Online Poetry Workshop with Award-Winning Poet Rosebud Ben-Oni

I recommend Rosebud’s workshop to anyone—experienced or beginning poets. She is so humble in her critiques and has many great suggestions.

—Sarah Maria Medina

POETRY & POP: AN ONLINE CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOP

Get more writing done! Take Rosebud Ben-Oni’s workshop!

 

 

How can popular culture shape your poetry and create a unique voice? This 6-week workshop will lead writers through a series of questions, prompts and exercises utilizing existing popular culture to help craft poems. Students will offer feedback on each other’s work. We will also analyze existing poems that utilize popular culture, in order to better fuel creativity and spark discussion on how poetry informs and responds to social and political ideologies.

Note to poets who took Rosebud’s spring workshop: Prompts and exercises are all new, so come on back and pick up where you left off.

October 24 – December 5

$225 for the 6-week workshop
A $65 deposit saves your spot
Class size is strictly limited, so please sign up early!

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About Rosebud Ben-Oni
Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a graduate of the Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater in NYC. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013) and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, and Puerto del Sol  among others. Find her Facebook, Twitter and at 7TrainLove.org

How to Write a Memoir

 

 

 

 

 

by Lisbeth Coiman

Let life hit you in the face

And scar you.

Let it rip through your heart

And squeeze it.

Let it grab your brain

And melt it.

Let it shatter your expectations.

 

Turn around

Let the way back disappear,

But follow the new path

Opened in front of you.

Let it take you to a wrong turn,

And miss the exit.

 

Go uphill

Left and right.

Let the road take you

Where you didn’t want to go,

But get there anyway.

Upside down

Inside out

Backwards

And vice versa.

 

Then,

Sit down.

Let your soul

Heal on paper.

Registration open for fall online classes with Ariel Gore

New: Saturday Morning Writing Prompts

Wake up and write! Now you can subscribe to the Literary Kitchen for weekly writing prompts. You’ll get a new writing assignment / writing prompt emailed to you every Saturday morning. Easy and affordable way to keep your writing practice fresh. $5 a month. Cancel any time.

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REGISTRATION IS OPEN FOR FALL / WINTER 2015 CLASSES WITH ARIEL GORE

I was at a loss after finishing my MFA program… But after eight years of infrequent publishing and no time to write, I found an alternative that works for me. Three years ago, I hooked up with Ariel Gore’s online LiteraLiterary Kitchen workshops and finally found a group that was the right fit for me: writers not full of privilege (and themselves) who offer honest criticism and support at the same time, and whose work I truly enjoy reading. And that infrequent publishing? It’s not so infrequent anymore.

—Margaret Garcia, Poets & Writers 

LIT STAR TRAINING
The Original Literary Kitchen Online Writing Workshop

Taught by Ariel Gore 

September 5 – November 1 – CLASS FULL

A new session of Lit Star Training – the 8-week writing course taught by Ariel Gore – starts September 5, 2015. Writers in Lit Star Training spend at least a few hours each week on their writing and online critiques. You can log in any time of the day or night. Writers in the group are new and seasoned, wanting to work on memoir or fiction. The class works as well for those writing to weekly assignments (with no big projects in mind) and for people who are starting or working on existing book projects.

The class is $295 if you sign up by August 21st — yes, tuition prices are going up a little bit in the fall — a $95 deposit will hold your spot and hold your tuition at $295. You can pay the deposit right here. CLASS MAY BE FULL. EMAIL ARIELFIONA AT GMAIL DOT COM BEFORE REGISTERING TO SEE IF THERE IS AN OPENING.

 

 

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SPECIAL 4-WEEK SESSION OF LIT STAR TRAINING

Online Creative Writing Class Taught by Ariel Gore

November 20 – December 18, 2015

 

This fall, I’m offering a special 4-week session of Lit Star Training with an emphasis on place-based stories. Writers in Lit Star Training spend at least a few hours each week on their writing and online critiques. You can log in any time of the day or night. Writers in the group are new and seasoned, wanting to work on memoir or fiction. The class works as well for those writing to weekly assignments (with no big projects in mind) and for people who are starting or working on existing book projects.
Class size is limited, so please sign up early.
Cost of the workshop is $175

A $55 deposit saves your spot.

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2015 WINTER BREAK INTENSIVE
Online Creative Writing Course Taught by Ariel Gore
Power Through the Holidays with 12 Assignments in 14 Days
December 19 – January 1
Always the most popular class in the kitchen. Instead of having a nervous breakdown, use the holiday weeks to produce up to 100 pages of new writing.

You’ll get 12 assignments in 14 days and lots of great feedback (an-assignment-a-day & take 2 days of your choosing off.)

Class size is limited, so please sign up early. $165

 

 If you don’t do Paypal, you can mail a check to Ariel Gore, P.O. Box 3555, Berkeley, California, 94703

 

Ariel Gore is a fabulous workshop facilitator; I’ve been taking classes from her since 2001. In each of the workshops, she brings together a diverse group of writers with varying degrees of competency; and, whether the writer is seasoned or a beginner, she understands exactly where each person is coming from and she meets them there. Not only did I find my unique voice, I learned how to be a thoughtful listener and how to provide insightful critique. I would recommend her workshops to anyone interested in memoir and the art of a good story.

—Lani Jo Leigh

 

Ariel’s workshops jump-started my psyche. I’m back into looking at the world as a writer instead of as a would-be writer. I have her to thank for that. Workshops are almost at your own pace. Always encouraging. She has a knack for assembling a great group of writers together every time.

—Margaret Elysia Garcia

 

Ariel Gore’s writing workshop pushed me past the borders of my creativity and into an exciting unknown place of writing within myself. If you’ve ever put to pen to paper and wondered what you were really capable of Ariel’s workshop will take you there.

