Thursday, February 25, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Fitting that today's interview, conducted by DWC student Jack Davis, is with Nate in his capacity as founder & principal editor of H_NGM_N - an online journal found here, with a burgeoning book series, here.
Take it, Jack!
Jack Davis: Besides individuality, what attributes do you think might make a poetic piece stand out more affectively?
Nate Pritts: One of the first things I notice about a poem is its use of a consistent voice - or its consistent misuse of consistency in terms of voice. I'm also drawn to a sense of risk, a sense of recklessness - either in terms of imagery, the utterance itself, the subject being discussed & the speaker's relationship to it. A poem that feels too safe or tidy turns me off immediately.
JD: Could you reveal your feelings, contrasting established writing tempos with oral performance rhythms and perhaps other orchestrations that might shape the sound or silence?
NP: For a long time I never paid much attention to how my poems sounded - I didn't read them out loud very much & worked on the page for the page. Now, I'm very aware - constantly reading my poems out to hear how the meaning is enforced or undermined by the sounds. I think what this means is that I'm thinking of my poetry in both private & public ways & trying to strike a balance between a poetic line that has rhythm & a driven compelling force established both through the meaning & the sounds.
JD: Other than READ, WRITE, and SUBMIT, what might be your best advise for an aspiring poet?
NP: Those are three pretty good words of advice. I was asked the other night for some general advice - not specifically about writing - & I said "I think we should all try really damn hard all the time." So, in addition to reading & writing & submitting - we should care a lot about those things. We should bust our asses.
JD: Whose responsibility to experience is the mystery, shape, or practice of poetry-the poet or the reader?
NP: The word responsibility trips me up a little here but I think, in general, the poet is the one who is writing the poem. I can't walk around & ensure all my readers are "doing it right." I need to do the best job I can to create the poem as an experience in & of itself - not just notation of an experience, but a little circus of its own.
JD: Are we relegating the art of poetry to epitaph?
NP: I don't think we are! But some people might be. I think there are lots of people who think of poetry as one specific thing - & some of these people are poets! It's time to embrace the various possibilities for the lively & dynamic art of poetry making. Poets can't complain that no one reads poetry & sulk. We need to find answers & work hard.
JD: If it’s not prying, could you share some personal favorite poems by form & content?
NP: I have too many poems & poets that I would list as favorites to even mention. I think that should be the point - & my favorites are wide ranging. Though I don't typically write formal verse, some of my favorite poems are in set forms. I don't think we can discount anything.
Monday, February 22, 2010
This season, the DWC is running a class on “publishing” in the PRO Program & I’m lucky enough to be the one teaching it. Overall, the class details the history of literary publication - both in terms of literary journals & publishing houses, as they are records of literary movements & as they forge sustaining relationships in the lives of our major authors. Of course, we’re also tracking the contemporary landscape, figuring out where in the world our own work fits in.
In pure Marxist fashion, we'll wrest the means of production & dissemination from the vast & faceless & offer up our own work - via online journals or produced chapbooks.
One of our ongoing projects is for each class member to pick one small / literary / independent press as the focus for their special project, asking the head honcho of said press a few questions as a way of illuminating their mission (why they do what they do) & their aesthetic (of the work they publish & of the physical deliverable objects).
So stay tuned. We’ll be posting up the resulting interviews as “small press spotlights” right here on the DWC blog in the near future.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thanks to those who were there and thanks to Lyrae for sharing her work. Anyone who would want to purchase either of Lyrae's books can contact Phil when he returns next week. There are more in his office and they are worth the dead presidents!
Pinch-hitting DWC Host
Lyrae returns to the DWC this evening at 7 p.m. to read from her new collection ] Open Interval [ and perhaps share even newer work. ] Open Interval [ was a finalist for the National Book Award so this Cornell University Assistant Professor has significantly stepped up her game.
The stars in the sky, the flowers before her in the garden, the divorce and the accepting the life ahead as a sole entity rather than a partner all come to play in this collection.
