Showing posts with label community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label community. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Witness. Respond. Moment: An Interview with poet Claire Blotter

I first met poet and teacher Claire Blotter in September 2011 at the California Poets in the Schools Symposium in Santa Barbara. I was having a bit of a rough time, since I'd only just moved to California and barely knew anyone. A conversation I had with a few poets, including Claire, stood out from that overwhelming and somewhat lonely weekend.

She spoke about her experiences teaching, her use of performance in the classroom, and tips about getting started as a poet-teacher. She lives in Marin County where she writes and performs poetry with movement and body rhythms. Her warmth and energetic presence made me remember her name at this past year's CPITS symposium, our second meeting. After attending her Poetry Out Loud workshop (which was so rich and informative), we spoke at dinner about her forthcoming chapbook, Moment in the Moment House, bonding over our mutual titles from Finishing Line Press.

The third time I ran into Claire was last month when I read for the Why There Are Words Reading Series in Sausalito. I was particularly amazed by her pre-sale strategies, which mostly involved emailing everyone she'd ever met and through talking to her vast network of kindred spirits in person. She smiled as she told me about reminding her hair stylist to buy the book. Why didn't I tell my hair stylist? I thought. Which brings us to this interview where Claire speaks about building a successful career as a full-time poet. She has taught performance poetry privately and at San Francisco Bay Area universities since 1981 and also published two other chapbooks. She currently teaches writing to children and high schoolers through the California Poets in the Schools and Poetry Out Loud Programs.

Laura Davis: Your past work experience includes supporting yourself through teaching poetry writing and performance. How has that experience, particularly your work establishing a local network of interested parties, influenced your promotional efforts for your chapbook?

Claire Blotter: When I supported myself entirely by teaching writing workshops in San Francisco and Marin, it was by creating workshops, performances and readings, where people made social connections and enduring friendships- social networks with mutual support. The performances often involved the audience members in some way, which created a deeper community bond. Two of my students from Marin and San Francisco, whom I bought together for an advanced performance poetry workshop, ended up becoming life partners [who are] still together after 15 years. When I was called on to promote the pre-sale of my book, I used all the email and address lists of social networks I had ever been involved inas far back even as high school!

LD: What advice do you have for published poets just beginning the promotional process?

CB: Think about the people who have loved and supported you over the years. Let them know that you've worked hard on this amazing new book you're delighted to share with them and ask them for their support. Ask them for help. People LIKE to help, but you have to ask, the hard part for me! I sent out 3 rounds of emails for the pre-sale of my book which I've heard is what it takes for most people to respond to non-profit requests.

LD: If you had to summarize Moment in the Moment House in one sentence what would it be? What about just three words?

CB: Stay present with fear, witness or respond with integrity in the moment, don't let the darkness outside or inside you scare you from seeing truth. Three words: witness, respond, moment.

LD: What part, if any, does performance play in Moment in the Moment House?

I have already memorized about a third of the book and performed poems for high school and adult audiences. By the time I've finished editing a poem, it is usually memorized or close to being memorized. Performance of the poems is what, in my opinion, will sell the book, because oral presentation gives the audience an emotional experience they often want to take home with them or at least examine more closely on the page to see what moved them.

LD: What plans do you have marketing-wise once the chapbook is released? 

CB: I have a Marin [County] book launch planned for March 23, my birthday, at my favorite nearby independent bookstore Book Passage, and a reading with others at the Why There Are Words reading at 333 Caledonia Street on April 11th. I also plan to go on a performance poetry summer tour of cities where I have friends and relatives from Southern California up the coast as far as Washington. I expect to sell poems based on my performances as people have requested books after performance readings I've done in the past. I need to create a website and get more hip to social networking!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Literary Roundup: Calling All Life in Outer Space

I like this week's search term that lead someone to my blog. I can imagine them typing it into Google, thinking maybe the search would reach much farther (or further) than just a server or another computer somewhere, but past our atmosphere and into the galaxy, hoping to connect with ET, or the bad guys from Independence Day, or the alien from Contact that just looked like Jodi Foster's dad.

No extra-terrestrials here, but I do feel a bit alien-like. I suppose most poets feel this way. Speaking of poets and strangeness, check out what's up first in this week's literary roundup.

Rochelle Spencer writers about poetry readings in unusual places for Poets & Writers. A highlight:

"Stacia’s events don’t have the muted atmosphere you sometimes find at an academic hear cheers when a favorite poet “blesses the mic,” and you see audience members nod their heads to a poet’s voice like they’re listening to a favorite song."

Jonterri Gadson shares a bit of advice for the budding writer trying to build a career.

