Tag Archives: Reading Series

~from intern Joyce Bohling

The reading of creative writing master’s theses on March 30 featured creative nonfiction M.A. candidate Dana Chellman and poetry M.F.A. candidates Denise Jarrott and Kylan Rice. Each reading featured unique style and subject matter, showing the diversity and creativity of work produced by students in the English department.

Poet Denise Jarrott was the first to read selections from her M.F.A. thesis. “What is it to live and wonder what living is about?” asked Jarrott’s advisor, Dan Beachy-Quick, in his introduction. This, Beachy-Quick said, is the ambitious question which Jarrott’s work poses.

Jarrott began her reading with selections from her collection “Letter Sonnets”; each of the twenty-six sonnets in this collection is titled with a letter of the alphabet. I noticed, as Jarrott read, how embodied her poetry is. One of her sonnets included the passage, “I do not know what it means to have a mind, but I can guess what it is to have a body.” This seemed to describe a theme weaving through many of the poems she selected from this collection: the sonnets dwelt on the physical rather than the meta-physical. Jarrott’s second set of sonnets, all called “Closet,” imagined what she might have found in the pages of her great-great-grandfather’s journal, which was destroyed.

Next Dana Chellman read excerpts from her essay “How to Get to Heaven from Colorado,” which was recently awarded the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Intro Journals Award and will be featured in the upcoming issue of the Iron Horse Review. The essay about her older brother with bipolar disorder uses the trope of maps. In her introduction, Chellman’s advisor Sarah Sloane said that “Dana’s maps are both anchor point and illusion.” These maps include scientists’ recent project to map the Milky Way galaxy, her brother’s treasured road atlas, and the MRI used to diagnose and identify a cause for his mental illness. Each of these maps is necessary as it is imperfect, full of unknowns and uncertainties.

The reading returned to poetry with the evening’s final reader, Kylan Rice. Dan Beachy-Quick, also Rice’s advisor, praised Rice’s poetry: “These poems…realize the world, but also live in it.” Many of Rice’s poems dwelt on images from his childhood. “There are certain images I can’t let go of,” especially images of fruit, he said, laughing. But while these childhood poems were light and uplifting, Rice’s reading took a turn for the darker as he transitioned to grim subjects, especially in his final set, a series of poems on enucleation, the removal of the eye from its socket. I was startled by the gruesome theme, but when Rice read the line, “All that are left to me are my eyes,” I began to think through the idea of enucleation and what it means for a poet to lose the ability to see, both literally and as a metaphor for the many ways that poets and poems themselves witness the world.

The next graduate thesis reading will be this Thursday, April 13 at 7:30 pm in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.

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~from intern Haley Huffman

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The Writer’s Harvest isn’t just a bounty of award winning literature, but it is also a food drive for the Larimer County Food Bank. It is an opportunity to provide food for those less fortunate. A community gathered to share a passion for the humanities in an art gallery that was stark in appearance, but felt very warm and inviting.

Well-lit white walls with small works of strategically framed artwork enclosed the audience. I felt a little out of place because everyone there seemed so cultured and this was certainly not my average weeknight activity, and this was my first reading. I stood in the back wondering to myself what etiquette accompanied a literary reading and how I was supposed to behave.

The audience

The audience

The atmosphere warmed up drastically after the reading began. As everyone settled in, their attention shifted to the readers. My own focus shifted too and my worries about fitting in drifted away.

Harrison Candelaria Fletcher gave a vibrant reading that transported the audience to the deserts of New Mexico with beautiful descriptions of the landscape and of his family bonds. Fletcher read several passages that reflected on his bond with his mother and their collective bond to the land. Fletcher’s words and descriptions completely blew me away and I could picture myself standing in the middle of the desert, with the red sand blowing around me. Fletcher read about the warm nourishing wind that blows through New Mexico and Professor Dungy likened that wind to the literary community that gathered that evening.

The theme of nourishment continued as Tess Taylor read from her latest book of poetry Works and DaysWorks and Days is about her experience working on a farm in New England. Farming is an experience that I don’t necessarily identify with as I’ve never worked on a farm, but Taylor’s descriptions made perfect sense. Her poetry was moving and elegantly combined farm life with the changing of seasons and the inherently human thoughts that both evoke.

The evening was dedicated to feeding Larimer County with non-perishable food donations, and it also fed the souls of the audience with literature. After experiencing my first reading, I realized that no one is paying attention to what other people are doing. The experiences that are portrayed through the readings captivate everyone’s attention and transport them all to different places, together.

