About Writing

Holiday Shopping and Beyond

IMG_6371This summer, I spent four weeks working on my own poetry at the Playa artist residency program in Summer Lake, Oregon. While there, I met many talented & hardworking artists and writers. One in particular, poet Charles Goodrich, had brought some of his books with him to share via the common building’s little lending library. I devoured them all, and of course had to buy copies. I bought an extra copy of his most recent poetry collection, A Scripture of Crows, for a former student who I thought of when reading it. Another of Charles’ books, Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden, made me think immediately of my friend Tabitha, a master gardener, and so I bought her a copy, too.

I loved giving them these books, especially since it was not particularly likely that either Dan or Tabitha would stumble upon them otherwise. I felt like I had found treasure to share.

For me, writing and reading poetry is largely about making connections. Sure, there’s a ton of solitude at the core of being a writer, but for me, if there’s no community at some point, I start to wonder what the point of making art is. I’m definitely more of a Whitman than a Dickinson. (I love me some Emily, though; don’t get the wrong idea!) My writing wants a reader. My reading wants a conversation. I love the communities that can spring up around the making and sharing of stories and poems. As New Hampshire Writers’ Week draws to a close, I’d like to emphasize the importance of reading and sharing and gifting books.

As this item from the New Hampshire Writers’ Project suggests, an important way to support writers is to buy their books. And at this time of year, many people are shopping for gifts for others. No-brainer, right?  Below, I’ve listed just a few Granite State authors you may or may not have heard of before, along with information about their books. Add your own NH authors with books for sale in the comments! And, here’s what I really want you to do:

1. Buy one or more of these books by New Hampshire authors as a gift for a reader in your life. Yes, you may gift yourself.

2. Consider buying aforementioned books at (or ordering them through) an independent New Hampshire bookseller.

3. Consider requesting that your local/town library order copies of these books, so that many readers — especially those who might not be able to buy books — can enjoy the work of New Hampshire writers.

Happy reading!

Katie Umans, Flock Book (poems)

Pat Fargnoli, Winter (poems)

S Stephanie, So This Is What It Has Come To (poems)

Jennifer Militello, Body Thesaurus (poems)

Lisa Rogak, One Big Happy Family: Heartwarming Stories of Animals Caring for One Another and Angry Optimist: The Life & Times of Jon Stewart  (nonfiction)

Kathy Solomon, Transit of Venus (poems)

Jessica Purdy, Learning the Names (poems)

Kristin Waterfield Duisberg, After (novel)

Martha Carlson-Bradley, Sea Called Fruitfulness (poetry)

Ivy Page, Any Other Branch (poetry) and Creative Writing Workshop: A Guidebook for the Creative Writer (edited with Lisa Sisler)

NHWP writers week - logo 2

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Liz’s List for AWP 2014: Seattle

IMG_0318 The first writers’ conference I ever attended was in Seattle, in March, 1979. I was almost ten years old. It was the Seattle Pacific University Young Author’s Conference. A highlight of the event (okay, the only thing I actually remember about the event) was the fact that copies of our works, which had earned us a place at this prestigious gathering of our elementary school peers, would be held in the University Library so that future readers could benefit from our genius and artistry.

Alas.

Flash forward, thirty-five years. I will be attending another writers’ conference in Seattle. Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program in writing is a “Major Sponsor” of this conference, which is a bit bigger than the now-defunct Young Author’s Conference. I did not have to submit work in order to attend, but I will be on a panel about chapbooks with other writers from Slapering Hol press, who published my first chapbook.

I speak, of course, of the 2014 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, which is nearly upon us. From February 26 to March 2, upwards of ten thousand writers will descend upon Seattle. I am one such writer, and I’ve been attending this conference since 1993 as a graduate student. I’m excited to see the conference travel to Seattle — my family lives in the area, my brother in Seattle and my folks out on the Hood Canal.

AIRPLANE

As it has been in recent years, the schedule is packed to the rafters with not only the traditional conference fare of panels and readings and book signings and caucuses, but also with, oh, I don’t know, a jillion and a half “off-site events” (mostly readings) in Seattle bars, restaurants, and bookstores. For three full (9AM until bedtime) days, the Washington State Convention Center and Sheraton and, well a great chunk of the city, will be teeming with the AWPers (rhymes with soulful barbaric YAWPers?).

