You may also be able to use this link to set up or attend local readings.
Thanks, John F. Buckley, for bringing this to my attention.
You may also be able to use this link to set up or attend local readings.
Thanks, John F. Buckley, for bringing this to my attention.
In August, we climb into a time machine for a look at bugs in medieval manuscripts, a man punished for a novel set 900 years in the future, and how lessons from labor movements can help improve the lives of adjuncts and the future of universities. Please enjoy the journey.
Former Teacher of the Year Incarcerated for Writing a Novel Set 900 Years in the Future
In Dorchester County, Maryland, a teacher was taken in for an “emergency medical evaluation,” suspended from his job, and barred from setting foot on another public school. The crime? The teacher wrote two ebooks under a pen name set 900 years in the future, where a school is attacked in a terrorist act. Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic compared the incident to a Soviet-style punishment from the Dept. of Insane and Dangerous Overreactions to Fictional Threats. The accused, Patrick McLaw, was awarded teacher of the year in part for helping one of his students self-publish an ebook. Perhaps publishing books on Amazon truly is evil.
They Were Even Bugged in Medieval Times
Sarah J. Biggs, in the British Library Medieval Manuscript Blog, provides us with examples of bugs in various medieval texts often put in the margins of books for decorative reasons. Apparently, not very many texts provided illustrations of insects, and the ones that did often used them for humorous reasons.
The Business of Creative Writing
The next time someone asks me whether they should attend a creative writing program, I’ll send them this article from Nick Ripatrazone at The Millions, where he breaks down the responsibilities of teachers – and students – when attending MFA programs. The business of creative writing needs to stop being a dirty subject when far too many students are struggling with huge debts, unrealistic hopes, and false expectations.
The Adjunct Professor Crisis
The subject of adjuncts living in poverty won’t go away, in real life or in this blog, because of how American universities have chosen hiring administrators and building amenities over investing in faculty. Elizabeth Segran writes a compelling article in the Atlantic about whether a budding labor movement can improve the lives of non-tenured faculty in universities.
The Woman Who Went to the Library and Read Every Book on the Shelf
My parents always encouraged me to read anything and everything. If you feel the same way, please meet Phyllis Rose, an avid fiction reader who decided to tackle an entire shelf of fiction (from LEQ to LES) in the New York Society Library. And what was the outcome? A book, of course. Rachel Cooke, in the Guardian, provides us with the story behind Phyllis Rose’s book The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading. Perhaps this will turn around the trend of people reading less books.
When I first read the poem “There Are Birds Here” by Jamaal May, I acted like an unabashed fanboy and contacted him, asking if I could spotlight it on Writeliving.
I have read the poem now countless times and I still feel as strongly about it as I did the first time. It isn’t just that the subject matter has my heart as a writer who grew up in Michigan.
What I love about this poem is not easy for me to break down. There is an alchemy here, a poet’s brew that intoxicates. Still, here goes:
These elements make the poem masterful. However, what really sets this work apart is how artfully “they” is weaved into the narrative.
For me, this poem is as complex as Detroit. It makes me a better poet and it makes me yearn for Michigan. Thanks, Jamaal!
- Martin Ott
THERE ARE BIRDS HERE
There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about,
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a warzone.
I am trying to say
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in your birdless city.
Previously published in Poetry
About the Author:
Jamaal May is the author of Hum (Alice James Books), which received the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award, Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Silver Medal, and an NAACP Image Award nomination. In 2014 Jamaal received over a dozen awards and honors including the Spirit of Detroit Award, a Pushcart Prize, and a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in Italy. Poems appear widely in magazines and anthologies like NYTimes.com, Poetry, The New Republic, Ploughshares, Please Excuse this Poem: 100 Poems for the Next Generation (Penguin), and Best American Poetry 2014 (Scribner). Jamaal is a Kenyon Review Fellow and co-directs Organic Weapon Arts with Tarfia Faizullah.
Thanks to the multitalented Landon Godfrey for inviting me to participate in a blog tour to answer a few questions about my writing process. So Cal misses your many talents, Landon!
- Martin Ott
1) What are you working on?
I tend to work in multiple genres and I enjoy collaboration with other writers and artists.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
This is a difficult question as I work in multiple genres and my influences span beyond literature. Writers aren’t as unique as we’d like to think and each of us has a voice that we don’t probably give ourselves enough credit for.
Don’t dodge the question, Martin, an internal voice is now telling me. OK. Fair enough. Here goes:
3) Why do you write what you do?
Characters and their stories clamor for attention in my imagination. I have always been a daydreamer and inventor of tales, even to myself. The characters who yell the loudest and the longest get written. It’s a messy process, filled with conflict even at the point of inception.
4) How does your writing process work?
