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.