Photo courtesy of the High Arts Festival.
Autumn is a beautiful time in Ohio, and this is a busy month for poetry events. Last Friday I had the pleasure of serving on a literary arts panel for the High Arts Festival (pictured above) with fellow writers Eris Eady, Noor Hindi, and Mwatabu S. Okantah, and David Giffels as moderator. Tomorrow (10/6, 7:30 pm) I’m looking forward to reading at the Cleveland celebration for They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing at Visible Voice Books in Tremont. This volume is newly released by Black Lawrence Press, and it’s magnificent.
Later in October I’m packing my bags and heading to the College of Charleston for a poetry reading and craft talk about first books of poetry. My biggest piece of advice there: don’t be afraid to take risks in your collection. Growl a little. Show some teeth. Also, the right press and editor are out there, even if your classmates or writing group friends or Twitter frenemies aren’t always sure what to make of your work. I always felt like my intrinsic weirdness was a liability based on what others told me, but it ended up being an advantage instead.
I’m super excited that two proposals that I am on for the AWP 2019 conference in Portland have been accepted. Here’s the scoop:
Season of the Witch: Feminism, Ritual, and Independent Publishing (Brooke Wonders,
Kiki Petrosino, Joanna C. Valente, Mary Biddinger, Annah Browning)
Helen Oyeyemi writes of “…witches who whistle at different pitches, calling things that don’t have names.” What unnamed experiences might a feminist literary magazine or press want to summon? Join the editors of Luna Luna, Grimoire Magazine, Transom, and University of Akron Press as we discuss how ritual, folk practices, and symbols like the witch provide a way of speaking the unnamed, especially in the wake of the #metoo movement.
Maintaining Beginner’s Mind in Your Own Classroom: A Poetry Reading (Amie
Whittemore, Mary Biddinger, Adrienne Su, Keith S. Wilson, Cameron Barnett)
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,” Shunryu Suzuki writes in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “but in the expert’s there are few.” This panel refutes this dichotomy by featuring expert poets at play and inviting the audience to join the fun. Panelists will read poems inspired by prompts they have assigned each other, discussing the prompts as avenues to beginner’s mind. Then the audience will try a prompt on the spot, bringing the rest home for personal or classroom use.
If you’re heading to AWP in the spring, I hope to see you there!
I’m not a numbers person, so when I looked at my “Summer 2018” poetry word document and saw that I’d written, apparently, over fifty pages of new poems since the beginning of June, I figured it was some kind of mistake.
I always use a calculator when figuring final grades or balancing my checkbook. Sometimes when I read text with a lot of numbers I find my eye doing the same thing it did when I was a student in classes involving statistics (skipping over the numbers like they are bread crust and I’m a picky kid).
However, it’s Monday morning, somewhat cloudy, and I am adequately caffeinated and showered and realizing that wow, I have written a lot this summer, and it makes me feel good. This may be the most I’ve ever written in a summer, and it’s not over.
With the record number of Akron Poetry Prize submissions on my docket (687!) I had feared I would not have much of a writing summer. But the proof is there at the bottom left of the screen. Pages: 51 of 51. Words: 10,133.
Clearly these are not all “keepers.” And yes, I have trouble generating new work during the academic year, so this is catch-up in many ways. But I’m still rather proud.
PS: I’ve been doing #summerofprompts over on Twitter again this summer. Check it out!
News flashes times two for this hot June morning.
I am over the moon about having my poem “Heaven and Dirt” published in the new issue of Tupelo Quarterly (15) with such excellent company. This is a recent poem, and I’m thrilled that it found such a fine home.
Also, much gratitude to the editors and fellow contributors of Waxwing XV. I’m honored to have these four poems appear in the issue. “Fantasy Sports” and “History Town” are two prose poems from my forthcoming collection Partial Genius, so this makes me extra excited.
For a year or so I had inexplicable anxiety about sending work out. I am much more comfortable helping other people with their creative work, and really needed to think through my trepidation and take steps to eliminate it. And now that these poems are out, I have no excuses about getting more work into the atmosphere.
In other news, we received a record-breaking total of 687 submissions to the 2018 Akron Poetry Prize competition. You know what I’ll be doing for the next two weeks.
It’s the first day of finals week and I already have that loopy off-my-routine feeling. Waiting for things to grade, and when those things arrive they’ll be magnificent: finals from writers on writing, essays from my grad poetry lit class, and mimetic poems for books on our syllabus. This was an eventful academic year, that’s for sure, and next up (immediately next up) I’ve got plenty of Akron Poetry Prize reading and a compressed, three week World Lit course to teach. And hopefully, later in the summer, new poems.
I’ve got news to share. New poems of mine will be appearing in upcoming issues of Court Green and Waxwing, two journals that I admire immensely. It’s such an honor, and helps put a bit of wind to my sails as I am on the brink of sending more work out. I am also incredibly honored to be on this list, as a recipient of an Individual Excellence Award in poetry from the Ohio Arts Council. I’m thankful to live in a state where these kinds of grants still exist.
I spend a lot of time editing and mentoring and talking about making a sustainable writing life, but at the same time I find myself relying so much on “positive feedback” in order to propel myself forward. I think I have less, not more, confidence as I get older. Is that unusual? I suppose I’ll find out eventually.
