Hot Reads 11/23/14

Happy Sunday, all! I’ve been reading blogs quite a bit in the last couple of weeks (as usual!). Blogs, especially personal ones, can be really interesting and enlightening. Bloggers can make you see things from a different point of view and make you think in ways you may not have considered before. I like reading writers who live in other states, countries, and in alternative ways. Some of today’s offerings are nice representations of all that. I hope you enjoy.

 

shedFrom The Dark Mountain Project: Why I Live in a Shed: A Sideways Response to the Housing Crisis
Favorite Quote: “I could tell her about all the things I wanted to do with my wild and precious life. How I wanted to go exploring. To see with my own eyes all the wonders of the world. To ride camels and climb mountains, test myself against the elements, find my own limitations, make my own mistakes. And then, when I had finished wandering, I wanted to come home and write love songs and death poems and books about fear, because I’d felt love and I’d touched death and I’d faced oceans of fear and found oceans of courage, and, frankly, after all that life I didn’t want to go inside and sit in an office working to prop up someone else’s failing economy.”

 

From Ludica: A Brief History of the Crêpe
Favorite Quote: “I discriminate a lot when it comes to food and drink, but when it comes to the crepe I’m all about love and acceptance, wide hearted, wide armed, wide eyed, and wide mouthed.”

 

on_the_road_filmposter

 

From Ally Malinenko’s blog: The Beat Goes On….Unless You’re in Hollywood
Favorite quote: “And since then many of the women of the Beat Movement have been re-fashioned as Muses, there to inspire the brilliant men they found themselves around. Their role was to be passive, attractive, to keep their mouth shut and their eyes open and maybe, just maybe they might learn something. And this role was not specific to the Beats.”

 

 

From The Guardian: Why Must the “best new writers” Be Under 40?
Favorite Quote: “Sometimes the literary bitcoin is just life: some people have more to say aged 50, than at 30; for others it’s the opposite. But what about the writers who are slowed down because they have to do a day job? What about the authors (mainly women) whose writing time is interrupted for long periods by care for children, or relatives? “

introverts

 

From HuffPo: 10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently With the World
Favorite Quote because it is so me!: “Most introverts screen their phone calls — even from their friends — for several reasons. The intrusive ringing forces them to abandon focus on a current project or thought and reassign it to something unexpected. Plus, most phone conversations require a certain level of small talk that introverts avoid. Instead, introverts may let calls go to voicemail so they can return them when they have the proper energy and attention to dedicate to the conversation.”

 

AdultForYA-EpicReads

 

Our featured book list is from Epic Reads: 25 Adult Books for Fans of YA. I’m not much of a YA fan but, honestly, I haven’t read much of the genre at all. Several of the books on this list look interesting so this may be my bridge into wading into more YA waters.

 

Featured poem is by Marilyn Cavicchia, a poet I’ve been following online for a long time. She posted this the other day and I just loved it! I think you will too.

 

Keep This To Yourself
By Marilyn Cavicchia

Anyway, I don’t believe in
whiskers on kittens, gratitude
journals, fluffy slippers, or
any of those Martha Stewart

Good Things or whatever
it is that Oprah knows
for sure. I’m a crank,
and I’m meaner than I look.

But I know and you know
that there are still
lowercase, non-italic
(Roman, let’s say)

good things in this world,
and it is still worth
being here, if for no
other reason than to see

what happens next–even if
that thing is terrible
and you can’t stop it, so
it keeps you up at night

or it wakes you up just
before your alarm goes off.
Look, I’m not an optimist.
The power of my positive

thinking? It could maybe,
on a good day, light up
Duluth. Not even. Bemidji,
let’s say. Maybe just

a bar in Bemidji, some dark
little place with whiskey,
beer, and Paul Bunyan. Here
I am, struggling over this

on my couch in Chicago,
and there you are, wherever
it is that you are. If I
could, I’d meet you at that

Paul Bunyan bar in Bemidji,
our good things like tiny
suns, bouncing off ice cubes,
making indoor Northern Lights.
_____________________________________

Have a great reading week and remember to follow us on Pinterest!

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Hot Reads 10/19/14

photo via hitfix.com

photo via hitfix.com

I’ve been reading quite a bit about feminism and what it means to be a Feminist in today’s world. I think Beyonce’s spectacular performance at the VMA’s a while back helped bring feminism back into the spotlight and sparked some thought and conversation on the subject. The first article on my list is by – who else? – Roxane Gay. And, as is normally the way, I completely agree with her pov. The following two articles from HuffPo are pretty good lists of helpful ideas on how to raise a feminist child.

We’ve also got a New Englander espousing on what makes a true New Englander (sound familiar, New Orleanians?), the reminiscing of a former beauty pageant contestant, and a few other sundry pieces that I enjoyed in the past two weeks along with the featured book list and poem. So without further ado…..

