The rain is dripping from the gutters from the fourth rumblestorm today because it’s thick as soup out there and clashing fronts are surging and bursting in the sky. A small fan is pointed at my face. I’ve got my foot up on the computer tower. Next to me is THE CITY ALWAYS WINS by Omar Robert Hamilton and my reading specs balanced on top, waiting for me to finish. I’ll be interviewing him shortly for Full Stop but meantime spending my days under the influence of the urgency of his cadence. What could be more important a topic for literature than revolution? How do we spark a movement? Direct the chaos? How do we stay cool under fire? I don’t know, but pull up a chair and let’s find out.
We work in this building and we are hideous
in the fluorescent light, you know our clothes
woke up this morning and swallowed us like jewels
and ride up and down the elevators, filled with us,
turning and returning like the spray of light that goes
around dance-halls among the dancing fools.
My office smells like a theory, but here one weeps
to see the goodness of the world laid bare
and rising with the government on its lips,
the alphabet congealing in the air
around our heads. But in my belly’s flames
someone is dancing, calling me by many names
that are secret and filled with light and rise
and break, and I see my previous lives.
Can literary output have a role to play in our political future? Whether or not literature has any impact on politics, I do think we owe it to ourselves and to our readers to reckon with socio-political circumstances in our writing. The question then becomes: how to do this without losing ambiguity or artful nuance – some of the very qualities that make lit an attractive vehicle for addressing these concerns – and still possibly “take a stand”?
I’m so glad you asked!
This what I think about, ruminate on, and write-revise-read-revise-write toward nearly every day. It is the stuff of my current book-length manuscript and many of my short pieces. It is certainly something we worked on in the prison poetry class I taught for eight years. And, of course, there are so many compelling examples in the world of letters to draw on – shoulders to stand on. From all this I’ve devised a day long workshop that I’ll lead in Boston for Grub Street May 13. Here are the details:
Are you feeling moved to grapple with the current moment in your writing? Are you concerned that if you tackle political topics in your work, the art will suffer? Whether you have been focusing on politics for some time or are new to considering it for your literary writing, this workshop can help you find interesting entry points for your work. We will read and discuss pertinent passages in a variety of literary genres and write in response. Some of the writers who will guide us include Claudia Rankine, Gloria Anzaldúa, Teju Cole, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Barbara Kingsolver, and others. You will come away with strategies for developing new or existing work as well as a number of new drafts. The exercises can be responded to in fiction, creative non-fiction, poem, essay, or hybrid form.
There’s a new reading series at The Beer Diviner Taproom in Troy, NY on the last Sunday of every month. I am the guest presenter for March. The format involves a reading, discussion, and then the readers leads the audience in a writing exercise or two that is connected to her practice in some way. I’ll be reading a new story and possibly an excerpt from my book-length work in progress. Here is a link to the event page.
This will be a bit of a teaser for the next session of writing workshop I’m leading for The Arts Center of the Capital Region. That’s to start on Monday, April 3 and will run for eight weeks. It focuses on writing process in that we will be in it – a writing process. The works you create can give you short pieces, parts of longer works, and generally get you in the habit of reading and writing prolifically. I absolutely love these classes. UPDATE: This class is sold out.
Reading & Workshop
The Beer Diviner
Sunday, March 26 at 2:30 PM
461 Broadway, Troy, New York 12180
There is so much in this article I felt compelled to share without much comment save to say writers: read this.
“What does an artist do, mostly? She tweaks that which she’s already done. There are those moments when we sit before a blank page, but mostly we’re adjusting that which is already there. The writer revises, the painter touches up, the director edits, the musician overdubs. I write, “Jane came into the room and sat down on the blue couch,” read that, wince, cross out “came into the room” and “down” and “blue” (Why does she have to come into the room? Can someone sit UP on a couch? Why do we care if it’s blue?) and the sentence becomes “Jane sat on the couch – ” and suddenly, it’s better (Hemingwayesque, even!), although … why is it meaningful for Jane to sit on a couch? Do we really need that? And soon we have arrived, simply, at “Jane”, which at least doesn’t suck, and has the virtue of brevity.”
My aim is not for a Hemingway effect, but you get the picture. Here’s to getting your Janes.
A beautifully brief post to provide information on an upcoming reading. This weekend David Kirschenbaum and an amazing crew of writers is putting on the annual BoogFest of readings. I’ll be on the Sunday evening line-up at 6:15 PM reading from my current book in progress, HOW THE END WILL COME. Please come!
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 19, 5:30 P.M.
94 Avenue A at 6th St., NYC
5:30 p.m. T0ska (music)
5:45 p.m. Jay Besemer
6:00 p.m. Denize Lauture
6:15 p.m. Cara Benson
6:30 p.m. Diana Smith (music)
7:00 p.m. Nathaniel Siegel (play)
7:15 p.m. Pierre Joris and Nicole Peyrafitte, The Agony of Ingeborg Bachmann (play)
7:35 p.m. Buck Downs, Filthy Lucre (play)
7:50 p.m. Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
8:00 p.m. Jenny Perlin (film)
8:15 p.m Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted at 25