Back to Iceland- Writing Residency Pt. 1

Remember when I got accepted to two international writing residencies in the middle of a pandemic?

While it is certainly not the most ideal time to be traveling at all, the news came at a perfect time during my career and personal life. I wanted both of them to work out, but I didn’t have high hopes of getting across the border of a country that I wasn’t a resident of. As everyone knows, traveling isn’t really possible right now.

Still, I had to continue accordingly. I’d planned to go to the Iceland residency first, and then to the Finland one, and then return home. However, my flight from Reykjavik to Helsinki got canceled due to Covid/border control changes. The residency in Finland ultimately fell through because there were too many unknowns. I could’ve deferred to next year, but again- too much is up in the air for me to commit to that. Yet, Iceland was still a go! I was so happy to come back here! [Read about my first visit to Iceland back in 2016 here.]

The folks here at the Gullkistan residency prepared me with a list of paperwork I would need to provide not only in order to enter the country, but to even get on the flight here. I was so nervous, I printed two copies of everything and held my breath the whole time at the airport. Everything went seamlessly, and those worries quickly were replaced with excitement for this new adventure and complete awe to be in such a beautiful place.

I was tested upon arrival and then went straight to the residency, which is in the town of Laugarvatn, a little over an hour from the capital of Reykjavik. It is mandatory to quarantine for five days and then get the second test. Everything was so streamlined and easy to track through the Rakning C-19 app. I arrived at 6 a.m. on Monday, February 1st and received my negative test results later that evening. I quarantined for longer than five days, actually, because they don’t test on the weekends in Selfoss (the town we are closest to) so I had to wait until the next Monday. Once I got my results back, I was then free to visit shops and restaurants. I was so impressed by how organized the entire process was!

For the month of February, there is only one other resident here. Her name is Kristel, and she is a visual artist from Estonia, and will stay for two months. We are great company for one another, (the only company, actually!) but it’s been so peaceful here and nice to be tucked away from everyone. We are also able to have our own spaces: she stays in the studio center while I stay in the cabin. The majority of my time is spent inside working, and since it’s cold out (very similar to back home in Pennsylvania) I didn’t mind being in quarantine. In fact, I loved it. The cabin fills with the most gorgeous light at sunrise, which is usually around 9:30-10 a.m. Kristel and I kept sane and active during quarantine by going for a walk early in the day, which is a routine we are still sticking to. There’s always so much writing to do and books to be read, and I even started a 30 day yoga challenge, which is steadily kicking my ass. I am learning to “find my breath” and realizing that I should take care of my body much more than I have been. It’s important for me to stretch, too, since I spend so much time sitting and with my head bent (thanks to typing, reading, and phone scrolling) and to work on my balance (which anyone that knows me can attest to being pitiful at best).

A typical day might look like this:

-Wake up, sometimes morning yoga
-Morning hike for sunrise with Kristel
-Return to cabin for coffee and meal
-Listen to writing podcast or craft talk while eating/doing dishes
-Check e-mails, submissions, etc.
-Reading craft book, maybe trying my hand at some prompts
-Journal writing
-Dinner
-Free writing and/or editing
-Finish the journal entry for the day
-Yoga before bed (if I didn’t do it in the morning)

I have my manuscript from my MFA program that I finished, but it needs revised and reordered. It is currently spread out on the floor of the top room of the cabin. I’ve been working on that and will submit it when I feel it is ready for publication.

I keep saying it, but to really sit with your work is such a beautiful thing.

I wanted to dive deeper into craft books this time, so that’s one of my goals. And always reading and discovering new work from contemporary poets, of course. I’ve had a couple Zoom meetings with my writing groups, and have attended several readings, though this also is a bit tricky with the time change. Often, they don’t start until 7 PM, so if I stay up for it, I don’t go to bed until after 2 AM my time. But I’ve also caught the northern lights this way 🙂 They came out several times my first week here and I felt so strongly that this is a sign that I am right where I belong:

Not a bad view to stay up all night writing to 🙂

Of course, it isn’t all work. We’ve done some amazing day trips so far as well. My friend Ævar who I met as a tour guide back in 2016 took us on an adventure where we visited not only Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss but two lesser known waterfalls that are right nearby: Nauthúsagil and Kvernufoss!

Fun fact about the village of Laugarvatn: if you’ve seen Down to Earth on Netflix, you probably saw the episode in Iceland where Zac Efron and Darin Olien go to where they bake bread in the ground.
That’s actually right across the street from where we are! And we got to experience that. The rye bread bakes for 24 hours. It’s delicious, like the texture of cake almost, and often paired with Icelandic butter (which is to die for), trout, or herring. Even plain, it is mouthwatering and I want it as we speak!

Laugarvatn has lovely geothermal baths, which we’re trying out this weekend, as well.

And who knows, the work that comes from these dramatic landscapes may just be pointing me into the direction of a new book.

Again— I am so happy to be here. 🇮🇸

I hope these moments of Iceland’s natural beauty bring you the same peace they have given me. Keep well, everyone. ❤

To writing on,

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Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway

I am coming off of a weekend of writing with the Murphy Writing of Stockton University Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and it has been such a blessing to spend four intense days surrounding myself with a supportive community of writers, crafting language and navigating new stories, during a time when history is being written, and everything in our world seems bleak.