Donations

Donations of non-perishable food brought to the reading

 

The Larimer County Food Bank is always accepting monetary donations and non-perishable food. For every $1 donated, they provide $5 of food. For more information visit: www.foodbanklarimer.org.

 

 

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~from English Department Communications Intern Courtney Satchell

Gregory Pardlo's poem, "Philadelphia, Negro"

Gregory Pardlo’s poem, “Philadelphia, Negro” from his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Digest

When I went to go see Gregory Pardlo read at the ballroom in the LSC recently, I had been in a bit of a rush. Under the belief that I was late, I hurried to the LSC building where I ended up running into Camille Dungy, who had arranged Pardlo’s visit to CSU. While I was relieved that I was not late, and everyone was just getting there, I still felt a little nervous.  

Gregory Pardlo had, after all, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with his book Digest. To say I felt a bit starstruck was an understatement. I had studied his work in a classroom setting and his poetry can only be described as amazingly subversive and dense. One can easily spend hours with his poetry and still not completely understand it.

Lyrical language and rhyme can often determine how the flow of a poem works and where the reader (who might not have the benefit of hearing it performed) needs to put emphasis. It also gives a poem some aesthetically pleasing qualities, but that is not all that makes up a poem. There is this misconception that form needs to be approached separately from content.   Form is not what defines the content, rather content shapes form and they’re crucial to each other.

What makes Pardlo so brilliant is not just his push back against the conventional lyric form but also his subversion against people’s assumptions. Pardlo cross references American pop culture, historical events, and literature to break down this idea that “Americans are culturally distinct.” He uses these points to fuel his imagination.

Image from The Guardian

Image from The Guardian

“Imagination is the starting point to subverting other’s assumptions despite the fact you can’t control other’s world views.” That is what makes Digest so powerful. It  isn’t simply the plethora of literary references that are woven throughout the work but rather the layers of meaning that Pardlo asks his readers to examine. Digest poses some real questions about identity and race.

Pardlo’s smart use of form challenges the reader’s concept of authenticity and constructions of race and how it plays into the reality that we have created for ourselves. His poem, “Written by Himself,” is the perfect example of this. It plays with traditional narrative tools such as slave narratives to play with preconceived notions about blackness, yet Pardlo, at the time of writing this poem, by his own words had only been south of the Mason-Dixon Line twice in his life. The poem emphasizes this issue with reference to Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” Speech, which had famously been altered to make Truth, who has been enslaved in the north, sound southern.

While I’d like to claim the title of poet for myself, my own personal work is nowhere near as well crafted as Pardlo’s and I was trying my best to act cool about this whole thing with arguable success. Thankfully, as I found a seat beside my fellow classmate Cesar, that nervousness that had made me jittery had calmed down and as the reading began only excitement remained.

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The night had a family focused theme, a theme that is echoed all throughout his work. As he read from his book, the poems he selected either directly spoke to his interpersonal relationships with his family (i.e “Attatchment: Atlantic City Pimp” and “Problema 4”) or how moments with his family would inspire a poem. When he gave the audience background to these poems he said “I am deeply interested in the ways we fuck up family.”

His poems spoke on fatherhood and how his relationship with his own father shaped his writing and his experiences as a father himself. When asked by an audience member about how he was able to write such personal and not always flattering portraits of his family, he responded that how we write about other people tells us more about ourselves than it does about the subjects of our writing, and it is crucial that when we immortalize another person through our writing that they must already be “a whole and complete person.” The use of caricatures is a sign of poor writing.

Overall the night was light and fun; Pardlo’s explorations and reflections upon his own writing were beautiful and funny.

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Courtney Satchell, Camille Dungy, and Gregory Pardlo

I didn’t get a clear idea of his thought process behind his writing until the graduate seminar he held with Professor Dungy the next day. This seminar was a great opportunity for me. Since I am only an undergrad, it would have normally not been open to me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I was excited to once again have an opportunity to speak with him since I had been so hopeless the night before, but I couldn’t guarantee that my nervousness wouldn’t once again get the best of me.  

