Olive Amdur

Friday Reads: October/November 2023

Curated by OLIVE AMDUR

As this week of costumes, candy, and spooky Halloween cheer comes to an end, we at The Common are gearing up for the launch of our fall issue! Issue 26—full of vivid poems and prose from all over the world, as well as a special portfolio of writing and art from the migrant farmworker community—launches this coming Monday. After a brief Friday Reads hiatus, to get you excited about the issue, we return this month with recommendations from Issue 26 contributors Ned Balbo and Nora Rodriguez Camagna. Keep reading to see what’s been on their shelves this fall! 

Friday Reads: October/November 2023
Read more...

The Ala Wai Canal Fish Ate Grandpa’s Spit

By ANNA CABE 

The skyline of Honolulu Hawaii on a cloudy day

Honolulu, Hawaii 

This is not a metaphor. Was it before his funeral? During? After? But, whichever time, my sister and I recollected how, the first time we went to my grandparents’ beloved Hawaii, we strolled with Grandpa by the Ala Wai Canal, a wide polluted channel which bounds and drains Waikiki. How he demonstrated his peculiar gift: Lobbing globular, yellowing blobs of spit from his mouth into the murky water. Our wide-eyed awe, delight, as the fish surfaced, eating his saliva, lump by lump. We copied him, leaning as far as our tiny bodies could over the concrete guardrail, but our spit was thin, flavorless. That must be it, because there were no takers breaching the sluggish water. We tried again, years later, before he and my grandmother died, on our second trip to Honolulu, but no fish wanted us, anything of us. I have my theories. Grandpa had diabetes, among other conditions—perhaps his body chemistry had altered his spit, made it palatable, nourishing even, to the fish? More fancifully, was it age? The decades he had on us, thickening, flavoring his saliva with everything he had ever eaten, mountains of rice and filet mignon and lobsters and lambchops marinated with his closely guarded recipe. The Internet says, sagely, that the custom of spitting on bait before fishing is for good luck. What about spit could draw fish to you, to certain death and consumption? People can, in dire situations, use saliva to clean themselves. Perhaps spit can erase the coming danger from the fish, as if purifying bait of fishermen’s culinary intentions. I am thinking now of when I taught my students a poetry collection by a fellow Filipino diaspora writer, how they thought the crucifixions in the poems were metaphorical. Their gaping mouths when I explained that no, in my mother’s native Pampanga, people willingly and literally crucify themselves, a bloody tribute to their adored Christ. I come from a people whose faith is physical, enacted in flesh. Here in the Hawaii my grandparents loved, after they both died within the sacred forty days, one after the other, I can feel them here. Like they’re walking next to me, shadowing each step. Like if I spit into the canal, the water’s surface will break. 

The Ala Wai Canal Fish Ate Grandpa’s Spit
Read more...

The Common On Campus: November 9th and 10th

Issue 26 cover: light pink background with a turnip and greensThis fall, in its 26th issue, Amherst College’s award-winning literary magazine The Common will publish a special portfolio of writing and art from the farmworker and farm laborer community: the migrant, seasonal, and often immigrant laborers who make up much of the US agricultural workforce.

Co-edited by Miguel M. Morales, the portfolio includes work by twenty-seven contributors with roots in this community, most of whom started work in the fields as children. It reflects their diverse experiences—long hours and low pay, protests and picket lines, the fierce resilience of their families, the warmth of their communities, and the satisfaction of doing hard work will, among loved ones. 

The Common is a print and online literary journal with a mission to deepen our individual and collective sense of place: to reach from there to here. Since its debut in 2011, The Common has published nearly 1900 emerging and established authors from 53 countries, developed unique workshops and educational programs, and built a local and global community of writers and readers of all ages, all from our office in Frost Library. 

On November 9th and 10th, as a part of this mission, we will host two events on the Amherst College campus celebrating our Issue 26 farmworker portfolio and exploring the relationship between its questions of land, migration, and belonging and our home here in Western Massachusetts. Contributors Nora Rodriguez Camagna and Julián David Bañuelos, as well as portfolio co-editor Miguel M. Morales, will be guests at both events. 

The Common On Campus: November 9th and 10th
Read more...

