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Odd Words September 1, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.

Let’s say you have most of a degree in English literature, with a major in the college newspaper and a minor in the nearby bar that launched the Radiators and Little Queenie. You are about to be laid of with a generous severance package, but your lack of a bachelors and the need to conserve money prelude going back to school.

How do you craft your own MFA like experience? Assume you manage to stretch six months severance out to a year by free-lance writing and anything else this side of the corner you have to do. How to go about crafting a program, and keeping yourself to it, with the goal of taking your writing to the next level?

You can skim the internet for syllabi, mostly reading lists, but without instructors how do you learn to take apart the bits of craft and learn from them? Perhaps the same way you took that not -quite-a-degree in English and managed to make yourself an IT worker, and later an IT project manager. Identify the most important books of criticism, both general to the genre and specific to the writers on your reading list, and books on craft in general, and add them to your syllabus. Read them first then set writing tasks they suggest, tied to the writers you have selected for your syllabus.

To a generation raised on classes and degrees in creative writing this probably seems madness, but creative writing programs are a recent innovation in the history of literature. Somehow all the generations of writers between the bardic times of apprenticeship and the creation of the M.F.A in creative writing managed this.

The other night on TheRumpus.net poetry chat with Aracelis Girmay she spoke of circulating the draft of her last book to family members, afraid that the poems on family history might be “dangerous and irresponsible.” All the best writing is dangerous and irresponsible, calls up the author’s demons for a chat not so much to exorcise them but to tame them and make them the servants of Prospero. My last post was dangerous and irresponsible, to spread my life out like the leaves of a book but I started down that path long before I discovered that creative non-fiction and memoir were among the hot products of our generation’s literature.

Dangerous and irresponsible. I will eventually have to find another job, and risk time best spent looking given my difficult-to-get-hired middle age. I have one child in college and another on the way. Responsibilities. The very idea of this project is dangerous and irresponsible. And irresistible. Turned out of my good corporate job, why not take my exile and turn to a study of the alchemic mysteries of the craft of writing, my library dukedom enough>? Call it the Prospero Project.

And so to the listings:
& Speaking of major undertakings: tonight Dave Brinks’ and Megan Burns’ 17 Poets! will mount a massive display of New Orleans literary publications from the 1940s to the present at the Goldmine Saloon, 701 Dauphine Street at the corner of St. Peter. The event will feature an open discussion by New Orleans most prominent poets and publishers, incuding KALAMU YA SALAAM, LEE MEITZEN GRUE, DENNIS FORMENTO, DR. JERRY W. WARD, RODGER KAMENETZ, MONA LISA SALOY, JOHN CLARK, NANCY HARRIS, JOHN TRAVIS, RALPH ADAMO, BILL LAVENDER, NANCY DIXON, JIM CASS and many others from the New Orleans community.

This event will be followed by poetry reading featuring GINA FERRARA (celebrating her d-day!) and OPEN MIC hosted by Jimmy Ross. Sign-up for Open Mic begins at 7:00 p.m. For more info please visit 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series website: http://www.17poets.com. The catalog of works to be exhibited is so long I’m going to put them in a separate post. If you already have plans for tonight, you ought to reconsider them. 17 Poets at the Goldmine Saloon, Thursday Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m.

&Before I make it downtown, first stop will be at Octavia Books to see George Pelecanos read from, discuss, and sign his new book, THE CUT. Pelecanos is an independent film producer, an essayist, the recipient of numerous international writing awards, a producer and an Emmy-nominated writer on the HBO hit series The Wire, and the author of a bestselling series of novels set in and around Washington, D.C. He currently writes for the acclaimed HBO series Treme. I spent most of a decade in Washington, D.C. at the height of the crack wars, so esides his ties to Treme, the focus of his crime novels on Washington is a plus for me. I know only his film work, and it’s time I dived into his novels.If you missed Pelecanos on Susan Laron’s The Reading Life on WWNO-FM on Tuesday, check the podcast or tun in 12:30 pm on Saturday. Octavia Books, Thursday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m.

& Speaking of Gothic, Garden District Books will host debut novelist Chris Buehlman for a Reading & Signing of his new novel THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER on Friday. Failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife, Eudora, have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family’s old estate-the Savoyard Plantation- and the horrors that occurred there. At first, the quaint, rural ways of their new neighbors seem to be everything they wanted. But there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice. Friday, Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m.