—Gabrielle Rivera

 

I thoroughly enjoy Ariel’s workshops. Writers from a variety of backgrounds gather together, bringing in work with all kinds of themes, and as each piece is workshopped, Ariel’s ear for the crucial aspects of great storytelling kicks right in. Her feedback is thoughtful, insightful, precise, and multilayered.

—Bonnie Ditlevsen

 

When I started writing with Ariel, I had zero idea how to write for audience. In work shopping with her, I have found my voice and with practice have found different ways to formulate story. I have learned how to incorporate dialogue and am so much more confident with my work. I recommend this workshop to all aspiring, practicing, and practiced writers.

—Krystee Sidwell

 

Revolutionary Mothering: An Interview In Letters

 well, theresa turned eight years old last week.  and i have backpacked through tear gas and couchsurfed through revolutions.  i have also cried harder and longer in fear and anger and loneliness, more than i could have ever imagined possible.  i have been more scared and more fearless, loved harder and had bones broken and pride broken and god, its been weary. i did what i wanted, but im not sure if id truly knew the price this world would extract for doing so, if i still would have done it.

–Mai’a Williams

Sarah Maria Medina

12/04/2015 Sunday

S.C.D.L.C, Chiapas, México

Dear Mai’a,

I’m writing to you from barrio Guadalupe, from a little house that rests alongside the road that runs past the farm lands. For the past few nights, after my daughter slept, I read chapters from your book, Revolutionary Mothering, all the while firecrackers popping off from the church up the hill. As I read the essays, poems and plays by the different mamas included in the anthology, I found myself humming, snapping, nodding, “Yes, damn, yes.” Someone was finally saying the words I’ve been searching for, and I was so filled with emotion, because, at the same time I was feeling so blessed to hold all these powerful mama stories in my hands, I was grieving the absence of this book from when I was a teenager. Grieving back to when at eighteen, I looked out on my future, and had to decide whether or not to keep my first pregnancy. Only fathered by my Puerto Rican pops weekends and summers, raised by a white mother on a riverboat, I was well politicked on feminist abortion rights, but so badly needed to hear about reproductive integrity, about the racism in overpopulation discourse, about the forced sterilization of Indigenous and Puerto Rican women. I found these discourses, but not until later, and they were articles that I came across because I searched hard for them through old microfilms at Hunter in New York, when I was looking at the Young Lordettes’ histories (the women of the Young Lords). I wish that your anthology had existed then, and am so hopeful for all the mamas who will find this book in their future. – I just had to pause my letter to you, and run up to our little herb garden, from where my daughter was calling me. “Mama,” she was shouting. A flower had bloomed, one that we hadn’t planted. It turned out to be a lily, and she felt that was a blessing as her name means water lily in Taino. – Yes, this anthology you having lovingly pieced together with your co-editors, Alexis* and China**, gives me hope. Now it’s evening and time to heat up the boiler for our baths. The dogs of the barrio are howling, and the birds that live in the tree across from our house are singing out their last songs.

Bless,

Sarah Maria

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Mai'a Williams

Dear Sarah Maria,

i am so sorry for this letter coming so late.  when i first read it was the day before i was moving from quito, ecuador, back to the states. there were half-filled boxes and maletas and a thousand tiny things to do before the flight.

then we arrived in minnesota and it was time for theresa’s birthday party on the 19th of april.  i am always nervous about christmas and birthday for her.  i am not very good at making celebrations for people.  the presents, the decorations, the balloons, the food.  i am better at telling strange stories and taking us on strange adventures.  at dancing with her one in the morning on top of a roof to salsa and reggaeton.

then i fell ill for the past week.  some virus.

and now i am finally writing you.

when we first dreamed of revolutionary mothering as an anthology, i said to lex, i want it to be the book i was looking for when i was pregnant.  the book that would tell me that this wasnt easy.  when i was pregnant i didnt feel like a madonna, like some glowing ethereal creature.  i felt heavy and tired and nauseous and tired and hungry and tired.  i felt like i was preparing to go to war.  i remember my in laws and my mother and my husband and well everyone around me telling me with words and looks that i was now going to settle down, have a little house with a little yard and a little life with a little child, and i would see that would be enough for me.  all of my big dreams of traveling and revolution and backpacking through war zones and dancing late at night to the sounds of live fire and live bands would have to be put aside.

well, theresa turned eight years old last week.  and i have backpacked through tear gas and couchsurfed through revolutions.  i have also cried harder and longer in fear and anger and loneliness, more than i could have ever imagined possible.  i have been more scared and more fearless, loved harder and had bones broken and pride broken and god, its been weary. i did what i wanted, but im not sure if id truly knew the price this world would extract for doing so, if i still would have done it.

when theresa was 6 months old, we moved to san cristobal de las casas and studied spanish for a couple of months and lived there for 6 months, until we ran out of money.  i loved it.  it was 2008 and i carried theresa in a rebozo and breastfed her in bars and hung out with zapatista women.  theresa, of course, doesnt remember any of this, so she is determined that we should go back there to live, now that we are done with ecuador.

so tell me about being a mama in chiapas, and maybe someday we will meet each other face to face in southern mexico.

with much love,

mai’a

*

28/04/2015

Mexico City, DF, Mexico

Dear Mai’a,

I am writing to you from a little hotel room we rent sometimes when we come to Mexico City, when we need to escape everyone and everything for a few days. The sunlight is pouring in through the yellow drapes from the balcony, and I’m sitting on the hardwood floors in the only spot that has Wi-Fi in our room.

We came to DF this week for a poetry reading in a Queer Festival of Languages, and there has been something so liberating for me to have my poems translated into Spanish, almost as if they take on a new life of their own, become a story that is no longer just my own. And that is why, this letter is also arriving later than I wanted it to.

