When I was bored last month and picked up the chapbook Shift from a basket on our living room table, I didn’t know a lot about Alyse Bensel. There are plenty of chapbooks, zines, and small collections of poetry stuffed into this basket that I have never read and (sadly) might never find time to.
Alyse Bensel was touring through her old stomping grounds two Octobers ago, and I missed it; luckily, Erin didn’t. She saw Bensel read when she made a stop at Barnes and Nobel for The Lancaster Poetry Exchange. This is how the cardboard-cut-out-covered Shift ended up in our living room. I read it, loved it, and was enamored by the fact that my home-county of York, PA produced not only the poet, but all of her poems—each of the specific, industrial images.
In Shift, Bensel encounters the stuff poets claim poetry can be about, but often isn’t. It’s about work. It’s about manual labor, and odd-hours, and motorcycles, and 5am alarms, and bulldozers, and FedEx Ground. It’s about how relationships run through all of that, how love and loss take no sick days.
After snooping around online I saw that Bensel has a new book coming out. It’s called Not of Their Own Making, and it’s out now from Dancing Girl Press. I emailed her to see if she’d answer a few questions about where we come from, what inspired the work in Shift, and what her new book is all about.
Tyler: Your favorite thing about growing up in Southcentral PA:
All right, enough about the food. Growing up I felt like I had such free reign on the landscape in the suburban limits of Shiloh. I spent many summer afternoons along the trails of the Little Conewago Conservation Area, which I’m happy to see has been maintained and semi-landscaped through the efforts of local scout troops. I was also always at camp, always outside (until the internet came into our house in late elementary school, and then slightly less time was spent outdoors). I’ve always loved the Susquehanna Valley landscape, being near its river, plenty of moving water, and the hills. I long for some rolling hills.
Your favorite thing about Southcentral PA now:
Probably still the soft pretzels.
But, really, the rise of the art, literary, music and sustainability collectives, not to mention the triumph of the local businesses in the region, particularly in York and Lancaster. I am beyond thrilled that when I visit there is always an open mic, a show, a reading, something going on that I can go to myself if I want and have a good time, and a good drink. I love downtown York. I always have, but I love that some of my favorite places I frequented in high school (Sunrise Soap, Sweet Melissa’s Dream, Central Market, Esaan) are still there and thriving. Even more amazing places have popped up since high school—I haven’t even been able to visit them all yet. I hope I can, soon.
Your favorite thing about places that aren’t Southcentral PA:
While I’m still heavily drawn to the landscape I grew up in, I’m also becoming more receptive to differing landscapes, especially the radically different landscapes within different regions in Kansas. I live in Northeast Kansas now, an area that is surprisingly similar and yet drastically different from York. Lawrence has hills (well, one really large hill called Mt. Oread, where the University resides, and some smaller ones), but then it becomes flat, and then it becomes the Flinthills. Until you reach Manhattan, KS, the land continues to change due to even the slightest elevation. Pennsylvania does not have prairie, and I have to say that I’ve become a fan of the prairie landscape.
Did you experience any writing community while you lived here? What fostered your writing?
I only had marginal experience with writing in high school in any creative capacity. While I started the first 100 pages of a fantasy novel during middle school, I had only passing interest in poetry, and nothing academically really fostered writing poems. Certain teachers would read and help me revise my writing, but I remember distinctly feeling a lack of support or outlet for my creative writing, except online. And yes, you can still find fanfiction I wrote on fanfiction.net if you look hard enough. But I will never reveal my old username.
Consequently, I felt starved for an art scene. I was involved in every music group imaginable (school choir, church choir, county/district/regional choir, musical), but I had a strong interest in visual art and writing that wasn’t really sustained during school hours. After my freshmen year of high school, my aunt found me a volunteering opportunity at YorkArts Art in the Parks Program (which just celebrated its 20th anniversary!), where I could work with youth in the city to help them express themselves through art. Over the course of several summers, I worked my way up from volunteer to co-coordinator for the program and assisted with morning programs at the gallery. The last summer I worked there I practically lived there. Being at YorkArts was the first time I felt I was in a community of artists (who practiced all different kinds of artforms) and wasn’t being graded or assessed by anyone. I’ve made some lifelong friends, some of whom have moved on from YorkArts and others who are still keeping the organization strong.
I don’t think I would have gone in the direction of a fine arts degree in graduate study if not for that first exposure to community art and outreach. I still have yet to find anything like YorkArts anywhere else I’ve lived, included Lawrence, which is the most art-friendly liberal town I’ve lived in.
Can you talk a little bit about other writing communities you’ve been a part of? At Penn State? At Kansas University? Do you have a personal writing group? Friends you share and edit with regardless of where you are?
