“Our Parents are a Lost Cause,” by YPL Finalist Lily Baumgart

Our Parents Are a Lost Cause

I told you to take our mother
into your timeless hands.
It takes effort for her to move her lips,
so let her tell you that she loves you,
let her ask you how school was,
and hide your leathered palms, as you will your calloused fingers.
Take her to the graveyard where our father is buried,
brother. Let her pick flowers from your neighbors’ gardens
and sprinkle them on the sidewalk
like it’s the church aisle she walked
down her first communion.
Brother, keep our mother away from me,
keep her veiled; as I want to remain
pure. Keep her wedding pearls
on her neck even if she has thrown
the ring away. This is how their faces
melt apart like wax falling
from candles. Find our father in her,
tell me when you see his teeth
behind her lips–tear her room apart
if it means that you will find his picture.
Brother, forgive me and our father
for leaving you. Know that it is the way
she chews gum and snores and loses herself without him
that causes our absence.
Brother, I have left to find our father
and if I have lost him, find him
in our mother. Pick her apart like chicken dinner
if you must; if I have been wrong,
cling to her aging memory and our father’s new face.
If they are to be presented together,
you must choose who to take home with you. Read more…

WITS Voices: Getting Around the Real

By Kelly Froh, WITS Writer-in-Residence

I had an idea to engage my middle-schoolers with a series of curated exercises that would magically entwine, crossover, and accelerate their understanding of the comics form, and that these students would turn out incredible comic pages for a final printed project.

It did not occur to me that some students didn’t constantly doodle like I did when I was their age, or that they didn’t naturally find joy or release in drawing. Hearing “I can’t draw” from a kid seemed like an oxymoron; how can this be?

Then, I remembered reading that a lot of kids stop drawing around age 9. I figured it was when video games and iPads entered their worlds, but with more research, I learned the many stages of drawing development: from scribbling, to symbols, to figures, to attempts at perspective. But after these stages, when kids develop a “visual awareness” in the world around them, they expect more from their drawings. They expect a level of “realness,” and the pressure to “get it right” rears its ugly head.

panel - Vincent.jpeg

As a comics teacher, I needed to counter “I can’t draw.” I saw this pressure to get it right in my students, and the relief when they rejected the white piece of paper in front of them. I couldn’t just say, “try,” or “use your imagination”: that white piece of paper was an ocean, a cliff, a freeway. Read more…

Creative Obsessions: Learning from Emily Nussbaum’s Critical Mantras

By Erin Langner

The first review I ever wrote was of the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. It was for Jefferson Junior High School’s Patriot newspaper in 1997. To say I was obsessed with the movie is a dramatic understatement. It’s still the only film I’ve seen in the theater three times. The soundtrack CD was bright orange and printed with a stylized Virgin Mary that I was proud to have recognized from the handle of the 9 mm pistol that Tybalt carried in the movie—a movie that my thirteen-year-old self thought remade Shakespeare for my generation so well that I wanted to convince everyone I knew of my revelation.

Reviewing the soundtrack that contained staples from the 90s “new alternative rock” scene like Garbage and the Butthole Surfers in the school paper seemed like an avenue to relay my obsession to the masses and convince others of the resonance I’d felt so profoundly. I don’t remember much about writing it, other than how by the time the paper went to press on the Xerox machine, my CD had developed a ring of crust in its center; I’d listened to it so many times, it started to melt inside my boombox.

I thought of this desire to use a review as an outlet for my burning junior high school passion when The New Yorker’s television critic Emily Nussbaum took the stage at Town Hall last week for SAL’s Women You Need to Know Series and began by explaining her obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As she described her compulsion to convince people of the show’s merit at cocktail parties in Manhattan, I saw myself back in junior high school, hoping to show my fellow seventh graders how Romeo + Juliet was about so much more than just watching Leonardo DiCaprio try to kiss Claire Danes through a fish tank. Read more…

WITS Voices: Reflections from Nathan Hale High School

By Alex Gallo-Brown, WITS Writer-in-Residence

When I walked into Ms. Simmons-Rice’s class at Nathan Hale High School last month, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had taught writing at the community college level, but never to high school students, and certainly not to high school freshman, a time I remember with regret and a fair amount of shame, when I remember it at all. For the first day I intended to teach them a poem by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called, “The Poet’s Obligation,” which begins, “To whoever is not listening to the sea / this Friday morning…I come, and without speaking or looking / I arrive and open the door of his prison.” The poet’s destiny, Neruda writes—the poet’s obligation—is to liberate “the shrouded heart.”

Perhaps because it was Monday, and not Friday, as in Neruda’s poem, or because they did not yet know me, or because an old-fashioned concept like “destiny” can land with a thud when not properly introduced, the kids were bored, they were repelled, a few of them even sneered. I left the class feeling that I had failed.

At home, I regrouped and licked my wounds. Freshman year of high school is often, as my mother, a long-time high school art teacher, reminded me, a painfully awkward time, a time when kids are transitioning from being the oldest at their schools to the youngest, when all of the confidence and experience accrued over three years of middle school is effaced by the realization that they are now the youngest, the least experienced, and the most vulnerable. I would have to be gentler, I decided, and less abstract. There would be less talk about freedom and the sea and the shrouded heart and more about the everyday experiences of contemporary life. Read more…

Re Jane and Adam, Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, But Your Erotic Energy Touches Everything

This essay was commissioned by SAL for the occasion of the final event in our 2016/17 Sherman Alexie Loves Series on Thursday, May 11, at Town Hall Seattle. First Loves: Patricia Park, Ariel Schrag, and Sunil Yapa will feature these debut novelists that Sherman Alexie loves, as well as dramatic readings by three local actors. For more information and ticket purchases, visit us here.

