Sunday, December 16, 2012

Friends with Benefits

Gotcha, didn't I? Seriously, though, my experience so far writing Facebook poems with friends has been beneficial in many ways. I've written fifteen decent drafts so far. I've shared my poetry with friends and family. I've involved my Facebook community in writing and reading poetry. Yay, me! But perhaps the thing I am most intrigued by is what I have learned.

My whole life has been centered on learning. I have never been out of a classroom, either as a student or a teacher, except for summer breaks and holidays. It is safe to say that I am obsessed with finding out, with revealing. And these fifteen poems have been the sources of some very interesting revelations.

Today, I made "southern style" cornbread thanks to my dear friend Liat who posted her memories of cornbread baked in bacon fat for FB poem #15. The image of the cornmeal and the cast iron skillet resonated with me, and I chose to focus the poem on it. That meant I had to research how to make skillet cornbread. I'm from LA. Cornbread came from the Jiffy box. I could not have written that poem without learning that "true southern women" have a jar or can of bacon fat on their stoves, that the grease should coat the bottom of the skillet, and that the skillet should be heated in the oven before the cornbread batter is poured in. It should make a satisfying sizzle. For lunch, my family and I had bacon, apple slices, and cornbread with salted butter baked in bacon grease. It was fan-tastic.

Thanks to Travis, I learned that a brass monkey is not, in fact, liquor that you buy illegally at Mike's Liquor Store on Western Blvd. and drink as you're walking down the alley in Gardena, contrary to what I learned as a teen. It is, however, a  brass plate designed to keep a pyramid of cannon balls from rolling around on the deck of a ship. Joe C. taught me that the origin of the "three to a match" superstition probably originated in WWI in the trenches. One cigarette lit from a match alerts the enemy of your location. Two allows them to sight you. The third gets a kill shot. Joe H. let me know that no actor speaks the title MacBeth. It is "the Scottish play," unless you want your show to go seriously wrong.

The image of standing in the mist of a waterfall was given to me by Kat, and Brent gave me the idea of a woman too stubborn to leave her house, even as men jacked it up to move it so that the land could be flooded. I have researched and learned about tattoo styles, Jimmy Fallon, Indonesian spices, Go Ask Alice, roller coasters, the formula for Silly Putty, and Mobius strips. It may seem silly, but I feel as if I know the FB friends who post a little better. I feel more connected to each of them.

While many feel that social media separates us because we do not have to communicate in person any more, I contend that it can be a way to learn and grow. Over the past 24 years, I have moved many times, and I have met and lost touch with many friends. FB allows me to keep up with some, and at the very least touch base with many more people from my past lives. I look forward to benefitting from my Facebook friends as long as they will indulge me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Facebook Poems: The Beginning

In the past couple of weeks, I've begun a series of poems on Facebook, creatively titled "Facebook Poems." The idea is that I post a prompt such as "what tattoo would you get and why" or "respond to the word reminder." Throughout the next 24 hours, Facebook friends post their immediate responses, whatever comes into their heads first. At the end of that period, I take the posts and try to pull ideas or phrases from as many of them as possible, link them together, and I turn them into a poem. This process has been as fun as it has been enlightening. While writers always get their ideas from their experiences in the world and their interactions with other people, the end results are usually filtered only through the writer. In other words, the gathering together of ideas is usually not a public process.

By its nature, writing is a solitary art. I have at least one hundred poems on pages that may only ever be read by me. If a poet expects to publish in a journal, he or she must not publish his or her poems in any way because no journal will accept a poem that has already been published. I have long lamented this, since, as a painter, I can post pictures of my art all day long and still have the work accepted into shows. Posting on Facebook give an artist free publicity and, on many occasions, revenue. While I realize that poetry does not sell like paintings, it is disheartening that we feel we cannot share our work on Facebook, get our names and our writing abilities "out there," for fear of never publishing. Poetry is meant to be read, heard, taken in and rolled around, and shared. It is not meant to sit in a drawer or on a flash drive.

