Revising Revision: Getting to the beating, pumping heart of the page

Starting in February, Chris Kondrich will teach a four week course on the messy, necessary work of revision. He took the time to share some of his thoughts on what revision means, why it is important, and the importance of undertaking this work with others. This class is a great opportunity to get to work on all that writing you did in 2015.

Sign up today for Revising Revisions. The class begins Thursday, Feb 4, and is offered for $160.

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Frequency: Why is revision important?

Chris Kondrich: Those stories or poems that appear to us as if clouds were parting in our emotional-imagination — they don’t happen as often as we’d like. Much of the work of writing is, indeed, work. It necessitates extended attention and an openness to experimentation, to trial and error. But the ability to stick with a story or poem through this process can totally pay off. It can even help us in the initial stages of the next things we write.

I also think revision is important because it’s an opportunity for community, for sharing ideas, insights and struggles. It widens the scope of writing — which is often characterized by solitude — by allowing for connection over our insights and struggles. Maybe we help each other, lend our eyes, ears and minds to the revision woes of others. And maybe, in the process, we learn something about our own work.

F: What is your favorite revision strategy?

CK: Oftentimes, what happens on the page for me is more than what I end up with. I think this is the case for most writers. There’s the gearing up, the scaffolding to contend with. I mean, it can take pages for me to get to the beating, pumping heart of a thing. Ultimately, I wrest that beating, pumping heart from the chest of the page à la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This, inevitably, means abandoning some good phrases or lines, but the thing about revision is that you’re never done. You might be done with one piece, but revision also means recycling those abandoned bits into new pieces and allowing for that recycling to take you to unexpected places. In this way, revision can also be a strategy for generating new work.

F: What is the most frustrating thing you’ve discovered about revision?

CK: Time, our eternal nemesis, can occasionally be revision’s lone obstacle. There will always be poems that need to sit on the desktop as well as the mind, and we have to allow time, experience and the evolution of perception to work their unknowable magic. That said, sometimes revision can speed up this process or maneuver around it. Sometimes it can ignite new projects while we wait. Other times, like I said, we have to wait for that re-envisioning to happen and there isn’t a way around it.

F: Who (or what genres) should take this class?

CK: In the course description for “Revision Revision,” I left things pretty open. I sincerely hope fiction writers, poets, nonfiction writers and hybrid writers all join the course because I think the more variety in perspective, intention and experience, the more expansive the potential for everyone involved. My job will be to wrangle all this potential into constructive methods across all genres, into an energizing and inspiring discussion that one wouldn’t have anywhere else. I’m just really happy that Frequency has given me the opportunity to attempt such an invaluable feat.

 

Christopher Kondrich is the author of Contrapuntal (Parlor Press, 2013), a New Measure Poetry Prize finalist. He is the winner of The Iowa Review Award for Poetry (selected by Srikanth Reddy) and The Paris-American Reading Series Prize. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Cimarron Review,Colorado Review, Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, Verse Daily and elsewhere, while his criticism appears in Jacket2, Colorado Review and CutBank. He holds an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a PhD from the University of Denver where he was an editor for Denver Quarterly. Currently, he is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly and an instructor at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

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An interview with Janaya Kizzie on her upcoming course, Voices from Beyond

Coming up on Halloween, October 31st, Frequency is thrilled to offer a special one IMG_9803day workshop, Voices from Beyond. This class is taught by Janaya Kizzie and will take place at Providence Public Library. Students will utilize the library’s special collections and investigate haunting.

Janaya answered a few questions about haunting and about her course. This is one you won’t want to miss. Sign up today!

FREQUENCY: Can you tell us about the manuscripts and artifacts that will be used in this course? Are there particular pieces you look forward to sharing with the group?

