Tag Archives: writing

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces Writing Retreat for Survival and Healing

Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to announce its first annual generative writing retreat celebrating survival and healing on June 24th and 25th. This two-day retreat for sexual assault survivors at SAFTA’s Firefly Farms will be a safe space for creativity, generative writing exercises, discussions on ways to write trauma, advice on publishing, and more. Come join us in mutual support for a weekend of writing time for healing, safety, and comfort.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, and all on-site amenities for $75.  Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published fiction writers and poets from around the country, including Beth Couture, Heather Knox, Krista, Cox, and Jennie Frost.

Beth Couture is the author of Women Born with Fur (Jaded Ibis Press). She received her Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Center Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. She currently lives in Philadelphia and is completing a Master’s degree in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College.

Krista Cox is a poet, paralegal, and single mother of two living in Northern Indiana. She edits for Stirring: A Literary Collection and Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and she runs Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit that celebrates and elevates the literary arts in her local community.  Her work has been or will be published in Columbia Journal, Rappahannock Review, and the Indianola Review, among other places in print and online.

Jennie Frost is a queer poet from Maryville, TN. She is currently the Writer-in-Residence and Literary Arts Director at Sundress Academy for the Arts where she works closely with visiting writers and a herd of sheep. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Border Crossing, Kudzu, Glass Mountain, Indicia, Stirring, and more. She is a dedicated member of the LGBTQ+ community and created the first Sexual Assault Prevention program at her alma mater, Tusculum College, where she studied Title IX closely and presented her Honors Thesis, “Sexual Assault Prevention: Research, Implementation, and Re-Creation in Small, Liberal Arts Colleges.”

Heather Knox is the author of the poetry collection Dowry Meat (Words Dance Publishing) and the forthcoming YA fiction series Vampire Wars (EPIC Escape). Her poetry has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, [PANK], decomP magazinE, Word Riot, Thrush Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Heather currently teaches online for The Poetry Barn and Southern New Hampshire University and serves as Managing Editor for The Wardrobe.

We have two full scholarships available for the retreat as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (8) pages of creative writing along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at erin@sundresspublications.com no later than April 30th, 2017. Scholarship recipients will be announced in May.

Space at this workshop is limited to 16 writers, so reserve your place today.

For more information, find Sundress Academy for the Arts on our websiteFacebook, or Twitter.

 

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2017 AWP Roundtable 4: Hybrid Practice: Poems in Space, Double Ekphrasis, and Art Outside the Silos

 

The following is the fourth in our series of outstanding AWP panels that were not selected for participation in the conference but deserve to be heard. Today, we’re featuring five multidisciplinary artists, Amaranth Borsuk, Genevieve Kaplan, Addoley Dzegede, Cole Lu, and Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer.

First, tell us a bit about your work and how you’d describe your practice. 

Amaranth Borsuk: I consider myself a poet working with text’s materiality, both on and off the page. My practice spans interactive media, installation, performance, and book arts—I make text-based art in whatever form the work seems to call for.

My interest in materiality comes through in an attention to sound, the use of found material in some cases, and particularly in my construction of artists’ books and ephemera that put the book’s form and content in dialogue. I’m especially interested in the intersection of print and digital media, and the materiality of the digital—something I began to explore in Between Page and Screen (Siglio, 2012; SpringGun, 2016), a book of augmented reality poems created with Brad Bouse. The pages do not contain text, but rather abstract shapes, that, when shown to your webcam, make poems pop up in 3-d space. The poems are written as a series of playful epistles between P and S, two lovers trying to make sense of their relationship, as well as concrete poems that use the language of their letters. We chose to use augmented reality because it requires the viewer to have both a print artifact and a digital one—enacting a dialogue between the two.

That book started as a limited-edition artists’ book and then became a trade edition, but I continue to have a book arts practice, creating small edition works that conceptually integrate form and content. I collaborated with the artist Carrie Bodle this spring on a sound art installation that reflects on the historically vexed relationship of poets and scientists with the moon, treating it as a passive reflector in the sky. In the gallery, visitors standing between two industrial megaphone-style speakers heard a sound poem passing back and forth between them—a call and response between Earth and the Moon in which we can feel their pull on one another.

We extended that project this summer in a limited-edition volvelle that uses our sound poem, a word ladder (one word per line, with only one letter changing in each line), to create a lunar calendar that doubles as a poetry generator. We gave these away at a couple of public participatory performances that were part of the Henry Art Gallery’s Untuning of the Sky, a series of events in relation to the night sky. There, the circular dial of the volvelle allows the reader to see a single word of the poem paired with a lunar phase for the month, and as the dial is turned, both the poem and the moon change incrementally. In the center of the dial, openings reveal words from a cento composed of lines from poems about the moon, with which one can create one’s own poems. In performance, the 31 or so participants seated inside the James Turrell Skyspace, Light Reign, became those 31 lunar phases—their faces in the dim light ringing the space.

Volvelle-Front

Lunar Volvelle

Genevieve Kaplan: I’m primarily a poet, but I have a background in letterpress printing, weaving, and book arts. For the most of my poetic career I’ve practiced a more traditional poetics of-the-page –specifically the 8 ½” x 11” printer page. Recently, in a bit of writer’s-block-funk, I found myself returning to some more hands-on book-arts techniques as a way to escape that funkiness: I used cut and folded book forms to jump-start my drafting process, I hand-set and hand-stamped a series of short poems, I created a group of miniature poem-books. In these works, my final intention wasn’t to write a poem or to make books, but to think about the creation of the book or poem object as an extension of and complement to my drafting and writing processes. As I worked, I became more interested in exploring the relationship between the act of writing and the act of creating objects, and in thinking more deeply about writing—and potentially reading—as a physical, visual, and tactile event.

All of which has led to my current project, a series of woven broadsides. I don’t have a letterpress, but I do have a loom. So, I took the printed broadside—the poem as art object, to be both read and displayed, to be hung on the wall—as inspiration, and I began. For this project, I sew the letters on a line of ribbon to form words and phrases, creating a poetic line, and then I weave the ribbons/lines together to create the poem. The final iteration will eventually be a tactile, inviting, mostly-legible series of sewn and woven one-of-a-kind poetic broadsides.

Addoley Dzegede: My work is project-based and idea-driven, investigating notions of home, belonging, hybrid identity, and existential migration, which I express through a multitude of forms—ranging from  interactive projects and videos to artist books and textiles.  I create works that are meant to entice viewers to pause, and to question commonly held ideas about what it means to belong. Using both personal and public archives, I contemplate the forces of history, experience, and location, and how they essentially work together to tell a story of longing as a state of being.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: I maintain a hybrid practice of poetry, critical writing, and visual work, which is sometimes collaborative (see below). I am primarily a poet, but I studied sculpture, photography, and writing, so I consider everything an act of making. Writing doesn’t give the same satisfaction as the physical labor of sculpture, but it scratches the same itch. I’m also working on a bunch of picture book manuscripts and a YA thriller.

 

How do you use language as material and/or material as language?

Amaranth Borsuk: While working on artists’ books and ephemera, I also continue to write poems for the eye and ear—my most recent book, Pomegranate Eater (Kore, 2016) is full of word play and etymological experiment (a recurring interest) as a means of getting personal material I otherwise wouldn’t say into a poem. In particular, the book opens with a series of poems addressed to different fruit in which I think of myself as being on both sides of the conversation—an approach to interrogating myself for my assumptions, privileges, and self-representation. I find I’m often trying to write into language as sonic texture, sometimes without worrying about meaning so much as feeling.

In Abra (1913 Press, 2016), a collaboration with Kate Durbin, this comes about through a long and baroque poem that mutates as you progress through the book. As you turn the pages, the poem animates like a flip book, heaving itself open and shut in a way that is supposed to be erotic and grotesque at once. While the book’s themes—excess, mutation, fecundity, hybridity—are clear, the text doesn’t behave as though it wants to communicate something specific to the reader. It mostly wants to blossom and collapse in the reader’s hands. We collaborated with the poet and artist Ian Hatcher on a free app through a grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts that makes it possible for readers to mutate the text further, using their fingertips to prune the poem and graft new language into it. From a feminist standpoint, this seems to be what Abra was trying to do all along: push itself off the page and away from our authorial control over it. That’s what we started from—a sense that language is material and that it belongs to the reader.

Genevieve Kaplan: Johanna Drucker defines an artist’s book as a book “which is a record of its own making” (The Century 191), an idea I continually return to; I’m fascinated by the notion of presenting the poem as a record of its own making, which I think may also mean 1) allowing the audience to participate in the poem as it unfolds and 2) presenting the creation of the poem as a worthwhile labor-intensive pursuit. These goals are tangential, but potentially integral, to presenting the poem as a beautiful object to experience.

If what I’d like is the poem as a type of record, one question I’d like to answer is how best to record it. I think I’m getting there. In part because this sewing and weaving process is so time-consuming, and because I’m allowing myself to be consumed a bit by it, the sewing time becomes also a time to allow myself to think and reflect: on the letter, on the word, on the poem, on the project, on the process. I’m very interested here in making the poem as tactile as possible – not just for me, but for the reader as well. I want the space of the poem to be a physical space that can be entered, the fuzz of the yarn to be an invitation to experience.

Which is where I’m beginning to answer this question. Yes, the letterforms, the words, the lines—phrases that existed before only in the non-space of my head, or on the two-dimensional space of the page—when woven literally become material; they become three-dimensional, they become cloth, and they hold together.

nothing, to watch the weeds grow

I think the poem, for a non-poet or non-reader, can be a little daunting to enter. By creating the poem as a visual and tactile material, in contrast to creating the poem on a page or in a book, I’m inviting a different, softer type of interaction.

Addoley Dzegede: A lot of my work comes out of time I have spent abroad, nearly always merging these international experiences with materials that speak to both my identity (which I always bring with me) and the specificity of the location. I try to incorporate some aspect of the country’s language into my work, and by language, I also mean material as language. In Finland, the spongy, mosquito-filled forest was a kind of language that found its way into my work. But I was also interested in the way the Finnish language uses compound words to form new words…how kahden (the two of you) and kesken (between) marry to become kahdenkesken (in private). It seemed appropriate then to make a video (titled Failure to Communicate) where I cut up lines from a 1970’s Finnish book on romantic relationships. Given the length of Finnish compound words, the majority of lines in the book required a word wrap. My main criteria for selecting a line of text was that it was whole, which resulted in an absurd text which is read aloud by the computerized voice of Google Translate in English.

More recently, in Iceland I made ceramic versions of the historic wooden bread boards I saw in an Icelandic turf house museum. Text is carved backwards into the material to create a mirror image that imprints a proverb onto the bread dough. I can’t read Icelandic, especially when it’s backwards, so I chose an English proverb (the crow went traveling abroad and came back just as black) and a Ghanaian one (when the snail travels abroad it finds shelter with the tortoise), both referring to travel and ideas of home.

Crow_Jessica_800_1200

Breadboard with proverb carving

I often use hidden or double meanings when titling my work. “Duly Noted” becomes “Dually Noted,” referring to Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness,” and most recently, “Farewell” (the title of my most recent exhibition) became “Fare well,” opening the word up to more possibilities than “goodbye.”

Cole Lu: I have always been restless in my interest and realization in language. I am aware how I use language (collage or appropriate it) as a visual artist opposes to a person who writes art (poet). I see language functions several levels in my making— as it continually goes back and forth between meaningful and material. I started my visual art practice with photography after having completed a degree in linguistics. A photographer is someone who draws with light, writing and rewriting the world with illumination and shadow; a linguist is someone who scientifically studies language and its structure. I learned how visual meaning was constructed after I devoted myself to artmaking, realizing that perspective focuses everything on the eye of the beholder.

The blindness of earlier social understanding is the result of my addiction to the language in the making. Before I understood language beyond gender; social status, physical ability and disability, and cultural and national borders, I was viewing language purely as a tool for communication. My earlier work parses communication and miscommunication through various mediums and gradually evolves into language that speaks of the identity of minorities, in racial, gender politics, and geographic marginalization.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: My poems are foremost concerned with sound—I can’t begin a poem if I don’t hear the musicality of it first. That said, I find that my ear grips onto often distinctly unmusical bits of language—the idiosyncratic cadence of the human utterance, especially if it’s something ordinary and idiomatic and plain. All of the poems in Cleavemark were prompted by the cadence of someone else’s language. Sometimes it was Bible verses, which my grandmother (who we called Nan or Nanny) was forever scribbling onto scraps of paper and napkins. Those can be crushingly musical or excruciatingly dull. Other times, it was from movie dialogue that I’d hear a hundred times. Like this scary live action thriller Disney made in the 80s called The Watcher in the Woods—the girl in it has visions and utters these simple little phrases: It hardly ever happens you know or It’s nearly too late. In all of the language, there’s an urgency and often a plangency to the sound—someone is going to die unless you stop it (and, BTW, you can’t stop it). I like to play with the frankness of speech and the baroqueness of sound. Language has to be a lure, whether it’s a warm handholding, or someone dragging you through fire.

 

Do you ever work collaboratively, especially with people outside your genre? Please describe. 

Amaranth Borsuk: As you can probably tell, I spend much of my time working collaboratively. Before Pomegranate Eater, I published As We Know (Subito, 2014), a book-length erasure collaboration with Andy Fitch, who writes more prose than I do—he has a couple of books published by Ugly Duckling Presse that involve narrated walks, which I love. For our project, I selectively erased portions of his redacted diary. The resulting voice is, we hope, a collaged speaker—a bit of both of us, but also neither. Given how popular erasure has become, we wanted to draw attention to its act of silencing, which to us seemed a useful way to intervene into the history of male editors heavily manipulating (and taking credit for) the work of female authors. We also wanted to create a work of non-fiction that points to how constructed even the most unmediated-seeming writing—a person’s daily journal—really is. Based on what we chose to leave in from the redacted passages, you get a sense of someone shaping themselves for a reader’s eyes, but also deeply neurotic about how they come across.

