The Art of Medicine in Metaphors

51W5fiDabHL._SY380_This is a bit of a belated post. Last summer, I was contacted by James Borton to see if I was interested in helping put together a manuscript for a call he had done on illness narratives. By the end of the year, and after countless hours of work, we had a book. An anthology to be exact. The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives came out in January and it makes my heart feel good to see the stories out and in the public. These are people, myself included, writing about illness, injury, and death. These are family members, patients, and care-givers. That’s part of what makes this collection unique. We have doctors writing poetry alongside patients writing poetry (or narratives).

In putting together the collection, I had to read the manuscript several times (it was with these stories in mind that I created the cover painting). It began with reading the Chicago Manual of Style and figuring out things like how to create a table of contents, how to number the pages, and what is the difference between a prologue and a preface. If you are a writer, I suggest you spend an evening reading it over. It is eye-opening. Even armed with this knowledge though, it was a steep learning curve when the manuscript got accepted by Copernicus Healthcare. There was formatting in the document that I wasn’t even aware of. Each time I looked over a new e-version of the manuscript, I found additional errors. We even had outside proof-readers. I guess, no matter what, there will still be some issues but it is worth the work to make sure you have put out a quality product.

What we ended up with was a quality product. When my sister proofread, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives she found it overwhelming. It brought up a lot for her. To me, as a memoirist, that’s the highest honor a work can receive. To have a reader say, I feel so much when I read this that I have to take it in a bite at a time is huge. To know that there is a community that has developed out of this work  makes my heart happy. The comments that have started to come in on Amazon and the reviews on multiple blogs and websites prove attest to the book’s reach. The collection is $14.95 and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and many other booksellers.

Claflin Conference

On Thursday, I went down to Claflin University to present a panel and reading at their 10th annual Claflin University Conference on Contemporary English and Language Arts Pedagogy in Secondary and Post-secondary Institutions. Man that’s a long name. Anyhow, it was my first panel and I was fortunate to be presenting alongside some very talented students from USC. Like I do with all presentations, I write everything out I want to say. I ended up skipping a ton of it because it was just too dense. In the future I think I will use bullet points. Scanning blocks of text is not something I can do quickly so I end up saying um a lot to grant myself time. Lesson learned.

Another thing that I learned is that there seems to be a place for everyone’s style. Maybe that sounds silly or obvious even. There were six of us that read our work and each of our styles was drastically different. We all received positive feedback and had others approach us afterwards. I don’t know, I just found it very encouraging. I don’t have to force myself to be something I am not because the field is so open to different voices.

In other news – I just got my copy of Poets & Writers magazine. Fearless Books has a call for poetry. They have a $10 reading fee and that doesn’t include anything. That concerns me. I could see paying a couple of dollars to, say, The Colorado Review but $10 and no freebies seems like a lot especially for something that is only printed in ebook format. I am equally leery of the Indie book awards these kinds of publications post because those too are paying competitions with a lot of winners. Am I just being old-fashioned? What do you think?

Shepard Symposium on Social Justice

I got some great news this week. My paper proposal was accepted at the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice at the University of Wyoming. I will be giving a fifty minute presentation at the conference on April 8th from 2:30-3:20. Registration is free. The theme this year is CREATE: Activism Toward Social Justice. My talk (and the corresponding paper) is titled “Writing Trauma: Building Community, Resistance, and Resilience through Personal Narrative.”

So let’s talk a bit about conference proposals. To apply to present at a conference, you typically need a proposal. The word length varies and will be listed on the call for entries. In my proposal (see below), I started with a narrative. I did this because the group I am presenting to will be mixed. If I wrote something academic, it would not be accessible to many of the attendees. I guess that is the first step: consider your audience. If you know your audience, it will help you figure out why your work is important and to whom. Mind you, this is a proposal and not an entire paper (that comes later).

In the first paragraph, I focused on my interest in the topic which gave me a way in and also gave my writing authority. In the second paragraph, I summarized the key points of the paper and tried to emphasize why it was important and who would benefit from it.

