A FIRE TO LIGHT OUR TONGUES

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!

SONIC CHIHUAHUA Volume 3, Issue 3 Has Arrived! (And So Has A New Page Here In Honor Of It.)

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!

ALSO…

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.

Enjoy!

 

Poetry in September

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.)

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined
4 weeks — Tuesday evenings in September

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

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?

Here again is the link to learn more about and to sign up for this course. I hope you will join us!

Monday Earworm: Al Green

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*

Enjoy.

Monday Earworm: Garbage (MOAR GARBAGE!!)

It’s been a wretched few weeks, hasn’t it? I don’t mean just the newsy bits, though those are definitely some 9th-circle nonsense with a bit of the 4th circle thrown in for toxic measure. For those of us in Texas, even beyond the reported ugliness, we’ve been dealing all month long with late-July/August type weather: extremely hot (more days with triple-digit temperatures than we usually have in a given summer) and no hint of rain. But at least we get near 100% humidity, so I guess there’s that, if you like living in a sauna. (I don’t.)

(We can debate about the reasons for all of this some other time — no, actually, there’s no need, because we know the reasons and they aren’t controversial, just disappointingly dumb.)

The drought here is bad enough in Houston that we might have to start watering the ground around the bases of our houses to avoid foundation cracks later this year. (That’s not a joke. This is a thing.)

But a few minutes ago, a thunderstorm started at my house. Not a lot of rain, nowhere near enough, but it’s something, there’s a promise of more, and I’ll take it. So here, have some Garbage. Enjoy.

Monady Earworm: The Cranberries

The Cranberries burst into my consciousness when I was in college. I loved Dolores O’Riordan’s gorgeous Irish accent and their moody music. This song in particular captured so much of what I was feeling and reeling from in my late teens and early twenties: the fallout that comes with being involved for too long with someone who leaves emotional destruction in his wake.

I love a lot of The Cranberries’ other songs, too, but every time this song comes on, I remember how gorgeous it is and how full of the feels. I’ve lived a lot and healed a lot since those earlier days, of course, and so this song doesn’t make me feel melancholy anymore. It’s just beautiful, and I like singing along with it.

I’m sharing two versions of it with you, both of them fabulous. The original video is pure ’90s MTV nostalgia, and the second isn’t really a video but has an acoustic version of the song that’s really nice. Enjoy.

 
 

Two Poetry Workshops Happening This Month (A FEW SPOTS STILL OPEN)

There are still some spots open in the two poetry workshops I’m teaching this month, in case you were interested in signing up for them but haven’t yet. Both will be taught on Zoom, so covid surges and geographical distances are not a problem here.  😉

Daily Dose of Poetry is a one-night-only experience through Write About Now as part of their Monday night poetry class series. You can do just mine — happening TOMORROW, June 13th — or get a bundle of weeks at a discount. In this generative workshop, we’ll try our hand at several different poetry prompts designed to kickstart your writing or refresh your writing practice if you’ve been away from it for a while. Each exercise is also translatable, to duplicate or adapt on your own after the workshop ends. You will also get a chance to share and/or workshop what you write during class. Click here for more details and to get the link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wan-academy-daily-dose-of-poetry-w-angelique-jamail-tickets-254249686657?aff=ang

 

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined is a four-week workshop through Grackle & Grackle. We’ll be meeting on Tuesday evenings starting this week, June 14th. In this generative and feedback-oriented workshop, we will look at ways poetry inhabits landscapes both literal and figurative and create poems along that theme. You can expect to write new poetry each week and to have at least two of your poems workshopped in a respectful and supportive environment over the course of the four weeks. (And if you’re able to attend most but not all of the sessions, don’t let that stop you from signing up, as I’m happy to share materials with you if you’re absent.) G&G is also great about offering discounts on their classes, too, so if you need one, try these: 15% sun; 25% squawk; 35% sweat. Click here for more information and to register:  https://grackleandgrackle.com/product/ajsu22poetry/

I hope to see you in either or both of these workshops! Feel free to share with others who might also be interested.