However, before I could even come up with a game plan, I ended up running into Professor Dungy, Gregory Pardlo, and Laura (the graduate student who had been in charge of introducing him the night before) right in the parking lot. Introductions were quickly made as we walked over to the Morgan Library where the seminar was being held. As we walked and talked I began to feel more comfortable, and I even began to tell this nonsense fact about Elizabeth Taylor. As this slipped from my lips the conversation began to flow and the awkwardness melted away. I no longer felt as nervous as I had before. It was in that moment that Pardlo stopped being a famous Pulitzer prize winner and instead became a person to me.

During the seminar, I had the chance to really understand his thought process behind his writing. Pardlo’s writing style resists the traditional lyrical form in Digest. Despite the fact that he proclaimed himself to be as “conservative as possible” in regards to the poetry cannon and his regard for lyrical poetry, Pardlo specifically resisted  lyric forms in his work because complying with those forms would not allow him to do the work he wished to do. “The Lyric poem is the California Roll of poetry” he said, as he described his focus on form within his work. 

His approach really speaks to me because as a poet, there is this expectation for poets to have mastery over classical form, like the sonnet, and while I can appreciate those forms, forcing myself to use those styles is a disservice to the creative talents.

Courtney Satchell and Gregory Pardlo

Courtney Satchell and Gregory Pardlo

His visit meant a lot to me. Not just as a writer but also as a student. I always had dreams of becoming a writer, a dream I was actively discouraged from. I was told that writers, especially poets, do not make enough money to support themselves, and it wasn’t an achievable dream especially for me. Of course I didn’t let it stop me from pursuing those goals. I became an English Major with a focus in Creative Writing anyway, and I do my best to write as often as I can, but sometimes I can get discouraged.

It can be too easy to listen to those voices that tell you that you don’t belong. Seeing Pardlo gave me a much needed reminder that my dreams are achievable and that I am not alone.


The final reading of Fall 2016 is TONIGHT! Free and open to the public. More info here: http://english.colostate.edu/events/creative-writing-reading-series-writers-harvest-festival/

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~from Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

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Although reading his poetry now and looking at the list of his awards, honors, and publications might make it hard to believe, at one point Gregory Pardlo dropped out of Rutger’s having “bought into the stories about African American boys.” Having left school, Pardlo joined the Marine Reserves, and for several years managed a jazz club owned by his family. Watching the jazz musicians who played at the club, Pardlo started to understand the discipline and respect the hard work it required to be an artist.

I remember one musician who didn’t particularly care for the business end of things. He asked me late one night, as the band was packing up, if I planned to be a bar manager for the rest of my life — I was in my early twenties. I said I really wanted to write poems, but that I had to do something for money. He told me, in very colorful language, to commit myself to my craft, and if I did the universe would always help me to support it. He wasn’t wrong.

Pardlo went back to Rutgers University-Camden and received his B.A. in English, and went on to earn his M.F.A. from New York University as a New York Times Fellow in Poetry. His first collection of poems, Totem, was published in 2008. It won the prestigious APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Digest, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, (as well as being a nominee for the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, finalist for Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award in Poetry, and nominated for the 46th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry). He says of the title, “I’m a digest of all these identities, all these interests.” When Gregory Pardlo first heard that he was 2015’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry he was sure someone was playing a cruel joke on him.

His work has been praised for its “language simultaneously urban and highbrow… snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.”

Perhaps the greatest gift in Pardlo’s poems is their demand. Asked to step into his world and find out about ourselves, we discover our willingness to change, to engage in conversation, to admit vulnerability, to realign without judgment our relationship to a word, a thought, an experience. (Lou Fancher)

His other honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His mission now, “if I can say I have one,” is to “have my students, and have my readers, question the limits that they place on themselves.” He has previously taught at Columbia University, George Washington University, Medgar Evers College, The New School University, John Jay College, Hunter College, and NYU. Pardlo joined the faculty of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden this fall, returning to that same school he once left having doubted he was good enough to succeed. Pardlo is also the author of Air Traffic, a memoir in essays forthcoming from Knopf, and lives with his family in Brooklyn.

We are so excited that Gregory Pardlo is coming to CSU to read as part of the Creative Writing Reading Series, and we hope you will join us — Thursday, October 13 at 7:30 pm in the Lory Student Center Ballroom 350A. This reading is free and open to the public. We’ll save you a seat!

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~From Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub

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Usually one of our communications interns goes to the reading and writes about the event. They’ve written some really great pieces this semester that give a good sense of what it’s like to go to a reading, what it’s like to be read a particular piece by the various writers, to be in the audience on a specific night. Our hope is that this might inspire those who haven’t already gone to attend a reading, or for those who wanted to but couldn’t make it, to give them a taste of what they missed. However, at our last meeting of the semester the day before the event, it became clear to me that my interns had too much work to wrap up and not a lot of time remaining, so I decided to attend and report back myself.

