On Writing In Stressful Times

My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.

Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.

This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.

As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?

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New Books in Poetry: If Men, Then by Eliza Griswold

if men then by eliza griswold

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Eliza Griswold about her book If Men, Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020).

Eliza Griswold writes in Snow in Rome, “we hate being human,/depleted by absence.” In her latest poetry collection, If Men, Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), Griswold grapples with a world that is fracturing at its foundation. In this series of poems, all at once dark. humorous and questioning, the author moves from the familiar to the unjust to hope with a keen eye. She guides readers through a world that at times strips the humanness from our bones with embedded violence and disconnection, but also calls for us to reconnect by reminding us to be a bridge out among the flames.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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Culture Consumption: February 2020 – Women in Horror Month

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

February was women in horror month, so I focused as much of my reading as possible on this subject area and read some fantastic and fun books. I enjoyed pretty much everything I read, but here are some of the standouts.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria MachadoI finally got around to reading Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read this book. The stories in this collection explore the place of women in the world, with each story having its own intimate horrors. Many of these stories also explore female desire and sexuality, diving into that longing for pleasure in a world that would traditionally deny them that.

All of the stories in this collection are complex and powerful in their own unique ways. Here are a few that I adored the most. In “The Husband Stitch,” a woman relates the story of meeting, falling in love, and living with her husband. She gives him everything of herself, with the only thing that belongs to her being a green ribbing she wears around her neck — which her husband over time grows more and more eager to understand and claim. The story is beautiful, intimate, with a truly unsettling ending.

“Inventory” tells the story of an apocalypse in a series of gorgeous, heartbreaking vignettes, each relating intimate moments and relationships with a variety of people in the narrator’s life.

In “The Resident,” an introverted, anxious writer begins a residency in the mountains near where she once went to Girl Scout Camps. The residency brings up memories of being at camp, illnesses and afflictions to her body, and anxieties about who she’s supposed to be around other people and writers. It’s intense and verges on horror, but mainly focuses on the internal struggles of the character. It’s a haunting, beautiful story.

“Especially Heinous” is an utterly fascinating story which reimagines 12 seasons of Law and Order: SVU. In the story, Officers Stabler and Benson each become increasingly haunted and stalked by strange forces in unique ways. The short snippets of scenes are listed as episodes and everything unfolds as a compellingly surreal experience in which the city thrums with a living heartbeat and dead girls ring through the halls of apartments.

“Real Women Have Bodies” is a beautiful story of love in a world where women are loosing substance, fading away. It just about broke my heart.

Bunny by Mona AwadIf you’re into dark and bloody academia stories, then you should definitely consider reading Bunny by Mona Awad. Samantha Mackey is struggling through her MFA program at a prestigious university, where she’s finding herself unable to write and is repelled by the clicky group of women in her fiction writing workshop, who all call each other “Bunny.” Her one comfort is her friend, Ava, who is fierce and doesn’t give a crap what anyone else thinks And yet, when the Bunnies invite Samantha to their infamous Smut Salon, she goes and discovers the group has dark secrets.

The voice of Bunny is biting, the descriptions of the world edged with a sharp irony. It’s funny and brutal and sometimes aching with longing and sorrow. This novel was beautifully and darkly compelling, drawing me into its strange, surreal world. I honestly never knew what was going to happen next. I loved this book.

The Twisted Ones by T. KingfisherI went through several audiobooks this month, all of which were great, but I particularly loved The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, which was narrated by Hillary Hubert. When asked to clear out her grandmother’s house, Mouse travels with her dog to rural North Carolina where she discovers her grandmother was a hoarder and the mess is bigger than she imagined. As she sets to work, she’s able to almost ignore the strangeness of the woods around her — but that changes when she discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, which relates the story of terrifying things. At first, she chalks it up to the delusions of an old man, until she starts to witness the horrors herself.

The Twisted Ones is a pitch perfect horror novel, made all the better by being filled with a cast of fun, interesting, and sympathetic characters. Mouse herself is entirely relatable, and the neighbors she meets and wonderfully, generous human beings. It makes it far more scary when you care about the characters involved and want them all to survive and return home safe and sound.

When I Arrived At the Castle by Emily CarrolI’ve read Emily Carroll’s graphic novel collection of utterly horrifying fairy tales, so I was excited to pick up When I Arrived at the Castle, a wholly original and haunting fairy tale. An eerie fairy tale, in which a young woman travels to a distant castle with the purpose of confronting the lady of the house. As she follows the lady through the house, she learns how truly monstrous she is. The art work is beautiful, with its stark black and white imagery highlighted with pops of blood red color. The visuals switch between being dreamlike and utterly horrifying — and combined with the text, it makes for a compelling tale.

The Spinning Place by Chelsea WagenaarOutside of the horror genre, I read the The Spinning Place, a collection of poetry by Chelsea Wagenaar (which was provided to be by the publisher, Southern Indianan Review Press, for the purposed of an interview). The poems in this book explore the things the body carriers, whether its a growing fetus in the womb with all its demands on existence and the future or the emotional weight of family and relationships. I’m hoping to have an interview with Wagenaar in an upcoming episode of the New Books in Poetry Podcast.

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New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

Soft Science by Franny Choi
Author photo by Graham Cotten.

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a delightful conversation with Franny Choi about her new book Soft Science (Alice James Books 2019).

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them. 

For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to use poetry to navigate those spaces.

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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On Reading and the Writing Life

Apparently, there’s communities of folks making Book and Authortube videos, in which they essentially talk about books, writing, and publishing. Since I’ve been wanting to get back into making videos, these community topics seemed a good way to focus my ideas around.

One of the things that a lot of folks in this community do is the Newbie Tag  — which is essentially a list of questions about you and your interests as a means of introduction. It sounded like fun, so I thought I’d go for it — although with my own flare.

Booktube and Authortube each have their own unique set of questions (listed below), created by Brenda C. and Jenna Streety, respectively. Rather than making them as two separate videos, I decided to incorporate them together, editing to avoid repeated questions and (hopefully) making things flow.

I hope you enjoy the video, and if you decide to do your own newbie tag, please let me know. I’d be happy to check it out.

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