Friday, May 29, 2015

Beautiful Scars Book Release

The erudite scholar, Ted E, Bear, contemplates a book of poetry

A few nights back, I had the pleasure of attending Edward Vidaurre's release of his latest (and third) poetry collection, Beautiful Scars. The event itself was a wonderful time -- a cozy coffee shop setting, inspiring and warm company, and of course, just damn good poetry. It was a laid back evening of celebration for Edward's amazing accomplishment and for our little poetry community as well.

I really admired the way Edward presented himself and his poetry. His reading was essentially a conversation with the audience. It felt like (and really was) like having coffee with a good friend. He talked about his past experiences with poetry and literature, his humble beginnings, and how his journey to becoming a writer was somewhat unconventional (but is it, really?). It was so enlightening and heartening to hear him talk about his work in such an accessible, honest, and down to earth way. His message was one that poetry is meant to be enjoyed by the people, and however it touches you, that's its true meaning. That's a beautiful sentiment.

Anyway, during the reading my back was bugging me something fierce, so I felt all awkward standing there while everyone else was sitting down. But whatever, I wasn't about to let my pains get in the way of enjoying my evening. Besides, I had to stay through until the end so I could buy my copy!

That evening, I came home exhausted, so I left the book on my coffee table. It wasn't until last night that I picked it up. And you know what? I read the entire book in one gulp. It was that good.

The book itself tells a rough narrative of the speaker's life experiences, the grit and dirt of life, love lost and rediscovered, the death and birth of loved ones, the losing and the finding of self. Some poems take place in East L.A, and we see homelessness, riots, poverty. Some take place in South Texas along the Rio Grande River and we see a richness of place that's unmistakable. My favorite poem in this collection is "Eloy, the Lion," which, interestingly enough, Edward also said at the reading it was his most difficult poem to write. It takes the reader on a journey of coming to terms with loss through grief and sadness, but it ends with Eloy, the speaker's step-father, entering heaven. Rubbing elbows with this poem are a series about the speaker's young daughter, so in a sense, Eloy lives on. 

The images are always surprising. One minute, the speaker is an owl, the next, he's an organ donor on the side of the road. There's haikus, there's spanglish, there's blues all intermixing to illustrate the universal human condition -- its capacity to love, its capacity to grieve. 

Anyway, if you can't tell, let me just spell it out. You should read this book. It's accessible, beautiful, and a journey through an emotional landscape like no other.

Congratulations, Edward Vidaurre, on another compelling collection of poetry. I am looking forward to hearing more from this authentic voice in American poetics. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


My last few days have been, well, let's just call them adventurous.

A cat had kittens in my attic, and said kittens fell into the wall. B took a sledge hammer to the wall, and by some miracle, I found two squeally, scared and hungry little buggers. We've trapped the mom kitty, and she's at the vet clinic right now getting spayed. The next step is finding homes for the little ones. 

Anyway, this evening I took a break from my kitten antics and sat down to get to a task I'd been looking forward to for awhile, writing my first blurb for another poet, PW Covington, for his upcoming poetry collection, soon out from Slough Press. PW and I had the briefest of conversation about his project at this year's Valley International Poetry Fest. My first collection, The Garden Uprooted, was with Slough Press, also, so I was delighted to hear he was "joining the family" so to speak. And that's us, pictured to the right. Chris Carmona, editor of Slough Press, is at the far left, then PW, then Dr. Cummins, who really doesn't figure into this story at all, so.... and then of course, there's me.

Then, he asked me if I'd blurb his book :-D 

How exciting, right? So it's making me rethink and consider what the function of blurbs are, what makes a good one, and most importantly, how to put one together.

From what I understand, blurbs are like a mix between a review and a summary. They're short, concise, and of course, laudatory. When I write book reviews, I like to think of them as explaining HOW I read the book rather than if I liked the book, so I thought that maybe blurbs could have the same function -- a brief explanation of what the book is about, what it does, and how it fits into the discourse of poetry.

So that's how I tried to approach the task of writing this blurb. I hope I got it right. I spent yesterday afternoon reading the book, and this afternoon I took a swing at writing about it. PW and I have vastly different styles of writing -- I'm formalist, he's Beat. What our work DOES have in common, though, is a sense of place and regionalism. I admire his collection, particularly for how honest it is, how it kind of just strips away the crap and gets to the stark realness of contemporary life.

It feels a little different to be on THIS side of the blurbing. I always felt so horribly awkward asking other poets for blurbs, and I was astonished by their generosity. But you know what, on this end, it actually feels really good to do this kind of work. I enjoy seeing what other poets are doing because it inspires me to rethink the way I write and see the world. So this was a pleasure -- it made me stick my neck out, occupy someone else's sonder, and then, of course, articulate why and how things work.

All good things.

