Current Issue and Archives in Transition

As of March 2023, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has discontinued its contract with ISSUU, the platform that supports our current publications and our digital archives on this site. We’ve been assured that a new platform is on its way, and the transition will happen in time for the Spring ’23 issue to go ahead without interruption. For now, though, we’re sorry to say that our current and past issues are unavailable for viewing.


Esther Hammen on “Smile”

Esther Hammen is one of the new editors of The Catalyst for Spring 2023. Her prose poem “Smile” appears on page 32 of the fall issue. Esther had this to say about how that piece came to exist:

This past summer I worked as the Children’s Summer Event Planner for a library, and so I had to advertise our events at several different local family-oriented functions. I grew up in the small town this library is located in, and while I attended these functions, I saw a lot of people I recognized. One of the functions stood out to me in particular, this being the one that inspired “Smile”. Two former teachers from high school stopped by my booth to say hi. The first one was glad to see how different I was. In high school I rarely spoke unless spoken to, and if I did speak, I usually had something dry or generally unpleasant to say (unless you found my sort of humor amusing, in which it would be received with a small chuckle and a shake of the head). But at this event, of course, I was all smiles. The second teacher was someone who had committed a crime unknown to me at the time of the event. When I wrote this a month later, I was well-informed of what he had done to some of my friends/fellow classmates. This was someone I trusted very much and was very close to. This led to the culmination of the piece, that being the last few lines, where I let myself be angry, as well as hopefully funny, and maybe a bit chilling.

Not so Dreadful Deadlines

As we find ourselves at November 1st we also find ourselves 30 days away from the Fall 2022 submission deadline. Whether you dread them or embrace them, deadlines can serve as a motivational marker that says, “hey, it’s now or never.”

Procrastination plagues the best of us and thus deadlines can actually play a pervasive role in the creative process.

Creative thinkers often wait for inspiration to strike, but a deadline can keep creative thinkers on task. If the deadline says, “we need this in a week,” the crunch time can stimulate creative minds and get them started right away.

Creative thinkers also tend to repeatedly tweak and change their work. Setting a firm date and/or time for completion can curb the perfectionist instincts and force us to deliver.

Trust your abilities as artists to deliver on a deadline. The looming submission deadline of November 31st doesn’t have to scare you! Use it as a tool to get motivated.

I work in the Writing Center on campus here at UWL and we have a little saying that goes, “write something today even if it sucks.” One small step might put you in the right headspace to continue the creativity.

Happy creating!

-By Devany Bauer for The Catalyst

Flynn and Letting it Flow

I’ve been inspired recently, by the eerie nature of early October, to take a stab into some spooky stories. One of my favorite authors of all time is Gillian Flynn. Her novels Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects all highlight the cynical sides of humanity with psychological puzzles, satanic cult hysteria, and cycles of abuse.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, check out “The Grownup” by Gillian Flynn – a 62 page suspense that offers brevity and a bleeding wall…?

In an interview with Noah Charney in 2012 Flynn states, “I’m old-fashioned. The stuff I love isn’t about gotcha scares, and gore doesn’t frighten me much either. It’s that sense of dread, and the sense that characters have gotten swept up in a current they can’t control, leading them toward something awful and dark.”

Flynn, like most writers, has been asked about her writing process. As a mother of two, Flynn states “I couldn’t write anywhere around the house anymore. I needed a lair.” And that’s exactly what she got. In the same 2012 interview with Charney, Flynn describes her writing space as “straight out of Silence of the Lambs” in the basement/root cellar of her Victorian home. Here Flynn likes to let it flow. “I wish I could plot more efficiently or stick to an outline, but I just can’t. Partly it’s because, for me, the plot is the least intriguing part of a book. I start writing because of certain characters or themes or events I want to explore, but I’m often not sure what form that will take. So I do float along a bit,” says Flynn.

Personally, I’ve felt tied down and restricted by outlines. I tend to find outlines more suitable for academic writing and like Flynn find it rewarding to let it flow when working on creative pieces. I encourage you all to do what works for you!

Happy reading, happy writing, and happy Halloween.

