Friday, October 29, 2010

Sarah Lawrence MFA Alum Poets to Read from Recently Published Tomes

As exciting as Washington, D.C. is, I’m sorry to miss the chance to see Sarah Lawrence College poets read from their recently published books. Four alums of our MFA writing program, Ron Egatz, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Jee Leong Koh and Jean Hartig, will be reading at Slonim House at SLC on Wednesday, November 3rd at 7:00 PM.

Next best thing to going? Hearing from you how it went! If you are close to Bronxville, N.Y., I hope you will consider attending the reading and sharing your thoughts below.

Quick bios on the readers:

Ron Egatz ('93) is winner of the Glimmer Train Poetry Award and the Greenburgh Poetry Award. Beneath Stars Long Extinct, was published by Red Hen Press. In 2010. A poet widely published in literary reviews and anthologies, Egatz also runs Camber Press, Inc., an independent literary press. He teaches privately and lives in a loft on the Hudson while missing Paris.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths ('06) is a poet and a photographer. Her visual and literary work has been widely published including Callaloo, The NY Times, Indiana Review, RATTLE, Crab Orchard Review and others. She is the author of Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books). A Cave Canem Fellow, she lives in Brooklyn.

Jee Leong Koh ('05) is the author of two books of poems Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth. His new book Seven Studies for a Self-Portrait will be released in March 2011. Born in Singapore, he lives in NYC and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

Jean Hartig ('07) is the author of the chapbook Ave, Materia and associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine. She grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Brooklyn.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Applying to MFA Programs

This is the time of year when prospective graduate students consider creative writing programs (MFA, MA or PhD.)

I worked towards my MFA at Sarah Lawrence College from 2003 – 2005. I always say that it was a gift to spend two years immersed in poetry. After working abroad in Florence, Italy, I was happy to come home to the New York City metropolitan area. Being surrounded by other writers, as both inspiring and challenging as that was, and having the time to write, I was able to read widely, practice and improve my craft skills and participate in the poetry scene in New York City.

Of course, nothing is perfect. It would have been easier with more funding. Being close to my family after having lived abroad, it is possible that I was distracted from my writing more than I would have been elsewhere.

Studying at a small liberal arts college means close attention from the faculty, especially at SLC, but it also means that there aren’t teaching opportunities on campus. The program helps to set up teaching opportunities in the surrounding areas and perhaps a lighter (or non) teaching load means that the students can focus on their own writing more fully. I picked up a class at a nearby community college during my final semester with the thought that I might enjoy it and want to pursue that route. The experience helped me to eventually land a full time teaching position at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

So how do you make your own decision about what kind of degree to pursue and where to pursue it? You could start with Poets & Writers 2011 MFA rankings (a controversial list for sure, considering that part of the information was gathered from perspective students, rather than current students or alums). The magazine offers some additional information about full-time and low-residency programs.

AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs offers a guide to MFA programs. New Pages includes a list of MFA, MA and PhD programs in creative writing.

Of course, there is also Anis Shivani’s fiesty article, “MFA System Corrupt And Undemocratic?” published
recently in the Huffington Post. You’ll want to follow it up with the lively response, including the comments section, on the MFA Blog.

For more useful sites to help you in your research, see Erika Dreifus’ list of links.

When you are looking into various programs, I recommend asking the following questions:
What kind of funding is available? Will it continue every year that I’m enrolled?
How many subject classes (vs. workshops) will I be taking?
Are there opportunities to teach?
Are there internship programs or on campus jobs available?
Is there a literary journal I can work on in order to gain publishing experience?
How available will the faculty be to work with me?
How many faculty will I study closely with (thesis, independent study, etc.)?
How many courses are required?
How large are the classes?
Can I take language classes and/or translate work into English?
How strong is the alum network?
How expensive is the area?
Will there be job/social opportunities outside of the school?

Feel free to ask additional questions or share advice below in the Comments Section.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reading Stories & Writing Prompt

Thank you to everyone who participated in the recent children’s book giveaway by sharing stories of being read to or reading to a child. I hope you will read through the short pieces shared in the Comments section. Below please find two that were particularly moving and insightful.