Writing these poems, there are five drafts now, has been a wonderful, freeing experience for me. I am getting out of my head and writing about subjects I would have never thought about in just that way without the Facebook friends who posted their thoughts. Yesterday, I wrote a poem based on the prompt "respond to abandoned places" called "Concept of Time" (any suggestions for a better title?) that examines the idea that every moment in time exists at every other moment in time. I've tried to write about this idea before, but I have been largely unsuccessful. I like the draft I got, and I like it because Kathleen said who she was yesterday was abandoned, Brent wrote a fascinating bit about walking on the remains of a flooded town near the Hudson (he even sent a map!), and Joe mentioned cities he himself had abandoned. I love the fact that I feel connected to these poems because of the people who contributed their thoughts and experiences, and I love that I am sharing my poetry with them.

Check out the Facebook poems, and better yet, take the posts 24 hours later and write your own! Wouldn't it be cool to read what we all come up with? Poem, flash fiction, photo; whatever your medium, I'd love to see it happen. Perhaps some publisher somewhere will accept my Facebook poems someday, but until then, I am enjoying my writing, and I am enjoying the community we create, poem by poem.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Repost: Living with Type I Diabetes

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Top eight things PWDI (people with diabetes Type I) wish everyone knew:
  1. Type 1 diabetes, aka juvenile diabetes, cannot be controlled through diet and exercise.  That is type 2, aka adult onset diabetes. 
  2. Type 1 diabetics can eat food that contains sugar.  Please see #1 above.
  3. Type 1 diabetics will die without their insulin.
  4. Insulin does not cure type 1 diabetes.  The disease is for life.
  5. Type 1 diabetics will not "grow out of" the disease.  See #4 above.
  6. Insulin is a hormone that helps break down carbohydrates into sugars/glucose so the body can use them.  Type 1 diabetics produce little to no insulin.
  7. Sugar-free does not equal carb-free.  
  8. Type 1 diabetics cannot take a day off from their insulin.  Please see #3 above.
While I tried not to be sarcastic in this list, it may come off that way.  That is not my intention.

Imagine going to a restaurant with your three-year-old and asking the waitress to see the nutrition information for the items on the menu.  Now imagine said waitress eyeballing you when you say you need to know how many carbs are in their macaroni and cheese with fries and a chocolate milk kids' meal.  No matter what the waitress is actually thinking, this is what many moms of diabetic children think they are thinking.  "Why is she making that cute little kid diet/ so conscious of what she's eating?  She's not fat."  And then you open your mouth to explain, and then you close your mouth because it's not the waitress's business.  And then you open it again because you might be able to educate the waitress about Type 1.  Then you close it again because half the chocolate milk is gone and you forgot to take your kid's pre-meal sugar. 

Imagine, after this carb-filled meal, that the waitress happens to return to your table to ask if you want anything else, and you are sticking a needle into your kid's behind, the syringe cap clenched between your lips.  Again, the diabetic mom's thoughts run in the direction of "Is that a look of pity?  It better not be."  And your inner mom lion roars, but you give it a steak and tell it to go settle down for a while.  You chose to give shots in public so your child would not feel "different" or feel that her diabetes is something she should hide or be ashamed of. 

This is a disease that, quite simply, most Americans know little to nothing about.  They do know about Type 2 diabetes because obesity and health care are in the news just about every day.  But these are two very different diseases.  For more information, please go to the JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, website at JDRF

Friday, June 22, 2012

How is a creative thesis like a cat collar?

Putting a book of poetry together is sort of like putting a collar on a cat. It can be done. There is proof on my shelves that many, many poets have managed to put books together, sometimes many, many different books. I've seen cats wearing collars; not my cats, but other people's cats.

Back when I lived in Pensacola, I had a little apartment off East Nine Mile Road in which lived my cat, Thorny. I also had a job at a local bank as the drive-thru teller. For whatever reason, possibly because my brain was addled from telling at least five different people a day that the bank they were at was not, in fact, their own bank, and in fact, their bank had an entirely different name, as was evidenced on their personal checks, possibly because I thought Thorny might escape and need identification, I decided to put a collar on my cat.

