Hello from the dog days of summer, and happy Leo season! Thanks to all of you who sent kind notes in response to my first newsletter. I especially loved reading about what birds you all are noticing in your neighborhoods. It inspired me to add more birds to my identification repertoire, including a juvenile bald eagle nesting in my backyard, which I heard long before I saw. Who knew eagles whistled?
Your generous sharing has been a balm in a month full of Big Life Changes, including ending a relationship, preparing to sell my house, and finding a new home. Writing—and knowing I’m part of a broader community of writers and readers—has been an anchor for me, keeping me grounded while so much around me changes. Thank you for being part of that community.
And, if you need one more dog to fill your dog days, Dash offers his greetings and salutations.

~ Jennifer

Absence & Presence

Last spring, in the early days of the pandemic, Broadsided Press offered a set of highly structured prompts to help writers approach the experiences of confinement, challenge, and change that came with COVID-19. Their “A Sense of Home” prompts included a description of the Oulipo-inspired Beautiful Outlaw, or Belle Absente, in which each stanza excludes one letter of the alphabet and includes all other letters. The missing letters, taken together, spell out the theme of the poem, which is usually represented in the poem’s title. Despite being a longtime lover of all things Oulipo and of mind-boggling formal constraints, I’d never heard of this technique, which of course meant I had to give it a try. 
When I composed “Sickness” in April 2020, I had barely written in six months. My mother had died in November, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was avoiding writing at all costs. I threw myself into work. I went on vacation. I picked up a bunch of new hobbies that required a lot of time and practice: taiko drumming, producing a radio show, creating modular origami. Obviously, I wasn’t just avoiding writing—I was avoiding the grief that I knew writing would inevitably tap into.
By March 2020, when stay-at-home orders began and I found myself unable to run away from myself any longer, I knew it was time to write. I wrote two poems—one composed on the spring equinox and later published by The Rumpus, and one more faltering attempt destined for the “Oh Well” folder on my desktop—before learning of the Beautiful Outlaw. The extreme restriction of the form forced me to focus so intently that I got lost in the flow of writing, the pleasure of being wholly absorbed in it. I started drafting “Sickness” at around 10am, and by dinner, I’d revised it and sent it off to the Broadsided editors.
Writing that poem broke me open. For months, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed writing, and suddenly, it seemed impossible not to write. I’d written “Sickness” thinking about the tension between presence and absence that the form creates: because of the nature of the restriction, the title word can never appear in the poem, and yet it pervades every element of it. I began to consider all the things I had, at one point or another in my life, tried to wish out of existence, to make absent. I wrote “Breasts” next, then “Guns.” I started imagining a whole series of Beautiful Outlaws, and I set myself the challenge of writing one for each letter of the alphabet.
Over the next few months, the pace with which I wrote them slowed, but they kept coming. On Election Day, I started “Xenophobia,” and by the end of 2020, although I had many more months of hanging out at home ahead, I was finished with “Isolation.”
I’ve continued to write Beautiful Outlaws throughout 2021. At some point, I gave up on writing one for each letter of the alphabet and settled for just writing a quantity I’ll refer to as “many.” This month, when I completed my last one, “Rage,” I had the distinct feeling that the form had taught me what it needed to. I learned that, as in so many other parts of life, it’s much easier to exclude than to include. I learned that the letter I was most likely to accidentally leave out was not Q or X or Z, as I’d expected, but J, a letter I use every time I write my name. I learned to keep a wildly disorganized collection of words that contain one or more of the aforementioned letters, so I could draw on them when I got stumped in a future Beautiful Outlaw. (On this list, some of the words I wish I’d been able to find a home for, but alas, did not: chutzpah, Bjork, Danzig. If you manage to write a Beautiful Outlaw with those words—or really, any poem with those words—I will craft you an origami crown fit for your magnificence.)
But I’ve saved one of the most exciting discoveries for last: in the process of writing these, I realized they were becoming the first section in a new book of poems. They spurred me to write poems in other forms when the Beautiful Outlaw just wouldn’t do. They helped me recognize connections and through-lines among other poems I’ve been writing over the last few years. And they gave my new manuscript a kickass title:
I finished assembling this manuscript shortly after writing that final Beautiful Outlaw poem and have just begun sending it out to publishers. Whether or not it finds a home with a press, I’m proud of it. I’m excited by it. And I’m deeply grateful for that one prompt that started it all.

