Sunday, July 1, 2012

Putting it together...again.

It's a little hard to wrap my head around my homework today. My thoughts are with a friend who took his own life last week, and with his family and friends. Still, I spent a few hours and scraped together the last of my residency reviews. Hopefully they came together a little better than I think they did.

Same as last year, I'm putting up the short essay of what I came away with from this residency straight out of the residency reviews. I can hardly wait for January, to see everyone and to keep hearing from all of these amazing writers who keep changing my writing more than I ever imagined anyone could.

Without further ado, the essay: (Any grammar police, please forgive me...)

                   Residency Review: The Joy of Remaking

My last two semesters, I struggled a great deal with revision. I’ve been hearing writer after writer talking about how a poet can’t just copyedit a piece and call it good. We have to enter into a process of re-envisioning, working the poem over and over, expanding it more and more until it refuses to encompass any more. Then we can condense it and condense it until we squeeze out all the extra bits in, and only the essential pieces remain. It’s been a frustration for me, because even though I have had a few very successful revisions, most of them consist of moving a few lines around or taking out a word or an image to tighten a line and letting it be. Even though I feel I know infinitely more about revision than I ever did before I started this program, I still feel as if, when I approach my own work, there’s nothing more for me to open up.
This residency, it seems like the theme of revision kept coming up again and again. Claire Davis admitted her frustrations, and her dedication, by telling us she revised three hundred plus pages at least three times. And then she showed us where she finds small spaces to open up—spaces of abstraction which may or may not be good enough or right for the piece can be cracked open and spill over into pages and pages of new opportunity. Or, a character may become narrow and need to be squeezed out. Charles Johnson admitted to throwing out thousands of pages and trying on persona after persona until, finally, the voice and motivation came out right.
Then Aimee Nezukumatathil came out and dropped the haibun form right in front of me. That little prose poem, which usually makes me so nervous, with its accompanying haiku seemed, suddenly, to be the answer to a poem I’ve been struggling with for a year and a half. Ellen Bass warned us to watch out for moments in a poem when emotion is too easy, and to re-orient the speaker’s vision toward the things that triggered the speaker’s emotion, instead of writing down the feelings themselves. Joe Millar, with Dorianne and Ellen’s help, gave me new perspective on line breaks—showing me how to rethink and re-shape a poem with a simple syllabic exercise. Peter Sears, with the help of Richard Hugo, showed me that I can use perfect meter in a piece without it becoming obvious or monotonous by working it into the sentence structure instead of into the line.
Armed with these and other tools, such as Mary Helen Stefaniak’s declaration that eavesdropping is a perfectly acceptable form of research (which I’ve always employed, but will do so now without guilt) and Mike Myer’s admonition to always start in place in order to get the reader’s feet on the ground, I feel like I’m a little better prepared to re-envision my pieces. To give them a little more life, and, when they’re bursting with it, start to whittle them back down. Do I believe I’ve solved all my revision problems? Does a writer ever? But I do feel as if this residency and these writers have given me more confidence, a better understanding of the problems that will come up in my writing, and a few more things to toss into my toolbox to help along the way.

Thanks to all who follow these posts. I hope they're interesting for you.

~Hannah Mae

Friday, June 22, 2012

Notes notes notes, and more notes. And then, some more notes!

Yep, I'm done for. This morning, not only did I sleep in, despite my alarm going off and apparently being dismissed, (which I did not wake up for), but I got two text messages. One was from one of my friends about travel arrangements. The other was from one of my fellow MFAers, letting me know there was a problem with my novel. I spent 45 minutes fretting about how I was going to explain the problem with my novel, until I realized not only do I not have a novel, the text message about said novel never existed, and I had, in fact, dreamed the second text message AND the 45 minutes of fretting about it. ...I got up and went for coffee...

Coffee and blueberry muffin in hand (coffee from the bistro, muffin from Maggie's [priorities, y'know]), I headed off to Leslie Miller's craft talk about Agency in the poem. I really like Leslie's attention to the scientific in her poetry, and it translated into her talk. She explained how a story is appreciated by a reader. Literally how. She said that a story or a poem is almost like a computer program, and the language we use must be constructed in such a way that the program will run in the reader's mind without a 'glitch', if you will. In order to do this, we must make effective use of 'stealth words'--pronouns and other connective language--. Leslie quoted a study that said content vocabulary makes up 90% of our language, but connective language, words of relationship and/or power dynamic, is employed 55% of the time in speech and writing. She showed us examples where the 'agency', the delivery/point of view/perspective, moved throughout the poem and made it both complex and interesting. I felt like the talk was useful both for poetry and prose. In our workshop after, we agreed that we didn't like the idea of theory to explain something so complex and that, yes, it did seem mostly like it could be reduced to being called just point of view. But I feel that there's a difference of point of view and perspective. The story being told from a certain perspective, or a wandering perspective, gives a better chance for the direction and focus of the story to change, because we're standing behind the narrator's eye, looking at the subject through their eye as they see it (and by 'as they see it', I don't just mean we see it through their opinion, but we actually get to see it as it physically enters the narrator's 'vision', at the moment it does so). This was the idea that I came away with, anyway.

Today was also the last workshops of the residency :( We ran a little late, and a few of us stayed a little later than that, but the poems were good, the feedback and suggestions were great. I feel really blessed to have been in such an engaged, intelligent, and compassionate group. Not that nobody got their pieces taken apart, we all had at least one piece that got shredded, but it was a gentle shredding :) At least it was from where I was sitting. Now I just can't believe I will only have one more round of workshops here. Where in the heck does the time go? A year and a half ago I was sobbing over the impossibility of submitting my application, and thinking of how long two years would be.

After lunch, there was a talk about historical novels by Charles Johnson. While I thought it was going to be a how-to or advice, it wound up being more of a summary of his personal experience while writing his novels Middle Passage and Dreamer. It was a very engaging talk though. I enjoyed it. He seems to be a very gracious man. And, as I had just so happened to have Middle Passage on my bookshelf left over from an American Novel class at UM, I asked him to sign it. I discovered that (while it's only 20 years old) the book I bought from the Book Exchange in Zoo Town is a first edition, published from an imprint that no longer exists. Guess I'll hang on to the book, especially now that it's been autographed.

I had my meeting with Peter today to get the nuts and bolts of the study plan squared away. The way it sounds, I more or less have free reign over my study plan. He said I didn't even have to send any poems to him until the essay is done if I didn't want to. (I'm going to, but I still found it interesting). It was a fun meeting, though. He's only half serious all of the time, so a fair part of the meeting was spent observing and commenting on the activity going on the university center, like the conference services people who were hauling around these long metal poles, and turning around suddenly without looking so that they almost clocked a sum total of about 14 people who were innocently sitting or walking by. Thankfully, our meeting took place without incident.

I attended the graduate readings as well. One of the girls was the aforementioned MFAer who, it turns out, did not actually send me a text message. The presentation was absolutely incredible. I don't recall having been that engaged in any of the grad presentations I've attended for this program so far.

The faculty reading tonight was shorter than usual, but it was really fun. There were three teriffic writers, Mags, Peter, and Mary Helen Stefaniak. After we listened to the reading, my friend hung back to go pick up a book, so the other two of us headed back to the room. When she got back, I found out she'd bought Mary Helen's book for me, because she just really thinks I will like it. I swear, she is one of THE sweetest people I know.

I've been trying all night to revamp my study plan, but it's 12:30 again, it's not done, it's 1:30 at home, and judging by my inability to rise this morning, I'm thinking I won't be finishing tonight. Still, I'm a little closer. Maybe in the morning tomorrow or something, hey?

Ok, that's it for tonight from the Grove. Hope this finds you all healthy, wealthy, and wise! Or at least well-rested and cheerful.

Good night!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Slacker: an offensive term for a young educated person who is regarded as being disaffected or apathetic, and underachieving (slang)

Good Evening, World,

Here, where I sit on the fourth floor of the dorm room, it sounds like the crickets are singing. And if I try hard enough, I can convince myself that it really is crickets, and not the fluorescent light above my head buzzing like a ticked off horsefly...Thank goodness I never had to live in the dorms in Zoo Town. I would've gone postal.