By Rachel Kessler, WITS Writer-in-Residence

1. The Body Speaks

What language conceals is said through the body. My body is a stubborn child; my language is a very civilized adult.
 -Roland Barthes

We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. For the demands of our released expectations lead us inevitably into actions which will help bring our lives into accordance with our needs, with our knowledge, with our desires.
-Audre Lorde

The body wants what the body wants. When I was a kid, my body was not a problem. The clap of my hands, my voice raised in song, my legs and arms dancing in the spirit in church. And when language failed, we spoke in tongues. The Holy Ghost entered us and breathed through us. The spirit changed our throats into instruments, moved our bodies in exaltation. To be taken over was sacred. We each had a secret language to connect directly with the divine.

“The words secret and sacred are siblings,” poet and essayist Mary Ruefle writes. Secret comes from Latin secretus, which means “separated, hidden”. The prefix se- means “without, apart” and the root, cret- is shared with words like ascertain, discern, concert.

An anagram of sacred is scared. Secret’s anagram is certes, a French word for indeed. Indeed, I am afraid. I fear the secret, the sacred within.

Later, when I encountered Eros, I recognized him.

Eros, most famously, comes bounding into the room when two people fall in love at first sight. But it’s also in the excitement that flashes through you when a teacher explains an intellectual proposition and you grasp it—or when someone tells a joke and you get it.          

Eros is the quick spirit that moves between people – quick as in the distinction between ‘the quick and the dead.’ It’s the moving force that won’t be subdued by habit or law. Its function is to keep cracking open what is becoming rigid and closed-off. Eros explodes the forbidden… Eros mocks our fantasy that we can nail life down and control it. It’s as far beyond our attempts to regulate it as sunshine is—or a cyclone.
-Helen Garner

I hate the word erotic. I hate what has happened to this word. I hate the way it smirks in people’s mouths and goes flat in their eyes when I say I’m writing an essay about the erotic as catalyst for social change and revolution. Descended from Eros, a powerful, primordial god rendered chubby love baby by the Renaissance, we take all the power of Erotic and flatten it into red cursive and black fishnets. Read more…

Helen Oyeyemi’s K-Drama List

Ever since Helen Oyeyemi gave her panoramic talk, “Shine or Go Crazy,” about Korean television dramas on April 25th, we’ve been wanting to binge-watch this distinctive genre with all its unlikely twists and turns, imaginative narratives, and soapy addictiveness. 

Some of you must feel the same, as we’ve gotten audience requests for a complete list of all the K-dramas Helen mentioned in her lecture. Helen kindly sent it along to share with all of you—here they are, sorted by their South Korean television networks to make them easier to find:


A Beautiful Mind
Boys Over Flowers 
Hello, Monster
The King’s Face

Cruel City / Heartless City

Coffee Prince
Greatest Love
Goong (The Princess Hours)
Kill Me, Heal Me

Bad Guys

49 Days
God’s Gift: 14 Days
Jealousy Incarnate
Legend of the Blue Sea
The Master’s Sun
Modern Farmer
Rooftop Prince
Secret Garden
You’re Beautiful
You Who Came From the Stars

Misaeng (Incomplete Life)
Queen In Hyun’s Man

Introductions: Carl Phillips

On Tuesday, May 2nd at McCaw Hall, cerebral poet of the flesh, Carl Phillips, read us a stunning array of poems old and new. SAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs introduced and interviewed Carl for this event, which brought SAL’s 2016/17 Poetry Series to a beautiful, breathless close.

By Rebecca Hoogs, SAL Associate Director

It is an immense pleasure to introduce Carl Phillips. The author of 13 books of poetry, two books of prose, and one translation, he has, for the last 25 years or so, steadily, quietly become one of the most lauded and interesting poets of his generation. He is the winner of the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award and, for several years, he has been the judge of the Yale Younger Series of Poets, helping to shape the next generation of poets you’ll see on this stage.

Dan Chiasson, writing in The New Yorker in 2013, declared him a “candidate for the author of the most interesting contemporary English sentences.” And Lisa Russ Spaar, praised his most recent book, Reconnaissance, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, saying “No contemporary poetry quite seduces like the work of the inimitable Carl Phillips, whose intimate lyric poems of pursuit, surrender, patience, ardor, restraint, beauty, loss, and suffering are inseparable from what, for lack of a better word, might be called his “designs,” his “style” — subtle, nuanced, shifting negotiations of syntax, silence, and musing — all of which can leave a reader breathless, envious, grateful.” Read more…

WITS Voices: Writing is Climate. Writing is Real. Writing is Change.

By Cody Pherigo, WITS Writer-in-Residence 

I’ve become semi-obsessed with checking the weather channel website several times a week for the last 3 months. It’s like Facebook without friends. I want it to tell me spring is here to stay, the sun exists, and temperatures will rise steadily to a glowing, saturated peak. But do I? We live in a world “stranger than fiction.” April 22nd was Earth Day. How does this relate to teaching? At their deepest root, writing and climate change are stripped down and unapologetic. They show and they tell.

The tentacles of everything are tied to my writing, and thus my teaching. That is the practice anyhow, the gesture. That is what I see in writers like Ross Gay, Alice Notley, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. For instance, it’s my default to make jokes, talk about cats in class, and accidentally trip over a lamp cord during the final reading.

Read more…