From The Guardian: Emma Watson? Jennifer Lawrence? These aren’t the feminists you’re looking for.
Favorite quote: “This is the real problem feminism faces. Too many people are willfully ignorant about what the word means and what the movement aims to achieve. But when a pretty young woman has something to say about feminism, all of a sudden, that broad ignorance disappears or is set aside because, at last, we have a more tolerable voice proclaiming the very messages feminism has been trying to impart for so damn long.”

From HuffPo: 25 Feminist Lessons for My Sons and 32 Feminist Lessons for my Daughter
Favorite quotes:  (From “Sons”) “It is up to us to ensure that the lessons of feminism and gender equality (and all kinds of equality, for that matter) are so deeply rooted in our family’s core that they leak out slowly and constantly — during playdates and in sports and, yes, in the kitchen while we put away the dinner dishes.”
(From “Daughter”) “You may have the right to vote, access to birth control and the ability to date who you want, but it wasn’t always this way. Women fought and died for these rights you currently enjoy. And your generation has its own struggles carved out to fight.”

photo via luna luna

photo via luna luna

 

From Luna Luna Magazine: I’m a Recovering Teenage Beauty Queen
Favorite quote: “To think that in this day and age, beauty contests still haven’t been laughed out of existence worries me. What could a contestant possibly learn from her experience? Whether she wins or loses, the lesson is clear: either you are superior or inferior to another female. She is your enemy. And value, recognition and, of course, beauty, are the prizes for beating her. There is no shared crown. No camaraderie. No sisterhood.”

 

From shebooks: Lee Montgomery: New Englanders Don’t Write Blogs (and 20 other things you never knew about the Northeast)
Favorite quote: “New Englanders do not wear those fat rimmed cordoroys, khakis, or Izod shirts. A true New Englander would not be caught dead in penny loafers.”
Note: When I ran across this article I just had to read it because what makes a true New Orleanian comes up locally all the time. I see it on social media and hear it in conversation so often it’s getting to be an eye roll moment for me. But, apparently, it goes on in other parts of the country too and that’s what made this read so fascinating for me. Plus, I know absolutely nothing about the Northeast. I thought they all wore penny loafers up there.

From The Daily Beast: Diane von Furstenberg: Becoming the Woman She Wanted To Be  (hat tip to Grace Athas via FaceBook)
Favorite quote: “I didn’t used to talk nearly as much about my mother. I took her for granted, as children do their mothers. It was not until she died in 2000 that I fully realized what an incredibly huge influence she had been on me and how much I owe her.”

From Longreads: Interview: Vela Magazine Founder Sarah Menkedick on Women Writers and Sustainable Publishing
Favorite quote: “I am of the persuasion that the great democratizing force of the internet is a fantastic thing for young writers, women writers, writers who’ve historically been excluded from the conversation.”
Note: Yes! Yes! Yes!

From On Books and Writing: 2 Things I Learned Reading Only Books by Women for a Month

image via englishpen.org

image via englishpen.org

Favorite quote: “I didn’t realize it at the time, but there seems to be a default switch in my head that goes to white male authors, and I think/fear that it may also be this way for others (How else do you explain the permanent space Patterson/King/Grisham/Child/Brown seem to have at the top of bestseller lists?).”

From The Rumpus: The Rumpus Interview With “Women in Clothes”
Favorite quote: “I think my sense of my family was that we had no culture, that we were culture-less. I was always seeking other people and other families that seemed to have much more defined, inherited, passed-down culture than mine did. Of course, looking back, that’s completely incorrect. And doing this book—in a way it makes me able to see my own family with a bit more clarity, because it seems to be maybe invisible to you at first.”
Note: Since I recently read this book (my review here) I really enjoyed reading this and gaining a little more insight into their thinking and the logistics of gathering information from the participants.

photo via bonjourparis.com

Featured Booklist from Finding Time to Write: Books Set in Paris.
Because who wouldn’t want to read a book set in Paris selected by a French blogger who’s a damn fine writer herself? Thanks, Marina Sofia!

 

 

Photo credit: Charlotte Hamrick

Photo credit: Charlotte Hamrick

Poem of the week is “Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon” by Robert Okaji, a romantic, sweet poem that I just love.

 

Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon
– for Lissa

1
Tilt your head and laugh
until the night bends
and I see only you.

2
Weave the wind into song.
Rub its fabric over your skin.
For whom does it speak?

3
Remove all stars and streetlights.
Remove thought, remove voice.
Remove me. But do not remove yourself.

4
Tear the clouds into threads
and place them in layered circles.
Then breathe slowly into my ear.

5
Drink deeply. Raise your eyes to the brightness
above the cedars. Observe their motion
through the empty glass. Repeat.

6
Talk music to me. Talk conspiracies
and food and dogs and rain. Do this
under the wild night sky.

7
Harvest red pollen from the trees.
Cast it about the room
and look through the haze.

8
From the bed, gaze into the mirror.
The reflection you see is the darkness
absorbing your glow.

9
Fold the light around me, and listen.
You are the moon in whose waters
I would gladly drown.

________________________________________________

And, speaking of poems, I’m very excited to have four of mine up at The Poetry Storehouse, an outstanding website featuring new and established poets and beautiful video poems by talented remixers. Check it out!

