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Scratch Away

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An aquatint in progress

 

This one goes out to the artists who don’t talk enough and the writers who talk too much. I’m so happy my poem Aquatint appears in the second issue of The Indianapolis Review.

Thank you to editor Natalie Solmer and printmaker Lauren Kussro, whose lovely work also appears in the issue, for inspiring me and others.

It’s also an honor to be in the same issue with poet Mitchell Douglas, who was the outside reader for my MFA thesis.

Scratch away and be the way you are!

 

P.S. Lauren’s artist’s statement is wonderful. I’m thrilled to say I helped her craft it.

 

 

 

 

Alyssa Chase, Lilies, Mother, Mother's Day Poem, Motherhood, Motherhood poem, Parenthood, Parenthood poem, poetry, Tree house, Uncategorized

The Morning After

 

Lilies on mantle2_5.9.16

It’s the morning after Mother’s Day. Another rainy one. And all the mothers are back to running around taking care of kids, jobs and Monday chores.

This seems like a good day to post my poem Middle Aged Mother at 5 a.m., which was picked up by the online journal Mothers Always Write.

This poem’s all about this kind of morning after.

Here’s the full poem, if you don’t feel like clicking:

 

Middle-Aged Mother at 5 a.m.

Seven-dollar lilies from the sale bin open
on the mantle, in the blown-glass vase

I got cheap. Next to them, a candle flame alters
the air. The 5 o’clock flight to New York

thunders gently. This is my territory.
The moment spreads its petals.

I painted this room myself, yellow
with white trim, white as the lights

on the mantle, lights that will burn
themselves out. I’ll use a coupon

to get new ones, little light after light after light,
just enough to punctuate the room, lift it

the way a mother pulls up a child’s sock.
I’m turning myself inside out, swimming

in the hum of the dishwasher, the tick
of the washing machine, the rumble

then silence of the furnace, this hour
that lulls everything into something

my body wants but my eyes fight back.
On the mantle, a framed picture,

a child’s pastel drawing of a tree house
that never got built. My son asked for it,

an escape, a lookout, but that wish
turned to chalk. See the rope ladder?

It barely touches the ground.
See the lilies, still opening?

Their petals will become transparent soon.
They will ooze the last of their sweetness,

their whiteness will brown the way bread
turns to toast, and their pollen

will dust the white paint of the mantle,
garish, orange as saffron.

 

Alyssa Chase, Chris Forhan, poetry, Sean Whiteford, The Greensboro Review, Uncategorized

First Poem in Print

My father
My dad at Lake Pontchartrain

It’s my father’s birthday. John Churchill Chase has been gone nearly 11 years now. And April 4 feels like an appropriate day to post about my very first poem in print. Which happens to be about him.

My mentor at Butler University, Chris Forhan, suggested The Greensboro Review. It’s a fine journal, a little old school, and the editor, Sean Whiteford, was incredibly professional with the edits—gentlemanly all around. Although I’ve been a professional editor for years, I played a bumbling fool when Mr. Whiteford actually liked and even wanted to publish my poem. He even took the time to gently remind me of deadlines for galley approvals, and to make sure I fixed the spelling of fillet, which I had incorrectly spelled the French way.

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Old school

I feel gratified to see this poem about my mother and father in a Southern journal that was established the year I was born. You’ll have to look it up to see when that was!

In celebration, I send out encouragement to all my poet friends and colleagues—especially those whose work has yet to be published.

Here’s to the artists! Please keep believing in yourselves, your art—and poetry itself. The world needs it. Maybe especially now. And, for me, especially today.

Here’s the poem . . .

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The poem…on page 3
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Chores Undone…

Recently, a 2015-09-04 iphone download 9.20.15 001 few of my poems have been accepted for publication.

Here’s the first one to appear, Chores Undone.

I’m glad this poem is being published in a journal for mothers, Mothers Always Write. My friend Natalie told me about this publication, and I’m glad she did. I’m inspired by the idea of reaching an audience of mothers. Read Natalie’s beautiful poem Kneeling in Water Drops.

Here’s to mothers and our hopeful, sleepy meditations.

My full poem is below in case you don’t feel like clicking . . .

Chores Undone

I used to pour black seed into feeders, used to love that—
to know I’d fed a bird and sent it off—goldfinch, sparrow, nuthatch.

Have the hummingbirds left yet? I let their nectar go cloudy,
every feeder go empty. I offer instead the black husks

of coneflower, the shriveled zinnias. See, in the garden—no mums
dug in, blanketflowers unpinched, lavender unharvested.

