Good Times/Bad Times: May 25 – 31

Today I have for you (channeling the chefs on “Chopped” which I just finished watching!) a little list of some of the good things and bad things that I read on the internet in the past week. Most of them are from other blogs, some from NOLA, some not. It’s just a hodge-podge of articles that I liked or …… didn’t, but all are decidedly shareable.

Good Times

Road trip! Follow Ian McNulty on a trip down the bayou to Terrebone Parish in Bayou Country journey offers glimpse of small-town life at the end of the line.

Local blogger Blathering shares her recent outing to City Park’s Botanical Gardens with a walk through Enrique Alferez’s sculptures in her weekly feature “Arty Tuesday”.

“Blackberries Everywhere” , via Bouillie blog, takes us along to pick wild blackberries in rural Louisiana and adds a bonus of a recipe for Blackberry Cornmeal Cake that sounds scrumptious. The photos of the finished cake made my mouth water and put it on my list of recipes to try this summer.

I’m always complaining to myself that I don’t have the kind of time I’d like to read. This is really not exactly true since I often  end up surfing the internet when my intention was to read my ebook.  I even tweeted about it. So I was happy to find this post, 7 tips to help you read more (& love it).

 Bad Times

Local political journalist John McGinnis died last Sunday at the age of 66. Robert Mann penned a wonderful memoir and tribute to Mr. McGinnis here,  a worthy read about an exceptional journalist.

#YesAllWomen was a hashtag on fire on Twitter this past week. It apparently first popped up Friday 5/23 in the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger shooting spree in California in response to his misogynist rants on YouTube. When social media takes up a cause like this, I find it much more interesting and enlightening to read personal blogs written by everyday people to get a feel for how the issue affects or is affecting everyday people. Here are a few blog posts I read this week that touched me (to tears in some cases) and/or just made me think in a different way, breaking open the festering sore of misogyny.

First, here’s a link to a Vanity Fair article that includes a graphic showing how the hashtag spread worldwide.

Brandi writes a very personal account of her experience of being bullied by a boy (and, yes, it was bullying)  at age 11. I really identified with this post because I experienced the same thing at the same age and I remember the humiliation I felt.

Roxane Gay’s post, In Relief of Silence and Burden, is a heartbreaker written in the unmistakably honest voice that is Roxane Gay. Reading this made my stomach hurt.

Walking While Fat and Female – Or Why I Don’t Care Not All Men Are Like That was an eye-opener. I guess I’m naive but it never occurred to me that adult men acted this way.

And, from the men:

My Girl’s a Vegetable: A Father’s Response To Isla Vista Shootings  in Luna Luna Magazine shares how a dad’s eyes were opened to the every day misogyny directed to women via his daughter’s experience while walking home from school.

Local Blogger Ian McGibboney writes “A Letter To All the Nice Guys”and makes some really good points.

And, finally, Emily Shire says “#YesAllWomen Has Jumped the Shark” and wonders if it’s being diluted by people tweeting about such things as “complaints about women being told to smile”. What do you think?

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New-To-Me Blog of the Week

To end on a lighter note, I want to share a blog each week (or so) that’s new to me and that I enjoyed reading  – you know, show a little link love.This week it’s  The Art of Simple, a blog that shares ways to live a simpler, more meaningful life as well as giving great organizational tips. Give it a click, I think you’ll like it!

 

 

 

 

 

About Women

Recently I was reading through the archives of  Women’s Voices For Change  when I came across a post that included this video of Dustin Hoffman talking about his preparation for his role in Tootsie (which I apparently missed when it first aired). He talks about how he realized that he had been editing the women he chose to pursue relationships with based on looks and how that knowledge has changed him. Take a look.

Maya Angelou: You Will Be Missed

Maya Angelou passed away this morning. The world will be a darker place without her but it could be lighter if we’d take her words to heart. This video of her is a favorite of mine. What wisdom she possessed.

 

Glass Woman Prize: Supporting Women’s Writing

Well, National Poetry Month is over and I’m pleased with myself for writing as much poetry as I did. I posted new poems 22 out of 30 days which is the best I’ve done for NaPoWriMo, ever. Last year I didn’t even attempt it so I feel good about this year’s effort. Not that I think all the poems were good ones, but the exercise made me stretch, made me write when I didn’t feel inspired on my own, made me think hard. I had to look for something to inspire, something I don’t do on a regular basis. The NaPoWriMo website was helpful as was reading the work of other poets that gave me ideas or nudged my memory about long-forgotten events. It was a good thing.