For starters, part of my writing process involves being a bit of a crank and a recluse, and to not get distracted by the many things that tempt all of us humans. For me, that’s meant shelving a few things like cable TV and fantasy sports in order to write. I carve out time between family, friends, and a marketing career.
I’ve come to realize that inspiration is everywhere, including in my other creative work. I find ideas in day-to-day occurrences, the news, and the stories of the people in my life.
As a late bloomer, persistence is key. Also, I don’t know how to not write. For me, it isn’t a choice. I try to write a little every day. It adds up.
Who’s Next up on the Blog Tour?
Follow the blog tour on Twitter at #mywritingprocess . Next up is John F. Buckley, a friend who has become one of my favorite writers and a huge influence on my work.
A recent graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, John has been writing poetry since March 2009, when his attempt at writing a self-help book went somewhat awry. After a twenty-year stint on and near the West Coast, he now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife. His publications include 295 poems, two chapbooks, the collection Sky Sandwiches, and with Martin Ott, Poets’ Guide to America and the forthcoming Yankee Broadcast Network. His website is http://johnfrancisbuckley.wordpress.com.
In July, I found myself looking back at some literary masters, publishers looking at new ways to sell books, writers thriving on social media, and a few lessons, bad and good, in our ongoing efforts to live the writing life. Please enjoy.
The Loss of Nadine Gordimer
I was saddened to hear the news of the loss of one of my favorite writers Nadine Gordimer. In a year of saying goodbye to some of our best writers, this one hurts.
Issues of Re-Issues
Writers have a hard enough time finding readership — do we really have to worry about deceased literary heavyweights vying for a share of the marketplace? Last month, I highlighted new poems from Neruda. In July, Grove announced that it is issuing a lost story from Samuel Beckett. Scribner is also reissuing Hemingway’s classic novel The Sun Also Rises with a previously discarded first chapter. It seems as though publishers are starting to mimic movie studios in the way they mine old material to obtain a new audience.
Don’t Go Into Poetry for the Money, Honey
Kate Angus penned a great article at The Millions about how, even with the proliferation of MFA graduates and the hard work of small press and mainstream publishers, Americans seems to love poetry just not poetry books.
Writers Who Run the Literary Internet?
Flavorwire published a spotlight on 35 writers who run the literary internet. While it looks as though a few on the list purchased followers and reach on Twitter, most of the writers highlighted here are worth following.
Let Amazon Run the Library System (It Runs Everything Else in Literature)
No Forbes isn’t the Onion, but it saw fit to publish Tim Worstall’s article “Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone an Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription. We all know the public library system is no engine of efficiency, but it provides more than just books to our communities (such as computer and internet access). Digitization is part of the future, obviously, but we need to find a way to support those of us who can’t afford the internet fast lane.
Odds and Ends
Here’s a few other links I found entertaining:
In June, poets were in the news with freshly discovered work from a master, a new US Poet Laureate, the loss of an influential voice, and insights into Anne Sexton’s Pulitzer Prize selection. All this, plus more from Hachette v. Amazon.
Do you sometimes wonder what the world would be like if one of your favorite writers published new work? Seix Barral, Pablo Neruda’s longtime publisher, announced that 20 Neruda poems have been discovered in his archives and will be published in late 2014 / early 2015.
Pulitzer Prize Poetry Politics
Interested in how Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize? In the Poetry Foundation blog, David Trinidad gives us insights into the world of Pulitzer Prize judging by digging into the Chronicles of the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry and revealing how judges’ arguments over books by Plath and Roethke provided the backdrop for Sexton’s selection.
New US Poet Laureate Will Do…?
I’ve always thought it was cool that our country had a post for a poet, but I’ve always wondered what it practically means for the art, craft, and popularity of what is, in actuality, a niche market filled with more writers per reader than any other genre. Best of luck to our new US Poet Laureate Charles Wright, who was quoted as saying upon selection: “I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do…but as soon as I find out, I’ll do it.”
Alan Grossman RIP
The poetry world was saddened by the loss of influential poet and scholar Alan Grossman. Winner of countless awards, Grossman was known for a serious style that bridged Romantic and Modernist traditions.
Amazon Looking to Bury the Hachette?
Yes, it’s all about money. As Amazon and one of the big publishing houses Hachette dig in for a fight over pricing and revenue, Evan Hughes at Slate provides insights into a lost opportunity by publishers to thwart the latest Amazon power grab. Chuck Wendig also provides an even handed and humorous look at these two “stompy corporation” on his blog that I highly recommend.
I was in graduate school when I picked up a copy of Velocities, a volume of new and selected poems by Stephen Dobyns. I remember being struck by two things that resonated (and still resonate with me): that it is possible to write narrative poetry with imagination and a humane voice, and the way writing without stanzas can help the reader focus on content over form. Our best authors always make us look at how and why we write. I hope you enjoy insights into the writing process of this important poet and novelist.
