Thursday, April 26, 2012

Literary Roundup! Do I Have a Game's High Score?

Today's title is inspired by this week's oddest google search that lead someone to my little spot in the galaxy. I know one thing. I beat Sal at Tetris by reaching the highest score first. The little Tetris pieces danced and jumped. Poet Gamer FTW!

I'm going to get right into the roundup because there's been a lot of things I've missed. So what's new with you, lit world?

ModCloth has a post up today about She's the First, a nonprofit that raises money to education girls in developing countries. They've created an anthology where writer's answer the question, "If the world were your classroom, I'd teach a girl...." Definitely check it out.

Roxane Gay writes about The Hunger Games, strong female characters in young adult literature, and sexual assault over at The Rumpus. This is an important essay to read.

I'll follow that up with some subversive Young Adult writing advice.The YA Highway talks about how your young adult narratives can subvert expectations. I think this is just good advice about writing complex characters.

Lots of online lit mags have new (or newish) issues. In no particular order: BIRDFEAST, radioactive moat, Vinyl Poetry, parcel, shadowbox, Arsenic Lobster, Eleven Eleven, and H_NGM_N.

Every wonder why writers are crazy? Terrible Minds has 25 answers.

In small press news, the Christian Science Monitor makes a case for more indie publishers. Flavorwire has a list of 12 Awesome Small Presses. April 30th is the Grand Opening of SPD's new Reading Room where you can stop in all day to watch writers read their work quietly to themselves and perhaps read quietly along. You also get a free book of poetry!

VIDEO: A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon by CA Conrad.

Finally, check out the bedroom's of famous writers at Apartment Therapy. I'll leave you with a picture of our bedroom, which due to San Francisco's ban on closets larger than a bread box, all our clothes work decoration. Thanks Ikea.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I'm Obviously the Only Person to Ever Be This Busy!

Consumed? Walloped? Sandstormed?

I saw it coming. April, that is. I should have remembered from last year with teaching and grad school, but the public schools in Pennsylvania don't finish until June, so when I found out my schools were finishing May 25th I started to hustle. With end of the school year preparations, chapbook finalizations, a handful of new projects, both paid and volunteer, poem-a-day, plus the Weave hiatus (which was supposed to give me time to work on new things) -- well, you know. Sandstormed.

I'm sure you're all just as busy, whether it's paper-grading, kid-raising, or 9-to-5-ing. However, I tend to underestimate my hard work, since I do a lot of it sitting down. Somehow, in the last week, despite feeling like poo on Friday and Saturday, I accomplished the following while still remembering to eat and sleep:

  • Prep for five classes (though it was mostly done the week before)
  • Taught five poetry classes
  • Graded and typed student poems for five classes
  • Read a chapbook and wrote a chapbook review
  • Went to two meetings
  • Posted and promoted Weave's new staff opps
  • Made final edits to my chapbook
  • Took back cover photo (way more time-consuming than it should be)
  • Organized files to mail to publisher
  • Wrote a fundraising proposal (yowza)
  • Wrote six poems
  • Wrote introductions for workbook project
  • Developed two illustrated pages for workbook project
  • Spent at least five hours on student anthologies
  • Updated my monthly personal finances
  • Kept up with Weave's social networks
  • Watched Finding Nemo with Sal
That last one is there because it's a big deal. I've been wanting to watch that movie with Sal since we met over three years ago. He'd never seen it! (*gasp!*) It was a nice break cuddling with him on Saturday for some movie time. Plus, it reminded me of a helpful mantra: just keep swimmingjust keep swimming.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Messy Business of Bodies: Rachel Mennies' No Silence in the Fields

Just a quick update to share an excerpt from my review of Rachel Mennies' lovely e-chapbook No Silence in the Fields (Blue Hour Press, 2012). The full review, along with three others, is available over at Weave. You can read No Silence for free online.
"Bodies are a central topic of No Silence; the fragility and rawness of people and animals: a cluster of cancerous cells, the delicate rib of a dead cat, a calf freezing to death. Loss surrounds the ill-fated story of the books main characters, M and V, a couple who sets up house in the aforementioned barn for the winter. Their story is told in multiple voices that alternate between M, V, and an omniscient speaker. Why they have come to the barn for winter is never addressed directly, but a simple guess is that they have no other place. The details leading up to their circumstances are less important than where they find themselves, however, as Mennies’ vivid images and lyricism weave a desperate tone through each poem, keeping the action in the present."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

halfway there and ahead of schedule

Fourteen days into NaPoWriMo and I have fifteen poems. Rad!

It was an accident. I wrote two poems yesterday after trying to write an erasure poem, which I didn't finish it until today. It will count for tomorrow.

So I'm ahead by one which is a relief. I've been wanting to write a sestina for a while. I like them for the same reason I like puzzle games like Freecell and Tetris: I get to solve an interesting problem and I know when I'm finished. Very satisfying. 

I started a new workshop today. Poet Cathy Barber, who I know through CPITS, asked if I'd be interested in forming a writing group a few weeks ago. Yes yes! I said and asked if I could invite my poetry partner-in-crime, Molly. Cathy's friend Sara joined us and it was really magical. We took each other's writing seriously while laughing and munching on chips and guacamole. We're gathering monthly now. It feels good to have a group and it feels really good to make new friends.

