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The Hardest Thing to Express

Recently, a dear writer pal passed away. It was sad, perhaps even sadder then it might have been had I kept in closer contact since I knew her health was challenged. But that’s how life is. We get busy, one thing more adds to the pile. We break an ankle at the largest annual writer’s conference, AWP in D.C., then when our entire world slows down, this happens.

When I first began to publish more actively in online and print journals, around 2009 and 2010, there was a community called 52/250. I just ran into one of the three editors of 52/250 in D.C. at the AWP conference, John Wentworth Chapin! It brought back so many memories of that entire year, workshopping and showcasing our work as a supportive online community, and even more, using the venue as a vehicle for experimentation, pushing writing conventions, or “rules,” or boundaries. Being willing to fail on the page (as Beckett made famous- ‘fail better!’)

Simultaneously, I was taking notice of the online journals that seemed to have pizazz, and moxie, the journals that published more edgy, experimental, or a range of writing that interested me. Among many was a site called The Nervous Breakdown, started by Brad Listi in the mid- 2000s. On a whim, after seeing the Joan Rivers documentary movie, I wrote a whimsical “review,” but not really a review, more a commentary piece about Joan. I decided to send it to The Nervous Breakdown, and although Brad was confused about what category of writing it was, he sent it to Cynthia (pictured above). She was the Arts & Entertainment Editor. She loved it, and published the piece:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/rvaughan/2010/07/a-piece-of-work-joan-rivers/

Then, a few months later after I’d seen a rather bizarre movie called “Inception,” directed by Christopher Nolan, I wrote another strange piece called “I Had a Dream” (Thanks Mr. King), and Cynthia again loved it, despite it being a sort-of fiction/ prose poemy/ creative non-fiction piece. She published it at Nervous Breakdown:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/rvaughan/2010/07/i-had-a-dream/

Years later, when RIFT (my last book, co-written with Kathy Fish) was selected as the Nervous Breakdown‘s Book of the Month Club (December, 2015), Cynthia sent me the most flattering congratulations “fan letter.” I was buoyed by her sweet, wonderful words and enthusiasm, and her referencing those earlier pieces she’d published in the journal.

Her work, and her words are still online here: http://cynthiahawkins.net/blog1/

Dearest Cynthia, we miss you. I MISS YOU. The world seems slightly less lovely without you here.  I will miss discussing all things cultural: movies, actors, plays, etc.

If you knew Cynthia, or are reading this and feel moved to help her family (husband, and two girls), you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/CynthiaHawkins

In short, I’m so grateful for everything you ever gave to me, and my writing, Cynthia. I hope that in our support of one another, I gave you as much encouragement and gratitude as you have towards me. Thanks for your bright light, your laugh, and your writing and wit.

2016 Reading List

As a writer, it’s a given that one reads. Some of my favorite childhood memories are discovering new books. That excitement has never gone away. And, so although it’s not quite the year end, I wanted to post my annual 2016 reads here:

My 2016 reading list:

I’m Not Supposed To Be Here and Neither Are You- Len Kuntz

Kinda Sorta American Dream- Steve Karas

The New York Stories- Ben Tanzer

A Fractured Mind- Robert B. Oxnam

Bone Black- Bell Hooks

Robert Altman- Mitchell Zuckhoff

Haints Stay- Colin Winette

Mira Corpora- Jeff Jackson

Lithium for Medea- Kate Braverman

In Paran- Larissa Shmailo

lined up like scars- Meg Tuite

The Sound of Gravel- Ruth Wariner

Hotels of North America- Rick Moody

The Astonished Universe- Helene Cardona

Literary Outlaw: William S. Burroughs- Ted Morgan

Keith Haring Journals

Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art- Nancy Princenthal

The Gods Are Dead- Joanna Valente

Sex and Death- Ben Tanzer

Dear Mr. You- Mary-Louise Parker

Your Sick- Elizabeth Colen

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh- Michael Chabon

Did you Ever Have a Family- Bill Clegg

Portrait of An Addict- Bill Clegg

Atlas of Remote Islands- Judith Shalansky

Short Cuts- Raymond Carver (re-read)

