Author Archives: moorebc2

Get It In Your Body: Alumni Open Up at Leonard Theater Talk

Three graduates of Miami’s Poetry MA program—alumni Darren Demaree, Daisy Levy, and Chris Michel—visited the Leonard Theater in Peabody Hall on Tuesday to participate in a roundtable discussion. Each took radically different paths after their MA program, leading to a richly diverse conversation connected by the transference of that passion. They explained how their experience here influenced their present literary identity, with special relation to the talk’s subjects: poetry, translation, journalism, and rhetoric.

Darren Demaree is a widely-published poet with 5 collections and is the managing director of the Best of the New Anthology web magazine. Chris Michel is a personal essayist and editor for RunnersWorld.com and a former Fulbright scholar to Georgia. Together, Darren and Chris founded Ovenbird, an online poetry magazine.

Daisy Levy, a PhD in Rhetoric, is Associate Professor and Composition Coordinator at Southern Vermont College. Her studies focus mostly on dance and embodied rhetorics.

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The three were brought on stage by Western Program coordinator Zackary Hill, who prefaced their discussions with an introduction that set the tone for the evening: “After they left here, each of them found ways to make language an important part of their lives, and they pursue life with such passion.”

Though their fields and interests vary widely, their conversation converged on the topics of bodies and myths.  “There is the mythology of poetry and the practice of poetry, and they are often in conflict with each other.” Daisy said. “The mythology of poetry is that the mess is absent”.

The panelists shared their true “practice” of poetry, without romanticizing or leaving out that mess. Chris noted that before his time at Miami, his “practice used to be monastic. I thought that you secluded yourself you sweated blood if you needed to and you came out with something pure, but what I really wanted to do was tell stories.”

“Coming here did a lot to open up my understanding of what poetry was,” he added.

Darren described his practice as “obsessive. In school I had all of the energy directed into poetry and no language. I was fueled by hormones and substances and I had to learn to incorporate my process into it all.”

 

Daisy, wearing two pairs of layered glasses to substitute for bifocals, expressed a discomfort with the capital “P” serious poetry that she was always “trying to fit into.”

“The idea of it ever being a safe space is a fantasy,” she said. “I was intimidated by the capital letter Serious Poetry, and I continue to struggle to fit my body into that story.”unnamed-1

Most of the time, said Chris, he’d worked on fitting story-telling into his poetry, but his practice opened up when he found himself working for months on translating a piece of Georgian poetry into English.

“I had been so focused on narrative. All of a sudden I was working in a language that was all about emotion in sound,” he recalled. “I read it out loud, I read it quietly. I sang it. I paced back and forth.”

“You got it into your body,” Daisy commented. They all agreed.

 

The panelists mulled over the relationship between physicality and poetry, trying to reconcile themselves with the realities of their own practices. Their stories were not neat, they were not solely triumphant, and they didn’t present poetry as beautiful so much as they discussed its centrality in their lives.

“Poetry is a daily thing for me,” Darren said. “Nothing keeps me going more than that I get to go home and write some more Thursday.”

Deanna Krokos
English Department Ambassador
Political Science, Rhetoric, Ethics ’16

Spotlight on Alumni Darren Demaree, Daisy Levy, and Chris Michel

Three Miami alumni will be giving a talk this coming Tuesday English Department Ambassador Deanna Krokos had some questions for the three former Redhawks.

  1. What would you tell your undergrad self about the literary world that you know now?

Christopher- Oh I don’t know that my undergrad self would have listened to me anyway. He was pretty headstrong in his ideas about the literary world. I think I’d just leave him to figure it

out on his own terms–which is what I’m doing.

Darren– I would tell my undergrad self that it’s okay to read constantly, write constantly, and ignore anyone that fusses with the tether you hold on your artistic pursuit.

Daisy– I would say “Hey. You have time to read stuff. Slow down a little bit, and pay closer attention. Don’t worry about what other people think about what you’re reading.”

 

  1. What are the top two influences on your work (literary or nonliterary), and how have they manifested in your writing?

Christopher- Two is such a stingy number! I’d rather list twenty or none at all. Some of the biggest influences–David Foster Wallace, and George Saunders, have ultimately been dangerous for me, and I’ve had to work to shake them off so I don’t sound like bad imitations (which, in my worst moments, I still do). Some of my favorite influences, like the essayist Tom Bissell aren’t particularly famous–they’re like secret friends. But a lot of them—maybe the most influential of them—are the ones I met at a really early age. So Robert Frost is still one of the most serious poets in my life, and the one I’m always judging poems against. And Roald Dahl’s stories are so fundamental they’re almost beyond conscious inspection. But tomorrow I’d pick a different handful of writers to name.

