Chera Hammons: Poet and Writer

"…a slow shutter on ambulation…"

A Page from my Days in IT

I don’t know of many poets who work in Information Technology, though I have run across bios of that nature every now and again while reading literary reviews. I thought I’d share a page from my “IT Diary” that I ran across recently. It reminded me of the things I taught myself to view as amusing rather than annoying (that was often my coping strategy, and I highly suggest it). So, without further ado, I give you a slice of my life in 2012:

July 9, 3:05 PM. A downstairs employee comes by my desk complaining that her printer isn’t working. I go downstairs to fix it. It is out of paper. Once it has paper it prints as normal. I go back upstairs.

July 9, 5:07 PM. The employee emails to say that her printer has stopped working again.

July 10, 7:50 AM. I receive the email and go downstairs to check her printer, but the computer is locked and nobody is at her desk. I go back upstairs.

July 10, 8:03 AM. I see the employee come in and follow her back downstairs to her desk. She says, “Do you need me to log in?” I concur. As I stand near her computer she slowly unloads her purse on her desk and proceeds to walk to the refrigerator to carefully deposit a bag of breakfast foods. She then returns to her desk to log in. When I look at her printers I find she did not actually send her documents to her printer, but to an old one still in her printers list, which is why the documents did not print to her printer. I delete the unneeded older printer so that she will not be further confused, then return upstairs.

July 10, 9:12 AM. I am paged by the employee. She says that her printer has once again stopped working. On returning downstairs and checking the printer, I find that a thick plastic reusable cup has fallen over on her desk and rolled to the printer, hitting its large power button. Upon correcting the cup’s orientation and turning the printer’s power back on, it once again functions normally. I go back upstairs and cancel my gym membership.

There you have it, friends. I must say, while working in IT didn’t give me much good material in the way of poetry, it did give me plenty of slightly amusing anecdotes. And hey, while we’re in a discussion about both computers and poetry, check this out: a code poetry slam!

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My Annotated Bibliography

Readers, one of the requirements of Goddard’s program is to read at least 45 books, and then write three-page annotations over them. During the final semester, the student picks fifteen or twenty of the books that had the most impact on the student’s work or perception and completes an annotated bibliography (separate from the general bibliography, which contains all books the student has read during the program, but does not have any expansion or description). When I was working on mine, I Googled those of other students to find examples. I thought I’d add mine to the mix in case any future students do the same thing. You can also take anything on my annotated bibliography to be recommended reading. Enjoy!

ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Finney, Nikky. Head Off & Split: Poems. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

Nikky Finney’s poetry contains socially-centered content that ranges from an examination of the treatment of Hurricane Katrina victims to a description of the speaker’s experience of eating fish that was chewed and then fed to her by her mother. This book showed me that poetry can be “activist” without being preachy. I also enjoyed seeing how one concept or word could be woven throughout a poem to sew it together, and I began experimenting along similar lines in my own work. Hearing Nikky describe her “paleontology” of poetry construction at the residency and then seeing her strategy actually applied in this book has been helpful in keeping me from “writing the same poem twice.”

Hillman, Brenda. Death Tractates. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1992.

Hillman begins this book struggling to accept her friend’s absence. She eventually comes to believe that her friend can see into her world even if she cannot see into that of her friend, and thus they are not truly that separated. Her bright, clear writing style, hopeful in the darkest places and full of nuance, is something toward which I strive consciously in my manuscript, particularly in the nature poems. Hillman’s work makes clear the way that tone can be set through the connotations of words. She demonstrates the importance of specificity.

Hirsch, Edward. Wild Gratitude. New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2003.

Wild Gratitude is divided into four sections that tie together into a complete, comprehensive manuscript that follows a definite arc from despair to hope. Analyzing this arc, because it is so subtly crafted, allowed me to better refine the organization of my creative thesis after I had already organized it roughly along the lines of the Maginnes book I also annotated. It was also a good example for me of metaphor and subtext, and I understood that subtext has to work throughout an entire poem to be pleasing and authentic.

Hugo, Richard. Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo. New York: Norton, 1991.

Making Certain it Goes On moves from early, relatively general musings upon ocean landscapes and seabirds to Hugo’s experiences during the war and beyond, ultimately exploring his hometown, his actions, and his relationships intimately and honestly. Because my manuscript deals largely with where I’m from, I found his treatment of place to be especially helpful. It showed me how to deal with the subject of “home” in a way that is balanced, acknowledging the good and the bad.

Maginnes, Al. Inventing Constellations. Cincinnati, OH: Cherry Grove, 2012.

