Judge Sourcing for Touchstones Journal

One of the perks of working in the publishing industry—from Touchstones to grad school and far beyond—is the network of talent that knits itself around you there. Not just your own talent, although that begins to weave its own lively patterns. The people you read and write with every day, whose work you peruse and critique season after season, whose obsessions and quirks grow on and in you till they’re almost as much yours as theirs—these are the “gear and tackle and trim” that Gerard Manley Hopkins praised, the variety of richness that grounds and supports your own growth and development. When you’re on an editorial board, as you no doubt will be if you stay in the writing business, you and they will constantly call on each other for help. Our external judges for the Touchstones prose, art, and poetry awards come from just this complex of respected friends and colleagues. We’re thrilled to invite them into the UVU literary world. They’re always delighted by what they discover here.


Our poetry judge for the Spring 2018 issue is Bonnie Arning (https://www.bonniearning.com/), a poet from New Mexico currently based in Corvallis, Oregon.  Her first book of poetry, Escape Velocity, was published in 2017; read an interview about her sequencing strategies here: http://prairieschooner.unl.edu/blog/so-you-wanna-win-book-prize-11. She could teach us all a thing or two about ordering the submissions in our journals.


Our prose judge is Michael Fillerup, a retired educator from the Navajo Reservation near Flagstaff, AZ, and an active novelist and short story writer. Visions and Other Stories, a collection, and Beyond the River, a novel, were published by Signature Books in 1990 and 1995 respectively. Currently he has another short story collection looking for a home as well as an 800-page draft of a novel about the Navajo Code Talkers. He’s also a screenwriter, and is completing a semi-fictional memoir about teachers and teaching. Our friendship goes a long way back, including a remarkable backpacking trip in Glacier National Park during a rainy season in the Nixon era. After looking at the Touchstones website, he tells me he’s beyond honored to adjudicate our outstanding prose submissions.

Our arts judge is Corinne Geertsen (www.corinnegeertsen.com), whose work shows in galleries all over the West. She works with old photographs gleaned from archives and libraries, Photoshopped and painted to illustrate “psychological quirks.” There’s a narrative in every one of her works, which are on display in corporate offices and private homes from Washington to Arizona. Check out her work at the Meyers Gallery in Park City—you’ll be glad you did. Her savvy art, art awareness, and gentle humor have graced my life for decades. We’re lucky to have her looking at the work in this issue of Touchstones.

Developing the credibility and appropriate vocabulary for appraising poetry, prose, and art takes as much time and practice as the literary and artistic work itself. Artists need editors and judges; editors welcome the opportunity to mentor makers of beautiful imaginative new things. This is a joyful work we’re involved in. It will be a pleasure to read the commentary our three judges provide about our upcoming issue. 

--Julie Nichols   March 14, 2018

Revisions Week 1

by Kristen Vasquez

Once we have the pieces selected for the journal, it is time for revision! And the Touchstones team has been working away this week getting through the first round of revisions. Though we have accepted many amazing pieces, editing and polishing these works pushes creativity so they are ready to shine their best when printed in the journal. 

This process is long and takes hard work and effort from our editors and the authors we are working with; however, this is probably the most exciting part of the process. Working one-on- one with the authors and talking about the details of their work makes everything we do more meaningful. Through all the small choices, we see the details and excitement that go into creating the imaginative writing pieces that will contribute to this semester’s amazing journal.

Reading Night #2

by Julie Nichols

Well, we did it. Thanks to the brilliant efficiency of our intrepid editor-in-chief, twelve or thirteen (or maybe fourteen) of us read all 160 submissions three times and made incisive decisions toward what looks like one of the best issues of Touchstones ever. For three hours on Friday night and another three on Saturday morning, we ate pizza and trail mix and oranges, ham and croissants and strawberries;  drank a lot of benign BYOS (bring-your-own-stuff—note I said benign); and worked like the thoughtful,  witty, intelligent and wise people we are.



That’s the way to do it— in the dark of evening cull out the ones that don’t quite fit the bill, for lots of good reasons, not at all always because the work wasn’t good. There are many reasons any publication rejects what’s submitted—a good lesson for everyone.



Then in the windy bright morning, talk over all the “possibles” together, listening carefully to measured opinions and reasoned intuition.  Under the direction of fine poetry master Kristen Vasquez and equally capable prose boss, Kenechi Uzochukwu, we bounced ideas off each other, dispensed praise and blame, and ultimately distilled those 160 submissions into precisely the prose pieces and poems that will knock the socks off our readers in Spring 2018. Any good editorial staff knows to respect one another’s input as they work together to envision a gorgeous new issue. A fun and fantastic lesson for all.


