Fixing the Phoenix by Rebecca Keller

Rebecca Keller is an artist and writer. She has published in New Fairy Tales, Calyx, Public Historian, “Crossing Lines”(MainStreet Rag Press), Alimentum, Great Lakes Review and other journals. “Excavating History” is her book of art and essays.  Her awards include two Fulbrights, grants from the NEA and the Illinois Arts Council, the Jakobson Award from the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference, a Pushcart nomination, the Betty Gabehart prize, and a finalist for the 2013 Chicago Literary Guild Prose Award. 

What piece/pieces are you working on now?

I am working on several projects, including a group of short stories in which folks in professions and situations one doesn’t usually associate one with poverty are suffering serious money troubles, their (sometimes creative) responses, how this destabilizes their sense of self. I also hope to get back to a book about an elderly woman in an assisted living facility with an unusual situation on her hands.

Where is your favorite place to write?

It depends on the season. I love to write in bed, my legs straight out, leaning into pillows propped against the wall. In nice weather I enjoy writing in my backyard, but am not always productive there.

Who are you currently reading (and/or) which author has inspired your writing the most?

Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich and Alice Walker, as clichéd as that list might be. I also have an abiding affection for Collette.

“To My Little Sister, Driving Drunk,” by Caitlin Scarano

This week we are excited to share Caitlin Scarano’s poem “To My Little Sister, Driving Drunk,” which was published in CALYX’s 27:3 issue.

Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbook. This winter, she will be an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.

What piece/pieces are you working on now?

The other day I was walking home from the university where I take classes and teach, and I passed a house shrouded in yellow police tape. I thought the house had been the scene of a crime. When I looked closer, I realized that the downstairs windows were boarded up with plywood, the upstairs windows were blown out, and the roof had collapsed; the house had recently caught on fire. The blue exterior siding was streaked with ash. This was on a residential street, with other houses and hundred-year-old trees nearby. But somehow the fire, the loss, had been contained within the structure of this home. I only live a few blocks away, but I never would have known about it if I hadn’t passed the house on my walk that day. When I got home, I started a poem about that house and how loss (the initiating spark or match) can begin at the center of a thing and spread, sometimes so quietly. The house was what Richard Hugo would call the triggering or initiating subject of the poem. As I wrote it, the poem transformed into a reflection on the recent end of a four-year relationship I was in — the fire was a metaphor for the circumstances (inside and outside of our relationship) that caused its end. I’m interested in how poems transform and reveal themselves through the actual act of writing or composing, how meaning is made in the moment through image and language, especially the strangeness of language.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I try to write several mornings a week (with coffee, of course) at the desk in my studio apartment. It is right below a window that looks out over a busy city street in the east side of Milwaukee, so there is always something to see or hear. 

Who are you currently reading (and/or) which author has inspired your writing the most?

This is my favorite question! For poetry, I just finished Safiya Sinclair’s Catacombs and I’m currently reading Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes. I used to live in Alaska and I’m interested in how humans imagine and understand wilderness and wildlife, so I’m also reading Sherry Simpson’s Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska.

 

“From White Space to Black Letter: Taking My Place in the Women’s Torah” by Ada Molinoff

Ada_9460  Lyons 26 Dec 2013 (1)This week we are pleased to have Ada Molinoff reading her short story “From White Space to Black Letter: Taking My Place in the Women’s Torah.”

Ada Molinoff earned her MFA in nonfiction from Pacific University. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, newspapers, and anthologies. This is her first published memoir piece, and it will appear in Calyx’s 40th Anniversary Anthology. A retired clinical psychologist, she writes from Salem, Oregon.

Her favorite place to write is her study, where she feels freed by its hot pink and bright blue hangings, photos and poems tacked to the walls, and piles of papers bordering the floor. The rest of her home is neat, and is decorated in neutral tones with calm art.

Ada currently works on a series of brief memoirs generated by her first trip to Israel in 2014, the pieces aiming to capture setting, relationship, and identity. Periodically, she revises a poem for her first poetry chapbook. She feels blessed to be a member both of a prose- and a poetry-critique group, supportive places she takes her work.

When she’s writing, Ada doesn’t like to read, not wanting to risk an author’s voice quieting her own. Inspiration has come from the memoirs of Judy Blunt and Bernard Cooper, and from the poems of Naomi Shihab Nye, narrators who convey emotions in word-pictures of sensory experience.

