Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adult Classes in Poetry and Drawing at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

My dear friend and amazing writer Sarah Leavens is teaching two classes for Pittsburgh Center for the Arts this spring. Sarah is the Out-of-the-Forge Writer-in-Residence in Braddock who has extensive knowledge in  fine arts, poetry, creative nonfiction, and bookbinding, among other things. Her recent work has appeared in Fourth River, The Diverse Arts Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is forthcoming from Weave and So to Speak. If you are looking for a great writing class or an intermediate drawing class, I highly recommend you sign up hers, both of which begin next week. Here's a synopsis below. More details on the PCA site.

credit to Pittsburgh Center for the Arts wesbite, 2013
Essential Poetry
April 1-May 20, Mondays 6:30-9:30pm
Level: All
Poetry is not a literary secret society. This genre, with its distilled language and imagery, often intimidates writers and non-writers alike, but in this class we will unpack it, uncovering the essentials of reading and writing poetry—and what makes poetry essential to our lives.

Intermediate Drawing 
April 3-May 22, Wednesdays 6:30-9:30pm
Level: Intermediate
Using a variety of drawing materials, students will develop keener observation skills, strengthen their ability to express themselves and be encouraged to further develop a personal style and aesthetic.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New York, New York

I hope all is well in your worlds tonight.

Friday, March 22, 2013

April: National Poetry Month

Spring doesn't mark a big change in San Francisco. I've noticed it was a little chillier the last couple of months, but still bright and sunny with a very occasional drizzle. One downpour. While everyone can't wait for the first really warm day of the year, I seem to forget what time of year it is. Perpetual spring, San Francisco. I'm not complaining at all, by the way.

This is why I'm happy for National Poetry Month. April is here! I can write a poem a day! Except, I'm not going to this year. Why not? Last year I wrote a poem a day in April and again in November. I have lots of poems. I've even edited some of them. And a few of those I submitted to journals. But I'm not in need of more poems, per se. So what's a poet to do? Great question. I'm glad I asked that. Here's a few "a-day" ideas ideas:

  • revise a poem
  • read a poem
  • send a poetry submission
  • read a poetry chapbook
  • read a poetry journal
  • share a poem
  • review a poetry chapbook
  • review a poetry journal
I'm leaning toward a couple, but they are the more ambitious ones and I'm less likely to succeed. Perhaps I can adjust the "a-day" bar by lowering it to "every-other-day" or "thrice-weekly" instead. I'd really love to write reviews. I've finished three chapbooks this week and I have a few others that I'd like to review in addition. Plus I have a review I owe a very patient reviews editor of a lovely journal. Why are reviews so difficult to write? I always worry I'm going to miss some obvious reference or say something that will make everyone realize I'm not as smart as they thought. Ah, the joy of impostor syndrome. Any tips for approaching review-writing in a way that isn't so intimidating? Feel free to add your two cents about how I should celebrate poetry month.

Monday, March 18, 2013

In Search of Empathy

So everyone is sharing this piece by Roxane Gay today. She makes beautiful points while tying together very troubling current events in a relevant way. And I agree with her... until the end and her remarks regarding empathy, what it is, and where it comes from.

"I try to imagine what would happen, if that someone, sixteen, at a party, were a boy. And then I hate myself, because that’s not empathy, not at all. We can’t use clever word play to empathize our way out of this mess. We cannot wish something terrible onto anyone to try and even the score. I am not sure what empathy is or how we wield it properly but I am certain it’s not that way."

I agree that, in an ideal world, people shouldn't have to imagine their own child as the victim of a terrible crime in order to empathize. But the world isn't perfect and breaking down centuries of social norms, biases, and prejudices that even the emotionally aware often can't recognize will sometimes require a jarring comparison.

Due to the vast and varied amount of human suffering, we label and categorize experiences so we can decide which issues to care about, choosing ones that have affected us the most, that we identify with the most. This is unavoidable in some ways; otherwise we'd never get anything done because we'd all want to kill ourselves. Still, we all have issues that hit close to home - whether we are or know a victim of rape or we are or know someone with stomach cancer, an issue that touches our individual experience becomes a priority. We choose what we can't not choose because those issues awaken raw emotions in our numbed spirits. Can we do better than this? Yes. Can we expect or demand that empathy only come from a sufficiently virtuous place? I don't think we can. Not yet, at least. I'm certain we'll fail to reach that high a bar. I hope we can someday.

Here's what I know about empathy. Empathy is recognizing yourself in another person. It is feeling compassion for another person's suffering despite differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, abilities, and so on. Considering how much value our culture places on individualism and competition, and how little value we assign to recognizing and identifying our own feelings, it's amazing any of us develop empathy at all.

I also know that empathy doesn't come naturally to every person. Empathic ability comes in different forms. Some people feel it right away, some people read verbal or nonverbal cues, some both, some neither. Regardless, empathy is both an intellectual and emotional skill which must be modeled by mentors, politicians, parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, and teachers. We must nurture and encourage compassion in the next generation. This requires a lot of hard work. The focus of Buddhist meditation asks practitioners to develop compassion. Since one can spend a lifetime meditating, this practice illustrates just how difficult it is to foster a deep sense of compassion. To be able to look at another person and not see differences, not see "the other", but rather see our shared humanity.

Here is what I also know. We've gotten ourselves into one fucking ugly mess. And it's entirely possible that the only way out is to trudge back through that ugly mess. Becoming a more compassionate culture will take decades of tirelessly facing our own ugliness until one day we won't need to imagine acts of violence or misfortune upon our loved ones in order to empathize. Until one day we as a culture can empathize with human suffering regardless of our individual differences.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

AWP Bound!

Boston will be cold. I wish I had a pretty coat that was warm and would also fold into a tiny, portable swathe. This year I won't be staying at the conference hotel as I have in years past. Also, this is my first year not tabling at the book fair for Weave Magazine. Just me toting my coat and my chapbook around a giant convention center.

By the way, if you see me please say hello. I really love meeting people I know only online. I apologize if I don't recognize you at first, but to be fair, I'm pretty bad at names and faces. I'll be glad to meet you!

If you want to pick up a signed copy of Braiding the Storm, I will have them in tow. As a special promotion, if you buy BtS I will write you a personalized poem on a Boston postcard. Buy my chapbook, get a postcard poem later! Win-Win.

I'm looking forward to being a rogue agent this year. This is my fourth AWP and I'm taking my past experiences and applying them to this year. Pace myself. Sit near the back. Make time for the book fair. If I get to 2-3 panels in one day I'm happy. It's hard to go go go. They should have time-out rooms at AWP with quiet music, soft lighting, lots of pillows. Except everyone would likely be there most of the time. 

I'm excited to go to the book fair and collect stickers. Decorating my AWP notebook is going to be my new tradition. This year I have a larger, unlined journal and it will be beautiful.