The Mark Blog

The Defense by Harold Terezón

Baseball field

 

I arrived early to the Defense in order to avoid the much anticipated & over-hyped Carmageddon on the 405 which was to unleash a vehicular chaos of unprecedented proportions. This extra hour or so gave me the opportunity to walk to the park down the street, sit on the bleachers, look onto the lovely, empty baseball fields, & consider why I had put this collection together & applied to The Mark.

When I walked into the office on the fourth floor, I was confident, but unsure of what to expect. After having a few close friends, most of them writers & educators, read my manuscript beforehand & explaining to them the process & the choices I made on this collection, I felt a little nervous, but comfortable defending my work. Though, previously I never had to address a panel.

I greeted the panel, headed by Anna Journey & Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Once the defense began, it was all business from there. They immediately delved into the craft, process, & aesthetics of the collection. Although I was prepared, mostly, for the defense, some of their observations in response to my work were surprising. They also had questions my prepared responses were unable to answer.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the defense was discussing what was at stake with this collection: trauma, which is often left unsaid. It appears that I am proficient at building walls from layers of historical data, allusions, & at times, space & silence, in order to avoid talking about the pain & sadness. Examining, revising, and exposing what is underneath these layers may be the most difficult task in finishing this project.

There were other concerns that I know I must address in the coming months. For example, why did I include clusters of similar sounding poems, such as the sudden, quiet, short lined, short poems or pair the long, louder poems together? Or why all the bookmarks/short prose poems? I think the best suited suggestion, however, was to disperse trauma throughout the collection rather than focusing on one piece, giving the collection a more cohesive flow.

But as exciting as it sounds to spend time writing, revising, workshopping, & working with an amazing faculty & Mehnaz on a project that I’ve spent most of my life writing, there is a small worry with the program. I worry that in the process of all this work, my project is moved in a direction I may not feel comfortable accepting. Although I welcome challenging myself past my comfort zones, I want to maintain the cultural, historical, & ethnic sensitivities the project brings. Ultimately, the choices I make from here on out will contribute to this process, choices that must respect the project, the content, &, ultimately, myself as well.

It’s important for me to grow as a writer by challenging myself, diving into the unknown, taking risks, pushing the limits of what I hold sacred. It’s exciting to see where those risks take me or what they uncover. After sitting through the hour long Defense, one thing is certain for the next few months: it’ll be an intensive boundary-pushing writing program. & that is nothing short of exciting.

Overall, the Defense was informative, productive, & full of unexpected observations, some pleasant, some eye cringing. The Defense provided the space for me to speak about my work introspectively, & started me on thinking how to finish the project. Both Anna Journey & Gabrielle Calvocoressi offered great suggestions & exercises to address some of the writing obstacles in this collection, which I am most appreciative of & anxious to try.

Why Poets Aren't Just Artists on Paper by Mehnaz Turner

Bukoski, Dickenson, Whitman

 

Harold Terezon and I are the two participants of the Mark Program in poetry this year, and I'm totally stoked! I feel like I'm being offered an opportunity to get serious about my creative work, and I don't have to give up my day job to do so. I hope to conveniently fit in the demands of the fellowship with my weekly routine as a high school English teacher.

Now as the program is headed underway, I feel grateful for having a structured editing schedule ahead of me, one that includes workshops and critical reading. The fact is, this rigorous five-month program is designed to kick my butt and get me working toward revision and excellence. It is daunting, exciting, and terrifying. And it’s just what I need.

The first challenge, however, came last Friday when I had my "Defense," a formal one hour session where I had to dodge questions about my poems, my manuscript, and my writing style.

Let’s face facts: the word defense is not a pretty word. It conjures up messy courtroom dramas and schoolyard bullying. So I have to admit that when I thought about having to sit before a panel of four accomplished writers to field questions on craft, I wasn’t exactly bouncing through the door. In fact, I arrived Friday afternoon at the PEN office with these thoughts weighing on my mind: why should any free poet have to defend her work to others? Were Dickinson, Bukowski, or Whitman ever subject to such a defense? Did a poet also have to be a scholar of her own process?

The whole concept of a formal defense seemed to be counter-intuitive to the poetic spirit. And as a free-verse poet, I felt uneasy about launching into a critical discussion of my line breaks, or busting out metacognitive observations concerning the themes of my manuscript. I wanted to leave such musings to the critics.

A defense....really? Wouldn’t Bukowski be dropping F-bombs all the way through?
Wouldn’t Ginsberg be howling until his face turned blue?

As a poet, I see my job as bearing witness to existence, seeking inspiration, and inking out a few authentic lines from time to time–maybe having a sip of wine between stanzas. But the conversation on Friday challenged my perspective on my more romantic notions of what it means to be a poet. As Gabriella Calvocoressi, Libby Flores, Anna Journey, and Michelle Meyering posed their varied and well-meaning challenges to my work, and as I fumbled out my half-formed responses, I sensed a shift taking place inside of me.