 

“Identity” by Airica Parker

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Airica Parker

Today Voices of CALYX is proud to bring you Airica Parker’s poem “Identity,” which appeared in Volume 28:3 of CALYX.

Airica Parker’s work appears most recently in Camas, Driftwood Press, CALYX, The Fiddlehead, and Lalitamba. The Poetry Foundation selected her as a 2011 finalist for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship. An accomplished performer, instructor, and healer, Airica makes her home in Colorado. Learn more at airicaparker.com.

What are you currently writing?

“Identity” comes from one of the central pieces that I am working on right now, Body Bridge. Body Bridge is a collection of poems that pursues common ground as an expression of compassion and curiosity fueled by my experiences as a healer, traveler, Christian Taoist, and lifelong environmentalist.   

Where is your favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is realistically at my ergonomic desk and spiritually anywhere quiet and outside, especially if trees are involved.  

Which authors have shaped your writing the most and who are you reading?

It is difficult to short list the poets who inspire me, but Walt Whitman, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Joy Harjo, Mark Doty, Pablo Neruda, and Gary Snyder are among the names that come easily to mind. As a reader, I was recently impacted by H is for Hawk, about how a woman’s relationship with a hawk helps her survive enormous grief, and Hunger Mountain is on my nightstand – a must read for anyone who loves meditative language or has interest in Chinese poetry or philosophy. 

 

“Whitetail” by Abby Minor

Abby Minor head shot

CALYX is happy to showcase Abby Minor’s piece “Whitetail,” which appeared in volume 28:2.

Abby Minor has studied at Smith College, The Penland School of Crafts, and The Pennsylvania State University.  Her book reviews and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Georgia ReviewAGNI OnlinePleiades, and The Fourth River, among others.  Also a visual artist, Abby directs Being Heard, a creative writing program for elders in Centre County, Pennsylvania.  Her writing, quilts, and drawings respond to issues of race, region, gender, and reproductive justice. 

What piece/pieces are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a book-length documentary poem about contraception and abortion, although really I want to say that it’s a poem about solitude, language, stigma, class, race, and the profundity of a specifically female and/or feminine relationship to 
void as a place of creative possibility, power, and meaning.  The project responds to stigmatized reproductive experiences across three generations of women in my family, and considers these events in their historical contexts.  As I work on the poem, I’m learning about the (historical and ongoing) testing of contraceptives on marginalized people, about violence against abortion providers, and about histories of sexual education in the U.S.  I’m also experimenting with humor–I think in our poems and in our politics we have to sometimes be funny!  I once heard bell hooks say that the revolution is going to have to include humor.

Where is your favorite place to write?
At my desk, in a house that’s currently semi-heated–so I wrap up in blankets and hope for occasional interruptions from housemates and cats.


Who are you currently reading and/or which author has inspired your writing the most?
This year I’ve been reading Alice Notley, Khadijah Queen, Evie Shockley, and Susan Howe.  Edna St. Vincent Millay and Mary Oliver were the first poets I fell in love with.

“Free Range” by Kathleen Kelly

Happy Friday, CALYX-ers! We are already on to week two of Voices of CALYX, and today I’m excited to presentKathleenKelly Kathleen Kelly’s poem “Free Range,” which was published in Volume 28:1.

A first-generation editor and poet, Kathleen A. Kelly’s poems and essays have been published in North American Review, PoemMemoirStory, Rain Taxi, CALYX, and Nimrod.  She completed Ph.D. coursework in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she studied feminist literary theory and creative writing (literary nonfiction and poetry).  Her writing has been supported by residency fellowships from The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico (Taos) and the Vermont Studio Center.  Married to Iranian Studies historian Afshin Marashi, she divides her time between Norman (OK) and Santa Monica (CA).

What piece/pieces are your working on now? I’m currently working on a book-length poetry manuscript and more specifically, I’m working in various forms such as the triolet, rondeau, and ghazal. I’ve just realized that there seems to be an avian trope occurring in many of my new poems. 

Where is your favorite place to write? Sitting on my patio, the midday sun shaded by russet-leafed crepe myrtle trees. Sounds that are muted within the confines of our house–a Saturday noon whistle and the tremble of the BNSF train–are welcome companions.

Who are you currently reading (and/or) which author has inspired your writing the most? I’m currently reading Mary Ruefle’s lecture collection, Madness, Rack, and Honey, as well as Rabih Alameddine’s novel, An Unnecessary Woman.  At my Aunt Fran’s encouragement (and insistence), I’ve just plucked Salman Rushie’s Midnight’s Children from our bookshelves (my husband’s dog-eared copy). I read Mrs. Dalloway once a year, always in June.

