Tag Archives: Ara Tucker

Community: noun – a unified body of individuals

One take away from last year’s amazing trip to Erice, Sicily to work with the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference: the essence of being a writer is directly hinged upon the community you create for yourself. At least for this writer.

Six years post MFA I’m finally “getting out there” in terms of establishing and becoming a part of a poetic community. I was a bit of a recluse for quite sometime, still am in a lot of ways, which is in direct conflict with my personality, but so goes it. In realizing the benefit of a supportive and encouraging group of writers to have surrounding you, what I have become more settled with is that sometimes your best, most supportive community is far-reaching. It’s not under your nose in all cases. It’s not even 10 minutes of DC traffic away. Sometimes you have to travel internationally, across email communication channels, or all the way to the abyss that is the west coast to find that which you seek: open minds, warm hearts – and by that I mean a warm reception where people are welcoming and encouraging most the time, but brutal and honest in the times you most need it.

Over the past year I’ve been blessed with continued relationships with Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick,  Shelley Puhak and Ethelbert Miller. I’ve also expanded my circle to the far reaches of Dubai with Ms. Hananah Zaheer , Ms. Ara Tucker in Jersey, Sonja Livingston in Tennessee, Hope Maxwell Snyder in WV. You see my point.

862459_10200858395248723_1575216453_nAnother instance of community was given to me last weekend in Lost River, WV. The kind souls and proprietors of the Guesthouse at Lost River, a cozy little retreat away form the hustle and bustle of the city life DC offers, have been our neighbors and friends for the two years we’ve owned our little “home away from home.” A few weeks ago, Jesse & Gary of Guesthouse fame and friendliness, proposed to my husband that I come down and share some of my work with them and their guests. My first response was “Thank you, I’m flattered” followed quickly by “I’m not sure how many people I can bring you or what you’d gain from it all.” They were less than concerned with what I could offer them. Their response: “We are doing it to support you!” And support me they did. We chatted often about the ins and outs of the reading, setting a date in April to coincide with National Poetry Month. As I visited over the months prior to the reading I’d see flyers for the reading posted in local businesses, I’d hear business owners telling patrons to attend, local friends were rallying the community to hear some poetry.  I was absolutely taken aback by the sense of community.

I’m not sure this blog post has an epiphanic takeaway as much as it serves as a gigantic “Thank you” to my community.

“By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’” ― Ted Kooser


Nostalgia (or lack thereof)

Recently, my friend Ara Tucker over at The Art Dealer’s Daughter posted about nostalgia which is quite the coincidence seeing as how a recent project had me quite nostalgic. Or at least, the project had me attempting to be nostalgic.

Hey, it's better than another sweater.

Hey, it’s better than another sweater.

It wasn’t until the last few weeks when I began working on a sentimental craft project for my brother’s 40th birthday that I began riffling through old memories, stories, photo books, letters trying to muster up some good ole’ memories.

Let me explain for those of you that don’t already know how this will end. It will end badly. I will have high hopes. I will have no patience or crafty talent for that matter. I will remain completely unaware of my half-assed attempt at perfection. Not to mention that said recipient’s birthday was February 4th, so at this point I’m well on my way to being a month tardy. Luckily, he grew up with me. His hopes are adjusted accordingly.

As I sifted through memories, only a half dozen came to mind. Then as I went through my memory bank, I found that it had become quite depleted. And not in reference to my brother of course, but generally speaking.

In that moment, I was feeling guilty for not being able to recall much of my childhood. I don’t think that has any reflection on the quality of it as much as my inability to savor on the chewy goodness of it all. I make memories. I’m in them completely. I’m lucky if I snap a picture or two. Then they either stick or they don’t. Simple as that.

I suppose I’ve always been bad at memory making. I’m not sure I understand at the time the fullness of events that are memory-worthy. I simply have snippets of things floating around in my memory bank. I become nostalgic, not because I am longing for the past and what it had meant to me but because I was longing to simply remember the past, all of it. My memory bank is depleted. Perhaps it’s because I’ve stockpiled my word bank.

The Next Big Thing

When my new friend Hananah (Banana) Zaheer initially posted information about The Next Big Thing, I thought it might be the blog equivalent to being put on one of those dreaded email chains. When she explained the intention of the project, I realized it aligned quite nicely with my 2013 promise of making goals and actually caring about them for the entire year. I met Hananah in Sicily at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference this past year, and we became fast friends and admirers of each others work. Her general enthusiasm and spirit for life is enviable, as are her entertaining tales from Dubai.

So what’s it all about? The Next Big Thing works by an author creating a post and answering questions about their work in progress.   They then tag five other authors also working on their projects and pass the baton, so to speak, to those authors so the masses can find out what they are working on, thus exploring The Next Big Thing.

What is your working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I have no hesitation in stating the obvious. The idea came from my own experiences with a heart illness, as well as a painful divorce. These literal and figurative heart issues had me exploring how we contain ourselves within our own bodies and the relationship we  have with this vessel that carries us around each day.

