20 Poems in 20 Days

Something to know about me – as a creative writer – is that I’ve always had an exceptionally hard time starting and keeping any kind of consistent writing schedule. Also, I’m terrible to put everything else in the world before my own creative energies and creative needs. 

But, I’ve turned my whole life upset down to have this time here in Wales (I moved to Wales, by the way) to write and pursue writing aspirations. Even though I’m here, my mind is still going in 1,000 different directions, and I have so many ideas (and so many stresses) that I’m not sure where to start. What ends up happening is a lot of time becomes wasted thinking about writing, planning to write, reading with the goal of writing, but no actual writing gets done. For one, I’ve started – due to both internal and external pressures – to think about whole collections of poems rather than the individual poem, which of course, has to come first. When you’re thinking too much about the macro, it can be hard to hone in on the micro. Also, I sometimes think if I can’t write something publishable on a given day, why write at all? I’m embarrassed to admit this because I know this treats writing as a means to an end rather than what it actually is to me – a matter of living, experiencing the life lived, and sharing that experience with others. This sad realization also underscores a crippling perfectionism that spans many areas of my life and work.

I’m also honored to be in collaboration with a wonderful Dutch artist and to be teeming with ideas following two very hard years of my life. It’s time to write, for my well-being, for my growth, for the things I left behind, and for my aspirations for the future.

So, the other day I was looking at a list of poems I have ready. I looked at the list critically and tried to make a secondary list of other poems I need write in order to flesh out the narrative arc I see forming in the work as a whole. When I was done, I made a list of 20 poems. My heart sank looking at the list. How long would this take at my current creative output rate, 12 years? But, the thing is, the poems are already inside of me. I know the story; I know the emotions. These specific poems don’t need research; they just need me to sit down and write them. But, for two days, I tried and all I could see was the macro – the list of twenty. My ideas went back and forth from one poem idea to another. And, I made some good notes. But, you know what I didn’t do? Write one single draft of one single poem.

Last night, an idea struck me. Why don’t I try to do one poem per day for 20 days? There’s more… As per my idea, I have to go in the order of the list I made out of specific poems I need to write. No jumping ahead or backwards. I would treat this like a firm assignment, like I don’t have a choice. Also, I can only spend one hour on the poem (+15 or 30 minutes if the energy is really flowing). The limited time, I thought, might create a sense of urgency, like that jolt of productivity you feel when the essay is due in five hours. Also, no social media or email. I could only use my phone for the dictionary or minimum pertinent internet research if needed, Finally, it shouldn’t matter if the draft is particularly good – only solid and stable as a first draft. After all, revision is often where the magic happens.

So, I’m going to do this thing. And I’m going to give a brief update here each day to share how it’s going. And, since I just finished Day 1, I can stop talking theory and now switch to practice.

Day 1 – October 8, 2017

I began the first hour of the first day of this challenge around 1pm this afternoon. About two minutes after I began, I wanted to scrap the whole idea I had for this poem into the electronic trash bin. But, my eye glimpsed the time, and I thought “Okay, one hour. I can do this.” The limited time turned out to be a great idea! It made me 1) quickly jump into serious work but it also 2) wasn’t so long that I started to feel tied down or bored. The poem today (and for the next five days) is a prose poem, so I had many thoughts about the form over the hour, wishing I had more examples immediately around for me to read/review. I resisted this urge, however, feeling that it wasn’t a good use of my limited time or internet privileges to look up sample poems. Also, I thought that might prove to be more distracting than helpful. I worked toward a natural end to the poem and then began going back through and adding other layers to the content and shifting phrases around. I remember by the time thirty minutes had passed I couldn’t believe how deep I had delved into some very real feelings crafted in a decent draft AND I STILL HAD THIRTY MINUTES LEFT. I ended around 2:05pm with a draft I’m pleased with. Don’t want to marry it, but you know what, it exists and for that I’m pleased. Hope the success continues tomorrow! Excerpt from today’s writing: “The highway calls for elucidation like any another notebook…”

Day 2 – October 9, 2017

Today was hard. I was quite productive earlier in another area of my work, but as the afternoon progressed, I started to feel tired and unwell. So, I napped, but about 1.5 hours later, I was ripped from the nap by the horrifying scream of the fire alarm (fire drill). After I got back to my room, I just felt very unmotivated and also like it should be the next day (the confusing power of naps). But, I need to stop being whiny. Because I still did it. I still got my laptop out, all sluggish and annoyed. I checked the list of poems, and I wrote a draft. I had a hard time tonight staying focused. I kept wanting to look at my phone and fidget. But, surprisingly, I think the poem draft I completed tonight is much more polished and cohesive than last night’s. So, I’m pleased again. Note to self: don’t save creative writing until the end of the day: you never know how you’ll feel by then (Or, conversely, maybe I write better when I’m tired… hmm…). Excerpt from today’s writing: “That’s the muscle and meat of it. Once you asked if I was happy, you had already written the answer.”

Day 3 – October 10, 2017

Bust 😦 But, it happens. And, luckily I make the rules! I’ve been dealing with a hurt foot this evening and a general tired/drained lack of motivation for all things thinking and doing. I’m going to give myself a break today, given the pain. But, the pursuit continues. 20 poems in 20 days must happen, so I guess maybe I’ll double up another day? TBD…

Day 4 – October 11, 2017

Well, the dream continues despite yesterday’s setback. I started around 9:20 tonight and really had to force myself to turn to creative writing over the other pressing, non-creative items on my list. I’m glad I did, though, and I’m glad to have started earlier in the evening before I got too tired. A few observations from tonight: I find myself starting each time very annoyed and detached from the work. At some point during the hour, that shifts. I suppose once a certain amount of raw emotion or original-ish lines come out in the work I start to feel invested in it, and the tone changes. In all three of the drafts I have written so far, I feel there are still some clichés, wordiness, and I’m probably being at times too crafted. But, again, I’m pleased with these existing as first drafts. Another not-so-new observation: I know I’m getting into some real emotion when after finishing a draft I start to cry. I hope what I feel when I write scenes like this translates to readers some day. Excerpt from today’s writing: “In their version of the story, we’d be bandits, derelicts, forever on the run from the law.”

