It is nearing the year mark since the release of Dissecting the Angel. In that time, I've have the great pleasure of reading to folks in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Warren, Arkansas, and a handful of places in north Georgia. There are still some dream dates on my "Slowest Book Tour" bucket list...Austin, TX, Asheville, NC, New Orleans... Maybe for another time, another book.
In the meantime, I get to do a sort of homecoming. Next month on September 3rd, I'll be the featured reader for Athens Word of Mouth. If you are within driving range on any first Wednesday of the month, you should come. Handsome Director calls it a "mix tape of humanity," which is an apt description. Each poem is like a piece of glass in a stained glass window, each a bright small prism into human experience. Individually, beautiful, but taken as a whole, another thing entirely. Themes emerge and thread through the evening. Come play your listening ears with us some night.
There are still some seats available in "The Made Thing" if you'd like to join me and some other brave souls in the class at OCAF. I think of it not as much a class as a workshop and less a workshop in the traditional literary workshop sense and more like a woodworker's shop. A wordworkers shop. Come sling some ink!
Please share with any beginner poets or those who've drifted from poetry writing practice who would like some support and structure to get back elbow-deep in crafting poems.
Day / Dates: Thursdays, September 11 through October 23, 2014 Times: 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Length of Class: 6 Sessions / 2 Hours each Session + Open Reading for final Oct 23 session
Class Fee: OCAF Members - $120.00 Non-members - $130.00
Materials List: Bring your favorite poem to the first class and writing materials / an attitude of curiosity to all classes. This class, for beginning adult writers, is aimed at providing a place to generate poems, gather poem-making tools, and learn how to sharpen one’s work.
“Poem” means, at root, “a made thing.” This class is an introduction into the practice of crafting poetry, using language and the writer’s own experiences of the world. Together we will look at examples of different ways to trigger poems then draft, edit, share and present our “made things.”
Thanks to a generous friend, all registrants will receive a signed copy of Dissecting the Angel and Other Poems.
I was fortunate to get a return engagement in the City of Brotherly Love at the Moonstone Poetry Series at Fergie's pub. It felt very similar, physically, to the Athens Word of Mouth reading at The Globe. Both pubs, both hosting their poetry mid-week in the upstairs room.
Every reading has a personality, a palpable energy. Like music, they have different volumes and tempos. There seems to be archtypal poets that show up no matter what. I'll refrain from naming them in case that seems like parody. I only mean some poets resonate like Major Arcana; they are loaded, symbolic, essential.
The folks at Fergie's listened so hard I mistook it for not-listening it was so quiet at first. But they were hard at work. Try attending, for any length of time, to another's voice and you'll know the effort it takes.
And what a treat to read alongside Grant Clauser and Sean Webb. I hope you'll seek out and support their work. Both wrote with such clarity, wit, and intelligence and covered ground from fatherhood to sobriety to tarot cards and escape artists. I am one grateful gal to have been a part.
I also got to be a bit of a tourist. My fascination with miniatures and books was sated at The Library Company with the "Small Wonders" miniature books exhibit. Some of them were barely bigger than a thumbnail and the craftsmanship was incredible!
The Library Company also had an exhibit called "That's So Gay: Outing Early America."
Between the limericks about girls in breeches and photographs of Civil War era "companions" was a lovely edition of Leaves of Grass and dear Walt's bearded, beautiful face. A trip to the Morris Arboretum completed an entirely inspiring trip. Philly, I hope to see you again soon!
There are more photos on my Facebook page (look for MichelleCastleberryWriter) if you want to see more Philly wonderment.
So Wednesday I drive back to Arkansas, the Homeplace. While I'm there, amid trying to find and devour the juiciest, ripe (hopefully Bradley County Pink) tomato, I'll do a reading at the local library. I'm a bit nervous but hopeful it will be a chance to share poetry with a crowd unlike any before. It's true - there's a strange comfort in reading in dimly lit bars with the crowd noise and anonymous circle of light. It feels a great deal like playing music once did. Stand up, take a big breath, and go. When the lights are up and everybody's sober as a deacon (Hi, Daddy!), it's a little riskier. We'll make a running go of it with whomever assembles.
After Arkansas, I have a little day-jaunt at Kennesaw State University at the Georgia Author of the Year Authors event where people can hear finalists and winners discuss their works and read from them.
In mid-August I'll head back up to Philadelphia for a reading at the Moonstone Arts Center. Details to come.
One more thing, contact me if you live in the Athens/Watkinsville, GA area and if you would be interested in a six-week beginner's poetry class. I am trying to gauge interest and would need at least 6 participants. Thanks and have a wonderful summer!
Here's a poem written exactly one year ago inspired by amazing human and musician, Carl Lindberg. If you go to the "Watch" tab on this site, you can see him in action in the "Circular Breathing" video. This goes out to any artistic folk. Keep doing your thang, lovelies.
For Carl Lindberg
Pedestal’s too high.
One gets dizzy
head-achy from squinting
to make out the faces below.
A saint, I ain’t.
I like to know
and be known
is better adagio.
I am a fallen ladder
made of mud and music.
I need a lift
and a downbeat.
