Saturday, April 18, 2015

Napo 15

Today's prompt was to write a poem about urgency. I didn't have too many ideas, so I kind of pulled this one out of nowhere. I'm going to revise this one and work it out some more, but I want to write a poem about a little girl hearing the ice cream man's song, and it proclaims spring's resurrection, kind of comparing the little girl to Mary Magdalene and the ice cream man to the resurrection. Meh. This draft doesn't include all of that, so... I'll work at it :)

Reawakening

The world was dead, quiet, not a single bird
Or cricket sang. The nights were long, endless,
winter hadn’t loosened her grip yet.
The season was for mourning, coming to terms
With the reality of a lifetime of slate skies,
The cold and lifeless ground, crocuses
Forever sealed inside their bud like closed fists.
So when, early in the morning, I stepped out
Barefoot onto the cement outside,

I had to suspend my disbelief at the warmth
Of spring’s fingers on my face, the smell
Of life, the sound music slicing the early
Morning silence. A harbinger of spring,
I screamed across our thawing lawn,

Dad, it’s the ice cream man!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Napo 14

A tiny anecdote about my day before I share this poem:

I often blog about trying to write fiction. I am trying. My best. But it's hard, you know?

I've written a handful of stories over the past two years, and now, I'm just getting to the point of submitting them. In fact, one of them was just published in The Thing Itself! I am so incredibly proud of that, because it means that my efforts aren't futile, but to be completely honest, it's amazing how fiction comes so, UNnaturally to me, compared to poetry anyway.

Or maybe I struggled this much with poetry, too, only it's been so long ago that I don't remember?

Anyway, today was kind of funny.

I got a rejection letter from a literary journal from a fiction editor. It's a nice rejection with a few suggestions for revision, an encouraging note to try them again. But the curious thing? At the end of the email, it says, "Oh, and by the way, congrats on your big Texas Institute of Letters win..."

:-D

Why, thank you very much. I just thought that was too funny. Poetry I'm good at. Fiction? Well, I guess I still have some alearnin' to do. 

Anyway, here's Napo 14. I'm going to TRY TO get caught up with Napoing this weekend, since I'm actually caught up on grading and everything else (A miracle? I think so).

Today's prompt was to write a social media poem. I don't know what a social media poem is, so I just kind of scrolled through my feed and wrote about the things I saw. I don't know, not feeling too much promise here, but it's good to exercise the old poetry muscle nonetheless.




Social Media Poem

All the beauty, all the ugliness
that turns up on my Facebook wall. I scroll
through it in the morning from my bed,
my lazy finger lifting as I glimpse

the world before I rise – A picture
of a squirrel asleep and curled within
the arms of a stone angel,
A lovesick groom declaring his love for the bride
He’ll marry tomorrow, snapshots of a winterscape
in April that make the Texas spring outside my window
Seem so loud, so bold, so filled with life,
A video of two cats licking one another’s faces,
A tangling of tongues, of fur, of purrs,

The faces of three pups, forgotten in
The animal shelter, their eyes wide, afraid,
The weather forecast predicting hail,
Damaging winds, and thunder
That sweeps across the map before midday,
Depressing news about the oil prices
How another dozen men will be laid off.

As I toss the covers aside, I can’t help but think
about the squirrel, how he looked so peaceful
lying there in the angel’s arms, staring up
towards the sky, and I wonder where
that peace can come from,
what can make an animal that’s made
of fear lay back and close his eyes and dream
Of nuts, of trees with endless branches for hiding,
Of spring that’s bountiful and never ends,
And I figure that the only answer is
He must be dead.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Napo 11, 12, and 13! And an Announcement!

I spent the morning writing. Is there any better way to spend the morning? No. There is not.

Yesterday, I left off with my AWP recap. Today, I want to tell you about what happened the next day, on Saturday, April 11th, which was probably one of the most memorable of my life so far.

I was awarded the 2014 Helen C. Smith Prize for the Best Book of Poetry by the Texas Institute of Letters for my latest collection, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots.

!!!

Yes, you read that correctly! I had received word about a month ago, but was told not to say anything until it was officially announced at the awards banquet and annual meeting. So, I had to sit on this bit of wonderful news.