It made for a long day. I worked my regular “shift,” attended a retirement celebration for John Calderazzo and SueEllen Campbell, and then had a impromptu dinner with a few colleagues before heading to the reading. I’m not going to lie, I was tired and raw by the time I got there. But when I entered the Clara Hatton Gallery, all that fell away. The space itself is a wonderful mix of calming and energizing, the ghosts of each previous reading and the echo of all the art that came before infusing the space with a sense of ordinary magic, just like all the best book stores and yoga studios and jazz clubs. And even though it was a public event, it felt more like a group of friends gathering.

 

Camille Dungy

Camille Dungy

Camille Dungy started off the night, musing about what might have happened to the great but soft spoken Billie Holiday if she’d been born in a time before microphones, and how artists are often at the mercy of the technology of the time, for better or for worse. It was a fascinating thing to consider, and I could have listened to her say more, discuss and write about just that the rest of the night, but that wasn’t why we were there. Camille then pointed out that “until 15 minutes ago, Andrew was the assistant [to the Director of the Creative Writing Reading Series] and now he’s the star!” (Cole Konopka will be taking over the duties of Assistant to the Director of the Creative Writing Reading Series). Camille gave thanks to the various sponsors of the Reading Series, finishing by saying that with the help of Andrew and Abby Kerstetter, “we had a really killer reading series this year.” Coming up in Fall 2016 is alumnus Steven Church, poet Gregory Pardlow, poet and non-fiction writer Tess Taylor, and the English department’s newest faculty member, non-fiction writer Harrison Fletcher.

Leslee Becker

Leslee Becker

Next up was Leslee Becker, introducing Vauhini Vara, who recently published a great piece, “Is Smoking Pot the New Disneyland for the Family?” about weed tourism in Colorado, and who just so happens to be married to English department Assistant Professor Andrew Altschul. Towards the end of her intro, Leslee said,

Look up Vauhini on the web, and you’ll see a list of achievements and articles, including many on student loans, so be sure to speak with her after the reading.  And now I come to what’s not on a website, inside dope from Andrew Altschul: “Her love of words traces back to having twice been a contestant in the National Spelling Bee, and coming in third when she was 12 years old. Her work as a professional journalist began when she was a teenage reporter for the Seattle Times, most notably interviewing Beck backstage at a concert about his hair-care products. She was also an editor of the Mercer Island newspaper and the Stanford Daily, though it’s unclear if she pursued hair-care scoops at those publications.”

 

Vauhini Vara

Vauhini Vara

Vauhini read a “shortened version of a short story” about a young college aged woman of color who losses her brother to cancer, then gets a summer job as a telemarketer, and then 9/11 happens. The opening line of the story draws you in immediately, “It was the summer of 2001. Our whole house stunk.” The protagonist had lost her brother to cancer and things were falling apart at home. Before his death, he’d believed he was a prophet. “The meaning of life is to find one’s own meaning,” he’d told a group sitting in their living room. But after his death, “my brother had died and my house smelled rancid.” She finds a strange escape at a telemarketing job, making a “commission for each conversion” and longing for “an irate,” a customer so aggressive she had permission to hang up on them. Then 9/11 hits, and she struggles with how those who weren’t there or involved react, wrestles with her anger, asking “Did you know someone who died?!” only to note in the very last line of the story, “I was a living person in a land of living persons. All I have left is you people.”

EJ Levy

EJ Levy

EJ Levy was up next, introducing Andrew Mangan, the final reader of the 2015-2016 Creative Writing Reading Series. She referenced his courage as a writer, writing about “those typically overlooked,” how his writing was heartfelt without being sentimental, non-sentimental without being cold. She said he doesn’t just write to write well, but writes about what matters.

