Anne Carson in Hollywood, Forever

Last night Anne Carson read at the Masonic Temple on the grounds of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The event was promoted as a reading for her latest work, Nox, but she read from several other works. Although I’d have liked to hear more from Nox, the reading did not disappoint. She started off with an essay that was lyric, meditative and eerie. Then she read some sonnets, some of her Short Talks, and a script from a talk show she’s created, then she read from Nox. The script was hilarious. The talk show host’s name is Crap and he is interviewing Helen of Troy. Helen, in the interview, calls Homer a “fuckfox,” which really made me giggle. Her work interests me in its ability to balance in both a mythic space and a contemporary, often snarky or funny space.

What a pleasure to spend an evening in her presence, in the beautiful hall of the Masonic Temple, on the un-spooky, palm tree-laden grounds of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Glad also to have gone with my friend Lan, another writer in my MFA program. She was a lovely date.

Many people don’t think of Los Angeles as having much of a literary community, that the “writers” in LA are all screen writers, hoping to make it big in the business. I am happy to say, that despite the half truth in that, that there is a thriving literary community here. We often have wonderful writers visiting town (last year W.S. Merwin did a reading at USC, which I was unable to attend, but at least he was here!). Certainly my MFA program attempts to bring in good people with their Visiting Artist programming. Last semester actually had some lovely visitors: Ariana Reines, Allison Hedge-Coke and Kate Zambreno. Sometimes I do wish there were a few bigger-named contemporary poets visiting. I wish I could afford to bring Dana Levin (my undegrad poetry mentor), Michael Dickman, Matthew Dickman and Matthew Zapruder (to name but a few). Perhaps they’ll roll through town of their own accord some day in the near future.

But for now I will be satisfied, indeed thrilled, with Anne’s reading last night. She is one of the best writers of our time, and I am fortunate to have heard her, met her and received her autograph in my copy of Nox!

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Teaching

Today was my first day back teaching at CalArts. Last semester I had 14 students in my Writing Arts section, but this semester I only have 6! Today I broke the ice by having everyone fill out surveys that asked silly questions, then we did some in-class writing. It was a little goofy, but got them talking. They’re very spirited and fun, so I think it’ll be a good semester, despite the small size of the class. In fact, that might be a good thing.

Writing Arts is an interesting class that CalArts has for BFA1 students. It is an English comp class but works a bit differently than other schools. We focus on three topics during the semester: Technology, Capital and Identity. The students read mostly critical texts (although toward the end they do examine some films and creative writing) and craft different types of papers for each unit. The professor lectures for one hour and then the TAs teach for two hours the next morning. We focus on helping the students digest the readings, as well as work on different elements of craft. We grade all their work, give them feedback, and get to know them on an individualized level. It’s a really cool job and great experience for those of us who want to continue to be educators post-graduation.

Although I already have a lot of experience teaching, I am feeling like in order to teach in CA I will need to eventually obtain a CA teaching credential. However, for the moment, I am hoping to get a tutoring job or teaching assistant job for the fall. I’ve been applying like mad, have gotten a few interviews, but so far nothing. I am waiting to hear back from Teach From America–which would be a wonderful opportunity, as well as some private schools around the city.

I really love teaching. It’s the only type of job I’ve had that I’ve enjoyed going to work for. Someday, one dream of mine is to open my own little school house. But for now, working at a school in LA would be great. Maybe in the next year or two I will apply to UCLA for their teaching credential program.

I’d also really like to train to be a doula. This is just an idea I have, but a friend and I are thinking about signing up for it in the summer. Being a doula would be amazing. Helping babies into the world is such an important job, and so many are born in situations that are not nurturing. I don’t mean the parents, I mean the place of their birth. So that is something I am considering as well. I do have very strong feelings about birth, parenting, medical intervention and women’s health. I’d like to be able to contribute my ideas and knowledge in a public setting. One of my life-long friends is a doula, among other cool things, and she really loves it. She said she’d long-distance mentor me.

Basically, I just want to do work that is good, that contributes to society in a positive way. I am wholeheartedly committed to being an educator and working with children. Before we can worry about anything in this country, we need to make education a priority. Sadly, it is not, and I think that is why there is so much craziness going on. That, and greed. But that’s for another blog…

So long as I can spend my time teaching kids, helping babies into the world, writing poetry, someday being a mother, I think I will be happy and fulfilled.

My Writing Process

Since last time I wrote, I got an idea for a poem. Max was reading online about girls called Kumari in Nepal who are considered living goddesses. To ensure these young girls are truly the earthly form of Durga, they are put through frightening tests. The one who emerges from the tests without fear is the Kumari. She lives as this goddess until she has her first period–where the goddess leaves her body and she is mortal again. One of the tests is that she must sleep in a room filled with severed goat and buffalo heads with candles all around.

I thought immediately that this would make an interesting poem. Right now I’m just thinking about the information I have gathered. The form or story of the poem hasn’t quite emerged yet, although I have some images I want to use. I want to turn the Kumari into a more personal narrative–tying in some imagery that carries through the entire collection of poems. Sometimes poems flow easily from a place that I can’t quite explain (as “Pulsar” did the other night), but other times I really have to sit with some ideas/concepts/images a while before they can become a poem. So for now my “Kumari Devi” poem is just a collection of note-fragments.

Sometimes I only think of little one liners, or fragments, or stanzas that don’t belong anywhere yet. I keep those at the end of my thesis document under the title “Junk Drawer.” Every once in a while I go through the junk drawer and throw things out, but I usually let these fragments sit a while. If I am writing, I’ll go back to the junk drawer to see if anything calls out to me. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. But I do like having a place for all of my ideas that don’t connect yet. I wonder how other writers approach these fragments.

