Powell Award Submissions

 

Dear Writers,

Associate Professor Laura Valeri would like to remind you all:
“Don’t forget to submit your awesome work to the Powell Awards.  The deadline is Monday, and the prize is $100 in each category of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.  Moreover, you get honored at a reading and recognized at Honors Day.
I hope you will take advantage of this great opportunity to have your hard work recognized and to earn a cash prize.
You have nothing to lose by submitting, and everything to gain.
Attached you will find the flyer with all details.  Good luck, and hope to see work from everyone.”
Onward, Brave Writers!
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Introducing Kim Addonizio

During the second night of February of this year, phenomenal poetess and author Kim Addonizio graced the House of Georgia Southern with her electrifying presence. Addonizio, proud mother-author of two novels, two story collections, two poetry-writing instruction books, and of seven poetry collections, gave public readings of her poetry from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., courtesy of The Department of Writing and Linguistics and The Georgia Poetry Circuit.

Little in stature, but mighty in the word, Addonizio’s presentation was likened to that of lightning: Brilliant. Captivating. Undeniably powerful. As she read to the audience from her latest poetry collection, Mortal Trash (W. W. Norton), she allowed us access into her world. More importantly, into her life, her story, and into the moments that made her become who she is.

Following her readings, she bestowed upon us audience members the opportunity to ask her questions, and to have them answered. When asked about how did she arrive at the position of courage that allowed her to so boldly become raw with her poetry, she responded simply and wonderfully that “this is what literature is about – being human.” She furthermore went onto explain that as writers, or those who aspire to become writers, it is imperative for us to become comfortable with “telling our stories however way we can tell it.” Addonizio mentioned how in poetry, “everything is fair game,” meaning that anything from our lives could be written about, if we so choose.

Lastly, although most importantly, she eloquently reminded us all, myself included, that in order to get anywhere with our writing, we need to “not worry whether people are going to react [or not],” but to mainly do it for ourselves. So that we are using our gifts. So that we are putting our literary treasures out into the world.

Overall, having Kim Addonizio visit Georgia Southern University was an absolute pleasure, and we hope we can have her back here again sometime soon. Addonizio is also the award winner of two Pushcart Prizes, fellowships from the NEA, and also from the Guggenheim Foundation. She was a finalist for the National Book Award for her masterful poetry collection Tell Me (BOA Editions, 2000). She enjoys teaching and speaking across the country, and internationally.

In addition to her awesomeness, she also a member of the musical group Nonstop Beautiful Ladies, in which she plays the harmonica. May she continue to be so amazing!

 

Creative Accomplishments

Once again, the semester is a wrap-up; teachers and students have completed finals and are now ready to join family and friends for the holiday celebrations.

After all the stress of semester’s end, here are some reasons to lift that cup of egg nog and yell “Cheers!”

Our 2016 Harbuck Scholarship finalist Barbara Jayne McGaugheny and finalistis Aleyna Rentz, Jennifer Maldonado, and Jenna Lancaster celebrated their recognition with author Amanda Ward for the Harbuck 2016 reading in September. In October, they met and had lunch with our guest author, award winning writer, filmmaker and poet MK Asante, whom we’d brought here on a special grant through South Arts, in partnership with the NEA, and the Georgia Southern College Life Enrichment Committee.

Senior Morgan Davis saw her first publication for a story titled “Progress” a flash piece about eating disorders.  Have a look at If And Only If, the elegant e-journal that published her work this October.  Morgan will also be interviewing award-winning writer Sandra Beasley for this upcoming issue of Wraparound South.

Bryce Knight, another W&L major, had a story accepted in Stymie magazine, coming soon.

green christmas ballAnd junior Aleyna Rentz adds yet another notch to her publication belt by placing her fiction piece, “A Mean Heart” with Deep South Magazine.

This Fall 2015 also said goodbye to two accomplished and ultra-creative W&L majors Courtney Causey and Jennifer Maldonado.  Congratulations, girls!

A good round of applause is also due to alumna Amanda Malone for being nominated this Fall for the celebrated Pushcart prize for her fiction piece, “He’s All Humanity,” which appeared in Cheap Pop in April.

Last, but not least, our alumni Cassie Beasley is now officially a  New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice author for her first novel, an MG page-turner titled Circus Mirandus.