It was a good thing I had this brilliant idea before I got dressed for work. By the time Thorny was wearing the tiny strip of green leather around his brown and black striped neck, my forearms were flayed strips of flesh and Thorny had shed a small child. I took a shower, covered up my arms with Neosporin and gauze, and went to work.

When I got home about four hours later, I was greeted at the door with an horrific sound like some unnameable thing was digging its way out from under the floorboards, and that thing was pissed. Thorny sat in the middle of the front room, chin down on his chest, baleful green eyes glaring up at me. He growled. I backed up. He threw himself on his side and attacked his neck with his hind feet, kicking what little hair he had left all over the beige carpet.

I ran to him and managed to hold all of his writhing feet in one hand and his head with its pointy little teeth in the other so I could see what was wrong. It was the damned collar. Thorny's teeth were stuck in the extra holes, and he was ready to rip his bottom jaw off to free himself. Not wanting to risk further maiming and possible dismemberment, I grabbed the kitchen shears and cut the collar off. Thorny hid in the bedroom for an entire day.

For the past two weeks, I have been wrangling with my poetry, trying to get it to sit still long enough to put it in a certain order so I can name it, so that the sum of its parts will be identifiable as its own entity. I have had to change poems to "fit." Before attempting to put this thing together, I had no idea, for instance, that I am apparently obsessed with feathers, arrows, bow hunting, and all iterations of the Diana/huntress myth. Since that is not the focus of my thesis, I've had to pull a lot of those images out. To my delight, I've discovered aspects of my own poems that I didn't know were there.

My goal now? To not strangle my poems, and to get them to coexist from cover to cover.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sleepless Nights and Endless Days, or MFA Residency at Converse College

Trying to summarize a Converse College MFA in creative writing residency is a little like trying to summarize your own wedding: you know that there were people there, food and alcohol were enjoyed, you had deep conversations with one or two people, some sitting was involved and someone spoke words of wisdom, there was music, and you made bonds for life. There was cake.

Just as weddings can be a blur, this past summer residency is almost impossible to adequately describe. I'll give you the highlights. The poetry group had three new poets, all of whom brought new styles and insights. Fried green beans and "Redneck Burgers" at the NuWay were late night snacks more nights than is probably heart healthy, and several of us closed the bar down on $5 pitcher night. Nightly "recaps" with Rhonda and morning walks with Cheryl were therapeutic, enlightening, and, on one occasion, spooky. All I'll tell you is it involved a copper downspout and a fight between a bird and a squirrel. Marlin Barton's lecture "Reaching the Lyric Register in Fiction" informed us about writing vertically to slow down time and add depth to your story or poem, John Lane made us think about our "intellectual ancestors," those thinkers we are most likely to draw upon from our subconsciousness, and Rick Mulkey reminded the poets about "sonic distance" and "sonic intensity," the idea that how one writes a poem can be as important as what is being written.

We heard the Shane Pruitt band rock at the NuWay. The first incarnation of the Converse MFA band was born at the graduation ceremony, and we performed spontaneous renditions of Skid Row's "I Remember You" and John Cougar Mellencamp's "Pink Houses," among other songs. Life bonds were made with new friends and strengthened with old. There was thick chocolate cake embellished with chocolate shavings.

If the comparison of a wedding to a residency in creative writing still seems a bit far-fetched, consider this:
each semester, Converse MFA students vow that writing will be a major part of their daily lives. For ten days twice a year, the pen and the keyboard are permanently attached to our fingers; our brains are bound to the word.

This past residency was my last. In January, I have to complete a four day graduating residency, a lecture, and a reading from my creative thesis. While I look forward to the degree and the possibilities that come along with it, I can't help but wish that residencies would never end. Converse MFA students, faculty, and staff, I will remember you always.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Another semester ends...and by definition, a beginning.

