Monthly Archives: July 2009

Thesis Diary #3: On the Fire This Time

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“No more water, fire next time.” 

Poems come into fruition exactly when they need (and want) to. I suppose, like everything else in our lives, poems are products of the Law of Cause & Effect. If I have my students practice writing thesis statements, I’m making a cause. The effect will (hopefully) be an improvement in their essays. Similarly, I try to make positive causes for my writing. Reading all types of literature, writing in my journal everyday, and simply living are all causes. My poems are the effect. Just because it’s a law, however, doesn’t mean I always see the effect when it comes. Sometimes I don’t realize what’s happened until I’m staring – in awe – at what I’ve written. What a wonderful feeling. 

Case in point: I’ve been thinking about summer thunderstorms – a vivid memory from my childhood in Texas – since I had a conversation with my mom about driving into a sudden downpour & having to pull over until the rain eased up. Since heat is an important element in my manuscript – the south is anything if not HOT during the summer – I’ve been thinking about water as a necessary pushback. Yesterday, during a sudden downpour, I started thinking about James Baldwin’s iconic essay, the title of which “The Fire Next Time” was borrowed from a slave song.  Nonetheless, when I sat down at my desk, I wasn’t planning on writing a poem. I was going to jot down a few notes & mind my own business, so to speak. Then, a line came: “When it rains like this, a flood / in mid-air…” Of its own accord, the line decided that it wanted to be a poem, right then. No more waiting: it was time write about the Fire this time. And so,  a poem happened. 

When I sat back and look at the draft, I was happy & in awe. It seemed the poem came out of nowhere, but of course: I know exactly where it came from.

MFA Thesis Diary #2

I spent a large portion of last semester trying to think of a hip concept for my manuscript. I wasn’t trying to be gimmicky, or thinking about how to “sell” my project. Rather, I thought a clear concept would provide me with a clear vision & keep me motivated. It’s worked in the past but I quickly started to realize, it wasn’t going to work this time.

The moment I figured out what I thought I was writing about, I would have a mental block. Sure, I could come up with a fancy concept, but I couldn’t write the poems. And wasn’t it supposed to be about the poems in the first place? I ended up changing my “concept” every other week. I was frustrated & unhappy with a lot of the poems I was producing. Some of the poems were viable, but they didn’t connect or inspire me to write the next poem or the next..

At the beginning of the summer, a good friend told me that I needed to stop worrying about the “concept” and just write. Essentially, he explained that I was too young to be putting myself in a box like that. It was simple guidance, but exactly what I’ve needed to hear. So..

Instead of focusing on the concept, I’m simply trying to write poems that speak to one another. The poems relate in different ways: imagery, mood, subject matter, persona. Sometimes the connections are more explicit than others, but the connection is genuine & organic. Ultimately, my goal is for all of the poems to function as lens into one other.

Collin Kelley Interview: After the Poison & On to Venus

Collin Kelley is the author of three poetry collections and his first novel, Conquer Venus, comes out next month. He blogs regularly at Modern Confessional and was nice enough to answer some questions about the process, the internet, and identity politics.

I know you love American Idol so, to start things off, how would you introduce yourself to Paula Abdul?

Can I have some of whatever you’re drinking from that cup at the judge’s table?

Your poem “Credentials” begins: “I sit at a table with four famous poets / but only one acknowledges my presence.” Do you think that opening speaks to the way a lot of people, Americans in particular, feel about poetry?

I think the majority of Americans could give a damn about poetry. Some might be able to name Billy Collins or Mary Oliver, but most Americans couldn’t name a contemporary poet to save their lives. A few times a year, some think piece on the death of poetry appears in a mainstream magazine or newspaper, which pushes it further away from the mainstream, meanwhile the poets live in a bubble full of egos, jockeying for position and a glut of writing programs. I don’t think poetry will ever rise to literary prominence in America again unless poets can step outside the po’biz circle jerk and reconnect to the populace. There’s a perception that you can’t be a “real” poet unless you’ve got an MFA, hold a teaching position or have collections published by a handful of “worthy” houses. Jorie Graham calls for more difficult, impenetrable work while Ted Kooser is vilified for being too “accessible.” Luckily, there are poets and small/micro presses trying to leapfrog this bullshit, but it’s an uphill battle. I’m thinking of the bubble as a giant snow globe where all the flakes have settled to the bottom. It needs a good shake.

You’ve published three poetry collections & a spoken word album, and you have a novel, Conquering Venus, coming out later this Summer. How was the experience of writing a novel different from your past projects? In particular, how did you manage to transition from a form as concise as poetry to something as expansive as a novel?

