Thesis Break-Through!

Goodness, goodness. So I met with Mady today to go over how I had attempted to organize my thesis. Wow! She really opened up my eyes and came at the organizing of it with method that really made sense to me. I had everything as I explained in the previous post, and although some of that ordering made sense, she was able to see that there are four clear sections or movements of the text. Because of this, it didn’t make sense to have the lover poems at the beginning of the book because the first section was about a certain way of seeing/being a child. Therefore, I am going to take her advice and arrange the poems according to her method, which really just moved some things around, and separated the movements–but the basic trajectory I was trying to get at still stands to an extent. So I am glad that I wasn’t completely off the mark. It also meant that it’s time for me to eliminate certain poems that just don’t have as much power, weight, movement, etc. Thankfully, these are the poems that I wasn’t feeling super strongly about, so they just don’t need to be in there. Meeting with her today really opened up my understanding of my work as a collection and I think will bring the work into a much more readable space as a whole. Which is obviously the goal since I want to get the book published. So, thank you, Mady for helping me when I really needed it! I knew her sense of narrative would really bring light to the ordering of my poems. 

Feeling like I know what the next step is before I turn the work in for my rough draft, as well as to upcoming first book contests.



Thesis Business

It’s that time of year, when second year writing MFAs have to get their shit together and complete their theses. Well, I have to say that mine is going well. The rough draft is due in a couple of weeks and I feel that I have a solid manuscript to turn in to my mentor. I have finally put the poems into a working order, which is actually really difficult (and I’ll explain in a bit), and have submitted it to my second reader/ other mentor for her opinion on it holistically before I officially turn in the rough draft. 

There are various ways to order a poetry manuscript: thematically, temporally, narratively, etc. I have chosen to go with a narrative construction because of the nature of the work. It’s not a collection of disparate poems, as many MFA theses are, but rather, it is trying to be a cohesive book. One that tells a story, which is that of a girl coming of age–in the physical sense and perceptually, intellectually, spiritually, romantically. All that. 

My process for creating the order went like this: put poems of a similar subject or theme into piles. So the piles looked like: Grandmother poems, lover poems, mom poems, dad poems, childhood poems, pubescent poems/awakening poems, adult poems. Within each pile I put them in chronological order. The largest piles were the grandmother and the lover poems, respectively. Then I began putting them together. Since there are so many lover poems, I didn’t want to only put them toward the second half since that would make sense chronologically because I thought it would backload the book and weigh it down. So, from the start, the childhood narrative (including that of the interactions with the grandmother) run parallel to the lover relationships. So there are kind of 3 arcs all happening at once in the book: the arc of the relationship with the grandmother, from my childhood and on past when my grandmother dies, the arc of my/the speaker’s life from childhood to adulthood, and the arc of the romantic relationships, from being younger and stupider and more willing to tolerate bad men, to now, with my sweet boyfriend. Phew–does that make sense? I hope so. We’ll see what my second reader says. Hopefully she can help me shuffle them around if it isn’t working. 

I didn’t think sections worked for this book–I also didn’t want to clump stuff together just because it dealt with the same issue–I thought the work would be more resonant if it built an arc so that things you learn early on reflect and refract in the later half of the book. 

I also have written a couple of new poems in the last few weeks, ones that I hope round the book out a bit. I still think there is one or two more to write, definitely one for the end. I also have several poems I need to go back and overhaul massively. I like the new stuff I’ve written though. It feels different to me. In a good way. Turned it in for workshop–so we’ll see what kind of feedback I get on it. I think that’s going to be my last major workshop of the year–wow–that’s crazy. 

Off to clean my room–looks like a tornado came through!

CalArts MFA Writing Program Thesis Reading Schedule

From the Calarts 24700 Blog:

The School of Critical Studies’ MFA Writing Program Thesis Reading Series begins tonight (Feb. 23) at 7:30 pm in the Butler Building at CalArts, with readings from Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle (Critical Studies MFA 12) and Gina Caciolo (Critical Studies MFA 12).

Thesis readings continue on Thursday evenings through the end of spring semester, including an alumni reading panel on April 12. The series culminates in a showcase of works from the graduating MFA class at REDCAT on Sunday, May 13.

