Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Gloomy Day at the Keyboard

Warning: I'm about to get melodramatic!

But I always do that, don't I? :D

Anyway, I think I'm just getting used to the fact that self-doubt never really goes away. It doesn't matter how many books I've published that nobody reads, how many useless degrees I've collected, or even how well-read I am, I'm always going to doubt my abilities as a writer.

That's kind of depressing, isn't it?

I had one of THOSE kind of days yesterday. See, now that I'm off of work, I expect a lot more of myself, creativity wise. The past few days I've been reading through my novel manuscript making notes for myself as to what to change and how to go about this enormous task of revising it. I took a step back from my work in the afternoon and just felt this immense lull of doubt, this urge to quit.

This sucks, Katie.

And, well, YEAH, it does suck. My first draft is shitty. But aren't most first drafts? Isn't that what I teach my students, that being a writer ISN'T about bursts of brilliance but perserverance, hard work, sweat, and, well, tears. Gwahhhhh.

But it's hard to wrap the head around sometimes, when you're knee deep in bad sentences and shallow characters.

For some reason, yesterday, I just couldn't get out of my funk.

Today's a new day. I slashed my novel up, cut out that 10% of it that really, really sucked. I started working on a new short story. I thought about poems. I spent a lot of time reading.

Each day's a struggle. Self-doubt never goes away. In fact, I think, for me, anyway, it's getting more intense because I expect more of myself now than I did, oh, say, 2009 when I started this blog. I wonder how much other writers struggle with this. Maybe it's just something we don't talk about. But anyway, I like being naked, so here I am, talking about it.

Being a writer is damn hard work, both mentally and emotionally. It comes with these crazy ups and downs, and certainly, no guarantees. Sometimes, being a writer really really sucks, and sometimes I think about throwing in the towel and picking up a more reasonable passion, like surfing Pinterest and making crafty do-dads all day. :-P

Nah.

I'll get through this funk, though. I always do!

Friday, December 13, 2013

How Do You "Review?"

Katie the Critic is up to no good!
So a friend of mine asked me about how to write a poetry book review. Damned if I know! That's not a very good response, is it? So here's a nice blog post about my own process:

I don't think I ever learned a proper way to write book reviews -- I taught myself to do it, and it's a craft I'm still trying to hone. If you're wanting to write reviews, I think a good place to start is to read a bunch of them. I like the LARB.  Of course, writing a good review isn't all about emulating another person's style, but it's a good way to kind of get a feel for the genre -- and yes, book reviews are their own genre (at least I like to think so).

I start by reading the book just for the sheer enjoyment of it, cover to cover. Some people like to read poetry books a bit here and a bit there, but when you're writing a review, you're trying to get a sense of the whole, the book's argument. So you'll need to experience it as such.

Once I've read it through, I'll take a little breaksie. Sometimes that break is a day. Sometimes it's a week. But I need to have some time to muse and think about the poems and how they connect with one another. I can't just read a book and then go to my computer and type. I'm a reflecter, so, I need to reflect.

I read the book through a second time, but on this read through, I'm a bit more purposeful. I'm on the lookout for poems or phrases that stick out. I'm armed with post-it notes and highlighters. I'm reading the book in terms of something specific, with some sort of driving question. For example, with my most recent review, I wanted to think about the poet's use of metaphor. In the past, I've looked at how a poet deals with gender, how their work fits into the revisionist mythmaking tradition, how the poet represents culture. But there should be some sort of driving question about craft/content/theory. Figuring that out is probably the toughest part of writing a book review. Then I'll dogear pieces that support my argument about the text's use of craft.

My next step is to piece everything together. I'll usually pick two or three poems to offer a close reading of (ok, I usually pick like ten poems that I fall in love with, and then I have to narrow it down), and the rest I just pick out phrases here and there. Then, I actually write the review. Because I've already done a lot of the mental work, it's usually pretty speedy (maybe two days, an hour or so each sitting).

Revising for me is typically cutting things out because I'm a bad girl and go over word limits.

Then, polishing. I have to read my piece out loud to make sure it "sounds" good -- and yes, I look crazy doing this, but it's typically just me and the cats here in my home office so it's 'kay.

I send off to editor. I bite fingernails, thinking that editor will hate it, thinking that editor will tell me my review writing days are over.

Editor never says that.

And life goes on.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

End of the Semester "Now What?" Feeling

So...

Yeah.

I know. I've been a punk lately.


I've been blogging, yes, just not here. Booo me.

Today marks the beginning of my vacation state of mind. It also marks the beginning of delving back into my crazies and thinking of myself as a writer again. Gone are the burdens of wearing pants three days out of the week! I have a month off from work, and I'm determined to make headway on my novel.

I know, I know, eyes are a'rollin' -- you always say you're going to work on your novel, Katie!

But you know what? Since I've last blogged, I've cranked out a first draft of my first novel X-D That's right, that's right, that's right. My plans are to revise it for the next six or so months, so by the time summer rolls around, I'll have another submittable manuscript in my hands. It's an entirely new project, and I'm a little excited about it. 

It feels eerily strange to have time to myself now, to not have a slough of student emails to answer, an enormous stack of papers to grade, though the expectation to actually get creative work done is, I'd say, equally stressful. But it's a good stress, right? Err... sure, keep telling yourself that.

In other Katie news, I'm now getting paid to blog over at Inside Higher Ed. My first post just went live today. I'm going to be covering poetry book review assignments. Why not mosey on over and take a looksie? Of course, because I love you, I'll still be givin' it away for free over here on my blogspot though :-) :-) :-)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fitting In...

Ah but of course! It's the beginning of a new semester, and I feel like I'm running around going crazy all over again :-P And you know, believe it or not, it kind of feels good.

Today we had a "mentoring" meeting at my university -- my good friend Mary Ann and I put on an event for MFAers who were curious about creating their critical introduction to their creative thesis. And it got me to thinking about the process of writing my own critical intro! Remember, that was two years ago now! It's amazing how time flies. It was an incredibly challenging experience for me, but it helped me figure out who I was as a writer and who I wanted to be. I think it was the most educational part of my experience as an MFA student. My committee was awesomely helpful. But I was thinking today, how did I even get started???

Anyway, it all started in a workshop one evening at a workshop session. I think we were at that weird coffee shop/sushi bar/car wash place near the universityThe group was discussing my poem, and one of the students, Isaac, said something super profound and life changing -- “all you ever write about is sex.” :-P

And what's worse, the professor agreed with him. Boy did I feel embarrassed or what? Mostly because it was true, but it hit a nerve. Is that how people are reading my work????
 

That got me thinking, thinking, thinking. I blogged about it. I complained about it. And then, after it bugging me for a good long while, I decided to embrace it. Yes. I write about sex y que? 

And actually, this ended up leading me to some interesting and theoretical ideas. I had to ask myself why I wrote about sex, and I realized there was so much more at stake in my writing than just sexiness – it was about gender, feminism, culture, identity, sensuality. 

This led me on a search. If I was going to be sexy in my writing, I better be sexy-smart. I thought about other writers who wrote about similar topics, and examined how critics viewed/responded to their work. At first, my idols were Plath and Sexton, but then I knew that I was doing something different, too, and this lead me to more questions.

