Archive for Conferences

Looking with Lia Purpura

Many years ago, I took a Chautauqua workshop with poet Margaret Gibson.  She told me that I needed to practice looking, and that in doing so, my poetry would be stronger.

I was a novice writer, and I didn’t understand her advice.  Looking?  Of course, I knew how to look.  Afterall, my poetry was about the working-class world.  I had grown up in that world.  I had spent my whole life Looking.

It’s been many years since that workshop and I have to admit that the process of learning how to look has been a slow one — and even now, I realize that it’s not an action that comes easily.

Essayist and Poet Lia Purpura, at yesterday’s Earth’s Eye Festival, encouraged us to practice looking.  The day was divided into two parts: field work at the lovely Presque Isle in Erie, PA and a craft talk by Purpura.  On the trail, Purpura told us that writing about nature is a tricky act to accomplish: we often enter nature wanting the unexpected or expecting great life revelations, and these two things can happen, but we have to work to make them happen.  I admit that I grew up in the rural world so I always want the unexpected to happen.  Sometimes, I get it.  I see a muskrat in the Connewango Creek right in the middle of town or a Barred owl in the middle of the day (no bad omens here — I have learned that Barred Owls are known for showing up in daylight) or a Black Bear crossing in front of me on a main highway.  Other times, Purpura is right — I have to work a bit harder.   And I also have to work at making leaps into life revelations.

All in all, it was a great day — made especially so because the rain held out until the end of the day, so we didn’t have to scamper off the trails to find shelter from any storm bursts.  Especially great?  In my journal, I have two new starts to prose pieces.  I’m not sure where they will go, but I know they will go somewhere!


Working Class Roundup!

I’m back home, recovering from a wonderful, but exhausting, conference.  I’ve been to many of the conferences hosted by the Working Class Studies Association, and I always feel empowered, but a bit overwhelmed, when I get home.  And this year’s conference was no exception.

Because this is a multi-disciplinary conference, I got to meet a lot of people from a variety of fields and careers.  Yes, there are professors who attend, but there are also veterans, nurses, electricians, union leaders, writers, human service workers, journalists, actors, musicians, artists and mechanics.   They come from all over the country.  What is the one thing they have in common?  They are concerned about class issues in the United States.  When I attend different panels and lectures, I learn so much, but I am also overwhelmed by what I don’t know.  Indeed, it’s hard to formulate the abstract thoughts that are running through my head right now, so I will move forward to talk about the poetry world of the Working Class Studies Conference.

I was sad to hear that Jeanetta Calhoun Mish could not make it to our poetry panel, but was excited to present with poet Sandee Gertz Umbach!  I thought our panel was well received, even though we had a sleepy 8:45 am time slot.  I was also excited to meet up with Nick Coles, who moderated our panel.  Nick doesn’t know this, but he’s partly responsible for my venture into working-class poetry.  When I was 18, I had a class with poet Judy Vollmer who used a book edited by Nick (along with Peter Oresick) titled Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life.  This is where I was first introduced to the very idea that working class/blue collar life could be part of poetry.

I also sold many copies of both Stealing Dust and Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt ––  note to self: my work appeals more to a working class audience than a general poetry audience.  I need to remember this!

So, now I’m facing another busy week.  For someone who started off the summer with few plans, my days are filling up quickly.

One Conference, Two Papers

We are slowly breaking away from a cold spell that enveloped us this past weekend.  Rumor has it that some people had snow up in the hills that surround my home.  However, today, I woke up to thunderstorms and a  forecast that is going to bring us warmer weather.

I am in the middle of a week of projects.  I’m trying to wrap up some lingering assignments left from the semester.  I am also trying to finish up two conference papers. Yep, in a few weeks, I will be heading to the Working-Class Studies Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, where I will be presenting two papers on two different topics.  I’ve presented at conferences before, but never back-to-back presentations.  Should be fun.  And challenging.

The first paper is about Leonard Kress’s chapbook The Centralia Mine Fire and the metaphors placed within his collection about a fast disappearing way of life.  Regular readers will known about my interest in Centralia, and I have researched and discussed how other poets, including Karen Blomain and Barbara Crooker, have said about Centralia in their poems.  But this is the first time I have taken on Kress’s wonderful chapbook, which is now out of print, but you can read it here.

The second paper is about the depiction of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in two young adult books: Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch.  I have always said that when I have more spare time (ha!) I would like to complete an annotated bibliography of young adult books that look at working class histories and/or issues.  (As always, if you have recommendations, please let me know!).  I know these two books are not the only books that describe this important historical event, but I believe they are a good place to start.

So, June is around the corner, and these last days of May will be dedicated to finishing old projects and starting some new ones!

In Like a Lion….

Okay, I can’t honestly say that March blew in like a lion — more like an irritable lion cub.  We haven’t had a lot of winter weather, but the sky has been completely gray for five days straight with no sun whatsoever.  I’m so pale, that I swear I could audition for a part in a teenage vampire movie.  Except that I don’t look like a teenager.  I really, really need some sun.

I spent this past weekend glued to my desk, trying to get caught up with my work for school. It wasn’t a fun weekend, but now I feel like I can face March and the weeks before spring break.

I won’t be at AWP this year, although I’m certainly envious of those of you who will be…safe travels to all and make sure you have a great time!  A lot of new books are coming out in time for the big event, and I have already ordered my copies – many should be on my doorstep soon.

