The Writer’s Handful with Carrie Etter

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

After a bit of hiatus, I am so very pleased to bring you The Writer’s Handful again. And I am even more pleased to have CARRIE ETTER, a remarkable poet and sudden prose writer, join us today. You must find Carrie’s work and read it immediately. She will break your heart. She will make you laugh. She will cause you wonder. She will speak to you as though you are close, close enough to touch. And her words will touch you.

Welcome Carrie!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

It’s marking season, as it were, one of those times of year where I have weeks of marking to do, and I find it hard to write when I’m doing so much marking, so I probably won’t write again until after it’s done. I don’t like the situation, but I’ve learned to work with it.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?imagined_sons72_0

At age 3, on the large paper that’s half-lined, half empty space, I wrote (and drew) a story about ducks.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading four things in uneven rotation: H.P. Lovecraft’s Classic Horror Stories (a gift from a student), China Mieville’s The City and the CityDylan Thomas’s Collected Poems, and the current issue of New American Writing.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I can’t really think of concrete advice I’ve been given, at least broad principles, that I’ve found especially useful. I had a personal revelation while working on my PhD at the British Library. I was thinking I’d give up on writing a difficult poem, when I realized that if I faced the same situation in my PhD–an established critic whose argument directly conflicted with mine, say–I’d have to find a way through it. I had to approach writing with all the rigor I approached writing criticism. That’s since been a touchstone.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I’d aspire for my writing to be like a dolphin, intelligent and elegant.

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia

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Originally from Normal, Illinois, Carrie Etter has lived in England since 2001 and is a senior lecturer/associate professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. She has published three collections, The Tethers (Seren, 2009), Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011), and Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014), and edited Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman, 2010). Individual poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. She blogs athttp://carrieetter.blogspot.com.

Thank you Carrie Etter, for taking the time away from poem making, marking, reviewing, and blogging for this little chat. And thank you, everyone, always, for reading. – PMC

Say It In 53 Words

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As some of you might know, I have an odd relationship with the short-short prose structure. I love to read those that are stunning, remarkable, odd, moving, magic, entrancing, curious, and and and. (Think: Vanessa Gebbie here. Meg Pokrass. Tania Hershman. Dinty W. Moore. Carrie Etter. Katey Schultz. Stuart Dybek. Tom Hazuka.) I have written a couple of short-short pieces–in fiction and in nonfiction–myself, and am not unhappy with them.

What bothers me, though, is the idea some writers have that flash fiction and its close relatives (prose poem, sudden prose, short-short, flash nonfiction, etc.) is something easily undertaken, harnessed, mastered, and published. I would posit that it is one of the most difficult forms of writing to do consistently very well; its writers have to avoid the trap of the punchline, the narrowly-told anecdote, the cryptic instance with no resonance. How short-short and flash writers avoid these things is another matter altogether (you who succeed with this genre, please do feel free to enlighten us via the comments section of this page!) But a good piece of the short stuff is remarkably satisfying. Perhaps more closely akin to a beautiful piece of visual art than to the long narrative: it gets to you quickly, takes your breath, and then gives you plenty of time and space to look and look again to see what you missed on the first read.

So imagine my absolute thrill when at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 I found myself the lucky winner of two short-short-short-short story contests sponsored by Press 53. The 53-Word Contest is a weekly call from Press 53 for writers to submit 53-word (no more, no less–titles not included in the count) pieces based on a proposed theme. The guidelines are tight and loose at the same time, allowing for a whole lot of imaginative play within a solid structure. You should try it.

Thanks to the two judges who chose my pieces: Meg Pokrass selected “Things I Wish You Heard,” and Kevin Morgan Watson picked “The Night I Said I Was Leaving.” You can read them each via the links attached to the titles, and you can read the complete Press 53 blog with its information on other contests, new books, interviews, and many things booky and literary here.

As always, thanks for reading. -PMc