A big thing (for me) that happened in April was that I was notified I was a finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize for my micro-fiction piece “Something About SW”. I was astonished! I had no idea anything of mine was up for consideration. The Glass Woman Prize is curated by Beate Sigriddaughter to encourage women writersto acknowledge, transparently, who we are, and that who we are is not trivial and unimportant, despite the fact that it is not typically rewarded in a man-made and money-motivated world.

Stats from the website:

As of April 2014:

$10,430 prizes went to 41 prize winners, including $430 in anonymous donations.

5905 direct submissions were read, and an additional estimated 1000 from sources other than direct submissions.

116 stories were posted or linked to the Glass Woman Prize page.

I am honored to be a part what Beate has built and is continuing to build. The winner of the 15th Glass Woman Prize is “Simulacra” by J.P. Reese which I first read on Fictionaut where I commented, “I don’t like how this makes me feel which is what makes it so brilliant.” And I meant it. A good story doesn’t have to make you feel good, it has to make you feel and this story makes you feel, big-time.

I urge you all to go to the GWP page and read the winner’s and finalist’s work and read Beate’s own work, which is phenomenal. The level of talent Beate has gathered for the GWP is amazing and the work is powerful and inspiring. Again, I am in awe of what Beate has done for women’s writing. I hope you will give her your support by reading the work.

“Sand Dollar” by J.P. Reese

Art by Daria Bagrintseva

Art by Daria Bagrintseva


Sand Dollar

Washed ashore, I am the coin
of mermaids in your palm.

Your eyes see only treasure,
not the measure of my end.

The sand moves, sculpted by wind.
Endings clarify, chasten.

Lifted from a suitcase, I am the memory
of sun slashed across a cheekbone,

wind-ruffled sea grass, the curl of foam
that spumes above green waves,

bonfires that sear the night sky,
a kiss from one whose footprints

disappeared beyond the dunes.
I am the arid bone of flowered stars.

~ J.P. Reese, Dead Letters

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Poetry month has passed (I think it’s Fiction Month now) but poetry will live on for me, and many others, everyday. I’ve been reading a lot of poetry chapbooks and books this year. J.P. Reese’s Dead Letters is a wonderful little chapbook of very personal and touching poems Her manipulation of language is creative and musical and, like music, brings forth your own memories resulting in a feeling of kinship. I highly recommend it. Being a collector of things mermaid, this one is a favorite of mine. I love how it evokes summer nights and memories of long, lazy days at the beach. The last line is gorgeous and hit me like fireworks when I read it. Perfection.

Women Who Write: Valentine Pierce

This is the final interview in our four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile has featured a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Valentine Pierce

Valentine Pierce

Valentine Pierce is a New Orleans poet, writer, graphic designer, visual artist and actor. A bit of her wisdom: “We are all many things, a vessel of triumphs and trials, worlds within the worlds of all the people in our lives, singular wonders and curiosities of humanness.” Pierce’s debut book, Geometry of the Heart, was published in 2007 by Portals Press. She has been a resident writer at A Studio in the Woods in 2006, had her artwork displayed at Tulane’s Carroll Gallery, and performed in several productions at Ashé Community Art Center. She even won two awards from the American Academy of Community Theatres—to her surprise.

Fishwife

Melissa is a late baby,
Born in the waters of the Atlantic off the U.S. coast.
Her mid-November birth so far from land destines her
To be a fishwife, to hurl her insults at and spin herself down
Back into the waters from which she came.
No land is near enough to this child of the waters.
Even though her foul-mouthed sputterings
Come as tropical storm winds
And sheeted rain far across the waters,
By the time they reach us they are merely a severe rainstorm,
An accustomed annoyance;
Her voice echoes in the thunder but rallies no fear.
We will feel her wet, latent fury but no one
Will be running for higher or distant ground.
She will die as she was born—helpless and hopeless
In the mid-Atlantic waters in late November.

(Note on this poem: A couple of years ago I heard meteorologist Margaret Orr call a storm a fishwife. I’d never heard of a fishwife and didn’t know how it applied. I did some research and learned about fishwives and why some storms are called such. In November 2013 I finally got to use that word, which had been sitting in the word box of my mind.)

 

What is your earliest recollection of the desire to write down your own thoughts?
I don’t recall when I started writing—grade school, I guess. That’s what we called elementary school back then or grammar school.

Do you remember your first poem? What was it about?
The first poem I ever had published, according to my mom, was in the school bulletin at Joseph S. Craig, when I was in the second grade. The only line I remember is “on the outside looking in.” I remember the first poem I ever got published, in 1983. At that time it was titled “Always Strong.” I revised it so the theme was more universal and retitled “Soul of the Universe.” It was published in the now defunct Day Tonight/Night Today.

