Strategies of Making Things Up

Game Theory

Vol.57 Issue 02
Cover Artist: Federico Scoppa
Cover of TLR's "Game Theory" issue

Minna Zallman Proctor

The husband of one of our editors was pursuing a doctorate in Game Theory when I first arrived at the magazine six years ago. I thought then I had never heard of a more evocative subject for advanced study and immediately started trying to come up with ways to involve her husband in TLR. Keep in mind that I intentionally delayed asking her to explain exactly what Game Theory was (also, keep in mind that most of my formal expertise lies in mid-century Italian literature and turn-of-the-millennium Episcopal vocational theology, so I should be considered an extreme naïf vis-à-vis the hard sciences). While I was trying to come up with alluring literary projects that a professional game theorist might be interested in undertaking, I flitted from one entirely unfounded notion of what it was to another.

It was great fun to speculate upon the nature of Game Theory . . . . There were so many possibilities: Counting cards at blackjack. Figuring out how many squares there should be on a new board game from Milton Bradley. The trajectory of a curve ball, or whether the ball gets hit at all? Does it have more to do with batting order or the salary of the lead-off hitter? Do game theorists study why we dream about Tetris or what synapses fire and/or fail after fifteen minutes of Candy Crush, after twenty minutes of chess? Does it have anything to do with Twitter, birth rates, or cock fighting?

When I finally do get it explained to me—“the study of strategic interactions within decision making”—I realize that it is just as marvelously dense as I’d always hoped, and almost as nonspecific as I’d imagined. Though I might have to learn math in order to explore its practical applications, because really the prime movers behind strategic decision making are economists. Or, I think, I could just study me, and the editorial process.

Our work at TLR is defined by decision making. We read, we select, we curate, and present. Decisions are an exhausting and exhilarating constant of this work. To wit: For every poem we publish, there are many we don’t, and the reasons for that are varied (e.g., someone else has already published it; we don’t read ancient Greek; that poet was so very very mean to us at a literary festival in Metuchen that even if everybody else in the world disagrees, we can’t bring ourselves to interact with her again; we can’t abide the words “belly button”; the poem has nothing really whatsoever, even read in a mirror while standing on our heads, to do with a forthcoming theme; and so on) but the reasons always come out of some logical plan for what we want to achieve with TLR.jeff explains game theory copy

What is that, you might ask? It’s a very good and relevant question. The answer: We want you to read and love something that we read and loved.

Put like that, I realize, of course, that we aren’t very strategic, and we’re certainly not economists. We’re possibly just pathological oversharers with a weakness for literature.

A further clarification from our resident game theorist arrives to stipulate that Game Theory “includes limited rational thought and can incorporate behavioral assumptions.” The clarification puts me back in the game. I am operating with specifically limited rational thought. You might even say, intentionally limited rational thought. I refused to learn what Game Theory was before putting together this issue, and so the pieces here represent more than anything our collective exploration of what Game Theory could be. Which I’m quite sure makes it a game of chance.


David Cameron
Your Dreams Won’t Start Without You

Windy Lynn Harris
My Closet

Jacob M. Appel
The Children’s Lottery

Steven Boyd Saum
Waiting for the End of the World

Caitlin Vance

Brian Matthew Kim
The E Train

Joseph Sacksteder
The Korean Girl Problem

John Gallaher
In a Landscape: XXXVI

Jay Hopler
Cloud Chanty
Meditation on a Poem Currently in Revision

Sierra Nelson
Hollywood Treatment
No Hot Ashes

Gabriel Fried
The Story of the Castle Robbers

Eduardo Chirinos, PERU
Scene for a Movie
Curtains Blocking Out the Sun
Translated from Spanish by G.J. Racz

Curtis Rogers
Dunce Cap on a Martian
Aubade to Depleted Ozone
Old Man, His Head Two Paces Behind

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc
Hockey Dad
Men’s League

Julia Guez
Still Life with Worsening Income Inequality
Or the Quarry Implied by the Monument

Bin Ramke
Mean Also Means
No Place You’ve Been

Marcela Sulak
Tel Aviv, heroics & coupling

Philip Brady
To Banquet with the Ethiopians: A Memoir of Life Before the Alphabet, Book XI The Etymology of Queens

Marilyn McCabe
The Details
The East Field

Lynne Potts
Failed Faith and the Naked Doll
Beatitudes of the Beaten
Moral Rectitude

Caroline Sutton
Tennis: Fort-da!

Utz Rachowski
Thuringian Scenes
Translated from German by Michael Ritterson


“Volterra Prison Theater,” © Federico Scoppa. Used by permission of the artist.



Jacob M. Appel (“The Children’s Lottery”) is the author of The Biology of Luck and Scouting for the Reaper. He practices medicine in New York City and teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

Philip Brady’s (poetry) newest book is To Banquet with the Ethiopians: A Memoir of Life Before the Alphabet. He is the author of three collections of poetry and a memoir, To Prove My Blood: A Tale of Emigrations & the Afterlife. His collection of essays, By Heart: Reflections of a Rust-Belt Bard, was ForeWord Gold Medalist in 2008. He is executive director of Etruscan Press and the Youngstown State University Poetry Center. He plays in the New-Celtic band Brady’s Leap.

David Cameron (“Your Dreams Won’t Start Without You”) lives with his wife and children near Boston, where he works in higher education, writing about science and technology. A Pushcart nominee, his fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine and Digital Americana. He is also the fiction editor for Talking Writing magazine.

