This morning, we left for Minnesota. We’ve already said goodbye one hundred times, so this post is not another goodbye. We wanted to remind everyone of a few important things that will continue in our absence.
- Thanks to our awesome new team member Jamie Beth Schindler, the Triangle calendar will remain updated with all the regional literary events. The Triangle began as simply a calendar; we think it’s necessary that there’s one place to find out about each and every gathering in the literary community. Please use it, share the events, invite friends, and keep the community active. If you have an event for her to add, just email her: JamieBethS [at] yahoo [dot] com.
- Third Point Press will continue to publish quarterly online issues of our literary magazine. We’re still reading for the September issue, so send in your best work! Editor-in-chief Matthew Kabik and Visual Art Editor Michelle Johnsen plan to organize another grown-up spelling bee, so keep your ear to the ground for that!
- Triangle team-member and bff Eliot White will still be hosting Fear No Lit readings at Dogstar books on an every-other-month basis. This August he’s featuring one of our favorite poets, Daniella Jo Hansen.
- Erin has created a helpful resource page for anyone looking to book readings or get in contact with local organizers.
- We miss you already.
I was a senior at Millersville, finally starting to think about life after college. I was starting to think about where I would find my people. In college, I’d surrounded myself with my people; they were everywhere. These people and I started a creative writing club; we started a literary journal; we were doing readings in coffee shops and in living rooms. I was where I belonged.
But I was leaving in 9 months.
That spring, when I wandered tentatively into readings at DogStar Books and Barnes & Noble, I quickly found that these places were also full of my people. I started going often, bringing my friends, and all the time wondering why, five miles away in Millersville, I had never heard about these things happening. I talked about this with Erin, who I’d recently met and who’d also felt similarly out-of-the-loop when it came to literary gatherings. And this is where the idea for The Triangle came from. We wanted to help people like us find new people like us, stay informed about what their people were doing, and spread creative influence and collaboration across the various communities in south central PA. We started with a simple calendar, hoping to share information with those who were searching for it. We wanted to help connect the already blooming literary communities we were discovering in cities like Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg.
I will always be surprised and grateful for how quickly we were welcomed. We were added to email lists, added on Facebook, and added to the ends of readings, when the host would ask the inevitable question, “So, what’s happening next week?”
Erin and I took The Triangle further than we ever could have imagined when we began in the spring of 2013. We never planned to host our own readings; interview writers; start a visual interview series; make Facebook and Twitter accounts to connect with writers; organize our own workshops (including one where writers dissected cow-hearts to investigate the realities of love); host flash fiction readings; be interviewed by WITF; meet writers from all over the country as well as right down the street; start a press; examine strange items through a literary lens; produce a Spelling Bee attended by over a hundred people…We didn’t plan for any of that at first, but we found ourselves doing anything that seemed interesting, different, important, or scary. The biggest thing we never planned for was leaving.
In a month, Erin and I will be moving to Mankato, Minnesota, so that I can pursue an MFA in creative writing. We plan to take what we’ve learned from everyone we’ve met and use it to foster literary community there, or anywhere we end up (which, in two years, may well be back here in Lancaster).
Enough with the sap. What does this mean for The Triangle?
- As an organization, The Triangle will be on an indefinite hiatus.
- This website will remain live until at least 2018. We hope it is used as a resource, an artifact, and evidence to prove what south central PA’s literary community has to offer (meanwhile providing us with endless nostalgia while we’re in the midwest). We are creating a resource page (coming soon, which we will link to here) which will provide links and information for writers to find other local writers, events, and opportunities.
- The calendar of events, which is how The Triangle originally began, WILL ONLY CONTINUE IF we can find a reliable person who would like to keep it up. This duty would take about two hours twice a month. If someone would like to volunteer, we would happily show you the ropes. We are also offering a small honorarium as an incentive. If you are interested, please email us.
- Third Point Press is still alive and well. We’re looking for south central PA writers to publish, so please send your work. We’ll also be donating our remaining funds to Third Point Press, as they plan to cover next year’s web hosting and Submittable costs, paying contributors, and eventually publishing books. Yes, books.
