To those who ask me of my favorite poem

By Matthew Swann

I am often asked if I have a favorite poem. And the truth is for a long time I didn’t. Even though in the beginning I would often boast, either to new friends or potential lovers, that I write poetry. Very rarely did I ever read any poems outside of my own, which I would (and still do) write and enjoy, only to look back months later and hate. I suppose some would say that’s par for the course when it comes to any form of creative expression. If we are trying to bring a feeling into the world, then how can we ever be satisfied with the results if said feelings are constantly changing? I digress. Back to the point: I wrote but did not read, and a writer who never reads can arguably never be a great writer, and I wanted to get better, so I started to read. 

The first books of poetry I ever bought, outside of those needed for class, were collections. I walked into a bookstore with a friend on a cold evening in March. Once we entered, we headed upstairs, the owner of the store alluding to us that the good stuff was to be found there. As we ascended the stairs, I searched the shelves for poetry specifically written by Rumi and Gill Scott-Heron, the latter I was familiar with via his discography and the former more related to my spiritual musings, which I had found myself falling into more and more as quarantine secluded me within my own mind. Upon the dimly lighted shelves, I searched, negotiating the titles of the volumes, conveniently ordered in alphabetical order (as all shelves should be). As I made my way through the volumes of alphabetized prose, I came across a name I was familiar with but had not considered in my search: Charles Bukowski. I became aware of Bukowski similar to the way I had been made aware of Gill Scott-Heron, through music. In the song “Cellz (Born Like This)” by MFDOOM, the poem “Dinosauria, We,” also known as “Born Into This,” precedes the verses of the song. The poem’s content captivated me the first time I heard it and prompted me to Google to discover the author. That is when I first came upon the works of Charles Bukowski. 

If someone asked me to describe Bukowski’s poetry, I would take the easy way out and call it human. The poems of Bukowski are troubled, nihilistic, reproachable, depressing, pitiful, and yet at the same time, hopeful, enduring, and at times, even humorous. For me, Bukowski’s poetry represents what it means to be an honest writer, to be true to yourself and your audience because writing is not just a self-serving endeavor but an altruistic one. To write is to yell into the void, exclaiming “I am here,” in hopes to hear a responding voice say, “So am I.” A great example of this is Bukowski’s poem “To The Whore Who Took My Poems.”

some say we should keep personal remorse from the
stay abstract, and there is some reason in this,
but jezus;
twelve poems gone and I don’t keep carbons and you have
paintings too, my best ones; its stifling:
are you trying to crush me out like the rest of them?
why didn’t you take my money? they usually do
from the sleeping drunken pants sick in the corner.
next time take my left arm or a fifty
but not my poems…” Charles Bukowski “To the Whore who Stole my Poems”

This poem is my favorite. I came across it when I began reading Essential Bukowski, the book I found in that bookstore on that fateful night and promptly bought, along with two other volumes, with money I did not have. Flipping through the collection’s pages one afternoon during poetry club, the name of the poem jumped out at me, and I knew I had to read it to the rest of my fellow club members. Despite the striking name, interpret this poem more like a love poem than a written vendetta. It is a poem that I believe that all writers, and, by extension, artists can relate to. “To The Whore Who Took My Poems” is a love letter to the creators of the world. Those who do more than muse but strive to create. Who read novels and books and poems written by those whose names sit on gold plaques, which above them read “The Greats,” and not only dare to critique them but to also write at their level if not better. The creation of art is beautiful, but it is not a romantic endeavor. As much as people would like to believe it to be so, the life of an artist, of a writer, is not carefree, nor is it glamorous. It takes more than being able to string words together on a page to create an acceptable piece of work—whether or not it is good is another story. The work we create as artists may not deserve to be liked, but I believe that it at least deserves to be respected, just as we would respect the people who create it. Because when you take a part of yourself and put it into something, sometimes losing it can be as painful as losing a limb. 

Birth of Eros by Debra Di Blasi Review

By Abigail Hummer

I couldn’t gauge what I was in store for when I received Birth of Eros in the mail. Its cover pictures a 1950s-esque woman in a bathing suit sitting atop a red car, a car that is sitting on an exaggerated cigar whose smoking tail mushrooms into a nuclear cloud. The woman is reaching out to the right side of the cover with a damsel-like posture, appearing to be longing for a masculine arm sprouting from the right edge, ready to catch her hand. 

I saw great narrative nuance in this cover art, including symbols pointing towards the role hyper-femininity and hyper-masculinity play in the destruction of healthy relationships. Some of the said relationships that would be affected include ones within ourselves, our perspective of what is and is not beautiful, and most notably the morals around sex and desire. 

Our main character, Lucy, is describing what she experienced when she was delivered at birth. This scene describes how her birth was a victorious moment in her life, yet somehow, the only thing her beautiful-teen-idol-destroyed-via-accidental-child mother could see was how “ugly” Lucy was. Because this happens so early in the novel, it sets the stage for how Lucy will view her surroundings throughout her life—constantly analyzing the lack of depth and compassion within society.