I had taken a feminist theory course as an undergrad, and so that was a good place for me to start. I revisited my Foucault, my Butler, and my Anzaldua. I thought about other poets that I liked, such as Alicia Ostriker, Julia Alvarez, Molly Peacock, Annie Finch and had to find the common thread between all of this. And little by little, I started figuring out WHY I wrote about what I wrote about, and even WHY I wrote the way I did (that whole content/form dichotomy). 

Once I figured it all out, with a few hiccups, that awkward portion of my thesis came together. My mentor recently reminded me that it went through a number of drafts and maybe wasn't quite as seamless as I remember it (he's probably right), but regardless, I got through it with relatively few tears, and a huge amount of knowledge to work with, looking forward to my post-MFA writing life (which, of course, has been amazingly rewarding).

So it wasn't so bad. I understand why all of the newbies are all anxiety about it -- situating yourself in discourse is TOUGH work. You have to know yourself. You have to know the literary landscape. You have to negociate that landscape, own up to your place. It takes a little pride, a little leaping, and maybe a little b.s too. But it's all good. I survived and I'm a much more thoughtful, reflective, and purposeful writer for it.


Anyway, stay tuned for updates about my upcoming visit to UTB and South Padre Island next week! The following week I'll be in Fort Worth at TCU. Things are heating up again for Poet Katie, and of course, I wouldn't want to have it any other way.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Writing in My Waking Hours

Hmm...

I've had a glorious last few months. I know, I keep saying that, but it's true. I've let my brain become focused on poetry -- I've read poetry, thought about poetry, shared poetry, critiqued poetry, and yes, of course, wrote poetry.

Last week, though, my university had a guest lecturer come by to talk to writing faculty about second language acquisition, and of course, I was there, and my brain started thinking, again, of my pedagogy. It's been a shifting of gears, so to speak, and this morning, instead being awoken by a sudden need to write, I woke up to thoughts about re-sequencing my readings to accommodate for L2 learners. Good, important and productive thoughts, yes, but as I poured myself a cup of coffee and began my "work" for the day, I couldn't help but think, ugh.

And here I go again, teaching taking over my entire brainspace.

I love teaching, I really, really do. I think I'm a fantastic teacher. In fact, I THINK I'm a better teacher than I am a writer (Shhhhhh don't tell anyone), but maybe that's because I allow teaching to become my obsession during the semester. It's my bread and butter, so of course, right? :-/ But can't there be room for two obsessions in ones brain?

So here's my vow: on this, my last week of summer vacay, I vow to keep this good thing going. My first waking moments, my first waking thoughts, are going to focus on writing. I can't be a good teacher if I'm not engaging in writing, too, like I ask my students to do day in and day out. On some days, this might be just a scribbling of something, but I hope that more specifically, on the days that I don't teach (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) that I'll actually use those days OFF from teaching, and focus on what makes me a good writing teacher, the fact that, I, too, am engaged in the writing process.

So here's to a productive semester, to breakthroughs in and out of the classroom, and to poetry, yes, always to poetry, that got me here, that keeps me sane, that lets me connect my being with the world around me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Poetry Community?

Phew!

What an awesome summer this is proving to be! Ok, so I'm not traveling anywhere, and no, no, I'm not doing even working, or even getting out of my pjs every day, but you know what? It's felt really, really wonderful. I've been writing, yes, writing, a boat load, I think enough to keep me revising and rewriting and editing throughout the rest of the year :-P :-P :-P

I'm happy to finally breathe a sigh of relief: I've gotten my second full manuscript to a "happy place" -- and no, that doesn't mean I'm done, but it does mean that it's at least done enough. I've wrapped it up, it has a pretty bow on it, and now it's ready to start going off to publishers. This was my main goal for the summer, and it feels eerily good (while at the same time horrible) to have it, well, somewhat done. I'm going to continue working on it until I get a publisher, though, revising, adding, taking out poems, that kind of stuff. What IS my second manuscript, you ask? It's a collection of poems that explore our contemporary rape culture through traditional forms and classical tales. Say whaaaat? Yeah, something like that. :-) I've been practicing "pitching" the book to myself. I'm such a dork with no social life (which, I'll get to in just a moment).

Aside from that, I even wrapped up TWO, yes, TWO chapbook manuscripts. I don't know, particularly this second portion of summer has been really wonderful to me. I guess it was a happy accident that my summer class didn't make.

Anyway, back to my social problems! I've been strangely hermetic this summer, curled back into my cave and I've done a lot of thinking, reflecting, and writing. I've given myself a writing routine, seen it as a job, so to speak (a job I'm crazy obsessed with), and I think that's really what's helped me be productive. BUT, but, spending entire days, weeks sometimes even, only speaking to one other person in this whole wide world (my Bruno, of course), it can get a little, hmm... isolated? Bruno's learned to just nod his head when I start talking poetics and theory (what can I say, he's brilliant, but a brilliant engineer). And there came a point where I started feeling a little stale, like I was recycling my old ideas over and over again.

So what did I do?

I joined/formed a poetry group! If you know me, you might know that I'm a part of an ONLINE poetry group called Eratosphere, which is wonderful. But, maybe I just needed a reason to put pants on once in a while. Anyway, last March, I gave a workshop and a poet approached me afterwards, saying how wonderful the workshop was, and how great it was to sit down at a table full of women and just TALK poetics, share, laugh, drink wine. Indeed, she was right. I mean, I'm not a spectacular workshop-giver, but I think there's something really essential about coming together to share ideas, to let thoughts and whatever brains are made of cross paths. Anyway, said workshop-participant gave me the idea of forming a consistant workshop group. I agreed and smiled politely, but honestly, deep inside, it just sounded like more work and I'm already swamped with, well, getting out of bed in the morning :D OK, ok, I really was busy and overwhelmed at that moment with work and teaching and volunteering and just even making brain-space for my own writing.

But said poet didn't drop it. She was persistent. You see, the poetry community of El Valle is pretty small, and said poet and I kept crossing paths, and she kept mentioning it to me, asking me when I was going to start a group like that. And when summer rolled around, I found myself with lots of free time, and so, Writers of the Wild Horse Desert was born (ok ok, maybe other said poet had more to do with forming it than me, I couldn't have come up with that awesome name. I probably would have come up with something cheezy and stupid, like Vagina Versers but whatever. Now I'm an overly enthusiastic founding member).

We meet once a month and have a Facebook page. We have a set of loose guidelines. We're all women (which for me is really helpful). During our meetings, we workshop each others poems. Sometimes we bring articles and discuss them, too, when time permits. Our meeting place is a public library, and our sessions usually last, oh, maybe two hours or so. There are currently 8 women in our group, and we're thinking of capping membership at 10.

I don't know how this will turn out, but so far, I've found that being a part of this little group is really inspiring. We come from a vast range of backgrounds, from PhDs to undergrad students to all spaces in between. We're all passionate about writing. I hope that our meetings continue, and I hope that they even grow a little, too. I know that the fall semester is looming. Last fall I wasn't really able to write much of anything while I was teaching. But I hope that the Writers of the Wild Horse Desert will help me to carve out a space for writing once summer ends. I hope that this was exactly what I needed -- some social accountability to keep writing as an essential part of my life. It is an essential part of my life. There's nothing that makes me feel more alive than when I'm knee deep in poetry (teaching with my hair on fire comes in a distant second).

