Ciara Shuttleworth: Poetry as a staple for every family

Anybody who ever wrote to a prompt would be fascinated by – or maybe envious of – Ciara Shuttleworth’s story.

Ciara Shuttleworth (Photo by Daniel Berkner)

Shuttleworth, a poet in the University of Idaho’s MFA program, wrote a sestina in a class taught by professor and poet Robert Wrigley last spring. In a matter of months, the poem – titled “Sestina” – was published in The New Yorker.

Shuttleworth’s poem is made of six words, whose order is shuffled to match the highly structured form of the sestina. (You can read the poem here, if you subscribe to The New Yorker.)

Shuttleworth graciously agreed to answer these questions by e-mail.

I’ve read that you wrote “Sestina” within minutes of being introduced to the form in a workshop. Is that right? Could you tell the story of the poem?

I was in Robert Wrigley’s Prosody and Form class last spring. We discussed a selection of poems each week in a particular form, and were required to write a poem in that form as well. The week Bob assigned the sestina, I wrote a subpar sestina (it worked, but it was not nearly as good as sestinas such as Miller Williams’ “The Shrinking Lonely Sestina”).

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The problem with my desk

Not pictured: one extremely self-satisfied love seat.

When I first moved into my apartment here in Spokane, I was very excited because I could finally have a desk. I guess it’s also important to note that when I first moved into my apartment here in Spokane, I was very excited because I could finally have a living room. Before that, I’d been renting a small studio. My living room was the same room as my bedroom. The only furniture I could really fit in there was a bed, bookshelf, love seat, and coffee table. At the time, I was, by default, doing most of my writing sitting on the love seat, feet up on the coffee table, and computer on my lap.

But here in Spokane, rent’s cheap(er) and even on my meager student budget, I can afford to live in an apartment with four whole rooms that are distinctly separate from one another. So I went to Ikea and bought a desk – my first one since graduating from college. A friend assembled said desk for me, we put it in front of the big window in my living room (still so excited!) and I thought, “This is the place I’m going to do all of my writing.” And so it was. For about a month and a half.

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Are You an Intellectual?

Alice Munro doesn’t seem to have much of a presence on YouTube, but in one short Munro montage, she says, “I’m not very intellectual.”

In Joan Didion’s essay, “Why I Write,” which my friend Jennifer Sullivan recently sent me, Didion writes, “I am not in the least an intellectual, which is not to say that when I hear the word ‘intellectual’ I reach for my gun, but only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years I when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract.”

Today I’m thinking about what it means to be an intellectual. When writers I admire declare themselves, without shame, as non-intellectuals, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Because I suppose the truth is I don’t see myself as an intellectual, and this is something that, for me, brings shame. Read more »

The better to cross-platform you with, my dear

Red Riding Hood, the movie, is now available in written form, too.

The  novelization — well, actually sort of a prequel to the film, written during filming by a 21-year-old graduate of a creative writing program whose family is friends with the director — made its debut atop a New York Times bestseller list for children.

But wait! There’s more! It’s also a multimedia e-book, according to the L.A. Times, including video interviews with the film’s director, “an animated short film, audio discussion about the set design and props, costume sketches and [the director’s] hand-drawn maps of the world where ‘Red Riding Hood’ takes place.”

Red Riding Hood the original (you know, the movie) is getting bad reviews (“This movie sucks giant wolf balls”). The novelization for children is getting no reviews, except online gripes from readers irked that it lacks an ending. You’re supposed to read the final chapter online — it was withheld until after the movie opened.

It’s too bad these particular incarnations appear to stink. It’s important, I think, that even with e-readers and online-only final chapters, the same basic story — 700 or so years old — continues to inspire people to tell it again.

And Katniss is…

The main character for The Hunger Games has been cast. Jennifer Lawrence will play Katniss Everdeen in the trilogy, the first film of which is set to be released next year. The speculation over who will play which character has been ongoing for some time now, but now that the casting has officially begun, it’s in full flow. I’ve got some mild opinions myself, but I’m trying to reserve them until I actually see the movie because, hey, I’m not a casting director.

But it’s hard to see a beloved book turn into a movie. Exciting too, of course (though I know some people who disagree with that assessment), but there’s always risk involved. I can no longer remember, for example, how I first pictured Frodo, or Harry Potter, or Lyra Belacqua, or Elizabeth Bennett, or Briony Tallis. Now, when I read those books, I see the actors instead of the portrait the author painted for. Of course, we like to see casting directors that use this vision in the casting, producers and directors that make it come alive once the cameras roll, but I think we all know that this doesn’t always (usually?) happen.

And then there’s the way the plot is shaped, tweaked, to make it fit the different medium. I’m not one of those people that stresses over every detail that is changed—I understand that putting a book on the screen verbatim would make for a boring production—but over time I sometimes find myself unable to remember exactly which things were brought in from the book and which were brought in for the film. (This actually happened earlier tonight, when my sister made a comment about a different piece of work, and I had to remind her that the book actually contradicted her statement exactly.)

I’m excited to see this book on the big screen, I really am. But I’m nervous too. I know, though, that no matter what I’ll see it, and most likely buy it when it comes out. But until then, I’ve got over a year of waiting, and wondering.


