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A lot of worthwhile stuff appeared online this week. (I’m stick in the thick of A Dance With Dragons, so new books haven’t crossed my radar.)
Kenyon drama professor Thomas Turgeon died this week from ALS. I never took a class with him (honestly, I never even met him), but I did live in his house the summer after graduation, with Jon and two close friends. It remains one of the best summers of my life, and I’m grateful that the Turgeons allowed us to house-sit while they traveled.
A few years ago, my friend Rick wrote an essay about his love of Linux. I’m not full-time Linux anymore, but I still have a healthy appreciation for open-source.
“This Is What Every Heart Must Become” by Hannah Stephenson. Tiny poems accomplish big feelings.
“‘Accessing a Limitless Vein of Words’: Ruth Williams Interviews Jeongrye Choi.” Wonderful discussion about what it means to be a poet and the responsibility of writing.
San Antonio is preparing to launch a bookless library.
Via my friend Colleen: “13 unique punctuation marks you never knew existed.” I love the exclamation comma and question comma. And I got Jon an interrobang tattoo for his birthday this year.
That’s right! We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are is now available for pre-order. Finishing Line Press is offering a shipping discount for anyone who reserves a copy between now and February 27th.
I’ve spent today pretty much just bouncing off the walls. If I’m this excited now, I can only imagine how hyper I’ll be when the book is actually published in April.
The cover photograph is my own, taken in the Santa Elena canyon in Big Bend about two years ago. I knew for a long time that this would be my first choice for the cover, and I’m glad the good folks at Finishing Line agreed.
I have a lot of people to thank for their help. Abe Louise Young for being my mentor. My friend Savanni for taking the author photograph used on the website and on the back cover (you can check out some other photos from the shoot here). Kelli Russell Agodon for writing such an informative blog post on how to take good author photos back in 2010. Cindy Huyser, Drew Myron, and Scott Wiggerman for writing blurbs. The Austin Writergrrls for being the best cheerleaders ever.
I’m a very lucky poet.
I’ve got some literary excitement headed my way this month!
First, I’m guest-hosting the BookWoman Poetry Open Mic on January 10th. The event will feature Gloria Amescua.
Gloria Amescua is an inaugural member of CantoMundo, a national Latino poetry community. She resides in Austin, Texas and received a Masters degree from the University of Texas in Austin. Gloria has a chapbook, Windchimes. She has published in several journals, including Awakening, IXHUA, Di-Verse-City, Kweli Journal (www.kwelijournal.org), Generations Literary Journal, Texas Poetry Calendar 2013, and Acentos Review, August 2012 (www.acentosreview.com). A workshop presenter for youth and adults, she was also a 2011 resident at Hedgebrook?s Writers in Residence program in Washington.
Come out at 7:15, and bring a few poems to share! I’ll be reading some new stuff, and also some selections from my chapbook because….
We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are goes up for pre-order this month! On January 15th, you can start placing your orders, which will ship in April. Finishing Line Press is offering a shipping discount for all pre-orders, so order now! The book won’t be available on Amazon until the pre-order period is over, so this is the time to get a jump on getting your copy.
And, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m participating in the 30/30 Project as a fundraiser for Tupelo Press. Any amount you can give helps! Check out the blog, enjoy the poems, and contribute.
This feels like the month I’m just trying to empty your wallet. But poetry is always a good cause. Do it for Maxwell!
While I’ve blogged my reading lists pretty extensively, I haven’t listed all of the things I’ve loved this year. So here’s a rundown of great music, websites, and tech stuff I discovered. Note that not all of it was brand new this year, but it was new to me.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seasons 2-5 and season 7
Jon and I watched through all of Buffy this year; neither of us had seen it. Well, I watched through almost all of Buffy. Jon started it first, but knew I was going to absolutely hate season 1. I joined partway through season 2 and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Though I nearly quit during the television tragedy that was season 6, I’m glad I stuck through until the end.
I liked this right off the bat, even more than I did Buffy. While the final season definitley had its hiccups, the final episode made me cry, and it’s rare for television to do that.
This season was intense. I don’t want to say too much, for fear of giving spoilers away. But wow, what a well-crafted season. This had some of my favorite episodes of the series, including one that made me cry (apparently, television made me tear up this year). While the season finale was a little lackluster compared to other finales on this show, I can’t wait for next season.
Best.show.on.television. Ever. Brilliant structure and pacing, not just at the episode level, not just at the season level, but across the entire series. I’m glad the world didn’t end on December 21st, because I would have been bummed if the apocalypse had happened and I didn’t get to see how the series wrapped up.
Jon and I just discovered this show on Netflix. It clearly didn’t do that well on broadcast, but we think it’s hilarious.
The Master (2012)
I live under a rock. I didn’t know this film was coming out. But one day, I had the afternoon off from work and nothing to do. I had some free passes to a movie theater. The Master was starting in 20 minutes, and I figured anything with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman had to be good. But that’s all I knew — the leading actors and the starting time. I went into this film completely unprepared. I left feeling unsettled, but in a good way. Definitely a film worth seeing.
