Saturday, April 27, 2013

Poetry Readings and The VIDA Count

58º ~ thick white cloud cover after last night's rain, storms a possibility though only the tiniest of tiny breezes for now

Last weekend, we had the Arkansas Literary Festival here in Little Rock, and it was fantastic.  This was the 10th year for the festival, and I'm thrilled that so many folks continue to attend.  There are always a few events, panels, or workshops on Thursday and Friday, but things really kick off with the author party on Friday night, at which I had a great time circulating with Martha Silano and Hope Coulter. 

Saturday, I managed to attend two readings. The first featured Christi Shannon Kline and Steve Kistulentz.  I was stunned to realize that Steve and I know tons of the same people and have published in several of the same journals, and yet, I'd neither read his two books nor befriended him on Facebook yet.  Both Christi and Steve did a wonderful job reading; however, sadly, they were at the first time slot and the audience was sparse.  I'm sad for the folks of central Arkansas who missed this one.

I had intended to move on to hear C.D. Wright, whom I've heard read several times before, but then fate intervened and Steve and I ended up having a cup of coffee.  The weather had warmed just enough that we were able to sit outside and people watch as we exchanged poetry stories and talked teaching.  I felt a bit like AWP had descended on Little Rock, as these are the kinds of chance encounters I long for and look forward to as AWP approaches each year.  Needless to say, I've added Steve's work to my towering stack, just begging for the end of the semester!  (I have a hard time mustering the focus that a poetry collection requires during these last few weeks.)

You might spy, Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss there toward the top as well.  Having learned many a lesson about pacing myself at AWP, I went home and took a rest mid afternoon before returning for Wiman's session.  I had the great fortune to be introduced to him prior to the reading and was charmed by his authenticity.  Having known his name as the big cheese at Poetry for the last decade, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I confess, I was also a bit hesitant about his latest book, having been on the receiving end of one too many overly-evangelical people who have found their way back to Christianity after a health scare.  In the end, all of my reservations were silly. The reading was fantastic as Wiman wove passages from My Bright Abyss, a memoir of his journey back to faith, and poems from Every Riven Thing.  In the end, I bought both books, which should tell you how completely Wiman won me over.

Still, I left that reading with the VIDA count ringing in my ears.  This is not an indictment of Wiman but of the larger institutionalized gender bias at play in the world of literature.  To explain: Inevitably at these readings, when there is a Q & A, the question of influences and admiration for other writers comes up.  As Wiman rattled off a list of poets, I watched someone in the row with me scribble down all the names, and all the names were male, and all the names were white. 

Again, I do not mean to throw a judgment down on Wiman.  His prose and his poetry thrilled me, infused as they were with a joy for language and a stunning craft.  If these are his influences, these are his influences.  Instead, I was saddened by the lack of women and people of color.  Instead, I was reminded again of how fortunate I was to have the undergraduate instructors I had at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University who were intent on breaking the canon wide open.  Yes, we studied Hopkins, Yeats, and Keats, Pound and Eliot, Heaney and Lowell; however, I was also exposed to Joy Harjo, Li-Young Lee, Lucille Clifton (these first three live and in person on campus), Quincey Troupe, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, let alone Plath and Sexton and all hail Emily Dickinson!

The one resounding fact that remains with me is that when a poet has the good fortune to read in front of a captive audience made up of energetic readers of poetry and people aspiring to become poets, there is a power in the names we list.  There are people out there writing down the names, and who knows, some of them may even go and check out the poetry of those we name.  Isn't this how institutionalized perceptions change, by the names we name, the books and lit mags we recommend, the ever-expanding web of writers we nurture?

*I spy a personal "project" for AWP 2014...keeping a list of the names discussed during readings and panel discussions.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Where I'll Be on Sunday Evening: No Place in Particular: White Water Tavern

53º ~ temps inching back toward "normal" ~ the one word that has not applied at all this spring, trees 75% leafed out, storms in the offing

Via the amazing & talented Al Maginnes, I've become acquainted with R.J. Looney, an Arkansas poet I hadn't met before.  All hail, Al Maginnes! 