I think once you get to higher education, there are almost always more opportunities to find writing communities, since they’re built into the institution’s academic and extracurricular structure, especially if there’s a focus on creative writing.
I explicitly went to my undergraduate institution (Washington College), a small private liberal arts school, because they had a creative writing minor (which I never actually fulfilled all of the coursework for) and a large endowment to bring in notable writers, as well as an active literary house with letterpress along with an active publications unit for undergrads. There was always an opportunity to get involved. I hung out at the Literary House on campus, read my first copy of an actual literary journal (Zone 3), got to meet some amazing writers like Neil Gaiman, Ted Kooser, and Daniel Handler, and actively took workshops. It was in my freshman year of undergrad when I realized fiction writing was not for me, but poetry was.
At Penn State, my (now defunct) MFA program had a wide array of visiting writers, community groups who needed volunteer writers on staff, and I always had a few close friends who I could exchange work with to receive feedback outside of a traditional workshop setting. I also have a good friend back in State College, and we try to be productive poetry buddies, even if sometimes we get sidetracked.
Now, in Lawrence, I’m still in coursework and have been in workshop, but I’m also at that stage in my work where I know who my best readers of my work are. On Sunday evenings a few of us have Poetry Time at a local bar, where we drink craft brews and exchange poems for an hour or so. I think having that close group, where people care about your work and want to give you the best feedback positive, is a really positive and motivating experience. It makes me want to get a full-length manuscript completed, stat.
Can you talk about the process of writing your first chapbook, Shift (Plan B Press).
This is actually the first time I’ve been asked a question about any direct experience working the jobs mentioned in the chapbook, so I’m glad you’ve brought this up.
While I hope this doesn’t alter your reading of the poems too drastically, Shift is rooted in persona of those I was close to who were working those jobs at FedEx, Kinard, Frito Lay, Harley (although I don’t mention that one in the chapbook), and other factories in the area. Southcentral Pennsylvania, particularly York County, is a very factory heavy town, and I wanted that to come through in the chapbook.
During high school, I had boyfriends through the years who worked factories throughout and beyond high school just to make ends meet. Sometimes these jobs became careers, but oftentimes they didn’t. My first high school boyfriend is now a professional trucker for Kinard and absolutely loves his job.
My sophomore year boyfriend worked second shift at FedEx—4PM to 11PM. After school let out, he’d race to his car, grab a snack along the way, and work in the sorting room for seven hours, three to four nights a week. He was living in a studio apartment in the West York borough at the time, so he’d have to scrape in rent from his part-time FedEx job. I’d try to help him with his homework when he had time. There was never enough time.
After high school, another previous boyfriend [the one I mentioned previously who works at Kinard] landed a job as a truck driver and has been doing that ever since. He drives all over the East Coast, at different intervals and times. And my brother-in-law worked at Frito Lay briefly on various shifts, but he didn’t stay long. My sister complained about the smell and the fact that so many incidents occurred on a weekly basis.
When did you start publishing?
My first poem appeared in The Meadowland Review in their Spring 2011 Issue, but I had essays and poems appear here and there in my undergraduate publications. After that first publication, I’ve had poems and book reviews appearing steadily in journals ever sense. It’s an incredible and humbling feeling to have editors I don’t even know select my work and then, after the fact, I get to know them as writers and people.
As an aside, I’d like to add that now that I’m on the editorial end of the whole publication process, I’ve felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to the writer. I want to be communicative, supportive, and honest with any writer that I come into contact with. I only think it’s fair and respectful. Sometimes I think we need more reciprocal respect and exchange when in comes to submitting, evaluating, and communicating with one another. I try to do the best I can, and I just hope everyone else out there is, too.
Who are you reading lately?
As much as I can. Whomever I can. But currently the stack of collections beside me includes Dandarians by Lee Ann Roripaugh, Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson, Nestuary by Molly Sutton Kiefer, Almost Any Shit Will Do by Emji Spero, Ultramegaprairieland by Elisabeth Workman, and Pie School, a pie-baking cookbook by Kate Lebo. If you love pie, go buy this book. It is also a work of art in itself, but I know what makes good pie, and she delivers.
And I’ve also just gone through nearly the entirety of the Collected Work of John Keats (that one’s for a seminar, but I forgot how much I do love Keats’s work. But still, William Blake forever!). I’ve also recently finished Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and will be asking my 101 students to read from it as well. Just incredible.
I also have a stack a couple feet high of review copies that I always hope I can get to. I keep it close by so perhaps I can somehow absorb their contents through osmosis.
How is your new book (Not of Their Own Making) different than Shift? What is its focus? How pumped are you?