Today was the day! For two big things, really. All of you out there who know me know that I can be ridiculously overcommitted, to the point of completely wearing myself out. ("No!" You say. "Not you!" ...right? :P ) So today I did not oversleep as much as I planned, and I almost did not miss the first craft talk of the day. Instead of making it my ambition to go to every single one of these things, I have made it my ambition to skip one each residency, on principle. Well, today I skipped the long form prose talk (which, afterward, my workshop leader said had incredible insights and was invaluable for poets as well as the prose writers. My only consolation was it didn't look like anyone else in my workshop had attended either), AND the Get a Job Teaching at the College Level talk. Two! I was so proud and terribly disappointed in me.
The other big thing to happen was (drumroll please):
Student and Advisor pairings!! *ta-da!*

The events I did attend were:
Workshop, which was wonderful, although we were running a skosh bit behind and wound up staying in our room a half hour late in order to get everyone's poems done. But we got them done, and it was a very good two hours.
Lunch, where I was seated with Craig Lesley, my roommate, and a couple of other poetry friends. Since we got in so late, my workshop mates and myself didn't even have to stand in line. We got right in, got food, got seats. Bam! done. That's the way to do it!
A conversation by the Quad, which involved a couple of friends and it was a very nice hour and a half long stretch of talking about things like faith and facing difficulty, which sounds like a strange thing to suddenly get in to discussing at a school residency, but I thought it was a very good discussion, and it was with some great people.
The Poetry Publishing Panel, (nice alliteration, hey?) The insights from the group were really great. There were four members of the panel, all at different phases of their writing and publishing careers. Some of the main points were: Don't start too early (which was never really clarified...I'm not sure when it's too early, and when it's not.). Remember that editors are people too, meaning a bunch of them have boxes of submissions sitting in their living room, and their personal lives may be affecting their choices. (If they've just had a fight, they're probably not going to appreciate a poem about how sweet marriage is). As always, be persistent. Beware of vanity presses that charge an arm and a leg to pop you right into print.
Leslie Miller, my advisor from last semester, dropped in a helpful breakdown of presses or places to find presses/journals/web-based publications, etc. for various ambitions. If you want to get a great resume, start ___________. If you want to just pad your resume with a bunch of publications regardless of prestige, start ___________. If you want to get in on meeting some other poets, or if you want to submit to theme publications, or if you want to get in to some new hip trendy publication, start _________. (If you want the actual info, message me and I can get you some of the stuff off the handout.)
Marvin Bell reminded us that publishing a poem is not a mark for or against it. And to remember to cherish rejection letters.
Everyone made sure to remind us to keep records of where the submissions are sent and when, to withdraw simultaneous submissions, to keep the best rejection letters, and so forth. They advised sending out to about 30 places at a time, just to have things out and keep yourself in the spirit, since it can be quite discouraging.
After the presentation, I dragged myself back to the room and just about fell asleep on the couch. A bunch of the poetry girls were going to head for dinner, but once I got the idea of the size of the crowd, and the thought of trying to pry my eyelids open to stay awake through dinner, I decided I'd stay in and rest a little bit. I do feel bad, and I think it would have been fun to go. Although, I heard the restaurant was not well suited to such a crowd, and so those who went were sort of relegated to conversations only with those immediately near them.
The reading was not the best I've ever been to tonight. Marvin Bell was, of course, Marvelous, but the other two readers didn't seem to have as much craft supporting their pieces as I had expected, and I was a little bit disappointed.
The Pacific literary Journal, Silk Road, had its release party tonight. I went along, had a cookie, and stood under a tree whilst people milled around in front of me. From that I managed a conversation with the assistant director of the program (who is SUCH a sweetheart and she's so amazing. They all are. I really admire them!), a first semester student who I've been running into everywhere, and the novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell who is also a real sweetheart, and quite fun to talk to.

I was (you'll never believe this) on the verge of trying about a half inch of white wine. It took me 45 minutes to decide to have some. I stepped out of the tree I kept finding myself standing deeper in, down to the girl who was serving the wine. I asked her if she had the tiniest bit of white, she said yes, but she needed to see my I.D. ...EVERY blasted event we've been to on this campus that has wine, I have left my ID in the room. EVERY time. *eyeroll* Ah well, I didn't need it anyways, right? It was still fun.
I came back with my roommates and we talked about the upcoming meetings with our advisors. None of us really knows what it is we're planning on doing. We all have ideas, but the farther we get, the harder they seem to be to explain. I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do about why I can't explain...

Ok, ok, I was trying to build a little tension there. I've been assigned Peter Sears :) He's such a wonderful fellow, and I've had him in workshop twice now. It will be interesting to see what a semester studying with him is like :)

And with that, I'm going to hit the hay, because it's 1:30 my time, and I'm planning on being at the a.m. craft talk. With coffee. And some form of food. Because this not eating thing, although it doesn't bother me at home, is not working in the mornings here (yes, I still eat lunch and something for dinner, please don't assume I'm not actually eating). So I shall see you all soon, possibly some of you tomorrow, and for you out there, stalking me, who wish you were here, cheers to you! I miss your weird ability to be standing in front of me wherever I go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Coffee, Winery, Grand Theft Auto...

Good Evening to all five of my registered fans (who may or may not actually read this) and those of you who hover mysteriously in the shadows of the World Wide Web! ...I have got to stop writing this stuff at midnight.

Today was unique in several ways, not the least being that I actually got to have coffee and sat around for the first hour of the day with my earbuds in listening to (and taking notes on) a Write Question NPR interview from May 3rd with Barry Lopez that Sandra assigned us for workshop. Unique, because I never listen to my iPod in the morning, and I was taking notes on an interview that I have downloaded as a podcast and am retaining on my iDevice so that, in future, I can listen to it again. So, I asked my befogged brain, why notes? To which my befogged brain did not reply. So, todays date and my entire 'notes' section in the back of my day planner is filled with notes on the rather fascinating interview on the responsibility of a writer to the public. A link for the interview can be found here: There should be links for any and all parties who may find the interview interesting, and appeal to any level of computer savvy.

Christine Sneed was the 9 a.m. Craft talk. She spoke to us about the usefulness of the trip narrative. She noted that many students' writing sort of comes out like a half-compressed accordion--not enough air to really make it sound good, yet not enough pressure on the parts that really matter. She advised us to put our characters in motion. We don't need to plot out the characters' plans as carefully as a trip to Disneyland--no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader--but getting the characters out of their houses and into new territory can really open the story and sort of define where the story might go. A trip story gives a setting which draws the writer in, and gives up interesting details. Trip-based stories allow one to write stories about a place that has made an impression on the writer. She gave some examples: "Dry Rain" by Pete Fromm, "The Girl on a Plane" by Gaitskill, "Ice" by Lily Tuck, and "Issues I dealt with in Therapy" by Matthew Clam.
She told us to end on an image, not on an abstraction in order to keep interest down to the last sentence.
She also noted that the Greek word for infinity=their word for mess. I forget exactly what she further related that to, but the thought still seems poignant. I'm sure I'll remember it tomorrow.

Workshop was, again, amazing. This time, Sandra turned to me and said that, now that she's praised my poetry, she's going to really tear it apart. The piece I had up today got rather shredded, and I was encouraged to approach it from the standpoint of a meditation, instead of a narrative scene. She is going to look up examples of meditative poetry so I can sort of piece together a form out of it, and then rewrite the piece with better, more focused perspective. It was really nice to not get just "trim this, nice lines, etc". Not that that's not nice to get in workshop, but I liked that she wanted to pry it apart and find the real heart of it.

Lunch was followed by the talk my roommates dragged me to which was, yes, the talk on romantic scenes. And when I say romantic, I'm being G rated. You can go ahead and fill in the rest. To be fair, it was a mostly tasteful, humerous, and straightforward look at how to create those scenes carefully, and with consideration for the reader, the subject matter, the characters, and the overall storyline. If it's not necessary, don't do it! If it is absolutely necessary, don't shy away from it. If you're working on it, don't be cliche and disgusting about it. There are plenty of ways to write those sorts of scenes tastefully. I don't forsee using any of the information from the talk anytime soon, but it really was well done.

Peter Sears taught a class on whether or not to use meter in poetry, or free verse, or verse libre, or just using rhythm/cadence, etc. Most of the salient points can be found in the third chapter of 'Best Words, Best Order' by Stephen Dobyns. Still, it was nice to get a refresher. He also provided us with some writing prompts, and I got a strange but interesting first draft of a poem out of the mix. Afterward, when I sat down for one of the graduate readings and a couple of people said they had no idea what we had just talked about in class, I went through and tried to explain it. Hopefully I did all right. I don't have a lot of hope for my future as a teacher.

The graduate readings were, as usual, pretty amazing. I had been in workshop with one of the students twice, and I must say her reading astonished me, as the poems she presented were SO different from the ones I had seen. It reminded me how unpolished and open the work we turn in for workshop really is. Which is encouraging, since I still don't really know how to make the revisions I need to...

