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Dana Levin: Crazyhorse Reading

With a mane of wavy, silver blonde hair framing her smiling face, Dana Levin stands in front of a crowd at Randolph Hall, lifts her phone to take a picture, and says, “One, two, three, Poetry!” She immediately puts her audience at ease and seems to relax into herself as she explains that her latest collection, Banana Palace, “came out of feeling deep anxiety about the future… Do you know what that’s like?” she asks, her tone both forthright and empathetic, smiling at the crowd composed mostly of undergraduate students.

Without further ado, she begins her readings with “Fortune Cookie,” a short two-line poem that reads, “You can never get death out of your system,” which she considers a “prevailing motto” for Banana Palace. She reads poems that take on the complexities of the modern world and presents them with wit, sly humor, and an unassuming optimism.

As CofC MFA student Josh Lowder said in his introduction, Levin’s lines evoke reflecting images of both the contrary nature of modern society and “a grim glimpse of what lies in the not-too-distant horizon of a future generation.” And they do, moving from the Greek underworld, to the modern classroom, to the rise of digital technology, to the definition of a soul, to her father as butcher, to the necessity and destructive nature of food.

For “Across the Sea,” she explains how she and her students were reading a book about the underworld and discussing the soul when she came up with the idea for them to use their phones to look up the definition of “soul.” Levin says, “They’re holding this phone looking really deep into the phone, looking at this definition of the soul, which is this ineffable thing you can only theorize about, and they’re holding their phones above a physical book that has poems in it that feature a figure that comes from pre-literature culture because Persephone exists as a figure before people were writing. In that moment, time and space just collapsed, and I wrote a poem.” Within the same poem is Marconi, Christ’s cry on the cross, and the sibyl, all concepts Levin seamlessly weaves together in the lyric. The reader is transported into a dream world of surreal spirituality, questioning the connections among our world, our souls, and our futures.

She reads from a poem in which she is a guest on “a series of strange talk shows.” In a voice that exudes insincerity and flashiness, she reads the part of the host and asks, “Soooo… Oxygen. How’s that feel?” The poem’s plot is light-hearted, humorous, satirically mocking modern-day T.V. show fascination with bodies, but it ends maliciously: “you lean forward smiling, your skull-eye gleams, you stick your black-boned finger right down my throat.” Our laughter, thwarted, suddenly challenged by the aggressive, invasive gesture.

Before reading “Urgent Care,” she confesses that the plot of the poem is complicated. She laughs and says, “If you brought this to a creative writing class, I’d be like, ‘I don’t know. This plot seems kinda busy.’” It is, but once more, Levin traces the pathways, letting us linger on the connections between waiting for help, our interactions with technology, and the universe beyond with a lunar eclipse. She leads us through a series of narratives that call forth our own anxieties, our marveling at our human cost.

The title poem is one that best reveals the collection’s perspectives on human complexity. Levin explains the inspiration for this poem came from an image she saw while scrolling through Facebook. “I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t know how to write about it without having to write about finding it on Facebook. The idea of writing a poem about Facebook just seemed very dismal, so I let it go for a year hoping that the muse would oblige.”

She explains her inspirational process as a conversation with herself:

“Oh, I really want to write about this image. Ok. You’re gonna have to write about Facebook.”
“Ok, but like why? Why would you do that?”
“Well, I guess I would do it for people who don’t know what Facebook is.”
“Who doesn’t know what Facebook is?”
“Obviously someone who is born after the apocalypse and doesn’t know this technological world that we live in.”

Levin adds how she realized she could then write this poem from the perspective of someone who has “lived in a world like ours and has somehow survived civilization’s collapse and is now living in this post-collapsed world and is trying to describe what this world was like via talking about Facebook.” Thus, “Banana Palace” is read, the poem addressed to “future person.” Yet as she reads, we feel she is truly speaking to a different audience, to us, revealing our complicity, asking us to examine it like the speaker does with the image of the “cross section of a banana under a microscope.”

She finishes reading her last poem and invites the audience to questions. We are eager to oblige. When she’s asked about choosing poetry as a career, her response is candid, but encouraging. “It just happened. It made my mother really nervous. I think if you’re called to an art form and you can’t help it, you should not try to help it. You should just do it.”

Rebecca Makkai: Searching for Truth in Reality TV

Chicago-based author and 2017 Pushcart Prize winner Rebecca Makkai visited The College of Charleston campus Thursday, March 16, as part of the Crazyhorse Reading Series. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Harper’s, and Tin House. She was introduced by Professor and Crazyhorse Fiction Editor Anthony Varallo.