In elementary school, during the fourth grade Scholastic bookfair, I picked up a copy of Mermaid Tales From Around the World by Mary Pope Osborne (you can still get copies on the cheap from Amazon), a “kid-friendly” retelling of classic fairy tales from different countries, cultures, and eras, with illustrations in the “style” of that culture and time period to match. I cannot tell you how many times I read that book. I was obsessed. Currently that book is displayed on one of the bookshelves in my house. I wrote Not of Their Own Making over a two week (!!) period in May, after teaching, as a way to entertain my friends over gmail. Every day I tackled one or sometimes even two of the stories from the book, either retelling or responding to them. I also re-watched Splash, one of my favorite movies, and wrote a response to that. After the two weeks, I looked at the poems, shocked at how they turned out, and decided to send them out to chapbook presses. Kristy Bowen, who runs Dancing Girl Press, emailed me at the end of the press’s open reading period to let me know it was accepted. I was trying to make eggs under the influence of a fever but managed to do a happy dance in my kitchen anyway.
There is a somewhat bizarre connection between Shift and Not of Their Own Making, in that Shift ends with my experience with the York Fish & Oyster Co. mermaid, the kind of beautiful and terrifying figure that takes up the entirety of this second chapbook. I certainly didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it happened!
This is weird question, maybe, but I’ve been asking writers this a lot lately: What do you like the most about your own work?
I’m usually far more concerned with how a poem sounds than the syntax making complete sense. I come from a predominantly music and theater oriented background and had little to no experience with poetry, but I always had an ear for the lyric and for how words sound when sung or spoken. While I love grammar, maybe a little too much, I also will obsess if a poem doesn’t sound right. I hope that sense of sound and rhythm comes across to readers and listeners, because I always intend a poem to work statically on the page and sonically on the lips. I love it most when I achieve that effect.
BUT IS IT LIT? is the Triangle’s way of reviewing non-standard texts. We find—or one of our friends, neighbors, or literary comrades finds—something interesting that can be read as literature. Someone reviews it, sends it, we post it, and the age-old conversation continues: what is lit? Today’s review comes from our friend and craigslist connoisseur, Michelle.
Source text: (see bottom of post)
How the hell I ended up reading and reviewing this ad, I’ll never truly know. I probably meant to click on something else, or my space-pad thing was jammed (I spilled a little sugar in there once). Either way, my first reaction was TL;DR (too-long-didn’t-read). But then, I started reading and couldn’t stop. I’m still processing which part made me want to move in less:
1) the gross dog yard with no grass left
2) the toilet-sink combo (this combo once yielded your humble reviewer a black eye—true story)
3) or the lack of Oxford comma in the “I fixed all the things” rant
Never mind that the writer skips immediately from “Non-Stabby” in the title to “relatively stabby-free” in the first sentence (gramma-lert: stabby-free is not a thing). How stabby are we talking here?
Upon googling “n marshall st stabbing lancaster, pa,” I’m here to tell you: not too stabby.
Side note, I think the guy here likes dobermans. It did take me until half way through the ad to realize what Casa Dobermino meant. I thought it sounded like a weird last name. Also: Dobermonsters. Who simultaneously capitalizes and badly-nicknames their dog’s breed? Spoiler alert: two of the dogs are dead and he talks about it at the end. Ugh.
The amenities on this property are highly lacking.
Proximity to crappy bars: check.
Proximity to annoying sirens at the hospital: check.
TV wall mount you have to dismantle yourself: check.
W/D hookup: just another way to tell me I’ll still be hoofing it to FestivaLaundry.
Oh, there’s a bonus! The downstairs toilet-I-mean-laundry-sink is already broken in!
Another bonus: I’m actually impressed by the lack of spelling errors, unless you count the elitist “theatre”. Maybe this guy should be invited to The Triangle’s Adult Spelling Bee.
The rooms—the ones that aren’t a hot fucking mess—look OK in the photos. It looks almost exactly like my friends’ house on Third Street, except theirs isn’t jammed between two other houses like it’s in the middle seat of the Scrambler at the carnival. “Row home” at least implies some kind of tiny alley doesn’t it? Speaking of tiny, as a tiny room dweller myself (9’x6′), I took offense when reading “2 are normal bedrooms and the 3rd one is tiny”. IS MY TINY ROOM ABNORMAL, GUY? AM I ABNORMAL?
With its sore lack of commas throughout, and the can’t-put-my-finger-on-it, odd feeling I’m left with, I conclude that this ad is lit-lite. The regular ads on craigslist are so boring and the horrible apartments are always so hyped up, that this was definitely a nice laugh—I wish more ads were as interesting, honestly. Maybe I’ll start checking in on the apartment section more often, since I’ll already be there to collect the gold from craigslist Missed Connections.
