Friday, September 24, 2010

Applying for grad school is not nearly as fun as it sounds

I spent most of yesterday researching exactly what is required of me to send with the applications of all 13 of the universities I wish to apply to. What a nightmarish process.  There isn't the slightest bit of uniformity between where the websites store information.

And so many of these schools require online submissions, which seems easier than paper applications, but it isn't.  Not if you have 13 schools you want to apply to, and have to tell each of your recommenders to go to 13 different websites.

And finally, the application fee itself is pretty upsetting.  And knowing that in addition to that, I have to pay to take the GRE, then pay for copies of that, and then potentially pay my school to send copies of my transcript (not sure if I can even send as many as I need to yet.  Sigh).  It will cost me 610 dollars in application fees alone, in a field that gaurentees little financial security.  I'm honestly considering taking a second job to pay for these application fees.  Which could actually be my only job soon as I lose my current one.  More information on that later, I guess.

At the same time, this cost is paltry in comparison to what I stand to save by having multiple options of schools to attend.  You know.  Assuming I get in to any of them.  A little bleak, maybe, but it's a little difficult to get excited about a 600+ dollar hole in my pocket.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Affrilachian Poets hit Frostburg State University Part II of III

Part two of a three part video series of the Affrilachian Poets' performance at Frostburg State University, in Maryland, for their Appalachian Festival last Saturday.  Readers included Bianca Spriggs, Norman Jordan, Ricardo Nizaro-Colon, Mitchell L. H. Douglas, Ricardo Nazario-Colón, Crystal Good, and Keith S. Wilson.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Affrilachian Poets hit Frostburg State University Part I of III

The Affrilachian Poets performed at Marlyand's Frostburg State University for their Appalachian Festival this Saturday.  Bianca Spriggs, Norman Jordan, Ricardo Nizaro-Colon, Mitchell L. H. Douglas, Ricardo Nazario-Colón, Crystal Good, and I were in attendance.

I'll refrain from speaking about it, and instead give you some of our performances.  Without ado:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gypsy Poetry Slam and the Kentucky Women Writers Conference Part II

I had intended on posting this the day of, or perhaps the day after the last day of Gypsy Slam, but everything was such a whirlwind for me that I ended up getting 10 minutes of sleep in two days and sort of running through Monday in a haze.  Which says something about Gypsy Slam and the KWWC, doesn't it?

I'd never actually been to the KWWC, but after spending a late night out for Gypsy Slam, I woke up very late, finished some of my work, and drove the hour and a half drive back to Lexington to see Diane Ackerman's reading/dialog.  From conversations before the event, it sounded like most of the people there were had read (or had come to see her because of) her book The Zookeeper's Wife, but she read one of her essays.  It was on writing and nature (and many other things), and at one point she read "School Prayer," the first poem from her collection of poetry I Praise my Destroyer:

After the reading and dialogue, Laura Yes Yes asked Patricia Smith if I could come to the second workshop.  Who would have thought that just asking, I could sit in on a workshop lead by the estimable Patricia Smith.  The catch, though, was that I had missed the first workshop and had to write two poems before the following day.  So I went home, ate, worked, and then wrote, and wrote and wrote and drove back for the workshop the next day.  Maybe you missed it, but I didn't: there was no sleep between those two events.

The workshop, though, was interesting.  "Confronting the Poem That Strikes You Silent" was a lot of opening up to one another, which of course involved trust and respect, and if I do say so myself, some amazing writing.  Patricia Smith is observant and if not shrewd, astute, workshop leader, and I think everyone left with more than they came in with.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gypsy Poetry Slam and the Kentucky Women Writers Conference Part I

Some of the Affrilachian Poets hang out after Gypsy Slam.
 I have attended only a small portion of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference these last two days, but even so, it's all sort of a whirlwind of creative energy and feminine-power.  For anyone who doesn't know, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference is the longest running event of its kind in America, and this year features Diane Ackerman and (one of my personal heroes) Patricia Smith.  Plus, my Affrilachian Poet sister Bianca Spriggs runs the Gypsy Slam (an all female slam poetry event).