Susan Slaviero has a new chapbook. It is called Selections from The Murder Book (Tree Light Books) and is "handmade, featuring unique endpapers from a mid-century medical textbook." Oh yeah. Here's a nibble:

This might have something to do with predation, a paper cocoon
in a dead girls mouth, a bloody arrow drawn on an oak leaf.

This essay over at The Rumpus pissed me off. Yeah.

Back to happy things! Patricia Caspers writes about lady-writers and finding the time to be/come a writer. This is the end of a series she wrote for the Ploughshares blog called Hearing Voices: Women Versing Life. Lots of goodies in there I must go back and read. I have a couple favorite parts:

"I grew up writing truly awful poems in my closet or under my covers late at night. I shared them, on occasion, with my family or close friends, and they’d say things like, “That’s cute,” or “That’s nice,” and I couldn’t pinpoint why those comments deflated me, but they did."

This paragraph really struck a chord with me. I had pretty much the exact same experience a bunch of times. Once a family member, after reading a rather lyrical essay I'd just written (at like, 11 years old), asked, "...but what is it for?" *sigh*

Also particularly striking was this bit:

"I realized that every single one of us is ever-in-search of a balance between inspiration, creation, and the mundanity of daily life. Like these women, I write while I empty the dishwasher, fold whites, drive to soccer practice. I write into the slender hours of the morning while the house is quiet."

I'd add motivation to my list of things-searched-for right now, but perhaps that's related to inspiration. I'm trying to embrace the fact that I have limited energy and focus. But a girl's still gotta eat. So lots of my attention goes to work, then promises I've made to other people, then making sure I've eaten, then maybe writing. I need to move these around.

Dorothea Lasky's tweet made me smile.

Roxane Gay shares some wisdom about How to Become a Contemporary Writer. Few favorites below (bold parts are mine):

1. Read diversely.

5a. If you’re a woman, writer of color or queer writer, there are probably more barriers. Know that. Be relentless anyway. Strive for excellence. Learn how to kick the shit out of those barriers. Don’t assume every failure is about your identity because such is not the case.

7. ...If you can write a good sentence you are already heads and shoulders above most of what is found in submission queues. You’re not competing against 10,000 submissions a year a magazine receives. You’re competing against more like 200. Those are still intimidating odds but they’re also far more reasonable.

The Twitter hashtag #writetip has an ever-changing stream of advice for writers. If you have any, feel free to use it. Thanks to Nancy Chen Long for this one.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Submission Bombers Seek New Target! Calling All Lit Mags & Editors!

UPDATE 6/22/12: I've added a page with more info on the Submission Bombers, how you can join as a writer, and how the group works in general. Check it out. 

A few weeks ago I started a little experiment on Facebook called Submission Bombers. The concept is simple: get a bunch of writers who all feel marginalized in some way and get them all to submit to the same market at once. Much like yarn bombing or seed bombing, the idea is to give editors what they claim to not get: submissions from us, the marginalized.

It took a few days to shape the specifics. Once I started inviting people to the private group, I told members to invite anyone that might be interested. I also made a public post about the group, telling people to comment if they wanted to participate. I didn't want to be the gatekeeper of who and who isn't marginalized.

Questions arose: Won't this just overwhelm the already thin-stretched staff of most publications? Will we piss of the editors? What does "marginalized" mean? Is this just a way to get revenge after a rejection? What publications will we bomb? All good questions, and I tried my best to answer them. I also developed a statement of purpose, parts of which are here:

What is the purpose of Submission Bombers?

To take positive action on a large scale.

LARGE SCALE = Big Facebook group of writers!

ACTION = writing awesome stuff! sending awesome stuff to editors hungry for your words!

Since other "bombings" like those above are centered around being stealthy, many people had concerns about stressing out editors. That shifted our definition of bombing to being about large scale action.

Based on those initial concerns, we decided to seek out an editor who was willing to collaborate on our first bombing, rather than stealth bombing an editor with tons of submissions. After two weeks of submission bombing our first target, I know at least four writers from the group got acceptances.

However acceptance isn't the goal of Submission Bombers. Submitting is the goal. Additional perks emerged including group discussions about marginalization, publication rates, frequency of resubmitting, and the airing of general frustrations or concerns about diversity in literary publishing.

But the most positive thing to come out of this group so far is something so obvious, I couldn't believe I didn't predict it. Motivation and accountability. So many members thanked me for giving them the boost they needed to submit their writing. Much like exercising with a buddy, we're all in this submission game together. It should become part of the routine. This normally solitary, hidden process of gathering together a manuscript to submit is now something we are doing together, as a community, for the sake of submitting and supporting one another as we each try to make our way as writers.