Tonight was the night for the winery trip, so we all packed on to bus # 579 and two others, and hi-yo'd off to Elk Cove Winery. There was a cloud front off on the horizon, but it didn't make it rain. Despite the wind, the scenery was just gorgeous. There was, of course, wine, and some snacks laid out--meat, crackers, fruit cheese, really yummy vegan (what th') mint chocolate chip cookies. They were sooooo good. As was the reading. Ann Hood and Craig Lesley got up and read two amazing pieces that managed to touch every emotion of 90 percent of people in the crowd. Ann Hood's piece was sad, but mingled with a lot of hope. Lesley's bit of memoir had us mostly in uproarious laughter. It was a great night. Afterward, a few of us went out to stand on the winery's deck and look out over the rows of vines near sunset. It was clouded over so we couldn't actually see the sunset, but even the cloud cover cast a nice ambiance over the scene, and it made the green seem so much more vibrant. Just gorgeous.

We came back to our room when we got home, and watched a couple monty python / Fry and Laurie pieces and settled in for some serious homework. And, a little while later, we heard an engine rev outside. LOUDly outside. I looked up at my roommate and we both looked toward the window right about the same moment as a siren kicked on. Then another one and another one, then two more, then another, (all these were dodge magnums), then the white crown vic arrived, and all these cars were surrounding a white truck with its four-ways on out in front of our dorm. We heard the cops yelling at another car farther up and out of sight to get the door open, for the driver to step out of the vehicle, to open the door, to drop her purse, to put her hands in the air, and the radio in the background rolling out details that the subject had been pulled over, that the subject wasn't complying, still wasn't complying. The three of us went out of our room down one of the halls to where we had a pristine view of them leading the handcuffed lady over to the grass and helping her take a seat. EMS pulled up then, the little fire truck. My roommates decided that would be a good time to go out and have a cigarette, so I followed them out onto the concrete in front of the dorms where a few other students were gathered and watching. By the time we got out there, the lady had been put in one of the squad cars, and a kid had hopped out of the white truck, received keys from the officers, got in the car, and left. Then the truck left. When we got outside, the ambulance arrived. We met up with a couple of other people farther down the sidewalk and watched them finishing up. Although we went back in before they left. Down on the sidewalk, one of the guys was daring his wife to go talk to one of the officers and kick off a Forest Grove spinoff of 'Castle'. For seven bucks, she wouldn't go for it. No harm in trying, right?

Sandra has the first talk tomorrow, so I had better go get some shut-eye so I'll be all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. ...Or at least less cranky and scattered. Have a great night, all!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Slow and the Dead.

Hello, all! Happy Father's day. I hope you took the time to greet your father, father figure, or mentor and tell him thanks.

I had to wait for my daddy to get back from a camping trip and unpack before I could give him a call, but still, in this zone where cellular technology is rather frowned upon, I managed to sneak in a 10 minute conversation.

--The title of this post refers to the slow, which is me because I've been sleeping 5-6 hours and running or studying or workshopping or taking notes or walking between readings or (previous to all that) driving or taking the car to mechanics or making plans with the fam or....y'know. The dead refers to the flashlight my aunt gave me a couple of days ago, which I lent to my roommate to use as a reading light when we all go to bed, and which (having a bulb burn out, and then a second bulb burn out) was reduced to little more than being useful for testing whether or not an individual suffers from epilepsy. Not sure why two of the three bulbs burning out would cause it to strobe like that, but there you have it--

I had some issues getting up this morning. Not waking up, I woke right up the first time my alarm went off at 7. It was the hour it took to get my eyelids to remain in a raised and locked position. Hopefully I'll be in bed a bit earlier tonight. Of course, I predict that every single night at these residencies, and it hasn't happened yet...

Today kicked off with no coffee (because of the latency in the wake-up system) and Mary Helen Stefaniak's Craft talk on creating characters who are different from ourselves. Thankfully, she's nearly as stimulating as a nice, medium organic blend.
She gave us handouts of 8 snippets from novels (sans title or author), read some of them aloud, and had us guess from the clues in the language the gender, race, and other pertinent facts about the narrator. The point of this was to get us away from looking at the back of the book at the picture of the author, or reading the author's name and getting it ingrained in our brains that the individual doing the writing was the individual doing the speaking.
There have been questions raised as to whether or not it is ethical to pretend to be a different speaker. For instance, a caucasian (forgive me if that's not the politically correct term) who was not all that friendly toward African American folk, you might say, wrote a novel from the voice of an African American who lead a revolt. And took on the voice quite well. The novel was admired by African American readers until they realized who actually wrote it. They stripped away the credibility of the author and tore down the work. It wasn't until the 1990's that a rise of black scholarship looked at the book again in the light of 'authenticity'. They came to the conclusion that "any culture is accessible to a writer who is willing to understand, learn, and inhabit that culture". Of course, one must have an experience of the sort of character one might like to write about. But as long as a writer may approach his or her character with an authentic, open-minded view, it seems quite fair to say that we might inhabit anybody from anywhere and breathe them to life, no matter how different from ourselves that person may be.

After Mary Helen's talk, we all trotted off to workshop. My workshops this round are with Sandra Alcosser and Peter Sears. Both brilliant, both gracious, and both absolutely sweet, compassionate, and not afraid to tell you what's best for the work, even when you don't want to hear it. We did a couple of my favorite poems by some of my workshop mates, annnnnnd, then we got to mine. I knew there would be some problems with it, and it was about a subject you don't really see much. Me and my dang ladybugs, I chose to try doing a piece from the perspective of a freshly emerged ladybird beetle having just popped out of it's larval carapace. ...Some people weren't sure what carapace meant. It was also, just as I feared, confusing and abstract. Still, I got some nice ideas for revision, and the repetition I had packed in there went over incredibly well. I don't like it, but everyone else did, so I suppose that might as well stay ;)

At lunch, I sat with one of the graduating students and chatted with her. She is SUCH a sweetheart and she's so much fun! I'll miss her the next couple of residencies :( A few months ago, she told an interesting story about the overwhelming numbers of birds roosting in the trees around her yard, and I told her I'd write her a 'The Birds'-esque poem and read it for her at residency. So, at lunch, I read it to her. It was really fun :)

After lunch we listened to Dorianne Laux. Her talk was on 'Poems of Identity'. My friends and I assumed something more in the vein, perhaps, of confessional poetry or something along those lines. However, she read us some poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, Yusef Komunyaka, and a few others. The poems were written from the moment in time when the child around whom the poem is centered changes from being simply someone living in the world and observing it, to being a witness. One who sees and records. Elizabeth Bishop's 'In the Waiting Room', Komunyaka's 'Venus Fly Traps'--which I had never heard and cannot believe I had never heard before--showed us the narrator as a very young child having some small experience which put him or her in a position in which he or she was suddenly overhearing, watching, discovering that they are different from the other people in the world. That they are themselves, others are others, and (despite varied differences in the center of their transformation and therefore their motivation) that it falls to them to follow their particular curiosity in that moment, which leads them into a lifetime of poetic discourse. 

--Please remember that my brain is not firing on all cylinders, so if you are a current Pacific student and I'm getting all of this wrong, forgive me. For you non-um...Pacifists? Pacifins? Pacificians? If my sentences do not make sense, I also beg you to forgive me. Thank you--

Mike Magnuson (Mags) was the last to present. His presentation was called "The First Part of Speech", and he noted that nearly everything in our world is a noun. Hannah is a noun. Hannah Mae is a noun. Goldfish, Notebook, Laptop, jumpdrive, all nouns. It's really hard to write without nouns. He said he's been practicing stripping the 'connective tissue' from his writing in order to reduce it to its bare parts. Parataxis.
Mags brought up the quote "Good writers write with nouns and verbs". Do they? Most of the English language is made up of connective tissue. Not all writing absolutely requires a heavy use of nouns and verbs.
After the talk, I summarized the notes I had for another student, and she mentioned that she had read a piece (I forget the writer) about a man who had three stones in his pocket. Each of the three stones represented something to the man who carried them. She said the author wrote for pages and pages without a single use of a noun. She actually had to refer back a few pages when she forgot what his subject had originally been, but that the piece had functioned quite well without it. Something to think about.

I came back to the room after that and worked on my press edits, to get them finished up. None of the graduates in poetry were presenting today. Not that they have to be in my genre or be someone I knew in order to attend, but I have the presentations I was planning to go to mapped out, and they take up the better part of this next week. I hadn't realized I'd become acquainted with so many people! I'm a little disappointed though, because two readings I really want to go to are scheduled at the same time. Although, one presentation has two people, the other has three. If the guy I really want to hear goes last, (if I run fast) I might be able to go to all three that I wanted to. *crosses fingers*.

The reading tonight was, as usual, amazing. Joe Millar, Valerie Laken, and Leslie Adrienne Miller. Leslie was my advisor this last semester, and the poetry she read tonight was so much different to my ear than the poetry she read back in January. This reading helped me understand that our styles are more alike than I thought. Not that she wasn't a good fit for me and my work last semester. She positively floored me. I just thought her work was more scientific than down-to-earth and with some humor and wordplay. It was a nice discovery.