Better still, Cassie’s book just made the New York Times Best Seller list for Middle Grade books for readers 9-12.  Wow, Cassie.  We’re inspired.

The College Life Enrichment Committee has also approved a grant to bring Cassie back to Georgia Southern for a day.  She will be teaching a one day workshop in Young Adult writing, giving some young writers advice on writing careers, and giving a reading and book signing right here in our Statesboro campus in February or early March. Stay tuned for the dates or contact Dr. Terry Welford for more information.

Congratulations W&L students and alumni. Your success makes us proud to teach here, and we wish you all the best for many years to come.  I know that we’ll soon hear plenty more publication news from those who took classes here with us in the Writing & Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern, so if you didn’t get mentioned, don’t fret: we believe in you and know that soon we will hear all about your success.

Cheers.  And Happy Holidays.

Soundtracking Your Writing Life

At some point in middle or high school, all of us took some sort of test to determine what kind of learner we were. Some of us ended up being aural learners–the kids who listen to lectures and regurgitate information after one go-around. Some of us were visual–the ones who most hoped that the teacher would stop talking and play a video. Still others would be classified as “hands-on” learners–the nice term for the kids who would tear the room to pieces the minute the teacher left.

If you, like me, found yourself among the former group–the aural learners–then your writing process may often find itself supplemented by your music library, if only ever to serve as white noise. While many of us work best in absolute silence, many of us prefer to work over the latest jams, the classic tunes, and everything in between. This is a good thing. We can pull inspiration from any number of texts, and music is no different. It can serve the poet in the same way that film can serve the fiction writer–as another manifestation of the same principles.

It’s often easy to ignore texts outside of our own medium, but chosing to tune in (*ba dum tish*) to things outside our spheres can improve our own art by degrees. There are some things to remember when building your writer’s playlist, though.

1. Music can stimulate more than just pleasure. So, you’re writing an angsty, post-modern diatribe-turned-plot-turned-actually-pretty-solid-piece about subjugation, objectification, and some other -ation. You don’t think Nicki’s The Pink Print or Coldplay’s Whatever Album Coldplay Put Out This Year is quite going to give you the moody vibe you’re looking for. Why not try something else? Something bizarre? Something haunted and unpleasant? Maybe someone like Sigur Rós (below) or Jenny Hval is for you right now.

Perfect for that piece featuring gas masks, made-up languages, and existential terror that you’re writing right now.

Are you writing a fantastical short story about a Barbarella-esque warrior woman and her journeys through some strange, pastoral landscape? Maybe consider listening to something that fills your head with those sorts of images (I would suggest Sleater-Kinney if you’re heavier on the warrior woman aspect, or Joanna Newsom if you’re looking to capture the idea of strange, foreign lands).

The point is this: sound can do so much more than lift our spirits. A great song can fill you with awe, dread, or even revulsion. Consider your own piece before attempting to complement your process with that new Bruno Mars track featuring that one guy.

2. Lyrics are important. It’s easy to forget that–just like literary poetry–musical lyrics can come in two (basic) flavors: lyrical and narrative. Are you looking to meander through the human psyche for a while, or are you looking to propel a group of characters through a sweeping narrative?

Figure out where you are going with your work, and demand the same of your playlist. Maybe Bowie’s story of Major Tom mirrors your own. Maybe listening to Fiona Apple ramble roughly about heartbreak and abuse will send new life through your own lyrical essay about the time your Siamese fighting fish died.

3. Lyrics are not that important. One advantage that music holds over traditional writing is the (you guessed it) audio component. It’s a medium filled with hundreds of elements: tone, tempo, progression, lyrics, structure, timbre, arrangement, technique, ability, technology, and volume, just to name a few.

Consider these elements. They drive music in the same way that the elements of writing drive our own work. If you can’t find any music that speaks to who you are thematically, then you may be able to track down something that speak to you on a baser, stylistic plane.

4. Know when to turn it all off. Even the most auditory learners need to find silence every once in a while. There is a reason why communications experts call extra input “noise”–our media consumption can easily overwhelm us, or worse, color our writing until it becomes something we did not intend.