“I first became aware of Rebecca’s writing after reading her work in the Best American Short Stories—four stories in four consecutive years,” he said. “How could that be possible?—and then had the pleasure of selecting ‘The November Story’ for Crazyhorse in 2010, still one of the best stories we’ve ever published.” He went on to call it “a savvy, relentlessly entertaining satire about reality TV, the commercialization of art, the need for love, and the long odds of getting exactly what we want.” 

“The November Story” was subsequently read by Makkai on This American Life in 2011, and is included in her short story collection Music for Wartime, an assemblage of both family narrative and World War II in Hungary and contemporary settings that examine relationships in all facets.

Makkai said it felt appropriate to read “The November Story” for the Crazyhorse Reading Series. Afterward, she accepted questions from the packed audience. Charlie Baker, an MFA student at the College, noted how varying Makkai’s stories are in her collection, and asked what the most difficult story was to write.

She answered with “The Miracle Years of Little Fork,” which she told the audience is the most different in technique from her other narrative voices. She laughed and said there have been times it’s the only example of her work someone has read, and it can color how a reader views her work overall. “It’s so different than everything else I’ve written,” she reiterated, and then went on to disclose that she enjoys playing with different forms and structures. “I get bored easily with the same thing over and over.”

Another question drove at how she approaches the descriptions of musical and visual arts through written word, and one asked about the publication of fictionalized family narratives that look at the role and effects of WWII within her own family. To each inquiry, Makkai listened intently before nodding to begin answering the questions.

As Anthony Varallo said in his introduction, “Her stories do not say that art redeems us, necessarily, but they do suggest that the making of art—the sheer work of it, the process—might be redemption enough.”

T. Geronimo Johnson Reads from Braggsville

Standing at the podium in Randolph Hall, T. Geronimo Johnson reads the first chapter of his most recent novel, Welcome to Braggsville. Johnson forgoes the microphone, his voice resounding throughout the room. When he finishes, he tells the audience, “I want to thank you for not laughing at that first part.”

The start of the novel details the beginnings of the main character’s nicknames and their evolutions throughout his childhood into his first day of his first semester at college.

“The thing about that first sentence,” he says, “and I know that sometimes people are laughing because they have a nervous reaction, but the thing about that first sentence is that even though it lists his nicknames, there are these epithets that are never meant to be humorous. . . . The audience laughing at that part and the noise throws me off my game a little bit, and I find myself asking the audience not to laugh, which is this thing you’re never supposed to do.”

Johnson is an MFA graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a former Stegner Fellow. His first book, Hold It ‘Til It Hurts, was a PEN Faulkner Finalist. He currently teaches writing at the University of California at Berkeley.

Laura Cannon, an MFA student at CofC, introduced Johnson and described how she “fell in love with the ambition of Geronimo’s sentence level attention to language. The syntax breathed aloud and the paragraphs were like spoken word.”

Throughout the reading, Johnson takes questions and requests from the audience, making the event a space of conversation.

The first question from the audience asks about Johnson’s fears of isolating the reader and any anxiety experienced when thinking about the reader who may have a different perspective from himself.

“I’m always afraid to isolate my reader,” Johnson says. “It’s not a party to stand up here and read a sentence that is someone teasing a kid because of his suspected sexual orientation. I always have anxiety about that, and one of the things that’s driving me as a writer is this question of how you learn to care about someone who’s not yourself, someone who’s not like you, which I feel is an increasingly pressing and important question.”

He describes the third space and how he wanted the reader to have more of an experience, to enter the novel differently than his first novel.

“There’s a lot that goes unannounced or unexplained,” Johnson says. “That’s why there are no quotation marks to blur this line between what is said and what is thought or what people are thinking about and what they will admit to. I’m often thinking about that space.”

Another question from the audience asked about his attention to language and the rhythms of his sentences, about the poetic inspirations for his work and how poetry influenced his prose.

“I started as a poet, and then I say that I left poetry for the smart people to do, which I actually mean literally. I don’t mean that as any kind of backhanded compliment. I mean that literally. I didn’t think I could accomplish my particular aims as a writer in poetry, and I also was trying to work with narratives that depict human experience in ways I couldn’t figure out how to do effectively in poetry.”

