I didn’t believe she was even going to the reading at NHU until she actually turned in the permission slip. Mr. Rudolfo looked surprised too. Crystal had been not right pretty much all year. We used to hang out all the time, like three times a week. We weren’t dating or anything, we just hung out a lot. Now she was too busy drinking Natty Lights with Colin McAllister and his douchebag friends every weekend; hell, every Thursday, too. It was always the weekend as far as those guys were concerned. And since they were all in Band and somehow managed to pass all their classes, nobody gave them any crap about it. It’s not like their parents couldn’t have guessed what they were doing in Zach Harrigan’s basement. They weren’t studying Chemistry, I can tell you that much.

Michael Landau

Michael Landau’s fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine and Spittoon. His play Something Else Occurred was performed in the Minneapolis Fringe Festival. He lives in Vermont, where he teaches, DJs, and plays bass in the seminal post-postpunk band Forgotten Pasta.

Patrick Ryan on “Night of the Living Poet”

Have you ever had one of those days that just didn’t work out the way you wanted it to? Of course you have; so have I. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I’ve never had a day work out exactly the way I wanted it to—and that’s good news because a little unpredictability is what keeps life interesting.

But try telling that to Andy, the narrator of our new issue, “Night of the Living Poet.”

All Andy wants is for his mom to get off his back about the big college decision. And for his fellow-athlete buddies to stop telling him how great it is to be high on the field. And for Crystal—his friend since the beginning of high school and his crush for nearly all that time—to be as hot for him as he is for her.

But Andy’s mom isn’t about to let up, and his buddies think he just needs to chill out. And as for Crystal, she isn’t hot for him at all. She hardly seems to notice him anymore. In fact, Crystal has started to date the guy Andy hates most in the entire school.

Michael Landau’s wonderfully quiet (and quietly funny) story will strike a lot of familiar cords with readers. If you’ve ever longed to be longed for, been moved by a poem you didn’t quite understand, or tried to play pool on a less-than-perfect pool table, you’ll feel at home in the world of “Night of the Living Poet.” We’re delighted to have it be the first One Teen Story of 2015.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
ML: From an actual field trip, of course. I try to take my students to fine arts events like poetry readings, museum exhibitions, operas. They don’t have much exposure to such in their blue collar town, so they are appreciative. They like poetry readings, actually. At one, the poet said in the Q&A that people were always asking him why he wrote poems about his father, and of course one of my students raises a hand and asks, “Why do you always write about your father?” Although that scene didn’t make the final draft, it’s where the idea for the story began.
PR: All of us who have taken literature classes in high school have had poetry stuck under our noses and been asked to appreciate it. And every so often the poetry rings true, strikes a familiar cord. Was there a poet you identified with when you were a teen?
ML: I was a terrible snob about poetry as a teenager—I only wanted to read prose. Yet for some reason Lawrence Ferlinghetti captured my attention, first with “Dog” and then with “Populist Manifesto #1” and “I Am Waiting.” I couldn’t say why other than it was likely his combination of outrage, optimism and humor, which is a state of mind I try to maintain. Plus Ferlinghetti’s sense of rhythm is unmatched, and I’m always thinking about the rhythm of my writing.
PR: Here’s a two-part (and maybe annoyingly psychoanalytical) question: How would Andy describe himself—not in terms of his physical appearance but his personality? How would Crystal describe Andy?
ML: Andy would probably think of himself as “legit,” a straight shooter. He may not know much about other people but he knows himself pretty well, including the fact that he doesn’t know much about how other people think. Crystal’s a bit of a mystery to me, but I imagine she regards Andy as the “in case of emergency, break glass” guy, as Chris Rock might say.
PR: Have you given any thought to what might be in store for Andy and Savannah, beyond the end of the story? Or did your imagination come to a comfortable resting point once Andy had taken his best shot (so to speak)?
ML: I don’t know, and I’m sure Andy doesn’t either. He just can’t see that any other girl exists besides Crystal, which I think is representative of a lot of teenage boys. There’s a phenomenon where boys will become fixated on one girl to the exclusion of all others—usually one the boy has no chance with. I think teenage boys get a bad rap when a lot of them are romantics at heart.
PR: What are you working on now?
ML: I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story called “50 Pianos” about a girl whose summer job home from college is to cover the pianos scattered around town as part of a museum art project. I’m also deep into a YA novel wherein teenagers get trapped in their high school overnight with (maybe) a ghost. But it’s more interesting than it sounds, really—there are AK-47s, a possessed soap dispenser, and a nuclear fallout shelter stocked with Red Bull and peanut butter crackers.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
ML: For me, the best writing advice comes from reading the sentences of authors I admire. I’ve learned more from carefully reading the work of writers like Michael Ondaatje, Marilynne Robinson, and Rick Moody than from any class, reading, or workshop. When I feel like maybe I’ve lost the thread a bit, I refer to an essay by Ralph Ellison, who poses a question the writer needs to consider: “How does the individual take the strains of his past and use them to illuminate his own sense of life?”