How can standard literary formats stand up to the ever-morphing, ever-fragmenting, ever-confusing society we live in today?
It can’t. Paragraphs can’t, line-breaks can’t, and traditionally formal elements can’t.
The novel can’t.
We are against the tyranny of paragraphs and stanzas and like to explore the infinite ways that humans can express themselves.
We’re a team of artists, editors, and writers from around the USA. We sift through thousands of submissions and select the choicest literary absurdities. We believe we can change the world with words by changing the way people read and write.
When we started out, our simple aim was to discover and publish stories that cannot be categorized as poetry or prose. Since then, we’ve published over 1500 stories, just scratching the surface of the infinite ways that humans can use words to express themselves.
This idea has grown into something much more expansive – a network of artists and creators that span the globe, working together to explode literature into as many forms and mediums as we can find.
We discovered tNY (formerly called The Newer York before The New Yorker sued them) in 2013 and have since been hooked on the idea of telling stories through artifacts. tNY’s Encyclopedia of Experimental Literature has published literary artifacts (stories told through unique forms) since its inception; there’re stories told through the text of: a karaoke machine, a performance report, a job application, an instruction manual, an employee contract, a worksheet, a definition, a screenplay, and that’s just a toe-dip into the world of tNY Press. (Get lost in the depths of the EEEL for yourself)
The Triangle is hosting Stories in Artifacts: A Workshop in Experimental Storytelling THIS SATURDAY at the Lancaster Public Library. In order to provide some context for what got us interested in literature that experiments with form, I decided to ask Josh Raab some questions about experimental writing and the ideas behind what makes it subversive. Below is a gallery of the gchat interview that Josh and I had. Very little editing was done to this, so relish the misspellings, the imperfect nature of text-based communication, the small lag of response time that creates confusion. The point being: it’s an artifact.
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 good friend Michelle.
Over the years, I’ve come across many pieces of US currency with interesting doodles and scribbles. I began photographing the money this year to keep track, because I continually spent it before finding any meaning in the writing.
For the majority of my life, I was under the impression that writing on money was a crime. This was probably the work of the same teacher who told the class that lightning would strike us dead if we lied in front of the lord. Obviously I’d be dead now if that were true, Sister Mary! While it is illegal to fraudulently alter a bill to increase its value, or deface it so thoroughly that it must be removed from circulation, the scribbles I’ve found are just frowned upon—some more heavily than others, I’m sure.
Obviously, these are lit in the best way. The messages, cryptic and fascinating, travel between hands and stores, seen by hundreds of people if not more. An interesting project lies in which messages are actually seen as more than random. Here’s to writing in whichever form moves you!
On January 28th, Tellus 360 was packed with people waiting to hear stories. It was a Tuesday. It was cold (it was January). It was a literary event. Why were people out, and why so many?
Well, if you were there for Lancaster Story Slam’s inaugural event, a night of storytelling themed “Embarrassing Moments,” you understand. If you weren’t, it might be hard to explain, but I don’t think I’d be alone in testifying that there is something powerful about watching people tell honest, unscripted stories… about being people. It’s a sharing rooted in human history.
In order to dig deeper into just how Lancaster Story Slam came to be (and how it came to be so instantly popular), I met the LSS’s event producer, Carla Wilson, the woman without whom these monthly storytelling events wouldn’t exist.
We met at Prince St. Cafe, and as we took our first sips of our coffee, I asked Carla what her creative life was like. Heading up a storytelling series, I figured she must write. Maybe a memoirist, a poet? I was surprised when she laughed, ” I don’t have this whole storyboard running in my head. It’s one of those things I have a jealousy about.”
“So you don’t tell stories at slams?” I asked.
“No, never. I’ve heard so many, I might be able to do it. But, no, I haven’t yet. I got really close [to signing up] at West Chester in January. Then I just backed out,” she said.
Carla isn’t a storyteller. She isn’t a writer, painter, or musician, but she’s exactly the kind of person that people who make art need so desperately. She connects, communicates, promotes, and creates venues for the art to happen. And she’s damn good at it.
Carla Wilson’s return to Lancaster County last October was not only exciting for her and her family, but for the arts community at large. She brought with her a formula for a special brand of literary gathering that Lancaster’s been lacking. A story slam is born of a marriage between creative non-fiction and poetry slam. In Philly, the story slam has been a staple for years. Podcasters will recognize the genre from shows like The Moth and StoryCorps. Philly’s First Person Arts has been holding twice-monthly slams for years. Locals from West Chester will point to the West Chester Story Slam (WCSS), or its creator Jim Breslin, the friendly bespectacled man whom Carla met through her marketing agency back in 2012 and eventually inspired her to create a sister event in Lancaster. In January 2015, Lancaster Story Slam premiered at Tellus 360 to a crowd of just under two hundred people, which for a literary event, especially one in its infancy, is beyond impressive.
