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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Creative Writing Matters

First published on Superstition Review Blog

http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/blog/2014/02/16/guest-post-lois-roma-deeley-still-and-in-our-own-age-why-creative-writing-matters/

 

Guest Post, Lois Roma-Deeley: Still and in Our Own Age: Why Creative Writing Matters

Lois Roma-Deeley

You have heard it all before: No one reads anymore, buys books anymore, supports small presses anymore. Fiction is taking a beating from crass consumerism and poetry has been bludgeoned to death by a stylized ennui that has no patience for long sentences like this one.  Plays are either musicals or revivals of musicals. Anyone untalented can publish anything bad at any time in any format so no one has time to find the good writing.  The whole culture of American literature is in one sorry state.  Why should you—why should anyone—bother to write at all?

I am here to tell you that your poetry/short stories/essays/plays/novels—whatever your creative writing genre happens to be—matters. That your contribution to making the culture of our time matters. That your devotion to the craft of writing and your efforts to sit down and write with considered purpose and focus, or as Lucille Clifton has said, with major intent, matters.

I can say all this to you with some impunity because I have witnessed firsthand how the power of language—despite the protestations of all the cynics and the naysayers—moves audiences and readers in profound ways.

In 2012 I was nominated for U.S Professor of the Year, an awards program sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Of the award, The Chronicle of Higher Education writes: “The honor is the nation’s most prestigious teaching award.”

However, as a poet and a community college professor who teaches creative writing and women’s studies, I was certain I would never win such an award. I was certain I would not win—not because I was insecure or doubted my abilities as a poet and teacher, but precisely because I believed these abilities were at best misunderstood and, at worst, completely disregarded by most of America.

I only completed the application for the award because the very earnest and very sweet student who nominated me insisted that I do so. She sat in my office with her moon-eyes and her Tinkerbell-sweet voice insisting that I simply had to fill out the application which, as it turned out, wound up taking me 20-plus hours to complete.  I simply did not have the heart to tell her no. 

And even as she thrust the application material into my hand, I told her yet one more time that I was not going to win. “Poets don’t win these kinds of awards, Carolyn. Please don’t be disappointed when I don’t win. I’m not going to win.”

But she was right and I was wrong. I did win.

In fact, I am the first national winner of this award that Arizona has ever had in any category.  As a national winner, I was asked to give a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to an audience that included the U.S. Under Secretary of Education as well as college presidents and chancellors, deans and professors from all over the country.

Indeed, during the last few years I’ve had other successes, awards and honors, all of which have given me opportunities I would never have imagined possible when I was first starting out as a serious writer.

I have been invited to give poetry readings, speeches and workshops to audiences across the country, and I have seen the cultural cynics proved wrong many times over.  As I look into the faces of strangers whose eyes seem to lock onto mine with an intensity I find both humbling and scary, I have learned—rather I have re-learned—that language used with “major intent” is still a powerful, transforming force. People tell me they are moved by my words. People tell me they have been changed. People tell me the words matter.

So, to all of you who are sitting down today to write with major intent, know that your efforts—though solitary and so often fraught with frustration, longing and despair—matter.  Know that there may be one person or whole rooms of strangers who need and want to hear what you have to say. It matters to them the work you do.

It matters.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"Words and Music" Northern Arizona Book Festival, 2013

With my friend and colleague composer Christopher Scinto and composer Judith Cloud,  I was part of a vibrant a panel discussion, moderated by Laura Kelly, on "Words and Music" at the Northern Arizona Book Festival in Flagstaff, Arizona.  It was an amazing discussion! Follow the links below for more information.

http://azdailysun.com/her-poems/image_60e09af9-d33f-5fbb-b5e4-2d3c1f554bee.html

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why the Imagination Matters

Below is the text of my keynote address that I gave at our college's graduation ceremony on May 10, 2013.

 
Dr. Dale, honored guests, colleagues, graduates and all who have gathered here to celebrate—thank you for this opportunity to speak to you tonight.

When I accepted my award for U.S. Professor of the Year last November at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. to an audience of educators representing colleges and universities across our country, I was thrilled.

