Friday, April 11, 2014

Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 8: When Is a Work of Literature Finished?

Some say never. James Joyce was notorious for correcting his books till the very last second before he had to turn them over to the publisher—and after. When Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake was republished in 1945, four years after Joyce’s death, it appeared with a sixteen-page booklet of errata that Joyce had compiled after the first edition.

James Joyce
At the other end of the spectrum, there is automatic writing, where the author makes no edits. André Breton, creator of automatic writing, used this title for his guide to spontaneous composition in The Manifesto of Surrealism (1924):

SECRETS OF THE MAGICAL
SURREALIST ART

Written Surrealist composition
or
first and last draft

This approach to writings holds that the most spontaneous, least edited utterances are the most finished. Why? Because the closer we get to the bubbling spring of our imagination, the more perfect the results.

André Breton
That may be true for some writers—Jack Kerouac’s continuous roll of paper he used to write On the Road comes to mind. (Someone should write a thesis on the connections between the Surrealists and the Beats!) But I think the law of averages is against spontaneity in literature. It’s like playing roulette and always betting on your lucky number. You’ll win big every once in a while, but what about all the other times? How can you sustain that? In literature, as opposed to jazz, for example, spontaneity is hit or miss. Often, it’s miss. This may be because literature requires a critical and self-critical appraisal of the world and of one’s own writings.

In my own writing, I do countless drafts. I print out my work after each series of revisions because the human eye simply reads paper differently than a computer screen.

At a certain point in the revision process, I realize that I’ve reached a spot where the changes I’m making are no longer improving the text. They are merely changing it. At this stage, I’m also switching things back and forth, inserting the same phrases I deleted earlier. When I get to this moment, I feel a work is done.

But I’ve also had the experience of thinking that one of my poems was finished, and then reading it in print several years later and feeling it really needed editing. I tweaked many of the poems in my book The Number Before Infinity when the second edition was released in 2014. Why? Years are like prescription lenses. They sharpen our vision and our critical eyes.

I did notice when I reread my book before the new edition appeared that most of the poems I wanted to edit were not the poems I liked best in that volume. The poems that were my favorites, the ones I choose for readings, had assumed their final form more easily and earlier. These I mostly left alone.


I think each writer has to develop a personal sense of when a work is done, just as each writer has to develop a writing process. The answers will be different for different writers, just as James Joyce and André Breton, who were contemporaries, developed diametrically opposite writing methods around the same time, and both in Paris. These two writers were both fascinated by the subconscious and how it could reshape literature, but in Breton’s case, it was the spontaneity of the subconscious that mattered, while in Joyce’s case, showing the workings of the subconscious or superconscious involved a meticulous collage of words and fragments from a kaleidoscope of sources.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

Friday, April 4, 2014

Homage to Louis Untermeyer

Louis Untermeyer (1885–1977) edited the very first poetry book I ever owned. I think it was called The Golden Treasury of Poetry, and it had a gold paperback cover. There were lots of poems in it I liked when I was a kid. I remember Oliver Wendell Holmes’s ballad “The Deacon’s Masterpiece or the Wonderful One-Hoss-Shay.” In addition to that anthology, Louis Untermeyer wrote or edited more than 100 books. I always thought of him as a compiler of anthologies, and as a figure in American culture, a sort of intellectual about town.

Louis Untermeyer
Recently I encountered some poems by Untermeyer in an anthology of poetry on audiobook, The Spoken Arts Treasury, Volume 1. It’s a collection full of the U.S. poets who were very popular in the 1950s, writers we hardly ever read or hear today, such as Mark Van Doren, Allen Tate, and Conrad Aiken. The collection includes several diamonds, among them the poems written and read by Louis Untermeyer.

When I heard Untermeyer on this CD, I felt that he was also a force as a poet. His poems seemed on the surface to be written in a fairly predictable meter and rhyme scheme, but despite that, they never ceased to surprise me. Every time I thought I could guess what was coming, Untermeyer came up with an image or an idea that was completely unexpected—and true.

Here’s one of the poems that grabbed me, a sort of atheist prayer:

Caliban in the Coal Mines

God, we don’t like to complain—
  We know that the mine is no lark—
But—there’s the pools from the rain;
  But—there’s the cold and the dark.

God, You don’t know what it is—        
  You, in Your well-lighted sky,
Watching the meteors whizz;
  Warm, with the sun always by.

God, if You had but the moon
  Stuck in Your cap for a lamp,        
Even You’d tire of it soon,
  Down in the dark and the damp.

Nothing but blackness above,
  And nothing that moves but the cars—
God, if You wish for our love,        
  Fling us a handful of stars!

Untermeyer was known as a champion of the underdog, and this poem showcases that side. He speaks in the voice of the despised Caliban of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, more than half a century before that revisionist view of Caliban became popular. But Untermeyer’s Caliban is a miner, and one who can speak his mind, even to God. I love the image of the miner’s headlamp as a moon. And that final image with the verb “fling”— so powerful, so vivid.

Untermeyer got into quite a lot of trouble for his outspoken radicalism. In the early days of TV, he made his living and much of his reputation for several years as a quiz show panelist on the program “What’s My Line?” This show involved television personalities guessing the occupation of surprise guests. Here’s a link to a YouTube of one of the shows, with Untermeyer as a panelist.

