Thursday, May 26, 2016

Jeremy Pataky | Spring Confession

Spring confession: my regular journaling practice has lapsed. Piles of full notebooks attest to years spent dutifully writing daily—not just accounts and takes on this one life’s plot, so to speak. Also fragments of overheard conversation, excerpts from books, found language from our text-heavy world, quirky idioms people say, poem or essay ideas, directions, lists, you name it. Since college, my journals have been hybrids of commonplace books and “journals” (in the “diary” sense of the word, though I never call them that). Often, first drafts of poems and the occasional essay first spark into being in my journal.

But I’ve let the habit lag. I still depend on my notebook for writing toward poems, but less so and much less often for straight “journaling”. The computer, that new, weird appendage with its attendant quasi-senses we’ve evolved in my lifetime, too often supplants the hand-writable blank pages. Not that it doesn’t come in handy. There’s something important though about the thinking—and hoarding—that I’m learning can sometimes only happen on a real page.

Spring and early summer, for me, often stir two effects: 1) an almost incredulous and renewed crush on the sensory world and 2) the inclination to look back, mark time, reminisce, and compare nows with thens. “Today last year I was at that book launch for the Make it True: Poetry from Cascadia anthology in B.C. and now I’m driving down the McCarthy Road toward home.” Or “Today last year I watched my cousin get married in Idaho alongside family and my ex-girlfriend; today I’m kicking it at the cabin and haven’t seen anyone in a couple days.” Et cetera. Boring “journaly” stuff, but the kind of benchmarks that give a little order to headspace and create perspective, even if just in a private way. Who was I informs the question who am I.

Thinking back is one thing, but looking back through old notebooks can really crystallize what has changed. It can't happen if you don't create some kind of record, though. Looking back at old journals can resuscitate old moments or thoughts that could have been lost, otherwise. Sure, some residue of our experiences or ideas remains no matter what, but the details we write down (whether they're personal or not) can really ripen, instead of atrophy like memory, over time.  

I did start stockpiling compelling or intriguing miscellany in a folder on my computer at some point the way I used to do more in my journal. We spend enough time in front of the screen that sometimes it’s easier to squirrel away reminders or found items digitally than otherwise. I still need to get back in the actual “journaling” habit—maybe that’s my springtime resolution. 

Since they speak in some way to the need to get back in journaling shape—by hand, in notebooks, in my case—I offer up a couple digital scraps torn from the “pages” of what I might optimistically call a commonplace folder on ye ol’ hard drive. Take them or leave them, but consider taking some time to write today—a journal entry, a letter, a blog post (and a comment on this one, maybe?), if not the next thousand words of your memoir or the next sonnet in your crown.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Brendan Jones | Fifteen Notes on Writing (& Other Things)

