NaPoWriMo, Day 4

4 Apr

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Today’s poem is based on the above painting, Le Lac de Cygnes by Dorothy Mullock. I found it incredibly haunting. As NaPoWriMo is all about drafts, I expect the form of this poem will change. I like playing with shapes of poems.

 

[Le Lac de Cygnes]

after the painting by Dorothy Mullock, 1913

 

Note: Poems from NaPoWriMo will only stay up one week before being removed or redacted, so I can edit and submit them.

NaPoWriMo 2019, Day 3

4 Apr

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Today’s poem for NaPoWriMo is a little more personal and not an ekphrastic. A lifetime ago I lived for a year in Denton, TX and attended University of North Texas. I was in a long term (nearly 5 year) relationship and was briefly engaged. I lived with my boyfriend in the above janky apartments. And then one day, I didn’t.

 

[The Apartment on Prairie Street]

for K.L.

Note: NaPoWriMo poems will only be left up on the blog for one week and then taken down so I can edit and submit.

NaPoWriMo 2019, Day 2

3 Apr

I love ekphrastic poetry and have written my fair share of poems inspired my various works of art. For National Poetry Month/NaPoWriMo, I’m focusing on the ekphrastic. I will also be writing about it for Superstition Review, which will be published on their website on April 11.

I highly recommend the book, Sunlight on the River: Poetry about Paintings and Paintings about Poetry, edited by Scott Gutterman, if you’re interested in the ekphrastic. It has such a wide variety of paintings and poems, from traditional to experimental, so there’s something for any taste!

For day two of NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), I was inspired by the above photograph of Anna Pavlova from 1899. She was dressed for her role as Zulma in the ballet, Giselle. If you’re not familiar with the story of Giselle, Zulma is one of the ‘wilis’ women, who are spirits who in life died of broken hearts after being jilted by lovers, many of them before their weddings. These characters return to dance men to death in retribution to what happened to them while they were alive. The story is so haunting and I love it!

Here is my ekphrastic poem based on the photograph:

 

[Photograph of Anna Pavlova as Zulma in Giselle]

St Petersburg, 1899

Note: NaPoWriMo poems will only be left up on the blog for one week and then taken down so I can edit and submit.

 

National Poetry Month 2019

1 Apr

April is National Poetry Month and there’s no time like the present to update this blog!

I love National Poetry Month—it challenges me to read more poetry and to write more as well. I haven’t written anything but prose (like these Huffington Post pieces here and here) in a long while, and this month, I plan to attempt NaPoWriMo (where I’ll write one new poem/draft each day of the month). This is such a daunting task, but I’m up for it and I sincerely hope it will kickstart my poetry writing, again!

Of course, I always find inspiration in reading poetry. This month, I’m reading: Good Bones by Maggie Smith, American Primitive by Mary Oliver, If You Have to Go by Katie Ford, and a selection of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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My focus for this National Poetry Month will be ekphrastic poetry, which is an absolute love of mine. In fact, I’m working on an article about contemporary ekphrastic poetry for Superstition Review right now (due out on April 11). Expect quite a bit of ekphrastic poetry from my NaPoWriMo 2019 on this blog!

In fact, here’s one I just finished tinkering with to start off National Poetry Month based in this painting by Vasu Tolia:

 

[My Mother Packing Her Wedding Dress]

 

Note: I’m only leaving poems up for about a week, so I can edit and submit them later.

 

How are you celebrating the month? What will you be reading? Are you participating in NaPoWriPo? I’d love to know!

If you’re interested in adding my books to your National Poetry Month reading list, you can get them here and here!

 

Maybe

1 Feb

It is the start of my birthday week.  I think it’s an appropriate time to offer a sneak peek of my memoir in-progress.  This section, “Maybe,” will be excerpted in a few weeks, as I don’t normally like having my writing on my blog.  Thank you for this journey and I hope you enjoy!

 

Maybe

[. . .]