The student reading was also amazing. It seems to me that there are a lot of new students this time around. I've been hanging out sort of with two: the girl I was corresponding with before the semester (who read, and her reading was great!!) and a guy who I sat down next to when we met up with our correspondents at the dinner on the first night and we started chatting. A few new students and a residency only student (all of the residency benefits, none of the residency review requirements) all signed up to read. The res-only student signed my roommate up to read, who signed me up, so I signed up my other roommate. Because why not, right? But that was last night. Tonight I got to hear some students I hadn't heard before, we had some fiction writers experimenting with poetry, and some poets braving the group with their workshop pieces, which were pretty good! Everyone did quite well, and there were some really confident readers. I am rather jealous of their confidence.

And at the moment, I am jealous of my roommates, who have gone to bed. So, I do believe I shall follow their example. Good night, all, I'll talk to you soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Promises Promises

Soooo, it is 12:34 a.m. Oregon time, which means it is 1:34 Montana time, and my little noggin is currently fried because I was trying to put the finishing touches on the workshop pieces we're going to be critiquing (and before my mother reads this and thinks I didn't do my homework, I DID do my homework, I'm just a little picky about it, so I had to type my comments and go back and re-add all the lines and margin comments to the typed stuff. Anyway...)

So Wow. Here we are again, back in Forest Grove, and me and my two good friends I am rooming with cannot believe we're already beginning our third semesters here. We figured time would go by too fast but this is just doggone ridiculous. Still, rapidly as it's passing, it is just amazing.
Yesterday was the program opener, and even though most of the logistics are the same, we still all showed up to greet the faculty, cheer the staff, and get the general overview and announcements. Some people were talking about skipping, but due to the crazy semester and short break, shortened further by my recent move, I wanted to go to get me all jazzed up for residency. As usual, I was glad I did :)

Marvin Bell was the first presenter. His talks are so rich and so passionate that it's impossible to listen and take notes at the same time. Not that I didn't, I have two full notebook pages of notes, but they're the kind of thing you don't want to take notes on. You just want to sit there and listen and hope that your brain will retain it all on its own, because the note taking winds up just being a distraction. His talk was about surprising ourselves with our writing, and also managing to write feeling into our poetry without being sentimental. He reiterated that prose is prose for what it includes, poetry is poetry for what it leaves out. He also alluded to Ali Bhaba (forgive me if I misspelled it) and the magic words in that story. Obviously, that character had to learn the magic words, and then put them into practice. In the same way, we as writers must learn our tools from the things we read and putting them onto the page, learning how to lay them out right to make the magic.

There was SO much more to that talk, and I have to type up the notes in order to get more about it here into the blog.

After Marvin, Debra Gwartney got up and talked to us about our essays coming up this semester. She really managed to put a lot of peoples' minds at ease, since most of us are still a little fuzzy about what subject we'd like to choose, what style of essay we're allowed to write, how long it should be, how many sources, etc. Me, I'm still nervous because even though she did a great job and laid out all these different choices and suggestions, I still have about 4 different things I'm interested in, no clue how to narrow them down, or if I'm just crazy and the things I'm thinking are in the poems I want to write about aren't really there at all. At least I know which poets I'm interested in talking about, right?

Claire Davis was interviewed by Amy Merrick about revision after lunch. And myyyyy goodness. I don't read most modern fiction, or if I do it's stuff like Stephen James, Kristen Heitzmann's 'Indivisible', and Karen Hancock's 'The Enclave' (weird, but really good, IMHO). The interview, and Claire's willingness to do whatever it takes for the story really floored me, and it's making me want to read her books. I need to make a list of all the faculty books and all the fiction my friend Chris keeps encouraging me to read, and then lock myself in my apartment for a month when I graduate and just feed myself a steady fiction stream.
Claire and Amy were, as I said, talking about revision. Claire noted that she wrote her newest novel, 'Swimming with Horses' up to 320-odd pages before she realized she had two characters with necessary elements who could be combined into one. So she started the entire thing over again. Got in about 360 pages, and realized one of the guys in the story didn't even further the story at all. So out he came and the entire work got revised AGAIN! Can you imagine what kind of devotion that would take? She revised it yet again after that because another character had issues that needed to be addressed. I can barely revise half a dang page of poetry most of the time.
Claire brought up a section she had been revising in the novel and showed us three different versions. In each one, she had taken a sentence which seemed more like a placeholder in the work, and cracked it open to see what it would reveal. She got about 4 or so pages out of the sentence. So, she cracked another one open and got a few more pages. It was a line like "Such extravagant beauty". She said to be aware of lines like this in our own work--lines that might be hiding the potential for something so much more wonderful. It is our responsibility as writers to pay attention to moments in the story like that. We can't just keep a cheesy line and hope the reader won't notice. It doesn't matter if the reader doesn't notice. If we don't explore moments like that, we haven't done our job.
She was asked when she knew the work needed to be revised, and she replied that it is when the characters stop engaging her. If they are no longer exciting or interesting or compelling to discover, there's something wrong in the piece. Courage comes in then--the courage to address the problem, and take the necessary steps to correct it, even if it means re-envisioning the entire piece.
     As a comment on re-envisioning, she recommended Raymond Carver's 'The Bath' be compared to 'A Small, Good Thing'.
Again, there was more, but I didn't get to type the notes up yet.

Kellie Wells spoke after that about Idiosyncratic Omniscience in modern fiction: the idea that authors adopt an omniscient persona through which to tell a story, which removes them from the difficulty of being all-knowing (which, let's face it, we just can't do) and allows for a richer narrative voice that is not afraid to express its own opinion about the subject, to be sassy or cocky, etc., without making the narrator seem like an arrogant twerp. (Can you tell I'm about to fall asleep sitting up right now?)

I'll try and catch this up on today's happenings tomorrow. For now I gotta hit the hay. *Wave* to my cyber stalker ;) I miss ya around here. To the rest, I'll see you soon, and I miss you guys too!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

And So it Begins...

Hi all,

I promised a post tonight, so here it is. However, it's also after 1 a.m. Oregon time, so I don't even want to think about Montana time. So here is your reassurance that yes, I have been thinking about my postings, and I'll try and get one up over the dinner hour tomorrow.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I figure that, with the way people choose to celebrate St. Patrick's day this day and age, a drinking poem would be an acceptable post. This is not my poem, but it is one of my favorites which I fully intend to memorize completely (at the moment, I can only say the first and last stanzas and a few bits of the middle from memory) and start reciting at a bar when everyone around me is drunk and therefore won't remember it...that's the plan anyway. I don't go to bars, so it's kind of a hitch. Still, I give you 'The Old Man's Carousal' by James Kirke Paulding.

The Old Man’s Carousal
By James Kirke Paulding
DRINK! drink! to whom shall we drink?
To a friend or a mistress? Come, let me think!
To those who are absent, or those who are here?
To the dead that we loved, or the living still dear?
Alas! when I look, I find none of the last! 5
The present is barren,—let ’s drink to the past!

Come! here ’s to the girl with a voice sweet and low,
The eye all of fire and the bosom of snow,
Who erewhile, in the days of my youth that are fled,
Once slept on my bosom, and pillowed my head! 10
Would you know where to find such a delicate prize?
Go seek in you church-yard, for there she lies.

And here ’s to the friend, the one friend of my youth,
With a head full of genius, a heart full of truth,
Who traveled with me in the sunshine of life, 15
And stood by my side in its peace and its strife!
Would you know where to seek for a blessing so rare?
Go drag the lone sea, you may find him there.

And here ’s to a brace of twin cherubs of mine,
With hearts like their mother’s, as pure as this wine, 20
Who came but to see the first act of the play,
Grew tired of the scene, and then both went away.
Would you know where this brace of bright cherubs have hied?
Go seek them in heaven, for there they abide.

A bumper, my boys! to a gray-headed pair, 25
Who watched o’er my childhood with tenderest care.
God bless them, and keep them, and may they look down
On the head of their son, without tear, sigh, or frown!
Would you know whom I drink to? go seek ’mid the dead,
You will find both their names on the stone at their head. 30

And here ’s—but alas! the good wine is no more,
The bottle is emptied of all its bright store;
Like those we have toasted, its spirit is fled,
And nothing is left of the light that it shed.
Then, a bumper of tears, boys! the banquet here ends. 35
With a health to our dead, since we ’ve no living friends.

Happy St. Patrick's day, and I hope that, whatever method
of celebration you choose, it is filled with friends and loved ones. 

God Bless!