- We have no more events (for now), but please give yourself a hug from us if you’ve ever attended an event of ours, provided a venue for an event of ours, or participated in an event of ours. Keep doing what you’re doing. We can not thank you enough.
- If you’d like to come say goodbye in person, we’ll be hosting a yardsale on July 18th at our place where there will be a TON of lit to buy. We’ll also have stickers, drinks, hugs, laughs, and tears all FOR FREE. Come see us before we go.
- FEAR NO LIT
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, Sampson Starkweather & Paige Taggart, and Luna Miguel coming up over the next couple of months!
Kevin Sampsell and Matthew Simmons are two thirds of Instant Future, an eBook-only imprint from Future Tense Books (a micropress out of Portland, OR). Interview curated by Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton.
Photographs and text by either Matthew Simmons or Kevin Sampsell… we honestly have no idea.
Maria James-Thiaw’s most recent poetry collection appeared in 2013, but she published her first book of poems in second grade. “The poems were about flowers, bumblebees, things like that,” she says about Little Poems for Little People, published by Seattle Public University Young Writer’s Conference. Her first inspiration was her father. James-Thiaw remembers him performing for captivated, excited audiences. Because of him, she explains, “I knew that as soon as I learned how to put those things—those marks—on the page, that I was going to make a poem…I had decided I was going to be a poet before I knew how to write.” Then, as soon as she was writing, her teachers at St. James School in Kent, Washington took notice; they valued her collection of nature poems by submitting them to a contest.
Those early forms of creative support cultivated ambition. Today, Maria James-Thiaw has published three collections of poetry; she has taught for eleven years as a Professor of Humanities at Central Penn College; she is a wife and a mother of two boys; she’s active in the Central PA literary community, leading workshops, giving readings, and serving on the board of Nathaniel Gadsen’s Writer’s Wordshop, a weekly Harrisburg poetry staple. Her energy and drive doesn’t end there; most recently, James-Thiaw has won grants to attend poetry workshops in the South of France with University of Tennessee poet-professor, Marilyn Kallet.
I caught up with Maria a few days after she returned from her second stint in Auvillar, France, to talk about where all this passion comes from and where it will lead her yet. “O Taste and Sea: Writing the Senses in Deep France” was a week-long gathering of poets focusing on enhancing description and poetic imagery. They studied Neruda and practiced writing odes to the ordinary—things they saw, food they tasted, and people they encountered. James-Thiaw and participants “developed lists of things we would write odes to, and then we did it. We went to an open air market in a nearby town—Valence d’Agen—and saw the most beautiful sights, things that, to the people living there, were so everyday—like, I’m going to go buy garlic—but to us the garlic was amazing, some of it was the size of my head.”
With the slew of responsibilities that comes with wearing so many hats, these retreat experiences are where James-Thiaw does the majority of her writing. “It’s not easy to find time,” she says,”sometimes I think ‘I need to sit down and write something'”. So when she hails the workshop in France as “unbelievably valuable”, she isn’t exaggerating. The college where she works operates on a quarter schedule, and she teaches four classes a quarter, which is almost double the teaching load of the average college professor. This leaves her with short, two-week breaks between her classes to find workshops, seminars, and trips that will give her time and space to focus on creative work. “Retreats are the best,” she says, “Last year Carla Christopher hosted a writing retreat at Sproutwood Farm, and I wrote about 8 poems in one day—it was like they’d all been waiting to come out.”
At this point, it’d be a fair guess to say James-Thiaw is a nature poet—with her first poems about bumblebees, her odes in the south of France, and her writing retreats on farms—but actually, her vibrant and political spoken word performances tell a different story. Her newest collection, Talking “White” (2013, postDada Press) is anything but quiet, relaxing, or sentimental. Her poetry manages to retain striking power and witty bite in a way that a majority of on-the-page spoken word cannot. Her collection opens with “The Post-Black Manifesto”, and the first stanza reads:
Post-Black is the new black,
Obsidian and centered,
it’s spit from full lips,
slips from pen tips;
it will live in your mouth tomorrow.