So now we send out rejections (“not now” and “maybe next time”) and acceptances (“we’re so glad to have you aboard!”); we edit with our authors for two weeks, when we begin to copyedit and proofread; and we await the art submissions that will complement this top-notch writing.


With Neil’s experienced guidance and the entire staff’s enthusiasm, our vision is taking shape. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a grand one.


Reading Night

by Julie Nichols

It’s coming right up! Friday night (Feb 9), in CB 510A, your opportunity to be in on one of the most important (and fun) nights of the journal’s production. This is the first-timer’s introduction to what it means to be on staff. All the submissions are in, and now we bend our collective heads over them to decide what goes in and what…doesn’t. Come one, come all!

In the far distant past, Reading Night was literally an all-nighter. The whole staff hung out at somebody’s apartment. Pizza boxes, soda cans, and even maybe some cans of something a little stronger—I’ll never tell--littered the floor. Manuscripts were tossed from reader to reader, and judgments were shouted aloud all night long. At 4 am, everything looked wonderful. Or maybe everything looked terrible. I can’t remember. But finally, somebody—the advisor, in those days, actually—took home a stack of acceptances and rejects to review, just in case a treasure got overlooked or a dud got accepted by magic. It was the most exhausting night of the year.

Well, until typesetting.

Uh, or until proofing.

Ah, well. Things are not like that now. Things are much more streamlined, much less chaotic. Right, staff?

Come on Friday night, Feb 9, in CB 510A, and see. No one will be turned away. There will be food—right? And lots of manuscripts, electronic and/or print—right? And a chance to evaluate the writing of your peers, to have a say in the content of the Spring 2018 issue of Touchstones, to experience firsthand the collaborative effort that determines the “good, better, best” submissions. To enjoy each other’s company as we work. To understand more fully the editorial process. Right!

How can you not? We’ll all be there, ready to read. Hope you will too. 

See you there! Can’t wait!

Revision Workshops Spring 2018

by Aaron Guile

How are revisions going? I was just at a Touchstones worksop and had the opportunity to meet a number of people who wanted to workshop their prose and poetry . . . and no one showed up.

That happens. We are all very busy people as UVU students and on top of that, writers tend to treat our work like Gollum treated his Precious. We horde we love we protect we shelter our little chunk of self expression and give loathing looks askance at those who would want to “help.” I mean, who are these “help” bastards anyway!!!

The problem: this gollumesque attitude we writers have about our art is the exact wrong thing to do. Good writing is a lonely task which involves borrowing, theft, and silent assassination, but good revision is collaborative filled with love, puppies, kitties, and butterflies (and in my case trips to a local buffet to reward my alpha and beta-readers).


Good revision is collaborative. This doesn’t sound right, but it is. This is the reason the writing classes here at UVU and at hundreds of MFA programs across the country focus on workshopping and collaborative work. The goobers who teach us here at UVU might actually know the truth of that bizarre idea that good writing is collaborative, but what can you do to to get the reviso-colab process going?

First! Break out of your shell and realize every other writer/poet on campus is also an introverted shell of a human pockmarked by every mental illness on the planet and then look at the two following checklist that will help you work your way through revising.

Second! Find friends you trust who are not your mothers, lovers, and/or spouses (no one can trust any of these three in the revision process since they might misinterpret revision with destruction) and get them to read what you write with an eye for the following:

  • How well does the story follow dramatic structure: setting, rising action, climax,        falling action, resolution?
  • Where is the story confusing? What questions are left unanswered? 
  • How is pacing? 
  • Does the conflict seem real? 
  • How well are the protagonist and other characters portrayed?  Is the protagonist a believable character?  Does the protagonist grow, evolve, or attain a new perspective? What does the conflict reveal about the protagonist? 
  • Does the author show instead of tell?  In other words, has dialogue been used?  If so, has it been punctuated correctly?  Have specific details been used that describe the way that things look, smell, taste, feel, and sound?
  • What is boring.

Third! Once you have listened carefully to everything your readers have read and you’ve rewarded them with food and drink, go through your story again and make the corrections that make sense and then follow the following list:

  • Spelling
    • Spell check has been run.
    • "It's" and "its" have been used correctly. This also applies for there, their, and they’re and every evil permutation of the verb lie.
    • All other homonyms (which spell check won't catch) have been examined. For example: you wouldn’t, "She peaked through the blinds and saw the peek of Mt. Ampersand."
  • Grammar
    • Dialogue is punctuated correctly.
    • Make sure run-ons or fragments are intentional and rare.
    • Subjects and verbs agree in number, and verb tenses are consistent.
    • Commas have been used and used correctly.
    • "That" and "which" have been used correctly or murdered using a poison tipped kinjal so their dirty, zit-covered faces can never be seen again.
    • There are no unclear or confusing pronoun references.
    • Sentence structure varies in descriptive or expository passages so the text doesn’t get boring.
    • The sentences are concise.
    • Use a [blankety-blank] thesaurus.
    • Fact check yourself. Writers get crap wrong all the time, so it is great to use subject matter expert friends and google to double check.


