The World Needs More Creativity

By Natasha Ganes

boy painting on blank board

Many moons ago I was a flight attendant for a brief period of time, living with a couple of other girls who I had gone through the attendant training with. One of those roommates (we’ll call her Milly) wanted to quit flying and attend art school, but her parents adamantly rejected her dream based on their fear that by doing so she would end up jobless and poor or something equally embarrassing. They preferred Milly to continue her career as a flight attendant for the next few years until she found a man to support her, so she could promptly quit working and give birth to a bunch of blonde babies. Okay, that’s unfair. In all reality I have no idea what Milly’s parents wanted her to do as an alternative to art school, except not enroll and drop the subject altogether.

For Milly’s parents, art was something to be viewed and possibly appreciated, but never pursued as anything more than a hobby or pastime. The idea of creating art for a living was foreign to them. Not only unheard of, but a cause for unease. The words “my daughter is an artist” were not a prideful declaration, but an uncomfortable mumble.

My roommate was a talented artist – her pen and ink sketches were amazing – but more importantly she loved doing it. How many of us can say that about our jobs? She would sit for hours huddled under a blanket in our living room, using a flashlight and small sheets of clear glass to create shadows across her notepad that she would then turn into the most incredible designs. Her bedrooms walls were adorned with her black and blue inked drawings, imaginative worlds created during eternities spent in a love-filled labor.

Could Milly have turned her sketches into more than paper wall hangers if she had ignored her parents’ wishes and pursued her dream? Yes, of course. With or without art school or even just simply selling her art, she could have used her talent in any number of “respectable” careers her parents likely would have approved of: graphic designer, drafter, illustrator, the list is endless. I have written my whole life and now make a very good living doing just that. My brother took his talent for drawing and painting and turned it into a successful architect career. Perhaps the reason our futures turned out differently than Milly’s though, is that no one told us we couldn’t turn our love of the arts into a future job. Instead, our parents encouraged us to take whatever artistic talents we had and use them to secure a job we might actually like to do.

I am a firm believer that if there is something you love to do and you’re determined enough to continue doing it, you can find a way to make a living out of it. No matter what “it” is. And that’s especially true about art. We need more artistic creativity in the world, not less. If you have an artistic talent, go do it and forget anything anyone tells you different. I lost track of Milly years ago, but I can only hope she eventually managed to do the same.

A Way In by Tiffany Monroe

A Way In: Teaching Contemporary Poetry, Difficult and Otherwise

RED image

I worked at two decidedly non-academic jobs while finishing my MFA thesis – one in an office, the other in retail. When my coworkers found out that I’m a writer, they were genuinely interested in my work. “You write poetry? What kind of poetry do you write?” they asked. “Prose poetry,” I responded. Most weren’t familiar with prose poetry, but listened as I went on about it. Some even said they like poetry, so I asked them which poets they like. I found that not a single one named a poet writing within the last 40 years. Frost, I believe, was the most contemporary and you can find all of the poets in an introductory anthology.

One coworker, in particular, was curious about what contemporary poets I like. I gave her the first two examples that popped into my head, the two I’d been reading: Rae Armantrout and Allison Benis White. I expected that Armantrout’s short, experimental poems wouldn’t be an instant favorite – considering some of my poetry classmates didn’t even like her – but I thought White’s prose poems might be a good way in. I was wrong. She told me she thought they were both “pretty,” but she didn’t really “get” them.

I’ve been wondering since then what this says about contemporary poetry. The short answer is that most of it is considered difficult. Even within the MFA program, non-poetry students aren’t that interested in it, if they’re even interested at all. “I don’t understand it” seems to be the common response.

Now that I’m teaching, I wonder what, then, is the solution to teaching contemporary – especially “difficult” – poetry in the introductory creative writing classroom?

In Poets on Teaching, Stephen Burt argues, “the appreciation of any art, the ability to get inside it and see how the work is put together, what it is trying to do, comes in part from our experience of prior, related – maybe distantly related – art, related art with which we feel more comfortable, art we think we in part understand.” If we understand Emily Dickinson or William Carlos Williams, he suggests, we can understand Armantrout.

Whether it’s other poetry, art, music, or film, we must find a way to make the seemingly unrelatable relatable.

“What you find difficult,” Burt claims, “depends on what you already find easy; what you find comprehensible or enjoyable depends on what you already know.” White, for example, probably doesn’t seem confusing if you’ve read Gertrude Stein’s collection of prose poetry, Tender Buttons. What we understand depends, in part, on what we’ve already been exposed to.

