Summer is for Reading

In some ways, summer is the time when I get my best education because I have my eyes glued inside books at all times (or at least, in between the FIFA Women’s World Cup games). I am able to read freely and widely; I can linger over phrases; I can sing the words out loud; I can take the time to really study how a piece is put together; I can laugh and cry and feel the emotions rising from the page like aromatic toast; I can be fully entertained as I immerse my mind in the mind of another. Ahh, that sacred intimacy of reading.

This summer, I’ve been working my way through a stack of slim novels, novellas, and collections of poems and stories. I find that I’m more drawn to these smaller tomes, perhaps because I know my time with them is limited to begin with. So I find ways to test that limit by drawing out the experience with them as much as I can. Like stretching out a piece of gum farther and farther until it snaps and breaks in two.

Below, you’ll find a quote from each of the books I’ve read in the past month as well as a link in case you want to own a copy for your own bookshelf! And don’t forget to tell me in the comments what you’ve been reading lately and what is in your queue. Happy reading!


Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett – “There were times I’d thought I knew people. Brynn, who I’d loved more than anything. The other half of me. My father, a man I’d adored, someone I’d considered to be the strongest person on the planet. We spent so much time looking for pieces of ourselves in other people that we never realized they were busy searching for the same things in us.” (You can read my interview with Kristen Arnett here at Michigan Quarterly Review!) 


The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.”


The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (translated by Sawako Nakayasu) – “Dreams are severed fruit / Auburn pears have fallen in the field / Parsley blooms on the plate / Sometimes the leghorn appears to have six toes / I crack an egg and the moon comes out”


Wheeling Motel: Poems by Franz Wright – “River as verb, that’s the assignment, until the next time I fail / you. / And did you know the snail sometimes sleeps for a year? / And you will survive, that’s an order … ” (Check out these incredible recordings of Franz Wright reading poems from Wheeling Motel. My favorite one is “Intake Interview.”)


The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories by Yukiko Motoya – “If you genuinely desire not to be alone, I recommend that you take a bicycle saddle as your next partner. You think that’s out of the question? But a saddle is shaped surprisingly like a human face, and once you pull it off the bicycle, you can take each other out anywhere. When you go on vacation, the money you save on the second fare means you can make many more happy memories than if you were with another human. Best of all, a saddle can’t speak.”


Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson – “It is what / it is. But / what is it? / What it is— / Some soft / tautology / whose terms/ are touch / Time to give, time / to give it up.”


Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse by Anne Carson – “Are there many little boys who think they are a Monster? But in my case I am right said Geryon to the Dog they were sitting on the bluffs The dog regarded him Joyfully” (I devoured this book in two days and immediately put it on my favorite of all-time list. Thank you to this Village Voice interview with artist Elle Pérez for introducing me to Anne Carson’s masterpiece.)


Gasoline by Gregory Corso – “Four windmills, acquaintanceships, / were spied one morning eating tulips. / Noon / and the entire city flips / screaming: Apocalypse! Apocalypse!”


I Am A Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju – “The map of wind that the birds abandoned searched for the labyrinth of birds, but at night it broke quietly into pieces. If, toward a single person, the endodermis of time could forge a connection in the direction of one mind, could my humanity become a cry? Don’t say the inside of every skin has been answered.”


An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans – “Back in the house, entering my bedroom, I had to slide the cat out of the way with the door. He had been lying on the floor behind it and I just managed to grab him by the scruff of the neck as he tried to slip past me to get to the locked room. Together we lay down on the bed while I held him tightly in my arms. “Nothing’s allowed to change,” I whispered in his ear, “we’re staying here. Everything’s staying like it is. One day the war will be over. The Germans will withdraw. And we’ll stay here forever.””


A page from Frances Cannon’s “Walter Benjamin Reimagined”

Walter Benjamin Reimagined by Frances Cannon – “The street that runs through houses is the track of a ghost through the walls. The dread of doors that won’t close is something everyone knows from dreams. The path we travel through the arcades is fundamentally just a ghost walk, on which doors give way and walls yield.”



And next up in the summer reading queue:

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong – Very excited about this one, especially after reading this interview at The Paris Review.

