Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Guest Blog Post: A Do-It-Yourself Poetry Workshop in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to poets Elizabeth (Betsy) Kudlacz and Shradha Shah for recently traveling to Washington, D.C., for a Do-It-Yourself Poetry Workshop. Since formal workshops and conferences can be expensive, crafting your own planned gathering can save on costs while still gathering together other writers to discuss your own writing, books you’ve read and writing prompts, too. This approach gave us the freedom to discuss poetry and use the city’s landscape at the same time. 

Thanks to Betsy and Shradha for sharing their thoughts on our time together. And for traveling to D.C.!

Having met in ‘formal’ workshops, we took it upon ourselves to maintain a small writing community.  Because we are not all located within the same city, or even time zone, we must rely on email, Skype or other methods to stay in touch remotely.  However, holding a ‘live’ conference affords a richer experience and so we agreed to try and get together on a regular basis. And through a series of circumstances, the first of these meetings was recently held in Washington, D.C.

Nearly all aspects of the 4 days/3 nights that we shared focused in some way upon literature.  The accommodation was the B+B called Akwaaba, which features rooms named for famous African American writers. It is quiet, has a lovely large parlor conducive to chat, and its location on 16th and R Streets in Dupont Circle afforded easy access to a number of coffee shops (Steam CafĂ© and Tryst), restaurants (Eatonville) and other literary hotspots around U Street (Busboys and Poets). 

Prior to arriving, we agreed upon what it was we wanted to accomplish during our time together and a daily agenda was prepared to incorporate those aspects.  For example, we decided to devote time to the following:

- Workshopping some  ‘old ‘ poems
- Discuss manuscripts by published poets  (‘Lives of the Heart’ by Jane Hirshfield)
- Write new work based upon poetry prompts which were matched to excursions to Washington, D.C., sights.

In fact, during the course of our sight-seeing, we not only engaged in writing prompts at the location, but on occasion read poems about the place.  For example, at the National Zoo, we thought/wrote about how we might relate to any specific animal and their behaviors.  In addition, we read poems including “The Panther” by Rainer Maria Rilke and “The Woman at the National Zoo” by Randall Jarrell. Admittedly, sometimes the exercises felt a little contrived and the writing a bit pressured when what we really wanted to do was enjoy the animals!

Other places visited included the Library of Congress (to write there you will need to get a library card, which is well worth the effort) and several Smithsonian museums for inspiration when addressing prompts related to writing about a work of art or book. 

A special bonus was the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit“Poetic Likeness” and the courtyard there is a particularly lovely venue for working.

A central location like Washington, D.C., afforded the opportunity to meet up with additional poetry acquaintances.  Maintaining such friendships in these busy times is important.  And  let’s face it; most of us write in solitude so make the effort to spend the time to grow and gather the tribe.

About the authors:
Elizabeth (Betsy) Kudlacz is a full-time scientist and part time poet.  Born and raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, she currently lives, works and writes in Groton, Connecticut.  Some of her haiku and poems have appeared in journals, including Cicada, Aurorean, Connecticut River Review, Caduceus, Bellowing Ark and Freshwater, as well as in various anthologies.

Shradha Shah is a practicing poet and physician in San Francisco.  She aspires for her writing to informs her medical work as vice versa.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

IASA Conference Presentation

I'm looking forward to participating in a panel discussion on Sat., Dec. 1st at Hofstra University for the 2012 IASA conference. I am particularly excited to hear what my co-panelists have to say on the subject. See you there?

Here's our panel description:

Not Just Sunday Gravy:
Italian-Americanization of Authors and Creative Writing
Chair: Chloe Yelena Miller, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Joey Nicoletti, Niagara University
Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Passaic Community College
Valerio Bartolucci, Broward College
Gerard “Gerry” LaFemina, Frostburg Center for Creative Writing

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Shopping for Writers

One of the poetry postcard images available from Etsy

Looking for that perfect gift for a writer in your life? Want to add to your own wish list?

You can purchase Writing Coach Gift Certificates in flexible denominations to be used within the year. 

You might also consider Poetry Postcards from my Etsy store. 

Looking for that perfect piece of literature or craft book? Browse through my Amazon store for suggestions. 

Email me with any questions: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving & Building Holiday Stories

Pre-sauce cranberries

Happy Thanksgiving Week! 

If you are working on your memoir or personal essays, the holidays are a great time to gather together family stories. As you prepare meals traditional to your family, your senses will be heightened. Just like Proust's Madeleine, the smells and tastes will quickly transport you to the past. Give yourself some time to, at the very least, jot down some notes. 

If you are gathering together with relatives, you might ask them casual or formal questions. Storycorps, whose recordings you might have heard on NPR, has some great questions and suggestions on interviewing. (Don't forget to ask for specific recipes, if you don't already have them.)

If you haven't already mentioned that you are writing a memoir, you might wait until you have something that you are ready to share with others. After all, the piece is yours and you have the right to craft a piece from your own memories. Don't let the critics in too early.

I look forward to seeing you back here on Monday. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mark Strand at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center

Mark Strand was one of the first poets I read whose work made me think I, too, could be a poet. Like the dog in his poem Eating Poetry, I wanted to do just that. A few years ago, I taught his book Blizzard of One and had my class at George Mason University read his long, musical poem The Delirium Waltz aloud. We took turns reading sections and even though the class began at 7:30 am, we were enthralled in the sounds and rhythms of the work. I remember hearing him read at a bookstore in Amherst, Mass., when I was an undergraduate and years later at the 92 Street Y, and being moved each time. Last night was no different. 

