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.