Anyway, I'm going to keep thinking about what makes a poetry group successful. But I know that writing is very much a social process. Yes, it's a private process, too, but writing is communicating, and ideas are meant to be exchanged. And so, once a month, I vow to put on pants, head to the public library, and share ideas with the seven other wonderful women of the Wild Horse Desert. And may our poetry be better for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I Love the Texas Poetry Calendar

Proudly Modeling My Contributor Copy
There's something awesome about this here nifty calendar. So here's the story -- each year, Dos Gatos Press puts out their poetry calendar. This is my second year being a part of the awesome project. I'm honored to be 2014's July poem! :D In 2013, I'm December (the absolute LAST poem of the collection!).

Anyway, why do I like this little collection? Well, first off, poets from all around the state submit, from El Paso to Orange, from Abilene to Brownsville. The poems are loosely tied to a regionalisms, so needless to say, the collections full of "flavor." My poem this time around is an ode to Shiner-drinking women, which, maybe I fall into that category more often than I'll admit. I love Texas. I love Texas poetry. It's varied and complex and beautiful, but at the same time, there's this tough spirit to it.

What else do I like about the collection? So this part's a little more pie in the sky, but recently, I attended a panel discussion on the power of anthologies to build communities. This really struck a cord with me. I like to think the TPC works in this way, too -- to bring Texas poets together, to represent the best of what our state has to offer in terms of our verse, and to define what it is we do. The editors also set up readings throughout the state, so yes, the poets get to meet each other, read alongside each other, and celebrate, talk, mix. All good stuff, because, well, let's face it, Texas is frickin' huge and sometimes we can get isolated in our micro-communities. There's a bigger community out there of Texas poets, and that's a good thing.

And there's one more thing. I love this calendar because it gives me a "place" to only write dates about poetry :-P So, yeah, it's practical too.

Anyway, get yourself a copy. You can find them here: Dos Gatos Press

Or on Amazon. But please, buy from Dos Gatos, because they're really cool cats. Hah.

Oh, and how about a little caveat? I look terrible in my picture. I've been sick. Lemmie alone!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Slight Change of Plans

Soooo... my classes were canceled. Enrollment was bleh. Today would have been my first day back at work, but instead, I have another month and a half of vacation! Ahhhhh... what am I going to DO with myself? :D

But I guess it's ok. In fact, this past week, I've hit a new vein in my writing. I'm back to writing my cowgirl Ovid poems, which I needed to work on because, well, I need to finish up this series. These poems are actually my favorite ones to write, so it's been a pretty wild week so far, writing wise. Wild, hah. I spend most of my times in my bathrobe and I'm lucky to actually get off my duff and leave the house once a day :-P Ok, not so wild after all.

In other news, it looks like once I get back to work, I'm hitting the ground running. I'm planning to present at the upcoming Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference in Fort Worth, in addition to serving as a guest lecturer for the Writers Live series at the University of Texas at Brownsville. So maybe I should just really soak up this lull, this calm. The storm's on the horizon! But you know what, I like the rain :-)

More details, of course, will be posted soon.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Katie's Summer State of Mind

This summer (so far) has been pretty laid back. I've had the house to myself, and while I'm getting work done, it's not necessarily as much as I had dreamed of. I'm learning that my poetry pace is, perhaps, a little slow, and that's ok. My work is evolving, changing, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm also learning that cats can be a serious distraction :-P And that I really haven't found the occasion to blog as much as I'd hoped.

Since my last blog post, I've written 8 new pieces, though they're not exactly polished just yet. I need workshop.

I've also written and found a home for a new book review (yay!) which should be out shortly. I'm working on another review, too, so my goal before the fall rolls around will be to finish that, too.

I've also been doing a lot of editing. I'm working as a book screener again this summer, which is always rewarding, yet time consuming. I think it's important to see what other poets are doing, what's working, and what really isn't.

And this. I've been taking care of myself, mentally, spiritually, and physically. I think this is the most important accomplishment. I know that as a writer, to produce, I need to feel nourished. So I'm reading regularly again, I'm meditating, praying, contemplating. I'm eating better, too. I'm running regularly again, and I've even started lifting weights (hah... ok, the puny ones). For the most part, my body's been rewarding me with feeling good, except, well, for the past few days, but that'll pass, I'm sure.

A week from today, I go back to work, though I'm easing back in. I'm only teaching one composition class. My hope is to keep up this routine of writing, reading, taking care of myself even through the fall.  And my hope is that this will nourish me and the work I produce. Slow and steady? Yeah. But perhaps that's ok. I'm in a summer state of mind, and I'm savoring it :)

Fall, please don't come around too soon, ok?


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hello, Summer!


Wondering why I have a picture of me and a tiny kitten? Ok, I'll start off by explaining that bit.

The neighbors' cat had kittens on my patio. After an unfortunate accident involving their dog, the mom decided to abandon the brood. Low and behold, Bruno and I have taken them in. It's summer; I need a project, aside from finishing my second full manuscript of course. So for the next four weeks or so, I'll be raising two rambunctious and ridiculously cute kittens. Hopefully, by the time they're old enough to be adopted, I'll be able to let them go. Since, like, I already have five cats and am one Bruno away from becoming THAT crazy cat lady at the end of the street...

I digress.

This summer, I'll be teaching the second summer session. So I'm going to be busy from mid July to the end of August. But! I do have now until mid July off, so, aside from successfully raising (and letting go of) these kittens, my plans include:

1. Finish 2nd full poetry manuscript. In two months? Seriously, Katie? Hey, a girl can dream, right? Anyway, at the moment I'm about 30 pages in. I need about 20 more. I think a more realistic goal will be to have 10 pages of poetry finished. I'm a bit slow, but maybe I can get more done.

2. Submit submit submit chapbook manuscript. I know this is a good manuscript.

3. Write book review for Boxcar

4. Blog! Yes, I want to get back in the swing of regular blogging

5. Read! For pleasure, not just for writing reviews. I'm currently reading Anna Karenina and still working my way through Metamorphoses. I need to read more.

6. Eh... somewhere in the mix, revise my syllabus and plan a kick-ass summer course. Eh. Maybe.

7. Relax. Learn how to take it easy. Stop focusing so much on goals.

:-)

A summer state of mind. I love it.

I vow NOT to work too hard. I vow to only work on enjoyable things. I vow to sleep in, to stay in my PJs, to not leave my house, to drink wine, to write, to read, to kick back

and of course, to snuggle my new kittens.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Valley International Poetry Festival Reflections, 2013

Another whirlwind of a year comes to a close!

And I'm just catching my breath from it all. I'd venture to say this was the best VIPF yet. Sure, we had our ups and downs, and sure, I'm really, really exhausted, but this year, I had the opportunity to take an active role in organizing, editing, and participating in the festival. And wow, what a rewarding experience it was! A super big thanks to all the other organizers: Brenda Riojas, Edward Vidaurre, Ileana Garcia-Spitz, and most especially, the head honcho of the whole shebang, Daniel Garcia Ordaz.

I'll detail the experience day by day, Thursday - Saturday. I skipped out on Sunday's events because, well, I'm lazy.

Thursday, April  25: The Kick-off

Yes, that's my name on the byline!
So in real VIPF tradition, Thursday is the night we celebrate the release of our anthology, Boundless. This event was really wonderful -- I felt really honored to be a part of it this year, not as a poet, but as an editor. Daniel, Ileana and I worked together to sift through submissions, select poems for inclusion, and even decide on awards. It was a fun process -- I'd always wondered what went on behind the scenes! Anyway, want to check out our anthology? It's available on Amazon! 

