01 November 2013

Inspiration in the Air... by Brian Fanelli

In all of my creative writing classes, I give students a writing prompt in which they must eavesdrop on conversations in a public space to trigger a poem or short story. This illustrates the importance of paying attention to language and using one’s surroundings as inspiration. Whenever I assign this prompt, students return to class with an idea for a new story or poem. Last summer, I applied this prompt to my own writing while vacationing at Cape May, New Jersey.

While I sprawled out on a beach blanket and sunbathed with my girlfriend, a crowd of teenage surfers obstructed our ocean view. One by one, they lined up on the beach with their polished boards. We sat up and watched them successfully ride the foamy crest of a wave, or crash hard. I immediately pulled out my notebook and recorded some of their phrases, specifically “Dude got wrecked so hard” and “I wish this wind would just chill.” As a poet, my ears perk up when I hear interesting language and mangled phrases. I used their surfer lingo to draft a poem about that scene and how those surfer boys remained on the beach until sunset.

As I’ve told my students, there is inspiration everywhere, in bits of conversations we hear and scenes we observe. We just have to open our senses to the world around us and keep a notebook close.

13 October 2013

Fall 2013 Issue and Welcome

Greetings PQ friends!
Welcome to our fall issue of PQ. Please visit the Current Issue to see our latest content. In this issue, we have 18 reviews, 4 essays, and 5 interviews for you to enjoy and share. 

If you’re interested in writing reviews or other work for PQ, be sure to check out the Guidelines to know where and how to direct your queries and submissions. Remember, we’re always on the hunt for entertaining and insightful blog posts in between issues, so talk to Leslie if you have an idea! Reviews and interviews may be submitted any time, too. 

Thanks, as always, to our magnificent and generous team here at PQ. Our editors and contributors volunteer their time to share their reviews, ideas, and questions with you. Our intern, Heather Lowery, has been busy in her role as Assistant Editor; you’ll see she’s helped upload much of this issue’s content—and she’s working on archiving past issues, something that’s long overdue here at PQ. Heather has also broken free of her poetry fears and tackled some interviews, reviews, and even an essay on Seamus Heaney. We think it won’t be long before she begins writing her own poems! 

We hope you enjoy this latest issue and share our links in your social media spheres. We appreciate the word of mouth! Thanks for your continued interest in Poets’ Quarterly. Like us on Facebook and stay tuned for more great content coming soon.   

Kind regards,  
Lori A. May  
Founding Editor/Publisher 

p.s. If you’d like to make a $3 donation to help us cover our web domain, email provider, and occasional postage costs, we welcome your support. Our contributors and editors are volunteers so we spend very little on PQ, but if you’d like to donate a few bucks to offset office costs, you may now do so through Submittable. Thanks!

Death of a Poet: Seamus Heaney

Death Life of a Poet: Seamus Heaney
by Heather Lowery

When I was assigned writing an essay about Seamus Heaney, I approached it like pretty much any other project—through research. He sounded familiar to me and I was curious to find out why that was. Well, turns out, this man was more than just an accomplished poet; he was an accomplished person. Among many other astounding honors, Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a poet in residence and professor at Harvard, taught at Oxford, was named a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, something only up to twenty people are awarded each year. He is held in such high esteem, being referred to as the Yeats of his generation.

These findings only confirmed to me that my assignment was important. Shamefully, I still didn't really know who this man was. I took a look at his most notable work, and there it was. Heaney had done a translation of Beowulf. Though I was not fond of the work, which probably had more to do with the heinous teacher that was instructing it than it did the text, I did love looking at the translation.

Curious, as is my nature, I read more and more and more of his work. One piece led to the next and soon I was reading more of Seamus Heaney than I was of the work at my full-time job. Ignoring phone calls and visits from clients, it probably wasn't the best for the business, but it was best for my soul. I wouldn't classify myself as a poetry person, but I can now say I'm a Seamus Heaney person.

Growing up one of nine children in County Derry in Northern Ireland, Heaney drew much of his inspiration from his surroundings. One of his most well-known pieces, “Digging,” which explores the themes of heritage and family roots, displays the relationship between father and son and grandfather and grandson. The narrator ultimately comes to realize that though he is not 'digging' the traditional way his father and grandfather did, he still must make a living even if his choice of tool, a pen, is not the same as his elder's, a spade.

