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The Art of the Collection: Readings by the Poets of Kate Asche’s 2016-17 Monthly Workshop ~ Monday, October 23 ~ 7:30 p.m. ~ Sacramento Poetry Center

Over a period of eight months in 2016-17, Kate Asche led a group of women poets on a transformational journey into the art of poetry collection-making. These poets (including Kate) collected their poems into chapbook/book manuscripts and shared these collections for extensive workshop feedback, which led to revision across poems through a developing “collection consciousness” as well as revision focused within individual poems. In many cases, new poems also grew out of the workshop feedback. On October 23, join this incredible group of writers at Sacramento Poetry Center to celebrate the challenges, discoveries and triumphs they experienced during this truly one-of-a-kind workshop.

 

KATE ASCHE, M.A., is a writer, teacher, editor and literary community builder working in Sacramento. her first poetry collection, the chapbook Our Day in the Labyrinth, debuted in fall 2015.

 

from “Vestigia (Thursday of Mysteries)”

 

What creature isn’t made from cruel vestiges?

Legless pelvises, sightless eyes, flightless wings—whose traces?

 

I recall my friend, her belly’s grapefruit-sized bundle of teeth and hair.

Some days, faith feels like a vanishing twin, the merest trace.

 

**

 

BETHANIE HUMPHREYS is a writer, editor, mixed media visual artist and curator. Her goal is to further the cross-pollination of the literary and visual arts.

 

From “Cephalopod”

 

I taste what I touch

but I swim headfirst

 

no bones to hinder

I slip in and out of tight spaces

 

**

 

JENNY JIANG spends any free time she can squeeze out of her days to ramble along the American River with the people she loves.

 

From “Rhubarb, Ars Poetica”

 

Although it tastes mostly like pasty goo inside lumpy, pasty flour,

I still carry rhubarb back to California, in baggies in my checked luggage.

 

Because we live in a made world: fields and furrows,

brocaded hallways. We sing the old songs because they sing to us.

 

**

 

HEATHER JUDY is a poet and artist. When pressed to write a 25 word bio, she realized nothing really matters. She sees words in color.

 

You, thirst, dusty dusk, dark

and dawn and dew. Black bird,

black bird, crow, bird. Land

my palm.

 

**

 

LISA LUDDEN is the author of the chapbook Palebound. She is grateful to be reading with these fantastic women poets this evening.

 

From “Tending”

 

In the shift from one to another,

a turn from the body to breath in relief.

 

We are not far from ourselves.

We’re just not sure how to get back.

 

 

**

 

MARIANNE M. PORTER earned an MFA in Creative Writing in 2014. She’s fine-tuning her collection of short stories and enriches her life with poetry.

 

From “Notes from Paula”

 

My mother-in-law loved the shoreline,

named all the birds, fished for king salmon

 

in open water beyond the bend of Monterey

Bay. I found her handwritten notes—

 

**

MARTHA STROMBERGER is a member of the Fall 2017 cohort of the UC Davis Creative Writing Master’s program.

 

And when the wet branches

of her lungs shuddered

and contracted in that first tender

alarm cry at His              absence

 

**

 

BETH SUTER is a Pushcart Prize nominee with pieces forthcoming in Presence and Calyx.  She lives in Davis with her husband and son.

 

From “Ode to the Sacramento Valley”

 

I learned to love yellow to live here

your goldfinches and star thistle

your ten kinds of deer grass

the color of my son’s fawn hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letters from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference 2017

The Napa Valley Writers’ Conference of July 2017 was a fantastic six days of writing, learning, and working (and yes, drinking wine!) in community with dozens of amazing writers. Here, I share a bit of the participant experience, including notes from the poetry craft talks (many of which will be relevant to all genres) and from my time working with Jane Hirshfield. Enjoy! ~Kate

**

 

Sunday, July 23

 

Hello, Friend!

 

I left Sacramento at noon today, and my car said it was already 102 degrees and climbing! What a relief that I get to beat this heat—and leave behind and incredibly exciting but also stressful season of change and opportunity at my day job—and give myself this gift of deep time with my writing practice and with other practitioners. I know you, too, experience how challenging it is to disengage from commitments, from central relationships (my wonderfully supportive husband, a full-time student right now, will fend for himself to give me this time) and even from healthful habits (bye bye, running and yoga, this week!) to give yourself dedicated space-time for intensive creation. So I don’t have to tell you that I’m pretty burned out from all the preparation needed to get myself here, and I’m feeling amped up: partly anxious, partly excited, partly exhausted.

 

My first stop as I drove north up the Napa Valley was my community housing location. As an (extremely) grateful fellowship recipient, I was assigned “a room of my own” in a simple, beautiful home in the hills northwest of Napa. Henni and Lee, my hosts, welcomed me with warmth and interest in poetry and in my particular practice of it, as I gave them a copy of my chapbook and some delicacies from my local farmer’s market—and then moved into their guestroom for the week! (Side note—this year at Napa, a huge percentage of participants received some kind of support, well over half, if my memory serves. That is AMAZING and speaks to the incredible community this conference has built over the decades since its founding!)

 

Next stop was Orientation at the Upper Valley Campus of Napa Valley Community College in Saint Helena. This tiny campus—just a few classrooms, a small library, and a culinary arts building—is the perfect size for the conference. At the orientation, we met and heard a bit from each person on the incredible conference team. We met briefly with our workshop groups, and the poetry workshop participants received a model poem and the first of our daily assignments. Unfortunately, Jane couldn’t join us for the first meeting, as she was still recovering from a bug she picked up on a recent trip, but we looked forward to meeting her in the morning. Then, it was off to the welcome reception and our first glasses of the week’s many delicious wines, followed by the first of our meals prepared at the culinary school. The evening finished off with readings by Ada Limón and Daniel Orozco on the lawn.

Ada Limon in the opening night reading.

I arrived back at my homestay around 10:00 p.m. My hosts had recently returned from a dinner party and we talked a bit about our evenings and a little more about poetry—and then I finally sat down to do my homework! This room, formerly belonging to my hosts’ daughter, is made for a writer. It contains an amazingly comfortable bed, a sturdy chair, a big white desk fitted perfectly into its nook, and excellent lighting. I set up my laptop and printer (I brought my own, because poetry workshops have a hard manuscript deadline of 8:55 a.m. each morning, and I don’t want to have to wait in line at the computer lab) and got to work.

 

A peach, a poem and a prompt–day one homework!

 

I came to Napa with a few different poem ideas in mind, and the first daily prompt connected to one of these, so I got to work drafting an occasional poem about the closing of Tomich Orchards in Orangevale, CA, where I’ve bought stone fruit and figs for seventeen summers of the 120 they’ve been around. It’s 1:00 a.m. now, and I had something that looks poem-y enough, so I’m calling it a day and collapsing into bed. Thankfully, the hills around my homestay are quiet, save the occasional crunching of leaves by deer as they make their way from yard to yard, munching in the dark.

 

Farewell for now,

Kate

**

 

Monday, July 24

 

Dear One,

 

Morning comes earlier here than it does back home—at 6:30, I got myself up, but was moving so slowly that I had to skip showering (good thing the Napa evening was deliciously cool!). I ate some nectarines, yogurt and muesli I’d brought from home. I *know* I am not a morning person, and I wasn’t sure I’d have time to grab a bite before dropping off my manuscript at 8:55 a.m. (for copying for the class) and running to the 9:00 a.m. poetry craft talk. The snacks from home were a good move—I made it to everything, but just in time!

 

The Napa Valley Writers’ Conference has the wonderful tradition of daily poetry and fiction craft talks. These last one hour and offer a luxuriously detailed glimpse into a particular aspect of craft in each respective genre—and into the particular thinking of each faculty member.

 

Jane Hirshfield gave the first craft talk of the week, called “It Is Solved by Walking.” I’ll share with you now, in a series of single lines in italics (to indicate my paraphrase of Jane’s words), the moments from this talk that continue to most resonate with me.

 

The important thing is there be a question whose answer is not simple, direct or single.

 

To say “I bless” is to bless, is to have blessings to give, for the poem’s duration.

 

Poems create time and space that their own experience and the reader’s are able to walk through.

 

Walk, as travel, as path, as simplified intention.

 

The act of pilgrimages tests faith even as it reaffirms it.

 

Homeleaving turns the person toward the possible and the accidental.

 

Art changes the seen to the witnessed.

 

Jane’s talk, as you can see from the bones of it here, was gorgeous and inspiring! And we walked (Ha! That pun was accidental, and apt!) directly from it into our first class meeting, in which Jane welcomed us and urged us to “Experiment, risk, and surprise yourself with the work of the daily poems. Enjoy your own creative vastness.” Yes, please!

 

And from that exhilarating exhortation, we jumped into the poems each of us had drafted the night before, hearing each read aloud by its writer, echoing back existing strengths, and then offering questions, confusions and some suggestions, and jotting notes all the while.

 

One note I made was from a classmate, who shared her practice of keeping a “word palette”—lists of words that she likes, for various reasons (sound, visual appeal on the page, etc.). This practice allows her to see how her tastes, interests and obsessions evolve over time. This idea seems fascinating to me. It’s something I’ve done in my head (the lists, therefore, being very short!) for years, but the idea of writing it down never occurred to me. I want to try it!

 

Jane created an extremely supportive yet rigorous workshop space from the start. It was fantastic! At the end of todays’ class, we received an intricate prompt involving a series of self-generated lists, with the rule that we must write a poem that includes one item from each of the thirteen lists—yikes! I left class feeling pretty intimidated. I’d already written the poem I’d felt burning hottest inside me. Where would I find the same energy for another, so soon?

 

From class, we all made our way across the courtyard to the culinary school, where we picked up our plated lunches, and then seated ourselves with new workshop friends. Lunch gets eaten pretty quickly at Napa, because many participants in both genres try to make the fiction panels, too, and these follow immediately after lunch. I decided before arriving that I would not try to make these panels. I have learned in the last few years that I need to protect my time for sleep, so I committed to skipping the fiction panels (which I hear are excellent) to make time for socializing and working on my poems.

 

After lunch ended, I looked around, hoping to find folks to join in conversation, but the courtyard and lawn were empty! At first, the very extroverted part of me was disappointed. I wanted to make friends and network! With no one to talk to—everyone was either at the fiction panel, or holed up somewhere writing tomorrow’s poem or finishing last-minute fiction critiques—and not wanting to waste twenty five minutes driving back to my homestay, just to have to commute back to Saint Helena again for the evening reading, I selected one of the empty, shaded Adirondack chairs at the far end of the lawn. A few other conferees, including Ryan, one of my classmates, sat among them, quietly working. I settled in for an afternoon of writing.

 

That is, I tried to settle in. It took a few minutes for me to switch gears from my extroverted, networking “conference” self to my more inward, poem-drafting self, but once I had, I began to taste the full flavor of this conference, from the poets’ perspective: Those of us working on the lawn chairs maintained a respectful, collaborative silence. The wifi was intermittent and, thus, another distraction easily eliminated. I turned my phone to silent and dropped it, face down, into my bag. The temperate, breezy afternoon unfurled before me. I wrote.

 

For three hours, I wrote. And I got a decent draft! It was overtly political (among other things)—a way of being I shy away from in my poems as well as my life, and in which I feel unpracticed. It incorporated the second of three poem ideas I’d brought with me. I felt tired but also very satisfied after writing it—I had risked something, as Jane has asked us to.

 

I packed up and joined many of the conferees and community members at Gott’s Roadside for the evening’s “Dine and Donate” event, where the food, the milkshakes, the cool breeze and the writerly company made for a golden light-rimmed meal at redwood-stained picnic tables on the deep green lawn.

 

From Gott’s we ambled across the street to the first of our off-campus readings, in a barrel room at Merryvale Vineyards, one of Napa’s oldest continuously producing wineries. We sipped the very fine wines as we enjoyed readings by Eavan Boland and ZZ Packer.

Pre-reading tasting at Merryvale, with workshop-mates Wendy and Ryan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waaaay down there at the end of the barrel room: Eavan Boland reads at Merryvale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, I arrived home around 10:00 pm, and this time, I printed my poem, packed my bag for the morning, and went straight to bed!

 

Buonanotte,

Kate

**

 

Tuesday, July 25

 

My Dear Friend,

 

I awoke feeling pretty good today, which is a major achievement for me when I’m sleeping away from home. (Another reason it’s so hard—and so important—for to make space for experiences like this one, so that I don’t become too afraid of the limits of my body and opt out of the challenges and rewards of intensive experiences like this.)

 

I’d printed my daily poem before going to sleep, and packed my bag, and I lucked out with a decent hair day, so I skipped showering (again), chatted with my hosts for a few moments over tea and then arrived on campus with time to turn in my poem and enjoy breakfast before gathering for Matthew Zapruder’s craft talk.