Day 5: October 12, 2017

I didn’t write as long tonight as I wanted. I did the thing I said more than once I shouldn’t do: started too late in the evening. But, I start teaching a new class tomorrow for the first time, so I was putting effort tonight into finalizing materials. I also wonder if I started this 20 in 20 too soon after moving to a new country? I say this because my body is definitely still adjusting to its new surroundings: climate, walking everywhere, new food. I think I ate something that bugged my system because I’ve just been feeling not right for the last day and a half or so. But, still I got out my laptop and started plugging away at the fourth poem. Made it about four lines in when the fire alone went off (at midnight). Now that I’m back in my room, I’m just going to call it a night. Tonight’s poem was born; it will grow up soon enough. Tonight’s excerpt: “I’m measuring my life now in the weight of my key chain: the keys I’m removing; the ones I’m adding temporarily. Nothing seems permanent anymore.”

Day 6: October 13, 2017

Today I composed the first bit of a decent poem on my phone. I’m such a stickler for rules, but I broke one stated rule and one unstated. The latter being that I would properly write on my laptop. The former being that I would write the poems in the order I originally wrote down when I conceived the list. To this last one, I’ll say that I had good intentions when I sat out to try to force some rules on my unruly writing habits, BUT the first six I had written on the list were very intense and challenging, and the list was made out arbitrarily and before I started this challenge. I started to lose heart and so I decided to loosen the grip on the rules and write what felt natural. I think these kinds of changes are vital if good work and productivity are the end goal. Excerpt from today’s writing: “You tried to explain pressure to me. Submarine deep. Milky Way high.”

Day 7: October 14, 2017

Well, if I thought I broke the rules yesterday, then I really broke them today because the poem I wrote I didn’t actually WRITE DOWN. As I was winding through the hills of the Brecon Beacons here in Wales, I wrote another epistle poem in my head, thinking about the last time I rode through these hills. I probably spent four hours going over and over drafts of the poem in my head, and I’ll jot down this first draft over the day or when I get back home tonight. Two things I’m pondering today: 1) I once heard it said that if you’re thinking about work, that’s still working, especially if you’re thinking about it on vacation as I was yesterday. I believe I agree with this. 2) Why do I feel the need to justify changing the rules here in these little blurbs? Why are the rules (in this writing exercise and in life) so incredibly important to me? Maybe TOO important… Excerpt from today’s writing: “The Brecon Beacons haven’t changed for centuries, their rugged beauty intact and alive in the wispy and winding valleys, the craggy rocks which seem to grow out of the hills, the herds of sheep, their hides livened with spray-painted.”

Day 8: October 15, 2017

Tonight, I took one idea I had and broke it into two different poems, ending the writing session with one strong draft and one working okay draft. I’m happy with tonight’s work, and this also makes up for the bust on day three! I have eight drafts on Day 8! I am particularly proud of this because I am getting sick – head/chest cold. I’m trying to keep the illness at bay but not feeling my best. Still, I powered through. Also, a writing note: I think maybe I write better on an empty stomach. “Food” for thought… Excerpt from today’s writing: “I just got here, but everywhere I look there’s an injured bird.”

Day 9: October 16, 2017

I wrote two new poems tonight in addition to combining and recording several drafts written over the chaotic last few months. One of the new poems I wrote is a haiku in reference to the ME TOO movement that’s sparked on Facebook. The second is a poem about Hurricane Ophelia, which 1) came the U.K., a place that hasn’t seen a storm like this in decades 2) the storm brought dust from the Sahara 3) made planes smell like smoke as they were flying over 4) created a golden atmospheric effect with a red sun 6) what’s up with the name? What a great literary reference! Thank you, universe, for the overwhelming inspiration today. Excerpt from today’s writing: “Ophelia in the sky above me, in the wind that burns my ears.”

Day 10: October 17, 2017

Total bust. I’m super sick with a chest infection.

Day 11: October 18, 2017

Total bust again. The chest infection continues with its fever, aches, and general awfulness.

Day 12: October 19, 2017

Although I didn’t get as much done today as I hoped, I did sit down and type out the beginnings of a poem draft. I’m trying to slowly get back to work after this week of being confined and largely bedridden. 

Day 13: October 20, 2017

Bust. 

Day 14: October 21, 2017

Interesting experience of writing a poem tonight that I think I’ll probably in a day or two trash. But, I think this was beneficial to try something I was unsure of and let the draft be imperfect and fragile. Previously, I wouldn’t have even started a poem at all unless the idea was so polished in my mind that it warranted a trial run as an actual draft. I haven’t before put down half-baked ideas. But, I’m committed to getting more down on paper, even the ideas that don’t make it out into the world. My idea of writing poems from the POV of fever dreams might not work out after all. But, that’s okay. 

Day 15: October 22, 2017

Tonight, I got the idea for a poem draft from looking at a certain kind of Facebook post. I used to be cheekier in my poems and more ironic. But, then the subject matter I was focusing on changed a bit, and most of my work since has been in earnest, tone-wise. It was nice to go back to the playful, even though some real emotions are worked out in this draft. I think that cheeky tone is quite authentic to my voice, and I’m trying quite hard in this project I’m working to let my personal voice come out more, including the snarky, the dark, the messy, the obsessive, and the confused. Excerpt: “If you say you’re unhappy aloud, does the sky rain down in shards of glass?”

