Sarah Kain Gutowski

2.2.19  The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn't arrive until January, but it's finally signed. (Yay!) And now we're moving into book cover stuff and that's making everything feel more real. (click here for more)

1.25.19  Micro-Sabbatical 2019

My first post for 2019 is about my third complete micro-sabbatical. It's nothing short of a miracle that it occurred, too, considering that my family traded viruses and recovered from illness for no less than three weeks following New Year's Eve. For real, peeps. It was gruesome. But it's over now (knock wood) and we're moving forward. Kind of. I mean, everyone's sniffly or coughy, but roughly back to our normal schedules.

 

So anyway: micro-sabbatical. It was really micro this year, as I could only spare mornings for the writing. I had to use my afternoons to prep for spring classes. But I kept a log each day inside this blog post, after I worked toward each day's primary project/aim, and here's what happened . . .  (click here to read more)

9.23.18  A Quick Post from the Sabbatical I Stole (Kind Of) By Running Away to Sicily

A. and I spent two really quick days (really more like one) in Venice, Italy and then spent most of today traveling to the medieval city of Erice, which is in Sicily.

 

So far: Italian food is just as amazing as everyone believes, in Europe a glass of water is still more difficult to come by than alcohol, Alitalia DID lose my luggage and I've yet to hear what happened to it, AND I've written two poems on two different flights (and they might be crap poems, but at least I was writing).

 

Also, the view from the hotel is fucking amazing. And no, my photos don't really do it justice.

 

Also also, I'm running on very little sleep. (click here for more)

7.20.18  Podcasts, Poetry, and Post-post-post Modern Memoir (and Wild Turkeys and Bathroom Demo)

Time off in Virginia meant time off the blog, and some time off from writing, too. The car rides down and up the East Coast were long, but Miss New Teen, The Boy, and I listened to the S-Town podcast during the drive. It's just as good as people claim -- and probably just as ethically murky, too, but more like real journalism than anything I've read or watched or listened to in a decade. (click here for more)

6.1.18   Building a Fortress

 Last week was our last week of spring semester classes at the college, and in lieu of writing a blog post I was grading.  THIS week has entailed more busyness than you'd think possible for a week without classes -- I was actually in a three and a half hour meeting on Wednesday -- but I've reclaimed my mornings and I've been reading and writing again.

 

M.S. and I are finishing our Sketchbook Project and turning it into digital files that we can submit to galleries for group exhibitions -- although really when I write "we" I mean "M.S." because I don't know the first thing about submitting to art shows, but I'm along for the ride. It's interesting and something outside of my comfort zone, so in the long run probably a good thing. (click here for more)

3.23.18  The Pressure of Silence, Poems Like People, and the Pleasures of Digging Snow

 On Poetry [by Glynn Maxwell] is one of the best books on prosody. It's more entertaining and far less technical than Robert B. Shaw's "Blank Verse," but both books together provide a fairly robust (and readable) education in poetry. This quote is another pulled from my last journal, part of my "archive-and-actually-'use'-the-material-you-wrote-down-there-dummy" project for this blog.

 

Maxwell's "pressure of silence" is such an accurate description of line break. And his axiom that "the poem must act upon you in a way that resembles a human encounter," is one that I've been imparting to my students ever since I read the line -- it's a quick, easily applied criteria for both reader and writer: does the poem live and breathe? Does it seem like someone you'd like to spend time with? If the poet is honest with herself, this criteria really helps trim away detritus. It helps her know when a collection of lines and stanzas on a page has moved beyond the mechanics of verse and into the realm of poetry. Which brings to mind dear old Walcott: (click here for more)

12.15.17   Grading and Dudes Who Should Know Better

Today is a day when I will do all the grading.

 

I just needed to write that sentence, in the hopes that uttering it out loud and sending it flying into the inter-web-verse will make it good and true and actual, and that by the end of the day I will have all of the things accomplished and checked off my list and I will begin the weekend calm and happy and everything will go perfectly and according to plan.

 

And and and. (click here for more)

 

9.1.17  Rest and Renewal, Receiving Good News, and Misguided Girls in Coffee Shops

Sure, this little ars poetica at the end of "The Prodigal" is the poet speaking to himself at the end of an illustrious career, and there are few parallels I can draw between the speaker of these lines and myself, but the passage serves as this lovely reminder of the joy found in the act of creation. And that in the end, we fight death by giving birth, over and over again, with new poems and new paintings, or whatever it is we like to build, whether it's with words or oils or wood or steel.

 

Beach days are the best days.