 

Matthew’s talk was super practical. He spoke for about twenty minutes about his own practices, and then provided a series of (often quite elaborate) exercises for generating material.

 

Some helpful takeaways from Matthew’s talk included the idea that generating material and drafting a poem are sometimes the same thing, but often (for Matthew and many writers) two separate processes. Along with this idea came the idea of getting comfortable with waste. I think a lot of us writers who have many mandatory commitments in our lives—day job(s), partner/spouse, kids, care for elders, health issues, etc. etc. etc.—feel deeply pressured to make every little thing we jot in our notebooks (if we even have notebooks) “good.” Matthews talk went a long way in freeing me from this unhelpful self-pressure and allowing me to get more comfortable with the idea that “wasted” effort—jottings, notes, even full poem drafts that “don’t make it” finally into a poem—is not wasted at all, but is in fact a critical part of the process, and an essential way that we can keep our minds in training, all the time, primed for image, metaphor, symbol and other key forms of association that turn notes into a fully expressed poem. In Matthew’s view, a key strategy for generating lots of material is to work with (sometimes quite elaborate) exercises that over-occupy the conscious mind so that the less conscious, the un-self-conscious, the un-self-critical minds can come out and play.

 

I left Matthew’s talk inspired to write more and to waste more in my practice. Of course, at Napa, having to generate one poem a day kind of counters this idea of allowing for waste—to me, it feels like there is more pressure here than ever to make every word count! I do hope to try out Matthew’s exercises…at home.

 

After the craft talk we headed to class and continued to explore each other’s drafts. A key point from Jane in today’s class was that poems need to go beyond the personal. “We want readers’ experiences,” said Jane, “to leap, and not sag, when it comes to ethics. Poems need to take their full moral authority.” Jane also said “When we are wrung by life, we speak truth.”

 

As class ended today, I actually looked forward to the quiet time that would follow lunch. I sensed this meant I had fully clicked in to the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference culture—and this thought made me smile! Ryan also headed for the Adirondacks after lunch—already, this having become what we do—and along with several of the same few other conferees, we scribbled, stared into space, typed and mumbled to ourselves through the shady afternoon.

My writing spot for the week.

 

At 4:00 p.m., Ryan and I packed up and headed down the highway a bit, to Tra Vigne, a fantastic pizza place I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying once before, to meet up with two other classmates, Wendy and Elizabeth. There, we shared a bit more about ourselves and swapped intel on poetry podcasts, other conferences, and on the book projects we’re all at work on.

 

Tonight’s readings by Jane Hirshfield and Peter Ho Davies were held at Robert Mondavi Winery, a key Napa institution and long-time supporter of the conference. I was delighted to connect with writer-friends from home at the reading: Valerie Fiorvanti and Jen Palmares Meadows came to enjoy the event (Valerie has hosted Peter Ho Davies in several Sacramento literary programs throughout recent years), so I got to catch up with them—so much easier done at the conference than at home, sadly, because we are all so busy! The other fun surprise was the arrival of my friend and mentor, Sacramento Poet Laureate Indigo Moor, a Napa Valley Writers’ Conference alumnus, who was invited to give the introduction for Jane’s reading (and a very fine introduction it was!). Jane’s reading was lovely, including work from her most recent book, The Beauty, as well as new work. Peter’s reading was super strong, too—and quite atmospheric, as the power went out all around the valley for a good twenty minutes of it, and we all created the most wonderfully hushed space in which for him to read, unplugged, as sunset light streamed through the glass ceiling.

Jane Hirshfield reads from her newest collection of poems, The Beauty, in a truly beautiful place.

 

Unexpected company! Valerie Fioravanti and Jen Palmares Meadows came over from Sacramento for the Jane Hirshfield-Peter Ho Davies reading.

 

And more riches: After the reading ended, Valerie, Jen, and Napa Valley Writers’ Conference Fiction Director Lakin Khan and I met up at a bistro down the highway to enjoy candlelit coffee and dessert, and talk about the news in our lives as writers and people. I first met Lakin though Valerie several years ago, I can’t remember where, and we’ve kept in touch at various Associated Writing Programs (AWP) annual conferences.

 

And when I arrived home, one of my hosts, Lee, had left a clipping from the New York Times Book Review, a review of Adam Zagajewski’s Slight Exaggeration, with a note on it asking me question about how poems work. I look forward to replying in writing. How delightful to begin this correspondence with my hosts!

 

What deeply relaxing ways to end a fantastic day!

 

Er, not quite end it. Because you-know-who still had to print out her poem for the morning. And that, dear one, was my downfall.

 

Because I’d jumped off my no-caffeine wagon and had a decaf cappuccino, and it had energized me a bit, and because of course I couldn’t print my draft without giving it one last read—and make just this one little nip, which led to a tuck, and pretty soon it was 1:20 a.m. (says the file time stamp on my hard drive, to prove it!) and I was finally printing it, having revised it through four versions *and* become inspired and revised two other existing poems in the meantime.

 

This, my friend, is what the poetry experience at Napa is all about: diving deeply into your drafting practice, so deeply that you begin encountering answers to questions about other, existing poems you didn’t know you had, and you begin knowing what to do with those answers, and—gift of all gifts—you have the time to go and do it.

 

So I am going to bed, finally, at 2:00 a.m. I know it will hurt when I wake up—I know it will be a good hurt, a hurt I’ll remember and thirst for, once back in my “real” life.

 

Ciao for now,

Kate

**

 

Wednesday, July 26

 

Hi Again—

 

Today, I woke up groggy and stiff—from the late hours, and also from doing so much sitting, even more than I do during my normal work-a-day life. Even though I went to bed really late, I set my alarm a bit early and made time for thirty minutes of yoga on the deck at the house. A thin fog still wove through low points in the valley, but on the deck, morning sun warmed my muscles and helped me find more energy.

 

Once on campus, having just made the manuscript deadline, I beelined for the breakfast buffet, stuffed a couple of pastries in a napkin and shoved them into my bag for later, and then found a seat in Eavan Boland’s craft talk, “Using Images in a Poem.” The talk, which I found quite fascinating, actually was more about using images to build figures than simply creating images. Here are my notes:

 

According to Eavan, modern poetry has undergone a fundamental shift in speaking consciousness, away from the “we” of the poetry of millennia to the contemporary “I.” She says that when the “we” was lost, the “I” had to begin carrying much more. Eavan believes this shift has affected how images are constructed and used. And here she comes to a point that is quite illuminating for me: Eavan suggests that simile and metaphor are not merely subtypes of the same category (metaphor) differentiated simply by their syntactical construction (the math here is mine: simile = x is like y, whereas metaphor = x is y). Rather, simile is (quoting Eavan here) “an agreed comparison (which can contain contrast) based on shared context that is descriptive of existing meaning.” Historically, Eavan notes, simile comes from epic literature and is “based on the consensus of common sense of what could be perceived, and used to describe the unperceivable.” Metaphor differs, in that it is “a revealed comparison. When we leave the poem, it is gone. It is organic to the situation and revelatory of it. It generates new meaning.” I left the craft talk with a whole new sense of nuance within simile and metaphor, and ready to test these theories in my own work!

 

From this heady conversation, we went straight to workshop to share our newest poems. I loved the way Jane described strong poems in class today as having “the tension of a flag pulled by wind. Some waysshe suggested we can more our poems into greater tension are by avoiding “thinky grammar” or prose-y-ness, taking mental gestures out, and by removing “damnable expletives” (someone else’s quote, but I didn’t write down whose) like forms of “it is,” i.e. aspects of reality or image that can be contained within stronger verbs and nouns.

 

As class ended, I texted a longtime friend of mine who lives in Napa, a poet and essayist I don’t get to see much these days. She is busy creating a life of enrichment and exploration for her toddler son, and I am busy supporting my creative practice and my husband’s full time degree work through my jobs. Happily, she and her son were able to meet me on the lawn at campus for a picnic lunch. Between frisbee throws and moments in contemplation of garbage trucks, my friend and I caught up on our lives and literary interests.

 

But of course, I had more homework to do, so as the visit ended, I found a quiet corner in the library to work on my daily poem, the afternoon having grown warm and my shoulders having grown a bit pink from kid time in the sun. I had arranged to meet classmates for dinner before the evening reading, but I got caught up in my work and left campus later than planned. Traffic was pretty bad, so I ended up grabbing a sandwich for dinner solo. I used this time to complete a thank-you letter to the donors who funded my fellowship (big name people—I was surprised and honored to receive their support).

 

Soon, it was time to find my way to Pine Ridge Winery, for readings by Matthew Zapruder and Lan Samantha Chang. Pine Ridge was beautiful! A smaller winery (by Napa standards), tucked up against one of Napa’s characteristic tiny hills along Silverado Trail, it boasts an intricate web of wine caves tunneled into the hill. The reading was hosted deep in one of these—with a fault line purportedly visible in the rock of one of the walls! We all said our various prayers at that moment, you bet! It was one of the most dramatic settings for a reading I’ve ever seen, and the readers certainly rose to the occasion.

Matthew Zapruder reads in the uber-dramatic wine caves at Pine Ridge.

 

Another thing I liked about Pine Ridge is that it is five minutes away from my homestay! So I was able to get home quickly and finish another draft for class before it got too late. I wrote a thank-you card to my hosts and then replied to Lee with a note on the Zagajewski book review and propped it on the kitchen table, where he will see it tomorrow morning. And though it’s “only” 11:30 tonight, I am fading fast and ready for sleep.

 

Until tomorrow,

Kate

 

I became pen-pals with my host Lee for the week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**

 

Thursday, July 27

 

Hello, Fellow Word Artist:

 

As if things could get any better—today is my birthday! And I don’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else. Contented presence…a wonderful present!

 

Ada Limón’s craft talk this morning was the last of the four. (I can’t believe this week is almost over already!). Ada’s talk was titled “On Duende and the Ladder: Mystery and Hope in Poetry.” It was fantastic! Even Jane told Ada it was the best talk of the four, and while I am not sure about that—they were all excellent—Ada’s was definitely the clearest, and the perfect tone to end on.

 

Ada said that “poetry is spoken by a body that is both living and dying.” She wants poems to contain both of these energies. She reviewed Federico García Lorca’s concept of duende, noting that poems containing this energy are aware of death, point earthward/are earthy in their content, embrace the irrational/the magical/surprise, and are driven by some kind of obsession, e.g. the “diabolical” (another of Lorca’s words) and struggle.

 

Ada went on to pair the duende with the concept of the ladder out, e.g. toward hope. Aspects of the ladder include: the desire for poetry to be a place for radical hope; poetry that acknowledges death while still celebrating life; poetry that practices presence and gratitude; and poetry as a place in which pain transforms. Ada wondered if a lyric poem can offer hope and/or duende without an autobiographical narrative? And finally, can a poem be energized by the duende while also offering hope?

 

Ada went on to explore these dual/dueling energies through several perfectly illustrative examples by contemporary poets. In one, the idea arose that the act of writing itself can be the ladder’s energy. Of another example, Ada said she’d heard the poet Marie Howe say, “If you want to figure out what your poem’s trying to do, put in the words ‘I want.’” Of another example, Ada noted that writing in form can create something like a duende-esque, “diabolical” struggle with the form itself. Ada ended by suggesting that “sometimes poems fail because we aren’t letting the mess in.”

 

Ada ended her talk with a list of ways into playing with the duende and the ladder. We all left Ada’s talk totally inspired to duke it out with, and within, our work!

 

We settled into workshop once again. Today, one of our class poems prompted Jane to give a lovely condensed talk on the haibun form, a Japanese form I play with periodically in my practice that combines both haiku and prose. Jane also spoke about parataxis (the placing of clauses or phrases one after another, without words to indicate coordination or subordination) and how this form of syntax powerfully signals pain, e.g. I can barely say these few words and then must stop.

 

Class ended, and after lunch, I got to enjoy a key moment of the conference: My one-on-one meeting with Jane Hirshfield. I had brought two questions to ask Jane, and a poem for her to look at.

 

First, I asked a question that will help me finish the book list for my 2017-18 monthly poetry workshop: What are the best poetry craft and criticism books by women writers?

