Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guest Blog Post by Alli Shaloum Brydon: 100 Messages in 100 Tiny Bottles

Thank you to poet and fellow SLC-grad Alli Shaloum Brydon for discussing her new project 100 Messages in 100 Tiny Bottles. While she is writing directly to her future son, readers will find lovely nuggets of truth and kindness in each post.

Thank you to Chloe for inviting me to write a guest blog post about my recent project, a tumblr blog called 100 Messages in 100 Tiny Bottles

100 Messages in 100 Tiny Bottles started as an attempt to write one hundred messages to our unborn child before he enters the world this November. My original idea was actually to create a visual/poetic art project for the baby where I wrote one hundred messages on little parchment scrolls, placed them in little bottles, and exhibited the bottles in a wooden display case. I’ve recently become obsessed with the physicality of words, and how they function in a three-dimensional space rather than just on the page. I’ve wanted to create a project in which the reader/viewer can interact with my words and manipulate them as they see fit for their own experience. 100 Messages, in blog form, is not quite there yet, but I have heard from some people who take one or two of my messages particularly to heart, carrying them around in their minds for the day/week/month. I think this is a good start!

During my first trimester of pregnancy, I really was hoping to start documenting the experience by writing poems. This quickly became too daunting, with glorious fatigue and nausea to deal with. I settled on writing small messages rather than longer poems as a way to make myself feel like I was doing any writing at all. I found that I could use 100 Messages as an excuse to make me feel better. "I'm writing something," I told myself. And isn’t that the struggle sometimes? Just to get something down on the page, no matter what it is?

The difference between the messages and my longer poems quickly became obvious to me: for the messages I had a very specific audience-of-one in mind. This felt liberating and also frightening. I am using the messages to communicate with my unborn child with the hopes he will read them one day. Each one showcases my personal philosophies, funny observations, or raw emotions--those ideas might (probably will) change over the next 18 years. Will I be held to my messages like they are promises?

In my poetry I can easily fictionalize, or try to pass my words off as fiction. So, in a way, I am being more truthful to myself and my son through writing these messages. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found this to be one of the toughest things to do in poetry. Perhaps I am doing myself a favor by having started the most honest project I have ever done.

Perhaps this is the perfect way to start motherhood.

Visit Alli’s tumblr blog 100 Messages in 100 Tiny Bottles and follow along, with new posts almost daily, or on Twitter @100messages.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Guest Blog Post by Erin Hoover from Late Night Library

Thanks to Erin Hoover, co-founder of Late Night Library with Paul Martone, for discussing the new online book review radio show. To learn more, read below, click through earlier episodes or even browse through the growing library.

The Best New Book You've Never Read

The how and why of nonprofits are linked because complex problems often seem to require structured solutions. I come from a social services nonprofit background, and in that world, the work is concerned with poverty—something no single nonprofit is in a position to eradicate. You pick one place where you think you can have an impact. You take distinct and efficient action.

Most writers know that writing is only the half of it. Finding an audience is a second major challenge. As a younger writer I assumed an audience existed, thinking that if only I created something good enough, readers would be drawn to it. But countless brilliant novels sit in desk drawers and inspiring poems are read to empty rooms. Knowing this, I have become a promotion machine for books that people aren't talking about, but should.

A few months ago, I founded a monthly literary arts podcast called Late Night Library with another writer, Paul Martone, with the goal of promoting poets and writers that deserve a wider audience. Late Night Library creates a structure for something that I do anyway and already find personally rewarding—talking about books. Each month we select a debut writer who has recently published a book that we like. We record our conversation about the book (Paul from Portland and me from Brooklyn) and post it online and on social networks. We target first books because the writer has already done the considerable work of creating and publishing; only the audience is missing.  That's where we see our potential for impact.

As a well-known poet once said to me: "Your first book will be met with deafening silence." It goes without saying that it's easier to find the work of established writers in real and virtual stores. Reviewers, too, are more likely to look at a writer with multiple books, understanding that their opinion on established names will sell more copies or get more clicks in the same way an established brand would. When a book is talked about, it's not uncommon for everything but the book to be reviewed, from the author's biography to his or her marketability. It's almost like the text is beside the point until your second or third book, until your bestseller.

I sometimes wonder if being a writer with a first book is as anonymous a feeling as not having a book at all. While Late Night Library does not actually aspire to subverting the way art and capital intersect, it does hit a few targets that would be helpful in creating an audience for good writing. Not least of all, it's meant to give debut writers the kind of review that an author would want for his or her first novel or collection.  We can hopefully create a buzz for these books via online networks.  In the poetry world at least, a few hundred new readers is no small feat.