Anyway, that's why I had to leave AWP a day earlier than expected. I needed to be in Houston to receive my award. Unfortunately, the reception for the award happened a day early this year, on Friday, so though I missed that, I was at least able to attend the banquet.

So, Friday morning, I wake up at the ungodly hour of 3am to catch a shuttle to the airport. I think, in the past three days, I'd gotten a total of maybe 3 hours of sleep. I running on adrenaline, pure and simple. That and a ridiculous amount of coffee.

By some miracle, mom and I make it to the shuttle and off we go to the airport. I'm half asleep, full of nerves and all that good stuff as the shuttle goes from hotel to hotel, picking up weary writers around downtown Minneapolis to take them to the airport. Two women sit behind me, chatting, when I hear, "Texas Institute of Letters..." I turn around.

"That's where I'm going!" I say, surprised and a little embarrassed.

The woman looks familiar, but it's too early in the day for me to place names to faces. I learn that she's being inducted into the institute. I tell her about my award (ok, maybe I'm not so good at keeping secrets). As we finish our conversation, delighted in the strange coincidence, she tells me her name is Nan. "Nan Cuba???" I ask, suddenly getting my geek on.

She laughs. "Yeah, that's me."

I had seen Nan read a few years ago at TCU as part of the Texas Association of Creative Writing Conference. She was the keynote speaker. I'm a little starstruck. "Oh. My. Goodness! You're like, famous!"

Anyway, Nan is gracious and wonderful and doesn't take my weird behavior the wrong way. I think she's a little flattered. Off we go to the airport! It would be too much of a coincidence that we'd be on the same flight, right? Right. It was. I tell Nan I'll see her in Houston in a few hours and we say our goodbyes at the airport.

Yay, a new friend!

The flight to Houston is... well it's not so bad, really, but my body is about ready to give up. My back is achy. I'm beyond tired. And the worst thing? I get overcome with this terrible nausea. Ugh. But I put on a happy face and try to just focus on the evening ahead. Scratch that. The evening ahead makes me even more nervous. I close my eyes on the plane and try to meditate. It works, kinda.

Did I mention I did yoga at the AWP book fair? And on the plane, too? And that it wasn't the weirdest of things going on?

:-P

Ok, I survive the flight, and in Houston, I say goodbye to my mom who's catching another flight home to McAllen. B, my love, is waiting to pick me up at the Houston airport. Yay! I missed him so!

B and I get some lunch at a delicious local pizza place. Only, by this point, my nerves and nausea get the best of me and I end up tossing my cookies. Oh well. Better now than at the banquet, I figure.

We check in to our hotel and I take a much needed nap. Afterwards, it's time to get fancied up for the banquet, so I do, and yay, by some miracle, I look halfway decent! I put on a happy face and head to the cocktail hour.

Once I enter the room, it's filled with people that look vaguely familiar, but I don't really recognize anyone. I scan the room, and then, standing there with a huge smile on her face is none other than Jan Seale! She gives me the biggest hug ever, and all of the sudden, I'm not so nervous anymore. She takes me around the room, introducing me to all of her friends, which is pretty much everyone who's anyone in Texas letters. Professors. Novelists. Publishers. Journalists. Poets Laureate. I'm a little starstruck. And the amazing part was that they were all wanting to meet me. Little old me!

Jan is amazingly gracious. We sit together at the banquet. When they announce my award, I'm all blushy and dorky. Maybe it was a good thing that the official reception was the previous night, because the other award winners had to give acceptance speeches, and I probably would have just sounded like a giddy, tongue-tied little girl. At the end of the ceremony, I mingle some more. One particularly special person I got to talk to was Norma Cantu. She was the contest judge who selected my book, and it's actually a little special, and here's why:

Back in 2010, I went to a conference El Mundo Zurdo at the University of Texas San Antonio. Among the Mariposas had just been published, my very first chapbook publication. I was really just cutting my teeth as a poet, so to speak. Anyway, after the conference itself, I decided to go to a reading at a art gallery and coffee shop, Gallista Gallery. There were a lot of attendees from the conference at the reading, including Norma Cantu, a leading scholar on Gloria Anzaldua and a badass poet

Anyway, I read a poem at the open mic. I remember it was "The Common Denominator," a little poem about my mom and I feeling uncomfortable but at the same time at home in a culturally diverse nail salon. After my poem, Norma approached me and bought one of my chapbooks. She gave me a hug and told me to keep writing, to keep going, keep striving, that one day, I was going to go far. I'd never forgotten that moment. She was so gracious and kind to me. I know my work was rough around the edges, but she took the time to encourage me.