Forgive me.  It is at this time every semester that I wax a bit nostalgic, and then I try my best to rein it in.  How is it that we, as teachers, spend two, three, or five days a week with 75-100+ students, learn their names and habits, discuss their lives with them, hear their joys and their tragedies, and then are expected to simply let them go?

This profession is one of loss, and I mean no negativity by that.  But when you work every day to help other people to better themselves, you lose a little bit of yourself every time one goes away.  I'd really like to write something more upbeat, but I am nothing if not (sometimes painfully) honest.  Yes!  So and so is now a successful _______, and I might have been a tiny part of that.  But the fact remains that we are in the business of letting go.

I can't help but think, at this time every semester, what it will be like when my children are ready to leave.  Yes, I know it may be sentimental to describe students as children, and most of the time, I don't think of them in quite this way.  But after today, they will parachute away like dandelion seeds, like Charlotte's tiny progeny, and fly off into their lives.  And I will likely never see them again.

Oh woe is me.  Poor baby.  And give me a break.  But I simply can't help it.  Another group of students has come and gone, and I am left in the same place.  The small office I share with a colleague, slowly being buried in papers left behind and post-it notes.  Perhaps it is that now, at 40, I could be their mother? But no, I don't think that's it.

My entire life has been a series of meetings and leavings.  Some slightly longer than others, but none as long as I'd like.   Bussing out and moving and college and marriage and flight school and moving, moving, moving...there are so many people who hold small pieces of me that I have no way of getting back.  I have no regrets, but I am given to reflection.  Cry me a river.

Perhaps it is the fact that I am about to enter the last semester of my most recent life chapter:  my MFA in poetry.  In all likelihood, these wonderful friends, sisters and brothers, will be simply Facebook friends in less than a year.  This program has affected me in more wonderful ways than I can mention here.   Perhaps it is the fact that my beautiful daughter lost another tooth; one more step on her way to her own life, separate from mine.  And, there's always the chance that I'm just plain silly.

I remain, ever, a part of larger things, blown on the breath of a child, left to travel and land where I may, and there to take temporary root.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

If all else fails, punch 'em in the face.

It is the end of week eight.  For two months, I have been working out with Tony Horton and P90X.  This is a record for me and exercise.  I am definitely stronger, but I have had a major realization.  I am not yet, nor was I for quite some time, in shape.  Dang.

Apparently, I have been fooling myself for quite a while.  If I may say, I have always been physically strong.  My mom and dad are both what they call work horses, and I inherited those genes.  I have never had trouble  moving furniture, hauling mulch, picking up and chasing children and large dogs.  I have never asked anyone to carry anything for me.  All of this led me to believe that I was in relatively good shape.  Boy howdy was I wrong.

Over the past eight weeks, I have yoga'd and kenpo'd and cardio'd faithfully.  I feel better, my clothes fit better, but I am not the lithe young thing I thought might appear after two months.  In fact, I have not yet lost any weight.  Which tells me two things:  1. I didn't have as much muscle as I thought I did.  2. I had a lot more fat than I thought I did.  Double dang.

Here's the thing.  I'm sticking with it.  Whether it's because I'm 40 or because this program appeals to me doesn't matter.  I should say that a good portion of the reason I like it is because I'm pretending to punch and kick people.  Grabbing by the collar and knee to the face might be my favorite.  Say what you like, but yep.  It helps.  What matters is that I've found an activity I like that I can do with the multitude of things I've got going on.  No gym, no special equipment, no babysitters.  Yay me!

So...I encourage you to find your activity.  Join me in feeling better.  And, you know, kick some bastard in the chest.  What could it hurt?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Warning: Rant

At 6:30 pm, D and I sat down to watch the CBS Evening News as we most often do.  In the middle of the headlines/teasers for the night's stories was something close to the following:  surgery can cure diabetes.  D actually stood up and raised his hands in the "touchdown" formation.  Being Ms. Skeptic, I said, "Type 1 or Type 2?"  There may have been an expletive in there; I can't quite recall.