~by Devany Bauer for The Catalyst

Contributor Taylor Trost

Taylor Trost, a Communication Studies major with minors in Leadership Development, Professional and Technical Writing, and Digital Media Design, was published in the 23rd issue of The Catalyst. Trost submitted her work to The Catalyst upon the suggestion to do so from her creative writing professor.

Her piece was titled “Foamy Mouths and Tattooed Backs.” This piece was a reflection on her freshman year experiences in dorm bathrooms. Isn’t it odd that such close bonds can be built in a bathroom?

Trost says she is a creative writer at heart and really enjoys the way writing gives her an opportunity to express her emotions and create something she is proud of. Currently she is crocheting, painting, and “putting forth the occasional short story or poem” when she feels “the creative juices flowing.”

In the future Trost hopes to pursue graduate school in order to become a professor of Communication Studies. She would also love to compile her poems into a book someday as well as write a young adult book.

Her advice for other writers is to embrace opportunities to “cut some lines of poems and stories because it may benefit the piece overall. Killing your darlings isn’t always a bad thing.”

~by Devany Bauer for The Catalyst

An Interview with Carly Frerichs

Happy May, Catalyst readers! My name is Katie Cox and I am one of the editors of the Catalyst. This month I had the chance to interview Carly Frerichs, a UW-L alumnus who now works at the local Driftless Writing Center. She was able to help the Catalyst transfer to the online format that it is today, and for that, we are incredibly grateful! I hope you enjoy her words of encouragement and advice for fellow writers as well as the love she has for literature. 

KC: Tell us a little bit about yourself! For those who don’t know you, what have you been up to the past few years, and what is your connection to UW LaCrosse?

CF: I was a student at UW-L in the English department (graduated in 2014, which, how are we already in 2022??) In my second semester of freshman year, the editors of The Catalyst were both seniors and graduating. I volunteered to take the reins, not knowing what a big impact it would have on my next few years. That first year, and into the second year, we (the English Club, as The Catalyst was supported by them at the time) fundraised through bake sales and grants to print The Catalyst. That quickly became unsustainable, but the current online version was created through SharePoint, which is not an ideal website structure for a print product. Wanting to merge the best parts of print (mostly the ability to have a layout and a shareable “product”) and the lack of funding needed for a free website, I set out in my Junior year to set up the WordPress site. Working on The Catalyst was a wonderful experience and really lit the fire in me to support and be involved in local art.

Since graduation, I have been mostly seeing where life takes me. I have worked editing, coding, marketing, graphic design, nonprofit administration, and I currently bake and cook at The Root Note as well as run my own at-home bakery. Much of the courage to follow paths that might not be what I had in any plan, but are paths that bring me joy, has come from writing. Through writing, and specifically how writing taught me to trust myself and to see the world through different lenses, emboldened me to take risks, push myself outside my comfort zone, and follow the paths that make me happiest.

KC: How did you get into writing? What makes you passionate about it?

CF: I had come to UW-L with the idea that I would do a year of gen-eds, then transfer to Madison for pre-med. Writing was never something that I was encouraged to think about seriously. Since elementary school, I have been a writer, though never called myself that. I was always coming up with half stories and a few lines of poetry here and there. Most of the time, I was my way to work through what I didn’t really understand about life. A way to talk out ideas to myself, figure out who I was (and who I want to be), and to actively participate in the things I loved. I have always loved music, but never had much success learning an instrument and had no access growing up to voice lessons. I always loved skateboard culture, but grew too fast and was too lanky and awkward to feel comfortable on a board with skate parks or really any place to practice anywhere nearby. But I could write about them. I could come up with stories about people doing the things that fascinated me. Soon, as I went through middle and high school, I started writing about relationships and social dynamics. Later in high school, I started working through my family connection with alcohol abuse, my own growing and then-undiagnosed mental health struggles, and my growing awareness of the world (both the beauty and the struggle). Writing helped me to work through existence, but never did I think it would be something that I would formally study until taking an intro class at UW-L. I loved it. I loved talking to people about books, helping others improve their writing, and having a community of other people who were also voracious readers and who also understood the world through literature.