I was fortunate enough to have intimate and engaging workshops led by Peter Murphy, Dilruba Ahmed, Catherine Doty, Cynthia Dewi Oka, and Emari DiGiorgio.

We celebrated Sunday night with a delightful reading and Q&A by featured speaker Ross Gay, whose humor and gracious spirit lit up our Zoom rooms.

Murphy Writing of Stockton University - School of General Studies |  Stockton University

Every day brought on the challenge of a unique writing prompt, and I left the Getaway armed with four new solid drafts, new friends, and a notebook penned with inspiration.

I couldn’t have attended without the financial help of the Toni Brown Memorial Scholarship, so again- thank you to the entire Murphy Writing crew and committee for choosing my work so that I could have this opportunity!

And then we got to witness the incredible force that is Amanda Gorman move the world with her words on Inauguration Day?! It is a good week for poetry, indeed.

To writing on,

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Writing AND Traveling News!

Whew! Travel has (obviously) come to a halt, and as as result,  I’ve been busy with editing and submitting my creative writing. I almost forgot to update y’all, but I’m happy that some poems have been accepted into these journals.

ANDDDDDDDD…………………………………………………………………………………………

I was accepted to two international writing residencies! One in Iceland, and one in Finland, planned for 2021. A lot can change before then, but I’ve been informed that I can be granted an exemption due to business as long as I follow appropriate protocol, which I will certainly do. Here’s hoping that there will be a reliable vaccine soon, that things improve with containing the virus, and that travel can safely resume.

img_5489In Iceland back in 2016, and the answer is YES, about 47 of them.

I’ve been to Iceland before, but if anyone has any recommendations for Finland, I’m all ears! Or, any tips for a productive writing residency, books to bring, prompts, etc.?

Happy wandering & writing,

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Word to Action

Word to Action is a writing retreat centered on the theme of climate change. My friend, Cathy Wittmeyer, is the creator and host of this incredible retreat, which took place October 12-18 in Liechtenstein.

It featured poets Craig Santos Perez, Will McInerney, Kelli Russell Agodon, Richard Blanco, Enda Wyley, and Tess Barry.

It certainly isn’t easy to plan an international writing retreat in the year of 2020, with travel bans and a worldwide pandemic, but Cathy pulled it off seamlessly. I was lucky enough to help behind the scenes with social media and also attended the retreat virtually, which provided me with fresh knowledge and inspiration, but also, renewed hope.

Just after Day 1, I was speechless! I learned so much from both the featured speakers and the other participants that will carry into not only my future writing, but my way of engaging with the world.

From Cathy:

I see a clear picture for moving forward and that picture has a lot of haze in it (a continued or new pandemic, other crises, other demands on time): behind the fog is hope that writing poems and putting them into the world will create ripples. The more of us that are out there making ripples, the harder our words will be to ignore. Poetry changes the world with a collective of small vibrations that move through one, two, or a thousand people at a time.

Cathy Wittmeyer, host

Beautiful view of the Alps.
All for the final performance!

Check out the link to the video performance and record your carbon footprint here.

As we have seen, this year perhaps more than ever, climate change is so very real. I’m continuing to educate myself on actions big and small that I can take, and want to encourage others to do the same. That’s how those ripples will make waves of change. I’m thankful to Cathy and all those who gave their time in making this retreat one to remember.

Hopefully see you there in person in 2021!

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P.S. To keep up with Word to Action, find us on Instagram here or @wordtoaction and Twitter here, or @WordtoAction20.

“Smile” is Synonymous for Survival

Hi friends,

Some good news– This piece I wrote was awarded 2nd place in The Nasiona’s micro-nonfiction/poetry tournament recently:

I feel like all women (travelers or not) can unfortunately relate to this. And the emotions it brings are so complex, aren’t they? A mixture of anger, fear, shame, helplessness… Wanting to stand up for yourself but not knowing how, & being so scared it could backfire. 

Let me know what you think of the piece, or how you respond to this type of harassment, in the comments 💛

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Not Very Quiet

Ecstatic that my longest sectioned poem, “Redbird,” has found a home within this special Australian journal.

I’m all about women empowerment, and this feels like a good fit for such a vulnerable and important poem.

This newest issue of Not Very Quiet is set to launch tomorrow, September 14th. There is also an audio file, so you can hear me read, if you’d prefer.

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#TPQ5

Some wonderful folks over at The Poetry Question asked me to list my five must-reads or five favorite writers. There’s no way I could do so, but I tried to incorporate a range of voices, including some I’ve been lucky to learn from personally.

Check out my recommendations listed today on The Poetry Question’s #TPQ5 here.

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Two Poems

Two of my poems are up on The Daily Drunk magazine.

Source

I got the acceptance e-mail 10 minutes after I sent the submission, which was a massively wonderful surprise, and definitely a record for me!

Read them here.

                                                                          Keep writing & wandering,

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