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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Good luck to the test takers

How nice of us to make you take a major exam on the scariest weekend of the year.... Good luck to all the second-years as they hole up for their exams this weekend! And for inspiration, here's a tidbit from Calvin and Hobbes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Introducing Lynn Graham!

If you haven't had a chance to stop and say hello to Lynn Graham, the new Graduate Program Coordinator, please do. She's in office 325.  She will be a VIP in your life, believe me!

Lynn comes to us from the Psychology dept, where she was the grad program coordinator, and before that she worked at the Graduate School, and before that, right here in the English Dept, so it all comes full circle....

She is married to our very own Bill Smith, and they have two cats: Frank and Shadow.
Lynn also volunteers at the Whatcom Humane Society, where she is a good friend to lots of animals who love her.

Stop by, introduce yourself, give her a warm and hearty welcome!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Publishing Opportunity....

Hello there! I've been away, at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers' Convention in Portland. While the event was exciting (mostly because it was so wonderful to see that there are still hundreds of northwest booksellers who are surviving!), the best part for me was the train ride, where I sat at a window on the water side and simply looked out. Didn't read, didn't write, didn't work (well, for about an hour....), just got quiet and remembered how lucky we are to live in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.

But anyway, when I returned home I got caught up on email, and this notice calling for submissions caught my eye.
It will be a "best of the graduate programs" anthology and anyone in a graduate program can send work. Do it! It also looks like a great blog for those interested in future higher education opportunities.

In the meantime, remember to look up and see where you are.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Letter to a Young Writer

My friend Elizabeth Austen, who reports on poetry for KUOW, wrote a beautiful "Letter to a Young Writer" for the Hugo House blog (for those of you who don't know Hugo House, yet, it's an amazing incarnation of literary community in Seattle). I thought it was worth posting for you, not only for your own work, but perhaps the work of your students too. You can substitute the word "poem" for any kind of writing at all. Enjoy.

September 5, 2011
Dear Writer,
Years ago I heard Stanley Kunitz say, “The first job of the poet is to become the person who could write the poems." 
For a long time I thought this meant I had to become a better person than I am. I thought I had to become virtuous and perfect, so that the Muse would give me wise and beautiful poems.
But what I know now is that all (all!) I needed to do is to become myself, not someone else’s idea of me.
Visual artists David Bayles and Ted Orland, in their indispensable book  Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, write that “…becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.”
Or, as W.S. Merwin put it, “No one can teach you to listen for what only you can hear.”
I’ve never written a poem out of perfection. Poems come from the awareness of insufficiency, of confusion. Poems come out of wanting to see more clearly than I can right now. My flaws are openings, points of connection with the suffering and vulnerability of others.
At times I have felt silenced by the ordinariness of my life. But I realized recently that some stories need to be told precisely becausethey are ordinary—to hold the mirror up. My experiences—real and imagined—do not have to be extreme to be fuel for poems. But I do have to practice marrying craft with courage so that what I make out of my experiences, and my idiosyncratic way of perceiving the world, can be art.
Through years of reading and writing poems, I know that there is value in transforming our emotional lives through art and thereby signaling to each other that we are not alone in our experience.
I think it was Kim Addonizio who said, “The artist works to suffer change, the narcissist works for self-display.”
Begin where you are, in the insufficiency you feel. It’s one of the things that makes you human.
Write about what you care about. Don’t be afraid to take on what feels too big.
I found this note to myself in a journal: “What makes me think I can’t speak about the wars, about the larger world? Did I internalize some ‘rule’ about only writing what I know first-hand? Is it guilt about the abundance of my life? Is it simply fear that I don’t have the chops, that what I write will be bad? So what? Write the bad poems. It’s better than being complicit through silence.”
Write the poem that’s in your way. See what comes afterward.
Talent matters much, much less than practice.
And, finally, as Stephen Dobyns says, “Writing a poem is one of the ways to love the world.”
Write. Someone needs to hear what only you can say.
—Elizabeth Austen

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Old habits die hard...

I learned to type on my Mother's electric Remington (okay, I know that dates me!). It sat at a place of honor on the kitchen counter, with its black cover ready to be lifted off at the slightest typing emergency. I loved to watch my mother type, her fingers flying, the merry ring of the carriage chiming out every ten seconds or so. Usually there was a cigarette burning down to a long ash in the ashtray by her side, and a cup of coffee, brewed from the Folger's can, growing cold.To see her type was to witness glimmers of a self that had existed before I was born: a woman who dressed in heels and lipstick, and took the subway to work in Manhattan.

I sat at that typewriter after school, whenever I could, and pecked out The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog's back over and over, until I could type it by touch alone. And then I practiced more and more, until I could take the typing tests for various and sundry temp jobs over the years, never quite making it to my mother's 100 words per minute, but giving a decent showing of 60 or so. Those were the days of white-out; every mistake cost you something.