  1. A few weeks back a friend went out on a kayak and didn’t return. The fire department found his boat in a bed of kelp. He had gone out at ten in the evening in the wind and rain. I was in Wrangell when it happened. I confirmed his photo for the radio station. Painted the side of my boat while Mountain Rescue searched.
  2. You need to do a fishermen’s reading, says the town vet. Not for the hoi-polloi. Trollers are the most discerning readers out there. They’re waiting for the snubbers to go off, out on the 60-fathom line, and so they read. And they’re either hooked by the story or they aren’t. The most honest critics you can get. But let me read the book first. I can tell you if I’ll recommend it.
  3. The deputy clerk in the town where I live signs her name in an elfin font. A witchy font. I like this.
  4. The kayak was returned by the fire department wrapped in plastic.
  5. Recently, while writing an article on surfing in Alaska, I got blowback. About the possibility of revealing breaks that folks in the Lower 48 might ruin. Horseshit, said another surfer. There are so many variables you need to line up, you’d need to be a goddamn meteorologist to catch a wave around here. I continue to struggle with this.
  6. At two pm tomorrow I’m bringing in my dog to get his teeth cleaned by the vet. I hope he likes the book.
  7. A friend wishes to fill the kayak with concrete and set it upright on a beach, just off the kelp bed.
  8. Charter and commercial fishermen used to be like the Montagues and Capulets in this town, the simmer of winter boiling over into spring shouting matches. I’ve taken flack for housing charter deckhands on the tugboat, albeit good-humored. Kind of. Bumper stickers read “I’d rather have a daughter in a whorehouse than a son on a charter boat.” “Charter Nazis.” And so forth. But these days don’t seem so bad.
  9. Speaking of bumper stickers, the other day I saw one in the harbor parking lot that read “BUY GUNS/BUY BOOKS.” I wonder why the enjambment? I almost would rather, “BUY GUNS BUY BOOKS like there was some continuity between the two. But there’s not. No matter how much one hopes.
  10. I’m using this time with the family away to work on a second novel. I realize now what a pain in the ass I was to friends and writers who weren’t friends, just asking them at the drop of a hat to read. How destructive it is to the process. Just shut up write. There’s nothing worse than a whiny writer. Nothing.
  11. Charter fishermen don't care about their wake, I can tell you that much. I just got rocked against the bull-rail three times in a row. Peeked out the porthole, a parade of charter boats.
  12. A couple months ago in the Wrangell shipyard I met a man, short with gray whiskers, who looked like a thin Elmer Fudd. “I’ll trade boats with you,” he said, looking at the tugboat. I wasn’t sure if he was joking. In fact I’m still not. The following day he crashed into the side of a mountain on Admiralty Island.
  13. Next week I’m going to Homer, then Anchorage, then Juneau for readings of The Alaskan Laundry. I am excited about this. Also for a wedding in Homer. Alaska weddings are the best. And this couple is very, very in love.
  14. I don’t know how to understand things except by writing about them. It’s always been that way.
  15. Just shut up and write.
Brendan Jones is the author of the novel The Alaskan Laundry, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A recipient of a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Fundacion Valparaiso, and Ragdale, he is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has had work in the New York TimesPloughsharesNarrative MagazinePopular WoodworkingThe Huffington Post, and has recorded commentaries for NPR. Raised in Philadelphia, he took the Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka, Alaska. He graduated from Oxford University, where he boxed for the Blues team, then returned to Alaska to commercial fish. He was a general contractor for seven years in Philadelphia, before heading back to Sitka, where he now lives, commercial fishing and renovating a WWII tugboat. |

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jeremy Pataky | Our Creative Community

I left McCarthy late last week, Juneau-bound for 49 Writers meetings. With other stops along the way, it’s proven to be an inspiring whirlwind. I head back to the Wrangells filled up by this huge place full of creative, hardworking artists, where even the distances that separate us are wild and beautiful.

I arrived in Anchorage after the release party for the latest issue of Alaska Quarterly Review, featuring full-color reproductions of Kes Woodward paintings paired with poems by Peggy Shumaker. I also missed the release party for Made of Salmon, an anthology that Nancy Lord edited, which hit bookshelves about the same time the first kings hit the Copper River delta.  

Joan Naviyuk Kane honored with a
2016 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award
I did make it to the awards ceremony honoring the 2016 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award winners, though. 36 artists representing 11 communities in Alaska were chosen from over 400 applications. Literary artists honored that night included Christy NaMee Eriksen, Bryan Fierro, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Seth Kantner. Visual artist Don Decker, this year’s Distinguished Artist, gave a touching speech that spoke well to the richness of a creative life. Patrick Race’s short film about him is likely of interest to artists across disciplines. I attended the awards ceremony with a former IAA winner, a visual artist. Often, I think I learn as much about looking, seeing, and making from artists as I do from other writers.   

First thing Friday morning, I joined board president and writer (and Made of Salmon contributor) Kirsten Dixon, and we left a soggy Anchorage. The sunny weather we found down in the state capitol belied the legislature’s failure to pass a budget after the four month regular session that had just ended. Fortunately, our org’s own governance isn’t taking cues from the State.

Amy O’Neill Houck shuttled us to Joan Pardes’ home for an entire day spent strategizing and planning. I’ll save the spoilers for later, but suffice it to say, it was highly productive time well spent. We wrapped the day up meeting with Juneau members in an informal meet-n-greet. The nearly-full moon, one night shy of “blue”, and exquisite, fleeting alpenglow stopped us in our tracks when we stepped outside after dinner.   

The next night in Anchorage, gearing up to boomerang back to McCarthy, I enjoyed another dinner with writerly folks—this one hosted by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Though thoroughly enjoyable and delicious, the night was tinged with a bittersweetness, knowing that it would be the last time we gathered before poets and teachers Alyse Knorr and Kate Partridge leave Alaska soon. Both have been incredible members of the 49 Writers community – as instructors, volunteers, and more – and they’ll be missed. Maybe Olena and Jonathan J. Bower and I can Skype them in next time (I jokes). Still, pre-emptive nostalgia aside, it’s been a privilege to share time and space with them at all, and if it’s one thing we Alaskans have figured out, it’s navigating vast geographies. I know they’ll maintain ties with Alaska’s literary community. It’s also a reminder that our writerly community actually extends far beyond the bounds of the state itself.   

