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Incident: A Recap!

2014 August 6
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Thanks to all who came to Incident: A Reading at Rosalux Gallery!



The evening was full of good vibes, fantastic readers, mesmerizing art, and a ridiculously fun collaborative poem. The first version below is the original, and the second version is backwards, for fun. We like it both ways, actually!



A huge thanks to Rebecca Krinke and Duane Ditty for inviting us into their exhibition for this reading, and to our beloved readers: Opal C. McCarthy, Timothy Otte, and Brett Elizabeth Jenkins. Thanks also to Jessica Mayer for the photos below, and to all Hazel & Wren staff for being amazing, as usual.



The Writing Life: How It’s Done 102

2014 April 15
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The Writing Life

We’ve polled the experts and they agree, there’s nothing easy about “being a writer.” Whether you struggle to discern the best publication for your work or to keep your chin up in the face of ubiquitous rejection, we feel your pain and we’re back again to discuss strategies for submission and how to guard your writerly heart.


Hazel & Wren: Beginning the submission process can be more than a little daunting, what’s the very first step?

Timothy Otte: The first step is in two parts, and it has nothing to do with actually sending work to any editor/publisher/literary magazine/whatever. It may sound like I’m dodging the question, but I promise I’m not. The first step of the submission process is to write A LOT and read even more (especially literary magazines, since that’s where you’ll do most of your submitting). Write a lot, revise it, write some more, revise that, ask someone you know and trust to give you feedback, and then revise it all based on their suggestions. Once you’ve built up a body of work that you’re proud of, and you’ve read all those literary magazines, then you can decide where to send it. And THEN the first step is to read a publication’s submission guidelines VERY CAREFULLY and FOLLOW THEM.

Ethan Rutherford: I think the best thing to do is to approach the submission process with some humor, some hope, and a lot of optimism.  You have to have faith in the quality of your own work.  There’s going to be a lot of rejection, that’s just part of the process.  So prepare to hear “no” but don’t get discouraged.  The very first thing I’d recommend, though, is going to your library, or bookstore, or buying a number of literary journals in order to familiarize yourself with the work they publish.  Support literary journals, become familiar with them, and soon you’ll develop favorites, the journals you’d most like your work to appear in.  Those are the journals you should submit to first.  Swing for the fences.  Even if they say no, you’ll discover new writers you’ve never heard of and are excited about.  Win-win.  If they say no, write another story, do it better, and send it to the journal again.  Be kind to the editors, only send them your best stuff, and don’t get discouraged.  Wash, rinse, repeat until the day they finally say yes.

G. Xavier Robillard: Research! Read the journals in which you would be published. I started submitting long enough ago that it was all done by post. There was a certain value lost when submissions transferred to email, because you don’t have to print out the manuscript, and then spend a few dollars on postage and the SASE. The value then was you really had to consider: am I wasting postage on a journal that I know in my heart isn’t right for me?

Andrew Watt: I’m terrible at submissions. I submit things on whims when they strike me. What a horrible career tactic. Honestly, most of my efforts are screenplays, which have a different sort of afterlife. However, if you’re serious about submitting fiction, I recommend making a list. Start with publications you read and like, and think would be a good fit for your writing. Then do some research, until you’ve got 50+ journals/magazines/websites/etc. that might conceivably accept your work. Submit aggressively. Be mindful of fees. Avoid them unless you really, REALLY like the publication. Don’t start with the New Yorker.

H&W: It’s not just how to submit, but where? Do you use an agent? What have you found to be the best way to seek out the right publishing opportunities for your writing?

Dennis Arlo Voorhees: Outside of translations, my poems haven’t been published since 2008. If you want my advice, don’t take my advice. Marshall said that.

G. Xavier Robillard: Most of the time you don’t need an agent to submit somewhere, unless you’re talking about a book-length project. The reason an agent is so helpful is she will have cultivated relationships with editors, and will know whom to submit what. Agents also pay attorneys, who read over your contract for free. Free meaning part of the agent’s 15%.For literary journals, this is where research helps you. You might go to a bookstore that stocks literary journals, the library, or to learn about specific publications. Poets and Writers magazine has a searchable database as well: You can stalk your favorite journals online. A while back, on the Facebook page for the Portland Review, they asked for submissions of book reviews. If you start off by submitting something the editor has asked for, you’re likely starting a relationship with that person, and will have an easier time submitting other prose later.