James-Thiaw believes in the power of a strong performance. She says, “I think I’m on of the people who bridges the gap, where I can craft literary poetry on the page, and then I can perform that with power. I’ve seen some poets, very famous, well-known poets, with amazing work that just blows your mind on the page, but then they read it and you’re asleep. I’m not that person. So I definitely can give a very powerful reading, but I do believe in imagery and craft and taking time with creating work.”
In her teaching, workshop-leading, and mentoring of younger poets, James-Thiaw emphasizes the importance of editing and thinking through poetic decisions. “One thing I find in these communities that are poets making some very heartfelt work but, you know, God gave it to them in an instant, and they didn’t have to revise a thing or they wrote it earlier that day on their phone,” she says, scrunching her face and adding, “But ehh—no. It takes time to craft poems, like a sculptor molding [a] statue.” It all comes down to a balance, a valuing of both halves of the spoken word brain. “I think we have to have both. When I do workshops in the community, I try to stress that. Its like ‘Okay, you’re a great performer, but lets look at diction and imagery and everything that is going to make this more than just a great out-pouring of emotion but actual literary art,'” she says.
On State street, in Harrisburg, we drank coffee at Little Amps, and as our conversation winded down, I asked the inevitable question: What do you like about this place? This community? She smiled, and tried to think of where to start. “I’ll tell you the truth,” she says, “It took me a long time. It is extremely different from Seattle. When I moved here at thirteen it was a major culture shock. Anyone reading this from my high school would say, “She hates it here!” but I’m grown, I’m a mom now. There are good schools, great opportunities, and it isn’t expensive to live here. We’re in a nice, safe neighborhood. Honestly, thirty years ago, a black family might not be able to live in our neighborhood, but now we’re doing fine and I’m happy with the school my son is in. And I love that people are doing artistic things. To have, in Lancaster, poetry written on monuments, and in York to have sculpture all around. In Harrisburg we have some great looking cows (laughs). No—I think Harrisburg is really developing some beautiful things. What’s nice is that the artistic community is not so big that you can’t get into it. It’s really open for people to come here and start things…We’re always around doing poetry events, and hosting slams, or going to open mic nights, doing so many things to support our friends who are publishing.”
Another way that James-Thiaw works to support and represent her wide-reaching literary community is through her latest endeavor, the American Griot Project. She’s collecting testimonies from women of the American Civil Rights era and interpreting these stories through a live-performed choreopoem. “I’m focusing on women because I’ve heard so many of the men’s stories, and we love them and are proud of them, but I’ve noticed that the women will slink back, let the men talk, and never share their stories,” she says. Once source of inspiration for this is that James-Thiaw was in her thirties before she’d heard about her own mother’s experiences during that period. “She had done amazing things,” James-Thiaw says. She’s personally interviewing women from all over the area, not all of whom were activists, some of whom were still children. “I’m talking to one woman—whose poem I’m working on now—who had a view of the riots taking place in Allison hill in 1969,” she says, “It was her experience as a thirteen year old watching this from her window.”
Resembling in style the well-known choreopoem, For Colored Girls…, the American Griot Project will take place in the spring of 2016 at Central Penn College. James-Thiaw is currently looking for other venues, college campuses, and schools for the performance to take place.
Adding this project to her list of responsibilities, James-Thiaw tells me she also “might hopefully keep the house clean (laughs).” Her family was a frequent topic of conversation during our interview, and it seems her five year-old, supported by his teachers and parents, is already a natural performer. As a teacher, poet, griot, and mother, it’s comforting to sense how many ways James-Thiaw’s creative influence will transcend a next generation of writers.
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, Sampson Starkweather & Paige Taggart, Luna Miguel, and Matthew Simmons and Kevin Sampsell of Future Tense Publishing coming up over the next couple of months!
Photographs and text by Alexandra Naughton: Alexandra Naughton’s feet; Alexandra Naughton’s favorite local spot; some nice rust; Alexandra Naughton’s Sookie cat; something Alexandra Naughton is in love with; an animal that seems ready to party; Alexandra Naughton on BART with Oliver Mol, after a reading at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Bookstore; smoking is bad; an IRL image macro; Alexandra Naughton wishes every day was like this; a photo of someone else’s garbage; beautiful Berkeley; Alexandra Naughton wishes she had a couch; more of that weirdo cat.