Ordinary People- Judith Guest (re-read)

The Art of Memoir- Mary Karr

Updike- Adam Begley

This Must Be The Place- Sean Doyle

Rimbaud- Edmund White

Secret Historian- Justin Spring

Space, in Chains- Laura Kasischke

No Stopping Train- Les Plesko

What Belongs to You- Garth Greenwell

The Narrow Door- Paul Liscky

I’m From Electric Peak- Bud Smith

The Queen of the Night- Alexander Chee

It Starts With Trouble: William Goyen and the Art of Writing- Clark Davis

Lynch on Lynch, edited by Chris Rodley

Purity- Jonathan Franzen

Life on the Loose- Cari Taylor-Carlson

Not Nothing- Ray Johnson

Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery- Richard Selzer

A Manual for Cleaning Women- Lucia Berlin

Ninety-Nine Stories of God- Joy Williams

Potted Meat- Stephen Dunn

The Argonauts- Maggie Nelson

Communion & Other Stories- Curtis Smith

The Girls- Emma Cline

Cowboys and East Indians- Nina McConigly

Grief is the Thing with Feathers- Max Porter

Night Sky With Exit Wounds- Ocean Vuong

The Professor’s Quarters- Albert Degenova

Porcelain- Moby

Be Cool- Ben Tanzer

Rain Check- Levi Andrew Noe

Notes on my Dunce Cap- Jesse Ball

Cronenberg on Cronenberg- David Cronenberg

Life in Suspension- Helene Cardona

The Vig of Love- Bill Yarrow

Trier on Von Trier- ed. by Stig Bjorkman

Intersex- Aaron Apps

What we Know So Far- Robert Scotellaro

Ozone Journal- Peter Balakian

The Vegetarian- Han Kang

Measuring the Distance- Robert Scotellaro

Compression Scars- Kellie Wells

Joe Gould’s Secret- Joseph Mitchell

Bukowski in a Sundress- Kim Addonazio

The Reactive- Masande Ntshanga

Floating- Anne Pierson Wiese

The Loved Ones- Sonya Chung

New Jersey Me- Rich Ferguson

Bad Motel- Robert Scotellaro

Salute the Wreckage- Clint Margrave

Find Me- Laura Vandenberg

The Consumation of Dirk- Jonathan Callahan

Rhapsody of Fallen Objects- Robert Scotellaro

Sing the Song- Meredith Alling

Deer Michigan- Jack C. Buck

Here Comes The Sun- Nicole Dennis- Benn

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you have a chance to “hole up” with a good book during these last weeks of 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York, New York: Big City of Dreams

Last weekend I had the great fortune of visiting my old haunts. Staying downtown in New York City, and reading at the venerable KGB, in their relatively new third floor “Red Room.” Friday night was hosted by Bud Smith, for the roving F-BOMB flash fiction event. Readers included Bud, Meg Tuite, Len Kuntz, Karen Stefano, Michael Gillan Maxwell, Gay Degani and me. I read an assortment of stories: “Mother/Father/Clown” from Diptychs + Triptychs; “Recruitment” from Addicts & Basements; and “Sweet Surrender is all I Have Left To Give” included in the newly published States of Terror, Volume 3 (at Amazon).

states-of-terror

On Saturday night, Paul Beckman hosted the Best Small Fictions 2016 reading! Same spot, KGB. This reading included mostly authors selected for the recently published anthology, expertly edited by Stuart Dybek and Tara Masih. Including, but not limited to: Britt Haraway, Anne Weisgerber, Dawn Raffel, Nancy Ludmerer, Courtney Sender, Ilana Masad, Dianca London Potts, Tina Barry, Eliel Lucero, Michael G. Maxwell, Karen Stefano, Paul Beckman, Len Kuntz, Meg Tuite, Bud Smith and me. I read my piece, “A Box,” which was chosen for the Best Small Fictions, 2016 (originally in RIFT, my co-authored book with Kathy Fish).

