Enchantment

I had a nice surprise in my email this week. Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor society, will be holding its international convention this coming March in Albuquerque. The theme is “Borderlands and Enchantments.” My wife and I certainly find that New Mexico lives up to its enchanting sobriquet–so much so that we have attended the Taos Writing Workshop in the past, and spent this recent break in Taos and Santa Fe. Brenda was so excited that she got up early and snapped a sunrise among the adobes on Thanksgiving morning. We christened the day “Taosgiving,” and we were indeed thankful to be there!

taos

Taosgiving Sunrise

So the setting for the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta conference is already very appealing. The keynote speakers will be some of the most prominent voices in contemporary Native American and South-Western American literature: Soto, Ortiz, Silko.  Those of you who have taken courses with me in Native American literature, Literature of the West/Great Plains, and Literature Across Borders know that we have explored the words and wisdom of these writers many times over. I’m so excited by the prospects of hearing them in person.

On top of all this, I was extremely pleased to learn that our chapter will be honored at the conference for 85 years of service! As you all know, we have a very active chapter here at CSC (just scroll through some of our earlier blog entries to see examples–of students presenting and attending recent conferences in Savannah and Portland, for example). I know that some of our students will be attending and presenting in Albuquerque as well, and we hope to be there to accept our recognition as an octogenarian chapter! You can find out more about the conference by visiting the Sigma Tau Delta conference page:

http://www.englishconvention.org/sigmatd/conv/index.shtml

AND, as if these items were not enough, when scrolling through some of the conference materials, I happened upon an image of our very own Sarah Labor, who presented at last year’s conference, and who penned an award-winning entry for the conference blog. Check it out:

http://english.org/sigmatd/events/stories/2014/slabor.shtml

I’m so proud of our chapter and of the students who have represented their insights and talents on this prominent and international stage the past few years. The members of Sigma Tau Delta on our campus arrange and bring to fruition a number of wonderful events (chronicled in this blog space!)–and obviously participate on the national/international level–with very little direction or oversight from the faculty sponsors; they do this almost entirely on their own. I’m confident we will continue to have an ENCHANTING group of Sigma Tau Delta students representing our program brilliantly for years and years to come–and look forward to attending the 100th anniversary of our chapter’s inception. (Hey, it’s good to have a goal!)

Thanks!

evertson

Hoping you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving break. The weather for many of us was warm, and I’m sure the family, friends and food gathered around your respective tables was as well.

A couple of poems inspired by the holiday:

Thanks

W. S. Merwin
Listen 
with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
smiling by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us 
our lost feelings we are saying thank you 
with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
of our lives we are saying thank you 
with the words going out like cells of a brain 
with the cities growing over us 
we are saying thank you faster and faster 
with nobody listening we are saying thank you 
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is

(http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/thanks)

And another from Gary Snyder:

Prayer for the Great Family — (after a Mohawk Prayer)

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day–
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave, and aware

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars–and goes yet beyond that–
beyond all powers, and thoughts
and yet is within us–
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife

so be it.

-Gary Snyder

(http://www.myminnesotawoods.umn.edu/2010/01/poem-of-the-month-prayer-for-the-great-family/)

Three Resources for Writers

interested face is interested For those of you interested in the world of creative writing, I have included links to three helpful online resources.

1.  Poets and Writers: http://www.pw.org/

This website features a helpful Tools for Writers page that includes a comprehensive list of literary magazines (both in print and online) for writers to submit there work.

2.The Association of Writers and Writing Programs of America: https://www.awpwriter.org/

AWP is the largest organization of creative writers in America. Among this websites many features is list of upcoming contests for writers to submit their work.

3 The Review Review: http://www.thereviewreview.net/

Here is how the editor of The Review Review, Becky Tuch, describes her website:”How could we expect lit mags to care about our work, when we don’t care about theirs? Why would anyone make time or pay money for our stories if we are unwilling to take a lit mag on our morning commute or shell out the twenty bucks a year for a subscription?

With over 2,000 print and online journals, however, it can be hard to know where to begin.

So I decided to make this website. Here, writers can get a deeper sense of the journals by reading reviews of the latest issues. This is not intended as a substitute for the actual journals, but merely a way to guide writers toward the journals that most interest them.”

