In Grub Street’s very first SPOTLIGHT, we are pleased to feature recently published work of Towson University favorite, Ben Warner. Professor Warner received his B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and his MFA from Cornell University, where his fondest memories include victories with “The Brett Favres,” the MFA basketball team.
He writes for the same reasons he takes a walk on a nice day--“It feels really good, and if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m wasting something." Professor Warner currently teaches Writing Fiction and Advanced Writing Fiction at Towson University.
1. You are the editor of a poetry journal for the homeless community of Maryland. Please tell us more.
I'm the editor of Voices and Visions, which is a poetry magazine that comes out of the class I teach called "Writing Your Story." It's an expressive writing course held at Community Visions, a resource center for the homeless in Silver Spring. The students are homeless, and they're disenfranchised in many ways, but one of the most startling [things] is the way they have been cut off from self-expression. For those students, putting a pen to paper and simply free-writing can be an act of joy and revelation.
2. How did Voices & Visions come about? What’s production like?
The magazine itself I make in my basement with a saddle stapler and a bone folder. My wife helps me. It's cheap and easy, but comes out looking pretty nice, I think. I was taught the technique by Christophe Casamassima, who is a Towson poet and advocate of all things literary. The idea was to take these little life-sketches and poems that students were jotting down in class, and formalize them between two covers. We've just started selling them at a local cafe and [a] used bookstore--and we have our first poetry reading on the horizon.
3. How else do you contribute to Community Visions?
Besides teaching there, I work the window giving out toothpaste and combs and ziplock bags and so forth. It's nice; when one of my students comes to the window, we can exchange a [little] wink in knowing that we've shared an hour-long space in the day, reserved for quiet and creativity. For many of my students, that quiet is incredibly valuable. It's a quiet room, but also a quiet head-space. Being homeless, even in a rich county like Montgomery, is an awfully turbulent experience, and to inhabit the calm of a writing exercise has been described to me as "a break from the world."
4. What is it like when you encounter breakthrough moments with those students who initially struggle with self-expression?
I get the impression that the writers feel a real sense of pride. Even if it's fleeting, it's important when many are depressed [about] living on the streets. We've put out five editions so far, and each time I hand them out, I'm greeted with the list of people who will be on the receiving end: "... my mother, my daughter, my pastor," etc.
5. If you had to define the experience with a word...
I'd say, from both sides of the desk, it's "enlightening."
Mourning by Ben Warner
Mom says a real friend is someone who doesn’t knock you down, but I say it’s anything that doesn’t. Don’t look to a source for any of this. I understand about the world of inanimate objects. A sock monkey is a friend of mine. I understand the term age appropriate. Mom tells me that it’s understanding the limits of my mind that keeps me in the basement. I tell her to turn off the light already, and I reattach the thumbtack to the corner of the sheet that keeps the light from coming through the ground-level window. I push the thumbtack back into the wood. At night I take it out. In the darkness, I like to look out at the grass. I like to see the leaves that pile against the side of the house and rot. But in the day I want it gray. My sock monkey lives in shadow. He’s a little shadow monkey who I love. I’ll describe his mouth. It’s a straight tender line. His mouth is like my mouth when Mom is downstairs telling me about the limits of my brain. This is what it means to show friendship: it’s a hard line. This is what it means to love and hate: a body, or anything that skitters away. It’s my gray world in daytime, like Mom says, my almost-coffin.
The lights were dim in and around Gate C, Section 12 of Griffiss International Airport, dim enough to make you want to sleep. The chairs, however, did pose a problem—hard, plastic, stubbornly unyielding, and a rather unsavory shade of green. A woman in her twenties tried her best to get comfortable anyhow. The man next to her placed his hand on her convex stomach.
“Babe, you’re fidgeting,” he said.
“Sorry. Just restless,” she replied. She sat up with a sigh.
“You want me to get you something?”
“Attention, passengers of Delta flight 217 to Washington D.C. Due to inclement weather, there will be a departure delay ranging from one to two hours—“ the attendant’s voice continued over the cacophony of groaning “—until ground crews can deice the plane. In the meantime, please enjoy some complimentary appetizer plates at Raggio’s Grille, located in Section 10. We thank you for your patience.”
“Lovely,” she huffed. She got up and stretched, her belly playing peek-a-boo from under her shirt. “I don’t know if I can handle this for another two hours.”
“You and me both. At this rate we could’ve just drove.” He watched her as she ran her hands through her dark, kinky hair. She was beautiful, even if she didn’t feel as much at six months pregnant.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” she murmured. He nodded at her as she walked-wobbled away. She wasn’t quite here. Understandably so—they had returned to her small hometown of Eccentric Milk, NY to bury her mother. She was a rare woman, with greenish-gray eyes that shined out of her brown skin. They had a way of seeing through you—there was no point in lying to Mama, she already knew. This would be their first child. Perhaps she would have her grandmother’s eyes.
--written by Lauren Jackson
Poetry and fiction winners of the 2012 High School Writing Contest will be announced sometime in late February. They will be contacted via phone or e-mail by one of Grub Street's editors and their names will then be posted on the website.
Submissions for Grub Street will still be accepted until January 31st. That is a little over a week away, so get those submissions in now!
After the submission deadline passes, Grub Street's editors will be hard at work voting, proofreading and compiling a list of entries they believe should make up the 2012 magazine. After they come to an agreement, those who have been selected will be contacted via phone or e-mail to be notified and discuss revisions (if needed).
If you have any questions feel free to email the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you and keep those submissions rolling until next Tuesday!
The beginning of another academic semester at Towson University is upon us once again and the staff of Grub Street urges you to spread the word that we are currently seeking submissions for our 2012 magazine. Keep in mind, this edition will be our 60th year anniversary, marking a very significant milestone in the life of Grub Street.