The Flashiest Flash Prose By:Eric Nelson

In my flash prose course, I include a couple days of reading/discussing/writing aphorisms. Students sometimes find this part of the course surprising if not downright odd at first. But I like to think that they come to agree with me that these tiny bursts of language, usually no longer than a single sentence, are the flashiest prose of all, both in the flash of time it takes to read one and in the flash of awareness it triggers. Not-so-good aphorisms are not much more illuminating than a bumper sticker, but the best have the force and resonance of a short poem.

My interest in aphorisms began with my mom. She was a repository of proverbs, maxims, folk sayings, quotable quotes. She seemed to have some catchy-sounding bit of wisdom for any occasion. She fired them off without attribution, so it took me a while to discover that her expressions weren’t of her own making but came from a variety of sources, ranging from the Bible to Ben Franklin to Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde to who-knows-who. I still don’t know the source of some of them.

One of her often repeated sayings was “to you a swallow is a summer,” which she said almost exclusively to my dad. I don’t remember any specific context for this comment, nor did I understand what she was telling him (though I could tell it wasn’t a compliment). Nevertheless, I loved the sound of that phrase and the authority of it, even though for a long time I thought “a swallow” referred to what you do with your throat, which made the statement all the more mysterious and fascinating.

After a while my sisters and I took up the cudgel of that expression and began to wield it as a retort to any perceived insult/threat. For example, my sister might say to me: Take a shower, you stink. And I might reply: Shut up. You take a shower. To you a swallow is a summer.  This snappy rejoinder was especially effective with kids at school who, when I unloaded that curse on them, usually took a step or two away from me scratching their heads in confusion.

My mom had a fairly cynical world view, which she conveyed to us with two of her most frequent gnomic utterances: “no good deed goes unpunished,” and “if you feed the pigeons, expect to get crapped on.” How could I not love the paradox of the former and the inescapably vivid logic of the latter? I also remember her saying as a sort of all-purpose bit of wisdom: “at night all cats are gray,” a statement that always mystified me, but again, I delighted in the picture it created in my mind.

When I went off to college, mom presented me with a new, hefty edition of Bartlett’s Quotations, telling me that it would come in handy.  I rolled my eyes and acted deeply apathetic. But her affinity for pithy expressions and well-phrased insights had rubbed off on me, and secretly I was pleased to have that book, which I still own—well worn, dog-eared, underlined and highlighted.

But it wasn’t until I was a sophomore English major that I began to think of aphorisms as a serious and complex use of language. It was William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” that first blew my mind. Blake’s aphorisms were full of contradiction and ambiguity and insight that seemed richer, more intense (and more confounding) than the amusing/ironic turns of phrase that I was used to. “The cut worm forgives the plow;”  “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom;” “sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires”—these were new and intriguing and exciting to me. Around the same time, I was introduced to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary and Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Bierce’s witty, cynical definitions were, like Blake’s liberating proverbs, memorable and subversive and thought-provoking. I wasn’t as fond of Franklin’s good-natured homilies and practical advice, but he’s got a few zingers in there, such as “three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

Aphorisms and their proverbial cousins have been around for a long time, much longer than even the Book of Proverbs, and there has been a surge in interest in them in recent years. One of my favorite contemporary poets, James Richardson, has published several collections that include what he calls “aphorisms and ten second essays” (a couple of my favorites: “Of all the ways to avoid living, perfect discipline is the most admired” and “God help my neighbors if I loved them as I love myself”). James Geary—whose books about the history of aphorisms have established him as an authority on the subject—maintains a popular blog/website called All Aphorisms All The Time, (http://www.jamesgeary.com/blog/) which features aphorists from many countries and time periods. Two years ago, the literary journal Hotel Amerika devoted an entire, sumptuously produced issue to contemporary aphorisms. I love aphorisms because to me they are poems disguised as prose, or maybe a better way to say it is that they are prose that work like poems: highly compressed language, musical phrasing, complex and often paradoxical thought and feeling. And for a poet teaching a Flash Prose class, what could be better than that?

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Good News

We just had news that one of our creative writing students was accepted into Glasgow’s graduate program in Creative Writing. Congratulations Jason Richardson: carry our teachings with you across “the pond” and let us know how you’re doing. We’re proud of you.

