Imagination in Literary Nonfiction

“Memoir tends to place the emphasis on story, and the ‘point’ is likely to emerge, as it does in fiction, largely from the events and characters themselves rather than through the author’s speculation or reflection….overt analyses are few and light…” — Janet Burroway

“…in an essay, the track of a person’s thoughts struggling to achieve some understanding of a problem is the plot, is the adventure.” — Montaigne

“The contemporary memoir includes retrospection as an essential part of the story.” —Judith Barrington

“The memoirist need not necessarily know what she thinks about her subject but she must be trying to find out; she may never arrive at a definitive verdict, but she must be willing to share her intellectual and emotional quest for answers.” — Judith Barrington



From @shortysregionalcooker (1/2) We’re standing in the lobby of the Woodstock Inn looking at old pictures of the village circa the late 19th century: a boy with his pet sheep; the Woodstock High School baseball team; a shopkeeper and his customers smiling around a fat wood stove. Nick studies this one for a long time. He looks up at me. “Did those people all die?” he asks. I nod. It’s a familiar question. He can’t see a black and white photo without asking: “Did those people all die? Are they buried in the ground?” I always tell him the same thing. “Yes, everyone dies when they get very old and gray.” Which is why, when my dad came for a visit recently, Nick eyed him with great concern. My father’s hair is entirely white, beyond gray. “Is Opa going to die soon?” That’s a tough one to answer. My father is in his seventies. “We all die someday,” I tell him. “When we get very old. You don’t have to worry about that now.” “When I die I don’t want to be buried in the ground,” he says. “I want to be put in a museum. Like Sue.” “Like Sue?” I ask. “Sue the Dinosaur,” he says.

A post shared by Mutant Journalism (@mutantjournalism) on

From @shortysregionalcooker (2/2) Fruit still hangs on the feral apple tree in our back yard. It’s fermented by now, those little knots of apple flesh. The bears didn’t get a chance to clear the tree before the first snowfall this year, so I guess birds will do the remaining work? Or maybe the last of it will fall into the snow, wasted? Important things to consider while I’m not sleeping at nearly three in the morning. Anxiety blooms in my chest. I’m vigilantly going over everything I’ve ever done in my entire life and everything I still have yet to do. My brain chases after things to worry about in the stillness, and it always finds something. My brain is good like that. I’m not still. I stretch an arm under my pillow. Try a pillow between the knees. Go from my stomach to my back. Nope, doesn’t help. Want to reach over and wake him up again but that wouldn’t be fair. What if I was to offer a backrub? Still, no. Pillow and blanket and I head downstairs to sleep on the couch. I thrash around for a few minutes. The couch is too creaky. I think about going into the boys’ room to set up camp on the rug between their beds. But if I woke them up I’d have to deal with having woken them up. I’m lost in my own home. I stand at the kitchen sink and set up my camera. Long exposure. The moon is good tonight and it’s clear. There’s snow. Those apples. I could put a few dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Nope. Housework at 3 a.m. is more depressing than housework at 3 p.m. Snap, the shutter fires. Those apples. I go back to the couch and sit upright with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. The furnace clicks on. Then I hear a mouse gnawing its way through my house. I take out a trap from the hallway closet. Lay down a piece of newspaper, then place the trap on top. Take a small piece of cheese and place it in the bait holder. Pull back the arm of the trap and wait. I’ve got all night.

A post shared by Mutant Journalism (@mutantjournalism) on


Choose one of the following five poems published in CCU’s Waccamaw: A Journal of Contemporary Literature

Music Box by Kit Loney

Shed by Michael McFee

In the Waiting Room by Heather Treseler

“Summertime” by Derrick Austin

One Long Leaving by Marie-Elizabeth Mali

Some of my favorite poems, at least many of the ones available online, in no particular order:

Squirt Gun” by Robert Morgan

Autumn” by T.E. Hulme

Animula” by T.S. Eliot

Counting Miracles at the State Asylum” by Rhett Iseman Trull

The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late” by Rhett Iseman Trull