Forth! Revise and revise, because looking like an idiot sucks and then start going to workshops because those of us who are there to help want to help.

Tabling Spring 2018

Another semester of Tabling done, another batch of potential authors and volunteers! It’s my fourth semester tabling for Touchstones, and it’s been a joy to meet UVU’s creative writers and editors. I’ve found wonderful friends in Touchstones’ staff, and it is my hope that the tradition continues long after I’m gone. Tabling is just the start.

This year all three journals worked together even better than they have in the past. We rarely had the table unattended, and rarely did we have only one person sitting for extended periods of time (except on Friday—it was mostly only me there). Thank you to Warp & Weave and Essais for an amazing partnership!

I hope you future authors and volunteers that I met this week stick with us, and I look forward to reading your submissions!

Donella Walker, Touchstones Managing Editor, Spring 2018

Formatting and Frivolity: Inside the Touchstones Revision Completion Party

     Ever wondered what it takes to put together an issue of Touchstones? If you have been reading the blog so far this semester, key aspects of the formation process have been revealed.  But after the reading and revision we come to the part of the journal that is incredibly exciting and brings the team together for a day of planning, formatting, and then playtime!

     On October 14th, the staff of Touchstones met offsite to determine the order of poetry, prose, artwork and the cover for this semester’s edition.  While I won’t reveal the order, or cover to you (we do like surprises after all!), I can tell you that the team came together with an eye to the overall aesthetic of the journal.  Knowing that editors and their staff, along with the editor in chief (Meghan Flinders-Peay) and faculty advisor (Karin Anderson) have carefully considered every single piece of art, prose, and poetry and how they interact with one another within the journal, fills me with a considerable sense of pride for what will be another fantastic collection of the incredible literature and art of the students of UVU.

     Don’t think though, that we are all work and no play.  Once the official business concluded, we disbanded as staff and faculty and came back together as friends.  We played games late into the night, enjoyed fantastic food, and amidst the laughter, enjoyed the opportunity to strengthen the bonds we have been building all semester. 

     While I can’t speak for everyone present, I think it’s fair to say that the revision completion party not only solidifies the fine journal we have compiled, but also cements long term friendships that will persist well into our twilight years.

Touchstones Retreat 2017 Fall.jpg

New Staff Member Testimonial

For the last few semesters I’d been considering helping with a student journal and this summer, after a little prodding from my wife, I finally applied to join the Touchstones staff. It has been an awesome experience to work with Meghan, Neil, Rachael, and everyone else. I only wish I had joined the team sooner. From the very first meeting I felt welcomed onto the team.

It was a ton of fun  going to Reading Night and getting to read so many of the poems that were submitted. Choosing which to accept on Selection Night was not easy, but Neil led the poetry editors effectively and after many hours we were able to pick the best of the best. For the last couple of weeks we have been working really hard on revisions. This is my first semester with Touchstones and it has been awesome working with the amazing staff and talented authors. I see everything that I’ve learned working on the journal helping me in the future and recommend that anyone considering joining the staff take the leap and apply.

By Seth A. Crandall



This week our editors have been busy working with authors and poets revising and editing pieces for publication. The process is a long and careful one, but it's also a lot of fun! We love meeting with writers one-on-one to talk about their pieces. We ask a lot of questions about theme, word choice, and sentence structure, and then work together to create a final, polished piece. It's exciting to watch the process unfold, tracking the changes from the first draft through all the revisions to the final product. Our editors and authors have put in hours of hard, careful work and I'm sure the quality of the journal will reflect their dedication and talent.

by Rachel Carter Swan, Poetry Editor, Fall 2017

A Night to Read!


On Friday, Sept. 15th, Touchstonians gathered together for our selection event - Reading Night. At this bi-annual event, UVU students and staff volunteer their time to participate in a blind reading of all the written submissions for that semester. This Fall 2017 semester we received over a hundred submissions of poetry and prose and it was up to our readers to decide which of those hundred submissions would be published this semester. With careful, close readings, they were able to narrow down the selections to those pieces that were the strongest. It was a difficult task, as we received so many outstanding submissions. We want to thank all the amazing writers who submitted their work and encourage all of you to keep submitting to Touchstones.