That night, I made it to the Edinburg Auditorium at about 7pm. It was rainy, cold, and gross. I brought wine and my bad self :-P The evening started off with some chit-chatting, mingling, and such. Daniel and Edward corralled us into the auditorium for the anthology reading to begin, so I reluctantly chugged what was left of my wine, and stuffed a cupcake into my face (yes, I'm glamorous).

My mom, Susan Hoerth, was the featured artist of VIPF this year, so she had her lovely books displayed. I helped her put the finishing touches on her set up, then made my way over to the poet check in to help out there, too.

The anthology reading itself was really delightful. I sat with my parents towards the back of the huge, historical auditorium. I got to go up on stage and take a bow alongside the other two editors. And of course, we posed for a group picture:

Anthologized poets and editors kicking off VIPF 2013
Each poet in attendance got to read their anthologized poem. I think the highlight of the event was when James Griswald, aka Grizzy, read Joanne Uppendal's award-winning poem in her place. She's from Washington state, and due to health reasons, couldn't make it to the reading, but she was on Grizzy's cell phone as he went up to the mic to share her piece. It was a really special moment, and an equally special poem.

As the night closed out, I helped pack all the stuff away and chit-chatted with the lingering poets, most interestingly, Lupe Mendez! He told me all about the This is What Diversity Looks Like rally protesting a senate bill that restricts ethnic studies courses. The rally was going to happen at my university, UTPA, in addition to other schools across the state. I agreed to be there!

Tired, I headed home knowing that the next day, Friday, would be even more wild and busy than Thursday. But no worries, I was ready for it.

Friday, April 26th

So on Friday, of course, I had to work. I had my classes with my kiddos, but once those finished, I joined a group of VIPF poets in the student union for lunch! And then, we were headed off to the reading I organized on campus, An Afternoon of Poetry, VIPF Comes to UTPA!

And it WAS a pretty awesome event, featuring Lupe Mendez, Emmy Perez, Diana Dominguez, Oscar Pena, and Cesar De Leon. We also had a student open mic, which... one of my students participated in! And even better, it was her first time reading! She was so nervous, but she did such a great job. I got all teary-eyed and proud.

The Poetry Slam/College readings were scheduled to happen at Schneider's Beergarden, which happens to be my favorite venue in the valley. I headed home for a quick nap, then made my way over to the reading with my wonderful BruBru. It turned out I came just in time! The place was PACKED! I got on the open mic list, sat down, ordered a beer, and chatted up a poet, Grizzy, whom I learned was from Chicago! Hey, we were kind of neighbors.

The college readings were really upbeat and cool. I got to share the stage with a lot of my colleagues, professors from STC, and students. I think the poem that took the cake was Mario Leal's about Ru Paul. LoL. I read my particularly appropriate poem about beer, How A Goddess Drinks a Shiner Bock :)

The restaurant got so packed and overwhelmed they had to close the kitchen! Imagine the crowd? It was insane. I've never seen it that busy and rowdy. Bruno and I had to leave a bit early, once the college readings wrapped up, because, well, we're old and stuff (and I had an uber busy day planned for Saturday). But rumor has it, the reading went to midnight! Imagine? Tammy Melody Gomez was crowned the slam champion. I wish I'd have been there to see it!

Saturday, April 27th

Photo by Minerva Vasquez
The big day! In the past, I haven't been able to participate in the big day much because I used to have to work Saturdays. But now that I'm teaching full time, well, I have the weekends off :)

So! My morning started with a workshop at the Weslaco Museum. We talked about SeXy poetry, and it was for GIRLS ONLY. LOL. It was really amazing. Imagine this: a table of women talking about their sensuality, crafting poems, laughing, supporting each other -- awesomeness. I couldn't have asked for a better workshop experience. It was intimate enough, yet I had a good group of girls. There were I think a total of seven enough. We read and discussed Kim Addonizio's What Women Want then wrote our own lusty poems to an OBJECT of our affection (reverse objectification, booyah!). My instructions were to pick something from your purse if you needed inspiration. We read our poems to each other. We laughed :)

I think what made this workshop particularly successful was the participants. Most of them I knew (Mary Ann, a colleague from UTPA, Minnie, an old MFA buddy, Rachel, a regular at the valley poetry scene), but then a couple of new faces, too! Most notable was Tammy Gomez! OMG. I got so nervous when I saw her walk in. What could I teach her? But our workshop was a conversation more than anything else, and we all learned from each other.

Anyway, following the workshop, we had a women's poetry reading at the museum. The staff was super fantastic -- they transformed our space from workshop to reading venue in lickity split! So cool. In keeping with sexiness, I read sexy Bible inspired poems (Delilah and Eve! of course). I think the most memorable poem of the morning was Rachel's poem about a pomegranate. Also sexy.

After Weslaco, we headed off to Harlingen. Our next reading was going to be a lunch time reading at Rio Grande Grill. What a hoot! I enjoyed some shrimp tacos, read some more poems, and got a chance to hear some awesome poets, both familiar and new. I'm not sure who was my favorite here; I mean, I always really admire Edward Vidaurre's work, and hearing Mona Sizer read was a real treat... anyway, nothing but good. We enjoyed ourselves and finished with a bit of time to spare. Woot.

Our next stop was the island, Paragraphs on Padre. This bookstore is, in one word, awesome. It's connected to the owner's house, and is super cozy! But it's packed with books! I learned it was the ONLY bookstore in Cameron county. Independent bookstores are so, so important for our community. We're lucky to have Paragraphs.

The chicks at Paragraphs on Padre
I had a workshop to give, and at this point, I was starting to feel the exhaustion set in. Ugh! Why did I do this to myself???? I soldiered on! I was greeted at the bookstore by an incredibly friendly Joni, the owner, and her pooch! There was fresh coffee, which was super, super welcomed by me.

My afternoon workshop was about publishing, but again, because I knew my participants would have a lot of experience and expertise, I wanted to make it more of a conversation than anything else. Some island locals came in to join the workshop, which was really cool. They were retired ladies, one of which was a former chiropractor! So interesting. We talked about the importance of community, of support, and how that's probably the most oft missing ingredient to someone who writes poetry. Anyway, it was enlightening to me, and hopefully to my participants, too.

After the workshop we had a reading, which was an outdoor thing on their patio. Again, it was fantastic. We were largely the same poets from the Harlingen reading. Joni was kind enough to set us up with refreshments, which, at this point, were welcomed beyond belief! I rolled out my latest poem, Housewife at HEB, and I think I need to trim it down to size.

Once the reading finished, we actually had a little time before the pachanga, which was super surprising. I was thinking we were going to be in a rush the entire day, but in reality, everything worked out just fine. Instead of racing somewhere new, the Chicks (Linda Mary Ann and myself) stuck around Paragraphs, had a cup of coffee, chatted up the owner and a handful of patrons. Joni asked me about my book (how'd she know!?!?!), and said she would buy whatever I had brought with me. At that moment, I regretted only toting three copies along in my book bag :-P But then, throughout the rest of the day, I could tell people I'd essentially "sold out" of my books. So long story short, if you'd like a copy of my book, there's a few at Paragraphs.