Day 16: October 23, 2017

A New Orleans poem tonight. The last time I was there I kept a journal, trying to remember the folklore, parts of the city, the way I was feeling at the time. Now, it’s time to make good on those promises…

Day 17: October 24, 2017

Another New Orleans poem tonight. Part of why this 20 in 20 is timely as well as super productive is that there are emotions in me that are presently rapidly changing. But, those emotions are in part a large key factor to the book I’m trying to finish. It’s like, in some ways, racing against the clock to try to get down some diminishing feelings that, once they’re gone, can still be written about but will have lost immediacy and fire. Well, even now, I’m writing from memories instead of feelings. Or rather, memories of feelings. This is why Anne Lamott is right about Shitty First Drafts. I wish I had some half-baked poems from when I was really in the thick of it. But, the problem is that it’s so hard to do Eros in poems, almost everything is a cliche. I never could really come up with the right configurations. But, I’m trying to let those anxieties go. Love may have been written about in all ways over and over, but there will always be room for more of it because people like the stories. They like feeling love and remembering love. One shouldn’t run away from writing about love. One should push at the hard wall that it is until the very authentic realities of the particular story comes through the writing.

Day 18: October 25, 2017

Tonight, I tried to write a poem inspired by the fever dreams I had when I was sick. And just the general loneliness one feels under the duress of a high fever when you have to be your own caretaker and your own sickling. No idea where this one will lead. Maybe its future is a solid poem, maybe its future is the delete button.

Day 19 & Day 20: October 26 & 27, 2017

Although I did finish the 20 in 20, I am woefully behind on updating! To close out the writing project, I went back to those more emotionally raw prose poems I started with in the beginning. Taking a break from that series gave me the space and time I needed to revamp and re-inspire myself.

CONCLUSION & TAKEAWAYS 

*In the end, I finished the 20 Poems in 20 Days project with 24 pages of new poetry, even with the days I took off when I was ill.

*The exercise was wildly successful in pressuring/encouraging me to write regularly – daily in fact. It became a routine, something I did at the end of each night before bed. I allowed myself to write a couple of shit poems, but I am overall quite impressed by how far along many of the poems ended up. In the days since, I have not gotten back into the same swing. I needed a bit of a break. My plan is to start a proper and consistent writing schedule in the next few days and stick with it. If I don’t, I may do another 20 in 20 again. With that being said, I suppose doing a 20 in 20 every other month could be its own writing schedule, rather than thinking a writing schedule should be daily 365 days a year.

*Here’s the most important takeaway – I had to be imperfect to finish this goal. In my mind when I begin, I just knew I would sit upright with excellent posture at my desk every morning, sip coffee, and write poems on a perfectly set routine. Why do I do this to myself? I’m 33 years old – don’t I know myself yet? I rarely write at a desk. I write in bed – on my laptop with five books laying open and mechanical pencils lining the spaces between the books. Also, there were days it didn’t happen: days I was ill, one day I just didn’t have it in me no matter how hard I tried. I was honest about that in my write ups and let myself be with an almost-minimal amount of guilt. But, by giving myself this grace, I rewarded myself because there were other days that energies and inspirations were high, and I completed two poems drafts in a day instead of one. I still had to push myself on days, but allowing myself to be imperfect, to be human, to break and tweak the rules I outlined for myself is the only reason I finished this project. And, that’s the most important lesson that I, (myself – as a painful perfectionist) could have learned. By nature, I follow the rules; it’s natural to me and makes me feel steady, but in my writing life, it may be time to go rogue!

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Four Nature Poems

In the spring of this year, I was commissioned to write four poems for a successful LLC with national advertisement reach. I was honored and was PAID for my poetry writing. It was a wonderful experience overall. Below are the poems from this venture; they are now property of MONQ, LLC, who retain first North American serial rights ~Christie

Feel Nature

Forest

Mountain

Ocean

Book Review: _The Tornado Is the World_ Makes Poetry Out of Natural Disasters

In the fall of 2016, I reviewed Catherine Pierce’s new book of poems, The Tornado is the World. I was fortunate to have the review picked up by The Chicago Review of Books and published on their site on December 9th, 2016. Below is a excerpt and a link to read the full review.

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the-tornado-is-the-worldCatherine Pierce’s poignant and brave-spirited third book of poems, The Tornado Is the World, takes the reader into the midst of a natural disaster. In the poem “True Story,” the primary speaker reveals that “once, in a Days Inn bathroom in Cullman, Alabama, / I covered my four-month-old son as my husband / covered me as the tornado went by.” As the book progresses, we, as readers, find ourselves survivors in the tornado’s aftermath, grateful to be alive but unsure of how to proceed or mourn those who weren’t as lucky. We find ourselves three months into the future, looking back and knowing that nothing will ever be the same. It’s from the perspective of a survivor that this book takes form, and to be sure, only a survivor could write this kind of exposé on a tornado, though the speaker warns that “no told story is ever true enough.” Read the rest of the review here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.5 (Special Macro Edition): Featuring Raquel Hollingsworth – “Growing the .06%: Shifting the Classroom Focus from Creative Writing to Literacy”

The New York Times and The Huffington Post both recently cited surveys that claim at least 80% of Americans think they can or want to write a book (Dietrich and Epstein). However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about .06% of the American working population are actually employed authors and writers. Just let that sink in.

