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How do you process the news?

forget about the world.png

I've had a hard time working lately, and I don't think it's just because of the big move that is underway. Not to downplay how overwhelmed I feel by the prospect of starting over again. Not to mention the hours of packing up the mess in this house, and well, everything else that goes into moving. But it's also the news that I can't  process anymore. So much bad news. I find myself trying to tune it out, and feeling guilty about that. But today I turned on NPR just in time to hear Ai Weiwei talk about his new documentary, Human Flow, about the current refugee crisis, and I was so moved by his compassion and authenticity. Just his voice put me in a new place. 

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Moving!!

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I always knew moving would be hard, but it's mind-boggling, all that's involved. I feel completely overwhelmed! As I pack things into containers, I feel as if I am folding myself up into so many boxes, wondering how I will unpack in another place and time.

We are moving back to Virginia, the state where I grew up, and the state which is the backdrop of my latest book, Miss August--although Miss August is from another decade. I am beginning to wonder what this decade will look like to writers in the future. 

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Moving to Virginia!

We are moving next fall! This will be our backyard come October. Between then and now, we have so much work to do, but I have to keep this image in my mind--hills and fields and blue sky.

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My Next Book!

 
 

My next book, Miss August, is coming out in May!  The description written up by the press:

In her latest collection, Miss August, Nin Andrews takes on difficult topics: racism, segregation, child abuse, mental illness, and sexual identity. Told from the point of view of three different characters, the poems take place in a small southern town in the Jim Crow South where opposition to racial integration is still strong. The book presents a tale of a boy’s discovery of his sexual identity, of profound love and friendship, and is also a portrait of racism in a specific time and place in American history. 

The name of the book, the inspiration for the book, comes from an experience that happened when I was eight years old and was playing at a friend's house, and we came across his father's Playboy magazine. My friend opened it to the centerfold. I still remember staring and staring, feeling suddenly nauseated and terrified. THAT is not happening to me, I announced.  To which he answered, I like Miss August. She’s what I want to be when I grow up. 

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Patrick Henry

 

"It is through… Art and Art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence. " Oscar Wilde

Reading this quote, I was reminded of an experience I had in third grade ---

One day in the middle of recess, I realized that I had forgotten to do my history homework,  a written report on Patrick Henry.  Worse, I was supposed to read my report aloud in class. In a panic, I snuck into the art room and quickly drew a picture (in crayon) of Patrick Henry in a black and gold (or rather, orange) tricorn hat, which I later presented to my teacher in place of the essay. I so admired his hat, I said, though I wasn't sure if Patrick Henry ever owned a tricorn hat. Then I added that I also liked his curly long  hair. Miraculously, my teacher, Miss Tab, was, delighted with what she called my creative spirit, and she hung the picture up for all to admire. 

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Dorothy Parker Comic

I drew this comic before Christmas, but with the help of Jimmy--I've added some features. I am still learning how to draw with Flash . . . 

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The Variable Foot

I had to laugh when I read this in The Oxford Book of American Poetry: "I write in the American idiom," William Carlos Williams noted, "and for many years I've been using what I call the variable foot." One of the secrets of American poetry is that no one knows what the variable foot is. 

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A Few Good Reads

It's that dark time of year when I settle into writing and don't think about the outside world, and when I revisit books I love. Over Thanksgiving I found myself once again flipping through my favorite anthology, which I blogged about here 

And also discovered new books, like Dante di Stefano's Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, which I loved so much, I had to interview him. And Claire Bateman's Scape, which totally blew me away. 

I don’t even know how to describe Claire except to say that I remember a review (which I can't find right now) in which she was called a modern day Hopkins. Like Hopkins, she really does seem to come from another world. She loves to play with your mind, or simply illuminate it for you, as in her poem, “A Few Things to Know about Reading,” which begins:

I. If a book hasn’t shaken you up even a little after three chapters, you must lay it aside since the very purpose of reading is to set all your pervious clarities resonating at incompatible frequencies.

