Darryl Graff: Fresh Flowers

Every Saturday I go to the florist on 116th Street in Rockaway and buy five stems of white daisies. The florist is an old Jewish guy from Far Rockaway, who wears gold wire-rimmed glasses. He always proudly tells me that he is “hung over.”

“The price of being popular,” he likes to say.

I say to him, “Five daisies, no fruit,” which means, no baby’s breath or greens. This makes him laugh.

When I was a kid, my father would take me downtown to restaurants with red-and-white checked tablecloths.  I guess he figured, taking his young son to a restaurant to drink was better than going to a bar where I would have to sit on the bar stool with my little Converse feet dangling in the air.  At the restaurants, I got to sit in a regular chair with my feet on the floor, and have a small plate of salami with a Coke.

My father’s order was always the same: “a martini straight up, no fruit.”  The waiter would nod and say, “Yes, sir.” When my father said, “no fruit,” he meant, no olives or lemons, liquor only. When I tell the florist, “no fruit,” he knows exactly what I’m saying– and where I’m from.

Most times when I’m at his store, the florist is busy, blowing up balloons with a helium tank.  Balloons that say something like “Congratulations to the Grad,” or “Happy Easter,” or “It’s a Boy.” He always has a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes lying on the table next to his pruning shears. I have been trying to quit smoking cigarettes for five years.

Once I asked the florist, “What does your doctor say about the unfiltered cigarettes?”

He calmly replied, “My doctor told me to quit smoking, or I’m gonna die.”

I said, “So, what happened?” 

“My doctor died,” he said with a big smile.

The florist is my hero.

I give him five dollars, and leave the shop with the flowers. Then I walk down 116th Street to the Rockaway Park Deli and Grocery. The guy behind the counter is from Yemen.  His name is probably Abdul or Akmed, but here in America in Rockaway Park, we call him “Mike.”

The store is full of Budweiser 12- packs stacked five feet high. It’s an alcoholic’s maze. I work my way through the maze-like a laboratory mouse until I make it to the back of the store where the cold twelve-packs are.

Rockaway has been a dumping ground for all of New York City’s mentally ill for fifty years. Any other neighborhood would have one or two homes for the mentally ill; Rockaway has at least thirty or forty. There is an oversaturation of half-way houses, too, all filled with slack-jawed overly medicated zombies.  Not just regular zombies, Diane Arbus zombies. All smoking generic cigarettes because New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has decided that all smokers should be taxed, even the crazy ones. 

One day at the Deli, I said to Mike, “I really hope you have been to other parts of America.  I would hate for you to go home to Yemen, thinking that Rockaway Park is America….” 

My wife, Regina, and I live in Chinatown in Manhattan and come out to Rockaway only on the weekends. Even though we are not Chinese, “Mike” likes to call us “Mr. and Mrs. Chinese people.” If Regina is not with me in his store, he greets me with: “How is the Chinese Lady doing?”

And Mike assured me, “Don’t worry, I’ve seen America. I’ve been to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and Niagara Falls, upstate.”

I think to myself, Allah is great, God is good, thank Jesus for the Liberty Bell and Niagara Falls. Otherwise, someday, when Mike returns to Yemen, the children in the village will gather around him and ask Uncle Abdul, “What is America like?” 

Mike will tell them, “It’s all slacked-jawed, overly medicated, generic-cigarette-chain-smoking zombies. And then there is “Mr. and Mrs. Chinese people, who buy Budweiser beer and the pro-Israeli New York Post every day. Children, always remember, America is a very, very bad place…” 

When I get home, I give the flowers to my wife, Regina. She clips, and snips, and even talks to the flowers. She says, “You’re so beautiful, yes, you are,” as she arranges the flowers in our thrift-store vase and places it on our yard-sale table.

Darryl Graff is an NYC construction worker my stories have appeared in Akashic books, Gravel, Empty Sink, and other journals.