And let me not forget (how could I??) the book fair — tables and booths occupied by literary journals, zines, small presses, gigantic presses, in-between presses, literary centers, etc. On Saturday, the book fair is free and open to the public, and I recommend checking it out. Many publishers offer great discounts on Saturday because they don’t want to have to ship all their wares home. Even when the book fair was shoehorned into unsuitably small or weirdly-arranged spaces, I have always found much to love in all those pages and all those page-passionate folks at those tables. Each year I subscribe to a different and/or new-to-me literary journal. I figure, I can’t subscribe to them ALL, but I can support the cause by treating myself each year in this way. For me the book fair is the consistently best part of the conference — well, okay, second-best, after the fact that so many writer-friends I love and admire attend and it’s the one yearly chance I get to see most of them.

Even with all the action and activity of the conference itself, many attendees want to get out, get away, see the city — some are foodies looking to experience the local cuisine; others want to check out the museums, or just find a good bar that’s not crammed full of (shudder) other poets. In this spirit then, I offer a few personal recommendations of things to taste or see or do while in the Emerald City. Seattle is rich with great food and drink and culture and sights, so I did NOT even try to make this list comprehensive or exhaustive. This is just my personal, VERY pared down “must-hit” list. If you’re Yelping, I’ve got a few reviews up of other Seattle places.

THE PHO – Green Leaf

PHO

Seattle is home to the International District (“The I.D.”), which is almost the only place I ever eat when visiting. There are great eats of all stripes all over town, but maybe because I live in rural northern New England, all I want to do when I’m in Seattle is chow down on cuisines from Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan, etc. If you only have the time or inclination to sample one bowl of Pho while visiting, I must, with religious zeal, recommend Green Leaf (either location — the newer one is more convenient to the conference location, but not in the I.D.!). Rare beef and brisket pho. Their fresh rolls are also pretty spectacular, but the broth in that pho is revelatory. Like I said, religious zeal.

THE BEER – Sound Brewery

I didn’t understand beer until Sound Brewery. Made in the little town of Poulsbo, right near where my parents live, these beers are just brilliant. The Monk’s Indiscretion and the Dubbel Entendre, both Belgians, are a couple of my faves. On their list of Seattle establishments that (sometimes – call ahead if you care) carry their brews, I’d recommend Brouwer’s, which is kind of out of the way, but you’ll never want to leave, or the Pine Box, just up in Capitol Hill, which used to be a funeral home. Brouwer’s, though, definitely has something for every drinker. So I guess this will be as close as I get to a bar recommendation as well. There are just too dang many.

THE BREAKFAST – Skillet Diner

SKILLET

Like me, I imagine you aren’t inclined to expect that Seattle is going to offer something awesome in the area of biscuits and gravy. Seafood, sure! Real deal Vietnamese in the I.D.? Check. Coffee, coffee, coffee? Check check check. While the biscuits and gravy at Skillet weren’t exactly the type you’d get in, say, central Virginia, they were SPECTACULAR. The sage sausage gravy was a holy thing. The “big boy” biscuit was immense & delicious, but not too too heavy. Next time I’m there, I want to try one of the daily “scrambles.” Or the cornmeal & pork belly (!) waffles (!!).

THE PAPER NERD MECCA – Paper Hammer

I am sooooo gay for paper. Letterpress-anything, screened posters, handmade papers, embossing, stationery, calling cards, etc. So the first time I entered Paper Hammer, I had seizures of joy. It’s dangerously close to the Sheraton & Convention Center as well.

THE BOOKSTORE(S) – Open Books and Left Bank Books

Really? Bookfair not enough? Here I have to break my “one recommendation per category ONLY” rule. You understand. There are two things I cannot visit Seattle without doing. One is slurping up a bowl of Green Leaf Pho. The other is making a visit to Open Books, a beautiful, friendly, luscious poetry-only bookstore. JanMisc2009 001The challenge for conference-goers is that it’s about 5 miles from the Convention Center, but to make it worth your while, Open Books will be offering a 15% discount on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the conference to anybody with an AWP Conference badge. They will also have slightly longer hours those days – 11:00 to 7:00 – and will be open that Sunday as well, as it’s the first Sunday of the month, from 12:00-4:00 if you’re still around. They also offer FREE USPS Media Mail shipping for purchases of $25 and up.

