Monday, December 29, 2014

Illustrated Journal of VCCA

I’ve mentioned the Virginia Center for Creative Arts many times as a wonderful spot for writing and thinking, so I loved flipping through visual artist Lilianne Milgrom’s illustrated journal of her residency period, which captures what makes this place so special to so many visual artists/writers/composers.  See for yourself:

Next application deadline is January 15!  Go, go, go!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angels' voices…”

This, from “O, Holy Night,” is my favorite moment of any Christmas song, the most beautiful lyric I can imagine, the soaring stretch of the voice about to break—though I will say that my interpretation is not necessarily as intended, in a religious sense.

Instead, I’m thinking like a writer (as usual) and see this moment as acknowledging and accepting humility before something greater than ourselves, and gratitude that there we are, in that moment, hearing those voices, witnessing a miracle.  Whether that thing, that miracle, is a god or nature or love or the creative force or something else altogether…well. I guess that’s why that lyric is, to me, such a great piece of writing.

Wishing all of you happiness and joy! xoxox

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Writing Life: What It Really Takes

I’ve never published this little essay, and the end of the semester vibe in the air has put me in the frame of mind to think about my ancient life and a particular teacher I remember very well. And it’s always a good time to think about how to navigate the writing life, and how talent is perhaps the least of what is needed for a successful journey.  


            When I grew up, in Iowa, no one made a point of encouraging my dreams the way parents and teachers are expected to now. When I was ten, watching my first summer Olympics, I announced, “Someday I’m going to be in the Olympics.” Parents, mildly amused: “Oh, really? What sport?” Me, knowing the dog paddle was my only stroke, my cartwheel veered unpredictably, and that I always came in third-to-last in gym class races: “The javelin.” Parents: “You can’t throw a ball, and now you want to throw a spear?”
            That ended my short-lived non-career as a javelin thrower. Instead I chose the writing life, with its constant, familiar, onslaught of rejection, wanting—desperately—only one thing: to be a writer, a real, published writer, with books.
            Senior year in college I ended up in a poetry writing class, taught by a poet: Mr. Metaphor.
            Mr. Metaphor was a hot-shot around the English Department because he was young and vibrant and had recently published his first hot-shot book of poetry. My poetry had been tolerable for high school, but now I was at Midwestern U, and here, I could see that my angsty poetry was pretty lousy. No matter, because I was focused on fiction. My plan was to go to grad school for an MFA and then write novels.
            To apply to grad school, I needed letters of recommendation. My fiction professor had agreed to write on my behalf, but I needed another letter. Why not from this hot-shot poet who had taught at one of the schools where I was applying? So one day after we shredded apart someone’s poem in class, I approached Mr. Metaphor to ask if he would write a letter for my MFA applications. The look of horror—think Edvard Munch—was immediate, so I quickly added, “I’m applying in fiction. I’ll bring you my stories to read,” and the relief left him barely able to speak, as he weakly nodded yes.
            On Friday, I handed him a tidy little folder of my best work.
`           On Monday, I spent an anxious hour as we slashed through another student poem, and after class, I went up to him, spouting something chipper, like, “So, did you read my stories?”
            He was tapping a stack of papers against the desk, and without looking at me he said, “I read them.” Tap-tap-tap. “I read them,” he repeated, “and I can’t write you a letter. You’re not good enough. You’ll never be a writer.”
            That long frozen moment. I think I counted a hundred between each beat of my heart, my only thought of escaping before he saw me cry. Not that there was much chance of that, actually. Messy emotions seemed to me then as suspect as self-esteem—something beyond control, something unwanted and frightening, best corralled onto the blank page, if even there.
            So my stupid, polite, good-girl, Iowa upbringing kicked in and I thanked him. Honestly. “Thank you,” I said to Mr. Metaphor. Those exact words, spoken primly, exactly, without irony or anger. My parents would have been proud.
            Then I left the room.
            I don’t remember the rest of that class, except that I got a B+.
            I found someone else to write my final letter of recommendation. I went to graduate school and got my precious MFA. After graduate school, I wrote—I wrote stories and a novel that didn’t get published, and another one after that, that also didn’t get published. Always, in the back of my mind, burning like an untended fire, was this thought: “I’ll show you, Mr. Metaphor. You’ll see.”
            In the meantime, his poems popped up in various literary journals I read. There was another book. But he had left Midwestern U after a couple of years, and someone told me that his departure was related to his not getting tenure (boohoo). He taught somewhere else, then a third school, where he finally seemed to stick.
            My stories started getting published—“Look at this, Mr. Metaphor,” raged my brain—and won some awards—“What do you think now, Mr. Fucking Metaphor?”—and I was writing magazine articles and won an award for one of those, and things looked mildly hopeful for my writing life.
            Then I won a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, which is a summer gathering of writers and writer wanna-bes, a tense crucible of literature and liquor. It was a big deal to get this award, which meant I attended the conference for free, got a short reading with the dozen other scholars, and—the real prize—got access to the “party cabin” where the “real” writers hung out after dutifully teaching all day.
            I saw on the brochure that Mr. Metaphor would also be at Bread Loaf, one of the “real writers.” Hmmm, maybe I could…but I reconsidered, tamping that primitive voice in my head with a soothing litany: it’s a small world; what would saying anything accomplish; and anyway, he was in poetry and I was in fiction, so our paths would never cross in the sea of two hundred writers.
            And yet our paths crossed constantly: at every reading, every social event, every cocktail party, every night at the party cabin. He was staring my way, watching me from across the room. Staring, staring, staring…and one night he came up to me and trapped me. Neither of us was even drunk yet.
            “You look so familiar,” he said.
            I slid on my good-girl smile: “Well…actually, you were my teacher once. But it was so long ago, I can’t believe you would remember me”—then added in my head, me and my B+, asshole. I guzzled my gin—sick of sugary tonic at this point of the conference, I now drank straight Tanquery over an ice cube or two. Not recommended.
            He seemed pleased, perhaps happy to see a former student who wasn’t living under a bridge or begging for attention. “What school was that?”
            “Midwestern U.”
            That familiar horror on his face: The Scream Redux. “Oh my God,” and now he guzzled at his drink before he spoke carefully: “Did I ever do anything bad to you?” An emphasis on that single word, “bad.”
            That damn politeness of mine nudged, and I thought, Don’t go into it—my friends who knew the whole story were in the corner waving anxiously, sending telepathic messages for me to shut up—but Mr. Metaphor had ASKED, and I was drinking this straight gin on ice and well, I didn’t live in Iowa anymore, so I said, “Actually, yes. Yes, you did do something bad. I asked for a letter of recommendation for grad school, and you read my stories and told me I wasn’t good enough and that I’d never be a writer.”
            “My God,” he repeated, before racing through his words: “I’m sorry. That was a bad time in my life back then—I was suffering from undiagnosed Graves’ disease, and I had terrible depression. I did awful things to so many students. Once I wrote at the top of someone’s 25-page research paper, ‘fuck you.’”
            “Wow,” I said.
            More guzzling. The party around us felt obscene and strange: laughter, music I didn’t recognize.
            “I’m so sorry,” and he leaned in to hug me with strong, solid arms. “Look at you now: a scholar at Bread Loaf, which means you’re getting your work published in top journals. You’re doing well.”
            I nodded, still shocked. Mostly I was shocked at what I hadn’t realized until right then: I had assumed he was right, that he had known something about me. That his assessment was accurate and true. And yet I had kept writing my stories and books anyway.
            He said, “I’m so happy you didn’t listen to me,” and we hugged again, went our separate ways back to the liquor, to our friends.