In Inventing Constellations, Al Maginnes takes the reader on a journey from the inexperience and beauty of youth to the irrevocability and resolution of death. Besides providing a good example of the narrative, conversational, personal, yet accessible style toward which I strive, I found the organization of this book to be a helpful example of how I am seeking to arrange my own thesis.

Neruda, Pablo, Ferris Cook, and Kenneth Krabbenhoft. Odes to Common Things. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.

Neruda’s Odes to Common Things discovers and expresses the significance and human-like characteristics that everyday household objects possess, lending then beauty and importance. It showed me that nothing is wrong with describing ordinary items— from apples to spiders— in a way that emphasizes their significance and “personalities,” no matter how trivial they seem. Studying Neruda’s knack of personification without “cuteness” helped me see how to balance a whimsical idea with plain speech.

Olds, Sharon. The Wellspring. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Within The Wellspring, Sharon Olds discusses many of the most transformative phases of the life cycle—from birth, to adolescence, to adulthood and parenthood—with a deep, sometimes humorous, sometimes aching love. The honest, unafraid, and meaningful exploration of the closest human relationships caused me to consider how to treat my relationships in my work, particularly the family relationships.

Plath, Sylvia. Ariel. New York: Perennial Classics, 1999.

The work in Plath’s final manuscript has a raw, insistent quality that is nonetheless beautiful as it explores the darkness inherent even in relationships and familiar landscapes. Her fearlessness astounded me, and the intensity of her work is what I began to strive for early in my Goddard experience. Her use of archetypes also caused me to consider the archetypes appearing in my own poetry, and why I use them.

Plath, Sylvia. Crossing the Water. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

The book appropriately forms a bridge between the earlier, less personal work in Colossus and the sharper, more tragic poetry of Ariel. The poetry as such displays the strengthening use of Plath’s imagery and methodology, clearly showing her maturing style. Seeing the difference between this book and Ariel encouraged me to strive to crystallize my work to the same extent.

Rankine, Claudia. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Saint Paul, MN.: Graywolf Press, 2004.

Rankine’s book calls itself “an American lyric.” It is the author’s exploration of world events, politics, technology, sickness, and science. Her refreshingly unapologetic voice aptly describes modern life in the United States. I hadn’t been exposed to this sort of writing before and I found its expansiveness and use of visuals widened the room I had to explore in my poetry, so I felt my boundaries loosen, even though I did not use the format myself. I also started to consider the speaker in my work more closely, and how that speaker presents herself.

Rexroth, K., and L. Zhong. Women Poets of China: Orchid Boat. New York: W. W. Norton Limited, 1972.

Despite being written throughout a wide timeframe in many situations, the poetry in this book almost always regards love in some way. The speakers in the poems seem both strongly grounded with nature and exceptionally tied to the men in their lives. The quiet strength of the voices demonstrated to me that simplicity could sometimes be used to striking advantage. And that there is no shame in speaking unabashedly of one’s realities.

Spahr, Juliana. This Connection of Everyone with Lungs: Poems. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.

This book is Juliana Spahr’s response to the political and social situations which occurred after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I had not realized something so controversial could be treated with such love. I realized that I could tie my poetry to specific events through which I had lived. This book also made me realize the importance of white space and line endings— how a poem’s structure has even a physical effect on the reader, influencing breath.

Szymborska, Wislawa, Stanislaw Baralczak, and Clare Cavanagh. View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co, 1995.

The work of Wislawa Szymborska dances with wit, irony, and surprising conclusions that
somehow also manage to be relatable to readers from many backgrounds. I was exposed to this book early in my Goddard career and feel it may be the first contemporary poetry book I read in which the material was completely accessible but still wholly intelligent. This is another book which I hold up as a model for what I have hoped to achieve, particularly its sort of confidence and awareness.

Turner, Brian. Here, Bullet. Farmington, ME: Alice James Books, 2005.

The calmly stated details of what happens before, during, and after violent events make Turner’s poetry believable, despite sections that would likely seem heavy-handed if they came from another writer. This book showed me that sometimes maturity of style may be acceptably sacrificed for authenticity of voice— that sometimes rawness actually adds to a poem’s power, and can be used as a tool.

Young, Dean. Fall Higher. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2012.

Young’s work, while it often seems random in its imagery and conclusions, nonetheless possesses an energy and a confidence that come across as a sort of exaltation of existence, an embrace of the good, the bad, and the circumstantial. I strive to attain a similar vivacity in my manuscript— like Young, making the work sensory, with an artistic quality akin to that in paintings, to add to its impact on my reader.