(Poem cut and pasted from

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nuts, Bolts, and BISKITS!!: Anatomy of a Writer's Process

Disclaimer: This blog is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the content contained herein and any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Wait. Shoot! Wrong disclaimer. This was the one I wanted--

Disclaimer: This blog is generally a work of NON-Fiction--except when poems and stories pop up, and sometimes even then. While this blog may be a representation of my own particular process with this one particular poem, my processes, poems, and tastes may vary. This is NOT a blanket statement of what all writers processes are or should be.

Ok, now that THAT is out of the way...

This is for my friends who are not generally writers (writers can read it too, if you want), who look at poems and stories and say "How do you DO that? Man! Wish I could just sit down and write out something like that!" Weeeeelll, that's not really the way it works. So, here's a little peek into the system. I've chosen one of my favorite poetic forms, and a poem which is still in the works.

My favorite form is currently the Villanelle. (If you don't want a rather technical tutorial, please skip this paragraph). This little gem is composed of six stanzas, with repeating lines running throughout. You'll see how that works when I write in the first draft. I like to write these little fellows when I want to feel smart, or I'm suffering from chronic writer's block. They don't always work out quite right, but at least they get me SOMEwhere. The form is described in technical terms as looking like this: A1, B, A2  A, B, A1  A, B, A2  A, B, A1 A, B, A2  A, B, A1, A2. The letters refer to a rhyme. If I choose the word 'Shaking' as my A rhyme, then I can use Waking, Baking, Taking, Slaking, etc. A1 is a full line, as is A2, and these lines will weave through the poem in alternate stanzas, appearing together in the first and last. For a professional example of a Villanelle, read 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' by Dylan Thomas here:

Ok, enough of that. Now for the process. I'm a sort of 18th century/21st century hybrid poet. I do so love my notebook and pen, and I do so love my word processor. I tend to write out two or three drafts in my notebook, mostly just tweaking the occasional word, before I enter the poem into the computer. Then I print it, let it sit a day or two, or a couple hours as the mood strikes me or the lustre of the poem wears off in my eyes, and attack it again. Sometimes it's just an idea that gets tweaked. Sometimes, the poem gets a full rewrite. But in any case, nearly every poem goes through drafts. This poem is currently called 'For the Bird in my Woodstove'. As you may have guessed, titles also change. Here is the original poem: (please don't abandon this post in the middle of the poem. It gets better, I promise!)

The lark in the corner is lost for words,
leg cocked a strange angle, two days in the pipe,
the strangest longing I've ever heard.

My cats have been watching the box's glass door, a bird
in the chimney seemed strange. That type
of surprise--the lark in the corner is lost for words

and I am pulling the cats back to open the door, sure
my face will be filled with a bluster of wings, wipe
ashes from his feathers, the strangest longing I've ever heard--

His feet sifting remains of trees and bugs interred
in a cast iron box, mouth open, unripe.
The lark in the corner is lost for words

but his wings are still, his dark eyes fixed on the furred
creatures at my feet, my hand looks suited to swipe
the same--the strangest longing I've ever heard.

I reach in to touch him, take him a third
time, but when my fingers touch him, he's still, striped
with grey and silence. This lark, still lost for words
the strangest longing I've ever heard.

Doesn't make the most sense in the world, does it. Typing it in again, it sounds like the bird died in the speaker's hand at the end. The order of the words in the sentences is strange, the action is not especially clear, the lines are stretched out in desperate attempts to make things fit. No pulitzer for the collection this sucker falls in... So, now is the point where I assess what the poem wants to say. The good thing is, I got the words on the page. It's out, it's moving, it has an idea. I just have to find it. So, this is attempt #2:

Foreign Bird in the Woodbox

The lark in the corner is lost for words
after shrieking and sliding down the stovepipe a full two days,
the strangest longing I have ever heard.

And now we see each other through the glass--a bird
a human, so surprised that I have nothing to say
and the lark in the corner is lost for words.

Does he see the two sentries, my two furred
guardians, chattering oddly for a snack, if they may,
the strangest longing I've ever heard.

Inside, his feet sift ashes of trees and bugs interred
in the cast iron box. I imagine, if it were me, what I'd pray.
But the lark in the corner is lost for words.

If I opened the door and he suddenly blustered
through, I would imagine him stuck in the house to stay,
the strangest longing I've ever heard.

I reach in to touch him, feeling the absurd
tingle of fear in my firgers. Shouldn't he cry out some way?
But the lark in the corner is lost for words.
It is the strangest longing I've ever heard.

Ok. Much much better. One of the things to remember (and have a love/hate reaction to) in forms is that changing one end word can change the whole dang thing. Above, the B rhyme was 'pipe'. Here, it is 'days', which adjusts every single sentence. It can be really refreshing to make one of those changes or, in a much longer or more complicated piece (such as the sonnet corona I'm trying to bring into being) it's a real stinking nightmare sometimes. In this revision, I'm more interested by the line about the trees and bugs interred in the box, and the 'absurd' tingle of fear in the fingers. The dynamic has also shifted from the lark being afraid of both the human and the cats, to the bird being more afraid of the cats, and the human wanting the bird to stay in the house.

Here's version three, similar, but cleaned up a little:

For the Bird in the Woodstove

The lark in the corner is lost for words
after scrabbling down the stovepipe for two full days,
the strangest longing I have ever heard.

And now we see each other through the glass, absurd
the way we stare at one another. I don't know what to say
to him, and he, in his corner, is lost for words.

Does he see the two sentries, my gray, furred
guardians, chattering squeaks to ask if they may
have a snack--the strangest longing I have ever heard.

Inside, his little feet sift ashes of trees and bugs interred
in cast iron. I imagine, if it were me, I'd pray,
but the Lark in the corner is lost for words.

If I opened the door and he suddenly blustered
through, I'd hope he was stuck in the house to stay--
the strangest longing I've ever heard.

I reach in to touch him, to feel the warm, light bird
quiver in my hand. Shouldn't he cry out some way?
But he, in his corner, is lost for words.
It is the strangest longing I've ever heard.

In this revision, I moved some of the rhymes around just to see what happened. I think I lost some of the power of 'absurd' by placing it toward the top and using it as I did. I also think the ending has less effect than previously. The stanza lines are beginning to bleed down into the repeated lines again, which tells me I need to think about trying something else, or perhaps changing rhymes again. I like the rhymes to be offset by being set within the sentence, rather than falling at the end of the sentence. When the poem is read, less attention is called to them.

Here is version 4: (You're probably getting sick of this now :P  I get sick of it sometimes, too. Partly, this is just going to show that we don't just sit down and write something out. But hopefully, you see it improving as you go...)

The Lark in the corner is lost for words
after shrieking down the stovepipe a full two days,
the strangest longing I have ever heard.

Now, we stare at each other through the sooty glass--a bird,
fuliginous in the box, a human whose face
must make him, in his corner, lost for words.

If I opened the door and he blustered
through, I would want him to be stuck in the house to stay--
the strangest longing I've ever heard.

Inside, his feet sift ashes of trees and bugs interred
in the cast iron. If it were me, I think I would pray,
but the Lark in the corner is lost for words.

Did you ask the sky god if you could come? Were you assured
of welcome upon landing? Did you come with a message from the day?
A stranger longing I've never heard.

I reach in to hold him, feeling the absurd
tingle of fear in my fingertips. I expect him to cry out some way.
But the Lark in the corner is lost for words.
It is the strangest longing I have ever heard.

Ah ha! Did you see it? That weird moment with the sky god? Now, where did that come from, and why on earth would a bird ask to come to earth, or fall down a chimney, or be covered in soot in the stove? Well, maybe that is my poem's question. Suddenly, it became a whole lot more interesting (at least to me). Now, that only happened when I got rid of the cats. And I got rid of the cats because they didn't seem to be adding anything to the poem anymore. Now it's just the dynamic between bird and human, and something else to look into just sort of fell out of my pen (I love it when that happens, that little moment of discovery. Thanks, Ellen Bass, for teaching me to look for that.)
There's still something here that doesn't seem credible. That all these different scenarios stem from 'the strangest longing'. At this point, I'm beginning to think that's not a fair line, and it will probably be questioned. So, I'm going to do something awful. I'm going to mess with my beloved form...

Version 6: (I am mercifully skipping 5 and adding 6. They're pretty much the same, just slightly tweaked)

For the Bird in my Woodstove

The Lark in the corner is lost for words
after shrieking down the stovepipe a full two days,
the strangest entrance I have ever heard.

And now I see through the dark glass--a bird,
fuliginous and damaged from being curled the wrong way
in the chimney, shivering in the corner, lost for words.

He must be the child of sky gods, of bluster
and breeze, fallen like Icarus into an ashy bay,
the strangest retelling I have ever heard.

