I’ve been teaching a class at Columbia which Gary Scheytgart calls Fiction for Dummies but is more accurately a fiction class for poets and creative nonfiction writers who want to steal from the genre. One of these students emailed me with her first story, exclaiming how hard fiction is to write, compared to nonfiction. You have to make everything up!
I have just concluded the opposite. I am writing a biography/memoir about the life of anarchist Modernist Lola Ridge who consorted with the likes of Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams. You’ve never heard of her, partly because her executor has been promising a biography for the last forty years and is holding the papers, and partly because her work didn’t follow the Eliot and Pound maxims of staying divorced from life and politics.
My publisher suggested a fancy hybrid approach of biography/memoir, not me. Researching and then organizing that research along the lines of creative fiction, that is, with characters, plot, motivation, is a double job to start with. I’m triply challenged when I apply myself to the memoir aspect. Just having lived through events doesn’t give me anything approaching insight. Sure, there’s a nimbus of emotion surrounding the madeleine but where is causality when I need it? I strongly prefer to concoct fiction that slowly reveals itself while I am discovering the details to support it.
My fourth novel Tin God, reissued this April, started from a dream about a conquistador and a “drug situation” maybe my brother was involved in. All I had to do was figure out how to put two completely different stories together. With nonfiction, you have all these footnote-y details lying around everywhere that don’t quite go together. And where are they when you think you’ve got a match? But there is, I admit, big payoff when—voila!—I uncover a piece that illuminates everything, e.g., a letter that says Ridge regretted dropping her son off at an orphanage.
I say: footnotes for fiction! Let’s make those fiction writers cough up their sources, they (and me) who so easily assert that they’re crafting truth out of the dross of imagination. Let’s see the ticket that cop gave you that made your mother so mad you had to write a short story to figure out she was having an affair with him. You know you have it around somewhere.
Here is a list of our known contributors’ Twitter handles. If we missed any or have made any errors, please leave a comment and we will fix it. This is a great opportunity for our readers to follow their favorites.
The art of poetry has been around pretty much as long as there have been words. Finally in 1996, Poetry was given its own month. That’s right, April is National Poetry Month, a month to celebrate poetry and poets and their impact on American culture. National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets, an organization that supports American poets and fosters the appreciation of contemporary poetry, in 1996. During this month the Academy of American Poets wants to especially increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture and highlight the legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets. One of the top goals is to introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry. My questions for our readers:
What pleasures do you gain from reading poetry?
Do you do anything specific to celebrate National Poetry Month? If so, what?
What role do you think poets play in American culture?
The Academy of American Poets lists 30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month. You can find them all listed here.
One of my favorite options is “poem in your pocket day.” The idea is to carry one of your favorite poems with you all day. I think this is a great concept to do in general. Glancing at a poem throughout the day can give you the strength, inspiration and motivation to get through the day or to even write a poem yourself. For National Poetry Month I aim to carry a poem in my pocket at least twice a week.
Duhamel received the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize for her bookThe Star-Spangled Banner, and is one of poetry’s premier voices. Her writing is unique, thought provoking, and edgy. She helps her readers have a new mindset when looking at the world, and uses seemingly innocuous subjects like Barbie to make her readers re-examine society. Click here to read her poem One Afternoon When Barbie Wanted to Join the Military.
Duhamel currently enriches the lives of students at Florida International University, where she teaches Creative Writing. She is married to the poet Nick Carbó.
To read more about Denise Duhamel click here. To read more of her poetry, please click here, or purchase one of her wonderful books.
And don’t forget to check out her interview in the upcoming issue of Superstition Review!