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Saturday, February 22, 2014

On A Metaphoric Bender

Aimee Bender on the Skylight Books podcast this week discussed exactly what I needed to hear.

First she read a story from her new collection The Color Master, and if you have time you really should listen to it.

But then she started answering questions and fielded one that led into a rumination of the use of metaphors (beginning at about 29:50 to the end). She said that a metaphor shouldn't have a one-to-one correspondence with the thing it is standing in for, or with the magical element. It needs to be more intuitive (from the unconscious, from a feeling of being drawn to use the items in the metaphor) to be infused with an emotional life. "The magic is a kind of access point into the emotional life of the story," she said.

Quoting Donald Barthelme, she said, "Art should both invite and repel interpretation." A one-to-one correspondence between symbol and meaning defies this mystery. Kills the mystery even. Bemder said where you are drawn to the meaning but don't completely understand the meaning, the emotion will be in there, as infused by the symbols you have been drawn to.

Later she said that once you (the writer) begin to see the symbol as a symbol, there are a few ways to fix this. One is to throw a random element in "to get the brain off its analytical mode."  She doesn't believe that anything is chosen at random, but rather that everything is selected from the buried unconscious, and that "to kind of know what you are doing and kind of don't know what you are doing is a very productive space to be in."

Another fix she cites is one used by George Saunders and Haruki Murakami, one in which "as soon as you smell the meaning, you put it in the story." That is, you acknowledge to the reader that x is a symbol for y, yes, they saw it and you saw it too, and now the reader is ungrounded because they no longer know what will happen next, because you have to do something different next, having just acknowledged the symbol. "The story refreshes itself," she explains. The story is free to become bigger than that one symbol.

She says it better than I did, and with examples. Plus she's charming. So go and listen for yourself.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


This, recently on Brain Pickings, from artist Richard Diebenkorn:

This week for me, #2. #2.

Online Writing Workshop, Part III

So I mentioned in a previous post that in the first week of February I took Carolyn Forché's class at 24PearlStreet, the online classroom of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Today I'll give you some of my impressions about the experience.

The 5-day course was structured so that a writing prompt was given the weekend before the course, with a poem due midnight Monday. Response to other poets' work was due Tuesday midnight, and some time on Tuesday or late Monday a new prompt was issued, for a poem due Wednesday midnight. By Thursday midnight we were to respond to everyone else's second poem, and Friday we were to post revisions of the first and second poems, and comment.

Carolyn generously provided us an optional third prompt later in the week, so we were free to post a third poem, if we desired. Each prompt was actually a choice of three different prompts, for nine prompts total. This was great, so that while I used three prompts during the week, I still have six more to use later on my own, if I desire. Carolyn also linked us to websites, readings available online, and also posted some notes about poetry, poetic devices, voice, and other topics. She also continued to comment on Saturday, when the course was officially over, and the site has remained open for participants to comment on one another's work or communicate, as they please.

As you can guess, just getting the work done by the deadline was overwhelming, and so while I drafted three poems that I have high hopes for, I didn't have time to ask about the supplementary readings, and my responses to other's work was not in every case as thorough as I'd have liked it to be. Likewise the other participants were not able to respond to everyone's pieces thoroughly, and even our fearless leader had to be briefer with her comments than I personally had hoped for.

That said, I did learn a number of things. First, reading others' work and the critiques to others' work always stimulates new ideas and helps me reflect on my own work. But here's the crucial thing I learned: that I can draft a complete poem in a single day. This is something I never do. I consider 4 or 5 lines a very successful day of writing. I spend an inordinate amount of time getting those 4 or 5 lines (or 2 or 10 or whatever, but almost never a complete poem), and I think hard about them, discarding many other lines along the way. Then I put the poem away and come back to it another day, relying on my unconscious to do the heavy lifting so that when I come back I can get another 4 or 5 lines.

With poems due in 24-hour periods, this method was not going to work for me, and frankly I wasn't sure I'd be able to complete the assignments. But, to my surprise, I found that I can push through and get a poem drafted in a day. It means that not much else got done those days (which is okay because my teaching semester is over and my studying for my degree completed), but I figured out that when I have to, I can push through. That was the most astonishing thing I learned, which means that by taking a course whose structure I hadn't found comfortable, I was able to stretch myself. So yay for that.

I had also hoped to connect with some of the other participants, maybe even forming a relationship that would continue after the workshop ended. Living in Japan and not having much poetic companionship, this was one of my primary goals in taking this workshop. I'm sorry to report that I don't seem to have made such a connection. The frenetic pace of finishing assignments seemed to discourage the forging of relationships. Or maybe one will emerge yet......

Overall, I learned a lot, though in the future I will take a slower (assignments more spaced out through time) course in order to increase my chances of fostering a relationship with another poet, and because I think it will suit my default process more (though I'm still grateful to have learned my default isn't my only option). I don't quite feel that I got the value for my money in this course (it was a pricey workshop) but I guess I was paying in part for the big name poet as leader. I'm not sorry I took this class, but I will make my choices differently in the future: intensive courses are probably not for me. Taking this course as my first experience in online workshops has helped me clarify what it is I want, all part of the learning process.

