Non-Fiction

5 Books to Read this Summer

By Claire Bromm

 

Summer is right around the corner (yay!) and that means having extra time to do all the things you didn’t have time for during the busy school year. This could be spending more time with family, finally getting around to working out, creating that DIY you’ve been looking at on Pinterest or sitting down and reading some good books.

Here are five books you should check out this summer.

 

  1. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children, four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness, sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades.

 

  1. The Winds of Winter by George R. R. Martin

The sixth installment of the A Song of Ice and Fire series is slated to be released this summer, however fans of the book, and the HBO series Game of Thrones, have been burned by Martin and his long-writing process before.

 

  1. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

 

  1. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today’s racial landscape–from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement–offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide.

 

  1. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.

It’s National Poetry Month

By Maison Horton

Welcome to April, writers! The month of spring showers brings with it a chance to nourish our own writing. That’s because April is National Poetry Month and, consequently, National Poetry Writing Month (often abbreviated as NaPoWriMo). The idea is simple: thirty poems for thirty days. To honor National Poetry Month, poets across the country are challenged to let go of their inhibitions and just write for thirty consecutive days. Such concentration during a one-month period has the potential to take our writing into territory never explored. In this blog post, we’ll talk a little bit more about the NaPoWriMo event, as well as some reasons why you should consider participating this year.

 

Background

In 1996, The Academy of American Poets established the first National Poetry Month to be celebrated every April. The Academy’s website lists the goals of national observance, and those goals were to:

With these ideas in mind, it makes sense that a poet would seek to honor National Poetry Month by writing poems. Poet Maureen Thorson had that exact spirit when she started the poem-a-day event for the month of April. According to napowrimo.net, what began as a project by Thorson eventually inspired other poets to follow suit:

“This website is owned and operated by Maureen Thorson, a poet living in Washington, DC. Inspired by NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, she started writing a poem a day for the month of April back in 2003, posting the poems on her blog. When other people started writing poems for April, and posting them on their own blogs, Maureen linked to them. After a few years, so many people were doing NaPoWriMo that Maureen decided to launch an independent website for the project.”

The event site’s “About” page also mentions, “But this site isn’t meant to be ‘official,’ or to indicate ownership or authority over the idea of writing 30 poems in April.” Essentially, NaPoWriMo is purely for the joy of writing poetry and sharing that joy with like-minded poets. The event also gives poets a way to actively participate in the observance of National Poetry Month that is also personal.

 

NaPoWriMo Today

The expansion of social media has only extended NaPoWriMo’s reach. These days, a poet can find a wealth of resources to inform and inspire their poetic endeavors. There are numerous websites and blogs (Tumblr is one platform that comes to mind) that provide writing prompts for each day in April, prompts that often cater to a writer’s needs and goals.

 

Participation is Key to Growth

So, why participate in NaPoWriMo? What can a poet (or essayist, novelist, screenwriter, etc.) gain from writing a poem-a-day for thirty days? Below are some reasons to consider taking part in the fun this April:

  1. Flexibility. Beyond writing one poem per day, there are no rules! There are infinite ways to move forward with your writing goals for the month. It’s possible to borrow the rules from NaNoWriMo and meet a word count each day. Perhaps you want to work on existing poems instead of composing new ones. Maybe you’re the rebellious type—so instead, you’re thinking of working on that memoir manuscript. The main idea is to find a writing goal and to stick to it, as long as that goal gets you writing.
  2. Discovery. New and fresh ideas will arise, especially if writers choose to create brand new poems this April. I can speak to this method from personal experience. Last year I participated in NaPoWriMo, and I generated so much surprising material. I let my inner critic take a seat for the entire month. After April ended, I went back to my poems and underlined (and later, compiled) any threads—words, phrases, even whole lines—I thought had potential. NaPoWriMo is a chance to let the gems from your subconscious mind float to the surface and onto the page.
  3. Adventure. NaPoWriMo isn’t just for poets. Writers of all disciplines can benefit from experimenting with poetry, as poetry is one method that can help us practice creating compelling images through metaphor, simile, etc. If you’ve been avoiding writing a stanza or two, there’s never been a better time to get started on a new project!
  4. Community. In addition to providing writing prompts, many writing blogs accept and post NaPoWriMo submissions on their webpages. Inspiration abounds; know that by participating in NaPoWriMo, you’re not alone! The community surrounding the event is supportive and always encouraging. Having such a wide collection of artists engaging in the same event makes NaPoWriMo satisfying year after year.