Untermeyer lived in New York City, where the program originated. Imagine what his life was like, recognized by the guy who served him his slice of pizza and the newsboy who sold him the afternoon paper—and their commenting on his good or bad guesses on last night’s show—the life of a celebrity.

When Joseph McCarthy’s witchhunt of radicals gripped the U.S.A. in the 1950s, Untermeyer was blacklisted, and overnight, he was fired from “What’s My Line?” with no warning. Imagine the shock, and the blow to him—he couldn’t go anywhere without everyone asking why he was no longer on the program. As a result, Untermeyer didn’t leave his apartment or answer the phone for a year and a half. More on what happened to him in a moment.

Here is another prayer that Untermeyer wrote, but in a voice that sounds very much his own. There is also a wonderful YouTube audio of Untermeyer reading this poem with a plainspoken and sincere delivery. The poem is titled simply “Prayer.” 

God, though this life is but a wraith,
    Although we know not what we use,
Although we grope with little faith,
    Give me the heart to fight — and lose.

Ever insurgent let me be,
    Make me more daring than devout;
From sleek contentment keep me free,
    And fill me with a buoyant doubt.

Open my eyes to visions girt
    With beauty, and with wonder lit —
But always let me see the dirt,
    And all that spawn and die in it.

Open my ears to music; let
    Me thrill with Spring’s first flutes and drums —
But never let me dare forget
    The bitter ballads of the slums.

From compromise and things half done,
    Keep me with stern and stubborn pride;
And when at last the fight is won,
    God, keep me still unsatisfied.

O.K., there are lines I could lose here, like “Open my ears to music…” Pretty corny. But what an amazing idea about what to pray for: “Give me the heart to fight—and lose.” I like the concept of being filled with “buoyant doubt.” And how about that fabulous last line?

So, Untermeyer had the political side of his poetry in order, even though he paid a terrible price for his commitment. In fact, he persisted long enough to outlive his enemies. When President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, Untermeyer was appointed the Consultant in English Poetry for the Library of Congress, a position that was then the equivalent of U.S. Poet Laureate.

Untermeyer’s career came full circle from a political standpoint. But he was not only a political poet from an economic perspective. Consider this poem, a fascinating take on the battle of the sexes, especially coming from a man:

The Wise Woman

His eyes grow hot, his words grow wild;
He swears to break the mold and leave her.
She smiles at him as at a child
That’s touched with fever.

She smoothes his ruffled wings, she leans
To comfort, pamper and restore him;
And when he sulks or scowls, she preens
        His feathers for him.

He hungers after stale regrets.
        Nourished by what she offers gaily;
And all he thinks he never gets
She feeds him daily.

He lusts for freedom; cries how long
        Must he be bound by what controlled him!
Yet he is glad the chains are strong.
And that they hold him.

She knows he feels all this, but she
        Is far too wise to let him know it;
He needs to nurse the agony
That suits a poet.

He laughs to see her shape his life.
        As she half-coaxes, halt-commands him;
And groans it’s hard to have a wife
Who understands him.

That odd pattern of syllables in each stanza—lines of 8, 9, 8, and then a shorter line of 5 beats—it felt familiar. Why? It's exactly the same unusual metric that Edward Arlington Robinson created for his famous poem, “Miniver Cheevy.” Like “Miniver Cheevy,” Untermeyer’s “The Wise Woman” is a deeply ironic portrait of a man (Untermeyer’s title notwithstanding). That last five-syllable line in each stanza functions almost like a punch line, undermining the more traditional and heroic gait of the first three, longer lines in the stanza.

Untermeyer describes the husband in this poem in the third person, but I can’t imagine this is anyone but the author. He even identifies the husband as a poet. Maybe the third person allowed him that ironic distance and a chance to see himself from his wife’s standpoint. The speaker fantasizes a more promiscuous life, all the while comfortable within his marriage, even when he does and doesn’t realize it. “The Wise Woman” is an interesting take on how men and women dance together in a long-term relationship, giving much of the credit to the woman for her wisdom, understanding, and warmth.


Untermeyer came from a Jewish-American family, and his spirit feels very Jewish to me. That combination of warmth, sardonic humor, and compassion for the oppressed is as Jewish as a bagel and schmear. Not that Jews have a monopoly on any of those traits—or on bagels and schmears, at this point in history.


Korean bagels
Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reading Lolita in Tehran

I’ve been commuting a long distance the last five months, up and down that snake called Highway 280 that links my home in San Francisco to the peninsula south of the city. During my commute I’ve been listening to audiobooks, and attempting to fine tune my command of the cruise control function on my little Toyota Corolla so I can concentrate on the words I’m hearing.

The most recent audiobook I listened to was Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, a gripping, nonfiction account of living in that city during the first 18 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Azar Nafisi
The book centers around a small reading group of students, led by the author. Azar Nafisi started a private literature class in her home after she was expelled from her teaching post at the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the chador following the Islamic Revolution. Ironically, Azar Nafisi had been an active opponent of the shah, and voluntarily moved back to Iran from the United States after the Islamic Revolution. The theocratic elements of the movement to topple the monarchy quickly put an ideological lock on Iran’s political and academic institutions, even subjecting women to detailed inspection of their clothing before they could enter the campus, and expelling or punishing female students who ran up the stairs if they were late for class, or called out to friends in a loud voice.

