After a week of great fear, anger, and despair--and after watching several "viral" clips this morning blaming all kinds of people left and right, young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, for the failings of American democracy--this article seems incredibly apropos. Surely, we need more dialogue now. Dialogue, listening, understanding, kindness.
Kindness Over Fear: Naomi Shihab Nye Tells the Remarkable Real-Life Story That Inspired Her Beloved Poem “Kindness”
And now back to that business of writing. Sending ❤️ out there into our vast, off-kilter world.
.I just want to say thank you to all of you for your words and posts (private and public) offering solace, wisdom, hope, and a way forward after yesterday's devastating news. It really has helped me hearing from all of you, especially as I’m witnessing all of this from the other side of the pond (which really does feel more of an ocean than a pond at the moment!).
If you’re reading this, I am almost certain you share a common belief in fairness, equality, and dignity for all. You too want a world and a nation in which ALL its members are treated with utmost respect and decency and who therefore have equal access to the very things that a wealthy, enlightened, wise country can offer: education, healthcare, opportunity, safety, respect, dignity. And you would never want that just for your own children. You want it for all children. And you might have (understandably) even unfriended those who don’t believe in these things. And you almost certainly didn’t vote for a man who is openly racist, misogynist, xenophobic, who is supported by the KKK and Putin, who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, who calls Mexicans “rapists,” and who thinks it’s okay to call women "fat pigs" and "slobs" and assault them, i.e., grab them “by the pussy,” and then brag about it. This is not about being Republican or Democrat. This is about being a decent person who stands up for what is right even if you are moving in various communities that ignore all the bigotry of Trump in order to support a "party" instead of human decency.
And yet we surely need to find new ways of reaching beyond our peer group in our discussions of change. Surely we need to find entrance points into the lives and streets and homes and hearts and minds of the countless women (!) and men who excuse Trump’s behavior and thus support a system built on intolerance, rage, and hate, and who believe in privilege for the few, and who want to forget everyone and everything that isn’t “like” them. I do not think all Trump supporters are racists and, frankly, I don’t think we can get through to those who really are of the KKK ilk, but I do think there was a kind of linguistic “brain-washing” going on that made so many Trump supporters ignore what was right before their eyes.
Protesting can help. Art can help. Hell, Facebook can help. But change cannot happen by protest alone. Action through words and deeds and open hearts is also needed.
I am also talking about the art of everyday humanness and kindness—of teaching, of listening, of creating Mandela-type dialogue even with those who have (sometimes inadvertently even) contributed to this current tragedy in a so-called democracy created for the good of all. If Mandela could make friends with his prison guard—and then invite him to his inauguration—surely we can be inspired by him to find new, more effective ways forward.
Even writing these words has helped. I need all of you. And we need strategies for change that are not about creating more division. Besides, when Trump starts letting people down and putting policies into place that affect his supporters' lives negatively—and hurt the U.S. in word and deed (as he is already doing)—there might just be a huge group of disillusioned followers ready to talk. They have children too. And we can be there for those children. And together maybe we will help create a future that will include a nation full of children and grandchildren who have decency and respect for one another, and who will better practice the art of dialogue, tolerance, and kindness across the widest spectrum of citizens in both the U.S. and the world.
Then there is this poem in the gorgeous webzine The Lascaux Review, run by the amazing creative thinker, Joseph Parrish: http://lascauxreview.com/truck-stop-on-highway-124/.
And in the weeks to come, there are these little pubs in the works:
Thanks, all you lovely people for writing, reading, sharing, and supporting the small accomplishments that make all this hard, solitary work worth it. Keep doing what you do and please let me know how you are.
I've had a few exciting things happen lately:
Happy to say that my short fiction piece "Talking Trojans" won Fiction International 2015 Short Short Fiction Prize. Harold Jaffe's summary of the piece and a link to the story can be found here: http://fictioninternational.sdsu.edu/wordpress/contest/
“Talking Trojans” melds compression, humor, keen intelligence, and social awareness into a savory 300 words. The references to Roland Barthes and his fetishization of language, especially his Lover’s Discourse, is cunning and comical. Where is the virus? Perhaps it is in the lover’s “discourse,” the language, however refined, which obscures the virulent spaces eroding between the words and all about us. —Harold Jaffe, editor-in-chief, Fiction International
(Winning that contest, as some of you know, was especially welcome news, as I had placed as a runner-up, honorable mention, and finalist in a dozen or so contests in the last year or so, but, alas, had yet to win any of them. The $500 check was also very welcome, some of which was necessarily spent on some celebratory prosecco!)
Very grateful too for the interview at Mid-American Review:
Happy to say a small slice of the novel is out there in the world to sample, in the form of a short story titled "Penelope thinks she remembers her father" at LItro NY.
And, alas, a poem I'd like to share more widely. This particular poem, "Regret," sums up a thousand apologies for not being good at returning phone calls or emails or even texts. Please forgive me, family, friends, and strangers, too: http://www.mid.muohio.edu/segue/12/12_slot.pdf
Just a few pics of a great night at the Poetry Foundation on March 17th. It was a treat to read alongside David Trinidad and celebrate the work of students Eric McClure and Katie GoldStein. The space is not only beautiful, but also acoustically perfect (as we learned in our microphone check before the readings).
My contribution to H. L. HIx's fascinating (and, yes, dialogic) Progressive Poetics Project was posted yesterday. I was particularly happy to have a little piece of my academic work appear on the net on the same day as my reading at the Poetry Foundation with David Trinidad and our students. (More to follow soon on that!)
