Sunday, March 30, 2014

Where I'll Be This Week: Tales from the South and Harding University

47º ~ a wee bit late, but spring sprang sprung, all the hardwoods are budding, the flowering trees are flowering, and things are right with the world for the moment


It's going to be a busy week for the Kangaroo.  I've got regular classes, two extra meetings for committee work and professional development. (Somehow, by the grace of the syllabus gods and goddesses, I didn't make anything major due in any of my classes this week.) At home, we are having a wonderful landscaper come in and take our scrubby yard down to nothing and build it back up again. And I have two writer events of my own.  Hold on to your hats!

Writer Event One

Tuesday night (April 1) I'll be reading a piece of non-fiction for Tales from the South. If you are in central Arkansas, I hope you'll consider coming out for a great meal and a chance to hear about "Gracie's Great Adventure." Yes, I wrote the narrative about one of our cats. Chuck is always teasing me about how I need to write some cat poetry, and since he features at the center of Gracie's adventure and will be in the audience, I figure this should suffice.

While I won't be reading poetry, I'll bring a few copies of the books in case anyone is in the mood to support the writer!

Tales from the South is produced and recorded for airing on KUAR and KUAF (Arkansas NPR stations) at Starving Artist Cafe in the Argenta District of North Little Rock. Doors open for dining at 5:00 p.m. with music from The Salty Dogs from 6:00 - 7:00.  I go on at 7:00 and the whole thing will wrap by 8:00.

*This event is ticketed with limited seating.

Writer Event Two

On Thursday (April 3), Angie Macri, poet-colleague-friend, and I will carpool up to Harding University. In the late afternoon Angie and I will conduct a workshop with creative writing students, and then in the evening we will read for faculty, students, staff, and, I believe, the public. If you are in the vicinity of Harding, feel free to message me for details about the reading.

I'm super excited to read with Angie because her first book is coming out soon. Fear Nothing of the Future or the Past is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. You should pre-order your copy today. I blurbed this book, and I can tell you that you won't be disappointed!


I can already predict that I won't be back to blog writing this week, but it is on my list of priorities starting in May. As always, I'm thankful to all of you for reading!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Angie Macri: Writing Process Blog Tour


Thanks to Sandy Longhorn for including me in this tour and being willing to host me on here.  Since this is her blog, I won’t speak in introduction of her or her accomplishments, and since I’ve known her so long, I’m at a loss because there’re so many things to say.  So I will say what she might not even realize:  that she is an earnest woman, concerned with not only place but justice, and that is something that comes through not only her poems but her self.  Such a genuine heart is a rarity, and it is at the core of her words.

What am I working on?

Lately I’ve been trying to promote my first book, a chapbook, Fear Nothing of the Future or the Past.  To keep overhead low, pre-order sales determine the press run, and I’ve been trying not to worry about that.  I’m also beginning to plan readings for the book.  My idea is to reach out to small libraries in Arkansas this summer.  I was awarded an Arkansas Arts Council fellowship years back and that is how I thought I might give back to the state.

There are other manuscripts, too, full-length collections.  One is making the rounds and seems well received but not enough to be selected for publication.  One has developed from the chapbook, with those poems as its core.  Another is called Walking Liberty, which explores issues of freedom for the American woman.  And another seems to be forming from poems related to apples and roses.  The pieces come as they may and I sort them when I can.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

When I was studying creative writing in school, a professor told me, you know, successful poets aren’t nice people.  With the possible exception of Bishop.  Bless him, half the time he didn’t even call me by the right name, but what he said stuck so well that my first thought when I saw this question was still this:  the way that I differ from other poets is that I’m not as good as other poets.  I might be nice, but I’ll never make it.

At first, his comment led to efforts to make my work match others.  To push myself to Do What I’m Supposed to Do.  I struggled with that for a long time.  And then I said forget that, I’ll write how and what I want.  Through this liberation, I have written pieces that are mine.  But I still have phases when I struggle.