My mother and I were both taught to put two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence. Several years ago I learned that was incorrect, but didn't know until now why. Thanks to this witty article in, I now understand why something we'd all been doing wrong could be perpetuated through the years. I love the way this writer is so passionate about spaces! I can get the same way about the incorrect use of "lie" and "lay" but I'll save that for another time.....

Friday, September 30, 2011

Border Policy Colloquium

Hello All! If you have free time on Thursday this might be interesting. I spent the summer working on this project with other students from different disciplines across campus. The project turned out to be an interesting experience in interdisciplinarity and produced very interesting results. We compared the cross border flow of people into the U.S. and Canada in relation to the legal framework that each nation has put in place to allow for and regulate that flow. Three of us (Susannah, Austin, and I) will be presenting our report.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Happy Hour Wednesday!

Just a reminder to stop by Boundary Bay today at 4:30 and enjoy some cheap beer and tiny foods.

Convening at Conferences

When I attended my first Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference way back in the year 2000, I had a huge grin on my face that just wouldn't go away. I couldn't believe that gathered together all in one place were  writers, editors, publishers, teachers, students who all loved writing, were excited about writing, published writing, thought about writing, etc. etc. I got to meet editors who had published my work (or who I HOPED would publish my work!) and to talk with colleagues from across the nation about our work.

I attended this conference as a new Assistant Professor here at WWU, but I wish I had known about such things as a graduate student. So here I am to tell you about these things!

One great opportunity is coming right up, and right here in our neck of the woods. The annual Modern Language Association (MLA) conference will be held in Seattle the first week of January. Several of your professors will be presenting papers, and there will be sessions focused especially on graduate students and professional development. The MLA is where many interviews take place for university jobs (my first MLA, in 1998, I sweated in my ill-fitting suit as I waited outside various hotel rooms for my 12 interviews!), and I wish I had actually ATTENDED an MLA first, to get the lay of the land. Student registration fees are $45-65, depending on when you sign up.
We're looking at how the dept. might support grad students to go, but just wanted to plant the seeds now. I'll give updates as we consider the options. I see that the conference will also provide child care if enough people request it.

A little further afield will be the AWP conference, held in Chicago at the beginning of March.

And here is notice of a conference devoted  to graduate students.

The university has the Ross Travel Grant to support graduate student travel to conferences, but the student must be presenting a paper. So keep an eye on conference opportunities and deadlines.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spotlight on an alumnus

Today I read that one of our MA graduates, Julie Wade, was awarded the "Student Spotlight" in her PHd program at the University of Louisville. Julie has had much success in recent years, with a memoir, a book of poems, and book of essays all published or about to be published. There's a wonderful interview with her here:

One passage that I think will be of particular interest to you:

What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?
I think time management is always the greatest challenge for any of us, especially learning to balance your work as a student/scholar with your work as a teacher.  It’s very much like I imagine juggling flaming torches in the circus would be—a strange mix of anxiety and exhilaration, incomparable satisfaction and complete exhaustion.  The only way to deal with this challenge that I have found is to love everything you do with the greatest possible passion and dedication.

How do YOU find balance in your life?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

An event on Sept. 30th, if you like.....

Phew, that first week of the school year is over! I always find the first week to be both exciting and exhausting.

For me, the academic year has always been my "new year," more so than in January, probably because the Jewish New Year usually begins around the same time. This year, it begins on Sept. 29th. On the Jewish New Year, we take the time to look back on the year past and acknowledge where we could have been more skillful in our doings, and we look ahead and set our intentions. It's a ten-day period of reflection, and we are essentially wiping the slate clean.

On September 30, coincidentally, I'll be holding the book launch reading/celebration of my new collection of personal essays, Listening Against the Stone: Selected Essays, published by Skinner House Books this summer. It's serendipitous, because this book essentially spans my writing career, including much older essays and brand new pieces. Taken together, they form a picture of how my own sense of spirituality has evolved over the years. The title comes from a scene in one essay in which I lean against the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, seeking some guidance.

I would love to see you there, if you can make it. It will be at Village Books in Fairhaven (if you haven't been there yet, Village Books is our groovy independent bookstore in the groovy part of town...) at 7 p.m. Thanks!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Funny weather.....

The weather today reminds me of those hot winds we used to get in Southern California: the Santa Ana winds. As kids, we kind of reveled in that weather; walking to school felt exhilarating, with the wind blowing hot air down our necks. We got giddy. We jumped in our seats. There was also a hint of danger; anything could happen. Our parents looked distracted, as if thinking of times and places far away--lost friends, lost selves.

The master crime novelist, Raymond Chandler, got it just right in his story "Red Wind." I often think of this memorable opening paragraph when the weather turns like this:

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."

What are some memorable opening paragraphs of books you love?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Funny or is it just me?

"What's another word for a synonym?"

Here's a chuckle....

Debate over ranking of MFA graduate programs

To get us started, here's some news that's been hot in the Graduate School world lately. Poets and Writers annually "ranks" the best MFA programs, but they do so with questionable criteria. Check out the debate here and add your thoughts if you like!