I've been teasing some big news for awhile, and now that I've signed the contract I'm finally ready to share. My newest chapbook of poems, titled Mid-Bloom, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press!
This collection of poems centers around the loss of my mother to cancer when I was just 15, and my own experience with cancer at age 36. In these poems, I explore themes of childhood, family, illness, survivorship, and the ways in which my cancer brought me closer to my mother even though she's not here.
The cover design is not yet complete, but I am thrilled to be able to use the artwork pictured here--ink and watercolor by the talented Linnea Broling.
Anticipated publication should be later in 2021, but of course, these things change. As soon as pre-orders are open, I will share the details!
Two years ago, I had the honor of serving on the hiring committee for a new tenure-track Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction. I feel fortunate that we hired Heather Lanier and that I can now call her colleague and friend.
In July 2020, Heather's new memoir Raising a Rare Girl was published by Penguin Press. Ordinarily, I would have been among the creative writing instructors in our department to organize an on-campus reading celebrating her book. But of course, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented such an event, not to mention any launch party or book tours for Heather.
It was a thrill to host a live virtual reading in October on the Rowan University MA in Writing Facebook page. In spite of some technical difficulties getting started (it worked when we did a test run, I swear!) we had over 60 people join us live to hear Heather read from the book and to share in discussion. I monitored the comments as they came in and posed questions to Heather. What a joy to celebrate not just with our colleagues and students, but with friends, family, and members of the literary community near and far.
You can check out the recorded reading here.
And you can buy Raising a Rare Girl and support local bookshops here.
I am honored to have two poems included in the upcoming anthology Crossing Lines now available for pre-order through Main Street Rag. The anthology is being offered at a discounted price now, so if you are interested, don't wait to make your purchase!
Physical, cultural, emotional: the stories, poems, and essays in this collection cross almost every line imaginable. In the varied terrains of a Malaysian beach, a Parisian apartment, a Czech bar, and the cities, trailer parks, and backyards of America, people find themselves against the divides of family, race, friendship, and desire. These are not hapless victims. Circumstances challenge their beliefs and require them to act: A homicide detective stumbles into an ethical quagmire. A tsunami survivor chooses reinvention over redemption. A returning soldier confronts PTSD. Youngsters teeter on the border of sexual innocence and sexual experience. Lovers face equal parts of possibility and uncertainty. With grace and skill, award-winning poets and writers make a persuasive case that when the world around you shifts, the best thing to do is to start moving.
I am pleased to announce the upcoming publication of my debut chapbook from Finishing Line Press. Titled Prague in Synthetics, this collection of poems stems from my experiences studying abroad on Western Michigan University's Prague Summer Program. I believe the definitions of the word "synthetic" best indicate the focus of these poems:
Copies will be available for pre-order beginning October 27, and the anticipated publication date is February 6, 2015. More details on how to order your copy coming soon!
I was invited by my best and oldest friend Kari Hall, who happens to be a very talented artist, to join a blog hop project. Thank you, Kari! The project consists of answering some questions regarding art and my process, as well as to to highlight three artists I admire. While following this particular chain of the blog hop backwards, I found many stunning encaustic painters (the medium of art that Kari primarily works in). I am thrilled that she chose to branch out to me, a poet, and so I have invited other writers in various genres to carry the blog hop forward from here.
These are the questions I have been tasked to answer:
1) What am I working on/writing?
I am currently working on my first full-length collection of poetry, which is tentatively titled The Length of Distance. I have enough poems to complete a collection, but am still revising about ten of them, and then need to put the poems in order--which sounds like a really, really daunting task. The poems are quite different in subject matter, but the unifying thread is, as the title suggests, the idea of distance. Some distances explored in the poems are physical--moving away from home, travel, and long distance relationships. Others are emotional--empty or unrequited romantic relationships, the distance that forms between oneself and others after a great loss, and divorce. Not all the relationships in the collection are romantic--there are also family poems and friendships addressed. And the distance that even dwells within oneself, that distance between who you were and who you are becoming, who you are and who you want to be, is also worth consideration. How well the collection works as a cohesive unit remains to be seen, but I am excited to be nearing the stage at which I'll start piecing it together into sections and experimenting with how one poem best leads to the next.