Walt Whitman: Song of Myself reading

The Weekly Degree ends May and enters June with a reading of one of our favorite poets. So what better time to praise his work with a poetry reading? Listen & watch the video below (read by Tom O'Bedlam). 

As seen on poets.org

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, the second son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. In 1855, Whitman took out a copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the volume himself, and sent a copy to Emerson in July of 1855. Whitman released a second edition of the book in 1856, containing thirty-three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman in response. During his lifetime, Whitman continued to refine the volume, publishing several more editions of the book. Noted Whitman scholar, M. Jimmie Killingsworth writes that “the ‘merge,' as Whitman conceived it, is the tendency of the individual self to overcome moral, psychological, and political boundaries. Thematically and poetically, the notion dominates the three major poems of 1855: ‘I Sing the Body Electric,' ‘The Sleepers,' and ‘Song of Myself,' all of which were ‘merged’ in the first edition under the single title Leaves of Grass but were demarcated by clear breaks in the text and the repetition of the title.”


The first two sections of Walt Whitman's seminal poem. Whitman sees himself in everything and everything in himself becoming what he observes, the "kosmos".

Nick Sweeney: No Ball Games-Photos

We are pleased to run yet another photo gallery for you all on this week's The Weekly Degree. Below are 10 photos on the theme of "restriction".

Abstract: Some of us travel to find things to amuse and entertain us. They're very often the same things we'd do at home, so why don't we just stay at home and do them? The prompt for this series of photos came with the idea that if you'd traveled to do these very things in these places, you'd be terribly disappointed. Why not travel in future in search of things to NOT do?

 

Nick Sweeney’s stories and photos are scattered around the web and in print. Laikonik Express, his novel about friendship, Poland, vodka, snow and getting the train for the hell of it, was published by UK independent publisher Unthank Books in 2011. He is a freelance writer and musician, and lives in London. 

The Poet M.J.: Spoken word

Today on The Weekly Degree we have an audible treat for you all. Indulge in this marvelous spoken word piece by The Poet MJ! Click the play button to hear it.

Melinda Jane, a.k.a. The Poet Mj, is a writer and spoken word artist with explorations in soundscapes, installation art, improv music in the performing arts. She has poems published in The Mozzie, Rambutan Literary, Backstory Journal, KNWG and Border Watch as well as a children's book, "The Currawong and the Owl". A lyricist collaborating with composers and musicians in spoken word performances and a musical concert, she was a fellow of the Australian Writers National Literary Awards in 2016 for the play script titled, "The Farmer’s Wife". 

Interview with poet, Kimberly Casey

I visited Huntsville, AL in February for Thirty West Presents. Aside from the space and rocket museum, trendy eateries, libations, and relaxing weather, there is a thriving community of artists that I was anxious to indulge in. Below, I was able to interview an awesome human and her contribution to this community...

J: Welcome, Kimberly, to The Weekly Degree! It’s been awhile since I did an interview. For starters, tell us a bit about yourself.

K: Kimberly Casey, poet, community organizer, dog lover. I’ve been writing poetry since 6th grade and have been performing it in some capacity for a decade. I founded Out Loud HSV in 2014, in an effort to provide a place to inspire community outreach and activism through spoken word.

J: So, I know you graduated from Emerson College…are you originally from the New England area?

K: I am originally from Massachusetts, a really sweet small town called Brimfield.

J: On the note of Out Loud HSV, what compelled you to travel to the Huntsville area and set up such an organization?

K: I had some amazing friends with a studio at Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, and I had just graduated college and was in a dead-end office job. They invited me down to visit them and within two weeks I had a job at Lowe Mill. Once I settled in Huntsville permanently, I sought out a community of writers. When I didn’t find anything that stuck, I created a monthly open mic series which flourished over time into Out Loud HSV. Now we have a studio, poetry slams, workshops, youth meetups, storytelling events, and of course our monthly open mic series is still alive and well.