H&W: Contests. Are they worth it?

Dennis Arlo Voorhees: Know the judge and cater your work to her aesthetic. That said, I haven’t won a contest since 1988—the limerick competition at the Hardwick Fair.

Timothy Otte: Yes. I’ve never won any, but I’m sure they’re worth it. The editors who judge or are preliminary readers for contests are the same editors who accept regular, non-contest submissions.

Andrew Watt: Not really. Limit yourself to a couple of contests each year. Only submit if the contest-holder is a publication/organization that you really or appeals to you. Don’t get distracted by those cash prizes. If you’re a writer of cynical short fiction that embodies your atheist perspective, don’t torture yourself by trying to write a Christian-themed story for a contest that might win you $20,000. Don’t do it.

G. Xavier Rollibard: I’ve never seen the point of entering contests. On the other side of that coin, I’m a big fan of submitting to calls for anthology. Anthologies can be a great way to find an audience, and to get your work published in a book. For example, do a web search on “call for anthology [your personal favorite theme].”

Ethan Rutherford: If you are willing to part with the entry fee, then yes, sure, why not? Contests are how a lot of these small, wonderful journals—journals that are taking interesting chances on emerging writers, publishing stories that take aesthetic risks, etc.—make the money required to simply meet the cost of printing and mailing their issues (and paying their contributors, which is always a good and appreciated thing). One of the things that used to happen to me, though, is that when I paid an entry fee, and didn’t win, I would feel like I’d been cheated. Of course I hadn’t been cheated, but that’s the way it felt. Many journals, though, have entry fees that not only buy you into the contest, but include a subscription—so even if you don’t win, you support a literary journal, and get to read that journal for a year.  Contests certainly aren’t the only way to get published, but there’s nothing wrong with paying an entry fee for a specific contest (usually judged by a guest editor).  What you want to look out for, and avoid, are the journals that charge an upfront “reading” fee—if you want them to read it at all, you have to pay them to consider it for publication.  That’s a terrible practice, don’t fall for that.  So if you are paying entry fees, just make sure it’s attached to a specific contest, and you’ll be fine.

H&W: Do you have any advice on how to protect your ego in the quest for publication?

Ethan Rutherford: Haha. No. Just understand that people will say no, and the earlier you can get used to the idea that not everyone is going to respond to what you are trying to do, the happier you’ll be, and the less it will sting as the rejections come in. Rejection is just part of putting yourself out there, and taking that risk. Just make sure you don’t internalize the rejection. Think about it like fishing. All you’re looking for is one bite—that one reader at a journal or a magazine or at a publishing house who really understands and responds to the work you are doing in a way that makes sense. Lots of fish swim by without a nibble, you can see them, they’re right there, why won’t they bite?  Well, that’s a question that has no real answer. Just be patient, get used to hearing no, and hold out for that yes.

Timothy Otte: I find it helpful to remember that editors aren’t callous people who take pleasure in rejecting writers. They want every submission to be exactly what they’re looking for, but they can’t accept everything. Rejection isn’t personal. Rejections blow and editors know that (they’re usually writers too, so they see the other side of things). It’s ok to feel kind of shitty when you get rejected, but the best course of action is to take another look at the poems you submitted, revise them again, and try submitting them elsewhere. My “favorite” rejection story is that of David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress. It was rejected over 50 times before it finally got accepted. Frreal—50 damn times. Look it up! Also, read this beautiful post by Jeff Shotts, editor at Graywolf Press: It makes me feel better every time I get rejected.

Andrew Watt: Be proud of yourself for having taken a piece of writing as far as you could. Then flush your ego and prepare for a tidal wave of rejection and drastic revision suggestions. Be okay with this. Most of it will be to your benefit.