But if really excellent first books aren't easily browsed in stores or getting reviews in mainstream publications, how do I hear about them?  If they were easy to find, readers wouldn't need me in the first place.  I look at small press catalogs and I turn to writer friends for recommendations—word of mouth.  I go to poetry sections in indie bookstores and use people I haven't heard of as my sole criteria for browsing.  If a writer is too widely acclaimed already, I put his or her book down. If I've read him or her in The New Yorker, sorry. It sounds backwards because it is. Late Night Library doesn't select books like does because we don't exist to do what does. Nonprofits are designed to thwart the algorithm. 
Don't miss a single episode: 
Free subscriptions are offered through iTunes.  You can also listen on the website 
Add your name to the late night radio mailing list.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Writing Prompt: Family photograph

Find an old family photograph and look at it closely. Maybe you have memories about the person or people in the photograph or maybe you’ve only heard stories.

What do you notice? Look at the expressions, body language and setting. You might consider what is beyond the frame of the photograph. It is a fairly recent phenomenon that photography and the ability to capture a moment is accessible to the masses. These earlier photographs were often staged in a photographer’s studio or another formal setting.

If you don’t have any pictures easily accessible, you might look at these entertaining sites with collections of dapper folks:

Write non-stop for five to ten minutes and then go back and underline the key lines/ideas/images that emerge.

I'd love to read your piece or responses to the exercise below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Experiences

I want to hear from you. Did you attend a great summer writing workshop, residency, festival or reading? Are you involved with an upcoming fall or spring program? Are you currently an MFA student? Do you work on a literary magazine?

I’d love for you to guest blog here and share your experiences. Email me your ideas, a short bio in the third person and a related photograph (of you or the event) at chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest blog post: Moira Donovan on Writing Groups

Moira Donovan

Donomar Inn

I was happy to meet Moira Donovan, Nine Cent Girl blogger. novelist, and teacher, while scoring AP exams this summer. Moira also co-runs the Donomar Inn, a wonderful bed and breakfast in Vermont that I'm sure would be the perfect place to write during any season.

Today she kindly shares her thoughts on the importance of having a writing group. I can only add a hearty, “brava!”

Find Your Group

Artists have sought the company of others forever... One such notable Saratoga Springs colony, Yaddo, formed in 1926, boasts over 6,000 artists to have passed through, from Langston Hughes to Truman Capote. Google ‘Writer’s Retreats’ and pages and pages of such rejuvenating programs appear, including Vermont Studio Center; my time there enabled me to move my scattered chapters into a complete novel. These short stints of concentrated writing time often catapult one from a small group of supportive peers with whom you share your work, to a greater determination to carry on.
The work of writers, (I would add all types of artists to this group, since most work in isolation) grows when there are others to feed off of or bounce your ideas on. Take Paris, 1920, (don’t you love the way Woody Allen captures this moment in “Midnight in Paris”), enter the salon of Gertrude Stein on any given evening to find a mix of artists, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Juan Gris, elbow to elbow with Ezra Pound, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway. One can imagine those guests not only discussed but shared manuscripts, poetry collections or sketches and all gained valuable critiques from peers.

Across the English Channel this same creative energy was found in the Bloomsbury Group, with Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Duncan Grant and E.M. Forster. Across disciplines, these artists and writers shared an aesthetic that is still considered pioneering today; often ignoring societal norms, these artists sought beauty and expression, cutting new paths along their way. Together, they were formidable, but having to go it alone, I am uncertain if we would still be granting such accolades.

In fact, if I were to state one non-negotiable for an artist, it would be to find yourself such a group, whatever form that works, but should comprise trusted compatriots who meet or correspond to give their honest and supportive critique of your work. I have had the great fortune to fall in with several great writers’ groups along my way and found them priceless.

For the last three years I have meet regularly with three women for such a purpose. We are all novelists, a challenge for a group, as we require a time commitment in order to offer a valuable critique, but we have managed splendidly. Each one of us writes quite differently, from S’s comical view of love after 50, to K’s angst of family divided by addiction, to L’s herb lore in a mystical place, yet we come together to share and listen, and in an organic manner offer a next step to the laborious craft of writing. This group works like the inner cogs of a magnificent clock, each wheel and spring moving our pendulum to progress. Our creed: keep to the writing business at hand, let no one dictate the group, and genuinely admire each other’s talent, dedication, and hard work. So, how to form such a gathering for yourself?

In our case we were all looking and simultaneously sent out email queries through our local League of Vermont Writers. Originally, we had thought our group too small and talked about finding others to join, but after our first reading we found four a perfect number, enabling us all to share and garner sufficient feedback in our two hour time period. Also at first we thought to meet in a public location, but since I lived most centrally, and in a comfy space, the group comes to me. The rest fell into place, the rest meaning how we would read and discuss our work. This is often the trickiest aspect in establishing a beneficial group, however, if you find common ground easily, you will set protocols easily; conversely, if you are not simpatico, no list of rules will help.