I’m grateful for the communities that thrive here—or at least survive, stubbornly or otherwise. I’m heading back out past the end of the road knowing the camaraderie of time well spent with other poets, writers, and artists will be folded into the time I spend alone. That solitude—and the work accomplished therein—is sweetened by all the people inside it.
Sandy Beach, Douglas Island

Friday, May 20, 2016

Weekly Roundup of Writing Opportunities for May 20

Book Signing | Friday, May 20, 1-3 pm, Alaska Geographic bookstore
Toklat In Trouble, by Libby Hatton, a children’s picture book about a wolf pup in Denali National Park, will be launched with a book signing at Alaska Geographic’s bookstore on Ship Creek Ave, next to the Bridge Restaurant and the ULU Factory. Toklat is an adventuresome pup who learns about life’s hazards in a national park. The book was written with concerns about the dropping wolf numbers in Denali, it was illustrated with the intent to replace the out-of-date big bad wolf image with a lovable character living in a wondrous and treasured place.

Monday, June 6 at 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM at UAA Bookstore
Authors Bonnye Matthews, C.M. McCoy, Steven Levi, Sharon Emmerichs and Alyse Knorr share their work in various literary genres, including prehistoric fiction, mystery, fantasy, romance and poetry.

Bear Stories
Thursday, June 9, evening show, time TBA at Bear Tooth Theatrepub
Music by Todd Grebe & Cold Country | Tickets: $12, available May 24
Hosted by the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA) with Arctic Entries volunteers and Bear Tooth. Proceeds benefit bear conservations.

The Fairbanks Arts Association is the host of the oldest Literary Reading in the State. Every month, the public is treated to writers reading their own work and a community meet-up where people can connect with other lovers of literature. Readings are held on the day after First Friday, usually the first Saturday of the month at 7 pm. Most reading are held in the Bear Gallery in Pioneer Park, although occasionally in the summer (June, July, and August) the weather is beautiful reading are held outside to another spot in Pioneer Park. Upcoming: 
June 4: Community Writers Group and Alaska Writers Guild 
July 9: Nicole Stellon O’Donnell
August 6: Paul Greci
September: UAF Faculty Reading
October: TBA
November: TBA
December: Rosemary McGuire
Additional readings and literary events may be held, but the First Saturday Literary Reading Series will always be at 7 pm the day after First Friday (Except February). 

Community Series at Denali Education Center | The Community Series is a collection of events throughout the summer that promote the arts and sciences featuring artists, naturalists, musicians, workshops, lectures, films and educational programs. Many programs are free. All are held in the Charles Sheldon Center, a post and beam building constructed and maintained with countless hours of volunteer effort. More info

First, Earth! An Homage to Edward Abbey, Margaret Murie, and Charles Sheldon
Wednesday, June 1 at 7:00 pm | A writer’s reading about how authors Edward Abbey, Margaret Murie, and Charles Sheldon influenced how we think about and experience “wild-ness”. Join writers Sean Prentiss (Finding Abbey), Erica Watson, Christine Byl (Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods), and Tom Walker (Denali Journal) as they read excerpts of their work and discuss those who influenced it.

The National Parks: 100 Years of American Splendor with Kim Heacox
Sunday, June 26 at 7:00 pm | Celebrate 100 years of America’s National Parks with award winning author, photographer, and DEC writer in residence, Kim Heacox. He will discuss his collaboration with National Geographic and the National Park Service and his new book The National Parks: An Illustrated History.

Contemporary Alaskan Writing with Frank Soos
Monday, July 11 at 7:00 pm | Join author of short stories and essays Frank Soos, as he discusses contemporary Alaskan writing. He will highlight a selection of fiction writers, essayists, and poets, some who will be familiar to visitors, but many unknown and well worth seeking out and reading.


49 Writers is pleased to partner with the Machetanz Arts Festival at the Mat-Su College on June 4 and 5 to facilitate six writing workshops and two panel discussions. Register today!

Full schedule: 
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Session I (9:30 – 11:30 am)
Julie LeMay | Finding Yourself in a Poem
While focusing on poetic techniques like metaphor and repetition, this workshop will use writing exercises to create poems about the self. Whether you’re a beginning or experienced poet, you’ll find this workshop a playful approach to getting some poems on the page. Open to all levels. 

