Saturday, June 25, 2011

Crossing Fingers!

The title refers to hoping like heck I get up on time tomorrow so I can meet Unkyl and Aunt Bonny for breakfast at their house and head to church with them. My suitcase, backpack, and shoes are all packed up in the car. As soon as I finish here, the laptop goes in the bag beside my purse and is ready to go. In the morning, pack up the alarm clock, sleeping bag, Small Fry, grab the pillow and charge! Well, after a shower and taking the toiletries bag. First things first...

I tried valiantly to stay awake through the craft talks today. Not because they were boring, the first one was actually quite riveting and the second one was interesting. The managing editor from Tin House magazine came to tell us about how it works. Of course, working humbly as I do in a press myself, I knew a little more than half of what he said already. I KNEW I should have opted for a nap. Still, I went because going meant I had attended every single craft talk, and when my friends told me that I just couldn't not go even though I didn't really want to.

The first talk today was about dialogue. Laura Hendrie gave us a story by Anton Chekhov to read called 'The Helpmate'. She outlined a few passages in there to show us what she called 'The ten conundrums of dialogue'. Although, looking at my notes, I don't know that we actually got to all ten. But all residency long, the faculty and especially Marvin Bell have been talking about poetry as a dance. Laura gave us a picture of a bunch of people dancing together, presumabley to the same song, yet all of them were doing different things. She explained that the only rule for dialogue is that there really isn't any rule. The best things to avoid are:
  • Don't use dialogue just to explain plot, actions, etc.
  • Don't use dialogue to pass the reader from block to block of beautiful prose
  • Don't force your dialogue. The characters are people. If you step back and do not consciously approach your story wanting to make your characters bend to your idea of the story, they will surprise you with the things they do and say.
She told us that once, she wanted to study dialogue for some of her stories, so she decided to go to restaurants and different places and listen to what people actually said. She figured it would be a little boring, but it seemed like necessary research. The very first booth she sat behind, there were two women. One said "I've just been diagnosed with stage four cancer." Her friend said "My father died of cancer" and the two of them went on, never really connecting in their dialogue. They weren't sharing a story with one another, they each were telling their own stories to one another not really listening but each hoping the other would. There was a separation between their dialogue.

After that experiment, Laura decided to write down everything she said aloud on a piece of paper for a day. She said it was one of the most incredibly boring things she could have done. The results were interesting, however, because of what she noticed. She told us she had gone into a doctor's office for something or other, and the TV was up ridiculously loud. She wanted to ask whoever was watching it to turn it down. It was annoying her horribly, and the internal thoughts she was having were "I want her to turn it down, I want to throw it through the window, I can't even think in here" and what she said was "I didn't know (whatever it was about) was on Oprah." She never actually said what she really wanted to say. And the internal dialogues she had with herself never seemed to make it to the page. She always said the most innocuous or roundabout thing.

In the story, we can't always get a character's inner dialogue. There are two authors to read who are sort of masters of letting you feel what is behind the dialogue however, Raymond Carver and Anton Chekhov. These two let you see the progression, the feeling, the process of the character's thoughts in their language. That is what good dialogue should do. It should be careful, spontaneous, and never forced.

That's all I remember off the top of my head, but I think that's pretty good! lol. Then we had the New Student meeting to figure out what is going to be required of us this semester. We've been over most of it, but I took some more notes just in case. I definitely have my work cut out for me. I better enjoy the time between now and Friday

Today we also could sign up to take a class. I chose Peter Sears' Villanelle class of course. It was pretty neat. He showed us the inspiration for a villanelle he had written. Starting with the newspaper article he read, to the plain, rough draft, to the two lines he had chosen for the refrains, and then he actually had us write in the lines he had written in next as he read them to us. Then some of the graduating students read other villanelles, he handed sheets out to us with the formal structure laid out on them, and told us to try and write one. Mine surprised me a bit. I need to look at it and revise it a bit, but I got a whole rough draft down. Some others did too, some did not finish. He gave us the first, second, and third drafts of another villanelle he had written and encouraged us to work on ours, or to try and write new ones. Then he had me read my Villanelle that I brought with me to the class and I did. No butterflies! Probably because I sat up front with my back to all of them so I couldn't see them looking at me. Still, I'll take what I can get! lol.

Today was the graduation ceremony. My friends and I went just to see what it was like, and I'd been talking to some of the graduating students over the residency and they were nice to me so I figured I'd support them. It was really interesting. Instead of Pomp and Circumstance or anything, they had a man playing the bagpipes who led the students and faculty in and out. Jan, the girl who keeps saying I'm stalking her because we show up at all the same places together, gave the student address. Marvin Bell gave the commencement address. It was quite good. I took some pictures, I don't know how many I'll keep, but it was fun.

After that, my friends Chris and Cynthia and I took a couple of pictures, then Chris and I went to the MFA office and took pictures in front of the sign just for fun. A couple of them turned out really well :)

They had a banquet after graduation for everybody since it was the last night. They had wine and food and dancing. And yes, I had a couple teaspoons of wine. I swear, I sipped at that dang thing for two hours and there was never any less wine in the glass. I think someone was refilling it when I wasn't looking. And then, when I told Cynthia that? The next time I turned away she refilled it. Sigh. I gave up. At the dinner, one of the girls who had been in the Villanelle class with us came up and said she liked my 'Chicken Poem'. A few of the graduating students were calling me the chicken poet after my reading. I wonder if it'll stick.

Ok, I'm off to bed now. I'll be home in a few days. I miss you all like crazy!!

~Hannah Mae

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 :)

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

Down Time and the Silk Road

Good evening! We meet again...

Today was mostly a free day. The faculty were working on student/advisor pairings for a fair amount of the afternoon, so after the morning talk and our workshops we were free. Technically, we were free as we wanted to be for the rest of the day. The faculty readings are optional to attend, and the only other event on the schedule was a release party for The Silk Road, the college's literary journal. There was food and wine (third event with free wine. Yet they complain about people partying in the dorms....I'm sensing a disconnect....)and there were free copies of the journal lying about. I picked one up and flipped through it. It looks good! I'm looking forward to reading it sometime when I have five minutes. Maybe I'll take it to the beach. That'd be nice.

This morning a post-grad did an interview with Bonnie Jo Campbell about her writing. I took lots of notes, but I don't want to just regurgitate the interview on here. Suffice it to say that her novels are based from her imagination, and her short stories are based on real stories in the lives of people she knows. She has a few hours set aside every morning to write, and she has trained her mind to bring her ideas at that time of day. She's won some prizes and yes, some of the more prestigious prizes allow a writer to pick the publisher, since winning prizes like the AWP award make more publishers want to take on your books. She gave up writing for a while when one of her advisors in college said she was no good, but she just couldn't get away from it. She started a PhD in math but dropped out to get an MFA instead. But it worked! She's a great writer and her career is going well.

