On the Road Again

As some of you may know, I’m currently in the middle of my honeymoon. My husband and I have just finished the first leg of our travels, having paused in Charleston, SC to see Josh Ritter in concert (he was amazing) and now pausing in Fort Worth and Dallas, TX for a family visit before Independence Day arrives and we fly off to Norway.

I keep a diary regularly regardless of how (un)interesting the days are but something about keeping it on the road has gotten me to meditating on many of our great American Travel Writers. American Travel Writing was one of the very first courses I took as an undergraduate while I was studying at Southwestern University (Georgetown, TX) and it left a deep impact on me — it’s not that we learned some secret to the art or how to become the next Rick Steves, but we did get to immerse ourselves in books like Kerouac’s On the Road and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. What’s more, what really stuck with me, was that we got to discuss the nitty gritty — which, I’ve found, is rare in college. This nitty-gritty included everything from what details we chose to incorporate into our final articles, how we went about taking notes while we traveled, how different voices and styles could alter or enhance the vision of a place, and this, perhaps more than any other of my classes, has stayed with me and impacted my vision of college and of writing.

One of the things that has stuck with me and that has been further encouraged by writers like David Sedaris, is that it’s important to keep as many facts as possible — it’s important to me, in other words, that my diary includes prices, names, places, temperatures, and so forth and not simply gushy, fleeting feelings about things. Recording feelings and impressions are, of course, an essential part of most diaries but they aren’t the meat and potatoes (at least, not for me).

 

What do you think? Who’s your favorite travel writer? What details are important to you in your writing? — What makes a story whole?

 

 

Writing Prompt – Hidden Objects & Art

So, for those of you who don’t yet know, my husband and I are in the middle of a move right now to Beautiful Baltimore. This means getting rid of a ton of stuff as well as going out and finding a few new pieces. Well, yesterday, I went out with my brother-in-law to see what we could see of local thrift art and I found this piece for a grand total of $5.00 (my apologies for the low-quality photo):

ImageIt actually came frame and all but, seeing as the frame was rather damaged, we decided to scrap it. I actually had to take a blow dryer to it in order to soften the glue and separate the work from its matting. And, after I’d finished dismantling the thing, we were surprised and pleased to find another piece of art hidden behind this lovely elderly couple!

Of course, shrimp boats aren’t really my style but it was a fun find:

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So, all of this is to say, this hidden artwork inspired today’s writing prompt:

In 750 words or less, tell a story wherein your protagonist uncovers an object that was originally hidden somehow by a work of art. Incorporate the following words: shrimp boat, daughters, dismantle, elderly, hunch, twilight, glue, and blow dry.

Have fun and feel welcome to share!

Or consider submitting your flash fiction to any number of great Flash Fiction mags/journals:

List of Flash Fiction Magazines & Journals

 

The Beat Books

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to throw out there for everyone some of the best/my personal favorite books on the Beats (excluding their poetry here, of course) that I came across during my research for my own book, The Trickster in Ginsberg: A Critical Reading. (And, just so you know, I also highly recommend that everyone check out their local libraries for this stuff — public/local libraries are often surprisingly well stocked and responsive to order requests! I’m all for selling books but libraries are amazing and dramatically underutilized resources.)

Jonah Raskin, American Scream

This book is incredible! Raskin has a terrific narrative voice and uses it to craft a dynamic history of the Beats during the time of Ginsberg’s construction of Howl. This book is chock-full of delicious details you aren’t likely to find elsewhere and is extremely well researched. Definitely worth a read for anyone who loves Ginsberg, the Beats, poetry, or who simply appreciates a well written history.

Jason Shinder, The Poem that Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later

I cannot speak highly enough of this anthology. It provides an impressive diversity of writing styles and includes pieces by non-American writers (though this component could have been significantly expanded, in my opinion), demonstrating how Howl impacted not only American audiences but readers as far as Transylvania as well. Shinder brought in writers you’ll recognize immediately as well as writers you likely haven’t encountered before. I also appreciate this anthology for just how reflective it invited its contributing authors to be; this freedom resulted in a collection of pieces that are both informative and emotional, giving us a unique glimpse into how this poem intimately touched some of our great critical minds.

Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art 

love Lewis Hyde!! His writing is so smooth and so enjoyable that you’ll find yourself immediately reaching for another of his books. In Trickster Makes This World, he weaves in personal narrative and reflection with rigorous research to create a truly unique introduction to the concept of “the Trickster.” In this work, he also discusses Allen Ginsberg specifically and how Ginsberg demonstrated or possessed certain trickster characteristics. He incorporates a wild array of elements and ideas into one solid and clear narrative — Hyde’s got game.

Allen Ginsberg, 50th Anniversary Edition of Howl: Original Draft Facsimile Edition

This is Amazing! I mean, if you are interested in Howl, this is absolutely a resource you need to check out. It includes tons of material from the original manuscripts (including edits from Kerouac and other contributors) as well as pages and pages of annotations and edits from the author himself, Ginsberg. His annotations are invaluable for understanding his thought processes behind certain components of the poem and its composition. His annotations are also very useful for reconstructing different parts of Beat history and characters such as William Cannastra. And, if you’re interested in learning more about the “stream of consciousness” writing style, this is a great guide for seeing it in action.

 

And here are a few others to definitely check out but that I’m too lazy to write about at the moment (we are in the middle of a major move, after all):

Bill Morgan & Nancy J. Peters, Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression

Brenda Knight, Women of the Beat Generation

Anne Waldman, The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation

John Tytell, Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs

Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder ***Another one of my favorites!!

Bill Morgan, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg

 

What are your favorite Beat books? And do forgive me for the brevity of the list — it’s not meant to be comprehensive by any means 🙂

Reading, Writing, & Performance

Good day to all!

I was just chatting with some family members of mine about my new book, The Trickster in Ginsberg, when they asked: “So, what do I need to know about Ginsberg before reading this book? I mean, do I actually need to read ‘Howl’?”

Now, given how many people I’ve met since undertaking this project who have never even heard of Ginsberg or the Beat Movement, you’d think I’d be used to it. But something about the way they phrased it, as if it might be too much of a chore to actually read a poem (let alone a full book regarding new possibilities for the poem!) might be too much work, really cut to the bone for me.

So, given that many people have yet to experience “Howl” for themselves, I wanted to let you know that It’s Completely Worth Your Time! And it’s not like we’re talking about a 1,000+ page monster here; by all accounts, the poem is of an impressively digestible length.

But, the more I thought about this post today and about my family members’ reservations, I began to wonder if reading the poem was, in fact, the best way to introduce oneself to the literature/poetry. After all, Ginsberg introduced the poem to his friends through performance. And “Howl” is a poem intended, like a play, to be performed — it isn’t meant to sit there voiceless, soundless, on the page. It was meant to reach out with a powerful, bouncing rhythm and pull readers/listeners/audience howlers in by the collars of their shirts (redolent of Ginsberg’s own mystical, auditory hallucination of William Blake’s poetry performance).

Thus, I’ve included here a link that’ll take you to a recording of Ginsberg performing Parts I & II of “Howl” (but be sure to also go and read Part III & the Footnote!!):

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15308

When you write, do you write for readers or listeners? How does the difference between these two impact how you write? Do you prefer performances of literature/poetry to only reading them?

*Another interesting tidbit on this subject, I’ve recently learned that there are actually some hardcore Shakespeare lit scholars out there who believe that Shakespeare’s plays shouldn’t be performed at all but only studied on the page because a performance can (supposedly) bar readers/listeners from forming their own visions and understandings of the material.

Weird yet interesting, no? What say you?

The Art of Autobiography

Right now I’m working on reading two different yet impressively lengthy autobiographies — that of Madame George Sand and that of Mr. H. G. Wells.

ImageThese are both authors I have long admired and all it took was for my mother-in-law to send me this aging copy of Wells’ Experiment for me to dive in.

And while I’ve only just begun both works, I have found myself pleased and amused by how dissimilar their voices are from one another and yet how similarly they both approached the art of autobiography.