I am not a programmer myself, so my digital projects also draw on the expertise of others. In addition to enabling me to create work that I otherwise couldn’t, I’m drawn to these collaborations because they teach me to see the work from a different perspective and help circumvent some of my assumptions about what it is I do. I’m always highly aware of how my gender, race, class, sexuality, and other factors situate me, and I seek collaborators who help to keep me honest with myself. My other digital collaborations include an erasure bookmarklet, The Deletionistwith Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul, which generates erasure poems from websites; and Whispering Galleries, another work with Brad Bouse, which uses a gesture-based controller to sense reader’s hand movements, allowing them to manipulate the text of a historic diary and reveal whispers from the past.

Addoley Dzegede: I have worked collaboratively with three poets: Phillip B. Williams, Justin Reed, and Aaron Coleman, and with a PhD candidate in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, Cameron Evans. I also work collaboratively with Lyndon Barrois Jr. as LAB:D. These projects come out of conversations we have and the places where we find overlaps in our work. With Cameron, for example, we made a silent video, Misperception, on the subject of implicit bias, using clips from film and television, and providing duck-rabbit cards directing viewers towards Harvard’s Project Implicit. With Phillip, in Conversation: Tree and Cotton, we merged his poem with my animation of black hair, some of it his own and some of it mine.

Cole Lu: I work collaboratively with various artists, writers, designers and curators for curatorial aspect or as part of a program in predominately institutional-based project, which is very different from the collaboration that I had in my work. The desire to write in the English language is accompanied and nearly drowned by an opposite desire: the desire not to write in the English language. As a person who reads written text fanatically almost like a disease, the entropic tendency of both wanting and resisting to composing a piece regarding written text has always been a driven force for collaboration. It never happened easily, it almost always occurred as an accident, as stumble upon a piece of written text or a visual work and felt propelled to work with that particular person collaboratively.

sund

Cole Lu, For the Longest Time I Remembered, 2016

Two of my collaborative works are composed in the distance and also with artists who are (mainly) outside of my genre. Palimpsest (2013) is a piece that I collaborate with Philadelphia-based fiction writer Dolly Laninga; the piece is essentially a fictional correspondence, through the erasure of the last two pages of “Love (Puberty)” by Andy Warhol in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975). Oops// All Ball Sad Bad (2016) is a composition of digitally printed photo, headline vinyl letters, and a 10 x14-inch Utility Mailer. The piece is made after Beth Caird, a Melbourne-based artist and writer, for a text piece she produced during “Common Characters,” a project by artist Heman Chong. It was a 24-hour workshop that took place at Artspace, Sydney as part of The Bureau of Writing by the 20th Biennale of Sydney. I am currently working on a new video piece for future collaboration.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: I often collaborate with visual artists. Sometimes it’s on expected projects, like illustrated books, which I’ve done with Jeff Pike (Strangers with a Lifeboat) and am hoping to do with this project I worked on with Jana Harper and her mother, Joie Bourisseau, that Yew was kind enough to publish online. Harper has worked with this cache of cloud images that her mother, who suffers from Bipolar I, and I wrote a series of ekphrastic poems inspired by those images and my discussions with Jana about her relationship with her mother. I write a lot of ekphrastic pieces, and I work that way visually, as well. The sculptural installation Cleavemark Drive that I collaborated with Cheryl Wassenaar on was based on the poems in Cleavemark, so that wound up being a kind of double-ekphrastic. I’m really eager to do more of that, but where I’d write the initial ekphrastic, and then hand it over to a visual artist to make a piece based on the poem based on the art. Like a game of operator. Except art operator. I love the back and forth between artists. When Cheryl and I were installing Cleavemark Drive, she had what I thought was an INSANE idea to paint one of the walls a bright, dark blue. Cheryl is a color genius, but I really couldn’t see it. Until she painted it. And then I was like, ohhhhhhhhhhh. Cheryl often works with text, so she took the text of my poems and visually reinterpreted them on the gallery walls in cut vinyl lettering, and I visually reinterpreted them in domestic objects and materials, like spools and soap and pickling salt. We also letterpressed some of the text into the sugar, and I’ve done another video (The Mouse in Me) with that technique in salt. We’re hoping to do a second iteration of this piece, but we need to find the right venue for it.

 

Schlaifer-Wassenaar from Cleavemark Drive

From Cleavemark Drive 

 

Who and what is influencing your work and your thinking the most right now? Where do you see your work going in the next five years? 

Amaranth Borsuk: My research into the history and future of the book will probably continue to trickle into my work over the next five years. I’m thinking a lot about sound lately, and working with it where I can.

What is perhaps most influencing me is the work of the contemporary poets and artists I am reading as I seek models of how to make work in this scary, bleak time. I’m most looking forward to a symposium my colleagues and I put together that will take place at the Simpson Center for the Humanities at UW Seattle this February—Affect and Audience: Activist Poetics. We began work on it last year, and it feels even more urgent to me now to hear our participants—Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Carmen Gimenez-Smith, C. Davida Ingram, Dawn Lundy Martin, Kai Green, and Layli Long Soldier—speak about their work. I’m grateful to and inspired by my collaborators in this event, micha cárdenas and Sarah Dowling.

Genevieve Kaplan: Certainly many poets and artists are influencing my current work: Johanna Drucker, Susan Howe, Cecilia Vicuña, Jen Bervin, Jen Hofer, Jill Magi, Emmelea Russo. My fellow panelists. In particular, the poets and artists who are exploring and questioning ideas of “work” and materiality – how to justify taking up the space in the world to write the poem, how to present the poem as something built and scaffolded and fought for, something simultaneously meaningful and inviting.

An artist friend of mine recently suggested “letters of the poem as big as a head,” which is an idea I’m intrigued by – beyond this current broadside project, I’m looking forward to thinking about the sewn/woven poem on a larger scale. More billboard than broadside, the poem as forcible—but soft, inviting, woven—encounter, a sort of (more or less) pleasant entrapment.

Addoley Dzegede: Right now, as always, my work is influenced simultaneously by my current circumstances and location in a constant conversation with my ever present past.  I’m thinking a lot about Ghana, and how long it has been since I have been there. As a place where so much of my identity and history is tied, I feel the strong need to stay connected to it materially, as time increasingly fades my memories of times spent there and people who are now lost to me.  Some of my newest work is coming out of West African traditions like kente weaving and adire, as well as the very hybridized history of wax prints.

In the next five years, I hope that I will get another opportunity to live and make work abroad, long term. While I have always felt a sense of foreignness about my identity in the US despite being an American all my life, I revel in truly being a foreigner and find that the work I can make in other countries has a sense of playfulness that I am unable to conjure while stateside. That may also have to do with just being away from the preoccupations of daily life, away from US-style bias and racism, and more, but I think there is definitely a feeling of freedom that I get from being overseas. In the next five years, my main goal would be to remain open, to continue to be responsive to place and conditions I find myself in, to live and make fearlessly.

Cole Lu: My new work always came from the residue of my old work, the work that is required as a point of departure, a place of contemplation. It mainly generates from my desires, and my desires generate from what I read, what I watch, what I listen, and who I talk to. Language has always been a persistent existence, as the form required its presence, visually or spatially. Lately, I had an installation debuted in June 2016 that contains my personal library, from a general point of view, books shapes, creates and participate our cultural mythologies, and can be used as an archive for a past incident, or a reminder of the memories being forgotten. I see the library as a self-portrait, and I am interested in the idea of copy, to create a library from a library as a fictional self-portrait out of the original. I am also working on an installation as a continuation of a project that I did which related to Asian culinary culture and philosophical absurdities, and a piece for a cartoon based on Finnish literature. It is almost impossible for me to predict my work even three months from now, though I had a concrete plan, it usually changes as it goes. I hope in the next five years my work can build a new vocabulary that explores the intersectionality, the richness, and the complexity of our culture, and hopefully the capable to generate the act of self-reflection.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: Obviously the current political climate is at the forefront of my brain, and it’s already making its way into my work. Those poems come out fast and urgently. I’ve never been a prolific writer or maker, but these are dangerous times. The kind that say sit your ass down and respond. I’m always influenced by whatever music I’m listening to, and I tend to listen obsessively. For a while it was The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, and I still listen to the albums my sister introduced me to when she was in art school—Peter Gabriel’s Passion, the soundtrack to Tout Les Matins Du Monde. And Bach. I played piano, so I’ve been pre-programmed to perk up to that. I’ll always have my go-to favorite dead writers—Moore, Bishop, Celan, Eliot, Rich, Plath—but the living writers whose voices really guide me, those push me in a different way (present company included)—Bridgette Lowe, Jessica Baran, Jeff Hamilton, Shane McCrae, Robyn Schiff, my thesis advisors from grad school, Claudia Rankine, Cole Swenson, and James Galvin, and many others. Claudia and John Lucas’ video work, too. That’s been hugely influential. And visual work—highbrow, lowbrow—everything. Everything tethered to acute observation. As for where my work is going: I want art to be bigger and more present. I want it to be important as a value. I want it to be un-cloistered and brave and more authentic. So I’m working for that.

 


Amaranth Borsuk is a poet, scholar, and book artist whose work encompasses print and digital media, performance and installation. Her books of poetry include Pomegranate Eater (Kore Press, 2016); As We Know (Subito, 2014), an erasure collaboration with Andy Fitch; Handiwork (Slope Editions, 2012); and, with Brad Bouse, Between Page and Screen (Siglio Press, 2012), a book of augmented-reality poems. Her intermedia project Abra (trade edition 1913 Press, 2016), created with Kate Durbin and Ian Hatcher, received an NEA-sponsored Expanded Artists’ Books grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts and was issued in 2015 as a limited edition hand-made book and free iPad / iPhone app. Her other digital collaborations include The Deletionist, an erasure bookmarklet created with Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul; and Whispering Galleries, a site-specific LeapMotion interactive textwork for the New Haven Free Public Library. Amaranth is currently an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell, where she also teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics.

Addoley Dzegede is a Ghanaian-American interdisciplinary artist based in St Louis. Her practice is idea-driven, mixed media, and through a combination of words and images, investigates notions of belonging, home, location, and identity. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, and she has been an artist-in-residence at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland, Foundation Obras in Portugal, and Nes Artist Residency in Iceland, as well as a post-graduate apprentice at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. She received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, and was awarded a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship at Washington University in St Louis, where she completed an MFA degree in Visual Art in 2015. Recent exhibitions and screenings include In Deep Ecology at Tenerife Espacio de las Artes in Spain; Now & After ‘16, at The State Darwin Museum in Moscow, Russia; 2015 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase Experimental program at the Tivoli Theater in St Louis, Missouri; Fare Well at Fort gondo  Compound for the Arts in St Louis; and the triennial Concept/Focus, at the Hardesty Art Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Recent awards include a grant from the John Anson Kittredge Fund; an honorarium from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition; a Creative Stimulus Award from Critical Mass for the Visual Arts; a St. Louis Regional Arts Commission Artist Support Grant; and a Graduate Student Grant for the Mellon Vertical Seminar: The Role of Arts Practice in the Research University at Washington University in St Louis.

Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation‘s poetry publication prize, and three chapbooks: In an aviary (Grey Book Press, 2016); travelogue (Dancing Girl, 2016); and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013), a chapbook of continual erasures. She lives in southern California and edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose.

Cole Lu is an artist and curator. She received her MFA from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. She holds a B.A. in linguistic from Ming Chuan University, Taipei Taiwan and A.A. in Japanese in Jinwen University in Taipei, Taiwan. Lu is known for her varied, multimedia practice, which articulates the subject of a contemporary, fragmented identity. She uses text, installation, sculpture, and video to explore the complex layers of what is lost in the era of digital communication. Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout the US, UK, Brazil, Greece, Mexico and Taiwan. Lu’s work has been exhibited at venues including the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (St. Louis, MO), Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, MO), Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI); The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), The Luminary (St. Louis, MO), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA), AHHA Tulsa (Tulsa, OK), Roman Susan (Chicago, IL), Westminster Press (St. Louis, MO), Fort Gondo compound for the arts (St. Louis, MO), CENTRAL BOOKING ARTSPACE (New York, NY), K-Gold Temporary Gallery (Lesvois Island, Greece) and Invisible Space (Taipei, Taiwan). Her videos and fine art books have been included in numerous national and international fairs and festivals including The 3rd New Digital Art Biennale – The Wrong (Again)FILE: Electronic Language International Festival (São Paulo, Brazil), I Never Read, Art Book Fair Basel (Basel, Switzerland) and Printed Matter’s New York & LA Art Book Fair (New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA). Additionally, she has been awarded the Concept/Focus Artist Award, and residencies at The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY) and Endless Editions (New York, NY). Her Risograph publication, “SMELLS LIKE CONTENT” is in the public collection of the MoMA Museum of Modern Art Library (New York, NY). Her latest endeavor in The Soothing Center at Satellite Art Show (Miami Beach, FL) opens December 1st, 2016. She is the Assistant Director at the 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts forum Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. Her debut collection of poems, Cleavemark, is just out from BOAAT Press. Schlaifer has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her poems have appeared in Georgia Review, AGNI, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Fence, and elsewhere. Schlaifer was a semi-finalist for the 2015 Discovery/Boston Review Prize, and she was selected for Best New Poets 2015. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Jeff Pike on the illustrated chapbook, Strangers with a Lifeboat, and with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation Cleavemark Drive. Schlaifer is a compulsive baker and also very handy with a pitchfork. Schlaifer’s work can be viewed at criticalbonnet.com

 

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2017 Summer Fiction Writing Retreat Sign-Ups Open

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The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Fiction Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, June 2nd to June 4th, 2017.  The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee.  This year’s retreat will focus on generative fiction writing and include two break-out sessions “Transmogrification: Magic and the Body” and “The Most Weird and Practical Dream: Advice on How to Communicate With Strangers, or, Everything I’ve Learned in the Last 20 Years Cut Down to 2 Hours,” plus discussions on kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, and all on-site amenities for $250.  Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25.  Payment plans are available if you reserve by March 31, 2017; inquire via email for details.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published fiction writers from around the country, including Chen Chen and Emilia Phillips.

