Tag Archives: Reading

David Shields is a controversial figure in the creative nonfiction world: someone who pushes the boundaries of genre and sometimes inspires strong reactions in his readers.

In his introduction to Shields’ reading at the Lory Student Center, first-year M.A. student Caleb Gonzalez emphasized how Shields challenges the conventions of literary nonfiction. After reading Reality Hunger in Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s nonfiction workshop, Gonzalez said, “I am now summoned – as David Shields frequently summons his readers to do – to question what I write, how I write it, and why I write it. He invited me to question what fiction and nonfiction really is. He invited me to think about the idea that if the genres of literature are never to be questioned and challenged, they could not stand the test of time.”

Shields is the author of over twenty publications. Reality Hunger, a collage manifesto, explores the possibilities of creative nonfiction and the notion of “truth” while challenging and questioning some of the criticisms and limitations often placed on nonfiction as a genre. Over thirty publications named Reality Hunger as among the best books of 2010. Shields’ other critically-acclaimed publications include New York Times bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead and a National Critics Circle Award finalist, Black Planet. In February of this year, Shields published his most recent work, Other People: Takes and Mistakes.

At CSU the day before, Shields had showed his film I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. The film, directed by James Franco and released this year, is based on a book of the same name published by Shields and his former student Caleb Powell in 2015.

Like Reality Hunger, I Think You’re Totally Wrong is meta-art. Shields and Powell hold contrasting views about the role an artist’s life should play in his or her art. Does an artist have an obligation to expose his or her own weaknesses and shortcomings through art? Is an artist obliged to protect other people in his or her life or to obtain permission before writing about others? These difficult questions come to a head in I Think You’re Totally Wrong in raw and uncomfortable ways, as the artists break the fourth wall and debate about what to share and what to keep private in the film itself.

At his reading, Shields read a number of essays from the recently published Other People: Takes and Mistakes. These included an essay about former president George W. Bush. Shields opposed many of Bush’s policies, yet the essay empathetically emphasizes those character traits with which the author himself identifies. He also read essays about a cruel joke his middle school classmates played on one another, an uncomfortable encounter with OJ Simpson in a Häagen-Dazs ice cream store, and a thoughtful response to Shields’ own most critical reviews.

After the reading, Shields answered a number of questions from the audience. MFA student Meghan Pipe wondered whether Shields ever feels the need to revise a piece after it is published, especially given that creative nonfiction often comments on events or topics that continue to develop, such as Shields’ essay about OJ Simpson, which describes events which took place before Simpson’s famous trial. Shields agreed that it’s very tempting to continue tinkering with a piece after it’s published, but he has never re-written a previously published work.

MFA student Yash Seyedbagheri asked a challenging question about Reality Hunger and its exploration of truth. Given the recent concern about “fake news,” as well as accusations made against the Trump administration of falsifying information, Yash Seyedbagheri asked whether Shields still stands by what he wrote in 2010 about the difficulty of determining what is “true.”

Shields conceded that he has also thought about this question and wonders whether his approach to creative nonfiction could be used to validate fake news. Shields nonetheless defended his assertion that nonfiction should question what is true in a thoughtful and intentional way. “What we’re doing in our form is trying to investigate truth and acknowledge our deep flawedness, and that seems very different from what Donald Trump seems to be doing.”

Caleb Gonzalez had ended his introduction to the reading with a prediction of what the reading had in store: “Without a doubt,” he said, “what David Shields has to say will be interesting, stimulating, absorbing, gripping, and let us not forget challenging.” Gonzalez’s prediction was certainly true for me; I left the reading still wrestling with the difficult questions Shields’ work posed.


There are two more readings in the Creative Writing Series this semester. We’d love to see you there.

 

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Today’s featured author is a bit of a departure. Up to now, we’ve been featuring historical figures. Today, we are featuring a modern day historian. Ibram X. Kendi is a New York Times best-selling author and award-winning historian at the University of Florida. His second book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction, (read the rest of his bio on his website: http://www.ibram.org/bio).

Lucky for you, he’s on campus — TODAY! Get yourself to the Lory Student Center Grey Rock Room at 6 pm tonight to hear him speak. While you are at it, get a copy of his award winning book. It is compelling, provocative, and timely. The Root, who says the book should be required reading, describes it this way, “Kendi has done something that’s damn near impossible: write a book about racism that breaks new ground, while being written in a way that’s accessible to the nonacademic. If you’ve ever been interested in how racist ideas spread throughout the United States, this is the book to read.” Kendi is currently working on three more books: Black Apple: A History of Black Power and Malcolm X, 1954-1974, (under contact with NYU Press), as well two follow up trade books to Stamped: (1) How to be An Antiracist and (2) Bones of Inequality: A Narrative History of Racist Policies in America.

