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Melanie Rae Thon: Dinner and a Workshop

After the reading and Q&A, I had the chance to attend a dinner and workshop with Master Thon. (Don’t know who that is? Check out my spotlight on Melanie Rae Thon.) This entry includes some pictures, notes, and thoughts from those portions of the event.

Dinner with Master Thon

What’s it like having dinner with a writer you admire? I’ve had the opportunity on a few occasions and have always felt a strong sense of how human—how oddly normal—these writers are. Each writer has their distinct personality, of course; Melanie was soft-spoken, charming, and quietly playful. In talking about her education she clarified that she never got her PhD, though there was no sense that she was either being especially humble or making a statement against academic titles. It was a simple statement of fact, to which the group responded by shifting away from calling her “Dr. Thon.” Instead, we called her “Master Thon.”

While I love the chance to meet with talented writers, I don’t have a sense of mysticism or excitement attached to it. I had the chance to see the experience from a different perspective as I saw other students respond.

Ashley and Master Thon

Ashley and Master Thon

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Melanie Rae Thon: Advice to Writers and Other Q&A Highlights

I had the privilege to attend a reading, Q&A, dinner, and workshop with the fantastic Melanie Rae Thon. (Don’t know who that is? Check out my spotlight entry.) This entry includes some notes, highlights, and pictures from the reading and Q&A portions of that event. But first, here’s a sample of the reading itself (poorly sound-mastered by yours truly).

Reading of “The Good Samaritan Speaks” by Melanie Rae Thon

Highlights and Notes from the Q&A

Beyond reading a variety of her work, Melanie had some wonderful insights to share during her Q&A. Here are some of my favorites.

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Spotlight: Melanie Rae Thon [Poet/Writer]

I had the pleasure of attending a reading, workshop, and dinner with writer Melanie Rae Thon early last week. While I will go into the details of those events in a separate entry, I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to Melanie.

Melanie Rae Thon (Writer)

Who Is Melanie Rae Thon?

Despite the spelling (“Thon”), her last name is pronounced “Tone”—a homophone with appropriately lyric associations. In reading The Voice of the River (Melanie’s most recent novel), it was difficult for me to categorize the work, especially when I described it to friends. Eventually I gave up and just said, “You know what? It’s a poem. It’s a novel-length poem.”

This is a comment on the style, density, and beauty of the work—meant as neither compliment nor insult but as a way to say, “This ain’t your typical prose.”

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How to Touch a Bleeding Dog: Full Text and Analysis

Image courtesy of eple.us. Not originally associated with Rod Kessler's work.

Image courtesy of eple.us. Not originally associated with Rod Kessler’s work.

The following is the full text of Rod Kessler’s “How to Touch a Bleeding Dog.” It is a piece of flash fiction that can, broadly, be classified as “literary.”

How to Touch a Bleeding Dog

It begins as nothing, as a blank. A rose light is filtering through the curtains. Rosy and cozy. My blanket is green. MY blanket is warm. I am inside. Inside is warm. Outside is the dawn. Outside is cold. Cold day. My arm reaches for a wife who is no longer there.

The stillness is broken by the voice of a neighbor, yelling from the road outside. “The dog! Your dog’s been hit!” It’s the farmer down the road, keeping farmer’s hours. “The dog!”

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Jamaal May: Interview Highlights

My interview with Jamaal May was jam-packed, as those of you who already read the full interview transcript know. For those who have a bit less time, this post dives into some of the topics we discussed that I found to be most interesting. We did the interview over instant messaging, so what you’re seeing is 99% exact on what was said.

If you don’t already know who Jamaal May is, check out my spotlight page on him. If you do already know him, be sure you subscribe to his various platforms. (Scroll to the bottom of this page for links.)

Highlights from the Interview with Jamaal May

Here are my personal highlights from the interview:  page vs stage poetry, liminal spaces, poetic torque, the purpose of art, and definitions of poetry.

Page vs Stage Poetry

Core takeaways: Page and stage poetry are wildly different beasts, but working within the strictures of traditional form can improve one’s sense of the musicality of language and otherwise empower stage poetry by stripping away the devices sometimes found in the genre.

Rob D YoungRob D Young: You work in a territory that often crosses, blurs, or rejects the lines between poetry of the stage and poetry of the page. Your video of “I do have a seam” is a wonderful example of this.

What are your thoughts on working in these different forms and contexts?

Jamaal May (academic)Jamaal May: [...] The page became an important goal for me because I realized what I could do in slam was limited by the format in some ways. I was fortunate enough to recognize early that slam had a ceiling and that I’d have to be proactive about learning more about the field of poetry as a whole.

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Jamaal May: Full Interview

This page contains a full transcript of my interview with Jamaal May. We did the interview over instant messaging, so what you’re seeing is 99% exact on what was said. (The exceptions are minor typo corrections and a couple places where I re-grouped comments for the sake of clarity.)

If you don’t have time to read the full interview right now, I encourage you to check out my interview highlights.

If you don’t already know who Jamaal May is, check out my spotlight page on him. If you do already know him, be sure you subscribe to Jamaal’s YouTube page, sign up for his mailing list, browse his website, and buy his books.

Now, on to the main event!

Interview with Jamaal May

Rob D Young

Rob D Young: This is Rob D Young doing a chat interview today with award-winning (and truly bad-ass) performance poet Jamaal May. Let’s start with some of your basic FAQs.

First of all, I’d love your “summed up” version of yourself. Care to give an introduction?

Jamaal May (academic)Jamaal May: That’s kind of thing is always tricky since the overall goal of the art I make is to resist summary. The easier something is to summarize, the more limited it feels. So maybe that’s a way to sum me up: I try to move towards expansiveness. But I suppose my answer is supposed to be something less existential and along the lines of I’m a poet and performer and educator and editor from Detroit who dabbles in graphic design, music, and now photography and film.

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Spotlight: Jamaal May [Poet]

Jamaal May performing poetry

Who Is Jamaal May?

Jamaal is a poet of both the stage and page. His background (which starts with “Detroiter” but extends to the point of breaking borders, breaking until borders extend) has given him a compelling voice loaded with a power that bridges the gap between raw and refined.

Jamaal May (Slam)

“The overall goal of the art I make is to resist summary,” he told me, which is why he’s sometimes uncomfortable bracketing himself with labels that are incomplete and often misleading. That said, Jamaal’s pursuits lead him naturally to the titles poet, performer, educator, and editor. In looking at modern poetry, Jamaal can give us a rare perspective that combines backgrounds often seen as incompatible: His work has been recognized in both the more academic end of the poetry pool and in the slam poetry scene.

On the “slam” side of things:

Jamaal is a three-time Rustbelt Regional Slam champion; has been a member of six national slam teams (including five Detroit teams and the 2012 semi-finalist NYC LouderARTS team); and has been a finalist at several national and international poetry slams.

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