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Happy solstice, and welcome to this newsletter adventure! I’ve been reflecting lately on how much I enjoy conversations about the practice of writing and how few and far between those conversations have been during the pandemic. (Really, all conversation has felt a little scarce this last year and a half—but perhaps that’s on the brink of changing.)
 
Even when the poems and stories I make never find their way to an audience, I learn so much from the creative practice itself, and the act of making something always changes me somehow. I hope these monthly letters will be a way for me to give you a view into what I’ve been making and to share what I’ve been experiencing along the way.
 
Thank you for reading, and may you find some delight on this longest day! (Or shortest—I see you, southern hemisphere friends!)

~ Jennifer

Beginnings & Endings

I am obsessed with acrostics and telestics. For most of my life, I avoided writing acrostics—poems where the first letter of each line spells out a word, phrase, or sentence. (A telestic is much the same, except the last letters of the lines are doing the heavy lifting.) I think I was asked to write one too many acrostics in elementary school, using my first name as the vertical subliminal message the poem would send to its readers. There were only so many poems I could begin with a J.
 
Every year, though, I teach a class on constrained writing, and acrostics and telestics are usually part of that scene. This spring, in preparation for the class, I reread Rebecca Hazelton’s Fair Copy, in which each acrostic borrows a line from Emily Dickinson. I also reread a number of Golden Shovel poems, which I’ve always thought of as a kind of modified telestic that asks readers to attend to whole words at the ends of lines instead of just individual letters. When I shared some of these examples with the class, I ended with George Abraham’s tour de force, “Ode to Mennel Ibtissam singing ‘Hallelujah’ on The Voice (France), translated in Arabic,” which can be read in multiple directions, including as both an acrostic and telestic, and which pulls Leonard Cohen’s lyrics into the mix.
 
All that’s to say: immersion in these constraints was a fertile ground for some poems about beginnings and endings to take root. The forms mixed with other things I’d been studying. In April, I was introduced to Buddhist teacher Larry Yang’s forgiveness practice, and the final lines of those meditations—the suggestion that one might openly and boldly long for a future state of forgiveness, even if forgiveness isn’t possible now—lingered with me. I started writing poem after poem using the final three lines of each meditation as an acrostic or telestic. The poems have taken the form of letters addressed to my mother, who passed away before I could directly ask for or offer her forgiveness. I suspect there will be many more of these poems to come.
 
Those poems have given way for the moment, though, to something I’ve been privately referring to as acrostic-telestic double whammy karaoke remixes. (If you have a better name for these—and I know you will—please tell me.) This spring, as more people were talking about and taking action to stop violence directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I started reflecting on where I first learned how people outside my family perceived my race. There were a few offhand comments from strangers that may have clued me in, but mostly, I took my cues from pop songs and their accompanying music videos. For instance, I first encountered the word yellow as a term for Asian folks when I was a nine-year-old listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” I tried writing a poem using the title of that song as an acrostic, pulling the phrase “the yellow man” to use as a telestic in the same poem, and borrowing another lyric (“you spend half your life just covering up”) as the title.
 
Apparently, I needed a form this compressed to write about racial identity and racism in a way where I could focus on just one aspect or moment instead of trying to Say It All. As more songs have come to mind, I’ve “remixed” them into a similar form. So far this month, I’ve written four more poems in this vein: “Just You Shut Your Mouth,” “I Can Look at You from Inside as Well,” “A Little Flesh, A Little History,” and “So Close Is Still So Far Out of Reach.” (If you were able to identify all those songs without looking them up in a search engine, kudos on your ‘70s & ‘80s music trivia skills! Also, good luck getting those catchy tunes out of your head today. You’re welcome.)
 
I’m still experimenting with other ways to use acrostics. Currently, inspired by Fairy Tale Review’s calls for poems in received forms, I’m playing with using acrostics as frameworks to reimagine existing fairy tales and create new ones. Who knows what will come of that? When I find out, I’ll let you know. Until then, may all your creative endeavors begin and end in discovery.

For the Birds

This month, many birds have found their way into my poems. The official June poem bird count includes: one goose, a quail, a goldfinch, a canary, and unspecified amounts of hummingbirds, crows, raptors, towhees, and nuthatches.
 
I credit their presence to all the time I’ve spent birdwatching, especially since the nearby Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge opened its summer trails. Although I look the part of a pro with some fancy borrowed binoculars pointed at the treetops and snags and downed logs, I can assure you I am a happy amateur. I’ve learned I’ve got some decent bird-spotting skills, but identification by appearance or song are almost totally out of the question for me. (The exception: red-winged blackbird. Black bird: check. Red on wings: check. If only all names could be so obvious and direct.)
 
Okay—the list of birds I can identify is slightly longer, but only slightly. The entire lot is depicted in the photos below, and most I’ve observed not in a refuge or preserve but as they’ve landed in my yard. The turkey vulture—despite its funky scarlet head and bad rap as a scavenger—was easily the most majestic of these. It swooped its six-foot wingspan down to land just a few feet from my house. It hopped about my front yard for a good half hour. People driving by stopped to take photos of it. I—fool that I am—stared at it and tried to write it into a haibun. Alas, the turkey vulture got cut in the final draft. Just wait, though, bird. You’ll get your day in the sun.