Is writing your full-time occupation?
Writing was my full-time occupation. I was a journalist for about 30 years. I was a journalist, photojournalist, layout person, editor, managing editor and press chief. I also had a weekly column, “Marrero Musings,” in the Times-Picayune for seven years. And I did freelance writing. Now my full-time job is graphic design and most of the published work is poetry. I also have odd jobs including freelance graphic design, sewing, and crafting.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?
Poetry is my primary genre but I write in a variety of genres from simple prose to essays to plays, to one-act-shows. I really don’t categorize my work in the sense of right now I am going to write an essay or now I’ll write a poem. I just write and let it happen. I even have a novel in progress—since July 2005. It is called “Dead North.” It got it’s name from the Federal Flood commonly known as Hurricane Katrina. It is a novel about a major hurricane. I’ve been interested in hurricanes all my life and said to myself, hey, “No one has written a novel about a hurricane.” It seems centuries ago that I read a book about a major storm that brought a bad spirit to a certain island. That was part of my inspiration. Hurricanes were the other part and I had tons of secondhand research. A month later I began to get firsthand information. I am not sure that that novel will ever be finished because going from poetry-length to book-length is a feat.

I write short stories, too. They have never been published because most need a tremendous amount of work. I did have one critiqued about 10 years after I wrote it. The ending was weak but the person who critiqued it, a writer I respect, said it would only take me about 20 minutes to fix then ending. He was right but I’ve never had it published. I have a three or four other books that are laying around in a bin somewhere, too.

I even have a whole book, a short one, called “Boundaries of a Life,” which is journaling and poetry about coping with grief. Hmmm, perhaps I need to pull that one out.

As you can see, writing is my life—paid or unpaid.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a routine that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?
Generally, whenever the muse strikes. I don’t usually decide to write, that is decided by my muses, my environment, my mood. Writing just happens for me. But, if I were to choose a place, it would be my home because there are no interruptions. I don’t have to be concerned with time, place, space. When my children were young, it was after they went to bed. Generally thought, poetry hits me in the midst of everyday living and I write it then to keep from losing it.

Where was the strangest place that inspiration hit you for a poem and how did it turn out?

Probably the seafood market that was once on St. Roch at St. Claude. I wrote a poem on a napkin with a burned out match. I can’t remember the name because I was a teenager but I still have it somewhere.

Oh, wait, once, in a restroom I pulled a paper towel off a shelf. When I had entered I wondered why so many of them were on the floor. When I pulled mine, a second one just floated down like a butterfly so I wrote a brown butterfly poem about it. Don’t know where that poem is right now.

Are there any recurrent themes in your poems? If so, why do you think that is?
I think the only recurring theme in my poems is life. That’s what I write about. The here and now, the hurt and happiness, the smiles and tears.

I am somewhat a collector of words. Do you have any favorite words?
I collect words and phrases. Often they end up in poems. Can’t think of any phrases to share but some of my words have to do with poems like Onomatapeia and iambic pentameter. I also collect names because they are amazing Like Beth Kneebone, She Ping, Cleopatra Pendleton, William Dear, Freeman A. Hrabowski III., and Jacqueline Goodchilds are just a few I have on my desk right now.

Do you have any tips to share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?
I don’t know what tips would be useful because writing is such a personal art. Sometimes you have to stay still, stay home, skip the television program to work through a piece, sometimes you have to set it aside long enough for other things to fill you mind and then go back to it because it becomes fresh again that way. Sometimes you have to leave home and go to a park or a retreat. When I had the opportunity to be the writer-in-residence at A Studio in the Woods in 2006 it was the first time in my life that I could spend every waking moment writing. And I did. I was amazed at the amount of work I completed in one month. I wish I could do that all the time. I have several friends to thank for that for constantly telling me to submit until finally I gathered up my courage and did it. My fear was that I didn’t stand a chance because there are so many great writers in New Orleans. I came back from Phoenix, AZ, where I was living with friends after the storm.
(Editors note: the storm = Hurricane Katrina)

Who are some of your favorite poets and why?
Goodness. That list is so long: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, all of the Black Renaissance poets, just about every poet in this city, the poets I recently met at the Acadiana Word Lab, most of the poets I’ve met in my life. What I like is the work, the words they put down, the sound, rhythm, music of the words, how they approach their topics whether main stream or taboo, the many ways writers write. I am probably not explaining this well because it is impossible to say exactly. I just know that poets inspire me, cause me to challenge myself, bring me great joy and sometimes bring tears to my eyes.
I have been inspired to write many poems based on hearing other poets read their work.