J: I was able to check out Lowe Mill and was blown away upon arrival. How does the community in Huntsville approach literature? What/who are major figures in your community?

K: Huntsville is a huge city but it’s sprawling, so there are a lot of small pockets of literary lovers throughout. Oakwood University and A&M have great spoken word groups, our local NPR affiliate showcases local writers on the Sundial Writers Corner, there’s the Huntsville Literary Association and more. As far as a major figure in our community, my biggest local literary inspiration is my friend TC, who is the founder of Coffeehouse Poets. TC is constantly working to use the power of poetry to give back to the community in majorly impactful ways. I really admire that.

J: It is quite a beautiful place and hearing about NPR and the universities give it even more value. What type of publications does Out Loud normally put out?

K: We put out a yearly anthology that welcomes submissions from everyone who has read at our events that past year. Everyone who submits gets at least one piece in, so it functions as a yearbook celebrating all our communities amazing voices. We’ve done a few zines, and I hope to expand more for the publications in the future.

J: Sweet! How has Lowe Mill fostered community in Huntsville as a whole?


K: Lowe Mill has been a staple in Huntsville from the start. The Flying Monkey Arts collective was the first official tenant of the building, bringing a weekly artist market and eventually building out studio spaces before the building had heat or AC. The Flying Monkey was and is dedicated to providing a space for the community to access art. Lowe Mill grew and grew to house more and more artists, and now is the largest privately-owned arts facility in the country. It’s an amazing space where the public can come and not just see the art of all different mediums but meet the artists and learn more about their processes—there’s an open-door policy so if you see a studio door open, head on in and meet an artist!

J: Even more of a reason to visit and re-visit! How did you like your experience with Tilde and Thirty West when I hosted the reading? Would you consider stocking Tilde print journals at Lowe Mill?

K: Amazing and absolutely! Our studio stocks many local pubs and self-published authors who have been part of our community in some way, and since your visit, you’re part of our community now! Print journals, Thirty West books, let's work that out! The reading was a blast. I love hearing new voices in new spaces, and we’d never done an event in that venue before. It was great.

J: Totally was and maybe it’ll happen again one day. What are some of your short and long-term goals as a creative staple in Huntsville?

K: We just accomplished a huge goal this year by getting our official non-profit status. More goals include more work within our local school systems & with youth programs such as the Boys & Girls club, all while continuing to provide a wide array of literary outlets to our city. Bringing in more and more touring poets and writers is an ongoing goal, as is working towards sending our yearly slam team to more and more competitions both regionally and nationally. We’ve got a strong structure and foundation, now we just keep building on it.

J: Love that reference. Lastly, what’s your favorite coffee drink at Alchemy?

K: An Iced Americano. No nonsense; just give me all the caffeine!

J: Tasty and effective. Thanks again for the interview! You can read Kimberly’s work in Tilde or check out some of the links below. See you next week on The Weekly Degree!

 Out Loud HSV

Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment

 

 

 

 

Bob Raymonda: Rice Bowl, Half Empty

As soon as I walk in the door of my apartment, I strip down to a pair of shorts and open the fridge to compose dinner. A brick of tofu, a can of black beans, a few cups of white rice, half an onion, and an orange pepper materialize before I can decide what to do with them. Improvising, I dice each individual part into more manageable chunks. When this is done, I drop them into two separate pans with a few tablespoons of olive oil.

“Are you sure you weren’t supposed to put the rice in the water after it was already boiling?” chides Sam from the peanut gallery, cuddling with our cat in the living room.

“Yes,” I groan, exasperated with her constant lack of trust in my ability to follow directions. She checks the box to make sure anyway.