II. Do not mistake reading for actual life, which suffers from lack of both compression and dynamic focus; not the prolonged mundane stretches no editor would stand for, the proliferation of character and incidents that apparently do nothing to advance the plot.  Also, as you may have notices, the protagonist comes across as muddles, inept, though neither in the comedic for in the ironically reflexive post=tragic sense. The main problem with reality is that you aren’t allowed to skim it.

III. Do not mistake actual life for reading. Inside your brain, there is no homunculus waxing lyric on the events of your day, so you must quit feeding him truffles, and shoo away his attendants with their ostrich-feather fans. 

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The Jumblies

Forgive the political nature of this comic. All week I have been thinking of this Edward Lear poem. And how as a girl, whenever my mother read it, I would complain that you can't possibly go to sea in a sieve-- to which she answered: Why, there's nothing to worry about! Because you can always sleep in a crockery-jar with your feet wrapped in pinky paper, all folded neat, and fastened with a pin. I think that's my favorite stanza of the poem: The water it soon came in, it did, The water it soon came in; So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet In a pinky paper all folded neat, And they fastened it down with a pin. And they passed the night in a crockery-jar, And each of them said, ‘How wise we are! Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long, Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong, While round in our Sieve we spin!’ Far and few, far and few, Are the lands where the Jumblies live; Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Forgive the political nature of this comic. All week I have been thinking of this Edward Lear poem. And how as a girl, whenever my mother read it, I would complain that you can't possibly go to sea in a sieve--

to which she answered:

Why, there's nothing to worry about! Because you can always sleep in a crockery-jar with your feet wrapped in pinky paper, all folded neat, and fastened with a pin.

I think that's my favorite stanza of the poem:

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, ‘How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

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What If You Slept

 

("What If You Slept" by Coleridge has always been one of my favorite poems.) 

 The other day I was listening to two of my poet-friends complain bitterly about their parents. Among other things, they talked of how they wished their folks had an interest in literature. No one in their families read books. I couldn’t join in. After all, I grew up in a house of wall-to-wall books. I will never be as literate as my parents, and I owe much of what I know about poetry to my mother who read aloud from my earliest memories. I used to frustrate her to no end, asking her to stop when I liked a line or poem, and read it again. And then again.

Not again? she’d say.

Just one more time, I’d say. And we’d go around and around.

And in my mind, later, I would play with the lines. So as a girl this poem might be:

 

What if you slept

And what if

In your sleep

You dreamed

And what if

In your dream

You went to heaven

And there—there was a rain shower

And when you awoke,

You were soaked to the bone . . .

Or:

And there—you discovered secret powers

And when you awoke

You could see through walls . . .

Or:

And there—your soul was made of sugar and flour

And when you awoke

You knew you were destined to be a baker . . .

Or:

And there—you climbed to the tip of God’s tower . . .

And when you awoke

You were still holding an angel by the finger . . .

 

I would keep going and going. This was one of the ways I passed my time. I called this game making-and-filling-in-the-blanks. I always liked games of fill-in-the-blank. My mother said if I continued in this way, I would never remember the correct versions of poems. She was right.

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You Don't Know What You've Got Till You've Won

This is my latest post for the Best American Poetry Blog

After hearing about the Nobel Prize for Literature, I was reminded of my first grade class, particularly of a workbook for what was then called New Math. The workbook included pictures of sets of objects. Students were supposed to circle the object that did not belong. So one picture might include a bird, a dog, a pig, and a sandwich. The next, a fork, a spoon, a knife, and a tennis shoe. The next, a ring, a watch, a necklace, and a frog. What this had to do with math, I am still not certain.

But I liked the pictures, and I loved to think up stories in which one might want to include the circled items. I would explain to Mrs. Wallace, my teacher,  that a sandwich could be used to feed the bird, the dog, and the pig. A fork comes in handy if you have a knot in your shoelace. The frog, of course, might have been a prince or princess once upon a time.

