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  • Elemental Conversations: Tim Skeen

    Elemental Conversations is a new weekly blog post where we ask our contributors various questions about their art and about themselves. We thought it would be fun for our readers (and us) to get to know the people whose work makes 3Elements Review possible.

    Contributor: Tim Skeen, Pacemaker Ache (poem)

    Tim Skeen

    Tim Skeen, the 2001 winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry for his book Kentucky Swami, coordinates the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State. A graduate of the PhD program in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, his poems appear in many magazines and journals. He lives in Fresno with his wife, Pam, and daughter, Iris.

    3ER: Why do you think writing matters?

    Tim: Why do I think writing matters?  Years ago, my daughter asked me why I keep a journal and write poetry.  I told her the story of the young Dr. Kevorkian, who worked as an intern at a morgue.  He was fascinated by the human eye, and since his clients were in no position to complain, he studied the eyes of the dead—what the eye looks like shortly after death, an hour, two hours and so on.  Even his colleagues thought his curiosity was out of the ordinary, and one of them asked him, Why do you do it?  He said he didn’t know, other than these studies were fascinating and pleased him.  Years later, the data he collected was used in the transplantation of corneas.  No one knew at the time!  Writing matters to me because it pleases me.  People get pleasure from a lot of things.  Does it concern me that more people attended football games last weekend than have attended poetry readings in probably the last fifty years, or more?  No one forces me to go to football games.  Perhaps I’m missing out on something important, but if Sartre, or Derek in Back to School, was right, that football is a perfectly American pastime because it’s a game of violent land acquisition, then I don’t know.  What I don’t see enough of in everyday life is graciousness, awareness, discovery.  In poetry, however, I sometimes find these things, and on the rare occasions when readers tell me they have found something which pleases them in my poetry, well, I am delighted even more.    

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    Do You Believe in Magic?

    Three Elements and the Subconscious Power of Three

    I admit it. Sometimes I’m a sucker for a conspiracy theory, a first-hand ghost story, and almost anything remotely mystical. I suppose I need to believe in something even stranger than fiction. I further confess to an occasional heightened sense of titillation at all things bizarre and am not ashamed that I periodically revel in the absurd, but possibly true. To me, something truly remarkable, maybe even magical, exists in the power of three. The Latin phrase omne trium perfectum reminds me that that this idea is an ancient one.

    Obvious examples of the power of three abound in religion, the natural world, and in our stories: the trinity, the three wise men, the lesser-known (though I’ll bet you’ve seen it) Celtic triquetra, the triangle with its remarkable strength, the three dimensions we recognize in space, the three musketeers, the three stooges, and the three ghostly visits to Ebenezer Scrooge. Even the papers we write (introduction, body, and conclusion), the slogans we chant (Go! Fight! Win!), the speeches we give (in addition to three basic parts, a tradition of three elements establishing a theme is a staple of public oratory), the jokes we tell (the comic triple comes to mind), the fairy tales we pass along from generation to generation (think The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears) and the fiction we construct, more often than not, are stronger when organized somehow in three parts.

    But what is it about the number three that makes writers, in particular, grasp for it to create a piece as sturdy as the three-sided triangle? I think we recognize and create patterns of three because just two things, generally speaking, can be considered a mere coincidence, often creating only a weak bridge. In contrast and due to the inherent tension of the added element, three things work together to create a logical puzzle our brains find interesting without being completely overwhelmed by more. We like apprehending three things at once and naturally strive to create connections and patterns between them.  Thus, readers of such structure work with the writer to co-create critical connections in a piece of writing. (As an aside, isn’t it interesting to note that the brain itself can be divided into three main parts?)

    The mystical power of three is most certainly at work in our 3Elements writing challenge. We know that writers often naturally create stories in three distinct parts, and modern screenwriters have dumped the five-act play in favor of a three-part structure. Yet, I believe the power of three can also be seen in the natural tension that drives the writer toward resolution when working to make sense of three elements in an unfolding story. Something inherently magical exists in the alchemy of transforming three seemingly disparate elements into a unique piece of writing.

    Skeptical? Need more proof of magic? Here’s one thing I can add: I finished this article at exactly three o’clock. What more proof can you possibly need?

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    Elemental Conversations: Leon Hedstrom

    Elemental Conversations is a new weekly blog post where we ask our contributors various questions about their art and about themselves. We thought it would be fun for our readers (and us) to get to know the people whose work makes 3Elements Review possible.

    Leon hedstrom, student living in Minneapolis, his forthcoming work can be found in Switched-On Gutenberg.

    Contributor: Leon HedstromMalfunction (set of two poems)

    Leon Hedstrom is a full-time student living in Minneapolis, Minnesota with work forthcoming in Switched-On Gutenberg. 

    3ER: If you could choose any three elements, what would they be?

    Leon: Audrey Hepburn, rap career, willow tree.

    3ER: Describe your writing process.

    Leon: I sit down, usually with something fuming inside my head, and I write. The writing itself is the easy part—it’s selfish, it’s ad hominem, it’s those emotional letters that you know that you’ll never be brave enough to send. The hard part comes along with revision. Revision is guilty and anxious. I start to worry about form, about diction, about who will read my work and what they will think of me as the author. In the end, it becomes a fight with my own language. I rearrange, I delete, and, more often than not, I scrap completely. The third and final step is to turn the writing from selfish to selfless. I finish, quite simply, by making the words I’ve written applicable to everyone, not just about me.

    3ER: Who are your favorite writers?

    Leon: I think there’s a lot to be said for the 20th century novelist Saul Bellow, who demonstrated a delicate balance between very dysfunctional (many of his individual quotes can come across as chauvinist, insensitive, or generally irreverent) while also being one of those singular writers who manages to impart pieces of commentary and wisdom that hit the reader hard every time. Reading a book by Saul Bellow often feels like being punched again and again in some emotional center.

    That all being said, the writers of the television show 30 Rock clearly have a strong grasp on what it means to pack every line with humor and relevance.

    3ER: What do you want to tell our readers about your pieces?

    Leon: My poems in this issue of 3Elements Review are both entitled “Malfunction.” Put most simply, these poems explore feelings of anxiety, of social disillusionment, of unease, and of being overwhelmed. The titular ‘malfunction’ can come from any number of places: domestic or foreign conflicts, politics and societal norms, love or a lack thereof, work or job stress, or even just from an unknown and nameless ‘it.’ The point is that sometimes we all feel as if we are malfunctioning and that sometimes the best detox is to face the barrage head on.

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