 Volunteer readers dedicate several hours as they pour over submissions.

Volunteer readers dedicate several hours as they pour over submissions.

We would also like to thank all of those who came and volunteered their time as readers! Touchstones wouldn't be possible without you! 

If you came to Reading Night, be sure to attend our Launch Night in December (more details to come)! You're name will be included in the journal and you will be eligible to receive one free copy! Again, thanks to everyone who came! 

by Meghan Flinders-Peay, Editor-in-chief, Fall 2017

Touchstones Opening Social an Exciting Success!


On Thursday the 7th of September, Touchstones Journal held their opening social welcoming prospective staff members and writers and artists.  Staff and friends of our sister journal, Warp and Weave also joined the soiree to support our efforts of collaborating with all the journals sponsored by the UVU English Department.   These journals are an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students to have their original work published in a peer reviewed publication.

After a rousing game of friendship bingo (if you have not played this game, you are missing out!), staff introductions were made and invitations were extended to those present to join the journal this year as support staff or contributors.  If you missed the opening social, fear not; you can still be a part of this amazing journal! If you are interested in volunteering as a member of staff, visit our Volunteer page.  Do you have an original piece of writing (poetry, prose, creative non-fiction) or artwork that you would like to see published?  Then navigate on over to our submissions page (HERE) and read the requirements.  Note that the deadline for writing submissions is fast approaching – they are due on Sept. 13th by midnight.

by Neil Shelley, Managing Editor, Fall 2017


Welcome to Fall 2017!

Hello and welcome to a brand new semester at Utah Valley University! My name is Meghan Flinders-Peay and I am the current Editor in chief of Touchstones. I am excited for a new semester of creative endeavors as our incredible staff works to publish our 21st Volume. We have a dedicated staff this semester who have already shown their willingness to work hard to create an issue we can be proud of. The staff hit the ground running with our first meetings this week. We have some great plans this semester and we hope that you will join us as a staff member or submit your creative work for publication!

Join us for these exciting events!

Opening Social - Thursday, Sept. 7th @ 5:30pm
Location: Utah Valley University, CB 410a

Join us for a night of fun and games where you can ask your questions about the journal, network with authors and staff, and get to know Touchstones

Revision Workshop - Monday, Sept. 11 & Tuesday, Sept. 12th @5:30pm
Location: Utah Valley University, CB 310a
Before submitting your poem, story, or play to our journal, come to a revision workshop and get help on revising your piece to make it the best it can be! Come to a group workshop and then work one-on-one with our editors! This will be a combined event with Warp and Weave.

Written Submission Deadline - Wednesday, Sept. 13th by Midnight
Submit your poems, plays, and prose to Touchstones before Wednesday, September 13th at midnight for publication consideration! Visit www.touchstonesjournal.com/submissions/ for guidelines and to submit.

Reading Night - Friday, Sept. 15th @ 5:30pm in CB 410a
Come read the submissions and assist in our blind selection event to help us determine which pieces should be published in our Fall 2017 edition. Your name will be listed in the journal if you participate in this event!

Art Submission Deadline - Thursday, Sept. 28th by Midnight
Submit your artwork to Touchstones before Thursday, Sept. 28th at midnight for publication consideration! Visit www.touchstonesjournal.com/submissions/ for guidelines and to submit.

Visiting Author Reading - Tuesday, Oct. 3rd @ 6pm (Location TBA)
Touchstones is excited to continue the Visiting Author Series that was initiated last semester by Dr. Kara Van de Graaf, Touchstones advisor and professor here at UVU. Visiting Author Matthew Miniccuci will perform a reading and answer student questions about writing and publishing.

My Word! Journal Launch Night - Thursday, Nov. 30th (Time and Location TBA)
Join Touchstones and the other English Department journals for the journal launch night. Eat dinner while meeting staff and authors, hear readings and presentations, pick up a copy of the journals, and celebrate the end of another semester!

Touchstones: A Magazine of Literature and Art Vol. 20 Iss. 2

 Touchstones Cover, Vol. 20 Iss. 2, Spring 2017

Touchstones Cover, Vol. 20 Iss. 2, Spring 2017

Our launch night for Vol. 20 Iss. 2 was a success. Thank you to all those who came and supported the UVU English Department journals! We hope that you enjoy your copies!

If you weren't able to come to the launch night, copies of the journals are available for purchase on UVU campus in CB 407, the English Department Administrative Offices. Thank you for your continued support of Touchstones!