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Andrew Mangan

Andrew started by thanking his parents, who had traveled to see him read in person, and then his fiance Hanna. Then he launched into a story about Percy, an elementary school kid not so lovingly nicknamed “Roadkill” by his classmates. In the story, he slept on a futon in the living room, and his mom worked retail and his dad had a flea market booth. Neither one of his parents made much money, so the family struggled. Sometimes their electricity got turned off because they hadn’t paid the bill or they had to get food from the local food pantry. One set of grandparents had been killed in a tornado and the others were in a psych ward. An “opportunity” comes when a snake handling preacher makes Percy’s dad a deal for “snake rent” — Percy’s dad catches and keeps poisonous snakes used at the church in return for a monthly fee, money the family needs. A moment in the story that shines with more than just literal meaning is when Percy’s dad explains the preacher is able to handle the snakes without getting bitten because he has Percy’s dad starve then, to make them tired, docile, easy to handle. “They have no clue what’s happening to them.” Percy tries to be a regular kid amongst the strangeness and scarcity of his life, longing for a Sega and in love with his new light up shoes. His mother at one point says, “I hate this” and “he could tell ‘this’ mean something more, that they couldn’t afford to want.”

Without planning it, the stories read that night were thematically similar, dealing as they did with loss, violence, loneliness, grief, and otherness. Two characters trying to find their way, trying to make sense of their experiences even when nothing made sense. The main characters were very different, as were their settings and particular problems, but I couldn’t help but feel they were of the same ilk. Similarly, the writers who read that night were kindred — masters of complex narrative, unafraid to peer into the darkness and report back, not just writing well but writing about what matters.


The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

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Selah Saterstrom

At once both warmly familiar and strangely terrifying, Selah Saterstrom’s writing took what I felt to be a comforting ritual and turned it on its head. Reinvigorating what I knew as literature and as reading, Saterstrom injected an electrifying pulse of stark realism, dark humor, and disturbing imagery into the Creative Writing and Reading Series.

The Hatton Gallery, as usual, filled with the amiable voices of friends and colleagues, and Saterstrom began by thanking the department for the wonderful pot luck dinner with a congenial southern drawl. Welcoming and intimate amongst cohorts, the reading fell in line with all the others I had attended so far.

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“So to answer your question, Barbara Walters, dogs do make me think about death.” Imagined interviews with American broadcast journalists, a southern town not flooded but completely leveled by Hurricane Katrina, and dogs that accidentally maul rather than save their companions, Saterstrom’s novel Slab was not what I was expecting. Described in the introduction as a a fallen biblical landscape, protagonist Tiger transforms atop the slabs of buildings that lie across her town like sheets of paper, tombstones, and alters. The concrete pieces that cover the landscape after her town is devastated by the infamous hurricane allow for reverenced musings on murderous dogs, cake recipes, and first kisses. Injected with sharp comedy and jokes that produce a near prickly smile on my face, Tiger tells us tidbits like, “If a southern bride serves red velvet cake at a wedding, it is considered a slutty thing to do.” Punctuated with moments of jarring irony, and constantly jumping from story to story, listeners can never quite place their footing in this world both destroyed and energized by Katrina.

Saterstrom then read to us from a book of lyric essays –  Ideal Suggestions – to be released in October. Her first time presenting excepts from her new book, she explained that each piece contains either a forward or an afterward about the origins of her work. The essay she read us, “Tale of Brother and Sister,” meditates on how a piece of writing can be haunted.

And the piece felt truly haunted. With terrifying imagery but beautiful words, the brother and sister discuss with calm a constantly shifting, immaterial scene of horror. “Some things have no shape,” the sister says. The essay, too, has an intangible shape, floating specterly from descriptions of fire and burning to dark and damp, starlets and pomegranate seeds to apparitions of dead bodies. Lines like, “People with gray eyes belong to dog medicine” and “Return the speck to the wet and tender stem” filled me with a definitive chill, as if unable to get out of a cold bath. Caught up in the disturbing visions alternating between blood and mold, Saterstrom’s writing felt arresting in its attention. One could drown trying to gulp down the fast, gorgeous rhythm of her words.

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In the Afterward of the essay, Saterstrom explained she wanted to capture the textures, atmospheres, and syntactical paradigms of two narratives: one of her stillborn son, Trevor, the other of her deceased twin brother. Haunted and guided by these stories, the piece has been in progress for decades as she left and returned to it to incorporate new layers of meaning and voice.

The evening ended with some Q&A, where Saterstrom offered poignant advice on the selection of time and genre for a piece. She views “writing as a zone to entertain the transformation of shadows,” and humbly offered up that, “the urgency to make the work trumps my need to know what the hell I’m doing. Listen to what the project needs.”

Instead of leaving humored or pensive, as I usually do, I felt gutted and hollow after the last reading. But it was intensely refreshing to have listened to something unsettling. The Creative Writing and Reading Series does not just welcome the English Department; it welcomes the power of literature in all its forms, apt to make you feel, as it were, something deep, or something raw.

