Thursday, April 26, 2012

Draft Process: What Rides on that Swift Currency of Air

70º ~ conditions the same, sky darkening

As promised, here's the second new draft for the day.  This one began just a few days ago and was much more skeletal in the journal and required a lot more work to pull it into a complete draft.  However, it was clearly an epistolary poem, another letter to Dear Madame, the speaker's unnamed mentor. 

In this case, the speaker is still trying to resolve why her mentor doesn't visit her (and we may wonder if the mentor is a figment or a real woman by this time).  In this poem, the speaker has come to terms with this lack of visiting and comments on the people the mentor sends in her stead. 

It begins:

Dear Madame--

Finally, I comprehend the distance kept
and recognize each mystic sent as envoy.

The rest of the poem (8 couplets = 16 lines), describes three of these "mystics" and the connection the speaker sees between each of the three and the mentor.  In these poems, the speaker waffles between neediness and trying to reassure the mentor that she is strong and can take it (whatever the current "it" is in each poem).  And so I begin to wonder about how our mentors can become crutches and how painful it is when we must separate from them. 

I'm much less sure of this draft, not sure if I'm covering ground already covered, nagged by the feeling of less powerful language but unsure how to punch it up, certain that the whole thing reeks of cliche.  Still, it's there and time will show where it means to go from here.

For the title, I fished and fished in a few journals and books and came up empty.  Finally, I just thought hard and came up with my own, "What Rides on that Swift Currency of Air."  In the poem, all of the communication between the speaker and the mystics is non-verbal and transmitted on the air: a smell, a whistled tune, a look.  I also like the current/currency play because there is value for the speaker in the air as a transmitting device.  Who knows?

Cirrus and cirrostratus clouds, click for link

Draft Process: Bruised, My Darker Nature Enters Me

66º ~ a muggy weight to the air, stiff breezes shuffle the leaves, storms in the offing, rising to more "normal" temps, mid-80s

Dear Reader, have you forgotten me?  I hope you are still there.  Despite the onslaught of end-of-the-semester grading, reports, and miscellaneous whatnot, along with the Arkansas Literary Festival, and during the most brutal bronchitis I've suffered in years, the sickly speaker would not remain silent.  She kept pushing through between 3 and 4 a.m., and lucky me, that means when I finally had the time today to write, thank the stars, I already had drafts in the earliest stages waiting for me. (Scribbled in the dark, lines run amuck on the page and in atrocious handwriting, but there still the same.)

The first one began about 10 days ago, with lines about the forced sedation of the speaker.  We've seen her restrained before and we've see her eyes bandaged against the light.  This time she is being sedated to speed her healing after the transfusion.  I suppose this leaked in because of "medically induced comas" that one hears about either on TV or god-forbid when it happens to someone we know.  The speaker informed me that while the body may be at rest, the brain is not, and the poem grew from there.

It begins:

They say that they sedate me
to tap the mother lode of sleep.
They claim a smooth, mineral rest.

Little do they know, the brain refuses.

Veins of Copper, click for link
The poem ended up switching between tercets and couplets and weighs in at a healthy 20 lines total.  At one point, I was sure I'd run out of steam at line 10, but that was just the lack of steady practice and I powered through. There was definitely more that needed to be said.  The speaker taps into a subversive power throughout the poems and I needed to get more of that in there.  Also, she is still working on dealing with having the donor cells in her own body, which has not been an easy fit, mentally.  What weakness (she thinks) to have to rely on some other body to heal her own.

As for the title, I've been reading a back issue of Sugar House Review that I picked up at AWP (#5, Fall/Winter 2011) and I am going to see Traci Brimhall read in Fayetteville this weekend, so I opened it back to her poems.  In "You Said the Lions Disappeared," I found the lines "I don't know how my darker nature entered me // or when, but I am vain and bruised...."  This set off a storm in my mind b/c the speaker has always had a "darker nature" but she also has this new life that has "entered [her]."  A little tweaking and I settled on "Bruised, My Darker Nature Enters Me."