Why do I write what I do?

My father started his education at a community college.  His first class was in composition, and he had to analyze the poetry of Robert Frost.  My father had grown up in Brooklyn, a first-generation American, and poetry wasn’t part of his world.  He had gone to a technical high school so he was well educated in math and science, but not in reading or writing.  He was being trained for a technical job, so literature wasn’t thought as being important for his well being.  He had lost his mom to cancer and then was lost himself, bouncing around, ending up in the Midwest working in a cannery.  That wasn’t the future he wanted, and he knew college was the key to something different.  But there he was and poetry was alien to him. 

He only got a C in the class, he would tell you, but he swore that if you could understand poetry, you could understand anything.  No text intimidated him after that.  He took his newfound powers of analysis and continued his education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in educational philosophy.  His students’ lives were better because of that one class, and so was mine.

But more important than the tangible success of his education is what I also mentioned:  that after his mother’s death, he was lost.  Poetry was the way he found solace, freedom, hope, even in the face of his grief.  Through poetry he realized he wasn’t alone, and that such communion is timeless and even beautiful.  He never articulated this to me in these exact words, but I realized them through him in time.

He wrote in the margins of his books, and as soon as I could hold a pencil, he let me draw, then write in the margins of his notebooks.  He loved nature and science, art and philosophy.  Nothing was out of our reach, nor why should we assume that it should be?  Such exploration, such harmony, such basis on tradition and then reaction and movement out and back is natural to me. 

These are things I have come to understand as he suffers now with Alzheimer’s.  I write what I do because of him. And I work to honor him and my mother who loves him, and to offer hope, even in the face of this horror.   

How does my writing process work?

It doesn’t work the way that I wish it could.  I would like to be able to concentrate.  I wonder, if I could, what could I do?  But it isn’t in the cards right now.  Working at a community college, teaching a composition-heavy load, takes time and energy.  Helping parent four children does as well.  These aren’t complaints but matters of fact, and I am thankful to be a teacher and a mother.  So my writing process has become the last hour in the day, and not all days, when I read a few poems in whatever book has come through interlibrary loan.  Sometimes I mull over a phrase or image that caught in my head earlier in the day, maybe during my commute.  Then I see what follows.  I use the Notes tool on my iPhone because that way as I’m falling asleep I can still work and not feel like I’m working.  Then, on mornings on the weekends if I’m lucky, or after I come home from a day at work if I’m very lucky, I have an hour when my head and the house are quiet enough that I can take the Notes to the computer and formalize them into a poem.  These are poems I never thought to write.

This isn’t my ideal process, but it seems to be working for now.  And now is all we have.


The next writer on the tour will be Christina Stoddard, whose webpage is http://www.christinastoddard.com.  Her manuscript Hive won the Brittingham Prize from the University of Wisconsin Press and will be published soon.  Christina reached out to me about a year ago to take part in The Next Big Thing Interview Series, and reaching out to her now seems like a great way to catch up and see where we’ve been and gone in the past year.  Please look for her responses next week.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Where I'll Be: Tales from the South, April 1, 2014

42º ~ dark sky just barely thinking (what a typo! I meant "thinning") toward dawn, trees all skeleton, the tiny leaf buds invisible in this non-light


In my office at work, there is a 4" x 4" printed piece of paper that says "Just Say No." I put that piece of paper there several years ago to remind myself that it is okay to say no. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Lately, it doesn't.

Still, it's hard to complain when so many opportunities present themselves. Last weekend, one such opportunity sprang up in my inbox from friend and colleague Paula Martin Morell, the creator, executive producer, and host of Tales from the South. Paula had a cancelation and wanted to know if I was interested in appearing on the program for April 1. With that sign hovering somewhere in the back of my mind, I replied "sure!" unable to turn down such a fantastic offer.