 

 

“The Girl Who Flew” by Camellia Phillips

We’re prCamellia Phillips (1)oud to exhibit our first audio piece, written and recorded by Camellia Phillips. Camellia’s piece appears in Volume 27:3 of CALYX Journal.

Camellia Phillips is a longtime grant writer with nonprofit organizations focused on social justice and civic engagement. In addition to CALYX Journal, her fiction has appeared in cream city review and her nonfiction in Voices of a New Generation: A Feminist Anthology. She holds an MFA from the New School. Born and raised in Washington State, she resides in Brooklyn, NY.

What piece/pieces are you working on now?

I’m currently working on my first novel, which is a young adult feminist western set on the Oregon Trail in 1848. There’s so much that’s been misrepresented in history and popular culture about the west in that era, particularly about women’s roles and relations between emigrants and American Indians, and there’s been important work over the last three-plus decades to uncover those untold stories. My aim is to draw on that historical work while also using the opportunity to subvert contemporary expectations that all young adult fiction featuring strong female leads must necessarily contain a romance. Girls can have adventures without pining over a boy.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I love writing at home — and reclined, either in bed or on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table.

Who are you currently reading (and/or) which author has inspired your writing the most?

Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler are my all time favorite authors and perpetual inspiration.

 

Voices of CALYX on the horizon

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Olivia Awbrey

 

2016 is a big year for CALYX. Not only is Oregon State University receiving a mega grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to e-publish texts originally from CALYX, and not only is it the journal’s 40th ANNIVERSARY, but we are also launching our audio archive, Voices of CALYX! The name is still undergoing review, but whatever it’s going to be called, I’m very excited to start the series.

Over the past 3 months I’ve received more than 50 recordings of our authors reading their work in a live setting, with more pouring in each day. I’ve had the privilege of listening to these recordings for the first time, which has given me a sense of our authors’ wide array of talent and style and voice. The point of the project is to allow authors to lend their voices to their original work and read it the way they intended their piece to sound. Having read many of the poems prior to listening to them, I was often surprised – and pleasantly so – to find that how I originally imagined a poem or a short story to sound was quite different from what the author intended.

With the holidays right around the corner, and with many of us traveling and escaping the buzz of computers and the internet for the next few weeks, we’ve decided to start the series on January 1st, 2016. This gives me some extra time to finish up any audio touch-ups, make any last edits to your bio and answer sections, and also figure out a more pleasing aesthetic display of the archive. We’ll be releasing recordings one at a time in no specific order, but when your piece goes up you’ll be hearing from me!

I would also like to invite you all to send in a picture of yourself to be featured with your recording! If you decide you would like to do that, just send a .jpg to the same email you’ve been sending your recordings to.

This project has been so much fun, and I’m so happy with how it’s as turned out so far. Once it’s up in the new year, I invite you all to listen to your own piece, as well as the pieces of your fellow CALYX authors!

Empowering Women through Education and Creativity in Batey Lechería

projectgirl

Olivia Awbrey

A couple of weeks ago I got to Skype with the women who founded Project Girl, the Dominican Republic-based, student-led initiative that aims to foster a safe sense of community and educational support for young girls and teenage girls living in the batey Lechería, an impoverished community resting on the south side of the Caribbean island. I chose the term “women” because, despite the fact that Sara, Jahaan, Luisa and Andrea are only just about to finish up their last year of high school, they have already, in a very sincere way, grown up to be impacting and contagiously confident women.

I spoke with them in the midst of their objectively busy schedules: all of them are finishing up their last year of high school, applying for colleges in the United States and the Dominican Republic, partaking in music leadership programs and volunteerism, leading robotics teams, all the while interviewing upcoming high school seniors to take their place in the directors roles for Project Girl. But beyond their extracurricular activities, they all agree that what brings them together is their shared passion for feminism, social justice, and creating sustainable programs that work towards equity. These principled forces, combined with what seems like their indefatigable ability to be giggling vessels of energy, are what drive Project Girl.

Sara, the director and lead-founder, says that Project Girl was an idea she’d been mulling over since she was in 8th grade. “In 2005,” Sara says, “there was a huge tropical storm [Tropical Storm Alpha] that hit near batey Lechería. My mother, who is a social worker, went there after the storm to donate milk and other items that the people there needed.” In the aftermath of the storm, which caused 17 deaths, Sara says is when she was first visited the batey Lechería. “And then in July 2014,” Sara says, “I spent the summer working with my mom on projects for women in the batey, and that’s when I realized I wanted to start a relief project for girls my age, for girls who were going through the same phases as me.”