When my mother would take me with her on shopping trips to the mall or my sister Lesley would take me once a year to the larger Galleria in Houston to see the Christmas tree that had been erected in the middle of the Olympic-sized ice skating rink, I would look for my birthmother in the wash of faces rushing past with bags from Neiman’s, JC Penney, Waldenbooks.

I pictured myself a detective in pursuit of the fugitive parent who had given me up for a better life, one, maybe, with a piano and ashtrays.  As I held my mother’s or my sister’s hand, I would scan the crowds, and look into the faces of each woman, and hope to see a resemblance.  Sometimes one of these strange women would catch me looking at them and I would hold my breath, waiting for her to walk over to me, bend down, say, hello, I’m your mother.  It never occurred to me how unsettling this would be—to have my birthmother be in the same shopping mall that I was with my own mother or sister, and further, to have my birthmother walk right up to me outside the Sunglasses Hut or Corn Dog 7 and greet me as her very own.  It never occurred to me how slim these chances actually were and how even if I did see my birthmother eyeing a strand of freshwater pearls in Dillard’s or buying perfume at JC Penney, I would never have known it.

 

He may be pouring her coffee. She may be straightening his tie.

 

When I would listen to Annie sing Maybe, I would imagine my birthparents in a house hidden by hill, one where my birthmother would straightening by birthfather’s tie while he poured her coffee in the mornings.  I once drew this picture, which has been lost to time or the garbage can or a wayward house cat, but I remember it clearly.  In the drawing, the green hill took up the largest portion of the white sketch paper.  The grass, shown as small slashes and straight lines rising from the hill’s curved surface, appeared to wave in an unseen wind.  There was a half-circle of sun in the far right corner, complete with yellow-orange lines representing rays.  On top of the hill was a small house (the technique of drawing a suggestion of a house hidden by a hill was lost on me) with a chimney smoking its fire plume into the clear, colorless sky.  There were windows everywhere and a narrow black door.

[. . .]

These were my parents: toy husband and wife in a house built of pencil, crayons, watercolors.  A sun shined overhead and a chimney smoked into the white sky.  The hill and the waving grass.  A dark door.  I sat on the floor and ran my small fingers over the house, the hill, as though reading its secrets.  As though my parents were speaking to me: come find us. We are waiting.

Books of 2014

2 Jan

books

I love it when the calendar flips to a new year.  I fill with hope and dreams and begin to make lists of all of the things I want to accomplish.  One of those lists that makes its way onto my iPad is a reading list of books I want to read by year’s end.  Of course, life gets in the way and I seldom complete the list, but the dream of hours spent sitting in quiet reading helps to calm my often unquiet mind.

Every year there are hundreds of new books that are released, each of which is a little voice I want to hear, even if in passing.  I decided to make a list of some of the just-released (i.e. Dec. 2013) or forthcoming titles that I can’t wait to read.   Please do leave a message in the comment box and let me know what titles you’re looking forward to (even if it’s your own)!

GroDahle

A Hundred Thousand Hours by Gro Dahle translated by Rebecca Wadlinger, Ugly Ducking Presse, $17, Dec. 15, 2013.  (Disclosure: Becca is a very good friend of mine and this book of Norwegian translations is simply amazing!)

Frannie

Our Vanishing by Frannie Lindsay, Red Hen Press, $17.95.  March 204.  I had the pleasure of reading from my new book with Frannie in Watertown, MA back in the fall and she’s a spectacular poet.  She read a bit from this collection, and it’s astounding!

Young

Book of Hours by Kevin Young, Random House, $26.95.  March 2014.

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The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker, Wave Books. April 2014.

Davis

 Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis, FSG, $26.  April 2014.

Cloud

Cloud Pharmacy by Susan Rich, White Pine Press, $16.  April 2014.

Whitman

Whitman Illuminated, illustrated by Allen Crawford, Tin House, $28.95.  May 2014. (I cannot wait to get my hands on this!)