M.O. Walsh

 

M.O. Walsh is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He is the author of the short story collection The Prospect of Magic and the novel My Sunshine Away, which was a New York Times Bestseller, an Amazon Featured Debut, and won the Pat Conroy Book Award for Southern Fiction.  His stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Oxford American, The Southern Review, and others. He currently lives in New Orleans, LA, where he is the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans.

 

tessa-mellas-for-gristTessa Mellas received the 2013 Iowa Short Fiction Award for her collection, Lungs Full of Noise. She holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. She teaches writing at the University of Maine at Machias, a college so far east it is the first in the nation each morning to see the sun. Figure skater, vermicomposter, vegan, and tender of a fierce feline twosome, she relates to soil and snow.

We have one full scholarship available for the retreat as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (8) pages of poetry along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at erin@sundresspublications.com no later than March 31, 2017. Winners will be announced in April.

 

Space at this workshop is limited to 15 writers, so reserve your place today!

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Now Accepting Applications for Fall Artist Residencies

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 21st to December 31st, 2017.   The deadline for fall residency applications is May 7th, 2016.

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-2-00-27-pmFor 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, Idra Novey.

Idra Novey is the author of the novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her most recent poetry collection  Exit, Civilian

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Idra Novey

was selected by Patri­cia Smith for the 2011 National Poetry Series. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages and she’s written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endow­ment for the Arts, Poets & Writ­ers Mag­a­zine, the PEN Trans­la­tion Fund, the Poetry Foundation, and the Poetry Society of America. She’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H.

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 facility also includes a full-size working 19th century full-size letterpress with type, woodworking tools, a 1930’s drafting table, and an extensive library of contemporary literature.

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 and application material, visit our website or find us on Facebook or on Twitter.

*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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An Interview with Sundress Author, Colleen Abel

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As a poet, Colleen Abel is a shape-shifter. In her chapbook, Deviants, you’ll find couplets, flash CNF, lists, lyric essays, sectioned verse, and poems that morph across the page. What takes this formal variability to another level is that Colleen’s work is also about form—about the human body, about boundaries and celestial bodies and the Venus of Willendorf. These thirty pages are about a lot. We talked with Abel about Deviants, the way these forms find themselves, and how she found her way to poetry.

Colleen Abel’s Deviants won the 2016 Sundress Publications 5th Annual Chapbook Contest. Her first full-length collection, Remake, won Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize and is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of Housewifery, a chapbook (dancing girl press, 2013). A former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at UW-Madison, Abel has published work in Pleiades, Colorado Review, The Collagist, Southern Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. She lives in Wisconsin with her student loans.

Sundress: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Colleen Abel: I have always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was four. I wrote my first short story around that time, about a vampire and his wife. (I illustrated, as well, but happily I abandoned notions that I was a competent illustrator pretty much immediately.) But even though I always wrote poetry, when I was a kid, I saw myself becoming a novelist. It wasn’t until college when I was encouraged to do an MFA in poetry that I thought, hmm, maybe this is going to be my path. Not that you have to pick a genre and stick with it! The older I get, the less interested I am in staying within genre boundaries.

Sundress: How do your pieces find their form? Do you draft in the form a piece eventually takes, or do you think about form later?

Colleen Abel: I almost always draft a piece in the form it ends up with—the form dictates the intellectual and sonic moves the poem makes, usually, so I like to find the form first. It’s sort of like picking a vessel to hold the thought. But sometimes in revision, I do figure out that the vessel is wrong! “The Photographer’s Model” is an example of a poem that was restless in the original form I had chosen for it.

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Sundress:Formally, Deviants is a very eclectic bunch of poems, but the book’s foundation seems to be the 18-page piece titled “Fat Studies.” Speaking of genre, how do you classify “Fat Studies”?

Colleen Abel: I would say “Fat Studies” is a lyric essay. I have been trying to write about obesity for over a decade in my poetry and it never worked–not once. I couldn’t really figure out why. It wasn’t until I shifted my thinking about form that I was able to write about obesity in a way that I was happy with–and “Fat Studies” was the result.

Sundress: In “Fat Studies,” the speaker’s body is described as “deviant.” The piece goes on to investigate the speaker’s life and mind within this “deviant” body. How did this piece come about? Is this stigmatized subject you’ve dealt with before, or is it something that required the building of experience and courage to write about so directly, frankly, and beautifully?

Colleen Abel: As I mentioned, I’ve been wanting to write about obesity for a long time, but could never make headway. A couple of things happened right around the same time that broke open the essay for me. I was sitting in on a fiction class at the school where I was teaching at the time, in 2014. So I was thinking a lot about prose. Then I stumbled across the theories of stigmatized identities by the sociologist Erving Goffman. He had this list of ways that people could respond to having a stigmatized identity, and I immediately thought: that list would make a great backbone for an essay. The third thing was that I had read an essay about physical fitness by John F. Kennedy and was trying to write a poem about it (and failing; see above.) Somehow those three factors collided and “Fat Studies” was born.

Sundress: In “Poem Beginning With A Zen Proverb,” (which, is such a great title), you create a list poem of places to “hide your body.” What are other list poems you have loved or that have influenced you?

Colleen Abel: Great question. The list poem that I think I go back to the most is Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another.” I’m fascinated by how list poems make their way toward endings. They are so hard to write!

Sundress: What’s something you used to believe about writing that you no longer think is true?

Colleen Abel: Wow. I can think of probably a hundred things, from small to hugely philosophical. I was very young when I went into my MFA program and for a while I think I absorbed a lot of the aesthetic preferences of my teachers and saw those as rules of a sort. Eventually, I shook those off–as writers need to do with their mentors, often. I had a teacher who thought poems shouldn’t have questions in them, for example, and for a long time I was scared to ask questions in poems. That’s a small example, but I think the more I read and write and live in the world, the more expansive my idea of poetry becomes.

Sundress: What are three things that every poem needs?

Colleen Abel: 1. Attention to language 2. Attention to arrangement 3. A desire to communicate something to an audience.

Sundress: Can you tell me a little about writing community? Where is yours? What is it like? What were the best writing communities you’ve ever encountered, and why?

Colleen Abel: I am about a month into a two-year writing fellowship. There are about a dozen of us who comprise the inaugural class of Tulsa Artist Fellows, so I am excited to see this fledgling community grow and evolve, especially since it’s multi-genre. I was very, very lucky to be a part of a small group that met frequently for several years in Chicago. I probably won’t ever find anything quite like that again, but I still carry their generosity with me even a decade later.

Sundress: What projects are in the works for you now?

Colleen Abel: [My full-length collection] Remake is coming out this spring! I’m super excited. I have a full-length collection called Caryatid that’s seeking a home, and right now I am just trying to generate work without thinking too much about how it will shape into a book. Wish me luck!

Colleen Abel is the winner of Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize for her collection Remake, which is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of a chapbook, Housewifery (dancing girl press, 2013) and a former fellow at University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Phoebe, West Branch, and many other outlets. She was recently named a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow.

Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT, a literary organization focused on community-building, surprise, and discomfort. An MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, he edits fiction for the Blue Earth Review, co-hosts the radio show Weekly Reader, and leads writing workshops for senior citizens. He’s currently creating a flash-fiction podcast called SHOW YR WORK that will be available online this summer. This winter, you can find his short stories in Midwestern Gothic, Little Fiction, matchbook, NANO Fiction, and No Tokens (and you can always find his jokes at @goftyler). Tyler is originally from York County, Pennsylvania, where, once, as a teenager, he saw a sweatshirt that read “York’s Not Boring…You Are,” and his life changed.

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AWP Roundtable with Chen Chen, Muriel Leung, Jessica Smith, and Sarah Viren

“It is my history raiding me”: Exploring Representations of Public and Private Violence

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Welcome to our Sundress Roundtables, a celebration of exceptional, not-so-lost AWP panels which did not make the AWP final cut for 2017.

How is violence produced in a twenty-second exchange, perpetuated in a centuries-long system? This panel explores how writing can engage with the intersections of institutional and interpersonal violence. Through poems and essays, we share strategies, messy attempts, more questions. One common thread we trace is violence’s relation to intimacy. If we allow it in private, do we then more readily allow it in public? Is desire inherently violent? Or should we distinguish a more metaphorical violence from abusive dynamics, historical atrocities, present crises?

 

In your view, what is the relationship (overlaps as well as key distinctions) between institutional violence and interpersonal violence?

Muriel Leung: The public imagination of violence has always largely veered towards the interpersonal, I think, because it’s a bit more easy to detect and articulate since we are each experts in how our own bodies relate to the world. A solely interpersonal outlook on violence, though, is dangerously limiting. It obscures the larger forces at play that dictate how we relate to each other socially: how we are all influenced by a certain type of education, upbringing, privileged positioning, and opportunities we are afforded and not afforded. And these relations sometimes change or stay the same when we travel to a different state, region, or country.

The U.S. in particular is guilty of such failings in recognizing institutional violence as a legitimate source of inquiry and rage. The recent election of Donald Trump and the widespread approval of him by those who identity as poor or middle class white is pretty emblematic of that rift in understanding between institutional and interpersonal violence. Largely, poor or middle class white people have been expressing feelings of being shafted by progressive political actions that appear to provide opportunities in favor of those who are immigrant, non-citizen, and/or nonwhite. In other words, provisions of social or political rights to these communities means they lose out. The issue here seems to be that even the understanding of interpersonal violence is incredibly short-sighted. It’s the strangest correlation – the more privileges you possess in this country, the greater the level of threat of its loss such that one feels the need to hoard opportunities, to forbid others who may be further marginalized from access to them. I think this is what a limited scope of institutional violence can do – it turns social and political life into a never-ending blame game in which vulnerable communities are under attack rather than the systems that perpetuate the original source of the misery.

Jessica Smith: I think this relationship has to do with sustainability – what an individual is willing or has been taught, in private, to sustain. If one is subjected to gaslighting, violence, and subjugation in their home, the space that is supposed to be the most safe and sacred, then how can they hope to interrogate these same offenses at an institutional level?

One of the most difficult parts of fighting violence, or rerouting mindsets that lead to violence, is having to identify it when you are so consistently working to “recover” from it. How do we name what harms us when that harm originates from a place we trust – a parent, a partner, a university, a government? How can we explain what cruelty is to those who are in the position of teaching us right from wrong?

Trying to illuminate structures of oppression to the oppressor is not only painful and unfair, but nearly impossible, particularly when their behaviors are reinforced by an oppressive societal framework. I’ve found this space un-navigable – the space wherein the victim must be the one who is measured and thoughtful, where even the most basic explanation of decency feels like begging. We’ve seen this during the campaign and election of Donald Trump – calls for harmony and decency in the face of a man who ran his campaign on cruelty and harassment.

It is vital to interrogate this public-private connection because it is interdependent. Institutional violence relies on breeding acceptance in private. It needs people to expect it, or at minimum be afraid to fight it.

Sarah Viren: Sometime after the election I found myself rereading Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize lecture from 1982. I used to teach the lecture, but it had been a while. And also it was different reading the speech at this moment in time, when it feels like all forms of violence are under attack by those who would insist that they do not exist.

Though I love every part of that speech, there is one part that is particularly powerful. After listing innumerable instances of interpersonal, institutional, and state-sponsored violence in Latin America, García Márquez demands that this reality be what we recognize when we recognize his fiction:

A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.

(Read the original version of the speech in Spanish here.)

Interpersonal violence tends to be what we recognize as real violence. It is what we see on TV and in many movies and in so many of our fictions and nonfictions. And often in its representations and repetitions, in its sexy allure and sell-ability, interpersonal violence can appear more hyper-real than real. I cannot tell you how many bloody and dead women I have seen on a screen, their violated and abused bodies made into the mystery around with a male narrative will unspool.

Institutional violence is our refusal to also see the repetition of that dead female body as a form of violence. It is our refusal to read One Hundred Years of Solitude outside of any other context than the “magically real” hoisted on it by U.S. and European critics and academics. It is what García Márquez is talking about when he says solitude. Institutional violence is all those forms of violence—health care inequities, sweatshop conditions, historical revisionism, voter suppression—that are so often denied a reality in large part because they are so pervasive and engrained that we struggle to see at all.

Chen Chen: I’ve been thinking about the post-election rallying cry shouted or tweeted out by many liberals: “Love trumps hate.” But what do we mean by love? Do we mean feeling some vague but pleasurable harmony? Do we mean saying hi to strangers and holding the door open for them? Or do we mean something that actually requires policy change and systemic change? I return, always, to this James Baldwin passage from The Fire Next Time:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

These days, I am also returning to an article by Jo Blaise, published recently in Kinfolk Kollective (and entitled “Your Love Won’t Trump Hate”):

Toni Morrison taught me early on that love is never any better than the lover. She warned us in the pages of The Bluest Eye that “wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly…” So when I see exasperated faces and secret Facebook groups lamenting that love failed to trump hate, I must ask: Whose? Whose love failed us?