JANAYA KIZZIE: The course will be an exploration of the parallels between research, writing and haunting, and each person in the class will get to spend an extended amount of time with the historic manuscript or object that speaks to them most. We’re very lucky to be in a city with such amazing special collections available.  Providence Public Library has collections dating back to about 2000 B.C.E. We’ll be focusing on materials from the turn of the 19th century and the early 20th century –they’re a little easier to read!– which are some of the library’s deepest and most exciting collections.. They include tales from whaling voyages, antique photographs, and letters written during the Civil War. I’m inspired by many of the collections at the Library, but I think I have a soft spot for the Nicholson Whaling Collection in particular. It’s one of the foremost whaling collections in the country, and it has everything a lover of stories needs: action, strange occurrences, and shanties.

FQ: Can you give some examples of authors who might be good to read beforehand, to experience a haunting?

JK: The book I think of instantly when talking about great ghost stories is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It’s easy to write a ghost story that’s just a supernatural revenge story, but she wrote a ghost story that is an exploration into the minds of women in the mid-twentieth century. In class, we’ll be doing a little bit of reading from that and a wide range of authors, like Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates and Kelly Link.

FQ: What makes an ordinary event horrific?

JK: Haunting can happen everywhere and to anyone. I think that’s what makes it most interesting. It’s a very personal horror. Haunting occurs when something strange reaches out to us and we stop to listen. What happens next is a separation from our most fundamental moorings; that is horror.

Janaya Kizzie writes horror stories and an occasional prose-style sonnet. Providence inspires her often, and her career as an archivist often informs the historical elements in her creative work. She is particularly interested in genre fiction  (especially historical fiction, horror and sci fi), interstitial fiction, small-batch self-publishing, and the places where writing meets other things, like visual art, music and film.

An interview with Stephanie Ford on her upcoming class, Imagined Audiences

Saturday, October 3rd, Stephanie Ford will teach the one day workshop, Imaginedphoto Audiences. Stephanie is visiting Rhode Island all the way from LA, so this really is a special opportunity. AND the course is being offered sliding scale, starting at just $25.

If you’re still on the fence, just read what Stephanie had to say when we asked her a few questions about the course.

Click here to register for Imagined Audiences!

FREQUENCY: The class description for Imagined Audiences states, “We might—if we dare—invent and invite a new species of reader.” Can you give some examples of what an imagined “species of reader” might mean?

STEPHANIE FORD: To answer this, I’d like to share what got me thinking about the poet’s—or, really, each poem’s—approach to audience in the first place. In reflecting on my own experience as a reader and trying to understand what factors might lead me to keep reading a poem vs. deciding to move on, I found that one of the things that really hooks me is when a poem addresses me in an arresting way, inviting me to listen in a manner that feels like either a challenge to, or a respite from, my daily modes of being in the world. I like poems that seem to announce, from the first line, “I am going to teach you my language”—not because the poet explicitly positions her- or himself as avant-garde or experimental, but because the poem itself bears the pressures of translating a complex and deeply considered perspective that calls on my ability to learn as I read.

I also began to think about poets I admire who strike me as being particularly adventurous in this regard—whose poems, in order to push against limiting or irrelevant poetic conventions, demand new capacities of their readers. And then I started to think about how this might be a generative question in the making of poems:. What if, rather than defaulting to my generalized sense of the readers who might “hear” my work (a potential audience that, if I really tried to picture it, seemed to have the color and responsiveness of Silly Putty), I acknowledged to myself what kinds of readers (whether real or entirely speculative) I was interested in engaging in my work, and wrote my poems accordingly? What would it feel like to consciously address more than one of these hypothetical readers in the same poem? If I could envision an understanding audience for a poem that seemed too strange or difficult to write, could I be emboldened in my grasping toward the seemingly unsayable? As a means of generating raw material from new sources—which is what I hope my students will gain from this workshop—these questions seem exciting to me.

F: As an audience changes, how might this alter the writer’s motivations and actions? What new information could be revealed or kept?