I employ unmeasured splashes of pink sea salt, black pepper, cumin, and paprika to lather the frying tofu. I use our long set of tongs, flipping the thin steaks in the splattering pan repeatedly, willing them to cook faster than they’re able to. Sam sings a stream of consciousness tune about vegetables to our cat, who has joined us on the countertop. Dutifully, she seasons and stirs the onion, pepper, and beans to ensure even cooking. I wash the cutting board so the inevitable pile of dishes in the sink is smaller, later.

When the meal is finally complete, Sam combines a heaping dollop of mayonnaise with a smaller squirt of sriracha. We squeeze half a lime over our evenly portioned bowls and I throw the remains of it into my glass. I’ve gotten good about resisting the urge to buy sugared juices, but I still want to transform the water I chug instead into something that is more than.

Before we get to the living room, on our respective sides of the brown suede couch, I’m already shoving forkfuls of food into my mouth. I do this not to test out if the rice is cooked, or if I used too much seasoning, but to fight off the hunger that’s been burbling underneath since I strapped my seatbelt on in the car an hour earlier. The time I’m forced to wait in between meals fosters an impatience in me that I have little ability to deal with.

I do not savor a single bite. I do not pay attention to its flavor as another episode of Parks & Recreation plays, but inhale my food as if I’ll never have another meal again. Leslie Knope can barely get through an entire joke by the time that I’m finished and letting out a deeply satisfied burp. The immediate inaction of completion starts to eat away at me, and I quickly, subconsciously, choose from a myriad of past failures to obsess over. Any reason that I can find to hate myself more than I already do.

“Mmm, this is good, baby,” Sam says, only halfway done. I plop my empty bowl onto the old black trunk in front of us that serves as a makeshift coffee table. I don’t even wait five minutes to register if dinner was satisfying before I start thinking about my next offering. My stomach, bloating with its still digesting meal, screams at me, begging me not to stop. To keep shoveling more and more and more into its warm and stewing cocoon, to focus on its needs instead of my brewing anxiety.

“Shit,” I moan, “I wish we’d bought another apple pie.”

“How can you think about pie right now?” Sam asks, incredulously grasping her own stomach. “How are you even done eating this already?”

I shrug, aware of the comfort that masticating provides my whole family. Something to do when our endless thoughts, those gnawing feelings that eat away at our insides, become too much to handle. A vacancy in our soul, a fullness that can never truly be sated, as long as there is something else in the kitchen and on our minds to chew on. The physical pain that comes with overeating does nothing to stop us for more than a half an hour at a time.

Sam places her scraps on the trunk near mine and I scoop them up, scraping off the sides of her bowl and vacuuming them into my gullet before she can ask if I even want them. She laughs at my persistence and sighs a breath of relief, agreeing, “Alright, you’re right…”

My ears perk up and I ask, “Ice cream?”

I stand without waiting for her answer, picking up our dirty dishes, and depositing them into the sink. I spoon the last bits of dinner into a Tupperware for tomorrow’s lunch, feverishly licking every cold cooked onion out of the pan and off the spatula. I turn up the faucet until its scalding hot and start tearing through the pile in front of me.

“Do you have to do that right now?” she calls, “come hang out with me, I’ll help you do that later.”

“I’m almost done!” I shout, letting the cleansing burn serve as another momentary distraction preceding dessert.

Once there’s nothing left in the sink, I grab the sea salt and caramel pistachio frozen yogurt and two spoons. Sam is still on the couch, playing with our cat, Rufio, and I plop back down on the other side of him. We smile at each other, and for a minute I find a fleeting sense of contentment if nothing else. In these times, when the thoughts won’t stop and all I want to do is eat, it comforts me to know I have a partner who’ll do the same right by my side.

The first bite slows the self-destructive loop that’s been turning over and over in my head. The second reminds me how much I love the satisfying feeling of ice cream as it melts in your mouth. It isn’t until we’ve unintentionally finished the entire container that I find something that momentarily resembles a peace. And for a brief, if fleeting, moment, I’m satisfied.