The continuing passion with writing, if pinpointing it to one thing, would be my love of the sound of language. It’s one reason I love music so much. I don’t even have to know the words for some songs, if done well, because I can get lost in just the consonants and vowels. Even my favorite literature all seems best being spoken out loud. Most of the books I read, I prefer reading via audiobook if there is a version with a quality narration. The sounds of the words, how it all weaves into meaning, how each word leads right into the next and builds a vision for the listener. It’s what I find really magical about writing.

KC: What kind of work do you do with the Driftless Writing Center?

CF: I have filled many roles with the DWC. I joined as the Project Manager of the Stories from the Flood project. For the Stories from the Flood project, we collected stories from community members around the Coon Creek and Kickapoo watersheds, where 2018 saw record flooding that devastated much of the area. The project aimed to preserve the stories in historical archives to be used in watershed research, to collect information for a findings report to send to local representatives to inform flood response, and to help the community share their experiences to use their stories to grow and heal together.

Since the project’s completion, I have joined the DWC board, spending some time as secretary and then interim president. Currently, I serve on the tech committee. Early in the pandemic, I helped to get the DWC up and running with Zoom events to be able to continue serving our driftless writers community, and we continue to work on navigating the digital landscape as well as working on a plan to open up to in-person events.

KC: As a writer, what does your process look like? Is there a specific routine you usually stick to or does it change depending on what you are working on?

CF: My process is incredibly flexible. I have always been a writer and always will be, but sometimes it takes a back burner to other interests and passions. To prevent burnout, I tend to rotate my passions to be able to follow all of my curiosities and interests. But even when I am in a lull with my writing, I am always an avid reader (or listener) of literature. And I take advantage of my “downtime” to collect ideas, concepts, even just individual lines for a poem. I have a notepad app on my phone absolutely bursting with little snippets of my thoughts over the last few months. When I get the itch, I will start going through, finding connections, building storylines, and writing.

KC: Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?

CF: Useful recommendations is a tough ask. Everyone is so different and it feels like too much of a copout to say “everyone is different; find what works for you.” But it’s really true. Everyone works differently. Really listen to yourself and understand yourself to find your own rhythm.

And be kind to yourself. If you are in a rut and don’t write for months, it will never help to pine over lost time. Sometimes we have to take a break. And sometimes we have to push through. Knowing what your life at this moment calls for is an art, an art which will take time to develop. But be kind to yourself first. If you hate something you wrote, give it time. Don’t delete it. Come back to it later. Chances are there is something there. You may have to completely deconstruct your original thought, but you wrote it for a reason. Something in it meant something to you. Find the truth, find the little nugget of meaning you are working through. Writing is so highly personal and raw; it’s an act of courage to open up your creativity to its fullest. So acknowledge that courage and, even if you don’t think you wrote to your standard, give yourself some credit for writing life on a page.

An Interview with Brevin Persike

Hello, Catalyst readers, my name is Katie Cox and this month I had the opportunity to interview a fellow writer. Brevin Persike is a UW-L Alumnus who majored in Writing and Rhetoric with a minor in Creative Writing. Since UW-L, he has also graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a masters in Creative Writing. Currently, he is still writing and is considering continuing in academia to potentially be able to teach writing to others. I hope you find his advice and tips for writing as insightful as I did. 

KC: How did you get into writing? What made you decide to make it a career choice? Was this always the case? 

BP: I had never written a poem or short story in my life before I took Dr. Stobb’s Intro to Creative Writing course, and even after taking that class (and enjoying it), I didn’t know if I had any real desire to keep writing. I still thought I would maybe prefer to lean into professional or technical writing where I would work for a business someplace or potentially work my way towards an HR-type position somewhere, but I just kept writing short poems and one line story ideas in notebooks until eventually I was engaging with it and thinking about writing so frequently that I realized it probably is the thing I want to continue to do. Rather than force myself into a path that didn’t feel right, I just started to focus more energy on my writing and note-taking.

Edinburgh, Scotland

As far as writing becoming a career choice – I’m not sure that I’ve even decided that it is. I certainly enjoy it and I will absolutely continue writing as long as I can find something worth writing about, but I still want to be a lecturer and I think I’m more interested and engaged with the educational side of composition and creative writing more than becoming exclusively a writer. We’ll see. My plans really have bounced around over the years, but I would love to share my love for English and writing with others and just try to make writing fun in the ways that Cashion and Stobb both made it fun for me.