I hadn’t expected I might enjoy this conversation. I hadn’t expected the defense might be a story of sorts...a rap session...a chance to jive. There was something poetic about talking poetry, I realized. Something kind of refreshing about it. During this sixty-minute conversation, I was asked to read a couple of my poems aloud, discuss the visual layout of a few of my pieces, and defend my definition of humor. And during this exchange, it occurred to me that there’s something radical, even sexy, about being able to defend one’s work articulately, passionately, and creatively.

The fact is, we live in a time period where writers have websites, get interviewed, and go on book tours. The digital age has impacted the role and identity of the contemporary writer. For better or worse, these days we are not only expected to be artists but also mentors of the craft—communicating what we know about writing and what we’ve discovered about the process. Is this such a bad thing?

The truth is...

I have a personal blog where I routinely post my thoughts on poetry.
I listen to poetry podcasts hoping to get inspired by poets reflecting on their work.
I want the writers I admire to be able to clearly communicate their thoughts on the writing life.

How is a defense much different? I believe that in order to be a great artist, one need not be someone who can cogently defend their work to others. This isn’t mandatory. However, being an artist who is able to generously discuss one’s work is a good thing. It’s both a practical and poetic asset in today’s world. And in order to refine the product...it is not only helpful, but artful, to think about the process.

So the truth is, the act of participating in a formal "defense" of my work has inspired me to defend the defense. Talking craft can be daunting, but it need not be viewed as counterintuitive to the poetic life. In fact, I’m starting to see it as an organic extension of the work we do on paper.

The Defense: An Introduction

The project defense allows Mark faculty and PEN staff to learn more about the participants' projects. This is the first official day of The Mark Program, and the participants have prepared to answer a series of detailed questions regarding the creation and crafting of their manuscript, as well as their future goals for the project.

Stay tuned for harold's and Mehnaz's take on the defense! Each participant will write a post about how it went.

Following the defense, the Mark faculty and PEN staff will prescribe goals for the manuscript and a workshop schedule. Informed by the defense, the participant will be encouraged to prepare for workshop, and is invigorated for the weeks ahead!

 

The 2011 Mark Poetry Participants

PEN Center USA and The Mark are proud to introduce the 2011 Mark Poetry Participants:



harold terezón was born in Los Angeles, CA. He has studied at the University of California Berkeley and at San Francisco State University. He was awarded the Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2006. His work has appeared in Blue Print Review, Amistad, Borderlands, Puerto del Sol, and Palabra. He currently teaches poetry and the importance of higher education to students in the Salvadoran Corridor. He resides in Reseda, CA, and is working on his first collection of poetry, 12816 Judd St.

Mehnaz Turner was born in Pakistan and raised in Southern California. She holds degrees from the University of Arizona, The University of Texas at Austin, and UC Santa Barbara. She is a 2009 Emerging Voices Fellow in Poetry. Her short story, "The Alphabet Workbook," appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as The Journal of Pakistan Studies, The Pedestal Magazine, and An Anthology of California Poets. An English teacher, she lives in Southern California.

Meet the Faculty

Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Anna Journey

Each cycle of the Mark Program is guided by two faculty members, an instructor and an advisor. We are lucky enough to have Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Anna Journey at the helm of the 2011 Poetry Cycle.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia 
Earhart (Persea 2005) and Apocalyptic Swing (Persea 2009), which was
a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. She is the recipient
 of numerous awards and fellowships including a Stegner Fellowship and
 Jones Lectureship from Stanford University, a Rona Jaffe Woman
Writer’s Award and a fellowship to Civitella di Ranieri in Umbria. Her 
poems have been featured in the Washington Post and on Garrison 
Keillor’s Poet’s Almanac and in numerous journals. She is the poetry editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books and is on the advisory 
board of The Rumpus’ Poetry Book Club.  Along with gallerist Heather 
Taylor she curates the acclaimed reading series, Eating Our Words
. She lives in Los Angeles.
 

Anna Journey is the author of the collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Her poems are published in American Poetry Review, FIELD, Kenyon Review, and Shenandoah, and her essays appear in At Length, Blackbird, Notes on Contemporary Literature, Parnassus, and Plath Profiles. Journey holds a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston, and she currently teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. She recently received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

What is The Mark Program?

PEN Center USA presents The Mark Program blog!

The Mark is a program designed for Emerging Voices alumni. We describe The Mark as a rigorous manuscript finishing school for those who have gone through the Emerging Voices fellowship and need to finish and/or prepare their manuscripts for publication. Each year the program offers two cycles, one for Fiction/Non-fiction, and one for Poetry.

The 2011 Poetry Cycle is now underway. This is where our participants are writing their way through the Program! Learn about their workshop experiences, breakthroughs, writing exercises, and whatever else they choose to share. This is their journey towards a professional writing career.

More About The Mark

Three to four applicants are chosen for each cycle. A Project Defense, Mid-term Review, and Final Review are all mandatory components of the program. Following the first defense, the Mark faculty and PEN staff prescribe goals for the manuscript and a workshop schedule. The workshop meets every other week for eighteen weeks. Workshop sessions are three hours in length.

More About Emerging Voices

Emerging Voices is a literary fellowship program aimed at new writers who lack access to traditional writing programs and avenues of publication. Emerging Voices provides its fellows with the tools they will need to launch a professional writing career. All Mark participants must have successfully completed the Emerging Voices fellowship.