Finally, do you have any upcoming readings or appearances you can share with us?
My next events are workshops at the Algiers Regional Library April 19 and 26, 2p. It’s called “Stand Up, Look Up, Speak Up: How to present your work in public.”
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Thank you, Valentine, for sharing your work and your thoughts with us today.

Thanks to all of the wonderful women poets that participated in this series. It was great!

To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Women Who Write: Julie Kane

This is the third in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Julie Kane

Julie Kane

Our featured poet today is Julie Kane. Julie’s poetry collections include Rhythm & Booze (University of Illinois Press, 2003), which was Maxine Kumin’s selection for the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the Poets’ Prize; Jazz Funeral (Story Line Press, 2009), which won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, judged by David Mason; and Paper Bullets (White Violet Press, 2014), a new collection of light verse. Together with Grace Bauer, she co-edited the anthology Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox (2006), which became a finalist for the Southern Independent  Booksellers Alliance book prize in poetry. The nonfiction Vietnam memoir that she co-authored with Kiem Do (Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War, 1998) became a History Book Club featured alternate selection. Recently she wrote the libretto for Starship Paradise, a one-act opera with music by Dale Trumbore that was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia. Her poems appear in over forty anthologies and in journals such as Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and The Southern Review. They have also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. The 2011-2013 Louisiana Poet Laureate,she has also been the George Bennett Fellow in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, the New Orleans Writer in Residence at Tulane University, a faculty member of the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, and a Fulbright Scholar to Vilnius Pedagogical University in Lithuania. Currently she is a Professor of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and a Contributing Editor to Light Magazine.

THOSE SUNDAY DRIVES

You used to bore me with your monologues
on drives through old “New Awlins” neighborhoods:
what family had what house when you were young
and where some candy store or bank had stood.
Who cares about the past? I used to think.
We Yankee Irish pulled up roots a lot,
escaping relatives with chicken coops
and cabbage boiling in a kitchen pot.
But that was all before the hurricane
our Mason-Dixon love did not survive—
a minor loss beside a thousand dead,
four houses flooded out of every five.
So much has changed: Time speeded up her clock,
and now I bore all riders with my talk.

What is your earliest recollection of the desire to write down your own thoughts?
When I was seven years old, I had a collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen with several blank white pages at the end. I knew with absolute certainty that I was supposed to write my own story on those pages, and I did, printing it in pencil. It was about a girl who was helping her mother make whipped cream, but she whipped it too long and it turned into butter, and then her fairy godmother appeared and granted her one wish, and she turned the butter back to “wiped cream.” I still have that book.

Do you remember your first poem? What was it about?

I don’t remember the very first one, but I have a copy of one I wrote in 5th grade, when we were studying logging in our social studies textbook (God only knows why). It begins: “The loggers are busy cutting trees / with saws that sound like bumblebees . . .”

Is writing your full-time occupation?

Ha! Advice to any aspiring poets out there: don’t quit your day job! I am an English professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Before I got my doctorate, I worked for many years as a technical writer and editor.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes, it is my primary genre, but I also publish creative nonfiction, and I write scholarly essays and book reviews about literature. Last year I wrote the libretto for a one-act opera that was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I can write prose when I am not inspired and produce a lousy first draft, and then go back to it and improve it later, but poetry is different—I have to be feeling inspired to write a poem, or it just does not flow. I handwrite in pencil on lined paper, and I keep crossing out and crumpling up sheets of paper—the first draft of a one-page poem might take me several hours. Then I have to put it aside for awhile, a few days or a few weeks, before I can look at it objectively and tweak word choices or individual lines. Sometimes I will get the idea for a poem but know that I am not ready to write it yet. There are a few poems that have taken me years between the time the idea came to me and the time I felt ready to write it.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

I have a huge study with bookshelves and a desk, but my favorite place to write is a little breakfast table that looks out on my yard, with birdfeeders and trees and flowers.

I read an interview where you said you can not force poetry if you’re not feeling
inspired (and I silently cheered!). So many writers advise to write every day, to
actually force yourself, that it’s good practice. What do you think about that p.o.v.?

I think it’s a good idea to write every day if you are working on a novel or a dissertation or
another long prose work, but it does not work for me in terms of poetry. It does for some poets,though.

Where was the strangest place that inspiration hit you for a poem and how did it turn out?

There have been times when I was driving my car and a line or idea would come to me, and I have had to fish in my purse for a pen and the back of one of the deposit slips in my checkbook to try to write it down while driving. Then sometimes I go back to those cryptic jottings and wonder, What on earth was I thinking?

Are there any recurrent themes in your poems? If so, why do you think that is?