Eduardo Chirinos (poetry) is professor of modern and classical languages and literatures at the University of Montana–Missoula and the author of seventeen books of poetry. Two titles in English translated by G. J. Racz appeared in 2011: Reasons for Writing Poetry and Written in Missoula. A third, The Smoke of Distant Fires, appeared in 2012, and a fourth, While the Wolf Is Around, is forthcoming.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc’s (poetry) first collection of poems, Death of a Ventriloquist, was chosen by Lisa Russ Spaar for the Vassar Miller Prize. His poems have appeared in magazines including Guernica, The New Republic, and Tin House as well as on the PBS NewsHour’s Art Beat, and are forthcoming in jubilat and Slice.

Gabriel Fried (poetry) is poetry editor at Persea Books and author of Making the New Lamb Take, a collection of poems.

John Gallaher’s (poetry) fifth book of poetry, In a Landscape, will be out in late 2014 from BOA Editions. A chapbook of his work, The Future of Love, just came out.

Julia Guez’s poetry has recently appeared in Vinyl; No, Dear; and DIAGRAM. At work on her first full-length collection, she has earned an MFA from Columbia, a Fulbright Fellowship, and the “Discovery”/ Boston Review poetry prize. Guez lives in Manhattan, serves as the online editor for Circumference: Poetry in Translation and works at Teach For America–New York.

Windy Lynn Harris (“My Closet”) has published essays and short fiction in 34th Parallel, Living, Cynic, Sasee, and Quiet Mountain Essays, among others. She is a past winner of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Award and has recently finished her first novel.

Jay Hopler’s (poetry) most recent book is Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry. He is associate professor of English at the University of South Florida.

Brian Matthew Kim (“The E Train”) is an adjunct lecturer at Queens College, CUNY. His work has also appeared in The Telegram Review and Composite Arts Magazine. He is a founding member of the Oh, Bernice! writers collective, and he’s making his way through half of the Criterion Collection—an endeavor you can follow at

Marilyn McCabe’s (poetry) poem “On Hearing the Call to Prayer over the Marcellus Shale on Easter Morning” was awarded A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize in 2012 and appeared in the Los Angeles Review. Her book of poetry, Perpetual Motion, was the 2012 winner of the Hilary Tham Capitol Collection contest. Her work has appeared in Nimrod, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly, as well as French translations and songs on Numero Cinq and a video-poem on The Continental Review.

Sierra Nelson (poetry) is author of lyrical choose-your-own-adventure I Take Back the Sponge Cake and the chapbook In Case of Loss. Co-founder of literary performance art groups The Typing Explosion and Vis-à-Vis Society, Nelson teaches in Seattle, Friday Harbor, and Rome.

Work by Lynne Potts (poetry) has appeared in the Paris Review, Denver Quarterly, California Quarterly, Meridian, Southern Humanities Review, Oxford Magazine, Southern Poetry Review, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, and other literary journals. She won the National Poetry Review Press MS Award in 2012 and has a second book coming out in 2015 from the same press. She is poetry editor at AGNI.

Utz Rachowski (“Thuringian Scenes”) was born 1954 in Saxony (Germany). He was a former political prisoner in East Germany and was sentenced to twenty-seven months jail because of his own poems. He has published 14 books of stories, essays, and poetry. Awards for his writing include the 2007 Reiner Kunze Prize, a Hermann Hesse Grant in 2008, and a Pushcart Prize nomination in 2013.

G. J. Racz (translation) is associate professor of foreign languages and literature at Long Island University–Brooklyn, review editor for Translation Review, and past president of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). His translation of Eduardo Chirinos’s The Smoke of Distant Fires was short-listed for the 2013 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

Bin Ramke’s (poetry) twelfth book, Missing the Moon, will appear from Omnidawn this fall. His first book was a Yale Younger Poets selection. He teaches at the University of Denver, and on occasion at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Michael Ritterson (translation) translates German-language poetry and fiction of the last two centuries. He has published first English translations of three works by the 19th-century realist Wilhelm Raabe. His translations of contemporary poets and writers have appeared in International Poetry Review, SAND: Berlin’s English Literary Journal, Seminary Ridge Review, and others. He lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Curtis Rogers (poetry) has pieces appearing or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, cream city review, Phantom Limb, Vinyl Poetry, The Atlas Review, and elsewhere. Currently, he lives and works in Washington, DC.

Joseph Sacksteder (“The Korean Girl Problem”) will release an album of Werner Herzog sound poems (as The Young Vish) later this year through Punctum Records. To check some of them out, Google his name plus Quarterly West, Sleepingfish, The Collagist, or textsound. He’s off to the Rocky Mountains for a PhD program in the fall.

Steven Boyd Saum (“Waiting for the End of the World”) is the editor of Santa Clara Magazine. His fiction and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Salon, Sou’wester, on KQED FM, and other fine places. He’s previously written for TLR on Ukraine, where he directed the Fulbright program, served as an election observer in the Orange Revolution, taught as a Peace Corps volunteer, hosted a radio show, and was arrested only once.

Marcela Sulak (poetry) is the author of Immigrant from Black Lawrence Press; she’s translated three collections of poetry from the Czech and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and she is co-editing Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Literary Hybrid Genres forthcoming from Rose Metal Press. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.

Caroline Sutton’s (“Tennis: Fort-da!) writing has appeared in North American Review, Cimarron Review, Ascent, and Tampa Review, among others. Her essay “Eclipsed” received Southern Humanities Review’s Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award and is listed as a Notable Essay of 2012 in Best American Essays 2013. Formerly an editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons and Hilltown Press, Sutton currently teaches high school English in New York.

Caitlin Vance (“Tulips”) is a poetry MFA student at Syracuse University. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and Booth.