G. Xavier Robillard: In a way you need to develop separate personalities. You need to move from the frail, introspective writer, who has created and shaped a lovely thing, to the circus barker looking to get this .PDF off your hands.The business persona understands that submission is the tedious, enervating part of the thing, like doing laundry, and that you’re another part of the publishing ecosystem. Submissions are a yardstick you can use to judge how you are creatively progressing: if I submit ten pieces a year, that’s ten pieces about which I am am satisfied, ten pieces that acknowledge that I’ve grown as a writer, whether or not they are accepted.In my other life, I work at a small technology startup. We have 5 salespeople, and they’re doing the same thing as any writer: pitching a product, over and over. Even if they’re great, they fail 95% of the time. That’s not a real number, I just made that up. Point is, sales is overwhelmingly about failing to sell. It’s served as a good reminder that you need to be able to see your own work, once it’s been edited and revised, that the selling part is simply moving product.And I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the schadenfreude of watching some precious literary journal, who’s rejected me in the past, close up shop. It’s petty and evil but we have to get our pleasure somewhere.

Dennis Arlo Voorhees: Have faith in the work and not the process. Don’t stop working. Don’t get sad. There’s a lot of horrible poetry being published. Know that and proceed as scheduled.


Thank you so much to Andrew Watt, Timothy Otte, Dennis Arlo Voorhees, G. Xavier Robillard, and Ethan Rutherford for your time and badass responses. 


The Writing Life: How It’s Done 101

2014 April 9
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The Writing Life

It’s spring! It’s National Poetry Month! It’s… just another day in the life of a writer. And how do we do this, day in and day out? Whether it’s how to keep up a daily regimen, how to pursue further education, how to proofread, or publish, or persevere—we’re here to talk about these challenges.

This entry is the first in a two-part post about some of the basic steps for moving forward with your writing. Read on for advice from emerging and seasoned writers about: strategic organization, finding your best reader, and poignant tips for self-improvement. In part two, we’ll hear more about the submission process and protecting your artistic ego. To shed light on these pertinent questions, I’ve taken a straw poll from writers with varying experiences, and here they are!

Puppet-sympathizer, Andrew Watt, is a screenwriter and filmmaker. He is a member of the Loft, volunteer with the Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota, and he recently created a puppet show for Open Eye Figure Theatre’s quarterly cabaret, the Full Moon Puppet Show. Check out Andrew’s newest short film, Sharky.

Our very own, Timothy Otte, is a poet, playwright, and critic. He is currently working on a manuscript of poems. Timothy will be performing in the inaugural event of a monthly night of new works in Minneapolis called The New Shit Show at Fox Egg Gallery. The event is on Friday, April 18th, doors at 7pm.

University of Minnesota alum, Ethan Rutherford, is currently working on a novel. His first book, The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories, was published in May 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers, and was just awarded the Minnesota Book Award!

Hungarian poetry specialist, Dennis Arlo Voorhees, is the poet of the chapbook Milk Replacer. As a Fulbright scholar, Dennis translated Hungarian poetry into English. He is currently training for the Boston marathon.

Comic relief, G. Xavier Robillard, is the author of Captain Freedom: A Superhero’s Quest for Truth, Justice, and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves. His (free!) essay for McSweeney’s can be found here.

And without further ado, the Q&A!


Hazel & Wren: If you’re working in prose, do you believe that the first thirty pages need to be irresistible? If so, do you have tips on how to write and organize the first few sections?

G. Xavier Robillard: The first 30 pages of longer prose should be compelling, fresh, and intriguing. Absolutely. As a further yardstick, I’d extend that to the first 50pp. If the work isn’t intriguing to me when I hit page 50, I start to question whether I want to have a long term relationship with this work. I’ve abandoned plenty of would-be novels when I realized that I was no longer motivated at that point.

Some beginning novelists, especially in genre, will tell me they plan to “save x plot point for book 2.” This is a huge mistake: if something is vital or compelling, don’t save it for later. Submit your best work. Your creative well will not evaporate overnight.

Consider the initiating impulse of the work. In memoir, it might be delving into how your life was shaped by A Series Of Unfortunate Events. You might organize your beginning around that bolt of lightning: don’t take 30 years or pages to get us there.

H&W: When you’re working with short stories, vignettes, or poems, how do you organize them? Do you have a particular strategy? Can you speak to the aesthetic sensibility you enact? 