Heaney was a trailblazer. A poet and playwright, Heaney has written many inspiring pieces, most notably his poetry collections Death of a Naturalist, Field Work, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Human Chain. A poet held in high regard with academics, Heaney is also well-received by the common reader. A good portion of his subject matter, delve into themes of past and present Irish living, but also bring to light universal themes: “The Blackbird of Glanmore” and “Mid-Term Break” are about Heaney's younger brother dying; “The Skunk,” is a tribute to his wife, Marie; “Death of a Naturalist” introduces themes of childhood and naivety. In other words, Heaney was relatable.

Even I, ignorant when it comes to poetry and exposed only briefly, enjoyed Heaney and his work. Others have expressed their love and admiration for Seamus Heaney. Poet and teacher, Elizabeth Kate Switaj said, “I respect his disciplined lines and rhythms.” Never did I feel that a was word forced or placed simply for the sole purpose of rhyming.

Poet and PQ contributor, Brian Fanelli said, “I have always been drawn to Seamus Heaney's early poems, the ones that showcase the poet's connection to the earth. A poem such as “Digging,” for example, does a beautiful job illustrating the poet's relationship to nature, but also how the earth relates to the early memories of his father and even to writing. Such poetic leaps of imagination are not easy to make, but Heaney was a master of his craft.”

For some, Heaney may not be that interesting. To each his own. But to those who feel that way, you're missing out. I know I've been. A toast to Mr. Heaney, “May your words live on forever.”

Heather Lowery was a Division I rower for her alma mater, Robert Morris University, where she obtained a bachelor's degree in communication with a concentration in applied journalism. She is pursuing her second master's degree in creative writing from Wilkes University. One of her feature articles, “A scholar of the land, shepherd of the shore,” a personal profile on an Irish farmer, was recently published in Sneem Parish News, an international magazine. Though an award-winning journalist, she has decided to take a break from news to focus on writing a memoir about her relationship with her father.

Interview with the founders of The Muse Writers Center

Interview with the founders of The Muse Writers Center
by Millicent Borges Accardi

The Muse Writers Center has grown from its humble beginnings in a basement with one poetry class to a full service independent writing center, offering 60 classes a semester, with 40 active teachers and serving over 1,000 registered students! Located in Norfolk, Virginia, The Muse is a 501c3 non-profit corporation, providing a creative home for writers of all ages and experience. From poetry to fiction, erotica, magazine writing, new media, reading for writers, ukulele, cookbooks, standup comedy and classes for teen writers, each of their three yearly semesters offers an diverse variety of courses.

The Muse also has an onsite resource center, weekly coffee salons, public readings and happy hours. Featured in a recent PBS show, Virginia Currents, Muse instructors are working writers and published authors who have taught at colleges, universities, and other community organizations. http://www.the-muse.org/index.html

Dedicated to broadening community awareness and support of the literary arts, founders Michael Khandelwal and Lisa Hartz kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Poets' Quarterly about how The Muse began, how it has grown and how it continues to thrive.

MBA: Can you describe how The Muse came to be?

Michael: When I moved back to Virginia after being in Los Angeles for 13 years, I soon started to miss teaching. I approached a friend of mine who owned the Ghent Studio of Fine Art (SOFA), and asked if I could offer a poetry workshop there. She said that they’d tried it before, and it didn’t work.. .but I was welcome to try again. I made my own fliers and pasted them around town and got six students. That first class was a big success, and we had a reading afterward. The next session, I offered two levels. Then, for the summer 2005 session, I offered three. By that time, I had met Lisa in one of my classes, and she was interested in teaching memoir, and I wanted to teach fiction, too. But, at the same time SOFA went out of business. So, Lisa and I started The Muse Writers Center, by drawing a logo on a napkin.

Lisa:  After the poetry class we used to go to a local pizza place for beers. I asked Michael what he thought about maybe me teaching a class – and had he ever heard of a place called The Writers’ Center up near DC? It’s one of the original literary centers, like The Loft in Minneapolis. A tremendous resource for local writers. I told Michael I thought we could do something like that here.

What were the first few years like?

Michael: Great.  A lot of learning... often by trial and error, but the great thing about being independent is that you can make mistakes and correct them quickly.

Lisa: The growth was slow and steady. . . It had to be – it was only the two of us running it Teachers found us, or Michael met them somehow, and I’d sit with them and develop a course that they were excited to teach – that built on their strengths and passions as writers. . . .About five years in, things sort of exploded – we suddenly went from offering maybe 15 classes to 20, then 40.

