October 2011 Archives

Interview with new Assistant Professor Peter Campion

On an afternoon in late October, Peter Campion adjusts his big blue watch, which is a blue that is almost neon blue. I wonder if it is the very watch that appears in one of Campion's poems. The poem with the ladybug in it. Empty tables covered in heavy white linen litter the outdoor patio. They resemble ice floes....."

Kidding! Peter Campion is a recent addition to the creative writing faculty at the University of Minnesota, and I (Carrie Lorig) am lucky enough to be both a TA for him and a student in his graduate poetry workshop. Peter agreed to answer some of my pesky questions about how he looks at a poem, what it is like to move from one manuscript to another, and the "MFA program." (Airquotes aren't necessary. I just like that they make words seem scarier.)

What do you think the MFA program can do for a writer?

An MFA program can afford an emerging writer time to write and read, can supply an attentive group of readers, and can foster exchange about literature in general. We sometimes focus on specific formal challenges in the writing, and sometimes we address the larger concerns and challenges of a writer's project. The hope is that, once a writer completes the program, he or she will not only have a livelier and more realized manuscript, but will also have a more comprehensive, and more enabling, critical sensibility.

How do you approach teaching the poetry workshop as a graduate instructor?

I like to work from the ground up, to begin by describing the actual tones and structures of the poem at hand. We ask how it moves from start to finish, how specific lines and sentences work, what the tone is like, how that tone shifts throughout the poem, and many more such questions. My hope is not to push any set aesthetic, but to help each writer find the poem he or she is striving toward. We also do a good deal of reading. I want students to uncover their own stories about the history of the art. So, in the workshop you're in right now, Carrie, our reading of poets like Pound, Williams, Eliot, Bunting, and Niedecker was a response to the fact that a lot of you are exploring modernist techniques. We also read Mallarmé and Max Jacob because many of you are interested in "aleatory" or chance-inspired practices. We read Elizabeth Bishop's Geography III because, well, it's always great to read that book.

What should a writer consider when they are looking at MFA programs?

I think an applicant should check out the work of the faculty in the various programs, and the work of recent graduates. Then there are concerns like geography, and duration of the program--different people have different preferences. I also think it's important never to put yourself in dire financial straits in order to get the degree. One of the great things about Minnesota is that the funding is generous. Having three years to write and read is a wonderful thing. Another thing I love about our program--okay, I'm being a shill--is that there's real exchange across the genres. You all take classes together, and are very much engaged in ongoing conversations. And this is a great area for literature and for the arts. There are more excellent readings and art shows and concerts than I could ever attend. It was wonderful, the other evening, to get to meet with all of you in Maria Fitzgerald's "Reading Across Genres," to discuss Seamus Heaney's The Burial at Thebes, and then to be able to all go together to see the play itself performed at the Guthrie.

What kind of poems are you working on now?

I tend to work on a bunch of things at the same time. I'm scribbling away on two long poems, one of which I started three years ago. So I morph into a huge tortoise every time I open the Word file. I'm also making small revisions to some shorter lyrics I wrote during the spring and summer. There's some newer stuff percolating, too.

I know you're working on a third book, would you mind discussing your process in terms of how you put a book together?

Sure. I admit, though, that I'm much better at helping students and friends structure their books than I am at doing it for myself, which feels a little bit like trying to see the back of my head, and with no mirrors. But I'm fascinated by the idea of the poetry collection as a made, shaped thing. I like to discuss that with students, and to look at how various books are structured. I suspect that each book searches for its own structure. As Mother Ann Lee, the leader of the Shakers, once wrote, "Every force evolves a form." I will say that whenever I try to write a poem specifically for the book--to fill one gap, or something like that--it feels too willful. But I do store away ideas of things I'd like to do, in order to vary or deepen the book I'm working on, and sometimes, during the tumult of actually writing, these things break onto the page.

Also, how is this book going to be different/similar to "The Lions?" What is it like to move from one book to the next?

Thanks for asking. I think it has more voices in it--one long dramatic monologue, as well as many poems with multiple speakers, or with reported or found speech (everything from translation of ancient poems to yammer overheard at airports.) Many of the poems are more juxtapositional than earlier poems of mine.

I'm interested in your process of reading a poem in general. What happens? What are you looking for? What are you looking to get out of it? What makes you fall in love with it or decide it's not for you?