The many horrors of living in the Islamic Republic of Iran that Nafisi bravely details in this book are a sobering reminder that the days of brutal dictatorships are not behind us. We tend to think that, with a few isolated exceptions, the type of repression that fascism and communism subjected many millions to has more or less ended, and that we live in a more open era, when that sort of governmental control of citizens has ceased to exist.

Nafisi makes it acutely clear that Iran is still suffering under a dictatorship that limits women, political opponents, non-Muslims, homosexuals, and intellectuals—and actually all its citizens—in ways that are horribly autocratic. I was particularly touched by the story of the character she calls Nasrin, a young woman who started auditing Nafisi’s literature classes at the university when she was only 13. Nasrin, like much of her generation, gets involved in the movement to overthrow the shah, but her more secular faction loses out in the power struggle that follows the revolution. As a result, Nasrin spends her teenage years in prison, where a number of the other female prisoners are shot or raped. Nasrin escapes this fate, but after her release from prison, she is not allowed to attend university for several years because of her former political affiliation. She ultimately ends up paying smugglers to help her escape Iran, but one is left with a disturbing sense of the emotional damage that living under this theocracy has caused her.

Another feature of Nafisi’s book I found fascinating was how Iranian readers react to certain English-language novels. In contemporary Tehran, Henry James sounds like a revolutionary, with his strong women characters such as Daisy Miller. In the U.S., James might seem slightly dépassé, but in Iran, his novels are still so relevant that Nafisi’s students formed a secret Daisy Miller fan club. James's reception in Iran is probably much closer to the impact his novels had in the U.S.A. when they were first published.

Reading Lolita in Tehran pulls no punches in recounting the nightmarish atrocities that the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed. I still found the book uplifting in many ways. That puzzled me, and I had to ask myself why. For one thing, Nafisi documents the little acts of resistance that the young women in her class committed every day, from wearing jeans or t-shirts or gold hoop earrings under their chadors, to talking openly amongst themselves about the hypocrisy of the men they know who are affiliated with the government. I think the book's uplifting quality also comes from Nafisi testifying to the incredible endurance of the human spirit, even under suffocating oppression, and how brightly literature can keep that torch lit.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Get Published, Part 5: The Orphans of a Collection of Poems or Stories

There are certain poems or short stories in a book-length manuscript that I think of as the orphans. They are difficult to place on their own in magazines or anthologies. You could send them out twenty times, and they get rejected in twenty different places. All their poem/story-roommates have been adopted by different journals, but these guys are still in the literary orphanage, unable to find a home. 

An Orphanage.
This orphan is completely overlooked by every prospective parent who drives up in a fancy Bugatti, wearing an elegant ensemble. 


Why? And does this mean you should take the orphans out of your manuscript?

Sometimes the fact that a particular poem or story can’t get published on its own means that it is not of the same quality as the rest of the work in a manuscript. Other times, it’s just a matter of luck—a poem or story needs to be in the right place at the right time in order to get adopted.

Here’s an example. I had an odd poem in my last full-length book, My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers. The title of the poem was “Terrestial Extra,” and the piece was a bit of a concrete poem, with a fairly elaborate layout on the page. Most magazines steer clear of poems like that. Also, it wasn’t very personal. The poem was speculative, dealing with whether the earth contains all the shapes that life could assume anywhere in the universe. Not everyone’s cup of tea. Not even a few magazine editors’ shot of crème de cacao, apparently.

This is where a good book editor can make all the difference. An experienced editor will either give you the confidence to believe in a poem or story that hasn’t made it into print, or tell you the hard news that you’ve got a literary piece of spinach right between your two lower front teeth and you just have to get rid of it. In the case of “Terrestial Extra,” my editor, Sammy Greenspan at Kattywompus Press, thought well enough of the poem that she encouraged me to include it. Thank you, Sammy! Sure enough, the poem got accepted right before the book appeared, and by a superbly printed anthology, Overplay/Underdone, published by Medusa’s Laugh Press, a collection of poems with strong visual elements. My awkward orphan had found the perfect foster home!


My poem "Terrestial Extra" in the anthology Overplay/Underdone

But good editors are hard to find these days. Sometimes you feel you have to include a particular orphan in your book because it would leave an unexplained gap to take it out. Sometimes an orphan does have to go, if there is not a compelling reason why it belongs with the others in a collection, and/or it seems to be lowering the bar for that book. I wish I had five dollars for every poem I’ve written like that, poems that I’ll never publish. There are many more of them than there are orphans that I end up leaving in a manuscript after the final cut. Other times, an orphan just needs a little cleaning up and a new outfit. It has never quite come together the way the other pieces in the collection did, and it is asking for your help to make it better.

Sometimes you get lucky with an orphan. An editor may say to you, “I’ve got some space at the bottom of a column, the magazine is going to press tomorrow, can you send me a poem?” That’s when I bring in the orphans. I know I’ve got an editor who is not going to be super choosy, they will just be happy to have a poem. That’s often the only way that orphans find a home.

I have to confess a stubborn fondness for those strays, like the matron at the orphanage who takes a liking to a certain sniffly boy with a rabbit nose and terrible cowlicks. There is something about their awkwardness, their inability to even strive for perfection that makes them compelling to me. At least, when they are my own work. 