2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
I found this to be the most difficult of the questions to answer. There is SO much variety in poetry. So in many ways, my poetry is quite like many others. In other ways, quite different. So I guess the best way to answer is to try to describe my style as a poet. I generally write in free verse, meaning I don't use a rhyme scheme or structured pattern. (The exception is my occasional attempt as a sestina, an incredible strict and repetitive form, but I digress.) However, in spite of the lack of pattern, I do like to divide my lines up into stanzas that have some consistency. I often use couplets or tercets. I also write poems with much longer stanzas, or even single stanza poems, but whatever form I end up with it, I try to allow the form to add pause and weight to the words wherever necessary. I tend to write short lines, creating a lot of space for emphasis. Like most poets, my work tends to be personal and relies heavily on metaphor and simile to pack an emotional punch and to make my experience relatable to my readers. I try not to shy away from specific details (names of airports, streets, cities, for example. Or including specific items like a pressed penny from the zoo in relation to an old boyfriend.) I've been told I have a knack for endings, for stopping on that moment that takes your breath away just for a second. That thing that can only be identified as "poemness" - that indefinable quality that makes something a poem and not just words on a page. (What a rambling and unclear answer this is!)
3) Why do I write/work what I do?
Author Lorrie Moore says of how to become a writier: "First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably." Many people say one does not choose to be an artist of any kind, it chooses you. I think this is partially true. I have wanted to be a writer since about third grade. It took me several more years to discover I'm a poet, and even more before I made the decision to BE a poet. I tried to be anything else. I was just going to minor in creative writing once I got to college, but before my first college-level poetry class was over (thank you Rhoda Janzen) I'd decided to major in English. After many years of being a sort-of writer, I finally began to embrace it, and after a few more years of studying poetry (thank you Jack Ridl) I made that decision - to go to grad school for an MFA in poetry and see where it would take me. It's been almost 10 years since I finished my MFA and I'm finally digging my heels in and working seriously on publications. (Teaching college can be a veritable distraction from your own writing.) But at the end of the day, I feel more whole when I write poems. It's one of the things in my life (tap dancing is another) that makes me feel more myself. The poems I write are often cathartic, a way to process life's experiences. They can also be a way to connect with others, with readers. And a way to observe the world around me and participate in some way by writing about what I've seen and felt.
4) How does my writing/working process work?
I tend to write when I feel moved or inspired, though I am trying to learn to be more disciplined. Usually a poem begins as just an idea. Either a metaphor, an image, or an experience that I'd like to write about. It churns around in my head for awhile. Maybe I'll jot down a line or just a tidbit. Sometimes it could be as short as a few hours of thinking about an idea before I draft a poem. Sometimes it could be months. But at some point I sit down with an old fashioned notebook and pen (often in a coffee shop or a park) and write the poem. After I draft it, I type it up and play around with line breaks and stanzas. I then usually take it to a few trusted writer friends for feedback before continuing to revise. Some poems go through very little revision, and others go through several drastic changes before I feel content with it as a finished product. The learning to be more disciplined part means I'm trying to carve out more space for inspiration and for drafting/revising. Time outdoors, time at a coffee shop, time at a museum, whatever it is. Getting out into the world helps me clear my mind of daily stress and make space for poetry. The more I can incorporate that space into my life, the more I find my poetry thrives.
And now, meet Kari... she's been my best friend since the age of 4, and even if I didn't know her personally, I would still love her artwork. One of my favorite aspects of visual art is texture, and Kari's paintings are rich with texture, both literally and figuratively.
Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Kari Hall earned a BA in Visual Communications Design from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. It was there Kari was first introduced to encaustic painting and has kept her concentration on developing work in this medium. Her work has been shown in many galleries around the Chicago area such as the Zhou B Art Center, Fine Arts Building, Black Cloud Gallery, Union Street Gallery, and Morpho Gallery. Her art-making process is focused on a visual and emotional unfolding, personal memories and honest expression revealed through a landscape of color, light, texture, and dimension. She melts, carves, and transforms layers of wax to expose the depth of her life. Through it she is guided to a place, whether real or imagined, simple or complex. This process encourages a thought-provoking journey and allows her natural creative mind to spill open. When she isn’t in the studio painting, she is spending time with her husband, Drew, and Bloodhound puppy, Harvey.
Kari's website: http://karihall.com
Next week, I invite you to read the responses from the three beautiful women I have invited: Meridith De Avila Khan, a photographer/writer/artist I have had the pleasure of knowing since college; Kristin Luehr, a fellow Roosevelt University MFA alum; and Joan Hanna, a colleague from Rowan University who has generously agreed to help out with Glassworks Magazine. Meet them here!