Darren- Robert Creeley and Aase Berg would be the two poets I appreciate the most.  One is old, one is newer, but both of them challenge me in very important ways.

Daisy- Probably mid-20th c. American Modern Dance and um, if I can only pick one more, I’d say Toni Morrison. The Dance part is connected to what I said above about my connection to thinking about language and movement, but also, many of the choreographers, dancers, and performers of that era were really powerful thinkers too – about what art is, or can be, and why bother with it as a social phenomenon, as well as personally and individually expressive. Morrison? Well, I started reading her novels when I was in college in the late 80s, and her intensity of language just pulled me in. I also got to hear her speak once at that same time, and I was really impressed with the quietness of her voice at the same time that she was unquestionably fierce.

 

  1. What’s your process like and why does it work for you?

Darren– I write constantly.  Writing at much as I do gives me elbow room to experiment, to fail, to write differently than I have in the past about different topics.  It gives me the room to play with language guilt-free.  I write poetry all of the time because I enjoy the challenges that accompany the pursuit of the confluence of ideas, music, and language.  This is a challenge I believe to be unique to poetry.

Christopher- Lately, I’ve been writing articles and essays while at work, and I generally have to squeeze the writing in between more pressing activities. In that way, actually, it’s not that much different than when I was in college. Generally I do the necessary research, and try to have some brief, raw material on the topic in front of me, and then I start writing at what feels like the most interesting place, and keep writing until the idea seems to be worked out. If I need to go back and write an introduction, I’ll do that, but I’ll keep it as short as possible. Then I edit, edit, edit.

I’m always thinking about what’s going to make and keep a reader interested, and I try to gauge that by what keeps me interested.

Daisy- Messy. It involves a lot of doing of things that don’t necessarily look like writing. Sitting quietly, running, walking around my home, knitting, reading, cooking. Talking to other people. A lot of that, both casually, but also interviews, so as much talking as I might be doing, I spend a lot of time listening too. Journaling. Getting frustrated, and then writing as a series of questions. And at some point, I have to push myself to stop asking questions, and try answering them. For a long time I thought this didn’t count as a process, until I realized that writing and language is intimately connected to movement and then I felt a lot better about how I get ideas into written/shareable form.

 

  1. What should we be reading now?

Christopher- You should be reading something surprising and delightful, that’s such fun it’s hard to put down. Especially if it’s literature, books are better at enchanting than edifying. But you want names! If it’s fiction, I’ve liked David Mitchell for a while now, but go back and read Cloud Atlas before his new one, Bone Clocks. If it’s poetry, I think more people should read Jack Gilbert — A Brief for the Defense, to start. If you’re into comics, I’d say Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is just amazing. It’s really good. If you like magazines and running, I’ll recommend Runner’s World

Darren– Aase Berg, Maggie Smith, Ross Gay, Terrence Hayes, and Claudia Rankine.

Daisy- Things that set you on fire. Things that make you want to do something. Not necessarily “DO” like in the socially minded, civic consciousness way, though that’s not a bad thing either. But read things that make you wanna MOVE.

 

  1. Do you mismatch your socks? Why or why not?

Christopher- Not often anymore–it gets too confusing to keep track of them all. But I let my 5-year-old dress herself, and she mismatches socks all the time, on purpose. She’s a regular Punky Brewster, that one.

Darren- I rarely wear socks at all.  Only if I’m headed to work do I wear socks.  They normally match.

Daisy- I do sometimes mismatch my socks. Though I guess the real question is “what is ‘mismatched’?” Right? I mean, if they don’t look the same, but you intended to put them on at the same time, isn’t that a match? IDK. Similarity is generally overrated. But I’m a rhetorician. I’m more into INTENTION and PURPOSE, when it comes down to it.

 

Come to their Reception in the Bachelor Reading Room 9/26 at 7 pm, and come back to the MU Bookstore Tuesday 9/27 for their talk at 7:30!

Alum Tom Dever Talks Screenplay-writing on a Shoestring in First Event of Year

On Thursday, September 15, nearly every seat of the Bachelor Reading room was eagerly filled to hear the insights of a recent Miami grad. Tom Dever earned his BA in Creative Writing here in Oxford before moving to California in pursuit of his MFA from the University of California and launching a successful career in the film industry. He walked up to the podium with a smile, sharing his excitement to be back on campus.

