Free Speech: Use It; Don't Lose It

By Kat Richardson

Twice a year, I cross an ocean and a continent to attend college. I travel more than 9,000 miles round-trip, and fly over hundreds of schools to get to Goddard College, in the remote hills of Vermont. This Fall, I land dead-center in the middle of a civil rights controversy when outgoing graduates choose Alumnus Mumia Abu-Jamal as their Commencement Speaker. Mumia was convicted of killing a Philadelphia Police Officer in 1981 and ordered to die, surviving nearly thirty years on death row until 2011 when his sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole.

I’m fascinated that the 2014 graduates have chosen Mumia to speak, and wonder first about logistics, until I learn he has already pre-recorded his words from prison. The possibility that people would try to stop his message from reaching us, doesn’t even occur to me, until news cameras show up. Suddenly, there are virtual death threats, bomb scares, and pressure from politicians and the Fraternal Order of Police to cancel Mumia’s speech. College officials reassure us that the graduation will happen, but some of the protocols have changed and with the added media presence, there’s something that just feels different on campus.

It’s graduation day and the joyous ceremony happens uninterrupted, three hours ahead of schedule.  A group of protestors assemble along the property line bordering the campus. Fortunately it’s a peaceful demonstration as I approach one of them. We begin a dialogue exchanging views and asking questions of one another. He thanks me for listening and I thank him for speaking up about what he feels strongly about. We acknowledge that we haven’t changed each other's opinions, but we know we were heard and there’s satisfaction in that. We shake hands two times before I walk away.  

Only two weeks later, in response to Mumia’s private speech for Goddard College, and a failed attempt to silence him, both the Senators and Representatives of Pennsylvania have introduced bills quickly voted upon, passed, and signed into law by the Governor, effective immediately.  It happened that fast. Bam. Bam. Bam!

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania criticizes these fast-tracked laws as “overbroad and vague and completely undermines the fundamental value of free speech found in the First Amendment of the federal constitution.”  In a letter requesting the Senate and Legislature to vote against it, the ACLU argues, “Both of these bills attempt to shut down public speech by people who are currently or formerly incarcerated by giving a victim, the district attorney, or the Attorney General the power to file a civil action against a person before the speech occurs if the conduct “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” This is defined as “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” No one seems to acknowledge how far-reaching these laws can get, yet Governor Tom Corbett signs them anyway.

The fact that these bills have so hastily and sloppily become law in Pennsylvania, motivates me to project my voice louder and farther, lest I lose my right by not using it. The First Amendment was created with great foresight to protect future generations from suffering at the hands of a corrupt government. Taking free speech away from prisoners is an incremental step towards taking it away from other marginalized groups, or whomever else those in power don’t want to be heard. This is dangerous. It’s important that we hear everyone! Blocking prisoners from this basic right creates an umbrella of censorship over us all.     

Peace officers sworn to protect us are the ones who have initiated these bills and protested against Mumia’s right to free speech and in a sense, censoring our rights, validates for me, the ongoing need to advocate for the importance of upholding First Amendment Rights for all. I didn’t know when I arrived at Goddard, that I would learn the importance of protecting and preserving our free speech from a death-row survivor or the Fraternal Order of Police. In my own self-sequestered by privilege existence, I had not heard of either one of them until this semester.

Students and inmates are known to be outspoken and prone to protest against the establishment, but only at Goddard have I encountered police protesting against students and an inmate giving a prerecorded speech.  Thank you Goddard College: our new interim President Bob Kenny, faculty, administration, and staff for embracing us 100% with your support and protection. You held strong in the heat of scathing public insults and personal threats. Your strength and support during this very odd attack on the school’s reputation and attempts to discredit faculty and embarrass students, reinforces how pleased I am that this is the institution from where I will earn my degree. And Mumia, thank you for your powerful voice, and for not being afraid to use it.

Duende Launches; The People Approve

By Kate Weiss


“I think it's the most impressive undergraduate journal right now.”

—Michael Vizsolyi, poet, Goddard College Faculty, and Starworks Fellow. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Margie, 6x6, Slice magazine, and Sixth Finch.

 

“Oh my gosh, it’s a beautiful design. Can’t wait to read these works and drool over the artwork.”

