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A Week in the Writers Coop

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I was completely unsure what to expect when Erin Elizabeth Smith offered me the chance to test out the new Writer’s Coop at the Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms.  I had been to several events at the farm itself, and, like most who stay at the farm, I was charmed by the colorful murals of mermaids, flowers, and Sylvia Plath, the shelves full of chapbooks, and, of course, the friendly animals (Jayne, the enormous resident donkey and professional selfie-taker in particular).  Though Erin warned me that the coop was still something of a work-in-progress and part of my job was to identify what still needed to be done, I arrived at Firefly Farms with high hopes of a good time full of productive writing.  I am happy to say that the Writer’s Coop did not disappoint.

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To access the coop, one has two options: you can have someone drive you on a four-wheeler, or you can walk the dirt and gravel path that winds behind Firefly Farms. The walk itself was quite easy; maybe a five minute jaunt when sober or ten when I had some beers down at the farm while getting to know the week’s residents. At the top of a small hill, the path widens and a tiny cabin appears.  Indeed, while the Coop started its life housing chickens, the Writer’s Coop resembles a charming re-creation of a log cabin that you might find in a museum more than anything else.

Erin and Joe, anticipating the needs of the future residents like myself, have included all the necessities: a front and back porch for catching the breeze, a comfortable bed, and, of course, a bottle opener mounted just outside the door.  The Coop even has its own outhouse close by.  Though I am the type of person who is normally horrified by going to the bathroom in outhouses or Port-a-Potties, I found the outhouse at the Coop to be fastidiously clean and completely devoid of smell.

I found my time at the Coop so enjoyable that the first morning, despite my hunger and need for a shower, I found myself lingering, writing poems and catching up on reading rather than making my way down to the farmhouse.  If you are like me and you work best in silence with few distractions, the Coop is the best possible place to write.  Something about feeling completely alone in nature without even the sound of passing cars really focused me.  I wrote five poems in the space of one afternoon while there.

I would recommend the Writer’s Coop to anyone who values alone time, peace and quiet, privacy, and affordability while still having options to commune with other authors (and play with adorable animals). Though I was lucky enough to test out the Coop, I will likely apply for my own residency in the future.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is now accepting applications for fall residencies for the Writer’s Coop! Applications are free and rolling!

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Chloe Hanson is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee. She earned her MA and BA from Utah State University, where she also helped to establish and direct the Science Writing Center. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including Public Pool, Off the Coast, and Driftwood Press. While she’s procrastinating her homework, she can often be found with a beer in her hand and her dog, Simon, by her side. She is the current Staff Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts.

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Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting Residency Applications New Writers Coop

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The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is now accepting applications for short-term writers residencies during the summer residency period for our new Writers Coop during the weeks of June 5th to August 20th, 2017. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

SAFTA is located on a working farm that rests on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. Located less than a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city of 200,000 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, SAFTA is an ideal location for those looking for a rural get-away with access to urban amenities.

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The SAFTA Writers Coop is a 10×10′ dry cabin approximately a fourth of a mile from the SAFTA farmhouse. This tiny house is furnished with a single bed, a desk, a wood-burning stove, a deck that looks over the pasture and pond, as well as a personal detached outhouse. While the cabin has neither electricity nor running water, residents will have full access to the amenities at farmhouse as well as solitude from other residents to write in the rolling hills of East Tennessee.

Each residency costs $150/week and includes your own private dry cabin as well as 24-hour access to the farmhouse amenities.

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The application deadline for the summer residency period is rolling. Note our application fees have been waived for the summer application period.

Find out more on our website or Facebook. 

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On Poetry, Motherhood, and Bad TV: An Interview with Karen Craigo

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Montreux Rotholtz: Could you tell me a little bit about your process? Is there a guideline or a series of rules you impose upon yourself or use to edit your poems? And finally, what kind of generative exercises do you use to create new work?

Karen Craigo: When you’re really busy, it’s best not to be too married to process. The only thing I’m consistent about is writing every day. Sometimes it’s first thing in the morning; sometimes it’s in bed by the light of my phone. But I always write, and by this I mean that I write something with a purely creative purpose—neither my blog nor my journalism counts, although that writing, too, is a creative act. I try every day to try to express something essential in writing.

Of course, I do have to feel like writing when the occasion strikes. Because all of that writing has kept me in condition, so to speak, I tend to just jump right in. It hasn’t always been like this. In those periods when I’ve been away from the page for a long time, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to start anything. That’s where prompts come into play. I make a word bank from a failed poem, or I use something my son has said as a first line. (Lately his thing is to ask me to take him to imaginary places—“Let’s go to the egg house!” or “Take me to the place where they keep the bells.”) I make a mental note of these things, and when I have time to write, they provide an interesting germ of an idea—a starting point.

