Aug 05
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The Sensitive Artist, Part 2

The first thing I believed about artists, and I don't know how I got this idea, is that artists are sensitive, especially poets, and if that was so I had to be sensitive, which I'm not good at except in relation to myself. But I didn't know that, so I dabbed on some Sensitive and wore black. At 24 and pale from hanging out in basements and libraries, I went to listen to poet Denise Levertov, who seemed an impatient and not-so-pleasant woman, and she declared to her audience, as if it were a retort, "Poets are not more sensitive than other people; just more articulate." And I thought, Denise is sooo wrong.

About five years later I meet and talk with famous poets and see them just about every day. They were the most insensitive, self-absorbed, preening, neurotic, swaggering, and  jealousy-ridden candyasses I had ever seen outside of high school. (Think not that I was unaware that it takes one to know one.) I met some other famous poets: brilliant, hard-as-bunions cynics, spouters of poisonous jokes and legendary put-downs, authors of some of the most gorgeous and sensitive poetry of their time. And I thought, Denise was right.

So there's the quotation (two entries down) by Pearl Buck, Nobel-winning novelist now dismissed as a pulp-fiction writer, and it seems to me that hers is a quite 19th-century view of creativity as a sort of rare, terrible and wonderful spiritual commodity, like being born with a caul, permitting the owners to exist in perpetual spiritual infancy. I still buy what she says, believing it's true of everyone, particularly in this highly self-aware day and age. Name somebody you know who sees everything from a balanced, reasonable point of view, whose injuries and transports are merely physical. Those are the rare ones now.
Aug 05
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Celebrating 25 Years of Teaching

This month marks my 25th anniversary as a teacher of writing (and sometimes Afro-American Studies). It is my 14th year at Washington University evening school (University College), my first year as an online instructor in the MFA program at Lindenwood University. I have twice taught graduate creative nonfiction writing at UMSL (which seriously needs a creative-nonfiction prof), three times in the Washington University Summer Writers Institute, taught  undergraduate composition and creative writing at St. Louis Community College, Wash U and Syracuse University, and taught for the first five years of the St. Louis Writers Workshop, plus half-day workshops in UMSL's "Just Write" program and various and sundry guest teaching and lecture spots at OASIS, Lifelong Learning, Lindenwood U, Webster U, and Poets in the Schools.

 I've got a lot to share. So if you want to take a course or workshop with me--you will not be sorry! And thank you for letting others know, too!

Fall 2011:
Washington University, University College (online registration is now open)
  • U11-225, "Introduction to Creative Writing," Thursdays, 6-8:30 p.m. Try out poetry writing, fiction writing, and creative nonfiction writing in this workshop class. Class 15 weeks, 3 credits, begins August 31. Half-price for over age 60. University College
  • U11-320, "The Art of the Essay," Wednesdays, 6-8:30 p.m. Write and workshop essays and read historic essays. Class 15 weeks, 3 credits, begins August 30. Half-price for over age 60. University College
  • "Online Graduate Creative Nonfiction Workshop" at Lindenwood University begins in September. You need not be enrolled in Lindenwood's Online MFA program. For details or to enroll click here.
  • St. Louis Poetry Center Workshop, "Liberty Hall" Freewriting and Creativity workshop, Saturday October 1, 2011, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at my home in the woods about 35 minutes southwest of St. Louis. Hosting a day-long workshop at my home is a first! Includes lunch for the group.Cost is $50 for members, and $60 for non-members. Space is limited so send in your reservation ASAP to

  • Women's Writing Weekend, Sept. 9-11, to be held at Lafayette Square; details TBA. The people running this event are first-time organizers and not quite focused--but I am!
Aug 04
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Kindle for PC

The right Kindle for me hasn't been made yet, but in the meantime I envied the Nooks and Kindles friends and acquaintances had, knowing too that I did not really really need one and had other things to spend money on, and I might drop or lose it. Sometimes I even have to use my landline to call my cellphone so it'll ring and I can find it. And I am still somehow loyal to good old-fashioned books.