“My first song a little uhmp before I screamed, Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Not out of fear or pain but triumph. Victory! For falling’s flying if there’s something/someone to catch you. And what I could see! What I saw! Everyone singing together a pretty sigh as they huddled around and over me. //Except the mother. The beautiful mother. Peering over her bedside. Gawking at me in infatuated awe, I thought. I hoped. Before knowing hope.

Light of her life?

But she said, “Oh god, she’s so ugly!”

And I hear the disappointment. Saw the grief. No, the anger. In her song.

I loved her anyway” (p. 17).

In this moment, Lucy is not only left with a skewed perception of where she stands in her mother’s eyes, but now in society. A parent’s (or in this instance, a mother’s) opinion is one of the most important values in a young child’s mind; this sets the high bar for Lucy at an unreachable level, which creates tension between her actual self and her perception of herself. We see Lucy experiencing another memory of herself as a child driving a wedge between her parents, her beautiful mother wanting nothing to do with her based on her looks:

“And it wasn’t that she wouldn’t love me but that she couldn’t.

I can’t I can’t I can’t! she screamed at the father offering me like a protoplasmic libation to his forever goddess.

Just try, Baby!

I’ll kill myself!


I will!

Please, I love you!


I watched the pretty lights wet when them scatter in ashen clutter around their ankles and I fell dead silent, corpse still, closing my eyes and disappearing into the teeming darkness behind my lids so I would not be the wedge of their cleaving” 

Eventually the father’s arms grew tired of holding me out and the mother’s eyes grew tired of crying: I’m sorry (p. 74).

Birth of Eros left me speechless in some moments and laughing at its absurdity in others. Lucy doesn’t stray away from using graphic language to cater to a reserved audience, she will tell it as it is—and colorfully. There is nothing pristine and serene about life, love, sex, hate, pain, birth, death, and so on and so forth. Birth of Eros leans into this brutally honest narrative of the beauty that lies within being raw, and ugly, and chaotic. 


A Conversation with Morgan LaRocca

By Carolin Harvey

Milkweed Editions is an independent literary press based in Minneapolis. The press is a nonprofit organization that emphasizes unique stories of individuals and communities from around the world.

Morgan LaRocca (they/she/them) is the publicist at Milkweed and a 2018 graduate of Towson University’s English program. I had the opportunity to chat with Morgan about their experiences as a publicist and their time at Towson. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

CH: So how did you get started with Milkweed in 2022?

ML: Let’s see. At the time, I was doing freelance publicity. I was friends with professional buddies, for lack of a better word, through the Minneapolis community. The publicist had approached me about applying to be a publicist there and kind of work below her. I was pretty content with freelancing at that time, so I didn’t apply. But then she left, and I went in, and the conversation quickly went from freelancing to an interview for the position. And then I got offered the job, and it seemed like a really good fit. So I decided to take their offer, and I’ve been there since July of 2022. 

CH: Congrats on that! What’s it like working remotely?

ML: So, I wanted to come back to Baltimore for quite a few reasons. Let’s see. I coincidentally started dating someone who lives here, and we didn’t really want to do long distance. A big part of it, too, is that Jeannie Vanasco is a huge mentor of mine and creative collaborator. I also wanted to be closer to her, to be able to do things at Towson, and help people from my own community in Baltimore. I decided to negotiate to work remotely, and they went for it, which is great. I think it’s really strategic for a publicist to be on the East Coast because I can take media appointments. I can go to New York pretty easily for them. The way that my remote work works is that I go back to Minneapolis three times a year. So I’ll be there once in the fall, once in the summer, and once in the spring. I don’t go in the winter.

CH: Yeah, I don’t blame you.

ML: I really can’t function in the winter there.

CH: Very fair.

ML: It’s very nice to have a lot of focused work and then to have these really meaningful months at a time where I’m engaging with my team. It just has worked really well for the particular situation that I’m in.

CH: That’s great. What’s a typical day like for you?

ML: I think that’s kind of the best thing about being a publicist is that it really varies, and I’m someone who needs that in my life. But often I’ll be working on media sends, doing research, or putting lists together for books. I will create and design press releases, write letters and pitches. I do database entry collecting all the reviews about our books. I run our Twitter, which is really fun. I do a lot of event outreach, asking venues if they have availability on their calendar and coordinating all the logistics around events for authors. A lot of it is just being the communication hub for everyone. Answering any questions that authors have is a huge piece of my job. And then I do all of the awards. Next month, the National Book Award is due, so that’s going to be a big month. Yeah, I think that’s kind of a day in the life of a publicist pretty generally.

CH: And do you typically work seven days a week, or is it more the typical Monday through Friday?

ML: In full transparency, that varies. I am the sole publicist for 28 books, which is a lot. So depending on where we are in the season, sometimes I work seven days a week, sometimes I work five days a week. There’s a lot of encouragement to log off when it’s time to log off. I think that the tricky thing is, for example, if The New York Times emailed me and the editor there is on a deadline, or the freelance journalist there is on a deadline, and that’s on a Sunday night, I don’t really have a choice. So that’s just something that I’m always navigating: how to set realistic boundaries and also get the work done. I think that’s not a unique issue, especially for publicists and especially for anyone that’s working in a nonprofit. I like to be transparent about that because I think it’s something that people have to take into consideration when they’re trying to figure out what they want to do as a job.

