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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH NICKI AVENA

 

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

In high-school AP English we students were supplied a weekly list of challenging vocabulary words. The assignment was to write a short story that incorporated all of the words. Students were allotted extra credit if we read our stories aloud to the class. My teacher finally allowed me and three friends, to make it a group activity because our collective storytelling became so extravagant; long, absurd jests and satires. We would spend all of 7th period art class distracted, pouring over these narratives to submit the following day. I remember one specific fanciful plot-line about a pirate with no legs and two hook hands who dragged his body, using said hook hands, to the top of Mount Zion during the war of the clones. I remember taking such smug, satisfaction in reading this stories aloud for some reason—the confused looks on classmate’s faces while delivering these weekly oddities. I stow these writings on loose-leaf paper fondly in a manila folder, like other precious documents, under my bed.

How many drafts = done?

Hmm… two? Three? One thousand? Sometimes I can read and reread a story dozens of times and continuously find a sentence to tweak or a word that better fits a sentence. And sometimes there is exquisite beauty in unedited verbiage that flows out of me like a summer garden hose and it’s one and done.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

After taking a long, quiet survey of my bookshelf I will nominate The Philosophy of Andy Warhol as my favorite. A friend recommended this book to me in college and I’ve reread it since then several times. It always brings me peace. It makes the world around me feel promptly in order. Andy has a way about him that I just can’t argue with. While I’m reading his writing, I simultaneously feel like he is reading my thoughts. I highly identify with his demureness, peculiarity, whimsy, and muses at what it is to be human and our private idiosyncrasies.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

The only thing better than having an anecdote effortlessly rush through my fingertips is coming back to something that was written on the fly, one week, a month, or even a year later, and still really enjoying whatever it was that belched its way out of me via flurried, sporadic enthusiasm.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I sat through a lecture this summer at National Geographic, where I work, and listened to a geologist speak to a theory based on mysterious shadow that’s been cast on Mars. I became enamored with the language she used. There is something very poetic, sensual, and earthy about scientific language, something that transcends the senses. I collected a short list of words/phrases that phonetically soothed me as she spoke: Noachian, seasons of mars, salmon moons, silica, zirconium, proxy, hydrology, amphibian, etc.

Bonus question: what literary character do you think would come across as really appealing and not appealing on an online dating profile? Think about what they would write about themselves online (would Mr. Darcy write nice things about himself?).

While Henry Miller uses himself as a protagonist in his novels, I think I would pause on his profile for a long while before making a cringing left-swipe. I would expect him to have a very limited, if not nonexistent bio, but hundreds of bands or Spotify interests instead. He would have one stellar cover photo, very hip, sitting before a typewriter. The rest of his photos would be vague, blurry, with poor lighting in dim bars, or distant surfing shots. Would make one question the artistic integrity of the photos: whether avant-garde or simply unflattering crop jobs. Wholly, his profile would carry the essence of someone who frequently sleeps on sullied couches or lives out of a van. My loins would urge me, sweating, to swipe right, just to see, just to dash a single toe over a craggy line dragged through wet pavement with a rusty pocket knife, to take a whiff of danger. However, my logical brain would soon come rushing in screaming “Swipe left! Swipe left!”, reminding me of that one ex who slept with dishware under his bed and how unpleasant that experience was.

___

Come out and see Nicki read on Tuesday, December 11th – here’s the facebook event!

~

Nicki Avena was born and raised in the woody tangles of the sunshine state. She moved from Florida to Washington, D.C. in 2014. Nicki is a practiced economist with her time. While the sun rules overhead, Nicki works in downtown DC as a graphic designer. Moonlighting as a fine artist, she diligently nurtures personal, creative projects, including writing and painting, inspired the foibles of the human journey. Additionally, she finds theories of intuition, anthropology, and the curious habits of plant life titillating. She is fascinated by the natural world and feels most comfortable beneath the open sky.

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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH ERIN DORNEY

 

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

In junior high my friend Leah and I had a notebook we would pass back and forth to each other between classes. One of us would start a story and the other one would finish it… mostly thinly-veiled fantasies involving our various jock crushes.

How many drafts = done?

I’m a fan of the “first thought, best thought” model. When I go through too many drafts I lose the thread of the poem.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

I just finished The Folded Clock by

Heidi Julavits which I almost gave up on but wound up loving so, so much by the end.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

Starting new projects.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I don’t find many individual words to be beautiful. I like “rutch” which is (apparently) a Pennsylvania Dutch word that means to move with a crunching or shuffling noise? It’s so fun to say, especially calling your dog a little rutcher.