            I’m so happy you didn’t listen to me. Yes, me too.

            Now, I’m a writing teacher, and to be honest, there are times where it’s my secret fantasy to write “fuck you” on the top of someone’s woeful story. But I don’t. The problem with tough love is that you don’t know—until the end—who’s tough enough for your form of love and who isn’t.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How to Get Your Book Published

Wow...this post from Jane Friedman covers IT ALL, how to publish your book and how the publishing business works, start to finish, with excellent resources and a nuts-and-bolts approach.

If you or someone you know needs the basics, get them right here. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Carolyn Parkhurst's Tips for Twitter

So, in one insomniac burst I abruptly joined both Twitter (@lesliepwriter) and Goodreads…and then realized I didn’t know much of anything about either.  Twitter seems like walking the wrong way onto the autobahn or something, so I emailed my very savvy, very funny writing group for some advice.  I was expecting a couple pointers along the lines of “don’t tweet nude photos,” but instead I got this very sane, helpful list of tips from Carolyn Parkhurst, who agreed to let me share them here on my old-fashioned, oh-so-wordy, very-non-Twitter blog (nearly 3000 characters in here, with spaces, which is like 22 tweets!). 

So, lots of good stuff, even if you’re already a pro. (And if you’re not interested in Twitter, scroll down to the link to Carolyn’s incredible humor piece, published by the New Yorker…it will absolutely make your day!)

Make Twitter Your Bitch (Note: my title, not Carolyn’s! Carolyn is too classy for a title like this!)
By Carolyn Parkhurst

1. An email thank-you is nice, but most Twitter users expect a hand-written note for each favorite and retweet. (Okay, the rest are serious.)

2. Follow lots of people. Look up writers you like, people you know on FB, literary journals, and pop-culture things you like (TV shows, actors, etc).  Check out Twitter's suggestions for people to follow, and when you find someone you like, check out the people they follow. You don't have to do it all at once. Try to follow a few new people every week. 

3.  Follow @TheBookMaven, @colsonwhitehead, @mat_johnson, @rgay, @duchessgoldblatt, @JohnMoe, @RonCharles, @robdelaney, @SarahThyre, @BoobsRadley. I may think of more later. 

4. Spend a little time browsing and getting a feel for the place. Read what other people are tweeting and what responses they get. You'll figure it out. 

5. Engage in conversation: Post replies to other people's tweets, ask questions in your own tweets, compliment people if you've recently read their books, etc. When you mention someone by their username, they'll get a notification and will probably reply. 

6. Tweet a couple of things a day. Links to your blog and Redux and any of your work online, but also short, funny observations. Anything you'd post on FB.  Thoughts about TV shows and cocktails.  Writing tips (real or jokey), grammatical errors you find in public, tabloid headlines you see while shopping.  Cat pics are fine, too. Weekday mornings are the best time to tweet. 

7. Follow all of us. Duh. 

ABOUT: Carolyn Parkhurst is the New York Times best-selling author of three novels, including THE DOGS OF BABEL and THE NOBODIES ALBUM.  Her humor has appeared on "The Rumpus" and on the New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" blog.  She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two children, and can be found on Twitter as @CParkhurst1.

And you simply must read her New Yorker piece, about Eloise, who as a middle-age woman has moved from the Plaza Hotel to the Crowne Plaza:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Best Books of 2014

Here is my annual, highly personal list of the best books I read in 2014, which means that they were not necessarily published in 2014.  Being a free-wheeling kind of gal, I do not present them in any sort of order; nor do I force my choices to fit a numerical conceit (top 10, 5 favorite).  So this is just a list of books I happened to read this year that would immediately leap to my mind if you were to ask, “Read anything good lately?”

Also, while I have many close friends who are superb writers and I love to match-make their excellent books with readers, I have chosen not to include on this list books by friends.

The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson.  Ai-yi-yi…this is not a cheerful novel!  It’s a bare-naked, honestly brutal account of an alcoholic descending through the depths and then some.  The author suffered from alcoholism, and this was one of the first books to share the realities of this disease—though, when written, people considered alcoholism more of a failing than a disease. On the writing side, Jackson worked miracles with the interiority of the story.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.  Late to the party here! This collection of linked stories is cited by about a zillion other writers as having been deeply influential, and I finally got around to reading it this year…and found that it, well, deeply influenced my work.  Brilliant on the sentence level, and brilliant in its piercing look at the type of people we might usually look away from.  On the writing side, one of the reasons that I finally picked it up is that I read somewhere that part of Johnson’s process here was juxtaposing incidents that seem unrelated, which is something I was trying in my own writing this year.

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout. I’ll never separate the experience of buying this book in post-AWP Seattle at the famous Elliott Bay Book Company, during an afternoon of shopping with the intention of buying something I had never heard of by a writer I had never heard of.  Another dark novel, set in the Plains during the 19th century when several frontier women lost their minds during a hard winter and had to be driven via wagon back east to their families.  An unattractive spinster and a criminal with a heart of gold-ish should NOT scare you away: this book is relentless and gut-wrenching as well as austerely gorgeous.  On the writing side, the writer takes a huge risk with a point-of-view shift that leads to an even huger risk; both moves hit the jackpot, IMHO.  (A new movie has just been released…I’m curious but a little reluctant to mar the perfection of my experience with the book.)