BTW: Writers, if you are interested in joining the Submission Bombers just request a FB friendship and message me for an invite.

Today marks the end of our first bombing. Our community is emboldened by the individual acceptances and overall participation rate. The group has almost 400 people and while a small fraction told the group about their submission, I'm sure a few others still did and kept it a secret. I imagine that with each bombing we'll have varying levels of participation, but I expect the next few to grow significantly.

Editors, this is where you come in.

We need a new target. We have work we want to submit. We are a diverse group and hopefully getting more so as we grow. We are the writers you might not hear from as often: women, writers of color, lgbtqia writers, writers of age, emerging writers, non-academics, varying socioeconomic backgrounds, writers with varying/different abilities, writers who want to be heard.

If you are an editor and you're interested in a participating in a Submission Bombing in the very near future, please leave me a comment below with your contact info and a link to your publications website. We're especially interested in publications that accept poetry and prose submissions and have some online content to help our writers become familiar with the work you publish.

SO, who wants to hear from us? Who wants some explosive writing? Who wants to read the freshest stories and cutting-edge poems? That's us. We have our words ready for you. We've got stamps. We're waiting to hit send.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pre-AWP 2012 Wrap Up PLUS Why I'd Make a Horrible Spy

I might be blowing my cover here, but I'm pretty sure only twelve people read this blog so it doesn't matter. Plus, it's just for shits and giggles.
me, super tired at the weave table @ awp 2009

I've been asked to be an AWP spy.

Spying on what, exactly? Not sure yet. My mission is still unclear. Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure I'll be the worst spy in history. Especially since I told you that I am one. Also, spies have to be short, like Tom Cruise. At 5'10", even if I was a man, I'd be pushing it. I will stick out in the hoards of other anxious, awkward writers like a big, loud, sweaty, sore thumb. Well, I'm not that tall, but I like wearing heels these days.

Yeah so, it's almost AWP and I'm blogging about it now since everyone does their requisite "AWP wrap-up" post. I'm breaking the rules. That's what spies do!

So I'm going to wrap up AWP before AWP. Here's how it will go/goes/went:

WEDNESDAY: After flying to Chicago (which is crazy stressful) I am jumpy and excited when I see all my Pittsburgh/Grad School friends at the hotel. I also run into friends from other jobs and cities and I'm just as excited. I grab a drink with my friends, feel happy and excited to talk with East Coasters for an hour or so. But also I start yawning because I'm so beat from traveling. Head back to the hotel room early and hit the hay, since I want to be awake the next day for an early panel. I call Sal before I go to bed to tell him I miss him.

THURSDAY: Sleep late. Because of the time difference, I say. Then spend too much time picking out an outfit, one that doesn't look like I took too much time. I also wear makeup. Since I'm starving by now, I pay lots of money for a dry banana nut muffin and an apple. I then make a trip to the Weave table to ensure that my minions have what they need, before I do a few laps around the book fair. Part way through the book fair, I panic from the crowds. I probably panic in front of a table for a cool indie journal that gives away matchbooks or shot glasses. It takes me 20 minutes to find a bathroom where I splash water on my face. Deep breath. While leaving, I run into a friend who's going to a panel that sounds interesting enough. I forget the panels I wanted to see that day anyway and I left my list in the hotel room. Meet up with friends for lunch. I promise someone I'm going to try to make it to her off-site reading, knowing I probably won't. Head back to the hotel room to nap. Wake up, hit an afternoon poetry reading with my favorite poet. Skip dinner. Too nervous, because I'm reading tonight. Then back to the hotel room again to shower and dress for the reading. Read. See friends. They tell me how they love my dress, because it's really cute. I introduce these people to those people. Following the reading I am either exhausted or energized. Either way, I end up back in the hotel room by 9:30. Because of the time difference, I say. Call Sal before I go to bed to tell him I miss him.

FRIDAY: See Thursday. Minus the reading. End the night getting tipsy at the AWP Social Dance Thing, where someone with the AWP takes an awesome picture of the crowd and I undoubtedly make an equally awesome face, like this:

SATURDAY: Book fair day. My friend Angela and I take turns making awkward conversation with writers at the Weave table. I meet some contributors who stop by. Chat with editors. Wander the book fair and spend more than my budget on books. Lunch at the table. People come over to the table to find out what I'm doing tonight. I say I'm not sure yet, but secretly plan hide in the hotel room and read the books I bought. Once I get to the hotel room, I'm in my jammies reading and journaling when friends try to convince me to hang out. I try to convince them to stay in and order a pizza. Neither of us are convinced, so I say goodbye to my friends, cuddling under the covers to watch Parks and Rec on my laptop. Before I go to sleep, I'll call Sal to tell him I miss him.

