Classes start Monday and I am ready to go. Or, as ready as I am going to be. This fall, I am returning to the creative writing classroom. (I haven't taught creative writing in a few years) and of course, I will also be teaching some old favorites including Writing About Literature.
But I also have other plans for the fall. I have recently signed up for a nature writing class through the WOW (Women on Writing) organization. The class textbook is Writing About Nature by John A. Murray. Thumbing through the pages, I am reminded of all the great books about nature that I have read and loved, including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams; Dakota by Kathleen Norris; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard; and Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez.
Thinking about nature writing books reminds me of something I recently read in Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. In many ways, this book, of course, is as far away from nonfiction nature writing as one might get, but one bit of information in the book made me think about my own reading. Vandermeer includes several authors in his book, and one author noted that when teaching speculative writing one semester she handed out a list of must read science fiction and/or fantasy books. The majority of the students had read very few of them.
Who would be on a "50 Must Read List" of Nature Writers? I would like to think that the books I mentioned above would be included. I also believe that books like Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (which I'm guilty of not reading -- it is sitting on my bookshelf staring at me as I type this post) would be on the list.
Still, what about other less known authors? One of my favorite books I have read in the past few years has been Deranged: Finding a Sense of Place in the Landscape and in the Lifespan by Jill Sisson Quinn. And I would love to see anything by Barbara Hurd on the list.
It's something to think about. Perhaps I should make my own "50 Must Read List" of nature books.
For now, if you want to learn more about how to involve the act of nature writing in your own life, consider enrolling in The Art of Nature Writing taught by the wonderful Melanie Faith (I took her class on flash creative nonfiction at the start of the summer -- it was wonderful!) The direct link for the WOW organization is here.
Last week, when I started my advanced poetry workshop under poet Shara McCallum, she talked a little about Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, a thin children's book that describes a small boy named Jack who does not want to write poetry because "poetry is for girls." The book then follows Jack as he learns to love the art of poetry through both the works of some famous poets and his own writing.
I loved this book so much so that I may buy copies of this book in bulk next Christmas and give it to every child I know. It's not just that the book was such a good story; it also said a lot about the poetry world and poetry writing in general.
In our class these past two weeks, we have spent a lot of time with form -- exploring forms that I already knew, forms I knew but never have accomplished, and forms I never really thought about before. I'm happy to report that in the last two weeks, I wrote two sestinas, a form I teach, I read, but have never managed to finish. Now, I have to admit that neither sestina is especially any good, and indeed, one is probably going to be revised into a more open verse form, but I'm still happy that I managed to finish them. I also managed to revise three other poems and are working on two others. So, this poetry break was good for me and my writing.
In other news, Rochelle Hurt spent some time on the Best American Poetry website this past week talking about many poetry topics, but certainly one that is near and dear to my heart: a Rust Belt poet's relationship to their home and their work. Read "The Aesthetics of Ruin" for a discussion of this relationship as well as some notes about poets who write about debris.
This past month or so, I have spent considerable time reading about the history of Pennsylvania. For the most part, I have researched local history -- the natural history of western Pennsylvania along with the "manmade" history of the area's lumber and oil industries. Finding specific information about local history can be a bit tricky -- I am not from a big city and when it comes to the working-class history of Pennsylvania, the coal history and steel industry often take center stage. Most of what I know about local history I know from when I used to work at a small newspaper and had access to the newspaper archives.
I have realized how much I didn't know about the world where I grew up. When I write, I am leaving big gaps in my essays. This is slowing down the writing process quite a bit, although I realize that I may be getting a bit too caught up with the research that I am getting distracted from my own writing.
Still, I was thrilled to find a few books about local history by Dennis McGeehan. These books are comprised of old photographs and stories. Together, they tell a scattered history of my part of the world. (I strongly believe that real history is scattered -- that history should not be presented as a straight linear line of events labeled with mere dates.)
I have also recently finished Here and There: Reading Pennsylvania's Working Landscapes by Bill Conlogue. (See my review here.) Conlogue's work reminds me of the importance of research, but it also reminds me that part of a writer's job is to give a voice to a time or place that may not necessarily have a presence (at least a written presence) in history.
