Tom Sleigh speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his poems “Last Cigarette” and “Apology to My Daughter,” which appear in The Common’s fall issue. In this conversation, Tom talks about his time as a journalist in Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, and Libya, and how that experience comes out in his poetry. He also discusses the process of putting together his new poetry collection from Graywolf, The King’s Touch, and how he sees the current Ukrainian refugee crisis playing out differently than crises in other parts of the world with less established infrastructure.
Podcast: Tom Sleigh on “Last Cigarette” and “Apology to My Daughter”
I knew Vega Baja like the hairs on my feet. I used to work part-time en Tortuguero BBQ before landing in Florencia with the mongers. I walked and walked. It would be days until I reached Memoria, but I knew someone dear that still lived in Vega Baja, so I figured it fine to stop and visit my old friend.
R is for raw sewage, riverine wetland, rubbish, rookery of herons and egrets, rusting barrels of toxic waste. I try to imagine all of this at Pig’s Eye Lake. Surrounding it, marsh, cottonwoods, floodplain, bluffs above the great river. It’s a place the Dakota consider sacred, James Rock says. Čhokáŋ Taŋka, the Dakota call it: the big middle. I try to imagine the burial mounds that were blown up with dynamite, and railyards, locks and dams, dredging, and all the household trash that was dumped in the marsh, the industrial debris: lead-acid batteries, solvents, electrical transformers, burnt sludge. Eight million cubic yards, some of it fluorosurfectants—the so-called forever chemicals needed to make non-stick frying pans, stain-repellent for couches and rugs—the PFOS that have spread everywhere, now taint my blood, and yours, and every creature’s.
There are two Russias in Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s passionate and accomplished debut short-story collection, What Isn’t Remembered, winner of the 2021 Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize. The geographical country, where many of the stories take place, and the mental state of Russianness, which characters carry with them in the diaspora. There is also America, an alluring, often disappointing exile—and there are Americans, mostly well-meaning, who struggle to live with their mercurial Russian lovers, spouses, friends, or children, whose Russianness comprises the psychic ramifications of political and historical traumas going back multiple generations—World War II, Soviet rule, the chaotic break-up of the USSR, or the Armenian genocide, to name a few.
Review: What Isn’t Remembered by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry
The track is too slick, too cold. As the preacher intones Let us drive fast and cheer hard in Jesus’ name amen, the mist is already falling over us, the drivers, the life flight helicopter at rest on its helipad over the rise. Engines fire and the air goes thick with pressure. In minutes the leaders spin into the wall’s invisible give. Unlike Daytona or Talladega, where drivers shimmy from the windows of their wrecks, walking bruises at best—this is a minor crash. Its smolder mingles with exhaust, burning rubber, spent fireworks, cigarette smoke sent into the low cloudbank by a man ten paces past the No Smoking sign. This is New Hampshire: live free or die.
In this interview, Nathan McClain’s mode of inquiry evokes substantial and insightful responses from John Murillo. The ultimate craftsman, Murillo understands the value of writing from a space, from a feeling, instead of toward a subject. In other words, he does not make an event of writing a poem. His practice is uncorrupted by a chase for validation. Instead, we understand the time and dedication necessary to achieve Murillo’s exquisite lyricism and masterful use of form.
John Murillo’s most recent book, Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry and the NAACP Image Award. He is an assistant professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Wesleyan University.
How to Write on a Ledge: An Interview with John Murillo
The night Barack Obama was elected president, Roger Sinclair and his family gathered in his living room to watch the results come in. And there Roger—lifelong Democrat, city councilman, local party chair—drank a bottle of Merlot and elbowed his granddaughter Emily in the cheek, breaking her orbital socket.
Before the incident, the evening had been a happy one. Roger’s son Joel and daughter-in-law Colette were as rapt as he by the momentous events. All agreed that John McCain (a patriot, to be sure) was mired in the past, while the young candidate from Chicago—his beautiful family, his dazzling smile—represented an optimism the country hadn’t seen in a generation.
“It’s a return to Camelot,” Roger said, lifting his glass, though Joel’s and Colette’s puzzled faces told him they missed the reference.