For me, these numbers make a couple of things very clear. First, a large amount of people like the idea of writing a book; it’s encouraging to know that almost all of them have the desire to write, and that’s something nearly impossible to teach. That statistic gives me hope. The second thing to understand is that few writers actually make it happen, whether because of lack of skill or lack of perseverance, but this is where we may be able to do something about this discrepancy: our students certainly have the will to write, but they may not have the way. That deficit is one we can work with.

So considering the statistics, how do we successfully approach creative writing in the elementary and secondary classrooms, because without doubt, it must flourish there to stand a chance. How do we encourage and steer students who want to enter such a competitive field? What does such a classroom look like? It is definitely different than a strict English Language Arts classroom, but how? And it is undoubtedly different from the post-secondary workshop of more experienced writers.

And to complicate the matrix of obstacles, how do we fertilize young writers in poverty? This is especially unique to the elementary and secondary classroom. Unfortunately, most who fall victim to poverty will not see the workshop setting of college that is such an integral part of the field. So how can teachers foster and build the necessary skills and grit young writers need? That is the question.

The answer? Experience.

Most people say to write what you know. We’ve all heard the advice. The idea that our stories have more credibility, more believability, when we have experience on which to model our plots and characters, and they would be right, but the word encompasses so much more than just that.

I am a twenty-nine year old female English teacher from Mississippi. I graduated with my Masters from a Creative Writing program hailing from a dominantly agricultural university and a large number of my stories are from the point of view of an adolescent male – but none where he drives a tractor or sits in a classroom. None where he has what I would think of as an experience I’ve had. Yet, I still use my experience to inform my writing – in craft, in grammar, in tone, in character motivation. But so often we think of crafting plot when people say to write from experience, but in hindsight, that’s too limiting, especially considering the scope of successful writers and their stories.

We are only applying experience as half of the solution to the problem. So often, people think of experience as something that can be recreated in writing, and many would argue that primary and secondary students are too young to have the kind of experience that avoids cliched writing and leads to genuine stories. And in particular, students bound by poverty and its chains have even fewer opportunities to expand their experience.

But jumping to this conclusion ignores an important step in the process of building strong writers. Experience as a blueprint for writing is the second step to the problem. The first step is to create experience through reading. After all, good writers must first be good readers. For good writers, the two are undeniably connected.

Creating Experience Through Reading:

  1. The easiest and most accessible tool to grow the imagination is reading. Remember, our imagination grows from our experience. My creative writing thesis director at Mississippi State University, Michael Kardos, once asked me, “So you want to be a writer? What are you reading?” It is so critical to buy into the idea that writers are readers and visa versa. Good writing comes from reading good writing. Furthermore, there are only so many experiences we can actually have; after all, time is finite. Reading is a way to simulate new experiences and perhaps even reveal ones that students had and didn’t realize. Grace Lin has a TED Talk called “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf” in which she argues that the texts readers/writers are exposed to should be texts in which the identifying characters are both symbols of mirrors (those who are like ourselves) and windows (those who are different from ourselves). Her argument supports the idea that reading can and should teach us about ourselves and others because it is only through getting to know people, all kinds of people, that we are able to write genuine stories that matter.
  2. Stop thinking of poverty as a boundary or a chain. In Mississippi, we are statistically one of the poorest states in the country, but we are also one of the wealthiest crops for successful writers born out of poverty: Oprah Winfrey, Muddy Waters, Ida B. Wells, Anne Moody, Jerry Clower, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, and even Rick Ross. Students should read their stories and learn about their lives. As teachers, creative writing or otherwise, we must encourage others to recognize poverty as a well from which experience springs. Poor kids do have experiences. The challenge is helping them realize that they have stories worth hearing, because so few think they do. The stigma around poverty has often defined it as something to overcome rather than something that creates beautiful life experience. That must change.
  3. Read the World! Yes, poverty is undoubtedly experience, but it also shouldn’t be a writer’s only experience. Students need to see the world. There is some credibility to the thought that travelers are cultured. And being exposed to culture creates experience. According to the National Household Travel Survey, nearly sixty-one percent of the American population does not travel more than fifty miles from their home in a year, and those who do travel usually take trips of 250 miles or less. Added to that, low-income families, especially those concentrated in metropolitan areas, take fewer extended distance trips than the rest of the population, somewhere from one to three annually. (“NPTS”) As indicated, sometimes travel isn’t possible; those students often have few opportunities to broaden their ideas and understandings of people and cultures largely because of poverty. But experience can be created. There are still ways to expose young writers to the world and help them gain diverse experience.
  4. Create a classroom community and bring the community into the classroom. This is two-fold. An important part of writing is sharing and revision. For young writers, sharing is hard (okay, maybe not as hard for this tech-social generation than some). But sharing real writing makes us vulnerable. Teachers need to build the kind of classroom that fosters a sense of community and safety that promotes trust, honesty, and acceptance, a classroom where a writer feels open to suggestion. The second part of this is to bring the community into the classroom. This obviously helps build a student’s experience, or at least his/her bank of experiences to pull from, even if they are not personal. Newbie writers sometimes need a word-bank of plots, so to speak. Introduce them to people in the community that they can relate to and who have stories to share. Young writers, and young people in general, need to see real people, their connections to the community, their struggles, their successes. They need to know there is someone on the other side of graduation who they can relate to.
  5. Take your students on field trips or invite guest speakers. I know what you are thinking. But I teach in a high poverty area; we don’t have money for field trips and I probably couldn’t get the permission forms back anyway. No worries. The field trips can come to you. Use tools at your disposal to take your students on journeys around the world. Periscope is a great tool to see the world! Start following teachers who can get their kids out of the classroom and want to share the fun. Ron Clark (Ron Clark Academy) recently had his students scope their field trip and share some of what they were seeing and learning in museums and around town. Invite people to speak – Those in your community, certainly – but those outside of it, too. Email authors and invite them to talk to your students. Several are happy to appear for free! You just have to ask.

