What’s fun in Peru?

Okay, the answer to that question is probably just about everything. Peru is a fabulous country with excellent food. I don’t think we had a bad meal — and we’re vegetarians. Peru’s cuisine is fairly meat-heavy, but there were a lot of vegetarian choices at regular restaurants and even vegan or vegetarian places in most places. (We were careful to eat in restaurants where we knew the hygiene would be good, which was most restaurants, but not much street food. And we were careful about the water we drank.) There are lots of things to do, from the musical fountain park in Lima, to museums, to natural beauty. We barely touched the surface, but we felt like we saw a lot.

Naturally, one of the high points was Machu Picchu. For me it was great to see the place I’ve often taught about when I cover Pablo Neruda’s poem. We went with a guide in the morning, and he gave us a lot of cultural background about the history of the city and of the Incas. Since we were traveling with a group of students from our university, our guide was affiliated with International Studies Abroad, who organized the trip. We were with him for a couple of days and had a great relationship. He even led some of us on a hike up to Machu Picchu from the valley in the morning, and in the afternoon, we were free to hike around on our own, so Aidan and I went to the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge.

Nonetheless, as impressive as Machu Picchu is, it still feels a bit touristy. There were a lot of other tourists around, in other words, and it’s the main site most people going to Peru see. I wouldn’t miss it, but if you can, you should go further afield.

DSCN8955We toured the Sacred Valley on the way to and from Machu Picchu, which was also great. And we got to stay a Sunday in Cuzco, where we witnessed the local festival. There were many groups marching either in military uniforms, school uniforms, or traditional costumes. There were marching bands and traditional musicians. And the festival seemed to go on most of the morning and well into the afternoon, even in the rain. We also went to the local market and a couple of museums, and though there were tourists, we felt the locals outnumbered us by a lot, instead of the other way around.

After Cuzco, our group took a charter bus down to Puno province, where we had three nights in two home stays in local villages. There we were treated to fabulous local cooking, hikes with the president of the village to see vistas of Lake Titicaca, traditional fishing (both setting out the nets in the evening and hauling them in in the morning). And we got to experience cold nights and an incredible view of winter the night sky, and sleeping in an unheated farmhouse with enough alpaca blankets to keep us warm. Oh yes, and no hot water for most of our stay, but a cold shower was okay for Aidan and I (and some of our group did take advantage of one shower with a solar water heater).

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We visited floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca, and a couple of our students took part in a traditional ‘wedding’ (they played bride and groom, and I got to be father of the bride at one point).

Back in Lima, our family said goodbye to the students and stayed on for another week to explore on our own. We experienced more museums, long walks in the city, and even braving the private bus system. (It helped that Aidan is confident enough in his Spanish that he could help figure out some of the routes.) We even got to watch Peru in their first World Cup Soccer match since 1982, and we got to watch the celebrations (despite the fact that they lost that match).

If you’re headed to Peru (or anywhere), I highly recommend getting away from the main tourist areas if you can. We loved going to the neighborhood bakery (and finding a Belgian fry stand with vegetarian burger wraps) as much as we loved any of the sites. Wandering the streets was as much fun as any of the museums we went to (though I would highly recommend the art museum and the Larco Museum in Lima). And even the day we wanted to go to an archeological site in the city but found out it was closed turned out great: we visited a large public olive grove, got lunch (and watched some World Cup), and walked around Miraflores. Sightseeing can be great, and it’s good to have an agenda, but it’s also great to let go of the plan now and then, wander through a market or just walk around the neighborhoods.

What have I been up to?