Johnson explains how the he pays attention to the sonic qualities of the language and how words have “shapes and vibrations and they affect your body.” The attention to language is based on how the audience will react to these words, the sounds, the syntax.

During the reading, Johnson honors audience members’s requests for sections and chapters (sometimes entire chapters) and answers questions about lawn jockeys, Ishi, religion, storytelling, and writing as it pertains to the human experience.

“Throughout history, we look at The Illiad, The Odyssey, myths, fairytales, we have this practice of telling stories. In most religious practices, you’ll see a lot of narratives are used to help people understand the nuance of certain lessons. In the past when you were in an oral society and you had a storyteller, that storyteller had to tell a story that would help everyone remember who they are, what they’re doing, what the history of the society is, so the story is kind of a way of holding society together.”

Print, he says, changes the way we record history, how we remember our stories. “Print liberates us from the past because print now means that we’re able to record what we need to remember about yesterday. The way I think of it as a writer and as a human is that storytelling is an essential and central human activity. It’s the central activity. I think that what we have is an opportunity if we stop and think about it to be a lot more influential than we may realize in how things unfold by being more tended to some of our pressing concerns in everything that we write.”

As he concludes the reading with the section about the Charlies, the lawn jockeys, Johnson adds one last sentiment to the audience. “I think this is where we are. We’ve inherited this world and we all have to decide individually whether or not we’re going to do anything to make it better.”

Shelley Wong, Pushcart Prize


Congratulations to Shelley Wong, 2017 Pushcart Prize winner for her poem “The Spring Forecast,” which was recently published in the Pushcart Prize XLI Best of the Small Presses anthology.

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Shelley’s work was nominated by Emily Rosko, Raena Shirali, and Michael Marberry and first appeared in Crazyhorse issue no. 88. 

Additionally, a Pushcart Special Mention goes to Erika Krouse for her short story, “Wounds of the Heart and Great Vessels,” published in Crazyhorse issue no. 87.

Congratulations to Dana Fitz Gale


Crazyhorse is thrilled to congratulate past contributor Dana Fitz Gale, on her book Spells for Victory and Courage, winner of the Brighthorse Books award. Her short story collection includes “Jester,” originally Adobe Photoshop PDFpublished in issue no. 84. The story is about “a clown…a strange one, with a moth-pale face and smeary, charcoal eyes” who picks on the wrong guy – a soldier with PTSD visiting the carnival with his two young children. Fitz Gale’s writing beautifully captures failed relationships in each of the characters’ lives:

“He tips his head back, gazes up into the spotlight, trying to dredge up some half-pleasant recollection of his father. His retinas glow white-hot, sparking haloes in his vision and he’s six years old, again.”

“They can’t explain why he didn’t compliment her when she stood before him in a new dress, just a month before she took the kids and left. In that dress, she was like the noon sun at Fallujah, but when she asked him why he wouldn’t look at her, he couldn’t tell her that it was because she was so beautiful.”

“Jester” remains a favorite among the stories published at Crazyhorse. We look forward to reading more of Dana Fitz Gale’s work, and heartily congratulate her.

Crazyhorse Reading Series: Kamilah Aisha Moon and Rachel Eliza Griffiths


In Arnold Hall, Gary Jackson, associate poetry editor at Crazyhorse, stands at the podium to introduce Kamilah Aisha Moon and Rachel Eliza Griffiths, two poets whose poignant voices have drawn over 100 people to tonight’s reading.dsc_0739

After he thanks the many people who made the reading possible, he extends special thanks to Natalie Diaz, a poet who was scheduled to read, but who was unable to attend.

“Tonight’s origin story started with a text message from Natalie the evening of March 3, 2016,” he says. “This is a direct MLA in-text citation. She texted, ‘OK, brother. Here’s the deal. Invite us for a reading. Rachel Eliza, Aisha Moon, and me.’”

Regardless of Diaz’s absence, the audience is eager and anxious to hear what Moon and Griffiths have planned to share.

Moon is a recipient of a fellowship from Cave Canem Foundation, the Proxima Writing Institute, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in a variety of prestigious literary magazines and journals. She has also won a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence and has taught at several colleges and universities.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-10-14-49-amJackson describes the poetry from Moon’s first collection, She Has a Name, as “full of grace, intimacy, and fury, sometimes simultaneously.”