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

Friday, February 21, 2014

AWP Seattle 2014: Day-by-Day Highlights

This is a very quirky and personal selection of the events at AWP 2014 that I think will be interesting. If there are readers or panelists I don’t mention, it’s out of my own ignorance.

AWP Seattle 2014

Conference Highlights

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Offsite event:
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Cave Canem Fellows Off-Site Reading
Headlined by Seattle poets Colleen J. McElroy & Gloria Burgess, 20 Cave Canem fellows raise the roof & raise funds for North America's premier home for black poetry. Cave Canem fellow Robin Coste Lewis will host. Cash bar to follow. $10 donation at the door to benefit Cave Canem.
Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, Seattle, WA
Sounds like an excellent reading.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

9:00 to 10:15 a.m.

R120. Translating the Foreign: What Does It Mean? (Lisa Katz, Aron Aji, Mira Rosenthal, Andrea Lingenfelter, Poupeh Missaghi) Translators from Turkish, Chinese, Polish, Persian, and Hebrew attempt to define the foreign element in their source texts as well as how they offer it linguistic hospitality (Paul Ricouer's words) in their translations into English. What is this thing we call foreign? Room 611, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Aron Aji is an important translator of contemporary Turkish writing, I expect there will be many worthwhile moments in this panel.

10:30 to 11:45 a.m.

R135. Is Poetry Ready for Prime Time?(Zack Rogow, Cornelius Eady, Kim Addonizio, Toby Barlow) Recently poets have ventured into other media for the fun of collaborating and to reach out to a wider audience. Projects include combining animation with poetry, writing plays based on the lives of poets, and using poetry as lyrics for rock and jazz bands. Is poetry ready to dive out of its literary tower and swim in the world of mass audiences? Is it possible? What are the pleasures and pains of working with artists in other media? Do collaborations change the way we write or hear poetry? Room 2B, Washington State Convention Center, Level 2. Shameless self-promotion, but the panelists I’m appearing with really know their stuff, including the guy who coordinated the animation of the poems in Billy Collins’s TED talk, and two of the best performers I know.

R136. How Far, Imagination: Writing Characters of Another Race in Fiction(Christine Zilka, Mat Johnson, Patricia Engel, Randa Jarrar, Susan Ito) Five writers discuss the politics behind the decisions they make about writing race and their thoughts on writing beyond one’s own ethnicity. Is writing characters of another race a matter of imagination, as some writers claim, or verboten? The diverse panel of published and award-winning novelists, essayists, and short story writers will explore topics of social responsibility, appropriation, artistic integrity, and even cultural or ethnic loyalties around the process and research of doing so. Room 3A, Washington State Convention Center, Level 2. Provocative subject, worth exploring. 

R138. Double Lives: Writer/Translators(Susan Harris, Lawrence Schimel, Sholeh Wolpe, Geoffrey Brock, Idra Novey) Many creative writers are also accomplished translators, and they establish parallel careers; but the two pursuits, and the resulting publications, are rarely considered in tandem. Four writers discuss how translating affects their other creative work, how reimagining another writer’s fiction and poetry in English can influence one’s “own” writing in those genres, and how they move between and within their dual identities. Room 400, Washington State Convention Center, Level 4. Good panel—writers who are good at both their own work and their translating.

Sholeh Wolpe
12:00 noon to 1:15 p.m.

R166. Writing for Musical Theatre: The Collaboration & Collision of Disparate Crafts(Anton Dudley, Kellen Blair, Charlie Sohne) Arguably, the “book musical” is America’s most original contribution to world theatre. However, few writers can agree upon how a book musical is written. With its primary focus on text, this panel will discuss ways of collaborating with colleagues who speak, necessarily, different languages of craft and ways of teaching the convergence of these crafts to create effective and polished book musicals. Room 3A, Washington State Convention Center, Level 2. Kudos for a great topic that I’ve never seen at AWP before.

1:30 to 2:45 p.m.

R193. Hot off the Presses: A Reading by Copper Canyon Poets(Michael Wiegers, Marianne Boruch, Ellen Bass, Mark Bibbins, Matthew Zapruder) An event featuring the freshest work by Copper Canyon poets, with an introduction by executive editor Michael Wiegers. Hear poetry from the newest collections on the market by a diverse group of voices. Willow Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor. Good line-up. There are bound to be many strong poems here.

R208. I’m Just Not That Into You: Unsympathetic Characters in Fiction(Irina Reyn, Hannah Tinti, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Ryan Harbage, Maud Newton) American readers, workshops, and editors are often partial to sympathetic characters, but where does that leave contemporary Humbert Humberts and Anna Kareninas? A panel consisting of writers, editors, and an agent will address likeability in fiction. Is it crucial that our characters be sympathetic? Do we expect more likeable characters in fiction written by female rather than male writers? How does an agent approach the submission process if the novel’s protagonist is deemed unsympathetic? Room 612, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. I like this topic—it’s one that isn’t discussed enough, in my opinion. Personally, I have a problem with novels where the main character is largely unsympathetic or has a flaw that I can’t overlook.