Although reading and writing are presented separately here, it should be made clear that the two are inseparable and should always be taught in conjunction. One feeds the other and they should never be isolated. Therefore, as students are building reading experience, creating experience through writing is just as important to fostering weathered creatives. The process of writing should become one that is constantly reflective, fluid, and never-ending (but eventually reaching a publishable stage).

Creating Experience Through Writing:

  1. Once you have your students reading, they need to write about it! According to the Report of The National Commission on Writing, writing is the “neglected R” (“The Neglected ‘R’”). As experienced writers, we know that final products only come out of revisions which comes from writing, and writing, and writing some more. Students need time and opportunity to write inside and outside of the classroom. Suggest they set aside a predetermined amount of time each day to write or take this time in your class, and then stick to it.
  2. Have your writers experiment with different genres. So often, young writers think creative, personal writing means writing sappy love poems. Have them experiment with other text structures: blogs, emails, letters, memes, advertising slogans. So often, even we as teachers think of creative writing in terms of fictional literature. And while literary fiction is an important part of creative writing, remind students that creative writing doesn’t necessarily have to be narrative, and even when it is, narratives can be imagined or real. Creative nonfiction is a burgeoning new field. Encourage new writers to try it out.
  3. Write with your students! How can you teach writing if you never write? And why would a student of writing want to take advice from a teacher who doesn’t write? It just doesn’t make sense. In her book Write Beside Them, Penny Kittle argues that writing with your students is a critical step in the modeling process that students need to understand “thinking in its raw form” (7). At its core, writing with our students is showing, not telling – a skill we drill in writing classes. This essential step also helps students see how to go where the writing is going, to distinguish when the story should go one way, even when the thinking is going another. When we model drafting and revision, we teach students to be objective — essentially, how to write with a reader in mind – something impossible to understand when a writer isn’t reading.
  4. Create real pay-offs. Students want to know there is the possibility for success. We’ve already talked about success numbers, and logically, we know not all of our students will turn into John Grisham, but that’s not what I mean by a pay-off. Students who want to write need to know the reality of the publishing world, and that to seriously pursue a career as a creative literary writer will come with long hours and likely little financial revenue. But they still need to know the path to success, whether it’s paved in gold or not. Teach them the world of publishing. Write cover letters with them. Talk to editors. Have them submit real pieces for publication consideration. Several literary journals or websites are targeted to young writers. Check out Ricochet Magazine/Review (which strives to provide editorial feedback to all submissions), The Louisville Review, Phoebe: Journal of Literature and Art, Armchair/Shotgun, River Teeth, The Round, Stone Soup (8-13 yrs old, publications are compensated), Teenage Wasteland Review, The Blue Pencil Online, and Cuckoo Quarterly just to name a few.

The Center for Development and Learning argues that “reading, writing, speaking and listening … are all interrelated and affect one another. There is a fundamental and reciprocal relationship among oral language… written language, and reading” (“Language”). If we expect to grow young writers to be flourishing members of the creative writing community, we must stop teaching reading and writing in isolation and start encompassing literacy as a main goal, no matter the demographic of our classrooms. When we shift our thinking to encompass the malleability and vastness of literacy, we stand a chance of developing more experienced citizens, and thereby, more informed and genuine writers of such an important and influential field.

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Works Cited

Dietrich, William. “The Writer’s Odds of Success.” The Huffington Post. 04 Mar.2013.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-dietrich/the-writers-odds-of-succe_b_2806611.html.

Epstein, Joseph. “Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again.” The New York Times. 28 Sept. 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/28/opinion/think-you-have-a-book-in-you-think-again.html

Kittle, Penny. Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. Heinemann, 2008.

“Language.” Center for Development and Learning. http://www.cdl.org/language/

Lin, Grace. “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf.” TEDx 19 Mar. 2016. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-Windows-and-Mirrors-of-Your

“The Neglected ‘R’: The Need for a Writing Revolution.” Report of The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges. The College Board. 2003 Apr. http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/writingcom/neglectedr.pdf

“NPTS Brief.” U.S. Department of Transportation. 2006 Mar. http://nhts.ornl.gov/briefs/Long%20Distance%20Travel.pdf

“Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. United States Department of Labor. 17 Dec. 2015. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm

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ABOUT RAQUEL: Raquel Hollingsworth is a teacher of literature and composition at Puckett High School and Hinds Community College in Mississippi. She holds her MA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Mississippi State University where she also served as the associate editor of the Jabberwock Review. She is currently active with the National Writing Project and the College Ready Writer’s Program in Mississippi. You can connect with her on social media.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

 

Off to Cardiff University!

          I’m excited to share the news with everyone! I am transferring from the doctoral program in English/Creative Writing at the University of Louisiana Lafayette to the doctoral program at Cardiff University in Wales, UK! Because I’ll be considered the equivalent to ABD (all but dissertation), the program has offered to waive the residency requirement and allow me to work on the degree from the States, though I do look forward to traveling over for retreats and meetings.