Project Girl organizes self-esteem boosting workshops, sexual education classes, team-building exercises, and a summer camp for young girls who live in batey Lechería, and the goal of the campaign is to create a sustainable girls empowerment program within the batey, helping to lift young girls out of poverty through education and self-affirmation.

Bateys are small, densely populated communities of low-income families, many of whom are descendants of Haitian immigrants who have lived there since their relatives immigrated in generations past. Originally, bateys were communities of families who worked on the sugarcane fields. Since the 90s, however, many of the sugarcane fields have shut down, putting hundreds of families out of work and further marginalizing them. Luisa, Project Girls’ secretary and a native of the Dominican Republic, says it’s important to note that the residents in bateys largely identify with a Dominican upbringing.

Sara spent the fall of 2014 visiting the batey every weekend, meeting girls and putting together the numbers that motivated the project’s beginning. Sara found that out of the 1,360 residents in batey Lechería, 47 of them were women between the ages of 19 and 24 who had dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Sara also found that of the 105 girls who were aged 12-18, 13 of them were pregnant or mothers.

What’s striking about these figures is not necessarily that young women are becoming mothers at an earlier age than women in other countries, but that young women who are pregnant often have to replace education with motherhood. From my understanding of Project Girl, it isn’t necessarily that being pregnant is bad, but more the issue that earlier pregnancies change the direction of young women’s lives, altering future opportunities for education and fair placement in the workforce.

Project Girl is fighting gender norms in a big way in the Dominican Republic, a country in which machismo is normalized and often praised. The girls said that one of the most difficult workshops to lead was their “gender norms” workshop specifically for boys and young men in the batey. Sara said the workshop was “chaotic, initially.” “We brought one of our male classmates to the workshop to help relate to the boys,” Sara said, and Luisa and Andrea explained that it was difficult to earn the boys’ respect and attention despite being the leaders of the workshop.

Luisa and Andrea, both of whom grew up near batey Lechería, said that the hardest thing to break through was the machismo attitude they’d been surrounded by their whole lives. When they asked their male audience if a women could be the president of the Dominican Republic, the boys answered with an affirmative no. 

It wasn’t that they didn’t think [a woman] could be president,” Luisa said, “ it’s that they think women would be eaten alive by male politicians. The boys don’t think that women are lesser than, but they believe that women shouldn’t be messing with gender roles because of this strong machismo attitude.” Andrea followed up by saying that the experience was eye opening for them, and that “having a workshop with the boys helped to eliminate the notions that Dominican boys have of Dominican girls.”

Given all the workshops Project Girl has led over the past year, this powerful quartet agreed that the summer camp has been the best part of their initiative so far. The camp is open registration, and set in a community education space. The camp focuses on fostering open communication about gender, women’s empowerment and self-image. They work on team-building through dodgeball and soccer activities, which help to create a trustworthy space for supportive discussions about sexual education. At the end of the camp, the girls receive a diploma for having participating in the camp and the summer-time activities.

Earlier this year, the quartet presented their project at the Global Issues Network Conference in Rio de Janiero to a room full of eager listeners and global student activists – a major accomplishment for a project that began a little more than one year ago. It’s clear that Sara, Jahaan, Andrea and Luisa hope to see Project Girl – now a club of their school – continue on for years to come, providing a strong safety net for girls growing up in low-income communities who have less access to educational and economic resources.

When I asked the founders of Project Girl what kinds of changes they’ve seen since they started Project Girl as a club at the school, Andrea said, “It’s common to make the changes more dramatic than they are. It’s a long, difficult process, that’s why we want it to start as a club – so it will keep going.” It’s true, changing engrained gender norms and perspectives takes centuries of re-education and social development, at both a small and large scale. It’s clear that Project Girl began with a far-sighted vision to make small transformations within their local community. Luisa added, “there is change. It’s small and its subtle, but it’s enough for some girls to recognize how important [gender norms, education and self-empowerment] is; all of these issues are so engrained in [our] lives; I believe it was a enough for some of them.”

If you’re interested in supporting Project Girl, you can get in touch via their website: http://projectgirldr.tumblr.com/ or check out their Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/projectgirldr/) for updates on their ongoing workshops and projects in batey Lechería!

 

 

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