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I sometimes go awhile without posting. There are periods when I get busy and don’t have time to write (here). So what is it that’s kept me away from blogging this spring and summer? Some pretty cool stuff, actually…

  1. This spring I applied for and was promoted to chair of my department. That won’t officially take effect until August 1, but planning and preparation took a good chunk of my time once the application process was over.
  2. Along those lines, I was chair of a search committee for a tenure-track position in creative writing in our low-res MFA program (and undergrad program). That process took all spring semester, and since we were given the go-ahead to hire a second tenure-track faculty member from the same search, even extended beyond the semester.
  3. Speaking of the MFA program, this spring I was director of 3 theses, 2 of which were defended in June. (1 will continue writing this fall.) This was in addition to my usual class load and an extra short-residency class at AWP.
  4. Besides directing 3 theses, I also served on 3 more thesis committees. That meant I had students who defended their theses in June, so one thing I’ve been doing was reading those amazing book manuscripts. We’re proud of our new MFAs!
  5. Outside of work, this spring was college audition and visit time for our son, so we had extra travel days to take him to prospective schools. We’re extremely happy with his final choice, and the visits to schools he didn’t decide to attend were all part of the decision process.
  6. Besides choosing a college, of course our son also had to work hard to finish his high school career, prepare a senior recital, and play in All-State orchestra and the North Mississippi Youth Symphony. And as proud parents, we wanted to be there for it all, only I had to miss All-State because…
  7. We discovered that our foster puppy had actually not been spayed, when she went into heat. That meant figuring out how to care for her and being at home a little more for a few weeks (no kennel stays for her!), then eventually taking her in to be spayed and staying with her as she recovered. Not labor intensive, but also a little out of the ordinary. Everything went well, and we even found her a permanent home!
  8. As summer approached and once our son had graduated (and family visited for the celebration), I welcomed 15 MFA students to campus for their Full Residency, an intense 9 days of workshops, readings, seminars, and thesis defenses.
  9. Once the residency was over, I joined my wife and son in Lima, Peru, where Kim was helping to lead a study-abroad trip. I got to join them as they journeyed to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, and we stayed behind in Lima for a week on our own. All-in-all, a magical experience.
  10. After a few days back in the US, we traveled again to Iowa to see my mother, my niece, and her family (including her 2-month-old). That was a relaxing time, filled with family, good food, celebrations (it was July 4, after all), and World Cup soccer viewing.

Now that we are back and it is summer, I’m hoping to find a little more time and a few things to write about to revive this blog. Though serving as chair will mean I’ll likely stay very busy in the fall, I hope it will also give me plenty of ideas to write about. And I’m hoping to find a few spare moments here and there to work on the blog. Let’s see how I do with that! Certainly, I can make some time this summer, and maybe come back wtih more details on a few of the things mentioned above.

A Writer’s Craft makes Poets & Writers

Untitled-2.inddOkay, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I search on my name or the title of one of my books. It’s not just vanity. Some days it can be useful to see what’s online about me or my work, and today was one of those days. Since I’d given away some exam copies of A Writer’s Craft at the AWP conference in Tampa, I thought I’d see if anyone had posted about it without my knowing. Instead, I found that Poets & Writers had included it in their list of Best Books for Writers, along with a short review that begins: “Either as an introduction or as a refresher, A Writer’s Craft serves as a straightforward guide to the broad world of creative writing.”

Here’s how Poets & Writers describes the list: “From the newly published to the invaluable classic, our list of essential books for creative writers.” I feel humbled and honored to have been added to such a prestigious list, and I’m very grateful for their positive review!

Twitter for Mac, a 2-App Approach

I’ve been a fan of the Twitter app for Mac since I started using Twitter several years ago, so I was sad to see it discontinued. What I liked about it was that it was very streamlined, yet gave me the information I wanted. I’ve gotten used to seeing my notifications for all my Twitter accounts, and knowing what had been liked or retweeted. I was also used to managing these accounts in a single small window, which worked well on my laptop with minimal screen real estate. I also liked that the app was free. So as you might guess, I haven’t found a good alternative yet.

Tweetdeck is the most logical replacement, since it is also free. But my first reaction to it was negative — the number of columns quickly got overwhelming, and I didn’t see a good way to manage my multiple accounts (which seems odd, since that’s supposed to be its strong suit). I’m logged in with my main account, and all my other accounts get associated with that, so I can tweet easily from any account. But if I want to see all of their home streams, for instance, then I have to create several columns, and those aren’t easy to tell apart unless I look at the top of the column — on the icon bar to the left, I just see a number of identical icons for the type of stream I’m viewing.

