By Deb A.
With a gentle wit and a flair for insight, Emily Fleisher plays with boundaries and narratives to excavate the meaning that we build into domestic objects over time. Her pieces, "Foundling" and "Timber!!!", were featured in the inaugural edition of Agave Magazine. We recently spoke with Emily about impossible narratives, monotone suburbia, and the Zen-like properties of glitter.
AGAVE: What do you believe is the power inherent in an unviable narrative?
EMILY FLEISHER: I actually got to experience an unviable narrative first-hand. When I was in grad school I learned the hard way not to get on an airplane if you're congested, and I got a pretty respectable case of vertigo that lasted for a few months. It drastically affected my sense of perception and informed the way that I proceeded to make things. For the first few days, I had no sense of where my body was in space. It was nearly impossible to use a drill, because I couldn't reconcile the space between the drill and the screw. It was very odd to exist within an environment that didn't comply with my expectations.
Beyond that experience, I'm always waiting for my environment to surprise me. The pieces that I'm currently trying to resolve are based on these interruptions in my daily life. Playing with scale, space and perspective are the methods by which I approach making things.
How do you play with scale?
Playing with scale is one not-so-subtle way of manipulating a familiar object in order to hone in on our exact relationship with it. It's a way to play with the expectations of our comfortable surroundings. I made "Trails Off Too Soon" to look like the most generic of landscape paintings that somehow escaped from its frame. It would be the most unspectacular painting, but it's something that I'm sure exists inside many of the homes around mine. I tried to communicate the idea of the endless landscape, sort of the inverse of endless suburbia.
When I look at landscape paintings I always feel like there's much more to the image. The frame dictates a specific boundary, and we're not privy to what lies beyond. I feel like images held within a frame are withholding something. But there's a power inherent in that act of withholding. "Trails Off Too Soon" is framed, but you get the impression that what lies beyond is just more of the same.
Where do your ideas come from? Do your suburban surroundings offer much in the way of inspiration?
Currently, I find abundant inspiration in my very uninspiring environment. A few years ago I moved to the suburbs – a subdivision from the '80s in San Antonio. We're surrounded by strip malls, fast food restaurants, and big box retailers. My homeowner association approves the house colours so the mostly brick and stone houses are accented in a mix of light tan, a slightly darker shade of tan, and brown. When we bought our house, the previous owners put a fresh coat of light tan paint on every wall and put down new light brown carpeting. Lawns are green, but we and some others refuse to water so it reverts to brown dirt during the Texas summers. It probably seems as if I don't like my neighbourhood, but I actually really do. It's just an odd way of existing compared to my previous more urban environments.
It took me a little while to settle in here and as I did, I became hypersensitive to the things that are atypical in the rather bleak suburban landscape. There are only a few roads that lead out of the neighbourhood and I travel them every day, so most of the time I barely notice what I'm driving through. But one day I came to one of the uninspiring intersections featuring our ubiquitous palette of browns and tans, grey concrete dividers, and new black asphalt, and some kid's farm-themed school project was scattered across the road: pink pigs, a battered red barn, and hundreds of other brightly coloured bits and pieces. It was such a striking juxtaposition of elements and colour, and was one of the many times I had to jump out of the car to take a picture. These are the types of interruptions that shock me out of the monotony and provide the impetus for my work.
Do the found objects you use fit into a preexisting idea, or do they inspire a piece?
I think I've only used about four found objects in my work. "Foundling" was one of the rare times when I came across an object and instantly thought of a method of resolving it. Most recently I had an idea that necessitated a book – and I quickly realised that it had to be a real one. So I ended up with the counterproductive and rather irritating task of trying to find the correct book. I think it resolved well enough, but that process really doesn't work for me.
"Foundling" is one of several of your works that cue the viewer to consider our relationship to our food. Does this stem from a personal conviction of yours?
Food should play a featuring role in everyone's personal conviction. It's a part of daily routine, but it's also tied to time and memory. One of my most vivid childhood memories is watching my mother add milk to her coffee in diners and being held fixated by the two conflicting colours as they danced together and eventually met at a median value. Coffee has been an integral part of my own day since I worked at Starbucks as a teenager. At night I'm usually excited to go to sleep so I can wake up and make coffee.
Watching butter melt into toast always captivated me as well. I made a small piece called "Melty" a number of years ago where the butter melted and left a glitter trail. Glitter, as a material, has a similar cosmic Zen quality where you can lose yourself in space and time. Recently, at my son's preschool, they introduced us to their "Zen jar", which is a jar filled with water and glitter. When one of the kids gets a bit too riled up, instead of just giving them a time out, they sit them down with the jar, shake it up, and have them stare at it until all the glitter settles at the bottom. They immediately zone out and become freakishly still, meditative little beings.
The next issue of Agave Magazine will be published in February 2014. To receive a copy delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe here.
By Deb A.
Poetry is Anne Whitehouse's first love; she is also a skilled writer of fiction, book reviews and feature articles, as well as proposals and reports for the development sector. Her poem, "High Summer", was featured in the inaugural issue of Agave Magazine, and the equally graceful "Poet in New York" will be showcased in Agave's upcoming issue.