—Deborah Miranda, poet, Native Studies Scholar, author of several award-winning books, including Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir

 

“Wow, editors!  It just gets better and better.”

—Janet Sylvester, poet, Director of Goddard College’s BFA Program in Creative Writing

 

“The launch [of Duende] is a very special accomplishment…Once again my congratulations to all but we cannot let it stop there.” 

—Robert Kenny, Interim President of Goddard College


We did it. We launched Issue One. Over the past eighteen months there have been long days and late nights. The Duende staff has grown and changed. Editors have moved across the country or on to other adventures. Collaborating across time zones we have worked to assemble a sort of digital scaffolding to not only build issue one, but promote the continued growth of Duende. Sometimes together, meeting in a cottage in central Vermont and sometimes apart, in our own respective cities, we built this thing. And during its construction we have learned so much. The words we speak, write to each other in communication, and those we have chosen to publish come from deep reflection.

During this process, we have come to understand what it means to be literary gatekeepers. We will continue to consider the gifts and responsibilities we have in this position of empowerment. Duende is no longer just an idea or a mission about diversity and voice. It no longer exists solely as faces illuminated by the glow of laptops, lonely hours spent reading submissions, and fixing comma splices. Duende is now a thing in the world. Our mischievous, elusive Duende holds digital space.

The words we speak, write to each other in communication, and those we have chosen to publish come from deep reflection.

We have been able to publish work we are proud of and cannot thank each of our contributors enough—even those we did not publish—for sharing their work with us. For those writers, poets, and artists whom we did publish, we are honored to have built a home for your work. Because of your submissions we have been able to fulfill our mission to publish work from an array of voices ranging form Affrilachian poets to Cave Canem fellows to members of the LGBTQ community. There is so much richness in the tapestry of lit and art to discover. We have only just begun!  

On to Issue Two.

 

Creating the Unknowable Future: The Birth of Duende

by Amy Cain

This past summer I spent a lot of time playing Minecraft with a seven-year-old. For those unfamiliar, it’s a game that situates the player in a 3D world where virtually anything can be constructed out of large, textured cubes. In general, I loathe video games and do what I can to keep my nanny charge, Bruno, from playing them (despite the fact that it would make me a terrible nanny, I also think video games are just boring). But Minecraft is entirely different.

There are a variety of modes to the game; Bruno and I always choose the creative mode and set our world to "peaceful." This means that the only point of playing is to create. Naturally, as a person who spends most of my free time creating and/or cultivating, I am delighted by this. There is an excitement associated with building something out of nothing, with realizing ideas, and it's like nothing else.

Recently, I read an essay by Javier Marías called “Seven Reasons Not to Write Novels and Only One Reason to Write Them.” Use your imagination and you can probably guess at some of his reasons not to write novels—but Marías's only reason in support of writing gave me the shivers because it gets at the very excitement I’m talking about. He writes, “[Fiction] offers us a possible future reality. And although it has nothing to do with personal immortality, it means that for every novelist there is the possibility—infinitesimal, but still a possibility—that what he is writing is both shaping and might even become the future he will never see.”

It is, perhaps, a stretch to extend this idea to the playing of Minecraft, but it’s certainly not a stretch to apply it to the creation of Duende. Over the past year, BFA students at Goddard College have been working tirelessly on Duende; together, we imagined this journal into existence. Together, we voted on potential names, design choices, and literary allegiances. Together, we decided it was vital that this journal be a true representation of the U.S. literary ecosystem, and we committed to intentionally reaching-out to underrepresented groups in the hopes of creating the literary future we want to see.

There are thousands of fledgling literary journals in the world. Harkening back, for a moment, to Marías's observations about novel-writing, he says, “There are too many of them. … It is, then, a commonplace activity, one that is, in theory, within the grasp of anyone who learned to write at school.” The same thing can be said about literary journals. Making them is not hard, and with the internet as a tool (long live net neutrality!), just about anybody with access to a computer, a working knowledge of Wordpress and a little extra time can do it.

