which the narrator wishes to escape is exactly what his identity is rooted in: his memories. The bodies of other characters are nameless, like the fish bones that weave throughout the piece. The names disappear and are gone until all that remains of the world Arnegard creates is that of universal appeal and importance: the snow and the sun, i.e. the earth itself. Appropriately, Arnegard begins with the theme of orienting, and directional imagery abounds in the first piece itself:

On a frozen lake a man is fishing. The sun – no warmer than a star – hangs over the spruce. Winter in Montana. The Pintlar Mountains rise to the east. Heavy timber blankets the foothills but only reaches halfway up the range. Those peaks are too harsh most of the year for anything but snow. To the west, where he came from, there are no mountains, just dense woods. After the road ended it was another four miles on foot. His snowshoes made the only tracks.

What is most remarkable about “Ice Fishing” is that the readers do not realize where they have been taken until they feel that cold mountain snap, breathe in the thin air, and find themselves asking – out loud, in my case – “is ‘she’ the ice or the sun?” I waited for the answer to come to me. In that moment Arnegard’s voice was silent – as though it winked from a different plane, reminding the reader of his or her journey to find answers in the wilderness like the characters try to find meaning through their dialogue with nature and with themselves, clinging to that lifeline as they decide which parts to keep and which weights to let go.

In “Recluse” from which the token line “whip and spur” is taken for the title, some of the most poignant images occur, leaving the readers with the tine of metal in their mouths as though they were the horse experiencing the pain of the bridle and bit. The woman of the story battles the memory of an abusive love and the demons of her past manifest as the enemies of her present: the parched land, dying cattle, and the lurking rattlesnake are always waiting, and always watching, in the final moment of confrontation Arnegard sets the final palpable scene:

Despite the wind tearing through kindling, I hear the shake of his rattle calling from under that log. In my mind, I am already in that darkness with him, inches from his hissing tongue . . . I wrap my hands around that top log and carefully move it to the side. As I squeeze my eyes shut, the rattle grows louder. Leaning above the opening, I push my sleeves back and reach my trembling hands down into the darkness.

In “Seventeen Fences,” I found the very first stanza to be so moving that I needed to read it three more times before proceeding. Lines such as “If you have an old map, you might still find Farland, North Dakota” set the stage of a soft story, as if you are seeing the landscape through the condensation of a whisky glass – muted and warm and the amber glow of summer’s late evening light that is beautiful, if a bit melancholy. Arnegard continues with more beautiful simple language: “and if you care to stop and untangle the years, you’ll find the last great boom of when the price of wheat was up, cattle prices up, even water in the rain gauge up,” before concluding: “sometime this winter an abandoned house in town will buckle, lurch to the side, and lean closer to the ground.” Arnegard continues strongly through the poem, with gems like the elegiac reflection of a mother’s passing: “One night her eyes dulled as dusk pulled the light from that room. The sun sank, purpled the western sky and sometime before dawn I dreamt a swarm of red-winged blackbirds rose from the fields. Eclipsed the stars and the moon.” Other characters come to play and make reappearances through the entire book and Arnegard describes them equally as lovingly, like the waitress, another of my favorites: “Coffee breaks she’d write poetry on the back of used guest check, her love for me under a smudge of ketchup, on the other side of someone’s eggs over easy, side of bacon and toast.”

Lest readers get too comfortable with the pastoral tone of “Seventeen Fences,” Arnegard reminds us with images of the very real darkness and danger, the forest just on the outskirts - of the town and our consciousness - with neat little lines tucked into the stanzas. For example, the first and final lines: “Up here summer swings open on hinges and a bear steps out, dazed, rubbing winter eyes when a cloud of sparrows swims overhead, sucked up into the sun,” and: “The last thing summer will see through its faded window is the shadow of a moose beneath a ribbon of green light,” respectively.

In stanza fifteen, readers get another glimpse of the continual contrast between man and his habitat, both victims of love and loss, with the line: “As my tractor makes furrows, hawks circle overhead, waiting for me to scare out a field mouse or a jackrabbit.” And the final paragraph of stanza sixteen: “My father fell in the north field, hands dirty, heart tight. I’ll move granite for the rest of my days and die, maybe the same way, a thousand stones beneath me, creeping toward the surface.” Finally the last two sentences of stanza seventeen suggest a retreat in the anger that pulses through some other passages in Whip & Spur, there is the slightest sigh, and then: “I walk over to look at the pulpit. When I tap it with my boot, a half-dozen prayers startle up from behind and flap into the light.”

In “What Rises” Arnegard completes the thematic journey full circle to the individual facing the wisdom of wilderness (depicted in “Ice Fishing”) and having the starkest of vital dialogues: with one’s deepest, truest self – the type of conversation many should have, but few ever will, and even fewer will in such committed poetic fashion:

Staring north, beyond Montana. So much potential. Never enough time.
. …What rises to the surface:
. …Memories. I have eight decades of them:
. …Years. Crawling by.