Burt also points out that to thoroughly enjoy a poem, we need to familiarize ourselves with what it’s representing. “Once you have figured out what might be represented in a poem … you are on your way to seeing how that ‘what’ gets represented, how the verbal and formal choices within the poem add, to that ‘what,’ a ‘how’ and a ‘why’ and a ‘who’.

Take, for instance, Armantrout’s poem “Errands” from her collection, Money Shot. If the reader hasn’t figured it out before, the line “The better to eat you with” makes the connection with “Little Red Riding Hood” apparent.

The poem’s connection with the fairy tale opens it up for discussion. How is the poem different from the tale? Why is the grandmother missing from the poem? What does her absence mean? What does the ending mean?

Discussing the poem through the tale also allows for a discussion of poetic language. The huntsman is now wonderfully named, “an ax-man.” The trip to grandmother’s house is “the old / to-and-fro / / … newly cloaked / in purpose.” Finally, the wolf becomes “a jumble / of hair and teeth.” We see how Armantrout uses language to make the familiar new.

Poetry shouldn’t be easy. It shouldn’t be something you can just skim through. If you can read it in the same way you read prose, then it isn’t really poetry.

What I think people mean when they say, “I just don’t understand it,” is that they don’t know how to read poetry. Contemporary poetry, in particular. Like my coworker, they want to just “get” it as they do prose. But I think they’d find some kind of contemporary poetry they’d enjoy – whether it’s mainstream or avant-garde or a hybrid of both – if they’d only try. They just need a way in.

To read more of Tiffany Monroe’s thoughts, visit Tender Buttons: http://tenderbuttonsonline.wordpress.com/

After completing her AA at Cypress College, Tiffany Monroe earned a BA and an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. Her poetry has been featured in Elephant Tree and quarter after. She also served as co-editor of Elephant Tree and poetry editor of Litterbox Magazine. As a student, she presented at several honors conferences and was the first Chapman graduate student to sit on a panel at the AWP Conference. In addition to reading and writing, she watches far too much television and, slightly, fewer movies. Her love of England has led her across the pond twice where she developed an addiction to PG Tips and a desire to spell things with an extra “u.”

New Fiction by Denise Stephenson

In Plain Sight by Denise Stephenson

 

 Denise Stephenson

  Denise Stephenson

Denise Stephenson lives in Oceanside, California, and serves as the Writing Center Director for MiraCosta College. She took her PhD in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. She wrote her dissertation about emerging forms of academic writing because she was angry with a professor who said she couldn’t write. Staying inside of boxes or forms has never been her strength. Over the years, she’s published over 20 academic articles and book chapters, many of which stray from traditional conventions. In Michigan, just before the turn of the century, she started writing monologues for her theatre company, Attention Deficit Drama. She’s also written, produced, acted in, and teched plays, including her all-time favorite, Voices From the Edge, a group of intercut monologues of loss following the falling of the World Trade Towers. Stephenson loves to collaborate and many of her academic and theatre works are co-authored. Recently, a group of theatre students at CSU, Channel Islands gave a staged reading of Hibakusha, a play about nuclear disasters which she wrote with Bob Mayberry. She hopes to one day see it performed on stage. To find out more about author Denise Stephenson and her new novel Isolation, visit www.facebook.com/DeniseStephensonIsolation.

 

 

Lightbright by K. Dana King

Lightbright by K. Dana King

K. Dana King

K. Dana King

 

K. Dana King holds a rather ancient B.A. in English and History from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. She also attended the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Currently, she is pursuing a master’s degree in Literature and Writing Studies at Cal State University San Marcos. She is the proud parent of two interesting, intelligent, and talented young adults and one ornery cat.

Where Are All the Books Going?

by Erin Whittinghill

imageSome of my friends are absolutely knocking themselves out to produce novels. This is in addition to the nearly 24-7 jobs that provide their livelihoods. Days and months, years even, are spent on publishing and marketing decisions of every level. The initial writing, they claim, is the easy part. Their publishing and sales processes, however, whether self- or small press, involve twists and turns, dilemmas and drama that could spawn decades of juicy nighttime television. And I wonder, in the long-run, to what real end?

To be sure, the satisfaction of completing a project the size of a novel and having a tangible product must be thrilling. The often-discussed “piece of immortality” rationale is another solid motive for enduring the process. But who will read their lengthy tomes as well as those of other writers?