After lunch I sequestered myself in the library to work on some residency reviews, but I was really tired and my brain wouldn't engage, so I only got a couple of them sort of outlined. We were talking to the assistant director at the party tonight and she said they're not really formal write ups. They're basically just wanting to make sure that the students are attending the talks, taking notes, and thinking about what the instructors are saying. So that's encouraging, because when I'm writing them I just sort of feel like I'm rambling.

I wanted to get some revisions done but I spent most of my free time staring at my computer screen and just not being able to think. So I came back to my room and took a nap until 7:15, then I ran out the door and made the Faculty reading on time. Tonight it was Sandra Alcosser and Stephen Kuusisto (I think I spelled that right...). It was just beautiful. I love Sandra's reading style. She really brings her pieces to life, but at the same time she gives each line its full consideration so the reader hears everything and doesn't get left behind. Some of the poets who have read lost me occasionally. I didn't have that problem with Sandra. Stephen is an interesting fellow. He's mostly blind, and actually was completely blind except for being able to see some light. About three years ago he had a special, very risky surgery which worked and allows him to see a little bit. He can read large print and he carried his iPad around with him reading off the screen. He also has a seeing eye dog, a big yellow lab named Nera. She laid down on the stage over behind the table where they put the water but she kept shifting. By the time he was done reading I could see her head peeking out from the edge of the podium. She's cute. Stephen was actually walking her without her harness for a bit earlier and he let me pet her. Rabbit Trail! His reading was enjoyable though. He read two lyric essays, a couple of poems, and the first chapter of a new memoir which deals heavily with blindness. He's a riot.

Afterward, I came out of the reading and two of my friends were out in the lobby. One of them came up to me and said "Did you see you got Ellen?" Apparently, they'd posted the student/advisor pairings already, and sure enough I got Ellen Bass! I am so excited. It sounds like most people were able to get their first choice for advisor. My roommate and I both got Ellen, however. Julia is saying that now we're going to be competitors and she wonders if the faculty have favorites. I said probably not, but just in case they do, it's on! (just kidding. It was pretty funny though. We were talking about going outside and having a knock-down drag-out fight outside the entrance to the hall. I said the fiction kids would probably stand around and watch). Notification of when the meetings will be is going to be posted in the room where we meet every day tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is also the last workshop. I plan to have Ellen sign my book at either one of those events if she is willing.

Everyone adjourned to The Urban Decanter after the faculty reading for the release party for the journal I mentioned. There was a graduating student there who has decided that I am stalking her. I told her it was either me stalking her or her stalking me, I'm not sure. Every single room I go to, event I attend, reading, lunch line, you name it, there she is. I can't get away from her. Or...she can't get away from me. Again, I'm not sure. Anyway, she was talking to Peter Sears and a post-grad student who both started telling him that I read my villanelle last night. They were both quite excited about that Villanelle. Peter is teaching a class Friday (Or Saturday? I have to check) on villanelles. I told him I had signed up for his class, and they all told me to take that one with me. I kind of hope he doesn't ask me to read it for the whole class. I mean, I will if he says to, but it's not the nice, dark, I can't see anyone watching me type of atmosphere I had at the student reading. Guess we'll see how it goes.

I moved outside with Jackie and her friends after a good while. It was too loud inside the building. Out in the garden in back, we found the Assistant Director. Poor lady is losing her voice but she is the sweetest gal ever! She asked us if we had any questions for her and she stood out there answering anything we asked her for the next hour or so, even though she was cold and could hardly talk anymore. I felt kinda bad. The admin people here are so great. I'm thinking I'll send them each a thank you note. There's only the three of them and they all work so hard. And they're so available! I really appreciate that about them.

Well, that's about it for today. I hope you all had great days and great weeks, and congratulations to my Carrie Lou for getting the supervisor postion at work. You're gonna be great!

Hugs all!
~Hannah Mae

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Butterfly Effects

The title refers, of course, to metaphorical butterflies, and the one so rudely interrupted in its metamorphosing (or something) in my poem this evening which I read to the gathered crowd of thirty or so students. Ironically, that was the poem I liked best, and it was the one I didn't get a comment on, lol. Live and learn, I guess. Isn't that always the way it goes?

I did get Judy Blunt's signature in my book finally. All who are left on the faculty here so far? Ellen Bass and Marvin Bell. I hope I can corner Ellen after workshop day after tomorrow. I'll have to see about Marvin. All the faculty have been kind of hanging out in a tight knot at lunches and before and after events. Tonight would have been the night to do it since he gave a reading, but I had to go over to the student reading and the faculty reading got out a bit late, so I sort of had to book it on over. pun intended.

I'm in my room a little early tonight. The goal is to be asleep before one. (That's one a.m. OREGON time. I'm gonna be so messed up when I get home, you have no idea...).

There was an event at the bookstore this evening. Wine, appetizers, and a 10% discount. I held off and getting my Boxer gear until tonight. Yes, I said Boxer. The team is the Pacific University Boxers. No jokes please, I'm sure I'll hear them all from Chad when I get home. I bought a sweatshirt with the Pacific Logo and 'Boxers' in large red letters across the front of the shirt. I was going to get one of the other sweatshirts, but barring the ones which also included Football, it was the only one with the team name. I figure, if you're going to be absurd, go all the way, right? technology seems to be having issues today. I got up and the laptop was disconnected to the internet. Had to restart it. The iPod disconnects every four minutes or less. Pretty much every time I turn the screen off. The cell phone is adamant that it will not be hooked up to the laptop to charge, so we have rather heated discussions about that in the wee hours of the morning. It's not pretty. Then I went over to make sure my alarm was on, and it seems my satellite alarm clock is not receiving from the satellite, which rather explains why it still hasn't switched over to pacific time. I popped out the batteries in order to make it shut off....and it didn't shut off. It just kept counting the seconds with a full digital display. Now, I must point out that this clock can be plugged in, but I didn't bring that cord with me. So there was no possible way for it to have still been running when the batteries were removed. Unless the clock maker put some creepy feature in the clock to avoid that. Anyways, I made it turn off, turned it back on, and had it sitting up on the desk so it would connect...annnnd it just gave up trying. Nice. Maybe the alarm hasn't been going off in the morning. That would explain why it isn't waking me up. But I digress.

Today there was only one craft talk, one class, two faculty readings, one grad reading, and the student reading. So, it was really just kind of a day for readings, lol. Tomorrow will be even shorter, event wise. There's a talk in the morning, workshop, and then from lunchtime until after dinner we're free as those in charge work out advisor/student pairings. The one thing they didn't really make room for much was actual meetings with advisors, so it's sort of a 'grab time when you can' free for all. That part doesn't make a lot of sense. There are two hour long slots set aside for student-instructor conferences, but each advisor is going to have at least three students, and it really seems like that's not a whole heck of a lot of time for a detailed going-over of study plans and making comments, suggestions, etc.

