Well, classes start this week. We on the faculty and staff have been back since August 1st. In another post I’ll tell you about the non-sickness-related stuff I did over the summer, but for now I’m just going to share with you an earworm.
The boys are back. So are the girls and the non-binary kids. It’s going to be so good to see them all. And even though this song is about the start of the summer and I’m looking at the end of mine, I think it still works.
Enjoy this little dance break! I’m headed off to go work some more on my Canvas pages…
Perhaps some other time I will write an essay about my feelings around this song, which are complicated and bound up in cultural conditioning and social expectations and gender roles. The essay has been cartwheeling around in my head for a really long time, but I’ve yet to commit it to paper or screen. At some point I probably will.
But I’m going to share this earworm now anyway because last night I saw Bullet Train and am still reveling in its slow-burn humor. That movie is absurdist archetype theatre, and it’s worth watching for that reason alone. (But perhaps go in with that understanding to enjoy it more.)
Anyway, this video is absurd. It’s Jack Black and Jimmy Fallon recreating the official video for Extreme’s “More Than Words,” and they are really faithful in their commitment to the self-conscious and, dare I suggest from the perch of hindsight, pompous original. And they are also really adept at playing and singing the song. And I love both videos for different reasons.
So first up is the parody, and after that is the original. Do enjoy.
When I graduated from high school, I used some of the money people gifted me to buy my first CD player. It wasn’t brand-new technology anymore, but it wasn’t old enough yet for me to be significantly behind the curve. I’ve not often been an early adopter of tech, anyway. My parents had a CD player on their stereo system in our living room, and that was fine, but I was pretty excited about my little boom box. The first CDs I bought for myself that spring were Pearl Jam’s Ten, They Might Be Giants’ Flood, and Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. Although TMBG’s album had come out in 1990, it was new to me, and the other two came out my senior year.
I was still a devoted MTV watcher, because MTV was still devoted to playing music videos. “Silent All These Years” was introduced as a breakout video, and the song, the video, and the artist all made a strong impression on me. I was preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college. I wouldn’t be quite the first in my family to attend college, but I would end up being only the second person in my extended family to graduate, after my father’s little sister. I was going to be moving out of my parents’ house and making use of the independence I’d been cultivating since middle school. I was headed off to one of the best schools in the country for Creative Writing, which was my chosen field. I was leaving a thick trail of academic accomplishments in my wake, and the world felt open to me in a way I didn’t even have the life experience to appreciate or recognize at the time. And Tori Amos’ ethereal image and style, her deeply rooted piano, struck chords in me that hadn’t been sounded before.
Little Earthquakes — which was not, incidentally, her first album, though it put her into our consciousness and it might still remain my favorite of hers — made up a significant portion of the soundtrack of that spring and of my first year of college. Even now when I listen to some of those tracks I’m submerged in the emotions those songs shepherded me through during that tumultuous time, even though I’ve long since taken leave of the things that generated them. And as a piano player myself, just listening to Amos’ work plucks at that artistic part of me I still regret not fostering enough when I needed it to. I can blame the fact that I no longer play as well as I did on several things: the death of my cousin, which spiraled me into an abiding and undiagnosed depression; the guy who lived in my dorm who followed me to the practice room at night to sexually harass me while I tried to learn my new sheet music; the multiple and constant demands on my time in my adulthood that made me push that time for myself by the wayside; the people who raised me not to have agency or to put my own needs first. And all of those things are true, but what is also true is that I didn’t make the time for myself, either, even once I had learned how to recognize the need for it.
But I haven’t given up on it quite yet. I do have the sheet music for this album, and every now and then I take it out and play a little from one of the songs. One day I’ll learn a whole one, perhaps. I need to get my piano tuned; I’ll just add that to my endless list.
The school year is about to start again. I went back into my classroom today and started rearranging the furniture that has come back from being in storage during the pandemic. My oldest kid is a senior in high school now — and embarking on the college process, which will ultimately take them away into a world of possibility that they are also not yet ready to appreciate or recognize. I hope I am better equipped to shepherd them through it. We are all in liminal spaces right now, for just a little bit longer.
Tori Amos’ music, and this profound album in particular, has been showing up a lot lately in our Pandora feeds. It’s nice.
Hello! I have some very exciting news! Two of my poems, “Magdalen” and “Epiphany,” have just been published in A Fire to Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality. This anthology had a long road to publication.
It began before covid times and one of the women fiercely behind the project actually passed away before she could see the book in print. But it is out now, and filled with poetry on the ever-shifting nature of spirituality and how we interact with it, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Other poets featured in this book include Naomi Shihab Nye, Rich Levy, Robin Davidson, Robert Okaji, and Kevin Prufer, just to name a few. The anthology contains two parts, “Pandemic Time” and “Contraries,” and within “Contraries” are the following themed sections: Belief and Doubt Good and Evil Love and Hope Known and Unknown Truth and Beauty Joy and Gratitude
This is a beautiful book, and I hope you’ll give it a look. You can even get it, at least for a time, at a 20% discount with the code “TCU20” at this link to TAMU Press. (Don’t use the quotation marks when you put the code in.)
