Friday, January 29, 2010

The Friday Round Up

by Jennifer Pashley:

I was going to post the first Friday Round Up today, including faculty news, latest & greatest publications, etc. But the truth:

I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting. -- J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

And I'm also including here, the link to the piece Rick Moody wrote for NPR.

So I invite you to post your comments & thoughts about Salinger here, or not. Maybe the thing to do is to keep them to yourself. Don't ever tell anybody anything.

Hope to see you all tonight for the Dereks' reading.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

5 Questions for Derek Pollard

by Jennifer Pashley :

Another new feature on the DWC blog: writers in conversation with other writers. This week, I asked Derek Pollard some questions about art, about music and collaboration. Derek brings his l'autre to the DWC this Friday, Jan 29th, at 7:00 pm, to read from their collaboratively written, Inconsequentia.

Jennifer Pashley: Tell me your top 3 films. Not necessarily the world's top 3; what's good for Pollard?

Derek Pollard: I can never adequately answer questions having to do with lists, particularly when those lists are culturally orientated. In this case, I simply adore film. My favorites begin with the Lumiere brothers and extend through Chaplin and Keaton to Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson by way of the various international New Waves and independent experimental cinema. If hard pressed, I would say that Casablanca remains the one film I return to with feverish insistence. Films I have recently watched (in some cases for the umpteenth time): Redland, Divorce Italian Style, The Matador, Something's Gotta Give, The Darjeeling Limited, and Lost in Translation.

JP: What visual art moves you?

DP: I am not sure what you mean by "moves" in this case.

JP: I mean what really hits you in the gut, but maybe that's not what visual art does for you. (It's often what it does for me.)

DP: I am interested in any visual artwork that invites me to reconsider myself (or selves) and the world in which I live in light of that artwork's existence, even if that existence is necessarily limited or deliberately ephemeral. I am most attracted to visual artwork that provokes a sense of dislocation, that confronts the viewer with a potential "newness." I suppose, too, that I look for (or, if I am less generous and more accurate, I attempt to impose) analogues between visual artwork and writing, between the various "artistic" media or forms of creative expression, in order to facilitate such productive dislocation.

JP: Tell me (briefly) about your fascination with Dadaism.

DP: Dada is silly. Dada is serious. Dada is seriously silly and sillily serious. If nothing else, Dada is elusive, illusive, allusive, and the like. I like Dada like Dada likes me. We are silly and serious and silly-serious, it and me. Dada, my dear, is a frilly tree.

JP: What are you listening to these days? How important is sound?

DP: Sound is an integral event, space, object, field. I am listening all the time, guided in different directions at different times by its fascinating multiplicities. As for music and organized sound, I have been listening with great joy to Jonathan Schwartz's Saturday and Sunday shows on WNYC, Garrison Keilor's A Prairie Home Companion, Joe Puleo's Air Power, Regina Specktor's album Begin to Hope, a great deal of Muddy Waters, far too many Smiths albums, My Bloody Valentine's album Loveless (on cassette in my car as I drive along the Jersey Shore to and from work), Sir Alec Guniness reading Eliot's "The Wasteland" (also on cassette, also in my car), and all of Galaxy 500's albums.

JP: You're a proponent of collaboration in a vastly solitary field. Why?

DP: I find collaboration to be an interesting and fecund way to disorient myself, to interrupt and refashion my own compositional (or recording?) strategies. It provides opportunities for interventions that might not arise if I were merely writing individually - if one can ever be said to write "individually," that is. I like the explicit acknowledgment of the confusion between the singular and the plural during the collaborative process, between the "I" and the "we." For instance, I am very much intrigued by the fact that in several cases in the "22 23" section of Inconsequentia, Henderson and I can no longer remember who authored which poem. In those cases, the poem itself has displaced us as individual authors, insisting that we set aside such distinctions in favor of other, perhaps more productive, considerations.