SF: There are all kinds of authoritative and time-honored exhortations for writers not to consider audience; we are told again and again that what sets writing apart from other activities is that it occupies a realm in which we need answer only to ourselves, or to the demands of the work itself. Further, to expect that one can directly and successfully communicate with any specific reader or set of readers would be naive as to poetry’s relationship to meaning, nebulous and unstable as it is. However, modes of “address”—the subtle but powerful ways in which poems teach us how to hear them, and include us within their seemingly private conversations—are fundamental to how poems work, and are ripe for poetic play. To imagine that one could shift one’s relationship to a proposed audience—in the sense of asking How would I write my poem if I supposed that x was my reader?—is what I want to explore in this class.

How might this practice further manifest itself in our work? We might exercise a more precise and nimble control of tone, diction, syntax, and point-of-view. By imagining specific, shifting sorts of auditors for our poems—sympathetic or hostile, living or dead, familiar or far-removed—we might become more at home with the notion that all writing is an act of translation rather than a direct transmission of thought and feeling. We might take to heart that to presume or aspire to a universal perspective is a dead end, and that to write from an outward-reaching, yet particular and embodied, place offers a different kind of richness. In terms of motivations and actions in the world: my hope is that we can see that poetry is already here—not a separate realm to which we need gain admission—and that we find ways to write, share, and talk about poems accordingly.

F: Can you talk a bit about how imagining a particular audience may change the writer’s relationship with his or her actual audience?

SF: Another side to this is the specifically (peculiarly?) American way in which I’m thinking about these questions. Given the differences, divisions, and structural inequities that govern social life and individual experience in our country, and the many instances of cultural tone-deafness, crossed wires, and outright harm-doing that I see as both symptom and agent of these conditions, I wonder if and how poems can be places to contend with the complexities and contradictions of any poet’s particular American-ness.

Yet another way to look at this, returning the focus to the moment of writing, is to ask To which self, or selves, am I being true in any given poem? Separating out the many possible ways of answering this question, and finding sophisticated ways of manifesting internal tensions in our poems—it seems to me—can be a productive way of moving toward greater awareness of oneself in relation to others, and of moving one’s writing toward greater precision, complexity, and effect. And to do this is ultimately to invite the living, breathing people who read one’s poems to take part in the process. When reading the work of Cathy Park Hong, Claudia Rankine, and Donald Revell—to take just three of the poets we’ll consider in the class—I find myself called upon to exercise new faculties of listening, thinking, and responding. As a reader, I find these writers’ modes of poetic engagement to be both challenging and exhilarating; in order to meet such writing on its own terms, I must do real internal work that does not end when I close the book; my mind is re-wired and new questions pursue me into my daily life. On the one hand, this can be seen as the natural outgrowth of any poem/reader relationship, but when writing is sufficiently ambitious, I believe that its author has, by inviting us to listen anew, also conjured a new audience into being.

Stephanie Ford is the author of All Pilgrim (Four Way Books, 2015). Her poems have appeared in Tin House, Boston Review, Fence, Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles, where she currently teaches poetry with Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

A One Question Interview with Victor Wildman

Victor is currently teaching Everybody’s Autobiography. Recently we asked Victor, “What have you discovered about autobiographical or biographical writing?” Here’s his response:

Lives cannot be documented, only made—somehow constructed. Even if the subject is yourself, there is an awareness from “outside”—an inability to penetrate the core, a realization of its absence—it intrudes. You are never identical with yourself. We are, at best, but tourists with a view to every life. So when engaged in biographical or autobiographical writing, I know before I start that I am making something; it is a construction built from the materials of someone’s life. This, however, does not mean that anything can “go,” but there’s a range, an honest way of working through your materials that over time enforces certain limits on the way that this gets done; these, however, are not factual, but formal limits. Like any work of art, the material you use will start to come together in a way that makes demands, that must be followed if the piece—albeit essay, poem, book—is to be itself, is to “work.” And ironically, the more you work with facts, the more the research tends to pull you out of what you’re making, into something merely anecdotal, accidental, quite unnecessary—just a pile of “stuff.” There is a tension between the things you know about your subject and the things that over time become the meaning of the work. This is why an artist must be willing to sacrifice the facts—even if these facts are supposed to be your own—if they impede the inner workings of the text. In the end, a life—as all things passing—fades, but if you do your job “correctly”—passionately, honestly—there is the work. And that (one hopes) will be enough.