4 Tips for Staying Motivated to Write

By Emily Kern
As the semester continues to flash by at an almost indescribable pace, it is easy to get swept away with the tide of homework, work, and other random to-dos, losing your motivation to write in the process. Despite majoring in Creative Writing, I definitely have experienced this inevitable reality of being pulled in a million directions, and my level of motivation for writing produced zero short stories and very few ideas. Because of that, I wanted to share 4 of my favorite tips for how to remain motivated to write even if other things require your immediate attention.
    1. Make time. It is easy to admit defeat and say we don’t have time. The simple solution is to say: make time. The more complicated solution is to actually follow through. Whether it is five minutes or two hours devoted solely to the words (and worlds) in your head, actively schedule time to write just as you would plan for an assignment for class.

     

    1. Set goals but make them reasonable. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish can help you to stay motivated. Whether you decide to write a poem, a chapter, or just 100 words, having realistic goals that you know you can (and will) accomplish will help you stay excited, and motivated, to write.

     

    1. Reading the work of others can help to reignite the flame within us and remind us why we started. By opening your mind to the world of another, you open your mind to new ideas for your own work. Getting out of your own head is crucial for creativity. If you take the time to read a book, you are allowing your mind to wander in the background.

     

    1. Keep writing. There is no wrong way to write. If you are able to write short stories, essays, or poems every time you write, that’s great. But maintaining your motivation to write doesn’t have to mean always writing in your medium. The act of writing itself can help you to stay motivated. Try writing a letter to a friend or loved one, keep a journal and write down what happened in the day, write about what is bothering you, or try a brain dump. No matter how “productive” your writing feels, keep writing. It’s the only way to get better.

Life On Mars Review

By: Henry Nunn

Before the book is even open, Life on Mars offers a sense of its existential heft. An image of the Cone Nebula: taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The turbulent mass of gas and dust has the potential to produce stars and planets—perhaps, to produce life. In her third collection of poetry, Tracy K. Smith explores grief and what it means to be human through a masterful conceit of space. She honors the life of her father, Floyd William Smith, who worked as an engineer on the Hubble Telescope. She questions the nature of God—a nature that seems to be shared with humanity. She celebrates the otherworldly zest of David Bowie and pries at the overstimulating political and social fabrics of the 21st century. She ponders reincarnation through the immutable laws of energy and mass conservation. By the book’s end, the reader is able to share in the cosmic tension one experiences looking into endless space, overcome by the fundamental paradoxes of existence and time’s inescapable transformations. And yet, there is still hope to enjoy life as simply as we sometimes know it to be.

“The Weather in Space”, the collection’s opening poem, introduces the final frontier as a metaphor to signify a state of being, a state of mind—a place of perpetual suspense and possibility, and yet emptiness. In the collection’s elegies to Smith’s father, such a representation of grief is especially compelling. While there is no “weather” as we know it in outer space, solar winds, magnetic fields, and other extraterrestrial phenomena are frequently referred to as space weather. These unpredictable behaviors caused by the Sun move the speaker to reflect on her life: “When the storm/ Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing…/”. This sense of awe, and perhaps fear, in the face of forces beyond control seems to be embraced, or at least appreciated, by the speaker in the final lines of the poem: “After all we’re certain to lose, so alive—/ Faces radiant with panic.”

In “Solstice”, the speaker turns her cosmic lens to the United States. The title’s lack of specificity is worth noticing. Is this is the longest or shortest day of the year—the brightest or the darkest? The villanelle addresses the gassing of geese that were interfering with flights to and from the JFK International Airport in New York City and the protests following the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Ultimately, the poet uses the intertwining form to muddy the speaker’s perspective and overwhelm the reader: “So much of what we’re asked is to obey—/ A reflex we’d abandon if we could./ The Times reported 19 dead today.” At this point in the poem, the reader is unclear whether the “19 dead” refer to the geese or to people killed in the protests in Iran. This confusion is intentional; the poet wants to highlight the effects of humanity’s extraordinary leaps in technology and political investments on the everyday citizen. The speaker seems to fight against this apparently unstoppable progress but is unsuccessful. “We dislike what they did at JFK./ Our time is brief. We dwindle by the day.”