kgb-riftbrooosbsf-group-shot

And then, there was the general pizazz of being in in a city I love more than any other, with writer pals/ friends I adore, admire, revere, love:

yesr-l-s-kwestvillemeg-mgm-me

Overall, I would do this again, and again. Soulful, inspiring. Deeply satisfying. Please, sir, may I have some more?

 

Readings, Raffles and more

Hi friends!

A quick recap of my recent trip to Santa Fe: WHAT A BLAST!!! The view from our room 630 at La Fonda, and my pal, Len whom I shared the glory with:

10426125_10205375485565130_1045649562077628047_nLen Kuntz Sa Fe 2015

We went to Santa Fe for the TWISTED Reading Series, hosted by our pal, Meg Tuite:

El Flacco and Meg Santa Fe

Our featured reader was the exceptional Kate Braverman, and once Karen Stefano and James Claffey arrived, everything was A-OK! Meg’s Santa Fe reading circle rounded out the twelve readers. Also the Denver writers, with Sally Reno, Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman (at a Karaoke Lounge after the reading) :

Kate Braverman and meReading in Santa FeThe gang Santa Fe 2015Len and me Santa Fe

Last photo of me actually reading a new piece, “Keep it, Curt”:

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Overall, it  was a festive event and a great extended weekend!

RAFFLES:

The winner of the January Raffle is…Julia Fiero!!! There were seventy-four entries and I asked a non-writer to select a name out of a hat (blind). Congratulations, Julia- I hope you enjoy Luke Goebel’s Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours as much as I did!

February Raffle is Together We Can Bury It by Kathy Fish! To enter, simply comment here or on my Facebook Post, Twitter or Tumblr. This is another book you simply must have!

And, my piece called The Fallow Heart, which is in my Addicts & Basements book, you can read at Fictionaut: “The Fallow Heart” by Robert Vaughan — Fictionaut

And that, sugar plums, is a wrap…stay warm and informed.

 

Family, Friends and Writing

Today is August 18th. That’s a big deal because 21 years ago, after more than 24 laborious hours, my first nephew, Robert Jarvis, was born. And today, he is now officially “legal,” and therefore has all sorts of new options open to him. I love you, Rob, and am very proud of the man you’ve become, and are becoming:

Heidi and baby Rob Christmas Hiram Lake, 1993

Also, today is my dearest friend Andrea’s birthday. It is not polite to mention a lady’s age, but we’ve been friends for more than half of our lives. Besties. Roomies. Through thick and thin. Through drink and smoke. Through concerts by the dozens. And through it all, we’ve maneuvered our relationship with grace, with ease, supple support. I love you, Andrea! Thanks for so much laughter and our depth.

My story, “Bacon and Eggs, 1977” is published today at Everyday Genius. This is from my upcoming story collection, Departures Or Arrivals. Michael Seidlinger chose it as he curates the month of August at EG, and wanted to represent writers’ works from a current project:

Everyday Genius: Robert Vaughan

Also, another short fiction piece, “No Face World Champ” was published recently at theNewer York, by Josh Raab and Chuck Young: No Face World Champ – theNewerYorkThanks, guys!

Last weekend, I was in the city of my youth, Rochester, and was simultaneously reading a memoir by Sonja Livingston called Ghostbread. What a breathtaking book! Through her use of poetic prose and short chapters, structured like brilliant flashes, this book made me feel as if I’d learned something completely new about a city and region in which I was raised. I highly recommend it.

