Saying What Happened

Reading the three new posts on our blog—The Long Road to Publication, by Lisa Gruenberg; The Realities of Being Creative in a Profit-Driven World, by Sabrina Fedel; and Scribo, Ergo Scriptorem: The Existential Imperative of Writing, by Curt Eriksen—got me thinking about one of my favorite poems by the late, great, and problematic Robert Lowell, a miniature masterpiece he wrote near the end of his life.  In “Epilogue,” the speaker asks plaintively:

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?

“Paralyzed by fact,” he still wonders: “why not say what happened?” Finally, beautifully, he enjoins himself to:

Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

In wishing to make “something imagined, not recalled”—but also asking “why not say what happened?”—Lowell wrestles with a dialectic that all three writers clearly know well, and all three tell their stories of memory and imagination with the kind of unvarnished candor I expect the author of “Epilogue” would have recognized.  Lisa Gruenberg tracks her tortuous path from flashback and nightmare to out-of-the-blue publication offer with no self-dramatization or special pleading.  Sabrina Fedel’s disabused communiqué—from an America for which writing that matters hardly matters—isn’t for the faint of heart.  Nor is writing.  And Curt Eriksen’s meditation on process is so tight-lipped—so parsimonious in its devotion to le mot juste—it gives renewed resonance to the figure of “the man of few words.”

So, three ways to “say what happened” with “the grace of accuracy.”  I’ve always felt especially moved by that single preposition in “Epilogue”; the speaker prays “for the grace of [not in or and] accuracy. . .” Precision equals a kind of benefaction.  If Lowell is right—that “we are poor passing facts,/warned by that to give/each figure in the photograph/his living name”—then these three pieces heed that warning by giving us what honest writing always gives: something permanent in a way we are not.

Please see the Letter from the Curator here for specifics about contributing a post to Open Pages.

–Steven Cramer

The Long Road to Publication, by Lisa Gruenberg ’07

My-City-of-Dreams-1Lisa Gruenberg is a physician, medical educator and writer based in Boston.  She has taught creative writing at the Karolinska Institute, the Asian University for Women, and Harvard Medical School. Her essays have been published in Ploughshares, Vital Signs, Hospital Drive, The Intima, a Journal of Narrative Medicine, and upcoming in The Michigan Quarterly Review. Her short story, Keiskamma, won the 2012 Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Her memoir, My City of Dreams, will be released by TidePool Press in 2019.  An excerpt from the book published in Ploughshares can be read here.

The Long Road to Publication

by Lisa Gruenberg

I started writing Searching for Mia, then Finding Mia, and now My City of Dreams, in 2004 when my elderly father, a Viennese Holocaust survivor, began having flashbacks and nightmares about the past.  I was suffering from severe depression and my dreams had disappeared.  I would wake with a start as if someone were speaking through me.  I got up and wrote what had come to me.  These first bits of writing were in the voice of my father’s sister, Mia, who disappeared in 1941 at the age of fifteen, and whose name my father did not say out loud until the year before his death.

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The Realities of Being Creative in a Profit-Driven World, by Sabrina Fedel ’13

FEDEL--BOOK COVERSabrina Fedel’s debut novel, Leaving Kent State, is the recipient of a 2017 Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Young Adult Historical Fiction, and a Mom’s Choice Gold Medal. Her prose and poetry appear in various journals, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and a Storysouth Million Writers Award. Sabrina teaches English at Robert Morris University. You may find her at or on instagram, twitter, and Facebook.

The Realities of Being Creative in a Profit-Driven World

by Sabrina Fedel

I had been writing for a while when I finally took the leap to get my MFA in Creative Writing. I hesitated, because I had already tried to reinvent myself as a writer on my own after leaving my job as an environmental lawyer to be a stay-at-home mom. I had a critique group, I attended workshops, I practiced. I was getting personal rejections, which everyone will tell you means you are really, really close to being published. At the time, I was the exception which proved the rule. I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I figured that had to change eventually.

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Scribo, Ergo Scriptorem: The Existential Imperative of Writing, by Curt Eriksen ’14

Curt Cover to proof.inddCurt Eriksen is the author of A Place of Timeless Harmony, a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Debut Novel of 2018. Curt’s short fiction, novel extracts, poetry and political and literary commentary have appeared in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, India and Spain, in numerous print and online journals, including Blackbird, Rosebud, and Writer’s Digest. An excerpt from his novel-in-progress was recently published at

Scribo, Ergo Scriptorem: The Existential Imperative of Writing

by Curt Eriksen

The major challenge I’m currently facing in producing new work, the revision of a novel, is that of time. Given that the writing of a novel is a process of highly selective accretion, tempered by subtraction, it takes time—and plenty of it—to finally finish anything.

When deeply involved with something, as I am now, I write with a certain urgency. I’m not in a hurry to finish, just anxious to continue working towards completion.

It’s my belief that what makes me a writer is not anything I’ve written, or the fact that I’ve spent my entire adult life writing, but the act of writing itself. It’s only so long as I am engaged in that act of writing that I am actually a writer.

But the amount of time I can dedicate, almost daily, to writing, is of necessity limited by other obligations. And not only that, there seems to be a limited yet always variable amount of energy available for writing. And yet almost everything else I do in a day revolves, in some ways, around the task of writing and the current project.

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