Red winged blackbirdGolden crowned sparrowCalifronia scrub jayHairy woodpeckerAmerican crowAmerican robinSteller's jayPine siskinSpotted towheeNorthern flickerWood duckTurkey vulture
In honor of Pride Month, Arlington Literary Journal ran an issue of poetry by LGBTQ writers on June 1. Thanks to editor Jeff Walt for including my poem, “Breasts,” which is written in the Beautiful Outlaw form. (More on that in a future newsletter, but if you’re curious, check out this description from Broadsided Press, which turned me on to this constraint.)
 
Earlier this year, artist Bianca Ng interviewed staff members at The Seventh Wave and contributors to their Rebellious Joy issue about our relationship with rest. That conversation was one of the highlights of my year so far, and Bianca just released “rest begets rest,” a dreamy set of postcards and a poster that include quotes from the interviews. They’re available for purchase here.
 
Postcard: What does regenerative rest look like for you?      Postcard: How does it feel in your body when you are rested? When you are not rested?
 
 
This month, I also read two books I loved:

The Secret to Superhuman Strength Alison Bechdel does it again with this exploration of how exercise, sports, art, writing, drugs, romantic relationships, and nearly anything else can be a way to avoid reckoning with our mortality. And by “it,” I mean make me laugh out loud at her wit, deftly weave together autobiography with broader history, and create drawings so detailed I spent ages scrutinizing a single page.
 
We Are Satellites Sarah Pinsker’s Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea is one of my top three short story collections published in the last five years. (The other two, you ask? Ted Chiang’s Exhalation and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Trying to rank among those three is a fool’s errand.) Pinsker’s newest science fiction examines who benefits and who’s harmed when we adopt new technology to keep up with the absurd expectations of late capitalism. If that sounds soul-crushing, it’s not—Pinsker always has an eye toward revolution and resistance, and this novel’s no exception.
 
The Secret to Superhuman Strength        
A few new stories and poems (including two of the acrostic/telestic poems) will be making their way into the world in the next issues of New Letters and Buckman Journal. Stay tuned for those this fall.
 
In the next month, you can catch me at the following events:
 
TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 7PM PDT
With the other editors of Airlie Press, I’ll be co-hosting “What Is a Creative Priority?” through the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project to help us reflect on how art can be a part of the meaningful action we take in times of crisis. The conversation will be facilitated by MOsley WOtta (Jason Graham), a writer, painter, and performer based in Central Oregon. Register for the free online event here.
 
WEDNESDAY, JULY 14, 7PM PDT
With Vinnie Kinsella, I’ll be co-hosting the Incite: Queer Writers Read Series, sponsored by Literary Arts. July’s theme is “Both/And,” and the event will feature playwright and lyricist Ari Chadwick-Saund, YA novelist and political journalist Kosoko Jackson, and graphic journalist and comics creator Sarah Mirk. The online reading is free and will be followed by a community discussion. Register for the event here.
 
THURSDAY, JULY 15, 7PM PDT
With the other editors of Airlie Press, I’ll be co-hosting an information session for anyone considering submitting a manuscript to the summer open reading period. We’ll discuss our experience of working with a collective press, and there will be plenty of time for Q&A. This is a great opportunity to find out more about what potential poet-editors can expect during their three-year tenure. Register for the event here.
 
JUNE & JULY 2021 – TEACHING & COACHING
For the remainder of June and July, I’m taking a break from teaching classes to focus on one-on-one writing coaching. A limited number of spots are available for poets who would like to meet for a one-hour conversation about your writing. Learn more and register here. If you’d like to join me for a coaching session but can’t afford the fee, you can respond to this email with information about your situation for a reduced rate.
 


There are also many upcoming opportunities that I’m not directly affiliated with but that deserve a shout out. Here are just a few of my favorites:
 
LITERARY ARTS JUNE BIPOC READING SERIES
FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 7PM PDT
This bimonthly reading series is intended to prioritize the safety, creativity, and stories of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC). The theme for June is “the sun.” This event is open to everyone, but only people who self-identify as BIPOC will be invited to read. Register here for the event.
 
WORKSHOP: BUILDING AN INDEPENDENT PAID NEWSLETTER WITH YANYI
MONDAYS, JULY 5-26, 6:30PM EDT
Yanyi’s newsletter, The Reading, is one of the reasons I started thinking about writing a newsletter of my own. I took a free workshop with him earlier this year, and his generous perspective on the form sealed the deal for me. He’s now offering a more in-depth workshop for people interested in creating paid newsletters. Scholarships are available. Learn more and register here.
 
RATTLE THEMED ISSUES: LIBRARIANS AND YOUNG POETS
DEADLINES: OCTOBER 15 & NOVEMBER 15
I’m a longtime reader of Rattle, and I especially look forward to their themed issues, which often highlight the work that writers do when we’re not writing. For their next themed issue, Rattle is currently seeking poetry by people who have worked as librarians. Rattle also publishes an excellent young poets anthology each year featuring writing by poets age 15 and under, and submissions are now open for their next anthology. More details about both opportunities are available here.  
 
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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