For today’s writing prompt, consider the importance of reading. Reading allows us, at any age, to travel to a world created by an author. (I remember poet Thom Lux at Sarah Lawrence College always reminding us that writers are the “little gods” of the words we create. That statement gave us the freedom to take chances in our work.) Think about what makes that almost magical transformation into living with the characters on the page happen. How does the world around us fade away as we go somewhere else through the words on the page?

Perhaps you will share your writing below?

Select comments from book give-away:

Amy said…
My son was born into a family of bookworms, surrounded by people who love to read.

He was also born with multiple health issues and spent the first 18 days of his life in intensive care. The NICU had a cart of books provided by the March of Dimes, and we read as we held him in the rocking chair next to his crib. We read to him among the cords and tubes, amidst the beeping of monitors and alarms, above the crying of infants and the weeping of parents.

After he came home we read to him during his tube feedings. An hour at a time, every three hours. We read children's books — the bouncing rhymes of Sandra Boynton, the old classics like "Goodnight Moon." I also read favorites from my childhood, like "Anne of Green Gables," finding comfort in the familiar stories I'd read when life seemed much easier.

When our son was diagnosed with hearing loss and fitted with hearing aids, we were told to expose him to as much language as possible. So we talked and sang and read all day, every day.
Today, my son is two years old and books are his favorite things. He loves when we read to him and loves to sit and look at books by himself. He is fascinated with pictures, letters, words. Not bad for a child with significant hearing loss. Not bad for a child we were told might never see well enough to read.

My son was born into a family of bookworms, and I think that will serve him very, very well.

Susan Topper said…
I enjoy reading aloud to others as well as being read to.

I remember being read to as a child by my mother, also by my 4th grade teacher - Miss Kennedy, who read from a series called The Little Colonel. Strangely enough she also read to us from the Bible, and yes, it was public school! These days I sometimes read to my husband as we are driving in the car, and lately he will read a special article to me from the NYTimes at dinner.

Another special reading experience I share is with my son.....a devout Christian, he reads to me from the Bible in the early morning when he is visiting. I have never been able to make much sense of Bible passages myself, but he will read a passage and then explain in common language and I find the entire experience very meaningful. My husband and I love reading to the 3 year old twins that we take care of weekly....they love it and so do we. I love books. Books in general are amazing - I enjoy making them as well, as each can present such an intimate experience in and of itself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin Reading at the Library of Congress

I’m still a little star-struck by living in Washington, D.C. Sure, there are the politicians, but there is also the Library of Congress and its poetry programs. Last night I heard W. S. Merwin read for the first time as U.S. Poet Laureate.

Merwin’s attention to nature and life in all forms causes listeners to slow down to his voice’s pace. Merwin opened with, “Poetry represents something in this country not often represented. There is an essential relationship between poetry and the world, that is source and sustenance.” A long-time poetry translator, he is moved by the possibility of language in many languages. English language poetry wouldn’t be what it is today without translation.

While most of Merwin’s poems could be called “nature poems,” he quoted Lichtenstein who said, “the only real theme of all poets throughout life is ‘homecoming.’” Merwin’s attention to human ability to speak, reason and act illuminates not only our humanity, but our possibility as humans.

The reading was following by a wine and cheese reception in the Great Hall. Paintings, mosaics, stained glass windows and views of the Capital building reminded me of visiting European palaces. I encourage you to see the space for yourselves. There are two Library of Congress buildings and the Thomas Jefferson Building is particularly ornate. Here you can take your own virtual tours of the Great Hall, and the amazing Main Reading Room.

I look forward to taking an actual tour and writing in the ornate, wood-paneled Main Reading Room.When you walk up to the building, don’t miss the view of the Capital building behind you. The Library of Congress offers poetry resources, reading series, webcasts and more.

For more on last night’s reading, read Andilit’s rumination on Merwin’s softness in his poems. Read his bio along with sample poems, translation and prose on the Academy of American Poet’s website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Giveaway Winner Announced!

Congratulations to Elaine Bloom for winning a copy of Emma’s Poem. {Elaine: To receive your copy, please email me your address: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.}

Thank you to everyone who shared a beautiful reading memory! If you didn’t win, I encourage you to pick up your own copy of the book to share with the young ones in your life.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Children’s Book About Poet Emma Lazarus: Interview with author Linda Glaser & book giveaway

Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, the Statue of Liberty was a mythical figure on the horizon. I remember looking up at her crown from her base, perhaps my first lesson in perspective, imagining her history and voice. As a child, I would have loved a book about Lady Liberty to bring her home with me.