The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

Next reading: Yusef Komunyakaa, Thursday April 21. 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the North Ballroom of the Lory Student Center.

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Creative Writing Reading Series MFA Thesis Reading, Melissa Hohl and John McDonough

~From English Department Communications Intern Kaitlyn Phillips

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Melissa Hohl and John McDonough

As I walked into the Clara Hatton gallery, I noticed first the energy and the atmosphere; dozens of happy voices bounced from wall to wall and back, the result one hundred echoes containing all the enthusiasm and anticipation of an event about to start. As Dr. Cooperman took the stage to introduce the night’s readers, these voices collected in every corner of the room, settling as the people did on to chairs and benches and along the walls.

The event in question was the Creative Writing Reading Series MFA Thesis Reading featuring Melissa Hohl and John McDonough.

As Melissa Hohl took the stage, the crowd quieted almost immediately, anticipating her poetry that had been so beautifully introduced. After a tearful list of thank yous, Melissa launched straight into reading her work — and we weren’t disappointed.

Melissa Hohl’s poetry is sharp, paused and fragmented; listening to her read her work aloud was entrancing, and the audience sat at full attention from one poem to the next. Her poems focus on selfhood or sense of self, and the importance of one’s name to both of these things. As she finished reading, I felt as though I was being pulled out of her world and back into my own; her work captures the mind entirely, and I look forward to seeing her published work in the near future.

Next to read was John McDonough who primarily writes short stories, and chose to read his piece “Sitting,” a beautifully written and compelling short story about how humans connect with each other, focusing on the relationships between employers and employees, men and women, and strangers and friends. There is an authenticity that rang throughout the story as he told it, and a deep understanding of human relationships unfolded as he came to the story’s end. It was descriptive, enticing, deeply true and honest, and every bit as entrancing as Hohl’s work.

As the night came to an end and people began to clear the gallery, Hohl and McDonough were left at the front of the room, excitedly hugging family members and receiving high praise from friends and strangers alike. It was a pleasure to see two hard working CSU students read the work they were proud of and spend a night being celebrated for it.

So thank you to Melissa and John for a wonderful night of poetry and storytelling, and the English Department is wishing you luck in your careers beyond CSU.


The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

Next reading: Selah Saterstrom, Thursday April 14. 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the Clara Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building.

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Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis

Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis

After my last reading series fiasco, I made sure to arrive early to the Hatton Gallery, sitting among empty chairs until they slowly filled up with the familiar voices of my professors and classmates.

With the warm chatter dying down, the first presenter introduced Stuart Moore as a man who very rarely stands still, constantly fly fishing or hiking or biking or ice climbing. This constant movement, this nimbleness, comes through in his nonfiction writing as “karomi – the lightness of thought essential for art.” The lightness of his art comes across in his humor, too, easy and relatable.

Moore wrote his nonfiction essay on his long distance hike of the Colorado trails, opening with the beautiful and taxing world of the peaks where “lightening crackles in dry heaves above the forest.” In his writing, “time seems to be something edible” out on the trails, as the concrete digest-ability of what is occurring in front of him becomes of the utmost importance: the detailed steps of packing food, the ease of setting up a tent, the patience of catching a fish, and, quite frequently, the process of sh*tting in the woods. Moore’s descriptions of “letting one rip – loud and free” brought abject enjoyment to the audience, and the crowd giggled and laughed along as he talked about partaking in Colorado’s most (in)famous pastime with his hiking companions.

But what comes with this almost boyish humor is a struggle between a son and his father. Alternating  between retrospective memories of a boy peeking into his father’s office and the more immediate glances into intensive care units, he most often recalls his father’s bookshelf filled with blank journals and self-help titles to combat bipolar disorder, a failing marriage, and a distance from God. By the end of his time on the trail, an experienced hiker that can traverse the mountains with a comfortable ease, he passes on his wisdom to the two eighteen-year-olds he meets who are just starting their journey, offering a guiding voice to the young men looking for advice.

Debby Thompson then introduced Dean Sangalis, another writer in constant movement like an orbiting satellite. His astral view shines through in his commentary as a TA, she said; when demonstrating the effect of a braided essay, he drew seemingly random loops until they combined into an intricate flower.