I am, however, going to this June’s Working Class Studies Conference that will be held in Madison, Wisconsin.  One proposal has been accepted, and another is pending. I have attended two of these conferences before, and I’m really looking forward to this year’s program.

Onward, March! (No pun intended)

Wet Weekend

I’m recovering a bit from Earth’s Eye, a festival of nature writing  (I mentioned this event here.) Of course, since the day was devoted to outside fieldwork, it rained, so I spent Saturday a bit soggy, but happy to be in the company of writers who want to learn about nature writing as much as I do.  (To be honest, the weather cleared Saturday afternoon, so I wasn’t that soggy).  It was a stunning day at Presque Isle; furthermore, Scott Russell Sanders was our field group leader for the day, so not only was I in the company of fellow writers who wanted to learn, I was also in the company of Sanders, who is a fantastic person (besides, being a great writer!) Hats off to the English faculty at Penn State Behrend, especially Kim Todd, for organizing this event!

I don’t want to end today’s post without mentioning that qarrtsiluni is currently taking submissions for the next theme issue: animals in the city.  Take a look here for more information.

Hello September!

Saying hello to September means also saying goodbye to the summer.  I won’t dwell on what got done and what didn’t get done in the last few months.  Instead, I want to reset my goal of trying to submit to 10 journals per month.  I know that will be a bit tricky, but I’m going to try.  I also have a few books left over from the summer that I want to read as soon as the start-of-the-new-school-year craziness stops.

I am  leaving the summer behind while laughing a bit about the writing life.  I often go weeks without hearing anything — no acceptances, no rejections, no notes from writing friends.   And yep, one day this past week, I left my email account for three hours, and when I came back and logged on, I had a request for my chapbook, a thanks for my chapbook, an acceptance and a nice rejection.  Go figure.

In other news, the AWP panel I was on didn’t get accepted, so now I have to make a decision about AWP.  I’ve never been.  And I love Boston.   But it’s an expensive trip and while I do get some travel funding from the school, a trip to AWP will wipe out that funding.  And I will be traveling during the weird winter/slushy/icy time of the year, which can be problematic.

Still, I love Boston.

Earth’s Eye

Writers, naturalists, bird watchers, teachers, journal keepers—anyone interested in writing about the natural world— get inspired and take your work to the next level!  Earth’s Eye, A Festival of Writing in and on the Natural World will take place in Erie, Pennsylvania on Saturday, September 8.  The cost is only $36!!! (And that cost covers transportation from the Penn State Erie to Presque Isle State Park, lunch, and dinner)

Scott Russell Sanders will be the main speaker (If you do not know Sanders’ work, you need to look up his books, now!) Other readings will be given by faculty members of the BFA program at Penn State Erie.

For more information and to register online, go to

The Week Ahead…

I always have trouble adjusting to real life after I come home from a writing retreat or a conference.  It’s like getting a taste of some sort of utopian world — where you have unlimited time to write and study and socialize with others who love the written word as much as you do.  I also admire those who can summarize their travels in a concise manner.  I feel like I ramble when I try to write about any type of writing festivities. 

Still, as always, (this is the fifth time I have attended the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival) the weekend was a blast.  A few highlights include meeting up with my old mentor/professor Judith Vollmer, listening to Martin Espada’s reading which included one of my favorite poems of all time, “Alabanza” and learning about the work of nonfiction writers Valerie Boyd and Natalia Rachel Singer. 

It’s actually Singer’s work I’m thinking about this morning as I type this post.  At her reading, Singer spoke about her most recent project, a blog Winter With Zoe,  that chronicles a year with Zoe, her dog dying of cancer. I’m paraphrasing what she said just a bit but she opened her reading with these words: “If you love a pet, you are destined to get your heart broken.”  I’m not sure why I’m thinking of her words this morning.  It’s a gray sort of day outside.  The rush of the conference is over, and real life is settling in.  I think it’s because her blog is uplifting, encouraging us to live as a pet would live, and that is to live in the moment, not worrying so much about the future.  I know that my own mind is always going 100 different directions at once, and most of the time, it’s thinking about the future — tomorrow’s class, next week’s writing seminar, Sunday’s poetry reading, Thursday’s car inspection, today’s doctor’s appointment — the list goes on and on, and that focusing on the here and now is a much happier and healthier place to be.

Off to Chautauqua

This morning I leave for the beautiful Chautauqua Institution to attend the annual writers’ festival.  I’m leaving technology behind, taking only a notebook, lots of pencils, and a poetry book or two.  (Okay, okay, I will have my cell phone for emergencies, but you have to understand, my cell phone is simple and ancient.  Believe it or not, I really only make phone calls on my cell phone!)  Thus, emails will go unanswered and student papers will go unread.  I’m looking forward to the weekend.

ASA Recovery

Like most people, when I get home from a conference, I feel both exhausted and rejuvenated. Exhausted because I’ve spent three days running from session to session, meeting new people, greeting old friends, but rejuvenated from the celebration of both knowledge and art.  But rejuvenated because I got to read with my poet heroine, Paula Bohince (she’s great! and her new book is coming out very soon!). I also saw poets Peter Oresick, Jesse Graves, Richard Hague, Lori Jakiela, and Sandee Gertz Umbach read.  Plus, I met plenty of new poets and writers.  (And I sold six chapbooks!!!!)

So much to think about….but now, it’s on to the rest of the semester…In another week, I’m on spring break!


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