Why I Write: Maintaining My Practice

Linda Joy Burke is a performance poet, writer, picture taker, workshop facilitator, and interactive music maker. She’s also a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review. We’re grateful to her for this blog post.

I bought a T-shirt from a poet colleague at a local literary festival, a couple of decades ago, which had a picture of a quill pen and ink, and the phrase “practicing poet” on it. I was delighted with my find, until the passing stranger at another literary festival read my shirt and asked me, “do you have it right yet?” I immediately felt a little insulted. Not thinking that practice was about right and wrong. He just didn’t get it, I thought–his view of practice was limited.

Back when fountain pens and penmanship was still a thing, and moleskin journals were cool, I strove to write every day. These days I don’t try to fill up pages for the sake of writing everyday anymore. Instead I fill up pages when I am following a thread, an idea, the snippet of a story I may have observed or overheard that demands more attention.

Looking back on some of those journals from my early years is both boring and enlightening. (Mental note to self: I should probably bury those books before I take my last breath.) Thankfully the content did improve as I aged, and life’s vast experiences became the spice that guided my words.

I generally try to write something for consumption in the public domain every day, through a social media channel where I am counting characters. This everyday writing model is so different than the free flow words of my younger days, since in this medium we write for vaster audiences of folks who are largely unknown. In this age of 24-7 spin and intense political and social turmoil, honing craft in this domain adds a level of responsibility which at this point in my life I welcome.

I lean on immersion in nature, making and listening to music, reading, deep listening and long periods of silence so I can troll my inner life for inspiration. I am prone to just let words come and then walk away from them–sometimes for years or more as part of my practice. When I’m ready, I go back through books and books of script, and Word work-in-progress files, to find what’s worth saving and re-working. This essay is an example of that mining for material.

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LPR on the Shelves

You can pick up the latest Little Patuxent Review and save shipping! Now at Barnes and Noble at the Columbia Mall! Check out this great store that also has Starbucks coffee shop. Address: The Mall in Columbia, 10300 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia.

The LPR is crammed full of stories poems and art, an absolute treasure! Only 500 printed and already 250 sold. Can’t go to Columbia? Here’s the link to buy issues online: https://littlepatuxentreview.org/sales/individual-issues-2/

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Grace Kiyonaga

Grace on the trip that inspired “June in California” (click to enlarge).

Grace Kiyonaga is a poet living in Washington, D.C. Originally from Maryland, she made her way back to the D.C. area after living in New York City and exploring Chile. Grace discovered her voice while minoring in creative writing at NYU. She finds solace in how poetry captures her passion for and constant observation of life and her adventures, big and small.

Grace’s poem, “June in California,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase through this link). She read this poem at our issue launch in January (video below). We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: Congratulations on your first published work! Really though, we at LPR are the lucky ones to have published you. Is it different seeing this poem in print from when you first finished it?

Thank you! Receiving my Little Patuxent Review acceptance email was such a rush of joy and excitement. About a year ago I decided I was going to buckle down and start writing more and submitting my work to journals. It’s been an amazing feeling to be a part of this journal and to see my poem printed alongside so many talented writers. It still feels surreal and makes me smile every time I think about it. Seeing the poem in print has allowed me to have more appreciation for what might make it stand out to a reader. I hadn’t really imagined what my first published work would look or feel like because it felt so far-fetched. The experience of being accepted by LPR, reading at the Winter 2019 Launch, and flipping through the journal and seeing my poem is far more special than I could have ever imagined.

Q: I notice that in your bio, you describe “solace” in how poetry captures your passion for life. The last line of “June in California” refers to “the thrill of making everything a story.” What’s the relationship, in your words, between this solace and this thrill?

Writing and reading poetry take me to a place I would describe as calm, alive, observant, loving, and full of possibility. I think the connection is that for me, poetry can take even the most ordinary aspects of life and the simplest interactions with people, objects, ideas, and emotions, and make them beautiful. I often find that poems can vibrate into the reader and cause them to feel like there is someone out there who has taken what they also observe as worthy of celebrating and put it into an awe-inspiring combination of words that tell a story.

Q: How did minoring in creative writing help you to discover your voice?

I had a great time minoring in creative writing and being part of a creative writing club while in I was in undergrad. I say these experiences helped me to discover my voice because they introduced me to a form of expression that hadn’t seemed approachable to me before. I look back now and I cannot help feeling like I took it for granted! The chance to read numerous collections of poetry and workshop weekly with my peers was defining for me. The practice helped me take the images and emotions I wanted to express and put them onto paper.

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Meet the Neighbors: Q&A with Shaileen Beyer

Little Patuxent Review reminds all its readers and contributors that we are sponsoring a free poetry contest for Maryland residents with the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The winning poem will be published in Little Patuxent Review, honored at a reading at the Library, and celebrated at Baltimore’s CityLit Festival. Runners-up may also be considered for publication. The deadline is March 1, 2019.

