Diana Norma Szokolyai’s Essay in MER VOX Quarterly

CWW’s Executive Artistic Director, Diana Norma Szokolyai, has an essay published in MER VOX Quarterly: “The Triple Routine: On Motherhood, Working, & The Urgency to Write”

It explores balancing the writing life with motherhood and a job, and it questions expectations placed on women in the professional sphere. Here is an excerpt, and you’re invited to read the whole essay here.

“…I have found that life since becoming a mother has become more multi-dimensional. I’m doing less navel gazing and more observation of others. My son has expanded my empathy, my capacity to love unconditionally, and my ability to give compassion. This has given me the ability to create more complex characters in the stories I write. Life becomes more rich with the expanded experience and responsibility that the role of motherhood affords, and for us creative writers, the need to express ourselves urges us to find the time to do so.

We are pulled by the “triple routine” in hundreds of directions. Laundry awaits to be folded. Food waits to be cooked. Emails and notifications push and pull at our attention. And then, the gentle tug of our child’s fingers at the hem of our clothing calls us out of the mundane and into the world of the child. What ensues is what can be called parental reverie, a kind of return to wondering through the eyes of a child. Our children hold our hands and walk us back through the gateway of childhood, so that we can play beside them. The shadow of a hand on a wall becomes a wolf, and a blanket transforms into a cave for fantastic, ticklish beasts. We are guided by the wide-eyed awe and the dimpled finger of our toddler pointing to the sky in the middle of the grocery store parking lot, as we hear the word “moon” mouthed for the first time in the high joy of elvish tones.

During this parallel “play” experienced in parenthood, one always gets more out of the experience than expected, if one truly gives oneself fully over to it. As we watch the tiny hands of our children turn over a rock, in search of some mystery of life, we are reminded that the world is ours to explore just underfoot. These magical moments are what carry us through the mundane tasks of work, both at our jobs and at home. The gift of motherhood, for me, has also been the feeling of time fleeting, for I feel, more than ever, the urgent calling to write about experiences, to distill them with paper and ink.”

CWW’s Diana Norma Szokolyai Reviews Tara Skurtu’s Poetry Chapbook in LUNA LUNA

Skurtu,+RomaniaOn a journey that begins in South Florida and ends up in Romania, the country of her family’s forgotten history, Tara Skurtu plays “the amoeba game,” a game that has no rules. With subtle and serious humor, with the vivid spontaneity of memory and dreams, and with surgical precision, these compelling, mysterious poems hold up a lens that reveals the slippery and changing dimensions of our many selves.

If you’ve ever longed to name the nameless space between lovers, or searched for home under foreign skies, Tara Skurtu’s chapbook Skurtu, Romania, will leave you haunted with traces of those journeys. This poetry collection reads like a verse novella told from the first person point of view. It is a search for the self in a foreign land, a quest for the shape of love and how to interpret it. The collection opens with the speaker’s attempts at situating the body in a place and in relation to the intimate, yet silent interlocutor ‘you.’ At the beginning, in the poem, “Limit,” the poet sets us up for the kind of archaeological dig we are about to embark upon, removing layers from languages and relationships, “My body, a strange passenger/surrounded by walls/of books in a language/I don’t understand. I’m trying/for sleep in another country./I’m taking pictures of/pictures of you.”

The imagery in the poems beautifully oscillates between a bird’s eye view and a macro lens perspective, from “everywhere” to the graphite at the point of a pencil, from a speck to a forest, from a dream to “a lattice of wormholes.” The particular moments captured between the lovers reveal a space that is at once intimate and isolating. There are as many moments shared as there are forgotten, and there is something lost in the translation of memory. In “Spoiled,” the reader is reminded of the disappointment that expectations can lead to, as the lover brings the speaker “a perfect apple,” but although it looks perfect in the palm, “I bite the apple and wish/I hadn’t—the flesh mealy, a mouthful of sweet mashed potatoes I spit/into the garbage.” The disconnect between desire and experience, between dream and reality, is playfully examined in exquisite detail.