Just like that one time you got lost in in downtown Savannah looking for that place you were supposed to be at for that thing you planned to go to, every once in a while, it’s time to turn down your radio so you can squint at the roadsigns around you and determine where you’re even going with yourself, even if it’s not totally apparent to you why you’re even turning the radio down.

Map of Savannah City Map, Georgia, United States 1885

You’ve been so very lost here so many times. Admit it.

Other mediums are great to dive into, but make sure you don’t drown in the glory of it all.

5. Completely ignore everything I’ve just said. We’re artists, after all. We have that freedom. Your process is your own, and no amount of suggestions from me or any other hoity-toity pseudo-critic like me will change that. If listening to German death metal helps you write your nature poem more effectively, then more power to you. Pursue the mediums and the genres that make you a more effective creator. discover what makes your creative metronome tick.

Jane Fonda as Barbarella Still 5

Just remember my advice when your Barbarella spin-off novel based on extended progressive rock listening sessions hits it big.

What a T-Rex can teach about writing

From time to time, I like to give my students (and, well, myself) exercises in which they re-tell their family stories.  These always familiar (sometimes to the point of overly familiar) stories are good ones for a writer to retell, as they allow us a window not only into how stories are told but also why stories are told. I’ve noticed that a lot of students tell stories in which their parents describe what they were like as children, and many argued that families tell such stories to show us what our tendencies are — especially our tendencies towards bad behavior (and especially bad behavior in public places) — and how to combat and/or correct them.

Golf-course T-Rex and haunter of deams.

Golf-course T-Rex and haunter of deams.

This argument is certainly supported by my own experience. The story my parents most often tell about my childhood involves a nasty incident at a putt-putt course in Panama City, Florida, during which I displayed A Very Bad Attitude towards miniature golf (a side note: somehow, I even managed to find a postcard on the Internet featuring this particular putt-putt course’s most famous feature: a giant and terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex, who still haunts me in my dreams).  A second side note, this one non-parenthetical and necessary for understanding the following story: Emma does not do miniature golf.  Emma does not do miniature golf for a reason.  And that reason is a very important reason: because she is inherently awful at anything that a.) is even vaguely athletic or b.) involves hand-eye co-ordination.  Putt-putt, of course, involves both, and I am, in a word, terrible at it.  Shamefully, shamefully terrible.

Nonetheless, during a vacation to Panama City when I was five or six, I found myself on a Putt-Putt course with my parents.  Needless to say, things did not go well.  Though the details of the story and of my memory are hazy, based on subsequent putt-putt experiences, I assume that it took at least fifteen tries to get the ball through the grinning clown’s mouth, and twenty to even get near the windmill.  It might, in fact, have been the windmill that pushed me over the edge and ignited my five-year-old rage.  Regardless of what hole it was, I realized that things were not going well, and my Very Bad Attitude emerged in full force.  I threw the ball.  I threw down my club.  I threw a fit, and refused to play even one more half-second of putt-putt.

But then I looked up from where I was — which was (again, shamefully) probably throwing a fit on the Astroturf in front of the windmill — and I saw my father’s face.  My father, who is rarely moved to anger, was far, far from pleased.  He would not have me be a bad sport, and he would not have me be a sore loser.  And so he made me pick up the ball, and the club, and walk the seemingly eternal distance to the next hole, where I would try and try and try again to get the ball past the crouching gorilla and up the hill.

And I’m very glad that he did.

I’m telling you this story because I think it’s key to what it takes to be a writer: not giving into the desire to scream, throw down your pen and paper or even your laptop, and give up.  One of the most important — if not the most important — things for me, as a writer, has been persistence, finding a way to play through when it seems like I’m losing every hole, when the rejection slips pile up in the mailbox and the poems themselves just aren’t behaving.

Some time ago, I began to feel very frustrated with my misbehaving poems.  I realized that I needed to push myself, to learn — and to practice.  I began writing a Something a day — a poem, a paragraph, a piece of flash fiction, a beginning, an ending.  It has now been nearly two years since I started my Something a day project.  The process hasn’t been without its frustrations, its humiliations, its moments where I wanted to throw everything I’ve written away and walk away from the game.  But, thanks to my stubborn nature, my fantastic writerly friends, and my always-inspiring students, I’m still playing the game, no matter how under or over par I might feel.  I’ve learned a great deal.  Perhaps more than anything, I learned a lot about my habits — for instance, that, as a friend of mine once told me after a poetry reading, I sure do like lists.  I learned that it’s sometimes essential to avoid giving in to this habit, and sometimes essential that I do give in.  I learned that I do have the tendency to write the same poem over and over, but that I often need to do so, if only to get a subject out of my bloodstream.