Through that connection, R.J. invited me to be part of the lineup for "No Place in Particular," a poetry & music fest on Sunday (April 28), starting at 5:00 p.m. at White Water Tavern in Little Rock.  Here's a link to the event description on Facebook.  According to that description, the poets will take the mic first from 5 - 7:30ish, and then the musicians will follow.  Should be a stomping good time.  If you're in Central Arkansas, y'all come! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brief Note

44º ~ cold, cold rain, cloudcover, etc, a lapse

Yes, I'm still here, holding on by fingertips.  Rest assured, when the semester wraps up and I've had a chance to sleep a bit, I'll return in full force.

Until then, I hope to make sporadic appearance.  Until then, I'm dreaming of long uninterrupted mornings of reading and writing and blog sharing.

I do apologize to those of you who post regularly, as I've had to sacrifice most of my blog reading time to meetings on campus, spring chores, and grading/grading/grading. 

Until then...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Coming Attractions

59º ~ beautiful spring weather, if a bit cloudy today, all the leaves are in the process of unfurling, the view is fairly neon with them, the Thanksgiving pansies continue to thrive as the temps have remained below normal

Life is scattered and fragmented, friends.  And this, this is April.  I offer you a view of my week in case I fail to appear here.

At the top of the priority list are my students and my grading of their third major essay of the semester.  Given that we only have about three weeks of school left, and they have one more essay to write, they need me to stay on task so my comments on this paper can aid them in their last. We are finishing up workshop in creative writing and then I'll spend a week having individual conferences with each of my 18 students in that class as they polish their portfolios.  In the last class days after conferences, we'll talk about the profession of writing and publishing.  (The end is in sight!)

Monday, after teaching and office hours, we have a department meeting at one of our satellite campuses. 

Tuesday, I head down to Hot Springs to visit a creative writing class at the Arkansas School for Math, Science, and the Arts (ASMSA).  I love, love, love these visits and am really looking forward to it!

Wednesday & Thursday, teaching and see note above about grading.  My goal is to have all essays returned by Thursday afternoon, because...

Friday - Sunday = the Arkansas Literary Festival

Friday, the Big Rock Reading Series, which I coordinate, will partner with the festival to host Martha Silano and Johnathon Williams, and I am super psyched about this reading.  Having heard both Martha and Johnathon read, I know this is going to be fantastic.  Our reading is during the day, and then, Friday night is the author party for the festival.  Good times!

Saturday will be festival city from 10 a.m. until the cows come home.  This year I'm delighted by the schedule as there will be poets in nearly every time slot.  Here's who I'm hoping to see/hear:
Steve Kistulentz & Christi Shannon Kline (both new to me)
C.D. Wright
Frank X. Walker (although his session is up against Richard Ford...hmmmm)
Christian Wiman

Then, Saturday night I'm participating in "Pub or Perish."  This began as a pub crawl with poetry readings at each bar.  Now, it is in one location and features scheduled readers from 7 - 9 before an open mic.

Sunday will be a true day of rest so that I can hit the ground running the following Monday as we sprint to the finish line of the semester with the last two full weeks of classes and then the grading extravaganza that is finals week.  The school calendar says that commencement commenceth on May 18.  Wahooo!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Draft Process: After the Hope of a Happy Ending Passes

44º ~ tornadoes and high winds last night heralded a cold front returning us to cooler temps, wild skies remain

Wow.  A draft!  Let me tell you, Dear Reader, I was sitting at my desk this morning, following my routine, knowing that as it was a Thursday, I would go into work an hour later than I do on MWF, but not really conscious of why.  As I read through the blogs and saw a lot of NaPoWrMo posts, a wee bit of lightning struck me upside the head: "It's Thursday!  That's drafting day."

And this is what I mean about courting the muse and not waiting for her.  I have put a pattern in place, and usually, I focus consciously on that pattern so that I'm thinking "draft a poem, draft a poem, draft a poem" on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.  At this point in the semester, things are starting to fall apart, the gyre is definitely widening (check out Yeats' "The Second Coming" if that's a new one for you).  But, despite the chaos, the pattern remained.