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.  An experimental novel that examines a relationship through glittering fragments of writing that are in turn clever, sad, hilarious, insightful, informative…and that are sometimes all of those things simultaneously.  Don’t fear “experimental” here: this masterful book has heart, and you will (and should) read it all in one delicious swoop.  On the writing side, this book demonstrates that even the most commonplace story (“girl meets boy” etc.) can be fresh and feel utterly unique.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.  I discovered this book after reading a stand-alone excerpt in One Story magazine, and I had to read more.  It’s set in the ballet world, but the book is beyond ballet; it’s about any artistic pursuit, and beyond that, about the hard choices life forces upon us.  The ending is so stunning that you’ll want to flip back to the beginning and read it all again.  On the writing side, the author broke rules all over the place with regard to chronology and point-of-view, and it was exhilarating for me as a reader to see it all work out—and comforting for me as a writer to discover that yes, it was possible that my own non-chronological work might have a shot at pulling together.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff.  I wrote here in further detail about this memoir, for which I am surely the perfect audience, since I love coming-of-age stories about literary young women in New York. Throw in J.D. Salinger and I’m totally sold!  On the writing side, I admired how the author was able to find a shape to her life to create dual narratives that informed each other, keeping the reader flipping the pages, wanting to know what happens next. 

Longbourn by Jo Baker.  So much could go wrong in what might seem to be a simplistic “Downton Abbey meets Jane Austen” set-up in this book about the servants who work for Pride and Prejudice’s Bennet family.  And yet so much goes right instead!  The book is smart and perfectly written and a page-turner, and no one will ever view laundry in quite the same way. (Yay, washing machines!)  The events of P&P happen in the background and provide narrative structure for the story, but I think even non-Austen fans (if there are any?) would still enjoy this book without that double narrative.  On the writing side, this book is a poster child for the joys and benefits of research.  Also, who says women can’t write about war?? These war scenes are among the most relentless I have ever read.

Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR by Neal Thompson.  Every list needs an outlier, something that doesn’t seem to fit, and this book is that.  It’s a nonfiction account of the early days and rise of NASCAR, which came about thanks to the young men who loved raising dust on southern dirt roads hauling hooch.  Yes, NASCAR.  Me.  I loved it, and raced (haha) through this book…and by the end, I was pondering how I could swing a trip to Daytona.  On the writing side, this book had a strong, smart narrative and read like a novel. But more importantly, reading this book reminded me of one of the most important traits any writer must have (IMHO), which is to be open-minded, and, really, simply open to the whole wide world, to the prospect that any day when you learn something new, something you didn’t know or had never thought before, that that is also the definition of “a good writing day.” Be open to surprising turns!

So, a list of eight, and I know I said that I wouldn’t try to push a numerical construct, but I guess I lied, because I’m going to round out the list with an amazing short story I read and an amazing essay so I can make an even 10:

“Antarctica” by Laura van den Berg is found in the new edition of Best American Short Stories, edited by Jennifer Egan, about a woman whose problematic brother died while doing research at the South Pole, and her attempt to find the truth of what happened there, and, well, the truth of a number of things.  On the writing side, this story balanced present action and flashback beautifully, as well as balancing scene and summary. (Okay, I can’t resist mentioning my other favorite stories from this volume: “God” by Benjamin Nugent and “Long Tom Lookout” by Nicole Cullen.)

“Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” by Leslie Jamison, from her collection of essays, The Empathy Exams.  While I enjoyed and admired other essays in that book, this is the one that leapt forward for me (and is online, so you can read it too, right here) because it explored sentimentality and pain and the clichés that women writers battle, ultimately giving power to the female story, and then, on the writing side, making sure that we understand that what it is, what we’re all doing, is writing the HUMAN STORY, and making us feel essential for doing so.

Onwards! There are wonderful books waiting ahead in 2015!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Five Flaws to Avoid in Your Poetry (and Fiction)

I came across this link on Facebook, a few words from the editors at the Indiana Review about what flaws make them reject a poem.  All good advice, it seems to me, and each bullet point correlates EXACTLY with problems in fiction, so also good advice for ALL of us:

2. Over-associating. I’m not a minimalist by any means, but I do believe in earning your fireworks. Your winter breath is not a constellation of fireflies axeing their way through the winter like little lumberjacks. There’s not a hot air balloon filled with jackrabbits in your chest every time she looks at you like a prison guard bleeding sugar. I don’t care that it’s Tuesday. A poem ought to be, I think, more than just a collection of assorted images. What is your poem doing? What does it add up to? How is it governed?...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Going to Be in Spartanburg?

If you are, come to some of the amazing events planned for the Converse Low-Residency MFA...we would love to see you!  I'll be giving a reading on January 5 and on January 2, giving a brand new craft lecture (that I still have to write...). 

Converse College Low Residency MFA
January Residency Public Readings and Lectures

The following events are free and open to the public. Events take place at the Spartanburg Marriott & Conference Center in the Dogwood Room.

January 1, 8:00 p.m., visiting writer reading by Catherine Carter, the author of The Swamp Monster at Home, Louisiana State University Press, 2012, and The Memory of Gills, Louisiana State University Press.

January 2, 4:30 p.m., Fiction Craft Lecture, Leslie Pietrzyk, “Inch by Inch and Word by Word: Strategies for Revision.”

January 2, 8:00 p.m., Faculty Reading by Suzanne Cleary and Marlin Barton.

January 3, 10:00 a.m., Nonfiction Craft Lecture, Susan Tekulve, "Studying the Scribes of Epicurus: What We Can Learn from Those Who Write Through the Lens of Food."

January 4, 8:00 p.m., Faculty Reading by Susan Tekulve and John Lane.

January 5, Poetry Craft lecture, Suzanne Cleary, "Risk and More Risk: Building Better Poems, and Having More Fun Doing So."

January 5, 4:30 p.m., Fiction Craft Lecture, Marlin Barton, “Reaching the Lyric Register.”

January 5, 8:00 p.m., Faculty Reading, Leslie Pietrzyk and Brock Clarke.

January 6, 8:00 p.m., Faculty Reading, Rick Mulkey and Robert Olmstead.

January 7, 4:30 p.m., Craft Lecture,“The View from an Editor’s Desk,” Mark Drew, Associate Editor of Gettysburg Review.

