Posts Tagged ‘rez’

the blue in the corner

The VCFA residency officially began today and here I am already writing poetry.  Okay, not “real” poetry, more like thoughts collected in lines and grouped on the fly, resembling poetry.

The opening lecture was by Louise Hawes entitled “Wabi Sabi: the Extraordinary Power of the Ordinary.”  Beyond that I will (can?) say little else; you had to be there.  But for those of us who were there we engaged in a little exercise where we focused on a neglected object and wrote from the object’s perspective.  Again, this just sort of tumbled out.

the blue in the corner

the broad springs that once crossed my belly
have each lost their mooring
unable to redistribute the weight
you placed upon me

you sat in my lap
heard me strain, the pop
surely i should have served you better
lasted longer
or at least through the first year of the warranty

but you would not return me
not to the store
you made excuses that i was too cumbersome to move
that you lost the receipt

and then your attempts to fix me
make me whole
return me to some approximation of what i once was

but i am what i have become~
a broken arm chair with a sunken seat

while you submerge yourself, deeper, lower
without complaint

i refuse to support you
while you refuse to abandon me
which of us is more stubborn?

Yes, I fully intend to fix this chair when I get home. I do have a plan.


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The incoming class is already starting to filter in, their first official meeting is tonight.  The faculty is already there.  The rest of us will be filtering in as well, arriving in time for orientation just after lunch tomorrow. Time again for that thing we call “the res,” or simply “res,”

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults bi-annual residency!

So part of me wants to promise to keep regular updates, but I know that’s contingent on any number of factors.  Last time I managed to snag a solo room, so I was able to stay up late at night writing and blogging without worrying about keeping anyone else awake.  Single rooms are incredibly rare, but still, one can hope.

I suppose I could try and Tweet.  But that’s not what I feel like doing in the brief moments between faculty lectures and studetn lectures and all the other good stuff scheduled for the coming scant two weeks.  But all of that is still to come because, as of this moment, I am still maing lists of everything I need to do, and some last minute packing, and everything else I need to wedge into the day before a nice mellow pizza and movie night with my Suze before leaving early tomorrow morning.

It’s a little like camp, where you can’t wait to see the people you haven’t seen since the last time you were at camp.  It’s like summer camp but all the activities are indoor, because if we added outdoor activites we’d end up there for a month instead of two weeks.  It’s a summer camp with a graduation and a prom attached.  It’s a writer’s retreat, and a battery recharge, and a reunion with community, and dorms with cafeteria food.

And I am a little excited.  But not so you’d notice.

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Well, here we are nearing the midway point through the residency and oddly I find myself jotting down little poem-like things when my mind wanders.  In the event there are grads or faculty who are wondering: No, my mind is not wandering during your lectures.  Just before or just after, perhaps, or in those moments after breakfast when I’m killing time before having to trudge across the snow-covered lawn in sub-zero temperatures.

I make no claim for these being good.  I’m not even going to say I truly understand what has driven them.  First up, some wordplay based on the possible meanings within a single word chosen at random from an ad in a local free newspaper.


the match sticks to the flame
sticks to the match sticks too
the flame sticks to the match
too stuck to each other too
stuck to the same to the heart
to the flame to the match to
the thing that is same that is
the match that sticks the flame
that sticks to the match that

That was the afternoon of the fist day, actually.  The next day I was toying with a pair of words in my head — horseflies and homefries — and I thought I had something there.  I was thinking something ranch and cattle, and maybe  it had something more to do with the cafeteria food.  But then this came out:

the ayes have it

horseflies do not
(but should they?)

cowpies are not
(how could they?)


(not ever)

blind eyes cannot
(so unseeing)

hereby wasn’t

farcries will not
(nobody heeds them?)

goodbyes aren’t
(who the hell needs them?)

There’s more, but it isn’t finished, and it sort of changes the pattern in a way that almost makes it look like it belongs in another poem.  So I’m going to keep working on it and perhaps that will show up next week when I’ve just gotten home from residency.

Finally, for this one I have to set the scene.  It’s late and I’m thirsty.  I go to the vending machine but I’m denied.  I cross campus and try another machine, denied again.  The next thing I know I’m singing in my best Tom Waits voice.  Somehow I doubt Tom would contemplate anything so banal, but it amused me to no end:

the tom waits impromptu

the vending machine
won’t take my money

won’t tug bills
won’t swallow coins
the vending machine
won’t take my money

just looking for a little of that
pause that refreshes
the vending machine
won’t take my money

taunting me with well-stocked rows
of untouchable recyclable soldiers
the vending machine
won’t take my money

droning a maniacal counterpoint
to a fluorescent display case hum
the vending machine
won’t take my money

I did eventually procure a lovely beverage, thank you, but I’m still singing about the cranky vending machines.

And now back to some paperwork.  I am in school, after all.  Looks like Poetry Friday is hanging out over at  Karen Edminsten‘s place this week.

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There’s a good chunk of the residency devoted to Workshop, that place were groups of us hang out and get work critiqued for a good hour or so.  The groups are artificially random – that is, there are a balance of genres and people at various stages of the program with little else to connect them – spread out over the course of the coming week or so.  Usually two folks are reviewed at each Workshop except for the first day, which is all about laying out ground rules for the group in addition to one critique, and the last day, which includes the last person and a summary of the Workshop experience.