Whew. I'm tired just from writing that imagined account. If this is your first time at AWP, check out novelist Leslie Pietrzyk's advice on surviving AWP. I'm off to buy some spy gear.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chatham University Reception & Alumni Reading

photo from Wikipedia
Just a quick note announcing my first AWP reading! I'm honored to be a part of Chatham's first AWP Reception and I'm so excited to be included with my fellow readers. If you're heading to Chicago in March, I hope you'll stop by and say hello.

Chatham University Reception & Alumni Reading
Thursday, March 1, 2012 7-8:30pm
Hilton Chicago Hotel
Private Dining Room 4
Readers: Carolyne Whelan, Sarah Shotland, and Laura Davis
RSVP: Facebook

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year, New Outer Space Adventures!

Happy 2012! Sorry it took me this long to say this, but I've been busy playing catch up this week. I think most of us end up standing in a pile of dirty laundry after the holidays. I managed to take down our decorations today though. I couldn't stand the clutter. Or hitting my head on the the icicle lights hanging over the office doorway.

I have a literary roundup post in the wings, but it will have to wait since I have a bunch to finish still tonight. I plan on writing that series still, so if you like reading about the online literary trinkets I collect, I'm sure you are waiting with bated breath. Soon, I promise!

Also in the queue for 2012 is a series of posts dedicated to the process of publishing my chapbook. These posts will address a number of things including marketing, obtaining blurbs, setting up readings, revising, and probably a bunch of other things I don't know about yet. Since Braiding the Storm is my first chapbook, I'd like to document the experience for myself and also for you, dear reader, in case you are find yourself with a chapbook to promote. I'll have a clever little series title too, when I think of one. Ideas?

I also want to write more reviews this year, especially for poetry chapbooks. I like writing reviews and it's also fun to read something you might not have otherwise. I'm also cross-posting my reviews to GoodReads. There seems to be a happy little community over there, though I have so many social networks to keep up with online, I'm not sure how involved I can really be. Only so many hours, right?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Literary Roundup, Quarantined-Style

I'm at home sick today. It's the kind of sick where you don't want to be far from the couch or a bathroom, but you can't quite sleep. Thankful for my laptop and peppermint tea. Forgive my typos.

I've got lots of literary goodies, old and new, print and online, so I'm just going to dive right in.

Freedom of Expression Wall, Sampsonia Way Magazine
First up, if you haven't already posted your picture for the Freedom of Expression Wall over at Sampsonia Way, you should stop reading this and go do that. I did. I'll wait.

Did you post your post it? Good. Where was I?

Let's talk about print baby! I love when my worlds intersect, such as when the latest issue of Bitch featured a profile on one of my favorite indie publishers, Dancing Girl Press.  "These slim, beautifully curated, and lovingly handmade editions by emerging women poets reflect a cross-section of the newest talent..." says Alison Barker. I couldn't agree more, Alison!

Also in print - and I'm a little late the game on this one - is an essay by Sugar, of Dear Sugar online advice column fame, about how she became so sugary in the summer 2011 issue of Creative Nonfiction #42.  I was also excited to get the latest issue of Worn Journal, which always has thoughtful pieces about clothing and fashion. You don't want to miss this one, which includes articles about clothes and gender identity, different ways of dying fabrics, and a lovely essay about heartache and a vintage beaded dress.

Ok, now on to some online delicacies. Certainly not new, but worth the read, is Julie Dearborn's essay "Unsolicited" at The Summerset Review. Lauren Becker has some short fiction at Wigleaf. Lots to read in the latest Anti- issue, including some former Weave contributors. Finally, check out Lori Jakiela's piece, "The World and Everything in It Stops and Waits and Considers Whether or Not to Go On," in the most recent New Yinzer.

A couple of cool interviews include poet Nicelle Davis interviewing herself for The Nervous Breakdown and poet Stacey Waite interviewed over at Pilot Light.

The holidays are here and for those of you who wait until the last minute like me, I've included this handy literary shopping section of the Roundup this week. Jeannine Hall Gailey lists her top picks for poetry book gifts on her blog. These agate earrings my friend made are just really pretty, just like all of her handmade jewelry. Consider buying subscriptions to any of the print publications I mention above. I personally think that donations make great gifts, so consider Poetry Inside Out and support the continued art of poetic translation.

In Pittsburgh news, I was so happy to hear that Fleeting Pages won for Best Pop-up Store in the City Paper's Best of Pittsburgh. "With no advertising budget, founder and Braddock resident Jodi Morrison and a volunteer staff kept Fleeting Pages running seven days a week." The more I think about how incredible this project was, the more humbled I am to have been a part of it.

