After starting to add part of this material to the Talks page, I decided to place it here instead and to write about two talks I gave: the first in April 2011 and the second in November 2013.
My prepared notes:
- Writing: book, Stray (2006).
- Designing: interior of Backstage in a Bureaucracy, 2010; About Them and The South Wind, 2011.
- Publishing: Mixed Nerve, summer 2010; Manoa, twice a year. Now working on summer 2011 issue, Living Spirit: Literature and Resurgence in Okinawa.
- Editing: Manoa.
What do I write about? I'm most interested in moral decisions people make: what compels them to make them; why they choose as they do; how these choices affect the people around them and the rest of their lives. Sometimes, of course, these choices put them in situations where further moral choices are required.
My aesthetics are bound up with my ethics to some degree. For example, like Steve Jobs, I have an aversion to pornography, so I don't use it in my writing or designing. However, I do write about sexuality, and when this is bound up with love—or opposed to it—there is what some people might regard as an erotic component in my writing.
Some of my subjects:
- a victim of a U.S. military attack
- an unfaithful husband
- an angry conflict between friends
- a diver's experience of the dangerous and mysterious
- the death of a good friend
- a young girl's loss of innocence
- a young boy's loss of his mother and his redemption through understanding.
Poems to read:
- "Poem for an Empty Rose"
- "Journey through the Break"
I think the effect I'm trying most to achieve in my writing is the sense of peace and calm that is possible after trauma. If we can understand what happened and heal from it—and this "if" is possible for me through writing—then we may contribute things of lasting value to our community.
My notes for this talk were informal and fragmentary, so I'll just summarize the talk.
I spoke first about my Peak Services work: editing, designing, producing books. In connection with this, I brought up Lawrence Levin's book, Poems and Essays from an Ordinary Room, and read his introduction. I also read two or three paragraphs from the concluding section of his essay "An Ordinary Room."
I was trying to get the students to see that poetry arises out of living intensely, thoughtfully, deeply—that it's not a hobby or form of recreation. I also pointed out to them that there is a room within the "ordinary room": the mind. And that within the mind, one can explore the world.
Work of mine that I read included the first two pages of a novel excerpt that will be published in Eleven Eleven, the literary journal of the California College of the Arts. Poems were "Gateway," written while I was listening to a lecture at Shangri-la, the Black Point estate of Doris Duke; a short untitled love poem beginning "It was the moon who teased me to rise"; and "Devotion," a long poem that Adele's student Shannon requested.
Nine students were enrolled in the workshop: eight women and a man, a war vet. The man was absent that day, unfortunately. I say "unfortunately" because we also discussed "Male Creations and Their Female Creators," the presentation that Adele, I, and three other women writers will be making at the 2014 AWP conference. After I read "Devotion," Shannon asked how it was possible to enter a man's mind and write about him, and I'm afraid I didn't give her a good answer. I said that we are always entering the minds of other people, even other creatures, imagining what they feel and what it's like to be them.
After a short break in the class, I said a few more things about "Gateway" before departing. I brought up the delicate architecture of Shangri-la and the way it contrasts with the powerful waves hitting the land on which the estate stands. And I said that experiencing both while listening to the lecture put me in a certain state of mind—one reaching for the spiritual—and it was that state I was trying to capture in the poem.