Bonus question: what literary character do you think would come across as really appealing and not appealing on an online dating profile? Think about what they would write about themselves online (would Mr. Darcy write nice things about himself?).

Hmm I don’t know about an online dating profile but I would be HEAVILY into Elnora Comstock’s Instagram account and probably ask her on a date to explore the woods and gather beautiful moths from the Limberlost together.

___

Come out and see Erin read on Tuesday, December 11th – here’s the facebook event!

~

Erin Dorney is a writer and artist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She is one half of FEAR NO LIT and the author of “I Am Not Famous Anymore: Poems after Shia LaBeouf” (Mason Jar Press, 2018). Recent projects include “Cento Box” for Container’s Multitudes series & “The Hidden Museum, 2018”, a collaborative conceptual art installation on display at the Susquehanna Art Museum.

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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH LAURA GROTHAUS

 

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I was four or five. It was a small, illustrated book about a rabbit. By middle school, writing was both a pleasure and a panic.

How many drafts = done?

I’m constantly editing, and some of the pieces I’m working on now have been stewing for eight years or more. While editing, I’m interrogating the politics of the work, its form, and its diction. I love to see the ways in which a piece grows as I grow older. A poem is done when it feels both honest and necessary.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying writing prolifically, knowing that these scraps will be the ones I’m editing in a few years.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

I just finished The Fifth Season, which is fabulous, and I’m currently working my way through In the Language of my Captor by Shane McCrae, Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed, and The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

It’s hard to choose what excites me most! Certainly, the poetry community fuels me. I recently went to an amazing workshop hosted by Winter Tangerine. I love emotion, experimentation, and raw language, and I love witnessing what other people create at every age. I’m also excited by how poetry collections can function like essays, where fragmented pieces become a way of exploring a thesis or a story.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Oiseau, the French word for bird, for how it feels in my mouth, gathering the air in a big ball then throwing it out. And I’m recently obsessed with the fact that ghost and guest come from the same root word.

Bonus question: what literary character do you think would come across as really appealing and not appealing on an online dating profile? Think about what they would write about themselves online (would Mr. Darcy write nice things about himself?).

Rumors say Persephone is a sensation on OkCupid, just another polyamorous bride of death who’s only available half the year.

___

Come out and see Laura read on Tuesday, December 11th – here’s the facebook event!

~

Laura Grothaus is an artist and writer from Cincinnati. Her work has garnered nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards ranging from Poetry in Pubs in Bath, England to the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival in Cary, North Carolina. She has partnered with musicians, activists, and theater artists and loves to teach intersectional storytelling to all ages. When she was five, she lit her hair on fire with her own birthday candles.

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Five Burning Questions with Ann Quinn

 

What’s the worst thing about writing?

Getting to know your own extraordinary procrastination habits.

What do you do when people ask “How’s your writing goin?”

Say “fine” and smile, unless it’s a fellow writer who is asking in which case I give them a face which says “you know exactly how hard it is.”

Describe your thoughts on writing (either your own or in general) using as many nouns as possible.

Paper plus pen or finger plus keyboard plus brain plus heart sometimes yields pleasant surprise. First draft plus the above plus time sometimes yields something worth keeping.

What is it about your discipline (fiction/poverty/nonfiction/other) that draws you to it?

It’s my quiet way of being in the conversation.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

The word that I find when I need it in a poem!

Bonus question: What is the perfect Pandora station for me to listen to right now. Interpret ‘me’ however you’d like. 

Being a musician, I need silence to write, and I need to know the name of the piece when I’m listening to music, so no Pandora here.

___

Read more from and about Ann Quinn at www.annquinn.net.

 

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Five Burning Questions with Dorothy Bendel

1. What’s the worst thing about writing?

1. Knowing/accepting when a piece is “finished”

2. Being asked to write on spec ***shakes fist at sky***

3. Running out of snacks

2. What do you do when people ask “How’s your writing goin?

Smile & lie, or curl up like a hedgehog until everyone gets uncomfortable and walks away.

3. Describe your thoughts on writing (either your own or in general) using as many nouns as possible

Writing is a windowed shelter, inhabited by ghosts, enduring endless hurricanes. Sometimes the shelter is on fire. (Or, at least, that’s what it feels like at the moment).