I like so much your description of your immediate community suggesting in small ways that you would settle down in a little house once your daughter was born, and how you sought the opposite, carried her through countries in the midst of their revolutions, danced with her across rooftops to Reggaeton and Salsa, sought new words to explain oppression and racism and liberation. This is beautiful and inspiring, and I too would have loved to have held your book in my hands as I was pregnant, and also as I was leaving the little cabin the forest that my daughter spent her first months in, because sometimes I feel sad that she has had so little stability, so many houses. But then when I read your words, I feel inspired by this community of other mothers that extends out across the world from us, that have chosen another way of raising their child, and I feel less alone in this.

For me, living in Mexico, has offered me the space from the wounds I suffered when I grew up in the States, and this space has offered me the time to grow as a poet and writer, to turn my wounds into stories, into art. And this is something I also like about Revolutionary Mothering, that it doesn’t stop at the essay form, but that there is also a play, and poems and art. And that mothering includes queer ball culture and other radical inclusions of what it means to mutha our children and our communities.

I like to imagine you with Theresa tucked into your rebozo in Chiapas, meeting with the strong Zapatista women. We have travelled up the mountainside to visit their caracol. And have been blessed with being surrounded with such an openness about child raising, an inclusion of children within the public sphere, such as how normal nursing is in public here in the mountains.

You inspire me Mai’a. How are you and Theresa settling into Minnesota? Are your wings readying to fly away again?

Until our paths cross,

Bless,

Sarah Maria

*

dear sarah maria,

it is my turn to apologize for the late reply.

summer has finally come to minnesota, the days get longer and longer and the evenings are filled with the smell of sweet grass and the sound of birds and insects.  it has been so many years since i had summer in the states.  oddly familiar and yet bringing back all these memories of being a kid, riding bikes and reading books in the back yard.  picking dandelions and capturing fire flies in small glass jars.

sometimes i feel bad too that theresa has had so little stability. god, so many apartments, countries, languages, friends, sets of clothes, political realities. but then, last year, i was talking with china, another editor of the revolutionary mothering anthology, and she talked about moving so often with her daughter.  often times out of economic necessity.  and i met her daughter, who is in her twenties, and who is awesome.

and when i hung out with china, i saw so much of myself in her.  she was the punk rock mom, back when there was no such thing as punk rock moms.  i am the global activist mom, in a time when there is no such thing as such.

and now, of course, there are punk rock moms!  there are books and magazines and blogs and fashion dedicated to the punk rock mom lifestyle.  and maybe, a couple of decades from now, there will be global activist moms networks and co-ops and shared housing and poetry readings.  it seems almost inevitable, as the world on the one hand grows smaller and on the other hand as it becomes clearer that our survival requires that we fight for this planet and the most marginalized among us.  whether that be plant or animal, icebergs or babies.

oh!  i can just imagine how amazing it must be to hear your poems translated into another language, especially spanish which is a language which has its own rhythm and poetic life.  how beautiful.  every time i write to you, i just want to pack up and go to mexico.  i still havent seen frida’s house.

i am sad that this may be my last letter to you in this series.  i have thoroughly enjoyed this.  it marks my transition from ecuador to minnesota.  i have no idea what we are going to do next or where.  this summer, theresa is taking ballet and hip hop classes.  i applied to a montessori school for her near her father’s house in case we are here in the fall.  i bought a 1970s shwinn coaster bike so i can get around this small college town.  i am writing a lot in dollar store notebooks in downtown cafes and taking my health seriously for the first time in years.

perhaps we will see each other in mexico.

la lucha continua,

mai’a

ps did you see this weird lil interview that lex did with me about revolutionary motherhood?  if not, here you go…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJy7Djn_6bc

abrazos!

Here is Maia’s website: https://about.me/maiawilliams

Flood

New Prose by Anna Doogan

People don’t seem to talk much about Vanport anymore. They razed the remains, put Delta Park there. Added a sports complex. . . The Black families in Portland these days are still pushed North by gentrification. They cling to the edges of the Albina neighborhood, Killingsworth, MLK Boulevard.

 

 

The weekend before Christmas, we take our kids to see the lights at Portland International Raceway, near Delta Park. A drive-through display of animated lights and holiday scenes. We know it’s a mistake once we get there.

“We should have come earlier,” my husband mutters as we swing into the line of cars.

We’ll sit in the line for two hours, three kids in the back bouncing up and down impatiently. In the dark, the line of waiting cars swirls and snakes, twists back to the highway and doubles around again. Bored volunteers wave us through the line with flashlights, pass candy canes through the windows.

We don’t seem any closer to the entrance, and the kids are getting restless, now wired on sugar. I stare out the window at the black fields and marsh of Delta Park, try to make out the shapes of frozen trees.

“This used to be Vanport City,” I tell my husband. He nods. He already knows. We stare out at the blackness of the land, listen to the Christmas carols on K103.

Vanport City was a cheap and poorly constructed attempt at a federal housing project in the 1940s. The largest housing project in the country, the second biggest city in Oregon.  A quarter of Vanport’s  residents were Black, unable to find  non-discriminatory housing within Portland’s edges.

When the Columbia River started rising, the Housing Authority told Vanport residents that they’d have ample warning before a flood hit. Time to move safely, time to prepare.

Instead, a 10-foot wall of water burst through Vanport later that same afternoon, destroying every building. Some killed, thousands permanently displaced. The entire city demolished by flood in one afternoon.

Displaced Black families moved to the North of Portland, Albina. The only area where Blacks could find affordable housing, redlined by banks as too risky for investments.

People don’t seem to talk much about Vanport anymore. They razed the remains, put Delta Park there. Added a sports complex. It has seven softball fields, nine for soccer. They put the Portland International Raceway there, host 5k runs and motorcycle shows. The annual  Christmas light exhibit. The Black families in Portland these days are still pushed North by gentrification. They cling to the edges of the Albina neighborhood, Killingsworth, MLK Boulevard.

