Literary Hub

Rough Drafts: Writers at Work at the Millay Colony

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In the first of a series looking at the work being done at writing and artists’ residences across America (and beyond!), we’re checking in with the Millay Colony for the Arts in upstate New York (about two hours north of NYC). We asked several recent alums from Millay to give us a window into their works-in-progress, from first inspiration, to the scrawl of edits, to final drafts. (The deadline for applications to the next season at Millay is March 1.)

Rennie Ament studied poetry at Hunter College, where she has gone on to teach creative writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Astoria, Queens and works as a Program Assistant at Poets House in Manhattan. She runs the Roots Reading Series in Brooklyn.

Work in progress: Music of Bed, notes on a short film.

Music of Bed evolved from a sex poem I’d written pre-Millay that was full of iffy botanical similes. I thought cold/clinical language might be better for describing a one-night stand…

I like that my friend Ben is in this. He really did spend a lot of time in college stoned and watching night vision mouse porn as part of his thesis research. There’s a more recent version of this one where the sex is transposed into the landscape, a little like that Russell Edson poem “Conjugal,” where a man is “bending his wife” around the room and eventually fucks her, literally, into the wall.

Yanyi serves as senior editor at Nat. Brut, contributing editor at Foundry, and curatorial assistant at The Poetry Project. His poems and criticism have appeared in Model View Culture, cellpoems, and The Shade Journal, among other journals, and he has been named a 2017-2018 Margins Fellow by the Asian American Writers Workshop.

Work in progress: After you finish your work, a poem.

One day this past September, I opened the door to my studio and saw this note from fellow resident and writer, Megan Gillespie. Megan has a deep presence with words and language, and working next to her at Millay reminded me of how expansive and full a day or poem could be. I read this note, full of its own rhythm and sweet invitation, and the poem followed. It is a callback to the offerings and ordinariness of our new friendship, after the beauty of Megan’s words in themselves. I have since made a line edit or two, and the poem was still up at Millay this January, where I spent New Year’s there as a Winter Shaker.

This piece is an excerpt of a book-length manuscript, The Year of Blue Water. I had been editing it since November 2016. During one of my first nights at Millay, I reordered it again and started the process of seriously sending it out. I was having a slight identity crisis about whether I had written prose poems or creative nonfiction, and didn’t believe that excerpts would be able to hold up the style and intentions of the project. Thanks to encouragement and suggestions from my friend Elizabeth, I compiled and pulled the first excerpts of it for publication. This is one of those initial excerpts. The manuscript has not been picked up yet, but my time at Millay and my community have helped me every step of the way in believing in it.

Sarah Kasbeer’s nonfiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Elle, Vice, Jezebel, Salon, and elsewhere. She currently lives in New York City and is working on a book of personal essays.

Work in progress: “Ghost Penis” (working title at the time), personal essay.

I went to Millay Colony in May of 2017 to work with Melissa Febos on an essay about how my sex life had been haunted by a rape from my past. My draft—aptly yet unfortunately titled “Ghost Penis”—has since been revised, retitled, and placed for publication with The Normal School. It turned out to be the linchpin in a collection of essays I also worked on over the long weekend in my studio, about coming of age in a culture of misogyny, which I am currently looking to place. I definitely didn’t expect either to be published in a world that already feels distinctly different from the one in which it was conceived.

Eva Heisler is a Maryland-born poet and art critic who currently works in Germany. She has published two books of poems: Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic (Kore Press) and Drawing Water (Noctuary Press). She edits the visual arts section of Asymptote, a journal of world literature in translation.

Work in progress: Maladies of Time and Speech, hybrid art and writing.

Maladies of Time and Speech, a hybrid work-in-progress, is a sequence of daily planner pages. For now, and this may change, each page is a grid above which floats a constellation of field notes, journal entries, snatches of dialogue, vocabulary lists, and Icelandic grammar exercises. The work is so new that I have yet to figure out what is happening, but the work records encounters with artists and art in Iceland, my struggles to reconcile the making of poetry with the construction of something called “art history,” and glossophobia as a problem of time.

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