I pay attention first to the specific feel of the language--what are the lines and sentences like? Then I try to understand the shape of the poem--what action is it performing? And then I ask if it moves me. I want an original and dynamic use of language, and one that feels necessary. I want both my intellect and emotion to be engaged, and taken on a trip that feels worth while. There are so many ways that a poem can do this. I'm sure that, like anyone, I have my own preferences and pet peeves, but I don't think that any one style or movement holds a monopoly.

What do you like about Minneapolis/the Twin Cities so far?

I love how the cities are both unpretentious and cosmopolitan. I know my neighbors in Southwest Minneapolis, and chat with them on the street and at the park, as if we were living in a small town. And I also know that I can visit a first rate art museum or gallery or restaurant any time.

Any upcoming readings/new poetry releases you are really excited about?

Yes. So many. I've just read David Wojahn's new poetry collection, World Tree, and I recommend it. I also admired Laura Kasischke's Space, in Chains. I read and reviewed Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book. That book was begun fifty years ago, but was only just officially released this year, so I guess it's new. Gjertrud Schnackeberg's new book is marvelous and moving. I'm also reading a lot of fiction and history. I recommend the German novelist Heinrich Böll, many of whose books have just been re-released. I read his book The Safety Net. I'm reading Teju Cole's Open City, which is fantastic. It seems to nod to W.G. Sebald, and yet it's entirely original.
It's Bio Time:
Peter Campion is the author of two collections of poems, Other People (2005) and The Lions (2009,) both from the University of Chicago Press. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Larry Levis Reading Prize, the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Guggenheim Fellowship in Literature. His poems and prose have appeared recently in ArtNews, The Boston Globe, The Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, The New York Times, Poetry, Slate, and the Threepenny Review. He lives with his family in Minneapolis.

Benefit for Hunger Reading, Nov. 15

The Creative Writing Program's annual Benefit for Hunger Reading will be held Tuesday, November 15, 7 pm in Coffman Theatre. This reading is hosted by Edelstein-Keller Professor of Creative Writing Charles Baxter, who will join faculty authors Julie Schumacher, Peter Campion, Maria Damon and Ray Gonzalez in reading their work for charity. The undergraduate winner of the "Benefit for Hunger Prize for Writing" will also read. The contest was judged by Charles Baxter. All proceeds benefit Second Harvest Heartland, the upper Midwest's largest food relief organization. The reading is free, with a suggested donation of $5 at the door; donations given to Second Harvest. Last year, we raised over $1500 for hunger relief. This reading will also mark new Assistant Professor Peter Campion's Twin Cities reading debut, so don't miss it!

Alumni In-Depth

In a little over a decade, our alums have published over 60 books with presses such as Doubleday, Harper's, Coffee House, Simon and Schuster and Knopf. They've won National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, Provincetown Fine Arts Fellowships, Stegners, and Rome Prizes. Current students are blazing out of the gate, too: we have not one, but two current MFAs publishing books with major presses this year: Mary Chen's first book of poetry will be out in January 2012 from Black Ocean and Sarah Fox will publish her second book, Mother Substance, with Coffee House Press in fall 2012. Our website has one of the most comprehensive alumni pages at the University of Minnesota (Alumni News and Notes) Please take a look at our new feature, "Alumni In-Depth," where we list specific alumni accomplishments along with "Life in the MFA" recollections: http://creativewriting.umn.edu/people/alumniindepth.html

Poetwright: Katie Hae Leo and "Four Destinies"

MFA poetry alum Katie Hae Leo's play, "Four Destinies", is opening October 15th and will run through October 30th at the Mixed Blood Theatre, 501 4th Street, Minneapolis. The play will open the season for Mu Performing Arts, who Leo has had a close working relationship with for several years.

"Four Destinies" builds a satirical, humorous story around the lives of four adoptees all named Destiny Jones (a Korean adoptee, an African American adoptee, a Guatemalan-born adoptee, and an adopted Caucasian boy). A well intentioned playwright embodies the shaky hand of fate as she attempts to give the characters the rose colored lives they desire. Leo's play pushes the audience headfirst into the murky waters of DNA, of what ifs, of family, of blood, of our own origin stories.

Leo insists that her background in poetry feeds directly into her playwriting. "Dialogue is heightened language, so you need to be able to choose words carefully. As a playwright you have to distill everyday dialogue into the crucial components that forward the action. A good ear is required," says Leo. Leo also uses whispers of poetical tactics to create texture within "Four Destinies." She experiments with repetition, interruption, and non-linear time. Leo states, "For the purposes of this play, it didn't make sense to utilize a straightforward, emotionally cathartic, naturalistic climax. So, I have the characters break out into poems."