Who has been a major influence on your writing?
I can’t pinpoint one person. When I started reading poetry late in high school, it was Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Eliot’s “Prufrock”. In graduate school, it was Alan Dugan, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. But soon afterward (1967), I found my biggest influence from poems in translation–Neruda, Vallejo, Zbigniew Herbert, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lorca, Alberti, Transtromer, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Hikmet, Pavese, Ritsos and many others. Later still I went back to sonnets: Shakespeare, Keats, Bill Knott and others. Besides liking the poets, I’d look for poets who would foil my attempts to anticipate what might come next, because at those places within the poem I would find what I wanted to learn. It was also important to me to find poets who were engaged in a conversation with the world and not simply with themselves. Also, the work of most European poets was informed by a sense of history, which I mostly found missing in U.S. poetry. Most recently I’ve found that surprise and sense of history in the Polish poet Tomasz Rozycki. I also read many contemporary U.S. poets, but we share a historical context, which may distort the poem for me, making me often see as strong what might be weak, and see as weak what might be strong.
Can you give us insight into your creative process?
I wait for metaphors which will help me approach non-discursively what is otherwise approached discursively. These metaphors may start with the self and then try to move out into the world, until at make my presence hardly a shadow. The form of the poem, the noise, the manner of its telling also combines into a non-discursive metaphor that compliments or heightens the substance of the poem’s telling. Any poet always has a series of concerns which he or she consciously or unconsciously wants to express, so the hunt for the right metaphor, the right telling, always seems to be going on just before the level of conscious thought. Most simply, I can often set this process in motion by reading other poems, especially image driven poems–Yannis Ritsos, for instance. I don’t necessarily take from these other poems, but my brain, in reading, becomes softened or opened to non-discursive thought. So my waiting is an informed waiting, even if on most occasions nothing happens.
How has teaching impacted your writing?
At best, it has made me study subjects I want to learn more about. If I don’t read a lot of sonnets and a lot about sonnets when preparing for a class on the sonnet, I’ll humiliate myself. Terror has great pedogogical value. And I’ve been enriched by colleagues and students. But the academic atmosphere can be stultifying. Academics are often tidiers of information; poets–in their search for the right metaphor–can be disrupters of information. This is not a natural fit. There are many academics I’ve greatly admired and have been close to, but for the most part one is sleeping with the enemy. The institutions can be very comfortable and within them poets can become complacent. And deep in their hearts of hearts, etc., the academics have little respect for what you do.
As an author of a popular series of mystery novels, what seat at the table do you think genre fiction deserves in the larger discussion about literature?
A very small seat, maybe a stool. Most genre fiction offers a physical solution to an existential problem: the bad guy is shot. This trivializes the existential problem. Some genre writers, like John Le Carre, can push the boundaries of the genre and tart up the physical solution with brilliant writing and psychological/intellectual depth, but reader still wants the physical solution: the bad guy is terminally dealt with. In Crime and Punishment, Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, murders a pawnbroker for her money. A detective, Porfiry, suspects Raskolnikov and gathers information against him. Perhaps Porfiry could kill Raskolnikov in a carriage chase. Justice would triumph, but the existential problem would be forgotten. We even might be somewhat satisfied. But Dostoevsky wants a novel about redemption, not punishment, and so the novel follows Raskolnikov to Siberia where he serves eight years of penal servitude. Here, with the help of Sonya, a former prostitute who becomes his wife, he at last discovers moral regeneration and is redeemed. Whether one likes it or not, Dostoevsky’s investigation of an existential problem is complete. It hasn’t been truncated two hundred pages earlier with a bullet to Raskolnikov’s brain; it moves past a purely physical solution. My explanation is simplistic, but because the best genre writing may explore an existential problem with great subtlety and the book may be written with great skill, those virtues at least earn the genre writer a small stool at the end of the table, almost in the hall.
What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice?
Stop thinking about the question and just write. Your voice will evolve our of your subjectivity, which, after all, is unique.
How does being a poet and novelist influenced your work in the other genre?
The poems gain in narrative and the novels gain in image, but they are quite separate in my mind. In addition, the books of poems are quite different from one another, as are the novels, apart from the Saratoga series. I try to avoid self-parody.
Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?
Just being alive is adversity enough. I write to save my life.
What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?
I wouldn’t know where to begin.