I've been compiling this post very slowly all morning. I think it's time to lie down in bed. With a book of course.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Poets are the Worst Salespeople Ever AND Seven Ways to Get Involved in Your Local Literary Community

I've been quiet here all week, waiting for the dust to settle after the BlazeVOX thing. It will soon be out of our minds, because that's how things go these days. So many words out there, so many people talking. Is anyone listening? I've been listening this week, reading blogs and TwitFacePlus updates and I keep encountering the same words over and over.

Poetry doesn't make money! There is no profit in literary publishing. You won't get rich publishing a lit mag! No one reads this stuff except other writers and even that readership is debatable. Give up on life because all your dreams will never come true.

Geez, when you put it that way, what hope is there for any of us?

Poets are the worst at sales. We run around saying things like this and then act surprised when no one wants to listen to us read our poems or buy our books. I can hear people saying our words back, "Well, you said no one reads poetry anymore..."

Seriously folks, we need a new slogan. It's late here and I'm beat so I can't think of anything at the moment. I'm toying with something like, "Poetry makes you rich in metaphors and ideas!" Maybe that's lame. Right now it sounds kind of cool. And by cool, I mean super nerdy.

Additionally, I keep hearing people talk about themselves. How it's SO HARD to be a writer. Yeah, it is. But it's also hard being human. Sure, things like money can soften the edges and, you are right, we already have established that most writers aren't rich. But you know what else can soften the edges? Community. Getting involved with your local literary community can help lighten the burdens that come with writing. But don't think about what you can GET from your community; think about what you have to offer. Not sure exactly? Well, here are some of my thoughts I've come up with this week to get you started.

1. DONATE money to a local literary organization.

Yeah, we have established we're all broke. But think about all the money you spent this year on beer. Or movie rentals. Or delicious candy treats. Whatever it is, consider opting out one week and donating $5 to a local literary organization. And in the process you could get a little healthier by cutting down on extra calories or going for a walk instead of zoning out in front of the television. Just saying.

2. SHARE your time, skills & knowledge with a local press.

When I imagine an editor, reading manuscript after manuscript, searching for funding, running a business, designing, printing, promoting and selling books of experimental poetry, I think to myself, why in the world has no one volunteered to help him? I could not run Weave with my amazing staff of volunteers. Everyone that is involved with Weave has come forward on their own and offered to help. Not sure what you can do? Well, if you aren't confident in your editorial skills, perhaps they need help stuffing envelops or running to the post office. Maybe you are awesome at social networking and could set up a blog and Facebook page. Or perhaps you are great at event planning and could volunteer to help set up a reading. The door is open. Walk through it and offer to help.

3. ATTEND local literary events.

Go to readings. Especially ones where you don't know the people who are reading. They are usually free, sometimes they ask for a donation, or just ask that you buy a drink from the venue. Awesome! Now you can have that drink back that you donated from step one. Don't underestimate the power of your own physical presence in an audience. Engaging with the work of others has ripple effects in our own lives.

4. BRING your non-writer friends to the next lit event.

This is a big one. Next time you head to a reading, bring along you BFF from college or that friend from work you've been meaning to hang out with. You never know how people will be affected by a reading. This will help open the poetry doors to a wider audience and strengthen the community.

5. ADVOCATE poetry on a daily basis.

Talk about poetry with your mom and your coworker. Your neighbors and kids. Tell friends about your favorite poets. Tell them about the last reading you attended. Talk to people about the volunteer work you do with your local lit mag. Of course, you can also talk to them about the latest episode of Parks & Rec, thereby demonstrating that poets are completely out-of-touch with popular culture. Lend someone a book of poetry you think they might enjoy or show them a cool animated poetry video. Reach them. Talk it up. Be an advocate. Demonstrate poetry's relevance in your life.  Don't complain about how poor you are. Instead, write a poem on a post it and put it on back door of a bathroom stall. Sew poems into shirt tags at the Goodwill. Mail a postcard poem to an old friend...

6. BUY books. 

And READ THEM. Yeah yeah, money again. But lots of presses have sales or discounts on older titles and back issues. Speaking of which, Weave is having a half off sale right now! Again, figure out a way to make it a priority. Make coffee at home instead of hitting Starbucks. If you can't buy books, then get your butt to the library. Libraries are awesome.

7. CHAMPION the work of others.

Offer to help your recently published poet-friends hold a reading at your local library. Write book reviews. Chat up your social networks about an awesome piece you read online or a great new book by an emerging writer. Email a poet whose work you admire and tell them you are a fan. I've done this last one before and boy, is it a powerful thing to let someone know how their words affected you. I highly recommend it.