They also required an abstract. Mine was limited to fifty words as it would appear as a description in the bulletin. I tried to be very clear and direct so my topic and tone would be very clear. There isn’t anything worse than someone walking out during your presentation because they thought it was about something else. Well…I guess no one showing up at all would be worse. Typically your abstract is a summary of your subject, research, and results. Someone should be able to read your abstract and get a sense of your paper without actually having to read (although you want them to read it).

Here is my proposal. I hope you find it helpful. Speaking at events like this is a great way to start building your platform. Now I have to write the paper (thank God the research is done), prepare my presentation, and get a photo taken so I can put it on my business cards. At the poetry workshop I gave last week, a woman handed me her business card. It had her photo on it and I was surprised by it. It made total sense though. I can’t count the number of times that I have a card but can’t remember who the person actually is (I’m better with faces rather than names). Instead of just putting author on your business card, consider other ways you could put your writing to work. You could do workshops, editing, and public speaking just to name a few. My last piece of advice is to always ALWAYS have a business card on you. People will ask for it and it looks unprofessional if you don’t have one.

Proposal:

At a conference in September of 2010, I attended a group discussion session titled “Trauma, Crisis, and Society: Where Do We Begin?” The purpose of the group was to discover ways to be conscious contributors and to use our own creative endeavors to push the audience from trauma to resilience. When trauma, and its relation to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), were discussed the session quickly went off track. Most of the group wanted to talk about their experiences with trauma. Others wanted clear definitions of trauma, PTSD, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Survivors of all types of trauma wanted it made clear that PTSD includes but is not limited to those with war experiences. When I left the session, I felt traumatized. A lot of painful experiences were brought up for me but there was no discussion of community or recovery so I had no way to channel those feelings. Upon reflection, I realized the majority of the attendees had two things in common: they wanted to tell their stories and they wanted their experiences to be acknowledged.

The breaking of silence is not only an act of resistance but a call for community. Trauma is experienced differently by everyone but it is particularly influenced by one’s cultural traditions such as race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Trauma can result from harassment, discrimination, hate crimes, physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, and many other painful experiences. By defining and talking about trauma, one is seeking connection which can create new cultural traditions that bring survivors together in a way that intersects traditional cultural boundaries. Author and activist bell hooks wrote, “It is never an easy decision or task to write about one’s emotional landscape.” In writing down such experiences, whether for private or public use, an additional set of challenges faces the writer. Writing the trauma narrative can be a painful experience as it brings up emotions in survivors such as anger, guilt, fear, shame, and sadness. By focusing on not only the trauma, but also on recovery, the writer works toward expressing and overcoming these emotions. This paper will focus on ways to understand personal trauma and how to write the trauma narrative. Self-care is an important aspect of this kind of writing. Methods of self-care, as well as ways to presenting the trauma narrative in a way that does not retraumatize others, will be discussed. Craft elements of trauma writing, along with examples from recent memoirs, will be presented as a way to help the writer move such writing from sheer self-expression to communication. By writing in a way that communicates trauma, the writer’s work can help build community and resilience in others. Community awareness leads to the developing of inclusive support systems and methods of prevention. In this way, the sharing of the trauma narrative leads toward social justice and inclusion.

Short Abstract:

This presentation will discuss writing the personal trauma narrative in order to build inclusive communities and promote resistance and resilience.

Multi-Genre MFA

I happened to come across Hollins University on Facebook. Hollins is a private college offering an MFA in creative writing. They only accept twenty-four students each fall. Students work in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. I find the multi-genre approach very appealing. Students have to work in the three different genres. Although I lean towards creative nonfiction, I also enjoy writing fiction and poetry. I’ve actually published more poetry than creative nonfiction.

Their funding looks good and the cost of living in Roanoke is low. The application fee is only $40 (compared to the $50-$100 that seems to be standard. I’m not sure how many applications they receive so I don’t know how competitive admission is. I wonder how a multi-genre approach might fit my writing style. I don’t like writing in one genre exclusively but I’m not sure how in-depth a multi-genre approach would work. Ah well, I guess I’ll just have to wait for the information packet.