LEFTBANKCloser to the conference, I also absolutely adore Left Bank Books. They “specialize in anti-authoritarian, anarchist, independent, radical and small-press titles.” I can easily lose two hours just browsing there, and I always find treasures. I love their selection of ‘zines and pamphlets, as well as the postcards, stickers, and buttons. This place is one of a kind, and right up at the entrance to Pike Place Market. Thursday, March 27th, fellow NH poet Jennifer Militello will be giving a reading with Carrie Etter, Elena Karina Byrne, and Allison Benis White at Left Bank starting at 7:00. Several other off-site events will also be happening at Left Bank Books – you can see the calendar HERE.

THE CAR – Aces for Hire Town Car Service

This recommendation comes from my brother, who has HAD it with the taxi service in Seattle. He recommends that, rather than chancing it with Seattle’s touch-and-go cab situation, you call Aces Town Car, which (according to my brother) charges about a buck more per mile than taxis, but which also has a consistent record of, like, showing up and taking you where you want in a reasonable time. They are gushed about on Yelp and lauded by locals and visitors alike.

THE CLEAR-YOUR-HEAD WALK – Olympic Sculpture Park

sculpturegarden

Well, we will be visiting during the late-ish winter, so chances are that this won’t be the best walking weather. Or it could be gorgeous. If you need to get out and away and about, I’d suggest heading down to the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture park. It’s pretty big, at a great location, with big-ass art (the Serra is my favorite) and great views (on a nice day) of the water and, across the Sound, the Olympic Peninsula — serious mountains.

THE BOAT – The Bainbridge Island Ferry

FERRYVIEW

So, I’m really only recommending this if you’ve got a chunk of time on a clear/decent day. If it’s crappy, it’s not really worth it unless you just really REALLY love big ferry boats. The ferries are a key component in the Seattle-area transit system. Lots of people ride them every day, like taking the bus or the subway. I’m suggesting that you take a trip on the ferry just to catch the views and get out on the water. Pay to get on, ride it over and just enjoy the mountains, the cityscape, the salt air. The ride each way is approximately 35 minutes. You can get right back on (passenger fare isn’t charged coming back to Seattle), or stroll into Winslow where there are a few cute shops and things. But to me, this recommendation is mostly about the journey, not the destination. $7.85 fare for adults; $3.90 for seniors and youth.

THE SOURCE – The Stranger

For much, MUCH more information about eats, drinks, events, arts and culture in Seattle, check out The Stranger.

Even though it won’t be possible for you to admire my literary juvenilia in person at the Seattle Pacific University library archives, I hope these few recommendations are of use if you find yourself stymied by the overabundance of things you could do while visiting the Emerald City. Besides attend the AWP Conference, I mean.

NEEDLECROP

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Several Windows and a Woodstove Wide: Jennifer Militello’s Study

(Third in a series about writers’ work-spaces — in particular, small, dedicated outbuildings. The first piece was about my own space; the second features fiction writer William Kowalski.)

How long has this been your little writing house? If you don’t call it your little writing house, what do you call it?

The “study” as I call it–I hardly call it, but when I do, I use this term–has existed since 2007. It was built for me by my husband in a carefully bartered, seemingly-fair trade for the baby-carrying I was doing that year.

How big (ish) is your little writing house? Amenities? (electric/water/heat/private parking/whirlpool tub) Where is it?

When I asked, I was told it was 16 by 20 feet, but to me it is two desks and three bookshelves long, several windows and a woodstove wide. It sits down the slope of the backyard, nestled into the trees, behind the wide tangles of wild raspberries, down a path I have to re-hew every spring. It was erected in a little sunken spot already cleared of trees where there stood the hollowed upright totem pole of a single tree trunk with peeling layers of bark.
I’d number the squat little cast iron woodstove, the untreated wood beams that span the ceiling, the door with its oval stained glass window, and even the unstained wooden siding among its amenities. The occasional foxes. And the quiet. And the many, many books.

