ASFA-CW/BAJ/BTW “My Favorite Poem” 2018: The Set List! | #Birmingham #Poetry

For posterity (and/or if you weren’t lucky enough to be in attendance for last week’s “My Favorite Poem” event at ASFA), here’s a list of our readers and the poems/poets they favored — with links! Thanks so much to all the participants…

Anna Butcher (Hoover) | ASFA-CW Senior

  • “Forest Fires” by Sarah Kay (see above)

Ben Allen (Vestavia) | Pharmacist

Beverly Radford (Cook Springs) | Retired Educator

Andrew Brown (Vestavia) | Actor/Comedian

Lauren-Elizabeth Dewberry (Pell City) | ASFA-CW Senior

Judy Jones (Highland Park) | Retired Banker

Brielle Morrow (Montgomery) | BTW-CW Senior

Linda Williams (Fairfield) | Banker

Murray Vella (Homewood) | Nanny

J.D. Peppers (Crestwood) | Stylist

Lee Gaines (Montgomery) | BTW-CW Sophomore

  • “What You Should Eat Before Reading the Poem” by Richard Hague

Lisa Oestreich (Downtown Birmingham) | Physician

Jack Royer (Mountain Brook) | News Anchor (CBS 42)

Fiction Writer Cate O’Toole Chooses Her Own ASFA-CW Interview Adventure!

74Cate O’Toole was awarded a Rachel Carson Fellowship and earned her MFA in fiction from Chatham University. She is the author of the chapbook Big Women, Big Girls (Stamped Books, 2011) and her stories have appeared in Six Sentences and the 6S Vol. 1 anthology, Wanderlust Review, The Linnet’s Wings, shady side review, and elsewhere. Cate was the 2012 recipient of the Poetry & Prose Winter Getaway’s Jan-Ai Scholarship. She lives and writes in Seattle, WA.

Her collection of flash fictions, Oh My Darling!, re-imagines the folk ballad “Oh My Darling, Clementine” into a haunting choose-your-own-adventure (CYA) narrative, of which Harmony Neal writes: “All roads lead to death — it’s the choices along the journey that make the life. Cate O’Toole has masterfully created the parallel stories of Clementine, letting the reader choose her path, which, while not pretty, is made of choices, as all lives are. Grim, sure, but choose your own adventure never goes out of style, especially when the language sings and the setting gets dirt in your teeth.”

After reading (and loving) Oh My Darling! for this past year’s Senior Thesis seminar, ASFA-CW Seniors (’17) Norah Madden-Lunsford and Willow Tucker devised their own CYA adventure for Cate to navigate. Here’s the path she took:  Continue reading

Creativity is the New Coding


In my own poetry, I’m drawn to both repetition and pop culture (so-called low-brow entertainments, especially), so when I read a short article quoting NBA owner and Shark Tank co-star Mark Cuban predicting the imminent “automation of automation,” I was all ears. Cuban was touting the need, in a changing economy, for young people to develop their creativity and critical thinking skills over tech savvy. Then, synchronicity of synchronicities (see, I told you I like repetition), Dr. Michael Meeks, ASFA’s Executive Director, shared this article in a recent meeting: “We Don’t Need to Teach Our Kids to Code, We Need to Teach Them How to Dream” by tech-journalist Tom Goodwin.

It’s not that digital technology is bad. It’s just that it isn’t a panacea for all that ails us, and it just as often creates new challenges and voids where it addresses and fills more familiar ones. With that in mind, schools (and parents) are uniquely positioned to (re)emphasize the uniquely intangible things that help humans truly thrive.

A few pull quotes from the Goodwin article:

  • Think of people’s mental faculties as a set of concentric circles. At the core is the very essence of who we are: our values, how we think, what’s important to us, our personality and our behaviors. Over this layer, our skills are formed. Are we adaptable? Can we build relationships? Are we fast learning, good at music, great at languages, can we see things from different points of view? Around this we form technical abilities: the gathering of facts, vocabulary, and the processes of life…
  • Current schooling seems outward-in. We prioritize knowledge above all else. It is tested in exams. The best in school are those who can most easily recall information. Which was pretty helpful until like now, where information is immediate, everywhere and abundant. In a world of Fake news, being able to form opinions, criticize, evaluate, and see both sides of the story are far more vital than merely knowing things, absorbing stuff and parlaying it back robotically…
  • We don’t need to change everything now, but we do need to start forgetting the assumptions that we have made. The future is more uncertain than ever, but we need to make our kids as balanced, agile, and as self-reliant as ever in order to thrive in it.