And guess what???  There's another draft waiting to be transcribed and fleshed out.  Wahooooooo!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Arkansas Literary Festival: Wrap-Up

64º ~ overcast but not depressingly so, very little wind, pleasant temps extending our spring in a lovely way

Finally, a chance to catch up with you all about my adventures in poetry and fiction this past weekend.  The offerings of the Arkansas Literary Festival this year were outstanding, and on Saturday, I felt like it was AWP with multiple offerings at each time, forcing me to make painful choices. The majority of the events were on Saturday, with a few on Thursday and Friday.  The festival folks have played with the schedule a lot.  They tried to make it longer, extending events through Sunday, but saw a major decline in attendance on Sunday.  No schedule will every be perfect, and I did enjoy the buzz in the air on Saturday as folks milled about the River Market.  (I didn't make it across the river to the NLR events.)

So, here's my rundown.

I was super excited to have our final Big Rock Reading Series event of the semester kick off the Arkansas Literary Festival.  I think we made great partners, as we had new visitors to campus and our students each received a lit festival program so they could plan their escapades for the rest of the weekend.  Many kudos to the lit fest organizers and volunteers, chief among them Brad Mooy who takes on the daunting task of planning and setting into motion this massive event.

Our event, Placed/Displaced, was in two parts, featuring John Bensko, Hope Coulter, Tyrone Jaeger, and Stephanie Vanderslice.  The first part was a reading by the authors, and the second part was a panel discussion on the importance (or lack thereof) of place in 21st century literature.  The readings knocked my socks off, as we had our first focused group of fiction writers (I confess, I'm heavy on the poets).  Then, the discussion of place was spectacular.  The panel talked about the way a transitory population adds a layer of complexity to place but doesn't necessarily take away from its importance.  The authors also discussed the way certain places "imprint" on us, and those are the places that writers tend to obsess about and use the most in their works.  Quite a few of my creative writing students remarked on Friday about how helpful the session was.

This was our first day time event for the series and I was nervous because at the end of the semester, instructors are reluctant to give up a class period for attendance.  Luckily, my colleagues came through with shining colors in offering extra credit, so we had a great showing of students who weren't in class at that time.  On our anonymous exit survey, I had to laugh when I came across a comment from a student who confessed he came for the extra credit only, "but was surprised how much [he] enjoyed the event."  (Another convert to literature?)  In addition to the folks from campus, I was delighted to meet a dozen folks from the community who had seen the announcement of the event in the lit festival program and made it a point to take some time out of a busy Thursday to attend.

I'm lucky to teach in the morning, so I was able to attend Good Fellows: Arkansas Arts Council fellowship winning poets Mary Angelino, J. Camp Brown, and Cynthia King.  The Arkansas Arts Council is fabulous, and their individual artist awards in writing rotate genres each year.  I believe this is the first year that the fellows read at the festival, and I hope they continue this partnership.  As a previous winner of a fellowship, I was delighted to celebrate this year's crop and indulge in an hour of poetry on a Friday afternoon.

Frequent readers of the Kangaroo may recognize Angelino's name.  She read at PTC, along with my colleague Angie Macri, and I posted video from that event.  Again, she did not disappoint.  Reading along with her were two other U of Arkansas poets.  J. Camp Brown electrified the room with his mandolin poems and poems exploring race in the south.  Then, Cindy King gave us a bit of placed/displaced by reading several Arkansas poems and then threw in a Jersey poem (land of her upbringing), along with a true Jersey accent.  Wonderful all around.

Friday night I was supposed to attend the big party for the festival: Author! Author! but I was coming down with something and had to cancel to try and rest up for Saturday.  I knew I was in trouble when I slept past 10 a.m. on Saturday.  So bummed about all I missed Friday night and Saturday morning/noon.  Next year, I will take better care!