What partnerships/advice helped formulate the structure?

Lisa: We did a couple of really smart things, I think, in the beginning. We listened to our students – asked them what they were interested in – and did our best to find a teacher for that class. Then we listened to the teachers, asked them what their passions were and letting them design their own courses. We made it clear that there was no Muse aesthetic. It helped that Michael and I were absolute beginners with no illusions about knowing what we were doing.

What are the key components of a Muse event or class?

Michael: Well, they are two different things. For classes, they are all molded on the MFA model of workshops, but we vary it by offering introductory, intermediate, advanced, and professional levels. The expectations are different in each level. For our intro classes, we are very interested in helping a writer find and strengthen their voice and their craft--as well as their workshopping skills.

For events... for readings, we just want to celebrate our students and the work they’ve produced in the previous sessions’ classes. For our parties like the Summer Solstice Open House, we like to build bridges with the community and our students, all while having a great time!

What was your original goal in starting The Muse?

Lisa: It was really important to both of us that the classes be affordable – that no one ever be turned away for lack of ability to pay. We kept our tuition low and offer a tuition-assistance program. The ultimate goal was to create a real community based on a common interest in literary pursuits unimpeded by the usual social barriers of income or class.

What classes do you currently offer? What poetry classes?

Lisa:  We’ve had some fantastic poetry classes on special topics: the short poem, the formal poem, ekphrasis. We’ve just done one on the theme of exile in poetry, and we’re offering one this fall called “Writing Across the Lines: Poetry Exploring Race, Culture and Ethnicity.” Very excited about that one.

Tim Seibles
Michael: We invite visiting poets to teach classes... these are usually people associated with the universities in the region. Tim Seibles recently had a great workshop on The Short Poem.

The most successful poetry classes have seemed to be the ones where we bring in renowned poets in an effort to reach people who aren’t in the university... I’m thinking of Luisa Igloria, Remica Bingham, Renee Olander, etc.

What freedoms do you have that a university or college does not?

Lisa: No grades! Plus, we can be responsive to our community as it grows and changes.

Michael: We can offer classes without committees. We can try something out and see if it works. Many of our teachers who teach in MFA programs are happy to offer classes that they wouldn’t be able to offer at the university.

What limitations?

Lisa: Money. We’d love to have a larger facility that could be open all the time. Plus, we could take even more chances on experimental courses if we didn’t have to worry about income.

How important has it been to have such a strong partnership?

Michael: I build partnerships in the community with other nonprofits and organizations. I deal with students, teachers, and most of the business side of the operation.

Lisa: I develop the courses and recruit teachers. I design the course schedule – we have three sessions a year. I’m faculty liaison – I deal with any problems that come up in classes or with students. I also do community outreach projects, working with local arts organizations and other non-profits on projects that are a benefit to us both.

What one activity typifies The Muse?

Lisa Hartz
Lisa: I’d have to say that our readings are what keep me going when The Muse seems to be eating my life. Our readings are celebrations – a kind of graduation at the end of each session. They are held at area restaurants. I go to the readings and look around at these tables full of people who have nothing obvious in common – these people who would otherwise never have met – but they all love to write and are here to support one another. It’s a beautiful thing.

What was your happiest Muse moment?

Michael: There are so many, I can’t think of just one. The day we got our nonprofit status in 2006 was a great one.  The day my first student got an agent was great. For me, I often leave the classes I teach feeling elated. We have a lot of extremely talented writers/students!

What was your most anxious Muse moment?

Lisa: We’ve been homeless a couple of times, but some generous person or organization always came through just in time.

Michael: The various times I’ve had to give up a class to a new teacher so I wouldn’t be working 100 hours a week! I started by teaching an intro poetry class... so in some ways, everything goes back to that first class at SOFA.

The poet Ethelbert Miller said, “When you rise each morning vow to fix something that is broken. The repair begins with your heart.” What are you repairing?

Lisa: The Muse has repaired many writers who have been damaged by insensitive teachers. Many times I have been told that a teacher told a beginning writer to give up, that the talent wasn’t there. It can and has taken people decades to get over this. We’re here for them when they’re ready.

Michael: I don’t know if we repair anything. I think we expand. I think we take people who have a desire to express themselves and give them the opportunity to practice and learn.  I don’t like to think of it as something being broken in someone... but instead of stoking the flames of people’s desires to express themselves through the art and craft of writing.

What advice would you give to other people who are thinking of starting an independent writing center?