Dever, whose talk focused mainly on the secrets and tips that he’s discovered in his time as an independent, “microbudget” filmmaker, began by telling a story about his start in Hollywood. Frustrated with a lack of time to pursue his own passions and ideas while working for established production companies, he made the decision to pursue independent work.

“There are a ton of resources for making a film, it’s actually easier now than ever before,” Dever says about the route of independent production. Then, acknowledging the intimidation that deters many from the process: “what is the one thing keeping people from trying to make their own films? Money.”

Money is the biggest intimidation factor. However, if you know the right ways to budget out a film, the independent production route can be extremely rewarding. As Dever attests, making your own film allows you to carry out your vision as a writer to its maximum extent.

The rest of the talk was then devoted to revealing some of the wisdom and tricks that Dever has discovered in his leap down the rabbit hole of producing films on a “shoestring” budget.

The majority of his tips centered around what a screenwriter can do before hiring even a single crew member to reduce the potential costs of production—this includes acts as simple as setting scenes in a limited number of locations or limiting the number of actors who have talking parts. Other advice came from Dever’s personal experience in the field, such as the suggestion to avoid writing too much movement into a scene: the more a character moves, the more cameras and set-up—and thus money—are required to follow their actions around the set.

The biggest statement of the afternoon, capturing the spirit of Dever’s advice, was simple. What costs the big bucks is not the price of hiring a crew or a cast or renting equipment. All of these are in high supply and relatively cheap on a per-day basis. What costs money is retaining these production assets for long amounts of time over the course of a shoot. Dever verified that time is definitely money in the film business.

In the end, he left his audience with a few final pieces of advice.

“Work with people you trust, not necessarily people you like,” he says, earning laughs with his comments about how true this mantra becomes in the foreign land of LA. A film is made by the hard work of people you can tolerate, not the lazy work of your friends.  

The next statement earned a laugh and a few head nods of agreement: “Never underestimate what free food will get you.” Dever swears that there are many very talented actors and crews who will work for free if the food is good enough on set.

Finally, Dever administered the most stirring advice of the afternoon: “Pick which hill to die on.” As a writer, it is easy to become attached to your original vision for your screenplay, but in reality, many little aspects will have to change in order to make the paper script into a filmic reality. It is important to pick only the most essential elements to fight for and to learn to let go of the unnecessary.

Dever ended the hour with a statement that surely struck true for many of the creatively driven attendees in the audience. Yes, all of these tips might help to alleviate some of the fear associated with plunging into the creative yet uncertain industry of film, but fear will persist when there are so many unknowns. Dever’s final words of encouragement resonated as the room applauded: “But what’s the alternative? You’re artists; you’re writers. Would you rather have just a day job?”

 

Anna Jankovsky

English Literature ‘19

English Department Ambassador

 

The Writing Process: Finding What Works

When I sit down to work on a story I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just write a draft from beginning to end and be done for a day, then return to the thing, plow through another draft like a farmer tilling a field?” A field would be good. A field has finite boundaries that are usually pre-established by zoning laws or property lines. A lawn would be even better. More manageable. A story knows no bounds. I like to imagine a day when I can plan the time I will invest into a story, from the idea’s inception to the final polish.

Ask different writers about process, and you’ll receive almost completely different answers. Here are some of the most memorable:

Stephen King works on two stories at once, usually a novel and a short story, or else two novels. He writes in the morning, then goes about the rest of his day in what I imagine to be a blissful state of fulfillment and productive thought before returning to edit something he worked on the day before. He takes an idea and runs with it, never knowing the ending in advance.

Margaret Atwood compares her compositions to a running “barrage” at the edge of a battlefront: sentences she’s already typed springboard her forward and then she must continue to write to catch up to the place a particular idea has landed. Not ideal, but somewhat linear. There is at least some semblance of forward motion.

Bonnie Jo Campbell looks to the news—usually stories from her native Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is as unpredictable as its name—for inspiration. She writes for three hours each morning until she completes a full draft and then revises, revises, revises.

Katherine Karlin envisions an occupation, or a lifestyle, for her characters and works towards an ending of which she knows only the emotional timbre or else an image freighted with deeper meaning.

