Notes from the Undergrads #7

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the City Writes editorial board.


by Jenna Lettice

In the fall of 2006, a professor of literature asked her students how they felt about the written word appearing, not on the pages of a book, but on the screen of a small digital device.  Two camps formed: those that were open to the idea, and those that vehemently opposed this transition into the alien world of the machine.  Of the two camps I belonged to the latter.

“A digital book?!” I cried.  “Why that’s preposterous!”

To me, a book was more than just characters, plot, setting, and theme.  A book was a friend you clutched in two careful hands.  It was a musical instrument when you turned the pages and they slid across each other making that wonderful shuffling sound.  A book had a unique smell, that of wood, dust, and human hands.  It was ink printed on pages of the most beautiful paper, not a glaring screen that harmed your eyes!

My decision was final: digital eReaders were the enemy.  They were the enemy, that is until Amazon’s Kindle e-reader saved my life.

Three years later, my house caught on fire.

Ladies and gentleman, judge me not too harshly, for it was in this bleakest of times that I turned to the Dark Side.  I began to look into eReaders.

With careful research and a collection of gift cards I had been saving since my birthday, I bought a Kindle.  A Kindle that I clutched in two careful hands for fear of dropping the slim device.  A Kindle that clicks so musically when I touch the “Next Page” button.  A Kindle, with the technology to put ink on a digital page to protect tender eyes from the glare of a screen.  A Kindle that would hold all the books I could read in a lifetime zipped up in a convenient size that fit into my purse.

Day by day, my icy heart melted as my love for my Kindle grew.  It could do all the things I needed a book to do and more.  Needless to say, I was sold.  I was now a proud owner of an eReader.

And yet, my compulsion to buy the traditional book never wavered.  Digital eReaders have swiftly become the most purchased item in the literary world, but with the increased popularity of eReaders, books continue to sell, perhaps because readers like me wax poetic aboutboth books and digital readers.  I’ve heard fears that technology will destroy the book and perhaps, like the scroll before it, the book will retreat to the rooms of museum curators.  I hesitate to imagine this world, however, I do not see the book’s retreat into obscurity as defeat.  Forms of literature and print have evolved constantly over the centuries and still people continue to read, in whatever medium is presented to them. Scrolls, books, and digital readers are each a part of the written tradition and that is what is important.

Books will continue to adorn my shelves simply because I love them.  However, I will no longer dismiss the advancing technology of the written word, because once upon a time, a Kindle saved my life.  Sort of.


“Publishing Art”
by Joey Nargizian
I recently read an article arguing that Blake was trying to raise the role of engraver and of publisher to that of artist. It got me thinking about publications today, and whether or not every published article, can, in itself, be considered a piece of art.

We often think of the artistic qualities of literature strictly as the content and meaning held within the words of a text, and not the actual physical words on the page, or the housing of those words. While these physical qualities may not be literature, can they be art?

I believe, that by not allowing ourselves to think of books and publications, the physical object and all of its paraliterary components, as art, we are losing a vast amount of new and interesting readings and observations of the work as a whole.

However, there are a few publications that I think are creating works of art that are just as interesting as objects as the words they encase. An example of this is one of Mcsweeney’s  Quarterlylatest issues, Issue 37. Its design and production is just as interesting, artistic and creative as the stories published within it. Publications like this straddle the line between book as product and housing for literature, and book as art, and they do so effectively and powerfully.

It is time for the publishing world to not just be considered as producers of housing, but of art.

Links for further reading:


“City Writes: The Eye Opening Process of Literary Publications”
Danielle McLaughlin

The initiation of a literary journal development within a group of confident young scholars is an eye opening experience, to say the least.

Over the past academic semester, students involved in a Literary Publishing course at San Diego State University, under the instruction of professor and Managing Editor of Poetry International, Jennifer Minniti-Shippey, have undertaken the seemingly daunting task of publishing a few collections of literary journals. These contemporary journals seek to explicate the minds and imaginations of the Californian lifestyles and creative energies, and also to further the progression of the students’ knowledge of the literary publishing field.