Session II (12:30 – 2:30 pm)
Alyse Knorr | How Shall I Begin? Starting Your Piece with a Bang 
How do writers keep readers reading? What’s the best way to begin your short story, novel, memoir, or poem to set the mood, establish themes, and introduce conflict? This workshop will explore the art of beginnings, introductions, and first words. We will look at some top-notch examples, work through craft exercises, and finish class with several new beginnings and approaches to beginnings!

Session III (2:45 – 4:45 pm)
Don Rearden | The Sphere of Writing
Learn how to advance your fiction and nonfiction to the next level by giving your writing a 360-degree transformation. In this workshop you'll be guided through a series of fun writing prompts that will help you understand and see the world your characters live in a new light. Learn how to craft complex and detailed environments and watch your characters come to life within their new realm of existence.

Panel Discussion (5 – 6:30 pm)
Panel: Julie LeMay, Alyse Knorr, Don Rearden | "You've Written Something, Now What?" 
You’ve written your masterpiece, now what? This panel will explore the different ways to get feedback on your written work and how to decide where to submit your work for publication. We’ll discuss literary journals, agents, developmental editors, and all the behind-the-scenes work you need to accomplish between your first draft and getting your words in front of readers.

Sunday, June 5, 2016
Session I (9:30 – 11:30 am)
Lynn Lovegreen | Playing With Description
Good writers use description to set the scene or reveal character. We’ve all read a great line or sentence that describes perfectly, or cringed when a writer does too much or not enough. But how do we do that effectively? This workshop will explore description through reading and discussing examples, playing around with writing exercises, and finding what works for the writer in a specific audience, genre, and style.

Session II (12:30 – 2:30 pm)
Martha Amore | Capturing Character: The Mechanics of Writing Great Characters in Fiction and Nonfiction
Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, crafting complex and emotionally moving characters is critical to a successful piece of writing. This workshop focuses on how to develop your characters while advancing your story.

Session III (2:45 – 4:45 pm)
Susanna Mishler | Walking the Line
What exactly is a poetic line made of? What difference does it make where the line "breaks"? In this workshop participants will examine lines by contemporary English-language poets that are used to achieve very different effects. We will also experiment with lineation strategies and types with in-class exercises. Our exercises and guided discussion will help illuminate what makes a strong poetic line, and how an understanding of poetic lines can enhance our own writing and reading. Suitable for poets and prose writers, as well as readers, who would like to broaden their knowledge of poetic craft.

Panel Discussion (5 – 6:30 pm)
Panel: Lynn Lovegreen, Susanna Mishler, Martha Amore | Writing About Alaska Without Moose
How do you write authentically about a place that has inspired so much clichéd literature? We’ll explore how to develop written work imbued with place that doesn’t descend into overly-familiar themes and images.

Through the AmeriCorps Vista program, Anchorage Public Library is hiring a summer associate at the Z. J. Loussac Library to promote summer reading and work with teen volunteers. Summer Associates will:
• Recruit, train, and supervise volunTEENs (volunteers between 12 and 18 years of age)
• Develop team building and training opportunities for volunTEENs to supplement their community service to the library
• Promote summer reading celebration to youth from birth to age 18, including signing up kids and distributing prizes
• Assist library staff with summer reading celebration programs and other library programs
• Assist library staff with special projects
Compensation for Summer Associates:
• A bi-weekly living allowance of $568.32
• A $1,174.60 education award upon completion of the full term of service (or a smaller cash award)
• Summer Associates will serve from 5/24/2016 to 7/30/2016
• Eligible applicants will have a high school degree (or equivalent) and be 19 years of age by 5/23/2016. To apply, please go to | The direct listing is here.

Literary, literacy award nominations due May 31
Nominations are being accepted for 2016 Contributions to Literacy in Alaska (CLIA) Awards. The program is a statewide effort to recognize people and agencies who support literature and literacy in the north. The awards, presented by Alaska Center for the Book annually since 1993, honor individuals and institutions who have made a significant contribution to literacy efforts, to the literary arts, or preservation of the written or spoken word in Alaska. Past winners include librarians, teachers, writers, tutors, learning programs, volunteers and others dedicated to making the world a better place through the gift of language. Last years’ winners were historian Dee Longenbaugh of Juneau: Barrow author Debby Dahl Edwardson; Dr. Edna McLean of Anchorage, author of an Inupiaq-English dictionary; and “Alaska Spirit of Reading,” a literacy program based in Sitka. Although the initial deadline was in April, the deadline has been extended to May 31. Nomination forms are available on-line at Alaska Center for the Book’s web site or by calling 907-786-4379.

