From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer?
"Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Frost Place


   

  I honestly didn't realize what an honor it was going to be to read my poetry at The Frost Place. Of course, I was thrilled to be asked, and jumped at the chance immediately, but I really didn't realize how it would feel to be there, to stand at the podium in the poetry barn, to walk the paths that Frost walked, to see his view of Mount Lafayette from his front porch swatting at the descendants of the same summer bugs that darted about him, to enter his house, see the Morris chair he sat in, and discover he used a homemade lap desk, so seriously Yankee. I imagine everyone would be charmed by this, but a poet and history enthusiast country girl from New Hampshire, is charmed to the core by this kind of stuff.


       Most of all, I didn't know how thoughts of my own father would be so overwhelming throughout my visit. Definitely did not see that coming at all.
     I underestimated the distance from my new home to the house in Franconia, which of course is an uphill climb all the way into the White Mountains. So I didn't have as much time to meander about the museum as I would have liked, but still got to have a pretty good look around the house and yard, where just a few other poets were also quietly poking about. Though New Hampshire is my home state I had never been to the property before, and was a bit surprised at how remote it was. Up a dirt road, still a large and lovely wooded lot all these years later.
     You come upon the house, after parking, by way of a pretty back yard path that takes you to what I call the poetry barn, a small old outbuilding now used for poetry readings and book sales. The staff unlocked the house for us and let us go inside without a docent, (tours are provided during normal operating hours). This really was a country offering none of the amenities that summer travelers look for nowadays, and the house remains as rustic as it was then. I was told that Frost bought it for the view of Mt Lafayette which is understandable, and that he and his wife were looking for something that would help them with allergies when they came upon it. I’m guessing that that worked fairly well for them since they lived there year round for five years and summered there for twenty. Countless poems were inspired by the setting, and penned in this place.



      Yet, while I felt Frost’s presence, I kept thinking about my father. And not his presence, but his absence. Frost and my father somehow suddenly seemed like similar characters in my mind. Perhaps because my father introduced me to Frost’s poetry as a child. Perhaps because my father is an old New Hampshire Yankee too, and can, quite fairly, be called a curmudgeon. Perhaps the graying photos of an old guy in sixties style fashions reminded me of my Dad; a thoughtful looking man immersed in reading material, tuning out the rest of the world. Maybe it was the Life Magazine or other artifacts of the twentieth century laying about. Or maybe it really was just his absence.


      It did feel awkward to be there alone. A poet among strangers. As if I came from a distant land, and was not a native at all. As if I were an orphan. Still, I knew it was just as well. The strangers greeted my work warmly, and several sought me out after to say so. I knew, without question, that all of the poems I had chosen to read in that setting would have offended my father. He not only has shown an unwillingness to consider me a poet, he finds my opinions on most matters, at the very least, irksome. Still it was a little sad. It is quite likely that I will never again in my life have the honor of giving a reading of my work in a more important place, and that no one who knows me was there to bear witness to it did seem to diminish it.


      My father will turn 80 in a few weeks. I bought him a book of Frost’s work before I left. He probably won’t ask me where I got it. I probably won’t tell him. On the way back down the mountain I ate dinner in the car so that I could get back to my own daughter as quickly as possible. I had an apple, some candy, and a bottle of water, an old fashioned New Hampshire Yankee dinner. Before I bit into the apple though, I had to polish it to a gleaming shine using my shirt, just the way my father had taught me to do, more than forty years ago.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Upcoming Readings

    As The Widows' Handbook continues an ambitious book tour across America, I will be participating in another reading with several of the other poets featured in the anthology. That stop will be at Gibson's Bookstore in downtown Concord, New Hampshire on Thursday June 26th. Every one of the readings for this wonderful book is different, but they are always moving, in sometimes unpredictable ways. We'd love to see you there.

                                      http://www.widowshandbookanthology.com/contributors/

    I am absolutely thrilled to say that I will be a featured reader the following week at The Frost Place (YES, THAT FROST PLACE!) in Franconia, New Hampshire. I will be reading with;


at the invitation of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire for the summer reading series. The reading takes place Sunday evening June 29th at six o'clock.