Needless to say, the segment was on gastric bypass/ gastric sleeve surgery intended for people with Type 2 diabetes, or PWD2.  As a mother of a six-year-old PWD1 and wife of a forty-year-old PWD1, I am up to here with the general conception that diabetes is ONE disease.

It is most assuredly not.

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented or even reversed.  Type 2 diabetics are typically overweight or even obese.  Type 2 diabetics are not typically insulin dependent.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.  Type 1 diabetics can be any size person.  Most that I know are in enviable shape.  Type 1 diabetics are insulin dependent.

Type 1 diabetics will DIE if they do not have their insulin.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be controlled by "diet and exercise."

Why does this piss me off so much?  Because when a reputable news source headlines their nightly news with a "surgical cure for diabetes," I want to see an artificial pancreas that works.  I want to see FDA approval of islet cell transplants.  I want to see my daughter's stem cells, which we pay to have stored each year, cure her.

I don't want to see her lose the feeling in her fingertips because she has tested her blood sugar for thirty years.  I don't want her to take one more effing shot.

So please, if I may be so bold, be precise with your words.  1 or 2.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Catching Up: Weeks 4 & 5

This semester is going by so quickly!  And just so you know, I have switched topics for my critical paper.  Instead of writing on the use of poetry in the composition classroom, I am writing on the poetry itself - doing more of a critical analysis.  This will focus on hybridity and/or pluralism in American identity as represented in poetry.  Specifically, I'm looking at Agha Shahid Ali's A Nostalgist's Map of America (remember him?), Robert Penn Warren's Audubon:  A Vision, and Louise Gluck's Averno.  All three are wonderful books - check them out!

Now, am I giving up on the critical thinking through poetry experiment?  No!  I continue to use this technique in my classes.  Last week we read and researched Warren's "Tell me a Story," and this week we are using Kim Addonizio's "Scary Movies."  Overall, this warm-up strategy is still working well, and my students are being exposed to poetry and poets they might have never read otherwise. Our in-class discussions are productive and continue to be relatable to writing in general.  Take Tuesday's class:  one student blogged his "story" based on Warren's poem.  It was VERY brief and had no detail.  We ended up having a good talk about showing, not telling, and emphasizing that showing is necessary in academic writing as much as it is in creative writing. 

I am putting off this topic until the end of the semester so I can gather data from the entire experience, rather than trying to force a paper out of half a class.  I plan on writing this paper and trying to publish it at a later date.

So...identity - hot topic.  Controversial topic.  And something I have been fascinated with for just about ever.  Wrote my master's thesis on it using Salman Rushdie novels.  (Which you should read, of course!  My favorite is The Moor's Last Sigh.)  Right now, I am examining the poetry mentioned above with regards to the speakers.  Each of them are living on the edges of several different "worlds."  How they reconcile, or do not reconcile, those worlds to form a cohesive identity is my area of interest. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Week Three: Waxing Nostalgic

Regarding Rumpelstiltskin:  did you know that, at the end of one of the Grimm versions, Rumpelstiltskin actually tears himself in half?  He has a fit, stomps his foot into the ground so far that he can't get it out, and his solution is to literally divide himself.

Are we doing our children a disservice by "Disneyfying" folk and fairy tales?  What are the consequences if Hansel and Gretel are not going to be eaten by the witch, but instead, say, lose their cell phone privileges?  What if Little Red's grandmother is not eaten by the wolf, but is instead, say, locked in a closet?  Is the lesson learned?  Do we coddle our children, even in their stories?

Should my six-year-old understand that Snow White's step-mother wanted her step-daughter's heart ripped from her chest and presented to her in a beautifully crafted wooden box?

These are some of the ideas my classes discussed as a result of their research into Maxwell's poem.  Good discussion; interesting topics.

Then, we read this week's selection:  "Snow on the Desert" by Agha Shahid Ali.  The poem is from the book A Nostalgist's Map of America.

When I picked this poem, I did so knowing full well that it is (for my students) long.  But it is so beautiful and compelling (for me) that I wanted to try it. 

