Monday, January 30, 2017

AWP 2017: The C. D. Wright Women Writers Conference and Me

57º ~ super sun, light breezes, nothing winter-like these days

In 10 days, a bazillion writers, okay, 10,000+ writers will descend on Washington, D.C. for the annual Associate of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference. We will be swarming through the D.C. convention center and nearby hotels, attending craft and pedagogy panels, participating in discussions of the most pressing topics of the current literary landscape (diversity & inclusion, financial support, activism, and more), and listening to readings, readings, readings. We will learn from one another and celebrate one another. We will experience all of the feels and have to take time outs from one another. We will exhaust ourselves but return home recharged.


By and large, I will be donning my Director of the C. D. Wright Women Writers Conference hat for much of my time in D.C. Come by the University of Central Arkansas Booth, #569, and get your SWAG. We've got STICKERS! We've got MAGNETS! We've got DONOR FORMS! (wink. nudge.)

AWP Booth 569

We will share the booth with the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas and with Arkana, our new national literary magazine. Please come by and meet our wonderful grad students and our faculty. If you teach undergrads interested in an MFA, you need to know about our programs in publishing and pedagogy. If you're looking for new places to submit, you need to check out Arkana!

BONUS: There will be a poetree, a tree decorated with lines of poetry written by YOU.
BONUS: There will be a capsule vending machine dispensing line of poetry to you.


This year, I have two off-site readings for anyone interested in hearing my most recent work.

Wednesday, Feb. 8, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Tupelo Quarterly Off-site Reading
Buttercream Bakeshop, 1250 9th St. NW

Poetry and bakery goods. Nom Nom!
Kathryn Nuernberger, Karla Kelsey, Ashley M. Jones, Sebastian Matthews, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Virginia Konchan, Sandy Longhorn, Stephanie Schlaifer, Martin Ott, Jennifer Givhan


Gold Wake Press and Trio House Press AWP Reading
The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave NW

My THP family puts on a good show, and I hear tell that GWP isn't so bad either.
Matt Mauch, Kyle Flak, Iris Jahmal Dunkle, Nick Courtright, Sandy Longhorn, David Wojciechowski, Joe Osterhaus, Adam Crittenden, Tara Betts, Kelly Magee, Steven Riel, Kyle McCord


If you're attending, please stop by and say hi, even if we've never met in person, and even if saying "hi!" requires calling on extraordinary powers to break out of an introverted cocoon. I promise you'll be well met b/c I've been in that exact same cocoon, and probably will be when we meet.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Poetry Revision, A Story of Minutiae

42º, feels like 36º ~ the weekend saw temperatures in the mid-seventies, a return to cooler days is not unwelcome, even the birds' chirpings seem crisper

Today, I am spending my writing time in revision, again. The self-ekphrastic project seems driven to be "finished" or at least to be put into a shape ready for individual submissions. I have paused to recount this anecdote of revision.

There's an old joke among poets about spending a whole day revising. The punch line is, "yeah, I kept putting a comma in and then taking it out."

This is what revision looks like when I'm working on a poem that feels very strong, but not quite "there." Today, I was working on a poem of 21 lines, a lyric narrative, free verse. The first 20 lines really sang as I read them out loud. No clunkiness, no extra verbiage holding me up. And then, as I read the draft aloud over and over, I would get to the last line and it all fell apart. The line landed with a thud.

I realized that the poem needed a return glance at the opening image. Not a repetition, but a reference, a reminder of one of the central ideas of the poem that had gotten lost. So, I scratched line 21 and rewrote, ending up with 22 lines. I read and re-read the poem aloud. It was better, but still not quite right at the end.

I tinkered. I changed one word that led me to change the last line entirely. Then, I kept focusing on the first 3 words of the last line. I fretted. I used the thesaurus in search of a better word, a better verb to lead off the line. It was excruciating. After 15 or 20 minutes fumbling on that one word, I wanted to quit, to think, "I'll come back to this one later," but something kept my BIC (butt in chair) and my focus on that last line. With another read-through, perhaps my fifteenth of the morning, I finally realized that it was the last 4 words of the line that were the problem. With that knowledge, the solution came easily, and the last line fell into place.