January 7, 8:00 p.m., Faculty Reading, Richard Tillinghast and Elizabeth Cox.

January 8, 4:30 p.m., Craft Lecture with Atlantic Monthly Fiction Editor, C. Michael Curtis.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Writing Advice from Flannery

Let’s start the week—and the brutally paced month of December—with some no-nonsense writing advice from Flannery O’Connor.  I promise to follow all these rules if I can come up with a story as darkly perfect as “Greenleaf”!

Here’s one bit of advice that seems especially apt for me at this point in my process:

2. Try arranging [your novel] backwards and see what you see. I thought this stunt up from my art classes, where we always turn the picture upside down, on its two sides, to see what lines need to be added. A lot of excess stuff will drop off this way.

And I love #8:

I know that the writer does call up the general and maybe the essential through the particular, but this general and essential is still deeply embedded in mystery. It is not answerable to any of our formulas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"What I Could Buy": Story Posted at Hobart

I have a story up at Hobart, a fabulous online journal.  It’s very short and once again (or, perhaps, "as usual"), rather sad.  And there was also a lot of math involved in the writing of it—which I did all by myself, and which is as accurate as humanly possible.

The story is called “What I Could Buy” and here’s a sample:

What I could buy with the insurance money they gave me when you died: …Four separate world cruises, assuming 107 days at sea, assuming Queen Mary 2 on the Cunard Line, assuming supplement for a single room, assuming balcony, assuming one glass of wine per night, assuming no more than twelve land excursions as arranged by the cruise ship personnel, assuming winning at the casino, assuming internet access, assuming laundry service.   Or: Two years at Harvard Business School, assuming acceptance, assuming Cambridge sublet, assuming books and fees, assuming ramen noodles and pizza for most dinners, assuming public transportation, assuming roommate, assuming no significant social life.  Or: 1,000 water buffalo as purchased through Heifer International to help one thousand families in the Philippines become self-sufficient, assuming the charity is legitimate, assuming seventy-five percent of donations are used for the program mission as stated in the most recent annual report, assuming Charity Navigator ranking of three out of four stars and 55.66 out of 70 is correct and considered worthy of financial support. Or:…

And here’s the link:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving Week Focus on Food: Hushpuppies!

Speaking of food, you just have to sneak over to my online journal Redux and read R.T.Smith's amazing ode to the hushpuppy.  (Warning:  you will end up starving and longing to drop everything so you can start building a catfish pond.)

Here's an excerpt:

...Now I’m not about to define “hushpuppy” in some partisan and proprietary way, though it is kissing cousin to a fritter, neighbor to cornbread and a far cry from a crepe.  I’m not even going to dictate how to concoct the ideal knee-knocking, unforgettable, whiplashing-scrumptious hushpuppy, other than to recommend some basic components and say that you’ve got to tickle the oil right up to about 400 degrees, which is also the temperature the mercury will register if you stick a thermometer under the tongue of most anyone in my family when their ire is aroused.  Our tribe’s tendency to run hot and express our displeasure in unruly and emphatic fashion should right away clarify a couple of things: the oral method is the only fever measurement method worth trying on us, and don’t stand between us and anything we prize or favor, especially our preferred provender.  But don’t get me wrong here; we are neither rabid nor deranged, only enthusiastic.
     My family at one time, individually and collectively, knew how to make a hushpuppy so delicious it would make you cut a buck and wing and forswear indoor sports and week-night church....  

Read on:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting Close: Pushcart Prize Special Mention

In the writing world, we celebrate when we can, so while my work didn’t win a Pushcart Prize this year, my story “The Circle” was given a special mention in the list in the back as an “important work” published during the year.  Yay for bridesmaids!!

And yay for The Gettysburg Review, the journal where it first appeared, and yay for writer Mark Wisniewski who nominated the story.  And yay for everyone in the Pushcart organization who must work SO HARD to compile this 655 page book, which you should read and support.  And yay for VCCA (Virginia Center for Creative Arts) where I drafted this story.

My story is not online, but I can send you a PDF if you would like to read it and you didn’t see it in the Gettysburg Review.  First let me warn you:
--it is really LONG (40 pages)
--it is really SAD
--my PDF is not pretty as in the journal pages; it’s just a typescript file from Word
--I’m slightly disorganized at the moment, so it might take a couple of days for me to get back to you

And, this is important:

--please, PLEASE send the request to my personal email address,  If you subscribe to the blog feed and “reply,” that goes to a different email address, one loaded up with neighborhood listserve notices and emails about sales at Ann Taylor and restaurant menu changes etc. and your email will get lost if I don’t answer immediately, which I probably won’t be able to.  Also, trust me when I say you don’t want that email in your computer as “my” email address.

So, if you want to read my really long, really sad story, let me know here:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"How to Transition from Introverted Writer to Marketing Maniac"

Many writers struggle with self-promotion, it’s true.  Here’s a pep talk and some good advice on how to promote your work, written by Kathleen Nalley, one of the Converse MFA grads who is doing a great job of getting the word out about her forthcoming chapbook from Finishing Line Press, American Sycamore:

"You wrote. You edited. You rewrote. You submitted your manuscript. Finally, the acceptance letter arrived. You celebrated. You high-fived. You fist-bumped. Then, reality hit. You now must promote your work. Before you retreat under your bed in terror, before you have an anxiety attack over the awkwardness of writing and talking about yourself in third person, check out these 20 steps for easing your transition from introverted writer to marketing maniac...."

And read more about (and pre-order!) Kathleen’s book:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Apply for the FREE Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop at GWU!

The George Washington University
Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshop
Spring 2015 – Creative Nonfiction Workshop

Wednesdays, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
21 January 2015 – 29 April 2015

Led by Brando Skyhorse

Come and take part in a semester-long creative nonfiction workshop! To apply, you do not need academic qualifications or publications.  The class will include some readings of published writings (primarily memoir and the personal essay), but will mainly be a roundtable critique of work submitted by class members.  There are no fees to participate in the class, but you will be responsible for making enough copies of your stories for all fifteen participants.  Students at Consortium schools (including GWU) are not eligible.

To apply, please submit a brief letter of interest and a sample of your writing, 12 pt type, double spaced, and no more than 7 pages in length.  Make sure you include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and email address for notification. Application materials will not be returned, but will be recycled once the selection process is completed.  Applications must be received at the following address by close of business on Monday, 5 January 2015.