24PearlStreet does offer options that stretch out over longer periods of time, for the same price as this intensive course. The tech support was perfection: I had no problems at any time. Very professionally done. So check them out, along with other online workshops.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Erasing for April Fools

Silver Birch Press has a call for submissions for erasures for April Fool's Day.

Details below cut and pasted from their link above:

Silver Birch Press is seeking April Fool’s Day Erasure Poetry based on page 41 from a book of the poet’s choice — interpret “April Fool’s Day” as you will (humor, trickery, thoughts on the day, but nothing x-rated or raw).

As a prompt, here are definitions of “fool”:
Noun: A person who acts unwisely; a silly person.
Verb: Trick or deceive.
Adjective: Foolish or silly.

In honor of April Fool’s Day (4/1), Silver Birch Press is accepting submissions of erasure poems based on page 41 from a book of your choice. For examples of erasure poetry, see this link.

1. Select a book and turn to page 41 (in honor of April Fool’s Day, 4/1).

2. Photocopy the page, then mark out, white out, circle, or in some other way (see examples), eliminate some of the words. The remaining words constitute your April Fool’s Day Erasure Poem. (You may submit up to three poems, each created from page 41 of a different book — or even the same book, if you are so inclined.) Make sure the page number (41) appears in the poem (meaning, don’t cross out the page number).

3. Give your poem a title.

4. Scan (or take a photo of) your marked-up copy and create a PDF or JPG file. (We prefer files of at least 1MB, but will accept lower-resolution files.)

5. Create a separate typed version in MSWord or in an email.

6. Send an email with your erasure poetry to along with your name, mailing address, one-paragraph bio, and the Title, publisher, and publication date of the book.
DEADLINE:  March 15, 2014

We will feature submissions on the Silver Birch Press blog — and in a printed collection entitled Silver Birch Press By the Numbers Erasure Poetry Anthology, which we’ll release in the fall of 2014. 

Online Writing Workshop, Part II

Earlier this week I wrote about some of the online writer's workshops that I considered before taking a class recently. Today I'll write briefly about the criteria I used to make my decision.

1) Since it was my first time doing an online writing workshop, I wanted to go with an well-established program that would have worked out all the kinks for the remote student and that I felt I could trust.

2) I wanted the workshop leader/teacher to be someone whose work I knew and liked, but whose work was somewhat different than mine. I hoped for this in order to increase the odds that I would learn something new and push myself in useful ways.

3) I wanted a workshop that required writing samples before a writer is accepted into the program. This was important to me because I thought it would keep me from being admitted to a workshop I wasn't ready for, and would also hopefully group me with students working at the same level with me, with whom I hoped to make connections that would last past the end of the workshop.

4) Timing was important. I'm on a break right now from work, as the winter teaching semester ended and spring hasn't started yet, and I wanted to do the course in during my down time. I also wanted a workshop that spanned some weeks or a month or two, if possible, rather than an intensive course, which meant a course ideally starting right after I began my break and ending right before school starts again. A pretty specific requirement that affected my decision quite a bit.

5) Cost is always a consideration.

So what did I end up taking? I took Carolyn Forché's class at 24PearlStreet, the online classroom of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. This satisfied my criteria # 1 - #3. It was an intensive 5-day course, which wasn't particularly what I wanted, but I learned something valuable from that. It was also on the more expensive side of programs I researched, but I hoped that by going with a program name I knew well and with a poet I really respected, it would be worth it.

So that's how I made my decision.

My next post will be about my actual experience.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Arts Opportunities in Japan

I know I promised a post on my online poetry workshop experience, and I will write that up soon. But first I wanted to make sure everyone knows about the following arts opportunities in Japan.

1) The Japanese Garden Intensive Seminar Plus in Kyoto. This is a 2-week seminar beginning October 29, 2014, conducted by the Research Center for Japanese Garden Art & Historical Heritage. Entitled the 16th annual English language intensive course in the history, design theory, landscape ecology, and practice of the Japanese Garden, this course in the past has hosted 380 participants from all over the world. This year there is room for 20 participants who have an interest in Japanese gardens. An interesting and unique opportunity.

2) The call for paper proposals for the 2014 Japan Writers Conference is here. I've cut and pasted from an email I received.

The 2014 Japan Writers Conference will be on October 25 & 26 at Iwate National University (“Gandai”) in the city of Morioka, Iwate prefecture. Conference co-coordinator Bern Mulvey will be this year’s host.