AWP Tampa was warm and sunny and went way too fast. We were worried about weather heading out, but ended up with smooth travels. We sold a slew of University of Akron Press books and had a magnificent offsite, even if we got stuck in hockey traffic on the way there. Thank you to everyone who stopped by the table, or the event, to say hello!
In unrelated news, I have a new blog post up at The Word Cage regarding that “what’s next” feeling in the writing life.
I am on day one of spring break, and hoping that it’s a productive week.
Behold: a glimpse at AWP 2018, Tampa.
Here’s the University of Akron Press table looking fancy. I had to give serious thought to the best way to display five new books at once. Challenge accepted!
It was a delight hanging out at the UA Press table with assistant poetry editor Noor Hindi. We can’t wait to read your poetry manuscript for this year’s Akron Poetry Prize competition.
One of the coolest parts of this conference was reconnecting with friends from my time at UIC. Thanks to Jet Fuel Review for this photo!
Leaving Tampa was less sad because I got to fly to Charlotte with dear friend Erika Meitner. She has a new book coming out very soon. Can’t wait to read it!
Because I was a tourist on this trip, I need to include a touristy photo. Whenever possible, I looked out at the water, especially those nights in my hotel room grading papers and reading thesis manuscripts. I made sure to spend a bit of time in the sun, too. I think it helped.
Room 11, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
4:30 pm to 5:45 pm
It’s easy to find a literary community in places like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco—but what about the rest of us? In this panel, five writers and active literary citizens from small towns and mid-size cities in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Alabama will talk about their communities (both inside and outside of academia): what’s working, what isn’t, and how you might jumpstart a community if you live off the beaten path.
teaches creative writing at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. His essays have appeared in Slate
, Colorado Review
, The Normal School
, Hayden’s Ferry Review
, Puerto del Sol
, and elsewhere.
Allison Joseph is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is the author of several books and chapbooks of poems, the director of the SIUC MFA Program, and she serves as editor and poetry edtior for Crab Orchard Review.
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released by Button Poetry in 2016. His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, is forthcoming.
Brian Oliu is an instructor at the University of Alabama. He is the author of four books of nonfiction and two chapbooks, ranging from Craigslist Missed Connections, to computer viruses, to 8-bit video games, to NBA basketball. Works in progress deal with pro wrestling and long-distance running.
Mary Biddinger’s most recent collection of poems is Small Enterprise. She is Professor of English at the University of Akron and NEOMFA program, and edits the Akron Series in Poetry at the University of Akron Press. Biddinger is the recipient of a 2015 poetry fellowship from the NEA.
AWP-going friends, we would love to see you at this panel on Friday afternoon. Please join us for a conversation on creating literary community in unexpected places.
I love a fresh, new month. I know it’s silly, but I don’t care. January is over! We’re a step closer to spring, even if the weather is bouncing between temperate and frigid. Next week I’ll be reading new work at the Lakewood Public Library with Caryl Pagel and Michelle R. Smith as part of the Coast Line Reading Series. I am also thrilled to have three prose poems in the new issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal:
The Haunted Minute
Many thanks to the editors for giving these poems such a fine home. I wanted to record audio for these, but could never find a place quiet enough, which should tell you something about my life (loud animals, loud colleagues).
I know it’s over a month away, but I’m getting rather excited for AWP Tampa. We just made the order for this year’s University of Akron Press Poetry Lives button, and I can’t wait to hand them out and catch up with so many friends. Also, this reading is sure to be a blast.
We will have five new poetry books at the University of Akron Press table at AWP, and we are co-hosting an offsite reading with Gold Wake Press. We would love to see you!
I’ve been blogging again over at The Word Cage, my old haunt. So far, 2018 is behaving itself.
I wrote a couple of prose poems with five stanzagraphs. Then I wrote a bunch more. Then I couldn’t stop, and they turned into a book. I named the book Partial Genius. You can read it in summer 2019, thanks to Black Lawrence Press.
Infinite gratitude to BLP, to my friends and students who are always encouraging me, and to the editors of the literary magazines where these poems have appeared so far (there are many that I’m sending out soon, too).
I told BLP a bit about the process of writing this book
On writing Partial Genius
When writing the chapbook Saint Monica, which became my first collection with Black Lawrence Press, I stumbled upon a form that felt both compelling and expansive. The prose poem in five stanzagraphs made its first appearance with “Saint Monica Composes a Five Paragraph Essay on Girard’s Theory of Triangular Desire.” I wrote this piece with the well-worn essay format in mind as a gimmick, but ultimately felt that each discrete prose chunk forged its own identity while striving to, as they say in composition class, provide support for the thesis. I decided to return to this form with Partial Genius and to create a series of these poems that align and overlap to illustrate the experiences of one central speaker.
The poems of Partial Genius build upon the form in a collective narrative arc, working in unison to craft a larger story where plot points shift via juxtaposition and association. Thematically, this book is post-youth, post-love, mid-epiphany. What do you do when you finally realize that you are really good, but only at unremarkable things? What value does memory hold when weighed against other heavier commodities such as money and time and conventional beauty? Partial Genius ponders the years spent waiting for reconciliation of past wrongs, the ownership of former selves, and the desire to truly fit into one landscape or another.