Ultimately, there are as many avenues as there are artists, seek and you shall find the group best for you. Your work will be finer with the restorative of peers.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Memoir Writing: Sharing your life's experiences

It can be sticky to write about your own experiences as inevitably, those experiences bump up against other people. Such is the case with memoir and most creative non-fiction. Our goal as writers is to find fair a balance between personal, professional and public expectations.

As William Zinsser so clearly outlines in Writing to Learn, we write in order to understand the world. In the end, we share the end result with an audience in order to enter into a larger conversation.

Published work takes a different path from, say, a diary.  I might write incredibly personal and emotional work in a private diary. If anyone found these words, I’d be mortified (please don’t try.) This writing is a lot like the brainstorming that we do in response to a writing prompt

From this muddle of words, I’ll look for ideas or images that might be accessible to a larger audience and representative of a larger truth. From there, I’ll expand upon those ideas to craft a complete poem. After all, I am not only writing for myself or a good friend. A common beginner error is to stop the editing process too early. In this case, the writing is inaccessible, or, even worse, uninteresting, to anyone who doesn’t already know or care for the author.

When an author considers writing memoir or creative non-fiction, there are questions about rights, ownership, and ethics. It is good to know that much more is available for us to justly use in our writing than we might imagine. A few years ago at AWP, I sat in on a panel about this issue. You can learn more by reading "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry" compiled by the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute in collaboration with American University’s Center for Social Media and Washington College of Law.

If you live in the Washington, D.C., metro area and are interested in continuing this conversation, you might consider taking the memoir writing class that I will be teaching this fall at Politics & Prose Bookstore. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Postcards & Poetry

Once I learned about Concrete Wolf’s Postcard Poetry project, I discovered that there are actual postcard presses.  How wonderful! In this virtual era, it is beautiful to hold an object of art in your hands, read a poem, look closely at the image and turn it around again. Both the image and the poem are present together and separate at the same time.

Here are two. Are there more? I hope so. Please share their links in the Comment section below.

Postcard Press is a micropress publishing one very short story, essay or poem each month in the form of a 4x6 postcard.

ripple(s) is another postcard press. They send, as they say, “4×6 nuggets of poetry or prose people can hold, read, pass along hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye.”

If you are thinking of writing your own postcard poems, you might enjoy this writing prompt from Lantern Review’s blog.

I hope you’ll visit my Etsy store to see the Postcard Poems I’ve been working on most recently. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thanks to Concrete Wolf: A New Postcard Poem Project

One of the postcard images from my new Postcard Poetry Project

Learning  about Concrete Wolf’s Postcard Project prompted me to organize my work in a new direction. The Postcard Project asks participants to write an original poem a day and mail it to another participant. What a gift to be encouraged to write while being offered a paired postcard-poem each day. It has been an even bigger gift to discover the path to a new project.

I have many incomplete, unedited short poems on a single subject that I’ve been trying to figure out how to weave into a long poem. They were impressions of ideas, really, not complete poems. I created the project, “I think of Aunt Dora,” a series of nine short poems paired with photographs. The nine poems can be read in any order, but they are intended to be read together and considered in light of the nine different images. The poems consider themes of loss, humanity and mortality in light of contemporary, everyday activities. 

For the August Postcard Project, I continue to write new poems mostly on this same subject. I am reminded that the act of editing is altered, perhaps improved, by hand writing the poems onto the postcards. I notice something new each time and am reminded when I first started to write, and quite literally rewrite, revised poems in my lined journals. 

I have collected postcards since I was a child and I discovered my mother’s shoebox of art postcards she had been collecting from travels and museum trips. It seems exactly right to create new postcards, ones that tell the story of an individual, an era and a larger community, for this new project.

If you are interested in seeing or purchasing these postcard poems, you can find them for sale in my Etsy shop.  

Thank you again to Concrete Wolf for setting me along this path.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing Prompt: Time

Who doesn’t like to complain about time? We are either rushed without enough time or waiting for something that takes too much time. Time can be a vague concept or a very closely watched clock.

For today's writing prompt, write about time. Choose an instance when time has been such a strong presence that it seems to take over all other thoughts.

Some ideas: Perhaps you’re sitting on a plane for a long trip and the seconds lag behind everything else. Or, you’re running for the next plane fearing you might miss the final call. You might be more optimistic and choose to describe time once you arrive to your vacation destination after that dreadful plane ride. Perhaps time has suddenly paused and you find that you can breath again.  

Write non-stop for five to ten minutes and then go back and underline the key lines/ideas/images that emerge.

I'd love to read your piece or responses to the exercise below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scrabble: To cheat or not to cheat?

I’m a wee bit obsessed with playing Scrabble. Luckily, I mostly play on Facebook, my other obsession. I like to think that the Scrabble obsession is generally healthy. It is a word game that exercises a number of skills: Strategy, vocabulary and creative thinking.

