Are There Things That Are Important Beyond All This Fiddle? Or NaPoWriMo and You

People, here’s the thing: it’s April.  That means it’s National Poetry Month.  That means it’s National Poetry Writing Month.  That means I’m writing a poem a day.  That means I’m participating in a poem-a-day writing challenge.

NaPoWriMo FTW!

NaPoWriMo FTW!

And that means I’m writing a poem a day along with my fellow writers on campus.

Publicly.

As in, where everyone can see.

Yes, those were the sounds of panic you just heard.

Here’s the thing: sometimes, you hear people say that those who can’t do, teach.  Here’s the other thing: that’s totally wrong.  I mean, sure, maybe some people who can’t do teach, but I think there’s a qualifier there: they may teach, but they probably don’t teach well.  And I’m not saying that as a teacher, really — I’m saying that as a student.  I’m saying that as someone who learns, which I will, God willing, always be, teaching or no teaching.

Here, I guess, is the thing I really mean: I learned how to teach from those who taught me, and I praise everything out there that those who taught me taught very, very well.  They taught very, very well because, well, they did.  And they weren’t afraid to let me watch them doing.  My writing teachers wrote with us: if they gave us an exercise in class, their pens were always moving, and they read their drafts when we read our drafts, no matter how terrible or wonderful any of our drafts were.  They read poems and puzzled through poems and thought through problems and they did it all out loud, in front of me.  And from their thinking, I learned how to think.  From their writing, I learned how to write.  And I learned, about writing, about everything, the most important thing: keep doing.  Do and do and do.  Yoda was right: there is no try, there is only do — because trying is its own form of doing.

If there’s one thing I have learned as a teacher, though, it’s that that?  That’s not easy.  Writing along with my students means that I could write something that’s terrible, and reading along with them means letting them know I wrote something terrible, right then and there, before their very eyes.  Sometimes, it’s easier to hide behind the screen, like Oz trapped in a cinderblock room.  Sometimes, it’s easier to pretend like I’m the expert, the all-knowing, and they should listen to me just because I’m in the front of the room.

Easier doesn’t mean better when it comes to most things, teaching included.  When I first started teaching, I was so terrified of doing and failing that I came into class every day with a full script, sometimes one that I’d rehearsed in the bathroom mirror beforehand.  I even wrote out jokes, which, of course, failed, as the classes themselves tended to fail.  I told myself that perhaps my humor was just too awesome for my students to get, but eventually, I had to realize that they just weren’t funny.  They weren’t spontaneous.  They were fake, and rehearsed, as was everything that happened on my end of the classroom — I wasn’t doing anything except reading lines, and when unexpected things (like, say, questions) came from the other

This is how I know my writing's going well.

This is how I know my writing’s going well.

side of the room, I hadn’t rehearsed a response.  I didn’t know what to do.

All right, I’ll say it: my classes sucked.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought so.  Within three weeks of my first semester teaching, my name popped up on The Website That Shall Not Be Named, and there was a nauseously green frowny face next to it.  One student wrote that she would rather jump out of a building than be in the same room with me.  I drove to the gas station up the street, bought a bottle of cheap red wine, and sat on my couch and cried.

Looking back, that comment still has its sting, but most of the sting comes from the fact that I don’t blame her.  I wouldn’t want to be in a room with me either, especially a classroom.  Not long after that, I realized that I couldn’t keep up being a robot in class, even if being a robot was far more comfortable.  I realized that in order to teach, I had to do.  I had to show my students how I think, how I work, how I write.  I had to get comfortable with acting out that process instead of some lame script, and I had to get comfortable with the fact that sometimes, I would falter.  I’d be wrong.  I’d fail.  And I’d recover.  I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable — because what else would I ever want to teach?

Now, I’ve reached the final frontier of discomfort: writing a poem every day and posting it for my students and colleagues — and, well, the Interwebs — to see.  Sometimes, I will falter.  The poems will go wrong.  They’ll fail.  I’ll recover.  And in doing, I’ll do the most important thing: I’ll learn myself and let the language teach me, which is, after all, all I could ever want to teach.

Dear Mr. Coffee

Dear Mr. Coffee,
I have, yet again, felt the terror of your hatred and disdain.