Carla grew up here, but she lived in Chester county for most of her adult life. There she raised a family and started her marketing business, Wilson Media Services. It was in West Chester, and through her business, that Carla met Jim. He wanted some help with marketing this event he’d been doing for a few years. First it started in his living room, and then it was being held above a bar. It was a storytelling night. Carla was interested and soon became a regular attendee of the West Chester Story Slam. After reading an article about the WCSS that ended with the statement, “Jim wants to expand story slams to cities like Lancaster and Philadelphia,” Carla approached him and said, “You know I’m moving to Lancaster, right?” He laughed and asked her if she wanted to do it.
She thought she was offering to help him make connections, maybe assist in promotion, spread the word. But Jim wanted her to take the reins, as he was swamped with the WCSS and the newer DelCo Story Slam. “From there I just kind of laughed. I was like, ‘Um, sure. Why not?'” said Carla. “We all need more projects, right?” she laughed.
In the fall of 2014, after asking around town and walking in to a number of Lancaster city bars and venues, Carla and Jim happened across Tellus 360. Carla had heard about it, but when they stopped by one afternoon, the venue was closed. “I always say this really fell into place. The door [to Tellus] was ajar. We could see people in there. So we were like, ‘Hey we’re trying to find a venue for this thing.’ And the marketing guy was there and he just took us on a tour of the building and told us, ‘You have got to do this here.’ And Jim and I looked at each other and said, ‘We totally want to do this here.'”
It was a match made in storytelling heaven. Since Tellus 360’s recent renovations, they’ve become a hit for touring performers, musicians, and gatherings. Their back room (‘The Temple’) boasts plenty of room for major live events. This stage is where the Lancaster Story Slam was born. When I attended the first slam in January, I was blown away by the turnout, the enthusiasm, the overall bigness of the event. Honestly, my initial reaction was that it was too big for a literary exchange. How can you connect with an audience on a truly personal level from the a 4-foot stage, with a big-time sound system, and two hundred faces hidden behind show lights? Simply put: I was wrong. Stories hush people; they make room for collective engagement. Widespread laughter makes you laugh harder. A gasp in a room full of people is like a rush of wind.
So I had to ask Carla, what was the key to getting the word out about this event? What brought so many people? Carla is a wordpress wiz. Using websites and blogs to connect and share ideas is a big part of what her business does. She says the publishing of a single blog post (written by her about why she was excited to bring a story slam to Lancaster) which was then shared by Tellus and West Chester Story Slam, was the catalyst for a slew of newsletter subscribers. They used other forms of social media to spread the word as well, following Jim’s model of promotion for other slams. The idea truly seemed to resonate with people. They were hooked.
I asked Carla what she thought it was about Lancaster that set it apart from other cities doing story slams. She had this to say: “I just think it’s the size of the creative community here in Lancaster, honestly. The venue is big as well, which helps. The other slams had typically been in a restaurant. At max 75 people could be there. So now that we have this humongous room at this amazing venue, with a whole marketing department with their pulse on what’s happening… But really the biggest difference in the Lancaster story slam is the creative community and all the support we have behind it.”
Lancaster Story Slam has a season of events planned. You can catch it every fourth Thursday until November, when they’ll hold a Grand Slam featuring all of the winners of the ten preceding slams. So far, that list includes Matthew Kabik and Joanne Rafferty, whose stories you can listen to on the LSS’s podcast.
Lastly (pay attention, aspiring slammers), we have the scoop on Carla’s advice for impressing the judges. I asked what makes a great story and Carla said, “Does it have a beginning middle and an end? What’s really important is does that beginning have a hook? I think if you have a hook, I’m on board. I’m in. Take me for a ride.”
The sun is out today. Snow melts. Birds chirp. The future brightens. All signs that a new season of literary events is on the horizon. Thanks to the incredible success of our Spelling Bee Fundraiser in early 2015, we’re proud to say we’ve got a ton of exciting events planned and in the works for the entire year. For now, we’ll just keep you up to date with the next two months, which should be enough to keep us all busy.