 Editorial Staff and Contributors, Spring 2017

Editorial Staff and Contributors, Spring 2017

Combining Words, and My Word!

Justin Duckwitz

Yesterday, in Julie Nichol’s office, we cracked into one of the boxes that contained our freshly printed journals. The smell of new print stuck to the crisp pages, some sticking to one another and coming unpeeled, was a revival to my senses during these weeks of finals. The experience actualized what had only been ideas, and not even just our ideas as Touchstones editors, but the ideas of the authors and artists that we've worked so hard with this semester. And now they're here, ready to be shared.

For the semester’s final blog post we decided to try an uncanny experiment—a blog post with each of us on it. This idea has found itself in our midst as the most reasonable, the most meaningful, and the most authentic way to polish off this semester. And it only makes sense: through all our attempts at trying to make this process of editing a journal rational, we have ended up here almost by accident, publishing a journal full of words and images that we were only recently pleasantly surprised to get to know. And maybe among what we have learned from this experience is that despite personal tastes, despite each of our individual knowing the we have the best ideas, in fact the cooperation with others in the realm of imagination will always render the most unexpected and wonderful effects. We hope you think so too. 

Please come to My Word! Tonight at 7:00 at UVU in CB 511 

Caitlin LaVange

Since I was a sophomore, I’ve wanted to find my place in a meaningful community. That community has become Touchstones. I longed to unwrap literary goodies, but I also found sweet friendships. This semester as Editor-in-Chief, the experience has made me realize just how many hands, minds, souls, and memories it takes to keep up the quality that we strive for as an editing staff. As contemplative creative writers, thinkers, introvert and extroverts alike; we do value our precious alone time, but grow much more by working with each other.

Every single staff member has helped make this issue of Touchstones progress forward. The journal continues to hold its past poise, while it expands new ranges of color and meaning.

Here is to my Tribe this semester--Cheers to ten individuals who deserve a long genuine toast, or treat, for putting so much time and passion into Touchstones. We have also learned this in this increasing day of technology, we as writers and editors have learned some of the visual technical process this semester. Thank you to the staff who helped specifically on typesetting night, and Shauntel, Jared, and Joe for being in for the long, late haul.

To Shauntel- For always being the most thoughtful, caring, and organized. You have the grace of Alicia Markova and Ginger Rogers, energy of Misty Copeland, and strength of Natalia Osipova. Not to mention, the ingenuity of Doris Humphrey. You have been at the forefront of all this entire process. I wouldn’t have probably survived without your support. Your memory and sharp thinking was a gift to Touchstones!

To Joe- For being so damn reliable. I could always count on you to get the job done. It’s clear that you really care about this journal. You were like the backbone, who also happens to be a badass musician and poet. Your very heightened view towers over us, you are the man, the loyal dude. Thank you.

To Amanda-Your honesty and point of view is incredibly refreshing. You have also been a seriously dedicated editor, and I could depend on your every word. You are exactly the kind of feminist I would want to read, really though. I admire your passion for social change and fairness to everyone.You brought the edge, the essential complexity and something I continue to be inspired by. Thank you for also the laughs. That is needed as well.

To Justin- Thank you so much for all the excellent work you have put into Touchstones this far. You are one talented dude. I can see how much this journal means to you, and your determination is a huge strength. I admire your input and ability to start a conversation with anyone. Not to mention your sophisticated chef skills! Also, I had no idea you were so good at playing the guitar! Also, you’re next up to bat in the fall. I have no doubt you will create a fabulous issue!

To Jared-I feel extremely lucky that we got to have you on staff as one of our poetry editors. You are sharp as hell, and your calm, collected, kind self emanates from you. In other words, you are a serious pleasure to be around. Your hard work and poignant insight has meant a lot. Also, your taste in music is in my opinion, is richly top grade. Keep on.

To Stockton- You have also been very responsible and reliable in regards to helping to keep the journal going. You’re a part of the T-stone's family now and you’ve helped unite our staff. Your sarcasm and historical knowledge paired to be educational, plus hilarious. Thank you for all your fantastic work.

To Kristal- Kristal, Kristal. The keeper of the art flame. You have no idea how much you have helped Touchstones move forward and grow. We’ve been lucky to have your gorgeous art published in the journal for so long and now this semester we were enlightened by your artistic eye. Touchstones would not be what it is without the art. Thank you a million. You lit up the staff with your beautiful presence, and not just your fantastic blue hair.