Children’s book author Linda Glaser offers readers the story of Emma Lazarus in her book Emma’s Poem. Emma Lazarus is the author of The New Colossus, the poem engraved at the base of the statue. This beautifully written and illustrated book offers insight, history and hope to its readers.

Enjoy reading our recent interview with author Linda Glaser below. She shares some tips about writing children’s books and her memories of being read to as a child.

You can win a copy of this lovely book by sharing your own story of reading to a child or being read to as a child in the Comment’s section below. Post your Comment by Sunday, October 24th. A winner will be drawn at random from the submissions and announced on Monday’s blog post.


What was your favorite book when you were a child?
As a child, I loved being read to. (Actually I still love being read to.) My mother read us many books. One of our most beloved authors was Eleanor Estes. Her books are classics: The Moffats, Rufus M., The Middle Moffat, The Hundred Dresses. They gave me a sense of what my mother’s childhood was like during the Depression. When she read them to us, sometimes she’d get teary and other times she’d burst out laughing. It was a window into her sensibilities and her soul. Those books are still some of my favorites. But by now I have many, many other favorites as well.

What is your editing/revising process? Most people would not believe how much time goes into writing a simple children’s book! I love doing it. But it’s also a lot of work. My stories go through many, many revisions before an editor ever sees them. I revise on the computer and also on hard copies—over and over and over. I keep my latest version by my bedside and work on it before I go to sleep. As soon as I wake up, I work on it some more. I call that revising but some people might call it an obsession. Before I submit my stories, I share them with my writing group and they offer suggestions. That means more revision. Then, of course, if an editor takes a story, there is even more revision. For me, it’s all very entertaining. Some people do Sudoku. I revise.

What is the biggest piece of advice you'd offer someone who is considering writing children's stories? It is truly amazing how many people fantasize about writing a children’s book but haven’t actually read one since they were a child! A lot has changed since then. So I suggest that anyone interested should read lots of contemporary children’s books—good ones. Ask librarians, booksellers, parents and kids for their favorites. Then, write what you care about. If your heart is in it, it will show.


For more, you might be interested in this interview Linda Glaser conducted by the Children’s Literature. If you are a teacher considering adopting this text, you might enjoy the Teacher’s Guide.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

National Day on Writing

Today is the National Day on Writing!

Here are some highlights about the event and galleries from the websites:

Established by the National Council of Teacher’s of English, the National Gallery and the National Day

• highlight the remarkable variety of writing we engage in today;
• provide a collection for research on whether writing today has risen to new highs or sunk to new lows; and
• help us help others to write better.

In the Gallery of Writing, you can read published work, submit your own writing or even start your own gallery of writing. The National Gallery of Writing is a virtual space—a website—where people who perhaps have never thought of themselves as writers—mothers, bus drivers, fathers, veterans, nurses, firefighters, sanitation workers, stockbrokers—select and post writing that is important to them. The Gallery accommodates any composition format—from word processing to photography, audio/video recording to text messages—and all types of writing—from letters to lists, memoirs to memos.

The National Gallery of Writing includes three types of display spaces where writing can be found:

1. The Gallery of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) represents a broad cross-section of writing hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

2. National Partner Galleries include writing that corresponds to a theme or purpose identified by National Partners participating in this initiative.

3. Local Partner Galleries include works from writers in a classroom, school, club, workplace, city, or other local entity.

Monday, October 18, 2010

November Memoir Writing Workshop

Have you been thinking about writing a memoir? Start with short essays or poems in next month’s upcoming Memoir Writing Workshop.

There are still virtual seats available in next month’s two week, online Memoir Writing Workshop II that starts on Monday, November 8. Register by emailing me {ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com}.

By writing and sharing your work online, you can integrate writing into your regular schedule. There will be short reading, writing and editing assignments each weekday. The weekend is reserved for catching up. You only need an internet connection and a word processing program; there are no books to buy.

Please let me know if you have any questions. The full course description is below.

