Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books Read in 2016

My friend Melanie always reports on the books she has read every year. I would like to do that as a tradition, so I thought I would begin tonight, on NYE of 2015.

Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick: It's a quick but rich read, wonderful in its analysis and in putting together the context of the story with Melville and 1850. I appreciate this as a writer, too, as Philbrick breaks things down in themes and analysis. 

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr: How could I not pick this one up?! Her frankness, humor, and ease are wonderful and inspirational. Really, she lays out the truth as she knows it, one of the things she says about memoir writing.

Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas, Letters from the Birthplace of the Civil War, Pioneer Dispatches from Edward and Sarah Fitch: Living in Lawrence during 1855-63, ending with Quantrill's raid of Lawrence. This is a wonderful book of letters--full of hope, struggle, and heartbreak. 

Map: Exploring the World by Phaidon Press: Cartography Lovers Unite! This is the one to get, as it shows so many wonderful maps throughout time, the stories behind them, and how maps say more in what is omitted in them.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: As Toni Morrison says, "This is required reading." Memoir meets history meets you need to read this. Race is a fabrication by white supremacy built on slavery, redlining, police brutality, and incarceration. Also, very heartfelt, vulnerable, and NEEDED!

Moby-Dick (Norton Critical Editions, Second Edition) by Herman Melville: A classic, rediscovered while researching Bleeding Kansas and the books released around that time.

Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of Eight Hybrid Literary Genres, edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. It is basically the things I have loved reading this past decade all in one. This serves as an explanation I hadn't thought of: why I love flash fiction, prose poetry, etc. Well, the hybridity of these things--I am in love with how hybrid writing becomes metaphor, becomes meta-, and why did I not think of this sooner? Each writer includes an essay about her or his work, then a part of the work. In fact, many of my favorite writers are here. 43 authors is a good number, but I am looking forward to Volume Two.

Like Water for Chocolate

Oscar Wao

Food, Inc. Reading Supplement

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Book Review of My Secret Wars of 1984 by Melissa Fite Johnson

I am deeply moved by this book review, as it touches on the things I hoped to accomplish with the book.


Dennis Etzel, Jr.’s deeply inspired My Secret Wars of 1984 is a wholly original collection. Each page contains an untitled prose poem, which add up to 366 alphabetized sentences, one for each day in 1984. That year is emphasized on every page, as song and film titles from that time take on new meaning. For Etzel, it was a “cruel summer,” and the way he and his family were treated was a “neverending story.”
Each poem feels like a jumble, a burst of thought—perhaps a representation of how a sensitive young boy’s mind might work. As I worked my way through the book, the significance of Etzel’s form became clear: “By drawing a panel for my story, a box surrounds me” (29). Indeed, comic books and superheroes play a huge part in this book, starting with the title, a reference to the 1984 comic book series Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. Etzel, “a scholar of origin stories” (26), finds comfort in “the walls of comic books” (42), where he feels safe from wars both global and personal.
Etzel contrasts huge political events—“Reagan says” is a refrain that appears in more than twenty poems—with seemingly smaller personal events. However, the message this book conveys so beautifully is that no war is more or less important than another. The ache of transitioning “from middle to high school, from thirteen to fourteen” (19), of being bullied, of not being able to protect one’s mother, is as palpable as any Armageddon. Rather than dwell in painful moments, Etzel reveals flashes. His gym teacher tells him, “I hope you fall in life” after he falls from the chin-up bar. The Topeka ice storm, “the most damaging…in the city’s history” (50), is both literal and figurative; after Etzel’s mother comes out, “the neighborhood pushes us to the far side of the block, out of bounds” (72).
Another theme of this book is language as a lifeline. For writers, language is all we’ve got to make ourselves heard, but it’s so imperfect: “If language induces a yearning for comprehension, for perfect and complete expression, it also guards against it” (46). However, Etzel shouldn’t worry. His experiment with form—his 366 alphabetized sentences—is in no way gimmicky. Rather, it adds a layer to an already profound collection. In My Secret Wars of 1984, Etzel has found order in the chaos.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Part of my winter reading list: Bleeding Kansas