A One Question Interview with Laura Brown Lavoie

Happy Monday! Three of our winter classes are starting next week, and on Saturday, February 8, Laura Brown Lavoie is teaching a one day Workshop in Spoken Text. The class is being offered on a sliding scale ($25-60), and this is a great opportunity to work with an incredible writer and performer. Laura asked me to convey that the class is open to all ages and levels of experience. And people who don’t like to read out loud are also very welcome– there are numerous ways to consider voice and sound without actually performing your work.

I had the chance to interview Laura. I asked, How does a physical voice affect the way you write, or affect the way you experience writing?

The sound of a word, how it rounds or squares with words next to it– sound directs my sentences immensely. Depending on the genre I’m in at a given moment, the writing process is more or less vocal– if it’s a performance piece, I tend to edit out loud, to the point that a finished draft is half-memorized already. If it’s a dense little story with lots of roundabout sentences, and therefore probably something I’d rather give to people on the page, I still often read parts out loud to make sure there’s enough cement between the syllables.

My mom read loads of books to me when I was a kid. (Even when I was more of an adolescent, and would have been mortified if my peers could have seen me: under the covers in my mom’s bed all zoned-out to the sound of The Mists of Avalon or the Narnia books…) So I think hearing literature is really fun and comforting to me. Animating words you’re hearing into coherent images and stories in your head is a huge effort of concentration and imagination, but it’s really rewarding. At this point, with poetry, I can’t enjoy it all the way until I’ve heard it out loud– either reading it to myself or (ideally) having the poet read it to me. I do read a lot of novels quietly to myself, but the best passages at LEAST make me groan and often I gotta read it to someone.

Voice is instant gratification in writing, the place where your ideas start to really take up space in this world. It’s pretty thrilling.

Laura Brown-Lavoie is a fiction writer, poet, and performer here in Providence, RI. Her stories and poems have appeared in some journals, but mostly she likes reading out loud. She represented Providence as a finalist at the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam and the 2011 National Poetry Slam, and is currently the is co-slammaster at the Providence Poetry slam, where she also runs the youth slam program. When she isn’t writing, Laura works as a farmer, growing food and raising chickens on a vacant lot in Providence, and selling the produce to her neighbors.

A One Question Interview with Erica Mena

There are only a few weeks until Erica Mena’s Art of Stealing Workshop, so now is the time to sign up if you haven’t already!

Wondering whether this class is a good fit for you? Curious about flarf poetry, erasure works, and adaptations? Then come chat with Erica tomorrow night at our Winter Reading and Open House (Wednesday, January 15 at 7pm,  186 Carpenter Street in Providence). She’ll be doing a brief reading alongside Ren Evans, Danielle Vogel, Victor Wildman, Maria Anderson, and Laura Brown-Lavoie.

Mingle with other writers in the community, find out how to apply for scholarships, and join us in a toast to the writing goals each of us has for the new year!

I spoke with Erica about originality, authority, and the desirability of foregrounding other works in our creative practices.

Your winter class focuses on different modes of “creative stealing.” Given that we are all– ideally– readers, viewers, and students of existing art and text, what does it mean to create original work?

L.H.O.O.QWell, one of the things I’ve begun to question is the assumption that there is such a thing as “originality.” This for me started in my work as translator, when struggling with the question of who wrote the text I had translated. I had, of course, but so had the original-language author. We both had, but we had written different texts. My text was based on the original author’s, derivative in the literal sense, but not dependent.