If you are interested in publishing your work, entering a contest, or simply want to read the best work being produced in creative writing, these are three great places to begin your journey.

Bitter Taste of Home

Among the techniques we focus on in our creative writing exercises are character and setting. The piece below, excerpted from a longer story, makes strong use of both.

Bitter Taste of Home 

By Casandra Elder

The engine choked as Gabby sat in the warm, black sedan parked out in front of 123 Applepie Street. She sat there looking at the red brick that formed her childhood home. She hadn’t seen it in nearly four years and wasn’t shocked to see that the only difference was that the evergreen tree, on the corner of the lot, had grown ever so slightly. There was that and there seemed to be more moss roses growing along the side of the house creating a ground of bright flowers and dark green webs.

The rain had just begun to settle in. The front porch was still a light gray made of concrete compared to the sidewalk that led up to the house. Gabby knew that it would only take a strong wind from the north and her mother’s porch would become that ash gray color imitating the sidewalk and street below. It was still early morning. She knew that inside only one person would be awake. She glanced down the street and over to her left to see if her other siblings had made it home yet.

Gabby looked at the green clock that was shining brightly and knew that she had better make it inside before the rain continued to get worse and before anyone else from this shitty little town got a glance at her. She really couldn’t say it was that shitty, but it was nothing in comparison to New York. She had been gone for only two days and was missing the sound of a siren going off and her neighbor’s television blaring too loudly every night as the four small children gathered around it to watch a movie.

She reached behind her and grabbed her small carry-on bag, opened the door and felt the cold air push up against her exposed skin. Little goose bumps had begun to form and she couldn’t help the slight shake that ran down the spine of her back.

“It’s a little cold out this morning isn’t it?”

Dang! I have been caught. Wait, by who? It can’t be… Oh GOD it is. It’s really him. Why? Maybe he won’t recognize me. “It is a little.”

Roy had closed the gap between their two childhood homes in about six strides. He never missed a beat as he opened up the back door to her sedan and pulled out the remaining luggage. Standing and gaping with her mouth open, Gabby felt in her heart that she never should have come back. She should have just sent Ben a large enough check to get him through his first year of rent and hoped that he would have understood.

Roy was standing at the front door now and Gabby had just taken the first of five steps that lead onto the porch. Her black silk shirt was slightly damp and the bottom of her jeans were completely soaked.

“It’s not supposed to rain all weekend, is it?” She was really hoping this rain wouldn’t last her entire trip. She wanted to spend a day out in the pasture doing nothing but staring up at the sky and watching the clouds form into funny shapes, drift apart and form into a new shape.

She moved to New York four days before the wedding because she didn’t want to feel trapped in this town. She no longer yearned for the dream to become another rancher’s wife. She wanted the freedom to do what she liked when she liked. She couldn’t do that in Springs. No one did that in Springs.

Gabby glanced around and began to wonder if everyone in Springs would be able to forgive her and her past actions. She glanced around and figured she would start with the one person that would take the longest to forgive her. She entered the house and went into the kitchen and found two black coffee cups. She poured the hot liquid, added vanilla flavoring into one and stirred it so the color of the coffee was no longer a welcoming black but a soft brown color. She grabbed both cups and walked into the master bathroom. She heard the water click off and saw a delicate hand with a few wrinkles in it grab the towel that hung just outside of the shower. A few moments passed by.

The next words that came out of Gabby’s mouth began to choke her and tears started to pour over her eyelids. She felt that she was the one just getting out of the shower and wished that someone would open up another door or window so the steam wouldn’t feel like it was suffocating her.

“Hi, Mom.” She finally got the words to come out barely above a whisper and felt the cold air rush over her. Both doors were still closed and the master bathroom didn’t have a window in it. Wherever the cold air came from, Gabby was thankful for it.

Her mother took the cup that Gabby was extending out to her and drank a sip before walking into the master bedroom, shutting the door between them. It was a start of forgiveness. A very small start. Gabby took a sip of the dark liquid that filled her cup. It tasted like she remembered. Bitter. Bitter was what this vocation was going to be like.

GRAPE TOOTSIE POPS

In my Creative Writing: Fiction class we often talk about how syntax (the way we form our sentences) can help create voice. The story below–written by one of the students in this class–is a good illustration of what can be accomplished with syntax.