But as we, the Duende editors, made choices about which writers and artists to include in our inaugural issue (and we had SO many wonderful submissions that it was difficult to choose), we understood that the poems, stories, visual art pieces, and collaborations were going to reflect not only our mission, but the unknowable future. We are incredibly pleased with the writers and artists who appear in this first issue. They deserve to be here, and we feel honored to have been even the smallest stepping stone in their journey through the literary landscape; their pride is our pride.

In the end, playing Minecraft probably won’t change the shape of the world around me, but an attitude of possibility will. That’s why, in deciding which voices must be heard, which ideas are important, we are, right now, taking part in a discussion that is both happening and hasn’t happened yet. This is the magic inherent to creation. We make something. We put it into the world. And we have no idea at all what will develop next.

To MFA or Not to MFA: The Question That's Still on Every Writer's Mind

by Cameron Price

Okay, so education (and just being alive) requires a lot of money. With this in mind, why would one invest in a degree that guarantees absolutely no promise of a job on the other side?

To begin, let’s just assume that you have reached the point where you know that you NEED to be a writer and that no other calling under the moon could possibly satisfy you. If this is the case– and is it for anyone 100% of the time?– then why go into debt for a two year degree when you could just, well, write? There are many strongly differing opinions on the matter.

Writer and poet Donald Hall, former Poet Laureate of the United States in 2006, is one of the most outspoken critics of the MFA degree, and he has some good points. In his essay “Poetry and Ambition,” he writes: “The workshop schools us to produce the McPoem, which is ‘a mold in plaster, / Made with no loss of time,’ with no waste of effort, with no strenuous questioning as to merit. If we attend a workshop we must bring something to class or we do not contribute.”

McPoem? Harsh. But this critique comes from Hall’s experience of seeing too many programs churn out writers who have merely been trained to mimic what has gone before them. He argues in his essay that writers must have ambition of the right sort– the kind in which the “petty ego” is sacrificed in service to the poem (or narrative) itself. More often than not, Hall feels that MFA programs encourage the opposite and are not cultivating the proper literary immersion, independence of thought, and true ambition needed to write innovative literature.

I agree that one gets what they put into an MFA. Or into anything, really. The writer must already exist inside the writer if that inner-writer is to be developed and coaxed out...if that makes any sense. In short, an MFA isn't going to make you a better writer. YOU are going to make you a better writer only if you work, research, learn, live, and (most importantly) write.

These things can happen in an MFA program, contrary to Hall’s belief. Poet Arielle Greenberg believes that, if treated in the right way, the MFA can act as a supportive green house environment for budding writers. Greenberg writes, “I’d be thrilled if we lived in a nation—like some others in the world—where people gathered in local cafes and plazas to recite great verse and breathe it in, but the truth is, in America, this happens primarily in the classrooms and reading series and conferences and living rooms of MFA students, alumni, and faculty—and for this we should be thankful" (from "A [Slightly Qualified] Defense of MFA Programs: 6 Benefits of Graduate School"). Greenberg illuminates the benefits of the MFA program, which range from cultivating community, teaching the student what and how to read, and finding one's voice and unique set of values.

Both of these writers provide potential students with nuggets of wisdom. I think it’s safe to say that pursuing an MFA is an individual decision– especially if you know that an MFA isn’t going to make you a better writer. The more appropriate question would be: what is going to grow you best? Despite opposing views on whether to get an MFA, I think one thing can be agreed upon: you need to write in order to be a writer, MFA or not. So stop surfing the web and go do it!

Graduating With a BFA

by Alexis Lounsbury

In my final residency at Goddard College, which was the weekend of my Spring 2014 graduation, I walked around campus in a haze. It seemed surreal that after worrying over study plans semester after semester, that was not the case this time. I tried to take in the smell of the rain on the grass, or how the quiet of the Pratt Library made me feel more in tune with what I was reading. There was a hum all over campus that seemed to feed the starving creative beast in me. Then, on that fateful Sunday afternoon, I clutched the hand of a good friend and fellow graduate as we walked into the Haybarn Theater for the last time, performing “With a Little Help from My Friends." It was a perfect choice, far better than my half-serious idea of walking in to "The Imperial March" from Star Wars.

