Movements of a Trapped Animal

Maddie-Jamaal May Pic BlogpostA few years ago I discovered the poet, Jamaal May doing a spoken word piece on Button Poetry, which I recommend checking out, “Movements of a Trapped Animal.” I instantly became drawn to the rawness and honesty he achieves in the poem and knew that was something I wanted to achieve in my own writing. Hearing that he was coming to Writers Fest on March 5th was incredibly exciting and I really can’t wait to meet him and be able to learn from someone who has achieved the art of being able to do spoken word and write poetry really well while also keeping them in very separate worlds. He started out being better known for his slam poetry, being a member of six national slam teams, most from Detroit where he grew up and one from New York. He has won the Rustbelt Regional Slam three times and has been a finalist for many national and international slams.

When I first heard his piece, “Movements of a Trapped Animal,” I was just flipping through Button Poetry on YouTube. Listening to spoken word pieces is one of my favorite past times. I almost skipped past it because I assumed it was going to be about hunting or trapping and that didn’t exactly appeal to me, but I listened anyways. His presence on stage immediately eases you into the piece, welcomes you. He is comfortable and it allows you to fall whole heartedly into the piece, something many spoken word artists still work at achieving, something I still work at achieving. His purposeful hand gestures, full voice, inflection, and well-placed pauses force you to listen as he takes you on the journey of PTSD in Americans, not just war veterans, but everyone.

Also on Button Poetry is his piece, “Sky Now Black with Birds,” which he performs in his hometown Detroit at the Rustbelt Regional Slam. He walks us through the feelings of grief and the anger that comes with it and the eventual acceptance that one needs to forgive.

“Forgive.
I swear,
the word has feathers. I want
to learn to get its wings between my teeth
before more retribution
blots out the sky.”

I ordered his poetry collection, “Hum,” online. It was the first thing I had read and enjoyed in a long time because it was something I was genuinely interested in. It wasn’t an assignment or anything, I read it because I wanted to. I want to be able to walk up to him at Writers Festival and tell him his poetry has made a difference in my poetry. I will also be able to tell him that I’ve spent the time I should have spent writing, reading and listening to his work. I hope he takes that as a compliment.

-Madison Dorsey, Junior Poetry Editor

Finding Light

Mary Feimi Blog Post PictureWhen I was a high school freshman, I came to the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival with pens packed in my pockets. With each step I took, the paper from my empty notebook clashed against my fingers. I remember rubbing my eyes because the night before I stayed up and re-read each authors bio over and over, re-read pieces I already analyzed because how could one choose a workshop to attend with such an abundance of good writers? I remember being beyond eager to take a “real” workshop from published writers and college professors.

Schedule in hand, I had messed up the times and ended up in a poetry workshop. I thought to myself, “Poetry. Yeah, right. The only thing I can do is write nonfiction.” My palms sweat, my stomach clenching, I sat down. This wasn’t any poetry workshop; this was the workshop of Patricia Smith, the woman who could make Hurricane Katrina beautiful, all through fresh lines packed with imagery and diction. Ms. Smith stood at the podium moving the hair out of her face. What I didn’t know at the time was that she was going to ask me to write the most difficult exercise I had ever done. To write a poem where the person you have had a difficult relationship with is dead in an empty room, laying on a marble slab, and you had to dress them.

For starters, at this point in my life I had never written a poem I was proud of, or even considered writing something this complex. Ms. Smith just kept telling us, all we had to do was try. By the end, I had dressed my father in an Armani suit and leather loafers. Towards the end of the workshop, a couple of people shared what they had written, a couple of people cried. I didn’t write a great poem, or something that would make anyone cry, but I did write something real, something packed with emotion, and thoughtful decisions on why I chose the words I did.

After the workshop I bought Patricia Smith’s book Blood Dazzler, and fell in love with the way her poems made me feel. She signed my book and, as I write this now, I look at it and am still as inspired as I was that day to become a poet. It reads: “Mary, I hope you find light here. I realized that it wasn’t poetry I was afraid of; I was afraid of the journey poetry would take me on. Two years later, with several portfolios of poetry I am proud to say I have written, I look back on that day and am thankful for the exposure it gave me, as well as the inspiration.

With the 2016 Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival line up full of amazing writers, I anyone who attends can have the same experience I did, if they just try. You too can find light here.

– Mary Feimi, Junior Editor-in-Chief

Andre Dubus III – The Cage Keeper

PICTURE Christina Auth. Stud.When I first ordered The Cage Keeper by Andre Dubus III, I wasn’t expecting what appeared on the first page. With a title such as this one, I expected the book to be a linear set of stories about human trials and tribulation. The book opens with a short story called “The Cage Keeper,” which I assumed would be a tale of finding a heart for criminals who were misinterpreted and prejudged. However, I was taken for a complex journey encompassing human interaction, violence, sorrow, loneliness, and desire.

Dubus has a gift for crafting short stories that embody multiple themes without crowding the piece. As an aspiring writer, I enjoy when an author has the ability to open a story and instantly put you into a setting or character mentality. Since Dubus uses strong, authentic imagery, I was fascinated to see this didn’t affect the pacing in a negative way. In my own writing, I typically have a challenge with adding imagery that adds to both pacing and theme. I admire the fact that he could utilize extended metaphors and symbolism to explain such dark and uncomfortable themes. He also uses flashbacks to expand on how or why a character has been placed into bizarre situations when you first start reading the piece. It adds depth and engagement to characters you may have assumed were simply protagonists or antagonists.

Another thing that interests me about Dubus is that his short stories are long, but still keep you invested through the dynamics of the characters he creates. I haven’t come across a character in his stories that is cliché or unforgettable, which is something I’m also attempting to work on as a writer. In the short stories “Mountains” and “The Cage Keeper,” first person narration is used. First person narration is usually a risky point of view to use since it can make your story sound cliché or overtly limited to the perspective of one character. However, in both short stories, this perspective guides the reader through the plot of the story and helps the reader care about every character in the story. In fact, I don’t know that these pieces would have worked in any other point of view since second person would have felt too inclusive, and third person would have felt distant and absurd. First person added a humorous take on the daunting situation of being held hostage in “The Cage Keeper,” and made you laugh even though you knew how serious and dangerous the situation actually was.

Ultimately, I applaud Dubus for the risks he incorporates in his writing. His writing is fluent with societal issues that many of us refuse to acknowledge or act on out of our own fears and guilt. As a reader you become challenged to think about the “what if’s” that are presented in his pieces, whether they are what society deems good or bad. I’m ecstatic to workshop with him during Writers’ Festival and learn about his writing process, how he creates characters that are both engaging and thought provoking.

During senior fiction, I wrote a portfolio from first person narration in hopes of stimulating the reader to engage alongside the character instead of as an observer or a character themselves. I hoped to mimic Dubus’s style of engaging the reader from the first minimal character description that he typically utilizes to set a tone for the story. I was surprised by the results, and anticipate that it’ll be fun learning how to perfect this craft even more.

-Christina Sumpter, Senior Creative Nonfiction Editor