1. (this) Sunday, March 15th – Free Writing Session at the Fulton Street Arts Co-op, 5-8pm, $10, 321 E. Fulton St., Lancaster, PA, 17602.
On Sunday, we’ll be going together as a group to the open model session at The Fulton Street Arts Cooperative to freewrite. This will be a unique experience, bringing together local writers, artists, and a shared subject: the naked body. Bring your notebook, pen/pencils, $10 admission, and BYOB if you so choose. Be prepared for: model nudity, inspiration, a room full of artists and writers. Let’s get together and fear no lit.
2. Wednesday, March 25th – Snakes in the Makespace: A literary reading featuring Nick Kratsas, Meghan Lamb, and Alex Domingos, 7-9pm, $5 suggested donation, 1916 Third St., Harrisburg, PA, 17102
We’re finally teaming up with Harrisburg’s DIY arts jewel, The MakeSpace, to host a reading for touring poet Nick Kratsas. Harrisburg-based features include Meghan Lamb (who’ll be performing with the accompaniment of a video installation) and Alex Domingos. This reading includes an open mic, so anyone can bring a poem or short-short story to share. This event is going to be personal and fun; the MakeSpace is small, but if you’ve been there you know it’s as cozy and welcoming as your favorite living room. Email us about carpooling if you need a ride!
3. Sunday, March 29th – Sip and Snip: A Collage Social Event featuring the Triangle at DECA, 7-9pm, $15, 12 W. New St., Lancaster, PA, 17603
Discerning Eye Center for the Arts is an exciting studio space in Lancaster City that hosts a monthly event called Sip & Snip. Artists gather to drink (it’s 21+ and BYOB) and collage. Each month features a local artist, and The Triangle’s Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton will be March’s feature. Attendees can expect to be exposed to the ways in which collage can transcend art and writing. We’ll be experimenting with erasure/blackout poetry, ekphrastic writing, and visual poems/image macros. This is a generative workshop, so come prepared to MAKE something.
4. Saturday, April 4th – Stories in Artifacts: A Workshop in Experimental Storytelling at the Lancaster Public Library, 2-4pm, FREE, 125 N. Duke St., Lancaster, PA, 17602
For the second year in a row, we’ll be hosting a free writing workshop at the Lancaster Public Library. This one focuses on story-telling through experimental forms. This writing workshop is for poets and writers of all experiences, genres, and ages.
This is a generative workshop, which means you will write and create things during our two hours together. We will explore how writers can contextualize stories by telling them through new, yet familiar, forms. Can a grocery list tell a story? Can an entire story be told through an short email exchange? Can a writer use the scraps, junk, and forgotten items of a junk drawer to provide a reader with character, plot, and theme? We want to take seriously the idea that literature can be anywhere, that it can look like almost anything.
Need more to look forward to? Our Fear No Lit reading series, now hosted by The Triangle’s Eliot White, continues on April 9th at Dogstar Books. We’re also plotting an Embarrassment Reading at Modern Art for May, and a flash-fiction reading series from June to December all across the Triangle. Stay tuned each month for more interviews, But Is It Lit reviews, and visual interviews with writers Roxane Gay, Alexandra Naughton, Allegra Hyde, and Future Tense Press. And of course, with web content, we’re always looking for contributors! Email us at thetrianglepa at gmail dot com.
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 Alissa Nutting, Alexandra Naughton, Allegra Hyde, and Matthew Simmons and Kevin Sampsell of Future Tense Publishing coming up over the next couple of months!
Photographs and text by Janice Lee: a) Moosh; b) a tree that Janice Lee has seen; c) a selfie that isn’t of Janice Lee’s face; d) the sky; e) a squirrel running up a tree; f) food in Janice Lee’s car; g) Janice Lee’s desk; h) Janice Lee’s favorite local cafe; i) how Entropy makes Janice Lee feel; j) mirrors on mirrors on mirrors; k) something important to Janice Lee that is irreplaceable; l) more Moosh.
Barbara Buckman-Strasko has been a staple of the Lancaster literary scene for years. She first came to the area to attend Millersville University in the early 1970’s and eventually moved into the city and became involved in social programs dealing with poverty and education. She would go on to spend her career working for the School District of Lancaster as a parent educator, literacy coach, and counselor, but writing and teaching poetry all the while. Her chapbook On the Edge of A Delicate Day was published in 2007 and her first full length book, Graffiti in Braille, was published in 2012. She served as Lancaster County’s first Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, was Teacher of the Year in 2009 for River of Words, and currently serves as Poet in the Schools for Lancaster Poetry Paths. Her poem “Bricks and Mortar” will appear as a permanent installation in downtown Lancaster’s Penn Square later this year.