 

Jane and I generated this list together: Addonizio and Laux’s The Poet’s Companion (which I read as an undergrad and was so inspired by) and Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook, as well as Louise Gluck’s essays Proofs and Theories (I’ve skimmed it an it’s an interesting mishmash of personal essays on the writing life and process plus critical pieces on specific poets), Marianne Moore’s Collected Prose, Virginia Woolf’s essays, Eavan Boland’s two co-written books with Norton (The Making of a Poem, on forms, and The Making of a Sonnet; I have both and like them). Independently, I also discoverd Mary Kinzie’s A Poet’s Guide to Poetry (quite professorial in tone, but very smart and contains some points I haven’t discovered anywhere else). There are also Ellen Bryant Voigt’s The Flexible Lyric, which I personally found hard to connect with, and her Graywolf Art of series contribution, The Art of Syntax, which I find a bit more accessible. An anthology that has some good short pieces by women writers is Beyond Confession. I also like portions of Lyn Hejinian’s The Language of Inquiry.

 

I also asked Jane who she believes are the most under-read important contemporary women poets. Her response to that includes, in no particular order, Marie Howe, Jean Valentine, Wisława Szymborska, Kay Ryan, Linda Gregg, Linda Gregerson—and with that we got on “Linda” loop including my additions of Linda Bierds as well as Lynda Hull, and then Jane also mentioned Linda Pastan. Jane also mentioned Dorianne Laux as a poet whose work has gone through lots of evolution over time.

 

Many of these books and authors will make appearances in my 2017-18 poetry workshop!

 

Then, Jane and I briefly line-edited my day’s draft poem together. It was an amazing learning experience! She helped me see how the poem’s title could do more of the scene-setting work, and how this would allow the poem to start in a more image-oriented, musically rich place. She helped me see how, in places where the rhythm was forced or faltering, the movement of thought also faltered. And she saw right away how much I continued to struggle with the ending, and observed quite correctly that part of this struggle was a sense and syntax I’d arrived at that (totally unconsciously on my part) closely echoed the ending of William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming”—a poem I haven’t read in at least a dozen years! It was startling to see how I had so internalized that moment of music that it felt like my own, and how it was this attachment that me down a path to an ending that did not satisfy the demands of the poem. Jane helped me see with greater clarity the moral center of the poem and proposed cuts, changes in rhetorical moves, and even more specific imagery to help drive the poem deeper into its anxiety and questioning. I left elated!

 

With Jane’s comments still fresh in my mind, I settled one more time into the lawn chairs, and later into the library, to work on my final homework poem of the conference, trying to get it to a place where I could feel comfortable (enough) reading it later tonight, at the open mic. The reading comes with a strict two-minute limit. I timed my poem, and it just fit. Great!

Community night with workshop-mates Peg, Wendy, Elizabeth and Sara.

But first, it was time for the annual Community Night reception and dinner. This annual event brings community housing hosts, donors, former conference staff and other supporters of the program together with the conferees to connect around the literary arts. I was so happy my hosts, Henni and Lee, were able to attend! During the reception, I met many other community members, including a former dean of Napa Valley Community College and her artist husband, and was so impressed by the breadth of the generosity, and the depth of connection, this conference enjoys within the community—and how much it gives back. For example, since the evening readings are open to the public, the conference offers daily talks on that night’s authors at the local library. The Napa Valley chapter of the California Writers’ Club has a table at the conference. And Readers’ Books in Sonoma trucks books all around the valley, to different locations every day, making sure we all can access the very best among the works of the conference faculty and more.

Group dinner with Jane!

Group dinner with Jane!

At Jane’s request, our workshop group shared dinner together, which was a highlight of the conference for me. It was wonderful to feel the energy of all of us together in a space outside the workshop room, in a different way of relating.

My delightful homestay hosts.

Soon after dinner, the evening’s reading began out on the lawn. Lakin Khan celebrated the end of her tenure as fiction director by reading a delightful smorgasbord of her recent work across genres. Then the open mic began, and I did read the piece I worked on this afternoon with Jane. But because I took a moment beforehand to thank the conference community for a wonderful week—and a perfect birthday!—my poem ran slightly over and I had to rush the end. Drat! Even so, it felt good to read something so rough in front of a huge group of community members, peers and faculty. I haven’t done that in a long time!

My very own self, reading very fresh, still in-progress work at the open mic.

 

It was a gorgeous night for the community dinner and open mic!

 

When I arrived home I saw that, Lee, my host, received my reply on the review, and has written me back on a sheet of lined yellow legal paper. I’ll reply tomorrow—I have to finish my final poem of the week first!

 

So for now, I must bid goodnight,

Kate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**

Friday, July 28

 

Good Morning, Friend,

 

I am worn out! In finishing my workshop poem, I again became inspired to revise several more—and decided, since it was the final night, I’d just go for it. I stayed up until almost 2:00! Thankfully, my incredible hosts have agreed to let me come back for my things after the conference ends at lunch time.

 

I made the 8:55 a.m. deadline the final time (phew!) and attended the poetry first books panel. It was exciting to see Phyllis Meshulam, one of my classmates, featured on the panel for her book that came out the week before the conference! Another panelist, Marcene Gandolfo, is a Sacramento native, and a third, Eric Sneathen, is a fellow UC Davis Creative Writing Program alum. Good times!

 

From the first books panels, we made our way to our final workshop meeting, where we shared a final round of poems and then enjoyed open Q&A with Jane. Our group then exchanged contact info and shared lunch, and—just like that—it was all over. We hugged and said goodbye and began our drives down the valley.

 

I made my way back to my homestay, packed my things, and said one more thank you and farewell to Lee, who had just arrived home from a charity golf tournament.

 

I got in the car and quickly found myself back in my other life, my usual life: sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-80 in triple digit heat! But I felt inside me more space than I arrived with, and in this space—which felt shady and green, lit by the light of the musing I did on the Adirondack—I found a new level of commitment to my work as poet, both on the page in the world.

 

Much love,

Kate

**

 

August 20, 2017

 

Hello Again, My Friend!

Lee’s reply, part of our impromptu exchange of notes during the week.

It’s been so busy since I returned that I haven’t had a chance to send my final reply to Lee until now. So this post-script, or sorts, is addressed to Lee.

 

Lee, to your comment that poetry must start from “an initial essence, an initial appeal, and then one can go from there,” my response is: I think we are saying the same thing! For me, the initial essence or appeal is the possibility the writing and reading of poetry afford me to live more deeply. Sometimes a question or situation that continues to hold mystery, longing or pain for me prompts me to write a poem. Sometimes I give myself a prompt or exercise that helps me find my way to such a question or situation through the act of writing. And when I read the work of others, I read to find myself within mysteries I hadn’t conscious known, or known in a particular way. For me, the appeal is in the opportunity to experience more, know more, feel more of what it is to be human here on earth, now and through time. I find that writing and reading toward more and different expressions of what being human is leads me—often against my prideful individual will and in the face of my compelling individual fears!—toward a more humane way of living, which is, for me, another way of saying that poetry leads me toward grace.

 

This is one of the great paradoxes of art: The further we creators travel inward through our work to find and explore the memories, visions and questions that pursue us, the closer we come to touching the experiences of others. We meet others, and others meet us, in the intimate, communal space our poem, our story, our artwork creates. I can’t remember when exactly this good and oft-made point was offered during the conference (I think it may have been in one of the workshop sessions with Jane, or in comments at one of the poetry craft talks, but I have no notes, only the memory), but it was made: The transformation of personal experience or questioning into art, e.g. a public experience, is always political, and even more so when the transformation occurs in the context of oppression, both overt and denied. Our burden to seek and speak truth is as heavy as ever in this moment.

 

And with these thoughts, my unforgettable week at Napa truly draws to a close. I look forward to attending again one day!

 

To all my workshop mates, to the conference staff, to the donors, to my hosts Henni and Lee, and especially to Jane: Thank you for a most exhilarating, challenging, and inspiring week!

 

Yours in writing,

Kate

 

 

 

 

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Meet Guest Writer April Ossmann, in Conversation with Kate Asche

April Ossmann is Kate’s next Guest Writer–joining us on April 22 at 1:30 p.m. at Kate’s J Street writing loft in Sacramento!

Come to this free reading, Q&A and potluck book signing reception (bring your book money!). R.S.V.P to kate (at) kateasche (dot) com to receive address and parking information. Folks with first name with starting letter A-M please bring a snack to share, N-Z a beverage to share; servings for 6-8 will be great. (Can’t make it on April 22? Have no fear–you can catch April at Sacramento Poetry Center’s regular Monday readings on April 24. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for reading at 7:30 p.m. at 25th and R Streets in Midtown Sacramento.)

This interview is Part II in a two-part series presented in conjunction with SPC’s Poetry Now. This part focuses on craft. To read Part I, in which Kate talks with April about her new poetry collection, visit Poetry Now.

April Ossmann is the author of Event Boundaries (Four Way Books, 2017), and Anxious Music (FWB), recipient of a 2013 Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant, and former executive director of Alice James Books. She is an independent editor (poetry, essays, reviews) and a faculty editor for the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Sierra Nevada College. Learn more at www.aprilossmann.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: How long have you actively been working with Event Boundaries as a collection? How many drafts has the book gone through as a whole? What poem(s) in the book went through the most drafts individually, and how many were those?

A: For the eight years between signing the book contract for Anxious Music and submitting the manuscript for Event Boundaries, I was writing new poems toward my second, as-yet-to-be-firmly-titled, second collection, but I also included earlier poems which fit thematically and stylistically with Event Boundaries. “Stubborn” fit thematically, but not stylistically, because I wrote it so long ago that my style had changed. I revised and revised until it fit…I’m not sure how many drafts it went through, but I’d guess at least twenty, as I worked to tighten and pare the language to match my current, more streamlined idiom.

I’d guess that I took the manuscript as a whole through around ten drafts, with increasingly minor revisions as I progressed. Before I submitted the manuscript for consideration at Four Way Books, I asked Kevin Goodan, a good friend and colleague, for criticism, and revised accordingly. I revised again, after receiving editorial suggestions from my editor and publisher, Martha Rhodes. They are both wonderful editors and poets, and I remain grateful for their assistance.

 

Q: “Scrim” and “Venture” make a lovely progression, in which “Scrim” comments on the speaker’s desire for wit [“All I ask of wit / is that it stand / between me and mystery, / not like a guard or armor, / more like a screen / against bites and stings”] and then “Venture” enacts the very kind of wit I imagine the speaker desires. This is just one of several mini-series of poems I found within the collection. What techniques for ordering the poems worked best for you as you assembled this particular collection?

A: I talked in the first half of this interview at SPC’s Poetry Now about ordering the poems to reflect my spiritual and emotional growth. I also ordered to interweave subjects, connecting them via shared themes, images, counter-point, argument, evolution―and undermining. When I placed a poem that spoke to a form of certainty, I often followed it with one which undermined it with a form of uncertainty. Following “Scrim” with “Venture,” does the opposite, offering comfort after an abyss―followed by “Stubborn,” which makes fun of surety, followed by…“The Doubt House!”

 

Q: I’m sure there are certain pieces of advice that you give to writers over and over again. What are some of these? Which of these were hardest for you to follow as you worked on this collection? Why were they hardest, and how did you (did you?) ultimately find a way through?

A: Try to eliminate prosiness and improve music by trimming clutter (unnecessary articles, conjunctions, and prepositions); try heightening language, dramatic tension and music, by eliminating unnecessary stage and time direction and explanations, and substituting active verbs for forms of the verb to be. None of this advice is hard for me to follow now in general, but an older poem, “Stubborn,” was challenging to revise, in part because of my emotional attachment to it, which can blind (and deafen) poets to a poem’s weaknesses. You might say the approach I used to solve this was stubbornness! I spent a couple of months revising the poem, but limited myself to short sessions (a few minutes to an hour), waiting a few days to revise again, until it finally fit my current, more streamlined mode. For example, the poem opening went from,

 

“I knew it would be harder what with

the blizzard and all, but didn’t think about it.

You can’t, if you’re going to do a thing. Where”;

 

to,

 

“I know it’ll be hard after the blizzard,

but don’t ponder it. You can’t

if you plan to act. Where would”

 

Q: What new (to you) craft concept or skill did you encounter/develop as you worked on this collection?

A: I wrote many of the poems during my first five years of editing poetry full-time. I discovered, on my first-ever writing retreat, that my first drafts read like my fifth or sixth drafts once did, thanks to that work. If you practice something constantly, you’re bound to get better at it! The most fun craft concept I tried was writing the golden shovel poems, “Celestial Solo, or Divine Funk?” and “Mars Rising.” I highly recommend the form, it’s inspiring, and seems to create direct access to the unconscious contributions I prize.

 

Q: Could you explain the “golden shovel” form?

A: The form was invented by Terrance Hayes, with his poem, “The Golden Shovel” (Lighthead, Penguin Books, 2010), an homage to Gwendolyn Brooks, which borrows her poem “We Real Cool,” in its entirety and incorporates it in the new poem. To write a “Golden Shovel” poem, find a short poem by Gwendolyn Brooks (or any poet) and lay it out vertically on the right margin of the page, so that the last word of each line in the new poem is the next word of the quoted poem (be sure to credit the poet). I used a variation of the form for my poems, borrowing a line from a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, and placing the borrowed line vertically on the right margin of the poem, so that the last word of each line in the my poem is the next word of Brooks’ quoted line.