One of my students compared the imagery of the fog opening and then closing as the speaker's world closing up, and several others mentioned liking the idea of driving through the desert knowing it used to be the bed of an ocean.  Everyone got that this poem was about the relativity of the passing of time.  If you're reading this, I hope you read the poem and get what I'm writing about.  If you haven't yet, let me give you the first lines:

“Each ray of sunshine is seven minutes old,”
Serge told me in New York one December night.

“So when I look at the sky, I see the past?”
“Yes, Yes,” he said, “especially on a clear day.”

I don't think I'll ever look at the sky the same way again.  How much do I want to write a poem that does this? 

Back to my classes though - I found that many of my students have never actually been to a desert.  It is so much a part of my upbringing, going camping across the southwest, growing up in Southern California, that it is hard to believe that less than 10 of my 75 students can visualize driving across a landscape so desolate that one doesn't need to be told it once was a sea to believe it.  Pictures do not do the desert justice.  It is something one has to experience first hand.  I wonder how many of these students will ever actually go.

There were plenty of opportunities for research in this poem for students of all areas of interest.  Some of the things they are looking up are the Bangladesh War, singer Begum Akhtar, the Papagos, saguaro cactus, and the book (?) The Desert Smells Like Rain.  Can't wait to see what interests them come Tuesday. this working?  Yes.  The poem warm-ups are putting my students into the thinking mode.  They are actively engaged from the beginning of class:  reporting their research, listening to the new poem, blogging, reading and listening to the blog entries.  This has translated into more actively engaged students overall.  Today, we did our first whole-class critique of a student's first draft, and I got better responses than is usual. 

And...I'm reading poetry not just for my own enjoyment, but also for my students' range of experience.  Perhaps we'll get some new readers of poetry?  Perhaps someone will venture out to the desert and feel the passage of time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Liar, Liar, Pants on...

Week two:  poetry experiment.  So this week my students returned with their research on Moore's "Baseball and Writing."  Elston Howard was the first African-American to be on the Yankees.  He held all kinds of records, and he played in ten World Series, winning six.  A-mazing.  This is just one thing they learned.  We discussed how writing was similar to baseball in that writer's block is an "injury" one must treat, that writing is difficult, but worth it, and that, again, reading effectively is a process and a practice.

Then came Thursday.  I have all kinds of fantastic poets on my reading list for this semester.  These are writers whose poems examine American identity with artful thought.  But I could not find a poem that I felt was appropriate for the second week of teaching my freshmen.  One of the reasons last week's poems were what they were was for their "ease of use."  Establishing trust in my classroom is the most important thing I can do in the first few weeks.  No trust equals no results.  I didn't want to drop an emotional bomb week two.  So...I spent three hours Thursday morning searching for a poem about identity that was not too heavy, man.

Then, I found Glyn Maxwell's "Rumpelstiltskin."  What a fantastic little huge poem.  We read it.  Then they blogged.  We talked about lying, living two lives, privacy issues including OnStar and GPS, color theory, what nurses need to know about patients who lie and the reasons they lie, what teachers need to know about students who lie and their reasons, the nature of signifiers (!), and the relativity of truth.  Yes, yes we did. least 50% of my second semester freshmen have never heard of Rumpelstiltskin.  Seriously.

Tuesday, I expect to hear about how knowing the folk tale makes (or doesn't make) a difference in understanding the poem.  I expect to hear about spinning straw into gold.  And I expect to discuss the importance/significance of naming.  Most of all, I expect (hope?) to hear interest in their voices and to see passion for learning in their eyes.  How fantastic.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Week One Critical Paper or What Percentage of College Freshmen Despise Poetry?

So I've decided to document my progress on my critical paper using this blog.  For those of you who are not Converse College MFA the third semester, we are required to write a +/- 25 page critical paper on some aspect of our chosen genre.  I am a poetry student and a composition teacher, so I thought it would be a great idea to try to combine the two.  Here's my snappy paper title:  Using identity themed poems to encourage critical thinking in the composition classroom.  Huzzah!