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg – Jordy’s book has been on my reading radar ever since we published his story, “A Monster Stands Guard at the Door of the House of Love,” in Hunger Mountain‘s Issue 22: Everyday Chimeras. Plus I’m a sucker for footnotes!

Belladonna by Daša Drndić – I recently read in Merve Emre’s article at The New York Review of Books that the late Croatian novelist’s Belladonna was perhaps the most ambitious novel of the twenty-first century so far…and now I’m obsessed with tracking it down and finding out what said ambition looks like!

Spirited Away

Cue The Dragon Boy/The Bottomless Pit. 🎵

It’s been a week since I returned from my travels around Japan, and already I’m in that “Did I actually go there? Did this actually happen?” phase. I was there for two weeks, traveling around Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. I had a few contacts there, but because of the New Year holiday, many of those contacts were abroad and unavailable. The major purpose of the trip was to research for my novel, particularly in and around Hiroshima. However, the immersion of just being in the country for that amount of time was research in itself. I loved knowing that somewhere out there, my characters were walking around me. Maybe I had passed one of them at a crosswalk, maybe one had walked out the restaurant door as I walked in, maybe one was staring at me from the second story window of a house, maybe I was sitting behind them in the Shinkansen. Stories lurk everywhere; they don’t just stay on the street corner you happen to be writing about. They are in the air you breathe, the food that touches your tongue.

This was also the first weeks-long solo trip I had ever embarked on. How to describe it? Empowering, inspiring, emotional, exhausting (in the best way), delicious, and to be honest, sometimes lonely. I’m forever thankful for the wonderful people I met along the way, and for every person who helped me when I made a mistake or didn’t know what to do or where to go. I hope our paths cross again soon!

Here are a few photos from the magic that is Japan:

Fumbling for my camera as we pass over Mt. Fuji
I ate lunch with the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima every day to respect the fact we are both alive.
Paper cranes clothe A-Bomb memorials, warming, protecting.
The Moat of Hiroshima Castle
And we’ll all float on, alright… in Miyajima
At low tide, the pilgrimage begins
This is Maki, my lovely new friend! She hearts Nabokov. We geeked out over all things books. Here we are at Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto.
I have a tradition of buying a children’s book in the language of the place I’m visiting so I can practice at home.
So thankful to the folks at the Hijikata Tatsumi Archives (Keio University Art Center) for giving me access to these special Butoh dance documents!
The Forest of Resonating Lights at the teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum 
A peek into just one of the many delicious meals I had! おいしい!


Now, I just need to keep plowing away at my Japanese language practice, so when I go back, I will be able to speak with my characters when I see them!


Happy Solstice.

Another semester has come and gone…and suddenly, I am back in Ann Arbor to celebrate the holiday season with the family, and to take a break (ha!) while also working on my thesis and other writing projects, and I am already days late in celebrating the solstice! I’m surprised at how little snow is here in Michigan (as in NONE!) compared to Vermont. But there are fairy lights in the trees downtown and that helps to keep spirits high.

My latest book haul…thanks to a visit to Bear Pond Books!

I spent most of the weekend reading Everything Under by Daisy Johnson on recommendation from my classmate, Tyler. It’s a book that eats you wholly and takes you underwater, and suddenly, you realize hours have gone by and you’ve grown gills and haven’t needed to come up for air because you are less human and something more magical now. Guess what will feature on my best of the year list—which (stay tuned!) will be posted here on the blog in a few days!

Today, I went to a broadcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker with my grandmother. Gah—the dancers were so talented! The show itself was full of nostalgia, timelessness, and charm. Tell me what your favorite pieces from the Tchaikovsky score are! Mine are “The Presents of Drosselmeyer” and the “Pas de Deux: Intrada.”

For the rest of the week, I have artsy presents to craft together, interviews to work on, ice skates to break in, and a travel itinerary to plan, as I have exciting news to tell you in the next few days. But right now, I have sweet cinnamon tea and the promise of stories told underneath an ornamented pine. Happy hibernation!

You Know You’re Back in Vermont When…(A Mostly Photo Essay)

Gah…in my move back to Vermont, I’ve really fallen down on the blog job. So here I am, attempting to redeem myself with a mostly photo essay (with some words, too).