CH: Thank you for being so candid about all that. What’s the most important aspect of being a publicist to you? 

ML: I think the most important aspect of it to me is ensuring that the book is honored and really understood when it’s received into the world. You’re helping someone’s dreams come true, for lack of a better word. It just feels good when a review comes in, and the reviewer really gets it. Or there’s an event that creates this deeper connection with the reader or the person who’s joining the author in conversation. And the book then kind of takes on a different life off of the page and really gets to be in the world in a new form. Just to know that some of my thought-work has had a small part in the way the book is moving feels really satisfying to me. 

CH: That’s awesome. Now transitioning into your time at Towson—while at TU,  how did your career goals and interests change over time?

ML: I was a speech pathology major. At first, I was really interested in languages, but I think I was someone who wanted to have a clear sense of a direct connection to my degree and to a job. And then I switched over to English because I just realized that I really loved to write, and I wanted to use my college experience as a place to be a thinker and to be in a community. I didn’t ever really think I was going to be able to do publishing. I think I secretly, in my heart of hearts, always wanted it, but I didn’t think it was something that someone like me could do. I think there’s always this sheen around publishing that it’s kind of for the elite in some way, or, like, you have to know someone to get into it. So, I had really shut that door for myself, and I ended up taking an internship at a financial publishing house. But through that work, I was like, wow, okay, I have a broader sense of how publishing works. Not like literary publishing, but how the sausage is made a little bit. I took a class with Jeannie, or Professor Vanasco, and at that point, I was a huge follower and fan of Tin House. So, I read a lot of Tin House on my bad days at Barnes and Noble. I followed them on Instagram and all of a sudden, Jeannie’s face just kept popping up on their Instagram.

CH: Oh?

ML: It was really funny. It was actually like this very zoomed in picture of her, and it was just like a panel on their Instagram. And I was like, “Why is my professor’s face plastered all over Tin House’s Instagram?” Bizarre. And then, as you probably know, Jeannie was publishing a book with them at that time. I think this was for The Glass Eye, so this is like a throwback. I went up to her after class, and she explained that she was a forthcoming author. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I love Tin House—it would be so dreamy, something inconceivable, if I was able to work there—I would be obsessed with that.” And she said, “Oh, well, you should apply to the internship.” And so I did. And then I got it, and I moved to Portland.

CH: Wow.

ML: Yeah, it was a big jump. I graduated a year early from college, so I kind of treated that year as my fourth year of university and was like, this is a learning experience, and I’m going to go all in. Basically pay tuition to myself and invest in myself in that way. 

CH: Oh, that’s super cool. What advice would you give to students looking to pursue some kind of career in publishing?

ML: I think my biggest piece of advice is that you deserve to be there. Even if you’re just starting out in any career or field, knowing that it’s not something that was given to you, it’s something that you’ve earned. And because of that, you can advocate for what you need, even in an entry-level position. Oftentimes, publishing is the type of industry that I felt very early in my career that I just have to do everything that I’m assigned to do very quickly. I can’t say no to anything. I’m just so lucky to be here, and I can’t really set boundaries for myself. And I think that there are great ways to be able to kind of advocate for yourself when you get into the job, so that you can keep it sustainable for yourself to learn and grow.

CH: For sure, yeah, that’s great. 

ML: So that’s always my pep talk to myself.  I’m advocating for what I’m capable of offering, instead of just feeling like because I landed the job, I have to do anything that’s thrown my way very intensely. We all have capacities, and I think that that helps an organization, too, if you’re able to communicate when you’re at capacity. I would also say it never hurts to ask. People are always excited to do informational interviews or just connect and hear about what’s motivating you. And most of the time, if someone doesn’t respond, it’s not because they don’t want to, but maybe because they’re too busy, and you can always nudge them. I think especially in publishing, it never hurts to ask and come out of a space of curiosity, especially when you’re first getting your bearings.

The Many Forms of Grub Street

By Cora McDaniel


In early March, I met with Felicity Knox, the assistant university archivist at TU’s Special Collections and University Archives (lovingly referred to as SCUA) to talk with her about the history of Grub Street

For those who aren’t aware, archives (including ours at TU) play a vital role in the academic community. They meticulously collect materials of historical value in order to preserve and protect that which would otherwise be lost to the everyday chaos of life. These materials can range from yearbooks to student newspapers… to old editions of Grub Street. If you go to the SCUA website, you can see, laid out before you, digitized copies of every Towson literary magazine published from 1952-2022. These would eventually culminate in the Grub Street we know and love today. 