R209. The I or the Eye: The Narrator's Role in Nonfiction. (Phillip Lopate, Elyssa East, Robert Root, Lia Purpura, Michael Steinberg) Be it a personal or lyric essay, memoir, a work of journalism, or criticism, writers of literary nonfiction must decide how to craft their narrators to best suit the subject at hand. Why are some narrators situated center-stage as participants (the I) while others locate themselves more offstage as observers (the Eye)? This panel of writers, teachers, and editors will offer rationales for a range of approaches and suggest strategies to determine how best to present their narrators on the page. Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Phillip Lopate is always worth hearing.

3:00 to 4:15 p.m.

R230. The Narration of Identity and the Cuban-American Experience with Richard Blanco and Cristina Garcia, Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts(Forrest Gander, Richard Blanco, Cristina Garcia) Richard Blanco and Cristina Garcia give a rare glimpse into their forbidden country, Cuba, through the literary voice of the American immigrant experience. Reading poetry, fiction, and memoir—and in lively conversation with Forrest Gander—they each illuminate the struggles of living in-between two cultures. Throughout their search for a cultural identity, they explore issues of language, gender, family, exile, and history—and discover what it means to truly become an American. Ballroom E, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. I’ll always love Richard Blanco’s work for that terrific poem he read at Obama’s second inauguration. Also an important topic.

4:30 to 5:45 p.m.

R271. Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: Writers' Blogs(Zack Rogow, Mark Doty, C.M. Mayo, Charles Johnson) Writers present strategies on how to start a blog, where to get material, how to publicize a blog and add readers and followers, and how to sustain it over time. Other topics: Is blogging a new genre of literature? Why do blogs matter? To monetize, or not to monetize? What are SEO and tagging, and how do you use them? How do analytics help increase readership? How can blogging improve book sales and reading attendance? Should you react to events or pick your own blog topics? Room 615/616/617, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. More shameless self promotion. But let me at least mention that C.M. Mayo has an MBA in marketing, and she’s an accomplished writer and translator. Mark Doty always surprises me. Charles Johnson is a National Book Award-winning novelist who enjoys blogging.

R272. The Long Distance Race: Making a Life in Poetry (Dana Levin, Richard Siken, Tyehimba Jess, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Cate Marvin) Poetry is a long distance race, Hayden Carruth once advised. What do you wish you’d known about professional and personal stamina when you first discovered your devotion? Five poets, some emerging, some at mid-career, discuss the difficulty of achieving and sustaining a life in poetry. Topics will include rejection, success, mentorship, community, and the kinds of negotiations poets must make to establish themselves artistically and professionally. Experiences will be shared, scrapes confessed. Room 618/619/620, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Tyehimba Jess is very worth hearing on any topic.

Tyehimba Jess
8:00 to 11:45 p.m.

Chop Suey w/ Tin House, Wave Books, & Tumblr 
Cost: Free
URL: https://www.facebook.com/events/715336358484185/
Come to Capitol Hill's Chop Suey for a night of readings, dancing, and (free!) drinking. Readings from Matthew Zapruder, Dorothea Lasky, Peter Mountford, and Bianca Stone. DJ sets from Mas y Menos and New Dadz. Drinks (while they last) kindly provided by our pals at Tumblr. Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St. Seattle, WA 98122. Offsite reading that sounds fun, and hey! they have free drinks.

Friday, February 28, 2014

9:00 to 10:15 a.m.

F105. Publishing Local in the Last Frontier(Vered Mares, Martha Amore, Kris Farmen, Buffy (Roberta) McKay) A panel discussion with Alaska’s newest boutique publisher and select writers: We will talk about the challenges and successes of writing and publishing in this remote region. As a Latina woman and head of VP&D House, I encourage Alaska Natives, women, and other minority voices to publish and be heard in the local community and beyond. VP&D House focuses on writers’ success through financial equality, transparent business practices, and a very hands-on editing process. Aspen Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor. Vered Mares has quietly been doing important work as a publisher in Alaska for several years. Her press, VP&D House, deserves attention.

F116. Digital Lit: Why Online Magazines Deserve More Respect(Martha Nichols, Lee Hope Betcher, J. W. Wang, Matthew Limpede, Michael Garriga) Online literary sites attract more traffic than many print journals, expand audiences for literary work beyond a small circle of subscribers, and are building virtual communities of readers and writers. So why does digitally published work seldom win literary awards or make best-of anthologies? This panel of online editors will expose a number of myths about online publishing, conjure the joys of digital reading, and answer audience questions about how to take the leap off the printed page. Room 606, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Provocative topic, worth hearing about.

10:30 to 11:45 p.m.

F134. True North: Alaskan Literary Nonfiction(Nancy Lord, Christine Byl, Ernestine Hayes, Tom Kizzia, Sherry Simpson) Recent years have brought the development of a strong field of creative nonfiction by Alaskans rooted in the land and its cultures. The result is a stranger-than-fiction literature of compelling, often dramatic truths. Five Alaskan writers will briefly posit reasons behind the genre’s northern robustness before sharing work inspired by extreme circumstances, encounters with the wild, and the challenges and opportunities of living in a rapidly-changing North. Cedar Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor. Some of the most important and engaging writers in the state of Alaska, all of whom have a lot to say.

