Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Conference Briefs

I have arrived home exhausted from the weekend's conference. Here's what I discovered:

  • David Eshelman is a fine performer and he really does have a Black Brother; it wasn't just a catchy title. I saw the photos. And his one man show was funny & thought provoking.
  • The Good Old Days weren't as good as we imagine, epecially when considering Renaissance and the institute of marriage. Who knew they used to sell their wives?
  • Corporate American is using movtivational material from Will S. in their management training booklets. And clips from "Sophie's Choice" can illustrate brutally how people chose between the choices they're offered by their social, economical, and political positions.
  • It takes about 6 hours to drive from Illinois to Missouri. And it's tough to travel all the way from Florida and then have to speak first thing in the morning.
  • Truman State sent about 1/4 of their graduate students to speak and they're a friendly lot.
  • Poets from U of Denver like E.D. much more than I do, and suggest she's the greatest poet of all times. I tentatively countered with Auden, who I adore, but don't know if I'd endorse for the label of "greatest poet of all times."
  • The students I met from Missouri-Columbia were friendly & helpful. (Especially K. H., B.N., and W.B. Thanks!) And it was nice to hear how their poetry Ph. D. program works.
  • Wordsworth's work can be used as a model for the simple & responsible lifestyle that we could choose to make our communities stronger and reduce our footprint on the environment.
  • Arches National Park is beautiful, but overcrowded, and near where "they" tested bombs. That critical work alongside a recounting of personal exploration can sound like good creative non-fiction.
  • There is a pizza place called Shakespeare's in Columbia, good Mexican food on Broadway, and a fantastic Artisan cafe in the basement of what looks like an office building whose portabella panini with feta and pesto was worth the drive.
  • Most students studying Shakespeare are still trying to understand the plot so there is little time to explore the interesting social & political aspects of his work. One doesn't have to teach theory to undergraduates.
  • Film is "sexier" than the printed word. & some independent film producers don't "get" why a person filming out the window of a train could be seen as a danger.
  • The piano player at Jack's Gourmet plays for hours without any sheet music. He also played my favorite piano piece "Fur Elise" as well as "Memory" from Cats. I also think that Jack was actually there, guiding his staff and overseeing the dining room. White table cloths, candles; wear a tie.
  • Rumor that people in Asia and South American don't really understand what "Vegetarian" means.
  • The radio stations in Kansas City are much, much better than mine at home. Especially since they have a classic rock station with the hilarious initials "KY."
  • It's not worth it to make color copies of your handout. (Unless perhaps one is trying to get a job?)
  • I wish that the poets would all bring a few photocopies of their work so that we could at least all exchange and take home a few poems for further review. I like to hear the poems read, (and the poets I heard did a great job) but I'm a visual learner & really would like to see the poem on the page as well.
  • The idea of caves as wombs, no not Freud, but a Native American view. It's hard to use genderless language when speaking of the earth.
  • It's always nice to have a friend to stop and visit on one's way home.
  • University of South Dakota has a special writing program for those needing a little extra writing support. For these students, they attend 5 days a week and learn more basics. But at the end of the semester, they've "caught up" to the group that attends 3 days a week. It sounds like a great plan for everyone.

Driven to Write

In the mail today was the March 2005 issue of the National Geographic and the feature article is all about the functioning of the brain. Doctors and scientists are working to map the areas that impact different aspects of speech, sensory imput, and control. The issue explores different areas of the brain in "mini-profiles." I found the profile of the "Prefrontal Cortext, limbic system, and temporal lobe" to be especially interesting because it talks about a disorder called "hypergraphia, a manic disorder characterized by an irrepressible urge to write" (28). I didn't realize that there was such a disorder. But, the article suggests evidence pointing towards the temporal lobe as "the neural underpinings of literary creativity." So, writing might be a task we're genetically programed to do?

Does this mean as writers, there's something inherently different about our brains? Would this contradict or reinforce the idea that writers are in some way the manifestation of social values and thus their creativity isn't their own, but merely the way that the pressures of the social systems have converged to produce the writing? (Oh, this is literary theory and I only know about a mudpuddle's worth right now. If you know the theorist/theory, please let me know.)
Would it be rather like finding out that the reason Monet painted the way he did perhaps had more to do with his faulty vision rather than genius or innovation?

Writing and Gender

Here is something interesting to try. The "Gender Genie" is a program based off of "key words" that men and women are supposedly more likely to use in their writing. Based on your use of particular words, the Genie will predict if your fiction, non-fiction, or blog entry was written by a woman or a man. The statistics on the predictions are also available so you can see how accurate the Genie tends to be. There's a quite large margin of error, but I'll leave that to the math folks.

According to the Genie, I write like a boy. In my blogging, in my critical work, and (gasp) even in my poetry, I scored overwhelmingly male. In frustration I took three of my poems that deal most with women's issues and I did actually (just barely) score 10 points more on the "female" scale than on the "male" scale. Very odd. I don't take it too seriously. But I was suprised at the results.

If you decide to try this out, report back . I'm interested in seeing how others fare.

Visting Mizzou

Next weekend, I'm going to be at the University of Missouri at Columbia to participate in their conference "Politics and the Artistic Response." If anyone is in the vicinity, I'd be happy to meet up for coffee ( or lunch/dinner) and conversation. I will be reading during the poetry event at 2:45 on Saturday.

Emotional Honesty, Authenticity & Risk

My recent reading has raised questions about emotional honesty in poetry, a few questions about authenticity, and how these two both suggest some element of risk.