“It may be one of the truest poetry collections I’ve ever read,” he says. “When I say true, I’m not talking about poetry as confession necessarily. I’m thinking more about how the poems in the collection, which take on the voices of people in her family, are doing the difficult work of reflecting the world we live in and the transformative power of trying to distill life into art.”

The family dynamic within the collection is informed by the youngest daughter’s autism. Moon’s own sister has autism, and the poems revolve around how this diagnosis changes and defines their lives.

Moon begins with her sister’s contributions to the book. “I’m very proud that Four Way agreed with me and made her painting the cover art. I want to acknowledge that.”

The first poem she reads, “Borderless Country,” is also the first poem in the collection. It begins with “1 in 150,” the statistic at the time of publication for the number of families dealing with autism. Moon reads the poem revised with the most current statistic, and the difference is staggering.

“1 in 68 now,” she says.

As she reads, her voice is soft and commanding. Her manner is gentle. She rests a hand on the podium as she holds her book in the other. We listen. We hear her voice and the voices of her family. We hear their grace, their intimacy, their fury.

Before she reads one of her last poems, Moon says, “I hope those who know how to love each other win. We’re in the struggle of our lives right now. I hope we win.”

Then, she reads “Perfect Form,” a new poem about the shooting of Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. “Walter Scott must have been a track athlete before serving his country, having children.” Her words are tender, yet scathing, reminding us of the realities we so often choose to ignore.

After she reads her final poem, Moon thanks the audience and Jackson returns to the podium to introduce Griffiths.

Griffiths, a poet and a photographer, currently teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence, which is where she earned her MFA. She is also a recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Vermont Studio Center. She has also received fellowships from Yaddo and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her work has been published in journals, magazines, anthologies, and periodicals such as NY Times, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, and Guernica. She is also known for her video project, POP, Poets on Poetry, available online.

Her newest collection, Lighting the Shadow, describes what Jackson calls, “this frayed and haunted Americana rich landscape” that is “both host to oppressors and the oppressed and serves as a constant foil for the multitudes of figures that stand out.”

“Everytime I read these poems,” he says, “I feel like heartbreak is my favorite language.”

Griffiths takes the stage, and as she reads, her low, humming voice is arresting. Her first poem, “The Dead Will Lead You,” is based upon a photo she saw while working on the book. The photo was of a child playing amidst shrouded bodies of dead children in Syria.screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-10-20-01-am

“I see something inside or I see something outside,” she says. “The poem has this discovery and startling in it, so the poem you thought you were writing about a picture takes you somewhere else.”

Across the landscape of grief, death, and womanhood, Griffiths leads her audience into territory wracked with trauma and invites them to consider the America we live in—“The dead will lead you across scarred meadows, red, blue, white. The star-flung sky scrapes gold grass.”

After reading several poems from her collection, she shares some new works. “Good Death” was influenced by the sudden loss of her mother and by recent shootings aired on the media.

“When your child is lying out on the street full of bullets and bleeding in front of a national international stage, that’s not a good death,” she says.

The dead have led us to her haunting grief, echoing in each line. “Was it a good death? Was there peace for all of us? Why should I want peace instead of my mother?”

At the end of the reading, Griffiths and Moon answer the audience’s questions. They discuss whether poetry should have an ethical message to impart, if poets should write to share their experiences or if they should use their work to educate the reader.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-10-13-25-am“I’m not a fan of the sitting down and saying, ‘I have a message to impart,’” Moon says. “But I think that naturally happens when you sit down to write about your life and what you observe.”

Instead, Moon suggests for the poet to sit down at the desk and say, “Let me communicate, let me connect.”

English Faculty Reading: Raena Shirali & Lindsey Drager


Chairs are lined in rows between the columns within Randolph Hall, most of them taken well before the reading begins. Anthony Varallo, fiction editor at Crazyhorse, stands at the podium. The crowd’s conversations slow and then stop as he welcomes them to this year’s first reading and thanks them for braving the threat of Hurricane Hermine to attend.

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He first introduces Raena Shirali, a poet, CofC alum, and current faculty member in the Department of English. She is the author of GILT, forthcoming from YesYes Books, and the recipient of the Philip Roth Residency at the Stadler Center for Poetry.

Having know Shirali since she was a student in his fiction writing class years ago, Varallo recounts her early efforts as a writer. Even then, he knew she was gifted, and he vividly remembers a short story she wrote, “Cabbage,” which explores how a man’s encounter with an ex in a grocery store forces him to assess his current relationship with “a woman obsessed with oregano.” Varallo describes Shirali as a “writer in love with language and truth and art, a writer who asks what it’s like to be alive and is never quite satisfied with the answer.”