Timothy Otte: I usually try to group poems that feel, to me, in a similar “mode” together. I write in what are, to me, two very distinct ways and when submitting I try not to mix the two, though others might argue it’s good to present a range of voice. Right now I’m working on a manuscript that has a lot of poems that play off of one another (though I hope they work on their own!) so I try to group them as a small version of that larger manuscript. There’s not a “narrative” per se (by which I mean a story with a plot, etc.), but I want the reader or editor to have an experience when they read them. An emotional narrative, I suppose.

H&W: Who do you ask to review your work before you submit it? What are some of the most important qualities of a reader/proof-reader, in your opinion?

Dennis Arlo Voorhees: I ask Marshall; he’s a drunk philosopher with a high school diploma. A poem needs readers outside of academia. If Marshall doesn’t get it (or a semblance of it), nobody gets it.

Timothy Otte: I have a few fellow writers who I ask to read my work. Some are in the same city as me so we can meet in person and mark up the pages in front of us, and some are farther away. We write letters or emails. That’s the revision process for me, and, if I can, I avoid thinking about submitting at all during that process. I like people who ask questions of the poems in front of them, people who are willing to point out the obvious, because I’ve usually missed the obvious thing.

Once I’ve decided I’m submitting somewhere and put together my submission, I usually don’t ask someone to take a look. I comb through the submission for spelling and grammatical errors myself, though I really should get someone to look them over one last time…

Andrew Watt: My dad, who provides reliable no-bullshit feedback. If I want to feel good about my writing I ask my mom. You need a proof-reader upon whom you can rely to provide tough, constructive feedback. Friends and family are usually a bad idea. Writing workshops will provide that constructive feedback and help you understand what kind of person you want reading your work.

H&W: Any other tips for yearling writers? 

Andrew Watt: Get to know yourself as a writer. Write what you enjoy writing, not what other people tell you you’re good at or should write. If you’re struggling to write “respectable” poetry and are a romance novelist at heart, you might want to tap into that. You’ve gotta enjoy what you do.

Ethan Rutherford: Read read read.  Widely and deeply.  Take a chance on a literary journal or five.  Go to readings.  Subscribe to small, independent journals.  Buy your books at independent bookstores.  If you read something you love, something that blows the top of your head off, take the time to find that writer, and let her know.

Timothy Otte: Though I’m a yearling writer myself and I’m as eager as anyone to have more publications to my name, I would still say waiting to submit is wise. I’ve only had a few poems published, and I’m very, very proud of them, but I think I got started submitting too early. If I could go back and tell myself to wait a few more years before starting to submit, I would.

Dennis Arlo Voorhees: Read “Ode to a Nightingale” every night before you go to sleep. This is the fastest way to becoming a better poet.

G. Xavier Robillard: For me writing has to be a discipline: and to enforce your discipline, it’s worthwhile to promote other disciplines. Running is that for me. And here’s a brief plug about creating space for yourself.


Share your advice in a comment!

And tune in soon for How It’s Done 102 where you’ll find even MORE insight from these five wonderful writers! 


The Writing Life: An Interview with Sun Yung Shin

2012 November 16
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Editor’s Note: Sun Yung Shin‘s second collection of poems, Rough, and Savage, was published last month by Coffee House Press, who also published her first collection, Skirt Full of Black, in 2006. Sun Yung was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work and process. Timothy’s thoughts on Rough, and Savage appeared yesterday in the What We’re Reading column.

Timothy: I was struck by your use of academic research to craft the poems in both Rough, and Savage and your first collection, Skirt Full of Black. Can you talk a little about research as it relates to the process of writing your poems? How do you integrate found text with your own?

Sun Yung Shin: It’s an approach I first learned from the labor poet Mark Nowak, who has been focusing on the cost of the coal industry on its workers, here and in China. His latest book is Coal Mountain Elementary, also from Coffee House Press. I also have learned a lot from the work of Korean-American poet Myung Mi Kim, who teaches at SUNY Buffalo. Research, or really I would just call it reading, is important to me because I see writing as inherently collective and I try to foreground that in a lot of my work, for a variety of reasons. As far as integrating other text, I would say that the integration is really a conversation or dialectic between myself and the text, or between a multiplicity of voices I might attempt to bring into the forum on the page. The original text is often a place where I start; it might be something that I’ve read as an adult or something that has lived within me since childhood, such as a fairytale. Could you say more about what you were struck by?