A sparse sense of phrasing is prevalent in Lyrae's work. It is obvious that she trusts the intelligence of her readers. As she references Harriet Tubman, astronomy, Rilke, her interior world, her ancestors, there is plenty of room for the reader to slow down in the poem. Even her relationship with punctuation serves to slow the eye down and allow the mind to rest in each word. And punctuation becomes a new symbology with this poet. There are personal symbols for breath and timing that give these poems a unique profile.
To experience these poems in breath, in sound, join us in the Downtown Writer's Center at the Greater Syracuse YMCA at 340 Montgomery Street, at 7 p.m. This is still another FREE reading sponsored by the DWC with funding from the NYS Council on the Arts. We hope to see you tonight and to introduce you to Lyrae Van-Clief-Stefanon.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
One of the things that make the season slide on by is the reading series at the DWC. Ah yes, nationally known writers sharing their words and it does not cost a thing beyond parking, if you choose a lot, and the cost of a book so you can get it signed. And the books are always $15 or less. Hey! A bargain in anyone's eyes.
So this week, as we continue our journey through the dark months, we will be hosting Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, in a return visit to read from her new collection, ] Open Interval [, published by the University of Pittsburg Press and recently recognized as a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award for Poetry. Lyrae is also the author of Black Swan, which won the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in African-American Review, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Rattapallax and Shenandoah and several anthologies.
Lyrae lives in Ithaca, NY, where she is an Assistant Professor at Cornell University; Tomorrow will be her second visit to the DWC. Please join us for this evening of marvelous verse. We will post a review of ] Open Interval [ tomorrow.
Do you want a sneak peak of the poems we will be receiving from our guest? Visit Laura Ryan's new blog on Central New York literary news, Syracuse Books Examiner for a video clip.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
see you later alligator
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
On Saturday, February 13th, Lucille Clifton passed away at age 73. A remarkable poet, a woman of grace and strength beyond the ordinary human, and always beaming brighter than the sun itself, a master of the art of JOY.
I received the news from a dear poet friend who knew Ms. Clifton very well. I am grateful for the personal message rather than discovering the loss on line or on the news. But the news traveled faster than the speed of sound and the internet was humming. There were grieving words all over Facebook. I became very quiet in my own sadness.
For years I have been saying that Lucille Clifton is the woman I want to be when I grow up. With the news of her passing, I will strive even harder. Ms. Clifton has been my role model since well before the day I met her in the garden at a posh Rochester home years ago. And more so, since then. But that day was a life-changing experience.
It was a gorgeous June afternoon. "Blessing the Boats" had just been released and I was invited to a reception in her honor before she read and spoke on behalf of an incest survivor organization. Of course, Ms. Clifton was regal, seated among the blossoming vines and shrubs. The light of the late day sun was as soft a gold as her own light.
Coaxing Nectar from Longing, my first book was in print and I brought my "freshman" gift to offer to this wonderful teacher and inspiration. I felt just as I did at the end of the school year in elementary school when I would present fresh cut peonies from our yard to my teacher as my parting gift. My inner kidlet was pushing through and I was shy, tongue-tied.
I was invited to sit by her with a gentle pat of her hand on the seat of the lawn chair beside her. She was sure we knew each other although we had never met before that day. Yet I felt like I was with a cherished auntie and she made me so comfortable as she greeted each who came to shake her hand, extend their admiration. She shared that she was originally to be named "Georgia" but that changed after she was born. She shared so many small things with me that afternoon and in it, I became a better me. There I sat by her side through the cocktail hour until it was time to leave for the venue. It would be the first of several times that she and I would meet, although always briefly, since so many people needed so much from her.
That evening, as she unfolded her story through and around her poems for a standing-room only audience jammed in the hall, we all were transfixed and transported. This would not be the only time I would bear witness to this honesty and power.
At the end of the Q & A, I raised my hand. She called on me with that welcoming smile. My question was simple: "Ms. Clifton, with all that you have experienced, that you have been through, how is it that, like some of us, you choose JOY?" She gave me that pointed, gleaming smile again as she walked from behind the podium to offer her response.