There are two reasons why I went in this direction instead of analyzing a specific poet or group of poets.  One:  one of my classes last semester came to the conclusion that they don't like poetry because they "have to think about it too much."  Two:  critical thinking is necessary for good writing, and many of my freshman composition student need help in this area. If I'm honest, that's an understatement.  Businesses regularly lament the lack of writing skills of their newly graduated hires, and the rest of the university regularly asks us folks in the English Department just exactly what we are doing with writing, 'cause their students can't.

Week one:  I presented my idea about using poetry to encourage critical thinking.  I gave a survey to my students asking them about their experiences with poetry and research.  My students inwardly (and outwardly) groaned.  I assured them they would not be graded on their analysis of the poems.  We would be using poetry as warm-up exercises to get into the critical thinking/writing mode.  They felt a bit better. 

On Tuesday, I read Billy Collins' poem "Introduction to Poetry" and had the students blog about their responses to the poem.  That went OK.  They "got it."

On Thursday, I read Marianne Moore's poem "Baseball and Writing."  They didn't "get it."  I discovered something wonderful, though.  After the first reading, every student understood that the poem talked a lot about baseball, and that there was supposed to be some connection with writing.  Their blogs showed that they "got" more than they thought they did.  And I was able to explain the process of reading actively without having read a single chapter in our textbook.  Read the piece through once.  Write down what you understand.  Read it through again.  Look up what you don't understand.  Read it through again.

The fact is that many students stop reading whatever is required for their courses because they don't "get" the first few lines.  Ethics, philosophy, logic, sociology, and psychology texts may seem to be beyond their understanding, and so they stop reading.  I contend that if a reader can simply read through a piece once without stopping and ignore what they think they don't know, that reader will be able to write down something about that piece.  That something will then be clarified on the second read, or possibly the third.

This is when my students say, uh-huh.  Right.  I barely have time to read all this stuff once, and you're asking me to read two or three times?  And I say, yes.  That's what it takes until you become a better reader, and becoming a better reader will help you become a better writer.  That's the goal.

Assignment for next Tuesday:  write down one idea, word, phrase, or name from "Baseball and Writing" to look up.  Look it up.  Report back to the class.  The idea behind this assignment is to get my students to take a small second look at the text through research.  We'll see how it goes. 

At the very least, I had fun introducing myself to my classes and going over the syllabi for the first time in a long time, I got to share some poetry with composition students, and I got them thinking right off the bat.  Yay me! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

For the Love of Books

I'm back from my third of four residencies at Converse College, and, once again, I have nothing but good things to say.  Hilarious readings by Leslie Pietrzyk and Keith Morris reminded me once again that literature is for everyone.  Informative lectures by Susan Tekulve and Denise Duhamel pointed out the writing opportunities inherent in travel and the craft involved in using humor in poetry.  But the session that I want to elaborate on here was presented by Betsy Teter on small press publishing.

Teter is the editor of Hub City Press, a nonprofit organization that "publishes well-crafted, high-quality works by new and established authors, with an emphasis on the Southern experience."  There has been much talk about shopping local and buying from local artists, artisans, and farmers since the Occupy Wall Street movement began.  Whatever your opinion of the Occupy phenomenon, it is worth noting that authors are among those who can benefit from this trend.  Small presses are committed to publishing literature, and they are committed to promoting authors they believe in.  This may or may not come along with commercial success.  The books published by small presses and sold in independent bookstores like Hub City and Quail Ridge Books are largely not promoted or sold in the two big booksellers left in the US.  In other words, your patronage of independent booksellers directly affects the writers working in your communities.

Some of the practical advice Teter offered to us were questions to ask small press publishers such as:  Do you send out galleys?  Do you send out review copies?  How many review copies do you send?  Teter's explanation of her process of sending review copies to get buzz going for a book was informative, and it showed her dedication to the authors Hub City publishes.  When (yes when!) I publish a book, I can only hope that it is backed with the enthusiasm Teter showed in her presentation.

Read local.  Buy local.  Love books.