GRAPE TOOTSIE POPS

by Jessica Thiele

Kneeling at the dark casket and folding my hands.  St. Theresa’s, eerie with the lights dimmed and glinting through the stained glass windows, the ghostly silhouette of the Virgin Mary casting a foreboding presence over all of us with outstretched hands and wide, haunted-yet-innocent, all-knowing eyes.  Mama tickling my ear with a soft whisper–“You can say a little prayer, if you want to.”

Touching the cold, clammy hands.  Not wanting to, but being curious and mortified all at the same time.  Daddy standing over the body with his head bowed, thinking I saw a tear fall as he deeply sighed.  I’d only seen my daddy cry once, ever.  I didn’t want to see him cry again.  It twisted me somewhere deep inside.  Don’t cry, Daddy.  Please don’t cry.

Great-Uncle Paul had been the one lying motionless in the casket.  Daddy’s uncle, Grandpa Louis’s little brother.  He had been in the old person’s home in Tilden for some years.  After he’d suffered what Mama and Daddy called a stroke, he had never been quite right in the head again.  I hadn’t understood why I felt sad, because I’d never really known Great-Uncle Paul all that well.  It was just that he had been a real person, and I remembered him talking to me when I was little.  He had lived on Grandpa’s farm in Clearwater, in a little trailer house north of Grandma and Grandpa’s house before he’d had to move to Tilden.

Cousin Katelyn and sister Shaely.  Holding Katelyn’s hand.  Great-Uncle Paul sitting on his blue Honda four-wheeler by the garage.  Him talking, in such a strange way I didn’t know what he was saying, but he always had that little grin on his kind face.  Him reaching out his chapped, knobby, work worn hands and plopping Oreos, rock hard and cold from Grandma’s freezer, in our outstretched hands, or ceremoniously handing us white-sticked tootsie pops–all flavors, but the ones I remember most were grape–wrapped in the same blue as his four-wheeler.

Grandma’s house the day of the funeral.  A girl I’d never seen being there to babysit all us kids.  Playing on Grandma’s front lawn, framed by the brick house and an overcast sky.  Sweet Williams along the lane blushing purple with little flecks of yellow in the centers.  Sitting in a circle on the lawn.  Holding a little cousin.  And then, the cars!  Oh, the cars going by on their way to the cemetery north of town!  So many, many cars!  All the cousins and me waving to all those cars.  A fun endeavor.  Then…the maroon Buick Lesabre slowing and coming to a stop.  Right in the middle of the highway.  Right in the middle of the procession of cars.  Realizing it was Grandma and Grandpa’s car. The back door flying opening.  Uncle Danny yelling at us to go inside.  Trailing the babysitter back into the house, a feeling of ashamedness inside us all, without knowing of what to be ashamed.

To this day, the memory boils inside me and makes me flush with anger.  We were only little kids, ten and eleven years old.  Why couldn’t we wave at the cars?  Some of the people waved back.  It probably cheered them up and made them stop crying.  I don’t understand why Uncle Danny got so angry, only maybe he was so sad he couldn’t help it.

Today, as I walk the well-worn dirt paths around Grandma and Grandpa’s farm tramped down by tractors, four-wheelers, and Chevy pickups, I look toward the chute where so many cattle have been loaded and unloaded.  I remember.  Playing mailman with Grandma.  Sister Shaely and I inside.  Rap, rap, rap at the little door.  Who could it be?  We open the door with a little creeeeaaak.  Grandma!  The mailman.  Bringing bills, milk, whatever we needed.

I pause in my tracks.  Would Grandma go away like great-uncle Paul had?  Would Grandma be lying in a dark casket?  Would I reach out and touch Grandma’s cold, clammy hands?  I shudder.  I suppose Grandma will go away, someday, but she once told me, “Don’t cry when I die; I’ll be with Jesus.”

Maybe then I’ll have my own daughter.  Maybe then she’ll kneel at the dark casket and fold her hands.  Maybe then I’ll tickle her ear with a soft whisper–“You can say a little prayer, if you want to.”

Having a Coke

Having a Coke with You

by Frank O’Hara

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it