Guess who drew the first critique for his Workshop on Wednesday.

A year ago when I started the program I think I would have plotzed had I gone first.  I think most first semester students would, which is why a second or third semester goes first.  Of course now that I’m up I’m totally cool with it.  There’s a certain amount of anticipation that comes with waiting for your turn, and the further down the list your turn is the worse it feels.  You sit throgh all the other crits hearing people’s opinions, their thought processes, the way they think, and you cringe at every misstep you hear as it applies to your own piece.

My first semester, throughout the rez there had been a sort of running theme about prologues; What is the point and purpose of a prologue, does it detract from the story, are there certain rules that apply, are they even necessary? As we get to read a section of our Workshop piece before being critiqued and get to address prefatory remarks (before being forced to remain silent for an hour while everyone else talks about your work) I announced “Okay, I get it.  The prologue chapter has to go,” which saved me having to cringe through fifteen minutes of that discussion.

The advantage, of course, is that you get the crit out of the way before the group really gets its footing and can lay into you.  It isn’t so much a question of setting a bar (though it could be depending on the piece) as it is that this group is still trying to sort through their dynamic while talking ablout your work.  This means that there’s a slight leaning toward the personal perspective rather than the academic one.  After four or five critiques people are referencing various lectures and comments previously made and a real reaction to the piece at hand is like mining gold buried in the iron pyrite.

So tomorrow then, I get to hear what this group of folks thinks about my crazy YA story about a couple guys who try to get out of a Community Service requirement at their high school.  I’m already bracing mself for some misunderstandings about the protagonists (there is more than one), the narrative voice (not set yet), and the fact that I’m writing it as an ensemble peice.  Hopefully I won’t be too devistated to post the reaction a couple of days from now.

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That’s the best way to explain where my head is at right now.  I left the rez with a raging burner under my ass but the heat has yet to get the brain boiling.

Were I a younger man I would fret.  I would worry and have ulcers and generally be thinking of myself as a failure.  I would look at my pending deadline (February 13th) and be in a shear blinding panic.  And I would find all sorts of ways to push all my work off until the threat of deadline forced me to cough up some lukewarm product and I’d be resigned to it.

The difference is that I’ve learned to let things happen in their own time.  I learned this from not having a car and having to rely on public transit.  In my impatient days I would make it to the bus stop and furiously check my watch every twenty seconds wondering when the bus would come.  Once on the bus I would continuously check my watch to see if I would make it to work on time.  As I got to my stop I would try to calculate how much time I had to get to work (or how late I would be) and try to mentally prepare myself for it.

Then something funny happened.  I realized that the bus would come when it came and looking at my watch only created anxiety.  And once on the bus I couldn’t control it’s speed or the traffic and so I found it pointless to worry.  I would get to work when I did and I was resigned to the fact that once I left the confines and comfort of my house I was no longer in control of the universe.  I never had any control over the universe in my house, but I had the illusion that with proper preparation I could manage to get myself where I needed to be with a modicum of punctuality and a minimum of stress. I was rarely late, and when I was I wasn’t stressed — hey, the universe was in command that day.

These things, time and space, they become the illusions we agree to in order to give our lives form and function.  I’m not trying to be deep, I’m merely explaining how I came to stop wearing a watch most of the time, how I learned to accept the flow of the universe, and why I’m not panicking right now.

Okay, maybe a little, secretly, but it’s against my better judgment.  I know that if I don’t freak out and let things come in their own time then they’ll come without the anxiety.  In the end the amount of time I expend might not be any different than if I panicked myself into last-minute work but without the stress I’m more likely to get closer to what I want.

Before I left the rez I gave myself until tomorrow, Monday, to allow myself a comfort zone for reentry. I was going to get things organized, plan things out, make schedules, and generally rest up so I could attack this new phase of work fresh and strong. Earlier today I was feeling like maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, especially once I started seeing my fellow newbies already posting comments on the message board about the books they’ve finished and the pages they started. I was falling into that dangerous trap of thinking I had already fallen behind and was a useless loser.

There was also a comment from one of the guys that said he was having problems writing for the 12 year old boy in his head because now he felt like his faculty advisor was in there and he had to write for him instead. I laughed, because I tried a couple pages of a short story last night and had the same problem; all my phrasing, all my cadences, were an attempt to capture the voice of my advisor’s work.  I didn’t know why it wasn’t working until that moment but from here it all is plainly clear.

So I was right to wait.  I still have the fire and the energy I felt when I left the rez but I’m slowly allowing that need to capture fireflies in a bottle be replaced with the magic of being able to appreciate the fireflies as they are, wild and free.  Uh, what I mean is, I ain’t trying to force it and my brain is starting to figure out what comes next.

Next is a day of organization, calendaring the semester work so I stay on track, plotting the middle grade novel so I know both character and story arcs.  I can feel my brain at a simmer right now, ready to make the jump to full boil.  Beginnings jockeying for place.  The stress level is down but the nerves are still a bit on edge.  That’s good, can’t be too cool or complacent.

And no, this isn’t an attempt to talk myself out of a corner.

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