          To make a very long story somewhat shorter, the choice to leave ULL was my own. In summary, there reached a point at which I had to suspend my role as a student and look at the program from the perspective of a teacher, my trained profession. Was I getting out of the program what I was putting into it? Were the hurdles I was asked to jump (in the quest to prove time and time again my validity as scholar) meaningful, fair, worth the stress, beneficial in a real and tangible way? These are the questions I would ask a student of mine in a similar situation. Over time, the answer changed from maybe to NO, especially after I spent a full year unhappy and completely depleted of creative energy. I kept trying to make the program work for me, and it just never felt right. Furthermore, it broke my heart that I never had a poetry advisor there. I wrote so many good poems and felt like I had no one to give them to for guidance. Advice from my experience: always visit a program and meet the people in your direct area of interest before you enroll and invest any time there. I regret not having done this.
          When I first started thinking about transferring, I knew my standards were going to be high – not in regards to the ranking system that’s so often regarded here in the US but in terms of what the program actually valued. I wanted a program that put the writing first and the students’ individual interests first. I was done with literature programs masking as creative writing programs. I’d paid my dues. Luckily, during exams at ULL, I had read about CW programs in the UK in Stephanie Vanderslice’s book Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Education. She praised UK programs for placing emphasis on the writing itself and for providing students with real world information and exposure to vital facets of the writer’s life, like publishing and teaching. Here in the U.S., there are so many programs following along with what’s been done in the past instead of asking important questions about how to effectively teach creative writing. This is where the inspiration came from to look abroad.
          At Cardiff, one of the oldest CW programs in the UK, I will be one of seven PhD students (as opposed to one of dozens), as the program only takes in students that the professors individually want to work with. The program there has its own Creative Writing Department equal to but not overshadowed by literature and other departments. My new supervisor (major professor) is a major award-winning writer of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, whose creative work I deeply admire and who in return likes my work, as well, and is energized and equipped to help me finish my book.
          Additionally, my enrollment in the program includes a generous research and travel fund designated to me specifically that I can draw from for trips or conferences or other research ventures. Also, the program pays for the students to travel to an annual writer’s retreat in Welsh countryside. I have also been offered the opportunity to teach creative writing workshops at Cardiff, if I’m able to come over for an extended stay. From the moment I was accepted into the program, the administrators, fellow students, and professors have been enormously kind, generous, and invested in me as a student and a writer.
          In retrospect, I wish I had done a more comprehsenive search for programs instead of choosing ULL because it was close to where Matt and I were living in Baton Rouge. But, I think things always have a way of working out as they’re meant to. Several of the professors I worked with at Lafayette were fantastic, supportive, and helped me to grow as a writer. Also, my time at ULL made me a much stronger applicant than I was before and helped me to solidify my interests, both academic and creative. Finally, had I not gone to ULL, and thereby not read for comps, I may have never found my way to Cardiff.
         Mostly, I’m so thankful to have been a part of ULL because of the people. I’ve met and studied so many friends there, and I can’t imagine my life now not knowing these folks. You all know who you are ❤
          I have so many people to thank for being a part of this big decision. Broadly speaking, thanks to the friends and former professors who listened to my ideas, gave me their wisdom and advice, and wrote me letters of recommendation!
          A special thanks to Stephanie Vanderslice for being so nice to random person seeking you out for advice. Your expertise on UK programs and the advice you gave me were invaluable during a time that I needed confidence.
          Thank you to John McNally for taking me under your dissertation-advisor wing at ULL, though we largely write in different genres. Thank you for your candor. For your support.
          Thank you to Christine Devine, who was my advisor during my time at ULL and who is a treasure trove of love and wisdom and kindness to all of her students. She encouraged me to take classes that I might not have taken otherwise, encouraged me to study abroad in the UK under Dr. Wilson, and encouraged me to find the right path for myself.
          Thank you to Kendall Dunkelberg for allowing me to bounce ideas and programs off of you for months. Dr. Dunkelberg was one of my CW professors during undergrad, and over the 10+ years since I left MUW, he has stayed in consistent contact and has encouraged me in every program, job, and writing opportunity that I’ve undertaken. Professors like you and others mentioned in this post are the reason I want to be a professor myself because you all consistently show me the impact that a supportive teacher can have and can continue to have on his or her students. 
          Thank you, finally, to Christina Thatcher, a now fellow student of mine in the program at Cardiff. Thank you for encouraging me to apply to your school and for taking so much time answering my questions. And also, just thank you for who you are. You are someone who supports other writers in a very real, very loving way. In a world full of jealous, bitter, and self-serving writers, you are a breath of fresh air!
          Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? It’s cliché, but it is the God’s honest truth. In this life, you have to be your own advocate. You have to stand up for yourself, for your passion, for your life. No one will do it for you. You can choose to stay in a bad situation or to give up and quit, or you can choose to find an even better path for yourself than you ever could have imagined. I vow to always choose the later, especially when it effects my writing. I vow to never let another program, person, institution, road block, or rejection ever again interfere with my writing because the work is bigger than all that: it’s fundamental to me and to my happiness.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.4: Featuring Daniel Lassell – “4 Tips to Getting a Career Outside of Academia”

Some might say inspiration leads English students away from the corporate landscape and down the same career paths as their instructors. Others blame comfort or fear. But I would posit these students simply don’t know other options exist.

The very purpose of education is preparation for the future. But, as of late, it appears institutions haven’t been doing their part. Most English students I’ve spoken with have expressed a severe lack of knowledge about corporate career choices, which is a shame because employers today actually prefer English majors. English students offer good critical thinking skills with the ability to articulate those thoughts – something few other majors can boast.

If you’re searching for a career outside of academia, here are some quick tips to get started:

1. Connect with Friends and Acquaintances

Begin with people you know. Ask them about a specific job title opening – not just “any job,” since it will prompt an “anything answer.” Some common titles that go well with the English major are Copywriter, Content Writer, Communications Specialist, Technical Writer, Brand Journalist, Copyeditor, and Content Specialist.

You’d be amazed how many people get jobs through friends or acquaintances. That’s one of the reasons why school is so important: it builds connections.