AGAVE: "High Summer" is elegantly simple. How did the poem take shape?
ANNE WHITEHOUSE: “High Summer” is a poem that came to me as a recollection—I wrote it not in the summer, but last autumn, as I was thinking back nostalgically on Vermont summers in the past, when my husband and I used to rent a house in a valley in the Green Mountains. And while I love the revolving wheel of the seasons of the year, and I love each season for its unique gifts and qualities, I have a particular intensity of feeling for summer, because I grew up in Alabama where summers are brutally hot. What is wonderful about Vermont is that even when it is hot, you can almost always find a cold body of water where you can cool off. Simple thoughts like this brought forth this simple poem.
What do you believe is the key to transporting a reader in so few words?
I love the haiku form, which achieves its effects through suggestion and nuance. Sometimes feelings are only expressible obliquely. Although “High Summer” is not strictly a haiku, I was thinking of the aim of haiku when I wrote it—to make meaning clear through the least means, to use everyday language to get inside the commonness of life. In the poetic traditions of the Far East, empathy is extended to things, not only to sentient beings. A haiku poet does not describe, because description introduces a division between the poet and the experience. In a haiku, poet and experience are one. That, I think, is the key.
What motivates you to write poetry?
When I feel inspiration to write a poem, it’s very peculiar—it’s like a physical reaction to something I am confronted with. I don’t try too hard to understand it, because that might kill it. It’s more important to learn how to recognize it and use it. The fact that it’s different for every poet is a realization that came to me a few years ago. I was having a conversation with another poet about the emergence of the 17-year cicadas that I had recently witnessed in Louisville, Kentucky. He was disgusted by what seemed to me a most miraculous phenomenon and, indeed, I ended up writing one of my Blessings in my Blessings and Curses series about it.
Do you write by hand or on a computer?
I often start writing by hand. I prefer writing with soft pencils on unlined paper. I also love my blue Waterman fountain pen. Writing with a soft pencil or fountain pen takes less physical effort and my hand doesn’t cramp so quickly. I admire beautiful handwriting. When I grew up, handwriting was actually a subject that was taught in the schools. We started printing in first grade and cursive writing in second grade according to the Palmer method. It is an accomplishment that is all but lost now. Today many students are only taught how to print, and even their printing is not very legible. Perhaps it’s not important anymore since they type everything on a keyboard. Perhaps only in countries like China or Japan, where calligraphy is so much a part of the cultural heritage, are children still taught how to write beautifully by hand. I remember when my daughter was in fifth grade, the members of her class were paired with Chinese students who were learning English. The handwriting of the Chinese students writing in English was much better than the Americans. Something has been lost, and it’s sad, but maybe we ought not to lose too much sleep over it. Probably it’s inevitable, like many other skills that technology has rendered obsolete.
And all that being said, even though I often start writing by hand, I quickly switch to the computer. It is just so much easier. I can’t imagine not writing on a computer. I love my MacBook Pro. I am writing these words on it now.
What poets have had the greatest influence on you?
I don’t think that writers are aware of their influences at the time that they are being influenced. If one is aware of the influence, then it’s not really an influence. It might be a model. But influences are more mysterious and unconscious.
I fell in love with the music of poetry before I understood what it meant. I didn’t grow up in the musical household. When I was a pre-teen, I discovered popular music and rock music, but long before that, I had fallen in love with the music of words. One of my favorite nursery rhymes began:
“One misty moisty morning
when cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man
clothed all in leather.”
I recall coming across Ariel’s song in my children’s Shakespeare:
“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made…”
More than favorite poets, I have favorite poems, poems that I come to again and again, that I have memorized, that have become a part of me. They have influenced my love of poetry and my awareness of what poetry can be, but have they influenced the kind of poetry I write? I don’t know, and I don’t think I want to know. Writing is matter of faith and intuition. You’ve got to trust it and not question it too much.
The next issue of Agave Magazine will be published in February 2014. To receive a copy delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe here.
By Deb A.
Meredith McDonough can whisk a reader into her world in just a few lines. Her poem, "The Oarfish", was published in the inaugural edition of Agave Magazine.
AGAVE: Where and how do you find the curious in the everyday?
MEREDITH MCDONOUGH: The curious is always in the details –odd collections, a moment of social awkwardness at a very poised bridal shower, obscure hobbies, and daily rituals. When we are being the most 'normal' version of ourselves, we do a lot of curious things.
What is your starting point?
I usually start with a few snippets of a story and a stray memory. Like, I may start with the story of how a nurse once taught me to open jars by smacking the lid on the floor and how startlingly white and perfect my grandpa's dentures made his smile. I'll take a few thoughts like these and stitch them together into interconnected stanzas. I'm most interested in examining how people's interactions with objects reveal truths about them, detailing the jargon associated with a job or hobby, and the balance between pain and sweetness in family memories.
Does your writing stem mainly from a personal desire to understand and empathize, or is it also important to share this experience?