 Peacekeeping on the Plains : Army operations in bleeding Kansas
 Postmarked, bleeding Kansas : letters from the birthplace of the Civil War
 John Brown's holy war
 War to the knife : bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861
 Underground Railroad
 The abolitionists
 Capital dames : the Civil War and the women of Washington, 1848-1868
Fleeing for freedom : stories of the Underground Railroad
Give me liberty : speakers and speeches that have shaped America
How to be a heroine, or, What I've learned from reading too much
Indian Wars : the campaign for the American West

Friday, December 4, 2015


Hello anyone who is reading this.

I have to say, I am starting a project that is completely new to me, but not new to many.

It sounds ambiguous and I hate to be that one, but, really, it is something I want to wait to announce. More to come.

For now, check this out:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hiding in Plain Site

Male privilege and pro-feminism

to be one
not hiding it
speaking up and out


anxiety theory
feminist theory

Friday, November 13, 2015

Other poems coming soon

June 26, 2015
ADHD/Anxiety/CA's visit
Strike Out
leaving the corporate world (homophobia/racism)
John Brown, Bleeding Kansas, Brownback
wedding poems, evangelical couple
religion: mothers, ours, wedding
1990's: McDonald's, depression, Chili's wondering

1970: good
1980: Strike Out
1990: needs
2000: needs
2005-on: good

Monday, November 9, 2015

Now I've Seen Everything

A Poetic Form Based on Your Phone Number [by Robert Schultz]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     NOV. 9, 2015
The Poertner . . .
is a syllabic poem of 10 lines in three stanzas, in which the number of syllables in each line is determined by the recipient’s phone number, for example:
7         Sparked because the area
5         code is the inverse
7         of her favorite form—haiku—
6         with people glued to their
2         cell phones,
4         it's a way to
6         connect without looking
7         up. To profess love on a
4         miniature screen.
- Emily Sierra Poertner
Devotees of the Poertner see it as a revival of Frank O’Hara’s Personism, “which puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style.”
About zeros: Parnassian practitioners of this form say that a zero dictates a skipped line with a return. Others suggest that the zero be used as a “wild card”; one can omit the line (as in the example above), replacing it with a space or, alternatively, write a line of any length, up to 9 syllables (as below).
The inventor of this form is Emily Sierra Poertner, and she is happy to receive Poertners at the number shown above. Her peers have named the form after its creator. On the question of the zero, Ms. Poertner says, “For me, it dictates a skipped line, but the form isn’t mine anymore. I see chains of Poertners flying around cyberspace, linking people like old-fashioned chain letters, but with sweet, funny poems instead of death threats.”
7         The poem must move between
5         author and reader
7         “Lucky-Pierre, style,” as Frank
6         O’Hara said. It must
2         move like
0         a letter, but now text
4         or email or
6         whatever comes next. It
7         must resist “must” in favor
4         of fun, of love.
-- Robert Schultz

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004. Print.

Sobchack, Vivian. Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2001. Print.

From Canavan, Gerry. "'We are the walking dead': race, time, and survival in zombie narrative." Extrapolation 51.3 (2010): 431+.
Priscilla Wald explores zombiism as a science-fictional figure for real-world disease in her book-length study of such "epidemiological horrors," Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (2008), particularly the way such stories typically employ narratives like the "Patient Zero" origin myth so commonly found in popular accounts of public-health crises like SARS and HIV/AIDS.

"The horror film," Sobchack says, "is primarily concerned with the individual in conflict with society or with some extension of himself, the sf film with society and its institutions in conflict with each other or with some alien other" (30).

Monday, November 2, 2015

Outlining a Novel

One of the best classes for studying how to write a novel was a class in studying American Novels with Laura Moriarty. If you can break down a novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, you get an overview of how a story makes certain moves for its unfolding and in its surprise. As a writer, this helps develop in your own understanding for plot development, what happens in a chapter, the novel's hook, etc.