You know you’re back in Montpeculiar when the trees warn you they are for panda purposes only: 

Last Wednesday, I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which was a delightfully magical film about the life of Fred Rogers. It encapsulated an era so dearly. When the credits started, we as a collective theater not-so-furtively wiped our soggy eyes and stepped back out into the mundane Main Street dusk. It was so bizarre to leave that theater and go on with our lives, partly in that Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood has never had a reboot, has never been overtly commercialized, has never transformed into a pop culture consumerist ploy. It is so wholesomely what it was for the time that it had: a dedicated space and time for the sole purpose of engaging, encouraging, educating, and loving children. Please do go out and see this film, if you have a chance! (Of course, writing this post did jog my memory to the time I found this mug for sale at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.) 

What I’ve been reading : In my latest trip to the downtown library, my eyes were apparently larger than my reading stomach can handle in a two-week checkout period. Nevertheless. she persists! Stack includes The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and yes, studying up on the Grammar Bible itself: The Chicago Manual of Style. 

Through pure spontaneity, I hitched a ride with two friends last weekend to attend the 10th Annual Bookstock Literary Festival,where I stocked up on books by Gabriel García Márquez and Maira Kalman (I’m having a bit of a Maira Kalman moment lately; totally enamored), sampled Red Kite Candy’s salted caramels, sat like a fangirl student in the first row of Robin MacArthur‘s reading of Heart Spring Mountain, and heard the legendary Eileen Myles read (and share a story about their false tooth.) What an absolutely incredible poet performer! 

On the writing front: I’ve been on a bit of a flash fiction writing stint, thanks to the photo prompts provided by Midwestern Gothic. (I was a finalist for their 2015 Flash Fiction Prize here with this photo below!)

I find that flash fiction and photos pair so naturally together, because a photo in its essence is a bound moment in time. Yes, in that moment, the future and past seep in, stored in the collective memory and experience of that place and its people. But there’s a border cropping the photo to its size, just as flash fiction word limits (e.g. 500 words) imparts a border on the told story. Which details are seen and which details are just outside of the border are decisions that have to be made by the keen eye of the writer—almost as if we are writing our story with the disciplined filter of a camera lens.

This weekend, a few of us from the cohort are heading down to a rural New Hampshire camp for a two-day homemade writing retreat. At least writing is the goal…but the mountains, the lakes, the trails are always calling.

A Midsummer’s Miscellany Post

It’s my final week before heading back to Vermont to ride out the rest of the summer until the new semester begins in September. Can’t believe it’s already Year 2 of my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts!

This past weekend was Trey’s birthday, so the wild rumpus included watching the World Cup, Cammie’s introduction to the world of Fortnite, Indian food, riverside bike rides, and culminated in the game that Sherlock and Watson play in The Sign of Three where you write a celebrity’s name on a slip of paper, attach it to the other player’s head, and then ask questions to help you figure out the name attached to your own forehead. We literally spent hours playing this game, which goes to show either how dedicated or completely loony we are.

I’ve been enjoying writing some flash fiction pieces (thanks to Midwestern Gothic!) to break up the slow-going thesis. I did recently watch Shohei Imamura’s A Man Vanishes, which gave me great insight into the phenomenon of Japanese johatsu (the 100,000 citizens a year who “disappear”) and the people who are left behind. I find that delving into other mediums greatly jumpstarts my inspiration to continue longform projects.

“I can still see but for how long…”

Here are all the delicious books I’ve been reading lately: Blindness by José Saramago, The Space Between by Kali VanBaale, Hiroshima by John Hersey, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World) by Ingrid Schaffner, and The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.

I have this strange desire to rearrange all of my books by color. Maybe because I’ve always wanted to tuck a rainbow into my bedroom corner and give it a welcome home. (Note to myself: turn my books into a rainbow one day.)