    The setting alone will be worth the trip...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Novel Excerpt

     Did you know that General George Washington conceived of and designed the Purple Heart? He did so in response to the Continental Congress forbidding him to reward soldiers with promotions. Washington was a visionary, that is indisputable. In honor of Memorial Day I have decided to share an excerpt of my novel-in-progress where I have imagined the afternoon in August 1782 when this happened.

     He had seen countless men in the most horrific conditions and lowest standard of living, willingly follow his orders, even when the orders had appeared to be a death warrant, - because he asked them to. To walk miles daily leaving bloody footprints in the snow - because he asked them to. To carry on day after day without pay, medicine, and more often than not, nothing more than tree bark to eat - because he asked them to. And he had seen colored soldiers and Native Indians and women and even children do this, sometimes exemplifying themselves as soldiers and patriots of the greatest merit.
    And he had seen over his entire life enslaved men and women avoid hard work and sacrifice, showing no interest and what appeared to be no understanding of their reward for doing so, until it became undeniably apparent that a ration of food and shelter, was not reward enough for the human spirit. That of the three; life was the least important to mankind. If liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not also at least distant possibilities, few men would exert themselves at all, and fewer still would exemplify themselves for distinction.
     As always when fatigued and weary George thought of Martha, far away on his beautiful farm. He pictured her by the fire silently sewing, using her needle to do good, and he came up with an idea. He lifted his quill and ordered that a new way of recognizing the men would be employed.  He was going to recognize every soldier to start, with a chevron to be worn on the left sleeve of every man that had served for three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct. After six years another chevron would be awarded. It was a somewhat radical idea and he knew eyebrows would rise and tongues would wag. It made rank irrelevant, shifting the traditional focus from the officer to the common soldier. It would be, distinctly, American.
     Further he ordered that a new badge of military merit be designed. It would be sewn of heart shaped purple and gold silk with a narrow lace-worked edging, the word Merit stitched in silver thread was to be surrounded by an entwining laurel on both sides, and he stated his intention as clearly as possible explaining in his order that he was "ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of military merit", and that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed the badge was to be awarded, and worn on the left breast of the uniform, allowing the bearer to pass all guards and sentinels without question. He declared to the world, "The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all."

     With ceremonial pomp previously only afforded to officers Washington himself presented the Purple Heart award to three young soldiers from Connecticut as soon as he could.

All rights reserved: (c) Tammi J Truax, 2014.



     Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Writing of the Heart

     I was thrilled to receive The Provenance Prize last week, my very first literary award. Here is the press release (which I also wrote);

  May marked the debut of what we hope will become a Portsmouth tradition; the granting of

the old as adam prize in letters, or the “provenance prize”

for short, an award for creative writing. Conceived of and overseen by Adam Irish, proprietor of Old as Adam, a vintage haberdashery and curiosity shop located at 33 Ceres Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
       Chosen from a field of forty entries the winners of the literary contest were; Tammi Truax of Portsmouth in first place, Zachariah Johnson of Portsmouth in second, and Anthony Conti of Newmarket in third. All of the writers had to submit an original work of no more than 500 words about a particular antique from Adam’s shop, in this case a one hundred year old medical model of the human heart. Prizes were awarded at Portsmouth Book and Bar where the finalists read their work.
      The public is welcome to stop in at Old as Adam to help select the subject for the next Provenance Prize competition, which will be announced June 1st. The current winning entries can be read at http://oldasadam.com/provenance-prize-winners-spring-14/

Here are my friends who came out to hear me. Heartfelt gratitude to everyone involved in the evening.






Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Month in Review

     April, National Poetry Month, was a wild whirlwind for me. In large part because I am buying and selling homes (an ever so daunting task) and started a new part-time job, but every year I am pretty busy during the month of April.

                                                   NPM_Poster2014_SmallPageView_1.jpg (200×267)
     Since I was too busy/ distracted/ frazzled to post about the literary related events I did make it to as I attended them, I will recap them for you know. 

     I ushered in the month by serving as a judge at a high school nearby participating in the National Poetry Out Loud Contest. A blast! The first Wednesday evening of the month I can almost always be found at the hoot, a reading sponsored by the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program. I was there to cheer on all of the surviving past laureates of our city. Six talented individuals I count as friends.