Sunday Morning Argument” by Dan Albergotti

December 25, 2005” by Dan Albergotti

Please Refrain from Talking during the Movie” by Robert Polito

Coming Into History” by Jeanne Murray Walker

A Prisoner of Things” by Alan Michael Parker

Between Poems the Vandals Go” by Alan Michael Parker

Lost in Amsterdam” by James McKean

Sonnet XII: “When I do count the clock that tells the time” by William Shakespeare

Sonnet XXIX: “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” by William Shakespeare

Sonnet XXX: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” by William Shakespeare

Sonnet: “America” by Claude McKay

*Sonnet defined

Sestina: “Let Me Count the Waves” by Sandra Beasley

*Sestina defined

Villanelle: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

*Villanelle defined

Haiku: “Haiku Journey” by Kimberly Blaeser

Haiku: “Blue Octavo Haiku” by Rachel Wetzsteon

*Haiku defined

In A Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

I Heard a Fly Buzz — when I died —” by Emily Dickinson

Tell All the Truth” by Emily Dickinson

Words” by Dana Gioia

Unsaid” by Dana Gioia

Money” by Dana Gioia

Planting a Sequoia” by Dana Gioia

Prayer” by Dana Gioia

Fog” by Carl Sandburg

Chicago” by Carl Sandburg

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” by Richard Wilbur

The Pardon” by Richard Wilbur

Mind” by Richard Wilbur

my father moved through dooms of love” by E.E. Cummings

All in green went my love riding” by E.E. Cummings

The Yachts” by William Carlos Williams

The Great Figure” by William Carlos Williams

Recuerdo” by Edna St. Vincet Millay

What the Moon Knows” by Richard H. Behm

* * *

Two of my own, for general amusement:

Losing River View Farm” by Colin Foote Burch (on my own blog)

Regarding Joy & Grace” by Colin Foote Burch (in New Mirage Journal)

This outstanding interview with Flannery O’Connor’s friend Louise Abbot provides new, personal insights into the famous Southern Catholic writer. Click here to watch the HD video interview.

For some additional perspective on O’Connor, see my interview with Peter Augustine Lawler, who talks about the O’Connor short story “Good Country People.”

Scansion: the rhythm and meter of a line or verse, or the act of analyzing the rhythm and meter of a line of verse.

*** By writing in verse – with rhythm and meter – the writer gives the language a “pulse that makes it easier to speak and hear” (Folger Shakespeare Library)






new YORK












new or-LEANS








Amphibrach (AM-fi-brack)






Mono = 1         Di = 2              Tri = 3              Tetra = 4          Penta = 5

Hexa = 6          Hepta = 7         Octo = 8

i WANT  |   to GO  |   outSIDE  |   toDAY      (iambic tetrameter)

NEV-er  |   LET me  |  FOL-low       (trochaic trimeter)

Shakespeare primarily used iambic pentameter. It matches the beat of a human heart. When iambic pentameter doesn’t rhyme, it’s called “blank verse.” He doesn’t always stick to it strictly.


“Although strictly speaking, iambic pentameter refers to five iambs in a row, in practice, poets vary their iambic pentameter a great deal, while maintaining the iamb as the most common foot. However there are some conventions to these variations. Iambic pentameter must always contain only five feet, and the second foot is almost always an iamb. The first foot, on the other hand, is the most likely to change by the use of inversion, which reverses the order of unstress and stress in the foot.” –Folger Shakespeare Library

˘ /  


























Elision: squeezing words to make them fit the scansion  

 O’er instead of over

Heav’n instead of Heaven



The argument of the “To Be or Not to Be” speech:

To live or die; that’s what I’m wondering. Is it better to end life’s misery now, or to keep on fighting against it? Death: that would end all the pain and heartache. And how great the pain and heartache! But death, like sleep, might bring bad dreams. That’s a problem! Because who would accept all the agony of being alive (the pain of getting old, meanness and arrogance, love affairs gone wrong, official corruption, the humiliations good people choose to accept rather than eliminating them with one thrust of a knife) who would put up with it if not for the fact that we are all scared of dying? We don’t know what happens to us after we die, so we choose the miseries we know over the terrors we don’t. We’re cowards. We think too much. And when we do that, we paralyze ourselves until we can’t do anything at all. Hold on a second. Here comes Ophelia.