Haruki Murakami writes for three to five hours in the morning before he runs six miles and swims a mile, claiming that the physical strain accompanying exercise builds the relentless work ethic necessary for writing novels. I wonder if the endorphins are at the root of his motivation.0TW4AS1G7D

I’m not necessarily wishing for my writing to come easily, just to find some way to work in a predictable manner. I’ve heard establishing a routine helps. Everybody who’s anybody has a routine that usually involves writing in the morning. The only routine I am familiar with is procrastinating. I’ve never been one for routines. “I’ll write every morning for two hours,” I tell myself day after day, week after week. And I might do so for three or so days on end. Then I
won’t be able to sleep the night before a day when I have to teach or do something else that requires me to function as a semi-coherent human being, and I talk myself out of rising and into sleeping or at least laying and resting. Because dragging myself out of bed would be hard, and laying here is so much easier. Instant gratification.

When I’m tired or feeling uncreative, I do easy things, like brainstorming. I love bulleting. Procrastinators love to make lists (see above). I’ll complete other less important but required tasks in order to procrastinate the real writing—the hard writing (as I write this blog post, I’m procrastinating work on a story that is due on Tuesday and wonder how my writing would survive without due dates). For example: sending an email is a concrete accomplishment whereas spending the same amount of time writing may just result in something you’ll throw out at the end of the day. Then I’ll write three to five sentences and decide I need to do some “research” in order to continue—I’m writing about lilacs, so what does the flower mean, symbolically? Or, what’s that word I’m forgetting? Search: synonyms for “unsure.” Maybe I can’t focus because I’m hungry. I eat a cucumber. Or a doughnut. Look up “calories in a cucumber” and “calories in a frosted doughnut” and decide based not on my research but on how quickly my blood sugar will spike and how the frosting will taste.

I have realized I need to establish a routine during my second semester working towards a graduate degree in creative writing. I haven’t yet been able to count on a time of day, but I’ve taken to writing on paper, where crossing out too much is unsightly and writing too fast is illegible and too many arrows and circles make things confusing. No quick trip to the internet to confirm a fact or a definition is available. The ink of a pen cannot be quickly backspaced on a whim. Unnecessary words are left out because to write them all would cause one’s hand to cramp up. Just write a page. Then turn the page. You’ll probably keep going.

Carly Plank
Creative Writing MA student

Antiwar, Feminist, Environmentalist, Cat Lady: Marge Piercy Visits MU

On Friday, April 15, respected novelist, poet, and memoirist Marge Piercy filled the auditorium in McGuffey Hall with her commanding presence. Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including the New York Times Bestseller Gone to Soldiers, nineteen collections of poetry, and most recently a critically-acclaimed memoir entitled Sleeping with Cats. To an audience of all ages, Piercy read a series of her poetry encompassing social commentary, family relationships, cats, and sex.

In her introduction, Ann Fuehrer of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Program referenced Piercy’s history as an activist in the antiwar, feminist, and environmentalist movements, which have influenced her writings greatly. “She would say she identifies as a cat lady, after our conversation at dinner,” Fuehrer joked.marge piercy

Piercy began the reading with what she referred to as “the oldest poem I read regularly,” entitled “To Be of Use.” It was familiar to the older generations of the audience, but most of all to Piercy herself—she barely glanced down at the text in front of her, instead looking around at the audience.

This was the case with most of her poems—it is more truthful to call Piercy’s event a performance rather than a reading, given the emotion and confidence with which she read. Throughout the night, she played with the audience’s emotions, reading light-hearted poems interspersed with more tongue-in-cheek poems centered in social commentary. Amongst all the laughs, Piercy would also get serious, with poems contemplating friends passing away from AIDS during the 1980s epidemic, grief, and poverty.

The common theme throughout most of Piercy’s poetry is what it means to be a woman: “The Scent of Apple Cake” and “Our Never Ending Entanglement” ask the question what it means to be a mother, while “Contemplating My Breasts” and “Tracks” amongst others confront the experiences and various roles of being a woman.

During the question and answer portion following the reading, an audience member asked Piercy the quintessential question: what in your life has deeply influenced your writing? Her response was riveting: Piercy grew up in a primarily Black neighborhood in Detroit and witnessed the first race riots in the 1960s. She was a member of a gang for a while, and she had dear friends die of heroin overdoses and AIDs. These experiences throughout her life have had a profound effect on her activism, which has in turn shaped her writing.