Oh brothers and sisters,
my dark side shows
and the light part glows.
Here we all are
part devil, part star.
Can we say
with gentle eyes?
Take me down
from your shoulders.
Even that height’s too high.
Besides, it makes it hard
to reach my bass.
Makes it hard to look
into your face.
And I need to see your eyes
to get a lift
and a downbeat.
Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness - Ray Bradbury
Pack the bag and double-check it. Did I get the camera already? What about the phone charger, the computer cord? How many books can we fit in the car and still have room for clothes? Handsome Producer-Director is in charge of the GPS and downloading new podcasts and road tunes. I love a road trip.
So Philadelphia, here I come! To Big Blue Marble Bookstore to read along with Hila Ratzabi. To new streets, an old friend, the same sky over a different city. I look forward to losing the routine for a bit and gaining some perspective.
Let's get lost.
I am beyond excited that Kayla Sargeson is coming to town to read at Athens Word of Mouth, Wednesday, May 7th, upstairs at The Globe. I met her in 2009 at the Tin House writer's workshop. The poetry classes were small and scrappy so we bonded quickly, even across the two small groups. Word about Kayla traveled fast. But hearing her poem combining Frida Kahlo and masturbation sealed my fate as a fan. That and the fact that she was flirted with by one of my favorite living authors. Oh my, y'all. Here's Kayla.
I'm from Pittsburgh, where I currently live. I'm currently working on a project on the Human Barbie (if you don't know anything about her, look her up. She's a treat.) and examining gender/feminism/sexuality and its relationship to the body. I could talk about her for hours, but what I can tell you quickly is that as a feminist I should hate her and as someone who's into the body mod community, I give her props for what she's doing. For money, I teach composition at the Community College of Allegheny County, where I also work as a facilitator in their Learning Commons (kind of like a writing center). On weekends I'm the counter girl/shop rat at Jester's Court Tattoos & More and I work at my friend's hot dog shop called Krazy Dogz. I also tutor privately. For non money, I'm the poetry editor for the Pittsburgh City Paper, co-curator of the MadFridays Reading series, an Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly, and Media Relations Director for the Savannah-based record label Dope Sandwich.
Do you have any touchstone poems?
This is probably the hardest question on here for me, so that's why I'm answering it. I stand behind all of my poems, but there are a couple that opened up new doors for me, that were harder to write than others. "Dear World" is one of those poems for me. I remember its first draft was just a stanza with these clipped ideas. I wasn't sure it was even a poem, but the collective response was that my peers wanted more. I took it to my mentor Jan Beatty, who told me to just give myself room (and she suggested the gun section markers) and I just wrote. What I like about this poem is that I wrote it directed to one person, but it reads like I wrote it to the world. Sometimes my speaker's a little tricky.
"Reading Edward Field..." is another one. Not only did I write in the voice of a gay man, but this poem was an imitation poem of a Timothy Liu poem, whose style is so dissimilar to mine and such a prominant gay writer, so it was such a daunting task. I had to strip the feminine from my work so it rang true, and it was a challenge to write this poem in general.
"Ozzyspawn" is one of my favorite poems for sure, my ultimate favorite persona. I wrote that poem after this guy I had a flirty thing with told me that there were no good female artists. I got angry, wrote "Ozzyspawn," and dropped the guy.
"Topography, Us"--love poems are hard for me to write, so I write them as much as I can.
Do you have a particular response you hope to get from a listener/reader?
I just hope somebody feels something--I don't care what that something is, I just want it to be there.
Someone calls you a poet--how do you respond?
I have the word "poem" tattooed on my arm, so I better be okay with being labeled as a "poet." It confuses me when poets get weird about being called poets because poetry is the reason I get out of bed every day--I think in poems, I live in poems, it's what I do and who I am, so why pretend to be anything but?
What inspires you?
Oh god--pop culture, other people--I'm obsessed with the margins, with what lurks in the shadows, the things we can't say. I'm constantly looking for complexity and duality.
How do you deal with creative doubt?
I think everything I write sucks (at first) and I'm probably the craziest person I know. When I have those "oh my god what am I doing with my life why am I even doing this" moments, I just write through them. I've given up too much to live this life, so I'm not going to bail now.
What are you wearing ;)
my tattoos, duh :)
* * *
Kayla's first book, Mini Love Gun is available from Main Street Rag or directly from the poet if you come hear her at Word of Mouth.
It's spring and all, y'all.
All seed-turning, earth-warming, restless, naked-legged, sneezing, seething spring. Spring cleaning is happening -- from the rainswept pollen to finally throwing away those concert tickets from 1998 to kicking one tiny habit of regret about that thing that's bothered you for a while. The wind mimics what you know, everything needs to move - now. "Desire animates the world." - William Irvine.
You can feel it, see it happening, the mating dance of everything, a song will bring it back, that magnetic pull of you to that other One, cellular, singular, as loud and personal as a heartbeat. Courtship, call and response, push and pull. The alternate universes of possibility. Want, have, had, rinse, repeat.