Faculty of Creative Writing.

Venturing Into The Belly of The Beast: AWP 2013

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This past week a few members of Georgia Southern’s faculty descended on the beautiful town of Boston, Massachusetts to attend the 2013 edition of The Association of Writing Programs Conference – affectionally referred to as AWP.  I sit here at my laptop and type these words with what I can only refer to as a deadly case of jetlag. Being someone who does not typically fly anywhere – don’t ask, but it involves riding on a plane that was struck by lightning – I find the sensation to be unequivocally, unavoidably, undeniably terrible.

I will say this though – it was worth it.

For those unacquainted with AWP, here is what we’re dealing with – every year, for three to four days, the writers and writing students and writing professors of the world arrive in a city and live and breathe writing. Most times it’s cold. Inches and inches of ice and snow cold. Freezing breath cold. Try not to go outside cold. But amidst the ugly we find a large group – 12,000 this year – of kindred spirits.

Let’s put it another way – it’s overwhelming. Everywhere you go you find people on laptops, writing away on legal pads, reading and discussing every imaginable book and chapbook and handout and magazine and literary journal. In line at Qdoba you overhear someone say – “Sometimes I need to step back and think about the arc of my stories and determine whether or not my characters’ sense of agency is really coming through.”

Whoa, you might think. This is unlike anywhere else on the planet.

And you would be right.

You might venture into the Book Fair area – two full levels worth of program booths, magazine tables, writers trying to hawk their ventures, people handing out candy and shots of liquor and buttons, so many buttons – and find the breath knocked from your lungs. It is, after all, a virtual sea of literature and writing.

A lot of people like to despair the general notion of AWP. Most attendees spend the week before in sheer terror of the experience.  It’s not the easiest conference to attend because it preys on every insecurity a writer might have and proves, over time, to be exhausting.

But don’t be fooled. Stepping foot in those halls reminds you that literature and the act of creating literature isn’t just alive, it’s thriving.  That should be enough to embolden even the most cynical writer. But if the sheer scope of the event doesn’t make you feel good, then what will is the realization that you actually aren’t alone.

After all, writing is one of the most solitary acts a human being can perform. For the majority of it you might find yourself behind a keyboard, as I am now, tapping away at keys and shutting out the world around you. There is you, your thoughts, and the words. The whole of it can be startlingly lonely. And maybe people read your pieces in workshop, and maybe you send out stories or poems for publication, but the process is almost always insularly.

But AWP explodes that notion. What you find, from the very flight into the conference location, is that there are so many people like yourself. You find people vested in the effort to express themselves and understand life and love and culture on the page. You find likeminded human beings who have been moved toward an artistic venture not because of monetary reward or cultural recognition, but because they simply had no other choice.

It is a struggle, a daunting one to be sure, but writers can take solace in the fact that they aren’t the only ones who engage in this fight. There are people out there who are like you, people who are passionate about the same things, interested in the same facets of this human experience. That’s important, I think, because when you’re pushing a boulder up a steep mountain it’s always been my opinion that it’s better to have a few other sets of hands for the job.

Roy Powell Awards

The Georgia Southern University Department of Writing and Linguistics is honored to announce the winners of the 2013 Roy F. Powell Awards for Creative Writing.

Jared Sharp is the winner of the Poetry category with his poems “To Grow”, “Sleep Them Off” and “What Dream he Gave”, judged by Emma Bolden.

jaredsharpefaceJared Sharpe grew up in Vidalia with two brothers. In high school, his Literature and English professor Ann Smith, recognized a potential for writing within him, and encouraged him to believe in what she saw. Sharpe says that writing is and has been like an old friend to him. Writing gives him hope and he sees writing as a tool of freedom and opportunity. He has always enjoyed telling stories, and as a child, he preferred these stories by making movies. This passion has followed him through college, and now he’s hoping to work in film, whether it be through writing screenplays or by acting. His twin brother Jackson helps to push him as a writer, and the two believe in each other’s dreams when they don’t feel they can believe in their own. Between the two of them, they hope to one day stumble into a place where their imaginations can physically manifest through film.

Also in the Poetry category, the Department would like to recognize two honorable mentions, Jackson Sharpe and Kyera Swint.