Our car slowly inches forward in line. I suddenly feel sick, waiting here to see displays of twinkle lights shaped like reindeer, like Santa Claus. All I can think about is hats and shoes floating on water. Black mothers rushing children through flooding streets, back alleys. Brown hands sifting through cold water. Belongings left behind, forgotten.

My husband rolls down his window, forks over eighteen dollars to the waiting attendant so we can drive in to look at the lights.

Our children bounce in their seats, shriek with happiness.  Point out the glittering polar bear, the dancing elves waving in the cold air.

Underneath us, ghosts of parents and children and cities. Swallowed by rushing black waters, shoved far underground.

Guns in Three Parts – new prose by Amber Finn

 

“She wondered what a Lady would have needed a gun for and then decided she probably knew. ”

 

1

She thought carefully for a moment before choosing a gun. The faded red velvet lining of the box somehow made them both more dramatic and beautiful than it would have if it still retained its original scarlet, valentine hue. She knew he preferred the one with the black handle so her first instinct was to avoid it. As if touching it would some how alert him to her presence. When he’d first shown her the twin pistols he’d dismissed the mother-of-pearl stock as a “Lady’s gun” even though they were identical in size, weight and shape. She wondered what a Lady would have needed a gun for and then decided she probably knew.

She was relieved that she wasn’t afraid of them anymore. Having decided she wrapped her fingers firmly around the gun and then closed the box and hid it where she’d found it. She could never be sure that he didn’t use hairs or other invisible means to make sure drawers stayed shut. She’d found a few over the years and had been grateful that her blonde hair was fair enough to pass for his white more than once. He was more complacent these days or was too distracted to pay much attention to her. Maybe the sheer isolation of her situation made him believe she was incapable of trouble. She hoped so.

Backing into the hallway so that she could run to her room if she heard the front door knob rattle, she held the gun up to the light of the open window to check on the bullet chamber. It was full as she’d expected and she was relieved that she wouldn’t also have to go snooping for bullets. Already warm in her hands, the barrel and handle shone more like jewelry than death.   The sun darkened through the window and she hears thunder rolling in the distance. The afternoon monsoon is on its way and the moment passes her.  The gun now dull metal in her hands.  She runs down the hallway to her bedroom and she circles the bed before hiding the gun under the mattress on the side of the bed farthest from the door.  She is terrified and giddy and crosses over the threshold without feeling it..  She will look back for decades at this moment, at this choice and every time it will make her stronger. She is aware of simply not caring how this ends, only that it does now.

She will never know if the gun is what made the difference.  If he noticed it missing or noticed something different in her. Maybe it’s because she is almost thirteen and he is the one who changes but whatever the cause he stops coming into her room at night.  She waits in the dark with white knuckles gripping just beneath the edge of the mattress.  She is ready and determined to do whatever she has to but  he doesn’t come.

 

2

She felt a reassuring calmness spread through her. A new feeling she would have many more times throughout her life. It was the confidence of having made the right choice while bracing herself to act on it.

She reached the top of the stairs, pushed through the door and walked over to where she knew she would find it. It was heavy but modern at least and she double-checked the safety before going back downstairs.

The boy had shown up a few weeks ago. Snarling, on his bike, he chased kids throughout the complex and bruises and raw skin were the reward if he caught you. A few days ago he’d caught her best friend on the tennis court and had shoved her faced roughly into the ground. Her friend’s older brother saw the whole thing but did nothing and her heart felt heavy that someone big enough and old enough to stop this was too afraid to do anything.

No one would ever ask but she felt tired of this. Bullies were something she knew and they never stopped on their own.

He was still outside her house–gloating over the child next door and refusing to move body or bicycle from the stairs. He grinned at her return until he saw the dark grey shape in her hand. She really liked it when he stopped grinning.

“Go away now.” Her voice was much calmer than she had hoped. “Never come back here.”

“Shit! Put that away!”

He was already backing up, pulling his bicycle behind him. “Leave.”

The gun is as steady as her voice and she thinks she can see his eyes watering. This is fantastic. She suddenly didn’t care anymore what trouble would follow this.

“You’re crazy!”

She would take crazy if it meant that he was the one who was afraid this time.

“Don’t come back to find out.”

She can see the word bitch halt and tremble on his lips.  He’s too scared to let it tumble into the air.  She doesn’t lower the barrel until he is gone and only then does she see the same light now shining in her heart on the faces of the two smaller kids from next door.

“He won’t come back.” She tells them.  And he doesn’t.

 

3

The first time she goes to a gun range is on a late morning near the end of the short Washington summer. There is no one else there, just a few empty beer cans lined up at the end of a shale gravel pit and a few hopping ravens near a garbage can. The ravens scatter when the dusty flatbed pulls into lot.

They have been arguing all morning and she knows she’s lost this round but keeps hoping that something will happen to interrupt his plans.  She watches as he pulls two rifles from the gun rack in the back seat of the pickup. Her heart is pounding as he leans them on the fender and then walks to the end of the field to arrange the cans the way he wants them.  She thinks briefly that she could pick one of the rifles up and shoot him with it, end this all here.  But she doesn’t know if she can hit him and then what?  She will have still had to shoot one. Her mouth tastes like pennies.

Then he’s back.  “Can you see those ok?”

She wonders if he’s crazy.  “Sure.”

He unloads and reloads the first rifle for her, talking as he goes.  He reminds her of the kickback even though she remembers perfectly well the day he came home from bird hunting with a large gash on his nose because he had forgotten that one time.  Even her mother had giggled.  He holds the rifle up to the inside of his left shoulder and mimes shooting at the cans.  “Just like that.”

He holds out the rifle to her.  The dark opal ring on his hand glitters.