     That Friday evening, after a couple of exciting days overseeing mold mitigation, I traveled to Maine with my dear friend, the poet Kate Leigh, and at a school that my children attended when they were small, I heard Naomi Shahib-Nye read her work. I was very inspired, by her words as well as the work she had been doing that week. My dream job is to mentor child poets so what she had been doing was special to me. It was clear she was the perfect poet for that residency. I was inspired to write a poem right there in the balcony, and Naomi had read and responded to it by the end of the weekend. A bit of a thrill!

       On Saturday April 12th I was one of nearly a hundred guests at the 90th birthday party thrown by and for my poetry mentor Pat Parnell. We spent the afternoon reading poems to her which was just what she wanted.

       The very next day I took another ride to my Alma mater, the University of New Hampshire, where I heard Sharon Olds talk about and share her work. I wasn't very familiar with her work before I went, but I have been studying since. I have been particularly impressed with the courage her writing reflects. Such powerful words coming out of such a little pixie. I don't think I have what it takes to write about the Pope's penis. Her works really is a force of its own

        The following week I made it to Beat Night for a bit (another monthly event in my town where poets read to improvised musical accompaniment), and participated in my "Creation Circle", a volunteer gig I am doing with five other women. (See www.pplp.org for more info). That always results in me pushing my pressing prose work aside to create new poems. 

        A lot of work went into the next gig which I've written about in previous posts, where I read two poems by Alice Dunbar-Nelson and read two poems I had written in response to her. Learned a lot with that project. Next there were two readings to launch The Widow's Handbook, a recently released anthology that includes my work. One reading was in my home town, and the other was in Salem, MA at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I spent the day there attending two other workshops, and hearing the headliners for the last day who were Lucie Brock-Broido, David Ferry, and Rhina Espaillat.

      Another Saturday afternoon I left town with a couple of friends to go hear a talk and reading by Lois Lowry. Just wonderful! An entire theatre filled with people of all ages who'd come to hear a writer talk.

       Every other Sunday ends with a meeting of my writing critique group, and last of all (I think) was another volunteer gig I always enjoy, talking with high school students about being a writer. I worked with two classes at Oyster River High School which was a pleasure. I didn't expect that a young man would come up to me after class to shake my hand and complement my work.

      I have also been busy with a volunteer job I perform twice a year coordinating the National Poetry Contest sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. The deadline for your poems to arrive in my mailbox is May 15th. I'd love to hear from you.

     And now, back to my boxes...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scrambled Eggs


     My life has become so hectic of late that I haven't been able to tend to my blog. I haven't been able to tend to my fiction either. The novel that had been coming along so effortlessly for so many months, has been almost entirely pushed aside. Partly for life demands that gushed forth all at one time like a no longer dormant volcano, but also, for poetry.

egg-broken.jpg (387×310)
      Since this is National Poetry Month I've decided to stop fretting over it and just go with it.

     This push back to poetry was ushered in when I was asked not too long ago to serve as a judge in the Poetry Out Loud competition at a local high school. So many powerful poems delivered so eloquently! Soon after, I was invited to visit another high school's poetry class to read my own work and mentor the students for an afternoon.
     At about the same time I was asked to work with a group of interested adults in something called a Creation Circle, part of a multi-month project designed by my city's current poet laureate. Her project has really reengaged my brain in making new poems. In fact, I find myself frustrated that I do not have more time to devote to the work we are doing.
        I was also asked to participate in other public readings this month. Two are to launch and celebrate The Widows' Handbook, a new anthology that I am thrilled to be included in.
       Another is new and exciting to me, and at least has some bearing on the novel I have been distracted from. Hosted by The Seacoast African American Cultural Center I will be one of twelve writers participating in a panel called "What Langston Heard: Seacoast Poets Read and Respond to the Work of 12 Harlem Renaissance Poets". I am exploring the work of Alice Dunbar Nelson.
        And best of all, because it is National Poetry Month, I get to hear many other wonderful poets read and share their own work. Last week, I had the privilege of hearing visiting poet Naomi Shahib Nye share her work and found her having a strong influence on me. I loved the humor and humanity in her words, and that she shares my avoidance of formality. I began penning a poem in the balcony before her reading was even over, and by Sunday morning (through a mutual friend) she had read and responded to the first draft. She said she loved it. That was kind of her. I know it is still a troubled poem (like this stage of life I'm struggling through right now) but that I will work it out in time. I believe she saw the potential in it though. It was a thrill to have her read and respond to it. And I hope she knows what a gift it is for one writer to influence another to create something they never would have had she not given of herself in the first place.
     I am giving over the month of April to do all that I am being called to do, it so clearly filled with surprises. A little lush lawn where poems I hadn't planned to write have been hidden like beautiful and fragile little eggs. I'll seek them out, one by one, and get back to my novel when the gathering feels done.