(update 11/18: The post was removed from CL, so here’s the full text…)
$105999 / 3br – 1100ft² – Rowhome in Non-Stabby part of Lancaster (739 N Marshall St)
Do you want a low-maintenance home in a relatively stabby-free neighborhood? Do you want to live within walking distance of 5 bars? In the event of a cardiac emergency wouldn’t it be nice to be only 3 blocks away from Lancaster General Hospital? Well, I have the home for you.
Casa Dobermino is on the market. Built in the 1940s by skilled artisans and stone masons, this property at 739 N Marshall St. could be the work of angels. Probably Hell’s Angels, but no matter. I bought this house in 2004 because I wanted to adopt a dog from the Humane League and my roommates at the time didn’t want a dog. So naturally I walked out of my apartment and bought the house for sale by owner directly across the street.
In the short 10 years that I’ve owned this property I had to replace the roof (2012), Central Air (2012), Gas Furnace (2006), Gas Stove (2013), Hot Water Heater (2010 & 2013 fml) and Dishwasher (2006). Last month I had the interior and exterior painted and the floors refinished. Basically you’ve got a house that someone has already taken a beating on so you can move in and live worry free.
There are 3 bedrooms, of which 2 are normal bedrooms and the 3rd one is tiny. That one would be good for a nursery, office, dark room, massage parlor, really tiny home theatre, or panic room. In the Master bedroom I left a wall mount for your flat-screen TV so you too can enjoy the pleasure of playing Grand Theft Auto from bed.
There is only one bathroom but in a pinch there is a nice laundry sink in the basement. Speaking of basement, half of it is finished so you have somewhere to hide when your spouse is an asshole.
There is one off-street parking spot out back so even if all of the neighbors have guests hogging the street spots, you can still easily pull into your spot laughing at the neighbors without such amenities. There is a tiny fenced-in yard out back that over the years helped confine 4 different Dobermonsters.
Are you lazy like I am? Well don’t worry, there is no grass in back and the front yard you can mow in less than 5 minutes. Or you can hire Stephen, he’s a neighborhood kid (I think he’s 20) that stutters and rides a BMX bike, he charged $10 to mow the lawn or shovel snow.
If you are hungry or wanna get a load on you can walk to Turkey Hill, Stubby’s, Lancaster Brewing, Quips, Cork and Cap, Bakers Table, Rumplebrewskins, ABAG or the Friendly Greek. If you have a medical emergency you can take a quick jog to the ER – Good Times!
But wait, there’s more! My last 3 ex girlfriends all have keys to the place and they rarely do pop-ins. The bathroom sink is located directly in front of the toilet so ina Flu-Emergency you can expel in both directions. The neighbors will pretty much leave you alone as I set the bar pretty high as being the “crazy fat guy with a gun and dobermans”, so if you move in discretely they might think I’m still there and stay out of your business.
**** UPDATED PICS . One pic is of my old big red couch with two of my former dogs. The couch and dogs are all buried now but I miss them so they made it into the photos. There are no pics of the back yard or basement yet because as the photographer said “It is a hot mess”. So I painted the basement mostly today and sooner or later I’ll get around to pulling the dead Morning Glories off my fence.
Big Triangle News: We’ve added another team member. Matthew Kabik is a Lancaster-based fiction writer who holds an MFA from Arcadia University. We’ve been meeting with him covertly in local coffee shops of all shapes and sizes. Our upcoming publishing workshop (Submit Smarter: How to Find the Right Home For Your Stories and Poems) is hosted by Matt. He’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Twice. He likes to compare rejections on Submittable. We may or may not be working with him to start a literary magazine right here in Lancaster. He runs Lancaster’s first and only Bike Polo blog. He’s bright. He’s motivated. His writing is the real deal.
National Novel Writing Month (or as it was previously known: November) is a time when new and experienced writers alike try desperately to mute every single #NaNoWriMo tweet possible in their feed.
Okay, I showed my hand a bit there, sorry.
It’s a time when people from all levels of the writing life join together in an attempt to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. It’s fun, it gives a sense of community, and it gives some impetus to folks who otherwise wouldn’t have a drive to really push themselves.
And those are all great things. They are terrific, even—but I don’t know that they are really all that swell for the sake of really helping you as a writer.
Let me make the case before you find me on Twitter and unleash your wrath (@mlkabik, btw, if you want to do that anyway). NaNoWriMo is really quite difficult to do, and I applaud anyone who manages to actually complete the 50k goal. But it’s also…well…difficult to do. It’s a great way of shocking your writer’s brain. I for one can’t imagine anyone wanting to write anything for at least a month after the event, and I can see how that month could stretch into two, then four, then a whole year up to the next NaNoWriMo. It’s not a healthy cycle.