On to the intellectual fodder for the day:

1st Talk

 The Hidden Architecture of the Poem - Dorianne Laux

This talk was a bit more difficult to take notes on, since most of the work was shown to us on a handout with three poems. Dorianne read through each once and then began to point out the structure of each poem and how it worked. She was focused mostly on the simplicity and straightforwardness of the techniques and language the poet used. The talk became about imitation, and I was encouraged by that because, although I've done imitations before, I get a bit nervous thinking that I'm ripping off someone else's work. Dorianne actually confessed to us that she had copied the exact architectural structure of a poem by Mark Doty, 'A Green Crab's Shell'. She read us her copy, and then told us that she had felt sort of bad about just ripping off his design, so she sent it to Doty. He wrote her back, told her it was wonderful, and gave her some slight revision suggestiong. Doty said that he might have had a problem with it had she stolen his lines, but the materials of the poem are just as open to anyone else.

Here are the notes I took from the talk:

You gain a reader's trust through the words, lines, and syntax of a poem. Short lines ensure that every word comes across as important.
We worry that if we imitate other writers, we're stealing from them. And we are. But we're only stealing the map of their poem. We learn best through imitation. Try it. Don't be afraid.
We can understand these poems have structure and form, even if it doesn't seem like it (referring to 'At eighty-three she lives Alone' by Ruth Stone).
Set a task for yourself: start with a word and try to come to it's opposite by the end of the poem. Make a leap from one word to another while still retaining a connection.

Rhetorical/Structural devices. Use them to continue pushing the poem forward.
*Write for twenty minutes, then come back and write more beginning with 'What I meant to say'.
*You can decide ahead of time what the material or materials are going to be. Pick some characters and some themes, phrases, or random objects and try to put them all together in a poem.

The language as the first element guides the poem and the reader.
Just follow the map in the poems using free verse structure.


The Architecture of the Book - Kwame Dawes
(I took about five pages of notes here. Let me see if I can parse them down a bit for you.)

Things to think about when compiling a book-length manuscript
Know your audience
  • Contest judges will begin by looking at about the first five or, if they're generous, ten poems in a book.
    • If those don't seem like they'll make a great book, that manuscript is rejected
    • Solution? Front load it with good poems
    • Make sure the first poems and first lines are good ones. Very important
  • Know the judge (if you can), the journal, the publication
    • Read up on what is normally published, what the judge has written etc.
  • More important than knowing the judge, if he or she has a judging track record you can find, look that up and arrange your manuscript accordingly
  • Put five to ten great poems in the beginning, three or so in the middle, and three or so at the end. These are the places contest judges tend to look for good stuff.
  • How can you follow this advice and organize the manuscript seriously? Well, you can't. So yeah.
  • Each poem needs to be a substantial poem. You can't just take your poems and hide them somewhere in the manuscript if they're not that good.
  • For short stories, judges will read the opening lines and first stanzas or so. Make sure they're snappy, new, not all alike.
The book must look like a book. Look like it's done. It must be conceived of as a book. Think of how contests are judged and plan accordingly. Make sure to include your best work.
The MFA thesis, especially from here, doesn't end up long enough to be a book of poems. If you send it out to publishers, don't let them know it's your thesis. That's setting yourself up for automatic rejection. Sometimes, however, instead of a thesis you're just itching to get on the market, you just have a crap ton of work lying around (pardon the language. It's less colorful than his sometimes, however ;] ).
When you complete your MFA you should know how to write poems and add them to your collection. There are about 40-60 poems in a decent length manuscript, so you want about 150 or so to start with. You'll need a buffer.
For short stories, figure out how many stories you want in your collection, then double it. That's how many stories you'll need in order to choose the best ones. You want a big enough pool of work to figure it out with.
  • What do you do to organize it?
    • Several methods:
      • Collection of linked stories. Narrative as a structure.
      • For poems, you become a judge like the contest judges. Pile up your poems and go through them being detached and distant, choosing the best poems instead of the ones which have the most emotional impact for you.
        • Pile 1: I don't know what I was thinking
        • Pile 2: I may be able to fix this
        • Pile 3: Minor fixes needed. This is a contender for the manuscript
        • Pile 4: This just HAS to be in there - includes work previously published. You will want this on the acknowledgement page. It carries weight.
    • Be Ruthless! Don't panic at the thinness of the 'maybe' piles.
    • Be careful and judicious. Don't let your self-loathing reign over your choices.
    • The interesting pile is number 2. Once you've fixed those poems, you have a working pool. If you wind up with thirty poems altogether in the final pool, you're going to have to write thirty more and do it some more. You can start molding and directing your writing toward what the manuscript needs.
    • Short stories are much the same. Make the piles. When you pool these, ask what is there, missing, overdone, if you've written the same story over and over, and if you have which one is the best version? (so much for parsing this down....) You may need to write more stuff to add in. You want variety and range.
  • Don't start counting
    • Don't judge yourself by how much work you have amassed, or how much you still have to do. That places unnecessary pressure on you and the manuscript. Set it aside until you have enough poems to round it out.
  • Chapbooks
    • These are about 18-20 pages. These little fellows will let you frame your ideas while you're waiting to finish your manuscript.
    • If you do publish a chapbook, watch out for how you react to the success. Sometimes it can make a writer complacent and they stop getting any work done.
  • Do submissions while you're writing
    • While you're amassing your work, send stuff out. It's good for the practice, for publications, and it looks darn good on the acknowledgements page.
    • It is acceptable to re-edit things which have already been published.
  • Acknowledgements
    • It's good to have about eight of these, as prestigious as possible. If it's a high school journal or some sort of self-publish thing, it's less impressive.
Thematic Organization
    Piles: What do I have and what am I dealing with? Try and make sense of it.
  • Break the work into categories of what you have first. Say, formal lines, sonnets, persona poems, prose poems, etc. to see what you have
  • Then organize the work thematically. What patterns do you see emerging which make sense to you?
  • You may have a poem which just doesn't seem to relate to anything. It may be good for a prologue or an epilogue, or it may need you to write it up some buddies, or it may be an orphan.
  • When organizing a manuscript, you're making a book to be published, to be bought, to be read. So you're organizing it to be read.
    • Most people who buy the books are not reading it because they have to for school or something, they buy it because they want to.
    • Think about the relationship between yourself and the reader. You are inviting them into your space, sort of like into your house. Leave anything awkward for later when you know them better. Right now, you just want to show them around and let them see the gist of the work.
    • People don't usually read poetry from beginning to end, so consider that in your organization. Add variety, from subject matter to length, to appearance. Give your reader a break.
      • Try to avoid using the same ol' rhetorical structure over and over
All the little things being to matter. Read for the collection as a whole. Variety and variation are good things. Build the trust of the reader. Even if you don't have a narrative arc, you may have an emotional arc where all the stories come together.

