From the Archives: Making References

When I was an undergraduate at UAB I took Philosophy of Language and Epistomology from a professor named Tim Day, and these classes made a huge impression on me. I’ve often wondered what happened to this professor. I assumed he wouldn’t be in Birmingham anymore. He always seemed a bit of a fish out of water (and I recall that he had a particular interest in seafaring stories).

I happened to run into him at a bar last night and hope he’ll read this.

Cheers, Professor.

I wrote the short story below while taking Day’s classes, and I wrote the song “Make Reference” a couple of years later while thinking about things he had said in class. The refrain “Is there something between me and the tree or is the tree in my head? Is the tree too big for my head?” is practically lifted from one of Day’s lectures on how reference works.

Click here to listen to “Make Reference” as recorded by PopCanon in 1999

This short story has been published several times–in a Birmingham zine called Isms, in a national journal called Nanofiction, and in my collection The Salvation of Billy Wayne Carter and Other Stories.

Bertrand Russell Sees a Man

I. A Man Viewing a Sunset

Let (x is human and x is male) be true where (x=x) is always true and (x has the name “John”) is sometimes true. Let (s=the visible atmosphere of the earth) be true if and only if the sun appears from position(x) on the surface of the earth to rest on the edge of the western horizon such that s:x is fragile and delicious as a warm cookie.

II. A Man in Love

Let x have the property L(x) where (L=the certain combination of active neurons which results in giddiness) is always true. Let (g is human and g is female) be true where (g=g) is always true and (g has the name “Mary”) is sometimes true. Let L(x) occur if and only if x:g results in the property B(x) where (B=an intensional relation [belief] that L(g):x reciprocally) is always true. If L(x) is true and B(x) is true then LB(x) results in the property F(x) where (F=the certain combination of neurons which result in the intensional relation [feeling] that L(x):g is fragile and delicious as a warm cookie) is sometimes true.

III. A Dead Man

Let L(g):x be false if and only if x:g results in the property D(g) where (D=the intensional relation [disgust] that L(x):g) is sometimes true. If L(g):x is false then not x.

Please Donate to Steel Toe Review

Steel Toe Review, the online literary magazine that I edit, is publishing a print anthology featuring the best pieces from our first year online. The anthology will be available in mid-February.

Earlier this week, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for this venture, and we are already almost half way to our goal. Please visit our Kickstarter page and pledge a donation. The sooner we reach the goal, the sooner we can complete production.

STR Kickstarter page.

Steel Toe Review News

You’re going to hear a lot from me about Steel Toe Review over the next couple of months.

On Monday, we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for our first year anthology. More on that in a couple of days.

Also on Monday, we’ll start posting issue #10.

And finally, I’m trying out a mailing list service for STR subscribers. Up until now, I’ve just been managing the list manually, which is a huge pain. If you aren’t already on the list, sign up.

Subscribe to Steel Toe Review

Exciting times.

New Work – “The Jigsaw Puzzle”

My short story, “The Jigsaw Puzzle” is featured in the latest issue of the refereed e-journal the Criterion.

Thanks so much to Melissa Studdard for suggesting I submit it there. The title of the story reflects one aspect of the plot but also the process of writing it. I had written several sections of this piece separately as scattered random notes and story ideas. I suppose this process is not unusual for writers, and I’ve certainly used it to some extent often. But in this case, that was all I had, and I was surprised at how smoothly it all came together.

Hope you enjoy it.

The direct link to my story is

Editor’s Note #8

For October’s issue of Steel Toe Review, we haven’t gone out of our way to be Halloween-scary, though things sometimes just turn out that way.

In New York hordes of protesters continue to occupy Wall Street, and my own mind, recently re-immersed in Academia, is occupied with a search for some overarching narrative I can apply to everything that’s floating around in the zeitgeist. From here in Birmingham it feels like maybe something important is happening but we aren’t quite sure what it is yet, if we’re for it, against it, or indifferent to it. Though there is apparently a local group supporting the occupy movement, I still personally feel mostly disconnected from what’s happening. It’s easy to write it off as a group of people making the statement, “We are making a statement.”