Narcisso Martinez in San Benito, the venue for our pachanga
The ride to San Benito was long, but eh, I didn't notice because I nodded off to sleep (no, I wasn't driving!). We arrived a little early; dinner would be on soon, but we had some time to mingle. And what do you know? My parents were just arriving, too! I helped my mom set up her altered books, then sat down and enjoyed a glass of wine with the other early arrivals. Dinner began maybe around 7. I had the pleasure of sitting with featured poet Diana Dominguez! 

After dinner, we filed over to the auditorium to begin the readings and such. But before we could begin the readings, in real Valley poet fashion, we had to pose for a zillion group pictures. This gives you an idea as to just how large an event this entire festival was:


 There were a total of forty registered poets this year (maybe more!). And here are most of us on the stage together. It's just amazing the community this festival has built and fostered over the past seven years. I'm happy and honored to have been apart of it for five of those seven.
Photo courtesy of Cesar Riojas

At this point, as you can probably guess, I was uber exhausted, but vowed to solider on at least a little further. After all, Daniel asked ME to introduce Emmy Perez, our featured reader. How could I say no to that? And here I am, doing just that.

You can tell I was tired, yeah? Ugh. But it was worth it.

Emmy was first up, and she read a huge variety of poems, which I really admired. Emmy's my former professor (you knew that, right?). In fact, she was my first poetry professor! So she's known my work since their cliched beginnings. LOL. How embarrassing. She could probably blackmail me with my bad poetry... but she'd never do that because she's kind of awesome.

Anyway, I introduced her and said obligatory nice things, and then she took the stage. She read an amazing variety of work, from experimental to conventional, old and new. Really cool stuff.

Mona Sizer was the next to read, and wow, I mean, I've heard her read before, but her works, too, are really rich. What I liked about Mona's works was that they're really narrative. I'm kind of interested in narrative poetry, so yay, I liked it, particularly a poem she read about a cat :-P

My mom's art, set up at the pachanga
So this year there was a total of seven (?) featured poets, and each one was set to read for twenty minutes. I started doing the mental math, glancing at my watch, thinking about how, after the featured poets read, all of the forty registered pots were going to read... anyway, I'm not a math person, but I figured we were going to be there all night. I glanced over at Mary Ann, who looked equally tired. Executive decision time: let's go home. And so, home we went.

Anyway, VIPF, as per usual, was a whirlwind of a weekend. I enjoyed every bit of it. I'm glad I participated fully this year, and I was honored to be a part of it in a more integral way than usual. It really humbles me to be a part of this community. If I took one thing away from this year's festival, it's a renewed sense that it takes a community to foster an artist, and that we can help EACH OTHER grow, blossom, change. At each event, I could look around, see familiar, warm faces. I could listen to voices that have shaped me, and some, in perhaps a small way, that I've helped shape and foster, too.

I'm blessed to be a part of this community. We're not in this alone; poetry isn't a solitary art. We should celebrate that. We do celebrate that.

So, here's to community, to poetry, to friends, to hugs, kisses and love. Here's to VIPF, the blood and sweat that goes into it, the smiles, laughter, and artistry that comes out of it. Here's to the quiet solace in its aftermath, the mediation, reflection, and creation that follows. Here's to counting down the days until VIPF 2014 when we'll come together and share again. Here's to poetry.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Poetry Pasta and Vino To Celebrate Two Year Anniversary!

PPV, Circa 2011! Reading the First

April is a busy month. We've been through this already. But you know what? Right now's a good time to pause and reflect on a little something called Poetry, Pasta and Vino.

Poetry Pasta and Vino began as a reading series at Carino's Italian, hosted by none other than the Barrio Poet, Edward Vidaurre. It turned into a monthly celebration to raise money for nonprofit organizations, promote the arts, and reach out to the community. All good stuff.

Today, I'd define PPV as an arts movement, and it's been a big part of the local arts reniassance (as Jan Seale has described it!) that began kicking up the dust in, oh, maybe 2007. I've been honored to have been with this reading series since its not-so-humble beginnings, and have grown and stuck with it ever sense. PPV even did a fundraiser for Mouthfeel Press, back in 2012!

Anyway, I think what's most signifncant is that, although the reading series has grown and changed, it's always been about fostering a community of writers. It's been an event that I've looked forward to each month to see familiar faces, meet new poets, get inspired, have my chance at the mic. PPV has been about sharing good food and wine with artists. When those three ingrediants combine, magic happens, and the magic has been going strong now for over two years.

This month, PPV will be celebrating its two year anniversary. Ok ok, so it actually began last MARCH, so it's a little over two years old. But still. The featured reader is none other than Emmy Perez, my former professor! I'm honored to be on the list of readers, too. I think what I'm most excited about, though, is the Mariachi Mariposas, an all women mariachi.

I've even bought a new dress for the event :-X Which means now I have to go. I hope to see you there! Here are all the details:

Friday, April 19th
7:30pm
Echo Hotel in Edinburg

We celebrate our 2-year anniversary in Edingburg with the poetry of Emmy Pérez. Emmy Pérez is the author of a poetry collection Solstice and has recent work forthcoming or published in Mandorla, The Laurel Review, Cuadernos de ALDEEU, and NewBorder: Contemporary Voices from the Texas/Mexico Border, among other publications. Recent work in PALABRA: A Magazine for Chicano & Latino Art was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop founded by Sandra Cisneros and an inaugural CantoMundo poetry fellow, in 2009 she was the recipient of the 2009 Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award. Previous awards include poetry fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the James D. Phelan Award for her prose writing. A graduate of Columbia University and the University of Southern California, currently she is an associate professor at the University of Texas-Pan American, where she teaches poetry/creative writing, Mexican American Studies courses, and has led poetry workshops in local detention centers with her students. In 2012, she received a UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award. Originally from Santa Ana, California, she has lived on the Tejas-Mexico border, from El Paso to the RGV, for over a decade.

To help us celebrate we welcome featured musicians: Mariachi Mariposas

Mariachi “Mariposas” was founded in the summer of 2012 in an effort to preserve and promote our Mexican music and Hispanic heritage through the views and musical expression of a female. In a male dominated genre, Mariachi Mariposas has united to form an all-female mariachi group who share the passion and the love for mariachi music and who are dedicated to being positive role models for our young student mariachis in schools across the United States.

Our featured artists will be announced soon.

Partial proceeds from this event will benefit the Gloria Anzaldúa Scholarship for Social Justice and Mexican American Studies.

One of our featured artists: Celeste De Luna

“My artwork seeks to validate Xicano/indigenous people’s experiences, my personal narrative in that experience, and strives to be aesthetically pleasing, even though some subjects may be disturbing. Common themes in my work include migrant/border experiences of women, children, and families, the experience of mixed documentation status families, the social effects of documentation status, and the spiritual struggle of conflicting identities, including “survivor’s guilt”. A migrant can be defined as a person who physically moves from one country to another. I see myself as a migrant moving back and forth through multiple conceptual worlds.” C. De Luna
Celeste De Luna is visual artist/art educator from lower South Texas. She has exhibited her work in various cities in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, San Diego, and Chicago. De Luna is a part time instructor at South Texas College, continues her studio practice, and collaborative creative projects. You can reach her at litebluna@me.com

Featured artist: BEATRIZ GUZMÁN VELÁSQUEZ is an interdisciplinary artist born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The border crossing of Reynosa-Hidalgo has seen her grow up slowly giving her sorrow and happiness. Writing and producing art, pauses her past to give her time to take in the hardships she has experienced and seen at the border.