You usually want to look for the frame inside the collection, but sometimes you look at an outside frame. Like North, South, East, West for your section titles if you have any, or are looking for another organizational strategy. The poems aren't usually written with the structure in mind, the structure just sort of gets superimposed over the top of the collection.

Making your book fancy.
  • Titles: how do you find a title poem?
    • A line or a title of a poem. But don't use a poem which isn't really fantastic, because once you publish it, that one poem becomes a little rock star whether it really deserved to have the whole book named after it or not.
  • Short stories can employ the ol' "Man with a golden shoe and other stories." Though that's less popular these days.
    • You can title short stories along a common theme, or if they all sort of focus around the same place, etc.
  • Do your title early. It can help with selection and revision.
  • Always look impressive and smart, even in a foreign language. However, sometimes they're just kinda stupid, so be careful.
  • Give a different perception of the collection
  • Can put in information which doesn't fit in the poem but is necessary for clarity
  • They help to frame sections.
    • Sections don't always need to be titled. That can demand those poems get read a certain way. Sometimes you can just label it with numbers or whatever you want to do.
Try to avoid footnotes unless absolutely necessary.

That's all for the smart stuff for the night. I saw a spider making a pretty fantastic web. I might try writing a poem about him tomorrow while we're on free time for half the day. I may also try and nap. We'll see.

God Bless, All!

~Hannah Mae

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

But What Art Thou, Winery, When Thou Hast No Wine?

Yes, tonight we went to a reading at the Elk Cove Winery. It wasn't that the winery didn't have any wine. In fact, there was plenty to go around and everybody had a great time. It's just that it slipped my mind to bring an I.D. with me. And since most people generally guess I'm between 15 and 17, I didn't bother to try approaching the counter. But the food was good, the conversation was good, and the reading was great. Jack Driscoll and Peter Sears. And both of those guys are nuts. The wine enhanced it, but they're just plain nuts, lol. It was really fun. I got to talk to Judy Blunt and ask her if, sometime soon, she would sign my book while we're here, and she agreed. She's been tough to corner. Sandra Alcosser actually stopped and talked to me, rather than the other way around. She was asking me why I was so far back in the food line, and I told her about the whole 'I don't like wine' thing. She said that everyone was just going to think I was holding back so I would stay sharper longer. And that I'm young. I'm getting that a lot here. A woman in my workshop keeps saying that I'm twelve. Sigh. Such is my life ;)

I also had a good discussion with my roommate. She had a tough time in workshop today, I guess she hasn't really been in workshops before and the criticism kind of got to her. I told her some of the strategies I've used to come to terms with revisions, and we talked about ways she could work with the layout of her poems to give her readers a better idea of the lines. She tends to write her poems out in prosaic style and doesn't want to change that, so I suggested markers such as / or // or some such thing to indicate a break in the line whether she actually dropped it beneath the previous one or not. I think she was encouraged by the time we finished, so I hope it helps. We also discussed syntax and diction. I guess she likes to write more abstract poems, and poetry about beliefs and feelings. She asked what I thought of poetry like that and I told her I didn't usually do well with it, but if she could ground her reader in an image she'd have a better chance than trying to engage in abstract poetic philosophy. I don't know whether I'll have a chance to read any of the stuff she comes up with, but hopefully, as I said, it helps.

Ok, Craft Talks! Let's see if I can get to bed on time tonight.
We had two especially scintillating talks today, but I guess three in a row was too much to ask for. I found myself sort of falling asleep on the third presenter, and the handout she gave us told us pretty much everything I would have written down for notes so I had nothing to hold my attention. It's kind of hard to be presented with one small element to use (mostly applied to fiction) and see endless examples of the same one thing over and over for an hour. Tomorrow I'll have to get a bigger coffee...

1st Talk:
Thrilling, Death-Defying Adventures in Point of View - Jess Walter

The second person and the first person plural are difficult points of view to use in writing. In most cases, they are avoided or fall flat on the first attempt. Some first time writers make great use of these points of view however. It can be useful for seeing a character in a different light. Of Jay McInerney's novel "Bright Lights, Big City", Jess said that McInerney was having trouble casting his protagonist in the first person. He adjusted his method to writing about him in the second person and gained an entirely new perspective of the character. Second person exists in an interesting place. First person plural can create a haunting resonance in a story.
Jess gave us the end of his talk first, offering us these rules for the use of the second person narrative:
  • Works best small, like in short shorts/short stories
  • It can slip in and out of second person
  • Works best when it eventually fades away
  • Experimentation for experimentation's sake usually falls flat.
    • Find the place where the story transcends itself.
Second person often comes off as a gimmicky first person. We need to know who is listening to the speaker. It can also change the writer's perpective on the speaker in the story. By way of letting us know how second person works best, Jess read us most of his craft talk. The written portion was about how he became a writer, and how he met his idol, Kurt Vonnegut. The entire presentation was written in the second person. And it was darn fine if I do say so myself.

First person plural offers a collective world we don't often find it fiction. It transcends itself. The 'we' voice is harder than the second person. It is, in fact, nearly impossible to write, as fiction conflicts community values with personal values.

We must open ourselves up for "The chance of splendid failure". We must be willing to take risks and be playful. Breaking the rules is fiction's highest calling. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't. But it's best to have tried it. Writing comes from reading and stealing until you develop your own voice. Follow your own drive until you find your own voice.

2nd Talk:

The Body Never Lies - Ellen Bass. (This one is coming straight out of notes. Way too incredible to parse down)

These ideas are simple, but you have to use them. Practice a lot to make it natural.
  • Body can move us from telling to showing, abstract to concrete, reporting to describing.
The reader must feel that the poem touches their own experience. The poem must become about the reader. It must be about people in general and the reader in particular.
  • How do we do it?
Everything we know, we know through the body. All the information we take in, our direct experience, comes to the brain through the body itself.
  • Pay attention to the actual experience
    • We want to enact the experience rather than report it. An emotion and a literal feeling are different. Expressing emotion directly is rarely, but sometimes, effective. However, it is unlikely, and you can't do it too many times in one poem. Mostly it needs to be conveyed through description and detail.
The body is the source of our first knowing. Using the body can give the poem a very resonant nature. Often, bodily functions are, at this point in writing history, cliche. Usually, we must rely on a gesture (such as the "Last Meeting" poem Sandra Alcosser used in her talk on Friday...I think it was Friday). How do we figure out what that gesture is? One way to find the exact gesture necessary is to try and go inside your own body, like method acting. Imagine yourself as the narrator, get inside that body. Then you know that gesture more easily.
Sometimes you want to be less obvious. That brings in the tension. When, in acting, you portray a character who has a feeling, you play them fighting that feeling, such as trying not to cry instead of crying. Trying not to reveal and be undone by what they're feeling.
The precise description of the physical is the greatest way to earn the reader's trust. It's hard, but it's not that hard. If it weren't true, writing would be even harder than it already is. If you can describe it, whether what comes after that description is true or not true, the reader will believe you.
"As poets, we're trying to show the thing itself, and not overemphasize how we feel about it."
~Look through 'Poetics of Space' by Gaston B.
Writing comes through listening, touching, smelling, observation. If you do this, the chance to describe things accurately increase astronomically.