It’s important here to say that James Baldwin and Jo Blaise are both writing out of a history of Black struggle movements, some of which have been deeply transnational in practice (for instance, both Baldwin and Blaise make connections to Palestine). As a non-Black POC, I think that love also, on some basic level, means insisting on the fact that certain frameworks and strategies for resistance come specifically from Black resistance.

 

How can the genre(s) you write in get at the relationship between different yet interlocking forms of violence? What is it about a particular genre or way of writing that opens up the investigation into violence(s) for you?

Muriel Leung: I’m interested in how recent turns to hybrid genres or less clearly defined genres of writing seem symptomatic of a world whose set of complex relations seem to growing exponentially as the years progress. If genre and form is historically, politically, and socially influential to aesthetic development, then I think the growing tenuousness of containers for these genres and forms means that things are happening far faster than we can write them. In particular, writing violence and trauma demands a far greater set of responsibilities and ethical aesthetic practices now that I think ruptured forms and genres seem to address.

I’m especially interested in the essay now, the etymology of the word drawing from the French “essayer” (trial or attempt). Moving into the essay from poetry, I adapt a lot of poetic elements, particularly the lyric when it comes to phrasing, but how I think essays differ from poetry is the impetus “to try” to achieve a point of hyper-clarity, to arrive at some answer in the end. Poetry has always been, for me, about creating language landscapes of webbed responses. This abstraction is useful too, but experimenting with the essay as a form that responds to violence and trauma in a way that poetry alone cannot do is a necessary project for me. It forces a necessary toggling between poetry’s propensity towards abstraction and the essay’s need to establish a personal rhetoric. It is as if poetry offers sites of feelings for rage, anxiety, and depression, and the essay provides a set of guidelines for how to navigate them. When you put the two together, they do joint work to convey a perspective that may not possible if each genre were solely confined to their own rules.

Jessica Smith: Most of my work and research centers on intimate partner violence. One of the most illuminating things a counselor once shared with me is that society is structured to misunderstand victimhood – that the victim of sustained abuse (in any form) usually appears more scattered, damaged, and volatile to the outside world than the perpetrator. Victims are more likely to miss work, invent transparent lies to their loved ones, and be generally unslept, unkempt, and unhappy. The perpetrator of the violence is, conversely, accustomed to the dynamic and in control of it, thus appearing more “together” to observers. The victim’s reality is distorted on all levels.

This gulf between the realities of abuse and the understanding of it, I think, is best traversed by poetry. Ricardo Gullon said that poetry is the transfer of intuition – it privileges insight over information. If we are hoping to gain insight into sustained, systemic violence (institutional, interpersonal, both), then we have to close the space between representation and reality. As Rachel Louise Snyder put it in her New Yorker article on domestic violence, “A Raised Hand”:

“Between 2000 and 2006, thirty-two hundred American soldiers were killed; during that period, domestic homicide in the United States claimed ten thousand six hundred lives. This figure is likely an underestimate, as it was pulled from the F.B.I.’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, which gather data from local police departments, where homicide reporting is voluntary.

Dunne attributes the prevalence of domestic violence, in part, to a deep cultural misunderstanding of how violence operates. We assume that victims incite abuse, or that if the situation at home was truly threatening they would leave.”

Because I think that victim-blaming and gendered assumptions about who commits intimate partner violence are both erroneous, I want my work to focus on the collective societal issues that support a culture where intimate partner violence happens with such frequency, and in such secret. Poetry weds the private and the public – it distills the moment of crisis into a universal one. Poetry gives us the pinhole camera so that we can look directly at the eclipse. It is “…the language of intensity,” wrote C.D. Wright. “Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”

Sarah Viren: I write in all genres and often I think that the way we separate our genres, especially when the deciding factor is whether the text is “true” or not, is itself a form of violence. So I’m not sure that the genres get at violence differently, but that readers’ understanding of genre distinctions can both open up and/or confine how violence is understood within a particular work.

I’m often struck, for instance, by how much more people will react to a description of violence if it is read within the context of a “true” genre, like memoir or literary journalism, as opposed to violence that’s been framed as fictional (but might still be representative of a real situation or injustice). Whenever I’ve taught Carolyn Forché’s poem “The Colonel,” I can see a change in the room—and in the reading of that poem—as soon as I mention that Forché has said that it documents actual events. Students suddenly take the poem more seriously and are also more interested in hearing about context. I wonder about that change. Because even if the Colonel or the sack of ears were invented, the violence they represent would still be symbolically true. More than 75,000 people were killed during the Salvadoran Civil War, a war that the United States helped prolong.

So rather than saying I prefer this or that genre when writing about violence, I think it’s more accurate to say that I tend to use the essayistic mode. For me, essaying is the form of writing that best replicates the mind on the page. It is not chronological or narrative in nature. It is not interested in replicating reality but rather commenting on it and trying to understand it, often by making connections, many of them non-intuitive. For all those reasons, it is the best way for me of getting at issues of institutional violence.

I once wrote an essay, for instance, about singing murder ballads to my newborn daughter to stop her from crying. All I knew when I started writing that essay was that there was something not right, or at least more complicated than I wanted to admit, about me singing her those songs, most of which are about murdered women. What I ended up working through in that essay were a series of connections, between those ballads and other stories of violence against women, between my desire to soothe my daughter and my own culpability in a system in which stories of violence against women—not to mention actual violence against women—are so common we don’t notice them at all.

Chen Chen: Most of the time, I am a poet. Lately, though, I’ve been working on essays. Lyric essays. Somewhat experimental, perhaps. The possibilities of creative nonfiction have opened up for me some new ways into difficult subjects. One essay I just revised is a meditation on the shooting at Pulse and on living as an openly gay person in a very conservative town in West Texas. Guns are a big part of the culture here, as are rather normalized (often coded) forms of sexism and homophobia—so before Pulse, I was already on guard all the time. I felt like I was back in the closet in certain contexts. After Pulse, a part of me wants to stay home 24-7; at times I feel deeply uneasy going, with my boyfriend, to the movie theater or to the local Barnes & Noble. Obviously, these places are not nightclubs, but the fact that a safe or sacred space specifically for queer people was attacked makes every space seem dangerous. The essay traces the social roots of anti-queer erasure and violence, including how internalized homophobia manifests.

At the same time, I have no direct connection to Pulse. I’ve struggled with how to represent the specific and enormous violence that occurred there. It feels necessary to document the violence because it seems like the violence has left the national consciousness so quickly. Part of the essay’s task is slowing down, making space for a longer memory to take hold. But I worry about reproducing violence. I worry about the reiteration of a certain form of tragic queer suffering. I worry about aestheticizing or narrativizing such immense loss. I worry about what it means for me—someone who is a queer person of color but who is not Latinx or part of an Orlando community—to write about this in the first place. In the essay, I try to acknowledge these worries and to critique my own tendencies/approaches. I try to keep distinct and particular the experience at Pulse and the experiences in West Texas. And I try to excavate why, exactly, I feel so much grief; why it is that this mourning feels already familiar. The piece is called “It Seems I Have Been Mourning for a Long Time.”

Writing in a lyric essay form has allowed me to bring together multiple threads without (I hope) conflating them. The form has also allowed me to ask questions about what it means to “research” an event so horrific and personally triggering—the fact that it became unbearable to read account after account from friends and relatives and beloveds of the people killed at Pulse. I couldn’t read more than two or three accounts in a single sitting. I couldn’t keep looking at the pictures: the smiling selfies, the couples in love, the people who were just going about their lives in their particular, beautiful, complicated ways. So, I had to slow down. I had to cry. I had to read more slowly and return to my essay, taking greater care with my language. It just seems so impossible that they are gone.

 

What are some examples of work that you feel interrogate, complicate, reshape our understanding of violence(s)?

Muriel Leung: There are so many writers and artists out there who challenge our understanding of violence in such a way that folds critique into our daily imagination of it. The first names that come to mind are always women of color: Claudia Rankine, Cathy Park Hong, and Bhanu Kapil. Each writer is invested in pushing or challenging presumed genre and formal boundaries in their discussion of race and national (anti)belonging. There’s also Douglas Kearney, Craig Santos Perez, Solmaz Sharif, and Robin Coste Lewis, whose works critique structures and forms of power from black history archives to Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. I think it’s powerful to consider one’s poetic practice as a part of history and history-making, to think about how reviewing the past can be a way of conceiving a certain type of future. Not necessarily optimism — I think these writers would agree that one should always be skeptical about overly idealistic renditions of future possibilities — but a complicated and weighted hope for some form of change.

Other writers I think who have been on my mind recently: Will Giles beautifully utilizes heartbreaking comedy and extended metaphors in his performances about substance abuse, history, and community revival. Vanessa Villarreal, whose book, Beast Meridian is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2017, is especially gifted in recognizing how the textures of the page can be a means of exploring how violence can be enacted through language. Kay Ulanday Barrett, whose first poetry collection, When the Chant Comes (Topside Press 2016) just came out and I think is one of the best texts on intersectional politics and what good allyship is out there. Jamie Berrout too, who largely self-publishes, has not only put out some amazing nonfiction, fiction, and poetry about being a trans Latina woman — her work gorgeously weaves in and out of time, place, space, and memory.

Jessica Smith: I was moved and devastated by Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir The Other Side, which explores not only the horrific crime her ex-lover committed against her, but the murky systemic issues around academic and sexual power structures that allowed her to sustain a relationship with him – despite his escalating violence – for so many years prior to this final attack. She complicates notions of how a victim should act or “heal” in the aftermath. The memoir is both lyrical and unflinchingly direct, which I think mirrors the ice-clear fever dream of working through “recovery.”

I am endlessly in awe of Vievee Francis’s ability, in her poetry, to be confrontational and still deeply vulnerable. She engages violence as a scope, not an isolated incident, and demands that her reader do the same. Though she is clear about the intensity and consistency of the violence in her work, she avoids the kind of “begging” explanations these narratives often devolve into. Her poems key into the strange familiarity of violence, and the way it parades, so often, as intimacy.  I go back over and over again to the end of her poem “Taking It,” where she writes:

“…Is this too dramatic?

Find another story. Find a lie. In love, body after body
fell beneath my own, though my own was broken,
and I made love like a sea creature, fluid as if boneless,
though my bones would rattle if not for the fat I cherish.
Wouldn’t you? How I grew to love the heavyweights,
myself with one in the ring. How I imagined him punching
me, and punching me again, saying I’m sorry, so sorry,
to have to love you this way.”

Any writer who can open their throat this way – who puts the words cherish and fluid and love in the same breath as punching and broken and heavyweights reveals that violence is not something that punctuates life but rather is woven into it.

Sarah Viren: Well, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a really good example of how fiction can address violence. The novel is allegorical, and so the stories of violence it tells are meant to be read both as specific examples of interpersonal violence and as representative of systemic forms of violence that happened and continue to happen (i.e. how poor people and poor countries are exploited by multi-national companies and how dysfunction within a family can be passed down through generations and, thus, perpetuated).

While we’re thinking about Colombia, I’d also mention Don’t Come Back by my friend Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, which will be published by The Ohio State University Press this January. Lina’s descriptions of violence can be both beautiful and horrifying, but she never glorifies or sensationalizes violence, which is a danger, I think, in any attempt to write about violent acts. What her book does that’s particularly effective for me is that she uses descriptions of violence to unnerve the reader, make us uncomfortable and, then, force us to think about the world that engendered that violence.

Besides those two examples, I happen to be reading two books right now that also speak to violence in new and interesting ways: Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexiavich and 100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu. The first, “a novel in voices,” as Alexievich calls her oral histories, is collection of testimonies from people who came of age in the Soviet Union but are now adjusting to its replacement (i.e. a capitalistic society), and their stories show how the forms of violence that unfettered capitalism supports can sometimes be as devastating as the state-run violence suffered under leaders like Stalin.

Yu’s book talks about another form of violence: that of representation. His poems are a response to a whole body of American poetry that uses references to Asia or Asian people as symbolic stand-ins for stereotypical ideals/ideas. These are poems commit violence by silencing people, and Yu attempts to speak into that silence through parody. What I love about his book is that each poem mentions a specific U.S. poet and poem so that there is, in effect, a very real calling out, or confrontation, but also a conversation created between the original moment of silencing and Yu’s often funny but also fierce response.

Chen Chen: I’ll just recommend two amazing books that came out recently.

Aracelis Girmay’s poetry collection the black maria. A shattering and necessary book engaging the loss of “over 20,000 people [who] have died at sea making the journey from North Africa to Europe in the past two decades.” Specifically, the core cycle of the book speaks to the history of those of Eritrean descent (Girmay is part of the Eritrean diaspora). The second part of the book engages police violence against Black lives in the United States. From the acknowledgments on p. 112:

          I have struggled with this particular project, so steeped in violence, mourning, and grief. How do I work inside of such histories of violence without further brutalizing the black body in the work? How do I, especially here, make critical space for joy and tenderness in the remembering, so that my own imagination (gesture by gesture, line by line) isn’t rendered by the values of white supremacy or violence as I resist it? And how do I express, with tenderness, who and what this work/I love(s)? It is my hope that while these poems mourn the dead and the bleak circumstances of our present, violent day, they are also a tribute to black joy, black art, black making, black life.

Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased. A deeply moving account of undergoing church-sponsored gay “conversion” therapy in the early 2000s. There is such heartbreaking tenderness and ache in Conley’s writing. From p. 148:

I had been wondering what it felt like to be in a straight mind my whole life, or at least ever since I discovered I was gay, when, in third grade, I’d first realized that my interest in our teacher, Mr. Smith, was much greater than that of my other male peers’. Though over the years I’d done my best to pretend otherwise, I’d had a string of male crushes that wouldn’t go away, a constant guilty ache that ran through my body for so long that I came to believe the feeling was just a part of what it meant to be alive. The only moments when the ache became a sharp pain were when I allowed myself to imagine a happy life with these crushes, a rarity to be sure.

 

How do you practice resistance to violence(s) in your work—as a writer, an activist, a teacher, an editor, a community member, etc.?

Muriel Leung: I think of my work as resistance and survival. I write about violence and trauma in my own work, especially in my recent poetry collection, Bone Confetti, which takes place in an especially violent landscape that forces its ghostly figures to find a way to reconfigure their notions of intimacy and desire in a time of loss. I also believe in exercising this resistance in editorial work with Apogee Journal as Co-Poetry Editor. I get fatigued with literary politics quite often so I think it’s important to take part in community building work that tries to work beyond representational politics — to offer a space to publish marginalized voices who may feel that their works are undervalued or dismissed by other literary spaces. I hope that we get to be a space where writers feel safe knowing that the editors are legible in race, gender, sexual, and dis/ability politics. This work, I think, is important to create alternative possibilities out there for publishing and engagement in literary spaces.

In addition to literary activism, I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in intersecting struggles from community organizing to direct service work. I’ve volunteered as a crisis counselor for an LGBTQ anti-violence hotline and just started as an abortion clinic escort. I think there’s such value to doing work that teaches you to confront emergency and to recognize that trauma surrounds us. We have a responsibility to know how to call it by name and support each other in our struggles. I think this work is just as important as supporting marginalized communities organizing for rights for undocumented workers, queer and trans youth, and anti-police brutality causes.

My hope for the future is that people can feel moved to support causes that are not necessarily pre-vetted by mainstream media as issues that matter. I hope that #BlackLivesMatter becomes more than just a hashtag and that we can work to undo anti-black racism in our communities on the institutional and interpersonal level.

Jessica Smith: As a teacher at a university that allows students to carry concealed weapons, in an isolated college town that is deeply pro-Trump (and was before Trump was a political metonymy), I have always worked to engage my students on what it means to be a citizen. What is your role in society, I ask them, and what is actually important to you? I try to bring conversations about politics back to the body – the bodies of their friends, their mothers, strangers, themselves – and ask what bodies matter to them. Politics is a question of where those bodies go, I say, and who gets to put them there.

I think this election has revealed to many (particularly white liberals) that activism is not a lifestyle choice but an imperative. Organize in your community. Talk to your family members. Educate yourself about the nature of systemic violence and suppression. There’s always more to know, and more to change. No one has ever regretted actions they take if those actions are rooted in advocacy and empathy.

Sarah Viren: I write a lot about crime and I just taught a literary true crime class and in both of those areas what I try to do is complicate our understanding of criminality and of the criminal act. I think one way we can do this is to consider the multiple forms of violence that cocoon any one crime. There is the violence of the crime committed, but there are also always violences that gave rise to that crime and that come out of it.

So, when I was teaching that class, I worked with students a lot to consider context when we discuss criminality and violence, but also perspective. We read a found essay about violence against transgender people, for instance, in which the author makes clear that these are crimes that will never be solved, in large part because they are continually minimized and erased by our culture. We also read an essay by Jose Antonio Vargas about being undocumented, which then allowed us to talk about what it means for a person to become a crime. If something that absurd is allowed to happen, where, then, is the violence occurring? My students were really smart about analyzing crime in these different ways and that class was one of the most rewarding I’ve taught so far in large part because I think we were really able to make some headway in our understanding of the interlocking forms of violence.

Beyond that, I also write a lot about my personal experiences as a queer woman and now a queer mother living in the far reaches of the south. And what I’m often hoping to do in that work is to break apart stereotypes that exist in both the larger culture, but also within queer culture, about what it means to parent. I’m very resistant to the idea that choosing to parent is inherently a conservative act and, in fact, I think the perpetuation of that stereotype is a form of violence that has a real silencing effect on families like mine. So my work in that area is also advocacy in that I want to speak to that silence and open up within it new understandings of what it means to parent or to start a family.

Chen Chen: I try to be constantly asking what people actually need—what is the support they need? Do they want support? I try to be constantly learning. Listening. Reading. Studying. Showing up but not taking up space that isn’t mine. Building and contributing to existing spaces for queer people of color. Improving my pedagogy. Speaking out on the corporate structures of the university, my university. Researching ways to create funding opportunities for queer people of color that are not reliant on university or governmental structures or on the nonprofit industrial complex. Celebrating the lives and resistances of queer people of color. Insisting on the differences between different communities and positionalities. Donating to Kundiman. Making English super gay.


Muriel Leung is the author of Bone Confetti (Noemi Press 2016). Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can be found or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish Magazine, inter/rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to the Blood-Jet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-Editor of Apogee Journal. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California.

Jessica Smith’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Waxwing, cream city Review, Sixth Finch, Phantom Books, Lumina, and other journals. She received her MFA from The New School and is currently pursuing at PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University, where she was the 2016 recipient of the Warren S. Walker Prize and is a co-founder of the LHUCA Literary Series.

Sarah Viren is a writer, translator, and former newspaper reporter. Her essay collection MINE won the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize and will be published by the University of New Mexico Press in the spring of 2018 and her translation of the novella Córdoba Skies by the Argentine novelist Federico Falco was published by Ploughshares Solos in 2016. Other essays, poems, and stories have appeared in the Oxford American, the Iowa Review, AGNI, The Normal School, and Hobart. Read more about her at sarahviren.wordpress.com.

Chen Chen (moderator) is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming spring 2017 from BOA Editions, Ltd. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in publications such as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Best of the Net, and The Best American Poetry. He is a Kundiman Fellow and a Lambda Literary Fellow. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. Visit him at chenchenwrites.com.

 

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AWP Roundtable with M.M. DeVoe, J.P. Howard, Julianne Palumbo, and Marjorie Tesser

“Baby Steps: How to Nurture a Great Writing Career after Having a Child”

“Motherhood is a great gift to a writer,” Amy Bloom has said. Parenthood provides rich experiences, but can impact writing practice, subject matter, and publication. How can a parent find time to write, let alone publish? Will serious journals publish work about parenting? What are parent-centric publications interested in? Is it possible to manage readings or a book tour? The panel, leaders of organizations that support parent writers, discusses strategies for creative and professional growth.

What are some stereotypes of parents as writers, external and internalized, and how can writers counter them?

J.P. Howard:  Stereotypes about parents as writers often come from those who may not be parents themselves. People may assume we are not as dedicated to our writing, since we are busy raising our children. Folks may view us primarily in our caretaking roles, more so than in our role as writers. It may even affect opportunities depending on our schedules. Of course, the truth is parent writers are simultaneously dedicated to both our children and our writing. The two things are not mutually exclusive.

An internalized issue that writer parents sometimes experience is guilt; here, I’m definitely speaking from my own experience. We may struggle to find a “balance” in our lives, as parents and as writers. The constant struggle between being dedicated parents and dedicated writers can leave us questioning ourselves. Am I a good enough writer? Shouldn’t I be spending more time on my writing and art? We may compare ourselves to writers who don’t have families and can be too hard on ourselves when we do that. Of course, the flipside can occur when we put in extra time on our craft. Doubt can creep in and we may ask ourselves, am I spending enough time with my family? I find that collaborating with parent/writer friends and colleagues is incredibly helpful. Many times that extra support is crucial and can help us realize we are not alone in our struggles. Writing circles, literary salons, online writing groups, and writing residencies are all ways we can move beyond those stereotypes (internalized and externalized) and ensure we are part of a larger writing community.

M.M. DeVoe:  It seems to me that it is less the stereotype of a writing parent than the stereotype of a “great artist” that is dangerous. If there is a common negative stereotype of parent-writers, I would say it’s that of the “mommy blogger” writing exclusively about the ups and downs of parenting and considering their blog the equal of someone else’s novel. At Pen Parentis, we don’t judge the writing produced by a writing parent, we celebrate that anyone can write anything, frankly! It’s terribly hard to balance the demands of children with the demands of a creative career.But to get back to the question at hand: the stereotype of the writer who is a “great artist” is always portrayed as a solitary creature typing late into the night, surrounded by cigarette butts and whiskey bottles—never by permission slips for field trips, toys, or pacifiers. Pen Parentis tries to change that stereotype by telling the world which writers have kids. It’s heartening to know that many recent award-winners have kids instead of drug addictions! Honestly, the dedication it takes to maintain a creative career while also parenting is a dedication that should be celebrated and admired.

Julianne Palumbo:  Perhaps one of the most common stereotypes about parents as writers is that parenting writing is often sappy. Some readers might think that there will be nothing interesting to read when someone is simply writing about their own child. Another expectation is that this type of writing can be judgmental and preachy. Because parenting produces experience, the impulse is to pass on that experience through parenting advice in order to save new parents the trouble of figuring things out for themselves. The prevalence of these ideas can have the effect of making parenting writing self-conscious.

Writers can counter these stereotypes by not focusing so much on teaching from their experiences or providing judgment through them as on just relaying their stories in a way that speaks to their audience. Strong writers of parenting material tell us their personal story but then take the important step of universalizing that story so that all of their readers can relate. The stories should show us how parenting simply is, not tell us how anyone might think it should be. Told well, readers will relate to the experience itself and will pull from the writing whatever message might speak to them.

Marjorie Tesser:  In an ideal world, the profound, diverse experience of mothering would be believed to be of the highest importance for literary consideration.  Unfortunately, it seems some publications are happy to have women write about sex but less so about childbirth and other gritty realities, and there are those that give work about war, politics, etc., precedence over the domestic. Some employ a double standard—writing by a man about parenthood is praiseworthy, but by a woman, clichéd. But there are many publications, both general and mother or women-centric, that are interested in your fine work about aspects of motherhood.  When submitting for publication, seek out venues where you find work that harmonizes with your own writing esthetics and style.  And do keep sending those mother poems to less friendly venues—the literary landscape is evolving, and changes are occurring in even the most hidebound journals.

In a recent VIDA blog, writer Rachel Richardson relates the experience of an academic colleague cautioning her against being pigeonholed as “one of those mommy poets” (Report from the Field: To Go To Sea: Making a Place in a Male Literary Landscape). I believe no one can dictate what you should be writing, nor what your concerns as an artist should be. As for being pigeonholed, you are the curator of your own bio; you might decide to tweak a particular bio to list prior publications that are in the same “club” as the place you’re submitting.  Others feel that the only way we’ll change things is to let our mother flag fly.  Any decision you make is fine—mothers who have chosen either path enjoy healthy writing careers.

M.M. DeVoe: Here’s a thought: instead of dropping the kids off the bio as soon as the first major literary prize is attained, we wish that writers would acknowledge their families. One of the things we have discovered is how rare it is for writers to be able to talk about their families, because they think it somehow makes them seem like a less “serious” writer. Why would a writer seem less serious if they are fighting the urge to go play ball with their kid rather than fighting the urge to give it all up, burn their manuscript, and hide under a blanket for the rest of the day? Unknown. But somehow depression is entwined with our stereotype of a working artist, and that, I think, more than anything is damaging to the expectation that we can continue to be great writers if we are also parents.

What actions can parents take to support their own writing? What are some practices to sustain vibrant creative work while actively parenting?

M.M. DeVoe: Obviously, keep writing. That goes without saying. It’s harder than it sounds, especially when you’re battling the guilt of needing to be away from the kids in order to do your best work—though many parent-writers learn to work, even with their kids nearby.

Other, more specific suggestions? Find a community. Even if it’s just three or four other writers, and only one of them has kids, you need someone who understands what you’re going through. Writers who are part of a community are more successful than those who try to go it alone. Make your own workshop, go to a colony for two weeks if you can, treat your writing as you would any day job that earned money. Put it first, make it a priority—for as much time as you are able to devote to it. Then put it away and enjoy your family. Learn to schedule, learn to multitask, and learn to use time wisely. Love the time you’re able to write. Cherish it. Use it.

Julianne Palumbo: One of the most important actions a parent writer can take is to make time to write daily. Often, when the children are young, writing time and sleep come out of the same pile. But writing is learned only by writing, and spending time on writing is integral to improving one’s craft. Write every day, even if it’s just a sentence.

Another important practice is to keep a notebook or journal handy to write down the fabulous things that children do and say. We parents think we will remember them, but in the craziness that can be parenting, they are soon forgotten. As a young mother, I kept a notebook beside my bed and before I went to sleep each night I would write the fantastic happenings of the day. Now, with my children in their teens and twenties, the notebook is full of gems I would never have remembered. Some of these gems have turned themselves into poems and stories.

J.P. Howard: Parents can make attempts to carve out time for our own writing; often this is successfully done when we partner with other parent-writer friends who understand our time constraints and limitations without judgment. This can play out in multiple ways. I find it most helpful being proactive and seeking out other writing communities, made up of both parents and non-parents. I think we each have something valuable to offer the other. Parents can be great at prioritizing, because we know that raising our children and tight time management is something that is automatically built into our schedules. Writer friends without children can learn from our own successful structures and time management. Collaborating in writing salons and virtual online communities makes sure our work stays vibrant and relevant, while keeping us connected to writers and artists beyond our own immediate circles. Parents have to make sure to practice self-love and self-care. This is sometimes our biggest challenge, but I think it is truly life saving when we make those efforts. We can select specific times during the week, month or year to just do something for ourselves (no children included)! This includes attending local writing workshops, writing retreats and residencies away from our “home-base.” When I go away to these spaces, usually without my children, it’s invigorating and often allows me to come back home more focused. Parents, especially women, have to give ourselves permission to put our needs as writers, women, and vibrant beings first. This kind of self-love/self-care also helps us ultimately become a better parent.