Featured Artist: Esmeralda ‘Emi’ Zuniga
Esmeralda ‘Emi’ Zuniga is an artist, writer, and community activist. Born in Edinburg and raised in San Juan, her family has lived in the same general 75 miles for over 200 years. She is in a relationship and has two daughters. Her art work is fueled by her passion for her Mestizo culture and the mixture of being a lesbian catholic.
While her past art work has focused on using indigenous symbols her latest work is focusing on popular American paintings and replacing them with reflections of her reality. She believes that the history of white America has conveniently left out the Latino culture and story.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Katie's Writerly Crush on David Rice

Katie! And Rice. Courtesy Garcia-Spitz
So I'm just going to come out and admit it: I have a totally professional and writerly crush on David Rice.

I had the pleasure of attending one of his readings last month as a part of UTPA's Festiba. Man-oh-man. Phew. It was awesome. Packed room. And he was so inspiring! You see, I used to teach Rice's books back when I was working with the Upward Bound program, and my students loved his work because they could relate to it. And I loved his work, too. His stories are the kind that stick with you.

Anyway, I stumbled into the reading a few minutes late, and was surprised at how packed the room was.  Packed! I actually didn't know Rice was reading. I was there to support one of our department's T.As and another colleague Robert, who were also reading. I peeked my head in, then started out. A man stood up, beckoned me back, and gave up his seat to me. I reluctantly accepted and squished my way into the crowded room. I'm glad I did! :-)

Rice was the last reader on the list. When Robert introduced him, the seat-giver-uper took the podium. It turned out HE was David Rice. Aye. So not only is he smart/inspirational/creative, but he's also... kind! And gentlemanly. Phew.

The reading was fantastic. I mean, all of the writers were fantastic, but I'm glad they left Rice for last. It was the perfect note to finish on. He read this amazing story about a boy killing a hummingbird without a witness, the guilt. Powerful stuff. See, the stories have this surface simplicity, but this depth, too. That's what makes for a good poem. That's also what makes for a good story, apparently.

After the reading, I had some business to take care of. I was heading off to the library for the Dean's Author Reception. This year, I was in charge of organizing it (which was a wonderful headache!). I was so nervous about the reception...

Luckily, I had the help of Edward Vidaurre, Barrio Poet extraordinaire and now the Arts Coordinator of Edinburg. The reception turned out to be pretty delightful, but I was mega stressed the entire time. However, as things were winding down, I noticed that none other than David Rice had arrived! Squeeeeeeeee!

And you know what? He introduced himself to me. X-D I was a little bit giddy and excited. I think I probably sounded like an idiot. It kind of reminds me of how, when I was a stupid teenager, I was ridiculously excited and squealy to meet Mudvane's guitarist. Good lord. But now, I'm of course a more mature and professional human being (yeah, right.).

You know what REALLY made me squee? When Rice said that he read this blog :-X And that he was MY fan. Ok, so he was probably just flattering me on the fan thing... but it made my night. I went home a happy gal.

So there you have it. My writerly secret. Don't tell anyone, ok?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Garden Uprooted Gets a Thumbs Up!

So... the conventional writerly wisdom is to not read your reviews.

I ignored this advice. Last Thursday, my local newspaper, the Monitor, ran a super review of The Garden Uprooted (alongside a review of Brenda Nettles Riojas' La Primera Voz Que Oi). I knew the review was going to run, and I had been thinking about it since their reviewer, David Bowles, asked me for a review copy. It was a little agonizing.

Come Thursday morning, I was on my way to work and of course, the review was on my mind. I was obsessing. I ended up buying a copy along the way, before my first class even began. I opened it up, scanned through the paper, and there it was, the review.

I think David hits my book spot on, calling my book " a rich hybrid verse." That's exactly right, both in content and form. I love it.

Truth be told, I'm a little self-conscious about The Garden Uprooted. I know, I know, I shouldn't admit that in public but here I am, admitting it. I mean, I'm happy with the book, but these poems are the ones that taught me how to write. I'm a different poet today for having completed that manuscript. Maybe all books are like that. Maybe I need to get over myself.

Anyway.

I'm really grateful and happy for this review. This inspires ME to write another review, which I will, for the next issue of Boxcar :-)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

National Poetry Month and Me

A new logo!
I both love and hate this month.

I love it because poetry is, once again, a part of our national conversation (or at least more of one than it usually is). I love it because my facebook feed is filled with poets who are talking about their work, encouraging each other, arguing about poetry. I love it because people argue whether or not poetry is dead, when in fact, we all know it's not. I love this month because of NaPoWriMo. I love it because of the public readings. I love it because at the end of the month comes the grand-daddy event of them all, the Valley International Poetry Festival, which I always see as an opportunity to meet poets, learn something new, travel the valley, showcase my year's worth of work, get inspired.

I also hate national poetry month. I always intend to do great things and end up feeling insignificant, not serious enough, stupid, uninspired, the like. Case in point, this year, I fully intended to do NaPoWriMo, but on April 1st, I had not a shred of spare time, let along the mental space for poetry. And so began the month...

Anyway, this month, I DO have big plans, which include finishing up various editing projects (Boundless, Twenty, Interstice), celebrating Poetry Pasta and Vino's two year anniversary on the 19th, and, last but not least, this year I'm a co-organizer for the Valley International Poetry Festival, so I'm going to be more involved than ever. Oh, and of course, I plan to write! Napowrimo? Nah. But write, write I shall.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Revising Myth, Making it Girly

Not an empty seat at Hinovations last night!

I'm coming off my workshop high, well, that and a slight hangover from cheap Goddess wine :)

Last night went amazingly well, better than I could have dreamed of, in fact.  I guess I'll start from the very beginning, as stories oft go.

It was maybe two months ago; Rachel Vela, founder of a local poetry reading series affectionately called We Need Words, sent me a message on facebook. "What do you think of leading a workshop?" she asked.

I jumped on it. Of course! Yes, I was a little nervous, but it was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, to give back to the community, and to maybe grow as a writer myself. I agreed to do it. Rachel would organize and publicize; all I had to do was lead. Fair enough.

I decided to teach what I know best -- the writing of revisionist myths. It was, after all, what I wrote my thesis about, and it's how I frame a lot of what I write within poetic discourse. I wanted to encourage other women to engage in mythmaking, too, to broaden and complicate the conversation. Afterall, I'm a firm believer that we ARE our stories, both as a culture and as individuals. I'm Eve's daughter, through and through.

Next came the tricky part. I had to actually figure out HOW to put a workshop together. Now,  I've had a lot of great examples. I've participated in some fantastic workshops throughout my years as a poet -- most notable was Dana Gioia's workshop on the poetic line at West Chester. I remembered that Dana gave a lot of examples in his workshop, and that as a group, we read a lot of poems and discussed them. I wanted my workshop to have that, too, but I also wanted my participants to leave with some "seeds of poems" as I like to call them, inklings to write more. I wanted our workshop to be a sharing of work, an exploration of our voices.

And I like to think it was that. I scoured my books for good examples of revisionist myths. I took examples from Biblical stories, classical mythology, disney movies, and local folklore. I wanted to show my participants that mythmaking was, yes, something that's been going on throughout history, but most importantly, that it continues today. I decided to intermix exercises with examples, read a few poems, write a little, share, then repeat. I hoped it was a good mix.

