Thursday, June 23, 2011


What one learns at one of these places is that the rest of the world must be mostly removed from one's life, or the intrusion of external forces can derail the train of thought and leave one feeling overwhelmed. In this case, the impending pressure of a visit to relatives, driving all over the state of Oregon and trying to fit everyone in is making me lose just a bit of my senses. What is a girl to do? I suppose I shall settle for writing poetry and try to plan Sunday morning as I hastily rush about. Currently, the schedule is: Twenty minute drive to drop off roommate. Another twenty to thirty minutes to meet up for coffee. Say, one hour. Fit in Salem and Oregon city without any clue as to how far apart those are and which one it would behoove me to visit first. Stay in Salem for three hours and Oregon City for as long as it takes to get through, probably, some food and conversation. Then, drive four hours down (or so) to Waldport. Spend two hours with relatives and spend night on couch. In the morning, complete trip to Bandon and collapse thoroughly exhausted, sleep for two and a half days, and drive back up the coast to Beaverton, stay the night, and leave early in the morning for home, sleep, a nine and a half hour shift on Friday, and a half-day shift on Saturday, drive to Bigfork, grab a salad, and cruise on down to house sit, locking the doors and crawling into bed with the kitties. Life of a college student, right? OR: Twenty minute drive to drop off roommate. Another twenty to thirty minutes to meet up for coffee, stay for, say, one hour. Drive to Waldport. Spend remainder of day with relatives and sleep on their couch. Drive to Bandon, sit on beach and read Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy with a desperation befitting a book worm who has not had a chance to read for a week and a half or more. Sleep. Stay one more day, sleep. Leave early in the morning and swing by Salem on the way to town, ask Uncle from Oregon City to meet for dinner, drive to Beaverton afterward, maybe get coffee with Unkyl again early in the morning if he's alive enough, and head home. Plan B sounds a little better.

I am not a great planner...However, I am a good note taker, and these are the tentative reviews I wrote for todays events. These I wrote up over the dinner hour and therefore will not be spending an hour typing in. Look how efficient I am!

Presenter: Ben Percy
Title: Get a Job – The Importance of Work in Prose and Poetry
Beginning writers often forget or miss the fact that the way we see the world revolves around the work we do. Whether we like it or not, work dominates out lives and in the service of point of view, metaphor, and other important elements of the story, we must take some time to focus on that character’s work.
For instance, a supermodel might walk into a room, and what she notices might be designer label clothing, the way the light falls on her, or every reflective surface in the room from dark windows to mirrors to a shiny knife on the table. Seeing a character from the point of view of their job can also help the writer avoid cliché writing. The truck driver doesn’t describe his laughter as a hollow, booming sound, and the model wouldn’t say that she is stuck up, or only interested in fashion.
Point of view can also be affected by a character’s job. Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came to the End is written in the second person plural, indicating that the personal identities of the people working in the corporate office in the novel have been lost.  Point of view corrals description, and job determines the speaker’s point of view. Percy gave, as example, the voices of piano movers in Kevin McIvory’s story ‘The People Who Own Pianos.’ The piano movers in this story describe the spaces they move through in relation to what it is like to move a piano through them: narrow hallways, stairs, the inconveniently placed furniture, and so on.
Obviously, a writer may want to cast a character in a particular job in a field they have not experienced. In this case, research is essential. The writer must go beyond the internet and the library and spend time in the environment she wants to bring to life. It is essential to know the lingo—to learn how something is said and when. She must discover how that character would actually think and perceive the world.
In my writing, I have skirted professions for the most part, as I find that working in a restaurant or being a bank teller would be mundane. I see now that, boring as they may be, my characters can’t all work in a bookstore or be well off and not have to have a job. That’s wishful thinking. The job is real life.
Presenter: Patricia Smith
Title: Where My Notebook Has Gone
Most writers keep notebooks or files of delicious phrases, scenes, or dialogue we have seen or heard and save those notebooks for use later on. Patricia Smith showed us her little memo pad and told us every time she fills one she puts it in a bin to go back through later when she’s looking for inspiration or just the right phrase for a poem. But once everything is written down and we have an idea of what we want to write, where do we go from there?
What is written down in the notebook will usually recall the specific scene, but from there the poet or writer should think about the best way to approach that scene. For instance, Patricia told us about a carnival she went to once, and there were several people lined up to go bungee jumping. She wanted to write a poem about the carnival, the bungee jumping, and the people willing to pay twenty-five dollars to do it. She paid the money to do the jump in order to be able to write about the experience having tried it herself, but that perspective was not unique compared to the experience of all the other people who had tried the bungee jumping as well. She looked at the people lined up and tried to put herself in each of their shoes to find the best perspective, and wound up writing about the Carnie managing the ride.
Patricia said to “Look for the unexpected entry point” into the poem—the unique perspective nobody else is trying out. I have been experimenting with this in my own writing already and it is difficult. But it yields interesting results. It is exciting to abandon my own shoes and climb into someone else’s. I’m often surprised by how well they fit.