While these steps might have some overlap, I think they are a great starting place for those who are looking for a community. Not sure where to start in your community? A quick Google search will show you what organizations are nearby. If nothing is close, well then, start something! A reading series, a monthly workshop, a book club. Whatever. You have something to offer. Get your butt out there and get involved. I'm talking to you. Yes, you. Stop blogging about how you'll never make money from poetry and get out there and make something even better: a friend. Yeah, corny I know, but it's the truth.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Changing Education Paradigms

This week, Sal and I have had some powerful conversations about education. He comes from a family of educators and artists, something that I love about him. I have a degree in Education, specifically Elementary Education, and was trained in the constructivist model, which is a learning theory that posits that humans learn through experience. We learn by doing. With a definition as simple as that, you might be tempted to respond with a snarky "no duh!" However, teaching using a constructivist approach is more difficult than one might imagine; it is antithetical to our experiences as students and to the entire structure of our educational system, which is based on a model of training workers for jobs (which is a simplistic summary, I know, but it's true).

I've been thinking a lot about teaching, learning and writing, how they intersect, how they overlap and how they bolster each other. I'm going to share my thoughts and ideas here. I encourage you to participate in the discussion.

To kick things off, I will share with you this animated video of a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in creativity and education. Most of what he says in this video I already knew, but it was so powerful, I actually cried afterward. Because my first response was hopelessness. I thought of my students, my classroom in Pittsburgh, and I worried for them. Our world is so broken.

But I woke up this morning determined to start a dialogue with myself and hopefully with you, blog reader, about what we can do to make our world less broken. Maybe even word toward healing.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Literary Roundup: Online Lit Edition

I've been submitting a lot lately, which means I've been reading a lot too. Particularly online journals that I never seem to have the time to read. Well, I have the time, but not right kind of time one needs to read. When I'm on my computer, I have multitasking time, but that's not the right kind of time to have for reading delicious literary works.

The latest issue of Corium was posted last week. I'm absolutely in love with this very short fiction piece by Elizabeth Wade. My prognosis? Lovely + Superb. And "clavicle" is my new favorite word.

I found this cool lit mag through my friend Kayla Washko, who's essay "Unlosing Your Virginity" was published on Paper Darts. Not only is this essay hysterical, the editors also create original graphics to go with the pieces, which give the site a playful look and feel. I'm really digging on their aesthetic.

Nicelle Davis' poems over there are excellent, specifically her second poem "My Two-Year Old Son at the Five-Year Old Girl’s Birthday Party," which makes good use of an extended metaphor. So often extended metaphors beat the reader to death, but the bird images are just enough here. Nice work.

Since I've got the attention span of a two year-old, I rarely make time to read fiction. Especially when I'm in the midst of submission-reading for Weave. However, while checking out decomP's latest issue, I took the three minutes needed to read "Wasps" by Kristi DeMeester and I was glad I did. Great texture to this story. It surprised me at the end. I like when that happens.

Sweet has a beautiful and funny essay by Brenda Miller called "Our Daily Toast." Read it and find out why Miller won a Pushcart. I also loved these poems from Nin Andrews in their latest issue from January.

Finally, I dug up this poem from > kill author's issue one archives. Thank you, Nicole Elizabeth. I took piano lessons for six years and never really improved, so imagining pianos falling from the sky was nostalgic, sad and a little gratifying.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tell Me About Yourself

I consider myself a damn good conversationalist. I have my bad days like most people, but on my good days, well, I'm damn good. Not because I have anything that interesting to say. In fact, just the opposite. I think what you have to say is interesting. And I want to know more about it. He's an example:

"Hey [friend]! How have you been?"
"Oh, I'm alright. Not sleeping well lately."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What's going on?"
"Oh well, my cat's been really sick and my brother lost his job and my wallet was stolen."
"Geez! That's a lot all at once. I can see why you'd be losing sleep. When was your wallet stolen?"

There are a number of things I did in this example that make me a damn good conversationalist. One, I asked a question, "How have you been?" But the simple asking does not warrant the "damn good" status, but rather, actually caring about my friend's response. That's when I asked the follow up question, "What's going on?" This communicates to my friend that I want to hear what s/he has to say. I am using my damn good listening skills. (Also, note that I did not get all upset that [friend] did not ask me how I was doing). But I don't stop there. I keep going. Because my [friend] needs me to listen. I know my friend would do the same for me, if the roles were reversed.