Jennifer Pashley is a fiction instructor and the workshops coordinator for The Downtown Writer's Center. She is the author of the story collection States, and has had stories appear in Mississippi Review, Los Angeles Review and SWINK.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This morning, the DWC brings you the first of its Wednesday writing prompts and exercises. Everyone's got their favorites — prompts that produce a surprising piece of writing — and we've asked our instructors, our visiting authors and our students to share what's worked for them, what really gets the pen moving. This week, we're featuring the Cento, a favorite of DWC instructor and visiting author, Derek Pollard.

Over the years and at all levels of teaching — from primary school to advanced creative writing workshops — I have had tremendous success with the cento as a simultaneous reading and writing exercise that helps define and contextualize "authorship," collaboration, and self-reflexive creative praxis. Below is the definition of cento as it appears on The Academy of American Poets website:

From the Latin word for "patchwork," the cento is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets. Though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources. Early examples can be found in the work of Homer and Virgil.

Generally, I will invite a group of students to contribute a single line from a text of their choosing (the texts need not be "literary" nor do they need belong to one particular genre) to add to a line I have selected at random from a text. This new collaborative text expands until all the "authors" agree to end the project. In some cases, no order of contributors is observed; in other cases, no "author" can contribute two consecutive lines. The constraints vary depending on the course and the students. As one example, for a cento begun as part of my DWC course last winter, I myself would add lines only from texts written by female authors. I did not impose this constraint on the other "authors," but I suspect that each of us was bringing one or more of these independently determined constraints to the project. The one rule that must be followed in all cases is this: the "authors" cannot include any writing original to themselves or to their collaborators, and all lines must be documented so that we have a record of the source texts. Lines can be selected at random, based on numerical or mathematical formulae, etc. The texts generated in this way pose many critically productive challenges to the concepts mentioned above ("authorship," collaboration, reading-writing) that we discuss in relation to the text itself.

Derek Pollard's work has appeared in American Book Review, Colorado Review, Pleiades, Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak, and Zoland Poetry. He is Managing Editor of Barrow Street Press, and co-author with Derek Henderson of the poetry collection, Inconsequentia (BlazeVOX 2009).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

FISH! On Working with Derek Pollard

by Daniel Reinhold:

The DWC's very own Derek Pollard will return for a reading with Derek Henderson this Friday. Derek Pollard received his MFA from the University of Utah, and has twenty-seven muses: a practice common in that state. He is a student of the experimental and has widely diverse influences from John Cage to Lao Tsu from the Italian futurists to Brian Eno. He is interested in random composition. He has been known to throw things out of windows. Cut up pieces of old letters, severed fish heads, and once after a long night of alleged inebriation, his jockey shorts. He later named them Ode to Fruit of the Loom.

Derek’s poetry is clean, poignant, and sparse. It is often accessible. A term he clearly despises.

He has performed experimental readings previously at the DWC, once having three poets read simultaneously. Another time he orchestrated five poets reading randomly from texts. One poet read off book and intermittently shouted the word “fish.” Reportedly the poet was in the throes of a two-week ether binge. Pollard, reeking of chemicals, denied any such allegations.

Derek is returning to Syracuse after having been imprisoned in New Jersey. A condition clearly preferable to living freely in New Jersey. He spends his time hanging out in shopping malls watching girls with big hair, and drinking Orange Julius’s.

His return to Syracuse has raised ardent protest from the Daughters of the American Revolution for undisclosed reasons. The reading is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. Wine, cheese and fresh severed fish heads.

Daniel Reinhold's work has appeared in several galleries throughout Maryland and New York. He is currently a DWC PRO student in poetry. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his dog Zelda, in a tree-surrounded studio within sight of Cayuga Lake.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Short Bursts of Brilliance: Course Spotlight on Visiting Authors

by Elizabeth Twiddy :

I’m thrilled to be teaching the DWC’s first Visiting Authors course this Winter Term. We, the DWC faculty, put our heads together and decided that a course like this, taught each term by a different instructor, would greatly benefit ourselves and our students, alike. So, what is it? Why’s it so great?

The authors that come to read for our DWC series are among the best in the country and the world. We want to maximize what we take from these gems—these short bursts of brilliance that share a room with us once in a while.