Presenter: Ira Sukrungruang
Title: Obsessions
I enjoyed this talk because it dealt with how to write about the things that nag you. Some stories and poems just resurface and resurface, begging to be written about multiple times. How do you figure out what it is that wants to be written, and how do you figure out how to write it best?

Ira called these stories and poems our personal obsession. We each have subjects we want to discover more about. These obsessions haunt us, coming back to the page no matter how many times we may try to get away from them. He told us about his own personal obsession, writing about obesity. There is a memory he cannot get out of his mind, and he read us a poem, short story, and personal essay he had progressively written in an attempt to set that memory free. He told us that he did manage to capture that memory with the truth, but the haunting feeling which had been following him was guilt about the truth of the memory. Even writing the event down could not release him from that guilt, though it eased those feelings.
Ira told us to explore what our obsession is, and write about it as much and as differently as we need to in order to discover what that memory or desire wants to tell us. He said that we “can’t come to terms with or figure out obsession. You just find ways to keep writing about it.” He told us that the stories or poems, the topics we are obsessed about will never be able to offer us closure. But being writers, it is our responsibility to give those stories the time they want, and try to learn what they are teaching us.

 So there you have it, three hours of my day in a nutshell. It's a mighty large nut, but then, so am I, right? Now I plan to sit down and prop my eyelids open with toothpicks in order to complete at least one of the assignments Kwame Dawes gave us. Montana time, it is less than a minute until bedtime...Hopefully in this last week that I'm here (Or actually more like the last three days I'm here, I don't forsee it happening until then) I'll be able to reset myself to home time so I won't be late for work on Friday. That's the plan, we'll see how it goes.
Today was the last day of workshops. Ellen Bass signed my book (and said "For Hannah, With admiration for your fine poetry. So looking forward to working more together. xo"). Talk about the way to kick off a correspondence semester. She complimented the book, said she admired it, and was surprised to learn I'd helped put it together but seemed quite pleased. She is such a sweet, generous person and I'm so excited for the semester. Tomorrow is our meeting to finalize my study plan. That's the part where we decide what dates our packets are going to be sent to one another, and what each packet will contain (i.e. four poems, two reading commentaries, cover letter, who-knows-what-else). We also hammer down just what I"ll be reading this semester. I've put down several books that I've heard about at this residency like The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, and Walking Light by Stephen Dunn, along with poets such as Billy Collins and Mark Doty. Those are, of course, in addition to the poets I had already marked out like Poe, Frost, Bishop, Levertov, Rilke, Strand, and so-on. I'm so excited to see what this semester will do for my poetry. I keep hearing that Ellen is very attached to revision, which is great because I can really use the help and encouragement to revise. I finally am ok with revision, it took me about three years to come to appreciate it, but now I want to know some of the things to look for. This residency has really helped with that, too, focusing on spare language, techniques to discover more in the poems, what sorts of things should be blatantly stated and what should not, and so-on. I don't know nearly enough and I'm certain she'll have a lot to say, but she just seems so down-to-earth and she writes the type of poetry that I'd like to be able to come closer to. So yep, I think it'll be a great semester.
I think, though, that when I come home I'll need to get a second job to support the coffee habit I suspect I'll be starting...I've bought coffee four times this week which is actually pretty good. I didn't drink any coffee for two weeks before I came hoping to make the caffeine that much more stimulating for my drive over. Problem was, I couldn't find a single coffee shop in a little town between Coeur D'Alene and Portland. I could barely find a Subway for lunch! I admit to feeling just a little disappointed. So, I bought a huge iced tea at Subway in Tri-Cities and made the best of it. I tell you what though, Thursday morning I'm getting coffee with or without a coffee buddy. ...It would just be so much nicer to have one. Still, we'll see where that goes.
And now, I'm off to academic things. Or bed, whichever one sinks its teeth into me first. Good night all, see some of you soon, some of you sooner, and some of you not for a very long time.
~Hannah Mae

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