Writing…

The following is a guest post by Douglas Cole, whose short story “Villagers”: appeared in Issue 12 of Typehouse.

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I just love the whole process of it. Beginning in emptiness. Wanting nothing. Recording brief flashes in the head, mixing that with some thing in my vicinity, flowing back and forth, slowing down, catching the wave of a memory or something completely imagined or dreamed that arrives like a movie projected into the mind.

Then I let it go. It is what it is. A moment. A snapshot of a moment. The Kaliope fluttering inwit carnival of thought.

And then slow down, go back and read it and in reading it see it again and ask myself, do I want to pursue this? Is there something here I want to work on? Do I have enough pieces? And if so, crawl back inside with new eyes and so add my upper thinking structures, reader-need, what might be called craft (say in fiction, think of plot, dialogue, description, that sort of thing filling out, but mostly stay organic and intuitive).

Some poems are a journey, and a record of a journey, like a scar, and can’t be altered. They may or may not be for others. They may be just for me.

And then, tinkering, as with a mechanical puzzle of word and language structures (especially with poetry, but certainly prose too) and sometimes pushing it as far as it can go to see what it opens, like a dart thrown into the black mystery of the void beyond seeing and hearing and remembering—and trying to connect back to the trance that brought it in the first place, honoring that and then ruthlessly changing it, cutting, reworking and adding to get to what I know, simply know, is right.

And not giving up. Unless I’m supposed to give up and start again.I suppose it resembles a kind of rebirth loaded with karmic weight and weight of self that I have to get around. But that’s all less than, just application—because the whole enterprise is bigger than that. Writing is hooking into the great creative dynamo. It’s freedom and transformation, practice for dying and what comes after. Maybe.

All I know is that it has been my golden thread, and without it, the world would have snuffed me out long ago.

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How Poetry Can Matter to a First-Year Composition Student

Olga Dugan

The following is a guest post by Olga Dugan, PhD, whose poetry appeared in Issue 12 of Typehouse.

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To be truly educated is to resist the easy certainties of deeply ingrained and unexamined ideologies of soundbites and clichés in favor of an ongoing pursuit of knowledge, of truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.

–Natasha Trethewey1

The value of one student’s life more than her death made painstakingly clear how poetry could matter to my first-year composition students. A week prior to her untimely demise, the thirty-year old described an experience that clarified for me what Trethewey’s work continues to do for students learning to write. In mixing the generic traditions of poetry and history, Trethewey creates poems of cultural consciousness that prompt student writers to explore the historical roots of their own voices and where their voices can take them in their writing. Presenting the public nature of very private ideas, notions, and experiences, conveying how we are more similar than different, her poems challenge beginning writers to think about themselves as historical beings, and to write from sources of knowledge that include their individual and collective memories. For my student in particular, the study of historical representation in Trethewey’s poetry led to writing in which she recognized her own voice as reader and storyteller of the fuller version of American history that Trethewey aptly insists we all share.

During an office visit, my student’s questions about an upcoming paper gradually intensified to thoughts on what it means to do this thing called ‘living’ and do it well. Our composition class was discussing this topical question raised in Trethewey’s second book of poetry, Bellocq’s Ophelia, the main character of which undergoes a journey of psychological exile that resonated all too well with my student. She admitted to dreading the essay assignment because the book required her to write out of a personal history from which she complained of feeling exiled. She offered no reasons for her sense of loss about where she came from and where she belonged. But acknowledgement alone betrayed her understanding and fear of the interdependence of cultural identity and historical memory pervading Trethewey’s poems which exhort readers to participate in an “ongoing exchange and honest, inclusive remembrance of the past.”2 And given her recognition of this call to active reading and the writing it induces, no wonder the continued heft of my student’s last words to me.

While regretting that she lacked the character’s courage, my student praised Trethewey’s Ophelia for this very act, seeing as hopeful and plausible Ophelia’s final moment of aggregation in which she looks back, sees where she’s been, where she is, then walks away from Storyville and prostitution. My student equated this act with walking away from the marginal places where social, political, cultural, and historical forces greater than ourselves can thrust us, and into a new life, albeit, a life unplanned and uncharted. She ended with a promise to write, ‘not a great paper, but at least one in search of truth.’ Trethewey’s poetry had invited my student to consider what in its historical representation could teach her to remember and examine about her own “presence” and cultural work in the world. Four years later, her presence is remembered, and the work she did during that office visit continues to inspire student writers in their own efforts to live and do it well.

1Natasha Trethewey, “Commencement Address by Natasha Trethewey, 19th Poet Laureate of the United States: June 07, 2014,” Knox College (web), http://www.knox.edu/news/news-archive/knox-college-commencement-2014/ commencement-speaker-natasha-trethewey.

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Olga Dugan is a Philadelphia-based Cave Canem poet. Nominated for a 2018 Best of the Net and 2019 Pushcart Prize, her poems appear in several journals including Typehouse Literary Magazine, Virga Poetry, The Sunlight Press, E-Verse Radio, The Peacock Journal, Origins, Kweli, The Southern Quarterly, Tipton Poetry Journal, Pirene’s Fountain, and Scribble. Olga’s articles on the work of U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey (2012-2014) appear in The North Star, the Journal of African American History and in Emory University’s “Meet the Fellows.”

Why Write Poetry in the 21st Century?

The following is a guest post by Keith Welch, whose poetry appeared in Issue 16 of Typehouse

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In so many ways, the first decades of this century have disappointed: No flying cars, no condos on the moon, no reliable political system. War, poverty, and ignorance continue unabated. Depression would appear to be the order of the day. Yet poets continue to turn out poems full of insight, joy, wit, and even optimism.

It’s a technological age, and there are many intriguing distractions from life: television; films; the internet; video games. Writing and reading poetry require quiet introspection, which is the enemy of the modern distraction industries. Making time, and sitting down to write, to read, can be difficult.

I began writing poems to amuse myself and friends – simple rhymes about animals and politics. I saw poetry as a diverting word game to keep me occupied during slow periods. Later, when I began reading the work of modern poets, I decided to make the game more interesting by turning my hand to ‘serious‘ topics.

I fell into a trap. Poetry requires the writer to confront who they are, what they really feel, and, if they want to be published, to reveal themselves to a mostly uncaring world. Poetry can be an exercise in self-discovery, and the exposure can be frightening. Soon after I began writing I was plumbing the memories of my childhood, only to realize how fragile those memories are – am I a reliable narrator? How much of what I remember is the truth? How do they explain who I am now? Do I dare let my words out into the world?

Poetry can be art. It can be a game. It can be a trigger for self-discovery. In a world lit by computer screens and televisions, sitting alone with a pen and notebook seems more important then ever. Poems can be a gateway to greater empathy for both the writer and the reader.

At this time, I am far from being the poet that I want to be. I am still a young poet. I read the poets I admire and compare my words to theirs and sometimes despair. I keep writing because when I write, I’m forced to peel back layers of self-delusion to find truth about myself. And in my opinion, it’s still the best word game around.

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Keith Welch lives in Bloomington, Indiana where he works at the Indiana University Herman B Wells library. He has poems published in The Tipton Poetry Journal, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Dime Show Review, and Literary Orphans, among others. He enjoys complicated board games, baking, talking to his cat, Alice, and meeting other poets. His website is https://librarymole.wixsite.com/keithwelchpoetry.