I was also reminded of discussions I had with the poet, Eleanor Ross Taylor, back when I was just out of college and first trying to understand the literary world. Eleanor had an acerbic wit and was unsparingly honest. Literary prizes, she suggested, are not all that you think they are. She talked at length about the different presses and literary connections and publishers one might wish to have, and I remember feeling so discouraged. I concluded that literary success is a bit like economic success in our country. There is the top tiny %, now referred to as the 1%, and that one dreams of becoming a part of, and then there is the 99%.

Eleanor also suspected that certain winners are actually compromise candidates. It’s hard to come to a consensus, she said, adding, we writers don’t agree on many things. That was especially true for Eleanor and me. She loved to ask me who my favorite writers were, but inevitably she would tell me how much she disliked them. About my beloved Garcia Marquez, she said, I simply cannot abide him. Of the French surrealist poets I adored in those days, she said, Really, I’d rather not get a headache. But you just tell me why I should.  Once, when I showed her a poem by Russell Edson, she said, I don’t know what that is. Do you? And we both burst out laughing. 

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Grace Notes: An Interview with Grace Cavalieri

http://www.poetsandartists.com/magazine/2016/9/27/grace-notes-grace-cavalieri-interviews-nin-andrews

An excerpt:

GC: Seeing the outer edges as you do, with so much humor, were you always that way as a child?

NA: To a certain extent, yes. I have always lived on the outer edge. I have always been a little bit of rule-bender, or someone who resists the flow. As a girl, I developed this rule or habit—that if someone told me not to do or say something, I did it. Or rather, I often did it. (I did use some judgment.) Good things resulted. So I continued with this habit. 

That’s how The Book of Orgasms began. A professor told me not to use the word, orgasm, in a poem, and not to write about orgasms. Never mind that my orgasms were messengers from the divine . . . 

This habit is also how, or maybe why, I met David Lehman. My college advisor despised David and told me never to take a class with him. (You know how English departments can be.) Before my advisor told me that, I had no intention of taking another poetry class, but, in an instant, I changed my mind. I left my advisor’s office and walked straight up these creaky wooden stairs and turned to the right, right into David’s office. I had never met him before. Are you Dr. Lehman? I asked in my polite voice, looking down at his desk at a copy of The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara. He blinked a few times and said, Yes, may I help you? I blurted out that my advisor had just suggested I take an independent study with him. (I think he knew I was lying.) That was the beginning of a long mentorship and friendship.   I will add that if it had not been for David Lehman, I would not be a poet today. It was David who said, in his tactful way, that I was odd. Or different. And that being odd is a gift, not a curse. 

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Ohioana Award!!!

Connecting Readers and Ohio Writers

 

MEDIA RELEASE – July 18, 2016                                

                                                                         

2016 Ohioana Award winners Announced

Literary prizes to be presented September 23 at Ohio Statehouse

Columbus, OH (July 18, 2016) —The Ohioana Library has announced the winners of the 2016 Ohioana Book Awards.

The awards, established in 1942, honor Ohio authors in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Juvenile Literature, and Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature. The final category, About Ohio or an Ohioan, may also include books by non-Ohio authors. The Ohioana Awards are among the oldest and longest-established state literary prizes in the nation.

“From the nearly 300 books that were eligible for this year’s awards, thirty finalists in six categories were selected by jurors,” said David Weaver, Executive Director of the Ohioana Library. “To make this short list is itself recognition of excellence and selecting a winner is a challenge. The books and authors chosen as 2016’s honorees are truly stellar.”

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the awards, which will be presented at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus on Friday, September 23.

The winners are:

Fiction

Mary Doria Russell. Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral. Ecco, 2015.

Nonfiction

Wil Haygood. Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That          

    Changed America. Knopf, 2015.

About Ohio or an Ohioan

David McCullough. The Wright Brothers. Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Poetry

Nin Andrews. Why God Is a Woman. BOA Editions Ltd., 2015.

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