I was—and am—proud to represent our college, our district and our state as well as the community college as a national institution. It was—is—an honor to “tell the story of us.”

Graduates, in this suspended moment, you are, no doubt, noticing that electric feeling which comes from alternating between relief and celebration,  liberation and excitement.

But sometime during this evening I ask you to reflect—not on what you have learned during your time at this college—

for surely, your diplomas and certificates testify to the knowledge you have mastered—

and your robes and mortarboards signify your accomplishments. Your transcripts stand  witness to your efforts—

Graduates, I am here to ask you this last question—a kind of final test:

What kind of person will you be in this world which is at once harsh and beautiful, vulgar and elegant, cynical and optimistic, threatening and brave?

Tonight I invite you to consider the person you have become—your values, beliefs, choices and commitments—who you are now  and who you hope to be.

Moreover, I ask you to reflect on this thought—you are here tonight because you have imagined yourselves here—you have imagined possibilities for your life and your place in the world.  And you have acted on the promises you made to yourselves born of those imaginings.

For some, during your time at our college, you pictured yourselves sitting here at this great gathering, even as you took a full load of classes and worked full-time—in or outside the home—

for others, you saw your name on a college diploma or certificate, framed handsomely on your  wall.

And you saw this image even as the printer ran out of ink, your car had a flat tire just before you headed out for class;

you saw this image in your mind’s eye even when a family member or friend or work colleague needed your full attention as you prepared to study for a major test.

You saw all this even when your finances ran dangerously low or, in some cases, completely out—

There are graduates sitting here tonight—you who took classes, wrote papers, gave presentations, joined programs and assumed leadership positions that challenged or exhilarated and perhaps even scared you a little—or a lot—

you who believed in this day, the time when you would be welcomed into the community of scholars.

There are as many stories of hard work and persistence as there are graduates tonight.
Whatever your specific story, you all are here tonight because you did not give up.

Your imagination led you to choices, your choices created actions, your actions brought you here.

The dreams you had for yourself and your life when you first came to us  may have changed. Perhaps they have grown larger. Perhaps they have multiplied.  But these dreams were—and are—of consequence.

You are here because you believed in a future for yourself in which—despite obstacles
big and small—your intelligence, energy, discipline, curiosity and seriousness of purpose would bring you to this very place many call “successful.”


But I am here to tell you that your faculty and staff also imagined this night.

Those on our campus who—in and outside of the classroom—taught, mentored, cajoled, pushed and challenged you.

The dreams your faculty and staff had for you  were realized in the courses we teach, the programs we run, the buildings we help build, the debates we engage in, the lives we touch. 

We dream the dream of those educators who came before us and those who will come after us. Those who believe that only citizens of an educated culture can grow into their best selves.

And we, like our graduates, acted on those hopes.

Yet, there is another force operating in and on the imagination of what education can and should be.

Graduates, your community members, family and friends had—and have—visions for and of you. Their dreams may be strictly personal or they may be more eclectic—but they, too, are backed by action.

And, as importantly, these dreams are firmly rooted in the democratic ideal which says that where fairness and access meet determination and persistence, a “more perfect union” is formed.


So tonight—Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Community Members—here we sit—the living manifestations of  hope—


for together we have imagined our future.

—Lois Roma-Deeley
May 2013






Saturday, April 6, 2013

USF: The Poetry of Inspiration and Application


The University of South Florida invited me --and the three other 2012 U.S. Professors of the Year: Christy Price from Dalton State College in Georgia; Todd Pagano from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York; and USF’s own Autar Kaw --to participate in the university's third annual Student Success Conference. It was the first time that all four U.S. Professors of the Year met outside of the official Washington D.C. U. S Professor of the Year Award event held in Nov. 2012.

It was a whirlwind of a day--and night--on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 when I was reunited with my U.S. Professors of the Year colleagues. The main event, a town hall meeting, saw more than 300 faculty, staff and students in attendance and lasted well over two hours.  Dr. Ralph Wilcox, USF Provost served as moderator.  He began by asking us, the panel, specific and varied questions about teaching, current educational challenges and our visions and hopes for the future of education. Dr. Wilcox then turned the meeting over to the audience for an extended question and answer period. 