For some reason fear skips over some invisible line and suddenly she is angry.  She hates this.  She hates not wanting to touch his guns and not being given any choice.  He must be out of his mind to teach her to do this.  Why does he think she won’t use the knowledge against him?  Why does he think either of them will still be safe if she knows how to do this?  Like the times he pulls the truck onto an abandoned logging road and tells her they won’t go home if she won’t get behind the wheel.  They have changed homes enough times that he might be telling the truth this time but still she is so afraid that her teeth chatter and she pulls her school backpack into the driver’s seat  and sits on top of it so that she will be able to see over the dash better. She thought that nothing could scare her more than trying to control the truck and then this morning she finds out she is expected to take up shooting. She hates him.

She glares at him and grabs the other rifle. Not the one he wants her to take but the newer one still leaning against the truck. It is warm in her cold hands, the opposite of what she expected. She lifts it heavy to her shoulder and closes one eye while she tries to make herself steadier. She wants to close both eyes.  Instead she breathes in and she fires. The sound is worse than she expects and her ears are ringing even though she can still hear the last few echoes of the shot in the distance. There is a hiss behind one of the cans as the bullet buries itself in the shale hillside. She fires again  The middle can makes a thok sound and falls over. She can hear him start to congratulate her but she keeps firing until all 8 rounds are spent and five of the cans are knocked down. Her shoulder is sore like it’s been punched a few times in the same spot and she rolls it around to try to get some of the sting out. She leans the rifle up against the truck again and climbs into the cab and shuts the door. She can still smell the sulphur in the hot air. She doesn’t watch as he gathers up the shells and puts the guns back in the rack.  Instead she runs her fingernail through the dust on the window sill of the truck and turns over the feeling of having won something though she can’t say exactly what it was.

Amber Finn is an urban farmer with culinary training. After spending the ‘90s in Portland as a prototypical pierced and tattooed lesbian barista, she packed up her wife and two children to return to her homeland of British Columbia. She lives on the edge of the Salish Sea amid many progressives who value sustainability but still manages to find people who piss her off. When she’s not herding chickens, she is increasingly active in local politics.

Go Big or Go Home

“Sometimes the things that give us the most power and joy in our lives seem shameful, or the morally “right” answer is not the answer that makes the most sense to who we are, or how we see our lives.”

Jenny Forrester interviews Megan Kruse

Megan Kruse’s debut novel, Call Me Home, is just out from Hawthorne Books! We were lucky enough to get an interview with her during this busy book-launching time. Catch her on her epic book tour this spring.

What do you think you learned about your own philosophy of love when you were writing Call Me Home? Did the act of writing this story clarify your notions of human love?

For so much of the time that I wrote this novel I was adrift, trying to write, trying to live, not sure if I was succeeding at either. My characters were drifting in more overt ways, and I do think that guiding them through the mire and the dark helped me to start to define what is important to me, what it means to love each other and how to bridge the distance between ourselves.

I have always resisted dichotomies of good/bad, right/wrong, and I think that this novel was a chance for me to look closely at that. Sometimes the things that give us the most power and joy in our lives seem shameful, or the morally “right” answer is not the answer that makes the most sense to who we are, or how we see our lives. I think of my character Jackson, who is escorting in Portland, and that work gives him a brief feeling of power, of control that he hasn’t had in his life before, and affords him the things he needs. And the work hurts him, too, in some ways, but at this particularl moment in his life, he finds the net worth to be positive. Our choices aren’t always easy, but we have to come to terms with them. To love someone, I think, means to believe that they have made their choices for a reason, and to trust that your own experience doesn’t determine how someone else should live.

Beyond believing in each other’s choices, or at least acknowledging them as valid, I think that writing this novel was a reminder to me that we have to hold on to the people who make us want to consider ourselves. When you have found the people who keep you affixed to your life, the people holding the invisible tethers you can feel through the dark and across distance, it is your job to hold them close, to recognize the power of that connection, be thankful for it, and nurture it as best you can.

The landscape of this book is so integral to the storyline. I know some of the places in the book are places you have lived or known intimately. Did you return to those when you were writing? Do you have to be in a geographical place to write about it? Or do you write place from memory?

I spent the entirety of my twenties moving from place to place across the country. I had always thought that I would find the place I belonged–that it was out there somewhere, if I only looked hard enough. But I kept getting older and the people I loved were getting deeper and deeper into their own lives while I kept searching, and I finally began to realize that finding your place was only possible if you also stuck around.

I began writing this novel when I was living in Montana, and finished large parts of it in Texas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Even as I was searching for the place I was meant to be, I was writing about the land I grew up on in Washington. As I wrote it, it was so vivid–steep banks, deep creeks that filled in winter, curtains of root and dirt and fallen trees that my brother and I knew as well as any suburban child must know his or her cul-de-sac. After I finished the first draft of the novel, I decided rather suddenly to move back to Washington state for the first time since I was seventeen. It’s only as I’m writing this now that I think those things had something to do with each other–that writing this story of home and belonging and recognizing how much that land is a part of me made me understand that my home was there all along. All of that writing was from memory, and that meant something; it made me realize the significance of that place.

That said, I’m still prone to restlessness and drifting. I blame it a little bit on poetry. I’ve always been haunted by the one-two punch of Elizabeth Bishop asking, “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?/Where should we be today?” and Mary Oliver chiming in, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”

Now that I’ve written about places I’ve lived and known intimately, I’ve decided I need to raise the bar–the novel I’m beginning to work on now is set in the Midwest in the years following World War II. I haven’t quite figured out how I will handle that process, since the setting of Call Me Home was written entirely from my experience of place and time. Go big or go home, I guess.

Do you have a particular audience or reader in mind for Call Me Home? What do you hope people came away from it feeling or wanting to do?

I dreamed of a lot of different readers as I was writing this novel. It began as the story of a young queer man trying to make his way without a clear path, trying to establish who he was by feeling with blind courage and hope. I hope that the audience for the novel begins to think about the relationship between place and identity–to consider that there are queer people making lives outside of urban centers, where the way is hazier, and where, despite so many gains, the world is still not a safe place.