Embedded in the concept of originality is authority, and if you pull back even further it has to do with value, both in the artistic sense and more insidiously in the capitalistic sense. The fantastic philosopher Walter Benjamin exposes this in his essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” when he tries to pin down what makes the original different from a reproduction. He’s talking about paintings and photographs, and he settles on this idea of the “aura” of the work of art. An aura that is diminished by its reproduction, in his understanding.

But when we think about this in terms of writing, which has been easily reproducible for much much longer than visual art, original doesn’t mean the manuscript-as-art-object. It means the authority to sell/distribute/profit from the text. It’s tangled up in legal concepts like intellectual property and copyright. It has more to do with distribution than creation.

Of course there’s another thing at work here: the Romantic’s concept of an individual artist as god-like genius. While modernism and the 20th century did away with a lot of the artistic baggage of Romanticism, for some reason this idea became entrenched. The individualism here has no room for multi-authored works (collaborations, translations, etc.), and no room for influence. See Eliot’s fantastic essay on that. Certainly not for the kind of influence that acknowledges a huge web of cultural indebtedness, often completely unacknowledged in the artistic process.

So I guess my short answer is that I don’t believe in originality. I don’t believe that it’s possible, or desirable. I think that as artists we create in a context of influence and collaboration, and that doesn’t mean that what we are creating has less value because of it. In fact, I would argue that our work becomes more valuable the more it engages with the cultural artifacts that inform it.

And ultimately, by foregrounding the role of other works in our own as a practice or as an exercise, we realize that we don’t actually have to try quite so hard to be “original” – to create works that are reflective of ourselves and our artistic vision. It’s impossible not to.

Erica Mena is a poet, translator, and book artist. Her work has been published in Vanitas, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Asymptote, Words without Borders and others. Her translations include Return to the Sea by Etnairis Rivera (Arrowsmith, 2006) and The Eternonaut by Hector German Oesterheld and Francisco Solano Lopez (Fantagraphics, 2014). She holds an MFA in literary translation from The University of Iowa and is an MFA candidate in poetry at Brown University. She is the founding editor of Anomalous Press.

A One Question Interview with Maria Anderson

We’ve got a lot coming up the coming weeks. Kicking off our winter courses is Maria Anderson’s Youth Writing Workshop, which begins next weekend. We’re so excited about this because it’s the first youth class we have offered, and it’s also completely full with a wait list!

I had the chance to talk a bit with Maria about her newest and oldest writing experiences. Maria and the rest of our winter instructors will be reading at our Winter Reading and Open House on Wed, January 15, 7PM at 186 Carpenter Street. Don’t miss it!

Maria, please describe your earliest writing experience and then describe your most recent writing experience. What has (or hasn’t) changed?

My earliest writing experience was with a blue pen in a hardcover cat diary that locked. The key turned out to be the same as my sister’s, and she’d sneak into my room to read it. I don’t remember much else, except that I would usually write in bed before I went to sleep. I’d feel very anxious before school the next morning. The cat diary helped me calm down.

Now, writing still has that secretive quality to it. I like this about my process. If I take out a notebook in a restaurant or write on a napkin, I tend to feel like people want to see what’s on there. They want in on this thing I’m doing. This bit of ego, of pride about what I’m up to, the notion that this is something a stranger is curious about simply because they witness the act of marking paper, is interesting to me. Even if they aren’t actually curious. The thought is enough to keep me wanting to write. Different systems of motivation are a big part of my process, like writing when I’m late, or when I’m supposed to be working. These systems help keep my daily practice strong. Unless I’m revising, sitting at a desk in a quiet room doesn’t often work for me. Except, of course, when it does.

Maria Anderson has a BA in Literary Arts from Brown University. She has extensive experience teaching English and creative writing to children ages 8-16. Her fiction and reviews have been published in The Atlas Review, NY Arts Magazine, The Fiddleback, and elsewhere.