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Nicole Santalucia
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Right now I am sitting in my spacious third floor office with hardwood floors in a one hundred and twenty year old building that used to be a ladies dormitory at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. My office is about the size of my first studio apartment in New York City and it feels as if I’m sitting in prime real estate in an adjacent world and era. Classes ended about two weeks ago and I’m taking advantage of my quiet old world office. Although it feels a little haunted at sundown I stay put—as if I’m prepared to see a ghost—because part of my creative process involves escaping and I both enjoy and want to escape from this space. I was hired as a visiting assistant professor two years ago. After my first semester, I was missing something. Although my students and classes were absolutely wonderful I was hungry for more, so I started to volunteer by bringing poetry workshops into the Cumberland County Prison. I work with the female population in the prison and together we escape worlds that entrap us. In part, I was motivated to reach out to women impacted by drug addiction and alcoholism, people who are working to survive a personal battle, a battle that has gotten them into trouble. I needed to talk to people that I could relate to on a different level than those who walk the halls of a university. Although, I must say that survival in prison is not always that much different than survival in higher education. I have a personal history with alcoholism and drug addiction and I’ve learned that I need to give it away in order to keep it. In other words, service work is like personal maintenance for my sanity and humility. It is also important to remember where I came from and not to regret the past or shut the door on it. When I’m in prison teaching a poetry workshop, typically on a Friday afternoon, I visit pain, despair, suffering, desperation, a little hope and a lot of cold cement and cinderblocks. I visit an environment that is all too familiar. Although I didn’t go to jail I did go through many institutions where I sat behind plexiglass walls and walked on shiny grey cement that smelled like eggs and bleach; this Friday-afternoon-classroom has the same shiny cement floors and plexiglass wall that I remember from my own experience and I try to encourage the women to avoid facing the transparent wall because they get distracted by the guards passing by or visitors sitting down to talk on the phone through another glass wall. There is a large table in the middle of this cold cement room and sometimes as many as twenty-five women sit around the table with me. We sit for about an hour, but on days when we are on a roll I will stay for up to three hours. We read a few poems, discuss them, and then we... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
The other day I was reading posts on Facebook by the many poets who admire Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese.” So I read the poem over, stopping at those lines: Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. I began to wonder. Do you really want to know about my despair? Do I want to know yours? Because honestly, I’m not sure I like confessing. Or that I like confessional poetry. But I’ve been struggling to write it lately, studying the how, the why. (If I am critical of a kind of poetry, I make myself try it on for size.) It seems that many confessional poets start with their parents, describing the terrible things parents did to them: the betrayals, the abuse. So that’s where I wanted to begin, too. I started with my mother who was totally in love with nature. She also admired Mary Oliver. I consider that a serious betrayal. Once after hearing that same poem, “Wild Geese” on NPR, she asked me why I didn’t write nature poetry. You should write a poem about wild geese, she said. (The truth is she would have liked me to write about anything besides orgasms.) My mother could name every bird, plant, and tree, and when I was a girl, she tried to teach me to do the same. I was a lost cause. I never learned the names of any birds or trees or flowers beyond sparrow and spruce and tulip. Discouraged, my mother begged me go to a nature camp, but I refused. She had sent my older sister, D, the year before, and when D returned, she had two new skills: snake handling and taxidermy. These two skills are my metaphors for confessional poetry. Snake handling is writing about the living. Taxidermy—writing about the dead. Today, I’d like to expand on the taxidermy metaphor. Because after her stint at nature camp, D spent our vacation in Maine staring out the car window, looking for a dead animal to stuff. We’d be driving along the freeway when suddenly she would shout STOP at the top of her lungs. My mother would screech to a halt, and D would climb out of the car to inspect a dead deer or dog. My mother called these stops road kill sightings. Usually D would decide the animals weren’t fresh enough. It’s kind of like selecting vegetables and fruit, she explained. You want the dead to be just right. Isn’t that just like writing poems about the dead? So often we don’t really do them justice. And something begins to smell bad, at least to us. Or anyone who actually knew the person we are writing about. Also, a memory can come so quickly, like an image seen from a speeding car. Often it arrives at an inopportune time, maybe when you are swimming or having a drink with friends or drifting off to sleep. And you don’t write it down. By the time you are sitting... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