Incidentally, I’m not big on revision. I labor like crazy over small poems, and I tend to wrestle them to the ground in one sitting. I may make small changes after that, but for the most part, the poems are completed in a single occasion. I credit the fact that I’ve been quietly prewriting between writing sessions. I’ve been composing without pen or keyboard since the last time I sat down to do that.

MR: Reading No More Milk gives us some clues about your obsessions, the things you are grappling with and working around. Could you talk more about the themes you return to again and again; the topics you find your poetry reaching toward; the objects, people, or places that haunt your work? What are you obsessed with right now?

KC: I’m so transparent! Motherhood is magical to me, and I like to approach it mindfully. It’s perfectly fair to characterize that as an obsession. I’m also obsessed with spirituality and the body, and also with working life, and these themes dovetail throughout No More Milk. I consider myself the poet laureate of the electric bill. Someone needs to sing those ordinary songs—or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Right now, I’m all about television. I’m very excited about a manuscript-in-progress of poems based on characters from classic TV—Bewitched, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Happy Days, Sanford and Son. Whether it’s a love poem to the Professor from Gilligan’s Island or a paean to the Gooch from Diff’rent Strokes, I’ve been inspired by this project, and I even get to honor some important figures from my youth. The fact that Fonzie is fictional is no reason not to thank him for being magical.

MR: What are you reading at the moment? 

KC: I recently bit off a bit more than I could chew with a National Poetry Month book review project. I solicited books, intending to read one a day and then offer an appreciation (not a review—just an expression of where I found the most enjoyment in each collection). But I had sort of a tough April in some respects, and the job loomed very large—so I’m taking a more leisurely approach, reading any new collection I can get my hands on and reviewing them as I go. This project may stretch through the summer, and maybe I’ll never stop. But what I’m reading now is, quite simply, all the things. It’s been a great education for me.

MR: Do you find that what you’re reading changes or informs your work, or do you seek out specific reading material because your work is tending in a certain direction already? 

KC: I put a lot of stock in the value of randomness, both in my poems and in my reading. The best poems happen when you approach them in an uncalculated way, and I think reading whatever my gaze lands on helps with that. The trick is to buy lots of stuff and keep it around, near at hand. I guess you could say that I plan for serendipity to happen; there are poetry collections near every chair in my house, including the porcelain ones.

MR: Which poets do you see as formative for your work, and why? In particular, are there any underrepresented or rarely discussed authors who’ve really informed your poetry or perspective?

KC: This answer may be surprising, but I most enjoy poets who are very intuitive about form and content. Carl Phillips is one favorite. Larissa Szporluk is another. I don’t write like either of them; maybe I’m not bold enough to lean on intuition the way they do. I aspire to that, though—to trusting myself and trusting my readers enough to let us co-create a bit more than I do now.

MR: What, besides other poetry, influences your writing? Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from film, television, music, dance, or other art forms? What are your secret influences?

KC: You know what I love? Mystery novels and bad TV. I’m very lowbrow—like, astonishingly so. I sometimes turn on an NCIS or Bones marathon as background noise while I write. I was a newspaper reporter for a lot of years, and I do really well with a low hum of noise in the background. A movie or TV show I’ve seen a hundred times can be just the ticket.

I have another set of habits, though, that may seem a little contradictory. I like to keep a dream journal, and I’m very invested in meditation and breathwork. I can’t exactly call my dreams a secret influence, since they’re probably the product of too many television detectives themselves. But I do like to dig deep within sometimes, and to turn away from overt outside influences. I have this idea of God as a force we can immerse ourselves in if we pay the right sort of attention, and I guess I think it’s good practice to tap her on the shoulder every now and then. Or maybe, more accurately, to curl up in her lap. I like the writing that follows this, and I guess I kind of like going back and forth between the spirit and the world. It would probably be a mistake to dwell permanently in either sphere.

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MR: Tell us a little about No More Milk’s creation. Would you say that these poems were written to be together, to flesh out a story or theme, or did you write each one individually and see the connections between them later? How do you approach the process of creating a whole and complete book?

KC: No More Milk can probably be described as a true first book, in the old mode. These days people seem to write collections from the start, but I feel like there was a time when first books were more like a designer’s lookbook, offering lots of different styles, from day to evening to cocktail to red carpet. My obsessions (which you mentioned earlier) sort of unify the work—there’s a lot about parenting, a lot about money, a lot about the body—but I think I approached them somewhat individually. I guess I’m lucky, in a sense, that I get a little stuck—a little fixated—and also that I write a lot. I had plenty of poems to choose from, and they hung together pretty well, sort of by accident.

MR: What about the titles? How do you see them working together, opening the way for a reader or closing it off? How do you go about writing titles for your poems? 