I know there’s real substance to the feeling of oppression feeding the political movement, and at the same time, I suspect there are members of the movement that aren’t as oppressed as maybe they’d like to think they are. The feeling of disconnectedness that informs this dissonance is why I started Steel Toe Review in the first place. Birmingham is extremely disconnected from the literary and artistic community at large, and I hoped to enact some change there. The literary and the political are often intertwined, though (ideally) that connection is seldom overt. The piles of academic reading related to my graduate studies remind me that power structures are inherent in every aspect of life, and that the actions of everyday life, including reading and writing literature, are no less than tactics for navigating our way through the power structures that, by their nature, prevent us from ever being truly free.

Is that scary enough for you?

-M. David Hornbuckle, editor

9/11 Didn’t Change Everything

I was in Manhattan that day. I saw much of it first-hand, in real time, not on television. It was horrible. There are things I saw that still haunt me, that I still don’t want to talk about.

Perhaps that’s why I find all the public hoo-ha about the tenth anniversary of it to be disturbing.

A lot of people died tragically that day. A lot of people, including myself, were scarred by what they saw. It is appropriate for those directly affected by the tragedy to recognize this day in some private and personal way. That is what I will do. It makes sense for the government to heighten security. For the rest of America, it’s my opinion that they should not worry about it so much.

That day changed the way a lot of people thought and felt about a lot of things. Much of what changed was wrong. Much of it validated what the terrorists wanted in the first place, which was to make us all terrified.

I’ll tell you what I felt on that day and have felt ever since. It was horrible. It was tragic. It was disgusting. It was depressing. It was angering. But I would be damned if I was going to be terrified.

STR Editor’s Note, Issue #7

Reposted from Steel Toe Review.

I recently updated STR’s profile on the Poets and Writers website. In the “Tips from the Editor” section I wrote, “We don’t want traditional Southern lit. We want literary and experimental work that touches on themes of interest to Southerners. Interpret that however you like, but don’t assume this limits you to talking about trailers, hunting/fishing, fried food, and race relations. In fact, avoid talking about those things unless you have something really original to say about them.”

It seemed necessary to clarify this. We get a lot of submissions from people who think they are sending us something “Southern” because their story takes place in a trailer park. This is bothersome for somewhat obvious reasons. Conversely, there are many writers from the South who go well out of their way to remove any trace of Southern identity from their work. This often results in generic writing with flat characters and no sense of “place.”

This latter issue is particularly problematic for young Southern writers who equate “being Southern” with a distant past for which they have no affection. It’s not surprising that writers who happen to be born in a certain geographic area would resist being associated with racism, extreme religiosity, and cultural backwardness. And in fact, many younger writers have little experience of that past. The youth of today are increasingly “citizens of the world,” a world where the internet and suburban sprawl have a tendency to equalize experience no matter where you happen to grow up.

Of course, I don’t want to be associated with those terrible things either. In fact, I would very much like to show the world a South that has made strides in moving past these embarrassments, even if it has not erased them completely. But that is just part of my own personal and political agenda, not necessarily the agenda of Steel Toe Review.

Here at STR, Southern identity is only one of our pet interests. We have published and will continue to publish all sorts of things by all sorts of people.

One of our short stories for this month is by and about an Indian-American woman who lives in San Diego—a far cry, some would say, from the interests of most Southerners. However, we might point out that in this story, there is a strong sense of character and a strong sense of place, two qualities associated with traditional Southern writing. Moreover, the character and the place are somewhat at odds with one another in that story. There is an inherent struggle of identity between the place she is from and the place where she is.

Sound familiar?

Editor’s Note #6

Reposted from Steel Toe Review

Welcome back. We hope you had as fun and productive a summer as we did.

Over the summer we did some tweaking of our look and our process. We are now using submishmash for our submissions, which will help keep us better organized and hopefully improve response time. We think our visual redesign is sleeker and more professional looking.

Throughout August, we will be gradually posting the material we’ve selected for this issue, starting with the winner of our first ever fiction contest. We would like to congratulate George Sawaya for winning what turned out to be a very difficult challenge because, stupidly, we picked a theme that, in retrospect, was overly narrow.

However, we got some very interesting entries, and Sawaya’s “Mind the Gap” was the clear winner. We are also going to be posting honorable mention stories from Sean Hogan and Lucinda Dupree.

We have lots of other great fiction and poetry this month as well. Keep coming back to see what’s new.