Have a great reading week and don’t forget to follow our Hot Reads board on Pinterest.

My Favorite Banned Book

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When I think of books that made the biggest impression on me the first one that comes to mind is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The entire time I read this book I felt like a lightbulb was repeatedly coming on over my head as I’d think, This could really happen. This book scared me with its possibilities but it also made me mad and made me think.  For those who haven’t read it, it’s basically about a fundamentalist, conservative religious group that assassinates the president and Congress, suspends the Constitution and severely restricts the rights of women in society. Older, infertile women are put in labor camps while young, fertile women (Handmaids) become breeders for rich, infertile couples as the birth rate has dropped dramatically. The story is told by one of these breeder women, Offred, with flashbacks to the time leading up to this totalitarian state:

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.
Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.
I was stunned. Everyone was, I know that. It was hard to believe. The entire government, gone like that. How did they get in, how did it happen?
That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.
Look out, said Moira to me, over the phone. Here it comes.
Here what comes? I said.

The Handmaid’s freedom is severely restricted to her Commander’s home where her door is never closed and when she is allowed to leave the house she’s watched by the secret police force. Women are not allowed to vote, own property, have jobs, or even read.

Are they old enough to remember anything of the time before, playing baseball, in jeans and sneakers, riding their bicycles? Reading books, all by themselves? even though some of them are no more than fourteen-Start them soon is the policy, there’s not a moment to be lost-still they’ll remember. And the ones after them will, for three or four or five years; but after that they won’t. They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent.

I think it’s ironic that one of our most basic rights, the right to Read is a right denied in this story,a book frequently on banned or challenged lists.
Don’t be silent. Speak up about your right to read any book of your choosing.

Support Banned Books Week.

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Guest Blogger Theo Eliezer of Momma Tried Magazine on Issue 1, the Importance of Body Diversity, and How to Order Issue 2!

MT_Local

Local Honey by Xavier Juarez with Georges by Jeff Nelson

Long time readers of Nola Femmes may remember my last guest blog post from 2013 when my partner and I were gearing up to print the first issue of our indie publication, Momma Tried magazine. Looking back on that piece now it seems like I wrote it a lifetime ago. So much has happened since then: we were super fortunate to raise the money for our printing costs thanks to hundreds of people via Kickstarter, our first printer dropped us because they said our content was “clearly intended to cause arousal” (but we found a new more progressive printer in Iceland!), we had the most wonderful launch party at Parse gallery, and to top it all off, one of our most exciting developments has been getting the magazine stocked internationally in Paris, London, and Amsterdam! International distribution was one of our most ambitious goals when we first started working on self publishing the magazine, so it’s incredible and surreal that our New Orleans nudie mag is now at the Tate Modern!

 Creating the second issue of Momma Tried has been amazing and challenging, and we’re so proud of the finished result. As with Issue 1, I conceived of and art directed three nude photo editorials and recruited friends to join us in making them come to life, including the very talented photographers Daniel Ford, Josh Smith, and Sarrah Danziger. All of our our nude editorials feature people that are members of our New Orleans community: artists, teachers, bartenders, musicians, indie filmmakers, drag queens, activists, and contributors whose work appears elsewhere in the magazine, all collaborating in the creation of images that celebrate the body, gender expressions, and sexuality in a range of diverse forms. As part of our ethic of embracing the nuances of everyone’s varying identities, none of our model’s bodies have been digitally retouched in the photos that you’ll see in the magazine. It just seems so much more healthy, interesting, and artistically valuable to show how beautiful and charismatic people are without photoshop changing the way their bodies look. In addition to our amazing models, a number of our contributors are also New Orleans-based artists, such as photographer Xavier Juarez, whose candid approach to photography (seen in the layout sample above) is so dreamy and intimate that I feel like I was right beside him as he captured each photo.

 We’ve come so far in the past year between sending Issue 1 off into the world and working so hard on bringing together a new group of over 60 artists and writers, and now we’re incredibly close to printing our second issue! The very last step of the process is underway: we’re raising money for our printing costs with a presale campaign (via Kickstarter) that allows our readers to purchase the issue at the normal retail price, and through everyone’s backing, we hope to have the funds needed to send the issue to our printer by mid-October! If you’d like to learn more about Momma Tried, are curious to see more samples of content for Issue 2, or want to preorder your copy, please check out our campaign, and share it with friends who might be interested in reading our next issue of Momma Tried! We hope you love it!!

