- Big Table Publishing
Inside the brilliant minds of Daniel Hudon,
Francine Witte, & Doug Mathewson
Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches physics, astronomy and math at the college level. He is the author of The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos, a chapbook of prose and poetry called Evidence for Rainfall, and Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction Reader, which was named a Must Read in the 2019 Massachusetts Book Awards. He has recent essays in The Smart Set, The Revelator, Hidden Compass and Appalachia Journal.
BLM: With regards to your book, Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals (which I loved) and forgive me if you’ve been asked this a hundred times: what is your favorite extinct animal, and why?
DH: It's a tough question. After writing about more than one hundred species, it's hard to boil it down to even a handful, let alone one. I still have a lot of affinity for the lost Hawaiian birds, namely the Kaui O'o and the Laysan Rail, as well as the other birds, and even the moths, that were lost from Laysan. I would have loved to have met the heath hen, and seen it "booming" on the mating grounds, or seen the raucous Carolina parakeets. There were many animals that I knew nothing about before starting the book, like Steller's Sea Cow or the Cape Verde Giant Skink so the tales of their loss have stayed with me. But the animal that started the whole project was the golden toad, formerly of the mountains of Monte Verde in Costa Rica. I heard the story of its loss directly from rangers in the park while I was there, and suffice to say, it wouldn't let me go, so I have a special place in my heart for the golden toad.
BLM: What philosopher or scientist inspired you in some way when you were a kid?
DH: I did enjoy Carl Sagan's Cosmos, both the TV series and the book, which came out when I was a teenager. It was definitely a book of wonders for my young mind. In my university days, I read an Einstein biography and became a big fan because of his diligence and curiosity. BLM: What do you think is your favorite or most successful poem and why? DH: This one came out of my obsession with the golden toad. They were only seen in the spring, when they came out of hiding to mate, but in the 1980's there was a population crash and so in 1989, only one poor toad was seen.
Legend of the Golden Toad Rain pool fills cloud forest floor, golden toad waits. Still as stone, throat bulging, cloud forest floor. Rain fills wide black eyes, golden toad waits. Water drips, splashes, black eyes stare. Golden toad listens still as stone, mountain mists pass. Cloud forest floor lone toad waits, rain pool fills.
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books) She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She is an associate poetry editor for Pidgeonholes. Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ Editions in September, 2021. She lives in NYC.
BLM: Where would you say you get most of your inspiration from... stories in the news, overheard conversations, personal experiences, art, music, etc?
FW: I get inspiration from many sources. Sometimes, I will read something and it will spark something in me. Other times, I will write to a workshop prompt. I take lots of workshops and many of the things I write come from them. Sometime a phrase pops into my head. I will then write something to fit around that phrase. It might be a title or a line. I almost never write anything based on current events because the shelf life of poems and stories that are that topical is very short. I have been known to write ekphrastic poems, and that’s an excellent source of inspiration. I do use personal experience, but very loosely. Almost nothing I write is really true, just kind of true. Maybe.
BLM: Is there a character in an old movie that you totally relate to, and why?
FW: It’s not a particular character but I feel very akin to the singers in those old night club scenes. You’ve seen it with the huge room with buckets of champagne of tables of laughing, happy people, some dancing, some out for their anniversary and there at the front of the room is the chanteuse. Maybe she’s the main character’s girlfriend or wants to be. Or she’s maybe she’s just about to get her big break. Often, this role was a vehicle for an up-and-coming real-life singer that they wanted to feature, Doris Day or Lena Horne, for example, and that would be fun in that you would actually hear an entire number from her. The lesser-known singers were stuck in some broken down club where the owner wasn’t all that nice to her, and she finally gets up the gumption to walk out. It’s a very interesting role, and I relate to that woman always because their job is to go in front of the audience and share their talent. That’s what they do. I’d love it if poets could do that on the same scale. I wish there were still night clubs.
BLM: What do you feel is your best or most successful poem, and why?
FW: I don’t know if this is my best or most successful poem, but I usually get a good response when I read it in front of audiences. (My stab at chanteuse-ness.) The poem is called “in My Poems, Sometimes I Have Children.” I don’t have children and if I want to have poem-children, I can and this is what it might be like. As I said in the first question, there is a sort-of truth in the poem, but I reserve the right to big-fat-lie in my poems.
In My Poems, Sometimes I Have Children
Daughters mostly, because I know
their routines. Flatirons and tampons.
To invent boys, I would need to ask
questions, learn to talk sports.
In my poems, sometimes,
my children appreciate
me. Pretend daughter Fiona,
says things like Mom, if it weren’t
for you, I’d be living in an essay
for crying out loud. She’s right.
If I were a made up child, I
would prefer the crinoline
swish of a simile, so much kinder
than the hard angles of non-fiction.
A pretend son wouldn’t be so generous.
He would say he’s a lie I tell
myself to feel better about what
I haven’t done. I would laugh at him.
Pretend mothers can do that.
Then I would sit him down
and tell him my poems aren’t lies at all.
They’re just the truths that didn’t happen.
Doug Mathewson has been writing short fiction since the late ’90’s. His work has appeared both here in the United States, as well as internationally in journals and anthologies. He is a multiple Pushcart Award nominee, and his work is archived at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. His most recent publication is Nomad Moon from Cervena Barva Press. He is the editor of Blink-Ink, a quarterly print journal of contemporary 50 word fiction.