2. Connect Your Skills to the Role

Compare what skills you already have to the skills in the job post. Read between the lines here; you may have accomplished more than you think. For example, if they’re looking for someone who can write to persuade an audience, you’ve already done that in writing thesis-driven essays.

Here’s the big question employers are asking: “Are you a good fit for my team?” Be sure to connect your skills in both cover letters and interviews. If you don’t have a previous job title that implies a certain skill set, it’s your goal to inform employers you’ve already demonstrated these requirements

3. Update Appearances

You get an interview because you’re qualified for the job. You get the job because of your personality. It’s cliché to say, but dress for the position you want. It’s superficial—I know—but you can focus on changing preconceptions later.

Social media and job searching are a lot like online dating: make sure your profile reflects your best qualities.

4. At the Interview: Be Ready for the Unexpected

Have a great handshake. It’s your first physical contact with employers, and a firm handshake demonstrates determination. Practice common interview questions beforehand with a friend, spinning all questions about weaknesses into strengths (for example: I get anxious being late to meetings, so I always arrive five minutes early).

Research the average income for the position. Since you don’t have the average level of experience, calculate a desired salary below this number. The employer will almost always ask you for a salary expectation on the first encounter – always at a time when you least expect it.

Lastly, have questions after the interview has concluded: This shows you’re eager for the position.

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Daniel Lassell

ABOUT DANIEL: Daniel Lassell is a copywriter, poet and creative writer. He is the winner of a William J. Maier Writing Award and runner-up of the 2016 Bermuda Triangle Prize. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Slipstream, Pembroke Magazine, Hotel Amerika, Reunion: The Dallas Review, The Poet’s Billow, Split Lip Magazine, and New Poetry from the Midwest. He received his MA in English from Marshall University, and has written for such companies as MOBI and Angie’s List. Currently, he is a Content Writer for Bluelock, a cloud-based IT disaster recovery company. You can connect with him on social media or at www.daniel-lassell.com

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

 

 

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.3: Featuring Kendall Dunkelberg – “Adapting a Traditional Form”

9781680030655In this post, I will discuss how I adapted a form for my new book, Barrier Island Suite. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my book is just out and because I am teaching a Forms in Poetry graduate class on free verse. Form doesn’t always happen in a vacuum, and a free-verse form is rarely completely free. When considering form for a project you’re writing, don’t automatically ignore existing forms and don’t feel you have to follow a form precisely either.

When writing the first poems for Barrier Island Suite, I wanted to find a form that would fit my subject, Walter Inglis Anderson, who often sketched and painted on Mississippi’s barrier islands. I wanted a form that would differ from what I usually wrote because I wanted the voice of these poems to be distinct from my own. Because Walter Anderson was influenced by Japanese art and because I had been teaching linked renga poetry in my World Literature classes, I felt it would be fun to try my hand at it.

Renga poetry, though, has many rules. Several poets get together to craft a poem of 100 stanzas, and there are specific kinds of images that must appear at certain points. I knew I could not approximate that, though the idea of poets in conversation felt appropriate since my poems would become a conversation with Walter Anderson through his art and the logs he wrote on the islands.

The basic stanza of renga begins with a haiku (and the haiku began as the opening stanza of renga): a stanza of three lines with 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. To this the next poet would add two lines of 7 syllables. The next poet would add another 3 lines, and so on. Each segment was supposed to go with the previous, though not necessarily with the one before that, so the poem would develop unpredictably, though the prescribed rules lent some order to the collaborative improvisation.

To approximate this, I chose to write 5-line stanzas with 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables. I felt the alternation between line lengths gave the poems a wave-like quality. To add some variety to the sequence, I sometimes chose to invert the stanza for a poem, beginning with two lines of seven syllables, and sometimes chose to separate the tercet from the couplet so there would be a stanza of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, then one of 7 and 7, which would repeat throughout the poem, ending in either a couple or a tercet.

The main point was that the poems had a form that lent them a consistent and meditative voice. The voice was not mine, and yet the form also helped me move away from Anderson’s voice in his logs or the voices of his biographers. What it has taught me is to be more open to existing forms and to be willing to adapt them to my own needs.

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13292796_10209677911485585_585701969_n ABOUT KENDALL: Kendall Dunkelberg directs the Low-Residency MFA in creative writing at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, where he also directs the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. Dunkelberg has published one collection of translated poems, written by the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus (Green Integer 2000), and three collections of poetry, Landscapes and Architectures (Florida Literary Foundation 2001), Time Capsules (Texas Review Press 2009), and Barrier Island Suite (Texas Review Press 2016).

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

PrettyRedShoes is now Love of Literary!

I’m happy and excited to share the news: I’ve rebranded the site formerly titled PrettyRedShoes, choosing Love of Literary as its new identity, which I think does a better job at conveying the site’s content and theme.

Love of Literary, just like PrettyRedShoes, is still interested in poetry, prose, pedagogy, and publishing. The site still finds its obsession in literary lives, literary voices, literary experiences, and literary locales. I also plan to continue the Red Soles Series (micro essays on craft, publishing, and teaching) under the title Craft of Literary, and I’m always looking for new submissions. For more info, click here.

Cheers to change, to growth, to new beginnings, and to all things literary!  ❤

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.2: Featuring Kevin Dwyer – “Defining the Writer’s Role as a Translator”

Francis Grose in his Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue (1811) defined translators as “sellers of old mended shoes and boots, between cobblers and shoemakers.”