T: I think what struck me was how far outside the traditional lyric academic research seems to me. Your method seems to be a balancing act between Wordsworth’s “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and the more rational examination of fact. Is this tension—if tension is the right word for it—something you’re conscious of?

SYS: Tension is a nice word for that. I think so. I’ve always been kind of cerebral and analytical, but not very linear or logical, I’m very associative, so I think it—the inclusion of fact—just comes naturally. And, a part of my longer-term project as a writer is to continue to exorcise the male, pseudo-objective, pseudo-scientific voice from so much of what I consume, just as an American in daily life, let alone as a reader and writer. That comes from a very deep emotional well of feeling subjugated, silenced, of living in a society in which almost always what is male and what is white valorized, normalized, made heroic, made interesting. So there’s a real violence, a purging, going on as well. It’s sort of like being in a kind of hell and trying to navigate through it without being burned continually.

I’ve just started reading Kafka: A Minor Literature by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1974). They adopt a tetralinguistic model by Ferguson, Gumperz, and Henri Gobard, which has been very interesting to think about lately, and I realized I often try to mix all four within one poem, to include many registers, to sometimes comment on a variety of readings of a certain sp(l)ace (such as the DMZ along the 38th parallel) or event. The four types are, and here I’m quoting an online article by Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at University of Cincinnati:

  1. The vernacular language, also referred to as the maternal or territorial language, functions within the rural realm (and is a language of territorialization);
  2. The vehicular language operates within the urban, governmental or commercial realms (Deleuze and Guattari argue that is “a language of the first sort of deterritorialization”) (23);
  3. Referential language is the language “of sense and of culture” and entails “cultural reterritorialization” (23);
  4. Mythic language, also a language of reterritorialization, is involved in the spiritual and the religious.

I think for me, the emotion often gets expressed through mythic language, through working with archetypes.

T: Many of these poems are set in contemporary Korea, but many also hearken to a pre-colonial Korea as well. Aside from your role as poet, do you see your role as primarily an ambassador, documentarian, historian, or some combination of those, or as something else?

SYS: I don’t really see my role as any of those things, although a poet may of course embrace many of the tasks or opportunities of the roles you mention. I see part of the project of the book as being a way to enter into the beginning of human inhabitance on the peninsula…the colonial period was really so short and in the 20th-century and Koreans have been on the peninsula for thousands of years, so I would probably frame anything before 1910 as the dynastic period, pre-dynastic, etc. Does that answer your question? The question of the role of the poet, or how I see my role as a poet, is so huge I’m not quite sure how to begin without launching into a gigantic poetics digression!

T: At the risk of sounding ignorant, I suppose I’m thinking of a reader like myself whose knowledge of Korean history and culture is fuzzy at best. If you’re using the poems as an entrance to the beginning of Korean history, then I found myself following behind, entering Korea through your poems in a way that is obviously much different than your experience. I suppose my question is more about the way these poems serve as a guide, a Virgil, through a time and space I don’t know much about. Do you have the, let’s say uninformed, reader in mind when you’re writing?

SYS: Well, I think I actually have myself as a reader in mind for the first draft—like a lot of writers I think I write what I need to read, what I think hasn’t been written. But, that said, I do think of outside readers because I do want to communicate, and engage in a conversation, or bring something useful (or canny, or hallucinatory) to others. I am trying to invite others into an experience, a question.

So to answer your question, I think a person wouldn’t need to really know anything about Korea or Korean history. I think its history is part of a much larger human history of going from hunters and gatherers to clans to countries. And that history becomes riddled with war once metal was discovered and once trade was created. Then wealth was created, then striations appeared in societies, then contests over space and resources intensified. And our morality has continued to develop. And is still very much developing. It often feels that our morality as a species is quite primitive. It seems like we’re waking up to some new things as a group, though—such as factory farming being a disgrace, being torture. That’s something that I woke up to in high school and wasn’t sure if I’d ever see become part of a mainstream discussion in this country. But here it is. Due to years of activism by others.

However, I do want to learn more history of my ancestors and I do want Americans to consider U.S. foreign relations in Asia and what all of our complicities may be, wherever the U.S. puts its foot down. It’s not that whatever the U.S. does is bad, and I hold so many things that we value as a people sacred (the First Amendment, for example) it’s just that the mainstream media, even public media, does not really go deeply into the impact on the people being occupied (militarily, economically, etc.) by the U.S. and other wealthy nations.

