"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Poetry as Change, Refugees, our new Poet Laureate and 100 Thousand Poets for Change

“Poetry is a call to action and it also is action. Sometimes we say, "This tragedy, it happened far away. I don't know what to do. I'm concerned but I'm just dangling in space." A poem can lead you through that, and it is made of action because you're giving your whole life to it in that moment. And then the poem — you give it to everyone. Not that we're going to change somebody's mind — no, we're going to change that small, three-minute moment. And someone will listen. That's the best we can do.” - Juan Felipe Herrera

I met my friend at Coffeebar this morning – it was our first opportunity to catch up since she had returned from her first experience of Burning Man (see her beautiful article in The Tahoe Weekly). After she filled me in, I was surprised that she hadn’t heard about the horrible situation refugees in Europe were experiencing as they escaped war in Syria and other places. She'd been in another world. The news has pressed on me daily – and their helplessness in the face of brutality makes my own helplessness seem that much more insignificant.  What is our responsibility to stay informed on international updates?  How can we live a life that does not reinforce the inequalities that cause these problems? My friend asked “how can we live open to love? That’s the problem. No one wants these people who aren’t of their own tribe.”  I feel that I can’t make a turn without needing to reprimand myself for a choice I make on how I live.
Last weekend I was in Texas at my uncle’s memorial service.  He died suddenly last Tuesday.  How would I want to be spoken about by friends and family at the end of my life? What is important is what we do, actions we take, how we reach out to others, how we impact each other.  That’s what I took away from a weekend of reconnecting with cousins and relatives I hadn’t seen in over a decade.  They were open and welcoming to me and my brothers and family.  That’s what matters.

That’s why our new Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrerra inspires and comforts me as much as he does.  I met him last year when he came to the Writers in the Woods reading series at Sierra Nevada College to read his poetry with Jane Hirshfield.  His voice is soft and sure and listening to him read his poems made me want to sit down and free my own voice in the way he has let his voice free.  He was interviewed on NPR a few nights ago and spoke about poetry as action. A call to action, yes, but writing the poem, and the poem itself, is action. This is an antidote to my helplessness.

This idea of poetry as action and even change is the foundation of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a national event happening September 26th. I’ve helped organize a local event at Sundance Books in Reno from 3-4:30 pm that Saturday afternoon.  A panel discussion will explore the idea of change and how poems can take on the idea of change.  An open mic will feature poems of change.  If you have been feeling helpless, come to our event on 9/26 and tend to the actions you take each moment. As my friend says, every small gesture makes a difference.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Drought, Missing Out, and Writing

We are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do... We share our lives with the people we have failed to be. – Adam Phillips 

Recently I hiked out to Prosser Reservoir via the Sagehen Creek trail with Stoli. The water was a sunken blue meniscus in the dirt surrounding it, the area it used to fill, what it used to be, and what defines it now. I was thinking about the quote from Adam Phillips, that our lives are informed by the lives that got away from us, what we feel we are missing.

I just returned from a road trip to Colorado to reconnect with who I was in my 20's, when it was easier to stand still, listen, and breathe in beauty. I am surprised there is any water in the reservoir today. The Manzanita leaves have begun changing to yellow and Cottonwood leaves have fallen golden to cover the winding trail. That person I was - where is she now?

As Phillips wrote in Missing Out, "we may need to think of ourselves as always living a double life, the one that we wish for and the one that we practice; the one that never happens and the one that keeps happening." When I write I sense this same gap between what I want the shape to be and what the shape becomes. On the page is the double life of the piece - what it becomes and what it could have been. I think forgiveness in writing is saying this is who I am. I want to bring this forgiveness into my writing this fall, to take this windy path towards an original expression.

I'm really excited about the new series of workshops starting mid-September in Fiction and Non-Fiction. If you are working on a book project and want to ready it for publication (or finish it), these workshops are for you. The Tuesday night workshop is a fun and generative workshop for beginners as well as experienced writers who want to learn new methods to be creative and develop a variety of writing tools. All of these workshops are particularly effective at breaking through writer's block and building a sense of community.

