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Laura Orem
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AWP began over 20 years ago to help professionalize the MFA as a terminal degree so that writers working in academia would be eligible for tenure. The logic was that teachers with the MFA could go back to their institutions and be as eligible for a tenured position in writing and literature as any PhD. As we all know, it hasn't worked out that way. What none of us – AWP included – anticipated was the slide of academia into business model it now embraces, which undermines tenure and relies heavily on poorly paid contingent (part- and full-time) faculty. There is a dearth of positions and an abundance of writers seeking positions. In other words, to quote Abraham Lincoln when asked about being besieged by eager office seekers, "there's too many pigs for the tits" – and in fact that mama pig has vanished into thin air. More accurately, she has been slaughtered by administrators, CEOs, and an industry that views students as customers rather than the product – and therefore its faculty not as colleagues in a larger mission, but as worker bees. Other than a handful of prestigious chairs or professorships for big-name writers, tenure-track positions for poets teaching in the land of Composition and Intro to Literature where most of us reside are so scarce as to be virtually non-existent. We need to rethink the purpose of the MFA if we want it to survive – and if we want to make a living. How many poets do you know who hold tenured or tenure-track teaching positions? There are some – and God bless them, too. (Believe me, I'm not envious – I just marvel that they were able to do it.) Now, how many poets do you know who are existing on the verge of poverty while doing the Adjunct Shuffle over several schools, counting coupons and praying they will have a job next semester? I bet it's a lot more. I'll even bet it's you. It's easy to understand the attractiveness of the teaching life. I taught for almost 20 years, and for most of the time, I loved it. For one thing, it's deeply important work. If you are lucky, now and again you get one of those students who you know is going to change the world – and you get to be justly proud you might have had a hand in that. You get to talk about the thing you love most – words and language – with colleagues who understand its importance. There are lots of exciting things going on around you – student productions, guest speakers, art installations, gatherings. You get to be self-directed (it's your classroom) and you get chunks of time off between semesters. And, most wondrous of all, you have unfettered access to that bastion of civilization: the academic library. The goodies that still exist are indeed good. Only…you don't get paid remotely enough. In fact, you get paid wages so low that colleges have become the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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As the New York Times recently reported, Delta and Bank of America have withdrawn their sponsorship of the Public Theater after pressure from those offended by the current production of Julius Caesar, whose title character strongly resembles a certain narcissistic, bellicose, and outrageously coiffed American president. Setting aside the facts that a) no one seemed to be offended when the same theater company presented a production of the same play featuring a black Caesar during President Obama's term, and b) people getting huffy about art is part of the arts world, the action illustrates a complete lack of understanding of the play's main message. Some folks clearly slept through 11th grade English class. photo source: NYTimes The miracle of Shakespeare is that he pretty much covers all the foibles of humanity. The plays resonate 500 years later because human nature doesn't change. We may have more bells and whistles at our disposal, can cure diseases and see light-years into the vastness of the universe, but we are still just as messy, tormented, undisciplined, lustful, greedy, ambitious, and clueless as the first day we walked out of our caves and grunted at each other. As Hamlet says, "What a piece of work is man." What a piece of work, indeed. We need Shakespeare because he nails us on the head, every single time, and we especially need him in turbulent times like these. That's why the pulling of the funding is tragic as well as stupid. In the interest of preventing (hah!) future confusion, but understanding that many people running corporations don't have the time to read a whole Sparknotes pamphlet, I've made a list of Shakespeare's most popular tragedies and histories with a nutshell version of what they have to tell us. They are even Tweetable. (I've left off the comedies because essentially they are all versions of "He/She is Not Who You Think He/She Is.") This way, the next time a sponsor is bewildered by what it thinks it sees, it can refer to this handy list before doing something dumb. I'll start with the play in question. Any resemblance to living people or current events is Shakespeare's fault, not mine. Julius Caesar : Be Careful What You Wish For King Lear : Loyalty Oaths Don't Work Hamlet: Overthinking Stuff Is a Problem Othello: Don't Believe Everything You Hear Richard III: Always Bring An Extra Horse Macbeth: Never Rule Out Marriage Counseling Romeo & Juliet: Kids, It's Not All About You Titus Andronocus: Potluck Suppers Only Henry V: Badass Kings Sometimes Have Dopey Haircuts The Tempest: No Matter What You Do, Dad, She's Gonna Find Out About That Brave New World Antony & Cleopatra: If Your Boyfriend Loses the War, It's Good to Have an Asp in a Basket The Winter's Tale: When You're Out of Ideas, Send in a Bear That should cover most of the big ones. In the meantime, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, maybe you should take some advice from Cole Porter. Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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The Best American Poetry Blog is pleased to announce that Resurrection Biology, the first full-length collection by featured blogger Laura Orem, is now available for preorder from Finishing Line Press. Some words about the collection: "Maybe if we look deep enough we will see ourselves looking deep at ourselves," Laura Orem writes in Resurrection Biology, and in perfect reply this collection of poetry looks deeply (widely and passionately, too) at both the beauty and terror of living with and battling illness. Weaving together the past and present, politics and music and medicine, Orem's poetry is at once narrative and lyric, formal and explosive, playful and grave. Hers is a vulnerable, brave poetic, and this book is required reading for anyone with a memory, a body and obstacles to overcome.: Jessica Piazza, author of Interrobang and co-author (with Heather Aimee O'Neill) of Obliterations Laura Orem’s Resurrection Biology is a close-up glimpse of the world, the one in which we now live and the past, which inhabits us: from the arctic to Gaza; from a woman’s ravaged body to a nameless boy shot and left to die in the snow; from a famous castrato to a feathered man; from the dog, unfed on the porch, to the mammoth still sleeping in icy Neolithic dreams. Look hard at this world. As Orem says,"You can stand it. Stand it some more." Anne Caston, author of Prodigal, Judah's Lion, and Flying Out with the Wounded Order your copy today! https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?products_id=2739 Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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I've been very interested in the debate about the Donald Trump statues. Some find them offensive as fat-shaming, transphobic, or simply in bad taste. Others find them hilariously apt. I collected these 2-D caricatures from history because I wanted to pin down what it is about the DT statues that causes such a strong reaction, as opposed to other unflattering caricatures of him that are all over the media. Is it because it's a 3D statue, lifesize and lifelike, therefore commanding our attention in a way print does not? Is it because there are five of them? Is it because he's naked and his genitalia have also been caricatured? Certainly one could argue that some of these cartoons are in bad taste, exaggerating physical characteristics (Bush and Obama's ears; turning the jowly king of France into a fat piece of fruit; the obese, bug-eyed King Edward), but are we as offended by these? And does our feeling of being offended lessen when the subject is evil, such as Hermann Goering? (Also, does the fact that the Goering collages are considered masterpieces of Dadaist art change our feelings about the images?) Many of the cartoons of Trump portray him as overweight, distorted, and grotesque; the watercolor naked portrait of him that circulated on the internet did not elicit such a strong negative response in anti-Trump folks. (It did, however, result in the artist being punched in the face by a Trump supporter.) I'm not trying to criticize anyone - I'm just really curious at how and why we respond to this kind of political commentary in the ways we do. "Trial of Napoleon Bonaparte," George Cruikshank 1813 "King Louis Phillipe," Charles Philipon 1831 "Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia" 1871 "Napoleon III and Kaiser Wilhelm I," 1871 "King Edward VII of Great Britain," 1905 "Hermann Goering," Hannah Hoch 1930s "Herman Goering," John Heartfield 1933 "Shah of Iran," Wiaz 1977 "Ronald Reagan," Paul Conrad 1987 "George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac," 2000s "Dick Cheney," 2006 "Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama" 1913 Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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As the founder and director of Women's Voices Mentorship Program for Writers, I'd like to ask your help. Our program is a way for women writers of all expressions to find advanced writing instruction and mentorship outside the MFA. I'm honored to be working with an extraordinary group of writers who are also experienced and committed teachers. One of those is poet Jessica Piazza, author of Interrobang (Red Hen Press 2013) and co-author with Heather Aimee O'Neill of Obliterations (RHP 2016). Jess is raising money to fund program scholarships for women writers of under-served populations. Jess explains: "We all know that creative writing isn't the most lucrative field in the world, but true writers are still driven by passion and talent to bring their voices to the world. We write after work, between diaper changes, between shifts. We take loans for MFA programs that we know might be impossible to pay back. We do our best to make it work and to share our unique vision.... ...unless we can't. So many writers--especially women from under-represented populations--aren't able to afford quality, empathetic, graduate level creative writing mentorship and education. Ironically, these are the very writers whose voices our industry most needs: women of color, single mothers, lgbtq writers, women of small financial means. These are the stories that need to be heard and the poems that need to be written, honed and published. But in the literary industry, who you know and where you've gone counts; most people who publish widely have done university masters programs or PhDs in writing. But the artists who would write the stories we so need to hear often can't afford to spend the money, time or energy on graduate writing programs, or they feel ostracized because higher education historically treats women in these positions (and their stories and poems and memoirs) with less dignity, vision and respect than other students. The Women's Voices Mentorship Program (WVMP) was created specifically to address these problems. Mentors work one on one with writers to nourish, guide and hone their work, treating each student to a level of indivudal guidance and education many MFA programs can't match. We make targeted writing goals and plans with each student, give them readings and assignments, edit and work through each piece of writing, truly building toward a full body of work and publication with every session and every meeting. As a mentor, published poet, university professor and literary citizen, I'm proud to help women achieve their writing goals. But even though our program costs far less than the price of a master's education in writing (with far more individual attention), I recognize that not all women can afford even our program's rates. So I decided to raise money to provide scholarships to three or four women writers this summer. I believe that as a mentor in the WVMP I can offer these poets and fiction writers something that they might not otherwise ever have: graduate level creative writing education that's focused specifically... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 6, 2016