T: It seems to me that the fractured and layered nature of the poems parallels the fragmented history of Korea. This is especially apparent in poems like, “REDACTION: United States Central Intelligence Agency | The World Factbook | East & Southeast Asia :: Korea, South” and its sibling, “REDACTION: United States Central Intelligence Agency | The World Factbook | East & Southeast Asia :: Korea, North.” How does form and content interact? How conscious of this are you as you’re composing?

SYS: I’d say that I’m quite conscious of form/content when I’m composing, although first-draft writings are very intuitive or trance-like. To me, these poems are not fractured and the history of Korea is not fragmented. I would say that these poems are trying to highlight in/visibilities and erasures. Fragments mean pieces broken off a whole, and that’s not how I see these poems, but I can understand that type of reading or framing. I would describe Korea as divided (as opposed to unified). Fragments are generally not re-integrated into an organic whole—they might be foreign objects (e.g. shrapnel fragments…). But again, it’s easy to use those kinds of terms when considering Korea’s ongoing proxy / civil war.

T: I like the idea of erasure and visibility rather than fractured or divided. I was thinking of the gaps, especially in the two poems I mentioned, when I wrote fragmented. Are these poems, then, a way to try to reunite or expose?

SYS: Reunite or expose is a great way to put it. I was on a panel called Poetic Witness last night and Ed Bok Lee, who was also on the panel, said that he feels his job as a poet is to make the invisible visible, and the visible invisible. In those two poems I wanted to strange-ify these very strange documents—these Central Intelligence Agency dictionary entries. The sense of scale—two countries formerly one country—encapsulated into these two little blocks of text, written by some nameless analyst or technical writer or historian for the CIA. Surreal. How does one reconcile that with the living, breathing Koreas? And then visible white space in a poem is often a signifier of what is not being said, what is not told or exposed.

T: As an adoptee you’ve been very active in working for adoptee rights and the rights of parents who put their children up for adoption. You’ve also worked toward building community for adoptees within the larger community. Does Rough, and Savage add to the conversation about adoption and racism in Western culture? How so?

SYS: Thank you, but actually, I haven’t been all that active in the adoption realm. I did co-edit an anthology on the topic and have had many occasions to speak about adoption, but I don’t engage in much direct activism in the adoptee world, especially these days. I have been working on a media advisory regarding reporting on adoption. My co-editor Jane Jeong Trenka is doing tremendous public policy work with her organization TRACK in Korea. And many others are doing important work, for example organizations such as AKConnection and AdopSource right here in Minnesota. I did not grow up in Minnesota so it’s been a surprise and a marvel to witness the flourishing of all of this adoptee-led scholarship, social services work, art, and community building.

T: The title Rough, and Savage comes from Robert Pinsky’s verse translation of Dante’s Inferno, and each section of the collection features a quote from Pinsky. What drew you to Dante’s text and specifically to Pinsky’s translation when you were working on these poems? How familiar should the reader be with the structure and plot of The Inferno?

SYS: Pinsky’s translation is what critics call muscular—it’s very rhythmic and non-fussy, which really appealed to my sensibilities. I think he really exploits the resources of the English language with its Latinate and Anglo-Saxon wellsprings. It felt fresh and conveys the story as an urgent and also bewildering vision quest. The aspect of dual worlds (pagan/epic/Virgil and Catholic/medieval/Dante) coming together in these nine circles within the earth is so intriguing.

T: What other contemporary poets are you reading? What other writing and art is inspiring or obsessing you right now?

SYS: I’ve been reading a Korean poet Kim Hye-soon and her translator, an American poet Don Mee Choi. I also just bought a copy of Road-side Dog by Czesław Miłosz. I’ve just taught The Metamorphosis for the umpteenth time and became obsessed with it all over again. I just ordered Deleuze and Guattari’s books Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature and Difference and Repetition so I can further my obsession. This weekend I watched Mother by the Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho—and I highly recommend it. If you take three of his movies, Memories of a Murder, The Host, and Mother, together you have a very revealing glimpse of contemporary Korea.