Tag Archives: old dominion university

Billy Collins, Joy Williams in lineup of the 34th annual ODU litfest


NORFOLK, Va. – Recently I spoke with the author, short story writer and educator John McManus about writing and somewhat less serious topics. He is co-directing the annual literary festival at Old Dominion University with Michael Pearson.

It starts this week.

I neglected to include the link at the time of our talk, and wanted to follow up with a note about the 34th annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival.

McManus recently wrote about the event in his AltDaily column, and told this to The Virginian-Pilot:

We are trying to promote writing and literature. We are trying to get the community out to readings. …

We tried to pick writers who give excellent readings. …

I always love to hear what a writer sounds like, what a writer’s voice lends to my understanding of their writing.

This year’s theme is “The Lie That Tells the Truth,” and those on the bill include Billy Collins and Joy Williams. The festival is underway today, though most of the events come fast and furious starting tomorrow.

Most events are in Norfolk, though one talk is in Virginia Beach.

A schedule follows. Please double check the litfest site. Garage parking is free for on-campus events. Events are free unless noted otherwise.

  • Playwright and director Young Jean Lee. 2 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk, Va. Near W. 49th St.
  • Author Porochista Khakpour. 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • The Words and Music of Paul Bowles: Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno with Andrey Kasparov & the Norfolk Chamber Consort. 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall. Student admission $10; general admission $15.
  • Photographer Yola Monakhov. 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Poet and writer Renee Olander. 3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ University Village Bookstore, 4417 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. At W. 45th St. Garage and metered street parking nearby.
  • Poet and writer Mark Halliday. 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Author Elizabeth Searle. 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ Virginia Beach Higher Education Center, Lecture Hall/Room 244A, 1881 University Dr., Virginia Beach, Va. Surface parking nearby. Reception and book signing to follow.
  • Poet and essayist David Swerdlow. 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Nonfiction writer Claire Dederer. 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ University Village Bookstore.
  • Poet and prose writer Naomi Shihab Nye. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ the George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Theatre, Chrysler Museum, 245 W. Olney Rd., Norfolk. Surface lot parking & some unmetered street parking nearby.
  • Novelist Jeffrey Lent. 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Novelist Scott Heim. 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ University Village Bookstore.
  • Poet Billy Collins: President’s Lecture Series. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Webb University Center. Off W. 49th St.
  • Poets Indigo Moor & Adrian Matejka. 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Journalist and author Megan Stack. 3:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Author Joy Williams. 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
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Want to get published? Barely South Review’s reading period is underway


NORFOLK, Va. — Barely South Review, the online literary journal of Old Dominion University, wants submissions of new short fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and artwork.

The submission and reading period ends Nov. 30. Accepted works will be published in the April and September 2012 editions, as well as the January 2013 edition.

Barely South Review is edited by students in the MFA Creative Writing Program, part of the English Department at Old Dominion. Past contributors include Bonnie Jo Campbell, Brian Turner, Patrick Rosal, Joanne Diaz, Jill McCabe and Karen Schubert, and the review this year featured the College Poetry Prize winning work of Wendi White. Interview subjects have included Blake Bailey, Dennis Lehane and Seni Seneviratne, among others.

Full disclosure, for those who don’t know — I’m a student in the program and was on the editorial staff this past year.

Submission guidelines are located at this link. Worth checking out.

I sent Valarie Clark, managing editor of Barely South, some email questions this past week — what the pub is looking for, where it may go as it evolves, etc. The poet Luisa Igloria, director of the MFA program, also responded to the first question via email. So here’s a quick Q&A about a promising outlet for writers and artists. It has been edited for clarity.

Q: What are you looking for in submissions?

Clark:

We want the best stuff people have,  regardless of whether or not it’s considered ‘traditional’ or experimental.  If someone’s written a lovely ‘modernist’ short story, we’ll consider it. If we got some funky postmodern stuff that lacks a linear timeline or a typical narrative thread — if it’s well-written and appeals to our editors — we’ll consider it.

Igloria:

We have a wonderful opportunity to take stock of our regional and geographical positioning in the ‘south’ — with its rich history and traditions — but also recognize that such markers can mean many things to many different people. We are drawn to works that have a strong sense of their own relevance in time and place, but that are not afraid to take risks or interrogate the sense of limits, in genre and in other areas.

We are looking for works that speak to our own desire to find riveting expressions not only speaking to place and identity, but also bringing these conversations to new levels.

The following responses are from Clark.

Q: What genre would you like more submissions for, if any?

Of course, we’re happy to see all kinds, but we’d love to see more creative nonfiction. We’re talking about essays especially. If people want to send us part of their memoir, that’s great, as long as it can stand alone, apart from the greater work. The submitter can’t think to herself, ‘Well, I don’t need to explain that because it’s somewhere else in my book.’ Well, we aren’t reading your entire book. Make us want to, though, by sending us some terrific piece that can exist on it’s own.

We’re also now accepting art — photos, drawings, even small animations if they’re meaningful.  We don’t want a bunch of GIF files of folks from Jersey Shore.  That’s what message boards are for. But a GIF file of a political figure that makes a statement of some sort by using the animation —we’d consider that.

Q: Would you talk about the themes of the issues this year and how work might address them?

We’re still working on hammering out themes, but we’d do a special call for them if we decide to go that route, and editors are considering establishing themes for issues in 2013.

Q: How has Barely South done so far? Where does it go from here?

Not only are we seeing an increase in submissions already this year — including an increase in nonfiction — but one of the nonfiction essays from the inaugural issue in April 2010 was nominated for a Pushcart by a member of the Pushcart Prize panel.  Many publications nominate their own content, and we’re thrilled that someone from that prestigious contest read our humble literary journal and found quality there. And what a thrill for the author!