"I choose JOY because I am capable of it...and there are those who are not."
She went on to explain that she felt it her responsibility to be an example of thriving, not just surviving. She said that survivor mode is victim consciousness, which does not take one into true healing.
She said much more, messages that I heard from her at other readings, events, fundraisers for breast cancer support and research, etc., after this first astounding evening. Her words became my mantra. At times her words, as her poetry, have been my lifeline.
Last year, at AWP, I was able to visit with her for a short time in all the fray. I presented my second book as my gift again. I thanked her for all I have become because of her. Then I sat beside Jennifer Pashley during the tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks as Lucille read the poem “A Mother,” one of the most moving pieces of verse I have ever read. She rendered her dear friend’s poem with sensitivity and heart. Jennifer and I were given to hot, salty tears.
There have been whisperings that we would not have Lucille Clifton much longer for a couple of years. She survived multiple face-offs with cancer, kidney failure, other ailments, too much death around her, and the fact that she experienced the damage and violence of incest. She was a warrior in so many ways and one quite capable of righteous indignation. Like me, she never completed her Bachelor’s degree but never let even that stop her from satisfaction and success.
Now, as her soul has soared home, as we bathe ourselves in our own memories for those of us fortunate enough to have met her, as those who have known her through her poems immerse in her presence, we remember that smile, that fearless voice for what is right and true, the majestic simplicity of her craft, and we must remember to be JOY in all ways in order to honor Ms. Lucille Clifton, our beloved elder, way-shower, bright light.
Thank you so very much and blessed be, dear One.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I can’t remember where I first encountered Steve Almond’s fiction, but that first taste left me hungering for more. I got my sweaty hands on My Life in Heavy Metal, Mr. Almond’s first story collection and eagerly read it. The book had been criticized for containing too much sex, as if such a thing was possible, but I found it, like Mama Bear’s porridge, to be just right. In short order I read, The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories, Mr. Almond’s second collection, and devoured Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. “On the Road” for chocoholics, Candyfreak describes Mr. Almond’s travels in search of the offbeat candy makers who toil in the shadow of Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s.
I admired Mr. Almond’s flamboyant use of language, the way he pushed the boundaries of metaphor, and his relentless refusal to take the world and himself seriously. Reading Steve Almond inspired me to be more adventurous in my own writing and to take myself a little less seriously.
Then I read Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions written with Julianna Baggott, in which a thirty-something couple recount their former love affairs in a series of letters. It is Mr. Almond’s and Ms. Baggott’s compassion for their protagonists, their warm embrace of each character’s follies and foibles that elevate the letters above mere pillow gossip. Mr. Almond, who has said that he loves writing sex scenes, is particularly adept at elucidating the pungent, viscous, tactile realities of sex, teasing out the underlying comedy inherent in lovemaking, without ever allowing the desperate groping, grasping, and fumbling of his characters to slip over the line into caricature or threaten the frontiers of good taste. I loved it. I wanted to grow up to be just like Steve Almond.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Friday, February 5, 2010
Santee Frazier is the next poet to share words with the DWC community at 7 p.m. tonight, Friday, February 5th. Santee will be reading from Dark Thirty, released by University of Arizona Press.
Through the miracle of the internet, Santee and I shared a few short exchanges based on random questions of my own design. In spite of the press of both of our busy lives, we had a few moments before our screens for the following:
Georgia Popoff: Because place is such an important element informing the poet, your roots in Oklahoma must be a significant aspect of your voice. So I would like to ask three questions about you from that perspective: First, What is the most common misconception you think people have of your home state?
Santee Frazier: Usually what people associate with Oklahoma is that the people are somehow less intelligent due to their prominent accent. People often associate Oklahoma (southern) hospitality as a simpleton small talk, which it is not.
GP: What would you say to someone who first noticed these two highway signs and were confused: "Correction Facility - Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers" and "Don't Drive into Smoke?"