Yesterday, I volunteered at a Creative Writing workshop put on by my undergraduate program. I was a student of the Residential College at University of Michigan, which is a small, liberal arts learning community heavily focusing on the arts, foreign languages, and activism. I knew that the workshop, intended for 15 incoming freshmen, was going to be informal and simply a way for them to explore the major and opportunities at the Residential College. Still, as I walked through the campus, my heart beat the same pitter-patter of three slammed cuppas. (I was later humbled to find out that the other facilitators, some who were long-time professors, were also battling a few nerves of their own). After introducing myself as an alum of the Creative Writing program, I read the first few pages of my currently unpublished novella called All the Facts You Need To Know About My Mother’s Oil Spill (Side note: I’ve been sending my manuscript to a few novella contests, but I’d love some advice on potential publishers who’d be interested in a story that is part mystery, part fabulist tale, part coming-of-age exploration, part queer love story, part environmental credo, and illuminated in the style of House of Leaves, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, and Bats of the Republic, meaning it combines integrated text and images, innovative typography,  lists and asides and sticky notes and flyers, and “found scraps of writing.”) I love reading aloud, but find that I am often nervous about sharing my own work verbally with the world. However, I feel such a kinship to this particular character I’ve created, that it wasn’t me up there on stage reading. I was her, the great Miss Sylvia Mariner. The response from the students was definitely encouraging — one young lady even gave me her email and asked how she could read the rest of the story because she needed to know what happens next, which is pretty much the greatest thing a reader could tell an author. For the next part of the workshop, we had the students read Sandra Cisneros’ evocative vignette called “My Name,” which is really an excerpt from her novel, The House on Mango Street. The students then tried their hand at writing a piece about their own name, its meaning, how they think people see them, what they are reminded of by their name, etc. After sharing in small groups, the students had to work together to weave all of their names/written pieces into a short skit to perform on stage. The other facilitators and I stood by in case the students got stuck, but our services were not needed. The students were proactive, imaginative, and quick on their feet. Quite frankly, they were amazing!!! I almost wish I could work at the Residential College just to see how these students I met yesterday progress throughout the year. Perhaps one day…

In other miscellany news:

  • I’ve sent in my absentee ballot for Michigan’s primary election and have written to my state legislature demanding they take action following *recent events in Helsinki.* It is not the time to stay silent. Use your voice to fight the fights.
  • I dusted off and retuned my violin a few nights ago and taught myself how to play this song.
  • My current always-on-repeat playlist includes Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon by Sufjan Stevens, Impossible Germany by Wilco, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National, Barnacles by Emancipator, and all the songs by Vaults.

And here’s a Sak pic for you, because how can you resist this face:

Spring Equinox

It’s currently 3 degrees in Montpelier, but I am trying to keep springy by collecting pictures of flowers and colors of beach.

I have a bag of glorious Cadbury Mini-Eggs because according to the grocery store, it’s spring. I haven’t opened them yet (such restraint), but I’m not sure what I’m waiting for.

And I am in full throttle of madly plotting out my thesis for next year with reading lists and storyboards and timelines and arrows pointing to other arrows. (More on the thesis later).

I often keep myself so busy, thinking about how I can serve other people or working on assignments that others are holding me accountable for. I wonder if that’s me trying to avoid stopping and having a breath to myself. In those paused moments, I have to be raw with everything within me: the good, the bad, the fear, the proud, the confident, the doubt. And that can be a scary place to steep, but those peaceful moments of solitude are so essential to a fulfilling and productive life. Perhaps that is what this blog’s purpose is for me. A sort of vitality.

Vitality, that’s a good word, isn’t it?

So here’s to spring, to renewal, to sun, to flowers, to slowing down sometimes, to balancing poses, to chocolate, to silence, to energy, to life. Here’s to you!


On Tampa and AWP

Last Wednesday, I boarded a plane headed for Tampa, Florida. It was snowy Burlington—the smack-dab middle of a Nor’easter—and the plane just barely got out. All others were cancelled for the next two days! Somehow, I got lucky. Two plane rides, a long layover in D.C. and a total of 8 hours later, I was welcomed by a downright tropical Floridian night.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the AWP conference for awhile now, since I registered in November. Not only was this going to be my first appearance at THE literary event of the year, it was also going to be the first time I viewed my managing editorial baby: the newest issue of Hunger Mountain (it’s beautiful, by the way!!!) We opened the boxes which had been sent directly to the hotel and prayed that the book hadn’t been printed upside down or backwards.