So, I tried Twitterific, which was reviewed highly in the TidBits newsletter. I like the look of Twitterific, and it does many of the things the Twitter app did. I can switch between accounts more easily than I can in Tweetdeck, for instance. And for each account, I can quickly view the Home feed, Mentions, Messages, Likes, Lists, and Searches. This is all great, but I have a few quibbles — the Likes stream shows me the tweets I’ve liked, for instance, but there isn’t a quick way to see which of my tweets have been liked or retweeted (unless my account was quoted or replied to in the tweet, when it would show up in Mentions). Twitterific also doesn’t allow me to see what I’ve recently tweeted.

So I decided to go back to Tweetdeck to deal with these issues. In Tweetdeck, I set up a column for each of my accounts that has Notifications (likes by others, retweets, and new followers). I also set up a column for each of my accounts that has the User stream. This way, I can view all of this information in one place by opening Tweetdeck, but by removing all the other columns, it isn’t so overwhelming.

I’ll use Twitterific for reading my Twitter Feeds, checking my mentions, managing my lists, checking messages, and seeing what I’ve liked. But I’ll switch to Tweetdeck to see what Notifications I’ve received and what I’ve tweeted (and whether those tweets have been liked, etc.). This 2-app solution ought to do almost everything I’m used to doing.

So far, I haven’t checked out the third recommended app in the Tidbits article, Tweetbot. Maybe it would do everything, but from what I could gather from the article, it would probably leave some things out as well. So for now, I’ll try these two and then decide if I want to check out Tweetbot, too.

Of course, Twitterific costs $7.99 (discounted right now form $19.99) and Tweetbot costs $4.99 (down from $10 it seems), so replacing the Twitter app isn’t free unless you can get everything you need from Tweetdeck. If I had a huge monitor or fewer accounts to follow, then Twitterific might be enough for me, but as it is, it will take more than one app to replace my old Twitter app on a Mac.

A Fitting Finale to #AWP18

What a great experience this AWP was! And what a fine ending. This evening, I went to an inspiring poetry reading, presented by the Academy of American Poets, featuring Layli Long Soldier, Khaled Matawa, and Mark Doty. In contrast to last night, there was no tension in the room and the poems were allowed to be political. Long Soldier read her response to the apology to native peoples signed into law under Barack Obama, after a preface where she recounted how it had been written and signed, but not read aloud and without any native leaders present. Matawa read a new series of poems about the migration crisis from the Middle East and Africa, and Doty read poems about his neighborhood  in New York with many references to the political situation in the U.S. The poems were not strident, yet they beautifully expressed the complexity of our time.

The most fitting ending, though, was that as I was coming out of the reading, I happened to check my email and saw that Tar River Poetry had sent the page proofs for a poem that will appear in this spring’s issue.

So the conference began with a poem accepted and published at The Ekphrastic Review and ended with news of another publication. I know “Birdsongs” had been accepted, but hadn’t been notified yet which issue it would appear in, so this was excellent news.

Between these two bookends, AWP was another great experience. This year, we had several students from our low-res MFA program in attendance, including one alumna, Tammie Rice, who helped organize our book table and got us some great swag (thank you again Tammie!). I got to talk to a ton of people, including several contributors to Ponder Review and Poetry South, as well as several teachers interested in A Writer’s Craft and someone at New Pages who might blog about it. I handed out lots of flyers and even a few exam copies I had on hand. I also got to reconnect with writer friends and make new friends at the book fair, and we had a great time at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium panel, celebrating our 30th year. As always, it was incredibly busy, exhausting, and rewarding!

See you next year in Portland, where hopefully more great things will happen, though I doubt I’ll be able to match the experience of publishing a poem on the first and last day of the conference again!

On Listening to Virgil Suarez and Watching AWP Squirm

Last night I went to hear Virgil Suarez read on a panel with two other poets at #AWP18. The other two poets were good and all, but not ones I knew well. They first poet was Ishion Hutchinson a Jamaican poet who combined surreal meditations with literary allusions to Wordsworth and Keats. Then came Maggie Smith who read very nice poems about raising a young daughter (and one about her son) in the suburban Midwest. Then came Suarez, who read highly political and angry poems about Trump, guns, and Marco Rubio.