SPOILER ALERTS for Atonement by Ian McEwan

I thought I would include one of my many diagrams for this favorite of mine.

Assignment B: Outline for Atonement
Part One
Chapter I
Scene one: Briony Tallis has written a play. She sees herself as the model of perfection, as well as has “no secrets.” Ideas of “rich” class, as they have a library, are well-educated, the tone of the writing, etc.
Scene two: The Quinceys, the cousins, arrive. Have servants to help carry in luggage. Trying to convince cousins to be in her play. Lola will play the part of Arabella—the part Briony saw herself playing.
Chapter II
Scene one: Cecilia outside sees Robbie Turner—“childhood friend and university acquaintance” (18). More details to fill in the background as she walks around the mansion. She goes inside, thinks of how Briony is obsessed with writing. Knows Robbie has affection for her, which “exasperates her” (21). Uncle Clem had served as lieutenant in Great War—clues to time setting.
Scene two: Cecelia wonders about approaching Robbie before her leave. In discussion, Leon is bringing Paul Marshall. Accidently break vase together, as it falls into the pond. When Robbie is about to go after it, Cecelia beats him to it. Char. Development / their relationship.
Chapter III
Rehearsing for play. Lola / Briony clash. Lola being a little condescending: “Did you make that all by yourself?” (32). Showing Briony’s egocentric stance (as she is a child); Briony wondering if her “sister was just as alive as she was” (34). She spies on Cecilia with Robbie, and the classist stance on page 36. Also shows her wild imagination—how she “reads” them. The vase incident, seen through Briony’s eyes. She gets the idea of writing from three different points of view (38).
Chapter IV
As readers, we realize these chapters are switching back and forth between Briony’s and Cecelia’s points of view.
Fixed vase, sees Briony upset. Briony hesitant to say something. She walks outside. Leon and Paul arrive, as Danny Hardman is helping them in. Paul staring at Cecelia (foreshadow of his creepiness) (45). More setting via Marshall’s talking, getting forces together if Mr. Hitler doesn’t pipe down (46). Paul touches her forearm.  
Chapter V
Lola’s POV
Curious to why Briony left rehearsals. Paul peeking in on the children. A little insight to the parents, the Quinceys, being in the paper. Supplying soldiers with chocolate, as well as gives some to the children.     
Chapter VI
Mother/Emily POV
Scene one: Worried about Cecelia marrying and Briony’s failure up against Lola. Imagining the house as she dozed through the afternoon.         
Scene two: Listening to discussion from last chapter. Reader gets the sense of POV more, how the novel works to show POV. She is organizing in her mind, figuring out who is with whom in the house. She will get up.    
Chapter VII
Briony POV
Imagining cutting Lola down, using trees. Done with playwriting, pride, and seeking mother’s approval. Daydream vs. reality.       
Chapter VIII
Robbie POV
Thinking of Cecelia going after the vase. Background of writing poems, college plays, interests in pursuing career. Note: “In the years to come he would often think back to this time,” sets up idea of Golden Years. Something tragic is going to happen. Dreams of the future. Gives Briony the note to give to Cecelia, but it is the wrong note.        
Chapter IX
Cecelia POV
Getting ready for dinner. Helps to dress the twins, whom no one is watching after. Find Briony outside, who gives her the letter she has read.       
Chapter X
 Scene one: “The very complexity of her feelings confirmed Briony in her view that she was entering an arena of adult emotion and dissembling from which her writing was bound to benefit” (106). Shows she is still a child in her own world. She wants to write, but is distracted by thinking of Robbie—how disgusting he is. Briony and Lola befriending. Tells Lola about Robbie.
Scene two: She catches Robbie and Cecilia together in a room.       
Chapter XI
Scene one: Dinnertime with everyone, POV established after a few pages. p121 Robbie still thinks of Briony as a child. Briony hints that, based on what Robbie knows, that she caught them together.
Scene two: Robbie tells Cecelia that Briony read the wrong version of the letter. They are enraptured, kissing.        
Scene three: Dinner table, letter. From the boys, saying they want to run away. Robbie decides to search alone, like others, which “would change his life.”
Chapter XII
Scene one: Thinks about the twins running away, and how Lola undermined Briony’s play. Thinks of Jack in London, not wanting to know why. Clues to the upcoming war, as she recollects letters about mass evacuation, etc. Ghosts of her childhood.         
Scene two: Leon returns without the twins.      
Chapter XIII
Scene one: Her crime—building suspense. She knows a “maniac” is on the prowl, as people are searching for the twins. Hints of seeing this event from the future. Comes across Lola and attacker, who runs off, and Briony places the words in Lola’s mouth, as Lola is in shock.       
Scene two:  As they are returning, Lola is unsure who it is.
Chapter XIV
Scene one:  Looking back from the future, the testimonies, summary. Tears were proof, too. She is “in triumph” of being a witness to finally catch Robbie. Reading the letter, even when Cecilia is in protest. Briony’s testimony muddled, by her certainty. Robbie taken away by constables.      