But before looking forward, we need to look back on the 2013 Conference to thank Okinawa Christian University and all our wonderful presenters, attendees, and student helpers. There needs to be a special salute to Hillel Wright, who hosted the event. Hillel has been a major figure in the Japan expat writing community for many years as a novelist, anthologist, and events organizer. He is retiring from teaching, leaving Japan and will be sorely missed. He plans to divide his time between the west coast of Canada and Hawaii. He will also revive MiNUS TiDES! Magazine as MiNUS TiDES International. He seeks submissions of all sorts—good writing, art and images—for the first issue. Contact him before June 1 at Hillel Wright, 8641 McFarlane Road, Denman Island, BC, VOR 1T0 (Canada) or

Another journal which wants to see your work is The Font. It is a literary journal concerned with aspects of learning and teaching language. Editor James Crocker and his crew gave a fun presentation in at the 2013 Conference. You can learn more at

But now, look north. Morioka is a wonderful place, an attractive city with lots of good regional food and a long tradition of interesting crafts. The university itself is not far from the station and public transportation is good. This is another place where staying an extra day has its rewards. 

And we’re putting out the call for presentation proposals. All published writers, translators, editors, agents and publishers who would like to lead a session are invited to submit proposals. Those who have presented at past conferences are (of course) welcome to submit new proposals. But we especially encourage proposals from new submitters. One of the strengths of the Conference has been variety, and the best way to foster variety is to have new presenters each year.  

Please forward this to any friend or colleague who might be interested. If you know someone the conference organizers might approach--either living in Japan or planning to visit Japan next autumn--please send us your suggestion. If you have contact information, that would be a great help. 

Detailed information follows, but briefly, a proposal needs to include a brief bio, including some publication credits, the type of presentation you wish to make, a title, a summary of 50 words, a longer abstract (150 words) and any special requests you might have. Standard sessions are fifty minutes long, but if you have something special in mind, please let us know and we will accommodate if possible.

Presentations on all genres and all aspects of writing and publishing are welcome. The deadline for presentation proposals is June 1, 2014.

As in the past, the Conference will be free and open to all who wish to attend. This is possible because all the presenters and organizing staff volunteer their time and talent, and the use of the site is donated by the hosting institution. As a result, the Conference cannot offer any payment, reimbursement, lodging, or help in securing visas or travel permits. So please don’t ask.

Proposal Guidelines

When planning your proposal, keep your audience in mind. Your listeners will be writers and others (translators, editors, publishers, and agents) concerned with creating the published written word. While teaching, literary studies and private self-expression are certainly worthy activities, they are not the focus of this Conference. Ask yourself as a writer or other word professional these questions:

What information do you have which could be useful to others? 
What writing, rewriting, editing, or marketing techniques have worked for you? 
What topic would make for a lively and enlightening discussion? 
What publishing or other professional opportunities do you know about? 
What will an attendee take away from your fifty-minute session that he or she will find worthwhile? 

You may submit more than one proposal. 

The only qualification one needs to be a presenter is to have published. This does not mean that you need to have published a lot or in some high-profile journal. Your book (if you have a book) does not have to be on a best seller list. You do not have to have won any awards or to have appeared on TV. You simply need to have written, edited, translated, or otherwise worked on a piece of writing which has made it to the public eye. That is, published. 

Proposal Deadline and Format 

Using the following format, please send your ideas for a presentation by June 1, 2014. Send your proposal in the body of an email (no attachments) to both these addresses:

In your subject line give your name, “JWC,” and the date.

In the body of the email, give:

1. Your name (or names)
2. Contact information (email, telephone. These remain confidential.)
3. Your publications (Need not be complete, but give names of journals and genre for short pieces; title, publisher and date for books; venues and dates for plays, and so on) 
4. Title of presentation. (20 words or less)
5. Type of presentation (short lecture with Q&A, craft workshop, panel discussion, reading with Q&A, etc.)
6. Short summary of the presentation (50 words or less)
7. Abstract of the presentation (150 words or less)
8. Personal and professional biography (50 words or less. Make mention of your publications, as this will be part of the Conference program)
9. Anything else, such as special equipment needs or questions.

Your proposal doesn’t have to be a “finished” document to submit. There will be time to shape and polish your ideas for a presentation. But there are a set number of session slots available and if you are interested in having one of them, please let us know soon. Again, the deadline is June 1, 2014.

John Gribble 
Bern Mulvey
Co Co-ordinators,
2014 Japan Writers Conference 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Online Writing Workshop

Have you wondered where I've been? Maybe not, but anyway, I've been up to something. I've been taking an online poetry course.

Because I live in Japan and don't have a writing group or writing friends that I can see on a regular basis, I thought a class might be a good way to revitalize my writing, and also perhaps to introduce me to a writing community.

I found online poetry classes from the following various venues:

Chicago School of Poetics

The Writer's Center

Continuing Studies at UW Madison

Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop

Barrelhouse Online Workshops

Writer's Digest University

Gotham Writers

Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown 24PearlStreet

The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative

The Albany Poetry Workshop

Lighthouse Writers Workshop

UCLA Extension

There are undoubtedly more than these, and I probably looked at more, but these are the ones that I made note of, and from these programs, I chose a course and finished it over the weekend. In my next post, I'll tell you more.