Now, let me say that Suarez reminded me a lot of David Hernandez who I used to work with in Chicago or Marc Kelly Smith for that matter. His cadences were familiar, and his politics were comfortable for me, and I felt the crowd was with him, laughing at his jokes and responding to the message. There were only two rough moments: One was the end of a long poem about teachers bringing guns to school when he wanted the crowd to say the last line, but everyone was either uncomfortable with that role or like me had forgotten how the line was supposed to go. There was a pause, while Suarez held a middle finger in the air (that was supposed to be our cue), and then he helped us out by saying the line — about half the crowd joined in. The other awkward moment was in the last poem, when Suarez couldn’t find the last page for a second. But he recovered, and the applause was great.

I want to note that everyone applauded because of the way things went in Q&A with the moderator, another apparently well-known poet whose name is not listed in the program. Oh well. He started out by asking the panel what they are thankful for. When it came to Suarez, he said he was thankful for children, but then went into a longer answer about Trump and the politics of today. He might have avoided the question, but then again, the question was clearly trying to avoid his politics. Thus began the sparring between Suarez and the moderator, who at one point seemed to lecture Suarez about the need to be positive or find the sublime even in our dark times. The poor other poets were sandwiched in the middle and didn’t seem to have a political bone in their bodies. It got uncomfortable.

Probably the problem stemmed from the selection of who to put on one panel together and who to moderate. It was an odd mix, and any of the four would have come across better with more like-minded poets. My sympathies were with Suarez, so the other poets, but mostly the moderator, came across as pretentious and even a little vapid. I wouldn’t have thought that, had the Q&A not devolved into the young moderator lecturing the old guard on his politics. Throughout, Suarez never backed down. I respect him for that, but it made me sad that AWP or at least its representative moderator has become so averse to conflict that he had to squirm in the presence of a Cuban revolutionary poet. Especially in 2018. Especially in Florida.

So thank you Virgil for Making America Strange Again, as I think your T-shirt read. And thank you for making AWP uncomfortable. We need to squirm a little or maybe a lot in 2018.

In Praise of Old Tech

One bad habit I have (or maybe a good habit) is that I don’t get rid of all of old computers. That’s a problem when there are old machines that don’t work kicking around (maybe waiting to salvage a drive or something), but I have a few that will still boot up and can be useful now and then. Tonight was one of those times.

We’ve been working on college applications, and realized we needed to make a correction on one. The college sent a form that they require you to fax back for security reasons because it has sensitive information. I get that, but who has a fax machine anymore?? Sure, I could perhaps have used an online fax service, but that would be a pain and no more secure than emailing the form. I could take it to a print shop and pay someone to fax it for me, or I could have even gone to the office and used the fax machine there (but this is purely for personal use, so that seemed wrong).

Fortunately, my eye landed on an old laptop I had gotten out when trying to hook up a scanner (I eventually got the scanner to work on my new computer, thankfully, but hadn’t stowed the old G4 Powerbook. Glancing at the ports reminded me that one was a phone port, so I  thought I might see if I could get it to fax for me.

I cranked it up, logged into my network, set the date on the clock to 2018 (why not?), and then transferred my pdf file from my MacBook Pro to the desktop of my Powerbook. Then I had to figure out how to fax again — it’s probably been close to a decade since I’ve done it. Help told me to install the Internal Modem in Printers and Faxes, then I printed the document, chose Internal Modem as my printer, entered the number (after connecting the computer to the phone wall jack, of course), hit print and listened to the good old-fashioned sounds of the modem dialing and connecting to the fax machine on the other end. After what seemed like forever, the fax was done and the print job went away.

That saved me a fair amount of time and possibly money, and while I was at it, I looked at a few photos on my old desktop for nostalgia’s sake. Sure, I could recycle the Powerbook, but now and then it still comes in handy!