Part Two
Scene one: In the middle of the war in France. Find dinner with the Bonnets. To set the tone of the war they’re in.         
Scene two:  Writing back and forth to each other while in prison. Now he had the letters. Thinking of the conversations they didn’t have.     
Scene three: We find out through the letter from Cee that Briony wants to meet with her, to ask for some kind of forgiveness. Briony became a nurse in training, skipping Cambridge.
Scene four: Families walking with soldiers. Passing dead bodies. Orders to head to Dunkirk.
Scene five: Sees dead bodies around. Robbie thinks of how Briony put him there.
Scene six: Flashback: R thinking of what might have caused Briony to turn on him. She wanted to be saved from drowning, testing him. She was “in love” with him. Thinks there might have been stranger signs there.
Scene seven: Flashback: meeting on the bridge at dusk. Maybe she would clear him now.
Scene eight: In the middle of battle. Stuka attack.
Scene nine: heading towards city, determined to find Cecelia.
Scene ten: More danger approaching the city seven miles away.
Scene eleven: Reach the beach where men are organizing. The sea, the beach, the front. Take off to avoid a fight.
Scene twelve: Retrieve a pig for someone. Look for shelter and food.
Scene thirteen: Thinking of Cecelia waiting. Turner is not looking well.
Scene fourteen: Robbie thinking of Cecelia, going to sleep.        

Part Three
Scene one:  Briony training at the hospital. “An abomination” as a nurse, Sister Drummond said. She thinks of the years as her “student life.”
Scene two: She writes letters to home. Sees her mother’s letters as a reminiscence of a lost life. Writing stories after changing the names. Wonders if Cecelia is ignoring her letters.
Scene three: Wishing to speak with her father. Life in London, reading about the war.
Scene four: Thought about Robbie being captured in France. Soldiers coming in injured. Forms a bond with Private Lattimer. Uses her French to converse with French soldiers. Rejection letter for Two Figures by a Fountain. (This is the clue to what we are reading.) We see she has used the past for her book.
Scene five: Sees the demise of London.
Scene six: Visiting the church where Lola and Todd are getting married. We find out it was him—that all three of them had sent Robbie to prison. She knows Lola saw her.
Scene seven: She is going to visit Cecelia. Cecelia knows Lola won’t speak up, and Hardman could be a witness but is dead. Briony is an unreliable witness. Robbie comes out. He’s angry, but she tries to tell him she is coming out with the truth, that she is growing up. She tells them about Paul. The scene ends with “BT,” the clue that Briony has written this. Maybe the book itself?

London, 1999
Briony has vascular dementia. Has corrections for her book. We are reading the words found in the story. She could not publish while they were alive—Lola and Todd. We find out Robbie died (the end of Act Two) and Cecelia died in a bombing—that she never did see them (scene seven).