4. What is it about your discipline (fiction/poverty/nonfiction/other) that draws you to it?

I work in multiple disciplines, but as far as nonfiction goes, I’m interested in work that uses form as a channel of truth-telling, of giving voice to the unspeakable. I get excited about work that breaks down perceptions of what nonfiction can be.

5. What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Favorite made-up word for no apparent reason: scrumtrelescent

Favorite French word that’s fun to say: pamplemousse

Favorite word for obvious reasons: royalties

Bonus question: What is the perfect Pandora station for me to listen to right now. Interpret ‘me’ however you’d like. 

I haven’t listened to Pandora in a while, but I have been revisiting some 90s Riot Grrrl stuff lately, which seems appropriate right now.

—–

Read more from and about Dorothy Bendel at dorothybendel.com.

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5 Burning Questions with Timothy DeLizza

What’s the worst thing about writing?

My least favorite thing about the writing process is how long everything takes: I read slowly, I edit fellow writers’ work slowly, and I write slowly. Yet, I want to read, help edit, and write so many things. The drafting process even for a short story can take over a year, and I’ve been working on my novel for almost a decade now. Then, when you get journals, agents or publishers involved, even rejections can take quite some time. I understand good reasons exist for this (quality control, most of us have other jobs/responsibilities, sheer volume of submissions journals/agents/publishers get, etc.), but it creates an odd dynamic where when something is finally published I almost feel like a prior version of me deserves the credit.

What do you do when people ask “How’s your writing goin?”

Per the above, I almost always say “Slowly.”

Describe your thoughts on writing (either your own or in general) using as many nouns as possible. 

Archivist. 

Borges. 

Empathy. 

Mordor. 

Resonance. 

Sub-subtext. 

Subtext. 

Text. 

Voyage. 

Whiskey. 

What is it about your discipline (fiction/poverty/nonfiction/other) that draws you to it?

Nothing allows you to find works that are more bespoke to your particular interests than fiction. According to the website 538, about 350 original scripted shows and 650 movies are made in the United States each year, whereas 1.4 million books are published. This disparity is unsurprising. Filmmaking and TV almost always require significant investment and at least dozens and at most hundreds of creative “cooks” involved, many of whom have been to the same schools, the same backgrounds and hold the same broad theories of what a film should be. By contrast, while not easy (I’m know), the barriers to having a novel published are simply lower and the opportunity for one person’s unique vision to be fully realized is far greater. 

This allows for so much more diversity of viewpoint and subject matter. No matter where your interests lie, you can find a kindred soul that written something that’s going to touch you. 

While I read broadly, I tend to fall hardest for fantastical works infused with real human pathos. I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction, and moved over to magical realism in college. 

For example, my favorite book published last year was Han Kang’s Human Acts. The book does everything good fiction should do, including engagingly reminding us of important history that has faded from (or never entered) our collective memory. Kang’s a South Korean author whose earlier book The Vegetarian received more attention than Human Acts, including winning the International Man Booker. The Vegetarian was about a homemaker who descends into madness and starts to think she’s turning into a tree. And I loved that, but Human Acts was better, more personal and more globally resonant. The story opens around a real 1980 student movement against the South Korea’s government’s implementation of Martial Law, including a ban on political activities. The opening section is told in a second person POV (a broadly discouraged literary device that Kang manages well) who is soon revealed to be the ghost of a murdered student watching as the bodies if his fellow students are gathered. We learn the government had sent troops that killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protestors. I can’t overstate how much of a gut punch the reading experience was. 

While movie studios like A24, and expanded TV programing from studios like Netflix, have made strides towards greater creative risk-taking, books will always be ahead of them. Consider this: in 2016 the movie Moonlight made movie history and won an Oscar for its sensitive portrayal of a poor LGBTQ minority, in which the main character denies his identity by publicly shaming his first male lover. This also can describe Giovanni’s Room, a novel written in 1956 by James Baldwin. (Moonlight’s director has acknowledged this inspiration). Hopefully we won’t need to wait 60 years to see something like Human Acts on screen, but I expect novels will remain significantly ahead of the curve.  

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I only learned “Defenestration” with the past year or two, which is the act of throwing someone out a window. Like, the toss can’t be from a roof or parapet. The fact the English language has a word (and Wikipedia page of famous examples) for this is both morbidly funny and distressing. Note that this doesn’t have to be fatal, and you can also self-defenestrate.

I’ve also always admired “Lull” because it is visually representative of what it means (the three L’s towering and drooping down to the U). 

