For all of you who thought about attending the Summer Fiction reception last week, herewith a report — biased, of course — on what you missed.
The evening at the D&R Greenway Trust began on a low note: the basso profundo claps of thunder that gave proof through the night that Texas governor Rick Perry’s prayers for rain had worked, except that New Jersey got the rain, not Texas.
And it ended on a high note: Grace Walters’ soulful rendering of her poem “The Sounds of Summer,” sung to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” accompanied on guitar by Rick Rein, son of U.S. 1’s editor — and emcee — Richard K. Rein.
The grand finale, like the rest of the evening, was unrehearsed. As Rein pointed out in his welcoming remarks, some organizations cannot begin a meeting without a prayer to guide them. Others get by on a wing and a prayer, and then still others, such as the U.S. 1 Summer Fiction reception, are left to just wing it. The reception for the 15th annual Summer Fiction issue was anything but choreographed, but it did have its moments.
Bill Roufberg’s poem, “Cape May,” turned out to have even more legs than we had thought. As Rein explained in a column in the July 27 Summer Fiction issue, the poem seemed a natural complement to the opening trio of stories, written by three members of a West Windsor-based writing group who were each charged with writing a short story based on the premise of a new homeowner in Cape May who discovers his house is haunted. The poem made a reference to an artist, Barbara Cox, who leads drawing classes in Cape May. And she in turn provided the watercolor that graced the cover of the issue.
Roufberg, a retired Princeton High School history teacher, reported another connection. A former student, having come across Roufberg’s poem and happy to know he was still around, called the teacher at home just that day. The student is now 67 years old, meaning that the reunion was close to a half-century later.
Rebecca Burr, in her short story “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” placed some of her teenaged characters at the Sanhican Luncheonette in Trenton sometime in the late 1960s. John Symons, who helped choose the stories for publication, noted that he in fact was one of the teenagers hanging out at the Sanhican in the 1960s.
When Scott McVay came to the podium to read his poem, “The Memory of the Man,” he brought with him a copy of the August 17 issue of U.S.1. McVay’s poem describes the Franklin Roosevelt memorial in Washington, D.C., and the George Segal sculpture, “The Depression Bread Line,” commissioned for it. By total coincidence, U.S. 1 ran a story in the issue delivered the day before the reception on the new exhibit of photography by the noted sculptor. McVay had a visual to accompany his poem.
The evening included a few challenges to the writers:
Bill Waters, author of “Captain Palindrome Meets His Match,” a piece that trades on words and phrases that read the same backward and forward, kept up his tradition of writing within unusual constraints. In 2007 he presented “Shakespeare’s Hamlet — Condensed, Somewhat Altered, and Slightly Rearranged.” In 2009, after emcee Rein made light of Twitter’s 140-character limit, Waters promised to return in 2010 with submissions in that format. This year, when asked what was next, Waters said he had been challenged by another writer to submit more great works condensed to exactly 50 words — as he did in 2005 with “Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It (10 stories in 50 words each).”
Randy and Kyle Kirkpatrick were introduced as the father and son combination who contributed “Bassdancing” and “If I Ruled the ‘World’,” respectively. The father-son appearance has happened once before — in 2002 when Randy Kirkpatrick and his father, Malcolm Kirkpatrick, both had short stories in the issue. So now, Rein declared, all he had to do was produce a male heir, inculcate some literary values, and in another 20 years or so convince him to submit a story. Is that asking too much?
The evening ended with an invitation from the West Windsor-based writing group that produced the trio of stories that kicked off the issue. Newcomers are welcome, the writers announced. Respond to Dawn Cohen — firstname.lastname@example.org — today, and possibly feel the roar of the crowd in another year or so.