Awards will be presented in July during the University of Alaska’s Northern Renaissance Arts and Sciences reading series, held in conjunction with UAA’s MFA program in Creative Writing.

Alaska Center for the Book is Alaska’s affiliate to the Library of Congress Center for the Book. The non-profit, all-volunteer board partners with literary, educational, arts and humanities organizations to host and sponsor events across the state, including Reading Rendezvous, Alaska Reads, Poems in Place, Letters About Literature and more. Contact: Carol Sturgulewski (907) 764-1604

Seeking Storytellers | On the evening of Thursday, June 9, the International Association for Bear Research and Management is hosting a Bear Storytelling Night at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub. The format will be inspired by Arctic Entries. The theme for the show is bears: bear encounters, bear lessons, bear observations, bear obsessions, bear ANYTHING. Bear biologists, Alaskans of all ages, visitors, anyone who has a good bear tale – are welcome to tell us their best bear stories! Arctic Entries volunteers will help with story selection and story coaching for the show. 

This event will feature seven storytellers who will be selected based on the range of stories submitted – from the funny to the scary, adorable to the bizarre, and everything in between. Once a story is submitted, they will follow up either in person, on the phone, or through email. Arctic Entries volunteers will work with you on developing the story, fleshing out the parts that elicit a range of reactions from the audience, and finding a storytelling technique that works for you. 
They provide assistance with stage fright. Submit stories to Include your name, email address, and phone number along with your story pitch.  

Edible Alaska seeks writers and photographers | A new magazine focused on food culture and practices in Alaska, will hit the newsstands in June. Currently they are getting ready to launch their website with lots of new content. They seek writers, photographers, recipe writers, and local chefs (who want to be a resource to them). 

Article pitches should fall (loosely) into the categories: eat, drink, and food for thought. Web articles will be between 250-400 words and will pay about $50 per piece and an additional $25 for an accompanying photograph. The rate is somewhat negotiable for more experienced writers/photographers and for longer pieces. 

They seek original recipes that can include your standard recipe and a "how-to" video. They are not looking for another profile about a great microbrewery or reviews of well-known restaurants. They want to expand what people know and think about food (and food culture) in Alaska while creating an archive of food practices throughout the state (both urban and rural).

Please email your pitch to with the subject line: Edible Article Pitch.  Please include in your pitch sample writing clips, if you have any. The magazine is particularly interested in recruiting writers from outside of Anchorage and writers who live in rural/bush areas of the state.  Don't let a lack of writing experience deter you from pitching a story, they are interested in cultivating new writers who have great stories to share.”

Alaska Magazine seeks pitches from new and established writers. | They are a publication for Alaska enthusiasts and need a wide variety of articles. The best section to break into the magazine is KtoB (formerly Ketchikan to Barrow), which includes everything from cool job profiles to End of the Trail obituaries to a short write up about an Alaska-made product. They’d also like to see queries about culture, history, nature, interviews with Alaskans and feature articles ideas. Review recent hard copy issues of Alaska magazine and visit to learn more, and then send short, descriptive pitches to freelance contributing editor Susan Sommer at

13 Chairs Literary Journal out of JBER seeks short stories and poetry from new and emerging authors, as well as volunteers. To learn more, read the current issue, or submit, visit or email or
The fifteenth Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference will be held on June 10-14 in Homer. This year's keynote is Pulitzer Prize winning, National Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who will be joined by Miriam Altshuler (agent), Dan Beachy-Quick, Richard Chiappone, Jennine Capó Crucet, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Forrest Gander, Lee Goodman, Richard Hoffman, Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Sarah Leavitt, Nancy Lord, Jane Rosenman (editor), Peggy Shumaker, Sherry Simpson, Frank Soos, and David Stevenson. For more information and to register go to the website

49 Writers members get creative at Tutka Bay Lodge
Register now for the 2016 Tutka Bay Writers Retreat, a 49 Writers program which will take place on September 9-11th at the fantastic Tutka Bay Lodge. Faculty instructor award-winning writer Debra Magpie Earling will lead fiction writers in an in-depth writing workshop. Emphasizing in-class writing supportiveness, collegiality, and constructive atmosphere, the engaged student will emerge with improved techniques for further work. Early registration fee is $600 for members and $650 for nonmembers. Learn more and register.

