“Ephemera” was this week’s theme. The assignment was to create a poem that would fade over time. The example we practiced in class was sidewalk chalk, i.e., write it on the ground, then it rains, and it’s gone forever.

My grand idea was to take scissors and cut a poem into the grass, and then take a picture of it from the roof. In execution, this idea did not work out so well: I cut my words far too small to be seen from the roof, even with my little phone camera zoomed in as far as it could be. Days before, I had gone up to the roof on a reconnaissance mission to take pictures of the area I planned to work in, and gauge how big I needed my letters to be. But, alas, it didn’t really help. I’m sure math would have been useful here—the angle of my vision from the elevated height, the difference of how things farther away look smaller—there must be equations for this.

“For Keeps” was the poem—or aphorism, really—that I chose. Because it isn’t for keeps, the grass will grow back. Ba-da-bum. I’m going to give this project a second go-around, now that I’ve, in a sense, done a first draft. I can also better estimate how long it will take. (In my too-small first edition, I spent about 5 minutes per letter, cutting with scissors. I need to give myself a bigger window of time in which to complete it.) Also, I’m not really happy with scissors as my cutting implement, but I can’t think of anything else to use. I don’t want to till the dirt, just give the grass a haircut. Any suggestions for a different tool are appreciated.

It’s also worth noting that this assignment brings up the idea of how we experience art, experience a poem. If we’re not in the environment when the poem is happening, then we don’t get to experience it. One could see a photograph of it after the fact, but that’s different from being in the same space as the poem during its intended existence. 

-Holly Weinberg 

When you’re sitting hunched at your desk, your tailbone aching, your self-loathing at an all-time high—and your screen white with the exception of phrases like “Darius Hunter stared at the candle flame, listening to the wind rustling the high grass of fdglakfdjgir”—certain thoughts spring to mind. Thoughts that make you keep going.

Thoughts like, “One day, someone will appreciate my work, and they’ll publish me, and everyone will love me and I’ll never be lonely again.”

I’m writing to give my fellow writers hope. Those delusional thoughts to get you to the next paragraph are only mostly bullshit.

Last fall, I wrote a story called “The Monster.” I worked hard on it—as hard as I work on any of my stories that I care about enough to see through to the end. My advisor, Susie Merrell, suggested I submit it to TSR: The Southampton Review.

I don’t know about you, but when someone says something kind about my work, I think they must be lying. I dream up some reason why this person might be invested in stroking my fragile ego. Susie must have wanted to build my confidence so I would not end up as a semi-permanent thesis candidate throwing out draft after draft.

The story was published in TSR. The story was also reprinted in an illustrated literary magazine called Carrier Pigeon. It feels nice to see your words in print.

A few months ago, TSR caught the attention of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, an online magazine with a monthly readership of 60,000. They reprint recent work that is recommended by authors and editors as well as old gems by established writers. They asked TSR to recommend a few stories from their archives. Out of those stories, Electric Literature chose mine.

“Fantastic!” I thought. It was an honor to have a story published on a site I loved, and maybe I would never be lonely again and maybe people would at last appreciate….no, it couldn’t be….maybe Susie, who is an editor at TSR, pulled some strings (she wouldn’t do this); maybe the other choices were carelessly picked, maybe, I don’t know, luck? The editors were on drugs?

The week of its publication, I was nervous. People on the internet are mean. What if they tweeted hate? Worse, what if they tweeted nothing at all?

“The Monster” received an excellent response. Hundreds of Facebook shares, tweets…tumbles? People were talking about it, people were enjoying it, my words reached people…who were probably all just my mom in disguise, right?

An agent contacted me, wanting to see my collection.

An editor at Penguin contacted me, wanting to speak to my (non-existent) agent.

Another agent, who had requested to see the entirety of my collection based on the strength of “The Monster” and a couple of other stories, was suddenly a bit more interested. 

It wasn’t just industry people who found the story compelling. A high school teacher in Pennsylvania, who taught “The Monster” to his class, wrote to say that his students loved it. A professor at Texas State University is creating an exercise based on the story for his blog and interviewed me about the writing process (http://readtowritestories.com/ —a very cool blog by the way). 

All of this is glamorous. But more importantly, the success of “The Monster” shows me that I’m not crazy, that I’m not delusional. I have things to say and I say them in a way that moves other people, and that is one of the only things I have ever wanted.

At the end of October, I will be reading “The Monster” at Fiction Addiction’s reading series (fictionaddiction.org), which will be hosted by Electric Literature. I’ll probably vomit beforehand, the other readers are much better than I am and the only reason that I was also chosen to read was because my story kind of fits with Halloween, and everyone in the audience will be my mom in disguise.

These are the things I think about while I stare at a white screen.  

-Ali

Susan Minot in conversation with Daniel Menaker from Writers Speak Manhattan on 9/23/13

Video  —  Posted: October 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
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As writers, we fall in love all the time. With overheard and stolen pieces of music, with moments glimpsed at and then caught and held like a painting, or with the wind colliding into us and then moving swiftly away, towards the Hudson and the night; but mostly, with books, with language, with whatever it is that words do.