For those unfamiliar, Tales from the South is "a radio show created and produced in conjuction with Temenos Publishing Company. The show is presented by The Argenta Arts Foundation with additional support provided by AY Magazine, The North Little Rock Visitors' Bureau, and William F. Laman Public Library.  The show is taped live on Tuesday nights at Starving Artist Cafe' in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock, Arkansas. We offer dinner and a show, and shows are $7.50 admission and open to the public. The night is a cross between a house concert and a reading/show, with incredible food and great company. Tickets must be purchased before the show, as shows are usually standing-room only." 

The show happens once a week, and three weeks out of the month it features three readers per show. The fourth week is devoted to The Tin Roof Project, which "features a well-known Southerner reading his/her own true story," a casual interview, and a Q & A session with the audience. Paula had invited me to be on The Tin Roof Project.

So, I won't be reading poems (gulp!), and I need to live up to the phrase "a well-known Southerner" (double gulp!).  An amazing opportunity and an great writing challenge!

If you live in central Arkansas, or will be passing through on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, I hope you'll consider attending the event. The information on purchasing tickets is linked here.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

52º ~ leaden skies, not a slip of wind to speak of, spring buds advance in the face of possible snow and ice in the forecast for tomorrow, this is the winter that just won't quit


Dear Readers, as most of you know, my Midwest, puritan roots run deep, even though I’m now living south of the snow line. It is with much guilt and self-recrimination that I confess to you all that I missed a deadline this week. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I let a commitment fall through the cracks; I can’t even remember the last time I showed up late for a meeting.

But that’s what I’ve done to my wonderful poet-friend, Erin Coughlin Hollowell. Erin invited me to participate in a blog-a-thon, and normally I pass on such things, but this one sounded fun, a series of questions about one’s own writing process. Each person is supposed to answer these questions and then pass them on. I’ve passed the questions to another great poet-friend, Angie Macri, whose first chapbook is forthcoming. Angie doesn’t blog, so watch for her answers here at the Kangaroo on Saturday, March 22.

~~~

I first “met” Erin through poetry and blogging. Erin writes at Being Poetry and is the author of Pause, Traveler released by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. You can read my thoughts on this fabulous book here.

With great delight, I was able to make my personal, physical introduction with Erin at AWP several years ago, and I made sure to seek her out in Seattle this year for a quick hello and a hug. Erin’s poems are the best kinds of poems: genuine, authentic, and cathartic. I can’t wait to read more of her work, and I’m thrilled when I find her name on the back cover of a journal or in the preview list for an online mag, flipping/clicking to the table of contents immediately to find her new poems. Lately, those journals include Alaska Quarterly Review, Terrain.org, and Sugar House Review.

Read all about Erin at: http://erincoughlinhollowell.com/
~~~

Now to the blog-a-thon questions.

What am I working on?

Nothing. Zero. Zilch.

To clarify, at the moment, I’m experiencing a fallow period. I finished the sickly speaker series and am sending that manuscript around and around and around (on the oh-please-pick-this-manuscript carousel go-round). The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths is alive and well, which means I’ve been doing readings, working with my publisher Jacar Press on getting the word out there, and revisiting these old poems that are suddenly new again. Yes, I worked on the angry sisters for a bit late last year, but they really haven’t stepped up to the forefront again.

All of this is to say, I am a poet in search of an obsession. Blood Almanac and The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths are all about the prairie and the people of the prairie (in the contemporary sense rather than the Laura Ingalls Wilder sense). The sickly speaker broke whatever spell the prairie had on me by weaving her own voice into mine. Now, I’m searching, scanning the horizon for something new.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?*

In terms of my poems about the Midwest, many poets write about place and do it well. When I wrote those poems, I knew I was following in a tradition and I had amazing mentors and models from whom to draw. With that being said though, my poems differ by being about a quiet, some would say repressed, place. Yes, those poems are not poems of rebellion, not poems of trying to break free, as I never felt trapped by that quiet and that wide-open, weighty sky.