JMM Creative Nonfiction Workshop
Department of English
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street, NW (Suite 760)
Washington, DC 20052

All applicants will be notified by email of the outcome of their submissions no later than Saturday, 27 January 2015.

Brando Skyhorse is the 2014-15 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University. He is the author of Take This Man: A Memoir, and a novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, which received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been awarded fellowships at Ucross and Can Serrat, Spain. Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine.

The university is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer that does not unlawfully discriminate in any of its programs or activities on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or on any other basis prohibited by applicable law.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Reading at KGB Bar in NYC

I’m looking forward to this event in New York City, where I’ll be reading at the legendary KGB Bar as part of the Literal Latte celebration. Come join us or send your friends/family (though, I should note that I'll be reading for all of FOUR minutes...but what a four minutes it will be!).

Literal Latte 20th Anniversary Celebration!
Literal Latte ~ Stimulating Minds Since 1994 ~ 20 Years. 20 Readers

November 09, 2014
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, NYC

Come join our celebration of two decades of great stories and poetry! There will be booze, and there will be words….

Literal Latte:
Before 1994, New York City, the “publishing capital,” lacked a community literary paper featuring mind-stimulating stories, essays and poems for consumption by New York editors, agents, writers and readers.

Literal Latté filled the void — debuting in June 1994 and offering 30,000 free copies of its literary brew in New York’s coffeehouses, bookstores and arts organizations.

Reaching ten times as many readers as traditional literary magazines, Literal Latté caffeinated careers, bringing writers from around the world into the offices, homes and hands of New York’s publishing professionals, writers and readers.

The founders knew that great writing, in a friendly and easily available format, would be as popular as cappuccino in a café in New York City.

For almost a decade, the print edition of Literal Latté was widely read and critically acclaimed throughout New York City, from our first issue in 1994 to our last print issue in 2003.  These days, Literal Latté is entirely online, and we bring our writers to the world.  Although we were among the first literary journals to have an online presence (in 1997!), we completely redesigned our site in 2008.  In time, we plan to include the entirety of our massive archive of top-shelf prose, poetry and art on the site.

Literal Latte’s website:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Refreshing Your Perspective: Sandra Marchetti’s Manuscript Critique Services

I invited poet Sandra Marchetti to tell us more about her manuscript critique service for poetry books:

Could you use a fresh set of professional eyes on your poetry manuscript? Have you been drafting and revising, publishing individual poems, but still haven’t placed your book with a press? There seems to be some secret to winning the contest or impressing during an open reading period that’s impossible to crack. Oftentimes poets believe they will receive intensive, line-by-line feedback on their books from graduate school mentors or in workshops, only to be left wanting. If you crave elusive, thorough, and personalized feedback on your book from an accomplished and empathetic reader who will expedite your book’s publication, my manuscript critique service is for you.

Books and chapbooks I’ve critiqued have found publication with Kore Press, Sundress Publications, THRUSH Press, Red Paint Hill Publishing, ELJ Publications, and others. My poets have won prizes from Four Way Books, Lunch Ticket, Dash Journal, and elsewhere. This service is reasonably priced and highly effective. Here’s what clients have said about my critiques:

“Sandy Marchetti edited two of my manuscripts, after which one was picked up by a publisher I really admired and I know that a large part of that success was due to her excellent eye. Receiving a critique from Sandy was like having the ability to really understand my work from a level not accessible by my everyday psyche--she revealed to me what I knew all along about my own work by breaking into the spaces I was too close to see. I highly recommend her services!” –Shannon Hardwick Green, author of Francine in the Garden, THRUSH Press 2015.

“I recently asked Sandra to look at one of my manuscripts before submitting it to a chapbook contest. At the time, I was uncertain which poems to include in the submission, but Sandra generously said not to worry about finalizing my choices before sending her the draft--to, instead, send her all of the poems I was considering. The thoughtful commentary I later received from her would prove instrumental in deciding which poems were strongest and to include for submission. Sandra displayed her keen editorial insights in the personalized comments she sent me--insight no doubt garnered from her experience as a poet and editor--as well as a delightful versatility…I would recommend Sandra to any writer in need of a second pair of eyes, knowing that he or she will be in good hands.” –Noh Anothai, winner of Lunch Ticket’s 2014 Gabo Prize for Translation.

So how does the process work? First, I will read through your collection and look for big picture concerns. I will write a detailed 1500+ word letter to you regarding the manuscript's coherence, motifs, ordering principles, etc. If you send along any questions, I answer those. I look to magnify your book’s strengths and am enthusiastic in enhancing your vision for it.

Then, I comment individually on every poem in the manuscript, making suggestions regarding diction, line breaks, and syntax that will help you to look at the book from a new perspective. In this stage, I will indicate if some poems seem stronger than others, where another poem may be needed, or how sections are working. I familiarize myself with your diction and style and suggest improvements to strengthen your unique capabilities with language.  

My fees are hourly. Critiquing a full-length book takes me about 6-8 hours, assuming the book is between 50-80 pages. I usually charge about $200 for the service. Chapbooks cost about half as much because they take half the time. My standard fee for 15-35 page chapbook is around $100.

I work with clients both electronically, via email and PayPal, or the old fashioned way, via checks and marked up manuscripts in the mail. My turnaround time is between 10 days and two weeks. I would be honored to deeply read your poems and propel them to publication with a fine press.

In addition to manuscript critiques, I also offer literary publication coaching and substantive editing for individual poem publication. I am filling slots now, so contact me at or to get started!

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry forthcoming from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center's Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle's 2014 Poetry Open; she was a finalist for Phoebe’s Greg Grummer Poetry Contest and Gulf Coast’s Poetry Prize. Sandy’s work is anthologized in Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Parts of the Whole: Poems of the Body, New Poems from the Midwest and elsewhere. Her poems and prose also appear in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Phoebe, Word Riot, Southwest Review, and other fine magazines. Sandy currently lives in Chicago with her husband, teaches writing at Elmhurst College, and is an Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"A Big Empty": Wonderful Story by Rhonda Browning White, My Former Thesis Student!

I’m thrilled to brag about one of my Converse thesis students, Rhonda Browning White, whose story “A Big Empty” has been published in the Bellevue Literary Review and is now included in the online archives, for free reading:

Rhonda worked SO HARD on her thesis, and this story in particular, because she wasn’t sure how to end it.  She pushed and pushed and pushed herself…and came up with this, which made me cry when I first read it because I knew it was exactly right.  

