February 01, 2019

January Tidings

I made black-eyed peas on New Year's day. I'd need every bit of good luck I could get, since the next day held a fourteen-hour hell-drive straight to Tampa, arriving in time to teach with my MFA program's residency. Nothing says "fancy life of a poet" like napping for an hour in front of a South Carolina rest stop. But increasingly, Tampa has become such a dear place to me. I love my students. I love waking up at the Sheraton and looking out along the Riverwalk. Funny how something that began as a source of anxiety--I'd had no previous graduate-level teaching experience before joining faculty--has, five years later, become an anchor and such a valued part of my life. This particular residency, we were fortunate enough for a visit from Meg Day: amazing poet, unforgettable lecturer, friend, kin. 

Seeing Meg connect with Kayla, this term's Outstanding Graduate Student--graduating with a superb essay collection I was fortunate to help with--was all joy. 

From Tampa, on to Naples to visit family. We wandered through the Naples Botanical Garden, then got bug-bit while enjoying dinner courtesy a campground of food trucks set up by the water. Adding a somewhat surreal element, Abby Wambach was chilling nearby with her partner and their dog in a very nice motor-boat. 

If you happen to be making your way from Naples to Miami, you'll be driving through the Everglades and I highly recommend you stop off at Joanie's. They took good care of me, allergies and all, from the lima bean soup to the fresh-grilled grouper atop salsa made that morning and a salad dotted with tiny flowers that had been grown in the cafe's front yard. I also had a moment during a rest stop when a crowd looked at me funny, as I walked along talking on my cell phone. So I turned back and looked--I'd passed right by an alligator. He was too sleepy to notice me. 

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer's Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you're there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM's daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days--Jessica Hopper's Night Moves, David Menconi's Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour's Sick--lounging whenever I could by the Betsy's rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I'm working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that's all I'll say about that for now. 

Lyn at Square Books sent me a snapshot of the year-end display of bestselling titles in the front window. And look: Vinegar and Char is right there, nestled at #48. I'm grateful because I'm so dang proud of this anthology and, for various reasons, I haven't gotten to celebrate it properly outside Mississippi. But my March 11 reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library--with contributors Atsuro Riley and Sean Hill--will go a ways toward fixing that. 

Thank you, January, from delivering me from the arms of Florida into the embrace of the new: I'm in Ireland. 

I'm settling in as this spring's John Montague International Poetry Fellow for the Munster Literature Centre. That means teaching a workshop over at University College Cork, mentoring a few community folks, and leading a four-day seminar on "Bringing the World to the Poem" (still some spots available) as part of the poetry festival March 20-23. (Sorry to miss you, AWP.) People have been kind enough to make all sorts of tourist suggestions, and I'm sure I'll explore as the weeks go on. For now, I'm just happy to be in one place.