As we learn eventually, these feelings are often fleeting and unreliable. If we fall in love every day, is it still love? But occasionally, we fall in that slow-motion way that lingers: we want it to linger; we want to stop and say, “Wait, can we take this slow, can we appreciate this?”

When I read the book Evening and discovered the author Susan Minot through my Uses of Affliction class, I crushed hard. I wanted to know everything. Why did she overlap multiple points of view and multiple time periods? What was the effect of her deconstructed language and her focus on imagery? How was she so successful at evoking feelings that felt both so personal and so universal at once?

Was this just casual infatuation, or was I really yielding to a genuine attachment? Was I willing to commit? But this wasn’t just a one-night-stand of reading all night, only to wake up and reconsider if those words were really so brilliant, or if perhaps they were clichés, cloaked in the magic of the euphoric night.

I yearn to witness intimacy in its written form and the novel Evening satisfied that desire. This was a romance that I wanted to keep with me, past my class, past grad school, through reading the rest of her books, and then through reading them again and again, as a student and as a writer. Just as any lover studies a body, I wanted to study Susan Minot’s body of work.

I was eager to hear Susan Minot speak for the first Writers Speak, held in September, and as a graduate assistant, I was also looking forward to filming the event and helping to ensure that it went smoothly. I spent the Sunday before the Monday of the event at the Brooklyn Book festival, feeling more and more inspired about the path I’m on. I was prepared for the week ahead and was looking forward to going home and reveling in all the new chapbooks and literary journals I had picked up.

But when I came home Sunday night, I received an email from my supervisor, Magdalene Brandeis. “Introduction!!!!!” was the title. She wanted me to introduce Susan Minot. My dream of unwinding suddenly dissipated. How was I going to write an appropriate introduction for such a distinguished author—an author that I felt so personally grateful for and amazed by?

Everyone told me that grad school would work my edges. So there I was, the night before the first Stony Brook reading, writing an introduction for my new favorite author, and there I was, the following night, introducing her, despite my fear of public speaking. When it was over, she stood up at the podium and said it was the nicest introduction she had ever received. My devotion was solidified, my love affair only made worse—or perhaps better—as I understood that behind the words that had captured me was this person, this author, that I can continue to learn so much from.

It’s just the beginning. I still get to read the rest of Susan Minot’s work, taking my sweet time with it, and somehow I know I will fall in love with so many other books and other authors while in this MFA program. (I just hope Susan isn’t jealous!)

And the best news of all: Stony Brook has just announced that Susan Minot will be teaching in Manhattan in Spring 2014. My romance with her writing, and with literature in general, will unabashedly continue. Swoon!

-Harmony Hazard

Shots from Marisa Silver’s captivating reading at Southampton Arts’ Writers Speak series on October 2nd.

Gallery  —  Posted: October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
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The course of my day is entirely dependent on my class schedule. My classes are night-only, meaning I have the entire day to work, or get some writing done, or do nothing but play video games all day, as the case may be. This leaves me bright-eyed and ready to write in the evenings (rather than the perpetual fog of grogginess in which I stumbled about during my undergraduate years, plagued with 8 AM classes throughout the week).

Based on these considerately timed classes, what I write will vary throughout the week. Early in the week, my work is strictly memoir in nature: I will pen creative nonfiction in class and prepare a larger submission for workshopping every few weeks. Midweek, I attend the graduate writing class with the rest of the MFA students in my year, writing personal essays and stories connected to our assigned reading material. And towards the end of the school week, we critique one another’s fiction and discuss the work of published authors in a short fiction workshop.

The effect that this (coupled with the writings of a more academic or professional nature which I do for the university when I’m at work) has impressed upon me is that, unlike in undergraduate school, writing is integral here, and it will continue to be so from here on out. Of course, I take no issue with that. It’s all good practice. And the evening classes aren’t exactly a dealbreaker either.

-Emmett

It’s all about the writing. Go to class, write. Go home, write, read some required readings, write immediately after. Write, write. Right? That’s a typical day for an MFA’er, and that’s what it should be: Action. Because that’s the only way to get better and, well, that’s why I’m here. All three of the courses I’m taking this semester—Intro to Graduate Studies, Screenwriting, and Short Fiction—have heavy reading loads. But all of that reading is the only way to lay a sturdy foundation to write better. It’s not just to learn technique, and reading isn’t always for learning. Often it serves as inspiration. See something you like in a short story? Try doing it yourself! How about something you can’t stand? See if you can do it better! So far in my young experience here, that’s what these classes do: give you a constant supply of gas for your creative tank. I leave every class with no less than 50 pages of new material to go over. With three classes like that, it’s pretty tough to not find something to write about. Just keep writing, just keep writing. That’s MFA life here, and that’s how it should be. It’s a pleasure to be aboard!