Take a few minutes and see for yourself:
 …My daddy loved mining. Or used to, before they started lopping off the mountains. Fifty years he worked underground. Went from shoveling coal into a rail-cart to watching it gouged out with a continuous miner and dumped onto conveyor belts. I seen his face the first time he saw the dragline megaexcavator shearing off the head of Kayford Mountain. Looked like he’d get sick. 

Made me feel sickly, too, watching the monster that stands taller than Lady Liberty eat two-hundred-forty ton of mountain in every bite, two bites a minute. Progress, they call it. Progress that puts thousands of underground miners like me out of work. Progress that changes the land forever. Progress that pumps sickness into the water supply, kills fish and deer and daddies and babies. 

It was Daddy’s plan for me and Romie to pack up and head to North Carolina, get out of the West Virginia mountains before the coal companies flatten them all, before the mountains bury us in return. It felt like a message from beyond, then, when we learned on the first anniversary of Daddy’s death that Romie was pregnant again. I knew right then we had to leave….

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sonnet Class & F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference

Some upcoming events/classes of interest:

Reading Sonnets: a seminar led by Kim Roberts, editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly

This class will use a range of modern and contemporary sonnets written by authors from the Washington DC region as a text. We will examine the traditions of the form: rhyme, meter, subject matter—and discuss how contemporary poets have both honored and subverted those traditional expectations. Participants will be asked to read assigned poems in advance of each of the three class meetings, and be ready to join in a lively discussion on the amazing longevity and flexibility of the sonnet. Open to all: no specialized knowledge about poetry is needed. 

Meets three consecutive Thursdays, October 30 through November 13 from 7:30 to 9:00 pm
$35 fee
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Adult Programs, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, MD
Advance registration required: or (301) 493-8300


The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival in Rockville, Oct. 16-18.

Established in 1996 to celebrate the centenary of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birth in the city where Fitzgerald, his wife, and his daughter are buried, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival, co-sponsored by the City of Rockville, the Share Fund, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, Inc., a non-profit corporation, has for 18 years held this one-day event, which seeks to honor the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and those of prominent American literary artists; and to support, encourage, and assist aspiring and emerging writers and students interested in the literary arts.

The centerpiece of the Literary Festival is the presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature to a prominent American writer, who is present and gives a reading and a master class. Over the years, many of the most distinguished American literary figures of the last half century have been honored. The 2014 recipient is James Salter.

The day’s activities include writing workshops designed for both emerging and established fiction, poetry, and non-fiction writers held both in the morning and the afternoon; and literary discussions, panels, and performances designed for book lovers who are not themselves writers, also held in both the morning and afternoon.

In 2014, the Festival will be held on October 18th in the Auditorium of Montgomery County Executive Office Building, Rockville, MD and the Rockville Memorial Library in partnership with the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, Maryland. It will have as its theme “Literature and War” and will include a Literary Luncheon on Thursday afternoon, October 16th, at the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland; and, on Friday evening, October 17th, the Writer’s Center will host “Writing the War Experience,” featuring a panel of distinguished writer-veterans reading from and commenting on their work.

More information:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kinda Cool: My Essay Is Selected for "100 Notable" in New Best American Essays

 Hmm…I’m not sure how the New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist columnist would feel about an editor publishing her own work in her literary journal.  But apparently I don’t care because I’m doing it!

I found out this weekend that one of my essays was listed in the “100 Notable Essays” section in the back of the new edition of Best American Essays (thanks for telling me, Anna Leahy!).  So, yay for that, and yay that I hold the incredibly powerful position of editor/founder of Redux, the online journal that features previously published work not found elsewhere on the internet, allowing me to jump right into it and post the essay today. 

I’d like to add a shout-out to the literary journal that originally published this piece, PMS: Poem Memoir Story, which features work by women writers.  I bought a copy while at AWP and after reading it, knew that I wanted my work to appear in those pages.  I’m so happy to bring some more attention to that fine journal.

Here’s the opening to the essay, “Joy to the World”:

It’s mid-December, a morning of doing errands, a day like any other day, except that everything is going remarkably well:  I find a great parking spot.  The post office isn’t crowded when I arrive to mail my packages, though the man behind the counter tells me there’s been a line all morning, “until right about now.”  Find another great parking spot.  Stumble across the perfect Christmas gift for my hard-to-buy-for friend at a locally-owned boutique.  And so on.
 Last stop, the grocery store, where my luck continues, and the guy working produce locates in the back the last bag of parsnips in the building.  Parsnips are a key ingredient in the velvety-lush root vegetable soup I want to make for dinner tonight.  “Bet you’ve never seen anyone get so excited about parsnips,” I joke to him, and he laughs pleasantly.
 So things are moving along, and I’ve committed to a check-out aisle, unloading my cart onto the conveyer belt, doing my usual tidy job of it:  heavy stuff up front; frozen foods, meat, and milk grouped together; produce in one section, poisonous cleaners in another; fragile things at the end.  I’m daydreaming about the array of Christmas cookies on the covers of the food magazines, so I don’t notice the person in line ahead of me until she snaps, “I told you I can’t lift more than five pounds!  Those bags are too heavy!” ...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Politics & Prose Class: October 16

I’ll be offering a class at Politics & Prose soon:  Right Brain Writing.  I’ve taught it before and (if I do say so!) it’s been both fun and successful, in that everyone goes home with the start of some excellent pieces.  We laugh, we cry, we write up a storm!

Thursday, October 16
3:30 – 6 PM
Explore your creative side at this afternoon of guided writing exercises designed to get you energized and your ideas flowing. No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and for fiction writers and/or memoirists with experience but who might be stuck in their current project and are looking for a jolt of inspiration. The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer.

Read more, including registration details here:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Your Writing Matters

Feeling discouraged about writing?  Let me recommend this essay by poet Karen Craigo, which should rouse your spirit and remind you that what we do as writers is important. 