The last person from the audience to address Piercy did not have a question, but instead a heartfelt story. He told her, and the audience, how nineteen years ago his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Piercy’s poem “On Guard” was what brought them through the tough times.

Her response? “I’m so glad I could help you.”

This reading was sponsored by The Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies, Department of Family Studies and Social Work, the Women’s Center, the Humanities Center, and the Creative Writing Program.

Marissa Lane
English Department Ambassador

Jenny Boully Takes Campus By Storm

English Department Ambassador Tim Thomas took to the Department of English website to talk about Columbia College Chicago professor Jenny Boully‘s time at Miami with both the graduate English program in a four day intensive creative nonfiction sprint course, as well as a reading held last Wednesday in Shriver Bookstore.jboully

Boully was quick to compliment the students she met with and led. “The students at Miami University, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, were a joy to work with and an impressive bunch. I think that kind of diversity is crucial to creating a stellar creative writing atmosphere.”

For more information on the creative nonfiction sprint course and Jenny Boully’s Wednesday night reading, click here to read the full article.

Art Overlapping: An Interview With Bethany Pierce

First year Creative Writing M.A. student Erin Jamieson interviews Miami alum Bethany Pierce on her life as a writer, her time at Miami, and how her art has inspired her writing:

Born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Bethany Pierce graduated with a BA in Art and an MA in Creative Writing from Miami University in 2006. Her novels, Feeling for Bones and Amy Inspired (Bethany House) have garnered critical acclaim, with her debut listed by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the top books of 2007. Also known for her paintings, Bethany currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina. For more, visit her website at www.bethanypierce.com.

EJ: You are perhaps best known for your second novel, Amy Inspired. Tell us a little about what it’s about, the inspiration for the story, and the process of both writing and finding representation for it.sm_website-bio-pic_123

BP: Amy Inspired had a rather convoluted origin.  Shortly after Feeling for Bones was published, my editor approached me with an idea for a story about a young English teacher struggling with issues of love and faith and writing. Chick lit was all the rage that year. So were serialized novels. The publishing house envisioned an entire series of books about this thirty-something “spinster” professor. I was wary but broke. I agreed to write the books under a pseudonym, thinking I’d managed a win-win—that I’d get to practice my craft while making enough money to support the writing I wanted to do.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way. I couldn’t keep to the plot outline the editorial team had drawn up; in fact, the story I wrote was so far removed from the original idea, the publishing house released me from my contract. I took my rejected novel back to the drawing board. I’d grown very fond of my characters and wanted their story to be heard, so I tried to find what was most honest in the book and give it room to breath, an effort that required weeding out all the influences of the industry: the dictates of chick lit, the rules of a religiously motivated publisher, the forced conclusions of a predetermined plot. As a result, the book became (rather self-consciously) about all of those things.

By the time I was done with the final rewrite, my editor had moved on to a different publishing house that was a better fit for both of us. I passed the revised manuscript on to his new team, unsure what I’d written exactly, but proud enough of my little Frankenstein to print it under my own name.

EJ: How did your time at Miami impact you as a writer?

BP: Graduate school was my crash course in plot and voice. My professors were wonderful. Through their edits, their criticism, and the example of their own writing, they taught me in two years what it would have taken a decade to learn alone.

Those two years helped discipline my mind for long hours at my desk, snatched at odd hours. They thickened my skin to criticism. They also gave me a valuable feeling of camaraderie. I was fortunate to land in a group of talented fellow writers who became close friends I still talk with today.

In practical terms, my time at Miami also helped me find a publisher. I’d been sending query letters out for Feeling for Bones for several years. While in the middle of my graduate work, my manuscript ended up on the desk of an editor in Chicago who’d graduated from the university a handful of years before. The familiar letterhead piqued his curiosity. We began an email correspondence that led to the revision of the novel and its eventual publication.

EJ: You also work as a visual artist. Do you see this connecting to your writing in any way?

BP: Just in the last year I’ve noticed the two overlapping. I want to push beyond my own limitations in both practices, and this requires a meditative stillness and an increasingly more open imagination. Cultivating that mental space seems to be breaking down an internal wall that kept the two fields of thought separate from one another.

For example, I’ve been exploring a new series of abstractions and in trying to sort out ideas of color and form, I’ve been journaling a great deal about the paintings themselves, something I’ve never done before. I’ll sit in my studio in front of a blank canvas and write about the possible painting for hours. This is exceptionally weird to me, because the paintings themselves are becoming less and less literal.