The sixth annual North Words Writers Symposium will be held May 25-28 in Skagway. Novelist/essayist/editor and storyteller supreme Brian Doyle of Portland, Oregon (Mink RiverThe PloverMartin Marten, and the forthcoming Chicago) will be the 2016 keynote author. He will be joined by Alaskan authors Kim Heacox, Eowyn Ivey, Heather Lende, Lynn Schooler, John Straley, and Emily Wall.Learn more and register

Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop's Riversong float trip July 20-26, 2016 in beautiful McCarthy, Alaska and the surrounding Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve. 

This year's workshop features a dynamic staff including poet, essayist and singer/songwriter David Lynn Grimes; professional singer/songwriter Michelle McAfee; visual artist, writer, and songwriter Robin Child; and longstanding workshop director, poet, and essayist Nancy Cook.  The workshop will include two nights and a full day of craft sessions at the Wrangell Mountains Center in McCarthy, followed by a four night educational float trip along the Kennicott, Nizina, Chitina, and Copper Rivers of South-central Alaska.   $975 includes all meals, instruction, and guided river trip with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters.  (And yes, that's an amazing deal!)  Check out the smiles in last year's Riversong album, or paddle on over to the Wrangell Mountain Center's website to register.  Workshop limited to eight student writers/songwriters.  Register now!  

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Gov. Walker Announces Youth Writing Contest Winners

Props to a pair of young writers today whose essays won a statewide ferry-naming contest! Alaska statute mandates that our Alaska Marine Highway ferries be christened after one of the state’s 745 named glaciers. Nice work, Malea and Taylor! 

Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott Skyping with Malea and Taylor
JUNEAU – Governor Bill Walker and Lt. Governor Byron Mallott announced the names yesterday of Alaska’s two new ferry vessels. They thanked Tanalian School 7th grader Malea Voran of Port Alsworth and Eagle River High School 10th grader Taylor Thompson of Eagle River for the winning entries naming the Alaska Class ferries the Tazlina and the Hubbard. 

In January, the Governor called on Alaska students to submit essays on potential names for the vessels. The two ferries are being built at the Vigor Alaska shipyard in Ketchikan after the Alaska Legislature appropriated funding for the projects in 2009 and 2012. Upon completion in 2018, the ferries will provide day boat service between Juneau, Haines, and Skagway – also known as the North Lynn Canal region.

In all, 448 6th through 12th graders submitted essays to name the two new vessels.

“Benny Benson was 13 years old when he won the contest to design Alaska’s flag. Similarly, these students are leaving their mark on history by helping name the two most recent additions to our fleet of Alaska Marine Highway System vessels,” said Governor Walker. “I’m inspired by all the students who took the time to submit an essay, and I congratulate Malea and Taylor for their award-winning entries.”

In her essay, Malea Voran explained that Tazlina, an Ahtna Athabaskan name meaning “swift river,” is an appropriate name for a ferry, which should be named after something swift and agile. “This name would remind us that even small things are capable of doing big things. This small boat could be named after something big and inspiring,” Malea wrote.

Taylor Thompson wrote her essay on the Hubbard Glacier, which, unlike most glaciers, has been thickening and advancing into Disenchantment Bay for over a century. “This glorious slab of ice has defied its predisposition and proved to be a true wonder. An Alaskan ferry should be just as incredible,” Taylor wrote.

“Alaska’s ferry system plays a vital role in our economy and many coastal communities throughout the state,” said Lt. Governor Mallott. “It was an honor to read so many thoughtful, heartfelt essays from participants, and to include the voices of our young people in such a historic decision. These students’ ideas and vision for our state will forever be on display for future Alaskans who ride on the Tazlina and Hubbard ferries.”

Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott surprised the two students with the news their essays had won while Skyping into their classes today from Juneau. Upon completion of construction and approval by the Legislature, the two new Alaska Class ferries will officially be named the Tazlina and the Hubbard–with the winning essays framed and displayed on the respective vessels.