…Two nights ago, I was driving up National Avenue in Springfield, Missouri, and off to my right I saw an unusual thing. There was a man trudging up the block and he carried a homemade walking stick. He had fashioned it from a long, stout branch that was made smooth, perhaps through sanding or long use, and to its base, affixed with duct tape, he had affixed a baby’s pink sneaker for traction…. When presented with a great gift like that man with the homemade walking stick, a poet has almost no choice but to tell you about him—to try to make him as real on the page as he was on that street. We would try to find some sort of purchase in his story, some overlap between his apparent experience and our own—and everyone’s. You should not expect a factual accounting from a poet. (I admit it—I’m not sure the baby shoe was pink. It was late and I was driving.) You can, however, expect an attempt at truth, something beyond fact. My spirit recognized that man, although I didn’t have a chance to meet him, and I need to tell you about him on the page. Is there any impulse more human than that?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Writing about Loss

Looking for something else on the internet, I came across this short piece by Jessica Handler about writing of loss and how she decided if she should read her dead sister’s diary while she worked on her memoir:

I couldn’t deny that I had the rare opportunity to see into my beloved sister’s heart and mind. She was no longer here to answer my questions in person, and I missed her terribly. Maybe the answers would be on those pages, in her deliberate, rounded, cursive handwriting, but I couldn’t shake the mental image of my little sister not-so-playfully slapping my hand and laughing, telling me, “that’s private!” She wouldn’t have let me read her diaries if she were alive.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Best American Poetry Reading 2014...." by Sean Thomas Dougherty

Best American Poetry Reading 2014 or a Plea to Stop Talking Trash on American Poetry and Maybe the Problem Isn’t American Poetry or the Anointed (and yes of course there are some who are anointed) but maybe the problem is you.  Read the work and shut up motherfucker.

By Sean Thomas Dougherty   


Everyone always talk shit on  American Poetry, as a dead art form, as solipsistic, elitist, stuck up, part of the 1 percent power structure. And who does it more than the poets themselves? And actual that is true, but what isn’t implicated in some form of oppression these days in America the Prisontocracy.  But what these critics forget or chose to ignore is American Poetry is huge, pluralistic and often and always an argument with itself and America.  It is both elitist and anti elitist at the same time, and it is this prismatic sense of itself that makes it one of the most alive and living art forms in the world right now, and an affront and insult for example  to the far greater elitist and Nobel driven European poetries.

On September 18th I drove down from my small working class city of Erie, PA to participate in my first ever appearance in Best American Poetry.  My poem was chosen by recently awarded McArthur Fellow Terrance Hayes.   Terrance lives down in Pittsburgh. I know Terrance. He’s cool.  But he had never done anything for me, it wasn’t like the lauded great younger writer was my patron or anything.  So it was a grand surprise to be selected.  You see, I turned my back on things academic years ago.  I don’t apply for jobs, don’t go running off to conferences, rarely ask my publishers to submit my books for awards.  But I do perform, I perform like a banshee.  I travel like a gypsy.  I’m searching for something else you see, I’m searching for something through language that only poems can explain.

A lot of my friends on the other hand are mostly caught in the poetry system, fighting for jobs, tenure, publications mean something more to them than just a cool book to be in.  The subtle jabs and insults I received from some of them were so hurtful.  Their jealousy direct.  They said things like “I wonder why I haven’t been in there.”  Or bizarre statements about me as a “semiotic indicator that the elites can manage.”  I have no idea what that means.  “I’ll never be published by BOA.”  Or the really insulting thing “well of course, because you know Terrance” who I have seen face to face once in 5 years despite him living a couple hours just down I-79. You have to understand these “friends” of mine have multiple books, teaching positions.  I haven’t been able to find a full time job in years and finally just gave up.  What more do they want? 

But I learn from them.  I learn how dead they already fucking are, how they are actually everything they pretend to hate.  And how truly free I have become.

I have to say all of this because it points to the sense of hierarchy and desperation that the system of American poetry both enables and dissipates and also to the great disappointment I often feel with other artists.  Envy, jealousy, back stabbing, all the attributes of artists in Ancient Rome, the new 21st century artists for the New Empire in Decline.  Why wasn’t I admitted to Breadloaf?  Why didn’t I get that Fellowship at Princeton?  All the poets of color get everything?  Or the Old White Men.  There is always someone in poetry getting something you deserve. But do you?  Yes those are the kinds of things so many poets say.  And yes, I know plenty of young poets of color with one book and a fancy job, The Anointed Ones.  And could point out plenty of the white old Guard still there.  Or the old Gay guard.  Or… but those are institutional questions of power and privilege I have no interest in.

I leave that to my jaded friends.  I leave them to the Anointed ones and the Gatekeepers and the Norton Anthology makers, to the professors and the police.  But you have to realize sometimes the Annointed ones are anointed for a reason.  They are really great artists.

So just leave me alone and let me write I often have to say. I live along a big dirty lake.  I try as best I can to take care of my kids and my slowly dying girlfriend.  I talk to Ritsos in the basement.  I play poker with Frank Stanford.  We wager the blues.  What I am searching for only a few can understand anyways.  Except you, Dear Reader.  You know what I am searching for.  You are searching for it too.

And so finally this gets us to the idea of Best American Poetry.  Or anything Best.  What is a Best poem?  Or even a better poem?  Honestly I haven’t thought about those terms in over a decade.  I simply make.

But let’s remove the idea of Best and simply look at Best American Poetry as an indicator of what is happening.  And we see in this 2014 such a diverse range of aesthetic, race, gender, language that speaks a deep health of the art form.

That tells me both at the center, and on the edge, what I am searching for, yes they are searching for too: That light inside the language.


I drove 7 hours that morning to Bronxville to visit my old friend Jeffrey McDaniel’s class at Sarah Lawrence.  I’ve known Jeffrey for decades, he too came out of the American performance poetry scene and is one of the poets whose language drives me and teaches me.   He’s an old friend who makes me feel safe, and he’s very aware and inside of the power structures of poetry but he rarely talks that talk with me.  He knows I live somewhere else, lost in that light along the lake.  When we talk of poems we talk of the inside of a poem, of how things are made, of life.  Of a sandwich.  We know a sandwich is a kind of poem.

I am often lost so having Jeffrey with me made my chance of getting to the Best American Reading good odds.   I was honestly a bit scared.  I was going to be reading with some huge American poets and who am I?  It wasn’t their prestige that made me nervous, but my admiration for their work

Not everyone was nice.  Don’t expect everyone to be nice.  But expect everyone to be professional. 

And they will surprise you.  Cordial goes a long way.

Here is a breakdown of  some of the reading.    

