Monday, November 22, 2021

2021 Pushcart Prize Nominations

 The Worcester Review is pleased to announce this year's nominations for the Pushcart Prize:


"Indelible in the Hippocampus" by R.J. Lambert

"Late Service" by Margaret Lloyd

"She Was All We Knew c. 1968" by Ellen June Wright

"Memento Vivere" by Jane Zwart


"Motherlode" by Catherine Dupree

"I Lived on the Mountain, and I Was Happy" by Casey McConahay

Thursday, May 20, 2021

An Interview with Carolyn Oliver, New Editor of The Worcester Review

Carolyn Oliver is The Worcester Review’s new editor in chief. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, FIELD, Indiana Review, Copper Nickel, Michigan Quarterly Review, Thrush, Booth, The South Carolina Review, Tin House Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, 32 Poems, Southern Indiana Review, America, and Tahoma Literary Review, among other publications.

Oliver’s writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net in both fiction and poetry. She is the winner of the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review, selected by Linda Gregerson; the Louisville Literary Arts/The Louisville Review Writer’s Block Prize in Poetry, selected by Maggie Smith; and The Worcester Review’s Frank O’Hara Prize, selected by Rachel McKibbens. 


Alex Pietrick is a current student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, studying computer science and data science. He enjoys reading literary fiction and writing short stories. 

This interview was conducted through email in May 2021.


ALEX PIETRICK: You have pursued the subject of literature through a plethora of different perspectives, such as a writer, scholar, and editor. How have these different approaches changed your relationship with the craft?


CAROLYN OLIVER: I hope that those different seasons in my writing life (which have overlapped, sometimes)—have made me a sensitive writer and reader. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to spend so much time with writing, with writers.


PIETRICK: What pieces of writing have had the greatest impact on you, both as a person and a writer?


OLIVER: Anne Carson: Glass, Irony and God

John Donne: Songs and Sonnets

Carol Ann Duffy: Selected Poems

Camille T. Dungy: Guidebook to Relative Strangers

Claudia Emerson: Late Wife

Ross Gay: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Li-Young Lee: Rose

Louise Erdrich: The Round House

Patricia Smith: Blood Dazzler

Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway


I stopped at ten books; I could go on.  


PIETRICK: In your Frank O’Hara prize-winning poem “Rhododendrons,” you use fragments of gothic and depressive imagery, such as “heavy draggers dragging” and “death-mask maps” to describe these rhododendrons. I haven’t seen flowers described in such a way before. How did you come to use such language in order to convey the central themes of this poem? 


OLIVER: It’s always interesting to learn how others read one’s work; I hadn’t thought of that imagery as either depressive or gothic. I wrote “Rhododendrons” a few years ago, so it’s tough to remember the compositional process in detail, but I think I was trying to describe as best I could what the leaves looked like after the ice storm, within the context of the poem’s interest in ghosts and doubleness and loss. 


PIETRICK: What do you look for in a poem when reading for The Worcester Review?


OLIVER: I want to be surprised—by a word, a phrase, an image, a sound, a form, a turn, a narrative, a persona, a detail of place or time—any of the myriad choices poets make in their work. 


PIETRICK: As the new editor for The Worcester Review, what are your plans for the future of the magazine? 


OLIVER: I’m so grateful for all the care and hard work Kate McIntyre has put in to ensure that the The Worcester Review is a vibrant, thought-provoking journal; I hope to continue that good work as the next steward of the review. We look forward to updating the TWR website and plan to make more of our contributors’ fine writing accessible online. I’m excited to continue to celebrate the literary heritage of Worcester County and Central Massachusetts, and to welcome more voices to the pages of The Worcester Review. I particularly hope writers from marginalized communities—BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S, immigrant, disabled, and low-income writers, among others—will feel encouraged to share their work with The Worcester Review and its readers. 



Saturday, December 12, 2020

TWR 41 on its way to subscribers; sad news about the passing of a contributor

Volume 41 of The Worcester Review is now on its way to subscribers far and wide, and our excitement about the issue's publication is tempered by sad news: we have just learned of the passing of a feature contributor, Soren Ambrose, of complications from COVID. 