I also suggest gathering siblings and loved ones on a frequent basis. Telling stories, various opinions on why this one got that name, or how grandpa fell into his potato soup. Or why it matters to have intelligent and diverse discussions! Thanks Mikel (Mike), Julia, Cheryl (Aldo), Satchi, Heidi, Jeff, Rob (Anna) and Trevor for being my family. And grateful for all of the friends who turned out for Trevor’s going-off-to-college party…thanks! Kick some serious butt: Rob, Anna and Trevor this fall.

Room with a View: The Clearing, part 2

Hi friends!

I returned yesterday from a week in paradise, my first visit to Door County! From July 20- 26, I taught a new course that I designed for The Clearing called Mixing Genres. Upon my arrival at the campus, I accidentally went to the Jens Jensen Center, which is where they house wonderful gifts, the bookstore, handmade cards, etc. I was greeted by lovely volunteers, told I had made a common mistake: I took the wrong entrance! Back on to Garrett Bay Road, and I found the entrance to The (actual) Clearing workshop space:campusentrance1

Upon arriving at the Lodge, I was greeted warmly by Tammy, and shown my Loft room in the Professor’s Quarters building (same building, different entrances). Although the stairs to my room were possibly lethal, I had the best view on the planet!

mainlodge

The first morning, I had a taste of our entire week: five writers showed up to take the Mixing Genres course: Nancy, Pete, Jami, Siobhan, and Cate (would have been six, but one had a last minute family commitment). After a hearty breakfast, I worked my way through the woods to the Schoolhouse where we hosted the entire week of Mixing Genres in the Weaver Room:

schoolhouse

The workshop went great; here is a brief outline, some of what we covered:

Monday: We opened with a quote by Steve Jobs. Talked elements of Poetry,  including poems by Marie Howe, Li-Young Lee, Stanley Kunitz, Dorianne Laux, David Wojnarwicz, and Ocean Vuong. We also tried a prompt called Making the Ordinary into the Extraordinary. And in the afternoon, we roundtable the new work. Handout from Ray Carver’s “On Writing.” Also, every day I met with one writer one-on-one so we could discuss whatever they desired.

Tuesday: Discussed Mark Twain’s concept about Truth is Stranger than Fiction. Five Elements of a Story. “Read” by Kathy Fish, Russell Edson, Evelyn Hampton, Elizabeth Ellen, Len Kuntz, William Goyen, Brandi Wells, and returned to Kathy Fish. We did an in-house prompt on character, using photographs. In the afternoon, after a filling lunch, another roundtable.

Wednesday: We chatted about the ever-evolving landscape of Memoir. Read and discussed Anais Nin’s prologue to House of Incest. Samuel Delaney, Lidia Yuknavitch, Kate Braverman, Mark Doty. Then we read the entire Yiyun Li’s “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life”, published at A Public Space. We did another in-house writing prompt. And we round-tabled after lunch.

Thursday: Biography: we read the forward of Shadows and Light, by Joni Mitchell’s biographer Karen O’ Brien, talked about D.T. Max’s Every Story is a Ghost Story: David Foster Wallace; Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth; Raymond Carver by Carol Sklenicka, and Cynthia Carr’s Fire in the Belly about David Wojnarowicz. 5 writing prompts on the board. Afternoon free. And so, I used the opportunity to do a couple of things I’d wanted to do:

photos_labyrinthhomesteadmeadow

I walked the entire labyrinth, and then soared through the breath-taking Homestead Meadow, following the footpath through deep woods to the Cliff House, Jens Jensen’s original private retreat:

cliffhouse8

This is Jens, the founder of The Clearing, sitting on his Cliff House bed. I spent time inside of this small but incredibly special place on the campus. I really felt Jens’ presence more than once during the week, but no place more than here.