The first panel I made it to was Ferocious Grace, featuring Greg Brownderville's poetry and Justin Torres' fiction.  I vote this the BEST of SHOW!  (Yes, it even topped the BRRS/ALF event.)  While I'd seen Brownderville's poetry in journals, I had no exposure to Torres' work before this panel.  These two writers are at the beginning of their careers (GB = two books, Deep Down in the Delta and Gust and JT = first book, We the Animals), and I predict they will both go on to huge success.  The event began with Torres' reading from his incredibly poetic/lyrical novel, set in New York and featuring a trio of brothers growing up in a tumultuous, loving family with hints of darkness and danger interwined.  Then, Brownderville read from Gust, his debut book of poetry.  These are poems of Arkansas, poems of tornadoes and Holy Rollers, poems that sometimes had us laughing and sometimes had us sighing with insight.  Brownderville's other book, Down in the Delta, is a beautiful collection of folktales and prose poems.  The folktales come from three years of collecting on Brownderville's part as he scoured the Arkansas delta (the flat, cotton-growing, Eastern part of the state that borders the Mississippi for those of you unawares).  On top of the writing, the book contains incredible paintings by Billy Moore, and not just one or two.  This book is art object and literature at once. 

After the reading, the authors talked with the audience and we wound up talking about place again, with Brownderville firmly rooted in Arkansas and the south, while Torres is the 21st century wanderer, taking in each place as he moves, holding on to what sticks, and letting go of the rest. 

The second panel on Saturday that I attended was Queer for You, featuring Nickole Brown, Bryan Borland, and Ed Madden, all three poets from the south, all three involved in publishing in some way.  This was a mixed panel that involved each of the writers talking about his/her work in publishing, along with reading from their own books.  I liked the mix a lot, as the writers talked about building a leadership for LGBT work and we were able to celebrate their accomplishments.  Then, their poems just knocked me out.  I highly recommend the following:  Sister by Nickole Brown, My Life as Adam by Bryan Borland, and Prodigal: Variations by Ed Madden.

Luckily, the festival organizers scheduled 30 minutes between events (much more forgiving than AWP's scant 15 minutes).  I made it to my third event, Magazine, a panel hosted at the Oxford American and featuring editors Marc Smirnoff (OA), Heidi Julavits (The Believer), and Marco Roth (n+1).  This was a lively discussion of starting a journal to fill a void, to respond to some current cultural stance not being countered or discussed.  There was a lot of banter back and forth between the editors and one thing was clear, how much each of them believes in and cares about the current state of the literary arts, including literary criticism and global reporting. 

Finally, I made it for one hour of Pub or Perish, the crowning glory of the lit festival, organized by the untiring David Koon.  This is a tradition with the festival and a semi-open mic.  A group of local, published authors are asked to participate and then, a week or so before the festival begins, Koon accepts other writers who want to read on a first-come, first-served basis.  I do like this approach as each author knows how much time he/she has and the event keeps chugging forward without getting bogged down in some of the chaos that can ensue during an regular open mic.  I have to tell you all, there was some remarkable talent there that night.  I was sad when my body gave out and I had to head home before the last hour's line up. 

Long story short: Way to Go, Arkansas Literary Festival!  Can't wait for next year.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Draft Process: Harboring the Remains and the Many Etceteras

68º ~ predictions of a stormy day, tho not so stormy as the plains' states saw yesterday, a lightning strike struck down one town's warning system and five are dead, what rough fate, what angry wind gods

Well, Dear Readers, I expected to be blogging a very different blog today.  I have much to report on the Big Rock Reading Series and on the Arkansas Literary Festival, but I've been interrupted.  If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I've come down with a mean cold at the worst possible time.  In the midst of fitful sleeping due to painful chest coughs, the sickly speaker woke up and started singing.  About four a.m. on Friday morning she gave me the beginning of a new draft.  I scratched it out in my journal and turned back to sleep.  Friday and Saturday, she remained quiet as I fought the cold enough to attend some ALF events.  Then, in the wee hours this morning, she returned with more lines.