The idea is that, in a world where cars drive themselves and there’s software to build software, we really are going to have to reimagine what human work is — and probably sooner rather than later. Yes, that’s maybe a little bit scary. But it’s also a potential boon to anyone who hasn’t forgotten how to imagine something in the first place. “Every child is an artist,” Picasso supposedly said. “The problem is how to remain an artist once [she] grows up.” This, it seems, is nothing less than the clarion call of 21st C. education. (#Aspire!)

ASFA-CW Seniors Interview Poet Lauren Goodwin Slaughter

lauren_slaughterIn a new feature on the ASFA-CW “News + Notes” blog, the editorial staff of Cadence, our award-winning school literary magazine, will conduct interviews of various writerly luminaries — including (but not necessarily limited to) all our visiting writers. In preparation for this Friday evening’s Ron Casey Reading at ASFA, the staff (a.k.a., the ASFA-CW seniors) has been reading the latest poetry collections penned by our visitors — Lauren Goodwin Slaughter and Mark Neely — who both graciously responded in-depth to a few of our questions about their fine work.

First up: our interview with Lauren. She is the recipient of a 2012 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her poetry has appeared in venues such as Blackbird, Blue Mesa Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, Kenyon Review Online, and Verse Daily, among others. She is co-fiction editor at DIAGRAM and an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Originally from Philadelphia, she now lives in Birmingham with her husband and two young children.

Her first collection of poetry, A Lesson in Smallness, was released in 2015 by the National Poetry Review Press. “Though titled A Lesson in Smallness,” writes poet Erin Belieu, “Slaughter’s language is large, attentive, loving, and dynamic, even while acknowledging that our connections to others — in this case, as wife, mother, daughter — sometimes require a steep mortgage on a woman’s most intimate and individual desires.”  Continue reading

What Are You Reading Right Now?

Here’s some guidance for the kind of response I’m looking for, but this time — instead of featuring what I’m reading — I’m featuring some examples from your peers. What I like about these is that they reflect a full immersion in the experience of reading book and they consider the book from a writer’s perspective.

Sophia on Little Bee:

well, i just finished reading little bee, like, yesterday, so i suppose i’ll talk about that.

little bee was gorgeous, like, seriously. her voice was crisp and clear and beautiful. she, as a character, was both sad and funny and sweet. you can’t help but fall in love with her.

likewise with the little boy, charlie. as a four year old who insists on being called batman and who never, ever takes off his batman suit incase the evil ‘puffin’ comes and destroys the world, he is remarkably unannoying. he is cute and sweet and a much needed comic relief in the tension that exists between all of the major characters, like sarah, charlie’s mother, a woman who cut off a finger to save little bee, andrew, who is sarahs husband, and who was too weak to cut off a finger and save little bee’s sister, and lawrence, sarah’s lover, who loves sarah more than anything, but considferes little bee a danger and someone who simply does not belong in england as an illegal immigrant.

honestly, though, the story line wasn’t too great, and when i finished, it left me wanting so much more. it just wasn’t enough.

but still. the characters are enough to keep the entire boat afloat, simply because they are so well written, so well done and developed and they are so realistic.

but one of the reasons i was so intrigued by it in the first place was because i am always interested in immigration, and how immigrants are treated. and this book added a lot of insight on that, about how long it takes, and how horrible the conditions there are.

and another reason is because i am always curious in stories, and this one seemed to have a particularly nice one to tell. and it did. little bees background story, especially, was both heartbreaking and uplifting.

all in all, it is really just a book you have to read, if you like it in the end or not. it is one of those great books that are rarely produced, and in the very least, it will teach you something about voice and character.

Amanda on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

I’m reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, written by James Agee and photographed by Walker Evans. I decided to read it because when we read the first page in nonfiction, something about it threw open a door and let light in. This book (so far) has really changed the way I think of myself as a writer and how I can manipulate the time and space that I’ve given myself to evoke things from others. This was, of course, Agee’s aim, by writing about three sharecropping families in rural Alabama in 1936 — a gentle kind of exposé, passivity culminated into serialized articles for a magazine which expanded as the artists grew closer to the families and eventually turned into a book.