And, perhaps most importantly, I learned how important community is in this often-solitary endeavor, and what a blessing it is to not work entirely in isolation — because sometimes, you just need a little push when you’re facing that grinning Tyrannosaurus.

Why Creative Writers Are Necessary To Our Collective Future

Hangman TarotjpegWe’re at the start of the semester.  Class bells ring merrily, the halls are filled with purposeful chatter and with the shuffling of feet. This is the time when we look to the new faces on campus and think, Could you be the one?

For professors, that question is not one of romantic entanglement.  We want you to major in Writing & Linguistics, and on this side of the camp, we actually want you to concentrate on creative writing.

But why major in Creative Writing, you say?  Your parents are tapping their foot and checking their account balances on their smart phones, whispering a sing-songy Juniooooor? hoping you don’t get lured in by those strange bohemian types, the creative writers, who surely will lead you to economic perdition making you major in telling stories and teaching you to chant poetry at dark gatherings, where only people with poor fashion sense understand the real meaning of your words.

Mostly, they’re just worried that a degree in creative writing won’t get you a job — and why shouldn’t they worry?  Poverty gets old really fast.  And they (and you) are probably already re-mortgaging a house to fund your ride through higher education.  It wouldn’t be wise for you to come out of college without a crushing debt and no opportunities to pay it off.

True, that.

That’s why our colleagues teamed together with our other colleagues, and that’s why at Georgia Southern we offer a Writing & Linguistics major and not a Creative Writing major. We know how it looks to some people, that word, Creative.  It’s like saying Laziness or Procrastination — or worse: Welfare Check and Unemployment.

We understand what it’s like being young and full of debt, and so we designed our curriculum with plenty of “practical” courses that will open doors to a number of financial opportunities. Our friends in technical writing take a special front seat to this goal: technical writing skills are very much in demand, and considering where our technology is going, that job growth is only going to get better.  But our friends in Linguistics and in Writing Studies offer a number of good opportunities as well.

So, ok, now that we’ve taken care of that, what, you ask, is so special about creative writing? Why not just focus all my courses in Technical Writing or Linguistics, or — even better — Accounting!

Well, I say, it’s precisely because you want a career with a future, not just a job, that you should be taking a walk on the wild side.

It might surprise you to learn that in this technology-run, result-driven economy the highest commodity is not productivity, but creativity.  That’s right, that terribly frightening word.  Many of the more promising corporate entities understand that quite well, thus articles like “The MFA Is The New MBA” and “Let Computers Compute: It’s The Age of The Right Brain” telling the world what creative writers have always known, that learning to look at the world upside down is the most valuable of skills for any ambitious boy or girl. (You were wondering about that Tarot card image, weren’t you?)

Let me give you some specific examples of why the creative life has practical resonance with the type of creative skills that employers are looking for.

Here is a list of the most common terms found in job ads for almost any position:

1. Effective Communication Skills: it’s a no-brainer that creative writing teaches you to communicate.  “But not THAT kind of communication” says you.  “We’re talking about memos, and reports, journal articles, blogs, and slide shows, not stories, not poems.” And I say, “Everything is a story, my dear.” And to quote my good friend Holmes of the UK telly show: “You see, but you don’t observe.”  To make my point let me just refer you to the most successful and charismatic CEO of all history, with more than 2 billion followers in this present day society, Jesus taught and won audiences over almost exclusively through stories.  So did pretty much any other prophet from any of the greatest world religions of all time.  That’s because all of them knew the power of story to tell a truth that is larger than the mere facts.  Reducing communication to a succinct assemblage of facts is to “see but not observe,” Watson. Even Aristotle taught about the power of mythos to rally and unite a people.  We don’t give presidential acceptance speeches because we want to inform: next time you’re in the vicinity of a speech transcript, observe the stories.  I suspect you will find more than one.