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Jackson Sharp is from Vidalia, GA known for sweet onions or just that exit you pass by on the interstate. He writes to keep himself feeling and imagining. He writes to connect with people and hopefully find one feeling that he can share in its resonance. He says, “People exist on physical, emotional and spiritual levels and writing is one of the best ways to express all three of those at the same time.

Kyera Swint PhotoKyera Swint is a senior Psychology major with a minor in both Sociology and Writing. She’s from Conyers, Georgia. She would say that writing is her outlet, but it’s not (she has rock music for that). She writes because she enjoys it, and she’s been told that others enjoy her writing as well. She read somewhere that poetry is, “an act of attention”, and who doesn’t like a bit of attention every now and again?

 

 

Efadul Huq is the winner of the Fiction category with his piece “Ghosts” judged by Laura Valeri.

efadul-huqPhotoLike most things in America, Efadul Huq was made outside the USA. He grew up between the wet-plains of Dhaka and the clouded hills of Darjeeling, always looking at the border between Bangladesh and India as a political equivalent of comma splice in our historical narrative. It’s been four years since he moved to Statesboro and he will be graduating this May with a major in Civil Engineering and minors in Mathematics and Writing. Having played around with concrete blocks and steel beams, participated in quactivism with the ducks by the lake and written a few thoughts that he got to share in conferences, he is about to take a short break before the next drive.

Also in the Fiction category, The Department of Writing and Linguistics would like to recognize two hororable mentions, Matt Lane and Anna Hathaway.

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Anna Hathaway’s short story is titled “Nothing Serious” and it’s about those heartbreaking moments that happen in a family when the adults try to protect their children from bad news. Anna M. Hathaway is a twenty-one year-old senior at Georgia Southern University majoring in English Literature with a minor in Writing. She started writing (not well, but writing nonetheless) at the young age of eleven as a hobby, but soon it took over her life. She hopes to be an editor, while being a published author on the side.

Matt Lane wrote about an unrepentant convict coming to terms with himself while in solitary confinement in his short fiction piece titled “Ryan’s Journal.” Matt enjoys all sorts of writing, and has written many short stories and a few screen wrights. In his free time he loves to swim, play racquetball, and play xbox. And of course, he enjoys reading and writing too.

Taylor Tyson is the winner of the Creative Nonficiton category with his piece “3.5 Pounds” judged by Dr. Theresa Welford.

TaylorTysonphotoTaylor Tyson’s mother calls him “severely gifted.” He is from Loganville, Georgia – a town suspended in Purgatory between Athens and Atlanta. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. His childhood was spent under the iron fist of a Christian education, where he wasn’t allowed to use the words “hell” or “darn” in his writing. Needless to say, life has improved since coming to Statesboro. Right now, he’s a sophomore majoring in Writing, Linguistics, and Shenanigans. He is a member of both the University Programming Board and Adrenaline Show Choir, where he serves as secretary/fabulosity coordinator. He does parties, weddings, and Bar Mitzvahs, where he can be hired to stand there and look pretty.

Also in the Creative Nonfiction category, the Department would like to recognize two honorable mentions, Evin Hughes and Cady Ennis.

Evin Hughes photoEvin Hughes is from Swainsboro, GA. He will be graduating soon with MM degrees in Information Technology and Writing & Linguistics. He is a volunteer with The Arabic Club at GSU and an alternative newsletter called The Southern Praxis. In October of last year, Evin Hughes was recognized by Muhammad Ali as the first annual winner of the Muhammad Ali Writing Award for Ethics.

CadyEnnisCady Ennis is a junior in Writing and Linguistics with a minor in Political Science. She traded her prop wand for a pen when she finally accepted she wasn’t going to receive a letter from Hogwarts, and she’s been writing ever since. Her trip to Albania with the Honors Program last summer greatly influenced her writing and career aspirations. After graduating, she hopes to attend graduate school for Creative Writing, become a novelist, and continue her travels abroad. She also enjoys swing music, The Twilight Zone, and she makes a mean chipotle cheese dip.

The Department of Writing and Linguistics congratulates these talented young writers and appreciates all the submissions received. Also, a special thanks to our judges Emma Bolden, Laura Valari and Theresa Welford.