 

 The Momma Tried Issue 2 presale campaign will run from Tuesday Sept 8th – Wednesday Oct 9th

 For more about Momma Tried: www.mommatriedmagazine.com

Contact: editor@mommatriedmagazine.com

Hot Reads

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Pinterest. I think there are a lot of people out there who think Pinterest is for housewives to post recipes and baby stuff but it’s so much more! The idea of a virtual bulletin board is so much fun and that’s what Pinterest is. There’s so much I run across on the internet that I want to keep. In the past I’ve used Delicious and Instapaper which are good sites in their own way but I rarely went back to look for anything I kept there. I don’t use them anymore because I’ve started using Pocket where I’ve been very diligent about proper and useful tagging so I can find something when I want it. So far, so good. But the thing I love about Pinterest is the dominant visual aspect of it which makes it so easy to find stuff. I’m a very visual person and Pinterest is perfect for cataloging the gorgeous photography and art that I love, for giving me the push to try that new recipe (yes!) that I saved that looks so damn good. (See previous post!) It’s great for so many things and now I’ve started a new board which is what this post is about.

On my personal Pinterest account I’ve started a “Hot Reads From NOLAFemmes.com” board. I’ve been keeping articles from the internet that grab me on Pocket since I opened the account but I really like, again, the visual aspect of Pinterest that helps to pique your attention. These are pieces I want to share with our readers so I hope you’ll follow and enjoy the board. I also plan to try to post my Hot Reads here every week (or so) with a link to the board.

So what were my Hot Reads last week? I thought you’d never ask!

hotreads11. From Mother Jones, “Lidia Yuknavitch Flicks Off Frued.
Tagline: An irreverent remake of a renowned case, the new novel “Dora: a Headcase” delivers a gritty take on girlhood.
My favorite quote: “I want to create new girl myths,” she says of Dora. “Instead of always talking about how women struggle in the face of certain models, what if we spent more energy highlighting all these great other possible girl-paths, and turned away from the dominant culture?”

2. The Wall Street Journal: “Maggie Gyllenhaal on The Honorable Woman.”hotreads2
Tagline: Just as war in Israel and Gaza fills the news, a drama on SundanceTV explores the region’s turmoil.
My favorite quote: “Behind my intention in making this is compassion and, maybe it’s naive, a belief in the possibility of reconciliation, which our show never takes off the table.”
Note: I watched the premiere of this series and it’s looking really promising.

3. From The New York Times, “Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminism.”
Tagline: The author speaks with Jessica Gross about her favorite definition of feminism, ‘‘Sweet Valley High’’ and the fetishization of bad writing.hotreads3
My favorite quote: “I think that narrative is a fetish among faculty, not a reality. They fetishize the idea of bad writing, and they are more interested in the lore of bitching about students’ writing than they are in actually evaluating students’ writing as it is.”
Note: Gay’s Bad Feminist comes out this week and I can’t wait to get my pre-ordered copy!

4. From HuffPo, 8 Great New Books By Women You Should Definitely Readhotreads4
Every Hot Reads list has to have a book list and this is the one that intrigues me the most.
Maddie Crum begins by saying, “2014 has been deemed the Year of Reading Women. I wholeheartedly support this movement; after all, only diminutive steps have been made towards gender parity in the literary world since the institution of VIDA’s annual book review count (with the notable exception of the New York Times book review, which bounded towards equal coverage in just one year).”
I say, Yep! Read women! And follow the Twitter feed.

hotreads55. From Brain Pickings, Vacation Sex: A Poem by Dorianne Laux
Every Hot Reads list MUST include a great poem and this is a great poem and a great way to end the list. The piece includes text and video and, damn, who doesn’t want to read about vacation sex?

Women Who Write: Julie Kane

This is the third in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Julie Kane

Julie Kane

Our featured poet today is Julie Kane. Julie’s poetry collections include Rhythm & Booze (University of Illinois Press, 2003), which was Maxine Kumin’s selection for the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the Poets’ Prize; Jazz Funeral (Story Line Press, 2009), which won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, judged by David Mason; and Paper Bullets (White Violet Press, 2014), a new collection of light verse. Together with Grace Bauer, she co-edited the anthology Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox (2006), which became a finalist for the Southern Independent  Booksellers Alliance book prize in poetry. The nonfiction Vietnam memoir that she co-authored with Kiem Do (Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War, 1998) became a History Book Club featured alternate selection. Recently she wrote the libretto for Starship Paradise, a one-act opera with music by Dale Trumbore that was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia. Her poems appear in over forty anthologies and in journals such as Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and The Southern Review. They have also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. The 2011-2013 Louisiana Poet Laureate,she has also been the George Bennett Fellow in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, the New Orleans Writer in Residence at Tulane University, a faculty member of the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, and a Fulbright Scholar to Vilnius Pedagogical University in Lithuania. Currently she is a Professor of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and a Contributing Editor to Light Magazine.

THOSE SUNDAY DRIVES

You used to bore me with your monologues
on drives through old “New Awlins” neighborhoods:
what family had what house when you were young
and where some candy store or bank had stood.
Who cares about the past? I used to think.
We Yankee Irish pulled up roots a lot,
escaping relatives with chicken coops
and cabbage boiling in a kitchen pot.
But that was all before the hurricane
our Mason-Dixon love did not survive—
a minor loss beside a thousand dead,
four houses flooded out of every five.
So much has changed: Time speeded up her clock,
and now I bore all riders with my talk.