It’s not easy to tell a good story, nor to express a complex, esoteric idea in simple terms that everyone can understand and relate to: and this is exactly what creative writing teaches you to do.  That’s why the works of poets and writers survive over centuries, sometimes millennia: because those works are the most informative about a culture, about its philosophy, its social dynamics and economic challenges.  We do it best. And once you learn that challenging-but-ostensibly-simple type of writing, any other type of writing will feel like a walk in the park.

2. Problem Solving Skills: creative writers don’t just solve problems all the time, they also routinely construct “worse case scenarios” as a matter of course.  The CIA and FBI and Department of Defense really should hire writers to tell them just what could happen — and for all I know, they already do. Let the analysts to the number crunching.  We have exactly those types of minds that defense entities desire: we look past the obvious and hone in on the intriguingly subtle.  Poets are code makers and code breakers; prose writers construct and deconstruct narratives. That’s why so many lawyers and detectives write best selling novels.  They are creative, and therefore they have the minds to think in unusual ways, considering and analyzing what others see but don’t observe.

3. Attention To Detail: this is an easy one. Just ask any poet.  What difference does a comma make to the interpretation of a line? What about the right choice of diction? Practice makes perfect and creative writers train themselves every day, every hour of their labor, to look at the details, and to consider how these work together to transform the whole.

4. People Skills: many of my best writing teachers said “to be a better writer be a better person.” Poets and writers are doctors of the human heart.  We understand how people act in any circumstance and situation, and we are able to articulate better than anyone what are most secret motivations and desires are, and how they trigger our emotions.

5. Analytical Skills: would you be surprised to know that writing resides in the left brain, the analytical side of our thinking machine?  While writers of any kind will exercise your abilities to organize and deconstruct, (just think grammar), creative writers make use of both sides of the brain, delving into the wild and unexpected while also organizing and structuring the chaotic subconscious. You can’t get any better training than that.

There is more that I could say, but this is turning into a long post, and I can practically see you twitching my dear Watson, urging to move on to another blog post or to some snappy FB status.

But as you ponder the purpose of your college days, remember that college isn’t a place where you learn skills for jobs that already exist. It’s a place that, when navigated properly, will teach you skills for jobs that will exist in the future, and even jobs that you can create yourself.  All you need is a pinch of right brain and a pinch of left brain that together form that dreaded phrase: Creative Writing.

Could you be the one?

Into the Shadows

Creative Sweet Blog: Mary Marwitz

Chasing Our Shadows

Those of you who have spoken with me for  more than ten minutes oImager so are likely to know that in the summer of 2010 I walked the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route in Spain of some 500 miles. I find a way to work it in to as many conversations as I can: “Oh, you like spaghetti? When I was on the camino we ate that a lot…” or “Speaking of the weather, when I was walking the camino in Spain,….” And so, as I thought about this conversation about writing, I automatically turned to my camino experience.  The road, you know, as metaphor. Specifically, a metaphor about writing.

Much of the time on the camino was spent walking into our shadows, enticing us forward. There was the sense tImagehat a version of myself was always just ahead of me, no matter how many times I stepped into it. Someone called it “Chasing our shadows.”  And walking the camino calls for moving into an-ever elusive version of ourselves—looking for answers sometimes, or resolution, or some defining experience. “I walked to find my life’s purpose,” I read from other pilgrims. Me? I wasn’t sure why I was walking. “To see what happens,” I told people.

To stretch the image: The process of moving forward into a shifting shape of ourselves, of moving into the unknown, happens in the writing process. When I begin a project, I have no clear idea of its shape or dimension or result. I write to see what happens. I simply begin collecting details about an experience, a memory, a person. Annie Dillard says that when we collect enough details, eventually we begin to have ideas about those details. So the writing process follows the camino way: one step at a time, into only a shadowy outline of who we are. “Trust the process,” I tell students and myself. Trust the Way, which is not always clearly marked.

