This October, Professor Emeritus Dr. Dave Collins was awarded first place in the Compass Flower Press Essay Contest for his piece titled “Body Language.” His work appears in the anthology Uncertain Promise: An Anthology of Short Fiction and Non-fiction. His essay has also been nominated for the notable Pushcart Prize.
Below, Dr. Collins comments on the work.
“Body Language” is first and foremost a coming of age story. It’s the story of a moment – anyone who lives consciously knows about such moments – when I realized that we way I saw and understood the world had changed. The catalyst in this case was a performance by Joanne Brackeen, a jazz pianist who one night years ago performed in the Church of St. Mary Aldermanbury at Westminster. Listening to her, watching her interact with Ray Drummond on the bass, I realized that the reasons for my love of jazz had undergone a seismic shift. As a teenager, as a young man, I loved jazz because for me it pointed the way to a brave new world, a world where the rules could be suspended, where anarchy was barely a half step away. That night, forty or so years after I first embraced jazz, I realized that what I loved now was the idea of freedom within boundaries, boundaries that shifted constantly as the players negotiated with one another, danced together through the music.
There are, of course, other ideas, other themes that rear their heads in the essay and draw a little attention to themselves. I grew up in the fifties as a good Roman Catholic boy – and hated every minute of a life that seemed too ordered, too determined. Writing “body Language,” I couldn’t resist a little humor at the expense of the nuns who functioned in my mind’s eye as symbols of oppression.
And, perhaps most important, there is my love for, my respect for the arts and the power they lay at our disposal. Too many people think that the arts exist outside of ourselves, that they are superfluities, something “extra” that can be trimmed when budgets get tight, that they and those who embrace them are effete and ineffectual. Plato thought that the arts, because at some level they by-pass our rational faculties and move us emotionally to act, were positively dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, the arts lead us at times to apprehend rather than to comprehend, but in doing so they enable us to know those “most important things” that can’t be grasped through reason. The arts move us to action, sometimes quite literally. As I write in “Body Language,” there is a kind of athleticism involved: “The arts are muscular and the pleasures they bring are physical.”
From Yolanda Ciolli, Publisher (Compass Flower Press):
What motivated you to put together an anthology of prose fiction and creative nonfiction? Is there anything that sets Uncertain Promise apart from its competition?
I have always been a huge fan of the anthology, whether it contains short stories, essays, or poetry—or any healthy combination of those writing forms. There are so many small presses out there and most of the literary anthologies I have seen and read over the years are put out by either large presses with big names, or universities. I felt it was time to show that a quality anthology can be published by not only a small press.
Though you have been in the business of publishing for some years now (how many?), every new venture brings new challenges and new lessons. What did you learn from the year’s work that led to Uncertain Promise?
AKA-Publishing began in 2009, and Compass Flower Press was started as a new imprint in 2013. The new imprint was meant to embrace a wider scope of writing to include quality fiction and creative nonfiction. The adventure of bringing Uncertain Promise to life was indeed, nearly a full year. I learned that it takes a village, a lot of hard work, perseverance, and serious funds. The majority of the money goes to marketing and editing.
How would you describe the reaction of early readers of Uncertain Promise? Have you had any direct feedback?
I have received nothing but positive feedback. Readers are lauding the quality of the essay and story selection. I am also hearing great feedback about the beauty of the book, which is something I try to impart to every project, so I feel successful in that arena as well.
Would-be readers can get copies from you, the publisher, of course. What about brick and mortar bookstores? Will Uncertain Promise be available in independent bookstores and big box stores like Barnes and Noble? What about online availability at places like Amazon.com?
It is already available in all the online sources, and I am working on getting it in the Barnes and Noble in Columbia and beyond. Right now we are working on getting it into all the “Mom & Pop” bookstores, which are becoming very successful.
From Von Pittmann, editor:
When Yolanda Ciolli and I began to talk about compiling this anthology, we wondered about the quality that W. Somerset Maugham called a “unity of impression.” What would be the collective theme of the stories selected for this collection? After a great deal of lively discussion, we chose “uncertain promise.”
. . . No limits apply on the variety and intensity of promises. WE make promises constantly. Usually we do so freely, cheerfully, and without misgivings. We make most of our promises to the important people in our lives—children parents, lovers, spouses, the people we work with, and even those who are no longer with us. And for the most part, we make them with the best of intentions.
We also make promises to ourselves, pledges that frequently lack certainty. This book includes several stories in which the characters struggle to realize promises they made to themselves. . . .
First prize winner Dave Collins uses a jazz performance to frame his perception of music as a creator or kinetic sensations that both lead to and reflect major developments in his narrator’s life.
Professor Collins taught English at Westminster College from 1973 until 2013. Uncertain Promise can be found on Amazon.com, as well as in local book stores.