Why do I leave so much undone?

Something broke, some rhythm—no pill can fix it. No spinning
planet pulls me toward its rings. The strings that bound me

to all these chores—they’ve gone slack. I wait for a wind
to make them taut, for colder November air to come in,
to fill me like a kite again.

 

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Shake it up: 10 ways to jump-start your writing—and find inspiration—from Julie Stewart

Julie Stewart (at left) and Butler MFA students and alums 
at the July 12 gathering. Photo by Gerry Justice.

On July 12, 2015, Indianapolis writer Julie Stewart offered an inspiring presentation about her process and craft for Butler MFA students, alums and anyone interested at the Efroymson Center for Creative Writing at Butler University. 

Here are 10 ideas Julie shared.

1.  Make your work a gift.
“Instead of birthday gifts, I send stories,” Julie says. “Give your stories (or poems or essays or novel chapters) to people who you like and who like you. They’ll think they’re great.”

2.  Think big. Then don’t think.
When you start submitting your work, aim high. “Paris Review, not Podunk,” Julie says. Look at where your favorite writers are publishing—there are great lists at the back of anthologies like Best American Short Stories or collections of essays or poetry. Set up your list of places to submit, and start sending out your work. “If rejections come in, don’t give ’em a thought. Just send the piece off to the next publisher on the list.”

 3. Create a parallel universe.
Post-MFA, Julie found herself missing the sense of community she’d had while in school. So she went to visit a friend from the Spalding program. The two tried writing together.

“It was ‘parallel play,’ Julie says. “We were sitting around trying to focus for an hour.” When it was time to go home, Julie’s friend asked: “Do you think we could still do this?”

Now, despite the fact they live in different cities, the two writers write together. They go for walks at the same time. They talk to each other on the phone. Then they sit down and write. “That’s my practice now—to do this walking and writing,” Julie says. It’s not a workshop, but it’s companionship and feedback. “It’s an acknowledgment that I have a reader. Someone is hearing my voice. This is what I love.”

4. Make an idea book.
Here’s the lowdown on Julie’s idea books, which are an important part of her process, especially at the beginning of a project. “I’ve given myself all summer to play in this book,” she says. “I won’t start the actual writing for my new collection till September.”

A. Don’t spend too much money. Buy a coffee table book at a garage sale or Goodwill (Julie got hers for $1).

B. Glue a new title on the front. (Julie’s is a cutout of something her son wrote when he was little.)

C. Make the book a collage. Julie journals on top of the pages of the book. She adds newspaper clippings that interest her. She collages in her kids’ artwork. Then, somehow, ideas start coming together. A story about a swan in a small-town newspaper sparks a theme about invasive species and Trayvon Martin’s killer being let off. “The next thing that pops in my head is all the titles in my next short story collection,” Julie says. “I’ve written this table of contents and things are popping up all over the place now.”

5.  Invest in a writing coach.
 “A couple of years ago, I wrote a check to hire a writing coach,” Julie says. “That was huge.” It’s a good way to take the creative work you’ve done and apply action steps to it. It adds discipline.

6. Write on location.
Not just at Starbucks. To mix things up, take your journal or laptop and write where real things are happening—at a soup kitchen, at a graveyard, in a hospital lobby.

7. Put time before money.
“Grace Paley says ‘Keep your overhead low,’” Julie says. She agrees. Julie doesn’t have a day job, per se. She does what she needs to do to get by, and protects her creative time. “I edit kids’ college essays. I sew and sell aprons. I occasionally work at a women’s dress shop,” Julie says. She doesn’t apply for grants or residencies. Instead she uses all the time she has to focus on her work.

8. Recruit non-writer readers.
“I like to share my stories with people who aren’t writers,” Julie says. “For example: I’m doing a story about domestic abuse and someone who’s trying to get away. I don’t want to be sharing that with writers alone. I want to share it with someone going through a domestic abuse situation.” Readers who are “real people” vs. fellow writers add authenticity and a different perspective on the work.

9. Ask three questions.
At your meetings with writers’ groups or writer friends, keep things simple. Julie and her MFA friends from Spalding meet on the phone and ask each other these three questions:

What are you reading?

What are you writing?

What’s getting in your way?

10. Try this prompt.
One of Julie’s textile pieces, which she showed the group at Butler, is based on scars. “I took inventory of every scar on my body, and wrote it out,” Julie says. She shared this concept as a prompt with the group at Butler. Try it at home!