One can taste the acrid grit of memories and years, and that swallowing sense of recollection – the way it grows deeper and darker through reliving a memory. Arnegard understands that though the past might be bitter it is still a wholly-present part of the self, and one that must continually be acknowledged as the scale by which to measure the future.

For me, “Seventeen Fences” is most strongly the voice that is conveyed, and the poem is something special indeed. Human nature loves the incongruity of surprise as though it is a gift just for them alone, and all their own. Arnegard certainly delivers, and I am no exception in feeling this joy and delight, and I wonder then, if Whip & Spur is an exercise in control and drive for purpose, not power as the stories depict – and if it was, it was so finely executed.

Sri Upadhyay lives in New York and is a graduate student earning her PhD in Cognitive Psychology. She loves literature, language, and researches how we read and process meaning in text. Sri has been published most recently in Luna Negra, Alt Lit Press, Boston Poetry Magazine, Prosaic Magazine, Ghost House Review, and Flyover Country Review.

Jul 10, 2014

Dante Di Stefano Reviews Cynthia Marie Hoffman's Her Human Costume

Her Human Costume
Cynthia Marie Hoffman
Gold Line Press, 2014

ISBN: 9781938900105

A Filament of Smoke, Wandering

The twenty-six interweaving prose poems in Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s chapbook Her Human Costume glide like a skater pirouetting on black ice. The poems are written with an understated elegance: hushed, precise, and passionate. Hoffmann explores what it means to be a bundle of bones and sinews, memory and forgetting, draped in this, our human costume. From the vantage point of a new mother, the poems honor four generations of women and seek to unravel (and recouple) the countless silken ties of affection that connect sisters, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers. A mother singing the alphabet to her newborn questions how the needlework of language ushers us into the world and undoes us. A grandmother with dementia searches her walls for the levers that will initiate night. A sister recovering from surgery becomes a “weary animal…limping from the brambles,” who might disappear as “delicate wildlife…into the thick forest.” Hoffman invokes the fragility of such threshold moments, and summons the bravery that allows one to endure.

For Hoffman, the present is a place freighted with vanishings. The final poem in the collection, “There is no ghost in this house,” reads:
There is no ghost in this house. It is still a new house. No one has died here. People rarely die in their houses anymore, or are born in them. Yet the hall that leads to the stairway has its shimmerings, the stair its spontaneous crack. Three times in darkness I pass through to sit in the chair with the baby. She is the most alive thing in the house, her spirit most freshly settled in its body. The sound of the highway brushes against the window, and her heart is a plum springing on its stem. A warm sweet scent. If the ghost waits for me to cross from door to door, it surely touches me. If it breathes, it breathes in deep.
What haunts here is the precarious dance of the plum on its stem, the inevitability that the daughter will enter into the world outside this new house, where big winds blow, hearts break, and people age and die. However, “a warm sweet scent” suffuses this sorrow. Love buoys this mother and child, moors them to each other in this instant of shimmering. As the poet notes of her own mother in an earlier poem, a “mother’s imperfect selfless bones are made of helping.” All memory, Hoffman’s chapbook suggests, coheres around such imperfect selfless bones. The poem “I would say it is an ordinary day,” ends: “This is a memory of today. A filament of smoke wandering. A delicate, unraveling pink thread.” Bone provides the scaffold that holds up skin. Memory, the marrow that fleshes these poems.

Her Human Costume does what all good prose poetry should: it apprehends the ordinary in all of its unraveling strangeness. The poet Liz Rosenberg has noted:

It is an odd but true fact that a horizontal window lets in more light than a vertical window of the same square footage. Given this, it is even odder that we humans insist upon living such vertical lives, in vertical buildings, with vertical windows and views. 
Most verse—especially contemporary free verse—is also constructed along vertical lines. I mean this not only in the literal way, but also in the metaphorical sense of higher meanings. It is as if we are always looking up to something instead of at it.

Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s prose poetry avoids thinking vertically and favors horizontal truths; it privileges the glow of a streetlight let into a nursery from a bay window, rather than the luminary quality of the moon shining through a skylight. Hoffman transforms the fears, frailties, and loneliness that are the accoutrements of our human costumes. She makes of these motley scraps a humble outfit, stitched as artfully as the finest regalia. Hoffman says, “until we speak, we are merely creatures,” but when we enter into language we become a filament of smoke wandering.

Dante Di Stefano's poetry and essays have appeared recently, or are forthcoming, in The Writer's Chronicle, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, The Southern California Review, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize. He currently serves as a poetry editor for Harpur Palate and he was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.