The argument is, of course, that you could potentially have a 50,000 word novel by the end of it—but if you wrote 300 words every day for a year you’d come up with a 108,000 word novel. What I mean is: consistency over the year is better than one month of burning yourself out.
Furthermore, consider what you’re now associating writing with: instead of something you squirrel away to do every day (hopefully your writing schedule is that good), it’s something that you are legit pushing people out of your life to do for a full month. It’s something you pain yourself over in regards to word count. It’s something that keeps you up at night and makes you have a constant anxiety around. At best, it’s gamification of something that really shouldn’t be made into a game. Much like those fun experiments we learned about in high school psychology, NaNoWriMo is providing negative reinforcement around writing. How can that really help you in the long run?
My suggestion is this: If you like the community and the goals, get yourself a good writing group and set weekly goals for yourself throughout the year. Set aside one or two hours each day (or, more realistically, two or three times a week) to sit down and just write. Count the words if you want—give yourself a word count, even—but stick to that schedule and see what you’ve got by the end of the year. If all went according to plan, you’ll have more than enough material and you’ll also not see writing as a sprint (which it isn’t) but as a marathon or, really, as the long walk that it actually is.
I resisted putting in a picture of Bilbo Baggins walking out of the Shire, so at the very least you should appreciate that.
Playwrights, to get their work presented to the world, are uniquely dependent on the decisions and commitment of others. The collaboration and effort it takes to move an idea from the page, into the hands of performers, and onto the stage can make it difficult to make live, home-grown theater happen.
This is where Lydia Brubaker comes in.
Lydia and I hung out at Mean Cup, near the campus of Franklin and Marshall College, where she works during the day in her “real” life job. Though, as a genuine advocate of liberal arts education, she thinks it’s not such a bad gig. She spent the early part of her childhood here, on the west side of Lancaster, and later moved to the family homestead, just south of the city in Willow Street.
Her interest in the dramatic arts was never really a question. As she puts it, “I was always putting on shows at home for my family and friends, and my parents really helped to support that and encourage creativity and let me dress up as all kinds of weird stuff. But they also took me to a lot of theater, and so I went to a lot of shows downtown in Lancaster when I was little. At the Fulton, and there was Commotion Theater at that point, Independent Eye was still around, and the Theater of the Seventh Sister. I came to the TSS first when I was in fourth grade. My mom was in a show there. She plays fiddle. She was in a production of Spoon River Anthology. I just could not get enough! I went to every rehearsal that I could possibly go to. And I loved it. I loved the whole process. That was probably one of the earliest experiences of understanding how the whole process works, but there were so many influences.” These formative interests propelled Lydia through many diverse theater experiences in middle school, high school, and college. She was reading and seeing as many plays as she could, while also working on her own projects.
Lydia found her niche in the theater world as a director, although she’s sometimes more of a producer and facilitator (she also acts and writes collaboratively with the local sketch comedy troupe, Happy Time Explosion Show). As early as her senior year of high school she found herself being pushed and drawn toward this role of integrating all the various parts of theater, making the collaborative efforts cohesive. Thoughtfully trying to find the right words to describe her passion for directing, she told me, “I think that it’s about being able to incorporate so many different areas into a production, being able to draw on knowledge from so many different places. I always learn something when I’m working on a play. I love the collaborative nature of it. Everyone involved in the process comes with a different mindset and background, with different skills and knowledge, so being in a room where everyone is able to share that experience can be really stimulating.”
It became clear to me throughout our conversation that Lydia Brubaker makes things happen. She has a passion, seeks out others with a similar passion, and goes with it. One such way she does this is through her involvement with the Lancaster Dramatists’ Platform.
This Platform has been meeting in various forms since around 2005, and is essentially a workshop for playwrights. Lydia currently facilitates the workshop with about ten writers, sometimes more, and originally began her involvement as a co-facilitator with Oscar Lee Brownstein, a former Chair of the Yale Playwriting Department who was living in Lancaster at the time. The group critiques short plays and scenes from full length dramas every two weeks. In addition, on every other first Friday, they present free, staged readings of plays that the group feels are ready to come into contact with an audience. Lydia tells me this is an essential part of the process, that it is this type of dedication, vulnerability, and collaboration that polishes the writing into performance ready theater. She says, “I think any feedback they get from an audience has so much more impact. Just to see how people experience the plays…When you start taking your work from the dining room table to a group of actors who are trying to find the characters in the story, that’s where you can tell what’s working and what’s not working.”