Ernestine Hayes
F141. New Generation African Women Poets: A Reading from the African Poetry Book Series(Tsitsi Jaji, Warsan Shire, Ladan Osman, Gabeba Baderoon, Kwame Dawes) An extension of the African Poetry Book Fund, dedicated to promoting the development and publication of poetic arts in Africa, the African Poetry Book Series presents four exciting new and established female voices writing in and outside of Zimbabwe, Somalia, and South Africa. The APBS will launch three of the authors’ chapbooks at AWP 2014; come listen to them read, along with accomplished poet Gabeba Baderoon, and hear Kwame Dawes discuss creating publishing opportunities for African poets. Room 400, Washington State Convention Center, Level 4. These are writers I haven’t heard or read, but it sounds intriguing.

F144. Airlie Press and Sixteen Rivers Press Poetry Reading(Annie Lighthart, Dawn Diez Willis, Terry Ehret, Beverly Burch, Tim Shaner) Members of two West Coast poetry publishing collectives read from their recently published works. Scott James Bookfair Stage, Washington State Convention Center, Level 4. The writers I know in this group are really good. Recommended.

F157. Dwelling on the Edge: New California Writing 2013, Heyday/California Legacy(Kirk Glaser, Juan Velasco, Zara Raab, Alexandra Teague, Steve Gutierrez) Culturally and geologically, California rests on shifting ground. This third annual anthology continues asking what is unique in California literature by assembling fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from publications large and small. What emerges reveals the proximity of Latin America and Asia, whose cultures clash and mix with those of Europe and Africa in ruthless and enchanting landscapes that render people as nowhere else. Join renowned contributors reading from and discussing this anthology. Room LL5, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level. Heyday Press has been discovering terrific writers for decades.

F161. Writing Inside Out: Authors’ Day Jobs(Jason K. Friedman, Tina Kelley, Trevino Brings Plenty, Heid E. Erdrich) Eudora Welty was a publicist. William Carlos Williams practiced medicine. How do our nonliterary day jobs enter into our writing—or do we work writing into the job? Which is more writer-friendly, the huge corporation or the nonprofit? How do we form literary alliances when our colleagues are not publishing? Four authors, some whose co-workers do not know they are writers, discuss writing outside of academia in jobs supportive, hostile, or just indifferent to their literary careers. Room 302, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3. Excellent topic. 

12:00 noon to 1:15 p.m.

F173. Remapping the Frontier: Northwest Women Poets Writing From Archives and Experience(Megan Snyder-Camp, Linda Bierds, Elizabeth Bradfield, Kathleen Flenniken, Melinda Mueller) Using archival materials as a creative source, this panel of Pacific Northwest women poets directly engages the claims laid by historical male explorers and scientific pioneers, opening a conversation about the weight of desire, discovery, and what it means as a woman to write (from) this contested landscape. Panelists share how and why archival research informs their creative work, and a moderated conversation tracks these journeys in the context of historical and personal discovery and its aftermath. Room 400, Washington State Convention Center, Level 4. Linda Bierds and Liz Bradfield are always worth hearing.

F193. Brevity Reading(Jane Ciabattari, Meg Pokrass, Pamela Painter, Bobbie Ann Mason, Grant Faulkner) Brevity is big these days, attracting more and more writers and readers to a form once considered niche. Flash is the truffle of prose writing; small in word count, yet dense and satisfying. Online and print journals are embracing flash as technology advances and life's pace quickens. Flash writing is often lyrical, much like prose poetry; laced with sensory detail. Five masters of the form read their flash fiction, essay, and memoir. Plenty of time will be left for questions and answers. Room 202, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 2. Worthwhile panel. Bobbie Ann Mason is great.

Bobbie Ann Mason
1:30 to 2:45 p.m.

F205. Stage to Page: The Challenges and Serendipities of Publishing Performative Texts (Sunyoung Lee, Samantha Chanse, Denise Uyehara, Karen Tei Yamashita) How do you capture the intricacies of emotion and gesture in live performance within the two-dimensional constraints of a book? This panel will showcase performers and writers who have taken the leap from Stage to Page and created innovative book projects that can be viewed as script, literary experience, artistic documentation, or poetry. Join us for dynamic performance excerpts and a discussion about how artists and publishers can collaborate to translate an experience into printed matter. Room 3A, Washington State Convention Center, Level 2. I like the topic—different, worth exploring.

F218. Building Communities Through Poetry: A Celebration of America's Favorite Poem Project(Elise Partridge, Maggie Dietz, Chris Higashi, Robert Pinsky, Tree Swenson) In 1997, Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky started the Favorite Poem Project, dedicated to celebrating, documenting, and encouraging poetry's role in Americans' lives. During the call for submissions, 18,000 Americans of varying ages, backgrounds, and occupations wrote in about their favorite poems. This panel explores how the Project has contributed to building communities through poetry via anthologies, an expanding video archive, a teaching institute, and innovative events all over the nation. Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Nice to celebrate an amazing institution.

F222. 25th Anniversary of Tia Chucha Press: The Coiled Serpent(Patricia Smith, Chiwan Choi, Diane Glancy, Luivette Resto, Michael Warr) A reading by five Tia Chucha Press poets, many of whom have gone on to great literary careers. They will also speak on how this small but powerful press helped their writing life as well as impacted this country's vast cross-cultural poetic outpouring. For twenty-five years, TCP books have been beautifully designed by Menominee native Jane Brunette and edited by Chicano writer Luis J. Rodriguez. This press has been like the Quetzacoatl coiled serpent, in deep earth, fount of words, wisdom, and inspiration. Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Great readers from an important publisher.