In the immediate future, we’re shooting for having the journal put into a downloadable PDF file that people can put on their e-readers. We hope that happens as soon as the January 2012 issue. That means we get to flex our creativity by designing an issue as if we were sending it to print — choosing layouts, fonts, all that good stuff.

We’d like to be able to do some print issues in the future, whether that’s just for ‘special issues’ like the January literary festival craft interview issue — which we’ll be doing again for 2012 — or maybe it’s a ‘limited run’ kind of thing for each issue. This is the year where BSR is starting to plan for the future and how successive ODU students are going to leave their mark on the journal.

One of the most important things for me, as managing editor, is to make sure that BSR is not only a quality publication that keeps up with changing technology trends and how the public wants to spend their time and money, but I also want the experience of putting BSR together to be an amazing one for the students. The staff is made up entirely of students in their second and third years, with some administrative assistance from first year students. This is an outstanding opportunity for the staff to learn not just how to read critically, but how to make choices about what works well together, how to make tough decisions regardless of the biography or the name associated with the piece. Soon they’re going to need to learn all the deign aspects of a print journal as we move to the PDF format.

And in the future we’d like to move to our own separate website instead of being dependent on a blog-type platform that restricts our creativity somewhat. That means we’ll have a constant need for a wide range of talents, and students who are good with technology can find a place alongside those who are more comfortable with traditional journal formats. So far this year we’ve made some terrific decisions together that are already reaping benefits — such as the choice to start accepting art as a regular type of submission.

Wow, submitting to this whole Barely South deal sounds wicked great! What do you think, Vinny?

What are you thinking of sending, Vin — a chapter from the memoir?

Yo, Vin. That’s pretty much your only move, huh?

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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham


Writer and editor Tom Robotham did not realize he would be part of a blog post that would unsuccessfully link 1870s British light opera and 1980s American light rap when he agree to be photographed at the Taphouse yesterday in Norfolk, Va. As it turns out, parents just don't understand that I am the captain of the Pinafore. Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. – That gentleman, the one always over in the corner writing away at The Taphouse Grill on West 21st Street, well it’s his turn for a Belligerent Q&A.

Tom Robotham began his journalism career as an education reporter and music writer for The Staten Island Advance in New York City and has freelanced for a variety of publications, most recently as a columnist for Veer Magazine and Hampton Roads Magazine.

Most people in Hampton Roads know him as the longtime editor of PortFolio Weekly, the alternative weekly that folded a few years back. He’s also written books and taught at Old Dominion University and The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk.

Furthermore, he is never known to quail at the fury a gale, and he’s never, never sick at sea.

What never? you ask.

No never.

What never?

Hardly ever.

My point is that may come in handy this weekend.

Because, as the cutline above suggests, I bring the Gilbert & Sullivan deep cuts harder than DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s He’s the Librettist, I’m the Composer.

Regular readers (love you, Pretend Mom Who Knows How To Use A Computer) realize I often have conflicts with folks featured here, and Robotham is no exception. He’s been my editor more times than he cares to remember, and yet we’re still friends.

This Belligerent Q&A is some partial get back for all that red pen.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

Well, clearly, I’m a beer drinker. The Taphouse almost went out of business when I left town for two weeks this summer. Seriously, though, that pub is one of the best places I’ve ever been to – anywhere – for music and conversation, not to mention beer.

I’m also a professional arsonist. Before anyone calls the cops on me, let me explain. I figure it’s my job as a teacher (at ODU) and a writer of essays and articles, to try to set minds on fire – to get people thinking, imagining and questioning everything they’ve ever read or been told – including everything I say.

I try to convince my students in particular to question the whole mainstream American fantasy (as opposed to dream), which to my mind is based on a combination of material affluence and flatulence. I’m sure I pissed off at least one set of parents who wanted their daughter to major in something she hated; after she studied Thoreau with me, she decided to march to the beat of her own drummer and become an actress.

Third, I’m a musician – not a very good one, I must say, but my heart and soul are in it. I played a gig earlier this summer, and people didn’t throw empty PBR bottles at me, which was encouraging.

Q: You are know for thoughtful explorations of music, writing, culture, and society in your editorial and essay writing, both in your former role as editor of PortFolio Weekly and presently in work for Veer Magazine and Hampton Roads Magazine. I’d suggest that two themes I’ve seen in your writing are (1) deflation of hypocritical assertions and naysaying by certain political forces and (2) the exposure of shortcomings in our individual and (by extrapolation, perhaps) communal support for arts and culture, as well as civic involvement, namely the core aspects of public life such as government. What does that stuff I just typed mean?

I have no idea what it means. It sounds like a passage from a PhD dissertation. That said, I agree with what I think it means. I’ve written a lot about hypocrisy – including my own – as well as the marginalization of arts and culture, which to me are as important as food. And as you point out, I’ve written about civic apathy. It’s all of a piece, really. Seems to me that our country was founded on a sublime Jeffersonian dream of simplicity, beauty, education, hard work and civic engagement. Therein lies the hypocrisy. We hear a lot of blather about the ‘founding fathers.’ But for decades at least, our schools have virtually ignored arts and culture in favor of curricula that train children to be cogs in a machine. As a result, there’s little public support for the arts and a massive deficit in our capacity for critical thinking. Seems to me that most people have bought into the suburban dream of having a house on a cul de sac with a huge garage, a Ford Gargantuan, and a large backyard with an 8-foot stockade fence where they can hide from their neighbors – that is, when they’re not inside taking perverse pleasure in watching people make fools of themselves on American Idol. Meanwhile there’s a whole world of cultural beauty out there – live music and art, theater and dance – and architecture. If more people cared about beauty and artistic excellence, we wouldn’t live in these hideously ugly suburbanscapes of stripmalls and clogged boulevards. Finally, there’s the disconnect from nature. I heard recently that the average American teenager can identify 1,000 corporate logos but fewer than 10 plants. I suspect it’s not much better with adults. That’s why we have so many environmental problems.