It’s working with writers in this formative stage that Lydia enjoys most. She thrives when she is able to aid in the creative process of another, making art happen. She says that “trying to follow the vision of the playwright” is paramount. Talk to any serious artist or writer, and they can tell you how rare Lydia’s gift is, of being able to “figure out how to help them tell the story they want to tell.” She makes this gift seem as natural as breathing or blinking.
Another way Lydia is making things happen is through her role as Executive Director of The Creative Works of Lancaster. Creative Works is a nonprofit organization that aims to “recognize the creative spirit in each of us, to hold on to our humanity in the postmodern world” and “to fuel and sustain the city’s cultural renaissance.” What’s not to love about this vision?
It all came together in 2008, with several board members all working to perfect a vision for an arts center with creative co-working space and multiple venues for events. However, when the financial crisis happened, potential funding streams dried up; they were forced to get creative. Lydia told me, “We’re a more established organization now. But, you know, there’s a ramp to get there. We started out very, very small.” They did some early, low budget, grassroots events to build a foundation for the work they do now, while refocusing their vision on the performing arts.
Their first event was a mobile art gallery, where volunteers walked around wearing sandwich boards laden with local art. Another early event was a sock puppet parody of the horror film Psycho, which was put on at Lancaster Dispensing Company, naturally, as “beer and nachos and sock puppets go really well together.” Because it was so popular the sock puppets have become something of a tradition. Just this October they put on a reprise of The Silence of the Socks, their parody of The Silence of the Lambs, which originally debuted over the summer. They put on a holiday-ish show, Yule Laugh, which Lydia called “the epitome of what Creative Works is all about. It brought together some established work, so we did a couple plays by published playwrights, but we also featured three new plays by local playwrights, and a bunch of parodied Christmas carols. It was all kind of woven together. We were in the 4th floor studio of the Keppel building, which was an interesting found space for us, and a space that not too many people in the general public had seen before.”
Over time, Lydia and the other members of Creative Works have done increasingly bigger productions. They began to do fully staged readings and full productions of new and established work. Just this May they produced a weekend run of Chet Williamson’s new play called He Comes For His Books at Tellus360. This is a world premier of a locally written, locally produced show we’re talking about here. Lydia told me, “We really hope to do that again moving forward. It was incredibly meaningful, to see that come to fruition.” Chet Williamson is also part of the Lancaster Dramatists’, and his play was selected out of a pool of plays submitted to Creative Works that developed out of the Platform’s workshop. During July of this year, in Crystal Park, they presented 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, part of their summer park series. This series has happened three years running, formerly at Musser Park.
All these efforts come from a genuine love for theater and all the ways it can positively impact a community. For Lydia and Creative Works, that seems to be the payoff, to serve and engage the community at large: “If I was going to describe in a nutshell what Creative Works does—because we dabble in so many projects—we try to keep everything connected to performing arts. When we do an event, we want it to be new to Lancaster, something that hasn’t been done here before. Or, we want it to be brand new work, so that’s where we try to partner with playwrights locally or to create something on our own. Or, we want to bring something to a new audience, for people who might not normally go to theater events. We try to make things as accessible as possible for as many different people as possible.”
Here are some things you’re going to want to check out. On November 15, the Creative Works presents 24 Hour Plays at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster on West Orange Street. The Lancaster Dramatists’ first Friday readings—the next one should be in December. Also, head on over to the Lancaster Creative Works website for more events and information.
The very first evening it felt like fall this year, I curled myself up in an oversized flannel shirt, whiskey-spiked tea in hand, and pushed <PLAY> to begin re-watching, possibly, one of the best movies made about witches of all time: Practical Magic (will someday write an entire BUT IS IT LIT? // Sandra Bullock).
For those who have not experienced the beauty of this 1998 rom/com/dram starring the aforementioned and Nicole Kidman, the story centers around two witch-sisters cursed to forever have the men they love meet an untimely death. At a young age, the main character creates and casts a love spell that she believes will never be applicable to a man, thus saving her the strife of a broken heart.
It was either the crisp air tumbling in through my open window, or Stevie Nicks’s voice swooning during a close-up of a full moon on the television that made me remember the love spell I wrote after having seen this movie for the first time. I was 12 years old; my walls were full of Backstreet Boys posters, and my face was full of zits. The hormones were raging, and the daydreams about someday-loves were always full-length feature films in my mind. The unmistakable wobble that comes with navigating adolescence underlined pure magic as the only thing to lean on. A simple spell written in bright pink marker seemed the one logical step to take next in my rickety journey towards young adulthood.
Below is an actual piece of my life sixteen years ago. No shame.