Yes, you can attend most the events if you're a guy, and yes, if you're within driving distance or in any way able to come to next year's event, you probably should.  It's been amazing so far.

I'm going to be completely honest though.  This is more a two part blog entry out of necessity than convenience; I need sleep.

The Gypsy Slam actually happened last night, but I want to talk about it real quick while it's fresh on my mind.  Before sleep.  Fellow NKY poet Lisa Marie Carbert did her thing.  She's really getting awesome, and it's great to see some of us represent from time to time.  Northern Kentucky rarely gets any love.  And I got to see a lot of the Lexingtonians I've come to know and love too, it was an all-around amazing event.

Afterwards, though, I got to sit down for a little while tonight with Lauren Zuniga, who won the competition (I won't even begin to talk about how breathless her second poem left me), and Laura Yes Yes, who all around rocks as a person and a poet (Cave Canem Group A what!) and we talked a little bit about how slam poetry is perceived.  That is, as something lesser than poetry.  Patrica Smith hasn't done slam in some years, but Lauren noted that a reviewer explained that Patricia Smith had transcended her slam roots.  As if slam is the first step to writing real poetry.  Poetry-as-training-bra.

Semi-random aside.  Here's Laura Yes Yes on her first set, tearing it up, and captured with a camera that has strangely rendered her as some sort of poetic spirit-warrior:

Hell, it was only earlier this week I was telling my friend and fellow poet Megan Scharff, that I believe that there are academic poets who purposely read poorly because the only people who they care about impressing are poets, publishers, and professors who are used to that kind of reading, or who are already enamored with their previously published work.  Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but I have been to too many horrendous academic readings to believe that all those poets happen to be naturally terrible readers who have never gotten any better.  There's an idea in academic poetry that alienating the audience is fine, because it weeds out those who are not serious about the blessed miracle that is the written word.

I've never believed that poetry is dying, but if it was, it would be because of academic poetry, and those who support the idea that letting the audience in is a crime.  That's not to say that all poetry need be 'easy' to understand: narrative, straight-forward, and simply-worded, though some of my favorite poetry is.  It means that when a human being is standing on stage, they can at least give the other human beings in the room the common courtesy of caring.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Should I take that online class?

I recently completed an online grant writing class, but since the initial sign-up, I've read some people's opinions on online learning in general.  I've seen  abject disgust at the entire idea of a digital classroom.  The enterprise, they say, cheapens higher education by introducing lower standard learning as if it is college-worthy.  They are usually educators themselves.

I don't know that I agree with that.  Not entirely.  I went to college.  And I'm proud of the education I received.  But there are problems in higher education that run deep, and an overwhelming number of students in it for the paper instead of the education itself.  The point of taking a class is to learn, isn't it?  If you manage to do that without throwing money at a university, the only person who doesn't benefit is the university.

I realized, though, that I went into this whole thing pretty blind.  So I've put together some questions I probably should have asked.

What do you want out of it?

The main thing you should be considering before you take an online course is what, exactly, you want out of the program.  If it's accreditation toward something, you definitely need to do your homework beforehand.  Just because a course says that you'll get a certificate, or that you'll be trained to perform a certain job doesn't mean that anybody will count the course as real training. 

You wouldn't go to a law school that couldn't lead you to a law degree, no matter how nice the teachers were. That is, unless you weren't going to become a lawyer, but to learn a little about law. 

The same goes for online courses.  In my case, I wanted to learn to write grants.  And I did.  Mission accomplished, for a fraction of the cost of taking a class at the University of Cincinnati itself.

Are you prepared for online learning?

Taking a class online is a different sort of animal than going to a classroom. Technically, I could have probably learned everything I learned from my class by reading a grant writing book.