Harvey

If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? by Matthea Harvey, Graywolf, $25.  August 2014. (I am a huge MH fan, ever since I took her poetic forms class as a CW/Lit undergrad at Houston).

Blood Lyrics by Katie Ford, Graywolf.  October 2014.  (Katie Ford is one of my poetry heroes and I wish more people knew of her.  She is probably one of the best poets I’ve read in the past ten years and I was so fortunate to have her blurb my recent book.  She is innovative, intelligent, and moving in her work.  She a sneak peek from her forthcoming collection here).

Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Graywolf.  October 2014.  (Graywolf is knocking it out of the park in 2014 and I can’t wait!  Rankine is such an influential poet of our time and she really helped to change me as a writer and person when she was my senior honors thesis adviser at Houston.  I adore her and her work.)

Twenty Poems That Could Save America by Tony Hoagland, Graywolf.  November 2014.  (Another win for Graywolf.  I love Hoagland’s work and his irony and intellect, even if it’s been the cause of conflict over dinner parties and AWP hotel room conversations.  He’s legendary.  Read more here.)

50

22 Nov

On this 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination in Dallas, Texas, I offer you my poem, “The Pink Chanel Suit,” which was published in Rattle in 2011.  You can find it here.

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Updating

2 Nov

After a horrendous past two months (mysterious illness-like symptoms, numerous tests, doctor’s appointments, plus the government shutdown which assisted in preventing me from traveling to LA to receive my PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry, etc.), I am looking forward to next week, where I’ll be traveling to MA for a series of three Perugia Press-related readings to celebrate my book, The Wishing Tomb, and Gail Martin’s Begin Empty Handed, which was awarded this year’s Perugia Press Award.  If you’re near any of the places on the itinerary below, I hope you’ll come out and join us:

The Collected Poets Reading Series
w/ Gail Martin & Lori Desrosiers
Thursday, November 7, 2013, 7PM
Mocha Maya’s, 47 Bridge St.
Shelburne Falls, MA

Friday, November 8 at 7:30 PM
w/ Gail Martin & Joan Barberich
The State Room
35 State Street (behind India House)
Northampton, MA

Saturday, November 9 at 7:00 PM
Salon Reading w/ Gail Martin & Frannie Lindsay
Invitation only
Watertown, MA

While in MA, I also am hoping to have a little excursion time to see Emily Dickinson’s house, the Plath archives at Smith College, and to have dinner with my sweet cousin, Hope, who lives in Boston.  I can’t wait!

*
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again: I am a list maker.  Call me OCD and you wouldn’t be far from the truth.  I love lists.  This type of list (below), however, is one of my favorites.  It’s my reading list.  I thought I would share my fall reading list with you:

Prose

After Her by Joyce Maynard  (lovely, dark, coming of age novel, which I was inspired to read after hearing this bit on NPR on the way home from teaching a class one afternoon)

The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano (this is a new release by two wonderful poets, both of whom I’ve had the pleasure of publishing in PLR)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (recommended by my mother, who is perhaps the most widely read person I’ve ever known, except for maybe my dad, who actually reads the encyclopedias).

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio (anyone who has known me long enough knows that I have a Kennedy-history obsession that is not limited to the assassination history.  This Nov. marks 50 years since the assassination of JFK, and this new book has been released just in time).

Poetry

Ain’t No Grave by TJ Jarrett (this is probably one of my favorite books of poetry to come out this year, and I’m in the process of reviewing it for a journal).

Begin Empty Handed by Gail Martin (this is a wonderfully crafted new book, and I’m looking forward to reading with Gail next week)!

Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky (I first read this book as an undergrad, so it’s been about eight years since I poured over its perfection.  I love this book, as does almost everyone who has read it.  I read it in tiny slivers and ruminate.  It’s best digested that way so the foreign story will unfold carefully, and not all at once).

*
I was invited to record a podcast for Arizona State University’s wonderful literary journal, Superstition Review.  My podcast consists of me reading a handful of poems that have been published in SR, included a few from my second book, The Wishing Tomb.  You can listen and read more, here.