Other people are better than I am at spotting themes, since I am inside the poems and they are outside. But certainly, love and the breakdown of contemporary relationships, fate versus free will, alcoholism, mortality, Irish Catholicism, Louisiana nature and culture.

I am somewhat a collector of words. Do you have any favorite words?

I think my favorite is “newfangleness,” from the 16th century poem “They Flee from Me,” by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder. It means “fickleness.”

Do you have any tips to share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

You have to love the act of writing enough to finish what you start, or what’s the point? There are so many other things competing for our time and attention—there is no need to torture yourself, if you don’t love to do it. It can be hard sitting down in the writing chair and getting started, but once that creative flow takes over, it should be more fun than Netflix or Facebook!

I know that you studied briefly under Anne Sexton at Boston University. What is the one most important thing you learned from her?

She told us not to be afraid to be a fool for poetry—not to worry about whether anyone would like us or respect us because of what we wrote. It was the opposite of the advice my mother drilled into me while I was growing up, which was to always worry about what other people were thinking, to be well-behaved at all times.

You were Louisiana’s Poet Laureate for 2011-2013. Do you remember how you felt the minute you were told that you were chosen?

I was sitting in my office at work, getting ready to teach a night class, when I opened an email message from a member of the governor’s staff. It said that the governor would like to name me the next Poet Laureate. I was so happy and excited, I let out a very loud scream! And then a student who was out in the hall poked his head in my office to ask if I were OK.

Did you learn anything that surprised you during your time as Poet Laureate?

I was stunned to find so many thousands of people who care about poetry, all around the state: from teenaged dropouts in an alternative high school to the Colonial Dames of Shreveport.

There is a burgeoning poetry community online and new lit journals popping up all the time. Some people think it’s just so much “look at me” noise and unworthy of notice while others celebrate more open and diverse opportunities for poets to share their work. What do you think?

I think online publication is wonderful—it means that anyone can find and read your poem online, and that the size of the audience is potentially unlimited. I love the look and feel of a beautiful print journal or a book, but I also love the democracy of online publishing. Also, online forums and listservs and social media make it possible for writers who share a certain interest—such as those of us who write in form, the so-called “New Formalists”—to share news and build a sense of community that counters the isolation of writing.

I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

It is impossible for me to name all of my favorite living poets, but I can name some of my favorites who are no longer living: the ancient Chinese poets including Po Chu-i, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, John Donne, Charles Baudelaire, Constantine Cavafy, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Anna Ahkmatova, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney.

Finally, do you have any upcoming readings or appearances you can share with us?

I have several readings coming up in Washington, DC, next week. Together with the current Louisiana Poet Laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon, I will be reading at the National Press Club of Washington, DC, at 12 noon on April 15. That reading is sponsored by the American Women Writers National Museum. That same evening at 7 PM, Ava and I and two other women poets will be reading at the Arts Club of Washington. The following day, we will read our poems for a taping of Grace Cavalieri’s radio show, “The Poet and the Poem.” Later this month (April 27), I will be taking part in a reading at the Zachary Public Library that will honor the memory of Wilmer Mills, a Louisiana poet who died young.

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Thank you, Julie, for sharing your thoughts with us today!

To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here. Next Friday: Valentine Pierce.

Women Who Write: Cassie Pruyn

This is the second in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Cassie Pruyn

Cassie Pruyn

Today we feature Cassie Pruyn. Cassie is a New Orleans-based poet born and raised in Portland, Maine. She is currently studying at The Bennington Writing Seminars. Her obsessions include geographic history, geographic mystery, and the impossible struggle to express place through language. Her poems have been featured in The Double Dealer, she placed second runner-up in the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Indiana Review 1/2K Prize.

THE NEW ORLEANS AFFAIR

Poor Mississippi. 
Barge-laden, crowned with bluffs. 
She’s been scorned by this city, 
who once loved her enough 

to lay himself down along 
her S like a set 
of ribs (overeager stone- 
stacker, naive architect). 

Her lover’s put a wall up. 
He won’t touch her, won’t 
let her leave––he’s boarded shut 
the windows, girdled her, stripped 

her banks clear of “debris.” 
In the beginning, he smelled 
of blood and fresh pralines. 
She lapped at him nightly, cradling 

his churches and ridges, 
porches and cisterns; she flooded 
him yearly, tickled his drainage. 
Still he insisted 

on having her tamed. 
Planning her revenge, crisscrossed 
with tourniquets, she’ll claim 
him again––it’s his loss, 

she’ll make sure of it. For near 
the levees’ concrete bases,
small cracks have begun to appear. 
She strokes the crevices

with her long tongue, reminiscing: 
Remember those hand-dug canals?
Canoes made of cypresses? 
Even those vulgar sawmills 

she’d prefer to this half-sunk grime. 
Only muffled voices 
now, as she considers her choices; 
seagulls, girders, and plenty of time.