 

My month of hiding out is over, and it's been peaceful and restorative like I wanted it to be, and feels a little (oddly, wonderfully) like rebirth -- I feel a little fresher, which is funny considering I'm tipping into year 41 at the end of next week. I'm not entirely finished with prep for my fall classes, but I'm not worried and that's kind of new -- instead I'm just happy to be more or less aware of what needs to be done and I feel optimistic about my ability to get it done, eventually. This is partly because I actually said "no" to commitments that were sapping my strength and my enthusiasm for my job in May, so I'm beginning this semester with a lighter load and, consequently, a more buoyant psyche. Also, reading and listening to all of that productivity porn last year has paid off and, for all of its dryness and repetitiveness and ridiculous terminology, it's helped me figure out how to be more methodical and practical about my teaching life -- so that my personal life and creative life can be a wee bit more spontaneous and relaxed. (click here for more)

5.26.17   Welp, That Was Fun

The spring semester and the 2016-2017 academic year has ended. In some ways, I'm right where I've always been at this time of year -- dehydrated and riding down a steep wave of elevated cortisone. In other ways, I'm much different . . . or at least, I have the prospect of being much different before me.

 

My promotion to full professor from associate professor means I don't have to participate quite so avidly anymore in the various aspects of college service that I found too taxing, or ill-fitting, or uninspiring. It means that I can begin to shape my career at the college according to my own wishes, not the administration's, and as a result my writing career will begin to change shape, too. At least, that's my hope.

 

I'm looking forward to having more control over how I spend my time at my job; perhaps, you know, being a better teacher. It's exhausting and depressing to reach the end of a semester and feel as though you let down -- whether they knew it or not -- 80-100 students. I'd like to get to a point where I can return graded work quickly, so that the feedback is actually useful and something from which the students can learn. I'd like to return to being a strong mentor and advisor, too. I feel like I've been remiss in this aspect over the past two years or so. It feels strange. I don't like it. (click here for more)

1.20.17  Morning Reading/Mourning, Reading

 "What happens to a person, however odd this may sound, also happens to a nation, a nation being, when it finally comes into existence, the achievement of the people who make it up; and the quality of the nation being absolutely at the mercy of, defined and dictated by, the nature and quality of its people." -- James Baldwin

 

I've been working on a blog post about my micro-sabbatical in bits and pieces, and I'd planned on publishing it today in an attempt to just ignore the Inauguration, and yet, I can't.

 

I can't ignore the very real implications of Donald J. Trump's ascendancy to the highest political office in the nation. Or how much it bothers me that people I know, people I like, voted for Trump not because they are intrinsically racist or misogynist or ableist, but because they felt comfortable dismissing his racist comments, and his misogynist and ableist words and acts, in favor of casting a vote along party lines. It bothers me that they didn't see how their vote was, in itself, a misogynist, racist, ableist act. (click here for more)

6.30.16 Writing Process as Hangover: Berate Yourself, Hydrate, and then Push Through It

My latest blog posts have felt so solipsistic, particularly in light of the fucking chaos and violence in the world that has always existed but seems, thanks to irresponsible and inconsistent mass media coverage, as if it's escalating inordinately of late -- but I'm keeping up with them as a record of my writing process, which is useful in hindsight but feels something like a giant, unrelenting hangover right now. (click here for more)

5.31.16 Mini-Unofficial-Summer Sabbatical & Other Attempts to Finish What I've Started

I managed to work on my verse play every day of last week, so something is going right. On Tuesday I created a schedule wherein I outlined the parts of Act I that I will revise or create in order to have a complete, working draft that I can submit to the Southampton Theatre Festival in early June; the schedule itself had to be drastically revised on Sunday when I discovered I'd taken nearly six days to revise one scene.

 

I am not a fast writer nor a prolific one. I'm trying to come to terms with this. Even when I have more time than usual, like I do right now . . .  (click here for more)

4.22.16  Surfacing

I have a different blog post to write (for my union) and a gazillion papers and assignments to grade and a very disordered house to put in order and clean before my mother visits at the end of this weekend, but I felt the need to check in here. I've been sending my manuscript to a slew of publishers and first-book contests this week, and there's something about continually posting a bio that states you keep "a record of [your] writing life, experience in academia, and motherhood" on a blog that makes you think, "oh, maybe I should actually DO that..." (click here to read more)

2.9.16  Back to the Blog // Back to Reality

I'm going to begin my blog again as a companion to the writing and submitting work I am kind-of sort-of doing right now  ... in an effort to move me out of the kind-of sort-of zone and more solidly into the definitely-and-making-lots-of-progress zone.  Because my writing life is some kind of pie chart or line graph, obv.