Hmph. Back to watching Ancient Aliens.

Thank god school starts next week!

Writing is a Struggle

For me, writing is often a struggle. I write essays with the greatest of ease, but poems require work. I’m almost through with winter break but must admit I’ve not done anything toward my thesis until today. I think that was okay, but I do wish I had a bit more to show from an entire month off. I have 58 pages toward my final manuscript. Mind you, not all of these pages are polished, but I’ll work on that this semester. Shining it all up. Not too shiny, of course.

This evening though, after Max went home, I decided to return to Michael Dickman’s Flies. His work always compels me to write. When I return to books of poetry, it is for instruction. I allow the poems to teach me. If a book does not compel me in this way, then I probably won’t return to it. But really any reading can stimulating the poetic part of my brain, which is really all of it. I think that might be what distinguishes poets from writers. The poetic brain. To a poet, poetry is everywhere. It’s a way of understanding, of seeing. Certainly writers can write poems, anyone can (doesn’t mean they should! haha), but I don’t think they work in the same way as when poets write poetry. Poets can certainly write in other forms–but they, we, I think, always bring that poetic brain to the writing. Whereas writers always bring their writerly brains to the poetry–which often doesn’t translate in my mind. There is just something in the poetic brain that intuits language, music, form in ways that I have not seen in poetry written by writers. Perhaps this is the rant of a madwoman, but this is how I tend to feel–particularly when I read what certain writers want to pass off as poetry in the MFA. That’s not to say that some walking around calling themselves poets aren’t as off as the others.

Oh, the MFA. I read so many disparaging blogs about MFA writing programs. I find many points to be valid, but hope that it isn’t all true. Yes, many generic writers are being produced… Yes, it’s a pyramid scheme in a way… Yes, many writers come through MFA programs thinking they are the shit only to be completely wrecked in the real world. But some of us might actually have what it takes. Very few. But I am hopeful for those of us who work hard and really do produce good work. Yes, I include myself.

Yawn… more later.

Goodnight.

 

 

Oops!

Not that anyone on earth reads this blog… but I have some good news to report. 

Two more poems of mine have been published. “The Dialogue” and “The Dialogue II” are now available to be read in both print and online versions of Burning Word. 

Here is the link to them: http://burningword.com/2012/01/zoe-etkin/

It’s really nice that they seem to like my work so much. Enough at least to publish me twice in a decently short amount of time. 

Hm… what else is new… well in a week and some I will be completing my last semester of graduate school at CalArts. That’s kind of a mind blower. I have worked pretty hard on my thesis–and it’s paying off with publishing–and I feel like it is in a good place. This semester I want to get it in shape to start sending out for first book prizes. Even though I do feel a sense of accomplishment, in terms of how much work I’ve done, I still have the typical bipolar [using this term liberally] writer syndrome of loving and hating my work. It’s probably just lack of confidence. But at the same time, I’d rather be self-loathing about my work and try and make it better, than being complacent thinking it’s perfect. I do what I can. Writing is hard. My mentor, Maggie, is going on maternity leave this last semester. That will change things, certainly, not having her around. But our visiting professor, poet Amy Gerstler, is taking on the role of mentor and I think she’ll have a lot to offer. She’s very in touch with the contemporary poetry that’s being published and just edited an anthology last year. I want to work with her to structure my book. It’s kind of a mess in that regard. How to arrange it. How to shape the narrative. I’m a little bit surprised I wrote narratively driven poems. Not every single one is narrative, but they collectively build to one. I think that’s good though–to start with something cohesive. Maggie told me that so many first poetry books are sort of “here’s the best of what I wrote in the past x years.” Almost like a portfolio rather than a book. I hope it gives me some kind of edge to have something that is really, cohesive isn’t the right word, something really knit. 

Last semester was interesting. Learned a whole lot from being a TA. Next week I need to go over my materials and rethink my syllabus a little for the coming semester. A few things need tweaking and some need a complete overhaul. 

I’m trying to get a job line up for next fall. Teaching. I’m asking around at private schools. I’m more interested in teaching at that level right now than doing the adjunct thing. I’m not sure what made me come to this decision. I guess I want something more fixed–but don’t we all. I’m just sending my energy out there, hoping something positive will come as a result. If all else fails, I can always be a tutor. Sigh. But I really don’t want to do that. I want to teach. I like teaching. I’m good at it. I have a good CV–good experience. California is hard though. I’d have an easier chance if I had a teaching credential. Too late to sign up for one of those programs for fall but maybe the next year after that. I’m such a planner. It’s hard for me to go with the flow. I want to know what my next move is because I know what it is like to flounder after you finish a program. That year after undergrad was brutal–but it taught me a lot. And that’s why I am trying to be proactive about this coming fall. 

Some goals before the semester starts:

1. Get the first issue of my lit mag Red Sky DONE and ready for eyes

2. Rework my TA syllabus

3. Write a syllabus/course proposal for CalArts (Southern Lit course)

4. Continue to go hiking

5. Go to yoga and boot camp class

6. Write something

I guess I am writing something now. But I’ve been having an odd craving to write fiction–or maybe prose poems. Just something different, not for my thesis. I just keep distracting myself though. I’ll get there–maybe. We’ll see what kind of writing the new semester brings. I hope I can cultivate a better writing practice because when school ends I don’t want my writing to dry up as it did after undergrad. People seem to think I am good at this thing so I want to make the most of my talent. 

Well, that’s all for now.