 

Q: What has your work with this collection taught you about yourself as a person?

A: I learned to follow my advice to poets: keep the faith, and when you can’t, persist as if you still have it when you feel doubt about your skills or getting published.

 

Q: What has been the best thing to come out of the publication of Event Boundaries thus far? This can be a writing thing, a life thing…what has meant the most to you? Or maybe, what has surprised you most?

A: So far, the best thing about publishing Event Boundaries is the opportunity to honor my brother in a public and “permanent” way. I discovered, in an internet search for his name, that the only result was his obituary, which added to my grief. Now, for however far into the future people read the book, his having lived will continue to affect readers.

 

Q: In what way(s) does this collection still feel unfinished or unrealized to you? To put it another way: What haunts you from its pages?

A: I have two very different answers to those two questions. What feels unfinished is my spiritual growth, an ongoing process I expect all my future poems will nurture. What haunts me in the book is my brother’s early death. Writing those poems helped me to navigate my grieving, and reading/sharing them does as well, but I have yet to learn not to regret my―and his―loss.

 

Q: Are you working on a third collection? If yes, is there anything you feel comfortable sharing about it? If no, what is on your desk these days that we can look forward to reading?

A: I’m happy to say I am well into my work on a third collection, whose subjects and themes include prejudice/acceptance, judgment/compassion, and personal responsibility/accountability. In 2017, there seems to be an exponential number of possible causes to champion, and while I’m concerned about many, I find myself most absorbed by how to address prejudice in our society, beginning with self-examination. I was first moved to write about it by news stories of racial prejudice in policing and judicial practices, but I’m considering many kinds, not limited to gender, sexuality, political affiliation and class prejudice…I hope to learn where I most need to evolve, and how to set a better example.

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2017 Spring & Summer Regional Conferences & Etc.

Welcome to the spring installment of my annual regional conferences and workshops list! The permanent (date-less) list lives over at my Resources page, so feel free to bookmark that! I will update with additional events as later-summer and fall dates become available.

I’d also like to note my own new contribution to these options: My first Weekend Retreat! Happening May 6-7 in Sacramento, the retreat offers a local escape into bodily rejuvenation and generation of new work, as we spend time at Asha Urban Baths as well as the workshop table. The theme for this retreat is Body: Presence and Memory. Full details are over on my Workshops page. Enroll today!

See you at one or more of these delightful events!

Kate

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Sierra Poetry Festival

April 1

Nevada County Arts Council presents the Sierra Poetry Festival, bringing together an array of local, national and international poets and performers to kick off National Poetry Month. With a keynote address by California’s Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, the day will be filled with readings, open mics, workshops, discussions, parties and youth voices. Featured poets and presenters include:

Al Young  •  Molly Fisk  •  Kazim Ali  • Genny Lim

Charles Entrekin • Gail Rudd Entrekin •  Kirsten Casey  • Mel Pryor

Jahan Khalighi  •  MK Chavez  •  Eve Bradford  •  Gayle Brandeis

Plus

Gene Berson  • Pablo Frasconi  • Sands Hall

Poetry Out Loud Performances & Youth Slam

Cost: $25-$40, free for students with valid ID

**

Our Life Stories Conference (Alternate website here)

April 22, 1:00-5:00 pm.

The excellent long-standing cross-generational writers conference sponsored by Hart Senior Center and Cosumnes River College.

Cosumnes River College
8401 Center Parkway, Sacramento, CA

Please note special schedule for 10 year anniversary and view speaker info here
Space is limited

**

The Great Capitol Crimes Writing Workshop

April 22

Rancho Cordova, CA

Best-selling thriller author Catherine Coulter will be the keynote speaker at the 2017 Writers’ Workshop presented by Capitol Crimes, the Sacramento-area chapter of Sisters in Crime in Rancho Cordova on Saturday, April 22, 2017.

In addition to her keynote address, Coulter will also present a session on “Clean Writing.” Other presenters are Catriona McPherson (“What Would Paige Turner Do?”), Susan Spann (“Doing Business When You’re a Self-Publisher”), Joy Viray (“DNA – Fact vs. Fiction”), Ace Antonio Hall (“Get the Best Bang for Your Book Blast”), and Gwen Hernandez (Writing Your Way With Scrivener”).

Registration, including a box lunch, is $60 for Capitol Crimes members, $70 for non-members, and $80 for both workshop registration and chapter membership. The registration deadline is Monday, April 17; space is limited.

To register, visit the Capitol Crimes website at www.capitolcrimes.org

**

Sacramento Poetry Center Annual Spring Conference

April 29

See the fabulous workshop leader lineup and registration info soonish at sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

Sacramento Poetry Center at 1719 25th Street
Registration Fee includes access to all three sessions for talks, all readings and lunch
Pay at the door or send check to: SPC 1719 25th Street Sacramento, CA 95816

**

WordSpring at Butte College

April 28 & 29

WordSpring is a creative writing conference put on by a small team of teachers and students who are passionate about writing. The mission is to invigorate the local community of writers, both new and experienced, by allowing everyone to come together while also bringing in professional writers from near and far to share their expertise. This conference is an inspiring experience that leaves attendees refreshed, excited, and newly equipped to write.

Each year the conference features a unique and engaging contest special to that conference–check out the website for more information.

The conference includes a light breakfast and buffet lunch in registration costs. WordSpring is sponsored by the English Department at Butte College and is in part supported by donations from the community and state equity grants. For more information on registration and our sonnet-writing contest email us at wordspring@butte.edu or call Professor Molly Emmons at (530) 895-2935.

**

Gold Rush Writers Conference

May 5-7

View program information and register here.

Come join the Gold Rush Writers Conference at the historic Leger Hotel in picturesque Mokelumne Hill where writing professionals will guide you to a publishing bonanza through a series of panels, specialty talks, workshops and celebrity lectures. Go one-on-one with successful poets, novelists, biographers, memoirists and short story writers. The conference includes a picnic supper in a Victorian garden Friday evening, as well as Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch.

**

SummerWords: The American River College Creative Writing Colloquium

May 25-28, Memorial Day Weekend

View program presenter bios and schedule, and buy your tickets (soonish) here!

Join American River College’s vibrant and accomplished creative writing faculty and local and regional writers and teachers for three days and nights of workshops, panels, and readings featuring a keynote reading by nationally acclaimed writer.  Click the links at the left for more information or click below to purchase tickets. Sponsored by The Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the American River College Foundation.

**

Sacramento Black Book Fair

June 2-3

At the Historic Center of Oak Park

Endorsed and co-sponsored by a huge number of Sacramento individuals and organizations, this 3-day book fair and celebration will include a panel discussion among four featured authors, book signings, talks by each of the featured writers, cultural & food vendors, book discussions with each writer listed in the program (80+), children’s activities, poetry readings, art displays, and much more.

**

Annual Conference on Creative Writing at University of the Pacific

June 23-25

An information packed three-day conference at the University of the Pacific’s beautiful main campus. Details and registration here. Various pricing options available. Literary agents and publishers are available for pitch sessions and help with book manuscripts is available.

Interactive workshops and presentations will cover all aspects and genres of creative writing, from brainstorming techniques to submitting work for publication, writing creative nonfiction articles for publication to writing children’s books, murder mysteries, science fiction, and westerns.

**

Surprise Valley Writers Conference

June 2-6

2017’s program features keynote speaker Pam Houston and writers Ana Maria Spagna, Josh Mohr, Julia Connor and John Shoptaw.

Each day is composed of three-hour writers’ workshops in the morning, ample time for lunch, craft lectures on Thursday and Friday afternoons, a field trip on Saturday. Evening events include a Welcome Reception, Staff Readings, Keynote Speech, Campfire Open Mic, shared meals and community building. We also encourage attendees to write and discover Surprise Valley on your own. Our staff is available to offer suggestions on local sights, drives and adventures.

All workshops and lectures are held in downtown Cedarville.

**

Squaw Valley Community of Writers

Two different sessions, by genre, throughout June, July and August

Portions of the program are open to the public.

The Community of Writers was established in 1969 by novelists Blair Fuller and Oakley Hall, who were both residents of the valley. It was originally staffed by a band of San Francisco writers including David Perlman, Walter Ballenger, Barnaby Conrad and John Leggett, the latter two of whom went on to found, respectively, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and the Napa Valley Writers Conference. The Community of Writers continues to be directed by Brett Jones.

Over the years the community has mounted workshops in Fiction, Nonfiction, Screenwriting, Playwriting, Poetry, and Nature Writing (the Art of the Wild, co-produced by Jack Hicks and University of California at Davis), and Writing the Medical Experience directed by David Watts. Lisa Alvarez and Louis B. Jones now co-direct the Fiction Program and Michael Carlisle directs the nonfiction Program of the Writers Workshop, which were for twenty years directed by Carolyn Doty. Galway Kinnell directed the Poetry Program for 17 years and Robert Hass has directed it since 2004. Diana Fuller directs the Screenwriters Workshop, founded in 1974 by screenwriters Tom Rickman and Gill Dennis.

**

Amherst Writers and Artists Festival of Writing at Pacific School of Religion

One day in July each summer
Pacific School of Religion
1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley

More information here.

presented by Amherst Writers & Artists West, and Pacific School of Religion

Come write with other writers in a supportive environment. The all-day event will feature writing workshops, a reception, and a key note (speaker TBD). With the insight that “everyone is born with creative genius,” Pat Schneider created the AWA method more than thirty years ago to provide a safe, encouraging environment for writing.  The method continues to help people from all walks of life find and appreciate their unique voice.

The Festival is open to all – no experience necessary. Morning and afternoon writing workshops will be led by experienced AWA method-trained workshop facilitators.  Take advantage of many nearby options during the lunch hour, or bring your own lunch and eat on the beautiful PSR campus. A late afternoon reception will offer an opportunity for participants to meet and talk. The Festival will culminate in a keynote speech in Pacific School of Religion’s Bade Museum.

**

Napa Valley Writers’ Conference

July 23-28

2017 Faculty:

  • In poetry – Eavan Boland, Jane Hirshfield, Ada Limón, and Matthew Zapruder
  • In fiction – Lan Samantha Chang, Peter Ho Davies, Daniel Orozco, and ZZ Packer

Since 1981, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference has provided an opportunity for fellowship and serious work with a focus on craft amidst the hills and vineyards that have made the region famous. The conference is a project of Napa Valley College.

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Mendocino Coast Writers Conference

August 3-5

Features nationally-recognized authors and publishing professionals who are outstanding teachers. The conference is limited to 100 participants who will discover: how to develop their literary craft in a supportive community, surrounded by the spectacular scenery and temperate climate of California’s North Coast; a place to exchange ideas with authors, editors, literary agents, and other writers of many talents, ages and backgrounds. Learning happens in workshops, seminars, panels, and during informal social gatherings; inspiration to explore how writing can shape the world. Whatever the genre, whether fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, words are a powerful instrument of change; a place where you can take creative risks, whether on the page or on the stage, and where you will be inspired to explore new ways to shape your writing. An opportunity for teachers to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) through Dominican University.

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Time, Transition, Transformation: Reflections on Teaching and Being Taught

The smallest sand dollar Kate has found--smaller than a dime!

The smallest sand dollar Kate has found–smaller than a dime!

I have been avoiding this blog post. I don’t know why. This is a celebratory post, a post of gratitude for time, transition and transformation.

*

Sometimes the hardest part is finding the first word. Sometimes the hardest part is going inward, or going outward. After so much outward, what I crave right now is inward. This blog post is outward, so I have avoided it. This morning, a taught wire of energy presents itself to me, strung between these two modes of being. I pluck it and it offers a first note.

*

The first note is tattered pipevine swallowtail.

Touch the string in one place and pluck it again: half-eaten green darner, the second note.

The third: honeybee, pollen baskets full.

Found shells of all sorts and sizes, from sand dollars smaller than dimes to clams wide as the span of my hand.

Sea glass and beach rocks.

Salmon bones and teeth.

Bird’s nest.

These are some of the objects that dot the over-full shelves in my writing room, which is where I write now. The way in is where I am.

*

Five years ago, I did not have a writing room. I learned I needed to make this space for myself, and Charlie, my husband, helped me. His office was in the room I wanted, the room I needed, the room with better light and a window that looks out at the street, instead of—like the other spare bedroom—a fence and a wall.

*

Most of the objects that dot my shelves also dot my poems. They more than dot my poems; they are many of my poems.

