Students, this one is for you.

AWP was great, you met a lot of people and hung out with yours in a different place and time, and you’re exhausted from readings, signings, panels, and talking more than you’re used to. Time to unwind into some reflective contemplation and reinvigorate your game plan. Here are a few you might consider.

1)     Your Literary Citizenship. Just how useful were you over the past year? Did you assist with projects, planning events, edit, design, promote, create audience, write grants, jury fellowships or prizes or retreat residencies, serve on a board or committee, initiate a field worthy movement, compile bibliographies or reading lists, review books, intern, organize in the community, serve where you are needed most, help?

2)     Your Creative Work. Did you keep the promise you vowed to dedicate time to write, revise until you finalize, ingest only that which influences the work and gives the mind & body stamina and endurance to go the full mile, learn a new language, research the unfamiliar, listen to sounds and take in sights you normally would not dare, give yourself applause when you know you are on the right track within the work, celebrate a finished piece by writing its companion, free the writer hiding inside and engage?

3)     The Follow Up. Did you manage to make those open deadlines, keep a regimen of applications, prepare yourself for opportunity, gather your wits, work on long-term goals in your writing, yourself, and your future, make contact with all the people you enjoyed from the past year and discover your professional life is as much about placement as it is creative, seek new ways to support the work without losing a love for life?

Most everyone you will ever meet working in the lit field is engaged in regular contributions. There is so much to be done and so many things unnoticed, you can surely find ways to jump in and readily be a part of. Your mentors are often working on several projects at once, while devoting themselves to the field, and publishing widely, often while teaching full-time at one university and serving a field faculty for low residencies as well. Looking for a service project can bring about essential results that, once completed, people wonder why no one ever did it before, or at least why not in the past fifteen to twenty years. Dedicating yourself to your creative work is the only way to become a practicing writer, for most. Making deadlines can mean opportunity awaits and each juncture is practice for your professional development. Following through is necessary to any achievement. Finding your place in the wide field gives you a room to work within and eventually comfortability, or cause for more work to change things.

Just keep at it and we will see you at residency and at AWP and hopefully, at some point, standing in line to sign your books and celebrate your work and efforts.

For now, here are some samples of citizenship that I was happy to work with in preparation for AWP. For roughly six weeks prior, I worked on about ten bibliographies that the whole field seemed to forget to compile. As founder of an AWP caucus that transitioned to another organizer over the past year, our view of the field for AWP is concerned with the viability of that body of writers significantly. A handful of the caucus came to task, the current organizer, two most recent chairs, founding panelist, and assisting caucus audience member, assisted and enhanced the major list and some of the categories that followed, and the rest came about organically. We are done but we are only just beginning as well (there is so much to do). For now, in this note, it is my hope that all of our students (alumni, faculty, administration) take in these lists as personal reading lists and familiarize themselves with this portion of the field as they grow as writers through readings. With the VIDA count in and a lot of work ahead of us, and a personal focus on understanding matriarchal influence in the lit field, the bibliography attached lists books published by Native Women Poets in the 21st Century, thus far. Keep an eye out for Caucus posts and you will find books from the same in from the 21st Century Turn, a time of departures and much, much, more.

Now that we are done, I wonder what happened to all the critics who used to compile poetry bibliographies. I also wonder if the sense that we can’t be treated as an anthropological/ethnographic study anymore (in contemporary poetry, especially, perhaps, since the release of Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas) serves as a deterrent to those who compiled in the past? Whatever the reason, poets have taken initiative, dedicated and served, followed through and now present some of the bibliographies that speak the times.

Just like we hope you do.

Poetry Volumes of the Twenty First Century Native Women Poets

Keep working.

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Allison Hedge Coke.

Shouldn’t we all read more?

I always laugh when I meet young writers who tell me that they don’t read much because they don’t want to corrupt their own style.  It makes me smile because they obviously don’t know a thing about writing.  Dancers love dance.  Actors love theatre and film, artists love art, musicians love music and one would have to assume that celebrities love tabloids and wine makers love wine.

You read because you want to know the pool you swim around in.  Are you into craft?  Setting? Plot? Character?  Read enough so you know who you are as a writer, so you know your own strengths and weaknesses.  Read till you understand what it means to weave in myth, so that a story like Calvino’s “The Distance to the Moon,” jumps out at you, yes! It’s about Cuba and the U.S. and kids leaving home and the story of God becoming the story of man and the Bible becoming obsolete and there is no more manna from heaven.  It’s about all that and you know it and understand it because you’ve read so much that your brain swims in metaphors, you speak that language too, the heightened language that means we’re telling one of the tall tales of the universe.

Karen said to me last residency, “I don’t know if I believe everything you say,” and I thought, “No, you should not, I am a story teller and in the telling, the story always gets bigger.”  The fishes get bigger, the bridges from which we leap are taller, the rivers deeper and the dangers always just a step behind.  Writing is the language of lunatics who thought someone might like to read this.  Be one of those readers.  Enter myth in your own head space.

As I write this, I’m eating pomegranate seeds.  They’re in season and they’re everywhere, and I love them.  I can’t help thinking of Persephone being tricked by the god of the underworld to taste them and according to Greek myth, that’s why we have winter.  Demeter waits for Persephone to emerge so there can be summer.  Reading is being in the underworld.  You get to eat pomegranate seeds down there and it’s sometimes dark, but that is where spring and ideas come from.  That’s where all the robust flowering of the imagination comes from.  Reading and living.  Keep reading.  Keep going down under the earth and coming up overflowing with story and light.

Calvino’s famous quote on reading from If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler:  “In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which are frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you…And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. ”

*****

Dr. Kate Gale is Managing Editor of Red Hen Press, Editor of the Los Angeles Review and President of the American Composers Forum, LA.  She teaches in the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction. She serves on the boards of A Room of Her Own Foundation, Kore Press and Poetry Society of America.  She is author of five books of poetry and six librettos including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis which had its world premiere October 2010 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee.  Her current projects include a co-written libretto, Paradises Lost with Ursula K. LeGuin and composer Stephen Taylor, and a libretto based on The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle, based on Dr. Kinsey’s life with composer Daniel Felsenfeld which is in production in 2014 by the American Opera Projects.  Her newest book is The Goldilocks Zone from the University of Nebraska Press in January 2014, and her forthcoming book Echo Light is from Red Mountain Press fall of 2014.