Below are various links to some videos and articles which will give a fuller account of a truly inspiring day.

I use the word "inspiring" deliberately.  For what I found at the formal meeting, in the audience, on the campus, during informal talks with high ranking administrators as well as "in-the-trenches" administrators, teachers and students was a community of educators who are deeply committed to creating excellence in and outside of the classroom

This is an organization that is not afraid to have a vision. For example, just walk through the campus and see the huge "Make an Impact" banner reminding us that education is so much more than just about making money. This university not afraid of  the work toward the application of the “Make an Impact”  vision...hence the town hall and myriad specific resources devoted to student success.

And student success seems to be defined as “human success.”

Moreover, the university is not afraid of graciousness--hence the endless rounds of "Autar, you so deserve this!"  These statements, and the culture from which they stem, were heard over and over again from faculty and staff alike as we walked with Autor Kaw around his campus. These folks like each other, support each other and they value kindness, modesty, generosity as well as academic excellence.

As I return to my classes today and this week at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, Az I will remember that I am not alone in my efforts to help create an educated, civil, gracious citizenry through the privilege of the higher educational experience. I  will remember that not only do I have like-minded, hard working, committed friends and colleagues  at my own college but 3,000 miles away at USF and other sister institutions there are others who, day-by-day, student-by student, labor--in big ways and small--to make a better world.

And I know there are some out there reading this—or not—who think I am too idealistic or whatnot—and I will ask them this question: What do you do to make our country a better place? I will say to them what I said at the end of my talk at USF…

“What we do matters….I don’t care what anyone says, this is how you change the world.”


(from l. to right: Autar Kaw, Lois Roma-Deeley, Christy Price, Todd Pagano)




http://wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/post/usf-welcomes-quartet-best-us-professors





Friday, March 15, 2013

5 Lines, 5 Poets, Women's History Month, 2013

Here are 5 lines by 5 women poets in honor of Women's History Month:


Love is not all. It is not meat or drink.
--Edna St.Vincent Millay


I study my lesson slowly.
--Patricia Hampl


Some questions can not be answered.
--Jane Hirshfield


"We should imagine that we are in Heaven,"
--Kathleen Norris


Memory 's got its suitcase packed and is always leaving.
--Maggie Anderson


Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Arguing With Angels" --Shadur and Roma-Deeley--Image and Word


Here is the latest Poetic Dialogue project, curated by Beth Shadur, which opened at Christopher Art Gallery of  Prairie State College,
Chicago Heights, IL on February 11, 2013. The artwork underneath the title of the exhibition material was created by the project's curator Beth Shadur. The words "with only this," which are sitting in the cupped hands,   are  from my poem "Arguing With Angels," published in my third collection of poems High Notes. Beth and I are collaborators, colleagues and great friends. I have had the great fortune of curating the poetry for the Poetic Dialogue projects and working with Beth for 10 years. My poem is printed below. There is a statement from Beth Shadur about the current project below that.


Arguing With Angels

 It is the August thunder storms that speak
for me. The voices from outside of time
will press their lips to both my cheeks and weep,
What do you want? "Just give me what is mine,"
I say to threads of silver dust that cling
to shaking window shades. What will you have?
How can they answer blood and bone? Nothing
to say? the dancing echoes spin and laugh
at me. I may not own the heart that pumps
uncertainly within or lets it go; but what comes
through yellow rooms to open me is cold.
It drinks the rain; it asks, "How will you live?"
I make my hands a cup: with only this.



About the Exhibit
Curator's Statement
Our February exhibition features selections from Collaborative Vision: The Poetic Dialogue Project, curated by Chicago artist Beth Shadur, which was the third exhibition in the ongoing Poetic Dialogue Project of collaboration between contemporary artists and poets, creating new works of art by responding to the muse of each other's works in a creative dialogue. This project came about after a wonderful meeting of hearts and minds in 2004 at the Ragdale Foundation* between Arizona poet Lois Roma-Deeley and Shadur, as both explored the parallel creative process of artist and poet in an ongoing dialogue, and began to collaborate in their own work. The previous two exhibitions, one in 2004, in which twenty-one Chicago area visual artists responded to the poetry of six national poets, and a second exhibition in 2005, where works of visual art themselves become the muse for each poet in works of 'ekphrasis', premiered in Chicago at ARC Gallery, the second oldest women's cooperative in the nation, where Shadur served as Executive Director at the time. These shows then traveled nationally, became part of the 2004 and 2005 Chicago Humanities Festivals, were included in the International Conference on Arts in Society in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006, and the Project was published in the International Journal of Arts in Society in Melbourne, Australia.

