Four | Not Square | A Literary Reading and Virtual Graduate Student Showcase
will take place on Zoom on Thursday April 22, 7-9 pm
Email to receive the link for the Showcase by 11:59 pm on 4/21/21 if at all possible. Late responses may not be received in time for the event, however every effort will be made to admit all who wish to attend.
Ciara Garrett is a poet, fiction writer and playwright. An excerpt from her script Places Yet Unturned will be first on the program.
Pamela Mohar is a creative non-fiction writer and poet. A selection from libretto, a guide will be performed at the Showcase.
John Ballard Pecora’s Memoir/Prose piece Book of Mom will be shared next. The image of the sunflowers represents a favorite painting of John’s mother, to whom the piece is dedicated.
Christina-Marie Sears’s Chapter One from subLIMINAL will finish the Showcase program. This is a speculative manuscript which she hopes will grow up into a novel in the near future.
At the end of the readings, we invite comments, questions and general merry-making from attendees. Opportunities to interact with the artists, in true BathHouse Events fashion, will close this Showcase event.
According to New York Times’ Book reviewer, Ken Kalfus, ” Saturation Project is sometimes elusive, but there’s no meaning in it that gets lost for long. When Hume’s thematic connections and redemptive insights arrive, it’s with the force of a hurricane.”
Christine Hume is an acclaimed poet, essayist and sound poet. Her work, and the range of her work is exceedingly diverse, spanning critical pieces, reviews, sound poems, essays and poetic texts- her skill in all of these forms is certainly impressive. Hume’s voice is well-defined and distinctive. Saturation Project is packed with evocative nuance, sensory detail, philosophical interrogations of selfhood, woman’s identity, and cultural and material practices of generation, survival, and innovation. This writer has had the privilege of study with Prof. Hume for two courses while at EMU’s dynamic Creative Writing Program. In the course, Community Outreach for the Creative Writer, which is a degree requirement, we Graduate Students had the opportunity to soak in Hume’s broad and inclusive ideas about how to sustain a writing practice which includes sociability and interconnection with others. In the incredible Auto-Theory Workshop, we studied such fascinating writers as Saidiya Hartman, Kiese Laymon and Maggie Nelson. The conversations, book discussions and cozy informal lectures, along with Prof. Hume’s incisive and interdisciplinary articulations of literary theory, promoted scholarship and disciplinary knowledge for all the writers. The memories we made in Prof Hume’s classes will impact me always.
Therefore, I am pleased and proud that we had the opportunity to discuss Saturation Project through email interview on February 26th. Without further ado, here are some of the key points of our discussion.
I notice that the prose style in your book is very poetic. It flows smoothly and there’s lots of detail (sonic, visual, proprioceptive) that feels poetic to me. Is this an essential component of lyricism, in your view?
I am fascinated with the sonic magic of language wherever I find it. Sound has privileged access to the nerves; it hits the skin, blood, bones, viscera, subconscious more directly than visual information or maybe any other kind of sensory input. Running our senses over and into language, existing within its rhythms and acoustic structures immerses us in a specialized intelligence. G.M. Hopkins thought that words were alive and sought out like-sounding words in order to enrich and perpetuate them. Their desire for permanence or their insistence on excess was palpable to him. Like Hopkins, I believe the sonic links in words are secret pathways that hold mysterious powers, occult resonances, and understandings we can’t access any other way. There are rhythms that hold everything we know and understand together and others that destroy orthodoxies and conventional thought. Memory, too, has an intense relationship to sound, repetition and rhythm that writing can mine. The sounds of language can lead us in unexpected and previously unknown places.
Do you consider yourself a poet who branches out into memoir and essay writing? Or vice-versa?
It’s a great question, and I just talked about this in a couple other recent interviews, for Pulp, the official blog of the Ann Arbor District Library, and for ZYZZYVA. Luckily, at EMU, the Creative Writing program does not require generic fidelity. We embrace experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to writing! We embrace fluidity among generic (read: gendered) labels!
When you are working with such personal material, how do you cope with difficulties along the way? Do you find your mood is impacted by touching such material, especially when there has been significant trauma behind the events?