The feature this year, edited by Josna E. Rege and Ross Griffiths, spotlights the social justice work and poetry of South African anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus. Below please find the table of contents for the feature and Ambrose's remembrance of Brutus, co-written with his wife Njoki Njehu. If you would like to read more about Soren Ambrose's life and work, please visit this link. We at The Worcester Review send our condolences to Soren Ambrose's family and friends. 

FEATURE SECTION: “Stubborn Hope”: Dennis Brutus’s Poetry and Persistence through Hard Times

Josna E. Rege and Ross Griffiths,  Introduction

Tyrone August, Dennis Brutus: The Making of the Man

Carol J. Gray, “Think of them, the people who are not free”: Politics, Poetry, and Political Asylum

Craig McLuckie, Dennis Brutus, The Stubborn Siren

Beverly Bell, Dennis Brutus: A Small Tribute to a Giant Man

Njoki Njehu and Soren Ambrose, Remembering Dennis Brutus, Passionate Activist

Ross Griffiths, The Dennis Brutus Collection at Worcester State University

Remembering Dennis Brutus, Passionate Activist

 by Njoki Njehu and Soren Ambrose

The 50 Years Is Enough Campaign (later Network) was founded in advance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s fiftieth anniversary in 1994. Both of us became involved with the cam- paign in its early days, before we met at one of its steering group meet- ings in early 1996. We stayed involved until 2005, when we relocated to Kenya (Njoki’s home).

The membership roster of the campaign, basically a list of endors- ers, had a number of intriguing groups, but none more so than Africa Network in Evanston, IL, just outside Chicago. The contact person was Dennis Brutus.

Dennis Brutus! Njoki had met him once at a conference of the African Literature Association and, like her, Soren knew well his reputation as a poet and the anti-apartheid campaigner who had succeeded in getting South Africa ejected from the Olympics. Now there seemed to be the possibility of working directly with him.

In 1997 or so, we traveled from Washington, D.C. for a conference at the University of Chicago, where Njoki was presenting (and Soren was an alumnus). We learned that Dennis was on another panel and arranged to meet him. We had dinner at the Medici and talked for hours. Dennis, by that time at the University of Pittsburgh, made clear that he was available for speaking roles, lobbying, and whatever else we might need him for.

Soon Dennis was making regular trips to Washington for meetings with the IMF and World Bank and with members of Congress. He rou- tinely stayed in our apartment, sleeping on a foldout sofa. One time he neglected to tell us he was coming; we found him huddled, asleep, on the floor outside our apartment door when we got home close to midnight. He had no complaints, but Sam, the overnight front desk security guard from Sierra Leone, was furious that the “old Professor” was locked out.

We soon discovered that Dennis relished speaking his mind, not with- out a twinkle of mischief, when engaging those with power. Once in an elevator at the World Bank, he turned to World Bank employees, who were obviously from the Global South, and asked, “How can you look at yourselves in the mirror every day knowing you are selling out your own countries and people?” At an event at MIT, he refused to speak at the podium after a World Bank official spoke, announcing that he wanted to distance himself from both the person and from neoliberalism. At the IMF/WB 2000 annual meetings in Prague, he confronted an old ally, Mamphele Ramphele, erstwhile partner of Steve Biko but by then a man- aging director at the World Bank. “Steve Biko is turning in his grave,” he shouted; “Let the man rest,” she shot back.

Dennis was an activist, mentor, teacher, and poet. When he stayed with us we would find fragments of draft poems in various places. He always carried an old-fashioned fountain pen with him; he only wrote poetry with that. After he came to Nairobi in 2007 for the World Social Forum (WSF), he left us a Kenya travel book with a draft poem scribbled in the margins.

He was also a genuine absent-minded professor, but one with a lot of luck. On one trip to Washington we had managed to get a meeting with David Bonior, then the Minority (Democratic) leader in the House of Representatives, on the strength of his promised presence. A few hours beforehand he went on a bookstore expedition, and he was late getting back to our office. While Njoki waited at Bonior’s office, Soren rushed him down to the Capitol. He made it in time; the Congressman really wanted to meet the anti-apartheid hero.