Spring 2012 MFA Writing Program Thesis Reading Schedule

All events are located in the Butler Building except where noted:

Feb. 23, 7:30 pm – Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Gina Caciolo
March 8, 7:15 pm – Byron Alexander Campbell, Evan Chavez, Melinda Morelli
March 15, 7:15 pm – Jill Foster, Justus Caudell, Sonal Malkani
March 22, 7:15 pm – Rachel Kolb, Tracy Rosenthal, Marlene Nichols
April 5, 7:15 pm – Michael Molitch-Hou, Nancy Romero
April 12, 7 pm – Alumni panel: Janice Lee, Mathew Timmons, Sam Benjamin, Grace Krilanovich at Butler Building #4
April 19, 7:15 pm – Denise Li, Ebony Williams, Nijla Mumin
April 26, 7:15 pm – Heatherlie Allison, Patricia Cram at the Coffee House Theatre
May 3, 7:15 pm – Seth Blake, Oscar Moralde, Chelsea Trescott
May 10, 7:15 pm – Zoe Etkin, Tiffanie Hoang, Lan Pham !!!
May 13, 7 pm – Showcase: all graduating class read at REDCAT

Be there!! For at least mine! :p

In Wonderland: Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists at LACMA

Happy Mardi Gras, all! It’s been many years since I lived in New Orleans, but I’ve always loved the holiday since I was little. At my Montessori school in Memphis, TN, each year we put on our own parade, built floats, dressed up, ate King Cake. It was a lot of fun. Then I lived in NOLA for a semester in college and got to go to the first post-Katrina Mardi Gras. Was really interesting. But that’s a story for a different day.

Los Angeles is a town full of museums: The Getty, The Hammer, MOCA… but one of my very favorites is LACMA (LA County Museum of Art). They have a great permanent collection of classical and contemporary art, and always have interesting special exhibitions. This season’s is called In Wonderland: Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists. The main draw, for myself included, is the Frida Kahlo paintings. Frida is the patron saint of my family. Since childhood images of her, her work, Diego’s work, have graced the walls of my home (usually in the form of postcards or tin folk art). For Historical Halloween the first year of attending Montessori school, I dressed up as Frida. My hair up, flowered, my real little-girl-unibrow darkened, flouncy skirt and monkey on my shoulder to boot! I grew up with many artists represented in my home, both famous and local, but Frida was always most prevalent. Our home decor pulled a lot of inspiration from Mexico anyway. Retablos, sugar skulls, paper flowers, chile lights all around.

Sadly though, I had, until this weekend, never stood before Frida’s actual paintings. The exhibit was packed with people. Many taking photographs of the work, which I find obnoxious. It was hard to get close to the paintings, which I like to do to see the brush strokes up close. Some of her most famous works were there. Many were smaller than I had previously thought. They still had great impact on me. But it wasn’t until I walked into the room containing the massive Las Dos Fridas painting that I teared up. I felt overwhelmed by the work, and I felt like I was finally with her a little bit. These were the images I grew up with, cherished, wrote poems about, and here they were. The buzz of the crowd was distracting, and I didn’t want to make my boyfriend stand around all day, so I didn’t take as much time as I would have liked with each piece. Perhaps toward the end of the exhibition run I’ll go back alone and take more time to soak the pieces in.

The work was so beautiful, so comforting, and I feel blessed to have seen it. Someday I hope that I can go to Mexico to see her house. I want to take my mother there–Frida means a great deal to her too.


So I sent that work out last night… and got an email this morning from Deep South Magazine saying that they will accept my poem “Waking Up” in the April issue, which is also the National Poetry Month issue! Wow! I’m so excited.

Submitting to Literary Magazines

Every so often I send work to literary magazines. I get a lot of rejections, but sometimes I get a poem or two accepted. Last year I started seriously submitting my work. I sent the same (give or take) batch of poems to around 50 journals. I don’t recommend this strategy. Now I send things to maybe 1, 3 or 5 journals at a time. This is much more manageable. Tonight I sent work to a few magazine that had previously rejected me but asked me to resubmit. This is a good strategy. You can personalize your cover letter by saying something like, “Thank you (name of editor), for your encouraging words last time I submitted. I hope you’ll enjoy this new work.” That lets them know that you care that they took the time to be encouraging. I don’t know if anyone will be interested in my new work, but trying is important.