Wow – I covered a lot of ground there and probably sound like a rambling elitist. I’ve been accused of that. So be it.

Q: You’ve written forcefully against those who oppose subsidization of public broadcasting. When did you stop loving God?

There is no doubt in my mind that God listens to NPR – especially On Point and The Jefferson Hour – and that he’s a member of the WHRO Leadership Circle.

Q: You have said that readers don’t need to be pandered to. I want to agree with you, but that sentiment neither exploits my weaknesses nor appeals to my base instincts. Discuss.

You don’t have any weaknesses that I know of. As for your base instincts, I thought we weren’t going to discuss that night of debauchery at the Thirsty Camel. I do think that our community and country would be a lot better off if we got over our anti-elitist tendencies and let experts do their thing – that includes journalists who are professional observers; they need to tell us what they think is important, and we need to listen. The great ones – from Murrow to Nat Hentoff to Bill Moyers – have always done that, and we’re better off for it.

Q: Why did they name our new light rail line after a laundry detergent instead of calling it Hampton Roads: America’s First Region’s First Light Rail System That Goes to Newtown Road In Norfolk For Now?

Because that wouldn’t have fit on the train. But it does have a nice ring to it.

Q: Do you pledge to support my campaign to reunite Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies in Norfolk to play their 1994 modern rock hit “Ride the Tide” aboard a light rail train repeatedly for a half hour or 7.4 miles (whichever comes last)?

I do, indeed. Although I also like the idea of getting Ozzy Osbourne on board to sing ‘Crazy Train’ for 24 hours straight.

Q: Sometimes I think back to the New York days. Like the night in 1979 when Cyrus from the Gramercy Riffs called all us city gangs together at Van Cortland Park and Luther whacked Cyrus and put the whole dirty deed on us and all that heat came down from the airwaves while we headed back to our turf and I never thought we’d make it back to Coney Island in one piece especially after me and my boys ran into the Lizzies and what with what happened to Fox in the subway but at least Luther got what was coming when the Riffs learned it wasn’t us that took out Cyrus at the summit. I take it you and your crew had a better time getting back to Staten Island, yes? What was the name of your gang and what route did you take?

We came up with a name one night but promptly forgot it after smoking a lot of marijuana and eating 17 boxes of Twinkies. Come to think of it, though, there was another night I recall when some friends and I went to a party in the North Bronx, sang Beatles songs all night with two fugitive IRA members (true story), then rode a Manhattan-bound subway through the South Bronx at 3 a.m. (Not something I’d recommend.) We eventually got to the Staten Island Ferry, then caught Staten Island’s lightrail, which actually goes somewhere.

Q: Funnily enough, when we had our local scrape with those local punks in the Downtown Norfolk Crusher OGs the other day, we were only able to flee on The Tide to Newtown Road before we had to rent a car at that Avis on Virginia Beach Boulevard. Maybe light rail could be a little longer, if only to enable the Technicolor flight of nonexistant gangs. What’s the likelihood we go all the way on light rail in Hampton Roads? By “all the way” I mean to Portsmouth.

Ah, fun times.

Right now the only way it can serve local gangs is to take them all to a sit-down at that great sushi restaurant on Newtown Road. Kind of like those old meetings of the heads of the five mafia families in New York, but with California rolls.

That said, I think it’s unlikely that I will see a truly serviceable mass-transit system here in my lifetime. Right now, I figure I’m better off hopping a Norfolk Southern coal car out of West Ghent if I want to commute somewhere without a car.

Q: If the Beach continues to go slow on light rail, will HRT forces take the needed permissions, funding, and land by sword skirmish?

No. I think we’ll continue to talk about it, just as we talk about ‘regionalism’ and attracting the ‘creative class.’ Reminds me of the characters in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. Just a bunch of people sitting around with their pipe dreams. Or Waiting for Godot. But I do kind of like the idea of taking Mount Trashmore, swords in hand, as we recite ‘Charge of the Lightrail Brigade,’ with apologies to Tennyson.

Q: In recent years you’ve taken up martial arts and songwriting. Where exactly are you going with this?

I’m not a very good musician, as I’ve already noted, but I kind of like my own stuff. I figure I’d better be able to defend myself at gigs because some people do tend to get pissed off when I refuse to play Jimmy Buffet songs.

Q: I understand that you’re heading back to school this fall. Will Sally Kellerman play your love interest? Who will play Lou, your chauffeur?

Lou will be played by my old friend Louie Pisigoni from Staten Island. As for my love interest, I’m holding out for Rachel McAdams. I’ve had a crush on her ever since Wedding Crashers.

As for going back to school, I’m going to give ODU a try while I continue teaching there, but I may transfer to my son’s college, room with him in a customized dorm suite complete with hot tub and hire Kurt Vonnegut to write our papers. Oh wait – he’s dead. Maybe Dave Eggers, then.

Q: We’ve covered so much ground here. Is there anything else you would like to say?

I’d like to say hi to my friends at the Taphouse. It will be at least three hours between the time they read this and the time they see me.

You can learn more about Robotham (and see a photo of him on a horse) at this link to his site.

And thanks to the magic of YouTube, former Screamin Cheetah Wheelies frontman Mike Farris will play us out:

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A delegate and a poem, such as they are


NORFOLK, Va. — A federal judge in Richmond today sentenced former state Del. Phil Hamilton, who recently was convicted of bribery and extortion, to serve 9½ years in prison.

That sentence – meaning my lede, not Hamilton’s – is pretty much a total ripoff of Julian Walker’s opening line in The Virginian-Pilots online report. Homage, baby.

The other sentence – Hamilton’s, not my lede – is my cheap cue as a native Ocean Stater to inform Hamilton that he has a marvelous future at virtually any level of Rhode Island government. After all, my home state’s cookie jar has had more hands caught in it than, oh, let’s just let that thought end.