In return, I find that I’m bringing a kind of experimentation to the writing, a playfulness that wants to build an idea out of the usual order. I’ve had this idea for a collection of essays but instead of writing one at a time in a linear fashion, I’ve been jotting all the random ideas that come to me on 3 x 5 note cards that I file in a shoebox on my desk. Once a month or so I’ll sit down and puzzle out some order to the collected thoughts, assembling an essay the way I used to collage pictures.

EJ: If you had to give advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

BP: Find a way to make the writing itself your first priority. Carve out a specific time for the work and then zealously protect that time from interruption. You mostly learn how to write by writing.

I also think it’s helpful to get to know your personal demons. Whether you struggle with procrastination, insecurity, codependency, envy – get friendly with your devil then find creative ways to diffuse its power during the time you have set aside to write. Whether I’m drafting a story or baking a Bundt cake, I struggle with perfectionism. I’ve found it enormously helpful to make up some rule like write five pages a day and then follow it with total devotion. This satisfies my perfectionist (she loves following rules) and my need to feel productive (no matter how horrible those five pages are, they are done, checked off the list before I’ve even put my pants on for the day) while at the same time allowing that inner creative spirit enough protected space in which to play and explore.

I’ll also repeat what most authors are going to tell you: read a lot.  I’ll add that it helps to read mostly what you love.

Artistic community and collaboration: Joy Sullivan, Artist-in-Residence at the Wexner

Miami MA alum Joy Sullivan is the 2015 Artist-in-Residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, OH. She shares her experience:

In 2012, I attended Miami University’s MA program in Creative Writing and spent two years growing into the identity of “poet.” This year, at age twenty-nine, I inhabited the role of artist-in-residence for the Wexner Center Pages Program and found poetry to be just as expansive as I always hoped it would be in the world outside of a graduate program.

The Wexner Center Pages Program is a multidisciplinary program that fosters creativity, arts-integration and writing projects inside the classroom. Foremost, it is a unique collaboration between the Wexner Center, local high schools, and teaching-artists. As the 2015 artist-in-residence for Pages, I had the pleasure of visiting high schools and helping students cultivate interest, craft responses, and engage in vibrant conversation surrounding art.

One of the highlights of my experience was working with Pages students on collaborative poetry. This exercise was originally inspired by an activity done in one of my graduate workshops at Miami. I asked students to view a similar object and then together build a poem, line by line. I often asked students to generate questions in this process. Then, we listened to the conversation that was being built as we circled the room offering our responses. I loved watching the sense of ownership and authorship bloom as students took time to ask, listen, answer, and then ask better. The investment students felt in this communal experience became palpable.

Through these activities, I’ve witnessed a change come over each classroom’s attitude towards the experience of poetry. It became meaningful, exciting, and relevant to their shared experience. Asia, a student from Westerville North, said, “This feels just like an awesome mash-up between Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. We’re good at this.” Another student undid me with herunspecified-7 gorgeous line, “I have no simplicity.” Time and time again, through Pages, I watched words win. This experience showed me how deeply essential arts-integration, creative writing, and personal expression remain in education and in the lives of our young people. Simply put, my work this year has been transformative, hearty, life-giving.

I believe in the spirit of Pages and how much I feel revitalized by my experience. How I know it will shape and propel me towards seeking points of entry in my future endeavors that are risky, beautiful, unexpected. Arts-integration is good work. Moreover, it is necessary. For all of us.

 

You can visit pages at http://www.wexarts.org or find their blog here.

Miami CW’s First Event of 2016: Darrin Doyle

This past Monday evening, the Creative Writing Program kicked off this semester’s reading series with author Darrin Doyle. His most recent book, titled The Dark Will End the Dark (published in February 2015), is a collection of short stories that explore the human body and reason. Miami University professor Dr. Joseph Bates introduced Doyle; the two have been friends since they were in graduate school at University of Cincinnati together.

“You can just imagine what it was like to have these suckers coming at you in a workshop,” joked Bates, referring to Doyle’s work, which can often turn dark and disturbing.

Doyle first read a short story from Dark, entitled “Foot,” followed by a few different stories he is currently working on, entitled “Dangling Joe,” “Party Town,” “Possibilities and Considerations,” and “Perfect Sandwich.” “We always ask our students to share what they’re working on, so I think it’s only fair we do the same,” explained Doyle, who is currently a professor at Central Michigan University.