To Julie- I couldn’t be more pleased with you as our Faculty Advisor for this semester. You are an incredible professor, writer, and editor. You really care about the quality of the journal, and you care about us as students. Thank you Julie, for being such a lovely guide throughout this process from start to end. There is so much to learn from you, as I will have the privilege of taking your advanced fiction class in the fall. You are a beautiful person, and all of your edits have been such important ways of heightening and clarifying language. I couldn’t have done it without you!

To Lilly-Thank you so much for being our technical expert this semester. This part of the typesetting and visual creation of the journal is an imperative part, and you really helped us a ton with the tedious process. It is not easy, as we all found out. However, it was very comforting to have you to trust as I handed you the keys. You are awesome, and the visual design is ultimately what makes or breaks it as a finished journal, so thank you!

To Geoff- You brought the humor, the silly and the smart jokes. You are a great editor. You are savvy with the creative, the technical, and you pick things up super fast. You’re a well-rounded fellow, thank you for all your help!

Joe Roberts

In his collection Some Love, poet Alex Caldiero writes:


                   I open my

side, take out my heart, hold it,

still beating, in my hands, & insist that 

everyone come close & verify that

this is no trick.

There isn't a way that I could better articulate the artistic process. I like to think that Touchstones offers us a place to put our hearts on display, like a museum exhibit called "The Human Heart." Each room of the exhibit is filled with the percussion of flowing blood as people wander through, past thumping cardiac samplings, and learn a little better the shapes of their own hearts.

Thank you all for allowing us on Touchstones staff to display your hearts, whether they're shaped like words or shaped like paint. 

Shauntel Peterson

Diversity like  

a kaleidoscope that paints

pictures of our time.


Stockton Carter

"Take the risk of thinking for yourself--much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way." --Christopher Hitchens


Amanda Steele

I thought for this collaborative entry I would share some of my own work. This poem is about creativity in its all its paradoxical glory. Art is sensual and appealing as well as dark and draining. Creativity and life is all about paradox and how to reside and exist in that space.



Insomnia’s Caress

Feasting on frozen huckleberries

While dancing demons flicker

around this mundane kitchen.

Mint leaves and orange peels make

wreaths around their heads.


It is three am. Time for looming over

newspaper ads while consuming

midnight snacks as the dark

dancers get their fill on me.


The sweet berry juice sticks to tile

as it leaves my lips. Air,

smell of cranberries, Water

slip slips from the erotic faucet.

My brain matter never sleeps.


Jared Price

Being able to get your hands dirty in another person’s words is an altogether visceral and harrowing experience. An editor is a surgeon of sorts—navigating a complex web of word-nerves and language-arteries. It’s a dangerous game: one false nick and the piece bleeds out; play it safe, and you run a risk of ignoring its potential. 

This semester, I’ve been amazed by watching my editing peers navigate the guts of prose and poetry—deftly poking, slivering, and prodding in just the right ways, shaving away any malignance and allowing a body of words to soldier on, even stronger than before. I’ve learned a lot watching my peers slice and dice; I owe them much for their aid and, in some circumstances, resuscitation. The idea of going solo without them makes me nervous, as I’ve come to rely on their skill and experience. I hope that with all of the things I’ve learned this semester, maybe I’ll have fewer deaths on the table in the future. Keep your fingers crossed.

Others' Words/My Word!

by Julie Nichols

I've been reading Annie Dillard and Li-Young Lee on writing. "The writer studies literature, not the world," Dillard says:


He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know. The writer knows his field--what has been done, what could be done, the limits--the way a tennis player knows the court. And he, too, plays the edges. That's where the exhilaration is: he hits up the line. He pushes the edges. Beyond this limit, here, the reader must recoil. Reason balks, poetry snaps, some madness enters, or strain. Now courageously and carefully, can he enlarge it? Can he nudge the bounds? And enclose what wild power? (106-7)


After some time with this I am compelled--compelled--to cast the book--Dillard's collection of essays old and new, The Abundance--aside. To toss it (carefully, though) onto the little sofa in my office where all things to be dealt with later get tossed--cast the book aside, as I say, grab a pencil and a notebook, and write.


Like most writers--including you, I assume--I came to my worship of words through others' words. Nursery rhyme and fairy tale, picture book and poetry, magazines and newspapers and backs of cereal boxes all beckoned me toward where I am now and cannot leave. Younger writers have blog posts and newsfeeds, web pages and memes. It's all the same: magic words on a screen or printed paper open up the universe. They blow your mind.


Books fall open,

you fall in,

delighted where,

you've never been.

Hear voices

not once heard before,

Reach world through world,

through door on door.

Find unexpected

keys to things,

locked up beyond


True books will venture,

Dare you out,

Whisper secrets,

Maybe shout,

across the gloom,

to you in need

Who hanker for

a book to read.