Don't let the size of this slender volume fool you. It contains some of the best short fiction you are ever likely to encounter, crafted by a master of the genre at his very best. A jewel of a book with a wonderful little treasure on every page. You will want to read it over and over and take the time to savor each sentence. You will be well rewarded!
BLM: Every time I read something by you, I assume it really happened to you. So, what percentage of your writing would you say is based on personal experience, and what do you like about that kind of narrative writing?
DM: Almost always part of my stories are true. There could be a couple of true things from different places in the same story, and I love listening to people. I like how people tell their stories, more than what the stories are about. I’ll pick up speech patterns, phrasing, and the turn of a phrase.I pull from my own life too. Like yesterday I was coming back from the market, and noticed the guy in the car behind me looked just like the Dahlia Lama. That could be the start of something. For a “voice” or a “style” in my writing, that’s just how I talk. Like everybody I have three or four channels running constantly in my head and sometimes am able to write one down.
BLM: Where were you when you heard the news that John Lennon had been shot?
DM: My wife and I were living in our first little house. It was two floors, only about 800 sq. ft., but it was right near the beach. Our son was three, and being early December, Christmas was on everybody’s mind. Our daughter wouldn’t be along for another year. I liked the Beatles, and John especially, he was my “favorite Beatle”. For my wife it was different. John was her Beatle. She had gone to Shea Stadium show as a kid, read all of John and Yoko’s books, gone to their art shows in New York. In high school she had been a member of the UK fan club, corresponded with Freda in their press office, and everything. I was sad, and shocked, but John’s death really impacted my wife. I can remember taking care of our son while she grieved. The image that still stays with me even now, is the photograph of his glasses with blood on them. His blood. I’ll never forget that.
BLM: What do you feel is your favorite or best story, and why?
DM: I can’t tell you want my “best” or “favorite” story is. It’s like when people ask “Do these socks make my ankles look fat” or whatever. You’re too close to the situation to be able to judge. I can say what I enjoy reading live when given a chance. I am animated, theatrical even, when I read. Years back I used to read this piece that included me singling a Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” Motown part. My falsetto that wasn’t great. Then I liked doing one with a Greek Chorus of semaphore crabs who clicked their claws responding to messages from an astronaut girl lost in space. My wife bought me these orange plastic castanets that I used for the crab parts. My current favorite is “Paurl on His Side”. I enjoy reading it because at one point the central character asks a visiting ghost what it’s like to be dead. The audience just hangs on me, waiting for the answer. It’s great, I mean, how in the world would I know?
Paurl on His Side
Snow begun to swirl, just getting to be dark. Cut enough wood for one day, my brother Paurl and me. Been cutting along the ridge that divides the old farm in two. His hundred acres on the back side of the ridge and my hundred in front. He took the truck and I started walking back with my saw and Maize, my wife's old dog. Real quiet, nice out there along the ridge like that. I’d set the saw down to answer a not particularly urgent call of nature and the dog gone exploring when I heard her voice. “Well look who’s out here waterin’ the flowers.”
She’d been dead now for years, Lurleen had. Wasn't sure I heard right. I zipped up at least before turning around. Sitting on a stone wall, there she was. Wearing that little blue dress with yellow flowers on it, smoking her Pall Mall.
“Yeah, it’s me alright, back from the dead you could say, but I’m not back... just visiting.”
I must of stood there like a hooked trout with my mouth open, blinking away and trying to clear my throat. She was pretty as a summer day, with her hair done nice and that smart aleck grin of hers.
“Oh, come on Tommy, loosen up will ya! I just wanted to say hello before I went to see him ...... How is he ...... How’s he doing now?”
"Paurl? Okay enough I guess, but since you left he just stays close to home. I mean, I got a town job and all, but not Paurl. He been alone back there just sitting since you died.”
They’d been married, I don’t know, four, five years when she took off. Not another man mind you, just wasn’t of a mindset to live way out here, be poor, be a farmer’s wife. She’d gone west, had some kinda waitress job when she got killed. Car accident. “Truth to tell Lurleen, he’s not so good. Took you leaving hard. Real hard. Still does. Keeps to himself and workin’ his side. He’s my brother and all that, but I gotta say, I just wish he’d find another woman or get a hobby or some god-dammed thing and stop moping. Do something! Nobody gives a shit what!”
We were both quiet after that. Maybe I said too much, but I started feelin’ uncomfortable (uncomfortable with a ghost mind you) and thought I should change the subject. “I gotta ask, Lurleen, ...... what’s it like being dead?”
“Alright,” she sighed. “No better than livin’, just different. Never cold, never hungry, and not bored like you’d think. Remember those View-Master things we had growing up? You could put in a little cartoon or somethin’ about state parks, it’s like that, only you don’t get to push down the lever... it just happens. Things keep changing, never know where you’ll end up.....but I wanted to set things straight with your brother. Not sure when I might be back.”
“I don’t know,” I said “it’s good to see you and all, but Paurl, well, you know how he can be, he’s different.”
“Different!” she laughed. “Ya think? Thought maybe I pop up out of the damned fireplace and give him a fright, but that won’t solve the problem. I need to explain, explain it wasn’t him.”
“Lurleen honey, what can you ever say that’ll patch things up? Paurl’s sitting back there feeling sorry for hisself, and you’re dead! Nothin’s gonna change any of that!”
She looked down, nodded some.
Then it came to me. “Course ......, you could take him with you.”