& On Wednesday,Sept. 9 Octavia will host a reading and signing with native Louisiana author Jenny Wingfield featuring her debut novel, THE HOMECOMING OF SAMUEL LAKE, an “Indie Next” pick for July. Fannie Flagg calls it “”Raw, dark, and powerful. Southern Gothic at it’s best. Puts one in mind of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor.” That’s some pretty high praise. [Sigh]. Another book in the pile, and probably a hardcover at that.

&A continuing Wednesday event is the spoken word open mic at VASO on Frenchman Street, hosted by Carl SMUT DA POET Smothers. There is a $5 cover, drink specials, and free admission for all participating artists. “All Poets, Singers, Musician’s And Anyone With Something To Express Are Welcome.” Doors at nine, show at 10 p.m. Wednesday, VASO Ultra Lounge, 500 Frenchman St.

& Next Thursday at Ogden After Hours, John Swenson will sign NEW ATLANTIS: MUSICIANS BATTLE FOR THE SURVIVAL OF NEW ORLEANS. The book chronicles the struggles of musicians in the aftermath of Katrina to restore New Orleans musical culture. Rolling Stone calls the book “a fast-moving hybrid of richly detailed journalism and compelling partisan memoir.” $10 admission for non-members, but you can attend the booksigning for free. Ogden After Hours will also feature cellist Helen Gillet, access to the exhibits and a cash bar (and no, you can’t take your drinks in the exhibits) Ogden Museum of Art, Thursday Sept. 8 at 6 p.m.

Down the road a bit, mark your calendars for Happy Birthday, Mr. Faulkner!, the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s celebration of the birthday of its namesake, Nobel laureate William Faulkner and toast concurrently the birthday of one of the Society’s co-founders, author and scholar in Southern literature, W. Kenneth Holditch. Dr. Holditch will give a talk on Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and their importance on contemporary writing and sign his new book
on Tennessee Williams. Co-presented by The Louisiana State Museum, the event is free to the general public with advance reservations. To reserve, contact Faulkner Society at Faulkhouse@aol.com or call (504) 524-2940 to reserve or reserve copies of books in advance. For more details on authors, visit http://www.wordsandmusic.org. Free refreshments.

& The Loyola Writing Institute Fall 2011 Writing Workshop: Writing Well-Crafted Fiction will be led by Stephen Rea, author of FINN MCCOOL’S FOOTBALL CLUB. The class will run eight weeks starting Tuesday, Sept. 27. Cost is $250 and you can register here. Deadline to sign up is Sept. 13.

That is, as folks are want to say in the piney hills to our north, all she wrote.

If you are reading this and your event is not on here, that’s because you didn’t drop me a line to odd.words.nola@gmail.com.



1. dangermond - September 1, 2011

Simply write – who was it that said writer’s write – that’s what they do – you are a graduate of the school of life and talented writer – show up every day and see what story bears telling.


2. Mark Folse - September 1, 2011

I think we need to discuss this at great length over a bottle of wine, preferably when Tin won’t be up at the crack of whoops-too-much-wine and you all on your own.


3. 1storyeveryday - September 1, 2011

I had to laugh at the beginning of your post – you are exercising your talents and skills right there, without the degree and with other experience. @dangermond is right – you have everything you need. Go for it!


4. Susanna - September 1, 2011

Your writing is already at the next level. Your autobiographical post of Aug. 30 may have felt dangerous and irresponsible, uncomfortable to publish, but I appreciate the way you are trying to put Katrina into the context of your own life, the very thing that many of us have been trying to do, either publicly, privately or a little of both. If anyone says, “get over it” then they are truly insensitive or being sarcastic twice removed. As far as I’m concerned, you can continue as you have been, get another IT projects job for money, either a year from now or as soon as possible. Everybody being able to publish on the open internet is a great advancement, for writers and readers, and we shouldn’t be so attached to the old fashioned idea of what it means to be a successful writer. sp


5. candice - September 1, 2011

Y’know, if you did want the piece of paper… 15 hours at UNO is one bitch of a semester but it’s doable. And the cost is only about 2200. (I went full-time two semesters and a summer in between them. Awful, but finished.)

Earlier today I was trying to convince my mother to go finish up her degree in music theory. She is not much younger than you.


6. Marco - September 2, 2011

What Dangermond said so well. I’ll bring a few more bottles of wine. One ain’t going to cut it.


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