The Literary Arts & Wine reading series at Coffeebar every third Sunday of the month is taking off! Great readers and a relaxed venue has made this a fun event where you can listen to talented regional authors. Don't miss the new open mic series at Darkhorse Coffee in Truckee every 2nd and 4th Sunday at 7 pm. Untitled: a word jam is a place to read your own words or the words of another who has inspired you. We start each open mic with an interactive prompt writing at each reading to generate new work.

I'll be reading from my poetry chapbook Bite and Blood at the Sacramento Poetry Center October 17th. The book is now available at Bookshelf in Truckee ,Sundance Books in Reno, Bespoke in Downtown Truckee, and Trunk Show in Tahoe City!

I'm always available for individual coaching, content editing and manuscript review. I find this work incredibly fulfilling for myself and productive for writers who want to develop and complete a writing project. I work with adults and students of all ages.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Young Voices: Part 2

Here’s the follow up to my last blog about 6th grader Cody Wilson, the thoughtful, original and witty writer I’ve been working with since he was in second grade.  

At first we started writing comic books that he also illustrated – action adventure stories with elaborate battle strategies.  As Cody developed his skills, depending on the mood of the day, we alternated between exploring what makes a story a story and the fundamental yet not so fundamental variety of ways to use the tools of writing such as image, sentence structure, and figurative language.  Along the way we discussed what he was reading and practiced levels of interrogation of that material.  Each writing session involves combining recent experiences with a focus on a theme and a prompt. 

I’m so excited for his first publication, a one page spread in our very own Moonshine Ink!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Young Voices: Writer and Inventor Cody Zachariasen Speaks Loud and Clear

Cody Zachariasen is a 5th grader at SELS in Lynn Akers’ class, a pitcher in Little League, and a writer. He’s been writing with me most Wednesday mornings for the past 3 years.  Together we explore what is a story and how to tell stories in different genres and points of view, how to connect what we are reading to what and how we write, and play with craft such as metaphor, leaps in association, writing dialogue and character development. 

On May 3rd Cody participated in his first open mic at Darkhorse Coffee in downtown Truckee.  The Untitled: a word jam is a gathering of people reading works written by themselves and others on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at 7 pm.  It’s a place for people to read, listen, and be inspired. I had the opportunity to ask Cody a few questions about his experience.

TRW: What are you interested in?

CZ: I’m interested in reading adventure books and making movies.  I especially like the Warriors series and I like to make movies because I’m a creative person. I like the Warriors series because the cats act a lot like humans in their conflicts, rivalries and relationships, also the way they are too proud to admit they need help.

TRW: When you read at the Untitled: a word jam open mic, where you nervous?  How did you handle it?

CZ: Uh, Duh, What do you think, of course I was nervous and I handled it by standing and being nervous for a little bit and then reading without looking at the people.

TRW: Why do you write?

CZ: I write because there’s no better way to get ideas out of your mind and onto something other people can read. For example, let’s say a guy named Billy wants to share his Idea about a solar powered plane.  Now obviously he could draw a picture, but that doesn’t cover several important things about an idea for an invention.  Those things are: What it does, how it does what it does, and why it’s useful.  Now Billy could write an essay – like 1-2 pages where he simply states his idea, what it does, how it does what it does, and why it’s useful. Or Billy could write a story about his idea that includes what it does, how it does what it does, and why it’s useful.  Well, that pretty much covers why I write.  Oh, and one other thing; it’s fun.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Possibilities in Collaboration of Words and Visual Art

"Seeing comes before words" - John Berger

“Visual artists must use words to accompany their work in the form of bios, statements and titles, not to mention presentations.  And those words are deceptively important to the success or failure of their works” – Jennifer Garza-Cuen