How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

I’ve been writing poetry, at least semi-consistently, for about fifteen years. Like many writers, I started out as an avid reader, but primarily of novels and stories. I’ve given a fair amount of thought, therefore, to the question “why poetry?” as opposed to any other genre or craft, and my best guess is that it comes out of a strong love of words––for the musicality and physicality of words in specific––and also for the compactness inherent in poetry as opposed to prose. I always loved a good story as a kid, but I also loved song lyrics. I loved the container of the song, the way a song can be used as a vehicle for expression. But I was not cut out to be a musician—the words would come, but never a melody.

I also think the way I experience and think about the world lends itself to writing poetry––or at least the desire to write poetry. Any writer has to be a keen observer, but I imagine for a fiction writer this act of observing has more to do with the way human beings relate to one another, or to themselves, as it pertains to the sustainment of a narrative. Well, really, I have no idea how fiction writers think—narrative and imagining characters is never something that has come naturally to me. Rather, I seem to experience the world as a series of atmospheric moments––a kind of holistic sensory impact, as encapsulated by specific moments in time. This is also why I love writing about space and place.


Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes; and not yet. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attempted to write a story, and they were all in response to prompts given by teachers. As I mentioned above, I’m a reader of narrative but not yet a writer of narrative. At some point, I’d really love to expand that part of my brain (because they really do feel like separate mental faculties––the writing of poetry vs. the writing of narrative prose) and challenge myself to attempt a novel, but who knows when and if that will happen. I do love writing critical prose—reviews, close readings, and the like—however.


What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

I love this question! It’s been great to think back to those sentimental, angst-ridden poems of my adolescence. While I can’t remember my absolute first poem, I know I began writing them in earnest when I was 11, my first year in middle school and my first year in a new town. I grew up in an 18th century farmhouse in rural Maine, but when I was 11, after my parents had split up, we moved to the suburbs. If a new school, combined with the onslaught of puberty and a huge geographical/atmospheric change wouldn’t inspire a young poet-to-be to begin writing, I don’t know what would! I remember coming home from school, gazing out the window, and writing rhyming poems in my journal. I seem to remember a poem that revolved around the trope of  a red rose with prickly thorns (obviously!).

Is writing your full-time occupation? If not, how do you fit writing into your work and personal life?

I consider writing to be my full-time job at the moment, in part because I am finishing up my MFA this semester, but I also work as a full-time nanny. Right now, my schedule involves dropping the kids off at school, writing most of the day, and then picking them up and working until 7 o’clock. It’s a lucky little life I lead; I love my job and I love having a lot of structured time to write. At some point, I’d love to teach in some capacity, but I also feel inclined to hold onto the schedule I have. Aside from money, time seems to be that thing that professional (or non-professional) writers covet the most. I feel lucky to be able to have that right now.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I find it really difficult to talk about process, because I find my process is constantly shifting to accommodate whatever project I’m working on. And in general, I find the process of writing a poem/series of poems to be an often frustratingly fluid experience. I try to balance structure with inspiration, routine with spontaneity, in order to be the most productive I can be without at the same time choking my poems before they even have a chance to come out. I’ll say, “Ok, I’m going to start writing at 9:30 and stop at 1:00, I’m going to turn off my phone, I’m going to take one or two short breaks, I’m going to work on developing this part of my project,” etc. but then who knows what actually happens on any given day within the parameters I’ve set for myself. I might strike upon an entirely new idea, I might finish something I hadn’t planned on finishing, or I might get virtually no writing done and spend the day sighing and un-inspired. If I ever start to feel uninspired, though, I run to the bookshelf immediately!

The amazing essayist Jo Ann Beard, in a lecture I heard her give once, said that process is as unique as a fingerprint: it’s utterly different for everyone. I find that idea really liberating. She said, regardless of whatever form it takes, though, that it has to do with entering into and staying inside of––for as long as possible––that realm of imagination, with sustaining the imaginal logic of whatever the piece of writing may be. This is an insanely difficult thing to do. She likened it to trying to hold a beach ball underwater for hours at a time, without letting it bob back up to the surface. I think that analogy is really apt. Process is definitely an unwieldy beast.

