Winter 2023 New Instructor Speed Dating: Part I

Instructor Speed Dating 2 (banner (landscape)) (1)

Welcome to Hugo House’s New Instructor Speed Dating—a thrilling new way to introduce our groovy gang of first-time instructors to our community! We invited the teachers to respond to our questionnaire on topics about writing and craft that speak to who they are and their individual experiences. Let’s get the speed dating started with our first bundle of Winter 2023 instructors! 

Headshot Hernandez DiazInstructor: Jose Hernandez Diaz (he/him/his)

Class: Exploring the Surreal and the Strange in Prose Poetry 
Favorite time to write: early morning with coffee 
First literary crush: Rosario Castellanos 

Jose is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020), and his work appears in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading
Thanks for joining us, Jose! So tell us, what are you currently reading? 
Most of my reading right now is related to my work as an editor. They are talented writers, though, so it is a unique and privileged experience to read poets before they hit the main stage. 

Why do you write?  
Necessity. Beauty of creation. Purpose. Adventure. Love. 

And how do you know when an idea has legs?  
If the work is mysterious, musical, melancholy, vibrant, subtle, jarring, meditative, serene, etc. If it doesn’t have legs, I think it is the job of the writer to give it legs, if possible. 
How do you get unstuck?  
Take time away from writing by not forcing it. Reading. Prompts. Watching documentaries or university lectures on YouTube on the lives of artists.

What is your objective and inspiration for teaching with Hugo House? 
Since I am teaching a generative workshop: the objective is for writers to enjoy themselves as they learn and create new prose poems, hopefully, they can revise and submit later. 
Thanks so much to Jose for joining Hugo House winter quarter 2023; we can’t wait for your class to begin! 

Cass Garison HeadshotInstructor: Cass Garison (they/them)

Class: Queer Erasure
First literary crush: Anne Carson. Also, Catullus: spunky and hot. 
Currently reading:  Also a Poet by Ada Calhoun, the collected works of Eileen Myles, The Book of Salt by Monique Truong, and Lithium for Medea by Kate Braverman.

Next, we welcome Cass Garison! Cass has an MFA from the University of Washington and in 2019 they received the Frontier-Antioch Fellowship and the Academy of American Poets Prize. 
Cass, tell us about your writing rituals. 
I don’t have a ritual necessarily, but I do have a room that I write and paint in that feels like a sort of physical ritual. It’s an attic room where I’ve hung all my art and have all my books and old journals. As a Taurus, I like objects, and being surrounded by all these important objects helps put me in the headspace to write.

What does your creative practice look like? 
To be honest, erratic. I understand the value of routine, however, find myself constantly deviating from my own attempted routines until I just give up on them. I particularly like to produce with company (having art or writing days with other people). I like the way my writer pals and I can feel each other’s energy and share discoveries in the moment. Of course, this is not always the case, and when I produce alone, I like to have a cat around.
Where do you find inspiration? 
The easy answer is perhaps most places when in a certain mood, and nowhere when in another mood. When I do find it, it’s in art and nature. In cooking in walking in talking with friends and strangers. In coffeeshops in restaurants. While playing pool.
How do you get unstuck? 
When I get stuck or can’t figure out what to write I shift mediums: I paint or sculpt or carve, I figure out other ways to channel creativity until I can move back into writing. I try to trust that I always will move back to writing, but often it’s difficult to promise myself that. Sometimes, when I can’t write, I go outside. Air helps.

Sage advice and offerings, thank you Cass Garrison!

Instructor: Simon Wolf (he/him/his)

Class: Place Based Poetics: Writing with the Duwamish River
Currently reading: Richard Hugo’s Duwamish Head, Terrance Hayes’ Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin, Cedar Sigo’s Guard the Mysteries, and Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters. Also, The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, and Native Seattle by Coll Thrush. 
Creative tools: A notebook, a computer, lots of sheets of paper, lots of books, crayons, photos, pencils, pens, and a scanner.

Up next, we welcome Simon Wolf. Simon works in land restoration, and lives on Beacon Hill. His work has been featured in ‘Coastal Poets – A Reading and Film Festival,’ and has been most recently published in Clamor Journal, and Inkwell Journal

So happy to have you with us, Simon! Tell us, why do you write? 
Writing clears the cobwebs, dust, and excess that easily collects in my mind and body. I write to make sense of what I see and feel, and to draw it closer to myself. I write to complicate what seems simple and simplify what seems complex. I write because it is so fun to follow the words and see where they take me.  

Do you have any writing rituals? 
A ritual for me is to print out multiple copies of a poem, cut it up word by word, and glue it back together in different ways. This helps me gain perspective on what I am writing and allows me to experiment with how words, lines, and images can interact with each other in different ways. 