DSC_0502When Shirali takes the podium, she is at ease. She slips into casual conversation with the audience and reminds Varallo that, “quinoa made a guest appearance in that story, too.” Framed by the stage balustrades at the front of the room, her manner is affectionate and commands our attention. At the end of her first poem, she waits, and then she smiles nervously and laughs. We laugh. “Make noise, snaps, snaps are good. We can snap,” she says. And we do.

Shirali’s poetry explores personal and cultural boundaries, the differences of eastern and western cultures. Indian gods and goddesses make appearances in her work. She reads poems from her upcoming book, poems from projects, and then she reads poems that are “not in anything. I just felt like reading it.”

As she reads “daayan summoning magic,” the crowd is captivated, torsos leaning forward, eyes following the rise and fall of hers as she animates the words from the page in front of her. We are at ease, we applaud and laugh, “as one of our own steps into the light.”

When Shirali finishes her last poem, smiles, and thanks the audience, Varallo returns to introduce Lindsey Drager, the newest member of the creative writing faculty at CofC.

Drager is the author of The Sorrow Proper, and will release her new book The Lost Daughter Collective in the spring of 2017. She earned her PhD from the University of Denver, where she served as the associate editor of the Denver Quarterly.

Varallo calls The Sorrow Proper a “book about books and libraries and photographers and mathematicians and librarians, all the people who matter, especially librarians.” He describes how he could not put the book down, despite the many books he’d promised to read and finish first. The book is a multilayered narrative, “not a flabby or slack sentence in sight.”DSC_0573

As Drager reads, the audience understands what Varallo meant when he said, “I don’t think Lindsey is capable of writing a slack sentence.” Her prose is tight and precise, each sentence racked with genuine revelations of character. The woven composition of narrative is firm and tense, a tapestry of rhythmic syntax.

Drager explains how her forthcoming novel, The Lost Daughter Collective, is told from the voice of a wrist scholar sharing “cautionary tales through bedtime stories to his daughter, who is a child prodigy ice sculptor.” The fathers, named by their occupations like “The Barber” and “The Wainwright,” call their lost daughters “Alice” and the dead daughters “Dorothy.”

Her narrative reminds us of fathers and their daughters, of love, fear, and incurable loss. Drager reads, from “The Barber and His Alice,” and when she says, “A daughter seems a simple thing,” we remember their complexity.

Drager ends the night with “The Angler, The Wainwright, and Their Alice,” a tale of a father who returns from sea in fear of a storm. And as we listen, we fall under the spell of her prose and forget for a moment the storm that awaits us as well.

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What Last Year’s Winners Have to Say about the Crazyhorse Prizes…

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Every year, writers at all stages of their careers submit their work to the Crazyhorse Prizes in fiction, nonfiction, & poetry. And a panel of judges (for 2016, it’s Joan Silber for fiction, Brenda Miller for nonfiction, and Khaled Mattawa for poetry) select a winner in each genre to receive a prize of $2,000 and publication in Crazyhorse. We thought it might be interesting to roll back the clock and ask last year’s winners why they submitted their work for the Crazyhorse prizes in the first place.

Shubha Sunder, who’s short story, “Jungleman,” was selected by Adam Johnson for the 2015 Crazyhorse Fiction Prize, says, “I’ve been submitting to Crazyhorse for years. It has always been one of my favorite literary journals; the stories I read in it are eclectic, quirky, and relevant. The contest happened to come at a time when I had this piece completed. While I’m thrilled that Adam Johnson chose ‘Jungleman’ as the winner, I’m even more thrilled that this story has found a home in Crazyhorse.” She says that the story was inspired by a trip she made to the Bandipur National Park in South India as a teenager. “I was part of a team of students recruited to conduct a small-scale wildlife census,” she writes. “We were led by tribesmen on deserted tracks through the forest. One of the scientists I met on this trip looked like a jungle man—bushy beard, wild hair, light on his feet, and very passionate about his work. Later that same year he took his wife on an expedition that resulted in her contracting cerebral malaria and dying. I never met him again and have often wondered how his wife’s death affected his relationship with the forest.”