 

In January I mapped out a plan for revising the first act of my verse play and moving -- finally -- into Act II. That original map has itself been revised over the past few weeks. This is a result of that "kind-of sort-of" progress: painstakingly slow, but happening, nonetheless. I'm adding new scenes about five lines at a time (i.e. five lines per day, when those days of writing occur). It's a rather pathetic pace, I know, but at this point I'm encouraged that I have a pace... click here to read more

...I realize that these kinds of admissions make teaching, even at the college level, sound horribly formulaic with little room for improvisation. Also, all of the summer fun and freedom that I experienced with my family -- going to the beach, staying up too late to read, watching movies -- appears to have disappeared! But I find that I'm quite comfortable ditching the formula and doing spontaneous things in the classroom if I have the safety net of the well-laid plan beneath me, and my hope is that I can spend less time prepping in the office this semester and more time grading in the office, which in turn will give me more time to write when I'm at home (not to mention keeping up with normal life things, like kids and laundry and dishes)...  click here to read more

8.14.15   Progress Report: The Video Poem and The Verse Play

Toward the end of July, P.T. (pictured to the left, doing his tech thing) and I began work on our poetry video collaboration. We recorded the audio, then discussed various images and the sequence in the video, looked at some stock footage, brainstormed, etc. Last week, we met on campus with my little helpers, Miss Talkalot and The Boy, and we managed to film a couple of shots of them as the characters from  my fairy tale poem, and then also some shots of the surrounding pine barrens, which are lovely.

 

This exercise is fun but strange and confusing. I have this idea of the poetry video as ... (click here for more)

 

6.5.15  A Possible Summer Writing Group, Boo Killebrew's "Miller, Mississippi," and . . . Field Day

... On Tuesday I saw an amazing reading of an equally amazing play by Boo Killebrew, this year's winner of the Leah Ryan's Fund for Emerging Women Writers. The acting was incredible, and the play, "Miller, Mississippi," is a clever adoption -- but not direct adaptation -- of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, taking an earnest and unflinching glance at racism in the years during and following the Civil Rights Movement. There were two powerful monologues/moments in particular: one, in the first act, where at least one facet of the mother's 1950s, overtly pre-Betty Friedan behavior is revealed to be motivated by something far more serious and powerful -- though no less warped -- than her gin-nipping, antediluvian upbringing, and in the second act where the Faulknerian "Jason" character of the play, Thomas, excuses systematic incest and abuse with the same reasons white people of privilege give for lazy, less overt (but no less grave) acts of racism.

 

I had a moment of doubt about the play at the first hint of incest -- I was thinking, oh no, not in-breeding in the South, not this old trope; but ... (click here for more)

5.15.15 The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

I went to sleep at two in the morning on Sunday night after grading until I was cross-eyed and when I got ready for bed I checked my email and I had a message from a student who said I have emailed you twice in the last month and have not received a response- please get back to me about my questions and so I stayed up another half hour because I felt the need to write her back and prove with a screen shot that yes, I'd forgotten to send her a reply to an email she sent that past Tuesday but I'd only received one email from her since early April, and I DID reply to the one from April, and I could tell that when I woke up two hours later with the alarm and the beginning of a migraine and the non-sleeping Vampire Toddler it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

 

At breakfast Little Miss Talkalot decided she was too tired to eat breakfast and then The Boy decided that he was too tired to eat breakfast and then Vampire Toddler decided she wanted to eat Pirate Booty for breakfast but I held my ground and said she had to eat fruit for breakfast and then she had a meltdown. I was irritated about the meltdown but also laughing because a two year old wailing "Boooooty" over and over again is funny. And then I forgot to eat breakfast... (click here for more)

2.13.15  Every Outside Purpose is the Work's Ruin

 ... As regards writing, I've actually begun working (slowly, slowly) on a poem this week -- a line or two at a time. And I've been digging into more Tsvetayeva, whose "The Poet and the Critic" is really, really good. I love her assertiveness in general, her deep and unabiding sense of self, but in this essay she's particularly fearless. She's so honest and unapologetic and vehemently supportive of the poets she loves (and so righteously dismissive of the critics she despises).

 

In early paragraphs of the essay she speaks of the critic as "an investigator and a lover," claiming that "no one has the right to judge a poet who has not read every line that poet has written." "Creation takes place gradually and successively," she writes. "What I was in 1915 explains what I am in 1925. Chronology is the key to understanding." ... (click here for more)

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Copyright © Sarah Kain Gutowski 2019

Last updated: February 2019