Memoir Writing Workshop II (Prose & Poetry)
In this creative writing workshop, we will discuss memoir writing in both prose and poetic forms. You will write and workshop your original work with published writing teacher Chloe Miller for two weeks. She will present writing prompts and exercises, links to short online readings and lead discussions around your work. You will receive longer individual feedback from her on your two final assignments. Through group peer editing sessions, you will hone your editing abilities and receive additional feedback on your work.

Short assignments will be posted every day. Your longer assignments will be due each Friday. It is suggested that you spend 30 – 60 minutes per day on the class. No assignments will be given over the weekend, although the lively discussion and writing will continue.

All levels welcome; beginners encouraged. In the two week Memoir Writing Workshop I last spring, we spent some time defining memoir, creative non-fiction and approaches to writing, editing and revising pieces. This conversation will continue in Memoir Writing Workshop II, with new readings and questions. It is not required to have taken Memoir Writing Workshop 1 to take the second level. The only requirement is that you’ve completed some brief creative writing and considered the genre.
The class will be held for two weeks from Monday, November 8 – Friday, November 19. Class enrollment is limited to ten adult students. It will be held in a private Google group that will be available 24/7. With a free Gmail account, you will be ready to start.

The cost is $200.00 payable by check due Monday, November 1. For an added $4.00 fee, you may also pay via PayPal. ChloĆ©’s current and previous private writing students receive a 10% discount. To register, email Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

(This is the second time this class is running.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Writer Couples

Writers often admire writer-couples (poets Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon always come to my mind first) and imagine the couple sitting at a long wooden desk working simultaneously on their writing and periodically reading something aloud.

Perhaps because I’m an only child, but I always thought that scenario - where each writer worked in the same genre - would include a little jealousy and some arguments over word-choice and, optimistically, fame.

My husband Hans Noel is a writer, although not a creative writer. He started as a journalist and after receiving a Ph.D. in political science at UCLA, he teaches at Georgetown University. I imagine that my circle might categorize his writing as “non-fiction,” but of course it is more academic than the phrase suggests. He is a scientist who researches and shares his results in academic journals with clear, precise and interesting writing.

Do we write together? Yes, in a sense. We work in separate offices, but we share most of our work with each other and ask for feedback. We are both each other’s greatest fans, but we also value the work and offer the helpful criticism that we can. We are not experts in each other’s fields, but there are usually reasons why an outsider’s view is helpful. For example, as a poet, I don’t want my poems to only be read by other poets. I hope that they are accessible to a larger audience.

I can read through my husband’s work, although I will admit that I don’t understand all of the nuances. (He is a much better reader of poetry than I am of political science.) His recent article, however, is one geared towards a larger audience. “Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don’t” shares and explains surprising details about the news and what journalists, and eventually voters, should know.

My favorite section is, “Most People Do Not Have Strong Political Opinions.” No, it isn’t my favorite section just because when I read the New York Times or listen to NPR I nod my head in agreement. It is because Hans is right, even if we don’t like to admit it for fear of sounding ill-informed. We, the general consumers of news and voters who rely on our parties to lead our government, don’t need to know every detail about politics. Of course we should have some awareness, but we should also remember that a successful society divides the labor that it takes to run our land, from politics to art to everything else.

The article is in The Forum, published by Berkeley Electronic Press. You’ll probably have to login for free as a guest to read it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Guest Blog Posts

Do you have a great book that you're reading and would like to share? A writing question you recently answered? A great writing resource to share? I'd love to have guest bloggers share their writing, revising, reading and teaching expertise. Send me an email at chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com with your ideas.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Writing Prompt: Weather

We are all affected by the weather. The other day when it was grey and rainy, my mood shifted a bit and shadowed the sky. Of course, there is beauty in all types of weather. I photographed these ginkgo leaves outside our apartment and was moved by the rainwater gathered on them. A poem didn’t quite grow out of that observation, but the lines I wrote might turn into something more complete later.

For today’s prompt, I suggest that you notice not only the effect of weather on your mood, but also on other animate and inanimate things. You might start by looking closely at how the light shifts at different times of day or how different it is this season from last.

Write for ten minutes without stopping and see if there are lines, words, or ideas that you can expand upon later.

You are welcome to share your writing in the Comments section below.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Three Great Questions for Reading, Editing and Peer-Editing

Fellow writer, teacher and artist Shasta Grant  asks her writing students to answer three questions following reading and editing an essay:

What surprised you?