 Sometimes there will be missed signs, misinterpreted directions. Late one afternoon I climb a hill in a small village that I was sure housed our destination for the night, but nothing is there. Just a house and a crossroad that leads to some uninviting, closed buildings. The only marker in sight refers to a town that I haven’t heard of, not where I thought I was going. I retrace my steps down the hill and find a farmer working a plot of ground near the road. I ask him about the camino and he points back to where I’ve just come. That can’t be right, I argue internally; I’ve already been there, and there’s nothing. I was sure the village and our shelter was on this road. Still, I turn around and climb the hill, again, almost certain that it is a mistake, and yet having no other option than to keep going. One step at a time, one word at a time. Back at the top of the hill there is that same blasted sign that points to a place unknown. The path I’m on seems to come to an end at a stone house with a small garden. I march to the door and knock—a new voice may help with direction.  But no one comes to the door. Instead, an upstairs window opens and a woman leans out, pointing without waiting for my question: “Camino es asi— ” That way. And so I go, toward a destination beyond my understanding.

Here, in a narrative with perfect metaphors, is where I might say that the path led me to a wonderful shelter with warmth and camaraderie heretofore unknown, just as the writing I did about my experience rewarded me with profound insights and revelations about myself and the world. The truth is that that day of walking continued to be difficult, with several more hours of uncertainty and time-consuming detours. The shelter there was crowded and hot and noisy, and the meal I had for supper was meager. The writing I’ve done about it has been erratic, and I’m still trying to find the key to its narrative.

What is also true, though, is that both the walking and the writing have taken me to places that I wouldn’t have experienced without setting out, and that we can’t really make sense of it until it’s done, sometimes long after.  Image

Writing is a practice of stepping into our own shadows, to see what happens.

In Praise of Criticism, Or How Criticism Can Be The Best Kind of Praise

My sophomore year of college, I followed a crowd of hundreds of my fellow students to the board where class lists were posted, and found myself lucky enough to have a conference course with one of the best poets on our campus.  I half-walked, half-skipped back to my dorm room, smiling at no one in the street-lamped night and unable to believe my good fortune.  Then I went into my dorm room, closed the door, and began to cry a very loud, very ugly cry.

The problem was that this professor was not just one of the best poets on campus — he was also one of the harshest critics.  I’d learned about him the previous year through rumors that rose and swirled and fell over the snow globe that campus became in the winter.

“He’s terrible,” Mirabelle said as she took a jittery drag from an unfiltered Parliament.  “Terrible.  He literally lives to make people cry.  Like, literally.  Our tears are his sustenance.”

“I heard he told Johnathan to get out of his office and not come back until he’d developed talent or shame,” Annabelle said.

“He threatened to kill Gabe’s hamster,” Jacqueline said, and Jocelyn nodded in teary agreement, unable to speak herself.  I didn’t even have a hamster, and I was terrified.

 

Here are the three most memorable moments from my conference course:

 

  1. I started reading a poem about what my housemates and I did on Friday nights.  I got three lines in.  “Stop,” he said.  “Just stop.”  I stopped.  He looked at me and I looked at him.  He held out his hand for the poem.  I gave it to him.  He slipped it into the trashcan under his desk.  “Next,” he said.  I cleared my throat and shuffled through that week’s poems until I found one that involved no Friday-night-on-a-college-campus activities.  I got all the way through the poem that time.  After I
    This is a picture of a taxidermic piranha just to prove such things exist.

    This is a picture of a taxidermic piranha just to prove such things exist.

    read, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Okay.”  We got to the work of revision.

  2. A few weeks later, I brought in another poem about my housemates and our activities.  This time, the subject was a Saturday evening, which I apparently thought was different enough.  I started reading.  I got a line and a half in.  “Stop,” he said.  “Just stop.”  I stopped.  He looked at me and I looked at him.  We both started laughing.  I handed him the poem and he slipped it into the trashcan under his desk.  “One more time,” he said, “and I’m making you put your hand in the piranha’s mouth.”  The taxidermic piranha that sat on the fireplace mantle stared down with its bead eyes and tooth-triangled grin.
  3. I brought in a poem that I’d been writing and re-writing and writing again for the past three years.  I didn’t involve my housemates or the mention of a weekend.  I read the poem.  He looked at me and I looked at him.  He held out the trashcan.  I ripped the poem in half and threw it away.  “Now,” he said, “doesn’t that feel better?”  I smiled and nodded and shuffled through the rest of the poems I’d brought for that week.  I didn’t speak because it did feel better – it felt like I’d been freed from a trap of my own making.