What is revealed so delicately in these poems are the unexpected small sacrifices a lover makes to connect with a beloved, and in a strange land, that means being “stuck in your village, walking/a chicken on a leash” or eating “the one thing I told myself/I’d never eat—I swallowed/the bite whole.” The difficulty of being stuck during the search for a place in a new country, new language, and new relationship is paralleled with what the speaker observes, like “a fly [that] zips/into the flytrap. Its body puttied/to the glue strip, legs waving/like six wet strokes of black ink.”

What is most profound can be boiled down to the movement of a knee, as Tara Skurtu masterfully choreographs words to create a visceral dance between the flight and fog that characterizes searching, making the quest for a common language palpable. “I press the nib, I push out words—place words, blank words.” As the collection progresses, we see the speaker taking solace not in abstract language, but instead in the concrete, sensorial experience of the world. “I couldn’t unstick the poem/on my walk in the rain, but when/I reached the market in Berceni,/the curbside cabbages calmed me.”

By the end, the speaker is beginning to dream in the language of her lover, learning to see in a new language. Closure is not complete, it is a story about to be told over a nightcap, and we end on the brim of the glass, smelling the cognac. The poet has set the chapbook up to be read with a kind of cyclical fluidity, and it beckons to be read again. “Let me be a line, a word/ in the middle of a line.” I urge you to read Tara Skurtu, a compelling and important contemporary poet.

The poetry chapbook Skurtu, Romania was published by Eyewear Publishing last winter, and Tara Skurtu’s first full length poetry book, The Amoeba Game is coming out this October (2017), also from Eyewear Publishing.


Tara Skurtu received a 2015-17 extended Fulbright, a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, and two Academy of American Poets prizes. Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, and Tahoma Literary Review. Tara’s debut poetry collection, The Amoeba Game, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing.  She lives in Romania.

Diana Norma Szokolyai is a writer and Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She is author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows and Roses in the Snow, as well as co-editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing.

Read it on LUNA LUNA here:

http://www.lunalunamagazine.com/blog/skurtu-romania-poetry

 

CWW Summer in Granada Writing Retreat- Aug 4 2017: Storyteller’s Voice, Poetry of Flamenco, & Roma Caves Tour

Today, we started off our day unpacking the elements of The Storyteller’s Voice with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich.  After enjoying this craft of writing seminar in our classroom overlooking the Alhambra, we enjoyed a lunch break and some free writing time.  We re-convened later in the afternoon for a class on The Evocative Poetry of Flamenco with Diana Norma Szokolyai, who taught about the history of flamenco and its influence on the musical and literary landscape.  We analyzed a variety of forms presented in flamenco lyrics, before setting off for Sacromonte to hike to the museum of the Roma caves.  After visiting several traditional Roma cave dwellings, we went to one of the most well known cuevas, Cueva de la Rocio to enjoy a spectacular performance of Zambra, a traditional Roma (“Gypsy”) wedding dance.  After the performance, we went to the Mirador San Nicolas for a stunning night view of the Alhambra and enjoyed the evening artist market.

-Diana Norma Szokolyai, Granada 2017

CWW Summer in Granada Writing Retreat- Aug. 3 2017: Character Development & Writing from your Senses in the City of Pomegranates

Granada. City that is a feast for the senses, city that pulls you into its perfumed streets, filled with the foglight of frankincense and the pepper of flamenco music.  We started Thursday off with an intensive class taught by Rita Banerjee on Character Development & the Law of Desire.  After breaking for lunch and some time to write our character sketches, we re-convened for Tim Horvath’s class on Writing from Your Senses. During the class, we examined a variety of literary texts, as well as sampled tantalizing chocolate from a world class chocolatier and some handmade by CWW Artistic Director Diana Norma Szokolyai just days before in a chocolate factory in a small mountain village, Mijas.  Cacao, ginger, chile, sea salt, essential oil of lemon, corn nuts, blueberries…these were just some of the flavorful notes that we tasted.  As we went through all of the senses, we were surprised by some I Hate Perfume scents that evoked literary landscapes from novels or particular seasons and decades.  At night, we went on a tapas tour and enjoyed sampling local sangria, wine, tinto de verano, clara (lemonade and beer) and cañas.  The colorful street markets were a delight to explore as we sampled local cheeses and tapas.  It was a day full of sensorial experiences to feed our writing.