Why have a little writing house? How has it helped you write?

After spending time at a few artist colonies over the years, I realized that space completely dedicated to writing was the way to go. I’d done my best work in these little alcoves. This particular space is modeled to some extent after a studio space I used at I-Park in Connecticut. In that studio, I wrote the first poems for the forthcoming book Body Thesaurus, while inspired by the visual artists there. I discovered what to do next in the energy of that space, and so I wanted to recreate that feel for my space here—a little heat source, a little white light, windows looking out onto long grasses and a sweep of trees.

Additionally, this space is in my mind even when I’m not there. It grounds the work and lets it stay with me even when I’m physically absent. It is a place where things remain as I’ve left them until I return. There is a museum-like preservation so I can come back to re-see the evolution of an idea even when I leave it for a period of time.

What has surprised you about the writing house?

Mostly, I’m surprised that it exists at all. The entirety of it rests on a foundation of concrete posts that I watched my husband pour as liquid, singlehandedly, from a wheelbarrow into the ground. He ordered the wood beams and propped them across the ceiling. In late fall, as a last step once my son was born, he layered the roof, shingle by shingle, through the fog of lack of sleep.

He would work after coming home from his job, and I would watch him out the window as the evenings got darker and darker and I would feel like I was watching a little space happen to preserve my former life from the very different place that my future life would be.

These days, I am surprised as well by the cranky heat that won’t stay on when the temperature outside falls below freezing and the mildew that grows in the creases of the window panes and once, when months of writer’s block kept me away, even covered the surface of my desk.

But also I’m surprised by how little I am there. This is a different life from the one I once lived. When I moved to this house, I had been living alone on over five acres of land, where all I did was write and teach and sleep, and where a writing space like this would have been redundant.

Best/most necessary thing(s) in your writing house?

Every single thing there is best. Every single thing is necessary. This room is filled with all the best and most necessary elements of my writing life. A woman’s dance mask I brought back from Africa. A lamp in the shape of two pastoral lovers that was a centerpiece in my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn until she died. The colossal desk I bought for $30 at a yard sale in Nashua, and the old childhood desk where I wrote my very first poem. Filing cabinets filled with old drafts that brought me over slow years of work to the poems I’m writing now. The typewriter and notebooks that lead me to the poems to come. The books that have shaped my beliefs, my thoughts, my dreams, my doubts. All this, and the reliable uninterruptedness. And the desk and chair and pens and walls and floor meant for nothing but that single thing.

Any writing house “rules” or norms? A schedule?

In terms of reliable writing time, Sunday mornings are it. I skip the family breakfast and before it is light amble down through the longish grass or crusted snow and turn the key, leave the woodstove going a bit before I commit to sitting and finding my way in. Other than that, there is too much clutter in my life to predict or stick to any one thing. I sneak away when I can. I write in places I never dreamed I’d write. I am forced to be a different writer than I was. So the study is the ideal. The reality is revising in the living room while the kids pretend they are jaguars and jotting down new ideas in the driver’s seat of the car between classes. But I have faith that someday I’ll be back to a routine. And when I am, that room, that very incredible and perfect room, will be waiting.

What’s next for your writing house?

I dream of built-in bookshelves. Someday.

What’s next for your writing?

Right now I’m working on two projects: a series of prose poems set in a laboratory and a group of poems exploring the vast impossibilities of motherhood, Though neither project is far enough along to be in the commitment stage, I’m happy to have started this work, as I recently finished a manuscript and there’s always a period of searching and struggle after that until the next undertaking happens to venture along.

________________

Jennifer Militello is the author of Body Thesaurus (Tupelo Press, 2013), Flinch of Song (Tupelo Press, 2009), winner of the Tupelo Press First Book Award, and the chapbook Anchor Chain, Open Sail (Finishing Line Press, 2006). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, The North American Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Best New Poets 2008. Her work has also been awarded the Barbara Bradley Award from the New England Poetry Club, the 49th Parallel Award from Bellingham Review, and grants and fellowships from the New Hampshire State Council of the Arts, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and Writers at Work.