Great Thing One. We’re currently freaking out about Third Point Press. Founded by writer Matthew Kabik, TPP aims to publish beautiful issues of stories, poems, and art three times a year, with 1/3 of the content coming from local and regional artists and writers. The first issue of this online publication went live Friday. It includes work by Le Hinton, Elizabeth Mercurio, Liz Laribee, Michelle Johnsen, Alyssa Giannini, Michael Salgado, Travis Macdonald, and other amazing writers. We’re biased because Erin and I both work on the editorial board for the press, but seriously this thing kicks so much ass.
Great Thing 2. On June 6th the funniest and most un-miss-able event will be happening at Modern Art in Lancaster. Embarrassed! is our take on the “mortified” or “embarrassment” reading, where writers, artists, and actors will share creative work they made when they were teenagers and/or young adults. This will likely include:
- dramatic readings of journal entries
- performances of angsty, teen-love ballads
- recitations of 10th grade poetry assignments
- recordings of school plays or recitals
You name it: if it’s embarrassing, creative, and yours, please come and share it with us. You can sign up to share by emailing us at thetrianglepa (at) gmail dot com. Modern Art is taking it an exciting step further and curating a show of embarrassing visual art, photographs, fashion and other teenaged artifacts. Email them your ideas or submissions at jo (at) itsmodernart dot com.
Great Thing Three. Ten days after our night of shared embarrassment/nostalgia at Modern Art, on Tuesday, June 16th, The Triangle will be hosting our last (see Sad Thing One) reading, a night of flash-fiction, at Zoetropolis Art House. The reading is called To The Quick! because we want stories that are very very very short. The featured reader, Edward Mullany, comes to us from NYC, and he’s the author of the trilogy, If I Falter at the Gallows, Figures for an Apocalypse, and The Three Sunrises (all from Publishing Genius Press). Mullany’s work is honestly like nothing else; his first two books are novels told in micro-fiction, where each story (or chapter?) is around 100 words each. I’ve never been more excited to hear someone read. The venue is awesome, too. Zoetropolis is an independent movie theater. There are couches and comfy chairs. It’s got that dark, secret vibe that takes the literary reading back to the golden age of dimly lit coffee-houses and smoky bars. The reading starts at seven, and costs seven bucks to get in. IT INCLUDES AN OPEN, so if you have a story that you can read in 5 minutes or less, bring it!
Here’s a video compilation of our last flash fiction reading, which took place in the Fall of 2014 at It’s Modern Art:
SAD THING ONE. The Triangle will be taking an indefinite hiatus beginning in July. This fall, I’m going to be attending grad school in Minnesota, so Erin and I are moving. The decision to leave southcentral PA has been a very difficult one, but we’re as excited for a new adventure as we are saddened about having to leave this place we love. Unfortunately, this site will be less active over the next two years, although we do plan to try and find a volunteer to keep up the calendar of local events. There has been an exciting and active literary community in this region long before The Triangle formed two years ago, and that community will continue to blossom without us. It’s hard to know, but we very well may be back in a few years.
So, what this all means, is that you should make it a priority to come to one of the June events! We’ve got a ton of new stickers, so there’s another incentive to come hang out in June.
I got lost twice on my way to meet Curtis Smith in Hershey. He’s lived here for thirty-three years. I’d been there a handful of times as a teenager for trips to the Medical Center and the amusement park (the two landmarks by which everything else is measured). As I drove through downtown Hershey, I looked around, felt stupid, thought to myself, “Wow, there’s actually a city here.” Eventually, I arrived at a coffee shop right across from (you guessed it) the Hershey Medical Center, where our conversation began on topics like getting lost, the woes of local traffic, and Steve Almond.
“Steve and I read at a thing at Rosemont College,” Curtis remembered, “I got to drive him around. I was like, ‘Yeah I know where I’m going, I live here,’ and I made a wrong turn into a dead end and he’s like ‘Are you sure?’. He looked worried.”