But it turned out he had left his jacket, with some papers in it, in the taxi he took to the office. There were dozens of taxi companies, so it was impossible to figure out who to call and Dennis didn’t even remember the color of the vehicle. The next day, Dennis hailed a cab and it turned out to be the same one, still carrying his jacket.

In Kenya at the time of the WSF, he lost his wallet and passport, per- haps to a pickpocket. They were turned in to the South African embassy. Something similar happened to Dennis in Porto Alegre, Brazil at one of the early World Social Forum meetings.

Too many times to count, Dennis offered to take us out for dinner when he stayed with us. Virtually every time he would find in the end that he had left his wallet at our apartment. Could we pay, and he would reimburse? He always did. And he saved us in Addis Ababa when we fool- ishly assumed we’d be able to use ATMs and the internet, back at the time of the African Social Forum there in 2003. He was able to cash a check at the state bank and give us the cash we needed to cover accommodations for those we had brought to the event. We paid him back too.

Dennis was the highlight of every rally we held, not because of his reputation, but because of the fire and energy this visibly old man brought to everything he did and said. He was an inspiration and an activist father- figure for many of us.

He was not sentimental. He could tell stories of hiding Nelson Mandela, or breaking rocks with him on Robben Island, but he had no illusions about the ANC or Mandela’s presidency. He saw him, along with other top ANC officials, selling out the Freedom Charter for the false promises of neoliberal economics peddled by the World Bank.

Neither of us had been to South Africa when we first worked with Dennis. We finally went in late 1999 for the founding conference of Jubilee South, the Global South/borrowing countries’ own debt cam- paign. Soon after we got back, we flew to Seattle for the demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meeting there. We spent an evening with Dennis at a restaurant celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday and our third wedding anniversary. We shared our impressions of South Africa and got his insights.

By that time, Dennis was starting to spend more time in South Africa. On occasion he would fly there for a single event and be back in the U.S. two days later. As his health declined in 2008, he moved there to live with his son, with whom he had a continuing debate about the younger Brutus’s work in the ANC government. We last spoke with him on the phone in 2009, when he complained that the doctors were telling him he had gout—“a rich man’s disease!” Just a few weeks later, he was gone.

We miss Dennis every day. The struggles we’re involved with now—on inequality, tax justice, and the same old IMF/World Bank conditions— would benefit greatly from his perspective and his energy. But his sly grin, his Afrikaans-inflected accent, his cackle when he told people his “underground name” in South Africa—Daffodil—still seem entirely pres- ent to us. Dennis Brutus, ¡Presente!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

From Volume 40: "You Wore Your Canoe" by Alice O. Duggan

You Wore Your Canoe
by Alice O. Duggan

on top of your Ford Fairlane,
a signal I read, a sign saying single,
strong arms and back, competent knots,
wants to drive north longs to launch

canoe in lake water, hear white pines sing
in the wind we’ll stake our tent there —
somewhere along the way I became we,
mine became ours, there was a leap

in your reasoning, strengthened by your happiness,
by summertime and your mop of thick hair,
your easy tiger stride,
your easy tears.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