Lucie Brock Broido read quietly and beautifully.  She has the When I AM A Cool Old Woman artist-ness to her that could get her mistaken for a crazy old lady but instead she is just a genius artist.  Long on the all hair poetry team she had her amazing blonde gray hair around her like a dangling BOA as she recited from her poem “Bird, Singing”

Then, every letter opened was an oyster
Of possible bad news, pried apart to reveal

The imperfect probable pearl of your death.

Then Joel Dias Porter nailed his bluesy song  “Elegy Indigo”

How long does it take to hear what silence can say?
I stand at a stoplight, waiting for the colors to change.

Natalie Diaz read her tough mythological love poem “These Hands, if Not Gods”

Haven’t they moved like rivers—
like Glory, like light
over the seven days of your body

Mark Doty asked us in his poem “Deep Lane”

If you don’t hold still, you can have joy after joy,

but you can’t stay anywhere to love.
That’s the price, that rib rattling wind
waiting to sweep you up,

that’s the price the wind pays.

Sean Thomas Dougherty

When I got up to read a bunch of people cheered which really surprised me.  I saw BAP even sent a twitter out at that moment on the pre applause.  I mean who am I, just some old punk from the shores of Lake Erie?   I read my poem like I might punch the air.  I read it twice as slow as I meant to.  I have no idea how it went over but I read it clear.  It’s a bitter poem.  It’s made of Rust and unemployment. It leaves a feeling like chipping a tooth.

All the street assassins know you can break
A man’s neck in a second flat, they grin
At their electronic palms.  They enter and exit
Through broken arteries….

Cornelius Eady is a poet I’ve turned to since the late 80s for inspiration.  He has long been the leader of the New Guard in American poetry with his founding of Cave Canem, working to change American poetry for the better. He read  his small lyric with a cool ease a cool breeze of a poem reminding you maybe of what you’ve “Overturned” along the way

Maybe the wrong story,
Palm trees where  there should
Be pine.  And now you doubt

Everything.  Don’t you hate
Doubting everything……

Ross Gay  is a cat I’d never meet, one of the anointed in a lot of ways.  But his poems groove.  He wasn’t exactly overly friendly but he read wonderfully.  He passed out Figs before his reading then read his lyrical, thin lined Nerudesque poem, “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian”

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up

Le Hinton I’d met at Elizabethtown College where he attended an afternoon talk I gave, a real Pennsylvania gem I was so happy to get some notice.  He read “No Doubt About It (I Gotta Get Another Hat)

how does a poet
fall back into the sky
(what time is it)

Yusef Komunyakaa I had never met, he signed my book.  His graying hair is like God, and he invoked for me both in presence and word the ghost of Aimé Césaire

My negritude is the caul worked into the soil

Frannie Lindsay  I did not get to meet. I missed her in the arrival room and couldn’t find her afterwards.  I was sad because she is one of my favorite poets and  she read my favorite poem in the book “Elegy for my Mother,” it was so utterly moving and full of astonishing metaphors:

But I still have my river-mother
and all her glittering fish,

my sycamore mother who never is cold,

Major Jackson

Is just a Dear.  There is no other way to say it.  He actually gave me a hug.  I had only met Major once, very briefly, even before he had a book, and I used to do a teasing formal imitation of him.  I also used to unfriend him on Facebook just to mess with him. Because I so love his poems.  He’s the best poet to come out of Philadelphia since Tim Seibles.  Which is saying a whole lot.  He DID NOT though have on a cool hat and I was disappointed.  Later he would read “OK Cupid” a series of leaping similes that filled out loud our ears and hears with wonder and surprise that began “Dating a Catholic is like dating a tribe” and moves to such wonderful absurdities and connections as

“and dating a fireplace is like dating a mantel
and dating a mantel is like dating a picture frame
and dating a picture frame is like dating Martin Luther King with Jesus

Cate Marvin was perhaps the coolest poet there, in dress, demeanor, attitude.  She was super nice to me, and I got to talk to her a little bit. She blew me away.  her amazing opening lines from her amazing “Etiquette for Eyes”:

I don’t know
If I wore you
When I met you

But I know
the last time
I saw you you

Drank a drink
I bought you
With another

Woman who
Was far uglier
Than I have

Ever been.

What a devastating poem. 

I have run out of time when this blog is due so I will close by simply mentioning Shara McCallum powerful voice you have to read.  Valzhyna Mort who gave a beautiful and angry recitation.  Mort is a world class poet and a beautiful person.  I recommend her books to everyone.  Eileen Myles was her usual amazing self.  She is now one of the grand masters of our art.  D. Nurke, a really kind soul read a quiet lyric that was exemplary of his best work.  Greg Pardlo,  read his poem about a powerful human collision.  It was so so moving.

My friend Patrick Rosal read in B-Boy baddest voice, one of his best poems ever “You Cannot Go to the God You Love with Your Two Legs.”   The great performance poet Jon Sands  made the funniest line of the night when he walked to the stage, and said, “well I just found out I’m allergic to figs.  Everyone cracked up.  They were still wipping the seeds off from Gay’s luminous figs.  Then he read his inventive poem “DeCoded.”

Jane Springer, Afaa Michael Weaver, Rachel Zucker brought the night to a close with poems of history and language.  So marvelous.

And on the stage with us was the spirit of Jake Adam York, who sadly died last year.

If this night was indicative of the health and breath of American Poetry, than rather than lamenting its Death, the critics should acknowledge its ongoing inventiveness and courage.  Yes people we are living in a Poetry Renaissance and that night in mid September in New York City, on a stage far from the shores of Lake Erie, I heard it sing itself.   And drove away down the highway toward home the next day, still humming, still singing, with a heart full of ghostly words.


Buy the book (and honestly, don’t you absolutely feel compelled to right now??).


Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of thirteen books including All You Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994- 2014 (2014 BOA Editions) Scything Grace (2013 Etruscan Press) and Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line (2010 BOA Editions) He is the recipient of two Pennsylvania Council for the Arts Fellowships in Poetry, an appearance in Best American Poetry 2014, and a US Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans. Known for his electrifying performances he has performed at hundreds of venues across North America and Europe including the Lollapalooza Music Festival, South Carolina Literary Festival, the   Old  Dominion Literary Festival, the Dodge Poetry Festiva, and across Albania and Macedonia where he appeared on national television. He has taught creative writing at Syracuse University, Penn State University,  Case Western University, Chatham University and Cleveland State University.  He currently works at a Gold Crown Billiards in Erie, PA and tours for performances.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.