I’m waiting until school ends (in May) to submit my entire manuscript to first book contests. That means the ones that are accepting work now will have to wait until next year. But that’s okay because I want this semester to refine the book with Amy and really get it ready for publishing. At the moment, it isn’t ready, so I don’t want to waste my time or money on contests. After May I will begin the process and hope to all the gods that someone will like my work and think it worthy of publishing.

Submitting work is no easy task. It takes time to find journals that you think are appropriate for your work, to collate the best poems, and follow all the guidelines. But the feeling you get when an editor tells you they love your work and want to publish it has no equal.


Upcoming Readings

As this is my final semester at CalArts, there are various events coming up where, if you wish, you can hear my work read…aloud!

The CalArts MFA program encourages us to read off campus, to expand our audience to the greater Los Angeles community, therefore we host 4 off campus readings. I am curating and reading at the first venue: Mandrake Bar in Culver City, CA. There will be three events proceeding this one; the locations are: Skylight Bookstore, Pop Hop, and China Town.

Secondly, but most importantly is my Thesis Reading. At this event, I and two friends/classmates (Tiffanie and Lan–excellent writers) read larger excerpts from our theses. Each will read for about 20-30 minutes, then answer questions asked by our mentor, then answer questions asked by the audience. Afterward we will have a lovely reception. This reading takes place at CalArts in our dear Butler Building (home of the MFA writing program). This event is open to the public.

Lastly, the CalArts MFA writing program hosts a culminating event for its graduating students: the Next Words Showcase. This event takes place at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. REDCAT stands for Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theatre. REDCAT is a black box theatre and gallery space attached to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. This venue not only hosts CalArts events, but also many well known artists, writers and performers of various forms. We are lucky to be able to read at this space!

Here are the details…

Next Words
Mandrake Bar
2692 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Sunday, March 18th, 8pm

Thesis Reading
California Institute of the Arts
24700 McBean Parkway
Valencia, CA 91355
Thursday, May 10th, 7pm

Next Words Showcase
631 West 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Sunday, May 13th, 7pm (I think!)

Hope you will be able to join me for these important events!

Revision Pangs: The Ouch-ness of the Revision Process

Last friday I had to turn in some new poems to my poetry class. I’m taking poetry this semester with poet Amy Gerstler, who is a visiting professor while Maggie Nelson is away on leave. Not only is Amy my poetry professor this semester, but also my mentor, as Maggie was before her leave. Although I miss Maggie’s guidance greatly, Amy will bring a new perspective to my work. She is also really plugged in to the contemporary poetry publishing scene, from what I understand. I sent her the entirety of my thesis and we are going to discuss it one-on-one this Friday, after class. I feel a little overwhelmed by my thesis at this point–it feels unruly, a mess.

I think it feels that way because I know it is in need of revision. Revision is so very difficult and can be one of the most excruciating aspects of my writing process. I got some strong feedback the other week on a poem previously titled “Pulsar.” The poem needed radical revision, which felt disappointing while in the workshop because I was feeling like I was on a roll, really getting some good work done. Sometimes workshops can stymy me. Actually, they usually do. I am left with all of this information about how my poems aren’t working. People ask for things I don’t feel capable of doing. Etc. However, I set myself the task the other day of revising “Pulsar,” now tentatively titled, “Waking Up.” I moved some lines around, cut some things, wrote some new lines. Hopefully the work has improved, at least somewhat. We’ll see what they say in class on Friday. I hope the workshop will be fruitful.

I keep wanting to write more poems. If one poem fails, rather than revise it I have this impulse to just try and write a better one next time. That’s great in a way because it keeps me going with writing new work, but makes it hard when I need to go back and work on the older poems. And many of the older poems are worth revising. I think it’s just something that I’ll get better at with time.

Goodnight for now…

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!


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.