But I didn't.  I wouldn't.  Grant writing is not so joyous an experience that I ever felt like cracking open a book and reading it for hours on end.  And more than that, if something doesn't make sense on my own, I'm screwed.  There's no professor to ask for clarification.  So taking an online course, for me, accomplished three things that studying by myself did not:

  1. I had an instructor who I could (and did) ask questions of.
  2. I had a time frame I needed to get work done within, which meant I actually did it.
  3. Strange as it may sound, paying money for the course made me take it seriously.

There are things, of course, that I missed:  Having a portion of the day specifically set aside for class.  The atmosphere itself (my living room is not conducive to learning). The ability to listen to a lesson instead of only having the option to read.  And mostly, the interaction (between students, the professor, and the lesson itself) that you get in a classroom is just not available in an online course.

Would I do it again?

Probably.  The price is right, and if I'm finding myself for some reason unmotivated toward something I'd like to learn, it seems an agreeable enough solution.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My writing process

Evelyn N. Alfred wonders:

I'm very curious about how writers - especially published ones - write. I'd like to know their whole writing process, from the brainstorm, first draft, second draft, seventy-elevnth draft, all the way up to publishing. It would be nice to know these things, to see if their advice could help me with my own writing.

I write every day.  I don't have a set amount of words, or time, that I need to write, just so long as I write one poem.  That's anything from an epic (well, for me) 3-pager to a haiku, though I almost never write anything so short, since I consider it cheating.  Cheating, that is, myself.  From time spent writing.  I mean, there's nothing wrong with a good haiku.

The process can take anywhere from half an hour to probably around an two hours, depending on my mood and the poem, though the poem depends so heavily on my mood that these qualifiers might be one in the same.

With that in mind, I tell myself I won't go to bed until the poem is done.  This means that most nights, it's the last thing I do before I go to bed.  Possibly not the best state of mind for a lot of people to write, but I've always been a night person, and poetry is exciting to me and keeps me active enough that I rarely feel tired until the poem is written.  Writing has always been exciting to me.  Reading can be.  Depends on the artist.

So it's 2 in the morning, and I've decided I need to write my poem for the day.  What do I write about?  I have three methods for topics.  The first, and most common approach I take is that I basically free write.  I start writing about whatever pops in my head, or something that I see in the room, or something that happened that day.  Method two has me write a poem specifically in response to a contest.  If there's a contest that's looking for poems for an AIDS anthology (and there was) I write to that.  And the last method is that I read a poem, and write a 'response' to it.  Either a direct answer to some question the poem asked, or what I think about when I read that poem.  Pretty much anything.

From there, it's all instinct for the greater part of it, if there is such a thing.  If I like what I've written, I'll try to do more of it, whatever it is.  Alliteration, or in-rhyme, or a theme, or whatever.  But I basically try to keep writing until I feel an end coming on, and end it when it feels right.

That's how I write the majority of the time.  I edit heavily that first night, and put it away until some undetermined time in the future, when I look through a lot of my poems at once and edit them again.  Throughout the week, I read the last three or four poems I wrote to see how I feel about them, and a lot of times, I edit those as well.

Form poems are a little different, but I still mostly do this free-write approach.  I almost never plan everything that I'm going to write before I write it.  I maybe have never done it.  I don't know that I believe that poetry can't be organic when it's planned, or can't seem it anyway.  All I know is that when a trained singer goes out on stage, the one thing that nobody can teach them is to be in that right state of mind to really hit every note the way it needs to be hit.  After a while, they just learn the place they need to be, and for me, the place that I've needed to be for as long as I can remember is fluid, and unplanned and free as I can.

Frank X Walker said, in the first writing class that I ever took, that there's no such thing as writer's block.  And I believe in that.  Writer's block isn't a literal inability to pen a word to paper, it's a fear or feeling that anything you have to say isn't worth saying.  Or else, you don't feel as if you know what to say.  But if you sit down and just write, you'll have something.  If you learned how to spell, and you can speak, you can write.

Every single time I sit down to write, I'm not crafting something spectacular.  I'm just crafting, and that's enough.

Most nights.