So, fast forward 5 years later. I have to contain myself not to run up to her and give her a big hug. But actually, it's totally cool, because she's from South Texas and knows that's just the way we are :-) Anyway, I tell Norma the story. She remembers! She says, yes, I remember you, I remember your book, and I remember that reading! It was at Gallista Gallery, no? I turn all red. It's just too much. Too much specialness. I am beyond blessed.

"Just remember to pay it forward," she tells me with a wink.

And that's really the sentiment I left the evening with. I owe my success to so many different people who's supported me, encouraged me, and shown me love through all the steps in this crazy journey as a writer. It's all lead up to this moment, so many people have helped to build me into the poet I am today. It's just, overwhelming how much goodness there is in the world, in the hearts of others. From my first poetry instructor, Emmy Perez, who taught me the foundations, to all the classmates in my MFA workshops like Rodney Gomez, Joe Haske, Lady Mariposa, whose feedback, support, and reactions helped me hone my craft, to Steven Schneider, who helped me take my poetry seriously, one step further to putting together a thesis manuscript, who believed in me early on, to Maria Miranda Maloney, my first publisher who told me, yes, you're worth it and yes, I'm going to take a chance on you, to Christopher Carmona, my editor at Slough who picked up my first full manuscript and made me feel like a "real" poet, to Chuck Taylor, the publisher who gave me the green light to be myself, to Edward Vidaurre, who, buddy, first called it that one day I'll be Texas Poet Laureate (I'm working on that, Edward), to Daniel Garcia Ordaz who ushered me into the Valley poetry community with open arms, to Linda Romero, for being an awesome friend and critique partner, to Jan Seale, who's taken me under her wing and mentored me through wild world, to Jerry Craven for bringing me into the Lamar University Press family, for championing my work in a way no one had before, and of course, to Norma Cantu for encouraging me early on, and then, again, at this stage in my poetry career. There are so many others I've missed. I owe my success to everyone who's ever read my poems, critiqued them, encouraged me in big and small ways. This is just a tiny cross-section of everyone I need to thank. Of course, most of all, my parents, my family, my love, B, without whose support I'd be flailing in the wind.

I love them all. Dearly. Truly.

It's been a wild journey so far. My cup is overflowing with love, with joy, with success, and most of all, with gratitude. I'm the poet I am today because I stand on the shoulders of everyone who's come before me. I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate, and sometimes, well, all the time, it's just overwhelming.


Now, I need to figure out how to spend that $1200 burning a hole in my pocket B-)




Ok, enough sappiness, here are the poems:

Napo 11

Summer

In summer, there is always more. You feast
on everything the season has to offer –
the sun’s embarrassment of riches streaming
down to feed the flowers, large as dinner
plates, already drunk on their own nectar,

tropical rainstorms tumbling ashore
to wet the fertile, sodden soil, the days
that almost seem to never end. You spend
them in your garden, clipping, digging, planting
with an urgency to make the most of plenty.

Your garden drinks you in, the sweat that rivers
down your back, the soft touch of your hands
the dirt beneath your fingernails. For love,
you toil with a smile as bright as June,

dreaming of those cool and humid nights.

Napo 12

Fall

Her love in autumn’s just as beautiful –
It enters with a sigh of satisfaction
At the heavy, heaving branches filled with fruit
That you created hand in hand together.

You stop to pluck one, hold the blazing fire
Of an orange in your calloused palm,
A star that’s made of life, of sweat, of love,
Of everything the two of you can offer.

You peel it, let the flesh dissolve atop
Your tongue, and taste the sweetness of tomorrow.
You’ll savor this together underneath
October’s sky that rumbles, warns the world

Of what’s to come. Breathe deep, take in the smell
of fallen leaves returning to the earth.