The Scrabble application in Facebook allows you to use a dictionary. You can literally put random letter combinations into the program until you find one that’s really a word, whether you recognize it or not. Then, it is up to you to decide where to place the word on the board.

Some people might consider this cheating. The old fashioned way to play Scrabble, on a physical board sitting in front of your non-virtual opponent, does not allow players to use a dictionary. Of course, since the Facebook application allows the use of a dictionary, it isn’t technically cheating in its newest reincarnation.

What about using sites like Wordsolver that will give you all possible word combinations from the letters you give it? There are even sites, like Scrabble Word Finder, where you can fill in a board and ask it to find not only the best word, but the best placement. If you play the Facebook Scrabble app on your IPhone, you’re given a few times, without penalty, where you can ask it to find the best word and placement for you. You receive the benefit of a well-placed, high point move. 

Since a friend has already outed me on Facebook as a “sometimes cheater,” I will admit that I used to cheat regularly and have mostly stopped. I am not a natural Scrabble player, but I've improved and no longer need to cheat.

In the beginning of playing regularly, while I was cheating, I still lost most games. Here are my excuses for being a poor Scrabble player: An only child, I grew up rarely playing games so I’m not a naturally competitive thinker.  I speak a second language and sometimes get confused about which words are from which language.

Here’s the embarrassing part: Shouldn’t a writer and writing professor be good at a word game?

Aside from all the possible reasons to cheat (including beating my star Scrabble playing husband who almost always wins), I’ve become a much better player in the end. I recently played a game the old fashioned way and noticed the stark improvement. We did use the dictionary function on the iphone to challenge each other about whether letter combinations were words. So high tech!

I’ve learned new words, even if I’ve never used most of them in everyday speech. (Hey, when does the Greek letter “xi” come up?) I’ve become more strategic, creative and, in the end, further addicted to Facebook.

So, if you’d like to play Scrabble with me on Facebook, invite me to a game! I promise I won’t cheat, but I do know a crazy set of weird words. Must be this qi.

As a mandatory P.S. from your friendly writing professor: Cheating in a friendly game of Scrabble is one thing. Cheating on a paper or class assignment is another thing. I don’t ever recommend that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fill-In-The-Blank Cards from Melabee Miller's *New* Etsy Shop!

Congratulations to my mom, photographer Melabee Miller, on her new Etsy shop

She’s selling lovely blank cards and postcards with her original photographs. The sunflower card above is my favorite (so far!)

Who says the art of letter writing has vanished? Share your thoughts and celebrate your friends with these cards. 

For more on Melabee, see her blog and website.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Memoir Writing Workshop @ Politics & Prose Bookstore this November

I am very excited to announce that I will be teaching a Memoir Writing Workshop at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., this November.

The class is titled, “Beginning, Middle, or End: Memoir Writing This Holiday Season.” We will read essay selections from The Art of the Personal Essay edited by Phillip Lopate and write original essays that can be woven together into a full memoir. The cost is $100.00 ($80.00 for bookstore members.) The class runs for four Thursday afternoon starting November 3 through December 1 (skipping over Thanksgiving, of course.)

The holiday season is exactly the time to start thinking about your memoir. You’ll be seeing family members who you might not see regularly and have a chance to think about your memories, record new ones and ask necessary questions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Poetry Giveaway Winner Announced!

Congratulations to Becca on winning a copy of Judson Simmons' beautiful poetry chapbook The Hallelujah Hour!

Becca: Please email me your snail mail address (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.)

Visit Amsterdam Press' Etsy store to purchase your own copy and browse through their many titles.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Poetry Giveaway: The Hallelujah Hour by Judson Simmons

I’m happy to announce that we will be giving away a copy of The Hallelujah Hour by Judson Simmons. If you haven’t read this beautiful poetry collection yet, here’s your chance.

The Hallelujah Hour was published by Amsterdam Press and won 3rd place for the Flip Kelly Poetry Prize 2008. You can find Amsterdam Press on Facebook and visit their Etsy store for a full list of titles.

Judson and I first crossed paths at Sarah Lawrence College’s M.F.A. program. It is always wonderful to hear good news about my classmates. Congratulations, Judson!

The longing and precision in these poems held my attention immediately. The narrator in the poems, in the first person (singular or plural) or the second, accompanies the reader into a world with both a telescope and microscope. The importance of each small detail is magnified as the narrator draws connections to the larger universe.  

Don’t take my word for it. Read examples of Judson’s work online, starting with two poems from Homestead Review or one from Evergreen Review.

To win your copy:
Share something you love about writing or reading poetry. You can post your comment below or on our Facebook group page. 

Deadline: Tuesday, August 2nd at midnight EST. The winner will be randomly chosen (names will be literally put into a hat and one will be chosen) and announced on Wednesday, August 3rd.

Looking forward to hearing from you!