Walker reports:

The decision concludes this phase of a saga that dates to 2006, when prosecutors said Hamilton began soliciting a paid position through Old Dominion University with a teacher training program for which he helped secured $500,000 in state start-up funds the following year.

Hamilton, 59, was subsequently given a job with a $40,000 annual salary at ODU’s Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership, a title he held for about two years until after the arrangement was exposed by The Virginian-Pilot.

He wasn’t taken into custody after the hearing, but must surrender to federal authorities by Sept. 19 to begin his sentence. His attorney said Hamilton will appeal the verdict.

So. The saga has another phase. Still, the Imaginary Board of Trustees has granted me permission to borrow the key to the Wayback Machine. Quite a fuss went up among the imaginary trustees when I invoked the timeliness clause. So the Wayback Machine is fired up, and we can revisit my terrible “poem” about Hamilton’s slippery dealing with a very fine public university where I just happen to attend grad school. Let’s travel together, way back to … May 2011.

Ahem:

‘Quid Pro Oh No (Revised)’

A delegate tried to secure secured funding

for a state university

with a string attached

and unlike the assembly

that bestows such funds

it wasn’t general at all – no! –

the string was specific,

tied to the assemblyman himself,

job hunting, job getting

in a ‘corrupt arrangement,’

federal prosecutors allege

prosecutors argued in court

with conviction enough

for enough of a conviction,

and so a federal court judge

named Henry E. Hudson,

whose initials are HEH,

was resigned to give the gift

that otherwise grows more elusive

as mortal men give it chase,

‘the toughest decision I’ve made

in my 13 years as a judge,’

this gift, the hardest time itself.

I promise I will have no reason to repost this “poem” for another 9½ years. That is a mere 8.6868 years for my friends who use the metric system. Respect to the math.

Exceptions:

  1. I’ll return to this bit earlier, perhaps, with good behavior.
  2. And what if the promised appeal goes forward, and perchance succeeds? We are nothing if not the sum of our revisions.

Back by popular demand, here is a pointless link to the post you just read.

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Next Tunnel Traffic reading Wednesday at Borjo in Norfolk


Maybe it's true that you can indict a ham sandwich, but prosecutors are busy with this guy. Photo of former state Del. Phil Hamilton courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The next Tunnel Traffic open-mic reading is tomorrow, Wednesday, May 4, at Borjo Coffeehouse near Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

The event is open to the public.

Tunnel Traffic is a topical reading series, meaning writers write to a prompt in advance of the reading or read something that aligns to the prompt. For tomorrow’s event, the prompt is “anything with the word ‘test’ in it,” as per series creator Travis A. Everett.

Perfect end-of-the-semester topic. Ode to my Classical Rhetoric exam?

Yo, St. Augustine

you freewheeling scamp

rhetor of God

the hippest of Hippo

linguistic test of faith

holy multiple choice

you KO my GPA …

Really writes itself from there. Unlike the second essay question. And let me mention how I’m not in the poetry program.

I wonder what we’ll hear tomorrow.

We’ve been reminded this week about ODU’s former Virginia state delegate hiring program and all. I’m sure Mace and Crown staff will get around to covering it after we get a freaking Chipotle in University Village or something.

Say, I feel another poem-like thing coming on. I call it “Quid Pro Oh No”:

A delegate tried to secure funding

for a state university

with a string attached

and unlike the assembly

that bestows such funds

it wasn’t general at all – no! –

the string was specific,

tied to the assemblyman himself,

job hunting, job getting

in a ‘corrupt arrangement’

federal prosecutors allege.

Boy. Need to work on that last line. And I didn’t get the word “test” in there. Nuts.

Oh yeah, Tunnel Traffic.

As I wrote here last month in a Q&A with Everett at this link, the series was developed by Everett in coordination with the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. A sponsor is Barely South Review, the program’s online literary magazine. I’m in the MFA program, by way of full disclosure. It’s pretty awesome, so I’ll hope you’ll check out these links in this graf.

This is a casual, fun event.

As Everett said last month, via email:

Seeing how other writers approach the same task can help expand your sense of what words can do. It’s a low-pressure way to get reading experience.

The reading starts at at 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 4, at Borjo at W. 45th Street and Monarch Way, Norfolk. More about Tunnel Traffic at this link.

A few oh-by-the-ways:

  1. I’ve started keeping track of some local arts events at this page, so please check it out if you are so inclined. Send events for consideration to jhdouc@verizon.net. Mostly I’ve tracked Tunnel Traffic, ODU readings, and stuff my pals are doing, but I’ll list other stuff, too. In exchange for a job at your organization. Just kidding, U.S. attorney’s office!
  2. Additionally, this blog’s new homepage address is www.jhdoucette.com. Bookmark or avoid as religious doctrine dictates.
  3. People accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty. Even former state lawmakers.
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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. III: Travis A. Everett of Tunnel Traffic


 

 

Travis A. Everett, who is from Texas, wears a hat with not one but two Ts on it in this photo. He is the founder of Tunnel Traffic, an occasional reading series. Texans seem to like a certain kind of alliteration. Photo by John-Henry Doucette.

Tunnel Traffic is an open-mike reading series that generally is held at Borjo Coffeehouse near Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

The series was developed by Travis A. Everett in coordination with the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. One of its sponsors is Barely South Review, the program’s online literary magazine. By way of full disclosure, I’m a student in the MFA program and was one of the fiction readers for the review this past year.

I recently traded emails with Everett, since the next reading is coming up on Wednesday, April 13. The topical reading series is meant inspire new work and provide reading experience for students, according to the webpage. Writers write to prompts announced before each reading. The vibe is meant to be low-pressure and casual.

In addition to his studies at ODU, Everett is a poet and the founding editor of escarp, a text message-based review of “super brief literature.”