I hope as well that people come away from the novel thinking about violence, and paying attention to its echoes around us. In the three years that I worked for a domestic violence intervention program, I began to see it everywhere–the way that an abuser can move into your path like a rock into a river and divert your life elsewhere. You can spend your life running from someone, or from the shadows they have cast on your life. I know that the experience of the family in my novel is only one story, but it is important to me to acknowledge that those stories surround us all the time.

Finishing things is difficult for some writers – what would be your advice for finishing?

I recently taught a class at Hugo House in Seattle called Seeing it Through: Finishing Your Novel. I went in to the course feeling like I didn’t have much right or enough knowledge to tell people how to go about completing a project, but over the course of those two days, I realized that I do have some strategies that I subscribe to, things that have worked for me.

Above all, writing this novel made me recognize that writing only really works if you understand it to be a long game. This wasn’t a very easy realization for me. I remember finishing the first draft of Call Me Home while I was on a residency in rural Minnesota in the spring of 2012, and sending it off to an agent. For the next week or two I marched purposefully around town, waiting for the call to come about how she wanted the book, and on top of that there was already an exorbitant offer or three. It didn’t come then; in fact, it was another few weeks before I heard back that it wasn’t a good fit.

It was a particularly lonely time in my life. That had something to do with being in an isolated place, but more to do with what I’d done to myself. I’d made myself believe that to become a writer was like watching your number come up in a lottery–that it would happen, and then the answers for everything else would fall into place. I thought my life would start when the book was published, and then someone would tell me how to live.

Instead, it was two years before the book sold. The things I began to work on during the early months of defeat have become my current projects, and my slow revision changed the novel remarkably. I think of that Alice Munro quote from The Moons of Jupiter: “They were all in their early thirties. An age at which it is sometimes hard to admit that what you are living is your life.” This a roundabout way to explain that I think the secret to finishing is recognizing that this is your writing life. You have to take away the timelines and the expectations–you’re doing it now, and you’ll be doing it tomorrow.

The other piece of advice I kept touting like a pundit in my recent course was to be greedy with your writing practice. This goes along with the idea that writing is a long game, with no clear endpoint. I believe in playing to your strengths and desires; write today what you want to write–as long as you write. I’m never going to be someone who writes each day from 6-7am, but maybe I feel like writing at 2 in the morning or maybe not today but tomorrow instead. Don’t let anyone fool you into how it’s supposed to be done. Be kind to yourself–that’s different from letting yourself off the hook.

You have an MFA. What advice would you give others about getting an MFA or not? If a writer does want to go the MFA route, how important is choosing the right program?

I know that there are hosts of opinions out there about the MFA–essential or useless? Homogenizing or inspiring? I think you should be clear to yourself about what you want to gain from a program, and where you’ll be coming out of it; those expectations should dictate if you enroll, or in what kind of program. I’d always been drawn to Montana and what I viewed as a Western voice–storytelling with a strong sense of place, of space. I tend to make decisions quickly and with great resolve, and the University of Montana was a wonderful spot for me–to be teaching and writing in a small town that felt analogous to the rural, tumble-down vistas I’d grown up in. I did struggle, as I think a lot of people do, with hoping that the path will become clear post-MFA; I was–and maybe still am–underemployed for a long time. I think that the choice to complete an MFA needs to be a conscious one. You can go and do it, and you can make it sustainable with teacherships, but don’t do it unless you can say to yourself honestly that this is a step along a path you’ll be on forever. The act of writing is what makes you a writer. I remember being nineteen, finishing up my first “novel,” a 250 page Jeanette Winterson lesbian fiction rip-off. I was so certain that I would turn a corner and suddenly be someone. It was exactly the same feeling I had in Minnesota, waiting for the agent to call about Call Me Home; it had taken me another ten years to really understand that it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter what the milestone is–a first terrible novel, or an MFA; you work and work and then you get there, and it feels wonderful or anticlimactic, but regardless you keep going.

How much time do you spend on social media promoting your writing? How much do you think social media helps or hinders writers?

I used to be a super-weirdo about social media. I was really cagey about anyone knowing where I was or what I was doing, and I think I wanted to control peoples’ impressions of me. I remember demanding loudly of someone I was at dinner with, “Why on earth would you want to tag us here??” As time has gone on, I got over myself a little bit. I recognize, even if it’s still difficult, that you can’t control anyone’s opinions of you, beyond being certain to be a basically decent human. Once I let go of that, I started engaging more on social media. And here’s the thing–I cannot imagine going into this novel publication without that community. I have been tremendously lucky to have the support of so many incredible writers, friends and family, and the team at Hawthorne, who have been my greatest champions from day one. Social media is the forum where I can feel all of that support now, a place to reach otherwise nebulous, far-flung communities. Once I began to think of social media as a clearinghouse for sharing information and victories and questions about writing, my angst about the platform fell away.

This question made me think of the other day, when the news about Harper Lee’s second novel started circulating. I realize that there are still many questions about the publication which need resolution, but I bring this up purely as an example of the role of social media in my writing life now. I woke up and I heard the news, and because I am surrounded by writers and readers, my entire social media feed was on fire with it. I ran down to Georgetown in the weak winter sun to grab lunch with a friend and I was full with a rare joy for the whole world– a sense that we could all come together and be awed by something. I was grinning wildly at cars, thinking Harper Lee! As silly as it sounds, I know that feeling of connection is spectacular and rare, and if social media provides it, I can’t discount it.

Megan Kruse grew up in the rural Pacific Northwest. She studied creative writing at Oberlin College and earned her MFA at the University of Montana, writing about lonely places and our faulty, beautiful hearts. Her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and she recently completed residencies at the Kimmel-Harding-Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska and the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in Minnesota. Her debut novel, “Call Me Home,” releases from Hawthorne Books in March 2015, with an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert. She currently lives in Seattle.