What piece of advice changed the way you write? 
In, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami says to be a writer, you must have focus and endurance. When I feel my writing lacks something special this quote reminds me to just keep going. When I feel overwhelmed by how it seems everything has already been written I come to the advice Audre Lorde offers in Poetry is Not a Luxury, that, “There are no new ideas. there are only new ways of making them felt.” And, always guiding me to feel the uniting power of poetry I come to this quote from Cedar Sigo, that, “Poetry is never simply a set of words living alone upon the page. It exists as a perennial light in the mind, a tool of recognition that we must press into the hands of others.”  

Welcome to your first quarter teaching with Hugo House. What are your objectives and inspirations for teaching this course? 
My inspiration for this class comes from the Duwamish River drawing me to it as a place to be by myself in a little bit of nature in the middle of the city. This has led me, for the last three years, to work on a project of poems that are all written from my experiences of returning to the same spots along the river.  

It has taken me years of living in Seattle to even begin to learn about the deep history of the Duwamish and Coast Salish people to whom this land is home. The river has been my entry point into history and has been the line that keeps me grounded while learning about the past of this land, and waters. My objective is to share my curiosity and what I have learned with others and to make a space where we can experiment with and imagine what it can mean to be a poet in Seattle.

We love a class dedicated to the land and place where Hugo House builds community—the land of the Duwamish and Coast Salish Peoples. Thanks for being in community with us, Simon

Rachel Sobel HeadshotInstructor: Rachel Sobel (she/her)

Class: Structure & Design
Currently reading: Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, Unworthy Republic by Claudio Saunt, Sheila Gear’s Foula: Island West of the Sun, and Plainwater by Anne Carson. 

Finally, we’d like to extend our enthusiastic welcome to Rachel Sobel. Rachel is a writer of speculative and literary fiction about dykes and other queer people and graduate of the Hunter MFA in Fiction.

Fantastic grouping of current reads! Besides maintaining a healthy rotation of texts you’re reading, can you tell us about any writing rituals you have? 
One of the best things for my writing has been to start writing by hand, with just pen and paper. All of my first drafts — or maybe more like zero-th drafts — are written by hand, often in this sort of crabbed shorthand without any verb conjugations or full sentences. (My handwriting can be very bad, too, especially when I’m writing quickly.) But I’ll get down all the main beats that way, and then be able to see whether I’m pointed in the right direction. I almost always try to start my writing days on paper, rather than on the computer. 

The one downside is that I’m not always very discerning about what I’m writing on, which is how I end up shuffling through horrible stacks of receipts, bank envelopes, torn-up bookmarks, and so on! 

How do you know when an idea has legs?  
When it starts making things up back at me. I’ll put down my notebook and go off to buy groceries, and on the way to the store I’ll have to whip out my phone and jot down incomprehensible extra ideas for what goes in the story: “also meet seagull girl”, or “set during thwarted pandemic hot girl summer?”, or “nyt headlines party game?” 

The extra ideas aren’t always the right ones, but the fact that the story is giving off sprouts and leaves all by itself usually means that there’s something real there. 

What does your creative practice look like? 
This may be a hangover from grad school, but a lot of my work is driven by figuring out a kind of story I don’t know how to write — and then setting out to do it. For instance, I really admire linked short stories, but realized recently that I have no idea how to go about writing them myself. As a result, I’m currently finishing up a first draft of a “sequel” short story to something I wrote several years ago. 

Approaching things this way is very productive for me because it opens up big swathes of internal territory I haven’t thought about before. I almost never know the ending of any story when I start writing it, because the business of writing the story is what will reveal to me what I think will or should happen. These kinds of “challenge” prompts serve almost as a structural counterpoint to that, a formal way to open up endings I don’t understand yet. 

Tell us about a piece of writing that really moves and/or inspires you. 
Right now, I’m wild about Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth books. The third one just came out (Nona the Ninth) and I love the way she’s thinking about colonialism and queerness and being culpable in evil systems — all in the middle of this hilarious, gonzo, sexy whirlwind tour of dramatic action. 

What piece of advice changed the way you write? 
Many years ago, I took a workshop from the great speculative fiction writer Kij Johnson, who told me that a scene should be about 700 words, give or take. My scenes don’t always comply with this rule — among other things I’m a much more dialogue-heavy writer than Kij, and a less sparse prose stylist — but being given such a concrete tool for thinking about the structure of my stories, the idea that you could look at and measure your scenes, that totally changed how I approach writing. 

Thank you for sharing, Rachel!

That’s a wrap on this first round of Instructor Speed Dating for Winter 2023 quarter. Check back with us next week for round two so you can find your next perfect instructor!