My skills as a damn good conversationalist don't only shine in situations where a friend needs to vent. Let's say I'm just meeting a new acquaintance. In order to get to know someone, it's good to ask questions like, "So, do you have any pets?" or "How do you know (our mutual friend) So-And-So?" or "What things do you do for fun?" or even the old standby, "What do you do for a living?" will suffice. People like to talk about themselves. It's fun to give them a chance to do so.

I went to a literary event in San Francisco recently. About halfway through the evening, I was having some really interesting conversations when I realized something: not one person had asked me anything. Mostly, it was a feeling of relief to not have to talk about myself. But then I started to get a wee bit self-righteous. The pattern continued. Ugh! People here are so selfish! Why isn't anyone asking me about ME? Soon it became a game to see how long a conversation could go on being so one-sided.

Yesterday I was chatting online with a good friend of mine who lived in California for five years. She gave me some interesting insight (edited for clarity and spelling):

me: I went to this event last week and I realized at one point that not one person asked me about myself.
everyone just pretty much talked about themselves.
Friend: well that might just be a regional thing - they assumed you would too so they didn't think they had to ask
me: huh
Friend: California is known for narcissists
me: I hate that. I enjoy listening, asking questions
Friend: it's like learning a different language

Sal and I were at dinner last night before going to see Harry Potter (review coming soon to a blog post near you). After we ordered I asked, "How did your meeting go today?" Twenty minutes later I finally interrupted him. "Did you notice that you've been talking about work since we got here?" He felt sheepish, but also, confused. Then he said something strange.

"Well, I was just waiting for you to talk about yourself. It's called a conversation."

I told Sal about my earlier chat that day and he agreed in some ways. He also said it might not be isolated to California. Having grown up in Brooklyn, he asserted that New Yorkers often talk the same way.

A hypothesis is brewing.

Perhaps this style of conversing is regional, but not because it is tied to any one specific region. Rather, these differences arise on the type of region: urban, as opposed to suburban or rural. Though, I have run into people who speak like this in the suburbs, but I usually end up not speaking to them that often because it feels one-sided. I label them self-involved. But they aren't the norm. What if, in this new environment, speaking freely about oneself without being prompted, is the norm? What does that make me? Maybe I just like listening because I think it makes me likable? What if I become so self-involved that I can't talk to my friends and family back home? My entire world view is falling apart!!!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to paint myself as a conversational martyr. I enjoy talking about myself as much as the next person. But a good conversation is a balance, a dance. Give and take. You scratch mine, I'll scratch yours. An eye for an eye. [Insert reciprocity-related proverb/metaphor here.] But after a while, talking only about myself gets exhausting. I bore myself. I forget what I've already told certain people. Listening is fun because I gain new insight, stories and perspectives. But there is part of me that expects the same thing in return. At least, eventually. And I am really afraid of becoming one of "those people" that only talk about themselves. One of "those people" who write long, rambling blog posts about how damn good they are at X or Z.

Oh dear.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Poetry Bombing! KA-BOOM.

I can't begin to explain how happy this kind of project makes me! Poetry bombing is brilliant. Bring poetry to the masses in unexpected ways. Agustina Woodgate states on her site:

Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives.

Think of all the times that people encounter text in their days. How much of that text isn't trying to sell them something? What about language for the sake of beauty, inspiration, hope, excitement and passion? Yes! That's what this is about. Get out your sewing needles people! I need to find a thrift store, stat.

More here. Check out Woodgate's video. My favorite part is when she is hiding between racks of clothing so she won't get kicked out. Also, her sweet dance moves.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fleeting Pages Rocks My World

Fleeting Pages represents exactly what I love about the Pittsburgh literary scene. We have passion, enthusiasm. We are scrappy and hardworking. We are people who take a chance to do something risky, last minute, all for the love of words.

In essence, Fleeting Pages consists of taking over (taking back??) one of the spaces, left empty by a failed big box bookstore in Pittsburgh, for one month, starting April 30th, and filling it with independent & self-published work of all kinds, book arts, workshops, events, and..?(insert your ideas here)?… All revolving around various forms of written self-expression.

Weave is going to be involved in a few different ways. Of course we'll be available in the store, but we're also planning some workshops and perhaps a reading. I love the idea of reinventing an old, corporate space and re-imagining as a grassroots, community-driven space. I love the short term nature as well, because it adds a sense of urgency and really gets people off their asses and in the space. It's more than a store in this way. It's more like a month long community gathering. A space for intersections.

You should contact them with ideas or if you have a book to sell.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

News News News

I've been busily preparing for February and it's finally here. I leave for Washington D.C. on the Megabus tomorrow. In theory, I'm going to be very productive on the way down, since the bus has WIFI. I have a presentation next week, plus an event next Friday. Who knows what might happen though.