Call Me Home

Excerpt from the new novel Call Me Home by Megan Kruse

Megan Kruse is a young writer of raw and fearless talent and Call Me Home showcases all she can do. She writes here of harrowing lives — of a family bent and broken by violence, where each person is desperately trying to somehow grow toward light and liberation. In the process, she offers a most unlikely tale of hardness and hustle, of grace and loss, of painful love and tough breaks and the unimaginable paths we must all eventually take toward survival.

— ELIZABETH GILBERT, author of Eat, Pray Love

 

Jackson

Silver, Idaho, 2010

The belated Easter party was to be held that Saturday night at A-frame A, the most complete of the new houses. Just a few beers, and then the Longhorn, according to the much-circulated plan.

 

Who had an Easter party? Jackson didn’t care. He was going to see Don. He hadn’t seen him since Honey brought him to the East side on Tuesday; each day that Don’s truck didn’t appear, Jackson tried to pretend he wasn’t disappointed. Now he shaved in the pocket mirror, the one he’d stolen from Lydia, and put on a clean shirt. He did everything slowly, meticulously. He drank the rest of the bottle of wine. What a girl he was. He thought again about the lock of hair he’d given to Chris. In his imagined, more perfect life, he discarded sentimentalities. Into the trash with the birthday cards, faded photographs. A better Jackson would scorn them all.

 

It was a little past seven when he made the walk to A-frame A. Already the light was draining away; he hadn’t remembered a flashlight. The lake was lapping against the shore, a dark, bright line that curved like a knife blade in the dim evening light. The clouds had lifted, and the faintest web of stars was beginning to stretch over the water. There were crushed cans along the path. When he got to A-frame A, there was already a crowd. Jackson was a little late, because he hadn’t wanted to be too early, but now it seemed like he shouldn’t have worried. He could hear Jay Donahue and Bill inside, shouting and laughing, already drunk. The floor was still not sanded, but the windowpanes were up, the electrical wiring coursing through like veins. Someone had set up a card table and filled it with bags of chips, open plastic cartons of donuts, and cupcakes. There was a group of men sitting around it, drinking from a small cityscape of open bottles. Don was nowhere in sight. He had the feeling of walking onto a stage.

 

“Jack!” Bill flagged him over. “You gotta hear about this. Tell him, Jay.”

 

The whole room smelled of men – a different smell from the high school cross-country locker room, which had appealed to Jackson in another way – wispy, ephemeral slips of running shorts, clean sweat, shampoo. The men in Silver smelled dirtier. Beer sweat, sawdust. No one had touched in the locker room – all of the runners were virginal, clean, and of themselves, communal only in their dedication to noble pursuits: a second shaved from the half mile, a lighter pair of running shoes. The Silver crew touched with beery, cheerful abandon, and Jackson was one of them. Their meaty hands palmed him. Was it possible they weren’t thinking of sex? All of the things that had marked him in Tulalip, in Portland, evaporated. It seemed like no one saw. Then there was Don, he thought. Don saw or he didn’t. Jackson looked around for him but he couldn’t see him. Josh, the crew leader on the north side, was holding up a pen, one of those naked lady pens, and laughing loudly. Jackson laughed loudly, too, slapped his own skinny leg – A broad! And her top falls off ! Was it really this simple? Men and their simple wants. Josh turned the pen and the woman’s top slid down again.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Jackson saw Don climb the steps to the open house, knocking his boots against the doorframe. Don was wearing a red sweater that pulled against his stomach, his round shoulders hunched forward. He was carrying a case of beer and smoking a cigarette.

 

Don didn’t look at him. He gave a wide, encompassing smile to the room, and Jackson concentrated on an open fifth of Early Times. He took a long drink, and then another. One of the guys slapped him on the back. “Good man!” he said, knocking his own bottle against Jackson’s.

 

Amy

Women’s Shelter, Alamogordo,

New Mexico, 2010

 

The New Mexico sun was a flat disk, the clouds high above in the hard blue sky. The house was the same as all of the others in town – a brown stucco box, bleached to a bone color in places. Inside was a long hallway with six doors and part of a family behind each one. The mailbox was always empty, and it bothered her the way the mail car drove right by. Wasn’t it a giveaway? It seemed like an obvious thing to overlook when you were trying to make a building look like a home, like a place that held any whole family instead of six or seven approximations: what was left of families, after. The backyard was a scrabble of dirt and rock, where Lydia sat with a little boy against the tall wooden fence while Amy was inside talking to the caseworker.

 

“You can’t blame your son,” the woman kept saying to her. “You can’t blame him, and you can’t blame yourself, but you were right, you needed to go without him. You couldn’t take the chance that it would happen again.” The woman’s eyes were watering, in danger of spilling over. “This happens with teenagers,” she said gently. “They get angry at their mothers. They want their fathers’ love, and their fathers manipulate them just like they manipulated you. You had to make a decision for your safety and your other child’s safety.” She waited, but Amy didn’t say anything. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

 

Her head felt thick. The woman didn’t understand. Who would? The idea of trying to explain made her feel like she was trying to walk through thick mud with aching, bone-tired legs. He was safe, she knew that. Jackson was always the self-sufficient one, the big brother. But that was the problem – he rarely seemed to need his mother, but he needed Lydia, and Lydia him. From the time Lydia was an infant he’d watched his sister, held her, fed her, protected her. Amy had at times almost resented their closeness, Jackson’s hovering, for the way it implicated her, proved what Amy knew: that Gary was dangerous. In some ways, Amy thought, Jackson considered Lydia to be his, and she couldn’t blame him for it.

 

She hadn’t chosen one over the other, she told herself now; she had not. It was the right thing to do. Jackson had a life ahead of him that shabby Tulalip, Washington, could not give him, and she knew with as much certainty as she knew her own love for him that he would leave that town, that he would make his own life and see his father for what Gary was. And to take Jackson – to bring him to this new life, when he was supposed to be starting his own – wasn’t right.