KC: Titles are really hard for me, and I admire poets and other writers who excel at them. Sometimes I begin with a label title—“Milk” or “Money” or “Happiness”—and then obviously I have to revisit it and try again. It’s agonizing for me. A title sort of delineates a poem, and if you’re not careful, a careless one or a too-specific one can shut the windows on a poem, taking away a possible vantage point.

I’ve become much more loose with titles recently. I used to drag the lake of the poem, looking for a phrase that I could stick on top. These days I let myself be more inventive when titling—I just generate an appealing phrase—and I’m finding that much more satisfying.

MR: Can you reveal a secret to our readers? It can be about anything you’d like.

KC: I have three unusual phobias: revolving restaurants, the state of Wisconsin, and those old-timey desk spikes people once used to collect receipts and stuff. One of these days, I’m nearly certain I’ll be found dead with a desk spike in my eye.

MR: What is the best advice you’ve ever received (writing-related or otherwise)?

KC: So much advice turns out to be worthless—not even harmful, just baseless and dumb. You can swim after eating; the weight of a corndog is not going to pull you down. You should have sex before marriage, and with lots of different kinds of people—you’ve got to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Eggs are bad for you, eggs are good for you—we go back and forth, but we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re yummy in a McMuffin, so I’m eating those sonsabitches.

I’ve received some good advice, though. My dad told me to read a lot so I wouldn’t be dumb. And my mom told me to always make sure I had some money in my pocket and an alternate way home. My best friend in college convinced me to stop what I’m doing and get down in the grass to check out the bugs. One of my favorite professors instilled in me the importance of not judging people’s utterances by their grammar and conventions. 

Writing-wise, the best advice I ever received was to do it—write, I mean. All real writers say it. They’ll swear by one method or another for themselves, but particulars aside, the spirit of the advice comes down to this: Sit your butt down and be a conduit for the words. That’s the best writing strategy, and it works for all of us, regardless of skill level or genre or anything else. Sit and write and see what appears. That advice has always paid off for me, whether spiritually or artistically.

You can pre-order No More Milk today at the Sundress store!

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Karen Craigo is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Someone Could Build Something Here (Winged City, 2013) and Stone for an Eye (Kent State/Wick, 2004), and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals. She is a three-time recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council, and she is a former summer fellow with the Fine Arts Work Center. A freelance writer and editor, she also teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri. She maintains the blog Better View of the Moon. Her debut full-length poetry collection, No More Milk, will be released from Sundress Publications in 2016.

Montreux Rotholtz is a poet and an editorial intern with Sundress Publications. Her poetry collection, Unmark, was selected by Mary Szybist as the winner of the 2015 Burnside Review Press book award. Her poems appear in Prelude, jubilat, The Iowa Review, the PEN Poetry Series, Fence, and elsewhere. 

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Interview with Donna Vorreyer

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Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as seven chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She is the reviews editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection, and she works as a middle school teacher in the Chicago suburbs.

Sundress: Tell me about your process: Do you plan what you want each poem to accomplish, or does your writing evolve as you are working on it?

Donna Vorreyer: I rarely go into a poem knowing what I want it to accomplish. Each poem starts with some trigger –a piece of language, an idea, an image, a prompt, even –but then takes on a life of its own. I can start free-writing about tomatoes and end up with a long poem about a persona unearthing childhood trauma. I think that, once the poem lives on the page for a while, I can perhaps shape it to my will, but in a draft, the ideas and images of a poem have to be allowed to spread like ripples in a puddle. I believe that intellectualizing the poems too much at the beginning of the process can lead to stilted work. That’s why, during dry spells in my drafting, I don’t force ideas on to the page. The minute I say, “I’m going to write a poem about…” is the minute that I will draft a lousy poem. My initial drafts tend to be pretty rambling and somewhat prose-y in nature. In revision, I tend to hone image with particular attention to sound. And, as you have seen, most of my completed poems end up fairly short. So one could say I am more of a whittler than an architect.

Sundress: What’s on your bookshelf? Who are the main writers who inspire you and inform your work?

Donna Vorreyer: My bookshelves (there are many, all over the house) have a lot of poetry, of course, but also everything from biographies to novels to strange non-fiction topics like deadly plants and museum artifacts. In terms of main writers who inspire me, there are many, but I have a shortlist. Classic favorites, I would say, are Shakespeare, Whitman, Dickens and Melville. The richness of their language and syntax teaches me something new each time I read and re-read. In terms of informing my work, anything that I am reading is an influence. When I was reading the journals of Lewis and Clark, the language of nature was an inspiration. Reading Melville, the long sentences make my brain move differently. Reading Katie Ford or Traci Brimhall makes me consider image, emotional urgency, and surprise. Reading Amorak Huey and Diana Goetsch teaches me about humor and movement from idea to idea. So, I can’t honestly say that one particular writer influences me more than others.