The sickly speaker poems, many of which are now seeing the light of day in journals, may be considered different by some as I adopted and adapted the “baroque complexities” of language used by poets such as Lucie Brock-Broido, Lisa Russ Spaar, and Mary Ann Samyn.

*I am a bit suspect of this question, as I wonder about the need to “differ.” Of course, each poet should establish his/her voice, and no one wants to simply imitate others. However, poetry has broken wide open these days to embrace everything from spoken word art to the “difficult” poets. We all may differ to one degree or another, but we are all exploring language through concision/precision and sound, we are all of us attempting to give voice to the unsayable condition of being human.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I read what I read, I know who I know, and I am who I am.

Reading: It is the number one piece of advice I give to anyone who asks me how they too might become a published writer. If you aren’t reading (both in your genre and widely outside of it), you are not exploring your medium. Reading, and listening by extention, expands our vocabularies and exposes us to varying syntaxes. There is as much to be learned about writing from a book by my fellow poet as there is from listening to a spoken word poet perform or attending a play, as much to gather from reading an article from Nature, or even, shudder, Forbes.

Networking: This is not a dirty word and writers need to get a grip on this. We do not exist in a vacuum. Our friendships, both within our writing worlds and beyond, inform what we write. I have many poet friends whose work differs from mine in theme or form, but reading their work and talking with them about poetry (be it in person or online) make me a better poet.

I am: A person who identifies with the land and the weather; this is a direct result of my formative years. A woman, a daughter & auntie, a wife, a co-guardian of two cats, a community college instructor, a homeowner, a liberal Democrat living in a red state, and a Law & Order (the original) and Big Bang Theory addict. And I am so much more. My point is that every part of my life bubbles up and through my writing.

How does my writing process work?

I have to have a largish amount of time (at least an hour but preferably several hours) first thing in the morning. I have to have this time before the cares, worries, and tasks of the day get their talons sunk into me. For whatever reason, after I’m fully interacting with the world, I can no longer set aside my to-do lists or my worries about family, friends, students, etc. to focus on writing. However, if I can get to the desk before any of that, I’m good. I can set all of that aside and just get lost in language.

I need a cup of coffee (breakfast blend, super hot, Silk French vanilla creamer) and a glass of orange juice (30% juice, 70% water, lots of ice).

I need either quiet with just the sounds of birds, wind, squirrels, and the occasional car going by. Or I need instrumental music, usually strings (see Yo-Yo Ma and Steffen Basho-Junghans).

I need a window onto something green and alive.

I need books and journals piled around and tipping over on me. I need my own writing journal and a good pen (currently I’m using a Uni-Ball Signo 207 in blue-black or in red-black). *There can be nothing on my desk from my “other” life, no bills that need paying, no papers that need grading, no letters from friends, no wallets, scraps, or other clutter outside of poetry.

I need the cats to leave me in peace.

Once all of that is in place, I usually begin as so many others do, by reading. I might gather words in my journal; I might stare out the window. Inevitably, something snags in my brain; two or more words smash together like steel on flint, and shazam, a line begins to form. There will then be much scribbling, by hand, in my journal. There may be lines, arrows, boxes, circles phrases. There will certainly be cross-outs and slash marks overtop of nearly illegible words. It’s a total mess of a page. Eventually, there will be lines of words forming themselves into something like stanzas. When those lines gather enough weight, I move to the computer and draft until I “think” I have a “complete” poem. I have found that if I stop before the poem feels “done-ish,” I can’t go back and “finish” the poem. There is a certain organic energy to drafting for me, which perhaps explains why my poems are usually a page or less in length. The long poem eludes me, like the proverbial big fish lounging around in the mucky bottom waters.


There’s a lot about this process that is hazy, but the process is a result of years of work, years of training my brain to shift into writing mode, and years of being alert and aware of the world and the people around me when I’m not at my desk.