As I stated on Monday, I've been haunted by the news of a missing girl in Arkansas, and she keeps coming up in drafts, but I'm uncomfortable about two things: 1) the ungainly narrative/clumsy prose nature of what I drafted, and 2) telling a story not mine to tell.  This morning, the angry sisters returned and said, "We've got this.  We're mad as hell, and we're going to take over."  So, the new draft begins:

In the woods,
           the angry sisters search

That's the line that sent me spinning to my journal.  I hadn't done any of my normal routine of clearing the desk, reading poetry by others, etc.  I was simply looking at blogs and Facebook and Boom!  The lines also came out in ragged indents, short, compressed, clipped.  All that I'd been longing for in that burdensome earlier draft.

I owe Traci Brimhall yet another debt of gratitude because her work reminds me that there can be brutality and ugliness in poems, and I mean that in the best way possible.  So, when the angry sisters wanted to get ugly about bodily rape and emotional violation (which sadly, is very often the story when young girls and boys go missing and stay missing like this), I took a deep breath and didn't turn away, as I have in the past.  It definitely helped that the angry sisters were speaking.  Their persona allowed me to say what I had been struggling to say in that earlier draft.  Their persona also allowed me to fictionalize the situation beyond this specific case in Arkansas right now.

I have often wanted to write what might be considered political poems, but I've never been able to put those ears on the table as Carolyn Forche does in "The Colonel." (And she does it with the most limber, gymnastic prose poetry ever.  Damn.)  "The Colonel" is one of those foundational poems that rocked me to the core as a young undergrad and made me want to write.   Perhaps I shied from the overtly political, though, because I didn't understand my own need for persona to do so.  Who knows?  Maybe this is just another angry sister poem or maybe the angry sisters just discovered their mission.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Draft Process: An Alternate End to the Story

65º ~ hello spring

Just a quick note to say that even though I tried to draft over the weekend, nothing came of it except a bunch of terrible lines more prose than poetry.  And then, this morning, I was reading my blog feed and stumbled on Verbatim's post of "Four Trees Quartet."  Verbatim is a site for found poems, in this case, a set of poems built from lines in a field guide to trees.  Of course, this was right up my alley.  As I read, I kept coming back to the last line of "Eastern Hemlock," "as fuel, the wood throws sparks."  Eventually, I had to copy that line into my journal, and then more lines followed of my own.

This weekend, I kept trying to draft about the fact that there is a girl missing here in Arkansas.  Her stepfather was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound but so far, she has not been found.  At the beginning, the searches met daily; now it is on the weekends and holidays.  Let me say this: I do not want to write about this girl, this tragedy, but she keeps turning up.  I've seen too many of these stories unfold to hold out much hope for a happy ending, so I kept wanting to write her an alternate ending, an ending of power.

That's what happened this morning.

Still, I do not know if this poem will go beyond this draft.  I do not know if this is my story to tell.  I do not know if this is exploiting the girl in question.  I only know the draft had to be written.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

No Draft: There's Hope for Saturday, Though

44º ~ the saddest drizzle ever, one more day of shivery temps and then perhaps, perhaps, a wee glimpse of spring before Arkansas runs headfirst into heat & humidity

T.S. Eliot and I are not friends.  I can tolerate Prufrock, although I find myself hearing his voice now as a whine rather than a lament.  I dutifully read and annotated The Waste Land and probably learned a lot I should be thankful for, although the memory of the work still reeks with the scent of heavy labor with little pay off for me.  Judge me not.  I'm a firm believer that we all find our poetry kin in different places.

All this to say that this week, I really do believe this (the opening of said Waste Land):

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain.

I knew it would be a tough month, but an unexpected disappointment has added to the difficulty of April.


On another poetry note, it turns out that if one stops submitting poems, one stops receiving acceptances (and rejections).  So, two sides of the coin go missing at once.


And because she is my hero, here's a recording of Lucille Clifton reading her untitled poem "won't you celebrate with me," a poem I've tried to adopt as my own personal theme song.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chalk the Walk 2013

43º ~ beautiful day Monday and now in the midst of a three day cold, cold rain

To celebrate National Poetry Month at PTC, we chalk the walk with excerpts from poems.  Here are some pics of the results.  Luckily, the weather was beautiful Monday.  After last night's rain, all of these words will have been washed away, but that's the nature of the project.