I’m a long-time fan of the National Novel Writing Month (belatedly called NaNoWriMo) challenge to complete 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. (If you want to know more about it, a recent episode of Annotated looks at the history of the NaNo challenge and why people dig it.)
I’m not entirely sure when I first starting taking part — probably around twelve or so years ago (way back in my LiveJournal days). I was immediately drawn in to the sense of camaraderie inherent in the challenge and often attended local write-ins, where I was able to sit down with a dozen other writers at a coffee shop and share in the experience of putting words on the page.
Some of the years, I completed the challenge, and some of the years I didn’t. Either way I always enjoyed the experience — regardless of whether I churned out anything editable or not.
It’s been several years since I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (the last one being in 2014), and I’ve finally decided that it’s time I jumped back on the bandwagon.
A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with Jason Bayani about his new book Locus (Omnidawn Publishing 2019).
“Poetry gave me back a way to find my culture, my history,” says Jason Bayani while discussion his new book Locus (Omnidawn Publishing 2019), which blends memoir and poetry into a stunning exploration of fragmented identities and the Pilipinx-American experience. Drawing inspiration from hip-hop and delving into the knotted complexity of family history and relationships, Bayani is able to recover a migrant identity and experience that is often silenced and shape a confident declaration of selfhood in American culture.
“In my grandfather’s last days
He wandered the rice fields alone.
What was left of his mind bringing him back
to what he spent his entire life building.
We are the land — lupa ay buhay, land is living.
When my father talks of his poverty, he presents
a bowl of rice and says, ‘Your Inang
would put one piece of fish on the table,
and we would press our fingers
against it for flavor.’ Mimicking his hand
scooping rice out of the bowl.”
— fragment from “The Low Lands”
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice — and you can join New Books in Poetry in a discussion of this episode on Shuffle by signing up here.
California has a tendency to fool me this time of year — days swinging into cooler temperatures one week and then quickly rebounding into heat. Summer clings, refuses to let go. Leaves rarely yellow or brown in the expected colors of the season. The Fall never really feels like Fall.
And yet, October is my favorite month. The advent of Halloween carries with it the whispering of spirits, the trickery of fae folk, the glowing of jack-o-lanterns, the dancing of skeletons. It’s a powerful time, a witchy time.
The days are dimming, growing shorter. The nights are darker.
This can be comforting. Darkness and shadow can be a fertile space for transformation — bulbs and seeds lie hidden within the earth, gestating, awaiting their moment to burst forth and bloom.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m feeling a desire to draw in, close off outside influences, and wrap myself in the comfort of hearth and home. I long for rich, warm foods, good books, and quiet.
What I’m desiring is not only an external drawing in, but an internal one. As I settle into what comforts me, I’m wondering what lies within the shadowy places within myself. What have I kept hidden? What fruits can I reap from this year’s work? What do I want to plant anew? What do I wish to nurture and grow?
What about you?
Note: This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out the archives and/or subscribe:
Melissa Eleftherion is a writer, librarian, and a visual artist. She is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), & seven chapbooks, including the recently released little ditch (above/ground press, 2018). Trauma Suture is forthcoming from above/ground in 2020. Her poems have appeared in many journals including Berkeley Poetry Review, and The Tiny. Born & raised in Brooklyn, Melissa now lives in Mendocino County where she manages the Ukiah Library, teaches creative writing, & curates the LOBA Reading Series. Recent work is available at www.apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.
Please tell us about the genesis of your new chapbook, little ditch. What is the collection about and how did it come into being?
little ditch is a chapbook about survival through sexual abuse, rape culture, & internalized misogyny. This is also a book about being sexualized as a young, non-binary person growing up in rape culture. About being a preteen on the verge of something shattering. About the fur.
As I was completing my first book, Field Guide to Autobiography, I was visited by these urgent, dark spells or calls to action to write a way towards these poems. These poems felt caked in dirt, but very alive – I felt the need to dig deeper. Using various creative exercises like trance, tarot, & cut-ups, I tried to summon the hidden. There were times where I’d not be able to recall anything, other times I’d feel immersed in sense memory. All these gaps and leaks where trauma holds in the body. I later referred to these as “the ditch poems.”
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
I really enjoyed The RavenTower by Ann Leckie (which I discussed here), a beautiful and fascinating fantasy novel about a world in which gods are able to directly interact with humanity and all the power structures that come from such interactions.
Another phenomenal read was The Book of the Unnamed Midwifeby Meg Elison. The story is a set in an apocalyptic world in which the population has been decimated by an illness that was particularly hard on women and children. The result is a world in which children are nonexistent, women are rare, and most men rove around in gangs claiming the few women left as slaves. The midwife — whose diaries have been preserved by a future society — survives by pretending to be a male and issues what little help she can to the women she meets in the form of contraceptives and medical care.
There is a certain bleakness that tends to come out of this kind of storyline — much of the worst of humanity is revealed. And yet, this book doesn’t fully dwell there. For all the awful things that happen, there are people who are trying to help or at the very least trying to just survive without doing harm. Interesting cultural structures crop up, which reverse power roles and people are capable of trust and be good to one another, if they try hard enough. This is, in the end, a story of hope in a brutal world — and it moved me to tears several times. I loved it.
I also read a lot of poetry this month. One of my favorites was Locus by Jason Bayani, which draws on his heritage and cultural experience to delve into the fragmented identities of Pilipinx Americans. Blending memoir and lyricism and inspired by hip-hop and DJ culture, these poems do powerful work in recovering the voices of silenced communities, reflecting on the importance of family and community in tying us to ourselves.
I met Bayani at a reading he was doing and was fortunate to be able to have a moving conversation with him for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I should be able to share soon.