So here I am with an unexpected draft, ever grateful.  Here is evidence that the voice remains and still has things to say.

The opening lines:

Slept hard.  Sweated some.
Woke with a tongue dry and swollen.

When the speaker returned this morning, she was going on about the "fever toxins" getting into her dreams.  I loved that idea and ran with what she started; however, I also realized/remembered that she is now in the healing stages.  So, the twist is that her body has been cured of the fevers of unknown origin (via the blood transfusion), but her dreams continue to be more hallucinogenic, closer to her dreams during the high fevers than during her years of health. 

I know that dreams are incredibly hard to pull off.  I caution my students of such things all the time.  Still, this is what I had to work with, so off I went.  The poem does describe the speaker's dream, which features "the woman [she] called mother by mistake" and ends with an image that I hope describes her newly unbalanced state as her body heals but her isolation from the world continues.  What will her re-entry into the world be like? 

When I had the draft in shape (nine couplets), I opened up Emily Rosko's book again, Prop Rockery.  I found my title in "Ballad of the Face in the Rock" but I've tweaked the lines much more than normal.  In Rosko's poem, the lines read, "We harbor such things: / weight and many etceteras."  I reshaped that to "Harboring the Remains and the Many Etceteras."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Update from the Life of a Teaching Poet

63º ~ proper cloud cover and cool breezes for an Easter morning, after weeks of highs near 90, we've settled back down to some spring weather with a forecast that doesn't make it out of the 70s for a bit, whew

Let me be frank, Dear Reader, I do not intend this post to be one of complaint or whinery or fishing for a pat on the back.  It should serve merely as a record of my absence from these pages and my lack of draft notes.  While you may not know it, you serve, my readers, as a partial conscience, keeping me honest about my process and my meager progress. 

April has always been the busiest month for me, as it means research projects for composition and lit students and revisions for workshop students, on top of National Poetry Month and the Arkansas Literary Festival.  However, this semester has conspired to make February and March both into Aprils as well, with a funeral and AWP in the same month, some hooplala committee work for new and exciting happenings on our campus, oh and editing the campus wide academic journal (the new issue of which arrived on campus last week!), plus running the reading series which puts on three readings per semester.  Okay, I'll say it: my cup runneth over. 

After many years of teaching, I've homed in on which activities fit with my personality and my strengths.  I've found my place on campus and I believe in each of the events listed above as service to my students, my community, and myself.  What I haven't figured out is how to keep the balance.  I did very well in the fall and when I had my on-campus teaching days as Tuesday/Thursday.  The switch to live classes (as opposed to online) on Monday/Wednesday/Friday has not been as smooth a transition or as successful as I would have liked.  This is definitely something I will need to work on as it doesn't seem like that schedule will be changing anytime soon. 

Next week, will be a huge week, so I will most likely be silent on the blog for another stretch.  On Tuesday I'll participate in our advising fair, trying to help students learn more about their choices for classes in the fine arts and humanities. On Thursday, I will need every ounce of strength and grace I can muster as we will wrap up the Big Rock Reading Series with a double-feature in partnership with the Arkansas Literary Festival.  This will also be our first daytime reading.  That evening, I'll be on campus for our Celebrating Student Milestones event, where we will launch the new issue of the journal I mentioned above, Milestones.  Friday and Saturday, I will attend back to back to back events at the lit festival.  I'm super excited about this year's offerings, and for the first time, I have the AWP dilemma of wanting to go to two readings/panels at the same time.  I'm so thankful this festival exists in my hometown!  No travel worries, no hotel prices, and I get my husband to play taxi, dropping me off and picking me up so I don't have to find a bleepity-bleep parking spot.  Wahoo!

So, Dear Readers, it may be the month of May before I return to smooth sailing on the blogosphere, but I shall return, never fear.  The sickly speaker is itching for me to finish her story; there is an urgency I've never felt before in working on a book.  In the meantime, I must redouble my efforts with my weather book and find it a home in the world as well.

Until then, be happy & be well!