Links to the winning essays:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

From the Archives | A Fine Contrivance by Susanna J. Mishler

I re-listened to a recording last week of poet and electrician Susanna J. Mishler’s lecture, “A Fine Contrivance: How Can a Poem Be a Machine?” She presented the talk originally in 49 Writers’ Reading and Craft Talk Series, a response to the famous William Carlos Williams assertion that “A poem is a machine made out of words.” A few after I listened to the recording, I happened to get a call from Susanna, who’s out working a long construction stint on Kodiak. Listening to her impressions of the land and seascapes there and stories from the jobsite, a missile launch facility, I thought again of her many ideas, questions, and images from the talk and her poems woven into it.  
While the craft talk recording won’t be available on our website until it’s adapted for the page and published, we do have a smattering of other recorded events. I anticipate the archive growing more regularly in the future, particularly next fall when we’ll have a new website. For now, enjoy this Mishler post from the blog archive, once a preview in advance of her craft talk, and now a bit of a reminiscence. -- Jeremy 

Susanna J. Mishler presents a 49 Writers Reading and Craft Talk, October 2014
A poem is a machine made of words.
- William Carlos Williams

As poet and electrician, I wonder how this statement might be true. The objects of machine and poem seem contrary. But if a poem is a machine made of words, and the idea of a poem as machine seems contradictory, then what are we missing?

Power Outage in a Northern Neighborhood

Night stretches over us like plum skin.
Every winter I learn constellations,
forget them. The Big Dipper is a bear
with a long tail. This made sense to someone,
this confusion of flashing points.
We run fingers in the black dog’s coat;

they spark. We zip wool and down coats
(stolen from other animals) over our cooling skins.
I press to her shoulder under points
that wink like knife-tips. Each constellation
is indulgence – lines drawn between fires by someone
who found a vacuum unbearable.

Suppose it’s a vault of eyes bearing
on our windows, on our coat-backs.
That sense of watching. That sense of Someone.
There’s this theory of innate fire in our skins
but it isn’t right. More like rubbing sticks. Constellations
pass over indifferently, whirring about their central point.

The dog stands outside with ears pointed,
nose pressed to a window. Our cats bare
teeth, yowl, break glass into constellations
on hardwood, skid around the coatrack.
All over a glimpse of stranger. As if they’ll be starved skinny
or given away to someone

who knits cat sweaters. Someone
might peek into this darkness and feel disappointed.
Creations sharpen inside our skins
yet when the lights get snuffed we’re bare.
Separate. Ill-equipped. Dependant on the coats
of others. “How are we intended?” we ask the constellations.

“One soul is sometimes worth a whole constellation,”
she says, thinking Karamazov. The dog’s ears flick to someone’s
footsteps, and he sniffs, searches the air, face coated
in frost. She presses into my shoulder and points
to Ursa Minor, the boy who became a bear,
after his mother did, ever chasing her familiar skin.

A skinned bear looks human, like someone
coatless and red curled on leaves. The points
of constellations are hard. And we are insufferably soft.

I wrote “Power Outage In A Northern Neighborhood” (from Termination Dust, 2014) using a formal principle that I imagine like a Newton’s Cradle. A Newton’s Cradle transfers kinetic energy via a set of spheres on strings. When a sphere on one end is lifted and released, it strikes the stationary spheres; its force is transmitted through the stationary spheres and knocks the last sphere up.

In a sestina, this poem’s form, the words that end the lines of the first stanza are repeated as the words ending the lines of every stanza – the same end-words recur throughout the poem. The same six words (constellation, someone, coat, point, bear, skin) recur and re-transmit the poem’s energy. The repetition of these words both joins and extends the thoughts within each line. It makes a regular pattern – a form – made of words. But is it a machine? 

Susanna J. Mishler’s poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. Her first collection of poems, Termination Dust, was published by Red Hen Press/Boreal Books in 2014. Susanna holds an MFA in Poetry from The University of Arizona in Tucson, where she served as a poetry editor for Sonora Review. She’s the recipient of a Peter Taylor Fellowship in Poetry from the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop, and the Bill Waller Writing Award from the University of Arizona. Among other things, Susanna has worked as a dock hand, science educator, and sled dog handler. She currently lives in Anchorage and earns her living as an electrician.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Brendan Jones | The Moral Writer

Back in Sitka, taking a breath with the family before traveling around Alaska to tour with the book, a question keeps coming back: do we as writers take on certain responsibilities as a result of the act of creation? And if so, how to fulfill these responsibilities? 