Back in class, Friday, we discussed the essay, beginning with Bob Hicok’s “Prose Poem essay on the Prose Poem” which is the forward of the Rose Metal Press’s Field Guide to Prose Poetry. We also discussed Kate Zembrano, Ben Tanzer, Hilton Als, and Roxane Gay. We talked about all sorts of other things you might do with a writing career: radio, television, travel writing, literary journalism, plays, writers on craft (like Judy Bridges’ Shut Up and Write) We practiced our pieces for the Friday evening Camp night! Then we did one last exercise to honor one another and the great week we’d spent together.

After Friday’s supper, all the workshops performed: first my writers read their original works, then a Jeopardy game by the Touring Door County group; the Wood Working workshop explained their shed they’d built, and finally the Novel Discussion group performed an impromptu performance. Afterwards we had refreshments and I joked “don’t drink the Kool-Aid!” When I returned to my sleeping quarters, there was a group of new friends drinking wine: Marilyn and John, Mary, Pat, Joan, Russ and Corky. A nice way to round out the week!

What a wonderful week! Thanks Judy Bridges for this amazing opportunity. Thanks Mike Schneider, Kathy Swanson, Eric Rinkleff, Tammy Musiel, and Melinda Schaufer for not only making me feel welcome, but taking interest in what we are all there to accomplish. To everyone I met, and spoke with, laughed and cried, risked and debated: I cherish you. I will return.

 

 

 

 

Reading at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, NY on June 11

 

 

 

On June 11, Amy King, Bud Smith and I will be reading at Unnameable Books: 600 Vanderbuilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238. Please join us at 7:00 p.m. for a great night of innovative prose and poetry!

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There is a Facebook Event Page here: Amy King, Bud Smith, and Robert Vaughan Reading at Unnameable Books

Let’s have a party!

Thanks, John Madera of Rhizomatic Publishing for setting up this event!

National Poetry Month: April 1-3, 2014

April has arrived in all her glory! One of the innumerable reasons I adore April is it’s National Poetry Month! This year, like 2013, I will select a poem-a-day, and read it, for your listening pleasure. Hopefully you might meet some poets (and poems) that you are not yet familiar with?

On April 1st, I kicked off National Poetry Month by reading Russell Dillon’s “Eternal Patrol.” This is the title poem from his first full collection by the same title:

images

 

Russell’s poetry is dark, smart and infused with just the right amount of humor. Here is more about the collection: Eternal Patrol: Russell Dillon: 9780988228733: Amazon.com: Books

And here is my reading of “Eternal Patrol: Robert Vaughan reads Russell Dillon’s “Eternal Patrol” – YouTube

Yesterday, April 2nd, I also read the title poem from Laura Kasischke’s “Space, In Chains,” which is a phenomenal poetry collection and won the National Book Critics Circle Award:

books

 

“Kasischke’s intelligence is most apparent in her syntactic control and pace, the way she gauges just when to make free verse speed up, or stop short, or slow down.”—The New York Times Book Review

Here is my reading of “Space, in Chains:”

Robert Vaughan reads “Space, In Chains,” from Laura Kasischke – YouTube

What will I read today? More importantly, what will YOU read today? A subway poem? A billboard poem? Maybe it’s a conversation you have with a friend about poetry? I chatted on Facebook with Brian Alan Ellis the other day about Kenneth Patchen (among many other poets). Imagine how different our world would be if we spoke more about poetry than guns? If we read infinitely more poems than listen to stories that contain violence?

 

 

Tagged- My Writing Process

“My Writing Process” is an ongoing series in which authors “tag” each other to answer some questions about their work. One question that arose spontaneously recalls the game Telephone… remember playing this as a child? One person comes up with a unique phrase or sentence, and passes it along, whispering it to the next person, who then does the same, and so on, and so on. Until you get to the very last person in the room, who then attempts to blurt the sentence, which of course, has morphed into some completely strange and laughable OTHER Phrase!!!

Gay Degani has asked me to participate:

Gay Degani 2

This is Gay reading at the HEAT reading, AWP/ Seattle (and a mini-me in the doorway!)

For more information about how Gay keeps herself busy, and about her NEW NOVEL, the suspenseful What Came Before, check out Words in Place.