     Upcoming Readings:

1. Thursday evening 4/24 What Langston Heard: Seacoast Poets Read and Respond to the Work of Harlem Renaissance Poets
      7-9 PM, Kittery, ME Recreation Center (donation suggested)
2.  Wednesday evening 4/30 Book Launch and Reception for The Widows' Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival
      6:30-8 PM Portsmouth, NH Public Library (free admission)
3.  Sunday 5/4 Mass Poetry Festival (This is a major conference.) Another reading for The Widows' Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival
      12-2 PM Hawthorne Hotel Salem, MA. (probably not free) The roster of poets will be different than in Portsmouth.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lessons I'm Still Not Learning

       I have been struggling all week to come up with a worthy post about my attendance last weekend at NH Writer's Day (sponsored annually by the NH Writer's Project). The highlight for me was definitely what felt like a fairly successful pitch of a picture book I have been working on for years to a team of publishers. I do hope to hear back from them soon. I also really enjoyed hearing the 2014 champion flash fiction piece read by its writer, a Mr. Ting. I was hoping to meet him later but did not get a chance. And I sold a book at the member's sales table, which is always a thrill even when it is only one copy. I wish I could have stayed for the awards ceremony as I had several friends receiving accolades for their work.

     Honestly though, I have been struggling to talk about what I learned this year as I generally take away quite a few valuable lessons from the variety of speakers brought together to share their expertise.

     Probably the most helpful information for me came from a literary agent, who gave the inside scoop about her work at a Boston firm. These are her tips to finding an agent;

1. Get involved in a reading community.
2. Get involved in a writing community.
3. Polish your manuscript. Read it aloud.
4. Build a platform.
5. Learn about the publishing industry.
6. Research agents.
7. Write a strong query letter.
8. Review the excerpt you're sending.
9. Follow up.
10. Don't get discouraged.

      I have been doing all of these things, and will keep plodding on.

     I also attended a session given by novelist Michelle Hoover. I was pleased that she has written historical fiction, but I am not sure I can use much of the ideas she shared about locking in the first pages of your book. She spoke of how there must be a wounding event, an inciting incident, and then a point of attack in your opening. I readily concede I have trouble taking direction and following rules when I admit that I had a lot of trouble with this advice. It feels so formulaic to me that I just can't embrace it. To me these step-by-step prescriptions of how to write effectively are the literary equivalent to a paint-by-numbers creation, that is that they lack creativity. I think you are likely to end up with something pleasant enough, unlikely to provoke or offend, and very much like somebody else's "creation". I'm just not ready to give up the free write!

     I believe she was the same presenter who advised us all to use the word processing software for writers called Scrivener. I have looked into it since and that just isn't for me either. It looks so complicated and time consuming I could barely tolerate reading the description!

      I realize all of her advice might (probably would) make my work better; more organized, more appealing to the masses, simpler, but none of that works for me right now. Those are not the reasons that I became a writer. I don't want to be conventional, but I do want my work to be read, so I'm left wondering where do I draw the line? I used an unconventional format in my debut novella Broken Buckets, and I am getting the impression that many readers do not appreciate the approach (a multiple point of view format similar to the one Faulkner used to great effect).

     For now I'll continue to ponder these lessons successful writers are sharing with me, and will keep plodding on.

      http://www.michelle-hoover.com/the-quickening.html