These moments were important because they should have been terrible.  They should have been the kind of moments that belong in a story that ends with the sentence “and that’s why I stopped writing poetry.”  The moments are important, and the story is important, because they lead to a very different ending, a very different sentence: “and that’s how I learned to love poetry.”

That’s exactly what these moments did for me: they helped me to love poetry more than I had ever loved it, to develop a new devotion to poetry, a deeper and more important commitment.  Through them, I learned that I loved poetry, the art itself, not just whatever I managed to put down on the page.  I learned that very little — if anything — that I wrote would be perfect, and I learned to love my own imperfections.  I learned that I would make mistakes, and a lot of them.  I learned that this was okay.  More than okay – I learned that mistakes made me human, made my poetry human, and I learned that mistakes are the way that I learned.  I learned that recognizing my mistakes was most of the road towards recognizing – and writing – good poems, and I learned that if I ripped a poem in half and threw it away, I’d still live.  More importantly, my poetry would still live, and it would live more strongly, more beautifully, more honestly.

My professor was right: I did feel better after I recognized what worked and what didn’t work.  I felt better when I was able to move on and away from the labyrinth of trying to make something work that just wasn’t going to work.  I learned to make my way out of that labyrinth much earlier in my writing process, and I learned that this would save myself from a lot of frustration — and it would save my poems, too.

For years, I thought criticism was the Minotaur, raging and waiting in the middle of the labyrinth so it could destroy me.  In my conference course, I learned that I was the greatest danger to myself and to my writing.  If I listened only to praise and not to criticism, I’d keep turning the same corners, circling and circling my words and myself into destruction.  Criticism wasn’t an evil bull-beast: it was the way out.

We all, I think, come to creative writing workshops for praise.  I know I did.  Let’s face it: writing isn’t easy, and it’s easy to look only for validation.  We all want to be told that what we’re feeling and thinking is normal – or better, interesting – better still, extraordinary.  We all want to be recognized, to feel seen.  I’d like to argue, though, that praise is only the half of it.  When a fellow writer critiques my work, I, of course, like to hear the good parts.  But if I only hear good parts, I feel dissatisfied, disappointed.  I want more, and what I want is to hear how I can do better, write better, how I can better communicate the normal-or-better-interesting-or-better-still-extraordinary things I think and feel and write.  After all, a critique says that someone believes in you and what you’re saying, and your ability to say it, enough to want to help you say it better – and there’s no greater praise than that.  By the end of my conference course, I was eager for criticism, even if it meant putting my hand in the mouth of a taxidermic piranha.  I was eager to revise and revise again, to tear apart the small buildings of words I’d built on the page and re-build them, to make them better and stronger and, hopefully, just a tiny bit extraordinary.

And that’s how I learned to love poetry.

What’s Inside Those Newton Walls by Christine Lengel

As a student of Georgia Southern University, I come to campus every day prepared to learn and ready to have professors challenge me. Each day as I walk along the cobblestone paths past the numerous brick buildings, I notice the ominous feeling these buildings leave me with. As I approach the Newton building, I examine these bricks even closer and think about the off white classrooms waiting inside, realizing that Newton is just like any other building on campus.

When I reach my classroom for the day, I remember that unlike math or biology, my writing classes are a special place. It’s a time where my professors, who are novelists and poets with multiple published books, challenge me to make a difference. They pull me into a world where my words make a meaningless conversation into an enticing piece of art that leave people wanting more.

As a class, we do not memorize terms or examine graphs to learn, we read world-renowned poems, short stories and novels analyzing the published work. We come to class and fill pages of blank notebook paper with words drawn from writing prompts. We share our writing with the class and find ways to build each other’s work. A classroom setting in the Newton building feels like a writing family, a support system.

Over the past three years and seven writing classes, I have grown to love those off white classroom walls and each time I leave I anticipate the next time I am reunited with the inspiration that I am greeted with inside them. As a voice of the students in the Writing and Linguistics Department, I believe that I can say, the professors of our department have shaped me into a better writer. Although inspiration is a huge part of writing something moving, there is a craft in writing and this craft must be taught. I can now take writing sprung from inspiration and comb it into an incredible piece of writing. I owe this and so much more to my professors in the Department of Writing and Linguistics.