One thing that surprised me about the review of Saturation Projectin The New York Times is how focused it was on the trauma and more salacious aspects of the book, which to my mind are integrated into a larger story. It also puzzles me when people use words like “brave” and “courageous” to describe writing about trauma as though a normal person would have the good sense not be traumatized or would hide their trauma, stuff it down into dark “private” places and not publish it. It’s that kind of shame culture that greases the wheels of the traumatizers and locks everyone in their path in a private hell.
How many drafts do your books generally go through before publication?
Countless. I have heard of writers who have a kind of base minimum number of drafts—one I’m thinking of particularly came to my class and talked about the 9th draft as being the crucial one—but the process of revising is not so distinct for me; it’s a constant wash of returning and experimenting. I think counting drafts would be depressing or at the very least a pointless form of accounting and accumulating. One of the reasons that this particular book had so many drafts and versions, that it required a lengthy process, is that I wanted the essays to do something together that they did not do on their own. I talk about this at Hypertext.
Do you have any writing blogs or books about writing essay that you recommend?
I think you learn best by studying the essays you love, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Three classics that both perform and address ideal conditions for the essay that I love are Emerson’s “The Poet,” Adorno’s “Essay as Form,” and Cixous “The Laugh of the Medusa.” I usually begin my essay class with these along with Montaigne, who coined the term “essay” and brought a rich inner life to an intensely empirical sensibility.
Finally, how long did you work on Saturation Project? Did you have times when it lay dormant?
By far the longest, most radically transforming book I’ve ever worked on. I wrote each chapter as distinct essays, but they longed to be together (see Hopkins above). The process was truly a saturation, where I tried to soak each piece in the language, ideas, images, off-shoots, sounds, and affective states of the others over the course of at least five years. The beginning was much earlier though: Seneca Review published a nascent version of “Ventifacts” in 2011—a full decade before Saturation Project saw the light of day. An interview that accompanied the essay publication shows clearly—though I hadn’t quite realized it at the time—that I was far from done with it. I also had a very extended version of “Atalanta,” which was really two essays—one of which became my chapbook, A Different Shade for Each Person Reading the Story (which I have revised, as part of another manuscript, since the chapbook came out!). I first had to break that piece free from “Atalanta,” a weirdly painful process.
When one undertakes a close reading of Shira Dentz’ fifth full-length book of poetry, the sun a blazing zero, published in 2019 by Dialogos Books and Lavender Ink, many questions emerge.
I was lucky to have an opportunity to attend Dentz’ reading via Zoom, through the auspices of BathHouse Reading and Event Series and the EMU Department of English.
During the reading, which Dentz shared with poet Kathryn Cowles, Dentz read three poems from her book. During the first poem, she employed sensory devices over zoom. Readings during COVID-19 are an unusual sort of animal, with the strong possibility of poetry’s impact dissolving over the micro-fiber optical transportation of text fading through technology and transmission. However, even with the sociability of writing diluted through contemporary presentation strategies, the poetic language, performed by the originator rang through.
I mentioned Dentz’s choice to add an additional sensory device: in true avant-garde fashion, Dentz grasped a sheet of paper and rumpled it in front of the computer camera as she read the opening poem of “Black Flowers” (p. 32) The sound of paper, deconstructed into percussion instrument, enhanced the opening lines of the poem.
“ My bubby a black pump marked with
creases an array of streets, now and then
overlapping. Her name changed, rounded
to Mary. A stew of scribbles. Her pumps,
stretched wide open, excited; black flowers.”
from the poem Black Flowers
On the page, the first stanza is nearly crowded out by a graphic design elements, lines smooth and sloping intersecting with jagged peaks. The thin black lines might have been created by the hand of a very old woman, or a very young child. When my children were young, I respected their writing, and we (together) gave it a special name: “scribble-scrabble.” The image of lines on the page, and the sound of the paper being shuffled and animated by Dentz’s hands gave a perfect multi-sensory impression of “scribble-scrabble.”