Lay It Bare: Joy Baglio Interviews Anders Carlson-Wee

Headshot of Anders Carlson-wee Headshot of joy baglio


ANDERS CARLSON-WEE‘s 
Disease of Kings showcases a mastery of tone and voice, an uncanny ability to talk to you (reader) like a friend and confidant, while telling you the hardest truths— truths that might actually change your life, truths the world doesn’t necessarily want you to know. These poems are urgent without being demanding, confessional without being sensational, and indirectly lead us to reconsider the nuances of relationships, how our lives are structured, and ultimately the big questions of what matters most. Disease of Kings tells a fierce, uncompromising narrative, yet also manages to be deeply vulnerable and do away with pretense and artifice, embracing a primal need to “Lay It Bare,” as one of the poems is aptly titled.

JOY BAGLIO sat down with Anders to discuss Disease of Kings, touching on his impulse toward narrative, crafting vivid imagery, honing voice, and more. 

*

Lay It Bare: Joy Baglio Interviews Anders Carlson-Wee
Read more...

Excerpt from Radio Big Mouth

By ANA HEBRA FLASTER 

An excerpt from Radio Big Mouth. 

 

Juanelo, Cuba, November 1967

In our barrio, any kid worth her café con leche knew what the rumble of a motorcycle meant. Another family was about to disappear.

Until that night, I ran fast and free over Juanelo’s crumbling streets, hunting crinkly brown lizards in the dusty yards, gossiping with the omnipresent abuelas. The old women took care of us while our parents worked at places like the school on the corner or the canning factory down by the river. Four generations of my family lived all around me. No one shut her windows or doors. Everybody knew everything about everyone.

Excerpt from Radio Big Mouth
Read more...

Red Currants

By CATHARINA COENEN 

An excerpt from Unexploded Ordnance.

 

Sometimes red currants at the farmer’s market glow like dashboard warning lights, the sugar in my shopping basket drags on my arm like lead, and sweetness, beauty, danger taste the same. Sometimes my eyes project the letters from a sign outside the Licht- und Luftbad in Essen, Germany, onto the walls of a new world. Sometimes my retina and taste buds feel like my grandmother’s rather than my own. I cannot tell the currant story in third person, because, though she lived and told it, it is mine.

~

The woman stops in mid-greeting, mid-step; I nearly bash her knees with the picnic basket swinging from my hand.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, balancing the basket on my forearm to rummage through blanket, coffee flask, fork, spoon, making sure the bag of sugar is still wedged upright, between the currants and the white enamel bowl. She doesn’t answer, doesn’t move. I look up from the basket, then farther up at her face. She gazes past me; I turn to trace the line of her fixed stare. The entrance lodge to the Licht- und Luftbad looks the same as always: red geraniums, peeling paint, tack-bitten wood around the ticket booth window cluttered with signs—women this way, men that way, admissions prices, rules and regulations, opening times. Even the porter is the same.

Red Currants
Read more...

Read Excerpts by the Finalists for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2023

On the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing:

Migration is an increasingly common feature of modern life. Whether for personal or for political or environmental reasons, when people cross the many thresholds of our world—traversing landscapes, languages, traditions, and border lines—they do so often at great personal risk. Those who make this transformative passage reckon with the isolation of displacement as well as with the meaning and value of “belonging” on unfamiliar soil. Their stories are the connective tissue of a global society, speaking directly to our present and our future.

Since its inauguration in 2015, the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing supports the voices of writers whose work brings fresh urgency to crossing cultural and linguistic divides, questions the sense of self in an increasingly interdependent world, and lends a voice to what it means to leave one home for another and why these stories need to be told. The winner will receive $10,000 and publication with Restless Books. This year’s judges, Grace Talusan, Jiaming Tang, and Ilan Stavans, have selected the following four finalists.

Read Excerpts by the Finalists for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2023
Read more...

Excerpt from How to Be UnMothered

By CAMILLE U. ADAMS

An excerpt from How to Be UnMothered: A Trini Memoir. 

 

Come now. Peer through the fancy blocks in the walls’ top. And watch. Three little girls in a semicircle. One perched on the edge of the couch. Not sitting back comfortable. Looking on at the tableau, troubled. That’s me. 

Pan next to the other daughter sitting fold up in an armchair. Let your gaze rest there. See her caramel fingers fidgeting in her lap. See a smile flickering in and out of focus to reveal the gap where her permanent canine is still playing shy. That’s Ericka, who can’t seem to keep her lips stretched. Benign. In a smile. Nor can she keep the crease from her 10-year-old forehead. That practiced line. Ericka, who can’t seem to keep a fun expression. She’s overdone. And, doesn’t know now, in the third act, what is the Mummy-required emotion. 

Excerpt from How to Be UnMothered
Read more...