KC: What does a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing look like? What are some of the challenges you have faced while pursuing it? 

BP: I suppose I can’t claim to know what a postgraduate degree looks like in the US entirely, but I think a lot of the US programs are pretty similar in scope to the program I completed. It’s a lot of workshopping – reading and writing drafts all the time to work with the people around you, and for me that was always the best part of UWL’s creative writing courses. I love seeing the ideas that my classmates have, I love reading how other people use language, I love working with other writers and giving feedback and hearing their thoughts on my own writing. That was the biggest aspect of my degree. 

Outside of the workshops, a lot of the programs have other taught courses in literature or specific to style and voice and the writing process. Within my program, the literature courses were very unique, especially as an American, I hadn’t spent much time reading contemporary British or Scottish literature, so it was fun to take a look at that. The courses for lit are just much more specific for postgraduates than for undergrads, which makes them much more fun! 

The least important part of my degree (though I’m sure other programs are better with this), were the seminars pertaining to style and process. At one point in one of Dr. Stobb’s 400-level courses, he had us read The Art of Recklessness and told us something along the lines of: “This book will teach you just as much about writing as an MFA.” And at this point, I don’t disagree. 

The biggest challenge for me was staying inspired and keeping myself writing. Scotland was, and continues to be, quite locked down due to Covid. It sometimes became almost unbearable spending entire days in my apartment and looking at the same building across the street and seeing the same people with the same dogs walking at the same times every day. The monotony of the situation sometimes made it tough to feel like writing.

KC: As a writer, what does your process look like? Is there a specific routine you usually stick to, or does it change depending on what you are working on? 

BP: I can’t plan my writing at all, so I never outline, never pre-write, never pre-plan an ending; it’s also the reason I will probably never successfully complete writing a novel, though I may try someday. […] 

I am always thinking about writing and taking excessive notes (in notebooks and on my phone and on napkins at cafes) and I am always reading things – not necessarily books; in fact, more than anything I read graffiti and vanity license plates and road signs and billboards. I try to write down anything that catches my eye, but I’m not very good at checking back in my notes. Often, I only look back to check the specifics of notes I’ve taken that stick in my head and I try to use them. If I see something or hear something and can’t stop thinking about it, I feel like I need to use it for something and that’s when I re-engage with my notes. I wrote a series of poems a few years ago all tied to graffiti in Frankfurt, Germany that said ‘Karies’, a word that, at the time I was unfamiliar with, but the word just stuck with me, so I did something with it. And those kinds of simple notes have become the biggest catalyst for my writing.

I am a setting first writer. I can’t write a story unless I know all of the details of the exact places that I want the story to be set at, so it helps me to know street names and to see what kinds of neon signs specific establishments hang from their windows. Once I have a setting, I build in my characters and the rest of the story. The vast majority of my stories have started as 20-25 line poems and morphed into bigger things.

When I’m stuck and feel uninspired by my notebooks and other random thoughts, I resort to theft (which, in my book, is not plagiarism), wherein I try to write a story based on the stories I enjoy reading most. If I really enjoy a specific story by George Saunders, I will try to rewrite it as well as I can from memory, because I know I will never be able to plagiarize it (since my memory isn’t particularly good) and whatever does turn out will end up being my own. Where some folks free-write, to break out of writer’s block and to try to find a zone, I just try to write in the styles and voices of the authors that I look up to.

[…] Really my process is about being equally open to inspiration and criticism. I used to find myself getting too attached to ideas and then trying to force them into place, but good things can’t be forced. That’s probably been the toughest thing to wrap my head around as a writer. I definitely still struggle with it. But I’ve found that a lot of times the thing that gets my writing started is a gate at the end of the driveway. I just have to write it, open the gate and then once I’m back to the house, I can close the gate and get rid of the note or idea, the gate that started the whole thing.

KC: Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers? 

BP: Write a lot. Dumb stuff, good stuff, funny stuff, serious stuff.