On a side note, I’ve been writing regularly since Saturday. I realized that in the hub-bub of getting into an MFA program, I haven’t been posting much on my writing process. I’m writing about 1,000 words per day. It’s interesting, knowing that I have to write each day actually makes coming up with ideas easier. Throughout my day, I try and come up with ideas and I pay more attention to the things I see.

Lately I’ve been working on structure. I never really thought about structure before. It sounds funny, I know. Once I started researching forms (dramatic, theme, collage, lyric, braid), I began to have a clearer understanding of craft. Right now, I’m working on writing into those structures. I will say that lyric is deceptively simple.

A Little Pick Me Up

Things have been very stressful lately and I’ve been writing but not enough. I emailed my mentor, Dr. Becky Thompson, and she sent me a great poetry exercise she did at a recent conference. You take “Poem” by William Carlos Williams and write a poem using the same number of syllables in each line. It’s a simple but effective exercise. Here’s the poem:

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down
into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

If you know of any other good writing exercises, prose or poetry, let me know in the comments section. I did get a little pick me up in the form of an email this morning. One of my creative nonfiction shorts is being published in the Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle: Journal of Creative Writing. Sigma Tau Delta is an honor society for English majors/minors that I belong to. I’m very excited about this. This is my first national publication. Sometimes I question myself as a writer, especially when I get depressed. When I get published, it reminds me that my work has value and that I am on the right path.

MFA Freakout

In my quest to find an MFA program, I am once again in meltdown mode. Looking at a $42,000 price tag for Western State or $48,000 for Naropa (both low-res in-state) has me worried. Can I really justify putting myself into that much debt?

I’ve been looking at highly recognized MFA programs that are out of state as well. I’ve found that most of them are about the same cost or slightly less. I did find one, Ashland University in Ohio. The total program cost (not including travel) is $24,672. I doubt it is going to cost me $20,000 to go to Ohio a few times. They are the producers of River Teeth and have the only low-residency cross-genre program in nonfiction and poetry. I’m going to request information but so far it looks great. If only I could get the site to come up again. Ugh.

Poetry While You Wait

Great news, I am being included in the Poetry While You Wait book (PWYW). It is a project of the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate. The books will placed in places that people wait such as doctor’s offices or the post office. The poems are also being printed on plaques and posted around town. For those of you in the Colorado Springs area, I will be reading my poem “Bloom” at the Poetry While You Wait launch party. It is this Sunday, April 11th from 3-5pm. It is at the Penrose Library on Cascade, in the Carnegie room. Refreshments will be served.

If you can’t make it to the reading, you can hear me read on KRCC’s website. In honor of National Poetry Month, they are broadcasting a poem a day from the PWYW book.

Margaret Randall

I was fortunate enough to attend a poetry reading at UCCS last night in honor of International Women’s Day. The presenting poet was Margaret Randall. Prior to the event, I had never heard of her. Her poetry is very powerful, full of myth and strong images of the desert. She tackles issues like immigration, male right, cultural dominance and rape. I’m not going to go on, you can pick up one of her books if you’d like to read her for yourself. She also has tour information on her website.

Increase Your Literary Vocabulary

Have you ever run across a poem or other work that addresses an inanimate object? We see this a lot with more flowery poets. Oh moon! Oh stars! Oh freedom! This is addressing a personified thing rhetorically which is also known as an apostrophe. An apostrophe also refers to addressing a person who isn’t there. So now when you come across someone reading a poem such as the below sonnet by Alfred Lord Tennyson, you can sound exceedingly brilliant by pointing out the apostrophe. Huzzah!

Oh, Beauty, passing beauty!

I

Oh, Beauty, passing beauty! sweetest Sweet! How canst thou let me waste my youth in sighs? I only ask to sit beside thy feet. Thou knowest I dare not look into thine eyes, Might I but kiss thy hand! I dare not fold My arms about thee–scarcely dare to speak. And nothing seems to me so wild and bold, As with one kiss to touch thy blessed cheek. Methinks if I should kiss thee, no control Within the thrilling brain could keep afloat The subtle spirit. Even while I spoke, The bare word KISS hath made my inner soul To tremble like a lutestring, ere the note Hath melted in the silence that it broke.

The Suppressed Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Dodo Press)