I've been rooting through old papers and digital detritus. I found this prose poem from around 2007 which fits for the season, the feeling. So much has changed, thank goodness, primarily how much of life is lived in living instead of dreaming. I know what it's like now to have Someone who will listen to that first draft.
But this poem is a back-then meditation on topics and questions I still think about- about the relationships between love and desire, longing and having, idealization and realization. How those questions relate to creativity and the making of things, the making of a life. I doubt any resolution on these will come - which is probably a good thing. Here's the poem:
If Because Instead
If you hadn’t worn blackbird song around your head, I would have been fine alone. But you came in March when I am tender with memory. (You said you knew I was a March baby because my fine hair moved in the stillest air, conjuring wind.)
You approached in the twilight, when I was squinting toward the trees and their bare arms blurred with leaf buds. You spoke your name and the grackles and starlings exploded into the sky, a black lace sheet snapped by invisible hands. The squealing bird-racket and dimming light coalesced into this thought: my favorite face.
“But you love all faces,” you teased later. “You are like a baby, searching each one for home.”
You offered to cook for me, thin Thai soup full of coconut milk and fire. I choked and coughed in happy, grateful pain. You hit my back with tender aggression. That was the first time you touched me. Because of this, any time I watch you spank a new pack of cigarettes, I remember and my breath comes easier.
* * *
That never happened, not in the actual world. But it flickers in the cave-shadow of my unlived lives. You are in the secret society of lovers untaken due to circumstance, previous engagements, fear, or crossed desires. A group so select, some members are unaware of their enrollment.
* * *
Everything depends upon if and unless. I craft desire out of cannot and because.
* * *
A drafty, acid-yellow farm house squats next to a creek about twenty miles away. A covered bridge straddles the creek. My husband showed it to me shortly after I asked for the divorce. We had lived there for months, unaware of the hollow room that sat over the glass-bright water. We walked in and I peeked through the boards out onto the shining water and air. I cried in shame at the gift, at the fear that it was an omen to stay.
* * *
In that house, if you are very still during the greening light of March, you can see it, the phantom of the life I imagined with you (this phantom depends upon instead). Watch, we are sharing coffee in bed, hoarding warmth in our twined limbs. The wind catches and whines in the old cedar. We laugh at its haunted-house moans. After breakfast, we walk down to the creek. I bring something new I have written to read aloud. We will judge how it bounces between the walls of the bridge. “It is about how we met,” I say. I begin: “If you hadn’t worn blackbird-song around your head, I would have been fine alone.”
See also: Octavio Paz's "The Double Flame", the movie "Holy Motors" (which prompted a namesake poem I may put up later if it remains homeless), songs by Tom Waits. Let's just all enjoy the dance between have and want and celebrate when they coincide. Now, dip me!
I’ve been getting excited about Athens Word of Mouth this week, as our featured reader will be Cris Mattingly. On his last visit, he read his poem “A'int” which described the word as a “hillbilly ohm.” That settled it for me. I was sold.
It’s hard to describe the cell-deep pleasure of having disowned language claimed and even exalted. As a teen, I hate to admit how much of a self-loathing southerner I was. I tried to lose my accent. While I still cringe a little to hear myself in recordings, I try to adopt C.D. Wright’s stance, “I have a terrible accent. I see no reason to lose it.”
A friend recently described being prompted to defend The South (whatever that means) at a dinner party, as another guest sighed that it was too bad, in effect, that the region even existed. My friend launched her defense, acquired an apology in return. But the stigma remains for many. Some of us live the tension.
One weekend I watched Junebug, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus and The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia. All three films searched as goads and tonics. Through them I kept thinking about specifically the artist from and in the south, and the weight of depicting images about it. How much do you describe, especially if the depiction might resonate with a stereotype? Do you edit that stuff out and lie? Amplify and market it, cash in on the redneck/hillbilly trend as the freak du jour? Ignore anything but the noble and beautiful of a culture and risk sentimentality? Add to that reductionism: See Barry Hannah, below.
My accent and my writing are made up of contradictions and the exuberant mess of where I grew up. I might say a fifty cent word, but it’ll sound a bit off, the stress on the wrong syllable, the vowels stretched like taffy. I aim to keep the words like “favor” used differently in my poems. I hope to keep the contradictions alive and tense.
There’s a story that floated around about the late, great Vic Chesnutt that I hope is true and exemplifies this tension. At a party, someone was asking him about his music and when he heard the title “Isadora Duncan” made some crack, thinking it was just some girl he was pursuing. Supposedly, Vic finished his beer, smushed the empty can on his forehead and said, “Isadora Duncan was an American pioneer of dance and choreography at the turn of the century…” then proceeded to expound in his own terrible accent.
So maybe I'll just let the twang fall where it will. I hope to keep ‘em interested, or at least guessing, ala Ms. Badu.
Happy Monday, y’all!
" Remember that the South—and this is what people forget—the South is sixteen states and it’s the biggest region. It and the West are enormous country. Of the sixteen states, from Texas on up to Virginia, there is a stamp that means love of language and stories. But that might be the extent of the similarities. Texas lit is nothing like Virginia lit. The Tidelands is nothing like Appalachian. We’re talking about an enormous nation." - Barry Hannah