This Belligerent Q&A is about Tunnel Traffic. In case you missed the photo cutline above, let me mention that Everett is from Texas. I wonder if that will come up.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

  1. An accident waiting to happen
  2. A typography/design geek
  3. A weekend programmer

Q: It seems to be an interesting choice to name something Tunnel Traffic and expect people from Hampton Roads to want to experience it. Please describe your marketing plan in a limerick, haiku, or rhyming couplets.

I come from West Texas
where sky is the coolest thing
you can drive under

Q: The bling, the flashy cars, the reality shows – hasn’t the public had enough of the ostentatious lifestyles of the creative writing community and its twisted, insatiable passion for the subversive forms of fiction, poetry and narrative nonfiction?

Well, I think that’s actually one of the problems contemporary literature faces. So the equivalent of a Benz and a bottle of Cristal is a stuffy reading voice or a highly referential style that both resist non-writers — and the reality-show analog is writing about a writerly life like it’ll matter to anyone who isn’t a writer. There’s room for that, of course, but I also think it’s a really self-fulfilling prophecy to bemoan the lack of readership for very writerly books of poetry and prose. So in that sense, yeah — I think the public has had its fill of a specific kind of writerly lifestyle.

Q: Your readings are “topical” – please explain. Does that mean topical like a Jay Leno monologue, or topical in a way that prolongs one’s will to live?

Or topical like anti-itch cream? So you can listen to one late night monologue and hear a joke about, let’s say, a runaway Toyota, and you might laugh. But a single joke doesn’t show how far the content can stretch. Let’s say it’s topical like a roast, or a slam-dunk contest: shedding the usual rules of the dance give it a relaxed, fun, informal atmosphere with an undercurrent of both inter- and intra-personal competition.

In some sense it doesn’t matter, on The Tonight Show, if Jay has the best Toyota joke or not (as long as his joke is at least funny) because he’s not in a topical context. But if you take a number of late-night hosts and other comedians and let them know you’re having a runaway-Toyota-joke-night, they’re each going to be looking for an angle no one else will take and as a result they’ll cover a lot more territory, territory they probably wouldn’t have opened up as individuals outside of that context.

Q. We’ve covered so much ground here. What else would you like to say?

If you commit to coming, a topical prompt will help you write something you probably wouldn’t have written otherwise. Seeing how other writers approach the same task can help expand your sense of what words can do. It’s a low-pressure way to get reading experience.

The next Tunnel Traffic reading is scheduled from 8 to 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 13, at Borjo at W. 45th St. and Monarch Way. The topics are Easter eggs and/or gunpowder. Members of the public are welcome to come out either to listen or to read.

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Poetry that recognizes the struggle against sexual assault


Breaking the Silence, Speaking for Peace, a poetry reading to raise awareness of the struggle against sexual assault, will be held Monday, April 11, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

The reading features several ODU poets, including Luisa Igloria and Tim Seibles. They will read poems that speak to survivorship, peacemaking, healing from trauma, or the struggle against sexual assault.

The event is sponsored by the MFA Creative Writing Program at ODU and the ODU Women’s Center. The reading is from noon-1:30 p.m, Monday, April 11, in the James Lynnhaven Room, Webb Center, Norfolk. Admission is free.

By way of full disclosure, I’m an MFA student at ODU.

Igloria, director of the MFA program, said via email that she had been looking for an event to commemorate National Poetry Month. Wendi White, graduate assistant with the Women’s Center, approached Igloria about holding a joint project.

White works with the center’s Sexual Assault Free Environment, or SAFE, an educational program on sexual violence and relationship issues. She’s in her first year with the MFA poetry program.

White, via email, said the poetry event will help raise awareness about sexual violence and help people prevent it – with attention, of course, also paid to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Regarding the connection between poet and audience, White added:

This is a very powerful transaction that can transform how the reader sees the world, and therefore, the world itself. … (P)oetry can create empathy for survivors and lift up the possibility of peace in a way that moves people to action.

Serving the Old Dominion University community since 1976, the Women’s Center is the oldest center of its kind on a Virginia college campus. Our programs and services address the special challenges and opportunities women students encounter as they pursue their academic goals. Also, recognizing the critical role that both women and men play in creating a world that is free of gender bias, our goals include promoting healthy relationships and a safe and equitable environment that is free of barriers to all persons.

Said Igloria:

When folks hear of either one – poetry, or women’s/gender issues – I think that it may still very well be the general perception that these are ‘fringe’ types of topics but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. …

This reading event is open to the university, as well as to the general public. Folks can participate by being part of the audience and coming to hear great poetry read, or by reading one or two short poems. It can be either their own original works or by another poet, as long as the poems selected address the general topics of violence against women or our struggles in general to create peace in our world.

It may seem like this is a broad umbrella, but I think this makes it possible for different voices to participate in the activity.

Featured readers include Til Cox, Tyrice Dean, Travis Everett, Jennifer Graham, Igloria, Renee Olander, Noah Renn, Seibles, Marion Charlene Thomas, Cesca Janece Waterfield, and White.

For more information or to participate, reach White via wewhite@odu.edu or (757) 683-4160. Members of the public who want to read must contact White before Wednesday, April 6, to sign up.

Igloria wrote that she’s still determining what she’ll read.

Thinking about and preparing for it makes me think of how very central and very important language is in shaping the realities of our lives, globally as well as where we are; and I think poetry has this capacity for making us aware of the effects of language, and for speaking very intimately to us as well as addressing concerns that are universal.

When I listen to (or read) a poem, I feel very much in the presence of a very human experience; poetry makes me feel like a witness to human events that are important and real, no matter how ‘small’ they may be. Perhaps that’s why I recently ranted (a bit) about the way National Poetry Month is being ‘celebrated’ in some popular venues.

A link to that post at Igloria’s blog can be found here.