Shaileen Beyer is a librarian and member of the Poetry Programming Work Group, which administers the contest. A native Baltimorean, Shaileen has worked in the Fiction Department at the Central Library since 2005. She has a Ph.D. in English and a master’s degree in library science.

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: What’s the mission of the Enoch Pratt Free Library?

The Pratt’s mission is to “provide equal access to information and services that empower, enrich and enhance the quality of life for all.” As the State Library Resource Center, the Central Library has an additional mission. It “provides cooperative, cost effective, statewide resources and services for Maryland libraries and their customers.”

The Poetry Contest realizes both missions: it creates free opportunity for Maryland artists and shines a bright light on poetry, which brings out the best in us all.

Q: What’s the history of this contest?

The Poetry Contest was the idea of my colleague Lisa Greenhouse in 2011. We were brainstorming ways to make poetry more visible, and she said, “We should have a contest and put the winning poem in the window!” (The Central Library has enormous show windows.) LPR came on board to judge the entries and publish the winner—a collaboration that we’ve repeated now for six of the contest’s eight years, turning to Poet Lore for the other two. The CityLit Festival organizers have helped every year by making room in their schedule for the winner. The Pratt has such good neighbors.

Q: What resources for writers do you have at the library?

Writing begins in reading, as poet Charles Wright reminds us when he quotes poet Theodore Roethke: “You want to be a writer? There’s the library.” At the Pratt we have terrific retrospective and contemporary collections in all imaginable genres. Looking for oodles of plays? Publishing tips or writing prompts? The poetry scene’s newest arrivals? Stop by the Central Library, or visit our online catalog to find e-books or request transfers of print books to any Pratt branch.

We also feature wonderful free programming for would-be authors. Poetry & Conversation and Writers LIVE! readings—often preserved on podcasts—inspire listeners with magical passages. Writing workshops led by esteemed teachers such as Clarinda Harriss cultivate skill and confidence. And gatherings like the Central Library’s Writers’ Roundtable allow people to share what they have made.

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Meet Our Readers: Q&A with Raima Larter

Raima Larter is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. She lives in Arlington, Virginia and received her MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2016. Prior to devoting herself to full-time writing, Raima was a college chemistry professor in Indiana. She moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2003 to work for the National Science Foundation, a federal agency located in northern Virginia. Her first novel, “Fearless,” will be published by New Meridian Arts Literary Press this year. You can read more about her work at raimalarter.com.

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: How did you get involved with LPR?

I met the publisher, Desirée Magney, at a writing conference and introduced myself. When I told her I was interested in becoming a reader, she talked with the editors and it turned out there was an opening and I was invited to join. I’d wanted to volunteer to be a reader for awhile, since I’d heard it was a great way to improve my own writing. I also wanted to give back a little to the writing community, by helping with the process of screening submissions.

Q: You’ve told me that being a reader for LPR has changed your own writing. Can you elaborate?

After reading for a short period of time, I began to realize that while craft elements like point of view, the balance of exposition and active scene, dialogue, setting, etc, were important, the story itself was really key. Mistakes in craft elements can be fixed, but if a story doesn’t seem to have a point, it doesn’t make the cut. Before being a reader I had been almost totally focused on craft without thinking much about story. I’ve gone back and re-written a number of my older stories since I started reading, sometimes even abandoning them completely when I couldn’t explain to myself why this story needed to be told.

Q: And how about your own submitting?

I was already submitting quite a lot, but one thing that’s changed for me now is that I will go back to a story that’s been rejected a few times and see if it needs more work. I used to just keep sending the piece out without further revision, but I’m much less reluctant now to revise a story if it isn’t getting picked up.

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Editor Steven Leyva Published on Washington Independent Review of Books

“Proscenium Arch,” an essay by Steven Leyva, is available on the Washington Independent Review of Books website at this link. Leyva wonders what “makes theater arts a home for misfits and nerds, the ambitious and the reclusive, the energetic and the contemplative,” and suggests that it’s “the grandeur and mystery of how a few lines on a page become a full and vibrant spectacle that can instruct, entertain, challenge, and invigorate an audience.”

Leyva’s bio and his other essays on this website, “The Best Sandbox Ever,” “Sequential Imagination,” and “The Poetics of Anime,” are available at this link.

Meet the Neighbors: Contributing Editor Ann Bracken Interviews Morna McDermott McNulty

Ann Bracken is a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review. Her friend and Towson University education professor, Morna McDermott McNulty, has just published a speculative fiction novel called Blood’s Will that explores the ideas of love and choice in unique and challenging ways. Bracken sat down with McNulty to explore her ideas and find out a little more about the intersection of her work with teaching, writing, and vampires.

Ann Bracken (AB): I think many of LPR’s readers are familiar with science fiction and with vampire stories, but speculative fiction may be a new genre for them. How would you describe speculative fiction and what distinguishes it from mainstream fiction?

