Category Archives: Other

Appalachian Symposium was a great success!

I am not new to Appalachia. I was born in western mountains of Virginia (though my family moved the next day, a story for another time), and I spent my college years and the first two years of married life in western North Carolina. But it is safe to say I know little about the history, culture and issues that Appalachians are faced with.

I received a crash course from attending a writers program. Perfect.

The Appalachian Symposium was conceived and organized by Silas House, someone I had never heard of until I moved into eastern Kentucky. But he is a prominent and important contemporary figure of Appalachian issues. The symposium was held at Berea College, and was completely free.

SIlas House at the Appalachian Symposium
SIlas House 

In fact, I did not know any of the writers who presented by their work, and had only heard of a couple of them before. Now I have a handful of poets and their works I want to get to know.

The Appalachian Symposium was organized like a smaller version of AWP (it has always seemed bizarre to me that a national convention like AWP is attended by a building full of introverts!), with a specific regional focus that bleeds into universal truths about writing.

Indeed, Maurice Manning, the keynote speaker on the second day, questioned where the line is that is drawn between Appalachian writing and not.

I cannot list the entire group of writers that presented, but along with Manning it includes bell hooks (keynote speaker on day one), Denise Gardina, Richard Hague, Silas House, Loyal Jones, Gurney Norman, Frank X. Walker and Crystal Wilkinson

There are some great tweets out there under the #appalachiansymposium hashtag that highlight some great moments of the Appalachian Symposium, so I won’t go into any of that here. But I will end with a note of gratitude both to Silas House for organizing this wonderful and educational convention of writers, as well as to the canon of Appalachian writers throughout the centuries that have enriched the American literary scene as a whole.

Letter To Poetry

keyaKeya is a high school student who had an assignment in her poetry class: write a letter to poetry. But never mind that this was a school assignment, because her letter is something I wish I had written when I was in high school.

I won’t say she is an aspiring poet — she is a poet. With several publications credits already, and the ability to put into a words a letter like this, she’s past the word “aspiring”.

She tackles difficult subjects in her poetry, and she is an advocate for social justice.

Dear Poetry,

We are the high school couple that broke up because college got in the way and long distance relationships are tough. We then later got back together because we need each other the way I need a breath of fresh air. I need to know that you’ll always be there listening to me and letting me trust you in a way that I can trust no one else.

I met you in second grade and if it wasn’t for that teacher who made me love learning, then I never would have fallen in love with you and I don’t know what I would be doing late at night as I wrestle my emotions, wondering why it’s so hard to understand myself.

We’ve gone through different phases. I hated you when I had to analyze you and when I couldn’t connect to you. Some English teachers ripped you apart so much that I had to piece you back together into something that I thought was beautiful. I tried haikus and limericks and finally settled on a combination of prose and free verse to some sort of rhythm.  I fall in love with you every time I grab my pen. I sit in class waiting for the bell to ring just so I can spend time with you. You’re freeing. You’re unique, without a strict set of rules that I have to obey.

We took a break once. I guess I just didn’t know where you fit into my life. There was not enough passion in my heart to spend time with you, but that does not mean that I ever stopped loving you. I had one poem that I was proud of and that was it. That was the end of my writing career, but just for the mean time, until I hit middle school.

I hear people complain about you and my heart breaks into two. I tell them that it doesn’t have to be a giant metaphor that’s deep and profound, but they don’t believe me. They still have the incomprehensible stanzas in their heads that someone long ago made them analyze. It doesn’t have to be like Shakespeare’s sonnets, I tell them. I say that you can be anything. I say you’re art and magic all at once. You’re what gets me through the bad days. You are my coping mechanism.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. You are effortless until it comes to editing. I don’t have control when I spend time with you. My pen has control over me. The words just come and flow like the tides and it scares me that after a couple months my entire journal is full. Our relationship has become unhealthy. I’m too addicted to you.  I would crash without you. I fall…hard when I cannot be with you. I need you. I’ll always need you. I love you.


I wish I had the clear mind in high school to realize I didn’t hate poetry, to remember that I used to love it, to realize that the way it is being taught in schools is what makes it difficult to grasp.

Keya’s Facebook Fan Page:

Blurb on poetry

The head librarian at the residential school where I live is making a poetry poster and asked me to write a blurb about the importance of poetry. This is what I wrote:


Poetry is the oldest form of written language that is still used today. It communicates our strongest emotions and our deepest thoughts. So many people do not read poetry because they do not understand it, but they do not understand it because they do not read it. If you don’t practice piano you won’t be able to play — the same principle applies to poetry. It can open up an entire universe if you only allow it to; it is the divine language.

That this has to be addressed is, in my opinion, a sad state of affairs. But I’m glad to help!

a few (top) language pet peeves of mine

Technology confusion: Actually, I can’t write a few blogs a week, but I can write a few blog posts. Also, I can’t tell you what my e-mail is — unless you’re willing to take a seat, but I can tell you what my e-mail address is.

“Myself”: No, “myself and others” are not going to the store. But, I guess it is possible to pick yourself up when you get there.

Acronym extension: I asked for the closest ATM, not the closest ATM machine — that would be redundant. Also, I am entering my PIN, not my PIN number. Again, redundant.

What are yours?

Where’s the poetry section?

While in Bangalore this past month, I went to the Forum mall (which in itself was depressing — yes, shopping malls are now in India…). I went to look for a business jacket, but while I was there I entered a store that had been proclaimed as one of the biggest book stores in Bangalore. It did have books, but it also housed toys, games, and useless items. It was a large store, and books made up half of its real estate.