Barbara lives in a quiet, old-school suburb along the Conestoga River where, thankfully, there is no vinyl siding anywhere to be seen. I arrived late, having driven past her house several times before seeing the number. She welcomed me in through the kitchen, presented me a cup of tea, and led me into a sitting room at the rear of the house where a fireplace was burning. Out through the sliding doors and across the lawn, the river flowed cold and gray, gleaming in some places from the sun. I sat in a marvelous rocking chair that she later informed me had been her grandfather’s.
After a few minutes of small talk, easing our way into conversation, I finally remembered to turn on the tape recorder. She was telling me, “The thing Sting said, that I just love is–” When she saw me turn on the recorder, she said, “Oh god, don’t tape me.” She laughed, shrugged and continued, “So anyway, the thing Sting said was this: ‘All my life I have tried to find the truth and make it beautiful.’ I just love that. Doesn’t that say it? That’s poetry.” And so our interview had officially begun.
When Barbara came across J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey in high school she was struck with Seymour Glass’ fascination with Asian poetry. She found herself reading Asian poems and writing after that style. She also learned Spanish and read the works of Lorca and Neruda as a young poet and reader. In college, she was very influenced by musicians such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, and participated in the counterculture, protesting the Vietnam War alongside many of her peers.
It is easy to see that Barbara genuinely cares for language and believes in its power. She told me that she expresses this when she teaches young writers: “That is what I always tell the kids. Just think how powerful this is. You have a pen and a paper, and your words can change you and can change other people.” More specifically, we discussed the power of words to situate and to help us relate to the natural world and to other people.
Furthermore, she told me, “That’s another thing I tell my students: you have to know the names of things. It is just so important. Flowers. Knowing the name of the river that goes past your house. I think my father was so interested in that; he was that kind of person. You’ve got to know the history of things, the names of things. Even though he was a vacuum salesman.” (Later, she told me the story of her father having to drop out of Temple University Medical School during the Great Depression because he couldn’t afford the train fare in to the city. Like so many other hard working Americans during that time, her father’s story seemed infused with the unique American nobility—of choosing to keep going, working, improving. It became obvious to me that Barbara remembers her father as not just a salesman, but a man deeply, uniquely engaged with the world.)
In her work, Barbara often engages with images of nature and subtly works in commentary on socio-historical subject matter from politics, to urban living, to war, or poverty. But she insists that poetry remains an aesthetic endeavor: “I’m not the type of poet to just come out and say something. I think a poem has got to be a piece of art, a thing that is intriguing, that implies things. There just has to be some kind of mystery involved.” This potential for subtle implication through imagery is a precise and apt way to describe her body of work.
Barbara insists that one of the deepest influences on her poetry is her sister, a visual artist with whom she is close. From an early age she remembers her sister pointing out beauty and instructing her to see the world from an unique and artistic point of view: “She saw the world differently than most people and began to paint her vision very early in life. Now as an art teacher she tells me that creating art is not about how skilled you are in drawing or painting, it’s about how you see. I think it is the same for the poet.” Further influences on her work include the poets Carolyn Forché, Yusef Komunyakaa, Robert Hass, and the local painter David Brumbach, who was a close friend. During a portion of our interview, we spent time flipping through a book on Brumbach’s life and work, until we got to a page with a beautiful painting, and Barbara said to me, “Oh, I have this one. It’s right behind you.” There it was on her living room wall. (Check out more on Brumbach’s work here.)
Perhaps the integrity of her work and her teaching can be summed up by Barbara’s willingness to lean into the unknown, what Keats described as “negative capability.” This idea came up many times throughout our conversation, emerging almost as a central purpose for her life and work: “You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. So many people are unwilling to feel that discomfort of not knowing what they’re doing or not knowing what they are thinking. But I think it’s just very important. We’ve just got to face that disequilibrium.”
Last Tuesday, the young poets of The Mix‘s “We Rock The Mic” literary program took the stage at Tellus360 to share their words, stories, rhymes, and attitude. The event was a spoken word slam, open to the public and judged by local writers. Eight contestants read two poems each and were scored on their creativity, and delivery. Although the teens from The Mix (an after-school youth mentoring program held at Arbor Place on North street in Lancaster City) made up a majority of the contestants, community members young and old participated as well.