Marjorie Tesser:  If you want to write and you’re not, or if you’re not writing or publishing as much as you wish you were, you basically have three choices.

  1. Feel frustrated and guilty—Not the best choice!
  1. Write! The best advice is making a habit of it (novelist Lore Segal defines a habit as something it’s easier to do than to not do). Segal wrote mornings. Poet Marie Ponsot wrote without fail for ten minutes each night after putting her seven children to bed; no matter how exhausted she was, she made herself write for those ten minutes, and it often ended up stretching to more.  Use the time not only to write seriously but also to play—write personal stuff, make lists, play with ideas.
  1. Relax! As with motherhood, you’ll get disparate advice from random sources about writing. But ultimately, you’re the judge of your own situation; your own mothering – work seesaw finds its own balance on the fulcrum. Each family has its own challenges and requirements; each muse has her own strength, conviction, urgency, and vision. Whatever balance you work out now is not permanent, nor is it binding on the future. I only wrote in fits and starts, privately, when my kids were small, but developed a more steady writing and publishing practice later in life. Do what works for you.

How do our organizations support women’s and parents’ creative work and validate their experiences? Which other publications, presses, retreats, and organizations support and develop the skills and creativity of parent writers?

M.M. DeVoe: At Pen Parentis, our mission is to provide resources to writers to keep them on creative track after they start a family. We offer free monthly literary salons that celebrate the creative diversity of writers that are also parents by bringing three or more such authors into a room and hearing their new works, then discussing the many ways they balance an active family life with a creative career. We offer an annual merit-based fellowship to a writer parenting a child ten or younger. We offer occasional classes to develop particular skills in NYC and we are working hard to develop online communities of writers who are also parents that we hope can turn into in-person communities as we reach a critical mass of participants. We value inclusiveness, professionalism, community—we strive in every way to inspire writers who are parents to dedicate themselves to their writing careers.

Other than those represented here on this panel, we hope all writing parents know about the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Based in San Francisco, they give generous individual grants to writers and visual artists that are also parents. They also keep a list of writing colonies and residencies that they fund to make them more accessible for writing parents, in researching what is available, that’s a great place to begin. Magazines that are excellent for creative, thinking parents are Brain, Child and Mutha Magazine, as well as Brain, Teen. Also, Marble House Project has a writing residency that you can bring spouse and kids to (this is what writing-parent communities are best at: sharing vital information like this!)

J.P. Howard: Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS) supports women’s and parents’ creative work by bringing primarily women of color and LGBTQ communities together each month for a free potluck poetry workshop, featured author reading, Q & A session with our feature and a multi-genre open mic. Our salons meet once monthly over the weekend, often in someone’s home or donated community space. People bring delicious home-made dishes and the wine flows freely. These literary salons last between 4 ½ to 5 hours minimum. We write, we collaborate, we laugh, and often we cry as we use writing to explore so many personal and political issues. Our Salons literally and figuratively nurture us. A number of us are parents and having time to share our experiences as writers is empowering and helps to validate our experiences in the world.

Mom Egg Review is a huge supporter of parent writers, creating a space for us both in print and online. I have been a part of writing communities and retreats at Cave Canem, Lambda Literary and VONA. Each of these spaces includes many writers who happen to be parents, though that is not what brought us to the retreats. These safe and supportive spaces allow us to speak freely about missing our children when we are in residency, while simultaneously celebrating our roles as writers in collaborative and supportive environments. Ultimately these organizations help us develop our skills and remain creative by creating and providing these welcoming spaces.

Julianne Palumbo: Mothers Always Write supports the mission of motherhood by offering poetry, essays, book reviews, and columns intended to speak to parents and parent writers. We support our writers in a number of ways. We created and maintain a contributor’s FB group where writers can expand the readership of their pieces, find writing partners and friendships as well as read other great writing and learn of publication opportunities. We promote our writers by sharing their pieces written both for MAW and for other publications on our social media. We afford our writers the opportunity to participate in critique groups, pairing our writers with others with similar writing interests. We also provide an opportunity for our writers to publicize their relevant works on our site through book reviews and column writing. Finally, our editorial staff often selects at least one new writer for each issue who is then given the opportunity to work with us to bring an often very rough piece of writing to publication quality.

Marjorie Tesser:  Mom Egg Review is a literary journal about motherhood.  We support mother writers and foster motherhood literature through publication and through live and online community engagement.

We publish an annual print journal of fine, sharp literary work centered on motherhood (in its 15th year) and we recently started a quarterly web-based journal that additionally focuses on general women’s issues.  Our website, http://www.momeggreview.com, contains literature and art, craft tips, interviews with established mother writers, reviews of books by mother writers, and relevant news. We sponsor our own readings and workshops, and participate in festivals and panels to help connect in person to mother writers.

In addition to the Mom Egg Review Group, in which contributors and readers can share their own news and concerns, we sponsor genre-based Facebook groups #takepoetry and #febflash.  We actively collaborate with other groups interested in mothers’ and women’s experiences, including the Museum of Motherhood, ProCreate Project (a UK-based artists collective that recently sponsored Mother House, an art residency for mothers with children), and others, and we do our best to disseminate information about publications and opportunities friendly to mother artists. We celebrate and value the work of our co-panelists, Pen Parentis, Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, and Mothers Always Write in nurturing mother writers, and the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, in supporting writers and mother-friendly small presses and litmags.

 


M.M. DeVoe is the founding director of Pen Parentis, a 501c3 nonprofit that provides resources to writers to help them stay on creative track after starting a family. She has an MFA from Columbia and is an award-winning writer of short fiction (with two kids). M.M. co-hosts a series of monthly literary salons in lower Manhattan featuring small groups of diverse writers who are also parents. Pen Parentis also runs a fellowship for parent writers.

J.P. Howard is the author of SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System), which was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She is the recipient of a 2016 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, VONA and Lambda Literary. JP curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published many literary journals. She is the author of Into Your Light and Announcing the Thaw, poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She is the Founder/Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine about motherhood.

Marjorie Tesser is the author of poetry chapbooks THE IMPORTANT THING IS (Firewheel Chapbook Award Winner) and The Magic Feather. She co-edited the anthologies Bowery Women and Estamos Aquí (Bowery Books) and Travellin’ Mama: Mothers, Motherhood and Travel (forthcoming from Demeter Press). She is the editor in chief of the literary journal Mom Egg Review.

 

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A Roundtable Discussion with David Ebenbach, Kathy Flann, West Moss, and Joselyn Lewis

Self-Authorship in the Writing Classroom: Helping Our Students Find Themselves

The world after college graduation—jobs, relationships, citizenship—demands a lot more from graduates than just knowledge and skills. Our students, if they’re going to thrive, are going to need some real self-awareness and the ability to make their own decisions. In order to get there, they’ll have to engage in a process of what psychologist Robert Kagan calls “self-authorship.” This means developing (in the words of education scholar Marcia Baxter Magolda) “the internal capacity to define one’s beliefs, identity, and social relations.” In other words, our students need to let go of the way that they’ve been defined by others and decide for themselves who they’re going to be in the world. Luckily, writing classes can be the perfect place for people to work toward becoming the authors of their lives, and teachers are in a great position to help.

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West Moss

When you were a student, did you have any academic experiences that were significant in your own process of self-authorship, by either hindering or spurring your efforts to define yourself?

David Ebenbach: In high school I took a creative writing class taught by a wonderful woman named Carole Nehez, and she did one of the most important things you can do for a person: she helped me find my voice. She helped her students in a number of different ways. First of all, she didn’t line us up in rows facing her at the front of the room; she put the chairs in a circle and we all sat in the circle together, which told us we all had important things to say, that we all could teach. Then, class conversations were free-wheeling and open and spontaneous, and she followed our lead when it was productive. One day, for example, it was raining outside and I asked her at the beginning of class if some of us could run around in the rain for a few minutes before settling into our chairs, and she let us do it. About half the class went, and we came back soaked and energized. But the most important thing was the writing, and particularly the journal writing. Mrs. Nehez required us to keep a journal, and encouraged us to write about anything and everything. She mandated a space for self-exploration. She said we had to do it, so we did.

Kathy Flann: The first experience I remember vividly related to writing and self-awareness is when I wrote a paper in high school about Julius Caesar, and the teacher accused me of plagiarizing it because it was so good. I was both insulted and flattered. I’d been going to Shakespeare plays with my parents since I was a child, and I’d had a lot of time to develop my own thoughts about them. I knew, from that accusation of being beyond my years, that I had come up with my own ideas. They weren’t canned. Even though it was a terrible experience, it was also an important moment. I often think of it when I teach. I remember how much one comment can affect someone.

West Moss: In one of my college lit classes, we were told to keep a journal of our thoughts about what we were reading. I met with my professor one day and he sat and read through my journal, quietly turning the pages. He hesitated and read something out loud to me that I had written. He said, “Is this YOUR idea?” I was confused and said that yes, it was. He got a tear in his eye and a big smile on his face. He sat forward and said, “West, what a brilliant insight.” I was eighteen and I burst into tears. It was as though someone had finally seen what I had suspected but had been unable to confirm until then: namely, that I had ideas that were worthwhile. This was a turning point in my sense of myself as a student and thinker, with ideas of my own to contribute to the larger discussion.

Joselyn Lewis: During the last semester of my senior year in college, I was writing a thesis as part of the graduation requirements in my major. The professor leading the thesis capstone seminar was a very established and respected faculty member in the department, someone I admired greatly and found to be an engaged and supportive educator, but also someone who intimidated me. I disagreed with his opinions at times, but struggled with confidence as to whether or not I had something of value to say and how to express my perspective to him. One day during a whole class discussion, while we were workshopping my classmate’s paper, I suggested that the main premise of her thesis was based on some mistaken cultural assumptions. When my professor supported my classmate’s position, the discussion turned into a direct debate with him and I realized I was very passionate about my take on the issues. I stood my ground and while he did not come around to my perspective, I left class shaking from having tried, but still convinced that I was right.

That afternoon, I had a scheduled check-in with my advisor where I relayed the events from class earlier in the day. He could hear the emotion in my voice and the importance of this argument to me. He did not tell me that he agreed with me or that he thought I was right, but for me, he did something even better. After he heard me out, the first thing he said was “Have you ever considered going to graduate school? I think you should.” Graduate school was actually not on my radar prior to that exchange, but my advisor’s reaction to me at that moment changed everything. I started seeing myself as someone who was capable of that level of academic work and as someone who had something to contribute. It was very significant.

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David Ebenbach

How can writing—and particularly creative writing—help people on their journey toward self-authorship?

Kathy Flann: I think a creative writing workshop is the one place where students really do make their own decisions about the work they produce. Typically, faculty are most sincere in those classes about the carte blanche to make the work what they want it to be, and students sense that sincerity. They know the work is “real” in the sense that it could potentially be read by people just like them—fans of fiction. So they take the work of craft very seriously. They think of themselves as “real” writers in ways they may not in other disciplines.

Joselyn Lewis: I think writing can be supportive of our process of identity development and self-authorship in a number of ways. Writing can create space to slow down. That change in pace between writing and other ways we might communicate about ourselves and interact with others allows for a space that is more conducive to self-reflection and self-analysis. Also, writing, and perhaps creative writing in particular, requires an attention to voice in a way that often encourages the writer to work on finding their voice, recognizing and owning what kind of voice one has and how one wants to use it.

David Ebenbach: Some writing is direct self-authorship. For example, memoir and poetry can be places where you try to get a grip on your own story and make sense of it, and come to conclusions about it. It’s almost the same case with fiction and playwriting if it’s thinly veiled autobiography. But that’s just the obvious stuff. Even fiction that has no direct correspondence to your own life can spur the process of self-authorship. Maybe you drop a character into a moral conundrum and work them through it and, in so doing, discover how you feel about that situation; maybe you just can’t stop writing about loss (or connection, or faith, or struggle, or whatever it is); maybe you let characters do things you would never dare to do (or think you would never dare to do). In each case you learn something about what matters to you. Writing allows you to talk about the world, or a world, anyway, and then you learn—by comparison, by contrast—about your own world.

West Moss: I think I answer this below.

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Kathy Flann

How can a teacher support the process of self-authorship?

Joselyn Lewis: From my experience, educators who are able to create intentional ways for students to connect academic material to their own lived experiences provide students with both powerful opportunities to further develop their own self-authorship and powerful learning experiences. Some faculty I work with do this by assigning writing assignments that explicitly ask students to bring themselves into conversation with course material—a faith autobiography for a religion class, or a weekly reflection journal, for example. The writing process is a supportive element as well as the sharing between student and teacher and what that sharing sets up in terms of the student feeling “seen” by the teacher. Another way to support the process of students’ self-authorship is to model or share experiences from our own trajectory toward self-authorship. It’s particularly helpful if teachers are willing to share some of the obstacles or difficulties in the process, so students can see the complexity, potential messiness, and non-linear nature of identity development and movement toward self-authorship.

Kathy Flann: What I do is spend the first 3-6 weeks, depending on the level of the student, assigning ungraded work. Every time the student says, “Did you like it? Did I do well on it?” I say “Do YOU like it?” I explain as many times as it takes that they’re not writing for me. I say, “If you don’t like your work, probably no one else will like it, either.” I use my own writing experiences as examples in class, so that they will understand that we are all writers. We are just at different points on our journeys. I love it the most when I sit side-by-side with students who’ve come to my office and I ask them questions, “What does this guy want? Does he have a job? What does he do? Who is his family? What did he do yesterday? Why?” etc. It’s fun to see the student grasp that the answers are there in the mind. I think they also see that they, the students, are the only ones with the answers to these questions. I can guide, but I can’t provide the answers.