When I read author Nicholas Carr’s chilling “Hal and Me,” an essay in which he explored the negative effects of Internet usage on his levels of concentration and cognition, I began to consider where we are seemingly headed not only as humans but, more specifically, as writers and readers. Carr notes, “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle,” and he adds that many career academics, not unlike their students, no longer seem to be able to remain focused on a lengthy text. The reading process has become more of an exercise in “skimming.” The most disturbing element of the essay is Carr’s quote from Duke University professor Katherine Hayles. She claims, “I can’t get my students to read whole books anymore.” Carr explains, “The students she’s talking about are students of literature.” Sounds eerily familiar.

At present I teach college composition at both a university and a community college, and my experiences have mirrored Hayles’ and likely those of numerous other instructors. It is true that the students are often eager to discuss what they read and argue the merits of an author’s position or narrative, but only if the text is no longer than an article or a (truly) short story or, even better, a poem (of course, not the epic type). Rather than the typical resistance of previous generations to read something thrust upon them, this seems indicative of a new norm regarding the way in which young people process a text.

My concern? Someday, not far off, my generation will not sing about metaphorical flowers; rather, ours will offer another melodic lament that asks, “Where have all the long books gone?” Not exactly catchy.

Undoubtedly, the way in which humans consume and digest information is changing. And younger humans are consuming fewer books than their predecessors. If it is true that a humanities-based education—and that includes literature—produces well-rounded, thoughtful citizens, then what type of society is in the offing?

I admit that I, too, have succumbed to eBook fever, a type of reading that seems to be a stopover for many on the way to reducing their encounters with lengthy texts. For me, initially, eBook consumption was about the rush from inexpensive texts obtained immediately. Then it became about being able to dip in and out of a novel while on the go. Not long after, I noticed that reading shorter segments of the text suited the way my own attention span seemed to be shrinking. Now I am deliberately and determinedly returning to reading the books that I can hold in my hands and ponder at length.

Our technological “progress” raises myriad questions about where we humans—and our books—are headed. Will we one day reminisce about how humans once spoke of the great works (they had actually read) and how the study of literature was once a legitimate academic discipline?

What do you think, readers and writers? Toward what type of future are we cascading?

New Poetry by James G. Piatt

An Observation by James G. Piatt

 

Dr. James G. Piatt is the author of two poetry books, “The Silent Pond” and “Ancient Rhythms.” His third poetry book is scheduled for release in late 2014. He lives in California, 30 minutes from a river and mountains on one side, and 30 minutes from the ocean and sand on the other. He has had over 500 poems, published in over 50 magazines from all over the world. His poem, “The Night Frog” was nominated for best of web 2013. His books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

Forgotten by Ruben Guzman

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

Mother checked her watch again, doing her best not to let her daughter see her eyes directly. At eight years old, Izzy already knew what that look meant. As they both sat at the picnic table waiting, the tall trees around Pritchard Park were lithe in a warm mid-afternoon breeze. Izzy watched a brochure gliding along the edge of the grassy lot they’d staked out for her birthday party. She chased after it.

Mother adjusted her halter where it dug into the roll of skin under her arm. She too was fidgety, tapping her pinky finger on the plastic table cover. She pressed the creases that remained from being inside the package. She adjusted her thick-framed glasses that weighed on the oily bridge of her nose. She watched balloons bounce against each other. She checked the tape along the border of the picnic table that kept the strands of crepe paper in place. With another breeze, she brushed back strings of her straight hair that she never had a chance to wash that morning. She wished she wasn’t in such a rush when they left the apartment; she’d forgotten her cigarettes on the kitchen counter.

Izzy returned to the table, showing the brochure to her mother. On the weathered cover was the image of Jesus floating above an apocalyptic landscape. Underneath him was the phrase I am coming soon … I am the Alpha and Omega. Mother took the brochure, folded it and pressed her palm on it. When she looked at Izzy, they smiled at each other. Izzy walked away again, preoccupied, humming to herself.

Mother removed her hand. The brochure unfolded itself. She was bothered that her daughter would see such an image on her birthday. She watched Izzy dance in the grass reassuring herself that Izzy wasn’t bothered. She hid the brochure in a bag with wrappers and other trash and continued watching her daughter dance. She noticed the trepidation in Izzy’s movements. Izzy lacked the expression that other girls had: full body motions, arms swinging confidently, legs airborne. Izzy seemed to censure herself, stopping her arms halfway, her feet never leaving the grass. Alone at the table waiting, mother didn’t need to censure her disappointment behind a smile. She too remained expressionless. Izzy reminded her of herself as a child, never knowing her father. Even as Mother wanted more for Izzy by giving her a birthday party, she knew it only veiled an underlying disappointment for both of them.