Sara Henning, winner of the 2015 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, cites her love of the Prize’s namesake and judge Alberto Ríos as motivations to submit her poems to the contest. “My love and awe of Hull’s work is a driving force behind why I chose to submit to the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize,” she told us, “but it is also the work of Alberto Ríos that drew me, the way his poems penetrate in dazzling lyrical investigations the notions of memory, heritage, and the liminal sphere of the self forged among these boundaries. My poem that won the prize, ‘How I Learned I Had the Shine,’ honors both Ríos’ and Hull’s precedents to turn memory and the legacies of the self into lyrical study. My poetry has often trended toward the examination of issues crucial to feminine identity, including class, violence, and shame in ways that challenge the genre of neo-confessional trauma writing.”

Terrance Manning Jr.’s essay “Leave Them Hurtin’ When You Leave,” winner of the 2015 Crazyhorse Nonfiction Prize, is piece written through a lens of honesty. He says there was “No pumping it up. No bells and whistles. Just a story of a summer.” Manning continues, “From that, I found I was writing into discovery, attempting to answer questions about myself and my parents, somehow, through the examination of this experience, which manifested in the moments of reflection in the piece.” Manning had been waiting for the right time to submit his piece when he received an email suggesting the Crazyhorse Prizes, and similar to Henning, Manning was excited to see a familiar name as a judge in the contest. He says, about Crazyhorse, “I’ve read some of my favorite writers in its pages: Marianne Boruch, Rebecca Makai, and yes, Dinty Moore, who happened to be judging the 2015 nonfiction contest! I only hoped for the possibility to have him, this wonderful writer that I admire, reading my work.”

These writers submitted their work to Crazyhorse for a variety of reasons: admiration of our judges, a well timed call for submissions, or simply the hope of finding a home for their work within our pages. We appreciate them sharing their talent with us and giving Crazyhorse the opportunity to publish their work. We hope that others will do the same. We will be accepting submissions for the 2016 Crazyhorse Prizes during the month of January. For more information, click here.

Crazyhorse Reading Series: Gabrielle Calvocoressi

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We have a microphone, and we have a music stand, and we have Gabrielle Calvocoressi. “I have a really loud voice,” she says, testing the microphone. Her voice is indeed loud, not in a way that silences us, but a way that invites us in. She starts with a request. “I want to do something, see if you’d be in the mood for it.” In addition to reading from her two published books, she’s thinking of reading from the book she’s just finished, too. She lets us know that this idea scares her, but that she tries to do one thing a day she can fail at. “It would be an experiment,” she tells us excitedly, “and we’d all be in it together. Does that sound okay?” The unanimous response is yes. We dive in.
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Her manner is hypnotizing. Poems weave into near-narratives; a stag often links them. Where does one end and the other begin? As we move to the Q&A, this spell does not break. Calvocoressi starts each exchange with “What’s your name” or “Hi, I’m Gabby! Nice to meet you,” turning each public question-and-answer into a personal encounter that, somehow, is communal as well.

One student asks about the watercolors Calvocoressi has placed on the table beside her. They have a story: she gets writer’s block, and was advised by author Lynda Barry to combat it with a kit of watercolors. Calvocoressi used them to paint lines that weren’t working in her poems, and now it’s a routine; she paints several times per day. When they began to pile up, she decided to put writing prompts on the back of them and give them out, for free, at her readings. Ideally, they might be shared between writers: “if you grab them, maybe you give them to someone else.”IMG_1013

Others ask about motifs in her poetry, like the reappearing stag. Calvocoressi grew up on a piece of land with deer and bucks all over, and deer imagery has been with her since. “How many of you have seen a buck?” she asks us. She describes the experience of looking through the leaves, seeing what looks like branches at first, maybe a tree, which then turns out to be a stag. She’s interested in the figure of the deer in literature, which makes even knights wonder. The deer, for her, represents “the timelessness of our awe.”

Others ask about craft. Though not a fiction writer, does she approach writing with a story in mind? She used to teach her students three things about poems: know who is speaking to whom, for what purpose, and from what mask. Then, she thought, “Why? Really, why?” Now she approaches her poetry as “a variously voiced tapestry” woven together by repetition and grounding. She thinks, “what are the kinds of repetition and kinds of grounding I can give the reader that makes them feel in the poems?” Repetition and grounding immerse the reader into the poem.
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There’s more to talk about–that she writes poems in her head every day, that she does not use the word “revision” until the final edit, that she’s fascinated with hermits–but ultimately, we walked away understanding that immersion is important to Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s, which comes across in her poetry, and in her conversations with young writers and writing faculty alike.