Rachel created a facebook event. I invited my lady friends and my students. I posted flyers around my university. I talked the workshop up to my colleagues. 

Anyway, the day of the workshop was upon me. Bruno drove me down to Hinovations Art Studio. In one hand, I had my "teacher bag" filled with handouts. In the other, I carried a big bottle of Goddess wine, chosen just for this occasion. I was nervous; I was the first one there, and the workshop was set to begin in fifteen minutes!

Women began trickling in. A photographer from my university's newspaper, a couple of my students, then Rachel, friends, poets, colleagues, complete strangers. Oh joy! We mingled, talked about our projects, laughed, loosened up, drank wine. Soon, there wasn't an empty seat in the room. We had to bring in more chairs. The doorbell kept ringing; women kept joining. I was ecstatic, though a little nervous. Among the participants were two writers I really admire -- Diana Dominguez, a professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Edna Ochoa, a Spanish creative writing professor at my university. What on earth could I teach THEM?

In true Valley poet fashion, the actual workshop got started about thirty minutes late. No problem. I had them begin writing a story, any story, they remember hearing/reading/watching when they were a child. I thought it would be a great icebreaker and way to introduce ourselves, too -- to go around and share these stories along with a little introduction about us. We are our stories. I shared a little tale about a troll living inside my bedroom wall -- something my mom always told me (maybe that's why I had terrible insomnia as a child?). As we went around the "circle," I was really impressed by all the different directions everyone took the assignment. Some told stories about their family members, the infamous ones about, oh, you know, the uncle burning down the barn; some retold fairy tales; others shared folk stories. It was great.

We talked about who the narrator was in our stories; it's usually 3rd person, and stories are usually told by the victors. Isn't that how it always goes? We read Allison Hawthorne Deming's poem and  talked about how Eve's version of the fall is so different from the Biblical version, or Milton's version, just because it's told from a new point of view. Our next exercise was to experiment with point of view in our story. And away we went. I decided to retell my story from the wall troll's perspective :D But others did a far more wonderful job than I.

We also looked at persona poems (Siren Song and The Little Mermaid Gets Real), the advice poem (Advice from La Llorona), and contemporary retellings of myths (I used one of my own examples, The Garden of Dresses).

Anyway, as the night progressed, we wrote and talked, wrote and talked. It went far better than I could have imagined. I glanced down at my clock. We had just 30 minutes left of our 3 hour workshop. Where had the time gone!?

I like to think that everyone got a little something out of the workshop. At one point, one of my students shared a poem that reduced her to tears (a powerful moment). Diana Dominguez enthusiastically thanked me, saying that, through these exercises, she's got an idea as to how to finish the last poem for her forthcoming collection. Shirley Rickett, another local poet, rewrote a stubborn poem and shared it with us (it took our breath away!). As I was packing away my books and papers, I got a mariad of hugs, of thank yous, of encouragement. It was payment indeed. A few ladies lingered afterwards, and we talked about how we might keep something like this going. I'd love to have a regular women's poetry group that meets to talk about revision, that workshops and critiques each others works.

I couldn't think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening. I was so impressed by the turn out and enthusiasm. The arts are alive and thriving here in El Valle. I'm honored to be a part of this community, and I'm excited to find new ways that I can give back, mentor, and learn from these amazingly talented women.

My cup runneth over, but I wouldn't have it any other way :) Next week, we're onto kicking off our women's reading series, "Chicks With Words" and oh, oh, do I have words to spare. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chicks With Words

So I promised to come back and blog on my experience presenting at NACCS Tejas Foco. I'm back to do just that.

On Saturday morning, I was giddy and nervous. I had prepared some "remarks" about my poems, but as I sat in my car, sweaty palmed, I read them and rolled my eyes. Too academic. I''m too academic. That's my problem. I want to stick my nasty theory into everything. Ugh.

I crumpled up said theoretical remarks and tossed them into the pile of trash that exists in my backseat. Sometimes, the best remarks come straight from ones... well, you can figure out how this goes.

Our panel was in the MAGC building, pretty separate from the rest of the conference. It was on the second floor, at the end of a dark hallway. I'm feeling less enthused about this whole prospect. A toxic mixture of my ugly ego and my pessimism well up. Ugh. This is going to suck. I'm going to be reading my poems to.. myself and two other panelists.

The room was empty. The lights were off. I take a deep breath. Then, I start paging through my poems, jotting down a few general ideas for how I'll frame my work, though I'm really not sure about it all.

Then, things start to look up. I hear an echo of laughter. The door swings open. Mary Ann and Linda come into the room, my two fellow panelists. I smile at them, make some negative remark about our location, and we laugh together. My spirits begin lifting as we chat about nonsense.

About fifteen minutes later, it's time to get started. By now, the large classroom is pretty well filled! An audience? Why yes, we had an audience. Mary Ann introduces us -- we're a panel of women, she simply explains, women who, for some reason or another, get along, who've formed a bond in writing. We're so different, but we each represent a different aspect of womanhood. In my mind, we're taking apart the negative dichotomy (gwah, academic-speak again) -- there's no virgin/whore here -- we're three aspects of feminine strength. Mary Ann, in her infinite wisdom, called us The Goddess (moi), The Worker (Linda), and The Sister (her!). Lovely.

 I talk about my work, about revisionist mythmaking, why I think it's important, how it's a part of everything I write about, and how our panel, Chicks With Words, is a revisionist act in and of itself. "We're reclaiming the term "Chicks" -- a word that might be thought of as dehumanizing, derogatory even, and turning it into a powerful word, filled with the complexities of femininity" I say, somewhat pleased as to how this is all going now.

I share my poems -- my goddess poems! Oh how fun they are to recite :-D  Linda shared her social justice poems. Mary Ann read two beautiful pieces about her life. Somehow, they connected, snapped together.

By the end of the reading, we took questions, mostly which dealt with our writing processes. I added that I'm a writer BECAUSE a community fostered me into one. It's something I believe in, something I'm passionate about.

And then, the best part? We've agreed to keep this good thing going. The three of us are working on creating a reading series, a workshop series, that will function to forge that writing community for women. This is important work, and it all started with three chicks, three chicks with a handful of words and some ambition.

What's next?

On Saturday, I'm teaching a workshop. Following that, we're lined up to read at our local library in observance of International Women's Day.

We've got big plans, us chicks do.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

NACCS 2013 Reflections


Ahh...


I'm coming off an academic high right now.


NACCS 2013 is officially in the books. It was a really great time. Lucky for me, this year, it was at my home institution, UTPA, which meant I was able to take advantage and participate without having to disrupt my teaching!

 My first experience with NACCs this year was probably the best. I was in my classroom yesterday afternoon, erasing the board, cleaning up after my lecture. I'm holding a conversation with a student about her research question while straightening up. Offhanded, I mention that I'm on my way to the conference festivities, and suggest that she take a looksie at one of the panels related to her research on bilingual education.

"Miss..." she says, a smile on her face, "is that the Chicana conference?"

I nod, a little surprised.

"I went to a panel yesterday about grad school," she continues. Grad school?

