Introducing Prairie

Hello to everyone at Today’s Author! I am a new contributor, and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself, my work, and to tell you what I hope to bring to the readership of Today’s Author.

I am a poet. It has taken me a long time to say that without qualifying the statement, or shrugging, or grinning nervously as though to say, yeah, I know, poetry is hard. I started practicing saying the statement as confidently as I could to my students, and seeing how it sat with them and with me. They were alternately impressed, blank, encouraging, or indifferent. For a while, I felt foolish. Now, not as much. I bring this up for two reasons: one, to tell you what genre I write; and two, to bring up the struggle that I think many artists face of naming themselves and owning that name without qualification.

I am also a college teacher. This, too, has taken some practice saying.  Once again, it has to do with reception. Saying I teach composition and research is met with a strange response, one that I can only categorize as self-demotion. For those of you who teach writing, you may have heard these kinds of statements: Well, I better watch my grammar around you, or Oh God, I better not show you my writing ever. As if I sit around all day waiting for someone to slip up. As if I diagram each sentence the moment it pops out of someone’s mouth, looking for a missing subject or predicate. As if what I know about writing is such a mystery that it cannot possibly be learned. I often wonder: do biologists get this kind of response? Or business majors? Or sociologists? Or math majors? No one says to the business major, Oh, I was just terrible at making money at my lemonade stand when I was a kid. What is it about writing that makes people shrink into themselves like salted snails, and immediately point out their own inabilities?

So, I suppose in identifying as a writer and in teaching writing, I have an over-developed awareness of fear as both a feeling on my part of telling people what I most like to do, and as a kind of barrier many people erect between themselves and the act of writing. And, if I’m honest, there’s the presence of fear in my own writing as well. How to begin? What to say? How to be original? In thinking about what I want to contribute to Today’s Author, one of the things I’d like to focus on is this idea of fear as an impediment to the act of writing, the experience of this fear by other writers, and the ways to battle with it. And I also want to focus on poetry—the process of writing poetry, the structural concerns a poet considers, the range of subject matter, and the importance of poetry in our literary landscape.

In my author’s bio, I briefly mentioned an interest in the confluence of cultural and personal experiences. I am interested in writing and reading about how the personal can always be found amidst the cultural/political. I recently watched a documentary about the British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who died in 2011 covering the Libyan civil war. His photographs capture a more human, personal experience of the wars he covered. His photographs focus on the periphery of those wars: the abandoned house just to the right of the conflict, the graffiti left in the wake of fighting, sleeping soldiers, a woman staring at a man as he mounts a vehicle to leave for combat. Whether these things are on the periphery, as I suggested, or whether these things are actually the heart of the situation is something I’d hazard to say Hetherington thought about. In my own writing, I try for this perspective shift: to look at a subject, and then reroute my focus left or right, to see what or who is there, and then to write about that. When I read, I look for poets who do this: Brian Turner, Rita Dove, Randall Jarrell, Medbh McGuckian, amongst others.

My own writing process is often haphazard and unstructured. I work better with some kind of outwardly imposed framework. Each April (National Poetry Month), I challenge myself to write 30 poems in 30 days. I’ve been doing this for the past four years, and it works. I hit that number because I’ve told myself there’s no alternative. I just do it. Some years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, which sets the challenge of writing a novel (50,000 words or more) in 30 days. These sorts of things work for me. I am excited to write for Today’s Author for many reasons: to be part of a community of writers, to contribute something to the field, and to produce writing on a deadline. Another way to put it: to produce writing without fear. There’s no room for fear when a deadline stares you down.

I look forward to interacting with the writers and readers of this blog, participating in the writing prompts, and contributing to this ongoing conversation about our personal and professional relationships with writing!

8 thoughts on “Introducing Prairie

  1. Welcome aboard, Prairie!

    I used to write a lot of poetry… now, not so much. I’m not sure why, the poems just kind of dried up. I enjoyed writing them, though, so hopefully, eventually, they’ll come back. For now, it’s short stories that are my focus.

    My daughter did National Poetry Month this year for the first time. I think she enjoyed it, but when it got to be 10pm and she hadn’t written one yet she was visibly a bit frustrated. Yet, she did it and that’s commendable. All of us in my house do NaNoWriMo each year, so you can imagine what November looks like: piled up laundry and dishes, eating lots of canned soup for dinner, etc. Deadlines have a way of making your focus be in the right place for the task at hand.

    Glad to have you with us and I can’t wait to get to know more about you and your writing.

  2. “Another way to put it: to produce writing without fear. There’s no room for fear when a deadline stares you down.”
    Ah, this explains why I rely on deadlines so much. The get-it-done-or-else factor really sticks a gag in my internal editor too.

    I have long regretted the interference in our getting to know each other — we never got to exchange much writing, although I do know a bit about your creativeness and voice as a poet from the workshops you and Dan ran (which inspired one of my own.) I’m looking forward to “listening” to you discuss writing again.

  3. Welcome aboard, Prairie!

  4. Welcome to our group, Prairie. Already, I can see you’ll be a wonderful addition!

  5. How wonderful to have you on the team. You’re going to be a wonderful contributor. You gave me a lot to think about in this article. I read it this morning and it’s still on my mind.
    Thanks for the stimulation.

  6. Looking forward to hearing more from you, Prairie!

  7. Thanks everyone for the kind words! I look forward to contributing and reading your great work too!

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