Writing magazines

A few months ago I  posted about my decision to read writing magazines on my lunch break on the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh blog.

Since then, I have been faithfully reading Poets & Writers, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Publisher’s Weekly each day (though obviously not every title every day).

It’s been a successful exercise.

I’ve found new markets to which I can submit thanks to listings in the back of Poets & Writers and The Writer. I’m enjoying the writerly advice column “Funny You Should Ask” in Writer’s Digest. And I’ve found about two billion new books to read thanks to Publisher’s Weekly (you’ll hear about some in future posts, for sure).

I’ve also found that giving myself twenty minutes each day to learn more about the craft of writing, fellow writers, and the literary community (in addition to my thirty-minutes-a-day writing regimen) keeps me motivated and excited about putting words on the page.

For awhile I tried reading The New York Review of Books, but none of the books they featured piqued my interest in the slightest. They were all dry, academic-sounding nonfiction titles–which is cool and all, but not my scene.

I did want more than one source of book reviews, though, so I subscribed to Kirkus’s enewsletter, and have been enjoying the down and dirty “skip it,” “borrow it,” and “buy it” reviews they do of current best sellers. Even if I don’t plan on reading most of these books, it’s good to have a pulse on the market.

This all fits into my wider goal of connecting with the literary community in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Being around other writers and even just readers can spark new ideas, help you work through a problem you’re dealing with in your work-in-progress, and recharge your mental and emotional batteries.

How do you stay in touch with your community?

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Jazz! Poetry! Jazz Poetry 2015!

Instead of my normal #FridayReads post, I thought I’d do a run-down of one of my favorite annual Pittsburgh events: City of Asylum Pittsburgh’s Jazz Poetry Concert.

This is a concert that gathers some of the top jazz musicians and top poets and writers from around the world and brings them together for a unique collaboration.

I always, always, always come away from this event with a new favorite band or musician and writers that I can no longer live without.

The Vijay Iyer Trio played this year, and let me tell you, I am smitten. Head over heels falling in love.

Here’s why:

I know, right?

And then we had the poetry. This year COA went above and beyond and combined not only music and words, but graphics and sign language as well. Amanda Fadigan performed a Heather McHugh poem in ASL, and it was beautiful.

Like this:

For the first time, I believe, the event featured a graphic novelist. Seeing the actual panels of the graphic novel while the author read in her native language and someone else read the translation was a multi-layered experience. I’d love to watch that reading again so I can parse more meaning from it.

That’s another thing about Jazz Poetry. You get to hear literature in many languages (and this year, see one in sign language!). Hearing the original, what it sounds like, is a different kind of music, and one I enjoy greatly.

And then, of course, there’s the finale:

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A gift from the New Zealand sky

“The Milky Way” by andyspictures

The first time I touched the universe, I stood outside the Paparoa Marae near the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, surrounded by dozens of people I barely knew. I was thirteen and almost ten thousand miles from home on a three-week trip with People to People Student Ambassadors. After our traditional Maori dinner of meats and vegetables slow-cooked by heated river rocks in the ground, I looked up at the sky.

The milky way, clear as the sun during the day, spread out in gentle waves above me, and I am sure that every single star visible to the naked human eye from the Southern Hemisphere burned its mark on my soul. I felt like I must be looking at a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope, because I couldn’t believe something so beautiful, so expansive, so true, surrounded me.

My world stood on the edge of change. In a few days, I would experience my first kiss under those same stars. In three weeks, I would return to the United States and start high school. In two months, the World Trade Center would fall and my country would launch a war that would, in many ways, define my adolescence.

Left alone, I would have been happy to sit outside in the cool winter air, staring up at those points of light. The longer I looked, the more individual stars became clear, each one a gift from the night. In return, I gave something to the night that I still cannot put into words, something beyond words.

I didn’t understand the significance of that exchange right then, but from that moment on I tried to get back to that feeling of complete connection with the universe. I wanted to feel like I was a part of something, like I mattered, like my words mattered.

I mostly failed for the next seven years. Things seemed to disconnect all around me: in domestic politics, environmental degradation, an ongoing war that echoed Vietnam, the angst and endless existential crises of teenagehood, a failing belief in the religion I’d grown up with. It took another trip across an ocean for me to find that feeling again in its purest state.

On that second trip I finally understood the gift, the wisdom the stars meant to give me: You do not need to travel across an ocean to touch the universe. You simply have to be open, and it is easier to be open when you have crossed an ocean, don’t know anyone, and are worn down and ragged from travel and jet lag. But if you know your walls are there, you can choose to take them down, and the stars will reveal themselves to you wherever you stand.


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