Oh, navigation. How do we find ourselves, and then put ourselves in the direction we want to go? How do we end up in the place we imagine? This figures heavily into Curtis Smith’s newest book, Communion, a collection of essays about his son (a teenager dealing with the realization that he’s not the center of the universe) and himself (a parent with the special privilege in aiding with that navigation). With exceeding grace and insight, Curtis writes about the context-building and map-making of raising a human on the verge of social consciousness.
Communion was just released this March by Dock Street Press, and I knew I wanted to ask Curtis about parenting and the changes he’d experienced since Witness, his previous collection of essays (which centered on the early days of parenthood). However, I’ve learned that by the time a book comes out, its author is usually knee-deep in other projects. So, after some gushing about Steve Almond, Kurt Vonnegut, and the beauty of south central PA, I started our interview there, although we’d return time and time again to Vonnegut.
What are you most excited about? … I want to talk, eventually, about Communion, but I want to first focus on the project that you are currently most looking forward to.
“The thing I’m always most excited about is the thing that’s on my table. You know, I have the new book coming out, but it’s hard to be excited about that because it’s done, and now it’s the time to do your business. You have to go outside your comfort zone, doing readings, calling people. But I should get my copies this week, which is always really exciting.
Yeah. I love those. In high school I read the Neutral Milk Hotel one, and I the one on OK Computer.
Yeah, so this is like a book version of 331/3, where they contact writers to write about a favorite book. So, myself and Kirby Gann are going to be the first to do it. Then I think it’s Aaron Burch and Paula Bomer doing the next two. So I just finished that project, and I didn’t think I was going to like it, but it was a really great experience. I’m still kind of off the buzz of that.
And I’m also starting a new novel. I always have a novel, a short story cycle, and a non-fiction piece going, and I always juggle those three. Like “Oh I’m tired of my novel” and I put it in a box with a little note on the top reminding myself where I left off. Then I’ll pull it back out after awhile. But yeah, so I’m excited about the novel, but still coming down off of completeing the Ink book.
What book did you do for the Ink series?
I did Slaughter-house Five.
That’s one of my favorite books.
I saw him at Lebanon Valley College a few years back. It was the 50th anniversary of Dresden, and he was doing a little tour. I went back and tried to be faithful to the book by writing mine in little fragmented scenes. I tried to weave personal essays through it but also I tried to weave through a history of slaughter, mankind’s slaughter, and PTSD. It was really a new kind of writing for me.
Was that the first time you’d done a book-length piece of writing that was creative journalism?
Yeah. It was the first time. But it was also the first time I’d gotten paid for a book before writing it, which was weird. It was a little bit of pressure. I felt weird cashing the check. Because what if I can’t do it? But it came. And I think I picked a good book for it too, because I like writing short, fragmented things. I think it fit my style really well.
Communion seems to be very much about your son, and parenting, and the process of the parent and son growing up at the same time. Can you talk a little bit about the themes and what inspired the book?
Well I never thought I’d be a non-fiction writer. I never wanted to write essays. But there was this literary magazine I always wanted to get into. They always turned down my fiction. Then they had this special non-fiction issue, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll try that.” So, I got in. Essays have always been hard for me to write, but I think having a fiction writer’s toolbox made that transition better. My essays seemed to get placed quicker than my fiction, but its still harder for me to write essays.
I started writing this cycle of essays for my first non-fiction book. They were about the early days of parenthood, the things I was learning, not about him, but about me. I thought I was done there, but then my son hit a certain age that a child’s perception changes. He’s not the center of the world anymore. It begins to dawn on him that: the world is a fucked up place, there’s all this crazy stuff in it, and where do I fit in? So that kind of started the whole cycle for this book: what happens when your child leaves that sort of fragile bubble. Then there are my reflections on that. That’s basically the heart of the book.
I also tackle some other things like Death, Religion, Faith—how to teach him about Religion if I’m not a really religious guy—you know things I really encountered with this new phase of parenting.
Did you write with an audience in mind for this book?
No, I just write and when it comes time to submit them I think about the right venue, the best fitting literary mag for it. I think this has maybe a bigger readership than my fiction does, because a lot of readers have kids.
Does parenting get easier or harder?