The title Chambermaid articulates this relationship we have with our bodies and how we cater to the whims of our body’s demands. The fact that a Chambermaid is literally someone who “tidies up” rooms in a larger space seemed more than accurate to me as an overarching issue in these poems. And, the sound quality associated with chambers and the heart’s beat is accurately depicted with this title. Sound is important to me and this manuscript.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with a heart condition that required emergency surgery to implant a pacemaker. Life-threatening: no. Debilitating: not so much. In my twenties, I was mostly concerned with how big the scar would be. Vanity prevails in youth. As time passed, I was suddenly interested in how to exist with a foreign object (of which I was now dependent upon) inside of me.  These questions of who we are to our bodies and vice versa became front and center in my psyche. Additionally, around the same time I was dealing with a divorce. The irony of the literal and figurative heart became an issue I wanted to explore. With all this tragedy there’s quite a bit of humor that seeps into the poems (what my therapist at the time told me was a coping mechanism and that I wasn’t actually a funny person). With all of that I began exploring the places and spaces that we inhabit, geographically, spiritually, emotionally and how that affects us in our relationship with our bodies.

There are poems that you write for recovery and these began as that. I didn’t think most readers would care to hear this particular voice. I didn’t think I cared to hear this voice. It took years and a few remarkable poets to tell me to stop being stupid. In almost those exact words.

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm. This is a different question for poets. To play the “I” in my manuscript I’d probably choose Reese Witherspoon. She’s southern, classy, and has good hair.  For the Doctor who plays a great supporting role in a lot of these poems, I’d choose Morgan Freeman. He seems like the type that could deliver a diagnosis in a way that doesn’t make you realize he’s telling you something negative. And his voice is haunting, which is fitting. To play the role of the male character, I’d probably choose someone who is unfortunate in a lot of ways.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ah, the elevator pitch. This is a book of poems exploring the confines of the body and how we deal with the capacity of living at odds with our own bodies. Does that sound smart enough?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

In a perfect world, I will win a literary prize that results in publication and a well-funded book tour across the vineyards of Italy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft of the completed manuscript? At least 4 years.  I have issues with letting go. The manuscript will tell you so.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh wow. Questions like this make me feel shy and insecure.  I’d like to say its in the spirit of anything from Linda Gregerson, Cate Marvin, Sylvia Plath littered with moments of Whitman. What’s not littered with moments of Whitman?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The dry wit. The formal choices. The intricacies of order.

Now, I will pass you along to some great writer friends of mine.

Shelley Puhak: Oh, my dear Shelley. Shelley and I met ages ago when we studied together in Brunnenburg at Ezra Pound’s estate. We shared much wine over picnic tables among the vineyard on the grounds and shared a long flight home together after discovering we didn’t live too far from each other. I remember being struck by her brilliant and creative approach to her writing and thinking to myself, “that’s someone I want to surround myself with.” Smart, good-hearted, funny and someone who no matter what time I inconveniently text or email her for opinions, rants, guidance, feedback, and even friendship she is always responsive and always a Reader for me. She has taken me into her poetic circle, embraced and nurtured me, and for her guidance and more importantly, friendship, I’m forever indebted. Shelley lives in Baltimore, MD where she teaches at Notre Dame of Maryland University. She is the author of Stalin in Aruba, awarded the 2010 Towson Prize for Literature, and the chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales, and she is winner of the 2011 Stephen Dunn Prize.

Nicole Tong: I met Nicole years ago in my MFA program at George Mason. Her poetry is smart and beautiful at the same time and she is easily coined as the person in the program that I kept saying to myself, “I wish I wrote that.” She and I spent some great times at Silver Diner cafe workshopping over endless mugs of coffee. She’s not only an amazing writer but a genuinely generous reader of other’s works, a true rarity these days. Nicole currently teaches at Northern Virginia Community College and is working on a series of poems about water. She grew up on the coast and her hometown’s history with water contamination and its subsequent health impacts on the town’s residents are what fuel this current project. Her blog, Given the Already is worth checking out.

Joe Hall: Joe Hall I met in my MFA program at George Mason. His poems are daring and ambitiously smart in ways I really admire. Joe’s first book of poems, Pigafetta Is My Wife, was a finalist for the 2010 Goodreads Book of the Year. Currently he is finishing up the design for his next book “The Devotional Poems,” due out in March from Black Ocean Press. You can follow Joe at The Container Store: Vols. I & II.

Ara Tucker: Ara’s response to my request of her to participate: “you are going to make me a writer yet, aren’t you?”  If I only I had a magic wand to make certain minds good writers. I don’t. She is an “inspired” writer – a writer that I met this past year at Breadloaf in Sicily and we became fast friends. She was immediately someone whom I felt at home with. Ara’s sense of humor and realistically informed perspective on all things we encountered in Sicily became something to admire. Her writing is so full of the kind of truth and heart that I admire in writers, but it’s not forced. It’s quite natural the progression her words take towards whatever issue or experience she is depicting. She has recently launched a blog called The Art Dealer’s Daughter where she weights in on “culture, identity and everything in between.” She is also working on a collection of poems titled “Nappy Routes” and a memoir “The Women I Carry.” Following her blog is a must. I’m lucky enough to get weekly emails of her observations on life and I’m better for it.

Jill Beauchesne: Jill is a lovely little lady I met at George Mason in the MFA program. Her laugh and smile are infectious and her poetry packs a punch. My favorite picture of us is in a shoebox in my office somewhere and it is us in some handmade t-shirts with ironed on letters making a political statement about oil. Jill had a way of making me want to care and be a part of something bigger. Currently she works in Missoula, Montana where she is among the things that make her who she is: nature, landscape, animals, lots of yoga and poetry, etc. Currently, Jill is taking the entire year to keep a list of all the birds she sees in one year. Birds as muse for poetry.

Message for tagged authors:
Rules of the Next Big Thing

***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. Be sure to line up your five people in advance.
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Jeffrey Levine

poetry, publishing, and mentoring

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