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Joselyn Lewis

David Ebenbach: I think teachers can help students grow into themselves in two ways: by making space for the process and by challenging them to engage. Like Carole Nehez, my high school creative writing teacher, you can set up the classroom and in-class time to bring out voices—sitting in a circle, using first names, letting students do a lot of the talking—and you can use exercises that invite exploration: discussions based around student perspectives and experiences, journal-writing, reflection papers, writing assignments that ask them to tell childhood stories. In terms of writing exercises, I like to start with emotionally easy stuff (e.g., write a detailed physical description of a place you associate with your childhood) and then move to more fraught prompts (e.g., write a scene in which someone you really don’t like does something unexpectedly nice).

In some classes, I build up to an assignment called “Write the story you’re not allowed to write,” which I first encountered as a sentence in a Janet Burroway textbook and which I’ve elaborated on quite a bit. Some of the options for the assignment: “Write a fictionalized version of some true events that you are not supposed to reveal to the world….Write about something that is taboo for you….Don’t pick what’s taboo for others—go for what makes you squirm….Write sympathetically from the point of view of a protagonist who makes you genuinely uncomfortable. This would be the kind of person that secretly on some level you can relate to or might even wish to be, even though officially you completely disapprove of this kind of person.” Nobody is required to do this assignment—I give them an alternative—but almost everybody chooses to do it, and usually they find that they’re discovering important things, surviving those discoveries, growing from those discoveries, and, on top of that, writing the most promising thing they’ve written all semester long.

West Moss: There are ways to make the classroom feel safe for students to share their ideas, and to discover what they think about the world. Certainly listening carefully and giving genuine supportive responses is key, but also pushing them to write about their own worlds is often fruitful. In creative writing classes, I often begin class with brief (2-3 minute) in-class writing exercises, where I ask them to write about things they’ve noticed that morning, or interactions from years ago that they still think about. When shared, these things help build a community within the classroom, but they can also show beginning CW students that their own lives provide rich material for writing.

I have an assignment called “The Lies Our Characters Tell.” We read a short story together, something very short like John Cheever’s “Reunion,” for example, and look at how a particular character is lying (often to themselves) about themselves. For instance, the father in that story says that he cares about his son, but his actions show that he doesn’t. These small moments of dishonesty in characters can be revelatory for students, and demonstrate the kinds of inner conflicts we want our characters to display.

Next, students make a list of the stories they told about themselves when they last met someone new. What clothes did they wear and what “story” were they trying to tell with those clothes? Were they trying to look sexy, athletic, wealthy? Did they want to look like they didn’t care in some way, while actually caring very deeply about what people thought of them? Could they see the inner-conflict inherent in some of their own choices? Then I ask them to write down some of the actual stories they tell about themselves. Do they lead with their summer in France, or do they lead with their most recent awful break-up? Do they find stories to tell that make it clear they come from money, or do they prefer to immediately disclose that they were adopted, and why?

Then they’re asked to reflect on what these clashes between who they really are and who they portray themselves to be tell them about themselves. Does it reveal that they want something they don’t feel they can have? Does it reveal their senses of inadequacy or mastery in some way? One’s sense of identity, and one’s own understanding of small, potent conflicts in their own world, are essential underpinnings of compelling writing, but perhaps also of being a full human being.

These kinds of insights lead to several good outcomes. First, beginning CW students often feel they have to rely on large conflicts (explosions, wars, the death of a protagonist) in order to build tension in their stories. These exercises show them the kinds of small tensions that are real and universal, and that will help them to build characters that their readers will care about. More importantly, though, they help students in their own awareness of “self,” which is a critical sense for writers to develop. These are the kinds of tools, too, that I like to think I am giving them to use in life in general…the skill of reflection, of “noticing,” and a sense that their lives, and ideas, are thrilling and complex and moving enough to be at the center of their writing, and of their consciousness.


David Ebenbach is the author of six books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, including, most recently, the poetry collection We Were the People Who Moved and the story collection Into the Wilderness. He is a Professor of the Practice in Creative Writing at Georgetown University’s Center for Jewish Civilization and the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.

Kathy Flann‘s short story collection, Get a Grip, won the George Garrett Award and was released by Texas Review Press. A previous collection, Smoky Ordinary, won the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award and was published by Snake Nation Press. For five years, she taught creative writing at the University of Cumbria in England, where she created mini-courses for the BBC’s Get Writing website and served on the board of the National Association of Writers in Education. She is an associate professor at Goucher College in Maryland.

Joselyn Lewis is an Associate Director for Inclusive Teaching and Learning Initiatives at Georgetown University’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. She leads the Engelhard Project and the Doyle Faculty Fellowship Program, which promote curricular and pedagogical innovation on issues of well-being, diversity, and inclusive pedagogy.

West Moss teaches creative writing at William Paterson University and at Gotham in New York City. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s, The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Salon.com, Brevity, and elsewhere. Her collection of short stories, The Subway Stops at Bryant Park, was published by Leapfrog Press.

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2016’s 30 Most Transformative Essays

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We asked our staff, editors, and authors to name the essays, published in 2016, that were most transformative and significant to them. The following essays represent a sampling of favorites.

We hope you find them as exciting, inspiring, and essential as we do.

A Tape Doesn’t Change a Goddamn Thing
by Karrie Higgins for Full Grown People

“I can no longer distinguish between the Trump campaign and sexual abuse. I can no longer distinguish between the past and the present.

just, adj:

based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.

just, adv:

barely, by a little; very recently, the immediate past

I can no longer distinguish between tattling on my hometown’s Jerry Sandusky and voting for Hillary.

I am going to talk to that reporter. I am going to name names. I am going to say what I want to say. I am going to let the words fall out.

How We See One Another: Our Guest Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

by the editors of Brevity

“I prefer compression.  I like the way compression and short forms are more possible, more available, for writers in straitened circumstances.  If you’re doing manual labor all day, or taking care of a child or elderly person, your mind can be turning over sentences and paragraphs; you can revise and revise and revise.  But you can’t hold long texts in your head—at least, most of us can’t.  Then, when you have five or ten minutes at the end of the day, you can write down what you’ve been composing in your head.  You can produce small gemlike pieces far more readily than long texts, which require—at least in my experience—more time, more solitude, more peace than poor people are usually afforded.”

But We Never ask Why Rapists get to be Anonymous Gorillas

by an anonymous contributor for Entropy

“Public conversations relentlessly revolve around the well-being of the rapist and not us: Whether or not he is believed. Whether or not someone is oppressing him by accusing him. Whether or not he was abused, too, and whether or not he was troubled with depression, oppression, or social problems. Public conversations demand we take every last step to understand and be empathetic to his psychology, even though he is an autonomous adult, fully capable of making the choice not to rape.”

When you Handle Poison

by Jennifer Tamayo for Mice Magazine

“Sitting with a group of women and sharing, one-by-one, our stories of abuse and assault and harassment in NYC’s poetry circles was upsetting though, at moments, empowering too. Voices cracking open a room saying you are not alone. And yet, later, walking home from the meetings, living with those accounts while doing dishes or taking the train, I felt and feel demoralized. Of course you are not alone. The proof is your bodies. There are many of them. Many more of them than you even know about or will know about.”

You Will Find me in the Starred Sky

by Keema Waterfield for Brevity

“You break teeth and dislocate your jaw in your sleep. Grinding, your dentist says. But: There might be more to it, your hypnotherapist says when you go in to quit smoking. So you regress to your three-year-old self and remember the first time you bit down. You were waiting for Ray to come back. You were ready to bite his throat out. Ready to protect yourself and your sister, one year younger, and you knew he would kill you for it. He never came back, but there you were with your jaw clamped ever after.”

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On Coupling: An Inventory

by Melissa Mathewson for Guernica Magazine

“I look to animals for proof that monogamy is an unnatural arrangement. I want their stories to align with mine, to find that they wander and digress so I can say, “See, I’m not wrong! All animals like to screw around.” It’s difficult to work out this complicated mess of biology, emotion, sexual freedom. There must be some kind of instinctive or innate justification that what’s real and true is our fundamental nature to roam and multi-partner.”

Not Wanting Kids is Entirely Normal

by Jessica Valenti for The Atlantic

“Today, American women have more public images of themselves than that of a housewife. We see ourselves depicted in television, ads, movies, and magazines (not to mention relief!) as politicians, business owners, intellectuals, soldiers, and more. But that’s what makes the public images of total motherhood so insidious. We see these diverse images of ourselves and believe that the oppressive standard Friedan wrote about is dead, when in fact it has simply shifted. Because no matter how many different kinds of public images women see of themselves, they’re still limited. They’re still largely white, straight upper-middle-class depictions, and they all still identify women as mothers or non-mothers.”

I Am Not Muslim But

by Ayşe Papatya Bucak for Asteri(x) Journal

“My mother is American; my father is Turkish. He is not a Muslim either. If they reopen and we are taken at least we will be in the camps together. My brother, too. I suppose I should wish for their freedom, but instead I wish for their company.

I don’t speak Turkish or Arabic, don’t know how to pray, don’t know how to be anything other than American; internment will be its own foreign country. But maybe I’ll have a lot of time to read, to study Turkish, to learn to pray.”

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The Mule Deer

by Debbie Weingarten for Vela Magazine

“Perhaps because I am an almost-mother, I do not think before scaling the fence. I am running into the open desert surrounding the farm, stepping across deep grooves the water has cut. The creosote bushes wear layers of sparkling silt. By the time I reach the clearing, the dogs have torn a hole in the side of the baby mule deer. Her round glassy eyes are wide, and she is screaming. The sound is almost human. She goes silent when she sees me.

Our dogs loll their pink tongues at me, sides heaving, drunk on the chase and the catch. They are saying, Aren’t you proud of us? Aren’t you? The alpha female, a gangly white giantess, stands nearest to the deer. Our two beloved mutts stand a few feet back in the brush, watching.”

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(Source: Bill Strain, via Vela Magazine)

I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump

by Jonna Ivin for Stir Journal

“I understood their fear and frustration. I’ve spent a great deal of my life living in poverty. It’s scary being poor, worrying that one parking ticket would mean I couldn’t buy groceries, or deciding whether I should see a dentist about a toothache or pay my trailer park fee. It’s humiliating and terrifying, but sitting around and crying about it isn’t an option because we know that the only thing more pathetic than someone living in poverty is someone living in poverty and crying about it. How many times have we been told to get a job, or that if we just worked harder we could improve our situation? Work harder. Work harder. Work harder. American society has made it perfectly clear: if you are poor, it’s your own damn fault.”

Arizaboesu

by Elizabeth Miki Brina for Hippocampus Magazine

“My mother’s name is Kyoko, which means “respectful” or “apricot” or “echo” or “from heaven” in Japanese depending on how it’s written. My mother was born in Okinawa in 1948, three years after the end of WWII, three years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, three years after the horrific Battle of Okinawa that destroyed one quarter of the island’s population and ninety percent of its buildings and infrastructure.”

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Marilynne Robinson talks religion, fear and the American spirit

by Michael Schulson for Salon

You write sincere books. What does it mean to be a sincere novelist?

I don’t know, I’ve never been called that before.

You’ve never been called that? Okay, am I totally misreading you here?

I tend to mean what I say. I think there is a self-protective impulse that takes the form of cynicism very broadly in the culture now. You make yourself vulnerable by suggesting that there’s anything you actually believe in.

People talk about American values. Yes, there are American values, things like democracy and generosity and so on. If we cannot say that these things are possible or characteristic, we don’t have them to orient ourselves by.”

US author Robinson smiles during an interview in central London
(Source: Reuters/Dylan Martinez, via Salon.)

Poetry Betrays Whiteness

by Lucas De Lima

“To inherit this blood-soaked history means many things.  As a writer, I need to go beyond the narratives of immigration or U.S. imperialism that are expected of me.  But neither is it enough to acknowledge my colonial lineage.  The guilt of proximity to whiteness is not enough.  White guilt is no recipe for aspiring race traitors.  What I need is something most of my elders don’t have.  I’m talking about a blueprint for solidarity and transformation.”

Gratitude is my Terrain: Maybe:”

by Renée E. D’Aoust for Sweet

“Sample of my daily list:

○    Do Chris Pei QiGong
○    Post review of Valerie Fioravanti’s book Garbage Night at the Opera
○    Faccio i compiti per il corso d’Italiano
○    Walkies
○    Finish Rain Taxi book review of Sarah Einstein’s Mot
○    Write
○    Grade papers from ENGL 101 & 102
○    Buy plane tkt MXP > AMS > MSP > GEG
○    Drink 2 cups of coffee max
○    Cuddle Tootsie”

My President was Black

by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic

“In our conversations, Obama said he didn’t doubt that there was a sincerely nonracist states’-rights contingent of the GOP. And yet he suspected that there might be more to it. “A rudimentary knowledge of American history tells you that the relationship between the federal government and the states was very much mixed up with attitudes towards slavery, attitudes towards Jim Crow, attitudes towards antipoverty programs and who benefited and who didn’t,” he said.”

