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Carlie Ramer
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Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. I agree we should all ignore boxes and just enjoy the joy of words -- no matter what form they come to us in. Thank you for the forum. This week has been a true pleasure -- CR
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I have been unfaithful. Dabbling with serious intent. Nonfiction. It’s true. I have given tighter reign to my new interest than my first love. I have lifted my lines, indulged in punctuation, even put a loose girdle around some emotion. It is a strange thing to be two-timing my words. I have never really thought of myself as anything but a poet. I could never be a fiction writer. The dialogue is daunting for me. There are times when I have played with voice. It was just a voice I was led to by the curiosity of what it would be like to inhabit another’s thoughts, but in today's world, it could easily be mistaken for appropriation. I commuted daily for fifteen years in New York City. I was constantly people watching. I used my headphones as a barrier (no one used to talk to someone listening to a Walkman.) Most of the time my Walkman was actually turned off so I could subtly listen to conversations, hoping to hear interesting lines. Sometimes, when I arrived home after a long day at work, various people that I saw on my daily commute would speak through me. There was a woman with a tin foil hat who paced the F line platform every morning downtown at the Broadway and Lafayette stop; I found it interesting to try and imagine what that woman was thinking. Her hat was incredibly well designed. It was summer and it seemed to be more of a fashion statement than a pursuit of warmth. While I was attempting to piece together my memoir, utilizing three decades worth of my poetry, I began to realize there were pieces missing — vital bits of information which led me to wonder what construction I could use to cement a fuller picture of my story. I had never really thought of exploring the area of creative nonfiction, but after meeting some nonfiction writers at Bread Loaf, I came to the realization that all of my work is, in reality, nonfiction. My poetry is taken directly from my life. This recognition caused me to start to explore the link between the lyric nonfiction essay and poetry. I can quite vividly see this link in some of my favorite fiction writing — writing that has always inspired me. As a matter of fact as much as I consider myself a poet, and am inspired by many poets, I have always found that I am most inspired to write by the fiction of writers such as Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Vladimir Nabokov. Each of these writers finds a way to weave poetry into every line of their language, and I am always fascinated by their skill. I have read “Absalom, Absalom!” seven times. Each time I re-read it I take something new away. Faulkner’s rhythms intrigue me; his sentence structure beseeches me. Each line of Toni Morrison’s is a small poem itself. When I read, “Pale Fire”... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Years ago, my professor and mentor Milton Kessler told me that if I did not want to be a professor myself, I should stop taking workshops. He felt that any more workshops would, “Kill my voice.” At the time I knew as much as anyone in their mid-twenties knows about what they want to be for the rest of their lives. I did not think I wanted to be a professor. I took his advice and moved on to a myriad of odd jobs in order to support my habit – writing. After one reading, at New York City’s ABC No Rio, where I stood in the middle of the room seemingly quietly and read the poem in my shaking hand — hoping people would hear the words over the din of reaction produced by the woman I followed — a woman who threw herself at the walls of the room as she recited random words, it became clear to me that my place was in my home, honing my work and whittling away at my words. There were no public ceremonies when I ceremoniously took my work and went underground. It was obvious to me academics thought I was avant-garde, and avant-gardes thought I was academic. There was no box or label that my work fit neatly into. In the eighties and nineties when I was studying and workshopping, free verse was a popular form of expression, and I wanted to find a way to use it to make my poetry accessible to any reader. I enjoy the sound of words playing off each other, making music out of thought. I use line breaks in place of punctuation, try to manipulate the twists and turns of colloquial speech, in the hopes that if you see a poem written by me, you will instantly recognize it as mine. After a very long break from workshopping and the academic literary world, I went to a writers' conference, last August. One day I found myself sitting across the table at lunch having a conversation with a young woman who said to me, “There is no poetry without form.” I asked her politely (at least, I thought it was politely), “Then how do you feel about the Beats, the Dadaists, the Futurists, or even Gertrude Stein?” She turned away from me, either because I was challenging her belief or because she found my opinions ridiculous. At another conference, I heard someone refer to Kerouac in a dismissive way. I paraphrase here because I can’t quite recall the exact words, but it was said in a jesting way, with Kerouac the butt of the joke, “…like when a teenager first finds Kerouac.” I first found Kerouac, the Beats in general, in a graduate class taught by Professor Jerome Rothenberg. I left that class feeling as if Jack Kerouac’s, "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" had given me an invisible permission slip to write anything, in any way I wanted. As I have begun to reenter the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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I am somebody’s mother. I wear that fact like a favorite dress. For a long time, there was mud or sand on the hem, and I wore that happily as well. Finger paint smudges on my nose, leaves, and mulch filling my pockets, the best ever rock that had to be saved often ended up in the bottom of my purse. Someone would ask if I had change and I would pull a toy car or half eaten rice cake from my pocket. I spent many years in the yoga pose I made up and termed, “train playing.” Living in the bliss of days with my then young son, sitting the wishbone crux of my legs while we read in front of the fireplace. From the moment I first held my son, to the day that the weight of his teenaged hand left mine, even now, the fact that I am his mother never ceases to make me fill with goofball grins. I made that. “We made that,” my husband will say — his own pride is large, too. October is here now and in a few weeks, he will be fifteen. Pride could not find a larger place to live than in the men’s sized thirteen shoes of my fifteen-year-old child. Is he a soccer star? Kung-Fu master? Football hero? No, he’s a