What is your earliest recollection of the desire to write down your own thoughts?
When I was seven years old, I had a collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen with several blank white pages at the end. I knew with absolute certainty that I was supposed to write my own story on those pages, and I did, printing it in pencil. It was about a girl who was helping her mother make whipped cream, but she whipped it too long and it turned into butter, and then her fairy godmother appeared and granted her one wish, and she turned the butter back to “wiped cream.” I still have that book.

Do you remember your first poem? What was it about?

I don’t remember the very first one, but I have a copy of one I wrote in 5th grade, when we were studying logging in our social studies textbook (God only knows why). It begins: “The loggers are busy cutting trees / with saws that sound like bumblebees . . .”

Is writing your full-time occupation?

Ha! Advice to any aspiring poets out there: don’t quit your day job! I am an English professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Before I got my doctorate, I worked for many years as a technical writer and editor.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes, it is my primary genre, but I also publish creative nonfiction, and I write scholarly essays and book reviews about literature. Last year I wrote the libretto for a one-act opera that was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I can write prose when I am not inspired and produce a lousy first draft, and then go back to it and improve it later, but poetry is different—I have to be feeling inspired to write a poem, or it just does not flow. I handwrite in pencil on lined paper, and I keep crossing out and crumpling up sheets of paper—the first draft of a one-page poem might take me several hours. Then I have to put it aside for awhile, a few days or a few weeks, before I can look at it objectively and tweak word choices or individual lines. Sometimes I will get the idea for a poem but know that I am not ready to write it yet. There are a few poems that have taken me years between the time the idea came to me and the time I felt ready to write it.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

I have a huge study with bookshelves and a desk, but my favorite place to write is a little breakfast table that looks out on my yard, with birdfeeders and trees and flowers.

I read an interview where you said you can not force poetry if you’re not feeling
inspired (and I silently cheered!). So many writers advise to write every day, to
actually force yourself, that it’s good practice. What do you think about that p.o.v.?

I think it’s a good idea to write every day if you are working on a novel or a dissertation or
another long prose work, but it does not work for me in terms of poetry. It does for some poets,though.

Where was the strangest place that inspiration hit you for a poem and how did it turn out?

There have been times when I was driving my car and a line or idea would come to me, and I have had to fish in my purse for a pen and the back of one of the deposit slips in my checkbook to try to write it down while driving. Then sometimes I go back to those cryptic jottings and wonder, What on earth was I thinking?

Are there any recurrent themes in your poems? If so, why do you think that is?

Other people are better than I am at spotting themes, since I am inside the poems and they are outside. But certainly, love and the breakdown of contemporary relationships, fate versus free will, alcoholism, mortality, Irish Catholicism, Louisiana nature and culture.

I am somewhat a collector of words. Do you have any favorite words?

I think my favorite is “newfangleness,” from the 16th century poem “They Flee from Me,” by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. It means “fickleness.”

Do you have any tips to share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

You have to love the act of writing enough to finish what you start, or what’s the point? There are so many other things competing for our time and attention—there is no need to torture yourself, if you don’t love to do it. It can be hard sitting down in the writing chair and getting started, but once that creative flow takes over, it should be more fun than Netflix or Facebook!

I know that you studied briefly under Anne Sexton at Boston University. What is the one most important thing you learned from her?

She told us not to be afraid to be a fool for poetry—not to worry about whether anyone would like us or respect us because of what we wrote. It was the opposite of the advice my mother drilled into me while I was growing up, which was to always worry about what other people were thinking, to be well-behaved at all times.

You were Louisiana’s Poet Laureate for 2011-2013. Do you remember how you felt the minute you were told that you were chosen?

I was sitting in my office at work, getting ready to teach a night class, when I opened an email message from a member of the governor’s staff. It said that the governor would like to name me the next Poet Laureate. I was so happy and excited, I let out a very loud scream! And then a student who was out in the hall poked his head in my office to ask if I were OK.

Did you learn anything that surprised you during your time as Poet Laureate?

I was stunned to find so many thousands of people who care about poetry, all around the state: from teenaged dropouts in an alternative high school to the Colonial Dames of Shreveport.

There is a burgeoning poetry community online and new lit journals popping up all the time. Some people think it’s just so much “look at me” noise and unworthy of notice while others celebrate more open and diverse opportunities for poets to share their work. What do you think?

I think online publication is wonderful—it means that anyone can find and read your poem online, and that the size of the audience is potentially unlimited. I love the look and feel of a beautiful print journal or a book, but I also love the democracy of online publishing. Also, online forums and listservs and social media make it possible for writers who share a certain interest—such as those of us who write in form, the so-called “New Formalists”—to share news and build a sense of community that counters the isolation of writing.

I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

It is impossible for me to name all of my favorite living poets, but I can name some of my favorites who are no longer living: the ancient Chinese poets including Po Chu-i, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, John Donne, Charles Baudelaire, Constantine Cavafy, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Anna Ahkmatova, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney.

