In front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Tania Pryputniewicz

A Room of Her Own Foundation's Summer 2011 Retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico brought together a dynamic group of women. Now I am honored to be working with a team whose mission is to keep the spirit of that retreat going by conducting interviews, writer to writer. I met Tania on the bus to Ghost Ranch and got to talk with her a lot longer than expected when the bus broke down! We then wound up staying in the same building up on the mesa. I am
happy to have the opportunity to
introduce her to you here.

Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, is there one specific moment or event you can identify that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?

I have the urge to delineate every conversation I had at AROHO’s summer 2011 retreat whether it occurred on that first shuttle to Ghost Ranch, on the morning hike down to breakfast, or sitting on the mesa watching for shooting stars. I didn’t realize just how isolated I’d come to feel (after ten years of immersion in motherhood). I am moved by the web of life-long friends working beside me in spirit now--a posse of cohorts possessing a rich range of personalities and passions. I am no longer a “Lone Ranger.”

During Kate Gale’s afternoon panel, “Become a Literary Citizen,” and the panel of “Non-profit Contrarians” composed of Darlene Chandler Bassett, Kate Gale, and Esther Cohen, the forthright conversations about how to share the responsibility for promoting one’s work and the work of others shifted how I perceived my role as both a writer and editor. I will now ask, as Kate suggested, “What tangible help can I offer the publisher/press that accepts my book for publication? What do I bring to the table besides my role as writer of the manuscript?” In addition, I felt excited as an editor of a small on-line magazine to consider ways of sharing resources and platforms with established non-profits as opposed to reinventing the wheel each time, an idea put forth by Darlene.

Walking back from the panel, Esther’s gentle but direct questions about the motivation behind my choice to be a poetry editor at The Fertile Source (Why are you drawn to the subject? Why do you care about how women are viewed? Was family important to you growing up?) helped me take stock and recalibrate my personal and professional intentions.

Is there a specific woman writer who inspires/d you? If so, can you tell us something about why?

Again, I am flooded with memories regarding each writer I met and feel hard pressed to choose just one. But here goes--I’m thinking of the night Bhanu Kapil read from her poetry collection, humanimal. I could sense the specter of wolf-raised girls, the energy of those children as palpable as the sun warmed stone seats of the amphitheater and the tuning forks of the cacti at our backs. Later, I couldn’t sleep, the moon emanating through the three tiny windows of my room, a luminous, kaleidoscopic energy coursing through my mind.

During Bhanu’s Mind Stretch, she exuded that same multi-dimensional attention in her approach to her writing process when she shared the questions she posed as part of her process creating the poems for The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. I’m intensely inspired by the scope of her investigation into human relations and how it translates into her finished work. Surely a woman who has the courage to ask other women, “Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?”, and to write about the answers, will continue to leave a trail of profoundly transformative writing in her wake.

Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

My current writing joy remains with the making of the poetry photo poem montages (the micro-movies). Photographer Robyn and I have one last photo to add to the micro-movie for Amelia Earhart. Two image folders I’m eager to access next focus on the tangled psychic relationships ensnaring King Arthur’s extended kin. In the poem, “Corridor,” Guinevere recounts a stolen moment of time alone with her mother as they advance the length of the corridor between their bedrooms. And in the poem “Mordred’s Dream: A First Refusal,” Mordred attempts to challenge his mother’s vision for who he should be, both to himself and to Guinevere. I can’t wait to begin.

As I sit beside Robyn and we sift through her latest photo files, the story images itself before our eyes, the ordering of photos an intuitive process. I see the micro-movies as tiny mood bookmarks capable of setting the tone for longer works; I hope later they inspire longer vignettes complete with actors. The micro-movie short form satisfies my passion to enflesh the poems and fits my time constraints as a mother and editor.

At the retreat, I also made a commitment to build a base for a Collaboration Hub in order to support anyone interested in following up on my Mind Stretch presentation, “Female Power in the Face of Adversity: Collaboration as Excavation” (during which we brainstormed lists of iconic, inspiring women and exchanged lists, creating an opportunity to partner and collaborate with one another in the future). I will announce The Hub on AROHO’s facebook page once we’ve finalized construction on its inner workings and are ready to invite dialogue and share resources.