For starters, I think what we’re doing as story-makers – writing fiction – matters. There are stakes, and we have a responsibility to honor these stakes. This means bearing witness, and, to quote Rilke, “to trust in what is difficult.” Homer, the bards of Ireland, troubadours in Southern France knew this – they took their bumps and wrote, or recited like hell about it, as the case may be. Their storytelling certainly was act of engagement with the wider world. Of course the writer has the responsibility, first and foremost, to tell a personal truth, to write from the core of the self. But what if this core ignores the world at large, and the awfulness in it? How can you justify writing about the beauty of the Charles Bridge if people are being incinerated an hour away? Writing is not, and cannot be an absolute moral value. 

I’ve written political pieces for the New York Times and Huffington Post, but also have had the great pleasure of seeing the novel land with people. While the op-eds create a quick, visceral response, the novel (as I've been able to see it) taps into something different, a deeper current. People tell back their stories. It connects deep within us, into some underground river perhaps we’d been ignoring for too long.

Bottom line: we find ourselves confronted by something terrible playing out before our eyes. An ecological holocaust, how about that? Are we duty-bound to write about it? I would never be so presumptuous as to construct rules of engagement for the written word. And yet art that claims to be sufficient, exempt, autonomous, a universe unto itself, is problematic – and not in a fancy, interesting postmodern way. Indeed it’s part and parcel of the type of thinking that brought us to our current impasse – impasse is the wrong word, that brought us into the current horror we’re witnessing today. Sea lions beaching themselves in almond orchards, waiting to die. The starfish die-off slowly moving its way northward up the west coast. Or the sea lice on salmon from fish farms in British Columbia, the yellow cedar die-off, glaciers crumbling, a familiar, depressing list. To turn the question around, how can we NOT insert a moral component to the work we’re doing? And how can we not take exception with work that privileges human consciousness over and above the world we live in?

Cormac McCarthy looks the holocaust in the eye when he writes about the brook trout smelling of moss, and on the backs of the fish “vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming” in The Road. Anne Michaels does it figuratively, in her poetry measuring the weight of oranges, or in her novel Fugitive Pieces, as she contemplates how humanism and an engagement with the sensual world of Greece can heal the wounds of the Holocaust. I was reading Howard Norman the other day and came across a passage in his essay “I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place,” when he discusses an Inuit man wailing at Sedna, a god who has created a storm, putting a floatplane takeoff at risk.

[The Inuit man] had worked himself nearly to tears. Again, I didn’t know for which trespass he was asking pardon – with humankind there were so many and they occurred so frequently – nor did I know if I should even have been looking at him. What is the proper decorum in the presence of such a dramatic and intimate petition for mercy from invisible forces?

Meanwhile, I helped his son, Peter Shaimayuk, load five electric guitars and several sacks of mail into the cargo hold. The guitars were going to Winnipeg for repair.

Here I find a nuts-and-bolts story of guitars needing repair in Winnipeg, but one that is constructed 
out of a writerly core that has in mind and considers, with every word, how we as humans orient ourselves to an uncertain and crumbling world that we have created for ourselves. A good example of environment being told through story. 

I do believe the act of writing, at its core, is about granting essence and urgency and even personhood to the natural world around us. To make it come alive, so we can taste it, feel its winds on the sides of our neck, taste the brine, all of it. To acknowledge how we are hitched into a world that we are destroying. And a writing that furthers our illusion of autonomy is morally compromised. I believe that. And perhaps sitting down this evening, and working this through, brought me to this conclusion. Maybe I'll change my mind, but after this book tour of eleven cities, meeting folks in the literary community, reviewers, readers, I do think this.

Here's a quote I love from Adam Gopnik: “We gawk and stare as the painters slice off their ears and down the booze and act like clowns. But we rely on them to make up for our own timidity, on their courage to dignify our caution. We are spectators in the casino, placing bets; that’s the nature of the collaboration that brings us together, and we can sometimes convince ourselves that having looked is the same as having made, and that the stakes are the same for the ironic spectator and the would-be saint. But they’re not. We all make our wagers, and the cumulative lottery builds museums and lecture halls and revisionist biographies. But the artist does more. He bets his life.”

Brendan Jones is the author of the novel The Alaskan Laundry, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A recipient of a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Fundacion Valparaiso, and Ragdale, he is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has had work in the New York TimesPloughsharesNarrative MagazinePopular WoodworkingThe Huffington Post, and has recorded commentaries for NPR. Raised in Philadelphia, he took the Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka, Alaska. He graduated from Oxford University, where he boxed for the Blues team, then returned to Alaska to commercial fish. He was a general contractor for seven years in Philadelphia, before heading back to Sitka, where he now lives, commercial fishing and renovating a WWII tugboat. |