Bridges

New prose by Shari Winslow

“This is what happens when you teach high school,” she said. “You connect if you can, and you love them even when you hate them, and you just care so damn much. And then they’re gone in some way or another.”

 

I saw her on the street. First Avenue, on my way to the bookstore. She’d cut her hair; instead of her long, thick braid she sported a choppy bob, her dark blonde edges brushing the top of her collar. Her black pea coat was the same, though. One arm hung loose against her side. For awhile she’d tried wearing a prosthetic arm, but she hated that. She’d gone her entire life without a left arm, and trying to fit one into a space where she’d never missed one before made her feel even more self-conscious.

“Hey,” I said. “You changed your hair.”

She turned and smiled.

“Yeah, well. It’s almost the only thing I can change. So why not?”

Snowflakes drifted in the damp, gray air, swirled in the glow of the Christmas lights still on the trees, but didn’t land, didn’t stick. It was early January. She had been dead for nearly a year.

She walked away.

I saw her everywhere. Not every day, not all the time, but everywhere: in the produce section at Fred Meyer. In the food court at the mall. Striding down Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma, towards Union Station. But of course it never really was her. She would turn around and look right through me with a stranger’s face. Her perfectly functional right arm would clutch a purse, her left arm swinging free.

In late February of the previous year, the head of the English department at the high school where I taught said, “Did you hear? Bethany killed herself.” Her eyes gleamed with the juiciness of the gossip. She loved being the one to break the news. She had taught Bethany for one semester of IB literature, but Bethany was in my sophomore class the entire previous year. Halfway through her junior year she asked to be my TA after she dropped calculus. Most of the time she sat at my desk and read while I walked around my room, gesturing wildly at my sophomores. Sometimes I caught her smile when I paused in front of a kid’s desk and said, “The life you save will be your own!” or “You might think this is just a notebook for English class, but this is the essence of your soul!” She entered grades into my green spiral grade book with the vinyl green cover. Her handwriting was perfect.

She borrowed my copy of The Awakening and spilled coffee on the cover. Just a corner. It barely warped, and it didn’t matter. Of course it didn’t matter. But she couldn’t stop apologizing.

I didn’t count the number of times I walked her up to the counselor’s office. I didn’t ask how she managed to cut her right wrist when she didn’t have a left arm. I just watched as she sipped from a styrofoam cup of water, and when she finished, she used her perfectly manicured thumbnail to shred that cup into a perfect spiral, her jaw clenched.

Her counselor was short, feisty, warm, with a Peruvian accent. I can still hear the way she said her name: Bay-thany.

Bethany shredded her yellow paper hall pass next.

Her counselor called her mother. Again. Bethany already saw a therapist, already took medication, but her counselor explained to her mother that she was sitting there in her office, sobbing, with fresh cuts.

Her mother wanted to know how her math grade was.

I wrote Bethany’s letter of recommendation, because she was brilliant and because I wanted her to get out. She lasted one semester at Mount Holyoke.

My department head said, “I heard she was sexually assaulted and just went crazy. She didn’t even go back to school second semester.”

I walked back to my classroom. My sophomores arranged their desks in a circle for their Socratic Seminar on All Quiet on the Western Front. What is worth fighting for? I half-listened, trying to take notes. My kids glanced at me, trying to see if I was writing when they were whispering and giggling and having chatty side conversations. I looked at my paper. The only thing I could write, sitting safely and miserably in a circle of sophomores, was a single sentence: Bethany killed herself.

After lunch the counselor called me up to her office.

“I wanted to make sure you’re okay,” she said.

“I’m okay,” I said, but I cried, and so did she.

“This is what happens when you teach high school,” she said. “You connect if you can, and you love them even when you hate them, and you just care so damn much. And then they’re gone in some way or another.”

You lose them all eventually, in so many ways, so many ordinary ways.

And then you lose some because they die, because they drink too much and drive on the wrong side of Peasley Canyon Road. Or they slip and fall when they’re hiking on Mount Rainier on a family vacation.

And you lose some because they kill themselves.

You lose one because she jumps off the Aurora Bridge on an ordinary day in February.

They call it the Suicide Bridge; I read one article that claimed a person died each month. Sometimes bodies land on the pavement, or on cars. The dot-com employees working below the bridge talk about grief counselors being brought into their offices.

Sometimes the jumpers land in the water, and they might not die right away.

Bethany landed in the water. Bethany. Bay-thany.

But I didn’t hear anything until afterwards. After she died, after the funeral. My department chair’s eyes gleaming with gossip. The counselor’s eyes closed with grief. You lose some. You lose some.

The last time I saw her, really saw her, she was visiting one of her friends on campus during her Thanksgiving break. They hugged each other, smiled, giggled. I caught her eye and waved and thought that maybe she’ll be fine.

Shari Winslow writes and teaches English in the Pacific Northwest.

Poetry Workshop in the Literary Kitchen with Rosebud Ben-Oni

 

Poetry & Pop: A Creative Writing Workshop

Get more writing done and take Rosebud Ben-Oni’s workshop!

 

 

How can popular culture shape your poetry and create a unique voice? This 7-week workshop will lead writers through a series of questions, prompts and exercises utilizing existing popular culture to help craft poems. Students will offer feedback on each other’s work. We will also analyze existing poems that utilize popular culture, in order to better fuel creativity and spark discussion on how poetry informs and responds to social and political ideologies.

Feb 10th – March 28th

Rosebud Ben-Oni, award-winning poet and playwright, is the author of SOLECISM. Read more here http://rosebudbenoni.com/bio

$225 for the 7-week workshop
A $65 deposit saves your spot
Class size is strictly limited, so please sign up early!

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