Finally, do you have any upcoming readings or appearances you can share with us?

I have several readings coming up in Washington, DC, next week. Together with the current Louisiana Poet Laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon, I will be reading at the National Press Club of Washington, DC, at 12 noon on April 15. That reading is sponsored by the American Women Writers National Museum. That same evening at 7 PM, Ava and I and two other women poets will be reading at the Arts Club of Washington. The following day, we will read our poems for a taping of Grace Cavalieri’s radio show, “The Poet and the Poem.” Later this month (April 27), I will be taking part in a reading at the Zachary Public Library that will honor the memory of Wilmer Mills, a Louisiana poet who died young.

_______________________________

Thank you, Julie, for sharing your thoughts with us today!

To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here. Next Friday: Valentine Pierce.

Women Who Write: Cassie Pruyn

This is the second in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Cassie Pruyn

Cassie Pruyn

Today we feature Cassie Pruyn. Cassie is a New Orleans-based poet born and raised in Portland, Maine. She is currently studying at The Bennington Writing Seminars. Her obsessions include geographic history, geographic mystery, and the impossible struggle to express place through language. Her poems have been featured in The Double Dealer, she placed second runner-up in the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Indiana Review 1/2K Prize.

THE NEW ORLEANS AFFAIR

Poor Mississippi. 
Barge-laden, crowned with bluffs. 
She’s been scorned by this city, 
who once loved her enough 

to lay himself down along 
her S like a set 
of ribs (overeager stone- 
stacker, naive architect). 

Her lover’s put a wall up. 
He won’t touch her, won’t 
let her leave––he’s boarded shut 
the windows, girdled her, stripped 

her banks clear of “debris.” 
In the beginning, he smelled 
of blood and fresh pralines. 
She lapped at him nightly, cradling 

his churches and ridges, 
porches and cisterns; she flooded 
him yearly, tickled his drainage. 
Still he insisted 

on having her tamed. 
Planning her revenge, crisscrossed 
with tourniquets, she’ll claim 
him again––it’s his loss, 

she’ll make sure of it. For near 
the levees’ concrete bases,
small cracks have begun to appear. 
She strokes the crevices

with her long tongue, reminiscing: 
Remember those hand-dug canals?
Canoes made of cypresses? 
Even those vulgar sawmills 

she’d prefer to this half-sunk grime. 
Only muffled voices 
now, as she considers her choices; 
seagulls, girders, and plenty of time.


How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

I’ve been writing poetry, at least semi-consistently, for about fifteen years. Like many writers, I started out as an avid reader, but primarily of novels and stories. I’ve given a fair amount of thought, therefore, to the question “why poetry?” as opposed to any other genre or craft, and my best guess is that it comes out of a strong love of words––for the musicality and physicality of words in specific––and also for the compactness inherent in poetry as opposed to prose. I always loved a good story as a kid, but I also loved song lyrics. I loved the container of the song, the way a song can be used as a vehicle for expression. But I was not cut out to be a musician—the words would come, but never a melody.

I also think the way I experience and think about the world lends itself to writing poetry––or at least the desire to write poetry. Any writer has to be a keen observer, but I imagine for a fiction writer this act of observing has more to do with the way human beings relate to one another, or to themselves, as it pertains to the sustainment of a narrative. Well, really, I have no idea how fiction writers think—narrative and imagining characters is never something that has come naturally to me. Rather, I seem to experience the world as a series of atmospheric moments––a kind of holistic sensory impact, as encapsulated by specific moments in time. This is also why I love writing about space and place.


Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes; and not yet. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attempted to write a story, and they were all in response to prompts given by teachers. As I mentioned above, I’m a reader of narrative but not yet a writer of narrative. At some point, I’d really love to expand that part of my brain (because they really do feel like separate mental faculties––the writing of poetry vs. the writing of narrative prose) and challenge myself to attempt a novel, but who knows when and if that will happen. I do love writing critical prose—reviews, close readings, and the like—however.


What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

I love this question! It’s been great to think back to those sentimental, angst-ridden poems of my adolescence. While I can’t remember my absolute first poem, I know I began writing them in earnest when I was 11, my first year in middle school and my first year in a new town. I grew up in an 18th century farmhouse in rural Maine, but when I was 11, after my parents had split up, we moved to the suburbs. If a new school, combined with the onslaught of puberty and a huge geographical/atmospheric change wouldn’t inspire a young poet-to-be to begin writing, I don’t know what would! I remember coming home from school, gazing out the window, and writing rhyming poems in my journal. I seem to remember a poem that revolved around the trope of  a red rose with prickly thorns (obviously!).

Is writing your full-time occupation? If not, how do you fit writing into your work and personal life?