That's David McCord, on a quite different plane from Dillard or his fellow poet Li-Young Lee.


Most of the time I'm an underliner. I like to buy books (rather than borrow or Kindle them) so I can pencil responses. "Cf. Rilke on Apollo!" "See F. Yates on memory palaces." "Sooooo Dickens!"  But I find I don't underline Lee's words. Breaking the Alabaster Jar is a compilation of "conversations" with the poet, and, strangely, I don't want to mark it up because every word rings like a lovely solemn bell and no one sentence--like no solitary note in a symphony, no  unique ingredient in a gourmet meal--can be singled out. But see this:


All the work precedes the actual writing of the poem and requires a kind of supplication, assuming a vulnerable posture, keeping open. It's like prayer. I think one has to do a lot of struggling before one actually kneels and says the words. Then after that, of course, there's a lot of revision; but I do a lot of reading and mental, spiritual, and emotional struggling before I actually come to the page.


And this:

      When I do get to the page, it usually begins with a line that I can't make any       sense of. Then I write to find out what that line means....I come to the page         with certain experiences and intentions, but the poem begins to happen in a       line, and I write to understand that. (40)


These words fill me with respect--awe, even--for the person who says them, and for words themselves, that they can speak this, and do. When I read them, I want to be wiser. My thinking improves, my aesthetic tastes expand, my commitment to art leaps as a consequence of them.


This week is "My Word!", the launch party for the Spring 2016 issue of Touchstones. Almost twenty years now, our journal has been appearing, showcasing the words of UVU students, and the art, and the thought. The essence. This semester, as always, it's a beautiful volume, full of humor and poignancy and cleverness and wit, and not a few moments where I--or you--might fling the book aside, snatching up your own writing instrument of choice (pen? keyboard? phone?) and gasping I want to write like that! I want to be that writer! I can do that!


We live through words, we writers. Through our art. Everything is words, is art. Li-Young Lee says, "When nature has passed through me as an alembic it comes out as art" (28). Annie  Dillard says:


Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it?....One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time." (110, 115)


Both Dillard and Lee say (I must use the words of others to describe) what Touchstones bears witness to: art is transformation.


Finding the subject, the medium, the form, we find ourselves. The world was created that way; that's the way it's supposed to be. We--you and I, Touchstones contributors and staff and readers--are a community of word-hoarders, sentence-caressers, line-lovers. Others' words inspire me. Your art matters. My Word! celebrates them all. Come to the party, Thursday, April 21, at 7 pm in CB 511 at UVU. We'll all be there, toasting and tasting the word.


Julie Nichols






Freedom of Speech and Art: Inseparable Allies

Universities, places of higher-education, are supposed to be the ultimate refugee for freedom of speech.  They are supposed to be places where any thought, no matter how strange, can be subject to the free marketplace of ideas.  In these places, no manner of thinking should be barred from debate, and should be judged solely on the validity of its arguments, not the biases of the mainstream or the powerful.

With these criteria in mind, art is the natural, inseparable ally of freedom of speech. Their goals are parallel. At its core, art and the artist throw both their work and themselves into the free marketplace of ideas, where its merits can be debated by readers, by critics, and by students. If there is one thing I hope about this magazine, it is that it continually strives to uphold the ideal that any prose or poetry can be published here, based solely on its merits, and not on the biases of its editors (myself included).

As any good ally does, freedom of speech and art work together not just in peacetime, but in times of war. When the censors threaten the sanctity of art, such as the attempts in the past to censor Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, advocates for freedom of speech will come to its defense.  When freedom of speech comes under attack from bullies or ideologues, authors like George Orwell will, in their art, show the dangerous results of such dictatorial actions.

We as students of these institutions should be the vanguards for freedom of speech, and we can do that in many ways.  As a writer myself, I choose to do so through written art, and I imagine I’m far from alone in such a case.

Stockton Carter, Touchstones Prose Editor

 Cosmic Terra by Annalee Morris 

Cosmic Terra by Annalee Morris 

"Rebel Rebel"—How Creativity is the Ultimate Form of Rebellion

I read on an insightful but lighthearted quote online that goes, “Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence.” This refrain contributed to the current sculpting of my thoughts on this semester’s issue of Touchstones.

 As we enter the final stages of the editing process, I have been reflecting on all of the pieces, both writing and art, that we have selected for this semester. It is exciting to see the collaborations between authors and editors—to take part as we begin to put the parts of the journal together into a cohesive whole. Every semester brings with it new themes, ideas, and energy, that we as the Touchstones journal staff attempt to capture and assemble. I have been particularly excited to see some of our current selections push boundaries that the journal has been perhaps hesitant to approach before.