His feet sift ashes of trees and bugs interred
in the cast iron. If it were me, I would pray
but he, in his corner, is lost for words.

Little immortal, your wings are pearled,
iridescent. You only fall if you choose that fate,
the strangest humility I have ever heard.

I reach in to hold him, feeling the absurd
tingle of fear in my fingertips. Shouldn't he cry out some way?
But he, in his corner, is lost for words.
It is the strangest longing I have ever heard.

Here, some of the lines are stretched (Villanelles are traditionally written in iambic pentameter. Y'know, that thing that Shakespeare wrote everything in), but it's getting more interesting. (By the way, for those curious who have not grabbed a dictionary or whipped open a search engine to look up 'fuliginous', it means soot covered). I have more bits and rewrites of this in a bunch of my notebooks, but this is the most recent one, and I like it the most so far. I have ideas now for changing it a little more, and I'm going to try and at least bend it to 10 syllables to a line, whether or not I actually achieve iambic or not.

So, there is your very long tutorial of a process for writing a poem. Sometimes a writer is blessed by having a great idea wing into his or her mind fully formed, but most of the time we wind up doing stuff like this for hours and hours before we come up with something nifty enough for our self-conscious selves to show to other people. I've just bared my soul for you by presenting you with the infant poem, so please at least give me credit for that, ;)

Thanks for reading. And hey, try it out!

~Hannah Mae

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Poem--a showcase for Aunt Phebe :)

I have been asked by a few people to post a poem on Facebook. Well, this is as close as I'm going to get. I am still leery about posting pieces on Facebook, especially finished ones, without any sort of copyright whatever. I don't think Blogger has any either, but somehow I feel better about posting here. I should put it in Creative Poems, but I'm too lazy.

This piece was one that I took to workshop, revised, and sent to my advisor for her opinion. The previous title was the only thing she wanted to change from the revision. And so, my little insecure poet self is quite comfortable giving up this very uncharacteristic poem for all to see.

Here's to you, dear reader :)


Every month she comes, arms wrapped tight
across her belly, and asks to curl beside me.
And every time I set aside whatever I am holding
and lay my arm on her shoulder, my fingers
tangled in her hair. I have learned not to ask
how it hurts. Once, she said like a cigarette
burning a wider and wider circle
. Once,
like a crushing, burning stone. I don't ask
how she stands the blood anymore, not since
the doctor told us this pain was useless--her body
holds no fruit.
                           Sometimes, when she lies beside me
long enough to let herself cry, I tell her about
anything. This time, socket wrenches. Hexagonal
bolt heads and silver sockets that fit over, as if
they were made to be together. I tell her there will be
a baby like that, born of the molten fire of a cold womb.
Its hand will fit in ours as if whatever trouble formed it
had tempered and welded its tiny bones
and brought them forth for us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Question and its Question - Reading Frank Gaspar

Am I stalling? Yes. I'm trying to polish a reading commentary on one of my favorite poems in Frank Gaspar's collection, Night of a Thousand Blossoms. What I want to write about is not what is contained here, and what is contained here is not polished. So, if you don't care about poetry and you don't want to read crappy prose, I'd suggest reading Garfield or something. ( Click on archive. Yes, I like reading Garfield.) But I digress.

The Question and its Question.

While reading this book I inexplicably came across two opposing points of view: 1. I was reading the same poem over and over. 2. Every poem had its own sense of wonder, space, place. Richard Hugo says a poet must take ownership of a few words he or she loves to use, and not be afraid to use them. Gaspar takes ownership of scenes. We find his narrator--who I interpreted to be the poet himself--wakeful when the house, even the city itself seems to be sleeping, with a cup or wine glass at hand and some text which has sparked his longing and imaginings. Nearly every poem ends with that longing, and it is realized throughout the poem, but the poems themselves come so close to revelation that, as I was reading them aloud, I felt the answer to his question was in my mouth, I felt like I could have blurted it out if there had only been a few more words on the page to take me a little bit closer. Such is the mystique of the poem, I suppose, but I almost felt cheated with so many poems ending by asking the same questions about emptiness and purpose.

The narrator poet's search for something is obvious throughout, and accompanied by both searching and holy texts and ideas--the Bible, the words given to Mohammed, the Dharma, Paradise Lost, Dante's inferno--none of these give him any answers. The poem I felt was closest to asking the question most eloquently was 'One Thousand Blossoms', where we are given a fullness and emptiness from the meeting of nature, the fog from the Pacific, and the city itself.

Then it is jasmine in the night, night of a thousand blossoms,
and my wife in one room breathing and my son in one room
breathing, and me in one room breathing. It's how loving this
place comes, slowly, then suddenly with great surprise, and then
vanishing again into mystery...  (5)

We are bound to this world and our lives, and separated from that which would help us make sense of it all. We are rich and poor, vital and immaterial in the grandest view of the world. So what, then, are we left with?

We are left with 'The Persimmon Bough', a beautiful rumination on perception, where Gaspar's narrator poet says "I admit it--I love / my earth in this fashion. Everything I need is at hand" (48). Everything: the garden, a dog howling, the moon, the light, the darkness, all contained and released again by "the little black-bound notebook, eating its words". They become poems, and from poems to a book, like all the books he's been struggling through for enlightenment. This poem joins and separates the city and the natural, the natural and the poet, just as 'One Thousand Blossoms' does, but here, at last, the poet can feel it and hold it. He can join everything together in his black notebook and determine how it fits and how it is askew. "The persimmon tree, for instance. It was never weeping.  It was just leaning its lovely limb over the cinder block wall, it was / just letting its fruit down low. If God was saying something, we all / missed it".

I don't believe him. I believe he knows God was saying something and has been all along. It's those words in my mouth that vanish just before the long, pondering sentences and breathless rhythms can tear it out of me. It's the answer to each poem's question that hangs there in the white space. Those persimmons on the neighbor's side of the fence, the green fruit tumbling across the lawn in 'I Invite the Angel Gabriel, but Only the Wind Comes'. It is the mystery in this life that every one of us comes back to. That breathlessness that comes from being on the verge of something we cannot grasp, like Dean and Sal in On The Road who, listening to jazz, suddenly exclaim "That's it!" and then 'it' is gone. I could say it's something Gaspar's mind isn't asking the right questions to, but there are at least forty different questions he has asked. I think the actual question is whether it is something we can even understand.

There is one more poem in which he does not ask, and manages for a few moments to find that nearly unachievable 'it'. In 'Green', toward the end of the poem, when he gives up almost everything--breath, the upper world, a human focus, a city focus, a focus on the unachievable, and allows himself to be suspended in a foreign world with foreign creatures (sea turtles), which may be unsafe. "Maybe / they were amused. Maybe they wanted to kill me" (62). It invokes the angel he, like Rilke, wants and does not want to appear. These creatures which cannot be understood and are not limited by our world, what we are second to when we are in their element, that we must sacrifice to be beside, they make us understand. And forget. "when you / understand that you are in your home and need never leave, / you'd better look up. Then you see how far that old world is / and how much work you have to do". This is the other moment. When he moves so close to what he is pursuing that he forgets how far away he must go in order to pursue it. Like meditation, like prayer, pilgrimage, or retreat. The question is, can you go back, and can you carry all of that knowledge with you?

Gaspar, Frank. Night of a Thousand Blossoms. Farmington: Alice James Books, 2004. Print.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bringing it in

I am frequently frustrated by my inability to write coherently and eloquently without using a pen and paper. Not that I dislike pen and paper, but some things would go a heck of a lot faster if I could just sit at the computer and write.

Tonight I put my residency reviews through their final drafts (yes, I write them in drafts. Yes I know I'm crazy, Yes I know I overthink things. Thank you. Moving on) and wrote the essay to sum up the residency experience. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the group as a whole, but what else is new, right? Hopefully I'll get my brain in gear for the semester and write brilliant commentaries.