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(Source: Pete Souza / White House, via The Atlantic)

Apocalypse Logic

by Elissa Washuta for The Offing

“From 1953 to 1968, the U.S. government tried to wipe out some tribes by ending their relationships—withdrawing federal recognition of these tribes as sovereigns, ending the federal trust responsibility to those tribes, allowing land to be lost to non-Natives. The tribes terminated, for the most part, were those the U.S. government considered to be successful because of the wealth within their tribal lands: timber, oil, water, and so on. Terminating a tribe meant fully forsaking all treaty responsibilities to them.”

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(Source: “Aunt Virginia Miller” by Edward Curtis, 1910 courtesy of Library of Congress, via The Offing.)

Collection

by Chelsey Clammer for Hobart

“The concept of dust collecting on ashes intrigues me. Dead human skin cells accumulating on dead human body ashes. Fascinating. Mirroring my reaction to dust, I become curious about the story of what’s inside that little wooden box—the ashes, their abstraction. What parts of my dad—his body—I now keep near me. This time, my intrigue isn’t rooted symbolism or metaphor. This isn’t about religious beliefs or spirituality. It’s not about the cost of burial, or where we can go and what we can do to remember our dead.”

On Slaughter and Praying: An Essay in Two Parts

by Carol Ann Davis for The Georgia Review

“Again we’ve dragged the boys to midtown Manhattan, the both of them inclined instead toward the park or street food, toward anything else, but we go to Picasso Sculpture at the MOMA, explaining that rather than the flat paintings they critique as not as good as what we do they’ll be seeing sculpture, ideas made plastic. Some of the pieces, I’ve heard or read somewhere, are just folded paper napkins Picasso made to please a bored sister at a restaurant, the kind of thing the boys do when they’re feeling generous. I say this partly to entice and partly to annoy them. We’re inside an ongoing debate about the efficacy of modern art in general; their interest in winning it means they will be quiet through the rooms, assembling arguments for the drive home.”

What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone

by Heather Plett for Uplift Magazine

“To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.”

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Consider the Lobster Mushroom: being a brief theory of the craft of creative nonfiction

by Heidi Czerwiec for Brevity

 “Remind yourself of two things:

1.If you can’t deal with the mushroom now, it will come back. It will always come back, popping up whether you want it to or no, because it’s part of a larger system, mycelia feeding on what’s rotten, what lurks, always, beneath the surface. If you decide in the future you’re ready to pluck it and make something of it, it will be there, mushrooming.

2. You don’t have to reveal the source of your mushrooms. Few enthusiasts do, going to great lengths to conceal their sites by lying, covering their tracks. But most are happy to share the fruits of their labors, the fruited mushroom, the finished product, however fraught. You can share, without sharing everything.”

Watching And Reading About White People Having Sex Is My Escape

by Esther Wang for Buzzfeed

“I still don’t know what drew me in. It could’ve been boredom: I was a voracious reader, having little else to do but read, as my parents eschewed things like television, pop music, and movies — not out of any sort of cultural elitism or skinflint immigrant desire to deprive their children of as many opportunities to waste time as possible, but simply because they were too broke and too tired from working 12- and 15-hour days to think that we might want those distractions.”

Coming Apart

by Rebecca Solnit for Harper’s Magazine

“For many longtime residents of the Mission District, the fires, the evictions, the exploding housing prices, and the police killings of brown, black, poor, and homeless locals are not arbitrary events. They are instead related forces, all meant to drive out people like them. The anguish is so intense that five people camped in front of the Mission Police Station this spring, refusing to eat a bite, as part of a protest they called Hunger for Justice. The fast, which obliged throngs of restaurant and bar patrons to walk past starving, outraged people for several weeks, took place almost directly between Foodhall and the former food hall.”

I was Raped / I was Battered

by Kelly Sundberg and Melissa Ferrone

“Survey of the Damage:

One ceramic bowl shattered.

One busted foot.

One marriage over.

One fatherless son.

One homeless mother.

One career ended (hers, not his).

One yellow flier with a list of services available to victims.

One phone call to the community domestic-violence shelter.

One email from the director of residential services. She wanted her parking permit back.”

A Politics of Mere Being

by Carl Phillips for Poetry Magazine

“There are countless aspects to a self; race and sexual orientation are only two of them, it seems to me, neither the least nor the most 
important. It’s more accurate to say there’s a constant shifting of 
hierarchy, depending on any given moment in experience. Am I a gay black man when roasting a chicken at home for friends? Sure. But that’s not what I’m most conscious of at the time. Am I necessarily, then, stripped of political resonance at that moment? Or is not the sharing of food with others a small social contract analogous to the contract of giving and taking — of interaction — that we call citizenship in a democratic society? Is this a stretch? Can we only be political when we are speaking to specific issues of identity, exclusion, injustice?”

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(Source: Armando Veve, via Poetry Magazine.)

“All the Fierce Tethers

by Lia Purpura for the New England Review

“Often, however, the most intricate systems are identified first by way of their ruin. One comes to know them only briefly in their magnificence, before news of their loss takes up its platform, then overtakes the conversation—and rightly, since the conversation is finally urgent.

The snowshoe hare once lived by a system perfectly emplaced, a fluent method, ardent, elegant, brimmed with muscle, cunning, and flight.

Stay with me now. I’ll slow it way down.”

Of Mice and Memory

by Staci Schoenfeld for The Manifest Station

“When you get home (after a stop at the bakery for cupcakes), you open the package and pull open the back of the trap, and proceed to slather it with the name-brand peanut butter you have always loved. Only the real thing for this Midwestern mouse. If you were in San Francisco still, you would have gone for the organic stuff. After you maneuver the back panel back into place, a feat requiring more intense hand-eye coordination than you would have expected, you set the trap on the stove where you last saw the poop and you wait.

You expect the mouse will be caught that evening.”

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Untethered from Product or Object: An Interview with Diane Seuss

by Emilia Phillips for 32Poems

“When I sit to write, my body/mind seems to naturally visit this pool, and others like it, spring fed sites that have garnered the energy of archetype through years of revisiting. Even if I am not writing that scene, it primes me for a dive, and I guess, for me, that is the source of everything, where the unbearable gives birth to language and imagination. Maybe that’s the baby my father’s ghost is carrying. This is probably less muscle memory than the figurative poetic muscle you reference. It represents a memory site of complex, incompatible feelings—tenderness, resistance, fear, love, horror, sweetness—that the language in poems can approach.”

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid

by Rufi Thorpe for Vela Magazine

“It was pure joy to see my friend after so long. Just laying eyes on him made me glad; he had grown a Freddy Mercury mustache and was wearing a weird child’s size sweater and I loved every inch of him. Out of our mouths flew sentences too fast to filter, so desperate were we to tell each other everything, to make clear what had happened in the last ten years. I found myself, as I crammed my thighs into my shapewear, saying, ‘Oh, well, I love my husband, he is the perfect man for me and it was love at first sight, but I would never willingly enter into this state of servitude again.'”

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(Source: Siestas, via Vela.)

Literary Juneteenth (or Why I Left The Offing)

by Casey Rochetau for The Offing

“Later that same day, I went out to dinner with two other black women poets, one of whom had invited Darcy to join us. I was wearing a shirt that reads “Ratchetness as Praxis” and, in all likelihood, talking too loudly in mixed company — go figure. At a audible downslope in the conversation, someone asked what praxis meant. I offered an adequate definition that included a Foucault reference, but Darcy still insisted on looking it up on her phone. I guess she thought I would wear a shirt emblazoned with something I couldn’t define, or maybe she assumed my field of expertise was ratchetness. Her behavior may sound minor, but evidentiary information sometimes does. In that moment, I barely batted an eye. In fact, it was only upon reflecting on all the instances that led up to the tweet, and my subsequent resignation on Twitter, that it even struck me as out of pocket.”

Black in Middle America

by Roxane Gay for Brevity 

“Friends in cities have long asked me how I do it—spending year after years in these small towns that are so inhospitable to blackness. I say I’m from the Midwest, which I am, and that I have never lived in a big city, which is also true. I say that the Midwest is home even if this home does not always embrace me, and that the Midwest is a vibrant, necessary place. I say I can be a writer anywhere and as an academic, I go where the work takes me. Or, I said these things. Now, I am simply weary. I say, “I hate it here,” and a rush of pleasure fills me. I worry that I can’t be happy or feel safe anywhere. But then I travel to places where my blackness is unremarkable, where I don’t feel like I have to constantly defend my right to breathe, to be. I am nurturing a new dream, of a place I already think of as home—bright sky, big ocean. I know the where and the why and even the who might be waiting there. I just need to say when.”

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(Source: Chris Strong, via Chicago Magazine.)

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An Interview with Kelly Andrews, Editor of Pretty Owl Poetry

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Jackie Vega:
How did you come to be involved with Pretty Owl Poetry?

Kelly Andrews: Pretty Owl Poetry was founded in 2013 by myself, Gordon Buchan, and B. Rose (Huber) Kelly. At that time, I was just starting my MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh and was involved with the program’s online literary journal, Hot Metal Bridge, as a reader, but I wanted more experience as an editor. I reached out to Gordon, with whom I had taken creative writing classes as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and Rose, who I had befriended while she still lived in Pittsburgh (she’s now in New Jersey). I had relationships with both in terms of sharing work and giving/receiving feedback, either via e-mail (w/Gordon) or through a low-key workshop setting (w/Rose). Though we were all IUP alums, Gordon and Rose didn’t know each other before Pretty Owl, and Rose and I met post-graduation through a mutual friend. All of that to say, they both were people who I trusted as writers and editors, whose taste in literature was similar to my own, and who had different skill sets than I do. From conception of the journal, we’ve worked collaboratively in all that we do when it comes to Pretty Owl, including decisions about how best to move the journal forward in the literary world. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work with Gordon and Rose on a journal we started from the ground up—they’re both such talented friends.

 JV: How would you describe your poetry aesthetic, and how do you bring that to the publication?

 KA: I’m mostly drawn to gritty poems with substance. Ones where the emotional motivation of the speaker is believable, though the poems needn’t be set in reality or be realistic, if that makes sense. Gage Ledbetter’s “Fully Drawn, Steady Breaths” from Issue 9 is one of my favorite examples of this. The imaginative space in which the speaker exists with their mother and the canyon is exquisite: “Your mother taught the canyon how to shoot a bow, being a champion, herself. The canyon felled entire flocks of birds and you ate well and, after, the canyon taught your mother how to reply the day you told her you have layers of colored sediment and fields of corn right next to one another but no gender.” I love that the speaker is grappling with gender identity in a surreal world. And that there are so many unexpected moves in that poem (“And your mother and the canyon were accused of being lesbians, like a lot.”)

I also love poetry that is inventive and creative in its use of language. One poem that comes to mind is Ryan Downum’s “Painfeel” from Issue 7. That poem has so many beautifully created words like “fieldbloom,” “nightmouth,” and “bloodloom.” I remember how excited I felt when reading that submission because it was like nothing I had read before. That feeling is rare as an editor and overwhelming in the best possible way. And I love poetry that is fraught with complicated emotion. Mostly, I want to feel things when I read poetry. I love when a poem (or any art form) can make me cry—or even better, cry and laugh in the same space.

JV: What do you value the most in poetry?

 KA: There’s so much that poetry can do for people. Writing poetry completely changed my life course—after graduating high school I was working multiple jobs and partying nonstop, with no real plan in place for what I wanted to do with my life. But then I joined a poetry workshop, and the encouragement I received from my mentors, Susanna Fry and Jessica Lauffer, really pushed me to apply to college. My future before taking that workshop was very uncertain and bleak. I can’t imagine what my life would look like now if it weren’t for their belief in me as a writer, if I hadn’t fallen in love with writing poetry.

More broadly, I value how poetry can affect people—it can be comforting in times of grief or pain; it can be an expression of love; it can evoke empathy; the list is endless of the things that poetry can do for people.

JV: What are some of the challenges of being an editor for an online publication? On the flip side, what are some benefits?

KA: One of the biggest challenges for us as an online journal is making sure our website is easily readable both online and on mobile devices. And because technology changes so often, nearly every year Gordon has revamped the look of the website in some way. Initially we started off with the work embedded into a web page, then moved to having it in a PDF. There is talk of maybe moving to a different platform like Issuu in the future, but that is probably quite a ways off.

The benefit of being an online journal is that we can reinvent our look/platform fairly often. Also, we can push our deadlines back if need be, whereas if we were a print journal, we’d have a much stricter printing schedule. And of course, the general cost of running an online publication is quite low. Since switching to Submittable, we’ve given readers the option to make a small donation with their submission if they’d like, but this is not required. The money is used to cover costs like our domain name/website and food/drink for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh. I love that we can share work with the world without having to charge readers a subscription fee.

JV: What can we look forward to from Pretty Owl Poetry in the next year?

KA: We have a great lineup already for our winter 2016 issue that will be released in early January, and we’re still reading submissions for that issue right now. Gordon just finished another revamp of the website’s homepage. I’m hoping to get some readers lined up for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh, with the possibility of some out-of-town contributors making an appearance. And hopefully, lots more great poems, art, and fiction!


You can read Pretty Owl Poetry here.

andrewsKelly Lorraine Andrews is an assistant managing editor for the American Economic Association and a recent MFA graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of the chapbooks The Fear Archives (Two of Cups Press, forthcoming), My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming), I Want To Eat So Many Kinds of Cake With You and Mule Skinner (both out from Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Prick of the Spindle, Weave Magazine, and elsewhere. You can read more about her past and future publications and look at a slideshow of her cats at her website.

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Jackie Vega is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University’s Writing program currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During her time at GVSU, she served as Editor-in-Chief for fishladder, their literature and arts journal. Her poetry has been featured in Brainchildand on WYCE’s Electric Poetry radio program. She intends to pursue an MFA in (you guessed it) poetry.

 

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