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~from communications intern Joyce Bohling

The Creative Writing Reading Series is a special opportunity for CSU students to hear established and esteemed authors from around the nation present their work, and when fiction writer Ethan Canin came to campus on Thursday, January 26, students were given an additional chance we don’t often get: to ask questions directly of the author and solicit his advice.

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Canin is the author of seven novels, including, most recently, The Doubter’s Almanac. As fiction M.F.A. student Yash Seyedbagheri said in his introduction: “Mr. Canin lets his characters trip themselves up.”

Canin himself would agree with this assessment. Fiction, he says, is fundamentally about people misbehaving; he actually described novels, in his talk, as “compendiums of misbehavior.”

At the question and answer session in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art on Thursday evening, whose audience mostly consisted of graduate students in the creative writing and creative nonfiction programs, as well as some faculty and undergraduate students, topics of discussion ranged from techniques for outlining and mapping a novel, the role of electronic communication in fiction, and the existence of objective truth.

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Myself a graduate in creative nonfiction, I found some of the advice familiar. Write every day, for instance, is a tried-and-true mantra of the writing profession that Canin re-iterated, describing how writers he knows went so far as to purchase or rent their own office spaces so that they could commute in to “work” like nurses or engineers or lawyers and spend the day on their craft, free from distractions.

He told his mostly student audience that they should be learning two things: “how to write,” and “how to be a writer.” By the latter, he meant that students should establish the habits that will make them successful writers, like writing every day.

But Canin also described aspects of his writing life that are unique. Before becoming a full-time writer, for instance, he worked as a doctor. He even joked that when his short stories were published in literary journals, his colleagues in the medical profession sometimes commented that they liked his “articles.”

Canin was also honest about the hardships of being a writer: the difficulty, he seemed to be saying, in placing the success of one’s career on a piece of art. Writing is “the hardest freakin’ thing in the word,” he said: more difficult, even, than being a doctor. He has “not written one [novel] when [he] wasn’t distraught” about whether the work would be successful.

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Yet Canin believes writing is worth the challenge because of the way it creates empathy for other humans, something which, he said, is especially important in a time of such political polarization.

One of the “only” pleasures of writing, he said, is “the moment when you become somebody else.”

And indeed, Canin has deep empathy for his characters, even though they are flawed and so often “trip themselves up.”

Of his characters: “I feel like I am every single one of them.”

Though it may seem to strike a dark note, to talk about just how difficult writing is to an audience of people who have committed to or are in the process of committing to the writing life, I found it weirdly encouraging. If grad school has taught me one thing, it’s that writing is a messy, long, sometimes painful, sometimes even embarrassing process. More often than not, I am, to use Canin’s word, “distraught.” And so to hear a writer tell us that he still feels this way, seven published books down the line, makes me weirdly sort of hopeful. Maybe distress is something normal, even healthy, to the creation process.

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And I agree with Canin that this distress does have its payoff. In a time when our country’s emotions are running high, when we are quick to point fingers, to accuse, or to explain away the things really troubling us, creating thoughtful literature that builds empathy and wrestles with difficult questions is an especially important pursuit, whatever challenges we face doing so.

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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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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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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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~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.

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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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~by English Department Communications Intern Ashley Alfirevic

Collectible trading cards, practice footage, and man-and-ball portraits currently occupy the walls of the UCA’s Art Gallery. “I just don’t get all the football stuff,” someone behind me murmured as an aside. Granted, we were all there to listen to David Baker’s prolific nature poetry and excerpts from his new book Scavenger Loop, so the works from “Scrimmage: Football American Art from the Civil War to the Present” did seem a little out of context. But I didn’t feel imposed upon by any of the hulking figures.

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“We are in the presence of valuable art. Football art, but valuable nonetheless,” Camille Dungy joked before the presentation. “So please be careful and don’t cross the white line.” Everyone chuckled, but as both an athlete and a bookworm for most of my life, I always felt at odds with the ever-present tension between collegiate academia and collegiate sports. And though Baker’s poems had nothing to do with football, or sports for that matter, he somehow had a way of diffusing that underlying friction, his jocular and easy-going manner paired with a nimbleness and precision for language. “Buckeyes represent!” He called walking up to the podium. “I’m just going to shut up and read some poems.”

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As he started reading his first poem, “Trillium,” and reached the line, “I cut it with my machete,” Baker burst into hysterical laughter, holding up his injured hand mid-gesture. “I didn’t do this with my machete. I’m going to have to start over now. It’s a serious poem, damn it!” And, in a seamless transition from the robust and hearty laughter, said, “By the way, trillium is a little flower. A very rare flower.”

As he read about shielding rare flowers from hungry deer, large wild cats hauling the carcasses of their prey, and bruising magnolia trees that have lost their way, their habitat stretched too far north, Baker both dissected language and brought it back to congruence in that way only poets can, erecting images of winter winds and scavenger lungs with chilly accuracy and warm affection. “I’m grateful to be here,” he said. “There’s so many sh*tty things we do to each other, so coming to a little room to sing to each other, that’s pretty great.”

