November 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Last night I attended a poetry workshop at the Neutral Zone at 310 Washington. For those who don’t know, the Neutral Zone is a youth-driven center dedicated to personal growth through artistic expression and exchange of ideas. Students can get help with homework, create in workshops, and I don’t even know what else yet. I dropped in on a poetry workshop. High school kids chilled on bean bag chairs in a large circle with notebooks and the college senior leader gave the following quick prompts:
1. Jot down a sentence or two about a situation in your life in which you were speechless.
2. A time when you experienced an emotion that why impossible for you to describe.
3. A time when you tried to explain something to someone but no matter what you said, they did not understand.
Then she handed out a list of “untranslatable” words as well as two poems. These were some of the words on the list I received (each was different):
Fika (Swedish)—Relaxed social event involving coffee and pastries.
Hanyauku (Kwangali)—The act of walking on tiptoes across warm sand
Istories me Arkoudes (Greek)—Literally “stories with bears,” narrated events wich are too far fetched to be true.
Komorebi (Japanese)—Dappled sunlight through trees.
Neidbau (German)—A building constructed with the sole purpose of inconveniencing a neighbor in some way.
Poshlost (Russian)—Self-satisfied vulgarity masquerading as high morality.
Qualunquismo (Italian)—Apathy towards politics.
Uitwaaien (Dutch)—Literally “to walk in the wind,” to take a brief break to clear one’s head.
Waldeinsamkeit (German)—Feeling of being peacefully alone in the woods.
Yuanfen (Mandarin)—Binding force that eventually brings two people together in love.
Here are the two poems. The second poem is by A. Van Jordan (from M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A) and the first I did not catch the author of. I did not find her on Google, either (because I know that is what you were about to do or suggest I do.)
Seeing the Wind
When I get to the finish line, and God is just a herring, a mute with black eyes,
I will not have to offer what I had to offer in my life. I will not be able to give
the creature my award-winning books of poetry, for the fish cannot read
nor does the fish care to learn. The fish will not want my out-of-tune piano
ballads, nor the insense I burned each night in honor of who I thought he
or she was. Instead, he will ask me for all the words I don’t know.
“What? I…don’t know…” I’ll say, disliking this wet riddle at the end of all that
busyness and worry. This is what that giant waiting room was all about? I’d think,
studying the wordless gaping of his fish mouth, open and closed, pendulous
with emptiness. It expects only the unexpected. It explains nothing,
which is all there is to explain. Then the test would begin.
I’d say, “To touch someone lightly with one finger in order to tease them.
To scramble for something that has been thrown. To become stiff from sitting
in the same position for too long. To dodge the rain by moving quickly.
To swim with the hands only. To search for a thing below dark water.
To keep bending forward and then straightening out while climbing a hill.
To favor one parent. To walk along the water searching for something with your feet.
To walk in windy weather for fun. The truth that all know but no one talks about.
The forgotten bicycle. The broken piece of a key left in the lock. The bell
with no tongue. One who talks until her tongue aches. One who laughs
in her sleep. A face that cries out for a fist in it. To cut one’s nails too short.
To not in understanding while not understanding. Open signs left in shops
with the lights out. Arguments that can only be solved by dancing. Hunger
from sleeplessness. Hunger from sleeping too long. To philosophize oneself
into the madhouse. To find music in ordinary language. Obsession with whales.
Obsession with the way everything looks at night. Obsession with shared
quiet. The jokes heard in sleep. Seeing the wind as a friend. Seeing the wind.”
The herring will be astounded. It has met other humans before; in fact,
every other human to have bit the dark has met this fish. Nonetheless,
every human, in their own distinct mossy mess, astounds the herring. Its gills will
flex and this time it will study me—a souvenir from a life of wordless moments.
It will tumble forth from its fish mouth a planetary silence.
So this is where it ends, my friends.
With all we knew we did not know.
With empty hands, sharing.
And this is the A. Van Jordan poem:
In-cho-ate adj. Only begun or entered upon; incipient. As when ribbons of light peer through inchoate air, before the thought of loss or love came into focus, as when the first glance of a stranger brushes over you, and, for that breath of time, you wonder if time has double-crossed you; you wonder if this could be the start of a new ending, or if this look—this probe up your spine, this eye on your leg, neck, lips, hair—could come from a ghost of someone—someone, mind you, who you thought you deserved; someone, mind you, who taught you how not to live—whose hands opens like your mouth once did while saying, with innocence, Yes. over and over again.