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Writing Craft, Vol. II: Kristin Naca (Part 2)


This is the last part of a discussion with Kristin Naca, the Spring 2011 Visiting Poet in Residence for Old Dominion University’s MFA Creative Writing Program, that took place this past June. There are two upcoming events in Norfolk, Va., featuring Naca that are open to the public. Admission is free. You should check them out:

  • From noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, there is a craft talk called “The Secret Tradition: How Translation Revolutionized 20th Century Poetry.” The talk will be held in the Burgess Room, 9024, in the Batten Arts and Letter Building, at the corner of West 45th St. and Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk, or across Hampton Boulevard from the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
  • And at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17, Naca will hold a poetry reading at the University Village Bookstore. Copies of her book will be available for purchase and signing, and refreshments will be provided. The bookstore is located at 4417 Monarch Way, Norfolk, at the corner of Monarch Way and West 45th St.

Naca is the author of Bird Eating Bird. What follows has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: When you read the third draft or the fiftieth draft, do you know that you have it?

(Laughs.) Sometimes. Well, when it’s encroaching on really finished, I’ve probably been working on it for a while and typically I’ll be able to figure that out that it is done, that the plaster is setting. I think the trick for me is I’m pretty open. I didn’t care how long it was going to take me to finish a poem. There were a couple of poems that were published in a really different version that were reworked for the book.  Sometimes you really just need the right word from somebody and it will motivate you to work really hard at your work. … Like the last poem (in Bird Eating Bird), “Catching Cardinals,” Prairie Schooner published an earlier version of that poem. It went from a poem that looked like a baptism poem about the kid. It told the story that it wanted to tell in that form and then my advisor said I don’t want this to look like a composed poem, so she asked me to break it up into quatrains and then I did that. And then my girlfriend at the time saw it published in quatrains and she asked why it was in quatrains. When she said that, it helped me rekindle a memory of being in a poet, David Wagoner’s, class. David is a really well known poet who is a phenomenal teacher. He has a lot of poems memorized and he could just do off the top of his head. He was a poet who tried to help all of us at University of Washington train our ear. It was very much his idea that these numbered kinds of stanzas are more like musical measures. So a couplet is really supposed to work musically as a couplet in and of itself. So he would recite Wallace Stevens, and then it was like oh I can hear the couplets. I don’t need to hear them for the story to be told, I need to hear them because rhythmically it makes a song. … Then working with my friend who is a formalist … I’ve always tried to write formal poems to train as I write my work but finally I felt like this form, the quatrain form, would force me to cut out all the unnecessary language, for one, and it would shape the story in a way that I wouldn’t be in control of, but if I worked the form it would heighten the effect of the poem.

Q: I hadn’t even thought of that but given the topic …

Yeah. I think I only learned that from taking a form workshop to varying degrees of success. Every time I took one I got better. ‘I’d better do this because this poem is going to be so cool.’

Q: The class we’re taking is an Asian American lit class and one of the themes that we’re talking about is assimilation and I wondered if you could talk about that poem (“Catching Cardinals”) and assimilation.

That’s a great question. This is a form of community established in the United States that inaccurately, historically combines conservative politics with conservative forms. I don’t know why that is but if you know the history of poetry, you history of form, cultures around the world are writing in various set forms. And I think the book of poetry that helped me get over the hump to learn how to write in quatrains was Songs of Gold Mountain, which was a book from Chinese migrant communities. The translations are pretty remarkable. They’re able to translate the meter of a couplet in the original poem. The translations are beautiful and demonstrate how different a couplet is in English, a British sort of influence, a Western influence, to what the couplet does coming from the East. There is a great deal more melancholy in the couplet from the East. It’s sort of relinquishes control. It’s haunting. I was teaching and Asian American poetic class that fall and finally I had the music of the couplet that I wanted to write in my ear. At first I’m doing something like classic borrowing but from an Asian form, not necessarily a British form. … I’m going from a Western concept but then from an Eastern concept I’m learning that sense of melancholy and this is the kind of couplet. It was an amazing opportunity for me. … Then there’s like resistance. People who don’t know that history will easily read it as a Western treatment.

Q: Is that frustrating?

It’s actually a little demoralizing. I think people sometimes like the sound of the poem but don’t understand. I don’t know that any one poet or any one audience could ever understand all of the treatments that I was using. Or the historical conversations that are happening … I don’t know (how) to feel about it but I definitely know that I do feel. I guess it’s just lucky if people get anything. … To hear certain lines in your voice and your construction and how you are translating – how you know a certain line or a certain thought – that has a lot of meaning for me. Maybe I talk to people who see the poems or good or relevant, but so much of the subject matter in the book it’s completely theological to them. That’s a little bit of an intensifying of my experience. … It’s kind of a sad reminder. You can’t teach people everything and you can’t say everything either.

Q: When I read the reference to your uncle in Manila I just think it takes the poem to a whole other place. The way I process things is it makes me think of things from my own life. But I don’t think I would have noticed certain lines that I noticed had I not taken this class.

That’s a good argument for those kinds of cultural studies and ethnic studies classes. The reason you do that is you don’t know anything in the first place.

Q: What do you want people to take away from your work?

Try to understand to let the poem effect you and to open your heart to the poem. If you can do that it really cuts down the barriers. If I could request anything, not even tell people to do it is, especially if they don’t understand it, is to read it with their heart first.

For more information on Naca, please visit her site here.

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Writing Craft, Vol. II: Kristin Naca (Part 1)


The following discussion with Kristin Naca, the Spring 2011 Visiting Poet in Residence for Old Dominion University’s MFA Creative Writing Program, took place this past June. It was for a class, and she graciously has agreed to let me publish sections of it. As I posted recently, there are two upcoming events featuring Naca that are open to the public. Admission is free. You should check them out:

  • From noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, there is a craft talk called “The Secret Tradition: How Translation Revolutionized 20th Century Poetry.” The talk will be held in the Burgess Room, 9024, in the Batten Arts and Letter Building, at the corner of West 45th St. and Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk, or across Hampton Boulevard from the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
  • And at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17, Naca will hold a poetry reading at the University Village Bookstore. Copies of her book will be available for purchase and signing, and refreshments will be provided. The bookstore is located at 4417 Monarch Way, at the corner of Monarch Way and West 45th St.