Emotional Honesty: I see this as to risk allowing too much of your personality, your emotional state, or your views to be visible to the world. For me, the risk comes in a few guises. Will people think I'm a terrible person if I write about terrible things? Will I be emotionally vulnerable if I let some aspect of my personality or emotional state show? Will I hurt others that I care about if I write poems that honestly reflect how I feel on a situation? Will those I care about "see" themselves in a poem even if I've changed the premise but allowed the honest emotion to seep into the poem? And perhaps a comical one, will someone apply some variation of psychoanalytical criticism to my work and proclaim to the world that I'm off my rocker? I feel as if I am a private person, but the poetry, even though not confessional, still (must) speak/s in someway about me. I think it is Lacan who speaks about how people envision an identity for us which may or may not agree with the identity we imagine for ourselves. So, if people imagine an identity based on a few (non)-representational poems, what will happen? (Yes, I'm interested in issues in identity.)

Authenticity: I know this is a critical issue, Plath's critics took her work to task for daring to speak of the Holocaust even though she wasn't a primary witness. As a writer who enjoys working with personas, I feel sometimes that I might be accused of not knowing of what I speak. Someone might take issue someday with the way I've represented a person from another life experience. I haven't written anything very risky thus far, but there is some subject matter that I'm working on which may push me in that direction. I want to be able to use different voices and try to see/imagine the world in different ways than I myself have experienced it.

I'm putting Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling on my reading list. Anything else I should add to the list?

How do these ideas relate to what one reads? Well, I read Gold Cell by Sharon Olds the year before last and didn't care for the subject matter. Because of this, I hadn't explored more of her work. (Yes, I know that the poet/poems aren't the same, but we conflate them anyway. For example: Have you read any Yeats lately?) Well, Poetry this month has two poems by Olds that I like quite a bit. I've revised my opinion. I think I'll go look for some more of her work. Another book for the reading list.

Keep writing yourself into the world.

Chain Mail in Reverse

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida/ Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C.

One of the fun things about blogging is that you can take other people's ideas rather like voluntary chain-mail, without the threat of bad luck if you decide to not play along. So, after visiting Suzanne today and adapting because I don't know how to underline, here are the states I've visited in bold, the places I've lived in yellow & where I am now in purple (which if you lived here, would make much more sense. Go Wildcats!)

Patience & Publishing


Yes, I've heard this a zillion times. It's hard though. People all around are publishing, in the good journals, chapbooks, even books. I am wishy-washy on the submissions game. I have times when I send out a lot of work (oh, say last fall when I spent hours creating a submissions system and sent out quite a few packets) and then other times when I have just 3 or 4 packets out.

I noticed Steve Mueske mentioned his "lotto tickets still out" and that's just it. Sending out a manuscript really does feel like playing the lotto. I played this fall for the first time and I still have a few "still out" but I haven't put as many submissions packets in the mail. I think I would feel better about it if I had sent out more submissions to quality journals & skipped the manuscript. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. I hope the small presses do appreciate the donations.

Does it matter? Should I be more motivated to submit? When I'm in the mood where I hear time's winged chariot, I get annoyed because I haven't been submitting. But for the last few months I haven't felt motivated to get the work out. Writing alone is enough. There will be time, later.


Home for an Ent

I recieved a note from The American Tolkien Society that they're accepting my poem "Lament for an Ent Wife." This pleases me; it's good for the poem to find a home where the readers know what Ents happen to be and are familiar with the backstory that compelled me to write the poem. It was the second time I'd sent them the poem which I mentioned in my cover letter. Their response? " Our records do not show that we've recieved your poem previously. It must have been the goblins. . ."

You can read the poem here.

Black Box Theatre, Oh My!

Whew. Unexpectedly, I was invited to an open mike event tonight. I've not really read my work in public before, but I did start out my early college career in theatre. It's been years though since I was up in front of a crowd in a black box theatre. The dynamics of the room were fantastic, the crowd involved, and the poetry diverse & entertaining. I read three poems: "By His Hand Lightning," "With Sunflowers for Shade," and "Dancer at the Thoroughbred Lounge." The old instinct for the stage, the give and take between a live audience and the performer, making eye-contact with complete strangers, it is addictive. The theatre was full. It gives me hope that the naysayers are wrong, that poetry still is and can be a vibrant art. It was tonight, here on the plains of Kansas, an unexpected gift in an otherwise emotional & exhausting week.

Aspirate (GMT +/-7)

Aspirate (GMT +/-7)

As we lay down to sleep
as we stand at the bluff holding hands
as we move together into night
as I wash the length of your back

somewhere the birds rise at the hunter’s guns
somewhere dew glitters at the feet of cattle
somewhere a young man drinks from a cup of tea
somewhere a woman keens, kneeling on cobblestone.

It must be so, the fireflies and the dragonflies
each to evening and morning take wing
the cicadas to their song, the frogs to their piping
the owl to the hollow oak

and a man and a woman will touch
and a man and a woman will turn away
and there will be loss between them
and there will be a tenderness.

In a meadow a mockingbird stalks a cat
in a bedroom a girl caresses her breasts
near a stable the colts jostle for oats
on a tile floor an old man awakens alone

in a sterile room a woman reaches into a man
in a nearby room a man reaches to a woman
and breath sighs from the body
and a breath swells, cold in new lungs.

Original place of publication: The Green Tricycle