Meridith De Avila Khan is a creative soul, wife, and mother; she has been a photographer for over eight years, including the past four years as the official photographer for Sweet Briar College. She owns & operates MDK Studio, a commercial photography studio. Previously, Meridith worked as the Director of Marketing at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lynchburg, and as an interim coordinator for the Tulipanes Latino Film Festival in Holland, Michigan. She has written human interest stories freelance for The Lakeshore Press, as well as Lynchburg Living and Clutch magazine. She is currently preparing essays for graduate school. Her fine art photography has exhibited regionally in juried and group shows. Meridith holds a Bachelor of Arts from Hope College, where she majored in creative writing and minored in studio art. While at Hope, she participated in the residential Phelps Scholars Program, an academic-intensive cultural learning experience. Conversations about what makes us human, even when they’re sometimes difficult, are one of the things that Meridith enjoys most.
Meridith's Blog: http://meridithcreates.com
Kristin Luehr is a fiction writer and English teacher, although she sometimes thinks those must really be mutually exclusive careers, given the time commitments necessary. She currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where she teaches high school English at an international school. She received her MFA in creative writing from Roosevelt University and her BA in English from the University of Northwestern—St. Paul. The literary journal Dappled Things recently published her short story “Where Moth and Rust” and awarded her their J.F. Powers Prize. When she has time and something to say, she blogs about teaching, writing, living in Kenya, loving God, and anything else that seems important to her (like using “whom” correctly).
Kristin's Blog: http://wordslikenets.blogspot.com
Joan Hanna has published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in several online and print publications as well as book reviews and interviews for various outlets. She is Assistant Managing Editor for River Teeth, A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative and Assistant Editor, Nonfiction/Poetry for r.kv.r.y. Quarterly Literary Journal. Her debut chapbook, Threads, (Finishing Line Press) was a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Hanna teaches teaches creative writing at Rowan University in New Jersey. She holds an MFA from Ashland University in Poetry and Creative Nonfiction.
Joan's Blog: http://WritingThroughQuicksand.blogspot.com.
Today's post is a reblog from a former classmate of mine, Kristin, with whom I studied creative writing and literature at Roosevelt University during graduate school. She is a fellow English teacher, and her words spoke volumes to me earlier this week. I find it particularly interesting that even though I teach in New Jersey and Philadelphia, and Kristin teaches in Nairobi, Kenya, our experiences are much the same. I think the rest of the post speaks for itself. You can find Kristin's full blog here: http://wordslikenets.blogspot.com
Sometimes there's something that you want to say. And then you remember that you have a blog. And then you feel passionately ashamed for how you ignore your blog. But then you think about all those months when you didn't have something to say, and it seems impossible for you to have written any more blog posts than you have. And then you come to terms with your writing self and realize that people will still love you (although they may not forgive you for continuing in this personal-reflection-only-thinly-disguised-by-the-second-person). You decide that you have an "occasional" blog, which not only means that you are allowed to post only "occasionally" but that you are allowed to wait until you have an occasion, a reason, something to say. Like now.
I teach an online college English class. As a part of this course, students read Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem.” The students are then asked to answer this question: Sometimes this poem is entitled "Dream Deferred." Which title do you think is more appropriate and why?
A majority of students invariably choose the title “Dream Deferred” over the title “Harlem.” This is partly because this is an introduction to literature course and many of my students are more interested in completing the assignment to get the gen-ed credit than they are in actually thinking deeply about poetry. Within about five seconds, they see the connection between the deferred dream of the title and the similes of the poem (indeed, the first line of the poem even asks “What happens to a dream deferred?”). This strange geographical reference would take more work to parse. What was an obvious cultural reference to Hughes' contemporaries mystifies, and many students seem willing to give up on whatever isn’t immediately understandable (sigh). However, there are also a set of students who do think carefully about their answers, even googling “Harlem” to figure out the connection, and yet still end up writing something like this:
“Dream Deferred” is better because it’s more universal and can apply to everyone.
I have to admit that this answer drives me crazy (and not just for the logical conundrum of something being "more universal"). And yet, I understand why the student--even the thinking student--might write it. A poem that more people can relate to must of course be a more powerful poem. And a poem with a more general title will be a poem that more people can relate to, right?
