#NaPoWriMo

In preparation for the inception of NaPoWriMo–an intense thirty-day poetry binge for those of us paralyzed by fears of audience, topic, detail, and ourselves–we discuss why anyone would put themselves through the torturous process of writing a bad poem draft every single day. The answer? Lots of wine.

It’s almost April, which means baby animals, Earth Day, sunshine, and poetry.

(If this list isn’t gritty enough for you, try October, month of blindness awareness, pizza, opals, and pagan celebrations.)

April is a good month for poets. We can sit on the porch, wear sunglasses, and write.

Winter gets me into the bad habits of watching lots of (good!) television in my bed, sleeping late, and not writing as much as I would like. This is partially because it is expensive to heat my apartment, so staying in bed is the best warmth option; but it also because everything is the same grey color for three solid months. Grey trees, grey sky, grey asphalt. Grey is lovely, but my poetry relies heavily on color as fodder, fuel for its verse. Consequently, my winter poems are mostly about death and rainstorms.

The response to many months of not-so-brilliant poetics? The 30-day challenge of National Poetry Writing Month (otherwise known as NaPoWriMo). Similar to NaNoWriMo (wherein writers work on a novel draft to polish and wrestle the remaining 11 months), NaPo challenges poetry nerds to write a poem every day in April. Many poets defer to writing several in a sitting, then skipping a day or three (ahem), but the 30-poem challenge remains (that’s a whole chapbook, folks).

These poems don’t have to be complete, or even near complete, or even real poems. Half the time, I end up writing “ugh I hate working at the grocery store before a rainstorm. Everyone is batshit crazy and forgets their canvas bags,” before abandoning my computer in favor of drinking tea and looking out the window. But from this small moment in the time between other things, I begin to consider my myriad food service jobs, making lists of weird customers and co-workers, and remembering stories. I make lists of images, brainstorm titles on the backs of grocery receipts, think in meter.

Poetry is always in the back of my mind, even while I am busy writing consulting, bagging natural groceries, or running errands. With NaPoWriMo, poetry takes a more central space in my brain, becoming an undercurrent, a benevolent riptide of thoughts, pulling and pulling. The fragments that I puzzle together are not unlike seashells: often fragmented, sharp, and duller when dry, but they are poetic bookmarks. As of now, I have 14 scalloped edges of things that may or may not become poems. This is certainly better than nothing.

A side note for the curious: Some NaPoets post their pieces on the internet. I am saving mine for my inevitable collected works.

Success

My post-internship contemplation has solidified my long-held suspicion that I cannot be an intern–least of all when my supervisors have less work experience combined than I do myself.

Alexandra Kimball’s brilliant, sad essay touches on the anguish felt by those of us who are realizing that the job we always wanted is reserved for rich folks, and that we have little else to do besides worry about bills.

How to Succeed in Journalism when You Can’t Afford an Internship | Hazlitt.

Grad

So as you know if you follow my every move via social media, I got a big fat rejection email from the grad program I applied to at the University of Washington.

While part of me is surprised–the honors-graduating, essay-planning, highlighter-toting part of me–in many ways, I expected it. My application was viciously progressive, and for a department conservative in any way, my style of scholarship would be off-putting.

(Not to mention that UW accepts less than 5% of applicants for this particular program and offers less than half of them assistantships or financial support.)

When I received the email, I was just about to leave my tutoring job on my second-to-last day before my unplanned three week vacation. Between the stress I had acquired via the palpable anxiety of students in the throes of finals and the general what-am-I-doing freakout that comes and goes once a week, I was overcome; I went home and wept.

However, after a good cry and a bout of cursing & politicking with one of my favorite UNCA professors, his two engaging comrades, and my wonderful partner, I felt better. I always make fun of people for needing institutional validation, but–as in everything–I am really poking fun at that need within myself.

I texted my extended support system: the writing center director at UNCA, my two professors who wrote recommendations for me, the UWC staff who helped me polish and polish and anguish over my personal statement and writing sample, my mother. True to form, they bolstered my spirit immensely.

I spent the weekend no longer worried about the rejection; I stayed up until 2am dancing and talking, I cooked and played with Octavia Butler (the cat, not the author), I went out to eat three different times, I drank some bourbon.

And yesterday I had an epiphany: if the institution doesn’t want me, then I don’t want it either. If UW’s conservatism caused them to select other, more deferential, students, then I wouldn’t be the right fit there anyway.

Further, without the influence of academic professionals who have drank the Ivory Tower Kool-Aid, I can really focus my academic energies on whatever sorts of independent projects I feel inclined towards. Thus, the second epiphany: I’m working on creating reading lists and syllabi for my own independent courses, focusing on subjects that I have always wanted to tackle but have never had access to within the academy.

Who needs tuition, athletics fees, and bossy research advisors when you have the library, a notebook, and…drumroll please…the internet? Independent scholarship, here I come.

5 Words to NEVER Use in Poetry

Another in the JBAC series–this time, gearing up for NaPoWriMo. I’m still considering if I will participate, but I’m leaning yes. I need something to rev my poetry into high gear, and last time I participated (in 2012), I ended up with half of my creative writing thesis.

There are many things worthy of a poem: the weather, an especially delicious cupcake, the erotic whoosh of a freshly laundered cotton dress, dreams. In truth, the realm of the poetic is wide open to discovery and exploration (of the non-colonizing variety, please).

However, there do remain things that should never be touched by the long fingers of poetry. These things may be tantalizing, omnipresent, and even inescapable; yet this does not mean that they belong in a poem. This is a list of five words that should never under any circumstances find their way into a poem.