What other readers/listeners made of the noise of “scribble-scrabble” over zoom technology is impossible to access without deeper inquiry. However, my inquiry and immediate appreciation of the sound as an aligning symbol, which pointed to the marks Dentz manufactured to accompany her poem seems to be an important chain of events in how the poetic can transcend the page and enter the body of the recipient.Permit me one more note about mark-making and its relation to lived-time: learning to make marks on the page is as foundational, as elemental, as all of the developmental steps of movement. When an infant, especially an infant about which you personally care, your own small child, or perhaps a child with a kinship relationship, attains steps of discovery and self-actuality, those milestones give the day a special marker of particularity. Rolling over, discovering the axial midline of the body is truly a skill to celebrate. For without discovery of the body’s axial mid-line, there will be no crawling, no sitting, no standing, no walking.
Therefore, scribble-scrabble is not a random choice for juxtaposition with the poem Black Flowers. Rather, it is an embodied choice. Whatever we called it, whatever our mothers or fathers responded when they saw it, whether we, as preschool writers were praised for it, or ridiculed for it, scribble-scrabble is the universal mark-making of aging. The infant ages into a toddler, and the mark-making is a beginning step of literary consciousness.
Rosie Stockton, (they/them/theirs) is Alumni from the Creative Writing Program, 2017 who is currently pursuing a PhD at University of California, Los Angeles. They (RS) take a few moments to chat with current blog writer/admin staffer, Christina-Marie Sears (BH). We discuss their work, current practice, and time at Eastern Michigan University. Proudly we share this news:
Rosie Stockton’s recent work: Permanent Volta won the Sawtooth Prize and will be published soon by Nightboat Books.
This conversation began via email and continued with a real-time interview. We had a lovely chat, and hope that you will find this post informative and as enjoyable as our meeting.
BathHouse: What is your daily practice like? Do you write in solitude or do you enjoy a community or peer relationship with other artists?
RS: I write alone and journal alone. But I love writing with other people.
Poetry is grounding and ritualizing for me.
One of my daily rituals is- I get up and I journal. It’s not narrative. Journaling for me is a stream-of -consciousness and image-focused practice. I have a really active dream life and I just wake up and write before I even look at my phone, but of course on some days that doesn’t always work.
BH: The vitality and somatic grounding of your manuscript is so vivid and engrossing. What kind of effect or reaction do you wish to stir in the reader? Or is that not a consideration?
RS: When writing, I’m not thinking about the reader at that moment.” They elaborate, describing some pivotal experiences with Professor Rob Halpern at EMU- Daily practice was kind of drilled into me.
They go on to share that this Poetry manuscript developed out of their Master’s Thesis project, with Carla Harryman, Language Poet and Professor, advising. However, the draft from the thesis was one of four sections of this final manuscript. And RS has made many revisions over the years.
Permanent Volta refers to a kind of eternal revolution.
Towards that end, I wonder:
What can poetry accomplish? What does it do and how does it contribute to literature? To society? To social action?
Poetry is a sensory organ.
RS: Poetry possesses… a different type of knowledge, according to Aimé Césaire, it’s poetic knowledge. The poem knows something that I don’t know. I ask the poem what it needs to teach me.
BH: Do you work with formal structures in poetry? Do sonnet forms and the like impact your work?
RS: I worked (for some time) on the form of the sestina. That was like a machine. The way it churned the language– defamiliarizing it. (Additionally, )
Putting two semantic fields together creates new content and obscures meaning and generates new meaning.
Deeply political and aesthetically innovative, while RS writes alone, she also enjoys community. RS co-facilitated Writers’ Bloc for several seasons. In this program, Professor Halpern and workshop leaders such as Stockton have a close, creative relationship with writers who are incarcerated at Huron Valley Women’s Prison.
RS: In terms of her work with the Huron Valley Writers: this work, writing (in community) tackling prompts with women in the workshop, allowed me to take vocabulary, cogent thoughts, different elements from disparate areas of my life, and create something new.
Additionally, RS notes the importance of non-conscious additions within their poetry. They express interest in accessing latent though and latent feeling. (Deconstruction and alteration) is an important process for my creative thinking.