This is the first in a series of blog posts that Nin Andrews and I will write about our writing process, or lack thereof. We like to bitch about writing, and I've been not writing and then bitching about not writing . . . CALL IT WRITER'S BLOCK I say I am going to write but then I can't decide where to start. I feel like a little kid with her pants to her ankles standing in the middle of a high school lunch room—vulnerable, exposed, full of fear. I say I am going to write and this has me in a tizzy. So I take for a walk to de-tizzy. I say I am going to write so I make myself a sandwich instead. I open a can of tuna fish and toast some bread. I don’t have any mayo, so I get in the car and drive to the store and get a jar of mayo. When I get home I find that the dog ate the bread. I say I am going to write but then I realize that I am late to a department meeting and I needed to make photocopies for the other committee meeting after the meeting. When I stand in the copy room and wait I recite “In a Station at the Metro” over and over. I say I don’t have time to write so I show up to the department meeting early. This turns out to be the perfect place to disappear into a poem. My colleague’s must think I take very good notes at our meetings. I say I am going to write as soon as I am done reading those papers. As soon as I finish reading those papers I collect more papers. I say I am going to cook dinner, something special, but instead I heat up leftovers. I wait till tomorrow to go to the farmer’s market and get fresh produce: spinach, arugula, watermelon radishes, purslane, purple potatoes, pea shoots, and heirloom black beans. I say I am going to write so I vacuum the house for two hours. I get on my hands and knees to scrub the baseboards then start a load of wash then take the dog for a walk. I say I am going to write but then I get in the car and drive to the antique store and look at dressers. I open and close the doors on old dressers, rub my hand around the insides to see if anyone hid a letter. I convince myself that some old dresser drawer sitting in an antique shop has a letter hidden inside. I say I am going to write but then I call my mom and ask her for my great grandmother’s recipes. We stay on the phone while she digs through the kitchen drawers and then she reads me recipes over the phone for an hour. She says wait till summer to make the cagootz and don’t forget to slice the zucchini... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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I've been bitchin’ with Nin Andrews about what it’s like to live like a gypsy, about how being a poet has led to a vagabond life. I got a degree (hurray!), made a move for a job (at least I am lucky to get a job), and now I can’t help but think of how a lot of poets live out of a suitcase. And, it’s a little scary. As I was in the last stretch before my move—I had till Monday, July 14th to finish packing—the sea of boxes and clutter and exhaustion consumed me. I was already worried: will I have to do this again and again? I always feel vulnerable in the process of upheaval... I know it's normal to get nervous before starting something new. But it's all new: the job, the school, the town, the people, etc.—and for me that brings up self-doubt. I have this fear, what if I can never write again? Sorry to be dramatic. Moving brings out the drama in me, too. I wonder how many poets are out there, thinking these thoughts as they, too, move to another college town. To calm myself, I started bitching to myself, and then I started bitching to Nin, and then to Whitman as if he were my friend on Facebook. And that perked me up. Just the idea of Whitman on social media made me laugh. I am jealous of Whitman because he didn't have to worry about a classroom of freshman staring at him. And I am jealous of Emily Dickinson, too. She just stayed in one room as long as she liked. As I was preparing to make my big move, it was a late afternoon, a Sunday, and Walt had just updated his Facebook status, There is no loss of time in the mountains! I sing on this day: happy birthday to you, Fanny Fern. On the off-chance that Walt had his iPhone while he was riding the ferry back to the main island, I sent him an instant message because I worried that no one would ever read my first book. I wanted him to promote me, loud and gregarious man that he is. But I evaded the topic; instead, I started questioning him about what all of this means. NS: But Walt, what about the loss of identity? I fear that I am really no longer here, in the flesh. If I exist at all, how is it that I no longer know how to splay myself on a grassy knoll and look out at the emptiness? WW: Answer. Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost, No birth, identity, form—no object of the world (“Continuities”). NS: But Walt, every time I am on Facebook I feel lost in space and time. It’s as if my senses have been removed—carved out of my being by a motherboard manufactured in some foreign country. WW: Answer. That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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AWP 2014 has come to a close. We saw Sherman Alexie and Tim Egan read on the main stage last night. This reading was a perfect way to end the conference. Now that we are bleary-eyed on all things literary it is time to go home. We won’t forget to tell everyone how great Seattle is and we hope that everyone else will do the same. Make sure to come and visit, if for no other reason than to get a cat and a bear in your cappuccinos. Travel safely and thank you Seattle! Video Poem: "Looking Out the Window at the SAM on Saturday Afternoon (Puget Sound)" Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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AWP is influencing the city of Seattle! Just a few blocks away from the Washington State Convention Center we noticed a poetry reading taking place in the dog park. We also noticed some great finds at the bookfair and learned that writer’s block can be cured with a little bit of chocolate, courtesy of Writers’ Workshoppe Imprint Books. Other things that we tasted in Seattle today that the rest of you might enjoy can be found at Purple Café and Wine Bar. We definitely recommend these menu items: The Quinoa and arugala salad: mixed quinoa, arugula, roasted butternut squash, le puy lentils, pickled shallots, toasted almonds, parmigiano-reggiano and lemon vinaigrette, and the Pan Seared Skuna Bay Salmon Sandwich with tomato,english cucumber and house tartar. We appropriately stumbled across Buster Simpson’s art installation on 1st Ave and Virginia Street on our way back to the hotel. I hope Sammy the dog didn’t do his business here. And for a night cap we ended up at Café Fonté for espresso that was to die for. There was also a great reading happening in the café by Gold Wake Press authors. Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Picture taken at Pike Place Market AWP was rockin’ Seattle’s downtown area today. We found poetry all over the clean sidewalks of this wonderful city. There were so many caffeinated writers in and out of the Washington State Convention Center and their words and energy busted out of those conference rooms and onto the street; it was almost lethal. Boom! We hope everyone is eating well while in and out of the bookfair, readings, and panel talks. We could recommend lunch at Pear Delicatessen and Shoppe. Try any of their sandwiches, but we can specifically vouch for the Tuscan Tuna Fish, Market Veggie, and Egg Salad. Also, they have a great Clam Chowder. For quality and quickness, this is the spot. Lunch trumped dinner on day two of AWP. We were with a bunch of Italians from New Jersey and New York and went on the hunt for a little taste of home. And instead, we got a little taste of doo doo. Without meaning to be too negative, we must say that the Italian restaurant was a no go. Too much pepper and the pasta was frozen or boxed (except the gnocchi). What did we expect from a place that is not owned or operated by Italians? Can’t win them all. The best place for coffee on the way to the conference today was Monorail Espresso. Not only was the cappuccino awesome, but the service was above and beyond. And, I made a new friend. We did find a visual art gem. Do take a walk to Seattle Symphony located at 200 University Street and get a look at this beauty: "Crystal Cascade" by Dale Chihuly (A Washington native) 1998 Hand-blown glass and steel. Check out more details at Seattle Symphony Our night cap was provided by keynote speaker Annie Proulx and Shawn Wong who primed the stage with humor and insight into Seattle living. Keep an eye on AWP’s website for a recording of her address. She packed the house. Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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What is one to do after registration is complete for AWP? Stop for a snack of course. A short stroll later, we found ourselves at Belle Epicurian, a café and French patisserie. We recommend this cafe to grab breakfast pastries, desserts, sandwiches, salads & soups made from natural and organic ingredients (1206 4th Ave.). A strong cappuccino and almond croissant later and we were sugared up, caffeinated, and ready for AWP’s Opening Night Awards Celebration where the winners of the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature and the Small Press Publisher Award were announced. Congratulations to Maria Mazziotti Gillan, recipient of this year’s George Garrett Award and One Story, recipient of the Small Press Publisher Award! Stay tuned! Deanna Dorangrichia and I will be posting live from AWP these next few days.We will be talking mostly about food and where to eat in Seattle. We believe that getting to know a city happens through the food it serves and it's also a means of comfort and familiarity when adventuring into new territory. AWP attendees should remember to eat a good meal before entering the crowded venues. In order to ingest your AWP experience you’ll need to stay caffeinated, hydrated, and well fed. Left to right: Judith Baumel, AWP President & Northeast Representative (2010-2014) presenting Maria Mazziotti Gillan with the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature. AWP 2014 Seattle. Oh, and our hotel is right across the street from the Seattle Public Library (1000 Fourth Ave.) just a few blocks from the Washington State Convention Center, a perfect getaway from the masses. And, we have a pet fish in our hotel room. Appropriately named Tanker, this gold fish is on our AWP journey with us! More photos and AWP 2014 Seattle to come from Deanna and Nicole. Maybe you remember us from 2011 when BAP blogged about our wedding (if not, check us out here) We are still married and we are still bitches. Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Feb 27, 2014