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