The project works like this: H.L. Hix takes a quote from something we've published (in my case, my academic essay on Harryette Mullen's Muse & Drudge published in Poetry and Dialogism: Hearing Over) and then asks us to write a 200 word response to it in context of Auden and Adorno's oft-quoted lines-that-sound-like-dictums about poetry. (You know: "Poetry makes nothing happen" and "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.") We are then asked us to answer the question "What must or might be said about poetry today."
You can read range of responses from many people, including Mary Ruefle, Frank Bidart, Meena Alexander, Jennifer Moxley, Carl Phillips, Frank Bidart, and a host of other poets and academics.
My response is here: http://031454a.netsolhost.com/inquire/2015/03/17/andrea-witzke-slot/
The full website is here: http://www.hlhix.com/inquire/.
There's a new one posted daily. I'm in love with this project. You should go there now.
Nina Corwin (author of The Uncertainty of Maps) kindly tagged me for “The Next Big Thing,” a series of self-interviews in which we talk to ourselves about our latest book projects. As I have a fair amount of practice talking to myself, I thought I’d see how such an interview might unfold. Here goes.
What is the (working) title of the book?
I have a number of book projects in the works, but I’ll tell you about the project fait accompli: To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press 2012).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The eight prose poems that form the overarching architecture of the book came into being soon after reading H.D.’s Sea Garden poems (hence the title, which comes from one of her lines). We are so often asked (as graduate students especially) to resist reading other’s work through the personal, but I think that's asking the impossible when it comes to most readers and certainly for me. H.D.'s work was no exception.
Her poems brought back an experience I had at my great-grandfather’s house in Moorehead City, NC, when I was about 5 years old. I was wading into the ocean and felt something beneath my foot. I reached down into the cloudy water and pulled up from the most amazing conch shell. All right, it probably was less amazing than I remember it to be, but, anyway, as soon as I looked down at it, a creature began to come out of the shell. I was terrified and threw it as far as I could into the open water. I then spent day after day, summer after summer, looking for that elusive (and ultimately illusive) shell.
When I read H.D.’s poems, the experience of wandering up and down that hot beach looking for that lost shell came back to me. But it was more than that. That experience, simple as it sounds, never left me. It’s become a metaphor for so much of what I hope to find with a concurrent terror and realization that most of those things are illusive, beyond the real, and so beyond ownership.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry - although there is some crossover into fiction. The prose poems, for example, actually started as a single short story and only later did I break them down into eight distinct prose poems. She probably won’t remember this, but M.M.M. Hayes at StoryQuarterly wrote me a very detailed note in her rejection of the work, praising the lyrical quality of the story but feeling that it was perhaps not a story but poetry—or even a series of poems. Her note meant a lot to me. Of course, it stymied me, too; I sat on the story for another year or two before doing anything with it. Also, the poem “The Cartography of Flesh,” forms the opening section of the novel I’m working on at the moment.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Aw. The question, right? The crazy question. I need a cast of characters in cameo roles but the key swimmer would have to be someone crazy, artsy, and a little self-absorbed. Come to think of it, she would need to be an unknown or at least someone not well known. Of course, someone like the star in the French film Betty Blue, the intense Beatrice Dalle, would work.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A collection of poetry that explores the nature of desire—the search beyond self—or, as Plato saw it (through Diotima), the search for immortality—in sea, land, myth, history, relationships, sex, writing.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I am in complete awe and admiration of those who complete their books in a year or two. I’m afraid my book has been through many, many versions over some eight to ten years, some versions being so radically different that you wouldn’t recognize the book you see now. I think I needed that longer period of time to become more discerning, to mature as a poet, to hone my work, to work on what a “collection” means to me.
Plus, there is that little fact that I was a single mother of two daughters for several years, while working on a PhD, often teaching five to six classes a term, and traveling back and forth from England regularly (where I had previously lived for close to ten years). I don’t mind really. Life is rich with things beyond writing, even if writing is the centering point of my every day.
The amazing thing to me is how quickly two more collections began to materialize after To find a new beauty was published. But then, maybe I’m gaining confidence in my work past and present. After all, To find a new beauty represents only a tiny amount of the work I have produced over the years, some of which will stay in dark drawers, some of which is ready to see light. But even then, I like to work carefully, I revise meticulously, and don’t tend to rush my work. I also don’t really see publication as my primary goal. My primary goal is to reproduce the sculpture that I have in my mind in words. I will chip away at that stone for years, if that’s what it takes. I love the feeling of a poem being truly finished, as rare a phenomenon as that is for me.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I guess, crazy interviewer, that I answered this when looking at how the idea for the book came about, but mix H.D. with some Louise Glück, some Kate Chopin, epic stories/poems such as Dante’s, Homer’s, and Virgil’s, as well as my children, a long distance relationship with my now-husband, living abroad as an expat, teaching primary school in England, a confused period of life post-divorce, and a thousand writers past and present and you have that strange mix that is Andrea—poet, teacher, mother, scholar, novelist, thinker, daydreamer.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There is a certain amount of dark humor in some of the poems that I don’t think all people catch, especially in poems such as “These City Hives” and “Graphics.” I often write about things that amuse me.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. It is published by the talented Jared Michael Wahlgren at Gold Wake Press. I don’t know how Jared does it, but he has built a repertoire of books that just seem to share a certain something. I think this pleases the GWP poets immensely. It certainly does me. I’ve learned so much from my GWP brothers and sisters. They are a remarkably talented group and I am humbled and excited to be a part of the family.
Thank you, Andrea, for taking the time to talk to me.
You’re welcome, Andrea. Always a pleasure.
And, at that, my tagged writers for next Wednesday are (with more to follow):
Virginia Bell, fellow Rhino Poetry editor and author of the recently released book From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press) and the amazing Debra Bruce, author of the recently released book Survivors' Picnic (Word Press, Word Tech Editions).