What intrigued you?

What disturbed you?

What great, open-ended questions! These are useful for reading comprehension, peer editing and self-editing an essay.

Shasta developed this assignment from the textbook Fieldworking, which she uses in composition writing classes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Best Writing Advice?

What’s the best piece of writing advice that you ever received? Maybe it came from a professor, workshop leader, peer or even friend who rarely reads creative writing (except for yours.)

I often wonder if I should include a particularly strong detail, emotion or moment in a poem. My husband, always supportive, will simply ask, “Why not?” I never have a good reason.

I hope you will share your thoughts below in the Comments section.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Personal Libraries: Physical & Virtual

Thank you to Andi Cumbo, a writer and writing teacher, for today’s great post. I know you will learn as much as I did. Be sure to read her regular posts on writing and reading at Andilit.

In about a month, I’m moving. For me, the bulk of moving involves the purging, the cleaning, and the packing of books – lots of books. This move, though, I decided I would try to trim down my collection. I simply own too many books.

Yet, a personal library is really important, at least it is to me. There are authors I keep – Chaim Potok, Anne Lamott, Marilynne Robinson; these are the books I consider touchstones, ones which I turn to when I need insight, a good quote, or just a reminder that there are places where I can hide in words.

I keep track of my library through Goodreads. On this website, I can record books I’ve read and ones I want to read. I can becomes friends with people and see their libraries as well as read as their reviews of books they’ve finished. It’s a great site (and if you join, please find me under “andilit”) and you’ll find great books and keep up with what you’ve read. (Plus, if you run a blog, you can post book covers to your website directly on your blog through the Goodreads widget.)

In the current configuration of my library, there are authors I love but whose books I do not need to own – Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Frederick Buechner; these are the books I love to read but which I probably won’t return to later. Finally, there are all the other books, the ones I don’t necessary treasure or even read. For years, I went around and picked up used copies of any book that I thought I “should” read, but now, well, I’m to a point in my life where I really want to read what I “want” to read. No more obligation to the ideal of the English major.

When I have books to give away, I may try to sell them (Independent bookseller Powell’s will buy used books for cash or store credit), but I typically give them away through Bookmooch. This great site helps book-lovers share titles with other book lovers. Simply list your book on your Bookmooch page, and if someone has that book on their “wishlist,” they’ll get an email saying the book has become available. You can also put titles you want on your “wishlist” and get the same kind of emails. When someone mooches from you, you simply ship the book media mail, and you get a point that you can use to mooch a book from someone else. For far less than the cost of a new book, you get to “recycle” titles that need a good home.

So as I pack this time, I’m cleaning out titles and carefully packing away my beloved ones. Thanks to Goodreads and Bookmooch I can connect with other readers and be sure my “paper babies” end up in the good homes that book lovers call our libraries.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Elizabeth Alexander & Writing Prompt

It was a gift to hear Elizabeth Alexander read poetry and answer questions at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. She did read the famous inaugural poem Praise Song for the Day, as well as new poems. Some of her new poems include Ars Poeticas, which are traditionally poems written about the process of writing and poetry. In effect, an Ars Poetica is almost a love or praise song for writing. Alexander changed the form a bit, and read a few that were written to other ideas, like that of living. Perhaps the ideas are more similar than we'd originally guess?

When answering a question about how to fit writing into a busy life, Alexander said that she “walks around with a bubble for poetry.” She reminded the audience that we can always attend to our writing practice, even when we are working on something else (or many other things.) She spoke of of Lucille Clifton who said to “listen for poetry. The life around you is the stuff of poetry.”

For today’s writing prompt, let’s write a love poem. Of course, perhaps other than writing something humorous, there is nothing harder than writing a sincere, not overly sentimental, vision of love. I encourage you to re-read Alexander’s inaugural poem, with its many images of human intimacy and tenderness, and offer the reader an image of love. It doesn’t have to include how love makes you feel, perhaps that will be clear enough in the image, but rather show the reader love. Is it that keychain someone gave to you? Is it the way your child’s hand curls when she sleeps? Is it the wind brushing past the trees that have already lost their leaves? Focus on the images.

Will you share your writing in the Comments section below?