How can you be clear without sacrificing great description or language?

Don't forget that in a poem, you get to say what you want. And we learn craft so we can say what we want.
When reading, look at the ones who seem anti-poetic. Many times, those ones are incredibly powerful. Sometimes, as an opening, these lines work. You can't follow all the rules all the time.
Part of what sustains us in poetry is that someone is actually talking to us.

And since it's getting late, I'm going to pass on adding in the third talk here tonight and hit the hay. Suffice it to say that when you have a lot of general description in a narrative, you can drop in 'Once' or a similar word or phrase in order to create a little aside and give the reader a specific scene to stand in before sweeping them back into the narrative. If there are questions, I'll go ahead and post the rest of the talk tomorrow or Wednesday during the free time.

I'm headed for bed so I can just drink sixteen ounces of coffee tomorrow rather than buying a four shot Venti....we'll see how it goes.

Good Night all :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to my Daddy and my Grandfather, Unkyl, Uncle Kirk, Lowell, and all the other great guys in my life. Love you all!

Last night, or rather, early this morning, I got about five hours of sleep, so I took an hour and a half nap over the dinner free time so as not to interfere with the readings I wanted to go to. Tonight, we heard Judy Blunt read from the end of her memoir, Breaking Clean. A book which I started but was unable to finish due to the fact that I was at UM and I just couldn't get it done before the next book was almost due. I have it at home to finish reading though. I really must do that. We also heard from Bonnie Jo Campbell and Pete Fromm. All three had excellent readings. Man I love readings! Afterward, I went to the student reading. That takes place in a separate building. Fifteen students sign up to read and have four minutes apiece. The prose students tend to push that limit a bit. The emcees have taken to sitting up front and waving the lit screen of a cell phone when time is up. It worked a bit better tonight. I'm not reading until Tuesday. I hope I still have good voice by then. If this cold keeps up it's going to be close...

Our workshop today was with Ellen Bass. It was so refreshing! Her method of criticism for the poems felt so different than Kwame's did yesterday. Instead of getting all the good things and then all the things which needed work from each person individually and then hearing from the instructor, Ellen had the whole session carefully in hand. First someone summarized the poem. If anyone thought something different they gave their opinion. Then we moved on to what worked well in the poem. Then from there, we started discussing what we thought should be changed in order to clarify the work. But her personal criticism was very careful, like she had taken the time to note everyone's personal tone and style, and her comments went hand in hand with what would work well for the poet, not just for that one poem. I don't know how well I'm explaining it, but it was fantastic. We finished about fifteen minutes early and she asked if we wanted to write a bit. Yesterday, there was a panel where five of the faculty discussed the question 'Do I Dare Put This on the Page'. She told us today to try and write something which fit in that vein, something we're not sure we would really write, and to start it off with some sort of phrase. We went around and everyone said a phrase, such as 'If you could, So it goes, Have you ever, If not' and so on. She said to take that phrase and start writing. Any time we started to run out of steam or got stuck, we were to repeat that opening phrase again. It was a very interesting excercise to try, and the poem I started, I think, is work looking in to a little bit.

Ok. The craft talks. I went to three today. It seems there are sixteen or eighteen in all and I have to turn in reviews about twelve. The reviews I post here are, again, just rough drafts. The ones tonight are coming almost directly from my notes. Mostly because I think when I got up to head off to the readings, my imagination and thought process remained comfortably snoozing next to Small Fry. (For those of you who don't know, Small Fry happens to be the stuffed bear that I, at 23, still sleep with. So there.)

Talk 1:
Present Mirth Hath Present Laughter - Rachel Toor.

The present tense is often used by rookie writers to attempt to bring a reader directly into the action. However, this is not a good way to try and draw your reader in. Present tense is, in fact, often dismissed as being 'not art' in nonfiction, and sometimes even in fiction. Done well, it can be energetic, but writers sometimes try to use it to make their writing more vivid. "Writing is vivid if it is vivid." Present tense does not automatically make the writing vivid, and it is a difficult technique to use well.
Present tense is also a touchy thing to use when writing memoir. In order to use it well, the writer must be able to not only re-enter the experience more or less exactly how it happened, but also to observe that experience and present how it is important for the reader, rather than how it was important for the author.
Some places where the use of present tense can work well follow:
  • Personal Essay
    • In order to keep the reader engaged and make the technique work well, the essay should be time bound - proceeding within a clearly defined and specified beginning and end.
  • Literary Journalism or Reportage
    • 20th century writers make use of present tense, such as Dickens, Hazlett, Lamb, and others
    • Whether or not present tense is used does not matter if the narrator is not the subject of the work. i.e., if the author is writing about another person or object observed, the use of present tense matters less than if we are inside their head, reading their thoughts about the action instead of just reading about the action.
  • Process essays
  • How-to essays
    • can be bossy or off-putting. Harder to be funny in these and easier to be tragic
An essay in present tense if often not about what it's about. It's 'about' the thoughts of the character; what they're trying to figure out in their mind while they're doing whatever the title or first paragraph says they're doing, or watching, or etc.
Every essay is about re-definition; a venue to make the mundane new and interesting.

Long form writing in present tense is much harder to pull off. It is wise to also keep long form writing within an alloted time frame, much like the personal essay listed above. It is also best to focus on events rather than personal history.
  • The 'I' is less important than the 'it'
    • In fiction, the reader knows more than the narrator, which builds tension. That's ok. In nonfiction, that's a hard thing. You, as the character, can be uninformed, but that may cause the reader to find you ingnorant and wonder why you're writing about that subject.
  • Again, memoir should be not about what happened to the author, but how what happened applies to the reader.
  • Recollection often requires reflection. Reflect on past experiences and think about what they mean before you use them.
  • Some memoirs can slip into present tense and it works, even if the whole book is not written that way.
When you come up with ways that work with Present, how do they work? Use present tense if it helps you get back to the time when whatever that event you want happened. Then re-draft if you can. Never use present tense to bring the reader into the story.

Talk 2:

First, Do No Harm - Jack Driscoll

"Speak what it feels like to be human and alive in the world." (That's a quote, but I didn't get where from).

Power in a poem depends on how the reader is drawn into the interior matrix - undress your characters and language.
Consider your characters people. Their clothing, just like the people you meet anywhere, can announce initial impressions. Appearance is a legitimate tool. Gestures, dress, and other specifics define people, even as an unauthentic proof of expression.