I don’t believe that it really matters what you’re writing, as long as you’re making observations and connections.  Not everything has to have a purpose, in fact, I urge writers to fill notebooks with purposeless, contextless bits of words and phrases. The more concrete an idea, the higher the expectations are that come with writing something about it. So, when you read a stop sign where someone graffitied the word ‘dont’ (without the apostrophe), make a note of it because it means nothing right now, but it wouldn’t take long for that ‘dont stop’ sign to change a character’s whole life plan.

Advice to Anyone Who Has Ever Tried to Write a Valentine’s Day Card 

(or, more simply put, Advice to a Young Poet) 

For those of you who are unaware (or incredibly forgetful),  I must begin by saying Happy Valentine’s Day! Welcome to the Catalyst blog, my name is Katie Cox, an editor of The Catalyst, and my optimistic heart hopes that the notion of glitter dripping notes and bouquets of roses doesn’t completely squelch your spirit. 

Nonetheless, no matter who you are, Valentine’s day always has certain memories attached to it (good or bad). For me, it meant spending hours decorating homemade cards with way too much lace and glitter. Even as a child, I was a perfectionist. But, as we get older, the expectations for what to write on that cursed Valentine become much greater. Suddenly, it seems every layman or woman is expected to be the next Whitman. Some resort to pure plagiarism, while others create a rhythmic disaster that can only be described as “cute”. 

So, for this Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be a good idea to listen to an expert. Specifically, a man named Llewelyn Powys- who is known for his letters recorded in Advice to a Young Poet (fitting title, right?). I cracked open this book expecting a boring lecture of rhythm and verse, but, instead was surprised to find great beauty in the connection between these two men. Particularly, Powys’ outlook on life and poetry in general, is something sweet for the romantic’s heart. The following quotes I present to you may not be altogether considered “love poems”. However, they are thoughts that expand the concept of love into something so much bigger than a romantic relationship. They are about loving the world and the human experience. I hope they make your spirit whimsical and your heart a little lighter, as they did mine.

Now without further adieu… I give you the words and thoughts of Llewelyn Powys. (Complete with my own commentary). 

Quotes on Life

“Love life. Savor it fully. Live! Live! Live! To be happy is the true aim and the end of life.” 

The beating heart behind everything Powys writes. His magnum opus. 

“The grain grows golden in its husk. The green apples swell on their whorled twigs, and the shell of each hazelnut is neatly fitted with its ivory kernel. What have we to fear?” 

“Dust is soft, secret, and silent. I am not so well, but have had a happy life for half a century in sunshine.” 

Powys would often have the Egyptian hieroglyph for sun and life stamped on each of his books.

“The more we overcome our congenital apathy, our lumpish disposition to take for granted the deep mystery of existence, the more do we fulfill the design of being alive.” 

Our lumpish disposition… How often are we apathetic about the things that truly matter in life? What will it take to awaken the soul of a sleeper?

Advice for Poets:

“… try writing from your actual experience, converting into poetry the very dust of everyday life as poets can do, turning all into gold” 

“… [send] your soul from your wrist like a Merlin hawk to fly to the stars” 

Every time someone writes about the stars, I cry a little inside.

“take notes, observe- write always” 

Quotes about Poetry:

“With each of us it is the simple poetry of our hours, with their joys and their sorrows, that will count at last.” 

We must take note of every hour as if it holds something of value. The little things make up most of life.

“The secret of life lies in our own individual poetic vision.” 

“There are no miracles because all is a miracle. There is no magic because all is magic.” 

All is magic.

Thank you friends for reading. I hope I send you out on this over-marketed holiday with a little more fondness for February 14th. Now, go listen to some Whitney Houston or Bruno Mars to round out your heart-shaped Monday. 

Volume 24 Arrives!

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Thank you to everyone who came together to make this volume possible, especially the contributors for putting your work out into the world–we know how hard that can be at times. To the readers who support this publication, and to anyone else who gives The Catalyst a chance, thank you! Enjoy!

We want to wish you a great spring semester. Our Spring submission deadline is Friday, April 8. We’d love to see your new work and consider it for our spring issue!

To whoever reads this, keep creating. We hope to see you in the next volume.

~The Catalyst Editors