Napo 13

Winter

The few who love in winter know a love
that’s unlike any other. Every petal
fell to the earth months ago. The fruit
has been devoured, savored. Branches hang,

naked, brittle, but you come to listen
to the beauty of them rustling in the wind.
A cup of cocoa in your hand, you wander
through the garden, tend what’s left to tend

with gentle streams of water. Now, you run
your fingers through the soil because you’ve grown
accustomed to the smell of earth on skin.
She’s nothing left to offer but herself.

May your marriage always be of this --
loving simply for the sake of love.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Napo 10

Alrighty! Let's recap some more. 

My AWP 2015 experience.

After our panel, Celina and I decided to hang out together. We headed to a panel featuring (gasp) Ana Castillo! The panel was put together by Feminist Press and featured her and one other author. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately?) we were late because our own panel's conversation went on a little long, and so by the time we found the place and walked in, Ana had already read. But we did catch the conversation afterwards, which was just as enlightening. The main thing I took away from this panel was that a lot of women really don't feel like they have permission to write. One woman asked Ana who gave her that permission, and Ana said, quite frankly, she gave it to herself.

How can we do that as women? Give ourselves permission to be this outspoken, out there writer? I think supporting one another is hugely important, encouraging other women to be brave and bold, but my goodness, at the end of the day, I think it's just a matter of allowing ourselves that space and freedom. In a world that silences women, it's hard to do, but, if Ana can do it, then it's possible. I teared up. I got goosebumps. I had to go up and meet Ana after the panel... (again, I met her for the first time back in 2007).

So Celina and I get up the courage to go and say hello, but once we get there, we're blabbering idiots and Ana Castillo looks a little annoyed/worried. Oh well. At least we left without regrets! :D

Anyway, after that, we head out to lunch. And then to the bookfair. Which was huge, overwhelming, scary, and beautiful. The best part? As we were walking through the aisles, we hear a voice call us over. 

Hey! Hey! You ladies? Katherine? Celina? You were just speaking at a panel, no?

We turn around. 

Yeah...

I just wanted to say "hi." You're like, famous and stuff. 

Celina and I look at each other, blush, and laugh. Famous and stuff? Well, alrighty then! 

:D

That was probably my most favorite moment at AWP.

Anyway, we spent most of the afternoon at the bookfair. My back was starting to hurt, so I needed to take a little breaksie anyway. I wanted to meet so many more people, but I just didn't have the energy, either physical or mental, to do too much. I was happy to at least find the editor of Free State Review and thank him for his amazing comment at our panel (and he gave me a free t-shirt! Score!). So many more people I wanted to bug! But oh well. Next time. There WILL be a next time.

Oh, did I mention?

I brought my mom to AWP. Yes. I'm THAT nerd.

Anyway, if you follow my blog you know I have some health/mobility issues, so mom coming with was a real blessing. She didn't attend my panel or come with me to the actual conference, but she was hanging out at the hotel, helped me through the airport craziness, and made sure I was able to find my way around and get where I needed to go. Did I ever mention that I have the world's most amazing mom?

So, after an afternoon of... that, Celina and I decided to check out an offsite reading together at a nearby pub. How cool is that? I call my mom and see if she wants to join us, and what do you know? She does!

So the three of us trek over to the Yes Yes Books celebration. It. was. awesome. Truly. One of the best readings I've attended in my life. Danez Smith was my absolute favorite. New poetry crush? You know it. I wanted to buy his book, but they were totally sold out. Phooey. 

Anyway. After the reading, I was tired and achy. It was time to head back to the hotel. After all, the next day was going to be just as full of events and craziness, starting with a 4am shuttle ride to the airport to catch a plane! :-O But I'll tell you all about that tomorrow. 

Meanwhile... Napo 10?

I cheated a little with 10 in that, well, I kind of revised 9 and reworked it. I'm thinking to turn this little thing into a series of poems about the four seasons, comparing gardening to love/marriage. This topic is heavy on my mind lately. I was invited to read some poetry at a friend's wedding this weekend, which I'll blog more about soon, too.