About the Author:
Stephen Dobyns’ most recent book is a novel, The Burn Palace, published by Blue Rider/Penguin in February 2013. Palgrave released his second book of essays on poetry, Next Word, Better Word, in April, 2011. His most recent book of poems Winter’s Journey published in 2010 by Copper Canyon. His previous work of fiction is a book of short stories Eating Naked (Holt, 2000). His other work includes Best Words, Best Order (Palgrave, 2003), essays on poetry; and Velocities (Penguin, 1994), a volume of new and selected poems. He has also published eleven other books of poetry and twenty other novels. Two of his novels and two of his short stories have been made into films. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship, three fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and numerous prizes for his poetry and fiction. Between 1995 and 2007, he wrote more than thirty feature stories for the San Diego Reader. Dobyns teaches in the MFA Program of Warren Wilson College, and has taught at Emerson College, Syracuse University, Boston University, University of Iowa and half a dozen other colleges and universities. He was born in New Jersey in 1941. He lives with in Westerly, RI.
My third installment in a series of recycled reads – a review of books found in my local Goodwill – is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.
Published in 1998, The Poisonwood Bible has been widely praised and was nominated for a 1999 Pulitzer Prize. The story follows the Prices, a missionary family, that moves from Georgia to the Congo in 1959. The story is told by the women in the family: Orleanna, the abused wife of patriarch Baptist minister Nathan Price, and their four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. There is a political undertone throughout the novel focused on the abuse of Nathan Price on his wife and children, and the abuse of the United States and European powers on the Congo, and the entire African continent.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is an important work of fiction, and it is a book I highly recommend for readers. As a writer, I found myself thinking about a few decisions that the author made that potentially undercut the novel:
Length - The main plot arc is Shakespearean in the way it follows the tragic, headstrong, and ill-advised decisions made by Nathan Price and the escalating danger he puts his family in, leading to the death of his youngest daughter Ruth May. Imagine The Lord of the Flies, if the second half of the book followed the lives of the survivors over the next twenty-five years after being rescued. The politics of Africa shown over the final decades of the novel are fascinating, but feel like a second story has been tacked onto the first (and more powerful) one.
Antagonist is Abandoned – Nathan Price, at the moment he puts his daughters in the most danger, disappears almost entirely in the narrative, and is not present in the moment when the mother and daughters decide to leave the mission. Nathan turns into a ghost, a rumor. Perhaps this is because it is Kingsolver’s intent to have the larger antoginist to be patriarchal America vs. the family patriarch. For me, the lack of active conflict before the climactic moment of the novel took away from its overall impact.
Author Intrusion – There are times in the narrative when the diary-like voices of the daughters are abandoned for a narrator’s voice giving us the horrific background to the political upheaval caused by Europe and the United States in Africa. This sometimes happens with an occasional paragraph and in other cases, as with the ending, there are longer stretches where the narrator sums up the meaning of the story for us. All of this additional context if powerful, but it pulled me out of the drama of the core story.
As writers, we are always looking to take lessons from every book we read. I have no doubt that others may disagree with my analysis. Please feel free to comment below.
May brought us its fair share of bad news, controversy, and cool writing tips. Here’s my roundup of internet literary news for May 2014.
America Loses One of Its Literary Beacons: Farewell to Maya Angelou
I remember very clearly the class at the University of Michigan when I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou had a huge impact on many writers and readers during her long writing career and will be missed.
Judge Orders Author to Return $22.5 Million from Invented Holocaust Memoir
A memoir about a young holocaust survivor killing a Nazi solider and fleeing into the woods to be adopted by wolves sound like something Hollywood might cook up, and in the end the memoir turned out to be untrue. Misha Defonseca was order by a judge to repay$22.5 million from Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years. It turns out that she was in school in Belgium during the time period portrayed in the memoir.
The Importance of Operational Theme in Creative Work
Writer/producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach wrote a compelling case for why TV shoes such as Lost and Breaking Bad relied on an operational theme to drive the show (independent of plot). The applicability, though, extends to fiction (and perhaps even poetry) – it is valuable for writers to understand theme as much as character, plot, setting, and voice.
Controversy Over Poetry Remix of Mass Murderer
Writer and critic Seth Abramson created a heated debate on Facebook, Twitter, and multiple sites after publishing The Last Words of Mass Murderer Elliot Rodger Remixed Into Poetry on Huffington Post. Although he provided rationale for his metamodern poetry, some questioned whether he was using the incident for personal gain and that it is always too soon to grab personal attention for a tragedy. Some writers encouraged others to contact HuffPo editors to remove Abramson and Omnidawn issued a statement about their disappointment in Abramson, co-editor of Best American Experiment Writing, and that they would not be publishing future volumes of the anthology. Others have supported Abramson’s intention to try to craft art out of senseless violence and have called on those piling on Abramson to look harder at his stated intention behind the poetry remix.
Should Books Assigned in Colleges Contain Trigger Warnings?
There is a debate brewing about whether some books assigned in literature classes should include warnings of subject matter that could cause undue stress. A draft guide on trigger warnings from Oberlin College cited Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. These trigger warnings were also proposed by a Rutgers student earlier this year for a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive, and misogynistic violence in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This topic continues to spawn a lot of discussion online and in social media.