And can I just say…

I loved AWP. Really. Really really loved it. It’s hard to fully imagine the conference without experiencing it. But let me try my best. It’s 15,000 writers and teachers and students and editors and publishers and logophiles and bibliophiles, all geeking out over writing and reading. It’s getting the nerve to go up to the Paris Review or Guernica or [insert prestigious journal here], shake hands with the editor, and have confidence in your own work. It’s about dancing like no one is going to write about it later. It’s about attending readings and inviting lyrical rhythms and delicious words to whirl around in your ears for hours. It’s about breathing in the same room with the poets and writers you read online or follow on Twitter or whose likeness you’ve taped to the walls of your bedroom. It’s about making a new writerly friend or contact, or discovering that your work fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of a journal you had never known to exist before. It’s about being inspired and soaking up everything you can and reflecting on why you are here (which you do belong here!) and why you love to write and why it is so important to share your voice.  It’s about finding a community of people who understand why you do what you do. It’s about supporting yourself and others and literature itself.

Yes, the conference was chaotic and a total sensory overload and exhausting and the food wasn’t great and was very overpriced,  but it was worth it to work at the book fair all day long…

…so I could introduce myself to other writers, so I could talk about how much I love Hunger Mountain, so I could meet some of the contributors and editors of our new issue in person (gosh, I am such a fan of them! They are all incredible people)…

Melissa Febos and Donika Kelly (our guest editors) IN REAL LIFE!

…so I could attend panels and craft lectures on the things that are important to me: “The Next Step: Teaching & Writing at a Literary Center“, “Work Work Balance: When a Day Job Pays More Than the Bills,” “Writing Bad Ass and Nasty Women,”  and “The Real Mother of All Bombs: Reconsidering John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

…so I could see dear writing mentors of mine again (Robert James Russell, Allegra Hyde, Alex McElroy, Amelia Martens, Britton Shurley, to name a few)

…so I could leave my footprints on the dry Tampa sidewalks.

The only unfortunate event of the four day trip was when my friend’s phone slipped out of her pocket and disappeared forever below a sidewalk and into a storm drain. After phone call after phone call with the police and the sewage department, the phone was deemed a lost cause because apparently, sidewalk manholes are cemented in the ground and unable to be lifted. The ice cream we had treated ourselves to that night quickly began to unsettle inside our bellies.

Despite that quite disheartening hiccup, have I mentioned that I loved AWP? I did. I managed to even be pretty restrained in the bookfair—given that by the last day most of the booths pass their goodies out for free—and did not bring back too many books! Here’s my loot pile plus a whole lot of contact cards (not pictured):

Goodies courtesy C&R Press, Wolverine Press, Lee L. Krecklow, and Traveling Stanzas

I’ve decided that I will attend AWP every year from this day forward until I can no longer travel or walk.

After I arrived back in Montpelier this past Sunday, I slept a good 12 hours. It definitely is good to be home again. Back to class, back to snow, with books to read (Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Sourdough by Robin Sloan, Indictus by Natalie Eilbert, and The Expanse Between by Lee L. Krecklow), work to do, contest entries to read, a thesis to plan, and coffee. Always coffee.

October in Montpelier

It is only my first October in Montpelier, and I am already smitten. My favorite parts so far are probably the technicolor trees; the sound of rain that rings out when leaves fall and hit branch branch branch ground crunch; the smell of leaf piles which makes you feel a little dirty and clean all at the same time. Just wait until Halloween rolls around!

To take a break from all of the homework, reading, editing, and freelance writing gigs, I went out for a walk today and ended up going on a bit of a photo safari. At first, I thought I was just going to buy a loaf of bread or maybe find a place with pumpkin-spiced tea, but instead, the wind swept me up and took me on a wander through St. Augustine’s Cemetery, around neighborhoods and somehow I ended up at Three Penny Taproom for a pint! I also met a delightful black cat who followed me for a little while, but alas, the little one was camera shy and ran before I could take his picture.

In the next post, I’ll recap some of the schoolwork I’m doing, including works we’re reading and about my latest stint in translation with the amazing poet, Ruben Quesada. I can’t believe that is almost the end of October already! November brings NaNoWriMo and writing and holidays and then December…but for now, let’s take it one day at a time and enjoy the scenery. Vermont and my life here at VCFA are both too good to let slip by carelessly.

P.S. What I’ve been listening to lately: “El Condor Pasa” by Simon & Garfunkel; “The Shrine/The Argument” by Fleet Foxes, “Pulaski at Night” by Andrew Bird, “Familiar” by Agnes Obel, and “Growing Pains” by Birdy.