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At this point, it’s all too clear: we have grown apart, and so have our wants and needs.

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It’s over, Mr. Coffee. I wish you the best. And no, we cannot be friends.

Good luck with your future endeavors at the Humane Society Thrift Shop.

Sincerely,
Emma

Rejection: Winter Storm Saturn and AWP Boston

It all started a few months ago, when, during my bi-sometimes-tri-weekly trip to the local Rite Aid, I noticed a sad, rejected little shopping cart.  It seemed to be hiding behind the wall, almost as though it felt embarrassed, almost as though it didn’t want the world to see it in its sad, rejected state.

I call this "It's Still Rejection Even If You Try To Hide It, Cart Outside The Rite Aid."

I call this “It’s Still Rejection Even If You Try To Hide It, Cart Outside The Rite Aid.”

And then, as I drank my refreshing Diet Coke and made my bi-or-tri-weekly post-Rite-Aid trek to the Hobby Lobby, I saw it: they were everywhere.  Sad, rejected carts.  Abandoned half-smoked cigarettes.  Uncapped and half-spilled glitter.  I was surrounded by rejection.

And I continued to be surrounded by rejection, and couldn’t help but document it.  Anything, it seemed, could be rejected, and rejection, it seemed, was everywhere.  There was rejection at the Wal-Mart:

I call this "Rejection: Santa Claus by the Jarred Popcorn, Statesboro Walmart."

I call this “Rejection: Santa Claus by the Jarred Popcorn, Statesboro Wal-Mart.”

There was rejection on campus:

I call this "Rejection Outside of the Newton Building."

I call this “Rejection Outside of the Newton Building.”

There was especially depressing rejection on top of a random mailbox outside the K-Mart:

 

I call this "Rejection with No Further Comment Needed."

I call this “Rejection with No Further Comment Needed.”

There was even rejection at the happiest place on earth:

I call this "Rejection at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds Ring of Fire"

I call this “Rejection at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds Ring of Fire”

Over the past few months, I’ve become quite fond of rejection.  There’s something lovely about the objects that have been left behind, and about the story that led to them being left behind.

Tomorrow, I’ll be moving through our modern world’s greatest bastion of rejection, the airport, on my way to the AWP Conference in Boston.  I realized that there’s really no better place to look for rejection at a gathering of 10,000 writers, so I’m planning to post rejections as I come across them this week.

Get ready for abandoned Moleskines and Chuck Taylors, blogosphere.  Rejection’s about to get real.

Sometimes things are exciting …

… and when things are exciting, dear denizens of the Blogosphere, I like to share them with you.  One of the best things about the Internet, besides the seemingly endless and ever-regenerating number of photographs of cats wearing fruit on their heads and of sloths Photoshopped into the middle of the Crab Nebula, is that the Internet gives us the ability to share in IRL experiences we wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend IRL.  For people like

This is a photograph of me reading.  I'm taking off my reading glasses but it looks like I'm doing something dramatic and meaningful. In fact, forget the part about the reading glasses.  This is a picture of me doing something dramatic and meaningful.

This is a photograph of me reading. I’m taking off my reading glasses but it looks like I’m doing something dramatic and meaningful. In fact, forget the part about the reading glasses. This is a picture of me doing something dramatic and meaningful.

myself, whose bodies periodically refuse to work and who are, let’s face it, always like two and a half at the most seconds away from dressing all in white and living in somebody’s attic (because really, what’s the fun if it’s your own attic?), this is the definition of a blessing, a word that can so often feel insincere and general gives me a queasy case of agita, but which, in this case, absolutely applies.

Another part of The Great Blessing of the Internets (ugh, there’s the agita again) is that it allows people whose bodies periodically refuse to work, perhaps because they’re never much more than two and a half seconds away from Emily Dickinsoning up some unsuspecting nuclear family’s attic, to share with others the times they make appearances In Real Life.  Such is the case with my reading in the Indian Springs School Visiting Writers Series, which you can hear here.