Until it came down to looking online for an Abraham Lincoln speech. Imagined there'd be an open Lincoln archive of all his works, but the most you can find is his famous speeches and quotations, and the one I sought wasn't famous. Drove to library (12 miles, one way), checked out thick book of Lincoln's speeches and letters. Took it home and searched. What I wanted wasn't in there. Contemplated driving to another library (27 miles, one way) and said, well, maybe when I'm next around there I will stop in. But that didn't happen and I realized I should probably just stop fooling with libraries and go online and buy other collections of Lincoln speeches and letters, maybe even the 7-volume set of his collected writings, and thumb through for the one thing I wanted. So I went to Amazon to see what that'd cost; maybe someone was selling it used.

There it was on Amazon, the 7-volume set in Kindle version for 99 cents. No joke. Lincoln's whole mind for 99 cents! Immediately I downloaded the free Kindle for PC--not as cool and nuanced as the Kindle, but it let me buy the books. And in one minute I had it. The collection was indexed and had live links. There are 900,000 other ebooks I could buy as well. And some Kindle users tell me they never pay for books; they download only what's free and in the public domain and they love it.

P.S. Abraham Lincoln was not only an admirable man but an admirable writer. (Those traits so often go together!)
Jul 28
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The Sensitive Artist

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive.
To him...

a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god, and
failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create--so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.

--Pearl Buck--

Jul 27
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The Other Woman

Boyfriend, who is good and kind, informed me via e-mail and out of the blue that unavoidable work will keep us apart the next two months. My response: Shock. Dismay. Then write and post an article titled "The Proper Way to Tell Your Girlfriend That You Can't See Her for Two Months," and send him the link. And mope. And wonder if it's really another woman.

It sure is! She showed up in his future in a Tarot-card reading as the Queen of Cups, the Creative Queen. She's an introspective, intuitive type, serene, always inspired. What's more, she's blonde! She lives comfortably, is probably an artist of some kind,  surrounded by art and artists. I bet Boyfriend is especially intrigued because her focus is elsewhere and she's as busy as he. ("Men seem to like that," I said, merely to myself.) And she has a loving heart.

I was furious. I could not compete. About to post an article titled "How to Surf Just for Spite," I realized I could be the Creative Queen in his future. If I chose. So I chose. Every day I put on a dress and jewelry, and regally work on artistic projects. I'm not kidding. It feels great to rededicate myself. I have an appointment to have my hair dyed blonde (that, I'm kidding about).
Jul 24
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More About the Experiment with Voices and Chance

I hope Kim Lozano will forgive me for using my letter to her as the basis of this blog entry. Others have asked much the same question: What's the Experiment with Voices and Chance about?

There used to be an art form often practiced in schools called "choral reading." It's still popular in Asia but in the U.S. it died out around WWII. I had learned of it in a Girl Scout Brownie Handbook as a kid. A group selects a text and then decides how to read it aloud as a group for hearers. It is like choir without music. Some call it "speech choir." At some points the whole group reads the text aloud together, then at others two voices read, or one, or four, male, female, loud soft fast slow, pauses, repeats, interplay of voices and so on, so as to give life to the text the way a poet does at a reading, but expressing it using multiple voices. "For Colored Girls," the "choreopoem" by Ntozake Shange, has certain scenes which serve as an example.

Honestly I decided years ago I wanted to try this way of approaching poetry to vary the "poetry reading" experience without music or poetry-slam theatrics. Now I have a group willing to do it. Decided also that by the group's reading not just our own poems but a piece built by multiple contributors from the St. Louis area, it could be awesome. In any case worth a try.
Jul 21
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Rod Blagojevich Has a Six-Figure Book Deal. . .

2 March 2009

. . .and you DON'T? Me neither!

Read all about it in USA Today. . . Rod says his book will "expose the dark side of politics."

LOL. I'm dyin'. LOL. Let me pour shots of slivovitz (knock-your-socks-off plum brandy, Serbia's national drink) and you and I drink to Rod's nose job, hair job, makeup job in that photo in the link, and his book deal. My stepfather, a foundry worker, now 89, met Rod's father, a steelworker, back in the day, when they both were new in America, about 50 years ago. My stepfather said, "Good he's dead; he would be so a-shame' of his son."

Just what we Serbs need -- more good P.R. . . .Rod's real first name is "Milorad," in Serbian meaning "good work."