What makes or has made a person who he or she becomes? Every path has a reason or a source, one that explains what happened to them in their lives, and what went wrong. If the character can be followed to their source, hopefully there will be enough consequence (reward) for the reader for having followed them there.
  • Humanize the character through empathy
    • Love every character every bit as much as you do your other characters.
    • Fiction that counts is about people.
Love takes many forms, and one of those is Fascination. To that end, keep three Ms in mind:
  • Motivation: what compels the character to do what they do, no matter how far back you have to trace their story. The 'why' behind the character.
  • Motion: the way the character takes action against whatever stands in their way.
  • e-Motion: the feelings which perpetuate the action/fuel the inner motion.
Desire is an anagram of Reside. i.e. a confusion of the will to stay put. To avoid what may be harmful or fatal.
"Trouble is what interests; what compels."
Fiction depends on desire as its narrative engine.  Two things that create a real world: Desire and decision.
When we understand the three Ms, even somewhat deviant behavior can be forgiven by the reader.
The characters need not be awful or extreme, but merely human or flawed.

3rd Talk:

Changeability in a Poem - Joe Millar

Stops and Starts.
One of the most interesting things about poetry is the invention which happens from line to line, day to day, and the way the poem invents and reinvents itself on its journey down the page. In this case, our focus is on changeability via association with the line before when you as the poet don't know where you're going.
In Segues, Marvin Bell says "A poem listens to itself as it goes along. A poem is complete when everything inside of it is used up."
Let the material talk abck. Like listening to someone performing on a musical instrument.
"Poetry is no more a thing than fire is. It witnesses its ability to grow and make everything itself." ~Dean Young.
If you consider poetry as fire, you must consider the fuel which makes it burn. What Marvin Bell referred to the first day as 'the materials'. The process of making the poem is a material which can be displayed to a point in the work.
As a corollary of mimesis vs. process:
"It is necessary to any originality to have the courage to be an amateur." Sometimes the only way tot get something right is to blurt it out as best you can, and fix it later.

Strategies for how to go down the page when you're stuck:
  • Ask a question of the reader, a character, God, the universe, anything
  • Direct address. Make a command or observation. Address the reader directly.
  • Contradict what you just said. A reversal, a dialectic
  • Repeat something. A word, a phrase, an image, etc. Sometimes repetition can take on elements of song.
  • Collapse time, collapse space. Change the setting or the time suddenly.
  • Follow the last image into philosophical speculation or history.
  • Go back and forth between two things.
"When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating its work...experiences are always forming new holes" ~T.S. Eliot.
Look out your window, listen to sounds, smell scents. Changeability does well with repetetive poems. Make use of anaphora.

And from there, he went on to read several poems for examples. And that about sums it up for the craft stuff for the day. I did notice I have started listening for these techniques in peoples work, from just metaphors and comparisons, to methods of drawing out a poem, to the spareness of the language. It's actually pretty incredible when you're listening for it and you hear it at work.

And I'm off to bed in hopes of grabbing six hours sleep instead of five. Here's hoping the coffee shop is open tomorrow. Good Night all!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Liminal Spaces

It is rather hideously late at this point, and all logic and reason is pointing out that I should be going to bed. But as I already appear to be here at the expense of my health for the furtherance of my sanity I say, heck, why not do this now? That, and I promised to update faithfully, so update I shall.

Hi. How's it going?

It's been brought to my attention that while I have kept you abreast of daily happenings, I have not stated much of what is being learned. Therefore I shall do so with rough drafts of my residency reviews. Mostly because it's shorter than typing in all my notes. These will be cleaned up a little later, but I needed to get something down to work with. So, here we go. Please excuse typos.

Marvin Bell.

Marvin Bell's talk focused on learning to be a writer every day. While actually writing daily was a factor of that, he spoke more to overcoming the setbacks, stumbling blocks, and just plain blocks we as writers experience. It was less about improving our work than inspiring ourselves. He refers to these inspirational techniques as 'Cheap Tricks'.
One of these tricks was to focus not on the requirements of an assignment, but to focus on materials. For instance, we could be assigned to write thirty poems of fifteen lines each (that wasn't the exact example, but it will work for all intents and purposes.), and once we'd written about our shoelaces and our shirt, the window sills and that particular noise from next door, we exhaust our ability to contrive content. Here is where the materials go to work. The words, phrases, forms, syntax, metaphor, and dozens of other elements of the craft begin to work for us, making the content come. The poetry must be the place ideas are born. The poems should not be born of ideas.
I had discovered this, to a point, in my own experimentation with forms. Using a form for a poem forces the poet to give the poem the reigns and be the guide. Marvin pointed out that everything connects, whether immediately or eventually, and I have found that to be true. When poems are allowed to guide themselves they create incredible, revealing stories. Forced to obey, they fall flat and dull.
Another Cheap Trick I am eager to try is to keep an endless 'scroll' on the computer desktop. This encourages daily writing and alleviates the daunting sight of a blank page. When a writer feels dry, going through the scroll can yield ideas, images, phrases, or suggestions. I have found a blank page to be a tough thing to overcome, and I also have a bad habit of throwing things out when I think they're no good. But "good stuff and bad stuff are all part of the stuff," Marvin said, and I'm excited for the new stuff I have now to make stuff with. (Mom, please don't kill me over the preposition...).

Debra Gwartney fascinated me with her material. She told us "When the action is hot, write cool." Her discussion of how spare, unemotional language can so enhance a written piece surprised me. In poetry, I appreciate spare language which gives the reader space to work. But I had never noticed its effect on prose before. Debra gave several examples of emotional moments when the characters speaking offered their experiences up in a detached way. The excerpt from Mark Richard's The Special Child made the point best for me. Richard layers trauma, tragedy, terror, and sadness over and over one another, yet the tone communicates only flat, straightforward facts. As short as the exerpt was, I was both eager and afraid to read the full work. richard managed to conjur up a horror in the pit of my stomach, even though he described the events in a detached tone.
I know in my few attempts to experiment with prose I have launched into traumatic events, allowing myself to feel what the characters felt and get all the action down on the page. But Debra made me aware that, though the reader needs to sympathize, all that action tends to overwhelm the reader, leaving little or no emotion for the remainder of the story. The events which feed the excitement and tragedy in a story must carry beyond those moments. The tension has to last in order to keep the reader engaged.
Another interesting point was the distinction presented between suspense and tension. Suspense was defined as asction in the outside world which carries us outside the moments of action, forcing the reader to await the resolution. Tension was described as the speaker's inner turmoil. I had considered suspense and tension to be much the same thing, so to have them explained in this fashion was illuminating. Steven James wrote that he found tension to be the most important driving force of any story. I originally took that to mean that the events of the story were meant to build the anticipation for the final event. I understand now that it is the inner conflict of the character, the actual tension, which carries the story best.