Book List for Creative Writing Classes

14 Sep

I’ve been teaching Intro to Creative Writing at my college for five years and I’m so fortunate that for the first time, I’ve been given the green light to choose my own texts beginning in 2014.  I just put in my book order and would like to share the selections that I made (and some that I didn’t, but that I still highly recommend).

 

My top picks

My top picks

 

I teach the Intro to Creative Writing section, which is a mixed genre class that is part workshop model and part lecture/in class work.  For reference, the majority of my students have very little experience with writing, but are interested in it.  Many of these students are also unfamiliar with contemporary work and have never picked up a literary journal or been to a reading (which is something that I have them do).  In deciding which books to use, I had to take all of this into account so as to not scare them off of literary writing nor overwhelm them straight out of the gate.  It is my sincere belief that if you, as an instructor, overwhelm students who are just getting their feet wet, you’re not doing the student any service and in fact, many may end up so overwhelmed, that they may never return to writing or reading.

Here are the books I chose to use in 2014 (starting in the Spring term):

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo: this is a classic resource used in CW courses nationwide, and my department has been using it for as long as I can remember.  It has wonderful essays on writing in it, and I always begin the semester by having my students read the one titled, “In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes” as this begins the discussion on why CW courses are important and what gain be gained from taking them.

The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland: I used this book in a CW course when I was an undergrad in English/CW at the University of Houston.  I found this book to be exceptionally helpful.  The book not only showcases traditional forms (sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, etc.), but also includes “open” forms as well.  Each section of the book focuses on one form and gives a page of information/”how to,” a page or two about the history of the form, a page or two about the contemporary use of the form, and then quite a few pages of examples from both canonical and contemporary poets.  I highly recommend this book for beginning-intermediate undergraduate CW classes.

A Short Story Writer’s Companion by Tom Bailey: As my class is a mixed genre class, I needed to find a book that would function in a similar manner to The Making of a Poem, and this book fits the bill.  It discusses and gives examples of the basic elements of fiction writing, which is something beginning CW students need.  It also discusses the importance of drafting and revision, which is something  that I teach in my class as well.  I have found that first time CW students are not in the habit of drafting and revision, so this was a great selling point to me for this text.

Runners-Up:

There are so many texts I would love to use, but I just can’t justify having my students plunk down loads of cash for a lot of books.  However, if I could use more books in a perfect world, here are the rest of my recommendations:

On Looking: Essays by Lia Purpura: I went back and forth on this book, and I ultimately decided against using it (even though I love it so) because they style of writing might be a bit over my beginning CW students’ heads.  In past semesters, my CW have read one of the essays in the book, “Red,” and it was near-mutiny.  I’m all about challenging my students, but sometimes you have to ease them into the challenge for best results.  I do recommend this book for intermediate-advanced CW classes.  It’s a wonderful book on inspiration and looking at things from a writer’s eye.

An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes: I also used this book when I was in my CW classed at UH and found it helpful.  It’s very similar to the The Making of a Poem book, but is slightly more advanced in that it delves deeply in the specifics of form, meter, etc.  For an Intro to CW course where students are not very familiar with poetry at all, I think that introducing them to anapests, trochees, and syllabics might be a bit much.  We do discuss some forms in my class: sonnets, villanelles, and occasionally the ghazal in particular, as well as some contemporary forms (the found poems, contemporary ekphrasis, the cento), but this book is definitely for the more advanced student.  I recommend this book, however, for use in a forms class or an intermediate CW course.

American Women Poets in the 21st Century by Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr:  Claudia Rankine had me read this book when she was my senior honors thesis advisor at UH and I loved it.  The reason I didn’t choose this book is because it didn’t offer the breadth of “lessons” that The Making of a Poem did.  This text is wonderful and offers a wide variety of voices from contemporary American women poets and annotations of their poems.  I would use this book for a class on American Women’s Lit, Contemporary American Poetry, or an intermediate-advanced CW course.