Charlie found most of these, while out on his long runs along the river, and gave them to me. Or he found them when we were walking together, like the beautiful bird’s nest, which I carried home as it teetered on a large slab of flaking tree bark. The bird’s nest is one of my favorite objects, mostly because of its fragrance, which I note in a poem as a combination of black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla. Who wouldn’t want to circle into its fabric of twigs and bird down and sleep and dream?

*

Dream.

I am living large parts of mine through the many-faceted gift of teaching creative writing in the community. Teaching keeps me reading and learning from the writers who have come before me, so that I can pass along that magic to my students and incorporate it into my own practice (a first gift); also, my students teach me, both to write better and to live in greater wholeness (a second gift). As I lead and am lead by my students, I become my best self in the classroom: deeply present, aware of my thinking, and choosing to be as open and nonjudgmental as I can. As the only one at the table required—by the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) approach in which I work—to share her freshly written drafts, in that space I have the strength to open the doors and windows to my deepest fears and loves, as well as to my odd, obsessive thinking, and see what happens when the warm wind of creative expression gusts in and rearranges old wounds and hopes into new feelings and ideas. Other writers at the table can choose to do the same, and through this we all have the chance to experience respect, witnessing, honoring and healing.

It’s this kind of space we need in which to draft, play with, revise and publish our very best writing. Teaching keeps me creating new work (a third gift), and playing with that work, and revising that work and publishing that work alongside my students (a fourth gift), who are also my first readers, my teammates, my friends.

*

Five years ago this month, I began teaching my first community creative writing workshop in Sacramento. I taught my first workshop out of fear. I never wanted to run my own business. I didn’t think I knew enough, was accomplished enough, to succeed in running workshops on my own.

But the greatest fear of all was that I would not write, or be around writers, anymore if I did not teach.

I had had, for three years, my dream job. I didn’t know it was my dream job until I had it. I was an arts administrator for UC Davis Extension. I spent my days talking with writers, dancers, filmmakers, painters. Together, we created programs. I learned how to structure coursework in the arts, and how to budget and create marketing plans and plan events and evaluate instruction and instructors. I got to learn from amazing writers at The Tomales Bay Workshops, one of our flagship programs, each year at this time, and I also received an employer-paid week of immersion in the AWA method with its founder, Pat Schneider (and later was given leave to attend AWA affiliate training). Once I learned how to do my job, I realized I had stumbled into my dream job, and the knowledge of the precariousness of my finding of it made me soon realize the precariousness of my having it.

I was hired in March 2008, just as the U.S. economy entered major recession. By 2011, UC Davis Extension was cutting a number of programs that had not, or no longer, paid for themselves. The arts programs had run at a significant deficit for their entire thirty-year existence, but times had changed and the organization determined it could no longer justify the loss.

Though, in 2011, UCDE moved me to another position (for which I remain terribly grateful, and still occupy to this day), this position moved me outside of the arts world and into an entirely different part of academia.

In fall 2011, my position converted entirely to the new role. I panicked. My job, I realized, had conveniently provided for me all the writing community and motivation to write that I needed in my life. Where would I find writing community now? How was one to go about structuring a creative life, when one was now working essentially full-time outside the creative world?

The only thought that made my panic diminish was that of offering my own workshop. With a few student contacts I’d made in a couple of courses I taught in the UCDE writing program, I created my first community workshop. It began October 28, 2011, in the (lovely) home of one of the students.

That workshop fed me as it fed my students.

It saved me.

*

Five years of workshops, by the numbers:

  • Eight-week workshops: 25 (5 each year) – plus ad hoc one-day workshops here and there
  • Individual workshop sessions: More than 200 (and I have repeated material in only a handful of these)
  • Hours at the workshop table: More than 500
  • Hours preparing for workshop: More than 500
  • Alumni: More than 100 (plus another 150 or more from special event workshops)
  • Alumni publications: I haven’t formally tracked this, but a quick glance at archived e-newsletters suggests it’s more than two dozen

I look at these numbers and I feel surprised, proud, grateful and—honestly—a little worn out!

*

Charlie has a dream, too. For four and a half years of pre-reqs, volunteering, applications and interviews, he has been preparing to return to school for a second bachelor’s degree. His first was in photography, a career field whose technology has changed at an insanely rapid pace and made those very careers much harder to build, especially in smaller cities. His second will be in medical imaging, a field whose technology is also changing, but at a pace that is (conversely) favorable to those just entering the field. To fulfill this dream, Charlie is letting go (for the time being) of many of his great loves: ultrarunning, the river, art photography, and time with me. He is embracing commuting, distance, mental fatigue, and thousands of hand-made flashcards.

In order to support Charlie by working to create as much space as possible, in our life together, for his schooling and career transition, I too am letting go of things I love. I am taking a six-month sabbatical this fall and winter from teaching my weekly workshops. I am embracing cultivating more responsiveness and flexibility in my life, so that I can care for Charlie, and for myself, more attentively in this different time. I am inviting transformation in my writing workshops (I am offering my first monthly workshop beginning this fall, and look for one- and two-day weekend workshops from me in the winter, as well as increased availability for one-on-one work). I am learning to be in solitude more, something I used to fear in some respects and which I now find that I love (and have been needing for a long time). I am devoting this solitude to evening reading, something I was not able to do for several years as a result of a complex of health issues, and to my writing practice as I work through a deep revision of my book-length poetry manuscript, with the intention of submitting it for publication in the coming months.

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Charlie’s dream, by the numbers:

  • Years of school: 2 (year-round)
  • Estimated miles he will drive: 52,000
  • Estimated hours he will spend in class, in clinicals and studying: 7,000+
  • Bones in the body he will learn to image: All 206 of them

*

Charlie won’t be bringing me objects from the river anymore. Our world is changing. I will have to find new objects and share them with him. Perhaps he will bring me objects from the new paths he is traveling, through classrooms and labs and hospitals. Already he is bringing me intellectual artifacts from his classes in radiation physics and the history of X-ray technology. Together, we are learning a new language for the body, and new ways of living with and loving each other in the midst of change and distance.

*

This fall, I am thrilled to be celebrating this five year milestone, even as my life changes again. Without the commitment of my fellow writers and students, and the love and support of Charlie many others in my family and friend circles, my workshops and this moment would not exist. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring!

Thank you~

Kate and Charlie on a recent adventure.

Kate and Charlie on a recent adventure.

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Kate Launches New Interview Series & Welcomes (on 6/17) Her First Guest Writer

Dear Writers and Readers,

I have embarked on two new projects! The first is an interview project, designed to help us get to know our regional writers and writers who are friends of our region better; interviews will be posted here, at Kate’s Miscellany (the first is below!). The second is a pop-up guest writers series!

Both launch this month as I welcome Kate Carroll de Gutes, whose debut essay collection, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, won the Oregon Book Award for creative nonfiction and is also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award! Read on for (first) the event information, and (second) the first of my new interview series, in which Kate graciously participated!

June 17: Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear: Reading and Q&A with Kate Carroll de Gutes (& Social! & Book Exchange!) ~ FREE

Friday, June 17 at 7 PM – 9 PM

Studio J ~ Midtown, Sacramento (RSVP to receive address and parking info)

Join the Facebook event or email me at kate @ kateasche (dot) com to RSVP and for additional details! The critical info is:

Bring Books to Give Away! Bring Food/Drink to Share! Join Kate Asche as she hosts award-winning creative nonfiction writer Kate Carroll de Gutes for a smorgasboard of literary delights! Appetizer: Potluck munchies and mingling. First Course: de Gutes reads from her debut essay collection, Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. Entree: Who doesn’t love a good Q&A? Ask de Gutes anything you want about writing, process and the writing life! Dessert: Book sales, signing and chatting with the two Kates, writerly fellowship and fun, and…drum roll, please…the *BOOK EXCHANGE*!

Yes, that’s right, step right up and pour your used books, your forgotten books, the books you said you would read and never did, the books you never wanted that people gave you…all these and more, pour them right out on the big table with everyone else’s. Then? Jump in and find some new treasures! All books left behind at the end of the night will be collected by Kate (Asche) and donated to the Friends of the Rancho Cordova Branch of the Sacramento Public Library (Kate’s home branch).

 


 

Meet The Writers of Our Neighborhood: Occasional Interviews with Sacramento Valley Writers (and Writers who are Friends of the Sacramento Valley!)

Using questions developed by a group of Kate’s students, these interviews aim to connect writers at all stages in their practice. The first five questions will always be the same, and the sixth question–a “wild card”–will always be different. In this first interview, Kate (Asche) gets personal with Kate (Carrol DeGutes). Enjoy!

How did you begin writing? 

I’ve always written as a means of self expression.  In fact, I can’t remember not writing.  But I did get an undergrad degree in writing, worked on my college newspaper, and, after graduation, took a job as a feature writer for a Seattle-based magazine.  I took a few years off to work in corporate America (salary won out) and then spent five years in the late 80s and early 90s running my own espresso bar, but even then I continued working on essays. In the mid-90s I began freelancing, writing for the tech industry.  Interestingly enough, I don’t really consider that “real” writing.  I call it “paid work” but it doesn’t feed my soul like essay writing does.  I’ve been doing it 20 years now and I have a great deal of freedom and a nice stable of clients, but it is sucking the life force out of my own creative work, so some time in the next two years I’m planning to transition to a different job.  I’m just not sure *what* that job might be.

Describe your writing process. 

Well, it’s changing.  I used to write in the morning before work, but now I’ve got a new client and I’ve got an early morning meeting 5 days a week–and once I’m at my desk for paid work, it’s very hard to get away.  Now, I’m trying to take time every Saturday and Sunday afternoon to work on writing and at least one evening a week.  It’s working right now because I’m single, but I can imagine this dance would be difficult to do if I had a partner.

What are the easiest and hardest things about writing?

The easiest thing is the writing itself.  Really.  The hardest thing is getting my backside in the chair and doing the writing.  I like to say that I procrasti-clean before writing.  You know, do every single dish, make sure the grout on the counters is clean, sweep and vacuum.  Basically, any way I can procrastinate to keep from writing.  In fact, I’m late getting this to you because I just had to fold some laundry.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Stop trying to hit it out of the park every time you sit down to write.  My friend, the poet David Biespiel, makes an analogy to baseball.  He says, if a player is hitting .356 he’s a star.  What that means is 35% of the time he’s hitting the ball and making a base (and not necessarily even a home run).  But writers, we like to think we should write a “perfect” draft each time we put pen to paper.  But that’s impossible.  You have to write a lot of crap to get to a good draft — and there’s no such thing as perfect, there’s just the latest iteration (h/t to Fred Mills for that one).  So, stop taking yourself so seriously.  Play around.  Practice.  Hit some foul balls. Strike out.  The more you’re willing to do this, the better you’ll get.

What books have you read recently?

I’ve got three books going right now.  Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” which I am loving because it’s full of practical advice on how to be creative in a world that doesn’t necessarily value creativity.  I’m also reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield — again about all the ways we distract ourselves from creating (are you sensing a theme here).  Finally, I’m reading some fiction because everyone needs a good escape: “The Amateur Marriage” by Anne Tyler

Describe your ideal writing day. 

Coffee and the New York Times to wake up my brain.  A few hours of early morning work, then a bike ride and lunch, then a few hours of afternoon reading, finally dinner and then two or three more hours of early evening writing.  I think good writers are always good readers, so I try to make time for that every day and my ideal day would include at least 3 hours of it.

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Writing Conferences and Festivals Are in Bloom!

Writers and lovers of good writing, don’t miss these wonderful upcoming conferences and festivals! I’d like to highlight new additions to my annual listing. These are Writing by Writers at Tomales Bay and at Lake Tahoe (listed at bottom because they are in the fall, but do note spring application deadline for scholarships to Tomales), WordSpring at Butte College, the Sacramento Black Book Fair, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference and the Suprise Valley Writers Conference.

Please note I have also given these listings a permanent home on my website on the Resources page so you can access them anytime!

I can’t wait to see you at one of more of these truly wonderful events for writers and readers. If you know of a conference you’d like to see added, please write me at kate (at) kateasche (dot) com and give me all the details, including the website URL, and I will add it if it seems appropriate (and when I can).

Happy writing this spring!

Love,

Kate

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Our Life Stories Conference
Saturday, April 23, 2016

The excellent long-standing cross-generational writers conference sponsored by Hart Senior Center and Cosumnes River College.