Let us drink. . .and say, "Ziveli!" (a Serbian toast: roughly translated, "Let's seize and enjoy the life force while we have it.") Happy writing, Rod!
Jul 21
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Keep Up Your Confidence

27 February 2009

Read this: "How Successful Writers Keep Up Their Confidence." Wise words from a book editor. Link acquired through Tricia Grissom's writer's blog Coffee and Critique.
Jul 21
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Litmags Don't Live Here Anymore

26 February 2009

The library here used to carry a score of literary journals. Today on my lunch hour I found only five. Where did they go? I hadn’t time to ask a librarian because I had to go buy an envelope. But thereby I found out where the journals went. They’re sold single-copy in the bookstore: Boulevard, New Letters, Tin House, Pleiades, Southern Poetry Review – about 10 titles in all.

The library chucked its subscriptions because it knows no one reads these things, except maybe for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction, and those just as bellwethers. Last time I read through the latest issues of literary journals at the library – noting on index cards their names and contents, and what percentage was fiction, what percentage nonfiction, etc. (so I can discuss them in classes) -- in THREE litmags I found poems about Persephone. Whoa. To be fair, about 10 to 20 percent of the published material took my breath. But on the same round I noted two essays, in separate journals, beginning with the words “My father,” and acres of bad fiction – full of neon signs, breasts, tragic foreigners, and petty quarrels.

Some journals make impressive publishing credits if you want to rub shoulders with laureates and academics – who won’t actually read what you published. So beyond impressing each other with our publication credits, what are these journals for? I had never seriously questioned their value. Do they serve as some sort of – standard? For us? Me? Time for self-examination. And figuring out that if they're not important anymore, what is?
Jul 21
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What Your Cr. Wrt. Prof. is Thinking

24 February 2009

-Wish I'd written that.
-This is freaking amazing.
-I just won't tell the class that no experienced writer would ever even TRY to write four essays (or a portfolio of poems) in 16 weeks.
-Man, the difference between the first draft and the third, like night and day!
-You're showing your depths and I really like that.
-I bow to your greater experience.
-I'm really sorry that you had to suffer _________. But it may help to write about it.
-I know of something you've just got to read!
-I know where this might be published!
Jul 21
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What is "Greatness"?

21 February 2009

NYT article today in "Books" section about how poets aren't "great" anymore. Don't waste your eyesight reading the familiar whines about poetry going to hell in a handbasket and that there are JUST TOO MANY POETS because of writing programs. The NYT simply isn't looking hard enough for great poets -- perhaps not west of the Hudson. The author is way, way off if he's honestly still thinking that great poets have to be dashing, cosmopolitan, and deeply troubled, with Anglo pedigrees.

Today's great poet:
  • Is a good friend to other writers, famous or not.
  • Doesn't kill himself/herself if NYC publishers or lion litmags aren't into his/her innovations.
  • Keeps learning and eagerly shares what he/she knows.
  • Acts locally.
  • Consciously contributes to the greater good.
  • Keeps writing while being chided for being one of JUST TOO MANY POETS.
  • Studies in a writing program if he/she wants to, and doesn't worry whether there are JUST TOO MANY WRITING PROGRAMS.
Jul 21
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WU Summer Writers Institute

19 February 2009

Word has it that novelist Saher Alam read great stuff at Duff's on Monday evening. Fortunately, she's also an instructor in this summer's annual Washington University Summer Writers Institute (SWI). This is two weeks of full-time, intensive work on your creative writing, held every June. This year, June 15 to 26.

I've been involved in SWI for 13 years now, either as a workshop instructor (poetry; creative nonfiction) or guest speaker. The Institute changes people radically. Lackadaisical writers become committed writers; pre-professionals solidify their skills and learn about markets; timid writers gain confidence; procrastinators get kick-started; lonely post-MFAs enjoy workshop feedback again; people make friends; editors give priceless information on publishing. It's a volcanic and exhausting two weeks -- but hardly anyone has ever dropped out. If it sounds as if you need this, I recommend that you apply.

Saher Alam will lead the Literary Fiction workshop. Other instructors this year: Kathleen Finneran for creative nonfiction/memoir; Suzann Ledbetter for popular and genre fiction; Kerri Webster for poetry; and Richard Newman for the Young Writers Institute -- which is for high-school juniors and seniors who write poetry or creative prose. The Institute can be taken on a non-credit basis or for 3 college credits.

Here's the website with details: Tell 'em I sent ya. I also have insider information if you want it.