Here's the essay I wrote for my experience of the residency:

Residency Summary: Re-envisioning a Writer
I am constantly surprised by how everything in writing connects. Last residency, Marvin told us if we write far enough it doesn’t matter what images or ideas are in our poems, everything will coalesce regardless of how disparate it may seem to be. The various craft talks, workshops, and classes all seemed to come together this residency to encourage me toward distance, daring, and personal implication in my writing.
Over the course of the last semester I became very interested in the physical and metrical structure of a poem. I began to discover ways to use the form of the poem to enhance the content. This residency, Frank Gaspar’s talk on narrative point of view, Vivian Gornick’s reminder of the necessity of self-implication, and Leslie Miller’s consideration of the positive and negative uses of shame have made me more aware of the importance of narrative structure in poetry. In my workshops, I found that I sometimes make narrative shifts, or add too much of an instructive voice, confusing or boring my readers.
I also became aware of my lack of depth, both as a reader and a writer. My previous workshops encouraged us to look at the story of a poem, but not to attempt to discern the meaning of a piece since meaning in poetry is subjective. Working with Leslie in workshop, I found that while meaning does vary by reader, we do need to look beyond the story of the poem to find what the poem is saying about that story. In a good poem, interpretation should not be necessary to discover what a writer wants to say about an experience. But, in a workshop, it is important to hear what each reader has taken away from the poem so that the poet may see what the poem actually says.
Workshopping with Peter, we looked almost exclusively at the poem’s structure. Editorial comments and interpretations could appear on the written comments to the poet, but in class we looked at the nuts and bolts of each poem’s construction to see what worked and what didn’t. I found his workshop style incredibly helpful for reading a poem with an eye for craft and learning the benefits or disadvantages to using certain techniques in certain situations.
Both of these workshops helped me with, and were made easier to understand through Ellen’s class on how to read a poem. All three experiences reminded me to slow down and appreciate each poem for what it had to offer, regardless of whether I liked the particular style or genre. Slowing down actually helped me enjoy some poems more thoroughly, since on my initial read I had not been able to understand either the style or the content of the piece. Walking through them with my instructors, I noticed several techniques and connections I had not been able to notice or appreciate before.
This residency seemed to be about being open and experimenting. I hope especially to keep Marvin’s advice to write with abandon in the forefront of my mind this semester. That admonition, along with the encouragement to explore in writing have reassured me that I can and should write about anything and everything I want to, whether or not it leads me to a discovery. Marvin’s statement that a poet should write a lot and throw away a lot was oddly encouraging as well. I often struggle with whether or not I should put something down on the page. This residency has answered with a yes! Absolutely! I am learning I need to view everything I write or want to write as having the potential to end up somewhere interesting or incredible, no matter how long it takes to get there. I also learned I need to add more personality and vulnerability to my poems, remove my editorial voice, and open myself to the possibilities of varied, mysterious, and inquisitive work.

I'm excited to see how my work changes and grows this semester. I'm already amazed by how far it has come. Especially with what I've learned about revision. I'm so grateful every day that I have this opportunity to study what I love. Thanks to everyone who continually encourages me and listens to me bawling on the phone at 10:30 at night when my homework is almost due and I think what I've written is a bunch of tripe (Daddy).

Thanks for reading,

~Hannah Mae

Thursday, January 12, 2012

And Then And Then And Then And Then (etc.)

Only the girls at the bank will understand the title. Still, I suppose on one level it rather speaks for itself, doesn't it? I must apologize at the forefront of this. Last residency I devoted this blog almost completely to my academic gleanings, if you will, both to synthesize the material presented from the instructors and my thoughts, and help me get my homework done. This time around I am not doing that for purely one reason: well, I'm a little lazy. Either that, or I'm actually engaging in a social life. I think I prefer the latter description. My friend keeps saying that poets are angsty (yes, I know that's not a word, and so does she. At least, Microsoft office claims it isn't, so that must be true, no?) and saying I'm simply broadening my social horizons works to lessen that.

Okay, okay, enough of that.

Yesterday was largely free. After a great talk from Joe Millar about the poet in the Republic [meaning Plato's Republic. The talk was focusing on how, as writers, we are composing a shadow of a shadow of a thing. If you have not read Plato or Derrida, you'll have to go and discover the rest for yourself, because I'm not providing it for you! ;) Anyway, the question boils down to 'why do we do this?' and the answer boils down to 'because we can help give those things meaning'. That's the simplified answer. It sounds much better and more thorough, and possibly rather different in my notebook] we all tromped down to workshop, which was EXcellent, then had some lunch, which was decent, and then we were free until 7:30. I used the time to get some residency reviews squared away. Then, as my facebookian pals will know, I skedaddled out to the beach to watch the sun go down.

I think that was one of the greatest moments I've had at the residency. Which doesn't sound right in the context it was encased in. Let me try that again. It was one of the most fantastic, private, thought-provoking, peaceful moments I've had at the residency. I think that's better. I headed down about 20 after four and wandered out to where the waves were coming in. They warned us about sneaker waves, so I didn't get too close to the water line. (The sneaker wave thing sounds weird. You'll have to imagine the hilarity you find here, after Ben Percy read us a composition about them. Apparently, one of them stole someone's credit card and racked up several purchases at a Walmart in...Nebraska I think it was, and one of them filled Ben Percy's mouth with lighter fluid and sparked a match which is why he sounds like he does. Among others. You'd have to meet Ben Percy to understand that one, too...) (You probably all hate parentheses after reading this dang mess. I admire your fortitude. I'm obviously not a prose writer...). (And now, the rest of the story.) There was a man and a woman feeding a flock of seagulls a little ways away, tossing pieces of bread in the air and watching how all the seagulls leapt up off the ground and took flight to go get them. Those two were there for a long time. I was walking up and down the water line most of the time, waiting for some sunset color so I could take some pictures and after a while I saw them hugging and sharing a kiss surrounded by a bright white flock of gulls.

A little purple and orange started to appear out over the waves, off to the right and away from the sun and the hill reaching out into the water, so I took some pictures of the waves breaking. I turned around and the sunlight had given the windows of the buildings behind me a gold caste. I took some pictures of that, too. There was one beautiful picture where the light reflecting off the sand sort of looked like gold footprints, and it reminded me of the picture that used to hang in Rosa's Pizza back in the day--the poem 'Footprints in the Sand' overlaid on a photo of the beach.

I took pictures until it was just orange clouds and the light was going. The couple who had been feeding the seagulls were gone and the wind was getting colder. My hands were bright red and it was hard to hold the cameras. I turned around to head back and suddenly realized I hadn't taken a moment to just stand there and appreciate the scene for what it was. So, I turned around and stared at it a while--the waves bursting onto the sand, the wind, the sounds and swoops of the gulls, the brilliant, blazing color where the sun was setting. And not for the first time I wondered why I had ever wanted to be a writer at all, when there are scenes like this that can never be captured? It's the immensity that I want to put on the page and I can never ever do it. It has taken several years to come to terms with the fact that there are some things I have to realize cannot be matched. God is the most incredible artist. I'm not sure if he made me a poet to frustrate me, or to enhance my ability to appreciate this beautiful world. I suppose either would be valid.

After that, I couldn't stop looking at it. I started backing away so I could keep watching the sunset and the seagulls weaving over the sand looking for something a tourist dropped that they could eat. I actually backed up until I almost tripped over a fallen log. Wouldn't that have been a lovely way to end the experience. I started to turn around and watch where I was going, and someone way down at another one of the hotels, I think, started singing 'Word of God Speak'. Well, I couldn't leave then. I just stood there a while longer while my face froze and kept watching the light fade. After that was a Casting Crowns song, I don't remember, but I think it was 'I am Yours'. I walked back singing that.

Of course, by the time I got back my hands were really cold. I didn't know just how cold until I went to grab a cup of coffee to warm them up and couldn't grab the cup. I had to try a few times because my fingers wouldn't bend. Whoops! Finally managed that, got the coffee in the cup, rode up the elevator, got outside my room, and tried to fish my key out of it's envelope. That took a while, too. Once I managed to get the door open, I could drop the key on the counter and wrap my fingers around the mug like Pappy used to do. It was ok after that. Still, it was worth it to see all that. And I discovered I'd only spent about half an hour out there!

I was going to say I ate some dinner after that, but, come to think of it, I didn't eat dinner last night. I spent an hour and a half talking to a couple of people in the lobby and then my friends and I headed for the faculty reading. After that Chris wanted some food, so we went to a bar because it was all that was still open. She had a salmon burger and we stole her potato chips. It was fun!

Today contained a fantastic craft talk by Tayari Jones on the subject of raising the stakes in your fiction. Or your poetry, if necessary. She's a great speaker, the talk was great, and she threw in a little humor, which is nice at 9 in the morning when you got to bed late again...  Chris bought me coffee which made me less grouchy. She's a sweetheart. I gotta think of something nice to do for her before we leave.

Last workshops were today, as well. We finished in pretty good time and we did manage to finish all the poems. I heard some other groups had some time to get some writing done. We did not, but hey! We all got some good discussion and great feedback in my humble opinion.

Lunch was fajitas, and after lunch there was a student reading, which 8 of us showed up to. A few of us came for moral support, or at least to give the readers an audience. But it was so non-intimidating that each of us read something, which was fun.

A few of the faculty taught classes today, so I went to Sandra Alcosser's. She gave us tips on revision, and different ways to approach the poem with different intentions in order to make it work. It was a great class, but I had to take out shortly before she finished to make my advising appointment.