I would say that though my poetry does come from a desire to understand and empathize, there is definitely an element of schadenfreude at work as well. I want to entertain, challenge and amuse with my work.
What was your first favourite poem?
I loved Lucile Clifton's "Homage to My Hips" so much I named my first car after her. This poem made me realize poetry didn't have to be so serious –it could be simple and fun while still being powerful.
What are you reading now?
I am nearing the end of Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Murakami seems to share my attention for the quotidian detail. In this suspense-driven fantasy narrative he takes a few pages for his main character to talk about what a great shopper his is and to admire the bags containing his newly acquired objects.
Since the moment we announced Agave Magazine as a forthcoming publication, we have been anxiously awaiting the day when we could finally share its pages with you.
Therefore, it is with great pride and gratitude that we present the inaugural issue of Agave Magazine: Vol.1, Issue 1 (Summer/Fall 2013). You can access the publication by clicking on the cover image above or by visiting http://www.agavemag.com/issues.html
We wish to thank all of our contributors - the many writers and artists whose collective voices and visions illuminate our pages with vibrant narratives and provide the framework for the future direction of our publication.
To our readers: we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for supporting us on this journey. The past few months have been a profoundly rich and rewarding experience of discovery and immense joy.
Here's to Agave Magazine! Long may it run...
By Deb A.
Ariana Lyriotakis is Agave Magazine's own Editor-In-Chief. We spoke with her ahead of the magazine's launch on August 1st.
AGAVE: What led you to create Agave Magazine?
ARIANA LYRIOTAKIS: Like many others, the vast majority of my reading is done hovering over a screen, clicking through websites, social media and online publications of sorts. Over time, I realised that I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied in the sense that how and what I was reading was failing to provide a continuity of experience. I speak more to this in the inaugural issue, but it's the notion that you can read an article here, jump through images in a slideshow there; ultimately, you are just cramming bits of information into your brain and lacking a well-rounded appreciation or understanding of the subject matter.
As a writer and editor, I suppose I have always had it in the back of my mind to launch a publication of my own, and I have always been fond of mixing genres and forms as well as finding the ways in which various modes of expression intersect and diverge. After a very inspiring trip through the desert earlier in the new year, the ideas for Agave started to really meld together; I decided to do a great deal of research, take the plunge and just make it happen. I am proud to be working in concert with a clever and supportive editorial staff who want Agave Magazine to succeed just as much as I do.
What experience do you want Agave Magazine's readers to take away with them?
When we go through submissions, one of the most important questions we ask ourselves is whether the work will stay with our readers after they've seen or read it. I want our readers to know that every piece we have selected provides an authenticity of experience that is worth remembering. We are fortunate to be showcasing so many exceptionally talented individuals who have interesting and fresh perspectives to share.
The look and feel of the magazine is streamlined and sleek without being intimidating. All of the literature, art and photography is brought to the fore and presented in an accessible format that we feel is engaging for a modern readership. Many of the pieces are accompanied by insights from our contributors discussing creative process, how they seek inspiration for their work, and behind-the-scenes information on the actual creation of the pieces themselves. We hope our readers will not only view our contributors as a valuable literary and artistic collective but also be glad to have discovered their work in our pages.
What are the challenges of creating the very first edition of a magazine?
There are many! I think there is definitely a learning curve when you're putting out a first issue – you have your own expectations and believe you have pinpointed what those are, and the writers and artists are trying to figure out how they fit within those parameters. Not having a previous issue for comparison can be a challenge to our contributors, but the payoff to be selected for our inaugural edition is invaluable: we offer a lot of space for artists and writers to create and to talk about themselves and their process. Our contributors set the framework for what the magazine will become.
What do you look for in a submission?
Restraint. Quiet fortitude. Skillful turns of phrase that take you to another place.... We love pieces that offer all the essentials – no more, no less. We also look for a contemporary narrative: does the author or artist weave a story or show us a new take for a modern audience? Do they have something valuable to contribute to the discussion? We avoid works with overt symbols and ideologies, experimentalism for the sake of pushing the envelope and not investigating form or genre, or anything that we feel is geared mainly toward antagonism or angst.
One of Agave's goals is to provide a more intimate experience with contributors. How do you do this, and why is it important?
It can be intensely frustrating for both writers and artists to submit their work for consideration, and then not to receive a response for ages - if they even do receive a response. Therefore, we work hard to give each contributor feedback so they know that we have received their work and that we are excited about reviewing it. If we have to reject a submission, we include whether we think they should re-submit for the next issue and offer some constructive criticism that we hope will keep them in good stead. With some authors, for example, we have been able to work with them closely on re-writes and edits of works that were perhaps 80% there, but just needed a bit of tweaking to make them even better. We want to get a good sense of who our contributors are so we can convey their strongest works, and in so doing, present high quality pieces to our readers that will encourage them to return for the next issue.
The inaugural issue of Agave Magazine comes out this Thursday. Subscribe here to receive Agave delivered directly to your inbox twice yearly.
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