Morna McDermott McNulty (MMM): Speculative fiction (SF) is part dystopian novel, part science fiction, and part utopian narrative. It usually tackles socio-political issues of the human condition. SF is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities of people of color have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege. I think about Octavia Butler’s book Fledgling, or The Gilda Stories by Jewel Gomez, both feminist tales in the speculative fiction genre, about vampires and women of color.

The vampire is the figure of choice in decolonization politics in that it exists between worlds as a specter that threatens the solidity of borders and the reality of a dominant imaginary.  SF can write into existence possibilities for humanness and otherness that extend outside of traditional binary boundaries. As a white middle class female with all the privileges that come with that, I am deeply interested in how we can challenge systems of inequity and injustice, and I think speculative fiction becomes a powerful tool in that arsenal. I wanted to use my own fictional writing skills to explore those issues. And I like to bring that tool kit into my own creative and professional worlds. Writing Blood’s Will, for me, was a bit of both.

AB: What makes this novel a good fit for your work as a teacher and a writer? Why did you choose the vampire framework for the story?

MMM: I love vampires. It’s hard to pinpoint why really. But part of it is in their inherent qualities—different from aliens, ghosts, zombies, or other creatures. My first academic work published about vampires was in 1999, co-written with a former boyfriend and colleague. We explored the themes in the film The Addiction, about a woman in a doctoral program at NYU. It was all very personal to me. Some part of that time in my life also bleeds through in Blood’s Will. I love the “liminality” of vampires— how they move between worlds and identities. They are so multifaceted. Like fiction is to the limitations of what we can write about our world, vampires embody the fascination of humans with what lies beyond our own “limitations”—beyond death. As undeath extends our lived possibilities, fiction extends our conceptions of what is possible in a world that feels so boxed-in by the limitations imposed on us by societal expectations, by language, and, for so many, by oppressive conditions. As I mentioned earlier, speculative fiction is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities (in particular, people of color) have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege.

AB: How was the idea for Blood’s Will born?

MMM: The answer to this also goes to the next question you asked which was “what are the essential questions” that drive the story. The idea for the book was born in part by my desire to wrestle with those questions (See next response).

But the timing of the writing of the book is distinct. The Twilight series was exploding onto the book and move scenes. As a vampire fan, I was compelled to read the books and see the movies. But I was struck by something that annoyed me. All the characters in that story (and true of similar narratives like The Vampire Diaries, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire) are wealthy, young, and beautiful. As far as I’m concerned, such characters are already immortal. Or at least perceive themselves to be. The choice “Should I, or shouldn’t I become a vampire?” seems a no-brainer for such characters. What exactly are they giving up?

But what if you were me. A middle-aged, middle-class mother of two, imbued with all the privileges and trapping of that identity. Would you burn that life to the ground for immortal love? In my world, the answer isn’t nearly so neat and simple. And the sacrifices to attain immortality are far more significant. But ironically the choice of immortality also opens up so many more possibilities. And so, the idea that such a possibility could loom (the beauty of speculative fiction) compelled me, and hopefully my reader, to look in the mirror, pun intended, and ask themselves that same question: What would you choose? And what would you sacrifice? These, in my opinion, are fundamentally questions that women confront every day. So the story casts a feminist lens as well. Also, I thought, oh what the hell…if Stephanie Meyer who was a stay-at-home mom potty-training her kids while she wrote Twilight can do it, so can I.

AB: Outside of the academic world, many people may be unfamiliar with the curriculum area called currere. How would you explain the concept?

MMM: Currere is a Latin word meaning “the running of the race,” and it was coined in educational circles by two notable scholars, William Pinar and Madeleine Grumet, back in the mid-seventies. At the time, and since then really, schooling has been driven by very technical qualities-what we can measure, predict, and control. Pinar, Grumet, and since then a whole international movement of curriculum theorists called “re-conceptualists,” argue that the idea of curriculum, typically thought of as that “stuff” we teach in schools, needs to be expanded to examine the entire life of the person. Curriculum might better be considered everything that happens from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. And that who we are—our memories, our dreams, our fears, our psyche—are all also a part of what we bring to the learning experience called school.

Now extend this thinking into how we make meaning of and write about our learning experiences through inquiry. Drawing from the work of other curriculum scholars, such as Noel Gough, I wanted to play with the idea that fiction also has an important part of play in this inquiry process. In the words of Jamaican novelist and philosopher Sylvia Wynter, “The future will first have to be remembered, imagined” (2007, p. 3).

Currere is memory work. Blend fiction with currere and you have ficto-currere. Ficto-currere creates an intersection between memory and fiction—both of which are “unreal” and constructed. There are four different stage when engaged in the journey of currere: Recalling the past (regressive), being free of the present (analytical), being able to reenter the present (synthetical), and gesturing towards what is not yet present (progressive). It is important to note, however, that these stages are not considered linear or progressive. And if currere is a re-conceptualizing of our lives, just imagine what that could look like for a creature that never has to face death? For a creature whose intrinsic identity is unfixed? (See next Q and A for a continuation of this idea.)

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