While this egalitarian literary journey has just begun, I have personally experienced some large-scale self-realizations in the process of receiving submissions for the aforementioned journals. Our magazine was initially founded under the premise of showing the grittier, humorous, and more real side of San Diego life. I am pleasantly surprised by the subsequent conclusions drawn from the work received by the young minds of the San Diego active artistic communities.

City Writes literary journal has focused its prospective audience within the individual communities of the San Diego area, hoping to capture the realities of this breathtakingly diverse community.  By explicating the true realities of this area, myself, and my fellow editors, hope to project the San Diegan potential for alternative creative ingenuity, and to allow the rest of the world to view us for something other than our love for fresh water and beautiful weather.

While the word requirement for our literary journals does not exceed 2,000 words, the messages within these brief embodiments of the San Diego imaginative intellectuals speak volumes.  Our submissions in both prose and poetry have projected some similar themes in the minds of young writers.  The messages in their words are strung with ideological threads of dissatisfaction with the large scale of isolation within communities, the realization of individual diversification in closely-knit societies, and an alarmingly high sense of existential profundity as a result of this diversity.  The artwork and photography we are receiving does not fail to hold the same tone of intellectual value of the prose and poetry submissions.  The artwork projects a similar, but more broadened theme of the beauty of chaos, and the desire for retrospective change, as well as the importance of adolescent education and awareness of political action.  I personally invite the creative intellectuals of all communal areas and groups of study to view the inspiring collection of work that will be featured in the May 2011 premier issue of City Writes.


“Poetic Connections”
by, Leslie Kehrer

Just Married

Husband is food. I mean good
or roof. Which husband? Men,
women and snowmen—Where…
is my underwear? Husband wakes me
with licking cheeks. I make pillow
of husband’s shoulder and husband.

Dousing the dishes topless for husband:
I souse the mugs and bowls with warm
lemon froth and bubble; I sponge
our utensils: spoon, knife and prong,
for food we will eat next Tuesday
and Sunday & Tomorrow; I scrub
& bristle & muscle the pig-headed pans
with sporadic splash and suds to skin;
I rinse & fill & rinse & empty & fill & empty
& fill & empty to the music of water on twice the dishes.

Husband puts his face in a bowl of afternoon
cereal and we sing: Where, where is my underwear?
In the phenomenal
sock project, I watch husband place lone socks
across the kitchen table:
could be inside a pair of pants or suitcase.

In the earth of blankets, I gladden husband by the glow of lamplight through
the sheets.
(Where is my underwear?) The sky drools sweetly to the ear, the purring animals
In our bed.
Light snore, the seashore at night.

–J. Hope Stein

J. Hope Stein’s poem Just Married so hilariously portrays the lighthearted ease of a newlywed’s relationship.  The speaker opens with a confused remark that immediately captures readers and brings them into the simplicity of her world.  It continues to describe youthful, rare love and follows the lovers through their silly day: waking up, washing dishes, doing laundry, and sleeping once again. Of such a large collection of poetry in Poetry International’s 15/16 issue, what is it about J. Hope Stein’s single poem that so intrigues?

She brings to life the mundane, a glimpse into a love that moves you from the ordinary day at home into a place where even underwear is unnecessary.

J. Hope Stein’s poem Just Married reminds me of another writer, Juana Hernandez.  Her blog entry An Open Love Letter could be a response to Stein’s blissful revel.  Hernandez’s poem addresses a love fading with the very mundane lifestyle Stein celebrates.  They speak to each other on so many levels.

Hernandez addresses the end of a long, but loving relationship.  She describes the how love can slowly diminish.