The first reading in the recording isn’t mine, it’s Kate Greenstreet‘s.  If you listen to it, you’ll see why my knees were positively shaking because, seriously, how do you follow that?  You’ll also see why I’d ordered a copy of Young Tambling, her newest collection from Ahsahta Press, before I’d even left the building that evening.  I’ve been hungrily devouring the poems and people, this is one of Those Books — by that, I mean this is a life-changing book, the kind of book that leaves a reader wowed and restless and with a completely new way to look at poetry, books, art, life, everything.  That’s because, in many ways, the book isn’t really a book.  I mean, yes, it is a series of pages with words printed on them sewn together and bound.  But it doesn’t solely exist in that form, in that bound structure.  Greenstreet’s reading shows this: she re-orders the text and the text slips seamlessly into a new narrative, a new sequence of development.  Each re-ordering creates a new story, a new series of images, a new work of art.  Like she writes in the end of the collection, next to an insanely amazing oh my God seriously photograph of this book in a different incarnation, as pages of

This is a photograph of Kate Greenstreet's Young Tambling. It's been Instagrammed because its unfiltered awesomeness would make the Interwebs EXPLODE, and then where would Al Gore, astronaut sloths, and fruit-hatted cats be?

This is a photograph of Kate Greenstreet’s Young Tambling. It’s been Instagrammed because its unfiltered awesomeness would make the Interwebs EXPLODE, and then where would Al Gore, astronaut sloths, and fruit-hatted cats be?

typeset and photographs arranged (and, presumably, re-arranged) on the wall:

Although I was thinking in two-page spreads, at some point I realized that I wasn’t actually (physically) making a book.  I was making a

big rectangular piece of temporary art.

Which is SO RIDICULOUSLY INSANELY AMAZING OH MY GOD I CANNOT EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.  It’s like she’s created a work of code-based electronic poetry without the code.  Which, seriously.  AMAZING.

And there are MORE EXCITING THINGS, the first of which has to do with my actually leaving the house and going to another location, specifically Boston, where I will be talking about writing and working and how those things go together at AWP 2013 (HOLLAH).  I’ll be moderating a panel on the academic job market with three lovely friends and colleagues, Hannah De La Cruz Abrams (you should totally read her book, The Man Who Danced with Dolls, which is so beautiful I can’t even talk about it and is one of the few books I immediately read again after finishing), Sarah Domet (author of 90 Days to Your Novel) and Jared Yates Sexton (author of An End to All Things).  The panel’s called Navigating the Track: The Writer and the Nontenured Position.  It’s at noon on Saturday in Room 104 and should be pretty awesome.  You can find more information about it on the AWP Website, here.  Keep scrolling ’til you find it.  I’ll also be a’signing books at the Toadlily Press Table in the Bookfair on Friday at 11:30 am.  Come and find me and say hello!  I will probably desperately need some coffee too, so if you’d like to bring some my way, that would be great.

See?  EXCITING THINGS.  And God bless Al Gore for inventing the Interwebs so we can all share in them.

The Witches Are Flying Your Way

PEOPLE OF THE INTERNETS!  This message goes out to all ye dwellers of the greater Birmingham, Alabama area, which, I’m pretty sure, now includes approximately 4,242 cities, town, and/or municipalities — or, if ye dwell not in one of the approximately 4,242 cities, towns, and/or municipalities that make up the greater Birmingham, Alabama area and have been itchin’ to take a bitchin’ road trip, this message is also for you.  For lo, soon Emma Bolden will board a plane and take to the skies on her way to her olde stomping groundes, where, on Monday, February 18th, at 7:30 PM, she shall participate in the Rock Awesome Indian Springs School Visiting Writers Series.  It’s free and open to the public, and you can find out more about it here.  She’ll be reading from her book, Malificae, forthcoming in April from GenPop Books.  She’ll also be reading with Kate Greenstreet and trying not to pass out from the sheer awesome of being in the same room with her.  There will be poems.  There will be poems about witches.  There will be awkward jokes and swigs from water bottles.  And there will be KATE GREENSTREET.

Whistle wet?  Here’s some more information about the series:

PEOPLE THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

PEOPLE THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

For a preview of poems from Malificae, you can go here and here.  To hear what these poems sound like when Abraham Smith reads them, go here.  To hear what these poems sound like when Emma reads them, go here.  To pre-order Malificae, go here.  And for a preview of why Emma might pass out from the sheer awesome of being in the same room as Kate Greenstreet, go here and look at everything.  Seriously.  Just be careful and put down a pillow or something for when you pass out.