The theme of the night was bravery. Briana’s poems were centered on overcoming abuse and honoring African heritage, respectively. “I am an African princess,” the Mix student exclaimed in her second poem. Other teen poets from all over the area read about combating fear, finding and following one’s dreams, and the complications of love. In what was the most specific and socially poignant poem of the night, Kiara spoke about society’s fear and unfair derision of the “F” word–Feminism. “Why is it that a woman is paid half as much as a man?” she asked a captivated crowd as her poem opened.
In order to raise money to go to Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry competition in Atlanta Georgia, the Mix has organized these three Spoken Word competitions at Tellus 360, the first of which was Tuesday, February 10th. Admission was a five dollar donation towards the cost of sending their team of poets; the Mix is working to raise 5,000 dollars. The competitions include many poets from the Mix as they practice for the big show in Atlanta, but the public is encouraged to sign up and compete as well.
The Mix is a youth-mentoring program based in the Southeast of Lancaster City. Over eighty local students attend the Mix, and with a constantly growing roster, the mentors and staff there are always working to incorporate new programming and opportunities for students to find agency and identity in their local community. One of these programs is We Rock The Mic, lead by program associate, Ty Gant. Ty works to help students find their voices, develop confidence, and deliver their message.
The poets at the mix have some experience performing for audiences already. They have monthly open mics at Arbor Place, and some even perform in school at talent shows.
A few days before the reading on Tuesday, I met with Ty and a handful of the young poets to talk to them about the Tellus 360 events, the festival in Atlanta, and their inspiration for writing and performing.
What is the purpose for these events at Tellus 360?
Kiara: “It’s a fundraiser to raise money…so we can go to Brave New Voices. That’s the biggest national youth poetry event and we’re going to try to take five people from Lancaster, to form a Lancaster team. We’re trying to get our name out there, trying to represent Lancaster in a good way.”
Is it just poets from The Mix who’ll be going?
Kiara: “Mainly, but we’re trying to get kids from other schools around here, like La Academia, to come to the Mix and join us.”
Have you been to Brave New Voices? What happens there?
Kiara: “There’s performances….slams–poets competing against each other– and there’s judges that rate your poem…on things like being clear, how long your poems is, how you emphasize the poem, how you get your message across. It’s a big competition, and it’s all teams.”
Who won last year? Where was it?
Kiara: “In Philly. Washington D.C. won. South Africa (Cape Town, specifically) got second.”
How else are you working to raise money to go?
Kiara: “We did community service last year to raise money, so we will do that again too.”
Do you guys work on poetry here at the Mix?
Jacqueline: “Yeah we write a lot at home but we practice saying them here.”
Kiara: “Ty says if you write poetry not to just write it when you’re here, it’s right when you have your feeling and you want to get those emotions down…”
Tyshaya: “We come to practice and Mr. Ty and he helps us read fluently and emphasize our words. He’s really our coach.”
Kiara: “He puts that out every day that he’s not gonna sit there and write the poem for us–we need to write it on our own and get our message across. He’s there to help us say it the best way we can.”
Did you start writing poetry here, or did you write poetry before you came here?
Kiara: “We write [outside of the Mix], but more here. We have poetry lessons in school, but that’s just like a poem to get a grade–but here it’s like if we write we can actually have an audience to hear what we say. Like, if we’re angry at someone one day we can write it in a poem and then when the slam comes you can just get those emotions out and not have to really worry about it any more…We made a CD last year and other kids from the Mix made the beats. We record our poems and they make the music for the background.”
What do you write about? What subjects?
Kiara: “Dreams. Being yourself… I have a Lancaster city poem.”
Tyshaya: “Depression. Stopping violence and bullying.”
Jacqueline: “We just free write.”
Does Ty give you subjects or ideas of what to write about?
Kiara: “Ty doesn’t tell us what to write about but he helps us figure it out. Like, I was writing about how guys always get the credit for stuff and seem more in the spotlight, and he was like, ‘You’re talking about Feminism.’ and I was like, ‘what is that?’ and he said its when men and women fight for equal rights. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to write a poem about that.’
So he just directed you in that way.
Jacqueline: “He directs, he coaches, he helps us.”
This Spring, there are two more opportunities to support the teen poets from The Mix at Arbor Place as they compete to raise money to travel to Atlanta to compete in the Brave New Voices 2015 Youth Poetry Slam. Tellus 360 will be hosting the group again on Tuesday, April 7th, and Friday, June 5th. Don’t miss it. (Also, get writing, because anyone can sign up!)