This issue will be a good dose of humor, sincerity, and edginess. The balance of beauty and darkness, the traditional and the unconventional, reflects the diverse culture of Utah Valley University’s student body. I believe art should tell the truth, be a little messy, ruffle some feathers; and only after we have broken into new territory can fresh ways of thinking and viewing the world emerge. Utah Valley University has an impressive variety of students with different backgrounds and perspectives—and their creative works reflect this important diversity. I am looking forward to seeing this edition of Touchstones come together, and I can’t wait to share the talents of the varied artists and writers we have selected for this issue.  

Amanda Steele, Touchstones Prose Editor


 Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman


I wonder what I really mean when I say, “well I’m just not sure why I like this painting so much, I just do.”  Do I take myself at face value, and assume that there is some essential Geoff-attracting quality that the painter has instilled in his canvas that I am unable to put my finger on, or is what I’m really trying to say merely that I’m afraid that the reasons I like this painting may sound silly, insignificant, or wholly personal to me and the wonderful collection of experiences that I like to call ‘reality’?  Maybe a part of me is afraid you won’t like this painting (which is irrational, because I didn’t paint it, why should I care if you like it?) Or perhaps that your perceptions of me as an artist/editor/critic might be colored by the fact that I think this painting is “rockin’-awesome.”  Can I use the term rockin’-awesome in a blog post?  I’m totally going to.

The painting is Kandinsky’s “Several Circles”, and it has a marvelous habit of making me smile, making me reflect, and tossing the warm-fuzzy and wholly figurative blanket of old comforts over my shoulders, all—pretty much—at the same time.

Really, I think my life is just made up of circles.  I don’t know if that’s any deep profound insight or just that I feel like most of the other editors here have much cooler blog posts that you should go read (right now.) But seriously—circles.  I have desires, passions, aversions, comforts, discomforts, etc. . . And as I swim through the comfortable deepness of Kandinsky’s canvas I can’t help but feel like I bump up against one or two of them every now and again.  Each one its own circle.  Sometimes they overlap, forming new patterns and colors and even new ideas or perspectives.  Sometimes they float off and stand apart, willing me to forget they’re there, or begging me to swim out to spend a little time within them.  There are bright pink circles that somehow remind me of the flavor of bubble-gum as a kid (which is actually a really odd flavor, if you think about it.) and there are those occasional dark spots that aren’t so much a circle as the lack-of-a-circle, though even they are surrounded by interesting lights or colors.  Maybe they’re just waiting to be filled?

So why on earth am I writing about circles?  What do they have to do with a literary journal?  I wish I were more sure of what “the point” was supposed to be (do circles have points?  If they don’t maybe I don’t have to either!) But I guess it may be this:  I don’t think it’s possible to change one thing on a canvas—re-color one circle, perhaps move one around—without changing the entire work (or work in progress.)  I believe that to be the same with life, or at least with my life, which will always feel a little bit like swimming through Kandinsky’s circles.  When I spend some time in the poetry circle, or any of the writing circles, when I spend some time examining them and living in them and attempting to create something through them, I invariably change them, perhaps even expand them.  Sometimes I probably even mess with the colors a little bit or even puncture one end and send the poor little circle fluttering around like a deflating birthday balloon.  And I have also seen very clearly in my (very) fledgling writer’s experience, that as I expand one area, others follow suit. 

Even that’s a little abstract.  How about this:  everything is connected.  I cannot seek to become a better poet without also becoming a better essayist.  And as I attempt to more finely tune my faculties for succinct expression in a personal essay, I may learn a thing or two about fiction, and the stories that we all tell, academically or otherwise.  Even right now, I’m working at least a little bit at expanding the poor little neglected “blog” circle.

And perhaps that’s why I’m so glad that there are so many extraordinarily talented visual artists contributing to Touchstones.  If this entry isn’t example enough, well. . . sometimes even those of us who fixate on words for a living don’t really do a good job of using them toward even our own desired effects.  I could spend a lifetime honing my craft until I were a master of composition, drafting, revising, editing, typesetting, you name it, but words themselves are really such a small part of Language (with a capital L.)  I am so excited for this upcoming publication of Touchstones, and hope that you are as well.  I’m excited for the colors and the lines and the shades and shadows.  I’m excited for the compositions and the experiments and the risks and perhaps just a little bit excited for the words, too. So very many circles.  


Geoff Griffin 

Prose Editor

    Severel Circles by Wassily Kandinsky 


Severel Circles by Wassily Kandinsky