"When in doubt, find your light."

I recently helped finish shaping and editing an interview we (fellow Barkers Sam, Brendan, and I) did with Richard Russo at last year’s Get Lit! literary festival in Spokane (look for it in the next issue of Willow Springs!). For those of you who don’t know, Richard Russo is not only a Pulitzer-winning fiction writer, but he writes movies, as well. There’s a portion of the interview in which we discussed his experiences with film-making, and one segment in particular about the influence actors can have on the work. I won’t spoil the interview for you, but it sparked a trail of thought that I’ve been following for days.

Those of you who have read my other posts probably know by now that I used to be involved in the theater. I’ve acted, directed, stage managed, produced–the whole deal. And the interesting thing is that in the theater, nothing exists without collaboration. To quote the amazing Paul Gross in my favorite TV show of all time, Slings and Arrows:

Actors are entirely dependent on other people for what they do. They need a writer, they need a director, they need someone to make their costumes, sets, props, they need a theater. Worst of all they need other actors. That’s a lot of people. That’s not including the audience.

That dependency works all around. What is a prop master without a play? What is a director without actors? What is a set without a theater? Read more »

I’m sick of mayhem and vaccines.

What is going on with the aggressive nature of commercials right now?  I’m getting pretty sick of the Allstate mayhem dude, for instance.  The one where he’s snow on top of the house is the latest one to catch my negative attention.  Dean Winters as the mayhem dude reminds me first that as snow, he gets heavier and heavier throughout the winter, just like me.   Then he has to go further with the insult.”And while your pants struggle to support the heavier you, your roof struggles trying to support the heavier me.”  Well damn, Allstate, you’re getting in on the “nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” crap now?  Not only is the mayhem character threatening and violent, but in some instances the commercials add a sexist flare.   Read more »

Of Being and Nothingness but Stylishness

I think that it was in Dave Egger’s HWSG where I read a line like “No one finds the lives of twenty-somethings interesting, except maybe other twenty-somethings.”

I remember thinking, Well, f*ck. I was twenty-five and working on a memoir about being twenty-three. Everyone I knew was living a coming of age story, self-medicating with flower remedies, discussing apocalypses, struggling to become naturopaths or cage-fighters or wildlife advocates or jugglers. The twenty-something narrative seemed just as important as any Carver short story or Updike novel about coming of age transition from the middle years to elderly, the flux of identity and energy of personal crisis.

After reading that one Egger’s sentence, I started developing a question that I am still trying to answer: what is the best way to demonstrate the confusion of the twenty-something, the coming of age story particular to this generation’s late adolescence lasting until we hit thirty-something or beyond?

Last week, Leyna posted that she didn’t understand 90% of the Tao Lin output, input, and quenched randomness. When she posted this, I’d already been talking to Pirooz Kalayeh, the director, about his film adaptation of Shoplifting from American Apparel. I’d just read the novella, and had posted about its sense of branded youth in the American corporatocracy. Read more »

Carrying A Line

Greetings from Seattle! I am writing to you using the grey and black keys of my Blackberry curve, so excuse my brevity. My Spring break has been a crazy whirlwind trip between Spokane, Seattle and Portland and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

So far my favorite part of the trip was sitting in the coffee shop of Powell’s bookstore in Portland. For the readers who don’t know, I really love books and even more I love sitting among lots of books with lots of other people. Powell’s was everything I’ve ever wanted. Taking up an entire Portland block and four stories high, my friends and I concluded it would take a full week to look at every shelf of books in Powell’s. The Poetry selection took up one long beautiful row of wooden shelving and I picked up volume after slim volume until my eyes were crossed.It was while standing there reading John Berryman’s The Dream Songs that I thought of a sweet line about a statue we passed walking downtown. But when I went to write it down, I knew immediately that I only had one good line. And one good line does not make a poem. Read more »

I Reject that Rejection!

When daylight savings time comes around and it feels like spring might be in the air—as soon as all the snow melts away—I usually decide it’s time to submit some essays and stories for publishing.

Then as the rejection letters trickles into my inbox and mail box, my confidence slowly gets chipped away and I start doubting whether writing is something I should spend any more time on. Although I know that rejections are part of the submission process and just a stepping stone on the way to getting published, it’s still hard to keep my optimism at its original level.

This year, I’ve decided to prepare before the rejections arrive by taking comfort in that many famous writers were rejected multiple times before they reached multi-book contracts. Book Examiner Michelle Kern lists 30 famous writers who were initially rejected, including some quotes from their actual rejection letters. One of my favorite ones is from Tom Hillerman’s. He was initially told by publishers to “get rid of all that Indian stuff.”  When George Orville submitted Animal Farm, it was rejected on the basis that “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” I guess they never anticipated the success of The Art of Racing in the Rain or Marley & Me.

Another place to laugh at rejection letters is on the Writer’s Digests site. In their “Get Creative” article series, they often challenge readers to write fake rejection letters. Their two latest ones are for Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling.

Are their certain times during the year when you submit more work than usual?

What’s your favorite rejection letter?

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