As part of my conversation with Ms. Knox, she offered me the opportunity to hold in my hands some early editions of our student literary magazine, each of which had different names. I saw copies of The Publication, Towers, and The Talisman—each of which contained vastly different artwork and literature. Much like Grub Street has today, there was always a poetry and prose section, however the art wouldn’t appear in the magazine until the 1952-53 edition of The Publication

Strangely enough, the most interesting sections to read through were the editor’s notes and the front and back matter of the magazine; this was where the voices the magazine’s staff came through most, and the drama (when there was any) was published in well-hidden niceties and dreadfully formal language. The magazine’s first name change, for instance, occurred because of a conflict between Towson’s student newspaper (The Towerlight, an organization which still exists today) and The Publication

In 1956, The Towerlight (known then as The Tower Light) published an article which stated that the literary magazine should change their name to something, “more stimulating, and yet in keeping with the nature of the magazine.” After some deliberation, the name Towers was eventually decided on—and changed, once again, soon thereafter. Students on campus kept confusing The Towerlight and Towers (another wonderful moment of historical drama), thus compelling the magazine to change their name yet again. It would take more than 30 years for the magazine’s staff to finally settle on the name Grub Street. I found the process of reading through the magazine content beyond interesting. Eventually, I was able to see a story come through in my head. That’s the beauty of archives—you’re able to see a picture of the past that might otherwise not exist if an archivist hadn’t bothered to save it.

As with any materials held within an archive, its content can say a lot about the time period from which it was collected. Art made in the ‘70s would, naturally, reflect much about the cultural and historical happenings of that decade. The same can be said about Grub Street, in all of its wonderful and weird forms. So, if you’re interested in learning more about our phenomenal archives on-campus and Grub Street, read through a few of the older editions of our magazine. It’s fascinating. 

A review of Darren C. Demaree’s the luxury

by Elizabeth Forrest


In his newest book of poetry, the luxury, Darren C. Demaree explores the emotions and conflicts of navigating an ecological apocalypse. The book holds 59 poems on 59 pages—each divided into three meditative tercets that spill over with anger, frustration, and melancholy. The poems in the luxury are less about the natural world than they are about Demaree’s anxiety about its destruction, maintaining an anthropocentric lens throughout the collection. It is a bit like a found-footage horror film, with ragged heavy breaths and snatches of conversation and the deaths that occur off-screen—amorphous and terrifying. 

The pieces evoke frustration and a sense of impotence in witnessing a world that is changing due to a tide of human inaction. Demaree interrogates the ethics of our collective approach to stewardship, writing  “we know winter windows / all darken motherfuckers / are still using coal here // & may the flood find them first” (p. 37). There is the palpable friction of chafing against those you share a world with but not the same ethical perspective: “give me green land // or give me a culture that doesn’t roast the damn world” (p. 20).

In his uneasiness about the fate of the planet lies a desperation for the future his children will live in, which manifests as a sort of existentialism through parenthood. In his poems, Demaree examines his own choices and their environmental impact. Toward the end of the collection, Demaree confesses, “maybe having children / was a mistake…. i / needed them but my needs are / bringing forth the ocean” (p. 56).

One need only look around for a more explicit illustration of the world on fire. Not long after the publication of this book, Demaree’s home state of Ohio experienced a very public demonstration of environmental disaster when 38 cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed, releasing hazardous materials. An eco-horrific landscape of billowing black smoke and raging (though purportedly controlled) fires realized a collective fear of catastrophe by human means. These concerns are readily accessible to anyone paying attention to their environment or paying attention to those who study it. In the luxury, Demaree empathetically models an ecological self-consciousness and self-examination for all of us living and dying in the anthropocene.


Review of Lillies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems

By Chase Hollobaugh


Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín and Other Poems is the latest collection of poetry from Irish poet Oisín Breen. The collection contains two long-form works as well as four shorter poems. 

As someone who has traditionally only read short poems, I felt the long-form works were an adjustment, but their effect was not lessened by their length. My favorite of the two is “The Lovesong of Anna Rua.” The poem begins with the lines:

                     “Ha-ra-hao-  Ha-ra-hao- Rah-Hao- Ha-Rah-Hao-

                      Ha-ra-hao- Ha-ra-hao- Rah-Hao-”

which creates a sense of chanting in the poem. Breen continues this throughout the poem, using different words and phrases as each section develops. This singsong nature takes full effect, backed by added spaces between sounds, when the speaker says: “Anna- Aye-Anna- Aye-Anna- / Aye-.” Some of these chanting lines do get hard to parse, however, as Breen uses hyphens to create long strands of words that run into one another, such as with 


While these lines do require the reader to pay more attention to the poems, they serve to break up the ideas within, and allow readers to pause in between Breen’s sections of dense imagery. For example, Breen writes:

“Melancholias, forced fixed euphorias, thrills, spills, and

hackneyed blue-eyed boys and girls who, sunning

themselves, with ice-cream dripping down their noses,

as their faux-saintliness has gravity itself inverted,

conceive of nothing other than being like and unto one

and other”

in section three of the poem. From the first word, a reader’s mind is drawn into thoughts of sadness, only to be thrust back into a sense of joy with the paradoxical “euphorias.” The image of children enjoying ice cream is then thrown into contrast with the accusations of “faux saintliness.” The additional image of inverted gravity adds a surreal quality to these lines, and obfuscates the image of children playing in the sun and enjoying their ice creams. While these layered images can make the poem hard to parse, they do not make it impossible. If nothing else, a reader could get lost within the images, trying to imagine each and every scene, before connecting it back with the rest of the work and the meanings of the poems. While getting lost may affect reader enjoyment, it did not negatively impact me as I read through the poems.