straight — A kid — but I don’t care much about grades, only effort. He is your average teen doing average teen things and testing every boundary he can (at least the ones he knows will not lead to severe repercussions). Still, he is the kid who, when I am upset over something, says to me, “I am not the guy who is going to tell you not to have your feelings…” He is that child right now full of compassion and rage at the horrors of humanity. Puberty is upon him, and his father and I are far from the god and goddess we once were in his eyes. It is open season on applications to some of the writing programs that I am applying to. I have been busily filling out forms, cleaning and polishing my lines, writing essays. My child, knowing his allotted screen time is up, looks up at me and says, "Mom don't you have writing to do?" He makes me seriously wonder if I can be the parent I want to be, as well as the writer I hope to be. Are the two things mutually exclusive? No, I do not homeschool, but I am not the kind of writer that writes on a schedule. I have to feel something to be prompted to write. Writing between the hours of seven-thirty in the morning and stopping by two-thirty in the afternoon sometimes works, and other times feels forced. My best work is done in fits and spasms. A line comes to me, I write it down, and when I have time I write the poem that was meant to form... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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My poetic style is what is commonly referred to as confessional, although, I prefer the term testimonial. I have been writing since I was six years old as a way to purge and replenish myself. Until very recently, I had not tried to publish my testimonial, long form, free verse. Why have I waited so long to begin to try and publish? There are a few reasons. One major deterrent always centers and circles back to the question, “who will I upset?” My work is deeply personal – often fueled by my family, the world around me, and my experiences as daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend. Who will I offend? Perhaps everyone I have ever come in contact with. A few years back a relative of mine published a thinly veiled cookbook/memoir exposing our whole family to scrutiny between recipes. The book offered a bitter feast. I, personally, was happy for the return policy at the store where I ordered the book and promptly sent it back. Suddenly, family members began contacting me. They were beset, upset, and angry by what had been written. They felt betrayed. They had welcomed this person into their homes and lives. They shared family stories not completely understanding the tone with which these stories would be used. This was not the first time I wondered how my family would feel if I actually tried to publish my work, but hearing their rage did make me start to think about the question more concretely. As a confessional or testimonial poet, when is it time to publish? When everyone you speak of is long dead? The problem is probably best described for me by Galway Kinnell in his poem, “It All Comes Back” in which he asks his son for permission to publish a poem about him as a child: “…Let him decide. Here are the three choices. He can scratch his slapdash check mark, which makes me think of the rakish hook of his old high school hockey stick, in whichever box applies: Tear it up. Don't publish it but give me a copy. OK, publish it, on the chance that somewhere someone survives of all those said to die miserably every day for lack of the small clarifications sometimes found in poems.” How will they take it? What box would they check off? Would my son, so near now to fifteen that everything his father and I say and do is an embarrassment, even if it is just a passing hello to the checkout person at the grocery store, be flattered by my yearly poem honoring his growth? Doubtful. He twisted his ankle last week trying desperately to get out of the car and into school before my husband could even utter his usual morning drop off farewell of, “Goodbye, have a nice day. I love you.” Would my son embrace or find disgrace in the writing of my poems for anyone to see that expose his foibles and curiosity? Will my husband... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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We all have one, I hope, that professor or teacher that changed us, that saw something in us, and put a spark under our kindling, helped light the flame of true inspiration. For me, this was Professor Milton Kessler – Milt. The very first day I sat in his workshop he could not remember my name. I left that class determined that he would never forget my name again. The audacity of youth, or one of smartest things I have ever done? Autumn always reminds me of the time I spent with Milt, the myriad of colors that sparked through his office window as he sat with me working on my lines. Sometimes we talked for hours. He would tell me about his life, and I would tell him about mine, we had a certain simpatico. I know I am not the only former student of his who feels this way about him. He was a driving force in many of his students' lives. He was pure genius. He was kindness and compassion. Although he passed away in April of 2000, fall will always be the time of year that I mourn him. Every red, orange, yellow-hued leaf reminds me of the days he spent with me. I will always recall the leaves changing color, palette, and pattern through his office window as we talked and worked. Of course, seasons changed as the semesters passed and he saw me through those as well — November full of raining wind, the bitter and biting cold that is winter in Binghamton, N.Y., and flower-filled springs went by as Milt spent hours with me over the years helping me refine my lines. Milt had a funny way of beginning each workshop. He always started class by saying, “You know how it is…” and then tell the class a story about something regarding his day or life. I often did not quite understand, “how it was” but I always walked out of his class exhilarated and inspired to write by his energy. His words, which sometimes made no logical sense in my head, hit my blood directly and flung my hand to my typewriter. Each of his classes felt like poems in themselves Milt would sit with me hour running hour pouring over my lines. Listening to his criticism was pure intuition. I could never quite get what he said to make exact sense. Still, I walked away, always in all ways, a better person, and writer because of the time he spent with me. He often worked with me in his home, the piano in his kitchen a reminder that perhaps there were families where someone pounded out chords while another chopped and diced a tune of dinner. Milt would sometimes shake his fists at me, his eyebrows fluttering thick as wings, and say, “You are a great defender and one day you will have to take your place amongst the other great defenders…” Then he would rattle off a list of women... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Sep 29, 2016