Sixteen years later and, though I have steadied myself, I am still fascinated by the raw power of words. I am not convinced lighting a candle and sprinkling flower petals around an object representing that which I desire is absolutely necessary, but there remains an optimism in the idea that maybe, if we feel the tiny bones of our fingers creak beneath the pen, or if we sense the weighted air move inside our lungs as we speak, our wishes might come true. Our designs may manifest.
A Brief Poetry/Spell Compare and Contrast
- Most spells tend to reflect periods of time and commonalities of the human experience such as times of loss and love; times we are fearful, times of abundance and thankfulness, times of hope. Poetry and literature call to us because they are inspired by those same experiences.
- Poems share pieces of the author with the rest of the world. Spells are also flavored by their creators and casters who often include personal traditions and practices.
- Spells and incantations often take those things which we view as ordinary (stones, herbs, flowers, pieces of twine, candles, etc.) and make them magical. Somehow, there is a way to feel the atoms move through pieces of amethyst as you hold them in your hands by candlelight. Similarly, poems draw mysticism from the floorboards of every day life. Think of “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams.
- Like poems, spells and incantations contain carefully chosen, purposeful words. These words are cast out, sent into space to bring us something in return. Where a spell may ask for luck in job endeavors or help in navigating the roads of a romance, a poem may ask for clarity enough to see deeply into the the smoke of life, safe passage to the other side.
Here’s an incantation that has resonated not only with the daydreaming diviner in me, but with the poet as well. It’s taken from Llewellyn’s 2014 Witches’ Spell-A-Day Almanac: Holidays & Lore.
I also highly recommend Sister Karol’s Book of Spells and Blessings
by Karol Jackowski.
In closing, I leave you with a local “Love Potion 717″ written by The Triangle’s dear friend, natural gatherer and collector of light, Michelle Johnsen (you can check out her enchanting photography here).
“Love Potion 717″
meet me in the garden;
we’ve elixirs to compose-
kava root, and rose;
cinnamon and cardamom
with hawthorne (just a pinch)
from lovely green and rooted plants;
and one song from the finch.
then meet me in the apiary
we’ve honey to collect-
an ancient potion element
to aid in its effects.
and now we to the kitchen
to set his heart aflame
by simmering decoctions
while whispering his name.
bottle with a ginkgo sprig,
store in darkness, shake at noon
beneath the sun for four long weeks-
open at full moon.
deftly dip the dropper
into wine or mead or brew
and offer to this cherished man-
make true love come to you.
For Visual Interviews we send a writer a disposable camera and a list of ideas to photograph along with a few short questions. Once the camera is mailed back, we develop the photos and arrange them collage style to give you a unique glimpse into the life of the writer we’ve selected. Check out past Visual Interviews and stay tuned because we have Lindsay Hunter, Adam Robinson, Roxane Gay, and a group interview with Boost House coming up over the next couple of months!
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014) Her second book, Hollywood Notebook, is forthcoming from Writ Large Press in spring 2015. You can follow Wendy on Twitter at @WendyCOrtiz. Interview curated by Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton.
Photographs by Wendy C. Ortiz and her almost-four-year-old, text by Wendy C. Ortiz. Items we could identify include: Wendy C. Ortiz, Wendy C. Ortiz’s primary mode of transportation (a car which was stolen sometime after being photographed), Wendy C. Ortiz’s favorite place to buy groceries, Wendy C. Ortiz’s magenta running shorts (up close and personal), and Wendy C. Ortiz’s arm.
Suddenly it was August 25th 2014, a complete rotation of the earth around the sun. During those 365 days, eight pieces of literature were hibernating under the earth at Lancaster’s Buchanan Park.
I’m going to jump ahead and spoil the question that this article series asks: YES.
The idea was this:
1. Let’s have a picnic at Buchanan Park in Lancaster City.
2. Let’s (all eight of us) free-write on a single prompt together.
3. Let’s rip the pages out of our notebooks, put those pages in a glass mason jar, and push that jar into the ground.
4. Let’s dig a hole, take some pictures, and use our collective memory to mark the spot in the earth.
5. Let’s take pictures
6. Let’s do one of those cool group-moves that sports teams do where they all put their hands in the middle and then yell something.
A few weeks ago was a year, and we followed through.
It was exciting being back at the park, in the shade of the same widespread pine tree. Some of us hadn’t hung out in a year; some us of now lived together. We all sat on blankets and talked, ate snacks, and joked, “What if we can’t find it?”
Well, at first we couldn’t. It took some detailed cross-referencing with those disposable-camera film photos from that first day; it took a lot of little trowel- holes, a lot of discussion.