With that falling into place comes a huge sense of satisfaction. To know when a poem has found its way to completion is two parts instinct and one part craft knowledge. My only regret for the time spent in revision is that it doesn't really burn any calories. It's all mind work with little body work to show for it. Alas.

All of this is to say that when someone asks how long it take to write a poem, I have no clear answer. There's a good chance I'll return to this draft in a few days time and realize some minor changes will need to be made. This is the minutiae of poetry revision; this is the work I love.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Self-Ekphrasis = New Approach to Revision

60º ~ after days of gray & drizzle, the sun makes a valiant effort to break through ~ to the west some success, to the south the gray is winning

This morning, during my scheduled writing time, I decided to focus on revising and preparing more of the collage/poem combos from my self-ekphrasis project. Because my goal was on having some pieces ready for submission, I flipped through the portfolio of the work, and stopped whenever I read a poem that felt strong. Remember, I read the poems out loud as I assess for revision.

The new approach to revision with this project is that I also have the collage to consider. First, I read the poems without giving the collages much attention. Of course, I got a glance of them and that brought back memories of the images, but my instinct was to read each poem out loud and get a sense for the poem alone. Also, reading out loud is crucial to my revision process no matter the work, even prose. Speaking the text is the only way I can figure out if the words, syntax, punctuation, etc. are the best choices for a particular piece. It's the only way I can assess lineation, pace, and sound elements in poems, especially.

In this new project, though, revision also means considering the collage beside the poem. My goal is to publish them side-by-side, although not every journal will be able to do that. As I approached revision this morning, two things struck me.

1) The collages resist revision. Yes, I could go back to my image bank and glue over parts of the pages (I collage by hand with cut out images and glue), but I have no desire to do so. These pieces experience so much active revision during the process of creation that at this stage they are whole, "finished." Poetry is never this way for me. Even after a poem has been published, I may tinker with small changes to get it closer and closer to that elusive "ideal" poem I'm always chasing.

2) I had to consider how strictly I wanted the poems to be informed by the collages and how much room there was for conversation rather than strict translation of the images. In the original project, I created the collages first and tried to repress the instinct to think about the eventual poems as I was moving images around on the page. In re-reading the poems in consideration with the images, the Type A part of me really tried to pull toward a more strict translation, which the poet part of me resisted. I had wanted the poems to be in conversation with the collages, and that's what I strove for in this set of revisions.

Once I had the poem "set," I had to prepare a PDF file for submission. I've been ironing out this process since August, and I think I finally got all the wrinkles out. I am self-taught in all things computer, but wish I had much more knowledge of graphic design programs. For however many minutes I devoted to true revision, I spent twice that many getting the two files (poem and collage) merged, with much time figuring out how I wanted to present the collages, which are built on white paper. I ended up using the border function in Word to create a mini-frame for the images, which make the digital version of the collages much more pleasing to the eye.

All of this is to say that during today's writing time, I revised 6 poems and created 6 collage/poem PDFs ready for submission. Now, I must investigate where to send.

For those waiting to see some of this work for real, 4 pieces have been accepted. Three will be available from Tupelo Quarterly on February 15. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Drafting Notes: Bad Debt Villanelle

54º ~ the whole world is cloaked in white mist and rain that comes and goes ~ some would call it a dismal day, but it serves well the quiet work of writing and reading

As I've written about scheduling what I value recently, and as I didn't do this last semester, I've added Monday and Friday morning writing time to my calendars, both digital and hard copy. And even though today is technically a day off from my teaching work, I still honored my schedule. I opened my journal and jotted down a few diary-like items just to get my pen moving and to get some excess baggage out of my brain. Then, I randomly selected a book from my shelf (Some Ether by Nick Flynn) and read a half-dozen poems. I like to read before writing as a way to switch from my linear, daily brain to my circular, imaginative brain. Following my long-standing process, I then went back and "stole" words from each poem and made a word bank in my journal.

Here's the weird thing. I didn't use any of the words in today's poem, and I wrote in form; I wrote a freakin' villanelle. No one could be more surprised that I am at this moment. Here's what I think happened. Two of the word bank words sparked and reminded me of my father. Then, I remembered the theme of debt rising up out of my self-ekphrasis project from last summer. And then, a line rose for me: "what debt I owe my father." Suddenly, the form of the villanelle suggested itself as I knew I wanted that line to repeat in a variety of ways. I also "blame" this instinct to write in form on the fact that I'm teaching both an undergraduate and a graduate section of forms of poetry this semester.