Author Darrin Doyle sits with and signs books for Miami University students after the reading.

Author Darrin Doyle sits with and signs books for Miami University students after the reading.

The pieces that Doyle read all explored different themes. “Foot” is a grisly fable-like tale of a mother’s devotion to her child. “Dangling Joe” is a satire of American society and media, while “Party Town” might resonate deeply with certain residents of Oxford. “Possibilities and Considerations” is an experiment in format that gives a wry, and at some times satirical, insight into life. “Perfect Sandwich” is the story of a man’s desperation to be good enough.

The audience, engaged and enthusiastic throughout the entirety of the reading, supplied no shortage of questions for Doyle, asking about his strategy for writing, influences for different works, and advice on writing a novel. “I’ve written, in the last year, about 23 of these short stories,” said Doyle, referring to his as-of-yet-unpublished works. “It’s weird when you start noticing [recurring] themes.”

When asked what his influences were while writing The Dark Will End the Dark, Doyle said, “Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor are two of my biggest influences. Their characters might have a physical ailment, [but] their souls are grotesque… Fairy tales, folk tales, and fables have always had their hold on me… I like the feeling of the surreal that’s grounded in reality.”

As for advice on writing, Doyle says, “It’s great when you’re inspired by an idea… but then you’ve got to sit down and write. One sentence leads to another, and hopefully you surprise yourself a bit.”

Can’t Go Over It: Dismantling the Writing Wall

Creative Writing MA student Katy Shay talks the writing life and about how to beat the writer’s wall.

In my life as a writer I’ve encountered “the wall” several times. By the wall I refer to that feeling you get as a writer where you suddenly cannot write and you cannot believe that you were ever able to write anything. The wall is also known as a block, but runs deeper, as it isn’t simply “I can’t think of anything to write.” The wall, to me, feels like a physical impossibility, not just creatively and mentally, to write. Sometimes the circumstances of life and death can erect the walls and sometimes it seems that they just build themselves. Like you were out running your errands or working and when you came home to write: BAM! Who put this up?

Whenever I hit the wall I get freaked out and feel like I’m never going to write again. Then I start having thoughts about being a fraud, wondering if I was any good to begin with, or falling into a pit of self-loathing about my inability to create/write/do something other than stare at the wall dumbly.

As someone who’s encountered this, I’ve tried to figure out solutions for it. There are a few ways to get around a wall: up, under, around (for walls do not circle the earth). The best and most badass advice is Patti Smith’s who says, “When you hit a wall, just kick it in.” It is extremely good advice; however, it hasn’t always worked for me. I think this is because some sort of anxiety or depression often accompanies the wall brought on by wintertime and eighteen-month-long election cycles and general ennui.

The wall hits me, usually, before I have to start a new project. Sometimes starting projects can fill me with existential dread and so this dread reinforces the wall, making it un-kickable. What I’ve found works best, for me, in these times is to try dismantle the wall. I look at it and ask, what are the bricks are made of? What holds them together? Eventually the bricks begin to loosen and I can switch them around. Instead of trying to move past the wall I attempt to manipulate it, move it, test it and see what’s in there.

So what does this look like in terms of writing? Usually at this point of wall-induced frustration I’ll just sit down and free write, maybe considering the questions above, maybe just writing the word “butts” over and over again (there are some free writes that I’ve done that easily could be turned into Tina Belcher erotic friend-fiction). The point of this is to free myself of the expectation that everything needs to come out perfectly and be immediately a work of great brilliance and genius. Usually I’ll perform this free-writing/reflecting on the block/putting whatever nonsense happens in my brain down on the page a few times in a week (if the wall comes up around a deadline I rapid-fire this process). Once the week is over, I’ll look at what I’ve written down. I handwrite so I usually type up what I’ve written. Then I take it, cut it up, put it through filters, and play around with writing the same sentence five different ways. Generally the finished project is garbage, sometimes it’s decent, and occasionally it’s good. The finished project is less important than the process. By meditating on how the wall got there, taking down the power of expectation, and manipulating the very words the wall is made of I remind myself that I am fully capable of the real work of writing: asking and answering to the self.

The process reminds me of how I write, how I actually get the work of writing done. I am sure your process looks different. Maybe you type at the computer and never edit or always edit or always write with a glass of wine. Honoring and reminding yourself of your process brings the ability to create back into your life. It begins to dismantle the wall.