F231. Beyond the “Axis of Evil:” Shattering the Stereotypes of Iran and Iranians Through Fiction(Persis Karim, Anita Amirrezvani, Omid Fallahazad, Jasmin Darznik, Marjan Kamali) The anthology Tremors collects the work of Iranian-American fiction writers for the first time. Four Iranian writers will present work that reflects some of the pain of history in Iran and the US but also offers a bracing counter-narrative to prevailing political discourse and a tenacious spirit of resilience. Discussion topics will include minorities, the Green Revolution, the post 9/11 climate, the challenges of assimilation, and the complications of otherness. Room 303, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3. Important writers from a major source of great literature.
3:00 to 4:15 p.m.

F241. Uncovering Hip Hop Poetry(Victorio Reyes, Adrian Matejka, Roger Reeves, Pamela Taylor, Tara Betts) Since Kool Herc put his two turntables together in the South Bronx back in 1973, Hip Hop has evolved into an international phenomenon. As with the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance, Hip Hop is a multi-disciplinary artistic enterprise. Yet the poetics of Hip Hop have not received the same attention as other aspects of the art-form. Five poets will discuss Hip Hop poetics, exploring form, aesthetics, messaging, and Hip Hop’s position in the literary poetic conversation. Room 3B, Washington State Convention Center, Level 2. This is a topic worth learning more about.

F251. The Parent-Writer: Can We Really Have It All?(Ava Chin, Jane Delury, Jessica Blau, Matt Briggs, Molly Wizenberg) Writing a book is challenging, but what if you’re also raising a bawling newborn, a demanding toddler, or a difficult tween? Our panel of fiction writers, food bloggers, and journalists discusses the challenges of being both serious writers and good parents, including how to hit your deadlines while managing kid's schedules. Can today's writer—who is expected to tweet, blog, and have a million Facebook friends, while simultaneously crafting great prose and nurturing children—really have it all? Room 607, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Worthwhile topic.


8:30 to 10:00 p.m.

F312. Robert Hass, Eva Saulitis, and Gary Snyder: Writing Nature in a Scientific Age, Sponsored by Red Hen Press.(Peggy Shumaker, Gary Snyder, Eva Saulitis, Robert Hass) Author and marine biologist Eva Saulitis joins legendary poets Robert Hass and Gary Snyder for a reading followed by a conversation, moderated by Peggy Shumaker, about the task of writing about nature in a culture that often prizes easily commodifiable academic achievement over messier ways of knowing: the lyric, the spiritual, the sublime. Ballroom E, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Three terrific panelists. Important topic. I’m sure you know Gary Snyder and Robert Hass, but Eva Saulitis, who is a professional marine biologist and a nonfiction author and poet, will also have worthwhile contributions to make to this panel.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

9:00 to 10:15 a.m.

S105. Novels-in-Stories or Story Cycles(Garry Craig Powell, Sybil Baker, Xu Xi, Clifford Garstang, Kelly Cherry) Ever since Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, story cycles have been a major feature of the American literary landscape; in recent years examples by Louise Erdrich, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O' Brien, Robert Olen Butler, Jennifer Egan, and others have kept them at the forefront. Still, they are rarely taught or discussed as a distinct form. A panel of accomplished practitioners considers the advantages of this hybrid and suggests why the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts. Aspen Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor. Different topic, one I haven’t seen before, and worth probing. Kudos to the organizer for coming up with such an interesting subject!

S125. Hip Lit: How Innovative Reading Series Are Revamping the Literary Scene(Melissa Stein, Stephen Elliott, Eric Lorberer, Adrian Todd Zuniga, Marie-Elizabeth Mali) How can literature hold its own against mass media and pop culture? Reading series that showcase fine work in inventive ways can build dynamic arts communities and help authors promote and popularize their books among diverse new audiences. In this lively panel, curators and hosts of wildly popular series such as Literary Death Match, The Rumpus, Page Meets Stage, and Rain Taxi discuss how to deploy ingenious PR strategies, curate creatively, turn events into hip hangouts, and keep things fresh. Room 618/619/620, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. A lively subject about unusual reading series—should inspire creative thinking.

10:30 to 11:45 a.m.

S146. What We Talk About When We Talk About Subtext.(Catherine Brady, Marlon James, Thaisa Frank, Ilie Ruby, Pablo Medina) Fiction writers from within and outside the traditional bounds of realism consider how elements of craft are orchestrated to generate subtext, examining how standard formulas for depicting character in conflict leave out essential dimensions of the relationship between the literal and the figurative, how the narrative arc can be exploited to generate subtext, and how patterns of imagery and diction are welded to plot development. Room 602/603, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. The title sounds a bit esoteric, but this is a topnotch panel, very worth hearing.

S153. Queer Translation(Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Goransson, Don Mee Choi, Lucas DeLima, Jeffrey Angles) As translators, artists, scholars, and performers, we’ll consider how ‘queer translation’ might host a queer interaction or strange meeting; how it might undermine nationalist demarcations of the body, including binaries separating male and female, able and disabled, human and inhuman, whole and partial bodies; the force of translation as a ‘political uncanny’; and whether translation itself might figure a queer or middle body, an activist body, a political resource. Room 612, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Jeffrey Angles has translated some of the most edgy and provocative writers from Japan.