For those who don't know a villanelle is a 19-line poem in 5 tercets and a closing quatrain. Lines 1 and 3 repeat at the end of alternating stanzas and then as the last two lines in the poem. Most practitioners of the form today allow some variation in the lines, although in the tradition (descended from French folk songs) the repetition was exact. My number one favorite villanelle is Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art," for those who would like to read a masterpiece in this form.

As I drafted, I couldn't believe I was doing so, but I scratched out rhyming words at the top of the page in the journal. Between the repetition of lines 1 and 3, and the repetitions of end-sounds, I had to think a lot about the structure as I was writing. This means that there were moments when I really wanted to say something, but the idea wouldn't fit the constraints set out before me. I had to find a way to bend and twist inside the language and the form to get to the heart of the matter. In the past, this would have frustrated me to no end, but today, it seemed more like play.

With the draft in hand, the real problem is this: how do I know if it is any good? Of course, I know when I read an outstanding villanelle and I know what excites me in poetry. The trick will be letting the draft rest for a bit and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. Right now, I'm just so pleased with myself for following the form that I can't get any clarity on the poem as a whole. Nevertheless, I scheduled what I value, and that feels pretty good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

We Schedule What We Value, Part II

66º ~ whooshing winds dominate, gray skies, spitty rain on and off for days, three days ago pipes were freezing all over Little Rock, such is winter in the mid-south

I continue to mull over the idea of scheduling and value. Here's my new "problem." I value a whole heck of a lot of things. In no particular order, here are many of them.

  • Chuck and George the cat.
  • My family in the area and in the distance.
  • My writing & revising time.
  • My poetry business time.
  • My collage time.
  • My friends in the area, in the distance, and online.
  • My students & my teaching.
  • My service to the literary community.
  • My service to the literary community and my university as the Director of the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference.
  • My professional development as a professor.
  • My "chilling" time with Law & Order and Midsomer Murders and puzzles on the iPad (aka my go-to self-care time).
  • My contribution as an engaged citizen with my local, regional, and national communities.
  • My blogging time.

I began by numbering this list and then realized the whole point of this post is that the ranking of these items is ever-shifting. Every day, I have to re-assess what gets my full attention when, and I have to re-learn that it is okay to not give my full attention to every single item on the list at all times. The attempt to do so nearly led to a physical and mental breakdown in mid-December.

In the past week, I have been swamped with syllabi and panicking about conference prep and AWP being sooooooo soon. I have had to practice my meditation techniques and be very focused about considering what I value. If I do not give my students perfection, you know what? They are still going to learn basketloads from me and my classes. I have to learn to do my best but reign in my perfectionist streak so that a single syllabus doesn't take me three days to complete. I've also been better about managing texts and emails in terms of not responding the moment something comes in, because, you know what? I'm not a doctor or a diplomat managing life-threatening situations. Usually, if I get control of my perfectionist monster, I realize that responding even several hours later won't cause any kind of crisis. Having just turned 46, it's stunning that I'm still learning and re-learning how to be in this world, but I love the journey.

Also, on a high note, I set aside schoolwork all together on Sunday and managed to write a poem and create a collage. These two pieces are unique because they are not intended for publication. I wrote/created them in response to a handwritten poem a poet-friend sent in December. I think that poem may have a wider audience, but there was a line in it that haunted me and propelled me into writing a response. Once I'd written the response poem, I also new that I wanted to send this poet-friend a collage that responded to my poem. I had a great time doing both and it was invigorating to send them off on Monday, knowing that was their sole mission in the world. (True confession: I did take quick snaps of both on my phone, but otherwise, they are not recorded on my computer for any kind of revision or submission.)

I've never embraced the word-of-the-year tactic of framing a resolution, but this semester at least, I'm embracing the word "balance." (Please feel free to imagine me as a giant, pink elephant trying to balance on a tiny, purple ball, but remember that my hair is my best feature, so image that glistening and graceful.) We'll see how it goes.