"Book in the Sky" by Xu Bing:

"A writer continually struggles for clarity against the language he’s using or, more accurately, against the common usage of that language. He doesn’t see language with the readability and clarity of something printed out. He sees it, rather as a terrain full of illegibilities, hidden paths, impasses, surprises, and obscurities." – John Berger

"I know of no other visual Western artist who has created an oeuvre that visualizes with living colors the silent space that exists between and around words. Cy Twombly is the painterly master of verbal silence." – John Berger 2002

"Ligon is a conceptual artist who is known for his large-scale paintings.  In his series How it Feels to Be Colored Me, he uses texts about his identity as an African-American man laying them on top of one another until they blurred into ambiguity." - Risdworkworks.wordpress.com

 Claudia Rankine used this image in her most recent book Citizen as part of her discussion of race:

"Tracey Emin is known for her notoriously candid drawings revealing some of her deepest personal reflections on her relationships.  Often graphically sexual, her work is filled with witty autobiographical comments. Additionally, Emin has completed a series of neon phrases; some lengthly and thoughtful while others delve into intimacy in just a few words." - Risdwordworks.wordpress.com

"Extended Captions" are works that combine prose and image:
In that place there is for knowing he knew he was not yet a man, but he didn’t feel it. He could recite enough life for twenty lifetimes and he knew where the exits were in the dark. Every Wednesday at 7pm she came. And every Wednesday at 7:05 she bought a small popcorn and a large soda. It didn’t matter that she looked right through him. It didn’t matter that she didn’t notice him noticing.  It just didn’t matter.  In that place there is for knowing he knew it was just a matter of time. And he was patient.
Jennifer Garza-Cuen –  MFA  Photo 2011
Modern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects.

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

William Carlos Williams

To challenge yourself to respond to art, see Rattle's monthly ekphrastic challenge: http://www.rattle.com/poetry/extras/ekphrasis/

Letterpress Broadsides:

A fascinating study is how Emily Dickinson possibly used the medium of paper as a shaper of form for her poems:

I learned so much about my own poem by collaborating with Andy Cline of Roundwood Furniture in King's Beach: 

My writing process has taken advantage of drawing to explore deeper into a poem in progress:

I've also used paper itself as a medium to move words, lines, and language around into varying juxtapositions in my revision process:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Additional dates extend advanced workshops in Fiction and Nonfiction

I'm excited to announce that the Heart of the Matter Essay/Nonfiction/Memoir Workshop as well as the Technique and Finesse Fiction Workshop will extend into July for writers committed to pushing their work to a level ready for publication.  There will be room for a couple new participants in each workshop.

If you are a writer with a book project, short story or magazine story that is ready to be "unstuck" and  polished for publication, check out these workshops. You will get professional feedback for developing the heart of your subject, to unearth what really matters in your novel, short story or essay/memoir. These workshops focus on improving your skills of craft in order to write creatively so that your writing stands out as meaningful and original to an editor.

Upcoming dates for Heart of the Matter Essay/Nonfiction/Memoir: May 26, June 30th and July 28th 5:30-8:30 pm downtown Truckee
Upcoming dates for Technique and Finesse Fiction Workshop: June 2, June 25th and July 21st 5:30-8:30 pm downtown Truckee

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Fiction Workshop! Technique and Finesse Fiction Workshop: April 7, May 5, June 2 and June 25 5:30-8:30 pm

Technique and Finesse Fiction Workshop - This workshop is deadline- and goal-oriented to help you move a project towards completion. Meets April 7, May 4, June 2, and June 25. 5:30-8:30 pm
You are a writer with a fiction project, book, or short story that is ready to be "unstuck": pushed further, brought to the next level, polished for publication. You seek professional feedback for developing the heart of your subject, to unearth what really matters in your novel or short story. You want to improve your skills of craft in order to write creatively so that your writing stands out as meaningful and original to an editor.