-Diana Norma Szokolyai, Granada

Au revoir NOLA, je t’aime!

On Saturday, Dipika Guha brilliantly led a class unpacking the elements of a play. After an intellectual discussion about what makes up a play, we were given seven common elements to incorporate into all of our plays. Inspired by New Orleans, these included busking in the streets, a mule, and elevated cemeteries. We were given until the following morning to write a complete play, with a beginning, middle and end.  Welcoming the challenge, some of us cozied into our writing corners in our NOLA house, and others took their notebooks and pens in their pockets, setting off on the ferry to explore what inspiration the New Orleans streets had to offer.  Several of us went out to dinner at the infamous COOP’S Place, where the food is delicious and the servers are, well, let’s just say,…characters! I recommend the jambalaya (it takes five hours to make, and our server swore it was the reason that he got a job there).

On Sunday morning, we all gathered around the table and toasted to our writing with mimosas. Then, we all read through our plays, casting each other for dramatic readings.  It was truly amazing to see the depth and scope of work that could come out of a single bake off.

After we buttoned up our rooms and said our farewells on the big, welcoming porch of our historic New Orleans home, we set off with new writing goals and some new tools to apply to our manuscripts.  Those of us with some time to spare before our flights went to the French market to sift through the beautiful jewelry from around the world and taste decadent crepes and pralines.  (Recommendations: Rum Pralines and Banana-Chocolate-Peanut butter-Bacon Crepes).

On the way to the airport, I called one our trusty cabbies we had gotten to know over our time in NOLA, and he pointed out where the Voodo Lady lives, the ghost town areas of NOLA, and recounted his own story of Hurricane Katrina. I was thankful for his kindness, and for all the generosity and creativity blooming in New Orleans!

Au Revoir New Orleans, we love you, and we will be back!

–Diana Norma Szokolyai
New Orleans, March 26, 2017

CWW in Granada 2016 Writing Retreat: Day 7 & 8

On Wednesday, Alexander Chee taught his informative class “Historical Fiction: Part 3.” On Thursday, Rita Banerjee gave her essential class on “Revision & Publications.”  In the afternoon, we met one on one again for more feedback on not only our manuscripts-in-progress, but new writing generated on the retreat.  Many of us enjoyed some final tapas, visiting restaurants we learned about during our tapas tour earlier in the week.  The community came together for a farewell dinner that boasted stunning views of Granada and Al Hambra.

CWW in Granada 2016 Writing Retreat: Day 5 & 6

On Monday, Alexander Chee taught “Historical Fiction: Part Two” in the morning, and in the afternoon, we had our first set of writing consultations.  It was meaningful to have writers meet one on one with faculty members to receive specific feedback on the particulars of individual manuscripts. On Tuesday, Rita Banerjee gave her popular class on “Emotion and Suspense in Theater, Poetry, and (Non)Fiction.”  We enjoyed taking in the architecture of Granada as well as the beauty of the Andalusian landscape on our long walks during our free time.  Some of our best ideas are born during quiet walks!

CWW Summer in Granada Writing Retreat: Day 3 & 4

Alexander Chee taught his class “Historical Fiction: Part One in the morning on Saturday.  One of our writers enjoyed a weekend trip to Cordoba to do research on her novel set there in the 1970s.  On Sunday, Frederick-Douglass Knowles II taught his class “The Socio-Political Power of Hip Hop: Tupac Shakur, Martyr or Menace.”  There was incense, there were powerful words, there was history turned on its head, all from our beautiful classroom with a balcony overlooking Al Hambra.