Bob Raymonda is the founding editor of Breadcrumbs Magazine. He graduated from SUNY Purchase with a focus in creative nonfiction and will be pursuing his MFA at Sarah Lawrence College in the fall. His other work can be found in Luna Luna Magazine, OCCULUM, and Peach Mag. Find out more at www.bobraymonda.co

Kiriti Sengupta: A conversation

Recently, our friend, Kiriti Sengupta, was interviewed via The Policy Times which is based out of India. This interview was created after he won the 2018 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize. Take a listen and leave some comments/likes in the video!

The Policy Times in an exclusive interaction with Kiriti Sengupta, recipient of Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2018 talks about the various facades of poetry and its' practical aspects in the society

Aahoo Ellie Pourang: Changing Shakespearean History—Literally.

Changing Shakespearean History—Literally.

I have this problem of never being satisfied. Biographies and autobiographies feed me a certain motivation for writing protagonists, antagonists, and minor characters, but reading into their background and ‘flaws’ is never enough. I want baggage, enemies, guilty pleasures, gluttony, resentment, and what makes a man drive to leaving his legacy. The man I’ve been fascinated with is no other than William Shakespeare. It sounds like an unhealthy celebrity crush, but all I’ve ever wanted was to get under William Shakespeare’s skin and see the world through his eyes. Because I am 427 years younger, I must be creative. Naturally, I did what any unsatisfied woman would do and wrote a fantasy series based on William Shakespeare.

Going back to my introduction, one William Shakespeare isn’t satisfying—I want one for each genre: Comedy, Romance, History—and let’s throw in a woman—and Tragedy. That’s great and all, but what about their identities? The Shakespeare of Comedy is William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who is the “fair youth” in Shakespearean sonnets and co-founded Pembroke College with King James. King James happens to be the Shakespeare of History. These two Shakespeares are the better of the four. Now, let’s heat things up. The Shakespeare of Romance is Sir T. Moore, an Irish poet, singer, and poet who’s crazy about art and power. Who’s also obsessed with art and power? The Shakespeare of Tragedy, of course! Mary Fitton is our Shakespeare of Tragedy and is historically considered the “dark lady” in Shakespearean sonnets. She had an affair with William Herbert, who you remember is “fair youth”. Strange how they all seem to be slices of the pie, right? I could go on and tell you that Mary Fitton is a lesbian who fell in love with Viola from 12th Night, and Viola betrayed Mary to marry William Herbert and become the Queen of Comedy, but I’ll save that family drama for the actual novel:

Shakespeare’s Promenade: Book 1

Beneath the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College Library, is a secluded tube station leading to Shakespeare’s Promenade, a mystical land where the Shakespeare lineage is royalty and only the young and beautiful are gifted immortality. There is but one rule: remain contented, or torture methods will be executed to add the conspirator into Shakespeare’s army of deranged clowns. When I say deranged, I mean the kind that will cut a man’s legs off in public and throw a party after. The bad clowns. But Shakespeare’s Promenade isn’t based on William Shakespeare, it follows his granddaughter that had no idea it existed until now. Let’s fast forward a little bit.

The year is 2014, and twenty-three-year-old, Roxanna Obelix, lives alone with her depressed and legless father while she attends graduate school in Oxford. She believes her mother had been murdered by artists for the last fifteen years but is revealed that she was kidnapped by Roxanna’s estranged grandfather, William Shakespeare…but which one? Because it’s hard to believe her depressed and legless father, she does what any normal woman in her early 20’s would do, and ventures into Shakespeare’s Promenade. Tagging along is Ed, her past babysitter turned handsome Shakespearean Studies professor, and Matt, her gay social-media-obsessed best friend. There’s no guarantee of returning to the real world, but she’s certain everything will be fine once her mother is found and the four of them shall quietly exit Shakespeare’s Promenade. Disclaimer: everything will not be fine. Roxanna discovers she is a part of a conspiracy to begin the “War on Art” and murder William Shakespeare—all of them.