And now, the questions:

1) What am I working on?

My first full length collection, Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanismsofficially launched at the AWP Conference in Seattle, February, 2014: Addicts & Basements: Robert Vaughan: 9781937865238

I’m currently working on a full length story collection, Departures Or Arrivals.

I also co-host a quarterly reading series called Middle Coast Poets: Middle Coast Poets Reading Series. We have our next reading on April 28 at the Riverwest Public House in Milwaukee, and the  current poets are Brittany Cavallero, Larry O. Dean, John Walser, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Paul Scot August and me.

I will be teaching a workshop, Publishing Your First (or Next) Collection « Red Oak Writing for their Saturday workshop series.

And I’m teaching a week long workshop, Mixing Genres, at The Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin: The Clearing Folk School::Classes

I’m conducting Interviews for the new site, ENTROPY!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I work as hard as I can to find the core of a poem or a prose piece. I hope that my work is the combination of heart and soul and fragments that make up a human being’s struggles to be alive, and possibly tumbling toward some other realm. I love words, and language, and for the most part, people. I’m unsure if it differs, yet I know I am the only me. So in that, somehow, there lies the answer.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I suppose I am trying to make sense of the world, and of life itself. Through other people, characters and their voices, senses, I get to experience the world around me repeatedly. I can do things I might never attempt, and take on new experiences through them. I’ve also sensed, from a young age, that if I did not write, I might not still be here. I like to attempt the genres that scare me the most. And I write for more than me, too. For my Mom and Dad, for James and Mel, for all of those no longer here on planet Earth.

4) How does my writing process work?

I’m not really sure, it morphs over time and depending upon each project. I try to stay as organized as I possibly can. Not an easy task! I used to submit a ton of writing, so that took more notebooks and jotting down submission data, keeping track of acceptances and rejections, especially those encouraging ones. I write best early in the day, just after coffee, before other items creep up, before social media is checked and instant messages and tweets are responded to. I also believe in my writing roundtable for solid feedback and work with two other writers in an online prompt writing weekly group.

I am tagging Michael Gillan Maxwell and Bud Smith:

Michael Maxwell (Michael Gillan Maxwell) is a Freelance Visual Artist, Writer, and Teacher. His work is award winning and heavily published and he is an all-around kickass fellow:

Bud Smith (Bud Smith) is the author of Tollbooth, Or Something Like That, and his just released full length poetry collection, Everything Neon. He also is the host of The Unknown Show:

 

“The Bagpipe Refrain” to be included in Literary Orphans Anthology

Hi friends,

I am really excited to get the news today that my piece, “The Bagpipe Refrain,” will be included in the very first Literary Orphans Anthology. This must have been a very onerous and difficult process to select exactly what might be included:

Best of Literary Orphans, Year One Anthology [SELECTIONS]

“The Bagpipe Refrain” originally appeared in the Marilyn issue: The Bagpipe Refrain by Robert Vaughan.

I also had a poem, “Aretha,” in the Wordsworth issue: Aretha by Robert Vaughan. And in the same issue, John Riley reviewed Microtones, my first chapbook: A Review of Robert Vaughan’s Microtones by John Riley.

Editor-in-chief of Literary Orphans, Mike Joyce, has been a friend and a writer with whom I have exchanged many great writerly ideas over the past year (or two) since Literary Orphans took shape and blossomed into the distinctive literary magazine of such high quality it currently is. I look forward to this first anthology and to many more of our wonderful, friendly exchanges. Congratulations, Mike, Scott Waldyn, Doriana Lareau and all of the other staff! So thrilled, and proud of you all.

Both of these pieces, “The Bagpipe Refrain” and “Aretha” are included in my upcoming book, Addicts & Basements from Civil Coping Mechanisms, coming February 1, 2014: Addicts & Basements by Robert Vaughan | Civil Coping Mechanisms.