Naca is the author of Bird Eating Bird. The poems include three languages, Spanish, English and Tagalog. I started out our talk asking about some poems that appear in Spanish and then in English, though the translations are not mirror images. I have edited the following for clarity and length.

Q: When did you start writing in Spanish? Was it for the MFA project, your first book?

I think I was revisiting the interest I had even as an undergraduate. My Spanish … really wasn’t in my bones in any way at that age. I’d been in Spanish class a lot but hadn’t really explored whether I had any personal connection to it. At that time I did, but I feel like I didn’t have the resources at that young age to align my memory and to get a thoroughly immersed in Spanish like I did in my MFA project. It shouldn’t have the same relevance to me when I was that young. Once I was out on my own longer … As an artist, you’re really crafting yourself and your personality. My personality and who I was is really interlinked in what I was studying.

Q: (One poem in Spanish is called “Seguir”; the English version is “Seguir: To Follow, Keep On, Continue.”) The title of the translation, it’s almost like there aren’t the words in English to explain this one Spanish word.

I think the title is very much like it’s own dictionary entry, you know? I’d been working on a few different words with that approach, in particular words where the concept was complex, and the construction of what they mean. I wasn’t sure I understood the translation. … The word is like a concept of time and how we experience time. … Imagine like how the word works in time, that’s what I think I was trying to find a metaphor for. It’s like a really weird word. Sometimes you can use it to cast out into the future and sometimes it talks about what has happened in the past and sometimes it’s related to the future. … It’s a verb that has a past and a future to it. I was trying to work with these phrases that were like reflections, and I think even “Todavia No” is even like one of those choices. … The concepts of something not quite being there or something still being there.

Q: I wondered how you are assembling the images and the words that get you where you want to go. Does it start with just one idea?

I don’t know if this unusual. I ended up just observing what was in my immediate environment, and tried to write down anything I could observe in detail and also in another language, when I was in Nebraska. Interestingly enough, this is in the details of nouns, but it’s what I can see around me.

Q: Did you write it first in Spanish?

First in Spanish. I was trying to demonstrate where the fragments of my Spanish were. Like, where the ragged ends of my lexicon were. If I didn’t know a word … Sometimes the word isn’t at my finger tips. And then there’s alliteration. I’m definitely someone who will alliterate until I hear the word I’m looking for. I’ll do that in Spanish and I’ll do it in English, too. …

Q: “Todivia No” was one of the poems where I read it and I wished that I had written it. One of the things I struggle with is structure and it just seems, it’s so hard to explain. I just can’t picture it being written another way.

I have a friend who writes fiction and she’s kind of a young literary fiction writer, and she says don’t you feel like you can just futz around with in for ever, when I was in the last two months of editing it, and I was just like no, poems are … at a certain point you cannot rearrange it. That’s when you know. If the poem has a life of its own then someone else can read it see the intangible elements. I think maybe because I’m a relatively young writer too, when you’re compositing a certain way. I guess the best way to describe it is reaching negative capability. You really do empty yourself out and try to comply to the will of the poem. If you hear that there is a poem in there or if you hear that there is a poetic dimension that are just like around the corner, the you let go of what you want the poem to be, what you were trying to force the poem to do, and eventually you let the poem come tell you how it’s supposed to go. It’s not the easiest process. It’s just like, strip down your ego, you know? And say my original intention is not what’s important. What’s important is the intention of the poem that’s there. Or at least the poem that’s better. (Laughs.) I don’t know if you feel that way writing stories.

Q: I do. Actually, I had a workshop last year where I kind of got out of my own way.

That’s exciting. It’s exciting and it’s hard to do. And once you do it once it’s like now I have to do that 100 more times or as many times as I need to. That can be a scary process.

Q: You had very little Spanish when you were a kid?

Yeah. Practically none. It was only like when certain relatives would come in from New York City. When my grandmother would come in from, I think she was living in Maryland. My father would speak Spanish only to them, and not to us.

Q: I just want to tell you, in “Uses for Spanish in Pittsburgh,” a line I love: “Still I remember he spoke a hushed Spanish to customers who struggled in English, the ones he pitied for having no language to live on.” One of my favorite lines.

Thanks. I really appreciate that. … I think my parents were very much like the economics of learning certain languages just don’t make sense. And Spanish doesn’t make economic sense. Though my father said that he heard a quarter of the globe would speak Spanish by 2000. But he wanted us to learn Chinese. He was much more in favor of us learning Chinese than Spanish. He thought that was more economically viable.

Q: Similar to my mother’s experience with Italian. The kids didn’t speak Italian. The words my mother and uncles carried forward are the words I heard when I got in trouble.

(Laughs.) The cursing and sometimes swearing, right? That’s gotten me in trouble once or twice with Tagalog.

Q: Did you have the same experience with Tagalog?

It’s exactly the same kind of thing as you said. We learned like body parts. My mother’s family is like I guess third-world poverty working class, and whatever I learned in terms of body parts were much more crude than I think people in the city were learning and, while I was aware that the Catholic Church is a power in the Philippines and there are elements of shame, like shame for the culture or social rules, I didn’t really understand how that shaped the language I learned. So I met a another Filipino writer and she was a year behind me and we talked about the shame involved in openly talking about sexuality. At the time any Filipino I knew was just saying the body parts and such. When I repeated it back (to the other student) when she heard me say – and apparently it wasn’t just like the names of body parts but I was also saying phrasing I didn’t know, and it had been vulgar. When the whole things went down, she blushed. I didn’t know Filipino people could blush. She just turned beet red. She was like afraid of me for the things I had learned to say. It was like in a really crude form. It was a little bit of class difference in what my family was teaching me, and her background. … I think the story of my life is I’ll come into contact with a language other than English and I may not know the dynamics of the way I’m learning it or a full sense of what I’ve learned or what I’ve actually heard. And then I have an opportunity to learn. … Luckily I realized I enjoyed learning about language. I had no idea I would enjoy learning about languages until I got further along in my studies.