Haha. It gets different. I think that’s the only thing you can say. For me, the first three years were kind of crazy. My son was a little mad-man. He’d be in here running around. All the sudden, reason popped in. He became this little person. Each stage is different. He’s on the verge of being a teenager right now, so check in with me in about five years when my hair is grey and he’s out riding around.
I think each stage is a challenge. But I’ll take challenges the whole way through. It’s a good ride.
Is your son a reader?
He’s reading 1984 right now. He read Animal Farm and thought it was really cool, so now he’s on to that. He’s reading it every day. He likes history and right now his focus is actually nuclear power. He’s always on his device, researching things and learning. He goes through cycles of interests, keeps me on my toes. He’s always learning.
If you’re familiar with new common core standards for high school: it’s 75% non-fiction and 25% fiction/literature . Which is a shame, because that 25% is going to be like a dogfight between novels, stories, poetry, and drama. So I’m glad to be fostering a reading of fiction at home. Which is good, and he likes it. He wants to read Catcher in the Rye, and Of Mice and Men next.
I often think that I missed out by not getting into reading, or connecting with it, seeing the value in it, until about 11th grade. Once I did, I got obsessed. But I think that if I had been that kid growing up who’s reading all the time, reading early, I’d be like that much further ahead, with a step up.
Well I feel the same way about writing. I look and see all these very young people with a passion for writing, and I didn’t start until I was in my late twenties. When I was starting to write, I was actually about to go into woodwork. I always loved woodwork. If I could paint, I would have been a visual artist. But writing seemed to fit my sensibilities the best.
I’m going to shift focus a little bit, but use the same frame of questioning from before. Does writing get easier or harder?
I started writing in my late twenties. I’m 55 now, so [i’ve been writing for] 26-27 years. It’s definitely gotten easier in that what used to take me three hours now takes me about one hour. But I have a process. I’m very process-driven sort of guy. I have a format that works for me that I stick to—and of course I move around with in that—I think as you do anything, if you’re a woodworker, a gardener, the practice makes it easier in time.
You get to know that voice. You keep asking yourself the same questions over and over: Is the sentence ending in the right place? Does this sound right? Am I respecting the intelligence of my reader? After a certain point, these questions, you don’t even need to think about them anymore. It’s reflexive.
So I think that the process has gotten easier. Now, I might run out of things to say after awhile, but who knows? Vonnegut said that at 55 everyone’s done. But then, he wrote one of my favorite novels when he was 65.
How long have you lived in the area? Where did you grow up?
I grew up right outside of Philadelphia, in Ardmore. I went to Kutztown for college. When I was getting ready to graduate there was a posting for this job in Hershey, and I applied, I got it. So I moved here in ’82 and have lived here ever since.
Do you find yourself using this setting in your work? Do you write about southcentral PA?
I love to hike, to be outside. I do a lot of woodsy stuff. I set a lot of stories a little bit north of here, in more mountainous terrain. I don’t write too much about Philadelphia anymore. But this is my home, this is the place I’m comfortable with. This is the back drop for a lot of things in my work.
Have you been involved in literary community throughout the years?
I had a writing group early on, after school, but I pretty much worked on my own. Maybe if there were some more things going on, I would have. But it fits my personality type. I’m a quiet, sort of by-myself person. A hermit.
Over the years, when have you found writing time? You teach, so you’ve got your summers, but is that it?
I write every day. I get up at 4:30. I write for an hour every morning, and then about 40 minutes after my son goes to bed at night. It’s my routine.
What are you looking forward to about retiring?
I would like to keep busy, teach college, see another end to things. I love my kids at school, but I’d like to see another end of the population, more motivation. But there’ll also be a lot more time for writing. More time to do things with the family. When I was young, after a week of teaching. I’d be like yeah lets go out on Friday. But you get tired fast. Fridays now are like: okay I need to recover from that week. So, it’ll be really nice. All the retired people I know are the happiest. They look ten years younger.
How does it feel to be about to retire at a time when your son—about to be a teenager—is entering one of the most formative times of his life? Most of the time, for parents, those ages don’t line up.
Yeah, my wife and I got started late. But, it’s exciting. I’m going to have a lot more time to be with him, to support him, and to write. And with him at that age, I’m going to probably have a lot more to write about.