Going to Seed

As you’ve probably heard—or experienced directly—we had a record-breaking heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest at the end of June. It sparked wildfires that are still burning, caused roads to buckle and melt, and contributed to a number of deaths. But in the small, personal realm of my home, aside from some discomfort, malaise, and a few days where I literally shined on every Zoom call, I went relatively unscathed by the heat. I might not have any immediate, tangible reminders that such brutal weather had even occurred if it were not for my garden.
All of the spring and early summer plants bolted over the course of those few scalding days. The leeks and onions all sprouted fluffy tufts of flowers. The lettuce did their best imitations of Douglas firs. The artichokes opened their spiky globes to reveal purple anemones. (Side note: I once described my gender identity as “artichoke” in a poem, and it’s this particular incarnation of the plant that makes me remember why. It’s like watching a leather butch magically transform overnight into a drag queen. So fabulous.)
Normally, I would lament the loss of a harvest, all the radish and spinach and broccoli rabe that I’ll never get to eat. All the blueberries and raspberries that shriveled up before I could pick and freeze them. All the asparagus that turned into lacy fronds instead of gifts for the neighbors’ cookouts. 
But this year, I’ve been enjoying the beautiful, unexpected metamorphoses that occur when I just sit back and let the plants do what they do. Perhaps it’s the aforementioned Big Life Changes, but instead of wanting to control the plants to suit my needs, to maximize their output, I’ve just wanted to sit with them, nibble on the occasional bean or cherry tomato, and see how they grow when I don’t tend them, when I put in zero effort. Perhaps it’s knowing that I’ll be moving soon to a new place where I’ll have room for a few potted plants but not a whole garden that makes me want to let this one grow wild and abundant and untamed.
I’ll be productive another year. Now’s the time for finding the pleasure in letting things go to seed.
Once upon a time, I used to teach a queer literature class at Drake University. A few years back, I shared my syllabus with Mary Vermillion, a mystery novelist and professor at Mount Mercy University, and she drew on some of the questions and themes from my class in designing her own LGBTQ+ literature class. She recently blogged about teaching that class during the pandemic. If you missed out on some Pride month reading, or if you just want more queer lit in your life, her blog has some excellent recommendations.
In late June, I joined so many talented writers—Matt Smith, Meg E. Griffitts, Ed Edmo, Charles Sanderson, Alex Behr, CJ Wiggan, and Emilly Prado—for an online reading to celebrate the end of the 2020-2021 Writers in the Schools program. You can read about the event—and discover a fun fact about me—here, but really, it’s worth checking out the full event on YouTube.

This month, I needed some escapism. Here are two of my favorite recent not-quite-of-this-world reads:

Project Hail Mary If Andy Weir’s new novel were a cocktail, I’d describe it as plot-forward, with heady notes of science. The prose is direct and simple, and though I usually prefer something more ornate or lyrical, Weir’s approach made it easier for me to understand all the physics, astronomy, biology, and chemistry that were so central to this story. What I appreciated most, though, was the deep tenderness I found in the book, which I wouldn’t have expected from the “lone person in space on a mission to save humanity from extinction” jacket copy. If you need a fun read—and if you don’t require frilly umbrellas with your beverage—this book does the trick.
The Album of Dr. Moreau I read Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders a few years back and was smitten with that novel about a family of psychics trying to evade the CIA, the mafia, and an unrelenting skeptic. How could Gregory top that book’s weirdness? Take the H.G. Wells classic about engineering human-animal hybrids, set it in 2001, make those hybrids members of the world’s hottest boy band, introduce a murder mystery, and have a savvy detective try to sort out the whole case in a single day. Obviously.
I’m excited to have one of my poems from Again, “Build,” reprinted in NOMBONO: An Anthology of Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Creators, which is due out from Sundress Publications later this year. Edited by Akua Lezlie Hope and titled after the Zulu word for “visionary,” the collection looks like it’s going to be full of brilliant, weird, fantastic writing.
In the next couple of months, you can catch me at the following events, many of which are in person! If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you.
Old Moody Stages, South Waterfront, Portland, OR
Over the last two years, I’ve been part of Profile Theatre’s Community Profile for LGBTQIA+ writers. I met so many amazing writers through this program, and it was one of the most affirming spaces I’ve ever been in. To celebrate the conclusion of our time together, a cast of talented actors will be performing works by many of the writers in the group. The performance will be Profile Theatre’s first live event in 18 months, and it’s free!
I’ll be joining my Airlie Press co-editors, Brittney Corrigan and Amelia Díaz Ettinger, for an online panel, “Rhyme and Reason: The Art of Assembling a Poetry Manuscript,” as part of the LiTFUSE 2021 pre-program events. This workshop and LiTFUSE’s other online offerings in August are free to attend. Registration details will be available soon on the LiTFUSE website.

I’ll be teaching a five-week online class, "Writing the Intersections of Our Identities," through Literary Arts. Through autobiographical writing about our identities—including race, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and class—we’ll explore where we hold power and privilege and where we have experienced marginalization and oppression. In addition to experimenting with craft techniques such as audience, point of view, research, dialogue, and figurative language, we’ll also discuss how to use our writing in service of reflection, healing, truth-telling, and culture change.
The Tuesday class is open to all, and the Wednesday class is reserved for folks who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color. Registration information will be available soon on the Literary Arts website.
Tieton, WA
I’ll be teaching at LiTFUSE 2021, a weekend-long workshop for poets of all ages and styles. The whole faculty lineup is full of poets I deeply admire, including Ching-In Chen, Camille Dungy, Elizabeth Bradfield, and Alexandra Teague. Registration includes a reading Friday night, a keynote on Saturday night, and a wide selection of classes on both Saturday and Sunday.  
Kitsap Peninsula, WA
I’ll be teaching two classes—“Contents Under Pressure: Using Constraints to Stretch Your Creativity” and “It’s Complicated: Love Poems for the Real World”—at Northwest Writers’ Weekend. The weekend retreat offers classes for poets, songwriters, nonfiction writers, and folks who are feeling the cross-genre vibes. It’s also at a lovely camp in the woods, and lodging and meals are included in the registration.

And one last event that I am not going to be at, but wish I could:
This online workshop for teens and tweens (6th – 12th grade) is hosted by Sarah Mirk, a comics journalist and zine-maker extraordinaire. (If you’re not familiar with her work, I highly recommend her 2019 zine-a-day, as well as her zine on gender identity during the pandemic.) Register here for the free workshop, hosted by North Plains Public Library, or share it with the young people in your life.
If you’ve got an opportunity you’d like me to include in a future newsletter, please let me know.
Thank you for reading this letter! If you’d like to support this work, you can share this with a friend, send me a letter back, or tip me

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