I journal everyday to help me tackle and make sense of my own thoughts and daily reflections, but part of me had always wondered if there wasn’t some vanity involved in deciding to actually write and publish a full autobiography. And, to my great delight, Sand addresses this in her very first line:

“I do not think there need be vanity or impertinence in writing the story of one’s own life, still less in choosing from among the memories that life has left us those which seem worth saving.” (71)

I find I greatly like this idea that life conducts its own version of editing, as if your Life itself is a writer of sorts, pruning you and your memories into the ultimate yet ever unfinished text. And while Sand maintains that a major reason for writing her own biography is in order to clarify the issues present in the various other biographies about her that were already floating around, there is also a  clear underlying desire to wrestle with the big Herself. (I can’t wait!)

For Wells, it appears so far that the autobiography for him was not only to be an experiment in writing but in attempting to understand himself and where he wants to go with the rest of his life — almost as if his autobiography was a response to a mid-life crisis of sorts. He explains,

“Imperfection and incompleteness are the certain lot of all creative workers. We all compromise. We all fall short. The life story to be told of any creative worker is therefore by its very nature, by its diversions of purpose and its qualified success, by its grotesque transitions from sublimation to base necessity and its pervasive stress towards flight, a comedy.” (7)

So far, reading about the humility and feelings of failure in these authors has got me reevaluating how great I was feeling about my own career this morning. Although, it also has me feeling better about it in some ways. If Wells couldn’t appreciate his own accomplishments, after all, then who can? Who can act as an accurate judge of their own lives, careers, and accomplishments?

What do you think? Do you journal? Do you read or write autobiography?

 

Beautiful Baltimore

Recently, I was inspired by the blog, BINARYTHIS, and its post on public art in Canberra. I was inspired to try and right a few wrongs regarding Baltimore, MD’s reputation as a place of danger, dirt, and ugliness. I am frankly astonished by just how many people don’t believe me when I tell them that I would take Baltimore over Washington, DC or New York any day of the week.

It’s true that Baltimore has its problems (every city does!). It’s also true that we adore John Waters for his frighteningly accurate depictions of different elements of the city in his films. But Baltimore also has some of the coolest amenities around: the harbor, the people, the Walters Art Museum, the aquarium, the bars, the history, and, of course, the public art. Admittedly, much of our art could also be called graffiti but the fact remains — Baltimore is crawling with artists, littered with statues, and dripping with paint.

Here are just a few (and poorly photographed, I apologize) examples:

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Come see us! Baltimore will definitely surprise you and might even inspire some art and writing of your own.

Do I Look Like a Baby Killer?

Hello again! I know this post doesn’t appear, at first, to have much to do with writing or writers. However, it does have a great deal to do with what I’ve been writing about lately. As far as freelance goes, I’ve discovered that, to motivate myself, I need to not only find writing topics that grip me but publications that, as a whole, do likewise.

I’ve since found a beautiful marriage of rich, meaningful writing, research, and topics in various feminist publications. I have always fancied myself a feminist but the farther I get from the classroom the more I realize just how uninvolved I’ve been. Since recognizing this, I’ve begun writing a slew of articles on everything from childbirth to burlesque dancing to women’s health research. And this blog post by Kat Richter, in my mind, is a great reflection upon many serious and pressing feminist issues today and is a fine example of taking feminist action through writing.

Fieldwork in Stilettos

This morning I went to Planned Parenthood.  I go every three months to pick up my birth control pills and again in August just before my birthday for my annual pelvic exam.

My usual concerns when going to Planned Parenthood are:

A)     Where am I going to park?  Parking in Center City is never easy.

B)      How long is this going to take?  The folks at the Locust Street branch are always friendly and seem pretty efficient but if you don’t have an appointment, you can find yourself sitting in the lobby long enough to watch an entire Tyler Perry film.

I’m never worried about getting stopped by protestors because let’s face it: this is 2013.  This is Philadelphia.  We’re not like that here.

Plus, my visit to Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with abortion, which makes sense because 90% of the services offered by Planned Parenthood have to…

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