Leo (and the MFA blog agrees with her!) encourages writers to blend and bend and blur the lines of their creative interests. Creative stone soup for everyone! More pretty threads for our mismatched quilt we say!

Leo also emphasizes the benefits of theater's collaborative tendencies and the experience of watching her work grow some long legs and walk off the page. Leo says, "You get to work with actors, directors, and designers, all in the service of your work. And, seeing your writing come alive on stage is a truly rewarding, visceral experience."

Tickets range from $10 to $25, and are available from the Mixed Blood Theatre box office at 612-338-6131 or online at www.muperformingarts.org.

Wipe Your Feet Before Entering These Links

-The formidable folks at Rain Taxi are hosting the annual Twin Cities Book Festival this weekend. When a book festival happens, it's like the whole grocery store has become a free sample party. For real. You will get to keep and see and hear so many things sans MONEY. And it will all be so much better than tiny hotdogs on toothpicks. Go see James Tate read! Maybe buy some pretty books!

-Pangur Ban Party has a new ebook, Very Beautiful Women, which includes work by current MFA students, Feng Chen and Carrie Lorig.

-This is cool. Barrelhouse is cool. Take an online poetry workshop with Mike Young.

-The new issue of Caketrain, featuring fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction, is available for preorder. CAKE. TRAIN. What human object with a belly and a heart can resist that name?!

-The front page of Pank has a piece by local Minneapolis writer, John Jodzio. There's also a tiny interview with him up at We Who Are About to Die.

-We love the october issues of kill author, elimae. We love the grocery lists at Vinyl.

1st Year MFA Profiles: Florencia Lauria


The looks Flor will exchange with you in the middle of class are unparalleled. The musicality of her name makes trombonists and radio DJs swoon.

Name: Florencia Lauria

Genre: Nonfiction

Where are you from?

Buenos Aires half the time, New York the other half.

How do you take your coffee?

Depends on the weather. Lately I've been taking it black, but I have nothing against milk or sugar (especially when it gets cold).

If your writing was a landscape, what would it look like?

I've never been to California, but I think my writing looks like my imaginary concept of a Southern Californian landscape. There are peaks and valleys, palm trees and beaches. There is the ocean and the desert. There are too many crisscrossing highways and sudden seismic shifts.

Tell us about a lie you've told:

I lie about my name every time I buy coffee at Starbucks. I usually tell the barista that my name is Catie or Jaime or Maia. The catch is remembering which name I gave out.

What is your superpower?

I wish I could say teletransportation, but unfortunately I haven't figured out how to do that yet. One of my actual superpowers, though, is remembering people's birthdays. It's kind of a creepy superpower when I barely know the person whose birthday I remember.

Tell us about something you're reading and why it's great/not great:

Right now I'm reading Katharine Harmon's You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. It is great because it validates my belief in treasure maps.

Describe your favorite physical writing space.

My favorite writing space is an orange desk I bought at Steeple People. It prompts me to approach writing with a certain light heartedness; it begs me to not take myself too seriously. Also, I feel like I'm writing on top of a tangerine or a peach or a traffic cone.

What is the best thing about being a non fiction writer? (or a writer in general) What's the worst?

The best thing about being a writer is getting away with spending a ridiculous amount of time deciding whether to write "aluminum" or "tinfoil." The worst part about being a writer is spending a ridiculous amount of time deciding whether to write "aluminum" or "tinfoil."

Last dream you had:

Last night I dreamt that a famous painter, named Babara, invited me to her rooftop party. We drank mojitos and she suggested I hire a personal dresser. I'm still trying to decipher what this means.

Last great/terrible thing you overheard:

I am sitting at a cafe waiting to overhear something great and/or terrible, but most people are talking about the weather, about glaciers, about vegan muffins.

What are all those whales singing about exactly?

They are singing about rain.

Poet Ronaldo Wilson Visits University of Minnesota

Acclaimed poet Ronaldo Wilson will visit the Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday, October 19, for a free reading at the newly expanded Weisman Art Museum. The reading begins at 7:30 pm and will be followed by a reception and book sales at 8:30 pm. Wilson is the author of "Poems of the Black Object" and several other books. He has held fellowships at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Cave Canem, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Yaddo Corporation, and has had four poems nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of the Cave Canem Prize for PWilsonFile.jpegoetry and is considered one of the finest young poets writing today.