So, blurbing? You're not so bad. Maybe with my next book, I'll put on my big girl panties and ask some other authors for blurbs. Maybe. It's still awkward. Bleh.

Monday, May 18, 2015

So It Begins -- My Summer Vacation

Ah, yes...

It's about that time of the year when my world slows to a halt, when the craziness of busy schedules, to-do lists, and responsibilities go away, and I'm left with no more excuses not to write.

It's summer.

Today was my first official day of vacation, my first full day. I'm off, for sure, from now until the middle of July, and if my classes summer classes don't make, until the end of August. It's an interesting feeling -- the pressure of work and teaching falls away, but the pressure to write, to produce, to make the most of my time of rest builds up. I can't waste a perfectly good two/three months of writing time, of me time.

Last week, I eased into my new writing routine, and it's actually been going pretty well. I'm writing in the mornings and then doing other writer-related business in the afternoons, like editing, submitting, and blogging. It's a pretty good system.

So what are my goals for this summer?

I don't think they're necessarily very tangible, and that scares me a bit to be honest. I'd like to say, "I'm going to finish manuscript X by the time I return to work" or maybe be halfway done with it, but I don't know what "it" is just yet. It's all very nebulous at the moment. I know that my next project is a book of poems (duh). I know that the book is centered around narratives of the body. But beyond that, I'm not totally sure where I'm going with this.

Anyway, I need some goals, so here they are:

1. Have a solid concept of your next manuscript before returning to work
2. Write everyday. No excuses. You don't have an excuse anymore.
3. Be productive with your writing time. Make each session fruitful, even if that fruit is a page of jibberish. Make headway everyday.
4. In terms of a number of poems, one a week is too few. One a day is too many. So, be somewhere in between.
5. Create at least one new prose piece before the summer ends
6. Maintain a healthy submission schedule of one at least two submissions per week
7. Blog. At least one per week.
8. Participate in the poetry community! Online AND in person. Workshop weekly. Read in public/sign books monthly
9. Revamp your creative writing syllabus for the fall, but do this towards the end of the summer of course :-)
10. Be healthy, of body and mind.

Ten's a nice round number, isn't it?

Those summer goals are doable. I can do this. I can have a productive, fun, and relaxing summer. I can breathe a little. I can enjoy myself.

My summer is already starting to come together, looks like! I've got a few events lined up, too, which will keep me busy, active, and overall, happy. I'll be reading at a Poetry Pasta and Vino May 30th, at El Hueso del Fraile on June 5th, and signing books at Boots, Books, and Brew on June 20th.

I'm also running a 10k next month. Yep, you read that right. F off, spinal stenosis! :-D

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Valley International Poetry Festival 2015 Reflections

National Poetry Month has come and gone.
The Valley International Poetry Festival has come and gone.
The spring 2015 semester has come and gone.

It's always an interesting time of the year for me, May is. There's this strange peace to it, and at first it always feels a little eerie because I'm so used to being ridiculously busy. This week, I'm finalizing my grades, and then I'll be off with absolutely no schedule, no to-do list, no obligations for at least two and a half months, maybe more if my summer classes don't make. What am I going to DO with myself? Why, write of course!

Anyway, I want to take a moment to look back at the crazy month that was April before setting goals for the next little chapter of my life. I survived, which was a pretty amazing feat come to think of it! Last month, I presented at AWP, attended the TIL awards banquet in Houston, wrote and read a poem at a friend's wedding, and of course, participated in VIPF. Not to mention working. And writing! Though I didn't QUITE meet my NAPOWRIMO goal, I'm pretty darn proud that I was able to maintain a semblance of a writing routine in the craziness of April. I wrote twenty-two shitty first drafts of poems. Not bad!

When I last left off, I was basking in the afterglow of the anthology release party. So, I'll pick up there, the following day, on Friday, April 24.

The next day, Mary Ann Escamilla and I were set to the task of hosting a Poets in the Schools event at UTPA. Daniel arranged for two of the featured poets to join us, PW Covington and Shirley Rickett. Before the reading, we arranged to meet up with the poets for a informal lunch in the student union so we could all get to know one another, powwow about the event, and of course, just shoot the breeze. It's always fun.

Then, at around 2, we all headed over to the classroom. Our readings are never terribly fancy or formal, but I kind of like that about them. We had a handful of students join us as audience members, and one was even brave enough to read a piece at the "open mic" or maybe I should call it an open podium :) One thing that always surprises me is how varied everyone's poetry is. PW shared his Beat poetry with us, smooth, prosy, and filled with these short blasts of lyricism. Shirley, on the other hand, shared a lot of nature poetry, but nature poetry that branched (hah) off into issues of culture, migration, and language. Her poetry is tight, succinct, dense, and always beautiful. I was wrangled into a reading a piece, too, just because we didn't have many takers on the open mic and, well, it's not too hard to convince me to be the center of attention once in awhile. There we are in the picture, the merry bunch of us! From LEFT, Javi Tovar (?), PW Covington, Cesar Deleon, Laura Pena, ME, and Amy Becker Chambless.