On an unrelated note, one of my 3rd grade students drew the picture below for me. She tucked it into a book I'd left in the classroom last week. I'm pretty sure I'll keep this forever.

Hope your Saturday is as enjoyable as mine.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three Impromptu Poetry Prompts

For the first time ever, I'm participating in NaPoWriMo by writing a poem everyday this month. I'm always amazed by people who have a really high output of poem-writing. The trance-like state of mind I require for poem-writing seems to come only when forced these days, so I haven't been writing nearly as much as last year. Nor have I been submitting my work as much. I think I've send five packets the entire year. But this month is about writing, not submitting.

I was going strong through April 5th and then somehow on Friday I completely forgot. I didn't remember until Saturday evening when Sal and I were on our way to a movie. So I found myself on Easter Sunday with three poems to write and not a shred of ideas. Luckily, I've got practice at creating impromptu prompts when my lesson has fallen flat or finished with 20 minutes to spare and I need to keep my students busy!

Since I couldn't think of the last time I wrote three poems in one day, I created three prompts to give me momentum. Momentum. One of my weakest muscles. Once I start I can focus if I don't have a lot of anxiety. It's the starting that's trouble and the procrastination that feeds the anxiety. In case you're a procrastinator too, here are my three impromptu prompts. Feel free to borrow and manipulate.

1. The 2-Minute Poem

This is exactly what it sounds like. I drafted a poem in two minutes. The inspiration came from heating water for tea this morning, which also takes two minutes. If I was clairvoyant, I would have written while it heated, but instead I set a timer on my phone and wrote as quickly as I could for two minutes. After that was up, I left it alone for a while and came back to write the tentatively named, "Welcome to the Grown-Up Portion of the Decade."

In the future, I would recommend quickly going back over what you write and fixing any words that might be hard to read later. There's an entire sentence I can't read in my original chicken scratch draft.

2. The 30-Rock Poem

So, I watch TV. A lot of TV actually. Mostly I have it on in the background while I clean the apartment. I also like to watch TV while I eat. Today I was relaxing and eating my English muffin with PB and honey watching 30 Rock when I decided to just start writing down words from the episode. Once I made a list of about 20 words I wrote a poem draft that used every word in the poem.

Having a word bank is useful because it forces you to stretch language and gets the pen moving or fingers typing when you are stuck. I drafted this poem in a notebook by hand and then typed and revised it later. It's fun watching a story or character or universe emerge from this crop of words you harvested. The title of this prompt's poem is "This is Our Prize for the Silent Years."

3. The Anti-Imitation Poem

When I'm really struggling for my own words, I like to borrow someone else's. I found a poem online by Ada Limon called "Crush" and copied it into my own Word document twice. Have the original there to reference when you need to restart a line or phrase. Then I went through each word and line and rewrote its opposite. This gets hard when you have to come up with the opposite of persimmon (which I decided was the poisonous hedge-apple).

That's where originality enters: you choose for what constitutes an opposite, which words you change, which you leave. Eventually I will take this draft and use it in a different way by either stealing some of the lines or inventing a different structure. The poem "Yield" came from this prompt.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sense, Nonsense, and the Poetic Sense

I have spent the entire day working on a student anthology. Since I've started waking up super early - 5:30am - with Sal each day, it's amazing how much work I manage to accomplish before noon. Before 10! I feel like I've found these extra hidden hours of the day that only some people know about.

It's been a busy week, but a good one. I haven't been reading the blogs much or the news. Lowkey on the social networks. Busy with teaching a bunch of classes and now this weekend I'll be prepping for nine classes next week (yikes!). I think I'll be overlapping some of my lessons.

I continue to be surprised and impressed with what kids can write when you show them non-kid's poetry (by that I mean poetry written for children, not poetry by children). The third grade class I started this week had me over-preparing; I knew they would need a lot of structure and poem-language such as line and stanza. Most of them had never read or heard a non-rhyming poem before. We read different poems out loud, some written by professional poets and others by kids their age. Some with full sentences. Others were mostly fragments. One poem was just a big stanza. The others were in couplets, triplets and free verse. There were real words and invented words. There were beautiful poems and haunted poems and mighty poems and animal poems.

Their poems were amazing. Here is one of my favorite lines:

Have you ever felt / the riversfire the glow / the gleam


This poet made the word "riversfire" by borrowing from a technique we saw in an example poem. You create a word by putting together two real words to make a new compound word. The rest of the poem is just as beautiful and musical.

There were other student poems that were just as powerful. I swear, kids this age have poems in their skin. I wonder if the end of third grade is just the perfectly ripe age for poetry. They are still children in a way where they don't worry about being "cool" just yet. However, they are capable of some more sophisticated, metaphorical thinking. Puberty hasn't gotten them yet. Social cliques haven't ostracized individual kids yet. And when you show them a poem or two, they think, "oh, I can do that?" Then they take risks. Try something new.

That sense of freedom is familiar to me. I remember feeling that way when I read Dara Wier. I read her poems and said, "oh, I can do that?" It's okay to write strange and nonsensical poems. Yet, I found sense in them, in their music, patterns, repeated images. Not a thinking sense, but a poetic sense.

That's what I think this age group still has - their natural poetic senses haven't been stolen yet. Our culture is so hard on adolescents, so much pressure to fit in, succeed, look good, be cool. But pre-tweens are mostly unaware of that pressure still.

I can't wait to read what they write next.