Writer Philip Gourevitch is going to speaking at the Coffman Memorial Union Theater this evening (7:30 p.m.)!

There is nothing small about Gourevitch's writing. His book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, focuses on the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and in 2008, he published The Ballad of Abu Ghraib, a book about America's war on terror and the scandal that took place at Abu Ghraib prison. Gourevitch's talk is free & open to the public. It is sponsored by the Esther Freier Endowed Lectures in Literature and the one-day conference "My Letter to the World: Narrating Human Rights."

Chili Cook Off!


Photos from the Jenny Boully Reading


Two New Alumni Novels!

Two recent graduates of the MFA Program at the University of Minnesota, Amy Shearn and Amanda Coplin, will publish novels in 2013. Amy Shearn's novel, tentatively titled "The Double Life of Jenny Lipkin," will be published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Shearn's first novel, "How Far is the Ocean From Here?" was published by Shaye Areheart Books. Amanda Coplin is a former Provincetown Fellow. Her debut novel, "The Orchardist" will be published by Harper Collins in 2013 after a heated auction between seven publishing houses in New York. "The Orchardist" was Amanda's MFA Thesis.

Elisabeth Workman's (MFA, 2014) manuscript ULTRAMEGAPRAIRIELAND was short-listed in two competitions--a semi-finalist in Alice James Books' 2011 Beatrice Hawley Awards and a finalist in the Subito Press 2011 Book Awards. Elisabeth is a first-year MFA in the Creative Writing Program. She has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and a 2011 McKnight Fellowship in Poetry.

New Book by MFA Student

MFA Sarah Fox ('12) will have her second collection of poetry, Mother Substance, published by Coffee House Press in fall 2012. Sarah received a Graduate Research Partnership Program grant in summer 2011 to assist her in writing and researching the book. She also received a Gesell Summer Residency at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota. Fox spent the time intensively writing the manuscript. Her previous collection of poetry, Because Why, was also published by Coffee House Press. Sarah is the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board grant and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bush Foundation. Poems from Because Why have appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Jacket, jubilat, Verse, and other journals. safe_image.php.jpeg

The Tweak Humanity Craves Most is Making Fortune More Intelligent

Just a friendly poke in the neck that these awards are due in a week! Win money! Spit cookie crumbs in the face of the starving artist stereotype! Oprah will probably come out of retirement just to interview spectacular you!

Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize
Deadline: October 10, submissions to Creative Writing Office, 222 Lind
Award: $100
Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled at the University of Minnesota.
Criteria: Quality of writing
Reader: TBA (non-University writer)
Application: Cover sheet (name, address, phone, email, title of poems), 2 poems. Names should not appear on poems.

Gesell Award for Excellence in Creative Writing (MFAs only)
Deadline: October 10. 2011, submissions due to Creative Writing Office, 222 Lind
Award: $500 each in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction
Eligibility: Currently enrolled graduate students in the MFA Program.
Criteria: Quality of writing.
Readers: Writers outside Minnesota
Application: 4-5 pages of poetry; 15-25 pages of prose. Cover sheet with name, address, phone, email, title of work (s). Students may submit in more than one genre. Names should not appear on manuscript.

Winners will be announced in mid-November!

1st Year MFA Profiles: Jonathan Escoffery


Jonathan Escoffery is a man with nice scarves.

Name: Jonathan Escoffery

Genre: Fiction

Where are you from?

The short answer is Miami, Florida, since that's the geographical location I inhabited for most of my life, though I was born in Houston, Texas. "From" is an interesting question to me, though. Somehow, I've always held nostalgia for mid-twentieth century Jamaica, my parents' Jamaica, a place that, as it has been described to me by my family in such illustrious detail, I've never really known, and no longer exists, if it ever truly did. That place survives in family gatherings, and through the food and music of our culture.

Tell us what you hear right now:

I hear the street traffic passing outside of my apartment window. I like to pretend it's the sound of waves rolling over sand. When the number 2 bus passes, my apartment shakes, and I pretend it's an earthquake.

Your writing is animal/mineral/vegetable?

To me, my writing is alphabet soup in my belly. The more I write, the fuller I grow. To others, I can only hope it is two giraffes banging their necks together at full speed.