I’m seriously excited about this. We’ve waited a few years for this book to finally come out, and it has definitely been worth the wait!
The new issue of Sonic Chihuahua is here! Subscribers should see it hit their mailboxes this week. If you want to be on the distribution list, let me know.
There are all sorts of goodies in this issue, including poetry, art by Han and Megan Martin and Aeryk Pierson, the thrilling conclusion to the “Embracing My Inner Goth” essay series, an interview with author Tanya Aydelott, and her recipe for a delicious one-pot pasta dinner. Plus more! So much more!
I have created a new page here at Sappho’s Torque just for the Sonic Chihuahua. You can find it here. It will contain a listing of all issues: their colorful puppy-pile pictures and official tables of contents. Check it out if you have a moment and let me know what you think.
Why do we write poetry, anyway? It’s not like it’s a lucrative literary market (at least not here in the U.S.). It’s not like the general reading public is clamoring for midnight poetry book release parties. How many contemporary poets can the average person name? How many books of poetry does the average reader have on the shelf?
It’s not about any of that, of course, though all kinds of people read poetry. All kinds of people write poetry, too — not just Fancy Published Authors or “academic types.” And there are so many different kinds of poetry out there, with an extraordinarily wide range of accessibility from light verse to down-to-earth, relatable narrative to completely esoteric, and everything in between.
Poetry allows us to make sense of whatever is swirling inside our minds and our hearts. (Just ask any young person with a diary and a penchant for rhyme.) It’s a gift of language and creativity. Edward Hirsch once said to me that poetry was the intersection of experience and vocabulary, and I thought, among all the different ways people can choose to define poetry, that one idea resonated as a baseline.
Many types of writers can benefit from experimenting with poetry. Even though I’m primarily a fiction writer now (professionally), my Creative Writing degree is actually in Poetry. I began my university work as a Fiction student but switched my junior year, and after writing nothing but poetry for a few years, when I came back to writing fiction I realized that everything I’d learned about language and syntax from writing poems had made my prose exponentially better.
And now, I still write poetry because it feels like a more comfortable form of meditation in the midst of my uncomfortably busy life. It helps me process my experiences and my reactions to them in a slightly less frenetic way. And — not gonna lie — most poems take a lot less time to write and revise and polish than the average short story or novel, and there’s something akin to instant gratification from being able to do that. It doesn’t entirely feed my obsession with productivity, but it does feel pretty good.
From time to time, I teach Creative Writing classes outside of my day job. (A significant portion of which job, to be clear, is to teach Creative Writing.) These classes, which are geared toward a wider audience than my school-year courses, are often taught on Zoom outside of typical business hours, so working adults can take them no matter where they’re located. I’ve had attendees from other cities, other states, and even other countries come together in these workshops. It’s wonderful! (I should also note that there isn’t a specific age requirement to attend.)
So here is one of the upcoming classes I’ll be teaching this fall, for Grackle & Grackle, and I hope to see you in it! Click on the link to learn more and/or to register. (I recommend registering early to secure a spot. We keep these groups kind of small-ish so everyone gets personal attention and workshop time.)
Michelle Brittan Rosado wrote that poetry of place “can be a way to dissolve the self into an anonymous landscape” as well as “a map to find ourselves, a space in which to reassemble the annihilated and recover the displaced.” How often has your childhood home been the setting for your dreams?
How often have you returned, in your writing or art or imagination, to the site of a notable first experience? What are the landscapes, real or metaphorical, we have inhabited? What liminal spaces inspire, motivate, or even unsettle us? The places which have mattered most to us live in our subconscious mind long after they stop being physically part of our lives. In this four-week class, we will look at poetry grounded in places both real and imagined. We will dissect both what makes a poem resonate with a reader and what makes particular locations so important to us.
In this generative workshop, we’ll use a variety of prompts to experiment with form and style. You can expect to write new poetry each week and have at least two of your poems workshopped in a collaborative and respectful setting.
So, a few typical questions:
Q: What if I can’t be there every week? A: This workshop is four sessions, but if you’re unable to make all of them, you can still participate, and I’ll catch you up on the course materials you miss.
Q: Is this class for beginners or more advanced poets? A: Both emerging writers and published poets will find this course productive and useful. Because my workshops are generative (i.e. we will generate new writing in each session), I use open-ended prompts that will be useful at multiple skill levels. And as a teacher, I strive to meet each student where they are.
Q: What format will each session follow? A: I try to keep things flexible, but generally you can expect some discussion of already published work to explore technique and substance, at least one writing prompt and time to work on it, and a discussion of attendees’ own work in a respectful and supportive atmosphere. Content topics will vary from week to week, centered around a particular theme.
Q: Okay, but why should I be trying to take a poetry class in these bonkers times? A: What better way to reflect on your experiences and reactions to them than through a guided, focused lens that allows you to compartmentalize and process them in a specific, finite block of time?
I don’t know about you, but I’m having the most melancholy summer of my life since I was fourteen years old. July 4th is the halfway point of my summer break, too.
I hope you’re having a good holiday — or just a good Monday — wherever you are. This song is stuck in my head, and it feels somehow appropriate for all kinds of reasons that I can only vaguely put my finger on. *shrug*