A. Take an inventory of every scar on your body.

B. Choose one scar and write about it.

Julie Stewart showcased her narrative textiles inspired by personal
scars after attendees wrote about and shared their own scar stories.
About Julie Stewart

Julie Stewart is an artist. She’s a short story writer, yes. But an artist first. She’s a graduate of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA program. On top of writing, she teaches writers of all ages (check out Urban Plot on Facebook). She creates narrative textiles that she hangs from clotheslines. Sometimes she hangs them at farmer’s markets. Sometimes she hangs them at her house. Sometimes she exhibits them at galleries. (She and her work were part of the Binding of Isaac exhibition at the Christian Theological Seminary this spring.) “It’s all geared toward readers and showing them what I’m doing,” she says. Julie’s also a mom or stepmom to seven kids, age 12 to 24, a Great Dane and a flock of chickens. “My stories are my children too,” she says.

Students at the July event enjoyed free pizza from Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza in Irvington (Julie’s neighborhood).  

 

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Get a real job

Jason Fried’s advice to business people. They need you!

 

Three tips to inspire you to use your MFA outside the world of academia

By Alyssa Chase

This is how this blog was supposed to go. I was supposed to be smug about my fancy job and tell you all how great it was that I could use my MFA every day at work. Then, three weeks ago, I got laid off—suddenly. So there’s a switching of gears
going on.

But I still believe what I was going to say. There are more things to do with an MFA than become a professor or an adjunct. And you can do those things without losing your integrity. That’s not saying you’re not going to get laid off. It’s tough out there. But you can live, and maybe even afford a modest house and have a family and a dog, etc., just using your writing and creative skills. Really-really.

But first, let me get this out of the way. I don’t want to squish anyone’s dreams of becoming a creative writing professor. On the other hand, I’m a truth-teller to the core. I’m married to a tenured professor in creative writing, and I hear too much about the business of universities. I’m not exactly cynical, just realistic. If you want cynical, read this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about “MFA Fever.”

So…let’s get to the point. Why would anyone want to hire you because you’ve got an MFA? What could you do out there? And how do you get started in the “real” work world outside of academia?

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1.  You can write. That’s money.

In the bestselling business book Rework, Jason Fried gives this advice: “If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer.” Why? Because clear writing is a sign of clear thinking: “Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.” Mention that when you’re in an interview!

2. Content is hot.
Have you heard people talking about “content”? Yeah, it can sound really “marketing”—maybe a little intimidating. Don’t turn your nose up at it. It’s really just writing. These days, companies know they need to offer something useful and maybe even meaningful. And they need writers to create the stories, articles and tips pieces people want to read. Being a creative writer, and using your well-honed skills in storytelling, diction, rhythm, etc., will definitely give you an edge over corporate-style writers.

To get you started: Here’s the scoop on content marketing. Here are some other articles that define contentand what it means to be a content writer.
 Yeah, there’s a lot of lingo in there. You may not know about SEO, etc., etc. But think about it. Read about it. And don’t say you can’t get a job doing it. I did. More than once. And I’m an English major with a background in journalism. And I’m a semester away from an MFA in poetry. (Of course, there are a lot of other things besides content writing you can do. )

3. Business isn’t bad.
When I was an undergrad, I remember insulting a friend by saying he was going to “go into business.” Are you like that? Yeah, I thought so. It’s great to have this feeling you don’t really need to be marketable. It’s better to be broke than to sell out. But here’s the rub. You don’t need to sell out. If you work for a company you believe in, and you’re a great writer, editor and thinker, you’re going to be the golden child. You’re going to love what you do.
Here are a couple of examples from my career:

At a local (yet international) travel company, I got to focus on sending people on vacation. I also got to interview travel-industry CEOs and learn what makes them tick.  I got to go to Cancun on business.
Advice from Rework: Mention this
when you’re looking for a job.
At a local (yet international) nonprofit, I got to write handbooks for kids and create stories to inspire people to help save babies in third-world countries. I got to go to the Philippines on business.

It was fun. It was rewarding. And I’m hoping I’ll get to do something that’s just as fun in my next job.

Why you’re unique.
Here’s a last word about why MFAs are special when it comes to the workplace: As a writer, you’re used to rejection. You’ve been beat up in workshops. You’ve had your work ignored by publishers. You know all about revision. That makes you self-aware. It makes you humble. And writing talent combined with self-awareness empower you cope with whatever a workplace throws at you.