SF: Only if the hitchhiker is a relative do you pick them up, which also depends if said relative owes you money, other than that wave and carry on. Smoke in CNY? It would most likely be fog so I would say drive on through. If in California, on a smoky day near Folsom prison, do not pick up the guy in the white D.O.C. jump suit with tears tattooed in his face. Unless of course the fire and smoke were all apart of the escape plan you hatched over a series of collect calls with your self-proclaimed "innocent" cousin, in which case you need no longer worry about driving.
GP: Thanks Santee...as for the road signs...I was referring specifically to those in Oklahoma. They fascinated me.
SF: I have never really seen these signs. It’s been 10 plus years since I spent any real time in Oklahoma. I have lived in New Mexico for more than half my life, and sometimes I feel more New Mexican than Oklahoman. Either way I wrote a response:
Oklahoma is known for becoming very dry in the summer time. The grass dies, and naturally, susceptible to fire. The fires spread fast and are almost uncontrollable and can be very dangerous for highway travelers, hence the signs. No doubt adding the do not pick up hitchhikers element of the sign is there because most of the Oklahoma state prisons are located in rural areas were the fires pop up in the summertime.
GP: What sound do you miss most since you have been living in the Northeast?
SF: The sound of sand splashing against a window.
GP: Other questions: Your blog is all about food. What was the first meal you ever made and how old were you?
SF: I was home alone one night and made this weird version of Hamburger Helper when I was about 10. I browned some ground beef, salt, pepper, cut some potatoes, and splattered a bunch of ketchup into the pan. I added a cup of water to make the sauce. I waited until the potatoes were soft, then I grubbed out in front of the TV and watched Married With Children.
GP: What is your favorite thing to order off of Simon's menu when you have dinner at China Road and how hot do you like your entrees?
SF: I tend to order a variety of dishes when at China Road (the prices are so reasonable). We order the fried dumplings to start. Then the Szechuan beef noodle soup, tea smoked duck, and Shanghai Veggies. I usually like the my dishes (as a former resident of New Mexico) very spicy. Simon usually brings out some of his spicy salsa for me to add to my dinner. Lately we have been ordering the Chicken Chindoo style. We usually like to spy on other tables to see what they order.
For more about Santee, please visit his home page. You can also follow his terrific foodie blog if you love to cook and dine. We hope you will join us at the DWC for Santee’s reading and to meet him yourselves.
Georgia Popoff is a poet with two published collections of poetry, a teaching artist, arts-in-education professional development specialist, editor of Comstock Review, Downtown Writer’s Center faculty member, and board member of the Association of Teaching Artists. Georgia is Poet-in-Residence in numerous school districts and also teaches adult writing workshops.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
When I find myself not moved by voice, memory, or music, instead of staring at the computer screen, I type out one of my favorite poems. The act of typing accomplishes two things: you get to know the formal considerations of the poet (how they navigated the page), and you gain an intimate relationship with the text. After I have typed the poem I look for artistry, meter, phrasing, etc.... I really don't spend much time deciphering the poem being that interpretation plays little or no role in how this exercise conducts itself. From there I find all of the nouns in the poem, writing out a list, then I pull out my dictionary and begin replacing only the nouns (I usually don't replace the verbs being that I want to keep the structure of the poem).
This exercise will yield varying results depending on how much effort goes in the act of replacing the nouns. I find the best results come when I spend a great deal of time researching then replacing the nouns, rather than using the first word that pops into my head (usually a synonym pops up, boring). For instance using words related to anthropology will drastically change the poem’s meter and tone.
First start out with a short poem, and then slowly build up to something longer (the longest I have tried was Jorie Graham's "What the End is For"). Most of the poems will not be keepers, but the exercise helps build skill set and sharpens your abilities to glean poetry for reasons other than explication.
Rather than becoming frustrated and abandoning your daily writing ritual you can practice this exercise. After a few tries you will notice interesting things happening when the words juxtaposeand begin creating language.
Santee Frazier is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. He holds a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Syracuse University. His poems have appeared in American Poet, Narrative Magazine, Ontario Review, and other literary journals. His first collection of poems Dark Thirty was released by the University of Arizona Press in the spring of 2009.