We realized that it’s not always easy to grasp what an author is saying when he or she reads aloud: creative works of writing are dense, and they’re not usually 100% accessible the first time around, especially when they’re only heard and not seen. We want to be right there with our Visiting Authors when they come to read their fabulous works at the DWC—we want to get the maximum possible out of those special readings. That’s where the Visiting Authors course comes in: before each reading, our class will meet for an hour to discuss a sampling of that author’s work so that we can all better benefit from the reading.

I’m honored and excited to be teaching the first round of the Visiting Authors course. We have a fabulous line-up this term: poets Derek Pollard and Derek Henderson will read from their co-authored collection; Santee Frazier will read from highly acclaimed his first book of poems; Steve Almond will read from his fiction and nonfiction; Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon will read from her collections of poetry; Greg Ames will read from his new award-winning novel; and poets Nate Pritts and Matt Hart will read together from their various and respective books of poems.

Classes begin next week, and there’s still room left in the course: sign up now!

See you at the DWC!

Elizabeth Twiddy’s first collection of poems is Love-Noise (Standing Stone Books, 2010). She has a chapbook, Zoo Animals in the Rain (Turtle Ink Press, 2009), and her poems have appeared in many journals, including Barrow Street, POOL, The Alembic, Two Rivers Review, and the Australian journal Skive.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

1 + 1 = 1: The Consequent Inconsequentia of Derek Henderson & Derek Pollard

by Nate Pritts ::

Derek Henderson & Derek Pollard. INCONSEQUENTIA. BlazeVOX Books: 2010.

Through the haze of call & response, the lingering mist of collage / pastiche, of collaborative fusion that leads us forcibly through the stumbling & visibly wrought syntax, Derek Henderson & Derek Pollard have found a way to write one book together, to present single poems with multiple voices, to think themselves into a broken math computation where 1 + 1 = 1 & the only thing divisible is the self from what it loves.

Despite a colossal & buoyant sense of playfulness that runs throughout these poems, the vital strain is one of crumbling sadness, bumbling in the face of loss – a kind of hard-headed certainty in the face of the inevitability that “Things happen. / People die. // […] We balance” (19).

This constant tug of war is the shining kernel at the center of the book – the very fact that the book presents itself as one yowling utterance though written by two people. What saves us? is the question asked over & over again. Implicitly, our buddies. Our friends save us.

The poetry seems jumpy in spots; a kind of focused attention is brought to bear on the presentations piled up though the focus shifts subtly yet quickly. We feel this both through the imagery & the literal narrative / associative blossoming from one line to the next as well as in the way the syntax itself generates the insights & movements of the poem:

Responders. Respond. re spawned.
New governmentalists. spawned.
Returns. Returners. Reason Has Turned.

This kind of freewheeling jangle serves as a best characterization for the collection over – the collection of poems, of words & lines, & this collection of Dereks – wherein reciprocity is the thing whether between, among, or casually flung.

Nate Pritts is the author of The Wonderfull Yeare (Cooper Dillon), as well as two previous full-length books of poems – Sensational Spectacular (BlazeVOX) & Honorary Astronaut (Ghost Road Press). He is the founder & principal editor of H_NGM_N.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Drenched in Lightning Bugs

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ~Mark Twain

Welcome to The Downtown Writer's Center blog . . . our home away from the official YMCA website and your source for news & updates on classes, book reviews of visiting authors, craft essays & writing prompts.

If you're new to the Downtown Writer's Center, click over to party central for the scoop on this season's classes, our Friday Night Reading Series & all the other brouhaha we have in store.

If you're on Facebook, consider clicking over & becoming a "fan" of our erstwhile dream factory.

Thinking of taking a winter workshop? There's still time to register!

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. ~Hart Crane

Classes begin Jan. 25th, and feature a full range of workshops, from beginning right up to advanced. Be sure to check out our newest classes: Visiting Authors, which meets each Friday night before readings at the DWC, from Jan. 29 thru March 6. And don't miss out on Silence in the Snowy Fields: Writing About Weather & Place with Nate Pritts. We have to live here . . . we might as well write about it.

Stay tuned for more faculty spotlights, book reviews and writing prompts.

Write more. Write better. Write here. Write now.