The range of subject matter in this collection is staggering. The existential poems are balanced by a lightness that can be found in various David Bowie cameos (e.g. “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?”—in fact, the title of the collection is taken from Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?”) and references to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that lightness does not compromise the dignity or emotion of the collection. Smith crafts an impressive balance of emotion and enlightenment with such a technical prowess and raw artistic talent—it is no surprise that she is the current Poet Laureate of the United States.

Life on Mars was originally published in 2011 and received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012. One of those genuine examples of greatness, it is a collection that stands out among other collections of the 21st century for its potent imagination, technical brilliance, and visceral emotion. It is a rare work of genius that is accessible to readers of all backgrounds and interests.

Make Writing Your New Year’s Resolution

By: Breany L. Pfeifer

Happy New Year!

Ringing in the new year is a great way to start 2018 off on the right foot. With that being said, what are your goals for 2018? More specifically, what are your writing goals for this fresh new year?

As writers, it is important to set valuable and realistic goals for yourself. You may often have peers, mentors, instructors, or other writers tell you to “write every day,” and they are right. What better way is there to improve your writing besides practice?

I get it; it’s not easy to feel inspired to write every day, and it may be difficult to find the time. However, writing is a great way to relieve everyday stress, and is an amazing way to vent or escape reality. Consider making writing each day your new year’s resolution.
Here are five things to help you keep writing—whether it’s journaling, writing poetry, making short stories, or writing a full novel:

1. Set a daily word count. Whether its 500 words or 2000 words. Give yourself a challenge, but keep it realistic. If you know you don’t have time to write 1,600 words per day, set your goal to 700, and don’t stop writing until you reach that number.

2. Make a specific writing time, and find a comfy place. Perhaps you have free time at 6:00 p.m. every day. Spend that time writing non-stop, until you feel ready to be done. Also, find a spot to write. Whether it’s in your living room, kitchen, the coffee shop down the street, or your roof (be safe up there), find an inspiriting location you love, and make it your writing space.

3. Don’t push yourself too hard, but stay persistent. As previously stated, make sure your goals are realistic, but challenging. If you find writing 500 words per day too easy, bump up to 700 or 1,000. Challenge yourself to write in a genre outside of what you usually write. For example, if you normally write fiction, try a day of poetry. You could even spend a day revising some of your previous work. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing!

4. Determine what plotting method works for you. This doesn’t only apply to only story or essay writers. Poets can choose a “topic” to write about. This is when you must ask yourself: “Do I prefer to create outlines and plot out my work? Or, do I want to put the pen on paper and let my hand and mind soar freely?” Knowing which method you use may help you create your best work.

5. Surround yourself with other writers. You don’t have to know New York Times Bestselling authors to find yourself some writing buddies. Look for a local workshop group, or a writer’s group on Facebook to make some new friends. Find a workshop pen-pal to share your work with and discuss ideas. If you’re a student, join a writing club. If you already know some other writers, take the initiative and invite them to have coffee one day and talk about writing. Getting involved in a writing community will inspire you to do more with your creations.

On Summer Writing Workshops

By: Sophie Clark

In the summer of 2017, I was willing to try anything. During the semester prior, I had become distant to my writing and decided to devote my free time in the summer to attending poetry workshops and traveling. First, I planned to attend the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at UMass Amherst for a week in June. Then, in July, I signed up for a weekend workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I anticipated a summer of inspiration and dreamed of meeting and learning from well-known writers as well as finding the path to becoming one myself.

At UMass Amherst, I was placed in a poetry workshop with Timothy Donnelly (Author of The Cloud Corporation). For a week, I would attend a craft talk in the morning, a workshop in the afternoon, and enjoy a reading by a contemporary writer in the evening. I found the writers involved in the program to be wonderful and the attending students encouraging. However, while I was there, I noticed I had done very little writing. Although I attempted to write in my free time, I felt too intimidated to write amongst the attending writers and decided to settle for taking a lot of notes instead. At the end of the week, I was glad to have gained a lot of books and information but was ultimately disappointed that I didn’t write more.