As a student sitting in on previous graduation ceremonies, I would listen to the advisors explain the involved, professional senior projects of their students, and thought how impossible they seemed to be. I was plagued by insecurity--some graduates seemed to have produced over five hundred pages of work. They had stood before their peers all weekend, giving eloquent graduation presentations, and now they stood up to be erudite and thank everyone who had a hand in supporting them along the way. It didn't seem possible to my pre-graduation self, as I only had a seed of an idea of what I may end up with for my senior project. By the time I stood up to make my own speech, bumbling through tears, I understood how much work had really gone into it, but also what I was walking away with.

Receiving your BFA in Creative Writing at Goddard means that you have taken the seed of an idea and created a finished project. You've had the opportunity to learn theory while simultaneously learning how to work alone, something that can be difficult to become comfortable with, but you have mastered it. Throughout your undergrad, you have likely heard the phrase “trust the process” so much it's become an inside joke, but you have shown that you understand the creative process. More impressively, you have shown how you fit inside that process. What works for you? Writing in the morning or at night? In a cafe or in a closet with a desk from Wal-Mart, which you spent four hours assembling? You figured out your genre, but also how to research. You learned how to keep a deadline, and to become an expert in using criticism constructively.

From where I stand now, having been in the “real” world for a few months (it's the exact same as the previous world I was living in), my job is to tell you the most important resource you are graduating with: your fellow graduates. The incredible, talented group with whom you are graduating will never cease to amaze you, so make a concerted effort to keep these people in your life. They are entering the same difficult waters, armed with exactly what you have. They will be indispensable in many things, such as keeping your sanity in a difficult economy, entering the world of writing, navigating grad school, and the unfortunate possibility of moving back in with your parents. But chief among the reasons to stay in touch with your fellow graduates is to keep Goddard in your life.

James Baldwin, We Celebrate You

by Lauren Wingate

Today would have been the 90th birthday of American essayist, novelist, and poet James Baldwin. To celebrate this, many schools are introducing his writing for the first time into their classrooms, challenging the idea that youth are unable to handle his language and frank discussions about race, sex, and gender. The New York Live Arts: Live Ideas Festival has declared its second annual celebration "The Year of Baldwin," in which they will dedicate the whole of their five-day festival to the works of Baldwin. This will include the premier of Nothing Personal, a play based on the novel written in collaboration with Richard Avedon.

James Baldwin, NYC 1975 // Photo by Anthony Barboza

James Baldwin, NYC 1975 // Photo by Anthony Barboza

It is with deep intentionality that Baldwin’s literary voice is resurfacing. We find ourselves in a time in which the conversations about and understandings of race, gender, and sexuality have become destitute, especially in classrooms, due to the misguided belief that we live in a post racial, non-biased society. Educators, both inside and outside of the classroom, are encouraging us all to acknowledge the ways that we are separate in order to move forward in honoring our likeness.

I discovered Baldwin in high school. I admit it was his name that first caught my ears. Being part of a youth-driven spoken word community, I heard the names of several thought-changing people of color without knowing too much about them. I took it upon myself to research these people, and Baldwin's name came up so often that I had to investigate. The first quote I highlighted was found in his collection of essays, The Fire Next Time:

"You were born into a society, which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned… in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “you exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine -- but trust your experience." (8-9)

This passage spoke directly to the internal struggles I was faced with--ideas of truth as they related to personal versus social views of reality. Baldwin’s voice became a subtle soundtrack to my learning. He provided me with determination, and held me in a continuum of historical presence that I needed in order to attune my action to my intention in the world.

It is this insight that he still offers us. Thank you, and happy birthday, James Baldwin.

Reading as a Means to Clearer Prose

by Fawn McManigal

We writers hear the recommendation all the time: read everything you can get your hands on, then read some more. Maybe you’ve also been advised to read outside the genre in which you write: articles, obituaries, recipes, stats. Read! Read! Read! I agree. Read the works of others. But don’t forget to read your own work--out loud, in front of a group of peers.

If you’re the type of person who reads aloud during revision, congratulations. Hearing our words permits us to see the language on the page more clearly. This practice of reading to ourselves, however, does not afford the same level of care and precision that occurs when we anticipate reading that same piece to an audience.