But when we struck the glass, we found our jar intact, sealed tight, holding a series of items:
A piece of string
A cicada shell
and the following poems:
How Is The Sun Touching Me
by Erin Dorney
Maybe if I was buried for one year I could forget all of the words that have ever been spoken. With a thick layer of soil above me I would certainly forget the sound of raindrops on overturned plastic buckets, golf balls smashing through panes of glass, and cicadas shivering off their skins.
Maybe if I was buried for one year I would want to stay buried for a second year, a third, a fourth—maybe I would stay buried until I turned fifty, emerging from the ground only after my reproductive organs were useless pieces floating inside my gut.
If you laid down above me, on a thin cotton blanket, pressed your ear to the ground and listened closely, I might/might not whisper I’m coming home soon.
Wrong Kid Died
by Ellen Thilo
From under the gladstone overhead
I am surrounded, trapt in a world once silent
and one year later
Ascend like kings
my soul for glory
You Are To Be Buried For a Year
by Tyler Barton
I am not you, so no, I will not talk about the worms. I know the second you think about the earth, you will see the worms in your eye holes, and the whole gorging-on-my-flesh dirtiness, so no. This is not for you any way.
It is for me sleeping self I write this. Being that the hole is already dug (I wouldn’t have laid it out in the sun like that) my advice to me is this:
- Read a lot. Bring books. Use time wisely as your mother used to say.
- Bring nuts. It’s going to be a food that nourishes. If you survive (and I doubt you will) you’ll be thinking peanuts, almonds, you’ll wake up praising the Greek god of the nut. They won’t even take up much room.
- Pay keen attention to smell.
- Given you are alive and kicking when the box is opened in a year, greet the old new world you knew with respect; do not try to profit. Meaning, don’t sell tickets. Don’t write a book and start a cult and become the new messiah. We don’t need anymore of those.
- Also, bring beef jerky.
- Bring porn. They still make it in magazines. There’s no wifi underground.
- Try eating bugs. For protein, for boredom, whatever, just try it why not who cares.
- When you–if you–come up out of the ground in 12 months, you won’t sleep for a year I’ll bet. This isn’t really advice. Just a wager.
- Clear up all your squabbles and trifles. Forgive everyone and pay them all back the money you owe them. You don’t want to spend all those hours wishing you had told whoever you loved them. You don’t want to enter this with resentment. Be a clean slate. Peaceful. You also don’t need anyone cursing you while you’re down there because you need all the luck you can get, all the karma and positive energy you can get.
- Almost forgot–meditate. Learn how. If you can meditate and basically fast down there for a year you could come back a Buddha. You’d have to leave the porn though.
- And if you do come back the Buddha…don’t start a cult. I know I already said this but don’t do it. Don’t cash in. Don’t do what David Blaine would do, whatever you do.
- I’m going to end before the unlucky number. Okay: wait until three days before you get out and make a to-do list. Don’t make one the second you’re in there, and don’t make one now; things will change. Make a list during your last days down there of what you’ll do when you climb out and I promise you’ll do every thing.
by Sam Sweigert
When I lay on my stomach my legs
automatically curl back behind me
like a faded heat desert bug, and I
-scraping up the ground.
-clapping my feet together.
I fold in on myself in front of people
and it’s awkward.
I imagine I am part of a circus, and
this is my act of contortion.
—why people pay money to be ringside.
—why popcorn is shoved beneath floorboards.
The way I relax is body percussion
and it’s awkward.
My hair is one-sided and I have grass
from my knees to my neck,
and my freckles fall out of my shoulders.
—seep into the groundwater.
—morph into tiny bugs.
I am little dots and particles pieced together
and it’s awkward.
by Alyssa Giannini
The sounds of the city
can be muffled if you try
in a park,
you can hear the breeze through the trees
spokes of a bike
chirp of a bird
cicadas singing summer’s end in a park,
you can find grass
between your toes
the sun touching rose petals
or skeletons of insects resting
on a bed of pine needles
and for a moment
you can forget the brick and cement
hurry of impatient cars
in favor of
simpler joys, gentler surroundings
For a timecapsule, this was clearly a short one. But for a writer, a year is a long time to take before looking back at something you wrote. We’d all changed our lives: one of us had moved to Washington state, two of us had graduated college, two had left their jobs, many had started new ones. Most of all, we’d all grown a lot as artists. Seeing an artistically year-younger-you is like looking at greying photograph, but for an artist of any kind, this recognition is vital and beneficial.
Knowing that it is essential to track one’s progress, to mark time, to celebrate time: we wrote again. And we buried it again (with more people this time). And we’ll be back at that tree next August.
(video by Aaron Spangler)