Greatest poetry/fiction reading you ever bore witness to:

I can't recall ever hearing words sound more important than when Nuruddin Farah reads aloud, whether it's his writing being read or not.

Also, describe your headspace while you're reading something really wonderful:

While reading something I feel wonderful about I am transported out of time and space, and I lose all sense of obligation to the physical world. Reality is suspended. My body and other people's bodies are burdens I have little use for, and when I am done reading, I feel as though I've been ejected from a womb.

Describe your (physical) writing space:

I keep my favorite works of poetry and prose close at hand on a desk that is pushed against a window which looks out on a busy intersection. I alternate between writing on my laptop and an antique L.C. Smith and Corona typewriter. I have a dry erase board for plotting and lots of scrap paper and pens, which poke out of a red flower pot. I have a few shelves that either store books, or hide everything that is not book/writing-related, i.e. bills. I think of my apartment as more office than living space. Everything there more or less revolves around my typewriter. When I'm completely immersed in my writing, I don't have a very good idea of what's physically around me, at all.

Something that inspires you that isn't a writer or a piece of writing:

Assuming movies and music don't count, since they're technically written, I'd say overhearing other people's conversations can be extremely inspiring. In short, eavesdropping. People say the most delightfully absurd things on buses and in bars, and they're often times not very discrete. I'm often inspired to commemorate these absurdities in story form.

Last great/horrible thing you overheard:

On the bus, I overheard an American complaining about being treated like an "immigrant" and having to work illegally in Ireland when he moved there to escape the tyranny of the Bush(Jr.) administration.

What is the perfect height for a maitre d' and why?

It is my general belief that it's not the height of the maitre d' that counts, but the size of his or her bicycle mustache. Which, by my standards, should be sizable in both length and girth.

Links to writing/readings:





MFA Retreat 2011


University of Minnesota MFAs have been venturing annually up to the northern woods of Minnesota near Bemidji for the official MFA retreat for over 30 years. (This trip actually predates the MFA program, which began in 1997.) Michael Dennis Browne, who, for many many years, was considered the unofficial poet laureate of the U of M, brought young writers up north (near his own cabin) so that they might get a chance to catch the northern lights being pretty, to cause trouble in canoes, and to wander near the Mississippi headwaters. Most important of all, however, Browne wanted them to have the opportunity to chop up all of the wood he would need for the winter for him.

This year was no different. Our robust writers had a fine time drinking by the fire, petting Lexo the cabin dog, and testing their wherewithal by jumping in the autumnal waters of the lake.

Friday has eyes the color of forgetting

On Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 author Jenny Boully, who is the Edelstein-Keller Visiting Writer, will be doing a reading in the Upson Room of Walter Library. Tell your smart phone that you need to be there at 7:30 p.m.! Boully's work is known for tripping/skipping across genres, for playing with form, and for sentences that are as deeply weird as they are deeply beautiful.

Here is an excerpt from her new book, not merely because of the unknown
that was stalking toward them, which reads between the lines of J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy:

The Home Under Ground

Wendy, have you quite come to terms with what it means to fly home? I don't quite think so; you see, I've a certain crick in my neck from all of that spinning, and the applying of various poultices--Tiger Lily's pussy lard and Peter's toe jam--haven't quite been working, although Tiger Lily's father quite said they would. So, no, I haven't actually been thinking too much on what it means to fly home. Why don't you tell me.***

aroma; it's ever-so-much stronger than you might think. The business trip will take eleven days; will you be quite lonesome without. Me? The doves all crying; why, yes, you've guessed it, Wendy! In the eaves. Don't be. So sad. Isn't this exactly the kind of life you imagined. For me? Oh, no. Oh, no. There will be no lovenotes sent to you in starcode; the boss simply won't allow. It. If you like, maybe you could leave. A note with the secretary. She'll be happy. To help. You. This, I know. For certain. She's always so eager. To please. But you mustn't. Cry, Wendy. That won't do; that won't do. At all. Oh, there! Will you look at. The time. It's about time, really. It's about time that. I got going. And what's that, you say? The cradle? We'll discuss it. Later. When I get back. Home. Isn't it a wonder? Really. That belly of yours is really. A wonder. Quite.
The look in his eyes: it is delicious. His eyes say that he'd like to shred Hook to pieces with his good sword, the sword that cut Hook's hand off, and not his hobby one. But sometimes he'll mistake the good sword for the hobby sword: this can make a meeting with anything

(This excerpt comes from Requited.)

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