Anyway:


The Gardener’s Song

Spring

Everybody falls in love in spring.
It’s easy with the pollen in the air,
sun peeking through the slate clouds, shy
at first, a smile held back, about to burst

into radiance. The naïve come
eager to work their clean hands through the soil.
Your garden gloves are stiff, a price tag dangles
From your sunhat. Pansies fill your arms

with blooms in every shade of love, mauve
of tongue, pearl like skin the sun has never
touched, or golden like the way her voice
feels against your ear. You tuck the seeds

into the earth and wait, water, dump
Miracle Grow, although the earth’s already
wet with dew and love. The first bud opens
its petals, slips into the lips of March.

The world is different now. Her flowers bloom
in every corner of your lovesick mind. 



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Napo 9 and Our AWP Panel recap!



So, these past few days have really been amazing...

On Thursday, I left town to head over to Minneapolis for the AWP conference.

In short, I had an amazing time, though there was so much more I wanted to do. On Friday morning, I moderated a panel on Revisionist Mythmaking in the Borderlands. My other two panelists were Robin Scofield and Celina Villagarcia. The panel itself went better than I could have imagined. Though I was incredibly nervous at the beginning. I introduced our topic, explaining about Mouthfeel Press, what Revisionist Mythmaking was, and why we feel it's important as women in the borderlands to reclaim these narratives.

Robin Scofield read a series of really interesting poems from her collection, Sunflower Cantos, about a woman traveling through the Borderlands region, encountering all of these stories for various different mythologies. I loved it, especially the connections to native mythologies, because I think that's something we often overlook in conversations about mythmaking.

Celina was up next. Oh. My. Goodness. She is such a character. I loved her the instant she opened her mouth. We were short two panelists, so she threatened the audience that if they didn't ask questions or spark conversation, that we were going to show them pictures of our cats and dogs to fill the extra time! Luckily, we didn't need to do that, though I'm pretty certain it wasn't an empty threat :) Celina read from her collection, Pulp, which revisions folktales and legends from the borderlands. Her work reminded me so much of home, but from a fresh perspective.

I went last, reading from Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots. I read a handful of my favorite Tex Mex goddess poems. It's always a little scary to read poems to a new audience, so nerves.

And then, our panel finished. A few crickets chirped for suspense. And then...the panel morphed into this really interesting, deep and real conversation about appropriation, feeling like an impostor as a writer, in terms of gender, culture, and even in academia. It was just, in one word, amazing. This one young woman asked Celina about her background, about why she chose not to pursue an MFA, and if that made her self-conscious as a writer. Celina laughed, said it just wasn't right for her, and that it's not the path for everyone to take, it's a personal decision. But in the end, yeah, she felt like a bit of an impostor here on the panel because she didn't have those academic credentials. Robin explained that, as a woman not working in academia, that she felt that too, and would especially get disparaging comments from other writers about not belonging. I chimed in, too. I feel like am impostor everyday -- I have an MFA. I'm a professor. But still, there's this sneaking suspicion that I don't belong, that I don't deserve the badge of poet, of writer, of smarty-pants.

And yet, there we were! Sitting on a panel, talking to a room full of talented, amazing writers, giving them advice.

It's a never-ending struggle, accepting yourself.

My personal favorite moment of the panel was when someone in the audience asked, "Do you ever feel like, that by rewriting myths, you're not creating something new or original?"

I responded, explaining that really, today, nothing's totally new anymore. We're all writing in response to something else, furthering the conversation, pushing it forward, rather than reinventing it altogether. The wheel's already been invented.

But then, a man stood up, and introduced himself as an editor of a literary journal, Free State Review.  I had never seen this man before in my entire life. What he said made me blush beet red. He explained how, when sifting through his slush pile, he'd come across the most original poem he'd ever read about Eve making a sandwich for Adam. He pointed to me. "Katie there is the author. We ran her poem in our latest issue."

Squeee!! I totally did not plan that!!!! :D

Anyway, the panel was an absolute success. Another person asked where our table was at the bookfair. Unforunately, MFP wasn't there at the conference, but I mentioned that we all had a few books for sale. After the panel finished, we were swarmed (no exaggeration) by audience members who wanted to chat and buy our books. I sold out within ten minutes. We actually had to be kicked out of the room because our amazing conversations continued after the panel discussion was officially over, so we chatted it up in the hallway.