Skullduggery is a gift of a word.  

Bonus question: What is the perfect Pandora station for me to listen to right now. Interpret ‘me’ however you’d like. 

So, I’ll interpret “me” as Timothy DeLizza. I’ve actually been working on a music piece for a friend’s website on the wave of great melancholy female singers that came out between 2000 and 2010. The below is a mixtape I’ve put together for that article (I realize some songs fall outside that decade). Anyhow, for me, a Pandora created by blending these songs together would be perfect.

Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell (from “Clouds”)
Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, Nina Simone (from “Wild is the Wind”)
Tigers are Noble/ The Tigers have Spoken, Neko Case (from “The Tigers have Spoken”)
I’ve Been Thinking, Cat Power (from Handsome Boy Modeling School’s “White People”)
Anthems for a 17 Year Old Girl, Broken Social Scene (from “You Forget it in People”)
Werewolf, Cat Power (from “You Are Free”)
Maybe Not, Cat Power (from “You Are Free”)
Low Point, Trespassers William (from “Having”)
Righteously, Lucinda Williams (from “World Without Tears”)
Anchor, Trespassers William (from “Different Stars”)
Because the Night, 10,000 Maniacs (from “MTV Unplugged”)
Fade Into You, Mazzy Star (from “So Tonight I Might See”)
Lonely, Lonely, Feist (from “Let it die”)
Haiti, Arcade Fire (from “Funeral”)
Walking with a Ghost, Tegan & Sara (from “So Jealous”)
Oh God, Those Darlins (from “Blur the Line”)”
Funeral, Phoebe Bridgers (from “Stranger in the Alps”)
Fatal Gift, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton (from “Choir of the Mind”)
Wanna Be on Your Mind, Valerie June (from “Pushing on a Stone”)
Matching Weight, Trespassers William (from “Having”)

Timothy DeLizza lives in Baltimore, MD. During daytime hours, he’s an energy attorney for the government. His novella “Jerry (from Accounting)” was published by Amazon.com’s Day One imprint and is available as a Kindle Single.

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Five Burning Questions with Kanak Gupta

Tonight’s featured poet is Kanak Gupta. Below are her answers to our five burning questions. Don’t miss your chance to hear her work in person tonight at Charmington’s at 7p.m.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I thought I wrote my first poem (and my first non-school assignment piece of writing) when I was six. It was called “If I Could Fly” and was written in all of fifteen minutes. It had 5 rhyming couplets and each one started with ‘if I could fly’…so all in all, pretty terrible. But hey, it made the yearbook! However, I ran into my first grade teacher a few years ago and she fondly remembers me giving her these four line poems all through the year. (What a teacher’s pet.) Maybe my brain repressed the memories to save me the embarrassment, or I just didn’t realize I was writing “creatively” until it was pointed out to me. Either way, my point is, my brain cannot be trusted.

How many drafts = done?

Draft until published (and only because I can’t edit it anymore).

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini for now. Hosseini’s protagonists aren’t heroes who change the world, they’re just beautifully complex, engaging humans who tell the story of a country through their own lives. It’s the only book that’s ever made me cry. Also, reading Urdu swear words in an English bestseller makes me so happy.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

It’s ability to accept absurdity. And alliteration.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Rhythm – It has no vowels which makes it a snowflake, the word itself has a very rhythmic almost onomatopoeic sound, it’s associated with music, which gives it so many more brownie points, and if you say it with a rolled R, just the most amazing mouthfeel.
A close second is randomosity, which isn’t a real word, but my one true aim in life is to make it one. Randomness just doesn’t seem to capture just what a beautiful and rare phenomenon it is to find something truly random. (I feel very passionately about this, as one should.) Thus, randomosity.

Bonus question: This reading is our 4th anniversary reading. What is something you either have done for four years straight or something you hope to do for that amount of time?

I have an alarmingly short attention span, I don’t think I’ve every really done anything for that long. Does writing count? Or wasting too much of my time watching movies and TV?  Though, I would very much like to have a four-year period in my life, at least, during which I live in a different part of the world every year. Now I just have to find a job that pays me to do it.

Born in India and raised in Dubai, Kanak Gupta (pronounced Kuh-nuck) is currently trying her luck in Baltimore, as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University. She is the winner of the 2018 Enoch Pratt Free Library Poetry Contest and has had poems published in Little Patuxent Review, her second grade yearbook, and her “I’m a writer” notebook. She likes reading, writing, and living stories.