A brief setting exposition:

A Comedy-Tragedy statue towers over the glittered stone ground and passing citizens who have no intention of leaving. Different colored roads lead to four destinations: the red road travels to the Romance Promenade, the blue to Comedy Promenade, green to History Promenade, and black to Tragedy Promenade. Time goes by the corresponding color of the sky, and currency is based on the ‘popularity points’ a citizen has obtained throughout their stay. The more popular a citizen becomes, he or she receives a nicer home, better food, and a larger audience. Every day, citizens strive to be popular through their art while simultaneously becoming brainwashed in the process.

In six words or less: Social media filter in real life.

Shakespeare’s Promenade shall be a four-book New Adult Fantasy series, with another four-book prequel series to be determined. If you’ve read this far, this is what I meant by never being satisfied.

Aahoo Ellie Pourang is an MFA student based out of California. Find her on Instagram: @aahoo__ and her website, aahoo.xyz, for two short stories, “Lucifer in Love” and “Trials and Tribulations of Mike Pout”.

She Used to Be on a Milk Carton: Book Release

A short 30 minutes from Center City, Philadelphia is where the hamlet of Glenside, PA resides. A cozy suburban town, it is also the home of Arcadia University, a private college that was established in 1853. One can sense the grandeur of its trademark building, Grey Towers. See for yourself!

 The magnificent Grey Towers castle.

The magnificent Grey Towers castle.

IMG_5911.JPG

Designed by American architect, Horace Trumbauer, we were all captivated by Gothic elements of the building; the dome ceiling, mahogany railings, and grand staircase of scarlet carpet captivated us all. Many college artifacts line the walls in shadowboxes and casements. Once the mirth gravitated to the majestic Rose Room, the magic began to happen. Bright, refreshing, and adorned with After a brief introduction by the creative writing MFA director, Josh Isard, the author herself took the podium...

 Kailey Tedesco addressing the crowd prior to the reading.

Kailey Tedesco addressing the crowd prior to the reading.

Ms. Tedesco needed no amplification for the reading. The acoustics of the room swirled her poems into a whirlwind. Straight from her newest poetry collection, She Used to Be on a Milk Carton, listen to a piece here...

Kailey reading "Up from the Salt Cellar"

After a well-deserved round of applause, the staff of April Gloaming Publishing walked to center stage and a Q&A occurred. Being a publisher myself, it was a pleasant surprise to have the work and the philosophy in direct conversation.

 The crew of April Gloaming including illustrator, Whitney Proper.

The crew of April Gloaming including illustrator, Whitney Proper.

I was able to ask editor-in-chief, Lance Umenhofer, how the Nashville literary scene is like and how would Kailey's book 'fit in'. Being a fan of Southern Gothic, the occult, and all things weird, he said that Nashville is infantile, malleable, and ready to accept new voices, be it from their own backyard or afar. He stated that April Gloaming is leading the charge in adding the art of literature to a music-heavy city, and there's much room for inclusion! The night wrapped up after that and I was able to add two more of April Gloaming's finest to my bookshelf:

 The portrait of the artist with her new book!

The portrait of the artist with her new book!


From the ambiance, to the work itself, to the collective energy of everyone in attendance, I know that one won't soon forget such a moment for Kailey Tedesco. April Gloaming is a publisher worth supporting and boast an eclectic mix of work that you should check out. Below are some links for She Used to Be on a Milk Carton as well as April Gloaming.

Until next time, thanks for reading The Weekly Degree!

--Josh


Kailey Tedesco is the author of two poetry books, She Used to be on a Milk Carton and These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese. Her poetry and essays all tend to focus on occult themes, witchcraft, gothic imagery, Catholicism, girlhood, kitsch, and confessional writings. She is most consistently inspired by David Lynch, Shirley Jackson, and the Lizzie Borden trials. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her work has been written about in publications such as New Pages, Beach Sloth, and others.