From Volume 40: "The Celebration" by Alison Ruch

The Celebration
by Alison Ruch

On the Wednesday that Abe would die, he sent a text message to all of his friends. “I want costumes. I want Halloween, and I want to go out to the pub.” It was early in the morning, and some were still in bed; others had started their days at desks. Some farmed and had been up for hours and didn’t see the message until lunchtime. Some wrote back, disbelieving but wanting to play along: “When?”
Abe was so nearly gone. He was now, always, attached to a bag of morphine; he was supposed to have died yesterday. Some friends wrote back to applaud the spirit of the invitation: “We love you, Abe. We are thinking of you. Let us know if we can bring you anything.” The rest did not reply. They had said their goodbyes, and it was hard to find words after goodbye.  All else seemed redundant or like a dragging out of stilted formality when what they wanted to remember—what Abe should carry with him—were the good times, the spontaneous flares of joy and grief, for they had shared each in all the years together.  
At four o’clock, he sent another message: “Tonight—Costumes, the pub! Please come.”  
The friends had closets full of costumes. Abe was a regular in community theatre productions, and the performers and crew had become his large family. His parents were gone; his wife was gone; his children were far away. It was this assembled family with whom he wanted to spend his final hours. Moira and Colin and Ken and Stephan, Colette and Joseph, T and Big Bill. He wanted to spend these hours with Meg Wylie and Josiah, Lucette Jones-Kalep and Molly Bovarn; yes, especially Molly Bovarn. Oh, those eyes he’d memorized, an arresting seaweed green. He knew always which way they would turn and direct, thoughtfully absorbing story. She danced healthily into her late fifties. They had been through storms and sunsets for all of these yearseach of them marriages and childrenand here they still were, knowing each other, really knowing.  
But it was Ken who went to see Abe first on the day he would eventually die. He knocked and waited, and the longer he waited, the more he thought this is it. But Abe came to the door, with his morphine, looking gaunt and pale as he had for months. “It’s a celebration,” he said, and he smiled, and through his atrophied muscles and thin flesh, his joy was visible. He gestured weakly, like a much older man, separating his wrists and curled hands as wide as they would spread, to say it was a celebration, an expansive celebration, and that everyone was welcome and invited. Ken knew this meant Molly in particular, but Abe wanted a crowd, a party, and so Ken started making the calls.
It was easy to gather the troops once they knew Abe meant business. What do you say to a man on his deathbed? You say yes; you say yes!  
They dressed quickly, throwing on clown suits and boas and masks, top hats and tails and rabbit ears, princess gowns and face paint and anything that was out of the ordinary. Ken helped Abe into tuxedo pants, a clean white T-shirt, and a jacket, and he looked dapper despite his near translucence. He looked alive. He was alive now; he would die later.
They paraded into the pub to the sounds of gawking others. A little boy cried in terror at Ken in his lizard mask. He took off the mask and smiled kindly at the boy, now curled in his mother’s arms. “I’m so sorry,” he said, but he did not explain.  
The waitress assessed the crew and looked overwhelmed by their number or startled by their dress, and Josiah tried to tell her that they were there to celebrate the life of a dear friend, and she blinked with a semblance of understanding, but the real understanding came when Abe spoke to her: “It’s Halloween,” he said with all of the gusto he could manage, and it was not much gusto, and it was clear that he was a dying man. They ordered pitchers of beer and fries for Abe that mustn’t have salt, and the waitress blinked back tears and shook off chills; she was inexperienced with life and with death.  
Molly went to the bar and asked if there was any way to play New Orleans brass, and the manager, who knew both life and death, tapped a button and made it so, and the pub swelled with brass and life, and most of the people had no idea that this Halloween in August was Abe’s first and last Halloween in August.  
Talk was jokes and stories, and the tone teetered between birthday celebration and joyful wake. There were warm pauses, too, in between.
Big Bill recalled the time when Abe knocked over a set wall, exuberantly dancing as Fagin in Oliver!
Lucette and Molly teased about the time he had them each convinced she was his only girlfriend. They laughed about the years it took for them, the two humiliated women, to form a friendship outside of Abe, and thank god they did because what would they do without each other now? Times like these.  
And talk of times like these got them on Henry who had died a few years back from throat cancer, and no doubt he would be at the table now, were he living. He’d have polished a pitcher, solo. He’d be dressed, they all put in guesses, as Superman or Zorro or some such brawny and heroic figure. He’d be trying to outshine Abe, the dying man, they all laughed.  
Abe laughed, too, and he missed Henry, and he thought—but not for long—about how it would be for them to miss him, to miss Abe. It would be sad, he knew, for each of them in a different way. Sad for Molly to miss her riverside walking companion. Sad for Meg and Josiah not to see him at the coffee shop in his usual spot, drinking decaf and flirting wildly with the counter girls. Just like they felt the big, cool place-holder that was where Henry had been, they would feel it with him, with Abe, though it would be physically smaller, and, maybe, he fancied, a little warmer. Bah! he thought, because he knew he could think happier thoughts on the night he was going to die: warm friends, crisp fries, Molly and music and everyone dressed for his favorite holiday. Even the weather was right, this oddly cool and drizzly summer night.
Ken sat back and took it in—the crowd and the costumes, his dear friends and the rambunctious music. He smiled at the waitress who he imagined pieced together more and more the story of Abe, and he saw she was teary, and it made him feel teary and connected to her, but he knew better, much better, than to spoil this night with tears. There was plenty of time for crying and not nearly enough time for this celebration.  
And it wasn’t long before Abe grew too tired to sit up, and so they gathered by the door of the bar, preparing to go, and, just with luck, “When the Saints” rang through the speakers, and the smiling and dancing, costumed crew went marching on into the cool and rainy August Halloween night, clapping and celebrating and feeling their veins draw life from their hearts, working like the vines of flowering pumpkins.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

