July 06, 2018


*blinks in bright light of day*
I did a lot in June, just not here. 

I've begun working with PEN / Faulkner to visit local high schools and teach the personal essay. On June 5, I went to KIPP DC College Preparatory to visit three classes. They had Edward P. Jones's photo taped to my desk and Jericho Brown's poem on the wall. On June 6, 826DC took over Petworth Citizen's Reading Room to celebrate their new anthology, Spit Fire. The anthology showcases student work from the SEED School and is as good-looking a book as you will ever see. I anchored the lowercase series open mic with poems from my new manuscript--DC poems for folks with DC institutional memory. 

I hosted my book group for a discussion of Valeria Luiselli's Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. This was our first time in the new apartment and twelve of us fit into my living room with no space crunch, always good news. Many gummy bears were eaten. 

In pursuit of sanity, I spent time with careful, discerning essays:

Yet I also reveled in Essay Daily: Talk About the Essay: What Happened on June 21, 2018, the premise of which, I suppose, is "hot takes" of the best possible variety. 

In Tampa, I heard readings from Kazim Ali, Sonya Huber, Tracy K. Smith, and others, including Elizabeth Engelman, an alumna from the MFA program who is going to bust the world open with her memoir. I got to present on "DisLit, CripLit, and Inspiration Porn: Centering Narratives of Illness and Disability," a forty-slide lecture (the assembly of which was complicated by the fact that my laptop broke the weekend before the residency). Students learned about the Fries Test. Three of the program's faculty poets teamed up to discuss poetry in translation and world poetry. 

I met with my four students for the fall term--three of whom are in their thesis semester--two poets, two nonfiction writers. Because we meet every day for a workshop and the students are juggling a tremendous amount of other responsibilities during the residency, we need creative readings that we can do "cold," as a group, and then discuss on the fly in terms of their craft. Since I frequently have returning students, I have to always be on the lookout for new material. Here were a few of my favorites this time around:

Tiffany Midge - First-World (Story) Problems: Brown Girl Multiple Choice Edition

Karrie Higgins - "Prince and the Sparkle Brains: Growing up epileptic, surviving sexual abuse, and loving Prince"

Jono Naito - "Winter Is My Favorite Season"

Elizabeth Wade - "Variant Table" & its origin story

Steve Fellner - "Self-Portrait as a 1980s Cineplex Movie Theatre (An Abecedarian)"

I'm intrigued by Fellner's decision to graft a poetic form, the abcedarian, onto an essay format. He did one of these with 1970s cinema, as well; that essay appears in The Normal School. If you notice a preponderance of Waxwing excerpts in the links above, that's no coincidence. I have five poems in the new issue, which sparked a deep dive into their archives. Feels particularly welcome to be on a table of contents beside Alison Stine, Wayne Miller, Paul Guest, Mary Biddinger, and Matthew Guenette, writers with whom I've been sharing space for over a dozen years now in one place or another, including the blogosphere; and to see work from voices that are newer to me but that I am tremendously excited about, such as Iliana Rocha and Franny Choi.

I got back from teaching and had two days to unpack my suitcase. Then I re-packed it for the Berkshires. We made the seven-hour drive so I could I co-host a creatives' symposium in a quirky new hotel space, TOURISTS, a reimagined motor lodge in North Adams, Massachusetts, thanks to the vision of Scott Stedman and Jeff Gordinier. I got to hug poets Beth Ann Fennelly and Erika Meitner and January Gill O'Neil, and finally meet Rachel Zucker; new friends, poem-toasts, an oddly tasty spread of pork and Calabrian chiles on seed bread thanks to Cortney Burns, wandering through the woods to the chime chapel, more poems around an open fire, Jeff & company's late arrival from the Esquire thing; touring Mass MOCA (Louise Bourgeois & James Turrell & Anselm Kiefer), lunch at Bright Ideas Brewing,  a p*cha k*cha talk, broccoli rabe with wood-ear mushrooms, beet salad, more reciting of poems, live music from Sean Rowe (whose foraging expedition I'd missed earlier in the day while on the hunt for a digital projector), following Jan's lead to talk about fostering inclusivity in the literary scene; finally meeting Laurie's brother (which made me miss Mississippi), more beet salad, introducing some folks to Tommy Pico's Nature Poem, learning one of my co-conspirators had been Tommy's classmate, learning another, Rachel, had just interviewed him for her Commonplace podcast series, and getting up to the top of Mount Greylock; stopping off for a Sam Gilliam glimpse at Williams College and dinner in Troy, New York, on the way home. 

Issue 18 of Barrelhouse came out, with my essay on "Pioneers of the Digital Trail." If you want an essay that name-checks Mavis Bacon, Carmen Sandiego, Number Muncher, The Oregon Trail, The Secret of Monkey Island, and pained teenage love affairs, this is the essay for you. You can't find the text online--thank god--but the issue is for sale here, and they typically sell out every print run. 

Somewhere in there, I drafted a 3,000-word essay on sestinas that is scheduled to run in American Poets.

The funny thing is that when I came here to explain my June absence, I felt nothing but a sense of failure--a silent blog, a wasted month, and a fixation on the deadlines that were missed and are still pending, rather than any of the ones met. This despite an envelope full of thank-you notes that arrived from the KIPP students. Don't let the corrosions of the world fool you, friends. Please keep doing the good work that I know you are doing. 

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