It never fails. I could spend months preparing for a new course or doing major revisions to a course I have taught before, and the minute I put my final grades in for said course, I pick up a book that would have been perfect for the class. This time, it's Phillip Lopate's To Show and To Tell -- a guide that would have been excellent for my Advanced Prose class this past spring.
Still, not all is lost. Currently, I am wrapping up some of my own work through a WOW! Women on Writing workshop that focuses on flash creative nonfiction/memoir writing. The class, taught by the wonderful Melanie Faith, has really allowed me to focus on my own prose pieces. Lopate's words have echoed throughout my head as I have finished my final pieces for the workshop. His book explores the craft of creative nonfiction (or literary nonfiction) and offers a lot of insight about this fourth genre.
For me, the most intriguing chapter has been about the line between showing and telling. Show, Show, Show, is what I tell my students, when in back of my head, I know that I actually do too much showing in my own work. I tend to overload with images, so yes, my readers do get clear pictures in their heads of the story, characters, and setting -- they just don't know the purpose of these images! Between Lopate's advice and the feedback from the WOW class, I have officially been given more permission to tell, as well as show. Let's just hope that my new work isn't all about merely telling...
As I am writing this, the Northeast is again bracing for another winter storm. Yes, it does look like March is going to roar in like a lion. We had a brief, hopeful thaw a few days ago with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. This morning, however, we woke up to below zero temperatures. I certainly do hope that all my friends at AWP are enjoying better weather than this!
I am not sorry to see the last February. This past month has been a month of sick fathers, lost jobs (not mine), and bad news from friends. Obviously, all this has been distracting me, and I have barely made a dent in my to do list. Still, the past weeks have brought some good news (that I can't share quite yet -- no it's not a book) and sightings of the Snowy Owl. Western PA/New York has been one of the hotspots for the Snowy Owl irruption, and when I drive to work everyday, I keep an eye out for one of our new found feathered friends who has been hanging out by the Jamestown Audubon Center (ironically!). I also just recently finished The Thing With Feathers by Noah Strycker, which is a wonderful collection of essays that explore the similarities we have with the birds around us. (See my brief review here)
Safe travels home from AWP, everyone! And may you recover with happy memories and stacks of great reading!
I will admit it. The new year has not started off especially well. The cold that will not go away is lingering, with a cough that in spite of prescription medication is also not going away. To make matters worse, we have been engulfed in what I am calling "The Great Chill" - with temperatures barely reaching single digits. Thank goodness, we have now warmed up a bit, with temperatures in the thirties. I have been so exhausted that I have barely been able to keep up with my classes.
Still, somehow I have found a little time to write.
Years ago, I had a colleague who told us that we should try doing our writing assignments with our students. That sounds great -- but I teach five classes a semester, almost all of them writing courses of some sort. There is just no way I could keep up with all that writing (well, I could if there was no grading or lesson planning involved). Still, this semester I have decided to try to keep up with the writing assignments in my Advanced Prose class. Right now, we are working on memoir/narrative writing, and we just read some fantastic pieces by Lori Jakiela and Amanda Leskovac . My students' memoirs are due next week and I am determined to also have a piece done.
Right now I am working on an essay about fishing trips I had with my brothers and father when I was a child. Somehow, the piece is wandering a bit while I also struggle to explore the demise of the Brook Trout from Pennsylvania waters. That, of course, takes a bit of research and I am always distracted by research, so I am trying to stay on task.
I have also managed to submit to ten journals this past month. I haven't kept up on my submissions for a long time, and it felt good to get ten packets out the door. I'm hoping that at least some of these pieces will find homes soon, especially when I have received four rejection notes this past week. Apparently, editors are cleaning off their desks and cleaning out their inboxes in preparation for AWP.
I am a poet and professor from rural Pennsylvania. This page is dedicated to my publishing news and events; for book reviews published online go to the Reviews tab above. For my own personal reviews, explore the Book Picks tab.