Friday, January 6, 2017

3373: Illustrated Narrative Workshop...Syllabus Managed

21º ~ feels like 9º ~ about an inch of snow on the ground, schools around the area are closed, freezing air to continue through the weekend

This morning, I set out to continue my work on syllabi for the upcoming semester. We start classes on Thursday, so today's "snow day" is just another work-from-home day for me. As I got settled into work mode, I did remember my last post and the fact that "we schedule what we value." In that spirit, I spent about an hour revising a couple of the poems from the self-exphrasis project before moving on to the first of three syllabi.

Today, I finished off the syllabus for Illustrated Narrative Workshop. This is an undergraduate class that follows the Forms of Illustrated Narrative course I taught this past fall. My brain must have grown at least three sizes from teaching that forms class, as much of the material was so new to me. We covered writing for comics/graphic novels, writing for video games, and creating hybrid 2D/3D projects. I'm so thankful that I had a group of awesome students with whom to navigate the mostly unfamiliar terrain. (Of course, I've engaged in all of these as a "reader," and I have my collage background for the hybrid section, but I had to learn how to teach about the writing side of things.)

With the fall's steep learning curve summited, I set off now on the next challenge, re-focusing the material and class on a workshop. In the forms class, we focus on exposure to many different examples and small projects for micro-workshops. In the workshop class, the projects grow in breadth and depth and our examination of samples is more exacting.

Here's our reading list:
· Abrams, JJ and Doug Dorst. S. New York: Mulholland, 2013.
· Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Mariner, 2007.
· Bryant, Robert Denton and Keith Giglio. Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games. Studio City: M Wiese, 2015.
· Krysa, Danielle. Collage: Contemporary Artists Hunt and Gather, Cut and Paste, Mash Up and Transform. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2014.
· Madden, Matt. 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. New York: Chamberlain, 2005.
· Moore, Alan. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 2014. 

In this class, students will write a script for a comic or chapter of a graphic novel/memoir. This will entail a script for 16 - 22 pages of panels. A thumbnail appendix is encouraged but not required. Those who want to explore creating their own art as well may turn in 1 - 4 complete graphic pages. After the workshop on these scripts, we will dive into writing for video games and students will be writing 16 - 20-page game concept documents. Finally, after video game workshop, we will move on to the 2D/3D unit. Here, we will work with collage (2D or 3D) as well as creating 3D art objects that convey a narrative, including ergodic texts. ["Ergodic" = either hypertext or print text with "extra" material that must be read to complete the narrative...think Griffin and Sabine...check out S. by Abrams and Dorst.]

16 weeks? I think we're gonna need a bigger semester. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

We Schedule What We Value

33º ~ bright sun, an "Arctic front" descended overnight and will remain for the rest of the week, the sparrows and other yard birds seem indifferent, the hardwood trees with their bare branches stand

My desk tends to be a sprawling mess of ephemera, books, and life's odds & ends. The other day, I unearthed a somewhat ancient Post-it with "we schedule what we value" scrawled across it. I remember sticking it to the tin box that holds my pens a few years back as a way to remind myself that writing time will only materialize if I schedule it. Given that this past fall, I overextended myself three times over and did very little writing, I'm glad to have re-discovered this prompt.

Spring classes start at UCA in a week, and I've got lots of prep work to do, not to mention heavy revising on my mid-tenure review package, which is due in early February. As a result of my overextension last semester, I spent much of the last two weeks sleeping, reading "for fun" (a weird phrase b/c even when I'm reading for classes I consider it fun), and watching endless episodes of Midsomer Murders while cutting up magazine pages or doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad (best app ever for a puzzle-lover who also happens to be a cat-lover). Happily, a few weeks of resting seems to have worked and my energy levels have returned to normal. I look forward to preparing for the new semester and seem to have ideas for each of my classes bubbling over.

Yet, I must still work toward balance. When I got to my desk this morning, my thoughts happened to be on one of my classes, and I almost tore haphazardly into working more on that class' syllabus. But then, I noticed the newly uncovered Post-it, which reminded me to "schedule" time for my own work. In this case, I had a submission I needed to get done. I'd gathered the poems back before the holidays and then done nothing with them. With my much-needed nudge to remember what I value, I took care of the submission first. Now, I can sink into the many hours of working on the syllabus knowing that I also placed value on my own work alongside my teaching work.