Anyway, after the reading I headed home for some much needed respite. I laid on the sofa, did a little writing, kissed my cats... the usual Katie routine. Though, before long, it was time to head over to The Flying Walrus, a bar in downtown McAllen, for our poetry slam.

When I arrived, the bar was actually still closed, and Daniel and some of the other poets were setting up the stage. It probably looked really unfeminist of me, but I pulled up a chair, kicked up my feet, and watched the men do all the hard work. I'll blame it on my back, which actually is a pretty valid excuse because I'm not supposed to lift anything more than ten pounds :D I digress.

The readings got started in short order, and I was fortunate to participate in the "college readings" as university faculty. It was a little special because my former professor and current colleague, Emmy Perez, introduced me and said how proud she was of me :) At my first VIPF, when I was still her student, she said the exact same thing! I was just thinking about that... it was just after my first chapbook was published back in 2010. I'm digressing again.

Next up were the featured poets -- Shirley and PW again, and then Amalia Ortiz, who's an MFA student at UTPA and also a renowned slam poet.

Now, I'm not a slam poet. And I don't mean that in a pretentious way at all. I admire poets who can slam, and I think it's an amazing form of art that reaches out to a wider audience. I don't believe there's this divide between slam and academic poetry, though, and I think Amalia's performance proved just that. She performed some amazing work, intermixing feminist issues with Greek mythology and pop culture/current events. I left inspired.

By the time the actual slam was getting going, I was starting to feel a little achy, so I ended up leaving a little early. A newbie (At least a vipf newbie) was crowned the champion, so that is awesome to hear we've got some new blood in the mix!

Of course, Saturday was the main event. My first reading was scheduled out on South Padre Island, which is about an hour and a half drive from my house! Yikes! And guess who got up late? Yeah....

Anyway, B and I went together because after the reading, I promised we'd stop at his favorite burger joint. The reading was at Paragraphs on Padre, which is probably my favorite venue in all of the festival (the only place that comes close is Schneider's, which wasn't a venue this year anyway). It's the cutest, coziest little bookstore with the most charismatic and friendly owners. I just love it there. This reading felt more like a conversation than anything else, which was really cool! I know in the picture I'm staring off into the sun. I also sold a handful of books, and, as per always, spent my riches on, you guessed it, more new books. Woohoo!

B and I spent the afternoon on the beach, and I missed my next reading in Harlingen, which is just as well. I didn't really want a fast-paced day, so taking a slow walk along the beach and having a leisurely lunch at Burgerfi was pretty much the perfect way to spend the day.  Plus, that night, of course, was the pachanga! Oh, there I am, enjoying my quinoa burger, onion rings, and IPA!

When I finally make my way back to the upper valley, I head into the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the venue for the pachanga. I'm greeted by friendly faces and delicious vegetarian tamales. Is there anything better? No, no there is not. Before the readings begin, we all share a wonderful dinner and conversation. I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with Odilia Rodriguez!

The actual Pachanga readings went off without a hitch. The featured readers took the stage first. It was the first time I'd had a chance to hear Cindy Rodriguez read her work, and my oh my. Needless to say, I had to get my grubby little hands on a copy of her book before the night was over! I actually bought a bunch of books at the pachanga that evening, and sold out of all of mine, which is good and all, except, well, I didn't have anything to READ off of at the pachanga! I had to recite a poem from memory, which I wasn't entirely confident about because I hadn't done that in awhile. But I was able to do it just fine B-) Here I am with Daniel Garcia Ordaz, founder and organizer extrodinaire. He introduced me in the kindest of way, mentioning my award and making me feel all warm and fuzzy. I said that I got my start here at the festival! And it was true. Me and this festival? We go way back to when I was a clich├ęd baby poet who didn't know her anapests from a hole in the ground.

The coolest thing, I think, about the pachanga, is that you get to hear EVERYONE, all of the featured poets, share a single poem at the mic. Again, so much range in styles, voice, and approaches, but it's so inspiring, too! We're all poets. We're all sharing our view of the world. And there's something essentially beautiful about that.

By the end of the night, I was exhausted. I was glad to head home, hop into bed, and spend my Sunday just relaxing :)

So another VIPF is in the books. This year, I was just an enthusiastic participant rather than an editor or an organizer, but seeing the festival from that end was just as wonderful. I simply enjoyed it. Plain and simple. I reconnected with old friends. Met new people. Talked poetry. Felt like I was a part of a community. All good things. All essential things. I can't wait for April to come around again!