Afterthought #42 – Taking Risks

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L to R: Lorna Reese, Jeremiah O’Hagan, Iris Graville

Earlier this month, I posted an interview with Lorna Reese, founding editor of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. Lorna spoke of her commitment to provide a place for hardworking writers to have their work published and of how SHARK REEF has changed since its beginnings in 2001. One of her innovations has been to invite guest editors to review submissions, and for the past six issues, Jeremiah O’Hagan has joined Lorna as prose co-editor. Lorna knew of Jeremiah’s writing from his essay, “Crash”, published in SHARK REEF’s Summer 2012 issue, but she’d never met him face-to-face—until last week, that is. Jeremiah travelled from his home on the mainland to Lopez to join Lorna and me for lunch and a walk on the beach.

“He’s a brilliant young writer,” Lorna had said about Jeremiah when I interviewed her. I agree, having been in writing workshops with him at the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program. Not only does Jeremiah write gorgeous essays, but his introductions to SHARK REEF issues teach you something about the craft of writing and make you want to dive into each piece selected. Here’s an excerpt from “Taking Risks,” his introductory piece for the current issue:

The best essays and stories and poems have horizontal and vertical plots. X and y axes. Physical and emotional journeys. As characters move through the outside world, they are transformed inside. They dive deep for self-discoveries, climb high for perspective. Or put in terms of popular music — every story needs a bridge. It needs to go somewhere unexpected and memorable.

In the best-of-the-best writing, the emotional journey transfers to readers. We become the narrator’s consciousness. We are whisked away, we feel the floor drop out beneath us.

Poetry co-editor Gayle Kaune said, “The best poems … tell us something authentic and ineffable that can only be retold by the poem itself.”

Richard Widerkehr, this issue’s other poetry co-editor, said, “I like poems that take risks, not just in language, but risks of the spirit.”

That’s it, isn’t it? We catch and tell stories to risk our spirit.

Thanks, Jeremiah, for taking risks in your own writing and for recognizing when others “catch and tell stories” to risk their spirits.

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.


  1. I agree, Gretchen – on both counts! Jeremiah is one of those essayists who also writes poetry, and I think it only strengthens his prose. As a prose writer, I’ve learned much by studying the craft of poetry.

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