I do know that I spend an incredible amount of time editing––or reimagining––every poem I write. I tend to work in series of poems, and so I spend a lot of time rearranging and re-conceiving how my poems relate to one another, as well as tweaking individual lines and words. Writing successfully, for me, has everything to do with editing, which is not to discredit the value of those momentary bursts of inspiration––but those, for me, can come at any time during the process of working on the poem, and not just when I’m first setting it down on the page.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

When I’m trying to come up with a new idea, I really enjoy writing in coffee shops. I like the buzz and the energy (although I’m always the dork in the corner with ear plugs in; I can’t write to music because it messes me up when I’m trying to “hear” my poems). But, because I tend to come up with long-term “project” ideas that often require research or printing a bunch of poems out and rearranging them, I do a lot of my writing at home. I’ll write anywhere in my apartment––on the couch, on the bed, at my standing desk, at the counter. I find when I’m really trying to sit with a poem or group of poems, really trying to “hold the beach ball under,” as it were, I like to be at home. As most writers seem to be, I am very introverted. While I enjoy being the fly on the wall sometimes, the occasional “flaneur” about town, at the end of the day I really just want to be alone in my little cave!

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

Don’t give up! Allow yourself to struggle! Sit with the discomfort of struggling. This is something I’ve learned the hard way, and will probably learn the hard way again. I’m a perfectionist, and I like to achieve––but this is something you have to both cultivate and push against as a writer. You have to want it enough to keep going, but be humble enough to understand that you’re going to have to mess it up to get it right. I’ve been circling about one project––one source of inspiration––for over five years now, and failed countless times in trying to give voice to this inspiration. Like, really failed. But, it’s like Bob Dylan says: “There’s no success like failure.” It’s such a cliche but it’s true. Understand that you’re going to “fail,” but don’t let it demoralize you; learn from it instead. And, during those occasional moments of confusion and panic, if you come back to your essential love for writing, the reason you came to it in the first place, you’ll push through to the other side. At least this is what I tell myself literally every. single. day. It’s far easier said than done, but I think it’s the difference between writing and, well, not.


Who’s work has inspired yours?

There are many poets who’ve inspired me, but Elizabeth Bishop is someone I’m thinking a lot about right now. Bishop achieves this very real intimacy with the reader, but never by giving the reader information about herself directly. You get to know her by looking with her. She describes objects and landscapes with such detail and texture, and the way you end up feeling close to her is by getting to see these things too, in the way that she sees them. It’s about witnessing the rhythms of the poet’s unique mind, thinking the way she thinks for the duration of the poem. I am not what you would call a “confessional” poet. Even when I am writing on or from emotion, I am always fictionalizing it to a certain extent. I think I am an inherently private person. But a writer has to make the reader feel welcome, nonetheless; she has to let the reader get to know her in certain essential ways, even if it’s not the way she’d let, say, her best friend get to know her. Bishop really exemplifies this. Plus, she writes about geography too.


I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

I could never pick just one favorite either, but here are some poets I love:

Frank Bidart, Rita Dove, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sarah Messer, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Maggie Nelson, Frank Stanford, Lyn Hejinian, Donald Hall, Joan Ashbery, Joseph Brodsky, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare….and that’s just poetry! I could go on and on….


Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

It feels silly to try and predict what I might be working on in 5 years, although it seems as though I’ve got two projects going at the moment––I thought they belonged together at first, but now I don’t think they do. I’m working on a series of historically-based poems about Colonial America, and another series having to do with a particular relationship in my life. It’d be great if, say, I finished one of those projects and published it as my first book of poems, and were on my way into writing my next book in five years. Who knows how these plans will change, though. It may take considerably longer to achieve that. I also have an idea for a series of poems on the Mississippi River. I’d like to write a magical-realism history of the Mississippi River, in verse––go big or go home, right?!

Whatever I’m doing, I hope I’m making time to write and feeling inspired. That’s all I really want for myself, period––but it’d be nice if something got published here and there along the way….

Are there any online or print journals you read and recommend? Are there any venues for sharing/listening to poetry that you recommend?

I’m definitely in the beginning stages of combing through all the awesome journals available online or in print. As in, I’ve only been playing the trying-to-get-published game for about a year (although that’s not the only reason to read literary journals!), and not as consistently as I ought to be. I find the process pretty overwhelming. There is so much out there. And if I could afford to just buy subscriptions to all of the journals that look interesting, and had the time to read all of them, I really would. It seems really difficult, however, to put quality time into your writing and to also find enough time to really expose yourself to the world of published work. I don’t know how people do it!

As for the second part of the question, I think any poetry event––readings, Slam performances, etc.––in New Orleans is worth going to. It’s such a welcoming (and relatively small) city, so going to these events is a great way to meet people, and to connect and reconnect with other local writers. I’m easy to please with this type of thing––I love just being around other people who also find it worthwhile to sit down and write every day, regardless in our potential aesthetic differences. I think New Orleans is a great place to be an artist right now, for many reasons. It’s a highly inspiring, highly stimulating place with delightfully low levels of pretentiousness, and you’ll start to hear it creeping in to everyone’s work, your own included, which just serves to create another connection between you and other local writers.