From Volume 40: "In Memory of Whitey Bulger" by William Doreski

In Memory of Whitey Bulger
by William Doreski

Raking wet leaves into heaps
isn’t like harvesting souls
or combing the ocean for pearls.
The air shivers with effort.
The leaves still hostage to trees
rattle in dull old colors
painters abandoned when abstract
expressionism stripped the land.

You rake as hard as I do but
with conviction I can’t muster
except as a crude memorial.
The famous gangster I met
decades ago in a Southie bar
has died in prison, his corpse
a mangle of obscene gestures
inflicted by friends of enemies.

I’m raking these leaves in memory
of the beer he bought me, a glass
of Miller’s on tap. He murdered
eleven people and subverted
the FBI with his ghostly charm
and surefooted gift of gab.
His small talk was a tombstone
of the purest Carrara marble.
His eyes were flakes of mica
iridescent in the low bar light.

I rake the leaves so pungently
they decay right here at my feet.
You never met him, never saw
half of Boston cringe in his breath,
big men dropping their feral gaze,
women shrinking in the new clothes
they’d bought in Filene’s Basement.
The drab October afternoon
falls on its face and whimpers.

You sense the change in the air
but don’t realize how the death
of one man perfects a scene
for a moment of abject glory.
I rake and rake, then wheelbarrow
the wrack to compost heaps
at the edge of the woods where
tonight a bear will tumble forth
with playful appetite raving.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

From Volume 40: "We Could've Gone to Minot" by William Snyder

We Could've Gone to Minot
by William Snyder

my father said, but he’d made his case
to the Air Force—seniority, specialty—for
Cape Canaveral. So we drove, in 1963,
from upper New York state, my father, two
brothers and me in the Olds, and finally,
Florida’s east coast, early morning,
and the bridges across the Indian River,
the Banana—drawbridges then. Florida
damp and flat and shimmer, and three boys
and a man alone from Plattsburg
in the blue and yellow light, the water
like rippled mercury beneath the bridges.
My father, a Major, on the business end of
missile into space—how he
felt then, arriving with three boys—he’d
been in Florida alone for months away from
home, away from kids, away from wife—
my mother—my mother who stayed in
Plattsburg with a lover, with a job—her first—
nightshift waitress at a roadhouse.

We boys quiet as we rolled across
those bridges, down this morning,
no boats sailing, sunlight shifting onto
wave-face and trough—it hurt my eyes—lidless
they seemed. Me, seventeen, who would
discover Dylan soon—an LP
in a record bin in the air base store—
me, who knew Baez already, who knew
much much more about my mother, more
than my father knew himself, my father
who I hated for it all. He hadn’t had
an inkling of what she’d say when he returned.
Goodbye, she’d said. And in that car, as we
turned south on A1A, beach and sea
on our eastern horizon. I didn’t think about
him—who he could have talked to,
explained to, confessed to after his trip to
claim us, after he heard my mother.
And how his heart might’ve broken even
more there, in Florida, with just the slightest
extra flex—a drop of rain, a slow flat tire,
a son who would never ask his father’s heart.