Moving right along…

Hello again, world!

I never realize how much time has passed since my last post until I remember that I have a blog (which happens almost never) and then go there and see the date of my last post. The passage of time does have the added bonus of giving me more material to write about,  though, right?

In news this, uh, year… I have some readings coming up in North Carolina! The first will be on March 14th at 11:00 a.m. at Durham Tech and will feature, besides Jeff Hardin and myself, readers from the …and love.. anthology. The second is also on March 14th and will occur at 7:00 p.m. at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.  Jeff and I are the main event at that one. Books will be for sale as well. More info will be on the Flyleaf Books website as the date approaches. Additional readings may be scheduled through March 16th, so check back.

Finally, keep an eye out for the spring issue of Rattle, in which I am honored to have a spot. You can pre-order the issue at a discounted price right now here.

I plan to soon write a post regarding thoughts about my latest residency at Goddard, in which I met Nikky Finney and was told something odd by my cab driver. That’s for next time though. Gotta leave ’em (you) wanting more, right? I will do my best to write that post before, say, April.

I would like to leave you with a picture of my super cat, Butter, who does exactly what writers’ cats should do: keep our laps warm.

A Writer's Cat

Here’s a shout out to you, Butter. Even though when you sit in my lap I can’t open my keyboard drawer and have to set my keyboard on top of my desk where there is no space for it, you’re appreciated.

Greetings! And some news.

Greetings, my lovely readers! I have several news items for you.

1. Amaranthine Hour is out and now available from Jacar Press. Richard Krawiec and his team did a superb job on it. The book is beautiful, is put together well, and has a nice weight. I could not have asked for anything better than what was done. Many, many thanks go out to Jacar Press and to John Hoppenthaler for all of their support. The opportunity they have provided me is much appreciated.

2. I have one signing coming up soon. It will be at the Horsefeathers Studio in Sunset Center, Amarillo, Texas, on October 5th. I will be there from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M., (hopefully) selling and signing lots o’ books.

3. Jacar Press will host a reading for myself and for the 2012 Jacar Press full manuscript winner, Jeff Hardin, in March in Durham, North Carolina. Check back for details.

4. On a related note, congratulations are in order for Jeff Hardin and his manuscript Notes for a Praise Book. He is an accomplished and deserving poet, and I am eager to read his book.

5. My dream of being in the Poets & Writers directory has finally become reality! Does this mean I can change my listed Facebook occupation from “Information Technology” to “Poet”? Or do you have to technically stick to what pays the bills?

6. On a sort of related note to the above post, I have discovered that the house cleaning schedule imposed by working full time and going to graduate school full time gives one the unique opportunity to really find out exactly how many tiny spiders died in one’s home over the past couple of months.

Take care, all, and keep writing!

Amaranthine Hour by October

Hello, all!

Amaranthine Hour is scheduled to be out in early October. I will work on setting up some readings. I must say that working with Jacar Press has been amazing, and I am more than impressed with the work that they have done. I also appreciate all of the attention they have paid to my input on the design.

In the meantime, please enjoy the attached front cover art. It is a photo that I took in Napa Valley, just outside of  Calistoga.

Amaranthine Hour Front Cover

Amaranthine Hour Front Cover

Truth in Tension

I keep coming back to this quote:

“Much of beauty, both in art and in life, is a balancing of the lines of forward-flowing desire with those of resistance– a gnarled tree, the flow of a statue’s draped cloth. Through such tensions, physical or mental, the world in which we exists becomes itself.” — Jane Hirschfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

It’s something I think I ought to keep in mind, and that’s why I wanted to share it.

Robert Frost’s Woods

I saw Robert Frost’s woods for the first time this winter, when I spent several days near Plainfield, Vermont. Since Frost is the reason I wanted to be a poet, this walk through the softly drifting snow was transcendental for me.  As a Texas girl, I have seen snow falling horizontally, snaking across the road in dry powder, and as an adopted New Mexican, I had seen it building over the mountains like smoke to drift white ashen on us and then disappear by noon. How fitting, then, that my return to poetry after a long and yellow absence would occur here, I thought: trees as tall as the Appalachians, and snow falling softly through them in the way I had imagined in my childhood. Though “The Path Not Taken” is often misinterpreted to mean that one road is better than another, instead of its more accurate interpretation (discovered by closer reading) that the paths we choose all simply lead us to different, but not necessarily better, places, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening” has never held any sort of mystery for me. I can hear the horse shaking his bells, and see the smoke from the farmhouses now. My breath in the air and the soft settling of the branches above me are all I need to tell me that these woods are mine.