-Mike

“Those who go feel not the pain of parting,
it’s those who stay behind that suffer.”

When I heard this Longfellow quotation on a recent episode of “Inspector Lewis” and not from Sergeant Hathaway, either, I sat up and took notice as something stirred.
I had lived and worked in London in the sixties, although I’m nearly over it now. America beckoned and I transferred happily. Notice I said transferred.
I never actually emigrated and had it in the back of my mind that someday……. more than 40 years later, I’m still here, temporarily. Everyone else emigrated, but not me. As I said, I transferred.

Recently, I went to Lincoln Center to see two plays under the aegis of “DruidMurphy”. Much to my chagrin, I was singularly unprepared. These plays were about emigration, about leaving and staying behind. Imagine a knife being plunged repeatedly into tender flesh and then being twisted slowly. I know! Not nice. Imagine a theatre full of people squirming on the edges of their seats. And I’ve often wondered about this thing referred to as bated breath. Now I know.

The Druid Theatre Company from Galway, in the West of Ireland, is world famous in the theatre world for their interpretations of Irish playwrights. It is led by Garry Hynes, the only woman to win a Tony for Best Director. (The Beauty Queen of Leenane). Now they have taken the plays of the often overlooked Irishman, Tom Murphy and beaten me over the head with them.

Years ago, the unoccupied office next door to me had it’s door closed for a few days and while we knew there was someone in there, we never saw or heard the person. A mystery man? Maybe. Eventually, we were told it had been Mr. Murphy, working on changes to a play being produced in NYC. He needed peace and quiet. (Don’t we all?)

Mind you, I don’t think there will be much peace and quiet for me having seen these two plays, especially “Conversations.” I’m in turmoil ever since. I thought emigration was about those who left. According to Longfellow and now Mr. Murphy, it seems it’s more about those who stayed behind. They’re the heroes as they didn’t leave. Where does that leave the rest of us?

A couple of years ago I brought my two oldest grandchildren back to my hometown in Ireland. We walked up one side of the Main Street and down the other, stopping only for ice-cream. Much to my surprise and disappointment I knew no one and worse still, no one knew me. Colin, then 5, asked me if I was from here. The only answer I could think of was “I used to be.”

Both plays were greeted with rousing ovations but after the curtain calls the audiences sat unwilling or unable to get out of their seats. One night I turned to the stranger on my left who was dabbing her eyes. She looked Irish, shrugged her shoulders and tried to smile. She even offered me a tissue.

Another night I spoke to a couple on the train heading downtown, one Irish and the other Asian. We had the Playbill in common and we yakked all the way to Penn Station. I don’t recall what we said, we just needed to talk to someone. Anyone.
So, maybe I am an emigrant, after all. I must tell my family, but they probably suspected that all along.

**”Conversations on a Homecoming” is a play by Tom Murphy.

Reading to Write by Pat Follert

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I no longer read casually or for pleasure. That ends once you declare yourself a writer. I read novels, short stories and poems as textbooks with vital information to impart. I read to excavate meaning and craft for my own work.   What does this writer have for me? This is a ferocious undertaking which seeks that frisson of recognition, when the writer’s craft-as-art comes off the page into my writer-as-reader self.

No more do I read beneath the covers, Nancy Drew and I huddled in the teepee of my knees in the circle of an ever-dimming flashlight that needed a good shake to keep going.

Yet, the wonder of reading in secret, in the dark, until something moves off the page into me, still thrills.   How close is that to the act of writing?

I read for the moment when I connect to the writer’s pleasure in what he or she has achieved – that makes me jump to the computer and my work.  Carefully chosen words spill secrets. They are fearless. They neither hide nor distract behind empty, beautiful prose, lost in its own reflection. They write through the walls. That is what I learn from good writing now.

I learn by figuratively putting my fingers on the words of an author I admire in the way a child is introduced to the piano keyboard, for the feel of it – a rare osmosis – can art travel this way?  In giving myself over to the words of another is the hope that I will recognize a way into my own work.  It is the sharpening of my ability to discern craft within beauty that lets me know I have struck gold. I read to write.

I read in a neurobiology textbook that the left hemisphere of the brain creates stories out of experiences. It naturally generates plausible cause and effect relationships from the information of everyday life. I survey the crowd of conference-goers—who are all here to tell their stories—and I wonder how a process so natural to us is so incredibly difficult to put on paper. A struggle. A knock-out fight to communicate. This grassy field with rented tents and tables and chairs is a battlefield, the enemy the wall between you and everyone else and the ally a rare soul who understands to leave you alone to figure out how to climb it, who understands that writing is a solitary war. It’s an internal war, a silent, life-long catastrophe, and the only respite is the once-in-a-while sentence that prompts the thought: “that sentence is good. That sentence is the truth of what I want to say.” A small victory. We are meaning-making creatures. But expressing that meaning to others? That takes a fight. For all these people, myself included, it will be painful, frustrating, exhausting. Thank goodness for the lovely scenery.