If the long-form poems are intimidating, then the shorter poems will offer a more familiar option to readers of short form poetry. “Six Months Bought with Dirt: the Bothy Crop of Arranmore” may still seem intimidating to readers expecting short line lengths, as its stanzas more closely resemble paragraphs, but will no less offer an engaging reading experience to anyone who takes the time to imagine the pictures Breen is painting throughout each stanza. Lines like “They knelt in the dirt, above the worms, and seedlings / Dampened off, pressing their hands beneath the earth, seeking / A grip” create haunting images of farmers clutching at the ground, pulling it apart to tend their crop. These dense stanzas come together beautifully in the last three lines as well, as the speaker condenses the thoughts and motion of the poem into a succinct and lasting image.

  My favorite short-form work in the collection is “At Swim, Two Pair.” Once again, Breen constructs an eerie image as the speaker describes the declining marine life he is watching swim across the water. The poem repeats the line “Two pair, where once moved a score and six” at the middle and conclusion of the poem. This line, when combined with “mother, sister, and kin” in the first line invokes an image of 26 women swimming, as their number is slowly reduced to four. When combined with the animals mentioned in the last stanza, the image shifts to fish or other marine life that are hunted as they travel along waterways.

While much of the poetry within Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín can feel heady and overwhelming with imagery to the reader, it rewards careful readings with an equal amount of depth. The collection boasts re-readability as well, as new meanings spring forth from the reader’s focus on different aspects of each poem. All in all, the collection contains a wealth of expansive imagery contained within six poems.

Exploring the Opposite Viewpoint in Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

By Rileigh Hartman


 Lily King’s short story collection, Five Tuesdays in Winter, preserves an ever-constant pull towards love through affliction and desire. The second story of the collection, which the book is named after, details the love a bookseller has for his employee. Described as reticent by his preteen daughter, Mitchell’s longing for Kate is thoughtfully disguised through his silence. However, in the end, there is a twist; she had been falling for him too. Mitchell thought his feelings were unrequited until she caressed his cheek, the fullness in his chest reason enough to lean in. But now, the story begs the question of how it would read if Kate was the focus instead. To answer this (and nudge the irony), I wanted to use her viewpoint to explore the possibilities of who Kate may be and what she may have felt during the story.

~ ~ ~

  Kate followed Lincoln to Portland. She was estranged in their shared apartment; coasters under her water glass, clothes still tucked in boxes— she never planned to stay. But she didn’t like to think of herself as someone who wouldn’t find love, that she was incapable of it. She could charm anyone, but it always led to them misplacing her, forcing her into boxes she didn’t check. Sometimes, she believed that if she tried to fit where people thought she should go, she’d find love there. Or if she went against fitting in, then not finding love was more intentional than contingent. The only time Kate felt sheltered was between book covers.

  When Paula, Mitchell’s daughter, complained about her Spanish teacher one Saturday afternoon, Kate offered to help. If she was honest with herself, speaking Spanish again would only stir up memories of Peru she didn’t want to revisit. Maine was nice anyway: decent views and handsome company. Later on the first Tuesday evening, it took her longer to pick out an outfit. The bookstore was home by then, and she treated it as such in her secondhand jeans. But it felt different to be going into Mitchell’s home— she wanted to look like she wouldn’t fit. Then Mitchell stared at her for a moment longer than usual when he opened the door, and she was suddenly seamless; settled in his gaze as she remembered what it felt like to be wanted somewhere. During her time with Paula, Kate wanted to ask if Mitchell had seen other women since his wife left, but he didn’t seem like the type of person who’d try to find love twice.

  At Westy’s, Kate always searched for the Mitchell-renowned mushroom soup after he mentioned it to her, and the glimmer in his eyes appeared. It had been years since he’d seen it, but she still enjoyed their inside joke: fitting into a space she didn’t know could exist. Kate couldn’t bring herself to smother her smile when she saw Mushroom Soup written on the menu. As she opened the door to the bookstore, she couldn’t tell what she was more excited for: the soup or the look on Mitchell’s face when she offered it to him. Of course, the latter won. When Mitchell brought up Mrs. White and Kate asked what she was like, he went quiet. But Kate didn’t disrupt his silence; she liked it. There was no place to fit in or out of. He said that she was like her. Even without knowing Mrs. White, Kate felt like she and Mitchell could love each other in a way that only they could understand.