I'll post more about my experiences in the coming days. In the meantime, here's my next Napo. Totally a freewrite, but whatever.

Spring

Imagine that our love is just a garden –
It’s easy to make it bloom in spring,
The hordes come out, stiff-gloved,
Ripping the price tags from their sun hats,
Bags of soil, of Miracle Grow in their arms.
Anyone can fall garden in the springtime.
lantanas bloom because they must,
the air is heavy with everybody’s pollen,
the body aches to be outside, soak up
the gentle sunshine, pluck a couple early blooms
and stick them in her auburn hair.
The first flower opens, a stamen
Slips Into the lips of March,
and your world changes, the flowers

are everywhere. 




Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Napo 8

Today's prompt was to write a poem about changing your mind.

I don't mean to get crazy personal, but in terms of my illness, I feel as though I simply had to make a choice to be healthy or ill, and to wear one of those two labels when I'd get up each morning. Deep down, it was my choice, how I decided to frame myself. Most days, I choose health. Sometimes, that's a hard choice to make.

How I Chose To Get Up Again

I was tired of being sick –
The mind’s stiffness, growing numb,
The glow of the television, the ache
Of muscles that ache to move but can’t
Or won’t, I hadn’t decided yet.
Because the smell of sitting
Became too much. Because I was sick
Of my tangled hair in my face,
Of reaching up for someone else’s hand
To rise, because seasons change,
Because the body wants to, too,
Because flowers bloom and die and bloom again
Because even if I wasn’t ready, life goes on,
Because I’d already exhausted every episode
Of Gordon Ramsey, binged through
The seasons of Orange is the New Black,
the Golden Girls, Frasier, anything
to take my mind off myself. 
Because I was sick of medication,
The habitual swallowing of pills
As natural as breathing, as walking,
The numbness that follows
Of body, of mind. Because the days
Were going to begin and end with
Or without me. Because I had to take
That first step, work through
The pain, either swallow it down
Or let it linger on the tongue,
The choice was mine. I grabbed my cane.
I winced. I stood up on my own two feet

stumbled into the sun.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Napo 7

Bleh.

Tough day today. The going is getting tough in general.

But here's a little something. It's a super rough draft that I hope to return to in the coming months. How much do we have to give up in pursuit of money? I've worked my share of crappy service jobs, so here's a freewrite about that.


Cashier Girl

Once, when I was working
at an entertainment store,
a man came up to me to pay
for some, well,
how can I put this delicately?
Porn.

It was my first day at this job.
I'm incredibly nervous.
I'm 17 years old.

The guy tries to make
an awkward situation
less awkward
by making conversation.

It doesn't work.
My hands are shaking.
I'm laughing nervously,
giggling, really.

I'm trying not to touch the porn.
I'm trying not to look down
at the woman on the cover,
her legs open, her fingertips
on her nipples, her eyes
memorizing.

I'm trying not to make
eye contact with the creepy old man
who keeps trying to make eye contact
with me. I ring up the video.
It doesn't register.
I have to search for the barcode. Ugh. 

This takes time. The woman
stares into my eyes. I stare back.
I blink. I frown.

The old man gets even more awkward,
begins asking me about myself.
How long have I been working there?
Where am I from?
Do I have a boyfriend?
Then, just as I ring up the video,
he asks me, "How old are you?"

"Seventeen,"
I say, looking down at my feet,
clearing my throat, my heart thumping.

The register rings and opens,
demands ten dollars.

"Oh," the old man says,
a little disappointment
in his voice.

"Probably just a little younger
than the girl in the video, huh?"

I laugh nervously, slam the register,
hand him the video, forgetting
to take the money.

He walks off with free porn.
I'm left ten dollars short
at the end of the night.

My new boss scolds me,
asks me what happened,
but I pretend I'm just a bimbo
who can't count, do basic math.

He threatens to fire me,
but it ends up being the first day
of a job I'll keep all through college,
a job that I grow to love.
A job that pays my tuition. 

True story.