Choo-Choo!

I took this photo on my last major Amtrak trip during the summer of 2017. I’m pretty sure it’s the Portland, Oregon Amtrak station, but feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m mis-remembering.

It’s been several years since I’ve kept up with my website in any kind of meaningful way, but since so much has changed for me in the last year–and since I’m about to embark on yet another epic train trip (this time to try and decide upon a new place to call home)–I thought this would be an opportune time to begin chronicling my journeys again. Recently, I was laid off from my job as an English professor at a small, private, liberal arts institution in the Southeast. I had deep roots there. In addition to being my employer for the last eleven years, it was my undergraduate alma mater. I love teaching and know I will miss my students dearly, but I also feel like my layoff may have been just the push out the door I needed. A variety of factors like declining enrollments and other difficulties posed by the pandemic have made this a dire time for many in academia. Having been a contingent, yearly-contract faculty member, I was one of the first to go when cuts were being made. In fact, seven out of the ten professors in my department were laid off, as well as a few non-tenure-track professors in other departments. We called ourselves the Monday Massacre Club on account of the Monday afternoon email we all received informing us of our impending termination. When I first finished skimming that email, I felt an unexpected, somewhat perverse wave of exhilaration at the realization I would no longer have a job tying me to my current home in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I could move, finally: something I had wanted to do for a long time. Granted, I spent the majority of the next day crying on the couch; after all, I loved teaching, and even though Fayetteville has never quite felt like home, my sisters, nieces, and nephew are all nearby. Being here has enabled me to be close to them. But even in the midst of the shock, financial anxiety, and disappointment, I felt an undeniable sense of possibility. Plus the layoff wouldn’t be official until the end of the spring semester, so I was fortunate in the sense that I had some time to plan.

One of my deepest sources of disappointment upon hearing the news was the fact that I’d recently made some significant professional strides that my layoff threatened to undo: after a decade of teaching first-year composition almost exclusively, I’d finally been given creative writing classes, and I’d also taken over Longleaf Press, a literary nonprofit that had been founded in the 90’s by Robin Greene and Michael Colonnese, my undergraduate mentors, who later became my friends and colleagues. Michael and Robin retired from the university in the spring of 2020, when the reality of the pandemic was setting in, and in October, I hosted a virtual poetry reading in their honor. A little over a month later, when I found out about my layoff, I had just begun working on my first publication as editor-in-chief, a beautiful poetry collection by Crystal Simone Smith entitled Down to Earth. Since the press had operated under the umbrella of the university’s nonprofit status since its inception, I didn’t know what would become of it once I lost my job.

There were some minor technical difficulties early on (trickster energy, as Sandy Yannone called it), so the event actually begins about five minutes into the recording.

My connection to the press began in 2007, when I worked as an undergraduate intern on the publication of Roger Weingarten‘s Premature Elegy by Firelight, so my attachment to Longleaf was longstanding and deep. I wanted to preserve my mentors’ legacy and felt it would be a disservice to all of the authors whose work we had published over the years if I were to let the press fold or hand it off to someone who didn’t know it as well as I did or care about it as much. So I figured it was worth a shot: I asked to take the press with me when I left the university, and to my delight and surprise, the administration agreed.

For the last several months, I have been working to not just preserve but expand the press, and one of the lovely, unexpected blessings to come out of all of this is that it has given me a chance to work again alongside Mike and Robin, as well as Roger, and another poet named George Rawlins, whose fantastic collection, Cheapside Afterlife, is forthcoming from Longleaf. We’re re-incorporating as an independent nonprofit and re-envisioning the possibilities now that we’re transitioning away from the university and going out on our own. Whereas we previously operated as a regional publisher of authors in the Southeast, we’re now opening submissions for our full-length poetry book contest to anyone writing in English. We’re also hoping to house the press eventually within a community-integrated arts center of some kind, and toward that aim, I’m looking for an arts-oriented town or city to which to relocate.

I found out a few days ago that Amtrak was running a sale on 30-day rail passes for $299, so to those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I’ve decided to scout out possible locations by train. I just bought the pass and will be planning out my route during the next couple of weeks.

The last time I took a trip like this was in 2017, when I spent a summer backpacking solo via Amtrak and Couchsurfing my way cross-country to and from a residency at Willapa Bay AIR. I’ve often wished I had blogged about that trip, so I’ve decided to do so this time around. Stay tuned to hear updates about my trip and the press. Long live Longleaf!

Here is a blog …

Aside

Image

Here is a blog post I wrote earlier this month but didn’t get to post until now. There’s no wireless here at the Anderson Center.

I have been neglecting this blog and my writing in general for several months now, but today, I am in the top of an old water tower that has been converted into a writing studio. At the beginning of June, I arrived for a residency at the Anderson Center for the Arts in Red Wing, Minnesota. The Center was originally used as a working farm and research laboratory for experiments on everything from cereal to robotic arms that were used to handle uranium, but now it functions as a thriving artists’ community: home to Red Dragonfly Press, many painting and printmaking studios, and to me and four other residents for the next month.  We are staying in a lovely old house with hand-painted ceilings, dark wood trim, and lots of great little book nooks & places to write.  

On a jog along the Cannon Valley Trail this morning, I heard a lovely whoosh—something like damp sheets flapping on a laundry line—and glanced over to see a blue heron taking off downstream. Summer is just beginning here, and I feel the way that I always feel when I go someplace new: I want to know the names of things. Out of the window right now, I can see the pointy tops of pine trees, a variety that we don’t have in North Carolina. I’ve seen something like them in Maine though. What are they called?   

While here, I am hoping to finish the book of poetry that I have been working on for the last five years. I have a plan. I have inventoried all of my poems. There are 46, but of the 46, around half are flops that have some vaguely redeeming qualities. I am going to take a pair of scissors, cut out the salvageable lines—like harvesting organs, I think—and see if I can collage them into some little Frankenstein poems.

And then there are the ideas for new poems that I have been meaning to get to. During the academic year, I don’t usually have much mental energy left for my own writing, so I keep a running list in my phone of the ideas that I get. I like to think of it like putting them in an incubator. Currently, there are 29. And even if I don’t get to all of them this month, I think I have a decent shot of finally finishing this thing before the summer’s end. It’s a good feeling!

http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/n8/

Many Thanks to Patricia Colleen Murphy and everybody else at The Superstition Review for another fabulous issue! I’m thrilled to have a couple of poems alongside those by Dorianne Laux, Sherman Alexie, and several other talented souls! Superstition Review