  Paula asked her to stay for dinner on the fifth Tuesday— Valentine’s Day. She’d wanted to decline but it sounded better than going to the mall again, the reminder of how alone she was. Upon arrival, Kate handed Mitchell a small chocolate box, noticing how his eyes stayed trained on the gift instead of her. Time never caught up to when Mitchell knocked on the door to tell them dinner was ready and Paula stood abruptly, leaving a red stain on her quilt. Kate ran to the local pharmacy, never feeling more out of place with her lack of a motherly touch. Yet, she’d grown to realize that being around Paula and Mitchell was like reading her favorite book for the first time again. So, she ran back to the house.

  The quilt was tucked in Mitchell’s hands when she left Paula’s room. They walked to the laundry room, and when they faced each other after washing the quilt, the space between them felt smaller. Mitchell asked why the drunk man last week told them they have the same eyes. It wasn’t true— Mitchell had green eyes, she had brown. But she knew what the man saw. He was fearful that she would leave but loved her anyway; she was fearful that he’d misplace her but desired him regardless. Kate remembered the word Paula used for him— reticent— but could only think of herself, which spurred her fingertips to caress his cheek. He pulled her closer, and Kate thought about how she would never leave his side as she leaned in with him.

~ ~ ~

   Five Tuesdays in Winter follows two complex individuals who have quietly chosen each other. The significance and irony of their relationship is how they were both reticent but we, the reader, only received one side of their story; we were only seeing Mitchell’s world sculpt around Kate. In the rewrite above, her character is translated from the specks we’re given of her through Mitchell’s point of view. Kate is subjective, yet we’re given just enough information about her that it becomes clear she shouldn’t be left in the reader’s peripheral. As Mitchell demonstrated, being reticent doesn’t mean untroubled. 

  Lily King’s collection carries the theme of only sharing one side of a love story. While she accomplishes making her reader ponder the romantic probabilities for each story, it leaves little room for discovering the unacknowledged character’s perspective. In Five Tuesdays in Winter, the surprise ending gnaws at the unsettled relationship between Kate and Mitchell, making it feel unfinished. But letting the reader know what Kate was going through and what she could have been thinking about strengthens their bond and puts their relationship on more solid ground, creating a well-rounded love story and breathing life into her love for Mitchell.

Interview With Professor Benjamin Warner

By Holden Schmale

Prof. Benjamin Warner is the author of two speculative fiction novels, Thirst and Fearless. A lecturer at Towson, Ben teaches creative fiction writing and creative nonfiction, among other courses. Recently Warner and fellow writer and former Loyola creative writing professor Ron Tanner decided to take on a new challenge: writing a craft guide. Titled Speculative Fiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology, the book is intended for college creative writing classrooms and will be released in summer 2024. I had the privilege of discussing this project with Ben, gaining insight into a process that has been unique even to an experienced author. 

This interview was conducted by Holden Schmale over a series of emails and has been edited for clarity and length.

Holden Schmale: What first led you to want to take on the challenge of making a craft book and stepping away from your niche in fiction writing?

Ben Warner: I know that when I was an undergraduate, I imagined my creative writing instructors went home from teaching their classes in Helen C. White Hall, and then wrote fiction until they fell asleep at 2 a.m. I didn’t understand just how much effort they were putting into preparing for the following class: reading student work, choosing stories to teach, thinking of ways those stories might be discussed, and creating writing exercises. There’s a lot to it, and it’s fun, and now I’ve been doing it myself for close to 20 years. So writing about that process—and hoping that it might offer other instructors and students some insight—feels both natural and rewarding.

HS: How has the writing process been compared to your regular process for fiction? Obviously, you’re reading other pieces and deciding what belongs in the book, but I had the pleasure of reading a preliminary chapter for class, and there is a great deal of writing you must do on top of choosing each piece.

BW: Yes, that’s true. This is less of a textbook than a craft guide, which is its own genre, I guess. Ron and I are putting a lot of effort into explaining concepts, annotating stories, working out exercises that build on themselves, and trying to help students see some of the ways that speculative fiction is built, one element at a time. As you know, there’s a lot that comes up in a creative writing classroom discussion that feels off-the-cuff or improvised—as students and instructor thinking out loud together. In writing this book, those ideas need to be fully and artfully articulated, so that they can be expressed clearly to our audience.

HS: What are you looking for in a piece you are going to include in your craft guide? I won’t use any specific names, in case it ultimately doesn’t end up being included, but the piece you showed me that you were considering was wacky and wonderful.

BW: Wacky and wonderful is a good start. First and foremost, Ron and I are readers, and we want to be moved by what we read. That can mean so many different things. The speculative fiction we’ve chosen to include is inventive, funny, character-driven, odd, unexpected, and comes from a diverse group of contemporary voices.

HS: What, if anything, are you going to take from this experience and apply to your own creative work?

BW: My teaching certainly impacts my creative work, and I think of this book project as an extension of my teaching. When I’m, say, 50 pages into a draft of a novel, I often stop to think: Is there a world here that my audience understands? Have I fully thought through the way that world works? Do I know these characters? Are there places where I’m falling into cliché? These sorts of self-checks come directly from my teaching, and now, hopefully, this book will help make them available to students in other classrooms.