I consider writing to be my full-time job at the moment, in part because I am finishing up my MFA this semester, but I also work as a full-time nanny. Right now, my schedule involves dropping the kids off at school, writing most of the day, and then picking them up and working until 7 o’clock. It’s a lucky little life I lead; I love my job and I love having a lot of structured time to write. At some point, I’d love to teach in some capacity, but I also feel inclined to hold onto the schedule I have. Aside from money, time seems to be that thing that professional (or non-professional) writers covet the most. I feel lucky to be able to have that right now.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I find it really difficult to talk about process, because I find my process is constantly shifting to accommodate whatever project I’m working on. And in general, I find the process of writing a poem/series of poems to be an often frustratingly fluid experience. I try to balance structure with inspiration, routine with spontaneity, in order to be the most productive I can be without at the same time choking my poems before they even have a chance to come out. I’ll say, “Ok, I’m going to start writing at 9:30 and stop at 1:00, I’m going to turn off my phone, I’m going to take one or two short breaks, I’m going to work on developing this part of my project,” etc. but then who knows what actually happens on any given day within the parameters I’ve set for myself. I might strike upon an entirely new idea, I might finish something I hadn’t planned on finishing, or I might get virtually no writing done and spend the day sighing and un-inspired. If I ever start to feel uninspired, though, I run to the bookshelf immediately!

The amazing essayist Jo Ann Beard, in a lecture I heard her give once, said that process is as unique as a fingerprint: it’s utterly different for everyone. I find that idea really liberating. She said, regardless of whatever form it takes, though, that it has to do with entering into and staying inside of––for as long as possible––that realm of imagination, with sustaining the imaginal logic of whatever the piece of writing may be. This is an insanely difficult thing to do. She likened it to trying to hold a beach ball underwater for hours at a time, without letting it bob back up to the surface. I think that analogy is really apt. Process is definitely an unwieldy beast.

I do know that I spend an incredible amount of time editing––or reimagining––every poem I write. I tend to work in series of poems, and so I spend a lot of time rearranging and re-conceiving how my poems relate to one another, as well as tweaking individual lines and words. Writing successfully, for me, has everything to do with editing, which is not to discredit the value of those momentary bursts of inspiration––but those, for me, can come at any time during the process of working on the poem, and not just when I’m first setting it down on the page.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

When I’m trying to come up with a new idea, I really enjoy writing in coffee shops. I like the buzz and the energy (although I’m always the dork in the corner with ear plugs in; I can’t write to music because it messes me up when I’m trying to “hear” my poems). But, because I tend to come up with long-term “project” ideas that often require research or printing a bunch of poems out and rearranging them, I do a lot of my writing at home. I’ll write anywhere in my apartment––on the couch, on the bed, at my standing desk, at the counter. I find when I’m really trying to sit with a poem or group of poems, really trying to “hold the beach ball under,” as it were, I like to be at home. As most writers seem to be, I am very introverted. While I enjoy being the fly on the wall sometimes, the occasional “flaneur” about town, at the end of the day I really just want to be alone in my little cave!

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

Don’t give up! Allow yourself to struggle! Sit with the discomfort of struggling. This is something I’ve learned the hard way, and will probably learn the hard way again. I’m a perfectionist, and I like to achieve––but this is something you have to both cultivate and push against as a writer. You have to want it enough to keep going, but be humble enough to understand that you’re going to have to mess it up to get it right. I’ve been circling about one project––one source of inspiration––for over five years now, and failed countless times in trying to give voice to this inspiration. Like, really failed. But, it’s like Bob Dylan says: “There’s no success like failure.” It’s such a cliche but it’s true. Understand that you’re going to “fail,” but don’t let it demoralize you; learn from it instead. And, during those occasional moments of confusion and panic, if you come back to your essential love for writing, the reason you came to it in the first place, you’ll push through to the other side. At least this is what I tell myself literally every. single. day. It’s far easier said than done, but I think it’s the difference between writing and, well, not.


Who’s work has inspired yours?

There are many poets who’ve inspired me, but Elizabeth Bishop is someone I’m thinking a lot about right now. Bishop achieves this very real intimacy with the reader, but never by giving the reader information about herself directly. You get to know her by looking with her. She describes objects and landscapes with such detail and texture, and the way you end up feeling close to her is by getting to see these things too, in the way that she sees them. It’s about witnessing the rhythms of the poet’s unique mind, thinking the way she thinks for the duration of the poem. I am not what you would call a “confessional” poet. Even when I am writing on or from emotion, I am always fictionalizing it to a certain extent. I think I am an inherently private person. But a writer has to make the reader feel welcome, nonetheless; she has to let the reader get to know her in certain essential ways, even if it’s not the way she’d let, say, her best friend get to know her. Bishop really exemplifies this. Plus, she writes about geography too.


I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

I could never pick just one favorite either, but here are some poets I love:

Frank Bidart, Rita Dove, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sarah Messer, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Maggie Nelson, Frank Stanford, Lyn Hejinian, Donald Hall, Joan Ashbery, Joseph Brodsky, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare….and that’s just poetry! I could go on and on….


Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

It feels silly to try and predict what I might be working on in 5 years, although it seems as though I’ve got two projects going at the moment––I thought they belonged together at first, but now I don’t think they do. I’m working on a series of historically-based poems about Colonial America, and another series having to do with a particular relationship in my life. It’d be great if, say, I finished one of those projects and published it as my first book of poems, and were on my way into writing my next book in five years. Who knows how these plans will change, though. It may take considerably longer to achieve that. I also have an idea for a series of poems on the Mississippi River. I’d like to write a magical-realism history of the Mississippi River, in verse––go big or go home, right?!

Whatever I’m doing, I hope I’m making time to write and feeling inspired. That’s all I really want for myself, period––but it’d be nice if something got published here and there along the way….

Are there any online or print journals you read and recommend? Are there any venues for sharing/listening to poetry that you recommend?

I’m definitely in the beginning stages of combing through all the awesome journals available online or in print. As in, I’ve only been playing the trying-to-get-published game for about a year (although that’s not the only reason to read literary journals!), and not as consistently as I ought to be. I find the process pretty overwhelming. There is so much out there. And if I could afford to just buy subscriptions to all of the journals that look interesting, and had the time to read all of them, I really would. It seems really difficult, however, to put quality time into your writing and to also find enough time to really expose yourself to the world of published work. I don’t know how people do it!

As for the second part of the question, I think any poetry event––readings, Slam performances, etc.––in New Orleans is worth going to. It’s such a welcoming (and relatively small) city, so going to these events is a great way to meet people, and to connect and reconnect with other local writers. I’m easy to please with this type of thing––I love just being around other people who also find it worthwhile to sit down and write every day, regardless in our potential aesthetic differences. I think New Orleans is a great place to be an artist right now, for many reasons. It’s a highly inspiring, highly stimulating place with delightfully low levels of pretentiousness, and you’ll start to hear it creeping in to everyone’s work, your own included, which just serves to create another connection between you and other local writers.

What are some of your favorite words and why?

This is even harder than picking a favorite author! In general, though, I like English words with more Germanic sounds, words with texture and punch. I also like single-syllabic words a lot.Straw. Gut. Hook. Orange. Those are my favorites tonight!

_________________________________

Thank you, Cassie, for sharing your interesting pov with us today!

peauxdunqueCassie will be reading at the upcoming literary event Yeah, You Write, a Word Rebellion: Readings and Music, on April 18 at Cafe Istanbul. For more info see the FaceBook page of Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, sponsors of the event.

 
To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Next Friday: Julie Kane

Women Who Write

Audubon Park Labyrinth, New Orleans

Audubon Park Labyrinth, New Orleans

 

During the month of April, Poetry Month, I’ll be featuring four women poets from Louisiana. They will tell us their writing process, what they read, who they admire, what their favorite words are and many, many other things. They will share a poem with us. They will be beautiful examples of why you should date/love/marry/admire/emulate women who write.

It’s going to be great.

“You should date a girl who reads.
Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”
Rosemarie Urquico

 

 

Those Who Came Before Us

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Marilyn Monroe, Isak Dinesen, Carson McCullers

I came across this photo of three women I admire, all together, and had to share it with you. Isn’t it fabulous? “On this day in 1959, Carson McCullers hosted a small luncheon party in order that Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke (Isak Dinesen) could meet Marilyn Monroe.” Read more here.

“Where the storyteller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there, in the end, silence will speak. Where the story has been betrayed, silence is but emptiness. But we, the faithful, when we have spoken our last word, will hear the voice of silence.” ~Isak Dinesen

Local author Ronlyn Domingue in the middle of the Simon & Schuster/Barnes & Noble contract dispute

Recently, a friend of mine, Ronlyn Domingue, published her second novel, The Mapmaker’s War. Ronlyn’s a fantastic writer and The Mapmaker’s War is a inventive and inspired book. However, since her first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in 2005, the publishing industry has changed drastically. It’s often very hard for authors to make their books visible to the reading public.

It’s recently gotten even harder for some authors with recent titles from Simon & Schuster, including Ronlyn, because S&S is involved in a contract dispute with Barnes & Noble. This means The Mapmaker’s War, as well as other recent S&S titles, are not being carried in B&N stores.

The greater workings of this contract dispute are complicated, but the easy take-away is that authors with recent S&S books need help spreading the word about their books since there are no B&N front-of-store-placements or co-ops available to them right now. Please do them a favor and check out some of their titles here. Read them and tell as many people as you can to check them out, too.

Something else that’s changed significantly since 2005? Social media. Fans just voted on Facebook and picked Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book cover. Together, we can tell people about the S&S titles we like and help the authors get read.

Ronlyn recently had book signing events in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where she lives. Her books can be found at the great local booksellers Garden District Books and Cottonwood Books, among others.

Ronlyn signing a huge stack of books at Garden District Books. She put handmade bookmarks in each one!

Ronlyn signing a huge stack of books at Garden District Books. She put handmade bookmarks in each one!