Weave's reading period just ended and we have a record number of submissions: 491 total! That is way above our average of 350 for the past few issues. I'm constantly impressed with the quality of the submissions we are getting and I'm really looking forward to shaping this new issue. I can't wait until I have some real time to get in there and readreadread.

The AWP Conference is really coming together this year. Weave and A cappella Zoo have a table at the book fair, I'm presenting at the pedagogy forums on Friday morning, and so many friends will be attending. I'm also looking forward to meeting some online poet-friends, especially Lisa Marie Basille and Sally Rosen Kindred. I love that the internet lets us develop friendships long distance. It really shifts our thinking about community and mentoring and collaboration. It can all be done long distance. So wonderful.

I recently had my poem "Missing" accepted and published (both within a week's time) at Glass: A Journal of Poetry. This was a happy surprise for me, since I had stopped sending this poem out to journals. I'm really glad it found out a home. 

Finally, I will be reading some poems from my currently untitled manuscript at Word Circus next Friday, February 11th at Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery. It starts at 7pm and will include food, poetry, fiction, artwork and wine. I even have some watercolors in the show (picture below)! It will be a great time. Definitely stop by.

 "Self-Portraits" by Laura E. Davis

PS: I have a website! I'm all official n'at.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poetry, Women and Community

Forgive me if I wander into gender stereotypes in this post. I have had a convergence of experiences that have me thinking about women, poetry and community.

Yesterday I read the New York Times book review of Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. The book is full of thoughtful commentary about the so-called "princess phase" that many tween girls go through. I spend a lot time thinking about children and gender identity and gender roles. Children's toys are very gendered. If you wander into any toy aisle you can clearly tell where the store and the toymakers have placed the girl's toys (the hot pink aisle full of dolls and dresses) and the boy's toys (the dark blue aisle with blocks and guns). I worry about the gendering of play and how that affects us later in life. If I had been encouraged to play with blocks and trucks more, would I have been an engineer? If video games had been more gender-neutral, would I have followed my love of technology into a career?

On Friday I was in a small used bookshop looking in their poetry section. I was reminded of the history of poetry as a "man's world" as I had to really look to find books written by women. I forget this fact sometimes.

This morning I read this article about the "poetic renaissance" currently happening in Britain. Right now, there are three high profile poets that have made strides to get people talking about poetry. It just so happens that all three of these poets are women. They spoke about how the poetry community is still shaped like a grassroots movement with little competition. The article also brought to mind the idea that perhaps the feminine poetic voice was lacking, since Carol Ann Duffy is the UK's first female poet laureate in 340 years.

These convergences got me thinking about feminism. This is a word I use often. I read publications like Bitch and make/shift. I watch movies and television that have strong female characters. I have strong women in my life. My mother used the word feminism often, regardless of the fact that she was a homemaker. That was her choice. She later taught herself to use the computer and reentered the work force in her 40s. My 83 year-old grandmother, recently widowed, got a part time job where uses the computer regularly. I was a Girl Scout through high school. My closest friends are women. A majority of the poets and artists I know are women. I read mostly female poets. I run a feminist literary magazine. I am getting my MFA from Chatham, whose undergrad programs are still women only. Feminism has been normalized for me. So when I read about these gender issues, I have to say I'm more than a little biased toward surprise.

These past two years I have really come to understand the importance of writing and community. I have developed friendships within the local literary community and beyond and it has made all the difference in my writing. The workshop method is based on this principle. Writing should not exist in a vacuum. Ideas should be shared and tested, refined and shaped. Mentors and teachers should foster creativity and growth in their students.

As I have wandered through these thoughts, I can't help but wonder if my experiences with the power of community and poetry have been influenced by my feminism. By that I mean, do I have this community because women tend form supportive, non-competitive communities based on my mutual growth? Is my experience this strange phenomenon that won't hold true outside of my current community? Clearly, men can be good at building communities too and I realize I'm generalizing. But I have heard this from other writers too. A poet that we published in the first issue of Weave said she had resigned herself to competing in the poetic world against the poet stereotype of old men with long white beards writing about the fields and birds. When we solicited her for a submission and then invited her to read, she commented on how wonderful it was to find such a strong community of women. Her experiences have not been my own. I can't know whether her experiences are biased in the other direction. Perhaps there is more of a middle ground.

And perhaps it is what you make it. Maybe whatever community I belong to in the future will be the one I create. Maybe it will include more men. Who knows what San Francisco will bring? Perhaps the LGBT community will influence my literary community in ways I can't predict (since I'll be living about 100 feet from the Castro). Perhaps I will have a larger age-range of poets. Maybe I will find a mentor that is younger than me. Who knows?