Reading from Split Ears for the first time
at Aggregate Space in Oakland.
Photo by Kwan Booth.
Artwork by Christopher Burch.
My spirit's all aglow after this weekend
, which included presenting my newborn chapbook, Split Ears
, to the world for the first time. Featherboard Reading Series
turned out to be a great event, and I'm just simmering with gratitude for everyone involved, and for everyone who was present to welcome Split Ears
to the world with such a sweet reception. Look out for video from the event soon.
In the meantime, I'm steaming right along into the next events in my fall schedule. Next up: this Wednesday's Word Performances Reading Series
. Word Performances is "a reading series of poetry, prose, fiction, memoir and comedy, where words are the lead and music makes a cameo," and it promises to be a good time. The stellar lineup includes storyteller and Oakland Grand Slam champion Joyce Lee
, Litquake co-founder Jack Boulware, performance poet Cybele Zufolo Siegel, and more, and I'm just thrilled to be included. The Broadway World online magazine included a feature article on Word Performances earlier this month, so I guess that means I'm not the only one who's excited. Visit the Word Performances website to see the whole lineup, and if you can make it, join us on Wednesday, September 25 at 7:45 pm at Viracocha in San Francisco. I've got a lot going on this fall, so stay tuned for updates on other events and new publications. Also, I can't write a post about joyful poetry news in this moment without mentioning a great tragedy the literary world suffered this weekend. Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor was among those killed in the recent terrorist attack in Kenya.
Professor Awoonor was a legendary writer and thinker, and the uncle of my Pacific University professor Kwame Dawes. Kwame was also in Nairobi for the Storymoja Hay Festival
, and thankfully, he was not a victim of the attacks. He wrote a beautiful tribute
to his uncle, reminding us of the importance of the words
the man known as "Prof" left behind. Read "Across A New Dawn,"
one of Kofi Awoonor's final poems, in the Wall Street Journal online
. Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together
Me & my shiny new degree
School's out! One week ago, I graduated with my MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. It's hard to believe that my first residency there was already two years ago
, and now, my turn to walk across the stage as a graduate has already come and gone. Tonight, I'm showing off what I learned at Oakland's Beast Crawl, not by reading poems from my MFA thesis, but
by reading brand new work, all about vengeful sex. What can I say? I guess I needed some kind of release. If you can, come hear me read during leg 3 of Beast Crawl at Anger Management & Revenge: Dirty Trixxx
.I do have plenty of reflections about what my new degree means for my life and writing moving forward, though. I'll have lots more time now for sharing about this life here on the blog, but for now I'll leave you with
this – a version of the graduate presentation I gave at my last MFA residency. It's edited to remove the poems I included (gotta keep those to myself for now, in case of publication), and it doesn't quite carry the full effect of me delivering all this truth-telling in a little chapel hall full of people, of all places, but you'll get the idea of my journey through all of the learnings of the last couple of years. Click below to read more.
I’m tuning in live from the Pacific University MFA residency in Forest Grove, Oregon. We’ve reached that point in the residency when I’m not quite sure what day, or hour or, well, universe I’m in, but I’m having a good time and learning a lot, so I’ve given up on trying to stay grounded and I’m just floating along. The good news is I’ll be more grounded once I leave here. I’m reminded of all of the rewarding reasons I entered this program, so I’m really thankful for my time here.
To put this gratitude in perspective: when this semester began, I was freaking out. I wish I could use my writerly skills to describe it more eloquently, but that about captures it. I was freaking out, as in, I wasn’t sure where I was heading or why, that kind of feeling like you’re rushing forward, only everything is dark, so you’re not sure where you’re going. I was freaking out, as in, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be writing, was struggling to recall why I’d embarked on this wild quest to get an MFA in Poetry, of all things, when it’s hard enough to make a living as a poet, and harder still when you’re a crazy person who writes things barely recognizable as poetry, like I happen to be.
Marvin Bell tells the class of 2011
to "write with abandon"
With a deadline looming, I was honest with my advisor, Marvin Bell, about my freaking out. It’s nice to say I could be honest with him, but the truth is, I had to be honest, because I felt frozen, unable to write anything without a crippling sense of self-doubt paralyzing my mind. There I was, lucky enough to have the prolific poet Marvin Bell as my mentor, and all I could do was wonder if I belonged here, or if I was forging my way through a path that was never meant for me.
Marvin’s response was so sweet. He was gentle, generous, and silly with me, reminding me to have fun, because when I’m writing, I’m doing something I love. He told me, in much more eloquent words, to stop freaking out, to stop worrying about what others expect of me (himself included), and to simply be who I was born to be. Me.
These ideas have been coming up at the residency, so those who have brought it up have unwittingly continued to confirm that I know what’s best for me. From Dorianne Laux’s insights on childhood memories as moments that define us as people and as poets to Kwame Dawes’s words on the personal necessity for political poetry, every piece of advice from the past week has had its limit. That is, every faculty member here acknowledges that their guidance can only go so far, and it’s up to us, the writers, to let their words reach their fullest potential in our own work.
In other words, what I’m after is not something Marvin Bell or Kwame Dawes can give me. I’m seeking the essential core of my me-ness. Expressing what it truly means to be uniquely me means being the best poet that I (and only I) can be.
Following a trail at
the Elk Grove winery in Oregon
Sorry I've been so quiet, dear readers! I'm currently in Forest Grove, Oregon for my third residency of the Pacific University MFA program. Each residency has been a unique experience so far, and I'll update soon on how this one's going. One of my fellow students is blogging thoroughly about it - check her out at Sobre Mariquita
in the meantime. And speaking of quiet, what happens when a shy, quiet person like me comes to a place like this, with the potential to make invaluable connections with other writers around me, if only I can emerge from my shell and speak? I'm finding out, and I'll let you know. Here's a piece I wrote on the subject after attending the Trinidad's Bocas Lit Fest in April.
I feel so lucky for the chance to work with Kwame Dawes
at Pacific University. He's one of my wonderful workshop leaders at this residency
(along with Ellen Bass
), and I'm also going to get to work with him one-on-one throughout the semester as he serves as my faculty advisor. I am, to say the least, thrilled. He gave an incredibly moving reading last night, and after hearing him and the amazing Patricia Smith, I spent the evening in a giddy poetry nerd trance. It was almost too much. What's a girl supposed to do with all that inspiration?
I'm working hard on the answer. But my time here at the residency isn't nearly the extent of my admiration for Kwame Dawes. Earlier this month was Caribbean American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and as you may know, both the Caribbean and HIV prevention are passionate topics for me.
This is why I adore Dawes' Emmy awarding-winning website, LiveHopeLove.com
, which draws attention
to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Dawes' home country of Jamaica. Kwame Dawes' remarkable poetry sheds light on the lives of those who are living in Jamaica with hope, love and HIV. Visit the website for the full experience of LiveHopeLove. Here's a glimpse of it, with Kwame reading his words among images of Joshua Cogan's photography. Also, this Monday, June 27th, is National HIV Testing Day. Will you participate?