Recent poetry by Tania Pryputniewicz is forthcoming or appeared on-line at Autumn Sky, Blast Furnace, The Blood Orange Review, Connotation Press, and Linebreak. Her photo poem montages have been published by The Mom Egg (She Dressed in a Hurry for Lady Di, 2009) and Prairie Wolf Press (Nefertiti on the Astral, 2011). Poetry editor at The Fertile Source, she blogs at Feral Mom, Feral Writer. She lives in the Sonoma County redwoods with her husband, three children, kitten, Siberian Husky, and four feral cats.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Altars of the Uncertain Kind

In August I spent an amazing week at the A Room of Her Own Foundation's writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At the ranch, the incredibly beautiful mountains and mesas that had inspired Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings watched over me. It was a week of writing, contemplation and meeting amazing women writers from all over the country. On my way home, I sat in the Albuquerque airport with Tania, who happened to be on the same flight back to Oakland. Tania and I had just realized that we had met years ago at another writer’s conference. This was just one of the many serendipitous – and for me unnerving - interchanges and intersections that had occurred that week.

As we talked about all the things that you tell someone you barely know but find you really like, we reminisced about some of our experiences at the retreat such as the intense group discussions, meditation sessions and walking the labyrinth. Women had talked over and over about spirituality and religion and the soul – all concepts that make me very uncomfortable. I told Tania all the reasons why I am not a spiritual person, that in fact I even hate the word “spiritual.” But then I had to admit that my carry-on bag was heavier than it should be because it was full of rocks and pebbles that I had collected on my walks around Ghost Ranch. That I had compulsively taken photographs of the same mountains over and over at different times of the day to record every moment of my journey.

Those rocks and photographs were destined to join the shells and pieces of coral, pine cones and sage bundles, the icons and Virgin Mary’s, the tin milagros and Buddha’s that I had strewn about my house. From every place I go – and I am an obsessive traveler – I take a little piece of something to remind me of how I felt in that place or the person who gave it to me. I had to confess that I loved creating altars of all sorts – but that I was not spiritual in any way.

I also admitted that I had never wanted to write a blog because I didn’t think there were any of my thoughts that I needed to inflict upon the world, but Tania thought I should take photos of my altars and blog about them. Unsettled but intrigued, I couldn’t forget that conversation. I had to admit that something had happened at that retreat among those mountains that I didn't understand but couldn't ignore. So, because all that week I had been guided by the “spirit” of Georgia O’Keefe and the inspiration of those creative women, I did what Tania said I should do.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The tale of a teacher and his donkeys

Photo from:

 Yesterday I watched the POV production "Biblioburro," a film about Luis Soriano, a teacher in Columbia who has dedicated his weekends to bringing books to children in remote rural areas. I encourage you to check it out on the PBS website - it's showing until September 18, 2011. Link:POV - Biblioburro

Seeing this man ride his donkey great distances, fording rivers while carrying his library sign and tables put a new spin on the idea of dedicated teacher.  Everyday I try to figure out just how much more of myself I can give to my education.  Everyday I complain that the photocopies don't work, that there is another faculty meeting, that I have to grade too many papers. After watching this movie, all my complaints pale in comparison. Maybe next time I feel put upon and unappreciated I'll think about Luis and his donkeys. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Teacher/Poet or Poet/Teacher?

Today a funny thing happened in my middle school classroom. The teacher stopped "teaching" and became a writer being interviewed by her students.  We were watching a video about an author of one of the stories in their textbook.  When it was over, someone asked me what my writing routine was.  I've told my students that I write poetry and have always written poems with them for classwork. But I've never really just talked to them about who I am as a writer, what I do and why I do it. 

This day was different - I put aside the set curriculum for 20 minutes and just let them ask questions -- and they had some really good ones.  One boy asked if I thought it was better to start writing when you were still young or was it okay to wait until you were older.   That is something near and dear to my heart because I never really wrote when I was a child even though I "wanted" to be a writer.  I told them that I always loved reading books which had as the main character a girl who wrote -  Little Women and the Betsy/Tacey books in particular - and that although I dreamed I'd be like them I didn't do anything about it until I was an adult.  I had to admit that I thought it would have been better for me if I had started sooner, if I had taken myself more seriously, if I had worked harder. I asked them to think about whether they wanted to create art in some way - to write, paint or play an instrument. If they did, I wanted to encourage them create a space for it in their lives when they are young, to feel the joy of creation now.

Who was more affected by this whole conversation - the students or myself?  As with all middle school teaching, it may be years before I know if any student took this to heart enough to start on their own writing career.  That's the wonder and the ache of teaching adolescents - I have to have faith that I am touching their lives even though they may never tell me.  However, I do know that their genuine interest in me as a writer, their desire to understand me just a little bit more touched my heart in a way I won't forget.