Sundress: You often reference an unnamed “you” in your poems. Do you consider it the same “you” throughout, or does the title imply that these poems are many different “apocalypse stories”?

Donna Vorreyer: It could be read either way. I’d like to leave it to the reader to decide.

Sundress: You use water imagery throughout the book: “of the sea pulling into itself, the science of tides,” “Useless life, wharf/ with no docks” “When we wake, we walk to the river,” etc. Did you intentionally use water as a theme, or is it an image you are drawn to as a writer?

Donna Vorreyer: I do not intentionally return to water as an image, but I am drawn to water in a personal way, so I think it creeps into many poems (hopefully not in a clichéd way). I love the sound of waves and rushing falls, the fact that water can be both transparent and opaque, its colors, its moods…As someone who grew up near enough to Lake Michigan to know water but far enough away to yearn for it, water holds a sense of mystery and grandeur for me. Of course, there is also the human dependence on water –we are, after all, made of those atoms of hydrogen and oxygen, and anytime one is writing about the human condition or relationships, the body looms large. And the body contains oceans.

Sundress: Tell us a little about the title of the book and its significance.

Donna Vorreyer: The book was conceived as a way to explore how society tends to escalate any problem or obstacle to the level of apocalypse. I work with teenagers, and their tendency to inflate the size of a problem is normal. But I’ve also noticed serious issues with scale in all aspects of life today, especially on social media. Everything is either great or a crisis, and that idea needed a story to frame it.

A love story is the most universal of all stories, and love is rife with problems, so in that sense, every love story is an apocalypse story.

Sundress: How were the subheadings chosen, and how do they affect the progression of the book?

Donna Vorreyer: The subheadings are lines from different poems in the book and are meant to guide the reader through the stages of the relationship: a sweet beginning, typical ups and downs, a betrayal, a descent into crazed almost feral mourning for what was lost, and then a reconciliation of sorts. The sections were originally numbered, and my editor Sara Henning suggested section titles, something that had also worked well for me in my first book.

Sundress: What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

Donna Vorreyer: I started writing poems by writing song lyrics when I was in junior high school. I play the piano (pretty well) and the guitar (badly) as well as sing, and I had teenage angsty heartbreak enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. (Damn you, Mike Dalton!) I stopped writing in college and didn’t start again until I was in my early 30s. It’s never too late to start over when it comes to something you love.

You can purchase Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story at the Sundress store!

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SAFTA to Pair with VIDA for Fall Residency Contest

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Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is excited to announce that they are now accepting applications for short-term artists’ residencies in creative writing, visual art, film/theater, music, and more. Each residency includes a room of one’s own, access to a communal kitchen, bathroom, office, and living space, plus wireless internet.

The length of a residency can run from one to three weeks. SAFTA is currently accepting applications for our fall residency period, which runs from August 29th 2016 to January 1, 2017.  The deadline for fall residency applications is June 15th, 2016.

For the fall residency period, SAFTA will be pairing with VIDA to offer two fellowships (one full fellowship and one 50% fellowship) for a week-long residency to two women writers of any genre. VIDA’s mission as a research-driven organization is to increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture. Fellowships will be chosen by guest judge, Matthea Harvey. Harvey is the author of five books of poetry (most recently If the Tabloids are True What are You) and two books for children. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College.  (Please note if you are applying for one of these scholarships in the financial need section of your application.)

The SAFTA farmhouse is located on a working farm that rests on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. Located less than a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city of 200,000 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, SAFTA is an ideal location for those looking for a rural get-away with access to urban amenities. 

The residency bedrooms are 130 sq. ft. with queen-size platform bed, closet, dresser, and desk. There is also a communal kitchen supplied with stove, refrigerator, and microwave plus plenty of cook- and dining-ware. The office and library have two working computers—one Mac, one PC—with access to the Adobe Creative Cloud.  The library contains over 700 books with a particularly large contemporary poetry section and, thanks to the Wardrobe, many recent titles by women writers. The facility also includes a full-size working 19th century full-size letterpress with type, woodworking tools, and a 1930’s drafting table.

To apply for the Sundress Academy for the Arts residency, you will need the following: 

-Application form (including artist’s statement and contact information for two references)

-CV or artist’s resume (optional)

-Artist sample (see website for more details on genre specifications)

-Application fee of $25 or $15 for current students (with student email) payable online*

For more information, visit our website: http://www.sundressacademyforthearts.com/

or find us on Facebook, under Sundress Academy for the Arts

or on Twitter, @SundressPub

*Application fee will be waived for those applying for the VIDA scholarship who demonstrate financial need. Please state this in your application under the financial need section.

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