The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux: This is another great stand-by and I have been using it for the past 5 years, which is why I decided to switch it out for the The Making of a Poem text.  I love this book for how it discusses inspiration and breaking boundaries (death, love, etc.) and offers writing prompts/suggestions at the end of each chapter, but I think that the specifics that The Making of a Poem offers might help a beginning CW student a little more.  My previous students have enjoyed this book, but have also commented on how they would like a book that has more examples and “how-to” instruction than TPC gives.  I do highly recommend this book for any intro-intermediate CW course and I am very likely to use it again in the future.

Contemporary American Poetry edited by A. Poulin, Jr. and Michael Waters: I used this book when I was in Jericho Brown’s advanced CW workshop at UH.  It’s a great book, but is actually more of an anthology (similar in the manner of Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin, which I also highly recommend).  It’s a great assortment of contemporary poets, such as James Dickey, Kimiko Hahn, Robert Haas, Louise Gluck, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, David St. John, and others), but there isn’t any discussion of the poems, the forms, etc. that I wanted for my beginning students.  That said, I think this would be a great book to use for an intermediate-advanced CW and would be great even for grad students in poetry to use as a model and launching point for discussion and critical analysis of contemporary poetics.

I hope these recommendations help you if you are building a CW course or looking to purchase books on writing, whether fiction or poetry.  What are your must haves when it comes to books on writing?  What texts have worked for you in previous courses that you’ve taught?  I’d love to know!

2013 PEN Center USA Literary Awards

23 Aug
It’s official: my second collection, The Wishing Tomb, winner of the 2013 Perugia Press Award, has just been awarded the 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry!
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This year’s award recipients include Joan Didion, Lifetime Achievement Award (to be presented by none other than Harrison Ford!); Filmmaker Sonia Nassery Cole, Freedom to Write Award, Kickstarter founders Perry Chen, Charles Adler and Yancey Strickler, Award of Honor, Ramona Ausubel, fiction for her novel “Nobody Is Here Except All of Us,” Seth Rosenfeld, research nonfiction prize for “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power”; Joy Harjo, creative nonfiction for “Crazy Brave”; Mark Boal for his screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty; Danny Strong, who wins for his teleplay for HBO’s “Game Change”; Amanda Auchter in poetry for The Wishing Tomb; Philip Boehm, for translation of “An Ermine in Czernopol,” originally by Gregor von Rezzori; Michael Harmon in children’s literature for “Under the Bridge”; Ed Leibowitz for journalism for “The Takeover Artist” in Los Angeles Magazine; and Dan O’Brien for drama with “The Body of an American.”  Here’s the first official write-up in the Los Angeles Times.

First and foremost, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support over these past few years.  It has meant so incredibly much to me.  The last two years have been strenuous and difficult to say the least, and even a five minute phone call from some at one time or another has made all of the difference.

Here’s the kicker: PEN Center USA will be giving out “swag bags” at the awards dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel in October.  They are requesting 500 copies of The Wishing Tomb to include in these bags.  However, Perugia Press, which is currently celebrating its 16th Anniversary, is a smaller press, and 500 additional copies is a lot to give away for free, even to such a prestigious event such as the PEN Center Awards.  Perugia Press, as a result, is holding a fundraiser to help offset the costs of sending so many copies of my book to the awards festival.

How you can help: Here is the link to the information about the Perugia Press Fundraiser to send The Wishing Tomb to the 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Awards Festival.  Any amount will help, if you can.  The cost to Perugia is $5/book, so even $25 will add up.  I dislike asking for donations in general, but I think it’s important to get not only my work out there, but to have a smaller press represented on a national scale.  Let’s get poetry in the hands of the 500 attendees!

Thank you, again, for your support and encouragement.  I hope you can help send this book to the PEN Center USA Literary Awards Festival this October!  If you have any questions, please contact me!