Although I got one of the advisors I put down as a preference, I must admit I was unsure of the choice. She seemed like she gave great feedback which I like, but I didn't know how she'd be for a more structural focus. As it turns out, she had read my study plan thoroughly, noted my goals and compared them against my choice of books, struck some from the list, suggested others, and generally proved to me she had very carefully considered what I was hoping to do. I think I have most of the study plan hammered out, I checked a couple of details and expectations, and an hour later we were done, lol. I was surprised (and pleased) by the length and depth of the meeting. Last semester was terrific, but it definitely took less time. My advisor said she was rather excited to have someone interested in form and structure, which surprised me but I was pretty happy about that :) It will, I think, be a pretty challenging semester, but I think we'll get through all right.

We went out for dinner at, I kid you not, 'The Pig and Pancake'. We went the other night for one of the ladies' birthday and it wasn't too bad. A little of a greasy spoon kind of place but the food and the coffee are pretty good. Then the faculty reading. Kwame Dawes was amazing--as always--and John McNally was hilarious. The other author doesn't quite write in my style, so it wasn't my favorite readings thus far. Then we got some books signed and came back to the hotel where we scoured Chris and Cynthia's room for the ring I lost earlier when we were working on our study plans. We spent a while searching, and eventually found it under the couch along with some crumbs, probably a random assortment of change, and a package of Pizza Hut parmesan cheese. I realize these rooms are big and all, but don'cha think you'd take a gander under the furniture occasionally if you worked somewhere as fancy as this?

I've been at this a little long. I'm going to go shore up my study plan and see if I can get a couple more reviews under my belt before I snooze. Miss everyone!

~Hannah Mae

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Oh Caffeine, Where Art Thou?

I will admit it. I crashed this afternoon, and I crashed good and hard. I attended the second craft talk after the faculty reading after lunch after workshop after the craft talk that was after breakfast. And while it was an excellent craft talk, I was glad it had an excellent handout because I was falling asleep. So, I skipped the graduate reading and headed back to my room. I promptly conked out for two hours before eating another peanut-butter-and-marmalade sandwich over the sink and headed out for the next faculty reading. Which was, again, excellent. Tonight it was Mike Magnuson and Peter Sears, along with Kellie Wells.

I really enjoy the readings. It's really nice to just settle in at the end of the evening and hear some good stories and poetry. And then, of course, after the faculty reading is the student reading. I was hoping we'd have it in the cute little cafe downstairs where we had it last night, but we had it in the room next to where we've been holding all the craft talks and faculty readings. It's a little conference room, and there are a bunch of mirrors on the wall, which are a little disconcerting if you're nervous in front of people.

My group of friend read tonight, among others, so we all got to hear each other's work. The entire reading was fantastic tonight. The faculty reading had great energy and it sort of carried over into ours, I think. I felt my voice start wobbling three quarters of the way through my first poem, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to finish without choking or bursting into tears. Leave it to me to forget my water bottle at my seat. Still, my friends said they couldn't tell, which is good. It was strange, because I wasn't really nervous. I don't know. Maybe I should carry my Koosh ball and have it with me when I read. It'd give my hands something to do and maybe distract me a little bit. It might be a bit weird, but hey! I could say it's one of my writer's quirks, right?

Of the two craft talks today, I can't really choose a favorite. The first one was splendid, and so full of little jewels of wisdom that I haven't the slightest idea of what to choose to write about. The second was a very helpful 'user's guide' to the sentence. The presenter is a line editor, and he gave us a handout (3 or 4 two-sided pages) made up of his personal pet peeves. We didn't make it all the way through the handout in the actual talk, but he encouraged us to go through it the rest of the way. Toward the end, he included several sentences for us to edit and rearrange ourselves, in order to learn how to edit our own work and workshop others better. Though the talk was mostly aimed at the prose writers, any writer comes to a point where he or she has to write prose (like the commentaries we have to do over the semester). I had to chuckle when I saw several of the habits I have in my own writing pop up on his handout. Lowell is forever telling me that I should look into studying expository writing. That's what his Master's is in, and he just shakes his head when he looks at most of my papers. I know I need to check over my fiction for those mistakes too, since I have about twenty-five per page :).

I keep telling myself I'm going to get my residency reviews done, but it still hasn't happened. I take really good notes, but I'm afraid I'm going to forget some of the most salient points. Which reminds me, I promised a friend the notes on one of the talks, so I better go.

Miss you guys!

~Hannah Mae

P.S. I may need to give in and shell out some bucks for espresso tomorrow. The lack of decent coffee is going to make me either exceedingly unpleasant, or downright mean. I can feel it!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Forward! Onward!

As my friend and I navigate the streets of seaside beside cottages in the gathering dusk, noting the cats and the wooden seagulls perched atop the posts, we are discussing our pronounced feelings of inadequacy. Since we are coming back from a reading given by graduating students, we feel as if our hopelessness is justified. Still, as we navigate the boardwalk by the river and take note of the quavering reflections of streetlights and headlights, I can't help but privately wonder what sort of niche I'm going to be able to find to write about. Last semester and this each and every one of the graduate readings I attended was centered around some form of personal tragedy the poet had managed to conquer through his or her writing. And darn it if I didn't come from a wonderful, stable home with a teriffic, loving family with no divorces, no druggies, and no 1 a.m. phone calls regarding life threatening car accidents. Thanks a lot, guys.

I'm just kidding. It's not like I wanted those things, I'm just wandering along trying to discover still what it is that draws me to writing. Stephen Dobyns says that a poet writes because of an emotional connection to something he or she sees. The way to flesh out what that feeling is, we as poets write about it and, in turn, it teaches us. And even though my work is coming along, I have yet to really manage to capture the things I am passionate about in my writing. I am certain that the amazing faculty and students I work alongside in this program will provide the solution, and I'll be able to read this in two years and laugh and roll my eyes at myself. But for the last several months, and indeed the last couple of years, it has been on my mind.

On a lighter note: The craft talks today were fantastic and quite witty. We were all laughing pretty hard most of the time. It was really fun! And, of course, they managed to address so many interesting things which, this time, I'm saving for my residency reviews. Don't worry, I'll get some highlights on here. I'd do it now, but I'm sort of falling asleep sitting up and I'm supposed to head out to the faculty reading in about forty minutes. Not that there isn't enough time, I just don't want to drag out my notebook at the moment and find them. Lazy me!

Today was also the first day of workshops. We started off with Peter Sears. The process I had been expecting and which I had prepared for is, apparently, not what we will be doing. Rather than offering the writer editing comments, we will be looking at the mechanics, structure, implementation of ideas, and other elements of craft which make up the poem. I'm used to offering editing comments to writers, so I was completely thrown off balance and scrambling to collect myself and offer helpful suggestions to the writer. It's a challenge, but I'm excited for it. These are definitely things I need to learn.

Tonight is another faculty reading. Ellen Bass, Debra Gwartney, and Ben Percy are reading tonight. It should be pretty fantastic. All three of them are amazing writers. After that is the student reading. Hopefully it only lasts an hour. I love hearing the other students read, but I am so tired! Lots of us are dragging a bit already. I figure if I could get to bed before midnight I might be alive during the day, but I have not had a chance to put that into practice since the night before I got on the train to come here. Well, it's an adventure, and it's a darn good one.

See you all soon,

~Hannah Mae

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tally Ho!

Hello All!

Wow, been a little while since I have had this up and running, eh?  Well, here we go! Today is the first official day of residency. The welcome starts in just under an hour and everyone is pretty excited :)

I am staying at the Rivertide Suites with my roommate from last year. She and I are in a two bedroom suite with a kitchen, a living room, two bathrooms, a balcony, and even a washer and dryer. I was not expecting that. I'd heard it was nice, but I still can't get over just how nice. They also gave me five pillows. Who on earth uses five pillows? They're even fluffy pillows. Although, they weren't as comfy as the pillow I brought from home (But then, are they ever?)

The staff also informed us that not only do they have a rather nice continental breakfast in the morning (bagels, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, cereal, coffee, juice, fruit, who-knows-what-else), they serve soda, snacks, beer, and wine down in the lobby every evening from five to six.

Last night was the dinner for all the students to get together, meet the new students, and say hi. That was fun :) Although, the group I was with got there a little early when the new students and the people who had been communicating with them to get them ready for residency were in there introducing themselves. I got up and sneaked back out because they were having everyone give their name, genre, place they're from, etc. I felt bad about being that early anyway, and I don't always enjoy those sorts of introductions. So one of the other ladies and I slipped out and sat on the staircase until they were done. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm ridiculous.

I'd better skedaddle. Several of us have decided to walk between the hotels instead of taking the shuttles. See you all soon.

~Hannah Mae