In the 2009 exhibition, premiering at the Chicago Cultural Center, Shadur paired thirty-one visual artists with thirty one poets based on the resonance of their works. In this exhibition, artist and poet were asked to develop a creative collaboration in whatever direction they chose as a pair, to create a new work of art. The collaborative process was defined by each pair in a unique way. Some pairs met in person to collaborate, while others worked through the internet to send images and poetry back and forth. Others created an ongoing spoken dialogue. Works were developed to integrate text with visual images in a wide variety of ways, from dialoguing and using the poet's voice, such as in the work of Beth Shadur and Lois Roma-Deeley, to physically making the work as a team, as illustrated by the collaborative installation of LaShawnda Crowe Storm and M. Eliza Hamilton Abegunde that exemplifies and honors the collaborative nature of African American quilting. Poets mentioned experimenting and working outside their own comfort zone to create new ideas and forms for their work, while artists who had never considered text as part of their work found ways to integrate the poet's voice. The ongoing dialogue offered each creator the opportunity to witness and effect the creation of "the other", respond, communicate, argue, compromise, and sometimes, to change or overcome difficulties. In making collaborative work, each individual brought his or her strength to the paired collaboration, allowing each contribution to be weighed and valued, given critical consideration, as the pair moved to develop solutions to the creative process as a team. In some cases, the collaborative effort was exciting and inspirational, in others problematic. Some pairs mentioned difficult struggles in working with a person who was a stranger; and yet struggle, too, is part of the creative process. All pairs found that the collaborative process in creativity became a catalyst for new directions, new forms and new paradigms in their process and practice.

Collaborative Vision: The Poetic Dialogue Project was an exhilarating exhibition to curate, as Shadur offered the unique opportunity to each creator to venture forward in challenging their established practice by working with a partner. Some pairs have moved ahead to extend their collaboration in future works, (such as poet Cynthia Hogue's  book Or Consequence (Red Hen Press 2010), which will feature artist Mirjana Ugrinov's work on the cover) Pairs such as artist Granite Amit and poet Jan Beatty have now collaborated on works for years, since paired in the original exhibition. What originated from Shadur and Roma-Deeley's early conversations at the Ragdale Foundation, in the warm yellow light of the kitchen overlooking the Illinois prairie has developed in ways beyond the wildest dreams of the pair, who have now collaborated for five years. The most recent exhibition, Collaborative Vision: The Poetic Dialogue Project, has taken the project in its most exciting direction, that involved sixty-two imaginative individuals in a truly collaborative unfolding of creativity; and all artists and poets involved have expressed their delight in participating in this collaborative process. The works seen here a selection of works from that exhibition.

* the Ragdale Foundation is an artists colony where visual artists, writers and musicians convene to live and work, away from the distractions of their daily lives

Collaborative Vision: The Poetic Dialogue Project
Granite Amit, Jan Beatty: Classifieds
Ana Fernandez, Kathryn Dohrmann: Contained / Released
Kim Laurel, Michael Burkard: One
James Mesplé, Jeffrey Levine: The Color of Cardinals
BettyAnn Mocek, Michael Heller: COLLAGE: MATRIX: CITY:BIRD
Charlotte Segal, Margaret Rozga: Fuji-san
Beth Shadur, Lois Roma-Deeley: Arguing with Angels
LaShawnda Crowe Storm, M. Eliza Hamilton Abegunde: Be/Coming
Lynn Takata, LR Berger: The Space Between
Annette Turow, Steve Orlen: Deuteronomy 6.7
Mirjana Ugrinov, Cynthia Hogue: Stones Too

Exhibiting February 11 - March 7, 2013
Artists Reception: Thursday, February 21, 4:30 - 8 p.m.