Now, this kiddo of mine is pretty spectacular. This is the second semester I work with her -- I know, she was crazy enough to take my Comp 2 class! I recently wrote a letter of rec for her to intern this summer in D.C. with our congressman. Anyway, she goes on to explain that the panel was inspiring to her, that it was about why Chicanas need to go to graduate school, to change the landscape and climate of academia. I smiled wide.

If NACCS accomplished absolutely nothing else this year, it did it's job tenfold -- to inspire a young immigrant to continue her education, to broaden her horizon, to realize her goals.

But that wasn't all NACCS accomplished.

Besides mine, I think my favorite panel was one that discussed the importance of the anthology with VAO Publishing, Texas A&M Press, and UT Press. One of the panelists, Dr. Robert Johnson, made a really interesting comment that made a whole lot of sense to me -- that anthologies give an identity to an artistic movement, a definition, a place. The anthologies our humble area produces may not be all that different, some day, from the Modern's anthology, or the Beats. Anthologies DEFINE communities, build them. I never thought of it in this way -- I always just thought of them as a collection of works. Anyway, I was honored to be able to read a poem on that panel, too. It was a little random, but I have a poem coming out in VAO's Juventud! anthology, and the editor, Erika Johnson, asked me to read on the panel as she saw me walk in. Why of course! I exclaimed. I aimlessly walked into the right room, apparently. Thank you, God!

I also attended a poetry reading with Helena Villamontes, which was pretty inspiring as well. It reminded me of the struggle writers have to go through, but that the struggle is what makes us feel alive. She's an amazingly talented writer. I want to work on my novel some more. Ughh so many things I want to do!

Anyway, I'll try to blog again a bit tomorrow about my own panel. I want to add a picture and talk about hopefully the next big thing to happen to the Valley Poetry Scene -- a feminist poetry movement known by no other name than.... CHICKS WITH WORDS.



Friday, February 15, 2013

El Jardin and Other Things

Ahhh...

It's Friday night -- an ideal Friday night. It's about 11:30pm here, and I'm stretched out on my sofa in my bathrobe, enjoying the company of the grand ol' green fairy.

So how are you doing, KatieKins?

Great, thanks. :)

So how goes the poeming? Pretty eh. Moreso, I'm engaged in community service lately with my poetry. Today, I read at Jardin del Arte in Edinburg. It was more of an art show than a poetry reading, but what was particularly inspiring to me was the overwhelming sense of community there. Everywhere I looked, there was someone I knew -- a hug to be had. I went alone (Bruno's been having a particularly rough time at work, so he's been MIA a bit), but I didn't FEEL alone. Gwah. I think El Valle is my home. I think it always will be. Gwah. It's a good thing.

If you know me, you know I have big dreams. I tend to think of these "big dreams" happening in "big places" -- you know, outside of the valley. I've lived here my entire adult life. I try to tell myself I've outgrown El Valle, that I need to move on to bigger, better things. It seems, though, that home is what I make of it. Perhaps I underestimate this place. Perhaps I underestimate myself and my ability to create what I need -- a community that nurtures and allows me to grow, a community that shapes me into a better person.

That's another litany of mine, I guess. To stay or not to stay? That is the question.

Other happenings:

Tomorrow I'm meeting up with a couple fellow writers to discuss our upcoming presentation at the National Association of Chicana/Chicano Studies conference. I'm presenting some ideas on Anzaldua -- just inklings I have about her, an interpretation of her work from my own odd feminist perspective, and how it might intersect with what I'm workin' on. See? Wonderful stuff is going on.

I feel overwhelmed with things to do. That's the story of my life. But only because I make it this way.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Struggle to Poem

This perhaps seems to be my constant litany, work vs. creative development. I never imagined it would be this difficult to maintain a writing life and teach, though it seems that many of my coworkers struggle with this, too :-/

I love teaching, I really do. It gives me purpose and joy. I think I love writing more, but I also think I'm a better teacher than I am a writer. I think this is going to be my lifelong struggle, finding balance between the two.

Enough emoness. Actually, my above rant is perhaps the opposite of emoness. It's two conflicting loves. One loves me more, and one I love more. Anyway, I'm glad I have two loves in my life (wait, I have more than that, I'm a multitude of love...)

I'm never going to figure this all out X-D

 Ok, moving on...

I've been trying to get more engaged in community lately. No, that's not true, the community's been trying to get me more engaged in service. I'm just one to leap on opportunities to share the love. So I have a few brewing projects.

First off, I'm going to be giving some free writing workshops to the community coming up. One will be in the very near future, geared towards examining the feminine voice and revisionist mythmaking this month. I'm very excited about sharing my ideas on this with other women, as I think it's an important concept and goal in feminist writing. I'll post more details as they avail.
My second upcoming workshop is, I think, going to be on the poetic line -- metrical considerations y others. I'm excited about that, too, though it's during the summer so I'll have a wee bit more time to prep.

And if that wasn't enough?

This is perhaps the service I'm most excited about. This Saturday, I'm going to be judging a poetry contest at Santa Rosa High! If you know me, then you know just how special this is. My first professional job was teaching 6th grade in Santa Rosa. I learned so much working there, and I've always been grateful that the little school took a chance on little me. You see, I was just twenty years old, bright eyed and bushy tailed for sure. I hadn't a clue how to teach (I didn't even have a license) but I knew I had a heart for it. The principal hired me on the spot, and so began my life as an educator.

So this weekend, I'm going "back home" so to speak. Santa Rosa is a lovely little town here in South Texas. Each grade level consists of no more than 100 kiddos, so I was the only 6th grade reading teacher. I did some finger counting and figured out that my students would now be in 11th and 12th grade, which is precisely the age groups I'm going to be judging. They'll be my old kiddos!

Anyway, I'm excited.


Monday, January 7, 2013

I Fail at Rejection

How can one fail at rejection?

Well, I'm apparently apt at failing at numerous things.

In 2012, I declared that I would earn 100 rejection letters and celebrate every single one.How did I do?

I received 95 rejection letters in 2012.

95.

Gwahhhhhh! So close!

I'm going to admit that I totally began losing steam when I started teaching, and my submissions trickled down to MAYBE one per week.

Anyway, the real point of this mission was to put myself out there and to hopefully get more acceptances.

This year, I received 11 acceptances. Not bad, not bad.

That puts me at almost 12%!

My stats last year?

9 acceptances/92 rejections, which is about 10%.

So I think I'm going in the right direction.

 Will 2013 be the year of 100 rejection letters?

No. No it will not.

I need to reflect a little more before I declare my writerly goals this year, but the main one is finding some sort of workable balance between creative time and teaching time. It's been tough balancing the two, and it's not really the TIME but the mental space and energy. So my goal for 2013 is to work into some sort of writing routine that allows for continuous writing. I've signed up for a daily writing challenge, as I seem to do well at these external deadline thingamabobs. I think that might be a good start.

Anyway, so I'm more focused on creating rather than submitting this year. I hope to have a new full manuscript ready for submission by the end December. I've got about 30 pages of poems towards it, so it's a doable goal.

Beyond that? I hope to keep a healthy (and reasonable) submitting process, to write and publish 2 new book reviews, and to figure out how to balance (also) my poetry/fiction aspirations.

I've got some work to do. Let's call 2013 the year of finding balance. :)

And now, reading back at my 2012 post, I realize I disclosed my weight (WHY DID I DO THAT???). I'll do that one last time -- 115. It looks as though I've lost 9 pounds since then! Sweet.