I identify a lot with Agee and Evans in both their temperament (see the preface written by Evans) and their work, the diligence and the practice and their aspirations for themselves and what they do. I haven’t read very much due to the fact that I’m trying to follow the suggestions in one of the most beautiful preface/introductions ever written; Evans mentions that Agee did most of his writing at night, when everyone was asleep and when he could find time to slip away. He goes further to say that Agee’s voice really came alive when he wrote at that time, so it is strictly, logically sensible to read it at night and understand it on different levels. He was right, and I have no regrets.

Carmen on Game of Thrones:

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is…..fantasy in a mideval setting. I recently got in the mood to read fantasy after re-watching Neverending Story. I got to thinking– why don’t we write about strange creatures and dreamworld anymore? I think we write fantasy on the down-low, and sometimes it gets a bad rap for not having enough substance or for being “child-like”. Why don’t we really get crazy with weird animals and mythology and just straight up goofy stuff? Just for fun. Are our imaginations dying because we’re too busy being “scholarly” to dream? to be completely ridiculous? we’re killing Fantasia!

Anyways, at first, I thought Game of Thrones was a crazy fantasy book with weird monsters and such because in the very beginning, there’s a scene in which this ghosty-ice-like-samurai-red-eyed thing (real descriptive, I know) opens a can of kick-butt on some young, pompous commander. As I read on past the prologue, however, the story became more about Eddark Starrk (ruler of the North/Winterfell) getting to the bottom of the death of his good friend (who is also the King’s Hand). The story revolves around how deceptive and corrupt people in power are and so on and so forth.

Mainly, the tensions in the story comes from the medieval standards — how young girls are supposed to sew and be flowery and so darn polite and get married young and such, how wives are supposed to turn the other cheek when their husbands have sons on the side, how boys are supposed to mature quickly, ride horses, kill people, drink wine and spirits, go to brothels, etc etc. How the characters react to these standards is simply compelling and as more pressure is placed on them, the more they want to step out of line, and everything seems on the verge of collapse.

Okay. So.

By Thursday post your response to what you’re reading in the comments section below.

  • Again: it has to be a book this time — a book you’re finished (or almost finished) reading.

Rest assured, I’ll do it too.

  • My book: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
  • I’ve read it before but there are reasons I need to read it again.

What We’re Reading Right Now: [08.31.11]

Periodically (my guess is once a month) we’ll all share a few words about what self-directed reading we’re doing at the moment. Mostly I want us to describe what the book is about (without any spoilers) in a few sentences and then give everybody a sense of what you’re getting out of the book so far. A nice meaty paragraph (or three, if you’re as long-winded as me) should suffice.

By way of example, here’s what I’m reading right now:

Guralnick is one of the preeminent music writers in America today. His area of focus is Blues, R&B, traditional country, and early rock-and-roll music — what is sometimes collectively called American roots music. This book is basically a series of profiles of individual musicians, all of whom are (or were at the time the book was written) purveyors of one brand of roots music or another. As much as anything else, it’s a consideration of how these different musical (and cultural) tributaries have fed each other, and it’s particularly interested in the ways race, class, and geography have all played into the developmental mish-mash of the music.

This book is capturing my imagination because I’m interested these days in how/why people devote themselves to a creative life and what kinds of sacrifices they have to make in order to do that. I’m about halfway through the book, and it’s interesting to note that Guralnick hasn’t profiled one musician who a reasonable (“reasonable”) person might classify as “normal.” Guralnick points out that some of that has to do with the lifestyle itself — the rigors of touring, waking up in a new town 150 or 200 nights a year, pose considerable challenges to maintaining connections in the “real world” where most people live. But Guralnick also suggests that most if not all of these guys (they’re all men) wouldn’t have it any other way. They really can’t exist comfortably in a more settled, conventional life.

I also like how Guralnick turned his obsession with roots music into his own creative vocation: writing is an act of connection, and it has allowed Guralnick to connect more deeply and intimately with the music and musicians he fell in  love with as a teenager. (Plus: I met him at a conference in April and he was a really nice guy. We talked about baseball and Bob Dylan. At one point, he got up from his chair and unabashedly demonstrated the proper mechanics of hitting a baseball for me. It was cool. Plus there was barbecue involved.)

Okay. Now it’s your turn. The comments section awaits!