Saturday, June 25, 2011

Packing it in

Today was jam packed with stuff. Probably no more than the first few, but everyone is getting tired. By the time we got to a talk on why to read and write Science Fiction I was just about holding my eyes open with my fingers. It doesn't help when the speaker sort of has a droning voice...

Not going to post a lot tonight. I used the time I was going to use for this to pack most of my stuff and talk to my brother a bit which I only really get to do once in a blue moon. I figured I'd pack most of the way tonight to get my stuff into some semblance of order so that I can put the majority of it in my car and Sunday I can get up, grab my backpack or duffel, whatever is left, and leave. I want to take out as early as possible.

Today I met with my advisor which was really nice and a lot of fun. We got my study plan pretty much nailed down. I just need her signature (I had to type it up after we talked) and then I can turn it in. I also need to get some mailers for her to send the manuscripts back to me, but I think I may have to do that either at the beginning of the week or as soon as I get back. I'm toying with the idea of getting a P.O. Box because the post office thinks it's a fun game to give me half my mail at the house and return the other half to whoever sent it saying that there is no such person at that address. And since that happened with the information from the Student Assistance Foundation, I'm a bit leery about risking it with MFA packets. But I also don't want to wait that long to get her the packets since I won't be able to do that until the first (open a P.O. box), and my first packet is due to her on the tenth...we'll see.

Anyways, we picked out some great books and some great books of poetry. She told me that if the exploratory books I had listed were too dense, or if there were a few chapters or essays that didn't make sense or appeal to me, to skip over them and just go through and find what will be helful to me. She said she could tell I was a motivated person, so she trusted me to know what I needed, and what I wasn't ready for yet. She gave me some suggestions on other poets and how to read them and some title suggestions for authors I had already chosen. She also said the plan is pretty flexible, so let her know if I thought anything needed to change. I signed up to send her 4 new poems, 4 revisions, and 2 or 3 reading commentaries in each packet, so I'm definitely going to have to knuckle down. Nobody is going to be seeing much of me for a good long time, that's for sure. So, I love you all but if I more or less disappear until the end of November, it's nothing you did. I'm just neck deep in language, lol.

Today I went to three talks, and I'll give very short summaries here, just from what I remember off the top of my head.

David St. John followed in a similar vein to the talk on obsession we had yesterday. He compared the poet's pursuit of writing to Jimmy Stewart's detective character in Hitchcock's Vertigo. (Which I need to go order up on Netflix). He said that every poet has something in their lives they want to write about, but the solution, the closure of that event escapes us. Stewart's character was driven to solve the mystery he was confronted with, but at the same time he was unable to do so because of the traumatic falls he had witnessed, and been on the verge of. The psychological inability inhibited his pursuit of the answer to the mystery plaguing him. So, the poet is unable to fully see into the event, trauma, tragedy, or what have you which wants to be written about. The interest in the movie, then, becomes about Stewart's inner struggle, and the process of his discoveries, rather than the actual solution of the mystery. In our writing, the process of attempting to write about whatever obsesses us is where the actual poetry lies. And whether we can think of a satisfying ending or conclusion to the poem or story we are writing, the mystery itself will never truly be solved. But through the process of our work, showing our reader what we are thinking and experiencing on the page, the reader can see that struggle, that turmoil, and relate it to struggles in their own lives.

I had a much more eloquent explanation of that talk to my roommate earlier, and when I was done we both wished we'd recorded it. I'm pretty sure it made much more sense.

After that talk, we sat in on a 'roundtable' with Patricia Smith. All of us were trying to figure out exactly how to start, so we decided that she would just start talking and we could interject with questions. I will tell you something, that woman is a riveting speaker. We listened to her tell us about how she started in the slam poetry scene, meeting in bars in Chicago with other poets just to read whatever they'd written, slam competitions where they actually sat down in the building and wrote out responses to whatever was just said by another poet, and when it was their turn to compete again they retaliated with another poem. It went from that to discussing the schism between slam poetry and intellectual poetry, and how those boundaries began to be blurred for her when one of her poems, 'just' a slam poem she'd scribbled down, was published in a journal. She went on to talk about the meeting of the two worlds for her, blurring into theater when Derek Walcott came to her and asked if she wanted to be part of a theater-poetry type scene. That involved just being in a theater and giving a reading initially. Much later, Blood Dazzler was made into a dance theater type of production, blurring the lines further. She said she's still considered sometimes as 'just' a slam poet who came into the academic world. Actually, on the AWP award she won, they basically said she overcame the slam scene to write real poetry. I don't remember the actual wording, but she wasn't too happy about it. She encouraged us to go to schools and work with kids, get poetry out there in the grade schools so that the kids don't think of poets as lofty and untouchable, and they don't think of poems as inaccessible and outdated.

I took notes, but I didn't pay an inordinate amount of attention to the talk about Science Fiction. Just so you know, it is vehemently not fantasy. It is not speculative fiction. Abbreviated, it is not pronounced 'Sci-Fi'. It is SF, or scifi (pronounced skiffy). You should write it if you're interested, but you must read up quite a bit in the genre, and make what you write compatible with where science could feasibly go in the future. Nowadays, things we think of as inherent in Sci-Fi like spaceships and robots are considered too conventional and are not used much. It is quite a bit closer to real life than it used to be.

To me, it sounded a bit like fabulist fiction, but I guess the fabulist stuff isn't very scientific, so maybe that's the difference? She sounded incredibly resistant to the idea of any of us daring to write science fiction, but she said if we tried and were careful what we were doing then it is much easier to break into print, and there are a lot more fans who will approach you at conferences and want to talk to you about it. That, and a few examples on a handout, was basically what she said.

Judy Blunt had a great talk about researching. She basically gave us a list of to-dos and not to-dos, a handout with rules for interviewing and a big long list on the front of essential, preferable, and nonessential books for researching. When I get home, if you would like, let me know and I'll get you a copy of the handout. Her main premise, though, was that if there's a chance to get something accurate, why wouldn't you do the research to ensure that your reader gets the most complete knowledge from what you are writing? It's our responsibility when we present stories or poems or nonfiction to our reader's to give them impartial truth. But it must be truth. So do your research and get things right. Have others check your facts, from landscape to descriptions of end tables and horse saddles to just how shiny the silverware would really be dragged out of a trunk after twenty years. Make sure that the tiniest nuances are right. Because even if you don't put them in the story you should still know them in case those things you're not using influence things you are.

I'm afraid this isn't terribly coherent, but hopefully there's something interesting here. I'll see you all tomorrow. Goodnight :)

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