Cabin in the Woods (2011)
I still get giddy when I think about this film. I love horror movies. I love meta anything. This was the best of both worlds.
Keith Montesano talks to poets about their experience writing, revising, submitting, and publishing their first collections. I learn something new with every one.
It’s nice to know I’m not the only one whose dogs do crazy things.
Transcendental Youth by the Mountain Goats (2012).
Transcendental Youth is full of songs about people who madly, stupidly, blessedly won’t stop surviving, no matter who gives up on them.
I can report that it is a very good album and has many more instruments on it than his early cassette tapes, including Peter Hughes on bass, Jon Wurster on drums, and, for the first time, a full horn section. And all of this makes a very joyous noise. (John Hodgman)
I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers (2009).
Jon discovered this during his music-discovery project, and knew I would love it. He knows my taste well. The themes in this album are the ones I often cover in my poems: travel, searching, and love. This is a truly ambitious piece of work.
CamScanner app (available for Android and iPhone).
I rarely pay for apps at full price; I usually wait until Google Play has a sale. But I shelled out $5 for the full version of CamScanner, and four months later, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. Cheaper than a scanner, way more cost-effective than sending a fax from a public machine, and it works great. Highly recommended.
The first meeting of Achieve Your Dreams, my yearlong workshop series, launches in just 18 days! I’m so excited to help writers of all stripes work on setting goals, managing expectations, and accomplishing their dreams.
Whether you’re trying to get your first piece published, revise that novel, or are working on taking the first step to get thoughts down on the page, this is the workshop for you. And best of all, you don’t have to be in Austin to get the benefit. Monthly workshop meetings are held via Google+ hangout, and weekly check-ins are done via email or video chat (student’s preference). As long as you have a computer, an internet connection, and webcam, you can take this class.
I still have some spots available, so if you’re interested, check out the Workshops and Coaching page for full details and pricing.
View all the excellent photos from this challenge here.
Call for Poets
The Austin Feminist Poetry Festival is a new event designed to showcase the work of feminist poets, allow participants to explore and enhance their craft, and to foster discussions about poetry and its role in feminist and activist circles. The Festival will be held April 12th-14th, 2013. We’re currently seeking poets to lead workshops and panel discussions for our participants.
Workshop Leaders: The Festival will have four workshops during the Saturday session, and we’re looking for interested poets to lead sessions that will allow participants to explore their creativity in relationship to feminist thought, action, and practice. Please send proposed workshop title and structure to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Panel Leaders: The Festival will have four panel discussions, and we’re seeking people to lead discussions about creativity, feminism, and the intersections with class, race, education, family, and other aspects of life. If interested, please send proposed topic to email@example.com.
Please note that this festival embodies an inclusive definition of feminism. It is not an event for women only (however you define the term). All feminist-identified people are welcome as workshop leaders, panelists, and participants.
We look forward to seeing you at the festival!
Last night, the above joke appeared on my Google+ stream. At one point, a woman made a comment about how the “how can u” people didn’t do “any meaningful work.” Since I had insomnia anyway, I pointed out the classist assumptions in her statement. Education (both grammatical and sexual) and employment are both associated with poverty level. To automatically assume that the “how can u” group doesn’t do any “meaningful” work is highly problematic. Working two part-time service jobs to make ends meet is certainly not what many people would call “meaningful,” but it doesn’t give us the right to call lower-class people lazy and make fun of them.
This woman and I tussled for a bit, and ultimately, she gave me the “it was just a joke” line. She told me that this joke, and discussions of poverty and education, were two different issues.
Words matter. I know this. Words matter because they are the building blocks of human communication. They are how we transmit ideas. The are how we teach. When we think, we think in the language we know. Words are one tool we have for developing our worldviews. It’s almost scary how much power they have.
Words always have meaning. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a joke. It doesn’t matter if you’re being serious. Words still always mean things, and those meanings cannot always be erased in context.
But words also are not always overt. In the picture at the top of the page, the punchline is that “Grammar Matters.” Now, I love good grammar. I love good punctuation so much that I have a tattoo of a semicolon on my wrist. I do believe that grammar matters.
However, this image isn’t just saying that grammar is important. The words don’t just literally mean that. They are also implying that if you don’t have good grammar, you’re the kind of person who gets STDs and doesn’t do anything meaningful to improve the world.
As I mentioned above, poverty can have a huge impact on education and employment. I signed a bunch of confidentiality agreements at my day job, but I can tell you that I spend 40 hours a week seeing the disparity of education levels between wealthy and poor communities. There is a huge gap between Dallas and Brownsville. Houston is so big and diverse that there are huge gaps within the city itself. Depending on where you are in Texas (in the USA, in the world), you may or may not be learning to write. You may or may not be learning about safe sex. You may or may not be learning basic concepts in math and science. You may or may not even finish high school.