Q: Did you feel personally that language was missing, that you wished you had more of it?

I really wanted to learn it. I was really good at languages until I was 13. When I started studying Spanish in high school …  generally, I was a really bad student, but that didn’t relax my curiosity about it. And when someone tells you not to it’s just burned into your memory in a way that it’s an indelible thing that you must have. That couldn’t have been more clear to me in that it developed into a profound interest in studying Mexican American writers. And then having them become my circle of thought and colleagues, and then I could not not pursue it. Everything is pointing in the direction  of this is what I should do. It was the first time I had a scholarly pursuit and my scholarly pursuit was hand in hand with like a natural curiosity.

Q: The poems are so personal and powerful, does it come just a core part of your personality at that point? Was it just real effort or was it both?

I think you’re asking the age old questions. I think what I learned in my MFA, though I couldn’t really express it, was I had more intellectual faculty than I thought I did. … I think when you’re an MFA student your main goal is to become a better writer, not to write a book. You’re going to write an entire manuscript, for instance, but it’s sort of like you don’t have to worry about it. You have to do it in order to graduate. The real opportunity should be to learn as much as you can, change and grow as much as you can. I learned that you just have to really study you craft and that so much of the world will sort of unlock for you if you work on it. It was sort of my passport into a community.

I’ll post more of this discussion shortly. For more information on Naca, visit her site here.

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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. II: Kristin Naca


Kristin Naca is the Spring 2011 Visiting Poet in Residence for Old Dominion University’s MFA Creative Writing Program in Norfolk, Va. In addition to working with some really lucky MFA students – including me – there are two events that are open to the public (and free). She’s amazing, so I hope you can make one or both:

  • From noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, there is a craft talk called “The Secret Tradition: How Translation Revolutionized 20th Century Poetry.” The talk will be held in the Burgess Room, 9024, in the Batten Arts and Letter Building, at the corner of West 45th St. and Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk, or across Hampton Boulevard from the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
  • And at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 17, Naca will hold a poetry reading at the University Village Bookstore. Copies of her book will be available for purchase and signing, and refreshments will be provided. The bookstore is located at 4417 Monarch Way, at the corner of Monarch Way and West 45th St.

Naca is the author of Bird Eating Bird, a great collection of poetry chosen for the National Poetry Series mtvU prize by Yusef Komunyakaa, the 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry. Naca teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. She was born in Washington D.C. and raised in northern Virginia.

I spoke with Naca in June for a class at Old Dominion University, and will post a couple of excerpts from that talk in the next few days. Today’s post contains her responses to a recent email exchange, and if this “Belligerent Q&A” seems light on my customary foolishness, it may be because the subject will be grading me.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

  1. A wandering poet
  2. A distracted yogi
  3. A wishful filmmaker

Q: You interviewed Yusef Komunyakaa for a certain cable channel. How did you come to join the international conspiracy to keep music off of MTV?

The liberating thing about conspiracy is the mechanism is shrouded in secrecy. I just do my part. I had been a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2007, and they let me know a few months prior to the judging. But when I was a finalist for the NPS mtvU prize in 2008, they did not let me know ahead of time. So, I had already let it go. The day I learned about it, I was just really hungry and stopped at Los Robertos in San Antonio, Texas, for a taco when the NPS staff called to tell me I won this cool prize. From that point on, I only do what I’m told. Even going to NYC. Even talking to Yusef and praising his genius and influence. Though, hopefully, some of that’s rubbing off on me.

Uh … Hasn’t it been more than a decade since MTV showed videos? I think it’s time to let it go.

Q: Recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cut $2,000 in annual funding for the state’s poet laureate. Additionally, the U.S. poet laureate, presently W.S. Merwin, rakes in a cool $35,000 per year. Why should any American support lavishing such sums upon the arts when the top executives of our nation’s noble lending institutions can barely stay knee-deep in foie gras entier with truffles and prickly pear salsa?

Most people are starving for art in their lives. They don’t understand the water supply has been tainted by giant entertainment industries. So, most Americans can’t fairly judge what they’ve been estranged from. Even though art’s deep inside them. Even though people truly are made of art. Remember regular people are moved to produce art when they’re in love and when they’ve suffered a great tragedy. It’s at those times they recall what’s in their bones. That it becomes clear mundane utterance will not suffice to express the complexity of feeling that makes up their lives.

Also, I wonder exactly who believes art should be de-funded? It’s obviously a larger than life-size gesture about something that’s a pittance to the overall economy – even in Wisconsin. It’s a cultural imperialist’s move, don’t you think? Isn’t meant to dislocate people from their language, from expression. Part of a conversion philosophy that tells us we should be afraid out of our minds about fiscal blah blah blah. And shouldn’t everything go? Art, then public transportation, then homeless shelters, health care, veteran’s benefits, safe food, retirement, and most definitely education.

Q: When is it time to rhyme?

All the time. Rhyme all the time. Rhyme to the time and repeat.

Q. We’ve covered so much ground here. What else would you like to say?

Is it warm in Norfolk? It snowed in Minneapolis again last night. And we’re in a heat wave, a balmy 28.

Boy, the world is full of good sports. Again, a more serious craft conversation will follow. For more information on Kristin Naca, visit her website here.

And if you’re ever in San Antonio, Naca recommends the carnitas taco on corn at Los Robertos.

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