Sandra Alcosser brought Marvin's point about everything connecting into sharp focus for me. I began to see that what is not written more often becomes what a reader takes away from a poem. Sandra's talk on brevity was heavy with examples, which I appreciated. (For those reading this blog post, see Merwin's translation of Hadrian's 'Little Soul', 'In a Station of the Metro' by Ezra Pound, 'Tao Te Ching' by Lau Tzu, [That would be Shih Tzu's little brother. Just kidding], 'Song of the Last Meeting' and 'Three Things Enchanted Him' by Anna Akhmatova. There was also a short poem by Blackman and a few others).
The basic point of the talk was that brevity can very much enhance a poem. Writing a short poem, or shortening a longer poem, can communicate as much if not more than the longer work could do. Her best example, Ezra Pound's 'In a Station of the Metro,' (Aw Heck, I'll just post it here:

In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough

That's the whole thing), revealed that the exclusion of such words as 'are like' petals on a wet black bough' give the reader so much more room to discover the poem. It does not direct the reader, but guides. The economy of words causes the words chosen to pop out and surprise the reader with the ideas and images contained.
Sandra also touched on metaphor, as well as devices like metonymy, referencing Anna Akhmatova's 'Song of the Last Meeting' where the speaker states "I put my left glove on / my right hand, like an idiot." The glove on the wrong hand is used here as a gesture which describes the whole of the situation. In this case, that situation is a failed relationship. Sandra challenged us to find a gesture which captures a state of being (which I have yet to do...). The author could have prattled on about the relationship and how it failed, but she goes on and allows the reader to discover that for themselves.
These liminal spaces, the things not said, are the spaces for the reader to creep in and take ownership. The spareness in this sense and in the removal of emotion from a poem or a story sets out just the story as it took place without analyzing or deconstructing. The reader receives only the facts. The metaphors and emotions are their own to fill in.

Kellie wells spoke to us on how to take the unusual and use it to refresh the usual. Her talk focused on Fabulist fiction, which she defined as fiction in which anything can happen completely unfettered by reality. This type of writing twists the unusual into metaphors for things we already know, but presents them as an interesting discovery. It works to defamiliarize subjects and topics so as to make them revealing again. It is a way to reinvigorate a subject.
Writing for these types of stories must be bold, go for broke, so the reader will be tempted to inhabit the space of the story which is both unfamiliar and daunting, yet tempting. Writing in this fashion can bring the writer to things and ideas which complacency tends to steer away from.
She also mentioned that a reader is always looking for reasons not to engage emotionally with a work.

And that's all the work I've done so far on my notes. I just find it interesting how, as Marvin said, everything connects. These talks so far have nearly all focused on the power of what is not said as compared to what actually is set before the reader. The mind will do the work if the materials are there (again, hearkening back to Marvin). It is crucial, it seems from these talks, not to overload the poem or prose with directions for the reader to follow, as that interrupts the creative experience the reader would otherwise have had with the piece.

I went to the student reading tonight. Last night nobody showed up and tonight I had signed up as third on the list, but scratched myself because my throat is bothering me to the degree that I choked while I was reading my poem in workshop this afternoon. (And I was the first one up. THAT was embarrasing. Especially since I've never met Kwame Dawes before, but he was the workshop leader today and I'm pretty sure he was watching. I think I'm going to get some cold medicine and find some water that doesn't taste like a pool. Because I really think the chlorinated water here is part of my problem...). Peter Sears walked in after me and sat up toward the front, but he turned around and said "Hey Montana, how ya doing?" I told him I was doin' all right and he said he had dinner with Sandra and that she picked me? What? I had her sign my book this afternoon and she looked and acted like she'd forgotten she ever met me. I wonder what brought that on, or if she picked the other Hannah. I don't know, I guess I'll see when the student-advisor pairings come out. So far as I know, they're not even being assigned until Tuesday. Still, if that's true that she chose me to be her student, at least I don't have to wait, and I know I have a good advisor. Not that they aren't all incredible. I've only heard one bad thing about one instructor and every other person had only good things to say about her, so it must have been an isolated thing.

Sorry if this is scattered, I'm falling asleep. See you all tomorrow!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Day Two

Good grief!! Eight more days. Only eight more days...I wonder where all that time is going to go? Again, I am just blown away by the awesomeness of this place. That's not necessarily good writing, but it's sure as heck the truth.

I met up with the girls I met last night and they and one of my roomies, Jackie, went to this little coffee shop called 'Maggie's Buns' for breakfast. On our way in, someone gave us a shout out, so we were cheering back at her. Turns out, it was Maggie herself. She told us to come back on Sunday and there would be free coffee and muffins as a 'pay it forward' kind of thing. And also if we came by before 5:30 a.m. just to knock and someone would open up just for us.
I tell you what, that place has some amazing cinnamon rolls. I chose the organic drip coffee to have with it, and together it was pretty incredible. The coffee itself was brewed a little strongly, and it seemed to go a bit sour pretty quickly. Though, I'm sure carrying the dregs around and sipping it until lunch didn't help matters any.
Peter Sears came out and joined us for breakfast. He signed my American West book :D I'm so excited. He also complimented the layout and talked about it a little bit with me. It was fun to sit there and listen to him gossip. He said that most people his age only talked about grandchildren, dead friends, and illnesses, so that gave him license to gossip as it was more interesting conversation. Or at least something like that. It was fun to listen to.

We headed back for the Welcome, and the first Craft Talk by Marvin Bell. That was pretty amazing as well. He had some good techniques for overcoming writer's block, a couple of which I plan to try out. After him we had the New Student Orientation which just got those of us who are in our first semester to stand up and tell a little about ourselves, find out about the residency and the requirements set out for us so far, and learn a little more about advisor pairings and such. I also found out I can still revise my study plan as long as I have it in by Tuesday. I've already had a couple of suggestions on books to read in lieu of the random ones I chose, so I'll have something a bit more coherent to add. I'm excited for that.

Lunches are free, and, minus the confusion in the lunch line (apparently one must go down the salad bar in the middle, then return to the end and go down one of the sides to get the food one desires, then basically go back to the entrance again and stand in line to have one's card scanned.) It seemed a bit like mass chaos, but hopefully tomorrow will go more smoothly.

Debra Gwartney did a craft talk after lunch on how to write detached dialogue during an intense situation, thereby actually allowing the reader to draw more emotion out of the words you are writing. She gave us some examples and they were pretty powerful.

After her came a guest speaker who talked about the life of a book reviewer. My time would probably have been better spent actually exploring the bookstore or writing reviews on the other two craft talks, but hey! It is what it is. That one was a good lesson on how not to make a speech, I think. He didn't really seem to have a point. Actually, he had one, but it was a long time in coming, short in delivery, and suddenly, randomly appeared. Well, oh well.