Michael: It’s a great way to build community. There are so many areas in the country that don’t have literary centers... and they’d be great additions to your town! Start small. Let it grow. Tackle one thing at a time, and get good at it before you move to the next thing.

Lisa: Do not try this alone. Definitely find yourself a business partner whose talents and abilities complement yours. Do not expect to make any money for a long time. Study your community – who’s there who can help you? Accept help.

What’s next?

Lisa: We’re looking forward to expanding our relationships with area arts and social organizations, such as our local university’s LitFest. We’re working on our budget, looking for a long-term plan to move into a larger facility so that we can continue to expand our offerings.

Michael: Hopefully in the next year or so, a new, larger space. We are starting to overflow where we are.

One thing I really like about The Muse Writers Center is that we address many different aspects of the art of writing. I am a big believer in being interdisciplinary in one’s training. If you want to be a fiction writer, take some poetry classes... they’ll help you with the power of words and the musicality of language. That’s why I like that we offer so many genres of writing.  Screenplay can help with structure and plot. Improv can help with character, setting, and scene. Memoir can help with finding the personal in your writing. Sometimes people forget that when “literature” started, we had drama/tragedy and we had comedy. Life--and good writing--acknowledges both sides. 

The Muse seems to play a major role in the Norfolk community. How has this contributed to your success?

Lisa: We have an MFA program at our local university, Old Dominion, which has provided us with quite a few recent graduates who are ready and excited to teach creative writing. This area is very supportive and passionate about the arts, and we’ve been welcomed from the start. We’ve formed a great partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach which is thriving. A local charity, The Up Center, has also partnered with us for an event.

How has friendship helped to maintain the writing center?

Lisa: Michael’s and mine? Because honestly I think the friendship that has developed out of working together can sometimes get in the way. Sometimes we have to think like business people, which can make for some difficult conversations. The mutual respect that we have as friends does pull us through.

If The Muse had a motto, what would it be?

Lisa and Michael: Write where you are!

Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you would like to discuss?

Michael: One thing that’s cool about The Muse, is Lisa and I can help create classes we want to take! When Tim Seibles taught the short poem class earlier this year, I took it. Here is a poem I wrote in that class which is a simple, but fun Tanka. We were writing in class, and most people were sitting at the table to write, but I liked the idea of moving around the room to see what inspired me. I sat on a couch opposite our fuse box and saw an abandoned spider web...

See that spider’s web,
woven on the green fuse box?
It’s fly hangs, encased.
I worry that the spider
has moved on too fast, regrets.

Lisa: We have a very exciting event coming up on October 5th – a reception for local authors who are participating in the ODU LitFest. The reception will be held at The Muse and catered (we’re working on this) by a local restaurant. The Museum of Contemporary Art has a major exhibition open then – photographs of the Seven Cities that make up this area by a local photographer named Matt Eich. MOCA is lending The Muse eight of these photographs for a satellite exhibition, and they’ll be on display during the reception. We’re also planning a one-off ekphrastic event – writing in response to the photos – in the following weeks. We’re calling the reception “Art & Lit: Fresh & Local.”

Lisa shares one of her poems, written at The Muse.

In Odessa, at summersend the cello sang scarlet
between his knees, and the piano notes were sugar cubes.
Once, he saw his own voice, a citrine kite, a woodwind
sailing over the Potemkin steps.
Listen, he whispered.
The August street silent at just dusk.
The deepblue slanting light is humming.
Yes, I said. I see.
At the harbor, salt ships and yellow sky.
Don’t look, he said, enter.

Lisa Hartz earned an MA in English Writing from Hollins College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PoemMemoirStory, Poet Lore, Subtropics and other publications. She lives with her husband and four sons in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Michael Khandelwal writes for Hampton Roads Magazine. He has also worked for Portfolio Weekly and The American Council on Education. He earned a Masters in Professional Writing from USC. While in Los Angeles, he worked in film and radio while teaching neuroscience. He is co-director of The Muse Writers Center and was President of the 2008 Virginia Electoral College.

Millicent Borges Accardi has written three poetry books: Injuring EternityWoman on a Shaky Bridge, and Only More So (forthcoming). She has received fellowships from CantoMundo, the NEA and Fundação Luso-Americanato (FLAD). Recently, she led workshops at University of Texas, Austin and the Mass. Poetry Festival. Millicent lives in Topanga, CA. Twitter @TopangaHippie