See the wonderful conference schedule and speaker bios here.
8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Cosumnes River College
8401 Center Parkway, Sacramento, CA

Conference Fee Includes morning refreshments, lunch, workshops, and materials
Space is limited

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WordSpring at Butte College

Saturday, April 23, 2016

WordSpring is a creative writing conference put on by a small team of teachers and students who are passionate about writing. The mission is to invigorate the local community of writers, both new and experienced, by allowing everyone to come together while also bringing in professional writers from near and far to share their expertise. This conference is an inspiring experience that leaves attendees refreshed, excited, and newly equipped to write.

Each year the conference features a unique and engaging contest special to that conference–check out the website for more information.

The conference includes a light breakfast and buffet lunch in registration costs. WordSpring is sponsored by the English Department at Butte College and is in part supported by donations from the community and state equity grants. For more information on registration and our sonnet-writing contest email us at wordspring@butte.edu or call Professor Molly Emmons at (530) 895-2935.

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Sacramento Poetry Center Annual Spring Conference

Saturday, April 30, 2016

See the fabulous workshop leader lineup and registration info at sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

The 2016 Annual Writers Conference will be featuring Alexis Levitin, Salgado Maranhão, Susan Gubernat, Kenneth Waldman, Sally Ashton, and Tim Kahl for a set of workshops and lectures from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

This conference is always a good value: This year you may attend for only $30 if you are a member of SPC, or $40 if you are not. Students are welcome for $15. The price of the conference includes an inexpensive box lunch. We prefer cash or check, but credit card transactions might be possible.

A reading by the visiting poets follows the official conference workshops. This reading begins at 3:00 pm and concludes at 4:00 pm. The visiting writers reading is open to the public for an optional donation.

Sacramento Poetry Center at 1719 25th Street
Registration Fee includes access to all three sessions for talks, all readings and lunch
Pay at the door or send check to: SPC 1719 25th Street Sacramento, CA 95816

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Gold Rush Writers Conference

April 29-May 1, 2016

View program information and register here.

Come join the Gold Rush Writers Conference at the historic Leger Hotel in picturesque Mokelumne Hill where writing professionals will guide you to a publishing bonanza through a series of panels, specialty talks, workshops and celebrity lectures. Go one-on-one with successful poets, novelists, biographers, memoirists and short story writers. The conference includes a picnic supper in a Victorian garden Friday evening, as well sa Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch.

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SummerWords: The American River College Creative Writing Colloquium

May 26-29, 2016

View program presenter bios and schedule, and buy your tickets here!

Join American River College’s vibrant and accomplished creative writing faculty and local and regional writers and teachers for three days and nights of workshops, panels, and readings featuring a keynote reading by nationally acclaimed writer.  Click the links at the left for more information or click below to purchase tickets. Sponsored by The Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the American River College Foundation.

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Sacramento Black Book Fair

June 3-5, 2016

At the Historic Center of Oak Park

Endorsed and co-sponsored by a huge number of Sacramento individuals and organizations, this 3-day book fair and celebration will include a panel discussion among four featured authors, book signings, talks by each of the featured writers, cultural & food vendors, book discussions with each writer listed in the program (80+), children’s activities, poetry readings, art displays, and much more.  

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Squaw Valley Community of Writers

Poetry: June 18-25, 2016

Prose: July 25-August 1, 2016

Portions of the program are open to the public.

The Community of Writers was established in 1969 by novelists Blair Fuller and Oakley Hall, who were both residents of the valley. It was originally staffed by a band of San Francisco writers including David Perlman, Walter Ballenger, Barnaby Conrad and John Leggett, the latter two of whom went on to found, respectively, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and the Napa Valley Writers Conference. The Community of Writers continues to be directed by Brett Jones.

Over the years the community has mounted workshops in Fiction, Nonfiction, Screenwriting, Playwriting, Poetry, and Nature Writing (the Art of the Wild, co-produced by Jack Hicks and University of California at Davis), and Writing the Medical Experience directed by David Watts. Lisa Alvarez and Louis B. Jones now co-direct the Fiction Program and Michael Carlisle directs the nonfiction Program of the Writers Workshop, which were for twenty years directed by Carolyn Doty. Galway Kinnell directed the Poetry Program for 17 years and Robert Hass has directed it since 2004. Diana Fuller directs the Screenwriters Workshop, founded in 1974 by screenwriters Tom Rickman and Gill Dennis.

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Annual Conference on Creative Writing at University of the Pacific

June 24-26, 2016

An information packed three-day conference at the University of the Pacific’s beautiful main campus. Details and registration here. Various pricing options available. Literary agents and publishers are available for pitch sessions and help with book manuscripts is available.

Interactive workshops and presentations will cover all aspects and genres of creative writing, from brainstorming techniques to submitting work for publication, writing creative nonfiction articles for publication to writing children’s books, murder mysteries, science fiction, and westerns.

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Amherst Writers and Artists Festival of Writing at Pacific School of Religion

July 16, 2016
Pacific School of Religion
1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley

More information here.

presented by Amherst Writers & Artists West, and Pacific School of Religion

Come write with other writers in a supportive environment. The all-day event will feature writing workshops, a reception, and a key note (speaker TBD). With the insight that “everyone is born with creative genius,” Pat Schneider created the AWA method more than thirty years ago to provide a safe, encouraging environment for writing.  The method continues to help people from all walks of life find and appreciate their unique voice.

The Festival is open to all – no experience necessary. Morning and afternoon writing workshops will be led by experienced AWA method-trained workshop facilitators.  Take advantage of many nearby options during the lunch hour, or bring your own lunch and eat on the beautiful PSR campus. A late afternoon reception will offer an opportunity for participants to meet and talk. The Festival will culminate in a keynote speech in Pacific School of Religion’s Bade Museum.

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Napa Valley Writers’ Conference

July 24-29, 2016

Since 1981, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference has provided an opportunity for fellowship and serious work with a focus on craft amidst the hills and vineyards that have made the region famous. The conference is a project of Napa Valley College.

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Mendocino Coast Writers Conference

August 4-6, 2016

Features nationally-recognized authors and publishing professionals who are outstanding teachers. The conference is limited to 100 participants who will discover: how to develop their literary craft in a supportive community, surrounded by the spectacular scenery and temperate climate of California’s North Coast; a place to exchange ideas with authors, editors, literary agents, and other writers of many talents, ages and backgrounds. Learning happens in workshops, seminars, panels, and during informal social gatherings; inspiration to explore how writing can shape the world. Whatever the genre, whether fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, words are a powerful instrument of change; a place where you can take creative risks, whether on the page or on the stage, and where you will be inspired to explore new ways to shape your writing. An opportunity for teachers to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) through Dominican University.

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Surprise Valley Writers Conference

Setember 15-18, 2016

Each day is composed of three-hour writers’ workshops in the morning, ample time for lunch, craft lectures on Thursday and Friday afternoons, a field trip on Saturday. Evening events include a Welcome Reception, Staff Readings, Keynote Speech, Campfire Open Mic, shared meals and community building. We also encourage attendees to write and discover Surprise Valley on your own. Our staff is available to offer suggestions on local sights, drives and adventures.

All workshops and lectures are held in downtown Cedarville.

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Tahoe WordWave

October 21-23, 2016

WordWave is a free festival held on the shore of South Lake Tahoe at the Tallac Historic Site.

We have gathered some of the most creative and inspiring writers, musicians, and performers from around the country to share their talents at this three-day event. The festival will be interactive, featuring readings, workshops, plays, open mics, guided hikes, and oral storytelling.

Our vision for WordWave is to create an annual cultural event at beautiful Lake Tahoe. Every culture uses story to entertain, educate, preserve history and tradition, and connect. The underlying principle of WordWave is that stories—in song, theater, oral tradition, and books—change lives.

WordWave will provide a venue for locals and visitors alike to share their stories and validate their creativity, an annual gathering where anyone can come, create, and be inspired by our lake.

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Writing By Writers Workshop @ Tomales Bay

October 19-23, 2016

The Writing By Writers Workshop @ Tomales Bay brings aspiring writers into close community with nationally known poets and writers.  Manuscript and poetry workshops are limited to 12 participants and generative workshops are limited to 15 to ensure an intimate setting.  For information on how to apply, please click here.

October each year at Marconi Conference Center, Marshall, California, just north of San Francisco in Marin County.

Scholarships are available and applications for these are due on May 1

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Writing By Writers Boot Camp @ Lake Tahoe

November 11-14, 2016

The Writing By Writers Manuscript Boot Camp is for the writer who has a full book-length manuscript (novel, memoir or short story collection) and would like to engage with a small group for a serious and productive response.  The long weekend will include an intimate full manuscript workshop, craft talks, readings, an agent panel and individual agent meetings – the perfect pre-publication boot camp for any manuscript.  Classes are limited to 5 participants.  Click here to apply.

November each year at Granlibakken Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, California.

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#AWP16 in Los Angeles: Kate’s Events and Advice for First Timers

I am so excited to see many Sacramento Valley writers and friends from the wider region preparing to attend the annual Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Los Angeles March 31-April 2 this year!

Below, you’ll find the list of events in which I am participating (plus some that I am tracking for the common good), and I would love to see you at any/all of these!

And here I offer some thoughts and advice for anyone attending for the first time:

  • AWP is insanely huge. With over 12,00 participants, 800 organizations, 500 panels/readings/craft talks plus countless offsite events (What are those? Read on!), you will feel thrilled, overwhelmed, anxious, excited, happy, sublimely intelligent, utterly stupid, super cool, super un-cool, and–most certainly of all–exhausted and exhilarated during this event (and often all at the same time!). Come ready to embrace the craziness.
  • The key to AWP happiness is to LIMIT YOURSELF. List out everything you want to do–all the panels, all the booths you want to hit, all the offsites (Trust me, read on for these!), all the individuals you want to try to run into, have coffee with, etc. Then cut out half. Then cut out half again. Now you have a list that might be doable without certain death-by-overwhelm! Or, an alternate approach: Spend one day in the book fair, one day wandering the panels, and one day wandering offsites. Or: Just show up and see what seems right in the moment to do, and go with it.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink lots of water. Go easy on the caffeine, and on the alcohol. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The convention center turns into the ninth circle of hell when you blood sugar plummets, your heart races from that “treat” of a quad latte, and/or your brain says “Goodnight! I’m going to sleep now!” after your third Scotch in the conference hotel bar where you have been waiting for an hour to meet [insert famous writer] and express your undying artistic crush. Trust me. I am a chronic over-doer, and events like this just set that part of me spinning at about a milling RPM. Treat your body and nervous system with some intentional TLC and you’ll have so much more fun!
  • Need a place to call home during the conference? You are invited anytime to swing by the Sacramento Poetry Center/Under the Gum Tree booth, number 621, in the Bookfair where you will be greeted with joy. We are all veteran AWP’ers, so come with your embarrassing questions, your victories and defeats, and your fangirl/fanguy freak-out moments. We will be all smiles!
  • The Bookfair: Yes, it’s HUGE! One year, I spent almost the entire conference going table to table–yes, to every single table in the bookfair–to really learn the landscape of literary publishing in the USA today. And I still felt rushed. The Bookfair is a great place to quickly say hi to many of your favorite all star writers, and also to connect in person with orgs that have supported your work. Here are the main strategies for the Bookfair that have worked for me: First, go to the orgs that have published your work recently and thank them again for all they do. Then: (1) Pick an interest and list out/wander and look for orgs that connect with that interest; for two years ago, I went to every org that published chapbooks. Last year, I went to all the poetry publishers that run prestigious first book contests. (2) Visit only the literary journals. I did this three years ago, and it was so helpful in upping my submitting game. (3) Check out your bookshelves. What presses seem to be consistently publishing some of your favorite books? Look for them in the bookfair. Connet. (4) Wander and see who or what catches your eye. 
  • Okay, so, Offsite events: These are where the good times really roll. Both Under the Gum Tree and Sacramento Poetry Center are hosting offsites. See below for details! And see the conference website for listings.
  • Spend an afternoon on the AWP website where you can view the official conference schedule, offsite event listings and download the conference app to your phone. I used the app last year and, while it’s not perfect, I really found it helpful! You can use the schedule on the website or the app to select events into a convenient personal calendar list. In the app, you can make notes about things to remember for when you go to each event. You can also select booths to visit from the list of Bookfair exhibitors and make notes about what to do when you visit them. And, you can add your own to-do’s with notes. You can set calendar alerts, etc. This all–for me, at least–helps combat the overwhelm…

At the end of the day, with AWP, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want out of the conference. Don’t try to do what the trendy things are, because it’s all trendy and it’s all completely not trendy, depending on who you are. Focus less on what you feel you should do and instead on what you want to do. What will bring you the most joy in this short time with many of the best writers, publishers, editors, universities and community organizations in our country today? Answer that question as best you can. And then go, and do!

Okay, here are some of the events I am tracking. I hope to see you at one or more of these!

xoxo until L.A.,

Kate

**

Thursday AM: R139: Join Kate at The Chapbook Across Genres (Moderated by Yours Truly!)