There was a mandatory blackboard session then, so I hurried back to retrieve the trusty 'top and followed the masses downstairs in the main hall. I pretty much could have figured out everything they showed us and wound up checking my e-mail, surfing Facebook a little, adding my picture to the roster so people would know who I am, the whole nine yards. Very exciting.

I tried to check out the bookstore but they close at four in the summer and it was after five by that point, so I took my stuff to my room and went grocery shopping. Came up with a sack of bagels, a loaf of bread, cream cheese, BBQ sauce, turkey lunch meat and swiss cheese. Woohoo! Breakfast and dinners baby! I figure since lunch is free I'll just make that my big meal of the day, lol.

Some of the faculty also held a reading tonight. I'll tell you something. (I actually touched on this with a graduating student afterward). There is nothing in this world, not a movie premier, an art gallery opening, even a celebrity standing in front of you whom you have always admired, which can trump the awe and utter magnetism of a reading. Most of you will think I'm crazy. But when you sit, especially in this case in an auditorium, your eyes focused on their face, your ears full of their voice, their pauses, their emphasis, the particular cadence of that reader's voice, there is nothing that comes close to that experience. It just blows me away every time. I remember one of the readings for New Poets of the American West. Greg Pape was reading in Missoula, and by the time he finished I realized I had been staring at him the whole time. Not just watching, but staring, watching the effect of the words on him, the way his face changed when he was reading, the emotion he felt and communicated with every heavy syllable. It's amazing. There is nothing like it.

Afterward, I asked David St. John, one of the faculty who read, to sign my book and he did so. I'm so incredibly excited about that. I'm trying to collect the signatures of all the faculty who are included in that book. I'd like to get all the poets, but I have a funny feeling that Sherman Alexie and Simon Ortiz might be difficult to track down...

I also talked to a couple of other students. There's one girl, Jan, who I keep running into. She's graduating, I think in fiction. I keep forgetting. I keep seeing her name and not her major. (Everyone has a nametag with their first and last name, major, and semester in the program.) I also ran into my student correspondent, Dot. Don't worry, I didn't hurt her much ;) Just kidding. I saw her and we talked for a little while. I guess someone told her I was really chatty...I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but she gave me the 'And here you said you were shy'. Well, I am shy. I've just never really had a place like this where I could talk to anyone about anything and they would listen and know what I'm talking about. I just don't know what to do with myself! I hope I'm not annoying anybody...

At any rate, I went off to the student reading because I'd talked to Dot and told her I was conflicted over whether to go to that or to come back and write up my reviews. She said hang the reviews, there's plenty of time to do them when we leave here (which is funny, because the directors keep saying to write them up the same night) and to go and meet people. So, I took her advice. Well, the only people in there were the Assistant Director, four students, and a smattering of others who straggled in and wondered why it was so empty. Apparently not a single person signed up to read. Oops. None of us had anything with us to read either, so, oh well. We'll be doing that tomorrow I guess.

Walking back to the hall I was talking to two women and showing them American West. One of them was so excited she decided she was going to get it off Amazon as soon as she got back to her room. Which makes me incredibly happy because I'm half in charge of publicity, so I guess I'm doing my job pretty well :)

I'm going to try and write up these reviews before I smack the sack. Have a good night all :) Tomorrow: Workshops! Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Starting Again

So, here I am, sitting in a college dorm room when I always promised myself I'd never live in a dorm. What, exactly, am I doing in a dorm? Well, the low-residency MFA program I have just embarked upon requires me to be here on campus for the next nine or so days soaking up all the writing culture my shrinking brain can fit before I go home and squeeze it all out into book commentaries, poems, and residency reviews. I, my friends, am officially a Graduate Student.

I came up two days early to stay with my cousin in Hillsboro and get my bearings (not to mention to buy time in case something went wrong on the trip). I got on campus about 12:30 this afternoon, and I believe I was definitely among the first to check in. The people in charge of the check-in were just getting settled in, the interns were having lunch, and they weren't completely prepared for all my questions. Still, we managed. I got my keys, packet, nametag (bleah) and charged outside to find the dorm which I had vague directions to. There was another new student outside who walked me over and I talked to him for a few minutes. I was the first one in my room so I just dropped my stuff off and went on a self-conducted campus tour after I found a place to park my car. That took a few times circling streets and parking lots. That's more because I thought I knew better than the map. Silly me. Anyways....

I took a little tour of the University Center and a much larger tour of the library. Gosh I wish I could fit that in the suitcase. I'd bring the whole dang thing home with me! Then I sat outside for an hour and tried to keep my iPod from signing me out of the Wi-Fi. I don't know why it keeps doing that. Partway through that hour I looked up and realized that the tree I'd been sitting under for the last half hour had its lower branches thoroughly, and I do mean thoroughly, decorated with pairs of shoes. Now, I've seen that at home occasionally with shoes draped over telephone lines, but as soon as I saw that I reconsidered my spot. I'd been hearing what sounded like little branches cracking or squirrels running around, but the last thing I want is to get decked by a bunch of random pairs of shoes falling out of a tree.

I met up with some others for a campus tour. Yeah, six of us decided to go, lol. It was nice though. The Assistant Director of the program was our tour guide, but she was also still working on some stuff so she had to answer cell phone calls. While she did that the rest of us talked and kind of got to know each other a little.

After that I came back to my room and met two roommates. I don't know if it's just the three of us or if there will be one more person, but the room is nice. It's like a small apartment. There's a small kitchen and living room right in the door, then a hall to the left and the right, each with two rooms, a closet, and a bathroom. I may just get a bathroom to myself! Yay! I have one poetry student and a nonfiction student for roommates. We only talked for a little while but they seem nice.

Before dinner we went down to meet with our student correspondents. Mine is really fun! She started talking to all her friends, and I followed her around so I got to meet a bunch of the graduating students. That was a lot of fun. I even said things sometimes! I also spilled lemonade on my shirt, had someone ketchup my fingers as I was reaching for mustard across the table, and had a rubber band go flying in my direction. We decided that's initiation. They've also decided to try and get me to drink. I told them good luck.

I met up with a third semester student as well. We started talking about poetry, then movies, then british comedy. On our way to exchange e-mail addresses, we followed one of her friends into her friend's room and wound up sitting in their living room with all three of those roommates talking about all kinds of stuff for two hours or so! When we decided to go up to our rooms for bed, they asked the first girl, Leann, if I was her roommate and she said no. Then all the girls who actually were assigned that room were like "So did she just walk into our living room and sit down?" I thought that was kind of funny, because I never do things like that. Look at me!

I'm so excited because I can actually talk to whoever about anything to do with writing and nobody thinks I'm boring or annoying or crazy. I'm excited for tomorrow :) I'm meeting a couple of the girls I was talking to and we're going to a coffee shop before the first craft talks.
Have a good night!