Mother felt the warmth of the sun on her shoulders and closed her eyes briefly. For a moment she took in a deep breath and listened to birds and cicadas, rustling leaves, and cars moving in and out of the parking lot in the distance. She caught the smell of burning lighter fluid from a grill nearby, and then the smell of the latex balloons taped to the table. She opened her eyes and looked at her worn hands. She clenched them then opened them several times, assuring them an afternoon of rest from the routine of her assembly line work at the local medical device plant. She wanted to enjoy her day with Izzy before her third shift later in the evening.

Izzy had stopped dancing and was watching a family in the next lot. Parents were moving fully around a picnic table and smoking grill. Children were chasing each other and yelling. Mother watched Izzy. She knew she couldn’t stop Izzy from thinking what Mother tried to mask. Mother let her watch the family as she pulled a rolled poster from a bag under the table, grabbed her masking tape and walked to a nearby maple, her flip-flops clacking with every step. She pressed the top of the poster against the bark and tore a piece of tape from the roll. She secured it, tore another piece and placed it on the bottom.

Mother inspected the homemade poster and ran her eyes across the words: Happy 8th Birthday Izzy! In the sunlight she could see the gaps without color inside the letters. She thought that she should have done a better job coloring for the sake of Izzy’s friends and their mothers. She reinforced the poster on the tree trunk with several more pieces of tape before another breeze blew. By then, Izzy had come back to the table. She held an invitation in her hand that she’d pulled from Mother’s bag. Mother knew that Izzy was silently asking herself the difference between the time on the invitation and the present. Izzy knew there was a gap. Mother walked back to the table worried that Izzy might already know. There would always be colorless gaps.

As they both sat again and waited, a wasp hovered above Izzy’s birthday cake. Izzy yelped and stood from the table as Mother swung her hand. Another wasp then hovered. Izzy extended her arm to Mother. Mother grabbed the invitation from her hand and swiped at them. The latecomer disappeared as Mother saw the other wasp lodged in the frosting. She scooped it out with the invitation and crushed it inside. Izzy returned to the table and sat. She saw Mother’s displeasure. Izzy knew what time and money Mother had sacrificed for her birthday party.

Mother forgot to smile because she sensed that what she wanted so much wasn’t going to happen. She couldn’t decide how much longer they would wait. She relied on the thought that Izzy still had hope, but wondered if Izzy had already learned to veil her disappointment. Was Izzy’s hope intended for Mother’s sake? Mother wondered if Izzy would blame herself. She listened to Izzy humming to herself again. They both sat at the table waiting.

Izzy watched Mother reach in the bag and place a package on the table. Izzy looked at Mother who nodded back. She smiled and grabbed the package from the table. She held it for a moment, wondering what it could be. Mother smiled. Izzy pulled at the wrapping delicately until it lay open and flat on her lap. She raised a picture frame to the table and stared at the photo of her and Mother smiling. Mother wanted Izzy to open it in the presence of her friends. She wanted it to remind her of the day Mother threw her a birthday party. Instead, Mother wondered if it would be a bitter reminder of the day they were forgotten.

Izzy placed the picture on the table and meticulously ran her finger along the frame. Mother was angry at herself. She knew Izzy was disappointed. She could have found a nice summer top, or a stuffed animal for Izzy. It was too late. Mother could only find some consolation in the fact that none of the invited were there to see Izzy open the gift after all. They sat idly, waiting.

A late afternoon gust caught them by surprise and sent napkins and paper plates flying off of the table along with two balloons, a strip of crepe paper, and the invitation containing the dead wasp. The loosened birthday poster fell to the ground. As Mother shuffled to retrieve it, Izzy leapt and chased after the debris. Mother scorned while Izzy laughed.

Hearing Izzy, Mother sighed. She wanted the laughter to be real, not as comfort. She wanted to turn and see Izzy both smiling again and for the first time. She wanted Izzy to stop feeling the need to comfort Mother for the failed day. Mother wanted the last ninety minutes to do all over again.

Mother picked up the poster and turned back. Izzy returned to the table with hands full of paper. She looked closer at Izzy’s face. She couldn’t stop projecting disappointment into Izzy’s thoughts even as Izzy busily stuffed trash in the bag. Mother walked back to the table and rolled up the poster. She realized that if they stayed, they would be waiting indefinitely. There would be no Coming. The beginning and the end would be the same. Along the grass in the distance, the wind blew the forgotten invitation under lithe trees unnoticed.

Ruben Guzman

Ruben Guzman

Ruben Guzman is author of the novel The Fountain In Forsyth Park as well as numerous poems and short stories, which appear on his blog literophanes. Ruben earned his MA/MFA from Chapman University and is a Registrar at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, California. You can follow his work at: http://literophanes.com