HS: How has your creative writing benefited and/or suffered in the process of working concurrently on this craft guide? Do you find yourself just swamped with the writing load, or do you find yourself inspired from reading so much fiction at (presumably) a higher rate than usual?

BW: That’s a very astute question, Holden, because you’ve identified a problem I didn’t know existed when I started out. For so many writers I know, the hardest part of writing is making the time to write. I teach four courses each semester at TU, and I have a family who I have to make oatmeal and spaghetti for (those are separate meals… I don’t mix the spaghetti with the oatmeal), and so taking on a big project like this means I have less time for whatever narrative I’m working on. But you’re right, too, that reading a lot of contemporary speculative fiction has been inspiring and motivating, and though it might come to nothing, I have started working on a new novel at the same time as I’m working on this book.

HS: How do you find the right balance of borrowed work (short fiction pieces) and your own instruction and analysis within the craft guide? You are in a unique position writing a craft book for creative writing, as opposed to another discipline that may be less example heavy.

BW: We’re dividing the book up into two parts: a craft section in the front that talks about the nuts and bolts of writing a story and an anthology in the back. The examples we use in the craft section are often very short (anywhere from a page to five pages); these stories are small enough to take apart, like engineers cracking open the motor housing of a drill, so that we can ask: How does this thing work? In the anthology, we’re allowing for stories that demonstrate at greater length some of the lessons of character, setting, and conflict that we try to illuminate in the earlier chapters.

HS: What have you taken away from your experience writing about technique? Have you learned anything about yourself or  your own process? Do you see yourself changing anything about your technique after this experience?

BW: I think I’m always changing my technique. Like so many readers who write, I absorb the rhythms of other writers’ language, and those rhythms make their way into my writing. And when I read a story deeply, and break it apart line by line, examining each word choice with a spirit of discovery and admiration (as Ron and I do with the stories we’re using), that syntax and diction gets lodged in my brain. I can’t imagine that it doesn’t change the way I sit down to do my own work. Sometimes I write something that feels a bit too familiar—an expression or bit of dialogue—and I realize that it’s close to a line I know from another story. Those are moments that make me smile, because that bit of language has become an unconscious part of the way I see the world (though I always revise those lines).

HS: Take yourself back to when you hatched the idea to write this textbook. What did you hope to gain personally as a writer? How has reality compared to those expectations?

BW: I really wanted to help students in creative writing classrooms. When I first started writing in college, some syllabi stated explicitly: NO GENRE WRITING. I took that to be the law of the land, that is, what “serious” writers thought about speculative fiction vs. realistic fiction. But that’s not the case. In fact, most of the serious writers I know are great lovers of speculative storytelling. And yet, the fullness of that truth hadn’t made it into the classroom. It seemed like no [one] was willing to commit to the idea that genre writing is suitable for college students to read, write, and talk about. In part, that’s because no textbook about writing speculative fiction existed. So, we set out to write one.

HS: Could you see yourself writing another craft book? How has your experience been compared to the writing of a novel?

BW: I can’t imagine writing another craft book, but then again, I never imagined writing this one. I’m happiest when I’m working on a novel, and I think I’ll always be working on a novel. Even recently, as I was deep into working on this book, I felt a bit antsy that I wasn’t writing a novel (which is probably why I started writing on another novel).

HS: Last question—a broad one. When it is all said and done, what do you hope a reader of your textbook will take away from its content? Where do you expect its best uses to be? The college level? High school? Who do you see benefiting most from its content? A beginner or a more experienced writer?

BW: This is an easy one. We’re writing this book for any writer who wants to feel a bit more confident about writing a speculative story. I’ve met so many students who have told me that they’ve started a novel or a story but got stuck and stopped. Or they didn’t know “where to take it” after 100 pages. We hope that this craft book is a way to help students get un-stuck, or that it will inspire new directions for those who felt inspired enough to begin the imaginative journey in the first place. It’s a weird thing to be moved to make up problems for made up characters. But that’s what writers do. And that weirdness deserves to be helped along!


Benjamin Warner is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University’s MFA program. A lecturer at Towson University, he teaches courses in composition, environmental writing, and fiction writing. Ben is the adviser to the Towson University Urban Farm and Veg.

Holden Schmale is a junior at Towson University. He has published a short story titled ‘Acquaintances’ in Fairlight Books online portal. He currently serves as Fiction Editor on the Grub Street staff.


Small Press Highlight: Fallen Tree Press

By Marleigh Heffner

Fallen Tree Press is a Maryland publisher that focuses on poetry chapbooks. Terri Simon and Patti Ross, the editors of the press, formed Fallen Tree Press in 2022 following an avid conversation at a bookbinding class in 2017. Simon has written and published multiple chapbooks, including Ghosts of My Own Choosing (Flutter Press, 2017), and has appeared in a number of both online and print journals. Ross has a background in theatrical performance and journalism; she has recently begun sharing spoken-word poetry and published her first chapbook, entitled St. Paul Street Provocations (Yellow Arrow Publishing, 2021). Through Fallen Tree Press, Simon and Ross wish to publish a diverse selection of authors and aim to uplift the voices of the underprivileged; they also donate a percentage of their proceeds to charity. 