Continue reading “5 Words to NEVER Use in Poetry”

Hibiscus

Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yowza. This novel is electric. Narrator Kambili is at once intuitive, observant, and silenced, leaving the reader with sparse, sensory descriptions that defy time. The language shifts with Kambili’s awakening to a world larger than Mass, prayer, and obedience, revealing a level of insight unexpected in such a passive narrator.

First-person POVs can either frustrate readers or open an entire world to them; Adichie does the latter by creating body languages, undercurrents of specific images, and a simple narrative style driven by dialogue and effective, understated characterization.

For fans of Toni Morrison, the bildungsroman genre, or for anyone looking to get into Nigerian fiction, Purple Hibiscus should not be missed.

View all my reviews

Video available:: Afrocentrism, vegan methodology of the racially oppressed, and revolutionary black feminism

Read an amazing interview with Dr. A. Breeze Harper (aka Sistah Vegan) and found her fabulous blog. This article features video of a talk she gave at UC Berkeley about Afrocentric Veganism–a decolonial understanding of food geography and imperialist politics. Brilliant! Read and share.

Sistah Vegan

Last night I spoke at UC Berkeley, and explained the Afrocentric approach to veganism that is race-gender conscious, decolonial, and revolutionary black feminist. I did this because I wanted to explain that there are more than just Eurocentric philosophical ‘ethics’ behind why some people choose veganism. By Eurocentrism, I mean the philosophical canon of ‘ethics and animals’ that dominate the mainstream academic literature in the USA. While Eurocentric philosophy focuses on the ‘ethics’ of non-human animal consumption and non-human animal exploitation, Afrocentric veganism (through Queen Afua) focuses on how veganism becomes a decolonial tool against the unethical abduction and enslavement of Africans and the institutional of chattel slavery; an unethical institution that took away their original plant-centered dietary philosophy and “forcing” them to eat a carnicentric diet. This is what a vegan methodology of the racially oppressed can look like! Video of talk and Q&A :

Part II

If you…

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Hipster Lit

Another from the series of Juniper Bends Author Collective posts–this time, I reflect on millenial literature and reveal my inner grandma.

Yesterday, after getting off of work to a rainy afternoon, I sat in my blue reading chair and polished off the entirety of Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel. I was left with a sole question upon completion: why does this book exist?

Sure, I’m happy to see a vegan protagonist, even as he jokes about spending gambling winnings on a steak. I’m even happy that Vegan Sam tries to subvert capitalism by shoplifting from everybody’s favorite fair trade corporation, American Apparel. But then again, is he just bored?

So what is this book trying to do? It seems to detail the humdrum exploits of a privileged New York dude who can afford daily iced coffees from various (presumably hip and independent) coffee shops. He is having a quarter-life crisis. He doesn’t ever seem to finish his novel. His ex-girlfriend commits herself and his relationships with other women are by turns childish and empty. He resorts to shoplifting to “feel alive,” I guess.

To me, this bro is just another idiot that I don’t want to be friends with. Nothing Lin writes is especially evocative of the contemporary Sea of Ennui that Vegan Sam and so many others flounder around in for years on end. He just floats, like flotsam. Or jetsam. Whichever.

Pros: The language is basic, which is refreshing in a world of chronically overused adverbs (hah!). But that’s sort of it for me.

Am I missing out on something quintessentially millennial here? As an advocate for smart phones, social media, and yes, even e-readers, does my disinterest in this book unmask me as the big fat fuddy duddy that I am on the inside? Or does it just reveal that I should never, ever move to New York?

Genre

I’m republishing a series of pieces that I wrote for the now-defunct Juniper Bends Author Collective. Since I can safely assume that none of my readers are big enough fans to take issue with this–much less to notice–I have few qualms about this course of action.

The joke goes that genre only exists so that you know where to find a particular piece in a bookstore. Now the nonfiction section leaps spasmodically from memoir to historical biography to cultural theory. Fiction includes flash, meta, stories, novellas, novels, and epics. And let’s not even get started on poetry (lyric essays, political anthologies, translations, oh my).

Here’s the question: as amateur (read: non-contracted) writers, why are we so obsessed with categorizing our own work? There are many journals that accept multi-genre pieces, or even seek them out. Authors publish multi-genre books (sometimes with friends); lyrical novels are a thing; David Rakoff wrote a novel in (rhyming) verse; Anne Carson’s brilliant Autobiography of Red is a classic piece of hybrid literature. And no one cares what they are since they’re crisp, polished, and satisfying.

Whenever I write, I find myself compulsively worried as I close in on a piece: but is it a poem? Is it flash-nonfiction? How will the bookstore know where to put my collected works?

Then I shake myself and ask the question above: who cares? 

Maybe one day I’ll have to concern myself with genre, but for now, I’ll just shut up and write.

Job

Hiring timelines are the worst. I was always under the impression that folks posted hiring memos when they needed a person to start working soon or immediately.

I was apparently misinformed.

Most of the jobs I’ve applied to that I’m really excited about have taken weeks to get back to me, if I’ve even heard back from them. I emailed HR at UW to follow up on a perfect-sounding position as an academic advisor in the English department. It’s been two full months since I applied, and their hiring timeline says “4-6 weeks, sometimes more.” So, you know, just checking in.

Nothing. A canned response of their hiring timeline policy. Ugh.

Not that I’m not OK with working 20 hours a week tutoring. That leaves lots of time for writing, reading, cleaning, cooking, and playing with my cat. Not to mention the other 20 hours that I spend per week on Craigslist, my various social media profiles, Indeed, and wherever else.

It’s harder to be an academic/creative workaholic since our industries are imploding. (And I don’t want to tutor spoiled high schoolers.)