-M. David Hornbuckle

Ghost Herd Show this Friday, June 24

Ghost Herd will be doing its first show under the new name this Friday at Sipsey Tavern in Five Points.

Come see how much we sparkle with new lead guitarist Adam Guthrie. Come hear some new songs. Come see me wearing leather pants.

If you aren’t familiar with Sipsey Tavern, it’s the bar that currently resides in the location where Bailey’s Pub used to be, behind Dave’s. Lots of people tell me they haven’t been there since the Bailey’s days. Sipsey Tavern has cleaned the space up significantly. They have an authentic Irish pub atmosphere, a couple of pool tables, and good bands most weekends. If you haven’t been there, you should check it out.

The cover on Friday is $5, and the show is set to start around 9pm. Renegades of Folk are opening.

Facebook Event Page


Common Grounds Reunion

In 1995, I played my first show with the band that would become PopCanon, at a little coffeehouse called Insomnia in Gainesville, Florida. I had just opened for Planet Ten up the street at the Civic Media Center, and they invited me to open this show. Planet Ten bassist Ned Davis and drummer Blue Lang said they’d “back me.” So we rocked through ten or eleven songs with me calling out the chord changes, and you’d never have guessed that we’d never played together before.

Shortly after that, Insomnia came under new management and changed its name to Common Grounds. It was a dark, smoky place where arty teenagers and grizzled drunks played chess and talked about existentialism. It was the kind of place every town out to have, especially a college town. The owners of Common Grounds (various owners over time) were some of PopCanon’s biggest supporters. As the band grew from three to four to six or seven members (sometimes more), we played there once a month for the next five years. Common Grounds bought the space next door and doubled in size, put in a professional sound system, and grew right along with us.

I played shows there with a bunch of other bands as well–Eurotoaster, the Exes, the Familiar, and Project Dingo. I did solo shows there. I played background music for art events. One New Years Eve, I played in three different bands. I juggled beer cans for open mike nights and sang Led Zeppelin songs when there were karaoke nights. And when I wasn’t performing there, I was almost always there anyway, perched at the bar with a Guinness. I met some amazing friends there over the years, many of whom I am still close to.

Almost any night of the week, and certainly any weekend night, a band would be playing and that band would be good. We may have never heard of them, but people would pay attention, often would dance. It was an incredibly supportive, open environment for musicians. Especially after other venues like the Covered Dish and the Hardback Cafe went out of business, Common Grounds was one of the only places keeping the music scene in Gainesville alive for years.

Some time after I moved to New York, Common Grounds moved to the old Covered Dish location, further securing its place in Gainesville music history. With a larger space (and a liquor license), they could host bigger and better shows. At the end of this month, they will leave that location, and then Common Grounds will be no more. Owner Nigel Hamm said, “Fifteen years is a pretty good run. It was time to move on.”

What Nigel will move onto, and more importantly, what will fill the void in Gainesville’s music scene, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Ashley Dean Myles decided that a Common Grounds reunion was in order. She put out the word on Facebook, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I drove down from Birmingham for the weekend. Others came from New York, Chicago, and elsewhere to attend.

The festivities began at Common Grounds’ original location, now an all ages venue called 1982. Though the decor had changed somewhat, 1982 still had the basic dinginess that was integral to the atmosphere at Common Grounds in the early days.

It was sort of overwhelming to walk in there.  Right away, I saw a dozen people I hadn’t seen in ten years–among them Liz, Spider, Joe, Fitz, and James Lantz. I have visited Gainesville a good bit since I moved away, so I had seen many of the locals–Matt, Frog, Tom Miller, Rusty Valentine, and others–periodically over the years. Still, it was strange to see everyone in that space, already doing Guinness challenges at 7pm.

At nine, Ashley herded everybody over to the current Common Grounds location. Mike Cecchini of the Remedies, one of several staple bands from what I consider to be CG’s heyday, had flown in from New York and played a set with his old band mates for the first time in several years. And they rocked ass, as expected.

After that, some bands that had already been booked for the night before the reunion was planned went on. Unfortunately for those bands, many of us chose to stay out on the patio and catch up rather than listen, ironic given that so much of the draw of Common Grounds in the first place was the music. At the end of the night, James Lantz played an acoustic set. Everyone did go back inside to watch that, and it was a fitting finale for the event.