Portrait and Punctum

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I have a new essay up on the Approaching Mystery feature of the Sick Pilgrim blog.  I curate Approaching Mystery and occasionally write for it.  If you have a brief essay of around 750 words that explores the mystery of the everyday, send it my way.  For a writing prompt based on the essay, see my next post below.

Here are some additional photographs to accompany my piece:

Write a vignette

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Here's an assignment similar to one I have given in my flash memoir courses.  The next online course starts Friday March 16th!  More information is here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/approaching-mystery-an-online-flash-memoir-course-tickets-42572637906

Assignment:  Take a picture of someone you know and like, a portrait.  (Or look at a portrait you already have.)  Now also write their portrait in one to four paragraphs.  The portrait that you write should revolve around what Roland Barthes called the punctum, the detail that snags your individual attention as a viewer, that has emotional resonance for you.

Here's an example of a "portrait" piece I wrote in the past, a prose poem about my cat (though I didn't originally write it about this image).


Before I have to put my cat to sleep, I dream that I wheel him outside for some sun.  He is a teenage boy with a degenerative disease, and his stomach is hurting, so I rub it for him.  But we are enjoying the day, the sun and the grass and how we belong to each other but are separate, too.  Tom Waits comes into the yard to do some landscaping.  He is wearing his hat and suspenders, his undershirt and old suit pants.  I say, “Hello, Tom Waits.”  Then Andy says, “Hello, Tom Waits.”  His voice comes out in a slightly strangled way because he is a boy with a degenerative disease and also a cat.  He is making a joke about how he can talk now and about how funny it all is.  Then we laugh, and I’m thinking about how funny Andy has always been.  We sit in the sun like ambassadors, like kids at a Kool-Aid stand. 

2017 was a year ...

Monday, January 01, 2018

source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/6469383/Paula-Rego-interview.html

ok.  My four-year-old son typed that "ok," and it seems as good a way as any to start.  OK.  2017 was a year.  A lot of insomnia, a lot of being overly hooked into a disturbing news cycle ...  How to proceed?  

Yesterday I woke and sat in bed typing up an accounting of the year, a list of what has gone right.  As a poet (and a person superstitious of happiness), I find it difficult to make such an accounting without feeling that I will short circuit creativity by being wedded to "the battle-shriek 'Success!'," as Muriel Rukeyser wrote in The Life of Poetry.  (I wrote about this idea from Rukeyser here.)  On the other side, there is "Why not?"  Why not take a moment to take a measure of the fruits of a creative life lived between the cracks of a society that gives little incentive for such pursuits?  

So, here are some of the things that went right this year:  

*I wrote, edited, and submitted my next book of (mostly prose) poems, with help from a couple amazing friend editors, who gave me invaluable outside perspectives.

*I edited a book for Trio House Press (Pamela Johnson Parker's Cleave, forthcoming in 2018!)

*I curated, edited, and wrote for the flash essay series “Approaching Mystery” for the website Sick Pilgrim. 

*I taught my Approaching Mystery flash essay online course twice; am set to teach the course through Creative Nonfiction to teach in fall 2018; and am getting ready to teach a course on Writing Spaces starting January 12th.  (Information for that course is here.

*Wrote a poem a day in April, several of which I revised and published. I exchanged April poems with Rebecca Bratten Weiss, which led to a continuing exchange of poem on our TinyLetter, The George Sandinistas.  (You can subscribe to receive poems here.) 

*Rebecca Bratten Weiss, Jessica Mesman Griffith, and I then started the women’s literary collective George Sandinistas.  I presented at the Convivium conference in Pittsburgh with them about women's literary community, and I got a collaborative chapbook of poems accepted with Rebecca.  (A second chapbook for me from Dancing Girl Press!) 

*Had poems published in the following journals (most of which were solicited):  South Dakota Review (poems and flash essays), the tiny, Convivium, Talking River, and Vinyl.

 *Wrote three essays, which were accepted for publication:  “Don’t Let Me Down: Eleven Facts about the Beatles” at Pine Hills Review; “Seven for Today” at Rattle and Pen; and “Battles,” forthcoming in Tupelo Quarterly (and currently a finalist in their Open Prose Competition).

*I also did a bunch of childcare and activities with my kid (reading, playing, taking him to preschool/playdates/library/museums/summer camps) and watched his interests and mind develop.

 Phew. More than I thought.  

And to get us back on the thread of creative thought, click here for images from the artist Paula Rego.  I first fell in love with Rego's work when an art historian I met while teaching at Marquette introduced me to her work inspired by Jane Eyre.  That semester, I was teaching Jane Eyre in a Women's Literature class, together with fairy tales and other works inspired by the fairy tale Bluebeard, such as Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" and Jane Campion's film The Piano.  And just last night, on New Year's Eve, I watched Crimson Peak, a Guillermo del Toro film from 2015 which also plays with Bluebeard themes.  Tracing and pondering such threads of cultural and artistic production, that is what makes me feel alive to myself.  That and friendships that feed my spirit and creativity.  Onward.            
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