Then the students were asked to follow Jordan’s model and come up with a word to describe one of their three moments and write some sort of poem describing the word using that experience.
Out of gangly, dirty, awkward or overcompensating high school kids sniffling with colds and trading stolen shoes before they came into the center I heard some of the most amazing poetry. Capturing a simple, single moment and opening it up to see how deep it really goes can be an incredible thing to write.
September 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
There has hardly been a better time to be an English major at the University of Michigan. I would almost say never, but considering that writers like Robert Frost, Charles Baxter, and Lois Lowry have graced our halls over the years, it’s hard to tell. What I do know, however, is that this year we have the good fortune of having not only brilliant and prestigious professors, but also a vast number of student groups and public readings, and two large scale writing-centric events. Here, in no particular order, are five reasons why it’s great to be a part of the English community this year:
- Quality & Renown of our faculty–Professors include novelists Peter Ho Davies, V.V. Ganeshananthan, and Michael Byers, plus poets Cody Walker and Linda Gregerson. That doesn’t even cover the many other excellent English professors here, like Ralph Williams, who came of retirement to continue teaching (if you haven’t taken a class with him, I highly recommend it).
- Public Readings-The University has three great events’ series: the Zell Visiting Writers Series, Mark Webster Reading Series, and the J. Edgar Edwards Reading Series. The Zell Visiting Writers Series has authors come almost every Thursday at 5:10 to give a reading in the Art Museum. This year’s roster includes guests such as David Mitchell and Terrance Hayes. The Mark Webster Reading Series features MFA students every Friday at 7p.m. in the Helmut Stern Auditorium at the Art Museum. Finally, the J. Edgar Edwards Reading Series highlights the work of first year MFA students periodically through the year at the Work Gallery on State Street.
- Undergraduate English Communities–You can join the staff of or submit to a student literary magazine, like Xylem, the RC Review, or, of course, Fortnight (we are always accepting submissions at email@example.com!). If you are looking to get feedback from fellow students on your work you can join Writer’s Community, a group of students committed to giving writing advice. As far as student readings and performances go, there are also the “Word of Mouth” story slams and the U-M Poetry Slam team performances to check out as well.
- The first ever State of the Book is at Rackham–This semester we have the fortuity of being the central location of the State of the Book, a day long symposium held at Rackham on October 6th. The State of the Book will feature a book fair, panels, and performances, led by writers like Charles Baxter, Philip Levine, and Bonnie Jo Campbell. What’s more, Dave Eggers will release the latest Best American Nonrequired Reading Anthology on site. You can join the event or find out more here.
- The Great Write-Off is here, too–During the three days leading up to the State of the Book, the Great Write-Off, a fundraiser for six Michigan nonprofits (826michigan, Dzanc, Fiction Writers Review, InsideOut Literary Arts Project, National Writers Series and the Neutral Zone) will take place. Here in Ann Arbor, Espresso Royale has donated the front of its State Street store for writers to go, write, and enjoy discounted drinks and snacks. The Undergraduate English Association (UEA) even has its own team for undergraduates to join if they don’t want to register as an individual (to join, go here: http://www.gifttool.com/athon/OurTeamPage?ID=2063&AID=2154&TID=13376). At the end, those who have raised at least $50 for the nonprofit of their choice will win a t-shirt, and the top five UEA students will receive a limited edition hand letterpressed version of Charles Baxter’s poem “Marry Me”. These prizes will be given away and others raffled off at a Pizza Party in Angell Hall at the end of the Write-Off on Friday, October 5th. You can join the event here or like the Facebook page here.
There is no doubt in my mind that it’s an exciting time to be an English major (or writer or reader for that matter) at the University. So crack open your blank journals, join the Write-Off/get inspired by a visiting author/learn from an MFA student, and write. And when you’re finished, send your pieces to us!
March 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The 2011-2012 Staff Issue.
February 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I’ll admit it — I’m overwhelmed. The anxiety, however, is not just coming from my English paper on apocalyptic tradition, my research job, or even my Physics homework. These tasks, while perhaps a bit time consuming, are ones that can be dealt with methodically and purposefully. They make sense. What’s overwhelming me currently is not so much the long to-do list I have, but the medium through which I complete so many of the items: the internet. « Read the rest of this entry »