Robert Muroff Bookfair Stage, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One
10:30 am to 11:45 am

Though commonly known as a poetic artifact, the chapbook form enjoys increasing recognition for its presentation of fiction, creative nonfiction, and hybrid works. This panel, composed of independent and university presses and journals, will explore the unique and compelling nature of the chapbook form across genres. What are its advantages and limitations over presenting work as single pieces and as book-length collections? Panelists will share resources for engaging with the chapbook form.
 

Leah Maines is publisher of Finishing Line Press and has edited over 800 poetry collections, including several award-winning titles. Leah is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet, writer, editor and actor. She served as poet in residence for Northern Kentucky University in 2000 (funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities). www.imdb.com/name/nm4558801/. Twitter handle: @leahmaines.

Lawrence Lenhart is the author of the forthcoming collection, ISOLATING TRANSGRESSION: ESSAYS (Outpost 19). His work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, BOAAT, Fourth GenreGuernica, Gulf Coast, HobartPassages North, Prairie Schooner, Terrain.org, Wag’s Revue, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Arizona, teaches fiction and nonfiction at Northern Arizona University, and is a reviews editor and assistant fiction editor of DIAGRAM. His reviews and interviews have appeared at The Rumpus and the Brazos Bookstore Blog. See how he handles things @Law_Is_Len.

Josh Fomon, originally from Iowa City, is currently a political operative in Seattle. His first book Though We Bled Meticulously is hot off the presses with Black Ocean. He is a former editor-in-chief of CutBank and founded CutBank Books.

Panel Moderator Kate Asche’s poetry is forthcoming in Natural Bridge and has appeared in The Missouri Review (audio online) and in Pilgrimage, Bellingham Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Our Day in the Labyrinth, was published by Finishing Line Press in fall 2015. A graduate of the UC Davis creative writing program, she teaches workshops in Sacramento and is associate editor at Under the Gum Tree. www.kateasche.com. Find Kate on Facebook, and on Twitter @KateAsche.

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Thursday PM: 4:30 – 5:00, Kate Signs Books at Sacramento Poetry Center Booth #621

Thank you to Frank Graham for setting this up for many lovely writers! Come by for a chat and check out my Finishing Line Press chapbook, Our Day in the Labyrinth. Here’s the full lineup:

AWP16 SPC book signings

 

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Friday AM: F127. Dry Heat: Sizzling Fiction from Sacramento Valley Writers, Presented by Stories on Stage Sacramento and Davis.

9:00 am to 10:15 am

Room 512, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

Featuring Valerie Fioravanti,  Naomi J. Williams,  Renee Thompson,  Sue Staats,  Elise Winn. Sacramento-area writers turn up the temperature with passages from new work. Stories on Stage Sacramento, now in its seventh successful season, connects and showcases Central Valley writers and inspired the sister series Stories on Stage Davis. Our writers have had work featured on both stages, and are ready to hike up the heat in LA. 

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Thursday Night: Why There Are Words Visits L.A.!

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1084418211608884/

An AWP Offsite Reading sponsored by Why There Are Words! Featured readings by:

Stacy Bierlein, Carmiel Banasky (carmielbanasky.wix.com), Jan M Ellison (www.janellison.com), Meg Howrey (www.meghowrey.com), Gallagher Lawson (gallagherlawson.com), Patrick O’Neil (patrick-oneil.com), Marisa Silver (marisasilver.com), J Ryan Stradal (www.jryanstradal.com). Hosted by Peg Alford Pursell (www.pegalfordpursell.com)

Venue: thecontinentalclub-la.com and http://www.eventup.com/venue/the-continental-club.

More info about this spectacular event at the WTAW website, http://whytherearewords.com/wtaw-goes-to-la-march-2016.

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Friday Night: Join Kate at Under the Gum Tree + Fourth Genre Offsite Reading

Friday, April 1 at 6 PM – 7:30 PM at Bonaventure Brewing – Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/678685065568376/

Join Under the Gum Tree and Fourth Genre for a rooftop garden happy hour of telling true stories. Both magazines, publishing exclusively nonfiction, are partnering on this event to bring you a line up of previous contributors — many of whom will be descending on Los Angeles for Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference (AWP).

Grab your happy hour drink of choice from the cash bar and toast some true stories and in a short & sweet storytelling lineup of readers from past Under the Gum Tree & Fourth Genre issues before heading out to make material for new true stories of your own.

If nonfiction is your thing, we hope to see you. You’ll meet the staff, hear some of what we’ve published and get a peek at our current issue. Oh, and maybe even win a magazine (we’ll be doing a raffle)!

The evening will feature readings from Under the Gum Tree contributors Penny Guisinger, Ira Sukrungruang, Camille Griep, & James M. Chesbro and Fourth Genre readers Kathryn Winograd, TaraShea Nesbit, Kate Carroll de Gutes, & Kati Standefer.

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Friday Night: Join Kate **as She Reads Poetry!** at Tupelo Press‘s Offsite Reading

Friday, APril 1 at 8 PM – 9:45 PM at Bonaventure Brewing

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1709320735978707/

Featuring brief readings by Tupelo poets Tony Barnstone, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Lawrence Bridges, Lauren Camp, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Annie Guthrie, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Stephen Massimilla, and Jennifer Militello, as well as 30/30 poets Kate Asche, TJ Jarrett, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Ruben Quesada.

Tupelo Press invites you to our AWP off-site event! We will host a Tupelo Press published poets and 30/30 reading at 8pm on Friday on the rooftop of the Westin Bonaventure Brewery. The Westin Bonaventure Brewery is 1 mile from the LA convention center, walkable and easily Ubered! (The forecast looks good, but if it rains, we’ll bring it inside).
There will be a cash bar, with complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Look out on the city from this lovely rooftop space, and celebrate 16 years of Tupelo poetry with us. Along with our poets, Jeffrey Levine and Marie Gauthier will be on hand to welcome you. Join us!

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Friday Night: UC Davis & Portland State Offsite

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm ~ The Bold Room, 958 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
PSU + UC Davis MFA Reading ~ Cost: Free

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/474620602743583/
Join us for a night of readings featuring Portland State University MFA faculty members Leni Zumas and John Beer as well as UC Davis MFA faculty members Pam Houston and Katie Peterson. Alumni and current students from both MFA programs will also be reading their work. Free beer provided by Goose Island. Contact: Stephanie Wong Ken

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Friday Night: Tule Review Reading at L.A. Live

Friday, April 1 at 7 PM – 8 PM at Tom’s urban L.A. Live ~ Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1722869547957078/

California’s capital city publication Tule Review and the Sacramento Poetry Center Press sponsors this special social justice reading at Tom’s Urban. You’ll find this sports bar and restaurant (turned literary venue) just a five-minute walk from the AWP Los Angeles Convention Center. In a year meant for political discourse, and with the diversity and national focus of this annual poetry anthology, you are sure to be entertained! Please share this event with friends and fellow convention folk. Click on the invite button and let’s pack the house!

Featured readers: Sharon Coleman, Tim Kahl, Lee Rossi, Nancy Aidé González, Penny Kline, Jim Heavily, and more to come

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Saturday Night: Join Kate at Sacramento & Friends AWP Hangout – at the Conference Hotel Bar

Saturday, April 2 at 9:30 PM ~ 900 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015 ~ Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1696358113969357/

We’re all so busy at home that it can be hard to connect. Take time to relax and celebrate the end of a wild and successful #AWP16 with friends at this no-host writerly hangout. Kate and company will head down a bit earlier to find a spot in the bar. Bring friends, new and old! Come anytime! We’ll be there till 11:00 and probably later.

 

 

 

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Literary Event Calendars: A Short List

Dearest Writers,

 

As this year ends and we think about our schedules for next year, where can we go to find out about literary events?

 

A number of people have reached out to me recently, saying something akin to: “I used to write poetry [or genre of choice]. I haven’t done it in years. Your launch reading [last month, for Our Day in the Labyrinth–video coming soon!] made me want to dust off my journals, start writing again, and get out to readings. But where do I start, to find out about literary events in Sacramento?” What wondrous music to my ears!

 

In an effort to support the folks who have been inspired, through whatever experience, to return to/continue with their writing, and who have contacted me for resources–and to support you, dear reader!–I share the following short list. Disclaimers: This was assembled quickly, in a season in which I am still recovering my energy, and is thereby necessarily limited. If I am missing a key clearinghouse of literary events and resources in town, please email me at kate (at) kateasche (dot) com and let me know! (Please note: The poetry venues listed below also often list fiction and nonfiction events and series, as well.)

 

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Kate

 

Some Literary Event Calendars for Sacramento/The Valley/Northern California

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Letters from Writing By Writers at Tomales Bay

WXW on the hillThe Writing By Writers Conference at Tomales Bay (October 2015) was a fantastic five days of writing, learning, and working (and playing!) in community with dozens of amazing writers. Here, I share a bit of the participant experience and, mostly, as many of my notes as I could manage from my time working with Mark Doty! Enjoy. ~Kate

 

21 October 2015

 

Hello, Friend!

 

Well, I’m here. Both elated and exhausted. You, too, must know how hard it is to disengage from the ever-turning wheel of (more than) full time job-work and life-work and give yourself time—real, deep time—to do the creative work that makes you most alive: thinking, writing, wondering. Moodling, as Brenda Ueland called it. That’s what I’ve come here to do, a bit. I’ve also come to feed myself with new ideas—to over-feed, really, as though to pack these morsels away in my imagination so that they burn slowly and light my thinking and my drafts in the winter days to come. That this special time comes to me as a gift, in the form of a fellowship award, allows me some relief of daily anxieties to feel into the days that stretch before me here, days that are essential, longed for, rimmed in golden October water-light.

 

We gathered in Mark Doty’s workshop for the first time this evening, before dinner. I will be drafting new work in this generative workshop alongside fourteen other writers. We introduced ourselves. Mark asked us to say our names, and then to name one of our struggles as writers. So we shared our fears of not being good enough, of not knowing how to start (or how to end), of the thrill of finishing the first, horribly messy draft and the terror of going back into that mess. The perplexing challenging of thinking a piece is done, of having published it, even, perhaps, and then feeling a shift in our work and the desire to go back into that old piece and make it better—but how to find the way back in? We talked about our desire for more surprise in our work as well as our anxiety about exposure. Mark offered that when we write, “we confide in no one in particular but someone very attentive. If we aren’t fearing some exposure, we aren’t risking enough. The writer’s challenge is how to embrace what you are—and be good at it.”

 

Mark interwove short meditations on the practice of writing as we responded to each other’ shared our struggles. He offered different ways of seeing some common struggles. Arc, he said, doesn’t have to be so forward-moving. Arc can be simply a traveling. Arc is built out of the “technology of shift,” he said. You could see your material as a crystal, he offered, a faceted crystal, where the view in each facet offers a different way of seeing meaning. You can that crystal forever, he said. Arc is how the turning starts, how it progresses, and how it stops. Creating is an obsessive act. “You go into a private place,” Mark said, “and make an order you can bear. We writers create out of the commonest material there is. Language is shared. It has history, context…Your words are never entirely yours. Language is always in motion between people.”

 

We received our first reading assignment—an essay by Joni Tevis about the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose—and trundled up the many hills to dinner.

 

The first day finished with an evening reading by Mark Doty of work from his newest book, Deep Lane. And cake. And then lights blinking on in all the sleeping rooms and no one sleeping, just yet, but reading, writing, thinking. Moodling. Making new friends with roommates. Burning with the bright energy of being here.

 

More to come,

Kate

 

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WXW reading

 

22 October 2015

 

Hello Dear One,

 

It was hard to sleep last night. I was so excited to be here! And to see what I would write today.

 

I woke up before sunrise, dressed quietly and slipped out into the chill morning. There is a small yoga room at the Marconi Center and I have brought my mat with me. I turned the lights on very low and opened one of the sliders onto the deck so that the scents of pine, brine and hillside cattle could drift in. I had the place to myself for a while, and then some others trickled in. I worked into my daily core and back strengthening exercises and through the stretches I learned most recently at physical therapy. Then I rolled back into savasana and did a simple breathing meditation for ten minutes. It felt good to limber up before an intense three-hour morning writing workshop.

 

I am not always good at managing time when I perform self-care like yoga, exercise and meditation…it’s hard for me to give myself permission for self-care, and then when I do make time for it, it feels so good that I struggle to go back to whatever I was doing that seemed so important—in this case, showering, which I skipped. I missed breakfast at the dining room, too, instead cramming a container of trail mix into the Writing by Writers shoulder bag and stuffing my mouth with some peanut butter pretzels I keep, hush-hush, in my room. After pouring hot water over the lavender red tea bag in my new WXW travel mug, I laced up my shoes and dashed out the door.