Carolyn ForchĂ©’s lovely introduction of Mark Strand’s reading at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, said that Strand has described the subject of most poetry to be the poetry of loss. Later, in the Q&A, Strand said that he doesn’t think of himself as a sad poet, but rather one who thinks about being alive. And, he added, to be alive means to think about what it means not to be alive.

Mark Strand read poems, many of them humorous, from his newest book, Almost Invisible. Of this book, he said that he usually has trouble writing titles, but this book seemed to grow out of a collection of titles, instead of a collection of poems that needed titles.

When asked about what makes a good poem, Strand said that if he doesn’t mistrust a poem, then he likes it. A good poem should put him in touch with something beyond himself and increase the value of his own life. A bad poem, he said, makes him ashamed.

Mark Strand will be reading again at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Monday and he is one of the many poets featured in the Poetic Likeness exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.

Watch the video from the Lannan Center reading

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Unrest: Thank You!

I'd like to sincerely thank everyone who purchased a copy of Unrest during this recent pre-sale period. As you know, the final print run is determined by the pre-sale numbers. I'm excited to announce that we reached the next-to-highest print run available from the press: 750 copies will be published this January!

So, thank you. And thank you again. I couldn't have done this without you; my heart is overwhelmed.

If you haven't ordered your copy yet, you can order a signed copy directly from me. I will mail your copies in mid-January. To order, email me {Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com} the number of copies you'd like to order, preferred mode of payment (check or Paypal) and your address. I will email you an invoice. The cost is $14.00 a book, plus $2.00 shipping and handling per copy.

Read more about Unrest here

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poetic Likeness Exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets (through April 2013), offers viewers images – photographs, paintings, prints and more – of modern American poets. It was a joy to see.

Read through the website to learn more about the featured poets, see sample images, and hear a selection of recordings, too. 

On November 15th at noon, you might attend the Curator’sTour with Exhibition curator, museum historian, and published poet David C. Ward. (Search under Current Events for more tours.) David C. Ward discusses some of the choices he made for the exhibit in an interview:

The major question in thinking about “Poetic Likeness” was to come up with a time frame that would be coherent and interesting. For logistical reasons, the exhibition is based on our permanent collection. By far the strongest part of that collection when it comes to poetry is the modern era: roughly 1900 to the mid-1970s. We do have some earlier American poets, and I guess I could have done a “forerunner” room that included Joel Barlow or the poets in the Victorian era, which culminated with Longfellow. I just decided it made for a cleaner exhibition if it homed in on the modern era.

Conversely, I didn’t want to get too far beyond the 1970s into contemporary poets, because I think the cultural climate changes dramatically after the mid-1970s. Contemporary portraits would make up another exhibition entirely.

Like all Smithsonian Museums, The National Portrait Gallery is free. The museum is open from 11:30 am – 7:00 pm daily. Do make the time to see this lovely collection of poets and look into their eyes. And then perhaps go downstairs to the building’s central atrium to discuss poetry with friends – your own or published work? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Unrest: Pre-sale Final Day!

It's here folks: The final day of the pre-sale. Order your copy of Unrest today from Finishing Line Press!

Since the pre-sale numbers determine the final print run, this period has been particularly important. Thank you to everyone who has supported my forthcoming poetry chapbook. The book will be shipped early January.

Read more about the chapbook here. You'll find links to previously published poems, an interview, and my thoughts on the individual poems and general organization of the collection. You can also see when I'll be reading and signing books near you this spring.

Don't miss this final chance to electronically pre-order your copy today!

Thanks again, friends! I literally couldn't have done it without you. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Jump Right In: Avoiding Summary or Backstory

Memoir writers often want to summarize the many stories or moments that led to the piece’s present moment. After all, the writers know everything that happened. These, often large, swaths of text read like separate stories.

Here's my advice: If you want to tell those stories, great: tell them. If you want to tell the story that they lead up to, then trust your reader to follow along when you start in that moment.

While summary and backstory can be helpful in many cases, you don’t want your piece to have too much of either. Instead, focus on creating a scene with action. If you add in enough details (clothes, gestures, actions, speech patterns, etc.), the reader will learn necessary details about the character. This is true for essays, creative nonfiction, memoir, short stories and fiction.

Similarly, if you offer what seems like vital information in parenthesis or between dashes (an aside), then you ask yourself why you’re hiding it there. If it is really vital to the piece, then state it directly.

Benjamin Percy discussed backstory – and why to avoid it - in his recent Poets & Writers essay, Don’t Look Back. He writes,

“First, the impulse to explain will insult your audience. That’s their job – part of the pleasure of reading a story is inference, filling in the blanks and becoming a participant in the narrative, a coauthor. As a beginning writer, you’ve had more training in reading than you’ve had in writing – and so you succumb to your insecurity and you announce, you explicate, filling in as a writer those inferences you’re used to filling in as a reader.

Second, stories are about forward movement, and by interrupting yourself to explain history you have effectively yanked the gearshift into reverse. The story is no longer rushing forward – it’s sliding back.”

The entire article isn’t available for free online. Poets & Writers magazine is an incredible resource for writers. I recommend subscribing for the print or electronic version today.