After my experience at Juniper, I had not given up hope on my Iowa Summer Writing workshop experience. I planned to do nothing but write for an entire weekend. Although I ended up writing a bit more because my group was writing from prompts in our workshop, I still wasn’t writing from that great source of inspiration I had hoped to find there. Again, I settled for mostly taking notes and exploring the city.

At the end of the summer, I was left with a good amount of books and a good amount of advice written in my notebook. In the coming semester, I would learn my inspiration was just around the corner and that I would soon find my voice in writing once again. Since that summer, I’ve not only learned that you cannot force inspiration but also that you cannot simply expect it. I was waiting for something to happen to me while, in truth, I had to make it happen myself. While I would recommend attending these workshops if you have the time and money, I would also advise you to truly make it worth your resources. Work hard while you’re there and try to get into good writing habits you can stick with afterward. And if you are unable to attend these workshops (which many of us college students are), know that if you work hard, you can gain the same knowledge on your own. Your greatest inspiration is waiting for you, but you ultimately have to find it for yourself.

‘Afterland’ by Mai Der Vang: A Review

By: Maison Horton

Smoke rising, black birds a-blur, all flight and dispersion through a grayscale wasteland—-this is the cover image that greets readers of Mai Der Vang’s Afterland, an enthralling debut deserving nothing less than acclaim and admiration. The collection is lush with the shadows cast by history, in which the speaker yearns to understand their ancestral origins and, by the end of the collection, completes their journey to the “afterland.”

Afterland is also timely in that it addresses themes of immigration; these themes about journeys are present throughout the collection. In “Transmigration” the speaker extends a branch of empathy to refugees alike: “I am refugee. You are too. Cry, but do not weep. // We walk out the door.” This declaration comes amidst the first of the poem’s six sections, titled only by the lines “Make me the monarch / morphed from suffering.” What follows is a series of poems that explores the grief (and mere slivers of hope) surrounding the Laotian “Secret War” of the 1960s.

Each section of the collection is organized similarly—-that is, each section is preceded by two lines on a single page, followed by poems covering similar subjects in their respective sections. An example of this structure occurs in the poem’s penultimate section titled, “My mouth is nocturnal.” A word like “nocturnal” is (easily) evocative of the night and its connotations, which encompasses all the senses; “nocturnal” means black, dark, waking in the night, but also quietude, ambience, whispers. The fifth poem in this section “Progeny” seems to reflect all things “nocturnal”: “Night comes in dyads: / Ravenlight, / Drumlands.” Vang challenges the reader to see the duality (“dyad”) by introducing compound words that appeal to more than one sense, just like the single word “nocturnal.” Throughout the collection, the reader encounters lines that say just enough, due to the poet’s careful attention to diction.

On duality, one of my favorite moments is in the poem “Final Dispatch from Laos.” Terms from the Hmong language—-the tongue of an Asian indigenous group—exist alongside Vang’s English lines. Vang talks about one particularly important image in the poem in the Notes section of Afterland:

“In ‘Final Dispatch from Laos’ the Hmong word ‘txiv’ means both ‘father’ and ‘fruit’ in the Hmong language.”

Let’s take a look at “txiv” in the context of its parent line, in the poem “Final Dispatch from Laos”: “A sweet leaf unable to father any txiv.” Note that “father” is used as a verb in this line; if we were to use Vang’s literal English translations, the line could read two different ways, either: “A sweet leaf unable to father any father,” or: “A sweet leaf unable to father any fruit.” Simply including txiv adds a pleasing dimensionality to just one line that unifies a natural image with the plight of being unable to bear children. There are no wasted words in this collection; Afterland is built on line after complex line, each one being integral to the speaker’s transformation as they journey to meet their ancestors in the “afterland.”

I strongly recommend Afterland for readers interested in ancestry, history, or even the spiritual tones and colors of our existence. Mai Der Vang’s shamanic voice is enchanting, and the visions in Afterland will leave readers breathless.

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Afterland, by Mai Der Vang. Graywolf Press. 2017.

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