 

The gravel trails at the Marconi Center are nicely groomed but still a bit steep in places, so I walked as fast as I could. As I rounded a small switchback, I was relieved to see Mark striding down the path with one of the porcelain mugs from the dining room in hand, steaming—I would not be late now! I slowed my pace and we chatted a little about how delighted we were to be starting our day in such a beautiful place.

 

In workshop, we discussed the assigned reading. We talked about how, if we can push ideas of category and genre aside for a while when we’re drafting, interesting things can happen. In the Tevis essay, we saw how form and content were the same. We saw how the essay was both about a specific person’s unusual creative practices and simultaneously about creative practice at the conceptual level. We talked about recurrence, about repetition with variation. Then it was time to begin drafting.

 

But our first act of pen to paper in our drafting was not to draw words, but rather, to draw. We drew—mapped—a place that mattered to us. I drew mine first as a map, from a birds-eye view, and then as I remembered it, as though I were still standing on the point in that moment nine years ago, looking west into the setting sun. Mark called time.

 

Oh goody, I thought. Now we’ll write!

 

We did—sort of. Mark had us do a brainstorm, a simple list or cloud of words and phrases that occurred to us as we held that place in our minds. Include everything, he said. Do not self-edit.

 

To be honest, I felt a tinge of irritation. I’ve already mapped my place, I thought. I just want to write now! But: I came here to be in the passenger seat, to be in beginner’s mind, to be lead by Mark and my classmates into a place in my own practice. So I exhaled, probably clenching my teeth, and did what I was told.

 

And I am so glad I did! Without the brainstorm, I am not sure I would have began where, or perhaps how, I did in the piece that came onto the page this morning. And that starting place—a place of emotional and imaginative inquiry, of wanting to examine and ponder instead of figure out (my usual stance)—made all the difference. The rule Mark gave us when we finally did write (to draft it in present tense) may have helped, too. Mark suggests that present tense keeps us closer to the body and therefore provides a great composing process, even if the piece changes tenses during iteration and revision. Going into the senses takes the writer away from pre-formed ideas about the material and into a zone where surprise can emerge. Also, by getting closer to the body, layers of time and layers of apprehension come to coexist in the same space more freely—and this, Mark says, makes writing feel real.

 

We left class this morning with another reading assignment, a short story by Elizabeth Bishop, and a homework writing assignment. I practically ran up the hill to lunch, I was so hungry, and then I skipped the post-lunch panel to prepare for my part in the fellowship winner reading later in the afternoon. It was such a thrill to read from my new chapbook, Our Day in the Labyrinth, among beloved friends and in this place, and with people like Pam Houston, who have been such an important part of my continuously developing practice as a writer.

 

As we all filed out of the fellowship reading for a short break before dinner, the writer Steve Almond, one of the conference faculty, stopped me to say that he liked what I read—which made me *so* happy, because I love Steve’s writing! I have read and taught (or taught from) a number of his craft essays, and I recently enjoyed his newest short story collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, on Audible—Steve reads it himself and does a great job! We walked slowly up the hill and talked about independent teaching and process and the need for more authentic love and empathy in the world. I gave Steve a copy of my chapbook and was able to snag one of his DIY books (“my drug-deal books,” Steve calls them), a charming little back-to-back of two books under one cover, one a collection of short/flash fiction, the other a mini-collection of short craft essays.

 

It was a true delight to connect with Steve—and to enjoy, an hour later, dinner with him and two of my fellow Davis alums, Melanie Thorne (author of the novel Hand Me Down) and Alex Russell, fiction writer and leader of a unique creative writing program, with support from Sacramento Poetry Center, for at-risk youth. We talked marriage and kids (Melanie and I are kidless, Alex has an 18-month [-ish] old, and Steve has three kids) and art-making and getting by and vegetarianism and corn allergies and sourdough bread making. Mostly we just laughed.

 

And then we traipsed back down the two hills to the main hall where Greg Glazner read what I thought was a killer selection of new poems rooted in history, family and water (the lack thereof, then and now) followed by an insanely funny essay about taking a fly ball to the…yeah…at a River Cats game. Then Lidia Yuknavitch read a new essay, “Woven,” that knocked all our socks off. I hadn’t been sold on Lidia’s work when I arrived at the conference—I’d only read her newest book, On the Small Backs of Children, without knowing much about her or her previous work. I didn’t love it (that’s for another discussion), but man, I was hook-line-and-sinker into “Woven.” I bought Chronology of Water—which folks in the know say I should have read first—and am thirty pages in and really like it. Perhaps it will change my perspective on Small Backs, and if it does, that raises other interesting aesthetic questions…again, for another time!

 

Then it was dessert and back up the hill and reading and writing by flashlight until I fell asleep.

 

Ciao for now—

Kate

 

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WXW tree trunk top of hill time's fingerprint

 

23 October 2015

 

Hi Darlin’—

 

I don’t know what did it, but I slept like a baby last night. And I needed it, too! I skipped yoga and exercises and stretching and meditating this morning because I overslept a little. I still missed breakfast! My mind started wandering into and around my draft as soon as I woke up. What a treat, to be able to let it.

 

In class today, Mark talked about inviting formal and rhetorical shifts like those we see in the Bishop story (changes in point of view and mode of address, word play, radical tone and tense shifts, etc.) into our own work, and then using these moments as points of departure into deeper engagement with our material.

 

We did some more in-class writing with this in mind and then discussed our experiences. Some of the thoughts that came up:

 

Authority rises out of acknowledging what is excluded. The more you know about your material, the better. Why you know and don’t ultimately include certain elements pressurizes the writing in a powerful way.

 

When you are drafting new work, suspend your will to achieve closure and your desire to please an audience.

 

Sometimes we keep ourselves from knowing things. Sometimes we need to write away from things to write back into them. Sometimes putting a draft away for awhile allows us to shift our perspective on the material enough to see what it’s really about.

 

When we change tense in our drafting, we change our relationship to the perception of knowledge. This is also true of point of view shifts.

 

Emotions and experience are marbled. They are never just one thing.

 

Many of these ideas recurred in today’s afternoon panel, the basic topic of which was how to make language from experiences that feel beyond our outside language. Mark said these spaces are “breaches into which knowledge other than language can enter. The poetic spirit is to give voice to an in the silence. Poetry draws a circle around these open spaces so people can see within them.”

 

After the panel, we had some free time, which I spent working on one of my email newsletters and walking up on the highest hill, where I could enjoy the view and get a few phone calls out at the same time. And then I just stayed up there for a while and listed to the cows lowing and rested my eyes on the rings in the tree trunks used as part of the old Marconi Station structure and…moodled. The evening closed with a hilarious reading by Steve Almond and new work read by Dorothy Allison.

 

And then it was back to our rooms for more reading assignments (ours, this time: Terry Tempest Williams) and writing assignments. Though it’s probably not prudent all the time, there is a certain seductive, electrical energy I am feeling from staying up an hour or two past my usual bedtime to read and write.

 

Until tomorrow,

Kate

 

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WXW UCD alums

24 October 2015

 

Hello, Fellow Word Artist:

 

Started this morning with the health routine again. It felt good to get back to it. I needed to ready myself; today will be a long day, and tonight, I suspect, I may stay up very late, as it will be my last chance to do so in this cocoon of gorgeous land and light and every-meal-is-prepared-by-someone-else-and-even-my-bed-gets-magically-made-while-I-am-in-workshop-ness.

 

All of us in Mark’s class have several pages of new words at this point. Mark took a few minutes at the beginning of class to talk about “patience in waiting for meaning to emerge. One wants to preserve in the work a feeling of spontaneous speech. Allow evidence of the process of coming to knowledge remain in the text.” Over time, he told us, as a piece “becomes less for you, you can see what’s needed and not needed for the reader” and make revisions based on this. Mark is continually revising. Even books that have been out for twenty years appear, when they are reprinted, with slight variations. A word may be struck for a decade and then reappear in a later edition. Even when he reads from his newest book, he’s still fiddling with it. This felt very freeing for me, a perfectionist!

 

We discussed the night’s reading and then used techniques we drew out of it to do some more writing in class. We went (up the hills) to lunch. We went (down the hills again) to the main hall for readings by Naomi Williams and UC Davis Director of Creative Writing, Lucy Corin. (At her reading, Lucy made a comment about “organizing meaning versus distributing it” and this connected to much of what we’d been discussing in class.) And then we walked out on the patio and ate oysters (so many oysters!) and drank chilled white wines and looked at the sun on the water between the trees and talked. We snapped photos (the one above: a crew of UC Davis MA program alums from across the years, with Pam Houston and Lucy Corin). And then there was music coming from inside the hall—Greg Glazner and one of his bands—and soon we were dancing and singing along. And when we were laughing and thirsty and all sweating a little, the band quieted down and Pam Houston read us the opening to her book-in-progress, a piece about her beloved ranch in the High San Juan Mountains in Colorado (a place I have been) and about how we make place and how place makes us. (For those lucky enough to have been at last month’s TrueStory reading in Sacramento, you heard this same lovely piece. It was just as good the second time!)

 

And then the sun dipped low and we walked on hot tired feet (up the hills) to dinner, which was loud and raucous even though some folks trekked into Point Reyes Station to eat—all of us now so friendly and goofy with each other.

 

And then? You guessed it—back down the hills, this time for the open mic reading and hot cocoa in the main hall. And the open mic rocked. I think it went on for an hour and a half, maybe a little more. Almost everyone—maybe, in fact, everyone—came, including the conference faculty, and no one left early. Everyone got cheered on the walk to and back from the podium. Everyone who wished to be was heard. Witnessed in the practice of writing, of being a writer.

 

And here I am now, (up the very same hills) in my room, finishing the last reading assignment (Anne Carson) and at last transcribing my seven longhand pages into my laptop, and starting to move the parts around. I have to distill what turns out to be about four and a half typed pages to no more than two pages to read in class tomorrow. Ah, cutting. It’s by your sharp edges that I know Mark has walked as around a corner in the composing process: from generating, adding, asking into a different kind of asking that operates through shaping, condensing, stripping away.

 

It will be some time before I go to sleep.

 

So for now, I must bid goodnight,

Kate

 

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WXW w Mark Doty

25 October 2015

 

Good Morning, Friend,

 

Workshop has just finished and the clock is about to strike noon. We spent this morning, three hours, sharing the drafts we wrote and wrote and wrote, and—last night—began to revise. Almost all of us chose to share. Hearing fourteen strong and true drafts…nothing inspires me to keep writing, keep teaching writing, like that.

 

Okay, almost nothing. You know what else is driving me, today, hard and fast into the future of my writing practice? What Mark has taught us.

 

I did not come to Writing by Writers at Tomales Bay expecting any particular thing in Mark’s workshop; I simply love his writing (I love it so much I am continuously teaching it, in whole and in part) and I knew whatever he was selling, I wanted that. But as I think back now, I see I did have an expectation: I thought he’d create a space in which we’d draft new work, and that I’d come away with a handful of new drafts to keep working on when I got home. And he did give us that—we wrote, and I have an exciting draft to keep playing with.

 

What I got on top of all that, and for which I am so grateful to Mark Doty (that’s him and me in a fangirl snapshot up there!): A fundamental transformation of my thinking about what drafting new work is. About what the process is. About what it means to really explore and more concrete ways for doing so. I am more aware now of how I rush to close down my drafts—the first potential meaning glitters in them, and I start chasing that thing, and I chase it down and down the page even as I write the piece for the first time. You see, I want so badly to know what it all means.

 

Some of my drafts have surprised me in the last year or two. I could not before name why. And now, I can: The pieces I have written most recently often have not followed this path of progression through limitation while I draft their first versions. Instead, I have written them laterally, if you will, and through that lateral movement, found other sources of propulsion and other places toward which to race in and through them in their initial formation. In other words, my work surprised me, and gave me a hunger for more of that surprise.

 

Pam wrote about how we make place and place makes us. The same thing can be said about us and our work. This is not a new idea. It’s one I revisit now because this shift in my understanding of drafting also offers me, Kate Asche the person, another opportunity to remake my way of assembling meaning in all aspects of life.

 

During the Friday afternoon panel, I wrote a note in my journal that’s not totally legible. I was trying to capture something Mark Doty said. Something like, “Beauty is what we wish for and what we are and what is in between.” Elsewhere in the panel he said, “How can you become the person who can write this thing?”

 

That’s what I’m chasing how: How to become, to be continually becoming, the person who can write work that surprises me more and more.

 

The person who can live her life that way.

 

I’ll be home soon. Much love,

Kate

 

 

 

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