“You have that flower that I drew! I want that back – it was beautiful!” Sangalis exclaimed on his way up. Reading a series of micro-essays, he punctuates his musings of almost cosmic reach with sincere and grounded bits of humor, his astrological and transcendental thoughts on auras and anarchy for a moment swallowed back with a rough swig of alcohol. The first story starts on a night out at the bars with friends. “Scotch sounds good in the rain,” he says, before he recalls calling a clairvoyant over the phone, who compliments his bright and complicated geometric aura, undisturbed by food or drink. He looks at a sage plant and wonders about pouring his gin and tonic in it, wondering if it would make it look ugly.

His second piece observes an intellectual discussion marred by alcohol, though it mirrors more the chuckling of a sober onlooker than the serious and philosophical insistence of the drunken debaters. An angsty young party-goer talks anarchy with his silent companion, and Sangalis tries to interject deep probes into his anti-government philosophy, only to be answered by confusion and, later, vomit. The last work, one he described as in “a rough state, but felt compelled to share” felt nothing of the sort. Lamenting the belief that he is going bald, Sangalis nostalgically recalls the bowl-cuts and later attempts at metal-hair from his youth, a Sampson-esque attachment to the potency and vigor attached to his formerly flowing locks. Between affinities for hairdressers and his urging them to “trust the hair” to his belief that hairstyles have the capacity to maintain your mental state, Sangalis manages to convey the vanity we all have towards our hair with hilarity, and some commentary on self-worth and self-reflection along the way.

On a night with the audience still moving slow post-snowday, Moore and Sangalis propelled their stories forward with humor, insight, and honesty. Whether a hike through the Rockies prompts attention to the fundamentals of survival, or a receding hairline creates a psycho-social examination into the world of follicles, these two authors tackle nonfiction with an unbound sense of creativity towards themselves and the world around them.

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SteveAlmond

~From English Department Communications Intern Kaitlyn Phillips

At 7:30 in the Lory Student Center’s Cherokee Park Ballroom, people began to filter in and take their seats. They talk excitedly, browse the books for sale in the corner, and await author Steve Almond to take the stage and recite a sample of his work.

Having never read Almond’s work before this event, I didn’t know what to expect; the people around me ranged from elderly gentleman in suits with pristine copies of Almond’s work in hand, to undergraduate English majors like myself, dressed in jeans and flannels and gathering to laugh and talk loudly in the room’s corners. There was, however, a conspicuous lack of younger children in the room, and I soon found out why.

After several introductions from faculty and grad students alike, Steve Almond took to the podium followed by an almost rowdy round of applause from the audience.

What followed was an hour of the audience laughing almost nonstop.

Almond’s work, to my surprise, was mostly satirical, blending crude humor and serious debate in an absolutely unique and hysterical way that kept the viewers present (myself included) close to tears with laughter throughout the reading.

As Almond read his work, I began to realize that the lack of children was for good reason; Almond’s work, while hilarious, is definitely not meant for a younger audience.

He began with several excerpts from his book Against Football, a brilliant critique of the dark side of America’s favorite game that reveals its tendencies to promote violence, over indulgence, homophobia, and racism. Though the topic of the piece is in-depth and often times heavy, Almond is able to highlight these ideas more effectively through humor, both provoking the audience to thought and leaving them laughing.

He continued by introducing books he had written and published himself, short and contained novellas or essays whose contents range from hate mail he receives and his (hysterical) responses to them, to a collection of “short shorts” that he describes as “little bursts of empathy.” These small samples of Almond’s work can only be purchased in cash and from him directly; this project was set up this way intentionally; as Almond explained, “everybody who owns one of these books has taken it from my hands; an interaction had to have occurred for them to read it.”

One of the most memorable moments of the reading for me came from an excerpt from one of these small novels called “Bad Poetry,” in which Almond showcases the few years he “decided [he] could write poetry,” as he puts it. He read, reciting his own evaluation, “the worst poem ever written” entitled “Hobo Chant, 1938.” Almond’s reading and response was (of course) hysterical, but he ended his response to the poem with a lesson he took away from writing it, saying “Anytime you fail at a piece of writing, it is only because it was a story you were not ready to tell.”

It’s safe to say the rest of the audience enjoyed the reading at least as much as I did; there were lines out the door to purchase Almond’s work, and many waited for nearly an hour after the event’s end to purchase the smaller collection he carries with him.

