Notes on Poetry in the First Year Abroad

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Monday, December 8th, 2014 | 1,813 views

PHOTO COURTESY ERIK KENNEDY The image  is of a transformer in Heathcote painted by a local artist named Paul Deans with a scene of an early Cantabrian settler (that's the demonym for a person from Christchurch) and some native birds and flora. Get it? A man in a strange new land?

‘Perhaps to be in between two places, to be at home in neither, is the inevitable fallen state, almost as natural as being at home in one place.’ —James Wood

When I was thirteen, in the summer of 1994, the fragments of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter over the course of a week. Like a lot of young anoraks, I was excited by this. A world vastly bigger than my own, subject to forces I could barely comprehend, and then only by comparison with terrestrial examples (x tons of TNT, y number of Hiroshimas): that’s the stuff! I knew that what I was seeing was important for science, but it was not directly relevant. The explosions in the atmosphere of Jupiter were exquisite and amazing, but, importantly, the explosions there had nothing to do with me. I didn’t live there. I could relax as I watched.

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A Poet on Bombing Or Pretending to be a Comic

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Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 | 2,123 views

People aren’t often taught how to deal with failure. Even watching interviews with famous people chat about missteps doesn’t seem to hit home because we never saw that part. Their disappointments seem cute as opposed to career questioning. For writers, failure is most evident on stage. Unlike piles of rejection slips one can stuff in a draw, light on fire, or scrapbook, in front of a crowd, a person has to respond. They must get comfortable with silence or deal with too much noise. This too is true of comedians and is why I sometimes pretend I’m a standup comic rather than a poet. Although maybe it’s because comics are the more socially acceptable of the low-paid artists. If you tell someone you’re a poet, they look confused; say you’re a comic, they fervently discuss Louis CK. Of course, a poet bombing looks rather different than a comic, but that image is fun to examine, and it still explores ideas of failure and heckling that are necessary for any artist.

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A Tale of Teaching and Writing (in Parentheticals)

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Monday, April 14th, 2014 | 1,642 views

Remember what you’re here for, my professors repeated during my two years enrolled in the Rutgers-Newark MFA program. Do not permit teaching responsibilities to interfere with writing, they would say. Their words echoed in my adjunct office, bouncing back and forth between concrete walls (there were no windows; it looked like a glorious prison cell). I felt as if I was hiding a shameful secret when I nodded along to their sage words. But here it is in print now: I felt as passionately about teaching as I did about writing, and on many occasions (please don’t tell them), I did let teaching trump writing; I was still learning the program’s requirements and the students’ abilities (or lack thereof) as well as my own (or lack thereof works here, too). I felt I was there for both (like the true rebel that I am).

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