For some, I suppose, it is easy to prioritize what is valued; for some, it is easy to shift from task to task. For me, for some reason, if I have a time-consuming task from my teaching life, once I've spent several hours working on it, even after taking a break, I have a hard time shifting back to my creative work, even the "business" side of the creative. Also, I have to remind myself, now, that my ability to write poems and place them in journals is part of my teaching job. After over a decade of this not being the case, the shift in ideology is happening slowly.

And so, I move, as ever, in fits & starts toward a new year and a new semester, trying to practice self-compassion and balance. As a person who embraced life-long learning at a young age, I am not discouraged by this way of building a life; I am ever hopeful.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Self-Reflection 2016

46º ~ lightweight gray skies, calm air, the world moves into 2017 in stillness and quiet

I'm one of those lucky people who has a birthday within a week of New Year's Day, which means my personal annual reflection coincides nicely with the calendar's call for reflection, and I get the proverbial two-for-one. Now, as a consequence of growing up steeped in the Midwestern work ethic, I like to be efficient and get things done quickly, so this delights me to no end.

In 2016, I:

~ stopped teaching first-year writing altogether and moved to teaching creative writing full-time. This has been a dream of mine since I finished grad school in 2003, so it was a pretty thrilling teaching year. I've now taught Intro to CW (for the zillionth time), but also graduate-level poetry workshop, mixed undergrad and graduate-level topics classes in persona poetry and ecopoetics, and undergraduate form & theory classes in poetry and illustrated narrative (encompasses writing for comics/graphic novels as well as writing for video games and creating fine art pieces that blend words and images). As far as differences from teaching comp, the students have actually chosen to take these courses and the number of pieces of writing I respond to may be fewer, but those comments take just as long, and I've got even more prep to do. It was a busy year, and I was thankful, as always, that I am able to take the summer off to recharge

~ completed a book-length project: 20 x 20: A Self-Exphrasis. In the summer, I created 20 collages, attempting to create the collages without thinking about the poems I would write from them, attempting to shut off my thinking brain and let my eyes and hands choose images and placements that might reflect any new poetic obsessions. Then, I wrote the 20 poems in conversation with, in response to, or inspired by those collages. I'm excited to be revising the poems now (and hint, hint, I already have 3 of the pairs forthcoming in February for you all to read/view).

~ became the Director of the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference. Oh my, from an informational meeting in February 2016 to today, we have begun paving the way for what I know is going to be a fabulous, annual conference. FYI: we are seeking proposals from women and non-binary writers in ANY field or genre (not just the poets, although, you know the poets are welcome, welcome, welcome!). In this activity, I'm thankful for my colleagues on the Executive Committee and the community members who have joined our Board of Directors.

~ attended The Home School in Hudson, NY. This week-long workshop took me way outside my comfort zone as it is run by poets farther along the cutting edge of current poetry, poets who experiment with typography and hybrid forms, poets who descend from the LANGUAGE poets and the New York School of poets. It was an amazing and exhausting week.

~ went to AWP, as always. This time, it was fun to have a few grad students along to see the conference through their eyes. I was still fulfilling my commitment to Trio House Press, so I spent much time at their table helping promote "our" books. I'm so thankful to THP for teaching me how to exercise my long-atrophied book promotion muscles. At AWP Los Angeles, I also took in several key panels to help with the illustrated narrative class I was teaching, and I'm soooooo appreciative of those panelists.

~ was a reader for Trio House Press during its open reading period and for the contests. This has been a great learning opportunity as I suss out my own process for screening, and as I work with the other readers and editors at THP. I also continued to read for One (an online poetry journal from Jacar Press) and Heron Tree (an online poetry journal I helped create); however, because of all my various other commitments, I had to step back from both of these projects by the end of the summer. I was very sad to stop reading and contributing, but the decision was for the best.

~ celebrated with C. as we have been married 10 years. Here is a man who understands me better than I sometimes understand myself, and he was so patient this past fall when I bit off more than I could chew and was often away from home. He mourned with me as we had to let Gracie (our snuggly, green-eyed cat) go, and he laughs with me as we continue to love the antics of George (our skinny, LOUD, needy-baby-greedy-baby tabby).

Thank you to anyone still reading this blog for making the journey with me. Your comments are always appreciated, and I am sending you all strength & grace for the new year.

Coming up in 2017, I have a very different schedule for the spring semester and hope to make blogging a bi-weekly affair. I'm no longer the unrealistic youth I once was, so I won't claim to blogging daily. :)