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Before moving onto one of his longer poems that heavily references the fanatic writings of John Clare, he said, “I brought a damn handout. This is so stupid. You’ll appreciate it though.” During Clare’s time in asylum, he developed a secret code exercised in some of his 3,000 letters and poems that he used to shield his writing from the doctors. “He took out all the vowels. Like they’ll never figure that out,” Baker laughed. The poem, “Five Odes to Absence,” weaves together lines from poet Clare, Twitter, and Baker’s neighbor Bernard, a young boy who plays hockey in the driveway.

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His title poem, “Scavenger,” came about from an urge to take on agrichem giant Monsanto. “You know what GMO is backwards?” he asks. “I wrote that whole poem just so I could say that joke.” He says the poem turned from grinding a pedantic ax to mourning the loss of a nurturing figure after the death of his mother, becoming a pastoral elegy made from little shards of language, like a magpie nest. “I’ve always written about what grows outside. Poetry’s a useless art if it doesn’t have the ability to complain. It’s not a viable art if it can’t make its voice known.”

Baker’s poems carry an expert athleticism about them, natural talent combined with careful practice, ensuring exactness in the spiral of his language and in the force of a hard-hitting stanza. During the question and answer session, Baker suggested some reading, helping the audience figure out where to start with John Clare and where to branch out, beginning with the New Yorker. “I read this great poem the other day. It had a stupid title though – a sports title.”

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by English Department Communications Intern Ashley Alfirevic

Poetry lovers filled the LSC’s North Ballroom for the first of this semester’s Creative Writing and Reading Series. The room had a palpable buzz while waiting for Mary Szybist, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry with her latest creation, Incarnadine. The eager chatter and persistent clanging of the cash register in back quickly silenced for introductions. “We’re here to inspire, explore, and reimagine the familiar,” said Morgan Library representative Bruce Hallmark.

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Because the openers had already introduced her, Mary began by introducing us to her poetry. The first piece, an elegy for a former student, provided a description of “Heaven in Miniature,” somehow creating a tangible version of an afterlife by “counting up the things you love and realizing you lack nothing,” like counting all of the things in your pockets to remember if you brought your keys. Mary’s poems somehow make death feel vaguely familiar and conciliatory, adding before her poem about fish eyes that, “One of the great things about poems is you can talk to the dead.” Some poems make an observational interlude between suffering and ending — the flickering signal of a firefly being consumed by a spider, Lucifer and light blending in a poem of “courtship and hunger,” or seagulls feasting on the wounds of a whale, asking, “why wouldn’t such sweetness be for them?”

But Mary’s poems are anything but morbid. They’re simple and beautiful, sometimes funny and always genuine. Her language is accessible, and the lilt of her voice makes you feel like you’ve known her for a very long time. She read another poem using language about Nabokov’s Lolita, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, and Mary’s Annunciation, combining the power imbalances and sexual charge of all three to let them “shimmer all at once” with “intolerable tenderness.” She read another about teenage girls assembling a puzzle, a realistic and light-hearted poem that treats their comments about the veins in a grandmother’s hands and the allure of a velvet bikini with equal weight. She concluded her reading with a poem called “The Lushness of It,” and said, “You’d be as good as anyone, I think, to an octopus.”

At one point, Mary pressed the pages of Incarnadine wide and showed us the poem “How Not to Speak of God,” shaped round like a sun with radiant light extending from it, and said, “We often confuse faith and doubt, which we too easily think are different sometimes.”

What Mary’s poems discussed the most, and what I found the most relatable, was her struggle with the icon of the biblical Mary. She said she grew up loving her, but now toils to conceive her as an icon for women. Some poems were from the biblical Mary’s perspective, addressing the things women say yes and no to, what women are dutiful to, and what it means to be a mother. During the question and answer session, someone asked about her “fascination with Christianity.”

“It’s funny you call it a fascination,” she said, almost with a tone of curiosity in her voice. “To me it was so deeply alive. It was my world.” Mary went on to describe that after her break from Christianity, it was necessary to create religious figures differently in her imagination because “ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. They’re still in you even if you don’t believe the same way.” She said a sense of ownership in her poems converted the biblical Mary from a symbol, an object of contemplation, into someone she can have a relationship with.

As someone who attended Catholic school until college, who ended each school day with the Memorare (a prayer honoring the Virgin Mary), and had a rosary hanging on my rear-view mirror, Szybist’s poems hit me in such an old, odd place. I understood her “fascination,” her struggle in dealing with religious figures that you loved as a girl now that you are a woman. After her reading, I felt like I had a revelation of my own, not one that made me want to announce or denounce anything or anyone, but simply extend warmth and friendship towards the women, iconic or otherwise, in her poetry.

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Mary Szybist signing the book of one of our new freshman English majors

 

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