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.

Post

Reid and Leah have left Seattle, as have the hordes of writers from all over. I could act like it was thrilling to see folks from NC–and it was–but I’ve ensured that I am never without access to liberal Southerners, even here in WA state.

AWP was much sillier than I anticipated; the longer I spend away from writers, the easier it is to forget that so many of them are comfortable in their cushions of class/race/cisgender privilege and choose to disregard the political nature of work such as teaching, creating worlds & stories, and, you know, working in contemporary capitalist frameworks.

Folks seemed content to pat themselves on the back for achieving PhDs–no small feat, to be sure–and for challenging their undergraduate students to adhere to the rigid, objective aesthetics of “good” writing that they soaked up in their various MFA programs.

Few people even mentioned that these same aesthetics have fostered an exclusionary, classist, racist, and sexist literary community since ancient times, fetishizing Western aesthetics as superior, and in fact, “civilized,” while relegating non-white authors to the status of “other.” This is still the case: Women’s Fiction, Asian-American poetry, LGBT/Special Interest.

I guess this is partially my own fault for insisting on attending the writing pedagogy panels, answering such banal questions as “how do we teach writing?” I care because I’m a professional writing tutor, but I also care because I acknowledge the political implications of literacy and language fluency. This is not a prerequisite for teachers of composition, either creative or academic.

On the bright side, the panels that I more or less stumbled upon in search of my friends ended up counteracting the cluelessness of the pedagogy panels: unlikeable women characters, queer literary communities, and publishing politics were all represented–if not always well-attended.

There has to be a formula for successful conference attendance, a code written into panel descriptions to clue attendees into the actual usefulness or self-awareness of each event. This may be something that I myself have to devise through trial and error–and the input of my fellow critical readers & writers.

Journal

My belated New Year’s Resolution is to journal. I have historically been terrible about this: I would always rather watch sci-fi TV shows or read about other people’s lives. But I have regretted ignoring my own stories every single time I work on any piece of writing.

If I’m lucky, there was someone else there to call and ask about an event or moment. Usually, though, they don’t remember the details I’m interested in: smells and colors, rhythms and densities. You know, poet stuff. 

So far so good though. I’m trying to mesh all my existential musings with factoids: “Today Chett and I met our future cat Octavia Butler; she is the essence of the companion animal independence that I yearn for in partnering with creatures of any species.” 

That was a sample, not an actual excerpt. My journal is private!

Tower

When I wrote my poetry thesis, it felt like everyone else was writing about Greek mythology, getting drunk at house parties, and repressed childhood memories. 

Now I can’t go anywhere without seeing a themed journal about magic and astrology. Or, perhaps stranger, at the Lucky Funeral reading in Asheville a few weeks back, JD Scott read Tarot poems from his new chapbook. Themes included the moon, herbal teas & tinctures, cats lounging in apartments, and the ocean.

Freaky. Did I will these magical poetics to me in my thesis stress? Or were they there all along, floating beside me like algae? 

Statements

Been consumed by my personal statement. Decided, almost whimsily, to apply to a graduate English program in Seattle. Thinking a lot about what I can and cannot plan for when we travel so far west. Saving money. Wondering where it will come from next. 

Trying to refresh my memory of the course I taught as an undergraduate. Creative storytelling, disruption of genre, challenging the narrow confines that we try to shape words with. Why I like graphic novels, zines, democratization of publishing & literature. Too bad quality is sacrificed in this world. 

Voice

I am working on a nerdy writing project and running into some trouble adjusting my super-dense academic voice. It’s as though every piece of writing is either up for publication in a scholarly journal, or it’s a poem. I struggle mightily with anything in between these two. Maybe this is why I am funny in real life but can’t write funny?