Fallen Tree Press has two published collections and are rapidly working on their third. Their first publication was an anthology that combined art and poetry. Portraits of Life: An Ekphrastic Anthology is a collection of art by April M. Rimpo and Elaine Weiner-Reed and poetry that has been inspired by their art. Mount Fuji, 36 Sonnets by Jay Hall Carpenter is the press’ second publication; it is based on the series of Japanese paintings 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai. In this chapbook, Carpenter writes about nostalgia, love, and death using the form of Shakespearean sonnets. Both chapbooks can be found for sale on the press’ website.

Simon and Ross wish to help poets get their work noticed and out into the world; they continue to do so as they explore new submissions for Fallen Tree Press’ third chapbook, which can be expected this summer.

Grub Street Announced Gold Crown Awards Winner! Plus, A Q&A with Last Year’s Co-Editor-in-Chief

By Colin Lang

Grub Street has won another award! The Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) has announced that Volume 71 of Grub Street, which was published just last year, is a Gold Crown Awards winner. The Crown Awards honor the best student-produced publications, which are chosen by the CSPA’s judges. There were a total of 805 publications eligible for judging. Before becoming a Gold Crown Awards winner, Grub Street was one of several Crown Awards Finalists, which are chosen based on overall excellence. This excellence is determined by the quality of a publication’s design, concept, coverage, writing, and photography. This month, the CSPA held a ceremony announcing which publications were awarded Gold Crowns, while the rest of the Finalists won Silver Crowns. A wide variety of publications were Crown Awards Finalists with the most publications coming from high schools and many also coming from colleges. There is even a small amount of publications that come from middle schools. Towson University is not the only college from Maryland to be announced as a Gold Crown Awards winner. Mount St. Mary’s University, located in Emmitsburg, won a Gold Crown for their literary magazine, Lighted Corners


The CSPA was founded in 1925 and unites student editors and their faculty advisors to promote excellence in student journalism. The CSPA holds contests and awards publications to continually make student media better by setting the standard higher and higher. The student members of the CSPA come from all types of schools and colleges, which highlights its diversity of voices.

In light of Grub Street winning a Gold Crown, I reached out to Kourtney Douglas, who worked as one of the two Editors-in-Chief of Volume 71, with a few questions related to her time working on Grub Street.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Colin Lang: What was the most fulfilling part about completing and publishing Grub Street?

Kourtney Douglas: I think the most fulfilling part of working on Grub Street Volume 71 was becoming acquainted with some of the brilliant minds behind work we had become so familiar with. It really demonstrated to me how intimate of a privilege it is to be a part of someone’s writing journey and process. I am beyond humbled by the experience. I also got to work with some really awesome people who will surely go on to do some great work, in whatever field they end up in.


CL: What was the hardest part in the process of publishing Grub Street?


KD: I think the most difficult part was simply logistics. Thankfully, besides [on] a handful of works, Kelsey and I often agreed with our genre editors, and we all seemed to work well together. Most of the trouble came when outside life starting “life-ing”–a lot of it was asynchronous, and it did become difficult as the work increased. Most of us worked while being full-time students, some of us supported partners and families. For me, I’m a full-time caretaker of a school-aged relative, who had a lot of health challenges, and I also got COVID-19 during the revision process. I credit Jeannie Vanasco, our advisor last year, and Kelsey Franklin, my Co-Editor-in-Chief, with getting us to the end successfully.


CL: What advice would you give to future Grub Street editors?


KD: I could ramble for a long time about all that I learned, so let me try to get it into something you can use. I think my biggest advice is to learn all you can about the process. Ask possibly stupid questions, challenge norms and standards, and don’t shy from the idea of nuance and impossible complexity in the media you enjoy. You can be critical and still love something. You can personally dislike something while acknowledging its value and impact. Think deeply about the fact there are other humans on the other side of Submittable, sending in their work with trust in your ability to honor how vulnerable submitting is.


CL: How does it feel to have worked on an award-winning literary magazine?


KD: I forget what a big deal Grub Street is to many. I’m humble and thankful for the experience. If we made an amazing issue that never won a single award, I’d still be just as pleased. What is important to me is the growth and acknowledgement of the team and artists and getting the work to readers who want it.


CL: What knowledge from working on Grub Street do you take with you to this day?


KD: Grub Street was the first time I had worked on this large of a team for any kind of major project in years, so those skills: learning to be curious about others’ opinions and not judgmental, being open-minded, flexible and creative when it comes to logistics–those are things I still use everyday. I also learned or relearned so much about writing, about form, and about the process, both the internal and external, of publishing and writing. Also, I got to talk to one of my favorite poets, Hanif Abdurraqib, when Jeannie invited him to class, and I found so, so many great authors through the books assigned in class.