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.

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