This truth became clear when I was asked to read one of my essays at a reception for the journal in which it had been published. During mock readings of this piece, I was surprised by the number of times I stopped reading because something disrupted the story’s flow. Several sentences required that I move a clause, add or remove a comma, or insert a more suitable word--all to a piece that I, and the editor of the journal, had considered finished. Had I edited in this way prior to submission, the essay would have been tighter.

Though the act of reading your work in front of your peers may be terrifying, it won’t ruin you. For those feeling hesitant, try to start simply. Select a venue where authors are limited to roughly five minutes of reading time. It takes about two minutes to read one page of prose aloud. Choose a piece or number of poems you think you can read, without rushing, in the specified amount of time. Then practice. Time yourself. If you don’t finish in time, edit the work to fit or choose another piece. Practice some more. Then go rock your reading. Afterward, you’ll want to do it again.

Bloomsday, Revisited

By Kori Waring

June 16th was Bloomsday, the only internationally celebrated holiday honoring one particular work of art: James Joyce’s Ulysses. One hundred and ten years to the day after Joyce’s novel takes place, literary nerds of a certain breed congregated in cities across the world to dress up like this:

And do things like this:

image.jpg

And eat this for lunch:

gorgonzola sandwich, burgundy

In belated celebration of Bloomsday, I want to share a list I compiled—in a totally normal, non-obsessive way—of portmanteau words (i.e. words made by combining two or more words) that James Joyce invented for the third chapter of Ulysses (“Proteus”). For equally normal, non-obsessive reasons, I’ve organized them not alphabetically, but by parts of speech, and can tell you that of the sixty-four invented portmanteaux I counted, 55% are adjectives, 39% are nouns, 3% are verbs, and 3% are adverbs. Also, because there were so many adjectives, I broke those down by their constituent parts of speech too. Y’know. Like you do.

Adjectives:

(noun+participle) noun:

“…strandentwining cable of all flesh” 
“…whiteheaped corn”
“…whitemaned seahorses”
“…skeweyed Walter”
“…chalkscrawled backdoors”
“…bloodbeaked prows” 
“…peacocktwittering lashes”
“…milkoozing fruits”
“…fourworded wavespeech”
“…allwombing tomb”

(noun+adjective) noun: 
“…hundredheaded rabble”
“…froggreen wormwood”
“…saucestained plates”
“…gumheavy serpentplants”
“…windraw face”

(adjective/adverb+participle) noun: 
“…lowskimming gull”
“…seawardpointed ears”
“…longlashed eyes”

(verb+adverb) noun
“…pushedback chairs”
“…turnedup trousers”

(noun+noun) noun:
“…whiterose ivory”

noun+adjective:
snotgreen
bluesilver
basiliskeyed
saltwhite
saltblue

noun+participle: 
redpanting
moondrawn
horsenostrilled
ghostcandled

adjective+participle: 
sanguineflowered
myriadislanded

adjective+adjective: 
allbright

3+ word adjectives: 
brightwindbridled
shellcocoacoloured 

Nouns:
seaspawn
seawrack
ghostwoman
contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality
razorshells
facebones
stoneheaps
whalemeat
lacefringe
wavenoise
dogskull
dogsniff
monkwords
marybeads
roguewords
manshape
serpentplants
wavespeech
foampool
corpsegas
seachange
seadeath
creamfruit
abstrusiosities
shellgrit

Verbs:
bigdrumming
loudlatinlaughing 

Adverbs:
duskward
greengoldenly


Do I have opinions about the effect these words create in “Proteus”? I do. Would those opinions take up more space than is reasonable for a blog post? They would. You don’t need me, though. Read Ulysses and decide for yourself. It has a reputation for being a tough read, and it’s true that you have to be willing to let some allusions fly over your head, but mostly Ulysses requires one thing: forget everything you know about reading fiction, and let the book teach you how to read it. I promise it’s worth the effort. James Joyce will blow your mind.

I’ll end with a quote. Stephen Dedalus thinks this in a self-deprecating way in “Proteus,” but I think in an odd, Joycean way it does a pretty good job of capturing why we read literature, and certainly why you should read Ulysses:

“When one reads these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once…”

Yes. 

Happy Bloomsday, internet.