Breaking sentences allows for new sentences.
Enjoy this excerpt from Rosie Stockton’s Manuscript, Permanent Volta.
Your sestina exceeds the bar and I sip. Windy with adjectives, my view of thunder. In that notebook, what are you writing in that notebook. In the notebook, that book with notes, which order are the words, which words slight the order.
You need a word for waltz, and I said breeze, breeze or slide, march or breeze or slide.
I sip your excess, your sestina in my notebook, the breeze it says be careful, be careful with the sestina, the sestina in your notebook.
Where I wonder and I sip, where you got that sestina, what machine gave you that sestina. You can write a sestina, I demand, you can really write a sestina. In your notebook with thunder, I sip windily. I waltz to think of your order, the words in the notebook, my careful sestina.
Your breeze is marching excess, it is slow and pauseful. Always with the pauses, you are thunder in my bar, and I sip, all excess. All excess and pause. And pause and pause. Be careful says the sestina, marching along, with all that excess in your notebook, with that machine that waltzes on.
No pause for the machine, only windy prediction, be careful of that word, or that order. Excessive sestina, bent over the bar. It is writing, writing thunder and care. I sip excess, I sip carefully, my excess. Windy with order, my excess.”
Rosie Stockton is a poet based in Los Angeles. Their first book, Permanent Volta, is the recipient of the 2019 Sawtooth Prize, and is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2021. Their poems have been published by Publication Studio, Monster House Press, Jubilat, Mask Magazine, and WONDER. They received their M.A. in Creative Writing at Eastern Michigan University. They are currently a PhD Student in Gender Studies at UCLA.
Here’s more information on Writers’ Bloc
POETRY FROM INSIDE WOMEN’S HURON VALLEY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
“Since 2011, The Writers’ Bloc has been nourishing personal and collective evolution through the writing and study of poetry inside Women’s Huron Valley Prison in Ypsilanti. Through the study and practice of poetry, the Writers’ Bloc has discovered that we can transform our relations to ourselves, to one another, and to the social conditions of incarceration. If social justice depends on creating new forms of solidarity, then the Writers’ Bloc writes for social justice from behind prison walls, turning otherwise negated forms of social relation into the stuff of living solidarities. In doing so, we make the prison walls porous, while imagining and enacting new horizons of social and political possibility.”
This statement, emailed to Graduate Students as an announcement of EMU Honors College Star Lecture in the fall of 2019, supports and contextualizes Rosie’s interview comments about the individual writer and the community and sociability of poetic writing. At this event, Prof. Halpern presented and discussed the work of The Writers’ Bloc, and included the project’s facilitators and past participants, as well as the voices of poets inside Women’s Huron Valley.
Received by Rob Halpern, TOMORROW! Star Lecture Featuring the Writers’ Bloc at Women’s Huron Valley Prison, 18 Nov. 2019.
Stockton, Rosie, “EXCESS” a poem selected from their book manuscript, Permanent Volta.
Sadly, this amazing opportunity, a reading with Kiese Laymon and Aisha Sabatini Sloan, will not be able to happen this spring. However, we at BathHouse and the Creative Writing Faculty at EMU hope you will be able to enjoy their work from a safe social distance.
Please enjoy the biographies and support the work of our visiting writers. Books are available from all fine booksellers.
Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University. Laymon is currently the Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the novel, Long Division; the collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America; and Heavy: An American Memoir, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal. Visit Kiese Laymon’s website for upcoming events.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan
Sloan’s first book of essays, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. Her most recent essay collection, Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, was chosen by Maggie Nelson as the winner of the 1913 Open Prose Contest and won the CLMP Firecracker award for nonfiction. She is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of Michigan. In 2020, she received an NEA Fellowship in Creative Writing. Visit Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s website for more.
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Thank you to all of those in attendance at our 2nd Fall 2017 BathHouse event featuring Joanna Ruocco and a special thank you to all of those who participated in the discussion following her reading. Pictures from the event are posted below. Keep in mind that we are still accepting submissions for reviews.