Sometimes I think of Conquering Venus as a long narrative poem. The main character is a poet, so his work appears in the novel and I tried to find a rhythm in the sentences, scenes and dialogue. The novel has a dream-like quality and heightened sense of language and place that I think many readers will recognize as poetry. I had tried a number of times to write a novel, but I could barely eek out a short story, much less a novel. I tend to write short, so allowing myself to think bigger, write long, flowing sentences was liberating.

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Read the rest of my interview with Collin – after the jump.

of Drama Queens & Incendiary Women: a few queer poems

I need to do this more often. One of the goals of this blog is to introduce you, my lovely readers, to queer poets you haven’t slept with read, as of yet. Here’s some work by poets from all over the place, now & then, gay & lesbian.

D.A. Powel: “confessions of a teenage drama queen”

I was a male war bride.   I was a spy
so I married an axe murderer.   I married Joan
I married a monster from outer space

I am guilty, I am the cheese, I am a fugitive from a chain gang
maybe I’ll come home in the spring.   I’ll cry tomorrow
whose life is it anyway?   it’s a wonderful life

C.P. Cavafy: “In Despair” & 2 other poems

He’s lost him utterly,      as if he’d never been.
In his imagination,      in his hallucinations
in the lips of other youths      he seeks the lips of that one;
He wishes that he might      feel his love again.

Adrienne Rich: “Powers of Recuperation”

She’s old, old, the incendiary
woman

endless beginner

whose warped wraps you shall find in graves
and behind glass plundered

Randall Mann: “The End of Landscape”

…I watch the man I love watch

the turn of the Sacramento River, then Sacramento,

lit city of legislation and flat land.

I think of Florida, how flat.
I think of forgetting Florida.
And then the landscape grows black.

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MFA Thesis Diary #1

This September, I will start my 2nd year in the MFA program at Rutgers University – Newark, which is to say, I will be neck-deep in the process of writing my thesis. All programs are different, I know, but at RN, the thesis (for poets) is a collection of 45-60 polished poems.

Thanks to professors like Rigoberto Gonzalez, Rachel Hadas, and Tayari Jones, I spent last year exploring different approaches to poetry. I’ve used my summer vacation to zero in on my voice as a poet & have started working on the thesis as a concrete goal. Today, I decided that I will start to blog regularly about this process. To avoid being a hot mess, I will restrain myself from talking about specific poems, but I will discuss the ups & downs that are sure to come.

Hopefully, these posts will be helpful to current & prospective MFA students who are curious about the process as well as all writers. It will certainly be helpful for me to be able to meditate on the experience. So, wish me luck because it’s about to get REAL.

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Still the King & other links.

  • Check out my review of Jericho Brown’s Please. And please (pun intended) forgive the typo in the third sentence. Seriously, it’s haunting my dreams.
  • My roommate Jaime Karnes has a story AND an interview in the current issue of Storyglossia. You go, girl!
  • Daniel Pritchard wrote an insightful review of D.A. Powell’s Chronic.
  • Addriene Rich is profiled as a queer icon (and rightfully so).
  • And because he deserves to be remembered, check out this amazing NYT article on Michael Jackon’s trailblazing fashion aesthetic. Really, it’s one of the best articles I’ve read about MJ since his passing.

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Of Past Lifetimes

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By chance today, I found a packet of poems rife with comments. This was no ordinary packet. My senior year at Western Kentucky University, I asked Dr. Tom Hunley to comment on this packet & help me decide which poems should be included in my application to the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark. I’m so thankful for his comments. I got into Rutgers & to this day, I’m still benefiting from what Dr. Hunley taught me. With that being said, today while reading through the poems in that packet – my poems – I couldn’t help but chafe & giggle at some of them. In one poem, I have line breaks that I can’t quite explain or justify. In other, I use the phrase “this child” so many times, the poem sounds more like a creepy exorcism. Some of the poems are downright outlandish while others just need a little more control. All of this is to say: I’m so happy I found this little time capsule of my experiences as a learning poet. I’m proud to be able to say that as an undergraduate student I was taking risks, making mistakes, but always, always fully committing myself to the poem. And to be fair: a few of those poems have gone on to appear in publications like StorySouth and Barnwood Magazine & other poems may very well end up in my thesis.

And because I have a demented sense of humor, here is one of the poems from the packet. I have to admit. When I wrote it (my junior year, I think) I thought I had it going on. Now, I just now that I was.. going. If you’re in the mood for a chuckle, read it – after the jump. Continue reading