Essay: A Turn at Paris,Straight Through Defiance

Courtney McDermott received her MFA in creative writing, with a minor in gender studies, from the University of Notre Dame in 2011. She has been published in the Iowa Source Poetry Anthology, Italy from a Backpack, the Berkeley Fiction Review, Highlights Children’s Magazine, and online at the Raving Dove and the Daily Palette. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Lesotho, and currently teaches high school English in St. Louis, MO.

Through the Looking Lens

I met a man who searched for names of odd little towns on the Iowa state map. Jericho, Macedonia, Paris. Rome and Defiance. He looked at the alphabetical lists provided in the indices of atlases so that he wouldn’t know where – exactly – in the state they were. He’d imagine how they got their names and designed the downtowns of each in his brain.

I’d say, “I know where Jericho is!”

And he’d say, “Shh. Don’t tell me.”

Then when it was a spring Saturday, he planned to get in his truck and go to a few counties and see what weird-sounding towns each county had to proffer, a grab bag of funny hamlets and stolen European capitals. He decided he’d photograph the blessings of each, and I’d compile them into a book.

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Poetry: Mexican Sunflowers

Grace E. Gray (1981) is a professional writer and editor, with publications that include scholarly articles on developmental neuroscience, feature writing, medical writing, nature writing, and interviews. She has been writing poetry as long as she can remember. Her only published poem, included here, is “Mexican Sunflowers,” which was published in Poet Lore, 2005.

Mexican Sunflowers
My daughter plays in my mother’s shadow,
Hiding in the unpredictable shade.
She stirs up the murky water,
Groping after goldfish and water-lily roots.

Flanking the fountain
Huge planters filled with exotic and half-wilted plants
Run the length of the museum courtyard.
My sister and I wander around them, avoiding my mother,
Faking interest in the limp Tithonia and elephants’ ears.
Oppressed by the sun,
Too much tourism, and each other.

My mother—Obstinate sunflower–
Disgusted with us and the whole inadequate planet
Turns her arrogant face
Directly into the light.
Looking back I have to wonder how my daughter
Who wasn’t even born at the time
Managed to get loose in that tired courtyard.
In my mind she flings up her wet hands–
The drops shoot from her fingers
Flying beyond my mother’s shadow to flare briefly in the sunlight.

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What writers or books have most impacted you as a person?   Literature can have profound influence on who we are, what we do for a living, how we think or what we care about.  For example, a survey conducted several years ago by the American Bar Association asked its members what made them decide to be a lawyer.  Overwhelmingly, ABA attorneys cited the character of Atticus Finch from Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird for inspiring them to pursue the law. Of course the fact that Gregory Peck played Atticus in the film version might have played a role in the decision too!

For writers, the work of fellow authors, particularly those we encounter when we are first beginning our literary careers can literally shape not only how we write, but what we write about.

To get the discussion started, we asked some of our  editors and contributors to share insights into the writers who most influenced their literary aspirations and why.  We encourage all our readers to join in the discussion as well using the comments form below and participate in all our Talkback/Discussions on Community Forum.