And so, I went looking for some poetry. I found none. There was no poetry section — there wasn’t even a poetry shelf. I know because I was in such disbelief I walked through every part of the store many times.

No poetry section? Nothing at all?

And it wasn’t like the bookstore was small. Tiny bookstores in Bangalore had more poetry than this place.

There was a drama section, and since I know that some bookstores hold a few books of poetry in the drama section (why I don’t know), I looked there. Nope. In fact, the drama section was made up entirely of Shakespeare plays and a few Sophocles titles. Thanks.

(As a side note, another interesting thing about bookstores in India is oftentimes they divide their fiction into two categories: fiction and Indian author fiction. And then the fiction section is divided into its genres. So, if I am looking for a a romance novel by an Indian author, where do I look? I guess the Indian authors section. Nope. Okay romance. Nope. Okay time to ask. Oh! the featured section. I should have known.)

Is poetry in such dire straights it isn’t even worth stocking anymore?

Oh, I take that back — look! A poetry section in the children’s area. I could get The Missing Piece! I guess poetry just isn’t for adults anymore…

On Writer’s Block

Writing more than one poem at a time can have its disadvantages, in the same way that reading someone else’s poetry while writing your own does: they can create writer’s block. A poem is a living being and can be as easily affected by its environment as animals are. Of course, that book of poetry or other poem is rarely the only thing that can create writer’s block, but it certainly fogs up the air.

I am writing a poem right now, with another poet as well (it’s a collaboration) about a dialog between Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. We continue to play with history vs. allegory, specific vs. universality, character vs. lack thereof, and more. It is an exciting project, but it is this poem that s responsible for fogging the air of another poem.

I am writing another poem that just isn’t working. My initial thought was to attack it head on: write about what I was writing about. But there are so many complications to the approach. For the particular subject that I am writing about, it would be hard to be direct and not sound didactic and/or cheesy. Furthermore, the subject is a bit sensitive and could put any number of people in a difficult spot. The direct approach just won’t work.

Credits: Gary Larson, The Far Side
Credits: Gary Larson, The Far Side

So then I thought of a parallel situation: the environmental living ecology of a particular forest I know about. It could work in a complete allegory, a la Animal Farm — an entire poem as metaphor. At that point, I started writing, but then I had the feeling that there were not enough environmental situations to write about that covered the real subject at hand.

(The subject of the poem seems so important. I really don’t want to mess this one up. This is one I really want to get right. Its importance may be hindering me; it has the potential to be my The Red Wheelbarrow, my Buffalo Bill’s Defunct, my Prufrock. This I say parenthetically…)

One should always avoid writing as long as possible. Take the time to let the idea breathe and live before setting it to words. It’s always a good idea to research. But I have already been chewing this poem in my head for several months, and when it comes to this particular subject, there’s not much to research.

Then there is the influence of the Einstein/Newton poem. Do I write another dialog? Does it rhyme? Is it formal verse? How much detail do I give? I have a hard time seeing the answers to these questions because of the dialog I am co-authoring. And speaking of detail, I was once given some great advice by Kelli Russell Agodon via a tweet: when faced with writer’s block, start with a detail. My allegory version certainly does not do that. But how do I start over, write that detail, if I still have no clear understanding of the structure of the poem?

Perhaps I should wait until the collaboration is over. Perhaps I should pull back from any potential importance. Perhaps I should…

The Word Works Washington Prize

I don’t normally agree to post press releases on my blog, but since I am on the board of The Word Works, I of course am making an exception.


the word works

For More information, contact Karren [at] wordworksbooks [dot] org

The Washington Prize, a Good Place for Your Poetry Manuscript

The Washington Prize is a $1500 poetry manuscript award that includes book publication and distribution to all American and Canadians entrants writing in English. A three-tiered reading process provides comments to those interested entrants whose manuscripts are semi-finalists or finalists. Many Washington Prize entrants who have received these comments have gone on to win book publication.

Send 48- to 64-page manuscripts between January 15 to March 15, 2013, inclusive.

We accept original and unpublished manuscripts electronically or in paper. We are looking for the best manuscript with no restraint on subject matter or style. Follow the submission manager guidelines for electronic entries. All manuscripts are read blind without identifying information.

Use professional standards for font choice and size. Do not include images.

Entry fee is $25 US drawn on a US bank only, made payable to The Word Works. Payment through the electronic submissions process uses Paypal.

Winner will be selected by August 30, 2013. Book publication is planned for January 2014. Winner receives over 100 books plus review copies.

For paper submissions, use a binder clip to fasten the manuscript. Manuscripts will be recycled. Follow website guidelines.

Visit and look for the “Online Submissions” option under “The Washington Prize or snail mail to:

Nancy White, Washington Prize
Dearlove Hall, SUNY Adirondack
640 Bay Road
Queensbury, NY 12804

2012: A look back

2012 treated me well. I published two books. The first one was Beowulf: A Verse Adaptation With Young Readers In Mind, a poem I wrote for my son many years ago that made it into print as a children’s book, thanks to Zouch Six-Shilling Press. The other was Pot and Sticks, a self-published book of poems by Charles A. Poole, where I acted as editor. I was also guest editor for an found poem issue for MiPOesias, an ipad magazine. I also finished a book-length poem I have been “writing” for about 15 years, an epic of sorts about belonging, using many different types of formal poetry. My move from Washington DC to India has given me some creative juices to finish a book of poetry on my experiences in India that started 18 years ago. Finally, Poembuster — my reviews of individual poems — was revived over at

Overall, not bad.

What will 2013 bring?