What are some of your favorite words and why?

This is even harder than picking a favorite author! In general, though, I like English words with more Germanic sounds, words with texture and punch. I also like single-syllabic words a lot.Straw. Gut. Hook. Orange. Those are my favorites tonight!

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Thank you, Cassie, for sharing your interesting pov with us today!

peauxdunqueCassie will be reading at the upcoming literary event Yeah, You Write, a Word Rebellion: Readings and Music, on April 18 at Cafe Istanbul. For more info see the FaceBook page of Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, sponsors of the event.

 
To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Next Friday: Julie Kane

Susie Price: Cutting Through The Weird Food Codes

For something which everyone has to do in order to stay alive, eating is fraught with way too many social boundaries, judgements about weight and health, strange unspoken rules about what men and women are supposed to eat (or enjoy), and much more. It’s a mess, and everyone knows it, but nobody really talks about it like normal people. The obese get talked about a lot, as do those with eating disorders – not men, mind you, because nobody likes to acknowledge that men suffer from eating disorders as well – but everyone else ends up wandering the desert and speaking in strange codes. Time for some feminism, which seems to be alive and ready to do some kicking.

Dessert Is Not a Moral Issue

Of all the weird food codes, “guilty pleasure” is most insidious. If, like most people, we occasionally enjoy something kind of sweet and not really diet-squad approved, it’s okay to talk about it in public so long as we call it our guilty pleasure. Even yogurt which tastes like it once wandered past lemon cheesecake is marketed as something we ought to feel guilty about enjoying, so the idea of enjoying an actual slice of lemon cheesecake is only acceptable if we claim to feel a little naughty about even having a bite. Suddenly, food becomes a moral issue, something to feel guilty about even if it’s “part of a balanced breakfast”, or lunch, or dinner. It’s easy to say that it’s just a figure of speech, but when we’re talking feminism and the whole messed-up culture surrounding how women are allowed to eat, everything we say on a regular basis tends to run deep. Thankfully, a lot of feminists are now taking a stand against the idea of food-related guilt: “I don’t have guilty pleasures because I shouldn’t feel guilty about my food,” wrote a Guerilla Feminism contributor, which is about as no-nonsense as this kind of thing ought to be.

Our Eating Habits, Ourselves

Quick question: if you’re told about a lazy, self-indulgent, unemployed woman, what does she look like in your mind’s eye? Probably not thin, though maybe not obese – most likely somewhere in between, and definitely overweight. We’re subliminally told time and time again that fat people are slobs, thin people are vain and probably have eating disorders (but are definitely the right candidate for the job), and that there isn’t really a weight or way of eating that doesn’t come with supposed personality traits attached. People suffering from eating disorders are, unfairly, hit particularly hard, with the assumption that they’ve brought their disorder on themselves through vanity or just perfectionism. “An eating disorder is characterized by an extreme disruption in regular eating habits, whether it is eating too little or eating too much,” according to an expert at Psychguides.com, but popular culture would rush to reassure us that what eating disorders are really characterized by are personal failings. However, we all ended up getting painted with the same brush, just in different colors.

Food Doesn’t Need To Be Justified

Ordering dessert – or even just a fatty, delicious steak – in a restaurant can be a fraught moment. Regarding ordering cake when your friends are abstaining, The Story of Telling writes that a “great waiter knows that an emotional decision is being made. He understands that he’s not just there to scribble down an order—he’s there to support the dessert orderer’s choice.” That choice is often justified by ‘well, I’ve eaten well all day’, or ‘I had a salad for lunch’, because society is convinced that we should be held accountable for every small indulgence we grant ourselves. It’s become such a common tactic that it’s now used to advertise cinnamon buns and cakes – something which bemuses even those involved in the diet industry, one of whom wrote that “there’s nothing inherently evil about this or any dessert. Though I would imagine that promises of burning the calories later are more likely lead to weight gain than simply making sure that you eat dessert in moderation.”

This, of course, is the paradoxical heart of nutrition double-talk – not only does it make us feel worse, but it also makes it difficult to have a healthy relationship towards food, and therefore difficult to eat well. It’s a vicious cycle, and one we could all do with getting off.

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NolaFemmes reader Susie Price is now a travel writer, but before she took to sitting at her desk musing on the places she’s visited, she spent a good deal of her life working in the leisure industry in different roles. Now she combines random scribbling with motherhood and is pretty happy with her lot.