Eco-Efforts: Blueland

Over the last few years I’ve made some concerted efforts at becoming a more ecologically responsible person. At this point, everyone with even rudimentary common sense or reasoning abilities or interaction with the world recognizes that our planet is endangered. We also know, pretty widely, that most of the technology to fix this constellation of problems already exists and that we are capable of mitigating the damage. Political will and outright foolish stubbornness are among the enormous obstacles we face. But I’m not here to rant about that.

I want to tell you about the active efforts I’ve personally been making to minimize the negative impact I and my household have on the environment. Rather than give you a long list of things all at once, I’m going to focus on just one effort in each post. Please note that I have NOT received anything in return for my reviews of the products I’ll be talking about. I’m sharing my experience with them entirely because I want to, and because I really do think these efforts are worthwhile.

One criticism that has often been levied at eco-friendly efforts is that it’s expensive to be socially and ecologically responsible. I agree, sometimes that’s true. For example, organic groceries can be significantly more expensive than conventional ones. Getting solar panels on your house can be a lot more expensive than the average new car. (We looked into it. We didn’t bother. More on that some other time.) I want to make it clear that in every instance I’ll be sharing with you, I’ve switched to an eco-progressive option not just because it was the environmentally correct thing to do, but also because it was either cheaper or at least not more expensive than going the conventional route. This is important to note. All the changes I’ve made in my household have been financially beneficial as well as environmentally so.

So with that said, the company I want to highlight today is Blueland. I got their starter kit (the Clean Essentials one) during the first year of the pandemic and have never looked back.

This kit comes with foaming hand soap and three plant-based household cleaners: glass/mirror, bathroom, and multi-surface. The idea is that you get a refillable bottle for each and then add tap water and a cleanser pellet to the bottle to create a full bottle of cleaner. The “forever bottles” escape the perpetual cycle of single-use plastic; the one for the hand soap is actually made of glass. The pellets come packed in paper.

So why are these cleaners worthwhile? For one, they actually work. Like, really well. I tested them against all the major brands of the same products I had from the grocery store, and they all worked as well as or better than the store-bought ones. And they last just as long.

The ecologically friendly part of this is that I’m not putting any single-use plastic bottles into landfills when I use Blueland. (And before you advise me to recycle them, obviously I do, but when those cleaning product bottles have residue in them, they end up in landfills anyway.) I encourage you to browse the FAQ and Mission sections on their website to learn more about their products and their company, which was founded by a woman named Sarah who learned about plastic pollution when she became a new mom.

Finally, one further point to consider is that those cleaning products you buy from the grocery store actually contain a lot of water, along with chemicals. Well, I can get water from my sink. Then I drop the plant-based cleaning pellet into that water, and fizz fizz in a few minutes I have a bottle of household cleanser that works really well and costs a lot less than the chemicals I bought at the grocery store. When I run out of cleanser pellets, I just order a refill, and they come packaged in compostable paper, mailed in a recyclable paper envelope. (In fact, all their shipping materials are recyclable.) I don’t even have to order refills that often.

Blueland also makes other products besides the ones I’ve noted here. For example, they make dish soap, toilet cleaners, and laundry detergent, but I haven’t tried those. They also make body wash, which I have tried and which works perfectly well and has extremely mild scents, but it is actually not less expensive than bar soap, so I don’t know that I’ll be continuing with it. (I’ll post more about body washes and soaps another time.) Blueland’s foaming hand soaps, for what it’s worth, have stronger fragrances, many of which I actually find delightful for the most part. (I’m not personally partial to the iris agave, but their seasonal gingerbread was fabulous.) And the hand soap feels good on your skin while also making it feel really clean — a tricky balance to achieve.

So I heartily recommend Blueland’s cleaners! Have you tried them, or another eco-progressive brand? Have you tried any of their other products? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!