Translation is not simply the transfer of texts from one language into another. It is a creative process, a process of negotiation between texts and between cultures, an act of liberation and harmonious renewal. Rainer Schulte, co-founder of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), said: “If the writer’s activity could be called ‘creative,’ then the translator’s activity would be ‘re-creative.’ The translator’s emotional and interpretive involvement with the text is no less intense than the writer’s struggle with the blank page.”

It is this act of translation (the probing through dictionaries; the melodic transposing of sound and sense; the investing; the uncovering) that is useful for the creative writer. This activity demands the writer/translator to implement personal constraints, incase himself/herself with the culture of the text, and thereby render it new.

John Dryden, like numerous other theorist/writers of the eighteenth century, used the metaphor of the translator/portrait painter to maintain that the painter has the duty of making his portrait resemble the original. Considering this metaphor from a modern perspective, the degree of “literalness” in a translator’s rendering can range on a scale from “photo-realism” to “abstract.” Therefore, it shouldn’t seem too much of a leap to consider ekphrastic poetry a form of translation, where the writer renders the visual art into a tangible, literary medium. Or to understand how translation ties itself to Oulipian exercises, which use constraints as a means of triggering unique inspirations within the writer/translator, inducing him/her to craft something unexpected. Georges Perec, a member of Oulipa, said, “[when I write] I set myself rules in order to be totally free.” His novel La disparition is a lipogram, written without using the letter “e” in French. Eventually, Gilbert Adair published an English translation of the text entitled A Void, where he also constrained himself from using the letter “e”. In doing so, Adair created a different text from Perec: a transubstantiated version.

With every translation, no matter how “literal” or “abstract,” the writer/translator is filtering the original text through themselves. Therefore, every piece is unique, a re-birthing of the original.

I find translating comparable, in a way, to crafting a collage or putting a puzzle together. The pieces are given to you in a box, where you can sift through them and discover what fits together, what pairs well. However, these pieces are malleable. You can do what you like to them: bend, cut, color, etc. And you’re not enforced to their use alone. You can incorporate other pieces and objects from anywhere in the world. It is an investigative art project, where the goal is to produce what you find to be an “accurate” representation of the source material. Through this active process,  you will have filtered the source through your core, conceived something new. In the end, you will have become a rendering of your former self. 

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KEVIN BIO PHOTO

ABOUT KEVIN: Kevin Dwyer is a PhD Graduate Assistant focusing in poetry and a native of Hawthorne, NY. He earned his Honors BA from Saint Louis University and his MA with a focus in creative writing from Fordham University. Kevin received an Honorable Mention prize from the Academy of American Poets at Fordham University for his poem “Here Testified.” His chapbook In Memoriam was published via Yellow Flag Press, along with his poems “The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood” and “Time Marches On” which appear in Vision/Verse 2009-2013: An Anthology of Poetry. At the moment, Kevin is working on his dissertation involving a creative translation of various runes, Anglo-Saxon texts, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.1: Featuring T.K. Lee – “Overcoming Writer’s Block: Boxing the Block”

I no longer believe in Writer’s Block.

Here’s what I did. I took that big old block, that mean, splintered Writer’s Block, and I carved out the inside of it, added a hinge and a handle, and called it a Writer’s Box.

And in this Box I put several reminders, knowing full well I’d be revisiting my work, as I like to say, rather than revising.

First, I had to think long and hard—it wasn’t easy, either—about what makes me unique as a writer. What is that special quality that others read in my work and say, “Oh, that is so T.K Lee?”

For starters, I write from a very grounded idea of place, of my southernness, of the mystique and myth, of all those delicious agrarian archetypes I culled from memory. They are the stubby roots running through my work. So, naturally, this went in the box, at the bottom of it. Let’s call it Identity.

Second, into the box, went my obsession with Environment. I stress over how things look in my work. Did I describe the painting just so under that particular dim light that hasn’t been fixed above the fireplace, or did I mention how the doorknob was a plastic diamond shape and loose and it didn’t lock so people might walk in on you in the bathroom, or have I mentioned the heat, how it’s exhausting and yet necessary?

Lastly (but there’s no limit to what can fit in the box), I put my love of Metaphor as it allows duality for a writer. There can always be “something else” to discover when we allow for the metaphorical.

And it works. The box will remind you, the writer, that you are never stuck in a work you’re creating. You’re the Creator. You can’t be stuck.

I used this most recently while working on my current script A Far Corner (in progress, a deadline looming, or more accurately, a “dreadline”) and I was happily writing away when I hit a wall. I took a deep breath, grabbed another pot of coffee (I mean, cup of coffee) and sat back down at the computer.

Here I had two characters, SJ and Votis, in an awkward moment of having just kissed, and there I was, wondering, well, what the hell do they do now? The Big Moment has happened…

Then, I looked in my Writer’s Box. I pulled out Environment, made myself “look” around the “bedroom.” The play takes place in Votis’ memory, of a Christmas, and naturally, the room would be decorated. Once I focused on that, on the Environment, suddenly SJ started talking again, mentioning the smell of a burning candle, and suddenly, she and Votis were having the most deliciously awkward conversation about everything else from candles to curtains to bedspreads to dinner…except the kiss that shouldn’t have happened. Ten pages later, I’d written not one but two solid scenes.

The trick to overcoming “writer’s block,” is never in the writing itself, but in the writer. You have to know what drives you to put pen to paper, to know what goes in your Box. Go try it.

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ABOUT T.K.: T.K. Lee is an award-winning member of the Dramatists Guild of America and the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, among others. A Pushcart-nominated writer of short fiction, and of award-winning poetry, he is currently a Visiting Professor in Playwriting in the MFA program at the Mississippi University for Women. You may learn more about him at www.cleverkris.com or by following him at www.facebook.com/tkleewriting.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.