The image above makes fun of the huge disadvantages that economically disadvantaged people face on a daily basis. On the surface, the words are saying, “Ha ha, let’s make fun of all the stupid people who don’t know how herpes is transmitted.” (Let’s not even touch on the fact that you can come from an economically wealthy community and be taught, in public school, that abstinence and religion is the only option you have available and doesn’t actually educate you.) But what it implies is that if you have not had the advantages of a good education, if you are poor and struggling to make end’s meet, if you don’t have energy after working 60 hours a week to fight global warming, or any spare money to invest in stocks, then you are less of a person. It implies that if you haven’t had the advantages of a middle- or upper-class person, you don’t measure up.
I don’t see this image and discussions of poverty and education as separate issues. The reason this image exists is because these disparities exist, and somebody thought it was funny to mock them. This is funny because there is class inequality in this country, and some people like to try capitalizing on that for their own amusement.
This image is not “just a joke.” It is a reflection of the way we view and judge the undereducated in the United States. And I, for one, am uncomfortable with laughing at those who haven’t had all the privileges I had growing up.
I believe that language has the power to change the world. One of the ways it can do that if if we stop using it as a tool to mock others who are undeserving of our scorn. Thing before you speak. And when you do, don’t just think about what your words say on the surface. Think about what they suggest. Think about what they imply. Think about what you might be really saying.
My first encounter with Ray Bradbury was Farenheit 451. It was part of my ninth grade English curriculum. At the time, I fell in love with Bradbury’s writing style, but I came away with a fairly superficial understanding of the text (it wasn’t until my twenties, when I began to contemplate just how many hours I spent in front of a screen each day, that the novel became much more than an anti-censorship story). However, I was hooked enough to read more.
The summer between ninth and tenth grades, I read The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine. I adored both, but it was Dandelion Wine that made me want to be a writer. In fact, the second I finished it, I put down the book, opened my journal, and wrote several pages about my future career. (Of course, it hasn’t gone the way I envisioned it when I was fifteen; for example, I didn’t see myself as more focused on poetry than on fiction. But I’m not complaining.)
Part of me wishes I still had that old notebook, so I could go back and read the words I wrote on the day I realized my true commitment to writing. However, when I moved to Austin in 2008, I threw out all of my old notebooks, with the exception of two that I kept because the books themselves were too pretty to go in the trash. At the time, I wasn’t writing much, but I planned to start again after the move. I’d decided that everything I’d written between ages twelve and twenty-four was no longer serving me. I couldn’t rely on my juvenilia and old ideas. Plus, dragging all of those notebooks across state lines, and from apartment to apartment, was literally going to weigh me down. It was time to be rid of everything. So I got rid of the notebooks and emptied the hard drive, and started fresh. (And I might do it again in my thirties.)
The purge of my old writing was in part inspired by Dandelion Wine. Back when I was fifteen, I was haunted by the character of Mrs. Bentley, an elderly woman whose house is packed full of souvenirs of her youth: record albums, theatre programs, hair combs, photographs. The neighborhood children, however, refuse to believe that she was once young, or that she was ever “Helen” rather than “Mrs. Bentley.” I know the denial of Mrs. Bentley’s identity is the true heartbreak of that chapter. But for me, the horror was found in the image of an old woman weighed down by her past. That image constantly comes back to me. So when it came time to move, I took a cue from Mrs. Bentley and got rid of my work, let go of what was no longer serving me. So I don’t have that old entry to look back on, but I do remember writing it. And the fact that I don’t have it is because of the mark Bradbury left on my life.
But back to Farenheit 451. A few weeks ago, on a hike, my friend asked me what I would do at the onset of the apocalypse. Rather than suggest something practical (I am probably doomed at the end of the world), I said I’d immediately decide which five books I’d take with me. (Books are heavy. I would only allow five. Except poetry volumes are slim, so perhaps I could double up on a few of those and it wouldn’t be too heavy.) But the next day, I remembered the closing of Fahrenheit, where it is revealed that people have been charged with committing books to memory, as that is the only way to preserve them. Which made me wonder: in the event of the apocalypse, which book would I commit to memory?
It’s a hard choice, and ironically, I don’t have a Bradbury book as one of the finalists — but I imagine that in the apocalypse, there will be no shortage of volunteers who want to take on his work. Meanwhile, I linger undecided between four books: Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Sula by Toni Morrison, and Montgomery’s Children by Richard Perry. These are four books that I constantly recommend to people, all the time, no matter who they are. Orlando is delightfully feminist, modernist, and speculative. Their Eyes Were Watching God is — well, I can’t explain why I love it without spoiling at the end. Sula is my favorite of Morrison’s novels, and is a beautiful discussion on the complexities of friendship. Montgomery’s Children is a beautiful meditation on race and memory, and to top it off, it’s out of print (though I suppose everything will be out of print in the apocalypse).
By nature, I’m indecisive. So I think that, in the event of the apocalypse, I will have to make room in my mind for all four. And that’s all there really is to it.
So thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for helping me let go of the past before I became old. And thank you for making me love books so much that I have tasked myself with the difficulty of being the steward of four of them in the event that the world collapses.