“But love isn’t a fire if it doesn’t set you aflame. i clung to you for all the wrong reasons. loved you out of gratitude, for the man you had been when i had no faith. loved you out of respect, for you had always been the rule i measured myself against. i loved you out of fear, for there could surely be no other man who would take me in my entirety, neuroses and all. and i loved you out of allegiance, loved you for being my biggest fan and closest ally, the only one on which i could depend.

but most of all, i loved you out of duty. owed you something for that sweet history you weaved for me.”

She finds love that revels in the mundane, mundane.  It becomes an action done out of respect, duty to another.  It contrasts well with Stein’s poem by showing the complexity of emotions that lie behind one’s everyday activities.  For Stein, love is fulfilled in simplicity.  For Hernandez, it is crushed.

J. Hope Stein wrote a book review of Anna Swir’s Talking To My Body published by Web Del Sol Review of Books.

Juana Hernandez is a graduate of UCLA and authors the WordPress blog I Am the Woman of Myth and Bullshit and The District.


“The Chinese Drawers : On Yan Li”
by, Maureen Balbesino

Who is Yan Li?

Aside from this person’s credentials listed in Poetry International’s Double Issue 15/16, I’m curious to find out more about this Chinese “poet, fiction writer, editor, and painter.” This person seems to be well-established in his career of writing, however I have never heard of him.

So what did I do to find out more? Like any great college student, I Googled his name “Yan Li” into the ever-so-famous search bar and found out that Yan Li is both a man’s an a woman’s name. I clicked on several links and the results were a tota l flop. I didn’t think I’d ever find what I was looking for until I ended up Googling “yan li poet, fiction writer, editor, and painter” instead. What did I find? YES! Links to websites featuring photos and interviews of the man himself, Mr. Yan Li.

Link 1

Link 2

What’s his story?

Wouldn’t you like to know as well? I don’t know about you, but as soon as I decided to crack open the massive magazine to find something to write about, little did I know that I was going to be intrigued by the historical richness of Yan Li’s poetry.

Li uses the metaphor of “Chinese Drawers” to symbolize the different compartments and layers of a life of great historical artifacts and memories to explore.

I want to know who the “Red Guard” is. I want to know what the “Red Book” is. After taking an extensive look at Wikipedia… No I’m just joking. I look at the Britannica Encyclopedia’s free excerpt that reads, “Red Guards, Chinese (Pinyin) Hongweibing or (Wade-Giles romanization) Hung-wei-ping, in Chinese history, groups of militant university and high school students formed into paramilitary units as part of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). These young people often wore green jackets similar to the uniforms of the Chinese army at the time, with red armbands attached to one of the sleeves.”

Young people are often called the leaders of the next generation in society, and this obviously states that they were leading a Cultural Revolution in Chinese history. This excerpt had me even more curious to find out what exactly this revolution was about, especially because I know little Chinese history outside of what they teach us in middle school and high school. All I can remember is that it consists of the different dynasties and rulers they have had in ancient times.

In this Information Age, one subject matter leads to another by means of clicking a simple link embedded within a description, paragraph, or other source of information. Apparently, this Cultural Revolution’s full title is actually the “Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution.” According to Brittanica, its purpose was driven by Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong during his last decade in power (1966–76) to renew the spirit of the Chinese Revolution. Fearing that China would develop along the lines of the Soviet model and concerned about his own place in history, Mao threw China’s cities into turmoil in a monumental effort to reverse the historic processes underway.”

With this much cultural, historical baggage, I can now understand the deep-seated turmoil behind the poem that’s probably hidden within the many drawers.

Just Googled “Chinese Drawers,” and the images that came up were armoires and chests with multiple, little drawers. These are highly decorated and embellished works. Some have ring handles, some don’t. Some are covered in Chinese characters; some are covered in flowers and other artwork. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I wonder what the one Yan Li is talking about looks like…

Perhaps each compartment means a different stage of life. Or maybe even an ancestor’s. Who knows!?

I’m curious. And I’m going to find out more.

Thanks Yan Li.

I am going to be distracted from studying for midterms this whole week now because of your one poem.

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