Not exactly. I'm reminded of Emily Dickinson, who writes about poetry as “spreading wide my narrow hands.” Can’t you just see her in her white dress, alone in her room, with her arms flung wide? Her experience was narrow (like everyone’s, limited as she was to being just one person), and yet, based on her enduring popularity alone, her poetry also spreads wide. Not because she focused on the universal but because she embraced her narrow life so fully.
I want to bark this truth into my students' faces like an over-eager golden retriever, and I often have to give my own collar a good yank in order not to scare anyone. With good writing it is specificity, not generality, that creates emotion and connection. It is the very fact that something specific is happening to someone that is not you that allows you to feel most fully what you ought.
The fact is Hughes’ poem is so much more powerful because it isn’t about all deferred dreams everywhere. The power comes from experiencing Hughes' ideas and emotions, not from eclipsing them with our own. The goal in poetry and fiction isn’t to relate an experience as universal (mostly that bit is built in and doesn’t need a lot of attention) but as real. It’s not two sides of a scale--increase specificity and decrease universality. It’s more like a tree--the more effort you put in to stretching out each branch, to growing in each leaf, the more people can find shade underneath.
After a much needed 6-ish week break, I'm stepping back into the classroom tomorrow to meet a group of incoming freshman and to attempt in 5 weeks to prepare them for the rigors of college-level reading and writing. This week's Huffington Post article on teaching is so clear a reminder of the struggles of this occupation. Because the bottom line is, you can only do so much in the short time you're given. And it's not a 9-5 job; it's an every-spare-moment job. And some students just aren't ready for the material you need to throw at them.
Just a snippet of Peter Greene's brilliant metaphor:
Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don't actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren't making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.
Teaching is rewarding, don't get me wrong, or I wouldn't keep going back to it. But oh, this break has been so very necessary to relax, regroup, and now it's time to regain a little energy to jump back into that crazy space where I attempt to be enough for my students (while still maintaining a social life and a professional dance career).
Read the full article: "The Hard Part" by Peter Greene on Huffington Post
I am pleased to be included in the Summer 2014 issue of From the Depths just published today by Haunted Waters Press. The issue is available to view online or download digitally for free, or print copies are available. Either way, you should check out this lovely selection of literature!
View the new issue on MagCloud:
I'm very pleased to announce the publication of Issue 8 of Glassworks Magazine. Working with the student editors on this through Rowan University's Master of Arts in Writing program was a joy, and what a beautiful issue we've put together.
Visit our website here: http://rowanglassworks.org
View the full issue online here: http://issuu.com/glassworksmagazine
Yes! I'm thrilled to see this article in The Atlantic about Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important. On a whim a few weeks ago, I threw some complex poems at my Writer's Mind class, a course for upperclassmen majoring in writing. The focus of the course isn't necessarily literature, but on how the mind of a writer functions, the rhetorical choices a writers makes and the elements and tools available to him or her. The class focuses on the process of writing, on being aware of and overcoming writer's block, and learning to articulate why certain decisions have been made in writing and revising. The kind of writing we practice is really up to the instructor, which makes this an exciting class to teach.
I wanted my students to practice writing about themselves, in particular, writing about the darker parts of themselves they generally don't share. The theory behind this is that if they can write about those dark, secret things, they can write about anything without fear or hesitation. At the last minute, I realized there could be no better way to approach this than through poetry. So in the 30 minutes before class, I threw out my initial plan and printed out copies of Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, and Sharon Olds, and hoped my students would be open to poetry. The results have exceeded my expectations.
After two class periods thoughtfully discussing not only the meaning and emotion behind these poems, but also the imagery, sounds, structure, and symbolism, my students wrote their own "shadow poems". They are blowing me away. We are workshopping them anonymously as a whole class, and while it is taking far longer than I planned, the conversations are insightful and exciting. Several students have asked if we can just keep doing this for the rest of the semester. The poems are intense, the feedback is constructive, and the revisions are promising. I am getting to know my students more deeply through this community building activity, and the techniques we are practicing will spill over into their other writing as well. While only a handful of the students in the class consider themselves creative writers, and even less poets (there are several education majors in the group) they are opening up and growing as writers and as people in new ways because of poetry.
As Andrew Simmons describes in his article:
"Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected... Teachers should produce literature lovers as well as keen critics, striking a balance between teaching writing, grammar, and analytical strategies and then also helping students to see that literature should be mystifying. It should resist easy interpretation and beg for return visits. Poetry serves this purpose perfectly."
The proof is right in front of me in this group of students. I couldn't agree more.
Check out the full article here: Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important
BA in English