As someone who is normally wary of satirical essays and notoriously hard to impress with crude humor, I couldn’t recommend Steve Almond’s work more; as a balanced collection of humor, satire, and thought-provoking reality, Almond’s novels, essays, and short stories are definitely worth a read.

 

Much of Almond’s work is available in CSU’s bookstore, including Against Football  and his newest release, a collection of short stories titled God Bless America. All of his work, with the exception of the short novels described here, can be purchased on  http://againstfootball.org/


The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

Next reading: MFA Thesis Reading (Nonfiction), Thursday March 24. 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the Clara Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building.

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~From English Department Communications Intern Ashley Alfirevic

I had often been warned about this, that agreeing to too much, even willingly and excitedly, might have its pitfalls. “Of course I can handle covering two events in one night. It won’t be a problem. The readings are always fun, anyways,” I thought.

That is, until I walked past the UCA’s Art Gallery to find it empty. I followed the sound of voices through the halls until I accidently startled some (presumably) theater majors. “The Hatton Gallery’s not in here, is it?” I asked.

They looked at me sympathetically. “That’s on the other side of campus.”

So, after admitting my defeat and driving to the Visual Arts building, I guiltily opened the door during the middle of Camille Dungy’s opening for Luke Dani Blue & Stephanie Lenox. “I went to the wrong building,” I whispered to the strangers sitting next to me.

A Colorado Review-er introduced Blue, commenting on the particular pleasure that came from accepting the story that had so captured her attention, and also from the knowledge that Blue’s cattle dog could do backflips.

Luke Dani Blue

Luke Dani Blue

“I lied about my dog,” Blue admitted when stepping up to the front. “It’s more of an uncoordinated half-spin than a backflip.” Prize winning dog or not, Blue certainly has her fair share of things to be proud of, including a Nelligan Prize for her story “Bad Things That Happen to Girls.”

An entrancing combination of fairytale and coming-of-age narratives, immigrant mother Birdie fills a role neither Godmother nor Stepmother, as her best attempts to rescue her child seem to the girl an imprisonment. Birdie wants to save her daughter Trish from the burdens of female adolescence on her thirteenth birthday. She sells their most prized possessions and quits her job to surprise Trish with an RV, so that they can travel the country together along a silver ribbon of road where “just beyond today, dawns lined up.” The secret gives her jitters, but the ultimate reveal falls flat in a world without magic, one where the Rapunzel wants to cut her hair and doesn’t want to leave the tower.

After Birdie’s failed fantasy in “Bad Things,” with its beautiful but strained relationship between mother and daughter, Stephanie Lenox’s poetry came with lighthearted laughter. Her book The Business both “challenges and celebrates societal performativity of the day job and the office routine.”

Stephanie Lenox

Stephanie Lenox

Lenox held up the nametag that inspired it all, a symbol of her working office life where a co-worker whispered to her both a plea and a promise of hilarity: “You’re a writer, right? Write about this.” Simultaneously analytical, scathing, and laugh-out-loud funny, The Business provides commentary on the work of work, discussing the potentially meticulous afterlife of secretaries in heaven or the unwarranted nostalgia for unused fax machines. The audience contributed their own personal disdain and small affections for office life by helping to chant Lenox’s chorus for one of her poems, “Employees Must Wash Hands,” prompted for the proper recitation with a gold sign bearing the instruction. Finally, the evening ended on the raucous laughter and identification of the “Take This Job and Shove It” Ode.

Though the night consisted of a string of admitted defeats – of losing touch with a teenage daughter, of losing sanity in the rat race, and of losing the belief that you can do it all – each story preserved and held their own happy endings: for “Bad Things That Happen to Girls,” an endearing belief in fairytales and an unshakeable love between mother and child; for The Business, the ability to maintain a sense of humor and unbridled amusement amongst the day to day; for me, a pleasant reminder that I am always absorbed and enlightened by an author’s work, even if I’m a little late in hearing it.

bluestephanie

Luke Dani Blue & Stephanie Lenox

 


The Creative Writing Reading Series at CSU is organized by English Department faculty and the Organization of Graduate Student Writers (OGSW); Creative Writing faculty serve on a rotating basis as director of the series and faculty advisor to OGSW. The series has a small annual budget and relies on the support of the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, donors, local businesses, and CSU’s English Department. Its spring 2016 events are made possible with support from CSU’s Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, a premier funder of the arts at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx. All events are free and open to the public.

Next reading: MFA Thesis Reading (Nonfiction), Thursday March 24. 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm in the Clara Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building.

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