12:00 noon to 1:15 p.m.

S179. Poetry Flash at 42: Four Decades of Chronicling and Reviewing the West’s Literary Scene(Alan Soldofsky, Jana Harris, Joyce Jenkins, Rusty Morrison, Richard Silberg) Current and former Poetry Flash editors and contributors will discuss the Flash's four decades of chronicling the dynamic literary scene in the West, beginning in the San Francisco Bay Area, then expanding to Southern California, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. Covering significant controversies and trends, the Flash has been both forum and catalyst for the development of Western literary communities, remaining open to all forms of poetics. Panelists will relive this history, theory, and debate. Room 606, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Poetry Flash has been the heart and soul of the San Francisco Bay Area poetry community for four decades. Great group to celebrate them.

1:30 to 2:45 p.m.

S215. Queer Double Agents: Writing & Publishing Between Communities(Ellery Washington, David Groff, Carla Trujillo, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Michelle Tea) Do you struggle to reconcile the often conflicting allegiances between your queer literary vocation and the summons of another identity, community, or commitment? In a publishing world that pigeonholes us as homonormative and is confused by the multiple realities of LGBTQ people around race, religion, and ethnic and gender identity, how can we communicate our complexities? This panel explores the creative and practical challenges—to paraphrase Whitman—of being vast and containing multitudes. Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Carla Trujillo is always informative, thoughtful, and funny.

Carla Trujillo
 S223. It's About Time: A Tribute to Philip Levine .(Consuelo Marshall, David St. John, David Wojahn, Kathy Fagan, B. H. Boston ) Philip Levine is one of America’s most revered and influential poets. Often referred to as a voice for the voiceless, Levine’s work is also known for its emotional intensity tempered with the control and concentration of a master. Five poet/teachers discuss Levine’s impact on the literary world and beyond and will read their favorite Levine poems. Room 302, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3. Great topic and group.

S230. Lightening Up the Dark: The Role of Humor in Memoir(Mimi Schwartz, Joe Mackall, Phillip Lopate, Suzanne Greenberg, Daniel Stolar) Too often we see our lives as simply funny or sad and write in that single mode, limiting the emotional complexity of our narratives. Humor is a powerful tool for changing that—and no need to be Jon Stewart to use it effectively. Our panel of five explores how humor works for them as writers and teachers of memoir and essay. We address how humor deepens perspective, how it seduces readers to our side, and how, by marrying dark material with humor, we create a powerful tension between the two. Willow Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor.
Phillip Lopate has a lot to say, and this panel looks like a winner.

4:30 to 5:45 p.m.

S273. Page Meets Stage(Taylor Mali, Nick Flynn, Tara Hardy, Jamaal May, Rachel McKibbens) “Where the Pulitzer Prize meets the Poetry Slam.” Taylor Mali returns to AWP for the third year in a row with another iteration of this popular New York City reading series. Four poets, from “page” and “stage,” are paired in several different ways to read back and forth, poem for poem, in an ongoing "verse conversation" on craft. Neither a competition nor an ivory circle, Page Meets Stage has built a vital bridge between two camps that keep forgetting they live under the same tent. Room 609, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Seems like an exciting reading.

S276. Rounding the Human Corners: Writing the Truth about the Changing World. (Marybeth Holleman, Linda Hogan, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Eva Saulitis, Juan Carlos Galeano) Straddling mass extinctions and shifting ecosystems, how do we write about the more-than-human in a way that avoids simple metaphor? And how do we write of degradation and extinction in language that engages the (human) reader and remains truthful to these “other nations?” Discussing a diversity of approaches are five authors of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction about horses, wolves, birch trees, killer whales, polar bears—the depth and range of the world just beyond our human skin. Room 613/614, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Some inspiring voices on an important topic.

8:30 to 10:00 p.m.

S284. A Reading by Jane Hirshfield and Sharon Olds, Sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. (Jennifer Benka, Jane Hirshfield, Sharon Olds) The Academy of American Poets presents a reading by award-winning poets Jane Hirshfield and Sharon Olds who will read from their respective works. Hirshfield received the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Award in American Poetry in 2012. Her book Given Sugar, Given Salt was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Olds is the author of Stag’s Leap, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. Jennifer Benka, Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, will introduce the readers. Ballroom E, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Usually the better-known readers are done by Saturday evening at AWP, but this year two well-known poets are sharing the stage at the end of the conference. Sharon Olds is always amazing.

S285. Sherman Alexie and Timothy Egan: A Reading Sponsored by Hugo House(Tree Swenson, Sherman Alexie, Timothy Egan) Sherman Alexie is the National Book Award-winning author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, as well as a dozen other books of poetry and prose. Timothy Egan is the National Book Award-winning author of The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl as well as six other nonfiction books. Introduced by Tree Swenson, executive director of Richard Hugo House. Ballroom ABC, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6. Sherman Alexie is an incredible reader.

Other posts on the AWP conference:

Zack Rogow will be moderating two panels at the AWP conference in Seattle on Thursday, February 27: Is Poetry Ready for Prime Time? with Cornelius EadyKim Addonizio, and Toby Barlow, from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.; and Homesteading on the Digital Frontier: Writers' Blogswith Mark DotyC.M. Mayo, and Charles Johnson, from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka